The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Catholic Utopianism?

See this link

This is an interview with Dr. Peter Chojnowski concerning the "Back to the Land" Movement amongst traditional Catholics. It is worth downloading and listening to.

My only thought about all of it: "What wishful thinking!" Lately, I have been posting entries that are way too long, so I will make this one short. We have to sanctify our lives in the here and now. Christianity is not about creating ideal societies. It is about sanctifying the society we find ourselves in. An inherently Christian society is a contradiction in terms. Otherwise, monasteries would have never existed in the glory days of Christendom.

So everyone stay where you are and work out your salvation in fear and trembling!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Lisa Bielawa

Does this mean that we, as vanguards of the future of music, are not supposed to care whether or not people want to hear what we write? Of course we care. We like it better when more people like what we do. It gives us company in our fascinations. It makes us feel that whatever compelled us to create certain sounds is compelling to others as well. But that isn't why we do what we do. As an artist I say: I value this experience in time -- perhaps you will too. But time is only experienced one consciousness at a time. There is always only an audience of one in my mind. It is you, or it is myself. It is an individual consciousness, experiencing sound in time.......We should all be bringing our skills and resources to the table to help each other do our work as authentically as we can, to enable as many small acts of anarchy as possible.

The composer Lisa Bielawa on the meaning of concert music today (Read the whole article and listen to samples of her music.) She is also the vocalist for the Philip Glass Ensemble, and does a fantastic job!

We hope that someone will put out commercial recordings of her work sometime in the future.

Other links of interest:

Her work on an electronic version of Hildegard Von Bingen's Ordo Virtutum.

Another page on her work.

Listen to an interview with Bielawa and selections from a piano concerto she has written.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Vatican II and the Church - Part IV


Hubris and Kenosis

We have examined now the utopian ecumenism of Congar, the attempts to tame the revolution by the present Pontiff, and Florovsky's examination of the relationship between Church and council. So what have we concluded?

To be honest, I really still do not know what to think. What I will write here is not the answer, but only my "best shot": a few observations by an ex-Roman Catholic traditionalist turned Byzantine rite monk, turned an absolute nobody in the eyes of the world and the hierarchy.

My immediate observation is really how little has changed. A friend of mine used to teach at the Greek Catholic seminary in Lviv, Ukraine. He used to advise his students to go to the Orthodox liturgy in order to see what they did. He did this because "the Orthodox at least know they are too stupid to change the Liturgy."

The main idea that links the Congars, the Kungs, the Ratzingers, and even the Lefebvres of the Catholic Church is that they think the hierarchy is smart enough, holy enough, and inspired enough to change the face of the Church (they just don't since.... fill in the blank with your favorite excuse). There is indeed a great deal of hubris amongst Catholics, all Catholics, as to the powers that the Church actually has. There is also the legal hubris, the kind that thinks that as long as it looks like the Pope is in control, "the gates of hell" have not prevailed. This is to the point that it would seem that the hierarchy is intent on making the biggest tent possible, trying to keep as many people in it as they can, regardless of what they believe and how they express that belief.

Vatican II is indeed to blame because of this. You cannot just change the ethos of a religion overnight and expect everything to turn out well. Those who were confused by the changes left the Church in droves, those who are passionate about it still are beginning to retire and die off. Those who are indifferent continue to be pew warmers, living out their Christian lives almost in spite of the hierarchy. Those, like me, who were born after the revolution, walk about in the ruins wondering what it is all about.

We must face facts here: in terms of liturgy, belief, morality and true unity, the Roman Catholic Church has ceased to exist in many parts of the world. They may have the name, but that is all they have. Most Catholics under thirty know nothing about what they are supposed to believe, and that which they do know they dissent from more often than not. Catholics in many places are not the light of the world, they are just the world simply put, no different from anyone else. And vast numbers in the Catholic hierarchy would like to keep it that way, as to not rock the boat and compromise the little moral authority that the Catholic Church still has in the eyes of the world.

This is indeed a time of eclipse for the Church, a time of self-emptying. I have written that I disagree with ecumenism, but that is not entirely true. I disagree with ecumenism insofar it tries to make a "mega-church" with the Pope at its head that doesn't believe in anything profound. I don't think Christ, a "sign of contradition", demanded that we have unity at all costs. That is up to Him, it is up to us to guard the teachings that He has given us and keep His commandment to love one another. I believe that all sincere Christians are going to struggle through this time of eclipse regardless of what bishop they commemorate at the Eucharist. For me, the glory days of being in the "Church with the True Faith" are gone. Now, we must pray for discernment to follow the way of Christ rather than just shut off our brain everytime the Pope or any other bishop opens his mouth. We must obey them, yes, but not blindly.

Perhaps only this return to the catacombs will lead to Christian unity. Suffering is a great teacher, even when it comes to theology.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Mozart and the Catholic Faith

I was reading a Catholic newspaper the yesterday, and I read there was an article in This Rock Magazine by a person claiming that he or she was converted by the music of Mozart. Now, I am not a convert, but you can say that I have been a "re-vert" a couple of times in my life now. So I know the whole business about being knocked off your horse, the tears, and the Augustinian angst. (I know that His mercy endures forever!)

