Friday Flotsam: The Feast of St. Joseph

1. A blessed Feast of St. Joseph to you all! May the foster father of Our Lord Jesus intercede on behalf of everyone who reads this and for the Church and our nation as a whole.

2. A thought occurred to me this morning, listening to a sermon on St. Joseph (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OXUfeFFjXg). The priest points out that the Holy Family was the seed of the Church, the Church in miniature. That made me wonder: do we have an image of the two swords in Mary and Joseph?

Probably need to explain that. The two swords come from Luke 22:38: “But they said: ‘Lord, behold here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.'” Traditionally, this has been understood, especially in the Medieval period, as referring to the spiritual and temporal elements in the Church: the spiritual sword of the clergy and the temporal sword of the laity, embodied in the monarchy. One exists to defend against error and sin, the other against persecution, injustice, and invasion.

See, our idea of separation of Church and State would have made no sense at all to the Medievals for the simple reason that the King is himself part of the Church, being one of the lay faithful. We today (rather ironically given the stated goals of the 20th century reforms) tend to think of ‘the Church’ primarily as the clergy and religious, with the laity as a kind of external attachment. The Medievals would have thought of ‘the Church’ as comprising the whole of society, with only Jews, infidels, heretics, etc. being outside of it (and thus outside of society: essentially foreigners). The clergy had their particular duties, which were recognized as being the higher and more excellent ones of administering the Sacraments and defending against error, but the laity had their duties as well, including supporting and guarding the clergy and managing society; the ‘day-to-day’ affairs.

In fact, analogously very similar to the duties of a husband and wife: the husband’s duties being to support the family materially, to guard it, to set family policy and deal with the outside world, and to provide instruction and discipline. The mother’s duty being to keep the domestic, interior side in order, to be the chief nurturer, educator, and caregiver to the children, and to advise and assist the husband in his duties.

Focusing closer in on that very unique family, it was Mary who brought for Christ into the world, just a the clergy administers the Sacraments. Joseph’s duty was to guard her and the child and to care for them, while at the same time being their head and guide: it was he who received the messages to flee into Egypt and then to return, and he who made the judgment call to avoid Jerusalem and settle in Nazareth. Like how the lay rulers are the ones who set the general policy of their kingdoms, ideally for the good of those in their care, including the clergy.

3. The idea in all of this, you see, is that the Earthly is not simply overridden by or separate from the Spiritual: the two are part of the same whole, just as the soul and the body of a man are part of the same whole. This, it seems to me, is one of if not the core ideas of Christianity. We believe in the resurrection of the body, which is to say that the body – the earthly, material, created element of reality – will form an essential part of our eternal life. The flesh by itself availeth nothing, but the flesh enlivened by the spirit is made a vehicle for grace.

This pattern repeats itself over and over: the laity and the clergy, the grace-giving nature of the Sacraments, the two swords, the Incarnation itself. Even beyond the doctrines of the Christian worldview, we experience it in our own lives: just the simple act of reading or speaking repeats the pattern. For the letters or sounds themselves are material things, but they convey ideas, which are immaterial.

This, I believe, is one of the most important philosophical ideas to get down: human beings crave the transcendent, but we only experience the concrete. Therefore, the transcendent must come to us in concrete form. It must become incarnate as it were for us to experience it. This elevates and ennobles the material thing itself as it becomes an essential part of the transcendent thing that it is conveying.

4. Kind of drifted into deep waters there. The point of all this is that it seems to me that pattern of the Church as it was understood for most of its history and in its most vibrant ages fits the pattern of the Holy Family. The image of the two swords, and indeed of the clergy and laity in general shows itself in the image of Mary and Joseph, the parents of Christ. Christ Himself, of course, is the central figure in both arrangements, the reason both exist.

It is always encouraging – and slightly eerie – when the patterns found in doctrine and philosophy repeat themselves across seemingly disparate aspects of reality.

https://serpentsden.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/7fc8f-iu.jpg

St. Joseph, most chaste guardian of the Virgin, foster father of Our Lord Jesus, pray for us.

