Category Archives: Roman Catholicism

The one true church of the Apocalypse, or the harlot of Revelation? You decide.

Translating Bossuet was Really Worth It After All

With Holy Week behind us, I’d like to stop and note an interesting email dialogue.  My persistent (well, sometimes) Canadian commenter took a catty swipe at my translations of Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, which is an ongoing project of mine.

Evidently someone else thinks highly of the effort.  I received this from Dr. Mitchell Ginsburg of the University of California at San Diego re my translation of Bossuet’s Sermon on the Profession of Mlle de la Vallière:

I have come across the rendering from the French at the above cite. It strikes me as the most accurate rendering of the original sermon by ‘Abbé Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet that I have been able to find (even more so than in some old texts giving an English version, from the 1800s!) and would like to give the source…

I am fairly fluent in French (my wife is French and we’ve also lived in France in the past and I am a dual national, so I can vote in the upcoming French elections, as well as in California and US elections of course), so I was surprised by some of the “translations” and “excerpts” from Bossuet that I could download online that had no corresponding text in the French (parts of the “sermon” being sheer inventions on the part of the English-language editor, I’d say). I only ran across Bossuet when I was doing research on Hafiz, and found some essays by the man who became the very first professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge Univ.—I hadn’t heard of him but in reading about him I recognized some of his colleagues and even students.
(He apparently was fluent in Western languages including Latin and Greek–the old school of Classical education) as well as Arabic, Farsi, Sanskrit, Hindi, and so forth, and in one essay, in passing to set the stage for a discussion of Rumi, he spoke highly of Bossuet… the winding path of curiosity and linked ideas! ;o)

For someone whose fluency in French certainly exceeds mine, that’s a high compliment.  And an inspection of his website will show that he looks at things differently than I do.  That’s not a novelty with me; that was also the case with Ron Krumpos.

More on my Bossuet translation project is here.  There’s something universal in his appeal, and that makes the project worthwhile.

Without Clouds: A Good Friday Reflection

Recently I was speaking with a Nigerian pastor about current attitudes towards adversity in life.  I have seen many concerned about the effect of prosperity teaching on African Christians, and this pastor certainly practices an approach to ministry that is full of faith.  But he also accepts the reality that there will be adversity in life, that bad things will come along, even to God’s faithful.

That reminded me of a song that we used to sing in the Texas A&M Newman Association, the Dameans’ “Without Clouds:”

(Personally, I think our Texas-raised musicians did a better performance job than those, ahem, across the Sabine, but I digress…)

The refrain is as follows:

“Without clouds, the rain can’t wash the land
Without rain, the grass won’t hide the sand
Without grass, the flower’s bloom won’t grow
Without pain, the joy in life won’t show”

When I first heard this, I was going through Aquinas’ Summa, and he makes the following observation about the effect of adversity on the just:

“Justice and mercy appear in the punishment of the just in this world, since by afflictions lesser faults are cleansed in them, and they are the more raised up from earthly affections to God. As to this Gregory says (Moral. xxvi, 9): “The evils that press on us in this world force us to go to God.” (Summa Theologiae, Ia, 21.4 ad 3)

The emphasis is a little different in each, but the root idea is the same: adversity has the potential for good to come out of it.  I came to know this as “Without Clouds Theology.”

Many secularists (including newly minted ones like Bart Campolo) have disliked this whole concept, but what’s disturbing to me is that, in the intervening time, many American Christians have come to dislike it too.  Oh, they won’t say it directly, but we have the plague of “Open Theology,” and torturous attempts to explain the problem such as The Shack.  The simple fact of the matter is that too many American Christians have adopted the idea that life should be free of adversity or pain.

This idea didn’t come out of the blue; it comes from the culture, a culture that leads the church more often than the other way around.  To a large extent that belief has destabilised our culture and our country.  We can’t even stand the idea of people disagreeing with us let alone inflicting real pain; both UC Berkeley and Middlebury College saw violence to keep up a “safe space” for their true believers.  (You’d think that someone would point out that a group of white people with Murray’s supposedly higher IQ would have more to show for it then they do, but I digress…)

Now, of course, we have those who consider the Passion of Our Lord as “child abuse,” since the Father willed that the Son go to the Cross for the salvation of all people.  It never occurs to people like this that, to be in the “happy” state where they are, those in the past have sacrificed and suffered in a secular sense.    And those who did suffer and sacrifice knew that such was necessary to carry out what needed to be done.

It is in this context that the suitability of Our Lord’s saving act on the Cross must be seen.  It’s a reminder that the adversity of his suffering and death lead to the victory on Easter morning.  In the past the general state of life reminded people of the necessity of the Passion; now the accomplishment of the Passion must not only be the road to salvation, but also a reminder that the road to victory often runs through the land of pain, suffering and adversity.

