Sunday, February 27, 2011


Tonight the internet blew my mind.

My facebook newsfeed showed me that a reader and friend had "liked" a wikipedia article that one of his friends had posted. It was an article on "Sehnsucht" and I was intrigued by the initial description as "almost impossible to translate adequately and describes a deep emotional state."

I always love those "impossible to translate" concepts, and if another language had a word for an emotional state that English didn't, that is especially interesting, as I'd wonder, then, if I had ever felt it. I'm less inclined towards the Sapir-Wolf hypothesis than many; I do think language and cultural construction affect thought and emotion in profound ways, but at the same time I think there is a universal human nature regardless of such relativity. And I know I've had emotional experiences accompanied by a bit of frustration given that they were hard to verbalize for the very lack of a word.

All that, and, I'll admit, I was drawn in by wikipedia's cool little "emotions" graphic; it's so colorful, lol:


Well, when I got to the article, I was amazed. It describes the concept of the experience of Sehnsucht as coined, or at least brought into English, by C.S. Lewis.

As I read the description, it in some sense validated all my most profound emotional, spiritual really, experiences in life, and my deepest underlying longing, which I had always thought of as moments of "peak experience," but which I found so hard to convey to others or to verbalize.

I wish I had known this concept existed earlier in my life, as I've always had this exact emotion but never really been able to put it into words except to call it, vaguely, "mood painting," "change of seasons," "golden hour," "nostalgia," "dreamlike," "poignancy," "romanticism," "time distilled," or other such things. I'll try to explain some of those, of my names for it, later in the post, but for now I'd like to just share some quotes from the article to get the sense of it across.

I know exactly what is being discussed here, and I think Lewis describes it aptly. This deeply resonates with me. I wish I had this in my vocabulary earlier and that more people had it in theirs, though, as he says, "I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency." I almost fear that finally being able to verbalize it or discuss it with others like this will ruin the sacred mystery of it.

Sehnsucht took on a particular significance in the work of author C. S. Lewis. Lewis described Sehnsucht as the "inconsolable longing" in the human heart for "we know not what." In the afterword to the third edition of The Pilgrim's Regress he provided examples of what sparked this desire in him particularly:

"That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of 'Kubla Khan,' the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves."
It's interesting, for me, the titles of many famous books are very evocative for me (more evocative than the whole of the literature contained within, perhaps.) The title "East of Eden" I think does this for me, as does "In Search of Lost Time" (that one perhaps especially relevant to this Sehnsucht thing). And I definitely know what he means about the smell of a bonfire and wild ducks (or geese) flying overhead (especially on a cloudy day.)
It is sometimes felt as a longing for a far off country, but not a particular earthly land which we can identify. Furthermore there is something in the experience which suggests this far off country is very familiar and indicative of what we might otherwise call "home". In this sense it is a type of nostalgia, in the original sense of that word.
I think the point Lewis is getting at is that this is our natural longing for Heaven, which I've certainly always thought and would agree with. But right now, I'm more interested in the particular nuances of this particular emotion, which has so many little ingredients to it.

The feeling of nostalgia or homesickness associated with it is definitely strong, even when I am at home, and yet the "far off country" idea is definitely there too, as it is something I also have felt a lot when traveling in beautiful places, or at least when fantasizing about the idea of travel...
At other times it may seem as a longing for a someone or even a something. But the majority of people who experience it are not conscious of what or who the longed for object may be.
Indeed, in my experience it has often been accompanied by the notion of longing for a lover with whom to share this Sehnsucht (inasmuch as it is communicable at all) or for romance to serve as a stimulus for arousing it. For one cannot just choose to feel it, it "appears" at certain moments, albeit there may be a pattern to when it does, often related I think to the sensory environment. I think this notion of wanting "someone" there can definitely be part of its bittersweet tapestry, especially inasmuch as I think a deep existential loneliness is also a part of it often.
Indeed, the longing is of such profundity and intensity that the subject may immediately be only aware of the emotion itself and not cognizant that there is a something longed for. Yet though one may not be able to identify just what it is, the experience is one of such significance that ordinary reality may pale in comparison.
Indeed, I think there is a sense while feeling this particular state that this longing itself is what gives meaning to life, is indescribably beautiful (if sadly so) in itself, and that it's elusive fulfillment would constitute the ultimate fulfillment.
The key ingredient of the experience, as Lewis treats it, is that this longing—never fulfilled—is itself sweeter than the fulfillment of any other human desire. Another feature is that it is so deeply personal that it does not occur to the one feeling it that others would have similar experiences and so is rarely communicated verbally. For most people it is something which cannot be put into words. Indeed the present description of Sehnsucht is itself inadequate and is only suggestive of it. Yet, though difficult to define, Lewis maintained that this is a universal experience.
And yet, how glad I am that he at least attempted to, because I know exactly what he's talking about and it has been an incredibly important part of my life, the core of my being really, the organizing principle in the inner sanctum of my emotional life, and yet it is so personal and made of such a precise combination of various threads and elements that I did not think other people had the same thing, nor could I communicate it verbally.
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence
I have called it these names too. The connection adolescence is perhaps especially resonant for me, as it is something I first started feeling (and grappled with intensely) at adolescence, and there is a sense, even as I have now gotten older, that it, whatever it is, was hinted at in literature and film most especially related to the themes of youth and coming of age and loss of innocence.
We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.
This is one reason I have thought of it like a beautiful dream remembered. Because I realized exactly what C.S. Lewis did. Sometimes I've expressed this feeling as a sense that, "Someday I'll wake up, and it will be a Saturday morning in the summer of 1998 again, and I'll be happy." But the experience sought did not really exist in the past, even if my memories of childhood or certain periods of my life, represented by specific images, evoke it. If I went back and lived those moments again, I would not find it there. The longing is specifically in the memory of it, in the distance between now and then, between whom I've become and whom I used to be.

