Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Man Who Was Thursday - Chap. 13

Discussion Points

1) A brief thought about Gogol - also known as "Tuesday." Being the "second day" of the Genesis account, Tuesday would be the day upon which the waters were divided into those "above" and those "below." In a certain sense, it might be seen as the day upon which the realm of the temporal (here, below) was distinguised from that of the eternal and transcendant. I think there may be a Christian symbolism here. Gogol leaves after the first encounter with Sunday - he return right before the second encounter. If the first meeting of the Council be seen as the Genesis story of the six days, maybe the second time that the six confront Sunday could be seen as the eighth day of creation, when the rhealm of the eternal pierces into the temporal in a way that had never happened since the very beginning of things. Thoughts?

2) Any sense to be made of the messages thrown by Sunday to the other six? Chesterton might rephrase this question to say, what is the sense behind their lack of sense?

3) Notice the means of transportation used by Sunday throughout this scene. Any comments on a possible reason? I think I might have a hunch...


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Monday, July 24, 2006

Ecumenism Done Right

"Today in a multicultural and multireligious world, many are tempted to say: It is better for peace in the world between religions and cultures not to speak too much of the specific character of Christianity, that is, of Jesus, of the Church, and of the sacraments. Let's leave to one side the things that might be less common... But it isn't true. Love, the message of love and of all that we can do for those who suffer in this world must also be supported by the testimony of this God, of God's victory precisely in the nonviolence of his cross."
Pope Benedict XVI

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Divine Office


Two of my favorite things about the Roman Catholic Church are the Divine Office and the Holy Office. The latter is, sadly, no longer in existence. The former, however, is still going strong; stronger than ever, thanks to Vatican II. Yes, I like the Liturgy of the Hours. I'd happily kiss Card. Bugnini's ring for his work on the revision of the Office, despite whatever quams I might have with other of his work.

One of the main reasons I like the Office is that it sanctifies the day, and does so liturgically. The celebration of the Mass is extended throughout the day by the interconnectivity of the readings and antiphons from the Hours and the Eucharistic Liturgy. The Divine Office is a valuable way of carrying the meaning of the Mass into your apostolate. And it upsets me that some of its value has been lost by none other than (you guessed it) the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. Yes, the Liturgy of the Hours is another of ICEL's less-than-greatest hits, and surprisingly it has not been mentioned during the recent months of hullabaloo over the Mass translation.

Now, first I must admit to knowing a lot less about the General Intruction on the LOH than I do about the GIRM. I must also admit to a certain ignorance as to what difference in jurisdiction the Bishops may have over the text of the Office or what instructions from Rome might cover this issue (does LA mention it, for example?)

That having been said, what I'm going to blog about is my personal impression of the superiority of the Latin L.O.H. compared to the English translation. Since I don't know who, ultimately, is responsible for this translation, please don't take me as being disobedient. Disclaimers done, let's get into it.

* * *

Today was the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B of the Sunday Lectionary Cycle. The Gospel at Mass today was about the Apostles returning to Jesus and speaking about all they had done. Afterwards, Jesus takes them off to a deserted place. But when he finds crowds in his deserted place, he is moved to teach them, who are "like sheep without a shepherd."

It should be noted that Years A and C are different. Last year, for example, on this Sunday, we heard from Jesus a series of parables about the kingdom of Heaven. Next year, we will hear about Mary choosing the better part.

Now, let's take a look in the Breviary for today. Remember how I said that the antiphons capitalize usually upon the message from the Gospel? Well, here are the three proper antiphons from this occasion (taken from the 1975 ICEL translation of the Liturgy of the Hours, Volume III):

Evening Prayer I: The kingdom of heaven is like yeast which a woman took and kneaded into three measures of flour until all the dough had risen.

Morning Prayer: He saw the great crowd and had pity on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.

Evening Prayer II: Mary has chosen the better part, and it shall not be taken from her.

Respectively, these antiphons correspond to the three years of the Lectionary Cycle. So, never will a year go by that at least one of the proper antiphons doesn't correspond to the Mass setting for the day.

But, the Latin has something quite different. It's a difference not of translation, really (although our English renderings are a tad weak). It's a difference of content. For, there, in the Latin, for each of these three "Hours," there are three separate antiphons: one for Year A, one for Year B, and one for Year C.

