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A lover of the liberal arts, especially antiquity in its diverse forms, I am nonetheless wholly devoted to, utterly transformed by divine revelation. I seek to know the thought of the past, articulate my deepest longings aroused by the wise, and understand the uneasy relationship between reason and revelation; all for the sake of proper action and contemplation, both now and in the future.

5.24.2017

Nature. Grace. Integrity.

Our thirst for knowledge begins in the wonders of the natural world. But divine revelation is an unveiling, a piercing light into unhiddenness. In the beginning, the world ended. Nature turned against itself, a turn into corruption. A twisted spirituality, a warped intelligence, a rupture of disharmony defiled and shattered what was whole. Now, when we look at what we call nature - that which, seemingly of its own accord, happens for the most part - it cannot be seen in light of what it was. Our experience of the world is rooted in the world, and the world is fallen. Crashed. The Way reunites what was disparate, and being conformed in faith to the Word made flesh brings us back to divine life, takes from us our false nature, and restores to us our true image and likeness. The dark, narrow, and dangerous way of faith is a recovery of nature: harmony within our interior life, between man and woman, and even harmony with creation itself.

Because of where we begin, we cannot say what we were, for we are unable to transcend our origin. Space, time, matter, spirit - all these are part of the Fall. We cannot say they have been untainted by it, for all creation groans, and suffers the pains of childbirth. Once I was whole. Now I am broken. Our origin is obscure, hidden even to ourselves. The promise of faith and the experience of life illumined by the Resurrection of the New Covenant shows us what the divine life looks like - the conquest of our false nature, and the recovery of integrity - but even then it does not unveil our beginning, except through a glass darkly. Our experience is mediated by its fallen condition, so the only way to transcend that condition to experience the radically, utterly new. It is to taste the divine power, partake in the divine nature. Since God is love, love is that very teacher of the new experience. Love: a furious, molten, coursing spiritual passion, a consuming fire, the burning heat of which is the flourishing of others. It is an interior austerity that blossoms fecundity. It is a renunciation freeing us to possess what is truly real. The way of love leads to the cross, for we are baptized into His death, but the cross is the holiness of God encountering the power of darkness and death. The Resurrection is the fruit of that encounter. Death is written into the heart of nature, and through the Resurrection, death becomes undone. The life of love reveals that death is a lie and the power of the paschal mystery unveils its weakness.

5.17.2017

Hannibal and Modern Architecture

There is something about modern architecture that draws me, almost irresistibly. In a way, I love it, but I love it against my better judgment. It's the sharp contrasts, the clear lines, the juxtaposition of things that shouldn't be - harsh, unfinished concrete next to dark, highly polished hardwood, black steel I-beams naked and exposed. Hannibal uses such architecture to unsettle and disorient, and the result is strangely entrancing, almost hypnotic, superbly pairing with its rich, luxurious photography. I hesitate to call it beautiful, but I cannot not call it desirable. It pulls at me and often I think it shouldn't. My friend H loves it, and though I feel I should voice disagreement, it's hard for me to do otherwise than agree.

Hannibal's office is particularly stunning. It is a whirlwind of contraries: comfort, austerity, safety, danger, sameness, contrast. It is a place where people are comfortable revealing the deepest, darkest, most intimate details of their inner life, but the room itself screams submerged violence. Looking at it makes me simultaneously comfortable and unsettled. It is an open floor plan, everything out and exposed, but it hides what it truly is; a lair of evil. Hannibal's kitchen, on the other hand, is simply what you'd expect; perfect and immaculately clean. It reveals nothing, unlike his office, which is where his real work is done. 

Will Graham's lecture hall at Quantico is different. The atmosphere there is harsher, unforgiving, but oddly reassuring, the way a bunker promises to protect you from danger. Google tells me the style is called 'neo-brutalist' or something like that, and I have no idea if there is actually a lecture hall at Quantico like that or if NBC just made it up (though in a way, it's better if they did; an artistic distortion of reality that reveals its inner nature, the way Eastern icons do with people). There is a tension in the air, rooted in the style of the room, that just wildly pulls at me. 

