A Small Church? John 6 and Archbishop Chaput.

Recently, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia recently gave a stirring and magnificent talk on the state of Catholicism in America, the assimilation of Catholics into modern American commercial culture, and the subsequent “silent apostasy” of many American Catholics who have become too comfortable in the world to change it (1).  He urged that fear of losing members (for the Church is neither a club nor a business) should never make the Church afraid to proclaim the gospel and that if consequence of this is a smaller, lighter, more faithful Church, then so be it.


Chaput referenced 13th century image of Mary punching the devil in the face.  So much for dialogue.  image from: google.com

To this reasonable suggestion, some have responded with horror and over-wrought hand-wringing.  Michael Sean Winters of the National catholic Reporter (2). He accused Chaput of Phariseeism, of not caring about losing members, and of denying his own need for God’s mercy (though how would MSW know that?) among other things.  Yet, in his criticism of the Archbishop, Winters shows seems to have forgotten about the example of Jesus Himself in the Bread of Life discourse.

For a brief moment early in his ministry, Jesus was overwhelmingly popular.  He had just fed 5000 men, as well as women and children, with miraculous bread and the crowds began to wonder if they had found a king who would keep their bellies full and their backs free of the dreaded imperial eagle of Rome.  And so they came by the crowds to hear this hoped for bread-king.  In the Bread of Life discourse (John 22:6-59), Jesus declared Himself the “bread come down from heaven” and that man could not have life within him unless he ate of the flesh and drank of the blood of the Son of Man.  Many of his hearers, however, drew back from these shocking words.  Jesus doubled down: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you shall not have life within you.  Even many of his disciples murmured, hesitated- Jesus doubled down again, The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life, but some of you believe not.

And that was too much.  A Messiah who gave bread- all well and good; As Fulton Sheen has commented, Caesar gave bread.  A Messiah who gave Himself?  Never.  From that day Jesus lost the crowds and even many of his disciples; scripture says, “After this, many of his disciples went back and followed him no more (Emphasis mine).”  He was a bread-king, but not the kind of bread-king for which the crowds had hoped!  And so they left.  Multiple times, the crowds and his disciples asked for clarification, giving Our Lord a chance to back off, to change His words, and multiple times, He refused to do so, knowing it would cost Him most of his followers.  He was left with only a few and, not fearing to lose them either, merely turned and asked “do you want to leave to?”  They did not, and left with only a dozen and perhaps no more, Jesus proceeded to transform the world.

Perhaps it was with that passage in mind that Archbishop Chaput said: “Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church. But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness.”  Chaput never said, (as Winters dishonestly claims) that he does not care about those lost, but that we do need to speak the truth, clearly, honestly, and without fear of the consequences, even if it means many who call themselves disciples went back and followed Him no more.  To say this is not Phariseeism, unless Christ was a Pharisee.  But it is faithfulness, which is required regardless of the cost.

Queering Captain America?

The character Captain America first appeared during World War II as a patriotic nazi- fighting superhero.  After a few years hiatus, he reappeared in the 1960s and has been around ever since, recently being a key character in the enormously popular Avengers and Captain America movies.  Through it all, Captain America’s character has embodied what almost might be called the romance of classical American: courageous, committed to democracy, freedom and liberty, and above all, right over wrong.  Other superhero figures have had darker sides or uncertainties (Batman), but Captain America has consistently stood as a soldier guided by an unshakeable moral code that was explicitly the ideal of classic American virtue, but was really at heart Judeo-Christian.

This Captain America always stood up for right over wrong whatever the cost; in one place he said:


(From http://www.thequotepedia.com/images/11/doent-matter-what-the-press-says-doesnt-matter-what-the-politicians-for-mobs-say-america-quote.jpg)

And elsewhere:

“…Our enemies may appear to be endless, but that doesn’t matter. Because there is no one else. Look at me. I believe in an idea, an idea that a single individual who has the right heart and the right mind that is consumed with a single purpose, that one man can win a war. Give that one man a group of soldiers with the same conviction, and you can change the world.” (1)

He was a superhero who was so reliable and so reliably virtuous,  could almost be assumed to be on the right side.  Whatever side he was on was right.  This make some recent news so interesting. It seems that a number of fans are calling for captain America to “come out” as homosexual, according to the Twitter hastag “#giveCaptainAmericaaboyfriend.”  (2).

