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.”

Continue reading

Resurrection as the Reconciliation of the Bridegroom with the Bride

Mary Magadalene, the repentant sinner, weeping in the garden in front of Christ’s empty tomb is a figure of the People of God. God espoused Himself to His people in the covenant, but she, His bride, was unfaithful, and went after false gods, committing adultery against her divine Bridegroom. Mary is weeping that the Lord has been taken from her. And it is the sins of His unfaithful bride that have put Jesus to death. But He loves His Bride so much that makes atonement for her unfaithfulness. “For a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:8).

“And as she wept, she stooped and looked inside the tomb, and she saw two angels, in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and one at the feet” (John 20:11-12). She is looking at an image that calls to mind the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem: the two cherubim on either side of the Ark of the Covenant, looking at the kaporet, the mercy seat, the golden lid of the Ark, which in Greek is called hilasterion (instrument of atonement). Once a year the High Priest would come into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle blood on the kaporet to atone for the people’s unfaithfulness to the Divine Bridegroom. Now Mary Magdalene sees the blood of Christ staining the funeral shroud lying between the two angels. “But Christ arrived as high priest of all the good things which have come about through the greater and more final tabernacle not made by human hands, that is, not of this world; and not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood he entered once for all into the holy place, having found everlasting redemption” (Hebrews 9:11).

So great is Jesus’s love for His unfaithful Bride that He enters into the darkness of this world bearing to bear in full the suffering that reverses her sin.

Mary Magdalene is therefore a figure of the Church also in this: that she recognizes the reconciliation that has taken place, and calls out to Christ with love and joy. This is what the whole Church, the Bride of Christ, does now on this great Feast of Easter. This is what we de as parts of the Church—all of us:

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

Paschal Homily attributed to St. John Chrysostom

A Time for Reading Kierkegaard

There come times in one’s life when one conceives a great desire to read Kierkegaard. There are certain moods that he captured better than any other writer. For example:

I got up one morning in unusually good humour. This positive mood actually expanded as the morning progressed, in a manner I had never before experienced. By one o’clock my mood had climaxed, and I sensed the dizzying heights of complete contentment, a level that appears on no scale designed to measure moods, not even on the poetic thermometer. My body no longer seemed weighed down by gravity. It was as if I had no body, in that every function hummed along perfectly, every nerve rejoiced, the harmony punctuated by each beat of my pulse which served in turn only to remind me of the delightfulness of the moment. I almost floated as I walked, not like the bird that cuts through the air as it leaves the earth, but like the wind over the fields, like the nostalgic rocking of waves, like the dreamy progress of clouds across the sky. My being was transparent as the clear depths of the ocean, as the night’s self-satisfied stillness, as the soft soliloquy of midday. Every mood resonated melodically in my soul. Every thought, from the most foolish to the most profound, offered itself, and offered itself with the same blissful festiveness. Every impression was anticipated before it came, and thus awoke from within me. It was as if all of existence were in love with me. Everything quivered in deep rapport with my being. Everything in me was portentous; all mysteries explained in my microcosmic bliss that transfigured everything, even the unpleasant, the most annoying remark, the most loathsome sight, the most fatal collision.

As I said, it was exactly at one o’clock that my mood reached its peak, where I sensed the heights of perfect contentment. But then suddenly I got something in my eye. I do not know whether it was an eyelash, an insect, or a piece of dust. I know this though, that my mood immediately plummeted almost into the abyss of despair. [Søren Kierkegaard, Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs, trans. M. G. Piety (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) pp. 40-41].