Collect


Alleluia for the Third Sunday after Trinity

Alleluia, alleluia. God is a righteous judge, strong and patient: and God is provoked every day. Alleluia.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Five Quick Takes

I.


Some friends of mine have been posting unusually good stuff lately. Z Shihab, who lives out in Portland, recently started a blog called Ænigmata where he has this excellent post on the limits we must assign our pride and our impulse to mock, if we want to have any impact on those who don’t already agree with us. Bill Hoard, author of The Dagger and the Rose and co-author (with Ben Y. Faroe) of Hubris Towers, has been doing a series on the Hávamál, an Icelandic collection of old Norse wisdom poetry. And Eve Tushnet’s review of I Am Michael, a biopic with James Franco and Zachary Quinto about a gay activist who converted to Christianity and espoused the ex-gay cause, is, well, just the sort of thing she writes: smart, reflective, patient, and charming. Go forth and read.


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II.


Today is the normal date for the Feast of the Chair of Peter, though we in the Ordinariate observed it this past Sunday—it is our patronal feast. The gospel for this feast is Matthew 16.13-20, the passage in which the famous Petrine confession is made, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Our parish priest pointed out some things in his homily that I hadn’t noticed before.


First, Jesus could have simply told them who he was. He didn’t. He chose, instead, to elicit the declaration from them. It is, in a way, the first time the Church defined a dogma.


And we know that this definition was authoritative even if no others were, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And it is from this that the parallel declaration on Christ’s part comes: Thou art the Christ; thou art Peter. The office of the Rock is rooted in divine revelation, and it is from this, not its own capacity, that its authority comes—that authority being promptly defined as ‘binding and loosing.’ Binding and loosing were standard terms in rabbinic theology at that time: they described the rabbi’s authority both to declare what was and was not authentic midrash, or teaching and commentary on the Torah, and who was permitted a place in the synagogue, the communion of the faithful. The literary echoes of Isaiah 22, where a new steward is appointed for the house of King David by prophecy, reinforce the significance of the office that Jesus is declaring Peter to have, that of the steward or proxy—in Latin, the vicarius—of Christ.


Some of this I’d known before, but I keep coming back to the fact that Jesus chose to elicit the Petrine confession, instead of revealing himself on his own initiative. He had no problem with teaching at great length, nor even with explaining the meanings of his parables to the disciples in private. Yet here, he chose to have his deity disclosed through our humanity.


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III.


I know very little about Milo Yiannopoulos, which I’m perfectly fine with. He has given me the impression of being a rather disagreeable figure, and I am not eager to accumulate those in quantity, especially in an age like ours that so thrives on disagreeableness (which is a different and less noble thing than disagreement). But he said some stuff that sounded like support for pædophilia, and people rightly flipped their lids, and apparently now his career is over. Or, at least, on indefinite hiatus.


I listened to enough of his remarks that I am satisfied he hasn’t been misrepresented. I only had the stomach to listen to a minute or so, but the flow of his comments isn’t ambiguous. He does say that he was wrong to say those things, and I’m prepared to believe that he is remorseful. (I admit I’m also not sorry that he’s resigned from Breitbart.)


But I wonder, and worry a little, about the reaction our culture has to pædophilia, because it’s so absolute and instantaneous, and those kinds of reactions are easy to attack once someone gets the nerve. If and when people really start to question it, will we as a culture be ready to defend it? Will we be ready to set forth an intelligent explanation of maturity (sexual, mental, and social) and consent? Will we be ready to explain why, even though people do mature at different rates, there has to be a specific legal age of consent? And if we aren’t, will our—very right—instinctive rejection of pædophilia be enough to prevent a change in cultural standards? I hope it will; but I don’t think it’s to be counted on, if we don’t learn to have, and articulate, something more than instinct upon which to base our revulsion.


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IV.


