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Monday, December 29, 2003

Theodicy and the Scandal of [Physical] Evil 
Posted by Christopher at 11:53 PM

Chris ("Maine Catholic") wrestles with the implications of the earthquake that struck Iran several days ago:

It's easy to question why a merciful God would allow such a disaster to happen and claim so many innocent lives. As a matter of fact, it's events such as this that cause many to call into question the existence of God in the first place. The reasoning that "it's all part of His plan" just doesn't wash with many of us.

In light of the Christian perspective -- that we reside in a fallen world, scarred and corrupted by sin -- the presence of moral evil, though greatly troubling on an emotional level, is still something I can grasp and comprehend. Horrific as an event like 9/11 is, I can understand, intellectually, how and why it occurred -- because it ultimately makes sense in the Christian scheme of things. Deplorable as it may be, human wickedness can be attributed to the product of fallen, yet necessarily free will -- fallen, because of Adam's sin; free, because God made us to love, and genuine love can only exist uncoerced. On the sensibility of human sin, G.K. Chesterton wrote:

The strongest saints and the strongest skeptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. 1

However, it is this other kind of evil, these random accidents or natural disasters, occuring suddenly and without warning, whether resulting in a single fatality (the loss of a family member to cancer) or on a mass scale (the earthquake in Iran), which really get to me. It is these kind of events which, if anything, provoke questions of faith in a just, benevolent and loving God who cares for his creation. I think that anybody who has ever lost a loved one, a child or family member, to such an event wrestles with this paradox on some level.

* * *

In 1981 a young Rabbi named Harold S. Kushner wrote what would become a bestselling contemporary treatment of this question from the perspective of Reconstructionist Judaism, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. 2 The chief inspiration for the book was Kushner's reflections on the death of his own son due to an incurable disease, and his subsequent realization that the platitudes that he had, up to that point, been dishing out to his own congregation were ultimately ineffective. He devotes several chapters to the book of Job, deriving three statements "which everyone in the book, and most readers" would like to believe:

  1. God is all-powerful and causes everything that happens in this world.
  2. God is just and fair, and stands for people getting what they deserve, so that the good prosper and the wicked are punished.
  3. Job is a good person.

According to Kushner things appear fine so long as Job is healthy, happy and enjoying his good fortune. It is only when Job loses his possessions, his family, and his health, that the reader is confronted with the problem of evil: "We can no longer make sense of all three propositions together," says Kushner, "we can affirm any two only by denying a third."

If God is both just and powerful, then Job must be a sinner who deserves what is happening to him. If Job is good but God causes his suffering anyway, then God is not just. If Job deserved better and God did not send his suffering, then God is not all powerful. We can see the argument of the Book of Job as an argument over which of the three statements we are prepared to sacrifice, so that we can keep on believing the other two.

Rabbi Kushner cannot bring himself to attribute such tragedies to "acts of God", be it bouts of illness and disease, mental retardation or malignant cancers, or natural catastrophes (like "an earthquake that kills thousands of innocent victims without reason"). To preserve his faith in a God of justice, of fairness, of compassion, Kushner concedes that nature may in fact be chaotic and morally blind, and that God limited in his power to control it.

While I do not agree with Rabbi Kushner's ultimate conclusions, I nevertheless appreciated his provocative writing, especially for his adeptness in revealing the tritness of the cliches that are offered in times of trouble, his empathy for those who mourn and his wise advice on how to be of assistance (and what not to do or say). Those who are dealing with loss will take comfort in the recognition that he is an author speaking from personal experience.

* * *

Rabbi Kushner aside, many theological discussions of theodicy -- the reconciliation of God's existence with the presence of evil -- come across to the average reader as dry, dusty, and hopelessly academic: a logical puzzle to be debated by intellectuals in a classroom environment. It is only when we face a personal tragedy, or encounter a disaster of immense proportions, that we are confronted by the seriousness of these questions and the challenge they pose to religious faith. 3 Many great Christian writers and theologians have tackled this subject, from great saints like Augustine and Aquinas to contemporaries like the English Protestant C.S. Lewis and the Russian Orthodox novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. 4

Turning to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church reminds us that the problem of evil is not so much a matter of philosophical speculation as a journey into the mystery and meaning of the Cross of Christ:

[309] If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil. . . .

