Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I love America

I live in Europe… and I love America.

What do you love in America? Europe, of course.

Then you love Europe, where you live. No way, I detest it.

And what do you detest in it? America, of course.

You are teasing us. Well, yes and no: I wanted to signal the ambiguity of the names by way of which we advance our claims.

The fact is that there are two Europes in America fighting each other:

an older one – made of Protestant Catholic and Jews – that found the way of flourishing in America, by an ongoing struggle to make her worth weigh more than her defects;

a newer one, that sprung from the older one with the claim to correct her defects once and for all, by exchanging reliance on faith with that on the rule of law: church with the state.

Over here, one of them Europes hates America; but was ready to love her again when Obama was elected, and showed her love by an unwarranted peace prize, declaring in this way: now you are like us.

Which is like which? One feeds on the other.

So, this America beloved by this Europe hates in herself the other Europe, hated in turn by this Europe as America, i.e. the other America.

It might be useful at this point to speak of Europe1 and Europe2, and in the same way of America1 and America2. This would clarify things. But things have to be kept muddy, because it is in the unspecified name of Europe and of America that claims are made to represent the overall thing.

Barak Obama, for instance, made some ambitious claims of wanting to rejuvenate America, in a way, he made it sound, to unify the two Europes in her.

The appearance, however, didn't last long.

Hey, with all this you haven't clearly come out in the open and declared which Europe or America you are for. And most of all you haven't told us yet why you started by saying that you love America.

It's clear, to make a claim. In Europe, for all the political squabbles, the fight is rather dormant. In America, it appears still quite lively. Here you have what I like in America, that makes America different from Europe. With this, if you don't see in favor of what or whom I am making the claim, there is nothing I can do about it.


P.S. All this was prompted by the reading of Marc Steyn's article on which the LD called our attention. If you want, you can blame him.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A 'Must Read' from Mark Steyn

Neither the first, nor, we hope, the last.

"Keeping You Safe"

From Mark Steyn


NRO (that's National Review Online)

Money Quote:

[E]ven without launching a single missile, Iran will at a stroke have transformed much of the map — and not just in the Middle East, where the Sunni dictatorships face a choice between an unsought nuclear arms race and a future as Iranian client states. In Eastern Europe, a nuclear Iran will vastly advance Russia’s plans for a de facto reconstitution of its old empire: In an unstable world, Putin will offer himself as the protection racket you can rely on. And you’d be surprised how far west “Eastern” Europe extends: Moscow’s strategic view is of a continent not only energy-dependent on Russia but also security-dependent. And, when every European city is within range of Tehran and other psycho states, there’ll be plenty of takers for that when the alternative is an effete and feckless Washington.

A Blessed 1st Sunday of Lent to one and all:


Thursday, February 18, 2010

“Host” and “guest”

I kept on thinking on the question raised by Fr. Zuhsldorf about the right translation of the cumsubstantialem Patri of the Latin creed: whether it is better "one in being with the Father" or "consubstantial with the Father".

Now, from what I understand the question has been settled, by those who have authority to do it, in favor of the second option. If nothing else, this has the advantage of being closer to the Latin creed previously in liturgical use.

This granted, and convinced as I am that there is no substantial difference in the meaning of the two formulas, there remains, as a good topic for a blog salon, the question why Fr. Zuhsldorf should find the first one offensive.

A lady expert in translation (actually my wife) gave me the cue.

Schleirmacher, among other things translator of Plato into German at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, remarked that in translating one has to make a choice: between giving prevalence to the "host language", so to make the translation sound as smooth as possible, or to the "guest language", which can make the translation sound awkward.

In our case, consubstantial is certainly faithful to the Latin "guest", but not so familiar to the English "host". One in being might be more consonant to this last.

Even too consonant, if we share Fr. Zuhlsdorf's reaction, suspicious of English as metaphysical language: its lack of precision could lead to confusion, nay, confusion is already there!

