Christ is risen!
I have not posted all month, but I hope that you are enjoying a blessed Eastertide.
Toward the end of Lent, I received a copy of Thomas Aquinas College’s founding document—better known as the Blue Book, published in A.D. 1969. I recommend it. I was surprised to see how prescient the college’s founders were, though I suppose that wise folks could even then see the direction of the larger culture and of Rome’s accommodation of heathen modernity. From the document’s beginning:
And if Catholic parents should find themselves unable to distinguish between the Catholic college and the secular institution, their confusion would not be without basis in the actual character of the emerging Catholic college itself. For, fundamentally, the explanation of the growing secularization of American Catholic higher education is doctrinal rather than economic. The willingness of a college to secularize itself in the hope of monetary gain presupposes that it already views its Catholicity as something that is subject to negotiation, which in turn presupposes that it has rejected the traditional doctrine that the essential purpose of a Catholic college is to educate under the light of the Faith. We find, in fact, that the most outspoken proponents of the secularization of the Catholic colleges are not arguing about economic considerations but are attacking the very idea of a college that educates under the light of the Faith. We find, further, that Catholic college graduates, students and professors are, by and large, unable and unwilling to resist these attacks. Indeed, the most virulent attacks now being made on Catholic education — as well as on the Church itself — emanate from some of these graduates, students, and professors. That this should happen points to a grave deficiency in Catholic education; institutions whose essential purpose is to combine Catholic wisdom and secular learning have given birth to a generation of teachers and learners who in large part reject such a purpose as irrelevant or contradictory. Inescapable is the realization that the Catholic college has not been true to its purpose.
I graduated from a Jesuit university where the Jesuits themselves led such secularization. The betrayal and sacrilege of Ignatius’ successors should pain every Christian heart. What they have marred! It is horrible to consider. Small enclaves of sanity like Thomas Aquinas College appear to me like men trying to save a sinking ship by pouring out the inflowing seawater with Dixie cups. However, the Lord accomplishes mighty deeds even with insignificant, unworthy tools.
I wish Western Christians a blessed Holy Week and my fellow Orthodox a fruitful continuation of Lent.
Laura Wood of The Thinking Housewife wrote a tribute to Lawrence Auster yesterday on the second anniversary of his passing: “May Perpetual Light Shine on Lawrence Auster.” Keep him in your prayers.
I miss the privilege of daily visiting Auster’s site and of reading his words. He was truly a one-off genius. When I wrote about my first encounter with Auster in “Auster’s A View from the Right,” I noted that, contrary to reports of his being humorless, I found Auster quite funny. Laura Wood reminded her readers of that quality this past year when she quoted Auster’s comment about studies (“Live by Studies, Die by Studies”):
The Muslim says, “If Allah wills it.” The Christian says, “In Jesus’ name.” The liberal says, “Studies have shown.” These are the sacred words that establish the authoritative truth of whatever ruinous mischief the liberal is about to propose.
“Studies” are one of the principal means by which the liberal regime maintains and extends its power.
Years ago I attended a conference of Swiss academic types in New York City. Their subject was Swiss immigration and multiculturalism policies. They maintained that multiculturalism and diversity was the way for Switzerland to go, because “studies” showed that it worked. Though I was just the guest of a guest at this event, I interposed: “So Switzerland has existed as a successful society for seven hundred years, and you want to change it radically—on the basis of “studies“? They didn’t get my point. Humorlessly they maintained that their studies were the best authority.
Auster’s death was bitter for us, but perhaps his passing was an act of providential mercy. Auster lamented the state of his country, of Christian institutions, and of the West in general. The decay has become ever more apparent since Auster’s death, though he foresaw such clearly and with heavy heart. May he find rest in the Kingdom of God.
As an offering in memory of Auster, I present a video from the Eastern American Diocese of R.O.C.O.R. about the divine litugy:
Requiescat in pace, servant of God, Lawrence Auster.
