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Friday, April 30, 2010

The Strain

Latest book from the library - The Strain by Chuck Hogan and film director/screenwriter Guillermo del Toro. Here's a bit about it from Wikipedia ....

The series begins with an homage to Bram Stoker's Dracula: A Boeing 777 lands at JFK International Airport. It stops, dead, on the tarmac. The airplane is full of pale corpses. A strange coffin filled with dirt is found in the cargo hold. This marks the coming of Jusef Sardu, a vampire known as the Master, to the United States. The novel follows Dr. Ephraim Goodweather of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) as he investigates what is first thought to be a virus that killed the passengers. As his investigation continues Eph comes into contact with Abraham Setrakian an old pawnbroker who knows a lot about this virus and introduces Eph to "another V word: vampire."

I'm just a couple of discs into the audio version of the book (Ron Perlman reads it :). The style is reminiscent of scriptwriting, and some of the characters are cliché-ish (the hero is a doctor obessed with his work, divorced from a woman he still loves, dedicated to his young son, and sleeping with his female co-worker), but overall it's pretty good and has provided some compelling images, including a chilling description of a solar eclipse.

Here's a blurb from the Kirkus Reviews ....

The book boasts a plethora of arresting images and many terrific macabre touches. Del Toro and Hogan also succeed in constructing a driving plot and delivering a gripping conclusion. Great characters, a semi-plausible premise and a flair for striking scenes get this trilogy off to a first-rate start.

- nope, not a vampire, but Ron Perlman reading a script for Beauty and the Beast

A few more churches ...

The page where I saw some of the churches I posted photos of before is 50 Most Extraordinary Churches of the World. Here are just a few more ....

- The Hermitage on the island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain. Wikipedia - It [the island] is connected to the mainland by a man made bridge. On top of the island stands a hermitage .... The small church, which is usually closed, dates from the 10th century and seems to have come from the Knights Templar. In the year 1053 it was donated, by don Iñigo López Lord of Biscay, to the monastery of San Juan de la Peña near Jaca in Huesca. Medieval burials from the 9th and 12th centuries have been found on the esplanade and in the hermitage. In 1593 it was attacked and sacked by Francis Drake. Among other incidents, it has caught fire several times. On the November 10, 1978, it was destroyed in one such fire. Two years later, on June 24, 1980 it was reinaugurated. The hermitage belongs to the parish of San Pelayo in Bakio.
Here's the path to the Hermitage ...

- Maria Königin des Friedens (Mary, Queen of Peace), pilgrim church, Wallfahrtsdom in Velbert-Neviges, Germany. I wasn't able to find a Wikipedia page for the church, though there is a Wiki Commons page of photos of it. It was apparently built by architect Gottfried Böhm in the 60s70s. Here are two interior shots ....

And ...

- Milan Cathedral. Wikipedia - Milan Cathedral (Italian: Duomo di Milano; Milanese: Domm de Milan) is the cathedral church of Milan in Lombardy, northern Italy .... The Gothic cathedral took five centuries to complete and is the fourth-largest church in the world. You can see a huge number of photos of the cathedral here at Wiki Commons. Here's one of the interior ...

Thursday, April 29, 2010


- Borgund stave church, Sogn og Fjordane county, Norway

Liam's post about Stave churches made me want to look up other interesting churches. Here are a few .....

- (Facing entrance from altar) The Thorncrown Chapel is located in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, United States. It was designed by architect E. Fay Jones and constructed in 1980 .... The design closely resembles the Prairie School architecture popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright, of whom Jones was once an apprentice.

- Las Lajas Sanctuary (in Spanish Santuario de Las Lajas) is a basilica church located in the southern Colombian Department of Nariño, municipality of Ipiales and built inside the canyon of the Guaitara River. The cathedral is of Gothic revival architecture and was built from January 1, 1916 to August 20, 1949..

- Paoay Church (also known as the St. Augustine Church in Paoay) is a historical church located in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. During the Philippine Revolution in 1898, its coral stone bell tower was used by the Katipuneros as an observation post. Paoay Church is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. It currently is a property of the Diocese of Laoag, Ilocos Norte.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

From Catherine of Siena to Umberto Eco

- Christ Gives Communion to St. Catherine of Siena by Giovanni di Paolo

It's almost the feast of Catherine of Siena. I'm not a fan of hers - she seemd to embrace an extreme acesticism (wore a chain with which she whipped herself daily, spent a lifetime fasting, etc.) - but she did live at an interesting time and was involved somewhat (whether for good or ill) in the War of the Eight Saints, the struggle between Pope Gregory XI and a coalition of Italian city-states led by Florence which contributed to the end of the Avignon Papacy ....

The most influential decision in the reign of Pope Gregory XI (1370-1378) was the return to Rome in 1378. Although the Pope was French born and still under strong influence by the French King, the increasing conflict between factions friendly and hostile to the Pope posed a threat to the Papal lands and to the allegiance of Rome itself. When the Papacy established an embargo against grain exports during a food scarcity 1374/75, Florence organized several cities into a league against the Papacy: Milan, Bologna, Perugia, Pisa, Lucca and Genoa. The papal legate, Robert de Geneva [Clement VII ], a relative to the House of Savoy, pursued a particularly ruthless policy against the league to re-establish control over these cities. He convinced Pope Gregory to hire Breton mercenaries. To quell an uprising of the inhabitants of Cesena he hired John Hawkwood and had the majority of the people massacred (between 2500 and 3500 people were reported dead). Following such events opposition against the Papacy strengthened. Florence came in open conflict with the Pope, a conflict called "the war of the eight saints" in reference to the eight Florentine councilors who were chosen to orchestrate the conflict. The entire city of Florence was excommunicated and as reply the export of clerical taxes was stopped. The trade was seriously hampered and both sides had to find a solution. In his decision about returning to Rome, the Pope was also under the influence of Catherine of Siena, later canonized, who preached for a return to Rome.
- Wikipedia

And ....

Gregory deputed her [Catherine] on a peace mission to Florence in the winter of 1377, believing, as he told her Dominican confessor and biographer Raymond of Capua, that "they would not molest her; she is a woman, and besides they hold her personally in high esteem." At meetings of the Parte Guelfa, Catherine encouraged the politically divisive purges from public office (ammonizione) of accused Ghibelline sympathizers that the Parte was now promoting as a means of overturning the radical government and unblocking the path to peace. But according to Raymond, she was shocked by the political vendetta that in turn swept the city in the spring of 1378. Stefani [Marchione di Coppo Stefani] reported more dryly that "on that account she was regarded almost as a prophetess by those of the Parte, and by others as a hypocrite and evil woman." That summer Catherine was among those obliged to flee the city ...
- Society and individual in Renaissance Florence by William J. Connell

An interesting semi-related bit of info - after Florence had been put under inderdict in 1376 by Gregory XI, the Fraticelli, who had previously been deemed heretics, re-emerged in Florence ....

