“Maybe God is telling us that the kind of tepid Christianity we find in the northern hemisphere is no longer vigorous enough to face the challenges the Church is faced with,” and so God gave us an Argentinian pope, says the Archbishop of Philadelphia and, we’re proud to say, frequent First Things contributor Charles Chaput, speaking to Vatican Insider.
Maybe mediocrity in our faith isn’t worthy of God’s son or of our own destiny as baptized Christians. The Church in Latin America is alive, and the United States itself is becoming more Latino by the year. It’s a good time for the universal Church to acknowledge that new reality, and an Argentine Pope embodies it.
In reflecting on the pope’s choice of the name Francis, he said “I’m a Capuchin Franciscan myself, and I think many people have a mistaken image of Francis of Assisi in their heads as a kind of flower child or 13th century hippie.”
The real man wasn’t anything like that. He was certainly “counter-cultural” — but only in his radical poverty; his radical obedience to the Church; and his radical insistence on living the Gospel fully, including all of its uncomfortable demands. That’s the kind of purity that leads to a genuine rebuilding of Church life. One other thing: The most important quality about St. Francis was his commitment to “fraternity,” being a brother. Pope Francis is already showing that in relation to the cardinals — riding the bus with them is just one small example — and asking the people to pray for him.
“What Nostra Aetate failed to do was to tell the truth about the essence of God’s Grace and Mercy, the truth about our Salvation,” writes a reader of the weblog. (Nostra Aetate is the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions and a continuing source of controversy to some.)
The writer quoted Jesus’ statement that “No one can come to The Father except through me” as an argument for the declaration that “the Jews and Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians do.” As stated, it seems an air tight argument — only those who know Jesus see the Father, therefore people who don’t know Jesus, don’t — but in fact it’s a nice example of the point many people have made (Chesterton put it rather well) that logic can easily lead one astray, and in this case can bring someone to a position at least close to anti-semitism. Reality is ultimately reasonable but its reasonableness is something we don’t necessarily see because we don’t have all the facts, or perhaps ignore the ones that don’t fit our logic.
As here. For if the reader is right in that reading of the New Testament, what was Jesus doing worshipping in the synagogue?
One of the respondents to my Writers Need Rejection objected to (I’m assuming) the title and the writer I quoted who called rejection a “benefit.” He wrote:
Rejection per se is not especially useful, but the experience Tom Gilson describes is–a rejection that includes specific comments explaining why the editor is saying no. The printed form with no hint at why something is unacceptable is not useful, so “rejection” by itself isn’t, either.
I know how he feels, but as a writer and as an editor who works with writers, including new and would-be writers, I think rejection quite a good thing for writers to experience. Not enjoyable, not pleasant, not encouraging, but good.
For one thing, it’s a very good test of your vocation. If you don’t have enough confidence in your work to keep trying when editors keep saying no, and saying no by form letter, you’re not going to be happy doing it for the rest of your life, even if you’re eventually more successful. The New Yorker rejected twenty-seven of James Thurber’s submissions before accepting one, but he knew what he wanted to do and knew he was good at it.
For another, it provides necessary training in the way the game is played. The reality is that few magazines are going to give you a detailed response and some won’t even respond. The writer needs to learn this and learn to deal with it. If he can’t, he shouldn’t try to write for publication.
We try to say something useful when we turn down a submission, but sometimes one can’t, being busy or having nothing useful to say. And in some cases the writers clearly have no calling to write and encouraging them by criticizing their writing would be unkind, and not only to them but to the poor editors whose time they’d be wasting.
Third, it’s a usefully chastening experience. “You’re not special” is something the typical writer — and especially the typical young writer — needs to have drilled into him, and it is a lesson most of us resist because we are special, can’t you see that, you thick editor? The editorial judgment that a form letter implies writers need to see and feel.
Fourth, it forces the writer to think harder about what he’s doing and why it didn’t work for these magazines. Knowing what you can do and figuring out what a particular magazine needs and how you can meet its needs is one of the most important skills a writer must develop, and it’s a skill best developed on one’s own. Editorial comments can actually keep the writer from doing the reading and thinking he needs to do.
