September rolls in and summer begins to pack up until next year. I've
not written an editoral for a while and there are a number of scattered
items on the proverbial table that I've been wanting to comment on.
Here is my attempt to combine the two into a semi-coherent editorial
post. If I fail, just remember: I didn't build this.
"Today the Church is witnessing a crisis under way within society." So wrote Blessed John XXIII in his apostolic constitution “Humanae Salutis”
(December 25, 1961), announcing the convocation of an unexpected
ecumenical Council. John XXIII is sometimes presented a simple, even
naive, man, or as a closet progressive, or as a pontiff who was simply
winging it under the influence of the Holy Spirit (or, as some on the
far reaches might insist, under the influence of the Spirit of the Age).
None of those impressions or depictions are accurate.
XXIII was a man of tremendous faith whose love for Christ and His Church
are obvious in his words and actions. His affiable disposition
reflected that faith, but he was not naive about the state of the world.
After all, he had spent almost all of his adult life as a diplomat in
predominately non-Catholic countries, often dealing with the most
delicate and tense situations, such as helping save the lives of
countless Jews and others during the 1930s and '40s as an apostolic
delegate to Turkey and Greece, not to mention being Apostolic Nuncio to
France during the final months of World War II. He had witnessed the
darkest moments of Europe in the mid-20th century, and he was willing
to squarely face the potential dangers of the latter half of the
humanity is on the edge of a new era, tasks of immense gravity and
amplitude await the Church, as in the most tragic periods of its
history. It is a question in fact of bringing the modern world into
contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the gospel, a world
which exalts itself with its conquests in the technical and scientific
fields, but which brings also the consequences of a temporal order which
some have wished to reorganise excluding God. This is why modern
society is earmarked by a great progress to which there is not a
corresponding advance in the moral field.
October 11th of this year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening
of the Second Vatican Council. Much will be written and said about the
Council: good, bad, insightful, confusing, brilliant, stupid, and
otherwise. There will be countless pieces about the "conservatives" and
the "liberals", about how the Council ruined the Church, about why the
Council unleashed a "Spirit" that subsequent pontiffs have destroyed,
and so forth. My modest suggestionhardly an original or outrageous
oneis to read the documents of the Council, especially the four Dogmatic and Pastoral Constitutions. And be sure to read “Humanae Salutis”,
as it sets the table for the feast that are the major documents of the
Councila feast that far too many Catholics either ignore, snitch from
for their own dubious agendas, or dismiss because they wrongly attribute
the often ugly post-conciliar upheaval to the teachings of the Council.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, reflecting on the 20th anniversary of the
closing of the Council gave some advice that is just as applicable today
as it was in 1985:
believe . . . that the true time of Vatican II has not yet come, that
its authentic reception has not yet begun: its documents were quickly
buried under a pile of superficial or frankly inexact publications. The
reading of the letter of the documents will enable us to discover their
true spirit. If thus rediscovered in their truth, those great texts will
make it possible for us to understand just what happened and to react
with a new vigor. I repeat: the Catholic who clearly and, consequently,
painfully perceives the damage that has been wrought in his Church by
the misinterpretations of Vatican II must find the possibility of
revival in Vatican II itself. The Council is his, it does not belong to
those who want to continue along a road whose results have been
catastrophic.” (The Ratzinger Report, p. 40).
A bit more from Blessed John XXIII: "The forthcoming Council will
meet therefore and at a moment in which
the Council finds very alive the desire to fortify its faith, and to
contemplate itself in its own awe-inspiring unity. In the same way,
it feels more urgent the duty to give greater efficacy to its sound
vitality and to promote the sanctification of its members, the diffusion
of revealed truth, the consolidation of its agencies." Note the key
words: faith, unity, vitality, sanctification, revealed truth. They each
are key themes of the Council.
The perspective of fifty years removed is a valuable one. The
perspective of a few years removed is a fascinating one. For example,
Frank Sheed, writing in 1968, stated: "Pope John opened the window to
let in fresh air. He let in a hurricane. The interested Catholic finds
himself at times not only hanging on to his hat, but hanging on to his
head. Provided he keeps his head, the experience can be salutary. The
storm will clear, and the voice of the Church will be heard once more.
