Friday, April 28, 2006

Duh Vinci Code

On my class blog I made a list of some books on the da Vinci code nonsense. I didn't have time to annotate the list but it is at least ranked in the order of how familiar I am with the authors.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Story of a Persecuted Nun

I normally compose in HTML and then paste into the Blogger Box, but my motherboard burned up (like with smoke and stuff) so I'm entering directly on the web which means I'm in a sub-optimal situation w.r.t spellcheck and ever since I taught Brit Lit I've been basically unable to spell modern English. So forgive me in advance any spelling errors. Now here's the story.

As I reached my seat on the small plane--it's just a short flight from Rochester to Chicago--I saw what was ostensibly a nun in the seat beside mine. Inwardly I cringed. Not for a second due to the fact that I have anything less than maximal respect for women religious. The problem is that my experiences with nuns has been almost entirely negative: "liberated" professionals for whom the only thing "magisterial" is the New York Times op-ed page. How did I recognize her as a nun? Well, it certainly wasn't because she was wearing a veil or any other noticeable habit--in fact, that's the essence of the story. Rather it was by a particular combination of close-cropped hair and very sensible shoes, like the kind older nurses wear. I'm leaving out some detail, but don't even act like you don't know what I'm talking about. This is a look mostly affected by nuns and farmer's wives, both eminantly practical sorts of women. I'm happy to defend the faith, indeed I find few things more enjoyable or rewarding. But it grates me to have to defend it to someone who's already taken a vow to uphold it. Still, I sat down with purpose and was ready to do my duty. As it turns out she was part of the counterinsurgency. We had a great conversation. I'll detail more of it later perhaps, but I first wanted to tell a bit of her story. I asked as politely as I could why she wasn't wearing a veil if she was a non-rebellious sister. She shared that even though it's part of the sworn habit of her order there is a prudence clause that allows sisters to forego visual signs of religious orders in cases where persecution would make it basically impossible to do their work. In some areas it would clearly make them a target for persecution.

Short of becoming a target for violence or persecution allowance is also made for situations in which the harrassment would keep them from their ordinary duties. She said she had made a judgement of prudence as a result of harassment that she could better fulfill her orders if she went without the veil. She hastened to add that she did wear it when she was in a "safer" area, such as where she had just been to a conference. Oh, you'll be wanting to know in what land she served that she was worried about harasment and persecution...the Diocese of Rochester, New York.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Martini!!

Here we see that the Cardinal of Milan, and former Papabile frontrunner, is in fact the new John Kerry. I can hear the very "nuanced" bumper sticker machines churning.

Read Story

It makes Mahony not seem so bad. Urrg.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

On the Lighter Side

Here's a little quiz I ran across in my Judas reading: Which one is from the Gnostic "Gospel" of Judas?

1. No blame will be attached to elderly women who do not desire sex, if they take off their outer garments without flaunting their charms, but it is preferable for them not to do this: God is all hearing, all seeing."

2. "Jesus said, 'Truly I say to you, for all of them the stars bring matters to completion. When Saklas completes the span of time assigned for him, their first star will appear with the generations, and they will finish what they said they would do. Then they will fornicate in my name and slay their children [55] and they will […] and [—about six and a half lines missing—] my name, and he will […] your star over the [thir]teenth aeon.'

3. "Thomas said to them: "If I tell you one of the sayings he said to me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me, and fire will come out of the stones and burn you up."

The last is, unsurprisingly, from the Gnostic "Gospel" of Thomas, the first is from the Quran.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Gospel of Judas is Boring

There is nothing new here, so I wasn't going to blog on it. Frankly, it's just boring, same ol', same ol'. Nevertheless, so many people were actually talking about it over Holy Week that I thought I'd just hit the basics.

What is the Gospel of Judas? What is Gnosticism?

The "Gospel of Judas" is what's called a "Gnostic Gospel." The Gnostics were early heretics who denied either the full humanity or full divinity of Christ. The word "gnostic" comes from the Greek word "gnosis" for "knowledge". Gnostics thought they had secret knowledge that would lead to salvation. Here's how to understand gnosticism: think "new-ager conspiracy theorist". The modern-day counterparts to the gnostics are the UFO freaks and the crystal gazers rolled together.

What do Gnostics "Gospels" claim?

Gnostics claim that they have the "real" story of Jesus. They usually involve really off-the-wall stuff like--forgive me if I don't match the whacko story to the right Gnostic gospel, it's been years since I last read them--Jesus making birds out of clay (Gospel of Thomas) or a giant talking cross coming out of the tomb (Gospel of Mary, no Peter I think (there are also spurious gnostic Gospels for Philip, Thomas, even Eve!). And of course being early conspiracy theories they always pick some figure close to Jesus and tell the "real" story about them, as in the Da Vinci code's story about Mary Magdalene being the real leader of the early Christians or the gospel of Judas portraying Judas a real stand-up guy who got some bad press. They also have your basic New Age gobbledygook. Read them (I highly recommend them, they're like comic books) and you'll see that there's nothing new about the New Age.

