Two Odd Books: Pilgrim’s Progress & the Iron Chamber of Memory

Keeping with the pattern of switching back and forth between the Current Insanity and Anything Else, let’s discuss two books I just happen to have read at the same time.

Here.

The above definitions are somewhat useful. What one wants to be able to say is when something is not an allegory – the essence of a definition. With the broadest stroke of the definitions above, one can possibly say that the work under consideration is not symbolic, and, therefore, not an allegory.

(Sorry for the digression here. I thought I knew what allegory is, but then made the mistake of thinking about it, looking it up, and now have to sort through it. The interwebs are indeed fields of rabbit holes.)

Made the mistake – woe is me! – of visiting the Oracle Wikipedia, and thus fell into a cesspool of woke:

As a literary device or artistic form, an allegory is a narrative or visual representation in which a character, place, or event can be interpreted to represent a hidden meaning with moral or political significance. Authors have used allegory throughout history in all forms of art to illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.

People way too big for their britches

One little phrase removes all usefulness from this thing: “…can be interpreted to represent…” Thus, any possibility of saying what is or is not allegory is banished, in favor of everything being an allegory if it merely can be interpreted to represent something else, a feat any college sophomore can perform with ease on absolutely anything. Cafeteria food in an allegory for control exerted on the masses by structural oppression. I’m oppressed by the paucity of avocado on my toast …. And so on. (1)

Then, since logical consistency is a social construct of an oppressive white patriarchy and thus must be violated, we shift the grounds back to the intentions of the author, by which we mean ‘artist’ – there I go with that consistency thing again! – thus contradicting the original ‘definition’, which is based on the interpretation of the consumer of art: “Authors have used allegory throughout history in all forms of art to illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.”

Now we possibly need a college junior to explain how this contradiction is suspended but not resolved in a synthesis, but I haven’t had breakfast yet, so we’ll stop. Suffice it to say: if allegory is something the reader or viewer reads into something, then there’s no definition possible – no one can say what is and is not allegory, or rather, everything is allegory.

Back in the real world, we’re not completely freed from this muddiness even if we look to the author’s intent. Often, authors don’t express their intent; often they will say that there’s more to their works than what they, themselves consciously put there – maybe the work is allegorical even if that’s not what they were thinking at the time. But at least in some cases, we can say: Pilgrim’s Progress and Animal Farm are allegories. Those two stories were intended by their authors as allegories, and are really not open to any other, contradictory, interpretation. The character of Christian IS any Christian pilgrim; the pigs ARE the Russian Communist leadership. There’s practically no story if they’re not.

Unfortunately, at least from a tidiness point of view, few books fall this neatly into or out of this category. Is Dante’s Inferno allegorical? Of course! Is is completely allegorical, like Pilgrims Progress or Animal Farm? No. There are real characters throughout who are meant primarily as themselves, and only secondarily as stand-ins for the sinners as a class. Paolo and Frencesca are two real people, not just illustrations or symbols. Christian and the pigs have little if any personality apart from their symbolism.

Then there is the concept of a natural symbol, where its symbolic content fundamentally rests in the nature of the thing. Sometimes, symbol versus sign is used, with symbol having a connection by nature to the thing symbolized, while signs are merely conventional. Unfortunately, English does not really support that distinction, in that people have long used both those terms for both those concepts without distinction. Too bad.

The classic example: red, the color of fire and blood, symbolizes those things and things related to them by nature; a stop sign is conventional – there’s nothing about red hexagon that means ‘stop’ by nature (we had to write ‘STOP’ on it to get the message across initially), but red is the right color (or among the right colors) for a sign that needs to grab people’s attention in order to function. A lovely sky-blue stop sign would seem wrong, and not just by convention.

Allegory will be stronger the more it employs natural symbols rather than signs whose meaning is not connected to the thing it is a sign of by anything other than convention. Paolo and Francesca are blown about against their wills, which wills they had surrendered to their passions. Leaves in the wind is a good natural symbol for that situation….

Sigh. All this wandering around just to talk about two short books.

I found myself reading Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s 1678 Christian allegory, because it was mentioned on John C. Wright’s blog and I realized I’d never read it. Wright stated that it is probably the only allegory out there that can be read on its artistic merits. We’re not talking about the use of real, flesh-and-blood characters (or, at least, characters written so that we might imagine them real) to represent, more or less consciously on the part of the author, ideas or social problems or what have you. Rather, Pilgrim’s Progress characters have names that ARE their characters: Christian, Faithful, Hopeful, Little-faith, Ignorance, Worldly Wiseman, and so on. There’s very little to even the main characters beyond what you might guess from their names.

Bunyan was a Puritan preacher who spent a good chunk of his adult life in jail for refusing to stop preaching Puritanism. 17th century England oscillated between the established church tolerating ‘heretics’ and throwing them in jail or worse. Bunyan’s life straddled a couple of these peaks and troughs. He is assumed to have began writing Pilgrim’s Progress during one his extended stays in prison. It became an instant classic, translated into over 200 languages and hardly being out of print since.

Buyan’s skill is in how he uses his various allegorical figures and places to illustrate his Puritan theology. He sees this story in a series of dreams: A Christian, a husband and father, is visited by Evangelist, who warns him to leave his home town, City of Destruction, and pilgrimage to the Celestial City carrying a heavy burden on his back. His family thinks him crazy, so he leaves them.

The rest of the story concerns Christian’s journey to the Celestial City, the places he visits or avoids, how he is tempted and aided, who he meets along the way, the fates of those whom he meets (spoiler: his companion Faithful is martyred – this is good, in context, the greatest good in fact; Hopeful completes the journey with Christian, while Little-faith, a character in a story within a story within a dream, eventually makes it. Ignorance fairs less well.)

Conclusion: it is a good story to read, both for a Christian and for anyone who wants insight into how Puritans think. In some ways, the person treated most harshly in the book is Ignorance. He comes off worse than many of the active sinners and tempters, with more pages spent having Hopeful and Christian harangue him than are spent on any other single topic. We look back to Bunyan to understand this: he is a Puritan preacher, hell fire and brimstone style. His enemy is Ignorance, meaning people who do not understand or who reject the central themes of Calvinism. The damned are the damned – you give converting them a shot, then move on. But the Ignorant, those who travel the same path you are travelling but are doing it WRONG – they are the real challenge.

