November 17th, 2014The Sacramental in Tolkienby Joseph Pearce

I’m in receipt of an e-mail from a student working on a thesis on the Sacramental in Tolkien, and what it means to have "Sacramental Vision".    The student requested a list of “any helpful articles, books, quotations, etc. regarding the Sacramental, Imagination, Tolkien or Chesterton, and so on”.


Here’s my brief response:


I’m at Aquinas College this week so can’t consult my own Tolkien and Chesterton library. Nonetheless, from memory, I would suggest the following:


Tree and Leaf by Tolkien contains his seminal essay “On Fairy Stories”, his allegorical short story, “Leaf by Niggle”, and his superb poem “Mythopoeia”. Each of these examines Tolkien’s philosophy of myth which is awash with his understanding of the sacramentality of beauty.


Tolkien’s Letters are an invaluable resource.


You should read the opening chapters of The Silmarillion.


I would suggest my own book, Tolkien: Man & Myth, and the sections on Tolkien in my books Catholic Literary Giants and Beauteous Truth: Faith, Reason, Literature and Culture.


I’d also suggest that you read the book of essays that I edited: Tolkien: A Celebration.


Ralph Wood’s Gospel According to Tolkien is good as are Purtill’s and Kreeft’s books on Tolkien.


As regards Chesterton, the chapter on “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy is indispensable.

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November 17th, 2014The Suburban Parish and the Heresy of Inconsequentialismby Kevin O'Brien |

I have come to a conclusion.  Most Catholics don't believe in God.

At least they don't believe in the Christian God, the God who became man to save us from sin and who died on a cross and rose again, calling us to participate in a life of sacrifice until He comes to call us to participate in his resurrection by raising us bodily from the dead at the Last Judgment, where some will find they've chosen eternal life, others eternal damnation.

Most Catholic instead believe (to quote H. Richard Niebuhr) that ...

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”


Today at Mass I walked out during the homily.  I've only done that twice in 14 years as a Catholic, counting today.  It wasn't especially bad, as homilies go, but I realized that it was pointless to stay any longer.  I realized at one point that Whatever religion this man is preaching and these people are celebrating, I'm not in communion with it.  In other words, I was at a putatively Catholic Mass at a so-called Catholic parish, but I was not at a service honoring anything resembling the Catholic God.

It was a parish that I was forced to go to because of time and travel constraints.  It had (as most parishes do) a guitar player singing bad songs very badly and very loudly.  He was quite obviously enthralled with the sound of his voice over the loud speakers.  It was a form of bad performance art, or a kind of narcissism on parade.  I imagine when this man enters into an intimate physical relationship with his wife, his favorite part is hearing himself moan at the moment of climax.  Perhaps he records that moan and listens to it over and over again, admiring the tones and cadences of his marvelous voice.  You know the type.  At any rate, he made me moan at this Mass, that's for sure.

Speaking of sex, before Mass a teen aged girl with a Steubenville T-shirt on ran up to an attractive young man and gave him the Christian Side Hug.  It didn't phase him in the least, but she went away quivering and giddy.  She sang the bad songs out loud with the rock star very loudly, in a pew right up front, swaying and all abuzz.

The homily had one simple message: don't be afraid when Christ comes.  Even if He comes like a thief in the night, even though Scripture warns us of "darkness" and "grinding of teeth", even though "our God is an awesome [fear inspiring] God", we Christians can be confident that "when Christ comes, it will be a good thing."

Not for this guy it won't, as Michelangelo imagines it ...

Not for that guy it won't.  But he only finds that out on the day Christ comes, not at his Suburban Mass.

So what is this weird thing that is happening all over the country, and apparently all over the world?  What is this weird religion that calls itself Catholic?

This is the religion of antichrist, of Christ without the cross.  

Others have called it Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, but that phrase is not only awkward, it's a misnomer.  It is neither Moralistic, Therapeutic, or Deist.

There is nothing Moralistic about the Suburban Parish Mass at all.  Universal salvation is offered to everyone, regardless of your ethical beliefs or practices.  There's nothing Therapeutic going on there, either.  Any good therapist challenges his patient to get better, and not to continue wallowing in his addictions and bad choices; I've never heard any homily or modern hymn do anything like that; we are always affirmed right where we are.  And this whole thing isn't exactly Deism, for there is a personal God in the mix and we do more or less pray to Him, or at least we try to if the music isn't too loud.

So what is this sick and bizarre heresy that we find in the vast majority of Catholic parishes, especially in the suburbs, that we find in Mainline Protestant churches and that the "Progressives" at the Synod on the Family are pushing?  If it's not really Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, what is it?

Belloc called it Modernism, but even he acknowledged that it seemed to be a mixture of all heresies and that it was hard to pin down or define.

I think the best name for it is Inconsequentialism.  

It is the belief that the Consequential does not exist.  None of our choices or actions matters.  Nothing we do will lead to heaven or hell.  Our lives are works of fiction written entirely by our own selves.  God stands back and applauds whatever choice we make, like an indulgent public school Kindergarten teacher.  

And since nothing leads to anything (which is what "inconsequential" means), the culture of this heresy is a kind of parody of the Kingdom of heaven: it's hell on earth, a place that is above all else Unreal.  It is a place where we can choose our own genders, our own doctrines, our own way, our own truth, our own life.  It is a place lacking all judgment, for judgment is the Consequential - and by judgment I mean both the Last Judgment as well as personal judgment or discernment: both God's judgment of us and our own judgment-in-practice, our own decision making day in and day out, our own "tough choices", none of which (we are assured) matters in the least, all of which are Inconsequential.

T. S. Eliot described the effects of what I call Inconsequentialism.  "Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing," he said.  Inconsequentialism is isolating, fragmenting, and atomizing.  

But Inconsequentialists gladly pay that price, for their entire goal is to deny the Cross and everything that the Cross implies: sacrifice, suffering, discipline, decision, death, shame, and sin.  To have Christ without the Cross is their goal.  This, according to Bishop Sheen, was the hallmark of the spirit of antichrist: the denial of the cross in all its forms.

But if your entire philosophy of life is devoted to denying the Consequential (and the Cross is the most emphatic expression of the Consequential), then everything you do - especially your religion - becomes Inconsequential - which is to say, unimportant, minor, meaningless, bland, and ultimately (like the loud guitar music) a form of public masturbation.

Why would any normal human being seek something like this out?  Most of us aren't thrilled with Christian Side Hugs, even when we're teen agers.  I can get better pop psychology watching an Oprah rerun than I'll ever get at a Suburban Mass.  Dr. Phil is more challenging than just about any parish priest you'll come across.  If I want loud pop music, I can pull up good (rather than bad) pop music on my computer and put on headphones.  If I want sex, I don't need to swallow the pervy weirdness of a Christopher West or a Mark Driscoll.  If I want a religious experience, I can sleep in on Sundays and take a walk in the woods and pray in peace and quiet.  Of course, I need the Church for the Sacraments and for infallible teaching on morals and faith, but normal people don't see the value of either, as it's never pointed out to them.

The priest said today in his homily that when Christ comes, "all our desire will be fulfilled".  But the Religion of Inconsequentialism is all about denying the purpose of desire, as well as the purpose of anything.  Desire is just a kind of physical manifestation of sentiment to Inconsequentialists.  Loving a woman, marrying her, forming a family that lasts your entire life, and having a bunch of babies is not the point of normal human desire for an Inconsequentialist.  "Getting off" is.  Sterility is the sole sacrament of the Inconsequential Faith.  "Get off" however you will, but make sure nothing comes of it; make sure there are no Consequences.

And heaven?  It's a big dessert buffet where you can eat all you want and not get fat, not suffer the Consequences.  It's a place where no one ever judges anyone any more, where there is no Judgment built into the nature of Reality, where we are all happily Unreal forever more, where our desires are easily fulfilled because our desires are shallow to begin with.

Who would want a heaven like that, or a faith like that?  Rod Dreher writes of the impending collapse of what I've called the Church of Inconsequentialism (my emphasis in bold and my comments in red ) ...

Sociologist Philip Rieff, in The Triumph of the Therapeutic, observed that institutions die when they can no longer communicate their core values to the next generation in a convincing way. He said this to support his contention (in 1966!) that Christianity was dying in the West, because we Westerners have become hostile to the ascetic spirit that is inextricable from authentic Christianity and has been from the beginning.  [In other words, we have rejected the Cross] As you know, I believe Rieff was right, and that his being right is not something that traditional Christians should take comfort in, except in this one way: a Christianity that does demand something sacrificial from its followers is not only being true to the nature of the religion, but is far more likely to engender the kind of devotion that will endure through the therapeutic dark age. Aside from its radical theological innovations that are impossible to harmonize with Christianity as it was known for its first 1,900 years, Progressive Christianity has fully embraced the therapeutic mindset, in the sense that Rieff means. It is dying because it cannot convince young people to embrace its values within the institutional churches. It can’t be denied that many of the young do accept the social liberalism embraced by the progressive churches, but it also can’t be denied that most of them don’t see why they have to be part of a church to be socially progressive.

In that article, Rod points out that the Last Episcopalian has almost certainly been born.  By the time a baby baptized today in an Episcopal church is 80 years old, the Episcopal church will have ceased to exist, at its present rate of decline. The churches that worship Christ without a Cross, the churches of the Inconsequential are reaping what they have sown.

They are finding that they are Inconsequential indeed.

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November 12th, 2014Little Things Mean a Lotby Dena Hunt

We all know that we make big decisions that determine the course of our lives, like choosing a college major or choosing a mate, perhaps the decision to commit our lives to Christ or to join a church. These are momentous choices; we remember them and probably reflect often, especially as we age, on how they affected our lives.


But it’s the little decisions, the ones we might not even notice, that really determine everything. The 23rd psalm is an example. Actually, this psalm has been prayed by literally everyone, whether they’re conscious of it or not, because it’s not a prayer but a choice everyone makes. “I shall not want….” is not merely a line in verse; it’s a decision. To want means to not have. One chooses to want or not to want. It should not be mistaken for, I shall get or not get, achieve or not achieve, but I shall have, or else, I shall not have. The sole action involved is the decision itself. They are mutually exclusive terms and mutually exclusive conditions; therefore, we have to choose between them. We cannot both have and want.


Those who choose not to have: They live and die unfulfilled, unsatisfied, discontent. They may even look around their deathbed and see the faces of many who love them, they may die with the knowledge that they’ve contributed to the good of the world. “A life well lived,” a eulogist might say, “He made the world a better place,” all that sort of thing. (The Nobel Peace Prize…?)


But it’s not what Christians call “a happy death.” Why? Because it was not a happy life. A life lived in want is not a happy life. The psalmist can walk through the valley of the shadow of death (aka, life) because he has chosen to have and not to want. He made that choice long ago and it determined everything. Though he must sit in the presence of enemies, abstract or concrete, his cup will run over, and when he dies, he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


That may be why the guards in Auschwitz could not kill St. Maximilian Kolbe by starvation. They finally had to inject him with carbolic acid. It’s hard to starve a man who has chosen not to hunger.


“I shall not want” is the second line of the 23rd psalm. The first is “The Lord is my Shepherd.” The second line is a choice that will determine all happiness for this life, this death, and this eternity. The choice is a consequence of the first line. Without that first line, a person can be a great achiever, he can be surrounded by those who love him, he can do great things, but the one thing he cannot do—ever—is have.

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November 11th, 2014Contemporary Catholic Fiction Free E-Book Offerby Joseph Pearce

As we're always keen to promote contemporary Catholic literature on the Ink Desk, I thought I'd mention that, for a limited time, Ignatius Press is giving away a free e-book by author T.M. Doran.

The free e-book being given away is Doran's novel, Terrapin. Also included is his new short mystery story, The Linden Murder Case Mystery. This giveaway will only be available until November 24. 

Here is a link about this limited time offer: 

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November 11th, 2014Two Generals, Three Popesby Daniel J. Heisey

On two successive pages of a recent weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal appeared book reviews of new biographies of two famous generals, Napoleon Bonaparte and George C. Marshall.  The juxtaposition in those pages gives the historian pause for thought.  Each general stands as a symbolic figure, one embodying the worst, the other the best in his respective century.

Napoleon (1769-1821) is admired by his newest biographer, but the dictator who sought to conquer Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula to the Ural Mountains, deserved his exile to a remote island in the South Atlantic.  Marshall (1880-1959), whose new biography apparently tries to cut him down to size, deserved the many honors recognizing his service during war and his peacetime restoration of a Europe ravaged by the war begun by National Socialist Germany.

Both Napoleon and Marshall rose from obscure origins to achieve almost legendary status.  Napoleon was born on his family’s estate on the island of Corsica, Marshall in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Both men were graduates of prestigious military academies and early on distinguished themselves as able administrators.  Napoleon forever nursed the outsider’s desire for entering the inner circle, eager to take any measure to achieve his ambition; Marshall had an old-fashioned Pennsylvanian’s characteristic laconic impatience with nonsense and injustice and was ready to speak his mind even if it cost him a promotion.

Like a cunning yet deranged villain in a James Bond story, Napoleon concocted and carried out a megalomaniacal scheme for world domination.  He could do so by first posing as a champion of democracy, riding in to rescue the poor people oppressed by kings, princes, and bishops.  This promise of a new world order came in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity.  It also came at the points of thousands of bayonets.

A little over a century later, Adolf Hitler began another enslavement of Europe, resistance to which involved the United States.  As Chief of Staff of the Army, General Marshall worked closely with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, their first meeting, however, taking an awkward turn when the glib patrician President rambled on about military strategy and then asked “George” whether he agreed.

Marshall, called by his first name only by his wife, bristled inwardly at this false familiarity and said bluntly that he did not agree and explained why.  Everyone present assumed that Marshall’s career was over.  Instead, although Marshall never laughed at his jokes, Roosevelt grew to depend on Marshall’s austere insights.  When the planned Allied invasion of Normandy needed a commander and Marshall seemed the obvious choice, Roosevelt told him, “I could not sleep at night knowing you were not in Washington.”

Under Roosevelt’s successor, Harry S. Truman, Marshall served first as Secretary of State and then as Secretary of Defense.  In 1947, as Secretary of State, he received an honorary doctorate from Harvard and used the occasion to announce a bold initiative called the European Recovery Program, soon commonly known as the Marshall Plan.  Designed to rebuild the countries of Western Europe devastated by the Second World War, the Marshall Plan was denounced by Communists as a bourgeois plot to prevent the expansion of Soviet hegemony.  Meanwhile, demented alcoholics like Senator Joseph McCarthy denounced Marshall as a Communist agent.

Illustrative of the characters of Napoleon and Marshall is how each man dealt with the Bishop of Rome.  In 1798 Napoleon’s troops occupied the Papal States, declared a new Roman Republic, and deposed Pope Pius VI as head of state, forcing the old man into exile.  Napoleon planned to confine him to Sardinia, but Pius VI’s fragile health delayed that transfer.  The Pope remained a prisoner in a citadel in southern France.

In August, 1799, he died there, aged eighty-one, and in March, 1800, the papal conclave, meeting in Venice, elected Gregorio Cardinal Chiaramonte, a Benedictine monk who had taught theology in Rome.  As Pius VII, he entered Rome, despite French occupation, and in 1801 he negotiated a concordat with Napoleon, who wanted to change his title from First Consul to Emperor.

In 1804 Pius VII traveled to Paris for the imperial coronation:  Since the year 800, Popes had crowned Holy Roman Emperors, so the journey had some precedent.  Once in Paris, Pius VII was given a special seat from which to watch Napoleon crown himself emperor.  Tensions between Pope and Emperor increased, and in 1809 Napoleon arrested Pius VII, eventually moving him from Rome to France and keeping him in custody until 1814.

In contrast, Marshall, though an Episcopalian and a Freemason, sought an audience with Pope Pius XII.  They met at Castel Gandolfo on 19 October, 1948, where Marshall briefed the Pope on what Marshall always called the European Recovery Program, and the Pope expressed his warm appreciation of the Marshall Plan.  In the background, Pius XII’s aides, often cautious to a fault, worried that the Pope’s hour with the American Secretary of State would become part of Communist propaganda against the Church.  Nevertheless, both Marshall and Pius XII knew that a man is measured as much by the enemies he makes as by the friends he keeps.

Marshall’s reticence, capability, and sense of duty had long won him near reverence from both American political parties, although he belonged to neither, and in 1946 he received the Congressional Gold Medal.  His name had become synonymous with virtue and integrity.  In 1948 Time magazine named Marshall its Man of the Year; in 1953, he became the first soldier to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Nearly five decades later, it became known that in 1948 Marshall had opposed Truman on the timing of the United States’ diplomatic recognition of the new State of Israel.  To Marshall, Truman’s calculations derived from cynical courthouse politicking.  Marshall summed up his opposition by telling Truman that if he pursued his timetable, Marshall could not vote for him in that year’s presidential election.  Truman respected candor, even when it contradicted him, and kept Marshall in his Cabinet.

As for Napoleon, his decision to become a latter-day Caesar disillusioned his adoring egalitarian partisans, causing Beethoven to remove the dedication to Napoleon from his Third Symphony, the Eroica.  Moreover, it is telling that in 1904 a lapsed Catholic, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, published a short story in which a plaster bust of Napoleon was used to hide the Black Pearl of the Borgias.

Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B., is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.

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November 11th, 2014In These Dark Days, the Church Needs Her Menby Kevin Kennelly

Msgr Charles Pope has written a superb article entitled " In These Dark Days , The Church Needs Her Men To Be Men." If I could wave a magic wand and pick one thing that ( I think) would benefit our society the most it is this: That men go back to being men and women go back to being women. The romance of men and women .....they way they interact, the different strengths and weaknesses they have, the way they look after each other , accept each other's foibles,  take different risks for each other , see the world (somewhat ) differently.....the whole amazing lovable a great gift of God. It is a gift which makes every day delectable....a mysterious ballet of interaction. And it works. As an aside , I love old time romantic As Time Goes By ("woman needs man and man must have his mate .....this no one can deny....") . Look carefully and you will see shades of Genesis in these lyrics....."it is not good for man to be alone..." And conversely, the modern outlook is destroying this great gift. The metrosexual ethos is corrupting maleness. The women who toil in Silicon Valley and put off getting married and having children are the fullness of time....miserable. For a woman, finding a man ( a real man ) to marry is a daunting task....for few are out there. I am rambling here....have you noticed how every ad on TV makes the guys look like fools ? And yes, the whole metrosexual thing is hurting the participation of men at church. They may not realize it but they subconsciously hate the goofy music, the goofy sermons, the goofy wording of prayers, etc . Give them a man's church and they will return. I have seen it.

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November 6th, 2014The Distributism of the Shireby Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative takes up where my recent post on "Tolkien, Belloc and Political Force" left off. As I suspected, it has caused an element of controversy and a good deal of discussion. Read it here:

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November 6th, 2014A New Catholic Revival in the Artsby Joseph Pearce

I am increasingly excited by the signs of a new Catholic Revival in the arts. There are several very gifted novelists writing today and an increasing number of small Catholic publishers willing to publish new Catholic fiction. As a response to this new springtime for Catholic literature, the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, of which I am the Director, has launched the Aquinas Award for Fiction. Apart from fiction, there is also a host of exciting new Catholic poets. We do our best to publish this new verse in the "New Voices" feature in the St. Austin Review and will continue to do so. In addition, Kaufmann Publishing has an impressive catalogue of new volumes of Catholic verse by an exciting new generation of poets.

The new springtime is not limited to literature. In the visual arts, there are many Catholic artists producing work of the finest quality, most notably Igor Babailov, who I recently had the honour of interviewing. Again, as part of our mission to reclaim and revitalize Catholic culture, we continue to feature the work of these artists in the full-colour art feature in each issue.

Nor is music unrepresented in the new revival. The compositions of Michael Kurek are simply superb and I'm honoured that he has agreed to speak about his ballet, Macbeth, at the Center for Faith and Culture's Shakespeare and Christianity Celebration next spring. Apart from Susan Treacy's regular music column in the St. Austin Review, we have featured Kurek's work in our pages and also the work of the wonderful California-based composer, Frank La Rocca. The latter's work is celebrated this week in Catholic World Report:

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November 5th, 2014Agreeing with G. K. Chestertonby Joseph Pearce

A week or so ago I wrote an article for the Imaginative Conservative in which I argued with Chesterton about the nature of the vulgar mob. Feeling a little guilty for disagreeing with the great man, even though I think I'm right and the he is wrong, I have written another article (possibly in penance!) in which I agree with him on the perversity of so-called philanthropy:

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November 5th, 2014My Dear Weedrotby Edward Lawrence

Inspired by, and written in honour of, C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters

  My Dear Weedrot,

I’ve been meaning to write to you for some time about the dangers and opportunities presented to us by the Internet. The recent events at the Synod have given me a marvellous and delightful chance to talk about the opportunities. The dangers I will discuss another time.

You will see how much success we’ve had recently in sowing confusion, fear, doubt and despair among the humans. This is, of course, nothing new in itself. But the Internet allows us to magnify these effects in two important ways. Firstly, each and every public utterance of the leaders of the Enemy’s Church is now disseminated around the world in a matter of seconds. This was not always so: in fact, quite the opposite. For much of human history since that Great and Wretched Disaster, only the most serious, the most considered and the most thoughtful of the chief bishop’s sayings reached the ears of the ordinary Catholic. Many of them would go decades or even a lifetime without hearing a word from him. Even during the latter twentieth century, the age of radio and television, it was typically still through the written word that he communicated with the Enemy’s followers, and it was through this medium that they heard from him. This has now changed: every public utterance of his is now not only disseminated, but also analysed, commented on, digested and commented on again.

The second way that the Internet helps us is that, through articles and comments, we can magnify our efforts at creating despair by making one human’s worry affect thousands.

You’ll see here that I’m talking of those humans – happily, now a small minority – who are  not only baptised, but also making a serious effort to follow the Enemy, obey His commands and remain in what they call a ‘state of grace’. I am not concerned in this letter with the broad masses of men who by and large ignore the Enemy. And nor should you be, Wormwood. Your target is your man, and nobody else. We make war on the Enemy to get hold of individuals. What with all the excitement recently over heretic bishops and papal silence, I’m worried you’re making their mistake, and forgetting that it’s individuals we war over. What goes on in the Vatican is the concern of spirits far below us in the Lowerarchy, and you should not concern yourself with it. Your man is your concern, and his eternal soul is your goal. Never forget this.

But Wormwood – my first piece of wisdom is coming up, get ready – make sure he forgets this! You want him to be so concerned by ecclesial politics that it absorbs all his attention. This is good not only because of the effects it produces – anger, rancour, worry, neglect of duty, and so on – but also because all the time he’s brooding over these things, he is neglecting to think about his own soul. You want to exploit this. You want, above all, to wrench his gaze away from his own soul and his own salvation, over which he has complete control, and towards that which he has no control: the Church’s place in the world, or what the chief bishop really thinks about some question or other, or who’s really in control of the Vatican. Or something similar. The point isn’t what you direct it towards: the point is to get it away from himself and his soul.

You need to empathise with him, Wormwood. I know, I know, it’s hard to put yourself in the position of this filthy animal, but try anyway. You, being pure intelligence, can focus yourself all the time on your goal with relative ease. (Sometimes, of course, when I think of Him or Her and their perfections, I’m filled with such terror and despair and confusion that I can’t focus at all for a while – but what I say is generally true.) The human, on the other hand, since he inhabits the world of the senses, can be quite easily distracted by them. He can be easily induced to forget about his soul, simply because (in one sense) he can’t see it. In fact, even without your efforts, the concupiscence that blinds him means it’s a struggle for him to remember it. So exploit this animal nature. Make him think that Vatican politics is something more than the world of flesh which is passing away: inflate the immediate and the temporary in his mind, such that there is no room for the spiritual and the eternal. Make him forget that his salvation isn’t assured, that time spent thinking about politics is time not praying, or going about his duties, or working out his salvation in some other way. Don’t let him realise that your distractions not only keep him from prayer, but retard his disposition towards it.

Stop him from praying, Wormwood. That’s my second priceless pearl of wisdom. You won’t be able to do this immediately, of course. It may take years. But you can begin eroding his faith and confidence in the Enemy now, this very day, and in so doing build habits that are favourable to us. Make sure you remind him about ecclesial politics when he sits down for his prayers. And keep reminding him throughout. In so doing, you will not only (all things being equal) reduce the efficacy of the prayers and the graces he receives, but you’ll even over time be able to increase the unpleasantness he feels about prayer itself.

This is a long term thing (though far shorter than eternity), and you’ll have to be patient. Make his prayers vain, mindless and dead. Fill them with bitterness and rancour towards his superiors. You will, of course, find it much easier if he hasn’t developed the terrible habit of making a deliberate effort to turn his mind towards the Enemy before he prays. And for crying out loud, be subtle about it. If he realises what you’re up to, he’ll ask the Enemy or his Guardian protector for help, and then your efforts will be in vain.

The third point, and it’s so obvious that I don’t know why I’m mentioning it, is to keep him from the sacraments. Especially confession. Every single time he worthily confesses, all our work that we’ve built up to that point is destroyed. Not only that, but the Enemy’s grace is renewed in him, and he receives encouragement, peace and all kinds of other vile things. It is the most terrible thing, Wormwood – our destroyer and our dread. Keep him from confession! Again, if he’s the kind of Catholic I take him to be, you won’t be able to do this all at once. But make his confessions lazy, and bad and hurried. Work towards it. Take the long view. However long it takes, it’s much shorter than eternity.

So, keep him from thinking about his individual soul, keep him from prayer, and keep him from the sacraments. The same methods we’ve always used, just with a different hook: the Internet. But I think that for your man, the first point is most important. Make him forget his soul while keeping it constantly in mind yourself, and the rest will follow.

The individual is what matters, Wormwood! It is miserable and despairing and lost individuals that we seek to populate Hell with. And our means of doing this involve similarly individual methods. Think back to the last great human war of 1939-45. Think of how men at Stalingrad fought street to street, house to house, wall to wall, in their battle to take the city. So it is with us. We want to take every thought, every emotion, every occasion and make sin of it, in our battle to take the soul. But the Enemy acts in the same way, and if you’re not careful, your man will too. Just when you think you’ve beaten him, then like a starving soldier of the Red Army, ammunition gone, he’ll fly at you out of nowhere, lunging at you with fists, teeth and rocks, pummelling and bruising you and leaving you lying in the dust. So keep him from thinking about this, or acting on it. A soldier who constantly questions his generals’ strategy is useless, so keep him constantly questioning the Enemy’s strategy. Keep him concerned with matters of the war that don’t concern him, and that he can do nothing about. (Besides pray– don’t let him do that, of course. The usual tactic is to make them think that one prayer is useless in the grand scheme of things.)

