Saturday, December 31, 2016

What Does Auld Lang Syne Mean?

Most Americans know at least the opening line of Robert Burn's poem "Auld Lang Syne," set to a Scottish folk tune which is at once melancholy and joyous. It doesn't take a linguist to realize that "auld" is simply "old" in Burns' Scottish dialect. But beyond the initial question - "Should auld acquaintance be forgot / and never brought to mind?" - most Americans' knowledge of the lyrics gets rather fuzzy, to say nothing of additional Scottish oddities. 

Perhaps most puzzling are the title words themselves: auld lang syne?  I'm no expert, but I'm told that "lang" means "long" - no big surprise there - and "syne" means "since."  As sometimes occurs in Latin or certain English texts, the noun involved is omitted, but can be inferred: old [things] long since [gone].  Or, more poetically, we might translate it as something like "times long gone."

Below is the full text, with glosses on some of the other words likely to befuddle modern singers.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?


For auld lang syne, my jo [dear],
for auld lang syne,
we'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be [buy] your pint-stoup [cup]!
and surely I'll be [buy] mine!
And we'll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We twa [two] hae [have] run about the braes * [slopes],
and pou'd [picked] the gowans [daisies] fine;
But we've wander'd mony [many] a weary fit [foot],
sin' [since] auld lang syne.


We twa [two] hae [have] paidl'd [paddled] in the burn [stream],
frae [from] morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid [broad] hae [have] roar'd
sin' [since] auld lang syne.


And there's a hand, my trusty fiere [friend]!
and gie's [give me] a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak' a right gude-willie [goodwill] waught [draught],
for auld lang syne.


* You may know this term from the opening line of The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Godhead See

My favorite lines from any hymn come from "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing": Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see / Hail the incarnate Deity.

The King's College Chapel choir sings an excellent rendition of the hymn below (as does the St. Paul's Choir), but I think the hymn is best done with more gusto and strong instrumentation.  This is not simply a sweet song about a little baby; it is a triumphal anthem celebrating our encounter with the King of Kings.

St. John Chrysostom echoes - or, rather, anticipates - the lyrics written by Charles Wesley.  In his Christmas sermon, he nearly sings, "All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised."

St. John draws our attention to the wonder that, with the Incarnation, a small corner of creation holds the creator Himself: "Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of Justice....  The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infant's bands." 

For us whose nature He took on, this is nothing short of astonishing.  "The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us He may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see."

If being created in the divine image did not already convey our inestimable dignity, the birth of Jesus now implies an even greater dignity.  "For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator."

In the same oratorical style seen in his Easter sermon, St. John rises to a crescendo: "Come, then, let us observe the Feast....  For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels. "

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Comics: A Great American Institution

I love comics. My newspaper, the Financial Times, is in other respects an admirable publication but, sadly, has no comics. From time to time my parents are kind enough to send me some they've saved.

I don't merely think comics are enjoyable - though they are. Rather, I think they're a great American institution, a cornerstone of the republic, even.

First, there is the shared experience. I associate reading the comics with eating breakfast, often with my father. The comics section is passed around, favorite strips are discussed. But even apart from the physical aspect, even if comics are read electronically, people can discuss their favorite characters and watch their adventures over the years.  And comics frequently comment on our shared experiences, from grocery shopping and office life, to dating and politics.

Second, there is the intellectual exercise. Comics may seem simple, but humor is notoriously difficult to explain. It is usually based on an understanding of the way things work, an understanding shared by the joke teller and the audience, and then some deviation from that usual pattern in some quirky way.

Children, having only recently discovered the order of things, often most enjoy deviations from that order. A man absentmindedly reading his newspaper goes to pick up his coffee cup and, without looking, picks up the salt shaker and pours salt into his mouth. Hilarious.

We don't generally deconstruct every comic we read, but I'm convinced that reading the comics strengths our eye for patterns, particularly within social dynamics.

Third, comics provide perspective. Even in trying times - and when are the times not trying? - it is useful to remember that we can still laugh, that things aren't so bad that we can't carry on. Comics help remind us that the cosmos is ultimately comedic, not tragic. If you haven't read the Bible lately, forgive me for dropping a spoiler: the story ends with a wedding, not a funeral. Comics are a small foreshadowing of that joy.

The strip above is the Pearls before Swine, by Stephan Pastis, from 28 November.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Poem for Advent from G. K. Chesterton

A Child of the Snows

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

Found on the website of the American Chesterton Society.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Christian Hope & the Upcoming Election

If there is one word that could characterize the prevailing mood among observant Christians in America in the weeks leading up to the election on Nov. 8, that word would be frantic. Some pundits scrutinize all the most recent polls, discerning the voice of God in the voice of the people. Others analyze the utterances of the candidates and their surrogates, seeking signs of what is to come. Still others preach their jeremiads, lamenting the sinful ways of all who disagree with them. No matter whom they support, or where they stand on particular issues, they are in continuous emotional turmoil, either worrying that Hillary Clinton will bring about the imminent demise of our fair "city upon a hill," or looking forward to the day when Donald Trump will inaugurate a new reign of peace and justice in America. Their emotions swing back and forth from the most exalted rejoicing to the deepest gloom.

But, why are Christians so frantic? Why do they seem to have so little inner peace?

Is it perhaps because they have not placed their hope in Jesus Christ? As Matthew Schmitz of First Things helpfully reminds us:

Despairing of anything other than salvation is not per se a sin. If anything, the fact that people so commonly label despair over a candidate or cause as sinful indicates that they have a weirdly spiritualized understanding of politics.

As today (in the traditional liturgical calendar) is the Feast of Christ the King, it is an opportune time to remind ourselves of what the Psalmist said: "Do not put your trust in princes, in men who have no power to save." Instead, we must accept St. Paul's teaching:

Give thanks to God the Father Who has made us worthy to share the lot of the saints in light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have our redemption through His blood, the remission of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers. All things have been created through and unto Him, and He is before all creatures, and in Him all things hold together. 

Once we have this proper perspective in mind, Cardinal Newman's advice on how to act in politics will make much more sense and we will be able to apply his words fruitfully to our lives:

We need not be angry nor use contentious words, and yet may firmly give our opinion, in proportion as we have the means of forming one, and be zealous towards God in all active good service, and scrupulously and pointedly aloof from the bad men whose evils arts we fear.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Happy Von Steuben Day!

Tomorrow is the birthday of Friedrich von Steuben, a German aristocrat and soldier who came to the infant United States to assist in the War of Independence.

Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben was born in Magdeburg, Prussia in 1730. Young Friedrich's father fought on behalf of the Tsarina of Russia, and therefore the son spent several years there.  He was later educated by Jesuits and served on his first campaign with his father at the age of 14.  He rose through the ranks of the Royal Prussian Army and became aide-de-camp (personal assistant) to King Friedrich the Great.  In 1771 von Steuben was made a baron.  Having suffered from debt, military politics, and unproven accusations of illicit relations for more than a decade, he came to America in 1777 to offer his services.

Von Steuben was named inspector general of the young Continental Army and brought a professional's eye to sanitation, record-keeping, procurement, and military drill.  Initially lacking command of the English language, he wrote his orders in French and had them translated.  He was attached to the headquarters of George Washington and Nathanel Greene and commanded a division in the Yorktown campaign.  After the war he oversaw the founding of the Society of the Cincinnati and became an elder of the German Reformed Church.

Although German-Americans are the largest ethnic group in the country, Von Steuben Day (observed on various days by locality) is less well known than such holidays as St. Patrick's Day, Marti Gras, and Cinco de Mayo.  Nevertheless, there are annual parades in his honor - and in honor of America's German-American heritage - in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.  Numerous cities and counties have been named in his honor, including Steubenville, Ohio and, by extension, the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  He is also honored, alongside three other foreign volunteers, with a statue in Lafayette Square, just north of the White House.

Notably, the Steuben Society, an educational, fraternal, and patriotic organization of German-Americans, was created and named in his honor in 1919, in the aftermath of World War I and the anti-German sentiment it engendered.  This is not just a matter of history; my family's local church, part of the Evangelical denomination, was vandalized during the war for the simple reason that the inscription over the door was in German.  The creation of the Steuben Society is both a warning of the dangers of nativism and a reminder of America's diverse immigrant population from the country's earliest days.

Tomorrow, in honor of Friedrich von Steuben, our family will be flying our new German flag.

Today's image comes from the National War College, via Wikipedia.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

John Henry Newman on a Christian's Duty in Politics

Cardinal Newman provides, in the midst of a most turbulent election season in America, a pertinent reminder of how a Christian is to fulfill his duties in the temporal sphere:

A more difficult duty is that of passing judgment (as a Christian is often bound to do) on events of the day and public men. It becomes his duty, in proportion as he has station and influence in the community, in order that he may persuade others to think as he does. Above all, clergymen are bound to form and pronounce an opinion. It is sometimes said, in familiar language, that a clergyman should have nothing to do with politics. This is true, if it be meant that he should not aim at secular objects, should not side with a political party as such, should not be ambitious of popular applause, or the favour of great men, should not take pleasure and lose time in business of this world, should not be covetous. But if it means that he should not express an opinion and exert an influence one way rather than another, it is plainly unscriptural. Did not the Apostles, with all their reverence for the temporal power, whether Jewish or Roman, and all their separation from worldly ambition, did they not still denounce their rulers as wicked men, who had crucified and slain the Lord's Christ? and would they have been as a city on a hill if they had not done so? If, indeed, this world's concerns could be altogether disjoined from those of Christ's Kingdom, then indeed all Christians (laymen as well as clergy) should abstain from the thought of temporal affairs, and let the worthless world pass down the stream of events till it perishes; but if (as is the case) what happens in nations must affect the cause of religion in those nations, since the Church may be seduced and corrupted by the world, and in the world there are myriads of souls to be converted and saved, and since a Christian nation is bound to become part of the Church, therefore it is our duty to stand as a beacon on a hill, to cry aloud and spare not, to lift up our voice like a trumpet, and show the people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. And all this may be done without injury to our Christian gentleness and humbleness, though it is difficult to do it. We need not be angry nor use contentious words, and yet may firmly give our opinion, in proportion as we have the means of forming one, and be zealous towards God in all active good service, and scrupulously and pointedly keep aloof from the bad men whose evil arts we fear.

--John Henry Newman, "Profession without Ostentation," in Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 1, Sermon 12

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Future of Christian Democracy in America

Some years ago I asked why there is no tradition of Christian Democracy in America. Unbeknownst to me, the following year a tiny party was founded, which eventually settled on the name of American Solidarity Party (ASP). It affirms the dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death; it is built upon the twin ideas of solidarity and subsidiarity; and it draws on concepts familiar to Catholics and Protestants of various stripes.

But what is the future of such a party? As Steve pointed out in his latest post, the role of Christians in politics is in decline, in much the same way that church attendance is in decline. What kind of future could Christian Democracy have in the US, if Christians are fast becoming a small minority?

Admittedly, one need not be a Christian to support a political party in the Christian Democratic tradition. But the question is still a valid one. So allow me to articulate my hopes for the American Solidarity Party and, more broadly, Christian Democracy in the US.

(1) When possible, ASP will field its own viable candidates and sometimes win election. I am enough of a realist to know that this will not be common at the national level. But I am hopeful that a centrist, pro-family, localist message will resonate with many Americans. So expect to see some offices won at the local and sometimes state level.

(2) When major party candidates conform to the principles and policies espoused by the ASP, it can endorse them. This too is not likely to occur with much frequency. After all, if the major party candidates were all wonderful, there would be no need for third parties. Their groundswell, particularly in this current electoral cycle, is a sign of the shortcomings of the major party candidates. Still, it has long been the habit of the major parties to adopt elements of third parties, if only for their safety. We might hope that some of the causes ASP supports will gain sufficient traction to be picked up by major parties.

(3) ASP will provide a haven for conscience when there are no alternatives. Some might question whether this is significantly different from abstaining. In the short term, it may not be much different. But in the longer term it sends a message in a way that abstention does not. It is a call for change and a reminder that there is a constituency out there for decency.

In all of this, ASP is doing two other important things. It is educating the body politic, inviting people to think about political ideas, their implications, and the values that underpin them. And it is encouraging people to think about how they can strengthen their communities, yes, through political action, but also through volunteering or simply getting to know their neighbors.

So even if we won't see a president emerging from Christian Democracy any time soon, I think there is plenty of work for a party like ASP to do.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Donald Trump & The Emperor's Clothes

At the end of his most recent post, Aaron dismisses the commentators on both sides of the party divide hyperventilating about this year's presidential election as an "extraordinary crisis." But, while Aaron certainly has a valid point about the ubiquitous hyperbole in our political discourse, I think he actually missed a good opportunity to examine why Donald Trump is such a polarizing figure and really may represent a turning point in our politics, especially for the relationship between conservative Christians and the Republican party.