Conversion, however, is a tricky thing to talk about. Of course, the primary ingredient is Grace, the power of the Spirit of God. This, notwithstanding, can take so many forms and manefestations. A smile by some person, a sunset, the death of someone we love.... Grace cannot be bottled, and I don't think that it is like an electric current we don't see. Many times, God works in very tangible ways.

Let us go back about six and a half years ago now. A died-in-the-wool atheistic Marxist from Berkeley enters a Catholic Church where the old Roman rite of the Mass in Latin is taking place. The music is not the mystical Gregorian chants as reconstructed by Solesmes, it is rather the overly cheerful sounds of Mozart's Sparrow Mass (KK 220, Missa Brevis in C). In those notes, however, the voice of God was talking to him. It was saying, "Life is not as nasty as you think."

Out of all of the sources that most made me finally submit to Christ's gentle embrace, this work is the most memorable of them. I think what is profundly Catholic about Mozart is not necessarily the sturm und drang of his Requiem, but the lightness and cheerfulness that characterizes so many of his sacred and secular works. There is no heart-breaking melancholy that hangs over the works of Bach, no pretentiousness that infects much of the work of romanticist composers. In the end, in spite of the constant accusations of the world, the Catholic Faith affirms and lifts up, it does not negate and brood. Mozart's music has always had this affect on me. I suppose on the 250th anniversary of his birth, the world as it is now truly needs to recover this spirit.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Vatican II and the Church- Part III

Sentire Cum Ecclesia

We have see now Fr. Congar's sentiments at ground-zero of the Council, and then Pope Benedict's reaction in its forty year aftermath. Now it is time to analyze what the relationship between a church council and the Church. To do this, I want to focus on a very good essay by one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, the Russian Orthodox priest Georges Florovsky. Fortunately, this essay (The authority of the ancient councils
and the tradition of the Fathers
) is available on the Internet on this link.

We will start by quoting the pertinent passage:

The Councils of the fourth century were still occasional meetings, or individual events, and their ultimate authority was still grounded in their conformity with the "Apostolic Tradition." It is significant that no attempt to develop a legal or canonical theory of "General Councils," as a seat of ultimate authority, with specific competence and models of procedure, was made at that time, in the fourth century, or later, although they were de facto acknowledged as a proper instance to deal with the questions of faith and doctrine and as an authority on these matters. It will be no exaggeration to suggest that Councils were never regarded as a canonical institution, but rather as occasional charismatic events. Councils were not regarded as periodical gatherings which had to be convened at certain fixed dates. And no Council was accepted as valid in advance, and many Councils were actually disavowed, in spite of their formal regularity. It is enough to mention the notorious Robber Council of 449. Indeed, those Councils which were actually recognized as "Ecumenical," in the sense of their binding and infallible authority, were recognized, immediately or after a delay, not because of their formal canonical competence, but because of their charismatic character: under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they have witnessed to the Truth, in conformity with the Scripture as handed down in Apostolic Tradition... There is no space now to discuss the theory of reception. In fact, there was no theory. There was simply an insight into the matters of faith....In other words, the ultimate authority and the ability to discern the truth in faith is vested in the Church which is indeed a "Divine institution," in the proper and strict sense of the word, whereas no Council, and no "Conciliar institution," is de jure Divino, except in so far as it happens to be a true image or manifestation of the Church herself. We may seem to be involved here in a vicious circle. We may be actually involved in it, if we insist on formal guarantees in doctrinal matters. But, obviously, such "guarantees" do not exist and cannot be produced, especially in advance. Certain "Councils" were actually failures, no more than conciliabula, and did err. And for that reason they were subsequently disavowed. The story of the Councils in the fourth century is, in this respect, very instructive. The claims of the Councils were accepted or rejected in the Church not on formal or "canonical" ground. And the verdict of the Church has been highly selective. The Council is not above the Church; this was the attitude of the Ancient Church. The Council is precisely a "representation." This explains why the Ancient Church never appealed to "Conciliar authority" in general or in abstracto, but always to particular Councils, or rather to their "faith" and witness.

It will be claimed by some that this is the opinion of a non-Catholic, that an Orthodox theologian has nothing to comment on a council of the Catholic Church. Florovsky, I would respond, is probably one of the foremost authorities on the Patristic Church, and is a voice that speaks very clearly and succinctly on what the early Church thought. We cannot help but agree that the job of a council is to witness to Tradition, a thing is true not because of the canonical mechanism that was used to say it, but rather because of:

....the appeal to the "faith of the Church," the faith and kerygma of the Apostles, the Apostolic paradosis. The Scripture could be understood only within the Church, as Origen strongly insisted, and as St. Irenaeus and Tertullian insisted before him. The appeal to Tradition was actually an appeal to the mind of the Church, her phronema. It was a method to discover and ascertain the faith as it had been always held, from the very beginning: semper creditum. The permanence of Christian belief was the most conspicuous sign and token of its truth: no innovations.

It thus cannot be reduced to a question of power, who says it, and was it said on the proper authority. These are important, but they are not all there is to consider in these questions.

