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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Better Wives

I re-read Good Wives last night for the first time in some years. What a thoroughly charming and edifying book! (And I bawled over Beth's death like I never did when I was younger. Also was much encouraged to see that Jo found her Professor when she was my age; there's hope for me yet.) It occurred to me that the only possible improvements would of course be if they were all Catholics...

- Beth would naturally become a Carmelite before she died;
- Mr March couldn't be a preacher; could he have been a permanent deacon in that period? If not, he's a fine upstanding parishioner who serves at Mass and sings in the choir like St Thomas More.
- When Amy and Laurie meet up in Italy, they don't fall in love. Laurie realises he ought to enter the priesthood, becomes a superhero priest, and ends up as chaplain to Jo's school, which produces a splendid crop of vocations. Amy returns to America and become a Sister of Mercy.
- A life-threatening attack of scarlet fever hits the various March grandchildren and Jo's school. Jo thinks to ask Beth's intercession. The epidemic passes, and the sickly little lad with a crutch is brought back from the brink of death after dreaming about a beautiful lady who answers to Beth's description. The novel ends with the opening of the cause for Beth's canonization.


It is difficult to avoid fury when listening to the BBC try to report on Catholic matters. On the Radio 4 six o'clock and ten o'clock news broadcasts, the reporting on the Holy Father's meeting with ambassadors from Muslim countries was all about the extent to which the ambassadors were 'satisfied' with what the Pope had said. What about whether or not the Vatican (whatever that term means) was 'satisfied' with the ambassadors' response? Did they show willingness to enter into the serious dialogue that the Pope had called for? (But then, noone at the BBC seems to...) Admittedly the online report is a bit better and actually (shock!) talks a bit about what the Pope actually said yesterday. The Deutsche Welle one, in contrast, is all about Benedict - which is nice, though here some report of the Muslim response would be helpful! Mind you, DW is asking its readers to write in to say whether they 'think Pope Benedict's response is sufficient'. Oh well...

Saturday, September 23, 2006


I'm in the course of struggling over a lecture on the dignity of motherhood and what better place for astute comments than our lectores dilecti... My audience will comprise gynaecologists and my plan is to argue that we need to affirm the dignity of motherhood right down the line - not just at the point of threats to life itself, but also where how it is lived - whether humanly or inhumanly - is in question... I want to argue that further to abortion, conceding to contraceptive practices, IVF etc. is also out of line with the requirements of dignity of motherhood, fatherhood, humanity. Contraceptive and in vitro practices are as far from being human as veterinary practice is from being medical practice. It makes sex and the whole realm of procreation, how human life begins, into a commodity we can dispose of at whim, stripping it of its human meaning and leaving only the animal outer shell. Conversely, as to the positive norm, the dignity of motherhood requires that mothers and women are respected, that the love a mother shows to her child is cherished and appreciated, that a mother's experience is treated with sensitivity, her motherhood revered. Revered as a crucial shade of the radiance of God's fatherhood. As Cardinal Wyszynski put it, a mother's touch is one of the most beautiful, astounding things as it is the first way by which a child encounters the love of God the Father - it is through the mother's hand that God's fatherly love first reaches out to a newborn, first strokes its head, first guides its movements... And the role of doctors assisting at these crucial moments, the role of fathers standing close by, is really one and the same: it is the St Joseph role to strengthen, secure, struggle, affirm, take responsibility, protect and learn... to love. laodicea

Friday, September 22, 2006

Voluntarism and Blasphemy

"Another historical accident, another misconception for which revealed ethics offered an occasion to human reason, and for which certain theologians this time bore primary responsibility, can also be pointed out. I allude here to the line of thinkers (the teachers of Islam above all, but also, on the Christian side, Scotus and Occam in the Middle Ages, Descartes in modern times) who, struck more or less consciously by the grand image of the revelation of the Decalogue amid the lightning and thunder of Omnipotence, believed that the moral law, and finally even the distinction between good and evil, depended not at all on divine Wisdom and Reason, the foundation of eternal necessities, but uniquely and exclusively on the pure Will or the pure All-Powerfulness of God, and on an arbitrary decision of His sovereign Freedom. A kind of divine despotism thus became the source of the moral law, decreed and imposed without reason by the celestial High Command. It seems probable to me that this way of looking at things, which St. Thomas Aquinas considered blasphemy, but which was not without its effect here and there on popular consciousness, or popular ignorance, exercised a serious influence on Kant, and played a double role in his thought. On the one hand, I believe, it made him reject, as subjecting the spirit of man to a despotic heteronomy, any idea of making the authority of the moral law depend on the Creator of nature. On the other hand, it made him transfer this same despotic sovereignty to the pure practical Reason, itself identified with the autonomous Will of Man, taken in its supra-empirical dignity."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Fay Weldon finds God

