My Theory of Everything – Part II

21 04 2008

God is Merciful, but He’s Not Nice

The biggest theological cottage industry the Catholic Church has right now is the “culture of life”. It is such a big industry since it is an easy-sell and in and of itself a very worthy cause. After all, a culture that cannot stop killing its own children in the womb and has no idea what sexual intercourse is really for is in big trouble, and the Church is doing a great service to mankind for pointing this out. From all of this rhetoric, however, one can assume that the greatest sins man can commit all go against human life, and that is simply not the case. If we are living is such “dark ages”, if God is punishing us for something, it may not be for the heinous crimes of abortion and euthanasia. Indeed, it is possible that we are being punished for a much more terrible crime of which these are just a symptom.
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My Theory of Everything…

18 04 2008

Well not everything…

I think that the crisis in the Church has nothing to do with modernity, Vatican II, the traditional Latin Mass, or anything of that sort, at least directly.

I think it has to do with sacreligious Communions. If, as the Apostle writes, bad Communions can be eating one’s own judgment, maybe a lot of bad Communions result in the harming of the health of the Church. Maybe we are eating our own punishment. And this may be the result of all the movements, from St. Pius X onward, to encourage frequent Communion, which is a good in itself, but has since made Holy Communion into a communal ritual without any implications of holiness in many places.  

Just a theory. Feel free to weigh in.

Sancta sanctis.

The Distorted Mirror

10 04 2008

Some Clarifying Notes

Yesterday’s post wasn’t one of my better ones, nor do I think that I was very clear in what I was saying, so hopefully here I can clarify what I was saying:

1. The nakedness I refer to is man without God.  Unlike in the ancient world, there now exists the idea of the division between philosophy and theology. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (of all people) openly mused about abolishing the division between philosophy and theology years in Roman Catholic seminary training. I think he had a real sense that philosophy standing on itself would only lead to more confusion. Man without God is an abyss as a philosophical question. We have wanted to strip man of the Divine, and that leads to nothingness.

2. The modern Roman Catholic order in many ways co-operates with this process. In its theology of the “People of God”, it aims to project an image of God by putting a mirror to contemporary society in order to worship it. As Chenu would say, this would be an example of the Gospel incarnating itself in our contemporary society, complete with felt banners, drumsets, and psychobabble/Oprah-speak. But no society can ever worship itself consciously. This is what Mass versus populum ultimately becomes. It is an idolatry that not even the most darkened ancients could have conceived.

3. If I could find the solutions to these problems, I wouldn’t be writing this stupid blog, would I? But I walk into a church now and I am no longer enchanted by it. When I was in the religious life, I was enchanted by the traditional liturgies, both Eastern and Western. I was enchanted by the posadas in Mexico, young Mexican immigrant  men crawling towards the Crucifix in Hollister, the Stations of the Cross in Buenos Aires, the All-Night Vigils in Russian Churches, and the Coptic vigils in the Mojave Desert. Maybe it is just play-acting. Maybe we are deluding ourselves. Maybe it is a form of idolatry. But it is the only religion that I can give any credibilty to. It is a religion that is uncommon, disruptive and somewhat scary. That is because the Gospel is a scary thing. The Incarnation is a scary thing. It is not pleasant and it is not nice for a God to be incarnated, die on the Cross, and rise from the dead. And if we have a religion and liturgy that is pleasant and pasturized, then we are NOT communicating what Et Verbum caro factum est  really means.  That is a tension that I have sensed in my own life growing up Catholic in this country. And I feel that our church is still going down the wrong road.

We are stuck in a hall of mirrors where we think that modern man, devoid of imagination, tradition, and a real sense of the Divine, is the only thing that exists.


9 04 2008

In one important respect Descartes was breaking new ground. By comparing the workings of the brain with that of complex hyrdraulic machines, he was regarding the most technologically advanced artefacts of his day as templates for understanding the brain. This is a tradition that persists today; when we refer to computers and computational operations as models of how the brain acquires, processes, and stores information, for example. So while Descartes was hopelessly wrong in detail, he was adopting a modern style of reasoning.

-Michael O’Shea, The Brain: A Very Short Introduction
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Against the Vulgar Tongues

3 04 2008


From here one can suppose that by overcoming the functionalist controls of Marxism, poetry will recover the the humanist depths of language and will open up by its semantics a means of recovery, restoration and creation as many lyric poets dreamed them in the foundational centuries of the semantics of objective realities and the founding logos.

Against the functionalist controls of dialectical materialism, this lyric restoration will strive to re-open the sacred fountains (sanctos recludere fontes) of Greek and Latin semantics, of Germanic and Romance semantics, to then recuperate the sleeping roots of their origins, which in some way inhabit those robust and unamendable signifying totalities. It will produce a re-reading of Renaissance and ancient texts, for example, and it will re-initiate wonder in the face of Homer or Petrarch. This one can see as well even in the venerable science of classic philology, weighed down from being an industrial resource that crushes the old gods, the powerful live-giving spirits.

Carlos A. Disandro

(More on this figure here.)