In the way of conclusion, a maxim: he who wants to be confused, will certainly succeed in finding something to confuse him.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Translating common sense

I was meditating a political post, prompted by the recurrence in Sarah Palin's speeches of the expression common sense, after finding it again in an article by a brilliant Italian journalist on Pope Benedict's speech to the Pontifical Academy for Life, where he proposed it to translate the more traditional expression natural moral law, itself a translation of the simpler lex naturalis, which, people used to know, implies a moral law.

Ah, misery and splendor of translation: traduttore traditore, is a common Italian pun.

It is not simply that what is natural and hence commonsensical for one, isn't so for another: it is worse; we don't mean the same thing by "natural" and "commonsensical".

And though, don't we know what common sense means? In a way we do, because the expression belongs to the common repertoire that is for us our language: it means, because we so use it, an appeal to our audience, an audience we'd like to be as wide as possible.

So, while I was pondering such thoughts, I ran into a large diatribe launched by Father Zuhlsdorf about the translation of the creed, from Latin into English, specifically where it says of the only-begotten son of God that He is… well, what He is, i.e. "one in being with the Father", or "consubstantial with the Father".

Father Zuhlsdorf made a substantial question of the choice between these translations of the Latin consubstantialem Patri. Meaning with this that… – hoops, here I am: needing to translate substantial. If I need to do so, can it then be a third alternative that of translating the original Latin expression with "of the same substance"?

It looks like we know, whichever translation we choose, what is a "substance"; or perhaps that we know what is the ousia contained in the original Greek homoousios , that consubstantialis translates into Latin.

Knowing as a matter of course how all these expressions translate from one language to another, it follows that we should be equally able to evaluate the correctness of each one of them!

And that would make a difference in what we hold as true, by way of which we define our Catholic identity!

Perusing the great number of comments provoked by Father Zuhlsdorf, I run into one that seems to be coming from palinian common sense. I copy it just as I found it:

I'm sorry to play devil's advocate here, but I sort of find it hard to believe that many Catholics will "stop and think" when they come across the word consubstantial. as a poorly catechized Catholic, I certainly didn't "stop and think" about anything that I didn't understand. do you think most Catholics without a solid faith foundation understand the reference to the bloodless sacrifice of Melchezidek? or what precisely "with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father" means? or how about even "hallowed be thy name". no, most simply recite it as a script. "Oh, this is when we say the Our Father". I once had a non-Catholic friend come to Mass and asked another Catholic about the order of things and finally this person said "OK and then we sing the Holy, Holy, Holy". When the non-Catholic asked why, the answer was, "i don't know, that's just when we do it." Similar responses to why the bells, why the incense, etc. why stand for the Gospel? I really don't think that simply changing the language is going to get people to stop and contemplate without explicit urging from their shepherds. in fact, I would imagine that most people who are Mass-going regulars who are confused on the issue would simply think "oh, consubstantial means 'one in being'". I'm not saying we're incapable, I'm just saying that I don't think the typical person who isn't grounded in the faith is going to step up and investigate without good solid homilies and catechesis.
Just a few comments. The Mass-going regulars might not be sufficiently grounded in the faith to be able to sort out what all the things referred to by lux_perpetua mean. But they might be sufficiently attuned to common sense to know what natural
moral law requires - and might perceive that faith nurtures this natural understanding of theirs.

I am sorry. I disagree with Father Zuhlsdorf. Word by word translations, be it "one in being" or "consubstantial", are always betrayals of the original meaning.

The correctness of the meaning comes from the overall translation of the liturgical action, the purpose f which is to communicate to us who Christ is (which is to say, communicate His being to us), and why it makes sense to say that as the Son he is other than the Father, and that at the same time they are not other, being with the Holy Spirit the same and one God.

Does it sound as a riddle? Well, in a way that's what it is: the riddle of life, which we humans sense in the experience we make in common, of being one and many, diabolically torn by hatred or united by love in the Deus qui est caritas.