Make him think his own salvation is assured, and that somehow he needs to act to save Christ’s Body as a whole. And then you will have him.

Your affectionate old uncle,



Editor's note: Edward Lawrence is a pen name for one of many creative writers.

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November 5th, 2014Suffering, Addiction and Healing in The Lord of the Ringsby Joseph Pearce

A few weeks ago I gave a talk to the Catholic Medical Association in Nashville on "Suffering, Addiction and Healing in The Lord of the Rings". The video of the talk has now been posted on the CMA's website:

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November 3rd, 2014The Son Rises in the Eastby Joseph Pearce

Sometimes, as Chesterton insisted, we need to stand on our heads in order to see things clearly for the first time. This is clearly the case with regard to the apparent setting of the sun of Christianity in the West and its apparent rising in the East. As the USA and Europe sink into the quagmire of secular fundamentalism and its debauchery, Orthodoxy is rising from the death of atheism in Russia:

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November 3rd, 2014Tolkien, Belloc and Political Forceby Joseph Pearce

There's a very interesting interview in Catholic World Report with Jay W. Richards, co-author of a new book examining Tolkien's political philosophy.

The interview and the book are for the most part very good and incisive. The only blot on the otherwise edifying intellectual landscape is the suggestion that Tolkien would not have agreed with Belloc's belief that some form of political "force", i.e. legal intervention, would be necessary to restore equity in the economy through the positive assistance of small businesses to gain and retain a place in the marketplace. Bizarrely, Richards cites the chapter from The Lord of the Rings entitled "The Scouring of the Shire" to buttress his claim that Tolkien would have opposed Belloc's Essay on the Restoration of Property. Richards makes the all too common and naive mistake of equating Belloc's political philosophy with socialism and then, having done so, states, quite correctly, that Tolkien was not a socialist. The fact is that Belloc opposed the way in which both socialism and globalist capitalism concentrate property into the hands of a privileged few, i.e. politicians and plutocrats. The answer to this injustice was to promote small businesses and to use the power of politics to do so. Such political intervention is not liked by free market libertarians who believe that it's better to have the world run by global corporations who have free rein (and reign) to use and abuse their economies of scale to exclude the vast majority of people from the market. 

And as for the suggestion that Belloc supported political intervention whereas Tolkien didn't, one wonders what Dr. Richards would call the force used by the hobbits upon their return to the Shire to restore agrarian sanity by exorcising both the dark satanic mills (capitalist industrialism) and political corruption (socialism). Is taking up arms against the usurpation of political power by an unrepresentative minority not the employment of force and political intervention?

Apart from this lapse into anarcho-libertarian nonsense, the interview is worth reading:

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November 3rd, 2014Mgr. Benson’s “Lord of the World”by Brendan D. King

I do enjoy Monsignor Benson's "Lord of the World", but there is one matter in it which deeply troubles me. It involves Fr. Percy Franklin successfully urging the Pope to ban all other Liturgies except the Latin Rite. 

At the time Lord of the World was written, the Eastern Catholic martyrs of the Red Terror and the Armenian Genocide were still in the future. Saint Josaphat of Polotsk and the 13 Martyrs of Pratulin were not, however. 

Despite their martyrdom, there was a viewpoint  held by many Latin Rite Catholics in Mgr. Benson's time that Eastern Rite Catholicism was "half-schismatic" and a "spiritual dead end." As a solution, they recommended, like Father Franklin, that all Eastern Catholics be forcibly transferred to the Latin Rite. Some, like Cardinal Walter Kasper, still hold this view.

Although this statement angers me, I cannot blame Mgr. Benson. His brother has written that his novels were always written very soon after Mgr. Benson first conceived of them. When one also considers the one year of seminary studies between Mgr. Benson's conversion and his ordination yo the Catholic priesthood, it is likely that he was never taught about certain matters.

What I still cannot understand, however, is how Mgr. Benson got away with such a statement at the time he wrote it. Pope St. Pius X most definitely did not agree with those who denigrated Eastern Catholicism.

In 1907, the year that LOTW was published, Pope Pius met with the Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan of Lvov and Halych and laid plans with him to erect an Eastern Catholic Underground Church in Tsarist Russia. 

The following year, in 1908, Pope Pius presided over the ceremonies to mark the  1,500th Feast Day of St. John Chrysostom. On this occasion, His Holiness personally addressed the assembled Eastern Catholic Hierarchs and called them the glory and the crown of the Universal Church.

Although I otherwise consider LOTW to be a literary masterpiece, I am rather curious as to how Mgr. Benson avoided a Vatican order to remove that passage. Had he received such an order and ignored it, LOTW would have landed swiftly on the Index of Forbidden Books.

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November 3rd, 2014It’s time again…by Dena Hunt

…to reclaim time, the last night of that silly business of daylight savings time. People made ironic remarks to each other all day about getting back the hour stolen from them last spring. But the most ironic thing about this little biannual banter is that there’s no such thing in the first place. There’s no such thing as time, calculable time. We made it up. It’s a very handy abstract device for setting clocks and keeping calendars, a way to divide hours from epochs, and quite necessary to live any sort of ordered life—but, actually, nonexistent.

This year we reclaim time on the eve of All Souls Day, a coincidence that might make us think a bit more deeply about divisions of time—one of the only two that matter (birth and death), along with the artificial ones of our own making.

We might think a bit about the strangeness of time, not so much that it passes, but that it doesn’t “pass” at all. History is prophecy; we see that in both prophecy and history if we look closely enough.

But we can’t understand these things—and so we wind clocks and write calendars, and imagine there is time, time marked off in nano increments that we believe we control by appointments and schedules and such. But somewhere in eternity most of us exist together with those souls for whom we will pray at tomorrow’s Mass. And maybe we would pray for All Souls with a bit more sincerity and earnestness if we knew that it is for our own souls we are praying.

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October 30th, 2014The Evidence for Shakespeare’s Catholicismby Joseph Pearce

I've received an e-mail from a student studying Theatre History who is doing a research project on Shakespeare's Catholicism. The student requested a list of books and essays offering evidence that Shakespeare was a believing Catholic.

My Response:

Regarding your question, you should check out the extensive five-page bibliography in my book, The Quest for Shakespeare. Books I would particularly recommend on Shakespeare's Catholicism (apart from my own three books on the topic!) are:

John Henry De Groot, The Shakespeares and "The Old Faith" (Real-View Books, 1995)

Carol Curt Enos, Shakespeare and the Catholic Religion (Dorrance Publishing, 2000)

Peter Milward S.J., The Catholicism of Shakespeare's Plays (Saint Austin Press, 1997)

Peter Milward S.J., Shakespeare the Papist (Sapientia Press, 2005)

Peter Milward S.J., Shakespeare's Religious Background (Indiana University Press, 1973)

Mutschmann and Wentersdorf, Shakespeare's and Catholicism (Sheed and Ward, 1952)

Richard Simpson, The Religion of Shakespeare (Burns and Oates, 1899)

Taylor and Beauregard, eds., Shakespeare and the Culture of Christianity in Early Modern England (Fordham University Press, 2003)

Ian Wilson, Shakespeare: The Evidence (St. Martin's Griffin, 1999)

For essays on Shakespeare's Catholicism, I would recommend any of the Ignatius Critical Editions of Shakespeare's plays and also the several issues of the St. Austin Review which have been published on a Shakespearean theme.

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October 29th, 2014Boorstin, Creativity, and Augustineby Daniel J. Heisey

While nine of his twenty-two books are still in print, albeit in paperback, Random House, under its Vintage imprint, has brought out a new hardcover edition of Daniel J. Boorstin’s The Creators.  Boorstin (1914-2004) was a master of clear, succinct prose that went to the heart of any subject he chose to study.  Among his many interests was the theology of history presented by Saint Augustine of Hippo.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, but reared in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Boorstin began his career as a lawyer, having studied at Harvard, Yale, and Oxford.  A Rhodes Scholar, he distinguished himself by being admitted to the bar both in America and in Britain.  He then taught for twenty-five years at the University of Chicago, and his professional life culminated with service as Librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987.  Between 1958 and 1973 wrote The Americans, a highly-acclaimed three-volume history of the United States.  In 1962 he wrote The Image, about the trend towards publicity and celebrity being dominant features in modern life.

The Creators (1992) is the second in another trilogy, the other volumes being The Discoverers (1983) and The Seekers (1998).  Each wide-ranging volume can stand on its own, however, and in nearly eight-hundred pages of text The Creators surveys such creative figures as Homer and Leonardo da Vinci, Confucius and Giuseppe Verdi.  At the end of August, 1992, in what it hailed as a “special double issue,” U. S. News and World Report devoted thirty pages to judicious excerpts from The Creators, lushly illustrated.  The magazine’s cover bore in letters three inches high the title The Creators and a color picture of Ludwig van Beethoven.

In October of that year rival Time magazine reviewed the book under the sniffy heading “Conventional Wisdom.”  While conceding that Boorstin “has a magisterial gift for summary and organization,” and that “some readers will doubtless find his guidance helpful,” it concluded that “The Creators is not the book it could have been.”  The reviewer had pointed out that although Boorstin’s book had a chapter on Charles Dickens, there was barely a mention of Anthony Trollope, and a chapter focusing on Johann Sebastian Bach but briefly referred to George Frideric Handel.

Boorstin’s obituary in The Economist noted the disciplined and reticent nature of a man chosen to be national librarian by the stolid, pipe-smoking Gerald Ford.  Always an early riser, Boorstin was busy each day clattering away on his old manual typewriter at four in the morning.  “Worshipping, as he did,” The Economist explained, “the original vigour of the American experiment, he often found modern America hard to take.”  It added, “In tweed jacket, glasses, and bow tie, he played the closeted [cloistered] academic to perfection; but his perception of his own times was acute.”  Especially in the early 1990s, he appeared on television news shows as the wise old man who could nevertheless stick to the point.

One of Boorstin’s literary heroes was Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), and at least once in his or her life, any English-speaking historian worthy of the name must read, ponder, and argue with Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Gibbon merits a chapter in The Creators, as do his eminent nineteenth-century American peers, William H. Prescott (1796-1859) and Francis Parkman (1823-1893).  Boorstin steeped himself in the writings of those three masters of the historian’s craft, and if one were to guess which American historians from the twentieth century will be read a hundred years from now, Boorstin would join a short list with David McCullough and Barbara W. Tuchman.

Even though Boorstin favored Bach to Handel and Dickens to Trollope, his was a generous spirit, not meaning to slight or snub.  The seventy chapters of The Creators are really essays, crisply conveying Boorstin’s enthusiasm for what he deemed the finest of human achievement.  Page after page, Boorstin described the glories and genius of human creativity, from the cave paintings at Altamira, Spain, and Lascaux, France, to Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings, from Stonehenge to Frank Lloyd Wright, from Gregorian chant to Igor Stravinsky.

All the while, Boorstin also paid tribute to great religious figures, including Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed.  Prominent among them stood Saint Augustine of Hippo.  Boorstin wrote that Saint Augustine “remains one of the most versatile and challenging thinkers in Western history.”  Given Boorstin’s long hours of re-reading Gibbon, no friend to the Church, as well as his own Jewish heritage, he nevertheless admired Augustine and his permeating influence on Western culture.

According to Boorstin, Augustine’s essential contribution to the ongoing intellectual conversation was teaching that time is linear, not cyclical.  Since at least the days of Hesiod, the ancient Greeks and Romans had believed that human nature and human history would languish forever after the demise of a long-lost Golden Age.  Like the perpetually recurring seasons of the year, time and again mankind faced the same dismal fates.  A brighter future free of this sad cycle was beyond ancient imagination.

“Christianity,” wrote Boorstin, “turning our eyes to the future, played a leading role in the discovery of our power to create.”  Boorstin noted that for Augustine, “the climactic event of the world was the coming of Christ.”  Since that event could never be repeated, Boorstin said that for Augustine, history “begins with the Creation and will end with the Last Judgment.”  In between, “every event is unique, and every soul follows its own destiny, to survive in Hell or in Heaven.”  History thus was not an ever-turning wheel of fortune but “a continuous unfolding of man’s mysterious capacities—for creation, for love of God, for joining the Eternal City,” meaning in this case not old Rome but the new Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation, the City of God in Heaven.

Boorstin therefore saw Augustine, especially in The City of God, revealing how the Christian message of Incarnation and Redemption “transported the classical Golden Age from the remote past into the remote but certain future.”  Mankind need no longer be resigned to life here on this weary old world being as good as it gets, the best having faded away long ago, but could welcome each new day as a gift, an opportunity to co-operate with God’s grace and creation.


Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.



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October 29th, 2014Painter of the Popesby Joseph Pearce

I had the inestimable honour recently of interviewing the Russian artist, Igor Babailov, now resident in Nashville, who has painted official portraits of the last three popes, as well as celebrated portraits of George Washington, George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin and many others. Babailov, indubitably one of the greatest artists alive today, is a vociferous champion of realism and is critical of much of the nonsense in modern art. In short, he is a veritable breath of fresh air in a very stale environment!


The interview has just been published in the National Catholic Register:

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October 28th, 2014Light from the Dark Continentby Joseph Pearce

In the days of yore, the days of discovery, exploration and empire, Africa was known as the Dark Continent. Today, as the so-called developed world falls into shadow, the continent of Africa is becoming a beacon of light and a source of hope. From an EWTN program called "The Vocation Boom," this statistic:

African Catholic Seminarians

1950s - 2,000

1985 - 7,000

Today - 27,000

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October 28th, 2014R. H. Benson 1914 - 2014: A Tributeby Joseph Pearce

I have just received an e-mail from an Argentinian journalist writing an article to commemorate the centenary of the death of the great literary convert, R. H. Benson. He sent me some questions, the answers to which I thought would serve as a suitable tribute to Benson on the Ink Desk:


1. I have read an article written by you where you describe Benson as an unsung genius. Can you explain why do you see him like that?


I used this phrase in the light of the way that Benson has been largely neglected in the century since his death. During his own lifetime he was a hugely popular novelist, as well as being an excellent poet and a highly gifted preacher and spiritual mentor. The neglect of his legacy is unjust and has deprived posterity of his powerful and significant voice.



2. He was one of several literary converts of the beginning of the last century. How can you explain such phenomenom between those writers and specifically in Benson?


In my book Literary Converts I provide a history of the Catholic Literary Revival in England, which can be said to have had its roots in the Romanticism of Coleridge and Wordsworth and to have had its definitive birth, so to speak, with Newman's conversion in 1845. By the time of Benson's conversion sixty years later the Revival was in full swing. Benson's conversion was probably the most controversial in the whole history of the Revival, except for that of Newman himself, because he was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the leader of the worldwide Anglican communion. His conversion was seen, therefore, as portentous of the rise of Catholicism and the fall of Anglicanism.



3. Why do you consider that someone must read him today?


Several of Benson's novels have stood the test of time and deserve to be seen as classics of Christian fiction, especially his historical novels, Come Rack! Come Rope! and Richard Reynal, Solitary, and his futuristic dystopian thriller, Lord of the World, the last of which has been proved more correct in its dark prophecy of the rise of demonic secularism than later works in a similar genre, such as Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four.



4. In which of his multiple facets -as a writer, as an apologist, as a prophet...- do you think he specially stood out?


He deserves to be remembered primarily as one of the finest novelists of the twentieth century, though his significance as an apologist, prophet and poet should not be overlooked.



5. Beside his famous novel `Lord of the World', what other titles do you consider relevant as well?


As mentioned, his two historical novels, Come Rack! Come Rope! and Richard Reynal, Solitary, deserve a much wider readership. His own account of his conversion, Confessions of a Convert, is a powerful autobiographical account of a soul's journey to the goodness, truth and beauty of Christ and His Church in the spirit of St. Augustine's Confessions, which is equalled in perception and power only by Newman's masterful Apologia. It's a true classic of conversion literature, which will be an inspiration for anyone on the same path more than a century later.  

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October 23rd, 2014A New Catholic Literary Revivalby Joseph Pearce

Recent years have seen a significant increase in the quantity and quality of new Catholic fiction and poetry. This being so, it is gratifying to see that several new literature awards are being launched in response to this new Catholic literary revival. As Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College, I’m pleased to announce that we have initiated the Aquinas Award for Fiction, the first of which will be presented at a conference at Aquinas College in Nashville next autumn.

The Aquinas Award and several other awards are featured in this article, just published in the National Catholic Register:

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October 22nd, 2014Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex - oh, and Loveby Kevin O'Brien |

Most modern people don't think highly enough of sex.

That sounds crazy, but let me explain.

One of my regular readers gets regularly mad at me when I make the analogy between adultery and "gay sex".  Her point is that a sexual orientation is something you just can't help, and it defines who you are, and it has nothing to do with sin.  She rejects the Catholic teaching that a homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered and should be resisted with the virtue of chastity.

But, interestingly, when Facebook friend Mark S. Schmittle posted this comment ...

Chastity IS sexuality - the proper expression of sexuality, either in marriage, virginity or celibacy. The peace, joy, and love that result from a chaste life had to explained and promoted as the only true alternative to unchastity which brings tragedy, poverty, chaos, mistrust, and the objectification of human beings as things to satisfy our passions

... she replied ...

Gosh Mark - you're kind of right. I never saw it stated like that before - but you're right.

So it occurred to me that my blog posts are written to an audience that I assume is well grounded in Catholic moral theology.  But maybe it's a good idea to take a step back and try to explain the sort of stuff I've been taking for granted for a long time now, since not all of you are as steeped in this as I am, and explain how only the Catholic Church really gives a damn about sex these days.


First of all, though it's incredible that it needs to be pointed out to people, sex has a purpose.  What could that purpose be?  Hmmm.  I wonder.  Gosh, could it be making babies?  And also (considering our emotions and our souls) the expression of a total giving of one person to another?

Most moderns today reject the obvious and blatant purpose of sex.  Having been infected with a kind of spiritual Ebola that is more contagious than the real Ebola, modern people have adopted the most bizarre of all bizarre religious beliefs, and one that's based not only on blind faith, but on a faith that's devoted to blindness - the belief that there is no such thing as function, purpose, meaning or design anywhere in the universe.

So therefore a penis may go into a butt-hole.  No big deal.  It's not designed to go anywhere else, is it?  The anus is not designed for defecation, and the penis not designed for urination and procreation.  No way.  We can make use of our bodies in any way we want.  We could even eat through our noses if we wanted to, because the nose is not necessarily made to smell.  It could inhale and ingest yogurt and cream cheese, if we wanted it to.  Stop being so judgmental!

And if you believe in the sacrifice of reason to blind faith, you can swallow the modern denial of purpose and design.  But yet once you've made that sacrifice, you are unable to see the obvious fact (which is not even a conclusion, but a simple observation) that any use of the sexual organs outside of their design is "disordered".  "Sin" is simply a disorder - seeking a good in the wrong way or in the wrong amount or under the wrong circumstances.  "Sin" is what we call the rebellion against the Order that gives us peace.

But maybe these devotees of the Modern Faith of Purposelessness, if they can't admit to a biological design can admit to a psychological one.  In fact, they do.  They push it.  They might be reluctant to admit that any kind of sex is OK at any time, but they will argue that sex between two (or more) people who "love" one another is fine, if the sex is an expression of love, even if it involves anal intercourse (though they don't like to use that term, as it's clearly not the most ideal expression of "love" and it makes even them a bit squeamish).

But here we must celebrate, at last, a common cause.  We admit that sex is not just for making babies, but is also for expressing love - it's just that the only definition of "love" that makes sense is the definition that has grown out of that event that happened on Calvary 2,000 years ago.

Love is sacrifice: it is the complete and total self-giving of one person for the good of the other.  It is an act that involves the full engagement of our entire being - heart, mind, body and soul - and every aspect of our intelligence and will.

The most clear manifestation of love in the world is therefore marriage and the family.  Celibacy and devotion to God through consecrated virginity and the priesthood or religious life is another expression of love, but that is the exception.  The ordinary and most clear manifestation of love is the lifelong commitment of one spouse to another, a living sacrifice that creates a bunch of kids, arguing siblings, Christmas dinners, annoying in-laws.

And even within the miraculous circle of this everyday thing, the family, chastity is the virtue that prevents sex, even within the confines of marriage, from becoming lust.

Lust is the objectification of one person by another, the use of another person as an object.  Lust is the opposite of love.  We therefore guard against it with the virtue of chastity not because sex is bad but because it's good - it's so good that we must keep it from becoming what we know it always tends to become if we let it - a monster that devours, rather than a gift that gives.

Anyway, this is all a part of the "seamless garment", the unified teaching of Christ that the Church continues to pass on (sometimes in spite of herself, and in spite of the desires of her bishops, popes and cardinals).  There's much more to be said, such as marriage prefiguring the Second Coming of Christ to His bride the Church, as well as admitting that homosexuals can clearly love one another, and love one another deeply, while recognizing that they can't express that love in a disordered way, by indulging in an act that degrades them if they abrogate it to themselves for a selfish purpose, when it is made for something other and something greater.  But I've said enough, and I'm certain that every single thing I said will be misunderstood, so I might as well shut up.

Except to say - only the Catholic Church thinks enough of sex to insist that it can only be the expression of full and sacrificial love between a husband and a wife who have given themselves to one another completely and for life, a gift of body and soul, of flesh and spirit, a gift that makes more life, little babies, new people, a gift that lifts us to our highest plane physically on this earth, a gift that gives a foretaste of the ecstasy that the cross entails.

Only the Catholic Church really cares about sex.

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October 22nd, 2014Great Talks by Ralph Wood on Lewis and Tolkienby Joseph Pearce

Last night I had the honour and pleasure to give a talk here in Nashville to members of the Catholic Medical Association on the theme of “Suffering, Addiction and Healing in The Lord of the Rings”. I was told that I was following in the footsteps of the wonderful and inestimable Ralph C. Wood who had spoken several months earlier on C. S. Lewis to the same group. During his visit he also spoke at Aquinas College on The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately Dr. Wood’s visit preceded my own arrival at Aquinas College so we weren’t destined to meet on this occasion. The last time I met Professor Wood, whose work I greatly admire, was at the national Chesterton Conference in Reno, Nevada two years ago.

My disappointment at missing Dr. Wood’s talks was mitigated by the fact that all three of the talks that he gave during his visit to Nashville were videoed and have been uploaded to the Catholic Medical Association’s website. This being so, I thought I’d share them with visitors to the Ink Desk:

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October 22nd, 2014Marriage, Divorce and the Modern Mindby Kevin O'Brien |

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article over the weekend that examines the case of a divorced couple, with the ex-husband seeking an annulment over the ex-wife's objections.

The ex-wife, a Protestant, is not at all bothered that her husband divorced her and "re-married", contrary to the clear teachings of Jesus Christ.  The thought of renouncing the vows you make to the person you promise to love for the rest of your life is apparently no big deal (by the way, for each of them it was their second marriage).  What bothers this woman is the thought that her second marriage "never happened".

Her argument seems to be, "We promised to love each other and remain together until the day we died, and that was a valid promise, dammit! even though we've both broken that promise and are sleeping with other people (and I'm fine with that) - other people that we're promising to love and live with for the rest of our lives (as we did our first spouses).  Anyway, all of that breaking of vows and lifting your leg and pissing on marriage is no big deal.  What bothers me is if some jack ass in the Catholic Church is going to tell me that the marriage that we both desecrated by breaking our vows and moving on to other people never happened!  It sure the hell did, which is why we both walked away from it!"

Welcome to the modern world.

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October 22nd, 2014Here it is…by Dena Hunt

About two years ago, I posted a suggestion that the Church get out of the marriage business as soon as possible. I proposed that it’s actually a violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state that clerics of any sort should have the authority to perform legally binding ceremonies, which are actually a function of government and not of religion. (The emphasis here is on “legal,” not on “marriage.”) Couples could have a religious ceremony if they want one and if the clergyman is willing to perform it, but the clergyman should not have any legal authority to make such a ceremony binding in any way. All couples would have to enter into a government-composed binding contract in order to be legally married.

I remember that a couple of comments were appalled by the idea that the Church should surrender any influence at all on public civil life.  Here’s the reason:

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October 22nd, 2014Arguing with G. K. Chestertonby Joseph Pearce

Having had the foolhardy audacity last week to argue with C. S. Lewis about “love”, I have picked a fight this week with another giant, G. K. Chesterton, this time about the “common man”.

Watch the fight here:

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October 20th, 2014Tolkien on Lewis’s Christianityby Joseph Pearce

I write from Nashville, where I’m currently teaching my class on “Modern Christian Writers”. Today we were tackling Chesterton’s Man Who was Thursday. Returning to my office from the classroom, I came across an e-mail in my in-box enquiring about Tolkien’s attitude to Lewis’s conversion to Anglicanism. The exact wording of the e-mail is given below. My brief response follows.


The e-mail

I have a friend that asked a question that I wondered if you had an answer to? If not, that's okay.

Tolkien's reaction to CSL's *not* becoming a Catholic when he converted. Can you point me to any resources, please? Thanks!

My response: 

The obvious and fullest answer I can give is to suggest that your friend purchases my book, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (Saint Benedict Press), which covers Tolkien’s views on Lewis’s religious position in some depth.

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October 18th, 2014On St. Luke’s Feastby Dena Hunt

I’ve heard that St. Luke’s Gospel is the favorite of women. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s my favorite and I’m a woman. Men prefer St. John’s, so I’ve been told, which might be a little surprising, since St. John’s is called the “poetic” Gospel.

I never knew why I liked St. Luke’s best, but one minor bit of obscure history may help a little to explain it. The testimony of women is notably absent in the New Testament. That’s because the women’s testimony was never permitted – never deemed credible – in the Jewish society of Jesus’ time. It may be noted that Mary Magdalen’s testimony that Jesus was risen, that she had seen him and spoken with him, was disbelieved by the apostles, still in hiding, on that Easter morning.

Jewish men didn’t take seriously anything a woman might have to say. Even my beloved St. Joseph apparently required angelic confirmation of the cause of Mary’s pregnancy; her word was perhaps not enough.

St. Luke, however, was a Greek. And maybe because he was not a Jew like the other Gospel writers, he felt free to believe the testimony of a woman. Hence, we have the story of the Anunciation, the Nativity, the Visitation and St. John the Baptist’s birth; also, the Presentation and the Finding in the temple—all of which could only have come from Mary. None of this is to be found in the other Gospels. Were it not for a Greek’s willingness to take a woman at her word, we’d never know about Gabriel, we’d never know about the Incarnation of God’s Son..

