The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Wolfe and Archie

Look, I've been a Nero Wolfe fan since I was 14. My grandfather and I used to watch the William Conrad-Lee Horsley adaptation, and that led me to the novels. And, after reading all of them, many more than once, I left Wolfe behind.

And then the great A & E series came on, and Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton became Wolfe and Archie. And, I have to admit, when a couple years back I went thorough the novels again, my reading of the characters was influenced by Chaykin and Hutton.

Not to mention Bill Smitrovich, superb as Inspector Cramer:

The A & E series was especially fun in its use of a small ensemble to appear in various roles. On occasion, they'd have to double up, which led to the surreal spectacle of Kari Matchett appearing in the same episode both as Lily Rowan (the closest thing Archie has to a significant other) and as Julie Jacquette, the boho swinging songstress (I'm quoting from the jacket flap of the first edition, so ease up, Tiger) who is the key to the mystery. What's great is that Matchett is great in both parts, with different, but palpable, chemistry between her and Hutton depending on which role she's playing.

(Other fun fact: Matchett later appeared on Leverage as the ex-wife of Hutton's character. It was like Archie and Lily had split.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Call No One Happy--"

According to Herodotus, when the Athenian law-giver Solon came to the court of Croesus, the King repeatedly pressed him to say whether or not he, Croesus, was the happiest (that is, most fortunate of men. Solon had his doubts:
"Oh! Croesus," replied the other, "thou askedst a question concerning the condition of man, of one who knows that the power above us is full of jealousy, and fond of troubling our lot. A long life gives one to witness much, and experience much oneself, that one would not choose. Seventy years I regard as the limit of the life of man. In these seventy years are contained, without reckoning intercalary months, twenty-five thousand and two hundred days. Add an intercalary month to every other year, that the seasons may come round at the right time, and there will be, besides the seventy years, thirty-five such months, making an addition of one thousand and fifty days. The whole number of the days contained in the seventy years will thus be twenty-six thousand two hundred and fifty, whereof not one but will produce events unlike the rest. Hence man is wholly accident. For thyself, oh! Croesus, I see that thou art wonderfully rich, and art the lord of many nations; but with respect to that whereon thou questionest me, I have no answer to give, until I hear that thou hast closed thy life happily. For assuredly he who possesses great store of riches is no nearer happiness than he who has what suffices for his daily needs, unless it so hap that luck attend upon him, and so he continue in the enjoyment of all his good things to the end of life. For many of the wealthiest men have been unfavoured of fortune, and many whose means were moderate have had excellent luck. Men of the former class excel those of the latter but in two respects; these last excel the former in many. The wealthy man is better able to content his desires, and to bear up against a sudden buffet of calamity. The other has less ability to withstand these evils (from which, however, his good luck keeps him clear), but he enjoys all these following blessings: he is whole of limb, a stranger to disease, free from misfortune, happy in his children, and comely to look upon. If, in addition to all this, he end his life well, he is of a truth the man of whom thou art in search, the man who may rightly be termed happy. Call him, however, until he die, not happy but fortunate. Scarcely, indeed, can any man unite all these advantages: as there is no country which contains within it all that it needs, but each, while it possesses some things, lacks others, and the best country is that which contains the most; so no single human being is complete in every respect- something is always lacking. He who unites the greatest number of advantages, and retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man alone, sire, is, in my judgment, entitled to bear the name of 'happy.' But in every matter it behoves us to mark well the end: for oftentimes God gives men a gleam of happiness, and then plunges them into ruin."
As, of course happened to Croesus.


"Call no man happy until he is dead," as the punch line has often been translated, is a warning, that until we know the ed of the story, be leery of judging anybody's state. It's certainly true as far as it goes, but possibly could be pushed even further; "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," after all.

Well, that's all rather disconnected and slightly downbeat. I'll admit that the discovery that a friend of mine has died has me thinking. But here's the thing--my friend was, I think, happy. Doing practical good for others, exploring his faith, my friend lived what I could call a life that was rich in meaning. And by his high standards applied to his works in service to those in need, he dignified donor and recipient. And so while his death saddens me, greatly, I can't say that life was not well used, well spent.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Submitted for your approval...

