|You have been cleared. | central command | make contact|
Blogging under the patronage of
Subscribe to Dossier Updates!
Let me tell you something about humans, nephew. They're a wonderful, friendly people . . . as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers . . . put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time . . . and those same intelligent, friendly, wonderful people will become as nasty, and as violent, as the most bloodthirsty Klingon.
-- Quark, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, "Siege of AR-558"
Previous DispatchesMatters Catholic A Papist's Potpourri
"The Porterhouse Steak of the Blogosphere. . . [O]ne of the great undiscovered essayists of our times . . . has my vote as a prose stylist of genius."
-- Mark Shea
"Why do you write at such length? Who can read such long screeds?"
-- Pavel C in ?
"You are a treasure, Secret Agent Man."
-- Fr. Brian Stanley
"I wish I had time to read all that, but I don't
-- Fr. Bill Vath
"Your blogging is simply unreadable."
-- BF in Texas.
"[O]ne of my favorite Catholic writers today."
-- Dave Armstrong
"I couldn't even read the whole thing, SAM."
-- Geoff Horton
"Gloriously funny and on the mark. You are a credit to the medium."
-- Otto Hiss
"I enjoy your blog (except for the strange, long, rambling, weird entries)."
-- John K.
"You elegantly mix sarcasm with real political/moral clear thinking."
-- Dr. Peter Frey
Catholic and Enjoying It
Online SourcesDave Armstrong's
Biblical Evidence for Catholicism
Corunum Apologetics Website
The Ever-Helpful New Advent
The Adoremus Website
The Fathers of Mercy
The Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska
749 Catholic Prayers
Farrell's Companion to the Summa
Papal Encyclicals Net
Documents of the Council of Trent
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Catechism of St. Pius X
The Holy Bible (Douai-Rhiems Version)
The Holy Bible (KJV & RSV) Ron Rychlak's Hitler, the War & the Pope
A Virtual Museum of Art
Notices & Policies
Any and all correspondence with the Dossier or its proprietor is presumed to be eligible for blogging and will be so used, in whole or in edited form as the proprietor may see fit, unless a request to the contrary is made in the correspondence which would otherwise be eligible for blogging. (Tell me at the time, not after you've blown up over what I did with your email). Matter eligible for blogging may be later used, altered, and re-used by the Dossier' proprietor as he may see fit.
Commentary about, or linking to, any website, weblog, or essay by the Dossier is to be understood (in the absence of other context) only as the proprietor's limited approval of the material as and to the extent identified. Neither the Dossier nor its proprietor wholly, entirely, and slavishly endorse any views or persons, except the following:
People Who Are Canonized:
The Great Mother of God Mary Most Holy, Joseph her most chaste spouse, Dismas, Peter, Paul, Simon de Montfort, John of God, Thomas the Apostle, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas More, Thomas Beckett, Veronica, Boniface, Maria Goretti, Luigi Quatrocchi, Alphonsus Ligouri, Theresa of Avila, Therese of the Child Jesus, Pius X, Pius V, and all the rest of them;
People Who Definitely Ought to be Canonized:
His Holiness John Paul II, Vicar of Christ, Pius IX, Pius XII, Leo XIII, Innocent III, Nicholas I, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, John Henry Cardinal Newman, Bishop Fulton Sheen, Frank Duff, Christopher Dawson, Richard M. Weaver, Heinrich Rommen, Jaques Maritain, Deitrich von Hildebrand, Hillaire Belloc, John C. Calhoun, James Longstreet, and Robert E. Lee;
People Who Will Probably Be Canonized Someday:
Mark Shea, I. Shawn McElhinney, Gary Hoge, and E.L. Core (of course, the blanket and slavish endorsement as to these persons is valid only to the extent they're not disagreeing with me);
People Who, If Not Yet Saints, Are Definitely Being Persecuted for His Sake:
Any Christian whose orthodox theological or disciplinary views are impugned by a television network, National Public Radio, the New York Times, America or the National Catholic Reporter;
and, lastly, things which are . . .
Ontologically Incapable of Sainthood, but Still Endorsed
The P-47 Thunderbolt, the F8 Crusader, the A-10 Warthog and its 30mm gatling gun, Hecker & Koch rifles, NCAA Division III football, Countess Mara ties (with logo), MacBarren's Pipe Tobacco (especially Virginian No. 1), Samuel Gawith Pipe Tobaccos (especially Best Brown Flake), Peterson pipes, Hoyo de Monterrey cigars, Krohn Vintage Port, and my dog Auggie.
SecretAgentMan's Dossier is copyrighted, except with regard to linked or quoted material as may be necessary for the owners thereof to retain all rights, because property is sacred. Permission is given to link to any part of this weblog until I get upset over your doing it. Original content may be reproduced and distributed with my permission, so just email me because I'm very easygoing. SecretAgentMan's Dossier Copyright 2003 Ian A.T. McLean.
1. Tiepolo, Giovanni / Visipix.com
2. Photograph subject to GNU Free Documentation License A copy of the License may be found at the link and is incorported here by reference. The License applies to the photograph without changes or added conditions whatsoever.
Blog Design by Christopher Blosser
Sunday, February 29, 2004
Thoughts on The Passion
Here are some initial thoughts on The Passion which I saw last Wednesday. It's an amazing movie, and seeing it was unlike any other movie-going experience I've ever had. The audience was hushed, anxious, eager for the film to begin. Several people had brought in buckets of popcorn and fountain drinks -- I watched them, and looked when the film was over. The popcorn was uneaten and the drinks untouched. The atmosphere wasn't really movielike. It was more like attending a public rosary or a litany. It's the only movie I've been to in years where no one talked. No one. Trust me -- talking during movies is something I truly abominate, and I can hear whispering from ten rows away.
The film is redolent with tiny moments and glimpses of symbolism. The upright and cross-beam of Jesus' Cross are fastened with three bolts, arranged in a triangle. O most holy Trinity, undivided unity, holy God, mighty God, God immortal be adored! During the flagellation, one of Jesus' ribs is exposed. He is the new Adam. These are all done so well that they do not distract. They're only there if you have time, or inclination, to see them. There are, I suspect, many more such touches. I recall the dramatic setting of the Crucifixion itself. Jesus' cross is set high atop an outcropping of rock, and the ground behind him quickly drops into a chasm studded with what looked like the entrances to tombs. It suggested to me that all mankind is hurtling toward that chasm, and only Jesus, His arms outstretched, can stop us.
Much has been made of the film's dialogue being solely in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. The film's critics claim that Gibson used those languages solely to alienate the audience from the Jews, to make the Jews seem horrible, brutal and foreign. We first see and hear Jesus praying in the Garden -- in Hebrew. The use of foreign languages continues, and ends up giving events a distinctive liturgical quality. Pilate, for example, speaks Latin. But if my college education was worth the money, he uses the pronunciations of ecclesiastical Latin, the Latin of the old Mass. "Dicere me", he says to Jesus. "Speak to me." But he pronounces it "dee-cheray" whereas the classical Latin pronunciation is "Dee-kereh." I hope that holds out, because it's a wonderful layer to the story of the Eucharistic sacrifice which is all the more wonderful for being unobtrusive.
Likewise with Pilate offering Jesus a cup at their first meeting. Again, the critics find anti-Semitism here -- Pilate sympathizes with Jesus, but Caiaphas doesn't offer Him a drink. Is that why Gibson included it in the film? So we can understand that the Jews are evil people, whereas the gentiles are good people since they always offer innocent men refreshments before beating and killing them? So say the critics. From what I saw, Pilate offers a cup of wine. "And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come." Luke 22:15-18 (KJV). Is the episode anti-Semitic, or eucharistic? As I explained in my earlier essay, to some critics they're the same thing, and so it's not surprising that the alternative meaning is so easily counted for nothing.
In the film's portrayal of Caiaphas I saw an angry man, furious at Jesus' claims to be the Messiah. I didn't see him as a "Christ-killing Jew," nor was I inspired with a need to kill Jews as a writer for Jewsweek magazine says he was. One thing critics haven't bothered telling anyone, by the way, is that the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin features several Jewish priests who protest the proceedings and are quickly hustled off by other priests and temple guards. Not only this, but the priests who protest aren't Jesus' follwers and can therefore qualify as "Jews" in the critics' lexicon. It's hard to see how the depiction of a Christ-killing Sanhedrin full of Satanic pawns can be made by showing Jewish protests against Jesus' treatment which aren't motivated by a belief that He is God.
Toward the end of the film, Caiaphas advances to the foot of Jesus' cross and rebukes Him, saying that He cannot be the Messiah for if he were, he would save Himself from death. This, the critics tell us, is more proof of anti-Semitism. But as Caiaphas turns and walks away, he passes St. Dismas' cross. Jesus lifts His face to Heaven and cries "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." St. Dismas shouts to Caiaphas, "He's praying for you." Later, during the earthquake which rocks Jerusalem, Caiaphas weeps when he sees the Temple veil torn asunder. To me, it was a poignant depiction of men in a fallen world -- However much Caiaphas may have detested Jesus' "blasphemy", he could not see the Holy of Holies exposed to public view without grief. Is it grief over Jesus' death? Does Ciaphas suddenly realize there is a new Temple? Or is it grief over a calamity whose real dimensions Caiaphas doesn't appreciate? "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." This isn't the cinematic language of Nazism.
Before the film begins, we see scripture telling us that Jesus died because of all our sins. After the film begins, we see that even Satan knows the passion will require Jesus to carry all our sins. We see a glimpse of the daughters of Jerusalem distraught at His suffering. (Yes, I wish Jesus' speech to them had been included). We see Veronica -- who is not a Nordic blonde -- wipe Jesus' face after He nods permission. We see Simon of Cyrene shout at the Roman soldiers to stop hurting Jesus, saying he will not continue to help Jesus with the Cross unless they stop hurting Him. Simon offers Jesus the gentlest words possible under the circumstances ("Not much farther. It will be over soon.") We see priests of Israel turning their faces from cruelty and bloodshed inflicted by Romans. Mel Gibson makes a cameo appearance in the film -- it's his hand that puts the first nail in Jesus' hand. Yet, we're still told, over and over again, that the film clearly says that "the Jews" are all evil and that they -- and no one else -- killed Jesus.
The violence inflicted on Jesus is horrendous, and I found it numbing. Why is that? Is it because the critics are right, and my conscience is reacting to the prurient sadism behind what Jim Cork's critic of choice, Michael Coren, calls a "pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic blood cult"? I thought Coren's line was silly on several levels, the most obvious one being that none of the documents of Vatican II preach that Jesus' crucifixion was a decorous, bloodless affair that could only be viewed from a distance and was all over in five minutes. I also had to shake my head because cult means "the service expressly offered to God through sacred signs and inward dispositions of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, and petition for forgiveness, salvation, and earthly well-being which acknowledge God's supreme power." K. Rahner and H. Vorgrimler, Theological Dictionary p. 112 (New York: Herder & Herder, 1965).
Blood of Christ, only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father, save us.So yeah, you could say we're a blood cult. I for one am proud of it. I'm sorry it scandalizes weak sisters like Michael Coren. I'm sorry it's too much for a lot of people. But we're a blood cult. We worship Holy Blood. We drink Holy Blood. We adore Holy Blood which is glorious, not only for its other mystical and magnificent divinity, but for the fact that it was shed in torture for our sins and our redemption. As far as I'm concerned anyone who -- like the Romans who crucified Jesus -- is shocked at the gruesome cannibalistic atmosphere they find in all that can go soak themselves in oh-so-spiritual readings of John Chapter 6 and imaginary depictions of Jesus as a cartoon character whose feet never touched the earth. Let them squirm at the idea of God's chest hair matted with sweat, dirt under His nails, rubbing gritty sleep from his eyes. Let them stop their ears at the thought of Him screaming in pain and gasping for breath. We love the God-Man entire. His divinity, His humanity, and everything they did and underwent. We even love His blood, especially His blood. That's why we're a blood cult.
Anyhow, I'm not too sure about numbness and squeamishness at the violence in The Passion being the infallible sign of an ennobled conscience. At least not in my case. Perhaps the thought of such suffering happening just because of my tiny little inconsequential mortal sins -- which are, after all, the kind of things everybody does all the time -- is just too much to take in. Perhaps I'm more comfortable limiting my mind to the stylized and streamlined pictographs on my parish's stations of the Cross. Perhaps my pride won't let me see what I deserve to pay for my sins, or the fact that I'm so useless I couldn't begin to pay for them. The violence in this movie is revolting. It's in-your-face ugly, because you caused it. Think of someone's hand on the back of your neck, rubbing your nose -- not in your own mess, but in what you inflicted on someone else. And people are having problems with this idea? With the number of "confession by appointment" parishes in our country I'm not surprised, not surprised at all. Maybe a blood cult could do us all a little good.
I'm still surprised at how critics of the film seem not to have a particularly clear memory of what they saw on the screen. Jim Cork laments the fate of Gesmas: "Oh, and the whole scene with the crow eating the thief's eyeball at the end was just lame. Nice way to end a movie." Actually, the movie doesn't end with that scene. It ends with the Deposition, and is tailed by a brief reference to the Resurrection.
Jewsweek gives this depiction of the film's storyline: "At the moment when Jesus finally dies, an earthquake sends shockwaves throughout Rome. (Ok, Mel, we get the metaphor.) Then, the Jewish High Priest who just sentenced Jesus to death cries in a syrupy ‘What-have-I-done?' style." But the Jewish High Priest hasn't "just sentenced Jesus to death." That's because at no point in the film does the Jewish High Priest sentence Jesus to death. Pilate does that, while washing his hands of responsibility at the same time. Pilate's order to the soldiers, "Do as they wish," represents a terrible confluence of gentile and Jewish sinfulness. It is Pilate's order that sends Jesus to the Cross -- he can try to depict himself as being aloof, but the brutality inflicted on Jesus by the Roman soldiers belies that image. Jesus appears to Pilate after being beaten. Pilate winces at His condition (just as Jewish priests watching the beating turned away at the sight), but Pilate does nothing and shows no remorse. If that reminded me of anything, it was Himmler's delicate sense of propriety that caused him to be sick after watching a mass execution during the Holocaust -- and his murderous indifference to humanity when he ordered more efficient means of killing to be developed. Anyhow, I'm not sure how all this makes Pilate's "sympathetic" offering of a drink appear as exonerating and heart-warming as the critics say it does. It makes Pilate look like an amoral and brutal nabob. Caiaphas, in my view, actually comes out better -- he, at least, is fighting for something. It's not pretty, and it's not right, but at least Caiaphas isn't killing someone because the alternative might include doing a lot of imperial paperwork.
For that matter, if Jewsweek ever paid a reviewer to actually watch the film, readers would learn that there is no earthquake in Rome. There is an earthquake in Jerusalem. It sends shockwaves through Pilate's residence. Pilate is in the scene. Pilate was not in Rome, but Jerusalem -- even most of the film's critics tend to agree that Pilate was in Jerusalem during the Crucifixion. No part of the film takes place in Rome. What would we think of a critic who went in to see Titanic and came out complaining that there are no icebergs in the Indian Ocean? We'd think he didn't watch the film, or that he didn't know anything about the film's subject, and that he couldn't care less either way.
As to double-standards, suppose Gibson had refused to give us the supposedly anti-Semitic picture of Caiaphas' "syrupy" crying and chosen to depict the High Priest as unmoved. Why, Jewsweek would be right there to tell us that this proves Gibson's an anti-Semite, because he's depicted Caiaphas as a man without human feelings. See, in the critics' main view, it's the Christian vision which motivates the film that is the source of anti-Semitism. So anything in it would be -- and has been -- called anti-Semitic without rhyme, reason, or consistency. The ADL says the film is anti-Semitic because it portrays the Jews acting under satanic influences; Bill Cork says it's anti-Semitic because it doesn't depict the Jews as acting under satanic influences. I'm beginning to think that if Mel Gibson had made the whole film without a single Jewish character, we'd be hearing indictments of The Passion's anti-Semitic theme that the Jews don't have an historical connection to the land of Israel.
Back to Jim Cork's alleged "ending" for the movie. When St. Dismas insists that his punishment is just, and begs Jesus to remember him when He comes into His kingdom, Gesmas continues to scoff and rage. A crow plucks out his eyes. He's become physically blind to match his spiritual blindness. Sophocles put a similar piece of symbolism in Oedipus Rex, but that might not qualify as "lame" because it doesn't suggest that God can and will inflict pain and deformity on us because of our sins, because He owns us to begin with, and because even such hard lessons, once accepted, can lead us to eternal bliss. If that's "lame" then so is the Book of Job.