Bruce Charlton has recently written a lovely piece that I recommend: “Peak experiences - the Christian difference.” Read it, and enter into the joy of the Lord.
I wish you a blessed feast of the Dormition today!
On the occasion of the feast, I offer Kristor’s heavenly musings on the Orthosphere yesterday: “Creatura : Creator :: Map : Territory.” It is worth your time.
It is the feast of my patron Joseph of Arimathea, and I find it fitting today to refer you to the profound words that Proph has offered us on the Orthosphere: “Dietrich von Hildebrand on reverence and being”:
Writing (disapprovingly) in 1966 on the then-nascent reforms to the Roman rite Mass:
Reverence gives being the opportunity to speak to us: The ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei (ed: “capable of receiving God”). Reverence is of capital importance to all the fundamental domains of man’s life. It can be rightly called “the mother of all virtues,” for it is the basic attitude that all virtues presuppose. The most elementary gesture of reverence is a response to being itself. It distinguishes the autonomous majesty of being from mere illusion or fiction; it is a recognition of the inner consistency and positiveness of being-of its independence of our arbitrary moods. Reverence gives being the opportunity to unfold itself, to, as it were, speak to us; to fecundate our minds. Therefore reverence is indispensable to any adequate knowledge of being. The depth and plenitude of being, and above all its mysteries, will never be revealed to any but the reverent mind. Remember that reverence is a constitutive element of the capacity to “wonder,” which Plato and Aristotle claimed to be the indispensable condition for philosophy. Indeed, irreverence is a chief source of philosophical error. But if reverence is the necessary basis for all reliable knowledge of being, it is, beyond that, indispensable for grasping and assessing the values grounded in being. Only the reverent man who is ready to admit the existence of something greater than himself, who is willing to be silent and let the object speak to him- who opens himself-is capable of entering the sublime world of values. Moreover, once a gradation of values has been recognized, a new kind of reverence is in order-a reverence that responds not only to the majesty of being as such, but to the specific value of a specific being and to its rank in the hierarchy of values. And this new reverence permits the discovery of still other values. …
The irreverent man by contrast, approaches being either in an attitude of arrogant superiority or of tactless, smug familiarity. In either case he is crippled; he is the man who comes so near a tree or building he can no longer see it. Instead of remaining at the proper spiritual distance, and maintaining a reverent silence so that being may speak its word, he obtrudes himself and thereby, in effect, silences being. In no domain is reverence more important than religion. As we have seen, it profoundly affects the relation of man to God. But beyond that it pervades the entire religion, especially the worship of God. There is an intimate link between reverence and sacredness: reverence permits us to experience the sacred, to rise above the profane; irreverence blinds us to the entire world of the sacred. Reverence, including awe-indeed, fear and trembling-is the specific response to the sacred.
Which jives rather nicely with my earlier diagnosis of modernity as “the institutionalization of rebellion against the order of being,” either birthed by or leading to a kind of spiritual autism, a “pervasive insensibility to the sacred”:
Without a sense of the sacred, reality becomes meaningless, senseless, and incomprehensible; the human condition becomes one not of citizenship and duty but of imprisonment and injustice. Rebellion against that order results, with predictable consequences.
60 years ago, we were told the Mass, that “gobbledegook of Latin ritual” pregnant with “obscurantism” and “magic” (to quote the execrable Paul Blanshard), had become incomprehensible to modern man, and that, far from trying to communicating its riches more effectively, we had to open it up to his appreciation by cutting out much which was worthy of appreciation. Now, it’s marriage that’s up for similar treatment. We’re all spiritual autists now.
My grad. school flatmate categorized a particular species of irreverence as the Dave Barry approach to the world. Its fault lies not in stupidity—Barry and his kind tend to be rather clever—but in its nonchalant dismissal of the world as absurd. The Barryist rightfully points out human follies but then stops, judging that the world does not make sense and concluding that all we can do is smugly laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
In contrast, the “angry atheist” stands a chance of coming to the truth because he wrestles with the question of meaning. Nihilism bothers him. He cares. Oddly, he is reverent in his rejection of God—reverent to being as he understands it and rejecting particular conceptions of the divine as unjust or contradictory.