Above is a 1987 interview--actually, a phone in show with some interviewing--with John Mortimer, and Nigel Havers. This clip focuses on Mortimer, but Havers weighs in with insights from growing up in a legal family (his grandfather was a judge, his father the Attorney General). It's interesting to see Mortimer at the height of his fame, and Havers, only a few years after his masterful performance as Roy Calvert in Strangers and Brothers. Later in the clip, there's a slightly surreal moment when Havers's father, Sir Douglas Havers, calls in, and hilarity ensues. (OK, mild amusement--Sir Douglas is charming, but not a great feed.)

Then, to make it the perfect Anglocat trifecta, they get into a discussion of David Niven, whom Havers was scheduled to play in an adaptation of The Moon's a Balloon, Niven's witty, self-deprecating memoir (heavily fictionalized).

Pity the film was never made, as far as I can tell. Havers would have been just about right, I think.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Forgotten Influence

In writing Phineas at Bay, I tried to give credit to (most of) the influences and references I included in the book. (In fact, the Author's Note, titled "For Those Who Who Enjoy Peering Behind the Curtain,"runs 12 pages.) But there's one I signally failed to credit, largely because I'd forgotten how it moved me.

In "Behind the Curtain" I note that I based the feelings of my young heroine Clarissa Riley, prior to her wedding, on those of Eleanor Roosevelt before her wedding to Franklin. In particular, I was struck by her framing of the ideal of love around Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem "A Woman's Shortcomings".

I'd forgotten, though, the extent to which that poem, used as a framing device in the television films Eleanor and Franklin (1976) and Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years, fretted at me. Even more than in the biographies, the film hearkens back again and again to Browning's poem, holding out an ideal of love that is--dare I say it? Yes, I rather think I do--an ideal of love that is quite simply impossible to live up to.

I was reminded of that when I re-viewed one of the TV films for the first time in oh, well over a decade.

So here is my answer to Mrs. Browning's poem as used in those films. For the non-initiate, Phineas Finn's first wife Mary Flood Jones dies in childbirth at the beginning of Phones Redux (1874). Plantagenet Palliser, Duke of Omnium, becomes a widower at the beginning of The Duke's Children (1880).


Now that the day itself had begun, Clarissa felt keyed up, but not exactly anxious. Excited, that was the word. Early on in her engagement, she had been fearful that she had plunged too quickly, leaped before sufficient looking. Words in her mother’s old copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning had driven her to her uncle’s study late one night for comfort. Finding him at his desk reviewing a brief, despite the lateness of the hour—had it been for Ifor, whom she was starting to think of as the brother she had always longed for, but never had? Perhaps—in any event, she had not hesitated to interrupt him.

Wordlessly, she had showed her uncle the passage:

Unless you can think, when the song is done,
No other is soft in the rhythm;
Unless you can feel, when left by One,
That all men else go with him;
Unless you can know, when unpraised by his breath,
That your beauty itself wants proving;
Unless you can swear “For life, for death!” —
Oh, fear to call it loving!

Uncle Phineas had read the poem carefully through. He looked at her over his reading glasses, and said to Clarissa, “Mrs. Browning was a gifted poet, no doubt, but she puts things forcefully, simply, as poets often do. Look here, at the next stanza.” He pointed, and Clarissa read:

Unless you can muse in a crowd all day
On the absent face that fixed you;
Unless you can love, as the angels may,
With the breadth of heaven betwixt you;
Unless you can dream that his faith is fast,
Through behoving and unbehoving;
Unless you can die when the dream is past —
Oh, never call it loving!

Uncle Phineas had waited until she had looked up from the page, and said, in his gentlest voice, “My friend the Duke of Omnium did not die when the dream was past—and his love was not perfect or idyllic, but tempestuous, and with all the contrarieties and squalls of life. Yet he loved, and she loved, as truly as ever a couple did. Do not let Mrs. Browning frighten you, my dear.”