Bill Cork watched the flagellation scene and decried it as anti-Semitic: "The Romans are egged on by Satan, wandering through the crowd (the Jews needed no Satanic encouragement)." Satan is in the group watching the beating, but from what I saw his eyes were directed entirely and intensely at Jesus. Satan is holding a malformed child, and occasionally looks affectionately at it/him while the beating is going on. Bill Cork and Michael Coren find the scene unbiblical -- Michael Coren even finds it "anti-humanity." I wonder:
Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.2 Thess. 2:3-6 (RSV). Who is Satan holding in his arms? Why is Satan slightly smiling, when he's not staring malevolently at Jesus? The film's beginning shows Satan trying to dissuade Jesus from undergoing the passion, because it's impossible, it can't be done. Isn't he here tempting Jesus again? As if to say, "It won't work, Son of Man. Even if you complete the task, my day will still come." It astounds me that so many indictments of anti-Semitism and "anti-humanity-ism" are being launched with such complete confidence and without even the slightest effort to consider an alternative interpretation that doesn't make the film evil.
Michael Coren's indictment of the film also rests on it's having supposedly missed the whole point of the Gospel story because it shows us that evil is ugly:
Herod is some cross-dressing lunatic, the Pharisee leaders, some of the brightest men of the age, are all obscene brutes and the Roman soldiers and the mob resemble crazed gargoyles. No, no, no! The point has been completely missed. Hate me if you like, but please listen. The point is this: We would have crucified Him. We would crucify Him. You, me, us. We'd smile, be tolerant and loving, do the right thing as we see it, and crucify Him. Then go home to hug our children and talk about how bad the world had become. Evil seduces and beguiles. It is frequently attractive. If it was as ugly as director Gibson has portrayed, Jesus would not have had to die in agony. And agony is what it was.I'll pause here to note how blithely so many of the film's critics ignore their own "tests" for a decent passion play. So does Mr. Coren, having just excoriated us for reveling in a pre-Vatican II "blood cult" which celebrates Jesus' suffering, demand that we reflect on Jesus excruciating agony. Why isn't Mr. Coren making his own little fetish of Jesus' agony, his own pre-Vatican II agony cult? He doesn't have to say -- he dislikes The Passion and that, apparently, is sufficient. How how on earth is Mel Gibson's vision of man's ugly sinfulness "anti-Humanity" according to Mr. Coren, whereas Mr. Coren's own baleful description of every man, woman and child on earth isn't? The ease with which criticism of The Passion gleefully works both sides of every argument never fails to astound me. I would call it a rank disdain for principles, or an opposition to the Gospel which justifies every means, did I not strongly believe that we're all sometimes as stupid as Mr. Coren was when he wrote his review.
I understand a point to which Mr. Coren is alluding, but not the point he actually ends up making. People need to have their consciences shocked, and realize that the comfortable conventionality of their lives may be riddled with sin -- as Jesus Himself said, woe unto you should all men like you. Propriety is not the test of goodness. (An interesting point for critics of the film's violence to consider). It would be very useful if someone could make a movie showing how tempting and attractive evil can be. But sooner or later, if the film is going to say anything useful, it will have to show the ugliness and insanity of evil. When that ugliness isn't brought home, when Christians resort to namby-pamby catechesis that doesn't get all "judgmental" about abortion, contraception, adultery, homosexual behavior, or any of the other scourges of bourgeios life, we just end up convincing everyone that sainthood means making oneself miserable by foregoing the tangible and apparent goods of this life in the hope of other intangible and unknown goods of the next. Mr. Coren writes:
Barabas. He was a Zealot leader, possibly a local aristocrat. We read our Hebrew and Greek, know about Essenes, Sadducees and Jewish life and culture. We understand. Yet here he is portrayed as a dribbling psychotic.I had always thought that one of the reasons evil should be disliked is that it takes things which could be good and wonderful -- like aristocracy, culture, leadership, and patriotism -- and makes them into dribbling psychoses. Yet Mr. Coren is telling us that showing the reality and end of the process misses "the point." I might agree with him if I thought Christianity was mere nominalism, the obeying of rules on the grounds that one must obey the rules. In that frame of reference there's no point to depicting men as being corrupted by evil - that they broke a rule ought to be enough to show their corruption. I might agree with him if I were a Protestant, and believed that men remain intrinsically as depraved as Gibson's portrait of Barabbas despite their salvation in Christ. In that frame The Passion's depiction of Barabbas' is redundant.
But I don't hold either of those opinions, and so I think Mr. Coren is confusing the appearance of evil with its nature. Jesus had to die in agony precisely because evil is as filthy, ugly, hurtful, and perverse as The Passion tries to indicate. That's why it took so much suffering to extirpate it from the human soul and inspire men to overcome their baser inclinations. Mr. Coren is free to tell us that he would have preferred Mr. Gibson to make another film, something along the lines of Ang Lee's Ice Storm with a clearer moral, but Mr. Coren departs from Christianity when he suggests that portraying evil and evil people as being demented and ugly "completely misses the point" of the Gospel.
Other things I noticed: The lighting in the film seemed off, lending a sickly gangrenous cast to the film's view of the world. One has the impression that the whole action occurs within a rotting body, among a dead people. Toward the end of the film, we're cut to a view of Jesus' face which seems surrealistic, made up of swirls of blood and flesh. For some reason that had me thinking about icons. The film's focus is so tight in time and the action so direct, brutal, and sparsely done that I wish the Hollywood-orchestra soundtrack had been omitted. I think, perhaps, that the film originally was meant to end with the beautiful, terrible "Pieta'," and that the Resurrection scene was tagged on at the end in response to criticisms which I find a bit wrongheaded.
Basically, they claim that the film is false to the Christian vision because it doesn't include the Resurrection. Or the Beatitudes. Or a panoramic depiction of the diversity of first-century Jewish life. Or the complete brutality of the Roman occupation of Israel. Or anything else that "ought" to go into a really good movie about Christianity. I think some of this criticism is just conditioning created by the fact that almost all the "Jesus movies" to date (King of Kings, Jesus of Nazareth) have been biographical, start-to-finish treatments of Jesus' life. I don't see why that has to be the standard frame for any film about Him. Why not a film that spends two hours on the Crucifixion, or Jesus' preaching the Eucharist, or His meeting with Nicodemus? Why not a series of films like Dekalog, each one a separate episode in His life?
Probably because it would be hard to fill that amount of time by using a cautious "ecumenical-interfaith-scholars'-approved-Bible-only" view of Christ, which is the standard test a studio would want to use in order to ensure a large market for the film. But we don't say that watching Gettysburg is disrespectful to American History because the film has action, conversations and incidents which can't be found in primary source material. Could this insistence with respect to films about Jesus also be a result of Protestant cultural conditioning that insists on limiting the Christian experience of Christ to a broadly-derived, publicly-shared rendering of Scripture alone? I'm reminded of the various criticism lodged by Presbyterians to the effect that the film is idolatrous because it depicts Mel Gibson's artistic visions and Anne Catherine Emmerich's pious visions -- neither of which is broadly-derived, publicly-rendered, and expository of Scripture alone.
Like everyone else, I was moved by the scene parallelling the Blessed Virgin rushing toward Jesus, who has fallen with the Cross, with an episode from His childhood when she ran to him after he fell down. When our Lady reaches Him, he says "Behold, I make all things new" and stands up, as though with new strength, to resume His journey. Truly, in this (and when we see our Lady praying during His scourging that He might choose to deliver himself soon) we see that He was the master of events, not the Romans, the Jews, or the Devil. I also liked the fact that He says what appears in Revelation 21, even though the book had not yet been written:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.I hadn't really thought about these verses in connection with the Crucifixion. "It is done." Jesus said that on the Cross. "I will give unto him that is athirst." Jesus said "I thirst." I remember preaching that we must all thirst for God, His love, and one another's conversion, panting like deer in the desert. There must be full reward in Heaven -- God has suffered as any of us has suffered, done nothing that He does not expect us to do -- surely He knows how to right all wrongs, heal all scars, remove all grief.
That's it for now. I'll see the film one or two times during Lent. It's not the kind of movie you see the next night, so that may take awhile.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 15:02 Hours [+]
Pot. Kettle. Cork.
Barbara Nicolosi of Church of the Masses recently explained why The Passion had such an impact on her family:
My family are of the stock for whom this movie is most meaningful. We are people who have spent thousands of hours brooding over the Sorrowful Mysteries. We are rosary people. We are people who really really DO Lent, and for whom Passion week is the center of the year. We think of the mass as being an unbloody Sacrifice that only has power because it recreates the bloody one of Calvary. We make the stations and holy hours and read the Scriptures and go on retreats and honor the Sacred Heart and offer things up and go to confession pretty much monthly.Bill Cork links to this post and says "this is dangerous, and shows why the film is dangerous -- and why we do indeed need to be afraid of how it will play out." I've said before that Bill's voice is one which ought to be heard whenever Christians make a passion play -- but not everything he uses that voice on is edifying. In fact, I'm fed to the teeth with the twisty, snide, and irresponsible polemics against The Passion and people who find it spiritually uplifting which so frequently scar and pockmark Bill's thoughts on the film.
Does Bill really think we need to be afraid of becoming "rosary people" who make the stations and holy hours? That's the post he linked to when he described what we need to be afraid of, you know -- not the post which claims that criticism of the film is demonic. Why the reckless, one-bomb-fits-all approach? What did he say about Mel Gibson?
I don't think Mel was intentionally making a movie to blame the Jews for Deicide. Rather, I think we can accept his explanation that he wanted to make a movie focusing on the meaning of the Passion for us. But in doing so, he used the writings of an 18th century German nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, as the basis, and this resulted in the inclusion of some problematic elements. Her Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the product of a pious but overworked imagination, and reflects both misunderstanding and ignorance of Scripture and unquestioning acceptance of antisemitic assumptions that prevailed among Catholics of the era. Her "visions" are so much a part of this movie that it would be fair to say it is a movie of her book, not of the Gospels.Well, double dittos for Bill. I don't think Bill is intentionally setting out to excoriate anything that's authentically and devotionally Catholic. Rather, I think we can accept Bill's explanation that he wants to blog about the meaning of Catholicism for us. But in doing so, Bill's tactics and orientations result in the inclusion of some problematic elements, such as telling us to be afraid lest we end up going to confession and daily mass. I think Bill's perspective on the film and its admirers might be the product of a pious but overworked imagination, which reflects both his misunderstandings about the nature of Catholic devotionalism and his unquestioning acceptance of some shallow anti-traditionalist notions that prevail among Catholics of our era. His visions about that are so integral to his criticism that sometimes it's fair to say his critiques are vindications of his own preferred way to live Catholicism and not actually criticisms of Mel Gibson's movie.
I think that's why Bill hasn't stopped to consider how someone might get a tad agitated when they're told that faithful Catholics -- the ones who follow the magisterium and so dislike Gibson's film -- need to be afraid of their rosaries and of experiencing "profound sadness" (NB: Not "intense desire to kill Jews") after watching The Passion. Bill's overheated imagination, which doesn't acknowledge any other frame of reference for the film, has been recklessly slathering The Passion and its admirers with a mile-wide brush of tar since Day One, suggesting over and over again that anyone who approves of The Passion is likely an anti-Semite or at least comfortable with anti-Semitism; won't mind infidelity to the Gospels; and aren't being faithful to the magisterium. Bill's had a number of visions identifying positive reactions to The Passion with people who believe in world zionist conspiracies and UFOs, the SSPX, Robert Sungenis, and Aztek revanchists. More recently, Bill's revealed that people who find The Passion wonderful do so because they enjoy pornographic depictions of violence.
Bill's vision is so powerful that he can't recognize the effect such criticism has on Catholics who don't experience the same problems with the film as he does. Over and over again, by Bill and a host of other critics, Catholics are being told that to approve of, or be moved by, The Passion is to enjoy anti-Semitism, infidelity to the Gospels, and disobedience to the Church. It's not the work of Satan, but only of human nature, that such a relentless inquisitorial barrage tempts people to see something demonic in a litmus test for Catholicity that requires both disgust at Gibson's "pornographic" movie and an apparently-equal disdain for masses, lenten penitence, retreats, and devotion to the Sacred Heart. Ms. Nicolosi got tempted, and said so in another post.
And of course Bill, running true to form, tells us it's just more proof that The Passion's admirers are a dangerous and frightening bunch of UFO-believing, Aztek-feather-wearing, SSPX-Jew-hating morons. Who's been guilty of demonizing, Bill? Is it just the Feeneyite, Faheyite, Kristallnacht pornography-junkies who think The Passion is one of the best Christian films ever made?
In case the answer isn't clear, let's try Bill's modus operandi on him and see how easily a pious and overactive imagination can make it work. We can start by linking to a website critical of The Passion like this one, and quote it, just like Bill quoted the anti-Semitic screed on the UFO-believer's website:
As you can see Jim Caviezel is very Roman Catholic. This man is totally devoted to the worship of Mary. He loves the abomination of the Eucharist where Jesus is supposedly turned into bread and then eaten by Catholics. He went with Mel to the sacrifice of the Mass every day. This is where Jesus is re-sacrificed again for the sins of the people. This sacrifice is done in a bloodless manner on the alters of Roman Catholicism. The reason it is done is Romanism does not believe the sacrifice on the cross was sufficient payment for all sins. Instead, the Lord Jesus is sacrificed again in each and every Catholic mass for the sins of the people. Jim also mentioned in the above interview that he kept a charm or a relic on his body for supposed blessings. Witches and occultists use charms and tailsmen but Catholic's uses relics (i.e. so called pieces of the cross etc). Finally, Jim carried his rosary daily.That's step one. Step two is rhetorically winking at the audience: "Like a certain blogger (NAMED BILL CORK) this critic also doesn't like the passion. Funny how anti-Catholicism and resistance to the film seem to go hand and hand -- at least in some places." We could go on and quote other fruitcakes who don't like the film such as this one:
"What are your thoughts and feelings on this upcoming Catholic movie? Isn't it just another step towards one world religion? The signs and wonders that have been happening on the set and many people turning to Catholicism. Why would a discerning Christian want to see this movie and why are so many churches and prominent Christian leaders promoting this catholic movie? How confused could a lost person be after viewing this and then be susceptible to apostate teaching?"Why, if we agreed with Bill Cork we'd soon believe that Catholicisim is the Antichrist religion of the End Time!!! If Bill can choose anti-Semites and UFO-fantasists who like The Passion to represent all the reasons why anyone would really like it, surely we can say that anti-Catholic nut-cases who dislike The Passion represent anyone who think it's a spiritually-dangerous film. We can generalize just like Bill does and say that everyone who criticizes this film hates Catholicism. Haven't we just proved it by quoting people who, like Bill Cork, don't like The Passion and hate Catholicism? All we need now is for Bill to blog a few approving words about Dignitatis Humanae and Taize-style ecumenism, and we can let our overheated imaginations get us to crap all over that at the same time.
Bill's crusade against The Passion, like most of the criticism he cites, takes the unfortunate tack of proposing that a faithful Catholic can only see the film as bad and unwholesome. He was among the first at St. Blogs' to claim he knew whose side the devils of hatred, schism, and heterodoxy were on. He ought to be among the last people at St. Blogs' to complain when someone else says they know better.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 13:47 Hours [+]
Monday, February 23, 2004
Courtesy of Dappled Things . . .
You are: CLAVDIVS
You're not the fool everyone takes you for. You put on a show to stay under the radar. Underneath your bumbling exterior, you are a shrewd and calculating person. You don't enjoy being in the spotlight, but you can take charge if absolutely neccessary. But trust no one, not even your best friend, because you never know who might betray you.
You were portrayed by Derek Jacobi.
