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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ouroboros, St. Sebastian, and the FBI

- St Sebastian Healed by an Angel - Giovanni Baglione

This week's DVD rental is a disc of Millennium, a late 1990s tv series created by Chris Carter (of The X-Files fame) and starring one of my favorite character actors, Lance Henriksen (Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Encounters of the Third Kind, The Terminator, Aliens, etc), and Terry O'Quinn.

It tells the tale of ex-FBI serial killer profiler (based on real life FBI agent John E. Douglas), Frank Black, who moves with his wife and little girl from DC to Seattle to start a new life freelancing. Because of his expertise in violent crime and a near-psychic ability to see things as they truly are, he is much in demand .... one of the most mysterious cases he works on is the on-going investigation of the mysterious and conspiracy-laden apocalyptically-religious Millennium Group. There is a lot of complexity to the Millennium Group, so if you're interested, check out the Wiki link, but here is just the basic history ...


The Millennium Group was formed around 10 AD by a group of Christians avoiding persecution. They formed the Group to defend to world against the forces of Satan and other evils as the years draw closer to the Millennium...and beyond. However, Group members began to turn on each other when the Hand of Saint Sebastian was discovered in the year 998 AD. It was believed that whoever had possession of the Hand would have the power to destroy the Devil and win the battle of good vs. evil at the end of the Millennium .....

In the 1940s, with the world on the verge of nuclear Armageddon, the two top officers of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and Clyde Tolson, decided that there needed to be an independent group that could go above the law. A group that could do what the government and law enforcement couldn't.

Hoover, who was already a member of the original Millennium Group, Tolson, and their assistant Lily Unser decided to create their Group. Hoover adopted the ouroboros insignia of the Millennium Group, claiming that he discovered the symbol from a scientist named Kekule. However, he was really creating his own version of the Millennium Group.

- ouroboros

Hoover and Tolson began to recruit members for their Group straight from the FBI. Eventually, however, Hoover's Millennium Group merged with the descendants of the Original Millennium Group to form a larger, more diverse Group mixed with ex-law enforcement personnel and scientists.

Now, in modern times, the Millennium Group appears at first glance to be a group of ex-law enforcement agents (mostly ex-FBI) who consult police departments and other law enforcement agencies. However, this is only a fraction of what the Group does. In reality, the Group comprises many different experts in the law enforcement, legal, technology, medical, and scientific fields.


It would be difficult to explain all that happens in the series, but it ends with a segment of the millennium Group releasing a modified Marburg virus to which they had an antidote that was given only to select members - Frank was given a dose by his Millennium Group contact, played by Terry O'Quinn, and he managed to get another for his daughter, but his wife died.

Some time after the series ended, on the cusp of 1999/2000, there was an episode of The X-Files, dealing with necromancy and zombification, in which Agents Mulder and Scully look Frank up, finding him in an mental asylum, to help them with a case involving the Millennium Group ...... four FBI agents have killed themselves and are being brought back to life, to be the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by the recitation of these words of Jesus .... I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

What's not to love? Seriously, though, while the stories of the series were extremely grim and violent, the character of Frank Black was very well done, especially his relationship with his little daughter, and if you like conspiracies, the occult, religious mysticism, and the exercise of courage and integrity under fire, you will probably like Millennium.

- Lance as Frank Black

Schrödinger's cat - wanted dead and alive!

I saw a story in the news today - NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Begins Trek to Asteroid Belt ... seems so exciting. Did I mention before that I think meteorites and asteroids are interesting ..... wrote a post about Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Vatican astronomer and keeper of the Vatican meteorite collection, about a year ago, and there was my past post - I've got rocks in my head ... too much fun.

This reminded me of a post I saw on another blog about the antagonism between science and religion. But it need not be so. Here's a bit from another news story I saw, this one about Br. Guy mentioned above, and his take on science and religion - Creationism dismissed as 'a kind of paganism' by Vatican's astronomer ....

BELIEVING that God created the universe in six days is a form of superstitious paganism, the Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno claimed yesterday. Brother Consolmagno, who works in a Vatican observatory in Arizona and as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy, said a "destructive myth" had developed in modern society that religion and science were competing ideologies ......

"Knowledge is dangerous, but so is ignorance. That's why science and religion need to talk to each other," he said. "Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism - it's turning God into a nature god. And science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not be a good thing to do." ....

Oh, and this post actually has nothing to do with Schrödinger's cat, just liked that joke :-)

- Br. Guy with the Vatican Meteorite collection at Castel Gandalfo

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fighting the good fight

I saw a story in the news today and I learned something .... as I hardly ever pay attention to what's going on, this happens alarmingly often. Here's the story - Putting the moves on I don't know what's up with this particular issue, but I was intrigued to learn about the organization MoveOn and looked it up on Wikipedia. I have to say, it sounds kind of wonderful ......


MoveOn started in 1998 as a bipartisan email group. It petitioned the United States Congress to "move on" past the ongoing impeachment proceedings of President Bill Clinton.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, the founders of MoveOn started a petition against a military response. Eventually, this led to them working on behalf of Eli Pariser's similar petition. Pariser later joined MoveOn and serves as its executive director today.

MoveOn later publicly condemned the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Since then, it has supported John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for the 2004 U.S. presidential election and raised millions of dollars for many Democratic candidates.