The Fraticelli ("Little Brethren") were extreme proponents of the rule of Saint Francis of Assisi, especially with regard to poverty, and regarded the wealth of the Church as scandalous, and that of individual churchmen as invalidating their status. They were thus forced into open revolt against the whole authority of the Church .... Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose is set against the persecution of Fraticelli.

I'll have to read more about them, and maybe even try (again) to read The Name of the Rose :)

- Catherine's sarcophagus beneath the high altar of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Another rainstorm here

- John offers Ronon his Johnny Cash poster on an episode of Stargate Atlantis

Again. And the roof is leaking, again. At least the plants in the yard are happy - they think they've died and gone to a warmer version of the Great Northwest :) Still, though we've had more than the normal amount of rain so far this year, we're still in drought mode, so instead of a song about rain this time, I thought I'd post a song that was one of my grandfather's favorites, Cool Water. It's such a popular song that it's been recorded by such disparate musicians as The Sons of the Pioneers, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, and the Muppets. Here's a version by by Johnny Cash (lyrics below - Dan is a donkey :) .....

All day I've faced a barren waste
Without the taste of water, cool water
Old Dan and I with throats burnt dry
And souls that cry for water
Cool, clear, water

Keep a-movin, Dan, don'tcha listen to him, Dan
He's a devil, not a man
And he spreads the burning sand with water
Dan, can ya see that big, green tree?
Where the water's runnin' free
And it's waitin' there for me and you?
It's water, cool, clear water.

The nights are cool and I'm a fool
Each star's a pool of water
Cool water
But with the dawn I'll wake and yawn
And carry on to water
Cool, clear, water

Keep a-movin, Dan, don'tcha listen to him, Dan
He's a devil, not a man
And he spreads the burning sand with water
Dan, can ya see that big, green tree?
Where the water's runnin' free
And it's waitin' there for me and you?

It's water, cool, clear, water
Cool, clear, water
Cool, clear, water

Monday, April 26, 2010


- a mantis shrimp

My latest book from the library is Fragment: A Novel by Warren Fahy. The book begins with some factual info about the consequences of the introduction of non-native organisms to habitats (like the snakehead fish to the US), and then goes on to describe a fictitious island isolated and untouched by humans, with dangerously unique plants and animals, discovered first by a British tall ship in search of HMS Bounty, and in the present day by a reality tv show's ship of scientists. Here's the blurb from Publishers Weekly ....

Fahy's imaginative debut puts a fresh spin on the survival-of-prehistoric-beasts theme popularized by Jurassic Park. When members of the cable reality show SeaLife, aboard a ship in the South Pacific, respond to a distress beacon from Henders Island, several of the show's scientists wind up slaughtered by bizarre animals on the remote island. In response, the U.S. government blockades Henders Island to contain the serious biothreat its unique fauna could pose to humanity. The ship's botanist, Nell Duckworth, joins the investigative team, which quickly finds that arthropods on the island have evolved into sophisticated and ferocious life forms. Particularly memorable and frightening are the creatures Nell dubs spigers, which have eight legs and are twice the size of a Bengal tiger. Exciting debates on topics like the role of sexual reproduction in the development of life on Earth provide a sound scientific background.

The book is pretty good so far - it has its flaws (there's lots of Jurassic Park type violence, and the quality of the story deteriorates towards the end) but I'm finding the science in it interesting. One of the characters works at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and I've learned of the strange attributes of some interesting creatures: the horseshoe crab's blood, the mantis shrimp's eyes, and the barnacle's penis :)

You can read an excerpt from the book at the Wall Street Journal here.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The stranger from heaven

- John the Evangelist, Gospel Book of Abbot Wedricus

I've often wondered why John's gospel seems different from the others, so it was with interest that I saw that Duke University New Testament professor Mark Goodacre has a new podcast posted at the NT Pod - How does John differ from the Synoptics? - which sheds light on the subject. I especially liked the part in which Mark compared the "stranger from heaven" Jesus of Marinus de Jonge to E.T. :) - it's worth a listen.

For those interested, you can read more on the differences between the gospels in chart form at Jesuit Felix Just's page - The Four Gospels: Some Comparative Overview Charts

Three Good Shepherds

- Sacred Pilgrims by Trygve Skogrand

- Good Shepherd by Del Parson

- The Good shepherd by William Dyce

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The British election

I've become interested in the upcoming British elections, thanks to reading a post at America magazine by Matt Malone SJ, an American Jesuit living in the UK - Britain's Next Move and listening to a podcast interview with him here, plus seeing the news stories about the novelty of the first political debates ever in the UK. It's apparently because of these debates that the leader of the third and up to now less powerful political power, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, has become something of a dark horse. I don't know much at all about British politics and my main question is this - what's the ideological difference between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats?

Anyway, here's a YouTube of part of the debates ....

Friday, April 23, 2010

I'm a dualist

I saw a post at America magazine's blog - Avatar, the Mystical Gaze, and the Fate of Flesh. Here's the part I found especially interesting ....

[...] Avatar, uses the now common trope of the mind jacked into another world. Unlike Neuromancer or the Matrix trilogy, here the avitars are not virtual, but flesh. On this front Avatar is curiously ambiguous and perhaps undecided. On the one hand, there is the profound scene of Neytiri saving her lover Sully’s human body. Flesh touching flesh. Tears crossing the divide between worlds. But like the Matrix before it, in the end, the film opts against weak and paralyzed human flesh ......

Avatar ultimately chooses for the fantasy flesh of the Na’vi. Perhaps in the end, the film falls into a heresy Christians know all too well: that we and the world are beyond redemption. Sully’s broken, paraplegic body is left behind, gently dead among the roots of the Tree of Souls. His soul lives now as Na’vi to watch the humans perp walked out of paradise under heavily armed guard. Just as we can’t undo the flaming sword guarding paradise, so, in the end, we don’t seem to be able to imagine a redeemed human existence in our own. ....

- paraplegic Jake Sully

I don't know if I understand this correctly, but what it says to me is that a person should try to find "redemption" in their disabled body rather than opting, if possible, for a different and healthy body. From what I've read it seems the Catholic view is that the soul is necessarily connected to a unique body. Call me a neo-Platonic/gnostic dualist, but I hate the idea that the "I" that is "me" is this particular body (this is a subject that always makes me upset - posted on almost the exact same thing here :).

Here below are some bits on this subject from Keith Ward's book, The Big Questions in Science and Religion, and also from one of his past Gresham College lectures, Superhumans? - Interfering with nature.

First ......


The Big Questions in Science and Religion, (pp. 139-140)

The Christian idea of the soul was classically formulated by Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle's Peri Psyche, "On the Soul." The soul is defined as the "Form" of the body. Every physical object, in Aristotle's philosophy, has a Form or essential nature, that which makes it what it is. In organic beings, this Form is called a soul. So, plants and vegetables have souls. A potato, for instance, embodies the Form of "potatoness." The more like the Form of potatoness a potato is, the better it is as a potato. No material potato could ever be perfect, and all material potatoes embody their Forms to a greater of lesser extent. So, the Form is not a material thing. It is more like a conceptual entity, rather like a mathematical entity that can be expressed more-or-less well in many material instances .....