Recently, I have been hanging out in a certain Internet forum, and one character in this forum had below his moniker the following quote from John XXIII:

 The language of the Church must be not only universal but immutable. If in fact the Truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to certain or several human languages, subject, as they are, to change, and none of them having greater authority than any other, then such a variety would ensue that the sense of these truths would be neither sufficiently clear nor sufficiently precise for all. -Veterum Sapientiæ, 1962.  

It is a common argument nowadays that a sacred language would never fly with modern man, that if the Catholic Church went back to having all Latin services tomorrow, people would leave in droves. People want to understand what is being said in services, people benefit from learning the “Word of God” etc. This may be true, but it is a rather curious assumption, since the now largest religion in the world, Islam, uses Koranic Arabic in its instruction and prayer from Morrocco to the southern Philipines, from mosques in sub-Saharan Africa to store front meeting places in the ghettos of Oakland. Venacularization may not be the best growth strategy if we look at the example of our main competitor.

Perhaps we are being scourged for thinking that we understand too much. Maybe we are being scourged because we remake the Word of God in our own modern linguistic and hermeneutical image and likeness. Perhaps we are guilty of modern semantic idolatry.

So pace Serge, it is about Latin, at least in the West.


25 03 2008


The four Gospels are placed by Origen in relation to the four elements of the world: he sees there the four elements of which the universe of grace is constituted. “the world that God has reconciled to Himself in Christ”…  Scripture is like another world, built on the first, and if “it is a mixture of things visible and invisible”, that is because the latter is also. 

 -Henri Cardinal de Lubac, History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen

There are then two approaches to word/truth:

1. Word and truth as quantity and bits of information. Truth is something that is posessed, absolutely trascendent, and somewhat ghostly. It is abstract and very separate from the concrete. It is form extracted from matter. It is the basis of our modern approaches to metaphysics, hermeneutics, exegesis, political thought, etc.

2. Word and truth as symbolic reality (the ancient tradition): The truth is something to be assimilated, “swallowed”, and “performed” in the soul. The exterior order of the universe is meant to be absorbed into the soul so that it can reveal to the soul the order inherent inside it; the spark of divinity as St. Gregory Nanzianzen puts it. What goes on in the inner self is an expression of the order outside of oneself, and the realization ultimately arises that it is the interior beauty that is superior. Thus, the text is not something from which truth must be extracted like juice from pulp. It is rather a sign by which one’s ascent to the Divine is unlocked.

It is arguable that we don’t really understand a lot of what we read.

Return to the Country Chapel

23 03 2008


or: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

March 16th, 2008
 My birthday

The trip between Berkeley and Hollister takes approximately an hour and a half, but it is a whole world away. Living in the Bay Area, one’s head sometimes needs a bit of airing out. The Bay Area is one of the prettiest places I have ever lived, but it is also cramped, crowded, and not very pleasant at times. Once you get to the open spaces of San Benito County in spring time, everything being so green that it is almost unnatural, the soul of this country boy begins to cool again. Sometimes, you just need the space to breathe.

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Catholicism’s Uphill Battle

29 02 2008


Although I tend not to post things on “relevant” topics, the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s survey has really got me thinking on many topics dear to my heart. As you may know, the survey confirms many things that we already know: that Americans shop around for their religion, and one of the largest religious groups in this country are ex-Catholics, at an estimated ten percent of the population. On Catholic radio this morning, it was said for every convert that enters the Catholic Church, four leave. The only reason the Church is maintaining its numbers is through immigration. (Yes, you can all thank us later.) Read the rest of this entry »

La Part Maudite

18 02 2008


I will simply state, without waiting further, that the extension of economic growth itself requires the overturning of economic principles—the overturning of the ethics that grounds them. Changing from the perspectives of restrictive economy to those of general economy actually accomplishes a Copernican transformation: a reversal of thinking—and of ethics. If a part of wealth (subject to a rough estimate) is doomed to destruction or at least to unproductive use without any possible profit, it is logical, even inescapable, to surrender commodities without return. Henceforth, leaving aside pure and simple dissipation, analogous to the construction of the Pyramids, the possibility of pursuing growth is itself subordinated to giving: The industrial development of the entire world demands of Americans that they lucidly grasp the necessity, for an economy such as theirs, of having a margin of profitless operations. An immense industrial network cannot be managed in the same way that one changes a tire… It expresses a circuit of cosmic energy on which it depends, which it cannot limit, and whose laws it cannot ignore without consequences. Woe to those who, to the very end, insist on regulating the movement that exceeds them with the narrow mind of the mechanic who changes a tire.

Georges Bataille

I read Georges Bataille’s book, The Accursed Share as a teenager when I was on my Nietzsche tear. (Really, anyone who can read Nietzsche with a straight face after the age of twenty still has a lot of growing up to do.) I remember being fascinated by the idea that any society must necessarily produce waste; that societies that function best are not necessarily the societies that are the most efficient. One interesting fact I learned from this book, for example, was that up to forty percent of men in pre-communist Tibetan society were unproductive monastics who obviously neither worked nor reproduced. Another example of waste that Bataille goes into is the polatch of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. The idea that one throws many of society’ resources out the window, not just in the capacity of “recreation” in the modern sense, but in a burst of creative and destructive energy, has held my imagination ever since. Read the rest of this entry »