We Have Seen His Glory: a Response to a Certain Philosophical Rejection of the Christian Faith

In a guest post on Artur Rosman’s blog last year, I wrote that I could no more abandon Catholicism than I could “kill my parents with my bare hands and eat their flesh.” But of course “let him who thinks he is standing see to it that he does not fall.” There is nothing absolutely impossible about my falling away from the Faith. Perseverance in the theological virtue of faith is an unmerited grace that can be lost.

An example of such a possibility is the anonymous author of the blog Entirely Uselesswho was a Catholic from a milieu similar to my own, but has through philosophical reflections come to the conclusion that the Catholic faith (and indeed “religion in general” [whatever that might mean]) is not true. In a recent post he makes some personal remarks on his path. I want to say at the outset that I think our anonymous friend is entirely sincere in his thinking. Philosophy is a difficult enterprise for embodied intellects, and the sources of error are numerous. I do not think that he is “foolish, wicked, arrogant, or possessed by demons,” and I am sorry that such insults have been thrown at him. I even find something to admire in the courage with which he has followed the logic of his positions even though they have led to “serious negative consequences for [his] social and personal life,” since he is now seen by many of his friends and relatives as a traitor.

I do, however, want to question one claim that he makes by applying it to my own case. Entirely Useless quotes Gregory Dawes about a ‘ministerial’ use of reason, in which philosophical arguments are used to assist the faith, but are considered a priori not to be able to threaten the truths of the faith. In a previous post he had quoted Dawes at greater length to argue that such a use of reason is unserious:

It follows that while the arguments put forward by many Christian philosophers are serious arguments, there is something less than serious about the spirit in which they are being offered. There is a direction in which those arguments will not be permitted to go. Arguments that support the faith will be seriously entertained; those that apparently undermine the faith must be countered, at any cost. Philosophy, to use the traditional phrase, is merely a “handmaid” of theology. There is, to my mind, something frivolous about a philosophy of this sort. My feeling is that if we do philosophy, it ought to be because we take arguments seriously. This means following them wherever they lead.

Now, there are two points that I would like to make about this. The first has to do with what exactly it means for philosophy to be the handmaid of theology. I certainly hold that she is, but in a slightly different sense from the one expounded by Dawes. Dawes (apparently following a certain interpretation of Luther) thinks that it means that reason an sich is to be the servant of an irrational (or at any rate non-rational) interior testimony of the Spirit. But I would see it rather as unaided reason serving reason aided by grace. The difference may seem to be small, but I think it is actually quite great. On my account faith is a strengthening of the intellectual faculty in us, allowing us to come to some truth that we could not attain without such strengthening (even though the attainment lacks something of the perfection of knowledge in the strict sense). I do not see anything contrary to the dignity of reason for its natural use to be subordinated to its supernatural use.

The second point that I would make would be on Dawes’s claim that to do philosophy seriously one must follow arguments wherever they lead. In a certain sense this is obviously true. But in another sense it is false. As the author of Entirely Useless very well knows, philosophical argument ought to proceed from what is more known to what is less known. It ought to unfold and explain what is contained in our first common conceptions of reality that are the most certain, but at the same time the most vague and confused of the things we know. It ought not to explain them away by means of more distinct, but less certain, secondary conceptions. Thus, for example, Aristotle in the Physics certainly takes the arguments of Melissus and Parmenides on the unity and immobility of being seriously in the sense that he carefully examines their evidence, and tries to see what led them to think thus. But he does not take them seriously in Dawes’s sense. That is, he is not open to being persuaded by their conclusion. And the reason is that the reality of plurality and motion in the world is more known to us than any of the abstract premises from which Parmenides and Melissus are working. There is nothing unserious about Aristotle’s approach. On the contrary there would be something unserious about approaching the question with an agnostic attitude toward the reality of plurality and motion. Similarly, there is something profoundly unserious about Descartes’s project of universal doubt, because it effectively takes certain abstract secondary conceptions as being more known to us than our common experience of the sensible world.