Via Eve Tushnet: Fay Weldon has become some sort of Anglican ("Would you consult a priest on moral matters? They're all therapy and touchy-feely. They're not actually engaged in moral debate. It's my problem with the church - I am a Christian, but I am afraid they have failed their flock in their inability to confront moral issues." - [come on over, dear, the water's lovely...]), with some sensible non-'feminist' views ('With the typical perversity that makes some feminists exasperated, Weldon says that she is not an unalloyed believer in the proposition that women going to work is a good thing. "As soon as women have the choice of marrying or not marrying, having children or not, the only choice they don't have now is not earning, which is a terrible loss to womanhood." Why is that a loss? "Because capitalism crept in under the cloak of feminism and said: 'Wouldn't you love to go to work, ha ha ha. And then we can bring down wages, ha ha ha.' And so they did. And so now one male wage no longer keeps a family, and we have a falling birth rate."'). Interesting.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Deutsch language media

Kath.net notes more journalistic confusion. Sigh. But at least one Islamic leader seems to have understood what the Pope said, which is something.

Cardinal Kasper's interview (which Joee Blogs posted) from the Spiegel website, in English as I can't find it on the German site for free.

Currently, the Spiegel's English website's top two headlines are 'We have no relationship to our diverse Muslim society' (a quote from an inverview with Chancellor Schroeder; dunno the context as haven't read it yet), and 'Is Germany ready for a gay chancellor?' Um. Quite. Sometimes I think the most constructive thing would be if Catholics could convey to keen Muslims precisely how troubled we are by modern western society too. But maybe it would all just go horribly wrong. Sigh. Pray, pray, pray.

Scattered thoughts

There doesn't seem much point making further comment on the Papa business. My attempt to write a letter to the Guardian kept degenerating into a pompous rant which could be summarised as, 'You stupid, stupid people!' Not very constructive. A medievalists' email list I'm on raised the question of why we haven't seen Catholic protests in defence of the Pope's honour. I don't think the Pope's honour is really the point here. What sort of protests could one stage, anyway? As Aelianus suggested, if his lecture were expanded into an encyclical, it could be a very good one; but no doubt the world media would again completely fail to engage with it. Going down the local mosque with placards saying, 'Mohammed is a false prophet, sign up for RCIA here [using Evangelium, natch]' would be...ummm... counter-productive, I think. Going down the local mosque (about 500 yards from my office, as it happens) with placards saying, 'Rationality is proper to God's nature' might result in some interesting dialogue, actually. But I'm not going on my own... Saying the Rosary (especially on October 7th) looks like the way forward. Today's Gospel in the new rite is on the 'more excellent way' of Charity...

Joee Blogs is providing rather good coverage at present, and Paulinus presents more guilty pleasures in his liberal liturgy series.

Currently I'm afraid I'm mostly preoccupied with semester-starting misanthropy. As my office-mate says, there's nothing quite as nice as a University without undergraduates in it. It's an entirely selfish fondness for space and quiet which prompts this thought, but it's true. Seriously, pray for us that we don't go down the too-easy route of cynicism in teaching. Especially when the first-years bring their 'orrible germs with them to tutorials. Cough, splutter.

More randomly, why is it that, however thoroughly you clean the bath, the next time you look at it there will be a hair stuck to it somewhere? Why? Why?!
And who decided that leggings were back in fashion? And these weirdsville ankle-boots (zum Beispiel) that are in the shoe-shops? I think not. Happy leg-covering (you could even add the magic of the petticoats, sadly under-appreciated garments). Happy boots. Thermal dressing: not rocket science.
Lastly: the good thing about playing the viola is that, even if you're not very good, you'll probably still be better than the worst violist your friends have ever heard. Sorry to play to type, but it's true.

Friday, September 15, 2006

More on BXVI and Mohammedanism

The recent discussions on the Pope's speech seem to have missed several important points. On Newsnight Kirsty Walk repeatedly emphasised the fact that the Pope did not mention the Crusades or the Inquisition in his criticism of religious violence. This entirely ignores the fact that the Pope was attacking the use of violence as a tool of conversion.

