Thursday, December 16, 2004

Why would God create those whom He knows will do evil?

This is a tricky problem--if God is all-powerful and all-good and all-knowing, why would he create those whom he knows will fight against him? I usually answer it with the free-will defense: it is so good for there to be free creatures that can love, that it is worth all the evil that results from free creatures who don't love. (Pace, Ivan Karamazov.)

But this explanation only deals with the creation of human beings in general. What about the creation of this specific person? Why would God create Stalin? Couldn't much pain and suffering have been avoided? Some light has been shed on this issue for me by John of Damascus. See the following:

1) Evil is non-being, a privation of being.

2) Evil creatures ultimately seek non-being. See John Chrysostom on the legion of demons going into the pigs: once they were free from constraint, they forced the pigs to their death, doing what demons do, which is seek non-being.

3) "If God had not created man because of God's foreknowledge that this creature, in its misuse of free will, would be the cause of evil, then, says John of Damascus, evil would have triumphed over God's goodness." (Tatakis, 96)

#3 can be expanded into the following statement: Suppose God refrains from giving being to beings that would by free will seek non-being. Then hasn't God already been beaten by the to-be-created evil beings without them having been created? It's like a boxer refusing a title match, and being declared a loser for not fighting.

Have I been clear? Feel free to discuss in the comments box. The quote is from Tatakis's book "Byzantine Philosophy."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Accused by a prayer

So I was saying my prayers this morning, and came across this line: Grant me, O Lord, to love You
now as once I loved sin, and also to work for You without idleness, as I worked before for deceptive Satan.

How true that is. When I do wrong deeds, I am efficient, clever, and devoted to my sins. I never fail to sin because I am too lazy to do it. Nobody is too slothful for sin. If I worked as hard at my job as I do at my sins, I'd be as famous as Alasdair MacIntyre.

You can see the whole prayer, and lots more, here.

Friday, December 10, 2004

I'm still here

Just busy. So here's this tidbit of blogging:

I went to a church a few weeks ago for confession, and walked around the main church as I got ready for the sacrament. They had one of those burbling running-water baptismal fonts, which isn't so bad, except for the noise. But as I walked past this one, I caught a familiar smell. They had chlorine in the baptismal font! It smelled like a public swimming pool.

P.S. While you await my next scintillating post, you could go visit here, and look at what else, besides final exams, is consuming my time.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

So I'm a novelist now

I was roped into doing Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), an annual event where people promise to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I managed to finish earlier today, with a bit of time to spare. It was hard. But I learned a few things: novelists are like PhD's. It doesn't take brilliance to write novels (although it helps). It takes perseverance.

Here's the scary thing: The steaming pile of doo-doo that I wrote is not the worst novel I've ever read.

No, I don't think I'll post it. But I am now not only Athanasius, blogger, but am also Athanasius, novelist!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Crazy thought

Merit pay for priests.

Think about it. As Thomas More said, if virtue were profitable, everyone would be virtuous. What if orthodoxy was also lucrative?

Just a crazy thought.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The way is shut!

Today is the feast of the entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the temple. The readings for Vespers for the feast are quite thought-provoking, and intentionally place the Temple before us as an image of Mary. Take the third reading, from Ezekiel (KJV):

Ezekiel 43:27-44:4

And it shall come to pass from the eighth day and onward, [that] the priests shall offer your whole-burnt-offerings on the altar, and your peace-offerings; and I will accept you, saith the Lord. Then he brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary that looks eastward; and it was shut. And the Lord said to me, This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no one shall pass through it; for the Lord God of Israel shall enter by it, and it shall be shut. For the prince, he shall sit in it, to eat bread before the Lord; he shall go in by the way of the porch of the gate, and shall go forth by the way of the same. And he brought me in by the way of the gate that looks northward, in front of the house: and I looked, and, behold, the house was full of the glory of the Lord: and I fell upon my face.

The implication is clear: any door through which the Lord enters must remain shut forever afterward, since it is now holy. The conjunction of this passage with a feast of the Mother of God shows that the Church views this passage as applying to Mary, whom the Lord God of Israel has entered in most intimately. This passage supports and foretells her perpetual virginity--since it was by the Holy Spirit that she became pregnant, Joseph would have been wrong to enter that door. Thus she was ever virgin.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Do you think St. Basil the Great ever would have sat through a USCCB meeting?

I listened to some of the deliberations on EWTN radio today, and was immediately stultified. This is not to say that I am opposed to the bishops or their authority. But putting bishops in a room with a budget to administer will only bring out the worst characteristics of such men, rather than the best. It makes them look like a politburo, rather than successors to the apostles.

The USCCB ought to disband, or maybe just meet for a yearly retreat (which I think they are doing). But having a standing committee with a budget is a very bad idea. Shut it down. Use the money to save some parishes from being closed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Thoughts that occur on the way to work

Why does Hollywood often cast John Corbett as a man of God? Northern Exposure, Raising Helen? He's a convert to Orthodoxy in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Why is that?


Saturday, November 13, 2004

"Every evil can be reduced to the destruction of mutual solidarity."

V. Soloviev.

"Every evil can be reduced to the destruction of mutual solidarity and balance of the parts and the whole; and every falsehood and every ugliness is also in essence reduced to this. We should acknowledge as evil all exclusive self-affirmation (egoism), as well as anarchic particularism and despotic unification. That is to say, evil exists when a particular or individual element asserts itself in its individuality, striving to exclude or oppress another essence; when the particular or individual elements separately or together desire to stand in place of the whole, exclude and negate its independent unity, and through this the common bond among themselves as well; and when, on the contrary, the freedom of an individual being is constricted or abolished in the name of unity."

From The Heart of Reality, page 74.

Good stuff, eh? I wonder if Solidarity had some roots in this stuff. Incidentally, I was watching a special on the trouble of the coca-growers in Bolivia, and the peasants have a new champion, some politician named Evo, who talked about how the poor have been oppressed, and how their culture needs to be recognized and valued, and I'm thinking, "Yes, that's true." Then he started talking about Marx, and ended a speech saying "Death to the Yankees!" I thought "Same old crap. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

This world needs a whole lot of Solidarnoses.

Friday, November 12, 2004

We visited the Field Museum yesterday

and looked at cultural artifacts from various parts of the world. There was little unity in what we saw, except that humans all seem to have a need to decorate their functional objects, and that every culture had religious belief of some kind or other. There were no atheist cultures, in the history of the world.

Why do some people think that such a thing could exist now?

As Mark Shea says, supernature deplores a vacuum--humans are the animals built for a relationship to the divine. We could only live as the NY Times would like if we ceased to be human.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

What kind of nerds go to a Teen Mass?

I was talking with a friend who had the misfortune to suffer through a Teen Mass which had all sorts of drums and electric guitar and handclapping, and the thought that came to my mind was "Who goes to these things?" What self-respecting teen would go to an event that so desparately tried to be "cool?"

Now, I am not very cool. I don't even know how to define the word. But what I do know, is that one either is cool or is not cool. If one is not, trying to be cool is only going to increase one's uncoolness. The trend for lively rock n' roll teen liturgies strikes me as a blatant attempt by uncool adults to be like the kids.

Neither I nor any of my friends would have been caught dead at one of those things. Perhaps I'm unusual, and normal kids are clamoring for this kind of stuff. But I think it would be far better to try to be timeless rather than trendy. It might even attract more of the best of the kids, those who aren't satisfied with shallow pandering, but who would swallow up something substantial.

Am I the only one who thinks these things are nerdy?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Ents have awakened, and found themselves strong

The lesson from this past election should be emblazoned on the door of every cathedral church: "Preaching the gospel forthrightly and clearly will transform our nation."

What happened before this past election has never happened in my lifetime: Catholic bishops, priests, and laity (not all of them, but many) preached the Gospel of Life, and not only preached it, but drew out its concrete applications in political life. In other words, people were repeatedly told that their faith should inform their vote. Do you know what happened? Enough people listened that a pro-choice candidate for president was defeated. The ents are awake, and they are strong!

Will they go back to sleep again, I wonder? The unprecedented clear teaching of the Catholic faith that we have just lived through did not come as a result of an initiative of holy bishops. Rather, it was forced upon them as a necessity by a presidential candidate who claimed to be Catholic, but yet repudiated publically fundamental aspects of the faith. The bishops had to act, or admit that they were theological and spiritual eunuchs

However this uprising happened, it must not be allowed to die. The lesson of the past election should not be lost. Let me put it clearly: Preaching the Gospel will transform the culture! If we continue the work that has begun, if even 10% of Catholics vote their faith, we will determine every election. If we continue to teach the Culture of Life, I assure you that there will be a time when both major parties nominate pro-life candidates. If we fail, there will come a time soon when no major party will concern itself with the protection of life.