The Evening Prayer I antiphon in the English translation is really the Year A antiphon from Morning Prayer; the antiphon for Evening Prayer II is in its proper place, but is from Year C of the cycle.

So, what would we have read in today's liturgy had we prayed it in Latin? Let's take a look (and forgive me if my translations are not up to par, but my Cassell's is packed in a box in the attic for when I return to school.)

Evening Prayer I: Convenientes apostoli as Iesum, renuntiaverunt ei omnia quae egerant et docuerant. (Literally: The apostles, gathering together to Jesus, related to Him all which they had carried out and taught.)

Morning Prayer: Venite vos ipsi seorsum in desertum locum et requiescite pusillum, dicit Dominus. (Literally: Come, you, into a deserted place and rest a little, says the Lord.)

Evening Prayer II: Vidit Iesus multam turbam et misertus est super eos, quia erant sicut oves non habentes pastorem. (Literally: As above, in Morning Prayer - except that here Jesus is named (no pronoun) and I prefer "had compassion" to "pity" for misertus est.)

The difference is incredible. It really speaks for itself, with the antiphons carrying the message throughout the day.

* * *

So, now my question: does anyone know why this discrepancy? Someone out there with a better knowledge of liturgy. Has the editio typica been modified to include antiphons for each year and the new English version not yet prepared? To the best of my knowledge, the revision of 1980 (which made it to America 8 years later) didn't change the reading cycle, really, so I don't think that would have been a factor. And one final question: Has anything been said about retranslating the Breviary?

I will post more on this issue, because it perplexes me more the more I think about it. Now that I have noted the most obvious difference, you'll hear about the second most obvious difference next time: psalm prayers. And finally, we'll get into my quams with certain renderings of the text (mostly in the antiphons and prayers).


I have recieved an answer in the combox regarding some of my questions. Apparently, the first editio typica did not include the three-year antiphons. Still, I wonder how long we're waiting for the translation of the new edition. Perhaps I'll get a similar answer after I speak my quams about psalm-prayers. I'm going to stay away from strictly translational quibbles though, since I'm not sure of the two versions I'm comparing. I'm going to try to pick up an older latin breviary at the library at school when I visit on Friday.


The Man Who Was Thursday - Chap. 11 & 12

Introductory Remarks

The novel's action gallups forward. I can hardly restrain myself from moving forward. In fact, I haven't, already. I'm done the book. Still, we'll take this slow. Having read the last three chapters, it is my opinion that each should be taken individually. So, we'll say that Friday, July 28th will be Chapter 13; Wednesday, August 2nd will be Chapter 14; and, appropriately, we will begin the final discussion on Sunday, August 6th. Happy reading!

Discussion Points

1) My footnote informs me that Lancy, France is the first place-name which Chesterton improvises in the novel. Do you think it bears some significance? Being that they are in France, the name "Lancelot," jumped into my mind. I wonder if the reader is meant to think of that man's story in some conjunction with the present one? Certainly, there could be a comparison with the "anarchy" that consumed Arthur's idealistic state and the anarchy which, in Chapter 12, seems to cover the world. It is also noteworthy that the anarchy in Arthur's case comes from confused good-intentions and love. Your thoughts?

2) Permit me to reproduce a long passage from Chapter 11:
The ex‑Marquis had pulled the old straw hat over his eyes, and the black shade of the brim cut his face so squarely in two that it seemed to be wearing one of the black half-masks of their pursuers. The fancy tinted Syme's overwhelming sense of wonder. Was he wearing a mask? Was anyone wearing a mask? Was anyone anything? This wood of witchery, in which men's faces turned black and white by turns, in which their figures first swelled into sunlight and then faded into formless night, this mere chaos of chiaroscuro (after the clear daylight outside), seemed to Syme a perfect symbol of the world in which he had been moving for three days, this world where men took off their beards and their spectacles and their noses, and turned into other people. That tragic self‑confidence which he had felt when he believed that the Marquis was a devil had strangely disappeared now that he knew that the Marquis was a friend. He felt almost inclined to ask after all these bewilderments what was a friend and what an enemy. Was there anything that was apart from what it seemed? The Marquis had taken off his nose and turned out to be a detective. Might he not just as well take off his head and turn out to be a hobgoblin? Was not everything, after all, like this bewildering woodland, this dance of dark and light? Everything only a glimpse, the glimpse always unforeseen, and always forgotten. For Gabriel Syme had found in the heart of that sun-splashed wood what many modern painters had found there. He had found the thing which the modern people call Impressionism, which is another name for that final scepticism which can find no floor to the universe.
I love this for innumerable reasons. First of all, the great education of our author is evident by his effortless application of the word chiaroscuro right before he slams impressionism. I also think that this single paragraph perfectly wrestles the reader into the proper, bewildered state for the thicker allegory which is about to follow. This wood is like Dante's, and really sets up the final leg of the journey. Any other comments on this or another exceptional passage?