MoveOn has created pressure within the Democratic Party for what the Washington Post calls "a vigorously liberal agenda" that goes "beyond simple opposition to the Bush administration." MoveOn founder Wes Boyd rejects the advice of "centrists" such as the Democratic Leadership Council who argue that "Democrats must moderate their positions on war, taxes, universal health care and other key issues." Speaking in June 2003 at a "Take Back America" conference, Boyd declared, "The primary way to build trust is to consistently fight for things that people care about." Grassroots America is ready to support a liberal agenda, he said, if only "someone will get out and lead.." ..,,. was created by computer entrepreneurs Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, the married cofounders of Berkeley Systems. They started by passing around a petition asking Congress to "censure President Clinton and move on", as opposed to impeaching him. To the couple's surprise, the petition, passed around by word of mouth, was extremely successful -- ultimately, they had half a million signatures. Buoyed by their success, the couple went on to start similar campaigns, calling for more arms inspections rather than an invasion of Iraq (see Popular opposition to war on Iraq); the reinstatement of lower limits on arsenic and mercury pollution, and campaign finance reform ......

MoveOn uses e-mail as its main conduit for communicating with members, sending action alerts at least once a week. According to Joan Neils, a graduate student at the University of Washington who has conducted a study of MoveOn ....... "MoveOn also uses the Web effectively for two-way communications," observes Neils. "One of the most interactive elements of the site, and one that demonstrates the group’s non-hierarchical organization is the Action Forum. The Action Forum is much like a blog, in which members write in issues they think are important and suggest strategies for action. Members then vote on submissions and the highest ranked issues rise to the top, thereby establishing MoveOn’s priorities. It’s an incredibly fluid, bottom-up approach to decision-making, allowing MoveOn to adapt and change as they go." ......


MoveOn was criticized for being vigorously liberal and urged to moderate their positions on war, taxes, universal health care and other key issues, but Boyd replied The primary way to build trust is to consistently fight for things that people care about. I very much agree with Boyd. Compromise has its place, but sometimes the effect of compromise, especially the compromising of ideals, is that we forget that good is good and worth fighting for.

* here's the website

Thursday, September 20, 2007

James Alison on Leo Boff

Looking through the archives of the journal New Blackfriars, I came across an article about liberation theologian Leonardo Boff by British theologian James Alison, back when he was a Dominican - Leonardo Boff: Complicity and Criticism (Volume 66, Issue 779, Page 239-246, May 1985) ... I don't have a subscription to the journal, but William was kind enough to get the article for me. I like both Fr. Alison and Leo Boff, and with Fr. Alison having studied theology in Brazil I thought that even with the article being old, it might be worth it to post a little of it.


He begins by introducing Boff and two books of his that prompted controversy - Church: Charism and Power (CCP) and Saint Francis: a model for human liberation (SF) ......

Leonardo Boff, a 47 year old Franciscan from Brazil, has become one of the best known names in Catholic theology owing to the controversy surrounding his book Igreja: Carisma e Poder (Ed Vozes, Petropolis, 1981). The close coincidence in time of Boff's interview with Cardinal Ratzinger in Rome about the book, and the publishing of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith's criticism of some aspects of liberation theology, has caused some misunderstanding about the issues at the core of the controversy ......

First of all, it was not - this time - Rome that made the first move. On the contrary, Boff had appealed to Rome. When his book was attacked by Dom Romer, Assistant Bishop of Rio de Janeiro and President of the Archdiocesan Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith, he turned to the Vatican ..... Secondly, and more importantly, the book does not in fact appear to be about liberation theology specifically .....

Fr. Alison then goes on to describe the dismal translation job done on the books, and gives many examples of how the translation errors lead to a misunderstanding of Boff's views as more radical than they really are. He then writes of Church: Charism and Power ....

A bit of background is necessary if CCP is to be understood at all. The thirteen essays presented here are a disparate bunch published together in Brazil in 1981..... Boff has chosen a pneumotological approach as the one giving him most room to advance his case within a Catholic understanding of the Church. He, and the many who share his concerns, have a huge task on their hands: Boff himself uses the language of the birth of a new Chuech (ecclesiology). He is attempting the radical reconception of ecclesiology which is to be fair to the richness of base community experience, which solves the problem of class conflict while being committed to the poor, which is within the incarnational Catholic tradition, and which is institutional and hierarchical without being clerical and legalistic in its understanding of diakonia. Certainly this is too vast an undertaking to be the work of one man, and is likely, in its development, to throw up some dead ends. It appears to be the aim of the C.D.F. ..... to point out just such dead ends .....

One of the dead ends of which he writes is a point that recently came up when the Pope announced that Protestant Churches are not real Churches ... Boff writes in CCP that the Church can subsist in other Christian Churches. Fr. Alison attributes Boff's pov to a desire to reconcile the idealism of St. Francis with the reality of today's Church. He then goes on to point out what he feels are weaknesses in CCP......

Meanwhile, however, there are a number of points in Fr. Boff's essays which call for comment ..... His idea of what the Church has been over the last 1500 years suits the purpose of an argument about power structures, but does not take into account the ambiguity of Church/State relationships since Constantine and the reasons for centralization since the Middle Ages ...... Secondly, Fr. Boff appears to use sociology when it suits him, not when it does not ..... The same is true of Fr. Boff's treatment of syncretism where he criticizes the Church for finding it "easier to expand the reigning ecclesial system rather than allow and prepare for the birth of another." Yet the early Franciscan experience in Mexico ..... was that it was exactly expansion of the reigning ecclesial system which enabled some elements of indigenous political systems and freedoms to be saved from destruction by the Spanish ......

Fr. Alison's last criticism of Boff has to do with what he sees as a choice of Franciscan mysticism over rationalism, yet when Fr. Alison winds up his article, it is a similarity between Boff and St. Francis that he sees as redeeming Boff's supposed flaws ....

It is in the last chapter of SF that Boff touches on what is, at least for this reviewer, at the core of CCP ..... Boff presents us with a St. Francis who integrated the negative, who was both critic and accomplice in our Christian endeavour, without losing the salt of his flight from the established order. It is Boff's movement towards integration of criticism, complicity, and radical Christianity which often makes him rewarding reading.


