Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

"Very fun." -- J. Bottum, Editor, FIRST THINGS

"Too modest" -- Elinor Dashwood

"Perhaps the wisest man on the Web" -- Henry Dieterich

"Hat tip: me (but really Cacciaguida)" -- Diana Feygin, Editor, THE YALE FREE PRESS

"You are my sire. You give me confidence to speak. You raise my heart so high that I am no more I." -- Dante

"Fabulous!"-- Warlock D.J. Prod of Didsbury

Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007
OK, here's what the recent DIE WALKÜRE posts have been about: I saw the Washington Opera's new production last week, and here is my review.

Anja Kampe, DC's Sieglinde:

Ist es der Blick
der blühenden Frau,
den dort haftend
sie hinter sich liess,
als aus dem Saal sie schied?

I like "traditional" productions (I'm a last-ditch, so-sue-me defender of the Met's). Nonetheless, I found director Francesca Zambello's "American" production to be very well thought out, and for the most part very effective.

Bad news first: the Ride of the Valkyries, featuring scrim-projected images of airplanes and paratroopers, misfired badly. If an audience laughs through the Ride, something's wrong. Lesson learned: Apocalypse Now is Apocalypse Now, and DIE WALKÜRE is DIE WALKÜRE. Movin' on.

Everything else, though, really really worked. Putting Hunding's hut in backwoods Appalachia was fine, given the premise of "an American RING." I liked the idea that Siegmund collapses outside the hut rather than in: after "Hunding will ich erwarten," the Chekhovian "fourth wall" disappears into the flyspace, and Siegmund is admitted inside.

The CEO's office setting of the first part of Act II also appealed to me more than I thought it would (though the gimmick of Fricka being "buzzed in" via a phone call taken by Brunnhilde was just that -- gimmicky.) I loved the passive-aggressive newspaper-reading indulged in by Wotan and Fricka at various points.

The "underneath the highway" setting for the second half of Act II has drawn criticism, but, apart from the fact that it required an otherwise-unnecessary scene change (after all, part of the drama of Act II as conceived is that these incredibly pivotal events all take place in one mountain pass), I was grabbed by the idea that Brünnhilde's reorientation of values, and the end of the road for both Siegmund and Hunding, should all take place amid symbols of long roads, unforeseen exits, and mysterious journeys.

As for Act III, once the less-said-the-better Ride was over, what's not to like? With Alan Held as Wotan, towering like an unsteady skyscraper in his fur-collared coat, and sounding godlike indeed, and with Linda Watson's Brünnhilde fully up to the task (even if not erasing memories of Nilsson), it was vocally and dramatically solid.

And then Wotan climbs the tower decked with photos of dead heroes, invokes Loge, points to a corner, and BOOM -- fire! Not steam-jets and orange light-gels, but a framework of gas-jets that starts in the corner Wotan points to and slowly and methodically spreads around the stage. Real fire! (Backed up by much orange flickering on the rear-stage screen.)

In an age in which fireplaces can be started by "remotes" just as televisions can, I guess Wagnerian directors are liberated from the need for matches or lighters. (Whether they are likewise liberated from insurance bills is something I couldn't help wondering.)

Placido Domingo had a cold, but the only way you'd know it was that he was fudging his consonants towards the end of Act I; and of course, "So blühe den Wälsungen Blut" was perfunctory. Other than that, he sounded fine throughout. Elizabeth Bishop was an excellent Fricka.

But none of the above is the main point. The main point is Anja Kampe as Sieglinde. Try to imagine a Sieglinde with the looks of a young Silja and the sound of a young Crespin, and you'll start to get the picture.

She's tiny, yet at the end of a long night she sang out a "Hehrstes Wunder" with power to match Watson's, and a much more crystalline sound. At "Siegmund, so nenn'ich dich," she drew the first syllable out into a fermata (with dear old Heinz Fricke accommodating her in the pit). It was a wonderful moment: not only was Sieglinde joyful, but so, clearly, was Anja. Like the warhorse in Job, she was pawing in the valley and rejoicing in her strength. And we all rejoiced with her.

Thanks for you prayers. Matter successfully resolved.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Tomorrow (Wed. April 25), for a special intention, your prayers would be appreciated to St. Thomas More, and to St. Mark, whose feast it will be.

Sunday, April 22, 2007
Doch nanntest du Wolfe den Vater?


Ein Wolf war er feigen Füchsen!
Doch dem so stolz
strahlte das Auge,
wie, Herrliche, hehr dir es strahlt,
der war: - Wälse genannt!