[314] We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God "face to face", will we fully know the ways by which - even through the dramas of evil and sin - God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth. 5

On a similar note, Chris ("Maine Catholic") advises his readers:

". . . God does not think, act or behave in a manner that we as humans can even begin to understand. His will, His almighty plan for each soul He created, just simply cannot be put into a human frame of reference. It is useless to even try to do so, and thus leads only to frustration and confusion. The best thing we can do is TRUST. He will never, ever fail those upon whom his favor rests. Take comfort in the understanding also that, while not impossible, it is very hard to shake the favor God holds for each of us as His children."

In Introduction to Christianity, Cardinal Ratzinger mentions situations in which the believer finds himself "threatened with the uncertainty which in moments of temptation can suddenly and unexpectedly cast a piercing light on the fragility of the whole that usually seems so self-evident to him." He mentions Saint Teresa of Lisieux, who had "grown up in an atmosphere of complete religious security," and conveyed the sense in her writings that religion was a "self-evident presupposition of her daily existence," who for all appearances was a rock of unwavering faith -- and yet, admitted in her final days to being "assailed by the worst temptations of atheism," catching a glimpse of the abyss.

Ratzinger then mentions an image of the poet Paul Claudel, which seems to me to capture another potential of suffering -- the hope that through the time of trial and suffering, one might precisely because of that suffering draw closer to the cross of Christ:

A Jesuit Missionary, brother of Rodrique, the hero of the play (a worldling and adventurer veering uncertainly between God and the World) is shown as the survivor of a shipwreck. His ship has been sunk by pirates, he himself has been lashed to a mast from the sunken ship, and now he is drifting on this piece of wood through the raging waters of the ocean. The play opens with his last monologue:

"Lord, I thank thee for bending me down like this. It sometimes happened that I found thy commands laborious and my will at a loss and jibbing at thy dispensation. But now I could not be bound to thee more closely than I am, and however violently my limbs move they cannot get one inch away from thee. So I really am fastened to the cross, but the cross on which I hang is not fastened to anything else. It drifts on the sea."

Fastened to the cross -- with the cross fastened to nothing, drifting over the abyss. . . . only a loose plank connects him to God, though certainly it connects him inescapably and in the last analysis he knows that this wood is stronger than the void which seethes beneath him and which remains nevertheless the really threatening force in his day-to-day life. 6

* * *

Please pray for the souls of the 25,000 victims of the recent earthquake in the ancient city of Bam, Iran, and the "tens of thousands" of those left homeless. Material support for this and other disasters can be given to the International Response Fund of the American Red Cross.

  1. G.K. Chesterton. "The Maniac", chapter II of Orthodoxy: The Romance of the Faith.
  2. Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Here is a guarded but appreciative review by Norman R. Adams (Theology Today, October 1982), who concludes: "Kushner is surely right about the will of God. I, too, am horrified when someone says it must have been the will of God that my own son was killed by a drunken driver. I want no part of such a God. But neither do I want a limited God. Western theology is going to have to do a better job in solving the problem of evil than Kushner has done."
  3. Walter Sundberg, reviewing Susan Neiman's Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy, observes that the philosopher Leibniz defended a view of evil as "the just consequence of the imperfection of all created things -- a metaphysical necessity." Coincidentally, "The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 exposed Leibniz to ridicule and discredited the effort to explain natural evil as part of a rational scheme. The earthquake . . . shocked “western civilization more than any event since the fall of Rome.'" ["The Conundrum of Evil" First Things 129 (January 2003): 53-58].
  4. For Augustine & Aquinas, see the substantial entry on "evil" in The Catholic Encyclopedia [1908 edition] for a detailed history of this exercise.

    For an interesting take on the theodicy of Dostoyevsky (Ivan's tale of "The Grand Inquisitor" in the novel The Brothers Karamazov), see Ivan Karamazov’s Mistake, by Ralph C. Wood. First Things 128 (December 2002).