I'm kind of disappointed - I was hoping Fr. Alison would like Leo Boff's book/theology more. I know there are issues concerning liberation theology but it's hard (for me) not to be attracted to something so idealistic. As it turned out, btw, Boff did not find a way to be both critic and accomplice - he left the Franciscan Order.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Vertigo in San Francisco

Tonight on tv I watched the Hitchcock movie Vertigo.

I especially like this one because it takes place in San Francisco and it's interesting to see how it looked back in the day. The basic storyline of the movie is thus ... Jimmy Stewart plays a former San Francisco police inspector (John "Scottie" Ferguson) who leaves the force after another officer dies trying to save him from falling during a rooftop chase of a suspect. He becomes a PI and an old college acquaintance asks him to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) who seems to be possessed and suicidal. Needless to say, he falls in love with her, and when she finally climbs the endless stairs of the bell tower of Mission San Juan Bautista, and his vertigo keeps him from catching up with her in time to stop her from casting herself off, he's devastated to the point of having to be committed.

He's just starting to get back on his feet when he comes across a woman who looks incredibly like his dead love. He gets to know her, gets her to fall for him, then gets her to change until she exactly resembles the woman he lost. There's a scene in the movie that always moves me - it's when he sees her for the first time after she's bee remade in his desired image - the camera pans around and around them as he hugs and kisses not her, but the person he really loves ... it's both powerful and heartbreaking. Here is how Roger Ebert describes that moment in his review of the movie ...

As Scottie embraces "Madeleine" even the background changes to reflect his subjective memories instead of the real room he's in. Bernard Herrmann's score creates a haunting, unsettled yearning. And the camera circles them hopelessly, like the pinwheel images in Scottie's nightmares, until the shot is about the dizzying futility of our human desires, the impossibility of forcing life to make us happy ...

There's much more to the story, but I don't want to spoil the surprise. For those interested in San Francisco, there's a website that has photos of the spots shown in the movie as they were then and as they are now. And here below is just the beginning of info from Wikipedia on the San Francisco locations shot for the film .....

* The Mission San Juan Bautista. The Mission San Juan Bautista, where Madeleine falls from the tower, is a real place, but the tower had to be matted in with a painting using studio effects; Hitchcock had first visited the mission before the tower was torn down due to dry rot, and was reportedly displeased to find it missing when he returned to film his scenes. The original tower was much smaller and less dramatic than the film's version.

* At Mission Dolores, for many years tourists could see the actual Carlotta Valdes headstone featured in the film (created by the props department). Eventually, the headstone was removed as the mission considered it disrespectful to the dead to house a tourist attraction grave for a fictional person .....

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Dream of the Rood

- the Ruthwell Cross

The Dream of the Rood is one of the earliest Christian poems in the corpus of Anglo-Saxon literature and an intriguing example of the genre of dream poetry ..... Preserved in the 10th century Vercelli Book ..... In the poem, the scop describes his dream of a conversation with the wood of the True Cross ..... A short excerpt from the poem was claimed to be carved in Futhorc on the Ruthwell Cross, which dates from c. 750 .... - Wikipedia

You can read the whole poem in English translation here , but below I've posted a part from the poem in which the Cross speaks of the crucifixion and after (how it was eventually found by Constantine's mother) ....

"It was long since--I yet remember it--
that I was hewn at holt's end,
moved from my stem. Strong fiends seized me there,
worked me for spectacle; cursèd ones lifted me.
On shoulders men bore me there, then fixed me on hill;
fiends enough fastened me. Then saw I mankind's Lord
come with great courage when he would mount on me.
Then dared I not against the Lord's word
bend or break, when I saw earth's
fields shake. All fiends
I could have felled, but I stood fast.
The young hero stripped himself--he, God Almighty--
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth's fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together. All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man's side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,
King's fall lamented. Christ was on rood.
But there eager ones came from afar
to that noble one. I beheld all that.
Sore was I with sorrows distressed, yet I bent to men's hands,
with great zeal willing. They took there Almighty God,
lifted him from that grim torment. Those warriors abandoned me
standing all blood-drenched, all wounded with arrows.
They laid there the limb-weary one, stood at his body's head;
beheld they there heaven's Lord, and he himself rested there,
worn from that great strife. Then they worked him an earth-house,
men in the slayer's sight carved it from bright stone,
set in it the Wielder of Victories. Then they sang him a sorrow-song,
sad in the eventide, when they would go again
with grief from that great Lord. He rested there, with small company.
But we there lamenting a good while
stood in our places after the warrior's cry
went up. Corpse grew cold,
fair life-dwelling. Then someone felled us
all to the earth. That was a dreadful fate!
Deep in a pit one delved us. Yet there Lord's thanes,
friends, learned of me ...
adorned me with silver and gold ... "

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chrysostom, antisemitism, the Medieval Source Book

Tomorrow is the Memorial (for Roman Catholics) of St. John Chrysostom. Here's a tiny bit about him from Wikipedia ...

John Chrysostom (349– ca. 407, Greek: Ιωάννης ο Χρυσόστομος, Ioannes Chrysostomos) was the archbishop of Constantinople. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. After his death he was given the Greek surname chrysostomos, "golden mouthed", rendered in English as Chrysostom ....

Whenever I read about him, I feel conflicted - on the one hand, he wrote outstanding sermons about the care of the less fortunate, but on the other hand, he wrote eight sermons which played a considerable part in the history of Christian antisemitism and were used by the Nazis in their ideological campaign against the Jews. You can read the eight homilies, along with a short bibliography of books on the subject, and with an introduction on context, here - Medieval Sourcebook: Saint John Chrysostom (c.347-407) : Eight Homilies Against the Jews

Was John Chrysostom antisemitic? On the face of it, I'd say yes. I came across an interesting discussion on this subject - Notes on Reaction to the Posting of the Chrysostom Text on the Jews - at the Internet Medieval Source Book from Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies, a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. The page begins with some quotes from back in the day, that give a bit of perspective .....

