27 November 2015

Imagine a Wombat Flying through the Sky

(I typed for an hour, and produced the following.)

Imagine a wombat flying through the sky.  What do you see?  I see a dark shape, blackish purple, with a swollen pear-like body, drifting upward toward a cloudy, starry sky.  Why are you asking me to imagine this?

No reason, really.  Do you ever draw you fingers down a strand of hair and, feeling the slow grip of the fibers against your skin, think of all the texture and microscopic segmentation on the hair?

Maybe yesterday I turned 28, and my eyes are getting paler, becoming transparent, so that I cannot see.  Maybe I am fighting something.  Maybe there is a dying kangaroo being carried down the hallway, outside my door right now—for death? for treatment? Where did it come from?

Tonight I have burrowed through the warm, early-autumn soil, into the center of the roots beneath a large tree.  And right now I am looking up into its trunk, where the web of roots meets and ascents into the open air, and what I see is a hollow in their midst, like a funnel, pointing upward to the sky.  But everything is dark.  Maybe I see this ring of roots reaching out in all directions from the core, and it looks like an inverted crown.

I try to think about the weave of cloth, the way it is strung together to give it more heft without increasing the gauge of the thread.  How different kinds of weave produce different degrees of elasticity and softness

When you rub your eyes, you see a play of arabic, geometric patterns—stars which never close, stars which are also knots, knots layered one inside another in another, which stagger back and forth in loops and branches around a surface, so that the simpler shapes one sees are always only suggested by the lines, but never truly there.

Think of a fruit growing.  First the barren tree in winter, leafless and lifeless, waiting.  Then the spring green, the budding leaves, swaying in the warm winds.  Then budding, blossoming flowers which smile invitingly to the bees, which spring open, age and wilt away.  But the flower buds remain and swell, glutted on the plant's excess of food, until that bud grows past recognition, becoming a succulent fruit, dangling on a little flower's stem, waiting to fall.

Your feet are cold.  You sit still and focus on your feet, feeling the skin intensely, hoping that by feeling and accepting their discomfort, it will cease to be discomfort.  The cold is just a passing feeling.  It is not painful, just uncomfortable, and it will eventually be gone.

You put on a piece of music, and you wonder whether the ease and availability of doing so makes it harder to appreciate the music.  Perhaps if you had to attend more to the physical medium on which the music is inscribed, had to attend to the mechanics of playing it, and had to devote yourself to the act of listening while it played, you would care more about music, and would find it easier to say "this is what I want to hear".

You don't know everything, and you don't know everything that people say about everything, so you don't know how to talk about everything, and you don't know all the expressions people use to discuss everything.  And in your ignorance you remain unaware of the existence of many thousands of words which other people might take for granted or find completely ordinary.

You have to go to the bathroom, but you can't help wondering why there is a little blue squirrel at the bottom right corner of the text editor window.  And you think "perhaps I should click on the squirrel or hover my mouse over it to see if some sort of explanatory message or menu appears when I do so".

People are tedious, and you have a lot of difficulty tolerating them, understanding them, explaining yourself to them, dealing with their responses to your inadequacies, ignorance, faults, oddities, etc.

One of the things that you wanted to say: that sometimes in multiculturalism there is so much of a desire to accommodate the needs of the Other that the Other is infantilized and stripped of an ordinary voice, because the accommodation isolates him from the reality of his surroundings.  We keep the child safe from infection by isolating him from all bacteria, but this only increases the weakness of the child's health and sensitivity to disease.

To add to the problem, the multiculturalist ends up silencing his own voice and neutering his own agency by taking upon himself the burden of mediating in advance all possible conflicts and difficulties that might occur as a result of cultural difference.  So that, instead of there being a genuine, honest interaction between two people, we have one person who is silenced and disenfranchised through the excessive accommodations of another, who is himself silenced and disenfranchised by his need to anticipate every necessary accommodation and possible difference in advance.  Misery all around.

Before one learns a language, sometimes one looks at the foreign words (or, more exciting still, foreign letters), and sees in them all the promise of a foreign culture—things to understand which have not yet been understood, things to enjoy which have not yet been enjoyed, new ideas and personalities, new facts and events.  All of this can appear simply in a page or volume of unintelligible text.  But when one begins to learn the language, and proceeds to actually learn the language, the promise of another culture is slowly crushed and flattened against the boring mechanics of expression and the problem of translating the unseen, uninteresting features of language (the ones which make interesting expressions possible) from one world into another.

Maybe people think of brick walls as boring and inert.  No, they are exciting.  Think of brick in all its varieties.  Is it red or gray or green, is it concrete or terra cotta.  Perhaps the wall isn't made of brick.  Maybe it's some other kind of wall.  Maybe it's a tall wooden fence.

Privacy from one's neighbors.  You are settling into a life in which you have no ordinary human contact, because of all the protective barriers.

The smell of tea.  The different smells of tea.  How certain black teas have an alcoholic component to their aroma, perhaps left from the fermentation of the leaves during processing.  Or other teas have a sweet aroma from added fruit components or flavoring.

The smell of bread.  Fresh bread has a wonderful intensity to it, nothing like the pasty stuff one buys in the market.  The flour has blossomed and the yeast has produced a rich smell of alcohol, and one can smell the crisping of the starches in the crust.  The best breads come out of the oven and sing, the crust crackling spontaneously as it continues to cook and cool.

18 November 2015

History of the Popes (Update)

As I have discussed previously, I'm currently working on re-formatting the 40-volume History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages, by Ludwig von Pastor.  As I finish different sets of volumes and make them available for purchase, I'm going to continue posting updates.

The two volumes dealing with the pivotal pontificate of Clement VII are now available. (Click here for information.)

Thank you to the many people who have supported this project by buying copies of the earlier volumes.  I hope you find Pastor's chronicle as interesting as I have.  I believe that becoming more deeply aware of the history of the Church is an essential part of the work of reform, and I hope that by making this excellent scholarly work available in print again I am advancing that cause.

17 November 2015

Notes on Writing

Between 2 September and 5 November of this year, I filled a small stenographer's pad with notes on my present circumstances and activities.  One of the recurring subjects during this period was the structure of fictions and the process of composing them.  I have collected these short notes and present them as a set of fragments below.  Rereading them, I found them interesting and enjoyable, so perhaps some readers will as well.


Give your character desire up front.  The motivation of the character motivates the reader.  But the first revealed desire oughtn't be the important one.


Le Carré gives Smiley an obstacle—Martindale—and some problems—Ann & Lacan.  Then he introduces the mystery.  But by then Smiley has already been well-characterized.  We're comfortable with him, so the mystery can be more interesting and spacious.  [Note: It's not simply that the character's first revealed desire should be distinct from the driving motive or question behind the plot, but that the character's first navigated difficulty ought to be superseded by the main difficulty with which the novel is concerned.  First, a vignette which illustrates the character; then afterwards a foray into the real problem.]


Start not so much with a motive as with an irritation.

The nice thing about irritations is that they characterize more than the average goal, and with less effort. [Note: less effort on the reader's part.] We needn't ask so much about the context of an irritant, because the context [of the irritant] is less important for understanding why it annoys [than the context of the character being annoyed, which we care more about anyway].


[Harry Potter] begins with the comic characterization of the Dursleys and then adds the tantalizing introduction of Dumbledore and Harry.  Then we get the hyperbolic childhood of Harry with its own oddities, which blossoms neatly into the mystery of the Hogwarts Letters, and then into the excitement of discovering that world.  [Rowling] has so many interest-engines going simultaneously that a reader will almost certainly keep going. [And these multiple "interest-engines" enable Rowling to constantly reward the curiosity of the reader with answers, but answers which change the immediate focus of the story, rather than being a simple breadcrumb trail that becomes monotonous and boring.]

Once the "discovery" theme has done its work, it lingers as a tool for exposition, and new mysteries and challenges present themselves.


Technique in Tinker Tailor — Guillam is perforing a difficult task, which is interspersed with bits of remembered monologue by Smiley instructing him about how to do it.


"Wheels within wheels."


Karla (& Voldemort)
"Decades of his life were unaccounted for, and probably never would be, since the people he worked with had a way of dying off or keeping their mouths shut."

[Note: The villain conceals his background and activities . . . But "Control" is similar.]


In his account of the interview with Karla, a good fraction of the conversation is between Smiley and himself, and not a simple dialogue, but the rehearsal of old pains and doubts.  How is this conveyed to the reader?