Seeing, therefore, that there is on every side of us such a throng of witnesses, let us also lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the Leader and perfect Example of our faith, who, for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame, and now ‘has taken his seat at the right hand’ of the throne of God.  (Heb 12:1-2 TCNT)

The Way You’d Really Like a Young Person to Start Bible Study

On his or her own initiative, as was the case with Bossuet.  From R. de la Broise’s Bossuet and the Bible, pp. xiv-xv:

He was fifteen years old when a happy coincidence came to mind.  His father, who returned to Dijon from time to time, led him (Bossuet) to his office.  There the young man “threw his hand on a Latin Bible, which he took with his father’s permission.  It was the first time, studying in secondary school or in rhetoric, when he opened the holy Books.  He found a taste and a sublimity which made him prefer it to everything he had read until then.  He remembered and recalled it with pleasure, all through his life, when he had touched this reading for the first time.  This moment was always present and living to him as it was the first time, as his soul was struck with these things which left him with a more profound impression of joy and lights.”

First note: that the Bible was in Latin wasn’t an obstacle for Bossuet or for most educated people of the day.

Bossuet had been raised with both extracts from the Scriptures and of course the cycle of lectionary readings that came with the Mass.  But the enthusiasm with which he studied the Scriptures themselves is significant.

Evangelicals are always looking for ways to get their young people to read and study the Bible.  And, truth be told, their efforts have not been match by the results: Biblical ignorance remains a serious problem these days, as shown by the popularity of things such as The Shack.

I think the core of the problem is that the method of Evangelicals is geared toward those who lack basic curiosity about things.  As a result little is left to the imagination, especially in Biblical studies since the idea hangs on the Bible more than it hangs on God.  For many this works, but I am not convinced that it works for the kinds of leaders that Evangelicalism claims to be so enamoured with.

The liturgical system presents a temporal framework for the presentation of eternal truth.  Sooner or later some will attempt to go “behind the curtain” and that’s what happened with Bossuet and the Scriptures.  May our presentation of God’s truth inspire that in more people!

The Five Lessons of Creation

From Philo Judaeus, On the Creation of the World, LXI:

And in his before mentioned account of the creation of the world, Moses teaches us also many other things, and especially five most beautiful lessons which are superior to all others.

  1. In the first place, for the sake of convicting the atheists, he teaches us that the Deity has a real being and existence. Now, of the atheists, some have only doubted of the existence of God, stating it to be an uncertain thing ; but others, who are more audacious, have taken courage, and asserted positively that there is no such thing; but this is affirmed only by men who have darkened the truth with fabulous inventions.

  2. In the second place he teaches us that God is one; having reference here to the assertors of the polytheistic doctrine men who do not blush to transfer that worst of evil constitutions, ochlocracy, from earth to heaven.

  3. Thirdly, he teaches, as has been already related, that the world was created; by this lesson refuting those who think that it is uncreated and eternal, and who thus attribute no glory to God.

  4. In the fourth place we learn that the world also which was thus created is one, since also the Creator is one, and he,making his creation to resemble himself in its singleness, employed all existing essence in the creation of the universe. For it would not have been complete if it had not been made and composed of all parts which were likewise whole and complete. For there are some persons who believe that there are many worlds, and some who even fancy that they are boundless in extent, being themselves inexperienced and ignorant of the truth of those things of which it is desirable to have a correct knowledge.

  5. The fifth lesson that Moses teaches us is, that God exerts his providence for the benefit of the world. For it follows of necessity that the Creator must always care for that which he has created, just as parents do also care for their children. And he who has learnt this not more by hearing it than by his own understanding, and has impressed on his own soul these marvellous facts which are the subject of so much contention namely, that God has a being and existence, and that he who so exists is really one, and that he has created the world, and that he has created it one as has been stated, having made it like to himself in singleness; and that he exercises a continual care for that which he has created will live a happy and blessed life, stamped with the doctrines of piety and holiness.

I would suggest that you (especially if you’re NEC) read this in light of this piece.

Paul Quinlan: Run Like a Deer

FEL  S-092 (1967)

The ink (printed or handwritten) had barely dried on the Second Vatican Council’s documents when Catholic composers and artists began to write songs for what we call the “old folk Mass” but what was revolutionary then.  Leading the pack (in quantity at least) was Paul Quinlan, S.J., who produced an enormous number of songs that resonated in many Catholic churches during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Most of the songs on this album are drawn from the Psalms, which was a favourite well for Quinlan to draw from.  It’s hard to expect even output from someone as prolific as Quinlan, but some of his songs are very memorable; I know that my group at Texas A&M made good use of “Song of Thanks.”

