Non nobis

Oct. 13th, 2010 08:54 pm
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What just happened in Chile is awesome. The kind of titanic display of advanced technology, high competence and overwhelming organization that not so long ago seemed restricted to places like the USA and Germany has been deployed by a mid-sized Latin American country; little bits of help may have come from here or there, but the whole impulse, organization and direction of the immense effort was Chilean. Well may Chileans wax patriotic, wave their flags and sing their national anthem; nobody will begrudge it to them.

But there is another thing to be noticed. Everyone, from the President to the last miner and technician, spoke in religious terms. All the Chileans, the nation above and the miners below, did everything they could to achieve a positive result, with the most enormous display of human ingenuity, resolution and discipline; and then - they fell on their knees and thanked God. We have seen once more that feeling to which psalmists gave words 2500 or more years ago: "Not to ourselves, o Lord, but to Your Name give glory"; "Unless the Lord build the city, the workers labour in vain."


Aug. 31st, 2010 10:24 am
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Nobody seems to have noticed the parallel; because, I suppose, not many historians today write from a Catholic viewpoint. But in 1798, two Catholic priests led two great popular insurrections on the two sides of the war then raging between a French Revolution not yet quite hijacked by a Corsican adventurer, and a reactionary Europe dedicated to the most contemptible and cynical forms of politics (the anti-French alliance was, at one and the same time, working together to slice and destroy Poland, and incidentally to destroy Kosciuzko's constitutional and liberal reforms). Their different fates had something to do with the different countries in which they took place, but they also had something to say about the future of the Catholic Church.Read more... )
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And it throws an interesting light on JK Rowling's own understanding of Christianity. In this article, she claims that the HP series is basically Christian. But she also claims - read the last three paragraphs - that the current Pope belongs to "the lunatic fringe" of Christianity. I'm afraid that what we have here, however incredible it may seem, is a survival, in the twenty-first century, of that English pathology that led nineteenth-century religious writers to call Catholicism "sectarian"; the ecclesiastical version of the "Fog in the Channel, Continent cut off" mentality.
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The High Council of the Judiciary (Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura, or CSM) is a constitutional organ of the Italian state that has no parallel in Britain and America. Presided by the President of the Republic, it is both the professional body and the high governance court for the whole order of judges, from the lowest to the highest level. It is a body very jealous of its prerogatives and power, and it is at present practically at war with Prime Minister Berlusconi. So there is no suspicion of partiality in favour of the government or of the right.

Today, it passed the final sentence on a judge who has been suspended for three years over his refusal to have a crucifix in his courtroom. Long before the European Court sentence, Judge Luigi Tosti had made an issue of the religious symbol, blocking several trials over his prejudicial refusal to appear in a courtroom with a crucifix. The chairman of his court offered him the use of a room without symbols, which Tosti refused; it became clear that his goal was the removal of all crucifixes from all courts in Italy. In 2006, the Court of Last Appeal (Corte di Cassazione) suspended him for grave and unjustified refusal to perform his duties; today, the CSM has permanently removed him from his office and rank - the ultimate and most devastating sanction in its power.

Of course, the fanatic has declared that he will appeal to the European Court.


Oct. 2nd, 2009 07:48 am
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Considering the ability of science to change its basic paradigms very radically, we should not put more than so much trust on the current dominant theories. However, it is amusing that while aggressive and ignorant atheists are busy spreading their religion - especially in this country - in the name of science, real science is not giving them any good arguments.
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There is one obsession at the top levels of the Democratic Party which has done them immense damage and which they should ditch - if people could be rational about obsessions - as fast as they can: namely, the obsession with Catholicism. Thinly disguised as a concern for "the Catholic vote", it amounts in fact to a sterile and futile desire, individual in nature but collective in perormance, to think themselves somehow Catholic when they deny the basics of Catholic philosophical anthropology and sacramental theology every day of their working lives.

Of course, the Democrats' roots are not only in the old Catholic electorate: they are also in the old South, and where that is concerned, probably more in the Southern Baptist Convention than in any other denomination. However, when Democrats of Baptist origin - beginning with two ex-Presidents, Carter and Clinton - reached the conclusion that there was not enough common ground between them and the Southern Baptist body, they did not consume themselves in futile attempts to prove that they were just as Southern Baptist as any Southern Baptist; instead, they started their own Baptist body.

Compared to this, there is something terribly pathetic about the position of the Democrat (ex-)Catholics. The unanimous insistence of the Kerrys and the Kennedys, the Bidens and the Pelosis, that they really are Catholic, cannot be called rational. The first thing a rational politician learns - and these are all old political foxes with decades of experience in their pockets - is not to pick a fight they cannot win; but the obsession with the Church leads Nancy Pelosi to launch herself into incompetent attempts at theology that rouse irritation among the Bishops and mirth and contempt among educated Catholics. It leads John Kerry to give scandal by taking Communion in public after the Vatican has as good as publicly warned him not to do so. It leads the lot of them to behaviour that is wholly suicidal; that has most recently led Pelosi to be unanimously condemned by dozens of Bishops, not one voice dissenting - and take it from me, it takes a lot to make a bishop as worldly and peace-minded as Archbishop Wuerl of Washington DC come out with an outright condemnation of a political leader.

