12 04 2011

Every religion, even Catholicism (in fact, especially Catholicism, precisely because of its effort to maintain a superficial unity and not allow itself to be fragmented into national churches or along class lines) is really a multiplicity of religions that are distinct and often contradictory; there is a Catholicism of the peasant, a Catholicism of the petty bourgeoisie and urban workers, a Catholicism of women, and a Catholicism of the intellectuals.

-Antonio Gramsci, from The Prison Notebooks

Reading this quote now, I go back to my experiences in the Lefebvrist seminary, which I always say was just like an old fashioned seminary back in the good ol’ days. We actually had classes on how we needed to stand in church, genuflect, and even make the sign of the Cross. And of course, there were entire seminars on liturgical, social, and personal decorum. It was a bit militaristic at times, or maybe the military is a bit like a seminary. Shadows of Michel Foucault begin to haunt this post…

In any case, when describing this experience to someone recently, he said that the reason this was done was to prepare us to be part of a civil service class akin to the government bureaucracy of the old Chinese empire: it was to yank us out of our peasant, “undeveloped” Catholicism to put us squarely in the realm of “romanitas” (mind you, I went to seminary in Latin America, so Catholicism down there is much different than it is here). “Romanitas” in the old days was the string that held the Church together, the Catholicism of the clergy that bound so many disparate cultures into one Church. This was outlined to us one day in a spiritual conference, just as I have written it.

Now of course, we no longer have that, and seminary is not the right of passage and transformation that it once was. Now the clergyman is supposed to be just like the rest of the “People of God” (I really do cringe when I have to write that phrase) and Catholicism in many ways and places is indistinct from the modern culture around it. It appears that the way to resolve the problem that Gramsci posed is to dilute all of the “Catholicisms” to the point that they become a bland and amorphous mess with little positive content (other than obedience to the appropriate authority and keeping “it” in your pants). Maybe this is done unintentionally, but the result is still the same.

[This is a re-post. I am lazy this week]

Hegel on Catholicism

6 04 2011

Catholicism does not claim the essential direction of the Secular; religion remains an indifferent matter on the one side, while the other side of life is dissociated from it, and occupies a sphere exclusively its own. Cultivated Frenchmen therefore feel an antipathy to Protestantism because it seems to them something pedantic, dull, minutely captious in its morality; since it requires that Spirit and Thought should be directly engaged in religion: in attending mass and other ceremonies, on the contrary, no exertion of thought is required, but an imposing sensuous spectacle is presented to the eye, which does not make such a demand on one’s attention as entirely to exclude a little chit chat, while yet the duties of the occasion are not neglected.

-Hegel, The Philosophy of History

One should keep in mind in the above quote that Hegel was actually very much a Francophile. Maybe he did not appreciate the religion much, but he liked the French, and even quipped to his wife that they should go live in Paris. Also, from the description, it is not hard to imagine Hegel actually gracing the doorstep of a church in France or witnessing a procession through the streets of statues or the Blessed Sacrament. I don’t think he is particularly bigoted, even if many of his dismissals of entire continents in this work show that he is, in his core, a bigot.

But of course, now we live in a different world. I have often called Vatican II, “the clericalization of the laity”. Many hardened traditionalists call it the “Protestantization of Catholicism”. Perhaps it is both, but not for the reasons commonly thought. If anything, the clergy were supposed to be the ones who “spiritualized” the popular rites and ceremonies of the people. Most clergy were probably just functionaries, and failed to do so. (This is why Jansenism was so popular amongst many sophisticated quarters in urban France: it attempted to “interiorize” religion, and not just make it the obligatory ideology of the State.) With the modern resourcement, the Liturgical Movement, Vatican II, etc. these rites could no longer be cultural and political obligations: they had to “mean something”, be assimilated by the Spirit,, etc. even if what they meant had to be made up on the fly.

