Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Ten Commandments are the Greatest Affirmation of Love and of Life!

In honor of his all too brief reappearance this weekend here is a great quote from our beloved Pope Emeritus. Is this how you understand the teachings of God and His Church? Remember, Christianity isn't about "rules" it's about a "relationship" - it's about love. The "rules" exist to foster the relationship, just like the "rules" of not cheating or beating your wife exist not for themselves, but for the sake of the love you share. Let's listen to the "grandfather of all grandfathers" (perhaps a future title for any future pope emeritus as well?) Pope Benedict,

Recommended Reading:

Bach's Music Exists, ergo Atheism is False

I've been listening to Bach's Cello Suites a lot lately. I've long enjoyed his Brandenburg Concerti (sorry, but as an Italian I just can't bring myself to write "concertos" ... shudder), but haven't really delved into his Cello repertoire previously. If you're unfamiliar with them, you might enjoy this link (unfortunately with the occasional commercial) with the great Yo-Yo Ma playing several of them (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHzfD6XLK7Q):

This being a Catholic blog, I can't help but point to one of my favorite arguments for God's existence, formulated thus by Dr. Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ron Tacelli in their masterful book Handbook of Christian Apologetics:
There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach
Therefore there must be a God.
Dr. Kreeft is right in saying that you kind of get this argument on a "gut level" or you don't get it at all. It really is an enthymeme, an argument with an unstated premise (every argument needs two premises, this one seems to have but one). A fuller argument would go something like:

1. There is great, transcendent beauty in the universe (like Bach's music)
2. Such beauty is impossible in a universe without meaning
3. But a randomly caused universe would have no objective meaning
4. And atheism would require a randomly caused universe
5. Therefore, great, transcendent beauty (like Bach's music) couldn't exist in an atheistic universe
6. So, either Bach's music exists or atheism is true
7. Bach's music exists
8. Therefore, atheism is false
Call it the "argument from aesthetic experience." Note it isn't just that Bach's music is "pretty" that brings us to realize God must exist (Dr. Kreeft, in his new book Letters to an Atheist, points out that "dresses on teenage girls 'pretty'"), nor is it a mere "feeling" that brings us to our conclusion (Kreeft notes standing in a great cathedral doesn't just produce a feeling, rather it gives us concrete "data" something you can see, "with your eyes, your heart, and your mind all working together.") It is that Bach's music and the cathedral (and many other things) are, not "pretty" or "something I'm attracted to", but beautiful that drives us unrelentingly to our conclusion

Gothic Cathedral
How Could an Atheist Remain So, Standing Here?

For the mere existence of such beauty is incompatible with the nihilism that is logically entailed in atheism. In other words, beauty carries within it meaning - objective meaning, but atheism would mean no such meaning (and therefore no real beauty) can exist. Therefore, we can either have real beauty or atheism - not both. When we encounter real, objective beauty in the world, we know that atheism must, then, be false.

Or, as Dr. Kreeft explains the attraction of the fine arts,
They are "signals of transcendence," fingers pointing beyond themselves towards exits from the cave (i.e. this world).... It's not just sentimentalism; it's an intellectual intuition: the music we have in our soul just has to match the music outside our soul. There has to be more.
Not that it's not a great cave. But there has to be more. We see this with most conviction not when we are poor and in pain, when the cave is the smallest and darkest and most uncomfortable. It's precisely at those moments when we feel the cave's greatness the most, when we are most open to the charms and beauties of our physical and emotional universe, that we feel this "divine discontent," this "lover's  quarrel with the world." (Letters to an Atheist)
But maybe Dr. Kreeft and Fr. Tacelli had it right when they didn't bother with such a lengthy attempted explanation of this argument in their Handbook. Maybe it is better to leave it where they did, by simply saying, "you either see this one or you don't."

Tomorrow, we'll look a bit more at those who don't (What to Make of Atheists who Reject the Argument from Beauty).

Recommended Reading:

Monday, September 29, 2014

Parrot Prays to Our Lady - Do YOU?

Saw this over at CNA:

Which got me thinking, how often must have this guy prayed the Hail Mary to get his parrot to, well, parrot it? Let that be encourage for you. Don't let "Poncho" honor Our Heavenly Queen more than you do! Pray the Hail Mary! Heck, pray the Rosary!

Oh, and just because my Pirates have made the post-season two years running, here's Poncho singing "Take me out to the Ball Game." Baseball and Catholicism, this bird is right up my alley!

Even More Things Vatican Two Actually Said...