Donald Trump, in his blunt, outspoken (not to mention "vulgar") way, has been able to expose the problem of political correctness in a way no other politician has done in the last 25 years. Before this year it was practically verboten to speak about certain topics, much less advocate for certain positions. The most obvious issues all have to do with Trump's "America First" platform: mass immigration, unfavorable trade agreements, and endless foreign wars. (Another key issue would be his opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.)

On each of these issues Trump is smashing idols of both the left and the right, as we generally conceive them in America. This is the more substantive reason why--and not just because of his objectionable style--that the GOP establishment fought so fiercely and for so long to prevent his nomination. Trump chose for the ground to fight on issues where there was a broad consensus between the Republican and Democratic parties that was opposed by a large proportion of the country. For instance, on immigration, he has shown that much of the country is deeply dissatisfied with current immigration policy (which is basically just "let them all stay here if they manage to get in"). The Democratic Party favors changing the composition of the electorate in order to dilute the European Christian heritage of the United States; but the Chamber of Commerce wing of the Republican Party favors importing cheap labor for its constituency. This means that both parties are supporting a policy that artificially suppresses wages for workers born and raised in America. On the issue of foreign policy, Trump is the first and most prominent Republican (that I can think off of the top of my head, at any rate) to question all the wars we have been fighting since September 11, 2001; most mainstream Republicans were in thrall to the neoconservatives' push for regime change across the globe, just like the Democrats' presidential nominee is.

What confuses and frightens so many conservative Republicans about this election is that it took such a thoroughly disagreeable man as Donald Trump to attack the bipartisan consensus on so many important issues and actually restate positions that are more conservative than those of the GOP's establishment. He has discredited the party's current economic policy, which seems to be an unintelligent re-hashing of Manchester Liberalism's insistence on laissez faire, with a few concessions to special interests mixed in to spice things up. On foreign policy, Trump, though far from perfect himself, at least recognizes that most of what the U.S. has done in the past 20 years has been counterproductive and the result of a hubristic, Wilsonian desire to transform the Middle East one country at a time with an invasion and a few years of occupation, willfully blind to millennia of internecine slaughter there.

I could continue in this vein and analyze all the separate issues that have emerged in this election--and they are important. But here at the Guild Review we have another concern, which is just as, if not more, pressing than all those issues: What effect will this election have on the life of Christians (particularly conservative Christians) in the United States? Will he usher in a revival of Christian morality in our country, or will he at least stem the onslaught of the liberal, anti-Christian forces gaining strength in America?

Donald Trump, it must be said, has actually done conservative Christians a great service. He has exposed us as "losers," to use one of his favorite insults. We had no idea, but we really were losers!

In the last couple decades conservative Christians have pinned their hopes for at least a modest Christian renewal in this country on the Republican Party but have nothing to show for it except a few fruitless wars in the Middle East, more mass immigration from parts of the world that are culturally very different from the U.S., and more suffocating political correctness (especially on sexual issues). And now we are being asked to support for president a man who does not care at all about social conservatism! This is a man who has enjoyed flaunting in the New York tabloids his various girlfriends and wives (including his most recent wife who did nude lesbian shoots before she met The Donald). In the past few months he has had to work very hard just to pretend that he cares about abortion. And on the specific issue of Christianity, he admitted to the nation that he could not even fake being a Christian, and one of the most prominent speakers on the last night of the Convention, Peter Thiel, told the Party not to get "distracted" by culture wars.

The best we could hope for from Trump, then, is a general policy of laissez faire or maybe him throwing us a bone to keep us from whining too much. This means that the real challenge for conservative Christians from this point forward is twofold. First, we must admit that we supported many Republican positions that really may not have been that conservative or that Christian, and that Trump is right in some important ways. Second, we will have to find new way to fight for conservative Christian social issues now that it is clear that the Republicans are not really willing to make them a priority and that liberals appear to have gained the upper hand for the foreseeable time to come.

I wish I could offer a solution here, but these are all issues that I still need to ponder, and which don't have any simple solutions. Most importantly, though, these issues require us to honestly ask whether we have been duped, and what we plan to do about it.

Finally, as a bonus for readers who made it all the way to the end and who are wondering how I could think this way, I am providing two links to pieces by writers who have a generally similar outlook but can express some of these concerns better than I can: R.R. Reno's "Why I'm Anti-Anti-Trump" and Rod Dreher's "Trump & The God Vote."

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Fallacy of Voting to Save the Supreme Court

I know of many pro-life voters who detest Donald Trump but plan to vote for him anyway, on the grounds that the Supreme Court is at stake. They argue that Hillary Clinton is guaranteed to nominate pro-abortion justices, whereas Trump... well, might do better.

But as the recent Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt decision shows, the Court already has a pro-abortion majority. (Similarly, Obergefell v. Hodges showed that it has a gay marriage majority.) A long sequence of events would have to transpire to reverse that.

First, your vote for Trump would have to help propel him to the presidency. Opinion polls vary, but no one is claiming he has more than a razor-thin lead, and when you break it out by state - which is how we elect presidents - he's trailing Clinton. Second, Trump would have to nominate a genuinely pro-life justice to fill the seat formerly held by Justice Scalia. Given Trump's waffling on the question of abortion, this is by no means guaranteed. Moreover, there is a long history of Supreme Court justices turning out to be a shade different than was advertised (recall that Kennedy was a Reagan appointee), so definitely no guarantees. Third, such a nominee would need to be confirmed by the Senate, which may well be captured by the Democrats. (In swing states, running against the party of Trump is the best thing that happened to many Democratic candidates.) Fourth, one of the five liberal justices would have to step down or die. The odds of any of them stepping down are extremely slim under a Trump presidency; they'll wait for a Democrat in the White House. So death is the only way they'll be replaced. Then repeat steps two and three. And, at last, you have a five justice pro-life majority.

I don't have a crystal ball, so I can't tell you if any of those things will happen. Some are more probable than others. But getting all six steps to occur is not likely. Let us assume 50-50 odds for each single event. The odds of getting all six is a little less than 1.6%.

A more probable outcome, should Trump be elected, is that he nominates someone whose views on matters like abortion and gay marriage are as moderate / opaque /confused as Trump's own. Such an individual might actually be approved by the Senate. And thus we would end up with five pro-abortionists, a wishy-washy, and three pro-life justices. Is that a sufficient improvement to outweigh everything you despise about Trump?