I think the average Catholic, the real average Catholic, has the last laugh in all of this. Our rites still don’t take much “exertion of thought”, people still chat in church, and so on. (Makes you less nostalgic about the “good ol’ days”.) And there are still at least some “cultivated people” (I’ll go out on a limb and put myself in their number) who still find Protestantism hopelessly pedantic and captious. While we may miss the “spectacles for the eyes” and bemoan the frivolity and lack of gravitas in current Catholic ritual, we still might choose a parish based on church architecture and decoration, music, and so on. Plus ça change

A picture is worth, et al.

16 03 2011

Sort of where I am religiously at this point.

If you need a translation, you suck.

On 19th century Thomism

14 03 2011

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The book is Gerald McCool’s book, Nineteenth Century Scholasticism: The Search for a Unitary Method. I reviewed the sequel to this book, From Unity to Pluralism, previously on this blog.

The book is about the process of how neo-Thomist scholasticism became the “official philosophy” of the Church from the publication of Leo XIII’s encyclical, Aeterni Patris, in 1879, to the opening sessions of Vatican II in the 1960’s. In the process of describing how scholasticism became once again dominant in the Catholic Church, McCool describes the historical circumstances and rival philosophical approaches that scholasticism sought to replace. In this rare survey of Catholic thought in the 19th century, the author concludes, as in his sequel, that scholasticism ultimately unraveled due to its inability to analyze categories of thought within their proper historical context. In the end, neo- scholasticism could not be unified because the original scholasticism never was. Even the esteemed Baroque commentators on St. Thomas had deviated from their master on such key issues of the nature of being, knowledge, and grace.
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On defeated arguments

10 03 2011

Sancrucesis pointed out on this blog a couple of links to Thomist philosopher Charles de Koninck’s interventions to try to make the Catholic Church change its position on artificial contraception before his death in 1965. De Koninck was by no means the most progressivist voice in the Church, and had argued against the growing influence of personalism at the expense of the Thomistic concept of the common good. Why he argued for a change in the Church’s position is for me not as important as how he did it. Unlike most Catholics today, he has very little concern for the human person as taken as a completely separate entity at least in this question. Even here, a sort of argument from “the common good” seems to be primary in de Koninck’s mind.
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Notes on community and liturgy, virtual and otherwise

28 02 2011

This post is inspired by this one. Really, I have very little time and will to write for that site anymore, and posts like that are the reason why.

EWTN as a new “subculture”? A new “ghetto”? The thing about ghettoes is that you don’t choose to live in one. It is never about choice. Those who aspire to a ghetto are the ones we know have no idea what they are talking about. One of the common themes of this blog is that those who have nostalgia for the “Catholic past” don’t remember it all that well. They remember the deference that some had for the clergy, the supposed “reverence” inspired more by social taboo than anything else, and the remnants of architecture that have not been razed yet in modern times. They forget the bigotry, the witchcraft, the “superstition”, and the cruel cosmos that was at the center of the “old ways”. People like this who are nostalgic for the old subculture merely want a crypto-Protestant evangelical, Republican Party in prayer, Christianity with props that they don’t even understand. I hate to get all “racial” about it, but a bunch of newly minted “middle class white Christians” with vowels on their last names are not going to remake “Christendom”. A few cult-like Catholic communes are not going to save the world.
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On torture

21 02 2011

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I found this via the Western Confucian. It seems to me that one cannot speak of the civilization that we have in comparison to civilizations past and call what they had then barbarism. After all, did they have such large portions of their society either incarcerated or formerly incarcerated? And of course, the above link shows that the idea of “at least we don’t torture people” to be a lie. The fact that we incarcerate people for years on end and have them terrorized in such ways is a torture unique in and of itself. Compared to that, a good flogging or caning seems civilized.