There are at least two interesting observations to be made regarding the demand to make Captain America gay.  First, that it reflects modern society’s obsession with sex and the decline of friendship in a modern world.  Part of the reason behind the demands of the “makeCapgay” crowd is their difficulty in believing that two men could be intimate friends without having a sexual relationship.  This would have been absurd in nearly any past age which celebrated friendships like David and Jonathan, Achilles and Patroclus, Oliver and Roland, Hamlet and Horatio, and Frodo and Sam.  Yet because Captain America, a soldier has close friendships, fans (a terms more properly used  in the classical sense of fanatic) argue that he should be gay.  C.S. Lewis said of friendship that “it is one of those things that has no survival, rather, it gives value to survival,” and lamented its decline in the modern world.  That Captain America cannot be believed to have male friends without having relationship with them is another sign of that decline.

The second observation is more interesting.  In the early 16th century, King Henry VIII of England divorced his wife, married another, and declared himself the head of the Church in England.  Nearly everyone went along with him; one of the few who didn’t was Thomas More.  Yet, the one man was too much for Henry VIII.  As Robert Bolt’s play, Man for All Seasons, put it, More was a good was honest and known to be honest- and one honest man, a man of virtue and conscience, opposed to Henry was too much, a signal to everyone else that Henry was on the wrong side.  Henry needed More on his side to assure Henry and everyone else of a lie, that Henry was right in his wrong.  And this More would not do and so Henry killed him.

This is why some people want Marvel to make Captain America gay; because Captain America is a superhero known for his courage, virtue, and commitment to truth whatever the cost.  Henry wanted More’s approval in a vain attempt to assure Henry that he was in fact on the right side, which Henry knew to be false.  Today advocates of homosexuality demand not tolerance, but approval and will not tolerate those who disagree with them.  And this because, like Henry,  they want to convince themselves that they are on the right side, which they also know to be false.  What is so interesting, though is that this search for approval extends now to the fictional character Captain America.  To turn such a character would have been like Henry VIII turning Thomas More-turning a good man to the wrong side– and just as impossible.  Captain America could not turn and still remain himself, he would be a whole other figure, strong perhaps, and in a similar costume, but not Captain America.


(1) https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Captain_America

(2) http://observer.com/2016/05/marvel-fans-want-captain-america-to-come-out-already/


Modern Superstition and Trusting the Rich

Donald Trump’s candidacy has been instructive for a number of reasons, albeit regrettable for many others.  It has shown how a loud and colorful personality, promising to make Germany  America great again can quickly gain the allegiance and more, faith, of desperate crowds who will ignore any charge against him because of the faith they have placed in him.  There are books to be written on this subject, but only one small but instructive point concerns us here: the growing faith in the rich.

One of Donald Trump’s key arguments on the campaign trail is that people should trust him because he is rich.  Because he is rich, he cannot be bought and hence is more trustworthy.  Leaving aside the question of whether a person who buys influence, favors, and people is more trustworthy than a person who sells them, what is so interesting here is that we are being asked to trust the rich because they are rich.  Money (supposedly) makes a person trustworthy.  Poverty makes him unreliable.  Money equals virtue and poverty, vice.  This is not a new idea.  G.K. Chesterton wrote about it 100 years ago: “You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed” (Orthodoxy, chapter 7). It was as ridiculous then as it is now, but what is so interesting is how the idea is suddenly seen as widely convincing today just when the influence of Christianity seems to be fading- and there is more than coincidence in this.

Why should nations with proud democratic traditions and governments and nations (America at least) founded on the notion that all men are created equal suddenly appear so ripe for aristocracy?   Why should they suddenly be so ready to submit themselves to rule by the rich believing that only the rich can be trusted to rule?  In the last hours of its decay, the Roman republic did the same thing, as mobs threw power to a patrician strongman railing against corruption and promising to look out for them, but why should American be prepared to do the same?  What makes a nation with America’s history and democracy be suddenly willing to adopt and adopt loudly the position that the poor cannot be trusted, that we must throw ourselves on the rule of the rich?

For G.K Chesterton (and me), it was the decline of Christianity.  For only Christianity provided any consistent bulwark against this superstitious faith in the rich.

Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man….if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this — that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy (Ibid).

Some of the rich may be trustworthy and some may not, just as some of the poor may be trustworthy and others not, but no man is more trustworthy because he is rich or less so because he is not.  This is a pagan superstition and hence a modern one, but according to Christianity, greater danger lies in riches than in poverty.  As Chesterton remarked:

There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor  (ibid).

