The Mass in literature, part 4

This isn’t the Mass per se, but …

“Stephen Maturin was in fact sitting on a bench in the abbey church of St. Simon’s, listening to the monks singing vespers. He too was dinnerless, but in this case it was voluntary and prudential, a penance for lusting after Laura Fielding and (he hoped) a means of reducing his concupiscence: to begin with his pagan stomach had cried out against this treatment, and indeed it had gone on grumbling until the end of the first antiphon. Yet for some time now Stephen had been in what might almost have been called a state of grace, stomach, break-back bench, carnal desires all forgotten, he being wafted along on the rise and fall of the ancient, intimately familiar plainchant. …

“Their abbot was a very aged man; he had known the last three Grand Masters, he had seen the coming of the French and then of the English, and now his frail but true old voice drifted through the half-ruined aisles pure, impersonal, quite detached from worldly things; and his monks followed him, their song rising and falling like the swell of a gentle sea.

“There were few people in the church and those few could hardly be seen except when they moved past the candles in the side-chapels, most of them being women, whose black, tent-like faldettas merged with the shadows; but when at the end of the service Stephen turned by the holy-water stoup near the door to pay his respects to the altar, he noticed a man sitting near one of the pillars, dabbing his eyes with his handkerchief….”

Patrick O’Brian, Treason’s Harbor (1983).

(See also Part 1 (last three quoted paragraphs), Part 2, Part 3.)

The immediate book meme

There are plenty of memes that want to know all about your book history and your all-time greats and your grand ambitions, but let’s focus on something more revealing: the books you’re actually reading now, or just read, or are about to read. Let’s call it The Immediate Book Meme. [H/T to Mrs. Darwin.]

1. What book are you reading now?

The Templars: The Dramatic History of the Knights Templar, the Most Powerful Military Order of the Crusades by Piers Paul Read

Dissent from the Creed: Heresies Past and Present by Richard M. Hogan

Treason’s Harbor by Patrick O’Brian

2. What book did you just finish?

The Ionian Mission by Patrick O’Brian

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

3. What do you plan to read next?

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

Summa Theologica

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

6. What is your current reading trend?

Fiction by Charles Dickens and Patrick O’Brian (escape to the past to avoid contemplating the distressing present?)

How about you?

Must doubt accompany faith?

Faith has traditionally been known as one of the three theological virtues, along with hope and charity. But who would ever say that uncharity is a necessary compliment to charity? Or that Christians can never have hope without despair? Yet people seem blind to the absurdity of saying that doubt must accompany faith.

Is philosophy necessary to Christianity?

Some may recall that ten years ago, Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech at the University of Regensburg in Germany, which proved to be an occasion for worldwide controversy. The controversy arose from just a few sentences out of 4,000 words, in which he was accused, among other things, of branding Islam unreasonable, citing Ibn Hazm for the proposition that God is above reason and is “not bound even by his own word.”

But the Pope’s real concern “was less … Islam’s view of God’s nature than … the ways in which Christianity’s treatments of the place of reason has developed — and occasionally deteriorated — at different points of history”, including the present. “Benedict sought to draw our attention to … the waves of what he called ‘dehellenization’ which have surged through Christianity and the West at different points.”

“By dehellenization, Benedict meant any fading of the commitment to coherent philosophical reasoning which Christianity partly absorbed from the Greek world and used to further apprehend the truth which permeates the Scriptures.” “[T]o Benedict’s mind, ‘The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance.’ Christian faith needed philosophy. It needed the tools of rational inquiry inscribed into man’s very reason: the same reason which itself is derived from the same God revealed in the Scriptures.” (A point I made here; see also this and this.)

From here on I will just quote from the article “Regensburg Revisited: Ten Years Later, A West Still in Denial” by Dr. Samuel Gregg (Catholic World Report, April 4, 2016) (from which the above quotes are also taken):

“Logos, for the Greeks, was not only a word for Divine Reason. It also meant to reason and explain one’s thoughts. The dismissal of Logos thus implies a choice to (1) decline to think critically, (2) refuse to debate and (3) shut off the capacity to give an account of what one believes in intelligible terms.

“Once such a choice has been made, three options remain. One is that which has been chosen by Islamic jihadists-violence replaces reason, and reason is subordinated to a Divine Will that itself has no interest in reasonableness. The second is mass sentimentalism and appeals to emotivism to terminate perfectly legitimate debates. The third is to reduce reason to its empirical dimension.

“Empirical and scientific reason have, Benedict affirmed at Regensburg, their place. They have been the source of much genuine progress and technological developments for which, he said, ‘we are all grateful.’ The downside is that empirical reason is ill-equipped to address, for instance, issues of good and evil or discern the proper ends of human choice and action. To the extent that they try to do so, such modes of reasoning cannot help but lurch in the direction of utilitarianism: that which tries to determine good and evil by seeking to measure that which cannot be quantitatively measured.

“These are just some examples of how, as Benedict stated at Regensburg, ‘The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality and can only suffer great harm thereby.’ The only way out of this cul-de-sac is to acknowledge that reason has greater breadth and depth which includes but also goes beyond the natural and social sciences. This, however, raises the question from where such reason comes. At that point, many Western minds turn away and decline to consider this matter. Why? Because it points straight to the question of God — an entity that much of the West has for some time been trying to do without, or reduce to the status of a soft-toy, which amounts to much the same thing.

