Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Prayers Please

I've not had too much to say recently here, and I'm not sure when I will. However, prayers are always appreciated.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Humeral Veils

Another post on vestments because, after a Solemn Mass I went to recently for Assumption, I was thinking about humeral veils.

Some people are under the impression that the humeral veil is worn to stop unconsecrated hands from touching consecrated objects. However, this is untrue. As I have explained before, only consecrated things may touch the Eucharist itself, but there need not be an infinite regress of consecrations to touch consecrated things.

In fact, touching consecrated vessels used to be limited simply to clerics in Major Orders and was one of their distinguishing priveleges that made them Major rather than Minor (even though the subdiaconate is a sacramental and not a Sacrament proper). Yet the subdeacon uses the humeral veil to hold the paten during Solemn Mass, even though during his ordination he is handed an empty paten and chalice (thus showing he can touch consecrated vessels without issue).

Rather, the humeral veil (note similarity of the term "humeral" to "humility") seems to signify that the object one is holding does not belong to you. So, for example, in Benediction. The priest holds the monstrance with a humeral veil. Now, monstrances are not consecrated (only the luna, the "clip" which holds the Sacred Host, is consecrated). But the priest covers his hands and arms with the humeral veil so that it is clear in Benediction that it is Christ in the Blessed Sacrament who blesses, not the priest. The priest "disappears" (his face may even be covered by the monstrance itself if it's big enough and you look straight-on).

A similar principle is true for the so-called vimpa. The vimpa is a shawl worn by servers at Pontifical Masses to hold the mitre and crosier, to show that they do not belong to them (they are proper to the bishop himself, of course). However, the distinction between vimpa and humeral veil seems rather late, and even Catholic Encyclopedia in 1917 seems to indicate that the vimpa is just a humeral veil (if made smaller in size), as it speaks of the "humeral veil worn by the mitre-bearer" which I'm pretty sure means what is often now called the vimpa in traditionalist circles. Green vimpae for the mitre and crosier are shown here:

The vimpae below illustrate this principle of showing to whom the items are actually proper quite nicely by having on their backs the Arms of the Cardinal whose mitre and crosier they are bearing, indicating that they are to be associated with him and not the servers themselves:

Here is a familiar face as subdeacon bearing the paten in humeral veil at a Solemn Mass:

Why the humeral veil for subdeacons with the paten at Solemn Mass like this? The same Catholic Encyclopedia article seems to suggest that originally the paten was borne by an acolyte and was not held by the subdeacon until later. This would explain the humeral veil and hark back somewhat to the theory that the humeral veil is about people holding (consecrated) vessels they shouldn't touch. The subdeacon apparently bore the chalice with a cloth that later evolved into the chalice veil.

However, I'd also theorize that it may be related to the concept of the humeral veil signifying non-ownership of a held item in liturgy too. While subdeacons can touch patens and other consecrated vessels (say, during distribution of communion, as no "stick" is required for paten for a subdeacon, or for washing in the sacristy, etc)...the paten at Mass might be seen as "proper" to the priest and thus belonging only to him (so when a lesser minister bears it, he wears the humeral veil.)

Even more interesting, I might theorize it perhaps relates to the origin of the rite of the comingling, the so called fermentum, as explained in this book:
The unity of the local church with its bishop celebrated in the stational liturgy was especially evident in the ancient practice called the fermentum (literally 'leaven'). Roman presbyters were obliged to celebrate the Eucharist on Sundays and feast days in their own churches (tituli) for those who could not take part in the solemn papal Eucharist. As a symbol of the communion shared between the Bishop of Rome and his flock--present and absent--the bishop broke off small pieces of his host at the time of Communion which would be given to each of the tituli for their own Eucharist that day. The small piece of that host was then carried by the acolytes or deacons back to those churches. At the moment of Communion, the presbyters would place the small fragment of the papal host in the chalice. Pope Innocent I attests to the practice in a famous letter sent to Decentius, Bishop of Gubbio, in the year 415. It is not clear when the custom was introduced, and after the seventh century, with the waning of the stational liturgy, it was only continued at the Easter vigil.
Perhaps the holding of the paten in a humeral veil by acolytes and later subdeacon evolved from the bringing of the fragment of the fermentum from the papal liturgy to the various tituli. One can imagine that a minister would hold this paten with the papal fragment (which did not belong to them, but to the Pope) until it was time for the comingling (whose origin is certainly in this practice of the fermentum). At least, that's what I always imagine the historical provenance is when I'm at a Solemn Mass.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Coach God

Okay, so I know I said a recent post was likely the sportiest thing you'd ever see on this blog, but I felt compelled to use this metaphor too today, if only vaguely.

I've been preparing for some major changes in my life this past month, practically speaking, and also on something of an emotional roller coaster. It's amazing what highs and lows I can go through in the course of a day.

Some of it is just in my own head. Self-contained thought and emotion without outlet tends to sour rather than sweeten, and so dwelling on things, even in an attempt to temporarily comfort oneself, can eventually leave the rationalization feeling hollow if all the "evidence" for why every little thing is gonna be alright is just arguments constructed in ones own head rather than any new external evidence or validation.

Some of the bumps in the road are "real" problems related to external circumstances, however, and it is here especially that I feel the hand of God. I've encountered many obstacles in my life in the past few weeks, and they can send me reeling or tempted to despair. But, at the same time, I feel like they've made me stronger, more perseverant. And marching forward in spite of them, in a sort of blind faith and trust without any sensible consolation, has so far always been rewarded eventually (both recently and in my life at large) by the obstacle being removed and everything working out even better than I'd expected.

I guess my point is: trust God. He may lead you through an "obstacle course" to make you stronger or to test your Faith, to increase your fortitude or prove you're willing to suffer much to succeed, but if you keep soldiering on and don't let the stress get to you, I have always seen things work out in the end, in amazing ways I never would have even expected. I feel almost like God does coach us with escalating hardship this way, like going through some sort of boot-camp, and that if we remain single-hearted about our intentions, even in some sense "willful" like the nagging widow parable, He won't let us down, and it can all only be good for us in the end.

Winston Churchill knew a lot about this, I think, because he generated not one, but two relevant (and very famous, though I hope never cliched) quotes: "When you're going through Hell, keep going," and "Never, never, never, never give up!" I think a lot of people are "inspired" by those sentiments, but then actually never follow through. And inspiration without action...really isn't even inspiration at all. A good coach knows how to use inspiration to incite constructive action.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Anscombe and Intentional Act

Two sex posts in one day!!!

Actually, that shouldn't be too surprising. Obviously, when one is contemplating a topic one is bound to have a cascade of thoughts that don't necessarily make it into the first post, that are the result of further reflection or discussion with readers.

A friend of mine recommended an article by Elizabeth Anscombe from back in 1972 defending the Humanae Vitae and the Church's notions of the virtue of chastity.