A Prayer of Praise for Michaelmas

Today in the Divine Office, for Lauds ("morning prayer"), we praise the Lord with his holy prophet, Daniel. If you don't pray the Liturgy of the Hours, perhaps today - honor of Michaelmas (the Feast of the Archangels) - you might raise your voice in praise of the Lord. Take a moment to reflect on the blessings God has showered on your life and with a "gratitude-attitude" take some time this morning (or later if time doesn't permit) to raise your voice with the angels, who never cease to praise their beloved God. Many of our prayers, naturally, end up being petitionary. It is right and just ("dignum et justum est" as the Mass has it) for us to not only ask the Lord for things (although that too is laudatory), but to praise Him simply for who He is (this is the virtue of Religion, according to St. Thomas Aquinas). Join with me, then, and with Daniel and St. Michael, as we proclaim:

St Michael the Archangel

52 Blessed art thou, O Lord the God of our fathers: and worthy to be praised, and glorified, and exalted above all for ever: and blessed is the holy name of thy glory: and worthy to be praised, and exalted above all in all ages.53 Blessed art thou in the holy temple of thy glory: and exceedingly to be praised, and exceeding glorious for ever.54 Blessed art thou on the throne of thy kingdom, and exceedingly to be praised, and exalted above all for ever.55 Blessed art thou, that beholdest the depths, and sittest upon the cherubims: and worthy to be praised and exalted above all for ever.56 Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven: and worthy of praise, and glorious for ever.57 All ye works of the Lord, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.58 O ye angels of the Lord, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.59 O ye heavens, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.60 O all ye waters that are above the heavens, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all for ever.61 O all ye powers of the Lord, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.62 O ye sun and moon, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.63 O ye stars of heaven, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.64 O every shower and dew, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.65 O all ye spirits of God, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.66 O ye fire and heat, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.67 O ye cold and heat, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.68 O ye dews and hoar frosts, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.69 O ye frost and cold, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.70 O ye ice and snow, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.71 O ye nights and days, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.72 O ye light and darkness, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.73 O ye lightnings and clouds, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.74 O let the earth bless the Lord: let it praise and exalt him above all for ever.75 O ye mountains and hills, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.76 O all ye things that spring up in the earth, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.77 O ye fountains, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.78 O ye seas and rivers, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.79 O ye whales, and all that move in the waters, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.80 O all ye fowls of the air, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.81 O all ye beasts and cattle, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.82 O ye sons of men, bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all for ever.83 O let Israel bless the Lord: let them praise and exalt him above all for ever.84 O ye priests of the Lord, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.85 O ye servants of the Lord, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.86 O ye spirits and souls of the just, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.87 O ye holy and humble of heart, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.88 O Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. For he hath delivered us from hell, and saved us out of the hand of death, and delivered us out of the midst of the burning flame, and saved us out of the midst of the fire.89 O give thanks to the Lord, because he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever and ever.90 O all ye religious, bless the Lord the God of gods: praise him and give him thanks, because his mercy endureth for ever and ever.
(If you prefer a modern translation, please find the New American Bible version online HERE)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Benedict XVI Sighting

Long time readers know my special affection for the man who helped convert me to the One Holy Faith (through his writings, not in person, unfortunately) Pope Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus. His Holiness (Emeritus?) is looking healthier and more lively than ever these days and will be leaving his self-imposed seclusion once more to meet and greet over 40,000 seniors this Sunday morning in St. Peter's Square (one of the most transcendently beautiful spaces on the face of the Earth). I must admit to always having a smile put on my face when Benedict decides to return, ever so briefly, to the light of the public. I do wonder what he's been working on since leaving the Chair of Peter to Francis. Whatever it is, I'm sure I can't wait to read it. You can read more about the even HERE.

Pope of Rome
Pre-Retirement Benedict Blesses the Gathered Multitude

Thursday, September 25, 2014

NCR on "the Problem with Prof. Peters"

National Catholic Reporter writer Michael Sean Winters takes noted canonist Dr. Edward Peters (and Cardinal Burke) to task today for not getting aboard the whole "let's turn a blind eye toward people living in adulterous second 'marriages' and allow them Communion" train. I don't usually read NCR, but I enjoy Dr. Peters' blog (and Father Z's where I came across this story) and thought I'd share,
 You remember what Chesterton said about madmen? The problem with the madman is not that he is illogical but that he is only logical. Mutatis mutandi, the problem with Peters and +Burke is not that they are canonists but that they are only canonists." This, I think, hits the nail on the head. 
Which made me wonder if the problem with the NCR staff, including Mr. Winters, might not be that they are liberals, but that they are only liberals. I wonder if that doesn't "hit the nail on the head."

More Things Vatican 2 Actually Said...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Things Vatican Two Actually Said...

Looking at the picture of the Fathers of Vatican Two that I posted earlier today and had to share this...

It is No Argument Against Catholicism that Fundamentalism be False

Yesterday, we listened to Father Barron explain how the Church understands her own holy book - especially the beginning of that holy book. This, as we saw, isn't the way atheists would like us to understand our own book, but it is the way we've always done so. Perhaps the best place to turn to for the official way to understand the Bible (brought to you by the same people that brought you the Bible in the first place) is the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation from the Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum.

The whole document, which is rather short, is worth the time to read (you have read the four major constitutions of the Second Vatican Council, haven't you?), but today I want to draw our attention particularly to chapters 11 and 12 (emphasis mine):

Second Vatican Council
Vatican Two

11. Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore "all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). 
12. However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.
To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another.
But, since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God.
St Paul Writing

In other words, the Bible is the inerrant word of God; it contains no error. But the Bible didn't just fall out of the sky one day with a booming voice commanding us to "read this in memory of me." It was written by God, through men. The human authors of the Bible were not used by God the way I use my keyboard to write this blog. No, they are real authors of the texts no less than I am of this post. Because of this, the style of writing (including genre) of the author must be taken into consideration if we are to understand the Bible at all. Further, we must look at the whole Scripture (which is a unity) just as we must look at all of Romeo and Juliet to understand the play (imagine the confusion that would ensue if someone insisted on interpreting the entire play, but refused to read beyond Act One). More than this, we must look at the Tradition of the Church, which makes up the other part of Revelation, if we are to understand the Bible correctly. The Catechism helps us here:
[Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching. (81) 
As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence. (82)
Which means looking at "the Bible and the Bible alone" (as our Protestant and atheist friends love to do) is looking at only a portion of revelation, a part of the picture.