And finally, a series of form letter rejections may be a sign that you really aren’t called to write or aren’t called to write at the level you think you are. Not everyone who wants to write or thinks he has something to say is or does. This is something only flat, repeated rejection will teach you.
Writers do need rejection, and by form letter too.
Jewish Leaders Welcome Francis described the response to his election from people like the head of the World Jewish Congress and the president of Israel. But there is more to be said, of course, and Jewish writers are beginning to say it. In Is a Jesuit Good For Jews?, the Weinberg Chair of Judaic Studies at Scranton University, a Jesuit institution, answers the title question “If the welcome my colleagues and I have received at our respective Jesuit institutions is any guide, then the answer must be a resounding, ‘Good, very good.’”
But only after tracing out the Jesuit order’s troubled history of its relation with the Jews. The history Marc Shapiro describes can be summarized as: Start out rather well, get worse, stay worse, sometimes behave any worse than that, and finally get better. As for the getting better:
While anti-Jewish prejudice is an unfortunate part of Jesuit history that can’t be overlooked, this is not the whole story by any means. There were always Jesuits who carried the spirit of Ignatius and fought against the prejudice that many of their brothers had succumbed to. It was none other than a German Jesuit, Augustin Bea, who played a central, indeed crucial role in the release of Nostra Aetate in 1965, which set the church firmly against anti-Semitism and inaugurated a new era in Catholic-Jewish relations.
Bea’s spirit of tolerance now characterizes the order as a whole, and Jesuits take a leading role in Catholic-Jewish dialogue. While Vatican II had as one of its goals ending anti-Jewish prejudice among Catholics, it is worth noting that, as an Internet search will illustrate, a good deal of contemporary rabid anti-Catholic sentiment focuses on the Jesuits, seeing them as in alliance with, or even controlled by, the Jews.
In an interesting article on Christian fantasy writing (which I never read for the same reason the author doesn’t read much of it, though he writes it), Lars Walker says two things about writing useful for writers of all sorts to know. First,
Writing is a craft, like shoemaking. I don’t care how sincerely the guy who made my shoes loves shoes. The main thing I want from him is expertise, the practiced knowledge of how to put together a shoe that fits, won’t give me blisters, and lasts a while. Your sincerity may please God, but He also says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23, NIV). It’s possible you may be a prodigy, a literary Mozart capable of amazing the world right out of the gate. But probably not.
I’d add to this that the writer has to want to perfect his craft and he ought to want to do that not only as for the Lord but because he’s driven to do the thing he’s been given to do as well as he possibly can. People who do things for others, even God, eventually decide they’ve done well enough — the readers and God’ll understand, they think, when the work gets too wearing — while the person driven to perfect his craft will never stop working at it.
I’m kind of sad for young writers today. You have much less opportunity to enjoy a benefit we old-timers had in abundance—rejection. Oh, we hated those editors who sent us their mimeographed rejection slips—“We’re sorry, but your work does not meet our present needs.” We railed at them as Philistines who hated and feared new ideas, guarding the gates of the Inner Chamber for the benefit of their rich, famous cronies.
But oh, what a joy it was to get that first acceptance letter! It didn’t come easy, that letter. One story at a time, rejection after rejection, we learned to prune and tighten our prose, and that first acceptance was a sign that we’d finally earned our way inside the Gates (only, finally, to look down with pitying contempt on those amateurs who cluttered the desks of “our” editors with their puerile, formless scribblings).
Such editors hardly exist anymore. Today’s writers, so often self-published (I’m not speaking in contempt; I’m self-publishing now myself), lack that thick wall to chop through, that sparring partner to toughen them up. I read so many self-published books now that leave me saying, “This writer has a good story and interesting characters. All he needs is a real editor to tell him to cut out the dead wood.”
The editor will also tell the reader where to put the good wood, where he needs to add more, how he needs to trim and paint the wood, etc. But the writer has to realize that he’s being helped.
