Who Do You Say That I Am?

From whom and from where do we get our identity? Who are we?

The question in the title is, of course, from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus asks the Apostles who people say He is:

13 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi* he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist,* others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

Peter striking the High Priests’ servant Malchus with a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, by Giuseppe Cesari c. 1597

Peter, who over the course of the Gospels is revealed to be, at different times, a tempter of God, an impulsive hothead, and a coward, nonetheless knows who Jesus is. Because he knows Who his Lord is, that Lord is able to tell him who *he* is. He is defined, not by his talents or achievements, nor by his membership in an oppressed group, but by his role: Peter is the Rock upon which Christ’s Church will be built, he is the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Heaven, the holder of the King’s keys.

So the goofball – that Peter is no great shakes is a great comfort to us other goofballs – gets assigned a task of great glory. That he’s hardly up to the task doesn’t matter so much as his getting up and trying again every time he fails. He converts thousands with a Pentecost sermon; Paul rebukes him. He runs to the empty tomb; the Risen Lord extracts from him that very painful 3 part confession of love, and reinforces his assigned role: feed my sheep. He, and King David, are our examples and models of leadership under God: far from perfect, but faithful.

It will cost him. But it was worth it. He, with Paul, are the third rank of saints, behind only Mary and Joseph. Not bad.

I sit here, in my backyard, under the shade of two ancient walnut trees, flowers blooming, a light breeze blowing, a picture of homely contentment, much closer to the end of my life than to its beginning. Who am I? If I confess My Lord, and say Who He is, he will tell me who I am. I am a husband and a father – that’s my particular vocation. I am a brother, an uncle, a son. I am a friend.

I am a lamb under shepherds. I am a loyal citizen and patriot under temporal powers, a lover of the land of my birth because it is the land of my birth.

I am a beloved child of God. I understand little of this, but it give me comfort and reveals my purpose. It is our lot to need to rechoose this every moment, for we will forget, and not know who we are. We are always a moment of forgetfulness from losing ourselves.

We live among people, our brothers and sisters, who don’t know who they are. Since they will not confess the Lord, yet need someone to tell them who they are, they are doomed to believe they are whoever those who do not love them tell them they are.

Book Review: Burn’s “Catholic School System in the United States”, part 1: Introduction

Reviewing – really, putting out my notes to the text – on this book a bit at a time, as it and its companion volume are long. Fr. Burns wrote much of this as his PhD thesis at Catholic University in 1906, and expanded and published it as a book in 1908, and then a follow up volume in 1912. This first volume covers the history of American Catholic schooling from colonial times to 1840; the second from 1840 to the first years of the 20th century. This division is logical, as Catholic immigrants did not start arriving in great numbers until the 1840s, which really changed the game for Catholic schooling.

This was the first scholarly effort to document the American Catholic school movement, and remained the go-to work on the topic until very modern times. I’ve read pieces of this book and commented on them as part of following up on the references in Walch’s Parish School, but had not done yet a thorough cover to cover read.

The preliminary materials and introduction are very interesting. First, as noted in previous comments on this work, Burns is deeply indebted to Thomas Shields and Edward Pace, fellow priests and professors at Catholic University. They were founding faculty of the school of psychology at that institution, and mentored Burns. Shields ran a Catholic textbook publishing company for many years

Now, here I’ll own up to a strong prejudice: everything I’ve ever read of and about psychology in the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century impressed upon me what preposterous frauds the key players were from its founding. Freud? C’mon. The dude set a standard for ad hominem responses to anyone who dared question him that has been followed by every poser since. You only disagree with Freud because you’re sexually repressed, don’t you see?

What is lacking in the early psychologists: that peculiar type of humility real scientists have, where they prefer to understate rather than overstate their claims. In a robust science, it is expected that any claims will be run through the gauntlet of critical appraisal by one’s peers. Thus, it is simply better style, if nothing else, to acknowledge uncertainties, note possible problems, and generally make claims with a bit of hesitancy, if only in the hopes that your peers will be more sympathetic.

Instead, what we ended up with is ‘academic freedom’: the dismissal of all questions by anyone who isn’t a credentialed psychologist on the sole basis of his not being a psychologist. Such a credential only available to those who get through the gate manned by – credentialed psychologists. See: ‘replication crisis‘ for details on how that works.

This dynamic – over-certainty of scope and claims, lack of interest in criticism from those not on the team – was already the reality in 1908, when Burns penned this book. And he simply can’t resist: the introduction is more about his Progressive, 19th century psychology-driven take on schooling than about what happened. It’s odd – one paragraph is a triumphant touting of the greatness of the parish schools and the Church that inspired them, the next is either speculating on how great things will be when further Progress is made, or gentle rebukes that more Progress hasn’t yet been made.

He states three principle that drive Catholic parish schooling:


Here Burns means simply moral training. Can virtue be taught? Maybe, but his third principle is how it would be done. What can be done is to help create a habit of thinking of life’s endless decisions in moral terms. I’m good with this.


He belabors it much, but what he seems to be after is that religious education is, at the same time, part of a coherent whole and conditions how that whole is understood. He’s worried that catechisis can be, and often is, done in a vacuum, without constant reference to the rest of knowledge. Burns wants – his example – the Incarnation understood in an historic, geographic, and cultural setting, and to inform the student’s understanding, in turn, of those subjects.

I’m down with that. A formal classroom setting using textbooks – Burns is totally down with textbooks – is likely the worst possible place to get it done, but in theory, that’s what we want.

He deplores question/answer drills, which, he assures us, the modern psychology of education has moved beyond. While he, himself, acknowledges the centrality of doctrine and even dogma, the outline of the seeds for singing kumbaya while sitting cross-legged on the floor and calling it religious ed are easily discernible.


Catholic schools should be patently Catholic, all the time:

“There is the influence of the appointments and ornaments of the schoolroom itself, which may be made to speak lessons of order, neatness, virtue, and religion day by day, silently, but none the less effectively, through appeal to the eye and the esthetic sense.

“It is the aim of the Christian school to turn all such things to account for the attainment of its specific end. If the teaching of religion is a thing of supreme importance in the work of the school, then every influence that can be made use of to make the religious instruction more effective and fruitful ought to be employed. The selection of teachers with special reference to their moral and religious character ; the admission of only such pupils as belong to the religious faith which the school endeavors to foster and propagate; the placing of religious pictures and objects of piety in conspicuous places on the school walls ; the use of religious songs, as well as common oral prayers and devotions; the organization of religious societies — through these and kindred means the pupil is continually surrounded with an atmosphere of religion and piety in the schoolroom which supplements and reinforces the work of formal religious instruction.”

Here we agree. I would make this my first and only principle – do this, and the rest will follow.

Here are some illustrative quotations from the Introduction, with a few comments:


The interest of the Church in the schools has always centered about these fundamental principles. In the teaching of the purely secular branches she has had no direct interest. She took the curriculum of secular studies such as she found it, and left its development to the operation of the ordinary laws of educational growth. [Yikes. Hegel is peeking out from the nearby bushes- ed.] Outside of the matter of religion, there has been no attempt to differentiate Catholic parish schools from other denominational schools or from the public schools. [This is the problem: while we think in ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ terms, the public schools are playing a winner-takes-all cage match.] The tendency has been rather the other way.

