Klaus Obenauer on the SSPX and Rome

Klaus Obenauer is one of very few German academic theologian who is also a strict Thomist. Recently he has written some rather interesting things on the question of the reconciliation of the Society of St Pius X (FSSPX) and the Holy See. A lecturer at the University of Bonn, Obenauer used to be assistent to Prof. Karl-Heinz Menke. When Menke gave an interview in which he said that a reconciliation was impossible and implied that that was a good thing, Obenauer answered with an impassioned article arguing that it was both possible and urgently necessary.

Now Obenauer has written an article on why, given that a reconciliation is possible in principle, relations between Rome and the FSSPX seem to have come to a standstill. I have been asked to translate Obenauer’s article, but as its rather long I shall just give a summary. Continue reading

Chesterton as Belloc’s Proverb-Maker

NPG 3654,Conversation piece,by Sir James Gunn

Elliot Milco has written a wonderfully amusing post against G.K. Chesterton quotes (expanded at First Things):

I made it through the first two pages (of sixteen) devoted to Chesterton on a popular quotation website. Here are a few of the stupidities I found:
People wonder why the novel is the most popular form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books of science or books of metaphysics. The reason is very simple; it is merely that the novel is more true than they are.
By this logic, the works of E.L. James must be extremely true.
One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.
One sees small things from the valley, but only at the peak can one see the greatness of which they form a part.
Love means to love that which is unlovable; or it is no virtue at all.
Love means to love what is worthy of love; everything else is vice.
Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.
Maybe it’s because Chesterton wasn’t educated that he believed this, but I find that educated people tend to take each other much more seriously than uneducated people take them. People with college degrees don’t tend to call intellectuals “egg heads.”

And so on. It reminded me of Belloc’s immortal rant against the proverb maker in The Path to Rome (which is good enough to be quoted at length):


When that first Proverb-Maker who has imposed upon all peoples by his epigrams and his fallacious half-truths, his empiricism and his wanton appeals to popular ignorance, I say when this man (for I take it he was a man, and a wicked one) was passing through France he launched among the French one of his pestiferous phrases, ‘Ce n’est que le premier pas qui coûté’ and this in a rolling-in-the-mouth self-satisfied kind of a manner has been repeated since his day at least seventeen million three hundred and sixty-two thousand five hundred and four times by a great mass of Ushers, Parents, Company Officers, Elder Brothers, Parish Priests, and authorities in general whose office it may be and whose pleasure it certainly is to jog up and disturb that native slumber and inertia of the mind which is the true breeding soil of Revelation.
For when boys or soldiers or poets, or any other blossoms and prides of nature, are for lying steady in the shade and letting the Mind commune with its Immortal Comrades, up comes Authority busking about and eager as though it were a duty to force the said Mind to burrow and sweat in the matter of this very perishable world, its temporary habitation.
‘Up,’ says Authority, ‘and let me see that Mind of yours doing something practical. Let me see Him mixing painfully with circumstance, and botching up some Imperfection or other that shall at least be a Reality and not a silly Fantasy.’
Then the poor Mind comes back to Prison again, and the boy takes his horrible Homer in the real Greek (not Church’s book, alas!); the Poet his rough hairy paper, his headache, and his cross-nibbed pen; the Soldier abandons his inner picture of swaggering about in ordinary clothes, and sees the dusty road and feels the hard places in his boot, and shakes down again to the steady pressure of his pack; and Authority is satisfied, knowing that he will get a smattering from the Boy, a rubbishy verse from the Poet, and from the Soldier a long and thirsty march. And Authority, when it does this commonly sets to work by one of these formulae: as, in England north of Trent, by the manifestly false and boastful phrase, ‘A thing begun is half ended’, and in the south by ‘The Beginning is half the Battle’; but in France by the words I have attributed to the Proverb-Maker, ‘Ce n’est que le premier pas qui coûte’.
By this you may perceive that the Proverb-Maker, like every other Demagogue, Energumen, and Disturber, dealt largely in metaphor–but this I need hardly insist upon, for in his vast collection of published and unpublished works it is amply evident that he took the silly pride of the half-educated in a constant abuse of metaphor. There was a sturdy boy at my school who, when the master had carefully explained to us the nature of metaphor, said that so far as he could see a metaphor was nothing but a long Greek word for a lie. And certainly men who know that the mere truth would be distasteful or tedious commonly have recourse to metaphor, and so do those false men who desire to acquire a subtle and unjust influence over their fellows, and chief among them, the Proverb-Maker. For though his name is lost in the great space of time that has passed since he flourished, yet his character can be very clearly deduced from the many literary fragments he has left, and that is found to be the character of a pusillanimous and ill-bred usurer, wholly lacking in foresight, in generous enterprise, and chivalrous enthusiasm–in matters of the Faith a prig or a doubter, in matters of adventure a poltroon, in matters of Science an ignorant Parrot, and in Letters a wretchedly bad rhymester, with a vice for alliteration; a wilful liar (as, for instance, ‘The longest way round is the shortest way home’), a startling miser (as, ‘A penny saved is a penny earned’), one ignorant of largesse and human charity (as, ‘Waste not, want not’), and a shocking boor in the point of honour (as, ‘Hard words break no bones’–he never fought, I see, but with a cudgel).