    C.S. Lewis' writings on theodicy are The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. Both have their good points, but I think that the latter carries more force, precisely because of its context -- the calm and reserved veneer of an Oxford prof that dominates Lewis' other writings is stripped away, revealing the emotional honesty of an anguished husband wrestling with God over the loss of his wife to cancer.

  5. Sections 309 - 314 of the CCC deal with "Providence and the Scandal of Evil", with a summary of Christian responses: to physical evil ("God freely willed to create a world 'in a state of journeying' towards its ultimate perfection") and moral evil ("God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it").
  6. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, pp. 18-19. Ignatius, 1990.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Anti-semitism: Another Obstacle to SSPS Reconciliation 
Posted by Christopher at 11:33 PM

The issue of "Little Simon of Trent" was raised by John Allen Jr. in his latest column, "Word from Rome":

In 1475, the northern Italian city of Trent, where less than a century later the great Council of Trent would launch the Catholic Counter-reformation, was home to a thriving Jewish community. In March of that year, the two-year-old son of a German tanner disappeared. On March 23, Holy Thursday, the leading exponent of Trent’s Jewish community, a scholar named Samuel of Nuremberg, found the child murdered in a neighborhood with a number of Jewish families. He made the mistake of reporting the crime to the authorities, whereupon he and a number of other prominent Jews were accused of killing Simon as part of an occult Jewish ritual.

The dark legend of ritual child murder was a staple of medieval anti-Jewish propaganda. The accused Jews were seized, tortured, and eventually burned to death. The two who confessed under torture were given the grace of having their heads cut off instead. In response, the rest of the Jewish community pronounced an interdict on Trent (in Hebrew, cherem), prohibiting Jews from living there, and fled into exile. . . .

In 1588, Pope Sixtus V authorized celebration of a memorial Mass for “little Simon,” and Trent began holding annual processions in his honor on March 23. Books and pamphlets were produced as late as 1955 recounting the horrible “crime” of the Jews and celebrating little Simon as a martyr to Jewish perfidy. . . . It wasn’t until Sept. 28, 1965, that the archbishop of Trent officially declared the cult suppressed. 1

Bill Cork posts some further research on "Little Simon" and the blood libel myth, including a German woodcut from 1493.

Bill also notes that various racist websites have perpetuate the story, which comes as no suprise. More disturbing is the fact that there are some "Traditionalist Catholics" who subscribe to the Blood Libel. He mentions, for example, an online archive of Fr. Feeney, which along with articles on ritual murder publishes excerpts from the Nazi-era newspaper Der Sturmer [1934].

Bill Cork also mentions a published letter by SSPX Bishop Williamson, in which he allegedly endorses the scurrilous Protocols of the Elders of Zion ("God puts in men's hands the 'Protocols of the Sages of Sion' . . . if men want to know the truth, but few do"), and to another webpage of the bishop citing his denial of the Holocaust and saying of the Jews: "Their grave defects rendered them odious to the nations among which they were established. All this makes us think that the Jews are the most active artisans for the coming of antichrist."

The SSPX and the Catholic "traditionalist" movement has been a topic of discussion on this blog for some time now. Critical as I have been of "radtrads", I -- and, I expect, many of my readers -- are sympathetic to the concerns they express about the state of the liturgy and the post-Vatican II Church. Their desire for traditional renewal is echoed by orthodox Catholic organizations like Adoremus, Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

Bill Cork's post raises what I think is one of the biggest obstacles to restoration of the SSPX to communion with Rome: a persistent and re-occuring link with anti-semitism, which F. John Loughnan has been documenting for some time now. 2 Those who have left the SSPX to reunite with the Church pray for an end to the schism and the reconciliation of those they left behind; Cardinal Ratzinger has expressed this hope as well. However, in April 3, 2001, the Cardinal complained of "acute hardening" and "narrow-mindedness" of members of the SSPX. This disturbing contempt for the Jews displayed by some of these members, as well as leaders like Bishop Williamson, is further evidence of this troubling hardening of heart. 3

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Return of the King - A Great Movie for Christmas 
Posted by Christopher at 11:06 AM

Stephen Riddle ("Flos Carmeli") on Return of the King:

The bottom line--the film made me think of God, thank God, and praise God. Who cares whether that was Jackson's intention or not. There are times when the artist's intention is entirely secondary to the actual effect. There was beauty, nobility, and passion in the film and for me the experience was transcendent.