Finally, it must be recognized that the Bible isn't written by or to individual Christians (or atheists) and neither are they in a position to finally and definitively interpret it. The Catechism points out that,
"The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. (85)
"Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith." (86) 
Pope Francis and Swiss Guards

Which is borne out by history, the Church being merely the transmitter of doctrine not its master, cannot (and has never) changed its teaching (unlike all Protestant groups). The Church exists to teach the message entrusted to it by Jesus Christ. It has taught this same message, in season and out (cf. 2 Tim 4:2), for two thousand years without contradiction. Contraception, homosexual acts, and abortion (as well as lying, killing, and stealing, etc) were condemned in antiquity, contraception, homosexual acts, and abortion (as well as lying, killing, and stealing, etc) are condemned today.

It is only with this full understanding of how to understand God's Revelation to man that we can remain in the truth. That might not be convenient for the internet atheist who fancies himself an armchair exegete or even for the Christian desperate to conform himself to world (by embracing "same-sex marriage" e.g.), but that is how it has always been and will always be.

Which is, perhaps, just a long way of pointing out that it is no argument against Catholicism that Fundamentalism be false.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Father Barron Explains How to Read Genesis

Recently, I've been running into a lot of people who just can't wrap their minds around how we, as Catholics, read and understand the Bible (cf. 'Atheist Who Read Bible Cover to Cover Remains Unconvinced' and 'Is the Bible Too Complex to be Written by God?'). Most, in fact all, of these people are atheists and they, to a man, insist on reading the Bible the way Fundamentalist Christians do. Actually, they insist the only valid way for anyone to read the Bible is the way Fundamentalists read it, no more, they insist the only way to understand Christianity is the way Fundamentalists understand it.

Of course, this is patently absurd. Fundamentalism was begun by people like A.C. Dixon, James Orr, and Lyman Stewart, in the United States, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Christianity was begun by Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem, at the beginning of the first century. That leaves 19 centuries of Christians, including the Christians who wrote the New Testament and those who collected those writings into a "Bible" (Catholics, all), who were not Fundamentalists and who did not read the Bible the way American Fundamentalists do (i.e. in a flatly literalistic way).

Here is the ever lucid Father Barron deftly explaining the way Catholics have always read the Bible, looking especially at the first few chapters of Genesis (the atheist's favorite part of the Bible, no doubt):

Of course, Father is saying nothing new. The great Saint Augustine (AD 354 -430) gave the same kind of interpretation to Genesis 17 centuries ago (16 centuries before the Fundamentalist interpretation) and he wasn't doing anything revolutionary, anything different than what the Catholic Church had been doing since the first century!

It is an odd argument indeed to claim that only in Twentieth Century America did Christians finally figure out how to understand their own sacred books and then to reject those books (and all of Christianity) by saying this understanding makes the Bible ridiculous and impossible to believe! Well, maybe it isn't so odd, after all. The Fundamentalist reading is an easily refutable reading and that is what most of these atheists are really after - a Straw Man they can easily knock down.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Liberty is Impossible Without the Catholic Church

Yesterday (The Absence of Law is the Absence of Freedom), we looked at Benedict's keen insight on the relation between law and freedom - that freedom cannot exist apart from law, that law (far from being opposed to freedom) in fact, "constitutes freedom." Today, I would like to follow up on that idea by listening to our Pope Emeritus as he reflects on the problems with democracy - the normal way we (here in the West) establish and experience law (and thus freedom).

He starts from perhaps an unexpected place - the Marxist critique of democracy. Of course, the pope is opposed to Marxism, it is a godless (and thus an inhumane) economic system that lead to widespread corruption and misery in the lands where the Marxist experiment was tried. However, he, being an honest man and an honest thinker, recognizes, in line with Catholic Social Teaching from Rerum Novarum to Benedict's own Caritas in Veritate, the validity of Marx's discomfort with democracy,
One cannot simply push aside the Marxist criticism of democracy: How free are elections? To what extent is the people's will manipulated by publicity, that is, by capital, by the agency of a few people who dominate public opinion? (Truth and Tolerance, pg. 242-243)