"Few men can resist expressing their appetites when they are making a fantasy about themselves."


Know the world of the story very well before you attempt to tell a story in it. — Stories emerge out of a world, and especially a known world.  The Chemist knows what to expect when two elements are combined, knowing the laws that govern their probable interactions.  The better the laws of the world are known, the better a storyteller will be able to construct the winding or unravelling of a thread within that world.


"Know the facts, then try on stories like clothes."


Get to know your cast of characters before you describe their behavior.


What happens to people is often improbable and irrational, but their responses to it tend not to be.


Layers of the Planning Process:
—The context (impersonal)
—The characters (personalities, problems, background)
[Note: Something right in Heidegger's suggestion that person and world are co-dependent.  In narrative, it is by relating things to characterization or intention and background that worlds are most easily characterized.]
—The plot (immediate occasion of events, pattern in which they unfold, the order in which information is disclosed to the reader)
—Characterization of events and style of exposition


Suppose you have infinite resources and can simply build something.  What makes it interesting?  Evidently, after a while building you would begin to repeat yourself, and this would make both the act and the object tedious. [Unless of course you find the mere [quantitative] increase repeated forms appealing, . . . but this is an enjoyment not of the object of the act, but of the indeterminate potency of the object . . . a different thing.]


So what *keeps* it interesting once one reaches this point?  The introduction of a new dimension of complexity or a new form, which either subsumes the prior form (triangles -> tetrahedron) or alternates with it (a tessellation involving multiple polygons).  In other words, one must either make something else or make something [new], using what you have made as the matter.  In fact, the mere idea of an infinite series of repeated forms is extremely tedious.


There are no general cases, only particular cases.


Note: What I like best about the Smiley novels is Smiley.  The thriller spy framework parts are enjoyable enough, but they're not where the magic is.  Analogously, the coolest thing about the Miyazaki documentary was Miyazaki.


Miyazaki wonders if it is possible to make films that are important anymore.  I assume by "important" he means films that make an impact, make a difference to people.  Why would it be so difficult?  Supersaturation, perhaps.  Same problem as in publishing.  If you choose a medium which speaks to everyone, you will not be compensated and will be little heard.  But if you choose a small venue and limited medium you can make a greater impact.  [By speaking to fewer people, you can accomplish more, and be better-compensated.]

In other words, not just the medium, but the target audience ought to be tightened, to increase impact.  Tightened geographically.


How do word-images differ from pictures?  Pictures are limited by the imagination of the artist more than [the imagination of] the viewer?


Listen—you could make it.  You could do well.  But you have to make something you want a shot at making it.


Story told as dialogue between narrator and listener.  Listener interjections set as freestanding italicized paragraphs.


One of the keys to storytelling is not explaining.  You have to keep facts and explanations in reserve to keep the reader interested.  If you give everything up in the way that's easiest to follow, you won't be followed.  One advantage of time [as an ordering principle for narratives] is that the temporal order of events is constructed by chance and accident, with constant intervening complications and distractions.  You explain things as the occasion arises . . . But the occasions arising are various and have only incidental significance to anything you might want to relate.  So you value the occasion and enjoy it, not just for its importance to the story, but also for its own sake.


Enjoy your memories! Let them return in full color and let them be saturated with detail.


"I want to know about you." — Collecting other people's stories.


The habit of writing with one's hand, with a pen, differs significantly enough from the habit of typing (by typewriter or by computer) . . .


The imagination of the writer is based on his experiences.  If someone only has . . .

16 November 2015

Resource Guide for Catholic Autodidacts – Handbooks of Dogmatic Theology

Last time I gave an inventory of what I believe are the best Catechisms.  Solid, unending, repeated catechesis seems to be one of the keys to a coherent theological perspective, and the formation of a genuinely catholic way of living.  There are all sorts of principles and sentimental truisms floating around in the surrounding culture, and many of them are inimical to Christianity.  Solid catechesis helps us to know what we can and cannot accept, by acquainting us with the basics of faith and morality.

But once one gets a little deeper into the principles of modern culture and its various philosophies, a new set of confusions becomes possible—confusions that are not addressed directly by the average Catechism, because the concepts in which they are framed are too abstract or technical.  Every age suffers from philosophical and theological confusions of one variety or another.  Because they are difficult to anticipate in advance, oftentimes a new philosophical or theological error will arise, which has not been previously shown in the tradition to be incompatible with the Catholic Faith, even though it is.

The shepherds of the flock of the Lord are charged, as St. Pius X reminds us, to nourish and protect Christ's sheep by feeding them with sound doctrine and warning them against error.  This office of teaching and excluding, the "magisterium" (teacher-hood) of the Bishops, and the Pope among them, consists in perpetually reminding the faithful of Christ's teachings, and explaining the implications of those teachings so as to show when they are incompatible with popular intellectual trends.  Depending on the severity of the confusion and the gravity of the issue, the pastors will exercise their teaching office with greater or lesser urgency and authority.  They do this by various means: by the promulgations of symbols (i.e. creeds) which summarize the faith; through solemn definitions, which prescribe what must be held by all Christians; through anathemas, which solemnly exclude from the flock of Christ those who obstinately teach or profess errors contrary to the faith; and through encyclical letters, bulls, and all manner of decrees.

The result of 2000 years of this sort of of teaching, exhortation, and correction is what we refer to as the "Living Magisterium of the Church".  That's a lot of stuff.  And in the midst of all that stuff, there are regular clarifications and definitions which explain what propositions belong essentially to the Catholic faith, which follow from it necessarily, and which are, either directly or in their implications, opposed to it.

Once we realize this, an obvious desire follows from it: We want a text that collects and organizes all the major tenets of the Catholic faith, with the texts in which they are defined and explained by magisterial acts.  Granted, such a collection might not be the final word in terms of developing a genuine theological understanding of the faith, but it will at least establish a set of guideposts we can use to navigate the more difficult (and sometimes speculative) waters of systematic theology.


Today, I'm going to look at a few of the best tools that aim to perform this task.There used to be a great many more dogmatic manuals available (there still are... in Latin), but I will only be mentioning collections available in English, and only the three that I have found most useful in my years studying and teaching theology. 

Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, by Ludwig Ott

WHERE TO FIND IT: Amazon, and possibly elsewhere online.

STRENGTHS:  This was the first dogmatic manual I became aware of during the process of converting to Catholicism.  It has many strengths.  Primary among these is its format.  The is divided into major theological topics, each of which is subdivided, and then divided again into a list of dogmatic propositions, set in clear bold text.  After each proposition, the author offers a short explanation of the dogma, and evidence in favor of it from Scripture and Tradition.  He also often lists heresies contrary to the proposition in question and provides a short summary of how they reject it.  The book is available cheaply from TAN Books, and is (as these things go) small and very easy to navigate.  It aims to provide an outline or directory of citations, and is not a scholastic handbook of the old variety (with articles, questions, objections, dubia, etc.)

WEAKNESSES:  Ott's handbook is sometimes too cursory in its treatment of various issues.  Sometimes the evidences given in support of a particular proposition are inadequate to comfortably establish the proposition, and in these cases the handbook becomes somewhat frustrating.  Perhaps the worst part of Ott, though, is his simplistic way of assigning various propositions positions within the hierarchy of truths (i.e. the degree of dogmatic certitude accorded a particular doctrinal proposition: de fide, proxima fidei, etc.).  Sometimes one encounters people who have misunderstood the nature of the hierarchy of truths as a result of these labels (which are not unique to Ott)—people who think that only propositions "de fide" are absolutely certain and everything else allows a degree of flexibility.  This approach to dogmatic theology is very damaging, because it gives a great deal of leeway to heresies that ought to be excluded, simply because they don't violate any principles "de fide".

(Also, the way people talk about these degrees in the hierarchy of truths is annoying.  We have a habit of treating Latin prepositional phrases as adjectives: "ex cathedra pronouncements" literally means "from the chair pronouncements", which is wrong.  One should say "pronouncements ex cathedra" and so on.)

RECOMMENDATION:  Ott is useful as a highly condensed, inexpensive outline of dogmatic theology.  It contains a wealth of citations and is good for getting your feet wet.  If your feet are already wet, I would not recommend purchasing it, but I still periodically use it.

Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils
by Giuseppe Alberigo and Norman Tanner

WHERE TO FIND IT: On Amazon, for about $150.