Which I, Claudius Character are You? created by
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 09:53 Hours [+]
Now this is a Good Thing
Kenny Ignatius Augustine visited my blog the other day and left a link to his own blog. I met Kenny back on Steve Ray's Catholic Converts Message Board before -- as Shawn McElhinney deftly terms it -- the Novus Boardo revision that put it in EZ-Board format. We used to call him "KIA" -- which is his initials, but it's also short for "Killed in Action" and a car company of the same name. Kenny is from Singapore. One of the reasons he's interesting to know is that he converted from a non-Christian culture, whereas most of us are familiar only with Catholics who converted from other Christian traditions. So Kenny and I are a lot alike, since we both converted from "paganism" -- except his paganism was ancient and civilized, whereas mine was on television. You can read his conversion story here. I'd recommend making Kenny's blog a frequent stop -- he's writing about theology as a science, the war in Iraq, Christian doings in Singapore, and all sorts of other interesting topics. I'm going to add a link here on the Dossier.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 09:39 Hours [+]
Sunday, February 22, 2004
My Second-Favorite Professor Inspires A Multiple-Choice Test:
It's making the rounds, so I'll put it here. David Kubiak comments on Mel Gibson's interview at Open Book:
I have always believed: that there is a certain kind of Catholic (mostly male and mostly heterosexual), acutely aware of his own sinfulness, for whom AmChurch will just never get the job done. If there had been no old rite to come back to I think Gibson would have jumped out that window he talked about. There should be much to ponder in this phenomenon for the leaders of our Church. The kind of Catholicism that brought a Hollywood superstar to his knees does not include Fr. Bob and his Eucharistic harem.David's pithy reference to the Permanent-But-Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist aside, he's right. What happens when a man in this condition sees Fr. Mulcahy flanked by two altar girls and five members of the Ladies' Priesthood Auxiliary Society, after having delivered a seven-minute homily which attempts to immanentize the velveteen rabbit's eschaton amidst a fountain of gush about God's soft, complete and nonjudgmental niceness? The man will do one of three things:
A). Conclude there's no way this religion could redeem someone like him.Do you know what men need? They need to do what Robert DeNiro's character in The Mission did -- something strenuous, and cathartic, penitential, and utterly challenging. They need to have the faith Jeremy Irons' character in The Mission had -- so totally and utterly Catholic that they'd march straight into bullets for it. There's gonna be a lot of unhappy men who, having watched The Passion, find themselves back among the altar girls listening to gender-inclusive Scripture readings and invitations to "reflect, this Lent, on how we might be more open to God's calling." If you want a preview of what's going to happen go start your car, leave it in park, and redline the engine.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 02:38 Hours [+]
Oh, What I Wouldn't Give for a Candidate with Only One Face.
Reporting on John Kerry's anti-war book, CNS News shows us how John Kerry can eat his conscientious-objector cake and still have it pinned to his chest:
In the book's epilogue, which begins on page 158, Kerry sums up his views on the war by writing, "We were sent to Vietnam to kill Communism. But we found instead that we were killing women and children." Kerry served in Vietnam, receiving three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star."So I guess John Kerry must have killed a lot of women and children, right? I mean, most of the men who served in Vietnam -- by, according to Kerry's book, "creat[ing] a nation of refugees, bomb craters, amputees, orphans, widows, and prostitutes" -- didn't get medals for their atrocities. Kerry must have been way ahead of the pack when it came to collecting ears and running tabs at Vietnamese brothels. Makes you wonder how Caly screwed up -- he killed lots of Vietnamese women and children, and they court-martialed him. He must have been lax when it came to bomb-cratering, is my guess.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 02:14 Hours [+]
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
It's been a good time!
Today was a pretty cool day for the Dossier. Since I started keeping it at the end of 9/03, we've had lots of visits -- broke 30,000 page views today, and have had 22,146 visits as well. Thanks to Dale Price, Mark Shea, Rerum Novarum, and all the other blogs who've linked here!
The percentage of readers from educational institutions has never broken 7%, which is (given the state of educational institutions) a good sign. There's some folks in England (or France, Spain, Mali, Algeria, Niger, Ghana, or Burkina Faso -- it depends on where they really are on the time-zone line) who visit regularly, as well as people in New Zealand and Australia. I say "Hello!" to them and am glad they're here.
42 people have subscribed using the little form on the left of the screen. I haven't sent any of them spam for discount prescriptions or emails about how I have $60 BILLION USDOLLARS from Mr. the late Wagambe Osotho's estate which is now in bonded diplomatic pouch courrier office and which I can send them for Christian charitable mission purposes. That's good too.
I'm also proud and abashed that the Dossier's been voted "Most Insightful Blog" over at the first (?) annual St. Blog's Awards. I can't wait to get one of those really cool Fr. Sibley statuettes. Congratulations to all the winners and nominees, and thanks to everyone who voted for the Dossier!
So this is a good day to realize that Lent is coming. I like Lent as a time of holy and penitential stillness, and my blogging is not conducive to that. So as much as I enjoy the stressful joy of writing blogs, I'm looking forward to a little penitential normalcy -- especially since, as my blog on The Passion and related issues proves, my writing for blogging is getting a bit out of hand . . . .
I won't say that I'm going to stop blogging during lent. I tried that once, and ended up as SecretAgentMan. But that's my goal, and anyhow I'm going to blog a lot less than I have been until Easter.
Oh, we've had some more interesting visitors via Google and similar services. Here's what they asked, and what I said to ‘em when they got here:
"the secret agenda of the council of Trent" Well, it was obvious in hindsight: Sedevacantists and SSPX-sympathizers worked behind the scenes to undermine the papacy!
God bless everyone! Have a holy Lent!
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 18:19 Hours [+]
The Passion, the Jews, and the Teaching of Contempt
News of Mel Gibson's film, The Passion, immediately sparked concern among Jews and Christians about a revival of anti-Semitism. Gibson's odd religious position, obscure opinions, and powerful position in Hollywood's media elite (some $25 million of his own money was used in the production of the film) fueled concern about the character and content of passion play. But anyone with a cursory knowledge of Catholic history realizes that such concerns are justified no matter who is producing a film about our Lord's death.
A few weeks ago, Bill Cork's blog, Ut Unum Sint, linked to a story about the alleged martyrdom of Simon of Trent. It is worth reading:
The Jews of this town wanted to celebrate the Passover in their own way . . . During the Holy week on the day before Passover, about three hours after supper, the little boy, like children do, was sitting in front of his parents' house. Neither his father nor mother were home at the time. It was at this time that the Jew Tobias approached the child, who was not quite 30 months old, and while speaking kindly, picked him up and carried him at once to the house of the Jew Samuel.Today, stories such as this one are found mostly on schismatic or sedevacantist websites. In former times, however, they formed a staple of Catholic belief about Jews and Judaism.
That older belief, as the ever-helpful Society of St. Pius X tells us, is that because "the Jews" rejected and killed Jesus they are "a people unfaithful to God and therefore abandoned (cursed) by Him." The Society's website quotes the great Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus Ligouri: "Poor Jews! You invoked a dreadful curse upon your own heads; and that curse[,] miserable race, you carry upon you to this day, and to the End of Time you shall endure the chastisement of that innocent blood!" 
Like all beliefs, this hateful theology underwent many permutations. It generated its own weird logic that supported belief in martyrdom stories like Simon's. As the representation of Jesus' Passover sacrifice was central to Christianity, it was assumed to be equally central to Judaism. So the Triduum found an unholy counterpart in Passover rituals during which Jews, in obedience to their laws, crucified and consumed a Christian child in persona Christi. It was popularly believed that the child's blood was used to make matzoh, unleavened bread eaten at Passover, thus adding a blasphemous counterpart to the Mass. But the belief's permutations can't be appreciated by consigning them to the realm of ignorant folklore.
The Jews named in the account of Simon's martyrdom were real people. Seventeen of them "confessed" to his murder under torture or the threat of torture. Fifteen were burned to death. So the libel of one death created a tragedy of ruined families, orphaned children, and scorched bodies. But it was not the libel of one death. It was the libel of a people. As long as the people endured, the libel would endure with them, a widening circle of disregard, mistrust, and hatred that would come to embrace every Jew in the world as it had embraced Simon's alleged murderers.
"And to the End of Time you shall endure the chastisement of that innocent blood!" The more frequently Christians thought of Jews as "a people unfaithful to God" and "abandoned (cursed) by Him," it became easy for them to regard the Jews as outlaws who has despised the Gospel of true human society from their own devious and evil motives. In medieval times it was sometimes held that one could not do injustice to an outlaw, for his own conduct had exempted him from the law which would have given him a claim to justice. The idea that "the Jews" were not part of a common human society, that they were abandoned and cursed by God, metastasized into a blight that occluded Christendom's conscience and paralyzed its attempts to fight evil. Fr. Martin Rohnheimer writes about the terrible fruit of this false theology in his essay "The Holocaust: What Was Not Said":
Even though the racist anti-Semitism of the Nazis and Christian anti-Judaism or Christian anti-Semitism differ fundamentally and are even mutually incompatible, the precondition that made the Nazis' racial anti-Semitism (which led in turn to Auschwitz) even conceivable was the heritage of traditional anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Together they created what Steven Theodore Katz, Director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Boston, has called the "terrifying otherness" of the Jews, thus stigmatizing and demonizing them. Traditional Christian anti-Judaism was the breeding ground for what Jules Isaac has called "the teaching of contempt." Without this contempt modern racism would never have been able to forge its alliance with enmity toward Jews and anti-Semitism.Passion plays were integral parts of this culture. In the older Oberammergau Passion, priests and Jewish leaders were costumed in "outlandish robes and hats with horns, signifying alliance with the Devil," while "Jesus and his disciples were dressed normally, their Jewish heritage obscured." 
So it's entirely understandable, even welcome, for a high-profile retelling of the passion to be examined by all quarters so that these evil myths and false theologies, which has for so long afflicted Christendom, not be fanned into the searing flame which had burned in times past, consuming the fifteen Jews of Trent, or the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The dialogue, however, is a painful blessing by which we can become better acquainted with the precarious nature of Christian - Jewish relations. Below are some thoughts about that mixed blessing.
The essential charge of anti-Semitism is summed up by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which complains that at "every single opportunity, Mr. Gibson's film reinforces the notion that the Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob are the ones ultimately responsible for the Crucifixion." Similarly, Bill Cork's list of The Passion's anti-Semitic elements is a comparison of the film's events with a supposedly-realistic account of Jesus' death in which the Jews play a less imperative role. Mr. Foxman's and Mr. Cork's voices are hardly unique. Critics of The Passion dwell repeatedly, almost exclusively, on demonstrating the film's anti-Semitism with examples of how Gibson's story line shows Jesus being crucified and Jews playing an indispensable role in His crucifixion.
But to an exclusively Christian perspective, this limited focus is very unhelpful and wrong-headed. Christianity doesn't limit the question of "ultimate responsibility" for Jesus' death to the movement from Gethsemene to Calvary. But the film's critics often seem to expect Christians to judge The Passion anti-Semitic simply because it follows episodes taken straight from the Gospels. Bill Cork's claim to have found anti-Semitic elements in the film can serve to illustrate the difference in perspectives. Below is Mr. Cork's description of some of the film's anti-Semitic content together with its Gospel counterparts:
Various witnesses make various accusations.From these criticisms it's difficult to avoid concluding that when a dramatist follows the Gospels in depicting Jesus' death, he so taints his work with anti-Semitism that anything else must be seen in that light, no matter how unreasonable that light may be."And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none. For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together." Mark 14:55-56."Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?" Matthew 26:59-62.But they get from Jesus the confession that he is the Son of God, and Caiaphas rips his robes and declares it blasphemy."But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy." Matthew 26:63-65.The priests take turns hitting and spitting on Jesus."Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death. Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?" Matthew 26:65-68"Pilate decides to have Jesus beaten, thinking this will satisfy the Jews. . . . . In the courtyard of the Praetorium, the temple guards push forward—and are beaten back by the Romans. The Jews demand his crucifixion."Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified." Mark 15:15
For example, Bill Cork finds anti-Semitism in the film because it takes artistic license so that the "beating of Jesus begins immediately upon his arrest, contrary to the Gospels. He is wrapped in chains, and at one point thrown off a bridge." This isn't a well-founded criticism: Only by the most radical application of sola scriptura can one suggest it's contrary to the Gospels to depict Jesus being wrapped in chains: "Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him" John 18:12. Neither Gibson, nor most Christians, subscribe to a radical view of 1 Cor. 4:6 that finds sin whenever men's imaginations add details which are not explicitly proven by the text of Scripture.
As to the other elements in this episode, the Gospel of Matthew says the High Priest's soldiers "laid hold on Jesus" and so does the Gospel of Mark. Luke suggests that these same guards later beat Jesus in the High Priest's house. Jesus Himself described the band which came to arrest Him as men who anticipated a confrontation with a dangerous felon: "And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled." Anyone who has in the past decade watched surreptitiously-taken video recordings of police arrests, or learned of the brutality directed at Abner Louima, has been shocked by the violence and ruthlessness which police officers can direct at (real or perceived) malefactors. Is it anti-Semitic to portray Jews as capable of the same rough violence?
Moreover, there are distinctly-Christian artistic concerns which can support the reasonable amount of license taken in this part of Gibson's film. It doesn't require a lot of experience with literary conventions to see in Jesus' bondage an allegory to the slavery of man to sin and death. One can make a more daring symbolic foray by recalling that Pontifex is Latin for "Bridge Builder." It thus came to mean "priest" in Latin, and the word appears today in one of the Pope's titles ("Pontifex Maximus"). The reasoning behind this usage is simple -- the priest builds a bridge between worlds, establishing a path by which men and God may commune. Is Jesus' chain-wrapped descent from the bridge a crude exercise in Jew-hating, or an allegory to Fall which simultaneously refers to His priestly task of restoring the path on which men and God can again walk in friendship?
As we can see, the lens through which these events are viewed will alter how we address the propriety of any aspect of The Passion. We can hardly wonder that criticism of the film dwells solely on its depiction of the movement from Gethsemene to Calvary. That is the movement Mr. Gibson has chosen for the bulk of his film. Criticism of The Passion can only respond to his choice. But we should realize that the film's events aren't being discussed in a vacuum. Like Mr. Foxman's question of "ultimate responsibility," charges of anti-Semitism must take us far beyond the screen on which The Passion appears.
The critics admit this by frequently going past the film itself in framing their judgments. For example, they expect us to measure Gibson's film against a whole history of passion-plays that dates back some seven hundred years, and a history of Christian anti-Semitism which dates back to Constantine if not before. History and modern culture is also frequently used to condemn the film. Many, for example, of The Passion's critics are eager to demand our hostility because of the ugly views Mel Gibson's father has about the Holocaust and terrorist attacks on New York City. Likewise, the ADL believes its claim that The Passion "will fuel hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism" is proved by publishing anti-Semitic, pro-Passion hate mail -- even though none of the authors claim to have seen the film and despite the fact that the anti-Semitism they express existed long before Mel Gibson was born. It's not unfair of The Passion's critics to set the film's narrative within broader cultural, theological, and historical context from which anti-Semitic significance is derived. Art is a meeting of minds; the significance of a film depends as much on what the audience brings with it as it does on the intention of the film's producers. But when opponents of the film rely, as they do, on a single context and suggest this context is the only ones available to a Christian audience, they produce an invitation to Christian-Jewish dialogue which is ill-advised, grossly unfair, and ultimately counterproductive.
As noted, the largest amount of hostility directed at The Passion is provoked by its depiction of the arrest, accusation, and trial of Jesus. The main theme is that Pontius Pilate, and not the Jews of Jesus' day, should be given the lion's share of responsibility for the crucifixion. According to an article in the Resource Manual produced in response to the film by the American Jewish Committee:
The role of Pontius Pilate is often a test of a Passion Play's treatment of Jews and Judaism. If the Roman Governor of Judea is portrayed as a weak, indecisive leader who is controlled by the High Priest, it always follows that "the Jews" accused will be depicted as the conniving villains of the play. Instead, Pilate (the only person specifically mentioned regarding the death of Jesus in the Christian Nicene Creed) should be accurately shown to be the ruthless bloody ruler he was. He was neither a weakling nor a pawn of the High Priest. He represented the brutal Roman occupation in a harsh way.As with the ADL's phrase "ultimate responsibility," this paragraph contains some problematic appreciations of Christian thinking. It is quite correct for the AJC to condemn passion plays in which the Gentiles are symbolically exonerated of Jesus' death in the person of Pontius Pilate, who is portrayed variously as a good man or a moral cypher who is overwhelmed by the unstoppable power of a sinister Jewish conspiracy. Emphasizing Pilate's idolatrous cruelty in service to the pagan state is a crucial element of the passion. But does the specter of anti-Semitism require a play to depict Jesus as the victim of nothing other than the Roman Empire?