Much has been made of the director and casts' lack of appreciation for the Christian themes of the movie, but, with Stephen, I must say this was the case for me as well.

One of the most stirring moments for me was when, in the celebration and crowning of Aragorn at Minas Tirith, all the great nobility and warriors of the human, elvish, and dwarvish races kneeled in honor before four little hobbits from the Shire. A recognition that out of very small and humble beginnings, and that which appears least significant to us, very great things can be accomplished. Who would have imagined that a little hobbit would have been so instrumental in the defeat of Sauron and the salvation of Middle Earth? -- There is a definite theme of Christianity, and of Christmas, to that moment, that I think might be recognized and appreciated by even a secular audience.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Posted by Christopher at 8:46 PM

There is one thing that stands out on this birthday of the Light, on this entrance procession of goodness into the world, and it fills us again and again with the nagging doubt whether those great things we talk about have really happened there in the stable of Bethlehem. Look at the sun, it is grand, glorious, majestic; nobody could possibly overlook its yearly triumphal return. Should not its Creator at his arrival be evem more majestic, more impressive? Should not this very sunrise of history flood the face of the earth with inexpressible glory? Yet instead -- how miserable is everything we hear about in the Gospel! Or could it be that this very misery, this insignificance within the framework of this world, is the hallmark of the Creator, by which he makes known his presence? This, at first, appears to be an unbelievable thought. And yet -- if we explore the mystery of God's providence, we will see every more clearly that God seems to give of himself a twofold sign. There is, first of all, the sign of his creation. But alongside this sign there appears more forcefully the other, the sign of what is insignificant in the world. The most genuine and most important values are found in this world precisely under the sign of humility, of hiddeness, of silence. Whatever is decisively great in this world, whatever determines its fate and its history, is that which appears small to our eyes. God, after having chosen the small and ignored people of Israel for his very own people, has made, in Bethlehem, the sign of insignificance into the decisive sign of his presence in the world. This is the challenge of the holy night -- faith; faith to receive him under this sign and to trust him without arguing or grumbling. To receive him: this means for us to submit to this sign, to truth and to love, which are the highest and most God-like values, and at the same time the most neglected and most silent.

Cardinal Ratzinger
From Co-Workers of the Truth

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Help from the Homefront 
Posted by Christopher at 8:22 AM

Sg. Brian Horn from LaPlata, Maryland, is an Army Infantry Soldier with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the Kirkuk area of Iraq who has a reputation for taking care of his soldiers. He and his friends have agreed to distribute the contents of any packages that come to him addressed "Attn: Any Soldier" to the soldiers who are not getting mail. Learn more about Operation "Any Solder" and its Success Stories! Participate!

(Thanks I. Shawn McElhinney for bringing this to my attention)

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Rev. Michael C. D. McDaniel, RIP 
Posted by Christopher at 11:44 PM

Bill Cork mentions that Rev. Michael McDaniel of the ELCA has passed away.

He served as a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North Carolina, and later as "theologian in residence" at my alma mater, Lenoir Rhyne College. In 1991 he started the Center for Theology, host to the annual Aquinas-Luther Conference which has brought Catholics and Lutheran scholars together in dialogue for over a decade now.

I fondly recall McDaniel as a wonderful teacher, with kind eyes, a warm smile and an infectious laugh. Moreso, he was a staunch Lutheran who dearly loved his church, and who loved his Lord even dearer -- and did not refrain from challenging his church when it went astray from the truth. He will be greatly missed. Please keep his wife Marjorie, and son, John, in your prayers.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Barbara Nicolosi & the Conversion of Contemporary Media 
Posted by Christopher at 7:34 PM

The Catholic supersite Godspy.Com has published an in-depth and thoughtful interview with Barbara Nicolosi, director of Act One: Writing for Hollywood and fellow blogger ("Church of the Masses").