STRENGTHS: This is the English version of a collection produced by Giuseppe Alberigo (the historian famously at the head of the so-called Bologna School which is one of the sources of the progressive account of Vatican II) of the decrees of all twenty-one general councils recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.  Because the collection includes only the decrees and not all the acts and proceedings of the various councils, it can fit in two hefty volumes which include both the original languages and parallel English translations.  Reading the decrees of the councils is extremely beneficial in gaining a sense of the common understanding of what belongs to the Catholic faith through the centuries.  One is easily disabused of the delusion that modern Catholicism is more doctrinally narrow and uptight than the Church was in earlier centuries, for example.  Because Councils are called generally to respond to a pressing doctrinal or disciplinary crisis in the Church, the decrees are (mostly) very precise and take care to clarify and define what they discuss, rather meandering effusively.

WEAKNESSES: The text includes only conciliar decrees, and not even all of them (there are occasional omissions).  As a result, the crises which were handled outside of ecumenical councils are left untouched.  Furthermore, the text is not organized in such a way as to be easy to navigate.  The contents of both volumes are placed in an appendix to volume two, making it difficult to find a particular decree, and even then the descriptions are frequently vague.  Furthermore, the text is weighed down by the bloated corpus of documents issued at Vatican II, which take up half of one volume and are of little dogmatic interest on the whole, on account of the vague and effusive language in which many of them were written.

RECOMMENDATION: The set is worth owning if you have the cash for it.  If you acquire it, I recommend reading the contents of Volume One first.  If you're simply looking for a dogmatic definition on some topic, your best chance is to find the decree on that topic at Trent.

Enchiridion Symbolorum, Definitionum et Declarationum 
de Rebus Fidei et Morum (Denzinger-Hünermann 2008)

WHERE TO FIND IT: On Amazon, for about $50.  Also, in some Catholic bookstores.

STRENGTHS: This is the 43rd edition of the anthology of essential Magisterial texts first assembled by Heinrich Denzinger in 1854 at the request of Bl. Pius IX.  The collection of texts is prodigious, focusing mainly on papal decrees and the documents of various major synods and ecumenical councils.  It offers significant excerpts from hundreds of texts that most readers would never otherwise be aware of or have access to.  The current edition offers the original languages (mainly Latin) with a parallel English translation.  Furthermore, each paragraph of the text is assigned a numerical index, which makes it possible to use the book's numbering system as a shorthand citation for any particular document.  Astute readers will have noticed in the '94 Catechism and in recent magisterial documents frequent references to "DS" followed by some number.  "DS" refers to Denzinger and Schönmetzer (one of the later editors of the collection).  The current edition is cited as "DH", for Denzinger/Hünermann.  Finally, each item in the anthology is indexed topically, so that one can look up a particular subject and find a list of citations wherein it is discussed in the volume.

WEAKNESSES: The current edition of the Denzinger is wonderful in many ways, but it has some major faults.  One minor fault is that its contents are disproportionately skewed toward the past few pontificates.  While nothing (to my knowledge) from earlier years has been left out to make room for the excess if post-Conciliar texts, it seems like a poor use of space to include so many of them.  The biggest fault, though, is the organization of the topical index.  The index is bloated to the point of unusuability, and organized not under traditional dogmatic headings but under fuzzy topics like "God Gathers His People", which are not very helpful in directing one to a particular dogmatic question.  Furthermore, the index is so complex that it has its own table of contents, which includes three tiers of headings.  So, for example, if one wanted to find a list of citations related to the nature of heaven, one would have to decide whether to look in Index Section M.1.b. "The Eschatological Character of the Pilgrim Church" or M.3.c. "Beatitude–Grace and Reward", each of which contains several paragraphs with lists of citations.  The whole index is over 150 pages long—large pages, full of very fine, dense print.  And then, once one has found the right list of references, it's necessary to look each of them up in turn to see whether they fit!  It's a needlessly difficult exercise. 

RECOMMENDATION: This is one of a few books I think every intellectually engaged Catholic really ought to own.  It has its dangers—people too accustomed to consulting the Denzinger sometimes end up behaving as if it made systematic theological reflection unnecessary. ("It already has all the answers!")  This is, of course, false.  But it does offer guidance on a huge number of common theological issues and confusions, and its a great resource to turn to when one runs up against a doctrinal disagreement or question that is not easily answered.  Buy it, read it at night, flip through it randomly and discover things.  It's a wonderful resource.

A (Nearly) Complete Inventory of the Films of Studio Ghibli

The following is a review of all the feature films produced by Studio Ghibli since its founding in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, with the omission of three: two by Takahata and two by Hiromasa Yonebayashi.  The reviews are presented in chronological order, with the omitted films noted in brackets.  I have also included two films by Hayao Miyazaki which were done before the founding of Ghibli.  I hope you enjoy.


The Castle of Cagliostro – Master thief Arsène Lupin III searches for the source of some counterfeit money, only to end up embroiled in a dastardly scheme involving forced marriage, ancient treasure, and international conspiracy.  This was the first film Miyazaki directed, and while it has little in common with the rest of his corpus, it is reasonably enjoyable to watch.  (Extremely silly, lots of heist-themed slapstick, no real substance to it.) Best watched in the original Japanese, with subtitles.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind – Nausikaä is the princess of a small community living in an unpolluted valley, one of the last strongholds against the toxic jungle which has taken over the planet.  Despite its dangers, Nausicaä has a certain fondness for the toxic jungle and its creatures, and recognizes that the poisonous plants are actually slowly purifying the land of human pollution.  She gets caught in an international conflict emanating from one woman's desire to destroy the guardians of the toxic jungle.  It's an odd film, but with an original plot and an interesting set of subtexts.  I greatly enjoyed it.

Laputa, Castle in the Sky – A kidnapped princess escapes from her captors and falls in with a young engineer and a group of air pirates, as they try to understand the lost power which had once made cities fly.  Very whimsical.  As with Nausicaä there is a lot of flight in the film, but this time not much of a "moral" to the story. It's gripping, though, and the imagery is pretty cool. The English version has Mark Hamill as one of the main voice roles.

[Grave of the Fireflies]

My Neighbor Totoro – The most iconic film from Studio Ghibli.  A professor and his two young daughters move to a country house while their mother is being treated in a nearby hospital.  The excitement of the new environment, anxieties over their parents, and the magic of the land provide a series of adventures involving a gigantic forest spirit (or totoro) which the younger sister discovers in a patch of forest next to the house.  The film has made such an impact, I think, because the adventures of the girls with the totoro suggests the vitality of the world and the magic of ordinary, disconnected childhood experiences—experiences still rooted in the difficulties of daily life (and not some distant fairytale land), but nonetheless full of wonder.

Kiki's Delivery Service – Kiki is a young witch who flies away from home (as is traditional for young witches) to spend a year on her own developing her skills.  She leaves with her pet cat, Jiji, who is dour and provides comic relief throughout the film.  Without any real magic skills aside from her ability to fly, Kiki ends up starting a delivery service.  She meets a number of interesting people around town while working, including a boy who dreams of flight (note the theme again), but is not magical.  Halfway through the film, Kiki loses her magic powers and falls into a depression.  I will not give away the ending.  Highly enjoyable movie, which I think portrays people as being good and generous, and gives some good moral advice about confidence and the pursuit of perfection in a trade.

Only Yesterday – Isao Takahata wrote and directed this film about a woman in her late twenties named Taeko, who travels to a country farm during a week off from her Tokyo desk job.  The trip is an occasion for a cascade of memories from early adolescence—memories of embarrassment and disappointment, related to her family, her school life, and puberty.  Takahata integrates the memories with the present day narrative wonderfully, showing Taeko interacting with people on the farm and sharing vivid accounts of her childhood with them.  Taeko is an extraordinary character, and possesses that beautiful self-awareness and cheerful humility that one can really only call honesty.  An incredible film. Watch it with the original Japanese vocals, and make sure you watch it all the way through the end credits.

Porco Rosso – Marco is an Italian fighter pilot who ditched the Italian air force after WWI, and now (in the 1920s) flies around the Adriatic as a bounty hunter trying to catch pirates and smugglers.  He is also (strangely) a pig.  No one else in the film is a pig, by the way.  Why Marco is a pig is the great mystery of the film.  And it's an interesting film, because the question is never settled directly, nor is it resolved completely at the end.  This isn't really a children's movie, despite the silliness of many of its characters and the whimsical plot.  I think it has something more to do with the cynicism and despair that can accompany a great loss.  Anyway, very enjoyable, highly original plot, good animation, interesting main character, and excellent themes.