“While Catholics, however, have clung faithfully to the historic ideals of the Christian school, it needs but a slight acquaintance with the history of Catholic schools in the United States to make one realize that the working out in practice of the principles outlined above is a matter which opens up grave difficulties and problems. If we compare, for instance, the teaching of religion in the parish schools to-day with the teaching of it a few generations ago, it will be seen that great changes have taken place. Religion had a larger place formerly in the curriculum than it has now. The catechetical drill was more thorough, and took up more time. More importance was attached to it. The value to the growing mind of a knowledge of the truths of faith, simply as knowledge, was better evidenced in practice formerly. Not that the principle itself, perhaps, that religious truth, when properly taught, has a high educative value, is any less accepted now. But conditions in the school have changed. Secular studies have been multiplied. To make room for them, the time given to religious instruction has been cut down. There are some compensations, of course, for this. Methods of teaching religion have improved. The ill- prepared teachers of the early days, often with little or no religious training themselves, have been replaced by teachers who are devoted to the service of religion by profession. The more distinctly religious atmosphere of the school is relied on to-day to do much of what was formerly done by direct instruction and drill. [Then, when the religious atmosphere has been dispensed with, there’s nothing left of religious education…]

“Not only have there been great changes in the extent and methods of religious teaching in our schools in the past, but great differences in both these respects exist to-day. Parish schools are sometimes found within a few blocks of each other in which the teaching of religion is about as different as it could be, the dogmatic content remaining the same. In some schools, the sum total of the religious influences at work hardly extends beyond the bare half hour of catechism-teaching. In others, religion is kept in the foreground all the time. In some instances, the desire to rival the rich and varied program of the neighboring public schools [!] has caused a paring down of the religious work of the school to such an extent that anything like a religious atmosphere is scarcely possible. [See above. This is the state to which gravity pulls a school that does not make the constant, express efforts needed to stay Catholic.] On the other hand, we see schools whose standard in secular studies is quite as broad and as high as that of the best public schools of their class, [To be fair, at this time William Torrey Harris was promoting an academic program for public schools that would put a modern Bachelor’s and most modern Masters degrees to shame. Whether any schools got there in practice is something I don’t know.] which are still able to include in their program various exercises of piety as well as classes in religious instruction.”

“It is evident, in fact, that, on the religious side, the parish school of to-day is very far from having reached the term of its complete development. [There’s that loathsome ‘one perfect way’ concept again, toward which all right-thinking schools must be progressing. Burns seems unable to imagine there might be a million good ways to do education, and that the perfect is the enemy of the good.] It is still in a partly embryonic condition. The adjustment of means to end and principles has to become much closer and to proceed much farther before anything approaching a satisfactory condition as regards religious training can be said to be attained. In point of religious teaching, the development of our schools is, on the whole, far behind their development in respect to secular studies. [? See the passages above – far behind?] This is a strange fact, and it would be a grave menace to the future of our schools, did not a consideration of the causes that have brought about this condition, in the light of the past history of the schools, warrant the hope of a fuller development in the future on the religious side. The need of greater unification, or at least simplification, [Dewey, anyone?] of the school curriculum, is now widely recognized, and the fuller realization of this need, together with the growing movement for more effective religious instruction in the school, will doubtless lead our educators and teachers in time to give to the teaching of religion the place of supreme importance it deserves.

From Benson’s ‘Lord of the World’

Papa Angelicus:

It was Papa Angelicus whom he was about to see; that amazing old man who had been appointed Secretary of State just fifty years ago, at the age of thirty, and Pope nine years previously.  It was he who had carried out the extraordinary policy of yielding the churches throughout the whole of Italy to the Government, in exchange for the temporal lordship of Rome, and who had since set himself to make it a city of saints. He had cared, it appeared, nothing whatever for the world’s opinion; his policy, so far as it could be called one, consisted in a very simple thing: he had declared in Epistle after Epistle that the object of the Church was to do glory to God by producing supernatural virtues in man, and that nothing at all was of any significance or importance except so far as it effected this object…

…he had said that on the whole the latter-day discoveries of man tended to distract immortal souls from a contemplation of eternal verities—not that these discoveries could be anything but good in themselves, since after all they gave insight into the wonderful laws of God—but that at present they were too exciting to the imagination.

Fr. Percy:

Persecution, he said, was coming. … But persecution was not to be feared. It would no doubt cause apostasies, as it had always done, but these were deplorable only on account of the individual apostates. On the other hand, it would reassure the faithful; and purge out the half-hearted. Once, in the early ages, Satan’s attack had been made on the bodily side, with whips and fire and beasts; in the sixteenth century it had been on the intellectual side; in the twentieth century on the springs of moral and spiritual life. Now it seemed as if the assault was on all three planes at once. 

But what was chiefly to be feared was the positive influence of Humanitarianism: it was coming, like the kingdom of God, with power; it was crushing the imaginative and the romantic, it was assuming rather than asserting its own truth; it was smothering with bolsters instead of wounding and stimulating with steel or controversy. It seemed to be forcing its way, almost objectively, into the inner world. Persons who had scarcely heard its name were professing its tenets; priests absorbed it, as they absorbed God in Communion—he mentioned the names of the recent apostates—children drank it in like Christianity itself. The soul “naturally Christian” seemed to be becoming “the soul naturally infidel.” 

Persecution, cried the priest, was to be welcomed like salvation, prayed for, and grasped; but he feared that the authorities were too shrewd, and knew the antidote and the poison apart. There might be individual martyrdoms—in fact there would be, and very many—but they would be in spite of secular government, not because of it. Finally, he expected, Humanitarianism would presently put on the dress of liturgy and sacrifice, and when that was done, the Church’s cause, unless God intervened, would be over.

Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson

Written before WWI. Benson feared what would happen if the ‘humanitarian’ aspects of modernism – socialism – worked, what might happen if secular powers were able, by intelligent management, to eliminate the physical causes of human suffering, and, by making suicide a sacred, state-supported right, cause spiritual suffering to be something avoidable and individually chosen.

Looked at from Benson’s perspective, we have been spared, I suppose, the curse of successful socialism. He was writing before the horrors of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent horrors under Soviet, Chinese, Cambodian and so on, Communist regimes. His worries that secular management of everything would WORK proved baseless. Instead, we have the curse of those committed to the idea that a paradies is around the corner despite it never having resulted from previous efforts, that it will work if we just keep trying, in the face of mountains of evidence – and mountains of bodies – proving it won’t.

Hurray! I guess?

Question: In that last paragraph, did Benson overrate the shrewdness of secular government? Is he right about the adoption of the trappings of liturgy and sacrifice?

How Crazy Are We?

Among some of the Twitter Catholics I follow, there seems to be a growing horror that some Catholics are not sufficient mortified, or not mortified according to currently popular norms, over racism. People I would have thought level-headed are outraged somebody might say, for example, that systemic racism doesn’t exist – that was the specific example given for why a certain apologist should lose his job – should be canceled. Yes, evidently with no irony at all, Catholics – good Catholics, I’m sure, better, at least than these sinners – were suggesting – well, demanding – that somebody loose their livelihood over not adopting the current language around racism.

If that’s going to be the shibboleth, I guess I should prepare for my tar and feathering, as I like to have terms defined in some clear way before giving full assent to what has become a popular catchphrase. I would request, first, not a reference to some feelings or trends, but a real, functional, definition by which one can distinguish what a thing is and is not. Right now, I can acknowledge racism is a problem; I can acknowledge the existence of systems and therefore the existence of systemic problems. What I’m lacking is a functional definition of what system we’re talking about, how, exactly and concretely it is racist, and clear, concrete examples of that system committing, if that’s the right word, racist acts.

That people are racist, sure. Am I? First, I note I am a sinner as much as any man ever, with the usual, boring yet deadly faults of Pride in its myriad forms, of sloth and cruelty and bitterness and lust – you know the list. When I can muster the courage to look into my own black heart, I am moved to throw myself at the feet of Our Lord and beg His mercy. The thought of the justice I deserve for my sins freezes my blood. Lord, have mercy!

But am I a racist? Well, let’s just say that a definition of racisms by which I am racist would be very, very broad, so broad as to encompass clearly unintentional and unconscious acts. By its nature, such a definition will convict me of a racism I don’t will and of which I am unaware, of a racism that is not, therefore, by any rational definition, a sin.

