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Monday, March 29, 2004

Thoughts On Seeing The Passion 
Posted by Christopher at 1:43 AM

I saw The Passion of The Christ today. Enough has been blogged about it that I don't think I can add anything new to the discussion (see a roundup of previous reviews here). However, I'll jot down some post-viewing reflections for those interested:

Subject to the readings of the gospel accounts every Easter, the repitition of the liturgy every Sunday, I think it is entirely possible to become de-sensitized, to hear but not listen, to lose our grasp of what happened on that day on Calvary and the meaning it has -- or it should have -- on every conscious moment of our life as Christians. Kierkegaard touched on this ever-present danger in his journal, when he stressed the necessity of appropriating the truth in one's own life:

What I really need is to be clear about what I am to do, not what I must know, except in the way knowledge must precede all action. It is a question of understanding my destiny, of seeing what the Deity really wants me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. And what use here would it be if I were to discover a so-called objective truth, or if I worked my way through the philosophers' systems and were able to call them all to account on request, point out inconsistencies in every single circle? . . . What use would it be to be able to propound the meaning of Christianity, to explain many separate facts, if it had no deeper meaning for myself and for my life? [ August 1, 1835]

This, I think, is precisely the power of Gibson's film, and the reason why it has been appreciated so greatly by so many Christians: it helps to make the passion true for us. It takes the gospel accounts -- Christ's agony in the garden, Peter's thrice-denial, the scourging, the 'Way of the Cross' -- and brings them to cinematic life, tangible, physical, and open to our experience in a way they had never quite been made before.

It was one thing to read about Peter's denial in the gospels; another for me to see it happen, to subjectively feel what Peter must have felt at that very moment, singled out and put on the spot, denying his Master not once but three times . . . to realize his betrayal when his Master glances at him from across the room (between blows); prompting myself in turn to acknowledge the countless times I myself have denied him, by my own fault, by my own sin.

It is one thing to read about Pilate "washing his hands"; another to see what might have compelled him to do so. A disgruntled politician in the backwoods of the Roman Empire, having mercilessly suppressed several Jewish revolts and now faced with the grave potential of another, passing Jesus off to Herod, and after his return attempting to reason with, then appease, an irrational mob, by scoffing "what is truth?" and proclaiming his innocence - just as guilty as the rest of us.

(Was it sympathy alone that motivated Pilate to wash his hands of the affair? -- I really have to wonder, given the circumstances: Procurator of Judaea, a legion of Roman soldiers under his command, with a scourged and bloody Jesus standing before him, his very life in his hands, expecting to hear a plea for mercy . . . and instead the unbelievable rebuke: "You have no power but what my Father in Heaven gives you"?!? -- perhaps wounded pride was a factor as well).

And what about Mary? -- I think Russell Hittinger and Elizabeth Lev put it best in First Things:

Ultimately, The Passion of the Christ is about witnessing and bearing witness. On one level, the film is calculated to make us want to turn away and go home. At the outset, Jesus tells his disciples in the garden that he doesn’t want them to see him in such a condition. He worries about what they are soon to see: a suffering servant who looks like anything but a king, and whose tortured body will seem quite beyond repair.

Thankfully, as the scenes become harder and harder to watch, the viewer is offered an example, a guide as to how we are supposed to react to the increasingly disturbing images. This comes in the form of Jesus’ mother, brilliantly played by the Romanian actress Maia Morgenstern. Though Mary is the person most affected by these shattering events, she also understands better than anyone the necessity of what her son must do, and she consents to his mission and her own role in it. She in turn shows the audience what they must do. During the scourging, we see Mary with her head lowered, barely able to support herself as she hears the incessant beating of her son. As we think to ourselves, “no mother should have to witness such a thing,” she gathers her strength, lifts her head, and continues to look. If she can, we can. Then, in the harrowing pietà scene at the end of the film, Mary looks directly out at the viewer as she holds the body of Christ, reminding us with her glance that we, too, have been witnessing these events, and that it is now we who are called to bear witness to what we have seen. Like Caravaggio’s Deposition, Gibson’s film places the bulk of responsibility on the viewer. 1

For all of this, for the opportunity to see and hear The Passion of Christ and a renewed desire to appropriate its truth for me, I thank Mel Gibson for making this film.

* * *

It does take some effort to emotionally-detach one's self from the film enough to offer some critical remarks, but for what it's worth:

  • The violence was morally offensive and assualting to the senses. Precisely as it should be. In this I am in complete agreement with S. T. Karnick (NRO, Feb. 27, 2004).

  • On the notion that the film will stir anti-semitic hatred in Christians: - once again, I concur with Russell Hittinger/Elizabeth Lev:
    Gibson denies the audience any shred of political or religious triumph, or, for that matter, defeat. Even a viewer who already knows and religiously believes in the final outcome of the story must struggle to keep watching, which is humiliating in its own right. . . . it is hard to imagine anyone coming out of Gibson’s movie with an appetite for a religiously politicized passion.

    If anything, Christians will come out of this movie not so much triumphant as humbled and chastened, having heard and seen rendered on screen our Savior's admonishment: "Forgive them, for they know not what they do"; "Love one another, as I have loved you"; "Greater love has no man than this, that he give up his life for his friends." To walk out of this film with a desire towards hatred would be an affront to the purpose and intent of this film and our religion.

    At the same time, I can understand how somebody so predisposed might find encouragement of their hatred by various depictions of the Jewish priests in the temple or, moreover, the bloodthirsty Jewish mob -- and so I am sympathetic to Jewish concerns such as those expressed in this review by Robert Horenstine (Jewish Review).

    Even so, I have noticed that notably absent from many critical reviews was mention of two overtly favorable depictions of Jewish figures: first in the temple, where several priests verbally protest the charges against Jesus and the legality of the tribunal, and who are in turn ridiculed and quickly hustled out of the room; and second on the Via Dolorosa, in the example of Simon of Cirene, claimed by Christian tradition as a believer but who is simply depicted on screen as a Jewish bystander, pulled from the crowd and made to carry the cross. At first Simon does so under protest, but later on walks together with Jesus, side by side, in solidarity and of his own accord -- a reminder for me that every Christian is called to carry the cross, and perhaps, for Jewish viewers, a premonition of the cross they would come to bear as well. 2

  • Finally, I have to say that many of those elements of the film that were extraneous to the gospel accounts did not strike me as being particulary impressive or integral to the film, and in fact served to foster needless speculation by the audience. These include Gibson's depiction of the demon under the bridge; the curse of Judas and his pursuit by demon children; the notorious "demon baby" which has contributed to so much confusion among non-Christian viewers ("where was that in the bible?") and the crow pecking out the eyes of the thief who mocks Jesus (since it happens after Jesus pleads with his Father to forgive them, this seeming act of divine vengeance couldn't come at a more inopportune time).