But what about the Christian faith? In one sense the Christian faith is certainly not “more known” than the truths that we know by natural reason. Indeed, in the strict sense of Aristotelian ἐπιστήμη it is not knowledge at all. Nevertheless, it has a property of ἐπιστήμη namely certitude. Whence comes this certitude? Entirely Useless has a great many posts on two kinds of evidence for the Faith: 1) preambles of the faith, that is demonstrations from natural reason for the existence and attributes of God, and 2) external signs of the credibility of Christian revelation, such as miracles, martyrdoms, conversions, consistency throughout the ages etc. Now both of these kinds of evidence are important. The preambles help us to understand the contents of Faith, and have also led certain persons to embrace the Faith (Edward Feser, for instance, was led to his conversion by a consideration of the preambula). External signs of credibility are also important— many persons have been converted or strengthened in their faith by witnessing miracles, for example. But neither of these is the primary source of the certitude of the faith for those who believe.

But nor is such certitude based on an entirely incommunicable interior witness of the Spirit. Certainly it is impossible without such illumination, but what such illumination enables is an encounter with Christ, as a witness who is both external and internal. It enables us to “see His glory.”

Speaking for myself, my certitude rests on having “seen,” that glory. That is— on an encounter with the witness that is of such a kind as of itself to make His witness entirely credible. I know that the author of Entirely Useless has never been much of a disciple of Hans Urs von Balthasar. I disagree with Balthasar on many things myself. But Balthasar’s theological aesthetics seem to me to be quite true and profound on this point (even if sometimes slightly overstated). In vol. 1 of The Glory of the Lord Balthasar refers to a line from the Christmas Preface:

For through the mystery [or sacrament] of the Word made flesh a new light of your glory has shone upon the eyes of our mind, so that, as we recognize in Him God made visible, we may be caught up [rapiamur] through Him in love of things invisible.

To see the glory of Christ is to be moved by that light to love the invisible realities of God, and to believe in them with an overwhelming certitude. Such certitude exceeds the natural power of reason, but it is not therefore irrational, it is the pinnacle of reason in this earthly life, and the faint inchoatio of the eternal vision of God in beatitude.

The glory of Christ is “visible” not only to those who saw Him in His earthly life, but also to those who encounter Him in His Church, through the written testimony of scripture, and even more through the unwritten reflection of His glory in the life, preaching, and sacraments of the Church.

You have not seen him but you love him, and now, not seeing him but believing in him, rejoice, with a joy which is inexpressible and glorious, as you win what is the end of faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have watched and our hands have felt, concern­ing the word of life; and the life was revealed, and we have seen and attest and announce to you the life ever­lasting which was with the Father and was revealed to us; what we have seen and heard we announce to you also, so that you also may share it with us; and our sharing is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ. And we write you this so that your joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

It is no longer because of your talk that we be­lieve; we ourselves have heard, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world. (John 4:42)

Looking at my own life, I can see how easy it would be to consider my approach to these questions “unserious;” as determined not by the evidence, but by my loyalty to my community, as tainted by what I called “confirmation bias.” But to me (as I tried to explain in my Cosmos The In Lost piece), the opposite seems evident. It would be unserious in me to approach arguments based on natural evidence as though they could ever disprove the overwhelmingly powerful evidence of the Faith. Presumably the author of Entirely Useless will disagree. But perhaps we can at least agree on this much: neither of us is “foolish, wicked, arrogant, or possessed by demons.”

Subjectification and Objectification

As I have mentioned, an essay of mine has appeared in a remarkably interesting volume on the philosophy and theology of the soul. The best essay in the collection is, however, probably not mine, but rather William Desmond’s “Soul Music and Soul-less Selving.” Not that I agree with everything that Desmond says, but his piece is strange, subtle, wonderful, and productive of thought somewhat in the manner of a Platonic dialogue.

