Happy Friday! Here’s what you should read before you disappear into the weekend:
New York Events:
Film Screening of “Eggsploitation”
Tuesday, December 10
First Things is showing “Eggsploitation” and will host a Q&A with the director, producer, and writer, Jennifer Lahl. Please join us for a cheese and wine reception at 6:00 p.m., followed by the screening of the film. RSPV here.
Beauty and the Real
Saturday, December 14
The next installment of the “The Art of the Beautiful” lecture series will be given by Alice Ramos of St. John’s University. Thanks to the Catholic Artists Society and the Thomistic Institute for hosting these wonderful lectures. More information here.
The Big Apple from Skin to Core
Wednesday, December 18
Crossroads Cultural Center and Fordam University’s Curran Center for American Catholic Studies offer “an evening of poetry, jazz and photographs.” With live performances in a number of media, this free event takes as its inspiration “Poetic Images of New York.”
And in Washington, D.C.:
Smithsonian Exhibit: Freer’s Bibles
November 16, 2013–February 16, 2014
“This installation showcases . . . antique works—a parchment codex of Deuteronomy and Joshua, and the so-called Washington codex (the third oldest parchment manuscript of the Gospels).” Find out more here.
Father Edward Oakes, S.J., distinguished theologian, gifted writer and teacher, generous ecumenist, and our friend, has died, of pancreatic cancer, at 8:00 this morning. The announcement from the Academy of Catholic Theology, of which Father Oakes was president, reports:
Father Oakes entered the Society of Jesus in 1966, and was ordained a priest in 1979. He received his doctorate in theology from Union Theological Seminary in 1987. He taught at New York University, Regis University, and Mundelein Seminary, where he was deeply loved and valued by his colleagues, students, and indeed everyone on the staff as well.
He was a major contributor to the ecumenical magazine First Things on theological and scientific topics, and a longtime close friend of Father Richard John Neuhaus. For close to two decades he was an influential member of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. He was a founding member of the Academy of Catholic Theology and was elected president of the Academy in May 2013.
A deeply cultured man, Father Oakes enlivened everything of which he was a part by his penetrating intelligence and warm, friendly spirit. He was an esteemed translator of the works of Hans Urs von Balthasar and others. He was the author and editor of important works such as Infinity Dwindled to Infancy: A Catholic and Evangelical Christology, Pattern of Redemption: The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, and The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar.
To say that Father Oakes will be sorely missed is a profound understatement. Let us pray for his soul as he enters into the infinitely loving communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as an adopted son in Jesus Christ!
Many of us here got to know him through Evangelicals and Catholics Together and his occasional visits to the office. Father Ed was a witty and entertaining guest, the kind who enlivens dinner parties, but also a man of weight and insight, the kind who deepens dinner parties—and then enlivens them again. The enlivening and deepening expressed not just his gifts and personality (both of which were large) but his concern for people (which was also large), that is, his character. He will be missed, on many levels.
We commend him to your prayers.
Phillip, thanks for these profound reflections on how Genesis reveals what is distinct about human sexuality. Your central observation that “mutual help and companionship,” rather than reproduction, is what makes human sexuality distinctively human is urgently relevant to our efforts to advocate humane sexuality in the public square. When dealing with the intersection of Christianity with human culture, the central question is almost always “what does it mean to be human?” When dealing with issues of sexuality, then, we should remember that reproduction is only one part—and not the most important part—of the total union of two human beings in marriage.
This is so urgent because the cultural environment is currently structured in such a way that if we don’t make continual efforts to balance our approach, we will be constantly forced into presenting a radically truncated picture of humane sexuality. As the culture has fragmented, political conflict has displaced deeper and more holistic approaches to culture. This has happened across all issues, but perhaps nowhere more obviously than in issues of sexuality. Political conflict, in turn, requires us to focus on the aspect of sexuality most relevant to law and policy—reproduction. As a result, our neighbors constantly hear Christians talking about marriage and sexuality only as a means to reproduction. Naturally and rightly, they cringe with horror when they hear their marriages described in utilitarian terms, as tools for accomplishing a public policy objective, even an objective so noble as providing a better environment for the upbringing of children.
If Christianity is going to present to the culture a picture of humane sexuality that is plausible and appealing—if it is going to present a picture of humane sexuality that is really humane—Christians need to be aware of the danger of constantly reducing the Christian vision of sexuality and marriage to mere reproduction under the pressure of political imperatives.