But this is why modern America can believe the myth that Trump’s wealth makes him reliable.  Because belief in Christianity is on the decline, such superstitions are on the rise; it can hardly be otherwise.  Man needs a savior and if he cannot have a divine one, then he must have a human one.  Whether such a savior can save anything, bring hope and change, or make America great again, is another, more doubtful question.

  1. Note: I find that Mark Shea already beat me to this passage in Chesterton and its applicationhere: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2015/07/the-prophet-chesterton-on-donald-trump.html

The Real Me and Transgenderism

The Obama administration has recently attempted to coerce schools into allowing biological boys and girls to use restrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex if they believe themselves to be transgender.  The coercion is so sudden and taken without public comment or study that one imagines there must be overwhelming evidence that transgenderism is the next frontier in the civil rights struggle and that people believing themselves to be transgendered must be a group comparable to African Americans in the era of Jim Crow, unable to use bathrooms with everybody else.  But there is not such evidence.  Indeed, the lack of evidence has led Johns Hopkins to stop offering gender reassignment surgery (1). For their are a host of questions raised by the claim that some people are transgender.

At heart, a person who believes they are transgender believes that they are a man trapped in a woman’s body or a woman trapped in a man’s body.  The body and the mind appear to be in conflict; the biological fact is that a person’s body (to take an example) is male, but the person’s mind believes that he is really female.  If the body and the mind are at cross purposes in this way, then one of the two is in error, but how to decide which?  Transgender advocates, and the present administration, seem to have assumed that the mind must be correct and the body wrong, but why?  Why should we assume that the mind is sound and the body wrong?  Why should it not be the other way around.  Why should we not come to the opposite conclusion: that in a biological male who believes he is female, it is actually is mind that has gone wrong.  If a man believed that he was a wolf trapped in a man’s body, presumably, the assumption would be that his mind is disordered, not that he should be fed particularly raw steaks.  If a man believes that he is a woman, why should the assumption be that the body must be changed; why not consider it a mental disorder in need of correction?

More still, it is unclear what it means to be a man trapped in a woman’s body.  It seems to imply that the body is not part of the person.  The real me is not my body and is actually entirely independent of my body; the body is just something that I, the real I happen to have, an accessory.  Hence, if the real me is a female who just happens to have a male body, then I can dismiss it and get a new accessory.  But then who is this real me?  What is this real me inside my body that is totally independent of my body?  My soul?  No Christian could believe that since Christianity requires the belief that man is a unified whole, I am neither my body nor my soul, but both.  The soul is the form of my body and the two form a united whole.  But then transgender advocates do not base their claims on Christianity anyway, so the real me must be mean something else.  Could it mean the soul in some other sense?  Maybe, but transgender advocates never say this; given their tendency to be secular, this is probably an argument that many would shy away from.  And even if this were the position of some, ie, a biological male believes that he is a female soul trapped in a man’s body, this raised a host of questions and problems: how did the female soul get there?  What is the relation between the female soul and the body?  This also turns the body into the accessory or property of the soul, which is the real me.  Hence, rape would become a mere property crime (an offence against my property, the body I happen to inhabit) and the government could extra a kidney in taxation (because it can tax my property and my body is my property).

Neither of these options are likely palatable to the transgender advocate anyway, so what else might such a person claim?  That the real him is his brain?  Ie, that he is a female brain trapped in a male’s body?  None have said so explicitly, for this is no better than the other options.  First, the brain is part of the body, so this appears plainly contradictory to say that one has a male body but a female brain.  Second, given the role of the brain is shaping the body by directing the body’s growth, release of hormones, it is not scientifically plausible that a female brain could be trapped in a male body.  Third, this view has the same drawbacks (as Alexander Pruss has pointed out on another subject), as the view that I am my soul.  If I am my brain and just possess the rest of my body, rape is still a property crime, the government could confiscate a kidney via its power to tax, and my wife has never kissed me (only my body, which is not me, only the property of me).

There is no account of how one can be a man trapped in a woman’s body that makes sense either scientifically or rationally.  There is, however, a very simple account of how a mental disorder could cause a person to believe he is a woman if he is really a man.  And to this disorder, we should respond, not by changing the body, but by treating the mind.