...[T]he "power of tradition" "virtus traditionis " was always and everywhere the same . The preaching of the Church is always identical: constans et aequaliter perseverans The true consensus is that which manifests and discloses this perennial identity of the Church's faith "aequaliter perseverans".

So in this case, anything that is not singing the same tune must become suspect. What shall we then say to our dear Pere Congar?

Let us end with the last part of the essay, which somes it all up:

The teaching authority of the Ecumenical Councils is grounded in the infallibility of the Church. The ultimate "authority" is vested in the Church which is for ever the Pillar and the Foundation of Truth. It is not primarily a canonical authority, in the formal and specific sense of the term, although canonical strictures or sanctions may be appended to conciliar decisions on matters of faith. It is a charismatic authority, grounded in the assistance of the Spirit: for it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us.

So in the end we must ask the question, "was Vatican II faithful to tradition?" Was it, simply by virtue of being called as an ecumenical council a guaranteed success, or will it inevitably need to be pulled from the annals of Church history? Is it possible for the hierarchy to make a mistake, and still for the visible church to remain "the Church"? Florovsky does not seem to have a problem with that idea.

We will try our best to reflect on this in the conclusion to our reflections on Vatican II and the Church.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

CD Review- Courperin's Tenebrae Lessons

This is the best CD of Baroque music I have yet to hear. Though treating a very sacred subject (the Tenebrae Lessons of the Triduum Sacrum) in a very secular way, Couperin has made these texts shimmer with beauty.

Although this recording might be a little "inauthentic" since the harpsichord instead of the organ is used in the basso continuo, I have heard at least one more "authentic" recording of this work, and it did not have the same effect that this presentation by Les Arts Florissants did.

Find it here

Bishop Fellay and the Vatican

See this link from the Angelqueen Forum

Perhaps this is just a comment on a rumor, but since these subjects are so much on my mind, I have to say that I am ambivalent about the SSPX's potential rapprochment with Rome. Is there any real way that an Apostolic Administration for these people could work in practice? Is their becoming a "traditionalist zoo" in the rest of the Church inevitable?

One thing I do know, the SSPX is not above the crisis in the Church. Whether or not it is in formal communion with the Pope, it will face a crisis sometime soon that will shake it to its foundations. Most SSPX priests and their faithful that I know are like children who are trying to hide under a cardboard box. One day, this box ("Catholic Tradition") will be taken away from them and the brutality of the daylight will shine down on them. "Catholic Tradition" as they conceive it is more often than not naive, generalizing, and intellectually shallow. Perhaps it would be better to come into a real relationship with the rest of the Roman Catholic Church in order to hasten the inevitable confrontation between these traditionalists and the reality of the Church today.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Supreme Court Upholds Oregon Law

See this link

Of course this is scary. Medicine has become a sheer matter of money. Prescribing a handful of leathal pills is much cheaper than treating a long term illness. So where will the pressure be when a terminal illness is diagnosed? Follow the money. That is what it has come to.

What is to be done? Of course, we are encouraged to pray that God will have mercy and not allow this country to become like the Netherlands on a massive scale. But is any other form of activism viable? I suppose it should at least be tried, but our whole society is based on the principle of "if it doesn't affect me (directly), then why should I do anything about it?" The entire population of our country does not value life as much as many who read this do, and if given the opportunity of commiting suicide by prescription when faced with certain kinds of illness, will not many take it?

Lord have mercy! But again, what is to be done? I would answer, as a burnt-out ex-leftist, not much. The gravity of public opinion goes ever toward the principle of complete personal license, i.e. I can do what I want if it doesn't hurt anyone else. But we Christians are asked to resist evil with good, to suffer being outcasts and not doing the most "rational" thing in the eyes of the world. It is perhaps a good thing that we are living through evil times, so that God can see how WE struggle in the face of evil in the little salvation drama that is our life.

As Marcus Aurelius wrote, do not wait for Plato's Republic, but do what is right, and realize that the all the little things that you do in life are not quite so little.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Vatican II and the Church - Part II

Ratzinger and Thermidor

In articles about Pope Benedict XVI, much has been made of his experience of student unrest at the University of Tübingen in 1968. Many see that experience as the best explanation of the apparent intellectual about-face that turned the young progressive theologian of the Second Vatican Council into the poster-child of conservative reaction in theology and in church politics. There is something to this, and Joseph Ratzinger was not the only European intellectual to have been deeply affected by the excesses of the fascists of the left at the time. (We all know the definition of a neoconservative: a liberal who’s been mugged.)

Thus begins Fr. Joseph Komonchak's new article in Commonweal. But the focus of the article is not so much on how much of a reactionary Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) has become, but how reactionary he has always been. While it is true that Fr. Ratzinger during the Council always wanted to "raze the bastions", as Hans Urs Van Balthasar was prone to say, his approach was different from the Chenus and Rahners of the world.

For Ratzinger, according to Komonchak, the "world" and the Church were always separate entities. The world was thus not to be trusted fully, thus his objections to Chenu's ideas in the first draft of Gaudium et Spes.