Horror is an incredibly odd genre. Even though I enjoy watching and writing and reading it, I can’t tell why. I keep trying to come up with an explanation—e.g., that it gives us a sense of power or safety, to witness and yet survive horrors by proxy—and none of them really seem adequate. There seems, to me, to be almost a spiritual quality in some horror; certainly there are a few characters or atmospheres, like the Un-Man of Perelandra or the final dissolution of Wentworth in Descent Into Hell, that depict mystical realities, and insofar as they do that it makes sense that it would be, not pleasurable exactly, yet satisfying, to read them.


Is all horror a mode of Dante’s Inferno?—which is a curiously inverted example, in that Dante never once makes us shudder before the dreams of the abyss: Arthur Machen, H. P. Lovecraft, Charles Williams, Melinda Selmys, or Edgar Allen Poe can give you a more terrifyingly gothic sublimity in the least of their efforts than he. The mathematical perfection of Dante’s universe prevents any such ‘Crawling Chaos.’ Perhaps, in the philosophical and increasingly violent degradation of the West through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, horror has at last come to be a more natural voice for us: our sense of having a place in creation has been ripped out, and through horror, we can at least scream without being mocked for it.


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V.


My spiritual life has been in a rather shabby condition lately. I’m at sea about a number of things; I certainly don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with my celibacy. I hope you all will pray for me as we enter Lent next week.



I haven’t made up my mind what my Lenten discipline will be. A friend suggested that I make a retreat, and/or pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet regularly; I recently acquired a copy of Richard of St Victor’s seminal Benjamin Minor, a sort of preparatory book for contemplative prayer, which I might set myself to read. I haven’t been able to focus on the subject, somehow. Thankfully, since the Anglican Use observes Shrovetide (or ‘Pre-Lent’ if you like lame names), I’ve at least been reminded of it on the regular. That’s one of the nice things about having a regular liturgy as well as a defined creed: it gives you a touchstone.

Friday, February 10, 2017

See How These Christians Love One Another

The priest was aware of an immense load of responsibility: it was indistinguishable from love. This, he thought, must be what all parents feel: ordinary men go through life like this crossing their fingers, praying against pain, afraid … This is what we escape at no cost at all, sacrificing an unimportant motion of the body. For years, of course, he had been responsible for souls, but that was different … a lighter thing. You could trust God to make allowances, but you couldn’t trust smallpox, starvation, men …

Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

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Last week Crisis Magazine came to the defense of Steve Bannon, one of the new appointees to the President’s cabinet. Bannon, like Trump himself and all the members of his administration, has been heavily criticized, especially for alleged racist and anti-Semitic attitudes on the extreme right-wing news forum Breitbart (I don’t know whether these allegations are true or not1). Austin Ruse, a regular contributor at Crisis—and one, among others, who has locked horns with several Side B authors and communities—has written a piece lauding Bannon: not an unqualified acclamation, by any means, but certainly a favorable ‘reading’ of him. And since he’s personally acquainted with Bannon, Ruse is in a position to know what he’s talking about.


It’s a little odd to find a devoted Catholic praising someone who has described himself both as a Leninist and as ‘Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII’; odder still to find him saying that Bannon is ‘a revolutionary but not a Bolshevik,’ insofar as Lenin was a founding-member Bolshevik; but then, I’m a fan of writers like Camille Paglia and Rick Whitaker, so maybe we can call that a wash. I don’t propose to respond thoroughly to the piece in itself,2 since I know very little about Bannon. What I want to do is set something Ruse said about Bannon in the same context as his criticisms of Side B.3

Breitbart publishes a huge amount of Catholic content. I call it the largest Catholic site on the net. Bannon moved the radio show to Rome to cover the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII live. He hired former priest Thomas Williams to report from Rome, and Williams files Vatican and other Catholic news constantly. I wrote on Catholic topics all the time, as do many other Catholic writers on Breitbart. Breitbart’s editor-in-chief Alex Marlow is a Catholic who in recent years has reëngaged his faith.