Augustine: they subsist for the salvation of the nation, but not for their own

Chrysostom: the Jews are always degenerate because of their odious assassination of Christ. For this, no expiation is possible, no indulgence, no pardon

Aquinas: Jews, in consequence of their sins, are, or were, destined to perpetual slavery

Luther: [ in his last sermon, four days before he died, ] called for practical measures: burn their synagogues, confiscate all books in Hebrew, prohibit Jewish prayers, force them to do manual labour, but, best of all, drive them out of Germany.

And here below is the beginnings of the discussion with Paul Halsall, ORB, editor of the Internet Medieval Source Book, and those who emailed him on the subject. I found it pretty interesting ....


On August 12 1998, Normon (Dionysios) H. Reddington posted the following to the Byzantine studies list.


First off, these homilies are about Judaizers, not Jews. He attacks the Jews, using a standard method of classical rhetoricians, to win back their sympathizers to his own camp. Hence the lack of interest in converting Jews, and the irrelevence of the remark "und ebensowenig werden solche Reden faehig gewesen sein die Juden mit Sympathie fuer das Christentum zu erfuellen." That wasn't his purpose. Think "Quartodecimanism".

Actually, compared to later anti-Semitism, these sermons are exceedingly mild. True, they don't support the view that Judaism is on a par with Christianity. Given that Chrysostom believed that Judaism was a false religion, and one which clearly had a major attraction for some of his parishioners, I'm not sure what else he could have said. The florid invective was the Greco-Roman style; most of the offensive statements were just rhetorical devices ........

Response to the Above [Halsall]

I do see your point, and I am quite happy to historicize these anti-Semitic patristic writers, just so long as in doing so, one does not then think that other things they say (which happen to agree with some modern prejudice) are not historicizable. They are interesting historical documents, after all .....

receive similar exculpatory messages rather commonly about the long extracts from Luther's On the Jews I have put online. One frequent comments is that Luther only began to hate Jews late in life [although his early letters to Spalatin - now also on line - indicate differently]. Another, to which I had no adequate response, is that Luther did not have much later effect - after all Striecher "only quoted him twice".

It seems to me that churches can either face up to this history or not. The RC church has gone a long way towards this in recent decades, by any account. And, as far as I can see, so the Orthodox have also begun the process: when the breakaway Old Calendarists here in Queens were recently received back into the arms of the Patriarchal Church [and St. Irene's Cathedral became a "patriarchal and stavropegal monastery"] the local Old Calendarist bishop was forced by the Patriarch to sign a formal and very public renunciation of his "classical rhetoric", which had involved denunciations of Jews. Some work needs still to be done, of course, on the texts of the liturgy.

Paul Halsall


The following was a repsonse in private correspondence [hence the anonymity here] from a commentator at an Antipodean Catholic University.

I am not sure why you feel compelled to post an obscure and obviously poor (let alone partial) translation of the 8 homilies to the web. There is a very good and reliable translation of all 8 in the Fathers of the Church series, vol. 68 (1979) by Paul Harkins. Prefacing it with the intro. that you mention, is also somewhat misleading, since the definitive work on the series is by Robert Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the late fourth century (1983). I am rather tired of Chrysostom being misrepresented, especially to students, who tend to read things on the web uncritically.

The homilies are in any case not "On the Jews", but against Judaisers. The exaggerated rhetoric is admittedly hostile towards the Jews, but should be read strictly within this context. In other sermons (a fact of which many scholars are unaware) he can be quite admiring of the local Jewish community and their religious devotion and stamina. One of the reasons his invective is so extreme in the current set of homilies is that he is trying desperately to persuade his audience that the practices of the Jewish community (which are very attractive and a long-standing and intimate part of Antiochene civic life) ought to be avoided, because Judaism and Christianity are two distinct religions. Not all of the Christians at Antioch had got the point. Consequently, they should be read with great care and the sentiments in them taken with a large grain of salt. It is subsequent use of these same sermons in the anti-semitic campaign that you should be concerned about.

Response to the Above [Halsall]

I did not feel "compelled" to post the texts. [Are such unwarranted assessments of people's motives really called for?] The translation was already on the web. My post to LT-ANTIQ was a request to locate its source. I have written to Prof. Wilken asking if it is his, or if he knows whose it is.

"There is a very good and reliable translation of all 8 in the Fathers of the Church series, vol. 68 (1979) by Paul Harkins."

But this is not on the web, nor likely to be for 70 years or so. However, I will add the reference for those who want a more up-to-date and reliable
translations [one, for instance, which idenitifies the citations.]

Prefacing it with the intro. that you mention, is >also somewhat misleading, since the definitive work on >the series is by Robert Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the late fourth century (1983).

I do believe that you will find my bibliographical advice is indeed to Wilken's work. But what exactly is wrong with Parke's account of the sermons? Parkes was a significant scholar in that he was among the first Christian scholars to address the history of Christian anti-Semitism. This history is clearly one that many people still seek to deny or minimize.

"I am rather tired of Chrysostom being misrepresented, especially to students, who tend to read things on the web uncritically. The homilies are in any case not "On the Jews", but against Judaisers. The exaggerated rhetoric is admittedly hostile towards the Jews, but should be read strictly within this context."

A wonderful word that "context", isn't it? Odd that conservative scholars seem so unwilling to "contextualize" other statements which they so often support. Until this text cropped up in my web browsing, all I had actually posted of Chrysostoms was his Easter Homily and links to his sermons in the AN&PNF series. In fact, it may be that, too often students are given too rosy a picture of the early church fathers, as people they should "admire". If you are willing to say that the sermons Against the Jews [the title is as given in Migne after all, and was used by Mervyn Maxwell in his Chicago dissertation: given the content Chrysostom is against both Jews and Judaizers. I must mention that the word "Judaizer" is in and of itself anti-Semitic, and so find it odd when a modern scholar does not interrogate him or herself about the word] need to be seen in rhetorical context, why not say the same thing about the Easter Sermon, which, after all, is simply rhetorical verbiage which he did not actually mean.