Don't believe me? Try it and prove me wrong.

Note: I have no illusions that the current president is a fearless advocate of the dignity of every human person. He isn't. The flame of truth is not a bonfire yet, but a flickering candle. That's why we must continue to feed the flame. But at least the flame wasn't extinguished.

Monday, November 01, 2004

A prayer for election day

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Repeat as necessary, or without ceasing.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

An Opportunity for Chicago-area Readers

What is the connection between Liturgy, Sacraments, Icons, Scripture, Dating, Marriage, Celibacy, Family, Happiness and every issue of Sexual Morality?


The Chicago Chapter of Theology of the Body International Alliance (TOBIA) invites you to discover this connection and much, much more by being a part of the first of many, Theology of the Body study groups to take place around Chicagoland.




Chicago Theology of the Body Study Group I

Serving the North/Central Region


When:  Every other Monday evening November 1, 2004 – March 14, 2005

(specific dates will be announced)


Time: 7:00PM – 8:30PM


Place: Tom & Cathleen Masters Home

625 Clarence

  Oak Park, IL  60304




Chicago Theology of the Body Study Group II

Serving the South/West Region


When:  Every other Monday evening November 8, 2004 – March 21, 2005

(specific dates will be announced)


Time:  7:00PM – 8:30PM


Place:  Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church

14610 Will-Cook Road

Homer Glen, IL  60491




The cost for this ten (10) session study group is $20 for materials, which includes a 10 disc CD set of Christopher West’s Naked Without Shame seminar series along with the accompanying study guide.  Payment and distribution of all materials will take place at the first study session.  For more information or to register for either of these groups please call 708-645-0762 or send an email to and include your Name, Phone Number, and the Group you will be attending.  Upon registration you will receive a listing of the specific dates for the study group you specified as well as location directions.

My neat new book

Recently Hackett has published a translation of Basil Tatakis' unparalleled work on Byzantine philosophy, a topic that I have been becoming more and more interested as I have moved into the practice of Eastern Christianity. In the Byzantine Empire, there was never a break between Hellenic culture and philosophy and Christianity. It therefore supplies an interesting example to study, quite different from the way things developed in the West. I happen to think that the exaggerated autonomy of philosophy and theology of the scholastic West was the beginning of the end of clear thinking. Such a separation never happened in the East. It's an interesting alternative philosophical history.

I'll let you know of juicy bits as I read.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


So, I was attending Mass (Roman) at a local chapel Monday, when I heard something odd in the psalm: "Happy are they. . . ." Now, I recognized it as Psalm 1, which is singular, not plural: "Blessed is the man. . . ." What was going on? I was under the impression that the practice of inclusivizing texts by changing singular references to plural wasn't allowed, and that the revised psalter of the New American Bible had been (rightly) rejected. Had the new Lectionary been ruined somehow? Had Rome backed down from Liturgiam Authenicam?

But all my worries were for nought. I went up this morning and took a look at the lectionary, and found that it was the unauthorized Canadian lectionary from 1994. The good news is that Rome hasn't screwed up the psalms. The bad news is that the chapel is using an unnapproved lectionary. In charity, I am going to blame the previous regime.

If I were a holy man

I would spend the night before the election at church praying to God for our nation.

There's an adoration chapel not to far from our house--maybe I'll tuck the wife and kid in, and drive over there for a while on Monday.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

What it is like to be pro-life

One has the conviction, born of faith, reason, or both, that humans ought not to be killed in the womb. One comes to believe that such an action would be the killing of the innocent human life, and hence is a crime where the blood cries out to heaven, much as the blood of Abel cried out against Cain. Further, this crime is committed 4000 times a day in the United States.

But, those who hold this conviction are told that it is extreme, that it is out of the mainstream, and therefore a position to be abandoned. Note that rarely, if ever, are we pro-lifers debated on the issues. Who could win such a debate with us, without being forced to acknowledge that according to their principles, no-one has any rights at all? (See my Socratic Dialogue, linked on the sidebar.) Mother Theresa used to say that if we can kill the child in the womb, I can kill you, and you can kill me. She's absolutely right.

No, we are not debated, but are called names and silenced. Why? Because ours must be a prophetic voice against our own beloved country, and no country loves prophets. Prophets speak uncomfortable truths, and the uncomfortable truth is that the United States of America is morally on par with the great evil empires of old. What Atilla or Tamurlane ever killed 1.5 million a year? What Hitler or Stalin murdered as cleanly and quickly as we do?

We should have a debate on the issue of human dignity and the protection of life. Such a debate has not occurred solely because the opposing side is afraid that we will win, and, more than fearing loss, they fear repentance. What amount of penance, what national sackloth and ashes would be required to make up for 1.5 million deaths a year? It is fear of repentance, not fear of losing reproductive freedom, that drives the continuing legality of abortion. To change now would be to admit that we as a nation were wrong, and not only that we were wrong, but that we were monstrous.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Gap

I've found out something in my 33 years of life, especially the 14 years in which I've been trying to live a good Christian life. Here it is: Prayer always works against temptation. If you are being severely tempted, to anger, to lust, to despair, to whatever your particular vices are, prayer will always work. Say "Jesus, help me," or "Holy Mother of God, save me" or "St. Michael the Archangel. . ." and God will send help. It's true. It always works.

So, why do I still sin? (And I do still sin.) What happens? I can feel the temptation coming on, coming on like a freight train. I know, intellectually, that if only I begin to pray, the temptation will pass by without harm. But I don't pray. Why? There's some sort of gap between the recognition that prayer will save me, and the actual act of praying. That gap is so small, and yet feels like the Grand Canyon. To go from the state of tempted-not-praying to redeemed-from-temptation-by-praying is the most difficult thing in the world. I could run a marathon easier than I could do this.

Obviously, the answer is never to allow myself to get into the state of not-praying. I must take St. Paul's advice and pray without ceasing. St. John Chrysostom says somewhere that it is impossible to sin while one is praying--I need, therefore, to pray all the time, if I want to be freed from sin.

Please pray that God will teach me how to pray, and will replace my stony heart with a real heart that constantly calls out to God.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

If I don't ever post, people won't ever read. . .

I've been very busy, and so haven't had much time for the blog. But, to tide you over (especially since the Old Oligarch is swamped too), here's a juicy thought:

The only heresy today is the heresy that there is no heresy.


Saturday, October 16, 2004

Free Ukrainian Liturgical Music

I stumbled across a website recently called Magnatune, a record label that publishes music mostly via the internet. They seem to specialize in early music, but have a variety of other genres as well. I was drawn to the site because of the recordings they have from the Monks and Metropolitan Choirs of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra.

Magnatune is neat because they allow you to listen to the music via streaming MP3's or WMA's before you buy. You can listen to the entire album whenever you want, as much as you want, if you have high-speed internet. If you choose to buy the album, you pay them as much as you want to pay them (I paid 8$), half of which goes to the artist. Then you get to download MP3's or CD-quality WAV's or FLAC's. I did that with the Russian Orthodox Chants album, which I burned to a CD I can take in my car.

They have several recordings of Byzantine music; I will probably buy them all. Even if you don't buy them, you can listen. Click here for some beautiful music.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Where have I been?

I've been here. Wow. What a wonderful place. I didn't want to leave, except that Mrs. Athanasius and Macrina (not their real names) weren't there.

Many things impressed me, but in particular the mood of contemplation on campus. Part of this has to do with having very smart students who care about ideas (is there anything better than bright kids discussing Aristotle at the breakfast table?), but part also has to do with the rules they've adopted. Television is not allowed on campus. Movies cannot be watched unless they are cleared by the prefect, and may not be watched in one's dorm room (no VCR's or DVD's in the room). Opposite sexes must stay out of each other's dorms. Most importantly, the internet is not allowed anywhere on campus except in the library, and the terminals are kept limited. See, the internet, the movies, and television none of them contribute to contemplation. In fact, they actively oppose it. Contemplation requires peace and quiet in order that one may engage in wrestling with truth. Noise must be minimized. It sounds wonderful--time to read, think, and pray.