I call Bannon a non-practicing orthodox Catholic. I am not aware that he dissents from any teachings of the Church, still I am not aware that he practices the faith. It could have something to do with the three ex-wives. But it should be understood there is a difference between weakness and dissent. Moreover, he came this close to going on a retreat with me a few years ago. Maybe one day.

Now, to be clear, I firmly agree that there’s a difference between weakness and dissent. I’m a living instantiation of that difference. And, while I don’t share Ruse’s optimism about Bannon, I can certainly allow that he may be correct. As I said, I wouldn’t know.

What I do know is that Ruse and other authors at Crisis have consistently refused to extend a fraction of the same spiritual generosity to my friends and me. On the contrary—they’ve regularly charged us with serious sins, attributed views to us none of us have ever expressed, even intimated that we’re closet heretics. For example:

He accuses the New Homophiles of playing something of a ‘doctrinal shell game’ where ‘just about every time a couple of them write anything “ground-breaking” they seem to be challenged by readers as to their orthodoxy. Subsequently they appear to backtrack … it seems to me the underlying intention is to normalize homosexuality and to declare gay is good.’ This gets to the most serious problem with the New Homophile position, their insistence on maintaining their gay identity. … They want the Church not just to welcome but to celebrate their gayness.4

He says the word ‘gay’ does not accurately describe who or what he is. Those who use it, like the New Homophiles, are not faithful to the theological anthropology of the Church. … [He] says he takes no umbrage at the phrase objectively disordered, something the New Homophiles bristle at … Against the New Homophiles he does not see same-sex attraction as a gift ‘in and of itself.’ … He opposes the New Homophile notion of ‘gay exceptionalism’ …5


The old problems crop up almost immediately in this piece, and also in Eve Tushnet’s new book Gay and Catholic, and that is narcissism. Tushnet told Boorstein that when she ‘came out’ at 20 in 1998 she thought she was the only woman with same-sex desire living chastely in the Catholic Church. Tushnet would blanche at the notion of narcissism since she and the New Homophiles eschew anything that smells of Freud. Still, to think you are the one and only something … Tushnet says everyone she knew back in those days rejected the Church’s teaching on ‘gay’ sexuality. But the thing is, so does Tushnet. Sure, however regrettably, she accepts that she cannot do whatever two naked women do but she also believes the Church has ‘gay’ sexuality wrong. After all, that is one of the main planks of the New Homophile platform.6

This group insists on their gay identity, indeed they put a spotlight on it. That’s kind of the point of their movement. … The Church teaches that there is no ‘gay identity.’ We are children of God—first, last, and always, and the Church frowns on anything else. … The New Homophiles insist that God made them gay, though the Church does not teach that. They insist that they have special gifts given to them through their same-sex attraction. That is certainly not in Church teaching. And they want Church teaching to reflect these assertions, which would amount to a change in Church teaching.7

In reply to which it’s vital to point out, first of all, we don’t really have a platform—it’s more of a gaudy parade float with go-go boys in unicorn costumes gyrating to ABBA.


YOU KNEW HE'D BE BACK

And secondarily that, in these selections,8 every view and attitude attributed to us is either heavily distorted or flat-out false.

Every one of us have recited our total fidelity to the Church, and all her doctrines, including those about sexuality, until we are blue in the face; moreover, the majority of us (excluding myself) are as chaste as driven snow, something the writers at Crisis haven’t disputed. Nothing seems to be enough to satisfy these critics—about us. But set Bannon and his three divorces before Ruse and he says, I am not aware that he dissents from any teachings of the Church. There is a difference between weakness and dissent. Moreover, he came this close to going on a retreat with me a few years ago. The double standard takes the breath away. It seems he is competent to judge someone else’s case, but we are not competent even to state our own.