“Uncle Phineas, you were married once before, Mother told me.”

“Yes, Clarissa, I was.”

“Did you love my Aunt Mary?”

Phineas had then paused a moment. “When I first told her I did, I thought that was the case. I later came to realize that, although I cared for her, I did not love her as I could best love a woman, and I married her nonetheless. In doing so, I did us both a great injustice—she was a lovely girl, and could have found someone who would have loved her as she deserved.”

After a little while, Clarissa had asked, in a small voice, “Did she know?”

“I sincerely hope not, Clarissa. She died so soon, you see, that she may not have.” The pain in his voice startled her. “I lost not only Mary, but the son she bore me—he died only a few hours after his mother.”

“What was his name?” she asked.

“Malachi. After my father, your grandfather, my dear girl. How he would have loved you.”

She leaned up against him for a moment, and then murmured:

“So I should not let Mrs. Browning frighten me, then?”

“Do you love Savrola—in your heart, truly, as far as you know your heart?”


“Then be at ease,” he had said, “and trust to your heart.”

In the months since, her feelings had become ever more clear, and ever stronger. Her love had been confirmed by a barrage of experiences—the suspenseful ordeal of viewing Ifor’s trial together, Savrola’s willingness to assist her uncle, and then later his assiduous care, not only for her, but for her uncle and for Aunt Marie when her uncle had been injured, his regular letters sent from the House when speeches were dull, enlivened by little drawings of the long-winded speakers, and of Savrola himself, as a little be-suited pig, snoozing in his seat. All these things had endeared him to her, and the terrible fear that she had undergone when his own life was endangered had taught her that her uncle had been right. She knew, on her wedding day, that she loved and was loved, and could acknowledge it without fear.

Her bath ready, Clarissa prepared to meet the day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Fox v. the Hedgehog

Are you familiar with Isaiah Berlin's parable of the fox and the hedgehog? It goes, in part, like this:
There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing'. Scholars have differed about the correct interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog's one defense. But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general. For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel-a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance-and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle; these last lead lives, perform acts, and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal, their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision. The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; and without insisting on a rigid classification, we may, without too much fear of contradiction, say that, in this sense, Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the second; Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust are, in varying degrees, hedgehogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzak, Joyce are foxes.
I thought of this over lunch today, when the contrasting styles, and increasing combativeness between, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, came up for discussion.

Sanders, of course, is the hedgehog in this iteration, with Clinton as the fox.

Now, as I have previously noted, the most perceptive reviewer of my first book, First Amendment, First Principles: Verbal Acts and Freedom of Speech labelled me a First Amendment Hedgehog. Guilty, m'lud. Berlin was right, at least as applied to my analysis of the Supreme Court's case law applying the Free Speech and Press provisions of the First Amendment. I am a hedgehog.

So is Sanders. A look at the numerous sub-topics on the issues page of his website demonstrates the centrality of economic inequity to his thought. Indeed, this facet of his thought has been embraced by his supporters, and in no small part energizes them.

Clinton, by contrast, is almost typecast as the fox. Her issues page reads like a series of essentially discrete mini-essays on the various topics she addresses, and gives a précis of her background and position on each. The fox views each issue in its own light; the hedgehog has linked them thematically. For Sanders, the issues are briefly adduced as exemplifying his theme; for Clinton, each issue raises its own set of concerns, which need to be weighed and analyzed. In internet terms, Sanders tweets; Clinton posts.

One can overdo this, of course; while Sanders tends to view most issues through the prism of economic justice (sometimes as economic injustice enabling and reifying unjust hierarchies that bring in other concerns), he does treat with the unique facets of given issues. Likewise, Clinton sometimes strings seemingly discrete issues thematically. But the cast of their minds is that of a fox and a hedgehog. Clinton can come off as overly rehearsed, and low energy, a dull technocrat, at her worst. Sanders's unifying narrative is easily compelling--as robertson Davies famously wrote, "Never neglect the charms of narrative for the human heart." But that amenability to the charm of narrative sometimes leads Sanders to the shallow and facile generalizations of his embarrassing Daily News interview.