Aristotle differed from Plato in insisting that Forms must be expressed in matter. They do not have a completely independent and superior reality. Form is real, and matter is real, but Form and matter have to go together to compose a truly existent thing. It follows that the human soul does not truly or properly or "by nature" exist without a body. It gives to a piece of matter a distinctive set of intellectual capacities. That is its function --- the soul stands to the human body as potatoness stands to an individual potato .....

For Aquinas, a soul that exists without a body (like the souls in purgatory or heaven, for example) does so by a special act of God, and it does not really exist as a person in the full sense until it has a body in which to have experiences and act in an intersubjective world. Moreover, each soul is uniquely fitted to a specific body, and it cannot simply have a different body while remaining the soul of the same person. So, in the classical Christian view, it is important that in some sense, it is the same body that gets resurrected, however different its properties might be.


And ....


Superhumans? - Interfering with nature

[...] One traditional argument ... is that the physical bodies we actually have are an integral part of what we are, and they should not be treated as mere instruments, that we can change or discard just as we wish. God has created us as the body-soul unities that we are, and we are not morally free to change our bodies or our characters by artificial manipulation.

Such an objection is based on the view, which is certainly a traditional Christian one, that human bodies must be seen as parts of one integral and unitary personal reality, and are not disposable bits of mechanism. Despite some popular beliefs to the contrary, the traditional Catholic view of human persons is that they are physical bodies, animals, that possess emergent properties of consciousness and volition. To speak of a 'soul' is to speak of the capacities of a type of physical body, capacities of a type of animal capable of abstract thought and responsible action. Souls cannot properly exist without bodies - a view Aquinas espoused.

The complication here is that the soul is often also spoken of by Aquinas as though it is a non-physical agent of thought, action, sensation and perception. Some form of embodiment may be essential to it, in order to provide information, and the possibility of communication and action. But perhaps the same soul could be embodied in different forms ......

Catholics ... seem to be committed to the existence of souls, both in Purgatory and in Heaven, that have consciousness and experience, but do not have physical bodies. Moreover, whatever the resurrection body is, it is certainly not temporally or physically continuous with this physical body, and it may be significantly different in some respects (it will not be corruptible, and will not have exactly the same physical properties). Aquinas said that disembodied souls may exist 'improperly and unnaturally', by the grace of God, and will not fully be persons again until the resurrection. But it is obvious that a resurrected body will not be constituted of the same physical stuff as present bodies (it is said to be spiritual, not physical). The present physical universe will come to an end, and there will be 'a new heaven and earth'. What that means is that the physical stuff of this specific universe is not essential to the nature and continuous existence of persons, even though something analogous to this body must exist ......

What is at stake in this discussion is whether human consciousness is an emergent property of a physical object - and so ceases to function or exist without that object. Or whether human consciousness, though it does originate within a physical body, and does require some form of embodiment, is nevertheless dissociable from its original body, and is capable of existence in other forms. Is the soul adjectival to the body, or is this body just one form in which this soul may exist? Aquinas tries to straddle both sides of this divide by speaking of the soul as a 'subsistent form', something whose function it is to give a body specific capacities, but which is capable of existing, though not of functioning in its full and proper way, without that body .......

For Aquinas, the body is constitutive of what we are, and we would not be the same being without it, without the specific body we have. This is what is intended by the traditional Catholic view that each soul is fitted for a specific body. We might say that each soul is the unique soul of a unique body. From this two things have been said to follow. First, the finality of our bodily tendencies cannot be regarded as purely physical or pre-moral. Our bodily structure and inclinations are morally relevant, and relate directly to the fulfilment of the total human person, body and soul. Second, each person, as created in the image of God and ordered towards participation in the life of God, has intrinsic dignity and inviolability. It may therefore be thought that we are morally obliged not to perform any act that would change or modify our own unique body and character as it has been given to us in our creation. However, I do not think this follows .....

From a religious point of view, the goal of human life is not simply to survive or to reproduce. It is to know and love God for ever. The possession of some body is important to us, because we are embodied souls. But our bodies exist primarily to express the capacities of the soul .... the physical body does not have morally absolute status, and that the primary spiritual principle, besides the love of God, is the flourishing of personal life rather than the preservation of the present physical order, whatever it may be ....


Thursday, April 22, 2010


The bishops of England and Wales are asking Catholics to carry out acts of penance each Friday in May to help atone for clerical abuse crimes.
- English, Welsh bishops ask Catholics to do penance to atone for abuse

[W]e Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word ‘repentance,’ which seems too harsh ... Now under the attacks of the world, which speaks to us of our sins, we see that the ability to repent is a grace, and we see how it is necessary to repent ...
- Pope Urges Repentance in Homily

David Gibson has raised a question in a recent post at dotCommonweal and also mentions a Huffington Post article by Fr. James Martin SJ on the same subject. First, here's a bit from David's post ....

I’d like to ask for feedback about penance, in particular the communal aspect of penance, which is frequently cited by the pope and bishops as regards the sexual abuse scandal .... Questions: How does this work? That is, what are we doing penance for, and who are we doing penance for? And can we do penance for those who have not recognized their sins? Or is it penance for ways in which we ourselves failed? And does this lack of specificity tend to gloss over the actual sins and the individuals responsible? Yes, I think of the pope and the hierarchy, who can issue such calls — but they smack of submerging larger questions of personal responsibility in calls for communal penance. And does communal penance also connote a form of general absolution (uh-oh) down the line?

And here's part of Fr. Martin's article ....

[...] Occasionally bishops will invite all Catholics in their diocese to commit themselves to a general period of communal penance in "reparation" for the sins of sexual abuse by clergy. Pope Benedict's recent pastoral letter to the Irish church mentions this. In addition to proscribing penances for the clergy and members of religious orders, the pope exhorts "the faithful" to offer their "Friday penances" for one year.

On the one hand, the idea of the whole people acting together, as one, is theologically sound. One of the central images of the church is the "Body of Christ." The church, unified as a body, rejoices and suffers together. Thus the crime of sexual abuse tears at the body of the entire church. But this theological approach, when applied in this case, is misdirected, even offensive. Why should the Catholic "faithful" (the laity) repent for anything? They were not the guilty ones. It would be as if a penitent entered the confessional, confessed his sins, sought absolution, and said, "Could you give the penance to someone else?"


it's Earth Day and I offer something from Soylent Green, a science fiction film from the past that describes a future in which overpopulation has destroyed the environment. You may laugh, but the first time I saw this scene in the video clip posted below I was so touched I cried, not because one of the characters was dying, but because of the lost beauty of the planet's creatures, plants, oceans, that had in the film already died long since. Here's how Wikipedia describes the scene .....