But the point here is not to pick on Crisis and its authors. (Still less is it to criticize Bannon, since I, unlike him, have not even risen to the prerequisites of adultery.) Nor is it, primarily, to note the alarming standard that Ruse appears to have for what constitutes a Catholic site, since fidelity to the Catechism and the creeds evidently isn't relevant. No. The reason I collect all of this is to show my fellow Catholics who are willing to listen that, Yes, homophobia is a real thing. Yes, it’s present in Catholic circles too. Yes, it can damage people.

I don’t mean me: I am impervious to all forms of unpleasantness except Southern Comfort and the films of Brett Ratner. But imagine the frightened teenage boy, starting to realize that yes, what he’s been feeling in the locker room is arousal, listening to his parents quote these articles with contemptuous laughter. The middle-aged housewife and mother of four who has fallen in love with her best girlfriend, and is wondering if she’s some kind of whore for even thinking about it. The twentysomething gay guy who’s just moved to a new city and is aching with loneliness, and looks to his favorite Catholic magazine for some emotional support because nobody at his new parish has bothered to talk to him yet. Try to imagine something of the anxiety, uncertainty, and sheer, dull, quotidian weariness some of us deal with, especially but not only when we're first discovering this. And try to imagine how this relentless hammering saps our energy and will to continue the often bitter road of chastity.


How many roads must a man walk down? Too damn many.

The point is not that the nature of the human soul (in which the principles of virtue are based) have changed for these people; they haven’t. The point is that unjust treatment of LGBT people does exist among Catholics, and is wrong, and should be recognized for what it is.

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1I’d look it up, but frankly, I haven’t got the stomach to wade through the Book-of-Sand-worthy results of a Google search for shit on Breitbart that some people say is racist and figure out what to think. Not at this hour, anyway.
2Except to say that his remarks on Matthew Shepard’s murder seriously creeped me out. The evidence that the murderers were motivated by homophobia is admittedly mixed. However, Ruse’s assertion that ‘he … was killed in a deal gone bad by a fellow drug dealer and sometimes gay sex partner’ seems to derive from Stephen Jimenez’s The Book of Matt, a controversial volume to say the least, having attracted criticism from some of the policemen involved in the case as containing ‘factual errors and lies’ and being ‘laughable,’ particularly for representing Shepard as a meth dealer. (Dave O’Malley, the head of investigations in Laramie at the time of Shepard’s death, said in response to Jimenez’s book that he thought at the time, and still thinks, that Shepard’s murder was homophobic in nature.) That Ruse describes the drug-deal narrative as ‘puncturing holes in the Matthew Shepard myth’ is a little nauseating, to say nothing of how misleading it is.
3Side B is a term for LGBT-identifying Christians who hold traditional views about marriage and sex, but accept gayness as a valid part of our sense of self (not something to be denied, excised, or ignored). Ruse’s preferred moniker for us is the New Homophiles, which nearly all of us find rather gross-sounding. In his defense, a unified term is needed; I tend to use Side B because it’s concise and doesn’t sound gross, but unfortunately it does require explaining a lot of the time. I’m still open to suggestions for better terms.
4From The New Homophiles and Their Critics, published in January 2014. The he at the beginning of the paragraph is Terry Nelson, a Mediævalist who disagreed with certain Side B people about the right interpretation of St Aelred’s work.
5Also from The New Homophiles and Their Critics. The he here refers to a member of Courage who has for the most part blogged and written anonymously.
6From Fifteen Minutes for the New Homophiles, published in December 2014.
7From The Church Needs the New Homophiles, published in January 2015.
8I think it can be said without undue severity that this selection is, while not exhaustive, a representative sample of Crisis’ dealings with us. For anyone who wants to judge for themselves, three more of Mr Ruse’s articles can be found here, here, and here, and two of Deacon Russell’s are here and here. (But please remember that reading things to indulge, or magnify, your outrage is neither healthy nor holy.)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Atlantis and its Customs: A Fragment from Plato

This recently discovered fragment purports to be a selection from Plato’s dialogue Hermocrates, once thought by scholars never to have been written. It constitutes the third part a trilogy, following the Timæus and the Critias, all three describing the movements of a conversation that took place the day after that represented in the Republic. The first two dialogues give a mythological account of Atlantis as a small part of their content; in this, a new interlocutor named Cassander, who claims to have lived in Atlantis for some years, corrects and expands the accounts of it given by Timæus and Critias. I have made my translation available to Mr Blanchard for use on his blog, as I feel sure that his readers will feel a lively interest in the topic.