In all fairness, if Clinton were elected, in conjunction with a Democratic Senate, she could fill Scalia's old seat with a liberal. And one or more of the older pro-abortion justices could retire and safely see their seats backfilled with younger liberals. The current situation could be entrenched for decades. But the more I reflect on this scenario, the more it strikes me as emblematic of politics in general and not some special case. Every election has consequences. And because politics never stops, there is no such thing as a safe margin or done deal. Everything is always at stake. In that sense, this election is no different than any other. Rare is the truly extraordinary "crisis election" or "special circumstances." If you like Donald Trump or his policies, go ahead and vote for him. But if he would have been morally unacceptable to you in 2012 or 2000 or 1984, don't vote for him this year either.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Happy Feast of St. Thomas More!

Husband, father, scholar, statesman, martyr.

"Often it happens that just as a lot of foolishness is uttered with ornate and polished speech, so too, many coarse and rough-spoken men see deep indeed and give very substantial counsel."

- More to Henry VIII, upon becoming Speaker of the House of Commons, requesting freedom of speech for the chamber

"The clearness of my conscience has made my heart hop for joy. My case was such in this matter through the clearness of my own conscience that though I might have pain I could not have harm, for a man may in such a case lose his head and have no harm."

- More, writing from prison

"I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your lordships have now here in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together."

- More, to the judges who condemned him to death, quoted in Roper's Life

Saint Thomas More, pray for us!

Quotations from A Thomas More Source Book, ed. Gerard B. Wegemer and Stephen W. Smith, pp. 212-3, 241.  The sculpture of St. Thomas was done by Pablo Eduardo for the Boston College Law School.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Empire, Brexit, and the Historical Imagination

Today is Queen Victoria's birthday, a public holiday in Canada (observed on the preceding Monday) and the anchor point for the moving Empire Day holiday (which subsequently morphed into Commonwealth Day).

Debates about the British Empire - was it a monument of civilization or a system of global oppression? - have reminded me of debates about a more contemporary question: Brexit. Does Britain belong in Europe or not?

In a recent Financial Times article, Gideon Rachman examined the claims of two rival camps of historians as they argue about whether Britain has, historically, been part of Europe. Historians for Britain, the euro-skeptic party - led by David Abulafia, professor of Mediterranean history at Cambridge - contend that Britain has a long tradition of political continuity and moderate reform (unlike Europe, with its revolutions and reactions, not to mention Fascism, Nazism, and Communism), as well as physical separation from the European continent.

The pro-European party - which lacks a handy label, but did put out an article titled "Fog in Channel, Historians Isolated" - takes issue with these claims, noting that Britain has a long history of close interactions with the Continent. Not least among such linkages is Christianity, integral to Britain's identity, at least until quite recently, but also something to which Britain has no unique claim, but instead shares with the rest of Europe and regions beyond. Moreover, the critics note that Britain had a civil war, which, though several centuries ago, was no less nasty for its antiquity.  So Britain is not immune to such upheavals. And then there's the Empire. "Expropriation, slavery, massacres, oppression, anyone?” asks Neil Gregor, professor of modern history at Southampton.

Rachman concludes that "I do not entirely agree (or disagree) with any of the historians I have met... [but] I agree with Abulafia and the Historians for Britain in one important respect: their argument that the UK has been unusually good at creating successful political institutions and that this is an inheritance worth cherishing and protecting." However, Rachman adds: "But I do not think that this adds up to an argument for Britain leaving the EU."

I would like to pull the lens even further back, so to speak. Ever since Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886), the father of the modern historical craft, we - I say this as a member of the historical guild - have focused on history wie es eigentlich gewesen (as it actually happened). This is a perfectly reasonable and laudable standard for historians to pursue. But as Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) reminds us, history also has advantages and disadvantages for life. I would not go so far as to say, as Nietzsche might, that we should falsify the historical record for the sake of the impact it has on the present. But we would be fools to overlook the role that perceptions of the past have in shaping our imaginations, which in turn shape our actions.

In this context, I would argue that emphasizing Britain's long history of evolving, moderate, and generally freedom-loving political institutions is useful, even inspiring, for Britain's present, whether that be within or outside the EU. In a similar vein, I think a case can be made that emphasizing the British Empire as a global effort at fostering trade, harmonizing law, ensuring security, and spreading the Gospel is a worthy means of inspiring the men and women of today to deeds of virtue.

You might contend that these visions of Britain's past are as much romance as fact; I would suggest they are simply the product of particular emphasis. But what about all the failures that went along with these positive elements? Ah, you are putting on your critical history hat, as Nietzsche would say. As I pointed out five years ago, we can do that tomorrow. Today we celebrate the good.

Today's image comes from the Canadian War Museum.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Many Parts, One Body - Islamic Edition

One of the more well known passages from St. Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth, written c. 55 AD, concerns the relationship of the believers to one another:
As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”... If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
Christians may be surprised to discover a similar sentiment among the sayings (hadith) of Mohammed, given some six hundred years later:
An-Nu’man ibn Basheer reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The example of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 5665; Sahih Muslim, 2586).
I am not a scholar of Islam, much less of comparative religion. I am sure a case could be made that the parallels above are mere coincidence. Given the familiarity of the body, it is a natural analogy to use and more than one person could independently use it. Still, I think the parallel is striking and may be more than coincidence.

Pious Muslims would probably argue that the Christian understanding articulated by Paul was a prefiguring of the perfect revelation that came with Mohammed, or that Paul did articulate the Islamic notion, any divergences being subsequent corruptions of the Pauline message.

Christians might view this parallelism positively, as a further proof that Muslims too follow the faith of Abraham (as the Catholic Church holds). Other Christians might take a more negative view, arguing that this parallelism is proof of Islam's lack of originality, that it is merely a debased form a Christianity. This is basically the medieval understanding of Islam, that is is a Christian heresy. It is easy to see how this line of argumentation could turn rather ugly. But implicit in it - implicit in the word "heretic" - is a kind of compliment which ought not be overlooked. Pagans are people without any connection to the Church. But those in heresy, on the other hand, do have a relationship to the Church; they hold to some form of Christian doctrine, albeit with one or more crucial shortcomings. But the truth is not utterly alien to them. And thus a dialogue may be possible.

A little something to keep in mind next time you hear the talking heads pontificate about Islam.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Remembering Dennis Quinn and the Integrated Humanities Program

Today is the fifth anniversary of the funeral of Dennis Quinn, one of the founders of the legendary Integrated Humanities Program, a short-lived experiment in education which had wide-ranging ripples, influencing the University of Dallas in various ways and richly blessing the Church.  The funeral homily, by James Conley (then auxiliary bishop of Denver, now the bishop of Lincoln), is not only a spiritual exhortation but also a fitting tribute to the man and a moving evocation of the program's vision.  Thanks to A Draught of Vintage for providing the text.

