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.

History and Compromise at ‘The Everyman’

My latest post at The Everyman is up, comparing our present world to Austria in the 1930s. It’s depressingly apt.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

A virulent ideological movement is spreading through a nation’s institutions. It presents itself as the wave of the future, elevating those who have been beaten down, and as a long-overdue correction of past injustices. It pretends to regard any attack on its mission as an attack on the people it claims to be advocating for and any check on its momentum as the cruelest of tyrannies. Those who oppose it are condemned as being motivated by hatred, base personal gain, or because they are beholden to entrenched interests. It is supported by student radicals who, encouraged by their professors, use protests and organized violence to silence dissent. It employs racially charged rhetoric, condemning one group in particular on account of their real or supposed past crimes. People suddenly find old friends and family members cutting ties, turning on them, or uttering shockingly brutal rhetoric. Riots and violent unrest become increasingly common as the supporters of the ideology seek to impose it upon their neighbors.

Meanwhile the Church (with a few exceptions), either mostly dithers or is complicit by focusing on the superficial points of common ground rather than the fundamentally anti-Christian nature of the ideology. Instead, the movement is chiefly opposed by an energetic, highly controversial political leader who couches his battle in terms of the nation’s historical ideals and identity.

Sound familiar?

As you probably guessed, I’m not referring to America in 2020. I’m referring to Austria in 1934. It has become gauche and tedious to make Nazi comparisons, and for good reason. The analogy has become so abused, misapplied, and overused that it now means practically nothing. And the worst of it is that we always seem to miss the real point of that sad episode of history, a point that really deserves to be brought into greater clarity.

One of the most fascinating accounts of the Nazi conquest of Germany and Austria is the memoir, My Struggle Against Hitler, by the great German philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand. In it he recounts his flight from Nazi Germany and his life of exile in Austria, where he used a journal called Der Christlich Standestaat (The Christian Corporate State), to wage an unending philosophical battle against the Nazis until Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria in 1938 forced him to flee once again.

What strikes me again and again in reading Von Hildebrand’s words is how willing so many people were to go along with the Nazis and how extensively and aggressively the Nazi ideology was pushed, compared to how hesitant and diffident most of the opposition was. Nazism really was the popular, dynamic, progressive ideology of the day. Those who opposed it were condemned as hating Germany and Germans, or at best considered quaintly backwards and Quixotic, since Nazism was obviously the way of the future.

The narrative then was “we have to find a way to work with Hitler” or “there are many points of similarity between Nazism and Christianity, such as value of the nation, of authority, and so on.” Or else “yes, but the Jews really are deplorable. They really do need to be taken down a peg.”

Again, this should all sound familiar (“many Communists have a truly Christian ethic” etc.), but again, to liken the American Left, or Red China, or any other evil ideological movement to the Nazis is not really the point here. For, as these examples themselves indicate, points of likeness can nearly always be found if you care to look for them. That in itself doesn’t mean much.

My point is that the rise of all these movements serves to illustrate the same lesson taught repeatedly in Scripture: that no man can serve two masters. Neither a person or a nation can hold to two contradictory ideologies. Nazism and Christianity, as are Christianity and Socialism, are essentially contradictory. This fact makes all compromise and all accommodation impossible. Worse, any such attempt to do so will mean actively damaging Christianity and Christian culture by obscuring its real character.

Read the rest here.

Talking Confession at Catholic Match

My latest Catholic Match post is up, talking about why you need to go to Confession:

This brings us to the second point: besides your eternal salvation (if anything can be ‘besides’ that), Confession, along with the other Sacraments, conveys a very useful lesson. Namely, that we do not get to set the terms of our relationship with Christ.

This is particularly useful for us moderns, as the whole tenor of our lives runs counter to it. We are surrounded by choices and the continual message that we and we alone can legitimately make them, often causing us to fall into the habit of thinking that the world can and ought to conform to our own wishes. We even extend this to God, saying things like “oh, I can find my own way to serve Christ.”

Jesus does not play games like that. He is the one in authority here.

You have sinned against Him, and He is offering a means of forgiveness. If you don’t like the means offered, too bad. That isn’t your call to make. The repentant soldier doesn’t get to tell the king what conditions he will accept for being readmitted into the army. As long as he is doing that, he is still in rebellion.

Read the rest here

Sunday Thoughts: The Treasure in the Field

Deconstructing fairy tales is like deconstructing a ming vase; it’s easy to do, but it says more about you than about the subject itself. When some wag sniffs at the ‘love at first sight’ trope, or writes smarmy novels about Cinderella realizing how shallow her love for Prince Charming really is, it only shows the narrowness of her own mind.