One thing I like about this article is how it addresses all the common objections both practical and theological, but most especially "historical," to the Church's teaching (and the "wedge in the door" some people on both sides of the argument see NFP as being, the "change" some think its allowance represents).

Another thing I like is how, though it does touch on very specific technical questions of morality, the overall outlook of the article is ultimately broad and "big picture." Rather than obsess about this or that point of the minutiae of sexual morality being discussed out-of-context (as I've sometimes done in my attempt to get everything pegged down)...I like Anscombe's organizing principle that the Good actualized in sex is nothing other than Marriage itself (and that, basically, since marriage cannot be separated from the idea of parenthood, only the conceptive sort of act can be The Marital Act and actualize the good of marriage, even if the good of conception itself is not always actualized).

However, I am going to be obsessing over one minor technical point, because it involves changing or modifying an opinion I've expressed in the past.
Specifically, I have maintained that it would be helpful, in defending the teachings, for the Church to maintain a clearer distinction between contraception (which modifies the sex act itself through non-vaginal ejaculation) and sterilization (which occurs before the fact, and is wrong whether sex in fact follows or not, but which does not necessarily render the sex itself unchaste; for example, men with vasectomies aren't required to get them reversed, and canon courts have recognized sex on the pill as valid consummation of marriage in a way they never would for condoms.)
However, Anscombe's article got me thinking that perhaps there is less of a distinction than I had thought.
Oddly enough, it was specifically her mentioning douching as a contraceptive method that got me thinking. My sterilization/contraception dichotomy doesn't really take into account after-the-fact methods of preventing conception. Oh, I had thought of douching, but had just sort of assumed it was lumped in with contraception given that it ultimately involves a sort of post facto frustration of actual seminal deposit.
However, I was thinking today that if what matters for morality is the character of the act of the will at the time, that post-contraception may be as distinct as pre-contraception (ie, sterilization). Because, obviously, just as a man might get a vasectomy and then repent before having sex with his wife (separating a bad act of mutilation from a good sex act) too a couple might have perfectly chaste sex, only for the wife to decide 20 minutes later that she was going to douche.
In both cases, there is a question of potential temporal separation between what are in effect two different acts of the will (the choice to do something to prevent conception on the one hand, and the choice to actually have sex on the other), whereas in what I was calling "contraception" in the strict sense, the two choices seemed inseparable (ie, there was one choice only: to have an unnatural sort of sex).
And yet, then, I thought...I suppose there could be separate acts even during sex. For example, the choice to start sex with a condom (intending to finish like that) would be unchaste and immoral by that intent, but if the couple had a miraculous change of heart even during the act itself, and removed the condom, the choice to continue and finish naturally would be a new separate good choice (that would not, however, excuse the first bad intent/choice).
So, it seems to me, before-the-fact and after-the-fact methods perhaps cannot be differentiated in kind from during-the-act methods. Although before-the-fact methods, by the nature of their temporal separation, allow for the possibility of the sex being a new act (with a potentially new intent if the couple repents of the contraceptive intent in the meantime) most cases the intent of the sterilization will be, obviously, to exclude conception from the sex later, and as such forms virtually one act with the sex itself (and has the character, by that very intent, of unchastity and not merely mutilation as I had argued before) unless, as I said, a new resolve is made in the meantime (which then involves two acts of the will: first bad, then good).
Likewise, though an after-the-fact method might be made separate from the choice to have otherwise natural intercourse itself, if it was intended already before or during the act, it renders the whole act unchaste by intent. And even if the decision is made 20 minutes after, then this decision simply constitutes the "reverse" of the "changing resolves" situation described for before-the-fact methods in the last paragraph: it involves a second act of the will that is unchaste, even though the first was moral and good.
So, I would now admit that sterilization and contraception are the same species of sin, and that while before-the-fact methods might allow (by their temporal separation) for a greater likelihood of a second act to take place that is good (in the form of repentance or changing resolve, even without reversing the procedure), in most cases they form virtually one intent with the act itself, and do have the character of unchastity by that intent.
Of course, to clarify, the intent not to actually reproduce is not bad in itself, obviously, or all celibacy or abstinence would have to be condemned! We are not required to be actualizing any particular good at any given time unless there is a positive obligation. However, as I discussed before, the deformity in contraception lies in this intent entering into and changing the internal structure or logic of the type of act chosen itself. In NFP there may be an intent to not conceive, yes, but it is "parallel" to the choice of having sex (obviously no one would say the couple is having sex "in order to not conceive"!) and actually related to the choice to abstain on the fertile days.

As Anscombe says, "you use the rhythm method not just by having intercourse now, but by not having it next week, say; and not having it next week isn't something that does something to today's intercourse to turn it into an infertile act." So the intent to avoid conception in NFP does not change the sort of act chosen as it does in contraception. The intent exists, yes, but "parallel" to the choice to have sex in itself, because the non-conceptive intent is actually ssociated with the choice of abstinence on the fertile days, not with the choice of sex on the infertile days (because, obviously, no conception would happen on the infertile days whether sex takes place or not).

Permissive Will and Sufficient Grace

Random, but another thought or analogy on NFP I had, as it troubles me that so many people seem to view it as equivalent to contraception (because they apparently have a consequentialist understanding of morality) when to me they are clearly worlds apart.

Specifically, I thought today of the difference between God's indicative vs. His permissive Will.

God does not actively cause evil or suffering. Nevertheless, Providence is sovereign over all (even our free choices) and Providence sometimes "arranges" things in such a manner that He foresees evil or suffering will result (and even be instrumental or "intended" in some final sense) for the sake of the greater Good. Everything happens for a reason.

Yet this sort of passive Providential "allowance" for evil, this subtle arrangement of its place in the drama, as the result of some otherwise neutral or good thing He does (like giving us free will, etc) considered very different from God actively willing or causing evil. It is almost like God using "Double Effect" in the cosmos (it's just that God foresees all the consequences, good and bad, of all His acts).

Likewise, it is not always wrong to "arrange" events so that, due to something we are not actively causing, some good is excluded in the practical external circumstances, as long as the orientation of our Will is still ordered properly and intelligibly relative to that good in the internal moral sense.

I thought also of the difference, probably even more apt, between God giving sufficient vs. efficacious grace. God's grace can truly be called sufficient even if He infallibly foresees (and by His permissive Will even "intends" in some sense) it will infallibly fail. Deliberately not including the actual good of a good act of our Will doesn't change the fact that the grace is still sufficient in its potential, and is definitely very different than actively willing us to sin.

An act of the Will can still, internally, contain a good in potentia like that, can still be an act that sets the Will on the proper "trajectory" towards The Good, even before the consideration of external circumstances verifies whether there are obstacles (uncaused by the Will itself) that may block the path of that trajectory once it is "fired," as it were.