I have a suspicion that the moment which lost Kerry the 2004 election was his public Eucharist. Catholic electors know that their representatives cannot all be Catholic; and many of them will choose a candidate, not on the basis of approval, but on the basis of least-worst. But when a man who is dancing on the edge of excommunication, virtually at war with Rome, takes the Body and Blood of Our Lord in public, with cameras clicking and film rolling, purely (as it seems) for political reasons, then that is more than flesh and blood can stand. And as history has a way of repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce, of course Speaker Pelosi had to tread the same road of denial and posturing, but in the tone not of tragedy but of farce, not committing a public sacrilege, but trying to pretend that she understands anything about theology.

Politically, it would be infinitely better if these people, like Carter and Clinton, set up their own denomination, or else went Episcopalian. They could even get more Catholic votes than they get now. Their self-identification with a group that denies much of what they stand for is, quite simply, bad politics. However, I think one can argue from their language - in nearly every case focused on memories of family and childhood, Sunday Masses and altar boy practice, on all the lost paradise of infancy - that theirs is not a rational position. At the height of political power and prestige in the greatest military power in the world, they still cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that they have walked out of the Church in which they spent their childhood.
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Traditionally, in Italy, children used to write their Christmas letters not to Father Christmas (a comparatively recent import), but to Baby Jesus Himself. What surprises me is that apparently the habit has spread, and according to a recent book that collects highlights, these day they write to Him all the year round, and ask the most interesting questions.

Dear Jesus, did you want the giraffe to be as it is, or was it an accident?

Dear Baby Jesus, my schoolmates all write to Father Christmas, but I don't trust the guy. I prefer You.

Dear Jesus, are you really invisible or is it only a trick?

Dear Jesus, is Fr.Mario really a friend of yours, or just a work acquaintance?

Dear Jesus, I like the Our Father a lot. Did you get it all at once or did you have to work at it? When I write something, I have to do a lot of rewritings.

Dear Jesus, why have you not invented any new animals lately? We have always the same.

Dear Jesus, could you please place some bit of holiday between Christmas and Easter, right now there isn't anything between them.

Dear Baby Jesus, please send me a puppy. I never asked for anything before; you can check.

Dear Jesus, maybe Cain wouldn't have been so keen to kill Abel if they had had one room each. It works with my brother.

Dear Jesus, I am going to dress as a devil on Carnival Day. Do you have anything against that?

Dear Jesus, You who can see everything, can you tell me who hid my pencil case?

Dear Jesus, my name is Andrea [a boy's name in Italian], I am short and kind of thin but not weak. My brother says my face is uglier than sin, but that's OK, at least I won't have one of those wives who are always in the way and gossiping.

Dear Jesus, we studied at school that Thomas Edison invented light. But at Sunday School they say it was You. I think he stole Your idea.

Dear Baby Jesus, thanks for the little brother. But really, I had asked for a dog.

Dear Jesus, I don't think there could be a better God than You. I just thought I'd tell you, but it's not as though I'm saying just because You are God.

Dear Jesus, the bad guys were laughing about Noah, building an Ark on dry land. But he was smart taking Your Father's word - I'd have done the same.

Dear Jesus, do you know that I really like how You made my girlfriend Simonetta?

Dear Jesus, instead of letting people die and making new ones, why don't you keep the ones you already have?

Dear Jesus, the story I like best is the one where you walk on water. You really have thought up some stonkers. The next best is the one about bread and fishes.

Dear Jesus, if you had not made the dinosaurs extinct, there would have been no place for us. That was a really good idea.

Dear Baby Jesus, don't buy our presents in the shop downstairs, Mommy says they are a bunch of robbers. [The Italian equivalent of Wal-Mart] is much better.
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The most dramatic part of World War Two as far as Italy was concerned began in September 8, 1943, when the Nazis, no longer as overbearing supposed allies, but as open enemies, invaded most of the country. One of the items on their agenda was to put an end to the culpably lax attitudes of most Italians to the Jewish problem. They wanted to destroy every Jew in Italy, and set about the work with gusto.

On direct orders from the Pope, every resource of the Catholic Church was made available to hide and disguise Jews and other prospective Nazi victims. The Vatican itself became overcrowded, as were dozens of cathedral closes and hundreds of churches, church schools and monasteries. Cloistered nuns were released from their vows to attend to necessary secret business. The Pope issued the Swiss Guard with machine guns and ordered them to use them if necessary. Everywhere, priests and trusted laymen worked overtime to produce false identity certificates and smuggle dangerous persons from farmhouse to monastery and from monastery to hotel.