    The greatest moments in The Passion were by far those inspired by, or taken directly from, scripture itself (for example his depiction of Jesus' final moments with his disciples in flashbacks of The Last Supper). Those derived from Gibson's own imagination, however, could easily have been excised from the film without impeding in any way it's dramatic effect.

  1. "Gibson’s Passion", by Russell Hittinger and Elizabeth Lev. First Things 141 (March 2004): 7-10.
  2. For further explication of Chagall's painting "White Crucifixion", see "Mel Gibson Meets Marc Chagall: How Christians & Jews approach the Cross", by John A. Coleman, SJ. Commonweal Feb. 27, 2004.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Around the Blogosphere . . .  
Posted by Christopher at 10:25 AM

  • Peter Sean Bradley ("Lex Communis") blogs his review of The Passion:
    I have often reflected on the fact that in my religious tradition, we casually accept the presence of a statue depicting a man being tortured to death! It's a violent, gruesome statue which is found in every Catholic church! And, yet, we treat it as common place. Now that I have children I wonder about the easy acceptance of the Crucifix. My girls run out of the room if the television shows a fight scene. But they stay without comment in a church which has a life size, fully life-like depiction of a human being nailed to wood who is dying a horribly gruesome death.

    If the Passion corrects that casual attitude toward the Passion, then it will have done a major service to Christianity.

  • Michael S. Rose doesn't like the look of Ave Maria University's proposed chapel on its newly-founded campus near Naples, Florida: "Requiring three thousand tons of structural steel and aluminum, the 60,000-square-foot glass-skinned church is set to be the nation’s largest. Unfortunately, the design unveiled by school officials is an impractical eyesore." I agree -- a modern design of this nature seems implicitly counteractive to the goal of establishing an authentic Catholic university marked by faithfulness to the Magisterium and "the finest classical liberal arts curricula available." How about a return to some traditional architecture as well? Thanks to Domenico Betteneli for the link.

  • New blog! -- Thoroughly Modern Mary, "An enlightened weblog from from the paradigm of religious community. Sister Mary Biko PhD -- of "The Sisters of Divine Progressiveness" -- guides you along the way of traditional deconstruction." (Seems real enough, but it's actually a parody by The Curt Jester).

  • Speaking of real sisters, Commonweal recently complained about the lack of blogs by women religious. Theoscope is authored by a young Catholic who recently discovered her vocation -- so, Lord-willing, it's only a matter of time before Rachelle Linner's hopes are answered.

  • Lenten reading - I. Shawn McElhinney has been posting excerpts and commentary on Dark Night of the Soul; Steven Riddle the same from The Science of the Cross, the magnum opus of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein).

  • Good advice from J.R.R. Tolkien, from a commentator on Mark Shea's blog:
    The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion...Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children - from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn - open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people."

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

"Traditionalists", "Progressives" and the Burden of Obedience 
Posted by Christopher at 11:16 PM

Responding to The Revealer's profile of St. Blog's Parish in its blog last week, traditionalist commentator Sulpicius posted the following challenge to members of St. Blog's Parish in the form of three questions:

  1. Why persist in allowing progressives to lead your churches and parishes? What will you/can you do, other than "blog"?
  2. If you abide by the Vatican II hierarchy, do you have any footing to question from the "St. Blogs"/conservative perspective the progressive changes in your churches? Shouldn't you follow your pope, bishops, and priests?
  3. If the Vatican II hierarchy, after 40 years, still hasn't implemented the "changes" as they should be implemented, please tell us, from the "St. Blogs"/conservative perspective, what does Vatican II mean, and what went wrong these last 40 years?

Following Sulpicius' comments was this, by a concerned reader:

I have some questions for [Sulpicius] and Mr. Blosser. I am in something of a tough spot here, so while I don't want to encourage controversy, I will ask my questions, because thus far your discussion has been enlightening for me.

I cannot help feeling that an awful lot went wrong in the last 40 years. . . . I became a Catholic at a young age, by myself, after facing tons of attacking questions from friends and family on the Papacy, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Eucharist. To answer these questions for myself and my friends, I read, asked and prayed. And it did me tremendous good. And so I entered the Church in my home country, a Third World country, and I was happy. Then I moved to North America, and the Church seemed to disappear. The Mass was a disaster, the homilies were a disaster, and most absurd of all, I found people critical of Latin. I was amazed, and I am still amazed. Now, here are my questions:

I read Cardinal Ratzinger's interview with Mr. Messori, which I think in English is known as the Ratzinger Report, and I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, the Cardinal seemed to see and speak of the abuses which had been going on for decades, and foresaw what was to come. On the other hand, he is the man responsible for the discipline of those who are abusing the Church. And I kept finding myself asking the question: Why don't you stop it? How are you going to stop it? I honestly respect the man and his authority. But if such men of intelligence, in such a position in the Church are unable to curb the disastrous behaviour of clergy, who can?

Honestly, I think that Severus has posed excellent questions, and I am not what St. Blog's would consider a traditionalist. I have never and I will never question the authority of our pope. But I would like to hear you both on the solutions. I know a good few Catholics who suffer on Sundays and weekdays in Mass. These people see hope in the popularity of Gibson's film, and attribute it to many things, among them, the odor of authenticity which is lacking in our parishes and clergy. Now I think it is too easy to be a sedevacantist and do away with Vatican II and start over. So maybe Severus could tell us what he sees as the solution to all this. As for Mr. Blosser, I would like to hear yours as well.

Response to Sulpicius:

[Sulpicius]: 1. Why persist in allowing progressives to lead your churches and parishes? What will you/can you do, other than "blog"?

It's not hard to detect the implications: 1) that progressives are "leading" every church and parish; 2) that members of "St. Blogs" spend the bulk of their time blogging. I find such assumptions blantantly demeaning, and apart from the second request I would have not dignified it with a reply. However . . .

Let's make this clear: contrary to Novus Ordo Watch or The Remnant, not every Catholic parish is run by "progressives." I agree with Sulpicious that there are terrible parishes -- in the few years I've been a Catholic I've endured some pretty horrific masses that made me grit my teeth in frustration. However, it is my experience that the majority of those I've attended in the few years are occupied by good priests and laity of all ages with sincere concern for living a life pleasing to Christ and in obedience to his Church. Perhaps this is I daresay this is the experience of most members of St. Blog's -- and if Sulpicious is eager to dismiss them for whatever reason, perhaps he's setting his expectations too high. 1

With respect to blogging -- I've met very few members of St. Blog's face-to-face, and seeing as how they have lives beyond the keyboard about which I know very little about, I'll refrain from speculation or judgement about the kinds of things they're doing to combat "progressivism." Borrowing from Blessed Mother Theresa, there's definitely something to be said for "doing small things with great love"; for simply being a good Catholic, and setting an example for others.