It seems to me that the prevalent theme of this interview is the Christian's relationship to contemporary culture, what H. Reinhold Neibuhr portrayed (among his five "types" of Christian interaction) as "Christ opposed to culture" vs. "Christ transforming culture": practically speaking, do we abandon television and the cinema if they don't conform to our liking, or do we transform its content by working within these industries?

This issue came up in Barbara's discussion of the movie Therese, a project by an independant Catholic film maker. Those who are hoping and praying for the success of 'Therese' (as I have) might find themselves defensive when reading Barbara's extremely harsh criticism of the film -- but even so, I believe she offers some valid points that are worth listening to, and which may apply to other forms of media as well:

"I meet people constantly who are lining up a few million dollars to make a movie to "show Hollywood." They've found foreign investors . . . and they're going to go off on their own and make a movie, and so on. It's a bad strategy; it's a bad business plan.

First of all, in the entertainment business you have to be able to support ten movies to begin to make a profit. You've got to figure that four projects will fail for every one that succeeds. So, in terms of a business plan, it's a bad idea.

Second, it's bad in terms of evangelization. The model of a group of Christians working by themselves in a little group, pumping out a movie, and then standing by waiting for the world to come to Jesus... it doesn't happen that way.

The problem with working only with people who agree with you 100% is thinking that what God wants is what ends up on the screen. It's not. It's the journey of the work itself, the opportunity to share our life, and what we know, with the creative people in the business.

[Regarding the development of 'Therese'], There you have thirty people or fifty people working together to make that movie. These are people who, if they were working in Hollywood, would have met 5,000 people. And they could have witnessed to them, and they could have been their friends now, and been part of their network. . . . Instead, we—I'm talking about orthodox Christians—stay over here where it's safe, because we don't want to be polluted by them.

Many Christians have advocated the abandonment and isolation of secular media, and given what is usually on these days I can understand the temptation. However, I agree with Barbara's questioning whether this is the appropiate strategy for the Church. If more Christian artists could join her in working with the industry to transforming the content of film and television, critics of the media would have a lot less to complain about.

Oh, and lest I confuse my readers by my earlier post -- excusing Barbara's lack of appreciation for J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson's films (*harrrrrumph*), I certainly appreciate her efforts to bring Christians into the mainstream television and film industry. Christians are called to be the "salt of the earth", and artists have a distinct role to play in the transformation of our culture (Barbara refers to Pope John Paul II's 1999 letter to artists).

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Posted by Christopher at 4:31 PM

  • Did you know there was a Official Groupie Site for William Luse?
  • Congratulations to Patrick Sweeney (Extreme Catholic - 12/17/03) and Oswald Sobrino (Catholic Analysis - 12/18/03) on the one-year anniversary of their respective blogs this week. For other bloggers whose anniversaries I've missed, please forgive my absent-mindedness.
  • The Bruderhof website posts Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Advent sermon The Coming of Jesus in Our Midst:
    We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

    Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy.

  • Lane Core posts an email from a commanding officer to his marines on our accomplishments in Iraq, little recognized and underreported by the media (as the CO says, "it is much easier to point out the errors a man makes when he makes the tough decisions; rarely is the positive as aggressively pursued"). It's a pretty impressive list and news worth sharing.
  • Beginnning Friday night and through Dec 27th, our Jewish brothers & sisters will be celebrate Chanukah, a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar which commemorates the victory of the Maccabees, the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple and the miracle of oil that burned for 8 days (whence comes the custom of lighting the menorah). Because of the significance of oil to the story, a traditional practice among Ashkenazic Jews on Chanukah is to make latkes ("potato pancakes").