Anyway, good advice from Walker, as well as interesting insights into writing fantasy books.
Update: By “wearing” I meant that point where the effort required produces smaller and smaller gains and you really don’t want to go through the thing yet again, but know that doing so will bring it closer to what it ought to be. It is almost always true, as Auden is supposed to have said, that a poem (or any kind of writing) is never finished, only abandoned, but the real writer will only abandon it when he has to, not when he wants to, which is usually several revisions before he has to.
Sometimes people just do things differently. Doing one thing when your predecessor did another doesn’t necessarily mean you’re thinking about him at all, much less indirectly criticizing him. Yet the “Francis is different than Benedict, therefore Francis is criticizing Benedict” line is one you find in many articles on the new pope.
Like this one, in an article on Slate by a disgruntled traditionalist: “Already some of the small breaks with liturgical tradition at the announcement of his election are being interpreted as a move toward the grand, unruly, and improvisational style of John Paul II; an implicit rebuke of Benedict.” Ignoring that backside-covering “are being interpreted” and “implicit,” why in the world should a matter of a person’s style be considered a rebuke at all?
Maybe, as seems true from what we’ve learned about him in the last two days, the new pope is more informal, or less interested in formality, than the previous one. The grand, unruly, and improvisational style may be his by nature, something he just does without thinking about it. That may be a good thing or a bad thing or a mixture, but it doesn’t mean he’s rebuking Benedict, even implicitly.
Not everything is political. Sometimes people are just people.
Pope Francis is “an experienced man, someone who is known for his open-mindedness . . . a man of dialogue, a man who is able to build bridges with other faiths,” says Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, conveying the group’s “warm congratulations” to the new pope. “He always had an open ear for our concerns. By choosing such an experienced man, someone who is known for his open-mindedness, the cardinals have sent an important signal to the world. I am sure that Pope Francis I will continue to be a man of dialogue, a man who is able to build bridges with other faiths.”
“We went out to the barrios where Jews and Catholics were suffering togeher,” says the former heard of the WJC, Israel Singer. “If everyone sat in chairs with handles, he would sit in the one without. He was always looking to be more modest. He’s going to find it hard to wear all these uniforms.”
In congratulating Francis, the American Jewish Committee said, “Pope Francis has demonstrated his profound solidarity with the Jewish community in Argentina in both times of sorrow and joy. We look forward to continued close collaboration with the Catholic Church under his leadership as we have been privileged to enjoy with his predecessors.” Rabbi David Rosen had much more to say, all very positive (Francis himself is “a warm, sweet, and modest man”), in a video recorded in Jerusalem.
“We believe that the election of Francis I is a significant moment in the history of the Church,” says the the Anti-Defamation League in congratulating Francis. ”We look forward to working with him to continue to foster Catholic-Jewish relations as we have with his predecessors. There is much in his record that reassures us about the future,” says the ADL, going on to describe his support of and friendships with Argentina’s Jewish community.
“We know his values and strengths. We have no doubt he will do a great job leading the Catholic Church,” says Claudio Epelman of the Latin American Jewish Congress, referring to the Congress’s “close relationship” with the new pope. (In its story reporting Jewish responses, the Jewish Daily Forward subtitled the story “Pontiff earned reputation as humble friend of community.”)
Israel’s president Shimon Peres says Francis “represents devotion, the love of God, the love of peace, a holy modesty and a new continent which is now awakening, . . . He will remind all of us, as a shepherd of our time, that the Lord loves the poor, not only the mighty, that the Lord calls us to peace not for hatred, that the Lord calls us to serve each other, to build a world where people are together without hatred.”
Stephen Schmalhofer sends this quote from G. K. Chesterton on St. Francis of Assisi, appropriate for this day, and appropriate too as the basis for a prayer for the new Holy Father:
The servants of God who had been a besieged garrison became a marching army; the ways of the world were filled as with thunder with the trampling of their feet and far ahead of that ever swelling host went a man singing; as simply he had sung that morning in the winter woods, where he walked alone.
