Prayer is the buttress of faith, our armor and weaponry against the enemy that watches us from every side. So never let us set out unarmed— let us remember the station by day and the vigil by night. Let us guard the standard of our emperor armed with prayer, awaiting the trumpet of the angel while we pray. Indeed, every angel prays, every creature. The herds and the wild beasts pray and bend their knees, coming forth from byres and dens looking to heaven, giving movement to the spirit after their fashion with animated mouths. And even now the birds arise, lifting themselves to heaven, spreading out their wings like a cross whilst utter- ing what appears to be a prayer. What more might be said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed, and to him be honor and might for ever and ever.
Oratio murus est fidei, arma et tela nostra aduersus hostem qui nos undique obseruat. Itaque nunquam inermes incedamus. Die stationis, nocte uigiliae meminerimus. Sub armis orationis signum nostri imperatoris custodiamus, tubam angeli exspectemus orantes. Orant etiam angeli omnes, orat omnis creatura, orant pecudes et ferae et genua declinant et egredientes de stabulis ac speluncis, ad caelum non otiosi ore suspiciunt uibrantes spiritum suo mouere. Sed et aues nunc exsurgentes eriguntur ad caelum et alarum crucem pro manibus expandunt et dicunt aliquid quod oratio uideatur. Quid ergo amplius de officio orationis? Etiam ipse Dominus orauit, cui sit honor et uirtus in saecula saeculorum. (Tertullianus, De Oratione, XXIX; trans.)
By C.S. Lewis
You said ‘The world is going back to Paganism’.
Oh bright Vision! I saw our dynasty in the bar of the House
Spill from their tumblers a libation to the Erinyes,
And Leavis with Lord Russell wreathed in flowers, heralded with flutes,
Leading white bulls to the cathedral of the solemn Muses
To pay where due the glory of their latest theorem.
Hestia’s fire in every flat, rekindled, burned before
The Lardergods. Unmarried daughters with obedient hands
Tended it By the hearth the white-armd venerable mother
Domum servabat, lanam faciebat. at the hour
Of sacrifice their brothers came, silent, corrected, grave
Before their elders; on their downy cheeks easily the blush
Arose (it is the mark of freemen’s children) as they trooped,
Gleaming with oil, demurely home from the palaestra or the dance.
Walk carefully, do not wake the envy of the happy gods,
Shun Hubris. The middle of the road, the middle sort of men,
Are best. Aidos surpasses gold. Reverence for the aged
Is wholesome as seasonable rain, and for a man to die
Defending the city in battle is a harmonious thing.
Thus with magistral hand the Puritan Sophrosune
Cooled and schooled and tempered our uneasy motions;
Heathendom came again, the circumspection and the holy fears …
You said it. Did you mean it? Oh inordinate liar, stop.
Or did you mean another kind of heathenry?
Think, then, that under heaven-roof the little disc of the earth,
Fortified Midgard, lies encircled by the ravening Worm.
Over its icy bastions faces of giant and troll
Look in, ready to invade it. The Wolf, admittedly, is bound;
But the bond wil1 break, the Beast run free. The weary gods,
Scarred with old wounds the one-eyed Odin, Tyr who has lost a hand,
Will limp to their stations for the Last defence. Make it your hope
To be counted worthy on that day to stand beside them;
For the end of man is to partake of their defeat and die
His second, final death in good company. The stupid, strong
Unteachable monsters are certain to be victorious at last,
And every man of decent blood is on the losing side.
Take as your model the tall women with yellow hair in plaits
Who walked back into burning houses to die with men,
Or him who as the death spear entered into his vitals
Made critical comments on its workmanship and aim.
Are these the Pagans you spoke of? Know your betters and crouch, dogs;
You that have Vichy water in your veins and worship the event
Your goddess History (whom your fathers called the strumpet Fortune).