In other sermons (a fact of which many scholars are unaware) he can be quite admiring of the local Jewish community and their religious devotion and stamina.

This is genuinely interesting. Send me references and I will add them, send me texts and I will post them. I am not out to make points in the texts I post. I simply post what comes along and looks interesting.

One of the reasons his invective is so extreme in the current set of homilies is that he is trying desperately to persuade his audience that the practices of the Jewish community (which are very attractive and a long-standing and intimate part of Antiochene civic life) ought to be avoided, because Judaism and Christianity are two distinct religions. Not all of the Christians at Antioch had got the point.

Is this some supposedly desirable point to reach? And if so, is it a historians' judgement to make? This was not a time when Christians were in any danger from non-Christians; it was a time when they were busy [I am sad to say - as a practising Catholic] depriving others of really rather basic rights. [if you check my website right now, you will see a summary of Christian legislation on the Jews: its is a pretty dire record, and one which I will use in class when students read Islamic legislation on hristians.]

Consequently, they should be read with great care and the sentiments in them taken with a large grain of salt. It is subsequent use of these same sermons in the anti-semitic campaign that you should be concerned about.

Of course I take them with a grain of salt, but then I take much of what the fathers' write with a grain of salt [e.g.. about women or about homosexuals], but this is not the recommended approach by current ecclesiastical authorities, nor those modern scholars who wax lyrical about the great intellectual achievements of the fathers.

The question as to degree an author is responsible for subsequent use of his or her texts is very interesting - poor Nietzsche gets slammed all the ime - but I find eight sermons [and especially number 6] to be more than a little problematic. These were sermons after all - designed to get out into the public and to have an effect. They were not made in a vacum in which Chrysostom did not know about the effects of Christian hostility, but in a world were law after law was passed depriving Jews of rights they had hitherto enjoyed. As I have said, I am willing to post any additions, citations, etc.

Paul Halsall


There is much more to the discussion and the whole thing is worth a read. I think Paul Halsall makes a good point .... are we justified in historicizing away the bad stuff, while non-judgmentally clutching the good stuff to our breasts? I know I tend to do this, even with what's in the gospels, but it gives a whole new meaning to the concept of cafeteria Christianity, and perhaps it's not only dishonest but unfair to those whose words we revere.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Before Buffy the Vampire Slayer ...

... there was another tv series about vampires - Kindred: The Embraced.

As I trawled Netflix, trying to think of something to order for next week, I remembered an old show that I'd liked from 1996 starring C. Thomas Howell, Mark Frankel, and Patrick Bauchau. Sadly, it consists of only eight episodes, as Mark Frankel died in a motorcycle accident soon after the show was aired.

Based on a role-playing game, it tool place in San Francisco and told the tale of homicide detective Frank Kohanek (Howell) and his investigation into the local head of organized crime, Julian Luna (Frankel). What he eventually comes to realize is the Luna is a vampire and the prince of the "kindred" or vampire clans that live within the city and who participate in the Masquerade ....

The vampiric Masquerade is a shared conspiracy of the Camarilla (the largest grouping of vampire clans) to keep their existence unknown to mortal human beings. The Masquerade began in the 15th century as a response to the Inquisition. Even though there was an ancient tradition of self-concealing among vampires in the Dark Ages, in many cases common people knew or suspected their existence and their works (for example, the Tzimisce had vast dominions in Eastern Europe and many human serfs that were aware of the nature of their masters). In any case, most people superstitiously believed in many supernatural entities including vampires.

However, as the Church became more and more powerful, the Inquisition chased and destroyed many vampires, until they became convinced that the only way to survive would be to deny their own existence. The Masquerade was taught as law in the Camarilla from then on, and took advantage of the Age of Enlightenment, by reinforcing the idea that vampires are a fruit of ignorance and superstition. By the 19th century, most educated people in the West laughed at the suggestion that the vampires of old legends were real creatures ...

I remember the show as being a kind of The Godfather meets Nosferatu, and thinking it was worth the watch .... also remember finding the character of Julian Luna very interesting :-) .... but you know how memory can play tricks on us. Guess I'll put it into my Netflix queue and let you guys know if it meets expectations.

- Frankel and Howell

Richard Dawkins, Rowan Williams, 9/11

Here it is, 9/11, and I wasn't planning to post anything about it, but in my web travels, I came across the thoughts of two Brits on the subject. One, Richard Dawkins, resident atheist and Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford, gives what I'd call an expected response to the On Faith question of the week on 9/11, and the second, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who was in NY during the 9/11 attack, and who gives a more nuanced reflection. Somehow, though, both left me as cold as I was before I read them.

First Dawkins, from On Faith ...


What message would I send to religious extremists? The following.

You are passionately sincere. You really really believe that killing for your God is the right and moral thing to do, and that you will receive the supreme reward in Paradise. Your passionate conviction is called 'faith' and you have been taught, from infancy on, that to have faith is the supreme virtue. Not just you, most people in the world, the vast majority of whom would never dream of doing the terrible things you are prepared to do, have been brought up to respect faith unquestioningly. You could claim that you are true to your faith, in a way that those nice gentle people are not. But what if your faith itself is wrong?

It is wrong. Utterly, catastrophically, dreadfully wrong. There is no God. If you die a 'martyr' for your God, you will have died for nothing. If you kill for your God, you will have killed for nothing. Your life will have been wasted, and so will the lives of those you murder. You will not go to Paradise. You will rot, along with your victims, and the world will be well rid of you, though not of them.