I've been inspired by this model of life and am going to adopt it myself. We already severely limit television time in our house to workouts and weekends, and have gotten rid of cable. But I'm giving myself an additional rule, since I tend to sit on the internet all day and night: when at home, my internet time shall be limited to 1/2 hour, with a minimum two-hour limit before I can dial up again. I even got a shiny new egg timer to help me keep track.

So, if you see two posts from me on a Tuesday or Thursday separated by less than 2 hours but more than 1/2 hour, you'll know I broke my rule. Scold me accordingly.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Byzantine Catholic Radio!

A new Byzantine Catholic radio show has begun, "Light of the East," starring Fr. Thomas Loya (who happens to be my pastor). The show aims to fulfill the pope's call that Roman Catholics learn about the eastern half of Christianity. Fr. Tom will explain our spirituality, liturgy, iconography, music, and theology, showing how the East and West mutually enrich each other. He will explain how life in Christ is really divinization, the conformity of man to God. He'll explain how all of this relates to the Theology of the Body. There will be dynamic, orthodox testimony about the power of the Resurrection to transform the world. There isn't any show like it.

"Light of the East" is broadcast on AM 820 in Chicago every Sunday at 11:30AM. Don't live in Chicago? No problem! A version of the show will be archived at the parish website. Go here to listen to the show. Really. I mean it. Go listen now!

Tell your friends!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Happy St. Francis Day

Here's a quote about St. Francis from St. Josemaria Escriva:

To defend his purity, Saint Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, Saint Benedict threw himself into a thorn bush, Saint Bernard plunged into an icy pond... You..., what have you done?

I hate that quote. But not because it's false; because it's hard.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Karl-er-Athanasius' one word Bioethics Course


That's all you need to know. It's akin to Disputations' all-purpose response: "Have you tried prayer and fasting?" Watch how it works:

Can we artificially inseminate?


Can we fertilize eggs in a petri dish?


Can we freeze the leftover embryos in liquid nitrogen?


Can we destroy the embryos in order to extract stem cells?


Is contraception ok?


How about cloning? Can we clone humans?


Even if we promise not to let them live? That's the New Jersey option.


How about euthanasia?


Can we take feeding tubes out of patients who aren't dying, so that they die?


See how easy this is? One word. That's all you need.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mary as the Holy of Holies

In the Byzantine Church it is the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, a feast very dear to my heart, since I continually ask the Holy Mother of God to watch over my wife and daughter. Tonight I was the cantor at liturgy, and read the epistle, which was from Hebrews:

Heb 9:1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary.
Heb 9:2 For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place.
Heb 9:3 Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies,
Heb 9:4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;
Heb 9:5 above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Heb 9:6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties;
Heb 9:7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people.

Now, the juxtaposition of the recounting of the details of the Temple with the great feastday of Our Lady is an obvious invitation to an allegorical reading of scripture. It's clear that the Church means to tell us that Mary is in some way the new Holy of Holies, the hidden, gold-covered sanctuary where the most precious possessions of Israel were stored. It was in the Holy of Holies that the priest begged for forgiveness of sins for the Israelites; it was within the Mother of God that Jesus, who gained the gift of forgiveness of sins for us all came to the world. It was in the Holy of Holies that the Ark of the Covenant was kept; it was within Mary that the New Covenant was nurtured. The Holy of Holies was covered in gold; Mary was preserved from sin, the ever-blessed, immaculate Theotokos, as the liturgy calls her.

This is why reading the bible in the traditional way is so much more fun than the historical-critical method. Truth unfolds truth, and the whole bible reflects light on itself, if we are allowed to read it in an allegorical, anagogical, or moral way.

Here's some more fun: the Vespers reading for this feast of the Protection of the Mother of God is the story about Jacob's ladder in Genesis 28:10-17. One of the Vespers hymns is quite explicit in comparing Mary to the ladder connecting heaven and earth. I'll be thinking about that for days.

This is why I love the Byzantine liturgy so much: everywhere you turn there are hidden treasures.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Music Review

If you have never sampled the music stylings of our own Victor Lams, I suggest you do so. (Insert obligatory negative music-reviewer statement:) Victor is no Pavorotti, but what his vocal instrument lacks (which really isn't too much), he more than makes up for with a knack for catchy melodies, lyrics which are whimsical, clever, and at times profound, and an infallible sense of funkitude. The style varies from smoky piano-jazz to Dig-Dug. My daughter and I love his new opus, "Coloring Monsters," which is not about monsters who color, but about people who color monsters in coloring books. Give it a listen. As a bonus, you get to hear Victor's son provide the roar.

You can find most of his music at Acid Planet. Cue it up and give it all a listen. My favorites from the Acid Planet playlist are JP2 (Kizz Da Ring Mixx), And We Lost, the poignant Not a Great Man (lyrics taken from Michael Schiavo's Larry King appearance), and Gothic TootsiePop.

Be sure to check out the cartoons, too. Start with the St. Michael Prayer, and then take a look at Farmer Joe (another one of Macrina-not-her-real-name's favorites).

If Victor happens to read this, my computer crashed a while back, and I lost my copies of some of your stuff, in particular Tobiah's Journey and Sarah's lullaby. I also miss Homonculus (I think that's what it was called), since I too have a little man who lives in my head pressing all the buttons.

Don't miss the blog, of course.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Call to Action urges adhering to liturgical rules!

There's an article in the Daily Herald today about the trend towards more Latin masses in the Chicago area. It's generally fair, except for the obligatory counterpoint view. Crystal Chan, a member of Call to Action, is interviewed, and is not pleased by the trend: "The nature of the Latin rite encourages the laity to revert back to a powerless position," she said. "We need to embrace the rituals we have now. There isn't a need to return to the Middle Ages."

I agree. The Latin rite should embrace the rituals they have now. I'm glad to see that Call to Action has finally realized that liturgical do-it-yourselfism is a problem. I'll be sure to look for Chan's name in the contributor list of the next Adoremus Bulletin.

P.S. I note in passing Chan's concern with power. It's always about power.

Friday, September 24, 2004

I'm vindicated once again

When questioned about appropriate dress for attending Liturgy, my standard answer (without much thought) has been "Dress as if you are attending a wedding at which you are not the groom or bride." But look at what Jesus says:

Mat 22:11 "But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment;
Mat 22:12 and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless.
Mat 22:13 Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'
Mat 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen."

Now, I know that the parable is not about dress. But one can make dress be about the kingdom of God. The external sign of me dressing for a wedding is a reminder that I need to get my internal house in order.

God isn't hurt by my being sloppy, but I certainly can be hurt if sloppy dress mirrors a sloppy inside. Now, given the close unity of body and soul, it is likely that for almost all of us, clothes do indeed make the man (or woman). What you wear reflects and helps create what you are.

So ditch the jeans and t-shirts for Mass.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Embryo "Wastage?" More bad arguments

In the same article I blogged about yesterday, the authors make the claim that immediate ensoulment (at conception) is intuitively impossible, due to the phenomenon of embryo wastage, where only half of fertilized eggs come to term. (I have some doubts about that statistic, since I've only seen it determined as a generalization from the success rate of in vitro fertilization.) The authors say: "What meaning is there in the creation of such a principle [the soul]when there is such a high probability that this entity will not develop to the embryo stage, much less come to term?" (619)

So, because lots of embryos die, the conclusion is that they can't have been really human, and therefore it might be ok occasionally to kill them. Let's extend this line of argument:

In the middle ages, child mortality was quite high. Probably half of the children didn't make it to adulthood. What meaning could there be in the creation of souls for these kids when many or most will die? So none of them are really human, and it would be ok, if need were great enough, to kill them.

100% of people die (excluding Elijah, Enoch, and possibly the Virgin Mary). Therefore, with such human "wastage", it makes no sense for God to create a rational soul. So none of us are really human, and therefore it might be ok occasionally to kill us.
One can not licitly infer from the fact that something only lives for a short time to the conclusion that one is therefore entitled to kill it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Spectacularly Bad Argumentation

or, how having a Ph.D. and being an Eminent Scholar don't make you right.

I came across an article (Thomas A. Shannon and Allan B. Wolter, “Reflections on the Moral Status of the Pre-Embryo,” Theological Studies©51 (1990):©603–24.) that is a good example of this. Wolter has done marvelous work on John Duns Scotus, but he has fallen from his high standards here.