Whisper of the Heart – This film was written by Miyazaki, but directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, a collaborator at Ghibli.  It is a brilliant portrait of early adolescence.  Like Only Yesterday, this story is told in a completely realist fashion.  Even when we expect the fantastic to break into the storyline, it never does.  Instead what we get is a drama about ambition, hard work, romance, the love of reading, and school.  A wonderful story. Best viewed in the original Japanese with subtitles.

Pom Poko – Miyazaki was not involved in this film at all, to my knowledge.  It was written and directed by his mentor Isao Takahata.  It tells the story of the construction of the Tama Hills housing developments in Southwest Tokyo in the 1960s, from the perspective of a colony of tanuki or raccoon dogs native to the area while it was still forest and farmland.  The development is gradual and takes years, and the film is constructed as an annual chronicle, charting out the raccoon dogs' gradual awakening to the problems surrouding the destruction of their habitats, and various strategies they employ in order to stop the development from proceeding.  The episodic structure of the film and its gradual development make the later portions especially poignant.  It is silly, and the dialogue is sometimes stupid, but on the whole it's a brilliantly constructed portrayal of urban expansion which potently illuminates the ecological side of things.  Definitely worth seeing. The Japanese original is preferable to the English dubbed version.

Princess Mononoke – Like Porco Rosso, this is not really a children's film.  In fact, this is much less of a children's film than even Porco Rosso.  The action takes place in medieval Japan, when spirits still roamed the forests and so on.  The protagonist is struck by a curse after slaying a possessed boar-god, and goes off to find answers before the curse kills him.  His quest leads him to "Iron Town", a settlement made up of prostitutes and criminals who are doing battle with nature to make money by forging pig iron for export.  He also meets Mononoke, a young girl who has been raised in the forest with the wolf-gods.  All the characters end up playing different parts in the scheme of a greedy buddhist monk who wants to kill the chief forest spirit and capture its head.  The film is extremely intense and dark.

My Neighbors the Yamadas – Another Takahata film.  This one employs impressionistic, sketch-like animation to illustrate the lives of a small family, the Yamadas: a grandmother, husband and wife, and their son and daughter.  The film has no plot, but consists entirely of a string of sketches (I would estimate somewhere between 60 and 100) showing random incidents illustrative of family life.  The film begins and ends with speeches about marriage, given at weddings.  Both are excellent, and together they capture the flavor the whole film.  The opening speech, given by the husband's mother, focuses on the importance of children as the uniting goal which holds a marriage together, because "children are the best reason for riding out life's storms".  She also warns against the complacency of the easy times, because "if in the calm you selfishly please only yourselves, you may lose each other."  The concluding speech focuses on forgiveness.  In between, we see a lot of the little dramas of family life, many examples of the frustrations and petty faults of different members, but the whole thing is beautiful and pleasing.  The film doesn't really invite a viewing straight-through, because it has no plot. Perhaps it would be best divided into several viewings.  Wonderful nonetheless. Best watched with the original Japanese and English subtitles.

Spirited Away – Princess Mononoke brought Miyazaki onto the international stage, but Spirited Away really made him famous (at least in the US).  This great film follows the adventure of a young girl who is trapped in the spirit world and deprived of her identity as she struggles to win back her parents, who have been transformed into hogs.  She maneuvers the politics of a large spa for the spirits, and has a series of interesting and bizarre encounters with various characters.  It's a must-see film, if only because it's the one he's known best for.

The Cat Returns – This is a bizarre spinoff of Whispers of the Heart, in which a high school student, who is undergoing some sort of minor identity crisis, is selected to marry a cat prince, and carried off into the world of the cats.  She is on the verge of transforming permanently into a feline concubine when the cat doll from Whisper of the Heart helps her escape.  By far the weirdest Ghibli movie, with the most inane "moral" driving it.

Howl's Moving Castle – This is Miyazaki's (very loose) adaptation of the young adult novel of the same name.  The story as told by Miyazaki has only a vaguely linear plot, and is best viewed as an evolving series of experiences in the life of the protagonist, a young woman made magically elderly by a witch's curse.  The animation is excellent, the characters are enjoyable, and the scenes and conversations which make up the film make it a peaceful cinematic environment to which to return over and over again.  I have seen Howl's Moving Castle more times than any of the others on this list.

Tales from Earthsea – Goro Miyazaki, (Hayao's son) directed this adaptation of Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books.  The film compresses the events of multiple books into one, with Goro's own spin, but the main plot of the story is taken from The Farthest Shore (the third book in the series).  A young prince runs away from home and aids the wizard Sparrowhawk in his attempt to uncover the evil force which is stripping the world of its magic.  They trace the decay of the world to an un-dead wizard named Cob, who is sucking the marrow out of reality in order to sustain himself because he is afraid of death.  I found the film very dark and disturbing, and the ultimate message for viewers was not a good one. It's mildly successful as a cinematic object, but not recommended.

Ponyo – This is Hayao Miyazaki's spin on the tale of the little mermaid.  A sea-princess named Brünnhilde loves a little boy playing in the water by the cliffs.  After being tracked down by her father and forcibly taken home with him, she runs away, releasing a massive storm which she rides back to little Sosuke's cliff by the sea.  In the process she becomes (gradually) a human girl, and pledges herself to the little boy.  The second half of the film is highly unmemorable, perhaps because the magic gradually goes out of it (literally), but the first half is brilliant and delightful.  The voice acting in the English version (starring Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, and Matt Damon) is very good.

[The Secret World of Arietty]

From Up on Poppy Hill – Another film directed by Goro Miyazaki.  This one is much more successful than Tales from Earthsea.  We are introduced at the beginning to a young girl, apparently orphaned, who helps her grandmother run a boarding house out of the family home.  Our protagonist raises a flag every morning to signal to her father (a sailor), as was their custom when he was alive.  The story primarily involves her life at school, and the drama surrounding a partially abandoned club house which is used by various student associations for their meetings.  As she becomes more closely acquainted with the leaders of the club house group, a romance develops, and then is cut short.  The story is well-written, and well-animated, and portrays intellectual organizations as something exciting and valuable that adolescents are ready to fight for.

The Wind Rises – Hayao Miyazaki's last feature film (or so he says) is designed to be an implicit commentary on his own work as an animator.  It tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer who designed the famous "Zero" fighter planes in WWII.  The core of the film is Jiro's pursuit of his dreams, and dreams play an enormous role.  Frequent transitions are made from dreamscapes, in which Jiro discusses airplane design with his Italian hero and the real world.  The title is taken from a Paul Valery poem, which says "The wind is rising; we must try to live." The poem frames the relationship between Jiro and his wife, whom he first meets on a train as she is reading the poem.  Separated for years, they reunite at a mountain resort where she is staying while recovering from tuberculosis.  Their relationship is paralleled by Jiro's own awareness that the "beautiful dreams" he is designing for Mitsubishi are destined to be tools of war, and he has a running (imaginary) conversation with his mentor about this paradox: that the creativity of modern men is always cursed, and every beautiful thing he invents seems destined to become a source of death.  Everything about this film is incredible.  The animation is beautiful, Jiro's character is written with subtlety and depth, and the whole is suffused with incredible cinematic effects, which give as much life and drama to drafting tables and slide rules as to tragic romance and war.  I cannot praise it highly enough.  And the interest of the film is only magnified once we begin to replace drafting table with artist's desk, and airplane with anime, and consider what this means for Miyazaki's understanding of his own work in the context of Japanese animation.  I hope that this proves not to have been the end of his career, but if it is, I can't think of a better way to conclude it.

[The Tale of the Princess Kaguya]

[When Marnie Was There]

11 November 2015


St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians (1:6-10)
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Vulgate of the same:
Miror quod sic tam cito transferimini ab eo qui vos vocavit in gratiam Christi in aliud Evangelium: quod non est aliud, nisi sunt aliqui qui vos conturbant, et volunt convertere Evangelium Christi. Sed licet nos aut angelus de cælo evangelizet vobis præterquam quod evangelizavimus vobis, anathema sit. Sicut prædiximus, et nunc iterum dico: si quis vobis evangelizaverit præter id quod accepistis, anathema sit. Modo enim hominibus suadeo, an Deo? an quæro hominibus placere? si adhuc hominibus placerem, Christi servus non essem.