Larry the Vatican II guy explains the new translation of the Mass, the nature of conscience, and the Novus Ordo. The instruction (delivered by his guest) is helpful too, though the jokes are sometimes a little harsh. Here, for example, from the second one (though the jokes lose a little without the sound and the context):
Larry: Now as everyone knows Vatican II was a new Pentecost.
Guest: What was wrong with the first one?
Larry: It was pre-conciliar.
Larry: Today we’re going to discuss how Vatican II corrected centuries of error by teaching us that we can now follow our conscience.
Guest: We were always able to follow our conscience.
Larry: Wow. You mean you were using birth control too?
Larry: Vatican II says we are now heart people, not head people.
The best thing the new pope could do is to reclaim the Petrine ministry for what it is: Let him be the bishop of Rome, the first among equals. Our pick for new pope would be the man who embraces the Vatican II call for collegiality and acts on it.
“Vatican II! Vatican II!” is the progressive Catholic’s eternal cry, which I discussed in these pages before. Now what does Vatican II actually say about the pope and the bishops? This, from Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church:
[T]he college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power.
The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church, and made him shepherd of the whole flock; it is evident, however, that the power of binding and loosing, which was given to Peter, was granted also to the college of apostles, joined with their head.
This college, insofar as it is composed of many, expresses the variety and universality of the People of God, but insofar as it is assembled under one head, it expresses the unity of the flock of Christ. In it, the bishops, faithfully recognizing the primacy and pre-eminence of their head, exercise their own authority for the good of their own faithful, and indeed of the whole Church, the Holy Spirit supporting its organic structure and harmony with moderation.
Not what the phrase “first among equals” usually means and definitely not, we can be sure, what NCR‘s editors mean by it. A collegial relation, yes, but not a collegiality within a million miles of kind of the reticent, deferential, detached, stay-at-home papacy the editors want and in support of which they invoke a Council that said nothing, nothing at all, of the sort.
My thanks to my friend William Tighe for the link to Fr. Z’s vexed comments on the editorial, which gave me the idea for the comparison.
“There is also a general tendency to think that human failings can be righted by introducing structures and regulations, but while these have a role they cannot of themselves produce understanding, and often they are the enemy of it,” says Scottish philosopher and First Things contributor John Haldane, is a long interview in 3AM: Magazine called Aquinas Among the Analytics.
Secularists, in the modern sense, tend to depict religious believers as dumb and angry; while believers incline to the view that atheists are shallow and bullying. This kind of opposition feeds on itself and leads to deeper animosity. One way of halting the process is to engage in discussion, recognising that there may be reasonable disagreements, I mean possibly intractable differences expressing reasonable outlooks.
This is not to endorse relativism but to recognize that our takes on things tend to be partial and it is very difficult to get to a comprehensive understanding. That is not impossible but it takes the full resources of philosophy, and goodness of heart and will besides.
He is a frequent participant in debates with people like the late Christopher Hitchens and new atheists in general. The interviewer says that he’s presented an attractive version of Thomism but that [recitation of cultural leftist cliches about "extreme rightwing Christianity" being "bullying" and hateful etc.] and then asks “Haven’t you been hijacked by a very different agenda?”
Through this kind of exchange, Haldane replies, “Catholics learn to draw distinctions.” The distinctions, for example,
between the value of an office and the quality of its occupants; the content of the message and the character of the messengers; the dignity of persons and the wrongfulness of human actions; adherence to truth and tolerance of disagreement among truth-seekers; and between what is attainable naturally and what requires grace. I would add a further threefold distinction: between orthodoxy and heterodoxy (which pertain to religious belief and practice); traditionalism and progressivism (which relate to broadly cultural matters); and conservatism and liberalism (which operate in the sphere of secular politics).
I am critical of the politicisation of religion and of the assumption that these three distinctions line-up so that orthodoxy goes with traditionalism and with conservatism, while liberalism and progressivism go with heterodoxy. There are various possible permutations and the failure to see this, or to explore issues individually and not as a total package is a marked fault on both sides of the political/cultural/religion wars.