As a fellow hedgehog, I find myself attracted to Sanders's use of narrative. As a voter, I think I prefer Clinton's detailed, issue-by-issue focus. This hedgehog is inclined, this one time, at least, to favor the fox.

Monday, April 18, 2016

My Sheep Hear Me and I Know Them: A Sermon on John 10: 22-30

[This sermon was delivered by me at St. Bartholomew's Church, on April 17, 2016, the Fourth Sunday of Easter (and my 50th birthday); you can hear the audio here]

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel is one of those passages that is so embedded in or understanding of what it means to be Christian that it’s easy to miss how radical the Gospel is.

Here is Jesus promising to give his sheep—that’s us; sorry about all the wool—eternal life. That was controversial in Jesus’s own time, where the Saducees denied the resurrection of the dead, let alone in ours, when only what can be scientifically measured and proven has validity to so many.

Not radical enough for you? Jesus is only getting warmed up. Because next he matter-of-factly tells the people asking him straight out if he is the expected Messiah—a big enough claim—that he and the Father are one.

In Jesus’s own day, that was a shocking, seemingly blasphemous claim. This short sentence is one of the reasons why C.S. Lewis wrote that “a man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”

That captures a little of the reaction of the religious authorities to Jesus’s flatly stating that he was one with the Father. Imagine it from their perspective for just a minute: you’re an oppressed member of a monotheistic people, conquered by polytheists who claimed that their rulers could be “deified,” as was Augustus Caesar, and now, here is this charismatic rabbi who you are hoping may be the Messiah, equating himself with God.

Whole volumes of theology have been written around the few sentences that make up today’s Gospel reading. What does it mean to be one with the Father? What does eternal life mean—how does it work? Hard questions. Deep questions.

But, not, I’d suggest, the right questions to tackle first. Jesus is telling us something profound about his relationship with God. He’s also telling us something about our own relationship with God, too, since this is the Gospel that tells us in its first chapter that “to those who received [Jesus], who believed in his name he gave power to become children of God.” (Jn 1: 12). If we looked only at that first chapter, we might assume that receiving Jesus is a question of right belief, of an intellectual acceptance of Jesus as the Light of the world, as the Son of God, as the Messiah. An affirmation of an idea accepted.

But today’s Gospel tells us something very different about what it means to receive Jesus, to believe in his name. It echoes the beginning of the chapter, where Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd, and tells us, “I know my own, and my own know me.” (Jn 10: 14). Now Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

It’s about relationship, not about doctrine.

When I was a boy, being raised in the Roman Catholic Church, we heard a lot about Holy Days of Obligation. If you haven’t heard the term, it’s defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as follows: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.” That’s from section 2185 of the Catechism (you see I haven’t quite overcome my legal training).

However, “Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest.” The Catechism warns that “The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.” [CCC 2185].

These days are defined in the Code of Canon Law.

Now, that’s an interesting way to get people to come to church—the law of the church requires you to attend and rest on certain days, including but not limited to Sundays.

It’s a system of rules and duties. A legal approach, really. And it’s in one sense an easy approach—follow the rules, and you’re being “good.”

But that’s not what we see in the Gospel for today. Jesus calls his sheep; he knows them, and they hear and recognize him, and they follow him.

Not under compulsion.

Not out of duty.

Out of love.

The Good Shepherd, this chapter tells us, will lay down his life for his sheep—and Jesus does just that. We’re still in Easter, and the shock of the Crucifixion is wearing off under the joy of the Resurrection, but it’s still close enough to remember. The Good Shepherd loves the sheep enough to die to protect them.

What about the sheep?