One question that Desmond raises has to do with Cartesian dualism: What comes first in the Cartesian rejection of a hylomorphic understanding of the soul: subjectification or objectification? He takes the one of the driving forces behind modern philosophy to be a certain impatience with indeterminacy and equivocity:

[I]f the soul has lost its meaning for many (Cavell speaks of “soul-blindness”), there are diverse factors involved in this. I think that certainly attention must be paid to the ambition to univocally determine all being that has expanded in modernity into a project claiming to be on a par with the whole. I want to suggest that there is more to soul than can be made the object of such univocal determination. […] Moreover, the project of determination passes seamlessly with a project of self-determination, and hence the huge presence of the language of self coexists with a view where there is nothing so absent as self. (pp. 3354-355)

This would seem to put objectification first, but then Desmond swings back the other way:

Relative to the project of determination and determinability: I am thinking of the objectification of being, wherein all that is is determined to be an object of scientific investigation and possible technological exploitation. The qualitative textures of things do not count in this project of universal quantification, this mathesis universalis. Of course, if things are massively objectified, this goes with the huge subjectification of the human being, the self as it will come to be known. Which comes first: the subjectification or the objectification? Since objectification is a project of the subject, there is a sense in which the subjectification is prior, even though this may not appear so at the outset. We make things objective, but changes in ourselves then set in motion other changes, not only to things other to us, but also in how we relate to ourselves, how we understand ourselves. One of these changes has to do with the de-souling of nature as other to us (following the objectification), and with this the creeping soul-lessness of the ensuing self (following the subjectification). (p.355)

Certainly, it “does not appear so” the great success and prestige of the modern intellectual project certainly has to do with the power that comes from the objectification of nature in the “new science” that Bacon wanted, but that Descartes was actually able to begin. Nevertheless, in Descartes himself it is not so easy to see what comes first. Desmond goes on to speak more particularly of Descartes:

res cogitans is then identified with spiritual substance, set off by an ontological gulf from the res extensa, the neutral wax-like stuff of the world around us. The term “res” carries the objectification: “thing,” but with the implication of a determinability that fixes itself and nothing but itself. I mean this not only as an objectification and determination but also as a certain univocalization. It is as a consequence of univocal determin- ability that we find ourselves fixed in dualism; for to be the one thing it is, the res must incontrovertibly be not the other things, and between the one and the other there opens a gulf of difference, in the end not intermediated or open to intermediation. The res extensa seems to open up the vista of objectified neutralized thereness; and it seems also to define by necessary complement the res cogitans, the subjectivity for whom or for which this neutralized other is there at all. But this subjectivity itself undergoes a reification in being determined as thinking thing. It is in this determination, identified with the soul, that the soul begins to be lost.

Desmond’s account reminds me of the illuminating comparison that Maritain makes between the way Descartes thinks that human thought works and the way angelic thought actually works in Three Reformers:

It remains— and this is what concerns us— that the Cartesian ideas come from God, like angelic ideas, not from objects. Thus the human soul is not only subsistent as the ancients taught, causing the body to exist with its own existence; it has, without the body, received direct from God all the operative perfection which can befit it. There is the destruction of the very reason of its union with the body, or rather, there is its inversion. For if the body and the senses are not the necessary means of the acquisition of its ideas for that soul, and consequently the instrument by which it rises to its own perfection, which is the life of the intelligence and the contemplation of truth, then, as the body must be for the soul and not the soul for the body, the body and senses can be there for nothing but to provide the soul— which needs only itself and God in order to think,— with means for the practical subjugation of the earth and all material nature, and this reduces the soul’s good to the domination of the physical universe. This universe, the whole of which has not the value of one spirit, will make it pay dear for this deordination. This angel is iron-gloved, and extends its sovereign action over the corporeal world by the innumerable arms of Machinery! Poor angel turning the grindstone, enslaved to the law of matter, and soon fainting under the terrible wheels of the elemental machine which has got out of order. (pp. 63-63)

St. Thomas on Hebrews in Norcia

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 13.39.50

We do not live in a golden age of scholastic theology, but there are some signs of hope. One of the signs of hope is certainly the St. Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies in Norcia (the birth place of St Benedict). The Center really follows St. Thomas as seeing the task of theology in the unfolding of the meaning of Sacred Scripture. This year they will be holding a summer session on St Thomas’s Commentary on Hebrews this year. My friend Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College is going to be one of those leading the discussions. I urge my readers to consider attending.