(1). http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/06/15145/ and


(2). A fair question is that in spite of no plausible account of transgendering and no evidence in support of the claim that one can really be a woman trapped in a man’s body, why is it so strongly defended?  The answer is probably an implied connection to homosexuality.  If it can be a mental disorder for a man to believe that he is a woman, then this is not very far from the claim that it is a disorder for a man to be sexually attracted to other men.  But this is a subject for another post.

Women in War

The Department of Defense has recently decided to open all combat positions to women providing little in the way of evidence or support for this decision beyond the few requisite platitudes about “a more diverse army being a stronger army,” or “we can’t rule out half the population for recruiting.” Indeed, without more evidence for the value of allowing women into combat positions, one cannot help but wonder if there is more of social experiment than practical need in such a move. And one might wonder about the wisdom of carrying on such an experiment in an institution like the armed forces.

On the contrary, there seem to be some strong practical and theoretical considerations against opening combat positions to women. Practically, it simply seems obvious that the average woman lacks the same physical abilities as the average man and the existence of some exceptions does not disprove the generalization. Oft less considered, is that the average infantry soldier must carry a pack of approximately 80 pounds. Even men’s bodies suffer from carrying this much weight and women’s bodies are simply not formed to carry this weight as well as men. Nor is it a question of simply being able to lift it, but the stress on bodily joints and muscles over time where, again, women are likely to suffer more than men. (1)

Surely, it is plausible to doubt the wisdom of putting women in highly physically demanding combat positions for which they are, on average, less physically equipped, and in which they will face additional dangers than men (from captivity, for instance). In fact, if it is true, as some say, that “there are no front lines, anymore,” (a claim I take to be plausible, but far from certain) then the impracticality of women in combat positions actually becomes a reason why women should not be placed in any position in the armed forces.

So much for the practical issues, which are more serious than I have been able to summarize briefly, but I will say little more of them for two reasons. First, because such practical considerations can be found discussed elsewhere with little trouble. Willful ignorance can be the only possible explanation for why they have not been more widely considered. Second, I say less about them because practical considerations, while important, are typically less strong than theoretical grounds if the latter are available. As I think they are, I wish to say something brief about them.

The first theoretical consideration involves recognizing that keeping women out of combat positions is not only, or perhaps even primarily, a question of ability, but of propriety. Placing women in war crosses a line that cannot be undone, and it is one Rubicon that even Caesar might regret crossing. The line is a simple one: violence and who it is proper to do violence against. In a traditional army, violence will be seen to be proper only between men (as long as one admits that some conditions make it proper to wage war). Violence by a man against a woman can, and ought, to remain unthinkable. But if women fight in war, then avoiding this is impossible. Violence between men and women becomes not only thinkable, but even proper. The line is crossed. Whether this is a reflection of changes in society or a cause (and the answer may be both), something important is lost when a woman becomes the proper object of violence. Extreme situations may justify it (if say, one had to stop a female terrorist), but this ought to be exceptional, not normal as in the case of integrating women into the military.

Finally, there is a theological reason why a Christian should be hesitant to support integrating women into the armed forces. This will not be convincing to a secularist who will have to be content with the previous two reasons given, but as most of America still claims to be Christian, this should be convincing to a large number of people.

The reason rests on the complementary notion of men and women- a remark that comes from the Venerable Fulton Sheen. A basic principle of the Christian notion of human dignity lies in the fact that Man is created in the image and likeness of God. But a brief glance shows clear differences between men and women. The secularist would dismiss these as socially constructed (2), but this is less easy for someone accepting the Christian revelation. So if men and women both reflect the image of God, the differences between them make it plausible that they may do so in some different ways (though not necessarily all different ways).

Hence, the remark of Fulton Sheen on parents. Parents both reflect God to their children. The father, he said, reflects God’s omnipotence and omniscience. The father knows everything and the father can do everything. “My dad can lick your dad,” was the old taunt from one boy to another. The mother is different. The mother, according to Sheen, represents God’s mercy. The last plea from every child to his mother is: “don’t tell daddy.” What is true of the father is true for all men and what is true of the mother is true for all women. It is vain for a woman to say, “I do not wish to be a mother, so this does not apply to me,” for all women are called to motherhood as all men are called to fatherhood. If by circumstance or choice, this parenthood cannot be physical, then it must be spiritual. And if one is called to a station or task, then one is called to have the traits proper to that station or task.