The materials incorporated into the AJC's Resource Manual support that conclusion. Above, the materials suggest fidelity to the Nicene Creed requires Christians to view the passion as the work of Pontius Pilate. The document from the U.S. Bishop's Committee appended to the Manual agrees that the Nicene Creed -- and the Council of Trent -- require that accounts of the passion avoid the question of anyone's responsibility except Pontius Pilate's:
In this guilt are involved all those who fall frequently into sin; for, as our sins consigned Christ the Lord to the death of the cross, most certainly those who wallow in sin and iniquity crucify to themselves again the Son of God. . . . This guilt seems more enormous in us than in the Jews since, if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; while we, on the contrary, professing to know him, yet denying him by our actions, seem in some sort to lay violent hands on him (Catechism of the Council of Trent).While the Catechism's observations are a magnificent statement of mankind's guilt for the death of Jesus, one with much potential for depictions of the passion and for Jewish-Christian relations, they cannot provide "hermeneutic guidance" by which we can conclude that "only" Pilate should be held accountable (or even primarily accountable) for Jesus' death without creating a great deal of irreconcilable tension between our beliefs, the Gospel, and the teachings of the Church. We are guilty of crucifying our Lord in our sins because, among other things, we have Moses and the Prophets which testify to Him. So did the Jews of His day; He even said that Moses would accuse those who rejected Him  and therefore those who handed Him into Pilate's grasp had the "greater sin." .
Mindful of these facts, the Catechism of Trent did not erect a "guiding hermeneutic" that points only to Pontius Pilate as the author of Jesus' death. Its sweeping statement is prefaced by a more particular judgment:
"[T]o increase the dignity of this mystery, Christ not only suffered for sinners, but even for those who were the very authors and ministers of all the torments He endured. Of this the Apostle reminds us in these words addressed to the Hebrews: Think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners against himself; that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds."One has a hard time following the U.S. Bishops' "guiding hermeneutic" to the conclusion that the "authors and ministers" of His suffering are only Pontius Pilate, his advisors, and his soldiers.
Nevertheless, the AJC's Resource Manual follows the "guiding hermeneutic" to just this conclusion, (and just this same conflict) by providing even more materials which require Pontius Pilate to play the sole villain:
Anyone who composes a script for a dramatic presentation of the death of Jesus must draw upon four distinct passion narratives in the four Gospels in the New Testament. One cannot assume that by simply conforming to the New Testament that anti-Semitism will not be promoted. After all, for centuries sermons and passion plays based on the New Testament have incited Christian animosity and violence toward Jews. This history prompted Pope John Paul II to pray publicly for God's forgiveness for such Christian wrongdoing.The "Roman Catholic professors" who produced this guide are right that the Gospels are not "simply transcripts." They do not record every breath, every word, every movement. But to the Christian mind they are nonetheless "historical." Pilate did attempt to wash his hands of guilt for Jesus' death. Pilate did have Jesus beaten as part of a indifferent, half-hearted attempt to avoid killing Him. One wonders why including these events automatically turns Pilate into a tool of Caiaphas; they seem to bolster the AJC's own preference that Pilate be depicted as "the ruthless bloody ruler he was."
Moreover, Herod Antipas was a Jew, albeit a bad one. Why should a depiction of his refusal to kill Jesus be regarded as anti-Semitic? No doubt because Herod's authority was political, and not religious. The episode would therefore conflict with the U.S. Bishops' "guiding hermeneutic," namely that the passion of Jesus resulted from only two causes -- a universal and indistinguishable human moral guilt, and the secular evil of the Roman Empire. The Resource Manual continues:
Will the proposed script be informed by the best historic knowledge currently available?It's truly objectionable to portray Pilate as a "weak and spineless" puppet manipulated by an intimidating and bullying Caiaphas. But even "the best historic knowledge currently available," something often (and oddly) confused with the most recent and trendy theses, will not change the fact that Rome's relationship with conquered peoples was characterized by a delicate balance between the appearance of Roman power and the reality of local animosity. Can the erroneous depiction of a "Gentile-absolving Pilate" only be remedied by depicting Caiaphas as the weak and spineless agent of an intimidating and bullying Roman governor? By suggesting that Pilate has such total power that he is oblivious to local pressures and tensions and so does not have Jesus beaten to placate angry Jews nor attempt to wash his hands of Jesus' death?
That picture will intensify if the U.S. Bishop's depiction of Catholic teaching is followed with respect to portrayals of Jews' involvement in the crucifixion:
Will the proposed script enlarge upon Gospel episodes in order to intensify the drama?This quotation provides a good example of the whiplash criticism to which The Passion has been subjected. If, as has been suggested by Bill Cork and others, Mel Gibson abuses the Gospel by depicting Jesus being bound in chains or thrown from a bridge when the Gospel includes no such information, how can we judge Gibson's film according to how accurately it depicts a crowd whose numbers are unknown? Scripture says that a "multitude" urged His death. Apparently that number is very small, because when The Passion depicts the crowd at Caiaphas' house, which Luke refers to as "the whole multitude," Bill Cork finds proof of the film's anti-Semitism in the fact that "maybe 100 people" are gathered there.
What is a "multitude" of people? Luke thought that the crowd fed by the miracle of the loaves and fishes was a "multitude," and they numbered about 5,000 men. Mark said that number constituted "much people." Matthew says they were a "multitude," and John says they were "a great multitude." The U.S. Bishops are right, Scripture contains no set number for the multitude which urged Pilate to put Jesus to death. But 100 is certainly too small a number, and how many thousands would transgress the "Cecil B. DeMille limit" supposedly imposed on the Catholic conscience by the Magisterium and Nostra Aetate? The Bishops do not say that, either. What they do say is that the number must be small, and that too many people would both oppose Scripture and the teaching of the Church.
This "test" also displays a blithe disregard for the fact that most of the people who watch a passion play are likely to be Christians and that many of them are likely to believe in Christianity. Christianity says that Jesus is perfect God and perfect man. As such, any violence directed at Him is objectively an injustice and sacrilege. Is the anti-Semitism which supposedly throbs beneath the polite surface of Christianity going to be allayed by showing Jewish individuals mishandling God "just a little bit"? As counsel which attempts to allay anti-Semitism by moderation, this "test" is silly. It makes much more sense as counsel which tries to allay anti-Semitism by a revision of the Gospel story that focuses everyone's attention on a Roman governor and his soldiers.
Popular vilifications of Gibson's film have distilled the U.S. Bishops' "guiding hermeneutic" quite well. In letters to The Weekly Standard and Slate Rabbi Eugene Korn, the ADL's Director of Interfaith Affairs, gives us some ground rules for presenting a proper passion play during his castigation of Gibson's movie:
[Journalist Steven] Waldman claims that the "Jews did kill Jesus." No scholar, historian or informed reader of Christian scriptures makes such an absurd statement. Jews never crucified anyone, since crucifixion was a Roman punishment for the political crime of sedition against the Roman Empire. . . . .Likewise, Professor Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University Divinity School presents criticisms which suggest the outline of a correct passion play. She says such a play will explain that "Jesus died on a Roman cross on the Roman charge of sedition -- Jesus was not killed by ‘the Jews' but by ‘the state'" because other portrayal results in the anti-Semitism which made Pontius Pilate "a saint in some Christian traditions while Jews have been vilified, ghettoized, and murdered."
The result of these "tests" advice is not a balance, or even an accurate adjustment, of the roles played by Jews and Romans in the Crucifixion. Instead, the result is a warped picture of Jesus being condemned to death amidst a few dozens of lukewarm Jewish onlookers by a Roman governor who, for mysterious reasons known only to himself, is hotly and boldly determined to kill Jesus on his own authority. What possible reason could critics of The Passion have for imposing this reinterpreted Gospel story on the Christian conscience?
In a letter to The Palm Beach Post, Mr. Foxman of the ADL stressed the eschatological dimension of the passion story as a root cause of anti-Semitism among Christians:
Historically, Passion Plays often were used as ways to teach the tenets of Christian faith. In doing so, they often have pitted Jesus against the forces of evil and the Jewish community that rejected him. Passion plays historically unleashed the torrents of hatred aimed at the Jews, who always were depicted as being in partnership with the devil and the reason for Jesus' death. (emphasis supplied) Again, one must pause to note the "whiplash" criticism being directed at Gibson's film. Mr. Foxman criticizes The Passion as part of a tradition that incites anti-Semitism by depicting the Jews involved in Jesus' crucifixion as partners of Satan. But Bill Cork tells us that Gibson's film is anti-Semitic because it doesn't suggest a satanic alliance: "The Romans are egged on by Satan, wandering through the crowd -- the Jews need no such encouragement." How can any passion story avoid the charge of anti-Semitism when it's evaluated by such criticism? The answer is simple. A passion play can avoid anti-Semitism by not suggesting that Jesus' life and death involved a confrontation with the forces of evil. Such a play, however, would not be Christian at all.
In the Book of Genesis God says to Satan: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." To the Christian this can only be a prophecy of Jesus who, by restoring man to grace, has reintroduced the enmity between man and Hell originally forfeited by Adam's capitulation to the Devil in Eden. The Book of Revelation tells us Satan desired to kill Jesus, forcing His mother to flee into the wilderness and God's protection. In this we see a direct revelation about the Holy Family's flight into Egypt, where they escaped the slaughter of the innocents which Herod ordered in the hope that a rival to his kingdom would be eliminated. Unlike the inexplicable, isolated enmity of Pilate urged for the passion story by the U.S. Bishop's, Christianity regards the alliance between Herod's fears and Satan's aims as inevitable because Herod, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and the rest suffered under a prideful, satanic separation of God and man which cannot tolerate the idea of Jesus Christ as King.
Herod feared His kingship. Pilate feared it, because his world had no king but Caesar. Caiaphas and the Jewish leadership feared it, because they believed the tumult caused by Jesus' career would cause the Romans to destroy the nation and the priesthood. Whether they knew Him as God did not matter, for He is God, and His presence upset all calculations, overturned all interests, and struck an inevitable fear them because, like all men, the hardness of a fallen world had become a way of life and its own reason for living. This is why Luke tells us the day Pilate sent Jesus to the Cross was "the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together," because their mutual servitude to the Fall made their political and national differences less significant. Jesus was pitted against the forces of evil. This is the Gospel, and suggesting that this idea contains an anti-Semitic message does no good service.
Yet the suggestion is clearly made in the critics' theologically-clumsy denunciations of the The Passion's incitement to regard the Jews of Jesus' day as involved in deicide, the "killing of God." Mr. Foxman writes:
"If Mr. Gibson's Passion reaches theaters . . . with its clear placing of blame for deicide on Jews, the ramifications . . . of this film will reach far beyond Hollywood, with the potential to adversely affect years of progress in Catholic-Jewish relations and the possibility that it will fuel new anti-Semitism."Frank Rich, writing in the International Herald-Tribune, repeats the suggestion, summarizing numerous critical opinions that The Passion levels "the deicide charge against Jews . . . because the film clearly presents the Jews as the primary instigators of the crucifixion."  Given what one has already encountered in "tests" for anti-Semitism that can only be passed by showing Pontius Pilate as the sole guilty party in Jesus' death, it is again difficult to avoid the conclusion that Gospel narrative is an anti-Semitic story. But we go beyond this when critics introduce the victim's theological identity as another aspect of The Passion's supposed ability to incite anti-Semitism.
Deicide is a Latin phrase akin to "homicide." It means the murder of God. It is the "third rail" of the debate about The Passion, a living presence of such power that it is constantly threatening to erupt in ardent and mutual denunciations. Even if the Gospels' are anti-Semitic, their significance would instantly vanish without their claim that the victim whose death they record is God Himself. Without that claim, what any Jew did or did not do on that fateful Friday could at most be just one more injustice in the long history of human failure, and perhaps not even that. That was a hard and different age when the presence of a prominent rebel, a lunatic or a malevolent blasphemer could not be tolerated or met with a different, non-violent, response. If Jews caused the execution only of such a man, they could have done no more than the Athenians did to Socrates. But no one execrates "the Greeks" for killing Socrates. If the Jews of Jesus' day had only participated in a similar episode, Christendom (if it ever came into existence) could not have tolerated and encouraged the belief that "the Jews" are an evil race, cursed through time because they are at war with God, eschatological "out-laws" to whom no wrong could be done by those within the law. Seen in that context, it is understandable why a film which portrays any Jew participating in the killing of a divine Jesus is offensive, even menacing.
It is understandable, but only if one looks at the matter from outside Christianity, from a universe in which there is only the God of Sinai who thunders at Job from the whirlwind, a God who cannot become a man and cannot suffer death. Seen from that universe, it is bad enough that men may believe Jesus was God. Given a history dominated by Christian hatred, persecution, and murder, one would easily think it even worse that men should believe a divine Jesus was killed by Jews. In 2002 Elie Weisel spoke to the ADL's Conference on Global Anti-Semitism. Addressing himself to the definition of anti-Semitism and its place in Jewish history, Weisel spoke about anti-Semitism among French literary figures of the 1930s:
Of course, the language had to do with it. Every Sunday they would hear in church certain words that were deicide, little did it matter that deicide means one thing, even if what they wanted to say meant another.Elie Weisel is not alone in imbuing the idea of "deicide" with a Christological character that legitimates anti-Semitism. In a recent article for The Jewish Agency for Israel, Dr. Ron Schliefer writes:
The most infamous of the anti-Jewish libels is that of god-slaying: it can be found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In Matthew 27:25, 'We have killed (Christ)," the Jews supposedly admit to this act. The outcome was naturally a Christian belief that Jews should suffer and be punished; in fact, it became the theological justification for persecution. Jews were to be treated as inferior; denied their basic rights, because they denied the "true religion". Dr. Schliefer is apparently using a version of Matthew's Gospel which is quite different than the one read by Christians, in which the phrase "We have killed (Christ)" simply isn't there. While one shouldn't lose sight of the main (and correct) fact to which Dr. Schliefer has barely alluded -- that Matthew 27:25 has been abused to execrate all Jews for the misdeeds of Caiaphas' circle -- one must note that Dr. Schliefer's fanciful rendering the Gospel suggests that the root of Christian anti-Semitism does not begin in the Gospel accounts of what Caiaphas or the crowd before Pilate did. He has suggested that the root of Christian anti-Semitism lies in the belief that Jesus is God, as the perspectives of Mr. Foxman, Mr. Rich, and Mr. Weisel also suggest. None of them find anti-Semitism among people who say that Jews were the instigators and indispensable participants in Jesus' death: They find it among people who say it while believing in Jesus' divinity. Seen from that viewpoint, it is infinitely preferable that a new reading of the Gospel story explain how Pontius Pilate bears full and total responsibility for everything which happened to that man; for Jesus to have "died on a Roman cross on the Roman charge of sedition," killed not "by ‘the Jews' but by ‘the state'" -- because the alternative is the history in which the Jews "have been vilified, ghettoized, and murdered."
The dilemma that pits "conservative" and "reinterpretive" Christians against one another over Mr. Gibson's film remains. If the Gospel narrative, understood rightly, is congruous with the portrayal of events in The Passion then the Gospels conflict with the reinterpretation preferred by the U.S. Bishops and the film's critics. In that event, one is forced to conclude some very ugly things about Christianity. If men "naturally" become anti-Semites by believing the received understanding of the Gospel narrative of Jesus, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, and the crowd which assembled before Pilate, critics like Professor Levine or Mr. Foxman are setting their sights too low. Rather than lamenting the popularity of Mr. Gibson's film, they ought to lament the popularity of the Christian faith. And they would be right to lament it, if Christianity "naturally" resulted in hating, persecuting, and murdering Jews in perpetual retribution for their ancestors' role in the death of its divine founder. That Christians have given, and do still give, just cause for that perception of Christianity is something we cannot question without closing our eyes to Christian history. But the question inadvertently raised by Mr. Foxman and Dr. Schleifer isn't directed at Christianity's history. The question is directed at Christianity's integrity. Christianity cannot thrive unless it accepts the truth of the Gospel narrative, and the truth of the Gospel narrative is that the actions of Jesus' people were the primary cause of His death. If that truth "naturally" produces anti-Semitism then Christianity is a filthy religion, an unconscionable episode in the history of human evil that no decent person can embrace once he realizes that a Christian must nurture the seeds of evil whenever he honestly considers the central event in his theology and his very reason for being a Christian.
This is not a perspective anyone involved in the debate over The Passion has or wishes to have on Christianity. Its presence, however, accounts for many aspects of that debate -- the insistence of the "reintepretivists" on the supposed demands of Nostra Aetate (discussed below) for a modified Gospel narrative; the resentment and ill feeling of those who hew to the received understanding of the Gospel story; and the fervent preference many Jewish commentators have for the "reinterpretivist" viewpoint. With respect to that preference, a lamentable and well-attested habit ingrained in Christian discussion about Jews and Judaism requires me to explain that this is not in any way manipulative or ill-intended. Ideas have consequences, lives of their own, and the development of the modified narrative is a confluence of hundreds of movements and schools of thought from almost all theological camps and scholarly disciplines. Neither Dr. Schliefer, Mr. Foxman, Dr. Levine, or Elie Weisel hold themselves out as superintendents of Christian theology, nor do they demand custody of the Christian conscience. One supposes that, if pressed, they would tell us that we are free to go to Hell in our own way and if that way includes anti-Semitism then God will judge us and the Jews, as all natural men would do, shall resist in any area where common ground makes "victimless" hatred impossible. Given the history of Christian anti-Semitism, such a response would be more than charitable.
