Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa

Past Posts of Note
Substantative, in chronological order
The Sunday obligation and illness: question, research & my answer

Denial of personhood: Dei Filius & Terri Schiavo

On Modesty 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Differing with Dulles 1 & 2 on pro-abort politicians

Mad About Manuals 1 & 2

Absinthe recherches early, required reading, 2, 3, 4.

First time at an abortuary

The Maundy

TPOTC impact & analysis and more

Contraception reflections 1, 2

Meiwes, propheta, übermensch

Headship Loggerheads 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Matrix: Revolutions

Matrix: Reloaded
1, 2 & 3

Terrorist Attack Preparations, and follow-ups 1 & 2 & 3


Casuistry of Drinking

Review of Auto Focus

Parish Review 1

The Power of Shame

Biblical Hermeneutics

Ayoob on Guns

Against the Ordination of Women

Two Cents on Braveheart


Thematic Meditations

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Any e-mail I receive is fair game for publication, with comments, unless you explicitly say so beforehand.

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I'm blogging this just because my wife would think it's cute.

Husserl has an observation (somewhere in Cartesian Meditations?) about the mode of consciousness that he calls "duality," a thinking in two. Prof. Herr Dr. Schmitz cut through the vocabulary by explaining how a man, after a period of time, can so readily put himself in his wife's shoes (at least some of the time!!) that he actually takes enjoyment in the things she enjoys because he is so accustomed to her way of looking at the world that he enjoys them almost automatically, but not because he actually enjoys them himself. I submit my ability to recognize cute animals -- in which I have little intrinsic interest -- as evidence of this phenomenon.

I also submit the above casual observation as an example of the way phenomenology can sometimes surpass Medieval facultative psychology as a purely descriptive method. (Yet there are major unresolved questions with phenomenology, of course, such as whether it is idealist. I don't think it is a superior discipline.)

I also find that bachelors view such a mode of thought as a potentially dangerous contamination of the male mind. Once last fall, when walking past a man who was walking the paradigmatic "chick magnet" puppy dog, I remarked to a co-worker: "I don't know who that guy is, but I've been married long enough to know that he has just about the cutest dog possible." The coworker stared back bewildered, as if I had lapsed suddenly into Dutch. If I was a stranger, doubtless he would have broached thoughts I was gay. I tried to explain to him about thinking vicariously; but decide it is better to bring the conversation back around to politics...

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/27/2005 02:33:00 AM | link

Proletarii vseh stran, blog!

The coalition of bloggers at BlogsForTerri reveals an emblematic attempt at left-wing censorship in the media -- and they have apparently reversed it. Read Our ad was censored in its entirety to see what newspaper editors would have liked to have struck from the ad for Terri. Then ask yourself: why?

Then try to tell yourself, if any doubt remains, that left-wing ownership of the media doesn't routinely translate into content censorship. Except this time, too many people were keenly aware of it, and it was an embarassment to the paper. (Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!)

Ah, the kid-gloved fist of "liberte et egalite." I can't tell you how many times I've seen pro-life or anti-homosexual posters ripped down by liberal college students who will scream at you blue in the face about how we have to tolerate other people.

In case you missed the irony in the title: liberal media elites are undone by the power of the common man at his computer. Ok. Enough of that. Any more idealist collectivism and I'm going to need an immediate influx of gin gimlet as an antidote.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/26/2005 05:48:00 AM | link

German legal tussle over the Reinheitsgebot. One edgy site has some neat color commentary on the history of legal fights over the law, including such colorful anecdotes as this:

"The Reinheitsgebot was only extended to cover the whole of Germany around 1900. It was a prerequisite for the Bavarians in agreeing to German unification."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/25/2005 05:17:00 AM | link

Contacts who can help Terri. Make a phone call or send an e-mail on behalf of Terri to civil authorities including Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush.

Alan Keyes also links to several grassroots petitions on behalf of Terri. (From BlogsForTerri.com)

Prov 24:11-12:
"Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, "Behold, we did not know this,"
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not requite man according to his work?"

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/24/2005 12:55:00 PM | link

Papa-Lu at Papa Familias takes the ruminations of Le Chevalier and a response of mine, and enriches them with further reflections.

I certainly resonate with two of his observations:

"I think there's a little bit of 'the grass is greener' going on here [between cradle Catholics and converts], but I also think that there are some real differences between how cradle Catholics and converts experience the faith."

Yes, this could explain a fair amount of it.

"A big part of the problem is that God comes to every convert in such a dramatically different way. Two of the most important moments in my spiritual life were dreams that changed my life from that night forward. Others were subtle moments..."

That's also why it's a bit dodgy, in my book, to ask converts about their conversion story. I knew this very "charismatic" Catholic couple with young children. As evangelicals often do, they asked a mutual friend to share the much-desired "conversion story." An uncomfortable silence fell over the room. Basically, the friend had no choice but to outright refuse, despite the enthusiastic pressing of the couple for a testimony of faith. They seemed not to have considered that the story might be both intensely personal and dark, i.e., not appropriate for children.

So whenever I meet converts, I express my thanks to God for their conversion aloud when they tell me, but I don't ask for the tale. If salvation's a nuptial mystery, some things are surely left behind the veil. And some things might be as objectively inexplicable as a man's love for his wife.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/24/2005 01:27:00 AM | link

Blogs for Terri has raised over $8500 for an advertisment in the St. Petersburg Times, Florida's biggest daily newspaper. They need less than $1500 more. They are attempting to wager for more time for Terri. Please consider sending them a donation here.

Read If they can do this to Terri, when will they come for my son? by the parents of a severely disabled boy. And Minutes to Midnight in America on the other court-permitted executions by starvation that have occurred in this country.

"If they did this to a dog in Florida, it would be illegal."

Terri's Fight also has good information and videos.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/23/2005 12:15:00 PM | link

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/23/2005 11:35:00 AM | link

Earlier I asked the question of whether the flu or colds can excuse from the Sunday obligation. In addition to the manual I cited in the original post, Fr. Jim Tucker has blogged about the subject already, and included this excerpt from Henry Davis, S.J., Moral and Pastoral Theology, vol. 2 (London, 1936):

"All the faithful who have reached the age of seven years and have the habitual use of reason are bound under serious sin to hear Mass on Sundays and holy days. There is no obligation to attend other sevices -- except where necessary for paschal Communion -- unless a person is in need of instruction in his religion, and no other means are available, as would usually be the case....

"Any moderately grave inconvenience to mind or body, or to temporal goods, either of oneself or of another, excuses from the precept. If, however, a person can never be present at Mass on any day of precept, it appears obligatory that he should sometimes hear Mass, if possible, during the year, for there is a divine precept to assist at the Sacrifice.