In the film, after the aged Roth learns the truth about Soylent Green, he decides he "has lived too long", and states that he is "going home". By this, he means that he is going to sign up for government-assisted suicide. When Roth arrives at the clinic, he is asked to select a lighting scheme and a type of music for the death chamber. Roth selects orange-hued lights and "light Classical" music. When he goes to the death chamber, a selection of Classical music (Beethoven - 6th Symphony - Pastoral) plays through speakers and films are projected on large screens.

The "going home" score in this part of the film was conducted by Gerald Fried and consists of the main themes from Symphony No. 6 ("Pathétique") by Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral") by Beethoven, and the Peer Gynt Suite ("Morning Mood" and "Åse's Death") by Edvard Grieg. As the music plays, scenes of majestic natural beauty are projected on film screens: "deer in woods, trees and leaves, sunsets beside the sea, birds flying overhead, rolling streams, mountains, fish and coral, sheep and horses, and lots and lots of flowers — from daffodils to dogwoods". Amidst the music and the scenes of nature, Roth remembers the world as it once was. Yet, he cannot peacefully take his last breath as he is pained by the beauty lost and cannot stand the awfulness of the real world. Roth struggles to tell Thorn about the secret of "Soylent Green", urging him to "prove it" before taking his dying breath.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Grace, nature, and Ignatius

I don't really understand the concept of grace, so when I saw this article - The Ignatian Paradox by W. W. Meissner SJ MD - which mentioned it in connection with Ignatius of Loyola, I thought I'd post part of it. I've snipped a lot, so best to read the whole thing.


The Ignatian Paradox
The Way, 42/3 (July 2003), pp. 33-46
W. W. Meissner

MOST JESUITS AND MANY OTHERS who have experienced the Spiritual Exercises, whether as retreatants or as retreat-givers, have encountered the Ignatian paradox: the effectiveness of the Exercises depends both entirely on one’s personal effort and at the same time entirely on divine grace. The familiar Ignatian formula says ‘Pray as though everything depended on God, and work as though everything depended on you’. More recently, it has been claimed that the authentic version of the saying is yet more provocative: ‘So trust God as if the success of things depended only on you, not at all on God. Yet so bend every effort as if you are about to do nothing, but God alone everything’.(1) However, even the more familiar version raises issues of interest to any student of Ignatian spirituality, and it is these that I shall explore here .........

We can see grace as enabling us to become more fully human and to live more ethically, morally, and spiritually in the love and service of God. (21) The paradox carries us back to the fundamental Thomistic principle: gratia perficit naturam. Grace does not replace or override the resources of human nature, but ‘perfects’ them. It works in and through natural human capacities, strengthening, facilitating, enabling them to do what is ultimately in the self’s best interest: to live a good spiritual life and to attain the love of God. Divine loving intervention through grace, therefore, does no violence to the human subject, but works its effects in and through the inherent powers of the soul.

While Aquinas speaks of grace as perfecting or completing human nature, the underlying assumption concerning the experience of grace is that grace and nature remain separate orders of existence. As Roger Haight, expounding Rahner’s theology of grace, explained the matter:

"Scholasticism assumed that what human beings experience in the world is simply nature. In the Scholastic view, grace and the operation of grace do not enter into consciousness. ‘Nature alone and its acts are the components of the life which we experience as our own.’ Grace and all that belongs to the supernatural realm are purely ‘ontic’ structures, components of being, and do not enter into natural human or psychological experience. The result is that nature and grace (the supernatural) are seen as two layers of reality that scarcely penetrate each other. Grace thus has no part in a person’s everyday experience of concrete living." (22)

Rahner developed this understanding of grace. He argued for what he called the ‘supernatural existential’, and for a corresponding obediential potential of human nature as regards grace. In Rahner’s view, grace is universally experienced, but not normally as grace ......

In fact, such a division or discrimination between the effects of grace and those of nature would seem to be alien to the Ignatian perspective and contraindicated by the Ignatian paradox. The question for Ignatius is not whether grace or nature is effective in the production of spiritual effects, but rather how such effects result from the combination of grace and nature. There is no way we can conclude that a specific action or course of action is entirely within human capacity without the influence of grace; nor, conversely, can we say that such an action is the effect of grace without human activity. What the paradox affirms—the synergism between grace and nature—is balanced by what it denies. And this denial can at times be even more challenging. If it is false and misleading to believe that we can achieve good works and win our way to virtue and salvation without the help of grace, it is equally false and misleading to think that grace and divine intervention will soothe our pains, solve our problems, ease our burdens, answer to our desires, resolve our conflicts and uncertainties, without a commensurate effort of desire, will and action on our part. On these terms, then, God, if you will, helps those who help themselves ......

Ignatius allowed little room for illusion—his God could not serve as any kind of opiate and basis for illusions of the betterment of the human condition. The vision called for the realisation of Christ’s kingdom in this world—and to this extent it carried with it elements of a vision of a more hopeful, even millennialist, future as embodied in the triumph of the kingdom of Christ. But the vehicle lies in the human response to divine initiatives, in devotion to the cause of Christ and self-immolating service—not in any transforming action of God exclusive of human participation and cooperation. The theme echoes the Ignatian paradox—we depend totally on God and his sustaining grace for any effectiveness or achievement, but we act as though the outcome was totally dependent on our own initiative and effort.


1) For a convenient and illuminating discussion of the historical issue, summarizing and developing insights of Gaston Fessard and Hugo Rahner, see J. P. M. Walsh ‘Work as if Everything Depends On—Who?’ The Way Supplement, 70 (Spring 1991), pp. 125-136.

21) In more traditional terms, such grace would have been categorized as actual and sanating grace. For an attempt to explain how Rahner transformed the standard post-Tridentine understandings of grace, see Philip Endean, Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 32-67.

22) Roger D. Haight, The Experience and Language of Grace (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), p. 126.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More on the letter

I thought I'd add to my previous post that Bryan Cones at US Catholic also has a post about Hnas Küng's letter - Pope Benedict five years on - that's worth a read. Here's part of it ...


[...] Kung's critique is a fair one, and I'd go as far as to say that in these five years the Ratzinger papacy has lurched from catastrophe to catastrophe, beginning with the Regensburg speech of 2006, continuing with the unconditional rehabilitation of the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, and culminating in the international sex abuse crisis, which is only going to get bigger .....

But now we must ask: Where are the world's bishops? Why won't anyone offer an alternative approach? What do they have to lose in speaking their minds from their experience as pastors? The church is foundering and about to hit the rocks, and too many of us are arranging deck chairs.

Kung raises good, hard questions, but I fear his letter will fall on deaf ears. Now is the time for openness, for public discussion, and for a new beginning, but no one in power seems to have the nerve. The fact of the matter is that the church is now too large and too diverse to be run by a medieval bureaucracy in the capital of an ancient empire. The gospel and the disciples called to proclaim it deserve better.


Fr. Martin on Hans Küng's letter

- opening ceremonial mass of the 2nd Vatican Council

I saw a post today by Fr. James Martin SJ on the recent open letter by Hans Küng to bishops. Here's a bit of the post ....