In Bunyan’s dream, Ignorance shows up at the Pearly Gates all alone. He knocks, and – it is not opened unto him. Rather, the agents of the King ask to see his papers – scroll, certificate – proving he is among the elect. When he fails to produce them, he is bound by two angels and cast into Hell. So a guy who left everything, followed the path, rejected or escaped from temptation, and saw his journey to Heaven through, is damned because he DID IT WRONG!

Despite all its protestations to the contrary, Calvinist Puritanism remains as legalistic an expression of Christianity and anyone could hope to find.

Ignorance is an annoying character, so sure that if his heart doesn’t trouble him, he has not erred. He is confident that, since he left everything, went on the pilgrimage, and did the required good works along the way, that he is going to be admitted to Heaven. Hopeful and Christian go after him hammer and tongs, because he is not embracing his utter depravity and relying entirely on the completely unearned and undeserved Grace of God as expressed in Jesus. Ignorance repeatedly says he does not understand what they mean by that idea. He loves Jesus, and follows His commandments – isn’t that enough?

A Catholic Pilgrim’s Progress would be Dante’s Divine Comedy. But say a lesser Catholic poet tried his hand at doing the allegory Bunyan-style: first, Sacraments and Saints would be essential characters, accompanying the pilgrims on their way. Major time would be given to those church officials who have failed in their callings – you know, all the bad popes and clerics that populate Dante’s Hell – and the damage they do and their unpleasant eternal fates, how to identify and avoid them, how to honor the offices without succumbing to the evil of the office holders. There would be Good Pastor and Bad Pastor, Patron Saint and False Saint. The Cloud of Witnesses would include all those people by whom God, as secondary causes and in order to have His glory reflected by creatures made in His image, passed the Faith all the way down to Christian.

But mostly, there would be Purgatory. Ignorance would knock, and the doors would be opened, and he would finally SEE. In that moment of searing clarity, all the errors of his ignorance, all his pride and foolishness, would be clear to him – and he, himself, of his own will, would seek to hide from the Face of God. Yet God, in his infinite mercy and love, would not cast out one who had tried, who made the effort however badly, and who has endured the journey. Thus, to the singing of choirs of angels rejoicing that another soul had been saved, Ignorance would be carried to the foot of the mountain of Purgatory, to be purified of his pride.

I gave a one-paragraph review of John C. Wright’s Iron Chamber of Memory when I first read it back in 2016, and mentioned I’d do a full review of it later.

It seems now is later.

This review will be abstract, as spoilers would be a terrible thing. You just need to read this book. It begins as a tale of unrequited, and unrequitable, love: the girl our hero loves is engaged to marry his best friend, and his sense of honor makes doing anything to frustrate those plans unthinkable. Yet, the two of them keep bumping into each other alone, without her fiancé, even so far as meeting up at the manor house on the Isle of Sark, which said fiancé has recently inherited. Through a hundred little nudges and coincidences, they end up at the door of a particular room within the manor house, and…

Stuff happens. Increasingly insane stuff, stuff that starts out uncanny and moves on from there, until – really crazy stuff happens. A story that starts out as a tragic romance, a love triangle between two best friends and the woman they both love, ends up involving a number of saints and mythical creature.

And I’m afraid I must leave it at that. The setting for the story – the very real Isle of Sark – is, in real life, about as romantic and epic a place as exists on the planet. A little island off the coast of France, the last feudal fief in Europe, pirates, caves, foot paths with 300′ drops on either side, Nazi conquest and resistance, ancient farms, ancient families, the world’s only Dark Sky island – awesome.

As for the allegory bit that I started writing about – well, it spoils it pretty intensely. So, I recommend reading the book before reading this little bit, because the plot twists, if you can call them that, are epic, and this will ruin it.

You’ve been warned.

Sark.

In the final chapters, it is revealed that the Rose or Red Room is only the first enchanted layer of memory, that there are several nested rooms. When deep enough in, enough memory is restored, that Hal Landfall, the main protagonist, is revealed to be Henwas Lanval, a Knight of the Round Table who had been seduced by the sea fairy Tryamour; Laurel du Lac is the fairy Lorelei, who aimed to seduce and destroy Hal, Manfred is a monk and magician named Mandragora. Depending on whether each character is in or out of a chamber of memory, and on which chamber of memory each is in, they “know” who they are very differently.

So the question naturally arises: What is real? What is really going on? The soul of Manfred, in the innermost chamber of all, speaks of dreams, of how everything we see in this life is shadows and confusion, we have forgotten who we are. Only the saved soul sees the long line of triumph back through to Adam, of souls that have done well and who still do well. Henry really is a great knight fighting a great battle. He just thinks, in his forgetfulness, that he is a student working on a Master’s thesis. He is part of a great army protecting what is really important.

Is something in there an allegory? Is the whole story? I tend to think it doesn’t matter. What is different: Wright’s characters are people first, warts and wings and all; Bunyan’s are allegories first, and only accidentally people, if they are people at all.

  1. Oops – not an allegory – it’s the literal truth that the paucity of avocado on my toast IS the me being oppressed by the avocado -hoarding patriarchy. If I understand the approach correctly.

From Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial:

(From a comment I left at John C. Wright’s blog.)

“If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued through His appointed time He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him. Fondly do we hope ~ fervently do we pray ~ that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

We are the land of abortion, and of many other sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance. Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, hallowed be Thy Name. Trembling, we today plead that You remember Your promise of mercy, a promise You made to Abraham and his children forever, a promise fulfilled in Your Son. Do not hold our sins against us, for, then, who could stand? Instead, for the sake of Thy Holy Name, for the glory of Thy Son, in the power of Thy Spirit, send Your heavenly host, lead by Holy Michael, commanded by their Holy Queen, flaming swords drawn, to cast Satan and his foul minions out of our fair and blessed nation, back into the pit. Strengthen us for battle, for whatever part Your Holy Will would have us do.

Thy Will be done. Amen.

Christmas: Feast of the True Presence

This post may be of interest to my Christian brothers and sisters who are not Catholic, as it may give some insight into what we crazy Papists are up to.

Sandro Botticelli, The Mystical Nativity (1500-1501). Go here to enlarge this to see the details.