Yet it is hard to see how this is consistent with either permitting or requiring women in combat positions. A soldier may project an image of power; indeed, his tasks may require him to. But by virtue of his task, he cannot easily project an image of mercy. To be successful in war, a man may have to accentuate certain masculine traits, but it seems that a woman, on the contrary, to be successful must suppress her feminine traits. The practice of war seems not to be compatible with femininity or the female vocation to motherhood, or call to reflect God’s mercy to society. Yet, if it is not so compatible, then this seems like a reason that women should not be placed in combat positions.

  1. http://www.military.com/daily-news/2013/04/10/heavy-loads-could-burden-womens-infantry-role.html
  2. though if so, it is hard to see why so many different societies should be so similar in this regard.

Sacrament in Medieval and Modern World

A former professor once commented to me that she thought she really only learned something well when she had to teach it.  I understood what she meant when I taught my own course on the Middle Ages.  One of the key ideas in which I was interested was that of “worldview”: how did people of the past see the world and how did their world-view differ from the modern one?  What did the world mean to them as opposed to the moderns.  I knew about some aspects of this going into the class, but one that struck me part of the way through the class was the concept of “sacrament” in the medieval mindset.

The seven sacraments familiar to Catholics today were clearly summarized and discussed by the twelfth-century theologian Peter Lombard, whose discussion became the textbook to which all later medieval theologians would refer and which was never really disputed.  The sacraments also became the object of so much popular enthusiasm that in some places crowds would rush from one Church to another in order to see the key moment when the priest raised the host and proclaimed “hoc est corpus domini.

Much of the reason Peter Lombard’s discussion of the sacraments was never really challenged until the Protestant Reformation, and much of the reason for this popular acceptance is that the notion of sacrament must have simply seemed natural to medieval people given their world-view.  To them the material world was the sign or symbol of a higher spiritual one.  The material world was thus a meaningful place, a place that had its meaning written into it by its maker.  Matter concealed a higher spiritual meaning.  One example in this lay in how people read scripture.

Medieval Catholics considered several different senses of scripture.  Scripture had its literal sense- the plain meaning of the words, but it also had three symbolic senses.  The literal sense hid below it a more spiritual meaning; the literal became a sign of the spiritual.  Hence, the story of Jonah was not merely the story of a man swallowed by a whale,  regurgitated by said whale on a beach, and who then successfully (and unsurprisingly) called the people of the local city to penance.  Rather, the literal sense was the sign of, or pointed to, a higher spiritual one: that is, the death of Christ, His lying in a tomb for three days, and His subsequent Resurrection.

To a medieval this was natural: scripture, though written by human authors, was inspired by God, so it made sense that a higher spiritual meaning should be concealed by the literal words.  The same was true of the world.  The world was made by the hand of God, so it was not surprising that matter might conceal a higher spiritual reality.  The Incarnation must have seemed perfectly proper to men with such a view.

Also unsurprising would have been the notion of sacrament.  To them, a sacrament was a material sign with a hidden spiritual reality; it looked back to Christ’s Passion and conferred grace.  To a medieval, with the view of the world having its meaning written into it by God, it would have been perfectly normal that matter should conceal sanctity, that unleavened bread might conceal (below its accidents) divinity.  This view would have been natural to them, not in the sense that they probably consciously thought about it much, but in the sense that they swam in it like a fish in water.  This was why they ran from church to church, in a rush to see matter become divine.

Not so in the modern world.  In a world that is “disenchanted,” in belief if not in fact, there is little room for sacrament.  Matter cannot be a sign of higher realities if there are no higher realities.  Even many Catholics struggle to appreciate it; where the medievals were fish in water, the modern Catholic is more like a land animal learning to swim.  Even if his conscious beliefs are different, the background he swims in is too often that of the secular worldview with which he is continually bombarded.  If sacrament is to make sense to a modern world, then something of the older medieval world-view must be recaptured and the culture changed.

The Sanity of Theology

Years ago, (If my memory is not mistaken) the late Fr. Andrew Greeley mentioned, in a column I am unable to find, about his distaste for theology.  Theology, acknowledged, might have been necessary, it might even be a “necessary evil.”  Many progressives today agree and even go further, dropping the adjective and keeping the noun.  Joining forces with the antinomians and enemies of canon law,they would say that it is time to “progress” past medieval theology into the modern world.  Yet, there is more of regress than progress in their views- for the rejection of theology takes one only forward to a modernity that is as backward as pagan antiquity.  No one developed a theology of Zeus or the pagan gods.  And so, the “progress” of the modern progressive Catholic becomes nothing but the regression of the ancient pagan, who was more backward than the Middle Ages that developed so much of theology.  