Küng to Benedict: Set About Reform

Even if you don't agree with all he writes (and I don't) Hans Küng is a theologian of great learning, distinction and experience. He's forgotten more theology and church history than I will ever know. And even if you don't agree with all he writes in his open letter to the world's bishops, it is well worth reading ..... In light of what he calls "the worst credibility crisis since the reformation," Küng lists several missed opportunities, and then makes his suggestions: 1.) Do not keep silent; (2) Set about reform; (3) Act in a collegial way; (4) Unconditional obedience is owed to God alone; (5) Work for regional solutions; and (6) Call for a council. The former colleague to Pope Benedict begins in a personal vein...

"Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and I were the youngest theologians at the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965. Now we are the oldest and the only ones still fully active. I have always understood my theological work as a service to the Roman Catholic Church. For this reason, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI, I am making this appeal to you in an open letter. In doing so, I am motivated by my profound concern for our church, which now finds itself in the worst credibility crisis since the Reformation. Please excuse the form of an open letter; unfortunately, I have no other way of reaching you.

I deeply appreciated that the pope invited me, his outspoken critic, to meet for a friendly, four-hour-long conversation shortly after he took office. This awakened in me the hope that my former colleague at Tubingen University might find his way to promote an ongoing renewal of the church and an ecumenical rapprochement in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Unfortunately, my hopes and those of so many engaged Catholic men and women have not been fulfilled. And in my subsequent correspondence with the pope, I have pointed this out to him many times. Without a doubt, he conscientiously performs his everyday duties as pope, and he has given us three helpful encyclicals on faith, hope and charity. But when it comes to facing the major challenges of our times, his pontificate has increasingly passed up more opportunities than it has taken:

Missed is the opportunity for rapprochement with the Protestant churches: Instead, they have been denied the status of churches in the proper sense of the term and, for that reason, their ministries are not recognized and intercommunion is not possible.

Missed is the opportunity for the long-term reconciliation with the Jews: Instead the pope has reintroduced into the liturgy a preconciliar prayer for the enlightenment of the Jews, he has taken notoriously anti-Semitic and schismatic bishops back into communion with the church, and he is actively promoting the beatification of Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of not offering sufficient protections to Jews in Nazi Germany ..."


Fr. Martin then gives a link to the whole letter -

Perhaps it's naive to idealize Vatican II and the guys who took part, but I'm so intrigued that now these two who were friends are almost the only ones left. I hope Vatican II is not the last we see of conciliar action to reform and make better what's good.

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's not easy being green

I've started reading Big Think's environmental blog Brave Green World and the post for today was about the value to the environment of being a part-time vegetarian - Weekday Vegetarianism And The Importance Of Baby Steps . This is a different way of looking at vegetarianism than mine - I'm not a vegetarian because it's environmentally green but because I care about animals, but I can see the utilitarian pov being more attractive to most people. Here's just the beginning of the post ....

One of the highest-impact lifestyle changes a person can make in the name of environmentalism is to go veggie. It takes – as this blog’s image illustrates – 698 and ½ gallons of water to make a hamburger, and a whoppering 616 of those can be attributed to production of the beef itself. Let’s not even talk about how much CO2 it took to put that patty on your plate, or how many doses of antibiotics were injected into the cow between birth and… well.

But for the past few years, founder Graham Hill – model eco-citizen that he (truly) is –has been telling us we don’t have to give up meat wholesale. We can, he says, get all the glory and almost all the climate change brownie points that vegetarians enjoy, and still spring for a sustainably raised roast chicken or grassfed burger on Saturday night, still have bacon with our eggs at Sunday brunch. Is it true? Can we really have our ham and eat it too?

It seems we can .....

Deconversion experiences

I saw an interesting post at America magazine's blog - Catholic Deconversions: More Topical Than Ever by Tom Beaudoin, professor of theology at Fordham University. I always want to know about other people's conversion experiences, having had one myself, but of course there are also deconversion experiences (or at least deconversion from a church if not from God), and professor Beaudoin's post is about those, especially those caused at least in part by the church's handling of the abuse crisis. Here's a little of what he wrote ....

Dietrich Bonhoeffer remarked in his famous prison letters his gratitude for life among prisoners who were not pious, his surprise at what life was like with them. In a very different context, I too have found compelling the "desacralized" spaces of secular culture .... This culture has been a school for "deconversion," a process that is now the focus of emerging scholarship in practical theology. Deconversion is the poor cousin to conversion. Whereas most of our theological attention and evangelical effort aims at conversion, scholars are beginning to suggest that the ways in which people leave faith/religious/spiritual practices behind is as worthy of study as the ways in which a new faith/religion/spirituality is taken up. Exit can be its own theological phenomenon ...

Professor Beaudoin mentions a couple of blogs as examples of deconversion, and I thought I'd post a quote from one of them. Here's a bit from Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism, the post Done ....

I wake up in the morning to the sounds of radio news reports, new reports every day, of the abuse perpetrated by priests and covered up by the hierarchy (in order to save the Church from embarrassment?!) and I just want to cry and go back to sleep and forget it’s happening, in part because I feel complicit – this is my Church, we’re all one body, when the eye suffers does not the hand suffer too, and when the hand reaches out and abuses another does not the whole body participate in that abuse? – and in part because it reminds me that this is the end for us, that gulf between me and the institutional Church has widened too much and has reached the point of irreparable damage, and that sooner rather than later I’m going to have to deal with it. This is what the term “irreconcilable differences” means, I guess. I no longer look to the Church and see any of my values, my priorities, my convictions reflected back at me. Sure, it’s in the teachings, oh the teachings that I love so much, the social encyclicals, the preferential option for the poor, the stuff that has inspired those who have inspired me, the liberation theologians and Dorothy Day and well, if the Church was good enough for them perhaps I can still make it work? But I’m deluding myself if I think that the teachings of the Church are the Church, for there is nothing, nothing, NOTHING of the preferential option for the poor in this scandal, there’s not justice in the hierarchy’s response, there isn’t even the slightest display of concern for the powerless and I just can’t find Jesus anywhere in all of it, not anywhere at all. And I’m actually crying as I write these words because there is so much about this tradition that I hold so dear, and I feel like I’m abandoning the real Church, the people of God, my fellow sisters and brothers, but at the same time I’ve had enough. Enough. Enough.

I wish the Vatican would engage people who express these kind of feelings instead of marginalizing them, because if these people are anything like me, they wish very much that things could be resolved positively rather than leaving.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Creation has value in itself

Earth Day is April 22 and that reminded me of a post by Fr. Ron Rolheiser (thanks, Cura) - The Resurrection of Jesus and Physical Creation. Here's part of the post ....


