Saturday, March 27, 2010

You've got that right!

"[T]eaching is food, even for the teacher." -- St. Gregory Nazianzen.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I think Chesterton is wrong about Oklahoma

Matthew, of Holy Whapping (say, is he the only one left posting over there?), posts a snippet of Chesterton's What I Saw in America. I haven't read the book, but this quote contains a few lines about my home state, Oklahoma. Chesterton is complaining that their is not enough deep, local culture in American rural life. It is devoid of people dressing up like people in the ancient stories, handing on the tradition through material culture:

I myself felt a perfectly genuine and generous exhilaration of freedom and fresh enterprise in new places like Oklahoma. But you would hardly find in Oklahoma what was found in Oberammergau. What goes to Oklahoma is not the peasant play, but the cinema. And the objection to the cinema is not so much that it goes to Oklahoma as that it does not come from Oklahoma.

I get the point--Walmart and all that--but what I immediately thought of about Oklahoma was the Trail of Tears drama in Tahlequah (put on by the Cherokee Heritage Center), and Shepler's Western Wear Store in Oklahoma City--once the largest western clothing store in the world (or so they claimed). Been in existence since 1899. And, yes, people do dress like this in Oklahoma. And the Indian and the cowboy heritage is very visible, strong, and culturally active. All over the state. This may not have been the case in the 1930s, so perhaps Chesterton can be excused, but believe me, culture in Oklahoma is way different from culture in Kansas, Kentucky, Wisconsin or Minnesota (other places I've lived). It is much more "indigenous" than Chesterton was able to give it credit for in his day. Oklahoma doesn't have the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center for nothin'! Where do ya'll think they have the International Finals Rodeo Championship?

I grew up within a couple of miles of the stock yards. And Cattlemen's Steakhouse (which is where I used to go to boy scout meetings).

Country music's kinda big, too: Ever heard of Hoyt Axton, Garth Brooks, Woody Guthrie, Reba McEntire, Patti Page, Sheb Wooley, Gene Autry, Charlie Christian, Roy Clark, Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, or Bob Wills?

And I haven't mentioned oil yet.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Being positive

A "status" quote from a local home school girl: "Being positive may not accomplish much, but it irritates enough people that it is worth it." I like this, although I'm not sure I ought to agree with it!

My son's contribution to the discussion about Catholic higher ed

On the Renovo Blog of the Center for the Advancment of Catholic Higher Education.
In response to your post in Renovo about students and their place in the renewal of Catholic Higher Education, I’d like to give a few more examples from Notre Dame... (more)

Why were we impressed?

When I was in high school the band Kraftwerk had a hit single called "Autobahn." All the sounds, whether musical or not, including drums, were made with synthesizers, which were new and trendy at the time (long before MIDI). I remember being SOOOOOOOOO impressed by it (and, no, I wasn't a druggy). I even went to a Kraftwerk concert in Kansas City.

I decided to listen to "Autobahn" yesterday--the long, uncut version. It was haphazard and boring. The musical parts were very simplistic and uninteresting. Then there were long stretches of just sound--like the word "Autobahn" spoken through a voice synthesizer.

Maybe I was more influenced by all the marijuana smoke going on around me than I thought.

Speaking of synthesizers, I remember the first time I saw one on t.v.--the creator of the first successful one--Robert Moog, was on the Bandstand. I was excited. I was also very excited when I saw the first MIDI keyboard in the early 1980s. I think it cost $10,000.

I am now officially unexcited about synthesized music.

Speaking of the Bandstand, "Its got a good beat and I can dance to it"....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Dogmatic Principle

I recently mentioned the dogmatic principle as an often neglected principle of Catholicity. In that post I mentioned Newman's unwavering devotion to that principle. Avery Dulles listed the Dogmatic principle as one of the ten principles of Catholic theology. Here is an article summarizing and commenting on Dulles's list ("The Consequences of Bad Theology," by Reverend John Navone, S.J., ). What the article says about the principle is this:

6. The Dogmatic Principle. Christians must submit to the truth as something definite, formal, and independent of themselves. They are bound to receive, defend, and transmit the faith they have received. By the "dogmatic principle" is meant the obligatory character of revealed truth, its power to require our assent. Catholic theology must have the courage to assert a definite claim of truth. The mind is made for truth; God has revealed the truth, and Christians have no right to obfuscate or conceal it. The very idea of a deposit of faith (e.g. 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:13-14) seems scandalous in an age when freedom is interpreted as a matter of keeping one's options open. Catholic theologians enjoy a doctrinal heritage, conscious that the Holy Spirit has been with the church in every age. Grateful for what has been handed down in the Catholic tradition; Catholic theologians are liberated from the incessant need to reopen questions that have been authoritatively settled in the past....