(And speaking of useful things to do with one's time, Amy Welborn has some good suggestions).

[Sulpicius]: If you abide by the Vatican II hierarchy, do you have any footing to question from the "St. Blogs"/conservative perspective the progressive changes in your churches? Shouldn't you follow your pope, bishops, and priests?

That is to say: "Vatican II" and by implication the post-Vatican II Church (inc. pope, bishops and priests) are to be condemned, as they promote "progressive changes."

Well, from the get-go, I disagree with this line of reasoning, and the blanket assumptions and ambiguities contained therein. How could I respond when I disagree with the very premises on which your question is based?

Not every "progressive change" that occurred as a result of Vatican II is to be condemned, and there was much in the pre-Vatican II Church that was remedied by the council. 2 Of those changes that traditionalists and "conservative" Catholics agree are negative, not every priest or bishop is behind them, least of all the Pope, who I think functions as a scapegoat on which traditionalists heap blame for every evil in the church today.

As to whether St. Blogs and/or "conservative" Catholics in the post-VII church "have a footing to question the progressive changes" -- I think they do, in that this criticism is grounded in the teachings of the Holy Father and the Magisterium. In an article on the new "Catholic revival", Joseph Varacalli lists a number of Catholics contributing to a restoration of vibrant Catholic faith in the United States:

During this period of spreading the seeds of renewal, the Catholic Church has been blessed by a core of clergy, religious, and lay leadership that has more than risen to the occasion: Mother Angelica of EWTN, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Fr. Joseph Fessio of Ignatius Press, Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society, Msgr. George A. Kelly recently of St. John's University, Ralph McInerny and Gerard V. Bradley of Notre Dame University, Robert George of Princeton University, Thomas Monaghan of Ave Maria School of Law, and Stephen M. Krason of Franciscan University. The list could continue. Because of these constructive developments and charismatic individuals, it's just a little more difficult these days to mask the secular ideology and social movement that has been guiding the activities of nominal and dormant Catholics. 3

This brief list could certainly be supplemented by additional individuals, bishops, clergy, publications (First Things, Crisis Magazine, National Catholic Register), organizations and lay movements active in the Church today who are all doing their part to promote Catholic teaching . . . without ever feeling compelled to sequester themselves "in the catacombs" of schismatic, traditionalist sects.

If the Vatican II hierarchy, after 40 years, still hasn't implemented the "changes" as they should be implemented, please tell us, from the "St. Blogs"/conservative perspective, what does Vatican II mean, and what went wrong these last 40 years?

As a fairly recent convert (1997) I'm still on the road to becoming simply Catholic -- that is to say, learning and integrating what it means to be Catholic. I'm also in the process of studying the documents of Vatican II. Under the circumstances, I would hardly consider myself in a position to expound on "the meaning of Vatican II" itself. If it's a reliable and trustworthy explication of the documents you're looking for, I would turn to the teachings of the Holy Father and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

What went wrong with Vatican II? -- I don't believe that the council itself is the chief reason for the real mess we're in today, as much as the historical context: the political and cultural climate in which the council occurred, and which led so many astray. Vatican II did not occur in a vacuum, and it does not suprise me that it would suffer in part the unhealthy effects of its environment. (I have not yet read it, but sociologist David Carlen has written what looks to be an interesting analysis of this subject: The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America Sophia Institute Press, 2003). Note: Amy Welborn is discussing this on her blog.

Also, among those impeding a true explication and execution of the Vatican II's teachings are the dissident theologians and "Catholic" schools who have dodged the mandatum, misleading the faithful by their failure to promote authentic Catholic teaching. 4 But again, there are are good Catholic organizations, schools, universities, seminaries, bishops and clergy, doing their part to counter the dissenters. You have to be willing to look.

* * *

Response to a concerned reader:

I read [The Ratzinger Report] . . . on the one hand, the Cardinal seemed to see and speak of the abuses which had been going on for decades, and foresaw what was to come. On the other hand, he is the man responsible for the discipline of those who are abusing the Church. And I kept finding myself asking the question: Why don't you stop it? How are you going to stop it? I honestly respect the man and his authority. But if such men of intelligence, in such a position in the Church are unable to curb the disastrous behaviour of clergy, who can?

I had a similar reaction to The Ratzinger Report myself, and even asked this very same question on my blog last year. One of the best essays I came across at that time was by Catholic apologist and fellow blogger Dave Armstrong, appropriately titled: ""Why Doesn't Pope John Paul II DO Something About the Modernist Dissenters in the Catholic Church?" -- and I would place Ratzinger alongside the Holy Father with regards to this matter:

The role of the pope is much different, ecclesiologically and strategically, from the role of a local bishop. Pope John Paul II is most definitely effecting positive long-term change by forcefully teaching truth, promulgating the Catechism and various reforms, of schools, of architecture, of moral teaching, etc. The damage of liberalism has been so profound that one must look at cures in terms of decades and generations, not "right now" (as in a certain perfectionist and utopian mindset). A major reason (if not the sole one) for this strategy, I firmly believe, is to avoid schism, because schism is generally longer-lasting (and arguably, even more damaging) than even heresy.

I think John Paul II's and the Church's primary concern is for souls. There is no easy choice. If one acts with principle but excludes a corresponding prudence or foresight as to result (as Luther and Calvin did), then one barges ahead and slashes away at all the heretics and de facto schismatics. The pope wants the same result that people who ask this question do: how to have an orthodox Church and how to retain as many souls in the Church (and for ultimate salvation) as possible. He thinks it will take a long time. His critics (or those who are simply bewildered) often think the solution is instant and simple: slash and burn!

I don't think it that simple at all, given the situation in the Catholic Church in America that we have today. De jure schism is even worse than de facto schism. If the former is the almost-certain result, then it will be even worse than it is now. Time is on the side of orthodoxy. That's what we learn from history. In the meantime, people are still individuals. If they truly want to learn about orthodoxy and Tradition, there are plenty of means to do that. Each person still stands alone before God, accountable for their actions. They can crack the door of a library; dust off their Bible from the attic, hit the Internet and find Catholic sites, watch EWTN, go to a Mass, talk about the faith with an educated, committed Catholic friend or relative, or take their life savings and invest $10 for a Catechism. Is the pope at fault for all these people who don't do these things, too?