I'm not sure if that style is suitable for religious architecture or not, or if it could ever the equal of such sublimity as the Palatine Chapel, or the quiet, subdued beauties at St. Birinius on the Thames. But if someone could make something of it, it would be the Carthusians or the Cistercians.

Perhaps my love of modernist architecture is a disordered expression of my desire for monastic architecture. The Carthusian monastery in Vermont is very similar, in many ways, to that FBI lecture hall, using unfinished blocks of stone the size of Stonehenge's next to highly polished wood. The natural next to the unnatural, the comfortable next to the uncomfortable. The cells, on the other hand, having interiors made of wood exclusively, felt absolutely comfortable. Something about finished wood is reassuring in a room. Similarly, Cistercian architecture, while apparently simple, is extremely subtle and complex in the ways it deals with light, particularly the light of the sun. Contrast that with finely polished wood and you've got everything I love in Hannibal's architecture and none of the unsettling aspects. Stark, austere, and attractive.

Should architecture be simultaneously entrancing, even intoxicating, and unsettling, disorienting, at the same time? I don't know. It's the sort of feeling I get with modern art and atonal music (especially Scriabin's piano sonatas) as well. There is a sort of pleasure in understanding what is before my eyes, but it's not a pleasure I'm sure should be indulged, much less cultivated. 

2.15.2017

Cultural Marxism and Identity Politics

Everyone today intuitively understands a key element of Marx because his core of class struggle has for some reason migrated in translation to every sector of public discourse and popular culture. It is not his views on money and the economy. No one is motivated to enter the streets protesting on behalf of the proletariat against the bourgeois - in part because the American proletariat is now the Chinese, Indian, or Mexican industrial worker, and because in a few decades those jobs will be automated anyway. Even the Occupy Wall Street movement did not protest the bourgeois, only the extremely wealthy; and that movement was so disparate it lost focus and soon fizzled out. Instead, the critical insight of Marx remains: there are those with power, those without, and the two sides are at war with each other. In Marx, this leads to the revolution of the proletariat; today, the 'proletariat' (feminist, Black Lives Matter activist, LGBTQ, etc.) pays lip service to legal equality, but seems to desire some modern analogue to the proletariat revolution.

Power and oppression are the only things that are real. There is no common ground, no possibility for reconciliation. Martin Luther King is dated and naive here. The rich oppress the poor, whites oppress blacks, men oppress women: because they are strong and the minorities are weak; the strong do what they will, the weak suffer what they must, and this is how resentment and revolution are born. This pattern of strong vs weak and the conflict this engender may be extrapolated to every set of human relations in political discourse: man and woman, white and black and brown, heterosexual and homosexual, religious and non-religious, and so on to infinity. Find any marginalized and marginalizing class, and you can replicate the pattern yourself. This explains the animus against the so-called white privilege, against the Catholic Church, the backlash against religious freedom cases, etc. All of them have in common a historically oppressing (or judged to have been such by today's standards) agent and a historically oppressed minority class.

Thus there are only two groups: the oppressed and the oppressor. In the United States, historically the oppressing class was white males (slavery was not banned till after the Civil War, women did not vote till the 20th century, etc); thus, one can and must resist the oppressing class; this is right and good. On the other hand, those of the oppressing class must make reparation, feel guilty for the actions of their fathers, and acknowledge their societally privileged status, which necessarily undercuts any argument they might make. Were they to systematically criticize an oppressed class (gay, black, women, etc) it would be opprobrious homophobia, sexism, racism, etc., but the reverse is not true. Blacks can hate whites, but it is not racist, because blacks are seen to be an oppressed class in this country. Similarly women can hate men, but it is not sexist because of patriarchy, or homosexuals et al can hate heterosexuals because heteronormativity is still dominant. When the oppressed is at a disadvantaged position of power (which seems to mean being a minority in terms of population), anything goes. It might be prejudiced, but not sexist, racist, etc. because the one class holds the social, political, and economic power while the other class does not. 