*  *  *

“According to Benedict, [the] God of the Bible is also Divine Reason. To act in defiance of the Truth who is the revealed God is thus to act against reason. That is why the first verse of the Gospel of Saint John matters so much. When its author penned the words ‘In the beginning was the Logos,’ part of the point was to ground Logos in the God who manifests himself in the Book of Genesis, who identifies himself to Moses as ‘I AM’ (and thus as a real being rather than a myth or an idol created by human hands), and who Christianity teaches is definitively revealed in Christ. For, Benedict noted, ‘Logos means both reason and word — a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason.’

*  *  *

“Yet for all Christianity’s attention to reason, Christians have not always managed the relationship between faith and reason, Revelation and philosophy, very well. The Protestant Reformation was partly a reaction against the hyper-scholasticism that — as no less than Catholic saints like Thomas More lamented at the time — characterized much Catholic thinking in the late-fifteenth century and which seemed to marginalize Scripture. This very real problem led, Benedict commented, many Reformers to believe that ‘they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy.’

“At Regensburg, however, Benedict sought to draw our attention to the flip-side of this problem: the waves of what he called ‘dehellenization’ which have surged through Christianity and the West at different points. By dehellenization, Benedict meant any fading of the commitment to coherent philosophical reasoning which Christianity partly absorbed from the Greek world and used to further apprehend the truth which permeates the Scriptures.

“Whenever such distancing from reason has occurred, some Christians have embraced a type of submission to God that avoids or even discourages exploration of the ‘whys’ of such obedience. On the other end of the spectrum, Benedict argued, many theologians from the nineteenth century onwards increasingly fell (like much of the academy) into the trap of equating reason with empirical methods of inquiry. They thus gradually ceased to think about Christ and Revelation from any standpoint other than that which could be verified by scientific research methods.

“Hence, in the words of James V. Schall SJ, ‘In eliminating philosophy from Scripture, we ended up by eliminating the divinity of Christ.’ And that, for all intents and purposes, nullifies the essence of Christianity. In this light, we see that the marginalization of Logos leads straight to the disappearance of natural theology, attempts to replace natural law with consequentialist ethics, a habit of excessive deference to disciplines such as sociology or psychology, and the insistence that people’s experiences trumps the conclusions of sound moral reasoning when we assess the goodness or otherwise of our choices.”

Encouragement in an age of unbelief

“The Church does not grow old, the faith does not grow old, the Holy Ghost does not grow old; say not, The days that have been are better than those which are. We can go into this city and find as strong faith, as tender piety, as thorough self-annihilation, as the world in any age ever witnessed. God is as near us as ever; we have all the aids we ever had, and we may emulate the virtues of any past age. God has not changed; his religion has not changed; man’s nature has not changed. What was possible aforetime is possible now. Let us not, then, suppose we have come too late into the world to aspire to holy living. Let us turn our eyes, not out upon the barren wilderness without, but in upon the vast treasures we have been accumulating for ages, and dare use them.

“Who cares for the heretics and infidels around us, — except for their conversion? They cannot harm us against our will. Were not the early Christians in a hostile world? Were they not surrounded by Jewish and Pagan relatives and friends? Had they not apparently even greater obstacles than we to overcome? Why, then, shall we not speak to this age as they spoke to theirs? Suppose we are sneered at, ridiculed, abused, insulted, trampled on. Suppose the world becomes mad against us, mobs us, shoots us down, sends us to dungeons, the scaffold, or the stake; worse it cannot do. Suppose all this. What then? We have only to rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Woe unto us only when all men speak well of us. Woe unto us only when we prefer the praise of men to the praise of God.”

Orestes Brownson, “St. Stanslaus Kotska”, Brownson’s Quarterly Review, October, 1847. (H/T to Siris.)

Is the Pope causing confusion?

I think he is. Some don’t. I thought I would start posting examples of people being evidently confused by the messages being sent by Pope Francis:

“You may argue that the bible tells you to go to church and observe the sabbath and by not doing so I can’t stake a claim in living as a catholic is intended too. Or just by believing and practicing on my own terms is not ok, and that’s alright. To each his own. Society has evolved and the practice of religion should evolve along with it if retaining the younger generation is to happen. Which is why I admire the philosophies and teachings of Pope Francis. I can relate to what he says and am constantly in awe at how he has identified with current society and adapted the scripture to today’s context. His lenten message was no different to the way I lead my life on a daily basis, and all that is essentially part of what the bible asks you to do in the first place.”

A Perspective on Faith,” Notes on Mirrors blog, April 18, 2016.

“Reducing the stigma around divorced couples is not the church saying divorce is okay. It’s the church’s way of adapting to the changing family values and definitions of what it means to be a family.

“Francis … recognized that life isn’t always perfect. Sometimes marriages just don’t work out, but these couples are now encouraged to continue to be an active member of the church and to receive the nourishment from the Eucharist.

“So that’s a leap forward in one aspect of family life.”

Rosie Kean, “The Definition of Family is Evolving But Will the Church Evolve with It?,” The Writer’s Bloc blog, April 18, 2016.