Liturgy, preaching, catechesis, are with the example of any saintly man given in order to introduce us to such common sense.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Dear Postmaster General: a critique of and a counter-proposal

With regard to the recent agitation for a repeal of the planned philatelic issue honoring Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, has its heart in the right place.

Unfortunately, and as I have argued consistently in these pages, that is not enough by half.

I shall never cease to insist that, when it is possible to make one's point without questioning the motives of those on the other side of an issue, and especially without casting aspersions on the bona fides of those who think differently from us, we have a moral obligation to take care that we do so.

In this spirit, I would offer the following alternative language to that, which appears in the petition to the Postmaster General:

John E. Potter
Postmaster General
475 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20260

Dear General Potter:

We, the undersigned, write to you to express our support for the USPS decision to honor Blessed Theresa of Calcutta with a philatelic issue.

We understand that many of our fellow citizens are concerned that issuing the stamp might violate the principles on which our government is founded, and by which our civil society is ordered, insofar as the issue would honor a religious figure.

With due respect for the right of our fellow citizens to have and to express their opinions, and careful to eschew any suggestion of doubt regarding their good faith, we submit that their concerns in this regard are unfounded and their objections without merit.

The United States Postal Service has a long and distinguished tradition of celebrating humanity's great benefactors with philatelic issues. In the past, the USPS has honored eminent statesemen, soldiers, jurists, churchmen, artists and humanitarians.

Blessed Theresa of Calcutta has been honored by governments for her great work on behalf of the downtrodden, for her indefatigable defence of human dignity and for her ceaseless promotion of human happiness. For her absolute and utterly fearless militancy in the cause of peace in our world, she was made a Nobel laureate.

For the United States Postal Service to renege on plans bestow a posthumous honor on Blessed Theresa because she was animated in her life's work by religious conviction, were inconsistent with the best traditions of the United States Postal Service.
That's how I would have done it.

Psychology is Weird

Alright, eruderrimi lectores, I confess a certain perplexity: the new diagnostic and statistical manual, the DSM, is being prepared for publication.

Most folks familiar with the instrument (not a diagnostic tool. despite the title, and not to be used or really even examined by lay persons, despite its wide availability in leading bookstores) also know that there have been some fairly important revisions of the manual's basic structure through the years.

One of the proposals that caught my attention was that of folding the diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome into that of the general autism spectrum, meaning that there would no longer be a separate diagnosis for Asperger's.

Here's the thing: Asperger's is a disorder, the main symptom of which is extreme social awkwardness. Thing is, there's no cognitive dysfunction associated with AS. On the contrary, people diagnosed with AS are often considerably more intellectually gifted than other people their age.

So, this leads me to wonder: why is being a geek a mental disorder?

On the other hand, why is, say, the basic sexualizing of friendship not a mental disorder?

Serious question.



A sign of grace

I read, in the new website, run by a group of Italian theologians, the following strange statements:

that the Council's constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, declare her to be something like a sacrament, veluti sacramentum, because "without that veluti anybody could have suspected that the Council wanted to impose the Church to the world in her divine transcendence, rather than humbly proposing her as a 'sign' of God's grace revealed in Jesus Christ and to promote her industriousness amidst men as an unassuming 'instrument', aimed to the realization 'of the intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind'".

What's so strange in this statement? you could ask.

Well, the fact is that I don't see the difference, in conceptual terms, between the Church presenting herself (why call it "imposing"?) to the world in her divine transcendence, and her being a sign of God's grace in Jesus Christ (and why this wouldn't be "imposing"?).

Well, I could be asked, don't you see that the author gave to the two things different connotations?

Of course I do, and it is precisely this that makes the statement strange: that to the same thing can be given, according to its verbal expression, a negative or a positive ring.

But it is the same nevertheless. So the difference is only in the author's head. In a way that makes him sound humble and unassuming toward the world, presumptuous and assuming toward the Church's past.