Remember, narratives are always inadequate to the reality. You are always going to miss something. The question, then, is what elements of the real thing are you going to portray and why, with the goal being to convey the true, complete nature of the thing as much as possible.

Love at first sight, leading to an unyielding desire to possess the object of ones affection, is not how things usually play out day-to-day in real life. It is, however, the true pattern of an ardent love; you recognize the other for the thing you desire and you put all on the line to win her and keep her. In the context of the real world, that recognition likely takes place over the course of a good deal of time and, since we’re flawed beings, may be imperfect. In any case, there will always be elements about her that could lead you to think that you may have made a mistake at some point. But the pattern holds good; success comes in finding what you want and committing wholly to it.

As you will notice, this pattern is itself a copy of the greater pattern that Christ speaks of in today’s Gospel readings: the man who found a treasure in a field, then went and sold all he owned to possess it, or the merchant of pearls seeking one of great price who, when he found it, sold everything he owned that he might have it.

The point both here and in the fairy tales is that the hero discovers something that is worth making the baseline of his life; the thing to which all else can give way because its value exceeds them all. It is the thing that gives context and meaning to all else, and thus takes precedence over all else. It is your purpose, your destiny. Lose that, it won’t matter what else you have. Achieve it, and you achieve all.

It used to be that this pattern was repeated on earth in a minor key. And it still is in less noticeable measures; the desire to serve a noble cause and a great leader is baked into the heart of man. In legend, a young knight would consider it the highest honor to be in service to King Arthur or Charlemagne, and would endure anything for that opportunity. More recently, hundreds of men signed up to serve with Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and many were disappointed to be turned away. The chivalrous spirit has, as an essential part of it, unyielding loyalty to one’s master and cause: to the Faith the knight defends and the King who serves that faith. In practice, it wasn’t so much important that the king be a good king; it was the unyielding loyalty, the submission of the self that matters. David, one of the prototypes of the Christian Knight, continued to serve King Saul even while Saul was seeking to murder him.

The virtue of devotion must be practiced in an imperfect context – to King, to country, to wife – because that is the one we know and see and thus can’t fool ourselves over. If we say “I’ll be loyal to Christ because he is perfect, but not to my country because it’s imperfect,” then we probably won’t be loyal to Christ either if He ever asks us to do something difficult or something we don’t understand. Indeed, how often do we hear people today saying things like “I love Jesus, but I don’t think he cares about my sexual habits, or about usury, or about whether I go to Church.” Because we don’t have the habit of devotion, of serving the imperfect, we have instead the habit of ‘serving’ only as we see fit. Which, of course is not serving at all. A soldier who only follows orders that he himself judges to be correct and sensible is claiming the rank of a general; a knight who only obeys his king when he would have done the same thing is claiming the rights of a king. If we have no experience of actually serving, how will we know to serve God? “He who is loyal in small things will be loyal in great ones.”

Hence, the narrative pattern of giving all for the desired object; the princess, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price. Hence the pattern of the noble knight who wants nothing more than to serve the good king. These are, in fact, the correct way to look at life, despite slurring over the details.

Christ, our Lord, our maker, our redeemer, is the foundational value; the base from which all other value proceeds. To be of the Kingdom of God — to be ‘in service’ to Christ — is the supreme glory of the human person and ought to be our greatest desire.

Sunday Thoughts – Corpus Christi

I think one of the great problems of the contemporary world is that we undervalue the material aspect of things. I’m sure that sounds shocking, given how materialistic we are, but actually our materialism is only what is to be expected from the undervaluing of matter. Because as with lust to sex, the evil of materialism isn’t that it gives matter too high a place, it’s that it gives it the wrong place. It takes it out of context and so values the wrong aspects. It’s as though we are appraising a book without being able to read, and so we judge it on the typeface and the quality of the pages.

Our materialism is founded in a denial that matter has any intrinsic meaning; the reductionist view that, “the material does not convey Grace, or beauty, or importance; it only helps to elevate our minds to them because we have imputed meaning to these things.” The throne is just a chair and the king is just a man who happens who is imputed to have authority because he is supposedly the best qualified. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A flag is just a piece of cloth. The sacraments are only symbolic expressions of faith.

And matter, consequently, has its importance defined as “does it keep us safe and comfortable?” It is no longer a vehicle of spiritual elevation and communion with God, but only of pure pragmatism. Call it a soft Manichaeism.

The problem is that we only experience the world materially, just as we only read through letters. If you deny that the letters have any meaning and try to sever the letters of the poem from the words, then you soon only have a jumble of symbols on a page. And if all you have is a jumble of symbols, then you can do with them whatever you like. The actual purpose of the letters – the words – has been obscured, and so the letters at once seem to be the only relevant factor and to impose no obligations on us. We don’t have to form actual words or coherent successions of sound, just an arrangement that pleases us. The disconnection of the meaning from the letters leaves the letters both the only concrete thing and without any actual value of their own.