My name is Bishop James Conley, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver and a former student of Professor Dennis Quinn and the Integrated Humanities Program here at the University of Kansas. On behalf of Father Abbot Philip Anderson, the Abbot of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek, the Prior, Father Francis Bethel, also former students of Dr. Quinn and the IHP, Father Steve Beseau, the current Director of the St. Lawrence Catholic Student Center, Msgr. Vince Krische, the long time former Director of the St. Lawrence Center and close friend of the IHP, I would like to extend our prayers and condolences to the Quinn family, especially to son Tim, daughters Monica and Alison, and to all the family on the death of your father, and grandfather, and our teacher and friend, Dennis B. Quinn.

In this penitential season of Lent, a season of prayer and penance, our thoughts and reflections are directed toward the Paschal Mystery of Christ, namely the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we will celebrate as the culmination of our Lenten Season in Holy Week, particularly during the Sacred Triduum.

The Paschal Mystery of Christ is the mystery of God’s love for us, the love which redeemed us from our sins, the love that was nailed to the cross, the love that rose from the dead on the third day.

And we are all called by God to live this mysterious love in our lives; to imitate this love, to manifest this love, to radiate this love, in our thoughts, words and actions every single day. This necessarily means that we must die to ourselves daily. That we must die to the selfishness, to the pride, to the ingratitude, to the vanity, to the self-indulgence, to the sin which is “too much with us late and soon,” a part of our human nature. This is what Lent is all about.

Through our rededication to prayer in Lent, through our fasting, mortification and sacrifices, through our almsgiving and renewed generosity toward others, we shake off the “old self” and put on the new man once again, we put on Christ in a new way.

The readings chosen for today’s Mass of Christian Burial remind us of this. They remind us that we are but mere pilgrims in this world. That we are making our way through this world as fellow pilgrims who seek a kingdom that is real, but that is ever elusive and about which we only get glimpses along our way. Glimpses which inspire hope and remind us of our destiny. In spite of adversity and set backs we forge ahead as happy pilgrims, as our first reading from the Book of Wisdom just reminded us: “For if before men, indeed they be punished, yet their hope is full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed.” And, “Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love.”

And when that hope reveals itself as we pass from this life to the next it will happen, as St. Paul tells us, “in an instant, in a blink of an eye” and “that which is corruptible will clothe itself with incorruptibility and that which is mortal will clothe itself with immortality.”

And then we shall say: “Where, O Death is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” Or with the words of his beloved poet, John Donne: “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so, for, those whom thou thinkest, thou dost overthrow, die not poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me!”

Dr. Quinn knew all of these truths and he taught them to his students. He taught us to see the world with the eyes of wonder. Nascantur in Admiratione: let them be born in wonder, the motto of IHP, that we might more easily see those glimpses, those manifestations of that kingdom, that invisible world, as Blessed John Henry Newman so often spoke about, so that this “invisible world becomes more real than the visible world which is constantly passing away before our eyes.”

In his forward to Dr. Quinn’s Magnus Opus, Iris Exiled: A Synoptic History of Wonder, the Jesuit, Father James Schall wrote these words: “To wonder about wonder is the vocation of Dennis Quinn.” This was his passion. Through the Integrated Humanities Program which he initiated and directed and fought to keep in existence, with the help of his two beloved colleagues, John Senior and Frank Nellick to be sure, but let it be known, the IHP would never have come into existence and would never have lasted as long as it did were it not for Professor Quinn who battled with the powers that be, to keep it going. Dr. Quinn taught us to have this same sense of wonder and love of learning, this same passion for truth, goodness and beauty, and this changed our lives forever! We were never the same! We were truly born again, as it were, in wonder. We saw the world in a different way.

Professor Quinn called this kind of learning “education by the muses” or the “poetic mode” of education. He introduced us to reality through delight. This opened a whole new world to us. A world that was filled with mystery and beauty, but also a world that was very real and tangible. This was not mere fantasy or dreamy idealism, as he once wrote in an essay: “Mistake me not: wonder is no sugary sentimentality but, rather a mighty passion, a species of fear, an awful confrontation of the mystery of things.”

This kind of education, education by the muses or poetic education was a participatory kind of learning whether it was through the poetry we memorized and then recited, the songs we would sing before class, the stargazing at night west of Lawrence, the Yankee trade fairs, the magic of the spring waltzes, the banquets and parties at the Castle Tea Room, the trips to Italy and Greece and Ireland — we participated in the thing itself, we experienced the reality of what we were learning. Again, to refer to Newman, we moved from the mere notional assent to the truth, where we understand things in a notional way primarily through the intellect, we moved to a real assent, to real understanding which engages our whole being. “The muses present life fresh, as if seen and experienced for the first time.”

Dr. Quinn put it this way in that same essay: “Education by the Muses is participatory. To sing a love song is not identical to being in love, but it is to participate somehow in that experience. When a child sees the twinkle of the star he knows it directly; when he chants the rhyme he knows the twinkling indirectly by participating in it. Poetry and music and even astronomy at this level are not to be studied but to be done!”

For many of us this kind of education disposed us to the gift of faith for the first time in our lives, and many of us converted to the Catholic Church. And this got Dr. Quinn and his colleagues into a lot of trouble with the university! They were accused of being conspirators in corrupting the minds of unsuspecting youth much like Socrates was. But this is what happens when you open yourself to the mysteries; grace may take hold of you and never let you go.

Yesterday, Monica was telling me a story about her dad that took place at a Belloc Society meeting at the Castle Tea Room. He was relating the fact that he had very serious back surgery in high school and nearly died from the procedure, a kind of meningitis type illness. He had to wear a brace for years. He mused that night at the Castle Tea that if he had died then, he would never have met Eva, his beloved and devoted wife. You children would never have been born and the IHP would never have existed. None of us would probably be Catholics. Clear Creek would never have come into existence. I would not be a bishop, and on and on and on. And he said this in a very humble and grateful way. He, too, stood in awe in what had happened in and through the IHP – what he would often call “an experiment in tradition.”

And this humility and this gratitude for what God had done in his life was always very present to him even to the end.

I remember our last IHP reunion very well in 2006. It took place east of the city Lawrence in the country and it was blazing hot Kansas summer day. Dr. Quinn had his traditional black leather Irish cap on and his trademark dapper tweed coat. Scott Bloch was serving as the emcee and he asked if Dr. Quinn would like to say a few words. Professor Quinn never missed an opportunity to speak! I remember this very well because he took the microphone without hesitation. We all know he always liked to take the center stage and was never at a loss for words! But this time he struggled mightily to form a sentence. We were all very quiet and nervous for him because we knew that his dementia was beginning to take its toll. But all of a sudden he spoke two very clear and coherent sentences: “Thank you all for coming. I am so grateful to have had such good students to teach.”