"Those are excused who are sick or whose presence is required for care of the sick, or who tend infant children at home, or who do necessary domestic work, or who have no suitable clothes (an excuse rather easy to magnify), or who would have to hear their banns of marriage called (if this prove disconcerting), or those who live at a distance from the church of three miles or an hour's walk, or even less, if the weather is bad, or if they are infirm; the distance that excuses would be greater for those who can use cars, tramway, railway, cycles, without incurring expense which they can ill afford. Servants are also excused, if forbidden by non-Catholic employers to go to Mass, but they should find another place, if reasonably possible, where they could have the opportunity of hearing Mass. A wife is excused, if by going to Mass she would give great offence to her husband; under similar circumstances, children and servants are excused. It is not expected by the Church that servants or labourers should deprive themselves of reasonably necessary sleep that they may be able to assist at an early Mass. Those are excused who would normally remain at home during a period of mourning; mothers, too, after childbirth for some weeks, and of course some weeks before childbirth. It is held that those are excused who would have to forgo -- occasionally, but not as a general rule -- a good stroke of business or considerable gain, such as would be the case with merchants, and during the lambing season with farmers...."

(Thanks to the many people who wrote in to inform me of Fr. Jim's post.)

This approach of this manual and its application to the question at hand are very similar to the answer I copied from Slater in the original post. To beat the issue to death (like a good German academic), I could not resist plundering the college library.

Here is an excerpt from John A. McHugh, O.P. & Charles J. Callan, O.P., Moral Theology: A Complete Course Based on St. Thomas Aquinas and the Best Modern Authorities, Volume II. (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., 1929.):

"2583. The first precept of the Church [=to hear Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation] obliges under pain of grave sin, because it determines a necessary act of religion, and experience shows that where the Sabbath is neglected the social, spiritual and physical interests of man are seriously harmed (see Denzinger, n. 1202). There is always hope for Catholics who attend Mass, whereas those who miss Mass soon become Catholics only in name. But since neglect of worship may only be slightly disrespectful, and since the end of the precept may be substantially obtained without complete fulfillment, a trangression may be only venial by reason of lightness [="parvity"] of matter....

"2584. Excuses from Observance of the First Precept: These reasons may be reduced to two classes, namely, external reasons (i.e., a dispension or a lawful custom) and internal reasons (i.e., one's own inability or necessity).

"(a) External reasons. Dispensations may be given under certain conditions by local Ordinaries, by parish priests ... [this section is not relevant to our question]

"(b) Internal reasons. Impossibility or serious inconvenience excuses from hearing Mass (e.g., those who have to walk an hour's journey to church or ride a two hour's journey; those who will suffer grave detriment to health, honor, fortune, etc., if they go; those who are kept away by duties of charity or employment or office that cannot be omitted). Necessity or duty to others permits one to work on Sunday in order to live, or to keep out of serious trouble, or to perform services or works of charity that cannot be easily done at another time). To avoid self-deception, the faithful should consult their pastor or other prudent person if there is doubt about the sufficiency of the excuse.

"2585. Though the Church does not impose excessive Sabbatarianism, neither does she admit laxity in the important matter of the Lord's Day. (a) Hence, not every reason excuses from the church precept. Thus, those are guilty who unnecessarily place themselves in the impossibility of observing the law (e.g., by moving to a place where there is no church, by taking a position that requires work all Sunday morning, by starting on a vacation or auto trip to a churchless region), or whose excuses are frivolous (e.g., those who stay away from Mass because they dislike the priest, or who work on Sunday merely to keep busy).

(b) Reasons that excuse from part of the ecclesiastical precept do not excuse from all of it. Thus, those who are unable to hear Mass are not thereby justified in doing servile work; those who can hear the essential part of Mass (Consecration and Communion), but not the other parts, should hear the essential part; those who can hear Mass only on one Sunday a year are not excused on that Sunday.

(c) Reasons that excuse from the ecclesiastical precept do not excuse from the divine precept of worshipping God. Hence, those who are really obliged to work every Sunday should sanctify the Lord's Day by whatever private prayer or devotion they can substitute. Some authors very rightly believe that those who can never go to Mass on Sunday are held by divine law to hear Mass on weekdays three or four times a year at least, when this is possible" (p. 572-574).

Lastly, I decided to pull out a bigger gun. No, not this one. THIS one:

Dominicus M. Prümmer, O.P., Manuale Theologiae Moralis Secundum Principia S. Thomae Aquinatis in Usum Scholarum, Tomus II (Romae, Friburgi, Barcinone: Herder, 1958). Saith Prümmer, who treats the question under Treatise 11: On the Virtue of Justice and the Opposed Vices:

"Causae excusantes ab obligatione audiendi Missam possunt reduci omnes ad impotentiam physicam aut moralem vel, ut alii dicunt: Ab obligatione audiendi Missam excusant necessitas, caritas, officum.

"Cum praeceptum audiendi Missam non computetur inter maiora praecepta iuris divini et potius pertineat ad ius ecclesiasticum, 'excusat quaevis causa mediocriter gravis, scil. quae involvit notabile aliquod incommodum aut damnum in bonis animae vel corporis proprii vel proximi. [Here Prümmer cites the authority of St. Alphonsus Liguori for the general principle in a footnote: "Ita S. Alph., Theol. mor. 1, 3, n. 324."] De dispensatione, in hac lege sermo erit infra n. 498.

"(a) Ratione necessitatis excusantur:

"1. aegroti et convalescentes, qui ob corporis debilitatem aliquod detrimentum sanitatis prudenter timent ex assistentia Missae. In dubio sufficit iudicium medici, confessarii aut alterius hominis prudentis et religiosi. Infirmis in hoc puncto aequiparandi sunt hysterici, praegnantes aliaeque personae, quae aerem ecclesiae respirare difficulter possunt.

"2. qui longe distant ab ecclesia, ita ut sine notabili labore aut expensa nequeant ecclesiam adire. Quaenam autem sit distantia longa excusans, nequit mathematice determinari, quia hoc multum dependent a particularibus circumstantiis personae, loci, temporis, inclementiae aeris, etc. Sic iter unius horae non est grave incommodum pro plerisque, quando tempus est serenum et via plana ac facilis; est vero causa excusans, si in nive, sub pluvia et frigore, vel per viam asperam progrediendum est. Pariter excusantur facilius senes aliique homines debiles quam iuvenes robusti, ut per se patet.

"Hic breviter notare praestat, illos catholicos, qui degunt in locis infidelium aut acatholicorum [I presume this applies to one reading the blog, so I'll skip it. Sorry Otto Hiss, who dwells "in partibus infidelium"]

"3. qui iacturam honoris merito timent, v.g., illi, qui carent vestibus congruis; puellae ex delicto praegnantes, nisi tamen earum dilictum iam publice notum est. Sicubi censeatur indecorum, puellam assistere Missae, in qua eius sponsalia proclamatur, talis consuetudo quidem vituperanda est, sed, ea vigente, puellae excusari videntur a praecepto audiendi Missam.