Why don't "Gnostic gospels" like the Gospel of Judas pose a threat to Catholics?

Because they are written too late to be of relevance. No one disputes that they were written around 130-170. One of my favorite Early Church Fathers Saint Irenaeus of Lyons mentions it in his book Adversus haereses (Against the Heresies) which was written around 180. In Book I, Chapter 31 he says "They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas." They are also completely anonymous with no tradition connecting them to earlier times. The depended on special revelations for their secret knowledge usually, not history.
In contrast, all of the canonical synoptic Gospels were written before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Additionally, each is connected to some Apostle either as author or authorizer (for example we learn from Papias that the Gospel of Mark was written under the authority of Peter).

(The Four Evangelists from the Book of Kells)

Then why do the Press portray them as threatening?
Cha-ching! Sales baby, it's all in the numbers. Well not *all*, it's a plain fact that most journalists don't have a clue about historicity. They usually believe some version of the "pass it on" myth about the loss of the original message, which is complete poppycock. It is an axiom that the Catholic Church is an oppressive authoritarian institution, so that their condemnation of the heretical "gospels" is authorization suppression of a minority voice is a simply-derived theorem. They need to learn why Athanasius had the moniker "contra mundum"!

What should I do about it?

My recommendation is to read some gnostic Gospels. The gnostic "gospel" of Thomas is the most popular, so maybe start with that one. As soon as you get done with it--like immediately afterward--read through the canonical Gospels (it doesn't take that long). Comparing them back to back is very instructive. Then read the text of the gnostic "gospel" of Judas as soon as it comes out and do the same thing. If people jaw about it, invite them to do the same thing. Hype feeds off ignorance. Thus, Hype usually decreases in proportion to the decrease of ignorance.

More than you could ever bear to know about Gnosticism
Blog by excellent New Testament Scholar (this guys is really good and credible).

Books by trained scholars:
The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
Is The New Testament Reliable?
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels

Sunday, April 16, 2006

He is Risen!

Seven Stanzas at Easter

By John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Telephone Poles and Other Poems © 1961 by John Updike.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

O good and dearest Jesus,
I kneel before your face.
With all my heart
I ask you
to place in my heart
more faith, hope and charity.
Give me a true sorrow for my sins
and a strong will to do better
With great sorrow and grief
I look upon your five wounds
and think about them.
Before my eyes
are the words
that the prophet David said of you,
O good Jesus:
"They have pierced my hands and feet
They have numbered all my bones."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

An open letter to Father John Jenkins - Viewpoint

An open letter to Father John Jenkins - Viewpoint

Stumpe sent me this link. For anyone watching this controversy, this letter is a must-read. My favorite line:

"You were called to be courageous and you settled for being popular."

Monday, April 10, 2006


That's Latin for "shout out". This shout out goes to some new friends of mine.
I'd like to perform some introductions: Members and Readers of X-Catholics, this is The Cornell Society for a Good Time, the blog of Cornell University's Catholic Circle. I met two members of the circle at the 8th Annual Augustine Lectio last weekend: John Yarborough and Rachel Smith. John is a recent convert from Lutheranism. He was on a pre-seminary track at Valparaiso University, then did a Masters in Biblical Languages at Oxford, and is now a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Cornell. Rachel is a recent convert from Mormonism. She did her undergrad at Notre Dame where her dad (a sometime contributor to First Things whose latest book was reviewed by Antonin Scalia in the November issue) was a Law Professor (Stumpe? did you have a class with a Dr. Smith?). She is also in the PhD program in Philosophy at Cornell.

(Saint Augustine)

I spent many hours of great conversation with them and it was really a highlight of the semester. I hope to join them for a Latin Mass in Ithaca. Currently they drive an hour and a half each way to Scranton to attend a (licit) Latin Mass. They've got a very nice blog and I hope readers of X-Catholics will visit it.

(Saint John Bosco)

Friday, April 07, 2006

More on Augustine on time.

This past weekend I participated in the 8th Annual Augustine Lectio at the University of Massachusetts. The subject was Book XI of the Confessions, which is where Augustine treats the nature of time and its relation to God. My passage featured Augustine's treatment of the challenging questions

What was God doing before he created the world? Why didn't he create it earlier?