Similarly, since some classes (LGBTQ, for instance) are more oppressed than others, this affects the expressed opinions of these classes; the weight of a black man's opinion will be different than a Latino lesbian, which is different than a blind bisexual, etc. One's category is a victim class, and the value of one's opinion is determined by the value of one's identity, particularly as it has been historically oppressed or not. This forms a hierarchy or pyramid, which varies in detail but not in overall structure; whether minority races face more discrimination than women is a subject for debate, but that these classes have been oppressed by cisgendered white males is not. All such oppressed classes have this in common, that they face discrimination perpetrated by cisgendered white males, and this is what fuels disputes in popular political discourse.

If this be the case, the prospects for different groups subordinating themselves to and working for the common good together are dismal indeed. Instead, one's political opponents must be seen as personal enemies devoid of anything good or noble, such that if their group flourish, your own must decline, and vice versa. Thus what might seem to bind different groups under a common cause, like the traditional American ideals of personal liberty and responsibility as enshrined in the Declaration, is now used as a weapon against those with whom you disagree. The dominant strain of politics is not the recognition that what we hold in common is far more significant than what divides us, but a set of rival groups, each fighting the other for dominance, none of which will give ground or seek common cause.

1.18.2017

Silence and Amoris Laetitia

Some say that for God it is sufficient that one accepts His will in one's heart and soul, even if one's actions do not correspond to this. In this manner they think themselves able to sin while maintaining the integrity of the principle of faith and fear of God. In this way, it is absolutely the same as if one attempted to maintain the principle of chastity while violating breaking the holiness and integrity of the matrimonial bond.
~Tertullian, De Poenitentia, 5.10

7.14.2016

A Glimpse into the If of Faerie While Watching Beauty and the Beast

Faerie tales give the promise of happiness If. If you return by midnight, you may have the appearance of nobility and be with your beloved; if you do not trespass into the West Wing, the castle is yours; if you do not eat from this tree, you may live in paradise; if you do not do something - something that is never unreasonable, something always arbitrary, something it is rarely clear you should not do - then you can live happily ever after. 

That if sours the promise of happiness. It corrupts even the memory of the offer; hearing the condition leaves a bad taste in your mouth that lingers on even in your recollection. It is not worth it, I think, to have even surpassing happiness on condition that… The forbidden thing becomes tantalizing, intoxicating, that which itself promises fulfillment, not the already-offered. The library is nothing; the West Wing, everything. The forbidden fruit becomes the sweetest for me, for at its heart is the I, the self; it is a pure choice, for there is no admixture of another; it is simply Me, my choice, the path of my own desire. If there is a reservation - a time, a room, a tree - are we really being offered everything? Can it really be a happy ending without everything?

Since the forbidden is so attractive, we must ask, “Why? Why is the forbidden forbidden?" “Because”? Merely because the Lawgiver, the Lawyer says it is? Because Rules must be followed? Is that why we are here, why we live, so that we can follow rules? Are we to be no different than trained monkeys or well-oiled machines? Why is obedience so important? Why does it matter that much? 

Legal language, the language of contracts, of assurances, of bargains, immediately makes me suspicious. It causes distance, difference, and division; it raises dry, sterile formalities. A well-written contract is easily digestible and therefore not what the soul longs for. It is contrary to the erotic spirit, the soul of yearning, seeking, pursuing, and delight. Cool, mechanical detachment is its mode. It is not the tool of friends, for friends among friends do not need contracts. Rather, simple friendship is sufficient, else it is not really friendship; even as a marriage dependent upon legal guarantees is scarcely a marriage. Why then should happiness, the reason for our existence, the aim of our lives, be different than what man prizes most in this world: intimate friendships and a lifelong beloved? Contracts are useful, they are even necessary; but the merely necessary is contemptible, forgettable; it is the useless, the “for its own sake”, that is noble, that must be pursued if we are to live genuinely human lives. Man may not be able to live without contracts, while he can live - or rather exist - friendless, alone, and without seeking wisdom, but who would not rather be wronged by an unjust law while he had close friends and a wife who loved him? To thus require a contract as a condition for ultimate fulfillment, a life that’s happy, seems to contradict our nature, or at least raise serious questions about our nature’s purpose: whether we should seek wisdom or obedience first. 