"4. uxores et filii ob gravem indignationem mariti vel parentum. Si tamen talis indignatio unice oritur ex odio religionis, oportet omnibus viribus resistere, neque est per se sufficiens causa excusans. -- Idem dicendum est de militibus, qui excusantur ab audienda Missa, si inde grave vexationes ducum et commilitionum pati debent.

"(b) Ratione caritatis et officii excusantur:

"1. qui infirmis assistere debent tempore Missae; qui sperant, se posse sua praesentia impedire gravia peccata aliorum: e.gr., servus suspicatur, suum conservum facturum esse peccatum luxuriae cum aliqua ancilla tempore Missae, a quo peccato illum impeditum iri sperat, si ipse domi maneat et non vadat ad ecclesiam. In hoc casu licet omittere Missam ad praecavendum grave peccatum alterius;

"2. matres et nutrices, quae parvulos nec solos relinquere nec secum ferre possunt ad ecclesiam;

"3. milites, custodes urbium, gregum, complures officiales in via ferrea, nonnulli laboratores in fabricis, qui debent machinas curare et supervigilare;

"4. generatim omnes, qui ex auditione Missae notabile damnum materiale subirent, e. gr., aurigae, nautae, tonsores, pistores, etc. Licet autem isti quandoque excusentur ab audienda Missa, tamen non semper; unde aut relinquant officum suum, si id fieri potest, aut saltem aliquoties assistant Missae diebus ferialibus....

[A short exhortation on the value of the Eucharist follows.]"

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/22/2005 08:57:00 PM | link

Hunter S. Thompson blew his brains out today. Like Hemingway. It doesn't surprise me. I rarely agreed with his morals, but he captured the nihilism and absurdity of post-modernity in such forceful writing that I enjoyed several of his "Gonzo Papers" books as a Sophomore in college, about the same time I met Friedrich Nietzsche.

Let us always remember that looking for the "God-shaped hole" is a two-edged sword. If there's one thing Thompson did well, it was holding up the eviscerated carcass of modernity and pointing to the bleeding cavity where once beat God within it, bellowing like some debauched Levite in mirrored sunglasses playing an updated scene from Judges 19. For despite how powerfully Thompson stared at that hole, it remained an unfilled void. Nothing appeared. Or so we presume? I cannot say. And so he shot himself. There but for the grace of God go many of us. Pray for all of them.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (I Cor 13:1-3)

In memory, I recite what (if memory serves) was the introduction to Songs of the Doomed or maybe Generation of Swine. I think of it as Thompson's attempt to lyricize what it would look like if post-modernity had a heart and you could peel back the surface and look into it and see its gods for what they are. One can easily imagine Col. Kurtz reciting this one. The verse is from George Barker. I don't know the title of the poem. Only a bit was given in the book:

Incubus. Anaesthetist with glory in a bag,
Foreman with a sweatbox and a whip. Asphyxiator
Of the ecstatic. Sergeant with a grudge
Against the lost lovers in the park of creation,
Fiend behind the fiend behind the fiend behind the
Friend. Mastodon with mastery, monster with an ache
At the tooth of the ego, the dead drunk judge:
Wheresoever Thou art our agony will find Thee
Enthroned on the darkest altar of our heartbreak
Perfect. Beast, brute, bastard. O dog my God!

Dead at 67.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/21/2005 03:13:00 AM | link

If at first you don't succeed, try again at the the St. Anthony of Padua Institute.

Regardless of the success of the individual initiatives, the fact that people keep trying is a testament to the growing critical mass of Catholics who demand a radical reform in organs of authentically Catholic higher education.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/20/2005 04:06:00 PM | link

Terri Schiavo & Dei Filius
[a post in response to Fr. Rob Johansen's request for a BlogBurst. It looks like Terri's feeding tube will be removed Tuesday of next week.]

George Weigel, in responding to (former Archbishop of San Francisco) John R. Quinn's now-notorious proposals for curial reform, began to fisk Quinn's proposals by contrasting Quinn's "signs of the times" to those of John Paul II's theologically-driven view of history.

Weigel summaries JPII's theology of modernity in these two principles. In the present age, we are confronting:

"1) the reductio ad absurdum of the two hundred year old effort to define human freedom as radical autonomy from any moral tradition or moral community.

2) the logical and lethal workings-out of this 'autonomy project' in abortion-on-demand and physician-assisted suicide, understood as basic human rights."
(from "The Church's Teaching Authority and the Call for Democracy" in Braaten & Jenson, Teaching Authority, p. 148.)

I do not claim to possess that rare marriage of historical knowledge and theological insight required for a "theology of history" or "political theology." There are too many theologians poorly schooled in political philosophy, and too many political cheerleaders for their own regime who are happy to take only the most recent or most favorable loci theologici as the basis of their theology. I won't add to their ranks.

But I cannot avoid the recurrent thought I now wager, as a mere hypothesis, at the risk of being an amateur:

Perhaps we are witnessing a more profound reductio ad absurdum; namely, the gradual collapse of secular democratic liberalism. Why should such a collapse be considered the terminal stage of an historical-dialectical reductio ad absurdum? Because secular democratic liberalism requires the uniquely Western concept of person, yet this concept has been cut loose from its moorings and has been progressively redefined by liberalized regimes ever since Luther uttered his heresy concerning justification.

In order for the demos to wield its kratos, we have to know whether such-and-such anthropoi count in the demos. Thus, power-wielding in the democracy can be gerrymandered by determining who counts as a person. Since Luther, this has meant that the meaning of person -- at least as publicly construed in government -- has been made malleable according to the political, theological or philosophical designs of those most driven by sin in a vain and disastrous attempt to redefine human nature according to their desire.

Today, the lethal workings-out of that project are being carried out in the case of Terri Schiavo, whose avaricious, murderous husband will be permitted to starve her to death by the State of Florida. The lawyer even has the audacity to state that no legislator or legislation of any kind can attempt to save her without being "unconstitutional." His statement is true -- if "constitutional" is shorthand for "the bleeding-edge definition of who counts as a human being."

This week I also happened across a Bill O'Reilly segment about Carisa Ashe, a black woman from Georgia who pleaded guilty to murdering her five-week old daughter by shaking her violently and punching her in the face. This "mother" of seven plea-bargained to undergo tubal ligation rather than serve time in prison. O'Reilly did follow-up and found: (a) the woman has not yet undergone he surgery, (b) she has had other children since the 1998 murder, (c) few if any of the children have the same father, (d) one of the older children is missing.