This is also where I got my notion of it as being like "time distilled," for when I look back on periods of my life like "childhood" or "high school" or "college," I can sometimes feel this Sehnsucht from my overview of "the period as a whole." And yet "childhood" was 4000 individual days, some of which were happy, some of which were sad or stressful, many of which were boring I'm sure. And yet, in distilling down 4000 days to that one drop of their "essence" in my memory, I have found this Sehnsucht there sometimes. It is not always the same in its specifics. "High school" has a different "feel" in my head than "college," and yet both, as they slip into the past, have this evocative quality from the very distillation of memory, this very concentration of their collective emotions into one when I "zoom out" and take an "over all" cumulative view of them.
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
I think this is why certain films and music are so beautiful to me, yet also make me so incredibly sad. Sometimes I've even tended to avoid drama in film just because of how intensely it can make me experience this nostalgia, this Sehnsucht.
Another feature of Sehnsucht, as we see in the preceding quote, is that one may have the impression that in childhood we were much closer to a grasp of the object of the Sehnsucht-longing whereas now we have only the remembrance of it, or even merely the shadow of a remembrance. There is regret in that we no longer know what we long for, if we ever did.
Though I think it can come from looking at any period of life, or at least youth (all I've experienced so far), there is definitely as sense, as I've said, that there is a special connection to the simple happiness and wonder and awe of childhood specifically in the experience. This is one of the things that convinced me that this article is talking about a real experience and that I'm not just projecting my own feelings onto vague descriptions.
All the things that have deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say 'Here at last is the thing I was made for.' We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want . . . which we shall still desire on our deathbeds . . . Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.
Only hints and glimpses indeed. Though, I would think, the state of union, especially in ecstasy, that true mystics achieve perhaps provides some hope for a foretaste of fulfillment even on earth, as would true love, however fleeting. Sometimes, when I feel like I am getting too "at peace," too content with just a plateau of stability in my life, I think I seek out this subtle spice to remind me that there is something more, something that I need to find still.
To the reader who grasps Lewis' meaning and identifies Sehnsucht in his own experience it may come as a surprise to find so little explicit discussion of the Sehnsucht experience in other writers (that is, other than those who are discussing Lewis), whether labeled as "Sehnsucht" or not. (an exception is Sigmund Freud, and, arguably, many religious mystics.) On the rare occasions we do find it, the writers, especially poets, will more often convey the experience as personally significant but are seemingly unaware that it is a universal human experience; they describe their experience as if it were unique to them, with no hint that they expect their hearers to recognize similar feelings.
Indeed, I wish it were written of more!

Though as the article says, it is probably impossible to convey the experience deliberately for others, I'd like to just close by musing on some experiences which I know have caused it for me. I sometimes think of it as the "time passing" or "change of seasons" emotions because I feel it specifically when the weather is changing. Especially going "towards" winter rather than away from it. Late summer when fireflies are out and late autumn especially. Around Christmas in a big city. At the golden hour near dawn and dusk, when it's still light enough outside, but people indoors have started turning their lights on. When there is silence in the beauty of nature. When the moon is full. When I'm a dark church with light streaming through stained-glass in the richest dark blues and red accenting. At the Easter Vigil.

As those examples show, I think for me that levels of light and shadow have a lot to do with it. But not only that, though it's obviously the thread my mind is focusing on now. But it is deeper and more expansive than just that, is subtle and nuanced with all sorts of little elements, and evoked by many experiences too; things that bring me to medieval Ireland, the "idea of" the old Route 66; Highway 1 up the Pacific coast and the "essence of" California; the opening of The Wonder Years; pop music from the late 1990's that I heard on the schoolbus radio;
when bluesy songs are played on the harmonica; and when chastely holding (or, at least, sighing over the rare memory) a beloved.

I wish I had this in my vocabulary earlier and that more people had it in theirs. Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Cohabitation and Minding Your Own Business

Ed Peters needs to get his nose out of other people's private lives.

I tried to just ignore him when he tried to get his whole ridiculous "permanent deacons and ex-protestant married priests should be perpetually continent with their wives" movement rolling in the blogosphere, but now he's at it again in a post responding to an article in the NCR that I think actually makes some very good points:

Edward Peters has started a brouhaha by suggesting that Gov. Cuomo should not be given communion because he lives with a woman to whom he is not married. The diocese of Albany has replied, pointing out why it does not interpret the canons as Mr. Peters does and he has replied to the diocese.


Lawyers have their place. But there is not a brief in the world that can explain the role of briefs in the world. In the case of Gov. Cuomo, the canons of the Church are at the disposal of the bishop to use as he wishes, and as the canons are intended, "for the good of souls." Bishop Hubbard seems to grasp what Mr. Peters, with a professional bias, fails to grasp: That when a bishop finds himself appealing to the canons of the Church in his pastoral ministry or in the court of public opinion, he has already failed in his mission to teach and encourage the faithful. Recourse to the canons of the Church are not just a last resort, they are an admission of failure.

Finally, Mr. Peters repeats the word "public" in his reply to the Diocese of Albany several times. But, he does not know what goes on in the Governor's bedroom nor does he know what has gone on in conversation between the governor and the bishop. My questions for Peters are simple ones: Can he imagine, and admit, that the bishop might, for all anyone knows, be discussing the governor's living situation and encouraging him to regularize it? Can he conceive that such a discussion might be moving in the right direction but could be easily sabotaged were the bishop to adopt the posture Peters recommends? Does Peters think that such a public rebuke would help Governor Cuomo to draw closer to the Church? These are not legal questions, but they seem to me to be the important questions.

I think the point is: the law is made for man, not man for the law!!!

I think part of this stems from a confused notion of "cohabitation" that the Church needs to distance itself from. Strictly speaking, "cohabiting," as a sin, presumes sexual activity, is a concubinage wherein conjugal life is carried out, yet without a permanent commitment.

But some conservative Catholics seem to take it to mean that just living together in the same quarters, even chastely, is somehow a sin. Just sharing a domicile isn't in itself a sin (some divorced and remarried couples may live "as brother and sister" after all) unless the people determine that it's a proximate occasion of sin for them. But I don't see why it would be any more an occasion of sin than ever being alone together or over to each other's houses. Would her having a house down the street and sneaking over secretly really be any better??

As for "scandal," if people are jumping to conclusions about two people living together and then using that to justify their own behavior, I think that's their problem. As Catholic Encyclopedia says on "scandal":
Still less can that be considered scandal, which only arouses comment, indignation, horror etc., for instance blasphemy committed in the presence of a priest or of a religious; it is true that the act arouses indignation and in common parlance it is often called scandalous, but this way of speaking is inaccurate, and in strictly theological terminology it is not the sin of scandal. Hence scandal is in itself an evil act, at least in appearance, and as such it exercises on the will of another an influence more or less great which induces to sin.
I don't think two people living together, or even sinning openly, necessarily induces others to sin. All that encourages is a mentality of hiding our sins so as to not be a "bad example." But why should anyone be taking anyone else as a moral example in that sense given that we're all sinners? I think this faulty notion of "scandal" is one of the things the bishops used to justify all the cover-up over the sex abuse.

But morally speaking, scandal is not merely something that arouses comment or indignation or shock or suspicion or innuendo or insinuation. It has to be actively inducing someone else into sin. Whom is Cuomo and this woman inducing to sin? Not me. I'm not looking at them and saying, "Oh, look, they're Catholic and cohabiting, adultery or fornication must be okay!" I just doubt anyone is affected by it that way in our world.

The world has changed. Though it's pretty clear Cuomo and this woman are in a romantic relationship of some sort (and thus, in our culture, the assumption is that it's sexual)...sharing a house is really no longer proof of anything. I knew people in college who lived in houses with, like, 3 girls and 3 guys...but none of them were dating, or maybe one pair were but not the others, they were just friends, etc. Who knows, maybe Cuomo is gay and this woman is just his "Grace"!! And heck, priests live together in rectories without anyone suggesting "scandal," I suppose due to a presumption of heterosexuality. And yet, does mainstream society really give Catholic priests a presumption of heterosexuality?? I'm not so sure...