Even in those last years at the nursing home in Eudora, where his dear Alison took such good care of him, visiting him nearly every day, as did many others, he was always so grateful to the staff for every thing they did for him.

Gratitude and thanksgiving to God: in the end, this must be our prayer to God for his goodness and his grace to us through the life of Dennis Quinn.

And it is through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered for the peaceful and eternal repose of this faithful servant and extraordinary teacher that we can best express our gratitude. The gospel from St. John reminds us: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” Professor Quinn believed these words of Jesus and lived them in his life.

Dr. Quinn is no longer a pilgrim. His romantic quest for wonder has been completed. What were once mere glimpses and occasional insights are now seen clearly. He is face to face with the mysteries he taught.

And for those of us who are still on our pilgrim way we thank God for this great man and we pray for his soul. And we long for the day when we too might be reunited with those who have gone before us.

And, alas, for those who may still wonder what the IHP was all about, I leave you with the words of the man himself:

“Perhaps the mythology about the IHP is true after all. Perhaps we are conspirators. And our conspiracy may extend beyond the international to the celestial sphere; we are conspiring with the stars; we are conspiring with those spirits who inhabit the air not only in their books but in the living truths they caught less as doctrine and dogma than as a gleam of light. One could have far worse company. O co-conspirators of all the ages: Odysseus, great-improviser! Socrates, fellow corrupter of youth! Caesar and Aeneas, you Latin-lovers! Moses and St. Paul, God-struck! Roland, you chevalier! Chaucer, debonaire, and all our fellow pilgrims! Knight of woeful countenance! O sweet Prince! May all of you be with us yet!”
Requiescat in pace!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

This year, to supply you with Irish music on the one day of the year when it is on demand, I will show you a few videos that illustrate the influence America has played on traditional Irish music today.

Most of the earliest commercial recordings were actually made in America by Irish immigrants. Perhaps the most famous of these musicians was Michael Coleman, a fiddler born in Killavil, Co. Sligo who came to New York City in 1914. He soon found work as a professional player in vaudeville shows, and picked up many tunes that he recorded in a traditional style but to our ears today sound unmistakably like rag-time. Many of Coleman's records were sent back to Ireland, where young musicians were so enthralled that they copied his music note for note. Even today, musicians throughout the Irish diaspora will play sets that were first popularized  by Coleman.

One of those sets is of two reels: Bonnie Kate & Jenny's Chickens:

But, he could also play more graceful waltzes popular with the American crowds he played for:

Coleman's influence on the world of Irish music was so strong, not just because of his records, but also because of the fiddlers he taught. One of the most prominent of those students was Andy McGann, who recorded a number of albums in the 1970's, and who has a remarkably similar style as Coleman:

And that New York-Sligo fiddle style is still alive today, particularly in the playing of Brian Conway, who is shown here doing his own rendition of Bonnie Kate & Jenny's Chickens (with a third reel added to the set):

Another well-known musician who emigrated to New York around the same time was the Leitrim-born flute player John McKenna, who also recorded in the 1920's and 1930's. Here he is playing a polka with a distinct American flavor, "Tripping to the Well."

Finally, this old-time, rag-time-influenced style of Irish music has been making a comeback in recent years, after being going underground for a while in the folk revival of the 1970's. One of the positive aspects of this comeback (in my opinion) is that musicians are starting to dust off a lot of the old polkas and barndances that were nearly forgotten in the 1970's when a lot of bands pumped out only reels and jigs. A little rhythmic variety never hurt anybody!

Here is one new band, Morga, who can put on a great show (as I saw in Chicago last summer), playing a polka from the Roaring Twenties called "Fitzmaurice's Flight":

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

J.S. Bach's St. John Passion

In honor of Nikolaus Harnoncourt, one of the early exponents of historically informed performance who passed away on March 5, I am posting the following video of his performance of J.S. Bach's St. John Passion from 1985. Bach's St. John Passion is not as well known as his St. Matthew Passion. Nevertheless, the opening chorus is as powerful and moving as any other piece he wrote. The heavy emphasis on the lordship and glorification of Jesus Christ is a fitting meditation on his person and mission, especially since the Gospel readings at Mass for this time in the liturgical year (after Laetare Sunday and Passion Sunday) were traditionally drawn heavily from the Gospel of St. John. It may be a bit of a surprise, but some of the ideas to be found in the Lutheran Bach's work mesh very well with Catholic theology.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

If I Die a Horrific, Untimely Death...

There have been various reports and comments on claims that the FBI is unable to vet refugees coming from Syria, leaving us vulnerable to infiltration by ISIS. These are part of a larger debate about what we must do to stop terrorism, a debate that often begins with the assertion that if we do not implement a certain policy, we will be powerless to avert another ghastly terrorist attack. Let us lay aside our analytic doubts, and assume this assertion is true. Let us further assume that I would be among the casualties of such an attack.

If I die a horrific, untimely death at the hands of terrorists, let me go on record as having made a few requests. Do not use my death as a justification to expel refugees from our country or turn back those "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" who have not yet reached our shores.  (I rather doubt the Mother of Exiles would approve.)  Although highway accidents are far more deadly than terrorists, no one has yet called for the abolition of highways. Let us treat the afflicted of this world at least as well as our roads.

Although hypothetical, I do not take this position lightly. I have a wife and children to care for; I would not want to see them widowed and orphaned, even in a thought experiment. But I do not think I could look them in the eye and tell them, "I am here, able to love and serve you each day, because we have denied the demands of solidarity on the basis of fear (and a fear which is probably much overstated at that)." My children need a father, but they do not need a cowardly one. If I am willing to take up arms in defense of my country - and I am, should it truly come to that - I should also be willing to lay down my life while doing more prosaic things.

So if I die a horrific, untimely death, please pray for my immortal soul, bring to justice my killers, and leave the refugees alone.

Photo credit: The UNODC website.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Church on War and Peace

Like the previous post, this column originally appeared on the Truth & Charity Forum as part of their series on electoral issues.

The Catholic Church’s teachings regarding war and peace are challenging. While we happily affirm the general superiority of peace over war, violence has become so commonplace–abroad, on our streets, and in our entertainment–that it seems inevitable. We have accepted it as a problem to be managed and not an evil to abhor. But the Church calls us to a sharper moral awareness, one which actively strives for the good of peace, while permitting, in very limited circumstances, defensive warfare. Leaders and everyday citizens alike need to rediscover the mind of the Church in this matter.