I believe Armstrong answers this question much better than I -- so read it in full. Harsh discipline and mass-excommmunication really may not be the best or most appropriate means of dealing with dissenters. Neither, I think, is self-imposed separation and seclusion from fellow Catholics, in societies which foster an attitude of utter cynicism and blatant disobedience to the Pope and the Magisterium.

I expect that I have not answered Sulpicious' questions to his satisfaction, and fear that I will disappoint this reader in turn. Honestly, I have no grand solutions, no strategies for a restoration of Christendom. No better response than to try and follow Christ and be a good Catholic. Find a good parish if you can, and if you have a preference for Latin, a parish that celebrates an episcopally approved Traditional Latin Mass.

But if you're unsuccessfull in doing so, in my humble opinion I think it better to endure even a poorly-celebrated Novus Ordo mass in the company of the "progressive"/"conservative" Catholics Sulpicius holds in disdain than jeopordize communion with the Church.

Thomas Howard put it best in Lead Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome:

Like Augustine with the Donatists of his day, Catholics may have profound sympathy with any number of the "protests" that have been mounted against corruption, falsehood, worldliness, or sin in the Catholic Church. As Augustine would teach us to say, "Alas: your criticism is too true. There may be wounds and bruises and putrefying sores, from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet; but we cannot dismember and hack to pieces the Body of Christ." This has been done in the last five hundred years. We have no warrant to set ourselves over against this ancient Church. There may be among us wolves in sheeps clothing, even; yet the answer to that is not to leave the Fold, but to cleanse and protect and restore it. God bless the earnestness and fidelity and zeal with which many have striven for righteousness and truth and purity in the Church. But insofar as their striving has separated them from that old Church, then the measures have been too draconian. To pray with the Lord in his prayer recorded in John 17 may be to do more than voice a petition. It may, in this latter day, mean a difficult obedience. 5

Further reading:

  1. I suspect the reason Sulpicious lumps all Catholic parishes in the U.S. under the term "progressive" is simply on grounds that they celebrate the Novus Ordo and are part of the post-Vatican II Church -- in which case, he leaves no room for distinctions, and there's really not much point in discussing the matter.
  2. The March 22, 2004 issue of Crisis features an article by George Sim Johnson on why, all controversy aside, the Church needed Vatican II. Unfortunately it's not online at this point in time.
  3. "Putting The Catholic House Back Together", by Joseph Varacalli. Lay Witness April 2001.
  4. Ralph McInerney has addressed the crisis of authority and dissenting theologians in What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained (Sophia Institute Press, 1998).
  5. Lead Kindly Light: My Journey Towards Rome, by Thomas Howard. (Franciscan U.P. July 1994).

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Balthasar on Mary, The Church, and "Female Priests" 
Posted by Christopher at 6:48 PM

I've spent the past several weekend afternoons dipping into Balthasar's A Short Primer for Unsettled Laymen, a book consisting of short reflections on various topics, many of which are familiar to Catholic bloggers ("pluralism", "progressivism", "authority", "traditionalism", et al.). 1

In the chapter "Mary - Church - Office," Balthasar impressively ties together -- in the space of ten pages -- man's relationship to woman, Mary's relationship to the Church, the proper interpretation of Paul's advice to spouses in Ephesians 5: 21-33, and how this pertains to the modern feminist identification of the sexes and the struggle for "female priests".

Someone who disregards the place of Mary in the history of salvation, as the Church has come to know it in her prayer and contemplation, will pay the price in the long run; he will sooner or later land in a feminism that demands the equality, which means in practical terms the identification, of woman and man. . . . [p. 88]

Woman is the inseperable unity of that which makes it possible for the Word of God to take on the being of the world, in virtue of the natural-supernatural fruitfulness given to her. As the active power of receiving all that heaven gives, she is the epitome of creaturely power and dignity; she is what God presupposes as the Creator in order to give the seed of his Word to the world. In no religion (not even in those of matriarchal cultures) and in no philosopy can woman be the original principle, siince her fruitfulness, which appears more active and explicit in the sexual sphere than the fruitfulness of man, is always ordered to insemination. This is also true of Isis, Astarte and Cybele. In the philosophy of antiquity, man appears for this reason as number one and woman as the number two. Eve is drawn from Adam's side that his creaturely creative power may not be in vain. [p. 90]

What's this? -- women "ordered to insemination"? rendered subordinate to man? -- I can already imagine someone reading this passage and exclaiming "why, how absolutely chauvinistic!" . . . for which reason the next paragraph struck me as being an appropriate clarification. Where, lest man should boast of his innate superiority over the lesser sex, Balthasar puts it all into perspective:

The following words of Paul must be placed into this cosmic context: "Man is the image and reflection of God, while woman is a reflection of man." (1 Corin. 11:7). "Reflection" (doxa) in the last part of the sentence can and must be understood as "glory", i.e., that through which man is glorified. God does not need Adam in order to have his glory in himself. Adam, however, is poor and fruitless if he does not have that which brings forth fruit bodily and spiritually, that which, as the principle of fruitfulness and as wife and mother, fructifies him. "For as woman stems from man, so man in turn stems from woman, but everything [man and woman] stems from God. (1 Corin. 11:12). . . . [Christ] must represent the Father in the world by his Incarnation . . . but he does so as a man who comes from woman (the Old Covenant community of salvation, which finds its peak in Mary) and is again fruitful in woman (in the same community of salvation that becomes the Church in Mary. [p. 90-91]

And what, then, does this mean for the Church?

One must pay attention to the connection between Mary and the Church. The assent given to the angel by the "lowly handmaid" on whom God has looked graciously is the fundamental act of her entire life. . . . at the Presentation of the Temple, she fundamentally offers and returns her child to God. On the Cross, this return -- in the same godforsakeness as the Son: "Woman, behold your son!" -- becomes a secret and indespensable part of the New Creation or birth. . . . [The Church] comes to be in virtue of the fact that the feminine assent to all that God wills becomes the inexhaustible fruitfulness of the new Eve. It is the Church that Paul (Eph. 5:27) calls the "immaculata", which, after all, she is truly and literally on earth only in her archetype, Mary. The Cross (to which Easter and Pentacost belong, inseparably) is the fulfillment of all the nuptial spirit between man and woman and indeed between heaven and earth. . . . [p. 92]

And the claim to the priesthood?

Situated withhin this comprehensive femininity of the Church is the eucharistic mystery that Jesus entrusts in advance to his Apostles . . . Men are to carry out the office in the Church; in so doing they are not to be Christ but merely to represent him. It is part of the nature of the office that it merely represents, so much that it can speak, not its own words, but the words of Christ: "This is my Body"; "I absolve you". It is completely unthinkable that Mary should speak such words. For under the Cross she did not represent the sacrifice of her Son -- but in being set aside and given away to another son -- she was a silent, invisible part of this sacrifice. For she, the woman, is the Church that gives her assent, and everyone in the Church has a part in this assent. Even the man, even the priest, is in this respect feminine, marian.