But the accusation is that the racism we must now concern ourselves with – and, evidently, acknowledge and repent of to retain one’s standing as a good Catholic – is *systemic*. OK, this must mean, if it means anything, that it’s specifically NOT personal. If, on the contrary, it is personal, willed racism, what does the word ‘systemic’ add? Assuming the word systemic is meant to distinguish this particular flavor of racism from run of the mill personal racisms, I, as a person, cannot be guilty of systemic racism. Or?

So far, I see no way I can personally be responsible for systemic racism, UNLESS I am personally responsible for the system in which that racism is manifested. Again, am I? This would require identifying the system, and my role in it.

Well? What system are we talking about here? The answer seems to be: ‘everything’ or ‘culture’ or ‘society’. Again, on the one hand, that’s so broad as to be meaningless; on the other, how can it be that I, one man among billions, is responsible for this rather amorphous system? If all I can do is try my best to be virtuous within whatever system I may find myself in, then I’m already committed to doing what I can do to fight this systemic racism, whatever it may be.

There are more problems with this idea. But, skipping ahead a little, I note that the idea of systemic racism is championed by critical theorists and other Marxists, most prominently by Black Lives Matter and Antifa. Now, a truly awesome intellect, truly refined according to Aristotle’s definition (a refined mind is one that can consider an idea without accepting it), could consider the claims of BLM and Antifa without first noting that they, according to their own websites and proud proclamations, want the Church destroyed, America and all its institutions burned to the ground, and reactionaries who oppose them executed. No, really – look it up. I can sort of pull it off, but I can’t pretend this idea of systemic racism exists in a vacuum. It’s a ploy, sports fans. BLM and Antifa don’t want racism to go away, they want to use it to burn the world to the ground.

That Marxists who want me dead would propose and use as a battering ram the idea that racism is the problem, and not just the kind of racism we individuals can mitigate by our own free wills, but a *systemic* racism that requires DESTRUCTION OF THE SYSTEM, which simply is Western Civilization – well, the appeal is not apparent. I like Western Civilization, and love the Church that built it.

And, not being historically illiterate, I know our nation is by any measure the least racist large nation that has ever existed. But I suppose saying that proves I’m a racist?

So: do I rush in where angels fear to tread, and try to counter these folks? Or do I let it go?

Panic Porn

(From an email I sent to a local Catholic homeschooling group:)

Be not afraid – a constant refrain in Scripture. Yet, here we are, terrified of what by any objective standards is a minor disease, willing to listen to any bad news that comes our way, and unwilling to hear the growing mountain of real evidence that has been accumulating from the very beginning of this panic. If you find yourself hanging on every word you see on the ‘news’ that fans your feelings of terror, perhaps you’re addicted to Panic Porn.

When we watch or read the ‘news’ about COVID 19, when we spread the tragic stories the ‘news’ focuses on, and then ignore the publicly known facts that tell us this panic is wildly overblown, what we are doing is indulging in Panic Porn.

Panic Porn works the same as that other pornography: it seeks to short-circuit our thinking and get directly to our emotions, to generate a gland-level response. In other words, it is irrational and addictive – after a while, it becomes a habit to watch the ‘news’ simply to get that adrenaline rush we human animals experience when we get terrified. Then, it becomes a vicious cycle: we can’t even hear the good news or anything that counteracts the fear, but instead listen only for what terrifies us, that gets us that next adrenaline rush. 

You think I’m exaggerating? We all know people who are *terrified* of COVID 19, and who can’t even hear the facts that might calm them. Maybe we ourselves are. We have a friend, right now, who may be dying in the hospital, who is on dialysis, because she was *terrified* to go to the hospital for the routine care she needed – her health and life really are threatened by her previously-controlled but now out of control diabetes, because the (microscopically small) possibility she might catch COVID 19 lead her to delay and stall until, now, she’s really in trouble. And there are more where she came from, not to mention the very real health threat of endless anxiety, continually having your body flooded with fight-or-flight chemicals. Strokes, heart attacks, depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, turning to drugs and alcohol – these are real. Once we can take an objective look at the actual numbers, we realize the panic is much worse than COVID 19. 

We, as Catholics, have got to stop feeding this panic. Remember, this group is formed of people who distrust our schools, who, after looking at the conventional wisdom and bucking the disapproval of family and friends, decided to do what’s right and take the education of our children into our own hands. Right? And yet now, we hang on every scary word the media tells us about COVID 19- the same media that would criminalize homeschooling if they could, that defames the Church at every turn, and which, as we all know from personal experience, has no qualms about lying to get what they want. Stop listening to people who hate you!!!

Once we STOP indulging in the ‘news’, once we break the Panic Porn addiction, we are ready to hear the reality of this virus. BUT – while we are in panic mode, we can’t even hear what’s really going on here. Note that I’m not at this point interested in political interpretations of WHY this is being done – that’s a later step, after we get a grip on what is really happening.

So, what is really happening? Note: I won’t watch or listen to the Panic Porn, I go read the stuff on the CDC, WHO, John Hopkins and Worldometers websites to get my numbers and information. This stuff is no secret, it’s just that the ‘news’ is not interested in it. Plus, I’m a numbers guy, scientifically literate, and use and built models for a living. Others with my background observe the same things: 

  1. Compared to how many people live in America, very few people are dying of COVID 19. 100,000, which, based on the reported numbers and trends, looks like the likely peak, sounds like a lot, but that’s a small number compared to the almost 3,000,000 Americans who die every year, year in, year out, and the 330 million people who live here. For comparison, around 75,000 Americans died of the flu in 2017-2018. There have been a number of flu years with over 100,000 deaths in America. COVID 19 is not the Black Death. 
  2. With very few exceptions, COVID 19 kills only the very sick. In the Western world, about 60% are nursing home patients, who are – let’s be honest – in those homes waiting to die. Even in nursing homes, COVID 19 kills generally only the very sick. 
  3. Only about 5% of the people who die weren’t already sick – that would be about 4,000 Americas so far, or about the same number who drown each year. BUT: the Panic Porn will make sure we hear about this small (compared to 330M Americans!) number of people. 
  4. Therefore, a healthy person has a tiny, tiny chance of dying of COVID 19. As in, you are much more likely to die driving to work than from this virus. So, common sense – don’t visit frail or sick people if you are sick. Otherwise, wash your hands like your mom told you. And don’t panic. 
  5. Coronaviruses are very, very common, and very fragile. Many common cold viruses are coronaviruses, for example. All it takes is a little sunshine to kill them.  SARS, the last coronavirus outbreak that anybody noticed back in 2002, promptly died out once the weather got nice. This is typical, and also why nobody had even heard of coronaviruses before this year. It is simply panic mongering to pretend COVID 19 is very different and worse than any run of the mill virus.
  6. ‘Novel’ viruses, including novel coronaviruses, are everywhere all the time. All viruses mutate – take novel forms – all the time. There’s nothing about COVID 19 being ‘novel’ that makes it any more worrisome than any other ‘novel’ virus. 
  7. Once spring rolls around, this virus will die out – UNLESS we crowd people together indoors out of the sunlight! If we continue to do that, we very well might get a recurrence in the fall. The virus started dying off in Italy and Spain once spring weather arrived. The cases and deaths started dropping in mid-April. NYC and the Northeast had a very late spring this year, but now deaths are dropping there as well. This is not some magic worked by lockdowns, this is what any scientifically literate person would expect based on history. 

These are just the top items anyone could figure out with a little math and some basic science background. There are many more reasons to reject the Panic Porn, but these are the easiest to grasp.

The ‘news’ is not our friend. They hate the Church, and they hate us. Stop listening to them! Don’t give in to the Panic Porn!!