I always feel a paternal influence from my beloved St. Joseph (also the name of my grandfather, Joseph Hunt, who died when I was three), but I have great affection for St. Luke, who would have had the courage to believe me, a woman.  

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October 18th, 2014Approaching what is Real: Don Quixote, God, and the Rest of Usby Kevin O'Brien |

For they had bartered the reality of God for what is unreal, and had offered divine honors and religious service to created things, rather than to the Creator--He who is for ever blessed. Amen. (Rom. 1:25)

As we drive around the country performing murder mystery dinner theater shows, my actress Maria Romine and I listen to audio books.  We've lately been listening to Don Quixote, the unabridged version, read very well by George Guidall.

It's a 40 hour long production, and we're only about five hours into it.  But we're listening to parts that I've never read (my printed version is abridged).

We've come to the "pastoral interlude" where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are spending time with some shepherds.  We are beginning to learn that Don Quixote is not the only madman who's a bit too idealistic for his own good.  While Don Quixote has been inspired to become a knight errant, a group of well-fed suburban yuppies have been inspired to become shepherds and live out a kind of pastoral romance while not at the shopping mall.

In this interlude, we hear Don Quixote wax eloquently on the "golden age", a mythical era of chivalry that sounds as if it is set in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.  Then we hear one of the yuppies who's living as a shepherd wax eloquently on his "lady", the disdainful woman he's pursuing, whose scorning of him leads literally to his death.  We also hear from the pursued lady herself, and while Don Quixote bravely rushes to her defense, her own idealism - a kind of haughty virginity, a sort of smug isolationism - is as strained as the rather contrived love of the yuppie shepherds who dote on her.  Their romance is not quite love and her celibacy is not quite purity.

And that's the way we often are, even when we're at our best.  The reason this novel is brilliant is that it examines the complexities of idealism and cynicism.  Don Quixote, the yuppies, their lady - all are really quite mad in a way, and yet all are following ideals - ideals that they can't quite seem to make work in the real world.  (Kind of like all of us!)  And somehow everyone around them gets sucked in to the yarns they're spinning - and yet this is not entirely a bad thing.

What does this have to do with the Faith?

I write a lot on about Unreality.  This is my word for our proclivity to live a lie, a comfortable and apparently controllable lie, rather than living the truth.  We know what it means to "get real" with someone; getting "unreal" is just the opposite.  Unreality is marked by things that are contrived, artificial, and somehow dishonest or untrue.  Examples are Oregon Catholic Press music at Mass, bad art and architecture in the churches, the extremely artificial and contrived weirdness of "Christian Courtship", the false camaraderie of certain groups, cheesy literature and drama (such as Hallmark movies and certain self-consciously Christian films) - and also so much of what we see in the secular culture, especially our favorite fantasy that sex and gender are whatever we choose to make of them, our insane insistence that sex has no correspondence with nature or with reality - and our illusion that meaning has no correspondence with life, that meaning is imposed on life, not discovered in life, etc.

This is all dreadful stuff.  And in a way, Unreality is simply a word for sin.  Indeed, the Laws of Morality and Faith that God has revealed to us are simply the roadmap to Reality (and Heaven) and the Commandments are the "Do Not Enter" signs to prevent us from taking the road to Unreality (and Hell).

Adultery, for instance, is an example of an act that's dripping with Unreality and that always, somehow, leaves a bit of Hell in its wake.  Love and sex between a man and a woman are designed in such a way that sacramental fidelity and self-sacrifice over the long haul bring untold contentment as well as new life.  Fidelity leads to Reality (and, in a way, to Heaven) because God has made Fidelity at the heart of what is Real.  Therefore cheating, though fun, will end up in shipwreck and misery (in other words, Hell) - for someone, at least, is bound to suffer the consequences of the Unreal - even if it's the innocent children who are caught up in it all.  In other words, something like adultery is our way of denying the way things are actually made (Reality) and asserting our own fantasy against it (Unreality), and the pain we suffer (the Consequential) is simply the symptom that we've been doing things wrong, going the wrong way down a one-way street.  God's "judgment" is simply the consequence of denying the Truth and Living a Lie.  Unreality is always, then, a form of sin; and sin is always an assertion of a kind of Unreality.

But, as the book Don Quixote shows us, we are made to spin yarns and to imagine great things that never were, like the golden age of chivalry.  If we were all "realists" or cynics, we would all be materialists and atheists, for it takes a kind of poetic vision to see the reality of God and of His Kingdom.  Our capacity for Unreality may be the misuse of our creative and imaginative function - but without that capacity, we would not be able to apprehend the image of God: not because God is Unreal (He is, on the contrary, the source of all that is most Real), but because our imaginative function is our spiritual "nose" as it were, our ability to sense that which is beyond the immediate.

Fiction is made to lead us to Fact.  But as fallen men, we often misuse our fictive function, for we'd rather become gods than serve one.

Indeed, we often misuse the three major gifts that God has given us that separate us from the beasts - Will, Reason and Imagination.  This trinity of gifts - Will, Reason and Imagination (by the term "Imagination" I mean to include what Tolkien calls "sub-creation") - this trinity of gifts corresponds with the trinity of reality: the Good, the True and the Beautiful.  It is the business of our Will to conform what we do to what is Good; it is the business of our Reason to conform what we think and understand to what is True; and it is the business of our Imagination to conform what we dream and desire and make to what is Beautiful.  All three functions support each other, since the objects toward which they are designed are inextricably interconnected.  What is True is always Good, what is Good is always Beautiful, what is Beautiful is always an aspect of what is True, etc.  We are not ourselves designed to negate this design.  We are not made to use our Will to assert ourselves against the nature of morality, nor are we made to use our Reason to misunderstand the truth that surrounds us, nor are we made to use our imaginations to invent things to fulfill the desires of our hearts that are merely shortcuts or sops, things that give us passing pleasure but that are untrue, unreal.  God gives us these gifts - Free Will, Reason and Imagination - to be ordered to Him - for even though we may misuse them, without them we cannot truly serve Him.

So let me sum this up by speaking in a quixotic manner - and I think, perhaps, I am speaking for many of you.

Sometimes in pursuing my most ardent ideals, I find that I am merely tilting at windmills - or worse, I am hurting others by holding them to the impossible standards that I myself cherish, but that I myself fall shy of, too.  In addition, I waver between cynicism and idealism.  I am often tempted to see my steed as a broken down nag, my lady as the more or less compromised streetwalker that she is, my daily devotion to theater as the rather sordid performances in wineries for drunks and rednecks that these performances often are; or vice-versa, I see in my broken down nag the steed she really is; I see within the streetwalker a hidden lady of dignity and glory, and I see in my drunken audiences immortal souls being lifted up in laughter, being raised for a moment a slight bit closer to the One who made them.  And somehow all of this is true - the dreary reality on the surface and the stunning Reality behind and within it.

And so we pray

Dear God, may we always long for You as the hart longs for water (Ps. 42:1), seeing in You the source of the living water for which we truly thirst (John 4:10).  Do not let us fill ourselves with that which is unreal and which will not sustain us.  Show us our sins that we may repent of them and turn toward You.  Give us the grace "to turn from these unreal things, to worship the ever-living God" (Acts 14:15) - for thy Kingdom is always more real than the false and haughty man-made towers we build (Gen. 11:1-9).  Purify our Will to do what is Good, our Reason to see what is True, and our Imagination to desire what is Beautiful and holy.  And always remind us that the world we are tempted to love too much is also a bit less than fully real, that all of creation is but a "shadow of the things that are to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Col. 2:17).

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October 16th, 2014Hobbit-Sized Saxonsby Joseph Pearce

A friend of mine in England has just started a hobbit-sized business making miniature figures of Anglo-Saxon warriors. Tolkien would certainly approve! If you're able to support this noble venture by starting your own miniature army of warriors, please do so!

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October 16th, 2014Sausage-Making at the Synodby Kevin Kennelly

It has been described as the most embarrassing document in the history of the Catholic Church. We refer to the ....words fail....disastrous , tragicomic "Relatio" released by Francis' synod. Three interpretations present themselves: a) by the modernists - the liberal view of things has triumphed . Get on board or be left behind by HISTORY. Homosexual relationships can be a "gift;" b) by real Catholics - the document is ipso facto corrupt, a historical slap in the face to all good Catholics in what is the previously civilized Judeo Christian civilization. And "c" wherein Father Robert Barron of "Catholicism" ( the TV series) fame says "....take a deep breath." Have a sense of historical perspective , read the whole document and have faith that the whole thing will play out in a productive way. It is a given that Catholic moral theology is a form of three dimensional chess ....not checkers.....but the angst remains. Oremus pro invicem.

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October 15th, 2014Chesterton On Demandby Joseph Pearce

I've just received news of an exciting development from the American Chesterton Society. All of the lectures from the 2013 Conference held at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, are now available on-line. These include talks by Dale Ahlquist, Peter Kreeft, Yours Truly and many others.

For more details:

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October 15th, 2014“American Literature and Christian Faith”by Joseph Pearce

Preview of the Next Issue of the St. Austin Review

The November/December issue is on the theme of “American Literature and Christian Faith”.

Featuring Articles on Herman Melville, Henry James, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Jack Kerouac, Walker Percy , and Raymond Carver.

Hannah De Rocher locates “The Desire for Place in the Great American Novel”.

Ken Colston surveys “the Catholic Aesthetic and Marian Heroism” in Henry James.

Edward Mulholland sees “Celibate Friendship in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop”.

Helaine L. Smith converses with her students on “Reader Sympathy and Christian Redemption in Flannery O’Connor”.

Victoria Nelson takes the “Dark Journey into Light: On the Road with Jack Kerouac”.

Stephen Mirarchi finds “Humility, Obedience, and Communion” in “Raymond Carver’s Religious Revisions”.

John Beaumont celebrates “Walker Percy: A Great American Literary Convert”.

Susan Treacy marks the meeting of “Herman Melville, Benjamin Britten, and Billy Budd”.

Kevin O’Brien praises “Fervor against Phonies” as he travels “From Fiction to Non-Fiction to Pulp Fiction”.

Fr. Benedict Kiely meditates on Chesterton’s “Home Behind Home for which we are all homesick”.

Donald DeMarco admires “The Unifying Power of Beauty”.

James Bemis fails to admire the film Francesco.

Ken Colston reviews Hemingway’s Dark Night: Catholic Influences and Intertextualities in the Work of Ernest Hemingway.

Lorraine V. Murray reviews Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal.

Alan Brown reviews Missionary Bishop: Jean Marie Odin in Galveston and New Orleans.

Lori Kelly waxes lyrical on Caravaggio’s Incredulity of Saint Thomas.

New Poetry by Catharine S. Brosman, Pavel Chichikov, Daniel Janeiro and Philip C. Kolin. 

Subscribe Today!

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October 15th, 2014William Baer on the Craft of Verseby Brendan D. King

The following selections are from "Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms" by William Baer. Writer's Digest Books, 2006.

"What Distinguishes Poetry from Prose."

Pages 3-4,

By William Baer.


1). Emphasis on the Line.

Poetry emphasises the line over the sentence, and this is immediately clear when we observe its placement on the page. The lines of poetry seldom extend to the right hand margin. While the sentences of prose naturally flow naturally flow into visual blocks or paragraphs, the poetic line is more focused, intense, and unique. This seemingly small but fundamental difference creates enormous potential for the poet.


2). Emphasis on Rhythm.

Although creative prose can be highly melodic, poetry is rhythm. In most great poetry -- in various languages and metrical systems -- this sonic quality is enhanced by an underlying etrical rhythm. Even modern writers of non-metrical poetry (vers libre) work extremely hard to create melodic motifs n their poetic writings.


3). Emphasis on Compression.

The compressed nature of poetry is, of course, the most debatable of the three differences, since some prose can be very, "tight," and some poetry can be rather wordy (prolix). But, in general, the language of poetry is more specific and compressed than prose. and even the most verbose epic or the densest of blank verse passages are still constrained by the limits of the line and its underlying rhythm.


Excerpted from "Writing Metrical Verse," pages 19, 23-24.

 The method of determining the meter of a poem is called "scansion." This is done rather simply by marking the accents, recognizing the metrical feet, and counting the feet.

 1). Always do the Polysyllabic Words First.

The accents in each and every English word are immutable. The four-example word, "America," for example, will always have an accent on its second and fourth syllables. Thus, the beginning scanner can simply check the dictionary for the accents of any English polysyllabic word.


2). Identify the Normally Unaccented Monosyllabic Words.

In English, many of our most common and useful words are generally unstressed. These include the personal pronouns (I, me, we, they, he, she, it, her, his), the small conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, yet), forms of the verb, "to be," (is, are, was, were); the articles (a, an, the); and the simple prepositions (to, in, by, on, for, of).


3). Be Wary of the Poem's First Foot.

Sometimes, for effect, poets will substitute in the first foot of their poems, so be careful.


4). Once You Establish a Pattern, Use It.

If the poem seems to be written in iambic tetrameter, for example, see if it continues that way. It probably will.


"Ten Things to Consider in Evaluating a Poem."

Excerpted from, "Writing Metrical Verse," page 61-63.


1) Is it Interesting?

Is it memorable? This is where the fundamental worth of the poem begins; and, as Pulitzer-winner W.D. Snodgrass once pointed out: "If my poems aren't interesting, then why should anyone want to read them?"


2). Is the Poem Melodic?

Is the meter correct and appropriate? Do the substitutions and enjambments and feminine endings enhance the poem?


3) Does the Poem Say Anything?

Does it have some depth? Does it express something unique or thought provoking? Does it communicate its intentions clearly, or is it damaged by unwarranted ambiguity?


4). Is the Poem's Point of View Appropriate?

Sometimes a poem can be instantly improved by using another point of view -- either by changing the perspective of another character or by simply shifting to a different grammatical person. Effective poems have been written from every point of view; I, we, he, she, they, and even you. In recent times, in the wake of so much confessional poetry, many newer poets assume that the first person is always the most appropriate perspective, but in many cases, the third person he or she can create an effective distance that gives unexpected power to the poem's observations.


5). Does the Poem Have Specificity?

Ezra Pound rightly warned, "Go in fear of abstractions." This is not to say that poets should not write about love and courage and faith, but they should do so with a specificity of image and language. Otherwise, the reader will quickly get bored with all the generalization. The old adage of, "Show, don't tell," is a very helpful guidline. Don't let your poems go on about love in the abstract; rather, let them signify that love with specifics: a memory, an incident, an object, a spoken remark.


6). Does the Poem have Power or Beauty or Both?

These two concepts, sometimes foolishly disparaged in the 20th century, are at the very heart of the poet experience.


7). Is the Poem Marred by Easy Cliches and Old Fashioned Diction?


8). Is the Poem's Syntax Convoluted to Conform to the Meter?

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October 15th, 2014The Decline and Fall at 250by Daniel J. Heisey

If, as Alfred North Whitehead said, the European philosophical tradition is but a series of footnotes to Plato, all of history about Rome is but footnotes to Gibbon.  From the time the first of the six volumes of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire rolled off the press (in 1776) until now, historians writing about the Roman Empire have had to take into account that smug, pudgy, eloquent little man’s version of ancient people and events.

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) first got the idea for writing about the demise of Rome and her empire on the evening of 15 October, 1764.  Seldom can we date so precisely the origins of a great work of literature.  For along with being a great history, Gibbon’s most famous book is also a classic of English prose.

On that fine evening 250 years ago, Gibbon was in Rome, sitting on the steps of a Catholic church, Santa Maria in Aracoeli.  He heard Franciscan friars chanting Vespers, and he thought about how the magnificent structures of the Caesars were now in ruins while in their place were Christian churches.  Long interested in history, he saw that here was a story worth telling.

Ten years after his life-changing visit to Rome, Gibbon became a member of the House of Commons, and during his nine years there, he kept silent and listened to the debates, especially regarding the problems posed by the British colonies south of Canada.  The course of human events involving the king, the parliament, and the people gave Gibbon another perspective on Roman history.

At the beginning of Chapter 3 of the Decline and Fall, Gibbon observed:  “The obvious definition of a monarchy seems to be that of a state in which a single person, by whatsoever name he may be distinguished, is entrusted with the execution of the laws, the management of the revenue, and the command of the army.”  After all, monarchy means rule by one person.  “But unless,” Gibbon continued, “public liberty is protected by intrepid and vigilant guardians, the authority of so formidable a magistrate will soon degenerate into despotism.”  Thus far, Edmund Burke or John Adams would agree.

Then Gibbon claimed, “The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people.”  We will return to this critique.

Gibbon correctly saw only one safeguard against a monarch becoming a despot:  “A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince.”  A few paragraphs later he noted, “The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive.”

Gibbon’s critique of Christians, especially the clergy, recurs throughout his history.  In Chapter 16, he wrote:  “History, which undertakes to record the transactions of the past, for the instruction of future ages, would ill deserve that honourable office if she condescended to plead the cause of tyrants, or to justify the maxims of persecution.”  True enough, and he then declared:  “It must, however, be acknowledged that the conduct of the emperors who appeared the least favourable to the primitive church is by no means so criminal as that of modern sovereigns who have employed the arm of violence and terror against the religious opinions of any part of their subjects.”  One assumes he meant Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.For Gibbon, history was grim entertainment.  In Chapter 3 he defined history as “little more than the register of the crime, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.”  As an Anglican who had converted to Catholicism and then left behind Christianity altogether, Gibbon deemed the most heinous of those crimes, follies, and misfortunes to have occurred at the behest of Christians, especially priests and bishops.

At the end of Chapter 38, Gibbon summed up his subject by saying, “the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness.”  The Empire had grown to be too big.  Meanwhile, according to Gibbon, Rome’s martial and manly heritage had been drained and weakened by Christianity, whereby “the active virtues of society were discouraged” and “the sacred indolence of monks was devoutly embraced by a servile and effeminate age.”

A former soldier as well as a politician, Gibbon saw himself also as a philosopher, a lover of wisdom.  In Chapter 38 he suggested modern application of the lessons deriving from Rome’s decline and fall.  “It is the duty of a patriot,” he wrote, “to prefer and promote the exclusive interest and glory of his native country:  but a philosopher may be permitted to enlarge his views, and to consider Europe as one great republic, whose inhabitants have attained almost the same level of politeness and cultivation” as had ancient Rome.

“The savage nations of the globe,” he wrote, “are the common enemies of civilised society,” and for Gibbon savagery and religious fanaticism rode together.  “Should the victorious barbarians” of his day, Gibbon predicted, “carry slavery and desolation as far as the Atlantic Ocean, ten thousand vessels would transport beyond their pursuit the remains of civilised society; and Europe would revive and flourish in the American world, which is already filled with her colonies and institutions.”

Near the end of Chapter 71, the last chapter of his great work, Gibbon surveyed the sorry state of eighteenth-century Rome, edifices such as the Colosseum in ruins because Renaissance Popes had quarried them for their palazzi.  An honest man, Gibbon noted the efforts at historical preservation undertaken “by the most liberal of the pontiffs,” Benedict XIV.  Gibbon added as an aside, “For myself, it is my wish to depart in charity with all mankind, nor am I willing in these last moments, to offend even the pope and clergy of Rome.”  It is a pity he chose not to do so for the previous seventy chapters.


Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.


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October 14th, 2014Four Ways G. K. Chesterton Engaged His Culture and Why He Still Matters Todayby Kevin Kennelly

A big question presently on the floor is how Christians should or could engage the modern culture which has become wrong headed, vulgar and virulently if subtly anti Christian. The Christian roots of western civilization have pretty much rotted away. An Evangelical friend , upon returning from Sweden once said to me that over  there .....should you mention Moses .....there is more chance that minds would direct to Moses Malone , the professional basketball player , than to the Moses of the bible. And post Christian Europe is slouching toward us. 

In " Four Ways G K Chesterton Engaged His Culture And Why He Still Matters Today," Chesterton is shown to be a force of nature taking on the question of how to respond to the stuff  that comes at us every day in the most weird ways. Economics, Art, Family, Politics , Human Nature .....and so on . We can not help but think .....where is today's Chesterton?

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October 13th, 2014How Many Loves? Arguing with C. S. Lewisby Joseph Pearce

In may latest article for the Imaginative Conservative, I have the temerity and some might say foolhardiness to argue with the great C. S. Lewis about the meaning of love. Am I mad, or merely arrogant, or do I perhaps have a point?

Read on:

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October 13th, 2014Did Oscar Wilde say Dracula was the best novel ever written?by Joseph Pearce

I've just received an inquiry from a Spanish journalist working in Barcelona for a cultural quiz show for Antena 3, a Spanish Television Channel (the equivalent of NBC’s ‘Who’s still Standing?’).

Her work consists in writing the questions and checking if they are correct  and well formulated, in order to be as precise as possible and make sure that the show doesn’t spread wrong information to its contestants and audience. She was seeking to verify the question: Did Oscar Wilde say Dracula was the best novel ever written?

Here's my response: 

I never came across any source for this alleged fact during the extensive research that I conducted for my book on Wilde and there are several reasons for doubting strongly that Wilde would have said this. First, Dracula wasn't published until after Wilde had fallen from the limelight in disgrace. He said very little for public consumption after his release from prison in 1897, the year of Dracula's publication. Second, Stoker had married Florence Balcombe, Wilde's first-love, a loss that Wilde probably carried with him till the end of his days. It is unlikely that Wilde would have shown such magnanimity to the rival to whom he had lost the woman he loved.

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October 12th, 2014Shylock the Puritanby Brendan D. King

I first read Father Peter Milward's conclusions about Shylock, the Jewish antagonist of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" in Claire Asquith's "Shadowplay." According to Father Milward, a staunch believer in the Catholic Shakespeare, Shylock was a thinly disguised Puritan rather than a Jew. In arguing this conclusion, Father Milward strengthened a belief I had already held about Shylock for quite some time.

Among my many consuming interests is a fascination with Jewish culture. As a result, I had already read scores of Modern and Medieval Jewish folktales, proverbs, and memoirs before reading "The Merchant of Venice". When I finally did so, I was shocked to find Shylock's whole range of expression completely foreign to me.

From his first appearance, Shylock comes across as a dull, humorless, and self-righteous boor. He recoils at the merriment of the Venetian Carnival, despite the fact that Orthodox Jews celebrate the High Holidays similarly -- with copious amounts of drinking, singing, and dancing. 

An Orthodox Jew would also have regularly quoted the parables of learned Rabbis and Sages. Scores of examples may be seen in the memoirs of Glueckel of Hameln and Rabbi Leone Modena, both of whom were almost Shakespeare's contemporaries. Shylock, however, not only refers exclusively to the Old Testament, he also distorts its meaning through private interpretation. I was thus forced to conclude about Shylock, "This man is a Puritan!" 

Father Milward's statements, both as referenced in "Shadowplay" and in his book "The Catholicism in Shakespeare's Plays", added weight to what I already suspected. His documentation of Puritan control of high interest money-lending in Elizabethan England and their being referred to as "Christian Jews" seemed to put the last nail in the coffin of the Jewish Shylock.

As for the legends upon which Shakespeare drew, G.K. Chesterton once dubbed them "a Medieval satire against usury". Despite my admiration for Chesterton, I must disagree.

There are numerous versions of the legend where "Shylock" is not a Jew and where interest is never mentioned. In an Irish Gaelic version collected from the Aran Islands by John Millington Synge, "Shylock" is a Leprechaun.

In a Scottish Gaelic version collected in the Hebrides, Shylock is implied to be a Viking and plans to flay Antonio alive if the debt is not paid. In both versions, Antonio and Bassanio are combined, the wife is the rescuer in roughly the same fashion, and interest is never spoken of. 

The most unexpected account is a Jewish version from Morocco. In this story, Antonio-Bassanio is a Jew and Shylock, who is implied to be a Muslim moneylender, offers him an interest-free loan with a kilo of flesh as collateral. After the bond goes forfeit, a Muslim Princess falls in love with Antonio-Bassanio, dresses as a scholar of Islamic law, and defends him in a Muslim court. When she orders him to take his bond without shedding blood, "Shylock" responds in typical fashion for the Islamic World. He declares that he voluntarily renounces both the money and the flesh. After all, doing so is the only way for him to avoid losing face. Then, Antonio-Bassanio and the Princess marry and live happily ever after.

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October 12th, 2014Chesterton on the Bayouby Joseph Pearce

It seems that Chesterton Conferences and Chesterton Academies are springing up all over the country. Regarding the former, I have spoken at three Chesterton conferences in the past two months. In August, I was one of numerous speakers at the American Chesterton Society's national conference in Illinois, and last month I spoke at two separate Chesterton conferences in Upstate New York, one in Buffalo and the other in Rochester. 

As regards Chesterton Academies, there are several being founded around the country following the model established in the Twin Cities.

I've recently accepted an invitation to speak at the inaugural Chesterton Conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, scheduled for this coming March, at which I will be joined by other speakers, including Dale Ahlquist of the American Chesterton Society, Kevin O'Brien of the Theatre of the Word Incorporated (as well as being a StARcolumnist), and Chuck Chalberg, whose performances in persona Chesterton are always a delight.

I hope that this event will not only attract Chestertonians in the Louisiana area but those from around the country. Here's the link to the conference website:

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October 12th, 2014Confessionby Dena Hunt

I used to turn on the news on my kitchen TV every day at four o’clock when I started to cook supper.* It was, I thought, a way of catching up with the world, of finding out what was going on, but I discovered too often that I had to stop and lag behind where I actually was just in order to find out where the world was, and I grew weary of listening to people’s political opinions of what was going on. Speculation having replaced reporting some time long ago, the news channel has pretty much lost any real value.

I remembered a news broadcast made on Christmas Eve (I think) back in 1980 (I think). Roger Mudd, a major news anchorman of the time reported the evening news from the Eternal City on some pronouncement or other made by Caesar, comments made by this or that senator, the quashing of some uprising someplace in the empire, etc.—all well researched and all major news events of the day, and toward the close of the broadcast, he reported on a minor phenomenon discovered by court astronomers of an unusually bright light that appeared in the night sky in a little village in the southern part of a province known as Judea.  It was very well done. Since then, attempts have been made to replicate the original broadcast, but none have been so successful. The message was very clear.