The woman that would strive for the male role in the Church thus strives for something "less" and denies the "more" of what she is. This can be overlooked only by a feminism that has lost the sense for the mystery of sexual difference, wich has functionalized sexuality and attempts to increase the dignity of woman by bringing about her identification with man. [pp. 93-94]

This complimentarity of the sexes and the distinct, yet I think equally dignified, roles of male and female, not to mention the interpretation of Mary as the mystical archetype of the Church, are worth consideration -- especially by those who approach the question of a female priesthood with a simple "well, why not?" 2 There is much in Catholic tradition that would be lost by such an indiscriminate leveling of the sexes.

Balthasar's chapter reminded me of another article by Genevieve S. Kineke, on "The Lost Essence of Femininity" (Canticle No. 1), with which I think is fitting to close:

Emulation of the Blessed Mother would also be an intrinsic dimension of an authentic daughter of the Church. She would see in Our Lady the first fruit of God's plan of redemption and a perfect example of each human virtue. Through meditation on the Gospel texts referring to Mary and on the mysteries of the Rosary, she would see the delicacy and "feminine genius" of this beautiful woman. . . .

The difference that sets women apart is that she imitates the Church, the Bride of Christ. As peculiar as this might seem at first glance, let us consider what the Church does. In supernatural ways, the Church welcomes new members, she cleanses them in the waters of baptism, she feeds them at the Eucharistic feast, and she reconciles them in the confessional. She heals them with her anointing balm and finally lays each to rest in the hope of rising again. Throughout she consoles, sustains, and most importantly teaches each member in order that he might find his dignity and the meaning of his life.

What could be more feminine?

In a natural sense, this is where a woman finds her dignity and meaning. It is not a strict formula or a straight-jacket. On the contrary, she takes these elements, combines them with her talents and her circumstances in life, and forges a path unique and charged with beauty. With these elements as guides, she will ponder her vocation and discover what God wishes her to do that is squarely in the folds of the Mystical Body of Christ, and yet unrepeatable and life-giving to all who are touched by her influence.

  1. I have recently begun to explore the writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar, finding his longer and more academic works a bit intimidating. Fortunately, many of his shorter books (published by Ignatius Press), however, are written for a popular audience. A Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen is definitely one that I think most any Catholic would enjoy, and very pertinent to our times.
  2. For example, none of these factors come into play in the British historian Paul Johnson's almost-casual dismissal of gender differences and endorsement of female priests in The Quest for God: A Personal Pilgrimage (Harper Collins, 1996); which, I think, is an otherwise good read.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Revealer on "St. Blog's Parish" 
Posted by Christopher at 8:10 PM

The Revealer, published by the Dept. of Journalism and Center for Religion and Media at NYU, has responded to Rachel Linner's Commonweal article with a list of their own Guide to Erudite, Prudent, or (at the very least), Intelligent Catholic blogs. (It's pretty meager and you're invited to contribute your own recommendations).

Contrary to Ms. Linner's impression, I've always thought "St. Blog's" a pretty ideologically and religiously diverse bunch, ranging from the "two-fisted conservative" Mark Shea to self-proclaimed "liberal Catholic" Jcecil3 to Peter Nixon, commmended for being "above the fray."

I would think that anybody searching for webring would consider us a pretty broad online sample of Catholics in the United States . . .

But leave it to commentator Sulpicius Severus to denounce the whole lot of us as "modernists."


  • Sulpicius further castigates St. Blogs for wasting time blogging, proclaiming:
    "Traditional Catholics have a sizeable internet presence, but not as many "blogs", because true Catholics are too busy with the important work of saving souls (building new churches, defending the True Sacraments, living true Catholic lives in a hostile world) to piddle around with prideful, ephemeral self-publishing software.

    I found this rather amusing, noting that Sulpicius -- or one of his colleagues -- has spent some time himself piddling around with prideful, ephemeral self-publishing software.

  • Meanwhile, there is an interesting discussion on Amy Welborn's blog in response to Mr. Sharlet's musing:
    Does the mostly conservative St. Blog's Parish present a bigger challenge to Church hierarchy than lay people's democracy movement? How come progressive Catholics tend to meet in Church basements while conservative Catholics gather in the blogosphere? What will happen if -- when -- these lay-people movements converge?"
  • Need I mention that St. Blog's now has its own Parish Hall?

Getting educated w/ the help of Robert P. George & Andrew Sullivan 
Posted by Christopher at 12:03 AM

Relative to the current debate on same-sex marriage I've picked up Andrew Sullivan's Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con - A Reader (Vintage, 1997) and Robert P. George's Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis (ISI Books, 2001).

I confess to having a very limited awareness of the arguments being asserted by both parties -- ignorance which I hope to remedy by Sullivan's anthology, having heard that it was a decent introduction. From a cursory look at the contents, he appears to have fairly presented both sides of the issue. 1

Robert P. George is Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton. Clash of Orthodoxies is actually a compilation of revised articles and essays, a few which I've previously encountered previously in First Things but merit re-reading. Judging from the reviews I think it will help provide some philosophical context for the "culture wars" we're witnessing today and thus a fitting compliment to Sullivan's reader.

What I immediately like about George is that he believes in taking the offensive. Far too long, he insists, have we let the media and liberal critics portray the issue as a dispute of faith and reason: "enlightened liberalism" vs. "the religious right" -- when, George contends, it is those who affirm the Judeo-Christian moral tradition who have the rationally-defensible upper hand. A characteristic insight from the first chapter:

Orthodox secularists typically say that we should respect the rights of others, even as we go about the business of satisfying our own desires. Ultimately, however, secularism cannot provide any plausible account of where rights come from or why we should respect others’ rights. Of course, most secularists emphatically believe that people have rights. Indeed, they frequently accuse Christians and other religious believers of supporting policies that violate people’s rights. We are all familiar with the rhetoric: You religious people shouldn’t be imposing your values on other people. You are violating their rights! If it is between consenting adults, stay out of it! Any two (or more?) people have the right to define "marriage" for themselves. Women have a right to abortion. People have a right to take their own lives. Who are you to say otherwise?

But on the presuppositions of the secularist view, why should anybody respect anybody else’s rights? What is the reason for respecting rights? Any answer must state a moral proposition, but what, on orthodox secularist premises, could provide the ground of its moral truth?