Holiday Shopping and the Class Divide
Brandon McGinley, Acculturated
Casuistry and Torture
Aaron Taylor, Ethika Poltika
Bursting the Hirshhorn’s Bubble
Bruce Cole, New Criterion
Would Someone Just Shut That Pope Up?
Patrick J. Deneen, American Conservative
How to Make Walking Cool
Wayne Curtis, Smart Set
It’s striking—or it should be—that Genesis does not mention “male and female” until it comes to the human creation (1:27). Before that there’s seed bearing fruit and the blessing of procreation, “be fruitful and multiply,” which establishes the sexual reproduction of the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. In that sense it’s obvious that male and female are present before the creation of Adam. So why is it first mentioned then?
Once again, as in yesterday’s post, I’m thinking this is artistry, not oversight. There’s a sense in which humanity is more truly, more fully male and female than the beasts of the field. Also more problematically male and female—as it turns out in Genesis 3, when things go awry between Adam and his wife.
And once again, comparison of the two creation stories reinforces the striking point. In the second chapter of Genesis, we read of God and man together searching for a suitable helper for Adam, as if neither had noticed that all the beasts of the field already had sexual partners, suitable for procreation. And as if the human male and female, here called “man and woman” (ish and ishshah, Gen. 2:23), were not brought together for the sake of sexual reproduction, but for the sake of mutual help and companionship. The woman is not described as a mother—being named Eve, because she is the mother of all living—until after death has decisively entered human consciousness (Gen. 3:20).
It seems clear enough: The new thing that the human being brings to creation is not sex but marriage. This implies that “male and female” mean something different, richer, among human beings than among the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Indeed, Genesis seems to be suggesting, they are revealed in their full meaning only in the human creation, in man and woman.
This is a weighty matter if, as I was suggesting yesterday, male and female are needed together for the perfection of creation, just as heaven is not complete without the earth. Creation is not whole until the two become one. This looks more inevitable—we could say “natural”—in the unity of heaven and earth than in the union of man and woman, where human will and love are required in obedience to the word of the creator.
So matters get more weighty still. The human creation too is governed by a kind of natural law, but it is one that can be violated. The two become one flesh, but not the same way as the beasts of the field. It does not happen without the word of God and, alas, the disobedience of man. And that will affect even the relation of heaven and earth. It will begin a drama of sin and redemption, from which will emerge also the drama of human politics. Not long after the dissension between the man and his wife will come the dissension between Abel and Cain. At stake is nothing less than the goodness of God’s creation. As it is today.
Happy Thursday! Here’s what we have for you today.
And, finally, Dana Gioia’s article in our December issue, “The Catholic Writer Today,” is now out from behind the paywall. So go on! Send it to all your friends!
There is a striking omission from the Hebrew text of Genesis 1, on the second day of creation. It is the day when God creates Heaven, and the omission is that he does not see it as good. Every other day of creation has God seeing that his work is good, but not this one. The omission is so striking that the ancient Greek translation, the Septuagint, supplies what is missing in v. 8: “And God saw that it was good.”
Suppose the omission is deliberate, a piece of artistry rather than an oversight. What is it telling us? Perhaps we can learn from another striking moment in Genesis, which takes place in the next chapter, when instead of seeing his creation as good the LORD God looks at Adam and says, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (2:18). After all the times he saw his creation as good in Genesis 1, here what he sees is something that is not good. It’s a jarring word, but it resonates with the omission in the first chapter.
When God sees his work as good, Everett Fox suggests in the notes to his translation, The Five Books of Moses, it is “reminiscent of ancient Near Eastern descriptions of a craftsman being pleased with his work.” Aristotle uses the word “good” in a similar way, when he associates it with the final cause, the end of a process of coming into being, including the craftsman’s work of making or building something. The craftsman says, “It’s good!” when the work is completed. “All done!” we say in a resonant English phrase, corresponding to the underlying notion of the Latin term perfectus, which is to be thoroughly done or made, per-factus. Hence in the original sense of the term, the perfect is the completed. That is why an unfinished work of music is an opus imperfectum—not because it is flawed or blemished but because it is incomplete.