Greek of the Same:
Θαυμάζω ὅτι οὕτως ταχέως μετατίθεσθε ἀπὸ τοῦ καλέσαντος ὑμᾶς ἐν χάριτι Χριστοῦ εἰς ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον, ὃ οὐκ ἔστιν ἄλλο· εἰ μή τινές εἰσιν οἱ ταράσσοντες ὑμᾶς καὶ θέλοντες μεταστρέψαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ Χριστοῦ. ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐὰν ἡμεῖς ἢ ἄγγελος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ εὐαγγελίσηται ὑμῖν παρ’ ὃ εὐηγγελισάμεθα ὑμῖν, ἀνάθεμα ἔστω. ὡς προειρήκαμεν, καὶ ἄρτι πάλιν λέγω, εἴ τις ὑμᾶς εὐαγγελίζεται παρ’ ὃ παρελάβετε, ἀνάθεμα ἔστω.

10 November 2015

Resource Guide for Catholic Autodidacts –
The Best Catechisms

One of the biggest impediments to self-education is the inability to find the right resources at the right time.  It's not that resources are difficult to find: to some extent, resources are extremely easy to find.  Nor is it that excellent resources are unavailable: many of the best are freely available online.  But the resources that are easy to find are often not useful, and the resources that are most useful are often not easy to find.

Obviously what in particular will be most conducive to the learning or development of any particular person depends on the context and background of that particular person, which tend to be more or less unique.  But I would like to present some resources which have been helpful to me, over the past five years, as a rough guide for people trying to educate themselves.


Catechesis should be the first stage of study for any Catholic, and it should be an activity which is continuously renewed and repeated.  One of the most devastating mistakes any Christian can make is to pass through the "basics" of the faith, and assume that they have been mastered after the first time through.  They have not been mastered after the first time.  They cannot be mastered after one round of study, or after ten.  The self-assurance (or arrogance) which looks at a children's catechism and waves it off as simplistic or trivial is, in reality, abject stupidity.

Because of the need to regularly return to basic catechesis, it is important for Catholics to have a few good catechisms on hand which they can read, reread, peruse, and memorize.  The first Catechism everyone thinks of nowadays is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was written under the direction of Joseph Ratzinger and promulgated in the 1990s under Pope John Paul II.  Because this is the book people simply refer to as "The Catechism" today, it merits discussion before any of the others.


WHERE TO FIND IT: Online in numerous places, and in most major bookstores.

STRENGTHS: It's a very long text.  It follows the four pillars model of the Roman Catechism (Creed, Commandments, Sacraments, Prayer).  It isn't afraid of using big words and complex phraseology.  It has short summaries of key points at the end of each chapter, which are designed to be memorized.

WEAKNESSES: The phraseology is verbose, and sometimes manages to achieve the worst of both worlds, by being both extremely vague and overly technical.  The focus on symbolism and imagery seems to outweigh the focus on dogmatic facts.  Citations point back to the decrees of Vatican II to such a disproportionate extent that one wonders whether the tradition before 1962 had anything to say about many subjects discussed in the Catechism.

RECOMMENDATION: You should probably own a copy, and at least be conversant with this text, not primarily because of its merits (though it has merits!), but because this is the catechism most Catholics today are familiar with.  If one wants a clear, simply stated, doctrinally precise, or memorizable explanation of doctrine, however, this text is often not the best place to go.

("Catechism of the Council of Trent")

WHERE TO FIND IT: Online in numerous places, sometimes in Catholic bookstores, otherwise on Amazon.

STRENGTHS: This text is long (though perhaps not as long as the CCC), extremely thorough, clear, and dogmatically precise.  The treatments of the Sacraments and the Commandments are especially excellent, each being broken up into numerous small sub-topics, which make these aspects of Christian life come alive and offer good practical advice.  This is the Ur-text.  This is The Catechism upon which all other catechisms were based, for most of the past five centuries, including all of the other Catechisms discussed here.  And it's still the best.

WEAKNESSES: The widely available version of the text is in an old and rather wooden translation, which makes reading it a little bit of a slog.  There is a dearth of citations from the tradition.  Most citations point directly to scripture or to the ecumenical councils (especially Trent).  Its expository format does not encourage memorization.  No "highlights" or "key points".

RECOMMENDATION: If you want a really thorough, in depth discussion of the basics of the Catholic Faith, this is one of the first places to go.  Fr. Thomas Joseph White used to recommend it to Dominican seminarians as an excellent sourcebook for spiritual conferences and retreats.  It's one of the foundational reference works in any Catholic book collection.


WHERE TO FIND IT: Many Catholic bookstores, online, on Amazon.

STRENGTHS: This is the classic American children's catechism.  It consists of a series of a few hundred questions and answers, designed to be committed to memory, organized into themed lessons. The answers are simple, easy to understand, and doctrinally precise.  Aside from the Q&As (which are, to an impressive extent, real questions that a normal, inquisitive person would actually ask) the glory of the St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism is its illustrations: little cartoons which visually re-enforce the contents of each lesson.  It also includes simple exercises for the student.

WEAKNESSES: The St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism looks like a relic of the 1950s.  The art can feel kitschy at times.  Also, loath though I am to admit it, the approach to doctrine in the catechism is not as nuanced in some cases as it should be.  It can leave things feeling a little too "cut and dry" than is theologically appropriate. (Though, it must be emphasized, this fault is greatly preferable to the opposite fault of ethereal, obfuscatory vagueness, which is more common today.)

RECOMMENDATION: You ought to own a copy of this book.  It's worth reading because you will learn from it: not just from the text, which is very well-composed and often worthy of memorization, but from the images as well, which capture certain aspects of the faith and Catholic life very strikingly, and leave their mark on one's memory.  During my first few months as a Catholic, there were several practical questions I had about the Sacraments which I could not find answered in the JPII Catechism of the Catholic Church, but which were all answered directly and precisely by the Baltimore Catechism.  One of these books is more in touch with "lived Catholicism" than the other.

(Note: "Baltimore Catechism No. 1" is a much shorter version of the Catechism for younger children.)


WHERE TO FIND IT: Perhaps some Catholic bookstores sell it, though I cannot remember having seen it in one.  Available cheaply on Amazon.

STRENGTHS: This is the British version of the American Baltimore Catechism.  In essence it's the same text, but simple and more compact, and with more scripture cited.  The normal edition is pocket sized, and makes for wonderful occasional reading (on commutes, for example).  It is also small and cheap enough to keep several copies on hand to distribute to friends at need.  No illustrations, just a very solid, well-constructed series of about 360 questions and answers on the basics of the Catholic Faith.

WEAKNESSES: None, to my knowledge.  It lacks the bells and whistles of the St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism (the illustrations and activities), and is not (obviously) as thorough as the Roman Catechism.  It is just a Catechism, and an excellent one.

RECOMMENDATION: Buy half a dozen copies.  Read one (you'll learn things, guaranteed), and keep the others around to give to relatives or friends.


WHERE TO FIND IT: Online, through EWTN's website.

STRENGTHS: This is like the Penny Catechism, but with considerably greater theological depth and precision.

WEAKNESSES: While in theory a children's catechism, it cannot be used as one without a lot of difficulty (I say this from experience).  The text is good for independent learners and adults.  The questions are really well-chosen, but sometimes the coverage of material feels imbalanced.

RECOMMENDATION: Read through it once for your own benefit, and keep it up your sleeve as a resource to be aware of.

08 November 2015

Ricoeurean Re-Tellings of Three Popular Children's Movies

Kiki's Delivery Service – Kiki begins the film as a young witch, who lives in a world of inchoate dreams and hopes, and whose best friend is her pet cat, Jiji.  After becoming critically self-aware, she loses her magic abilities.  Then, spending some time in meditative retreat with an artist friend, she again feels the call of magic, but as a symbolic construct, rather than anything actually supernatural.  Resolutely autonomous, Kiki realizes that she is a witch merely because she chooses (by her act of narrative self-creation!) to interpret the world around her thus.  At the end, her cat Jiji, who has lost the ability to speak to her, no longer speaks, except in her imagination.