The judge involved in this case has decided that the murder of newborns is permissible if one gets sterilized. Or, in other words, if you promise not to have any more, you can kill one. Free of charge. This is, of course, a logical extension of the pro-choice mentality to the time extending a few weeks after birth. Such a despicable woman should be publicly hung and disemboweled; not given a free ticket out of jail for having her tubes tied. And N.O.W. has the audacity to complain her reproductive rights are being violated...

But back to the theoretical point.

The Western notion of "person" is profoundly informed by the Catholic theological tradition, particularly Trinitarian theology and Christology, and more proximately, by the Christian theological anthropology that emerges from Trinitarian theology and Christology. (E.g., in the Medieval period, any treatment of the telos of man which did not involve the Beatific Vision / Union with Christ was unthinkable.) Changes in the political concept of person, for better or for worse, are usually precipitated by theological or philosophical changes.

Thus, as far as I can see, if we are serious about the centrality of the concept of person in Western political thought, one cannot expect to have a stable regime without a stable concept of person, especially in a political form such as democracy. Yet the concept of person is intrinsically theological. So to have a stable concept of person, one's regime must be informed by a theological vision of man. Thus, to the extent that a regime has a Christian anthropology rather than an agnostic one, its political vision of man is better. And to the extent that a regime has a fully Catholic anthropology, it is better still. To the extent that a regime's concept of man is constitutionally informed by only natural law and a little Deism, it is less than ideal. When the residual influence of more robust forms of Christianity in the citizenry diminishes and becomes diluted by cultural and religious pluralism, soon the most important political concept in the system undergoes stark mutations as modern society slowly works out the most satiating forms of the collective will to power. For the timid and slow-minded, this usually involves maximizing pleasure at the expense of the voiceless (on the pattern of Wisdom of Solomon, 2).

Now the doctrine of justification is the most important element of anthropology this side of the eschaton. Is it any surprise that Luther's novelties detonated shockwaves in the field of political anthropology? Luther premised his errors upon a deficient understanding of the relationship between nature and grace; his theology of justification redefined the relationship between the individual, God and the church; his theology came hand-in-hand with equally novel hermeneutics which elevated individual conscience above ecclesiastical authority and tradition. How could all of this not have profound effect upon the Western concept of man in political society -- a society informed for 1,000 years by a Catholic vision of man?

In Dei Filius, the First Vatican Council traces a short line between Luther and rationalist atheism. Cuius regio, eius religio is a marvelous example of legal pragmatism forging ahead instead of resolving the more fundamental problem, and thereby permitting further slippage in theological anthropology. (Terri Schiavo's case is another.) The pragmatic relativization of the West's understaning of the place of man before God quickly fueled a more pernicious idea when combined with Luther's exaltation of the individual, namely, the Enlightenment idea of the self-legislating moral conscience (cf. Schneewind's Invention of Autonomy). This even more virulent novelty found corporate political expression in the idea that democracy is the only possible legitimate form of government. The difference between the Reformation and Enlightenment, of course, is that where Luther split nature from grace and faith from reason, and then chose faith & grace, his successors in the Enlightenment maintained the same dichotomies, kept the emphasis on individual conscience and chose the other half: nature & reason.

Why? According to Dei Filius, in part because the multiplicity of religious sects permitted under the cuius regio, eius religio solution redounded to create popular skepticism in religion, full stop. In turn, the Scriptures themselves suffered a widespread loss of credibility. In the end, only "natural" reason and a mutilated understanding of the person were permissible in political argumentation.

Now Michael Buckley and Henri de Lubac have slightly different versions of this story to tell, but here are the words of the First Vatican Council. (I have Rene Latourelle's book to thank for this gem):

"5. Everybody knows that those heresies, condemned by the fathers of Trent, which rejected the divine magisterium of the Church and allowed religious questions to be a matter for the judgment of each individual, have gradually collapsed into a multiplicity of sects, either at variance or in agreement with one another; and by this means a good many people have had all faith in Christ destroyed.

6. Indeed even the Holy Bible itself, which they at one time claimed to be the sole source and judge of the Christian faith, is no longer held to be divine, but they begin to assimilate it to the inventions of myth.

7. Thereupon there came into being and spread far and wide throughout the world that doctrine of rationalism or naturalism,—utterly opposed to the Christian religion, since this is of supernatural origin,—which spares no effort to bring it about that Christ, who alone is our lord and savior, is shut out from the minds of people and the moral life of nations. Thus they would establish what they call the rule of simple reason or nature. The abandonment and rejection of the Christian religion, and the denial of God and his Christ, has plunged the minds of many into the abyss of pantheism, materialism and atheism, and the consequence is that they strive to destroy rational nature itself, to deny any criterion of what is right and just, and to overthrow the very foundations of human society" (Dei Filius, ch. 3, no. 5-7).

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/18/2005 01:33:00 AM | link

Yes, that's right, Mr. Poor Cancer Patient. We're going to help your chemo along by injecting you with a genetically modified HIV virus.

Ah, nothing like medical science to make you want to die suddenly.

On the other hand, hardly a week goes by when the benefits of the vine aren't confirmed in one way or another.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/14/2005 11:39:00 PM | link

Sunday Obligation

When does illness excuse one from his Sunday obligation to hear Mass? Specifically, how ill or what kind of illness does one need to have in order to be excused? I've often wondered about this question, and I find shockingly little guidance.

The straw that broke the camel's back came when I missed once last month (a rarity) and I went to confession and asked my confessor for some basic guidelines about when it was appropriate to miss Mass. He refused to answer. Either he was busy (there were a lot of people), or he didn't know, or maybe he thought I was scrupulous. Dunno. But, truth be told, I was pretty angry. It's not like he's a pastor of souls or anything. And this was, IMHO, a pretty basic nitty-gritty question for a parish priest. A question I'd imagine he's gotten a few times before, etc. etc.

The basic criteria is ubiquitous yet vague, leaving lots of room for application. I will cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2181:

"The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin."

The parentheses are original to the CCC. The final sentence, not footnoted in the CCC, is a repetition of a judgment issued by the Holy Office under Innocent XI and affirmed by him on 4 Mar. 1679. See Denzinger-Schoenmetzer, no. 1202 (proposition 52).

So the obligation is grave. Thus I need to know the matter of the positive precept (which is clear) as well as the exceptions (which are vague). At this point however, any further detailed discussion is hard to find.

Jimmy Akin recently treated the question superficially. I sympathize with his motivations -- I myself get pretty mad when the living dead are so sick next to you in the pew you are about to personally volunteer to take them into the hospital. I've seen plenty of examples of people I know would fit into the category of seriously ill.