That memory prompted me to turn off the airhead “reporting” of false news and to switch over to EWTN for the children’s shows that start at four o’clock instead. So, now I must confess: I don’t read learned theologians much any more; I watch EWTN for Kids instead. Much more straightforward, lucid, insightful, much easier to understand, and way more fun. I have my favorites, of course (all kids do, you know), and there are some I don’t enjoy much, but on the whole, I’ve found it far more informative than four o’clock news. I get the rosary for kids, even the stations of the Cross, and, of course, stories. I think my favorite is the friar who tells the parables to his friends—a little girl, a frog, and a mouse, who are always able to see the relationship of the parable to an event in their own lives. Children are so much more intelligent than grown-ups, you know. Children always understand the stories. Like fiction-writers, they know that facts are undulating chimaera, deceptive, untrustworthy, and always changing.

Recently, I spent a little time in the presence of a child who does not know how to not trust, or how to deceive, because she has not yet had a need to protect herself —but she will. Life does that. She will learn deception and distrust. God will forgive her. I forgive her/myself and maybe that’s the beginning of the childhood that is the secret desire of us all. Even way, way back in my BC days, I knew that I wanted to grow up into childhood. And as GKC can verify, the truth is just about always paradoxical, so, yes, maybe you have to get old in order to become young.

*Explanation: Most old people eat supper (or dinner, if you prefer) much earlier than other people. The reason for that is not biological, or sociological, or whatever. It’s simply that in retirement, we no longer have a fixed lunchtime, so we tend to graze or snack instead of eating lunch. Ergo, by 3:30 or 4:00, we’re hungry.

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October 10th, 2014The Mischievous Spirit of Oscar Wildeby Joseph Pearce

Yesterday, at the hotel in Worcester, Massachusetts, at which I was staying during my visit to Holy Cross College, famous to Chestertonians for GKC's filmed visit there during the dark days of Prohibition, I found a few moments to read this excellent article by Sean Fitzpatrick on Wilde's "Canterville Ghost". It's a delightfully rollicking piece of writing.

My only criticism is Mr. Fitzpatrick's quoting of Wilde's iconoclastic "moral or immoral book" aphorism without balancing it, as is surely necessary, with the other aphorisms from the same Preface (to Dorian Gray) which contradict it.

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October 9th, 2014Colson & Neuhausby Kevin Kennelly

Chuck Colson and Richard John Neuhaus were each giants spiritually and in advocating the Christian world view in the realm of public policy.....what Neuhaus called the "Public Square." Colson regularly spent Easter Sunday in various prisons presenting Christ to otherwise hopeless men. His Prison Ministry lives on. Father John Neuhaus was a Lutheran priest who became a Catholic priest and one of the most brilliant and revered Christian public intellectuals  in the Unites States .On the side he was a very holy man. His deeds live on in the form of the journal First Things wherein he brought together high church Protestants, Evangelicals, real Catholics and believing Jews. In concert with Colson and others he  created a serious, balanced and deeply thoughtful movement representing the Judeo Christian tradition in the public square.

In "Ghosts of Colson and Neuhaus ", the well-known and productive Rod Dreher reports on a recent seminar put together by Rusty Reno at the office of First Things. Mr .Dreher gracefully does not "over report" on who participated in the meeting or what was said except to the extent that certain talks are to be published in First Things and are therefore of a public nature. These talks .... by Michael Hanby, George Weigel and by Dreher ...... are vividly described by Mr. Dreher in "Ghosts." We have traversed from Ozzie and Harriet to The Simpsons to Family Matters ......not a good vector.

The full article is found here:

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October 6th, 2014Sassoon Resurrectedby Joseph Pearce

In my book Literary Converts I wrote about the many major writers in the twentieth century who embraced Catholicism. Many of these, such as Newman, Chesterton, Eliot, Waugh, Greene, Tolkien and Lewis, receive the attention they deserve. Others such as Belloc, Baring, Campbell, Noyes and Benson are unjustly neglected. There is one poet, however, whose current neglect is nothing less than scandalous. I refer to that marvelous writer, Siegfried Sassoon, whose portrait is the centrepiece of a triptych of portraits gracing our living room (he is flanked by Belloc and Chesterton). 

One of my ambitions is to publish an edition of Sassoon's poetry, interlaced with my own biographical and literary musings, charting his long and ultimately triumphal path to Rome. Since this project will be a labour of love and is unlikely to be financially remunerative, I am seeking a good old-fashioned patron to finance the project. Catholic benefactors, please bear it in mind! In the interim, I'm delighted to learn that Cambridge University has made Sassoon's diaries available on-line:

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October 6th, 2014Catholicism and Capitalism: Friends or Enemies?by Joseph Pearce

Always willing to court controversy, I'm speaking this Thursday evening at Holy Cross College in Worcester MA on the contentious topic of the Church's social teaching. I hope that any readers of the Ink Desk within driving distance of Holy Cross will come and see the fun or join the argument:

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October 6th, 2014Voting for the Devilby Joseph Pearce

In my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative, I offer an Englishman's perspective of Scotland's recent referendum:

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October 6th, 2014The Dominican Optionby Joseph Pearce

As I continue to settle into my new position as Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College, I am getting a deeper insight than ever into the role and place of Dominican spirituality in the modern world. The College is part of the multifaceted apostolate of the Nashville Dominicans, the work of which I have admired for many years. As I contemplate my own small part in this work, I was intrigued by an article on "The Dominican Option" in First Things. It suggests that the Dominican Option might be a better model for the renewal of Christian culture than the oft-touted Benedictine Option. Read on:

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I have always liked Orthodox Church music and now find it is on the Internet in English.  This is a Hymn to Maria Theotokos, Mary Mother of God

Whilst this is stirring stuff

The tune appears to be a Byzantine battle hymn, the sort of stuff the Excubitores and Scholae, the crack Imperial Guard units,  would have sung as they waded into the orc-hordes of Islam.  

I like the way they have photoshopped Haghia Sophia back to how it should be, the crescent stuck on top by the Turks taken down and the Cross replaced, and the tawdry and mismatched minarets stuck up around it removed. 

The Turks have shamefully neglected this great Church building, even after Kemal Ataturk to his credit booted out the imams, stopped its abuse as a mosque, and at least parked it in neutral as a museum, ordering the removal of the whitewash splattered over the sacred frescoes. Sadly the orc-scrawls from the Koran remain. As Islamism grows in Turkey the restoration work grows ever more half hearted and there is talk of making it a mosque again.

Even in its tawdry state of disrepair I think it is one of the finest things men have ever built.

The superb Virgin and Child above the High Altar (or where the High Altar was and should be!) was unveiled on Holy Saturday 867 by the Patriarch Photius.

Either side of the Great Door through which only the Emperor and the Patriarch could walk are dimples worn in the marble floor by guardsmen stamping their feet as they came to attention at least once a day for a thousand years. Many of them, for generations, would have been Englishmen serving in the Varangian Guard, which became highly popular amongst the English after the Norman Conquest. 

It seems likely to me that Constantinople, which for a thousand years mounted guard on Europe’s Asian flank against the Islamic hordes, was at least in part the inspiration for Tolkien’s Minas Tirith. I don’t recall if JRRT actually said this though. By, I suspect, no coincidence, Turkish sounds awfully liked the Black Speech of Mordor.  Indeed the Eastern and Western Roman Empires mirrored the fates of Gondor and Arnor -   the former held on but the latter fell apart.

Sadly, for our world's Minas Tirith Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan never came, and on Tuesday 29th May 1453 the City fell after a heroic siege (in which at least one Briton, a Scot, joined the pathetic few who came from across Europe to help it in its final need). As the great Land Walls, which had stood for a thousand years, were breached by blasting fire, and the hordes of darkness came pouring in, the last of the Emperors, Michael XI Palaeologus, tore off his imperial regalia and leaped into the fray to die fighting. He was never seen again. 

The women and children of the City gathered in Haghia Sophia to pray for a miracle. None came to save them, but the story is still told among the Greeks, the heirs to the fallen Empire, that as the Turks burst into the church and started raping and killing the congregation the priests and deacons celebrating Mass at the altar lifted up the Host and the Holy Vessels, bowed once to the congregation being engulfed in chaos and slaughter, and walked into the walls. When/if one day the armies of Europe and Christendom return, as they enter the Church the priests etc will come back out of the walls to finish celebrating the Mass, and the Last Emperor Michael XI, miraculously snatched from the melee and preserved by the Lady Protector of the City, Maria Theotokos, Mary Mother of God, will stand before the altar to welcome back the Armies of the West. 

After the City fell, it was given over as Islamic Law prescribes to three days of sack, rapine, plunder and slaughter. Then the Turk Sultan, Mehmet II, called al-Fatih, the Conqueror, rode in like the Lord of the Ringwraiths to triumph over the ruined city. He rode his horse into the greatest Church of Christendom, dismounted and defiled the altar by salaaming to Allah before it, thus by their rules making the place forever a mosque. Many of the people of the City who had survived three days of slaughter and gang-rape were sold off into slavery. 



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October 1st, 2014It’s Like Kaddishby Dena Hunt

Every Sabbath, Jewish services conclude with the Kaddish prayer for the dead, recited when someone dies and every year thereafter on the “yahrzeit,” or anniversary of their death.

Kaddish, if I’m not mistaken, simply means praise.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

“My father,” Isaac says to Abraham, who holds the knife poised above him, “Is there nothing your God may not ask of you?”

“Nothing,” his father answers.

We give back to God what is his and never was our own.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

  When I was twelve, my friend Jane Conner suddenly died from meningitis, an illness that gave no one time to prepare for her death. The coffin was set up for the wake in their home, in the dining room, and all the friends, neighbors, and family members came to call. Her mother, supported by family members, came quietly into the dining room to stand by the coffin for a couple of minutes and then turn and smile and greet the guests.

Is there nothing your God may not ask of you?

Nothing, answers Mrs. Conner. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Then she disappeared into the darker regions of the house, and the wake continued—people eating, talking.

  John Robert, a little boy who was a couple of years younger than I, suddenly burst into angry tears because somebody was laughing in the room there, in the room where Jane was. “He doesn’t understand,” his mother murmured apologetically and took him outside. No, nor did I—I was trying, trying hard to act grown up, but I couldn’t figure out who to mimic, or what to do. The universe was upside down. My friend Jane wouldn’t get up. Jane, come on and let’s go outside (neither of us ever liked indoors), let’s go catch minnows at Avery’s Pond, let’s climb the mimosa tree and drop crabapples on top of passing cars, let’s put sticks through sweet potatoes and roast them over a fire of twigs, get some meal from the kitchen and make a hoecake. Get up, let’s go. Stop this pretending and let’s go play pretend. You’re so still. Stop it. Get up.

  The Baptist preacher came and prayed over Jane and everyone there. “Lord, just be with this family, just put your heavenly arms around them…just…” Then he ate a little food, talked with some people, and left.

  The funeral was the next day in the little country church there in rural Georgia. I didn’t go. Instead, I went outside, walked in the woods, climbed a tree. I wished Jane was with me, but she wasn’t and she would never be with me again. So I sat up in the tree instead of the church and said, “I want to believe she’s in heaven. I want to believe there is a heaven, and that Jane is there.” Because that was what I could believe to be the truth.

  I didn’t know then that all the ritual, the wake, the funeral were necessary things. It is not reality, it is not God, it is not even faith—it’s pretend. Children know that. It frightens them because they know it’s not real, it’s not the truth, it’s pretend, and grown-ups are not supposed to pretend.

  But it’s like Kaddish. Say it even if you don’t mean it. No, it’s not real, but it’s caring, and it’s “…just…” praying, it’s what we say to each other when there is nothing else we can say. Poor Mrs. Conner, forced by supporting arms to come in and smile and greet those people. It’s grown-up pretending. Not the truth, not the stuff a tree is made of, but something else—the gathering, the food and talk, the greeting and the smile—all of it, is a prayer: Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

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October 1st, 2014On Heroesby Matthew Elam

Gilbert Keith Chesterton once said, "We may, by fixing our attention almost fiercely on the facts actually before us, force them to turn into adventures; force them to give up their meaning and fulfil their mysterious purpose." Unfortunately, the "facts actually before us" are the things which get the least of our attention. What we call extraordinary is often merely novel, while the mundane contains amazing things. In fact, the most amazing things are precisely those things which seem to us most ordinary.

The divergence between what is novel and what is truly amazing can be demonstrated in the case of Superman. Superman can fly. No doubt, the prospect of flying is exciting, but the idea that a superhuman creature can fly offers me no hope of doing it myself. There was, however, one time when I was deeply impressed by a man flying. The most amazing thing about him wasn't that he wore tights and a cape and came from outer space; the most amazing thing was that he dressed like any other man, save that he wore tiny golden wings pinned to his lapel. He even gave me a pair of wings like his, as if to say, “You, too, can fly.”

Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Presumably, he would do so because someone's life was in danger. I am not inspired by the man who leaps a tall building in a single bound, even if he does so to save a life. Superhuman feats are expected from Superman. Any other use of his abilities would be a dereliction of duty. I have seen something which I consider even more impressive: I have seen men scale the sides of skyscrapers, not in a single bound, but in such a way that pays respect to those monolithic monuments to human ingenuity. Such men go up one side and down the other, slowly, carrying buckets of soapy water. They wipe away the dirt that collects on those windows, with the humility of Mary washing the feet of Christ. One might point out that no lives are saved by window washers, and I respond that there are things which only window washers can save us from—things worse than death. Whereas Superman saves lives, window washers save souls.

Windows are both wonderful and necessary. Through them we see the world and are forced to remember that we are part of the natural order, and that no amount of wood, bricks, and vinyl siding can permanently sever our relationship with creation. The danger of forgetting this fact is most imminent in the business buildings downtown. Inside these invulnerable, impersonal offices, inside dull, characterless cubicles, men and women, hard at work, are already treated as replaceable parts. Each of the men and women laboring inside such skyscrapers are in grave danger. Without an unobstructed view of the skies, they might forget about Heaven. Without a clear view of the streets, they might forget about Man. Without the window washers, the smog, soot, and grime would add layer upon layer, progressively covering the windows until the windows were completely blackened. On that terrible day, the workers would not see the sun set. If not for the window washers, they would forget to go back to their homes and their families and, thus, lose everything worth living for.

A superhero more worthy of our wonder is Batman. The difference between Batman and Superman is this: Batman is a man. He is a normal guy who decided to fight crime with his brains and fists and feet, none of which are superhuman in any way. Batman being limited in the same way I am, with all the ordinary shortcomings of a man, makes him a representation of humanity at its very best; he is an ordinary person performing extraordinary deeds.

Superman may move as fast as a speeding bullet, but why is that any more incredible than the speeding bullet? If I were in advertising, I would advertise bullets as "As Fast as a Fictional Superhero!" Superman has X-ray vision; my dentist does, too. There were moments when I found Superman captivating, but those moments invariably involved kryptonite. Only in his weakness could I relate to Superman, and this further illustrates my point. It is our weaknesses that make us amazing. It is precisely because a window washer cannot fly that it is so amazing that he scales the skyscraper anyway. It is precisely because man cannot run as fast as a bullet that it is so amazing that man invented bullets.

The adventures we love so much in comics, novels, and films are actually the adventures we live every day. It is only because those adventures are ever-present that we cannot see them in our own lives. We need superheroes to reaffirm those qualities we value most—bravery, selflessness, strength, hope—but we must not forget that the qualities they exhibit can be seen as often in our neighbors and ourselves. The average person has all the wonderful qualities we value in our superheroes, and one more besides: existence. As Chesterton put it, "The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature."

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September 30th, 2014The Hound of Heaven in Hollywoodby Joseph Pearce

As readers of the Ink Desk might recall I've been involved in a multi-media re-presentation of Francis Thompson's superb poem, The Hound of Heaven. My own involvement has included the role of consultant and participant in the 30-minute documentary on Thompson's life, and also as the writer of the introduction to a new published adaptation of the poem. There have also been an animated film of the modern adaptation of the poem and even a new country-style song inspired by the poem.

My ongoing engagement with this exciting project will continue with "An Evening with Francis Thompson" at Aquinas College in Nashville on Tuesday, November 18.

One aspect of the whole project with which I have not been involved is the film version by Brian Oxley and Hisao Kurosowa. Ahead of its premiere at the forthcoming Raindance Film Festival, the trailer has been featured on the Hollywood Reporter website:


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September 30th, 2014Hope at Hopeby Joseph Pearce

Three weeks ago I had the privilege and pleasure of giving talks on consecutive days at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids and at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. I am extremely gratified to have just received a delightful report of the visit to Hope College, written by a student with whom I had lunch. The report also contains links to videos of two of the talks that I gave at Hope:

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September 27th, 2014Kairos and Chronosby Dena Hunt

Msgr. Charles Pope posted this brief reflection on, as it turns out, my birthday. I’d been hoping for some kind of little present from the Lord, and I think this may be it. Msgr. Pope says,

I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done (Eccles 3:10-11).

“Somewhere in our hearts is something that the world cannot, and did not give us. It is something that is nowhere evident in the world, and yet, though not perceiving it, we still know it. This passage from Ecclesiastes calls it ‘the timeless.’ We also often refer to it as eternity, or even infinity.”

He goes on to explain the difference between kairos (the “timeless,” or eternity) and chronos. I recall teaching my students about the six points in time of which the indicative mood of the English language permits us to speak. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any other points in time, only that we cannot refer to any other points in language. After all, time is not “real”; it’s something we made up so that we could set our clocks and mark our calendars (and have our birthdays). It’s a necessary and very clever invention of humanity that has allowed us to establish order (however artificial) sufficient for communication, and therefore, for civilization. Without it, there is no order, no communication beyond the very primitive, and consequently, no civilization.

Yet we are all aware that it isn’t really “real.” We all know somewhere in our hearts that that linear bit we call a “chronology of events” signifies nothing. In fact, we know it to be a false reality—we just don’t know how to “say” it. Indeed, without a consciousness of God, we are almost forbidden to speak of it—yet another example of the many limitations on human intelligence that materialistic science has imposed on us. Thus does science fiction come up with such things as “time travel.”

I think it is this consciousness of something inarticulable that accounts for the gnostics’ (both ancient and modern “new-agers”) belief that they have access to “secret” knowledge.  Something common to every person who ever lived they take to be something that sets them apart and makes them superior to believers. This is one of several examples of the fallacy of narcissism, which, rightly understood, is not a character flaw so much as an intellectual one. I remember watching a film called “Eat, Pray, Love,” in which the character played by Julia Roberts discovers God. She’s asked, So who is God? and she answers, “I am.” It’s a clever allusion to God’s words to Moses on Sinai, but it’s more revealing than it is clever, and provides fresh understanding of why those words were forbidden to the Hebrews. Lucky Hebrews; unlucky Julia. The discovery of the Infinite within you doesn’t make you “it.” If you believe it does, as narcissism must, that belief will lead not to unity with God or with others but to utter desolation, for it is its unspeakable Otherness that makes intimacy conceivable. (But that awareness is impossible humility is absent.)

I’m 72 this September 25 on our human calendar. Why has God allowed me to live this long? I must have done a lot in my past that I need to atone for today, for we know that the good die young. We old people know it is his mercy, granting us yet another day, another hour, to get it right, because heaven knows, we’ve certainly messed up so far. I know I’ll try again today, mess up again today, and ask his mercy again tonight, and his forbearance for tomorrow, for that is how we in chronos must speak to kairos, locked as we are into the verb tenses of our own making. What makes this bearable is the knowledge that he too once lived here, where we are, in time. He knows our helplessness, and he knows in the only way we recognize anything as really “known”—via experience. Thus are we able to rely on his mercy, a grace self-denied to the gnostics and others. A non-believing friend once asked, “How can you endure all that Catholic guilt?” to which I replied, “It’s a gift,” an answer I’m sure she misunderstood.

Here is a link To Msgr. Pope’s post on kairos and chronos:  

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September 26th, 2014Little Gidding’s Comedyby Daniel J. Heisey

More than forty years ago Russell Kirk wrote Eliot and His Age, and in it he argued that future literary historians will see the twentieth century as the Age of Eliot, since “what Dante was to the fourteenth century, or Shakespeare to the sixteenth, Eliot became to the twentieth century.”  Recipient of the Nobel Prize and the Order of Merit, T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) still has his ardent admirers, but the jury remains out on whether he dominated an era and will have his name attached to it.

For example, despite occasional revivals of Murder in the Cathedral or The Family Reunion, Eliot’s verse dramas might not endure as long as Shakespeare’s.  Meanwhile, Eliot’s other poems tend to feature in high school and college reading lists.  Eliot himself said that the world of poetry divides between Dante and Shakespeare, and Dante especially holds the key to understanding some of Eliot’s poems.

In 1944, Eliot published a slim volume called Four Quartets.  It comprises four poems written and published separately in the early 1940s.  Together they achieve unity and coherence and can be seen as one long poem in four parts.  In general, Kirk said that, “All that such a poem as Four Quartets may accomplish is to relate one remarkable man’s vision of time, self, reality, and eternity:  to describe one person’s experience of transcendence.”  It is a heavy burden, but the book’s forty-some pages can bear it.

The fourth of the four poems, “Little Gidding,” stands as a miniature version of Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Oddly, Kirk seems to have missed this aspect of the poem.  However, he did explain that Little Gidding is a remote village in eastern England, about thirty miles northwest of Cambridge.  In the seventeenth century, the small church there was home to an Anglican religious community.

Eliot captures Little Gidding’s geographical isolation by referring to one’s getting there, “when you leave the rough road/And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull façade/And the tombstone.”  As he puts it, “There are other places/Which also are the world’s end, . . . But this is the nearest, in place and time,/Now and in England.”  The church at Little Gidding becomes Eliot’s equivalent to Dante’s dark wood, his portal into the mystical world.

Eliot underscores the spiritual reason for one’s journey there.  “You are not here to verify,/Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity/Or carry report.  You are here to kneel/Where prayer has been valid.”  One is on pilgrimage, kneeling in obscurity and acknowledging and bewailing one’s manifold sins and wickedness, as the old Prayer Book has it.

Once one has entered this dimension, communication with the faithful departed can occur.  There remains the mundane world, where “the dead leaves still rattled on like tin/Over the asphalt where no other sound was.”  Yet, Eliot encounters the soul of a man who had been killed in the London Blitz.  The second section of the poem sketches this interaction, so reminiscent of Dante speaking with tormented souls in Hell and restless souls in Purgatory.

The third section of “Little Gidding” reflects upon detachment, saying that the use of memory is for liberation.  That liberation consists “not less of love but expanding/Of love beyond desire, and so liberation/From the future as well as the past.”  Within that context, “History may be servitude,/History may be freedom.”  Dwelling on the past is as much a trap as dwelling in the future.

Twice in this third section Eliot quotes a fifteenth-century English mystic, Julian of Norwich.  Just as Dante in Heaven listens to numerous saints, Eliot hears the words of a holy woman whose hermitage was about seventy miles east of Little Gidding.  Julian’s recurring assurance as quoted by Eliot is, “All shall be well, and/All manner of thing shall be well.”  After the second quotation, Eliot adds, “By the purification of the motive/In the ground of our beseeching.”  Purgation and detachment lead to the inner peace wherein all shall be well.

The fourth section of the poem refers to the Holy Spirit.  “The dove descending breaks the air,” this section begins, “With flame of incandescent terror/Of which the tongues declare/The one discharge from sin and error.”  The reference is to Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), and “the one discharge from sin and error” is Christ’s redeeming sacrifice.  “The only hope, or else despair,” says Eliot, depends on one choosing “To be redeemed from fire by fire.”  How one uses one’s gift of free will determines whether one will be saved from the fires of Hell by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

In the fifth and final section of the poem, historians perk up briefly at the following:  “A people without history/Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern/Of timeless moments.”  These lines are the sort of thing that makes Eliot’s fans swoon.  In such cryptic phrases they find profundity proving that Eliot is not only the Bard of the modern world, but also its Delphic Oracle.  For the rest of us, not yet on that lofty plane, it is gibberish.  Until we can see what “a pattern of timeless moments” might be, it is best to return to clear allusions to Dante.

This pilgrimage has been spiritual exploration, and as was Dante’s poetic sojourn through the spiritual world, it has been transforming.  “And the end of all our exploring,” says Eliot, “Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.”  As is said of the Divine Comedy, once one has finished reading the poem, one is ready to begin reading it.

Eliot then quotes for a third and last time the line from Julian of Norwich, “And all shall be well/And all manner of thing shall be well.”  This saintly peace comes “When the tongues of flame are in-folded/Into the crowned knot of fire/And the fire and the rose are one.”  Eliot thus concludes by evoking the celestial rose that Dante describes ablaze in the highest Heaven.


    Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.

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September 25th, 2014Good News from Aquinas Collegeby Joseph Pearce

I’m heartened by a news report, just published in Catholic Education Daily, which shows the success of Aquinas College in Nashville in providing a top-quality education. As readers of the Ink Desk might know, I was appointed as Director of the Aquinas College Center for Faith and Culture in July and it is from my office in Nashville that I now write. It’s good to be part of such a dynamic Catholic college. Here’s the link to the article, which also provides information about other Catholic colleges who are performing well:

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September 24th, 2014New Signs of EU Meltdownby Joseph Pearce

One of the most encouraging trends in global politics in the past few years has been the rise of euro-skepticism, the term applied to those resisting the undemocratic tyranny of the European Union. I was in London when the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) shook the corrupt political establishment in Britain to its foundations by winning the country’s European Election. It was a political earthquake which caused my heart to leap with seismic abandon! The same resistance to Euro-Tyranny has swept through other parts of Europe, even those parts of the so-called Euro-Zone which were considered the very core of its power. The Front National, under the charismatic leadership of Marine Le Pen, is now leading the polls in France with its demands for the restoration of the French Franc and the abandonment of the Euro. Now, in recent elections, there has been a similar upsurge in Euro-Skepticism in Germany, traditionally the most pro-EU of all the nations in the Euro-Tyranny. It can only be hoped that this is the beginning of the end for the multinational monolith at the darkened and decaying heart of Europe.

For more details about the German uprising against the Euro, click here:

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September 24th, 2014Ralph Fiennes on Playing A Holocaust Perpetratorby Brendan D. King

For the last several weeks, I have been writing an article about Nazi Germany for a Catholic magazine editor who shall remain nameless. In the process, I have often reflected on the following interview with actor Ralph Fiennes, in which he reflects on his performance as SS Captain Amon Goeth in Stephen Spielberg's "Schindler's List."