The contract arouses suspicion: because friends and lovers do not need them, I sometimes think the contractor is keeping something back from me; the thing which will turn out to matter most. Is he actually interested in my own good if he is saying “if”? Am I actually being wronged, even cheated? Am I missing out? If I cannot see a necessary reason for the prohibition, does it make much sense to follow it? 

The “If” invokes control and trust; a challenge to the radical trust which leads to an obedience; an obedience which ushers in an entirely new relationship; a relationship which I hope transcends the intimacy of a marriage but which, at the time, cannot from the outside be clearly and necessarily distinguished from slavery. When a faerie tale says “If” it is a test; a test which requires we become naked and vulnerable, exposed to every danger; without safeguards or guarantees we will not be deceived, ruined, and played for fools. Equality does not exist here, for obedience and equality do not mix. Our closest analogies help make the matter clear, but they terrify instead of reassure, for they invoke Master and Slave, or more viscerally, Hunter and Prey - hardly a triumph of rhetoric even in a hierarchical society, to say nothing about its resonance in a fiercely democratic people. 

Accepting that condition means placing your whole self into the hands of another, and not even letting yourself think the second-guessing “But…”.  It means relinquishing all claim on being the center towards which all things tend; not only in the cosmos (simple enough in a sophisticated, scientific age), but even (especially) in your own life as well. It means ceding absolute control absolutely, the very act a wandering carpenter once called true purity of heart.

That is why every faerie tale ever told recollects the condition’s transgression, for it is unthinkable, or almost unthinkable, that someone would stake something as important as a life that’s happy on something so absurd and unnatural as an if, trusting that the ensuing relationship would leave friendship, marriage, even wisdom-seeking, far behind. Nothing less than the fulfillment of all desire is at stake. The if is the Question, and the Answer is either “Yes” or “No.” There is no third. 

1.21.2016

Contra Caritas

The inclusive love for a man for all mankind - selfless, I imagine would be the word - is not truly love as love in an exclusionary act - a claim, if you will. Subject and object are lost, and the act itself negates both, for the particular is lost in favor of the universal. 

11.12.2015

On the Second Vatican Council V (Lumen Gentium II)

Salvation is both individual and communal; on the one hand, the Holy Trinity dwells within me; the Holy Spirit dwells within me; Christ our God died for me; on the other hand, precisely as saved we are made into a new people, a unified people. As an image of this reality, the Holy Trinity chose the People of Israel; with them God made a Covenant, for them He gave the Law, all for the sake of preparing man for the Holy Incarnation of the Anointed One; in preparation for the New Covenant, the final covenant, which will last until the Lord returns in power. As the Old Covenant created a people, so the New Covenant creates a New People. 

The Head of this new people is Christ - He is its Founder, but unlike Lycourgos and Solon, He transcends mere political foundings - these are but images, albeit natural images, for our longing to be the People of God. Next to Him these founders are almost irrelevant. As our heritage He gives us the freedom and dignity of the Sons of God. Our commands, our Law, is the Gospel. Christ is the New Moses, the form of all political foundings.

Lumen Gentium calls this new people a 'messianic people' - the People of the Anointed One. It does not include all men (yet), and often looks like a small, insignificant, contemptible flock of filthy sheep, but it is truly the unity, hope, and salvation for the whole human race. It is His instrument for the salvation of all; it is the Light of the World and the Salt of the Earth. Like ancient Israel, it is called a Church or Assembly (cf II Esd. 13.1, Num. 20.4, Dt. 23.1), and as Israel wandered in exile, the Church has here on earth no lasting city, and longs for Her Promised Land, which will be revealed only after the Apocalypse.