But did this make Ratzinger a reactionary? Not in the sense of the time. For Ratzinger, as I said above, still thought that the old Counter-Reformation pre-Vatican II theology was obsolete and needed something new to replace it. He has never disavowed the more ambiguous parts of Lumen Gentium, nor has even come close to admitting that the Council itself might be a mistake. As our present Pontiff now likes to say, the problem was never that he moved to the right. It's that everything else moved to the left so quickly.

A convincing argument. Fast forward to the address Benedict XVI gave this past December 22nd. (See this link) In it, Benedict concedes some suprising things, such as religious liberty not affecting the metaphysical aspect of the rights of the truth over error. But most of his arguement has to do with refuting a "hermeneutic of discontinuity" amongst some theologians:

Hermeneutics of discontinuity risk leading to a fracture between the pre-Council and post-Council Church. It asserts that the Council texts as such would still not be the true expression of the spirit of the Council. They would be the result of compromises within which, to reach unanimity, many old and ultimately useless things had to be dragged along and reconfirmed. It is, however, not in these compromises that the true spirit of the Council would be revealed, but instead in the drive toward newness that underpin the texts: only this would represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from it and in conformity with it, it would be necessary to go forward. Precisely because the texts would reflect only imperfectly the true spirit of the Council and its novelty, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts, making room for the new, in which the more profound, even though still indistinct, intention of the Council would express itself. In short: it would be necessary to follow not the Council texts, but its spirit. In this way, of course, a huge margin remains for the question of how then to define this spirit and, as a result, room is made for any whimsicality. With this, however, there is a basic misunderstanding of the nature of a Council as such. In this way, it is considered as a sort of a constituent assembly, that eliminates an old consitution and creates a new one. But a constituent assembly needs a mandator and them a confirmation on the part of the mandator, that is the people that the constitution must serve. The Council Fathers did not have such a mandate and no one had ever given one to them; furthermore, no one could have done so, because the Church's essential constitution comes from the Lord and has been given to us so that we can reach eternal life...

Note however, that he still admits that the text of the Council are fine, thus he has to have recourse to the adjective "beyond" when refering to the Conciliar texts themselves. The Council is still his baby. There is a problem yes, but it can't be his child's fault. The Revolution is fine, yes, but it has to be done right.

The French Revolution took a decisively "right-wing turn" on 9 Thermidor, 1794, when Robespierre and the Jacobins were overthrown by the more right-wing and conciliatory branch of the bourgeosie. This, however, was not a return to the ancien regime, and in some ways, the Revolution could only really continue by a turn to the right. But the damage had been done. The masses had a taste of liberty, equality, and fraternity, and it was only a matter of time before 1830, 1848, 1871, occurred. Now, in our present society, things have occured that these revolutionaries could not have even dreamt of.

Many like to take solace that the Church is a divine institution, and that things will never go "that far". They cite the promises of Our Lord, the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Some like to think that whatever is happening right now, it is thus the will of God and the movement of the Spirit. Thus, to paraphrase a character from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, if the Pope says that there is a new Springtime in the Church, it must be a "spiritual" springtime, in spite of the lack of vocations, emptying churches, and a faithful that no longer listens to its hierarchy. The more realistic amongst us will, however, admit the crisis, and not have any illusions that things will get better any time soon.

Vatican II was a taste of the Revolution, and we cannot wish it to go away. Neither can we say that the Pope can fix this mess with a signature. By opening to the modern world, by admitting that the Church must "adapt" its message to modern man, the hierarchy has opened a crack in the dike that cannot be fixed. It would seem that, barring a miracle of God, even if with Benedict XVI we are at Thermidor (and that remains to be seen), the next Pontiff might be 1830, 1848, or even 1917.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Vatican II and the Church- Part I

Congar the Flower Child?

Kudos to the people over at the Nouvelle Theologie ( blog for leading me to this link:

From Commonweal Magazine Nov. 22nd, 2002

This is a very good article by F. Joseph Komonchak on Congar and his influence on Vatican II. It really is a must read in full to be appreciated. I will only comment on certain aspects of it.

The gist of the article concerns a journal that Father Yves Congar, O.P. kept throughout Vatican II. Unfortuneatly, in my humble opinion, it also shows the extreme naivete and contempt (or at least forgetting) of the past that characterized this generation of theologians.

The first quote I would like to address:

Years later, Congar’s continuing wonder at it all leads him to hyperbole. Some bishops came to Rome with only hesitant, half-guilty thoughts about ecumenism, but then in conversation discovered how many other bishops were thinking along the same lines: "When the bishops discovered that they were pretty much in accord, the Catholic Church converted to ecumenism in minutes, in hours at most. It was quite extraordinary."

Why did it change in minutes (granted, the author says that Congar is using hyperbole, but Congar was there)? Was it because the traditional Catholic position (i.e. the traditional doctrine of the Church that Pius XII defined in Mystici Corporis) was something to be ashamed of? Maybe it hampered the bishops' status as members of civil society since they still clung to this medieval doctrine? Was the change merely a matter of no longer wanting to be unpopular in the sight of the modern world?