JLJHIK HTH T MIM JLJLHIK

Christianity, in contrast, teaches that matter is not only good, but meaningful. Physical actions create and correspond to spiritual realities, from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil to painting doorposts with the blood of a lamb. Most importantly, God Himself became Man. A real flesh-and-blood man, born of a woman, with all that implies. His physical actions with that body created a new spiritual state of affairs for the mankind which He is now a part of.

Not only that, but this same body of His is the means by which He works His salvation upon us (and this is where things get really interesting). He tells us ” Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.” (John 6:54). Now, what happens when we eat something? It is broken down and the relevant nutrients become part of our bodies. So, when we eat the flesh of God, God becomes a part of us. That is, we become part of Christ’s body when we eat His flesh. As such, we participate in His resurrection and glorification, as we are now physically related to Him. It’s sort of like how we are physically related to our family members (at least in the sense of there being a real material link), but conveyed in a different manner.

The feast of Corpus Christi reminds us of this relation. More fundamentally, it ought to remind us that material things are not to be treated as if they were just material. Because there is a Body of Christ, let no one hold the body as such in contempt.

The Conquest of Death

For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 
-1 Cor. 15: 21-22

God never undoes what He once does, nor unsays what He has once said. When man brought death upon himself through the sin of Adam, God’s plan of redemption was never to remove it, so that man would be immortal again. For man is such that he partakes in his own creation: God brings him into being, but he permits man, of his own free will, to have a hand in what he will finally become. Our first father could be said to have made sin and death a feature of humanity, and God would not revoke that.

Instead He showed His supreme majesty by transforming death into the means of life, and of a new and higher form of life. A truly masterful artist who finds a blot on his canvas won’t throw the canvas away and start over; he will incorporate the blot into his painting so that it seems to have been intended all along. God, who is the supreme artist, not only incorporates the blot that Adam made, but transformed it into the focal point of His masterpiece. Death is no longer only the supreme shame and punishment, but the path to glory and the new creation.  And this is done, not by a mere fiat of God’s, but through the obedience and humility of a Man; a Man who is God, but no less a Man for that, taking mankind itself into the eternal Godhead. He has not so much abolished death, but conquered it, subdued it, and forced it into His service.

Because Christ is risen from the dead, this fallen world of ours is no longer a dead end, but a pathway, which He has marked out, leading through death to our true home.

Authority in the Passion

The concept of authority has been on my mind quite a lot lately. There’s a whole lot to delve into there, especially since it’s a subject we moderns tend not to understand very well. We tend to think of it as either consented rule (which would make it synonymous with ‘counsel’ or ’employment’) or oppression. In fact, authority means the power to impose a moral obligation on someone to obey. A father, for instance, imposes bedtime by his authority; his child is obliged to obey whether he wants to or not. Likewise, if I own a book, and you try to take it, I can, by my authority as its owner, order you to return it and thereby impose a moral obligation on you to do so, whether you wish to or not. Even in our own, liberal society, a substantial part of the electorate explicitly does not ‘consent’ to rule by the President, yet (for now) we generally accept that they nevertheless have a moral obligation to follow his leadership and not try to set up their own, separate government.  

Now, with regards to the Passion of Our Lord, remember that Christ stands in place of mankind; in place of sinners. Therefore, it was necessary, as I understand it, for Him to be condemned by people who, humanly speaking, had the authority to so condemn Him. Had He been stoned, as St. Stephen, there would have been no ‘reparation’ on behalf of mankind; no connection between Christ’s sufferings and the guilt of humanity. Mob murder by those who do not have the right of judgement is only a crime, with no moral implications for those who are not involved. St. Paul was complicit with Stephen’s martyrdom since he was there, but Pilate wasn’t.

But Christ is suffering on behalf of and in place of all mankind. This great mystery requires that mankind as such should condemn Him, and thus it must be by those who have a right to speak for mankind. It must be by those who stand in authority over Him, and His execution must be by ‘legal’ means.

Who has authority? First of all, the high priest, whose duty it is to represent God to the people and the people to God. The Mosaic priesthood, centered around the Temple and descending from Aaron, was at the time the voice of God upon earth. It was the legitimate, true means of rendering Him worship and of speaking His word (corrupted and stagnant though it had become; Christ Himself reminded His hearers that the Pharisees “sit upon the throne of Moses” and so the people were to “do and observe all they tell you” (Matthew 23: 1-3). The authority remains, even in the hands of bad actors (as indeed is shown by the fact that the priesthood even remains after setting up idols in the Temple back in the days before the exile). Thus, Christ is first tried by Caiaphas and the elders, who condemn Him for blasphemy because He claims to be the Son of God and ‘makes Himself equal to God’ (keep that in mind). They have the right to condemn Him, though they obviously are not right to do so.