We tend to think we are "free," in the political sense, simply because we can vote. This hallmark of American (indeed Western) freedom, though, is hollow. Not just because nearly half of those who could vote, don't, but because, as Benedict rightly saw, the public will is all too easily "manipulated by publicity." Those in the mainstream media, in higher education (and lower education for that matter), and the wealthy are able to dominate the public square and thus dominate the thinking of "Joe Six Pack." Which leads Benedict to ask,
Is there not a new oligarchy of the people who decide what is modern and progressive, what somebody enlightened has to think? (Ibid.)
Oligarchy. There is a word most Americans don't care to apply to our system of governance. Isn't that some horrible vestige from earlier (and less "free") times? Hasn't democracy done away with such power structures? Of course, a democracy which bases itself entirely on half of the voting populace turning out every four years to vote between two candidates that are barely different on substantive issues is not really a democracy at all. It is an illusion of democracy. When the powers that be bring to bear the power of shaming as unenlightened bigots anyone who disagrees with the popular narrative of "what is modern and progressive" the real lie of democracy is even more apparent. Indeed, Benedict points to the real power of this new democratic oligarchy,
How fearsome this oligarchy is, the way they can publicly execute people, is well enough known. Anyone who gets in their way is an enemy of freedom because he is preventing freedom of expression. (Ibid.)
 Yes, anyone who dares to deny what the enlightened shapers of public opinion has declared "modern" is to be tarred and feathered. Just look at the sudden rise of the "gay marriage" movement. in 2008, even Barack Obama was opposed to legally recognizing the intrinsically impossible - a marriage without members from each sex. Today, someone holding "the first gay president's" former opinion - like Brendan Eich, former head of Mozilla - is branded a "hater" and a "homophobe" and is dismissed as "not modern."

Writing nearly a century ago, GK Chesterton smirked at this modern tendency,


This is the only period in all human history when people are proud of being modern. For though today is always today and the moment is always modern, we are the only men in all history who fall back upon bragging about the mere fact that today is not yesterday.... For whatever the medieval faults, they went with one merit. Medieval people never worried about being medieval; but modern people do worry horrible about being modern. (ILN, Mar 12, 1932)

What, then, is the solution? Not Marxism clearly. But not rule via media enforced public opinion either. No, real freedom can only come within a framework of just laws. This framework can only be established in the Truth, which is why Orestes Brownson could boldly declare,

If, then, you would insure the liberty in any country, strive to make your children solidly religious. But religion you will seek in vain, except in the Church which Christ has founded. If nothing else, sad experience will show you that liberty is impossible without religion, and religion without the (Catholic) Church. (Catholicity and Political Liberty)

A system based on anything less, on any error, will ultimately lead only to slavery - slavery to money, to power, to political opinion, and ultimately to the crushing slavery of sin. Finally, it is only the truth that can ever set us free (cf. Jn 8:32). True freedom requires laws founded on the truth, the ultimate truth about man, life, and society. Anything less, will lead to imprisonment.

Recommended Reading:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Absence of Law is the Absence of Freedom

What is one of the most important "values"of modern man, especially here in the United States? Surely, freedom must be near the apex of any list. But what do we mean by "freedom," what is it we "value" so highly? In one of his brilliant insights, our Pope Emeritus took a hard look at the deficient modern notion of freedom.
people have isolated the concept of freedom and have thereby distorted it: freedom is good, but it is only good in association with other good things (Truth and Tolerance, pg 245)
But this isn't the only problem with many current notions of "freedom." Not only have people isolated it from an overall picture of "the good," they also have reduced the notion of freedom to personal rights, which are often in opposition to each other. The best example of this is found within the current debate over abortion, which pits the right of self-determination of the mother against the right to life of her child, thus making mother and child (and by extension the family) in conflict with each other, in competition for "rights" and "freedom" rather than in cooperation for the "good." Benedict points out that the freedom of abortion is not really freedom at all, but rather is "a diabolical parody" as,
The freedom of man is a shared freedom, freedom in coexistence of other freedoms, which are mutually limiting and thus mutually supportive: freedom must be measured according to what I am, what we are - otherwise it abolishes itself.... If the freedom of man can only continue to exist within an ordered coexistence of freedoms, then this means that order - law - is, not the concept contrary to freedom, but its condition... Law is not the obstacle of freedom; rather, it constitutes freedom. The absence of law is the absence of freedom. (Truth and Tolerance, pg 248-249)

And when he calls some modern notions of freedom a "diabolical parody," he isn't just using a clever literary trope, he is deadly serious, noting that
what clearly stands behind the modern era's radical demand for freedom is the promise: You will be like God....The implicit goal of all modern freedom movements is, in the end, to be like a god, dependent on nothing and nobody, with one's freedom not restricted by anyone else's. (Truth and Tolerance, pg 247-248)

The god thus conceived of is, not God, but an idol, indeed, the image of... the devil, the anti-god, because... the true God is... being-for (Father), being-from (Son), and being-with (Holy Spirit). (Truth and Tolerance, pg 248)
So the freedom of God itself is a "freedom in coexistence" not an "isolated freedom" - a freedom for, from and with, not a freedom against. Thus, God reflects the natural state of the family, which is itself a microcosm of the Divine, and the illusory freedom of Satan mirrors that of those who demand things like abortion, those who would divorce freedom from the good. The prison of this kind of pseudo-freedom is well illustrated by Dante when he sees the Fallen Angel in the pit of hell,
The Emperor of the kingdom dolorous
From his mid-breast forth issued from the ice;
And better with a giant I compare
Than do the giants with those arms of his;...
O, what a marvel it appeared to me,
When I beheld three faces on his head!...
Underneath each came forth two mighty wings,
Such as befitting were so great a bird;
Sails of the sea I never saw so large.
No feathers had they, but as of a bat
Their fashion was; and he was waving them,
So that three winds proceeded forth therefrom.
Thereby Cocytus wholly was congealed.
With six eyes did he week, and down three chins
Trickled the teardrops and the bloody drivel. (Inferno, Canto XXXIV)
Inferno Satan