Ed Peters tries to argue that "the unwedded cohabitation (an act public by its nature) of sexually mature, non-familiarly related adults, gives seriously wrong example (i.e., scandal) to the community. Ecclesiastical authority need not verify that two such people are actually doing 'it' before moving against the grave scandal offered by such behavior."
But I think all this concern and stirring up of innuendo about other people's most intimate living arrangements is something Catholics would do well to stay away from in our freer and more diverse world.

I'm not saying change the moral teachings, just that acting like certain ancillary arrangements necessarily go along with (or imply a breech of) the moral no longer accurate, and that claiming "scandal" when no one is being induced to sin, theologically incorrect.

Admitting that we couldn't enforce exclusion from communion for "private" sinners (like if she did live down the street instead and was just "visiting" every so often), but that merely sharing a domicile suddenly makes the sin "public" is creating distinctions among sinners that only the self-righteous would revel in.

A distinction between hypocrites and sinners (as Our Lord seemed to make) or between public heretics or schismatics and other sinners makes some sense. Even maybe distinguishing (through excommunication, perhaps) people who commit a sin "public" by nature in the sense of involving third-parties as victims (like, say, the victims of abortion) whom the Church needs to try to defend. But these other distinctions which make assumptions about people's private sex lives are a sort of double standard that serves no purpose other than to make the "good Catholics" (who are just as much sinners, merely keeping up appearances) feel righteous.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Inquiry For Readers on Religious Orders

I have a little question that I wonder if any readers can answer, perhaps someone who knows a lot about Canon Law (a weak point of mine as a Catholic nerd; the legal just doesn't hold my interest like all the other cool stuff) or about religious life.

To set up this question, it might be best to remind everyone of the various classifications of consecrated life traditionally found in the Church and their distinctions canonically.

Technically speaking, a religious order strictly so called is only one canonical subset of religious life. Though the new code of canon law does not emphasize this distinction, and groups all foundations of religious life under the umbrella term "religious institute," traditionally a distinction came to be made between religious orders and religious congregations (a distinction that I think is maintained in the Annuario Pontificio).

An order, technically, is marked by adherence to a Rule and solemn vows (which also required strict papal enclosure for women). Various forms of this sort of religious life were created up through the Counter-Reformation, specifically (in chronological order) the monastic, the canons regular, the mendicant, and the clerks regular. The former two pledge stability to a specific monastery or canonry, the latter are potentially more mobile.

These forms of religious order exist along something of a spectrum between the religious aspect and the clerical aspect. The monastic orders are, in essence, religious. If they are also clerics, this is accidental to the vocation to monastic life. Though later the practice became to ordain most monks priests and make a strict distinction between the choir monks (clerics) and the lay brothers, originally it was mainly a lay vocation and priests were only ordained from among them on an as-needed basis for the community.

In this sense, they might be seen as opposite, on the other end of the spectrum, to diocesan priests who may be expected to be celibate, obedient, and live simply, or secular priests with similar expectations in societies of apostolic life. I say "opposite," because while the monastic vocation is essentially religious and only accidentally potentially clerical too (even if eventually they were usually put together), the secular priesthood is essentially clerical and the "religious" aspect is something accidental to it even if it has become widespread (something they should remember when trying to "enforce" mandatory celibacy!)

In the middle of the spectrum are classes which are essentially both religious and clerical, but in different proportions. The vocation of the canons regular is equally clerical and religious. Between them and the monastics in one direction are the mendicant friars who are primarily religious, but secondarily clerical. Between the canons regular and secular priests in the other direction are the clerks regular, who are primarily clerics, but secondarily religious (which is why their "habit" is simply the dress of secular clerics).

Furthermore, a specific feature of the original concept of the mendicant orders (whose name means "begging" after all) was that they would not just own property in common with each other like the monastics and canons regular, but that even the order itself would not own any property collectively; everything they used being held in trust by the Church as a whole (legally speaking, this meant the Holy See.) Later, all but the Capuchin Franciscans were given the right to administer their own property, and after Vatican II even they may, I think. One might also mention here a more unique class, the Military Orders, who combined the vowed life with fighting the Crusades. The only one of these left are the Knights Hospitaller ("of Malta").

Due to the decisions of the Fourth Lateran Council and the Second Council of Lyons, in order to spread superfluous proliferation, new orders were for a time limited to following one of only four rules: that of St. Augustine, of St. Basil, of St. Benedict, of St. Francis. Other Rules existed in a more limited way, most notably the Carmelite Rule of St. Albert and St. Bruno's Rule for the Carthusians ("the Statutes"). A few later orders have their own Rule (the Jesuits, the Passionists, etc) but one does not as often hear these called a "Rule," as it is subsumed into their constitutions.

Foundation of these religious orders strictly so-called (many of whom are distinguished by the word Ordo in their official Latin name) was reserved to the Holy See. However, the Spirit will not be stifled, and many local organizations began to be founded with the approval of diocesan bishops based on the life of the evangelical councils, but professing simple rather than solemn vows, having only constitutions rather than a Rule (even if the spirituality of a given order or Rule was taken as inspirational). Most importantly, perhaps, was the fact that the women did not have to be under papal enclosure but could work in the world in apostolates.

Springing from the older concept of "third orders" and "tertiaries," these were/are known as "congregations" rather than orders, and though for a time it was questioned whether they really constituted "religious life" strictly so called, eventually that term was recognized for them, that they were truly a form of consecrated religious life (though, under the 1917 Code of Canon law, the term "regulars" was still reserved for members of the orders strictly so called). There was a proliferation of these congregations especially in the 19th-century, and their diversity is still with us today.

Unlike the rather straightforward distinction between temporary and perpetual vows, or private and public vows, the simple vs. solemn vows distinction is a rather mysterious one. For a long time theologians argued over what the essential difference consisted in. Arguments often involved the concept of "total surrender" of the self or such abstract ideas. Canonically speaking, the practical difference was basically that it was harder to get dispensed from solemn vows, that solemn religious profession introduced certain permanent canonical impediments even if the person were dispensed, and that they made it actually impossible for the person to legitimately carry out an action vowed against. Mostly this effects the vow of poverty; with a simple vow, the person can still technically own goods, they're just bound to give up their use to the community; whereas, with a solemn vow of poverty, the person cannot even (canonically speaking) own any goods, anything they acquire is automatically ascribed to the institute. The new code of canon law, while paying lip service to this distinction in one clause, very much de-emphasizes it.

Having explained this distinction between religious orders and religious congregations, to conclude this overview I should mention secular institutes, which are the newest form of consecrated life. Consecrated life is taken to mean profession, accepted by the Church, of the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Religious life, specifically, adds the concept of living in community to this, but the Church has lately come to realize that community life, while helpful, is not essential to the consecrated life. Secular Institutes, then, first canonically recognized by Pius XII, are made up of people living in the world, generally working for their own living, not wearing a habit or having communal life (even if some voluntarily group together for mutual support), who nevertheless vow the evangelical counsels.

