Monday, September 15, 2008

The Martyr's Secret

"Men who love a crucified God need never think of torture as all-powerful."

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Douglas W. Kmiec on the "Pro Life" Republican Party

I regret to say the current Republican Party thrives on demonizing its opposition to win elections ... Talking strongly pro-life, Republicans often do little, promising that some judge not yet appointed is the answer or advocating leaving it all up to the states to decide, seldom acknowledging that many, perhaps most, states would end embedding the "legal status" of abortion.

Douglas W. Kmiec is Professor of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University School of Law. He headed the Office of Legal Counsel for both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He was Dean and St. Thomas More Professor of the law school at Catholic University of America (2000-2003). For nearly twenty years he was a member of the law faculty at the University of Notre Dame from 1980 to 1999. he founded the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Eucharistic Crimes and Misdemeanors

About two weeks ago PZ Myers, a biology professor from Michigan, carried out his threat to desecrate the Holy Eucharist and then bragged about it on his blog. He sent a nail though it and then tossed it in the trash along with a few pages of the Koran. (I’ll give him points for daring — desecrating the Koran has become a risky business lately.) I’m not one to quibble with him either, as some have done, he probably did get his hands on a bona fide Host. Given the laxity of liturgy in most parishes nowadays, it would be a simple thing for someone to accept Communion in the hand, palm the genuine Host and, by simple ruse, appear to have consumed it.

This just makes me sad and confused.

Sad, not only for Jesus whose sufferings have been compounded by this sacrilege, but sad for a man so consumed with an hatred for religion that he feels compelled to pull such loathsome stunts.

Confused, because when I was godless, I never had any quarrel with religion. Nor did any of my atheist friends. Most of the people who seemed to have a real issue with religion were self-identified “recovering Catholics,” or ex-Evangelicals or Pentecostals, all of whom had either a lingering belief in God or professed that “my problem isn’t with God it’s with what men do to him.” These people were not genuine atheist and Mr. Myers is behaving like them, not like the genuinely disinterested godless, which leads me to suspect that Myers is really angry at a God he claims not to believe in.

Meyers professes an hatred for religion because of its alleged baneful effects upon society, yet any objective analysis would have to conclude otherwise. Churchgoing has long been associated (especially in the Black community) with high levels of temperance, clean living, and a good work ethic. Most of our hospitals and universities were founded as religious institutions. Charitable giving is highest among the churched, and, unlike Islam and other proselytizing faiths, most Christian churches have always associated works of mercy with their evangelical efforts. Christianity has worked for the abolition of slavery not once, but twice (at the end of the Roman Empire as well as after its reintroduction by Moslems in the fifteenth century). Christianity was the first belief system that accepted women as being of equal worth with men, abolished human sacrifice wherever it encountered it, and postulated that rulers had moral obligations to their charges.

So what does he say about his actions?

He begins by mentioning that the Forth Lateran Council saying that “This is the event where many of their important dogmas were codified, including the ideas … that the Eucharist was the sacrament that only properly ordained priests of the Catholic church could give, and that the Jews were a pariah people, who could hold no public office, had to pay a special Jew tax for their right to exist, and were required to wear special clothing to distinguish them from Christians.” This statement is both false and misleading.

It is false because it had always been the case that only ordained priests could confect the Eucharist. The actual work of the council was in affirming that Transubstantiation is the mechanism of confection (as opposed to Consubstantiation or simply being an incomprehensible mystery).

It is misleading for two reasons, the first being that he implies, without actually stating, that belief in the Real Presence was an innovation brought in by the Forth Lateran Council and represents a “change” in doctrine. In point of fact, before the Protestant “Reformation,” every Christian denomination believed in the “Real Presence.”

Furthermore, Catholic doctrine on matters of faith and morals can never change, so it is disingenuous to equate this theological definition with a change in mere practice, which he does by mentioning the injunctions against the Jews in the same sentence.

For the record, we should also point out that these injunctions against the Jews were a Christian incorporation of Moslem practice. Moslems had since the days of the Prophet segregated every society they controlled by forcing non-believers to wear distinctive badges, hats, or medallions, and it was only for a brief time that the Church required this.

Myers then goes on to accuse the Church of inventing “stories of Jews and witches taking the communion host to torture … None of the stories were true, of course,” which makes one wonder of Mr. Myers has ever met an adolescent. From rolling your joints out of Bible pages to fornicating with the pastor’s daughter in the choir loft, profanity and sacrilege have always been one of the reliable tropes of adolescent pranks. Is it really beyond Mr. Myer’s imagining that no one, from 1215 to the present day, has stolen a consecrated Host and defiled it for mere amusement or to prove to his companions what a daring reckless fellow he was? And what about the petty ways that oppressed peoples strike back at their oppressors. Just as blacks in segregation days probably spat in the food they cooked for whites, or called them “honkey” behind their backs, or subverted the system in a thousand petty ways, I am absolutely certain that Medieval Jews from time to time stole the Body of Christ and defiled it. Why not? Even if it meant nothing to them, it was a cheap and easy way of getting back at the Goyim. And when you put these two trends together? What makes more sense than a teenage Jew desecrating the Host to impress his buddies? [Furthermore, it is axiomatic that anyone doing the Devil’s work is a de facto witch. Thus, anyone desecrating an Host is, ipso facto, that thing secular humanists like to insist don’t exist, a witch.]