But morality doesn't primarily depend on the practical success of actualizing goods externally, it depends on the orientation of the Will itself towards the internal Form of the Good. God giving a grace He infallibly foresees will (given the circumstances external to His own will; ie, the person's free will), fail (and even perhaps, in the plan of Providence, "needs" to fail for the sake of the greater good) is not the same as actively causing someone to sin (even when He could have given an efficacious grace instead!) God's choice of merely sufficient-but-not-efficacious grace cannot be said to be disordered.

And from here, I think the analogy I'm getting at is rather clear. Far from being a loop-hole or scholastic complication, NFP (and the whole moral framework it is a part of) is a logical consequence of the very nature of our theodicy.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Too Many Doctors?

Pope Benedict announced at WYD that St. John of Avila will be named a Doctor of the Church.

Is it just me, or is this inflation in that title a bit troubling. The four original Doctors of the (Western) Church were proclaimed in 1298. No more were so titled until St. Pius V named four Doctors of the Eastern Church in 1568 along with St. Thomas Aquinas, of course. St. Bonaventure was named in 1588 and four more in the 1700's...but then there was a huge explosion in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the novel naming of three (female) Doctress-Virgins. In less than 200 years, fourteen became 33 and, now, 34.

I find this troubling. Prior to 300 years only two Popes invoked this title. Since 1828, almost every Pope has named at least one. As if it's just one of those things a Pope has to do at least once. That sort of tokenism troubles me. Next every Pope will be wanting to make at least one ex cathedra statement in their pontificate...

Now, I'll admit, most of the Doctors make sense to me. Most of them really are towering theological figures who one would expect to be given that title (in the West, at least, though a Western bias is very apparent).

However, there are liturgical concerns too. Though it may not be a principle in the Novus Ordo, in the Old Rite every Doctor definitely got a feast, a Double, on the calendar (and even, at one point, had the Credo said at their Masses). And yet calendar cluttering is one concern I think would need to be dealt with in any re-attempt of the reform of the Old Rite.

I'd be inclined to have only an average of three feasts per week (though there may be a way, as was eventually attempted, to keep many more minor Saints simply as commemorations with their Collects) and yet at this rate, there's already a Doctor for well more than half the weeks year. Let alone other Saints. And there is no particular guidance on how to commemorate the Doctress-Virgins (St. Theresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Therese of Lisieux) in the Old Rite.

And 33 was such a nice round symbolic number too. Now the next numerological "milestone" they could hit would be 40...

Sunday, August 21, 2011


A few months ago, Archbishop Dolan "warned" everyone that legal recognition for polygamy could follow upon recognition of gay "marriage."

Sensationalism, perhaps, but...frankly don't see why polygamy didn't come first. Or why that is the bogeyman he's chosen to use. At least there is historical (and Biblical!) precedent for polygamy!

Heck, in traditional Catholic thought, polygamy isn't even considered against the primary precepts of the natural law, and certainly is/was allowed for non-Christians at least. It's even recognized still in Canon Law:

Can. 1148 §1. When he receives baptism in the Catholic Church, a non-baptized man who has several non-baptized wives at the same time can retain one of them after the others have been dismissed, if it is hard for him to remain with the first one. The same is valid for a non-baptized woman who has several non-baptized husbands at the same time.

§2. In the cases mentioned in §1, marriage must be contracted in legitimate form after baptism has been received, and the prescripts about mixed marriages, if necessary, and other matters required by the law are to be observed.

§3. Keeping in mind the moral, social, and economic conditions of places and of persons, the local ordinary is to take care that the needs of the first wife and the others dismissed are sufficiently provided for according to the norms of justice, Christian charity, and natural equity.
This canon is relevant mainly in pagan mission territories, of course, Africa and Papua New Guinea and the like. Still, as a Catholic, I actually have a lot fewer qualms about polygamy (polyandry is a bit more problematic; one man can impregnate several women at a time, but the reverse is not true) than about gay "marriage." For the unbaptized, I mean.

And there is perhaps some indication of the first steps of pushes in that direction. I'm not saying it's comparable. Those people are trying to make their situation (which they conceive of as polygamy) legal in Utah as opposed to being covered by the bigamy law for simple cohabitation. They aren't seeking positive legal recognition, merely for their current living situation to not be illegal.

It's not "really" a big deal. But, then again, people said striking down sodomy laws wasn't really a big deal because "they were never enforced anyway. Not that I'm saying I support laws attempting to regulate private behavior between consenting adults (I don't), but there's no denying that it was a legal wedge that, just a few years later, did play out as positive state recognition (as opposed to just toleration) for homosexual unions, and the manipulative tactics of social re-engineering apparent there are fascinating, and potentially alarming for Christians.

I'm not saying it's comparable. But I am saying that even discussing "polygamy" at the level of the Supreme Court could be (in an imaginable scenario, even if it's not the way things actually play out), a step in "opening the conversation" culturally (I also think of TV shows like Sister Wives).

Whether this will ultimately become part of the pattern remains to be seen. But there is an eerie pattern to how things previously unthinkable are normalized in our culture, with the media and the courts playing a big role (as well as denial, up to the last minute, that there is any sort of slippery slope).

Even if it remains "fringe"...polygamy is no longer "off the radar" in our culture. There has been a lot of coverage all decade, some positive, some negative (one thinks of that case with the FLDS). But it's being discussed, it is in people's heads now.

And I think we can expect that activists for it will try to appropriate the banner of "progress" that the gay rights movement, in turn, appropriated from the civil rights movement, etc. It's a powerful narrative to attempt to plug oneself into symbolically in the collective consciousness.

I'm not going to make any predictions about whether they'll succeed or not in convincingly becoming the "heirs" of the progressivist banner in their endless parade of "causes," but I will say at least that I wouldn't be surprised if some sort of legal framework was created to deal with such households.

It may not get all the benefits if marriage (can an insurance plan really be expected to cover potentially dozens of separate individuals??) but when it comes to things like needing to sort out custody of children, power of attorney, visitation rights, property ownership, almost seems negligent to me at this point not to have some sort of arrangement legally when such cases exist. At that point, ideology aside, there is a practical reality that has to be dealt with.

And if one man is the father of children by several different women...does the State really think that making him choose only one as his "wife" and just having the others be "merely" baby-mamas whom he owes really any "better" than letting him be married (and share health-care benefits, etc) to all of them?

Really, I'd be all for recognizing the ability to have care-taker relationships with multiple people. The only reason I doubt it will happen is practical: companies can't really be expected to pay for insurance for multiple wives, and it doesn't really solve the problem of who has the "final" word when it comes to important decisions, etc.

So, I suppose for men are stuck with a system of one primary "official" bride and then multiple mistresses or concubines, just as we've always been...