It is an illuminating and engaging interview, of interest to philosophers and to the rest of us, though there are places the latter will have to run a little to keep up. The interview also includes a long discussion of St. Thomas Aquinas, including his use by philosophers like Wittgenstein, other philosophical traditions and their effect on Christian metaphysics, philosophy of mind, Elizabeth Anscombe (of whom he says “I think there was something of the existentialist or spiritual writer about her in the sense that she thought that the significance of a fact would only be evident to someone who was looking to find or to escape from it”), the problems with Hume, the value of the Scottish Enlightenment.
Some economists have argued that the United States could flourish in permanent debt and even with an increasing debt, with sophisticated arguments the non-economist can’t really judge. The ones I read never raised the question of when the limit will be reached as presumably it must eventually (see Greece, Italy, etc.). There is also the question of who holds the debt and to what self-interested ends they might put the power this gives them.
In any case, adding debt to debt can’t possibly be sustainable, a point this video makes amusingly.
This Pope has never given in on anything, I don’t believe in a possible surrender, as someone says. Secularization, moreover, is an ancient issue; don’t you think the Papacy had an even harder time during Risorgimento’s secularized Italy? In case, it was more internal inconsistency and compromises that must have concerned him.
Asked about his wishes for the conclave, Di Segni answered,
The key issues to us are: survival and world impact. We rejoice that at a time when radical Islam is thriving, the Church is amicable. Luckily Providence created an awkward alternation through the centuries. . . . World impact means creativity, realizing that our push to modernity is a positive drive. Hence, [we welcome] a non-hostile Pope that favours an in-progress alliance with us.
He speaks well of Benedict and his relation to Jews, a “clear relationship” in which the pope “emphasized [Christianity's] continuity with Judaism.” But, said the newspaper, Benedict’s “dialogue with Jews did not look so brilliant when he stated that dialogue was a fuction of evangelization.” Di Segni replied:
You see, I still have to find a Christian on earth, who does not think it is bizarre that Jews do not yet believe in Jesus Christ. The issue then is what they do with this diagnosis, if then they think that these “perfidi Giudei” urgently need to be converted, or else if the matter will one day be solved in its eschatological dimension. Mutual respect is actually what is needed. . . . Benedict XVI presented it to us, even more.
It’s hard to know exactly what he said, this being a translation, but very many Christians, including Benedict, don’t think it “bizarre” or even difficult to understand why Jews do not become Christians. We haven’t exactly made the most winsome appeal through history. But that aside, it is an interesting and encouraging interview.
A friend with a taste for newspaper archives and curiosities sends this link: a Catholic Herald story from 1967 titled Bunnies’ Sunday survey. An interdenominational magazine called Sunday surveyed the “bunnies” from the London Playboy club and found:
Nearly half the girls are C. of E. [Church of England, i.e., Anglican], a third Catholic, including a convert, several are Baptists and one is a Spiritualist. Half the girls never go to church, except for the occasional wedding, the Baptists go infrequently, one Anglican goes every six to eight weeks and the Catholics go every Sunday when they are not working.
They all said they prayed, but when asked if they’d prayed to become a bunny, “they all replied with a resounding ‘No’.”
When, almost eight years ago, on April 19th, , I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I held steadfast in this certainty, which has always accompanied me. In that moment, as I have already stated several times, the words that resounded in my heart were: “Lord, what do you ask of me? It a great weight that You place on my shoulders, but, if You ask me, at your word I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide me” – and the Lord really has guided me. He has been close to me: daily could I feel His presence.
[These years] have been a stretch of the Church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments joy and light, but also difficult moments. I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been – and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so.
This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.
Benedict steps down at 8 p.m. tomorrow. I trust his decision, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church, but it still makes me sad.