The argument is that the early embryo cannot be considered a person with full human dignity because it isn't an individual yet. It isn't an individual because it could still split into twins. Here's a quote:

“For, while it is correct to say that the life that is present in the newly fertilized egg is distinct from the father and mother and is in fact usually genetically unique, it is not the case that this particular zygote is fully formed and it is not a single human individual. . . . Because of the possibility of twinning, recombination, and the potency of any cell up to gastrulation to become a complete entity, this particular zygote cannot necessarily be said to be the beginning of a specific, genetically unique human individual human being. While the zygote is the beginning of genetically distinct life, it is neither an ontological individual nor necessarily the immediate precursor of one.”

This is a spectacular equivocation on individuality. There are at least two ways to understand "individual", and the quote uses both without noticing it. The first way to understand individuality is as uniqueness--having qualities that nothing else has. The second way is the so-called ontological individuality, and this refers to the transcendental quality of each being as one--everything that is, insofar as it is, is also one. It is the first that the authors deny of the early embryo, but it is the second which is morally significant. A person is an individual substance of a rational nature, as Boethius says, but that doesn't mean a unique substance. Otherwise, twins wouldn't count as persons. What it means is that the person is one, not a part of some other being.

Whether the early embryo can twin or not is of no importance for evaluating its moral worth. The fact is that it is an individual substance with a rational nature, whether or not later in its existence it gives rise to two such substances or not.

By Wolter and Shannon's reasoning, the worm is never one worm, because it has the possibility of being split into two worms.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Some hit-and-run blogging.

Liturgy is a foretaste of the afterlife. Good liturgy is like heaven. Bad liturgy, well. . . .

If you are a person, so is the fertilized egg. If the fertilized egg can be licitly killed, so can you.

Nobody ever becomes a saint for heroic prudence.

Reform of the Church almost always comes about from teenagers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Would it be so bad?

Would it be a horrible world if we refrained from killing human embryos for research? Would it be intolerable if there was no such thing as in vitro fertilization? Would it it be be unthinkable to have a world where sex was linked with procreation, and if one didn't want babies, one didn't have sex? Would the world fall off its axis and spin into the sun if we didn't allow people to kill their children in the womb?

Would it be so bad?

Friday, September 10, 2004

What Happened?

Let me explain. I went to a mission meeting at my small Catholic college yesterday, and listened to a presentation by an elderly sister of the history of the school. Among the many interesting items discussed was a document the school prepared in the early 60's called "A Plan for the Liberal Education of the Christian Person." I flipped through the plan, and found in the last paragraph a sentence that read "The fear of God and keeping his commandments: these are the fulfillment of man" or something similar. Much of the plan could have been written by me--it was Thomistic and grounded in faith. What a wonderful document! They even got grant money from the Ford Foundation to pursue implementation.

But nothing came of it. The 1960's happened, and, as Sister Sally (not her real name) said, "It faded away." My question: Why?

Why did so many people in the Church abandon the treasures of 2000 years of Church teaching so quickly? For there was nothing that took its place, nothing "better" came along. We went from a thoroughly grounded and consistent Thomist theology to, well, nothing but the Heraclitean thought that "the only thing constant was change." (Sister Sally gave that as an explanation.) We went from a well-articulated philosophy of human nature and a core curriculum designed to actualize that nature to, well, a jumble of competing departments with no set of great books, no unity, no belief that there even is a human nature. We went from colleges that saw as their duty the education of the Christian person to colleges that wrote threatening letters to bishops telling them not to dare any episcopal oversight.

Here's what is most puzzling to me. It's not that the old ways of thinking were refuted. They weren't. They are still compelling, and find expression even in the so-called liberal documents of Vatican II (which aren't any such thing, but I digress). They weren't refuted or superseded. They were just abandoned.


What mess of pottage did they trade their birthright for?

Me, I blame drugs. Or Elvis.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

A good fatherhood moment

Litte Macrina (not her real name) has been taught from the beginning that one is to kiss and venerate icons. She does this in church whenever we go, giving Jesus and Mary a kiss. We are in the habit of venerating Our Lady of Vladimir before bedtime. She also does this at home, picking icons off the tables and walking around kissing them. Unfortunately, she hasn't learned the difference between a holy icon and a photograph, and hence also venerates pictures of Mrs. Athanasius and me.

Someday she'll learn. I think she's doing very well for 16 months.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Catholics becoming more Orthodox

I made a comment on Amy Welborn's blog that one of the benefits of the healing of the schism between East and West which I hope to happen in 2054 is that, not only will the Orthodox become Catholic, but the Catholic will become more Orthodox. This immediately got a snarky counter-comment "That's impossible. Catholicism is the definition of orthodoxy. Whatever is not is not Catholicism is not orthodox." [sic] So I thought I would explain a little bit of what I mean, some things about Orthodoxy that Catholics should adopt:

1) The reverence for the Liturgy as a theological source, as the Word of God, not as a toy to be played with.

2) The musical tradition as another theological source, with the ancient and tested having pride of place over the new and trite.

3) Most importantly, Catholics should adopt more of the Orthodox notion of the role of bishop. I see a real problem that arises from the top-down administrative understanding of papal authority. What happens is that the local Catholic bishop figures "If the pope doesn't stop what I'm doing, or what Fr. Flakey is doing, then it can't be that bad." People tend to think that papal infallibility implies that the pope is the real bishop of each diocese, and the bishop is just a caretaker. That's not the way things really are. The bishop is just as much a successor of Peter and the apostles as the pope is, and has just as much responsibility to shepherd his flock. That's why a Mass with the bishop present is called a "pontifical liturgy." Catholics could become beneficially more Orthodox if our bishops got off their duffs and did their stinking jobs.

Ok. I bet this post gets some nasty comments!

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Thinking the unthinkable

Last Friday was the first day of class. As usual, I didn't spend day one reading over the syllabus. In rhetoric, the first thing you say and the last thing you say are remembered. The middle is usually napped through. So I always try to spend the first day actually doing philosophy. My usual tactic is to write on the board "why are you here?" and wait until someone speaks up.

We usually go through the typical "because it's on the schedule, because I have to graduate, so I can get a good job, make money, and be happy" progression. This time I got a student to say that happiness means to have all that one wants. I posed a revolutionary, daring, unthinkable thought: Perhaps one could then be happy by limiting one's wants.

You could have heard a pin drop. Deny oneself? No, far better to work hard at boring job so that one can buy lots of stuff! I asked the students if they had ever decided not to act on a desire that they had, and many answered "no."

This is of course just a philosophy class. I'm not asking them to deny themselves and follow Christ, I'm just suggesting that they might want to deny themselves to save trouble and bother. I wonder how they will respond to Epicurus (who thought pleasure was the greatest good) when he says "Sex never did anyone any good."

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Scandals don't disprove Christianity

even when they occur at the highest levels. Recently there has been much made of a prominent layman whose past indiscretions were trumpeted by a liberal catholic newspaper, as if this sin discredited whatever other work the man has done.

But sin would only disprove Christianity if Christians taught that baptism made one instantly perfect. But that isn't the case. Authentic Christianity teaches that all are sinners, and sin in Christians doesn't contradict that teaching.

Rather, as Chesterton pointed out somewhere, the continuance of evil in human affairs despite the attempts of secular social reformers to eradicate it is much more of an argument against them than against Christians.

Friday, August 27, 2004

I'm back

You might not have even noticed I was gone. I was taking a small break from blogging so I could enjoy the end of the summer. But now I'm back at school, with lots of important work that I need to do. The good news for you is that I will want to avoid doing that work, and so likely will blog lots more.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

An invitation

if you are in the Chicago area. My eparchy (diocese) has instituted a series of pilgrimages to our parishes, and this Sunday is our turn.

It's at Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church, 14610 Will-Cook Rd, Homer Glen, IL 60491.

Here's the schedule:

9:00-10:15am Confessions. I know I need this part especially.
9:30am Matins (Morning prayer)
10:30am Divine Liturgy (Mass) with procession
12:00pm Light lunch
12:45pm Akathist Hymn to John the Baptist (an akathist is kind of like a litany, only longer. But not too long.)

Please consider coming. Our choir is quite good, and this is sort of a last hurrah for us for a while. We sing Ruthenian music, which is the prototype for Russian church music--if you like the Don Cossack choir and that sort of stuff, you'd probably enjoy hearing us.

Here's some pictures of the church which are a little bit out of date. Imagine lots of little kids running around, beautiful music, more icons, less pews, and you'll get the idea.

Monday, August 16, 2004

More on modesty

On my way back home from church this past Sunday, I saw a common sight: teenage girls in bikinis holding up signs for a car wash. I think they were part of a cheerleading squad. So, I pulled over to chat with the adult who was present.