This second chapter concerns the entire People of God, from the highest of the Patriarchs to the lowliest of the peasants. All the baptized (a precise, ritual definition, one which instantly and intimately recalls the Mysteries of Christ our God, and the Church as Mystery) are a spiritual temple and a holy priesthood, a priesthood in which all offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the redeeming power of our God. 

Such a definition introduces us to the distinction between the hierarchical and baptismal priesthood. Both are intimately interrelated and yet essentially different. Each is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ, Who is the Form of both, since both are ways of Caritas - self-giving, self-emptying love. For now, the Council will address what they have in common; it will examine both separately later.

The holy nature and living structure of the priestly people is awakened into growth through the Seven Holy Mysteries and exercise of the virtues, both human and divine. One becomes fully a priest in this way by means of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion. Penance, Matrimony, and Holy Orders are also mentioned (the last only just), emphasizing that all are called to perfect holiness, as God our Father is holy. 

The People of God participate not only in the Priestly Office of Christ, but in His Prophetic Office as well. We share in His prophetic mission very simply: by spreading a living witness of faith, hope, and love. Again, it is shown by our sensus fidelium, our instinct for the faith, an instinct common to both the hierarchy and the laity, an instinct nourished by the Spirit of Truth and the Word of God. The charismatic gifts, signs of the Spirit's presence, are also expressions of the prophetic office.

Finally, the People of God are related to Christ as King. All men are called to become a part of the New People of God. Man was created in unity; after the Fall, he scattered into families, tribes, and nations, devolving again and again into fratricidal war; but it was God's will that we be brought again to unity through Christ Jesus the Lord, Who is the Source of our coming-together and the Cause of our faith. 

Clearly then (cf. LG 8), there is only one People of God; and this People is of course the Catholic Church, the One People taken from every tribe and nation; from all of these we who were many are now made one, citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom. Thus it is that the Church, as Kingdom of Christ, ennobles, purifies, and strengthens the good elements of each culture She encounters (though other foul customs She abolishes). Such a tradition contributes to Her unity, but Her unity is not a sterile, mechanical uniformity, but harmony; man complements woman; layman complements the priest; the priest complements the monk. What results is not discord, but (provided that each does his work according to and for the sake of love) a richer, fuller harmony: unity in faith, unity in hope, unity in love. For this reason we can all profess the same faith, be in communion with the same Church, and yet live in different local Churches and accomplish different task; serving the poor does not take away from defending the unborn; devotion to the Most Holy Liturgy does negate our zeal for the oppressed, for we are one.

After examining the People of God qua priest, prophet, and King, the Council turns to the question of communion with the Church, and who has it. Similar questions are raised in Nostra Aetate and Unitatis Redintegratio. The Council answers this question in terms of descending order; those who experience the most or fullness of communion with those who experience it the least. Are there persons who experience absolutely no communion with Her? We shall see.

This examination begins with a traditional affirmation: the Church is necessary for salvation (extra Ecclesiam nullus salus est); outside the Church there is no salvation, or phrased positively, all salvation is inside/through the Church. In our egalitarian, equality-obsessed age, little arouses more wrath and accusations of intolerance - and perhaps rightly so, for does that not seem to imply that external membership in the Church suffices for salvation, and lacking this necessarily leads to damnation? It does not. Blessed Augustine, our father among the Saints, would lament concerning the Church, "How many sheep without! And how many wolves within!" This same Saint taught us both hope and the trembling of fear when he said, "Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved; but do not presume, for one of the thieves was damned." In our ancient Tradition (of which holy Augustine is but one example), external membership does not suffice for salvation. The Council emphasizes the same, teaching that we must persevere and be alive in love; our heart and our work must be right; take hold of this, and not let go of the other. 