In the early centuries of Christianity, theology was largely in the hands of the bishops, the main (though not only) defenders of Catholic orthodoxy against the intellectual attacks of the pagan.  Men like Augustine of Hippo and Ambrose of Milan explicated Early Christianity to a pagan world, defending it against heathen attacks, developing Christian thought, and applying Christian principles to new issues.  After the fall of Rome, for several hundred years, there was little done in the way of serious theology.  From 500 to 1000 AD, Christian thought, in a sense, shrunk, undergoing what one historian (Robert Markus) called an “epistemological excision,” responding to crisis by purging itself of most thought outside of the Bible.  Little else was read or considered.  In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, this was reversed.  Latin Europe recovered the science and philosophy of Aristotle and other pagan authors, applying the rules of logic and philosophy to theological questions, leading to the development of schools and universities, where a broad theological tradition developed.  

For many moderns, one senses that this development was a regrettable one- at best a necessary evil, and perhaps worse.  These dislike what they see as the limitations of (good) theology.  They see theology as something that limits, restricts, and holds back.  The theologians (the good ones at least) say, for instance, that a man may not marry another woman while his first wife is still living; they impose other limitations even less popular.  They, like lawyers, make distinctions, draw lines, and put up fences.  The modern man would rather blur the lines and, in his contempt for theology, tear down the fences.  But, as Chesterton has said, a man should be cautious about tearing down a fence until he knows why it was put up in the first place.  If a man, imagining he was to break free of limits and boundaries, and strike a blow for progress and liberty, should blow a hole in a dam, he would find at least one boundary that even he might regret crossing.  

In a real sense, theology does limit.  It limits in the same sense in which a dam limits.  It places a boundary not to limit individual freedom, but to guard it, for a man who broke the boundary of the dam would quickly find himself less free and not more.   And so the medieval theologians did limit.  They drew lines and made distinctions.  They were the lines that separated truth from falsehood, and inside the Christian faith from without.  To be more precise, perhaps, they did not draw the lines, so much as recognize the lines that were there.  If the marriage of a husband and wife is the image of the relationship between Christ and the Church, then a line exists between that man and any other women he would wish to marry while his first wife is still living. The line defends not only the man’s wife from abandonment, but the man from sacrilege.  The divisions between truth and falsehood are not made by the theologians, but only recognized by them, for they are in the gospel also.  They are there when Christ declared that he came not to bring peace into the world, but division.  They are in the gospel when He told of those within the wedding feast and those without.  When the Light came into the world, He divides the light from the darkness, which some prefer because their works are evil.  And when the Truth comes into the world, there will be a line between Him and falsehood, though some will prefer the falsehood.  

Yet, theology does not only limit- it expands.  It sees the world as a part of a larger world.  Theology is the “study of God,” yet, in his theology, Thomas Aquinas, wrote not only of God, but much on man.  This was because theology studies also the whole of creation, seen in light of God.  And seen in light of God, that is, by theology, the world expands and grows larger.  Flatland becomes a three-dimensional world.  A higher and larger floor is added to a poor and rude hovel.  Seen in light of God, a sunrise becomes not only a sunrise, but a sign of God’s majesty, and a storm, a sign of his splendor.  Marriage becomes not only marriage, but a sign of the union between Christ and the Church, a union that man cannot break, but may break himself upon.  This was the world of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas, this larger world of which the material was only a sign or symbol.  

This at any rate, is the task of good theology.  There is also bad theology.  This sees not the world in light of God, but rather, sees God in light of the world.  Feminist theologies that see the gospel in terms of secular feminism and liberation theologies that see it in terms of marxism are only two such examples.  This sort of theology, which is not really theology, is not necessary, though it may be evil.  But theology, real theology, as long as there is truth in the world, will draw lines.  As long as there is light in the world, it will recognize the darkness.  And God help those who try to pull the fence down, lest they learn the hard way why it was put up in the first place.  


About the Journey? Medieval and Modern View

In the modern world, the decline of reason has led to the rise of cheap clichés by which people run their lives. A person no longer has the ability or (what is the real problem) patience to follow a logical argument to its conclusion. Nor does he have the will to modify his thinking or life according to the conclusions of that argument. Society today is less concerned to reason and more concerned to rationalize, less concerned with justice and more concerned to justify. In such a world, man is forced to live by cliché. Reason is too risky; once begun, one never knows where it might lead; far better to never let the process get started in the first place.