The next quote:

The council ends with its fourth session (September 14 to December 8, 1965). As the conclusion approaches, Congar attends an unprecedented ecumenical service of the Word celebrated at Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls. A Protestant, a Catholic, and an Orthodox read from the Scriptures; Pope John has been dead for two years and Pope Paul VI presides and leads the common prayer. (Some churchmen are heard to grumble about violations of the prohibitions of shared worship with heretics and schismatics.) Congar notes the warmth and sincerity with which Pope Paul tells the observers how much the council has learned from them, has benefited from their participation, even in the formulation of texts. "We have come to know each other a little better," the pope says. "We have begun again to love one another."
As Congar leaves the ceremony, he stops and kneels over the tomb of Saint Paul: "I talk to him. I talk to him about Luther, who wanted to reaffirm ’the Gospel’ for which Paul had struggled. I ask of him, I almost tell him he has an intervene in this new stage, to guide the pope and us all." It is fitting that the ceremony took place where it did: "John XXIII announced the council at Saint Paul’s, at the end of the week of prayer for unity. The council ends in the same place. John XXIII must be pleased."

"I talk to him about Luther...." Why didn't he just talk to him about Arius while he was at it?

What most disturbs me about how this is that along with his contemporaries, Congar expected the Holy Spirit to descend upon this assembly and cure all of its ills. Never mind the condemnations of the past or why they took place. Never mind the differences in doctrine. What came out of Vatican II were certain phrases in certain documents that can be construed to say that for God, the visible Church is just an afterthought. A lot of the discourse of Vatican II was driven by naive optimism and over-enthusiatic sentimentality:

At the second session (September 29 to December 4, 1963), the council begins discussion of the schema on ecumenism, a "historic day," Congar writes in his diary, "a moment of grace." He sits with the [Protestant] observers during the Mass beforehand "in order to be in communion of prayer with them. They feel it very much....It is a great moment for me."

This was also the deep flaw of the "puppy-love" actions between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenegoras as well: not dogmatic, based on feelings of fraternal "love", and ultimately very shallow. You cannot leap-frog over centuries of division by one charasmatic event. Like the flower children who wanted to change the world after Vatican II ended, the main flaw of these churchman was the inability to face the reality of the real world head-on. These differences were not just "structures of sin" or "misunderstandings"; in the end they determined how people believed and approached God for centuries.

My generation grew up in the aftermath of all of this, and the good feeling is for the most part gone. Most ecumenical dialogue has broken down into talk-shops where old buddies get together to chat but not much else gets done. All the while, Christianity itself, and the Church in particular, is becoming more and more irrelavent to the society at large and even to its own faithful. Like with the New Left, the comrades got tired of the revolution and began to settle into what the French call the " champagne gauche". The shallowness of their politics, like the shallowness of the outpouring of "good vibes" coming out of Vatican II has for the most part degenerated into opportunism and indifference.

Clarifications on my opinions

I suppose that is the real danger of having a blog: I have been contacted by one particular individual thinking that I was some sort of "Lefebvrist" or leaning toward that. I have a great respect for the opinions of traditionalists, but I also diverge with them on a great deal of issues as well. Truth be told, I am now asking myself bigger questions than that of the Mass and the Social Reign of Christ the King. I don't want to get bogged down in these polemics; for me there are bigger fish to fry.

Please note as well that these are "on the fly" reflections. God has given me the ability to think and write quickly. All that I write today is what I am thinking TODAY. As I said in my manifesto, I am not looking for definite answers, but I am not trying to hide uncomfortable truths either. By my posting my thoughts, I truly hope that people will "chime in" and let me know if they agree, disagree, or they think I am just being a tempremental Latino. But don't take anything I say as dogma, because I don't either.

Thanks for reading and God bless,

Arturo the Sarabite

Philip Glass to compose a new opera

Special nod to the the Philip Glass Yahoo group:

In a phone call before the press conference, he said the Glass opera, titled "Appomattox," will feature a libretto by British playwright Christopher Hampton. It will make its world premiere in San Francisco in September 2007.
"It's a work that Philip has a very strong commitment to doing," said Gockley. "He wants to write about the days leading up to, and the surrender of, Lee to Grant at Appomattox junction -- the ethos of the time, how our present time has been affected by it, and what is still left to do."
Plans for "Appomattox" began when Gockley was still in Houston, but "when I left there," he says, "I got the OK to bring the project with me to San Francisco.

The opera will premier in San Francsico in the autumn of 2007.

from: The Contra Costa Times, Jan. 12th, 2006

Saturday, January 14, 2006

How rude!

Just realized from today's two other posts' photos:Turning your back to the congregation if you're a priest is fun (and it looks cool). Here are some Coptic monks being rude and un-pastoral

A must see link!

The SSPX sponsored Benedictine monastery in Silver City, New Mexico, has a new website. Check it out, and give them money! (Monks need money, I should know!)

A potent quote

From Father Anthony Chadwick's blog, Civitas Dei :

I was able to recognise the traditionalist / conservative mind for what it really was. It was the mind of someone who would appropriate the Catholic religion and treat it as if he were its owner. Such a mind will accept others only on his own terms. This is the law of the strongest and noisiest, truly unredeemed man exposed at his worst. The bully wins each time because he is the nastiest and the most domineering, because he knows how to manipulate to protect his "property". We are confronted with a contradiction between the life-giving words of the Gospel and the mockery of those persons and institutions who would make Christianity into a new slavery, a dependency of the weak on the strong of this world. It is this contradiction that does the most to destroy idealism, a feeling of freedom, and that throws people into cynicism and rejection. As the pages of life's book turn, we go from suffering to victory with Christ, and the soul is transfigured. But, what we have lived through cannot be effaced.