But, of course, there are other cases, such as the flu or a contagious viral infection or cold. What of these maladies? Akin basically says: "In such cases, be charitable to others; excuse yourself." Nice platitude, but I'm looking for something with a little more teeth. Or at least a little more casuistry. Or a little more historical precedent.

When I was younger, there was a time when I would have dragged myself to Mass if I was physically able to go, even if I had a doozy of a cold. My standard for "serious illness" was basically physical incapacity, strictly construed. If I couldn't walk far, stand up steady, etc., then that was enough. Short of that, I went.

One commentator on Akin's blog says that he applied a similar logic because his father taught him a work ethic which took physical incapacity as the standard for calling in sick to work. And the Mass deserved at least this same level of dedication in his erstwhile opinion, but now he judges a broader standard for excusing onself to be more "humane."

Here too, I can sympathize. As I've gotten older, I realize there are more people in the equation besides myself. My father, for example, is frail and has bad lungs and gets sick for two weeks with a common cold that lasts a healthy man just 3-4 days, during which time he can barely breathe and is at risk for pneumonia. There are always a good number of similarly frail elderly people in church on any given Sunday. What is a chest cold for me might be a potentially life-threatening illness for some of them. Or at the least, it is likely to do serious damage to their health for a week or more. I'd hate to pass on a bug to them. And, with a newborn in the house, I'll tell you, I'd feel just as bad to put new parents through that with their little babies.

While my dad has the aforementioned "work till you drop" work ethic, I approached the question of dedication to Mass from the opposite angle as the blog commentator, since I think going to work when you are very sick is a Bad Idea. As I got older, I realized that my own covalescence was more important than doing whatever work I had to do for the next day or two. My employer, after all, isn't going to look after me with an eye towards my well-being. He has his own demands and I have mine. Why should I drag on sickly for a week when I can get bed rest, work better, and return to normal after 2-3 days? Indeed, I found I get more work done, and don't infect anyone else by working in close quarters with them while sick. So I call in every once in a while if I feel like a good sore throat or sinus cold is coming on.

Now, with the Mass, some of the same reasoning might carry over. Yet one could also reason according to the following idea. The obligation you have to attend Mass is a higher obligation than the obligation to your employer. Thus, you should call in sick to work sooner than you should excuse yourself from Mass. Or, reversing the emphasis, a more serious illness is required to excuse oneself from Mass than to excuse oneself from work.

Yet is such reasoning correct? Are there are more explicit judgments about this matter in the teaching of the Magisterium? I've been hard pressed to find them. If not, are there are general principles of reasoning we should employ to find an answer -- principles from the practical side of moral theology? If so, we need to lay them out and apply them to the case at hand clearly, rather than be presumptuous and immediately conclude that charity = easy excuse from Mass. I'm not saying Akin is wrong. I'm just saying that in this lax age, such deductions usually give me pause, even if they are dead on.

We can further ask: Are there older moral manuals that treat this point? I know the obligation to hear Mass is a common subject of moral manuals, so there is a good possibility that a few manualists hopefully devote a page or two to subject, usually when covering the third commandment if the manual has the classic "ten commandments" layout of the middle section.

The Summa Theologiae says nothing.

Ott's Fundamentals doesn't even come close.

I don't have Busenbaum or Liguori at hand. I bet the latter might have something on this subject.

Canon 1257 of the new Code of Canon Law merely states the faithful are obliged to hear Mass. Surrounding canons mention dispensation by the bishop, the case of lack of celebrant, and the transfer of Holy Days, but give no criteria useful for the question at hand, and indeed, don't even mention the exception for illness.

Having exhausted these options, I perused William Stang's Pastoral Theology (New York: Benziger, 1897), which says:

"To a Catholic, the hearing of Mass should be a priceless boon which he cannot easily renounce. He should not expose himself to an unnecessary danger of losing it on Sundays and holydays of obligation; he should not engage in business or in labor that would prevent him from hearing Mass on those days; least of all should he spend his vacation, for instance, at a place where Mass is not said on Sundays. 'Where there is no Mass, there is no Christianity,' Father Faber says. Where there is no Christianity, there a Christian can find no pleasure" (148-149).

This boils down to two elements:
(a) A pastoral advice not to vacation in such a way to impede the hearing of Mass (=not relevant to the situation at hand)
(b) A pastoral exhortation which sets the ideal standard for behavior, rather than the minimum requirements of the law. While we are looking for both the proper mindset and the "official minimum" required to excuse onself, because the question concerns a borderline issue (How sick is "too sick") our question is going to end up concerning the bare minimum requirement of the positive law. This is not given in Stang.

Lastly, I turned to Thomas Slater's Manual of Moral Theology (New York: Benziger, 1909). Slater is no laxist, and the work has his quirks, but Slater provides at least one data point on how this topic was approached at an earlier, saner time in Church History. (And, IMHO, you have to start shopping before 1940 to get decent literature in this department. Unrelated: perhaps Slater is a equiprobabilist?)

Slater has this to say about excusing oneself from the obligation to hear Mass:

"We have here to do with a positive precept, and any serious inconvenience or loss, spiritual or temporal, affecting one's self or one's neighbor, which would follow from hearing Mass, will excuse the faithful from fulfilling the obligation. So that the sick, the convalescenent who could not venture out of doors without danger, those who have to take care of the sick, mothers of families who have little children to attend to, those who live at such a distance that it would take them more than an hour to walk to church, all these are excused from hearing Mass regularly" (263).

First, we must ask ourselves whether we should accept the general approach of Slater to the question. If we do accept it, we must then apply it ourselves to the case of a flu, virus, etc. Regardless, we get some indication of at least one widely-read moral manual's opinion of the types of things that are considered "serious," which is helpful in assessing the seriousness of a health concern.

The beginning of Slater's work lays out some common principles on negative and positive laws. Slater says that negative laws require categorical avoidance of the behavior condemned, but:

"Positive law, however, does not bind with the same rigor. Our Lord taught us (Matt. 12) that even the positive divine law does not bind men when great inconvenience would follow from its observance. It is an axiom that necessity has no law. This is all the more true of positive human law, which must be accommodated to the moral strength of the majority of the people, otherwise it will be impossible to observe it, and nobody can be bound to do what is impossible. So that not only physical impossibility excuses from the observance of a law, but also any relatively great difficulty or serious inconvenience which constitutes moral impossibility. No general rule can be given for estimating the degree of difficulty which would excuse from the duty of observing any particular law in the concrete. The importance of the law, the intention of the legislator, the results of the non-observance of the law, the degree of difficulty in the special case, must all be considered, and a prudent judgment given in view of all the circumstances" (104).

So let us assign the above principle presumptive validity and see where it leads us.

In the case of the flu, which can mean a week of lost livelihood for a robust man and be life-threatening to others, I think it is clear that such a person should refrain from attending Mass until he has fully recovered.