St. Patrick’s Day

LatinEnglish
Sancti Patricii Hymnus ad Temoriam.The Lorica, Breastplate, of St. Patrick (The Cry of the Deer)  
Ad Temoriam hodie potentiam praepollentem invoco Trinitatis,
Credo in Trinitatem sub unitate numinis elementorum.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
Apud Temoriam hodie virtutem nativitatis Christi cum ea ejus baptismi,
Virtutem crucifixionis cum ea ejus sepulturae,
Virtutem resurrectionis cum ea ascensionis,
Virtutem adventus ad judicium aeternum.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
Apud Temoriam hodie virtutem amoris Seraphim in obsequio angelorum,
In spe resurrectionis ad adipiscendum praemium.
In orationibus nobilium Patrum,
In praedictionibus prophetarum,
In praedicationibus apostolorum,
In fide confessorum,
In castitate sanctarum virginum,
In actis justorum virorum.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.
Apud Temoriam hodie potentiam coeli,
Lucem solis,
Candorem nivis,
Vim ignis,
Rapiditatem fulguris,
Velocitatem venti,
Profunditatem maris,
Stabilitatem terrae,
Duritiam petrarum.
I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
Ad Temoriam hodie potentia Dei me dirigat,
Potestas Dei me conservet,
Sapientia Dei me edoceat,
Oculus Dei mihi provideat,
Auris Dei me exaudiat,
Verbum Dei me disertum faciat,
Manus Dei me protegat,
Via Dei mihi patefiat,
Scutum Dei me protegat,
Exercitus Dei me defendat,
Contra insidias daemonum,
Contra illecebras vitiorum,
Contra inclinationes animi,
Contra omnem hominem qui meditetur injuriam mihi,
Procul et prope,
Cum paucis et cum multis.
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.
Posui circa me sane omnes potentias has
Contra omnem potentiam hostilem saevam
Excogitatam meo corpori et meae animae;
Contra incantamenta pseudo-vatum,
Contra nigras leges gentilitatis,
Contra pseudo-leges haereseos,
Contra dolum idololatriae,
Contra incantamenta mulierum,
Et fabrorum ferrariorum et druidum,
Contra omnem scientiam quae occaecat animum hominis.
I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christus me protegat hodie
Contra venenum,
Contra combustionem,
Contra demersionem,
Contra vulnera,
Donec meritus essem multum praemii.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, 
against burning,
Against drowning, 
against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christus mecum,
Christus ante me,
Christus me pone,
Christus in me,
Christus infra me,
Christus supra me,
Christus ad dextram meam,
Christus ad laevam meam,
Christus hine,
Christus illine,
Christus a tergo.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christus in corde omnis hominis quem alloquar,
Christus in ore cujusvis qui me alloquatur,
Christus in omni oculo qui me videat,
Christus in omni aure quae me audiat.
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Ad Temoriam hodie potentiam praepollentem invoco Trinitatis.I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Credo in Trinitatem sub Unitate numinis elementorum.
Domini est salus,
Domini est salus,
Christi est salus,
Salus tua, Domine, sit semper nobiscum.
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
[Salvation is from the Lord,
Salvation is from the Lord,
Salvation is from Christ,
Your Salvation, O Lord, is with us always.]
Amen.Amen.

Thought of the Day: A Solution to the Immaculate Conception – Evolution Problem

Honestly, I have no bone in the evolution fight. To my mind it makes no practical difference whether, as a matter of prehistoric fact, humans are or are not bodily descended from apes or other animals. I think most of the ‘conclusions’ that people derive from the theory (e.g. “see, everything is just a chemical reaction” or “humans are no different from other animals and non-quantitative observations are illusions”) are ridiculous on the face of them, and its quasi-dogmatical position in modern society means that I enjoy mocking it whenever I have the chance, but as a serious scientific theory, it’s mostly in the ‘none-of-my-business’ category.