But, as I've indicated, that isn't the response to Christianity which Jews wish to give. When Mr. Foxman, whose rescue from the Holocaust was achieved in large measure by the heroism of a Catholic, speaks of his great respect for the Christian tradition, only a churl or a fiend could doubt him. The relationship which he, and other Jews, want to have with Christianity is, I believe, summed up by Dabru Emet, a document prepared by a number of Jewish scholars and theologians and which is also included in the AJC's Resource Manual:
Christians know and serve God through Jesus Christ and the Christian tradition. Jews know and serve God through Torah and the Jewish tradition. That difference will not be settled by one community insisting that it has interpreted Scripture more accurately than the other; nor by exercising political power over the other. Jews can respect Christians' faithfulness to their revelation just as we expect Christians to respect our faithfulness to our revelation. Neither Jew nor Christian should be pressed into affirming the teaching of the other community.This is not a call to relativism or indifferentism; the differences between Jews and Christians will not be settled by "insisting" -- culturally, socially, or politically -- on a common recognition that one faith is superior to the other. It may be settled by patient dialogue, or not at all. We do not know when God plans the reunification of man by the coming of the Messiah for which Christians and Jews, according to our own beliefs, both hope. But we do know how God plans for us to treat one another. He tells us to treat one another largely as the proponents of the modified narrative urge us to do. The other narrative, experienced from a Jewish standpoint, has not demonstrated a very helpful effect on Christian-Jewish relations. So if Christians tell Jews that a reinterpretation of the Gospel along the lines suggested by critics of The Passion is not only a possible Christian message, but is also the only authentic Christian message, we have no cause for complaint if Jews who are prudently eager to live the Biblical commandment of peace embrace that reinterpretation with open arms.
For reasons already explained, critics of The Passion insist that their dislike of the film is justified by its contradiction of a new Christian consciousness that has supposedly-abandoned the Gospel's central anti-Semitic narrative. In an editorial published by the New York Sun, Mr. Foxman outlines the essentials of this perspective:
Why have we been raising questions as to whether Mr. Gibson's movie may be returning to outmoded, dangerous views of the Jewish role in the death of Jesus?The last sentence is repeated almost endlessly and verbatim in critical statements about The Passion by the ADL and others. Unfortunately, the statement is untenable when it's compared with Nostra Aetate within a Christian framework that accepts the idea of Jesus divinity (and therefore, the possibility of "deicide").
Nostra Aetate, issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, is a declaration of the Church's intentions for, and perspectives on, relations with all non-Christian religions -- including Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. Special care, however, was given to the Church's relationship with Judaism. Here is the text relevant for our purposes:
As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading. Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle. In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and "serve him shoulder to shoulder." . . .Nostra Aetate cannot be read to support, in any practical and meaningful way, critics' repeated statements that the Church has somehow issued a complete, entire, "blanket" repudiation of any connection between Jesus' death and the idea of deicide. The document, like all the documents of the Council, is clear that Jesus is God, God in the beginning, God now, and God when He was Crucified. Jesus did not take His own life. He was killed by others. That is deicide.
Similarly, Nostra Aetate contradicts virtually every signal argument employed by The Passion's critics in their case for the film's anti-Semitic message. The critics complain that Gibson's film portrays the majority of Jews as hostile to Jesus or indifferent to His suffering. But Nostra Aetate confirms the depiction: "As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation." The critics argue that Gibson's film is anti-Semitic because it shows Jews in large number rejecting Jesus' messianic and divine claims. As Bill Cork puts it, "[t]he basis for Christian antisemitism is the alleged rejection of Christ by the rest of the Jews." But Nostra Aetate declares that this supposed "basis of Christian antisemitism" is the truth, both in the statement just quoted and in the Council's decree that "the Jews in large number" did not "accept the Gospel" and "indeed not a few opposed its spreading." Critics of The Passion charge the film with anti-Semitism because it depicts Jewish authorities and those who followed them as desiring and working to achieve Jesus' death. Yet this too is supported by the Gospels and recognized by Nostra Aetate: "[T]he Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ." Chillingly, at least to the perspective of the "reinterpretivists," Nostra Aetate says that the Jewish leadership and its followers (who were "not a few") pressed for the death of "Christ," and does not use the more neutral name, "Jesus." If the critics are right to castigate the traditionally received narrative of the passion on the basis of a reinterpreted Gospel narrative, then it is clear that the Catholic Church has deviated from this modified narrative just as much as Mel Gibson is claimed to have done.
The reinterpretation of the Gospel narrative upon which critics of The Passion have fixed not only their arguments about the film, but also their main hope for charitable dialogue and co-existence between Jews and Christians, is untenable. It requires a selective rejection of the Gospel's historicity and an unseemly anxiety about triumphing in Jesus' divinity which would is fatal to Christianity. It is even contradicted by Nostra Aetate, the magisterial document in which it claims to be grounded. So, for the reasons discussed in "Deicide," it must in all seriousness be asked whether Christianity is doomed to live out its life as a filthy religion which sews the seeds of an unholy hatred whenever it worships, prays, or celebrates the saving sacrifice of its God.
The answer is a resounding, "No." Christianity is not doomed. It has instead been called to participate in a great work, a healing justice between brothers. The foundation of this work lies in Nostra Aetate itself. It is wrong to say that Nostra Aetate repudiates all the ideas which critics of The Passion find enabling to anti-Semitism. Nostra Aetate repudiates two lies which have, in fact, been responsible for Christian anti-Semitism.
First, it repudiates the lie that all the Jews alive in Jesus' day and who remained Jews until their deaths are guilty of deicide "without distinction." In this the Council did no more than apply the Gospel through Church's moral teaching. There is no sin without the conscientious assimilation of knowledge, nor will the same act always produce in all men an equal sin. A basic example will suffice. Suppose a man coolly and sincerely tells his wife, "I hate you! I wish you were dead!" He has sinned grievously against the fifth commandment, his marriage vows, and God's law of charity. Now suppose the man's ten-year old son, who has learned to admire his father, says the same thing during a tantrum. No one familiar with Catholic theology will hold the boy blameless, but no one will hold that the man and his son have sinned equally, with the same culpability, in the same areas of God's teaching.
What did "the Jews" crying for Jesus' death about Him on Good Friday? Some, I think, knew who He truly was, and were so blinded by hatred and hardened by sin that they indeed formed the same alliance with Satan as any blasphemer must form. But others, most I think, knew only that He was a common man who had blasphemed God. Perhaps others were merely the kind of people who gather around anyone in misfortune in the hope of slaking their spite on his woe. Some may have not cared at all about His guilt or innocence, but saw the cynical necessity of His death to preserve a cherished status quo. Still others may have been concerned with nothing more than doing their duties as they had been taught. The range of emotion, knowledge, and choice within that multitude was as vast as exists in any multitude. There may be many kinds of sin in those other actions, but none of them constitutes the knowing, intentional, deliberate murder of God. This too is traditional Catholic moral teaching. An act may be done objectively which is not attributable to all alike subjectively, and to the extent it is not attributable to all alike subjectively, not all alike can be said to have sinned equally, although they have all participated in the same objective act.
Second, Nostra Aetate repudiates the false idea that the Jews in Jesus' day called down on their progeny an interminable curse of outlawry and divine vengeance. The only reviews I've read which arguably put such a theme in Gibson's film are those which dwell on its quoting of Matthew 25:27. Again, however, what that phrase means requires a theological context that goes beyond the movie screen. We've already seen the context offered by the film's critics. But there is another context, one which is compatible with Nostra Aetate and the received understanding of the Gospel narrative. In no translation of the Bible I've ever read does the crowd before Pilate simultaneously confess Jesus as God and demand His death; since events which could form the basis for that interpretation do not appear in the Gospel narrative and since that interpretation has itself been repudiated by Nostra Aetate, we have no reasonable way to present Matthew 25:27 as instituting a divinely-ordained and generational "curse." It seems quite reasonable to conclude instead that true statement, rendered by the Douay-Rheims Bible as "And the whole people answering, said: His blood be upon us and upon our children," is spoken with a representative quality; that by the sins of all men Jesus' death as perfect victim became necessary, just as those sins had so hardened the world that His death in that world became inevitable. God had chosen the Jewish people as the perfect historical instrument for His deliverance. It is, perhaps, very fitting that the Jewish people should here serve so perfectly as a lens into our own hearts, into the universal corruption which made deliverance necessary. It may be fitting, but it cannot be anti-Semitism.
None of this is new to Christianity. The Christian audience that so worries Mr. Foxman believes, if it believes rightly, that Gethsemane, Caiaphas' house, Pilate's courtyard, and Calvary are all way-stations on a much longer road that stretches back to Eden and forward to the Parousia. Like the guards in The Passion who bind Jesus in chains and throw Him off the bridge, all men have played a guilty part on that road. Rembrandt knew that when he painted himself into The Raising of the Cross as a soldier hoisting the deadly Cross into the air. Johann Heerman knew it in 1630, when he wrote Ah, Holy Jesus:
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,Heerman's guilt, like our own, is part of that dire road which runs throughout history; it connects us all, and so Heerman even holds his own sins responsible for Jews' rejection of Jesus. ("[B]y thine own rejected . . . . Who brought this upon thee? . . . . ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I . . . .") Even Mel Gibson understands this truth: "[W]hen you look at the reasons why Christ came, why he was crucified -- He died for all mankind and He suffered for all mankind. So that, really, anyone who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own culpability."
The ability to appreciate this larger story empowers men who believe the traditional, received Gospel narrative to transcend an anti-Semitic view of the passion. But it is an uncomfortable view to the modern mind, which prefers to find real evil only in comfortably-faceless structures, reassuringly-amorphous systems, and happily-guiltless neuroses. When Adam and Eve had thrown off an onerous revelation, they tried to shed the blame onto others; Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the Serpent, none of them ever blamed themselves. There are echoes today, and throughout history, when Christians have found the revelation of Jesus' death onerous and uncomfortable and have tried to invent new tellings of the Gospel in which Pontius Pilate and the conveniently-defunct Roman Empire were to blame, or in which "the Jews" and not ourselves were the cause of His suffering. The truth is otherwise. The truth is that the larger Christian narrative sets the Jewish community's rejection of Jesus as a story-within-a-story that involves all our sins and all God's love. It tells us that we have all -- Jew and Gentile -- been caught in adultery, and that none of us can lay off our guilt onto others:
And the scribes and Pharisees bring unto him a woman taken in adultery: and they set her in the midst, And said to him: Master, this woman was even now taken in adultery.This knowledge exists in anyone who understands that the passion was suffered for him, for his adulteries then, now, and in the future. It was alive even in the old Church which prayed on Good Friday for the "perfidious Jews" -- the same liturgy had the Christian worshipers playing the crowd which called for His death. It lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Critics of The Passion ask too much, and expect too little, when they claim that Christians can never tell this story-within-a-story without turning our backs on the Son of God.
Why do so many Jews not understand this about us? Why do they persist in viewing traditional thinking about Christianity's central narrative as a toxic, anti-Semitic relic which must be jettisoned? Because we have taught them that's what it is. Ghettoes in every city have taught it to them. Burned and ruined synagogues have taught it to them. Desecrated Torah scrolls have taught it to them. A hundred million slights, a hundred million acts of hatred, have taught it to them. Six million dead have taught it to them. Did we really expect them to learn nothing from our witness? From our "evangelization"? I cannot speak for them, I don't pretend to. But I know my own heart, and if this were my history it would take a miracle to dissuade me from believing that the traditional Christian account of Jesus' passion, like the traditional Christian account of Jesus himself, is malignant to the extent that it is believed.
As a Catholic, I share a historical communion with Pius XII, who fought as best he could the evil to which Christendom had, in large measure, contributed. I share it with Dutch Bishops who resisted the deportation of the Jews. I share it with Bronislawa Kurpi, the Catholic nanny who took in Mr. Foxman and protected him from the Nazis. But I also share it with Bishops who raised their arms in heathen salutes to Adolf Hitler, Catholics who saw and heard the night trains but did nothing, and the faithful who venerated Simon of Trent. I also share it with Bronislawa Kurpi who, after the war, tried to keep a young Mr. Foxman from returning to his Jewish parents. If such a dire judgment were pronounced on my faith, as I believe it has been, I should not receive it with anger and denial. I should receive it with burning sorrow and a spirit of mortification. For there is, perhaps, a certain amount of justice in that judgment, albeit not the one which most people are likely to have in mind.
I began this essay by noting that Christendom's chief contribution to the Holocaust was its "teaching of contempt" that depicted all Jews as morally corrupt unbelievers, a people forever cursed and outlawed for having murdered God. Reduced to its barest conclusion, the teaching's central idea is that Jews, so long as they are Jews, are intrinsically opposed to decency, goodness, and human happiness. On the crude foundation of this false but clear idea the Nazis built their concentration camps with bricks wildly snatched from the intellectual rubble of biological determinism and pagan mysticism. But the foundation was not built by the Nazis. It was built by Christians. So it is at least ironic to see a very similar idea haunting Christianity through criticisms of The Passion which effectively maintain that Christians who continue to follow the original narrative of their God's life are implicitly hostile to a vision of decency, goodness, and human happiness that includes Jews. A Catholic Christian, who believes that God sometimes offers the innocent an opportunity to suffer for others' sins, might find as much divinity as irony in the fact that he is now thought of in the way his forbears often thought of the Jews.
If this is true, then it is a blessing. There has been a vast wrong. It covers so many people, so many centuries, so many places that its dimensions are truly satanic. It cannot be allowed to stand unanswered by the Church of Christ. The Church has done so many wonderful things in this regard, such as Nostra Aetate, and John Paul II's beginning the attempt to find a language that can allow Catholics to seek forgiveness and healing without denying or compromising the truths of our faith. But a healing, if there is to be one, cannot come from only one side telling the other what to think about the problem, or how to frame the issues which must be frankly addressed. Again, I quote Dabru Emet: "That difference will not be settled by one community insisting that it has interpreted Scripture more accurately than the other; nor by exercising political power over the other . . . Neither Jew nor Christian should be pressed into affirming the teaching of the other community." We have heard the Church speak the first tentative, hesitant words of reconciliation. We should not recoil in shock at sharp or painful things said in a reply which has, in any event, featured authentic charity and true respect. Nor should we anticipate, as I fear I may have suggested, that the replies will either affirm the essential goodness of Christianity or voice concerns and grievances which are ultimately unfounded. No, that will not happen. It cannot. This side of Heaven, the truth cannot be lived without suffering. Jesus Christ taught us that.
I plan to see The Passion with my parish on Ash Wednesday. The whole parish is going, and there's going to be confession and Eucharistic adoration afterwards. I think it might be wise if I used The Passion as an occasion to remind myself what men must always do without Jesus, and of what Christendom has done when it departed from His intentions for His people. I think I can do that without offense: "[W]e rejoice that, through Christianity, hundreds of millions of people have entered into relationship with the God of Israel. . . . . Christians know and serve God through Jesus Christ and the Christian tradition."
 As the one quoted was found on a website dedicated to Fr. Feeney. You can read it here. You can find it on other supposed "traditionalist" websites, such as "Holy War." "Holy War" informs us that veneration of St. Simon of Trent was forbidden in 1965 by the "Racist Zionist Mafia in collaboration with they Marranos friends in the VATICAN." Half the statement, of course, is true.
 Society of St. Pius X, "The Semi-Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church," quoting St. Alphonsus Ligouri, The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. The Angelus, April 2000, Volume XXIII, No.4. The full text can be found here.
 Published by First Things. The full text can be read here. Fr. Rhohnheimer's essay is worthwhile reading. For two different perspectives on it, see Bill Cork's here at Ut Unum Sint and my own note in the Dossier
 Franklin Sherman, "Is the Passion Play Anti-Semitic?" In The Lutheran. The full text can be read here.
 ADL and Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ": Frequently Asked Questions The full text can be read here.
 Bill Cork's blog is called Ut Unum Sint. The full text of this list can be found here
 "I have applied all this to myself and Apol'los for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written . . . ."