3) I recognize more overtones of the French Revolution in the stories of how the two peasants turn inexplicably, and also in the presentation of the confusing mob-mentality. Thoughts?

4) It is important from Chapter 12 forward to keep particularly in mind exactly who is who amongst the former anarchists. That is, who represents what day of the week?
It plucked the Secretary clean out of his saddle, as a knife is whipped out of its sheath, trailed him kicking terribly for twenty yards, and left him flung flat upon the road far in front of his frightened horse. As the car took the corner of the street with a splendid curve, they could just see the other anarchists filling the street and raising their fallen leader.

"I can't understand why it has grown so dark," said the Professor at last in a low voice.
My footnote reminds me that the Secretary is Monday - the day corresponding with the first day of creation, when God spoke and then there was light. When he falls, it becomes inexplicably dark.

Note, also, how Dr. Bull, who is Saturday, has become quite the philanthrope in this section: appropriate, since on his day God created man.

My favorite part of these two chapters is this other light/darkness conflict at the chapter's end (a great passage):
"Do you see this lantern?" cried Syme in a terrible voice. "Do you see the cross carved on it, and the flame inside? You did not make it. You did not light it, Better men than you, men who could believe and obey, twisted the entrails of iron and preserved the legend of fire. There is not a street you walk on, there is not a thread you wear, that was not made as this lantern was, by denying your philosophy of dirt and rats. You can make nothing. You can only destroy. You will destroy mankind; you will destroy the world. Let that suffice you. Yet this one old Christian lantern you shall not destroy. It shall go where your empire of apes will never have the wit to find it."

He struck the Secretary once with the lantern so that he staggered; and then, whirling it twice round his head, sent it flying far out to sea, where it flared like a roaring rocket and fell.
Recall the discussion at the book's beginning between the order of a streetlamp and the freedom of a tree. I think Chesterton is coming full-circle from that first philosophical discussion. Something that struck me then, and which Joe H. has recently brought to mind, is this: Isn't, ultimately, a tree the better example for order then even the stationary lamp? I thought Syme's poetic idealism a little misplaced in his confidence in man's constructed order. The amazing teleology that leads a tree to grow from a seed into a trunk with leaved branches (instead of a fax-machine) seemed the more poetic ideal for me - and for Chesterton, who once wrote that he was amazed to wake each morning and find the grass green again. I knew there was some sort of lesson coming for Syme. And here, as he champions Christendom's light against Monday (the aboriginal light spoken by God) it is obvious that Chesterton is preparing to unravel his meaning. Why are the days of Creation on the "Anarchist's" council? Why are none of them as they seem? Is anything as it seems? At this point of the novel, the question that dominates the reader's mind is the question that the characters keep asking: "What does it all mean? The answer awaits!

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Stephen Colbert on Religion

I'm probably the last blogger to post this, but it really is a must-see. I have a lot of hope for this cat.

The Man Who Was Thursday - Chap. 9 & 10

Introductory Remarks

[CORRECTION] The post has been edited to reflect that it does in fact discuss Chapters 9 and 10. Thanks for the heads-up, Chris. [/CORRECTION]

The conversation, although not what I'd hoped it would be, is still going on, and there's still a chance to get aboard. Kudos to Joe, who has done just that. Check out his worthy comments, better late than never, down below.

At this point, there are only five chapters left in the book. We'll have the next two chapters due a week from today, and take the last three as a group. Looking ahead, that seems to be the best breakdown. Happy reading!