Not that Chesterton’s character was much like that of the Proverb-Maker; his method sometimes was. “But,” Belloc continues, and his last point is perhaps more applicable to Chesterton than Milco admits:

he had just that touch of slinking humour which the peasants have, and there is in all he said that exasperating quality for which we have no name, which certainly is not accuracy, and which is quite the opposite of judgement, yet which catches the mind as brambles do our clothes, causing us continually to pause and swear. For he mixes up unanswerable things with false conclusions, he is perpetually letting the cat out of the bag and exposing our tricks, putting a colour to our actions, disturbing us with our own memory, indecently revealing corners of the soul. He is like those men who say one unpleasant and rude thing about a friend, and then take refuge from their disloyal and false action by pleading that this single accusation is true; and it is perhaps for this abominable logicality of his and for his malicious cunning that I chiefly hate him: and since he himself evidently hated the human race, he must not complain if he is hated in return.

Missa Latina: On the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II

The latest CD from my monastery’s record label (www.obsculta-music.at) is meant in part to promote a more faithful implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s document on the liturgy. The following is a translation of my confrere Pater Karl Wallner’s preface to the CD booklet.

The enthusiastic reception of our CDs shows the timeless fascination of Gregorian chant, which has been moving souls for over 1000 years. The calm melodies allow both singers and listeners to plunge into the sphere of the mystery of God. The texts are taken mostly from the Bible. We sing the Word that God has spoken to us back to Him. Chant is not simply song; it is divine worship. Therefore in the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz we sing Gregorian chant only during the Liturgy, especially during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“Chant – Missa Latina” is meant not only as an “advertisement” for the beauty of God – we are certain that all who hear this chant, whatever their faith, will be moved by the Eternal Splendor – but this CD is also meant as an “advertisement” for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which, as the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) taught, is “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11).

Particularly we want to promote the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin. The Mass can and should be celebrated in Latin. Not only in the so-called “Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite,” which was usual before the Second Vatican Council, and whose celebration Pope Benedict XVI facilitated in 2007 (Summorum Pontificum, Art. 1), but also in the “Ordinary Form.” That is, Latin has its place in the “post-conciliar” Mass usual today. It was certainly good that the Council opened up the possibility of a limited use of the vernacular in the Liturgy. But it is entirely beside the intention of the Council that today the ancient and noble liturgical language of the Latin Church is almost unkown. The Second Vatican Council states explicitly: “Care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium Nr. 54)