What else has ever wanted the Church to be, I repeat, except a sign to the world of God's grace in Jesus Christ? And the world, doesn't it stand because of it under judgment?

I thought that this is what Saint John's Gospel said.

By way of a hint. I think that all the trouble stemming in particular from the much famed Gaudium et spes (the pastoral constitution on the Church and the modern world) is in that word: world. We have been made to take it as referring to a neutral state of things, about which we don't need to exert our discernment and be judgmental. And we have been made to take it wrong: never, in human experience, there was, is or will be any such neutral state of things.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner!

Over at the redoubtable Fr. Zuhlsdorf's place, there is a great thread going on the ideal dinner party.

I urge you to go there and participate.

Here at the Chronicles, I would propose a variation on the theme, to wit:

A list of 8 living people, experts or public voices on a particular field or area of human life, who, brought together for a weekend house party, would be expressly forbidden to talk about their common subject.


Bill Keller (NYT)
Giuliano Ferrara (Il Foglio)
Sylvie Kauffmann (Le Monde)
Berthold Kohler (Frankfurter Allgemeine zeitung)
James Harding (ToL)
Zhang Yannong (People's Daily)
Valery Ignatenko (Itar-Tass)
Sam Adesua (Nigerian Tribune)

would gather for a weekend in each other's company, during which they would not be allowed to discuss politics. Anything and everything else under the Sun, but no politics.

Any takers?


Monday, February 08, 2010

The rhetoric of freedom

OK, I understand, dear LD.

You want an answer to the second of your quibbles. I delayed, because it is much harder to give. You object to the opportunity of raising the question of discrimination, more suited, you say, to an academic discussion, than to a press conference, where journalists will pick up your words and use them as they like. It is enough, you fear, to discriminate on the use of the word discrimination, to open oneself to the accusation of favoring "discrimination".

You might be right. And I indulged in lingering on the question of how we got there: at the point in which we should expect that that word would be taken the way you fear.

It is a question of rhetoric, you rightly say: knowing how to address one's audience.

Now, ancient theoreticians of rhetoric – which is the same as saying the Socratic philosophers Plato and Aristotle – teach something that is almost common sense, but of which it is always good to be reminded: to have a conversation, or to persuade an audience, it is necessary to find some common ground – tropoi (Greek) or loci communes (Latin) – from which to proceed.

The question is then: what loci communes can Church spokesmen find when addressing an audience of not very sympathetic journalists, more prone on raising scandal about her that anything else (also because, as you suggested in the last post, it sells better).

At stake, in the British equality bill on the background of this discussion, is the freedom of the Church, you say. It's here, perhaps, the common ground we are looking for. Because it is not at stake the freedom of the Church only, but everybody's freedom: the very idea of liberty on which our liberal societies are grounded.

Not easy idea, this of "liberty".

Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his Four Essays on Liberty, distinguished between "freedom from" and "freedom to": i.e. a negative idea of liberty, as freedom from constraint, and a positive idea, that gives to liberty a positive content, the state of things at which we have to aim by liberating ourselves from constraint. Only the first would be compatible with liberal society, the second would tend toward totalitarianism.

I humbly disagree from the eminent theoretician of liberal society, or at least I disagree from his overt formulation of the question. Once we include "freedom from" in a theory of society, we are ipso facto envisaging the whereto of liberty. Let's call it a civil society, in which people feel free to be in conversation, without constraints. And, let me add, there is no conversation without the truth of it.

My disagreement in not as such of great momentum. I only remark it, to point out why and how I see in liberty the common ground for a rhetorically sound approach on the side of the Church to present days' liberal audience.

And this takes me back to the first point, on which I lingered in the previous posts.

The letter of a theory of liberal society, like that of Isaiah Berlin I took as example, overshadowed its spirit, and liberty has come to be understood exclusively as freedom from all constraints: first of all, that of truth, and, with it, the truth of what conversation requires to be effective. The main preoccupation appears that of assuring liberty, in its wholly negative sense, equally to everybody. But in this way equality, no longer warranted by the cultivated capability for good conversation, has to be imposed from on high. Made into indifferent sameness, it enters in contradiction with liberty.