That said, recently I’ve listened to more than one video where a priest or commentator has brought up a serious issue with it. At Lourdes, Our Lady said of herself “I am the Immaculate Conception.” That is, I am the (singular) Immaculate Conception. But, the argument goes, if Adam was conceived in the womb of an ape, he must have been conceived without original sin as well, since obviously no sin had been committed yet. Thus he would have been ‘an’ Immaculate Conception. And if it’s a choice between the best scientific minds in the world and the Mother of God, well, frankly she has a much better track record of being right than they do, so we must conclude that evolution is not real.

However, I don’t think it quite comes to that, for the following reason (speaking, of course, under correction, and with an idea that there are probably other solutions as well).

Genesis describes God as first forming Adam’s body before breathing life into him:

“And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” (Gen. 2:7).

Now, this to my mind suggests that Adam was not born man, if he was born at all. That there was a period of time between when Adam came bodily into the world, formed ‘of the slime of the earth’, and when he ‘became a living soul’ in the image of God.

If we take evolution to be true, we can imagine that the creature that became Adam was born of its bestial mother in the normal course of nature, then at an appointed time was elevated by God to the state that had been prepared for him and became Man.

Nor do I think this even requires much of an interpretive stretch, since the phrase ‘formed man of the slime of the earth’ could easily, to my mind, accommodate the idea “was formed over millions of years of bestial, earthly nature.”

This staging has the added benefit of fitting well into the pattern of how God operates throughout the Scriptures, calling His chosen in youth or adulthood seemingly out of nowhere. It also would fit the pattern of the mirroring incident when Christ breathed the Holy Spirit into the Apostles, again taking men who are already one kind of thing and adding to it rather than creating ‘from scratch’ as it. Supernature building upon nature.

Of course, this would eliminate the whole problem, as Adam would then not have been immaculately conceived, since he would not then be in a state where ‘sin’ meant anything at all.

I daresay it creates problems of its own, but so it is. I only offer it for whatever it is worth. We’ll all find out the answer sooner or later.

Peace on Earth at Catholic Match

When I wrote today’s Catholic Match piece, I was taking it for granted that the year would end in tumult (these things are written weeks or months in advance). Turns out, this is even more timely than I expected:

In truth, if you’re seeking reasons to lament the apparent failure of the angelic promise of Christmas there is no need to go to a Civil War or a natural disaster or…whatever you would call the events of 2020.

Loneliness, disappointment, and depression will do just as well or better for most of us. Sure things are bad on a global level, but what is that to the fact that maybe we’ve just lost a job, are mourning the death of a loved one, or ended yet another year still single?

Yet every year, amidst whatever personal or historical sufferings or disasters that confront us, we receive that same message from on high: “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy.”

Those good tidings are not of the immediate end of war, or of the restoration of basic sanity to our civilization. They aren’t even of personal happiness and success, the promise of a better year to come.

They are, “this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”

We know, for we are told, that this is good news.

But what does it mean here and now? It clearly doesn’t mean ‘peace on earth,’ at least not in the sense we would expect, for wars and strife still torment us.

Yes, but it means that these things shall not have the final word. Our existence is not limited to this world. For God has come to establish His Kingdom upon earth; a kingdom not of this world. To be of that kingdom is to be in right relation to the cause and center of our being. And God has provided us the means to do this through His son, who is born to us on Christmas day.

That is the peace on Earth that angels proclaimed, and that is the great joy of Christmas; the peace of being in union with God, and the joy of knowing that He has come among us. This is a peace and joy that can and has endured amid the most savage worldly turmoil and most devastating personal tragedies.

Hence the joy of Christmas, the reason why songs of celebration are uplifted every year on this day even from battlefield trenches and terminal wards.

Read the rest here.

Merry Christmas everyone, and be not afraid!