In the end, freedom can only be free when it is a freedom to do what is right. Freedom to sin is no freedom at all, rather it is the most degrading (and common) form of human slavery.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Atheist who Read Bible "Cover to Cover" Remains Unconvinced

I had an interesting exchange with an atheist recently on Google+ who, when I asked him if he had read the Bible he was so disparaging of, gave me the following reply, which I thought merited an extended answer here.
Yes I have from cover to cover. A couple of times. None of it corresponds with reality. The creation mythology for a start. The flood is pure bull@$#^. The rest is just confirmation of the Israelite belief that they are "chosen".The pervasive sense of self justification for the barbarity permitted in the name of "god" is disgusting.
It seems my atheist friend has managed to read the Bible "cover to cover" without understanding any of it. Such is equally tragic and common, I'm afraid. I will tip my hat to him for actually taking the time to read it. I don't know how many atheists I've talked with whose sole knowledge of the Bible is something they've heard Richard Dawkins quote or something they've read on some "debunker" website (usually itself in desperate need of debunking)

holy book
Perhaps it is worth nothing, however, that reading the Bible "cover to cover" is a great way to ensure you miss the point. In fact, there might be no better way to read the Bible while ensuring you will certainly misunderstand it than to read it "cover to cover." Why? isn't turning the first page and plowing through till we reach the end the best way to read a book? Perhaps, but it isn't the best way to approach a library. And the Bible isn't really a book - its a mini-library of books which were written by diverse people over millennia. As going to the local library and deciding to learn a subject by starting with whatever author's name happens to start with "A" would only lead to confusion, so too with the Bible. The best way to approach a new subject at your local public library is to start with introductory books and work your way to the more difficult ones as you master the fundamental material. Picking up an advanced calculus book without being able to add 2 and 2 will lead to frustration. That, of course, doesn't show something is deficient in the calculus book, it means something is horribly wrong with your approach to learning math.

Making things yet more complicated are the various genres contained within the Bible. Most people who pick up the Bible to read it "cover to cover" read all the books the same way, as if they were all the same kind of book. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Reading Lord Byron's "The Destruction of Sennacherib" the same way you'd read Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principals or even Edward Gibson's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire would result in absurd conclusions being drawn. Of course, such conclusions would say little about any of those works, but might say a lot about the readers mistaken approach. 

The Bible contains a wide variety of different types (genres) of writing. Within its "covers" we find: history, poetry, law, myth, interpretation of other Scriptures, theology, philosophy, and prophecy. Reading all these in the same flat (literalistic) manner leads only to confusion. But again, that isn't the fault of the sacred authors, the blame lies squarely at the uneducated manner the reader insists on taking when reading their words.

Yet further complicating matters, the books of the Bible were written in very different cultures, with very different standards for composition. The question, when looking at the literal sense of any passage of Scripture, must be "what was the sacred author intending to relate" not what would a modern American, writing in English, in the twenty-first century, be trying to relate here. A great example is drawn from the history of the Bible. Are the numbers given for the various armies exactly recorded? Or are they estimates given to provide a sense of the battle? Ancient historians of all stripes took the latter course, today's historians prefer the former. Or, when the sacred authors speak of things like the sun standing still - and atheists leap with joy to declare the sun always stays still, so the Bible is wrong in its assumption that it usually moves - they are using phenomenological language, the same atheists themselves use when they speak of "sunrise" and "sunset." Such isn't an error, but it does require understanding how the authors are using language.

A minute ago I mentioned that the Bible contains, among many other styles of writing, myth. Ah yes, the atheist will no doubt agree, it is all myth! Of course, we now see a modern example of the failure of language to easily communicate across even the divide that exists within our own culture (and which should cause us to hesitate to think such divides are unimportant in understanding writing from millennia ago). Myth here refers not to "something false" (which the word myth doesn't really mean in English despite frequent misuse), but refers to some truth being told in a poetical way. Such is the case for the first three chapters of Genesis. The events recounted happened, everything was created by God, including man, who then, through the temptation of Satan, fell and brought sin into an otherwise good world. These events though are not recounted in simple historical terms, as much else is in the Bible, but in symbolic terms - thus in "mythical terms" using the word myth in it's technical sense. The Bible certainly isn't trying to give a modern scientific explanation of how the world came into being (pace young Earthers), but is giving a theological explanation as to how and why God created everything ex nihilo. Examples could be multiplied, but I'll leave such a task to the reader.