“Chant – Missa Latina” is meant to promote this forgotten mandate of the Second Vatican Council. Hence the golden cover which is meant to refer to the “golden jubilee” of the opening of the Council, 50 years ago. “Chant – Missa Latina” includes all the chants of the Mass of the Sacred Heart from the Introit to the “Ite Missa est.” The faithful can even use it as a kind of practice CD for learning the parts of the Mass in Latin. The Council also gave high praise to Gregorian chant (Sacrosanctum Concilium Nr. 116); it would be a great enrichment if it were to be sung more often during Mass…

But, dear listeners, one can of course simply listen to this CD and be moved by the beautiful music. The beauty of music of itself gives glory to God – as the Ensemble Vox Gotica shows so well with the “Missa Sine Nomine.” May God bless all who listen to this CD!

Father Karl Wallner, O.Cist., October 11, 2012.

Deliverance From the Hands of Usurers

Daniel Nichols has posted a piece on the American Bishops’ failure to agree on a statement on the economy. One wishes that they had come out with a stern reminder of the Church’s perennial teaching against usury, and suggestions for overcoming it. Some Americans are attacking usury though; the eccentrics of the Occupy Wall Street  movement. They have had a brilliant idea for saving some people from usurers:

OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you’re a debt broker, once you own someone’s debt you can do whatever you want with it — traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We’re playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)

The name “Rolling Jubilee” is explicitly taken from the Old Testament jubilee. As one commentator puts it “it … feels great to have the opportunity to be an anti-bank for once. There’s something very good about forgiveness.”

Meanwhile, Front Porch Republic reports on a method from a completely different part of the American political “spectrum” to help poor immigrants avoid getting into the hands of usurers in the first place:

Eleven years ago, Bruno Rivas left Mexico City to make a better living for his family in San Francisco. He landed a job at a restaurant and began making some money, but couldn’t figure out how to break out of a cash system into a marketplace driven by credit. […] he was able to purchase items for daily provision, but without a means of building credit, he struggled to find a way to fund larger purchases or take bigger steps toward financial health. But then four years ago, Bruno learned about the Bay Area-based Mission Asset Fund (MAF)—an organization that has garnered nationwide recognition for its nontraditional approach to lending—and decided to join a peer lending circle, or “cesta populare” (“community basket” in Spanish). Joining a cesta meant that Rivas and the eight other members of his circle would contribute $100 every month to a communal pot. After drawing names to determine order, members would take turns collecting a loan that they could then put toward whatever they chose. When Rivas’ turn came around, he took the loan from the lending circle, combined it with savings from an Individual Development Account (IDA) that MAF had set up for him, and purchased equipment to start a screen printing business.

“Peer Lending Groups” are doing the same sort of thing as the montes pietatis.

The Charles De Koninck Project

Just in case there are any Sancrucensis readers who don’t now this already: the Charles De Koninck Project has launched a website, on which they are planning to make all the writings of that great 20th century Thomist available in English.

I began to be formed by De Koninck before having read any of his books, as I read Aristotle and St Thomas at a college founded by his students. When I finally read his book on the Common Good the effect was intoxicating. (When my father first read this book he was waiting for a plane in the airport. It absorbed him so completely that he missed his plane, not noticing that they called his name several times). And then I read Ego Sapientiaand was even more overwhelmed.

Freedom is Overrated: Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace

The characters in Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom have lots of freedom, but their experience seems to teach them that freedom is overrated. Take Patty Berglund reflecting on her own misery:

By almost any standard, she led a luxurious life. She had all day every day to figure out some decent and satisfying way to live, and yet all she ever seemed to get for all her choices and all her freedom was more miserable. (p. 181)

In discussing this passage Ross Douthat argues that this sort of problem makes Franzen’s characters so contemptably bourgeois that they are not really worth writing about: Continue reading

John Betjeman on Greece (but really on England)

I suppose I am the last person on earth to discover this brilliant poem. It reminds me of my own visit to Greece in 2003, but of course (like all Betjeman poems) it is really about England.