As far as his style is concerned, it’s a very sparse, mid-60’s folk style.  That will go down well with some people but many who came after him performed his work in a richer style.  An interesting comparison can be made with his “Glory to God,” which appears (albeit in rehearsal mode) on this recording.

As the 1970’s wore on and NALR’s productions slowly came to dominate the folk Mass scene, much of Quinlan’s work fell by the wayside.  Today of course we have the #straightouttairondale people who ban the folk Mass altogether, but this album is a nice reminder of what people can do when they start with a “clean slate.”

The songs:

  1. Lord You See Me (Ps 139)
  2. Run Like A Dear (Ps 11)
  3. Glory To God (Ps 122)
  4. O Praise The Lord (Ps 150)
  5. Glory To The Father (Ps 92)
  6. God Arises (Ps 68)
  7. Clap Your Hands (Ps 47)
  8. The Lord Is My Shepherd (Ps 23)
  9. Not To Us O Lord (Ps 115)
  10. Come Let Us Sing (Ps 95)
  11. Song Of Thanks (Ps 118)
  12. Father Bless This Work (Jn 17)
  13. Halay! When To God I Send A Plea (Ps 4)

DL

More Music Pages

Filet-o-Fish, Fast Food’s Gift to Lent

Believe it or not, that’s how it got started:

The 1960s were early days for McDonald’s and Groen was struggling to make ends meet. So he cast around for a new idea, and spotted that another restaurant was pulling his missing Catholic customers in selling fish.

So he put some fried fish in a bun, added cheese and tartar sauce and put it on the menu…By 1965 the Filet-O-Fish had a permanent place on the McDonald’s menu.

I can attest that it’s something that got me through several Lents while at Texas A&M University.  It didn’t hurt that the McDonalds was across the street from the Zachry Engineering Centre, where I spent much of my time studying for my Mechanical Engineering degree.

The First Duty of a Christian Preacher

A pithy summary from R. de la Broise, Bossuet and the Bible, 1890, pp. 160-1:

“To preach the word of God, to go hear the word of God,” these are the expressive words of the Christian language.  They neatly outline one of the distinct characteristics of preaching, one of the points which make the genre absolutely proper to Christianity, and nothing else in antiquity corresponds to it.  In the Christian Church, the Bible is the “word of God,” and the preacher is only its herald and interpreter; his first duty is to know it well, to also know well the most established commentaries, and to transmit it without alteration or corruption; his originality, to distribute it a propos, to take from this bottomless treasure that which meets the circumstances and the hearer, to make heard from this divine word justly what is necessary, and from there appropriate applications.

Jack Miffleton: With Skins and Steel

World Library  WLSM-36-SM  (1968)

Jack Miffleton started out at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.  That shouldn’t be strange to regulars on this blog: it was also the starting point of the trio who produced Songs for the Masses.  It’s a pedigree that has largely been forgotten.  And that’s sad; this is a good folk production that needs a revival.

The title wouldn’t pass muster in this obsessive day of ours, but the “skins” part refers to percussion, something that didn’t always pass muster in a day when percussion was thought in some quarters to be secular at best and pagan at worst.  But Miffleton and his musicians make good use of it; the album is reminiscent, more than anything else, of God Unlimited, although some of the pieces echo The Keyhole as well.  There are some very powerful pieces on the album (“Cry Alice.”)  The Mass propers are at a minimum here.

If you’re looking to break out of the #straightouttairondale mould fashionable these days, this is an album you should consider.  The recording is out of distribution but the sheet music is definitely available and can be found here.

My thanks to Dennis for this music.

The songs:

  1. Well, It’s A New Day
  2. The Wind Blows
  3. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
  4. Yours Is The Kingdom
  5. Cry Alice
  6. Alleluia Response
  7. I’m The Good Shepherd
  8. Alle, Alle
  9. Lord, I’ve Come To Your Garden
  10. I Am The Bread
  11. Up To Jerusalem
  12. There Are But Three Things
  13. It Is My Faith
  14. But Then Comes The Morning
  15. I’m Ready To Follow

DL

More Music

The Creation of Men and Angels: Last singularity of the creation of man in his immortality

This is one in a series from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries. The previous post is here. More information on the Bossuet Project is here.

We no longer count the admirable singularities of the creation of man, so great are the number. But the last is immortality. O God, what a marvel! All the animals I see beyond me are subject to death; I alone, with a body composed of the same elements, I am immortal by my origin.

I could die, however, since I could sin; I have sinned, and I am dead; But I could not die, because I could not sin, and it was sin alone that deprived me of the use of the tree of life.