Institutes of consecrated life may be founded by diocesan Ordinaries (known as institutes of diocesan right) and may later be approved world-wide by the Holy See (known as institutes of pontifical right). Generally, however, the foundation of a new order strictly so called would still be considered reserved to the Holy See.

So, long story short, my question is basically if anyone knows when was the last time this happened? The foundation of orders mostly seems to have stopped around the 17th century, after which congregations in simple vows became the predominant form of foundation. However, I can find a few later examples of foundation of orders. In the 18th century, three Maronite orders were approved by the Holy See. In 1925 the Hieronymite monks were re-approved by the Holy See, after having been suppressed for some time, at the behest of the Hieronymite nuns (who had never been suppressed). And the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception take solemn vows and were approved definitively in 1913, though they might not be considered a "new" order so much as a branch of an old one, given that they became part of the Confederation of Canons Regular of St. Augustine with many much older groups of canons regular.

So...does anyone know of any other religious orders, in the strict canonical sense of the word (ie, not "mere" congregations) approved by the Holy See later than the 17th century??

Thursday, February 24, 2011

On the Head of a Pin: Some Very Speculative Theology

This is a post about the most speculative of speculative theology, based on a conversation I had recently with an agnostic.

A famous parody of Scholasticism is, of course, about the question, "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

We don't really know that much about angels from Revelation. Ott lists only 10 dogmas regarding angels, and though we know in general of their nature as pure spirits, their test, their fall, their role in man's fall, and their role in man's salvation, in a general sense, I think we have very little sense of the specific "lives" of the angels. And rightly so. Their "dispensation" is really different than ours (though totally intertwined, of course, in the divine plan).

Given that each angel must be (as Aquinas says) a totally different and unique species with a radically individual nature, though existing along a sort of "continuum," because they have no matter to differentiate them would be rather hard to speak of the "specifics" of angelic nature given that there is no one "species" or "nature" to speak of, but an incredible absolute diversity. Every angelic consciousness experiences things in a totally unique "language," apparently. If we can assume that, though human brains differ, all human consciousness has the same basic capacity and experiences the same basic qualia...angels exist along a continuum of knowledge, each its own slightly different species (in the scholastic sense).

Now, I'm not sure where the "dancing on the head of a pin" came from, but the "official" answer to the basic question of how many angels can be in a location is, in fact, given by Aquinas and is quite reasonable, actually.

Not having bodies, angels do not occupy space in the same sense as matter, obviously, with dimensive quality. However, inasmuch as angels are thought able to apply a certain power to matter, they may be said to occupy however much space that to which they are applying their power occupies, as St. Thomas explains:
An angel's power and nature are finite, whereas the Divine power and essence, which is the universal cause of all things, is infinite: consequently God through His power touches all things, and is not merely present in some places, but is everywhere. Now since the angel's power is finite, it does not extend to all things, but to one determined thing. For whatever is compared with one power must be compared therewith as one determined thing. Consequently since all being is compared as one thing to God's universal power, so is one particular being compared as one with the angelic power. Hence, since the angel is in a place by the application of his power to the place, it follows that he is not everywhere, nor in several places, but in only one place. Some, however, have been deceived in this matter. For some who were unable to go beyond the reach of their imaginations supposed the indivisibility of the angel to be like that of a point; consequently they thought that an angel could be only in a place which is a point. But they were manifestly deceived, because a point is something indivisible, yet having its situation; whereas the angel is indivisible, and beyond the genus of quantity and situation. Consequently there is no occasion for determining in his regard one indivisible place as to situation: any place which is either divisible or indivisible, great or small suffices, according as to his own free-will he applies his power to a great or to a small body. So the entire body to which he is applied by his power, corresponds as one place to him.
This, of course, suggests an answer to the "dancing on the head of a pin" question:
There are not two angels in the same place. The reason of this is because it is impossible for two complete causes to be the causes immediately of one and the same thing. This is evident in every class of causes: for there is one proximate form of one thing, and there is one proximate mover, although there may be several remote movers. Nor can it be objected that several individuals may row a boat, since no one of them is a perfect mover, because no one man's strength is sufficient for moving the boat; while all together are as one mover, in so far as their united strengths all combine in producing the one movement. Hence, since the angel is said to be in one place by the fact that his power touches the place immediately by way of a perfect container, as was said, there can be but one angel in one place.
However, the head of a pin is not necessary just one "place." As many angels can be said to dance on the head of the pin as the pin-head can be conceived of as separate objects (say, individual atoms or molecules) and thus separate places. Just one angel might apply his power to the whole pin-head as one object (or even to the whole room which contains it), and then no other angels could "dance" on it. Or he might pick "the left half of the pinhead" leaving the right-half open to one angel, two angels (if they divide it further into specific quarters), or as many other angels as there are potential divisions into discrete objects of angelic power.

Now, this was all just for fun. I think it's interesting and, though certainly not the subject of Revelation, certainly seems like an incredibly sensible and precise speculation by Aquinas for showing that Revelation is not in conflict with Reason, at least. That there is at least one internally consistent way to interpret these things and answer these questions. Some people may hate this sort of speculative theology or think that it contributes nothing to our salvation or is just trivial or mental masturbation. I think it's fun though.

As long as we don't get dogmatic about it, I see nothing wrong with these sorts of thought experiments and scholastic puzzles. I think they, at the very least, incline us to appreciate the beauty of God's creation and to meditate in some sense on whatever it is we are reasoning about. As an aside, I'll just point out, that Aquinas discusses a fascinating theory from Augustine about the "days" of Genesis 1 being really "days of angelic knowledge." The "morning" knowledge being the angels perceiving the Forms of material things in the Eternal Word, and the "evening" knowledge being the progression to their aeviternal perception of these things' actual existence, perceived (at least by the highest angels, whose understandings are most universal) in a logical series of the six categories laid out in Genesis for the six days. It's certainly something I think Biblical literalist-fundamentalists (and those who accuse the Catholic Church of having been so until recently) should read!

This is not what my conversation was about however. The part of my conversation that got me thinking about the head of a pin example was about how many angels there are. The person I was talking to was questioning the power of prayer on (oddly) both the grounds of the determinism of the universe and human free will. Saying that people use prayer to "excuse" themselves from acting or to make themselves feel like they've done something when they should be out there actively helping. The objection boiled down to that prayer's effect can't be scientifically verified, that if we did an empirical experiment, the group that prayed wouldn't get what they were praying for any more often than the group which wasn't.

