Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Roots of Modernism

Dr. William Marshner has once again given an excellent FREE audio series through the Institute of Catholic Culture. While an earlier post describes the background of Dr. Marshner and his last talk (on the Council of Trent), his new three-part series examines the Roots of Modernism. This may seem to be a topic which many are familiar with, but Dr. Marshner addresses the matter by giving a historical narrative and philosophical critique of the various schools of modernist thought and their adherents. It is definitely worth checking out.

For further study, Dr. Marshner recommends reading a great book by Maurice Mandelbaum called History, Man, & Reason: A Study in 19th Century Thought.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Extension, Comprehension, and Generalizations

In logic, terms become the smallest building blocks of arguments. A term is any word or phrase that denotes a commonly known concept. Now by connecting two terms in a proper declarative sentence, one can form a proposition – and through the assertion of two or more true propositions, one can reason their way to a logical conclusion.

Obviously terms should be used clearly and unambiguously – but they should also be understood in themselves in two ways: by their extension and their comprehension (or intension). The chief difference between the two is that extension is quantitative while comprehension (or intension) is qualitative. Extension thus means the ability to count out all the objects in the world that are denoted by the term. For example, the extension of the term “All United States citizens” refers to all the 300+ million people who are members of the U.S. Now the comprehension (or intension) is qualitative because it forms the logical definition of the term, including the term's attributes, features, or qualities. In other words, extension is concrete while intension is abstract.

This logical dichotomy, which originates with the ancient Greeks, is one helpful way of sorting out the problem of political correctness when it comes to matters of gender. In his logic textbook, Socratic Logic, Dr. Peter Kreeft states:

…so many people today… immediately and thoughtlessly reject all “generalizations” like “men are more aggressive than women” as “stereotypes.” They are confusing comprehension and extension. They are misinterpreting a statement about comprehension as if as if it were one about extension, and that is why they think that the fact that Mrs. X is more aggressive than Mr. X disproves the statement that “men are more aggressive than women.” They cannot or will not rise to the original statement’s level of abstraction and argue with it on its own level. The statement is not about all the individuals that have the nature of male and the nature of female, but about those natures in abstraction from the individuals that have them. Those who reject all rationalizations because they can find some exceptions to them are thinking only on the concrete sense level of extension, not on the abstract conceptual level of comprehension; they are operating like cameras (sense experience) plus computers (calculating the quantities of extension), but not like human minds (understanding essences, natures, “whats”).
Nominalism – which is commonly found in our colleges and drilled into the minds of the politically correct – denies any reality of essences or natures and thus it declares that there are only individuals, only particulars; no universals. Accordingly there is no male and female nature, nor any human nature – only equal individuals with equal rights. Nominalism is thus a key source of radical egalitarianism and individualism.

But on the side of common sense Aristotelian reason, it is precisely because we can know essences or natures that we can say that (for example) effeminacy in males is a vice, not a virtue, nor an amoral reality, because it is contrary to the masculine nature. Cameras and computers, to use Kreeft’s analogy, cannot know natures because they are not minds – but we do have God-given minds, so let’s use them instead of speeding up a process of devolution in the name of rights and political correctness.

G.K. Chesterton would say that it is the exception that proves the rule. This is precisely because he knew the difference between extension and intension. Natures or essences are unchanging – but our society is bent on trying to “disprove the rule” (i.e. the nature) through the promotion of the unnatural. This is all the more reason for Catholics (both lay and clergy) to faithfully live out a rich sacramental and liturgical life. In the world we are bombarded with self-defeating nominalism, but in the liturgy we can find the truth and reality of male and female expressed tangibly.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Fr. Barron’s Catholicism (Episode One)

As promised by the trailer (which I included in an earlier post), the show delivers breathtaking imagery from around the Catholic world while offering some down-to-earth language along with an overly-intellectual approach to Catholicism. As was suspected, there are plenty of times when one can feel free to hit the mute button and simply be amazed at the visuals alone. Some examples of this include seeing Fr. Baron praying in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the end sequence involving the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

If Catholicism suffers from anything, it is not so much from bad theology as from the fear of offending anyone. This is bad philosophy. We see this within the first two minutes of the first episode when the title appears: Amazed and Afraid: Jesus Both God and Human. Here we see the traditional description “God and Man” is changed to “God and Human” in order to reflect our politically correct, gender-neutral culture. Anything which may not sit well is skirted around. If, for example, society gets offended by the all-male priesthood, then Catholicism will just pass it by and move on to another more acceptable topic instead of addressing it head-on. Along these lines, the twelve Apostles are no longer described as twelve men but rather as twelve people.

With the exception of the Pope, the role of the Apostles – and thus their successors, the bishops – is also downplayed. Fr. Barron tells us that the very first mission of the Christ was to gather the twelve tribes of Israel. But he describes this gathering solely as Jesus’ policy to associate with sinners. Jesus is thus the model of tolerance and acceptance. No mention is given of the twelve Apostles, the image par excellence of the gathering of the twelve tribes of Israel. Also suspiciously absent is the Devil. When Christ comes as a warrior, Fr. Barron tells us it is to fight against human selfishness, hatred, and violence. Whatever happened to the promise of Genesis 3:15? Wasn’t the serpent’s head to be crushed?

