Suppose you were a wise, religious man living a century or two ago. You see that modernity is here and that it will not be stopped. You see the walls of civilization bowing, cracking, groaning before it. You see pitiless, red eyes searching out enemies. You see its thirst for fire and steel. You see purity surrendering to its overripe sensuality. What do you do?
My title has two meanings. The first is that, since the 1980s at least, what calls itself literary criticism has consisted largely of abstract theory, most often concerned primarily with itself. An enterprise both gnostic and narcissistic, such criticism reduces ultimately to ideological formulas which, once pried free from the encrustation of verbiage, reveal themselves as the hoariest of political clichés, never out of daily use since 1848, which function mainly as group-identity noises. All contemporary critics are smarter than Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Dostoyevsky, but no one is smarter than le grand Jacques, Noam Chomsky, or Naomi Wolf. Although exiled to the periphery, actual criticism has continued to exist, but it is the tendentious type of discourse that has come to dominate the English and other literature departments over the last thirty years. The second meaning, the one that interests me in what follows, relates closely to the first.
What do our Orthodox readers make of this?
Twelve heads of autonomous Orthodox churches, the second-largest family of Christian churches, also agreed to hold a summit of bishops, or ecumenical council, in 2016, which will be the first in over 1,200 years.
The Istanbul talks were called to decide on the council, which the Orthodox have been preparing on and off since the 1960s, but the Ukraine crisis overshadowed their talks at the office of spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
Don’t do it!
Bruce Charlton worried a few days ago whether the languishing readership of the orthosphere, or Neoreaction generally, means that these schools of thought might be over and done with. Bonald has expressed similar concerns.
I think not. The tinder has not yet caught our spark. That does not mean it never will. Either we are all simply wrong about the way the world is, or else, sooner or later, one way or another, the fire will come. Why not keep striking the flint, in patient expectation?
Today, the BICEP2 team announced the detection of what they claim is an imprint of long wavelength gravitational waves in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background. If this holds up (a big if: lots of exciting discoveries don’t hold up when some neglected systematic error turns up), it will be the most important discovery in cosmology since the first evidence for dark energy, and for physics in general I would rate it more important than the detection of the Higgs boson.
Fr. Hunwicke had a great post up a few days ago reflecting on the Pontificate of Francis one year after his election. He remains prayerful and hopeful but frankly acknowledges the Holy Father’s contribution to a certain poisoning of the discourse among orthodox Catholics (with predictable consequences), which he attributes to their tendency toward servility and Papal idolatry:
Despite the facile cliches which are so invariably abundant after conclaves, we have no divine assurance that any Pope since S Peter ever has been or is “God’s choice”. Even as a corporate collegium, the Cardinals are not protected in their prudential decisions. That would be an absurd dogma. I will not insult my readers by inserting here a history lesson about ‘bad popes’ … except to say that we can find more whole-hearted moral evil in quite a number of First Millennium popes than in the iniquities of an occasional Renaissance libertine. Popes, needless to say, are protected from proclaiming heretical propositions ex cathedra; but they are not vi ipsius muneris necessarily good or wise or nice men. Continue reading
Over at the website of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, the redoubtable Paul Gottfried provides commentary on the squishy totalitarianism of the contemporary academy and on the bland and careerist mentality that sustains it. Gottfried writes:
As a student, I noticed that most of my teachers were immersed in books and ideas. They were genuinely in love with their disciplines and would spend their evenings and vacations pursuing their studies full-time. In college I majored with one professor who was a multilingual scholar in intellectual history. One of his books, which my mentor was too modest to discuss, was a study of the effects of Impressionist art on the prose style of Marcel Proust.
Some professors [today] strike me as men or women simply holding down ‘jobs’ without a deep commitment to learning as practice (in the Aristotelian sense). Others seemed to be not quite fully grown-up adults burdened with personal and emotional issues—people who didn’t fit into a bourgeois moral world and who were looking for an environment that they could mold to their proclivities.
Paul’s article is well worth reading.