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Will you pray for him? 
Posted by Christopher at 12:19 AM

Ryan ("Becoming a Benedictine") asks:

Our Christian faith calls us to believe this; to believe that redemption through Christ is offered to everyone even or may I say especially to those who commit such henious crimes against humanity!  When Christ hung upon the cross He saw the sins of all humanity: those of you and I and those of whom we deem "unredeemable" because of their great sins.  He made no exception for those He offered Himself up for!  So what does this offer to us?  How does this call upon us to respond as members of Christ's body?  Let me make this challenge: Will you pray for him?  Will you pray for Saddam Hussein? 

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Cardinal Martino - a case of misplaced sympathy? 
Posted by Christopher at 10:38 PM

Cardinal Martino's controversial reaction to Saddam's capture:

"I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures," he said. "Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him . . ."

A number of reasons for making images of Saddam in captivity public make sense to me. The first and most obvious being simply to provide televised proof that we'd gotten him. Recall that Iraqis up to this point had been living with the persistent fear that, until Saddam was captured, they would never truly be safe. That is why so many literally wept with relief when they saw him in custody. But more importantly, as a commenter on Amy Welborn's blog (Victor-Morton) put it:

I think some sort of offense against Saddam's dignity (in the broadest, secular sense of that word) was absolutely essential. This was a man who built a cult of personality, capitalizing on the Arabs' honor-based culture, that held his country in the grip of fear for decades, and even right to that very day from hiding. That "spell" (and yes, I do intend the connotation of magic), that aura of godhood (and yes, I intend those connotations also) HAD to be broken -- not primarily for the sake of demoralizing Iraqi guerrillas, though hopefully it will do that too, but for the sake of the possibility of building a decent society in Iraq. So, not only did we have to take pictures of him, those pictures had to show him as a mere mortal -- dirty and disheveled, a "coward" who allowed himself to be taken prisoner, a man who gets his teeth examined like anyone else. Obviously, there'd be such a thing as too much offense to his dignity as a human (I guess ... a prostate exam), but given that his mouth DOES have to be checked for immediate security reasons (cyanide pill and all), this seemed like a reasonable choice.
Regarding Martino -- I would be more willing to accept his empathy if he had also expressed greater acknowledgement and sympathy for Saddam's victims.

Mixed reactions from Amy Welborn; Mark Shea; Irish Elk; Michael Novak; Deal Hudson (via e-letter, thanks Amy), and Bill Cork (who manages to add a dash of Tolkien into the mix).

Return of the King 
Posted by Christopher at 4:16 AM

I believe that Peter Jackson's films should be judged as a work in and of themselves, distinct from the books. Like some critics or rightous Tolkien fanatics I could quibble over this or that part of Tolkien's work being left out, or Peter Jackson's revisions to the plot or character development, but I'm sure everybody who's read the book will agree that taking Tolkien's prose and bringing it to life on the screen is no small feat, considering the volume of his work. And having just seen Return of the King, I can only say that, taken together, these films are the greatest film trilogy I have ever seen.

Of course I realize in saying this I will certainly merit the pity and scorn of Barbara Nicolosi, who -- because Peter Jackson and company didn't invest as much of an interest in the Catholic elements of Tolkien's work as she'd hoped -- sniffs:

. . . in that the LOTR films are based on a work that purportedly has strong Christian themes, the films will probably have some kind of residue of these themes. You would have to work very hard, for example, to film the Sermon on the Mount, without some aroma of the Christ coming through. My sense of Jackson and his collaborators was that they were intent on preserving themes that were in the book -- even if they would never articulate them or ascribe to them. I will grant that there is much more than "an ounce" of Christianity in the films. It is just important to note that the preservation of the same was of zero concern to the director. "Not an ounce."

For those to have ears to hear, hear. For the rest of you, enjoy the film - and tell yourself it is not an over-hyped, over-produced spectacle that doesn't amount to much. I'm happy for you.

Thankfully, Steven D. Greydanus (critic for the National Catholic Register) had the ears to hear, and the eyes as well -- explicating the Catholic elements in Tolkien's work (and Jackson's films) for his readers (see ""Tolkien the Catholic, The Lord of the Rings, and Peter Jackson’s film trilogy", decentfilms.com). I also heartily concur with Greydanus' review of The Return of the King:
" . . . To call it the grandest spectacle ever filmed is no exaggeration; it may also be the most satisfying third act of any film trilogy, completing what can now be regarded as possibly the best realized cinematic trilogy of all time."