I'd actually be the first to concede this is probably true. It's not because I don't believe in the power of prayer. There was a time when, exactly due to that same sort of empiricist mindset, I may have doubted that it had a real material effect very often, and tended to aver to its positive spiritual effects; but I've very much been shown its real practical power lately too. However, I do not believe its effects could ever be demonstrated by anything like empirical study or statistics derived from experiments because I believe it involves simply a very different sort of causation.

The person I was talking to was upset that someone suggested to him that her prayers got him a job. He was "offended" even, given that "she did nothing except light a candle, while I was out there applying for jobs, working hard to get them." However, I pointed out, that's only one tiny aspect. The other is, of course, enormously one of circumstantial opportunity. Yes, you had to be prepared and take initiative of course, but even that's no guarantee. An incredible path of coincidences has to line up for us to do anything, to complete any task, from the cars we pass on the road, to the signs we see diverting our train of thought. It is in these "coincidences" that I think Catholics would tend to see the absolutely sovereign hand of Providence and, thus, also the site of the power of prayer.

It's like, I was reading about Evans-Pritchard's writing about the Azande people of Africa once, and their "magical thinking" that modern empirically-minded Westerners often find frustrating:
The classic example is of the collapsing roof, described in E. E. Evans-Pritchard's Witchcraft, Magic, and Oracles Among the Azande, in which the Azande claimed that a roof fell on a particular person because of a magical spell cast (unwittingly) by another person.

The Azande knew perfectly well a scientific explanation for the collapsing room (that termites had eaten through the supporting posts), but pointed out that this scientific explanation could not explain why the roof happened to collapse at precisely the same moment that the particular man was resting beneath it. The magic explains why two independent chains of causation intersect. Thus, from the point of view of the practitioners, magic explains what scientists would call "coincidences" or "contingency". From the point of view of outside observers, magic is a way of making coincidences meaningful in social terms. Carl Jung coined the word synchronicity for experiences of this type.

I think the Azande with their magic, and we with our prayer...would simply argue that the coincidences are not just being made meaningful in social terms, but can be truly caused in some sense by the action, or at least are made meaningful because of that action. Not in the sense of an efficient cause that leads, like the termites, to the event in a demonstrable deterministic fashion, but by appealing to the Final Cause (or, in the case of magic, other darker, but less powerful, forces) to arrange the synchronicity of events. And this is obviously the sort of thing that wouldn't be subject to the empirical scientific method of testing hypotheses, which deals only with the efficient causes.

And if it's according to His Will, then He might. "Well, mightn't have happened even without the prayer?" Sure. But just like invoking the Saints, God seems to like to work through secondary causes, and if our prayer asks for something, then even God in His Providence is ultimately the immediate cause, He seems happy to share the credit if we "contributed" in anyway by our prayers. Just because a strong man can pull a block by himself, that does not mean that if a child pulls on the rope too he is contributing nothing or is not then part of the cause of the movement.

Will prayer always work? No, not in a straightforward sense of getting what we want. Sometimes what we're praying for isn't in accord with His will. And sometimes, yes, it would have just happened anyway. But we have to assume that, often enough at least, the very act of prayer will make it more likely, vis a vis the maximizing salvation and merit (the end goal of Providence, really), for God to arrange it. Of course, the very act of prayer might occasionally make it more likely not to happen (say, if God is trying to teach us to accept His Will or something) when it would have happened if we hadn't prayed. But Revelation and experience seem to tell us that if we pray it is much more likely to increase the chances of something happening than to decrease it.

In this sense, I said, prayer (and magic) is really more about trying to get the probabilities to lean in your favor a bit more, trying to shift the probabilities, through appeal to the cause of coincidence. I even mentioned the experiments (I'm not sure they were ever conclusive) where humans merely concentrating on the output of random number generators seemed to suggest that the random distribution could be skewed ever so slightly, statistically speaking, towards whichever outcome the person was focusing on.

The next objection from this particular agnostic was that God can't control the universe, which we know is run by deterministic laws. All this "arranging" of events, he would say, makes no sense. There is no mechanism whereby it could be true if things have been "playing out" mechanistically since the beginning of the Universe. However (after a side conversation on predestination) this is where I pointed out that his science is actually bad here. Quantum Mechanics has proven (as in the double-slit experiment) that the material universe is actually probabilistic, not deterministic.

There are different intepretations of this data, of course, from the Copenhagen interpretation that "consciousness causes collapse" of the wave function (though how, given that we don't seem to explicitly choose our reality, is a major question), to the Many Worlds hypothesis which says every time a particle makes one of those undeterministic "choices"...a different universe is created with each possibility (which leaves major questions about why our consciousness is in this universe instead of the other, or even about what "to exist" means if the "parallel" universe cannot effect ours or our consciousness in any way). Both "interpretations" are really two sides of the same coin, I think, suggesting that this is where science ends and philosophy begins, specifically a philosophy requiring subjectivity, subjective consciousness.

Basically, my suggestion here about Providence was that the "mechanism" by which God could be sovereign over history would be that He is the one deciding which of the probabilistic possibilities (when particles make these otherwise inscrutable "choices") is actualized. It might also be then speculated that the connection between our spirits and our bodies, by which free will might actually affect the body rather than consciousness being a mere epiphenomenon...might be that we are given the power to (in an indirect way) control the quantum "choices" within our own brains. This would seem to allow for interactionism rather than parallelism, occasionalism, or epiphenomenalism.

This is where we get back to angels. I mentioned that the Medievals attributed the movement of the heavenly bodies, for example, not to simply impersonal physical laws being enforced (why the constants of physics are universal is always another question that science can't account for except by appealing to philosophy). Rather, they believed that angels or choirs of angels moved the heavenly spheres. That God mediated the causation through these spirits who did what He wanted. I mentioned then, as an aside, that in the "providence by way of quantum decision-making" theory, it doesn't have to be God directly controlling the particles. That it would not be beyond the realm of possibility to believe that each particle or group of particles, in that regard, were controlled by an angelic consciousness.

However, the number of particles in the universe (and just the visible universe at that?) has been estimated at between 10 ^ 72 and 10 ^ 87. That's 10 followed by 72-87 zeroes! Which is perhaps not unsurprising given an estimate of hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. It is truly a spectacularly huge place (the question of intelligent life on other planets is a question for another time...) And are we really to believe that there are 10^87 angels?

