The Emperor Trajan as a Vacuous Progressive

In his letter to Pliny the Younger on the proper procedure in the persecution of Christians the Emperor Trajan agrees with Pliny that no note is to be taken of libelli containing anonymous denunciations, for, “Nam et pessimi exempli nec nostri saeculi est.” (“They set a bad precedent and are not in the spirit of our age.”) Not of our age! How disappointing that a Roman emperor would would sink to the level of that puppet of the contemporary self-congratulatory liberal establishment, the Prime Minister of Canada, who famously justified his cabinet selection with the moronic pseudo-reason “because it’s 2015.” I had thought that this species of idiocy only came into being after Vico, but apparently I was wrong.


Michael Casey and Thomas Merton

Fr. Michael Casey, O.C.S.O., was here in Heiligenkreuz yesterday, and I got to give him a little tour of the monastery. He is unassuming, down to earth sort of man, with a good sense of humor. I felt a bit like a chump giving the tour, though, as the things I usually say on on such tours are things that he knows far better than I. In monasteries of both Cistercian observances Fr. Michael Casey’s books are probably more read than those of any other living author of our tradition. I disagree with him on some theological points (he’s far less of a theological “traditionalist” than I), but I have found his writings quite helpful. His book on lectio divina (a German translation of which we read in the refectory), for example, is a truly helpful book, based on years of hard experience, free of cant, and addressing head-on the difficulties that modern habits pose to lectio.

The first thing of Fr. Michael’s that I read was the afterword to the correspondence of Thomas Merton and Jean Leclercq. Casey’s afterword was excellent. In his discussion of Merton’s desire for the eremitical life he put his finger right on something that I had felt when reading Merton myself— Merton’s tendency to rationalize his restlessness and temptations against stability. Casey writes:

As any reader of Merton’s journals is aware, the question of a possible calling to a more solitary life keeps coming back—so often that it becomes wearisome to the reader. Egged on by Leclercq, he continues to explore different possibilities, nearly all of them tinged with some degree of unreality. The energy thus expended means that he is reluctant to work at finding space for prayer in the context of communal living, or even of investing much in making a contribution to social harmony. “I do not waste time seeking consolation in the community or avoiding its opposite. There is too little time for these accidentals” (p. 19). Leclercq was not personally interested in following a solitary lifestyle though the question intrigued him intellectually. Perhaps influenced by the ideas of Anselm Stolz, he seems also to have regarded it as a higher instance of the monastic charism than cenobitic living. “I quite understand your aspiration to a solitary life. I think there has always been an eremitical tradition in the Cistercian and Benedictine Orders” (p. 13). “Whenever coenobia are what they ought to be, they produce inevitably some eremitical vocations. The eremitical vocations disappear in times and countries where monasticism has ceased to be monastic” (p. 14). Reading their correspondence today a reader may be inclined to wonder whether Leclercq’s responses would not have been more pastorally effective if he had challenged some of Merton’s propositions instead of encouraging them. But, of course, it was not that sort of correspondence. Nor, it seems, was Merton too eager to ask or receive any form of direction or supervision that might raise unwelcome questions. […] It may also be that interest in the solitary life was a “spiritual” form of the kind of individualism that is rampant in many Western cultures, a search to legitimate the abandonment of the normal demands of social living by an appeal to saintly precedents. In many cases this was accompanied by a heightened sense of entitlement which made would-be hermits expect their communities or others to provide land and a dwelling, an income or a means of livelihood and a general readiness to service their needs, pay their taxes and provide a safety-net in case of emergency. It is surely relevant that the eremitical impulse seems to have been much stronger in developed and affluent countries than in those areas where monasticism was being newly implanted (to use the language of the time). [pp. 136-138]

One could say that Casey has to some degree assumed the mantel of Merton for our time. Comparing the two of them, I would say that Casey’s prose lacks the power that made The Seven Storey Mountain a classic of American literature, but that his writings are less afflicted with self-deception.

George Eliot is to Trollope as Anthony van Dyck is to Rubens


I read Middlemarch recently, and was struck by the evident influence of Trollope on Eliot. In some respects Eliot clearly surpassed Trollope, but I think there are other respects in which he remained superior. Their relation reminds me a bit of the relation between Rubens and van Dyck. Van Dyck certainly improves on Rubens— he is much more polished from a technical point of view. But not only from a technical point of view. There is an elegance and nobility in van Dyck that is not in Rubens. But it seems to be a general rule in human affairs that there is no progress without some concomitant regress. Van Dyck lacks the vivacity and good natured humanity of Rubens.