This nativity has it all: Angel choirs dancing above the stable; Faith, Hope, and Charity perched on the roof. To the left, an angel directs the Wise Men to the Babe; an overwhelmed and elderly Joseph (the typical medieval way he was imagined) sits bowing near the Infant. Mary, on her knees with folded hands, worships her newborn Son while the ox and ass look on. To the right, another angel directs two shepherds.

Below, three people are being embraced or perhaps lifted up by angels, cheek to cheek. Seven little demons flee, several impaled on the instruments of torture they carry.

Except for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, all the people are crowned or are being crowned with laurel – the crown of victory. The fat little Baby is reaching for his mother and sucking his fingers.

Subtler details: the stable is a cave, a part of the earth. Through the back of the cave one sees a beautiful forest – Eden-like, even. The scale of the forest seen through the cave doesn’t match the forest to the left, as if it’s not part of the same scene.

Although Botticelli was a Renaissance master, he still uses the medieval vocabulary of symbols. Christ was born not merely on the earth, but in the earth. He is not something added to the surface, but rather of the matter of our order of Creation. The ox and the ass in the same way are representatives of Creation itself worshipping the Son. Eden, which is the proper, intended order of Creation for Man, is visible through the cave, where Heaven and Earth meet in the Person of Christ. The veil is drawn back, so that angels rejoice and demons flee.

Ave fit ex Eva, as the medievals were known to say: the ‘Ave’ with which the angel greeted Mary is made from Eva, the pure and innocent Mary saying ‘yes’ replaces the pure and innocent Eve saying ‘no’. Through Mary, God restores, and then some, the proper order of Creation as remembered from Eden. The whole scene captures the wedding of Heaven and Earth, of angels and men, of earthly and heavenly creation.

There is a combination of general representatives and specific individuals. Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the Wise Men, and Shepherds are particular individuals we know from the story; the angels and the three men at the bottom of the picture are representatives of Heaven and Earth; the men in particular invite us to read ourselves into the scene.

The people for whom this picture was painted would understand that intended part of their reading of themselves into the story is the acceptance of a God-given role – Thy Will be done. Mary is glorious because she perfectly accepted God’s Will for her – the glory is all God’s, but she is its perfect mirror. In the same way, Joseph’s humble, silent acceptance of God’s Will makes him glorious by reflected light. Even the ox and ass are glorious in a similar way, although they act only as extensions of the human beings who raised them and put them in the stable. But that’s what we do – glorify God by how we use the gifts He entrusts to us.

Or how about this one:

Adoration of the Shepherds, Georges de La Tour c. 1644.

Here, the artist uses a conceit – an unseen candle held by Joseph but shielded by his hand from us – so that he can show Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds lit by the reflected light of the Christ Child, the actual source of light in this picture.

A thousand years later, these ideas, of a cave, of light, of God-with-us Emmanuel, of our place in God’s scheme, of the meeting of Heaven and Earth and the redemption of all Creation, found expression in a thousand church interiors all across Christendom.

We’re used to well-lit interiors, thanks to Edison, but, as designed and used, the interiors of churches necessarily share much with the cave of the stable. In Gothic churches, during the day, at least, light enters filtered by stained glass; at night, only candles and lamps provided light, which would seem very dark to us.

But it is through that cave that we see the new Eden, lit by the Light of Christ.

The cave is also the Tabernacle of the New Covenant, the Holy of Holies, containing Jesus. Yet it is the only the second tabernacle. Mary, greeted by Elizabeth as ‘the mother of my Lord’ – the queen, in the usage of the time – is the first and primary tabernacle, the Holy of Holies as a person. Her humility is perfect, meaning she accepts the role God has given to her with complete abandonment of herself – full of grace.

Yet, because she holds nothing back and gives all to God, she is more perfectly herself than any other purely human person. But doing God’s Will is not passive. We are made in the image and likeness of the Creator and the Savior. Thus, Mary’s surrender – be it done unto me according to Thy Will – results in *activity*, creative, redemptive activity. Always, Mary’s actions in accord with God’s Will are reflections of that Will and activated by it. Yet God choose her and filled her with grace so that she could eternally serve Him, as the Mother of His Son.

The most common name given to Catholic Churches is some form of Notre Dame – Our Lady. You’ll find parish churches and cathedrals named Queen of the Angels, Mother of God, Queen of All Saints, Star of the Sea, Our Lady of Solitude, Our Lady of Victory, Visitation, Mother of Sorrows, and a hundred other names and references to Mary.

Catholics do this because each church is a tabernacle of the New Covenant, a place where the Incarnation continues through the priest when he, acting as Jesus commanded the Apostles, incarnates Him in the bread and wine. By the Divine Will, Mary’s perfect yes brought that Will into this world, uniting Heaven and Earth, making each of us members of a Royal Priesthood, made worthy to enter the Holy of Holies where Christ is present on His altar, the Lamb of God. We then become, each of us, that Tabernacle when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Christmas means all these things. We honor God by honoring Mary, Queen and Holy of Holies by His Will. The Child in her womb, the Babe in the manger, the Lamb of God on the Cross, the risen Lord, the Pantocrator – Mary was there for all of that. Her work of bringing Jesus into the world, in the image of God and reflecting and embodying His Will, continues eternally.

She always reflects His glory, always points to the Son, always does His Will. We, honoring her, always follow her lead and give worship and glory only to Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Have a Happy, Holy, and Blessed Christmas Season! (which runs from sundown today through the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Party hard till then!)

Book Review: Don’t Give Money to People Who Hate You

Brian Niemeier‘s 90-page book Don’t Give Money to People Who Hate You, is a kick in the pants to those of us who are still drifting along sedated by nostalgia, still paying for the privilege of a front-row seat to the mutilation and ultimate destruction of our own culture, willfully oblivious to the contempt and hatred of those who have appointed themselves our betters. I needed that kick – while I have long since revoked access to my wallet to Hollywood movies, and have never been much for games and comics, I still sometimes click on mainstream news articles and shop with major corporations. As explained below, these are now as much of the problem as the direct culture war waged in films and print. Many major corporations do all in their power to prove their hatred for me and mine and everything we believe and love. Don’t give them your money. Don’t give them your clicks.