[...] Christ came to save the world, not just the people living in it. We see the deep proof of this in the resurrection. Jesus was raised from death to life. A dead body was resurrected and that, clearly, has a dimension that goes beyond the mere psychological and spiritual. There is something radically physical in the resurrection. Simply put, when a dead body is raised to new life the physical structure of the universe is being altered, atoms and molecules are being rearranged. Thus, Jesus' resurrection is about more than simply new hope being born inside of human consciousness. It is also about a change in our planet.

Granted, the resurrection is about human hope. Without belief in the resurrection there is no horizon and no promise beyond the asphyxiating confines of this life. The resurrection opens us to possibilities beyond this life. It gives us a meta-future. But it gives a meta-future to the world, our planet, as well. Christ came to save the earth, not just those of us who live on it, and his resurrection is also about the future of this planet.

The earth too needs saving. How? From what? For what?

If we take scripture seriously, we see that the earth is not just a stage upon which human beings get to work and play, something that has value only in relationship to us. Like humanity, it too is God's work of art, God's child. Indeed it is the matrix, the mother, the womb, from which we all spring. Ultimately we, human persons, are only that part of God's creation that has become self-conscious and we do not stand apart from the earth and it does not exist simply for our benefit, like a stage for the actor, to be abandoned once the play is over. Physical creation has value in itself, independent of us.

Scripture challenges us to recognize this, and not just so that we can insure ourselves a continued supply of air, water, and food by better save-guarding the integrity of creation. Scripture asks us to recognize the intrinsic value of the earth itself. It has value in itself, apart from us, and it is destined to share eternity with us. It too will go to heaven .....



As I was watching a video about the latest research on depression (a lecture by Robert Sapolsky, professor of Biological Sciences, Neurology, and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University), I stopped and posted the video, then ten minutes later deleted it, but then thought better of it again, so, now re-posting it :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Some videos

Here are a few of the many videos at Open Culture's YouTube channel ....

- Li Yundi, who won the International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition at the age of eighteen, plays Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu .....

- here's a neat 1991 lecture by Oxford professor Richard Dawkins on the universe (The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for Children, founded by Michael Faraday) ....

- and, Medieval tech support :) ....

"Chastity: it really freaks people out."

Or so says Fr. James Martin SJ :) You can watch his whole interview at Big Think (26+ minutes) here but below I've posted just the beginning five minute segment in which he discusses what it's like to be a Jesuit ......

Antony Flew

- Flew, from the 2007 NYT story, The Turning of an Atheist

I saw in the news that Antony Flew has died. Here's a bit about him from Wikipedia ....

Antony Garrard Newton Flew (11 February 1923 – 8 April 2010) was a British philosopher. Belonging to the analytic and evidentialist schools of thought, he was notable for his works on the philosophy of religion.

Flew was a strong advocate of atheism, arguing that one should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence of a God surfaces. He also criticised the idea of life after death, the free will defence to the problem of evil, and the meaningfulness of the concept of God. However, in 2004 he stated an allegiance to deism, and later wrote the book "There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind", with contributions from Roy Abraham Varghese. This book has been the subject of controversy, following an article in the New York Times magazine alleging that Flew has mentally declined, and that Varghese was the primary author [see link under photo above]. The matter remains contentious, with some commentators including PZ Myers and Richard Carrier supporting the allegations, and others—including Flew himself—opposing them.

Flew taught at the universities of Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele and Reading, and at York University in Toronto. He was also known for the development of the no true Scotsman fallacy, and his debate on retrocausality with Michael Dummett.

I vaguely remember Flew from philosophy classes. I don't know enough about him to make a comment on his change from atheist to Deist, and what little I do know of him is from before his conversion, so I thought I'd post a link (thanks, Wikipedia) to Quick Time videos of a 1976 debate on the existence of God between Flew (arguing for atheism) and Thomas Warren (Christian) - link. I'm also posting a short excerpt by Flew in which he describes the death of a thesis by a thousand qualifications .....


Theology and Falsification

The following excerpt was published in Reason and Responsibility (1968).
by Antony Flew

Let us begin with a parable. It is a parable developed from a tale told by John Wisdom in his haunting and revolutionary article "Gods."[1] Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, "Some gardener must tend this plot." The other disagrees, "There is no gardener." So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. "But perhaps he is an invisible gardener." So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Well's The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. "But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible, to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves." At last the Sceptic despairs, "But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?"

In this parable we can see how what starts as an assertion, that something exist or that there is some analogy between certain complexes of phenomena, may be reduced step by step to an altogether different status, to an expression perhaps of a "picture preference."[2] The Sceptic says there is no gardener. The Believer says there is a gardener (but invisible, etc.). One man talks about sexual behavior. Another man prefers to talk of Aphrodite (but knows that there is not really a superhuman person additional to, and somehow responsible for, all sexual phenomena).[3] The process of qualification may be checked at any point before the original assertion is completely withdrawn and something of that first assertion will remain (Tautology). Mr. Wells' invisible man could not, admittedly, be seen, but in all other respects he was a man like the rest of us. But though the process of qualification may be and of course usually is, checked in time, it is not always judicially so halted. Someone may dissipate his assertion completely without noticing that he has done so. A fine brash hypothesis may thus be killed by inches, the death by a thousand qualifications.

And in this, it seems to me, lies the peculiar danger, the endemic evil, of theological utterance. Take such utterances as "God has a plan," "God created the world," "God loves us as a father loves his children." They look at first sight very much like assertions, vast cosmological assertions. Of course, this is no sure sign that they either are, or are intended to be, assertions. But let us confine ourselves to the cases where those who utter such sentences intended them to express assertions. (Merely remarking parenthetically that those who intend or interpret such utterances as crypto-commands, expressions of wishes, disguised ejaculations, concealed ethics, or as anything else but assertions, are unlikely to succeed in making them either properly orthodox or practically effective).

Now to assert that such and such is the case is necessarily equivalent to denying that such and such is not the case.[4] Suppose then that we are in doubt as to what someone who gives vent to an utterance is asserting, or suppose that, more radically, we are sceptical as to whether he is really asserting anything at all, one way of trying to understand (or perhaps to expose) his utterance is to attempt to find what he would regard as counting against, or as being incompatible with, its truth. For if the utterance is indeed an assertion, it will necessarily be equivalent to a denial of the negation of the assertion. And anything which would count against the assertion, or which would induce the speaker to withdraw it and to admit that it had been mistaken, must be part of (or the whole of) the meaning of the negation of that assertion. And to know the meaning of the negation of an assertion, is as near as makes no matter, to know the meaning of that assertion.[5] And if there is nothing which a putative assertion denies then there is nothing which it asserts either: and so it is not really an assertion. When the Sceptic in the parable asked the Believer, "Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?" he was suggesting that the Believer's earlier statement had been so eroded by qualification that it was no longer an assertion at all.