. . . Secularism, at least in its liberal manifestations, makes the rights of others the principle of moral constraints upon action, relativizing allegedly self–regarding actions. But it generates a critical question it has no way of answering: Why should anyone respect the rights of others? 2

A good question, I think. I'm curious if Mr. Sullivan has an answer. And it will be interesting to read the various arguments proposed in Same Sex Marriage: Pro & Con, keeing in mind the underlying question of the fundamental basis for asserting one's rights . . . or lack thereof.

  1. Selections from William Bennett and Crisis magazine columnist Prof. Hadley Arkes are always a good indication.
  2. From "A Clash of Orthodoxies", First Things 95 (August/September 1999): 33-40. If you can't afford (or don't have time for) the book, you can find many of George's articles compiled here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Posted by Christopher at 4:49 PM


However, like Sen. John Kerry, I refuse to betray their confidence by revealing their identities.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Around the Blogosphere . . .  
Posted by Christopher at 12:20 AM

  • Gerard Serafin takes issue with Frederica Mathewes-Green over her criticism of The Passion and the superiority of Orthodox theology over the "Western" view of redemption -- here, here. A perusal of Gerard's excellent website -- http://www.praiseofglory.com/ -- reveals a Catholic who demonstrates the possibility of "drinking from both wells," and appreciating elements of Eastern Orthodox tradition as well as his own. Perhaps Frederica might benefit from his example?

  • Science fiction author Orson Scott Card offers a three-part review of The Passion -- "as a film critic, as a believer, and as an American." He has much to say, on the Catholic and Mormon depicions of Christ's Passion; on the graphic violence of the film itself; on allegations of anti-semiticism and the hypocrisy of the left, closing with some personal advice of his own to Mel on what to do with his profits from the film.

    Next to Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, by the way, is one of my favorite (predominantly) science fiction writers. He is also a devout Mormon and outspoken conservative, who for some unfathomable reason still refers to himself as a Democrat. I was delighted to discover that he has a regular weekly column for The Ornery American.

  • Fr. Benedict Groeschel is making a good recovery from his accident (Praise God!), as indicated by the fact that he's now writing his own messages to us:
    I want to share with you two principles upon which I have built my life. The first is from Saint Augustine: 'God does not cause evil, but that evil should not become the worst'. Second: 'There are no accidents. Evil things occur because of bad will or stupidity or fatigue, yet whatever the cause God will bring good out of it if we let Him'. [read more]
  • One of those killed in the recent attack on civilians in Iraq by terrorists posing as Iraqi policemen was Robert Zangas, described in this article as a man who "believed so deeply in helping to rebuild Iraq that he returned as a civilian after a nine-month tour of duty in the Marine Corps. He was also a good friend of fellow blogger Eric Johnson, who writes about him here. Please pray for his soul, and for his wife and three children whom he leaves behind.

    UPDATE: Robert Zangas was also a blogger -- from Instapundit.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

St. Blog's "Decidedly Conservative Tilt" 
Posted by Christopher at 12:55 AM

Rachel Linner has written an article about "St. Blog's Church - America’s most vibrant parish?" in February's issue of Commonweal magazine, giving mention to a host of familiar favorites such as Sursum Corda, Gen-X Revert, Shrine of the Holy Whapping, among many others. I note with much appreciation that Commonweal is one of the first Catholic publications to mention this blog and Ratzinger Fan Club -- thank you, I was curious where all those hits were coming from. =)

Ms. Linner spends much of the article pondering why many Catholic bloggers "[tilt] decidedly to the conservative side of the Catholic culture wars," -- as evidenced by the organizations they link to, and the fact that "Commonweal is less visible than Crisis and First Things" (more on this later). She seems to me very liberal in her application of the "conservative" label to fellow bloggers.

But what exactly makes a Catholic blog "conservative"?

Is opposition to abortion and other moral evils "conservative"? -- Or faithfulness to Catholic teaching? Is criticism of theologians who dodge the mandatum "conservative"? -- Or an expresson of one's loyalty to the magisterium of the Catholic Church?

Is Mark Shea's blog "conservative"? -- What about his criticism of the policies of the Bush administration in Iraq?

And where does the bulk of St. Blog's stand in comparison to the "radtrads" who blast Ratzinger and the Pope as liberals, or worse, propogators of a masonic-Zionist conspiracy to infiltrate the Church?

It seems to me that where one is placed on the ideological spectrum between "liberal" and "conservative" depends largely on the subjective judgement and political affiliations of the one applying the label -- and less so on the actual content of the blog (or its links to various Catholic publications). Likewise, I've often found that faithfulness to the teachings of the Church often transcends the bounds of politics.

P.S. One of the reasons I link to Crisis and First Things is my appreciation for their willingness to make the content of their past issues available online and to non-subscribers. Of course I think those readers who can should support these publications with their wallets -- but honestly, not everybody can afford to shell out $20-30 for subscriptions to multiple magazines. Thus, by making past articles available online, these authors are in part contributing to the extended discussion between bloggers in our "online parish." First Things has done so since 1998; Crisis launched its new website in 2002. And in recent months Commonweal has revamped their own website, making available a significant portion of their work from years past, and for which I'm very grateful.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Religious films (some personal favorites) 
Posted by Christopher at 11:18 PM

Bill Cork directs me to Amy Welborn's blog, where she sparked a debate on the merits of the Franciscan musical Brother Sun, Sister Moon, newly released on DVD.

My dad tried to make us watch it when we were little and I could barely sit through the first twenty minutes -- I admit I was an impatient little brat at the time, musicals just not being my thing, and so upon reading this review in Christianity Today I'm tempted to give it another try.

* * *

In any case, I would like to mention five religious films among my "top favorite of all time":

  • Man For All Seasons 1966. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, and starring Paul Scofield. My dad introduced this movie to my brothers and I when we were teens. I've seen it several times since, and read the play by Robert Bolt as well -- and find the experience that richer with every viewing.

    Parents wishing to demonstrate to their kids Christian convinction in the face of secular oppression, being true to one's word and the duty of one's office, look no further than St. Thomas More. SEE ALSO: DecentFilms.Com Review by Steven D. Greydanus.

  • The Mission [1986], directed by Roland Joff?. From the producer of Chariots of Fire, the director of The Killing Fields, the screenwriter of A Man For All Seasons and Dr. Zhivago, featuring masterful performances by Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons and even a cameo appearance by Fr. Daniel Barrigan himself -- it's rare that you see a distinctly Christian film with this much Hollywood talent.

    Set in 1750's South America, The Mission tells the story of Rodrigo Mendoza (De Niro), a violent mercenary and slave-trader who abandons his profession and joins a priest, Gabriel (Irons) and his fellow Jesuits in building a Mission to the indigeneous natives he once enslaved. Whe the mission is threatened by the armies of Spain and Portugal Mendoza faces the challenge of responding with Christlike nonviolence or once again taking up the sword and musket.