Update: April – the Month That Was (bricks, flowers, a certain minor disease)

A: A happy, holy and blessed Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. True story: When I went to Italy as part of an art program in the 1980s, we we visited a number of smaller towns around Florence. Can’t remember exactly which one we visited on May Day (Lucca? Somewhere…), but we found ourselves in the middle of a somber little parade in the medieval town plaza. We watched mostly middle-aged men in their Sunday finest go by, each wearing a red carnation.

Duomo di Lucca, Cattedrale di San Martino. Maybe here?

Communists. It was a little, um, odd. Then we went into the duomo, in front of which this parade had taken place. As I looked around and prayed a little, one after another of the men from the parade came in, took off their red carnation, and laid it at the foot of a statue of Our Lady. A nice pile of carnations was formed over the next half hour.

Someone, it seemed to me, was very unclear on the concept: Communism, the Catholic Church – pick one? They don’t really go together. But it seems Italians – and I love Italians – are not as troubled by niceties of consistency as I am. Or perhaps they see some consistency on a level that escapes me. Or – one can never rule this out – they’re basically crazy?

As a 20-something punk, this little moment has stuck with me ever since, and helped form my take on the world . People – hard to figure, sometimes.

B. Due to Sarah Hoyt linking to this post on Instapundit, I saw basically a year’s worth of blog traffic and a couple year’s worth of visitors over the course of a couple days. (Not saying all that much – my beloved regular readers are treasured, but few). Perhaps this kicked me up a little in Google’s algorithms, or maybe – I flatter myself – the blog picked up some more readers – In April, most days got over 100 views, even after the 5-figure spike was well past.

So, if you are a new reader, welcome! If the skewering of bad Science!, the history of schooling, curmudgeonly commentary on current events, reviews of SF&F and other books, and the occasional home improvement project and Catholic shout-out are your cup of tea, you belong to a very, um, select group – and this here’s a blog for you!

C: Bricks. We left it here:

That tub up top I use when I want to soak bricks in water so that I have longer to move them around before they suck enough water out of the mortar to make it stiff. This morning, I noticed what looked like a stick floating in it – a lizard had fallen in! poor thing! I dumped him out – he was alive, seemed OK.

Today, I’m hoping to finish this little piece up. Here’s how it stands now:

Once I cap the little towers in the corners, we will put potted plants on top of them, and long wooden planters in between. Something from this selection:

Nasturtiums, self-seeded from last year, on the back patio.
Those two wooden boxes in the middle are sized to fit atop the sides of the project. Wildflowers have been planted in them.

Should look nice. I wanted pots and wooden planters so that, come Christmas, I can move them and set up the Nativity scene there. Then on to the south wall/planter.

D: Planted a little herb garden in a wine barrel half. It’s sitting off the patio a couple steps from the pizza oven and the back door out from the kitchen. Previously grew herbs on the south side of the house, not handy if you’re in the middle of cooking. (Huge batch of oregano is still there. Will see if I can transplant some closer.)

Basil in the back. The skewers are to remind me of the divisions until the plants come up: Thyme, sage, chives, cilantro, green onions.

E: Big stress here at the casa: our older daughter is to be married on May 30. Our unctuous, reptilian governor has continued the lockdown in the face of all objective evidence. This means the church and the venue for the reception are closed. On the off chance we do get to hold something (the marriage is going to take place on the 30th no matter what, even if it’s just bride, groom, priest and witnesses) have cleaned up the back yard, trying to make it look spiffy-ish:

Have a lot to do in the front yard, where my brick obsession has made quite the mess, but at least the plants are coming in strong:

Rosemary, nasturtiums, honeysuckle along the street. Fruit trees in the background.
Tomatoes, between the fig to the right and the cherry behind.

In a month, maybe we’ll have some flowers or at least plants in all those pots and planters, to be distributed around. If we can do anything.

If you are the praying kind, prayers for our poor, stressed daughter would be appreciated. Thanks.

F: Don’t think I’ve ever posted on food per se – too much of that out there already – but this is maybe odd enough to be interesting. Somebody gave us a turkey months ago, don’t remember why, and it sat there tying up freezer space. Saw this guy on Youtube do something interesting, and thought – I should try that, get rid of that turkey:

Deboned and stuffed turkey:

Yes, it is time-consuming and not all that pleasant to debone a turkey, but, then again, carving a regular turkey can be some work as well. I did a poor job: the trick is to not cut the skin, which, when you roll it, is what keeps it all together. I tried to use a very cheap filleting knife that we’ve had forever, but it wasn’t up to the task, you need a very sharp tip to the knife, and this one just wouldn’t keep an edge. Got my eye on a Victorinox boning knife, if I ever do this again.

And I just might. However much trouble I had up front, it was very nice to simply cut slices without having to worry about bones and with a nice dollop of sausage stuffing right there in the middle. And it cooks a lot faster, too. FWIW.

G: Something proposed in a com box discussion here with Darwin Catholic, a man whose analytic abilities I respect: will COVID 19 result in more deaths in 2020 than would have otherwise occurred? I say: no. He says: yes, at least 75K. Now, even 75K is a tiny number on a population of 330M, but it should be noticable: the UN predicted around 2,930,400 deaths in the US from all causes before the current kefluffle. So: an additional 75K puts us a little over 3M. (Darwin wants to do a lot more math, with weighted average mortality over 5 years – OK by me, although I’m not sure what the gain in accuracy would be).

More important, and more obvious: the minimum number of dead with a continued lockdown was estimated at 100-240K just weeks ago. As the lockdown is eased or eliminated in more sane states, they theory goes, those numbers should get higher. So, anything short of about 3.03M lillion dead should be seen as an obvious fail, as far as any predictions go, and, realistically, anything less than 3.2M or so should lay a thick coat of egg on the face of the panic mongers. Not that they don’t already have lies in place to cover this.

The trouble here, as Dr. Briggs discusses here, is that the mitigation steps themselves have begun to kill people. First off, if biopsies and follow-ups for serious diseases, and the usual rounds of check-ups and screenings during which problems are routinely uncovered, are delayed, and thus problems are not discovered and treated promptly, prospects for those people are worsened. Some people will die. Same goes for some elective or non-critical treatments – something that looks non-critical today can get critical if pushed off enough.

But, by far, the major risk of death from COVID 19 is quickly becoming the psychological stress of lockdown and subsequent job losses. Suicide, taking stupid risks, drug abuse, domestic violence – these are real, and really kill people.

Is it enough to offset the ‘savings’ we might get from retarding the spread of *ALL* communicable diseases for a few months (insofar as that works. Not always and everywhere, that’s for sure, but some)? The longer the insanity of the lockdown drags on, affecting 330M people, not just the 1M cases of COVID 19, even a slight uptick in lockdown-related deaths could offset all gains. What a disaster, in terms of lives and morals. We want to believe we are not killing people with the lockdown, and so we do believe it. But we are, and it means nothing to us.

Someone somewhere should be putting together very targeted lawsuits against the people responsible for the government’s suspension of of our constitutionally guaranteed right to free assembly and, effectively, unlawful seizure of our wealth without any due process or review whatsoever. I’m saddened so many people accept this without a hiccup. Does it not occur to them that the patriotic need to be brave and face our enemies and risk death to defend our freedoms is still required, even if the enemy is a *&^% virus?

Education Reading Roundup, etc.

Old guy advise to whippersnappers who may one day want to do something scholarly: when you get the chance to learn German, French, Latin, and Greek – DO IT!

Image result for old man grumpy

I’m you’re Cautionary Tale right here: turns out that there’s tons of critiques and descriptions of Pestalozzi – in German. Hecker loomed large in France. Latin and Greek are kind of essential, too.

I used to be able to read a little French, but that atrophied away decades ago; German I took when I was 15, didn’t take at all; Greek I took for a couple years, but guess what? One must work at Greek like training to be a marathon runner – can’t let very many days go by without putting in some serious time and effort. And Latin I know only through singing a ton of church Latin – the Nicene Creed contains about 90% of any Latin vocabulary I might pretend to know.