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Request

I got a request by e-mail that I give a shout-out to this blog with pictures of the 1604 Missale Romanum.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ideology and Identity

There was a post on Vox Nova a couple months ago that I've meant to briefly come back to here but never got around to it until now. The premise of the post was talking about Žižek on Christianity. I have no real interest in that in itself (I think Arturo Vasquez's conclusion that he's "the intellectual clown of the petit-bourgeois left" pretty much sums up my feelings there).

However, what I did think was worth pointing out was the question of Christianity-as-ideology vs genuine Christian faith:
If we look at the “ordinary” practice of Catholicism (or Christianity in general), we see that we are often caught up in externalities—the forms of being Catholic—and that the substance seems to be overlooked. Indeed, the radical core of the Christian message is often actively discounted: “Yes, scripture says X and the saints did Y, but what is really important for us is Z.” Far too often Christianity is functioning not as a liberation from the world, but as an ideological system that keeps Catholics chained to the world—in Zizekian terms, true faith is replaced by a Christian fantasy.

The external forms that masquerade as “true Catholicism” depend on whether one is “liberal” or “conservative” (suggesting that there are at least two ideological fantasies in play in the Church today): devotion to “traditional Catholicism” or “the spirit of Vatican II”, rubricism, inclusiveness, pro-life activism, social justice work, etc. A commonality emerges if we examine them from a Zizekian perspective. The psychological attractiveness lies in the reassurance that if I believe/do/act in these ways, then I will be a “real” Catholic (in the sense of a totalizing identity) and, perhaps even more importantly, the other—the Pope, the institutional Church, my pastor, the other members of my parish, the beloved community—will love me and accept me.
To me this seems highly relevant to the whole "Renegade Trads" idea. Some of you may have noticed that I recently added to the description of the blog in the side-bar a rejection of identity-politics. Obviously part of the problem, of the "inauthenticity" that many people (both within and without the Church) see in modern Christianity, is this sense that (especially in its conservative or reactionary forms; political labels both) it is just another sort of identity-craft for many, an ideological masquerade. To paraphrase what I wrote in the comments:

I myself have been mulling over for some time the paradox of the Church as Mystical Sinless Bride, a community which is set in opposition to The World, but which is also necessarily in the world and incarnate in the visible Institutional Church which is, being made up of mortal human sinners as it is, just as much a part of The World as any other polity. I think this paradox is similar to what I've written before about Ecclesia and Synagoga being distinct and yet one, and how such a simple dualism is not the structure of the symbolic syntax of Christianity.

So I would whole-heartedly agree: this is what needs to be transcended. I would also argue, however, that it never can be fully in this life. This is why the history of the Church is one of constant decay and then reform. The Saint will reject all sorts of identities only to feel a new one crystalizing around the identity of that reform or renunciation itself…and so then will need to “break out” again and again and again, constantly running from the self-alienation of objectifying in any identification with/in The World (as any identity is).

Often I notice this happening with myself. I have always been suspicious of adhering to any pre-packaged identity since I was a child, but several times my attempt to craft an identity around the very rejection of that or around outsider status...has simply hardened into a new sort of oppositional-identity, and defining oneself as what one isn't can be just as dangerous as defining oneself as what one is.

I even fear with the whole renegade trads thing that too often I think of my friends and allies and I as a special "sane yet orthodox and traditional" in-group set against the Novus Ordo conservative nutcases on the one hand, the crazy rad-trads on the other, and the progressivist heretics on both feet, in an "us-them" sort of contempt where only we have our priorities correct. So I must constantly remember to temper myself and others against that sort of arrogant and ultimately limiting vision.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Poena Damni

It's been an odd and agitated month of ups and downs. I had a strange dream last night; it wasn't a nightmare really, but it was extremely painful. I'm half-worried that I may have had a minor heart-attack in my sleep (or maybe it was just a bad cramp from my mattress, lol).

But in the dream I started out very confident that I could undergo martyrdom, but then they began to actually crucify me, except it was just on sort of a board rather than a cross, and I lay on the board and they put one nail through my left hand and one directly through my heart. That didn't hurt so much, and I thought "Okay, I can do this," but then as soon as they started lifting the board vertically and my weight thus started being placed on the nails, the one in my heart started to just burn like no pain I'd ever felt before.

Actually, I think that it was up to me to lift myself vertically, and so it became a question of will power, it turned out I was in control of the whole thing. I tried a few times (I don't really know how it would have worked physically) to will myself upright with the board, but as soon as any of my weight started being supported by the nail in my chest I would give up and fall back down.

I've often thought that if pain was inflicted on me outside my control this would be not as bad as having to make a choice, because in the former case there is nothing you can do except go along with it passively (maybe even able to dissociate from your own body), whereas the latter requires a fortitude I don't always have and an active presence of mind that would seem to make the whole thing worse. However, in this case I thought to myself "This would be terrible even if it were just happening to me involuntarily, because the pain of even putting a little bit of weight on the nail is awful. I'm glad I can choose not to go through with this, I don't know how Christ did it for three hours!" And I started panicking terribly about pain, realized I couldn't force it on myself, and removed myself from the board and ran off weeping feeling very much humbled.

I woke up feeling very much resolved to try to abstain from sin, realizing that every time I sinned, I (from the eternal perspective of God) increased the pain I caused Christ on the cross, that His sufferings were so much greater than I could even willingly stand for a few seconds, that His pain was increased for every sin committed or to-be-committed in history, and that this idea that I would do that to Him whom I love was terrifying (and all the more terrifying "knowing" that it's probable I will again.)

And yet I say it wasn't a nightmare because, I suppose, in a nightmare I'm always running from something awful I expect to be coming (but never usually does). In this case, besides the moment of panic anticipating what it would be like if I were to actually hang there with my full weight for hours, I would not say fear was the dominant experience in this dream, but rather pain (physical pain) because the pain was already there (and fear is, as I said, more an anticipation). So when I woke, there was no lingering panic or anything like that as is characteristic of a nightmare (and as awful as the pain was, I still think fear is worse.)

Nevertheless, this all got me thinking of something else I've been pondering a lot lately which is the real nature of pain and loss, and being proud of my own resilience and ability to, with the help of friends, get up again and be proactive and enjoy life once more so quickly even in the face of loss or grief or disappointed desires. I've been thinking lately something along the lines of that the experience of sadness or deprivation being selfish and even infantile, because there are so many good things in the world that, even if one good thing is taken away from us, there is no reason we can't enjoy so many others unless we have idolatrously placed our Last End in a specific one. People who complain about being deprived of one good (even if it is something like food, or sleep, or a loved one) seem to be ignoring the fact that our wills can rest in any Good, and that even if we are denied something we want, there are a billion other desirable things and experiences in the world and reasons to keep on fighting.