Over at The Josias I have put up thirty-seven theses on the good. Since the good is the cause of causes, errors about it are in a way the most fundamental errors. There are three main errors about the good that I try to correct in my post. The first one has to do with the relation of goodness and desire: the error is to think that desire is not caused by the intrinsic goodness of things, but that rather things are only considered good because people happen to desire them. This seems like a small error, but has terrible consequences, it undergirds the typically modern view of the world as inert facticity upon which human desire projects ‘value,’ which therefore really refers to something in human desire and not something in the objects themselves. Marcus Berquist writes in a paper on the common good (p. 4) that one might see in this error the fundamental difference between modern philosophy and the tradition of Aristotle and Plato (and of Catholic moral theology). And this fits with his argument in another paper that the most fundamental disagreements among philosophers, the sources of all their other disagreements, are not about what is true and what is false, nor about what is most certain or most obvious, but about what comes first. In this case the question is: What comes first, the good or desire for the good? I think it is true to say that the typical modern view answers this question wrong— it sees desire as a kind of primary fact of human life, not as following on the genuine goodness of things. Aristotle and St Thomas of course give the opposite answer, but strangely enough they are often subjected to a strange mis-interpretation according to which they give basically the same answer as the moderns. Both certain would-be supporters of Aristotelian and Thomist eudemonism (such as Ayn Rand), and as well as certain thinkers who protest against it (such as Dietrich von Hildebrand) adopt this misunderstanding.
The second error that I try to attack is closely related to the first: the error of thinking that all desire for the good is essentially selfish. Von Hildebrand (and before him Luther), accuse a eudemonistic account making the love of God mercenary, as though on the classical account one loves God only as a means to one’s own satisfaction. I try to show that this is the complete opposite of what St Thomas actually teaches. god is to be loved with a love of benevolence not of concupiscence.
The third error is again closely related to the first. It is the view that the common good is merely an useful good for allowing people to get the private goods that they desire. I try to so that since the good is really in things, there can be a common good that is more desirable for me than any private good.
President Obama said something about the crusades recently, prompting First Things to link their review of Jonathan Riley-Smith’s The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam from several years back. This reminded me that I wrote a review of that book for the 2009 Analecta Cisterciensia. By an odd coincidence, the first draft of that review (before the editor had me shorten it) began with something that President Obama said about the Crusades. Here is that original, long draft. Continue reading
Our brother, Paul Miki, saw himself standing now in the noblest pulpit he had ever filled. To his “congregation” he began by proclaiming himself a Japanese and a Jesuit. He was dying for the Gospel he preached. He gave thanks to God for this wonderful blessing and he ended his “sermon” with these words: “As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.” (From the Acta Sanctorum; translation)
Lots of children in poor countries don’t go to school, because they are hungry and need to do something (beg, work, steal) to get food. Some marvelously sensible, Scots, Catholic lay people have started a thing called Mary’s Meals that provides meals for children in schools. They raise money to buy the ingredients, which are then cooked in the schools by local volunteers. The effects are amazing. Watch their video:
The Holy Father recently told reporters to read Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson’s novel Lord of the World, which he praises for its depiction of ‘ideological colonization.’ It has been a while since I read Lord of the World, but it is one of those books that stick in the mind. One of the most interesting things about it is Benson’s description of Rome as the last place that resists ‘ideological colonization;’ a city implacably opposed to the false gospel of human progress; an anti-modern, anti-democratic, anti-technological island in a world in which modernity is everywhere triumphant: Continue reading
Go from me thou fardel of sin, nourishing of evils and morsel of death, and depart, and know thou that I am prevented and am loved of another lover, which hath given to me many better jewels… (St Agnes to the Prefect’s son in Caxton’s translation of the Legenda Aurea)
In the section on Protestantism in Part III of my Josias essay on religious liberty, I tried to understand the Protestant view of nature and grace. Given the emphasis on grace in Protestant soteriology I used to assume that they would probably underestimate the goodness of nature and the extent to which it is preserved and restored by grace. But going to a Calvinist conference a few years ago I realized that this was not actually what they do. It was only through reading my friends at The Calvinist International though that I came to see that they in fact do virtually the opposite. Peter Escalante’s essay “Two Ends or Two Kingdoms?” shows with great clarity that to the Reformers grace merely restores nature without elevating it. Escalante is an alumnus of my alma mater and knows Catholic theology quite well, and I think his presentation both of my side and of his is accurate. As his colleague, Steven Wedgeworth, points out, our disagreements are not on what the positions are, but on which one is right. Continue reading
Alan Jacobs recently posted an outline of an argument against a certain sort of story about the origins of modernity told by many Thomists—the sort of account given by Gilson in Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages and by Maritain in Three Reformers; the Ockham→ Luther→ Calvin→ Bacon→ Descartes→ modernity tale of decline. Jacob’s makes six complaints about this sort of account. No two versions of the account are the same, and so Jacobs focuses on the versions of it presented by Brad Gregory in The Unintended Reformation and Thomas Pfau in Minding the Modern. I haven’t read Pfau, but I have read Gregory, and while I would quibble with some of his points, I agree with the basic outline of his argument. So I disagree with Jacobs, and in what follows I give a brief response to all six of his complaints. Continue reading