Being at the mercy of translators isn’t so bad, usually, but here I worry a little. Example: I’m reading The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi by a J. A. Green, B.A., Professor of Education at the University College of North Wales. Green’s preface begins:

In this attempt to expound the fundamental doctrines of Pestalozzi, I have been chiefly indebted to two admirable articles by Wegel in the XXIII and XXIV Jahrbücher dee Vereins filr wissenschaftliche Padagogik,
entitled “Pestalozzi und Herbart.” In the vast extent of German Pestalozzian literature, these articles are generally acknowledged to be the most satisfactory critical account of Pestalozzi’s doctrines.

“In the vast extent of German Pestalozzian literature” I’m thinking there are going to be a wide variety of takes on what Pestalozzi was up to, and that, given the Sahara-like dryness of the topic, few have been clawed into a civilized tongue translated into English. When I reviewed How Gertrude Teaches Her Children, which seems to be considered his clearest declaration of his philosophy and methods, I noted how Pestalozzi’s writings seem little more than a Rorschach test wherein anyone, from Einstein’s kindly teachers to Fichte in his proto-Nazi ravings, could see what they needed for their purposes. Indeed, the translators of that volume mention Pestalozzi’s peculiar use of words:

These terms are difficult, for apparently we do not grasp Pestalozzi’s thought. We neither read nor follow him. If we walk in his ways, we may see what he saw; if we repeat his experiments, we may in some measure share his thought. Doing leads to knowing. He has been blamed for not defining his terms. He gives instead the history of this conception, the circumstances which led to it, its development, and his schemes founded on it. ” There are two ways of instructing,” he said ; ” either we go from words to things, or from things to words. Mine is the second method.”

Why does it need to be either/or? Perhaps there is a third way, one that uses things-to-words and words-to-things as appropriate? Does not any child old enough for formal education already possess enough awareness of the world gained through ‘sense impressions’ to skip the picture-book phase? The key recurring element of the Pestalozzian approach, the one that all his followers, in their disparate routes, from Einstein’s teachers cutting him some slack to Fichte’s legions of state-certified teachers micromanaging every spoon-fed moment, is the primacy of the *teacher*. It is How Gertrude Teaches, not How Gertrude’s Children Learn, after all.

Even more basic, Pestalozzi does not inspire confidence in his ability to move from things to words when he, himself, cannot seem to put into words the methods he employed for many decades. Seeing is believing, I suppose, but then everything, especially becoming a teacher after the manner of Pestalozzi, can only be learned as a sort of apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is not the kind of schooling the state has settled upon.

Keep uncovering more books that I have to read, or at least think I do. I knew this was a vast field; I did not think so much of it would be relevant to my purposes. Generally, I plan to eschew sources more recent than the 1950s at the very latest; my quarry is the story of the complete surrender of the Catholic schools to the state’s idea of education, after almost a century of fighting hard against it. Looks like the end came with more of a whimper than a bang, and was completely over by the 1930s. What strikes me now, and struck Archbishops Ireland’s and Gibbon’s opponents at the time, was the relatively swift and total shift from an adversarial relationship with the state schools to a slavish imitation of them. Bishops like Hughes in NY had waged war to keep as many kids as possible out of state schools; Ireland thought Catholic schools were a stopgap, and wanted to hand education over to the state, or at least to its surrogates and mirror images in the form of diocesan school school superintendents and certified teachers under the supervision of the state. These new ‘professional’ ‘educators’ would ensure that Catholic education conformed to the state’s wishes, that classes were taught in a state approved manner from state approved curricula. The Supreme Court ruling in Pierce v. Society of Sisters codified what Ireland had proposed: that the state has a coequal and independent interest in the education of children, and can rightly oversee and, where it deems necessary, overrule the educational decisions of parents. As Legaldictionary.net puts it in their summary of the ruling:

Nothing stops the State of Oregon, or any state, from regulating private schools to ensure quality.  However, a state government cannot use its power to arbitrarily and unreasonably destroy the existence of private schools.

And who gets to regulate private schools to ensure quality, I wonder? Chief Justice Hugo Black, a former KKK member and bitter anti-Catholic, maybe? Who in 1947 started the tradition of applying the anti-establishment* clause of the 1st Amendment to any state *tolerance* of Catholic expression in public?

Pierce v. Society of Sisters was proclaimed a victory for the Catholic schools, because the court did in fact strike down an Oregon law banning them. Lost in the celebration was enshrining into law the state’s right to oversee *all* education. The old idea, championed by the Church and, indeed, virtually all American Protestants up until the end of the 19th century, was that parents and their churches had the primary rights and duties towards education of the young, and that the state had only subordinate and derivative rights, if, indeed, any. Nope, here is enshrined in law the idea Ireland promoted, that the state’s has rights to meddle in, and, indeed, manage, the education of your kids, and that these rights are neither derived from nor subordinate to parental and religious rights.

We are to simply trust that the Hugo Blacks of the world won’t overdo it, that the overwhelming force wielded by those at the reins of the state are not going to be brought to bear on a few uppity citizens here and there. They wouldn’t dream, for example, of mandating sex ed completely at odds with Catholic religious beliefs. As Woody Allen put it: the lion may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.

All this has lead me to the frankly wild Americanism of American Catholics, complete validation of the accusation that they (we!) are Americans first, and Catholics second. This ceases to be a mere truism once its clear that it is the decision-making paradigm: “American” is the solid thing; Catholic must be flexible and conform.

*It’s like people have no idea ideas have any context, as if we must struggle to understand what establishment of a religion means, instead of looking at the English history in which that term arose, or in the colonies where it where it was implemented here, or in the way it was (not) applied to all the Bible reading and religious education that was considered essential to public education well into the 1930s. Nope, it means something else entirely, new and mysterious.

Education History: Some Threads Come Together

I highly recommend Parish School by Timothy Walch as the place to start reading on the history of Catholic schools in America. Unlike me, he’s a real historian, who properly sources and references his materials. In addition to providing an excellent, if short, overview, it’s a gold mine of contemporary sources. I first got turned on to many of the key players by this book. Dr. Walch was kind enough to send me the current revised edition, which I’m now about 1/3 through (re)reading. Since the goal of the revised edition was to bring this history up to the 2010s, not surprising I’m not seeing any obvious differences in the first chapters.

It’s a lot of fun to reread this material after having tracked down a few of the sources and gotten a bigger picture. In particular, having now read some of William Torrey Harris, these passages from the beginning of Chapter 7 take on a new light. From the Report of the U.S. Commissioner of Education for 1903:

The most impressive religious fact in the United States today is the system of Catholic free parochial schools. Not less than 1 million students are being educated in these schools. This great educational work is being carried out without any financial aide from the state…. the diocesan superintendent has been a powerful factor in the great progress made in these schools in recent years. It would be well if every diocese had such an officer. Indeed, there can be no perfect organization of the system without him.

William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education.

Even his fanboys and girls recognize that, as a philosopher, he’s a 2nd rate Hegelian; I’d say that’s a little generous. Be that as it may, there’s no denying he was a true devotee of that wacky take on Lutheran theology whose enduring contribution to thought is glib rejection of the need to make sense. This rejection remains the hallmark of academic philosophy to this day: the law of noncontradiction is for the little people, you see. Real philosophers can and do both mean and not mean anything they say. So when you notice academic statements make no sense or are self-refuting – feature, not bug.

Hegelians are looking for the Spirit, incarnate and effectively co-extensive with people taken as a whole over time, to unfold itself in History. Rather than history being a rolling up and cumulation of the acts of millions of us little people, capital H History is the Work of God, and thus at the same time beyond human understanding and the only worthy object of the speculative philosopher.