One of the most astounding of the many episodes in this epic has only just come to light. The Church recruited one of her most famous lay faithful, the cycling champion Gino Bartali (Tour de France winner, 1938, 1948) and sent him on an impossible mission - cycling from Florence to Assisi and back in one day, to bring to Florence the false documents secretly printed in the town of St.Francis by a local printing-shop owner. The man who discovered the story, history graduate Paolo Alberati, was himself a professional cyclist who competed six times in the Giro d'Italia (1995-2000); but when he tried to match Bartali's exploit, in spite of having a bike half the weight (seven kilos against Bartali's fourteen), better roads and no Nazi patrols to dodge, he could not do it; he broke down half-way back. Bartali did this forty times between 1943 and 1944: forty world-class performances in the most appalling circumstances, more riding than a professional would ordinarily do for prizes, risking his life. He was never caught. And that in spite of the fact that he had been in the black books of the Fascist secret police (quite literally: he was Suspicious Person no.576) for at least five years. They did not like the fact that he openly and continuously refused to dedicate his victories to Mussolini, preferring to offer them up to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Bartali kept the secret to his grave, and for a long time even his wife and son knew nothing about it. His wife actually could not believe that the cloistered Poor Clare nuns of San Quirico, Assisi, knew her husband, but she went there and they answered - of course, madam, how could anyone be possibly mistaken about a man whose face had been in every newspaper in Europe? When his family asked, his answer was typical: "There's things you just do and don't brag about. I'm no hero, me. I just did the one thing I knew how to do - ride my bicycle."

The mission was sanctioned from the highest quarters. The man Bartali met at five o'clock in the morning of the first of his great rides was the private secretary of Cardinal Dalla Costa, Archbishop of Florence.

Tell this to the next moron you meet who dares open mouth about "Hitler's Pope" or the like.
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For some reason quite unknown to me, when the Mass was translated from its original Greek into Latin (which was then the common language of the Western Roman Empire and some parts of the East as well), the opening call on the mercy of the Trinity was apparently left in Greek. At least, we can certainly say that after 1500 years or more of liturgical development, change, augmentation, diminution, and translation, those simple six words have remained in Greek: Kyrie, eleison. Christe, eleison. Kyrie, eleison. Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy. Apart from the Aramaic Amen, this is certainly the best-known Catholic formula in a language other than Latin or the local. Virtually every good Catholic, certainly every priest, knows what it means. It is the first of the five great hymns which composers set to music when composing a "Mass" - Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei.

I recently was given a Jesuit's collection of classical music tapes, a quarter of which were of music by Bach. (Don't ask me why he was giving it away, I don't know. Probably he had got hold of CDs.) Most of the tapes were recorded by the man himself and had the titles of the work either in illegible hand script or in type. On the cover of the first part of Bach's mighty Mass in B, the word KYRIE had been spelled once KYRIA, once KYRRIE and never correctly.
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One of the things that really annoy me as a Catholic is when people like... well, let us just say, some who were once friends of mine... assimilate the Catholic faith to the least acceptable features of Protestant Fundamentalism, or, even worse, Osama Bin Laden's religious views. There is no way to convince them of the opposite - any more than you could convince Osama - because, without realizing it, these people are just as closed to argument. Their vision of the Catholic Church is fixed, and they are not going to have it spoiled by the facts, let alone by argument - something that their attitude excludes in any case. And if you believe I am exaggerating, I would refer you to my extraordinary exchange with a certain would-be Buddhist, which ended with my being banned from her LJ purely because she did not want to be told that there were reasonable arguments against her PC views. I was to be a "nutjob" if she had to shriek herself hoarse in my face and poke all her fingers in her ears not to listen to my arguments. Clearly, such people have much more in common with the very worst Fundamentalists than they imagine - even apart from the fact that the Fundamentalist bogeys of their nightmares hate the Catholic Church as much as they do.

The article I place behind the cut - not because there is anything to be hidden about, quite the contrary; only because it is very long indeed - has a lot to say about the relationship between faith and reason. It is written by a real live scientist who also knows a lot of theology. It is timely, in that it deals with a dangerous movement in some Catholic areas which I too have seen, and seen, what is worse, not only in America but even in Italy. (Luckily the Bench of Bishops stepped on it pretty sharp.) What I mean is the increasing desire to imitate Fundamentalists in their rejection of science and what amounts to a revolt against reason, which is of all things the least Catholic. Wiccans, atheists and pseudo-Buddhists may live on faith alone and disregard argument and evidence, but if Catholics do not believe in reason, they deny their religion and make it useless.