So if you still are paying to consume blockbusters, comic book movies, video games, mainstream books and comics, or patronizing sports teams, retail outlets and ‘news’ media that have gone way, way out of their way to let you and the entire world know they hate you and everything you love – read this book. Now.

DGMTPWHY provides a quick tour through the who, when, where, what, and why of our current state of all but unwatchable, unreadable and unplayable ‘entertainment. The creators of mainstream entertainment have gotten converged, and, despite the hit to their corporate wallets, are now purveyors of nihilist propaganda masquerading as movies, comics, books, and games.

They must subvert and destroy what we, the sheep they despise, love. Manly men trying to be honorable, heroic and manly, and feminine women trying to be honorable, heroic and feminine, are right out – they are tools of the patriarchy, the cultural hegemony of oppression under which we sheep labor, and from which our purple-haired, nose ringed genderfluid betters are going to save us – or make sure we die from their trying. A character as complex as Rick in Casa Blanca, or even Luke in Star Wars, is to be simplified for the purposes of the cause. If you are so unwoke as to *like* such complex characters, well, our betters plan to fix that – by stories with no heroes and no villains, which leaves them with no plots or even logic. So things blow up.

And, of course, this all boils down to hatred of God. I’ve long held that all heresies are denials of the Incarnation. The basic ingredients of the dogma are a transcendent yet merciful God, creator of the Universe, Who, in an unfathomable act of humility and love, becomes one of us, suffers for us, and saves us. He defeats evil, and gives us hope. The purveyors of modern culture reject and mock each of these ingredients one by one, specifically. There is no God, nor any evil to defeat, nor good to defend. There can be no heroes, and no villains. Nothing is created from love, which is a lie. Humility is stupid; suffering is pointless. Only power matters, if anything matters.

There is no hope.

Modernism, of which this whole cultural war is the current manifestation, battles to defeat the good, the true, and the beautiful, even in such seemingly trivial forms as comic books and movies. But popular entertainment, from Homer to Shakespeare to Star Wars, is the way a culture is defined, nourished, and passed along. Just because it’s Batman and Thor getting the Social Justice treatment instead of (for the moment) Bach and Dante, doesn’t make it less dangerous Indeed, a lot more people have their morality formed by Superman and Harry Potter than by Milton and Flannery O’Conner. In a sane, healthy society, the popular culture and the highest high culture are formed by, share and communicate the same moral messages. For a century or more, that has not been the case in the West: our high culture is a cesspool of nihilism, while, up until the last 50 years, popular culture was still dominated by the theme of good versus evil – and the now novel idea that it’s better if good wins.

Brian published this work in April, before the rioting and the Antifa/Black Lives Matters psyops took over the ‘news’, and wrote it, I imagine, before the COVID hysteria and lockup. These are of a piece: the same people who show their hatred of you in movies and books have broadened their channels, and now show their murderous intent through the flexes and humiliation rituals of the lockup and masks and ‘social distancing’ (a phrase no one had heard of 4 months ago that is now treated like the Wisdom of the Ages), and by their apologetics, encouragement, and approval of those who would literally burn our country down. They destroy statues as phase one of an effort to memory hole anything that doesn’t conform to their contempt. I exaggerate not one iota when I say: Antifa and BLM dream of getting to kill you and your family. They are driven by the Marxist fantasy that bad people on the Wrong Side of History are all that stand in the way of paradise on earth. That paradise is the glorious End that justifies any means, including the slaughter of all who, in the minds of the Marxists, oppose it. Stalin and Mao, with their purges and Great Leap Forward, are not seen as history’s greatest criminals, but as role models. You and I are those bad people. They want us dead.

Don’t believe me? Read what they have to say for themselves.

The companies that even today are bending the knee and falling all over themselves in their rush to issue statements, not in condemnation of wanton property destruction and threatened and real physical harm up to and including murder, but rather in *support* of the rioters and vandals. The very idea that there are significant numbers of ‘peaceful protesters’ was always ludicrous: useful idiots and bored, antsy teenager of all ages, sure. Large numbers of people who take to the streets for weeks on end because a fellous thug who once robbed a pregnant woman at gunpoint while she pleaded for her life got himself killed by an out of control cop who is in jail awaiting trial?

That’s not what’s happening.

Back to the book. I know what Brian is talking about. Star Wars came out the summer after my freshman year in college. My girlfriend at the time kept raving about this movie we had to go see, even though she’d seen it several times already. I, a callous sophisticate as only a 19 year old can be, remained cool.

Then we hit the theater – with a line around the block. From the first scene, I was hooked. Awesome, and so much fun! So, of course, went back several times, and saw the sequels also several times each in the theaters, and got the videos as soon as they came out, and did my best to wear them out. So, yea – I get it.

Even after the road kill that was the prequels, with dread in my heart, I went to see the Force Awakens – and was mildly entertained. BUT – never felt the slightest urge to see it again, or get the DVD. Upon reflection, the movie got worse and worse: the pageantry and special effects – and the still-not-bone-dry well of good will earned by the original trilogy – distracted me from the cardboard characters, the utter lack of character development, the stupid, derivative plot, the relentlessly nonsensical motivations (or lack thereof) driving what little story they had. Rather than Luke’s textbook hero’s journey, we get a total Mary Sue; rather than family, honor, and friendship invigorating the characters, we had – what, exactly?

I’ve seen none of the subsequent movies. Since Brian first mentioned his rule – never give money to people who hate you – a few years ago, my inchoate disgust got a name and a focus, and rather than just avoiding movies because I didn’t want to feel used, I began avoiding them on principle – the principle of this book.

Now, we need to expand the field in which this dictum operates to include all corporations and businesses that have kowtowed to BLM and Antifa: No, Corporate America, you do not need to prove you aren’t racist by anything beside treating all your customers with respect, providing good value for the dollar, and hiring and promoting people based solely on how well they do those first two things. Pandering to bullies earns my contempt, not my dollars; actively supporting people who want me and mine dead gets me fired up to look for and promote alternatives to anything you might offer.

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.

Beauty, Intellect, Beethoven & Scripture

A Happy, Holy & Blessed Christmas to all, and to all a happy and prosperous New Year!

Consider the 2nd movembt of Beethoven’s 7th symphony:

The story goes that when Beethoven debuted this work, the audience stopped the concert after this movement, and insisted it be repeated. Classical music audiences were a little more outgoing back in the day, it seems.