While Hegel himself made the critical and obvious point that, until the Spirit unfolds History, it is unknowable (almost by definition, although ‘definition’ is a curious concept in context). We can look to the past, in other words, and see what the Spirit has done, but looking into the future makes no sense, as the necessary conditions for understanding what the Spirit will do are not present.

Just as Dewey popularized Pragmatism by ignoring what Pearce said it meant and going with the much more coherent ‘the ends justify the means,’ Hegelians, in the splendor of their diversity, have ignored this caution against fortune-telling except when convenient. Thus, they worship Progress (as one of the Spirit’s manifolds) while both seeing it everywhere and rejecting any demand to state clearly what it is.

Anyway, so Harris, who tried during his time as U.S Commissioner of Education to get Hegelianism declared the official philosophy of American education, looks at parish schools and sees their fundamental value not in the millions of educated children, but in the establishment of diocesan education directors. It is the perfection of the organization of the system in which Progress is manifested. It’s worth

If you think I’m making too much of this, here’s what Harris said about Native Americans:

Harris called for the forced and mandatory education of American Indians through a partnership with Christianity in order to promote industry. It was Harris who called for the removal of Native children from their families for up to 10 years of training for the “lower form of civilization” as opposed to the United States government’s policy of exterminating them. Harris wrote, “We owe it to ourselves and to the enlightened public opinion of the world to save the Indian, and not destroy him. We can not save him and his patriarchal or tribal institution both together. To save him we must take him up into our form of civilization. We must approach him in the missionary spirit and we must supplement missionary action by the aid of the civil arm of the State. We must establish compulsory education for the good of the lower race.”


So why did he not call for the forced and mandatory education of American Catholics in the same way? It’s what Fichte would have done (and Fichte was a big influence on Hegel). Mostly, it would have been political suicide, given the millions of Catholic voters now present on the rolls. I don’t think he lost any sleep over this, however, because he saw the *progress* being made on that front. For the previous 8 decades, including the couple decades Harris spent as a more local school bureaucrat, that’s exactly what good, solid Protestants were calling for, one way or the other. If the dirty Papists sent their kids to the existing state schools, where they would have a little Protestant Jesus beat into their heads and thus become good Americans, well and good. If they insisted on founding their own schools, we’ll make them pay twice – tax them for our schools, then make them raise money from the same poor people for their own. This step worked very well, as at no point did as many as half of Catholic kids attended parish schools.

Then, to complete the Americanization (which every ‘good’ American knew meant the Protestantization) of Catholic kids, we’ll find a way to exert state control on Catholic school curriculum.

Harris could look with satisfaction at the current state of Catholic schools in 1903. The Spirit was clearly unfolding his idea of Progress among them. When Archbishop Ireland addressed the NEA in 1890 and said that it was his dream that Catholic kids would all attend public schools, and paid his homage to the goodness and light embodied in compulsory state education, which then as now is the NEA’s reason to exist, why, he warmed the cockles of Harris’ heart! The firestorm of controversy Ireland’s remarks caused among Catholics who had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to keep their kids away from state indoctrination was merely the last gasp of one leg of the dialectic getting subsumed and suspended in the synthesis that is compulsory education managed for the good of the state.

And Harris didn’t even have to do anything! The immigrants’ burning desire to fit in and outshine the natives in an ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ race to the bottom did all the work for him – or, I should say, the inexorable unfolding of the Spirit thus manifested itself in History.

The elephant in the room: the critics of Archbishop Ireland and all the ‘liberal’ Catholics of the day have proven to be correct. If there’s anything distinguishing the local products of our parish schools from the products of similarly situated public schools, it’s amazingly subtle. So subtle that not only are Catholics largely uninterested in spending money to send their kids there, non-Catholics can send their kids to the typical parish school with little worry they’ll come out Catholic.

Catholic schooling has about the same cultural meaning as eating organic or driving a hybrid.

One final note: wanted to see what the NEA had to say for itself, and found the unabashed propaganda one would expect.

On a summer afternoon in 1857, 43 educators gathered in Philadelphia, answering a national call to unite as one voice in the cause of public education.

At the time, learning to read and write was a luxury for most children—and for many children of color, it was actually a crime. But almost 150 years later,  the voice of the fledgling Association has risen to represent 2.7 million educators, and what was once a privilege for a fortunate few is now a rite of passage for every American child.

NEA Website

Take passing note the anachronistic use of the fancy-dan word ‘educator’. Teachers, maybe? One chapter of my planned book will be titled “Messianic Schooling,” in which I’ll cover the various salvation/end times myths perpetrated in the name of compulsory schooling. Here, for example, the writer simply lies: in 1800, excluding slaves, literacy was near 100% in America. She lies so that she can frame up schooling as Messianic: we ‘educators’ have come to free the people from the bonds of illiteracy! You know, the land where de Tocqueville observed farmers reading Descartes while resting their plowhorses, and where the Last of the Mohicans adjusting for population, outsold Harry Potter. Where the Federalist Papers were printed in general circulation newspapers and where, a couple decades later, among hundreds of other publishers, there were 125+ newspapers and magazines dedicated to the anti-papist cause.

Sound illiterate to you? Here’s the opening of Last of the Mohicans:

It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet. A wide and apparently an impervious boundary of forests severed the possessions of the hostile provinces of France and England. The hardy colonist, and the trained European who fought at his side, frequently expended months in struggling against the rapids of the streams, or in effecting the rugged passes of the mountains, in quest of an opportunity to exhibit their courage in a more martial conflict. But, emulating the patience and self-denial of the practiced native warriors, they learned to overcome every difficulty; and it would seem that, in time, there was no recess of the woods so dark, nor any secret place so lovely, that it might claim exemption from the inroads of those who had pledged their blood to satiate their vengeance, or to uphold the cold and selfish policy of the distant monarchs of Europe.

Last of the Mohicans, CH 1

Cooper starts his book here – after quoting Shakespeare. Those poor illiterate sods who bought this book by the thousands! Clearly, we need ‘educators’ STAT!

Or take this beautiful mistake back in the NEA history web pages:

Lafayette, Indiana, August 21, 1854

“And I must not forget the Schoolhouse which is a log house thirty-five by thirty with four windows & two doors… The cracks are filled with mud and plaster & there is no ‘loft’ & the shingles are very holey so that when it rains we take the books and stand in one place till it begins to drop down & then we move to an other spot & then an other…”

Affectionately Yours,

M.M. Rogers

Excerpt from a letter written by Martha M. Rogers, a young female pioneer who headed West to teach. Reprinted with permission from Women Teachers on the Frontier by Polly Welts Kauffman.

from the NEA website

Those familiar with one-room schools should recognize a couple things here. In the 1850s, it was common for young single women, generally with nothing more that a one-room school education themselves, to head out to the frontier to teach – and to snag a husband. (If you’ve read the Anne of Green Gables series, you’ve run across the phenomenon, more or less.) Teacher turnover was high, as one would expect.

On the frontier, as part of the homesteading laws, pioneers would build, manage, and staff a one schoolhouse per 36 square mile section, near the middle, so that no kid would be more than an hour’s walk from it. Such schoolhouses were built to the standards to which the farmers built their own buildings – the schoolhouse as described above was probably very similar to the surrounding farmhouses.

The schoolhouse became a sort of ‘town hall’ where meetings and voting and other socialization took place. While it’s very probable that the schoolhouse maintenance and improvements lagged those of the farmer’s own buildings sometimes, it is unlikely it lagged much very often. Few really old schoolhouses survive, as they tended to get replaced over time. Those pretty clapboard postcard-perfect ones that you see were likely build just before the turn of the century or a little later, when farmers were doing well enough to want to show off their success a little. There was even some competition among neighboring sections: one section might spring for a belltower and a bell – soon all the neighbors had one as well.