Well, let’s look back at the original Good Shepherd—the Lord in the 23rd Psalm. The Psalmist describes the Shepherd as “restoring my soul,” and comforting the sheep. The Psalmist even says that as long as the Shepherd is present, the sheep can walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and still fear no evil. And for that sheep, life isn’t the Valley of the Shadow of death—it’s green pastures, a banquet, an overflowing cup. In other words, life in abundance.

The sheep is loved, comforted, cherished. I think it’s pretty clear that sheep love the Shepherd, too.

It’s a very comforting image, isn’t it? A soft fluffy animal hears the voice of the one who loves it, and cares for it, and that animal comes running.

I think that’s about half the videos on YouTube in a sentence.

But how does that apply to us, in 2016.

Do we hear Jesus’s voice?

Well, the fact that we care enough to come to Church in an era where that’s not only no longer expected of us, but positively uncool suggests that we do. We come because something in the Jesus Movement resonates with us. We come because there’s something in that voice that makes us want to hear more. Maybe we don’t fully hear him, maybe it’s just a faint whisper—but we hear enough that we want to hear more.

And so we follow him.

But what does that mean?

It’s not about rules, and right belief. It’s not about doctrine. Bishop Charles Gore, as long ago as 1925, wrote that the Church’s role and authority in teaching doctrine “can never be understood till it is the life and not the doctrine which is put into the first place.” By the life, Gore meant what he called “the Way. He got the term from the Early Church—just last week we heard, from the Acts of the Apostles, about Saul, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” sought to capture “any who belonged to the Way.”

For Gore, the Way was what Jesus called us to live. Not a set of abstract beliefs, or intellectual precepts, but a “life of brotherhood”, “self-surrender, self denial, equality” above all else.

I know. Sounds pretty hard to achieve, doesn’t it? But it’s a way, a path. It’s a journey. We go by steps. A life based on loving our brothers and sisters as brothers and sisters. A giving of ourselves to something beyond our own egos. A belief, a real belief, in that each and every one of God’s children is as beloved and important as all the others, uniquely cherished for herself or for himself. And that our duty is not to test and judge each other, but to help each other along the way.

That is the green pasture the Good Shepherd is leading us to, and that’s what we take little steps toward or away from every day.

We’re not called to be miraculously, suddenly perfect. We’re called to make room in our hearts and walk the way. We don’t walk it alone, and there is no set destination. That’s why we’re following the Good Shepherd.

We just take the next step, and trust that the way will lead us home—the long way round.


2. Acts, 9:1-2.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Cardinal's Ghost: On Reactions to Pope Framcis's Amoris Laetitia

Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia is, quite frankly, not a radical document by any stretch of the imagination. It reaffirms traditional Roman Catholic teachings regarding marriage, but adds that the Gospel imperatives of love and mercy should be deployed to assist those who are confronted with the often agonizing dilemmas of broken relationships. As summarized by James R. Martin, SJ:
Pope Francis’s groundbreaking new document “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) asks the church to meet people where they are, to consider the complexities of people’s lives and to respect people’s consciences when it comes to moral decisions. The apostolic exhortation is mainly a document that reflects on family life and encourages families. But it is also the pope’s reminder that the church should avoid simply judging people and imposing rules on them without considering their struggles.

Using insights from the Synod of Bishops on the Family and from bishops’ conferences from around the world, Pope Francis affirms church teaching on family life and marriage, but strongly emphasizes the role of personal conscience and pastoral discernment. He urges the church to appreciate the context of people’s lives when helping them make good decisions. The goal is to help families—in fact, everyone—experience God’s love and know that they are welcome members of the church. All this may require what the pope calls “new pastoral methods” (199).
Details to follow, as pastoral methods are developed.