Discussion Points

1) In terms of plot and philosophy, I didn't regard too much in Chapters 9 or 10 to be particularly worthy of note. So the discussion is open.

2) I would like to comment on the artfulness of one section from Chapter 9, which struck a chord with me:
Syme was increasingly conscious that his new adventure had somehow a quality of cold sanity worse than the wild adventures of the past. Last night, for instance, the tall tenements had seemed to him like a tower in a dream. As he now went up the weary and perpetual steps, he was daunted and bewildered by their almost infinite series. But it was not the hot horror of a dream or of anything that might be exaggeration or delusion. Their infinity was more like the empty infinity of arithmetic, something unthinkable, yet necessary to thought. Or it was like the stunning statements of astronomy about the distance of the fixed stars. He was ascending the house of reason, a thing more hideous than unreason itself.
In the next paragraph, Chesterton makes a reference to the French Revolution. The same war comes up in the next chapter as well. It was a period of history which fascinated Chesterton (and also myself). I can't help but think that Chesterton's remarking how the "house of reason" is more hideous than unreason itself can be very appropriately read in light of such an event as the French Revolution. For more on that period of history, check out our last book club discussion.

Chesterton was a great admirer of Thomas Aquinas, so certainly not opposed to reason. But you might say he has a bone to pick with Rationalism. He certainly is no fan of the Enlightenment or of Empiricism. He's far too much a poet for that. I've had ambivalent feelings about Syme so far in the book, and they only grow more defined as the work progresses. I don't think Chesterton was totally "behind" Syme in his initially crafted defense of order and the predictable. As Joe points out in his comments on chapter one, there is, after all, something unpredictable in what is more predictable. Chesterton was "surprised" to find the grass green every morning. I think the reason he has thrown Syme into this adventure is to perhaps save him from being too much a rationalist - to save him of the errors of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Robespierre.

I'm rambling a bit, solet me try to sum it up: there's a biblical passage which I've always somehow felt is akin in its spirit to the "programme" of Chesterton. Thinking about what we've read, consider Paul's words to the Church in Corinth:
Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Any thoughts?

3) Chapter 10: Another very "fun" chapter, at least in the beginning. I still can't help picturing Chesterton at his type-writer, convulsing in a full body laugh with each further push of the envelope of believability. So, my question is, how do you find his pushing of this envelope? Shall we say, a la Chesterton, "really, sir, I must protest - isn't this a bit much?" Or is it a good time?

4) Another paragraph I thought noteworthy:
He felt a strange and vivid value in all the earth around him, in the grass under his feet; he felt the love of life in all living things. He could almost fancy that he heard the grass growing; he could almost fancy that even as he stood fresh flowers were springing up and breaking into blossom in the meadow—flowers blood red and burning gold and blue, fulfilling the whole pageant of the spring. And whenever his eyes strayed for a flash from the calm, staring, hypnotic eyes of the Marquis, they saw the little tuft of almond tree against the sky‑line. He had the feeling that if by some miracle he escaped he would be ready to sit for ever before that almond tree, desiring nothing else in the world.
A bit romantic, we might think. But still, rather a beautiful thought. I've made comparisons oftentimes before, and I'll make one again: I was reminded of Tolkien. His heros always reach a similar aestheticism in their moments of crisis (excepting Frodo's last journey in Mordor, but that's different for several reasons.) Any thoughts on this unique spiritualism of heros at the brink of hell?

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Take a Little Piece of My Heart, Baby...

Name the singer of this post's title, and win the prize...

I'd like to say a word about relics.

Recently, I was listening to an archive episode of Catholic Answers: Live. It was the second hour from June 20th, with Karl Keating as the answer guy. I don't presume to improve upon the answers given by Karl during the show. But I was struck by the fact that three callers during the hour-long episode inquired about relics in some way. I know that this is an area of Catholic devotional life (with many laudable P.O.D. practices, too) that has been very poorly taught since the Council. The three questions on the show reveal a central part of the problem, and while Karl did answer the questions, I think he answered them, in a sense, too specifically. That is, I don't think that one could infer from from his answers the general principles which govern our use of relics in devotion. And so, I figured I'd throw my own two cents onto the web, just in case some random "googler" happens to stumble accross my blog searching for such a thing.