As of episode one, Catholicism may leave some people – especially our grandparents – scratching their heads over some missing elements of the Catholic faith left out or strangely described by the very intellectual Fr. Barron. The episode does, however, deliver very sound Christology while presenting the viewer with a challenge: to accept Christ or not. The visuals are the strongest element to the show. In the end, the sacramental nature of the faith means some things just cannot be hidden or confused. Sometimes beauty makes truth more accessible than the most erudite theologian.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Mary Video

Followers of Orate Frates may have watched the videos on the left side of the blog page. If not, please do so. The audio comes from Dr. Pence on two different topics: the all-male priesthood and Marian femininity.

The new video is actually Part 4 of the Marian series - with two more on the way.

If you'd like to watch the previous videos, use the links below to view them:

The All-Male Priesthood (Part 1)
The All-Male Priesthood (Part 2)
The All-Male Priesthood (Part 3)
The All-Male Priesthood (Part 4)

Marian Femininity (Part 1)
Marian Femininity (Part 2)
Marian Femininity (Part 3)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pence on the Christian Sword

Be sure to swing on by the Anthropology of Accord blog and check out this recent post on Dr. Pence and the Christian sword:

In October 2011 young Coptic Christians were killed demonstrating for government protection against escalating church burnings and anti-Christian violence in Egypt since the February 2011 resignation of 30-year President Hosni Mubarak. The militancy of the Christians and the tank response of the Egyptian military assure this matter will be settled by some combination of reason and force leading to exodus, protected communities, or a massive bloodletting against close to ten percent of Egypt’s population. A secular state where religion doesn’t matter is not on the option list.

One way to understand the “Arab Spring” of the last forty years is a religious and democratic revolt against the authoritarian secular nationalist party rulers who dominated the 20th century after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk in Turkey, Nasser/Sadat/Mubarak in Egypt, Pahlavi in Iran, Assad in Syria, the Hashemite Kings in Jordan, and Hussein in Iraq considered themselves modern nationalist leaders -- not new caliphs of Islam. The secular nationalists have all been challenged by movements calling for democracy for the people and a more authentic Islamic culture.

Christians as minorities in all of these countries had supported the earlier secular nationalist movements (including laws at times against the public expression of majority-religion practices). Christians played important roles in government, education, and commerce beyond the strength of their numbers. Similar minority roles were played by Jews in Muslim-dominated Spain, Tutsis in German-Belgium colonial governments of Rwanda, and Indians in the former British colony of Uganda.

Sirhan Sirhan, on the one-year anniversary of the Six Day War, assassinated Robert Kennedy for his support of Israel during that conflict. Sirhan was raised in a Christian Arab home and said on arrest he did it for “his country.” He meant Palestine -- the still imagined secular nation to be born even now as the others pass from history. But secular nationalism will not be the shape of Islamic nation states or the future of the Mideast. The era of the strong secular party leader protecting the freedom of cooperative Christians is over.

What will become of the Christians? The Jews have been expelled. They had one place to go and one defender who would evacuate them. When the Christian Orthodox Russians proposed themselves as guardians of beleaguered Mideast Christians in the pre-nationalist Ottoman era, they were stopped by Protestant Britain and Catholic France in the Crimean War (1853-6). The Papal temporal sword was broken militarily in 1870 and surrendered by Concordat in 1929. The Popes of the last forty years have properly accepted their own disarmament. But can it be fitting and proper to advocate the same for the Christian nations? Our churches are burning. Who will wield the Christian sword?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Eagle

The Eagle tells the story of Marcus Flavius Aquila, a Roman army officer haunted by his father's catastrophic failure as a general in pagan Britain. Years before the young Aquila arrival as an aspiring commander of an outpost in the Roman-controlled southern Britain, his father led a doomed 9th Legion north into Scotland and was never heard from again. Young Aquila arrives in Britain hoping to regain his family's lost honor.

Secretly Aquila fears his father was a coward, fleeing from battle - and more importantly, his men - in his last moments.

Aquila soon finds himself on a quest in search of the 9th Legion's lost eagle standard. The standard is a symbol of Rome itself, bringing civilization with it wherever her armies march. For Aquila, it also becomes a symbol of his family's lost honor. But in addition to the Eagle, Aquila hopes to find out the truth about his father's bravery - cowardice.

As Christians we must recall our own story, for we are the descendants of a father chosen by God to be sent for battle against the Evil One, but who failed through an act of cowardice in battle. The Garden was indeed the beachhead for the invasion of Adam and his sons, reclaiming the world from dominion of Satan. Like Marcus Flavius Aquila, we should also be haunted by our father Adam. And that alone is reason enough for all men to look to Christ, the new Adam, and enter into his masculine body, the Church. In him man can return to battle and complete the original mission: to be fruitful and to take back dominion of this world from Satan.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Reveiw: Saving Christianity from Empire

An excerpt introduction to the review of Saving Christianity from Empire:

The political left… has seemingly distanced itself from religious language in general and Christian language in particular… Very rarely today do we find a book by a liberal author meant to seriously address Christianity and its relationship to the nation in a positive light. Rarer still is such a book written for a mass audience of average Christians unfamiliar with the many complex and abstract concepts of theology.