Purity and Intelligible Light

Today being the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas on the new calendar, I have been thinking about the peculiar clarity that marks his theological work. The clarity seems to come partly from a sort of purity: a complete concentration on the object without any personal tint, like pure water that gives a clear reflection. Some find this “impersonal” character of St. Thomas’s writings boring, but I find a peculiar beauty in it. Perhaps it is not quite right to call it “impersonal,” I think St. Thomas’s judgement is not based merely on “detached” reasoning, but also on a deeply personal connaturality with the divine mysteries. Recall his own account of connaturality:

Now rectitude of judgment is twofold: first, on account of perfect use of reason, secondly, on account of a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. Thus, about matters of chastity, a man after inquiring with his reason forms a right judgment, if he has learnt the science of morals, while he who has the habit of chastity judges of such matters by a kind of connaturality. (IIaIIae, Q 45, A2, c)

It is notable that St. Thomas gives the example of a chaste man as one who can judge from connaturality. Chastity, in the sense of the virtue of purity seems to have had a particular importance to his own life. As Michael Waldstein (my father) argues:

St.Thomas seems to have had a particular love for temperance, and within temperance for purity, as a virtue of compelling beauty. If St. Francis had a preferential love for poverty, St.Thomas had one for purity.And so he advances the thesis that honestas is part of temperance in the sense of attaching particularly to this one virtue. To see St.Thomas’s complete understanding of purity, one must also consider what he says about the religious vow of chastity, as an aspect of the holocaust of love which defines religious life. “Religious life . . . is a kind of whole burnt offering (holocaust) by which someone totally offers himself and all things that are his to God.” Clearly, here we are in contact with the heart of St. Thomas’s own sanctity translated into thought. (p. 429)

I think their is a real connection between the purity of St. Thomas’s heart with regard to sensual pleasure, and the purity of his thought. To a person formed by moral virtue the sensible world is clear reflection of the glory of the Creator, but to the person drawn by disordered passion toward the sensible good this clarity is darkened. And that darkening is particularly evident in disordered love of the most intense pleasure, which nature has (very wisely) given to the act which brings forth new life. As St. Thomas says in his treatment of the daughters of lust:

When the lower powers are strongly moved towards their objects, the result is that the higher powers are hindered and disordered in their acts. Now the effect of the vice of lust is that the lower appetite, namely the concupiscible, is most vehemently intent on its object, to wit, the object of pleasure, on account of the vehemence of the pleasure. Consequently the higher powers, namely the reason and the will, are most grievously disordered by lust. (IIaIIae, Q 153, A 5, c)

One can see the effect of St. Thomas’s purity more clearly by contrasting him with another theologian: Peter Abelard. In The Story of My Misfortunes, Abelard notes that great theologians have been especially strong in chastity, but that he began to lose this virtue:

But prosperity always puffs up the foolish and worldly comfort enervates the soul, rendering it an easy prey to carnal temptations. Thus I who by this time had come to regard myself as the only philosopher remaining in the whole world, and had ceased to fear any further disturbance of my peace, began to loosen the rein on my desires, although hitherto I had always lived in the utmost continence. And the greater progress I made in my lecturing on philosophy or theology, the more I departed alike from the practice of the philosophers and the spirit of the divines in the uncleanness of my life. For it is well known, methinks, that philosophers, and still more those who have devoted their lives to arousing the love of sacred study, have been strong above all else in the beauty of chastity. Thus did it come to pass that while I was utterly absorbed in pride and sensuality, divine grace, the cure for both diseases, was forced upon me, even though I, forsooth would fain have shunned it. First was I punished for my sensuality, and then for my pride. For my sensuality I lost those things whereby I practiced it… (c. V)

He then goes on to describe his affair with Heloise, and then describes its effects on his intellectual life:

In measure as this passionate rapture absorbed me more and more, I devoted ever less time to philosophy and to the work of the school. Indeed it became loathsome to me to go to the school or to linger there; the labour, moreover, was very burdensome, since my nights were vigils of love and my days of study. My lecturing became utterly careless and lukewarm; I did nothing because of inspiration, but everything merely as a matter of habit. I had become nothing more than a reciter of my former discoveries… (c. VI)

Now if one compares the superficiality and clever sophism of Abelard’s Scito Teipsum with the luminous profundity of St. Thomas, it is hard not to think that part of the cause lies in the one lacking purity and the other possessing it.