 Matthew 26:27 (KJV).
 Mark 14:46: "And they laid their hands on him . . ." (KJV).
 Luke 22:63.
 Mark 14:48-49 (KJV).
 Abner Louima was arrested by the New York City Police Department in 1997 on charges stemming from a nightclub disturbance. According to the CNN report, one of the arresting officers, Justin Volpe, later pleaded guilty to "sodomizing Louima with a wooden stick in a police station house bathroom in a vicious assault." That story can be found here. Another officer, Charles Schwarz, was later convicted of holding Louima down while he was being sodomized. That story can be found here.
 "ADL Criticism of Mel Gibson's "The Passion" Elicits Anti-Semitic Responses," August 13, 2003. The full text can be found here.
 "The Passion -- A Resource Manual." The full text -- in PDF format -- can be found here.
 John 5:45.
 John 19:11
 Catechism of the Council of Trent ("Roman Catechism"). The full text can be found here.
 "The Passion -- A Resource Manual." The full text -- in PDF format -- can be found here.
 See, e.g., Edward N. Luttwak's classic, Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century A.D. to the Third (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979).
 "The Passion -- A Resource Manual." The full text -- in PDF format -- can be found here.
 Matthew 27:22-26 (KJV).
 Luke 23:1 (KJV).
 Bill Cork's blog on The Passion, which can be found here.
 Luke 9:14-16 (KJV).
 Mark 6:34-44 (KJV).
 Matthew 14:15 (KJV)
 John 6:2 (KJV).
 Rabbi Eugene Korn, "Letter to Slate.Com" September 19, 2003. The full text can be found here.
 Rabbi Eugene Korn, Letter to the Weekly Standard, September 3, 2003. The full text can be found here.
 Amy Jill Levine, "The Real Problem with Passion." The full text can be found here.
 Abraham H. Foxman and Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, "'Passion' relies on theme of anti-Semitism," The Palm Beach Post, January 25, 2004. The full text can be found here.
 To be fair to Mr. Foxman, it should be noted that the tradition he describes does exist and is proven, for example, by the characters' costumes in the older Oberammergau Passion.
 Bill Cork's online review of The Passion. The full text can be found here.
 Genesis 3:15 (KJV).
 Compare Revelation 12:4-6 with the second chapter of Matthew's Gospel.
 Luke 23:12 (KJV)
 Abraham H. Foxman and Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, "'Passion' relies on theme of anti-Semitism," The Palm Beach Post, January 25, 2004. The full text can be found here.
 Frank Rich, "Mel Gibson's ‘Passion': Publicity Juggernaut." International Herald-Tribune, September 19, 2003. The full text can be found here
 Elie Wiesel, "Speech to the Diplomatic Breakfast Session of the 2002 ADL Global Conference on Anti-Semitism." The full text can be found -- in PDF format -- here.
 Dr. Ron Schleifer, "Christianity and Anti-Semitism." Jewish Agency for Israel, February 8, 2004. The full text can be found here.
 Amy Jill Levine, "The Real Problem with Passion." The full text can be found here.
 Abraham H. Foxman, "Abraham H. Foxman's Story: A Life Saved, A Life of Service". The full text can be found here
 "The Passion -- A Resource Manual." The full text -- in PDF format -- can be found here.
 Abraham H. Foxman, "Gibson's Passion." ADL publication, August 4, 2003. The full text can be found here.
 See, e.g.:
Passion Plays in History, published by the ADL on 6/24/02 ("In 1965 at the Second Vatican Council in Rome, the Roman Catholic Church took formal steps to correct this interpretation of the passion. In its document, Nostra Aetate, the Church officially repudiated both the deicide charge and all forms of anti-Semitism.") The full text can be found here. Nostra Aetate, ¶ 4 (1965).
 Bill Cork, Ut Unum Sint. The full text can be found here.
 L. Brent Bozell, "Mel Gibson, Wronged for His ‘Passion,'" Parents' Television Council, August 14, 2003. The full text can be found here.
 John 8:3-12 (DRV).
 "The Passion -- A Resource Manual." The full text -- in PDF format -- can be found here.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 03:08 Hours [+]
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
24 Hours Left
There are 24 hours left to vote for the "Sibleys" -- awards to various blogs. The Dossier has been nominated as "most insightful," and your vote would be appreciated. You can vote for the Dossier (or the blog of your choice in this category and others) here. Thanks!
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 13:23 Hours [+]
Saturday, February 14, 2004
By the Way . . .
Reference the Dossier's puzzlement at the apparent contradictions in Bill Cork's perspective on The Passion, I'm glad to learn Bill Cork is compiling / harmonizing his commentary on Mel Gibson's film here. I disagree with a lot that I've read there, but this comprehensive tour of Bill's discontent is much more edifying than the previous appearance of random and mostly hostile commentary interspersed with odd bits of contextless praise. I think Bill's doing us all a service by combining those things into one complete presentation.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 11:02 Hours [+]
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Something Appropriate for Today
And something which Benny Hinn might want to read.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 17:58 Hours [+]
Bill Cork on The Passion: Too Passionate.
Bill Cork has written a rather silly argument that The Passion is an anti-Semitic hate film because it contradicts Scripture and exaggerates the role of the Jews. You can read it here. Now I've said before that Bill's concerns are not to be discounted out of hand. I've gone so far as to say that without people who have those concerns, somebody probably would end up making an anti-Semitic retelling of the Crucifixion. But these complaints do Bill (or his cause) little credit. I'd spent time writing a reply. But then I noticed from Mark Shea's blog that Courreges has already published one. It's not only very good, it's far more kind than the one I wrote. So go there and read a very good demolition, not only of Bill's perspective, but the perspectives of just about everyone else who dislikes The Passion.
I would, however, note Bill's "all-over-the-map" approach to The Passion. On Friday, the day before penning his condemnation of The Passion's anti-Semitic exaggerations, he wrote that
James Dobson is clueless. He raves about "The Passion," and then seeks to reassure Evangelicals: "There are no specific references to unique Catholic doctrine in the film." Huh??? That, I think, is one of the positive features of the movie: it is a uniquelyCatholic vision.Bill's most recent criticism leaves little doubt that he thinks The Passion is anti-Semitic. He's also on record archly suggesting that people who want a large audience for the film are ignoring (even, perhaps, contravening) Church teaching and discipline. He's also on record saying that everyone should "forget" The Passion and watch instead the Gospel of John because it, unlike Mel Gibson's film "tells the whole story of Jesus" and "is completely faithful to Scripture."
"Huh???" indeed. Is anti-Semitism a uniquely Catholic vision? How about contradicting Scripture or the doctrines or discipline of the Church? The point here isn't to suggest that Bill's vision of what's "uniquely" Catholic is pejorative. The point is that it's difficult to see how The Passion can be as bad as Bill says it is and as good as he says it is at the same time. It can't be anti-Semitic or contradict Scripture and be authentically Catholic. It can't be worth watching and worth ignoring at the same time.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 11:28 Hours [+]
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
"Mister, Can You Spare a Dime for a Prurient Catholic?"
A reader has kindly directed us to James Carroll's latest thoughtful appreciation of Catholicism. After explaining that a literalist understanding of the Crucifixion really has very little to do with Christianity:
In the first centuries of the church, the bloody crucifixion had little hold on the religious imagination of Christians. Scratched on the walls of the ancient catacombs, for example, one finds drawings of the communion cup, the loaf of bread, the fish -- but rarely if ever the cross.Mr. Carroll shows us how medieval Papism perverted the faith into a morbid obsession:
It was only in the medieval period that the Latin church began to put the violent death of Jesus at the center of faith, but that theology was tied to a broader cultural obsession with death related to plagues, millennialism, and the carnage of the Crusades. Grotesquely literal renditions of the crucifixion came into art only as self-flagellation and other "mortifications" came into devotion. Good Friday began to replace Easter as the high point of the liturgical year. And God came to be understood as so cruel as to will his son's agonizing death as the only way to "atone" for the sins of fallen humanity.The vital part of Mr. Carroll's musings, of course, isn't his gladness for a renewed appreciation of the Resurrection. It is his condemnation of Romanism as a perverse religion which, like Hustler magazine, appeals to a "prurient" taste for agony and death and turns its back on a delightful Gospel message full of truth, love, and life wrapped in unsearchable mysteries which forbid Catholicism's dark and bloody fascination with the death of Christ. In other words, Mr. Carroll has read Frederica Mathewes-Greene and recalled the old saw that "good artists borrow, but great artists steal."
Mr. Carroll would no doubt diagnose it as Papist sadomasochism, and Ms. Matthewes-Greene as an example of Romish theological compulsion, but it is nonetheless true that God has ordered the universe in such a way that the Catholic Church must always be repugnant to some. Catholics err when they think that divine law sets uniform limits on the character, extent, or duration of that repugnance. The new springtime of evangelization may not begin this year, or this century. I will even be so bold as to point out that while Leo XIII had a vision in which our Lord granted Satan 100 years for a Job-like attempt to destroy the Church, our Lord did not say when that 100 years would begin.
Likewise, we also err by imagining a divine law that limits dislike of Catholicism to only brutal, stupid, and illiterate people who wish for evil to befall us. Catholicism can be disliked in alleyways and gutters, but it can also be disliked in nice suburban homes and in the polite, educated world of the literati. When the Papists dwell on the bloody, agonizing, and terrible death of Jesus with love, it is understandable that people who do not like Papism very much will find this to be just another sign of Papism's unendurable nature.
The hallmark of men who find Catholicism repugnant is not their time, their state in life, or even the merits of their opinions. It is in their arrogance. An arrogance which, in this case, has assumed that something icky and nasty confirms their repugnance, and that it doesn't call on them to wonder whether the nastiness belongs to them and not to what they dislike. Papism says that the bleeding face of the Lord, his torn flesh and lifeless corpse, are beautiful. They are beautiful because they are a divinely-willed token of an infinite regard which makes Mr. Carroll's love of life, and Ms. Matthewes-Greene's wondrous awe at the resurrecting forgiveness of sins, possible.
Few opinions are rendered without some truth, however badly understood. In their dislike of Papism's adoration of the Crucifixion, Mr. Caroll and Ms. Matthewes-Greene might have hit on something worth thinking about. The world of Christ is vast. Mr. Carroll is right to search in it for all the answers to the great questions of truth, peace, and justice. Ms. Matthewes-Greene is also right to embark on her pilgrimage through all the mysterious and joyous perfections so beautifully contained in the hymns and prayers of the East.
Compared to that, one can see how Romanist devotion to the spectacle of a God-Man bleeding in the furious agony of His Crucifixion might be thought of as a rather crude and lowly activity for Christians whose world contains so much more than cut flesh, ragged breathing, and tortured limbs. Everyone can talk about how beautiful a tree is, but few people spend a good deal of time praising the exquisite color, contour, and power of the seed. But surely even Mr. Carroll and Ms. Matthewes-Green will admit that the Crucifixion is there, in the world of Christ. That fact might allow for a moderation of their hauteur.
Perhaps an ecumenical spirit could move Ms. Matthewes-Greene, as noblesse oblige could move Mr. Carroll, to try thinking of Papists who fixate on the Crucifixion as they might by analogy think of janitors, hospital orderlies, or nursing-home attendants -- people who are devoted to doing distasteful things, but who are useful nonetheless for the assistance they render to life's really important matters. That would, at least, be an improvement.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 12:28 Hours [+]
Monday, February 09, 2004
A Great New Blog
We're pleased to announce that in addition to his great website, Dave Armstrong has begun blogging here. You should visit, and visit often. Dave's fund of knowledge is astonishing, and his articles are well worth reading. Look for Dave's blog to be added to the sidebar of "Safe Houses" soon.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 14:14 Hours [+]
Sunday, February 08, 2004
OK, Somebody's Gotta Call the Commissioner!
Thanks to Julie at The Theoscope, we learn that the Yeti is now using a corked bat!!!!
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 22:49 Hours [+]
The Food Thing
I've been doing the Food Thing. I do the Food Thing every once in awhile, when I realize I've neglected my culinary inclinations. The Food Thing means reading recipes, looking for places to buy ingredients, and generally spending one's time thinking about food.
So I went over to St. Blog's Parish Cookbook and copied down a lot of recipes. Then I made sure to get the Christmas-feast recipes Tom Fitzpatrick put up (no pun intended) on his Recta Ratio blog here, here, here, and here. If you know Tom, I would recommend doing everything possible to ingratiate yourself so that you get invited over for Christmas celebrations. I can't ingratiate. It's a congenital defect. So I'm just going to show up like the wassailers he wrote about and demand food in a jovial but menacing way. I'll bring actor Brian Dennehy with me. Nobody can do jovial-but-menacing like he can, except Humphrey Bogart, and Bogie's gone to the Big Brown Derby in the Sky. The only problem is that I'll have to wrestle Brian for the port jelly with custard sauce, and Brian outweighs me by at least ten pounds.
Then I went to Recipe Goldmine to find crock-pot recipes. I'd like to learn how to cook with a crock-pot, because my wife and I work and if we tried to make dinner the way I like it we wouldn't eat until 7:00. I don't mind that, myself, but we're in the midwest. If the midwest were a middle-eastern country, there'd be Cultural Police driving around looking through windows for people seated at the dinner table after sundown. It's not a muslim country, of course, but you still have to feel ashamed of yourself when you eat that late. I've never managed to make crock-pot food well. It always tastes, well, leeched and soggy. The flavors seem duller, the textures more uniform and on the softer side. I hope nobody's reading this and thinking "Well duh, you moron, whaddaya expect when you put beef and potatoes in water and heat them for twelve hours?" That would mean there's no way to make crock-pot food taste good. That would be doom.
On a happier note, I found IGourmet.Com. This is the food that thrills. Truffle paste, cream of artichoke soup, escargot, soppressata, dried morels and porcini, amaretti, torrone . . . . sigh . . . . That's eatin' high, I say. Nothing better than to sit down at a quiet dinner table with some leek soup and fresh bread. But it is not to be. Alone and with an aged palette I meet and dole unpleasantly-cooked food unto a velveeta race . . . .
While going through Recipe Goldmine I was reminded of my rules, verified by a good deal of testing, which can help weed out the truly time-wasting recipes from the bewildering array one finds on home-cooking websites. How can you tell whether to make Beef Stroganoff I, II, III, IV . . . XIX, XVIII, or MII? Here are some handy tips that let you know when you should remain calm, keep your hands to your side, and back away slowly.
(1) "This is even better the next day!" True, some foods are very pleasant to eat as leftovers, but usually dishes worth making don't sit in your refrigerator like cocooned worms until a sufficient number of the earth's revolutions can bring forth a new beauty. I tend to think this phrase means, "Maybe I'll have time to get the hell out of Dodge before you even try eating it." Besides, what's the point of making it for the next day? I have to eat today too, and this just doubles my work.
(2) "Serve hot." This instruction, appearing in recipes for stews and roasts, makes me wary. What is it about the chef that he or she believes that a stew should be served cool? Vichystew? Do ice cream cartons say, "Serve cold"? No. That's because Ben and Jerry know what they're doing.
(3) "1 lb Meat." If the chef doesn't care if you end up with Balogna Wellington or smoked-salmon sloppy joes, why should you?
(4) Ketchup (which people from odd lands spell "catsup") is not an ingredient. It's a condiment. As in, "it has a flavor that becomes disgusting when you use more than a tablespoon." When I see recipes that say "2 cups catsup," I say to myself, "Heck, why not throw in a pound of wasabi? At least I won't be able to taste the cat's supper." There are two exceptions to this rule. One is certain recipes for barbecue sauce. The other is the mystical concoction called "Wimpy" that my wife makes with hamburger, dried minced onions, and Del Monte Catsup.
(5) Peanut butter has no business on the dinner table, unless we're having desert. I can't fathom recipes that would require me to slather large quantities of peanut butter on meat and vegetables. When was the last time you put peanut butter on a hot dog? Calling it a "satay" won't help anything. It will make matters worse because some people will think that in addition to having a llama's tastebuds, I don't know what a satay is.
(6) Canned mushrooms are used by people who've never tasted real ones. I don't think a seriously-miseducated palette is going to hit on a good recipe by anything besides coincidence, and since the recipe already has canned mushrooms, I don't like the odds. I except truffles from this rule. A truffle is so good you can do anything to it without diminishing its ability to please. You could even make "catsup and peanut-butter truffle soup with meat," and you could still pick out the truffle bits and dream of Tuscany or Provence.
