‘Tu se’ lo mio maestro e ’l mio autore’: In Memoriam Thomas Howard, 1935-2020

Tom Howard is dead, and the tributes are pouring in (First Things, The Catholic Herald, Catholic World Report, etc). I don’t want to repeat the story of his life that they tell, but only to write a few words of gratitude for having known him. He was one of my favorite people in the whole world. And he had a lasting influence on my life.

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Against the New Nationalism

The second issue of The Lamp magazine includes an essay by me, responding to Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism. Here’s a snip:

The first time that I visited Ukraine was in November of 1998, just a few days before my fifteenth birthday. I was travelling with my family to a Byzantine-Catholic priestly ordination. We took a red velvet upholstered, Soviet era train from Vienna to the Western Ukrainian city of L’viv. At the border between Slovakia and Ukraine, the train was hoisted up on cranes and the wheels changed. The reason, we were told, was that Stalin had had the gauge of train tracks in the Soviet Union widened to discourage invading armies.

Crossing the border into Ukraine in the 90s was like going back in time. As the train rattled through the Carpathian Mountains, we looked out on women in headscarves washing clothes in icy rivers, and horses pulling sledges and wagons. The wagons had car tires on their wheels, but apart from that we could have been in the 19th century.

At the train station in L’viv we were met by an old man in a towering fur hat, who was to drive us to the house where we were staying, and by a young student who spoke English. The student told us that the old man had spent years in a Siberian labor camp during the Soviet persecution of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. We gaped at this Solzhenitsyn character come to life.

You can read the rest by subscribing to The Lamp.

St. Benedict and the Spirit of the Council

Although St. Benedict flourished two hundred years after the Council of Nicea, his Rule is nonetheless imbued with its spirit. Arianism was still a force to be reckoned with at his time. The spirit of the Council of Nicea can be seen all over the Rule, in its Christocentrism, and its veneration for the “orthodox catholic fathers” (i.e. the anti-Arian writers). Sometimes the spirit of the council leads St. Benedict into unexpected interpretations of Sacred Scripture. Thus, in chapter 2, on the character of the abbot, St. Benedict gives a startling interpretation of Romans 8:15:

A abbot who is worthy to preside over a monastery ought always to remember what he is called and to justify his title by his deeds. For he is deemed in the monastery the vicar of Christ, since it is by His [Christ’s] title he is addressed, for the Apostle says: “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption of sons in which it is we cry out Abba, Father.”

The cry “Abba, Father” is here taken to be directed at Christ, and the old monastic title of ‘abbot’ is interpreted Christologically. It is a very daring reading of Paul, and I don’t think it would have occurred to anyone before Nicea.

An Allegorical Representation of Stift Heiligenkreuz

On the ceiling above the stairs leading to the abbot’s apartments in Heiligenkreuz there is an allegorical representation of the monastery. Stift Heiligenkreuz is represented by a lady in armor with shield and spear. Above the monastery are the three theological virtues: Faith, represented by a lady with the cross and chalice; hope with an anchor; and love, nursing a baby. A ray of light from the faith bounces off Heiligenkreuz’s shield, and drives away the powers of evil: demons, heretics, and deceitful women.

Wolfgang Waldstein’s Jurisprudence

Wolfgang Waldstein with Cardinal Erdő in Hungary

Ius & Iustitium is a new blog on legal and juridical matters associated with The Josias. I was very happy to be able to get a text posted there by my grandfather, Wolfgang Waldstein: “The Significance of Roman Law for the Development of European Law.” I believe that my grandfather exemplifies precisely the sort of realist common good jurisprudence, founded on the natural law and enriched by the centuries old tradition of the application of natural law in the Roman law and the legal traditions based on Roman Law that Ius & Iustitium is trying to promote.

Wolfgang Waldstein at the summit of the Dachstein

Conservationists vs. Animal Rights Activists

The Guardian notes an important difference between conservationists, willing to cull invasive species to preserve biodiversity, and animal rights activists:

Ultimately, however, despite sharing a passionate concern for other organisms, conservation and animal rights groups base their actions on a profoundly different philosophy. Conservationists value species; animal rights campaigners cherish the life of each individual animal.

From a Thomist perspective it is clear that the conservationists are correct. Man is the only animal who is “for his own sake,” since man alone has reason and will, and can therefore understand the good to which he is ordered. Irrational animals exist primarily for the sake of their species, through which the wisdom of the Creator is manifested. As Pope Francis put it:

Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.

Joseph Ratzinger on the Creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople

The following is an excerpt from Joseph Ratzinger’s Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, available online at TCR1.


Sixteen hundred years ago, at the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, that confession of faith was formulated that, even today, is the common possession of nearly all Christian churches and ecclesial communities. Memorial celebrations in Rome and Constantinople reminded us of the date; in Germany, it was underscored by a joint statement of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches. The ancient Creed became, for separated Christians, a signpost on the road to unity. It will be rewarding, therefore, to examine it more closely. How did it originate? What does it mean? Continue reading

Racial Justice and Social Order

Do we Live in a Society? This question came up in a recent Josias Podcast episode. Serious doubts were raised about whether we do. The discussion focused on the United States, where my interlocutors live. I lived almost half of my life in there, but it has now been almost 14 years since I left. In another sense, however, as a German rock band says, “we’re all living in Amerika.”

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