The Council turns to something very weird immediately after the repeated traditional teaching: "whoever then, knowing the Church was made necessary for salvation by Christ Jesus, would refuse to enter or remain in Her, could not be saved." What on earth can this mean? How could someone believe that the Church was necessary for salvation and not enter and or remain in Her? It seems as if the number of men to which this text is zero; it seems to describe a psychological impossibility, for it is hard to imagine anyone abandoning the Church for any other Christian denomination while believing they would be damned for doing so. All the more so for total apostasy (for in that case, one would a) cease to believe in damnation at all; or b) believe salvation could be found within another religion)! One would become Orthodox, for example, because one believed the Orthodox Church, not the Catholic Church, enfleshed the truth; in this case, one asserts that the Catholic Church's teachings are wrong. I have no answer to this objection, and I cannot say why Lumen Gentium includes such a phrase. 

Lumen Gentium continues with an answer to the question of who experiences full communion, and that is (unsurprisingly) exclusively Catholic Christians, believing and practicing all that She believes and teaches; who are moreover persevering in love. 

Next, the Council acknowledges the links between the Church and those Christians not preserving the entirety of the Faith and not in communion with the Successor of Peter. Protestants (at least those who acknowledge Baptism) seem to be alluded to first, then the Eastern Orthodox. To foster reunion, the Council urges the perpetual path of penance taught in §8, "that the signs of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the Church." 

Finally, the relation between non-Christians and the Church is discussed. First mentioned are the Jews, who because of Abraham their father, are treasured in the eyes of God; though what this means has since the Council been thought, "The Law of Moses suffices (at least for the Jews) unto salvation, which is blasphemy. It would also mean there is no mission to the Jews, which is plainly contrary to Scripture (Galatians, Roman, Ephesians, and Hebrews, which treat also of the insufficiency of the Old Law qua salvation) and the lived witness of Holy Tradition. This view is an abomination. 

Second are mentioned the Muslims, "Professing to hold the faith of Abraham" - which does not mean they actually do. Does it mean they worship the one true God? The text "along with us" certainly seems to imply that, but if God is beyond good and evil - i.e. His holy will determines good and evil - then Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God, even though their understandings of natural theology would be very close, even identical in some ways. Both religions being monotheistic does not require both to revere the same Holy One. If the view is different enough, one is justified in saying this (cf. II Cor. 11.4). This probably requires its own space, so no more attention will be given here, save: the Church in this Council is concerned with reconciliation (rightly so) and peace between all (a laudable goal); thus in characterizing those outside Her bounds, She prefers to describe them in the most positive terms possible. But these pastoral statements must be read in light of and in continuity of what came before, so looking to what other statements on Islam have been in the past might be helpful.

Third, even polytheists/pagans/idolaters are called to faith, as are those who believe nothing divine revelation; the Council mentions the invincibly ignorant, which applies, in various degrees, to all non-Catholics. Their salvation is not intrinsically impossible, even if they die outside the visible boundaries of Holy Mother Church. All have some form of communion with the Church, then, if only being part of the call to love and know Her as Mother and Christ as Lord – She is cut off from absolutely none.

Lest this result in the apathy of the missionary spirit (which it seems to have done since the '60s), the Church gives us a reality check: Even though salvation is possible by ways outside the visible Church, ways known to God alone, "Very often," men are deceived by the Liar, persuaded to worship a creature rather than the Creator; or being overwhelmed by the misery in the world and dying in despair. Presuming on the first half of §16 is a colossal error, the Council seems to be saying. It is possible for a man to cross a desert lacking food and water, but presuming on that possibility is stupid when planning a journey. 

Contra that foolish view, Christ is the sure Source of salvation, Who rescues us from our "slavery to error" (cf. those mentioned in the first half of §16). Hence the Church is the herald of the Good News, and She purifies the good encountered in the various peoples She meets when She proclaims the Risen Christ to them - to the bewildered confusion of the Foul Serpent and the glory of the Holy One. Therefore, the Church both prays and labors that the whole world become joined to the One People of God (cf. §§8, 13), our Holy Mother the Catholic Church.