Only comment I will make: it is possible to be orthodox in belief but not a Christian, and that is the saddest thing of all.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Merkel in Washington

Imperialism begins to get scary! World War III? We pray that this will not happen.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

CD review: Diamond Fiddle Language

Type of music: modern avant-garde
Composer Terry Riley and double bassist Stefano Scodanibbio

Not for general audiences.

Terry Riley has been one of the greatest musical minds in the last fifty years in the musical avant-garde. His seminal "In C" is really the beginning of the minimalist movement according to most musical historians. Aside from writing pieces played by others, he has also been a great improviser on the piano, synthesizer, and other instruments (including his own voice, for which he studied under the great Indian vocalist Pandit Pran Nath.)

This album is one such improvisation, set at three different times in three different venues, with the avant-garde double bassist Stefano Scodanibbio. While the first two tracks, Diamond Fiddle Language I and Tritono, have some interesting material in them, it is really in the last track, Diamond Fiddle Language II, that the two artists really reach true musical perfection.

True, it is not pleasant on the ear like Bach or the later Philip Glass, but the synthesizer and the double bass are used to create almost a symphony of instruments. The highlight for me, and I would say it is worth the price of the CD, is when Terry Riley stops playing and begins to sing part of a raga by Pandit Pran Nath, while the double bassist continues to improvise under him. It had an eery, ecstatic effect that Indian classical music often has, but with the added component of a very Western instrument. Very fascinating!

Bottom line: don't buy this album if you are into "easy listening" or you think all modern music is crap. Terry Riley likes to mix modern avant-garde with jazz, blues, and Indian classical music in order to take the ear to another level. I highly recommend this album to people who want to challenge their ear.

Judas the Misunderstood?,,13509-1981591,00.html

Is this the Church of the German Shepard, Papa Ratzi?
Have these prelates read the Bible? Do they believe in anything anymore other than tailor-made red trimmed cassocks and lunch at fancy Roman restaurants? Why haven't they been sent to a monastery yet to do some long, severe penance?

Once again, the Roman Catholic Church is proving it's becoming a loose confederation of folks who like to dress up but don't really believe in anything.

(January 20th: Sorry, this was probably just sensationalist reporting by a London newspaper. See this link:

I still don't think the Catholic Church is in very good shape, but I will admit I was hasty. My bad!)

Newman, Vatican II, and the Dilemma

I spent yesterday reading Stanley Jaki's book, Newman's Challenge. In it, he is very zealous in guarding Newman's ultramontanist credentials. But I also read a number of documents from Vatican II, that, to put it frankly, turned my stomach.

One rather interesting quote that Jaki cites from one of Newman's letters is the following:

"But [Newman] pointed out the difference between a Catholic Church 'vibrant with altars, tombs, pilgrimages, processions, rites, relics, medals, etc.; whereas I hardly see the Church of the Fathers as a living acting being in the Anglican Communion.'" (p.91)

Altars? Relics? In today's Roman Catholic Church? If there are, I haven't seen them outside of churches that have been designated by the hierarchy as the "liturgical ghettos" (Indult, Eastern rites, etc.) What would Newman think today?

Jaki also tries to attribute to Newman (quite persuasively) an "existential ecclesiology" which is just modern-ese for "Extra Ecclesia Nulla Salus" (no salvation outside of the Church). But how about this gem:

It follows that the separated Churches(23) and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.
Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life-that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ's Catholic Church, which is "the all-embracing means of salvation," that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. This people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God's gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem.

-Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism, from Chapter One

Basic message: it would be nice if you were under the Roman pontiff, but don't feel too bad if you aren't. How do we benefit "fully" from the means of salvation? Does that mean if we are not in communion with the Roman Pontiff, we are only "partially saved"?

The main problem is this: the Roman Catholic Church has changed its position. It used to be, for 1,962 years that heresy and schism were sins. But somehow, between the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the publishing of these documents, the Church absolved the entire world of the sin of heresy and schism. (That's not entirely true, there are schismatics for people in the Vatican. They're called "Lefebvrists".) Maybe the dogmatic document abolishing heresy hasn't been published yet. Maybe they are still sins, but just venial sins, like stealing a dollar from Aunt Emma's purse.

So what would Newman think of all of this? Jaki in his book does decry Catholic-Anglican dialogue, but like most Roman Catholic apologists he seems to mention some questionable episodes without giving much comment. Does the Church that Newman converted to, the "Una Sancta", even exist anymore?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"To follow God wherever He may lead is to behold God."

Today in the Byzantine Church is the feast of St. Gregory of Nyssa. I owe a lot to this saint. In truth, he is the one that broke me out of my closed-minded, integrist polemical obessions in order to find the real meaning of Christianity, which is, for him, the imitation of God.