And here's the mention of some of what Rowan Williams has to say, reported in a TimesOnline article ....


The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will argue tonight that terrorists must be shown the “respect and patience” owed to every person.

In an address in which he will call on the Church to establish its credentials as non-violent, Dr Williams says torture can never be justified to extract information from terrorists.

Comparing terrorists to disabled people or the poor, he says none of these groups can be regarded as “collateral damage” in the steady advance of prosperity in the West.

He says: “The dignity of every person is non-negotiable: each has a unique gift to give, each is owed respect and patience and the freedom to contribute what is given them.

“This remains true whether we are speaking of a gravely disabled person - when we might be tempted to think they would be better off removed from human society, or of a suspected terrorist - when we might be tempted to think that torture could be justified in extracting information, or of numberless poor throughout the world,”

Dr Williams will defend the right of terrorists to respect in a speech to a Christian-Muslim conference to mark the anniversary of 9/11.

In his text, Dr Williams calls for leaders of both faiths to believe in the “possibility of liberation from the systems of violent struggle.” .......


Monday, September 10, 2007

William Barry and religious experience

I noticed that Ron Rolheiser has a column on Mother Teresa and her "dark night of the soul". When I posted about her a while ago, one of the things I mentioned was how much that lack of religious experience would have bothered me (and of course it bothered her too), and thinking of both MT's dryyness and Cura's mention of becoming a spiritual director, I was reminded of a book - The Practice of Spiritual Direction by William Barry SJ and William Connolly SJ. I bought it a few years ago, thinking that if I could understand the concepts, I could be my own spiritual director. Well, that hope was forlorn, but the book was still a good read, and it dwelt much on the importance to Ignatian spirituality of religious experience. Here are a few excerpts ......


[...] religious experience is to spiritual direction what foodstuff is to cooking. Without religious experience there can be no spiritual direction. We define Christian spiritual direction, then, as help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God's personal communication with him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship. The focus of this type of spiritual direction is on experience, not ideas, and specifically on religious experience .....

The focus on religious experience which we see as helpful, and even necessary for spiritual growth in our time is not a new phenomenon in the history of spirituality ..... The apostles came to believe in Jesus and to trust in him through their experience of him ..... They came to know him, they observed him, joined his company, watched the way he acted, and listened to him speak. Their experience of him led them to raise questions about him and then enabled them to answer these questions. They saw him touch a leper before he healed him, speak words of forgiveness to the paralyzed man, challenge the Pharisees to say whether they wanted him to kill of give life on the Sabbath, respond with sympathy and power to the widow of Naim, invite the hemorrhaging woman to speak to him. They experienced him in these actions and many others. And their conviction about him and allegiance to him resulted from their experience .....

Spirituality at the end of the Middle Ages shows many signs of the conflict between the emphasis on rational knowledge of God and the emphasis on loving experience of God. Ignatius of Loyola, as a late medieval person, had a choice between these different emphases. His works show that he chose to put trust in his experience ......

A particular religious experience is an experience of explicit communication on both God's and the receiver's part ... there can be two different kinds of events that we call religious experience. One is spontaneous and can occur when a person is praying as well as when he is not praying. It brings about a reaction to God and a desire to respond to him in some way. But it seems to end there. A man is walking along a country road in winter at sunset and is struck with awe at the lavish beauty around him. He is elated and shouts aloud a thank you to God. He then goes home and tells his wife about the experience. He recalls the event at times, but it remains a relatively isolated experience of God.

The other kind of event is a similar experience that is not isolated from the fabric of the person's life but begins or is part of an ongoing conscious relationship with God. For instance, the awe at the sunset might remind the man how much he has taken God for granted lately and prod him to take up again his practice of spending some time each day in prayer to deepen his relationship with God. It is this latter experience that we want to focus on ..... because it is this more purposeful pursuit of the relationship with God that makes spiritual direction most profitable .....

[...] the Church has traditionally been wary of private revelation. How then can anyone know whether he is hearing God or is suffering delusion? ..... Such decisions are made frequently in prayer and in spiritual direction, and people seem able to make them with relative ease ..... these people are "discerning the spirits". How do they do it? .....


To find the answer to that last question, you'll have to read the book :-) or you could read Fr. Rob Marsh's post, Theology and Experience @ Liverpool Living Theology, or John Veltri's page on Guidelines for Discerning Spirits

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Two years ago tomorrow is the day my cat Grendel died. She was a stray cat who just showed up and hung around in the yard. I didn't have any pets and didn't want any, so although I left food out for her, I gave her the emotional cold shoulder. Then one day I found her with three newborn kittens - Data, Spot, and Kermit. I took them in, but still didn't want pets, so I tried like crazy to find homes for them. It never happened, and the longer they stayed, the more I came to care about them. I'm not sure why, but I've been thinking about Grendel, Spot, and Data a lot lately - miss them.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Ignacio Ellacuría

I've been thinking about liberation theology and the contributions made to it by Ignacio Ellacuría. Here are the basics about him from Wikipedia ...

Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J. (Portugalete, Biscay, Spain, November 9, 1930 – San Salvador, November 16, 1989) was a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, philosopher, and theologian who did important work as a professor and rector at the Universidad Centroamericana "José Simeón Cañas" (UCA), a Jesuit university in El Salvador founded in 1965 .....

The political implications of Ellacuría's commitment to his ideas met strong opposition from the conservative religious and political forces in El Salvador. This opposition led to Ellacuría’s murder by the Salvadoran army in 1989 at his residence in UCA along with five other fellow Jesuit priests and two employees. Their murder marked a turning point in the Salvadoran civil war .....