All of this complexity exists on the purely mundane level of the Biblical texts, without even looking at the supernatural dimensions of the book, which are essential to understanding the Bible as Christians do. Here we see the texts as inspired not for your average "Joe Six-Pack" to set alone in his room reading the thing "cover to cover," but for the Church (to whom and for whom the Scriptures are written) to proclaim them in the Liturgy. Yes, the Bible ultimately is a liturgical book - meant for communal reading. Thus, we see why it was never assembled in such a way as to provide for a clear "cover to cover" reading. It isn't read that way at Mass. The order of the books were standardized so they could be easily found by the lector, not so that the Bible could be privately interpreted by someone (either fundamentalist or atheist) sitting alone in a room. Such a method, while meritorious, must be an addition to reading with the mind of the Church (sentire cum Ecclesia) not put in opposition to it. When such is done, when the author is ignored, the meaning is lost. Reading in such a manner is no different than going to Florence's Accademia dell'Arte viewing it's masterpiece and throwing your hands up in the air being completely unable to figure out who exactly this large naked man is supposed to be. Perhaps, it might be suggested, if you were to listen to Michelangelo the mystery would dissolve.
The David

To yet further cloud the mind of a modern "cover to cover" reader of the Bible, is the whole problem of hermeneutics. What worldview does the reader bring with him to the book? Is he a "Bible believing" Fundamentalist, intent on taking a literalistic interpretation of every passage (except John 6, of course) and already deciding such a interpretation is true? Is he, like our friend with the question, an atheist, already committed to an a priori rejection of the miraculous, intent on dismissing  everything as "bull" before even opening that first page? Again, only by reading with the mind of the Church, with the mind of the author, can we read the work correctly. Such isn't to demand acceptance of the truth of the Bible before reading it, but such is to demand reading it on its own terms before deicing anything. Such a demand brings us back to understanding what kind of book we are reading before being able to read it correctly (and reading it correctly is always prior to judging it correctly). Indeed, I've yet to meet an atheist who doesn't read the Bible like a Fundamentalist Christian. The only thing separating the two is belief. The Fundamentalist believes and the atheist doesn't, but neither can get past a literalistic (not literal, but literalistic) reading that sinks their hermeneutical ship from the start.

At the end of the day, however, I will tip my hat to the atheist. Reading is the first step to understanding. The first, but not the last. Now if only he could manage to read it correctly...

Friday, September 12, 2014

3 Great Reminders of What Really Happens at Mass

It's the end of the week. The weekend is here. For Catholics, that means the Lord's Day, which is properly celebrated by avoiding unnecessary work and by going to Holy Mass. How often, though, can we "sleep walk" through what Vatican 2 called "the source and summit of the Christian life?" (Lumen Gentium, 11). We get so stuck in this mundane world of ours that we miss what is really happening at Mass (of course the wreckoation of many of our churches and the overemphasis on the "horizontal" dimension of the liturgy only exasperates this problem). Well, today, I thought we'd take a moment and look at what is really happening at Mass on Sunday. Note, this will be happening where you, dear reader, will be worshiping this Sunday (assuming it is a Catholic parish). This is the ground you will be troding. So when you see this (if you are lucky)

or even this

know that you are really present at this moment in time

where this is happening 

and in this company

If that doesn't get you excited, if that doesn't make you instantly understand what Vatican II was talking about, you might need to check your pulse.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

God is not an Anti-Semite (a Response to an Atheist)

We were playing variations on a theme most of last week, responding to various atheist attacks on the Church, so I figured we might as well end on the same note, looking at another atheist critique on Christianity (oh, how atheists love to attack Christianity! How often have you heard Dawkins attack Islam or Hinduism? I think we can count the times on a single hand.)

Today I thought we'd look at another attack from the same Google+ poster who was so convinced that the Bible was just too complex to be written by the Almighty (surely God would author something along the lines of "see spot run", no?). Before we had a book that was too difficult to be written by an all-powerful mind, now we have an anti-Semitic slur,
The roots of (Christianity) comes from a old patriarchal system that was highly superstitious as well as being ignorant of the world.  It can be said that out of all the people god (sic) could have chosen to show itself (sic) to god (sic) chose wondering (sic) goat herders instead of say...the ancient Chinese.
Yes, that's right, dear readers, the argument here is that God surely wouldn't have chosen those "ignorant," "highly-superstitious," wandering, goat-herding Jews when He could have pick a good group of people like the ancient Chinese! Now I have nothing against the ancient (or modern) Chinese - one look at their great civilization is enough to convince me of their worth to bear God's revelation had the task fallen to them, but to have such a negative attitude toward our Jewish brothers is quite scandalous.

Ancient Israel
Too primitive to be God's people? 

Last week, we listened to the great GK Chesterton as he waded through the contradictions the atheists of his day would blithely stumble into for a chance to take a pot-shot at Christianity. One example I left off was exactly this one.
In the same conversation a free-thinker, a friend of mine, blamed Christianity for despising jews, and then despised it himself for being Jewish. (Orthodoxy, chapter 6)
Chesterton is not impressed!

The same old arguments are still trotted out against Christianity a hundred years after they'e been refuted (and done so by people who legitimately think they've thought of something new!)

Does this argument hold any water? 

Logically the argument amounts to, "the Christian God doesn't exist because He revealed Himself to the world through the Jews." Such an argument is called an enthymeme (as well as racist), it has a hidden second premise that needs to be smoked out and evaluated to see if it is true. That hidden premise, if the argument is to succeed logically, is that God would, of necessity, only reveal Himself through the most advanced civilization of the day. If this were proven true, and only if this were proven true, the argument could be made that because the Jewish people were not as advanced as the Chinese, then God couldn't have possibly revealed Himself through them. Of course this missing premise is absurd. There is absolutely no reason at all to suppose God would be required to use the Chinese instead of the Jews. In fact, we see just the opposite is true. That God can, and has, worked most of His wonders exactly through those the world would consider "weak."