The audience’s reaction is perfectly understandable: pre-recorded music, one might die before getting a chance to hear this sublime and beautiful piece again, so why not now? A work this beautiful is life-changing. It may sound like just another overly-familiar classical work to jaded ears, but in context it is strikingly unusual: listen to the whole 7th, which is one of civilizations greatest works of art in any medium, and the 2nd movement still stands out.

But this Allegretto isn’t just aesthetically pleasing, it’s also deeply satisfying intellectually. The more you listen and think about it, the better it gets. Beethoven sets himself a series of puzzles or challenges, and ‘solves’ each one in inventive and unusual ways, yet, somehow, after you’ve heard it, all the little departures from expectations (or beauty where you didn’t know what to expect) sound utterly inevitable. And it fits perfectly within the symphony as a whole – as hard as it is to believe, it was only with this 7th symphony that Beethoven finally won over all the critics, many of whom had disliked his 3rd and nit-picked his 5th. The 7th is just perfect, and that 2nd movement slayed people.

Finally, as is true of all great art, the 7th, especially the 2nd movement, is bottomless: you can go as deep as you want, and there’s always more.

This confluence of soul stirring beauty and soul-stirring intellectual gratification is , of course, what makes great art great in the first place. Only in these dark modern times would anyone think to divorce emotional force from intellectual beauty.

These (mundane & traditional) thoughts were occasioned by the Christmas Gospel reading:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

LK 2:1-14

This Gospel story from Luke is beautiful in a specific and somewhat odd way. Consider these 2 sentences from the middle of the selection:

While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

This is the climax of the story: Mary gives birth to the son foretold by the prophets and announced to her by an angel of God, yet Luke gives it a sentence, as if it were any other birth of any man. The Lord and Creator of the the Universe, as described in the opening of John’s Gospel, or even as, in a similarly subtle and understated way, in Mary’s encounter with her cousin Elizabeth in the passage immediately preceding this one, is wrapped in the cloth of the poor and laid in a feeding trough for animals, with the casual, after the fact explanation: there was no room in the inn.

So, two matter-of-fact sentences that lay out the entirety of the Christian claim, paradox and stumbling block: That God became Man in this very specific time and place, utterly weak and humbled, and was wrapped and bound and laid among the food for animals by his own mother’s hands. He wasn’t even able to find a place at what was no doubt the very humble inn.

The artwork inspired by these two lines could fill any number of museums; a concert of the music written to commemorate them would go on for months; and the books holding the writings about them would fill any number libraries. And the flood shows no signs of abating.

Then, a great multitude of angels sing a song of infinite glory – to a bunch of sheep, and the shepherds watching over them.

The story of Christ’s birth is as beautiful as it is simple, and satisfies the soul. But it is also intellectually satisfying, not in the sense of providing a tidy summation, but in the sense of offering infinite depths to explore.

Glory to God in the highest!

Thinking About Free Will

The formal class part of RCIA has begun for this year. I’m the go-to guy for history & theology (how profoundly frightening this is has so far escaped our beloved DRE). All this means is that if anyone wants, or, more likely, I decide on my own that anyone needs, a more formal definition or some historical context, I’m the guy who provides it. Such as I might. This leads to me thinking about how to talk about various dogmas in a way that isn’t too hoity-toity yet gets the essential nature and purpose across.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts on Free Will. Where angels fear to tread, and all that.

While we were created in the image of God, God is still very different from us. God’s freedom is part of his eternal Being – it is not so much something He does, bit rather is a fundamental part of Who He is. Nothing outside constrains God; He freely acts in accordance with His infinite goodness and love. Every action of God is utterly free, and completely an expression of divine goodness and love.

While God is not compelled or constrained by external thing, it might be said that He just can’t contain Himself – His loving kindness boils over in His creations. All of creation is a free expression of God’s nature as a loving Father and Creator.

Creation is thus an expression of God’s life and profound joy. It is not like a clock, built once, wound up, and then left to play itself out. Rather, God loves the world into existence at every moment. In Him we live, and move, and have our being. Each of us is a unique expression of His boundless joy.

Out of this joy, God gave man and the angels freedom. This created freedom is a reflection of God’s nature, perhaps the key aspect of our being made in His image. It is a gift from God, loved into being by God, and as an aspect of God, as sacred as God Himself. As an essential aspect of this gift, God will not overrule us.

But to be free in our own little way, our acts must participate in God’s freedom. God’s freedom is always expressed through overflowing love and goodness. Thus, we can only be free when we, too, act in harmony with that divine love and goodness. Acting against God is choosing slavery; once enslaved, we have lost our freedom. Yet God, in His mercy, will always, as long as we live in this changeable world, hold out to us the opportunity to repent, to turn from the slavery of our sins back to the freedom of His will.

An example: A man on the edge of a giant cliff is free to step off the cliff. If he does so, he has lost all freedom: he is subject to the laws of physics, and will fall to his death, shattered on the rocks below. God did not give the man freedom so that he could jump off a cliff. Rather, He gave us freedom so that we, too, could share in His joy as joyful, loving creators in our own little way. Yet that freedom means that we just might choose to step off the cliff.

The moral law, another creation of God, is, in effect, a warning: don’t step off the cliff! As long as we work to avoid sin and repent of the sins we have committed, we have the freedom to act in accordance with God’s loving Will. We stay away from the cliff. Reject the law of God, and we at best court disaster. Without God’s loving guidance as expressed in His law, we will, sooner or later, fall off the cliff of our own free will!

That we are free is a gift and a miracle. The saints, who have surrendered their wills to God’s Will, who have willingly died to themselves, paradoxically enjoy complete freedom. It is when we humbly recognize that we don’t really know what’s good for us and don’t always want what’s best for us that God can show us the Way to complete, joyful freedom.

So, do you think this would be helpful to someone investigating the Catholic Faith?

On Followers and Humility

Further thoughts on this post, wherein the observation of Henry VIII (as imagined by Robert Bolt in A Man for All Seasons) that “…there’s a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves” is discussed.

We modern Americans think any decision made by anyone else on our behalf is at least potentially oppressive, and, more important, has no real hold over us. In its terminal form, even the ‘decisions’ of nature are felt to be subject to review. Our own will, on the other hand, is sacred. It is meaningless to consider the possibility that we might will something wrong – wrong how? According to whom?

