The Angels as a Political Problem

September 29, 2009


The Feast of the Archangels always makes me—and others, I suspect—acutely aware of the divide between contemporary and ancient religious sensibilities. Angels—once as present in Christendom’s social imaginary as microbes in our own—no longer loom large. Perhaps mothers still say the “Angel of God” prayer with their children before bed (as my own mother did with me), but such devotions usually do not outlive Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

The ostensible explanation of our disenchantment with the angels points to technological progress. Read the rest of this entry »

Since They See That All Are Going Down to Hell…

September 24, 2009

9780316113786_388X586-743553At the beginning of the second week of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius asks the retreatant to call to mind the three persons of the trinity as they “look down upon the whole expanse or circuit of all the earth, filled with human beings.” They decide that the second person of the trinity, “should become man to save the human race” since humankind is in a pretty deplorable state, i.e. “going down to hell.” The retreatant may imagine all sorts of scenarios that might move the three persons of the trinity to send the second one on such a mission of salvation. However, Ignatius says that the retreatant should ask for one thing as a result of this contemplation–“an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.” Read the rest of this entry »

Justice and the C.I.A.

September 22, 2009

In the wake of a conversation with a friend, and as I prepare something longer, I wanted to get a poll from readers on the current investigation of actions of the C.I.A. towards prisioners.  Or, more widely, whether or not an investigation should be launched of the members of the Bush administration, and even Bush himself, for war crimes.  The thoughts came in lue of the following memorable quotes from “A Man for All Seasons.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Ratzinger on Christ’s Descent into Hell

September 22, 2009

 Christ's Descent into Hell by Maulleigh.

Many WD readers will recall the theological skirmish which once, twice, and thrice erupted on the pages of First Things two and a half years ago.  The warring parties were Alyssa Lyra Pitstick and Fr. Edward T. Oakes, S.J.  The point in question was Hans Urs von Balthasar’s controversial Holy Saturday theology, wherein he argues that Christ’s descent into hell was a passive, i.e., suffering, descent.  The traditional Holy Saturday motif is of the triumphant Christ descending in glory.  Pitstick argued that it is “undeniable that [Balthasar’s] theology of Christ’s descent entails a de facto, and sometimes even conscious, rejection of Catholic tradition.”  Oakes defended Balthasar’s orthodoxy, proposing that Pitstick’s “real service has been to argue against Balthasar so disagreeably that she will end up midwifing his theology into the mainstream of Church thinking.” Read the rest of this entry »

Do you believe in status?

September 21, 2009

Unlike my fellow contributor, Aaron Pidel, S.J., who reads genuine sociologists like Mary Douglas, my tastes these days run toward the trivial musings of Christian Lander.  In 2008, with an unfinished Ph.D. and an office job, he started writing whimsical posts on a blog he titled “Stuff White People Like.” Don’t immediately think the worst: it is not the rantings of a white-supremacist, or some strange fashion guide.  It is faux-sociology, written from the point of view of a non-white guide who describes the strange traits of white people.  Amusing, short, and often sloppily written, the posts went along for a while attracting little notice, until, as they say, his blog “blew up.”  Now he has a published book, and claims to have been read 62 million times.

What’s the hook? Read the rest of this entry »

Bellarmine and Galileo

September 17, 2009


St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), whose feast the Church celebrates today, was in many ways a remarkable man.  One of the few charges that the tribunal of history ever leveled against him was his opposition to Galileo, the great hero of scientific freedom.  The many myths surrounding the Galileo affair have been propounded and exploded too many times to count.  Even the defiant rejoinder, “Eppur si muove” (“Yet it moves”), seems to have been the fabrication of polemical historians.  Yet it too “moves” from generation to generation as a slogan of the dignity of conscience and the density of the Church.

The true story is, of course, more complicated.  As it turns out, Bellarmine and Galileo were both partly right. Read the rest of this entry »

Mythos and Logos

September 15, 2009

An interesting interchange betwee Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong on belief and evolution in the Wall Street Journal.  In particular, I thought the distinction she makes between logos and mythos can be helpful for properly reading Scripture literally:

Most cultures believed that there were two recognized ways of arriving at truth. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were essential and neither was superior to the other; they were not in conflict but complementary, each with its own sphere of competence. Logos (“reason”) was the pragmatic mode of thought that enabled us to function effectively in the world and had, therefore, to correspond accurately to external reality. But it could not assuage human grief or find ultimate meaning in life’s struggle. For that people turned to mythos, stories that made no pretensions to historical accuracy but should rather be seen as an early form of psychology; if translated into ritual or ethical action, a good myth showed you how to cope with mortality, discover an inner source of strength, and endure pain and sorrow with serenity.