The Barryist may be fun to have around, but I could never be his friend. The angry atheist, on the other hand, is much more akin to my soul.
Yesterday, I received two links to fascinating Marian articles that may interest you:
“The oldest hymn to the Theotokos”
The Wikipedia entry on Mary Untier of Knots
I hope that you have a lovely May weekend. May—it’s the best month, and therefore it is wholly suitable to be the month for Regina Cæli.
Christ is risen!
It is a funny thing how many of us expect to pay for the good things that we experience through suffering in the future. We do not consider Fortune a capricious dame but rather a diligent keeper of accounts who ensures that happiness must be balanced by misery. We do not enjoy blessings easily because we suspect that horrible news awaits us just around the corner; the time of reckoning must come.
Perhaps, this attitude is due to our fundamental suspicions about our place in providence, as I noted in “Pessimist,” but I wonder if something more universal is at work. In this world of finitude, men are always in need. As such, they do not give away what treasure or skill they have until they have secured their necessities. Instead, they trade, and most everything has a price—and everyone has to accept limits.
It is easy to interpret our relationship with God within this framework. Natural religion—paganism—does this explicitly, and we heirs of Abraham often harbor some residual pagan opinions of mortal-divine bartering. We pray for blessings, and we speculate about the cost. We might propose deals to God—and then worry about our failing to keep our end. In all this, we assume that God is like man—that he must exact a payment. Yet, we forget that the bartering economy arises from limited resources. The divine economy has no such restraint. As Kristor Lawson often remarks on the Orthosphere, God creates ex nihilo, and God’s free giving of being radically differs from the world of the market. God has no need and requires nothing of us for his own benefit. For God is perfect. In what way could a perfect being benefit?
But, then, what of us and of our relationship with God? What does the perfect God have to do with us besides creating and holding us in existence? Is he simply that timeless clock maker and tinkerer? This question troubles many folks who deal with the dilemma either by depersonalizing God or by reducing God to a creaturely level. A good example of the latter is another Orthospheran, Bruce Charllton, who praises Mormonism for its anthropomorphic understanding of God. For how can we have a relationship with the “beyond being” that has any resemblance to the scriptural images of the relationship between God and man: father and son, king and subject, bridegroom and bride, and so on. What can the Perfect and Unchanging get in return for our devotion?
I believe that those human relationship images indicate an answer—or rather the path to the answer. What binds human beings as human beings more than love? Love is an odd dynamic, whereby the lover gives and benefits in such giving by rendering good to the beloved. What does the lover get besides the happiness of being a lover? Perhaps love in return, and such certainly adds to act of loving as a completion, but true love is not a payment in expectation of a return. The happiness of love is in the act itself. It is, we might say on many levels, a pure act.
God is the lover par excellence. In the divine liturgy, we call the Lord the lover of mankind—φιλάνθρωπος. God cannot be defined, but Christians have always used love as the best way to talk about God. God is love and the archetype of love. In Christianity alone may we maintain that love is essential to God. According to rabbinical Judaism and Mohammedanism, love requires creation; God only loves that which he creates. So, love is a created force, even if God eternally loves that which comes to be in time. Christians, however, believe that the community of the Trinity is one of eternal love—which is essential to God—and that this relationship is the ground of all existence. We do not judge that we anthropomorphize the cosmos when we speak of love among non-human beings. Rather, we believe that human love in its many forms is an imitation of and participation in the fount of reality—God’s inner life of love.
As with so many dilemmas that result from trying to pigeonhole the Almighty into creaturely categories, the problem disappears when we reflect upon God. God is the Lord of both/and and not simply either/or (ha!), and he freely gives being and goodness. God only enters the marketplace of exchange to rectify our creaturely debts; in such manner are we bought with a price—and yet God frees his bondsmen.