Although much of what he writes can be easily attributed to the Platonism popular at the time, he is still very much a Christian. For St. Gregory, sin means a failure to change for the better. For him, life in general is not static. He is thus best known for his doctrine of "epekstasis": the forgetting of the things that are behind, and the stretching out towards the things that are before.

Even as a great defender of the Orthodox Faith (which is emphasized in the Byzantine service for him), he realized that precise definition is not the end all and be all of what we believe. In his commentary on the Song of Songs, he writes that while the Prophets, Apostles, and their doctrines could be compared to dew, the Word Himself is a river, or rather an infinite ocean in comparison. This is something that must be remembered in our polemical age.

But most of all, what has drawn me so much to his writings is his emphasis on the role of beauty, or rather of the Uncreated Beauty, in the our Christian life. Thus, for me, he is the patron of this blog, my leading light in the search for an aesthetic Christianity. For him, all the beauty of the material world is real and marvellous, but fleeting and perishing compared to the beauty that is within, the beauty that is the life in Christ. "Why marvel at the stars," he says in one place, "when you are eternal? They were not made in the image and likeness of God. You were." This is the real dignity of the Christian, one that goes beyond what liberal Christians think. Man is the key to the universe, the ultimate summit of the beauty of the cosmos.

But for St. Gregory, this search for Uncreated Beauty is never ending, and thus never fufilled. He writes in his life of Moses:

"[Moses] still thirsts for that with which he is constantly filled to capacity, and he asks to attain as if he had never partaken, beseeching God to appear to him, not according to his capacity to partake, but according to God's true being.

Such an experience seems to me to belong to the soul which loves the beautiful. Hope always draws the soul from the beauty which is seen to what is beyond, always kindles the desire for the hidden through what is constantly perceived. Therefore, the ardent lover of beauty, although receiving what is always visible as an image of what he desires, yet longs to be filled with the very stamp of the archetype.

And the bold request which goes up to the mountains of desire asks this: to enjoy the Beauty not in mirrors and reflections, but face to face. The divine voice granted what was requested in what was denied, showing in a few words an immeasurable depth of thought. The munificence of God assented to the fufillment of the desire, but did not promise any cessation or satiety of the desire."

For us, this is our mission as well, as a Christian. As long as we stay faithful to God's commandments, and repent when we are not, we shall continue to go from glory to glory, ascending through the veils of this life (however splendid they may be) towards the Eternal Beauty Who created all things.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa, pray to God for us!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Thoughts on Lumen Gentium

One thing that my readers should realize is that I am an ex-seminarian for the SSPX. (I'm an American, but I did my two years of seminary in La Reja, Argentina.) So I am not very happy with the Pope or the state of the Catholic Church as it is now. However, a lot of exposure to Eastern Orthodoxy and the Eastern rites in the Catholic Church has made me much more open than I was in my more hardened "Lefebvrist" days. (Although I still consider Lefebvre to be a saint, so for me, "Lefebvrist" is still a badge of honor, even if I don't agree with their position fully.)

So finally I have hunkered down and am beginning to read some Vatican II documents all the way through. [The only one I have done this for is Sancrosanctum Concilium.... (spit on the floor) what a wretched and myopic document!!!] So I am reading Lumen Gentium now.

Overall, I like the document. Having had a lot of exposure to the Fathers of the Church, I really can see their influence in the minds of the Council Fathers. The task of the document is indeed admirable: to break out of the strictly "Baltimore Catechism" approach to Catholicism and present a more broader and integral idea of what the Church is. Lumen Gentium, I will conceed, tries to get back to basics, leaving behind a lot of Counter-Reformation polemics that obsessed Catholicism to that time. Going back to basics consists in going back to the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the early Doctors. I am completely sympathetic to this approach. To a great extent, that is the approach of this blog.

However, (and this is a big "however"), there is still that great problem of Chapter 2, Art. 15:

15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. (14*) For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. (15*) They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God.(16*) They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ's disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. (17*) Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.

Sorry Charlie, but this is not the mind of the traditional Church. Heresy and schism are not "partial unions" to the Church of Christ: they are separation from God, simply put. You don't even have to read the great Fathers of the Church (St. Basil, St. Augustine, etc.) to realize this; this was even true for simple monks, like Abba Agathon from the Apothegmata Patrum. Over and over again, the old monks used to say: "Don't talk to heretics."

But this paragraph also has a flawed metaphysics behind it as well: evil per se does not exist. Evil exists to the extent that there is a lack of good; it is not something complete in itself, but something that is deficient in something that is good. Thus, for "good" Pope John to want to focus on "what unites us rather than on what divides us", is like a physician focusing on the nice head of hair his terminal cancer patient still has. Good must still be to some extent in evil simply because evil does not stand by itself. Therefore, if heretics have the Bible, that doesn't make them good Christians (or even partially good Christians). It just means that they have been all the more deceived.