(7) Brand-name ingredients. Sometimes this is unavoidable. You can't, for example, make my grandmother's ice-box cake with Jello pudding, and if you're going to use prepared Mayonnaise then you have to use Hellman's. But when the recipe calls for a brand-name ingredient without an explanation or apparent purpose, you have to wonder about the reason. For example, is it really that important to use Libby's Whole Kernel Sweet Corn? Is it important to say the whole thing, "Libby's Delicious Whole Kernel Best Sweet Corn Better than Green Giant and Good For You Too"? I don't think so. In fact, I think the recipe's author is an industrial employee who's under continuous pressure to come up with something that will get one more box, can, or bag out of the store before the lawyers move to admit the list of ingredients as Plaintiff's Exhibit 12.
(8) Magic Ingredients. You can just tell that some recipes were written by people who can't wait to let drop the fact that this wonderful, oh-so-tasty dish was made by combining food no one gets excited about with a Magic Ingredient that transforms an otherwise lowly repast into the very ambrosia of gods. Like cinchona bark or pennicillin mold, the Magic Ingredient is usually something that could be described as Right There Under Our Noses All Along and which was discovered only through the Serendipitous Genius of the Chef. Fooey. Pot-Roast, my friends, is pot-roast and it will remain pot-roast even if it's been slathered in Miracle Whip or poached in root beer. The only thing such trickiness will produce is pot roast with an odd taste, like it was made with Miracle Whip or root beer. God has decreed a universe in which Filet and Sirloin are very, very good and in which pot roast is . . . well . . . what you have to eat a couple of times each month. Trying to reverse that order by jazzing up pot roast is the culinary equivalent of schism.
Ignore these rules if you like, but only at the risk of serving "Meaty Skippy's[TM] Peanut-Butter Root Beer Stew with Canned Mushrooms, Left Over and Served Lukewarm" or something very much like it. I have, and I wasn't thanked for it. I was instead banished from the kitchen, deprived of all meaningful contact with food in its unprepared state, unable to give free reign to my culinary inclinations. Hence my present need to do the Food Thing.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 13:34 Hours [+]
Friday, February 06, 2004
Further Reflections and a Clarification:
(Viz. the Joint Statements of Rerum Novarum and SecretAgentMan's Dossier)
During the past couple of weeks, We at the Dossier in conjunction with Rerum Novarum had occasion to comment jointly on the lamentable acrimony which had sprung up between two of our favorite Christian commentators on the Internet. We also made a short clarifying blog some days later, imploring our friends not to take the original commentary as a casus belli. We sincerely believe, and continue to believe, the truth of what we pointed out in the original commentary (a/k/a "Appeal to the Warring Houses of Montague and Capulet") and in the fairness and aptness of what we wrote in it.
However, on reflection one point should be made that has not, as yet, been made. We spent a good deal of time writing about why we believe the Capulet and Montague cannot get along with one another. We spent little, if any, time explaining our broader perspective that their lapses are -- while having unique aspects in their specific case -- still examples of failings which commonly plague men involved in passionate discourse. Not to put too fine a point on it, their faults have not caused them to do anything which has no examples of their own in our experiences.
Each of us has encountered individuals with whom, for some reason which seems inexplicable to us, civil discourse is extremely difficult if not impossible, even though our interlocutors seemed to get along fine with virtually everyone we and they know. This is not the time or place to expound on those affairs; having already judged our two friends, it is not meet that we should be the first to issue a judgment on ourselves. Others, if there is need, should be respectfully permitted the first opportunity to examine our misdeeds, just as we have taken on ourselves first opportunity to examine the misdeeds of our two friends.
It is enough that we say clearly that we do not believe our friends are guilty in areas where we ourselves are blameless, and note that our original commentary drew upon our experiences as well as on more abstract sources. We note this publicly in the event that there was any confusion on this matter to thereby dissipate it henceforth in perpetuity.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 13:16 Hours [+]
And an Even Stranger Feeling . . . .
Happens when you realize you stayed here for over five minutes!
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 02:14 Hours [+]
Thursday, February 05, 2004
The Dossier Proclaims "Whack ‘Em All and Let God Sort ‘Em Out" Day
Having just tried to take my traditionalist friend Jeff Culbreath of El Camino Real to the woodshed over his worries about the theology of the body, I visited Dale Price's ever-brilliant Dyspeptic Mutterings and found this elegant and brilliant fisking of the National Catholic
In a recent run of articles, NCR has celebrated the 40th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document produced by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) that called for reform of the liturgy.
And which also made clear (to little avail), that "reform" wasn't the same thing as "wrecking anything thought to resemble a liturgy." But, as will be noted below, there's always been this "What we say to American Liturgists / What American Liturgists Hear" problem with implementing Sacrosanctum Concilium.
Those articles will continue in coming weeks, but it is appropriate to pause here to take note of the liturgical news that, in effect, signals just how far those who oppose the work of Vatican II have come in reforming the reform.
Last week, we reported that a new English translation of the Mass was nearing completion. Among the changes are phrases that restore the literal translation of the Latin so that, for instance, the now familiar response, "And also with you," will be rendered in the pre-Vatican II formulation, "And also with your spirit."
It isn't the "pre-Vatican II formulation." It's the formulation of Vatican II, which resulted in the Pauline missal. The Pauline missal is in Latin. It's not in any other language -- one must translate the Latin original into the vernacular. The Latin says et cum spirituo tuo, which in English means "and also with your spirit."
And so on.
Indeed -- just one more proof that "Vatican II Catholics" are interested in everything but Vatican II.
To many a few words here and there are not worth getting upset about. But that misses the larger point.
Which is that the "Reformers" got to where they are by understanding the implication of little things, and then making them into big things, and then telling everyone else to stop making such a big deal about little things.
The implications go beyond a few words, to the very idea of church. . . .
. . . . how the church enacts reform and the degree of credibility given that authoritative gathering of the world's bishops 40 years ago.
Which NCR has just urged us to ignore by rendering et cum spirituo tuo as "and also with you, presider-dude."
Five years ago, when our now Vatican writer John L. Allen Jr. first began to uncover exactly how the revisionists were attacking the reform . . . .
It being NCR's editorial policy (set by Editor-in-Chief Kerensky back in 1918) that no one should ever be assigned to find out if the reformers are attacking the reform . . . .
, he discovered that a secretly appointed committee of 11 men -- no women included -- met quietly at the Vatican to overturn decades of work on translation, work that had been done under the approving mandate of Pope Paul VI.
Uh, how do you tell if NCR's in good form? When it contradicts itself, as it does here. Here's the actual NCR story story by John Allen:
The working group met from Feb. 24 to March 8, 1997, in the offices of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. It consisted of four archbishops, five advisers and two note-takers.Get that? "Public at the time and widely reported." Made Public -- and -- Widely Reported -- at -- The Time. Turns out these fellows had some help from assistants, advisors, and commentators whose names didn't manage to get mentioned by ZENIT and therefore constitute secrets that John Allen had to uncover at the risk of being whacked by the Benedictine Hit Men who're featured in John Ringo's novels. In an odd twist, Allen quotes Bishop Hanus as saying those mens' identities "were never secret" but then goes on to report how unnamed sources say they were secret:
Most sources contacted for this article, however, said they regarded them as such, citing Rome's long-standing practice of demanding that the identities of advisers and consultors be kept confidential. In some cases, sources told NCR, bishops have been asked to formally swear not to reveal the names of those with whom they met after a visit to Rome to discuss translation issues.Well, I demand to know what secret group of sources John Allen is meeting with for the purpose of revealing the secret Vatican committee whose names John Allen learned at the non-risk of his life from Benedictines Who Are Not Hit Men. Many people may think this secrecy is a little thing, but I tell you it goes to the very idea of newspaper! What's John gonna say in response, eh? Probably trot out some blather about how newspapers sometimes have to operate confidentially, hidden from public view, making decisions about source-quoting without any accountability outside themselves . . . . . . . elitist nonsense, is what that is.
Of those 11, only one held a graduate degree in scripture studies, two were not native English-speakers, one of the advisers was a graduate student and several had a history of objecting to inclusive-language translations, including two of the American archbishops and the lone scripture scholar.
Which goes to show the kind of horsepower you need to outpace the whole USCC.
A rather poor representation of scholarship and pastoral sensitivities, given the dimensions of the English-speaking segment of the church.
Oh, I'd agree it's a poor response to the sensitivities of some scholars and the English-speaking subscribers to NCR . . . . . But what about the sensitivities of graduate students, eh? NCR just engaged in degreeism! What's next -- Homophobia?
"What has also become clear," our story reported, "is that the elaborate consultative process used in developing English-language translations for nearly three decades meant little.
A little reality check is needed here. It was an "elaborate consultative process" in exactly the same -- and no greater -- way than getting your nine-year-old into bed without one more drink of water or five more minutes of Spongebob is an "elaborate consultative process." For three decades, the Vatican kept saying, "translate this into English" while BCL-ites like Msgr. Fred McManus kept hearing that "liturgical development and adaptation would ultimately demand much more by way of creativity. "
Powers in Rome handpicked a small group of men who in two weeks undid work that had taken dozens of years."
Yeah . . . ain't hierarchy grand!
Is there still reason to celebrate liturgical renewal? Of course.
Because nobody's disbanded the Vatican's Double-Secret Liturgical Probation Committee!!!!
Some things, attitudes particularly, will not change significantly.
By which, of course, NCR means this.
And some of the excesses of that reform, which needed to be changed, are being altered in the rollback of the reform.
I suppose this kind of sentence is inevitable. Under the
But note well, my friends, that NCR has, in a Khaddafi-esque sort of way, realized that the Times They Are A Changin' and that it's no longer politic to advance the full-throated cries of yesteryear . . . . aint hierarchy grand!!!
The unfortunate thing is that the new translations, or the return to old translations, is being done in the style of the pre-Vatican II church, heavy-handed and at the whim of those in power.
Like God, who says He created the papacy and gave the Church an hierarchical constitution where some are in power and some aren't. Just who does He think He is anyhow? Somebody who doesn't have to cater to the sensibilities of scholars and the English-speaking subscribers to NCR?
Gee, I wonder if Ninja-Reporter John Allen will ever use his cloth-covered grappling hooks on the idea that terminating the worldwide celebration of the Mass of St. Pius V in favor of the Novus Ordo was a heavy-handed whim of those in power? Probably not -- in these times, it's better not to plant one's own potatoes.
Which leaves open a not inconsequential question:
. . . and, indeed, a question whose significance may be consequential . . . don't you just loooovee ICEL!
If the prayer of the community
. . . .which is not, by any stretch of the imagination, to be confused with a representation of Calvary . . . .
. . . . is left to the formulation of those who hold power, without consideration for the extensive and long work of a much wider community
Uh, the BCL has how many members? Has anyone at NCR tried to explain to a parish liturgist with a life subscription to America why placing a statue of the Blessed Virgin or crucifix in a Catholic Church isn't grounds for latae sententiae excommunication? (Probaby not. The first thing you have to do is explain "excommunication" . . . . . ). What was it Rev. Mather said? "Which is better - to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?" Of course, he was dismissed from his ministry too, just like priests in the wider community not composed of NCR-certified bishops and liturgists who try to celebrate the Novus Ordo in Latin.
. . . . what's to stop another liturgical coup in the future, should the people and ideas in power change?
Yes, Sasha, here's the NCR standing up for the invariable rock-like constancy of the Depositum Fidei. (Which, if translated into English by a secret Vatican cabal, doesn't mean "What Sister Fonda said at the parish sub-committee meeting.") They really must be getting desperate over there . . . . they're not only threatening to Eat their Young, they're threatening to do it in the name of Tradition!
It's a lousy way to do the church's business -- and it doesn't withstand the scrutiny of serious, adult, educated Catholics in the early 21st century.
Who have, it should be noted, undergone Uplift so that they more closely resemble the Patron Race of Liberals in NCR's David-Brin Theory of Ecclesiology . . . .
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 15:34 Hours [+]
From Our "Sticking Your Nose Where It Doesn't Belong" Department
I see that And Then is replying to El Camino Real's invitations to worry about the theology of the body. It looks like fun. I think I'll stick my neo-Catholic nose into it . . . El Camino Real's words in blue, mine in black.
In reply to the question, "Does the theology of the body consider the unitive aspect of marriage to be equal or superior to the procreative?", Michelle states that "the procreative aspect of marriage has never been separated from the unitive aspect of marriage." That isn't helpful. No one mentioned a separation of ends . . . .
But I think a separation is implied whenever it's said that one end of marriage has a quality or degree thereof which isn't continually and necessarily involved with another end of marriage. The extent to which one end is thought of as "primary," for example, when "primary" is also thought to express the possession of something not common to the other ends of marriage, would be the extent of the postulated difference. To the extent such an interpretation of "primary" postulates that difference, it is unavoidably implied that the ends of marriage are independent.
but only the perennial teaching of the Church with respect to priorities. According to the 1917 code of Canon Law:
Canon 1013.1 The primary end of marriage is the procreation and nurture of children; its secondary end is mutual help and the remedying of concupiscence.Likewise, Casti Connubii:
Since, however, We have spoken fully elsewhere on the Christian education of youth, let Us sum it all up by quoting once more the words of St. Augustine: "As regards the offspring it is provided that they should be begotten lovingly and educated religiously," - and this is also expressed succinctly in the Code of Canon Law - "The primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children."I grant that the perennial teaching of the Church uses the word "primary" to refer to the purpose of procreation and nurturing of children. I deny that the Church intends the word to signify the separability of marriage's ends in the way necessarily envisioned by El Camino Real's concern about upholding a "primary" end of marriage in such a way that it can overrule "secondary" ends. I don't think pre-Vatican II Church teaching allows that a married couple can, by following Church teaching about the unitive end of their marriage, somehow contravene Church teaching about their marriage's procreative purpose. I don't think the theology of the body says that, either. What I see, rather, is the theology of the body being subjected to criticism which in itself envisions the ends of marriage as being separable and independent, thereby allowing for a conflict of ends, and then (wrongly) holding the theology of the body responsible for that conflict.
According to some sources, the priorities of marriage were declared de fide by the Holy Office in 1944:
To the question: "Whether the views of certain recent writers can be admitted, who either deny that the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children, or teach that the secondary ends are not necessarily subordinate to the primary end, but are equally principal and independent" the reply was: "In the negative" (Quoted in Bouscaren & Ellis, Canon Law, p.400).I have to find it just a little fun that the "source" referred to here isn't the Holy Office, but the Angelus, a publication of the schismatic Society of St. Pius X. The Society's attitude toward the Holy Office, like its attitude toward the magisterium and papacy in general is, shall we say, a little unstable. For example, the weight given this 1944 statement's ability to rebuke the "theology of the body" probably isn't matched by the weight the Society gives to the Holy Office's 1949 rebuke of Fr. Feeney's "theology of baptism." Consequently I'm not prepared to accept the Society's glossy as a source that can inform me about what is, or is not, de fide.
That's particularly the case when the Holy Office as quoted declares that the purpose of procreation always and inseparably involves all the other purposes of marriage, thus contradicting the interpretation of "primary" which underlies El Camino Real's worrying about the theology of the body. What the Holy Office did in 1944 is rebuff the view that the purposes of marriage are independent and can conflict with each other. In order to say that "secondary end X" of marriage can be pursued so as to conflict with the procreative purpose of marriage, one must in the first place to envision "secondary end X" as possessing something which doesn't operate within the procreative purpose of marriage. In other words, one has to accept the independence of the ends of marriage that underlies El Camino Real's intepretation of the word "primary" before one can start imagining situations in which one end must be called on to nullify or overrule the others.
How, then, might the new theology give the impression that the ends of marriage are reversed in priority?
I must quarrel with the unfortunate terminology used here. I'm not interested in the "impressions" that may or may not be held by people who are already invested in their own agendas. There are people (not Jeff Culbreath of El Camino Real) whose agenda demands an increasingly "deviant" magisterium. There are people whose agenda demands an increasingly "enlightened" magisterium. They come from every walk of life, every politico-theological orientation, and they all have one thing in common. They expect the Church to grant their own wishes for Catholicism; they all naturally think they wish only for what is right; and so they all show up with rhetorical ice hatchets to whittle a coherent block of teaching down into an elegant and conservative swan, a jumping and liberal trout, or whatever other shape would best serve as a centerpiece for the occasion.