St Thomas and St Agnes


Today being the feast of St Agnes, I remembered Fr. Romanus Cessario O.P. mentioning that St Thomas Aquinas carried a relic of the virgin martyr at his breast. I looked it up, and found that he also once sponsored a meal for his students on her feast:

One of Aquinas’s early biographers tells us that he also kept relics of St. Agnes on his person: “reliquias dicte sancte, quas ad pectus suspensas ex deuotione portabat.” In other words, Aquinas piously wore the relics of St.Agnes at his breast. On one occasion we know that St.Thomas used these relics to obtain the intercession of the young saint in order to cure his sick socius or priest-companion, Friar Reginald of Piperno.When St. Agnes’s mediation was discovered to have been successful, and Reginald’s health had improved, Aquinas spontaneously promised to sponsor a special meal for his students on every twenty-first of January. This cure took place in 1272, and thus it happened, as a contemporary chronicler observes, that Aquinas was able to fulfill his votive promise only once— namely, in the winter of 1273. (“Circa res . . . aliquid fit,” p. 74)

Socratic Dialogues Without Socrates

“TNET is a bit like a Socratic dialog . . . once you’ve cut out all of Socrates’s lines,” someone recently remarked on TNET. That gave me the idea of removing Socrates’s lines from a random section of the Gorgias. Here is the result:

Gor. Well, Socrates, I suppose that if the pupil does chance not to know them, he will have to learn of me these things as well.

Gor. Certainly.

Gor. Yes.

Gor. Yes.

Gor. Certainly.

Gor. To be sure.

Gor. Yes.

Gor. That is clearly the inference.

Gor. Certainly not.

Gor. Yes.

Gor. Clearly not.

Gor. Yes, it was.

Gor. True.

Gor. Yes.

Polus. And do even you, Socrates, seriously believe what you are now saying about rhetoric? What! because Gorgias was ashamed to deny that the rhetorician knew the just and the honourable and the good, and admitted that to any one who came to him ignorant of them he could teach them, and then out of this admission there arose a contradiction-the thing which you dearly love, and to which not he, but you, brought the argument by your captious questions-[do you seriously believe that there is any truth in all this?] For will any one ever acknowledge that he does not know, or cannot teach, the nature of justice? The truth is, that there is great want of manners in bringing the argument to such a pass.

Pol. What condition?

Pol. What! do you mean that I may not use as many words as I please?

Pol. Yes.

Pol. To be sure.

Pol. I will ask; and do you answer me, Socrates, the same question which Gorgias, as you suppose, is unable to answer: What is rhetoric?

Pol. Yes.

Pol. Then what, in your opinion, is rhetoric?

Pol. What thing?

Pol. Does rhetoric seem to you to be an experience?

Pol. An experience in what?

Pol. And if able to gratify others, must not rhetoric be a fine thing?

Pol. Did I not hear you say that rhetoric was a sort of experience?

Pol. I will.

Pol. What sort of an art is cookery?

Pol. What then?


ut animalia viderent Dominum natum

The organist at one of the parishes that I serve brings a dog with her onto the organ loft. The dog is silent for most of the Mass, but usually begins to howl for the recessional hymn. It howls almost in tune, so that it seems to be trying to join in the singing. Large grins appear on the faces of the congregated faithful whenever the dog is heard. At Christmas the dog’s howls remind me of the responsory O Magnum Mysterium:

O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio!

A Dialogue on Star Wars

Baring (standing), Over-Bearing (right), Past-Bearing (left)

Over-BearingFew things shows how far the world has sunken since our time more clearly than an American college lecturer reflecting on his students difficulty in reading children’s books [he reads aloud from  John Senior’s The Restoration of Christian Culture]:

In my own direct experience teaching literature at universities, I have found a large plurality of students who find, say, Treasure Island what they call “hard reading,” which means too difficult to enjoy with anything approaching their delight in Star Wars or electronic games.