Fear of Death

“When you remove, like even in the schools, you remove prayer, you remove God, you remove the fear of God, you create the possibility of the fear of everything else. But watch this: If you instill the fear of God, you eliminate the fear of anything else!”
https://mobile.twitter.com/zhenryaz/status/1320102253865308161

I know nothing of Kanye West, but if he’s putting out messages like this I will gladly give him a shout out. We live in odd times: the Church neglects her duties, so God raises up the rappers and playboys of the world to pick up the slack.

I bring it up because he’s quite right (Churchill said something similar): when one fears God, one need fear nothing else. Remove fear of God, fear of everything else rushes in. Particularly fear of death.

The thing about fear of death is that it amounts to fear of everything. Just about anything could potentially kill you. The Jews or the Jesuits might be plotting your downfall right now (well, the latter probably are). It may seem ridiculous to you, but there’s the nagging question: what if you’re wrong? What if you die, or you get someone else killed because you believed your own lying eyes rather than the experts? And in the final resort, death is always in reach; if your masters want your obedience, they can just put a gun to your head.

(Which is why the narrative that religion, and particularly Christianity, are means of controlling the masses and keeping the elites in power is rather silly. Which is more conducive to earthly power: the idea that all men are subject to God, who rewards each according to his works and promises paradise after death to the faithful, or the idea that this life is all there is and nothing awaits after death, putting the worst possible fate squarely in the hands of human authorities?)

The trouble is that everyone dies, and everyone dies of something. The fear of death must ultimately rule your life, and as we’ve discovered it can very easily consumed everything that makes life worth living.

We live our lives always under the shadow of death. That is simply how this world works. We Christians have hope in death. But even apart from that, it has never been the way of mankind to allow fear of death to rob of life or to deprive us of our virtue. That is cowardice, and to do right in spite of fear is fortitude; one of the cardinal virtues. Maybe the Jews are plotting our downfall. But I am commanded to love my neighbor, and it is a base thing to turn on a man whom I have never known to do wrong, so I will stand up for Mr. Schneider down the hall. If he later stabs me in the back, well, that’s on him. And if there is a deadly disease going around, so be it, but I have a duty to visit my father in his final illness. If I catch the disease and spread it, I can’t help that. I shall live as a man and die when it is my time.

That is how we ought to act. That is the human, classical, Christian way (yes, yes; there must be prudence as well, but not to the point of neglect of duty). That is what happens when we fear God more than we fear death.

Today we pray for the souls of the faithful departed who are in Purgatory. It’s a day also to remember that, sooner or later, we’ll be following them. Just how or when that happens is in God’s hands; what we do in the meantime, what sort of person we make ourselves, is in ours. Do we really want to be the kind that spent his life cowering in the shadow of the inevitable?

All Saints

The doctrine of the Communion of Saints is rather simple. It’s that Christians don’t leave the Church when they die. The work they began in this life doesn’t end when they enter the next.

We have a perspective problem in this life. In fact, it’s very like being in high school (our education system has very few good qualities, but it’s useful as an analogy). We find ourselves in a confined environment subject to many seemingly arbitrary rules, with little or no sense of the larger world that would put them into context. Everything in that little world seems all-important: winning that football game. Getting that grade. Going out with that girl. Some people excel in the system, others struggle, and those who excel often make it all the harder for those who don’t.

All the while we’re told that this isn’t the real world, that it’s only a passing phase and things will get better. If we have sensible parents they’ll remind us that the skills necessary to succeed in high school are not always the ones necessary to succeed in life. But it’s hard to believe that in the moment. The ‘real world’ seems like shadow: something that will be, while high school is what is.

As the poet Brad Paisley put it, “At 17 it’s hard to see past Friday night.”

But our parents are right. High school is four short years, compared to potentially seventy or more of adult life. How many people ‘peak’ in high school? How many of those who were popular, who were the kings of campus went on to be failures at life itself? But equally comforting, how many made a success of both? The point is that life is the important thing; high school only matters insofar as it prepares us for life. No matter how much ‘success’ we had in school, it won’t matter a bit if it doesn’t translate into adult life.