Additionally, the Pope affirms that
“Individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the church’s practice in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage” (303). That is, the traditional belief that individual conscience is the final arbiter of the moral life has been forgotten here. The church has been “called to form consciences, not to replace them” (37). Yes, it is true, the Pope says, that a conscience needs to be formed by church teaching. But conscience does more than to judge what does or does not agree with church teaching. Conscience can also recognize with “a certain moral security” what God is asking (303). Pastors, therefore, need to help people not simply follow rules, but to practice “discernment,” a word that implies prayerful decision making (304).
Regrettably, this has already led traditionalists to denounce Pope Francis's alleged "cowardice and hubris" or to claim that the Exhortation "carries a distinctive late-Marxist odor — a sense that the church’s leadership is a little like the Soviet nomenklatura, bound to ideological precepts that they’re no longer confident can really, truly work."

But it's a third traditionalist reaction that really grabbed me; that of Rod Dreher, who converted to Catholicism as an adult, and subsequently left that communion to join the the Eastern Orthodox Church. Dreher explains his discomfort at the Catholic Church's moving closer to the position of his own denomination:
I have been an Orthodox Christian for ten years, and I have come to appreciate better the Orthodox approach to matters like contraception and divorce. In fact, I think Orthodoxy has a more realistic and merciful approach — and in the case of communion after divorce, Pope Francis’s recent teaching is closer to the Orthodox understanding. So why does Pope Francis’s teaching worry me on behalf of my Catholic friends?

A couple of reasons come to mind. First, Orthodoxy and Catholicism have fundamentally different approaches to understanding how marriage is understood in the sacramental economy.


More important, at least to me, is that the Pope is loosening a teaching that is rarely proclaimed in the first place. I can see that I was too legalistic as a Catholic, and certainly the experience of suffering helped me to understand more fully that the law was made for man, not man for the law. This is why I sympathize with Francis’s pastoral instincts in Amoris Laetitia. That said, I know perfectly well how most American Catholic parishes are going to interpret and implement this teaching: as an excuse to ignore the teaching in the first place (as if most of them needed an excuse). . . .I don’t believe that the Roman Catholic Church has never, ever changed its doctrine, and I know, it’s no longer my church, so not really my concern. But I live in this post-Christian culture too, and it bothers me a great deal to see any Christian church weaken its standards, precisely in the area of morality where the historic Christian teaching is the greatest sign of contradiction to the age.
Later, in response to a comment on the post, Dreher is more blunt, writing:
If Catholics do violence to their own tradition for the sake of arriving at a position on marriage I believe to be more correct, they may end up undermining themselves more than they help themselves. This is why I am not optimistic about reunification of the Eastern and Western churches. A lot of theological water has gone under the bridge since the Great Schism. Orthodox don’t believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which is defined dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman church simply cannot toss that dogma over the side. If it did, I would say that Rome’s position had moved closer to the truth, but in so doing the Roman church would have done extreme damage to its own authority. This kind of thing is why even though I generally agree with Francis’s impulse to be more merciful to divorced and remarried Catholics on the matter of receiving communion, it’s a big deal, and not because conservatives want to be mean to the divorced and remarried. There’s a much deeper issue in play here.
(Emphasis added).

This approach is all too reminiscent of that of John Henry Newman's, as I sketched out in Command and Coercion:
yearning for divinely ordained hierarchical ordering was traced by Newman to the Apostolic Fathers, and translated easily into the Roman Catholic ecclesiology upon his conversion. In particular, Newman states that “[t]he Catholic Church claims, not only to judge infallibly on religious questions, but to animadvert on opinions in secular matters which bear upon religion, on matters of philosophy, of science, of literature, of history, and it demands our submission to her claim.” Newman acknowledges that in these claims, the Church is not speaking doctrinally, but “enforc[ing] measures of discipline,” and that “[i]t must of course be obeyed without a word, and perhaps in process of time will tacitly recede from its own injunctions.” He goes even further, saying that “in spite of all the that the most hostile critic may urge about the encroachments or severities of high ecclesiastics, . . . I think that the event has shown, after all, that they were in the right, and that those whom they were hard upon were mainly in the wrong,” and that one who speaks a truth, or seeks to reform an abuse, in defiance of authority “is just one of those persons whom the competent authority ought to silence.” Obedience to authority is a critical virtue for Newman; as he puts it “[t]he Church must denounce rebellion as of all possible evils the greatest.”