The Good of Peace and the Evil of War

The Bible lavishly praises peace, which produces prosperity (Is 48:19, 54:13), takes away fear (Lev 26:6), and brings about joy (Pr. 12:20). The prophet Isaiah described Jesus as the Prince of Peace (9:5), a vision echoed by St. Paul (Eph 2:14-16). St. John Paul II explained that Christianity ushers in “a new model of the unity of the human race,… [a] supreme model of unity, which is a reflection of the intimate life of God, one God in three Persons.” Inspired by the peace of Christ and the unity of the Trinity, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches that “working for peace can never be separated from announcing the Gospel.”

Vatican II reminded us that “peace is not merely the absence of war,” as contemporary society often understands it, frequently maintained by nothing more than a balance of power. Rather, peace is the order of tranquility. Recent popes have made clear that peace is predicated on respect for human rights, pursuit of justice, and the fostering of “a true culture of peace.” But even justice is not sufficient. In our fallen world of sin and injury, “true and lasting peace is more a matter of love than of justice,” as Pope Pius XI reminded us in 1922.

Just as the Bible praises peace, it clearly teaches that violence is the fruit of sin, a rupturing of the harmony that God created (cf. Gen 1:4-31, 4:1-16). The Church forcefully teaches that “violence is evil…, that violence is unworthy of man.  Violence is a lie,” as John Paul II put it. “Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”  Thus, any recourse to violence–and the Church does permit such recourse, in limited circumstances–must be understood as part of a larger failure of morality and of statecraft.

Waging Just War

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that states which have been attacked by foreign aggressors have the right–indeed the duty–to defend their people, even to the point of waging war. Likewise, the Compendium, following the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, explains that “it is legitimate [for those being oppressed] to resist authority should it violate in a serious or repeated manner the essential principles of natural law.” Nevertheless, it goes on to explain, “There can be many different concrete ways this right [of resistance] may be exercised; there are also many different ends that may be pursued,” ranging from legal changes to revolution or revolt.

In order for war to be legitimate, the Catechism identifies several conditions which must be met:

The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain. Paul VI noted that recourse should only be made to arms when there is a “manifest, longstanding tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good.” Thus the Compendium specifically notes that “engaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions.”

All other means of putting an end to [the damage] must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective. The Church encourages “general, balanced and controlled disarmament.” While this may, in the long term, reduce conflict, arms control negotiations are apt to prove fruitless in the face of imminent hostilities. But merely because this tool cannot solve all problems does not mean that it is useless or that Catholics can simply lay it aside. In the short term, states have other tools to be tried or considered before war; among these the Compendium makes particular mention of sanctions. States can also employ both traditional and public diplomacy, while individuals and groups can engage in passive resistance in the economic, cultural, and political realms.

There must be serious prospects of success. The Church frequently warns of the propensity for violence to beget additional violence. The Compendium describes war as “an adventure without return” that “creates new and still more complicated conflicts.” Thus, any recourse to arms must be supported by robust diplomacy and intelligence, to adequately understand the situation, coupled with vigorous efforts to contain the conflict and ultimately bring about peace.

The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The Church has long taught that a just cause (jus ad bellum) is insufficient to make a war just; it must be accompanied by just conduct (jus in bello). As the Second Vatican Council put it, “the mere fact that war has unhappily begun” does not “mean that all is fair between the warring parties.” The Catechism teaches that “non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely” and that soldiers are obligated to disobey orders to commit genocide or other crimes against humanity. “The violation of human dignity can never be justified by military necessity or political strategy,” John Paul warned.

In addition to just wars waged by states, the Compendium also teaches that “the international community as a whole has the moral obligation to intervene on behalf of those groups whose very survival is threatened or whose basic human rights are seriously violated. As members of an international community, States cannot remain indifferent.”  Should all other methods prove fruitless, John Paul noted that it is “legitimate and even obligatory” in such circumstances, “to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor.”  While such actions should be taken in accordance with international law, the Compendium clarifies that claims of national sovereignty alone do not suffice to prevent such international intervention.

Working for Peace

Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Mt 5:9).  As the Compendium reminds us, “peace is built up day after day” and is the duty of everyone.  In the spirit of subsidiarity, peace should be “a value rooted deep within the heart of every person. In this way it can spread to families and to the different associations within society until the whole of the political community is involved.” Authentic development–which includes not only economic concerns but also political, cultural, and spiritual–is one of the primary means by which peace is promoted, removing many of the underlying causes of war.

While admitting the occasional permissibility of war, the Compendium teaches that “the contemporary world too needs the witness of unarmed prophets, who are often the objects of ridicule.” Such individuals might be clergy or laity, missionaries or diplomats, journalists or aid workers. When thinking about both our everyday engagement with the international community and our prosecution of war, we must not only allow a place for such voices, but even encourage them and incorporate them into broader policies, lest we risk forgetting that just war is an exception and not the Christian norm.

Ultimately, the Christian search for peace is not simply a diplomatic or humanitarian effort, though it includes these. Jesus tell us, “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give” (Jn 14:27). We are reminded that “true peace is made possible only through forgiveness and reconciliation.”  This is something that requires supernatural grace. For man, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible (cf. Mt 19:26). This is our hope and our calling amidst a broken world.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Church on Politics: Solidarity and Subsidiarity

With a fever pitch of political debate swirling about the various primary races, I thought it was worth reposting here a column that I wrote for the Truth & Charity Forum last month, as part of their larger series on election issues.

Solidarity and Subsidiarity

Much of contemporary political discourse consists of a debate between two camps: those who argue, “We need to do something about…” and those who contend that, “It’s not the government’s responsibility to…” The Catholic Church teaches that each approach, by itself, is inadequate. Ideologies derived from such sentiments should not be the yardstick of Catholic political activity. Rather, the Church presents to us two principles – solidarity and subsidiarity – which, together, provide a balanced and holistic means of thinking about political and social topics.

Solidarity is not a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38). Nor is it simply interdependence, which is a circumstance in which we find ourselves, whether we like it or not (CSDC, 193). Rather, solidarity is an active concern for the good of society as a whole, as well as all of its individual members. Because all men are equal in “dignity and rights”, (CSDC, 192) all men have a legitimate claim on our concern.

In the life of Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, we have the ultimate model of solidarity: a God who stoops to become one of us, “like us in all things but sin” (Heb 4:15). He “takes on the infirmities of his people, walks with them, saves them and makes them one” (CSDC, 423). Jesus teaches us not to lord over our neighbors, but to love them, for when we love our neighbors we love Him (Mt. 20:25, 25:40). In the light of Jesus’ concern for all humanity, we discover that society itself, “despite all its contradictions and ambiguities, can be rediscovered as a place of life and hope” (CSDC, 196). As Christians, we are called to embrace society.