So, even on the frontier, you had farmers building a schoolhouse as soon as they could and as well as they could, keeping it up as well as they could, and hiring as good a teacher as they could find. A young woman of, say, 16, who had graduated school and yet not found a suitable mate in her own section had an obvious strategy: become a teacher at a nearby section where maybe the male/female ration in the proper age range might be more favorable.

It worked remarkably well. Miss Rogers above, who could very probably be just such a young woman, write very well! Nice letter! You think your typical public high schooler writes any better than that? The truth is, extensive samples of the writing of people educated only in one-room schools exist, and it’s pretty good for the most part. And there’s the rub: in the late 1800s, ‘educators’ like William Torey Harris had identified those one room schools as the enemies of Progress. They began the mythology that those hicks in the country – deplorables, they might call them today – were ignorant rubes and needed proper schools to free them from the tyranny of their ignorance. The most horrifying evidence of this ignorance was their rejection of the idea that they needed to have their happy and successful locally managed schools replaced by modern consolidated schools run by and for their betters.

For the one room schools worked in any measurable way. Their graduates did better on standardized tests, and got into college (the few that did) at a higher rate than the graduates of ‘scientific’ schools. Which brings us to the little dodge the writer of the NEA history used: start by criticizing the ignorance of the non-centrally schooled people, but when presenting an example, shift to their *poverty*. This is, in fact, the route taken historically. The practical, stoic farmers wanted to see exactly why their schools needed to be replaced. When the tests were administered and it became obvious that from any practical educational perspective, the one room schools generally did better than the schools eager to replace them, the strategy shifted: One room schools were dirty! They were poorly equipped! And their teachers aren’t even certified by the state!

So the farmers upgraded their schools, as mentioned above. They spent a little money on better equipment. They even started hiring certified teachers (who, nevertheless, remained under their surveillance).

And thus, the one-room schools survived, until technology (e.g., tractors), the resulting bigger farms, rural depopulation and finally the Great Depression combined to do them in. That last generation mourned the loss; now, it has all but passed from living memory.

Immigration and Politics, Mid-19th Century Edition

Some political observations. Reviewing my notes to the Protestant Crusade (partially reviewed here), came across this rather modern sounding situation:

The political ramifications of alien invasion, were as important as the social. With the foreigner came corruption and graft to change the traditional routine of American politics. In this process the immigrants at first were only tools of the natives. Befuddled aliens were met at the docks by politicians, they were placed under the care of minor bosses, they were fraudulently naturalized by machine-controlled judges, and they were marched to the polls to vote as they were told. Little wonder that these foreign-born gained a faulty picture of a democracy or that they soon entered into the political game themselves. Thus corrupt-foreign politicians were created; Irish and German names began to appear on the ballots, and natives, long accustomed to rule, found their position challenged by officeholders and voters who appreciated the opportunities of democracy more than its responsibilities.

This situation was particularly alarming because the rapid increase of foreign voters made it appear inevitable that they would eventually rule the land. T hus in Boston between. 1850 and 1855 the native-born voters increased 14.72 per cent; those of foreign birth 194.64 per cent. Although the foreign-born in Boston were accumulating at a more rapid rate than elsewhere, the same story could be told to a lesser degree of every city and state in the north, and many Americans agreed with a nativistic speaker when he prophesied that “in fifteen years the foreign population will exceed the native.” Much apprehension was occasioned by the fact that in many communities the even balance between the parties placed the foreign-born in control although they were outnumbered by natives. Each party recognized the importance of the immigrant vote and bid for it openly by offering minor offices and other political plums to alien leaders who held the balance of power. Tangible proof of this situation seemingly was provided in the election of 1852 when the foreign-born helped elect a Democrat, Franklin Pierce, to the presidency. When Pierce named a Catholic postmaster general and appointed several foreign-born Democrats to diplomatic posts, nativists and Whigs were convinced that he was paying an election debt and that immigrant voters controlled the United States. Actually, the foreign-born voted the Democratic ticket consistently, and carping against the immigrant’s political power came largely from disgruntled Whigs or indelible nativists. Millard Fillmore was speaking as both when he declared that the foreign vote was “fast demoralizing the whole country ; corrupting the ballot box — that great palladium of our liberty — into an unmeaning mockery where the rights of native born citizens are voted away by those who blindly follow their mercenary and selfish leaders.” Yet some truth probably lay behind these charges, for impartial observers agreed that “political parties seek . . .[the immigrants’] support; they are taken into account in the framing of political platforms, in the acts of legislatures, in the policy of governors.” Certainly nativists could see more truth than humor in the current joke concerning the schoolboy who was called upon to parse “America.” “America,” he stated, “is a very common noun, singular number, masculine gender, critical case, and governed by the Irish.”

The Protestant Crusade 1800-1860, R. A. Billington
I highlighted and noted a few interesting passages in this work.

One thing I appreciate about this book is that while Billington duly notes the obvious slander and calumny leveled against Catholics, he doesn’t ignore the very real problems immigration caused. It would be unpopular to note today that, although the Know-Nothings were no doubt bigots, they had some legitimate concerns: immigrants were being illegally used by the Democratic Party to fraudulently ‘win’ elections.

Of course, one could separate the issues: it wasn’t immigration that caused the Democratic Party in the 1840s and 50s to commit massive voter fraud. The Know Nothings could have focused on passing and enforcing laws against voter fraud and simply left the immigrants out of the equation. But note this line: “they were fraudulently naturalized by machine-controlled judges.” Those very well might be the judges you’d need to get any anti-fraud enforcement past. So, from a tactical perspective, the Know-Nothings approach of reducing immigration and making it much harder for an immigrant to become naturalized might be a rational reaction to political reality rather than mere anti-immigrant (and anti-Catholic) bigotry. In the end, the political power of the Know-Nothings lasted all of 2 years, 1855-1856.

The party would, of course, frame any such attempt to combat fraud as an attack on immigrants themselves, rallying both legally and fraudulently naturalized immigrants to oppose it.

Or one might think. Immigrants might not be a homogeneous block. Just as, in the real world today, one regularly meets naturalized immigrants who are appalled at the very idea of open borders, who took the challenge of legally entering the country, legally gaining residency, and finally becoming naturalized citizens and voting as a good and necessary process, there were plenty of 19th century immigrants who realized they were being paid off in crumbs for supporting a regime getting fat off graft and tried to fight it.

Tammany Hall would call on local bosses to have their immigrant thugs beat the hell out of any such dissidents. Some were murdered.

One question always worth asking when looking at history: when did it stop? Related: why and how? Tammany Hall had a 150+ year run. It seems to have just petered out sometime in the 1960s. Did it? Or rather, was Tammany Hall just the face of deeper corruption, a corruption that continued under different management? Since its mob ties were obvious during its later years, I’d suspect it’s still there, functionally. But at least its public demise can be tied to losing elections and having its public leaders disgraced. In other words, there’s a real sense in which it can be said that Tammany Hall is no more.

The Chicago Outfit, on the other hand, is claimed to be no more, because… it just isn’t. Never mind that anybody who is anybody in Chicago politics is at best one or two steps removed from the patronage of made man Fred Roti – his ‘legacy’ is all the people whose political careers he started in Chicago. There are no such things in The City on the Make as independent candidates – who get elected. But we’re supposed to believe, somehow, that the most corrupt political machine in American history just kind of went away? Does anyone believe this?

Another passage. Here, Archbishop John Hughes of New York is facing a dilemma: all public school funds in New York City were distributed by the Public School Society, which funded only schools unacceptable to Catholics. These schools promoted Protestantism through both the use of the King James Bible and, more important, texts that routinely denounced the Church and framed Protestantism as a victorious battle against the Whore of Babylon and an unalloyed good.