-- Wagner, DIE WALKÜRE, Act I

Turkey drawing closer to the EU: Lots of people thought it would speed up the Islamization of Europe. But who knew Europe would speed up the Islamization of Turkey??

Saturday, April 21, 2007
Feast of St. Anselm of Canterbury

Catholic Exchange saint-of-the-day bio

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry

Friday, April 20, 2007

Wednesday, April 18, 2007
WOTAN: If I say it aloud, do I not then let go of the grip sustaining my will?

BRÜNNHILDE: You are speaking to Wotan's will when you tell me what your will is: who am I, if I am not your will?

WOTAN: What I tell no one in words, let it remain forever unspoken. I take counsel with myself when I speak to you.

-- Wagner, DIE WALKÜRE, Act II

Sunday, April 15, 2007
Happy Birthday!

AP reports:
Benedict appears to carry his years well. He walks briskly, stands through long public ceremonies, and his first book written as pontiff goes on sale Monday in bookstores.

His stamina seems to be surviving his rigorous, packed schedules. On Wednesday, he will receive the new U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, at the Vatican, and at the weekend he will make an overnight pilgrimage to northern Italy. In early May, he will travel to Brazil, where the traditionally strong Catholic Church is losing some faithful to Protestant evangelical churches.

Reuters adds:

Benedict, an accomplished pianist, will celebrate his birthday with a lunch with cardinals, followed by a concert of Mozart and Dvorak in his honor at the Vatican.

"Music for my brother is the expression of joy and happiness, of his gratitude to God for the beauty of life," his older brother Georg Ratzinger, long-time music director at Regensburg cathedral, said in a recorded TV interview to be broadcast on Monday.

AP separately notes:
"Many Americans were surprised some happily, some disappointed that he did not turn into the pit bull of dogma. He is taking a very pastoral approach, and I think people resonate very positively with that."

Yet America's turn may be coming. At the top of the list is a looming generational shift among the nation's bishops, whose decisions at the local level greatly affect Catholics in the pews and can carry national weight. For instance, church leaders recently closed parishes in Boston and New York, while the St. Louis archbishop has clashed with a heavily Polish parish over control of its assets.

Key appointments are expected in New York, Baltimore and Detroit, where cardinals have reached retirement age 75. And retirements or appointments are likely in at least seven other dioceses and archdioceses: Seattle; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Pittsburgh; New Orleans; Louisville, Ky.; Omaha, Neb.; and Mobile, Ala.

Then there is the potential ripple effect if some bishops move to larger cities, then they too must be replaced.

Also, here is a Vatican "webform" where you can send the Holy Father a birthday greeting! (Hat-tips: Christopher Blosser and The Curt Jester.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007
Anselm to you, bud!

The following began underneath my post last week entitled "Meanwhile, over in the C. of E." I'm turning it into a separate post here because of its importance.

Richard Vigilante says:

Josef Ratzinger, in Introduction to Christianity, says almost the same thing about the Anselm argument, especially insofar as it appears to suggest that the Father demanded the sacrifice of His Son as the price of our redemption. He writes of this "'satisfaction theory'" That "Even in its classical form it is not devoid of one-sidedness, but when considered in the vulgarized form that has to a great extent shaped the general unconsciousness, it looks cruelly mechanical and less and less feasible..."

Then after conceding that Anselm's argument can be read in ways that make it genuinely useful and enlightening and true to scripture, JR comments that despite any such virtues "the perfectly logical divine-cum-human legal system erected by Anselm distorts the perspectives and with its rigid logic can make the image of God appear in a sinister light."

Of course Introduction to Christianity is a work of the JR's youth, but he reissued it in 2000 with a new preface. And of course Ratzinger is a great fan of Guardini's. And Guardini in The Lord maintains the radical contingency of the Crucifixion, i.e. not merely that because of his omnipotence God could have saved us however he chose, but that even assuming the Incarnation, the crucifixion was not God's intent.

Christ began his mission, argues Guardini, by proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand and we must take him at his word, i.e, that his original intent was not to die but to establish his Kingdom by being accepted first by the Jews and then by all mankind, which acceptance would have triggered the renewal we now look for after the General Judgment.

The Crucifixion, in this view, was man's choice not God's and represents another terrible and consequential rebellion against God's plan. The Resurrection is not plan B, but plan C (The Garden being Plan A).I certainly don't mean to suggest that because Ratzinger likes Guardini and is repulsed by Anselm, that we must all share his views. But it does certainly suggest there is room in the Church for those who find the satisfaction theory as usually presented to be as unsatisfactory as it was innovative.