God does not see the work of the second day of creation as good because he knows it is unfinished. You might think that heaven is such a great and wondrous thing that it must be good in and of itself, but God does not see it that way. Heaven is not the perfection of God himself but a created thing, and it is not yet done being created when it is alone. The creation Genesis has to tell us of is heaven and earth together. The one without the other incomplete, imperfect, unfinished—not all done, and therefore not yet good.
And so it is with the man, Adam. You might think that man is such a great and wondrous thing that he is good in and by himself, but God does not see it that way. As heaven without earth is an unfinished work—not yet good—the man without his wife is not yet a completed creation. The craftsman is not satisfied until he sees the two together making one whole. We do not have humanity perfected until the two become one flesh.
So it is a profound teaching when Jesus instructs us to think about the law of marriage by reading what is said of the Creator in Genesis 1, that in the beginning “he made them male and female” (Matt. 19:4). That duality—the two who become one flesh—is the making of humanity, as necessary to the perfection of God’s craftsmanship as the joining of earth to heaven. To see male and female, man and woman, as if they did not belong together by nature is to miss the goodness of creation, which makes it what it is. What God has joined let no man put asunder.
Just in time for the Christmas Wars, the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies has published papers from a symposium on state-sponsored religious displays that the Center for Law and Religion co-sponsored with our our sister school, the Libera Universita Maria SS Assunta (LUMSA), in Rome last year. The papers compare the treatment of such displays in the United States and Europe. Contributors include Silvio Ferrari of the University of Milan (“State-Supported Display of Religious Symbols In The Public Space”); Thomas Berg of the University of St. Thomas (“Can State-Sponsored Religious Symbols Promote Religious Liberty?”); Monica Lugato of LUMSA (“The ‘Margin of Appreciation’ and Freedom of Religion: Between Treaty Interpretation And Subsidiarity”); and Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain of the US Court of Appeals (“Religious Symbols and the Law”). There’s also an introduction by me. You can download the articles here.
Dude, Where’s My Being?
In Search of Humanism Among the Primates
Phillip Sherman, Marginalia
Literature and Bureaucracy
Tim Parks, New York Review of Books
The Intellectual Civil War within Evangelicalism
Tiffany Stanley, Religion & Politics
Fear of Priests, Nuns Storming Embassy Prompts Relocation
Eye of the Tiber
When Cardinal Jorge Borgoglio became Francis there was a ripple of excitement that ran through parts of the Pentecostal community. This excitement was related to then Cardinal Borgoglio’s actions in Argentina as represented in the picture of prayers being offered for him by Raniero Cantalamessa who has been so important to the Catholic Charismatic movement and by Norberto Saracco, a Pentecostal who directs the Facultad Internacional de Educación Teológica in Buenos Aires.
Recently, Pope Francis has had private audiences with leaders in the Catholic Charismatic renewal, including Matteo Calisi, past president of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships; Michelle Moran, president of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services; and Salvatore Martinez, president of the Italian Catholic Charismatic organization Rinnovamento nello Spirito. He has also stated in the interview during his return from Rio de Janeiro that the Charismatic renewal renews the church, and recently reminded the 15,000 persons present at the 36th National Assembly of Catholic Charismatics in Rimini that he was responsible for the Charismatic renewal in Argentina. These are all encouraging signs.
His first apostolic exhortation offers many reasons to remain excited about his papacy although I will mention three points that seem particularly important for Pentecostals.
Here at First Thoughts, David Mills has some words for the people who are just asking questions (that for some reason are always about Jews). And Carl R. Trueman asks: “Is journalism no longer considered a legitimate Christian calling?”
A couple of recent events have highlighted one or two of the peculiarities of the subculture of American Christianity, specifically evangelical Christianity. First, Ergun Caner is suing a couple of pastors in an attempt to keep some material pertaining to his life from being published on the internet. Second, talk show host Janet Mefferd accused megachurch pastor, Mark Driscoll, of plagiarism (as noted by Collin Garbarino on First Thoughts last week). Earlier today, the pertinent material compiled by Ms. Mefferd mysteriously vanished from her website. (more…)
“Why are we compelled to dismiss him simply because the truth regarding the history of Zionism may be uncomfortable?” protests a commenter on reading my Greek Archbishop Speaks, Doesn’t Help. He argues that the criticism of the archbishop’s words—mine and the Greek Orthodox Church in America’s—only expresses a different understanding of history from his.