One could dedicate an entire blog to exposing modern slogans, but the one that concerns us here is the oft repeated idea that life is “about the journey not the destination.” I read one comment on another blog post saying exactly this:

The journey always matters more than the destination. In fact I don’t think life actually has a destination… it’s just a journey without a specific destination. If it had a destination, then what should we do once we reach that destination? There would be nothing to do. The whole thrill of life comes from the fact that there is no destination to reach (1). 

In the Middle Ages, such an idea would have been considered nonsense. There, the destination mattered tremendously; it was what gave the journey meaning. When the crusaders set off on a journey of hundreds of leagues to recapture Jerusalem, the destination, Jerusalem, was the point of the whole affair. Thousands of men, whether rightly or wrongly, suffered and died for that destination and because of that destination the journey was a meaningful one. This was also the point of pilgrimage, the destination was what made the journey special, worthwhile, and gave it meaning. For a crusader or pilgrim to have intended to go to Jerusalem, taken a wrong turn, ended up in Asia, and concluded “well, I guess it’s about the journey, anyway,” would have been absurd.

What is more, in the medieval world-view, life was a journey, with a destination. It was a journey to the grave- the expression sometimes used is: pilgrimage of life and death. Everyone, saint and sinner, ended up there sooner or later. But it was not only a journey to the grave, but beyond it. In the medieval view, there was an end point beyond death and that was God and heaven. It was the destination toward which everyone hoped to make his or her journey. Like a pilgrimage, the destination made the journey meaningful; and so life was meaningful because it was headed somewhere. It was a journey, a pilgrimage, because there was a destination that mattered.

No so today. Unlike medieval man, the modern world-view typically has little room for God or heaven. The journey has no meaningful point, no north by which a man may set his compass, and no meaningful end. One thinks of Nietsche’s madman, who proclaimed the death of God and the consequences: nihilism.

Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? (2)

Is there still any up or down?” Nietsche thought not. A life without a destination, end, or point is a pointless life and a pointless life is simply unlivable. Yet, this is the world that modern society lives with. So, it tells itself nonsense about the destination not mattering– the journey is more important. What would there be to do anyway, once we reached a destination? As if a man has nothing to do once he reaches the Louvre. The destination gives the journey meaning- without that, it is not a journey at all, only wandering.

(1) https://deepthinkings.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/its-about-the-journey-not-the-destination/

(2) http://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/nietzsche-and-the-madman.htm

Flattening the World: Same-sex Marriage and Resistance

In response to the Supreme Court’s recent display of hubris and judicial overreach in legalizing same-sex marriage, the response has been mixed. Supporters have been in a state of giddy celebration, often leading them to denounce opponents as hateful bigots who hate love, love hatred, and simply cannot stand to see people with same-sex attraction happy. Opponents’ response to the decision has been more varied. Many have been both upset and fearful of the consequences– as well they might, since if 5 “benevolent” social planners can redefine something as basic as marriage, then what can they not do?

Other opponents though, have charged such people with over-reaction. To be afraid and upset, some have said- shows a lack of faith in God. Or else, (James Martin SJ) it shows a hatred of homosexuals (1). Of course, this is nonsense. If Jesus Himself wept over the state of his country, then we should be able to weep over ours. If He could call his closest follower “Satan,” then we can recognize the wrong done for what it is. And if He could summon the manliness and sheer moral outrage to fashion a whip of cords and drive the merchants and money-changers from the temples, then we can at least summon the moral outrage to do resist the evil done.

Supporters of redefining marriage have declared the debate over, but it is not. It is not because neither government nor society has power to change the meaning of marriage. It has has no more power to make a relationship between two men a marriage than it has to cause two and two to make five. Even if this broad decision were not the result of a mere five judges, even were it made by unanimous vote of an entire society, it could not change the nature of marriage. That would, and does, remain.

On July 6, 1535 a Catholic laymen was executed for refusing to recognize his own government’s attempt to redefine both marriage and the government’s power over religion. This man, Thomas More, was the hero of the agnostic playwright Robert Bolts’ Man for All Seasons. In one scene, Bolt has More being interrogated by the king’s ministers demanding that he recognize the king’s redefinitions. More replies simply,

“Some think the world round, others think it flat; it is a matter of debate. But if it is flat, will the king’s command make it round? And if it is round, will the king’s command flatten it?” No, I will not sign.”