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Each of these sheep, despite having its consciousness determined by their class within an oppressive hegemony, has nonetheless made the sacred choice to get its ear tagged, and where appropriate, a bell placed around its neck and a splash of green die applied to its back, and has freely chosen to go wherever it is that everybody else is going. Prove me wrong.

Yet we think feel this is true while surrounded by a mass that follows this week’s herd consensus much more rigorously and with more anxiety than any slave ever worked under the lash. The slave, at least, might dream of freedom, or at least getting a break. Not so the modern American, not so! The very idea that they might differ from the herd and thus be cast into the outer darkness with The Bad People causes such distress we see weeping; anxiety leads them to not even notice how the views they are required to parrot get changed over time, without so much as an acknowledgement that they were ever different. Examples abound. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

What’s been slowly dawning on me is this: that the key getting through the Crazy Years is not to spend time arguing, trying to show the error of their ways to that great mass of people who will follow anything that moves (1), but instead coming to grips with herd behavior being the human default position – and not, in and of itself, a bad thing!

That this is true from an evolutionary perspective is obvious: we survive and breed only as members of a tribe. Taking the evidence for the argument (standard practice in evolutionary biology) we conclude that this state of affairs – tribal membership is how we live to breed, even today, for the most part, and always in history up to the last couple centuries – proves tribal behaviors have been selected for and, therefore, are hard-wired into the human brain. Be that as it may, looking at it from a more philosophically profound perspective, Aristotle’s statement that man is a political animal, and that human happiness is therefore found in what might be called our civic relationships, leads to the same conclusion: we, the products of endless generations of successful breeders, really, really want to be part of the team. We often refer to how those on the Left act like infants – they do, but the spin here is that that’s not entirely a bad thing in and of itself. Infants typically only run into problems when the adults around them have failed.

Revisiting a couple points from the previous post: Heads of households have historically had great sway over the lives of the people in the households. We moderns have no way to imagine how that might work in practice other than imagining the (usually) patriarch as Oppressy McOpressorface. Dad got to pick your spouse and pretty much otherwise decide your future for you – that has to be oppression, right? He negotiated with other families to find you a spouse! Where’s the love?

Answer: everywhere. Dad wanted his children to survive, as a condition to them being happy, since happiness in this life is pretty much over once you’re dead. Thus, he eliminated from consideration potential spouses who could not care for you or who would require too much care on your part: for his daughters, he crossed off the impoverished sons of poor or no family; for his sons, daughters who couldn’t come up with an appropriate dowery, since they (and their kids!) would immediately become his responsibility and a drain on his resources. He did all this, of course, to honor his ancestors and to ensure his line would continue. But none of those considerations contradict his main motive: he loved his children. Having a place in a family and a society of families is, he knew, the chief way we have any joy and freedom in this life. It’s why the heads of monasteries and convents were called abbot – daddy – and mother. The only way for monks and nuns to be happy was in a family, even if it were only a vague shadow of the family in which we are children of God.

Today, getting fed, clothed and housed is such a low bar that we can hardly imagine it being much of a concern; lack of food, clothing and a bed to call your own – and a cell phone, HD TV, and high speed internet – is a sure sign something is Very Wrong (and the eternal infants want the great daddy proxy The State to fix it NOW). But back in Jean Valjean’s day – and Dante’s, and Jane Austen’s and Aristotle’s and Gregory the Great’s – making as sure as you could that your baby of marrying age was going to be taken care of was Job 1. No husbands who wouldn’t or couldn’t take care of your daughters; no wives who might bleed your sons dry. Those crusty old patriarchs wanted spouses for their kids who would be there when needed, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, in good times and bad. This mundane, feet on the ground care is the basis of love, attested to by no less an authority than Christ, who threatens to throw those who do not provide this level of care to their spiritual brothers and sisters (let alone their own children!) into the outer darkness. Feelz don’t necessarily enter into it.

The underlying assumption here, if we need to call it that, is that Daddy, having successfully married and reproduced and raised up his children to marrying age, is more wise and experienced in how all that works than his 16 year old daughter or 20 year old son. He correctly believes that he will do a better job finding and choosing a mate for his children than they are likely to do on their own. At any rate, it is his duty to do so. He would of course take his wife’s views into consideration, and even his daughter’s or son’s. Again, he does this because he loves them, and wants them to be happy.

There’s not much historical evidence that children on the whole objected much to this arrangement. Why should they? The results – not just the spouse, but the family and communal nature of the marriage, seen as uniting the destiny of two families, who thus have a huge interest in the marriage’s success – compare very favorably to today’s outcomes.

But that’s not the main point here. I here want to point out how much everyone in this picture is a follower. Not only do the children and wife and anybody else in the household follow the lead of the patriarch, the patriarch himself follows the lead of his father and the men in his life when he leads: even the leaders are essentially followers. Hope and Change are the last thing anyone involved wants: everybody want things to work out according to plan – and it’s an ancient plan.

It gets worse. History and Scripture record many incidents of entire families, tribes and nations converting as the result of their leaders converting. Sometimes, as in the case of the early Spanish missionaries in the New World, villages elders would meet them, and then send them off if they didn’t want their religion, only to later (after the Guadalupana) decide that, yes, the village would convert. There’s no reason to think the other villagers objected – that’s just the way it was done, they are the elders for a reason, they make the call. We read in Acts 16 and 1 Corinthians 1 of entire households being baptized upon the conversion of the leader. Or entire nations, conquered in war, converting en mass because their new leaders said so. Once heard a story about a Viking priest who went to preach in a remote village, and was challenged by the local chieftain. They fought to the death, the priest won, and the village converted.

We humans are followers. That’s why Christ reserved the worst opprobrium for leaders who lead others astray. This would hardly warrant a whole millstone-tied-around-the-neck, cast-into-the-sea level of hellfire and brimstone unless almost all the people, almost all the time, are followers.

In this sense, what is called Original Sin might be called the Curse of the Followers. Once a bad path has been chosen, we followers really can’t do all that much about it on our own. What we need is a new Leader, a Savior, even, to follow down a better path. But once we find Him, we go all in on the following, we become as little children, as sheep who know their Shepherd.