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September 23rd, 2014G. K. Chesterton and T. S. Eliot: Friends or Enemies?by Joseph Pearce

Following the controversy caused by my earlier article on modern art, not least of which was the suggestion that T. S. Eliot held Chesterton in evident contempt, I thought I’d write an article on the enmity between GKC and TSE – and, more importantly, the friendship:

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September 23rd, 2014An Interview on the Ignatius Critical Editionsby Joseph Pearce

My absence from the Ink Desk is a consequence of my current heavy travel schedule. Last weekend I was in Fort Collins, Colorado, giving a number of talks and teaching a class on the Catholicism of Tolkien’s work. I’m currently in Nashville, TN, teaching at Aquinas College. This week we’re studying Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland” and Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. This weekend I’m speaking at Chesterton conferences in Buffalo and Rochester NY. It’s an exhausting but exhilarating time!

Last week, during the calm before the storm, I gave an interview with a British Catholic website on the Ignatius Critical Editions, of which I am the series editor. Here’s the link to the interview:

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September 23rd, 2014How I Found Religion - or - How Religion Found Meby Kevin O'Brien |

Rod Dreher is asking for readers to submit stories on "How I Found Religion".  Since today happens to be an anniversary date for me in that regard, I posted the following ...

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    At the age of nine I saw Madeline Murray O’Hair, the famous atheist, on TV. She made perfect sense to me. I became an atheist from that point on, and was an adamant one, back in the day when this was not the fad that it is today. I stood out in my small town Missouri high school in the 1970′s, where everybody else was “Christian”, or claimed to be.
    But it was my experiences on stage as an actor that began to change me. I found that no matter what I did in preparing for a role – no matter how well I knew my lines, my blocking, or how intensely I researched my character – my performance would be lifeless, lacking a certain spark, a gift of spontaneity that was not of my making. All I could do was prepare for the performance and then invite the “spirit” in. In fact, I had to lose my control and abandon my preparation in the moment of performance or else things would seem contrived and stilted.
    This was tangible evidence of something beyond my own control, something quite real but spiritual. I thought of it as the “life force” as George Bernard Shaw called it. So for about fifteen years after these experiences on stage, I considered myself “spiritual but not religious”. I read the entire collected works of C. G. Jung (Freud’s disciple) and was rather awash in a Gnostic New Age worldview.
    But then something happened. I was physically assaulted by a guy I was working for (I tell the whole story here), and the pain and confusion that sprang from that – plus the free time that I suddenly had on my hands – led me to start reading books from the library.
    I stumbled upon C. S. Lewis, who was the first Christian I had encountered who made a clear and rational defense of the Faith, and who was a tremendously talented writer to boot. Lewis kept mentioning this guy G. K. Chesterton, whom I began to read. Chesterton kept mentioning his friend Hillaire Belloc – and once you follow that chain: Lewis to Chesterton to Belloc, the only thing left to do is to pick up a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and pray.
    And in fact it was 17 years ago today – Sept. 23, 1997 – that I said my first prayer since before the age of 9, a prayer that was answered in an immediate and stunning way … but sometimes these things are too personal to describe. I’ve told the story more than once on EWTN’s “The Journey Home”, and the only thing I can add is the grace of God is utterly fantastic.

So I leave that as a kind of teaser, but this image from the internet is as close as I've come to illustrating that night 17 years ago visually.


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September 23rd, 2014The Fellowship of the Rings vs. John Cleese?by Brendan D. King

I must say, Peter Jackson's travestied trilogy works well with this alteration...

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September 21st, 2014How Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” Movies Should Have Endedby Brendan D. King

With Apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien, George Lucas, and the Writers of Robot Chicken.

Aragorn and the Lord of the Nazgul are crossing swords on a foggy moor.

Nazgul: "Gandalf never told you about your father." 

Aragorn: "He told me enough! He told me you killed him!" 

Nazgul: "No, Strider, I AM your father!" 

Aragorn: "That's not true! That's impossible!" 

Nazgul: "And Arwen is your sister!" 

Aragorn: "That's not true! That's improbable!" 

Nazgul: "And the Armies of Mordor will be defeated by hobbits!"

Aragorn: "That's... Very unlikely." 

Nazgul: "So, as I was saying, join me, together we can defeat Sauron, and rule Middle Earth as father and son."  

Visibly annoyed, Aragorn sheathes his sword and walks over to the director's chair. 

Aragorn: (to Peter Jackson) "If you're not going to take this seriously, then I'm out." 

He walks away.

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September 17th, 2014J.R.R. Tolkien on Scottish (and Welsh) independenceby Brendan D. King

To Simonne d'Ardenne.

March 13, 1936.

"The political situation is dreadful... I have the greatest sympathy with Belgium -- which is about the right size of any country! I wish my own were bounded still by the seas of the Tweed and the walls of Wales... we folk do at least know something of mortality and eternity and when Hitler (or a Frenchman) says 'Germany (or France) must live forever' we know that he lies."

From "The Tolkien Family Album," page 69.

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September 17th, 2014The Law of Loveby Kevin O'Brien |

This is what the Law is all about, right???

I am always surprised at how most people, and probably most Christians, think of God's Commandments and of all morality as arbitrary.  This is why they think "gay marriage" can exist.  We moderns think all law is man made, all rules and regulations are simply pulled out of our hats, and subject to the whims of culture and passing fancy.  That the Moral Law is like the law of gravity - something inherent in nature, something discovered and not invented - is beyond the ken of most folk walking among us.  In their eyes, law, like the rules of baseball, is simply conventional - something we concoct and then agree on as a group that allows us to play the game, whatever that game might be.

But the distinction between the Designated Hitter rule, which is not inherent to the nature of the game, and therefore can be changed and adapted as circumstances warrant, and the rules of marriage, which are inherent to the nature of love and human happiness - and which are also (rather obviously) built in to the nature of biology - is beyond even 90% of the people sitting in the pews around you on Sunday.

And even more astonishing to most folks: the Law of God is not meant to snuff out life and love, to restrict our hearts, but to liberate them, to cultivate the fires of life and love.

In Jacob's Ladder by Peter Kreeft, there's a scene where we pick up a dialogue between two women who are talking about the relation of Law to Love.  The first speaker is a Catholic who knows her stuff, the second is a secularist who believes only in positive law and not in natural law (in other words, she believes that all laws are simply invented, not discovered), but who, during the course of this discussion, has come to recognize certain principles of the Moral Law as given, intrinsic, natural.  The Catholic leads her even further ...

Indeed, the relation of the New Covenant to the Old is simple.  Jesus comes to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it, because the whole point of the Law (including the Ten Commandments, and all of the minor transitory regulations followed by the Jews) was love.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mat. 22:36-40)

Or, as St. Paul says ...

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Rom. 13:8

How different would we be as Christians if we simply kept it in our minds that every single thing God reveals to us and asks us to do - everything - is about changing us into people who love, who love really, truthfully, loyally.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)

 In other words, right-wing Catholics:

  • Love does not torture
  • Love does not lie
  • Love does not idolize money or power, placing them above our neighbors in need

And left-wing Catholics:

And Devout Catholics:

  • Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18)
  • Love does not play it safe, but takes risks (Mat. 25:14-30)
  • Love is deeply invested: it is "jealous" and a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24)

We are called not merely to obey the Law of Love, but to become New Creations in love.  And that is our greatest adventure!

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September 17th, 2014Hilaire Belloc versus Graham Greeneby Joseph Pearce

I'd like to share an e-mail I've just received from someone who makes an intriguing comparison between Hilaire Belloc and Graham Greene. Here's the pertinent part of the e-mail; my response follows:

Reading your biography of Belloc, I found myself admiring Belloc immensely but not liking him much.  There is an affability to Chesterton that made even his enemies melt.  Belloc's confrontational style is off-putting.  But the Chesterbelloc combination was certainly a force.  I suspect each in his own and different way was used mightily by God.

It was also unsettling to read about the financial straits Belloc seemed constantly to be in.  It was dreadful to read that near the end of his life two newspapers dropped his column and he worried greatly about thefinancial effect on himself and his family.  I can readily see where that stress might tend to  lead to writer's block.  

I couldn't help but be struck by the similarity between Belloc and Graham Greene. I've recently read Norman Sherry's multi-volume biography of Greene.  Both were Englishmen with an affection for France, headstrong, domineering and with an incredible ability to communicate profound thought in everyday prose.  Greene particularly could knock you over with a thought.  For example in Brighton Rock, the priest hearing the widow's confession says: “You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”  Wow.

Of course Belloc seemed more intentional about living out the commandments. I've wondered about the chasm between the spiritual insight reflected in Greene's work and his adulterous life style - not as far as the temptation - for but for the grace of God so goes me - but rather I find mystifying the almost compulsive womanizing in light of that marvelous spiritual insight.

My response:

I agree that Belloc is a more problematic character than Chesterton but I can't help liking him nonetheless. This is due in part, no doubt, to his crucial part in my own journey to Christ. I am deeply in his debt. I'm also a great admirer of his poetry - and his books, The Four Men and The Path to Rome, are amongst my all time favourites.

I accept, in part, your comparison of Belloc with Greene but you are right to be baffled by Greene's compulsive adultery disorder (the acronym is CAD!). One thing I admire about Belloc is that there is no evidence that he cheated on his wife, and his loyalty to her was such that he never sought to remarry after her all too early death. There is more than a world of difference between a man who deserts his wife and children (Greene) and one who remains loyal to his wife even after her death (Belloc).

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September 16th, 2014New Archaeological Find! The Third Epistle of Peter!!!by Kevin O'Brien |

The New Testament contains two Epistles by St. Peter.  A third one was recently discovered, but some are doubting its authenticity.  It appears to have been written during Jesus active ministry ...


Peter, Apostle of Jesus Christ, to the Other Eleven and to Various Disciples.

May God bless you all.  I give thanks always and everywhere for the hard work you are doing in spreading what Jesus is calling the "gospel message".

Which, of course, needs some refining.

I took Jesus aside the other day for an "ad hoc meeting" and tried to talk some sense into him.  He keeps insisting on this whole "cross" thing and claiming that he's going to suffer.  "God forbid!" I told him.  After all, we can't have that - it would be bad for the organization and we have to protect our branding.

Some of you have been asking how he responded to me.  Not well, really.  "Get thee behind me, Satan!" was a bit of an over-reaction, as far as I'm concerned.  He keeps saying that's the "hour" for which he was sent.  Totally beyond me.

Meanwhile, we're forming a Doctrine Committee to deal with things.  Oh, and there's a Fish Fry on Friday next week, though we clearly don't have enough at this point to feed the multitude.  The Fall Festival is taking volunteers and Scrip is available in the Gathering Area.

But the reason I'm writing is to get you to consider wisely how to invest your time, treasure and talents.  Especially your treasure.  Judas, our CFO, says that donations are down considerably and so I ask you to prayerfully yadda-yadda ... you know the score.  By the way, I am shocked that so many of you are giving yourselves over to gossip, which is a sin that will send you to hell.  Judas' moneybag has not been "leaking into his pockets" as some of you have been suggesting.  How dare you question his authority!  He is a close and trusted member of this community, and even though we're not yet considered "priests after the order of Melchizedek", once a little bit of clericalism kicks in, we'll slap you silly if you even so much as suggest that things ain't "kosher" with any of the inner circle, as you have been.  In short, question us and go to hell.  That's my policy.

Oh, and I'm still working on getting Jesus to keep kids and lepers from approaching him, at least when he's preaching and healing.  The Public Relations committee has some firm suggestions in that regard.  Also, he keeps talking about how great it is to be poor, and that won't fly at the Capernaum Country Club, if you know what I mean.  And we've got some big donors from there, so we have to be careful.

Well, that's about it.  Don't forget to register for the bus trip up Mt. Tabor next week.  There's not many of you going at this point.  The sing up sheet is in the Gathering Area.  I'll be there because - well, I'll stick by Jesus no matter what.  You all know that.  Don't you?



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September 15th, 2014Maurice Baring: In Need of a Modern Championby Joseph Pearce

I'm in receipt of an e-mail from a Spanish scholar seeking my advice with regard to Maurice Baring's suitability as the focus of his doctoral studies. Here's my response:

Personally, I am very excited at the prospect of your writing your doctoral thesis on Maurice Baring, though it's a pity that it will presumably be written in Spanish. Perhaps you could later translate it for publication in the English-speaking world.

It is true that Baring is not well-known but he was considered a major novelist in the period between the two world wars and, objectively speaking, is one of the truly major novelists of the twentieth century. He's in need of a modern champion!

I would suggest that you establish the case for Baring's importance by commencing your research with sourcing the praise for his work by major figures in England and France. Chesterton and Waugh were great admirers, as was Francois Mauriac. Having established Baring's credentials, so to speak, you could then move on to a discussion of the brilliance of his novels. For what it's worth, I also consider Baring one of the finest poets of the last century. If you haven't read his poetry, you should. 

If you decide to choose Baring, I'd be happy to help, insofar as my time permits, as you begin your work.

Having made the case for Baring, it is true that a comparative study of Newman and Chesterton would also be a worthy focus for your research.

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September 14th, 2014Sense and Sensitivityby Joseph Pearce

If there's one subject on which it's difficult to have a rational discussion in these irrational times it's the thorny topic of same sex attraction. I know this from bitter experience because I was recently banned from speaking at a large secular university because I had written a book on Oscar Wilde which did not wholeheartedly endorse Wilde's desertion of his wife and children in pursuit of the homosexual lifestyle. Some things are sacrosanct, it seems, but not fidelity in marriage or the best interests of children.

One of the few places in which I have seen genuine sense and sensitivity on the subject of same sex attraction is in Dena Hunt's novel, The Lion's Heart. This being so, I was delighted to see this excellent and thoughtful appraisal of the novel's merits in the National Catholic Register

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September 13th, 2014A Prophet New Inspir’dby Marie Dudzik

Francis Cardinal George of Chicago is credited with saying that he expects to die in his bed, his successor to die in prison, and his successor to die a martyr. In other words, the persecution of American Catholics is coming, and it’s a matter not of if, but of when.  In a recent column in the Catholic New World, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal George writes that “when” is “now”.

Cardinal George is in declining health, past the retirement age of 75, and in a position in which he has nothing to gain by clinging to the church of nice. In his column, “A Tale of Two Churches” he pits the Church founded by Christ against the religion of the current American establishment and states that the two are completely incompatible.

The column is refreshing in its honesty and troubling in its conclusions. His Eminence sounds a bit like John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II, “a prophet new inspir’d” citing the sins of a corrupt regime and ruin of a once-great country. Like Gaunt, the Cardinal is not afraid to tell it like it is:

“There was always a quasi-religious element in the public creed of the country. It lived off the myth of human progress, which had little place for dependence on divine providence. It tended to exploit the religiosity of the ordinary people by using religious language to co-opt them into the purposes of the ruling class.” This is resulting in a situation where “those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers. Nor will their children, who will also be suspect. Since all public institutions, no matter who owns or operates them, will be agents of the government and conform their activities to the demands of the official religion, the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics. It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined”.

This is grim stuff, but it’s not anything new. Many faithful Catholics have been thinking these things for years. What’s startling is to see it in print, and see it written by a member of the hierarchy.

Cardinal George compares this treatment to non-Muslims living under Sharia laws. But unlike Filipino workers living like slaves in Saudi Arabia, we have our own co-religionists to thank for much of the damage done. How many “Catholic” legislators helped to create this situation? How many “Catholic” voters keep electing them? How many priests and bishops refuse to correct or denounce laws and legislators that continue to make Christians second-class citizens in their own country? How many people in the pews only live their faith for an hour a week and then spend the other six days and twenty-three hours being “good Americans?” How many will agree to live under the restrictions the Cardinal described above, or will comfort trump Truth as we enter our own penal times? In another history play, Shakespeare has King Henry V tell a subject that his duty to the state is important, but limited: “every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own.” When it comes to choosing between following laws and saving our souls, which will we choose? This was much on Shakespeare’s mind; he may have watched the great English martyrs such as Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell go to their deaths, traitors in the eyes of the state, but true sons of the Church to Christ.

In a sermon on St. Thomas More preached in 1948 in London, Monsignor Ronald Knox reminded his listeners of how much they have in common with those great saints of English penal times. “We live, like the men of the sixteenth century, in an age of new horizons; and for us, as for them, the old question still presses, How much can we afford to fall in with the spirit of our times? I say, ‘afford’; I am using commercial language, as our Lord used to. There comes a point at which, in reaching out for earthly prizes, we may lose the heavenly.”

Our politicians constantly ramble on about prosperity and opportunity, but they never tell us how much it costs. Perhaps because they are too ashamed to admit how much their own prosperity and opportunity has cost them. Vice-President Biden recently used the phrase “the gates of hell”; perhaps he knows where that it because he has been offered retirement property there by the local landlord. Following the Cardinal’s lead, it’s time for all of us help to explode the “myth of human progress”. Those new horizons of a better day are a false dawn if they take our eyes off the true light of Christ. Our land of opportunity can only be found in heaven; our prosperity is only found through the Cross.

Cardinal George’s complete column can be read here:

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September 11th, 2014The Lion’s Heart gains praise…by Dena Hunt

…from conservative National Catholic Register’s blogger, Sarah Reinhard. That’s especially gratifying in view of the novel’s controversial theme. It doesn’t just take courage to write certain things; it also takes courage to publish, and maybe still more, to praise:

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September 10th, 2014The One and the Many Againby Dena Hunt

This theme recurs again, and yet again. I’ve written several variations of it here, never in some kind of resolution mode, but only as an attempt to comprehend prevalent disharmony, injury to peace—external and internal, societal and individual. Certainly I want to avoid redundancy, but the theme seems to manifest so redundantly that it’s unavoidable and must be observed again, and yet again: All understanding, the necessary foundation of harmony, seems always to lie in the disruption of the relationship between genus and differentia—on so many levels: the individual person vs. marriage or family; tribes or races, ethnic cultures or religious affiliations vs. society at large or national identity. Never has subjective, emotional, response been more dangerous; if ever there was a time to rid ourselves of obfuscating anger and false sentiment, and try to see how the genus-differentia relationship works—indeed, how it must work—that time is now.

The Three Musketeers explained it well: one for all and all for one. Indeed, it must be so. If all are not for one, one cannot be for all. We, both as the one and as the many, are utterly interdependent. The principle is a very simple one; the problem is not some kind of intellectual deficiency, but in understanding its nature: It’s not a formula to be applied here or there, or a rule—worse still, a law—but a reflex, natural to humanity, a basic instinct that operates without conscious awareness, like breathing. It is the nature of unity to include diversity; therein does it derive its definition. That unity must be organic, instinctive; it can’t be externally imposed, unnatural. Then it becomes tyranny. (An example: Legislation that labels opinion as “hate” speech, opinions that differ from the party line—the genus prohibits differentiation.)

What married person has never had to sacrifice his own ambitions, wishes, etc., not in deference to the spouse, but in deference to the marriage? What sibling has never had to give up his own preferences, not in deference to another sibling but in deference to the family? And doesn’t that marriage, that family, provide then the haven of safety, of belonging, of identity, in which a person can grow and thrive as an individual?

I admit this sounds simplistic, but what happens on one level is identical to what happens on another. The recent horrific news of Rotherham in the UK, its larger version acted out by ISIS in northern Iraq, or any ordinary, everyday divorce, any civil strife like the recent episode in Ferguson, Missouri—even the Ukrainian/Russian conflict—all these are conflicts of one vs. many, wherein the identity of the one is threatened by the many, or the stability of the many is threatened by the identity of the one.

Not understanding the necessity for the safe existence of both the genus and the differentia causes really destructive decisions when problems emerge: The police abandoned their duty to protect the citizens of Rotherham when they ignored the many to favor the one. The one (the Pakistani gangs) must be made to understand that their identity as Pakistanis is protected only insofar as they defer to the genus of British society. And if that deference is not there, that society will not be able to protect them. Hostility of differentia toward genus will lead (usually via totalitarian order) to the destruction of differentia. Hostility of genus toward differentia will lead to the destruction of genus (anarchy).

Ideologies, utopian fantasies, glory-seeking, not to mention ordinary conning and politicking, get in the way of common sense. This is not an issue of philosophy, religion, or “values.” It’s the way we’d all behave if we didn’t enjoy being manipulated so much—a very perverse trait in so many people who evidently lead such dull lives they constantly require, like an addiction, some kind of arousal. (I do not use the word stimulation.) But ignoring something so basic, we wallow in the emotionalism of taking sides, vindictiveness, retribution, blaming, anger, and of course, violence. There can be no peace in any society, no matter how large or small, where the particularities of persons are not held sacred, nor can there be any order where those particularities are allowed to dominate society. It’s not a belief system of any kind, or a judgment of good vs evil; it’s just the only sensible way for human beings to live together. It requires minimal intelligence and a zero tolerance for nonsense—which has its own rightful place.

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September 8th, 2014Muslims and the Miasma of Multiculturalismby Joseph Pearce

My latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative finds me embroiled in controversy on the thorny subjects of radical Islam and the crumbling edifice of multiculturalism:

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September 7th, 2014Anton Bruckner’s Medieval Cityby Daniel J. Heisey

Listeners unimpressed by the music of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) complain that the composer did not write nine symphonies but one symphony nine times.  More appreciative listeners compare those symphonies to Gothic cathedrals.  Even an admirer of Bruckner’s work, though, must recognize that for some people, after a while one medieval cathedral looks much like another.  Nevertheless, it can be a contemplative experience, taking one’s time pacing through one of those old cathedrals, and so it can be when entering into one of Bruckner’s vast symphonies.

Bruckner’s soaring yet solid compositions owe much to his early years in rural Austria as a virtuoso of the church organ.  As a church organist, he was used to filling lofty interiors with layers of sound.  Another influence on him was the operatic music of Richard Wagner, voluminous and bombastic.  Two men could not have been more different:  Wagner, the egoistic adulterer, Bruckner the shy celibate.  Bruckner was a deeply devout Catholic, an introverted man who never found the right girl, and so he devoted himself to his music and his God.

Perhaps Bruckner’s most popular and accessible symphony is his Fourth, in E-flat major, the first draft of which dates to 1874, the final revisions to 1890.  It was first performed in the United States in 1885, and it has been recorded numerous times.  Bruckner left programmatic notes to describe his Fourth Symphony, and through them Bruckner gave glimpses into another profound influence upon him, the Catholic culture of old Europe.

Bruckner called his Fourth Symphony “The Romantic,” and from his descriptions one could devise a scenario for a film.  According to Bruckner, the symphony begins by depicting dawn rising over the walls and towers of a medieval city and its castle.  From a tower a trumpeter signals the start of a new day.  Then knights ride forth from the gates, and in due course there is a hunting scene, followed by a local fair.

In the opening notes of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, music critics hear themes from nature, and then throughout the Andante, one gets the sense of being alone in an autumnal setting.  The Scherzo opens with the brassy call of hunting horns, and one can almost see the horses, stags, and hounds.  In the Finale, passages suggest the merriment at a town festival, with bright strains of Bruder Jakob, the Germanic version of Frère Jacques.

In each movement, one finds Bruckner’s characteristic wave upon wave of sound, many building to majestic crescendo.  It is this monumental quality that leads to comparisons with cathedrals.  While Bruckner may have intended to evoke the chivalry and pageantry of the Holy Roman Empire, more immediate to Bruckner’s eye and ear were the pomp and grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Whether Bruckner’s Fourth conjures an idealized Austrian landscape from days of yore, it conveys the impression not only of ethereal morning but also of robust activity.  As with all Bruckner’s symphonic work, his Fourth combines elements that are subtle and vigorous.  Just as passages can make one more reflective, others cannot fail to get one’s blood flowing.  It is baffling that Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957), in what one hopes was a bad moment, said that Bruckner’s music shows that “he had never had a woman.”  Whatever such an insight may mean, it does stand as a lesson that even great musicians can make asinine comments.

In contrast, Maestro Manfred Honeck of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has told me that it certainly helps when interpreting Bruckner’s music to have come from the same roots.  Like Bruckner, Honeck is a devout Catholic layman from Austria.  He grew up with the architecture and the liturgy, the customs and the food that would have been familiar to Bruckner, but what he could not experience from the inside, so to speak, was the martial ethos of imperial Austria.

Still, human nature never changes, and so people even today can understand Bruckner’s music.  Yet, he remains less popular than his younger contemporary, Gustav Mahler, and he has not added a fourth B to the great three of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.  Through performances by conductors such as Honeck and the dedicated work of Bruckner societies here and abroad, Bruckner’s loyal fans find encouragement, and word gets out to the uninitiated about the glories of his music.

People who knew Bruckner described him as a “rustic genius,” something of a musical idiot savant who stuck out in the world of the Strauss family’s Vienna as backward and provincial.  A quiet, heavy-set man given to bow ties and crew cuts, pinches of snuff and mugs of beer, Bruckner had friendly critics of the day marveling that such a bumpkin could produce complex and extensive Adagios, by turns melancholy and mystical.

Alone among Bruckner’s nine symphonies, the Fourth has no Adagio, even though Bruckner was the master of the Adagio.  If one were making a film to illustrate Bruckner’s Fourth, along with scenes of dawn over the old city, of daylight glinting off knights and horses, of sunlight dappling through vaulting branches of trees, of huntsman’s horns and hunting hounds, one would have to show rising above the brooding walls of a medieval city the towers of its cathedral.  The camera would stay outside the cathedral, just as the Fourth steers clear of an Adagio.  Amongst the craggy walls and gnarled trees of the Fourth, the meditative moments occur elsewhere, such as in the autumnal Andante.

A stroll through a medieval cathedral can be contemplative, more so for a believer, for finally one comes before the altar and its crucifix and tabernacle.  The Adagio of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony and that of his Eighth waft one upwards as if on clouds of incense coiling before the heavenly throne.  Whether one shares the faith Bruckner held, those stately and shimmering notes lead one to something transcendent.  “People may not understand one another,” wrote conductor and musicologist Werner Wolff, “but they are drawn together by their common love for Bruckner’s music.”


Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.

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September 4th, 2014Father Soldierby Joseph Pearce

Fr. Leo Hetzler has been a good friend of mine for many years. A lifelong Chestertonian who attends the annual Chesterton conference in Rochester, New York, he is an inspiration to all who know him. An extremely learned literary scholar who did his doctoral dissertation on Chesterton shortly after his return from active service in World War Two, Fr. Hetzler has been an indomitable advocate of the good, the true and the beautiful. For those who have not had the honour and pleasure to have known this wonderful priest and scholar, I strongly recommend this video about his experience in Europe and the Far East during the War.

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September 4th, 2014Politics and Religionby Dena Hunt

People usually put these two subjects together in a phrase to identify the two subjects one should never discuss, lest argument ensue. Mailboxes have no such tender sensibilities, however, and this morning I had two forwards in my mail. One criticized Congress and concluded with a suggestion that we pass a law forbidding re-election unless the budget is balanced and the deficit is reduced. Trouble is, we would need Congress to pass that law—but never mind logic. The purpose of the email was only to vent, of course.