Aquinas might actually be inclined to think so. The Summa article about "How many angels are there?" says:
Hence it must be said that the angels, even inasmuch as they are immaterial substances, exist in exceeding great number, far beyond all material multitude. This is what Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. xiv): "There are many blessed armies of the heavenly intelligences, surpassing the weak and limited reckoning of our material numbers." The reason whereof is this, because, since it is the perfection of the universe that God chiefly intends in the creation of things, the more perfect some things are, in so much greater an excess are they created by God. Now, as in bodies such excess is observed in regard to their magnitude, so in things incorporeal is it observed in regard to their multitude. We see, in fact, that incorruptible bodies, exceed corruptible bodies almost incomparably in magnitude; for the entire sphere of things active and passive is something very small in comparison with the heavenly bodies. Hence it is reasonable to conclude that the immaterial substances as it were incomparably exceed material substances as to multitude.
However, I am a bit uncomfortable with this. Perhaps I am too much of a humanist, but I have always tended to link the total number of angels with the total number of human beings. In fact, I've tended to speculate that the total number of humans will be "complete" when it equals the total number of the angels. I'm not alone in linking the two, as this excerpt from Catholic Encyclopedia on the total number of the saved shows:
Naturally, human curiosity is eager for definite information about the absolute as well as the relative number of the elect. How high should the absolute number be estimated? But it would be idle and useless to undertake calculations and to guess at so and so many millions or billions of predestined. St. Thomas (I, Q. xxiii, a. 7) mentions the opinion of some theologians that as many men will be saved as there are fallen angels, while others held that the number of predestined will equal the number of the faithful angels. Lastly, there were optimists who, combining these two opinions into a third, made the total of men saved equal to the unnumbered myriads of created spirits. But even granted that the principle of our calculation is correct, no mathematician would be able to figure out the absolute number on a basis so vague, since the number of angels and demons is an unknown quantity to us. Hence, "the best answer", rightly remarks St. Thomas, "is to say: God alone knows the number of his elect". By relative number is meant the numerical relation between the predestined and the reprobate. Will the majority of the human race be saved or will they be damned? Will one-half be damned the other half saved? In this question the opinion of the rigorists is opposed to the milder view of the optimists [...] The truth is that neither the one nor the other can be proved from Scripture or Tradition (cf. Heinrich-Gutberlet, "Dogmat. Theologie", Mainz, 1897, VIII, 363 sq.). But supplementing these two sources by arguments drawn from reason we may safely defend as probable the opinion that the majority of Christians, especially of Catholics, will be saved [...] then Gener is probably right when he assumes the salvation of half of the human race, lest "it should be said to the shame and offense of the Divine majesty and clemency that the [future] Kingdom of Satan is larger than the Kingdom of Christ" (cf. W. Schneider, "Das andere Leben", 9th ed., Paderborn, 1908, 476 sq.).
Of course, if exactly half the human race is imagined as being saved, and exactly half the angels imagined as falling (the "one third of the stars" from Revelations aside)...then the humans who are saved could be imagined as both "matching" the number of saved angels, as well as "filling up the spots" of the fallen angels. Then every human being and angel or demon could be imagined in a one-to-one pairing with each other, either in heaven (their guardian angel on earth) or in hell (their familiar demon). Such a theory requires every angel (and demon) being assigned to two humans over the course of history, of course, one elect and one reprobate, in order for the numbers to work out so that every angel and every demon winds up with someone.

This is where my conversation wandered. I concluded that such "numerical" speculation about the angels and demons relative to human saved and damned...was very "medieval" in its "symmetry," very elegant in that way, but also that life is perhaps more messy than this, not actually "symmetrical," as much as the medievalist in me has a tendency to wish it were. And, of course, such a "half will be saved" idea excludes the hope for universal salvation which I nurture (then again, if even the demons somehow could be saved, things could work out just as symmetrically!)

Still, I think that even if we hope that all will be saved, imagining it as exactly half is spiritually healthy. It prevents us from either despairing or presuming. If we imagine, at least, that exactly half will be saved (whether that's true or not is really none of our business and irrelevant), but if we imagine it that makes us aware of how our salvation is really our choice. Then we can neither "fall back on" the idea that "Oh, most people are saved, so I'll be fine," nor despair with the idea that "Oh, most people are damned, so the tables are naturally set against me." If we think of it as half, then we cannot plead the probabilities. Then we have an absolutely free choice to make.

As St. Augustine himself is alleged to have once said (though the attribution may only be as recent as Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot), "Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned." Whether the latter actually was damned or not (I hope not), the message for our souls is clear: the proportions in terms of other people don't matter at all; act as if the "chances" neither favor you nor disfavor you. And I think that's very important advice.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Traddies are Nuts: College Edition

This little testimony/exposé of a look into trad craziness comes from a reader and rather new friend of mine.

Now, I bet my readers could find tons of egregious examples like this from forums they might participate in or blog comment sections or whatever. I don't want to make this blog all about pointing out how insane some of these people are every time an example occurs (I'd be much too busy!) but this case was particularly ridiculous and contains so many hilarious examples.

The testimony, with the crazy traddie stuff quoted:

"I'm on a Catholic monarchist email list, because somewhere deep in my heart, I want some form of Christendom to come back. But I swear, these people are so, so crazy. Someone just asked for recommendations for a traditionalist Catholic university (ha, as if you could get enough for more than a dinky college), which accepts only traditionalist Catholics.

Now, I have to say, I have no idea how can you can make sure you keep all the liberal modernist Catholics out. But let that pass.

Unsurprisingly, people favoured an SSPX school I've never heard of 'although it's unfortunately unaccredited.'

Now, check out this response after all that:
Before ending this thread, I feel the need to offer an extra word of warning to Mr. M*****. Frankly, I think that places like Thomas Aquinas that '[have] the Trid every day' are possibly *more* dangerous to young souls than 'mainstream' universities which are obvious in the evil they are promoting. Look at it this way: poison is easier to avoid when it's clearly a box of poison sitting on the table, but when just a drop has been mixed into that delicious soup, one may not think the soup poisoned but die all the same.

Such places give the young Catholic the very false notion that 'hey, I have the Classical/Extraordinary Rite (or whatever the "in full communion" people call it these days) every day, it's all good' whilst breathing-in the vile anti-Catholic atmosphere that features oecumenism, women's liberation, and the rejection of the Kingship of Christ. For example, going back to Dr. Carroll, his oecumenism presents itself subtly, when in his lectures he insists that Whittaker Chambers (an anti-Communist but a Protestant) is in heaven, that the Orthodox priests who died in the Russian Revolution are 'martyrs,' and that General Karl Gustav Mannerheim is THE great 'Christian hero' of the 20th century. The fact that Dr. Carroll rightly calls the 20th century 'the accursed century' diverts one's attention from the blatant oecumenism and relativism he is promoting (i.e. one need not be Catholic to go to heaven).

In short, such places produce liberal Catholics who attend the Traditional Latin Mass. It's not impossible to go there without being thus infected, but I'd argue more difficult than even a 'mainstream' university because of the faux traditionalist surroundings which are seductive ('See,' Satan says 'you can have your cake and eat it too ... you can be a trad Catholic and get your "Trid" everyday without worrying about any of that old doctrine that will make people think you're a weirdo ...').