What happiness! What perfection of man! Made in the image of God by a particular design of his wisdom, established in a paradise, in a delightful garden, where all the goods abounded, under a sky always pure and always benign. In the midst of the rich waters of four rivers, without having to fear death, free, happy, tranquil, without any deformity or infirmity, either on the side of the mind or on the side of the body, without any need of clothes, with pure and innocent nakedness, having my salvation and my happiness in my hand. The heaven opens before me, to be transported there when God wished, without passing through the dreadful shadows of death! Cry endlessly miserable man, who has lost all his possessions, and console yourself only in Jesus Christ, who has restored them to you, and yet in greater abundance.

Is It Necessary for a Roman Catholic to Agree With Everything the Church Teaches?

One thing that comes up for those of us who “swim the Tiber” is the idea that anyone who becomes a Roman Catholic must agree with “everything” that the Church teaches.  This issue came up when Greg Griffith stunned the Anglican blogosphere with his conversion.   “Does he really agree with all that?” people asked.

The answer to that question is, like so many things in Roman Catholicism, complicated, and it depends upon whom you ask.  That, in turn, depends upon the relative stance of the person you’re talking to with the real teaching of the church.  For many years those with a leftward drift tended to discount that kind of fidelity, while those on the other side (like the #straightouttairondale crowd) enthusiastically proclaim it.

A more thoughtful treatment comes from the conservative side of the church with this post, formally entitled Quaeritur: What is the Status of a Catholic Who Dissents from the Magisterium? It comes from the Ite ad Thomam blog, maintained by one Francisco J. Romero Carrasquillo, Ph.D.  I hasten to add that my church counts several Carrasquillos (also Puerto Rican) as members; they have not done much for the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, but they have brought honour to the family name, as they are fine Christian people.

He starts to answer this question as follows:

It depends on the level of the Magisterial teaching in question. Some teachings have been defined dogmatically, for example, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary, and many, many others; such that believing in these teachings is part of the definition of what it means to be Catholic. And if someone obstinately denies even the least of these, then they no longer meet the requirements for the definition of what it means to be Catholic. There is no such thing as a Catholic who denies the divinity of Christ—or for that matter a Catholic who denies that the sacramental accidents of the Eucharist continue to exist without a subject in which to inhere.

This is reasonable.  Most conservative Christians would say that there is a core of belief which is essential to being a Christian.  Where differences arise is in what makes up that core, although again there is a great deal of overlap between what the RCC says is the core and what others do.

Dr. Romero also addresses the issue of whether people who do not are really Catholic; he says they are not.  That goes against the idea of some who believe that Roman Catholicism is like flypaper; once it gets on you, you are stuck with it.  On one level that makes sense, but it has always struck me as duplicitous that people loudly proclaim to be X while believing things that are flatly contradictory to that proclamation.

But then he goes on as follows:

On the other hand, if someone denies a teaching that is not dogmatically defined, or especially one that is not directly part of the Deposit of Faith, but is simply a theological conclusion or common teaching of the ordinary Magisterium, then this would be different. You wouldn’t cease being Catholic by denying it.

I’m speaking, for example, of the case of a Catholic who for some reason would deny that Our Lady is the Mediatrix of all Graces—a doctrine that hasn’t yet been defined. The same is true of teachings that are logically or theologically derived from defined dogma, but which are themselves not defined.

Many non-Catholics have the idea that being a Roman Catholic is to throw away the brains and accept the teachings of the church without question.  That’s simply not the case, if for no other reason than the breadth and complexity of the teaching and the intellectual and historical development behind it is far beyond just about anything else in Christianity. It’s true that many Catholics have never investigated that breadth, and it’s also true that the state of things in most parishes doesn’t encourage that kind of inquiry (which is one reason the RCC bleeds members the way it does.)  But it is true that there is a fairly extensive body of belief which the Church has not definitively pronounced on, and in these cases there is room for variance, although Dr. Romero points out that you may be a “bad Catholic” for doing so.

An interesting example comes from Dr. Romero himself: the idea that Our Lady is the Mediatrix of all Graces.  It’s safe to say that the #straightouttairondale bunch would proclaim that to be essentially Catholic, but Dr. Romero points out that this has not been raised to dogma by the Church.  There are many problems with making that step, not the least of which is that it would make a purely created being the conduit of uncreated grace, something that is avoided in Jesus Christ because he is both God and man united, and thus with an uncreated, divine nature.

So the simple answer to this question is “no.”  It depends upon the level a certain dogma holds in the magisterium.  Whether that satisfies Protestant concerns is another matter altogether.  But we cannot have a discussion on the issue unless we understand where everyone is at, and this should clear up an important point.