The other email criticized the Church, asserting that it is corruption within the Church hierarchy that is causing general widespread moral collapse—specifically, among bishops, and since bishops are corrupt, so are priests, and because priests are corrupt, so are the laity. A venting of righteous anger.

Both emails were condemnations. They had different senders, but they could have been the same sender, since both senders are Catholic and both are conservative. I’ve become so weary of this condemning anger by conservatives that I usually don’t even read it any more.

It isn’t that I’m not conservative—I am—but long ago I noted (and posted about it) that the nature of conservatism is to defend, and that’s a position that cannot be sustained indefinitely. It will fatigue the staunchest, most perseverant, and most patient among of us eventually. We constantly complain (“vent”) in order, I suppose, to relieve pressure. The alternative is to explode, a raisin in the sun sort of thing.

Conservatism is not overcome by the progressions of  “liberalism,” but by the exhaustion of conservatives. Defense is the most wearying activity there is.  I am tired. I don’t open such emails any more. I don’t write such things either. It isn’t that I’m following my Granny’s basic rule of good manners (If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all); it’s just the pointlessness of it. Someone vents their anger on me, and then I must either carry their anger-baggage or pass it on, “forward” it to someone else.  So I choose to delete it with a one-word mental response: So? So what do you want me to do? Why are you telling me this? What, exactly, do you expect of me? Do you want me to forward this to my entire address book and do you think that if I do and you do and others do, we’ll all somehow stop the perpetual assault on Truth, Beauty, and Goodness? You could call this emotional and intellectual disengagement, you could call it withdrawal, or you could call it simply self-defense.

Judge anything by its fruit. What is the fruit of anger? Ultimately, it’s violence. At the moment, it’s verbal violence, but as anger grows and spreads, violence becomes more palpable. In politics, that violence becomes revolution. In religion, it becomes Protestantism. History has proved this fruit toxic. Revolution does not change the hearts of those in power, nor did Protestantism force the Church to obey the demands of Protestants. Anger begets only more anger, which increasingly becomes expressible only in violence. Like ISIS, for example. Or maybe the Reign of Terror. Or the Bolsheviks. Or—whatever.

There’s another characteristic of Righteous Rage that should be noted: It’s not just contagious; it’s also addictive. How sad for the revolutionaries in France when there was no one left to guillotine, and they had to go in search of more victims, anyone they could find—cloistered nuns, or anyone at all who did not share their bloodlust. The “holy warriors” of ISIS, I understand, have had to resort to beheading children. It is addictive.

Anger is natural, forgivable, and anger in defense of what is good, right, sacred, innocent—is even laudable. But it can be contagious and addictive, seductive, dishonest, unjust, and spiritually devastating. Perhaps fatigue is a blessing, a gift presented in the form of a delete key.


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September 3rd, 2014The Methodist in the Madnessby Joseph Pearce

The latest statistics coming from England suggest that the Methodist Church is shrivelling in size so dramatically that it resembles a shrinking iceberg crumbling into the secular sea.

It is the tried and tested fate of all the severed branches of Christendom. The madness in the "Method" leads to the Methodist in the madness! Only the True Church has the promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail. Be not afraid as John Paul II might say, but also be not surprised!

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September 1st, 2014Anonymous Saints: What is God About?by Kevin O'Brien |

My friend Joe Grabowski sends along another example in my Anonymous Saints series.

This is the story of a 99-year old woman who makes a new dress every day and donates it to a needy child in Africa.

Now, I can't help but think that my son, Colin O'Brien, who is an exact clone of me, will react to this post the way he reacted to my sharing this on Facebook ...

Trust God's Word!
LikeLike ·  · 


When asked to elaborate on his comment, "This is some middle aged woman nonsense" (which is exactly what I would say in one of my typically foul tempers), Colin explains (sarcastically) ...

God is about odd fonts without serif. God is about God is about red borders. God is about old parchment backgrounds. God is about ellipses. God is about using the "tab" key to its full potential. 
"Like" this and God will "like" you. "Share" this to get your "share" in paradise.

Likewise, I'm sure he'd say (regarding the Old Lady who Makes Dresses for Kids in Africa) ...

Great!  An "anonymous saint" being used to promote a local credit union on a cheesy Iowa news show.  I can smell the odor of incense hovering about Grandma, right along with a whiff of Gold Bond Medicated Powder.

(That's me putting words into Colin's mouth, but he'd probably "like" it or "share" it, even though he didn't exactly say it.)

And of course this is the danger you face if you try to do a series on Anonymous Saints.  Tonita Helton's piece on her mother, who grew in sanctity while suffering the ravages of cancer, is far from "middle aged woman nonsense".

And why is that?  Why is Tonita's piece more powerful, more real, and this piece (and that Facebook meme) a little contrived, a little Unreal?

Because the cross is present in Tonita's piece, and absent from the Sewing Grandma piece and the Facebook meme.  

An Anonymous Saint without the Cross is just daytime TV "happy news" or a commercial for a local credit union.


But I'm including this piece because there's also the flip side of the coin.

Yesterday Colin had us all watch The Gangs of New York, a Martin Scorsese film about mid-19th century New York City, the climax of which is not unlike what happened a few weeks ago up the road from us in Ferguson.  Colin usually has very good taste in movies, and he's introduced me to some excellent films.  And though I'm hardly a prude, I found The Gangs of New York to be pretty much Violence Porn on steroids, with a lame screenplay, a poorly structured plot, and a ton of cheesy Hollywood stereotypes obscured by the gritty hyper-realism of the style.  It's not clear what the theme of the movie was, or if it even had a theme, other than, Everybody's violent and faith makes no difference and that's just life.  There are thematic elements of Identity and the Search for the Missing Father (which are both very common in movies of today), but the themes aren't really taken seriously or developed with any courage or integrity.

If Sewing Grandma and Cheesy Facebook meme are one side of the story, hyper-realistic violent nihilism is the other.

So we Catholics try to keep the balance of sanity.  We try to pick up our cross daily and follow Christ.  This means we balance between two false choices: that life is sentimentally sweet and sappy if we're only nice to one another (on the one hand), and that life is a jungle in which beasts disguised as men simply tear into one another with a lot more relish than beasts in the jungle every would (on the other).  Neither vision of the world is entirely true.  A sweet little old lady serving God by making dresses at age 99 is partially true; street gangs denying God by destroying one another in an orgy of violence is partially true - but both of them miss the central truth of the horrible contradiction between sanctity and sin: the awesome love of God and the terrifying reality of the sacrifice that love demands in order to be real - a sacrifice that rings out across all time and history from that place called Golgotha.  Golgotha showed us something that included the Sewing Grandma and that included The Gangs of New York but that transcended and transformed them both.

And it showed us that through Our Lord on the Cross and through the next day's Empty Tomb.

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September 1st, 2014The Evangelizing Power of Beautyby Joseph Pearce

Last Thursday, during my first week at Aquinas College in Nashville, I gave the inaugural lecture of my tenure as Director of the Aquinas College Center for Faith and Culture. The title of my talk was "The Evangelizing Power of Beauty". Almost two hundred people attended. Here's the link to the recording of the talk:

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September 1st, 2014Modern Art and the Imaginative Conservativeby Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative muses upon the meaning of modern art, discussing the impressionists, surrealists and abstract expressionists, and the works of Monet and Dali, as well as the music of Stravinsky and the poetry of Hopkins, Eliot and Sassoon. Here's the link:

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August 29th, 2014In Honor of Stratford Caldecottby Dena Hunt

Crisis magazine gives an in-depth review of a collection of essays honoring Stratford Caldecott. Especially for those who are devotees of this extraordinary man, here’s a link:

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August 29th, 2014The Real Desecration of Marriageby Kevin O'Brien |

She was one of the presenters at a "Journey of Faith" class that my wife and I were taking, back when we were looking into becoming Episcopalians.

She told the following story.

When my friends Amy and Bob got married, I made a tapestry for them that had their names "Amy and Bob" on it, in the middle of a heart, signifying their life-long love.  
After their divorce, Amy came out of the closet and announced she was marrying her Lesbian lover, Sue.  She brought me the tapestry.  "Can you pull out Bob's name and weave in Sue's?" she asked.  "I want this to say Amy and Sue, not Amy and Bob."
And I was surprised at my reaction!  I was reluctant to do this!  And I have always thought of myself as a caring liberal!

I turned to her and asked the only question that needed asking.  "If she had said, I'm leaving Bob and marrying Fred.  Will you yank out Bob's name and sew in Fred's?  I want the tapestry to say "Amy and Fred", would you have been at all distressed?"

"Oh, no!" she replied, her eyes beaming, grinning a stupid grin.  "That would not have bothered me at all!"


At my post, The Scandal of Coffee and Donuts, Fr. Matthew Schneider comments ...

I recently tweeted something similar to your whole issue about gay marriage, marriage, courtship et al:

Serial adultery & divorce destroys marriage more than gay marriage.
B4 fighting gay marriage, we need to restore marriage.
You can read the ~75 replies at:

Some of the "inside the beltway" Catholics got offended but unfortunately as I responded later:

If marriage is just "2 people who love each other sexually & want to spend a long time together" denying gays is discrimination.


The desecration of Marriage in this country did not begin with the "gays", nor will it end with them.

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August 27th, 2014Defending the Definiteby Joseph Pearce

I write from Aquinas College in Nashville during my first week of teaching in my new position as Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Center for Faith and Culture. Many exciting things have already happened this week and other exciting things are scheduled before I return home to South Carolina on Friday. I hope to write more in the next day or so. In the interim, I’m posting the link to my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative in which, as a diminutive David, I take on the Goliathan might of Wittgenstein:

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August 25th, 2014The Masculine Mystiqueby Marie Dudzik

Women love to talk about men, and most often the conversation comes around to the question “Where have all the men gone?” What we are really asking is “Whatever happed to masculinity?”

The author of the article linked below, George Fields, focuses on masculinity, both what it is and what it isn’t. Feminists have used their version of male dominance to push their way into every corner of society. Mr. Fields provides a different version of male dominance. A sampling: “It has nothing to do with the dominance of others; quite to the contrary, those who are most beautiful to our minds and praised for their masculine virtues are those who serve; and the more their service becomes a loving slavery, the more our hearts are touched by their works.”

This is paternity, pure and simple. It is every good father, priest, and male boss we have ever met. It is also the example set by Christ, washing the feet of His disciples and telling them to conquer the world by becoming servants.

So where has all the masculinity gone? One could paraphrase GK Chesterton: it is not that masculinity has been tried and failed; it is that it has been found too difficult and left untried. Evidently it's easier to get manicures and wax jobs than to curb ones appetites.

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August 24th, 2014Hearts of Flesh and the Personal Dimension of Salvationby Kevin O'Brien |

We are not saved by a system.  We are not saved by a program.  We are not saved by a gimmick.

We are saved by a person.  And by His death, which was the most personal gift He could give.

This is why heart must speak to heart (as I wrote, quoting Bl. John Henry Newman, earlier today - whose motto was cor ad cor loquitur: heart speaks to heart).  Anything in the Church that falls shy of loyalty, love, fidelity and integrity between people; anything that falls shy of the true mutual giving and sacrifice of love; anything that falls shy of an actual realistic relationship; anything that falls shy of heart speaking to heart and heart listening to heart is a sham and is a hollow mockery of what saves us.

The impersonal is the life (and the lie) of the heart of stone.  The personal is the mark of the circumcised heart, the heart of flesh (see Ez. 36:26).

This is why, when a bishop or a cardinal argues that they are not responsible for reprehensible actions that they've enabled and covered up, even if such a stance is a swing at a legitimate legal defense, it betrays Jesus Christ and His Spirit that operates within us.  And it destroys the hopes and fans the flaming anger of victims.  It shows at best disregard and at worst contempt for the hearts of others.  This should be self-evident, but for many people today, it isn't.

And you can see this playing out all around you, if you look.


She was a wealthy adolescent.  She was smart and creative, but, like many children of wealth, she was neglected.  She had everything she wanted materially, but in a very fundamental way her parents didn't care for her, at least not enough to parent her.  They were planning to ship her off to a long-term stay at a boarding facility - against her will.

She looked right at me one day.  "My parents would be happier if I were entirely out of their life," she said.

"Ohhh," I said, "it's not that bad."

But it was.  And it took me a while to see the awful truth, a truth that had so surrounded her that it had threatened to drown her all her life.  She had to keep up the doggie paddle or she'd simply sink, and Mom and Dad would be too busy at the country club to throw her a line.

Imagine being a child or a teen and living with that knowledge.  You'd try to hide the pain by taking drugs, or running away, or withdrawing from life, or acting out.  She tried all of these things, and of course none of them helped.  Neither did the therapy or the rehab stints that absentee Mom and Dad kept sending her to.

What would have helped was the one thing she didn't have.  Heart speaking to heart.  Love.

It's a price wealthy parents are not always willing to pay.  Why would you, when you can buy yourself out of it?


He thought that even though they weren't lovers, they were at least friends.  It had been a long term long-distance email relationship, and they had shared much with one another (at least early on), and he had done his best to help her and be there for her when she needed him, but recently, despite their original intensity, he was noticing that time and again she refused to reciprocate.  She enjoyed his attention, but when the chips were down, she would vanish.  It got to a point where she wouldn't even show him common courtesies and she began to treat him like a kind of benign acquaintance, rather than as a friend.  She moved on and she liked to pretend they had never been close; that seemed to assuage her, but it haunted him.  She was nice, but in a condescending way, and complacently distant - even after heart had spoken to heart.

"It looks like she's dumped you," I observed.

"But I was always there for her.  I opened my heart to her.  And she did to me.  How can she be so glib and smug about this - as if that had never happened?"


They were married, and their lives together were make-believe.  Something highly artificial abounded in their relationship.  The age difference was a factor, and when she refused to acknowledge that he was old and sick, but insisted that he keep up the eternal forced and relentless pace that she had long demanded of him, they were both harder to be around than ever.  It was exhausting and sad.  They kept up appearances, but neither for each other, nor for their friends and family could heart simply speak to heart.  They both saw to it that it was never that easy, never that real, never that loving.

And instead of a mutual peace, there was an incessant treadmill.


If it is true that in the Church today we are answering questions that no one is asking (as I wrote earlier, quoting a friend of mine), then it's simply because heart is not speaking to heart.  Or because heart is not listening to heart.

If one heart speaks, the other must listen.  That's the key to friendship, and that's the key to prayer (I mean not only talking to God, but listening to Him).  And if we listened to our neighbors, both in and out of the pews, we would hear that same longing, that same silent lament, that same sad mourning for a moon that never changes, a moon of glowing silver that draws us to a glorious glen, hidden in a bower, aglow with fireflies and filled with a magical breeze: for this longing is found in the hearts of more than just poets.  And we might hear the questions they are asking, and we might begin to answer them.

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August 24th, 2014The Scandal of Coffee and Donutsby Kevin O'Brien |

Canon Ueda (who has been giving Private Instruction to my actor Dave, a recent convert to the Catholic Faith) told Dave this morning that it was not enough to go to Sunday Mass at St. Francis de Sales Oratory in South St. Louis, where Dave has been going.  He had to start going to Coffee and Donuts as well.


"We must not separate the sacramental life from the daily life," Canon Ueda said.

And I realized immediately that this is not only very profound, it's also a very simple way of saying what I have been trying to write about on this blog for a long time.  When we separate sacramental life from daily life, we are building an artificial wall between grace and nature, we are insulating ourselves, we are trying to turn God and His Church into something Unreal, something merely functional, that serves our own narrow needs and that locks out the rest of the world, as well as that disturbing Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Comforter (John 14:16), who brings something much more challenging and disturbing than mere suburban placid human comfort, which is what we think we prefer, but which is something that is ultimately poison for us.

In other words, even Coffee and Donuts can bring us to scandal, for even Coffee and Donuts can bring us out of our shell, out of our "comfort zones".


Those of us "inside the Roman beltway", those of us who are trying to be devout Catholics and who are geeky enough to read theology and talk philosophy and faith over beer or whiskey with like-minded friends, those of us who are more or less up to speed on church politics and who may even know personally some of the EWTN Rock Stars or some of the Catholic Answers Gurus who cause little old ladies to swoon, those of us who read papal encyclicals and apostolic exhortations - in other words those of us who are to a certain extent insulated from the real world out there - can find it hard to imagine the impact all of this stuff has on the human heart of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve who walk about in this vale of tears, whether they consider themselves Catholics or atheists.

Because we get too insulated, you know.   And we tend to miss the target - or the heart of the target ... and the heart of the target is the heart.

For instance, my posts on Catholic Dating really rang a bell with many of you - but normal secularists, and even normal Catholics, think this whole subculture of dating without having sex is just weird.  And even those of us inside that little circle - the circle of devout Christians who are hoping to find a devout mate and relate to him or her in a chaste manner - even that little circle is outside the more insulated and much more bizarre and dysfunctional world of "Christian Courting".  The sickness of the Christian Courting subculture stands as a sign for us that even our own relatively sane attempts to find true love can become quite self-serving and kind of incestuous by comparison with the more normal folk about us who aren't so hung up as all that.  Normal folk may not be striving for holiness, but common sense is a gift from God and it's something we often lose sight of - for common sense is a virtue of the human heart.

Maybe this can explain the cluelessness of the bishops, who like Cardinal Pell, cause more anger, despondency and despair with one statement (comparing the Church to to a trucking firm and thereby renouncing responsibility for sexual abuse committed by priests) than a dozen headlines of atrocities in the evening news.  To be fair, I have read a few reports that put Pell's statement into more of a context, and the transcripts of his testimony are available here (I have not yet read them) - but it's been my impression that the bishops are so insulated from the real world and the concerns of real people that they take for granted a kind of grandeur and self-importance that they simply don't have, and in most cases simply don't deserve.  And they get really mad when you challenge that.

But the problem of being insulated from the real world and the real concerns of real people is not a problem of bishops and cardinals only.

Indeed, my son Colin keeps reminding me that, when it comes to Devout Catholics (as my friend Noah Lett once said), we're busy answering questions no one is asking.  His Catholic friends at college were not concerned about the kinds of theological issues or political issues that did not have an immediate bearing on the crises of their lives, as lived every day.  There was a disconnect; there was something Unreal about the issues we kept harping on.  As far as that goes, "gay marriage" is such a non-issue for the vast majority of normal people in America (of all ages and demographics) that they can't begin to imagine what the fuss it.  Does that mean that we should stop talking about the sanctity of marriage?  No, but it's been almost 500 years since Henry VIII got that divorce - and all those other divorces - and the sanctity of marriage has not been an issue in the real world, and not even (apparently) at the parish level in the Catholic Church, for a long time, all the while pretty much everybody has been simply "doing it".  And why not?  When Pope Francis suggests we not hit people over the head with abortion and "gay marriage" (as important as those issues are), he's simply saying what C. S. Lewis said many years ago: you can't start a dialogue with non-believers by telling them to give up fornication.  That's kind of a conversation killer right there.  And it's putting the cart before the horse; it's looking through the telescope from the wrong end.  The role of sex in a life devoted to true love is not readily apparent to people who have not struggled to have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16).  The wholeness of the Christian message - the core of which is that God is love and that our greatest calling is to love Him and to love one another - leads (eventually, and by God's grace) to a change of heart and hence a change of behavior.  But we insulated Catholics inside the Roman beltway forget that sin and virtue are both simply fruits of the heart.  For what comes out of the heart defiles a man (Mat. 15:18), and what comes out of the heart justifies a man - so to speak; technically good works are the fruits of the Holy Spirit; but my point is the same.  The point is we are seeking - through Baptism and through the sacramental life - a change of heart, for the heart is the seat of the soul, the center of our being, the core of our very existence.

But we devout Catholics - bloggers and others - often forget that.  What we miss is the very target, the very center.  What we miss is the heart - its concerns, its pains, its passions.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,  
To me the meanest flower that blows can give  
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

A cardinal sitting peacefully in the Vatican and communicating via webcam to a courtroom in Australia filled with many who have suffered gravely at the hands of predator priests - and also at the hands of bishops who have enabled and covered up and lied for predator priests - a man, even a good man, insulated in such a way, perhaps forgets the human heart, forgets the target of all his life's work, forgets the message of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (both pierced for our sake).

And so do we - even bloggers and daily Mass goers and EWTN junkies and men and women on the street.


But some of us don't.  Canon Ueda and other good priests don't.  They remember that the heart of the target is the heart of the man.

COURAGE is defined on the Online Etymology Dictionary in this way ...

courage (n.) 
c.1300, from Old French corage (12c., Modern French courage) "heart, innermost feelings; temper," from Vulgar Latin *coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), from Latin cor "heart" (see heart) which remains a common metaphor for inner strength. 

To be DISCOURAGED is to lose heart.  To be ENCOURAGED is to gain strength of heart.

And both encouragement and discouragement can come from Coffee and Donuts.

Because communion with Christ must become communion with others.  And in that way cor ad cor loquitur - heart speaks to heart.

For without that, no evangelizaton - indeed no change of heart - can happen.

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August 22nd, 2014E. F. Schumacher: Small is Beautiful and so is Catholicismby Joseph Pearce

My article on the great convert economist, E. F. Schumacher, has just been published on the ChurchPop website:

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August 22nd, 2014Show Biz and the Divine Dramaby Kevin O'Brien |

Mark Shea has written a third installment in his series on the connection between Drama and Religion, which you can find at Catholic World Report.  Since I've written about this topic myself (mostly from the point of view of actors, or the analogy between Acting and the Faith), I thought I'd add a few things to the very insightful points that Mark makes.

  • Shea's first installment discusses the history of drama and its relation to religion, and also tackles the overall philosophical connection between Drama and Worship.  

I find it interesting that many of the commenters on that installment entirely miss Mark's point.  They seem to think he's saying that our Faith is merely a kind of Divine Drama, and that the Catholic Mass is a kind of show that simply represents something for our spiritual amusement.  I am often astounded at the lack of imagination that literalists (either Catholic or Protestant or Atheist) bring to bear, especially when analogy is involved.  

On the contrary, Shea points out that Drama is a kind of analogy to our participation in the Faith, that ritual and dramatic performance are similar, and that they have aims that can be compared to one another; that both in Greece and in England, Drama sprang up historically in religious contexts, and that even today Drama at its best is an attempt to connect men with "the gods".  This "sets the stage", so to speak, for the overall analogy that Shea will be examining in his series of posts.  

And yet one further thing needs to be said, and it's something G. K. Chesterton understood innately about what Drama (indeed about what all art) is.  Drama takes places on a stage, on a screen, framed within a proscenium.  Even if there's no proscenium, and the play is a "theater in the round" or an "interactive" comedy like my murder mysteries, there is always an artificial distance between the performers and the audience, and even between the performers and their material.  Everyone is pretending.  In the same way that a baseball game is played within the set confines of a field, so a dramatic performance takes place within a delimited area (either a physical area or an area of the imagination), a special place marked off from the rest of the world.  It is this limitation, this framing, that allows the participants the freedom to engage their imaginations without being threatened.  To watch the mob scene in a performance of Julius Caesar is thrilling.  To be part of a mob scene in Ferguson would be terrifying.   

Drama, then, is a kind of Big Playground, a safe place, where writers, actors and audiences all play.  And this playing with the big questions of life - the nature of man and how his acts reveal to us the nature of God - this imaginative hypothetical, shows us, as Shakespeare's Touchstone points out, that there is "much virtue in if".  

And he quite rightly sees the heart of the analogy.  Actors who act on stage or in film adopt a kind of mask, a false persona, that they try to conform themselves to as genuinely as possible so that the performance is all the more artistic and believable.  But this is what we do as Christians, and we are hupocritos, "hypocrites" (stage actors, pretenders wearing a mask), whether we like it or not.  

And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind ... (Rom. 12:2)

For the great challenge of life in the Faith is Getting in Character as a Christian.  Actors understand this analogy deeply.  The hard part about acting is "getting it", finding the integrity or inner consistency of the character you're portraying.  Once you do that, the role becomes natural: your gestures, your words, your voice and movement - everything about you conforms to the character, once you've found the character's soul or center.

So much of our frustrations as Bad Christians comes from not yet Getting in Character for our roles.  When the mask is simply something separate from us, simply something extrinsic that we aspire to, we often find ourselves becoming obsessed with the minutiae, focused on various virtues or sins rather than the big picture; or worse, we start to rationalize away all sorts of acts that show that we're still "conformed to this world" and not "transformed" by the renewing of our minds.

But this inner transformation is beyond us.  It cannot happen without sacramental grace.  It also cannot happen without our conscious and deliberate cooperation with that grace.  Conforming ourselves to the Costume that we put on at our Baptisms is a mystery - one that requires both our own efforts and also the cessation of our efforts.  It is both an acquiescence to something greater, and also a striving toward something greater.

This is the paradox of living the Faith that acting in a drama perfectly mimics.  As an actor, if you don't do a certain amount of conscious work, such as learning your lines, studying the play, meditating upon your character, planning certain bits, rehearsing - you'll get nowhere.  But by the same token, if you don't abandon all of that work and preparation in the moment of performance, your acting will be stilted, contrived, awkward.  When the curtain goes up and the lights shine down, you must (in a sense) lose your life to save it (see Mat. 10:39) and abandon your work to the Holy Spirit, to the inspiration of the moment.  I think musicians, athletes and soldiers all understand what I'm saying.

The paradox of the stage actor is the paradox of the Christian actor - we must put forth effort to be conformed to our roles (both on stage and in life); but the true conformation happens at a level that is a gift from God and that is beyond our human control.  Effort and abandon, like Faith and Works, always paradoxically go together.

... which is a kind of clericalism.  For if an actor functions as a type of priest - connecting the audience to "the gods" revealed by the playwright and by the structure of the play's action, functioning as a pontifex or bridge builder - then it's very tempting to treat actors the way many Catholics treat clergy - to worship the creature rather than the Source the creature points to.  And of course nothing good comes from this, either for the audience that, in idolatrous zeal, worships a mere man; or for the mere man this audience worships.  For it's never easy for all of us matinee idols (who are, literally, idols) to say, as Paul and Barnabas did when the inhabitants of Lystra saw them working miracles and began worshiping them as gods, 

"Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them." - (Acts 14:15)

That is our role as actors, to point our audiences to the God "who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them".  It is a priestly function.  It bridges the gap between the audience and God, by bringing written words to life, by continuing God's work of making the Word become flesh.