At the same time, pain clearly has a "positive" reality subjectively. Aquinas says about pain and sorrow that they are unlike desire inasmuch as desire is about being drawn toward a good not yet obtained, but that pain and sorrow about positively fleeing away from the absence of a good, and absence constructed by perception as a positive presence (although evil is only ever, really, a mere absence). I'm not sure if this means anything practically in terms of being able to "think our way out" of sadness or pain in all cases. Invariably, even if I rest my will in moving towards some other good, I will still be naturally inclined flee from, in another aspect, the absence of the good of bodily health (ie, the subjective experience of physical pain, nausea, etc). And that's simply how we're designed for self-preservation (and why we need the virtue of fortitude for when the greater and more holistic good demands giving up self-preservation).

However, it would seem that other absences are more acquired than natural (ie, I won't grieve over the loss of someone I never even knew) and that, thus, deconstructing the pain of flight from these absences might be easier. The lack of certain material possessions, or certain goods I've trumped up in my own head...will only cause me to be sad or unhappy as long as I remain attached to the constructions of their absence as a positive evil, or refuse to place my desire in something else that is good and present and obtainable. And if (assuming no sin) I refuse to place it in something else (whether temporarily or permanently), it must mean the love for that thing is still worth even the pain of continued unfulfillment as regards it specifically (in regards to God in the life of the Saints, this may refer to the so-called "dark nights" where positive consolation is removed).

And even those evils that are naturally repugnant (like hunger or thirst or physical pain and what they signify) will not outlast the body. In fact, the only absence, the only lack, the only loss we really have to worry about is the poeni damni, the pain of the total loss of God in Hell, as the Catholic Encyclopedia describes:
The poena damni, or pain of loss, consists in the loss of the beatific vision and in so complete a separation of all the powers of the soul from God that it cannot find in Him even the least peace and rest. It is accompanied by the loss of all supernatural gifts, e.g. the loss of faith. The characters impressed by the sacraments alone remain to the greater confusion of the bearer. The pain of loss is not the mere absence of superior bliss, but it is also a most intense positive pain. The utter void of the soul made for the enjoyment of infinite truth and infinite goodness causes the reprobate immeasurable anguish. Their consciousness that God, on Whom they entirely depend, is their enemy forever is overwhelming. Their consciousness of having by their own deliberate folly forfeited the highest blessings for transitory and delusive pleasures humiliates and depresses them beyond measure. The desire for happiness inherent in their very nature, wholly unsatisfied and no longer able to find any compensation for the loss of God in delusive pleasure, renders them utterly miserable. Moreover, they are well aware that God is infinitely happy, and hence their hatred and their impotent desire to injure Him fills them with extreme bitterness. And the same is true with regard to their hatred of all the friends of God who enjoy the bliss of heaven. The pain of loss is the very core of eternal punishment. If the damned beheld God face to face, hell itself, notwithstanding its fire, would be a kind of heaven. Had they but some union with God even if not precisely the union of the beatific vision, hell would no longer be hell, but a kind of purgatory. And yet the pain of loss is but the natural consequence of that aversion from God which lies in the nature of every mortal sin.
Only this is inherently naturally unbearable. Every other sort of absence should be bearable, and indeed even in the abstract good, if we could rest our wills in even one little crumb or fragment of goodness. And, as long as we live, there is good all around us! Every rock and tree and sound is a good. Complaining because we are merely less happy than before (but still happy), that we have simply less good (but still plenty of good)...strikes me as rather ungrateful to God and spoilt (even though I know I do it all the time). The only truly repugnant evil is Hell. Our souls, in this life, are never filled with infinite Good (as they only can be in heaven), and yet the presence of even just some good is enough to make us relatively happy (though never, ultimately, to satisfy us).

So no matter what sort of pain I may be in, next time I find myself on a cross, I need to remember that if I can look down and see even one good thing, even if it is merely the experiential knowledge of the shape of one little pebble, they still haven't really taken anything essential to my happiness away from me, I still have some good, and any real and rightly ordered good, however small, can be a "ladder to heaven," as it were, a source of happiness and desirabilty as a starting point by which to orient my will on the trajectory to The Good.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Out of My Head

567 listens and counting...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stupidest. Article. Ever.

Some of you may have seen this already, but it's just so egregious it has to be pointed out.

Extreme homophobic prejudice and caricatures permeate Verrecchio's article. Including, right off the bat, insinuating that homosexuality is the cause of child abuse. Now, we can't deny that statistics indicate a certain disproportion there (about 1/3rd of abuse cases are same-sex, even though homosexuals are definitely not 1/3rd of the total population), especially in the priesthood. But when girls are abused (as is still true in the majority of cases in society at large) is anyone going to claim that heterosexuality is at fault!? Obviously not, and besides, there is simply the fact that sexually predatory behavior has been shown to be a different and largely independent phenomenon from normal sexual orientation; for example, many male abusers of boys prefer women when it comes to their tastes in adults, and there are even gay men (in terms of adult orientation) who abuse little girls.

But, though the scapegoating of homosexuals in the sex abuse crisis is disgusting and cowardly on the part of conservatives, and though his psycho-pathologizing of it as narcissistic, symptomatic of masculine gender insecurity, and emotional neediness is likewise reprehensible (did he ever stop to think that maybe the emotional problems or affectations of homosexuals are not intrinsic to it, but rather the result of social homophobia, heterosexist constructions of manhood, etc??) those aren't even the dumbest things in this article. The dumbest thing is his thesis that there is a correlation between homosexuality and progressive liturgy and liturgical abuse. To this...anyone in the know can only say: ha!

I have been surprised, or perhaps not-so-surprised upon considering it, that my blog attracts a particular crowd, that there are a variety of tropes that keep popping up among readers who contact me. And I'm proud of that; this is really a blog for outsiders, after all, and hearing people's different experiences has been great. The point is: I can tell you, most gay Catholics I have now met (both orthodox/celibate and not) are trad-leaning, and there are clearly many homosexuals (if often closeted) in trad-land. Does Verrecchio not know of the trope of the "liturgy queen"???

In this case, a generic lumping of various types of progressivism into a single bogeyman just doesn't work out and is demonstrably absurd. The situation is much more nuanced and complicated than that, and in the current system of alliances there are some very surprising bedfellows (no pun intended...)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why Quidditch Does Make Sense

This post has nothing to do with Catholicism whatsoever, but I have nowhere else as an outlet to post it, so please bear with me. If you have no interest in this sort of thing, just ignore this one; it's probably just about the only thing even remotely close to a "sports" related post that you'll ever see me do.

This is about something that has bugged me for a long time: the magical sport of Quidditch in the Harry Potter universe has never made sense to me. But I finally had an epiphany today that may explain it.