In the case of a contagious cold, similar considerations obtain, but the risks are lesser.

In the past, I often reasoned in this way, with only myself in mind: Even though I'll probably recover more slowly and get other people sick in the process, the spiritual benefits of Mass greatly outweight the temporal losses of the cold. I should reckon the physical suffering a penance and just offer it up to God.

Yet my wife observes correctly that, although I may reason this way with respect to myself, I have no right to reason this way with respect to others who will be attending the liturgy. If I am contagious, I cannot simply say "If they get my cold, they should just offer the loss of work and health up as a penance, since any good Catholic will value the spiritual treasures of the Mass as worth the cost." The truth of the "since" clause is secondary. What is primary is this: However I might value my priorities in making my decision for myself, I am not entitled to dole out suffering to other people and expect them to undertake it in the same attitude as I would. Moreover, I have no ideas of the sacrifices their sickness might entail. Thus in my rationale of "It's more important to go to Mass, even if others suffer from my cold," I have essentially judged myself worthy to dole out penances to everyone I infect at Mass. The invalidity of such a presumption should be apparent.

I suppose a minor consideration is whether attendence is tantamount to infection of others. If your parish is big like mine, I highly doubt I could maintain a five foot "personal space" perimeter anywhere in the church for too long. Perhaps only at the 7am Mass, but even then, that would be hard, and you have to get in and out and settled without inadvertant parishioners sitting next to you, touching the pew you've just touched for 20 minutes, etc. If you know with relatively certainty, however, that you could attend Mass without transmitting germs to anyone (including the priest who administers the sacrament), then you might consider attendance. But for most people, I hypothesize that even a routinely half-filled church merits excusing oneself from Mass.

For many colds, you are contagious a day before symptoms appear. So even the onset of a viral infection might come under this principle.

Of course, if one does go to church and is contagious, one needs to not only avoid people but also avoid shaking hands at peace, receiving from the chalice, and, in deed, consider making a spiritual communion. I think communion in the hand is irreverant, so in the past I just abstained from receiving communion if I was sick. (One ought make a spiritual communion instead.) Given the Eucharistic minister's very low success rate of administering the sacrament without touching my tongue (less true of priests, except newer ones), the possibility of saliva transfer of germs to the next communicant is pretty real, so I avoid both chalice and ciborium if I'm sick.

So there's my attempt to find a reasonable answer. Do we accept Slater's principles? Are they correctly applied to the case?

What do real live parish priests think about this matter? Does anyone else out there have more moral manuals, casuistry, practical examples, evidence of attitudes from ages past about this, etc? E-mail them to me.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/14/2005 04:39:00 AM | link

World Record BAC?
Bulgarian man astounds doctors, prompts five-time verification of .914 BAC. That's right folks, his blood is 2 proof. 0.5 is considered lethal, and one is presumed unconscious at that point. Yet this man was awake and talking.

That beats our "house record" by 2.6 times, although it was only measured once and six hours after the recordholder (not me) stopped drinking. While I no longer "push the envelope" I remain curious about what my own record was on the nights when such envelope-pushing was possible. Since none of these episodes ever involved hospital personell in my case, we'll never know. If only I had a breatholyzer back then...

Yet such are the hazards of owning a breatholyzer. They are so cheap now ($99) that one could own one for fun, but we all know that such a tool would only fuel intense metrics-based competition, which is, in a way, too quantized and bean-counting to be sporting. And although BAC-levels make for a new area of fun competition and a more level playing field among drinkers of different sizes and sexes, it shifts the focus away from the amount consumed, which has been the traditional standard for drinking lore for centuries.

In defense of the traditional standard, I submit the following argument. One must admit: After the basic biological questions are raised ("How can he live with a 0.914?") and as quickly dismissed ("I don't know a damn thing about biology to begin with. Even if the doctor explained it, I still wouldn't care..."), one must admit that the one question that remains is: "How the hell much did he drink to get that high?" This ineluctable pattern of inquiry demonstrates the priority of quantity of consumption over resultant BAC. Our Bulgarian would cease to be impressive and turn immediately into a medical freak, for example, if he only had a glass of wine and turned out to have a total lack of alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme and the perfect stomach membrane for absorbing alcohol.

More advanced dipsomaniacs (as one read has called me) can evaluate at greater length the relative merits of the traditional standard of quantity of hooch consumed vs. the emergent one of BAC for drunken heroism. I will only add: BAC-based comparisons favor women and Asians, and we all know that they are not the stuff of drinking lore. This again, is due strictly to genetic differences in metabolism. So I guess a slick Yale feminist or Marxist race-theorist could condemn quantity-based drinking stories as intrinsically racist or sexist. In fact, I'm kinda surprised this hasn't happened yet. I better stop blogging about it.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/14/2005 01:18:00 AM | link

Drug Gangs Force Indians to Drop Tradition
(And Triduum!)

"Aguilar said that the drug gangs had also intimidated some Indian communities into dropping traditional Holy Week Catholic Church rites to worship Jesus Malverde, the patron saint of the drug runners."

For more on Mr. BadGreen, see this PBS article.

Full Reuters article here, and copied below for the lazy.

This article goes out to Trav, should he be reading.

Drug Gangs Force Indians to Drop Tradition
By Tim Gaynor
Feb 9, 10:13 AM (ET)

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican drug gangs are forcing Indian tribes to abandon their traditional crops and grow marijuana and heroin poppies, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The report by Mexico's National Anthropology and History Institute said armed drug gangs were driving communities of Tarahumara, Guarijio and Pima Indians to give up their age-old way of life in the mountains of Sonora and Chihuahua states.

More than 50,000 members of the tribes have lived in caves and log cabins in remote canyons in the Western Sierra Madre mountain range in the area for millennia, surviving on subsistence corn crops.

They mix Roman Catholic rites with traditional beliefs in sun and moon deities, and chew hallucinogenic peyote buttons to perform an ancient dance to cure the sick.

Researchers said drug gangs from neighboring Sinaloa state are entering the remote region and forcing the native villagers to stop growing traditional corn in favor of marijuana and heroin poppies.

"These three groups have been forced to abandon their traditional crops by the drug traffickers, and it is having a great impact on their way of life," anthropologist Alejandro Aguilar told Reuters in a telephone interview from Sonora.

"While some elders are trying to conserve traditional festivals linked to the maize harvest, the arrival of these groups from Sinaloa brings ... western clothes, cassette recorders, pistols and the consumption of alcohol," he added.

Aguilar said that the drug gangs had also intimidated some Indian communities into dropping traditional Holy Week Catholic Church rites to worship Jesus Malverde, the patron saint of the drug runners.

