Archive for July, 2011


Annals of Homosexualism: Teachable Moments

July 29, 2011

The controversy surrounding the events at St. Cecelia Parish, where a scheduled Mass that was announced as a commemoration of Boston Gay Pride Month and later cancelled, was what President Obama likes to call “a teachable moment” for all Catholics in the Boston archdiocese. The following uses the 2006 “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care,” that I have featured with reading selections elsewhere on PayingAttentiontotheSky. Time to rerun that moment again:

“First, it is important to state that no Catholic should embrace prejudice against individuals with homosexual orientation. Such prejudice is incompatible with our faith. On the contrary, the Church welcomes every individual and encourages personalized pastoral care of many different groups of people who have particular experiences or needs. In that context, groups caring for individuals with homosexual orientation are needed and promoted in the Church.

It is also vital to understand that homosexual orientation is not, in itself, sinful and people experiencing it are welcome to participate in the life of the Church. In this regard, the Catholic Church is far more welcoming than some other groups of Christians.

However, the issue at hand is not the sexual orientation of Catholics but how those attractions are lived out and acted upon. Yes, God loves us all, even in our sin, but that does not mean that everything we do is good.

We are all called to live a celibate life outside of marriage. Sexual acts outside of sacramental marriage are sinful. Adultery, fornication and homosexual acts all fall into that category and cannot be promoted, and much less endorsed or celebrated. All of us are subject to sin and all of us are called to conversion, just as all of us can fall. However, in our journey of faith it is essential to recognize right and wrong as such, even if we do not always make the right choices.

In 2006 the U.S. Conference of Bishops published a document, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care,” which affirms the need for the Church to accept those individuals with homosexual orientation and provides clear guidance to Church leaders for their pastoral care. We present here an excerpt of the document to help our readers understand the Church’s position on homosexuality, which is based on love for the person, not bigotry or hate.

Respecting Human Dignity
The commission of the Church to preach the Good News to all people in every land points to the fundamental dignity possessed by each person as created by God. God has created every human person out of love and wishes to grant him or her eternal life in the communion of the Trinity. All people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected.

In keeping with this conviction, the Church teaches that persons with a homosexual inclination “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” We recognize that these persons have been, and often continue to be, objects of scorn, hatred, and even violence in some sectors of our society. Sometimes this hatred is manifested clearly; other times, it is masked and gives rise to more disguised forms of hatred. “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”

Those who would minister in the name of the Church must in no way contribute to such injustice. They should prayerfully examine their own hearts in order to discern any thoughts or feelings that might stand in need of purification. Those who minister are also called to growth in holiness. In fact, the work of spreading the Good News involves an ever-increasing love for those to whom one is ministering by calling them to the truth of Jesus Christ.

The Place of Sexuality in God’s Plan
The phenomenon of homosexuality poses challenges that can only be met with the help of a clear understanding of the place of sexuality within God’s plan for humanity. In the beginning, God created human beings in his own image, meaning that the complementary sexuality of man and woman is a gift from God and ought to be respected as such. “Human sexuality is thus a good, part of that created gift which God saw as being ‘very good,’ when he created the human person in his image and likeness, and ‘male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:27).” The complementarity of man and woman as male and female is inherent within God’s creative design. Precisely because man and woman are different, yet complementary, they can come together in a union that is open to the possibility of new life. Jesus taught that “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh’” (Mark 10:6-8).

The purpose of sexual desire is to draw man and woman together in the bond of marriage, a bond that is directed toward two inseparable ends: the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children. “The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life.” This is the order of nature, an order whose source is ultimately the wisdom of God. To the extent that man and woman cooperate with the divine plan by acting in accord with the order of nature, they not only bring to fulfillment their own individual human natures but also accomplish the will of God.

Homosexual Acts Cannot Fulfill the Natural Ends of Human Sexuality
By its very nature, the sexual act finds its proper fulfillment in the marital bond. Any sexual act that takes place outside the bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality. Such an act is not directed toward the expression of marital love with an openness to new life. It is disordered in that it is not in accord with this twofold end and is thus morally wrong. “Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.”

Because of both Original Sin and personal sin, moral disorder is all too common in our world. There are a variety of acts, such as adultery, fornication, masturbation, and contraception, that violate the proper ends of human sexuality. Homosexual acts also violate the true purpose of sexuality. They are sexual acts that cannot be open to life. Nor do they reflect the complementarity of man and woman that is an integral part of God’s design for human sexuality. Consequently, the Catholic Church has consistently taught that homosexual acts “are contrary to the natural law…. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

In support of this judgment, the Church points not only to the intrinsic order of creation, but also to what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture. In the book of Genesis we learn that God created humanity as male and female and that according to God’s plan a man and a woman come together and “the two of them become one body.” Whenever homosexual acts are mentioned in the Old Testament, it is clear that they are disapproved of, as contrary to the will of God. In the New Testament, St. Paul teaches that homosexual acts are not in keeping with our being created in God’s image and so degrade and undermine our authentic dignity as human beings. He tells how homosexual practices can arise among people who erroneously worship the creature rather than the Creator:

”Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.”St. Paul listed homosexual practices among those things that are incompatible with the Christian life.

Homosexual Inclination Is Not Itself a Sin
While the Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, she does distinguish between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination. While the former is always objectively sinful, the latter is not. To the extent that a homosexual tendency or inclination is not subject to one’s free will, one is not morally culpable for that tendency. Although one would be morally culpable if one were voluntarily to entertain homosexual temptations or to choose to act on them, simply having the tendency is not a sin. Consequently, the Church does not teach that the experience of homosexual attraction is in itself sinful.

The homosexual inclination is objectively disordered, i.e., it is an inclination that predisposes one toward what is truly not good for the human person. Of course, heterosexual persons not uncommonly have disordered sexual inclinations as well. It is not enough for a sexual inclination to be heterosexual for it to be properly ordered. For example, any tendency toward sexual pleasure that is not subordinated to the greater goods of love and marriage is disordered, in that it inclines a person towards a use of sexuality that does not accord with the divine plan for creation. There is the intrinsic disorder of what is directed toward that which is evil in all cases (contra naturam). There is also the accidental disorder of what is not properly ordered by right reason, what fails to attain the proper measure of virtue (contra rationem).

It is crucially important to understand that saying a person has a particular inclination that is disordered is not to say that the person as a whole is disordered. Nor does it mean that one has been rejected by God or the Church. Sometimes the Church is misinterpreted or misrepresented as teaching that persons with homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered, as if everything about them were disordered or rendered morally defective by this inclination. Rather, the disorder is in that particular inclination, which is not ordered toward the fulfillment of the natural ends of human sexuality. Because of this, acting in accord with such an inclination simply cannot contribute to the true good of the human person. Nevertheless, while the particular inclination to homosexual acts is disordered, the person retains his or her intrinsic human dignity and value.

Furthermore, it is not only sexual inclinations that can be disordered within a human person. Other inclinations can likewise be disordered, such as those that lead to envy, malice, or greed. We are all damaged by the effects of sin, which causes desires to become disordered. Simply possessing such inclinations does not constitute a sin, at least to the extent that they are beyond one’s control. Acting on such inclinations, however, is always wrong.

Many in our culture have difficulty understanding Catholic moral teaching because they do not understand that morality has an objective basis. Some hold that moral norms are nothing more than guidelines for behavior that happen to be widely accepted by people of a particular culture at a particular time. Catholic tradition, however, holds that the basis of morality is found in the natural order established by the Creator, an order that is not destroyed but rather elevated by the transforming power of the grace that comes to us through Jesus Christ. Good actions are in accord with that order. By acting in this way, persons fulfill their authentic humanity, and this constitutes their ultimate happiness. Immoral actions, actions that are not in accord with the natural order of things, are incapable of contributing to true human fulfillment and happiness. In fact, immoral actions are destructive of the human person because they degrade and undermine the human dignity given us by God.

The full text of the document is available at”

This all comes from a Roman Catholic blog focused on sharing and exposing the actions and words of Fr. J. Bryan Hehir, Cabinet Secretary of Social Services for the Archdiocese of Boston and a key aide to Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap (Bryan Hehir Exposed). It makes for an amazing read and I would suggest you begin at the page as it summarizes all the reasons certain Catholics go nutz when confronted by certain other Catholics. Suffice to say we live in interesting times.

I was entertained by the entries concerning the Paulist Center in Boston. Knowing nothing but convinced I should seek conversion to the Catholic Faith, I had sought help at the Paulist Center, the nearest Catholic Church to my current digs at the time, a homeless shelter for veterans near Government Center in Boston.  One of the things I have to confess to is that I am an old fat white guy who provides every visual key to the alert Catholic Liberal of channeling William F. Buckley. Anyways, the Paulist Center is where (in the inimitable words of the Weekly Standard) “people who hate the Church go to church.”

Knowing none of this at the time, I submit to an interview with a chubby woman who questions me about my reasons for conversion, uncovers my admiration for G.K. Chesterton and others, and suggests that I would probably be happier at other parishes where my traditional-leaning faith would not be challenged by others in attendance at the Paulist Center. It was insulting and the cloying condescension this agent of the Boston Church slimed me with was unbearable but I maintained my cool and simply told her that I didn’t care about the politics of the Church but simply wished instruction on the faith, RCIA, I thought it was called.

That this is where Fr. Hehir hangs out came as no surprise, suffice to say. The admin of that site was impressed by the same article I was in the Boston Pilot last week. I will do what he/she/they did and provide you with a reading selection from True Compassion by Dale O’Leary, lecturer and author of “The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality:”

The Church, by which I mean hierarchy, clergy, religious, and laity, must step up and face the challenge posed by the militant gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer activists — the GLBTQ coalition. It is simply not enough to defend marriage; we have to explain to the people in the pews, to our children, and to world why the Church does not — cannot — accept sexual relations between two persons of the same sex. We must do so with love and compassion, but without sacrificing the truth.