"Do you really think it's appropriate to use 14 year-old T & A to entice people in for carwashes?"

"I'm sorry you feel that way. That's not the intention."

"So why the bikini tops?"

"It's hot." It wasn't. It was 72 degrees.

Of course, the perfect response only occurred to me 5 minutes later: if the desparately hot weather had forced the girls to bare their skin, I should have asked the 40ish adult woman why she wasn't dressed similarly.

Questioning the culture of death is fun. I think I'm going to make a point of stopping and scolding (politely) more often. Won't you join me?

Well, I did it.

No more cable television in the Athanasius household. It feels. . . good.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Prayer Request

Remember the Big Thing I've been asking you to pray for that I can't tell you about yet? Well, there's a big meeting about it this weekend. Could you please pray that all goes well? Perhaps then I'll even be able to tell you what it is.


An Aphorism(tm)

If the Catholic Church was as powerful as books like The Da Vinci Code claim, there would be no books like The Da Vinci Code.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Sharing faith journeys in our communities of faith

Do sentences like the above make you cringe? Do you run screaming from the worship space when you hear talk about "ministries?" Do you miss the days when religious education was catechesis? Then you aren't alone. Or at least, that means I am not alone.

I hate and despise the attempts to update venerable and ancient terms with the modern and banal. But why is it that such terms are so bad? They have the aroma of middle-management jargon, unnecessary complications of language used to justify the jobs of mediocrities. But, as bad as jargon is, I think the reason such terms are bad is deeper. In fact, I think the use of such terms is a sign of a serious spiritual sickness.

Walker Percy talks about the changes of fashion in Lost in the Cosmos, pointing out that when clothes go out of style, it isn't the clothes that have changed, but the person who wears them. At one point, the polkadot tie "was you." Now, it is no longer. In fact, the continual movement from polkadot tie to paisley tie to monochrome, Regis-Philbinesque tie and back is evidence that you don't really know who you are. If you had a proper sense of self (and for Percy, the only proper sense of self is "sinner, along with other sinners, but redeemed"), you wouldn't need to change your tie.

A similar thing is happening in the Church. We don't have a clear idea of what the Church is, and so we attempt to clothe the big gaping hole in our understanding with lots of nice, warm, friendly, "relevant" terminology. If we call the parish a "worship community", that might distract us from the fact that we don't really understand what it means to be part of the Church, the Bride of Christ, espoused to Christ and made holy by his sacrifice.

Eschew obfuscation. Go back to calling churches and parishes "churches" and "parishes," not "worship spaces" and "faith communities." Don't "share your faith journey," evangelize!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Speaking of Modesty

I was walking through Walmart, usually the bastion of American Protestant Respectability, when I saw, right next to the Sponge-Bob pajamas, panties with the words "I'm a Flirt/Just Can't Help It" written right across the front.

Now, first of all, no underwear with writing on it should be sold to any unmarried person, since the only reason to have underwear with writing is so that someone can read it.

Second, what is it doing in the kids' section? I note that next to it was a Snoopy thong, which I hope Charles Schulz is spared a vision of in heaven.

Aquinas argues in the beginning of the Prima Secundae that one proof that no created good can satifsy human longing is that we are never satisfied with it. Perhaps selling thong underwear with cartoon characters on it is a sign that we are looking in the wrong place?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Preliminary Palamas Perusal

I just finished reading the Paulist Press edition of St. Gregory Palamas, and I have a few preliminary thoughts:

1) This guy was really smart--we should read him more.

2) It would be useful to recover the theology of the Byzantine Empire, especially since their method seems to have stayed very close to the actual Greek text of the New Testament. It was, after all, their spoken language, and so they take their terminology largely from the text itself.

3) When St. Gregory Palamas talks about a distinction between the essence and energies of God, he means by "essence" something very different than what St. Thomas Aquinas means by "essence." I think much of the apparent disagreement between the two theologies could be minimized by taking the time to translate the one metaphysics into the other. Here's my attempt: Aquinas means essence as that by which something has being (thus God's essence is his existence), but Palamas seems to mean essence as something like substance. Thus we can talk with Palamas of distinctions between the hidden substance of God and the visible, eternal, and divine actions of God, whereas it doesn't make sense for the Thomist to speak of divisions in "that by which God has being." Palamas speaks with the focus on Divine Action, Thomas speaks with the focus on Divine Being.

Maybe more later. I'm still thinking through it.

Why you should always dress well for Liturgy

You never know when you might have to step in as a proxy-godfather.

Sunday some friends of ours were scheduled to get their new child Nicholas baptized, confirmed, and eucharisted. Unfortunately, the godfather couldn't attend due to illness, and was in the hospital. I was honored to be able to stand in, and glad that I was dressed well-enough for such a joyous occasion.

Being a proxy-godfather is neat, since I had all the fun at the ceremony, but don't have to buy any presents.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

If you are considering a priestly vocation

May I recommend you consider the Canons Regular of St. Augustine? That is, of course, if you aren't going to be ordained to serve the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma.

The canons, in a nutshell, work to present the faithful with a robust and beautiful liturgical life on the parish level, while living a common life according to the rule of St. Augustine. Plus you get to wear cool vestments. Take a look at the picture:

I happen to know the guy on the right--he was a classmate of mine. His parents only had two children, both sons, both of whom are now priests. What a blessing!

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

A tidbit from The Theology of the Body

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ gave his own interpretation of the cmmandment, "You shall not commit adultery." This interpretation constitutes a new ethos. With the same lapidary words [If you look at a woman with lust, you have made her an adulteress in your heart] he assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman. (p. 346)

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I just read the infamous "selective reduction" article at the NYTimes

I don't know what to say. I remember my reaction when first I saw the sonogram of my little Macrina (not her real name). This woman's reaction to seeing her three children in the sonogram was "Is it possible to get rid of one of them? Or two of them?"

Jesus wept.

Low Blogging

I've been busy with some projects, one of which is reading all the way through The Theology of the Body. The other was responding to all the comments on the Sunday obligation. Which leads me to two requests:

1) Could anyone figure out why it is that Mozilla and Firebird see a different set of comments than Internet Explorer?

2) Could you continue to pray for a Very Special Intention, something big, which I'll tell you about as soon as it develops?


Friday, July 16, 2004

There ain't no justice

In the previous post, there are 33 comments (at last count) arguing about whether or not it would be just for someone to be damned for missing Mass on Sunday. I and a few commentors think that it is, another intrepid commentor thinks not. Actually, I think he feels that it isn't just more than he thinks it isn't just, since if we think about what justice is and what God is, we will see that to accuse God of injustice is irrational.
Justice refers to the state of affairs where each gets what he or she deserves. In order to determine, then, if someone has been treated unjustly, one must know what he deserves. This isn't a simple thing to do, since most human societies have gradations--certain people deserve more than others. Now, consider your relationship to God. For God to be unjust to you, he must fail to give you something that you deserve. What do you deserve from God?
What do you have that isn't grace? Do you have a right to exist? To be healthy? To be saved? To say that you have such rights is to say that God is not God. We have obligations to God, but he has none to us.
God may choose to bind obligations to himself by means of covenants and promises, but absent such a promise, we don't have any claims at all. Thus any argument with the sinfulness of missing one's Sunday obligation that works from a claim of justice is a priori a failure.
We might feel that it is unjust, but that doesn't make it so. 
Of course, this whole discussion is a little bit wrongly-directed. It isn't God who puts people in hell--it's people who choose to go there, by preferring anything to God. One shouldn't blame God for putting the man who goes fishing rather than to Church in hell, because God didn't do it--that man did. He's made it clear he loves fish more than God, and God has chosen not to force anyone's free will. 
I never thought I'd get 30+ comments. That's Sheavian territory! 

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Sunday Obligations and Mortal Sin

A commentor asked how God could damn someone to hell for not going to church on Sunday. I liked my response so much I'm stealing it for the blog. Here it is:

The question:

What kind of God damns people to everlasting pain and torment because they missed mass on Sunday?

And what decent person would want to spend eternity with such a God?

The answer:

What kind of person would miss Mass on Sunday except someone who's ok with spending eternity apart from God? Such a person is obviously OK with spending time apart from God.

Do you know what happens at Mass? You can, if you are so disposed, receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ! God commands that you attend at least once a week, for the sake of your soul. If you don't go, clearly you aren't too concerned about your soul.