I am in complete awe, and most incredibly appreciative and grateful for the years of work Peter Jackson, cast and crew took in pulling this off: thank you, thank you, thank you!

(And if this doesn't get the Oscar for "Best Picture" this year they really oughtta feed the judges to Shelob!)

P.S. Ms. Nicolosi -- if you remain in doubt as to the Christian themes of Tolkien's work, this might help.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Saddam Hussein Captured! 
Posted by Christopher at 3:33 PM

  • The original announcement by Iraqi ambassador L. Paul Bremer this morning.
  • Comments by President Bush.
  • Joshua Clayborn and The Command Post: Iraq are on top of it with an ongoing roundup of news and reports on various responses (and, via Tim Blair, mixed reactions of Dean supporters and Democrats).
  • Great photographs from John Betts.
  • Iraqi blogger Ays (Iraq at a Glance) is "happy"x10 ("I don't know what to say.. I am confused.. no … I am very happy.. I am very happy.. .. I am very happy.. .. I am very happy.. .. I am very happy.. .. I am very happy.. .. I am very happy..")
  • News and an amusing security notice from John Gault, from Baghdad's Coalition Provisional Authority:
    "There will be an unusually heavy amount of [celebratory] gunfire during the next 24 hours. This is due to the report of the possible capture of Saddam Hussein in Tikrit. All CPA members need to take the following measures to protect themselves. Stay in a hardened facility with overhead cover . . .
  • From Jeb Babbin and the NRO's commentary:
    To deny the Iraqis ability to try and punish Saddam is to deny the legitimacy of their process of forming the new government. The proper way to handle Saddam is for the Iraqi Governing Council to appoint its own tribunal and apply to Saddam the basic laws against murder. . . . The Allies set up war-crimes tribunals to try Nazi and Japanese criminals, and we didn’t need the U.N. or some international court to do it for us. Dust off the Nuremberg rules, convene a panel, and get on with it. We cannot allow the Iraqis to do less. (NRO Dec. 14, 2003)
  • Lastly, via (Kesher Talk), Tony ("Trojan Horseshoes") provides a diagram the recently released statistic that Saddam Hussein's government is believed to have buried as many as 300,000 opponents in 263 mass graves. A sobering reminder of why the Iraqi people are so relieved and jubilant.

Around the 'Net . . .  
Posted by Christopher at 11:43 AM

  • Steve Mattson ("In Formation" -- back online!), on finding some balance the Balthasar way. Welcome back, Steve -- although I certainly could understand your leave of absence, your voice is greatly appreciated.
  • From Fr. Rob Johansen: A Pinellas County, Fla., teacher -- who is disabled and works with disabled students- - claims she is being fired because she voiced her support for Terri Schindler Schiavo.
  • The Meandering Mind of a Seminarian shares his thoughts on hypocracy and Christianity.
  • Please pray for Peter Nixon's grandfather
  • Claude Muncey ("One Pilgrim's Walk") reflecting on the provocative article "Factions In The Church" by Catholic musician/monk John Michael Talbot:
    Recently, on another blog, someone asked where all the liberal Catholic bloggers were.  One response, which I will paraphrase (and therefore take responsibliity for) was that they were "too busy working on soup lines and such."  This did not go over well -- but I find that there is more than a little truth there.  . . . some of the self proclaimed "orthodox Catholics" that I have run into, on the net and off, have spiritual lives that seem to me just as unbalanced spiritually, while being perfectly correct doctrinally.  There is more to the spiritual life than correct doctrine and practice, as necessary as that certainly is.  Too many are trying to live a Christian life with a orthodox mind and an angry heart.  And I cannot think of a combination more likely to drive away those we need to attract, to pass on that which we have been given."
  • Not sure if A Saintly Salmagundi has discovered this yet, and it would probably fit his wacky sense of humor -- but check out The Hebrew Hammer (and don't forget to play Gentile Invaders!)