Augustine thinks that rather than creation being an act in time, time is an act of creation. That is, time only pertains to the created order. It follows from this that God is timeless. This is exceedingly difficult to grasp, but the alternative is that there have been an actual infinite number of moments before today which is like saying that you could count down from infinity to the present moment (which seems even more absurd than the idea of counting up to infinity). So either way we've got mystery (Augustine doesn't address these mysteries of infinity. It was treated by Aristotle and then later by the Muslim philosophers of the Medieval period after they conquered parts of Greece and by St. Boneventura).

I suggested that understanding what's wrong with the questions is not so much a matter of metaphysics and understanding the inner life of God. The worry behind such questions seems to be that God would just be "idle" without creation. Part of assuaging this worry would be a correct understanding of the doctrine of Social Trinitarianism (the realness of the distinctness of the Divine Persons), but that is not what I emphasized, since it was a conference on time. Rather, I suggested that the definition of eternity given by Boethius--"Eternity, then, is the complete, simultaneous and perfect possession of everlasting life" (The Consolation of Philosophy, V.VI)--holds the key to understanding that God is not bored without creation. In the society of the Holy Trinity, the Divine Persons have perfect fellowship and this life is eternal in the Boethian sense: that it lacks nothing at any time.

We experience good days and bad days. God never has a bad day. Even if we had a life where every single day was a good day, we experience the goodness of those days divided up over an infinite number of segments. Our now keeps moving along the timeline cutting us off from all but the traces of past pleasures. In God's eternal now, He experiences all goodness all at once. So there is no reason to be concerned that God would be bored or idle "before" creation. There's much more to be said, but this is all I have time for now.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Inquisition

I decided to address this question briefly in its own thread, since it is from before Spring Break.

"Trent,can you address one more issue? During the Inquisition times many books were burned. You spoke on preservation of Greco-Roman classical literature. Can you elaborate this?"

I. Re: Inquisition

First, a note about the "Inquisition". This term gets used a lot without much precision. The inquisition was a former tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church (1232-1820) created to discover and suppress heresy. It was fairly informal throughout the Medieval period and differed vastly from place to place. It should be noted that the practice was originated by a secular authority--Frederick II of Italy--and all the corporal punishments were carried out--by canon law--by the civil magistrate. Different Popes had different attitudes toward the use of inquisitors during the Medieval period.

Most of the (largely exaggerated) stories people hear are about the more formal and rigorous use of inquisitors--originally judges appointed to try people for heresy according to canon law. Again, the Grand Inquisitor--now made famous in the chapter by that name in Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamozov--was appointed by the King of each country (subject to papal approval) and some countries did not promote the use of inquisitors. Most Americans will be familiar with the Spanish regents Ferdinand and Isabella--the ones who commissioned Columbus. They used their considerable influence to protect their inquisitors from censure when the Pope threatened to depose them. As a result of the excesses in Spain, the iteration of the inquisition during the Protestant Revolution--under Pope Paul III--was strictly regulated. Tales of widespread horrid abuse by the Spanish Inquisition are typically gross exaggerations if not outright fiction.

There is a thorough history of the Inquisition here, a medium-sized history here, and a brief response here (further links here including Fact v. Fiction).

II. Re: Burning of Books.

One of the duties of the latter-day Inquisition was the Index of Forbidden Books (read about it here). The idea of freedom of the press or even free speech generally does not necessarily conflict with the practice of banning books. Note that recently a man was sentenced to prison in Germany for denying the Holocaust. Still, no one would say--point blank--that Germany does not have freedom of speech. In France there is a division of the government which determines which non-French neologisms may be used in print. There have even been laws (for example the Toubon law) enacted which require that all print ads and billboards with foreign expressions include a French translation and which require quotas of French-language songs (at least 40%) on the radio. Yet we would not say--without reservation--there is no freedom of speech in France.

Rather, different societies place different restrictions of the exercise of free speech. So yes, books were burned (they didn't have land-fills in those days) to protect people from being mislead by them. Even some Bibles were burned! Why? Some anti-Catholic propagandists will tell you it's because they didn't want the common person to be able to read the Bible for themselves or they were inherently opposed to vernacular translations. A brief perusal of the heretical notes in the Geneva Bible, for example, tell the true tale. Early Reformers actually added their own philosophy right in the text of the scriptures--much like the modern Protestant "Study Bibles"--and this simply could not be tolerated. For a great little history of the Church and the Bible see Where we Got The Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church written, I think, when the author was still a Calvinist.

III. Preservation of Classical Culture
There's a good brief (and a bit breezy) summary in Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization. The book is somewhat controversial, since--as I've pointed out in a few previous quotes--moderns hate to give any credit to the Catholic Church. Keep in mind it is a popular history, but the basic narrative is accurate and there are many more in-depth books I can recommend if you want to follow it up. Cahill is not my kind of Catholic, and I have my own disagreements, but the book is still the best overview of the topic.