After Newman’s conversion, he republished his essay on Anglicanism, The Via Media, including in the preface to the revised edition defenses of the Catholic Church’s behavior countering his own previous indictment against it. These defenses, formed in reaction to witnessing what he saw as the Church of England’s sphere of sovereignty invaded by the state, sound notes that resonate in the defenses made by the Church and its apologists in the context of the sex abuse crisis.

Especially germane to that context is the defense of what Newman called the “regal function” of the Church, its ability to secure the obedience he deemed so critical to faith. Newman analogizes the roles of the Church to those of Christ:

These offices, which specially belong to Him as Mediator, are commonly considered to be three; He is Prophet, Priest, and King; and after His pattern, and in human measure, Holy Church has a triple office too; not the Prophetical alone and in isolation, as these Lectures [comprising volume 1 of The Via Media] virtually teach, but three offices, which are indivisible, though diverse, viz. teaching, rule, and sacred ministry.

Newman continues to explain that:

Christianity, then, is at once a philosophy, a political power, and a religious rite: as a religion, it is Holy; as a philosophy, it is Apostolic; as a political power, it is imperial, that is, One and Catholic. As a religion, its special centre of action is pastor and flock; as a philosophy, the Schools; as a rule, the Papacy and its Curia. . . .
Truth is the guiding principle of theology and theological inquiries; devotion and edification, of worship; and of government, expedience. The instrument of theology is reasoning; of worship, our emotional nature; of rule, command and coercion.

At various times, and in different situations, these functions of the Church must yield to the imperatives of the other functions. As an example of truth yielding to cohesion, Newman gives as an example the social shock and dislocation of faith that could have resulted from the discoveries of Galileo, and explains why the suppression of the scientific truth served a higher purpose:
All I say is, that not all knowledge is suited to all minds; a proposition may be ever so true, yet at a particular time and place may be “temerarious, offensive to pious ears, and scandalous,” though not “heretical” nor “erroneous.”

From here, Newman then goes on to explain that the use of “command and coercion,” as with suppression of information, can extend into other areas:

Apostolicity of doctrine and Sanctity of worship, as attributes of the Church, are differently circumstanced from her regal autocracy. . . . If the Church is to be regal, . . . she must be more than Holy and Apostolic; she must be Catholic. Hence it is that, first, she has ever from her beginning onwards had a hierarchy and a head, with a strict unity of polity, the claim of an exclusive divine authority and blessing, the trusteeship of the gospel gifts, and the exercise over her members of an absolute and almost despotic rule.

Notably, Newman insists that the Church must “protect the ignorant and the weak, to remove scandals.” Newman noted the respect for individual conscience, which marked the early church, including St. Augustine in his earlier writings, only to be replaced with a belief in forced conversion in Augustine’s later works. Finally, Newman reaches the culmination of this long train of reasoning:

Again: Acts simply unjustifiable, such as real betrayals of the truth on the part of Liberius and Honorius, become intelligible, and cease to be shocking, if we consider that those Popes felt themselves to be head rulers of Christendom and their first duty, as such, to be that of securing its peace, union and consolidation. . . . The principle . . . I conceive to be this,—that no act could be theologically an error, which was absolutely and undeniably necessary for the unity, sanctity, and peace of the Church; for falsehood never could be necessary for those blessings, and truth alone can be.(Blockquotes from Newman in italics; footnotes and citations omitted; all quotes from Apologia Pro Vita Sua or the Preface to the third edition of The Via Media)
As I note in Command and Coercion, I find Newman's willingness to subordinate the truth to clerical authority to be profoundly dangerous. Newman also explains and contextualizes the papal dread of scandal and the Church’s function to conceal facts which, although undeniably true, would erode the belief and trust of the faithful. Dreher hear follows Newman into very dangerous territory. And, with all respect, I think he’s wrong for the same reason Newman was: Christ taught that “the truth will set you free,” not the primacy of submission to authority. In fact, as Rudolph Bultmann's canvass of the New Testament shows, the numerous passages regarding freedom from the law in the NT strongly negate Newman's elevation of obedience to ecclesiastical authority to the supreme virtue. The NT leaves considerable scope for debate, as Bultmann also notes, to argue that the law, or at least the ethics undermining them, are not as simply dismissed as it may seem on the surface. I won't even get into Augustine's famous maxim, Love God and do what thou wilt--again, it's not as simple as it seems, and is in no way a carte blanche].