Now it often seems to people who are not religious as if there was no conceivable event or series of events the occurrence of which would be admitted by sophisticated religious people to be a sufficient reason for conceding "there wasn't a God after all" or "God does not really love us then." Someone tells us that God loves us as a father loves his children. We are reassured. But then we see a child dying of inoperable cancer of the throat. His earthly father is driven frantic in his efforts to help, but his Heavenly Father reveals no obvious sign of concern. Some qualification is made — God's love is "not merely human love" or it is "an inscrutable love," perhaps — and we realize that such suffering are quite compatible with the truth of the assertion that "God loves us as a father (but of course…)." We are reassured again. But then perhaps we ask: what is this assurance of God's (appropriately qualified) love worth, what is this apparent guarantee really a guarantee against? Just what would have to happen not merely (morally and wrongly) to tempt but also (logically and rightly) to entitle us to say "God does not love us" or even "God does not exist"? I therefore put to the succeeding symposiasts the simple central questions, "What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or the existence of, God?"


1. P.A.S., 1944-5, reprinted as Ch. X of Logic and Language, Vol. I (Blackwell, 1951), and in his Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Blackwell, 1953).

2. Cf. J. Wisdom, "Other Minds," Mind, 1940; reprinted in his Other Minds (Blackwell, 1952).

3. Cf. Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, II, 655-60.

4. For those who prefer symbolism: p = ~ ~ p.

5. For by simply negating ~ p we get p: = ~ ~ p = p.


Friday, April 16, 2010


- from NASA, Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Iceland

I've been reading at Wikipedia about Eyjafjallajökull ...

... one of the smaller glaciers of Iceland .... The icecap of the glacier covers a volcano (1,666 metres or 5,466 ft in height) which has erupted relatively frequently since the Ice Age, at times bringing rhyolite to the surface. The volcano erupted twice in 2010, on 20 March and 15 April .... The south end of the mountain was once part of the island's Atlantic coastline. As the sea has since retreated some 5 kilometres (3.1 mi), the former coastline has left behind sheer cliffs with a multitude of beautiful waterfalls, of which the best known is Skógafoss .....

The eruption is thought to have begun on 20 March 2010, about 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) east of the top crater of the volcano in a popular hiking region called Fimmvörðuháls. This first eruption, in the form of a fissure vent, did not occur under the glacier and was smaller in scale than had been feared by some geologists. On 14 April 2010 Eyjafjallajökull resumed erupting after a brief pause, this time from the top crater in the centre of the glacier, causing meltwater floods (also known as jökulhlaup) to rush down the nearby rivers, and requiring 800 people to be evacuated. This eruption was explosive in nature and is estimated to be ten to twenty times larger than the previous one in Fimmvörðuháls. This second eruption threw volcanic ash several kilometres up in the atmosphere which led to travel disruptions in northwest Europe on the 15th and 16th of April 2010 including the closure of airspace over most of Northern Europe ...

Check out the webcam - Eyjafjallajökull frá Þórólfsfelli

Hasta la vista, baby

All this stuff about the church in the news is wreaking havoc on my prayer life. I tell myself it shouldn't matter - my prayer life is about God and God is not owned by the Catholic church. Still, it was because of a Jesuit retreat that I took a chance on God, so the two seem entwined at least on an emotional level. Everytime I read about another cardinal saying something awful about the abuse crisis, it's like watching Jesus waving goodbye to me from the rail of a disembaking cruise ship ... hasta la vista, baby.

I try not to let the news bother me, but really I think it should bother me - if I belong to a church and it's doing something wrong, if I don't speak up, it's almost like I'm colluding. And sometimes I think that's what the church hierarchy hopes for - that the whole thing will be let to go away because people will value their personal spiritual peace of mind more than the perhaps false hope for a moral continuity between the church and what it teaches.

I know I don't know Jesus, I only know "my" Jesus, but the guy in the gospels on whom I base my Jesus (with, ok, some movie Jesus thrown in) would not, I believe, go along to get along. He told off the church authorities when he thought they were being hypocritical, comparing them to whited sepulchers, stumbling blocks, the blind leading the blind. So why does he seem to be getting more remote? :(

Think Kafka

Before I went to bed last night I read a couple of posts - one at the Episcopal Cafe and one at Reuter's FaithWorld. They seemed to compliment each other in a horrible sort of way and I thought I'd mention both ....

First the one from FaithWorld .... Embarrassing Vatican letter hailing bishop who hid predator priest

As a tide of previously confidential Catholic Church documents about child sexual abuse by priests has risen over recent weeks, the Vatican has been able to say that none of them was a “smoking gun” proving it had instructed bishops to cover up the scandals. This defense looks thinner than ever with the posting of a 2001 letter by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos congratulating (yes, congratulating!) a bishop for not only hiding a self-confessed serial abuser but earning himself a criminal sentence for doing so. For more on the 2001 case, click here.

This amazing letter, in which Castrillon Hoyos promises Bayeux Bishop Pierre Pican he will be presented as a hero to all Catholic bishops around the world, exudes the arrogant atmosphere of Church superiority that victims say they have had to battle against for years to have their grievances taken seriously. It puts forward the incredible argument that a bishop, because he has a kind of “spiritual paternity” for priests under him, is equivalent to a father who is not obliged to testify against his son. It even cites Saint Paul and the Second Vatican Council as supporting this view.

You can read the Vatican's spin on this in John Allen's post at NCR ...

Late Thursday evening Rome time, the Vatican released a statement in response to media reports in France about a September 2001 letter from Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, at the time the prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, congratulating a French bishop for not reporting an abuser priest to the police. In effect, the Vatican statement suggests that Castrillón Hoyos was part of the problem which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, eventually solved.

Austen Ivereigh discusses all this in a post at America magazine's blog and adds bits from a rather creepy interview with Hoyos, with this commentary ....

This astonishingly unedifying display shows why, even while Rome cannot be held responsible for local Churches' failure to disclose clerical sex abuse cases to the police, it could at times help to foster the mentality that was disposed against that disclosure. The message, at least from the head of the Congregation for the Clergy until 2006, was to regard "paedophile acts" as minimal mistakes, to doubt the veracity of evidence brought against priests, and to regard a bishop who turned over an abusive priest to the police as betraying his "son" ..... there is one more step to take: to name what is wrong. It's what Castrillón-Hoyos displays so vividly. Its name is clericalism.

This rang a bell when I saw a post at the Episcopal Cafe - Silk and Hertzberg on the Catholic Crisis - which mentions Rick Hertzberg's essay in the New Yorker on the abuse crisis and Mark Silk's comment on that essay. Here's a bit of what Mark Silk wrote ....


[...] Those who conceive of religious institutions as the unique stewards of moral values in contemporary Western society need to think about that. But Hertzberg also makes an historical misstep that's important to correct:

The Catholic Church is an authoritarian institution, modeled on the political structures of the Roman Empire and medieval Europe. It is better at transmitting instructions downward than at facilitating accountability upward. It is monolithic.