"The elements from Sinaloa are ... asking them to venerate the image of Malverde, the patron saint of the narcos, who is not recognized by the Church," Aguilar said.

Sinaloa is the cradle of the Mexican drug trade, where Chinese migrants first came in the 19th century to grow heroin poppies to make opiate-based pain killers for sale in the United States.

Since then, local drug gangs have continued to cultivate heroin and marijuana crops to smuggle north over the border and have transported tons of contraband cocaine for Colombia cartels.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/11/2005 01:08:00 PM | link

Burke gets Medieval on a rebellious parish and puts them under interdict! The article is poorly written. As I understand it, basically, the parish refuses to submit its title to the archbishop. Burke, upon assuming the See of St. Louis, noted the irregularity of the autonomous parish and requested, numerous times, to correct it. Curiously, not a word is said by or about the pastor of the church in the interview. I wonder how he stands. I'll bet the lay parish governing board doesn't help any. Nothing combines theological ignorance and audacity like untrained laymen without vows of obedience thinking they can sass-talk their bishop into abiding by their preferences.

When the board of directors considers what Jesus would do in their situation, not suprisingly it resembles their own opinion. Funny that no one asks WWPD: What would Paul do? The inspired writer who wrote the most on the topic of church order would have had them all anathematized a month ago. I love the primitivism implied in the remark that interdict is about "raw power and greed" and not "the teachings of Jesus Christ." One might imagine the next line reading: "After all, Adolf von Harnack has clearly shown that anything Medieval is a gross distortion of the unstained, completely horizontal communal life of the first century, where everyone wore flowers in their hair and ate agapes all day."

Burke's uncompromising episcopal response calls for a round of the Pelagian drinking song:

And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall --
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Their orthodox persuasions.

In other news, advances in neonatal care make the viability argument not only stupid, but empirically disproven, as a baby weighing less than 9 ounces survives and grows strong enough to go home with mom and dad.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/10/2005 02:23:00 AM | link

Catholic? Agrarian? Tridentine?
Looking for a religious order?

Check out the newly-formed Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem (http://canonsregular.com/) .

Another religious order dedicated to the Tridentine Rite and loyal to the Roman Pontiff. Founded under the supervision of Archbishop Raymond Burke, the order followed him to St. Louis.

I think this order offers a unique combination of engagement with the world, a classic rule of the spiritual life, and the old rite.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/07/2005 03:08:00 AM | link

Review of Drew Estates' blue line cigar, Blondie.

Having heard much buzz about these cigars on cigar retailing websites, I decided to give one a try during my last visit to Serious Cigars. While I'm normally loyal to The Owl Shop, they didn't stock these and I needed some other specialty items at Serious Cigars. (Serious Cigars proved to be a great vendor, by the way: Fast shipping, courteous service, good selection and good price.)

Here's Blondie:

A caveat: These cigars are not for the cigar purist. I firmly believe that a good cigar should be like a good wine: Only the superior quality of the grape, the soil conditions, climate and cultivation should determine the rich flavors captured in the final product. Pipe tobaccos are the place for fancy blending, non-tobacco additions, etc. In other words, Cigars:Wine::Pipe Tobacco:Liquors.

Drew Estates breaks with this convention in their "Acid" line of cigars, which combines traditional cigar manufacture with "infusions" of "herbal and botanical" flavors. So already, it's a step down from the noble art of using only what you can cultivate in the pure leaf alone.

Nonetheless, I was feeling playful, and -- with respect to cigars, at least -- open minded. (Heck, I've tried everything from Remy XO to Nighttrain...just to check it out.)

Blondie is a petite corona cigar (take 2" off a panatella size) with a braided top. The braid is a neat rolling trick which is for appearances only. Indeed, I lost the braid when sliding the cigar out of its plastic wrapper. No matter. There was no damage to the shoulder, which I trimmed with a cutter to make a proper aperture in the cap. It promised a short, light, flavorful smoke with unique "botanical" additions.

The wrapper was a nice, medium-toned Connecticut shade. There were no defects on the wrapper. The cigar was decently rolled; perhaps a bit loose, but it smoked well.

One review I had read touted the fact that these "botanical additions" were very well done, "by infusion" rather than by some kind of superficial application. Another praised how well the additional flavors blended with the tobacco. So I was curious to see just what kind of augmentation I was in store for.

A pre-ignition smell made it clear Blondie wasn't fooling around. A potent aroma of vanilla cream and something else sweet, warm and perhaps slightly cedary or gingery overwhelmed the underlying natural fragrance of the tobacco. The best way I can describe the bouquet is "perfumy." It's that aromatic -- and that synthetic.

Popping it in my mouth, I made ready to light. Again, another powerful surprise. Sweet. Sugary sweet. Too sweet. I grimaced as memories of Hav-a-Tampa Jewel Sweets rushed back to mind, except this wasn't cherry flavoring, but more like cream soda. The flavor of the unlit stogie alone was enough to make me doubt whether I wanted to smoke it. Blondie is somewhere between a lollipop and a cigar at this stage.

After lighting and a few draws, I was pleased to find that the aroma of the tobacco quickly overcame the perfumy aroma of the cigar. Soon, they balanced out. The sweet flavor additive, however, did not go away. It persisted throughout the smoke. Since I was unused to this kind of flavoring (e.g., I've always disliked menthol cigarettes), the "botanicals" and tobacco vyed for my attention. The flavors blended nicely enough as flavors -- a medium-bodied filler with a light, vanilla-flavored addition -- but they did not blend in such close harmony that you ever forgot you were tasting something sprayed onto the cigar tobacco. It remained very distinct and very synthetic-tasting. I think if the butt of the cigar weren't so sweet, I would have enjoyed it more.

By mid-cigar, the filler had warmed (remember, this is a short smoke and a cold day) and struck me as an average mid-grade filler. Perhaps a touch of sour and harshness at the end. The whole cigar smoked evenly and ashed nicely throughout.

Basically, I would compare Drew Estates' accomplishment to one of those new varietal vodkas like Stoli Ohranj: take a mid-grade vodka and cover some of its harshness with a custom-made flavoring. Paired correctly, the resultant product tastes as smooth as an unflavored vodka of higher caliber. Fun, appeals to a certain market, but is not going to replace your Skyy or Grey Goose any time soon.

So I neither loved Blondie nor hated it. I have the Kuba Kuba as well -- significantly darker -- which I will also try soon. Then I'll know whether Drew Estates has anything worth revisiting in the Acid line.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/06/2005 09:08:00 PM | link

EDITED: THE POST THAT WAS HERE IS AN URBAN LEGEND. http://www.snopes.com/media/notnews/brothel.asp

Sorry for the lack of crticial judgment.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/03/2005 02:54:00 AM | link

Lots of nice reading and listening recs at The Clementine Vulgate project. Tolle, Gueranger.