But human society is a broken place. Solidarity requires that we overcome the “structures of sin” which divide society and replace them with new structures that embody a “firm and persevering determination to [seek]… the common good” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 36, 38). St. John Paul II warned that the path toward overcoming structures of sin “is long and complex, and what is more it is constantly threatened because of the intrinsic frailty of human resolutions and achievements, and because of the mutability of very unpredictable and external circumstances. Nevertheless, one must have the courage to set out on this path, and, where some steps have been taken or a part of the journey made, the courage to go on to the end” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38). The Church reminds us that we are “debtors of the society of which [we] have become part” (CSDC 195). Culture, scientific knowledge, and other goods – both material and immaterial – have been produced and shared with us by the rest of humanity, across generations and often across borders. Thus, solidarity is not an act of generosity on our part toward the less fortunate, but an act of justice.

Any Catholic thinking seriously about politics must bear in mind our fraternal concern for all mankind and the concrete ways in which it can be realized. The Church demands no less.

Complementing this teaching on solidarity is the doctrine of subsidiarity. Pius XI explained subsidiarity in this way: “It is an injustice,… a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do” (Quadragesimo Anno, 203). Or, as John Paul put it, “Needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need” (Centesimus Annus, 48).

The Church’s long-standing affirmation of subsidiarity is rooted in her concern for families and the various local associations which naturally arise in human society (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1882). Such relationships among individuals promote creativity, strengthen society, and are the basis on which higher forms of social activity are built (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 15; Centesimus Annus, 49). Thus, the Church clearly teaches that the state should not impinge upon the legitimate freedom and responsibility of smaller bodies (CSDC, 186). While still affirming the importance of solidarity and of state support to local institutions, John Paul cautioned that overly centralized social programs can become dominated by bureaucracy, rather than fraternal concern, and, like big business monopolies, sap individuals and local organizations of their energy (Centesimus Annus, 48). Even when the state must carry out functions which it alone can provide, these “must not continue any longer than is absolutely necessary,” so that smaller associations are safeguarded (CSDC, 188).

Rather than simply offering a negative message – that the state should mind its own business – Christian subsidiarity should be understood as a call to strengthen and enliven local institutions, among them families, parishes, school boards, small business associations, artists guilds, charitable groups, and more. Such groups must be reminded that, though largely private in nature, they serve a broader function for the good of society (CSDC, 187). They are the primary means by which we fulfill our duties of solidarity. When parishes house the homeless, local businesses offer training to immigrants, or fraternal organizations raise money for their neighbors harmed by natural disasters, they are simultaneously living out both solidarity and subsidiarity.

This is the mindset of the Church. Though similar, at points, to some elements of contemporary political ideology, it is markedly different in its overall outlook, which is rooted in the dignity of individuals and our common good, which is ultimately found in God. Catholics voters, bombarded by increasingly shrill demands on their allegiances, would do well to take solidarity and subsidiarity to heart as they seek to provide faithful witness in the political and social sphere.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow

Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13).

1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.

It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2 Jn 12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.

2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents.

It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way. The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.

3. By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the “Old World”, we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

4. We thank God for the gifts received from the coming into the world of His only Son. We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate. Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the “seed of Christians”.

5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: “So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you … so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:21).

6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!

7. In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.

8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.

10. Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands.

We call upon all those whose influence can be brought to bear upon the destiny of those kidnapped, including the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and John Ibrahim, who were taken in April 2013, to make every effort to ensure their prompt liberation.

11. We lift our prayers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, asking for the return of peace in the Middle East, “the fruit of justice” (Is 32:17), so that fraternal co–existence among the various populations, Churches and religions may be strengthened, enabling refugees to return to their homes, wounds to be healed, and the souls of the slain innocent to rest in peace.

We address, in a fervent appeal, all the parts that may be involved in the conflicts to demonstrate good will and to take part in the negotiating table. At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action. We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

12. We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Pet 4:12–13).

13. Interreligious dialogue is indispensable in our disturbing times. Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony. In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions. Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable. No crime may be committed in God’s name, “since God is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33).

14. In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions. Christian communities undertake notable works in the fields of charitable aid and social development, providing diversified forms of assistance to the needy.

Orthodox and Catholics often work side by side. Giving witness to the values of the Gospel they attest to the existence of the shared spiritual foundations of human co–existence.

15. At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.

16. The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.

17. Our gaze is also directed to those facing serious difficulties, who live in extreme need and poverty while the material wealth of humanity increases. We cannot remain indifferent to the destinies of millions of migrants and refugees knocking on the doors of wealthy nations. The unrelenting consumerism of some more developed countries is gradually depleting the resources of our planet. The growing inequality in the distribution of material goods increases the feeling of the injustice of the international order that has emerged.

18. The Christian churches are called to defend the demands of justice, the respect for peoples’ traditions, and an authentic solidarity towards all those who suffer. We Christians cannot forget that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor 1:27–29).

19. The family is the natural centre of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries. Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.

20. The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.

21. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf. Gen 4:10).

The emergence of so-called euthanasia leads elderly people and the disabled begin to feel that they are a burden on their families and on society in general.

We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God. We believe that it is our duty to recall the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.

22. Today, in a particular way, we address young Christians. You, young people, have the task of not hiding your talent in the ground (cf. Mt 25:25), but of using all the abilities God has given you to confirm Christ’s truth in the world, incarnating in your own lives the evangelical commandments of the love of God and of one’s neighbour. Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming.

23. God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:14, 16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt 13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1 Cor 6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ.

24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.

We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another’s foundation” (Rm 15:20).

25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.

27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.

28. In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). This world, in which the spiritual pillars of human existence are progressively disappearing, awaits from us a compelling Christian witness in all spheres of personal and social life. Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.

29. May our bold witness to God’s truth and to the Good News of salvation be sustained by the Man–God Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who strengthens us with the unfailing promise: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32)!

Christ is the well–spring of joy and hope. Faith in Him transfigures human life, fills it with meaning. This is the conviction borne of the experience of all those to whom Peter refers in his words: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10).

30. With grace–filled gratitude for the gift of mutual understanding manifested during our meeting, let us with hope turn to the Most Holy Mother of God, invoking her with the words of this ancient prayer: “We seek refuge under the protection of your mercy, Holy Mother of God”. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!

Bishop of Rome, Pope of the Catholic Church

Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia

12 February 2016, Havana (Cuba)

Text courtesy of the Acton Institute's website.