I'm intrigued by Fr. Ellacuría's commitment to a country and people not his own, to a philosophy/theology so unpopular it got him killed ... I have trouble committing to anything. I came across a talk he gave at the 1982 commencement ceremony at Santa Clara University, upon receiving an honorary degree, and I thought I'd post just a little of it here ...


It is a great honor for me, and a gesture of solidarity and support for the Universidad Centroamerica José Simeon Cañas, that Santa Clara University has decided to confer upon me this honorary degree. I am sure you intend primarily, not to single out my intellectual activity, but to commend the academic and social work which our university has conducted for more than 17 years. Our university's work is oriented, obviously, on behalf of our Salvadoran culture, but above all, on behalf of a people who, oppressed by structural injustices, struggle for their self- determination--people often without liberty or human rights .....

Liberation theology has emphasized what the preferential option for the poor means in authentic Christianity. Such an option constitutes an essential part of Christian life--but it is also an historic obligation. For the poor embody Christ in a special way; they mirror for us his message of revelation, salvation and conversion. And they are also a universal social reality ..... A Christian university must take into account the gospel preference for the poor. This does not mean that only the poor will study at the university; it does not mean that the university should abdicate its mission of academic excellence--excellence which is needed in order to solve complex social issues of our time. What it does mean is that the universitv should be present intellectually where it is needed: to provide science for those without science; to provide skills for those without skills; to be a voice for those without voices; to give intellectual support for those who do not possess the academic qualifications to make their rights legitimate.

We have attempted to do this. In a modest way, we have made a contribution through our research and publications, and a few men have left far more lucrative positions to work in the University for the people.

We've been thanked and supported in our efforts. We also have been severely persecuted. From 1976 to 1980, our campus was bombed ten times: we have been blocked and raided by military groups and threatened with the termination of all aid. Dozens of students and teachers have had to flee the country in exile; one of our students was shot to death by police who entered the campus. Our history has been that of our nation.

But we also have been encouraged by the words of Archbishop Romero--himself so soon to be murdered. It was he who said, while we were burying an assassinated priest, that something would be terribly wrong in our Church if no priest lay next to so many of his assassinated brothers and sisters. If the University had not suffered, we would not have performed our duty. In a world where injustice reigns, a university that fights for justice must necessarily be persecuted.

I would like to think--and this is the meaning I give to this honorary degree--that you understand our efforts, our mission. something of the tragic reality that is El Salvador.

And how do you help us? That is not for me to say. Only open your human heart, your Christian heart, and ask yourselves the three questions Ignatius of Loyola put to himself as he stood in front of the crucified world: What have I done for Christ in this world? What am I doing now? And above all, what should I do? The answers lie both in your academic responsibility and in your personal responsibility.

I wish to thank again your Board of Trustees and your President Father William Rewak, for giving me the opportunity to present to you my testimony on behalf of a suffering, struggling, wonderful people. In the name off the Universidad José Simeon Cañas, I wish to thank you for the distinction you have given it through its president. I thank you for the solidarity and support this represents. I thank you also for the personal honor.

Not many of us doubt the generosity of the real American people. After this occasion, I do not doubt it at all.


- 6 PRIESTS, 2 OTHERS SLAIN IN SAN SALVADOR, FIGHTING INTENSIFIES FOR CONTROL OF CAPITAL - Washington Post Foreign Service Friday, November 17, 1989 (from Creighton University)

- The Ground Beneath the Cross: The Theology of Ignacio Ellacuría by Kevin F. Burke, S.J.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Hidden & Fallen

This week's movie rental is actually a two-for ... The Hidden, a little known 1986 science fiction film which stars Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Nouri, and Claudia Christian (of B5 fame) .... and Fallen, a 1998 occult thriller starring Denzel Washington, John Goodman, and Donald Sutherland There is a reason for mentioning these two films in one post - they both deal with serial killers (one an alien, and the other a fallen angel) who possess a number of hapless and innocent people as their hosts while they go on their killing sprees.

Fallen ....

- Denzel Washinton as a cop on the trail of a fallen angel

This film has the more well-known actors, and if you like religious themes, this one might be the one for you. Denzel plays homicide detective John Hobbes (John Goodman plays his partner and Sutherland his boss) who has just captured a murderer. After the execution of same, more killings with an identical MO are committed, and Hobbes thinks there's a copycat. His investigation leads in other directions, however, and along the way he meets the daughter of a dead cop who's obsessed with angels. One of those angels is "fallen" and possesses people, using their bodies to do its dirty work. Hobbes doesn't believe her at first, but soon her theory becomes inescapable. The acting is fine and the idea interesting, but it's scary. Here's a little bit from Roger Ebert's review of it ...

Fallen is the kind of horror story I most enjoy, set in ordinary and realistic circumstances, with a villain who lives mostly in our minds. Movies like this play with our apprehensions, instead of slamming us with freaky special effects. By suggesting that the evil resides in the real world, they make everything scary ..... Having established the possibility of the supernatural, Fallen is at pains to center Hobbes firmly in a real world. The screenplay, by Oscar nominee Nicholas Kazan (Reversal of Fortune), shows us Hobbes at home (he lives with his brother and nephew) and at work (Jonsey is a good pal, but a lieutenant played by Donald Sutherland seems to know more than he says). The story develops along the lines of a police procedural, with the cops investigating some strange murders, including a corpse left in a bathtub while the killer apparently enjoyed a leisurely breakfast .....

Among the characters Hobbes encounters on his search for missing threads, the most interesting is the daughter (Embeth Davidtz) of a cop who committed suicide after being accused of the kinds of offenses that Hobbes himself now seems to face. "If you value your life, if there's even one human being you care about," she tells him, "walk away from this case." Did her father leave a warning behind? What is the meaning of the word "Alazel" scrawled on the wall of the basement where he killed himself? .....