But a lot is going to happen in between." (Is It The Same Church?,
1968). A lot has happened. Much of it has been bad, sometimes almost
unbearably bad. Yet, increasingly, much of it is good and in keeping
with what the Council actually said. Some of the proof is found in the
shrill but fading screams of the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd. Some is
found in how those who have kept their head are also keeping the faith.
More on that in the months to come.
Over the next few months, Catholic World Report will be
publishing a number of pieces about the Council, its documents, its
impact, and what has transpired over the past five decades. Authors
contributing include Tracey Rowland, James and Helen Hitchcock, Michael
Miller, Omar Gutierrez, Fr. James Schall, and others. Stay tuned!
Okay, just one more great quote about Vatican II, which I re-read last night in Dietrich von Hildebrand's 1967 book, Trojan Horse in the City of God, the very first book I ever read about the Council (having, as a Protestant, already read several of the conciliar documents):
When one reads the luminous encyclical Ecclesiam Suam
of Pope Paul VI or the magnificent ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church’ [Lumen Gentium] of the Fathers of the Council, one cannot but
realize the greatness of the Second Vatican Council. But when one turns
to so many contemporary writingssome of them by very famous
theologians, some by minor ones, some by laymen who offer us their
dilittante theological concoctionsone can only be deeply saddened and
even filled with grave apprehension. For it would be difficult to
conceive a greater contrast than that between the official documents of
Vatican II and the superficial, insipid pronouncements of various
theologians and laymen that have broken out everywhere like an
infectious disease. On the one side, we find the true spirit of Christ,
the authentic voice of the Church; we find texts that in both form and
content breathe a glorious supernatural atmosphere. On the other side,
we find a depressing secularization, a complete loss of the sensus supranaturalis, a morass of confusion. (p. 3)
Speaking of that depressing secularization, see this recent article about a, um, fledgling "church" headed by a formerlaicized?priest:
Our first reading Saturday comes from the Book of Kings, with an
angel nudging an exhausted and distraught Elijah, telling him to get up
The Rev. Tom Sanford and his congregation have done just that. Sanford left the Catholic priesthood more than a quarter-century
ago. But now he’s back behind the altar. He’s pastor of a new spiritual
community, born out of his frustration with what he believes is the
philosophical backsliding of the Catholic church.
Sanford started Blessed John XXIII Ecumenical Church around
Easter, and he’s starting small. When he walks down the aisle to “We
Gather Together,” three worshippers stand and sing along.
Yet Sanford and his flock say there’s a larger point beyond
their small numbers: They have left the Catholic church to become better
Right. Just like leaving your wife makes you a better husband, or
leaving your children makes you a better father. Here are the key
sentences in the overly sympathetic piece: "Sanford says he couldn’t
stay. He believes church traditionalists are
trying to undermine 50 years of church reforms set in motion by the
worldwide councils known as Vatican I and Vatican II." I'll bet Sanford
has never really read the documents of the Council. And don't get me
started on that fatuous misuse of the reading from 1 Kings 19,
especially since the essential point of that passage is the prophet's
obedience to God's call in the face of difficulty and danger. A better
passage of Scripture would have been Matthew 13:21.
It's worth noting that while Sanford's group started strong with
thirteen attendees, it is now down to threeand his own wife doesn't
attend (she goes to the local Catholic parish). It is a most fitting
image of a progressive, secularized approach to the Catholic Church:
renounce the Church's authority, make clueless claims based on one's
subjective whims, and then wonder why the only people who listen are
clueless newspaper reporters.
Speaking of clueless and newspapers, I see that Maureen Dowd has
been on another rampage, this time targeting Paul Ryan. As usual, her
philosophical nuance, analytical brilliance, and grammatical elasticity
abound and astound:
Paul Ryan, who teamed up with Akin in the House to sponsor harsh
anti-abortion bills, may look young and hip and new generation, with his
iPod full of heavy metal jams and his cute kids. But he’s just a fresh
face on a Taliban creed the evermore antediluvian, anti-women,
anti-immigrant, anti-gay conservative core. Amiable in khakis and polo
shirts, Ryan is the perfect modern leader to rally medieval Republicans
who believe that Adam and Eve cavorted with dinosaurs. ("Just Think No")
truly thrilling to watch the blindingly white older male delegates greet
their young, blue-eyed future: Paul Ryan, the 42-year-old Wisconsin
congressman who turns out to be more talented than anyone had
anticipated a prodigy of prestidigitation.