First, Hughes asked for a share of the funds for his Catholic schools, as Catholics paid into the fund but could not in good conscience benefit from it. This went over as you might expect. Then, he tried to get New York State law extended to NYC, which would have ended the Public School Society and moved the funding question to state level, where Hughes had some sympathetic supporters, including the governor. Both the current political parties – the Whigs and the Democrats – opposed him, although, as the section above makes clear, the Democrats owed their power to the Catholic immigrant vote. So, in the run up to the 1841 elections:

Hughes realized that the Catholic cause would be disastrously defeated unless drastic action were taken and he determined to play a bold card. Catholic voters were called together at a meeting at Carroll Hall on October 30, four days before the election. There Hughes addressed them, recalling that they had been refused satisfaction by both major parties and that their only hope lay in putting an independent ticket in the field. Before the meeting adjourned, the names of a group of candidates were submitted and Catholics were urged to support them. In all probability Hughes planned this move as a threat to force the Democratic party into line, but in this he was sadly disappointed for the day after the Carroll Hall meeting the Democratic candidates publicly
announced that they were now unanimously agreed that any change in the school system was unwise. Hughes was thus forced to carry his ticket into the election, even though he detested a separate Catholic party and believed that all action should be through the regular party channels.

In the main, however, Hughes was not completely dissatisfied with the turn of events. He realized, as did other political leaders of the day, that the immigrant voters held a balance of power and that their diversion from Democratic ranks might well spell defeat for that party. If the Democrats could be defeated, they would not only be rebuffed for deserting their former supporters but would be made to know that such support was necessary in the future. Hughes’ views were justified by the election returns. The Whigs swept the polls, going into office with a majority of 290 votes over their opponents, but if the 2,200 voters who supported the Catholic ticket had given their votes to the Democrats,
that party would have won an easy victory. Hughes had demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the Democrats could not afford to cast off their Catholic supporters if they wanted success.

The Protestant Crusade 1800-1860, R. A. Billington

So an American Archbishop leads his people against both parties, primarily to show them that they could not ignore the needs and desires of Catholics and still hold power.

What a concept.

Compare with what Cardinal Dolan said a few years ago in an opinion piece at the WSJ, about the attitude of Catholics when he (and I) were growing up (behind a paywall!):

“I’m a pastor, not a politician, and I’ve certainly had spats and disappointments with politicians from both of America’s leading parties. But it saddens me, and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish, when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us.”

“The dignity and sanctity of human life, the importance of Catholic schools, the defense of a baby’s civil rights… [are] …widely embraced by Catholics. This often led Catholics to become loyal Democrats. I remember my own grandmother whispering to me, ‘We Catholics don’t trust those Republicans.'”

He just noticed this in 2018?

Once you’ve established that you don’t trust one of two parties and therefore won’t vote for them, the party you do trust can safely ignore you. Hughes understood this basic political fact; Dolan came to understand it about 100 years too late.

Some things change, but underlying political realities are not among them.

Explaining the Eucharist: Adventures in RCIA

I was assigned to give 15 minutes (!) on the theology and history of the Eucharist to our RCIA class last night. Of course, the first thing one has to say: impossible task, all I can give it the briefest outline of an introduction to the topic. I wish I would have thought to say…

Well, that is the topic of this post: what can one say about the Eucharist in about 15 minutes? I’m taking what I did say, cleaning it up and adding a few points I wish I’d thought to say.

Image result for monstrance

We try to understand the Eucharist, the True Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, with our minds of course, but even more with our hearts. The Church does and always has encouraged questions and thought, but at the same time reminds us that the things of God are beyond the intellectual grasp of us mere humans and can only be known imperfectly in this life. The Eucharist is first among these mysteries, as it is the continued presence of the Incarnate Lord among us, the working out and fulfillment of our salvation as members of the Body of Christ.

When Peter preached on Pentecost, 3,000 people were converted and baptised. Why? What did those hearing Peter understand that made them ready to accept Jesus? Two stories central to Judaism help explain this, and how these early Christians understood the Eucharist.

The first is the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. When God tells Abraham to make a burnt offering of his son Isaac, he obeys without question. In the last chapter, he had driven his concubine Hagar and their son Ishmael out, giving them only a waterskin and a little bread. Even though God had assured him that He would care for them and make a nation out of Ishmael, Abraham had treated them poorly: driving a woman and her small son into the wilderness would normally be a death sentence. So Abraham has no standing to object to God asking for his other son.

When Isaac says “Father! Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Abraham answers that God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering. When God stops Abraham and supplies a ram, He is sparing and ransoming not just Isaac but all of Israel, all the children that would come through Isaac. He was providing the sacrifice that allowed Israel to exist.

Thew second story, the greatest story in Israel, is God saving His people from Egypt. The last plague sent by God to force Pharaoh to set the Israelites free is striking down the first born of every household in Egypt. He gives instructions to Moses: have the people get ready to leave. Have them take a yearling lamb, unblemished, and kill and eat it. Have them take some of its blood and splash it on the lintels of their door as a sign to my angel to pass over that household.

Thus, God strengthened His people for their journey out of slavery and into freedom with the flesh of a lamb, and by its blood marked them out and spared them from death.

In these two stories, God supplies the victim which is sacrificed in the place of Isaac for the sins of Abraham, thus purchasing the lives of all his descendents. In Egypt, the land of slavery, He tells them to eat an unblemished lamb and to mark themselves as His with its blood. The flesh of the lamb strengthens them for their journey to freedom, its blood saves them from death.

When John the Baptist sees Jesus down by the Jordan River, he proclaims: “Behold the Lamb of God! Behold him Who takes away the sins of the world!” The Jews hearing this would have thought: the Lamb of God? The sacrifice supplied by God to save us? The lamb whose blood spares us from death? Whose flesh strengthens us for our journey to freedom?

Then, in John 6, Jesus expounds further: unless you eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, you shall have no life within you. For my Flesh is real food, and My Blood is real drink. These are outrageous claims, and the people who heard it were outraged, and many left. Jesus then asks his disciples if they, too, wish to leave, Peter answers not with any understanding of what he’s just heard, and not with questions or requests for clarification. He’d just heard Jesus emphatically double down in the face of outrage. Instead, he says simply: Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.

At the Last Supper, after the traditional Passover meal where Jesus and the Apostles remembered how God rescued His people from Egypt, at which they had prepared and eaten the lamb just as Moses had instructed Israel in the land of slavery, Jesus breaks the bread and says: this is My Body. He takes the wine and says: this is the cup of My Blood in a new and everlasting covenant. Do this in memory of Me.

Remember, as John says at the beginning of his Gospel, Jesus is the Word through Whom all things were made. When He says ‘let there be light,’ light appears; when he commands the earth to be full of plants and animals and the sea to be full of fish, they are. His Word causes things to be what they are. When He says: this is My Body, that is what it is.

After this, Jesus leaves the Passover meal and heads out to be sacrificed for us, handing over His Body to death and spilling His Blood that we might live. God has indeed provided the Sacrifice. He has indeed supplied the food for our journey into his life and freedom.

From the moment Peter first preached at Pentecost, this has been the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist. Those 3,000 Jews who converted on the spot would have understood this, as I’m sure Peter and the Apostles would have pointed it out to any who did not immediately grasp it. But as important as the intellectual understanding is, much more is the touching of hearts: all the pieces of all the stories those people had heard all their lives, all the yearnings and prayers for a savior, all their longing for Emmanuel, God With Us – all the pieces fell into place, and they all knew that Jesus is Lord, that He is with us always, and gave us Himself most intimately for our nourishment and salvation.

Thus, we find in Acts and the letters of Paul already expressed a devotion to the Eucharist. The True Presence is attested to by all the Church fathers. John’s and Paul’s descipe Ignatius of Antioch wrote about it in his letters around 100 A.D. Irenaeus of Lyon testified to it in the 2nd century. The Church has maintained from the beginning that God so loves the world that he continues to send His Son to us, His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine.

I blathered on a little more, but this is the gist of what I wished I had said, built on what I did say, which was not this clear or tidy, and left out a few things.