The Inquisition had no concern with non-Catholics only with Catholics who had embraced and propagated heresy. As St Thomas says "The believer more firmly assents to the things that are of faith than to the first principles of reason." Thus, just as someone who knowingly denies the first principles of reason does so only verbally and in order, like Lucifer, to assert their independence of God; so a formal heretic knowingly errs in order to usurp the dignity of the Divine fountain of all truth. This is why the word for heresy means 'choice'. When an Inquisitor handed over a formal heretic to the secular arm he was not trying to scare him or anyone else into conversion he was allowing the state to punish the heretic for a criminal offence which the heretic knew to be wrong. As Jose Maria Escriva says in The Way: 399

"If in order to save an earthly life it is praiseworthy to use force to stop a man from committing suicide, are we not to be allowed use the same force - holy coercion - to save the Life (with a capital) of many who are stupidly bent on killing their souls?"

None of these considerations apply to non-Catholics. The Crusades were not wars of conversion they were defensive wars intended to resist Mohammedan attempts to convert Christians by the sword. The Catholic Church has always taught that forcible conversion is gravely sinful. The followers of Mohammed have always believed in conversion by the sword. That is virtually what the word 'Islam' means. The Caliphs would be baffled at the denials which are now being issued. Indonesia is the only country that has ever been voluntarily converted to Mohammedanism all the others (including Arabia) were converted by the sword.

John Paul II did not apologise for the Crusades or the Inquisition he apologised for "the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth" and he apologised not on behalf of the Church but on behalf of certain sons and daughters of the Church. This apology could not refer to the Crusades as they were not violence in the service of the truth they were violence in self-defence. They could conceivably refer to various acts of forced conversion (such as that attempted by Charlemagne upon the Saxons) which were condemned at the time. Or even the cynical use of forcible conversion by some colonial regimes for temporal ends which may have been overlooked (if such things occurred I have never seen evidence, though it is quite likely). He may have been repudiating the use of capital punishment for formal heresy or the abuse of this power in Spain and elsewhere. If so I assume it is the abuse and not the use of the power to which he refers as Pope Leo X specifically condemned the proposition "That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit".

But anyway, getting back to the Pope's speech, it seems to me that the quote taken out of context is bound to offend Mohammedans but read in context probably would not. However, if it were read in context by a Mohammedan who truly understood the text, it would still be offensive because the implications of the speech are very negative for Islamism. However, they are probably more negative for Scotism and Protestantism. Benedict seems to be saying that the idea that God can alter the laws of reason falsifies one's knowledge of God. This might even put into question whether a consistent Mohammeden, Cartesian or even Barthian truly worships the one true God. If there is no foundation in reason for our knowledge of the God who speaks in revelation how can we know that the one who speaks is the one true God or that it is God whom we worship?

In the case of Mohammed obviously it wasn't God speaking to him. Of course Vatican II says of the followers of Mohammed that "they adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth" so in practice this does not seem to be a problem. Perhaps this is because in fact the followers of Mohammed come to know God through common sense natural reason like everyone else and do not consistently follow through the implications of the idea that God is unknowable by reason and beyond truth and falsehood (or even know about it). So perhaps there is hope for Scotists, Barthians and Cartesians too.

We Love You Benedict XVI!

This magnificent address (which will absurdly get him into loads of trouble over the relatively insignificant Islamic bit) wonderfully confirms Tracy Rowland’s description of the Holy Father as an Augustinian Thomist. He confirms the three essential elements of the Church and Europe’s identity: Latin, Greek and Hebrew, nailed for all time to the Cross. He exposes Protestantism and Islam as the pathologies of left and right generated by Nominalism. He reaffirms the metaphysics of Exodus and he puts the blame firmly at the door of the guilty parties, the fourteenth century enemies of St Thomas. I hope he expands it into an encyclical.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

We love you Alyssa Helene Pitstick!

Miss Pitstick sticks it to the Swiss heresiarch. Her magnificent thesis "Lux in Tenebris: The Traditional Catholic Doctrine of Christ's Descent into Hell and the Theological Opinion of Hans Urs von Balthasar" has now been published by Eerdmans. Order your copies now! I had the privilege of watching her defend the earliest version of the thesis, and the fury it provoked in the followers of Balthasar had to be seen to be believed. "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you..."

See a review of the thesis at:


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Help of the half defeated, house of gold

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I was going to write my own post plugging this, but Fr Tim Finigan's coverage of the launch will do nicely while the laodiceans are still slightly headless chicken-y. Well, this one is, anyhow.

Could I ask you, lectores dilecti, to address prayers - especially to Our Lady of Czestochowa - for a private intention? Many, many thanks.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Scribe of the Kingdom

An interesting analysis of Benedict XVI's views on the liturgy prior to his election as Pope.