We have all been inspired by Pope Francis’ and Cardinal Kasper’s gestures of compassion to the divorced and remarried. Indeed, we are all sinners, and these wise prelates know that the Lord’s table is no place to exclude those who refuse to submit to Jesus’ statements on remarriage. However, it should be remembered that selective mercy is often a greater cruelty to those who remain outside its graces. Let us not forget those other sensitive Christian souls who have for so long suffered judgement and exclusion from the Church. I refer, of course, to that other subset of unrepentant adulterers, the ones who haven’t abandoned their first families and civilly remarried.
Consider, if you will, the dilemma of a believing Catholic man who has found himself in a relationship with a mistress. Rosary-counting Catholics–more Pharisee than Christian!–would condemn this man for his sins of “lust”, but I know that many extramarital relationships involve genuine friendship, love, and spiritual fellowship. We acknowledge that the love in this man’s marriage has failed, and we have to feel the pain of the failure; we have to accompany those persons who have experienced this failure of their own love. Not to condemn them! To walk with them! And to not take a casuistic attitude towards their situation.
What do adulterers actually hear from us though, when they earnestly desire to participate fully in the life of the Church? Do we not presume to judge them? Do we not cruelly demand that they severe those extramarital attachments that bring them so much joy and comfort? Do we not hold the Lord hostage, saying that adulterers may not receive the Eucharist until they conform to our ideas of an acceptable level of monogamy? Yes, we acknowledge that it may not be practical for a man never to see his mistress again, but we insist that when he does spend time with her they should behave as brother and sister. But this is cruelly unrealistic! A man may have an intensely meaningful relationship with his mistress. Illegitimate children might be involved. Plus, she might be totally hot.
Consider also the utter perversity of the fact that if this man were to abandon his wife and children to poverty and fatherlessness and “marry” his mistress, he would be welcomed with open arms in the Church of Pope Francis the Merciful. Is it not bizarre that we accept a man who breaks all of his marital vows but not a man who only breaks one of them?
What should the Church do in such situations? It cannot propose a solution that is different from or contrary to the words of Moses. The question is therefore how the Church can reflect this command of fidelity in its pastoral action concerning adulterers. It is always the case that those in mortal sin are called to spiritual communion with the Church even though they can’t receive sacramental communion. But if one, why not the other? Some maintain that non-participation in communion is itself a sign of the sanctity of the sacrament. The question that is posed in response is: is it not perhaps an exploitation of the person who is suffering and asking for help if we make him a sign and a warning for others? Are we going to let him die of hunger sacramentally in order that others may live?
Now, it is true, alas, that the Church cannot disregard the biblical teaching that cheating on one’s spouse is sinful. However, while doctrine teaches us what is true in the abstract, it doesn’t judge concrete particulars. Thus, just as we now know that although sodomy is abstractly speaking always a mortal sin, every particular homosexual relationship is wonderful and deserving of civil affirmation, we can say that although adultery is wrong in the abstract, human beings are not abstractions, and we may not judge any particular extramarital dalliance. We shall not presume to tell the husband with a wandering eye whom he may and may not love! Look, the same bible that teaches us about the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people. So I would say to the married man who’s on the side proudly banging his secretary “Bravo“.
Yes, we may say that monogamy is ideal, so long as we don’t proudly imply that open marriages among our sincere Christian brothers and sisters are therefore inferior. Nor may we imagine that a man’s sexual desire for his wife is somehow more wholesome than a desire for some random other woman. That would be to encourage the sin of pride in those who happen to be attracted to their spouses, an inclination that is not in itself praiseworthy.
Acceptance of adultery means compassion toward everyone: the cheater, the mistress,…, um, yeah, everyone.
My current brace of columns includes one at Crisis Magazine about the trend away from concrete loyalties and objective principles toward radical subjectivity and a combination of money and bureaucracy as the basis for what’s still called public life. The other one, at Catholic World Report, makes the obvious point that the result is unlivable and we should all go out and refound Christendom.