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."