N. W. Clerk, PhD. Prohib. Mss., Miskatonic University

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[Cassander?] is hardly to do it justice. Libya and Asia are dwarfed by its magnitude, and all Hellas, Egypt, and Syria together would form no more than a prefecture of its empire.
Socrates. By the dog, a gigantic realm! But tell me, in what respect was our friend Critias’ account unworthy? For if we speak only of scale, then his tale of Atlantis was not false, but at most incomplete—and it has already been said that, in this world of becoming, no account can be better than likely.
Cas. This is true. But I am able to furnish you with a likelier account. I myself have just returned from a long sojourn living in Atlantis as a metic (for there are many metics living there, and in fact nearly all the citizenry are of metic ancestry, at lesser or greater removes). This is why, as our host said earlier, I had felt ill; the voyage back taxed me sorely, eager though I was to see Athens again. But to speak of the Atlanteans, they use customs far stranger than any you have ever heard of, stranger than the Amazons or the Scythians or the Hyperboreans. For they govern their empire in this way, as if it were all a single polis, though three satrapies of the Persians would scarcely equal the least of its provinces. They call themselves a democracy, yet they do not resemble the Athenians: they choose no official by lot, instead preferring to elect every official from the king downwards, save certain of their magistrates whom the king appoints, with the consent of one of their Areopagi.
Critias. Which member of the Areopagus do they select to confirm the king’s appointments?
Cas. You misunderstand me, good Critias. I mean that they have two Areopagi.
Cri. For what purpose?
Cas. In order to make their government operate more slowly. For there is nothing the Atlanteans hate and fear so much as powerful and effective rulership; each man treasures his power to govern his own affairs, and treats the polis as what they call a ‘necessary evil.’ Their greatest goddess is Eleutheria; they have a statue of her in verdigris in the greatest harbor of the continent, as large as the Colossus of Rhodes. And so, to please the goddess whom they keep so devoutly in their hearts, each Areopagus is tasked to obstruct the other when it can, and both to obstruct the king, and the king the elders of the Areopagi, and the magistrates to obstruct them all together.
Soc. How strange. The Atlanteans, then, must be a very free, happy, and virtuous people, if their rulers are chiefly occupied in dealings with one another, and the citizenry are competent to govern their own affairs.
Cas. No, by Apollo, Socrates! For though they choose their kings and the elders of the Areopagi, each of them (the kings most of all) are limited to brief reigns—no king may rule more than eight years. For every four years a new king is chosen, and the preceding two years are so filled with argument, uncertainty, outrage, and scandal, that the people have scarcely the will to eat. And though they profess their polis to be woefully in debt, not only to allies but even to enemies, they regularly spend thousands of thousands of drachmæ in funding these two years of public anxiety
Soc. But if the people choose their kings and their elders, and by election rather than by lot, why do they insist on choosing new ones so often and laboriously, and endure such vexing incessantly?
Cas. They say that it is to prevent the monarchy from becoming a tyranny. For if the king must abdicate at the end of eight years, he can never become a tyrant; so say the Atlanteans. And a tyranny, even if it pleased them all (which would be impossible!), would be displeasing to Eleutheria.
Cri. And to what term of service are the magistrates limited?
Cas. Oh, the magistrates are appointed to serve for life. They are chosen, as has been said, by the king, so that his influence may far outlast his reign. This prevents instability and abrupt changes in the laws, the Atlanteans aver, which would of course displease Eleutheria.
Soc. And what pleases Eleutheria?