    The movie is quite forceful about where Christians should stand on the matter of nonviolence and armed response to oppression (a pertinent debate for our times?) -- but the powerful themes of love, redemption, penance, forgiveness and atonement will appeal to all. SEE ALSO: DecentFilms.Com Review by Steven D. Greydanus.

  • Francesco [1989], directed by Liliana Cavani; starring Mickey Rourke and Helena Bonham Carter.

    Returning briefly to the debate over the merits of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Ron Reed says in his review of the DVD for Christianity Today:

    The most serious problem with this film is its softness, that sentimentality Zeffirelli is often accused of. Where are the stigmata? Where are the exhaustion, disease, despair that poverty, even intentional poverty, brings, even to saints? Where is the aging St. Francis, betrayed by his successors?

    This, I think, is precisely why I love Francesco: its' raw, gritty and above all realistic presentation of a man who takes literally the demands of the gospel. Francis' life as depicted in this movie is not all "sweetness and light"; he struggles with doubts, wrestles with temptations, clings to his vision in spite of overwhelming odds. When, in the movie's finale, blind, broken and near-death, he receives the stigmata, it becomes for him (and for the audience) a tangible sign of God's affirmation that hope is not lost, the race is not in vain.

    Some have criticized the casting of Mickey Rourke, but I found him well suited for the role: his off-screen debauchery and previous cinematic history (Nine 1/2 Weeks, Angel Heart, and Charles Bukowski's Barfly) contributed to the impact -- for me, at least -- of his on-screen spiritual transformation as a repentant sinner seeking to make amends for his past. Rourke's subsequent career and self-destruction might lead one to question whether he truly grasped the part . . . call me naive, but I like to think he knew something of, and could relate to, the struggles of his character.

  • The Apostle [1998], directed by Robert Duvall. Starring Robert Duvall, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Bob Thornton. I blogged about this last year, but to reiterate: The Apostle a story of a Southern Pentacostal pastor named Sonny who, after committing grave sin and fleeing the law, ultimately redeems himself (and others) through moral accountability. Duvall says:
    Some religious people might ask why I would make such a movie and emphasize that this evangelical preacher has weaknesses. And my answer is that we either accept weaknesses in good people or we have to tear pages out of the bible. I would have to rip the Psalms out of the bible and never read them again. Because no one less than the greatest king of Israel, King David, the author of the Psalms, sent a man out to die in battle so that he could sleep with his wife. And that was a far more evil thing than anything Sonny would ever, ever do.

    Duvall's interest in portraying this distinctly American brand of Christianity was born from an encounter with a Pentacostal preacher in Arkansas more than thirty years ago. Regarding other attempts at depicting the Pentacostal tradition, Duvall comments "They patronize . . . They put quotation marks around the preacher. They don?t give the minister or his congregation their due." The Apostle, however, can be commended for a realistic depiction of religious faith refreshingly free of such condescension.

    I was initially drawn to the film upon learning that Duvall not only wrote the script, directed the film, and starred in it, but put up 5 million of his own money to produce it himself. Here's an interview with Robert Duvall from the University of Nebraska's Journal of Religion and Film on his inspiration for making "The Apostle".

There are plenty of other religious films worth seeing -- but the above have stuck with me throughout the years as worthy of repeated viewing.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Touchstone magazine on Orwell, Huxley, and C.S. Lewis 
Posted by Christopher at 9:06 PM

The January/February 2004 issue of Touchstone has as its theme "Fantasy and the Christian Imagination." Featured online is a excellent article "Great Escapes & Lesser Stories", by editor David Mills in which he examines Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's 1984, and C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength (third volume of his classic "space trilogy"). Mills describes the books as:

the “literature of deliverance.” [Because] at their best, such books deliver man from his illusions because they say, with imaginative force and insight, that this is the way the world really is, whatever it looks like at the moment and whatever one’s ideology says it looks like. The literature of deliverance reveals something of the Great Story that has been hidden from sight by the dominance of the particular society’s false stories.

Mills inquires as to "whether "a work in “the literature of deliverance” can succeed as a story if it does not express the Great Story" of Christianity. What I found especially interesting is his examination of how each author's treatment of sex reveals their relationship with the Great Story, and his penetrating analysis of George Orwell -- "the man who did not believe in the doctrine of Original Sin but was too honest a man not to portray it in his stories." The latter part of the article focuses on 1984 and That Hideous Strength with respect to two questions: "Where do they find the source of hope for successful resistance to a socially dominant evil, and where do they find the source of personal integrity and salvation under oppression?" -- Good criteria, I think, for judging the worth of many works of critical fiction.

My one bone to pick with Mills is his criticism of Huxley's Brave New World as a "a shallower book" (in comparison to Orwell & Lewis'), because it offers "a basic idea—the establishment of order and peace through the creation, conditioning, and pleasuring of man -- and develops it brilliantly, but in the end the idea itself leaves no room for exploring the alternatives." I hope his rather abrupt dismissal won't deter any readers from checking out this classic if they haven't already. While 1984 may remind readers of the horrors of the Third Reich or Stalinist Russia, Brave New World prophetically depicted a society that is very similar to our own: the "soft totalitarianism" of a consumer-driven society utterly dominated by self-gratification and pacified by chemical-induced happiness. As Professor Leon Kass remarked in a symposium of great books for First Things in March, 2001:

. . . unlike other frightening futuristic novels of the past century, such as Orwell’s already dated Nineteen Eighty–four, Huxley shows us a dystopia that goes with, rather than against, the human grain -- indeed, it is animated by modernity’s most humane and progressive aspirations. Following those aspirations to their ultimate realization, Huxley enables us to recognize those less obvious but often more pernicious evils that are inextricably linked to successful attainment of partial goods. And he strongly suggests that we must choose: either our misery–ridden but still richly human world, or the squalid happiness of the biotechnical world to come.

Finally, in his foreward to Amusing ourselves to Death (another great book, and scathing critique of society), Neil Postman says of Huxley:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent to the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in [1958's] Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalist who are ever alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feard that what we love will ruin us.

Related Resources:

Around the Blogosphere . . .  
Posted by Christopher at 7:48 PM

  • Benjamin Blosser begins his new blog, Ad Limina Apostolorum - "Musings by a doctoral student, patristics scholar, and inveterate Augustinian" by pondering the Manichean affiliations of his patron saint, and "vexing problem of fending off nicknames" for his new son.

    Benjamin Blosser is third in line of the 4-sibling Blosser clan, and the budding theology scholar of the bunch, pursuing his M.A./PhD in Historical Theology (with a focus in Patristics) at Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.