Please do not get me wrong. I don't believe all of you non-Catholics reading this are going to Hell. If that were the case, I as a confused Catholic would be going with you. There have been times in my life, as a Catholic, that I spent more times in Orthodox Churches than I did in Catholic Churches. But it is profoundly disturbing to me that we can play so fast and loose with the limits of the Church while we read that the Fathers of the Church did no such thing. For me, there has to be a better way than this "you're okay, I'm okay" post-Vatican II clap-trap. And that is what I am trying to grope my way towards, in the dark and blindly.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

More thoughts on philosophy and Christianity

Pierre Hadot criticizes the idea in Christianity that philosophy is only the handmaiden of theology, and to a certain extent, I think he is right. In all aspects of the Christian life, there is always a temptation to underestimate the role of nature as God made it and human freedom. If we ask a priest or a monk an imporant question about our spiritual or emotional life, we can suddenly have the temptation to feel that we are listening to the voice of God. Many times, when we are young and considering our vocation in life, we expect there to be a letter that falls from the sky from God telling us what to do, or some sort of ecstasy a la Bernini's St. Teresa.
But even if such a letter falls from the sky, what is the guarentee that we will read it in the right manner? Or will we just read into it what we want?

There is story in St. Athanasius' Life of St. Anthony where the holy monk was being tormented by devils well into the night. He called out to God with all of his heart, but there was no response to his prayer. Finally, as dawn was breaking, the demons left him, and God was made manifest before him. When Anthony asked God why He did not help him when he cried out, the only response he received was, "I wanted to see how you struggled."

The fact is, I am now tired of doctrinal quick-fixes, omniscent holy elders, and leaders who will lead the Church into a brighter tommorrow. "My grace is sufficent for thee...." "The just man lives by faith." And this is where philosophy comes in. We are all human beings who need to use our reason and our wits to get by in this evil world and save our souls. We must not "trust in princes nor in the sons of men." Theology and dogma do not give you an excuse for not thinking (and they don't give you an excuse for becoming a one-man magisterium, either).

Faith must be fully human, and being human in via includes a lot of uncertainity and hashing out things for ourselves. In the end, we don't own the truth, the Truth owns us, and we must follow Him wherever He leads us.

We need help from others, yes (unus christianus, nullus christianus). But in the end, WE ourselves are responsible before the Judgement Seat of Christ.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Evo Morales: the new Lula or the new Allende?

see this link:

(Hey, they may be Marxists, but they tell a lot of truth!)

So he's decided to respect private property. I really can't comment on that, but I don't know how far he will be allowed to go by the powers of imperialism. Bolivia by even Third World standards is a very poor country. Unlike Venenzuela, they don't have all that oil to throw in the face of our beloved President Bush. So where's the wiggle room? Where can they get any negotiating power with imperialist countries?

Will he sell out like his Brazilian counter-part, with splits already occuring to his left? Or will the Yankees just practice their favorite pastime of making Latin American presidents they don't like "disappear"?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Christianity and Ancient Philosophy

Here is the philospher and historian Pierre Hadot hiding in some bushes. I have just finished his book, What is Ancient Philosophy? Reading it as a Christian, especially having had some exposure to ancient monasticism, was a bit disconcerting. All the monastic ascetical practices such as fasting, vigil, vigilance of thoughts, etc. are shown to not be exclusively Christian at all in this book. Indeed, for "monk" in the Christian Church, you could easily read "philosopher" when talking about the pagan Greek schools of philosophy. I know, this should not be suprising to me, even the Zen monks and Hindu sadhus do all of these things. But when entire cherished passages from monasctic literature were lifted from pagan sources, you can't help but ask yourself where nature ends and Grace begins.

There is one important difference in all of this though. Etienne Gilson wrote somewhere that the Christian Faith could do more easily without the doctrine of the immortality of the soul than it could without the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. In the Stoic, Epicurean, Cynic, and Neo-Platonic schools, the goal was always the acceptance of Fate and the transcendence of the spiritual over the material. As the Epicurean saying went:

"Death is not to be dreaded.

The gods are not to be feared.

Everything pleasant is easy to acquire.

Everything painful is easy to bear."

Not so with Christianity. Death still sucks. (Excuse the slang.) Pain is still absurd. Tragedies are still tragic, etc. This is obviously due to the Semitic roots of our Faith: it can seem in the Old Testament that people were more concerned with the material benefits of keeping the Covenant than with the "spiritual benefits". We can look at all of this, however, more in the light of an incarnational anthropology: man is body and soul, not one or the other by itself. The message of Christ redeems suffering and transfigures it, it does not ignore it or anihilate it. "And He shall wipe away every tear from every face..."

So, unlike Plotinus, the goal of the Christian is not to transcend his humanity, it is to become more fully human. We must admit (without getting into too much detail here) that Christian asceticism may have eclipsed this truth to some extent at certain points in history. It has always been present, nonetheless, at the heart of what we Christians have always believed.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Zapatistas are at it again!

See this link:

I was a student at U.C. Berkeley when these guys were still pretty big, but I thought they had fizzled out a long time ago. (I think I even won an EZLN poster at a raffle, shows you where I have been!) But while I am all for the under-dog, these guys really do frustrate me. Like the New Left in this country, their activism often degenerates into narrow provincialism and self-absorbed personalism ("The Revolution is all about ME!!!") My friend Marcos up there is a prime example of this.

If you really want to do something for the down-trodden, put away the creative acts of civil disobedience and personal self-expression and do something concrete for a change.