I'm apparently not the only one. In the press conference for the launch of a new website, authoress J.K. Rowling announced that she was releasing some 18,000 words of new material on the Harry Potter universe (not new stories, but new trivia basically), and made the following comment promising a further explanation of Quidditch:

“I don’t think I’ve given all the stuff on Quidditch yet. Men always ask me about Quidditch because the number of, and I love geeky people so I do not say this in a pejorative way, but the number of geeky men who have come up to me to argue with me about Quidditch – I’d be a lot richer if I had a quid for every one. They just think it’s illogical. But it’s not illogical and I had a speech by Dumbledore in the first book that never made it in explaining why Quidditch is not illogical, so at some point I will put that on the site. Thank you for reminding me.”
I can't say what the "explanation" she will offer will be, but I can say that up until this quote got me thinking about the topic again today (and doing a little more research) I would have been one of those geeky men who thought Quidditch was illogical. However, I was helped to make a realization of how it might not be illogical (though I'm not sure it's the explanation she'll ultimately give.)

The objection to the logic of Quidditch that many people have boils down to this (I'm just going to assume that if you want to read this post, you already know the rules): if the Seeker catches the Snitch, they almost always win, so this makes the Chasers and everything with the Quaffle seem superfluous. "No," you'll be told, "Because if the other team is more than 150 points ahead, you can catch the Snitch and still lose!" True enough, but at that point...why would any Seeker of a team losing by more than 150 points ever willingly catch the Snitch?

Sure, there might be rare cases (such as that of the World Cup presented in the fourth book) where a Seeker "knows" his team will never catch up points-wise and so catches the Snitch to end the match even though he knows they'll lose. But such cases of "honor" or "ending things on our own terms" seem like they would be rare. And, frankly, I still have a hard time believing that Krum, within just a few hours of the match beginning (when it's said Quidditch matches can go days and weeks), didn't think his team could make even just the two measly goals that would have been needed to close the gap and set them up for a win (assuming he still caught the Snitch).

Likewise, I understand that if two Seekers were both going after the Snitch, the Seeker of the losing team's hand might be "forced" to catch the Snitch first if he could so as to regain some sort of honor for his team, because otherwise the other guy would get it and the loss would be that much more monumental. But I think this case would be rare too, and in terms of the actual outcome of the game it's still inconsequential--that team still loses. I'm not sure mere "honor" is enough motive to designate as logical the idea of Seekers from the losing team regularly catching the Snitch rather than waiting until the gap is closed.

In general, it doesn't seem like there is usually a reason (no reason internal the game itself, at least) for a Seeker on a massively losing team to not simply wait until his team has made enough goals to cover the difference before catching the Snitch. Which means the team that catches the Snitch will almost always win, meaning that the Chasers and Quaffle-points thing...seems almost always just a superfluous complication.

However, it was suggested to me today that the rankings in Quidditch may not be based on total number of wins, but on total number of points for the season. The play-offs or final cup match might probably be a simple tournament-style thing based on wins, but the regular season play (that determines a team's placement in the play-off bracket) may be based on total points.

And if that's true, then it makes perfect sense why the Seeker from a losing team would be motivated to catch the Snitch (especially in cases where the other Seeker was hot on his trail) for more reason than just "honor." Namely: it may be strategically necessary in terms of total season points.

If rankings are based on total points, it makes total sense that you'd rather get 150 points for your team (while your opponents get, say, 160)...rather than getting zero points (while your opponents get 310). And, in fact, if you were already more points in the ranking ahead of your opponents than the spread between your final scores for that particular game, catching the Snitch (even while losing the match) might actually even ensure that you still outrank them in terms of total season points.

For example, if you have 890 points for the season and they have makes strategic sense to choose a loss of 150-160 (bringing your total points to 1040 and theirs to 1030) rather than a loss of 0-310 (leaving your season points at 890, but bolstering theirs to 1180).

If this is how it works, then it is actually logical. And logic makes me happy.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Chicago Tomorrow

Things have been so up in the air I haven't mentioned this for a while, but a few of us are going to be meeting in Chicago tomorrow. And by "a few," I mean a lot fewer than I expected given how everyone's end-of-the-summer schedules are working out. I still don't the exact itinerary or schedule, but one thing that we are definitely planning to do is the 6:30PM Mass and Benediction at the Shrine of Christ the King (run by the ICRSS). If we meet beforehand downtown, I'll probably just bring my car and drive anyone there and back so that we don't need to try to take public transit (which is really hard to that particular locale, nor is that neighborhood great for eating and such after). I am excited to meet a few people from out of town.

The Clever Frenchman

There is something morally disordered about telling a lie. We may see this by analyzing the three fonts of morality involved.

A lie is a little more complicated, I think, than some other cases, inasmuch as there seems to be what we might call a mediate end in speech within the moral object before the proximate end. We could also thus, from a more "zoomed in" perspective on the process gone through by the Will, call this mediate end simply the first intended end, and the proximate end a foreseen and intended consequence, or something like that.

This mediate end I'm talking about is the fact that the faculty of speech is the object of intelligible good in-itself, even before we consider the results we desire to obtain from it. Which is to say, speech is not purely instrumental, but has a natural intelligible good of Knowledge/Truth which would suffice to draw the Will even if there were no consequences/instrumental effects to our speech.

An analogy of this sort of "mediate end" might be masturbation to obtain a sperm sample. Such an act remains disordered even when the proximate end is simply obtaining the sample, because the pleasure remains a natural end of the Will inseparable from the ejaculation which is actively chosen as instrumental (and yet which choice, in context, thus also renders the pleasure unintelligible). This is different, you will note, from a case where some other act, in which the ejaculation is not chosen as instrumental, results in an orgasm/ejaculation as simply an indirect side-effect.

Also note: I am not saying that there is anything wrong, in itself, with instrumentalizing goods in the process of obtaining some other good (in fact, our whole life is a process of following mediate goods to our Final Good). But the instrumentalization must respect the holism and integrity of all the mediate goods and their natural ends, the final good sought does not justify disordering or fragmenting other goods in the process (just like we cannot kill people even if they are going heaven.)

Anyway, back to the question of a lie. We've discussed the ends involved, now the moral object proposed, in itself, will be simply the act of making of some statement, which is in itself fine. And the circumstances are the context (social and linguistic) in which the statement is made and understood, and which will thus effect what consequences result.

However, there is, in a lie, a disorder between end and the object, even if good consequences result. Because there is a relationship of object to end that is not intelligible. Speaking is good and desirable because of truth, and thus should never be chosen thwarting that [mediate] end, even when there is some additional end the speech is being instrumentalized for.

Speech should achieve any further intended ends reasonably, through the conveyance of Truth or the natural good of Knowledge. Or, rather, the choice of speech should not involve a direct choice against this good. A lie, however, achieves its proximate end in the manner of deception or ignorance, the statement chosen is related to the intended result exactly by not being True/Reasonable and thus constitutes an active choice to sever the good of speech from its natural goodness.