Frozen – Elsa is haunted by the brutal mythos of her nordic people, and feels torn between her public duties (which place her in the role of queen) and her inner desires (which place her in the role of evil villain).  After struggling with this narrative framework for most of her life, she breaks with it, and plunges into a fantasy world in which her own desires form the basis of a new master-narrative, which exaggerates the negative features of the cultural mythos in which she has been raised.  Her sister, the voice of reason, who sees myth as a creative instrument for the interpretation of reality, and not as something which ought to constrain us, eventually helps Elsa to break free from the repression of her naive self-understanding, and embrace a new, flexible mythos, in which her own duties and powers are merely fictions used to express and understand her interior states, and the experiences of those around her.

The Lion King – Simba is raised in a culture dominated by a monarchical political ontology, in which Simba himself is heavily constrained by his role as heir to the king.  His uncle, a usurper-king of the sort inherent in political ontologies of this variety, deprives Simba of the narrative role in which he has been raised, rendering the political ontology of his community unintelligible to him, and incompatible with his own struggle for self-understanding. (This shows us that any version of the monarchical political mythology is self-destructive when absolutized.) After fleeing to the jungle, Simba is aided in the critical self-examination of his culture and upbringing, and becomes aware of the prejudicial arbitrariness and contingency of its fundamental ontologies.  Liberated by this new critical awareness, Simba luxuriates in life's carefree possibilities, until he is called on by a member of his community, Nala, who wants him to engage the cultural community of his youth, and use his combination of critical self-awareness and narrative fluency within the dominant political paradigm to break the hegemony of the monarch and establish a new, more flexible governing ontology for the people.  This he does.

07 November 2015



Both volumes of Ludwig von Pastor's history of the pontificate of Leo X are now available!  Together the two volumes span over 1000 pages, and delve in great detail into such exciting topics as the rise of Luther's revolt, Leo X's response and condemnation of Luther, the Fifth Lateran Council, the Renaissance in Rome, Leo's struggles with the Holy Roman Emperor, and much much more.  Buy them today!

06 November 2015

Understanding the Nature of Marriage (4) – Duties and Blessings

Today I conclude my exposition of the Roman Catechism's chapter on the Sacrament of Matrimony.  The previous installment is here.  As before, the text of the Catechism is given in red and each paragraph is summarized in black.  

Those who find the wording of the Catechism difficult are invited to read only the summaries, or to skip to the end, where the essential points of the text are restated in short form.

The faithful should also be shown that there are three blessings of marriage: children, fidelity and the Sacrament. These are blessings which to some degree compensate for the inconveniences referred to by the Apostle in the words: Such shall have tribulation of the flesh, and they lead to this other result that sexual intercourse, which is sinful outside of marriage, is rendered right and honourable.
The first blessing, then, is a family, that is to say, children born of a true and lawful wife. So highly did the Apostle esteem this blessing that he says: The woman shall be saved by bearing children.' These words are to be understood not only of bearing children, but also of bringing them up and training them to the practice of piety; for the Apostle immediately subjoins: If she continue in faith. Scripture says: Hast thou children? Instruct them and bow down their necks from childhood. The same is taught by the Apostle; while Tobias, Job and other holy Patriarchs in Sacred Scripture furnish us with beautiful examples of such training. The duties of both parents and children will, however, be set forth in detail when we come to speak of the fourth Commandment.
Next we are encouraged to consider the three chief blessings which accompany marriage.  The first of these is the begetting of children in the context of a family, and hte process of brining them up and forming them to practice piety.
The second advantage of marriage is faith, not indeed that virtue which we receive in Baptism; but the fidelity which binds wife to husband and husband to wife in such a way that they mutually deliver to each other power over their bodies, promising at the same time never to violate the holy bond of Matrimony. This is easily inferred from the words pronounced by Adam when taking Eve as his wife, and which were afterwards confirmed by Christ our Lord in the Gospel: Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife and they shall be two in one flesh. It is also inferred from the words of the Apostle: The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and in like manner, the husband hath not power of his own body but the wife. Justly, then, did the Lord in the Old Law ordain the most severe penalties against adulterers who violated this conjugal fidelity.
Matrimonial fidelity also demands that they love one another with a special, holy and pure love; not as adulterers love one another but as Christ loves His Church. This is the rule laid down by the Apostle when he says: Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church. And surely (Christ's) love for His Church was immense; it was a love inspired not by His own advantage, but only by the advantage of His spouse.
The second blessing of marriage is the fidelity of the spouses to each other ,as each surrenders the right over his own body to the other ,and promises to love the other with a pure and holy love – not the love of lust, which arises from concupiscence, but the love of Christ, which builds up.
The third advantage is called the Sacrament, that is to say, the indissoluble bond of marriage. As the Apostle has it: The Lord commanded that the wife depart not from the husband, and if she depart that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to' her husband; and let not the husband put away his wife. And truly, if marriage as a Sacrament represents the union of Christ with His Church, it also necessarily follows that just as Christ never separates Himself from His Church, so in like manner the wife can never be separated from her husband in so far as regards the marriage­tie.
The third blessing of marriage is its indissolubility, in which the bond of marriage signifies the indissoluble bond between Christ and his Church.  (Thus the catechism refers to this blessing as simply "the Sacrament", meaning the role of matrimony in representing something holy and salvific.)
The more easily to preserve the holy state (of marriage) from dissensions, the duties of husband and wife as inculcated by St. Paul and by the Prince of the Apostles must be explained.
It is the duty of the husband to treat his wife generously and honourably. It should not be forgotten that Eve was called by Adam his companion. The woman, he says, whom thou gavest me as a companion. Hence it was, according to the opinion of some of the holy Fathers, that she was formed not from the feet but from the side of man; as, on the other hand, she was not formed from his head, in order to give her to understand that it was not hers to command but to obey her husband. 
Now we consider the duties of the spouses toward each other, which follow from the marital bond, beginning with the husband.  The catechism first emphasizes that the wife is the companion of the husband, and is therefore in essence his equal.  But it also tells us that wives are to be subject to their husbands, and therefore men have a duty to treat their wives honorably and generously, for women were made from man's side, "not from the feet".
The husband should also be constantly occupied in some honest pursuit with a view to provide necessaries for the support of his family and to avoid idleness, the root of almost every vice. 
The second duty of husbands is to work, so that by honest labor he can provide for the support of his family, and keep himself from idleness, which is the root of vice.
He is also to keep all his family in order, to correct their morals, and see that they faithfully discharge their duties.
Third, he must safeguard the moral rectitude of the family, overseeing the behavior of its members, correcting faults, and teaching them morals.
On the other hand, the duties of a wife are thus summed up by the Prince of the Apostles: Let wives be subject to their husbands. that if any believe not the word, they may be won without the word by the conversation of the wives, considering your chaste conversation with fear. Let not their adorning be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel: but the hidden man of the heart in the incorruptibility of a quiet and meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God. For after this manner heretofore the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling hint lord.
To summarize the duties of wives, the text quotes liberally from the first letter of St. Peter.  The duties listed there are roughly as follows:
  • to be subject to their husbands
  • to adorn themselves with the incorruptibility of meekness and a quiet spirit, rather than with external finery
To train their children in the practice of virtue and to pay particular attention to their domestic concerns should also be especial objects of their attention. The wife should love to remain at home, unless compelled by necessity to go out; and she should never presume to leave home without her husband's consent.
Again, and in this the conjugal union chiefly consists, let wives never forget that next to God they are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.
To the above are added the following:
  • to train the children in the practice of virtue
  • to attend to the economic concerns of the family, and its domestic well-being
  • to love to remain at home
  • to love and obey their husbands in all things not opposed to Christian piety.
Having explained these matters, pastors should next teach what rites are to be observed in contracting marriage. There is no need, however, that we dwell on these questions here. The Council of Trent has laid down fully and accurately what must be chiefly observed; and this decree will not be unknown to pastors. It will suffice, then, to admonish them­to study to make themselves acquainted, from the doctrine of the Council, with what regards this subject, and to explain it carefully to the faithful.
With regard to the rite by which marriage is established, we are encouraged to familiarize ourselves with the decree of Trent on the topic, and priests are asked to explain it carefully to the faithful.
But above all, lest young persons, whose period of life is marked by extreme indiscretion, should be deceived by a merely nominal marriage and foolishly rush into sinful love­ unions, the pastor cannot too frequently remind them that there can be no true and valid marriage unless it be contracted in the presence of the parish priest, or of some other priest commissioned by him, or by the Ordinary, and that of a certain number of witnesses.
Young people should be reminded that marriage can only be validly contracted in the presence of the proper witnesses.
The impediments of marriage are also to be explained, a subject so minutely and accurately treated by many grave and learned writers on the virtues and vices as to render it an easy task to draw upon their labours, particularly as the pastor has occasion to have such works continually in his hands. The instructions, therefore, which such books contain, and also the decrees of the Council with regard to the impediments arising from spiritual relationship, from public honesty, and from fornication, the pastor should peruse with attention and expound with care.
The text refers priests to the discussions of impediments to marriage, in books he consults frequently.  We assume the text refers to moral manuals which break down the various cases related to marriage and give analyses of them.  Our modern edition directs us to the Supplement to St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae, to the Code of Canon Law, and to St. Alphonsus's Theologia Moralis, which no doubt treats the matter with the greatest precision of these three.
From the above may be learned the dispositions with which the faithful should contract matrimony. They should consider that they are about to enter upon a work that is not human but divine. The example of the Fathers of the Old Law, who esteemed marriage as a most holy and religious rite, although it had not then been raised to the dignity of a Sacrament, shows the singular purity of soul and piety (with which Christians should approach marriage).
The Chapter on Matriomny is concluded with a discussion of the considerations which those entering into marriage ought to keep in mind.  First, that they are entering into a contract not merely human, but divine.
Among other things, children should be exhorted earnestly that they owe as a tribute of respect to their parents, or to those under whose guardianship and authority they are placed, not to contract marriage without their knowledge, still less in defiance of their express wishes. It should be observed that in the Old Law children were always given in marriage by their fathers; and that the will of the parent is always to have very great influence on the choice of the child, is clear from these words of the Apostle He that giveth his virgin in marriage doth well; and he that giveth her not, doth better.
Second, that deference to the will of parents and guardians is due in those marrying, and that they should avoid marrying in defiance of parental consent.
Finally, the use of marriage is a subject which pastors should so treat as to avoid any expression that may be unfit to meet the ears of the faithful, that may be calculated to offend the piety of some, or excite the laughter of. others. The words of the Lord are chaste words; and the teacher of a Christian people should make use of the same kind of language, one that is characterised by singular gravity and purity of soul. Two lessons of instruction to the faithful are, then, to be specially insisted upon.
The first is that marriage is not to be used for purposes of lust or sensuality, but that its use is to be restrained within those limits which, as we have already shown, have been fixed by the Lord. It should be remembered that the Apostle admonishes: They that have wives, let them be as though they had them not, and that St. Jerome says: The love which a wise man cherishes towards his wife is the result of judgment, not the impulse of passion; he governs the impetuosity of desire, and is not hurried into indulgence. There is nothing more shameful than that a husband should love his wife as an adulteress.
Third, that it should not be entered into for purposes of lust or sensuality, but with an attitude of chastity and with temperate moderation of the passions.
But as every blessing is to be obtained from God by holy prayer, the faithful are also to be taught sometimes to abstain from the marriage debt, in order to devote themselves to prayer. Let the faithful understand that (this religious continence), according to the proper and holy injunction of our predecessors, is particularly to be observed for at least three days before Communion, and oftener during the solemn fast of Lent.
Fourth, that the married couple ought to periodically abstain from intercourse in order to dedicate themselves to prayer, and this always for three days prior to the reception of communion.
Thus will they find the blessings of marriage to be daily increased by an abundance of divine grace; and living in the pursuit of piety, they will not only spend this life in peace and tranquillity, but will also repose in the true and firm hope, which confoundeth not, of arriving, through the divine goodness, at the possession of that life which is eternal.