One can hardly forget the Decameron account of St. Lawrence' finger and the feather from the wing of the Archangel. There's a lot of misinformation going about regarding relics - even among Catholics.

The callers to the radio show asked questions about things like the veneration of the Ark of the Covenant which the Church in Ethiopia claims to possess; the proper way to venerate a relic when it is presented (may one genuflect, for example); and what the difference is between the scattering of relics throughout the world for veneration and the scattering of cremains from the deck of a Carnival cruise ship.

Everyone knows someone who has a relic of the True Cross. Many fewer know someone who have documentation of such fact. Some ostensariums can be found displaying the evaporation of the Blessed Mother's breast milk. How anyone ever came upon this substance, is not as easily shown.

And then there's the fancy words like ex opere operato versus opere operatis which may be easily translated, but not so easily understood in application.

Well, the fact is that relics are an important part of our Catholic heritage and have great precedent, Biblically (in Acts of the Apostles) but most especially in the accounts of the early Christian martyrs. Since the early days of the Church, Saints' bodies and belongings have been passed on to disciples for veneration. So, why must I inter Aunt Jenny while John Newman or Theresa of Avila can go on resting above ground, while bits and pieces of them get passed around on E-bay?

First of all, the sale of relics is a gross sin of simony, and the persons in charge of such transactions on E-bay are certainly not gaining the merits that are offered to those who properly use and venerate relics. But in principle, the passing around of these objects in a good thing, when done reverently. Frequently, an argument against cremation is to relate it somehow to the Resurrection of the Body, which is probably where people begin to conflate the issue of cremation with the obtaining of relics. This logic is really rather poor. The soul is going to have no problem reuiniting with the body in the end of time - the entire substance will be changed into the glorified body anyhow, and who knows exactly what goes on there? Jesus was passing through doors and stuff after His resurrection - so certainly our Resurrected flesh will be able to make it up from the bottom of the ocean or the inside of a worm or wherever else it had made its way before the big event. No, the difference in the case of cremation doesn't relate much really to the final fate of the body - it has to do with our understanding of the dignity of the human person. The body is not just some empty carcass, an object. A person is body and soul. The separation which occurs at death is a temporary one. The body still "belongs" to the person. But it has been rent from the soul. This is a very important point, theologically. Christ, the Person, still "owned" the body in the grave during the separation of His human soul from the flesh. That flesh he reclaimed, recreated, and redeemed, resurrecting to glory on the third day. The same is destined for us. It is not a matter of practicality that bids us not cast our remains into the sea or into a volcano. It is rather that doing such represents a callousness and lack of appreciation for the redemption wrought by Jesus in our flesh. If the mere "disposal" of these remains in a nonconventional way were wrong, then the martyrs who were devoured by beasts would be sinners. But allowing their bodies to be eaten by lions and bears was not out of disregard for the body - it was actually out of a higher respect. They saw in their bodies and in the ability to suffer pains and torment an opportunity for closer union with the crucified Lord. Does the man who wishes to be mixed with mulch for his beloved garden seek the same sort of unity with the Resurrected Christ?

Alright, but what about after these relics are distributed? What then? How do we "merit" anything by their "use?" What is their "use?" How do they work?

Well, in the simplest terms, they work the same way as the sacraments. Now, this has probably set off all sorts of theological alarms in most of your minds. But I said, "in the simplest terms" - of course there is a great difference to go along with this simple similarity. What I mean is that God wills them to occasion the transmission of grace, allbeit in a very different way than He wills such through the Sacraments. My point is simply that, while there is this great distinction, there is (I think) a more important similarity. We do, after all them "sacramentals" - and that is because, in the broad sense of the word, they work "sacramentally." The Church, and Her whole life, is in this broad sense, sacramental.

Now, speaking in broad terms is something that a lot of people don't like in theological conversation. But it has its merits. See, the usual conversation about the operation of sacramentals begins with a distinction between ex opere operato (liberally: from the working of the work) and ex opere operantis (liberally: from the working of the worker). And, don't get me wrong - this is a good, and crucial, distinction. Farbeit from me to criticize a teaching from Trent. My beef is with how apologists might sometimes mislead people in their use of this distinction.