    The last time we saw each other, he mentioned to me that he'd been following Mark Shea's blog "religiously" for some time now, and this past weekend decided to jump into the fray. Let's welcome him to St. Blogs! =)

  • Quotes from Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957) applied to contemporary issues in the Church today, courtesy of Carl Olson ("Envoy Encore").

  • The Old Oligarch shares some theological trivia with The High Stakes of Wielding Papal Magisterium. (By way of TS O'Rama).

  • Once again, TS O'Rama (of the blog with the really long Latin name) "[spans] the Proverbial Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts."

  • Good solid post by Bill Cork, providing a helpful clarification of the nature of his disagreements with The Passion and, more importantly, what the cross means -- or should mean, at any rate -- to Christians:
    Liberal Protestantism has preached a Jesus who is only a teacher. Liberal Catholicism has made him a teacher of nice pleasantries, and who is remembered in statues or "crucifixes" with an abstract cross and a figure of a bloodless, risen Jesus.

    But a Christianity that is true to the Gospel kerygma is centered on the bloodly, beaten form of the crucified Savior.

Cynthia Allen vs. The Wiccans 
Posted by Christopher at 7:46 PM

There are many good articles -- as usual -- on Godspy.com, including a reprint of a 2001 Atlantic Monthly article "The Scholars and The Goddess", by Charlotte Allen, dismantling the myth of a pre-partriarchal "Goddess-worship" fueling the Wiccan movement.

Allen cites two prominent investigative works criticizing the Goddess myth. The first is 1998's Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality by Philip G. Davis, who argued that Wicca was the creation of an English civil servant and amateur anthropologist named Gerald B. Gardner (1884-1964), who in turn was influenced by (mostly male) German and French Romantics.

As a professor of religion at a Canadian university, feminist critics could regard Davis with suspicion. The same cannot be said of Cynthia Eller, who initially wrote "a sympathetic sociological study of feminist spirituality" in 1993 titled Living in the Lap of the Goddess ("required-reading" for many a Wiccan). Eller, who identifies herself as a feminist, came to betray the cause with the subsequent publication of The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory (Beacon Press May, 2000), in which she examines the historical evidence for such, finds it lacking, and contends that basing a movement on a questionable "gynocentric" myth will ultimately damage the integrity of the feminist movement by enforcing the "strong gender polarities" that they hope to dismantle. (As one Amazon.com reviewer put it, the matriarchal-goddess myth is simply "the flip side of the Aryan myth").

Cynthia Allen notes that there are "now more than 200,000 adherents of Wicca and related 'neopagan' faiths in the United States" -- I wonder how many of those have investigated the historicity of their new-found religion?

Monday, March 01, 2004

Putting the Suffering in Context 
Posted by Christopher at 11:06 PM

A very good review of the film by Mark Shea himself, followed by rollicking theological debate and commentary on the nature of Christ's suffering and the atonement. Good stuff to chew on.

Mark Shea says:

It made us pray. It made us feel ashamed of our sins. It made us embrace each other. It made us weep. It took our breath away at times--both because of the depth of human cruelty and the awe of divine love. It made me admire Gibson's theological depth and his artistic vision. We left the theatre in silence and did not at all feel very inclined to find baseball bats with which to smash synagogue windows. Personally, I felt a strong need to go sit before Jesus in the Tabernacle.

This, I think, will be the experience of most devout Christians (Catholic, Evangelical and otherwise). However, we can't discount the fact the others will walk away with different impressions, as mentioned by this reader.

Like Mark, I think very few people will be provoked by this movie to engage in hatred and explicit displays of violence toward the Jews. Confusion, however, is a far more likely response, at least based on some of the reports I've read -- again, I have yet to see the film.

Indeed, somebody in my office who saw the film this weekend expressed honest confusion as to why "'The Jews' hated Jesus that much that much, that they could kill him." She wasn't the least bit anti-semitic, but she was stunned by the violence and struggled to find the reason for the violence. (I also asked her about the portrayal of the Romans, if they were cast as the villians as well -- "yes," she replied, "but Pilate didn't think he was guilty, and he washed his hands [of the matter] and handed him over to the mob.")

The point I want to make is this: not every person attending this film is going to be as theologically enlightened or proficient in the gospel accounts to undersand what The Passion is about. Many people will simply recoil at the violence; many others will, like my friend, be left wondering, struggling to find a context for the violence, and why angry mob of Jews could react in such a fashion to a man who, by all appearances, did nothing to provoke them. These people may be in the minority in the vast audiences of Christians who are flocking to see this film, but they will be there nonetheless. As Rosmarie says, commenting in Shea's blog:

. . . will non-Christians be able to appreciate such a movie the way we who are familiar with the life of Christ can?

Take, for instance, the scene in the beginning with the high priest tossing the bag of coins to Judas. We know the Gospels, so we can provide the context for that scene; we know that Judas was an apostle who agreed to betray Jesus, etc. But if someone who knows nothing about Jesus and the Gospels watches this movie, he may well wonder "Who are these people and what do they have against this man?". Unless one knows the whole story of Jesus' life, a cinematic depiction of His Passion may not mean very much.

Now, if a non-Christian watches a Gospel film which depicts Jesus' entire life from birth to Resurrection, he will get the necessary context from the rest of the film, so he will understand the Passion by the time that part comes along. So such films may be better suited for evangelism of non-Christians than this one.

Again, this is not a criticism of the movie; I would not criticize Mel for not doing what he didn't intend to do. He intended to make an unflinchingly brutal and graphic depiction of the suffering of Our Lord, and he has done a great job! This film will be a great help to Christians, to remind them of the price Jesus paid for their salvation.

But I really think this film was made, as Michael Medved said, "of the Christians, by the Christians and for the Christians". A Christian audience will understand it best; non-Christians probably won't understand it very well, unless they are familiar with the Gospels.

A welcome reminder that, as Christians, it is our calling and our duty to -- with kindnes, with charity, with compassion -- supply that context, to provide an explanation, to tell "the rest of the story."

Overwhelming Response . . .  
Posted by Christopher at 12:07 PM

Greetings Protocols readers, and thanks for the link from such a hip blog. Boosted my hits enough to make me feel like Mark Shea for a day as well . . . gotta watch the ol' ego. ;-) I must say that I got a good chuckle at Pinchas' sarcastic post this morning:

Passion Grosses More than $117,538,000 in Opening Days

Boy, we really showed Gibson. I bet he is really sorry he locked horns with Abe Foxman. Never again will anyone cross paths with the Jewish people. Our strength is simply daunting.

Very pleased as well to see a good Catholic film like Return of the King sweep the oscars, and receive the recognition and appreciation it rightfully deserves. Well done, Peter Jackson and company. After nearly a decade of work on this trilogy, y'all deserve it.

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