Another reason that daily Mass according to the 1962 books does not a good/safe university make: 'Certainly the question of the liturgy and the sacraments is important, but it is not the most important. The most important question is the question of the Faith.' (Abp. Lefebvre address to his priests given in Econe, Switzerland on September 6, 1990)
And this one:
I concur with Mr. W******. Having attended St. Mary's College for two years, and looking into all the other usual suspects (Christendom, Thomas Aquinas, Ave Maria, Magdalene, Thomas More) as well as having attended secular schools, it is my opinion that one either find an unambiguously Traditionalist college (St. Mary's, in Kansas, or the Institut St. Pie X in Paris) or choose a secular school which will provide one with useful degrees and certifications (aka, a 'work permit' in our modern world) without the pretense of being 'traditional' in any way, shape, or form. I went to a state school for a year, loathed it, and attended St. Mary's for my liberal arts education -'education for the sake of being an educated man,' if you will. After this, I went to another state school to learn a trade, and chose a school which would teach me that trade well, while simultaneously being affordable and conveniently located near a Traditional chapel, so that I could nurture my spiritual life in the wasteland I was obliged to attend.

I don't know a single Traditional Catholic who attended Christendom for 4 years, and ended up as a staunch Traditionalist at the end. They are very good at the 'soft sell' approach: 'We're a small school, and community is important, won't you just say the Rosary with us?' 'Well, if you say the Rosary, why not stay for Benediction? That's not so bad, is it?' 'You attend Benediction, with a Novus Ordo priest and a host consecrated at the NO, so why not come pray with us at the campus Mass?' (which happens to be Novus Ordo...) No indeed, the quite pleasant and traditional surroundings, fairly traditional lecture content compared to a modern school, and pretty girls who often wear skirts, mask a font of 'liberal traditionalism' which can do little good, and a very great deal of harm to the cause.

Probably, the best way for Traditional Catholics to get a college education, if they feel it necessary (think well on where or how you're going to practice your chosen career, for example, a professorship, as a Traditionalist, while supporting a family) is to attend a secular school, resolving not to take any dangerous classes (philosophy, biology classes which promote Evolutionary nonsense, lots of modern history and literature classes -in short, most of the humanities) while zealously pursuing the study of the faith, and these things from a Catholic point of view, outside of class. (e.g.: get a copy of the old Catholic Encyclopedia, read good history books at night, etc.) Get your degree as expeditiously as possible, and don't look back. Above all, don't live in the dormitory, and don't be tempted to participate in university social activities, clubs, activism, etc. Be purely a 'day student.' This is the best way to avoid contamination, I'd say. Seriously consider a field which is less oriented towards 'thinking' (the liberals have these very thoroughly propagandized) and more towards 'doing' (e.g., engineering, or a so-called "blue collar" trade, where one can often make as much or more money without being expected to become an academic and a communist in the process.)
. . . Seriously. That shit is messed up."

Indeed. And I think it speaks for itself, for the most part. "Liberal Catholics who attend the Traditional Latin Mass"??? Yay us!! I'm glad to see they're being thoroughly paranoid in their dark spidery little enclaves by our modernist infiltration into Trad Cuckoo Land.

Seriously, I don't know which would be scarier: if they really meant this stuff, or if they were just perpetually play-acting. Honestly, I really can't tell most of the time.

Now, in some ways, I think I know what they mean, of course. When they say "liberal traditionalist" they seem to mean what I'd call "neoconservative" Catholic, and the neocons can be crazy and annoying too. I don't know which of the two I dislike more.

Ridiculous stuff, though. "Contamination"??? Seriously??? Don't live in a dorm?! Don't join university clubs?? Yeah, there's a lot of immoral stuff going on at universities maybe, but...I really doubt these are the sorts of people who are going to be roped in. And what of the evangelism aspect? I attended a big State university, lived in a neocon Catholic dorm, and had "the Trid" every morning, while socializing with (in addition to the "renegade trad" guys with whom I served Mass) assorted Bohemians, gays, and [gasp] musicians! Where does that put me?

I'll admit, I'd probably find it hard to attend one of those small new Neocon Catholic colleges too. But it's not because I fear being being tricked into relativism, but just because the neocons can be super-annoying. Especially for trads, and especially for renegade trads.

And any conservative Catholic school, trad or neocon, can be, I think, extremely creepy, suffocating and paternalistic towards the students, from what I can tell. Some of those small neocon schools are just as crazy.

But "Infected"??? They really are insane.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I found this while researching for a paper on the early history of photography. "The entire public domain photo records of all the known surviving photographs from the beginning in 1826 to development in 1839 through to 1853. Montaged into ten minutes with a background music of my own composition." Especially with the music, it's sufficiently haunting:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Encouraging Without Requiring

As much as I love traditional liturgy, I feel like it would be hard to make that an essential part of any society in the Church, formal or informal, that wanted to be free to have as broad a ministry as possible and not be "tied down" by a slavish purism. Liturgy, after all, is in the end a means for saving souls, and no particular Rite can, in itself, constitute a charism.

However, the bylaws or constitutions of such a group might declare a "predilection" like the Franciscans of the Immaculate did, expressing a clear preference while not making it, strictly speaking, required, encouraging traditional liturgy without letting it become a barrier or burden (especially given the current rarity) to the broader aims of any such group.

Something like:

1. Members are generally expected, if at all possible, to attend Mass daily. If a member truly cannot attend Mass on a given day, they should still at least read through the Missal using the day's propers and dedicate some extra time to meditating thereon. Members are also usually expected to also pray the Divine Office privately, though this should be discerned with a superior or spiritual director. Group recitation of the Office when meeting with other members is highly encouraged. Attendance at publicly celebrated Hours, especially Vespers on Sundays and Solemnities, is highly salutary, but certainly not expected given the rarity.

2. The society has a predilection for traditional liturgy, but it is realized that this may not always be available in the current situation of the world. Members, however, will work to promote traditional Catholic culture in their communities and traditional liturgical sensibilities in both the Old and New rites. Members should always receive communion on the tongue and, if possible without drawing attention to oneself, try to receive from the priest rather than an EMHC. Members should not volunteer to be EMHCs, nor should female members volunteer as lay readers or altar servers. Female members should try to remember to veil themselves in church.

3. Lay members are encouraged to attend the Old Mass if possible, and especially to make a special effort to get to one on Sundays and Solemnities. But in either case, if one is not available within a reasonable distance, the New Mass will of course suffice. What is reasonable should be discerned with a superior or spiritual director. Also, charity trumps everything, so if some spiritual benefit is foreseen as resulting from attending the New Mass with someone, even if this requires missing the Old that day, then this should of course be done.

4. Lay members should use an edition, adaptation, or suitable translation of a traditional Roman Breviary approved by a superior (ie, it need not be 1962 or in Latin) for their private recitation, unless explicit permission has been granted to use the New Liturgy of the Hours regularly for a grave cause. A member should not, however, feel compelled to "repeat" an Hour if they attend a group recitation or publicly celebrated Hour in an edition different than their usual, or even in the New Rite. Full recitation according to a regular schedule is ideal, but how much of the Office constitutes a reasonable burden for any given member will be discerned with a superior and/or spiritual director.