The applause, therefore, is never about us.  And if we're booed, it's because we assert our own identities into the material - the audience sees behind the mask to the actor who is giving a listless performance, or cannot become engaged in the liturgy because the priest is asserting his own identity by making stuff up, or become distracted because the musicians are turning themselves into the center of attention, rather than the God the Divine Drama points to.


So, to paraphrase Shakespeare, "The play's the thing wherein we'll catch a glimpse of the King of Kings."

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August 20th, 2014Twelve Angry Men and Shakespeare’s Catholicismby Joseph Pearce

I've just received an e-mail from a correspondent in Australia about the play, Twelve Angry Men. The sort of evidence that is encapsulated in the paragraph he quotes is not only applicable to the case for Shakespeare's Catholicism but is the same principle for the evidence for Catholic Christianity that Newman employs in The Grammar of Assent. It's the healthy marriage of reason with common sense!

Here's the text of the e-mail:

I am currently teaching Twelve Angry Men to my two senior classes, and discovered this interesting online argument ( about the evidence in the play. The author argues that the jury in Twelve Angry Men came up with the wrong verdict. The line of argument ties in well with your thesis about Shakespeare’s Catholicism – namely, each piece of evidence in a vacuum can be challenged; however, as a body of evidence, it is a compelling case.

The paragraph copied below encapsulates this idea.

None of this ultimately matters, however, because determining whether a defendant should be convicted or acquitted isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be—a matter of examining each piece of evidence in a vacuum. “Well, there’s some bit of doubt attached to all of them, so I guess that adds up to reasonable doubt.” No. What ensures The Kid’s guilt for practical purposes, though neither the prosecutor nor any of the jurors ever mentions it (and Rose apparently never considered it), is the sheer improbability that all the evidence is erroneous. You’d have to be the jurisprudential inverse of a national lottery winner to face so many apparently damning coincidences and misidentifications.

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August 20th, 2014The Unchosenby Dena Hunt

We’re seeing the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, which, according to just about everyone there, have nothing to do with the shooting of a black robber by a white policeman, and we’re seeing the hideous massacre of Christians and others in northern Iraq by an army of Islamists—and this is just today’s news. The same news comes from Gaza, firing literally thousands of rockets into Israel and constructing tunnels by which to kill more, especially in schools, hospitals, and other sites where victims are most defenseless. This is not conquest, this is not a religious argument, this is not racism. It’s not a political or ideological revolution. There is no order to it, no organization, no sense of purpose. The looting in Ferguson has no aim to acquire money or consumer goods. It has no aim at all. This is not a descent into the law of the jungle—where animals kill in order to eat—this is a descent below that, where there is no law at all, no purpose except to take for the sake of taking, to kill for the sake of killing.

  In fact, no sort of analysis works here—not racial, religious, political, economic—nothing. Why? Because we try to understand it in terms of deprivation. The haves vs. the have nots—whether the object is money or land, power or prestige. We want to see it that way because it would make it possible to solve, we could simply provide what is apparently lacking—give them a chunk of Israel, give them money or goods, give them power (dominance) over their neighbors. In fact, that’s how the world—not just the U.S.—has been trying to deal with this kind of murderous rage.

  What they’re angry about is history, past and present (aka reality). Their anger cannot be appeased because its true object is invisible. They’re angry with God. Why? Because he made them what they are. God made them Cain and not Abel, Ishmael and not Isaac. He made them the Unchosen. The murderous violence is not due to anything anyone has done to them for which apology or reparation could be made, anything that’s been taken from them that could be returned, any earthly injustice that could be righted somehow. There is, in fact, nothing other people can do to appease them.

  This kind of rage can’t be healed from the outside in. No one in the world can remedy their injury. There is no help. There are only two choices…

  I will give vent to my righteous wrath. If the coat of many colors is not given to me, I will take it from him to whom it was given. I kill in the name of justice for myself because I have no other choice. If God will not favor me, I will not favor him, I will make my own God.


  Though I am unchosen, I may still choose. My will was not taken from me. And I choose to love him who did not choose to love me. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs may eat of the crumbs that fall from the table.”

  The consequences of the first choice are played out in the daily news. The consequences of the second choice are: “’I tell you, I have not seen so great a faith in all of Israel.’ And from that hour, her child was healed.”

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August 20th, 2014I’m Just Down the Road from Ferguson, Missouriby Kevin O'Brien |

In fact, here's the cake in Ferguson, Missouri that Karen and I photographed in June.  It's in the revived downtown, which is filled with local shops, black and white owners, a charming area.

The cake is to the right, above the bench.

The situation in Ferguson is complex, and I'll add what I can as a lifelong resident of the St. Louis area.

St. Louis has long been a very segregated town.  The city of St. Louis is an independent city, not in any county.  Though my father grew up in North St. Louis, for my whole life North St. Louis has been black and South St. Louis white.  Now, however, pretty much the whole city is black, with a few white enclaves here and there.  Rehabbers who come in and "gentrify" city neighborhoods are white and very liberal and childless.

St. Louis County surrounds the city of St. Louis on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River.  North St. Louis County is mostly black; South St. Louis County (where I live) is mostly white.  25 years ago Ferguson was a white working lower-middle-class neighborhood, comprised of North St. Louis city residents who moved to the suburbs when what is called the "white flight" began.  The black presence in Ferguson is fairly recent, and is apparently comprised of the next generation of migrants from North St. Louis, who are now black.  This is why the Ferguson city counsel and the police force is still almost entirely white - the change in racial mixture in Ferguson is fairly recent.  And for whatever reason, the blacks have not yet caught up politically there.

On the Illinois side of the river, there are a number of communities which are either all black or all white, including all black East St. Louis, which is consistently listed as one of the most violent cities in America.  Belleville, Illinois is the exception, as Belleville is mixed, though the neighborhoods in Belleville are either all black or all white.

There seemed to be much more racial tension in St. Louis a generation ago, though if you look at Facebook groups dedicated to the situation in Ferguson or to comments at the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, you'll see there's still plenty of racism seething below the surface.

I was out of town all of last week when this situation first exploded, and from what I can see it's pretty complex.  There are a number of factors that play into it - racism, poverty, unemployment, outside agitation, a history of police brutality, the extreme militarization of the local police force - who are untrained and who are embarrassing my military friends, the lack of political leadership, the fact that most protesters are peaceful but the violent ones are causing a ton of trouble, the effect of the shocking images of a kind of civil war in the streets, and the shooting that started it all - which could be justified or could not be justified, as only an impartial examination of evidence will tell.

Meanwhile, here are a few other views of the Ferguson cake.  Here are all my posts on the Cakeway to the West project.  Quite honestly, we've put our picture taking on hold, as most of the remaining cakes are in neighborhoods that aren't too safe to begin with, much less at a time when this much rage is brewing.


The cake is near the lower left in this shot.  It appears storm clouds were gathering over Ferguson, even then.

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August 20th, 2014Sacred and Satanic Violence: The Place of the Demonic in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connorby Kevin Kennelly

Flannery O'Connor was thrice blessed: she was Catholic, she was southern and she was an Irish American. She also was one of the great writers of the 20th century combining an extraordinary ability to put words together in a pleasing way with a talent for developing stories and mesmerizing readers. Many of her writings are deeply Catholic. And she was a top drawer Thomist. The inestimable Ralph Wood, a scholar of the first order affiliated with Baylor University has written a thorough and fascinating piece dealing with "the place of the demonic" in O'Connor's writings.

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August 19th, 2014What I saw in Quebecby Marie Dudzik

As Americans, the progressive version of history we are taught in schools wants us to believe that our ancestors were glad to throw off the shackles of the Old World. The Pilgrims were forced out of their homeland and the colonists of New England were happy to give good riddance to King George and old England. But the Canadian province of Quebec tells another story, one of a people so proud and enamored of their European homeland that they sought to create an extension of France, a New France, as Quebec was once called. I found this out first hand this July as I travelled to Quebec on a pilgrimage. Our chaplain was newly-ordained Fr. Nathan Caswell, SJC, a priest of the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius in Chicago and Canadian transplant.

     Willa Cather writes in her novel about the early settlers of Quebec, Shadows on the Rock:

When an adventurer carries his gods with him into a remote and savage country, the colony he founds will, from the beginning, have graces, traditions, riches of the mind and spirit. Its history will shine with bright incidents, slight, perhaps, but precious, as in life itself, where the great matters are often as worthless as astronomical distances, and the trifles dear as the heart’s blood.

     The original settlers of Quebec brought those graces, traditions, riches of the mind and spirit, and have left them behind for the modern traveler to discover. There are the beautiful cathedrals and chapels, the hospitals and schools, and the solid fortress-like wall that still surrounds Quebec City. These are the buildings that make visitors from the United States say going to Quebec is like going to Europe without the jet lag. But for those who are not just visitors but pilgrims, there is more to see, and that takes using more than just the eyes. What I saw in Quebec was a place that was built by those who were proudly French and fiercely Catholic. It is not just the buildings that make Quebec special, it is the people who founded and built the settlements that grew into towns and cities. Their spirit still remains for those who care to see, and it was a French, and therefore Catholic spirit. Willa Cather gives us the source of this spirit:

The Ursulines and the Hospitalieres, indeed, were scarcely exiles. When they came across the Atlantic, they brought their family with them, their kindred, their closest friends. In whatever little wooden vessel they had laboured across the sea, they carried all; they brought to Canada the Holy Family, the saints and martyrs, the glorious company of the Apostles, the heavenly host.

Our pilgrimage took us through a relatively small area of Quebec, from Montreal up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City, but that area was packed with history and homage to that Church the settlers brought to Canada. When on pilgrimage it is customary to ask before going into a church or building, “What are we going to see here?” But on this journey, the question became, “Who are we going to meet here?” It was not a collection of places, but a collection of saints we encountered, a Canadian litany: St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the Jesuit martyrs St. Isaac Jogues, St. John de Brebeuf and St. Charles Garnier, St. Marie of the Incarnation, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, St. Bishop Francois de Laval, St. Andre Bessette, Blessed Catherine of Saint Augustine and Blessed Frederic Janssoone.

There were old friends there too. St. Anne guides sailors safely into harbor, St. Joseph watches over the city of Montreal from the Oratory St. Andre built in his honor on Mont Royal, and the Blessed Virgin is honored as one who helps in time of trial as Our Lady of Bon Secours, as Our Lady of the Cape watching over the St. Lawrence, and as the patroness of multiple churches, cathedrals, and basilicas named in her honor.

With so great a cloud of witness around us, one might think that Quebec is the last bastion of Christendom in North America. Not so. Quebec is still part of the progressive, politically correct experiment that is Canada, and we were told stories of churches being converted into condos or shops. They were not demolished; their architecture was precious in the eyes of the city planners, but not in the hearts of those who should have been worshipping there. In that respect too, it is like Europe without the jet lag: beautiful buildings originally built for the glory of God but now used only for the pleasure of man.

Someone on the pilgrimage commented that Montreal was livable because it was a vibrant city; the sacred and profane seemed quite content together, but Quebec City was too touristy to be taken seriously. Quebec City is, in its way a relic: its UNESCO status has frozen it in time, and many come to look, to walk the cobblestones, to peer over the ancient walls, and muse on it as a quaint souvenir before returning to their plugged-in and plastic world. But despite the losses, the heart of New France is still faintly beating, both in the big city and in the midst of ye olde towne. It is there with the few who pass the tourists in the churches and make their way to the spots cordoned off for prayer. It is there in the smiles and greetings of people who saw Fr. Nathan walking the cobblestones in a cassock, perhaps the first time they had ever seen a priest habited so. It is there in the early-morning procession to an adoration chapel, modern workers singing an ancient Latin hymn, spending time with Our Lord before spending time at the office.

Evelyn Waugh commented that good cigars, fine wine, and beautiful houses are the fringe benefits of civilization. To me that means the enjoyable things of life, of culture, and specifically of Western Culture come only after the heavy lifting of creating, perpetuating, and defending that culture is done. Quebec looks like Europe because that’s what the settlers created it to be. What we see today as tourists are those fringe benefits the French settlers brought with them. What we needed to see as pilgrims was the heavy lifting that went on to create those lovely cities on the banks of St. Lawrence and acknowledge the burden that we need to shoulder today to keep that culture alive.

Fr. Nathan spoke of this in his homily during the last Mass of our pilgrimage. He said we must be missionaries in our own land, just as those saints and blesseds we met spent their lives bringing Christ to those they met. There is still much heavy lifting to do in our own homes and lives. In a real way we are still adventurers living in a remote and savage country, and in addition to the rosaries, the holy cards, and the blessed oil we needed to bring back with us the courage of the Jesuits like Jogues and Brebeuf, the abandonment to Providence of Marie of the Incarnation, and the countercultural witness of Kateri Tekakwitha.

We moderns live off the capital of our ancestors. In Quebec City the horse-drawn carriages carry tourists down the narrow cobblestone streets where they end the day with a luxurious dinner and a pleasant sleep at a quality hotel, enjoying a view an original settler would be at home with. But we can’t expect to spend capital forever. Without paying back into the fund of culture we are destined to usher in a new Dark Age. There is no feasting without fast days. There is no contented sleep without times of watchful prayer. There are no beautiful churches without priests to offer sacrifice and faithful to assist. The pilgrimage is over, but we are all still pilgrims working our way towards our homeland and trying to bring along with us as many as we can. In our modern wilderness, we can use the words of Fr. Brebeuf’s Christmas hymn for Canadian natives to let all know that they are called to share in that homeland that is heaven: “O children of the forest free,/O sons of Manitou,/The holy child of earth and heav’n/Is born today for you./Come kneel before the radiant boy, Who brings you beauty, peace, and joy:/Jesus your King is born,/Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.”

All the saints and blessed of Quebec, pray for us!

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August 19th, 2014You Can’t “Program” Salvationby Kevin O'Brien |

In Flannery O'Connor's short stories, the grace of God is shown to operate in shocking and disturbing ways.  For Flannery, the door to salvation opens the moment our own selfish walls are cracked (usually violently), allowing God's grace to rush in - along with horror and remorse, which are aspects of Awe and of the Fear of God.  Indeed, horror and remorse can quite literally be the closet we come on this earth to experiencing God's love.

For instance, in her story "The Comforts of Home", at the climax of the action, the protagonist Thomas aims a gun at "the slut", a disturbed and enticing young woman who has invaded the carefully controlled and circumscribed arena of his home, where he lives alone with his mother.  For Thomas, "the comforts of home" are the greatest good.  He has a "program", which is to eliminate from his young life anything spontaneous, anything unpredictable, anything that his own narrow and selfish ego can not control.

Thomas fired.  The blast was like a sound meant to bring an end to evil in the world.  Thomas heard it as a sound that would shatter the laughter of sluts until all shrieks were stilled and nothing was left to disturb the peace of perfect order.

But you can't "bring an end to evil in the world", and certainly not with the barrel of a gun, and indeed not with any "program".  Thomas learns that as soon as he fires the pistol ... but I won't ruin the ending of the story for you.  Nor can you force upon your life "the peace of perfect order" - for such a peace is never a man-made thing.

The reason we can't defeat evil with a mere program or find true peace with a mere programmatic approach to salvation is that God is not the dead idol crafted by our own hands that we typically make Him out to be.

And this has a lot to do with the messed up world of Catholic Dating.  But I'll explain that in a minute.


In O'Connor's story "The Lame shall Enter First", the protagonist, Sheppard, is a social worker, and an atheist.  He believes that evil can be eliminated through reason.  His faith is in telescopes, microscopes, evolution and the program.  For him, the program is an institutionalized form of love, a kind of heartless charity that selflessly seeks to build a paradise of "perfect order" by means of caring for those who are suffering with a kind of condescending concern, the genuine but rather thin concern of a social worker.

As part of this program, Sheppard allows a troubled teenage juvenile delinquent to move in with him and his ten-year-old son (his son is someone Sheppard entirely neglects).  But this delinquent, for all his troubles, is the closest we come to a Christ figure in the story.  Ironically, Sheppard (who doesn't believe in Jesus) sees himself as a kind of Jesus, a kind of benign selfless deity, when in reality he is supremely selfish in his devotion to the program, which is meant ultimately to serve his own narrow ends, though he can't see that until the very end of the tale.

In an early confrontation between Sheppard's son, who defends his father, and the troubled teen, who's recently moved in, the reader, at least, begins to perceive this, and we see it through the perceptive eyes of Johnson, the delinquent.

"He's good," [the son] mumbled.  "He helps people."
"Good!" Johnson said savagely.  He thrust his head forward.  "Listen here," he hissed, "I don't care if he's good or not.  He ain't right!"

In many ways, that's what I've been saying about the Devout Christian community in these series of posts.   They're good but they ain't right - meaning, among other things, right in the head.

Michael Lichens comments on Facebook ...

I grew up as an Evangelical when "I Kissed Dating Good-Bye" was added to the canon. I still remember being turned down for a coffee date because, in the woman's own words, she wasn't sure if I was the one God wanted her to marry. My reaction was something like, "Dude, I just want to get coffee and maybe see a Chris Farley movie."
The result: many of the guys in my youth group days remain unmarried or got divorced and many more are quite jaded. Courtship was promised as a panacea but it ended up not correcting the problems of secular culture while adding some new and fun problems of its own. The only thing it seemed to do was placate paranoid parents for a few years. 
I also went to a small Catholic college where the vast majority of the kids were homeschooled and found that this stupid Evangelical fad had been adopted in some Catholic homes wherein girls would even tell potential men that they needed to call their dad before a drink could be consumed with the young lady. Just bloody weird.

"Just bloody weird" means (in Flannery O'Connor short story speak) "they're good but they ain't right."

Why is this?  Why is it that devout Catholics or devout Protestants, who are certainly serious about their faith, end up missing the mark so badly in their contrived efforts to be good?  Why do they end up being sort of good, but never quite right?  Why, just a few weeks ago on this very blog, did I choose the primary advice I was giving to my newly Catholic friend Dave Treadway, a devout former evangelical I was sponsoring into full communion with the Church, to be this ...

The Spirit of Unreality is the greatest threat to devout Catholics these days - the temptation to make God and His Church into a kind of idol, something that we can control and make use of for our own narrow ends. 


It's because we trust more in our program than we do in the grace of God.  The grace of God is disturbing and unpredictable.  It's alive and shocking.  It calls us out of our comfort zones and sometimes makes our precious little plans fall entirely to pieces.

This is not to say that God operates without His own program.  But his program is a living and awesome thing.  God does not challenge evil by shooting at it with a gun, in order to "shatter the laughter of sluts until all shrieks" are stilled.  When God loves, it's a love that goes far deeper than that of an atheist social worker, who believes that a disembodied charity can lead to a man-made New Jerusalem on earth.

After all, there are limits to the carefully controlled and programmed or programmatic love that the social worker shows his client / son, as we learn in a scene where the teen confronts his Sheppard, the boy (Johnson) lying in bed, his face turned against the wall in anguish ...

"You make out like you got all this confidence in me!" a sudden outraged voice cried, "and you ain't got any!  You don't trust me no more now than you did then!"  The voice, disembodied, seemed to come more surely from the depths of Johnson than when his face was visible.  It was a cry of reproach, edged slightly with contempt.
"I do have confidence in you," Sheppard said intensely.  "I have every confidence in you.  I believe in you and I trust you completely."

... but he doesn't.  And in many ways he shouldn't, at least in the context of the story's plot.  But the point here is that his love isn't really real - there's an Unreality there.  It doesn't go as deep as it should.

And, symbolically, when Johnson confronts Sheppard, it's Jesus confronting us sinners.

We protest, we devout Christians - we protest loudly - that we do indeed trust Our Lord and His disturbing presence among us.  But, when we get right down to it, do we really?

In one of her essays, Flannery hit the nail on the head, when she described us as closet Manicheans who are convinced that grace cannot penetrate fallen nature ("The old heresy of secular vs. sacred," as Reilly Washburn identifies it).  Some of my readers objected to that assessment, but if we really believed that grace could operate in nature, we would believe that even something as ordinary and simple as coffee and a Chris Farley movie did not have to be guarded against with a kind of spiritual prophylactic; we would not think that Eros was Satanic or that (as Christopher West suggests) a couple should only marry once they can "love" without feeling sexually attracted to one another.

If we trusted God and believed that His grace could operate in and redeem nature - in fact if we could open our eyes and see that it was doing so all the time all around us - then we could also trust that coffee and a movie and other ordinary things could open up to us gifts of life and God's surprises that we ourselves need not program, orchestrate or stage manage the life out of.

"Do not quench the Spirit," Paul tells us (1 Thes. 5:19).

But we do that all the time, we devout Christians.

Perhaps it's because we think that sin is the center of the story, when that's not the case at all.

But more on that later ...

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August 18th, 2014Inaugural Lecture in Nashvilleby Joseph Pearce

Next week, on Thursday, August 28, I will be giving my inaugural lecture as Director of the Center for Faith & Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville. The title of my talk will be "The Evangelizing Power of Beauty: Converting the Culture". If you live in the Nashville area or know people in the area, please try to attend and promote the event. Here are the full details:

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August 18th, 2014Who is Man?by Joseph Pearce

Continuing my current preoccupation with questioning the definitive meaning of the most important things, such as civilization and Christendom, I continue this week with one of the most crucial of all questions: Who is Man?

Read on:

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August 17th, 2014Alfred Hitchcock on Faith and Moralsby Daniel J. Heisey

In December, 2012, Father Mark Henninger, S. J., wrote in The Wall Street Journal about his experience in early 1980 celebrating Mass at the home of Alfred Hitchcock.  Father Henninger sought to correct recent statements claiming that to the end of his days Hitchcock (1899-1980) was not religious.  Yet, Hitchcock had grown up Catholic, attended a school run by Jesuits, and had been married and buried within the context of the Catholic Mass.

As Father Henninger pointed out, Hitchcock had helped to create the impression that he was not a religious man.  Apparently to preserve his privacy, Hitchcock publicly rejected claims that he had a priest come to his house for the sacraments.  In his book-length interview with François Truffaut, published in English in1967, Hitchcock had said, “I am definitely not anti-religious; perhaps I’m sometimes neglectful.”

The setting was Truffaut asking Hitchcock, “How do you feel about being labeled a Catholic artist?”  Hitchcock had replied, “I don’t think I can be labeled a Catholic artist, but it may be that one’s early upbringing influences a man’s life and guides his instinct.”  Later on he explained that “my love of film is far more important to me than any considerations of morality.”

It is an understandable reaction:  an artist wants to be known for his art.  Would one ask Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo whether they wanted to be thought of as Catholic artists?  However much Catholic faith and culture permeates their work, the work comes first.  Nearly always when the religious sense is put first, the art suffers.

For Hitchcock, that principle seems to have informed his dissatisfaction with his movie I Confess (1953).  Probably the most obvious example of Hitchcock using film to explore Catholic themes, it focuses on a young Canadian priest, a veteran of the Second World War, who has heard the confession of a murderer and is then framed by the murderer.  Hitchcock was intrigued by the dilemma, since the priest could not violate the seal of the confessional.  Protestant and secular critics, however, thought the premise far-fetched, and Hitchcock told Truffaut, “we shouldn’t have made the picture.”

Truffaut rightly disagreed with Hitchcock about I Confess, but let us consider a less obvious case.  In March, 1963, Alfred Hitchcock told an interviewer from The New Yorker that of all his films his favorite was Shadow of a Doubt (1943), yet around the same time, when speaking with Truffaut, he said that it was not his favorite, while not saying which movie did hold that honor.  Whether it really was his favorite film, it marks the first time Hitchcock used an American location for looking into what Truffaut called the three basic elements making up any film by Hitchcock:  “fear, sex, and death.”

In Shadow of a Doubt, a man is on the run after having killed several wealthy widows.  He travels across the country from New York to Santa Rosa and hides in the home of his sister and brother-in-law.  The latter, a mild-mannered bank clerk, has a hobby of reading murder mysteries.  Irony and tension build, and suspicion comes closer and closer to the murderer.  “It’s quite possible,” Hitchcock told Truffaut, “that those widows deserved what they got, but it certainly wasn’t his job to do it.”

That same message occurs near the end of Hitchcock’s film Rope (1948).  There, the character portrayed by James Stewart tells one of the two young murderers, “Until this very moment, this world and the people in it have always been dark and incomprehensible to me, and I’ve tried to clear my way with logic and superior intellect . . . , but now I know we’re each of us a separate human being with the right to live and work and think as individuals, but with an obligation to the society we live in.”

Truffaut noted that in Hitchcock’s movies there was always the pervasive role of the idea of original sin.  Although a recurring theme in Hitchcock’s films is that of an innocent man suspected of a crime he did not commit, Truffaut saw that “he is generally guilty of intention before the fact.”  As an example, he cited the voyeur played by James Stewart in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).

When talking about his schooldays, Hitchcock told Truffaut about his odd situation and about the moral sense he developed.  “Ours was a Catholic family,” he said, “and in England, you see, this in itself is an eccentricity.”  At Saint Ignatius College, “a strong sense of fear developed—moral fear—the fear of being involved in anything evil.”  He transformed that Catholic eccentricity and that fear of evil into some of the finest films ever made.

In all his cinematic work, Alfred Hitchcock was deeply concerned about human integrity.  How someone dealt with temptations and trials was what made a story interesting.  In theological terms, not only was original sin a factor, so was free will.  All of us face such scenarios to a greater or lesser degree every day, but rarely do they reach a level worthy of a tale of suspense.  As Hitchcock often said, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”

One day, before offering Mass at Hitchcock’s home, Father Henninger asked Hitchcock if he had seen any good movies lately.  Hitchcock said no, adding, “When I made movies, they were about people, not robots.  Robots are boring.  Come on, let’s have Mass.”

Robots bore because, even if they find working with humans very stimulating, they lack the human capacity for love, sin, and redemption.  They share no nature with Christ.  According to Father Henninger, during those Masses at his home, Hitchcock gave the responses in Latin, and, the dull bits of life cutting out of the theo-drama, upon receiving Communion “he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.”



Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.



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August 17th, 2014Iraq—The Failure of Modernityby Stephen Brady

Is ISIS, the fanatical Islamist militia currently advancing across the ruins of Iraq and Syria beheading and crucifying “infidels” a throwback to the Dark Ages? Or is it instead an aspect of the very Western “modernity” the US and its allies sought to bring to the region by armed force? Is that “modernity”, indeed, quite what its advocates think it is?

Those are the challenging questions raised by John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics in his essay broadcast in July on the BBC radio programme A Point of View, the text of which is available here:

Professor Gray is a leading critic of what he terms “the Enlightenment project”, the idea, famously encapsulated by Francis Fukuyama in his 1992 work The End of History and the Last Man, of the inevitable global triumph of free-market globalist liberal democracy.


In this essay the good Professor argues compellingly that ISIS – or the Islamic State, IS, as it has now rebranded itself, perhaps conscious of the irony of the self-proclaimed vanguard of radical Islam advancing under the name of an ancient Egyptian pagan goddess – beneath its 7th Century trappings, is “in many respects thoroughly modern”.


Prof. Gray notes how efficiently IS uses the methods and technology of a 21st Century corporation. As he notes:

Like al-Qaeda before them, these jihadists have organised themselves as a highly efficient company. Initially funded by donations from wealthy supporters, they've rapidly expanded into a self-financing business. Through kidnapping and extortion, looting and selling antiquities, siphoning off oil in territories they conquer, seizing gold bullion and other assets from banks and acquiring large quantities of American military hardware in the course of their advance, Isis has become the wealthiest jihadist organisation in the world. According to some estimates, it's worth well over $2bn.


As others as well as he have noted, IS uses social media with an adroitness a corporate advertising department can only envy. Bloody threats and glorious victories are tweeted frequently and posted on Facebook (no doubt getting lots of “likes” in Islamabad and Luton) and beheadings, crucifixions and massacres of prisoners put up promptly on YouTube. The Islamist terror group also diligently and publicly documents mergers and acquisitions with and of other Islamist groups and tribal militias, and keeps firm and well-documented control of its balance sheet. Slick regular corporate reports are posted on the Internet, detailing each month’s beheadings and suicide bombings, thus keeping the shareholders – the wealthy Saudi and Gulf sheiks who originally bankrolled the organisation – abreast of headcount and how many bangs they are getting for their buck.


As Professor Gray perspicaciously observes, “There's nothing mediaeval about this mix of ruthless business enterprise, well-publicised savagery and transnational organised crime.”


But, he goes on to argue, IS’s modernity goes deeper than that. “Though (IS leader) al-Baghdadi constantly invokes the early history of Islam, the society he envisions has no precedent in history. It's much more like the impossible state of utopian harmony that western revolutionaries have projected into the future. Some of the thinkers who developed radical Islamist ideas are known to have been influenced by European anarchism and communism, especially by the idea that society can be reshaped by a merciless revolutionary vanguard using systematic violence. The French Jacobins and Lenin's Bolsheviks, the Khmer Rouge and the Red Guards all used terror as a way of cleansing humanity of what they regarded as moral corruption. ISIS shares more with this modern revolutionary tradition than any ancient form of Islamic rule”

Professor Gray might indeed have gone on to point out that this revolutionary tradition itself sprang ultimately from one aspect of what he himself dubbed “the Enlightenment project”. In this case the hubristic humanist idea that, if human nature is determined by human society, when the Perfect Society can be created it willipso facto achieve the Perfection of Man. Indeed, said Perfect Society is the natural human condition, if only mankind was liberated from wicked oppressors holding them back.


As history has shown, what the revolutionaries actually ended up doing, when their achievement of power failed in itself to achieve the expected dawning of Utopia, was wading in human blood trying to impose by force the widely varying ideas of Social Perfection each fanatic revolutionary sect had come to espouse, always ending in failure and some very unpleasant demonstrations of the innate moral weaknesses of humanity when left to its own devices.


But the good Professor does go on to drop a douche of icy water on the complacency of those smug Westerners who no doubt would have been happily nodding along to his argument thus far. For he points out that the Islamic state owes its rise, as well as its strategy and ideology, to another offshoot of the very same Enlightenment Project: “Western military intervention gave Isis its chance of power. While Saddam was in charge, there were no jihadist movements operating in Iraq - none at all. With all the crimes Saddam's dictatorship committed, it was a regime that applied secular law and had made some steps towards emancipating women.” It also respected the country’s ancient Christian communities, protecting them from persecution – indeed Saddam’s deputy, Tariq Aziz, was a Christian. Professor Gray continues: “In my view, toppling Saddam was bound to unravel this secular state and the Iraqi state itself.”  As we now observe it has unravelled, very thoroughly…


Why was this toppling done? The Professor is sceptical about cynicism here – he believes that it was not all about Iraq’s oil. Western leaders, unfortunately, also had nobler motives: “The politicians and opinion-formers who clamoured for the invasion believed that all modern societies are evolving towards a single form of government - the type that exists in western countries. If only tyranny was swept away in Iraq, the country would move towards democracy and the rest of the Middle East would follow. Until just a few months ago, some were convinced that a similar process could take place in Syria.”


As events have demonstrated, this isn’t exactly what actually happened, nor was it remotely likely to happen. As the Professor was saying long before Operation Iraqi Freedom, whose fruits the people of that unhappy country are now enjoying, was launched: “this has never been more than an ideological fantasy. The modern world isn't evolving in any single direction. Liberal democracy is only one of several possible destinations.”


Indeed. Professor Gray could have gone on to make the point explicitly that Messrs Bush and Blair shared with Herr Marx and Gospodin Lenin the same delusion that if only “the people” could be “set free”, if the tyrants could be toppled or the expropriators expropriated, mankind would at once rush rejoicing into an Earthly Paradise, be that one of perfect communism or perfect free market liberal democracy, a delusion that is rooted in the same 18th Century soi-disant Enlightenment from which both Marxism and Liberalism sprang. Perhaps this is why many of the arch-cheerleaders of imposing “freedom” at the point of a cruise missile and a drone strike, the neo-cons, found their own personal metamorphosis from one to the other so unproblematic.


Professor Gray has put his finger on the deep implication of that Enlightenment delusion as it unravels in the disaster now unfolding across the Middle East. Two decades after it was published, Mr Fukuyama’s thesis of the inevitable triumph of global free-market liberal democracy, “The End of History and the Last Man”, lies in ruins. It has inspired a train of events unleashing massacres, murders and sectarian slaughters that have indeed made some local progress towards achieving the Last Man. But people remain people, obstinately clinging each to their own beliefs and cultures, and History stubbornly refuses to End.

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August 17th, 2014Muzak for the Spiritby Kevin O'Brien |

I have been on the road with my actress Maria and her husband for a while now.  We are ending up a tour of nine shows in ten days in four states.

Today we find ourselves in a small town in Minnesota off the interstate.  We made the mistake of going to Sunday Mass, as we are obliged to.

This is always a crap shoot.  Why, in the universal Catholic Church that Christ founded, is it such a risk to go to Mass at an unfamiliar parish?  But it always is.  Today we rolled the dice and got a pair of snake eyes.

The church was new and the artwork in the narthex ugly, except for the old historical stuff from the old beautiful church that has since been torn down.

But the atmosphere!  Atmosphere is a difficult thing to describe.  The atmosphere from beginning to end in the Mass and everything associated with it was suburban, insipid, bland, uninspiring, contrived, and gay (in the worst sense of that word).  The homily was not really heterodox, not really orthodox - just kind of fuzzy and flaccid.

But there was one real moment.  When the congregation prayed the Our Father, I closed my eyes, and you could hear the genuineness of that prayer.  These people were praying that prayer, with a unity and an earnestness.  This was the one moment when heaven and earth were palpably together at that Mass.

Of course there's always that other moment when heaven and earth come together at Mass - the consecration and the communion that follows: and that transcends any inept nonsense on our part.  But right there in this shopping mall parish as communion began, the intense and creepy piano player (who's apparently the "music minister") began ad libbing pop fills on the keyboard.  Loudly.  So that you could neither pray nor focus on anything else.  And the message of the music was: this is not threatening, everything is comfortable, everything is indistinguishable, this life devoid of passion is the omega point of creation - this lame and soggy existence is the nirvana that all "persons" have sought.  Resistance is futile.  It was muzak for the spirit.  And it came at the most intimate part of the Mass.

I left the building, skipped communion (I was in no shape to receive it at that point), but returned when the music had stopped and stayed in the narthex for the blessing and dismissal.

And as we left I thought, is it any wonder that the Church these days seems powerless in the face of evil - small evil or great evil?  Is it any wonder that something like what I just experience has no hold on the hearts or minds of anyone, or any normal person?  Is it any wonder that bishops enable pedophiles when the greatest single moment in the lives of any of us - communion with God - can be trivialized and emasculated in this way?

I would rant more, but it's time to head to Iowa for tonight's show.  Pray for us and pray for our Church.

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August 15th, 2014Islam, Jihad, and the Massacre of Christiansby Brendan D. King

The current massacre of Iraqi Christians by adherents of Radical Islam has caused a great deal of speculation about what kind of religious believer could commit such acts. Whenever I have been asked this question, I am forced to remind people that it has happened before -- almost a century ago and in the same part of the world.

During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire, though officially a constitutional monarchy, was actually governed by a political party known as the Ittihad-ve Terriki, or Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). The CUP's platform was a mixture of Turkish racial supremacy, Classical Liberalism, and Radical Islam. Christians and Non-Turkish Muslims were to have no place in the Greater Turkey which the CUP dreamed of building. When the Ottoman Empire entered the Great War as an ally of Imperial Germany, the Christian Armenians of Constantinople made no secret of their sympathy for the Allied Powers.

On the night of April 24, 1915, the CUP arrested 250 Armenian cultural leaders and ordered their deportation to Der Zor, a region of the Syrian Desert which was to be the killing fields of what is still called the Armenian Genocide. The deportees included writers and statesmen, poets and composers, Marxists and priests. Among their number was Father (later Bishop) Grigoris Balakian, a "Vartaped,"or celibate priest of the Armenian Apostolic Church. But the deportation of the intellectuals was only the prelude to the planned extermination of every Armenian in the Ottoman Empire and the lands it planned to annex. By the end of the Great War, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians had been murdered. For this reason, Armenians throughout the world still commemorate April 24 as a day of mourning.

In 2009, when Bishop Balakian's memoir of the Genocide finally appeared in English, His Grace was instantly compared with Holocaust survivors Eli Wiesel and Primo Levi and GULAG survivors Nadezhda Mandelstam and Evgenia Ginzburg. As I continue to pace my way through the Bishop's searing account, I can also attest that it is truly a masterpiece.

For this reason, I have chosen to share a part of his memoir which, I believe, sheds the most light upon the mindset of the perpetrators of both the Armenian Genocide and of the current massacres in Iraq. Be forewarned that if you continued to read, you will be deeply disturbed. What follows has much in common with a Hannibal Lecter movie. Should you decide to stop reading, I will not be in the least offended.

Lest you be inclined to blame all Muslims for the behavior of those described, be aware that other parts of the Bishop's memoir describes encounters with Muslims -- both Turks and Kurds -- who fought to save Armenian lives. He also describes encounters with "Christian" Armenians who willingly collaborated with the executioners of their own people. By doing so, they not only survived, but profited considerably.

Well, without further ado, here is the account in the Bishop's own words. May Our Lord and Our Lady grant Eternal Memory to those who have Fallen Asleep!

From, "Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918," By Grigoris Balakian. Translated by Peter Balakian and Aris Sevag. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2009.

Pages 134-135.

"From Yozgat to Boghazlian: The Skulls."

There is a Turkish village on the road to Boghazlian, two hours from Yozgat. There Shukri, the Captain of the Yozgat police soldiers, a sixty-five year old man, had been waiting for us since morning with eleven mounted police soldiers. Our carriage drivers, who assumed that we were going to be killed under this bridge, ordered those of us to get out and remove our goods. Having collected double their fees in advance, they then lashed their horses and galloped off in the opposite direction. All of us were stupefied by this inexplicable action. We then gathered up our goods, which had been dumped from the carriages, and after much hardship, we arrived, covered in mud, at the village, where the Captain and his police soldiers were waiting for us. Captain Shukri took command of our caravan from the police soldiers who had accompanied us from Choroum, and received the blacklist of our names and other official documents.

After checking to make sure that no one on the list was missing, Captain Shukri made us set out without giving us the least respite. Instead of escorting us to Boghazlian, as we had hoped, he and his men took us to a Turkish village where no one would sell us any milk, yoghurt, eggs, or bread, not even at a premium. Anxious about the hostility of the villagers, we spent a sleepless night...

Page 136.

On our second day along the Yozgat-Boghazlian route, we saw, in the fields on both sides of the road, the first decomposed human skeletons and even more skulls; long hair was still attached to them, leaving no doubt that they belonged to females.

Among our companions were young Armenian intellectuals of Constantinople. They often bent down to pick up these skulls and kiss them tearfully. After all, these were the sacred remains of our mothers and sisters who had been martyred. Captain Shukri of the Yozgat police soldiers , who personally escorted us along these most dangerous and bloody roads, road beside me for a few hours, during which I time I became rather friendly with him (to the extent that the wolf and the lamb can be friendly). He exhorted me, "Murahhasa effendi, tell your people not to give way to emotion -- picking up skulls they come accross and kissing them. They don't know that that same fate awaits them a little further on."

Naturally, I warned my companions to refrain from such imprudent acts. Although our days were numbered, we endeavored as much as possible, with trust in God, to drive away thoughts of death. We were proceeding along roads where the slightest ill-advised or careless step could become the cause of our instant death. Shukri was so cruel that he wouldn't deign to speak to any other member of our caravan. It was just by good fortune that I was able in a few hours to win his favor, and so we kept riding together, conversing about various topics...

"The Confessions of the Slayer Captain."

Pages 139-146.

I wished to take advantage of the rare goodwill that was shown to me by Captain Shukri, to learn more about the major uncertainties facing us. Trying to be discreet, I asked him, "Bey, where have all these human bones along this road come from?"

The Captain pointed to the deep valley before us and answered, "These are the bones of Armenians who were killed in August and September. The order had come from Constantinople. Even though the Minister of the Interior had huge ditches dug for the corpses, the winter floods washed the dirt away, and now the bones are everywhere, as you see."

"Are these the bones of the Armenian deportees who came from far-off places," I asked, "or are these the bones of Armenians from this area?"

"Do you see this road? Aside from the first caravan of Armenians in July, no other caravans have traversed this road and survived."

"Shukri Bey, in your opinion, how many Armenians were massacred upon these roads that we have traveled? As Captain of the Yozgat police soldiers, you must know."

He replied, "Now its not a secret anymore; about 86,000 Armenians were massacred. We, too, were surprised, because the Government didn't know there was such a great Armenian population in the province of Ankara. However, this includes a few thousand other Armenians from surrounding provinces who were deported on these roads. They were put on this road so we could cleanse them."

"Paklayalum" was the word for "cleanse"; the Turks always used this term, especially the Government officials, when referring to the massacres of Armenians.

"Upon whose orders were the massacres of Armenians committed?"

"The orders came from the Ittihad [Party] Central Committe and the Interior Ministry in Constantinople. This order was carried out most severely by Kemal [District Governor] of Boghazlian and Vixe-Governor of Yozgat. When Kemal, a native of Van, heard that the Armenians had massacred all his family members at the time of the Van revolt, he sought revenge and massacred the women and children, together with the men."

"So where were the women in these areas of Yozgat massacres? I ask this because we had heard that while the men were massacred, the women were spared. We had heard that the beautiful virgins and young brides were taken by those who desired them for their harems, while the elderly women were driven to Der Zor. Did it happen this way in your [Province], too?"

"It didn't, because, as I said, the [District Governor] of Boghazlian was so enraged over the murder of his family during the Van rebellion in April 1915, that he had no concern for appearances and had the women and children, even the suckling infants massacred. He was said to have said; 'I have made a vow on the honor of the Prophet: I shall not leave a single Armenian alive in the [Province] of Yozgat.'"

I asked Shukri Bey how the women and girls of Yozgat were massacred, but just then, one of the police soldiers, a corporal, having noticed something down the road, came over to ask the Captain for instructions, and our conversation was interrupted.


...He was candid with me, as he himself stated, because he was convinced that none of us would survive... In order to win his favor, I told him that I had always been a Turcophile and that I had been exiled from Constantinople because I had been mistaken for a revolutionary with the same name. I even told him that I had been decorated by Sultan Hamid himself. I criticized the extremist acts of the Armenian Revolutionary Committees and told him that the Armenian Revolutionaries were the sole cause of our misfortunes.

I seem to have succeeded in winning Captain Shukri over, because he said to me... "Murahhasa effendi, even if I am not able to rescue your companions from the murderous mob, I'll save you, as long as you convert to Islam. I want this to be understood." Whatever proposal I made, I responded affirmatively: I even demonstrated my knowledge of the Koran, which delighted him.

...A half hour later, when we started riding together again, I resumed our conversation, "Bey, why did you commit massacres on the main roads? Wouldn't it have been easier to have done it in the hidden valleys?"

He replied, "The massacres weren't committed on these roads. As I mentioned, it was the winter floods that scattered these bones and skulls all over the roads. Do you see the mill in this valley facing us?" He pointed to it. "There's a story I'll tell you about it." In a half hour our caravan reached the mill and I spurred my horse to catch up to the Captain and asked him to tell his story.

"It was precisely here," the Captain continued, "that the search of the women of Yozgat took place."

"Bey, tell me about it so we might pass the time."

He did so: "There's no reason to hide it... It was eight months ago, after all, and these stories were getting around... The news has even reached Europe. The German Embassy was so upset that they rebuked our Government, and orders came from Constantinople telling us to cease the massacres. Nevertheless, after we had massacred all the males of the city of Yozgat-- about eight thousand to nine thousand of them in the valleys near these sites, it was the women's turn. So two months later Governor Mehmet Kemal summoned the town criers and had them make the following announcement: 'Inasmuch as your husbands have arrived safely in Aleppo and presented a petition to the local Governor General requesting that their families be brought to Aleppo, too, the mutasarrif is giving you a three day period to make the necessary preparations for a long journey and then wait for the signal to depart...'

"Upon this official announcement, made by Turkish town criers throughout the city, the Armenian women rejoiced and briskly made preparations for the road. Many of them, as though going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, even made sweets ... and arranged them in tin boxes to take to their husbands in Aleppo. Then after the three days had passed, we had them all depart, some by carriage, some by cart, and the poor ones on foot."

"Do you remember what the number of carriages and carts was?"

"I would say that there were 280 horse drawn carriages, 550 ox drawn carts; so all together we had about 830 carriages and carts."

..."To whom was the caravan assigned for transport to Aleppo?"

"The caravans were always assigned to me because I was the police soldiers commander and familiar with this region. When this large caravan with about eighty police soldiers reached the three mills, in this valley four to five hours from town, I gave the order to the police soldier officers to rest at this spot. I then ordered all the carriage and cart drivers to leave the families there and return to their villages. Then I had thirty to fifty midwives come in from town to begin a rigorous inspection. Every woman, girl, and boy was searched down to their underwear. We collected all the gold, silver, diamond jewelry, and over valuables, as well as the gold pieces sewn into the hems of their clothes. All these women, duped into thinking that they were going to join their husbands in Aleppo, had taken with them all their valuable and movable possessions, including their valuable rugs and carpets. The Government's pretext had worked beautifully.

"Before long, we had made piles of hundreds if not thousands of gold chains, gold watches, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings with diamonds and other precious stones. We found thousands of gold pieces sewn into the women's clothes. For this reason, too, the search took so long and created such difficulty that we had to bring in new women from town to continue the effort. They found even more pieces of jewelry and gold hidden or sewn into the folds of clothes and linens."

"Shukri Bey, how many pounds of gold do you think you collected from these women and children?"

"It's difficult to say because we didn't keep a record. Whoever got hold of something kept it. If I say thirty thousand gold pounds, understand it to be sixty thousand gold pounds."

"I understand that the wealth remained in the hands of those who snatched it, but who took the largest amounts?"

"It ran the gamut, from the common police soldier to the highest Government official."

"Shukri Bey, as long as we are talking so candidly and confidentially, forgive me for asking another question. But how much wealth were you able to obtain as a result of these massacres? After all, as a police soldier Captain, you had the greatest opportunities."

"If all of it had been left to me, that would have been nice, but I sent the leather bags, filled and sealed, to the Mutasarrif in town, and there was a lot of stealing; barely half the goods reached the Government. We collected thousands of rugs and carpets and piled them up near these mills, but the police soldiers stole some of them. To be accurate, I barely got ten thousand pieces of gold or jewelry from the booty of the Armenians.

"I have been staying in Yozgat for thirty years, and although I've been offered higher positions, I didn't want to leave my birthplace and home. I'm a landowner in Yozgat and have a big family here. I'm over sixty-five now, and where am I going to go after this? I have houses, shops, and two mills in Yozgat and I'm a Muslim, [Praise Allah]. I won't lie -- I amassed great wealth from the massacres of the Armenians. But I'm old--what can I do with the wealth? My only son will enjoy it. Presently he's in Germany pursuing a military education. Let him do so."

"Bey," I said, "we wandered from your story. Can you tell me what happened to these sixty four hundred women, girls, and children?"

"Yes, you're right, I was talking about one thing and got on to something else. We continued to search the women's bodies and clothes for four days and four nights. After stripping them all of their possessions and leaving them only what they were wearing, we made them all turn back on foot to the broad promontory located near the city of Yozgat. We told them that a new Government order had come to have them return to town, and they following willingly. When we reached the promontory I pointed out yesterday, ten to twelve thousand Muslims were waiting there. They had been waiting for a day."

"Bey, may I ask--how did these common people come to know about the Government's plan for the Armenians?"

"During the time that we were searching the women, the Government officials of Yozgat sent police soldiers to all the surrounding Turkish villages and in the name of holy Jihad invited the Muslim population to participate in this sacred religious obligation...

"Thus, when we arrived at the designated site, this mass of people was waiting. The Government order was clear: all were to be massacred and nobody was to be spared. Therefore, in order to prevent any escape attempt and to thwart any secret attempts of sympathizers intent on freeing them, I had the eighty police soldiers encircle the hill, and stationed guards at every probable site for of escape or hiding.

"Then I had the police soldiers announce to the people that whoever wished to select a virgin girl or young bride could do so immediately, on the condition of taking them as wives and not with the intention of rescuing them. Making a selection during the massacre was forbidden. Thus about two hundred fifty girls and young brides were selected by the people and the police soldiers."

Then the Captain did something striking. Before continuing to tell his story of the actual massacre, he closed his eyes; in the special manner of performing ablutions, he raised his hands to his face and ran them down to his white beard as if washing up. After muttering a few prayers, he turned and said to me, "May [Allah] not show such death as this to anybody."

"Did you shoot them, or bayonet them to death?" I asked.

"It's wartime and bullets are expensive. So people grabbed whatever they could from their villages--axes, hatchets, scythes, sickles, clubs, hoes, pickaxes, shovels--and they did the killing accordingly."

It is impossible for me to convey what happened to those 6.400 defenseless women, virgins, and brides, as well as children and suckling infants. Their heartrending cries and doleful pleas brought down the deaf canopies of heaven. The police soldiers in Yozgat and Boghazlian who accompanied us would even boast to some of us about how they had committed tortures and decapitations, cut off... body parts with axes, and how they had [killed] suckling infants and children by... dashing them on rocks.

...As we rode our horses side to side, our conversation about the deportations and massacres finally reached a point where I was not longer able to restrain myself. Stiffened by this unfathomable and crushing story, I turned to Shukri, who was relating all this as if it were a children's fairy tale, and said: "But, Bey, you are an elderly Muslim. How did you have this many thousands of innocent women, girls, and children massacred without feeling any remorse or guilt, when they were neither conspirators or rebels? Won't you remain accountable for this innocent blood spilled, before Allah, the Prophet, and your conscience?"

- "Not at all," he replied. "On the contrary, I carried out my sacred and holy obligation before Allah, my Prophet, and my Caliph.. A Jihadwas proclaimed... The Sheik-ul-Islam had issued a fatwa to annihilate the Armenians as traitors to our State, and the Caliph, in turn, ratifying this fatwa, had ordered its execution... And I, as a military officers, carried out the order of my King. Killing people in war is not considered a crime now, is it?"

Following this shameless and abhorrent statement, I fell silent, because there was nothing I could say in reply to this executioner who had likened the merciless massacre of unarmed, defenseless women and infants to killing people in war. In total, he was responsible for the murder of 42,000 innocent people.

...I did not want to anger our Captain and tried to mask my contempt with humor. So I asked, "Bey, you know that we clergymen frighten people with punishments in the other world... How are you going to atone for these sins of yours in the other world?"

"Oh, very easily. I already atoned for them and didn't leave anything unsettled for the next world. As I've always done, after this massacre as well, I spread out my prayer rug and said my prayers, giving glory to Allah and to the Prophet who made me worthy of participating in the holy Jihad in these days of my old age. Many, many times a few years ago, they wanted me to retire on account of my age; it's a good thing that I didn't."

Page 148.

After we had talked for two or three hours, almost without interruption, Shukri and the police soldiers moved ahead. The lawyer Boghos Tanielian, one of the Constantinople intellectuals who was on foot, had been listening closely to our conversation, along with a few of his companions. After I was left alone, he said, "If you were an official of great authority from Constantinople, you couldn't have gotten such a confession from this criminal. I hope someday the world will hear of this-- this man who massacred forty thousand Armenians."

Pages 149-150.

On all the roads were traversed between Yozgat and Kayseri, about 80 percent of the Muslims we encountered (there were no Christians left in these parts) were wearing European clothes, bearing on their persons proof of the crimes they had committed. Indeed, it was an absurd sight: overcoats, frock coats, jackets--various men's and women's garments of the finest materials--on villagers who were also wearing sandals and traditional baggy pants. Barefoot Turkish peasant boys wore formal clothes; men sported gold chains and watches. It was reported that the women had confiscated many pieces of diamond jewelry, but as they were sequestered, we had no way of encountering them.

Although Captain Shukri carried out the criminal orders of the Ittihad Committee with gusto, as national policy, he generally spoke disparagingly of the Ittihad Leaders, especially Talaat [Pasha] and Enver [Pasha]. He often said, "These are adventurers descended from Gypsies or [converted Jews]; they do whatever crosses their minds; they don't consider the long run." In referring to the Armenian massacres, he said, "Let's see how we are going to escape the consequences of what we have done." However, these final apprehensive words he said out of fear of punishment, not contrition.  

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August 14th, 2014Nothing New about Terrorismby Dena Hunt

I received from a friend who is interested in the English Deformation a blog post by Dr. Joseph Shaw, Oxford-based, I believe, who is described as: “a Catholic academic with strong views not for those of a sensitive disposition.” Dr. Shaw writes an essay in which he compares ISIS to historical “Anglican terror.” That’s hardly a politically correct point of view, but Dr. Shaw raises some very interestingly unexpected comparative points. Not surprisingly, his essay met with pretty hostile comments. His response was to post a second essay, even less apologetic than the first.

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What are your thoughts on the subject?