Let's do a little balancing here: how much trouble is it to make it to Mass? No trouble at all. How much benefit do you get? Infinite. Who commands you to go? God. Now let's say you sleep in. That means that you value sleeping in, or watching football, or whatever else it is, more than the infinite benefits of God.

Well, God isn't going to give you what you clearly don't want. Damnation for missing Mass? Hell yeah, if you miss on purpose.

If you don't go to Mass, why would you be upset at going to Hell? One avoids God on earth, the other avoids God after death.

(Note to my Eastern Catholic brethren--substitute "Divine Liturgy" for "Mass.")

Monday, July 12, 2004

King Elessar Foretold in the Book of Sirach!

Film at 11.

Just kidding. But at Saturday Vespers in the Byzantine Church, one of the readings was Sirach 11:1-14. As I chanted it, I noticed two things: 1) that it just happens to be Tolkienesque, and 2) that it is a particularly clear prophecy about the Messiah. Here's the first five verses:

Sir 11:1 The wisdom of a humble man will lift up his head, and will seat him among the great.
Sir 11:2 Do not praise a man for his good looks, nor loathe a man because of his appearance.
Sir 11:3 The bee is small among flying creatures, but her product is the best of sweet things.
Sir 11:4 Do not boast about wearing fine clothes, nor exalt yourself in the day that you are honored; for the works of the Lord are wonderful, and his works are concealed from men.
Sir 11:5 Many kings have had to sit on the ground, but one who was never thought of has worn a crown.

Jesus, the King, returned, but was not known, just like Sirach says.

I love reading the old testament Christologically--a waterfall of insights invariably come.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The real argument for abortion rights

I think this is it:

1) If abortion really is a species of murder, then I/we/our nation is/are very evil.
2) I/we/our nation can't be really evil. We're the good guys!
3) Therefore, abortion must be ok.

By the way, this form of argument works for other things as well:

1) If contraception is a mortal sin, then I and my wife have been living without santifying grace for years.
2) I and my wife aren't bad people--it's not like we murdered anyone.
3) Therefore, contraception must be ok.

1) If missing Mass on Sunday is a mortal sin, I'd be in danger of hell.
2) I'm a nice guy, and so can't go to hell.
3) Therefore, missing Mass on Sunday isn't a mortal sin.

What do you think? Have I figured it out?

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

If you miss Swimming the Tiber,

be sure to check out the website for Holy Resurrection Monastery, which is the work of our own Sean Roberts. The website looks much better.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Another aphorism

If you don't want people to look at your chest or your rear end, make sure the clothing covering those areas doesn't have writing on it.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

I visited my first Maronite liturgy today

Well, actually my second, but the first was a daily liturgy at the shrine in Ohio. I liked it, especially the closing prayer of the priest where he gives humble thanks for the privilege of serving at the altar, and reminds himself that he may not ever get the opportunity to do that again. It's a memento mori written into the liturgy.

I also learned that Syriac really isn't much like Arabic. I know a few words of liturgical Arabic, but I couldn't follow the Syriac at all.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

For all you ordained clergy out there,

I have come up with an idea for a Brilliant Homily. Yes, if you try this, they'll be talking about you for years. I offer it to you free of charge. Here we go:

Start your homily in silence. Then continue in silence. Oh, you can gesture if you like--maybe even some full-blown Fulton Sheenesque gesticulations would be effective. But say nothing.

Do this for at least five minutes, which is about three minutes longer than the time it takes a pause to become an uncomfortable silence.

Then finish with more silence, and continue the liturgy.

At the end of the liturgy, while giving the announcements for the upcoming bakesales and such, say "How did you like the homily? Was it good?" When people look back in puzzlement, say this, or something like it: "Oh, you didn't like it? I was just doing what so many other people do. When I ask them if they evangelize, if they spread the good news, they say they do, but quietly, by means of their actions. So I preached with actions, not words."

You can continue: "It didn't work? Well, then, perhaps you should contemplate these words of St. Paul: So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ. (Rom 10:17) When's the last time you talked to your friends about Jesus?"

How will the world know the gospel if no-one preaches it?

(If you do use this as a homily, I ask that you let me know how it works. I'm not ordained, so can't try it myself.)

Monday, June 28, 2004

Another Aphorism

If you go to confession, and the priest says that something isn't a sin, you can be sure that the priest commits that sin. Unless you confess getting an abortion, in which case the priest probably paid for one.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Some long overdue housekeeping

I've added a link to frequent commentor Nârwen, who, in addition to knowing all about Newman, apparently speaks Elvish. Also, I updated The Tower's link. My apologies for being slow.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

That's how Mark describes Jesus' temptation in the desert--the Holy Spirit drove him out there.

In the early history of the Church there were many saints who were also driven out into the desert. In fact, there was a whole literature that grew up around their spiritual exploits. You can find a collection of these stories here. Lots of rich young men gave up everything and retreated to the wildreness of the Middle East in order to flee sin and pursue holiness. The most famous is St. Anthony of Egypt, whose life story can be found here. Anthony had many followers and imitators, and even played a role in the conversion of St. Augustine.

It is too easy for modern people to dismiss the stories as fanaticism (the English of a previous generation would have sneeringly called the monks "enthusiasts") and the extreme fasting and mortification as Manichaean hatred of the body. But I don't think that is true. Paul, Anthony, Hilarion and their like don't go to the desert out of hatred for physical things, but out of love for God and hatred of the sin that they find in cities and in themselves.

In fact, given the example of Christ, who was driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit, it might even be a Christian necessity to seek the desert. The Christian must in some way keep himself apart from the ways of the world, since the ways of the world are sinful. The Christian must also discipline himself, at times severely, in order not to be corrupted by the ways of the world. (By "world" I don't mean the world as created by God, but in the sense that the devil is called "The Prince of this world.")

How can we do this? I suggest first of all getting rid of television, or at least putting severe restrictions on its use--our rule is no TV except weekends and when working out, but I hope to strengthen those restrictions as my children get older. I don't want other people shouting bad things at them for hours a day.

The internet as well needs to be restricted, especially for men. You may not know that "adult" websites are the biggest moneymakers in cyberspace. They don't do this without customers. I hope that you, dear reader, don't know the depths of shameful stuff available on the web, but I assure you that it is there. The Christian needs to take stock of himself and decide whether the internet is safe for his soul. If you are married, you may wish to invest in a parental control program (so far I recommend Cybersitter) and give the password to your wife. If you live alone, or neither you nor your spouse is trustworthy in this matter, you might need to get rid of internet access altogether, and simply use library computers.

Finally (at least for today) you must discipline your body, since it is damaged, as everything is, by the Fall. Let me give you an all-purpose answer to spiritual problems, with thanks to Disputations:

Look at what St. Hilarion has to say. He was a young man who went into the desert to pursue a monastic vocation. As with most teenage males, he soon began to experience the usual teenage male problems. He gives very good common-sense advice: This little Christian novice was compelled to think about things which he had never thought about before, and a whole parade of ideas flooded through his mind about things of which he had had no experience. He got angry with himself and beat his breast with his fists as if he could drive his thoughts away by physical blows.

"You little donkey!" he said to himself, "I'll see to it that you don't trample me underfoot. I'll not give you any barley. Nothing but chaff! I will tame you by means of hunger and thirst, I will weigh you down with heavy burdens, I will subject you to both cold and heat! So you will end up thinking of nothing but food instead of such shameful things!"

Far better to fast and pray, and be thinking of food, rather than to allow one's libido to roam free. If going away from your next meal a little hungry could save your soul, would you do it?

Postscript: One caution about the desert fathers: they do engage in quite severe fasting and mortification. You may think either that 1) they are crazy, or 2) I'd be crazy to try this. In answer to (1): whenever you think the ancients were crazy, repeat this fact to yourself: "we sane Americans kill 4000 of our own babies every day." Once you have some perspective, go back and reconsider the ancients. In answer to (2): such mortifications ought to be undertaken only under the direction of a wise spiritual director. Find someone who is faithful, intelligent, and trustworthy, and do whatever he or she tells you to do.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

An aphorism

On Modesty: If you are beautiful, you can't put on enough clothes to cover it up; if you are ugly, you can't take off enough clothes to be beautiful.

Prayer Request

If you get a moment, could you pray for a special intention which I am not at liberty to divulge at this time? It's sort of a "let this cup pass from me. But let Your will, not mine, be done," sort of thing.