“If you value the work that religious enterprises do, if you value the free exercise of religion, then you’re going to at least be sensitive to regulatory mandates that impose new and often pretty burdensome costs on them,” our friend and writer Richard Garnett told NPR yesterday. The host, Jennifer Ludden, pressed him on the application of this to soup kitchens and similar works the government regulates. Rick replied:
I guess I don’t think of this as being a competition. I mean, churches provide clothing to the naked and food to the hungry because they feel called to do so. I think it’s kind of a mistake when people act as though the government is doing churches a favor by letting them engage in this social welfare ministry. I mean, churches were doing this long before governments ever got the idea to do it.
And so long as these social welfare services, these good works, are being done in a way that’s safe, it seems to me that it’s not really the government’s place to say look, we want to make sure that you’re doing this in the same way that government agencies do. Again, it’s not a competition.
It’s a long and very helpful interview taking up the practical legal matters of religious liberty, like the question of the limits of regulation when similar non-religious enterprises are regulated, and including other issues the idea of a “philosophical objection” available to people who have principled objections to some government requirement but no specific religious commitment. The other guest, who appears first, is John Witte, the director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University.
“A university academic has criticised David Attenborough’s wildlife shows for not featuring enough gay animals,” reports The Independent. The academic, named Mills, who I hope is a very, very distant relative, writing in the European Journal of Cultural Studies, says
‘The central role in documentary stories of pairing, mating and raising offspring commonly rests on assumptions of heterosexuality within the animal kingdom.’
Dr Mills says this perception is created by the documentaries despite evidence that show animals have ‘complex and changeable forms of sexual activity, with heterosexuality only one of many possible options.’
One recognizes the human agenda in this, partly in the making of animals’ normal behavior into “only one of many possible options.” But in any case it doesn’t mean anything for human life and morals. As it happens, I wrote about this in the While We’re At It section of the January issue, after a conversation with an earnest young man who seemed to think it did mean something for human life and morals.
• Some animals are homosexual, said the young man, mentioning two male penguins who reportedly raised a chick together, though the one news story we saw did not say whether the two were, um, romantically involved. Conservative activists had long used the supposed absence of such actions among animals as a moral argument against such actions by humans, which seemed unwise and has proven to be so.
Their understanding of the Fall was deficient, and their identification of “natural” confused a way of thinking about who we really are and how we ought to act, with “natural” meaning the life we observe in nature. Using that logic, homosexualist activists now invoke these animals as a moral argument for the good of human homosexuality.
“Duh,” noted our friend Gregory Laughlin of Samford University’s law school, who grew up on a farm. “I’ve seen two boars ‘together.’ So what? Animals also viciously kill one another, even their own kind. Does that make murder ‘natural’ and, therefore, licit among humans?”
It gets worse: “Many animals have multiple sex partners, and the male is often uninvolved in caring for his offspring. Does that make adultery, promiscuity, and paternal abandonment ‘natural’ and, therefore, licit among humans?
“Animals go into a frenzy when fed, pushing others out of the way and even trampling others to get to the food. Does that make greed, gluttony, covetousness, and theft ‘natural’ and, therefore, licit among humans?”
And there’s that verse about the dog returning to its vomit . . . .
“I do find it a puzzling quality of liberal Christians that they tend to get excited when something that had been a cherished belief or practice of the Church is shown to have been false,” says Rod Dreher, commenting on a new book by a Notre Dame historian who says that the early Church’s stories of martyrdom were false. According to the Amazon description, presumably supplied by the publisher:
In The Myth of Persecution, Candida Moss reveals that the “Age of Martyrs” is a fiction—there was no sustained three-hundred-year-long effort by the Romans to persecute Christians. Instead, these stories were pious exaggerations; highly stylized rewritings of Jewish, Greek, and Roman noble death traditions; and even forgeries designed to marginalize heretics, inspire the faithful, and fund churches.
Rod is concerned with the uses to which Candida Moss’s history, true or false, is put — which is of course the same concern Moss applies to the stories of martyrdom — in particular to advance “the perverse joy with which many liberal Christians meet the scholarly dismantling of their religion and religious tradition.” It doesn’t disprove her arguments, as he points out, though it does give one reason to interrogate them, as academics like to say.