Fallen was directed by Gregory Hoblit, who also made Primal Fear (1996). Both films contain characters who are not as they seem, and leads who are blind-sided by them. Fallen reaches further, but doesn't achieve as much; the idea is better than the execution, and by the end, the surprises become too mechanical and inevitable. Still, for an hour Fallen develops quietly and convincingly, and it never slips down into easy shock tactics. Kazan writes plausible, literate dialogue and Hoblit creates a realistic world, so that the horror never seems, as it does in less ambitious thrillers, to feel at home.

The Hidden ...

- Kyle MacLachlan's character tries to destroy the bad alien before he himself perishes

Of the two movies, this is my favorite. Michael Nouri plays Sgt. Tom Beck, on the trail of, you guessed it, a serial killer. In the middle of his investigation, FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher, played by Kyle MacLachlan, joins the hunt. The FBI guy is a little strange ... he has information he shouldn't and is acting just weird ... so Beck has him checked out and learns Agent Gallagher has actually been deceased for some time, murdered by the very killer Beck's now after. While time is wasted as MacLachlan's character (an alien) tries to win back Beck's trust, the killer (another alien) is leaving dead bodies in his wake ... his victims and his used-up hosts, one of which is a stripper played by Christian. This film isn't as grim as Fallen ... there's the pathos of MacLachlan's character having lost his family to the killer, but there's also humor, as when the killer uses duct tape to bind up his degenerating host body .... the ending is also more upbeat. And did I mention Kyle MacLachlan? Here's a quote on the film from Roger Ebert's review of it ...

"The Hidden" takes this situation [alien possessed serial killer] and makes a surprisingly effective film out of it, a sleeper that talks like a thriller and walks like a thriller, but has more brains than the average thriller. It also has a sense of humor, and some subtle acting by MacLachlan, whose assignment is to play a character who always is just a beat out of step ..... I don't know what I was expecting, but certainly not this original and efficient thriller.

For those interested, you can see a YouTube of the beginning of The Hidden here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Jim Wallis & petitionary prayer

Today I received an email from Jim Wallis. Here's a little about him from Wikipedia, for those who don't know him ...

The Reverend Jim Wallis (b. June 4, 1948, Detroit, Michigan) is an Evangelical Christian writer and political activist, best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners Magazine and of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian community of the same name. Wallis actively eschews political labels, but his advocacy tends to focus on issues of peace and social justice, earning him his primary support from the religious left. Wallis is also known for his opposition to the religious right's fiscal and foreign policies ...

I probably got the message because I often visit the BeliefNet/Sojourners blog. The message made me think about something .... whether there's a point to petitionary prayer. Here's a little of the message ...

Next week, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, will report to Congress on the troop "surge," in which the Bush administration has escalated the war in Iraq by sending an additional 20,000 American combat troops. As people of faith, we believe in the power of prayer to soften the hardest of hearts and open the way to peace and reconciliation. So, as General Petraeus testifies, we're planning to match his surge with one of our own–20,000 prayers for Congress to bring an end to this war ...

I'm a peace-nik, against the war in Iraq, think we never should have gone and that we should leave right away (see an earlier post, but I realized as I read the email, that I didn't think the prayer plan would work and I doubted it was worth the effort - after all, shouldn't we work for political ends with political means?

That realization gave me pause ... is it that I don't believe in the efficacy of petitionary prayer? I don't think it's that - whenever things are going badly for me, I want things to improve so badly that I don't care how small the chance is that prayer may workI and I talk God's ear off in ways that resemble passionate PowerPoint presentations. Maybe Jim Wallis cares that much about peace.

And maybe both prayer and action are important. I'm reminded of something Ignatius of Loyola said - "Pray as if everything depends on God, but act as if everything depends on you."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The cosmic egg & the big bang

- Fr. Georges Lemaître and Albert Einstein

Science idiot that I am, I'm always agog when I come upon interesting (and understandable :-) science info ... tonight it was to be found in an episode of The Universe (which had a few talking headisms from John Polkinghorne), on the proposal of the Big Bang theory, by none other than a Catholic priest, Fr. Georges Lemaître.

Father Georges Henri Joseph Éduard Lemaître (July 17, 1894 – June 20, 1966) was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest, honorary prelate, professor of physics and astronomer. Fr. (later Msgr.) Lemaître proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe, although he called it his 'hypothesis of the primeval atom'.

His idea of a cosmic egg, explosion/creation event, and an expanding universe (btw, Soviet Aleksandr Friedmann, had come to the same conclusion independently, a few years earlier), was doubted, even though Edwin Hubble released his velocity-distance relation that strongly supported an expanding universe, in part because Einstein had instead proposed a static universe, and another scientist, Fred Hoyle from Cambridge, soon after came up with what he called the Steady state theory, which became popular. But long story short, Einstein did change his mind about the big bang, and Fr. Lemaître's theory was accepted when in 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson accidentally discovered, with a new microwave receiver owned by Bell Laboratories, the cosmic background radiation theorized to be left over from a big bang creation event.

In retrospect, it's thought that one hindrance to the acceptance of Fr. Lemaître's theory was that he was a priest and that his idea supported religious creationism. While his fellow scientists were skeptical of him, the Pope was quite pleased with him, and had Fr. Lemaître named prelate (Monsignor) in 1960, as well as surprising him with an appointment to sit on a commission investigating the subject of birth control at Vatican II (what?!!). Now, like many Jesuit scientists, he even has a lunar impact crater named after him :-)

You can read more about this in the article, A Day Without Yesterday': Georges Lemaitre & the Big Bang

- A graphical representation of the expansion of the universe with the inflationary epoch represented as the dramatic expansion of the metric seen on the left (Wikipedia)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Luke 7:36-38

- Mary Magdalene by Frank Wesley

A Pharisee invited him to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.