Against Elections

In an online discussion of the upcoming elections in the US my friend Ryan Burke, currently serving in the US military, mentioned that he does not vote while on active duty. When asked whether not voting while on active duty is “a thing”, he gave the following answer (quoted with permission):

It’s not an actual rule, but it’s not uncommon. It’s out of concern involvement in presidential politics could interfere with objectivity. Patton put it something like “if I vote for the loser, I voted against my Commander in Chief. If I vote for the winner, I’ve been bought.” Marshall wouldn’t even let FDR call him by his first name, lest he get too chummy and feel constrained from offering criticism of his proposals.

Now, Ryan and I have been arguing about political philosophy for years. As classmates at Thomas Aquinas College we carried on a monarchy vs democracy debate in the student magazine Demiurgus. So I couldn’t resist the obvious response:

That is beautiful. What you said about not voting… But it should be universalized: no-one should vote. We should have an hereditary monarchy.

The head of state should someone to whom everyone can look as the personification and guarantee of the unity of the nation, and as I have argued before,

this function… is fulfilled much better if [the head of state] is the descendent of the kings for whom my ancestors shed their blood, than if he’s just some bloke elected by a party to which I don’t even belong.

Today is the Nationalfeiertag in Austria, so we sang the current national anthem, and I was struck by the verse Hast seit frühen Ahnentagen / Hoher Sendung Last getragen (“Since the early days of the ancestors thou hast borne the burden of a high mission”). If only we had a ruler who’s family history were the embodiment of that statement.

Links R & C 5


A new edition of Franzelin’s On Divine Tradition!

Tertullian on the Duty of Praying for the EmperorThe Josias. An excerpt from Tertullian’s Apology, with an introduction by me.

Ursula Kals, Katholik zu vermietenFrankfurter Allgemeine. Superficially a funny column, but deeply sad on consideration. Invents the brilliant new word Karaoke-Katholiken.

P.J. Smith, John Podesta’s Catholic connectionsSemiduplex. As Kojève would say, the Catholic Church is difficult to co-opt.

Addie Mena, Leaked emails show Clinton’s team should read a catechism, CNA Blog. The Catholic Church is also apparently difficult to understand— at least for American progressives.

Andrew Sullivan, I Used to Be a Human BeingNew York Magazine. «I felt a trace of a freedom all humans used to know and that our culture seems intent, pell-mell, on forgetting.»

Aelianus, Emperor and PopeLaodicea. «…to see the Emperor’s son and heir Otto von Habsburg kneeling before St John Paul II at his father’s beatification knowing that the Pope’s father was a fiercely loyal soldier in the service of Emperor Karl and that Karol Wojtyla was named after the last Emperor.»

The Tradinista Collective, The magisterial sources of the Tradinista! manifesto: part ITradinista!. It’s nice to a Catholic political project cite Unam Sanctam and Regnans in excelsis in defense of its position.

Eric Voegelin, On Classical StudiesThe Imaginative Conservative. 


2009: Andrew Cusack, The Continued Decline & Fall of the International Herald Tribune. I used to read the IHT in the library of the Franciscan University of Steubenville Austria Program in Gaming as a child. Cusack’s piece was a fitting lament on its demise.

2013: James Chastek, Do I want a Christian culture? «Taboos are the human law at its most powerful – they are the most perfect and powerful tool for what St. Thomas calls the power of law to lead to virtue. Mere statutory laws bridle behavior; taboos actually restructure thought and form the will.»

2006: boeciana, Historical Method For BeginnersLaodicea. «But our perspective is, of course, irrelevant.»


2014: Tarnishing the Splendor of Truth.


Mariazell Again

Yesterday I returned from another walking pilgrimage to Mariazell, this time with the seminarians of the Leopoldinum. The Leopoldinum makes the pilgrimage every year, and takes only three days. The first stage is quite long, so we began before sunrise. It rained hard the first day, but the weather kept getting better after that. We took a slightly different route this time. We spent the first night up on the Unterberg, where I got to celebrate Mass in the lovely little wooden chapel.

Christian Spaemann on Transsexuals

The psychiatrist Christian Spaemann, son of the great Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann, has written a remarkably intelligent and balanced article on “transsexuals” and how the Church ought to give them pastoral care. The article was so good that I agreed to help translate it for First Things.

As a psychiatrist Spaeman has a lot to say about the psychological suffering of those who consider themselves transsexuals, and about the appalling way in which that suffering is being instrumentalized today, and the appalling haste with which young persons are being lead into drastic measures: Continue reading

Integralism in Three Sentences

A few words on what “integralism” is.

The Josias

Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that rejects the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.

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