Why can God work through "wandering goat-herders"? Because it is through His power (not through the power of a human civilization) that His will is accomplished. God didn't need the most highly advanced culture of the day to save mankind, He needed a people with faith. Actually, scratch that. God didn't even need that, He needed one man with faith - Abraham. It was in finding, in the ancient equivalent of Los Vegas - Ur, one solitary man who kept faith in the one true God that the Lord would save us all. He didn't need the wisdom of Confucius, He is wisdom without limit. He didn't need the power of the Chinese army, He is power without limit. He didn't need anything, but a man who was willing to offer Him everything - one man of faith.

God would continue to display His propensity to work through the weak when the greatest act in all of history, the Incarnation, took place. Did God become Caesar (the most powerful man in the Mediterranean world)? No. He became the son of a poor Jewish (yes, Jewish - oh the scandal!) carpenter. Did God become enfleshed in Rome, queen of the world? No. He took on flesh in a small backwater town in a distant province of the empire. Did God spring from the ground as a powerful, hulking, adult man? No. He became a baby so weak He couldn't lift His own head. And when our salvation was achieved, was it accomplished through main force? Did legions of angels storm the Earth obliterating all Jesus' enemies? No. We were saved by God's descent into the depths of human depravity and, yes, weakness. God Almighty nailed to a Cross, incapable of moving, eventually incapable of breathing, and finally lying dead in a tomb.

But isn't this all crazy? Why would a powerful being like God do all this? Shouldn't He thunder from on high like Zeus? Shouldn't He call for armies to be led out in His name as Mohammed did? Shouldn't He have chosen the strong? Yes, it does seem a bit crazy, doesn't it? But such is love. God reveals Himself not in the earthquake or whirlwind, but in the small, soft voice of a lover. Why? Because He comes not to twist our arms into being with Him, but to offer us a relationship. He proposes marriage as a suitor, He doesn't force us as a rapist.

God would continue to choose the weak throughout the ages. It was a bunch of poor, discriminated against, and persecuted Christians who overturned the mightiest empire man has ever seen (Rome). It was a bunch of priests who transformed the barbarian herds that ripped down the last vestiges of Old Rome. And it is Catholics today, banished from polite conversation and deprived of positions of power, who will transform the world of the future and return our crumbling civilization back to God.

But all of that is to perhaps give too dignified an answer to what is clearly nothing but anti-semitism. Perhaps it would suffice to say that God, unlike some atheists, is not an anti-Semite.

Maybe it would be best to give the last word not to an atheist, but to the Pope,

Recommended reading on this topic:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Of Michael Voris, Cardinal Dolan, Ignatius of Antioch, and the Fires of Hell

Michael Voris of ChurchMilitant.tv fame, some of whose talks I've been pleased to share on occasion on my Google+ page, posted an interesting question yesterday,

Which is a good enough question to deserve an answer.

My immediate reaction, which I posted on ChurchMilitant's Facebook page was a simple question,
Because tarring and feathering our fathers in the Faith isn't the most Catholic of actions?
But perhaps more could be said. We all can feel indignant when a Catholic bishop publicly does something we personally can't understand or don't agree with. ChurchMilitant has lately been all over Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and a past president of the USCCB, who some consider to be the unofficial head of the Church in the United States. They have even gone as far as to call for his resignation from office.

Cardinal Dolan is apparently a "wicked bishop" because he makes prudential decisions which ChurchMilitant.tv doesn't agree with. It isn't a matter of the Cardinal teaching error or of living a debauched lifestyle (things the Church has lived through before), it is a matter of the Cardinal choosing different paths than ChurchMilitant would like, e.g. deciding to continue his involvement in the Saint Patrick's Day parade despite a handful of gay activists marching in the parade under their own banners. Of course, many in the Catholic world are upset over this development. Our parade, a parade honoring our saint (who stood fast in the face of pagan Ireland) is disgraced by activists marching with an anti-Catholic agenda. I certainly would have stood and applauded the Cardinal had he decided to withdraw from the parade, essentially shutting it down as an expression of the Catholic Faith in New York, but he prudentially decided to take a different course of action. Cardinal Dolan decided to not allow the gay pride marchers to run off the Church. A couple small groups marching under their flags declaring their support for both the sin of sodomy and the sin of pride would be drowned out by the much larger Catholic contingent, or so at least Cardinal Dolan seems to think. Whether he is right or wrong, whether his prudential decision is what you, or I, or ChurchMilitant would have done had God decided to raise us to lead the archdiocese of New York is beside the point. It is the Cardinal's decision to make. He isn't marching in a Gay Pride parade. He is leading a paraded in honor of a Catholic Saint in an New York tradition that stretches back to colonial times. If he feels it is too much to beat the retreat simply because a group is marching that no Catholic can approve of, then such is his right as the head of his diocese.

But what of fraternal correction, of admonishing the sinner? Isn't that a spiritual work of mercy? Couldn't the Cardinal's soul be at stake? Doesn't such considerations call for the exact kind of action ChurchMilitant is engaging in? Such are the questions that were fired back at me on Facebook.