However, as Caiaphas says to Pilate, they don’t have the right to execute Him, under Roman law, and so they go from the Temple to the praetorium; the seat of the Roman governor. From ecclesiastical authority to secular authority. Note also that, while Caiaphas can condemn Christ as a blasphemer and cast Him out of the Temple, he cannot take His earthly life. That power rests in the secular, earthly authority of Caesar, represented by Pilate.

Here is something interesting (to me at least). Rome rules Judea, and indeed the whole world. But is that authority legitimate, given that they are an occupying foreign power? The answer to that comes when Pilate tries to evade the issue by sending Jesus to Herod: the subordinate ruler of Galilee and (as I understand it) the present claimant to the throne of David. Herod, however, declines his authority by sending Him back to Pilate, and Christ seems to deny it as well by refusing to speak with him (He does speak with Pilate, at least a little). There is no legitimate authority left in that throne.

The authority of Rome is then further confirmed in that most unfortunate outburst of the priests: “we have no king but Caesar.” In their zeal to kill Jesus, they deny God in favor of secular authority.

Thus it falls to Rome, the legitimate representative of Man on Earth, to condemn the Son of Man. Indeed, Christ Himself acknowledges that authority: “thou shouldst not have any power against me unless it were given thee from above” (John 19: 11). Which is to say, all legitimate authority, including the authority by which Pilate condemns Christ, comes from God. Were Pilate’s authority illegitimate (as was Herods and as was that of the crowd that sought to stone Him), he would have had no power over Jesus.

But then, another interesting point is that Pilate, of his own authority, doesn’t want to condemn Jesus. He is obliged to do so by the threat of the mob; the people. Note that Caiaphas had no such pressure, but rather orchestrated it. Secular authority is never as secure as it seems, and ultimately is always handcuffed by what the people will allow (call it consent of the governed if you like). It is, therefore, the people who condemn Jesus, using the legitimate government as their instrument.

Again, Christ is standing in place of mankind as a whole, taking on our sins and giving satisfaction for them. Therefore, He must be condemned by those who have the right of judgment.

And what is He condemned of? First blasphemy, by the priesthood, and then sedition, by the government. The same basic criminal idea breathed through two contexts. The condemnation is that Christ seeks to usurp or undermine legitimate authority.

Which is the very crime that Adam committed: “ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5). Indeed, it is the basic crime behind all sin, seeking to set ourselves up as knowing better than God, as ruling in place of God, as denying and undermining His authority.

The condemnation was unjust because Christ, as the Son of God, is the one man in all the world who never has nor could commit that crime. He suffers and dies in place of those who do; namely us.

Some thoughts from ‘The Infidelity of the Future’

Today at lunch I refreshed my mind by reading St. John Henry Newman’s sermon The Infidelity of the Future. Some of his main points, with brief thoughts:

*The great evil of our time is the Spirit of Infidelity itself.
Has it never struck you as odd that we consider terms like ‘unorthodox’ or ‘unconventional’ to be complimentary, rather than, at best, merely descriptive? It seems to me that one of the basic assumptions of our age is that any established system is, for that very reason, a bad system that ought to be attacked (which, of course, is one reason why we often go to such lengths to pretend that old structures and standards are still the norm). We celebrate people simply for rebelling against established modes, even when those modes were objectively better than their rebellion, simply because we delight in disobedience (well, at least when it isn’t directed against ourselves). Such is the world in which we live.

*Christianity has never, before the present age, encountered a simply irreligious society.
For most of its history, Christian evangelism has been directed at converting people from belief in false gods to belief in the True One. It would be misleading to say that today it is about converting people from non-belief, since I don’t think there is any such thing. Rather, the peculiar feature of today’s superstitions and false religions is that they are mostly materialistic or at least atheistic: where the ancients said ‘fate’, they say ‘social influences’ or ‘genetic determinism’, and what the ancients attributed to the gods, the modern attributes to something like history or evolution. This means the first step is often convincing people that there is a God and that He is concerned about us; very few people today – in or out of the Church – really believe that.

*Evangelization does not primarily come through argument, but by the ecclesiastical spirit; by living the Gospel.
This isn’t to say that argument is irrelevant or that Catholics shouldn’t know their faith, but that the important part of calling others to Christ does not happen through argument, as if God were an intellectual proposition. Ultimately, He calls whom He wills and He works the conversions of hearts. Our part is to model and preach what we believe

St. Cardinal Newman, of course, puts all this a lot better than I do, so I encourage you to go and read his sermon. And whether you do or not, pray!