Key Points in Today's Catechism:

  1. Marriage imparts certain blessings and duties upon the spouses.
  2. The first blessing is the begetting of children in the context of a family.
  3. The second blessing is the fidelity of the spouses in love and intimacy.
  4. The third blessing is the indissolubility of the bond, by which chiefly marriage is a sign of divine things.
  5. Husbands and wives are comapnions, and therefore enjoy an essential equality, rather than pure domination.
  6. The wife is nonetheless subject to the husband.
  7. The first duty of a husband is to treat his wife honorably and generously.
  8. The second duty of a husband is to work for the material support of his family, and to avoid idleness.
  9. The third duty of a husband is to safeguard the morals of the family.
  10. Wives should adorn themselves with meekness and spiritual quiet.
  11. It is a duty of wives to train their children in the practice of virtue.
  12. It is a duty of wives to attend to the domestic well-being of the family.
  13. Wives ought to love to remain at home.
  14. Wives ought to love and obey their husbands in all things not opposed to Christian piety.
  15. It is important for lay people be be well-catechized in the rite of marriage, its meaning, and its requirements.
  16. Proper witnesses are necessary for a valid marriage.
  17. Priests should instruct the laity on impediments to marriage.
  18. Those entering into marriage ought to remember that they are entering a divine bond.
  19. Marriages ought to be contracted with the consent of the parents.
  20. Marriage should not be entered for reasons of lust or sensuality.
  21. Spouses ought to abstain from intercourse periodically to devote themselves to prayer, and especially in preparation for the reception of the Eucharist. 

05 November 2015

Understanding the Nature of Marriage (3) – Sacramental Marriage

Today I continue my exposition of the Roman Catechism's chapter on the Sacrament of Matrimony.  The previous installment is here.  As before, the text of the Catechism is given in red and each paragraph is summarized in black.  

Those who find the wording of the Catechism difficult are invited to read only the summaries, or to skip to the end, where the essential points of the text are restated in short form.