My reply:

The problem is that, for me, coming originally from a Jewish perspective, the Incarnation would have been, and would be now, utterly unintelligible without the Crucifixion and the satisfaction theory. Either we (mankind) were in such a state that radical divine action was needed, or we weren't, in which case Christ was just a nice preacher for those who like that sort of thing, and His Passion and Crucifixion, while dreadful, were unnecessary and unasked-for, and therefore not things for which my gratitude is necessarily due.

I admit to having nodded sheepishly while reading authors who say that the slightest sacrifice by Christ (a hangnail, say) would have been enough to redeem us. I guess I must say that right now, I don't find that view credible.

I would also note that if the Crucifixion is even a little bit contingent (never mind "radically"), then the guilt of those who brought it about is undeniable. With obvious consequences, no matter how, precisely, one apportions the blame. The better view, I think, is that there is no blame to be apportioned -- with the radical exception of every human person's debt of sin, original and actual. No blame that singles out one person or set of persons, I mean.
"Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles, and
wonders, and signs, which God did by him, in the midst of you, as you also know:
This same being delivered up, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of
God, you by the hands of wicked men have crucified and slain." Acts 2:22-23
(Peter's first homily) (emphasis added)

"Then he said to them: O foolish, and slow of heart to believe in all
things which the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these
things, and so to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the
prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures, the things that were
concerning him." Luke 24:24-27 (road to Emmaus)

"And now, brethren, I know that you did it through ignorance, as did also
your rulers. But those things which God before had shewed by the mouth of all
the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.
Be penitent,
therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. That when the
times of refreshment shall come from the presence of the Lord, and he shall send
him who hath been preached unto you, Jesus Christ, Whom heaven indeed must
until the times of the restitution of all things, which God hath spoken
by the mouth of his holy prophets, from the beginning of the world." Acts
3:17-21 (Peter's second homily) (emphasis added)
(All quotations from Douay-Rheims.)

Guardini in The Lord maintains the radical contingency of the Crucificxion, i.e. not merely that because of his omnipotence God could have saved us however he chose

How does Guardini answer Anselm's argument that this would have violated God's justice, just as not saving us at all would have violated His mercy?

proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand

Of course it was, and is: its gates were due to be opened by His death, and so they were, and are.

not to die but to establish his Kingdom by being accepted first by the Jews

Why do we acquiesce so easily in the generalization that "the Jews" did not accept Christ? Sure, there was a "divorce" between the Church and the Synagogue, and in the division of property, the Synagogue got to keep the word "Jews," no doubt b/c so many Gentiles had by that time come into the Church.

But, as Fr. Neuhaus pointed out in reviewing a book by -- that NR Orthodox Jewish guy, you know who I mean* -- the available evidence (which admittedly is thin) points to a huge decline in Jewish population between the end of the 1st century AD and the heyday of the Talmudic era. Of course many were killed in the war of 68-70 AD, and later, in the Bar Kochba revolt, but that many? A more likely explanation for the numbers is that the number of Jews who became Christians (and thus ceased to count towards the total number of Jews, according to rabbinic record-keeping) is far greater than we generally assume.

(*Your blogger means David Klinghoffer. The Neuhaus essay I'm referring to is here.)

P.S. I've added Rich's blog, A Christian Democracy, to my blogroll, under Catholic Blogs. Long overdue: sorry.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A Pope Who Gets It

By Micah Halpern | April 9, 2007

It has been confirmed by the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on behalf of the fifteen British sailors and marines taken captive by Iran. Writing this letter to Iran's Muslim leader was a very bold move on the part of the world's leading Catholic.

Evil incarnate is the way the Muslim world views the Catholic Pope. The Muslim world in general and Iran specifically have deemed the Pope the most dangerous leader on our planet. The Western world pales in comparison. The United States is a mere trifling annoyance. Israel is a speck on the Muslim hatred meter when compared to the Catholic Pope.

The Pope is a threat to Islam
.The rest.

Sunday, April 08, 2007
Exultet! (Here is the text in English and Latin.)

Went to the Vigil in the Tridentine rite last night. According to the Missal, the Easter Vigil was restored by Pope Piux XII: he made it optional in 1951, and mandatory (in the sense that parishes must offer it, not that all must attend it!) in 1956.

Much of it would be familiar to those who know the Easter Vigil according to the Mass of Paul VI. It has the same major parts: lighting of the Easter candle (outside, with procession), the Exultet, Old Testament readings, baptisms, and then the Mass proper.