The point here is that not following is not an option. We will follow, the only question is whom or what? Following the right leader is a great good, just as following the wrong leaders is all too literally the road to perdition.

In his beautiful Prayer after Communion, St. Thomas prays: “May it perfect me in charity and patience; in humility and obedience; and in all other virtues.” I am struck by the inclusion of ‘obedience’ in with charity, humility, and patience. Those last three virtues are big among Christians of all denominations; I don’t think anyone but a Catholic would understand obedience as used here, either in the sense Thomas means it or why he would name it as a major grace of the Eucharist. He means it in the sense another St. Thomas – St. Thomas More – lived it. (1)

St. Thomas More died, in his own words, “the King’s good servant, and God’s first.” He, following Aquinas, saw obedience to legitimate authority as a positive virtue, a full realization of humility, patience, and love. Obedience isn’t a grim duty, to be performed under duress or threat, but rather an opportunity to be eagerly embraced to live out charity and humility.

Of course, the virtue of obedience requires prudence and the knowledge of exactly how far the proper authority of a superior goes. More struggled mightily to find a way to obey his king, and only when this proved impossible did he try to retire from public life and keep his mouth shut. He could not consent, yet to the end he tried to honor Henry and do nothing to contradict him. He expressed his love and affection for his king right up to the moment that king had his head chopped off.

Both Aquinas and More thought obedience a virtue to be actively practiced. It was a positive good to promptly obey proper authority, a step on the way to greater holiness. Put another way, these saints strongly supported active, vigorous following.

Put the other way around, thinking you have what it takes to blaze your own trail is hubris bordering on lunacy. You? Me? We don’t know nothin’! The modern phenomenon is the most slavish followers professing how independent they are, different just like everybody else. Everything from getting tats to creating your own brand new gender is imagined by the victim as declarations of unique trail blazing and laudable bravery, when a look around would show everybody doing exactly the same thing. Many seem to believe unironically that only by slavish conformity can one be unique.

The paradox: we who would restore Christendom or even just Western Civilization need to become great leaders by becoming the most humble followers on earth.

  1. Credit must go to my younger daughter, soon off to South Sudan for a year, for much of this. She wrote a very good graduation thesis exploring what the St. Thomas’s – Aquinas and More – meant by obedience.

Modernism on the Feast of Pope St. Pius X

Here’s a few selections from the old Catholic Encyclopedia’s write up on Modernism, in honor of Pope St. Pius X, who was pope at the time this encyclopedia was being written and who gave Modernism both barrels.

What Modernism is:

A full definition of modernism would be rather difficult. First it stands for certain tendencies, and secondly for a body of doctrine which, if it has not given birth to these tendencies (practice often precedes theory), serves at any rate as their explanation and support. Such tendencies manifest themselves in different domains. They are not united in each individual, nor are they always and everywhere found together. Modernist doctrine, too, may be more or less radical, and it is swallowed in doses that vary with each one’s likes and dislikes. In the Encyclical “Pascendi”, Pius X says that modernism embraces every heresy.

One reason a full definition of Modernism would be difficult is that Hegel, the tent-pole Modernist, held that definition – stating what something or some idea *is* and *is not* – is right out. The world is Becoming, not Being, so that all statements of being are essentially meaningless. Thus, expecting some sort of consistency in the beliefs and behaviors of Modernists is also nonsensical. They are all manifesting, in better or worse, or more or less advanced, ways the feelings of the age.

That “embraces every heresy” line is interesting. The future saint doesn’t say “is open to” or “may fall victim to” but “embraces” – a positive act. This embracing of the heretical, expressed in phrases such as ‘everything is a social construct’ or ‘that’s your truth’ is not just a letting down of our guard against heresy, but, in keeping with the Hegelian rejection of statements of being, a necessary step in the upcoming synthesis. A heresy is not wrong, it is merely the expression of the antithesis to some dogma, destined to become suspended yet not contradicted in a new and better understanding.

Note that one outcome of this kind of emoting – it would hardly do to call it thinking – is the readily apparent moral race to the bottom we’re seeing now. Nothing at all can be fundamentally wrong, but merely daring or transgressive, soon to be incorporated into enlightened understanding. Hegel, who imagined the Spirit driving all this enlightenment, may have not meant it that way, but it’s a funny tendency of ideas to get off leash and be pursued to their logical conclusion regardless of who thought it up and what they may have wanted.

A remodelling, a renewal according to the ideas of the twentieth century — such is the longing that possesses the modernists. “The avowed modernists”, says M. Loisy, “form a fairly definite group of thinking men united in the common desire to adapt Catholicism to the intellectual, moral and social needs of today” (op. cit., p. 13). “Our religious attitude”, as “Il programma dei modernisti” states (p. 5, note l), “is ruled by the single wish to be one with Christians and Catholics who live in harmony with the spirit of the age”. The spirit of this plan of reform may be summarized under the following heads:

– A spirit of complete emancipation, tending to weaken ecclesiastical authority; the emancipation of science, which must traverse every field of investigation without fear of conflict with the Church; the emancipation of the State, which should never be hampered by religious authority; the emancipation of the private conscience whose inspirations must not be overridden by papal definitions or anathemas; the emancipation of the universal conscience, with which the Church should be ever in agreement;
– A spirit of movement and change, with an inclination to a sweeping form of evolution such as abhors anything fixed and stationary;
– A spirit of reconciliation among all men through the feelings of the heart. Many and varied also are the modernist dreams of an understanding between the different Christian religions, nay, even between religion and a species of atheism, and all on a basis of agreement that must be superior to mere doctrinal differences.

Every get frustrated with the idea of Progress as an intransitive verb, divorced from any idea of progress toward something? That’s a feature, not a bug.

So Rodney King’s ‘why can’t we all just get along?”, that Hull House lady Jane Addams (I think) who convinced John Dewey that there are no real disagreements, only misunderstandings, and Jo Swenson’s Empathicalism, where the goal of life is “to project your imagination so to actually feel what the other person is feeling.”  – these are all flavors of Modernism. Right?

Perhaps Modernism could be defined as the idea that humanity will find peace only once all join hands in a sufficiently murky emotional miasma.