Sacraments work. Period. The agent is not the "cause" of the transmission of grace. An unholy priest can confect the Eucharist. Anyone can baptize. They just work. THESE work "ex opere operato" - or, as the Compendium puts it, "by the very fact that the action is performed" because Christ is the actor and guarantor. If we can stretch our minds a little bit, we can see how the "distinction" of ex opere operato does not, here, strictly rule out the operantis - because the agent is REALLY Christ. The human agents cannot interrupt what Christ enacts in these signs. They really do transmit, then, what they signify.

Sacramentals, on the other hand, depend for their efficacy on the "agent" performing the action. This is where I split hairs. Because, in a sense, Christ is here, too, the agent. And here, too, because of His agency, sacramentals will "work." But they do not contain and transmit the grace they signify it. Christ works in the "occasion" of sacramentals, if you will. Now, this leads to some confusion usually which is why I want to apply a bit of caution. After everything we just said about the body and our view of it, I'm still not necessarily justified to keep a piece of my Aunt Jenny in a little clasp around my neck for veneration. If we leave the distinction at "ex opere operantis," then the question becomes "does the object itself matter at all?" Was the friar in the Decameron justified for his frauds, since the disposition of the people is what matters when is comes to relics? Doesn't there at least have to be a reasonable likelihood that an object is the thing it is said to be? Why not honor Aunt Jenny in a reliquary?

Sacramentals do work "sacramentally" through the Church. The distribution of grace through the occasions of sacramentals like relics is a part of the Church's ministry, but it is a much different guarantee. With relics, there is a guarantee that they may work in the recieving of graces - not like the sacraments, which we know will work. And the grace they communicate is different. It is, with relics, an increase in grace, as opposed to the infinite sanctifying grace divied out in the Sacraments.

The question from the radio show I haven't said anything about if "how" we venerate relics. In fact, some readers may have been cringing throughout even at my use of the word "venerate" here. "Don't we venerate only objects associated with the Lord, like the Cross?" Well, the Compendium uses venerate. Here, our language lags a bit. As with other tricky words like "adore" and "worship" and "honor" and "glorify" there is wiggle room. It doesn't matter, semantically, as long as it's sorted out in our heads. If we understand that we give a different sort of worship (i.e., dulia) to relics and sacramentals than the sort we give to Sacraments and to God (i.e., latria), we're in good shape. It doesn't really do to go around speaking Greek in our normal parlance. But I think most of us have an innate sense about this. If you feel leary about how low you bow or whether you kiss directly of by way of your hand - well, then, go with your gut. As with all devotionals, the use of relics must be grounded on good theological principle. Rooted in "one Lord, one faith, one baptism," you probably won't stray too far from acceptible practice. And anything you feel really scrupulous about, just don't do - unless you're told to, in which case further investigation might be in order.

Memorable Quote

All this talk of Chesterton might lead some to suspect that he is my only reading project for the summer, but as you'll note on my book list, I'm also making my way through Father Neuhaus's Catholic Matters. In the course of which, I came accross this quote which I wanted to share (although there are many others as striking):
Many years later, I was on a program with a famous evangelist from California who had built a huge "Chrystal Cathedral" designed by a famous architect. He said there had been a debate about whether the cathedral should have a cross. Some people thought the cross an excessively gloomy symbol. "I said that of course there will be a cross," declared the famous evangelist. "The cross is the sign of Christianity and we're a Christian Church." Then he paused and announced with a triumphant smile, "But I can tell you that there's nothing downbeat about the cross at Chrystal Cathedral." An upbeat cross? Back in Pembroke, a Wesleyan church visited by our elementary school class had in large letters above the communion table, "He is not here. He is risen." Yes, I thought, he was not there.
Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic Matters, p. 44

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Broad Shoulders

One needs broad shoulders to carry a burden like guiding the Universal Church.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Man Who Was Thursday - Chap. 7 & 8

NEXT DEADLINE: One week from Monday - two more chapters.

Discussion Points

1) Chapter 7 of Thursday seems a little drawn out at first read. But something occurred to me during this section that I had temporarily forgotten in my analysis of the work: this story is supposedly an allegory. Now, that's not to say that every system will have a one-to-one meaning; but, nonetheless, the "symbolism" of this chapter is intriguing if you're looking for allegorical interpretation. Syme is being pursued through a thickening snowstorm which obscures his sight by a German Nihilist named "de Worms" and finally comes to confront his feared pursuer under the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. Hrmmm...