It will now be necessary to explain that Matrimony is far superior in its sacramental aspect and aims at an incomparably higher end. For as marriage, as a natural union, was instituted from the beginning to propagate the human race; so was the sacramental dignity subsequently conferred upon it in order that a people might be begotten and brought up for the service and worship of the true God and of Christ our Saviour.
Note the contrast between natural and sacramental marriage:
  • Natural marriage was instituted for the propagation of the human race.
  • Sacramental marriage was instituted for the begetting and rearing of a people in service and worship of God.
Thus when Christ our Lord wished to give a sign of the intimate union that exists between Him and His Church and of His immense love for us, He chose especially the sacred union of man and wife. That this sign was a most appropriate one will readily appear from the fact that of all human relations there is none that binds so closely as the marriage­tie, and from the fact that husband and wife are bound to one another by the bonds of the greatest affection and love. Hence it is that Holy Writ so frequently represents to us the divine union of Christ and the Church under the figure of marriage.
When Christ chose a metaphor with which to express his union with the Church, he chose marriage, because marriage is the closest of human bonds.
That Matrimony is a Sacrament the Church, following the authority of the Apostle, has always held to be certain and incontestable. In his Epistle to the Ephesians he writes: Men should love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth it and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church; for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall adhere to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church. Now his expression, this is a great sacrament, undoubtedly refers to Matrimony, and must be taken to mean that the union of man and wife, which has God for its Author, is a Sacrament, that is, a sacred sign of that most holy union that binds Christ our Lord to His Church.
In Ephesians 5:32, "this is a great sacrament" refers to matrimony, and tells us that the bond is a sacred sign of Christ's union with the Church.
That this is the true and proper meaning of the Apostle's words is shown by the ancient holy Fathers who have interpreted them, and by the explanation furnished by the Council of Trent. It is indubitable, therefore, that the Apostle compares the husband to Christ, and the wife to the Church; that the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; and that for this very reason the husband should love his wife and the wife love and respect her husband. For Christ loved his church, and gave himself for her; while as the same Apostle teaches, the church is subject to Christ.
In defense of this reading of Scripture, the text cites the Decree on Matrimony from the Council of Trent, which says the same.  Then the analogy between Marriage and Christ is extended: just as Christ is head of the Church, the husband is head of the wife.  This implies furthermore that the husband must give himself up fully to his wife in love, and that the wife ought to love and obey the husband.
That grace is also signified and conferred by this Sacrament, which are two properties that constitute the principal characteristics of each Sacrament, is declared by the Council as follows: By his passion Christ, the Author and Perfecter of the venerable Sacraments, merited for us the grace that perfects the natural love (of husband and wife), confirms their indissoluble union, and sanctifies them. It should, therefore, be shown that by the grace of this Sacrament husband and wife are joined in the bonds of mutual love, cherish affection one towards the other, avoid illicit attachments and passions, and so keep their marriage honourable in all things, . . . and their bed undefiled.
It is shown that marriage qualifies as a sacrament.  The definition of a sacrament is a sacred sign, instituted by Christ to give grace. The three marks of a sacrament, then, are:
  • institution by Christ
  • signification of grace
  • actual, efficatious conferral of grace.
The text again cites the Decree on Matrimony from Trent, which tells us that the grace of Christ is given in matrimony to perfect the love of the spouses, to render their union indissoluble, and to make them holy.  Obviously the grace of sanctification and the personal, inward fruits of the sacrament are received variably, depending of the disposition of the individual in question.
How much the Sacrament of Matrimony is superior to the marriages made both previous to and under the (Mosaic) Law may be judged from the fact that though the Gentiles themselves were convinced there was something divine in marriage, and for that reason regarded promiscuous intercourse as contrary to the law of nature, while they also considered fornication, adultery and other kinds of impurity to be punishable offences; yet their marriages never had any sacramental value.
Among the Jews the laws of marriage were observed far more religiously, and it cannot be doubted that their unions were endowed with more holiness. As they had received from God the promise that in the seed of Abraham all nations should be blessed," it was justly considered by them to be a very pious duty to bring forth children, and thus contribute to the propagation of the chosen people from whom Christ the Lord and Saviour was to derive His birth in His human nature. Still their unions also fell short of the real nature of a Sacrament.
Next the text emphasizes the difference between marriage in the Mosaic Covenant, and marriage under the New Testament.  Interestingly, the text seems to treat marriage under the Mosaic Law as comparable in essentials to pagan marriage.  The pagans recognized the essential evil of adultery and fornication, but were more or less lax in observing these laws of nature.  The Jews, by contrast, observed the natural law with greater zeal, and more holiness, inasmuch as they understood the begetting of children as a fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant and therefore and act of service to God.  But still, these marriages were not in essence sacramental.  Next we are told why not.
It should be added that if we consider the law of nature after the fall and the Law of Moses we shall easily see that­ marriage had fallen from its original honour and purity. Thus under the law of nature we read of many of the ancient Patriarchs that they had several wives at the same time; while under the Law of Moses it was permissible, should cause exist, to repudiate one's wife by giving her a bill of divorce. Both these (concessions) have been suppressed by the law of the Gospel, and marriage has been restored to its original state.
The Old Testament allowed for both polygamy and divorce, both violations of the primordial character of marriage as unitary and indissoluble.  This imperfection of marriage after the fall was remedied by Christ.
Though some of the ancient Patriarchs are not to be blamed for having married several wives, since they did not act thus without divine dispensation, yet Christ our Lord has clearly shown that polygamy is not in keeping with the nature of Matrimony. These are His words: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh; and He adds: wherefore they are no more two but one flesh. In these words He makes it clear that God instituted marriage to be the union of two, and only two persons. The same truth He has taught very distinctly in another passage, wherein He says: Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her; and if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. For if it were lawful for a man to have several wives, there is no reason why he who takes to himself a second wife, along with the wife he already has, should be regarded as more guilty of adultery than if he had dismissed his first wife and taken a second.
Hence it is that when an infidel who, following the customs of his country has married several wives, happens to be converted to the true religion, the Church orders him to dismiss all but the first, and regard her alone as his true and lawful wife.
We are told that the patriarchs practiced polygamy through divine dispensation.  One wonders whether this dispensation was general or individual, whether it applied only to figures such as Jacob and David, or also to minor figures like Elkanah, father of Samuel, who was a bigamist.  In any case, Christ makes clear that natural marriage is unitive by his gloss on the text of Genesis—the two shall become one flesh—and his teaching on divorce, since if polygamy were acceptable, divorce would be unnecessary.  Finally, we are told that those without faith who practice polygamy and later convert to Christianity, must dismiss all but their first wife.  Thus the reception of Christ by the pagan drives away polygamy, just as Christ by his teaching restored marriage to its original, unitive state.
The self­same testimony of Christ our Lord easily proves that the marriage­tie cannot be broken by any sort of divorce. For if by a bill of divorce a woman were freed from the law that binds her to her husband, she might marry another husband without being in the least guilty of adultery. Yet our Lord says clearly: Whosoever shall put away his wife and shall marry another committeth adultery. Hence it is plain that the bond of marriage can be dissolved by death alone, as is confirmed by the Apostle when he says: A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband die she is at liberty; let her marry whom she will, only in the Lord; and again: To them that are married, not I but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband; and if she depart that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. To the wife, then, who for a just cause has left her husband, the Apostle offers this alternative: Let her either remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. Nor does holy Church permit husband and wife to separate without weighty reasons.
Furthermore, marriage under Christ cannot in any way be dissolved, except by the death of a spouse.  In support of this, we are given the following reasoning: if the dissolution of the bond were possible through divorce, then it would not be adultery to marry a divorced woman.  Furthermore, the indissolubility is confirmed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:10, where he requires celibacy of separated spouses until they reconcile.
Lest, however, the law of Matrimony should seem too severe on account of its absolute indissolubility, the advantages of this indissolubility should be pointed out.
The first (beneficial consequence) is that men are given to understand that in entering Matrimony virtue and congeniality of disposition are to be preferred to wealth or beauty ­­ a circumstance that cannot but prove of the very highest advantage to the interests of society at large.
In the second place, if marriage could be dissolved by divorce, married persons would hardly ever be without causes of disunion, which would be daily supplied by the old enemy of peace and purity; while, on the contrary, now that the faithful must remember that even though separated as to bed and board, they remain none the less bound by the bond of marriage with no hope of marrying another, they are by this very fact rendered less prone to strife and discord. And even if it sometimes happens that husband and wife become separated, and are unable to bear the want of their partnership any longer, they are easily reconciled by friends and return to their common life.
Now we are informed of the chief benefits of indissolubility:

  1. The duration of the bond teaches us to prefer the enduring qualities of virtue and congeniality over ephemeral beauty or wealth, and this is advantageous to society at large, inasmuch as (ideally) it leads to the promotion of the cultivation of virtue among people generally.
  2. The indissolubility of the bond provides a great incentive for spouses to be peaceable and to avoid strife and discord, since they know that they cannot leave and lawfully marry another person.

The pastor should not here omit the salutary admonition of St. Augustine who, to convince the faithful that they should not consider it a hardship to receive back the wife they have put away for adultery, provided she repents of her crime, observes: Why should not the Christian husband receive back his wife when the Church receives her? And why should not the wife pardon her adulterous but penitent husband when Christ has already pardoned him? True it is that Scripture calls him foolish who keepeth an adulteress ; but the meaning refers to her who refuses to repent of her crime and quit the disgraceful course she has entered on.  From all this it will be clear that Christian marriage is far superior in dignity and perfection to that of Gentiles and Jews.
Finally, the text quotes St. Augustine, who urges spouses to take back and forgive truly repentant spouses who are guilty of adultery, just as the Church receives back and forgives them.

Key Points in Today's Catechism:

  1. Natural marriage was instituted for the propagation of the human race.
  2. Sacramental marriage aims beyond this, to the generation and rearing of children dedicated to the worship and service of God.
  3. Marriage is the closest of human bonds.
  4. Marriage is a true sacrament.
  5. Marriage signifies the bond between Christ and the Church.
  6. Just as Christ is head of the Church, so the husband is head of the wife.
  7. Just as Christ gave his life for the Church, the husband must give himself up for his wife.
  8. Just as the Church ought to respect and be subject to Christ, so the wife ought to respect and be subject to her husband.
  9. The sacrament of matrimony gives a three-fold grace:
    —the perfection of love between the spouses
    —the indissolubility of the bond
    —the personal sanctification of those wedded.
  10. Marriage under the Mosaic Law was practiced with greater holiness than pagan marriage, but had neither a sacramental character, nor the original integrity of the bond.
  11. The imperfection of marriage under the old covenant was evident in the admission of polygamy and divorce, both of which fall short of the natural perfection of marriage.
  12. Marriage was resotred to its original integrity by Christ.
  13. The restoration of marriage (in its sacramental form) makes it unitive, and excludes all polygamy.
  14. Sacramental marriage is also completely indissoluble, except by the death of the spouses.
  15. The union of one sacramentally married spouse with a person other than their spouse is adultery.
  16. Continence is required of separated spouses until they reconcile.
  17. Indissolubility has two noteworthy advantages:
    —it promotes the cultivation of virtue, as more important than wealth or beauty in a spouse
    —it promotes peacability between spouses, who know once they are married they cannot be wed to another.
  18. Spouses ought to forgive, even if what is repented of is adultery.