Has it indeed come to this? That the descendants of the peoples of Christendom— of the peoples who built the great cathedrals, who conquered and instructed worlds— that the descendants of such peoples should have fallen so low that they cannot even enjoy Mr. Stevenson’s simple adventure stories.  No one could accuse me of being overly optimistic about the effects of the death of Christian civilization, but even I did not expect man to fall so far below the beasts that his keenest enjoyment would be found in Star Wars. Star Wars! That dismal mush of pantheism, gnosticism, and sentimentality, so illogical that in our day a child of five years would have laughed it to scorn.

Past-BearingYou are quite wrong to see in the popularity of Star Wars a sign of how far our race has fallen since the end of civilization. On the contrary— Star Wars is proof that how ever far the world has fallen, human nature cannot be entirely corrupted, and that despite the reigning dogma’s of anti-culture, the common man can still tell the difference between good and evil, and delights in stories about the triumph of the one over the other. The miracle of Star Wars is that it shows a world of machines and space-ships in which the most important thing is mystery of the good; the magic of an “ancient religion.” In the figure of Luke Skywalker the inhabitants of the dreary wasteland of a world dis-enchanted by godlessness and capitalism, can see themselves discovering that after all the world is a mighty battle field between super-natural powers. Star Wars is not art, but it is something much more important: it is story about the truth of our magical world. It is to these sad times, what penny dreadfuls were to ours.

Over-Bearing: Nonsense. Star Wars is not a story told by the simple for their own amusement. It is a powerful propaganda weapon made at great expense by Californian plutocrats, members of the world wide conspiracy of anti-Catholics and usurers. It was made to confuse the notions of good and evil, and muddle the minds of the world’s children.

Past-Bearing: My dear Over-Bearing, the truth is quite the opposite of what you say. It is precisely the proud intellectuals of the new anti-culture who decry Star Wars for being “puerile” and lacking “subtlety” in its depiction of good and evil— that is, for not mixing them up enough— for making the good good and the evil evil. Hence children spontaneously love Star Wars. It is the relativists and soft-Nietzscheans, and Picasso lovers who decry it as the end of culture.

Over-Bearing: That man may be an ass, who considers Picasso an artist, but he is quite right that Star Wars is mindless distraction that is passively consumed, destroying rather than nourishing the imagination. You yourself has magnificently shown that real fairy tales are quite reasonable, and make perfect sense. But Star Wars makes no sense at all; it is full of the most illogical stupidity. Not to mention the gnostic dualism.

Past-Bearing: It is true that some of the more tiresome characters talk solemn nonsense of a gnostic sort. But the portrayal of good and evil in action is entirely Christian, and even entirely Catholic. Evil is exaggeratedly great appearance, but weak in substance— a shadowy privation of being. Hence many of the apparent absurdities and impossibilities show themselves to be entirely logical. That the Storm Troopers are so feared, and yet are all such comically bad shots. That the evil empire is so powerful, and yet so easy to destroy. When Luke walks unarmed into the the stronghold of the enemy at the end of Return of the Jedi, he shows us again the greatest story ever told: the story of the weakness of the good proving itself stronger than the strength of evil.

Over-BearingPast-Bearing, you are indeed past all bearing. You cannot be comparing that spoiled, whining whelp, Luke Skywalker, to our Savior?

Past-Bearing: The tone of Skywalker’s voice might not be the most euphonious, but it is necessary in order that American teenagers might see him as being of their kind. As the theologians say: quod non est assumptum non est sanatum.

[Exit Over-Bearing in disgust]

[Baring, who has been listening in interest all the while, while pretending to write a triolet, lays down his pen].