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Becoming a Benedictine 
Posted by Christopher at 9:48 PM

Ryan Guthrie, a fellow admirer of Cardinal Ratzinger, will be entering a Benedictine Monastery in January to begin his religious vocation -- several months ago he began a blog about his vocation.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Doubleday/Image Paperbacks; A "Jesuit's Jesuit" & Ignatius Press 
Posted by Christopher at 11:27 PM

A portion of my theology library is made up of Doubleday/Image paperbacks. In the 1950's they published many works of Catholic theology & philosophy -- St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Jacques Maritain, G.K. Chesterton, all nine volumes of F.C. Copleston's History of Philosophy, et. al. -- under the slogan "making the world's finest Catholic literature available to all." Good stuff, and more importantly affordable too, considering the typical budget of a college student.

According to the history of Image Press' parent company Doubleday Books:

The business became known as Doubleday & Company in 1946. Anchor Books created by Jason Epstein in 1953, was the first line of distinguished trade paperback books in the industry. Shortly thereafter a Catholic publishing program was started by John Delaney. By 1955 the program had expanded to cover other religions, which soon led to the Image line of trade paperbacks. . . . Doubleday was sold to Bertelsmann, AG, a Germany-based worldwide communications company in 1986.

Unfortunately, as the decades progressed the content of Image's selection of Catholic authors and literature greatly deteriorated (some might add, concurrent to the decline of just about everything else in Western civilization). 1 But to this day, I still take delight in visiting a used bookstore or rummage sale and discovering old Image paperbacks.

* * *

By way of Gen X Revert comes a fitting tribute to Fr. Joseph Fessio by John Mallon, contributing editor of Inside The Vatican and occasional blogger ("Mallon's Media Watch").

Of Fr. Fessio's many accomplishments, the one for which I am most appreciative is the founding of Ignatius Press (now celebrating their 25th anniversary). With the lamented decline of Image/Doubleday, Ignatius Press is one of the prevalent publishers to have "picked up the reigns," becoming one of the finest publishers of "the world's finest Catholic literature" in existence today.

I consider them an especially great blessing to Catholics here in the United States due to the fact that they are largely responsible for publishing the works of Cardinal Ratzinger in english, not to mention Henri De Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cardinal Schönborn, Pope John Paul II, as well as the saints and the fathers of the Church. So if you're feeling particularly thankful, drop 'em an email! 2

Ignatius Press - Catholic Books

  1. Catholics who favor Hans Küng, Fr. Greeley, or Anthony De Mello will probably differ from my assessment and think this a remarkable improvement in Image Press' editors. At the same time, I would think Doubleday's recent publishing of the "lightning-paced, intelligent" religious thriller The DaVinci Code bolsters my position.
  2. This blog is a purely voluntary endorsement -- after all, God knows whether this website would even exist, were it not for an initial introduction to the good Cardinal through Ignatius Press.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

The President's Visit to Iraq 
Posted by Christopher at 1:30 AM

Critics can whine all they want about President Bush's visit to Iraq -- those with hearts and sympathy for those serving our country (regardless of where they stand on the war) will appreciate the gesture. After all, it's not every day that a Commander In Chief forsakes his family and friends on Thanksgiving day to spend several hours in solidarity with our troops.

Susanna from cut on the bias shares an eyewitness account of the visit from a captain on the scene (one of many which I'm sure will be popping up on the web).

Meanwhile, Scrappleface runs this amusing parody of the media's frothing over "TurkeyGate".

"becoming Hitler to defeat Hitler" 
Posted by Christopher at 1:26 AM

The sensible and prolific Mark Shea's been debating with what apparently are a few hawks who, in their zeal to wage a struggle for survival against Islamic militants, would be more than willing to just nuke the whole bunch, and be done with it.

Mark Shea "take[s] the Church seriously when it says there is no nuanced position in favor of directly intending the destruction of innocent human life." The Church, meanwhile, has a long tradition of applying this moral criteria to the conduct of those engaged in warfare. The only answer to Mark's question: "Do think it worth eternal damnation to win a war?" is no -- and I find it incredible how any Catholic could truly believe otherwise.

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