To do this is to simply instrumentalize speech, and to (internal to the moral agent, mind you) identify its good with deception (or an effect achieved through deception) rather than Truth. It is to make the very grounds of intelligibility (language) unintelligible, to make logos, the very vehicle of Truth, a vehicle of its very opposite!

However, while Catholic morality has never allowed a direct lie to be told, there is an ancient tradition of allowing equivocation in order to conceal the Truth from someone (in order to avoid bad consequences of them knowing it) while still making a statement.

So, for example, the following story.

There as a stupid Nazi officer going through a French village looking for hidden Jews. This soldier only speaks German, and he hears there is a man in town who speaks German too and who is hiding some Jews. There is indeed in this village a clever Frenchman who speaks both German and French and who is, in fact, hiding some Jews under his floorboards.

The German officer gets to the Frenchman's house and demands, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Haben sie Juden??" ("Do you speak German? Do you have any Jews??")

The Frenchman could answer in German, "Yes, I speak German. Yes, I have Jews." He'd be telling the truth, but the bad consequences would make this seem morally problematic. He could say in German, "Yes, I speak German. No, I don't have any Jews," but this is a lie, and a direct lie can never be allowed even to save a life (we won't get into the arguments about "mental reservation" here). It would be an act of simply instrumentalizing speech to achieve a good consequence, but within the Will of the Frenchman, internal to the moral agent, it would still require a directly chosen severing of word from truth, a choice against the good of truth.

The Frenchman thus has two options. He can remain heroically silent; this might get him killed, but let's assume there is no positive obligation to speak in this situation (ie, let's assume the German is so stupid that he won't realize the silence means this is the man he's looking for or something like that, that the silence does not of itself "speak"). There is no obligation to choose a particular good, as long as you don't make a choice against it.

However, there is also another option that remains moral. Assuming the clever Frenchman has gained knowledge of the circumstance of the officer not knowing French, the Frenchman may answer, "Oui, je parle allemand. Oui, j'ai Juifs." ("Yes, I speak German. Yes, I have Jews.") He wouldn't even have to answer the question; saying something else true in French like, "The capital of France is Paris," or even a string of nonsense words, would also clearly suffice.

The stupid Nazi would not understand this true or meaningless statement, assumes the man only speaks French, and leave in frustration.

There is nothing wrong here, morally. People whose understanding of morality is a modern consequentialist one may think this is equivalent to a lie (and thus that either it is wrong, or that lies for good reason are okay), but really the genius of Catholic morality is that this situation would be considered categorically different than a direct lie (and rightly so!)

The proximate end of speaking this words is, presumably, to get the Nazi officer to leave. Speaking those French words in itself is neutral; there is no natural good ever harmed in the mere creation of certain sounds with the mouth, and even relative to the "mediate end" of the natural good of speech...there is no severing of Word from Truth within the mind or will of the moral agent. In speaking those words, the Frenchman has not chosen "the good of truth without truth" or anything like that (as would be the case in a direct lie).

The circumstantially-based foreseen consequence of the German not finding out the Truth he wants is non-controversial. And this would likewise be true if the Frenchman simply remained silent, so the continued ignorance can't be called a consequence of making the statement as compared to total abstinence from speech; and even if it could, this continued ignorance on the Nazi's part would not be a bad consequence, as he has no right to the truth.

Where people will perhaps object (incorrectly) is on the grounds that the man chose to speak in French based on his knowledge that the German would not understand, and that this makes it equivalent to a lie, to a choice of severing speech from truth.

This is incorrect, however. The German's lack of knowledge of French is not in itself evil as a circumstance. And it is not something the Frenchman actively chooses, because it simply is an already-existant fact. It thus does not enter into the proposal of the moral object since it is not something actively caused by the Frenchman. It remains a circumstance and thus cannot be involved in any disorder between object and end (the only moral evil that external circumstances can affect are the foreseen consequences).

You might say, "Yes, but his knowledge of the German's ignorance of French informs his choice to abstain from speaking German to him," but unless we're going to propose a positive obligation to make sure people understand what we say (which is absurd, and a practical impossibility), or a positive obligation to actively convey all Truth (or even just this truth) to the German (again, an impossibility, and this would also exclude even total silence)...this choice of abstinence (inasmuch as the non-act of abstinence can even be considered an active choice) from speaking German with him cannot be considered bad (if total silence would be allowed, speaking another language cannot be condemned either on these grounds).

The only thing some people might say at this point is that the relationship between the meaning of the (French) words spoken and the intended end of getting the German to leave is as disordered as in a lie, because conveyance-of-truth is not being actualized either way. However, this is incorrect because, as has been established above, the lack of conveyance-of-truth is an external circumstance, not inherent in the moral object of making the French statement. Internal to the moral agent himself, there is no severing of word and truth, no "good of truth without truth," even if no truth is actually conveyed externally. Because morality is internal and in some sense abstract; within the Reason of Frenchman himself, the truth and the statement are not severed (and so his own orientation towards the Good is not effected), even if in a sheerly external and accidental they are (ie, relative to the German).

The fact that the German doesn't know French (and thus the good of conveyance-of-truth is not actualized) is relevant only as a known circumstance, but since this doesn't lead to any moral's fine. And yet, who would deny that the clever Frenchman's statement was still intelligibly ordered to the Truth within his own Will?

In identifying the defect in telling a lie as internal to the moral agent, as involving not the question of foreseen understanding, but about whether language is severed from truth in order to be instrumentalized, some might object that this requires the conclusion that even making an untrue statement out-loud when you're all alone...would also be a lie and wrong.

However, this would be a misunderstanding of what I'm saying. I'm not saying that certain words have an inherent meaning (language is, after all, basically arbitrary) and that we can never make certain sounds because what the signify linguistically isn't true. Rather, that the very untruth of a statement cannot in itself be chosen as instrumental to another end (as in a lie, where the very effect sought is dependent on the other person understanding as true what is untrue).

If, however, an untrue statement needs to be used to cause an effect that has nothing to do with its untruth, in a context where the truth-value of the statement is accidental/non-instrumental (like, for example, if "Paris is the capital of Britain" was simply a pass-phrase for getting into a club), then this is clearly non-controversial, as there is already no truth-claim implied in this statement (fictional or hypothetical statements, clearly such in context, do not frustrate the good of speech, as there is a real good in the mere of idea of hypothetical realities.)

Practical Thoughts on Distribution of Communion

The biggest crisis in Catholic symbolic praxis today is almost certainly the abomination of communion on the hand. The total collapse of liturgy and tradition is most evident, painfully so, when you see some lay woman in a pant-suit and with her head uncovered putting the Blessed Sacrament into another lay woman's hands. Sometimes this idea that we can all just handle the eucharist now tempts me to throw up my hands and say "the farce is up!" and abandon religion entirely, because the total annihilation of the Sacred is, in this ultimate profanation, so seemingly evident.