Not too serious on the cosmic scale.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Tolkien Schmolkien

I'm currently rereading LOTR, and just picked up Pearce's book Tolkien: Man and Myth. I don't know if Tolkien is a saint, in the sense of having displayed heroic virtues. Perhaps not. I hope he is a saint in the ordinary sense of sharing in the beatific vision. Whether he is a saint or not, he was certainly wise. See this quote from the Professor on the historicity of Genesis, quoted in Pearce.

"It has not, of course, historicity of the same kind as the New Testament, which are virtually contemporary documents, while Genesis is separated by we do not know how many sad exiled generations from the Fall, but certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of `exile'."

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Rumors, rumors, and scandals

There are rumors floating around of some new awful clergy abuse story coming up soon. I'm not going to link to it--you can find such things for yourself if you are interested in them. I'm going to repost something I wrote on scandals and faith.

How many scandals are too many?

I had this thought the other day, and since I have a blog, every thought must be published! Here it is: there have been lots of people recently who claim that they just can't belong to a church which has so many abusive clerics. But what if there were only one priest who abused a child? Would that be enough to get you out of the Church? How about two? Three? If not three, then maybe ten? How about fifty? If one isn't enough, then how come fifty or a hundred is enough? Where is the limit? If one scandal is not enough to destroy your faith, but a hundred is enough, then we can put a value on your faith. John Doe's faith is strong enough to withstand 49 scandals, but no more. Mary Jane's faith can only withstand 10 scandals.

But faith is not a deal made with God: "I'll believe in You and follow You as long as less than 49 of Your ministers don't betray me!" It is a personal relationship with God which involves putting all of one's eggs into God's basket. We accept the free gift of salvation from God. But like all gifts, we can't put conditions on it. We can't say to Grandma that she can give us Christmas presents as long as it's an electric train and not a sweater. We just have to accept what we are given. We can't have faith in God and then reject it if difficulties arise. It would be bad manners. It wouldn't really be faith.

So I'm rereading the Lord of the Rings

again, for the tenth time. As I read it I'm pleased to note that much of the dialogue in the movies came from the book. It may not be said by the person who said it in the book, but it's in there. For example, the song that Pippin sings for Denethor is a traveling song from the very beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring.

Thanks again, Peter Jackson.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Large Women and Ungentlemanly Men

I went to a party last weekend. At this party were many woman that I had known in college, and many of them had changed through pregnancy. I will put it delicately: many of them were much larger than I remembered.

Now, this is not a bad thing, but a natural thing. Women's bodies change as they bring new life into the world. Some change more than others, but they all change.

But seeing all the wonderfully burgeoning pregnant women got me thinking--what sort of man would do that to a woman, putting her through such physical changes, and then leave her? No gentleman would, certainly. The very nature of pregnancy itself demands that take place only in marriage, for only in marriage can the woman be sure that she will be protected and loved no matter what happens to her physical shape.

Of course, when I say "marriage" I am referring to Christian marriage, where man and woman are sacramentally joined into one flesh.

I notice that as I post less

the Old Oligarch posts more. Perhaps I'm John the Baptist to his Jesus: "I must decrease, he must increase."

Old Oligarch has an interesting blog if you like theology, absinthe, guns, or burning things in your bathtub.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

My choir director asked me to give the choir a talk on beauty

Here it is, with some editing.

Tim has asked me to say a few words about beauty, which is really not my area of expertise. I’m a philosopher, he’s the artist. But I will do my best to shed some philosophical light (which often obscures more than it reveals) on just what it is that artists do.

I start with a quote from John Paul II, in his letter to artists: “In a certain sense, beauty is the visible form of the good, just as the good is the metaphysical condition of beauty.” (3) Goodness and beauty are related, intimately. That which is beautiful must be good, since beauty allows us to see (or in the case of music, hear) the good. Take the example of a beautiful woman: she may be physically perfect, but that shallow beauty may be a lie if she is not herself good. It seems sacrilegious to have a beautiful person be mean.

Or take the example of fruit: a beautiful apple is beautiful because it is good. The beauty is the visibility of the good within it. The sparkling red, firm, shiny apple tells us “I’m yummy!” If the apple weren’t good, it wouldn’t be beautiful, and if it weren’t beautiful, we wouldn’t know it was good. The experience of the evil beautiful woman is like the experience of biting into a beautiful apple and tasting maggots. Beauty and goodness are different ways of understanding the same thing. Beauty is goodness perceived, made manifest.

What does this have to do with music? Music is revelatory: the pope calls art an epiphany, or, as we in the East would say, a theophany. Beauty, and especially liturgical musical beauty, is supposed to reveal the hidden goodness of God and his creation, just as the beauty of a woman is supposed to be a mirror of her hidden goodness.

The artist, then, and that includes us in this choir, has the obligation and duty to show forth the hidden, to create beauty. But here the word “create” is somewhat problematic. It is true that God is both the supreme Beauty and the supreme artist--just think of the words at the end of creation “He saw that it was very good.” But creation is to create out of nothing. In fact, in Hebrew, only God can be the subject of the verb “to create.” Humans can’t really create. We can make.

What’s the difference between creating and making? One creates out of nothing, one makes out of stuff. In carpentry, the stuff is wood. The carpenter is bound in his method by the material he works with. Ask any carpenter: can you make a stool out of balsa wood? The craft of carpentry has to follow the rules of the material. For the musician, who is also a craftsman, the material are tones and the length, pitch, and timbre of those tones. We’ve got to follow the rules there as well. Just as you can’t build a house without cross-bracing, you can’t show forth beauty in music that’s out of tune. That’s just as much a law as any law of science or craft.

Music is just as objective as carpentry. Certainly people will have different tastes, or prefer one melody to another, but no-one likes music badly done. That’s why we practice, so that we can match up to the necessities of the art form itself. Painters study canvas and paint, carpenters study wood, and musicians must study sound. All humans have ears, and ears hear sound the same way, simply because of the laws of nature set up by God. As a result, music that is out of tune, that isn’t together, that has different vowel sounds sung at the same time, that has consonants and sibilants uncoordinated, that isn’t blended, is just as objectively bad as a house built by bad contractors. As proof of the objectivity of music I offer the fact that no-one is beating down my door to hear me play the violin.

Part of the difficulty with communicating the ineffable glories of God in music is that since God is ineffable, there’s no specific chord or melody that can give us a vision of God. So lots of music could, theoretically, recall God’s glory. Lots of different types of tables could serve as a good dinner table. But in no case, do I think, could bad music do it as well as the same piece of music performed well.

Given that the beauty of music is in some sense objective, what is the point of it, especially liturgical music? We’ve already touched on that--it’s to show forth goodness. In our case, it is through beauty to show forth the goodness of the texts we sing. Can we do an example? Just listen to these words: “Let us who mystically represent the cherubim sing the thrice-holy hymn.” Say it. It’s a good text, pointing out the fact of what we represent at liturgy. But does it hit you? Now sing it! Can you hear the difference? Augustine says that “I wept at the beauty of your hymns and canticles, and was powerfully moved at the sweet sound of Your Church's singing. Those sounds flowed into my ears, and the truth streamed into my heart: so that my feeling of devotion overflowed, and the tears ran from my eyes, and I was happy in them.” The words communicate truth to the mind, the melody communicates that truth to the heart, by means of beauty. Or, as JP II puts it, “The `beautiful’ was thus wedded to the `true’, so that through art too souls might be lifted up from the world of the senses to the eternal.”

Dostoyevsky says that "beauty will save the world." Beauty can make us desire the good. It can call us out of a life of the ordinary, a life of sin and alienation, into the very life of God himself.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Let me recast my previous point

since the Reagan examples are not crucial to my argument. I used him not because I thought he was evil--far from it. I used him because the talk surrounding his death provoked thoughts in my mind, and this blog is a mirror of my mind. Or a bucket to hold my intellectual regurgitations.

So here's another example: when I was in seminary, there were lots of Irish seminarians who followed the news in their ancestral land passionately. I remember vividly a few of them talking about the bombings that the IRA carried out against civilians, saying that it was a good thing if it made Ireland free.

I suggest this test: if at any moment you find yourself thinking that evil act X, whatever it is, is worth doing to avoid evil situation Y, no matter how bad it is, at that moment you have ceased to think like a Christian.

We are not allowed to do evil so that good may come. Not even a little bit of evil for a whole lot of good. To say otherwise is not to trust God.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Only people without faith can say "The end justifies the means."

Today I've heard some comments critical of a departed president of whom I was fond. The commentor pointed out the Reagan practice of arming various thugs around the world in order to use them in the Cold War against communism. He claims that we've been reaping the rewards of this strategy ever since.