In his speech
Wednesday night, the altar boy altered reality, conjuring up a world so
compassionate, so full of love-thy-neighbor kindness and small-town
goodness, that you had to pinch yourself to remember it was a shimmering
mirage, a beckoning pool of big, juicy lies. (The fitness freak may
have also fibbed about running a sub-three-hour marathon in 1991;
Runner’s World reports that his time was 4 hours and 1 minute.)
the writer Dermot McEvoy notes, Ryan has “the so sincere, so phony air
of a gloomy Irish undertaker standing outside the funeral parlor where
you’ve come to plant your mother, shaking his head consolingly and
giving you that firm two-handed Irish handshake.” Except with Ryan, it’s
the safety net in the coffin. ("Cruel Conservatives Throw a Masquerade Ball")
No need to spend much time on this as everything I've written about Dowd in the past is still good to go. Still, it's fun to occasionally see what the inmates are up to at the Grey Lady.
Sure, Dowd is an opinion speweer, columnist, and she has every
right to express her opinions, even if she leaves a trail of hot, toxic
spittle in cyberspace. But she's not wandering far from the editorial position of the New York Times:
"A long history of social extremism makes Paul Ryan an emblem of the
Republican tack to the far right." As I pointed out in this long post,
Ryan's economic policies would have placed him squarely in the moderate
Democrat camp in the early 1960s. The same holds true for his "extreme"
positions on abortion. After all, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and
Edward Kennedy were all anti-abortion Democrats; the latter finally gave
in completely to the culture of death in the 1970s. Anyhow, the Times
is quite worked up over Ryan, whose position on abortion and "same sex
marriage" is in keeping with about half of Americans, if not more:
The full outpouring of hard-right enthusiasm is based, to a large
degree, on Mr. Ryan’s sweeping opposition to abortion rights. He has
long wanted to ban access to abortion even in the case of rape, the
ideology espoused in this year’s Republican platform. ... He also co-sponsored a bill last year to allow employers to decline
coverage of birth control if it violated their moral or religious
convictions, and his budget would end all government financing for
Planned Parenthood while slashing spending on prenatal care and infant
nutrition. Mr. Ryan’s record on gay rights is no less egregious. He
supports a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and voted
against the repeal of the military’s discriminatory don’t-ask,
Egregious, you say? And yet JFK continues to be The Great
Hero, even though the only glaring difference between he and Ryan is
that the latter is not known to be a drug-addicted philanderer. In
related news, Arthur Brisbane, the departing public editor of The Times, recently wrote a farewell piece, "Success and Risk as The Times Transforms", in which he uttered this Understatement of the Year:
When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found
that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing
fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the
paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and
cultural progressivism for lack of a better term that this worldview
virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.
Uh, yes, a "kind of political and
cultural progressivism". But not a "kind political and
cultural progressivism". And when it comes to Dowd, it doesn't bleedit splatters.
I didn't watch much of the Republican Convention, but did catch part of Ryan's speech.
I'm not good with numbers, but I was troubled by these comments, which
seemed to play fast and loose with some chronological data:
We’re a full generation apart, Governor Romney and I. And, in some
ways, we’re a little different. There are the songs on his iPod, which
I’ve heard on the campaign bus and on many hotel elevators. He actually
urged me to play some of these songs at campaign rallies. I said, I
hope it’s not a deal-breaker Mitt, but my playlist starts with AC/DC,
and ends with Zeppelin.
Ryan and I are of the same generation, as he is 42 and I am 43. Yes,
AC/DC was popular when I was in junior high and high school, but the
band formed in 1973, when Ryan was three years old, and its members are
closer to Romney in age than to Ryan: Romney was born in 1947, and
Malcolm and Angus Young were born, respectively, in 1953 and 1955. Led
Zeppelin was formed in 1968, two years before Ryan was born, and
disbanded in 1980, when he was ten. Guitarist Jimmy Page, born in 1944,
is three years older than Romney, and singer Robert Plant, born in 1948,
is just a year younger than Romney. Again, I'm not great with numbers,
but these sort of egregious errors are disconcerting (yes, I'm being
mildly sarcastic). By the why, I'm fully aware of intended humor of
Ryan's remark (I laughed), but are AC/DC and Led Zeppelin the best bands
to cite when presenting yourself as a pro-family, pro-virtue,
pro-faith, pro-marriage, and pro-woman candidate? Hmmm.