Greek Orthodox 

by John Betjeman

To the Reverend T. P. Symonds

What did I see when first I went to Greece?
Shades of the Sixth across the Peloponnese.
Though clear the clean-cut Doric temple shone
Still droned the voice of Mr Gidney on;
“That hoti? Can we take its meaning here
Wholly as interrogative?” Edward Lear,
Show me the Greece of wrinkled olive boughs
Above red earth; thin goats, instead of cows,
Each with its bell; the shallow terraced soil;
The stone-built wayside shrine; the yellow oil;
The tiled and cross-shaped church, who knows how old
Its ashlar walls of honey-coloured gold?
Three centuries or ten? Of course, there’ll be
The long meander off to find the key.

The domed interior swallows up the day.
Here, where to light a candle is to pray,
The candle flame shows up the almond eyes
Of local saints who view with no surprise
Their martyrdoms depicted upon walls
On which the filtered daylight faintly falls.
The flame shows up the cracked paint– sea-green blue
And red and gold, with grained wood showing through–
Of much-kissed ikons, dating from, perhaps,
The fourteenth century. There across the apse,
Ikon- and oleograph-adorned, is seen
The semblance of an English chancel screen.

“With oleographs?” you say. “Oh, what a pity!
Surely the diocese has some committee
Advising it on taste?” It is not so.
Thus vigorously does the old tree grow,
By persecution pruned, watered with blood,
Its living roots deep in pre-Christian mud,
It needs no bureaucratical protection.
It is its own perpetual resurrection.
Or take the galleon metaphor– it rides
Serenely over controversial tides
Triumphant to the Port of Heaven, its home,
With one sail missing– that’s the Pope’s in Rome.

Vicar, I hope it will not be a shock
To find this village has no ‘eight o’clock’.
Those bells you heard at eight were being rung
For matins of a sort but matins sung.
Soon will another set of bells begin
And all the villagers come crowding in.
The painted boats rock empty by the quay
Feet crunch on gravel, faintly beats the sea.
From the domed church, as from the sky, look down
The Pantocrator’s searching eyes of brown,
With one serene all-comprehending stare
On farmer, fisherman and millionaire.


Today sees the opening of the opening of the “Oekonomika” Institute in Vienna: a think-tank on applied economics and political philosophy that takes the Aristotelian tradition and Catholic Social Teaching  seriously. I’ve mentioned these people over on Modestinus’ blog. Here’s a snip from one of their statements:

In contrast to the contemporary tendency to make the economy an end in itself, the tradition of the Christian West includes the “art of household-management” (along with ethics and politics) in practical philosophy. Economic agents are not merely driven about by blind economic “laws” such as “supply and demand,” but able, through the practice of virtue, to act in accordance with truly human ends in the economic sphere.

Economics has a subordinate role in relation to ethics and politics. It is therefore necessary for a true understanding of the proper measure in economic matters to concern oneself with virtuous action and the goals of political life. For the existence of human institutions ought only to be justified by their supporting the common good and assisting human persons in the quest for a happy life.

Does John Milbank read the Remnant?

I once pointed out the irony of using Charles Taylor to defend Christopher Ferrara (which I had been doing up to a point) given the radically different intellectual worlds which they seem to inhabit. So it was with some surprise and delight that I noticed that Ferrara’s latest book has a blurb from–of all people–John Milbank. Somehow one doesn’t picture the left-leaning, Anglican theologian à la mode Milbank actually reading the sort of American trad. polemicist who actually writes for The Remnant. Apparently, Ferrara also quotes Milbank a good amount in the book itself. Excellent, Sancrucensis says to himself;   the strategy of uniting the anti-liberal insights of the 19th century popes with that of those intellectuals “on the left and the right [who] have all taken their cue from […] Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue” (to borrow a phrase from Mark Lilla) is one that has my approval.