Myers then goes on to give us a laundry list of persecutions allegedly brought on by specious claims of Host desecration that, naturally, he dismisses as “superstition.” What about xenophobia? Jews were, after all, a foreign element in European society and xenophobia is the normal situation for virtually every society on the face of the planet. Only in late, decadent periods (Egypt after the 18th Dynasty, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Hellenistic Greece / Imperial Rome, Han China, Carvakan India, Umayyad Spain, Modern Europe) are so indifferent to their own cultural heritage as to not be bothered with xenophobia. While not a good thing in itself, xenophobia is actually a sigh of an healthy society and should not be condemned in such an out of hand manner.

Myers concludes this list with the snotty observation “the last time a Catholic nation rose up to slaughter its non-Christian citizenry was a whole 70 years ago” thus blaming Christians for the genocide perpetrated by the pagan Nazis.

Next Myers deals with his critics many of whom have been writing in with hateful e-mails, letters, and pipe-bombs. Wait, no, there weren’t any pipe-bombs! Scratch that — I guess what I meant to say was prayers. Yes — Myers critics hate him so much that they are actually praying for him! Mark Sutton and Jim Nicholson both wrote letters cited by Professor Myers in which they have the effrontery to pray for him! Surely there must be some hate crime law prohibiting this loathsome sort of activity! This simply goes to prove Myers’ conclusion: “that religion breeds the most disgustingly vile haters in our country.”

Then he deals with poor Isaac who has the temerity to assert: “As a Christian it is an insult for anyone to call my beliefs stupid shit.” Myers goes on for a whole paragraph about how Isaac is somehow “closed minded” because he takes offence at his beliefs being called “stupid.” Now, last time I checked, “insult” meant “to treat with insolence, indignity, or contempt,” and that’s just what Myers has done. And he’s free to do so. We live in a free country and he’s free to insult anyone he chooses. But, as the purpose of an insult it to offend, it is rather disingenuous of Professor Myers to then act as if he’s been a gentleman all along, don’t you think?

It’s just tiresome, isn’t it? Myers trying to “prove” that religion is false when the whole point of religion is faith — that which cannot be proven. Pity the poor man who will never understand the words of Saint Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney:

“I often think that even if there were no other life than this one, it would be enough happiness just to love God here and to do something for his glory.”
— The Curé d’Ars and the Love of God

Very Effective

A tip o' the hat to John Jansen who found this first.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ex-Voto de 1662

On my one visit to Paris I set aside a whole day to see the Louvre. Wife-Mate and Pumpkin accompanied me in the morning, but in the afternoon they went shopping and left me with 6-month-old Pod-Man to see the more obscure galleries. As you go up from floor to floor, the ceilings get lower, the paintings smaller, and the artists more obscure. I was probably on the third floor when I stumbled upon this painting tucked away in a section full of the court painters of the Seventeenth Century.

I stopped absolutely dumb-struck: this painting was obviously about a miracle! I was touched to the core by how immediate, profoundly, and clearly this came to me. Unfortunately, when you get that far from the touristy first floor, all of the signs are in French, but, just the same, I pulled out my notebook and wrote down: Ex-Voto de 1662 / Philippe de Champaigne.

When I got home, I checked it out, and Ex-Voto de 1662 is indeed a votive offering (or ex-voto) by the painter Philippe de Champaigne which depicts the miraculous cure of his daughter that occurred at the Port-Royal de Paris Cistercian convent. In the painting, a ray of light illuminates Mother-Superior Agnès Arnauld, who experienced on the ninth day of her novena for Champaigne's daughter, Sister Catherine Ste. Suzanne, the hope that a cure would come for Sister Catherine. Catherine (seated, praying) was the painter's only surviving child, and had been suffering from a paralyzing illness. Until that point, prayer and medical treatments ("potions, baths, unctions, and thirty bleedings") had proven futile. After the Mother-Superior's novena, Sister Catherine soon attempted to walk, and found herself increasingly mobile; the illness no longer seemed present.

The painting includes a Latin inscription on the wall on the left of the painting. Neither the text nor the lettering were Champaigne's work.



AO 1662

The inscription, addressed to Christ, tells that Sister Catherine suffered for 14 months from a high fever and that half her body was paralyzed. She prayed with Mother Agnès and her health was restored, and again she offered herself to Christ. Champaigne offers the painting as a testament to this miracle and to express his joy.

This is one of the most amazing works of art that I have ever seen. Even reproductions, which do not ever capture the supernatural luminosity of the actual painting, never fail to touch me deeply. It reminds us always to trust in God's mercy and to renounce our attachment to worldly things.