How do we know that what he [the archbishop] has said isn’t true? Are we to dismiss it as untrue simply because it is critical of Zionism and therefore would seem counterproductive to the cause of ecumenical relations between Christians and Zionists? It would appear that Mr. Mills et al and the Archbishop adhere to historical narratives at odds with each other regarding the history of the Zionist movement. Does it not then become a question of fact? Why are we compelled to dismiss him simply because the truth regarding the history of Zionism may be uncomfortable?
This all sounds quite reasonable. History can be read in different ways, we don’t know everything, what facts we do have can be put together in different ways, some of us are too influenced by the mainstream view, which eventually changes anyway, and so on. It seems reasonable to think that the archbishop and I just see the history of Zionism differently.
If you don’t know what the archbishop said—and the commenter did. Archbishop Seraphim of Peraeus said: “Adolf Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and was financed from the renowned Rothschild family with the sole purpose of convincing the Jews to leave the shores of Europe and go to Israel to establish the new Empire.” The Holocaust, in other words, was the result of a Jewish plot to create a Jewish empire. Seraphim’s clarification, as I pointed out, didn’t make things any better.
“Please don’t label me an anti-Semite simply for asking these questions,” the commenter asks. “I don’t know if what the Archbishop said is true or not, but as a mere observer, it is frustrating to learn from Mr. Mills that certain ideas are dismissed out of hand simply because they might cause offence.” (Which is not, by the way, what I argued. I said the archbishop’s ideas should be condemned because they’re lunatic and bigoted.)
It is the line the shrewder Holocaust deniers and revisionists and others of that sort always use. They’re not anti-Semites, oh no no no, they’re just asking questions, probing the evidence, raising matters for consideration, exploring anomalies in the data, pointing out problems with the dominant narrative—just being good (if continually misunderstood) historians.
One tends not to believe them. There are some stories about which to claim, or to feign, agnosticism is to advance a lie. Hitler the instrument of world Zionism is one of them. This leaves us asking why such people claim, or feign, agnosticism about such stories, which are so often stories about Jews. Why these stories in particular? Anti-semitism is one obvious answer.
Update: A note from a friend prompted me to a quick web search, which led me to remembering that one of the main Holocaust-denying groups is called the Institute for Historical Research. See paragraph five above.
Yesterday, December 2, Lawrence Kudlow hosted our editor, R. R. Reno, and PovertyCure director and Acton Research Fellow, Michael Matheson Miller, on CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report” to discuss capitalism and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. It’s important, Reno noted, to always keep in mind that the fundamental purpose of human life is not simply material:
I think we have to be sure we don’t fight the last war. It seems to be that Pope Francis is responding to the fact that global capitalism is triumphant and we have to deal with its limitations and its excesses and that’s going to require something more than just free market measures. . . . Because if we’ve become too ra-ra about capitalism, what we’re really saying is that wealth creation, which capitalism is supremely good at doing, is really the be-all and end-all of human life. And that reinforces the secularist mentality.
Happy Tuesday! Here’s what we have for you today.
Here at First Thoughts, we have Dale M. Coulter on immigration: “Given the doctrine of creation, Christians have always respected the rule of law where law refers not primarily to civil laws, but to the eternal law.”
I’ve always been struck by the ascription of philanthropia to God in Titus 3:4. God is a lover of humanity. Philanthropia is also closely associated with humanitas, as Jerome understood when he employed the Latin term in his translation of the verse. God’s love for humanity is an expression of a genuine humanism, the humanism of God. This lavish claim fits well with what is said in Titus 2 that the “grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all humanity” (v. 11). It is difficult to escape the universality of this humanism as nothing less than the appearance of a grace for all. It echoes the Johannine declaration that “for God so loved he gave.”
Moreover, there is a close relationship between being a lover of humanity and practicing hospitality as a manifestation of love for the stranger or alien (philoxenias). We are admonished to love the stranger in Hebrews 13:2 just shortly after the exhortation to love one’s fellow believers (philadelphia). The author of 1 Clement (10-12) constructs a cloud of witnesses around hospitality, noting that Abraham was called “the friend” (ho philos) because of his hospitality and faith. Grounded in the hospitality Abraham gave to the three visitors, Rublev’s great icon of the Trinity beautifully captures God’s humanism and hospitality.