5. Members who are diocesan priests should know how to say the Old Mass, and are encouraged to celebrate Mass according to a lawfully approved edition of the traditional Roman Missal at least for one of their Masses if possible, especially on Sundays and Solemnities. However, it is recognized that pastoral circumstances will not always allow for this, though priests should strive to introduce their congregations to at least occasional traditional liturgy and to catechize them about it. Still, a priest should not feel compelled to binate on weekdays or trinate on Sundays or Solemnities simply for the sake of his own personal experience of the Old Mass unless he feels that something else can be legitimately pastorally gained from it. Liturgies at official meetings of the society will, however, always be in the Old Rite if at all possible, and diocesan priests in the society will hopefully be available to facilitate this.

6. Members who are diocesan priests should be familiar with how to recite and celebrate the Old Office and should generally fulfill their obligation to recite the Office with a lawfully approved edition of the traditional Breviary or a vernacular translation approved by their bishop, unless explicit permission has been granted by a superior to use the New Liturgy of the Hours regularly for a grave cause. A priest should not, however, feel compelled to "repeat" an Hour if they lead or attend a group recitation, or celebrate or attend a publicly celebrated Hour in an edition different than their usual, or even in the New Rite. Priests are encouraged to celebrate the Office publicly for their congregation, especially Lauds, Vespers, and Compline, especially on Sundays and Solemnities, according to the Old Rite or an approved translation. If pastoral necessity requires using the New Rite for this, it is still to be encouraged given how rare any publicly celebrated Office has become. Catechesis about the Office, especially in its traditional form, should be introduced into parish life.

7. Members who are diocesan priests should be familiar with the celebration of the Sacraments and sacramentals in the Old Rite, and strive to catechize their parishioners about them and encourage their use when possible. Still, for legitimate pastoral necessity, the New Rite may of course be used, as will often be the case in parishes.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Did you sign the petition yet? Some of these rumors seem pretty bad. I mean, I'm usually pretty apathetic to such initiatives. And in fact if it were merely a question of saying that parishioners don't have a right to demand the Old Rite in their parish, I wouldn't be surprised or upset.

I frankly thought it was ridiculous that people were interpreting Summorum Pontificum to mean that a "stable group" of as few as only 30 people (out of a parish of thousands, potentially) could demand an Old Mass to be said at their parish (especially when even bination is not ideal), at least if there were a reasonably accessible Mass in the area already.

But this time it sounds like a real threat to the progress that has been made in terms of traditional liturgy. It also makes you wonder, who's behind all this? Who in the Vatican cares enough to try to sabotage things and why? Just let people do what they want! Sure, the other Western rites and the sacrament of Holy Orders weren't mentioned specifically in the motu proprio, but why bother to limit them now??

(Please note: If you are brought to a donation page after signing the appeal, please just close that window. That donation does not go to the motu proprio initiative.)

At the very least, whoever is trying to undermine traditional liturgy strikes me as politically naive. Don't they know that Revolutions usually happen when people get their hopes and expectations up, only to be disappointed or have the carpet pulled out from under them?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Hound of Heaven

Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated
Adown titanic glooms of chasme d hears
From those strong feet that followed, followed after
But with unhurrying chase and unperturbe d pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat, and a Voice beat,
More instant than the feet:
All things betray thee who betrayest me.

I pleaded, outlaw--wise by many a hearted casement,
curtained red, trellised with inter-twining charities,
For though I knew His love who followe d,
Yet was I sore adread, lest having Him,
I should have nought beside.
But if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of his approach would clash it to.
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clange d bars,
Fretted to dulcet jars and silvern chatter
The pale ports of the moon.

I said to Dawn --- be sudden, to Eve --- be soon,
With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover.
Float thy vague veil about me lest He see.
I tempted all His servitors but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him, their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue,
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind,
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue,
Or whether, thunder-driven,
They clanged His chariot thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn of their feet,
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following feet, and a Voice above their beat:
Nought shelters thee who wilt not shelter Me.

I sought no more that after which I strayed
In face of Man or Maid.
But still within the little childrens' eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me.
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair,
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
Come then, ye other children, Nature's
Share with me, said I, your delicate fellowship.
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,
Wantoning with our Lady Mother's vagrant tresses,
Banqueting with her in her wind walled palace,
Underneath her azured dais,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice, lucent weeping out of the dayspring.

So it was done.
I in their delicate fellowship was one.
Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies,
I knew all the swift importings on the wilful face of skies,
I knew how the clouds arise,
Spume d of the wild sea-snortings.
All that's born or dies,
Rose and drooped with,
Made them shapers of mine own moods, or wailful, or Divine.
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the Even,
when she lit her glimmering tapers round the day's dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning's eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
and its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine.
Against the red throb of its sunset heart,
I laid my own to beat
And share commingling heat.

But not by that, by that was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's grey cheek.
For ah! we know what each other says,
these things and I; In sound I speak,
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor step-dame, cannot slake my drouth.
Let her, if she would owe me
Drop yon blue-bosomed veil of sky
And show me the breasts o' her tenderness.
Never did any milk of hers once bless my thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase, with unperturbe d pace
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
And past those noise d feet, a Voice comes yet more fleet:
Lo, nought contentst thee who content'st nought Me.

Naked, I wait thy Love's uplifted stroke. My harness, piece by piece,
thou'st hewn from me
And smitten me to my knee,
I am defenceless, utterly.
I slept methinks, and awoke.
And slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours,
and pulled my life upon me.
Grimed with smears,
I stand amidst the dust o' the mounded years--
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst like sunstarts on a stream.
Yeah, faileth now even dream the dreamer
and the lute, the lutanist.
Even the linked fantasies in whose blossomy twist,
I swung the Earth, a trinket at my wrist,
Have yielded, cords of all too weak account,
For Earth, with heavy grief so overplussed.
Ah! is thy Love indeed a weed,
albeit an Amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must, Designer Infinite,
Ah! must thou char the wood 'ere thou canst limn with it ?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust.
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver upon the sighful branches of my

Such is. What is to be ?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind ?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds,
Yet ever and anon, a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity.
Those shaken mists a space unsettle,
Then round the half-glimpse d turrets, slowly wash again.
But not 'ere Him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal; Cypress crowned.
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether Man's Heart or Life it be that yield thee harvest,
Must thy harvest fields be dunged with rotten death ?

Now of that long pursuit,
Comes at hand the bruit.
That Voice is round me like a bursting Sea:
And is thy Earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest me.
Strange, piteous, futile thing;
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of Naught (He said).
And human love needs human meriting ---
How hast thou merited,
Of all Man's clotted clay, the dingiest clot.
Alack! Thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art.
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save me, save only me?
All which I took from thee, I did'st but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in my arms.
All which thy childs mistake fancies as lost,
I have stored for thee at Home.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come.
Halts by me that Footfall.
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest,
I am He whom thou seekest.
Thou dravest Love from thee who dravest Me.