What’s sauce for the goose, etc.: if the early Christians exaggerated or invented stories to advance their cause, modern scholars may deny them to advance theirs. HarperOne knows what sells. Neither early Christian nor modern scholar (nor modern publisher) will necessarily be actively dishonest, but simply bending to the pressures their world presents them and reading the evidence through the biases their situation provides them. Scholars, for example, can slip into thinking that because some people could have benefitted, or did benefit, from a story that they made up the story. The method invites the conclusion.
What we do know certainly makes the stories plausible, even if examination may reveal that some of them may not be true. As people are always pointing out, Christians have persecuted Christians a lot through history, especially when political or dynastic or commercial interests were involved. See England in the sixteenth century, for one example of ecumenical killing. And as we know from the news, other ideologies and religions — Communist regimes and Muslim governments and societies in particular — persecute Christians today and have been, in the case of the Communist regimes, doing it for a century. That the Romans would from time to time and in various places have marked out the Christians and locked them up or killed them seems more likely than not.
Update: I should have said in the opening line “. . . who said (if her publisher is to be believed) that . . .”. Publishers do exaggerate for effect, but still, authors are also responsible for the publishers they choose.
Catholic World News reports that Benedict may be more seriously ill than thought. Peter Seewald, the German journalist who interviewed him, met him a few weeks ago and reports that he was exhausted, losing his hearing and sight in one eye, and had lost so much weight he needed new vestments. We redouble our prayers.
Benedict may say that divided Christians must “keep in view just how much we have in common . . . in terms of the great deposit of sacred Scripture and the early Christian creeds,” as Matthew Schmitz wrote yesterday, and some modern Lutherans may agree, but this is not universally held by Luther’s Protestant descendants. One knows this, of course, but relations between serious Evangelicals and Catholics have progressed so far even in the last decade that one assumes that now only the self-described Fundamentalists, at the margins even of their own world, insist on the extreme Protestant rejection of Rome.
You don’t assume that Timothy George and his peers in Evangelicals and Catholics Together speak for everyone on their side of things, but you do assume that the traditional sharp rejection of Catholics and Catholicism has died away. Our Protestant friends obviously think their Catholic friends very seriously mistaken on several very basic matters, but they don’t think of us as dangers to the Faith. Even if many conservative Protestants aren’t as generous as Timothy et al., he and his peers represent the largest application of a liberality now general among those Christians.
But then today, reading a blog written by serious and thoughtful Calvinists who haven’t in the past shown much interest in attacking the Catholic Church, I came across an item commending as thoughtful, worth engaging, etc., in a way that suggested the author thought the writer was on to something, a paper that described Catholicism as a religion competing with true Christianity and in fact deeply anti-Christian, a false religion that loudly repudiates the true Gospel and is as bad today as it was at the Reformation, an apostate body that tells infernal lies and has murdered true believers, a deep spiritual threat to all mankind, and finally, the Devil’s kingdom and the enemy of the Lord which he prays the Lord will quickly destroy. The writer is willing to say that the pope is not necessarily the anti-Christ but insists that he’s at least one of the anti-Christs. (He also insists, bafflingly to me, that abstaining from meat expresses a damnable heresy.)
One reads this with the surprise mixed with concern one feels upon watching a man betting all his savings on the Mets or the Pirates winning the 2013 World Series in four games. I’m certainly not offended, and respect the writer’s sincerity and consistency, and am not worried that the paper will have any effect, even to confirm the prejudices of the people who read it. It’s an echo chamber kind of paper.
But I am surprised by the recommendation, which was close to a commendation, coming from someone within the mainstream of the serious confessional Calvinist world. These are people with whom, I would have said from my own experiences with them, the Catholic can speak, but apparently not so freely or easily as I would have said, since some of them want the Lord to destroy our Church, now. It’s vexing. We have not moved as far as I had thought.