In one respect the answer is yes. But, even leaving aside the question of whether Cardinal Dolan's actions rise to such heights, I am left wondering where we are told to admonish the sinner as publicly as humanly possible. I can't seem to remember the place in Scripture or the Fathers that assert such an obligation on the laity. In Matthew 18:15-17 no less an authority than Jesus Himself tells us how to "admonish the sinner"
But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother.And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand.And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican.
Which is still ringing in our ears from this Sunday's Gospel reading. You'll note Jesus doesn't tell us to "take it to social media" if our private interventions don't do the trick first. No, he tells us to take it to the Church. To allow the Church to decide and to abide by her decision. If the sinner won't listen to the Church, we are then to treat him as "the heathen and publican." Nowhere in the Lord's instructions do we glimpse a command to publicly ridicule the sinner.

When it comes to the episcopate, St. Ignatius of Antioch has quite a different idea in mind than policing them via social media when he wrote,
it is fitting for you to set yourselves in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as indeed you do. For your noble presbytery, worthy of God, is attunded to the bishop, even as the strings to a lyre. And thus by means of your accord and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung.
Church Fathers
St Ignatius being martyred circa AD 100 

If such is true for priests (the noble presbytery) how much more must it hold for the laity?  If there is perhaps some doubt, a look at his Letter to the Magnesians ought to clear the air,
Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from the beginning and is at last made manifest
In the course of our conversation canon 212 was brought up by ChurchMilitant to defend their actions. Doesn't this canon give the laity the right to "call out" our bishops? No, quite the opposite actually, (emphases and comments mine)
Can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, in as much as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church. (this would include parades or Fulton Sheen's body or the Al Smith dinner, etc.)
§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church (not to their Facebook and Twitter followers) their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires. 
§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, (maybe we have something here...) without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, (ah... with reverence, I'll leave it to my readers to determine whether those Facebook posts were done with reverence or not) and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.
The obligation of canon 212 is primarily to obey our bishops, to treat them with respect because they represent Christ (the same thing Ignatius was saying 19 centuries ago), and to make our opinion known only to the rest of the Christian faithful "with reverence towards (our) pastors." When read in conduction with canon 220,
Can. 220 No one is permitted to harm illegitimately the good reputation which a person possesses nor to injure the right of any person to protect his or her own privacy.
and the words of our Lord,
And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye?  (Matt 7:3)
the case for "calling out" bishops we don't like crumbles yet further.

ChurchMilitant.tv does some great work. Michael Voris has given great talks (which can be found on youtube) and his One True Faith series, from what I've seen of it, is something all Catholics should take the time to watch. He has been willing to stand up for the truth even when it isn't popular, something which is increasingly necessary and increasingly costly. I respect his efforts on those fronts. However, to answer his organization's question, perhaps those in Catholic media don't set themselves up as the judges of our episcopacy because such isn't their role or mission or yours.

Such a concept can be grating to the mind of an American. We are well used to the media calling out senators and presidents. It is how our politics work. But the Church isn't a democracy. Our bishops, unlike our senators, are not our representatives. They gain their authority not from "we the people" but from God the Father, through Peter. And it is to Him (and His vicar), not to us (or our media), that they must answer. But such is what happens when we start to worry more about how we can save the Church and worry less about how the Church can save us.

Maybe the best refutation of such public attacks is to be found on ChurchMilitant's own website where, when speaking of such attacks on the Pope, they unflinchingly term them "ecclesiastical porn" and where they ask,
how is a Catholic better off believing bad things about the Church, whether those things be true or false, and how should a Catholic respond to those things? If someone believes that the Catholic Church has become a bad place to be, what is that person supposed to do? Join another Church? Break away from the visible, corrupt Catholic Church and form an alternative, more faithful version of the Catholic Church (see CMRI and SSPX)? Leave the Catholic Church entirely and join an allegedly more faithful Christian assembly? Give up on religion entirely and go the "I'm spiritual but not religious" crowd? Organize "Recognize and Resist" movements within the Catholic Church and relentlessly attack Her from the inside? Seek Church reform via some kind of coup d'etat and replace current leadership with ... what?
None of these responses is authentically Catholic.
Unfortunately, ChurchMilitant seems to have fully committed itself to the "Organize "Recognize and Resist" movements within the Catholic Church and relentlessly attack her from the inside" strategy. Such a strategy, as they themselves so eloquently point out, is not "authentically Catholic" and does more harm than good in the end.

Everyone, including bishops and even the pope, will make decisions that we wouldn't had we only been the one in charge. Then again, maybe God has a reason for setting those men as Princes of the Church and not you or I. Certainly, I don't envy them their job. Not because bloggers, from all sides and with all agendas, constantly attack their every move, but because they will face a harsher judgement than we will for,
unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more. (Lk 12:48)
Maybe then the best route is the traditional one. If a bishop is acting in a way you can't quite understand, put down the keyboard, stop the youtube video, and pick up a rosary. God will save His Church. He always has. It is guaranteed not to fall. We, on the other hand, have no such guarantee. And, as Michael Voris so deftly describes in his talk on Hell, the eternal consequences of our falling, perhaps occasioned by worrying more about how we can change the Church than about how she can change us, might be such that we'd rather avoid them.