For [Modernists] external intuition furnishes man with but phenomenal contingent, sensible knowledge. He sees, he feels, he hears, he tastes, he touches this something, this phenomenon that comes and goes without telling him aught of the existence of a suprasensible, absolute and unchanging reality outside all environing space and time. But deep within himself man feels the need of a higher hope. He aspires to perfection in a being on whom he feels his destiny depends. And so he has an instinctive, an affective yearning for God. This necessary impulse is at first obscure and hidden in the subconsciousness. Once consciously understood, it reveals to the soul the intimate presence of God. This manifestation, in which God and man collaborate, is nothing else than revelation. Under the influence of its yearning, that is of its religious feelings, the soul tries to reach God, to adopt towards Him an attitude that will satisfy its yearning. It gropes, it searches. These gropings form the soul’s religious experience. They are more easy, successful and far-reaching, or less so, according as it is now one, now another individual soul that sets out in quest of God. Anon there are privileged ones who reach extraordinary results. They communicate their discoveries to their fellow men, and forthwith become founders of a new religion, which is more or less true in the proportion in which it gives peace to the religious feelings.

The attitude Christ adopted, reaching up to God as to a father and then returning to men as to brothers — such is the meaning of the precept, “Love God and thy neighbour” — brings full rest to the soul. It makes the religion of Christ the religion , the true and definitive religion. The act by which the soul adopts this attitude and abandons itself to God as a father and then to men as to brothers, constitutes the Christian Faith. Plainly such an act is an act of the will rather than of the intellect. But religious sentiment tries to express itself in intellectual concepts, which in their turn serve to preserve this sentiment. Hence the origin of those formulae concerning God and Divine things, of those theoretical propositions that are the outcome of the successive religious experiences of souls gifted with the same faith. These formulae become dogmas, when religious authority approves of them for the life of the community. For community life is a spontaneous growth among persons of the same faith, and with it comes authority. Dogmas promulgated in this way teach us nothing of the unknowable, but only symbolize it. They contain no truth. Their usefulness in preserving the faith is their only raison d’être.  They survive as long as they exert their influence. Being the work of man in time, and adapted to his varying needs, they are at best but contingent and transient. Religious authority too, naturally conservative, may lag behind the times. It may mistake the best methods of meeting needs of the community, and try to keep up worn-out formulae.

Those church songs I’m always going on about, where we, the gathered people, are mentioned directly or indirectly to the exclusion or near-exclusion of God – these are not some accident. They embody the above emphasis on *us* as the source and summit of religion.

What could possibly go wrong?

All heresies are rejections of the Incarnation. From Satan on down, pride inclines us to reject the idea that an all-powerful God could ever be so humble as to become one of us. Modernism rejects the idea that, having become one of us, Jesus might have something to say, and, having said it, might expect us to embrace it. They called him ‘Rabbi’ that is, ‘Teacher,’ yet we are incapable of being taught. No – we turn to feelings, to our personal direct experiences without any animating influence from that guy on the cross. We may stumble across Him (not that that could be all that important) and feel some connection. Or not. But that hardly matters. What matters is that we embrace our feelings and each other as we stumble into the sulfurous cloud.

Little heavy, there. But nothing compared to Pope St. Pius X. He was metal. Perhaps his St. Michael’s pray would be a good palate cleanser at this point.

Pope St. Pius X – Pray for us!

Image result for st pius x

Happy, Holy, and Blessed Pentecost

Image result for basílica de santa anastasia verona
Pentecost, Verona, Basilica di Santa Anastasia. Notice Mary front and center: “When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” ACTS 1:13-14
By User: Testus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4101537
With the altar, By User: Testus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4101537

All Easter Season, the daily Mass readings have featured Acts and the Gospel of John, the first readings showing how the Church grew in her infancy, and the Gospel presenting a mystagogia of sorts, an in depth answer to Jesus’ question that occasioned Peter’s great confession: “Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus is the Bread of Life; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the Good Shepherd, the sheepdate. The Father and He are One. Today, we wrap up this period of post-Easter instruction with the story of its fulfillment.

The big question has long seemed to me: how come the Apostles and disciples, when they received the Spirit, immediately became these powerful preachers and miracle workers, while we, most often, have to remind ourselves that, with the reception of the sacraments, we, too, have recieved and continue to recieve that same Spirit? Why (usually) aren’t we powerful preachers and miracle workers?

We have yet to make room for the Spirit. God is always polite and respectful of the free will He has given us, and will not force himself upon us. (Give Him the slightest opening, and that’s another story.) Unlike almost all of us, the people present at Pentecost had been completely emptied, even, after a fashion, destroyed. These were people raised from birth to await and seek the Messiah, the fulfillment of all their personal and national hopes. They found Him! As Peter said to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”(Matthew 16:16-19)

And He dies in ignominy, He doesn’t restore the Kingdom, He doesn’t even fight, or allow his disciples to fight, to keep Him from being handed over to His enemies.

Then, when all hope had been crushed, when the man they had staked their lives on died like any other man, promises unfulfilled, He rises from the dead, and appears to them! And then leaves them, again, with an incomprehensible promise to be with them always, and to send His Paraclete.

Try to imagine what it would be like, emotionally and intellectually, to have gone through the Passion, Death and Resurrection in a matter of days, after 3 years of miracles and teachings by turns profound and incomprehensible. Imagine having your hopes raised beyond your dreams, then crushed in fear, shame and agony, then raised again to yet higher heights – and then, being abandoned again with vague or at least mysterious promises.

Those Apostles and disciples, in that room with His Holy Mother – they were empty of everything, except for the ineffable joy and hope they had received at His Ascension. There was nothing left in this world for them, no worldly hopes or dreams, nothing to do or see – only waiting.

The great saints get to this level of emptiness, where the Spirit has room to make His home in them. They, like the people in that upper room on Pentecost – the Church, considered in its divine nature – had been emptied, too, sometimes by trauma, sometimes by a life of penance and love, often by both. They did become channels of grace, powerful preachers, miracle workers. We, still too full, see as in a glass darkly.

In a strictly human sense, we should not envy them. The cost, dying to ourselves, is very high, much too high for any mere earthly reward. If we are somehow able to get out of the way even a little, God will not only fill us with His Spirit, but that Spirit will empty us, nudges, dynamite, whatever it takes, until we live only for Him: the definition of eternal joy.