Read more... )
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Here is the link: As with everything that I have read of his, it is simple in style, penetrating, full of unexpected connections, and of vast learning lightly worn. But I am rather amused to hear that some people, even in the Curia, were surprised at its "uncontroversial" content and expected something on some contemporary concern such as bioethics. I am willing to bet that the enemies of the Church, if and when they read it, will not find uncontroversial. I am willing to bet that the likes of [profile] aerynalexander or [personal profile] kennahijja would find it offensive in a dozen ways, some of which I cannot even guess at, but some of which (such as the calm restatement of the Catholic view of sexual love as being the link between one man and one woman) absolutely glare from the page.

Damn Silly

Nov. 2nd, 2005 05:16 pm
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Of all the nuisances that bedevil suffering Christianity in these latter daysRead more... )
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Read more... )
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A couple of days ago, I reported on the worrying trends among the orthodox rebels in the American Catholic Church. One thing I mentioned was the unlovely sympathy of at least one or two writers in the Roman Catholic Faithful newsletter for Lefebvrite schismatics and their paranoid view of the world (e.g. Popes John XXIII and Paul VI were Communist sympathizers). Thinking about it, I think this has a bearing on the issue of how conspiracy theories come to be.

Roman Catholic Faithful arose, as a group, in areas where the intellectual and ritual malfeasance of the "liberal" infiltrators in the Catholic Church had reached epidemic proportion. The experience of genuine Catholics in those dioceses was of trying to push against a rubber wall, that always snapped back the harder you fought against it. It can, without fear of exaggeration, be described as an experience of persecution and conspiracy: those in power - parish priests, diocesan bureaucrats, vicars, bishops - coming together to deny the man-in-the-pew what was due to them as Catholics; and nowhere for genuine Catholics to turn, for the authorities just reinforced each other and excluded any opportunity of reform or even of orthodox practice (orthodox priests from before the era of current management were got rid of one way or another, and notoriously orthodox congregations left without a priest or even closed with the excuse of a "vocations crisis" which the establishment itself had engineered). No doubt the generation in power did not regard this sort of thing as a conspiracy, just as vigorous executive action to enforce a progressive attitude. But try telling that to the person who cannot even get a hearing!

So the founders of Roman Catholic Faithful experience something which is, from their point of view, pretty indistinguishable from a conspiracy. They feel smothered by a group of men in power who work hand in glove with each other to force on them things they do not want and deny them even the shadow of justice. Then it develops. These rebellious faithful go to Rome; and for some reason or another they are disappointed. And they come to believe what their own enemies have told them (I quote)): "Rome will let ten thousand priests be shot rather than hurt one bishop." It is nonsense, of course. But they have had such an experience of constant rejection and ignoring that they take it seriously.

What happens to the mind of these people? That they project backwards, into an imagined past, the conspiracy which they feel to exist (and which, in some manner, does exist - at least as a convergence of interests and beliefs that leaves no space for opposition) in the present. They feel that if a conspiracy exists, then it was born as a conspiracy. They do not realize that it is often objective conditions that lead to such convergences of interests and beliefs. And they do not believe that, in so far conspiracies may have existed, they may have been penny-ante items taking place locally, not vast things that involve the world. This is part of a patter of historical ignorance. To them, the Church at present is what they experience, there and then, in Springfield or Rochester or Albany; but the Church in the past is the Church of the Popes, one single entity existing in Rome. Thus they assume that the current state of their diocese has a chain of origins that begins in Rome. They ignore purely local factors: they know nothing of how their church was fifty or a hundred years ago, or how certain local events in places such as New York or Philadelphia may have affected them.

But the basic element is the retrojection of present experience into the past. This is how conspiracy theories are born. It is an aspect of a greater feature of human thought, that events always create their own prehistory in people's minds. Like those interpretations of Russian or German history where everything concurs to the ultimate result of Communism or Nazism. It is a state of mind that I find inimical to good history, but there are a lot of historians who consciously or unconsciously cultivate it.
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I remain convinced of the utter necessity of reforming many branches of the Catholic Church, especially the American, Brazilian, German and Dutch ones, to clear them of the so-called Liberals. People who don't like the kind of thing that the Catholic Church has been for 1900 years have, these days, a supermarket's worth of alternative products to buy, including some which claim Apostolic Succession and allow them the fun, should they wish to, of taking part in beautifully conducted traditional rituals, rich with vestments and incense. There is no need for people who never believed any of the major Church dogmas to stay in a body whose views they oppose. The trouble is that, for forty years now, they have stayed and tried to subvert it from the inside. It was an absurd enterprise anyway, but it has succeeded just as much as it ever could - sowing scandal among the faithful, encouraging the Church's enemies, leading to sin and to schism.

However, I am more and more worried by the spirit that seems to be unleashing itself in North America now that the "liberals" are, at long last, on the defensive.Read more... )


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