Later p.s.: This was purely coincidental, since I wrote this not knowing Timothy George had written an On the Square article for today, but for a contrast with the polemic described above see his Benedict XVI, the Great Augustinian. Timothy writes, for example, of “the Holy Father—we can still call him that until February 28.”
“If liberal individualists had campaigned against abortion, it would,” observes John Waters in the Irish Times, “have become unacceptable years ago.” (Thanks to my friend Mark Barrett for the tip.) Writing after joining in the annual March for Life during a trip to Washington, he explains:
My hunch is that, rather than opposing abortion per se, they would have concentrated on changing the meaning of pregnancy and birth. And I suspect they might have adapted for this purpose a particular aspect of the technology of modern reproductive care: the ultrasound image. . . .
Had liberals chosen to oppose abortion, they would have started somewhere like this – agitating for the recognition, perhaps legal registration, of unborn children long before autonomous “viability”.
In such a parallel world of possibility, we might now regard the moment of birth itself as relatively unimportant, a distracting and arbitrary instant in the growth of a human being.
Waters (who is not the famous American maker of perverse movies, just in case you were wondering) is the author of the very good book Lapsed Agnostic and other books well worth reading, and one of the few writers in the major Irish press saying things like this. Here’s another example:
One striking feature of the march was the high visibility of faith and religious groupings. This may seem a superfluous observation the way present-day culture is set up, the presence of crosses and rosaries provoking the tautological idea that objection to abortion is simply an expression of religiosity. This short circuit offers the culture a shallow explanation for the “pro-life” position.
In my experience, people do not oppose abortion because they are religious – they see the killing of unborn children as self-evidently barbarous for the same reasons that they recognise the religious dimension, which essentially relates to an acceptance of dependence and a certain view of human dignity.
Our friend and writer Alan Jacobs offers his thoughts on What editors think of writers, using as a taxonomy John Simon’s description of working with Auden (sloppy but easy-going), Trilling (willing to be convinced), and Barzun (don’t touch a thing, you inferior being). He describes himself as “definitely a Trilling,” but I would say, having edited him, that he’s a little on the Auden side of Trilling but with a little of the Barzun persona. Or maybe, now that I think of it, it would be more accurate to say that he begins on the Barzun side of Trilling and ends on the Auden.
This, by the way, is a description that would upset some writers — not Alan — who pride themselves on being difficult, because the difficulty they think a marker of their gifts. The real professional engages the editor, assuming he knows what he’s doing and that there’s a reason for his suggestions. The writer may not accept them (I don’t when I’m on the other side of the relation) but he responds to them.
I should add that the taxonomy is incomplete. It doesn’t include, for example, the writer who writes like Auden but acts like Barzun. There are a lot more of these than you might think. And it doesn’t include the writer who writes like Barzun and acts like Auden. Fortunately there are a lot more of these than you’d think.
A little late, but worth (I hope) pointing you to even so, my reflection on the old practice of a special abstinence in Lent, Just Give It Up. It begins:
Our eldest, then about two years old, one day announced “I want . . .” but did not finish the sentence. My wife and I waited for her to tell us what she wanted — to be picked up and rocked? a cup of milk? her stuffed bear? — but again she said only “I want” and let her voice trail off. She said it a third time, still sounding equally unsure about what she wanted. And then, with a look of enlightenment on her face, said in a loud, firm voice, “I want!”
There, I thought, was the fallen human condition expressed. We are creatures of ravenous, indiscriminate desire. We want this and we want that, but most of all, We Want.
Hence the value of Lent . . .
Giving something up is a discipline I came to as an adult and only started because it seemed the sort of thing Christians were supposed to do, though personally I wasn’t feeling it, and found doing so helped me a lot, as I explain in the article. It’s something I’m now a little evangelical about.
And before the more-spiritual-than-you commenters jump in: yes, it is also crucial to pray more and give more alms, but that’s not my subject. My subject is this part of the training program.
So just do it. You’ll feel better. Well, okay, you’ll probably feel worse, but then you’ll feel better.