Neither Supreme Court, nor government, nor society has any more power to redefine marriage than it has to flatten a round world. And because the truth of the matter will not be on their side, proponents of the attempted redefinition will be especially hostile to those who resist. The resistance of even one good man will have to be crushed– as Henry VIII had to crush Thomas More though he stood almost alone against all the power of the English state (2).

What to do in such a world, when it seems as if all the power of the secular world, government, media, and large majorities are preparing to move against opponents of same-sex marriage? The only thing one can do: resist. In history, battles have been turned by small groups of men planting their flag and refusing to move against larger forces. The world will move, but they will not. David planted himself against the giant Goliath. 300 Spartans planted themselves against the Persian Empire, rag-tag minutemen against the British Empire. And God planted his flag, a cross on a hill, Calvary, before all the power of Hell. Fulton Sheen has said that, “in history, the only causes that die are those for which men refuse to die.” One man willing to lose everything for a cause is worth more than 100 men willing to lose only some things, because a man willing to lose everything is a man who cannot be bullied.

For the bullies will come and are already at the door (3). And when they come, the only answer can be, “you move, for I will not.”

(1) http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?ID=1098

(2) This is not mere rhetoric. One thinks of the Bakers punished for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/07/03/christian-bakers-fined-135000-for-refusing-to-make-wedding-cake-for-lesbians.html); the Catholic priest spit on by gay pride supporters (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/06/29/tolerance-vs-pride-spit-on-by-parade-goers-catholic-priest-has-this-message.html);

(3) As in the cases cited in note 2.

Why I am On the Wrong Side of History (and don’t care)

This post was originally published at my and my wife’s old blog here, May 10, 2012.  It seems timely to post here.  Further thoughts later.  This version is slightly edited from the original. 

As the Supreme Court has ruled that same sex partners have a right to have their relationships recognized as marriages, supportive commentators have labeled this decision “historic,” and so it is.  One news anchor warned lest opponents of such unions should find themselves on the “wrong side of history.”

The expression is magnificent rhetoric.  Proponents use it to conjure up images of those who opposed civil rights for blacks or resisted the abolition of slavery.  Yet like many slogans in a culture that thrives more on rhetoric than reason and more on emotion than evidence, it is hollow at heart.

Presumably such  people who warn the backward amongst us not to be on the wrong side of history think that we should make history our moral guide.  History says thus and we must obey.  The tide is flowing and we must follow it, lest we be caught like children in sandcastles.  Where the tide of history goes, so must we.  But this is not sound, for the tide may sweep us out to sea.  In following the tide, we may find ourselves drowned.

In plain language, history does not always move in a positive direction.  It is not a safe guide for a man’s moral decisions.  The modern world may (or may not) have moved toward greater democracy and civil rights, but it also moved to world war and genocide.  The Middle Ages saw neither world war nor holocaust.  It was left to the modern world to discover those.  Nor should we think that history will always move in a positive direction in the future.   It has not always done so in the past, why should we think it will do so in the future?   History is a fickle mistress.  One century she may command freedom, the next genocide.

Further still, history is no guide of morality because it is morally neutral.  This is the fallacy of seeking to derive an ought from an is.  History tells us what has happened.  It does not tell us what should happen.  Those who would try to derive their morality from history are in the same position as those who would derive it from science.  Both tell us what is, not what oughtto be.  There is no rational inference from the claim “in history, x happened” to “x should have happened,” or “we should do x.”

Indeed, making history out moral guide would put us in the absurd position of trying to anticipate what will happen in the future and then make it happen faster.  Perhaps, we project greater freedom in the next century.  Then we must work to make this happen even more quickly.  Yet, perhaps we anticipate a move to greater slavery two centuries hence.  If our mistress History commands it, I suppose we must work for it.

This brings us from the absurdity of history as a moral guide to the evil of history as  a moral guide.  If we are to always follow history, to not be on the wrong side of history, then we shall never be able to resist her.  There will be no room for the last desperate stand against the tide, no heroic resistance against inevitable onslaught.

Only if morality is something beyond history and even beyond society, if it is something transcendent and what is more, divine, will we ever have a firm ground on which to stand, to plant our flag, and to cry “maybe thus far, but no farther.”