Cas. Principally, I judge, the burning of a certain powder from Cathay, which produces thunderings of monstrous size and brightness; on certain festivals, clumps of this powder are launched high into the air and set alight by cunning art, while the populace eat roasted meats and drink and make merry. But I was speaking of the kings and elders. These are selected only from among the wealthy, due to the prohibitive expense of the elections, of which I have spoken; yet the Atlanteans speak very ill of oligarchies, and at times wage war against foreign oligarchies for no other reason than that they do not govern themselves in the Atlantean fashion. Now, the kings and the elders have each such a host of attendants that any one of them, with his retinue, could constitute a whole polis. And these attendants, at the will of the Areopagi, craft and enforce such a multitude of laws as no mortal could ever read in his lifetime, let alone keep; moreover these are written in an arcane language, known only to the attendants and to the scholars of oratory and law, so that there is a whole class of orators whose livelihood consists in nothing but translating the tongue of the attendants into the vernacular, for the benefit of the citizens and metics who must deal with the laws. And the attendants meddle in all affairs, great and small, and they watch the private affairs of both citizens and metics, and record everything that people do, in order that it may be used against them later. Thus there is chaos throughout Atlantis, since no citizen can help but be a criminal in one way or another, and the laws are brought into disrepute; and in every lawful affair there is a multitude of scrolls that every citizen must read and write in (for there is an overwhelming abundance of papyrus in that land), and the smallest errors are revenged. So Atlantis is full of weariness and impotent wrath.
Soc. What curious behavior, for such sincere devotees of the goddess! Does this too please her?
Cas. Not in the least; so say all the Atlanteans.
Soc. Why then, Cassander, should they not depose the kings and elders of the Areopagi, and choose new ones, who will show proper piety to the goddess and rule the people with justice and temperance?
Cas. The people cannot depose the kings or the elders. They may say whatever they please at any time, having no laws against blasphemy or slander or any other such thing; but, as if in compensation, the most they can do to punish a king or elder who acts unjustly is refuse to elect him again. And this they rarely do: for the souls of the Atlanteans are filled with loathing of the elections, on account of their unreasonable multitude, and prefer to think on them as little as possible, so that the simplest course is to retain every ruler in his post as long as they lawfully may.
Cri. What benefit do they obtain, then, Cassander, from their piety to their goddess? For it seems that she gives them neither liberty nor hierarchy, nor leisure nor profit, nor deliverance from the yoke of their oppressor.
Cas. That I cannot answer.
Soc. Oh come now, is it not said that the Atlantean empire is the greatest realm on the face of the earth? Shall we dissent from the common verdict of mankind? And surely this greatness must be the gift of Eleutheria to her faithful people.
Cas. Many men do speak that way about Atlantis, Socrates. And I can tell you that the Atlanteans maintain that their ancestors did not live as they do now; but among them there is a division on this account. For the one part of the people bemoan the fact that the Atlanteans are oppressed by the rulers that they choose for themselves, and that they impiously forsake the customs of their fathers, especially by neglecting the cults of two lesser deities, servants of Eleutheria, whom they call Jesus (a name drawn from a barbarous tongue neither Greek nor Atlantean) and simply ‘the God,’ who are Heracles and Zeus. But the other part of the people rejoice that Atlantis and its customs have changed, saying that the old ways were oppressive to the metics and displeasing to Eleutheria; and these principally honor Aphrodite, calling her the true form of Eleutheria, and denouncing the priests of Zeus, though they dare not speak against Heracles. And so there is still more strife in Atlantis, between those who would revert to the old customs to honor Eleutheria, and those who would introduce still newer ones for the same purpose. And they are wont to explain to those who question them that this division is itself a manifestation of the goddess.
Soc. So then, they enjoy the presence of Eleutheria in every circumstance, and are suffused with her divine favor no matter what. This is [ms. breaks off]

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