First, while many people sincerely believe that individuals are born with same-sex attraction (SSA) and gender identity disorders (GID) and can’t change, there is no replicated scientific evidence to support that belief. There is overwhelming evidence SSA and GID are not genetic or biological conditions. If they were, then identical twins would virtually always have the same pattern of sexual attraction and this is not the case.

That does not mean that SSA and GID are a choice. Nor is there a single explanation for all SSA. Each person with SSA has his or her own unique personal history. A number of therapists are convinced that some babies are born more vulnerable to the anxiety. This vulnerability combined with early negative experiences can affect the babies’ ability to identify with their same-sex parent or peers. The child grows up trying to find the love and acceptance missed as a baby and this need becomes interpreted as sexual desire. Because these negative experiences occur during the first two years of life before memory, GLBTQ persons may honestly say they always felt different and were born that way.

Although persons with GID and SSA have free will and can choose not to act on their feelings, the inner forces driving them to engage in sexual behavior with persons of the same sex are very strong and their struggle and suffering should not be underestimated. There are, however, numerous reports of change of sexual attraction — both spontaneous and through therapy. The more we understand about the origins of SSA, the greater the potential for prevention.

Therapists who work with people who want to be free of SSA and GID have made real progress in understanding the early childhood traumas and deficits which put a person on the path to GID and SSA. I strongly recommend “Shame and Attachment Loss: The Practical Work of Reparative Therapy” by Joseph J. Nicolosi and “The Heart of Female Same-Sex Attraction: A Comprehensive Counseling Resource” by Janelle M. Hallman.

There is growing understanding of the part failure to attach plays in many psychological disorders. According to attachment theory, in order to achieve psychological wholeness a person needs to successfully negotiate several stages in early childhood: attachment to the mother, separation from the mother, identification with the same-sex parent or peers. Failure to negotiate the first stage, makes it more difficult to negotiate the second, and third. While a history of failure to securely attach, separate, and identify probably accounts for many instances of SSA and GID, there are other less common reasons. When the individual histories of persons with SSA and GID are probed, the reasons for their patterns of thought can usually be discerned.

As Catholic Christians we have an obligation to treat every person as a fellow sinner in need of grace. We can thank God that we do not have these particular temptations, while at the same time making sure that therapy, counseling, support groups (like Courage), and understanding priests in the confessional are available. If the problem is never mentioned from the pulpit, if support and counseling are not easily accessible, if the priest in the confessional has no practical direction to offer, those who suffer from such temptations will rightly feel alone and abandoned. They will be tempted by the world which says “Come out. Join the gay community. Be proud.”

When they do so, they will join a community where psychological disorders, suicidal ideation, substance abuse problems, relationship instability, domestic violence, STDS, HIV, cancer and other health problems are far more common. They will cut themselves off from the source of grace and often become angry at God.

Compassion requires that we do not, like the priest and the Levite, pass by the man who fell among thieves, but offer real help.

Well said, Ms. O’Leary.


The Meaning of Old Age – Fr. Romano Guardini

July 28, 2011


Old Woman Dozing by Nicolaes Maes (1656)

A reading selection from Fr. Guardini’s The Faith and Modern Man (1944).

What … is the meaning of old age? This can best be determined by proceeding from the most important element in the preceding period — the experience of reality. In old age something special happens to reality. Its hardness is softened by the experience of transitoriness. Persons who once seemed indispensable die. One after another disappears — parents, teachers, onetime superiors first, contemporaries next. One has the feeling that a former generation has come to an end and that the following, one’s own, is beginning to crumble. Many enterprises one has seen collapse, many organizations break down. One has lived to see the end of trends and fashions and standards of values. Concepts of what is right and fitting that had appeared unshakable and part of existence have lost their validity.

These impressions will be particularly strong in a period of historic upheaval, all the more so if the formative years belonged to the period preceding revolutionary change. Reality then becomes questionable — not as in youth, when time seems endless, but rather because now reality has been found not to be as real as it appeared in the realistic period of mature life. The view of things widens out. Under the pressure of reality, a person was limited to the present moment. But toward the end the whole comes again into view.

As in autumn, when the leaves fall from the trees, the view expands, and one is conscious of wide space. Reality engages the will in what is at the moment to be sought, done, mastered. But as the years go on one learns to loosen one’s hold. The urgency of will begins to slacken. Detachment is the next phase, and a person’s nature opens up to the whole, to a general view of existence.

Again we have reached a point that calls for decision, as, indeed, life continually calls for decision. Being is, in essence, ambiguous. It can always go right or left. The same feeling can turn out to be good or bad. The same virtue can work fruitfully or destructively. Just so here. The same detachment from reality, the loosening of one’s hold on things, the sense of the unimportance of whether a thing is done this way or that, the accumulation of disappointments, the many renunciations of a long life may simply point to the end.

Old age is that period of existence which life has been dreading all along — death spread out over years. That sense of the whole which more and more weighs upon us becomes the pitifulness of collective existence — the indifference of nature which kills as mercilessly as it gives life; the lack of consideration on the part of the persons around one who are put out by the presence of old people; the cruelty of the young who press ahead into life demanding space for themselves.

But this is not the true meaning of old age. That the will should lose its hold on things and on tasks generally, and that the hands be left free, should bring about a wider perspective in which that final thing, that real thing should become luminous. Out of that new condition grows a new form of belief. The danger in which aging men and women find themselves is that of capitulating to transitoriness, of having no more future, of living in their memories, of giving in to an existence which is ever more growing empty, of clinging to the fortuitous, of growing weak and tyrannical and at the same time powerless and helpless.

The same danger threatens their religious life. There is a kind of skepticism possible only to the old — the cynicism of hopelessness which also affects their faith. It is the attitude in which mutability has conquered. In it nothingness rules. Death of body and heart has assumed spiritual form. In direct opposition to this attitude stands the true faith of old age. It has cast aside the dreamy aloofness of childhood, renounced the endless demands of youth; it has experienced the transitory and seen how fleeting is human life, how questionable its works and its ways. Ever-changing life takes a new turn. Something final, something real has come through.

At first it appears to be life itself, or, as we say half humorously, half wryly, life as it really is. But behind that looms something else — eternity. Beyond the mere drifting toward the end lies nothingness, dark, empty horror. To save themselves from it the old grasp at the nearest thing, this special food, that particular armchair, their bank account, their having the last word at home. But nothingness is not eternity. Before eternity stands death, but eternity itself is pure reality, endless fulfillment.

To be sure, it must continually be won anew through courage and struggle. But, the conquest made, there comes into existence a breadth, a quietness, a clarity of a new kind.

This struggle presses on into wisdom. Wisdom is insight into things as they are, and is acquired only when one is near the end. It cannot be taught; each must learn it for himself or herself through their own folly and out of the bitterness of their own end. It is the understanding of the relationship of the particular to the whole, and this understanding is achieved only when the whole comes into view — that is to say, at the end.

It is the sense of what is important and unimportant, of proportion, of what is ultimately rewarding, and it is to be gained only when it is too late to change anything, but when there is still time for forgiveness, for contrition and for leaving everything in God’s hands. Of this nature is the true faith of old people. Their attitude grows very simple, one might almost say childlike. Childishness is the ugly form of something which can be very beautiful. Second childhood, like first childhood, feels that all is one, that everything is under protection, that all will be well. Such faith is broad, understanding, tolerant.

It is experience to the fullest — when it has humor in it. It is a wonderful thing, the humor of a religious person who carries everything into the boundless love of God, including the inadequate, the strange, the queer; who hopes for a solution when reason and effort can do no more, and who discerns a purpose where earnestness and zeal have long since given up hope of finding one.


Faith and Doubt in the Stages of Life – Fr. Romano Guardini

July 27, 2011

Saint Luke as a painter, before Christ on the Cross, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1635-1640

A reading selection from Fr. Guardini’s The Faith and Modern Man (1944).

Christian men and women are situated in life exactly as are all other human beings. Their bodies are made up of natural elements and are subject to natural laws. They live in the community of family and nation. They participate in the events of history, and share in the economic, scientific and artistic life of their days. Their dreams, thoughts, ethical motives, standards of right living, hopes of fulfillment, are like those of everybody else. But in their consciousness they have thoughts of another kind too — of the heavenly Father who created all things and guides people by his providential wisdom, thoughts of redemption and of a new, holy life which springs from it, which begins here on earth and finds its fulfillment in eternity.

These thoughts do not derive from human knowledge and experience, at least not if they are taken in their proper sense. The truth that underlies them, the kind of mind they bespeak, the way of life to which they call, go back to one definite person — Jesus Christ. He claims to be the living revelation of the hidden God, the redeemer of the lost, the bringer of new life…

The Christian believer of whom we are speaking has, in some way, come upon Jesus Christ, either by steeping himself or herself in the sources which relate his history, or by having learned from others of his person and doctrine. They are convinced that Jesus Christ alone brings truth and salvation, that he alone sheds light upon the riddle of existence, that by his spirit alone can moral problems be solved, that he alone affords a final refuge to the human heart.

The lives of such men and women consist of a whole in which two worlds intermingle — the natural life with its realities, and everything which Christ makes known of truth and wisdom, and the strength which he imparts. This unity let us call simply the Faith. It constitutes a very highly organized, unified life — if it really is what it claims to be, the highest life of all. It comprehends ideas, values, powers, has strong purpose, and provides a certainty beyond any other certainty. At the same time, like every other highly organized life, it is extremely vulnerable — vulnerable, indeed, in a very special way.

When we consider how the gospel of Christ places a person under God’s judgment, how it demands of that person a change of heart, how it requires him or her to give up much to which human nature clings for some distant goal, it is clear from the start that these changes cannot come about simply as the result of almost automatic development, but only through decisions and conquests, continually renewed. Since faith is life itself, life in the fullest sense, it must undergo repeated crises, crises which concern not merely a single part of a person’s life, but their whole nature – their mind and all their potentialities…

Much more could be added on this subject; but this much probably has been made clear — that crises in faith are not simple matters. Only rarely are they concerned with uncertainties in understanding — the interpretation of this or that point of Christian doctrine, or this or that passage of scripture. Questions of this character can be readily disposed of. But usually, as the whole nature of the situation shows, they concern something quite different. When one has discussed these things with many people, one soon notices that the arguments put forward are in no proportion to the conclusions drawn from them.

They are, for the most part, characterized by a peculiar overemphasis, passion or bitterness or defiance, which points to something deeper than the reasons that are advanced — all the more so since the language which the objector uses is generally that of mere intellectual discussion, in which deep personal experience has no part. Doubts of faith almost always signify inner shifts of position, and the person whose religious life is at stake must recognize this fact — as must also those who have the responsibility for helping such persons.

The church says that people so afflicted may not set aside their faith, even for the time being. The ruling, in individual cases, may be felt as very severe, but it is right. It is based on the conviction that faith proceeds primarily not from human beings, but from God, whose power helps them to see as far into the question as is necessary and still to remain so closely bound to God that they will be able to persevere. Then, too, the ruling speaks from the knowledge that humans believe not merely with their intellect — that part of their nature which doubt seizes upon — but with their whole living being, so that they may place the center of gravity of their faith deeper, or at another point, and endure the difficulty until it solves itself.

However, when doubt has penetrated so deeply that conscience can no longer give assent, the situation changes. Here also one can only advise that a person take no rash steps to destroy the bonds which hold together the deepest meaning of life. There is a virtue which is of the utmost importance in the business of living, namely patience, and here it is particularly called for.

There are two sides of the relation of a person’s heart to God. On the one side is longing for God, longing for his sacred truth. But on the other side is aversion, distrust, irritation, revolt.

It is this twofold aspect which makes religious doubt dangerous. The moving force in the doubt is hostility toward God. This we need to know. Therefore, in any wrestling with doubt, one must resort to prayer. The most effective kind of prayer is that in which we place ourselves, in our hearts, before God, relinquishing all resistance, letting go of all secret irritation, opening ourselves to the truth, to God’s holy mystery, saying over and over again, “I desire truth, I am ready to receive it, even this truth which causes me such concern, if it be the truth. Give me light to know it, and to see how it bears on me.”


The Cultural Consequences Of Christian Disunity II – Christopher Dawson

July 26, 2011

Resurrection of Christ, Bellini, 1475-79

A continuation of yesterday’s post

It is difficult to exaggerate the harm that was inflicted on Christian culture by the century of religious strife that followed the Reformation. The great controversy between Catholicism and Protestantism rapidly degenerated into a state of religious and civil war which divided Christendom into two armed camps. There could be no question of spiritual reconciliation so long as Catholics and Protestants were cutting one another’s throats, and calling in foreign mercenaries to help in the work of mutual destruction, as was the case in France in the 16th century and in Germany in the 17th.

Even within the Protestant world religious controversy became the cause of social conflict or its pretext, as we see in the case of the Civil War in England. That war was indeed far less destructive and atrocious than the great religious wars of the Continent, but it demonstrated even more clearly the essential futility and irrationality of religious conflict, in which each military victory led to fresh divisions and further conflicts until no solution was possible save a tired and disillusioned return to the traditional order in Church and State.

It was during this century of sterile and inconclusive religious conflict that the ground was prepared for the secularization of European culture. The convinced secularists were an infinitesimal minority of the European population, but they had no need to be strong since the Christians did their work for them. All they had to do was to point the moral, very cautiously at first, like Montaigne, and then with gradually increasing confidence and vigor, as with Hobbes and Bayle, and the English Deists. It was, however, an Anglican clergyman, a High Churchman to boot, who spoke the final word in The Tale of a Tub.

Thus it is not too much to say that the fate of Christian culture and the development of modern civilization have been determined or conditioned by the state of war which existed between Christians from the Reformation to the Revolution  — first a century of civil war in the strict sense and then a century or more of cold war and antagonism.

And though today Christians are at last emerging from this atmosphere of hatred and suspicion, the modern Christian world is still divided by the religious frontiers established in that age of religious strife. As a volcanic eruption changes the face of nature — overwhelming fertile lands with fields of lava and changing the course of rivers and the shape of islands — this great religious cataclysm has changed the course of history and altered the face of Western culture for ages to come. It is impossible to ignore this dark and tragic side of religious history; for if we do not face it, we cannot understand the inevitable character of the movement of secularization.

On the other hand, it is a still greater mistake to see the dark side only, as the thinkers of the Enlightenment did, and to ignore the spiritual and cultural achievements of the post-Reformation period.

For the energies of divided Christendom were not all absorbed in internecine conflict. On both the Catholic and the Protestant side the Reformation was followed by the development of new forms of religious life and thought. These were of course very different, so that they have sometimes been regarded as opposite to one another. Yet I think it is possible to trace a certain parallelism between them, which was no doubt due to their common historical background and to common cultural influences.

  1. In the first place there was on both sides of the religious frontiers a return to moral discipline after the laxity of the early Renaissance period. On the Protestant side this took the form of the Calvinist discipline which was the main inspiration of English and American Puritanism in the 17th century and the parallel ethos of the Presbyterian Covenanters in Scotland. It is one of the paradoxes of religious history that a theology which centered in the doctrines of predestination and reprobation and denied or minimized the freedom of the human will should have developed an ethos of personal responsibility which expressed itself in moral activism. There can, however, be no doubt that the hallmark of the new Protestant culture is just this spirit of moral activism, which was based on intensive theological training, but which found expression in secular life — in war and business — no less than in the life of the Churches.

    On the Catholic side the restoration of moral discipline took the form primarily of a return to the tradition of monastic asceticism. But this tradition was now brought out of the cloister into the world and applied by the new religious orders, above all by the Jesuits, to the contemporary situation, that is to say, to the needs of the Church, to the restoration of ecclesiastical unity and order, to the education of both the clergy and the laity, and to preaching and missionary propaganda.

    But in addition to the moral asceticism of the Counter-Reformation there was also on the Catholic side a certain tendency to theological rigorism which is much more akin to the theological tendencies of Puritanism.

    This theological rigorism produced the Jansenist movement, which caused a serious breach in the unity of Post-Reformation Catholicism, at least in France. The theological feud between the Jansenists and the Jesuits and the controversy about grace and free will bear an extraordinary similarity to that between the Puritans and the Arminians [Arminianism is a school of soteriological thought within Protestant Christianity based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609)and his historic followers, the Remonstrants. The doctrine's acceptance stretches through much of Christianity from the early arguments between Athanasius and Origen, to Augustine of Hippo's defense of "original sin."] on the same questions.

  2. In the second place the Post-Reformation period is characterized by the interiorization of religion and the intensive cultivation of the spiritual life. In the Catholic world this expressed itself above all in the great mystical movement which began in Spain and Italy in the 16th century and spread to France and England in the following century. But it is also represented by the ascetic spirituality of the Counter-Reformation. Indeed the most influential of all the spiritual works of the age — the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius — was, as its name denotes, essentially ascetic, and used the reason and the imagination in order to produce a psychological change in the personality. On the Protestant side, the mystical element is less significant, for the main emphasis was always placed on the experience of conversion and personal conviction of sin and redemption.

    The Pietist movement in the Lutheran church (which was later in date than the Catholic spiritual revival) was not devoid of an element of mysticism, while some of the minority sects, like the Quakers, were more definitely mystical and ultimately came to be influenced strongly by the less orthodox representatives of the Catholic mystical tradition.

    There was in fact an interesting underground movement towards religious unity and spiritual reconciliation which was carried on by representatives of these extremist groups, such as Peter Poiret in the Netherlands, who attempted to create a common eirenic [vocab: favoring, conducive to, or operating toward peace, moderation, or conciliation ] theology based on the consensus mysticorum [Of or belonging to secret rites or mysteries. Used in the neuter singular nominative (?), mysticum/mystica]; and Isaac Watts translated Jesuit sacred poetry. Though this movement was an isolated one, which affected an infinitesimal minority of Protestants, it does indicate the existence of Catholicizing tendencies in the Pietist movement as a whole, which explains the hostile reaction to the movement on the part of Protestant historians like Ritschl.

  3. Finally, in the third place, both Catholic and Protestant Europe were deeply influenced by the culture of the Renaissance. On both sides there was a continuous effort to use the new learning for Christian ends and to bring the new culture and art into relation with the Christian tradition. Thus the ideal of a Christian Humanism held a central place in both Catholic and Protestant culture and provided an important link or bridge between them.

    It is true that its influence was much stronger in Catholic Europe owing to the fact that Italy was both the home of the Renaissance and the center of Catholic culture. Moreover, Catholicism was able to use the new art and music and architecture of the Renaissance in the service of religion in a way which the aniconic [vocab: not employing or permitting images, idols, etc.: an aniconic religion]and non-liturgical character of Protestantism made impossible.

Thus the Baroque culture, in which the spirit of Christian Humanism found its full social and artistic expression, was exclusively or predominantly Catholic, and the sharing of this common culture gave the entire Catholic world from Peru to Poland an international unity which Protestant Europe never possessed.

In Northern Europe the influence of humanism was confined to the educated classes and found expression only in literature. But in this field it was triumphant, and throughout the 17th century, in England above all, the spirit of Christian Humanism inspired not only the poetry of Donne and Herbert and Milton and Vaughan but also the thought of the Cambridge Platonists and the Caroline divines, as well as of men of letters like Sir Thomas Browne and Isaac Walton.

Nevertheless all this wealth of literary culture could not prevent an increasing divergence between the social and psychological tendencies of Catholic and Protestant society. The Baroque culture integrated asceticism with mysticism, and humanism with popular culture, through the common media of art and liturgy; but in the Protestant world, the religious culture of the masses, which was derived from the Bible and the sermon, had no access to the imaginative world of the humanist poet and artist. Thus it was on the popular level that the differences between the two cultures are most obvious and their separation is most complete.

For what could be sharper than the contrast between the popular culture of Catholic Europe with its pilgrimages and festivals and sacred dramas all centering in the great Baroque churches which were the painted palaces of the Saints, and the austere religious life of the hard-working Protestant artisan and shopkeeper which found its only outward expression in the weekly attendance in a bare meeting house to listen to the long sermons of the Puritan divines and to sing long psalms in metrical but far from poetical versions?

This difference in the form of the religious life found expression in a corresponding difference of psychological types and spiritual personalities. A man like Cotton Mather had no doubt received a good classical education, but no one can call him a Christian Humanist. His character was formed in the same mould as that of his congregation. Whereas on the other side, men like St. Francis de Sales or Fenelon were humanists not only in their classical culture but in their spirituality and their personal relations.

This failure of Protestantism to assimilate the Christian Humanist tradition completely caused a certain impoverishment and aridity in English and American cultures and led ultimately to those defects which Matthew Arnold was to criticize so vigorously in the 19th century. Nevertheless Protestant culture had its own distinctive qualities. The moral energy of the Puritan tradition inspired the new bourgeois culture of the English-speaking world in the later 17th and 18th centuries and gave it the strength which enabled it to overcome its rivals and dominate the world.

What I am concerned with at the moment, however, is not to judge the values of these two forms of culture, but to point out their differences and show how their divergence contributed to the disunity of the Christian world. For when the age of religious war was over, Europe was still divided (and America also) by a difference of moral values and psychological antipathies. And these differences are harder to surmount than the theological ones, because they go so deep into the unconscious mind and have become a part of the personality and the national character.

When we come to the 19th century we shall find plenty of cases of men who have lost all conscious connection with religion but who nevertheless retain the social and national prejudices which they have inherited from their Catholic or Protestant backgrounds.

Similarly when the barriers were first broken down it was due not only to the theological converts and apologists, like Newman, but to the cultural converts, like Arnold and Ruskin. Arnold is a particularly significant case, because he admitted his debt to the Oxford Movement, though he did not concern himself with the theological questions which were its raison d’être, but concentrated all his attention on the cultural weaknesses of the Protestant tradition and the need for a revision of English cultural values.

The same phenomenon is to be found on the Catholic side, though it is less easy to point to a representative figure. But one may mention the attempt of a group of Catholic sociologists in France in the later 19th century to criticize Catholic social ethics by comparison with the moral energy and activism of Anglo-Saxon culture — an attempt which was, I believe, the real source of the Americanist controversy [vocab: Beginning in the 1880s, the Church in America was rocked by a series of debates that historians later came to call collectively the Americanist controversy. In general, disagreements revolved around how an increasingly immigrant church would relate to its host country: Would American Catholics retain strong ties to Europe and maintain their native languages, or would they attempt to assimilate as quickly as possible? See the Americanist Controversy here.

Now I do not wish to suggest that we should approach the study of Catholicism and Divided Christendom in the spirit of Matthew Arnold rather than in that of Newman or Moehler. These are theological questions, and the last word must always rest with the theologians.

Yet as an historian I am convinced that the main sources of Christian division and the chief obstacle to Christian unity have been and are cultural rather than theological. Consequently, I believe that it is only by combining the study of the history of Christian culture with the study of theology that we can understand the nature and extent of the problem with which we have to deal.


The Cultural Consequences Of Christian Disunity I – Christopher Dawson

July 25, 2011

Jean Restout, Pentecost, 1732

If you still don’t understand the divide between Catholics and Protestants, this is perhaps the most lucid and intelligent historical and cultural assessment of that division that I have ever encountered.


Of all divisions between Christians, that between Catholics and Protestants is the deepest and the most pregnant in its historical consequences. It is so deep that we cannot see any solution to it in the present period and under existing historical circumstances. But at least it is possible for us to take the first step by attempting to overcome the enormous gap in mutual understanding which has hitherto rendered any intellectual contact or collaboration impossible.

From this point of view the problem is not to be found so much in the sphere of theology, strictly speaking, as in that of culture and historical tradition. For the changes that followed the Reformation are not only the work of the Churches and the theologians. They are also the work of the statesmen and the soldiers. The Catholic and Protestant worlds have been divided from one another by centuries of war and power politics, and the result has been that they no longer share a common social experience. Each has its own version of history, its own social inheritance, as well as its own religious beliefs and standards of orthodoxy. And nowhere is this state of things more striking than in America, where the English Protestant North and the Spanish Catholic South formed two completely different worlds which had no mental contact with one another.

It was not until the 19th century that this state of cultural separation came to an end; and the change was especially sharp in the English-speaking countries when Catholicism and Protestantism finally came together within the same societies and cultures. In England this was due to the movement of intellectual rapprochement which is represented by the Oxford Movement and the personality of Newman, while in America it was the result of external forces — above all the mass immigration of the Irish Catholics to America in the middle of the 19th century, which produced such profound social changes, particularly in New England.

Nowhere in the world have Catholicism and Protestantism been brought together more suddenly and closely than in Boston. Throughout the 19th century these two sections of the population remained separate peoples, although they necessarily shared the same national and regional citizenship. It is only in quite recent times that they have come to share a common culture. But this culture is a purely secular one; and one of the reasons that it is so completely secular is that there has been this complete cleavage of spiritual tradition and absence of intellectual contact between Catholics and Protestants.

No doubt there are many other factors in the secularization of modern culture, but this is one for which Christians are directly responsible. The movement of history, which for Christians in some way reflects the action of divine providence, has put an end to the social division of Christendom which followed the religious revolution of the 16th century. Hence it is now our business to see that the inner division in our culture should also be overcome by a progressive movement of intellectual understanding, the reconstitution of a common world of discourse and of a new dialogue between Catholics and Protestants.

In this work of mutual explanation there are two main fields to be covered. First there is the theological field, in which the student has to study the positive developments of Catholic and Protestant doctrine so as to understand the exact nature of the divergence in our beliefs. In the past this field had become a battleground of theological controversy so that it was a source of division and antagonism rather than understanding. Indeed it was the controversial character of theology that did more than anything else to discredit it in the eyes of the world. It is only in recent times that theological studies have taken a new direction and there is a growing tendency to re-examine the whole question in the light of first principles.

We see the results of this new theological orientation in the French series published under the title Unam Sanctam, and there has been a parallel movement of theological thought in Germany. Indeed it was there that the new approach first originated more than a century ago with the writings of John Adam Moehler. Today there is an international literature on the theology of Christian unity, which is likely to increase as a result of the Ecumenical Council.

But in addition to this theological study we have also to study the historical background and the cultural development of Catholic and Protestant society during the centuries of disunity. It is these historical studies that have been most neglected in the past, owing to the artificial separation between ecclesiastical and political history, which has had the effect of focusing the light of historical research on certain limited aspects of the past and of neglecting others that were intrinsically no less important. Thus political history has developed as the history of the European State system and the power conflict between the European dynasties and empires, and finally of the political revolutions that have changed the forms of the state.

It is only in modern times that historians have attempted to rectify this one-sided emphasis by opening up the new field of economic history, which today is generally recognized as no less important than political history.

But this is an exception, and there are still important fields of culture which are relatively uncultivated by the historians. The obvious solution would seem to be the expansion of historical science to include the whole of human culture in all its manifestations; but in spite of the efforts of German culture-historians to create a new study of this kind, it has failed to establish itself as a scientific discipline and is still looked on with considerable suspicion by the professional historians. In any case, we have to consider the question of religious history as a field of study which historians ought to take account of, but which they have in fact neglected. No doubt their answer would be that this is the business of the ecclesiastical historians. This is true enough in theory. In practice, however, ecclesiastical history is as highly specialized as political history, which it resembles in certain aspects.

The ecclesiastical historians have dealt exhaustively with the history of heresies and theological controversies, but they have shown little interest in religious culture. Even such a famous book as Ritschl’s History of Pietism is not a genuinely historical work. It is a polemical work, devoted to the demonstration of a theological thesis rather than to the exposition of a phase of religious history or the explanation of a form of religious experience. In fact it is not to the ecclesiastical historians but to the literary historians that we must look for the main achievements in this field. With all his faults SainteBeuve was a real religious historian when he wrote his Port Royal; and in our own days I think that the best approach to religious history has been made from the literary side, in respect of Catholicism, by Bremond in his literary study of religious experience in France in the 17th century, and of Protestantism by Professors Perry Miller and Johnston in their study of the New England mind.

When we come to the subject of this work, which is the development of the Catholic and Protestant cultures in modern times, we shall find ourselves in a no man’s land, between the political and the ecclesiastical historians. For while the actual schism which destroyed the religious unity of Western Europe has been studied exhaustively by both. groups of historians, neither of them has paid much attention to the development of the new forms of religious culture which took the place of the old common culture of medieval Christendom. Yet no one can deny their importance, for they had a considerable effect not only on the development of literature and music and art but also on the structure of social life, as we see in a very striking way in the contrasts in the social development of the two Americas.

And it is the same with the following period. For the political and ecclesiastical historians have both written a great deal on the history of the 18th century Enlightenment and on the political and religious revolution which followed it, but the religious revival of the 19th century, which transformed and re-created the Christian world that we know and in which we live, has, I believe, never been studied in its cultural aspects. One should perhaps make an exception as far as North America is concerned. For American Catholicism is the creation of this period, and in so far as historians attempt to study American Catholicism, they are bound to focus their attention on the 19th century development. Even so, it is impossible to study that development without studying the European background from which it emerged and which influenced its development in so many different ways. Yet there has been no study of the European Catholic revival by American historians, so far as I am aware, and very few translations of European works on the subject.

Moreover there is another and more fundamental reason why religious history during the last century or two should be a neglected and difficult field. For this is the age when the secularization of Western culture was triumphant and when religion was consequently pushed out of social life and increasingly treated as a private affair that only concerned the individual conscience. Whereas in the past religion had occupied the center of the stage of world history, so that a monk and a mystic like St. Bernard had moved armies and had become a counselor of kings, now it had withdrawn into private life and had left the stage of history to the representatives of the new political and economic forces.

This progressive extrusion of Christianity from culture is the price that Christendom has had to pay for its loss of unity  – it is part of what Richard Niebuhr has called “the Ethical Failure of the Divided Church.” The tragedy of schism is that it is a progressive evil. Schism breeds schism, until every social antagonism is reflected in some new religious division and no common Christian culture is conceivable. In the old world of united Christendom these social antagonisms were as strong as they are today, but they were antagonisms within a common society, and the Church was seen as the ultimate bond of unity. As William Langland writes, “He called that house Unity — which is Holy Church in English.” No one was more aware than Langland of the evils of contemporary society — the whole of Piers Plowman is an impassioned plea for social and religious reform, so much so that he has sometimes been regarded as a harbinger of the Protestant Reformation. But his emphasis is always on unity: “Call we to all the Commons that they come into Unity” “and there stand and do battle against Belial’s children.” As I have pointed out elsewhere, the creative age of medieval culture was the result of the alliance between the Papacy and the Northern Reformers, represented by the Cluniacs and the Cistercians, and when this alliance was broken, the vitality of medieval culture declined.

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century represents a final breach between the Papacy and the Northern Reformers — between the principle of authority and the principle of reformation. But both principles were alike essential to the traditions of Western Christendom, and, even in the state of division neither part of the Christian world could dispense with them. Therefore the Catholic world developed a new reforming movement, as represented by the Jesuits and the other new religious Orders; while the Protestant world had to create new patterns of authority and theological tradition, such as we see in the ecclesiastical and theological discipline of the Calvinist Churches. But this pattern was never a universal one, and the Protestant world was weakened from the beginning by continuous theological controversies which produced a further series of schisms and permanent divisions between the different Protestant Churches.


Tolkien Approaches the End of Life – Joseph Pearce

July 22, 2011

A reading selection from Tolkien Man and Myth:

When T.S. Eliot died in January 1965 Tolkien became the only survivor of a group of Christian writers (Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Charles Williams and Dorothy L. Sayers), intensifying his feeling that he had outstayed his welcome in the ‘waste land’ century he had grown to despise. The previous decade had seen the death of most of the generation of literary figures whose traditionalist response to twentieth-century materialism had constituted a significant Christian cultural revival. Ronald Knox, Dorothy L. Sayers and Roy Campbell had all died in 1957, Alfred Noyes the following year, and Edith Sitwell in 1964. Evelyn Waugh would die in 1966 and Siegfried Sassoon in 1967. As he watched his literary peers, and his world, quite literally pass away before his eyes, the sense of exile surfaced as never before. This was evident in a letter to his friend Amy Ronald, dated 16 November 1969:

What a dreadful, fear-darkened, sorrow-laden world we live in — especially for those who have also the burden of age, whose friends and all they especially care for are afflicted in the same way. Chesterton once said that it is our duty to keep the Flag of This World flying: but it takes now a sturdier and more sublime patriotism than it did then. Gandalf added that it is not for us to choose the times into which we are born, but to do what we could to repair them; but the spirit of wickedness in high places is now so powerful and so many-headed in its incarnations that there seems nothing more to do than personally to refuse to worship any of the hydras’ heads.

In such circumstances Tolkien gained much consolation from his faith, writing in the same letter to Amy Ronald of his belief in the power of prayer: “I pray for you — because I have a feeling (more near a certainty) that God, for some ineffable reason which to us may seem almost like humor, is so curiously ready to answer the prayers of the least worthy of his suppliants — if they pray for others. I do not of course mean to say that he only answers the prayers of the unworthy (who ought not to expect to be heard at all), or I should not now be benefitting by the prayers of others.”

Tolkien’s faith in old age was expressed with eloquence in a letter to his son Michael on 1 November 1963.  Written three weeks before Lewis’s death and only two months before his own seventy-second birthday, this letter needs quoting at length because it provides a comprehensive exposition of Tolkien’s philosophical and religious outlook as he approached the end of his life:

You speak of ‘sagging faith’… In the last resort faith is an act of the will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge). ‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation — as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it turns our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat …

The temptation to ‘unbelief’ (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others. I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the ‘scandals’, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe … I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord a fraud to His face.

If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent — that is: garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac (which is the only alternative), then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church … in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud. If not, however, then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before the first Easter, and it does not affect faith at all — except that we may and should be deeply grieved. But we should grieve on our Lord’s behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalizers not with the saints, not crying out that we cannot ‘take’ Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd and cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James’ mother, trying to push her sons.

It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really ‘happened’, and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded of him — so incapable of being ‘invented’ by anyone in the world at that time: such as ‘before Abraham came to be I am’ (John VIII). ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John IX); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament in John V: “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life”. We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences. I find it for myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with at least right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame. (However, He alone knows each unique soul and its circumstances.)

The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals…

I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and re-arising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honor, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. ‘Feed my sheep’ was His last charge to St Peter; and since His words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life. It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformations was really launched — ‘the blasphemous fable of the Mass’ — and faith/works a mere red herring. I suppose the greatest reform of our time was that carried out by St Pius X: surpassing anything, however needed, that the Council (Vatican II) will achieve.”



The Friendship And True Myth

July 21, 2011

The walk along the river…

I’ve posted on this before but this retelling of the story by Joseph Pearce in his Tolkien Man and Myth was so well done I shall do it again. Great book as the following selection shows:


Tolkien had first come to Lewis’s attention on 11 May 1926 during a discussion of faculty business at an ‘English Tea’ at Merton College. ‘I had a talk with him afterwards,’ Lewis recorded in his diary. ‘He is a smooth, pale, fluent little chap … No harm in him: only needs a smack or so.’” From these indifferent and inauspicious beginnings, a friendship soon developed which would become increasingly important to both men.

Shortly before Tolkien and Lewis had first met, Tolkien had formed the Coalbiters, a club among the dons dedicated to the reading of Icelandic sagas and myths. Its name derived from the Icelandic Kolbitar, a lighthearted term for those who lounge so close to the fire in winter that they bite the coal. Initially its members were confined primarily to those with a reasonable knowledge of Icelandic, but soon the club’s members were augmented by enthusiastic beginners, one of whom was C.S. Lewis. By January 1927 Lewis was attending the Kolbitar regularly and finding it invigorating. The influential friendship between Lewis and Tolkien had begun.

Like Tolkien, Lewis had been excited by Norse mythology and ‘Northernness’ since his childhood. He had always been enthralled by what Tolkien referred to mystically as ‘the nameless North’ and now, in the person of the Professor of Anglo-Saxon, he had found not only a kindred spirit but a mentor. On 3 December 1929 Lewis wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves: “I was up till 2.30 on Monday, talking to the Anglo Saxon professor Tolkien, who came back with me to College from a society and sat discoursing of the gods and giants of Asgard for three hours, then departing in the wind and rain — who could turn him out, for the fire was bright and the talk was good.”

A few days after this late-night conversation, Tolkien decided to show his Beren and Luthien poem to Lewis. On 7 December Lewis wrote to Tolkien, expressing his enthusiasm:

I can quite honestly say that it is ages since I have had an evening of such delight: and the personal interest of reading a friend’s work had very little to do with it – I should have enjoyed it just as well if I’d picked it up in a bookshop, by an unknown author. The two things that come out clearly are the sense of reality in the background and the mythical value: the essence of a myth being that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader”

At last, Tolkien had found an appreciative and sympathetic audience and he began to read more of The Silmarillion aloud to Lewis in the weeks and months ahead. “The unpayable debt that I owe to him,” Tolkien wrote of Lewis years later, “was not ‘influence’ as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby.”

If Tolkien’s debt to Lewis was due to the latter’s encouragement and enthusiasm, Lewis’s debt to Tolkien was to be much more profound. Friendship with Tolkien, wrote’ Lewis in Surprised by Joy, marked the breakdown of two old prejudices. “At my first coming into the world I had been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist, and at my first coming into the English Faculty (explicitly) never to trust a philologist. [vocab:  the study of literary texts and of written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning.]  Tolkien was both.”

It did not take Tolkien long to win Lewis over to philology, and it was partly due to Lewis’s support that Tolkien succeeded in getting his reformed syllabus accepted in 1931, yet Lewis’s prejudice against Catholicism was deeply ingrained, rooted in his sectarian upbringing in Ulster.

When they had first met, Lewis was beginning to perceive the inadequacy of the agnosticism into which he had lapsed, having previously discarded any remaining remnants of childhood Christianity. By the summer of 1929 he had renounced Agnosticism and professed himself a theist, believing in the existence of God but renouncing the claims of Christianity. According to Walter Hooper, Lewis’s friend and biographer, to realization of the truth in mythologies triggered Lewis’s conversion’ to Christianity:

“This came about after a long discussion in 1931 with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson which continued until four o’clock in the morning. At the end of this marathon discussion Lewis believed that myths were real and that facts took the shine off truth, emptying truth of its glory. Thereafter he became an excellent Christian apologist.”

This meeting, which was to have such a revolutionary impact on Lewis’ life, took place on 19 September 1931 after Lewis had invited Tolkien and Dyson to dine at Magdalen. Dyson, who was Lecturer in English Literature at Reading University, was a good friend of Lewis, visiting Oxford frequently, and was also known by Tolkien who had first met him at Exeter College in 1919. After dinner the three men went for a walk beside the river and discussed the nature and purpose of myth. Lewis explained that he felt the power of myths but that they were ultimately untrue. As he expressed it to Tolkien, myths are ‘lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver’.

No,’ said Tolkien. ‘They are not lies.’

At that moment, Lewis later recalled, there was ‘a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still, warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We held our breath.’

Tolkien resumed, arguing that myths, far from being lies, were the best way of conveying truths which would otherwise be inexpressible. We have come from God, Tolkien argued, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbor, whereas materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to the abyss and to the power of evil.

“In expounding this belief in the inherent truth of mythology,” wrote Humphrey Carpenter, “Tolkien had laid bare the centre of his philosophy as a writer, the creed that is at the heart of The Silmarillion.”

Lewis listened as Dyson reiterated in his own way what Tolkien had said.

Building on this philosophy of myth, Tolkien and Dyson went on to express their belief that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened. This revelation changed Lewis’s whole conception of Christianity.

In fact, such a line of reasoning struck a particular note of poignancy with Lewis because he had examined the historicity of the Gospels and had come to the almost reluctant conclusion that he was “nearly certain that it really happened.”  Indeed the discussion with Tolkien and Dyson had been foreshadowed by a previous conversation five years earlier. At the time, Lewis had just read Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense’, a revelation that had shaken his agnosticism to its foundations.

I had not long finished The Everlasting Man when something far more alarming happened to me. Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. “Rum thing,” [vocab: Old-fashioned; queer; odd; as, a rum idea; a rum fellow.] he went on. “All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum Thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.”

“To understand the shattering impact’ of the atheist’s admission,” Lewis wrote, “You would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity). He was the cynic of cynics, the toughest of toughs.”

Now, five years later, it seemed that Tolkien was making sense of it all. He had shown that pagan myths were, in fact, God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using the images of their ‘mythopoeia’ to reveal fragments of His eternal truth. Yet, most astonishing of all, Tolkien maintained that Christianity was exactly the same except for the enormous difference that the poet who invented it was God Himself, and the images He used were real men and actual history. The death and resurrection of Christ was the old ‘Dying God’ myth except that Christ was the real Dying God, with a precise and verifiable location in history and definite historical consequences. The old myth had become a fact while still retaining the character of a myth.

Tolkien’s arguments had an indelible effect on Lewis. The edifice of his unbelief crumbled and the foundations of his Christianity were laid. Twelve days later Lewis wrote to Arthur Greeves: ‘I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ – in Christianity. I will try to explain this another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.”

The full extent of Tolkien’s influence can be gauged from Lewis’s letter to Greeves on 18 October:

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’. Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a ‘description’ of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.”

Now that Lewis and Tolkien had found agreement and shared the same philosophy, their friendship flourished as never before. In October 1933 Tolkien recorded the following entry in his diary:

“Friendship with Lewis compensates for much, and besides giving constant pleasure and comfort has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual — a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher — and a lover, at least after a long pilgrimage, of Our Lord.”


Yes, a lovely story and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.


Dietrich von Hildebrand on Man and Woman

July 20, 2011

Dietrich von Hildebrand

Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have both called for the renewal of Christian philosophy and the writings of Dietrich von Hildebrand are a remarkable anticipation of these calls. In his now-famous Regensburg address, Pope Benedict lamented the modern “self-limitation of reason” and exhorted philosophers and theologians to have the “courage to engage the whole breadth of reason and not [to deny] … its grandeur.” Von Hildebrand’s prolific writings on metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, love, marriage, and so forth represent just the kind of courageous engagement of the “whole of reason” envisioned by Pope Benedict.

Pope Benedict is a special admirer of von Hildebrand and a friend of the von Hildebrand Legacy Project. Prior to his elevation to the papacy, he joined the Legacy Project as an Honorary Member; yet even as pope, his support has been concrete and vital. Pope Benedict recently gave a striking assessment of von Hildebrand’s stature:

I am personally convinced that, when, at some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time.

No half-way on that opinion. Von Hildebrand has written much and profoundly on the nature of conjugal love, marriage, and sexuality. The first passage in the reading selection [from The Dietrich von Hildebrand Life Guide by St. Augustine Press]distinguishes between the sympathetic way in which love interprets the faults of the beloved and the tendency to idealize someone, which is often confused with it. It comes from von Hildebrand’s 1966 classic,: Man and Woman: Love & the Meaning of Intimacy :

Love is always assuming what is best in the other. So long as there is no reason for reckoning with the presence of a fault, love entertains the more favorable … opinion toward all that is doubtful. When love encounters a fault in the other, it is like meeting disloyalty or infidelity to what is truest in his nature (it is never accepted on a par with his positive qualities)…

One should not confuse this credit of love, however, with the inclination to idealize, which is typical of day-dreamers. Generosity which is typical of love presupposes the existence of a corresponding value which justifies and gives it meaning. But where there are only dreams, the central thing is a need to experience delight and to have contact with admirable and extraordinary people.

Pleasure of this sort is so strongly desired that one commits himself to an imaginary ideal. One enjoys dreaming. The person one idealizes is more an occasion for dreaming than a meaningful subject to be taken seriously in himself. One imagines that everything about the other is splendid and grand, although one has had no opportunity to know him well enough to be so certain. The difference between such an unfounded attitude and the faithful credit of love, to which we have already made reference, is what we shall now consider…

Love’s generous credit is intimately bound up with its surrender. The loving person in no way seeks his own gratification. He is oriented completely toward the other. And his trusting conviction is completely for the other’s sake, having nothing whatever of self-gratification about it. The dream, however, is always for gratification’s sake. It does not have the other person in mind, but rather him who dreams.

This credit has nothing of extravagance about it. It goes hand in hand with the realization that a noble man is also quite frail and weak. Where everything seems to be in order, love reckons with the possibility that there may be imperfections which must be faced as unpleasant but temporary facts, even though it will never be prejudiced by them. The loving credit does not dwell in an ethereal or unreal region. It does not mount Pegasus. Rather it fortifies itself on ground which is altogether real, characterized by holy surroundings.

Nor is the radical difference between loving credit and dreaming fancy somehow diminished by the fact that one can also be disappointed where love is authentic or that credit can sometimes come to real disappointment itself. It is not the possibility of disappointment that makes the dreamer’s fancies to be what they are. They are characterized, rather, by the absence of true love, by the ethereal, unreal, and even deceptive atmosphere in which the life of desire is led. One could say: the lover can be disappointed; the dreamer deceives himself.
Man and Woman: Love & the Meaning of Intimacy pp 51-53

A passage, again from Man and Woman: Love & the Meaning of Intimacy, on the indissolubility of marriage, which far from being burdensome or detrimental to genuine conjugal love, is rather the fulfillment of its specific nature:

The indissolubility of marriage has an important retroactive effect on conjugal love. It is considered by many as something oppressive and dispiriting, something which deprives love of its wings and gives it a coercive character. They think that love would vanish with the knowledge that the tie is binding whether love persists or not. But nothing is less true. For the real lover, the consciousness of being indissolubly united with his beloved in Christ, of forming an objectively indissoluble community whose validity is beyond all wavering and all human frailties, is a source of the highest satisfaction. For he wants to be one with his beloved, and he is grateful and happy that this unity can be realized to so great a degree and that it rises above all emotional changes.

Conjugal love implies an intention of going beyond even the giving of self, which is inherent in love as such. It desires an objective self-giving once and for ever, an irrevocable giving which persists independently of all subjective inconstancy...

The true lover experiences the objective validity of his self-bestowal, and the accomplishment of such a transcendent, irrevocable decision, as a specific fulfillment of his love.

Certainly this decision involves a great risk; and when the choice of the spouse happens to be based on an illusion, the indissolubility of marriage may prove a great cross for one or both consorts. But it lies in the nature of conjugal love to be bold, heroic, not to shrink back from taking a risk. All great things on earth are connected with risk. Without risk, human life — in statu viae [Vocab: It means "In a state of journeying" and is often used in reference to the world and the universe which will be perfected eventually but were created in a state of journeying towards perfection. The world we live in is "statu viae."]– would be deprived of all grandeur and heroism….

Marriage is not a bourgeois affair, a kind of insurance for happiness, providing a way of escape from every eventual cross. Does not every love as such carry with it a great risk of suffering? In attaching our hearts to a person, do we not run the risk of enduring terrible sufferings, through misfortunes that may happen to our beloved or separation from her when she dies? Should we then abstain from love in order to prevent the possibility of great sorrow?

He whose life is dominated by the intention of avoiding any possible cross excludes everything that gives human life grandeur and depth. He will never know real abandon — never know real, deep happiness. Remaining in a mediocre self-centeredness, he will never be able to do anything without a certain reserve; he will always provide for a possibility of retreat.
From Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love pp 59-61

When love is misunderstood as a “mere feeling, “blinding, unreliable and inconstant, it is easy to understand why one would want to make sure that marriages are built on other, more solid and reasonable grounds. But when love is properly understood it becomes clear that it is the motive par excellence for marriage:

Even in Catholic circles we often find the disastrous concept of a reasonable marriage. By this is meant a marriage which issues not from so-called sentiment but from rational considerations.

This implies a wrong alternative. Obviously, the decision to marry someone should also be a subject of examination by our intellect — hut the precise subject of that intellectual examination should be the question of whether the conjugal love (which is here rather contemptuously treated as sentiment) really exists between both persons, whether the prospective spouse is really what she seems to be, whether she is the person whom God destined for me, whether the projected union is something pleasing to God, and whether there is any danger in this union for her eternal welfare or for mine.

But as soon as the intellect turns to matters not relevant to marriage or to matters of secondary importance, or — even worse — makes these considerations in themselves the motive of marriage, it misses completely its proper role, which is to consider and clarify that preexisting love which is the proper motive for marriage. How could we refer to a mar riage of this kind as other than unreasonable? To be reasonable, an attitude must be in conformity with the nature and meaning of the thing to which it is referred…

A so-called marriage of reason (which is decided after a cold calculation that one’s financial situation can be improved and certain professional advantages attained, or that both are peaceful and will get on together, or that their ages are well suited) — a marriage where such considerations (rather than conjugal love) constitute the motivation, where there is no longing for an indissoluble community with the beloved, is not only deprived of all beauty and plenitude, but is also something definitely unreasonable.”
From Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love, pp67-69

Von Hildebrand was among the first clearly to articulate a distinction, which later found its way into the encyclical Humanae Vitae and into the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral constitution, Gaudium et spes, between the unitive and procreative meanings of marriage and sexuality. Here the distinction is used to shed light on the evil of promiscuity:

He alone can understand the horror of the sin of promiscuity who has grasped the grandeur and sublimity of bodily union as the full realization of conjugal love, and who realizes that besides the primary end of procreation, the primary meaning of bodily union lies in the fulfillment of conjugal love…

Were procreation not only the end but also the sole meaning of this union, it would be incomprehensible, in the last analysis, why an illegitimate union should be sinful when children result from it, and a marriage pure and sublime when it serves only the communion of love in a childless marriage.
From Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love, pp 30-31

Von Hildebrand’s deep grasp of the intimate union between body and soul, especially in the sexual sphere, enables him to see that sex is not a mere biological or bodily phenomenon, and that it can never be taken lightly, because it necessarily and deeply involves the persons engaged in it.

Sex … is essentially deep. Every manifestation of sex produces an effect which transcends the physical sphere and…involves the soul deeply in its passion….

And, as a result, it is characteristic of sex that in virtue of its very significance and nature it tends to become incorporated with experiences of a higher order, purely psychological and spiritual. Nothing in the domain of sex is so self-contained as the other bodily experiences, e.g., eating and drinking. The unique profundity of sex in the physical sphere is sufficiently shown by the simple fact that a man’s attitude towards it is of incomparably greater moral significance than his attitude to other bodily appetites.

Surrender to sexual desire for its own sake defiles a man in a way that gluttony, for example, can never do. It wounds him to the core of his being, and he becomes in an absolutely different and novel fashion guilty of sin. And even as compared with many other domains of experience which are not physical, sex occupies a central position in the personality. It represents a factor in human nature which essentially seeks to play a decisive part in a man’s life. Sex can indeed keep silence, but when it speaks it is no mere obiter dictum [Vocab: Obiter dictum (plural obiter dicta, often referred to simply as dicta or obiter) is Latin for a statement "said in passing". An obiter dictum is a remark or observation made by a judge that, although included in the body of the court's opinion, does not form a necessary part of the court's decision.], but a voice from the depths, the utterance of something central and of the utmost significance. In and with sex, man, in a special sense, gives himself.
In Defense Of Purity pp 12-14

The passage below explains why it is that only wedded love (and not a mere act of the will) can elevate the sexual sphere and permeate it in such a way as to become a genuine expression of self-donation.

Only wedded love … as a special kind of love and as love in wedlock, is able to transform the act of wedded union from within and make it truly pure. How then is this transformation effected, and why is this love alone capable of accomplishing it? Love alone, as the most fruitful and most intense act, the act which brings the entire spirit into operation, possesses the requisite power to transform thoroughly the entire qualitative texture of an experience. The will, the informing power in the sphere of conduct, can, as it were, grasp our emotional experiences only from the outside. It can — indeed, for this its assent is sufficient — liberate the person from an experience; can, for instance, render his envy up to a certain point harmless, can “behead” it, or immure it within the person; but it cannot destroy it, as love destroys it.

By his will the person can, so to speak, overleap his emotional life with a magnificent gesture, but he cannot change its quality. Hence the will by itself can never effect an organic union between sex on the one hand and the heart and mind on the other. Whatever the aim the will sets before itself, so long as the act of marriage is motivated by the will alone, it remains a foreign body within the life of the spirit, and though possibly free from sin, it remains, nevertheless, something without organic connection with the life of the person, its brutal aggressor, something which simply co-exists with the heart and the mind anti therefore retains a certain animality. As we have already seen, the mere relation to an end can never impart an inner significance to the act of marriage as an experience, still less ennoble it. Love, on the other hand, can wholly dissolve any experience and transform the quality of its texture; in more technical language, can strip its matter of the old form and invest it with a new.
In Defense Of Purity pp 98-99


Annals of Homosexualism: The New Moral Equivalent Of Heterosexuality

July 19, 2011

Gay Pride Rome

Writing in the Wall Street Journal the beginning of this month Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote about the stunning reversal we have experienced on the morality of homosexuality. Most moral revolutions generally happen over a long period of time. But this is hardly the case with the shift we’ve witnessed on the question of homosexuality:

In less than a single generation, homosexuality has gone from something almost universally understood to be sinful, to something now declared to be the moral equivalent of heterosexuality — and deserving of both legal protection and public encouragement. Theo Hobson, a British theologian, has argued that this is not just the waning of a taboo. Instead, it is a moral inversion that has left those holding the old morality now accused of nothing less than “moral deficiency.”

The liberal churches and denominations have an easy way out of this predicament. They simply accommodate themselves to the new moral reality. By now the pattern is clear: These churches debate the issue, with conservatives arguing to retain the older morality and liberals arguing that the church must adapt to the new one. Eventually, the liberals win and the conservatives lose. Next, the denomination ordains openly gay candidates or decides to bless same-sex unions.

I was watching Jon Stewart and Jerry Seinfeld the other evening skewer Michelle Bachmann’s husband who runs a mental health facility that offers reparative therapy, i.e., therapy that seeks to purportedly  “cure” homosexuality and help homosexuals who wish to resist same-sex attractions. Some background on the highly politically incorrect reparative therapy:

In 1948, American Psychiatric Association formed a small task force to create a new standardized psychiatric classification system called The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This resulted in the 1952 publication of the first DSM. In 1965 a new task force of 10 people developed DSM-II, published in 1968. DSM-III was published in 1980, after a larger process involving some 600 clinicians. The book was now 500 pages long, including many more disorders, and it sold nearly half a million copies. APA published a revised DSM-III-R in 1987 and DSM-IV in 1994, the latter selling nearly a million copies by the end of 2000. DSM-IV-TR with minor revisions was published in 2000. APA is currently developing and consulting on DSM-V, planned for 2012.

In the early 1970s, gay activists campaigned against the DSM classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder, protesting at APA offices and at annual meetings from 1970 to 1973. In 1973 the Board of Trustees, under intense pressure, voted to remove homosexuality as a disorder category from the DSM, a decision ratified by a majority (58%) of the general APA membership the following year. A category of “sexual orientation disturbance” was introduced in its place in 1974, and then replaced in the 1980 DSM-III with Ego-dystonic sexual orientation. That was removed in 1987.

As the Wall Street Journal reported two years ago the APA has reviewed so-called reparative therapy literature and had tentatively moved forward to allow therapists to help clients transcend their sexual orientation:

The new approach allowing therapists to help clients transcend their sexual orientation was developed by an APA task force of six academics and counselors, some active in gay-rights causes, and endorsed by the group’s governing body. Their original mandate was to respond to the growing visibility of sexual orientation “change therapists” who claim it is possible to alter arousal patterns. The task force reviewed scientific literature on change therapy and found no evidence it worked.

But the task force also gained an appreciation for the pain some men and women feel in trying to reconcile their sexual attractions with their faith. There are gay-affirming churches. But the task force acknowledged that for those from conservative faiths, affirming a gay identity could feel very much like renouncing their religious identity.

Quite simply these men to whom the APA responded to are deeply distressed having accepted the traditional view of homosexuality. They have prayed, read Scripture, even married, but they haven’t been able to shake sexual attractions to other men — impulses they believe to be immoral. These are the hopelessly deluded and objects of liberal scorn and ridicule that Jon Stewart and Jerry Seinfeld were pillorying the other evening on the Daily Show.

One such therapist working with this group is Dr. Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at a Christian college in Pennsylvania and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He specializes in working with clients conflicted about their sexual identity.

The first thing he tells his clients is this: Your attractions aren’t a sign of mental illness or a punishment for insufficient faith. He tells them that he cannot turn them straight.

But he also tells them they don’t have to be gay.

For many years, Dr. Throckmorton felt he was breaking a professional taboo by telling his clients they could construct satisfying lives by, in effect, shunting their sexuality to the side, even if that meant living celibately. That ran against the trend in counseling toward “gay affirming” therapy — encouraging clients to embrace their sexuality.

But in a striking departure, the American Psychological Association said Wednesday that it is ethical — and can be beneficial — for counselors to help some clients reject gay or lesbian attractions.

Unfortunately with Marcus Bachmann’s appearance on the national scene we can expect the Homosexualists in our midst to take to this like rats to cheese. It is sad because both sides of this issue deserve our most profound understanding and support of their right to pursue whatever therapy they feel is best for them. Unfortunately they are about to become pawns in the Homosexualist narrative of “Happy, Healthy and Gay.” If the latter sends a little cognitive dissonance shiver through your brain, then Jon Stewart hasn’t gotten complete hold of you yet. This is a topic we have addressed frequently but with the swirl of attention on Marcus Bachmann, I felt the need to call attention to it again. Let’s place if firmly in cultural context of being Catholic:

Peter Kreeft writes: “Beneath a moral difference you always find some moral argument. Otherwise it’s not a moral argument. Because all argument needs a common premise. You can’t even imagine a totally new morality any more than you can imagine a totally new universe, or set of numbers or colors….Try to imagine a society where honesty and justice and courage and self-control and faith and hope and charity are evil, and lying and cheating and stealing and cowardice and betrayal and addiction and despair and hate are all good. You just can’t do it….

You can create different acceptable rules for driving and speech and clothing and eating drinking…but we are not free to make murder or rape or slavery or treason right, or charity and justice wrong. We can create different mores but not different morals….We know from experience that we’re free to choose to hate, but we’re not free to experience a moral obligation to hate, only to love.”

Affirm the Gay conceit that homosexuality defines your humanity? That you are “free” to “choose” your sexual orientation? Condemn the queer to living a life out of congruence with his faith?… Turn your back on mothers and children who need something other than the violence of an abortion?… Give a war induced quadriplegic a pamphlet with a contact for the hemlock society? Those who support such aberrations begin with this common relativist logic:

“We can agree that there are relative scales of value, and that the value of a life can be understood as varying based on context, and can be compared to the values of other things. The difference between someone who is “anti-life” and someone who is “anti-choice”, then, isn’t in their belief in value — it’s in the way they measure and evaluate it, and the way they adjudicate the value of a life in a given context with the value of other things…”

And the Catholic answer is No. No, we can’t agree. To the young, the early dead and their survivors, the baffled, the defeated, we can’t be tender enough. These are the ones the liberal ideologues prey upon with their glib moral relativism. Only the Church defends against them.


Bethlehem – Fulton J. Sheen

July 18, 2011

Bethlehem, the nativity church in the 1920s.

Caesar Augustus, the master bookkeeper of the world, sat in his palace by the Tiber. Before him was stretched a map labeled Orbis Terrarum, Imperium Romanum. He was about to issue an order for a census of the world; for all the nations of the civilized world were subject to Rome. There was only one capital in this world: Rome; only one official language: Latin; only one ruler: Caesar. To every outpost, to every satrap and governor, the order went out: every Roman subject must be enrolled in his own city. On the fringe of the Empire, in the little village of Nazareth, soldiers tacked up on walls the order for all the citizens to register in the towns of their family origins.

Joseph, the builder, an obscure descendant of the great King David, was obliged by that very fact to register in Bethlehem, the city of David. In accordance with the edict, Mary and Joseph set out from the village of Nazareth for the village of Bethlehem, which lies about five miles on the other side of Jerusalem. Five hundred years earlier the prophet Micheas had prophesied concerning that little village:

And thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Juda,
     Art far from the least among the princes of Juda,
For out of thee will arise a leader who is to be
     The shepherd of My people Israel.
Matthew 2:6

Joseph was full of expectancy as he entered the city of his family, and was quite convinced that he would have no difficulty in finding lodgings for Mary, particularly on account of her condition. Joseph went from house to house only to find each one crowded. He searched in vain for a place where He, to Whom heaven and earth belonged, might be born. Could it be that the Creator would not find a home in creation? Up a steep hill Joseph climbed to a faint light which swung on a rope across a doorway. This would be the village inn. There, above all other places, he would surely find shelter. There was room in the inn fir the soldiers of Rome who had brutally subjugated the Jewish people; there was room for the daughters of the rich merchants of the East; there was room for those clothed in soft garments, who lived in the houses of the king; in fact, there was room for anyone who had a coin to give the innkeeper; but there was no room for Him Who came to be the Inn of every homeless heart in the world. When finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last words in time, the saddest line of all will be: “There was no room in the inn.”

Out to the hillside to a stable cave, where shepherds sometimes drove their flocks in time of storm, Joseph and Mary went at last for shelter. There, in a place of peace in the lonely abandonment of a cold windswept cave; there, under the floor of the world, He Who is born without a mother in heaven, is born without a father on earth.

Of every other child that is born into the world, friends can say that it resembles his mother. This was the first instance in time that anyone could say that the mother resembled the Child. This is the beautiful paradox of the Child Who made His mother; the mother, too, was only a child. It was also the first time in the history of this world that anyone could ever think of heaven as being anywhere else than “somewhere up there”; when the Child was in her arms, Mary now looked down to Heaven.

In the filthiest place in the world, a stable, Purity was born. He, Who was later to be slaughtered by men acting as beasts, was born among beasts. He, Who would call Himself the “living Bread descended from Heaven,” was laid in a manger, literally, a place to eat. Centuries before, the Jews had worshiped the golden calf, and the Greeks, the ass. Men bowed down before them as before God. The ox and the ass now were present to make their innocent reparation, bowing down before their God.

There was no room in the inn, but there was room in the stable. The inn is the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But the stable is a place for the outcasts, the ignored, the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born — if He was to be born at all — in an inn. A stable would be the last place in the world where one would have looked for Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

No worldly mind would ever have suspected that He Who could make the sun warm the earth would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath; that He Who, in the language of Scriptures, could stop the turning about of Arcturus would have His birthplace dictated by an imperial census; that He, Who clothed the fields with grass, would Himself be naked; that He, from Whose hands came planets and worlds, would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle; that the feet which trod the everlasting hills would one day be too weak to walk; that the Eternal Word would be dumb; that Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling clothes; that Salvation would lie in a manger; that the bird which built the nest would be hatched therein — no one would ever have suspected that God coming to this earth would ever be so helpless. And that is precisely why so many miss Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

If the artist is at home in his studio because the paintings are the creation of his own mind; if the sculptor is at home among his statues because they are the work of his own hands; if the husbandman is at home among his vines because he planted them; and if the father is at home among his children because they are his own, then surely, argues the world, He Who made the world should be at home in it. He should come into it as an artist into his studio, and as a father into his home; but, for the Creator to come among His creatures and be ignored by them; for God to come among His own and not be received by His own; for God to be homeless at home — that could only mean one thing to the worldly mind: the Babe could not have been Clod at all. And that is just why it missed Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

The Son of God made man was invited to enter His own world through a back door. Exiled from the earth, He was born under the earth, in a sense, the first Cave Man in recorded history There He shook the earth to its very foundations. Because He was born in a cave, all who wish to see Him must stoop. To stoop is the mark of humility. The proud refuse to stoop and, therefore, they miss Divinity. Those, however, who bend their egos and enter, find that they are not in a cave at all, but in a new universe where sits a Babe on His mother’s lap, with the world poised on His fingers.

The manger and the Cross thus stand at the two extremities of the Savior’s life. He accepted the manger because there was no room in the inn; He accepted the Cross because men said, “We will not have this Man for our king.” Disowned upon entering, rejected upon leaving, He was laid in a stranger’s stable at the beginning, and a stranger’s grave at the end. An ox and an ass surrounded His crib at Bethlehem; two thieves were to flank His Cross on Calvary. He was wrapped in swaddling bands in His birthplace, He was again laid in swaddling clothes in His tomb — clothes symbolic of the limitations imposed on His Divinity when He took a human form.

The shepherds watching their flocks nearby were told by the angels:

This is the sign by which you are to know Him;
     You will find a Child still in swaddling clothes,
Lying in a manger.

Luke 2:12

He was already bearing His Cross — the only cross a Babe could bear, a cross of poverty, exile and limitation. His sacrificial intent already shone forth in the message the angels sang to the hills of Bethlehem:

This day, in the city of David,
     A Savior has been born for you,
The Lord Christ Himself.

Luke 2:11

Covetousness was already being challenged by His poverty, while pride was confronted with the humiliation of a stable. The swathing of Divine power, which needs to accept no bounds, is often too great a tax upon minds which think only of power. They cannot grasp the idea of Divine condescension, or of the “rich man becoming poor that through His poverty, we might be rich.” Men shall have no greater sign of Divinity than the absence of power as they expect it — the spectacle of a Babe Who said He would come in the clouds of heaven, now being wrapped in the cloths of earth.

He, Whom the angels call the “Son of the most High,’ descended into the red dust from which we all were born, to be one with weak, fallen man in all things, save sin. And it is the swaddling clothes which constitute His “sign.” If He Who is Omnipotence had come with thunderbolts, there would have been no sign. There is no sign unless something happens contrary to nature. The brightness of the sun is no sign, but an eclipse is. He said that on the last day, His coming would be heralded by “signs in the sun,” perhaps an extinction of light. At Bethlehem the Divine Son went into an eclipse, so that only the humble of spirit might recognize Him.

Only two classes of people found the Babe: the shepherds and the Wise Men; the simple and the learned; those who knew that they knew nothing, and those who knew that they did not know everything. He is never seen by the man of one book; never by the man who thinks he knows. Not even God can tell the proud anything. Only the humble can find God.

As Caryll Houselander put it, “Bethlehem is the inscape of Calvary, just as the snowflake is the inscape of the universe.” This same idea was expressed by the poet who said that if he knew the flower in a crannied wall in all its details, he would know “what God and man is.” Scientists tell us that the atom comprehends within itself the mystery of the solar system.

It was not so much that His birth cast a shadow on His life, .and thus led to His death; it was rather that the Cross was there from the beginning, and it cast its shadow backward to His birth. Ordinary mortals go from the known to the unknown submitting themselves to forces beyond their control; hence we can speak of their “tragedies.” But He went from the known to the known, from the reason for His coming, namely, to be “Jesus” or “Savior,” to the fulfillment of His coming, namely, the death on the Cross. Hence, there was no tragedy in His life; for, tragedy implies the unforeseeable, the uncontrollable, and the fatalistic. Modern life is tragic when there is spiritual darkness and unredeemable guilt. But for the Christ Child there were no uncontrollable forces; no submission to fatalistic chains from which there could be no escape; but there was an “inscape” — the microcosmic manger summarizing, like an atom, the macrocosmic Cross on Golgotha.

In His First Advent, He took the name of Jesus, or “Savior”; it will only be in His Second Advent that He will take the name of “Judge.” Jesus was not a name He had before He assumed a human nature; it properly refers to that which was united to His Divinity, not that which existed from all eternity. Some say “Jesus taught” as they would say “Plato taught,” never once thinking that His name means “Savior from sin.” Once He received this name, Calvary became completely a part of Him. The Shadow of the Cross that fell on His cradle also covered His naming. This was “His Father’s business”; everything else would be incidental to it.


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