Truly, he is risen!
Christ is risen!
I wish you a beautiful Paschal season. For Bright Monday, I offer a simple but informative video that shows the development of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, also known in the West as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
According to the Wikipedia article, the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim had Constantine’s lovely classically balanced complex destroyed in A.D. 1009. The current structure has its beauty, but it is not in accord with the significance of the site.
As I was digging in the yard this week, a thought came to me about a widespread contemporary phenomenon among Christians in the West—the nascence and spread of rabbinical Christianity. By rabbinical Christianity, I do not mean Christianity dominated by teachers—though one might say that is another woeful current fad—but rather one that sees Christian morality in the same way that rabbinical Jews see the Mosaic law. According to most currents of rabbinical Judaism, the Mosaic law only places obligations on Jews. The heathen gentiles have no such requirements. Certain rabbinical traditions hold that God’s universal moral law—applicable to all people—is contained in the Noahide law, which is far less demanding.
Christians altered this framework as they developed their understanding of natural law from Hebraic and Greco-Roman philosophy and law. Doctors of the Church taught that men may know the natural law according to reason, while the moral perfection of love is revealed only through and by Christ. Natural law is applicable to all people as they are—like the Noahide law, while the vocation to become truly Christlike is for all people, as well, though this universal call to holiness does not come naturally. I am not completely comfortable with the clean demarcations of reason and revelation or of nature and grace, but I think that the categories point to some basic realities.
Unlike their forebears, these latter day rabbinical Christians no longer appreciate natural law. For them, what once was considered according to reason now only applies to them as Christians who keep their religion’s way of life. The new Noahide law—the modern ius gentium—has devolved to the contradictory moral notions of liberal society—namely an idiosyncratically limited tolerance and an emotional version of warm fuzzy kindness. When traditional Christians advocate the upholding of the natural law, these rabbinicists rebuke them by arguing that it is not just for Christians to impose Christian morality on the heathen who have no way of living up to such stringent demands. For them, what was once deemed according to nature has become possible only by grace. Hence, the practical reason of the Greek philosophers is now only for the “chosen people” of Christians. Unlike the Hebrews, though, Christians must not take any pride in being thus chosen. Like the self-hating Jew, Christian morality (meaning natural law—not the sacrificial perfection of true Christian morality) is their “special burden.”
I conjecture that rabbinical Christianity has resulted from Christians’ attempting to reconcile their moral tradition with liberal society. According to the previous Western tradition, human beings may know the human good both from reason and from revelation, while liberalism denies that there is any human good or, if there is, that it is knowable. Thus, each human will may decide its own good. These two positions cannot coexist peacefully in the same soul. For traditionalists, we simply reject liberalism as wrong. Accommodationist Christians who have accepted the transformation of Western civilization, however, must find a way to live with their cognitive dissonance. For man is a rational animal, and he must try to rationalize his contradictions. Therefore, liberalized Christians reserve natural law for themselves like the old Mosaic law, while they follow the rest of society in acknowledging any further demands upon human beings. The Frankfort School is their Noah.
The National Catholic Reporter has a brief article on the background of Secularists Repeatedly Reminding You to Be Aware of Them Day, also known as Atheism Day. I joke, of course; kakangelists would never accept just one day to harass the rest of mankind. In honesty, I refer to April Fool’s Day. Peggy Fletcher Stack reports: “April Fools’ Day isn’t a religious holiday, but there are some religious roots.”
I found the historical corrective about the Feast of Fools fascinating. I do not know whether the quoted scholar Max Harris is correct, but I suspect so. I always thought that the blasphemous revelry recounted jarred with what I knew of medieval society. I also know that moderns take perverse liberties in the depiction of their ancestors, as I recently mentioned in “Woman as Yesterday’s Slave.” To pull a Hume on Hume’s friends, it is as though the human craving for fancy leads modern men into believing all sorts of nonsense about previous ages. Harris’ description of the feast makes more sense. If you are interested further, you may read his Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools.