Searching for the Soul of Shakespeare

After three years of tests”tree-ring dating (to determine the age of the wood frame), x-ray examination at Cambridge University, and infrared reflectography”Stanley Wells of the Shakespeare Institute unveiled earlier this year a new painting of Shakespeare, the Cobbe portrait (1610). Scholars and non-scholars alike eagerly gathered around computer screens and televisions to see for the first time what might well be the dark-eyed, youthful, intelligent, and finely featured face of William Shakespeare, age forty-six. When it comes to Shakespeare, new evidence is hard to find, and everyone is interested… . Continue Reading »

Winning the War on The War on Terror

Does it matter that the Obama administration is now involved in “overseas contingency operations” rather than “fighting terror”? Is it important that our Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, refers to man-caused disasters rather than terrorism? And how about the news made by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, when she was asked about the elimination of the phrase war on terror: “The administration has stopped using the phrase and I think that speaks for itself,” Clinton said… . Continue Reading »

The Blessings of Betrayal

Dante reserved for the traitors the lowest circle of hell, the frozen river of Cocytus, where the divine justice submerges forever those who betrayed the people who trusted and loved them. As Dante tells us in the Epistle to Cangrande, however, the subject of his poem is not just the fate of the soul after death but, when “taken allegorically, the poem’s subject is man, either gaining or losing merit through his freedom of will.” Dante also wants to tell us, therefore, about the effect of betrayal on the soul of the betrayer in this life. In approaching that question, Dante says something astounding… Continue Reading »

The Christian World of Agatha Christie

In 1971, a group of British notables, both Catholic and non-Catholic, petitioned for the retention of the Tridentine Rite in England and Wales. As the story goes, Pope Paul VI read the petition and, arriving at the name of Agatha Christie, shrugged and agreed to the request. Such are the mysterious workings of providence, as manifested in the field of cultural history. The ‘Agatha Christie Indult’ may be the only occasion of a detective novelist influencing Vatican policy, although, given the popularity of the genre, it may not… . Continue Reading »

Reading In August

I love the long languid days of late summer. The lawns roasted light brown, the much longed for arrival of local tomatoes (may the good Lord deliver us from the commercially produced monstrosities), sweet corn, baseball on the radio, vacations, sighs of regret that Labor Day is close at hand”yes, there is something about August that lends itself to indulgent repose. And reading… . Continue Reading »

An Ecumenical Moment for One

During its August 17-23 national church convention in Minneapolis, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seems poised to approve same-sex relations and the ordination of pastors in same-sex relationships. The history behind this move, which will be decided by a majority vote, is too tedious to repeat. Just call to mind the similar success of churnings within the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church and you’ll have an adequate understanding of it. Presbyterians and United Methodists have so far held off the radical assaults from the Christian left. But since ELCA Lutherans are now firmly part of the Christian left, few resources exist to turn back this latest attempt… . Continue Reading »

Tolerance and Charity

Tolerance is a nice word, but is it a Christian virtue? Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver doesn’t think so, and his claim has occasioned no small amount of protest. In a smug editorial, America magazine recently chastened Chaput for coarsening the tenor of intra-ecclesial discourse. While no call for courtesy and civility should go unheeded, an apology for toleration that ignores its niceties only furthers the intellectual and moral torpor plaguing the public square… . Continue Reading »

Our Muslim Allies

In the book of Exodus, Moses confronts Pharaoh, giving a sign of God’s power by turning his staff into a serpent. Pharaoh is nonplussed, and he gathers his magicians to prepare a counter assault. They turn their staffs into serpents as well, but the serpent that comes from the rod of Moses swallows them all (Exod. 7:8-13). In the Qu’ran, the encounter unfolds in the same way (Sura 7:103-127, with a much shorter version in Sura 79:15-25). What is fascinating however, is the ending… . Continue Reading »

Rowan Williams and the Anglican Future

Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, has issued his much-awaited response to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church: “Communion, Covenant, and our Anglican Future.” Although it’s not as lengthy as Pope Benedict’s recent encyclical, it’s sure to be parsed almost as carefully and debated nearly with the same intensity by Anglicans throughout the world. The letter is worthy of such scrutiny: As he has done so often in the past, Archbishop Williams has given us both a substantively theological read of the present moment and a sound and hopeful way forward for the Anglican Communion… . Continue Reading »

The Gnostic Turn

My son was still too deeply immersed in his thousandth or so re-reading of The Wind in the Willows to take an immediate interest in the copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince that I had just rescued for him from the chilly hinterlands of my library, so I decided to read it again myself. Memory, I found, had not really altered the story in my mind, but also had not quite prepared me for its total effect… . Continue Reading »