I would also like to note that I made several literary associations while reading this chapter. I was reminded almost immediately of a passage in C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy from the second book, Perelandra. In the book, Doctor Ransom (the protagonist) is pursued by a demon-inhabited man whose physical description and lame gait bear a striking resemblance to Professor de Worms. This passage in Lewis is itself rather similar to Tolkien's description of Gandalf's battle with the Balrog (fire-demon) of Morgoth in Kazaad-dum in The Lord of the Rings. Both these works come after Thursday. The scene also reminds one of an earlier piece of literature, however: "The Hound of Heaven" - a poem by Francis Thompson. Thompson, incidentally, died the year Thursday was published. Chesterton was certainly aware of him, and, if my memory serves, was an admirer of his. It would be interesting to research as to what month in 1907 Thompson died, and what month Chesterton finished writing this book...

Anyway: general comments on this chapter, and its potential symbolism, would be appreciated.

2) A purely literary note about Chapter 7: it struck me at first that Chesterton wrote "dialectically" for the character Gogol. The tactic seemed a little out of place given Chesterton's style. Gogol's being a spy helped to make sense of why this point was accented - pun intended. Thoughts?

3) Chapter 8 is my favorite so far. I laughed aloud through "the imposter's" entire description of how he came to be the famous German Nihilist. Re-reading still provides me with plenty chuckles - particularly as a philosophy student.

4) This chapter is full of Chestertonian tangents - little philosophical points subtly (or not so subtly) inserted into his narrative. I will draw attention to two particularly. But please do try to find more and point them out for the rest of us. The first is rather blatant, the second more suave.
Through all this ordeal [Syme's] root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one. That is why, in spite of a hundred disadvantages, the world will always return to monogamy.
Brilliant. And so completely Chesterton. I love the gratuitous swipe at empiricism, too.
I understood that he had proved that the destructive principle in the universe was God; hence he insisted on the need for a furious and incessant energy, rending all things in pieces. Energy, he said, was the All. He was lame, shortsighted, and partially paralytic.
This one is a little harder to catch. I ran swiftly by it my first read. But there is a great irony here: a feeble, almost motionless nihilist inisting on the need for a furious and incessant energy. Which reminds me that I need to blog again about Stephen Hawking... but that will be later.

Happy reading!

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Things to Keep an Eye On

The upcoming World Meeting of Families, in Valencia, Spain, is supposedly going to be quite the to-do. Lots of preparations have led up to this. First, there's the mysterious document that was written, reported on, but still not made available in any language convenient for non-Europeans to read. Secondly, there's the recent hullabaloo over embryonic stem-cell destruction being excommunicable. (See Jimmy Akin for more on this.)

And now, if the chatter is anything reliable, we're told that it might be good to keep an eye on the liturgical celebrations at this event. There have been rumors going around about Benedict sitting the Liturgy planners down and giving them a talking to about what "cultural" elements might not be appropriate for the liturgical example he wants to set. So, we'll see whether the talks were real, and if they've had any effect.

Another thing to keep an eye on, and pray much about, is in the field of world events. North Korea's president Kim, apparently bitter over his inability to style his hair in any normal fashion, has begun throwing long-range ballistic missiles about. America doesn't normally take too kindly to that sort of thing. So, let's keep this one on the intention list for a bit.

GK's Mythopoeic Vision

Apropos a discussion going on down below about what Chesterton says might be found "at the ends of the world," I've decided to post what is probably my favorite poem by him, even though it's really a Christmas poem. Enjoy!

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,

And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,

The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn

Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,

For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.



Sunday, July 02, 2006

Things That Make You Go Hrm(eneutical)

Amy Welborn has an interesting quote from Card. Arinze's new right-hand man. Apparently, he's a bit of a hardliner when it comes to interpreting the liturgical reform documents of the Council and subsequent years.

Me too...

Perhaps the Holy Spirit is at last fed up with the imposter "spirit" of Vatican II that has been the excuse for so many readings between the documents' lines. We can only hope.