Perhaps that's right. Communism was a very great evil, which is a fact that must be pointed out often to young people these days. But can you fight evil with evil? In other words, can you use a bad action to get rid of a worse evil? Is winning the Cold War and saving Europe from Soviet tion worth arming Osama bin Laden and the like?

For a Catholic, the answer must be an emphatic no. We are not permitted to do evil so that good may come, no matter how small the evil or how great the good.

But this teaching seems very hard, especially when one does reflect on just how bad the Soviet Union was. So perhaps we should rephrase it in a positive way: Faith requires the Christian to live in a firm assurance that everything turns out well, in the end. The theological virtues of faith and hope and charity are all connected. Faith in God leads us to hope for what God has promised, which is eternal life. The Christian must know that despite despots and killers, everything ends well. Having hope that everything ends well makes it unecessary for us to do evil actions to gain good ends, since we are sure that in the end, despite everything, we will get the Good End.

To say that we aren't allowed to do evil, no matter what, is the same as saying that we expect the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, amen.

P.S. I remain fond of Reagan, and I pray that he may attain eternal rest.

Monday, May 31, 2004

A Catholic Blogger's Motto

From St. Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:

But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,
and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.
Rejoice always,
pray constantly,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Do not quench the Spirit,
do not despise prophesying,
but test everything; hold fast what is good,
abstain from every form of evil.

I think some people shouldn't blog

I've been following with some sadness the career of a young blogger (I won't tell you who it is) who, in the course of his blogging, has entered the Church, defended her teaching on moral issues, been scandalized by the breakup of a famous Catholic couple's marriage, been further scandalized by the fact that the Democratic party (which he loves) is clearly at odds with the Church, has fallen in a particular moral area, has repudiated his defense of the Church on these issues, and has come back to the Church (sort of) by means of Call to Action and Dignity.

I don't think people should blog about matters of faith until that faith has matured a bit. Frank Sheed and the Catholic Evidence Guild wouldn't let you go out and preach on street corners until you were well-formed, since a flawed defense of the Church will do more harm than no defense at all. Further, engaging in this sort of debate when your own faith is still inchoate is very likely to kill it.

As someone connected to this whole mess has said, thank God I didn't have a blog when I was 20. One can only hope, as Thomas More said to John Roper, that when this certain blogger's head stops spinning around, it is facing in the right direction again.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Speaking of Roman churches

I went to a local Latin parish this morning, a place that I usually hate going to because I don't like the church or the liturgies. I go sometimes because they have confessions after the Saturday morning Mass.

So, I was standing there listening to the priest mangle the Eucharistic prayer, very much in line with Screwtape's line about loving humanity but hating my fellow man, when it hit me: how strange a thing it is that people say "I like Fr. Tom's Masses" or "I like Fr. Smith's Masses." We play favorites.

Don't you think it is strange? How could you not like the way a priest prays the Mass? It's the same Mass throughout the Roman rite, is it not? I could see someone saying "I like Fr. Tom's homilies" or "Fr. Smith has a nice singing voice," but to prefer one Mass to another seems inappropriate, somehow.

To like one Mass more than another seems like liking one dollar bill more than another. Shouldn't they be the same? They are all the same thing, ultimately, an unbloody representation of the one sacrifice of Christ. Shouldn't there be some similarity?

But there isn't. Fr. X will adlib the prayers one way, Fr. Y will adlib them another, and Fr. Z will do something else. Immediately, given this variety, the people start to compare Fr. X to Fr. Y, and Fr. Y to Fr. Z. This is unhealthy. As Paul said, "Is Christ divided?" But this division is a fruit of liturgical experimentation. There are so many different flavors that everyone can find something perfectly to his taste.

Finding something to your taste is fine, except when it comes about at the expense of the unity of the Church. Rather than one people sharing in one sacrifice, we become a bunch of armed camps, divided along the lines of who has the polka Mass, or who lets the kids come up front, or who doesn't use "him" to refer to God, or who always uses Eucharistic Prayer II so we can get out of there faster.

It is to avoid just such situations that there are rules. There is one Mass, and one way to say it (with licit variations), within any particular rite of the Church. Certainly different music can be used, and different buildings can be used, and all sorts of other cultural differences can play a part in the externals of the Mass, but the Mass itself should be the same--the same prayers, the same actions, and the same symbolism.

Priests should remember that whenever they improvise, they are causing some to hate them and some to love them, and consequently some to hate each other. That shouldn't happen. Stick to the text!

Sunday, May 23, 2004

A handy rule of thumb

If communion at your church is over before the first verse of the communion hymn, then you don't need extraordinary ministers!

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Joke time

What's brown and sticky?

A stick!

Monday, May 17, 2004

Depressing Posts

It's come to my attention that my last few posts have been rather sombre (or is it somber?). World events have me down.

I'm starting to agree with Tolkien when he said he didn't expect progress in history; he expected a long slow defeat. A long, slow defeat punctuated with moments of glorious victory, but a defeat nonetheless.

Thank God for God!

Cultural Dislocation at Sam's Club

I went to Sam's today (to get tires rebalanced). Sam's Club is generally good (as is Walmart) as a snapshot of mainstream, non-Hollywood American Culture. So, as I was walking around with little Macrina (not her real name) I noticed an interesting disjunction:

Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code right next to a whole stack of Purpose-Driven Life(tm) bibles.

Do you think anyone who walks through that store realizes that the one attempts to destroy the other?

Friday, May 14, 2004

Our wonderful country

I visited Germany in 1991. Walking around Frankfurt and Berlin, I wondered how many of the people I saw had been participants in the Nazi regime. Surely many of those over a certain age must have played some part? After all, Hitler was elected. It was unsettling to move amongst a people who had killed so many, either directly or through passive acceptance.

But perhaps my discomfort was misplaced. After all, I live in America, a nation that kills one and a half million people year. Polls show that most people think this is fine. Many of the rest aren't too upset about it. Did I have any cause to be upset with the elderly Germans?

Thought experiment: the next time you walk down the street or see a crowd in a store, think to yourself that more than half of these people think that, at some time or other, it is appropriate to kill the child in the womb.

We are a nation of killers. God help us.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

I'm still here

All done with grading. On to yardwork.

Blogging will resume presently.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Memento Mori

A cousin of Mrs. Athanasius died suddenly a while back, at the age of 37. She died in the shower, with no cause of death discovered. The body was found by the husband. There are three girls, aged three to nine.

I bring this up because there is a very insidious problem in modern Christianity, something that was apparent at the funeral, and in conversations since the funeral. People will ask "Why did she have to die so young?" "Why would God take her?" "Why would God leave her kids without her?" Some have expressed that it is difficult to keep faith in God when such good people die, for no apparent reason.

Now, these sentiments are understandable. I don't blame anyone who has them. But I think such attitudes are fundamentally incompatible with Christian faith.

See, there is an idea hidden behind these statements: "God won't let bad things happen to her/me/the kids." If I pray and do good things (which is another insidious idea, that there really are good people), shouldn't I be rewarded? Shouln't I be able to die peacefully, full of years, surrounded by children and grandchildren? Shouldn't I just slip into heaven as easily as a hand in a glove, with no intervening discomfort? That's the way things should be, God,and if it doesn't work out that way, I'll be mad at you!


I'm going to make a series of statements, all of which are true. Contemplate them. Think about them. Ponder on death (memento mori).
1) All of your friends will suffer.
2) Your children will suffer.
3) You will suffer.

1) All of you friends will die.
2) Your children will die.
3) You will die.
4) #2 and #1 may happen before #3.

1) Some of your friends may have horrible things done to them.
2) Some of your children may have horrible things done to them.
3) You may have horrible things done to you.

1) All of your friends will sin.
2) All of your children will sin.
3) You will sin.

Look around you: all that you hold dear in this world is passing away. You will suffer and die. We all will, Christian and non-Christian alike. Baptism and faith in God changes none of this.

What it does change is that it gives hope. We know that despite all the pain and suffering and death of this life, that there is a place of light, in a place of happiness, in a place of peace, where there is no pain, no grief, no sighing. We know that death is not the end, that bad things are merely temporary, but that the real good Thing (union with God and with loved ones in God) is eternal.

I wrote something a few years ago called "How Many Scandals", where I opined that if there's some level of priest sexual abuse that would cause you to lose faith (50%? 70%? 100%?), then you don't really have faith. It's the same thing with this. If there is some level of suffering X beyond which you aren't prepared to go, then you don't have faith.