They have one other thing in common. Each of them pays tribute to the absolute authority of the magisterium. This tribute may be motivated by a sincere belief, or by the political need to acknowledge a magisterial presence even as one deviates from its particular teachings. The degree to which cynicism or charity may be appropriate isn't my concern here. My aim is to point out that in each case a license is granted to ignore or transgress the teachings of the Church via the idea of hypnotism. The teaching of the magisterium, which is properly thought of as a living dialogue between the Bridegroom and the Bride, is instead objectified into a dead object, a totem, a shiny pendulum whose mysterious properties somehow provoke heterodoxy in anyone who stares at them for very long. Thus we end up with frightful talk about heterodox "impressions" and sinful "suggestions" which immediately invites us to ignore the pendulum that, it is conveniently claimed, has nothing to do with the magisterium since the magisterium obviously doesn't intend its teaching to serve such a malignant function.
The Dossier recently commented on some Chicago priests' villification of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's ruling out the idea of gay marriage. One sees the same "hypnotic" language in their statement: "We respect the teaching authority of the Church. Because of this, we find particularly troubling the increase in the use of violent and abusive language directed at any human person." It's not the magisterium they're quarreling with, you see, they have no problems with the teaching authority of the Church. No, they're only complaining about an inauthentic "toxic pendulum" which will hypnotically provoke the faithful into violating the perennial teaching of the Church by holding anti-homosexual pogroms: "Examples from the most recent Vatican document show all too clearly the demonization of these children of God . . . Does anyone consider this vile and toxic language invitational?" The Chicago priests aren't writing in favor of heterodoxy, quite the contrary: They're up in arms about the "hypnotic impression" that will be created by the CDF's vile, toxic, and homophobic pendulum.
One of the first reasons these priests are wrong in their approach is that the orthodoxy of the Church is not to be guaged by the subjective experience that happens when a "thing one hasn't thought of" suddenly appears in what had been a comfortably-familiar theological map. No one ought to view Evangelium Vitae according to the "suggestions" Antonin Scalia found in it, and no one ought to view Humanae Vitae in light of the "suggestions" Olympia Snow or John Kerry find in it. If one were to do so, one would only hear Antonin Scalia tell us about his mental lapse in thinking that Evangelium Vitae "suggests" executing criminals is always wrong. One would only hear Olympia Snowe or John Kerry tell us about the embolisms which kept them from realizing that Humanae Vitae doesn't just address the confessional discipline of Catholics but also describes the moral fact of unborn human life. We're dealing with the magisterium, folks, we don't have the luxury of being that sloppy:
"Neither by Augustus, nor by all the clergy, nor by religious, nor by the people will the judge be judged . . . . The first seat will not be judged by anyone."If the magisterium says something "counterintuitive," it's us who need to stop being "counter" and "intuitive." We ought to refrain from dark muttering about contrary appearances and heterodox suggestions. If we simply must look for heterodoxy under every rock, then when the magisterium says something disagreeable we ought to be more ready to start looking into ourselves rather than into the magisterium. Truly heterodox suggestions may indeed be present, but they always end up being our own and not the magisterium's. The alternative approach is not orthodoxy, but schism.-- Pope St. Nicholas I, Epistle Proposueramus quidem to Michael the Emperor, 865 A.D. Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, trans., Roy J. Deferrari and published as Sources of Catholic Dogma (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1955), Paragraphs 330-333, pp. 132-134.
Hence my lament over El Camino Real terminology, becuase it's the same terminology used by people who want to begin by comparing what the magisterium says to what we "rightly" expect the magisterium to say. That approach only works if we posit ourselves as perfect knowers of Catholic theology in the first place, rather than men who suffer from the Fall's consequences in our minds and hearts even after baptism and confession has rescued us from the clutches of its guilty depravity. Familiarity with "perennial Catholic theology" is not enough; sedevacantists are familiar with it, and they still end up saying that the Pope's not Christian. The Society of St. Pius X's familiar with it, and the Society's members have still ended up saying they're not under an obligation to obey the Pope. We think of Catholic theology, as a whole, as though it were a progressive movement toward increasing orthodoxy in understanding and expressing the Gospel. We're right to think of it that way. But we go amiss when we leave our own living interaction with the magisterium unexamined, and begin evaluating the Church's teaching as though the point of exemplified perfection has already been reached, or as though it were men and not God who actually direct that upward movement.
The statements of the magisterium are to be evaluated positively within a sincere attempt to uphold and affirm their orthodoxy. In this attempt, we are to focus primarily on the statements of the magisterium taken as honestly and favorably as we can possibly see them. We can't do that if we evaluate the magisterium on the theory that what it says is irrelevant, and that the "hypnotic effect" of its teaching exemplified in the writings and doings of Catholics is the only sure way to determine the meaning of Catholicism. Not only does that stand Christ's hierarchical constitution for the Church on its head in a sort of bizarre populist twist (we find out what our superiors have said by asking one another what they meant to say), but it also suffers from the same flaw noted above -- if Antonin Scalia, Olympia Snowe, and ourselves can't be posited as perfect knowers of Catholicism, then neither can all the other demographically-categorized Catholics be posited as perfect knowers. Consequently I'm never interested in judging Church teaching by whatever "impressions" or "suggestions" people might want to note existing among some, most, or even all, Catholics. I don't judge the cult of the saints by the presence of Santeria; I won't judge the Church's theology about Isarel and Judaism by the words and actions of Catholic Nazis; and I won't judge the theology of the body by whatever heterodox "impressions" it may end up generating among the unlearned and unstable. I shall let the Protestants do that. They, at least, can get something useful out of the approach.
I think it does so by exalting the body, which is more closely associated with the unitive end of marriage. . . .
I'm not sure how I can reasonably agree with El Camino Real that the body is somehow less associated with the procreative end of marriage than with the unitive purpose of marriage. My experience has always been that those things happen simultaneously. I realize that not every marriage is the same, but still I don't think El Camino Real has given me cause to hesitate before eating another cabbage . . . :))
Seriously, however, I see the truth of El Camino Real's surmise. It is that many misled people, thier minds having been subdued by modern culture, think of the body's role only in terms of "unitive" activity and don't think much at all about the fast and sure connection God has created between that and children. I think we could even venture to say that such people, when they are Catholics, are doing exactly what I described above, joining Radical Traditionalists and the John Kerry crowd in their project of filtering the Church's statements through what they want to hear rather than forcing themselves to want to hear what the Church has to say. But in any event, any "exalting" going on in this miseducation can be blamed on many things, but not on the Church's theology per se.
. . . . to an unprecedented and preposterous degree.
Again I refer to what I said above. God is always doing things which are, depending on one's favored standpoint, "unprecedented." The Pharisees were made aware of that fact, and also the Jews being marched off to Babylon. Better, I think, to say that we often make ourselves preposterous by our selection of precedents. Certainly the Pharisees, the men who ignored Jeremiah, and Marcel Lefebvre ended up in that position.
Consider the following from Christopher West:
This is to say that everything God wants to tell us on earth about who he is, the meaning of life, the reason he created us, how we are to live, as well as our ultimate destiny, is contained somehow in the meaning of the human body and the call of male and female to become "one body" in marriage ...OK. Thanks for providing the link to the whole article. (You'll have to go to El Camino Real for that. And you should anyway, El Camino Real is good reading).
The most charitable spin is that the above statements are either reckless hyperbole or academic gibberish. The alternative is to take them at face value, in which case they are obviously false and heretical.
Now this is where adjectives in addition to explanation might be well received. Instead we just have the adjectives, so I ask for patience if I haven't picked up on the "obviousness" of it. St. Thomas tells us that the soul is the form of the body, and the Church tells us that God doesn't change His mind, but instead wills us into being from eternity. It could be said, then, that God has willed men and women into existence in their very souls, from all eternity. He does this for many glorious reasons, and most of them touch on our sexuality. A priest, for example, in the Order of Melchizedek was created a man so that he might be the proper matter for the sacrament of orders. A woman, for example, was created as such so that she might be the proper matter for the sacrament of marriage or a person fit to take solemn vows. In both cases, the vocation depends on the sexuality given to the person. God Himself became flesh as a man, with a man's sexuality. He was born of a woman, the Great Mother of God, Mary Most Holy, who has a woman's sexuality.
To quote Mr. West, "Could our sexuality possibly be any more important than this?" I don't really see how. Nor can I really see in these thoughts anything that might fit MTV's agenda. To the contrary, this theology makes Christina Aquilera and Janet Jackson seem far more shabby and tragic than a simple recitation of the Commandments would do -- particularly before an audience trained from birth to ignore any commandment, but to be fascinated by visions of happiness. The commandments set forth the law transgressed; the theology of the body explains why in transgressing it these women are literally wasting their lives. To quote Christopher West, "Who's looking for the meaning of life? Well, here it is!" Quite so.
To her credit, Michelle does seem to be admitting that the new theology has shifted the emphasis in marital priorities.
There are several ways to "shift an emphasis in priorities." Only one of them involves reordering them or setting them in opposition to one another. One can also "shift an emphasis in priorities" by, for example, bringing one's understanding of all the priorities up to a proper level in relationship with each other.
Are the reasons she gives legitimate? She says that the procreative aspect of marriage was emphasized in the past "almost but not quite to the point of excluding the unitive." This is news to anyone who has ever read the epistles of Saint Paul, or Saint John Chrysostom, or Arcanum Divinae, or Casti Connubii -- all decidedly pre-TOB sources that forcefully stress the unitive aspect of marriage while upholding the primary end.
I can sympathize with El Camino Real's discomfort about the "revolutionary" depiction that's sometimes given to the theology of the body -- the theology of the body doesn't involve throwing off the shackles of the past. At the same time, however, I have to wonder why it's automatically assumed that Scripture, the Church Fathers, and papal encyclicals written before the Second Vatican Council represent an antithetical theology. Seems to me that's as "revolutionary" an approach, inasmuch as it's also trying to throw off imaginary shackles.
But at the same time I think there's merit in what Michelle has to say. It's worth noting that the devil never intends to attack strength, he only attacks where he sees (rightly or wrongly) weakness. The modern assault on Christian sexual ethics was not launched against procreation. It was launched against the unitive aspect of marriage. The pro-death Protestant Churches, Margaret Sanger, the Supreme Court -- their language was largely directed at the happiness and "quality of life" issues which procreation raises for married parents. Roe did not emerge like Venus from the mind of William Brennan. It was the culmination of a long campaign whose first legal shots were fired by the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965).
That case, decided eight years before Roe hit the bench, was the first time the Court referred to the "penumbral rights of privacy" which eventually ended up with the right to slaughter millions. These rights, said the Court, applied first and above all within marriage and prohibited the government from criminalizing contraception because, to the contrary, happiness within marriage demands the freedom to use birth control. "Marriage," wrote Mr. Justice Douglas, is the "coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects." The Court said this harmony ought not be subjected to laws against contraception, which would inflict "maximum destructive impact" on the happy unity married couples needed to express in their choices about sexual and reproductive matters.
I submit that Griswold's satanic reasoning can sound plausible only to people who've come to take the unitive aspect of marriage for granted. It isn't granted. It exists by dint of a lot of hard work, personal sacrifice, and continual openness to God's will. All of that has to be founded first and foremost on a celebration of and respect for God's will in creating the sexuality that's involved with marriage -- sexuality, BTW, conceived of as an entire expression of God's goodness in the whole being of one's person, and not as the ability to make the springs squeak. Arguing as though pregnancy alone (which is not by any stretch of the imagination always identical to God's will) is the be-all and end-all of marriage overlooks all that, because its sheer focus on progeny ends up ignoring the unitive health of the parents thereby allowing the devil to whisper sweetly about a counterfiet unity. That's not what the Church has ever said, but it's still there in any complaint that takes enthusiastic talk about God's call to beauty and holiness for married persons as though it was a "threat" to the occurrence of pregnancy.
Michelle claims that, unlike our spiritual ancestors, we no longer take the unitive aspect of marriage for granted and therefore need to have it "hammered into us". I would argue that the very opposite is the case -- that we moderns give very little consideration to the procreative end of marriage (as evidenced by our low birthrates), and that we give the unitive end of marriage a disproportionate emphasis and a burden that it cannot possibly support.
I'm not so sure about the invalidity of Michelle's point. I note that as Roe was preceded by Griswold, Griswold coincided with an enormous change in American divorce law. Prior to 1960, almost every state refused to allow divorce "on demand." There had to be some showing by evidence that one party had violated the marital "contract" by adultery, nonsupport, cruelty or abuse, etc. By 1970, virtually every state allowed "no fault" divorces in which a marriage can be ended, as it can be in my state, merely by declaring that "the marriage has deteriorated to such an extent that the parties can no longer live together as husband and wife." That's it -- no explanations, no proof required, no obligation to reform or amend, you just have to say it once in open court. In 1916, one of every nine American marriages ended in divorce. Today, of course, it's one in two marriages, and we have "no fault murder" laws on top of that.
I submit again that the satanic attack was launched against the unitive aspect of marriage, not the procreative aspect of marriage, and that no-fault divorce laws can only be enacted by a society that has lost all conception of what a unitive purpose of marriage really requires. I agree that there is today much false praise of marriage, and a lot of hype about its miraculous wonder, in pagan mouths. It's the same sort of hygenic transferrence that has them enacting laws against smoking while allowing abortuaries to run 24/7. The theology of the body does not give that kind of false praise. It is instead a call to men and women to look at themselves in ways which make no-fault divorce laws look like what they are -- expressions of personal infantilism and moral cowardice.
They are expressions of infantilism and moral cowardice because, as Christopher West says in the article El Camino Real quotes: "Marriage is the intimate, exclusive, indissoluble communion of life and love entered by man and woman at the design of the Creator for the purpose of their own good and the procreation and education of children; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament." If El Camino Real could explain how this is refuted (expressly or impliedly) by everything else Mr. West says, then I would better take the point. Instead, Mr. West's statement seems to be the reasonable conclusion of a theology which, like the theology of the body, says that the expression of sexuality by marriage is (like all sacraments) a human participation in the divine.
When the unitive end of marriage, distorted by pop romanticism and sentimentality and exciting new "theologies",
El Camino Real just said that it was fit and meet to "stress" the unitive aspect of marriage when St. Paul, St. John Chrysostom, and the Popes before Vatican II did it. False romanticism and sentimentality are not 20th-century inventions; people were inappropriately romanticizing and sentimentalizing amorous relationships before and after St. John Chrysostom's day. For proof I'd refer to Apuleius' Golden Ass, the story of Aeneas and Dido, the legend of Don Juan, the Decameron, Gone with the Wind . . . . By what rule, then, should we suddenly judge John Paul II's "stress" on the unitive end of marriage a distortion on par with the witless and infantile antics of Nick and Jess on the MTV show "Newlyweds"? This is a connection El Camino Real doesn't even attempt to make, so I won't let it pass as though it's been argued, let alone proved.
. . . . seems to be struggling or breaking down, moderns conclude that the marriage is a failure and do not persevere in the primary end of marriage (which, not surprisingly, often enhances the unitive component).
That's because they don't understand the unitive aspect of marriage any more than they do the procreative aspect of marriage. If we separate them, as El Camino Real does with its interpretation of the word "primary," we just add to their confusion by implicitly suggesting that a good marriage may not be a unitive marriage so long as it's a procreative marriage. Better, I think to say that a good marriage must be a unitive and a procreative marriage, because without one you can't have the other, and without both you're going to be as shallow and useless in this life as the Osbornes show themselves to be every week. That's what the theology of the body says, I think, and shall think so until El Camino Real gives me more than adjectives and a confusion between Church teaching and its misuse by people who are at liberty to misuse it.
 Originally this was mis-attributed to El Camino Real. Jeff corrected me on it, and I thank him for it.
 The Reader's Companion to American History: DIVORCE.
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 09:47 Hours [+]
Tuesday, February 03, 2004
A Totally Cool Blog
This fellow, who says he's a "Southern Catholic Federalist" and I were obviously separated at birth. He's got his links organized as "First Brigade" (as in, "YOU ARE . . . the FIRST BRIGADE!!), likes Bourbon, and has a link to Ben Silver. The only thing remaining is to find out if he's a KA like me . . . .
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 15:34 Hours [+]
Sunday, February 01, 2004
Questions About the Bloggies
Via Fr. Bryce Sibley we learn that Cybercatholics.com is taking nominations for "best blog" awards. Fr. Sibley says the're not to be called "Sibleys." Sorry, Fr., but that golden statuette of a knife-wielding Fr. Sibley is just too fine -- they're "Sibleys" as far as I'm concerned!
More to the point, heh heh, I have three keen, heh heh, questions:
1. How can Dale Price win the Sibley for Best Fisk if there is no Sibley for Best Fisk?
Transmitted by SecretAgentMan 19:37 Hours [+]