Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Five Quick Takes


Some friends of mine have been posting unusually good stuff lately. Z Shihab, who lives out in Portland, recently started a blog called Ænigmata where he has this excellent post on the limits we must assign our pride and our impulse to mock, if we want to have any impact on those who don’t already agree with us. Bill Hoard, author of The Dagger and the Rose and co-author (with Ben Y. Faroe) of Hubris Towers, has been doing a series on the Hávamál, an Icelandic collection of old Norse wisdom poetry. And Eve Tushnet’s review of I Am Michael, a biopic with James Franco and Zachary Quinto about a gay activist who converted to Christianity and espoused the ex-gay cause, is, well, just the sort of thing she writes: smart, reflective, patient, and charming. Go forth and read.

✠     ✠     ✠


Today is the normal date for the Feast of the Chair of Peter, though we in the Ordinariate observed it this past Sunday—it is our patronal feast. The gospel for this feast is Matthew 16.13-20, the passage in which the famous Petrine confession is made, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Our parish priest pointed out some things in his homily that I hadn’t noticed before.

First, Jesus could have simply told them who he was. He didn’t. He chose, instead, to elicit the declaration from them. It is, in a way, the first time the Church defined a dogma.

And we know that this definition was authoritative even if no others were, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And it is from this that the parallel declaration on Christ’s part comes: Thou art the Christ; thou art Peter. The office of the Rock is rooted in divine revelation, and it is from this, not its own capacity, that its authority comes—that authority being promptly defined as ‘binding and loosing.’ Binding and loosing were standard terms in rabbinic theology at that time: they described the rabbi’s authority both to declare what was and was not authentic midrash, or teaching and commentary on the Torah, and who was permitted a place in the synagogue, the communion of the faithful. The literary echoes of Isaiah 22, where a new steward is appointed for the house of King David by prophecy, reinforce the significance of the office that Jesus is declaring Peter to have, that of the steward or proxy—in Latin, the vicarius—of Christ.

Some of this I’d known before, but I keep coming back to the fact that Jesus chose to elicit the Petrine confession, instead of revealing himself on his own initiative. He had no problem with teaching at great length, nor even with explaining the meanings of his parables to the disciples in private. Yet here, he chose to have his deity disclosed through our humanity.

✠     ✠     ✠


I know very little about Milo Yiannopoulos, which I’m perfectly fine with. He has given me the impression of being a rather disagreeable figure, and I am not eager to accumulate those in quantity, especially in an age like ours that so thrives on disagreeableness (which is a different and less noble thing than disagreement). But he said some stuff that sounded like support for pædophilia, and people rightly flipped their lids, and apparently now his career is over. Or, at least, on indefinite hiatus.

I listened to enough of his remarks that I am satisfied he hasn’t been misrepresented. I only had the stomach to listen to a minute or so, but the flow of his comments isn’t ambiguous. He does say that he was wrong to say those things, and I’m prepared to believe that he is remorseful. (I admit I’m also not sorry that he’s resigned from Breitbart.)

But I wonder, and worry a little, about the reaction our culture has to pædophilia, because it’s so absolute and instantaneous, and those kinds of reactions are easy to attack once someone gets the nerve. If and when people really start to question it, will we as a culture be ready to defend it? Will we be ready to set forth an intelligent explanation of maturity (sexual, mental, and social) and consent? Will we be ready to explain why, even though people do mature at different rates, there has to be a specific legal age of consent? And if we aren’t, will our—very right—instinctive rejection of pædophilia be enough to prevent a change in cultural standards? I hope it will; but I don’t think it’s to be counted on, if we don’t learn to have, and articulate, something more than instinct upon which to base our revulsion.

✠     ✠     ✠


Horror is an incredibly odd genre. Even though I enjoy watching and writing and reading it, I can’t tell why. I keep trying to come up with an explanation—e.g., that it gives us a sense of power or safety, to witness and yet survive horrors by proxy—and none of them really seem adequate. There seems, to me, to be almost a spiritual quality in some horror; certainly there are a few characters or atmospheres, like the Un-Man of Perelandra or the final dissolution of Wentworth in Descent Into Hell, that depict mystical realities, and insofar as they do that it makes sense that it would be, not pleasurable exactly, yet satisfying, to read them.

Is all horror a mode of Dante’s Inferno?—which is a curiously inverted example, in that Dante never once makes us shudder before the dreams of the abyss: Arthur Machen, H. P. Lovecraft, Charles Williams, Melinda Selmys, or Edgar Allen Poe can give you a more terrifyingly gothic sublimity in the least of their efforts than he. The mathematical perfection of Dante’s universe prevents any such ‘Crawling Chaos.’ Perhaps, in the philosophical and increasingly violent degradation of the West through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, horror has at last come to be a more natural voice for us: our sense of having a place in creation has been ripped out, and through horror, we can at least scream without being mocked for it.

✠     ✠     ✠


My spiritual life has been in a rather shabby condition lately. I’m at sea about a number of things; I certainly don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with my celibacy. I hope you all will pray for me as we enter Lent next week.

I haven’t made up my mind what my Lenten discipline will be. A friend suggested that I make a retreat, and/or pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet regularly; I recently acquired a copy of Richard of St Victor’s seminal Benjamin Minor, a sort of preparatory book for contemplative prayer, which I might set myself to read. I haven’t been able to focus on the subject, somehow. Thankfully, since the Anglican Use observes Shrovetide (or ‘Pre-Lent’ if you like lame names), I’ve at least been reminded of it on the regular. That’s one of the nice things about having a regular liturgy as well as a defined creed: it gives you a touchstone.


  1. Our culture has, as one friend put it, a "hyper-investment of outrage" about teenage consent stuff. And you're right: it won't stand forever in the sexual revolution milieu, because it is fragile.

    Part of it is because the whole thing about consent isn't the true or proper foundation for our revulsion. Truth is, we react against the idea of sex with children on account of a reality of sexual Innocence, a type of sacred reality, that the sexual revolution crowd cannot articulate philosophically if the whole rest of their edifice is to remain standing (but they can't shake the feeling so they trump up this other post facto moral explanation regarding technical notions of legal consent).

    Of course, the teenage thing has always been uncomfortable. See, for example, all the comedy based around the fact that many of us just aren't as concerned, on a gut level, about a teen boy who gets involved with a young female teacher; and then the corresponding reactionary defensive move to insist "No that's just as bad! Don't laugh about it!"

    Teenagers are very different from children in at least one very important regard, and that's that they *are* sexual beings. There still might be some good arguments for not letting adults get sexually involved with teenagers...but adolescence is a culturally constructed and very modern phase (girls, at least, were married at 13 all the time if you look through old church records) and teenagers, unlike true children, are not innocents. They, at least, have sexual desires and identities of their own (the boys can be downright horn-dogs, as those of us who have been teenage boys at one point know well...)

    Yet people will get very defensive of the alleged total moral equivalency of teens and children and like to act as if the distinction between pedophilia and ephebophilia is a wicked technicality invoked by envelope pushing pedophilia-apologists.

    But while there may be moral arguments against both, in truth I think they must be rather different arguments. Sex with a creature who may already be sexually active with people his own age (and who probably at least has an active sexual fantasy life, porn and masturbation etc) is just a different moral species from *imposing* sexuality on a child in latency who doesn't even have any personal subjective understanding of what sex is or why anyone would want to have it. They're not the same.

    However, the sexual revolution "consent" paradigm can't really bear this distinction. They can't recognize the reality of sexual *innocence* that makes sexualizing the sexless prepubescent so particularly monstrous, so in order to "backsplain" the revulsion, they base it on notions of consent that logical consistency requires they apply to teenagers as well.

    Everyone then has to *affect* feeling equally disgusted by the idea of stuff with teenagers too, to keep up the consistency, but since this is an affectation, there is this sense (to anyone being honest) that the outrage there feels a bit forced, and people do get *very* defensive about it, and it becomes a sort of thought-stopping dogma, and hence the sense of "hyperinvestment of moral outrage."

    This tension will snap eventually. The question is whether the snapping will result in a rediscovery of the principle (something like "innocence") that is *really* behind the natural revulsion to sexualizing children and which really explains why it is so monstrous and damaging (truth is, the real crime we all feel revulsion at in pedophilia is actually something like "profanation")...or whether, horrifyingly, it will result from/in just a total desensitization even to this last remaining moral instinct.

  2. Prayers for sure dear brother and I would appreciate yours as my daughter's and my Good Shepherd and his fierce Blessed Mother liberate us from a long term abusive marriage as I called out in despair and hope on my youngest son's heartbreaking due date nine years ago. And they could have done it sooner if the community had fulfilled its commitment when witnessing our vows and believed and supported me and challenged him to moral conversion and psychological healing alike as I constantly though imperfectly strive for with my own issues. Which makes me wish he had done the stereotypical hit/yell/drink/cheat because it would have been recognized by me before the twenty year mark and by others, finally believing me, before the thirty. (In particular a very holy and loving youngish Carmelite confessor who picked up hints, questioned sensitively, and did utterly effective deliverance and healing prayer). Because it's way more dangerous and confusing when it's emotional abandonment and hateful silence and passive aggressiveness and crazymaking--literally, when he traumatizes you into the psych ward. And then Screwape turns your best evidence into further rejection, isolation, and shame cause most people's response is "why should we believe someone who has seen the inside of a psych ward?" But of course God makes it a cruciform blessing as well as a heck of a retreat (part Trappist monastery, part prison, part preschool with the juice and snacks and art) and the med support for self, and then challenging older son, eventually bears this amazing fruit. Which is so marvellously timed for paschal season as well as the birthday of daughter in heaven on the feast of Peter's Chair. So my FB quip of giving up the abusive marriage for Lent has a powerful and joyous truth!