But this is exactly what the theologian and politician Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer has attempted to do in his book
Saving Christianity from Empire. Pallmeyer is a professor at the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN), teaching both theology and justice and peace studies. While Pallmeyer may be best known for his run against Al Franken for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 U.S. Senate election, he is one of the few liberal politicians to be as equally committed to faith as to politics. A lifelong Lutheran, Pallmeyer earned his bachelor’s degree from the Lutheran St. Olaf College and then a Masters of Divinity from the Union Theological Seminary before becoming a St. Thomas professor where he has taught for fifteen years.

Now for most American’s, Pallmeyer’s argument [will need] some convincing – and often times the best way to convince someone is by telling them a story. Like every good story, we could say that
Saving Christianity from Empire examines the United States, as well as Christianity, in the following way: the story is setup, upset, and reset. The setup represents the protagonist’s original upright beginnings while the upset refers to that which becomes an obstacle for the protagonist to overcome. Of course, no story is complete without a reset, that is, either a return to the original good or to the protagonist’s eventual doom. Every good story has either a happy ending or a sad ending. No good story has a non-ending.

Pallmeyer tells his story as one of optimism for the United States and Christianity, but he casts both of their modern-day versions as their own worst enemies. In his narrative, the United States is a good republic turned empire and Christianity is a good religion subverted by empire into a caesaropapist puppet of injustice. The narrative’s hopeful reset, however, relies on a revitalized Christianity which is able to resist and by doing so restore the evil empire to its former status as a good republic. In this way Pallmeyer’s thesis rests squarely on his
theology, not on his indictments of American economic or foreign policy. In other words, Pallmeyer is offering Christians a hopeful means of social and political change precisely by way of their faith and not merely through a sociopolitical process devoid of faith. Could this be a postmodernist return to the power of religion which enlivened movements led by great men like Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Read the full review to examine Pallmeyer’s theology and find out.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Complementary Cycles

Any man worth his salt should be able to go outside and identify the current phase of the moon because the cycle of the moon is man’s natural monthly cycle, so to speak. A man who looks out to the moon orients himself to space and time on a natural level and in so doing characterizes masculinity. Man’s gaze is outward towards public bonds between men and objective reality.

Woman, on the other hand, has her own monthly cycle – and a woman’s knowledge of this cycle characterizes femininity. Woman’s gaze is inward towards the cultivation of life in the womb or to nurturing those around her. This does not mean that woman is relegated only to the home, but rather that a woman’s “public life” is nevertheless properly oriented towards the formation of deep personal-private bonds with those around her, thus signifying the interiority of her femininity.

Thus we must not forget that these two natural cycles signify something deep and profound about our masculinity and femininity. They are God's gifts, not curses.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Creation and Non-Violence

My recent post on doubts concerning the historicity of Adam (and the Devil) as a potential means to deny the reality of evil should also help us understand why some theologians look to God’s creative act as justification for non-violence. In this view, monotheism stands above the pagan creation myths in which the gods fight a war and in the process create the cosmos. The non-violent God of Christianity, however, simply makes a harmonious universe from nothing and calls it good.

While it is certainly true that God created an ordered universe ex nihilo, what if the pagan myths contained a grain a truth, a kernel of knowledge lost to man during the true Dark Age following the Fall of Adam? What if a cosmic war really did precede the creation of the material universe? After all, why do we live in a seemingly indifferent universe filled with death, killer gamma rays, and asteroids capable of mass extinction?

The universe is not a safe place and the earth is certainly not our Mother.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion opens with a mythic creation account of his fantasy world Middle Earth. In it God created the angels first and then had them sing together in their harmonious hierarchy – but the greatest of the angels, Melkor, inserted his own themes into the music and eventually led a revolt against God. Nevertheless, God revealed that He created Middle Earth through the music sung by the angels and that the discord sown by Melkor’s disruptive music was the cause of certain evils and imperfections in the world.

This creation account in the Silmarillion is pure fiction, but Tolkien drew heavily from his Catholic faith, and the thought of God working through secondary actors is part and parcel of the Christian economy of salvation. Whether or not God included the angels in his creative act, we do know that St. Michael the Archangel led a victorious battle against the Devil and his demons and cast them out of heaven (see Revelation 12:7-9) and that Jesus has proclaimed the Devil “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31).

It is altogether in the realm of possibility that the Big Bang, which created our universe, was the result of the expulsion of Satan and his minions from Heaven. Lucifer claimed a heavenly dominion and the result was instead a dominion over this world. Man was made to unseat him from even this dominion, avenge God’s honor, and restore justice. In other words, God created man for war against evil, and while the Devil struck us first, the mission of Jesus Christ was to save us from sin in order to restore us for battle.

So much for non-violence.