These ideas come to mind when I think about the evangelicos who cross the Sonoran Desert in shirts emblazoned with the words resucito, or Catholics who journey with prayer cards and rosaries in hand. The church’s mission in the world is both a form of humanism and an extension of hospitality. It also reminds us that the church approaches civil laws that govern societies in light of its understanding of the God who stands behind creation and redemption. (more…)
Happy Monday-after-Thanksgiving! Here’s what we put up for you to read over the weekend:
Over at Postmodern Conservative, Peter Lawler thinks about football (“it’s sobering to know that the location of football excellence in our country . . . is now in the particular state of Alabama”) along with Marc Chagall (previously featured here), a thread that is picked up by Carl Scott here. Meanwhile, Pete Spiliakos wonders about a Scott Walker presidency, Carl Scott wants to know WWJMR, Peter Lawler watches teen movies, and James Ceasar has a list of presidents he prefers to Obama: James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, and . . . Jimmy Carter.
Dr. Boli goes to the opera (“Giuditta tells the story of the doomed love affair between Octavio . . . and Giuditta, a beautiful woman with the brains of a gerbil”), observes Thanksgiving customs all over the world, teaches us history, and writes a play. He also brings us two new installments of the Illustrated Edition (one, two).
Here at First Thoughts, Gene Fant watches Frozen, Carl R. Treuman thinks Virgil is probably worth it, David Mills takes on people who have lost the standing to speak, Collin Garbarino has a zero-tolerance policy for plagiarists . . . and Robert P. George points out that while recipients of national honors will always annoy somebody, Bill Clinton was a particularly annoying choice.
This past weekend my family joined scores of others in attending a screening of Frozen, Disney’s latest “princess” movie. The story is a substantial reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. We were there with the youngest of our clan, who were prime targets for this sort of breezy, musical entertainment.
I am not much of an aficionado of these films, as I have grown weary of the entire “follow your heart” mantra of so many of their ilk. Indeed, in Frozen, one of the primary characters is harmed gravely and the means of healing is sought desperately. A proposed solution: “true love’s kiss.” When this was uttered, I groaned out loud, as did several other adults near me. I’m sure I rolled my eyes as well.
Yes, yes, very nice. The answer to society’s problems is obvious: not enough people following their hearts or running around kissing strangers. (I would counter that Jeremiah 17:9 holds a more accurate view of what is wrong with us.)
As Frozen’s climax unfolds, however, the solution is neither a kiss nor a pursuit of the heart. It’s a semi-prophetic, selfless act that ends up requiring one character’s sacrificial death.
The film’s world had been plunged into the deepest darkness of winter, families were torn apart, evil was sneering and shameless, everything was falling apart and when the young woman dies, it looks like all is lost. Then something amazing happens: We realize that her death was the antidote for all that was wrong. She returns to life. And spring returns. And relationships are healed. And evil is exposed and brought to justice. And joy returns. In our theater, the audience erupted into cheers.
I was dumbfounded by the movie’s final twenty or so minutes. It was an astoundingly clear parable of the Christian Gospel, perhaps even superior to that of the Stone Table scene in the first Narnia film in terms of simplicity and clarity. (more…)
CSF president Carl B. Schmitt, Jr. will be speaking this Monday evening about his father’s art, life, and thought at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, DC. Copies of the book Carl Schmitt: The Vision of Beauty will be available for sale. If you are in the DC area, this is an event not to be missed!
The event will take place on Monday, December 1, at 6 pm, at the Catholic Information Center, 1501 K Street NW, Washington, DC, just off McPherson Square. For more information, visit the CIC website, or sign up at the event Facebook page here.
As Fr. George Rutler has noted, “Carl Schmitt was a master. His art has inspired me, as it must anyone who reads this book.”
Peter Jones, distinguished classicist and “Ancient and Modern” columnist for The Spectator has published (just in time for Christmas in the UK, at least) an entertaining new book on ancient Rome: Veni, Vidi, Vici: Everything you ever wanted to know about the Romans but were afraid to ask. It is that rare kind of book: light but learned, an ideal bedside read.
Responses to the Pew Report on American Jewry
Michael Lerner, et. al., Tikkun
Holy High Rollers
Randall Stephens, Wilson Quarterly
Whatever Happened to Male Friendship?
Brandon McGinley, Acculturated
A Corporatist Mandate
Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner
Brian Lapsa, Clarion Review