Also, adult life is where we have access to a level of agency, to the power to act upon the world in a way that we scarcely dreamed of in high school. The adult world is immeasurably larger than the high school world.

We in this world are in high school. The saints are the adults. They’ve grown up, matured, set aside childish things and live and operate in a world infinitely larger than ours, with a scope and agency that we can hardly imagine. But like adults, they aren’t ‘other’ than us; they’ve been in the same position we are now and they are invested in our success (far more than adults in our world often are, to be honest).

This is something Professor Tolkien pointed out in On Fairy Stories: we have a bad habit of talking of children as if they were a distinct class of people. We talk of children the way we might talk of, say, Japanese or Jews or women: as if there are some who are children and some who are adults, and they simply exist side by side. But a child is just a person at a particular stage of development. Everyone either is a child or has been a child.

It is the same with Saints. They are simply people who have reached the final stage. They are complete people, standing to us in almost exactly the same relationship as adults stand to children. So of course we honor them, of course we seek their help and intercession. That is what is proper to people like us, just as it is proper for children to seek the aid and support of grown ups. It’s akin to Ray Harryhausen seeking advice from Willis O’Brien, or a young baseball player asking for support from one of his sports idols. The followers of Christ in all walks of life are now pursuing their vocations in Heaven, the true vocations of which their actions in this life were but shadows, and they’re eager to help us follow in their footsteps.

Because they too are in the Church. We worship and work and praise alongside of a great cloud of witnesses, of heroes who have triumphed before us and urge us on to “be imitators of them as they are of Christ.”

October 21: Blessed Karl of Austria

Today is the feast of Blessed Karl of Austria, the last Hapsburg Emperor (for now).

For those who don’t know the tragic story of this holy monarch, Blessed Karl was the grand nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph and ascended the throne in 1916 at the age of twenty-six. He was an extremely pious and kindly man, a loving husband and father, and courageous soldier (the only leader of a major power during the war to have actually fought in it. And, not coincidentally, the one who tried hardest to end it as soon as possible, but his pleas fell on deaf ears). He pursued badly-needed internal reforms, seeking to bring the various states of the Empire into a more federalist-style arrangement. Like the best monarchs – and the best leaders in general – he saw his position as one of duty to his people.

After the war, President Wilson demanded the destruction of the German and Austrian Monarchies as part of the allied peace terms; envisioning a Europe dominated by democracy. Thus the Emperor and his family were sent into exile, their property seized by the allies, and financial support blocked by the allied governments. The result of this was that Bl. Karl took ill while out buying presents for his family and died a lingering, painful death. He bore his last suffering patiently, declaring his love for his wife and offering his suffering for his divided people. He summoned his eldest son, Otto, to his bedside to “witness how a Catholic and an Emperor conducts himself when dying.” He died proclaiming the Holy Name of Jesus: “Thy Holy Will be done. Jesus, Jesus, come! Yes—yes. My Jesus, Thy will be done—Jesus.”

You can learn more at http://www.emperorcharles.org/

Me, I’m a Monarchist, which is one of the reasons I have a particular devotion to Bl. Emperor Karl. He seems to my mind to represent the best of Christendom-that-was; the great Monarchical civilization in whose crumbling ruins we make our dwelling. Arguably his deposition and death are the demarcation point of the end of that civilization: the last Hapsburg Emperor, shining as a beacon of sanctity and manly courage to remind us of just what we destroyed for the sake of what came after.

Leave it to Winston Churchill (also an unreconstructed Monarchist) to point out the obvious: “[World War II] would never have come unless, under American and modernizing pressure, we had driven the Habsburgs out of Austria and the Hohenzollerns out of Germany. By making these vacuums we gave the opening for the Hitlerite monster to crawl out of its sewer on to the vacant thrones.”

In short, the story of the end of Christendom is that we sacrificed a Saint in the name of liberty and progress and got a monster bringing death and destruction in return.

Blessed Karl, and all the martyred monarchs of Europe, pray for us and our leaders.