The Catholic concept of dogma stands in the midst of the fray. The universality of dogma is challenged by versions of multiculturalism and social fragmentation in which different social and ethnic groups aspire to full autonomy. The stability of dogma is thrown into question by historical relativism, which treats truth itself as a function of transitory cultural conditions. The authority of dogma is resented as a legalistic imposition on intellectual freedom. Tradition must struggle to maintain itself. Whereas earlier theologians sought to be self-effacing and faithful to the patrimony handed down and cherished orthodoxy as a badge of honor, the contemporary climate induces theologians to seek independence, creativity, and openness to fresh currents of thought. Some boast of following what is called the "heretical imperative." They are urged by publicists to say something new and surprising, rather than hold to what can be viewed as "party line."

I myself sometimes have a tough time fitting in with contemporary theologians because I don't see myself as primarily an innovator or creator of new ideas, but rather as not-too-important commentator on the Great Texts of the Tradition. What I hope to do is make the treasures of the Catholic intellectual, cultural, and spiritual tradition available to people today.

The full list of principles is:

  1. Esteem for the Natural.
  2. Humanism.
  3. Respect for Reason.
  4. Universalism.
  5. Mediation.
  6. The Dogmatic Principle.
  7. The Sacramental Principle.
  8. The Hierarchical Principle.
  9. The Principle of Consensus.
  10. The Doxological Principle.

As usual, St. Augustine says things better than me

In my post on the Mass, I said that it is important to remember that at Mass we not only pray to the Father through Jesus, but we worship Jesus himself. In today's Office of Readings (Universalis), St. Augustine systematizes the idea:

He prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our head, he is the object of our prayers as our God....

We pray to him as God, he prays for us as a servant. In the first case he is the Creator, in the second a creature. Himself unchanged, he took to himself
our created nature in order to change it, and made us one man with himself, head and body. We pray then to him, through him, in him, and we speak along with him
and he along with us.

St. Augustine especially emphasizes how hard it is to think of Jesus as God (and therefore worthy of worship) and fully human at the same time, having emotions, interceding, etc.

We contemplate his glory and divinity when we listen to these words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made. Here we gaze on the divinity of the Son of God, something supremely great and surpassing all the greatness of his creatures. Yet in other parts of Scripture we hear him as one sighing, praying, giving praise and thanks.

We hesitate to attribute these words to him because our minds are slow to come down to his humble level when we have just been contemplating him in his divinity. It is as though we were doing him an injustice in acknowledging in a man the words of one with whom we spoke when we prayed to God. We are usually at a loss and try to change the meaning. Yet our minds find nothing in Scripture that does not go back to him, nothing that will allow us to stray from him.

Our thoughts must then be awakened to keep their vigil of faith. We must realise that the one whom we were contemplating a short time before in his nature as God took to himself the nature of a servant; he was made in the likeness of men and found to be a man like others; he humbled himself by being obedient even to accepting death; as he hung on the cross he made the psalmist’s words his own: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Those crazy Patristic allegorists!

I'm reading a fascinating book called The Life and Writings of the Historical St. Patrick, by R.P.C. Hanson (New York: Seabury, 1983). It includes a long introduction to St. Patrick and the texts and commentaries of his two certain writings, his Letter to Coroticus and his Confessions.