For the record, my iTunes playlist of 52,235 songs begins with A.
J. Croce (son of Jim Croce) and ends with Zoe Rahman, a very talented
jazz pianist. If rock music is the preferred guideline, my playlist
begins with Abandon Kansas and ends with Yogi, occasional guitarist for
Chris Cornell. For prog fans, it begins with Asia and ends with Yes. For
classical lovers, it begins with Alan Hovhaness and ends with Yo-Yo Ma.
Back to Catholic World Report: this month marks the debut of a regular column by noted journalist, commentator, and author Michael Coren. I am very pleased that Michael has agreed to write for CWR and look forward to his contributions.
A regular reader (you know who you are, Charlie) sent me this New Humanist article about British atheist and author A.J. Grayling:
“I believe that a mature civilised society ought to be funding
universities properly through tax. Students should go to university for
nothing because it’s an investment that society’s making in itself.” The
words belong to Professor Anthony Grayling, Master of New College of the Humanities
(NCH). This unashamedly elite private university student fees £18,000
a year is housed in an 18th-century mansion in Bedford Square,
Bloomsbury, where its first students will be unpacking their suitcases
and sticking up their Radiohead posters right about now.
has someone as committed to public education as he claims to be launched
a private university charging more than double the fees of London’s
other universities? And how on earth has Grayling, a self-described “man
of the left”, a prominent humanist and a distinguished educator,
managed to alienate so many of his former allies and colleagues?
First, the noted tension between celebrity atheists is apparently becoming something a crisis, as this September 2nd piece in The Guardian explains:
It took 700 years from Constantine renaming Byzantium in his own honour
to papal legates circulating letters of anathema that split the Roman
and Orthodox churches. Atheism, in its public, online life, has started
exchanging internet anathemas perhaps we should call them inathemas
in little more than a decade.
Surprising! Well, no, not really. Back to Grayling: he is fairly
insufferable, although he was kind enough to have his publisher send me
one of his books a few years ago. That's because we had a little
exchange over a question of history: was Christianity responsible for
the near ruin of enlightened civilization or was it actually the
catalyst for modern scientific and technological advances? You can read all about it in detail on Ignatius Insight.
As for Grayling's educational enterprise, I do hope he hires some
decent history professors. And, honestly, kudos to the atheist
philosopher for starting up a university. Universities were a great idea
when they were originally founded by Catholics some 800 years ago and remain so today.
As you may have heard, the annual meeting of the Ratzinger Schülerkreis
(a seminar/gathering of former students of Benedict XVI) focused on
ecumenism, especially on relations with Lutherans and Anglicans. A few
years ago I put together a short reading list of Ratzinger works on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. I would now add the collection, Church, Ecumenism, and Politics (Ignatius Press, 2008), which features some essential essays and interviews.
Back in 2006 or so, an acquaintance who had once been a promising
Evanglical Scripture scholar before becoming an atheist philosopher,
told me he wished Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini had been chosen as pope
instead of Joseph Ratzinger. Needless to say, we disagreed on that
point, especially since I thought the Holy Spirit had made a solid pick.
He lauded Martini's positions on the usual talking points, some of
which are getting attention after the Cardinal's death this past Friday.
The Guardian, among others, ran with it:
The former archbishop of Milan and papal candidate Cardinal Carlo
Maria Martini said the Catholic church was "200 years out of date" in
his final interview before his death.
Martini, once favoured by Vatican progressives to succeed Pope John Paul II and a prominent voice in the
church until his death on Friday at the age of 85, gave a scathing
account of a pompous and bureaucratic organisation failing to move with
"Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty
and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are
pompous," Martini said in the interview published in Italian daily
Corriere della Sera.
"The church must admit its mistakes and begin
a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The
paedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation," he
said in the interview, published on Saturday.
The Belfast Telegraph, not to be outdone, got a bit carried away with its headline: "Vatican is rocked by Cardinal Martini's damning words from beyond the grave."