But enough bitter ranting about that tragedy. Today, some practical considerations:

First, while I was at Mass today, it again struck me how long it takes them to distribute all the communion plates and cups to the ten EMHCs. This alone takes a good three minutes, even though distribution of communion itself, after that, takes only like ten. So using all those EMHCs takes time too, even if there is a net gain.

Second, it strikes me that people approaching in a line standing is not necessarily the fastest way to distribute. Certainly, having one line per minister makes little sense to me, as then we must always wait for the person who just received to step aside. If we are going to approach standing in lines, I think it would go quicker for each minister to have two lines. Then the minister can alternate lines and be giving communion to the person at the front of one line while the previous person from the other line is moving out of the way (and the next person taking his place, whom you can then immediately distribute to rather than having to wait for him to move up a spot).

Third, I've always found it inefficient how even trad churches distribute communion at the rail. I think the priest walking along the line giving communion could be just-as or even more efficient as the people approaching him in a line, but a lot of time is lost by the the "return trip" back to the beginning of the rail to distribute to the next rank of people.

Given that the people waiting fill-in pretty quickly when the people who have just received get seems to me that, in many churches (depending on the length of the sanctuary), it might just be a more efficient use of time for the priest to simply wait a few seconds at the end of a trip to the left until the last few communicants have been "replaced" by the people behind them, and then start distributing again going down the line to the right starting with these. Wait a few seconds at the end of this trip to the right, and then start distributing again going down the line to the left, and continue to alternate back-and-forth like this.

To me, only distributing in one direction and then trekking back up to the "beginning" after every iteration seems inefficient. Is there any reason my way isn't done??

Genesis and Evolution

Some Christians have a hard time reconciling the traditional doctrine of original sin with belief in evolution, given that evolution over time is contingent on animal death. Indeed, animal death is the whole "engine" which drives natural selection.

This leads to a lot of bad attempts to square the circle. And so you see some conservatives creating bizarre theories of "retroactive" application of original sin, and some liberals eager to use it all to dismiss the doctrine of original sin or turn it into some wishy-washy purely poetic thing that merely describes our dependence on God and the state of chaos we are born into and need to find meaning in or something like that, rather than mortality being an actual result of an actual choice by an actual couple.

However, this all results from a simple misunderstanding. Specifically, it must be emphasized: original sin never applied to anything but humans. Animal death did exist before the Fall, and traditionally the Church never claimed otherwise.

For example, this from Aquinas:

In the opinion of some, those animals which now are fierce and kill others, would, in that state, have been tame, not only in regard to man, but also in regard to other animals. But this is quite unreasonable. For the nature of animals was not changed by man's sin, as if those whose nature now it is to devour the flesh of others, would then have lived on herbs, as the lion and falcon. Nor does Bede's gloss on Genesis 1:30, say that trees and herbs were given as food to all animals and birds, but to some. Thus there would have been a natural antipathy between some animals.
Outside sentimental attachment to animals and a sort of disturbing "creeping animism" in modern Christianity, traditional Christian theology has no reason to see their death as a problem, because in some ways animal death is only "death" by analogy. Since they don't have spiritual souls, animal death is basically just a material substance dissolving/changing forms, no more problematic than clay being molded into a different shape, or a glass shattering, or (more to the point) a robot or computer breaking down (animals being, traditionally, seen as something sort of like an organic robot; certainly, they don't experience qualia!)

Yes, "all creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth up to the present time," but this is only relative to Man. The rest of creation did not change objectively. If it can be said to have fallen, it is only inasmuch as its purpose was to serve Man, and if Man's lofty position is downgraded, the nobility of his servants is relatively lower by comparison. However, there is no more reason to link animal death to Man's original sin than there is to link the outcome of our race in that regard to the test of the Angels. Original sin affected Man alone, as it is transmitted by descent, it did not extend to other species, either animal or angelic.

Additionally, most theologians traditionally taught that unglorified man (being a composite substance) has always been naturally inclined towards death just like animals, and that it was only the Preternatural Gift of Immortality which (before the Fall) kept us from dying when God first ensouled that which He had created from "the slime of the earth." So all this is very compatible with evolution, frankly. Really, our current state is not so much corrupted (as some Protestants might imagine) but simply returned to a state of animal nature without the preternatural aid of God to help us rise above that.

As for other issues raised by Genesis, as I explained in a post once, monogenism does not require a genetic bottleneck, merely the recognition that all human beings strictly-so-called (ie, ensouled with a spiritual soul) had at least one pair of common ancestors (in reality, science knows we have and have had many common ancestors, and in fact the current Most Recent Common Ancestor could have been as late as 2000 years ago, after Christ even, and the current Identical Ancestors Point as late as just 5000 years ago).

As for the whether the early chapters of Genesis are "myth"...I would be careful with that sort of terminology as Reginaldus explains in his comments on this post on the blog "New Theological Movement" (the "morning knowledge/evening knowledge" of the angelic intellect theory espoused by Augustine and Aquinas is especially interesting).

Saying "not written in the style of a history or science textbook" isn't the same as saying "myth" in the sense of a purely allegorical story used to express merely moral truths:
The spiritual sense must be founded on the literal. But metaphor (properly understood) is part of the literal sense.

So, no, metaphors do not require us to affirm that the words are first meant historically...

For example: "The Lord is my rock" does not mean that there is an historical rock, which we then use as a metaphor for God.

The "history" behind the creation metaphor is that the angels really did come to know God's plan of creation.

The "history" behind the life-span metaphor [...] would be the real virtues that these real people had.


In the cases of the two "metaphors" that I have mentioned, there would be "real events taking place" -- the angels really did come to know the plan of creation, and creation really did happen (though not necessarily in the order or time of Genesis 1).

Adam and company really did exist and live some time (though not necessarily those long years).

To say something is a metaphor is very different from claiming it to be myth or legend -- you are quite right on this point: Genesis is not pure myth, it is real history (but sometimes the history is told through metaphors).

Hence, when it says that God "walked" in the Garden (Genesis 2 and 3)-- we are not to think that God became incarnate and literally/historically walked in a Garden. Rather, this is a metaphor for the historical fact that God was with
Adam and Eve.
No one should claim that the natural sciences "requires" a re-interpretation of the traditional theological essentials surrounding monogenism or original sin (in the Catholic tradition at least) in any sense of the word. They don't.

I would also be wary of reducing Genesis purely to some "myth." It may be stylized or metaphorical, but the "theological truth" of the Genesis story is a truth rooted in a historical event, a choice made by our first parents, by two real human beings, a male and a female whom God ensouled, who were originally immortal and in a state of grace, but who lost that for themselves and their descendents because they were tempted by the chief of the fallen angels, and from whom we all descend in at least one line of descent.

The reconciliation of the essentials of dogma with modern science is much easier than some apparently think, and some basic knowledge of traditional theology and evolutionary biology would have made that clear from the start.