So the Newman/Dreher position is unbiblical, but, even worse, it infantilizes the laity, and encourages the hierarchy to cling to untenable positions out of fear. Newman’s teaching in favor of suppressio veri to avoid scandal, and preserve the Church’s authority, legitimizes the very behavior that drove Rod (and many others) out of the Church: covering up the sex abuse crisis to avoid scandal.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How to Mark a Birthday

I'm turning 50 this coming Sunday. What better way to celebrate than this:
9 am Eucharist in the Church
Sermon by the Rev. John Wirenius
St. Bart’s Singers lead our songs of praise and offer Thomson's “My shepherd will supply my need.”

10 am Sunday School and Youth Group, Community House

10:05 am The Forum, Café/Auditorium
Abrahamic Faiths Forum Series: An Exploration of Abraham and the Shared and Distinctive Traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Join Dr. Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics, for his presentation: " The Social Gospel in Modern Christianity," an insightful survey of our faith’s recent history.

11 am Choral Eucharist in the Church
Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Robert S. Dannals
St. Bartholomew’s Choir and the Boy and Girl Choristers will sing music of Bairstow, Britten, Dayson, Schubert, Taverner, and Willan.

12:30 pm EXPLORE, Vestry Room
What’s our “take” on the Bible? What are the Episcopal Church’s “hot-button” issues? How do Episcopalians handle differences? Join Bob Dannals, our Interim Rector, as we continue our class for newcomers and seekers.

5 pm Community Eucharist in the Chapel
An informal and intimate service, celebrated in our beautiful Chapel
Sermon by the Rev. John Wirenius
Beyond the fact that I'm preaching twice (!), there is the magnificent "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need" by Virgil Thomson, whose Four Saints in Three Acts I was introduced to via the memoirs of John Houseman, and at the forum Gary Dorrien, whose work informed my own "Swallowing the Camel: Biblical Fidelity, Same-Sex marriage, and the Love of Money (2014). I'm quite delighted to have the chance to hear Professor Dorrien speak.

I mean, seriously, when St. Barts gives birthday presents, they're pretty amazing.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Time's Winged Chariot

So, as we were waiting for the opening procession, a friend of mine at St Barts this morning told me that the 50th birthday (I had confessed to him that mine is a week off) was the hardest one for him. "Sixty's nothing," he assured me with a laugh, "and seventy's rather nice. The Psalmist's span, you've beaten it."

"No," he resumed, "Fifty's the bitch. Just old enough to feel your mortality, with none of the up sides. But in a week and a half--you'll feel all the pressure's off you."

I was comforted.

One of the acolytes, also a good friend, caught a snatch of the conversation.

"You're going to be 50?" she asked, clearly interested.

"Yes, that's right," I said.

"Oh, I thought you were much older than that," she replied.

If not actually disgruntled, I was far from being gruntled.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Telling off the puppy...

My single favorite moment from The Great Race: Jack Lemmon, eye to eye with an adorable puppy: "I hate you."

And this in a scene where his character, Professor Fate, is winning. It's a great send-up of The Prisoner of Zenda, second only to Royal Flash. And it even has swordplay. It's been too long since I've fenced, and I really must get back into it. It really is the only sport I've ever enjoyed.

Meanwhile, if you can get past the fact that other than Hikaru Sulu, only the Great Leslie feels fencing bare-chested is a plan, here are Tony Curtis and Ross Martin in a pretty creditable bout.