Baring: Your defense of Star Wars is all very well, Past-Bearing, but surely it doesn’t apply to The Force Awakens. The original trilogy (despite its vulgarity and sentimentality) had a certain inventiveness, an innocent delight in the revealing of new-worlds. To see the old Star Wars was to walk through an enchanted door and to see again, as though half remembered, the light upon the enchanted world of childhood. But the new film is dull affair made by a committee of capitalists. A tent-pole film so anxious to please the admirers of the original that it repeats almost frame for frame the plot of A New Hope. So anxious not to be boring, that it rushes along at a frantic pace without time for enjoyment. A film so pedantically obsessed with the politically correct opinions that the heroine becomes a sort of feminist Mary Sue, for whom everything is so easy that nothing matters. Force Awakens is the very paragon of  unimaginative and decadent art.

Past-Bearing: Oh, but repetition is the very essence of the age-old story of good and evil. And typology is the genius of The Force AwakensSurely decadent art is obsessed with novelty? Nostalgia is the mark of truly human stories: Virgil is nostalgic, Dante is nostalgic [cf. the conclusion of this post].  And as to Rey: I find no fault with her role in the story. Does she not show us that great, triumphant, and eternally exciting truth: that one good girl is more powerful than a great many bad men in masks? That the goodness of a little girl is fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners?

[enter Duff Cooper, a little drunk]

Duff Cooper: I say, let’s go see The Force Awakens.

Past-Bearing [gets up with alacrity]: Yes, do let’s

Baring: Oh, all right.

St. John, Wine, and Celibacy

The Feast of St John was somewhat eclipsed by the Feast of the Holy Family this Year, but in the parish of Pfaffstätten, which is a vineyard town, we still had the traditional blessing of wine after Mass. After the blessing it is customary for the people to give some of the wine to the priest— as a sort of offering, I believe.

During Mass I preached the following sermon (more or less).

The Gospel that we have just heard of the finding of our Lord in the temple always makes me think of something similar that happened to me when I was a child. Our Lord was twelve when his parents lost Him, but I was much younger— about four or five. We were visiting my grandparents in Salzburg, and were walking through the city on our way to Mass at the Abbey Church of St Peter. I saw something interesting in a window, and stood staring at it for a long while. When I looked up my family was gone. The Church was not far off, and when they got there (as I heard later) my father sat up front with the older children, while my mother sat in the back with my younger brother. Each of them thought that I was with the other. I wandered about looking for the church. I asked someone where St. Peter’s was, but he answered “in Rome.” It seemed to me that he had misunderstood the question, but I didn’t know how to explain this, so I walked on. I will always remember the feeling of fear and great loneliness that came over me. But my joy was proportionately great when my parents came looking for me and found me. I will never forget that joy either.

God has created us for love, and for the joy which comes from love. After the creation of man God said, “it is not good for the man to be alone,” and so He created a woman, and the first family was founded. The family was created to be a school of love; a union of love in which new life can come into the world and learn to give and receive love. The family is a school of love that ought to prepare us to be taken up into an even greater union of love: the love of God Himself. God’s own life is the unspeakable joy of the love given and received in the Blessed Trinity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And He wishes to take us up into that love, to make us (as it were) part of His own family.

But from the very beginning human families are threatened by sin. In the very first family Cain kills Abel, and through all time many families are torn apart by infidelity and jealously and every kind of sin.

But our Lord in coming into the world restored the family. He Himself was born into a human family, becoming a little child in the manger. And He won the grace for our families to become schools of divine love. Today we celebrate the Feast of John, the beloved disciple, who wrote so beautifully of God’s love. St John tells us that the first of our Lord’s miracles took place at the wedding feast of Cana, at the founding of a new family, where our Lord changed water into wine. Today we will bless wine in honor of St John, as a symbol of the joy that flows from God’s love. But St John, who spoke so eloquently of love, was not himself married. Many of the other apostles were married, but St John was not. In this he was like our Lord Himself, who was born into a human family, but did not found an earthly family; He founded only the supernatural family of the Church. And many monks and nuns throughout the ages have followed the example of our Lord (and of St John), and have resolved to remain unmarried. They do this as a sign that the true fulfillment of our hearts, the final healing of our loneliness and fear, does not come in this mortal life, but in the wedding feast of eternity.