Hanson spends a lot of time demonstrating that St. Patrick was not influenced by the Patristic theology and disputes on the Continent, but rather had a more evangelical, biblical, though still Catholic faith, acquired in that out-of-the-way backwater, sub-Roman Britain. This is Very Good to Hanson, because it saves him from being influenced by Patristic scripture interpretation. Rather, St. Patrick interprets Scripture in its plain sense, like a good Protestant, or Antiochene:
In the first place, his biblical interpretation is remarkably sound and sensible. When one has read the far-fetched allegorizing, the determined identification in the pages of the Bible of a complex and uniform system of thought which exists in the writer's fantasy but not in the Bible, the learned nonsense and high-flown imaginary constructions which appear in the biblical interpretation of the leading theologians (both Eastern and Western) of the fourth and fifth centuries--of Hilary and Ambrose and Jerome, or Athanasius and Basil and the two Gregories, of Eusebius of Caesarea and Epiphanius and Didymus--one turns with relief to the straightforward and simple use which Patrick makes of the Bible. He has the virtues of his deficiency. He is not well educated enough, he has not enough learning to indulge in the sophisticated silliness of much Patristic hermeneutics. He goes straight to the heart of the biblical message, to the promises of God in the Old Testament, to the redemption brought by Christ in the New. God's self-giving and love, God's demand of holiness and faith, God's trustworthiness and providence, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, these are his themes; he has no difficulty in finding these in the pages of the Bible, and does not look further.
Such prejudice was common even among Catholic biblical exegetes in the period between 1950 and 1990. In fact, they are still there among many of them. Fortunately there is a renewed interest in recovering a disciplined version of Patristic allegory, in no little part due to the monumental work of Henri de Lubac in Medieval Exegesis. More recently Robert Louis Wilken has done much to recover the power of Patristic allegory to get at "the heart of the biblical message." Also, the St. Paul Center of Biblical Theology of Scott Hahn works closely in this area. Even Protestants are enthusiastic, such as the editors and readers of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, edited by Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall (Intervarsity Press). (If you know of other such efforts, please put them in the comments; I'll add them to this post).

What St. Thomas says is:

The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it.

The basis of spiritual exegesis is that the meaning of things is fuller than their terrestrial significance. God has included all temporal reality in a greater "plan." Temporal realities not only relate to other temporal realities, but, by God's design and intention, relate to the supernatural, eternal reality. A temporal reality not only represents itself, but is drawn up into and "signifies" the invisible, which is more fully real and only fully know and understood by God. This is the famous "sacramental principle" of contemporary articulations of Catholic principles. Since God knows more about these connections than the sacred authors, then the meaning of the text can and does mean more than the intended meaning of the sacred authors.

This is especially relevant for the Old Testament, whose authors did not have the benefit of knowledge of Christ and the outpouring of the pentecostal Spirit. Yet, even the New Testament texts may have a sense that is only known fully when we achieve the glory of the Resurrection.:

Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i) "the New Law itself is a figure of future glory." Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Writ is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Politics is sometimes unpleasant. The recent struggle over the health care bill has borne that out. I have had more than one conversation recently in which someone said, "I don't like politics." Well, you can't blame'em!

On the other hand, and this is the point of this post, it is our responsibility as citizens to participate in the political process, including the unpleasant task of remaining reasonably informed. If it is unpleasant, that is no reason to shy away from involvement. If we don't work to make sure that the current political order is as just is as reasonably possible (or as least unjust as possible, if you want to put it that way), we are not living up to our lay vocation. To be involved in the political process requires an ascesis of our desires and our likings and our preferences. It we don't work to prevent some injustice (knowing full well that other injustices will occur), then injustice will simply take over. The value of law is expressed will in St. Thomas More's famous line in Man for All Seasons to his son-in-law:
Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Of course, that involvement will also, and perhaps more importantly require the cultivation of an intense interiority--a dynamic spiritual life in which we trust in the Incarnate Word, who reveals the Father to us. I've seen this quote around lately, by Bl. Piet Giorgio Fassati:
In this trying time that our country is going through, we Catholics, and especially we students, have a serious duty to fulfil: our self-formation. We, who by the Grace of God are Catholics, must steel ourselves for the battle we shall certainly have to fight to fulfil our programme and give our country, in the not too distant future, happier days and a morally healthy society. But to achieve this we need constant prayer to obtain from God the grace without which all our powers are useless, organisation and discipline to be ready for action at the right time, and finally, the sacrifice of ourselves, because without that we cannot achieve our aim.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Good Celtic tunes

I know, it is a little late for St. Patrick's Day, but I have up some videos of my daughter's Celtic band, the Shinigans. They played at the South Shore Yacht Club Saturday night. The full line-up usually includes one of my sons on keyboard, but he's off to college changing Catholic higher education, so is only available on holidays. Don't be afraid to inquire about their availability!

A reasonable sacrifice

My four year old son came in yesterday with a fist full of hay, left over from the bunny that died recently. He said, "Can I have some hot water?" "What do you want hot water for," I asked. "I want to sacwifice some hay."

Today we finally got out of him what he was sacrificing hay for. He wanted it to go to heaven so the bunny would have something to eat.

There's a theological lesson in here somewhere.