Some differences:

1. The OT readings are labelled "Prophetic," are four in number (another old missal that I have shows eight readings in this part of the liturgy, but this a 1943 edition and presumably does not reflect the restorative work of Pius XII; it does not use the term "Easter Vigil," for one thing: it calls this liturgy only "Holy Saturday," and the headnote says that an Easter Virgil existed here "originally"), and are all Old Testament. They do not take the place of the Epistle and Gospel: these (Col. 3:1-4 and Matt. 28-1-7) come later, during the Mass. In the N.O., there are seven readings in the early part of the liturgy -- but usually some are skipped -- and these include one of the Gospel resurrection narratives; the Mass is said later without further Bible readings.

2. The readings are in Latin, of course, and chanted. (Hey, tired of translation politics? No translation -- no translation politics!) Two menorah-like candelabras make a little hallway of light within which the deacon can read in the still-dark church.

3. There was a baptism. The difference here is that it was done discreetly at the font in a room at the back of the chapel, and was not an occasion for flash photography, instant family reunions, and lame jokes by the priest about the behavior of the baby. These things are not technically required in the new rite, but you'd never know that from observed practice.

4. There is an intricate blessing of the baptismal water in the old rite. It involves gestures such as the priest blowing on the water so as to make a division in it, recalling the parting of the Red Sea. At another point he blows on it again so as to trace the Greek letter psi. Why psi, I don't know. All this was dropped in the Novus Ordo, because, I presume, it was just too physical, too bodily, and didn't fit the crypto-gnostic mindset of the late '60s, when we were all becoming so much more "spiritual" (I'm sure you remember that.)

However -- and without running to the other end and dismissing the importance of liturgical issues -- finally it's the Mass, not any particular liturgy, that's the "sum and center of the Christian life," so wherever (old or new) and whenever (Vigil or daytime) you caught your Easter Mass, I wish you a very happy Easter.

Thursday, April 05, 2007
Holy Thursday at the Indult Chapel: The news is that at the Reposition, in the chapel's new wing, the candles and incense set off the smoke detectors.

If this happens every year, then good Tridentine logic would call for integrating it into the liturgy: Dum reposat Sacramentum sacerdos, resonat alarum ignis....

Meanwhile, over in the C. of E., the Very Rev. Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Alban's -- last in the news not getting promoted to a bishopric b/c his proclaimed homosexuality is, for the time being, a bar to promotion above the Dean level in the mother church of Anglicanism -- says (as paraphrased by the Telegraph) that "traditional teaching about the Crucifixion was 'repulsive' and made God seem like a 'psychopath'."

Which makes one wonder, first, whether he has ever read St. Anselm, or heard of him from anyone who did; and second, what he is doing in a church that still, at least nominally, adheres to that "repulsive" teaching -- oh, right. D'oh.
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For, seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world, by wisdom, knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of our preaching, to save them that believe.

For both the Jews require signs: and the Greeks seek after wisdom. But we preach Christ crucified: unto the Jews indeed a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness: But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men: and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

-- 1 Cor. 1:20-25

Giuiliani Defends Abortion Stance in S.C. Here, "S.C." happens to stand for South Carolina, but it's clear from the linked item that, when it counts, it would apply to "Supreme Court" too.

This, after a gantlet of conservative columnists have told him (under cover of telling us) that if he only gave a little, just came out against partial-birth abortion, just criticized overreaching judges, he'd be OK. Until this, his worst quotes on abortion were from six years ago or more. Now, they're from yesterday. And so's he, imo.

I know he has cited Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas as the type of S.Ct. Justices he would appoint. Frankly, his credibility on this point, not glowing to begin with, just went ffftt.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

Sunday, April 01, 2007
The crypto-Gnostic translation they use at Mass

Did you notice too? The translation of Philippians, as used in the second reading of today's Mass, tells us that us that Christ, though He was God, was "found human in appearance"? (Phil. 2:8; emphasis added)

That's from the "Revised New American Bible," which, thank God, is not available for purchase, but which for our sins is used at Mass in the U.S. (Missal of Paul VI, who is not to be blamed for this).

The Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (a.k.a. The Ignatius Bible, though it is also available from Scepter Publishers) has "being found in human form." This takes His humanness far deeper than "appearance." The Douay, which is transparent for the Old Vulgate, says "in habit". Arguably this takes His humanness only to a shallow level -- clothes, vestments -- but on reflection, a "habit," in the long-ago Cathoic sense (remember the nuns?), connotes identity, not just -- well, not just "appearance."

"Appearance," eh? What have we got here: Gnosticism? Monophysitism?