The Church needs both forms of life. She needs good Christian families, who can be schools of love, preparations for and signs of the coming union with God in Heaven. And she needs good monks and nuns, who by giving up the “happy ending” of spousal love in this life, show our hope for something yet greater.

The Pseudo-Distinction Between Rose and Pink

After Gaudete Sunday I noticed a number of priests on social media posting on the supposed difference between rose and pink. I claim that this distinction has very little foundation in reality; it has more to do with contingent cultural associations with the word “pink” than with a fair reading of the rubrics of the Roman Missal, or of the actual tradition of vestment making in the Roman Rite. The rubrics indeed speak of rose, but this could just as well be translated pink, since Latin does not have a separate term for pink. Indeed many languages (eg. German) make no distinction between the two colors.

Both of the English words are derived from flowers, but roses and pinks come in myriads of overlapping shades.

Indeed, as soon as one begins to think about the naming of colors, one’s native Platonism begins to give way, and one begins to suspect that there is something to the structuralist argument for the division of reality by naming as being a bit arbitrary. One doesn’t have to swallow de Saussure’s theories whole to see that the imposition of color names involves a certain amount of arbitrary choice. To Homer, after all, the sea was the color of wine.

Father Edward McNamara gives a sort of Newtonian-objectivist account of the supposed distinction between rose and pink:

Rose (“rosaceo“) is defined by the dictionary as “a moderate purplish-red color; purplish pink.” The liturgical color is thus a lightened violet and is darker than the pale hue usually associated with pink. It is rather a tincture closer to that of a pale incarnadine or the reddish “Naples yellow” used by artists. Pink, “any of a group of colors with a reddish hue that are of low to moderate saturation and can usually reflect or transmit a large amount of light; a pale reddish tint,” is not counted among the liturgical colors.

If one takes a less Newtonian and more Goethian approach (surely more applicable in aesthetic matters), or simply the approach that one took as a child learning to mix paint, then one could say that on Fr. McNamara’s account rose is mixture of red, white, and a little blue, whereas pink is a mixture of only white and red. But persons who have made a study of Latin color names are by no means unanimous in confirming such a view. The Calabrian Renaissance poet Antonia Telesio, has the following to say about rose:

Iucundissimus omnium est color roseus, atque humano corpori, si id formosum est quam simillimus. Itaque os, cervicem, papillas, digitos roseos poetae dicunt: id est candidos, rubore sanguinis penitus diffuso cum venustate: isque color proprie est, quem communis sermo incarnatum vocat. Refert enim maxime omnium pueri nitorem ac virginis: rosam non Milesiam intelligo quae nimis purpurea ardere quodammodo videtur, nec rursus albam: sed quae utrinque decorem accepit, et quia corpus hominis imitatur, quod lingua vernacula carnem appellat, eadem id genus rosarum incarnatum nominavit. Cicero colorem hunc suavem dixit.

That is to say, rose according to Telesio, is the color of human flesh— resulting from the red blood shining through the white skin.

Learned bloggers have indeed argued that the history of dye making argues for an admixture of blue in liturgical rose, but if one looks at actual historical examples, one can find all manner of shades of rose from almost red to almost violet to the palest of pastel pink:

And such diversity is quite normal. Usually liturgical colors allow for a wide variety of shades; just consider the different shades of liturgical green that one can find often from the same place and time. So whence comes the pseudo-distinction of rose and pink? We can get a clue from a post from the early days of the excellent New Liturgical Movement blog:


I’ve often found too many “rose” vestments to be far less rose coloured than they are pink. It seems to me a deeper, almost purplish hue of rose (sometimes referred to as “dusty rose”) would be more befitting the sacred rites, and also the masculine nature of the priesthood, and that the other can be quite distracting and not as befitting the former.

The reference to “the masculine nature of the priesthood” is I think the key to the problem. In many parts of the world pink is considered a sort of effeminate, missish color unbefitting to men. This seems a rather arbitrary convention, but perhaps not entirely arbitrary, since the flesh that Telesio describes as candidos, rubore sanguinis penitus diffuso is found maxime in virginibus (though also, I note, in pueris).