The Project Home Page contains gems such as a public domain edition of the Glossa Ordinaria. Not to be missed!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/02/2005 02:56:00 AM | link

The new Catholic blogger The Chevalier at The Return Curve debuts with a great post about the inexplicable, perennially amazing phenomenon of conversion.

Converts comprise a majority of my friends, including my wife. Try as I might, I too cannot mentally put myself in their shoes. The intimacy of our friendship is to no avail. I might know their mind on a dozen other issues, and know it well on points where we disagree, but as a cradle Catholic who never (Deo gratias) had a period of apostacy or estrangement, I cannot imagine what it is like to convert. On occasion, I worry that this means, as a theologian, that I am desparately blind to an important area of the theology of faith, revelation and grace.

Surely, there are some very insightful theological descriptions of the search for God and its fulfillment: St. Augustine's "our hearts are restless until they rest in thee," Ven. Newman's preponderance of evidence and the illative sense, the neoscholastic concept of "implicit desire" or "obediential potential," and even Rahner's (problematic) concept of the transcendental existential. Yet the feeling remains that these helpful categories have not succeeded in domesticating the phenomona of conversion -- it still remains fundamentally wild and escapes analysis in an important way. Perhaps because it is a pure action of grace, or "actual grace" (versus habitual grace), as they say.

Perhaps it is my own myopia. Or perhaps expecting a cradle Catholic to know what the experience of conversion feels like is similar to asking someone who has always had sight what it must be like when a formerly blind person first sees. Of course, an always-sighted person could not tell you what it was like to have gone from being blind to being able to see. Some privations are so fundamental we cannot easily imagine them. (Academic theologians aside, FWIW, Amazing Grace remains the modern American penny catechism on grace and conversion: "Was blind, but now I see.") For in my own experience, God, like vision, has always been there. Always the intelligible principle behind all reality; always present at the beginning of time, at the height of being and at the root of conscience. Questionable, yes; deniable, no. I do not attribute this conviction in me to anything but grace. (This is not a boast. Perhaps I am too inflexible a thinker to have been saved by conversion -- it may be due wholly to my own intellectual weakness. E.g., there is always that terrifying moment when a conservative wonders whether he would have been a Pharisee at the time of Christ.) So to try to put myself in the shoes of a genuine atheist or agnostic usually redounds to the derivative question: Do such people really exist, or are they simply people who have received a bad idea of God or are hung up on some objection which can be resolved?

Personally speaking, there have only been two philosophies that have tempted me away from Christianity. Neither ever succeeded in winning my credence. The first was a materialist fatalism occasioned by too much physics and not enough metaphysics -- and probably a dash of self-indulgent nihilism. The second was Nietzsche, but he simultaneously fascinated and disgusted me. He is, I still think, the best way to be bad, if one is going to be bad. But that may be no more than my subjective aesthetic judgment speaking.

During the course of both temptations, I scrutinized and evaluated the competing philosophy with the fundamentals of Catholic thought. In the end, any serious rival of Catholicism only drove me to investigate the faith more deeply, and each time I pushed both systems of thought further, the cohesivity of The Faith manifested itself and prevailed. In part, then, one could say that the ontological breadth, the moral depth and the existential grandeur of Christianity far outshone all rivals. But this does not get to the core of my experience. When considering atheist worldviews, I always had the underlying conviction that I was a bit like a fish who had reasoned himself into believing that he didn't need water to live. Or a victim of Parmenides who repeats: But there really is change! In such moments of philosophical exploration, the presence of He Who Is has been like a beacon no matter where I might have roamed.

Is such a feeling of "having a beacon" supposed to be absent in converts during their atheist stage? Or would converts say no, this is how I describe whatever was in me that remained unsatisfied until I believed in God and His Church?

I had a longer observation about how a key difference between Rahner and DeLubac on grace and revelation might provoke important questions here, but alas, I have to go to bed because work and the pediatrician are coming fast upon me with the early morning.

I was also going to reply to The Chevalier's question, "How does anyone get past the myopia, the conditioning, and the general brainwashing of the Modern ages in order to see the radiance of the Catholic Church?" by saying: Some people get to Nietzsche and realize that there must be something other than this. But being Christian is obviously a lot more than being post-nihilist, and has nothing per se to do with being in the post-Enlightenment Western intellectual tradition. So this would have been a sorely inadequate response. Yet it does empirically describe some people's disgust with what is left to them by contemporary culture, and point to, in turn, perhaps, some instinct for God in the rational fabric of our being.

Alright, enough rambling. Others have probably written on this much better elsewhere. The only thing that keeps this blog rolling is a quip I cribbed from Chesterton: "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/02/2005 01:12:00 AM | link

From the TFP newsletter:

"After midnight on January 25, vandals attacked a pro-life exhibit of 4,000 crosses at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Approximately 3,000 crosses were destroyed.

They burned them. They broke them. They stole them. They defaced them.

President of LSU Students for Life Mary Higdon said: "over the weekend, people stole and burned clusters of crosses, spelled out 'pro-choice' in broken crosses, spray painted part of the exhibit and placed hangers - an old symbol of illegal abortion - on the grass.
" (The Daily Reveille, January 25).

More here.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/02/2005 01:12:00 AM | link

"Legend has it that Hubert discovered his faith while hunting in the forest on Good Friday morning, when he received a vision of a stag with a crucifix between its antlers." (from the bizarro four-man so-called Free Church of Country Sports).

So is THAT where the Jaegermeister logo comes from? Vide: http://www.jager.com/. I always wondered what the story was there.

Need your shots really cold, really fast? Check out the new Jaeger Tap Machine. "Built for bars, priced for anyone."

revised to add this quote from the Jaegermeister Tap Machine manual (yes, I couldn't resist):

"The Label, The Legend: Back in the seventh century, a young lad named Hubertus was envied for his purity. Theoderich of Burgundy was one of these jealous sorts, and so waged war against Hubertus and his uncle. By defeating Theoderich, Hubertus proved himself valiant in battle and dashing in a codpiece, and so won the hand of the beautiful princess, Floribana. Together they lived happily with the benefits of wealth and good fortune.

The good Princess soon fell ill and died. In his grief, Hubertus turned away from the sumptuous life of royalty and became a solitary figure, often going to the woods to hunt
alone. During one of these hunting trips, Hubertus encountered a splendid stag with a cross that appeared to float between its antlers. The vision moved Hubertus to change his life. He gave all his material possessions to the poor, gave up his title, and founded several monasteries. After his death, Hubertus was made a saint and became the Patron Saint of Hunters."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 2/02/2005 01:12:00 AM | link


Friends Outside the
Prophetes Viatoresque:
(but still worth reading)

Recently Read

In my MP3 Player