Rocked. Yeah. Yawn. Let's see: the Church has been around for 2,000
years and survived everything imaginable, and now is "rocked" by the
statements of a trendy Italian Cardinal. Thankfully for all concerned,
the Catholic faith does not rest upon such dubious pronouncements, even
when they splash all over the front page of secular newspapers. (No,
really, that's a fact. Stop shaking your head.)
Plenty could be said, and Marcel LeJeune of Aggie Catholics does a nice job of responding in detail.
Anyhow, when I first read the story, my thought was, "Why 200 years?
Why not 328? Or 1,599?" Besides, if the Cardinal's concern was with "gay
marriage" and other modern issues (see a full list here),
how does that coincide with the year 1812? Sure, sure, it was a
rhetorical point on his part. Hopefully, by God's grace, Cardinal
Martini and St. Peter will be able to have a fruitful dialogue about all
of these issues. May God grant him eternal and blessed repose.
Do you have style? Do I? I don't know the answer to either question.
But when it comes to stylish writing, a book worth acquiring is the
recently republished classic, Style: The Art of Writing Well,
by F. L. Lucas, ably reviewed by Matthew Walther
for the New English Review
When it comes to bad, even immoral, literature, Fifty Shades of Grey is the current leader of the shady pack. Teresa Tomeo took it on in her CWR essay, "Grey Is the Devil's Favorite Color". The Evangelical publication, World, is equally appalled:
Though soft-core, the subject matter is hard, indicating that basic
intercourse (dismissed by connoisseurs as "vanilla sex") isn't pushing
buttons anymore. It also indicates something that shouldn't be a
surprise: Women express their sexual nature differently than men. A
man's inclination toward the visual is well-known, but women live inside
their own heads. A man objectifies both himself and the object of his
lust, but a woman recreates herself at the center of an erotic universe.
That's why fanfiction is almost entirely a female preserve: There
women can deck their fantasies in words, cheered on by other women.
There the hunky, domineering man with the mocking eyebrow (who plays
piano like a virtuoso) is ultimately undone by the virginal girl with
unruly hair. And there we betray our brokenness. We want to rule, but
play at being ruled. We put our heroines (and ourselves?) in slavish
postures that are supposed to be somehow liberating. We live in the
freest society in history but daydream about being tied up and
physically hurt. We resort to role-playing where we should be most
Women, even Christian women, report that these books have sparked
up their marriages. Sparks are notoriously short-lived, and what they
leave is ash.
Great line, that final one.
On more quote about Paul Ryan, if only because the adulation and hatred surrounding him is both intriguing and unsettling:
On domestic policy, the impact of Rand’s ideas on Ryan’s outlook is
marked, though uneven and sometimes overstated. Religion, in particular,
has driven a wedge between Ryan, who would enact Catholic dogma into
law, and Rand, an atheist, who championed the separation of church and
state. ... Domestically, this outlook entails a truly free market with absolute
legal protection of private property, and without regulations, bailouts,
corporate handouts or entitlement programs like Social Security,
Medicaid and Medicare. (Ryan breaks with Rand by attempting to save,
rather than end, these programs.) In Rand’s political philosophy,
however, there is no gulf between economic rights and personal and
intellectual ones: for instance, she wrote passionately of the crucial
importance (contra Ryan) of the right to abortion, and regarded freedom
of speech as sacrosanct.
Music lovers, rejoice! Van Morrison has a new album coming out
soon, and the first single, "Open the Door (To Your Heart)", is an
enjoyable cut, a jaunty jazzy tune with a really nice, slurring trumpet
solo. The great Dwight Yoakam (I don't say that about many country
artists) has a new release due in a couple of weeks, "3 Pears", which
includes some songs produced by Beck. Muse's new album, "The 2nd Law",
releases in October; it's title is an apparent reference to the second
law of thermodynamics.
The photo at the top was taken during a just-completed camping trip
near Sweet Home, Oregon. This is a tremendously resplendent state; each
year I see vistas and scenery and glories I'd not encountered before.
Now, if only we can survive the culture of death that dominates the Northwest.
Finally, one of my favorite quotes from Vatican II:
The eternal Father, by a free and hidden plan of His own wisdom and
goodness, created the whole world. His plan was to raise men to a participation
of the divine life. Fallen in Adam, God the Father did not leave men to
themselves, but ceaselessly offered helps to salvation, in view of Christ, the
Redeemer "who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every