Much has been made in the Catholic Church in this country regarding the instrinsically evil nature of torture. While the Church should no doubt be applauded for such a stance, many pundits use it to wash their hands of the actual realities of the prison-industrial complex in this country. If we are going to obsess over such practices as waterboarding of foreign terrorists yet say nothing of repeated gang rapes of prisoners within our own borders, at least we shouldn’t complain if people accuse us of being inconsistent. All we are doing is using our moralistic stance to shield ourselves from the actual realities of our situation. And as this condition is often the result of government and social policy (the “war on drugs”, the economic abandonment of the ghetto by industry, etc.), it might as well be an atrocity perpetrated by the state.

On the other hand, I don’t buy the whole argument that, from a moral theological perspective, torture is “intrinsically evil”. My first reply would be, “since when?” 1993? 1945? As the Catholic Church was supportive of many forms of torture, right under the noses of moral theologians who we now respect in many other ethical issues, one wonders what makes us so smart to see things that they didn’t. If we argue that the Catholic Church could get torture so wrong for so many years, we can only wonder what else it may have gotten wrong. On the other (other) hand, I don’t see anything in any theological teaching (prior to the last fifty years) that says the the State has no right to punitive action against the bodies of its subjects. For me, this seems the case of the Church playing catch-up with the values of the secular Enlightenment (though one must concede that those values were distilled from Christian principles, and many Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment ideologies haven’t been particularly enlightened). For me, I am thankful that the Church doesn’t defend torture, but I think this is a case of secular ideology schooling the Church on how to be civilized.

Misc. Cath. stuff

10 02 2011

From dotCommonweal, I found this rather interesting link. Here are the money quotes:

A sympathetic priest in Rome who has known Paul for 40 years said recently: “The Pope knows better than anyone else that he is a failure. He has a strong sense of history. After the turmoil following upon the Vatican Council, it will take two or three generations to reconstruct Catholicism. It is Paul’s fate to sit on the papal throne at the worst possible time, beset both by those who want to change nothing. The Vatican Council released demons. Paul, poor fellow, has no friends — at least he has no solid constituency. Right now he may be the loneliest man in the world.”…

Paul has appointed a number of Frenchmen to high Vatican posts, including Cardinal Villot, his secretary of state. Even his Italian appointees tend to a French point of view. “What we need now,” one hears more and more among the Pope’s in-house critics, “is a genuine Italian pope, like John XXIII.” A real Italian they argue, would know how to handle the present crisis of Catholicism, because of the Italian ability to make adjustments when a battle appears to be lost. On the contrary, the Frenchmen around Paul — a group sometimes called the Pope’s French Mafia — reinforce his abstract, overly analytic, intellectualist assessment of the Church’s problem and his disdain of compromise.

Here one should comment that Pope John Paul II’s reign changed everything. Looking at this series of articles, it is hard not to see that it sort of wiped out everything that came before it, both “traditionalist” and “progressive”. I think I would term it a “Napoleonic papacy”, in that it was the revolution in the Church stabilizing itself. But I have argued this line enough before.
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25 01 2011

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Here is a good post from a guy who I think I have had online scuffles with:

…I’m referring to is the very common run of the mill NFP promotions that see NFP as properly belonging to every marriage because the very use of NFP naturally enhances and perfects marriages, so that all marriage before the advent of NFP, and all those now who don’t use NFP are in marriages which are suffering from not using NFP…

So that what has occurred is the machine has been substituted for the natural in a kind of a machine ordered cult. An error which appeals to machine ordered societies, where solutions are seen as involving some type of gadget. Where the interior life has been given over to the sensible, where our perfection comes from without.

Which is a common enough occurrence where happiness is the next gadget purchase away.

Marriage “not for all”

23 01 2011

I am surprised that this has not gotten more coverage among Catholic talking (or typing) heads. Perhaps such an idea is now obvious among “informed Catholics”. To be married in the church, it is not enough to be in love, to want to have sex, or even to want kids. There is some sort of strange Gnostic illumination one must undergo (“be properly catechized”), otherwise, your marriage isn’t really valid. Of course, this isn’t really the position of the Vatican, but it can seem to be when faced with an explosion in the American context of annulments, often for frivolous reasons.
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