Authoritarian and monolithic the Church may be these days, but not because it is modeled on the political structures of the Roman Empire and/or medieval Europe. It isn't. Bishops were very much independent actors in Antiquity, chosen by the local clergy with the assent of the community of the faithful. Church doctrine was decided by councils of bishops. The pope was the first among equals, if that. In the late fourth century, when the emperors were seriously going about the business of suppressing all religions other than Christianity, the most powerful ecclesiastical figure in the West was the bishop of Milan (Ambrose), not the pope in Rome.

In the Middle Ages, the papacy did turn itself into a universal court of ecclesiastical appeals, and took charge of such matters as making saints and promulgating canon law. But bishops remained powerful, autonomous figures, chosen locally and running their dioceses without instructions from Rome. To be sure, popes (as well as secular lords) liked to get involved in episcopal elections--and complicated compromises were always on order. But though the Reformation (and beyond), the Church was a big, diverse, complicated, feudal entity, with lots of power centers and sources of influence and authority.

The model for the Catholic Church today is actually the modern authoritarian state. Doctrine and appointments are made at the center, and anyone who wishes to rise to the top knows that the curia must be cultivated. Sure, the wheels often don't run smoothly or efficiently--that's what modern authoritarian states are like. Think Kafka ....


Vatican III, please.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Latest book from the library is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It's the book from which the movie of the same name was adapted, the one with Will Smith, which so far I haven't seen. Here's a little about the book from Wikipedia ....

I Am Legend is a 1954 science fiction/horror novel by American writer Richard Matheson. It was influential in the development of the zombie genre and in popularizing the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease. The novel was a success and was adapted to film as The Last Man on Earth in 1964, as The Omega Man in 1971, and as I Am Legend in 2007 .....

I'm still near the beginning of the book but it's actually pretty good so far. The main character has spent the last five months alone in the world (as far as he knows) among a horde of not zombies like in The Omega Man :) but vampires, created through a widespread plague. Spending a lot of time alone as I do, I can kind of identify with the guy in the book, so it's a bit grim and sad reading, but still it's quite decently written.

The Creator deals directly with the creature

Here's a a quote from an article by Michael J Buckley SJ, from The Way, 1975 - The Structure of the Rules for the Duscernment of Spirits. I've just started reading it myself, but I really liked this part, so .....


[...] A fundamental conviction founds and supports the history of religious consciousness and commitment: God himself will direct a man's life. Within this religious context, God emerges more personally than the ultimate source of meaning, being, and value, more engaged even than what stands primary in any process and that towards which things ineluctably move, more immediate than an explanation for the existence of contingencies or a presupposition for the imperatives of the ethical enterprise or an horizon within which beauty and spirit are gathered and made available to men.

All of this tile religious man may sense or intuit or accept, but none of these constitute his focus or his motive. He longs for God, not as men think about marriage, but as they search for a wife. He knows God, not so much in awareness that the cosmos is rooted in a source, but in the contemplative experience of his longing - God is apprehended as the correlative object of his desires. It is not so much rigour in thought or morality in living that is intended; it is experience and possession and a union comprising the compenetration of persons and ecstatic transcendence of presence. Within the religious context, God is not so classically 'He' (or 'She'), as 'Thou'; just as in religion, a man stands not as another fact within the universe, but as someone called by name out of nothingness and to whom a word is spoken.

A process becomes predominantly religious - rather than metaphysical or ethical or aesthetic - when the man so named turns to claim or to be claimed by the 'Thou' about which studies may speak as the Absolute, but which none of them can control or deliver. Religion differs from the academic as its engagements are particular, its modalities are interpersonal, and its aim is transforming union. The religious man is vitally persuaded not only that God has offered himself as such a possibility and fulfilment, but that he will guide human life towards this realization; God offers not only finality, but consistent direction.

So the pressing question lies not about general purpose or willing providence, but about concrete means; how does God direct human life to himself? What are the means of contacting or of being guided by God? Where does one locate this directing power of God? To this question three variant and complex answers historically have been given .......


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wolfen redux

Four years ago I had a post on the fantasy/horror movie Wolfen, adapted from the novel The Wolfen by Whitley Streiber. At the time, though, I was posting from memory, having seen it long ago on tv. I rented it finally and thought I'd post about it again, since I feel a little differently about it now that I've seen the uncensored version (tv apparently cut out the bad words, the fair amount of nudity, some of the violence, and the icky scene of a snake eating a live mouse - yikes!). So here's a bit about it from Wikipedia .....

Wolfen is the title of a 1981 horror film starring Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Gregory Hines and Edward James Olmos based on Whitley Strieber's 1978 novel The Wolfen .....

- the Wolfen live in the South Bronx

The movie begins with a desolate scene in the South Bronx where derelict buildings are being demolished at a groundbreaking ceremony for a future construction site, and the wealthy guy planning to build there is the first (of many) murder victim. NYPD Detective Dewey Wilson (Finney) is assigned to the case and at first terrorism is suspected, but thanks to the the help of the medical examiner (Hines) he soon comes to believe the killings have been committed by animals, wolves, to be exact.

- a police detective (Finney) gets some pointers from the medical examiner (Hines)

The weird thing is, though, that the killings are not typical of animal attacks - they're too well planned - so Dewey begins to suspect some kind of terrorism/animal combo ..... Native American shapeshifting. He looks up an old acquaintance, a past member of the American Indian Movement (Olmos), who eventually tells him about an ancient race of wolf-like creatures with unusual powers that due to a shrinking habitat have come to live in the abandoned parts of cities, preying on the weak and sick. Their motive for the rich guy's killing - protection of their feeding grounds.

- Olmos plays a Native American working high on a bridge

Overall I thought the movie was ok - the murders were grisly to the point of being almost silly and I'm not sure how Native Americans would view the theme, but for the most part it was pretty well done, nice cinematography, and I liked Finny, Hines, and Venora.

- Venora plays a fellow officer helping Finney's character

Here's a little of Roger Ebert's review of the movie ....


An intriguing film named WOLFEN, which is not about werewolves but is about the possibility that Indians and wolves can exchange souls, has crept stealthily into several Chicago theaters. Despite the fact that it stars Albert Finney, was directed by Michael Wadleigh (WOODSTOCK), and is an uncommonly intelligent treatment of a theme that is usually just exploited, the movie arrived without much advance publicity. If the subject interests you, move fast, before WOLFEN closes ......

The movie intercuts the police investigation with imaginative scenes shot from the wolves' point of view. These are fast-moving tracking shots; the camera swoops down streets at the eye-level of a wolf, pausing, taking cover, following one track and then another. Wadleigh suggests a wolf's senses with special optical effects in which objects with a scent also seem to shimmer.

The movie's narrative style is brooding. Finney comes into contact with an assortment of eccentric people (scientists, cops, morgue attendants, pathologists), and the trail eventually leads to a group of American Indians employed as high-steel workers. There is a breathtaking confrontation to top of a bridge. What do the Indians know about wolves? Is it possible that they practice ancient rituals to turn into wolves? Or do they just share spiritual communion with theme. WOLFEN develops a strong, angry theme about ecological and human waste ......


For those interested, you can see the movie in parts on YouTube. Part one is here