With affection


A Calrification for the HP

I may be reading more subtly than I ought, but if I take the HP's invocation of Kung-Fu-Tsu (that's Confucius for you myopic Eurocentrists) as a gentle reminder, I am moved to revisit the text with which I conclude the original quibbling post, and to offer the following clarification.

I offered the following by way of conclusion:
Saying things like what the excellent bishop of Cardiff said may score you some points in a faculty coffee room debate, but it will also get you murdered in the press, and that last is the only one that counts, if your goal is to protect the rights of the Church and serve the real interests of society.
My point in these lines is most emphatically not to disparage the professoriate as such, nor much less to deny the centrality of the university (properly understood as a privileged place for the life of a community dedicated to free inquiry into the truth) in the Western civilizational project. Indeed, I think Hobbes had it right when he said that those who control the schools control everything (or words to that effect).

Rather, I wish with those lines to convey a rhetorical point, to wit: know your audience, and speak to them. The bishop of Cardiff offered excellent fodder for faculty discussion, and, had he been in a faculty lounge or even a Downing Street smoking room with other prelates, priests and MPs, his point would have been well made. He was, however, speaking at a press conference, to people whose job it is to write news articles and opinion pieces for concerns, the only purpose of which is to sell ad space at the highest possible rates, a purpose they accomplish by increasing circulation, which they accomplish by featuring scandalous and tittilating headlines.

The issue is basically one of rhetoric: it was not the bishop's invention that failed, but his disposition and elocution; he made a valid point, though he made it at the wrong point in the conversation, to the wrong audience and in the wrong terms. However clearly stated his argument might have been in action, it was ill-advised to give it then and there, for there and at that moment the only thing that counted was, well, something else.


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Nothing to quibble

I willingly accept LD's quibbling remarks on my statement about the incorrect use of words by the PC neo-language.

Read this interesting quote from Confucius I found somewhere prefaced to an analogous comment on Rahm Emanuel's fully legitimate use of the word "retarded" (for which he was reproached and had to make public apology because of its political incorrectness):

If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.

It comes from about the 6th century BC, and it seems written for today. That's why I'd like to address to Confucius the question: how do we know which names are correct? Not being possible, I'll try to give myself an answer.

Equality is not sameness. No qualms about that. Let me illustrate it with a mathematical example.

5+2 = 4+3: they are equal, making equally 7, and though they are not the same.

We could give to human beings different numbers, which, raised to infinite, make them equal. Equal, but not the same, because the numbers even so raised remain different. This might be the key to correct naming.

Take away infinity, and you are only left with differences; take away differences, and you are only left with the indifference of infinity. Try to do both at the same time, and you confuse equality with sameness.

It isn't inconceivable: it is enough to invert the operation, and raise numbers to zero. In slightly more vulgar terms: declare things indifferent, and you reduce them to naught. The same as an embryo, according to some. Inconceivable, because contradictory, is wanting to keep on giving names to those who are born.

Names will be then necessarily incorrect. And, as Confucius suggests, affairs won't "be carried on to success".

This for the first quibble of the LD. The second will need another post.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

A Quibble with the HP

That's the Humbly Presumptuous, not the Hewlett-Packard.

Well, two, actually - quibbles, that is:
  1. The problem is not with forcing people to say two unequal things are equal. The problem is with ideologically committed folks in positions of power doing violence to language and forcing us to say that two different things are the same. This happens when one conflates the notions of sameness and equality, or worse, when one replaces the conceptual contents of the latter word with those of the former, but maintains the morphology of the latter, so that "equality" comes to mean always and only "sameness", "equal" means always and only "the same" and so on, and so forth, ad infinitum.
  2. During the presser at the Venerable English College in Rome following the audience with Pope Benedict this past Monday, Bishop Smith of Cardiff made a point similar to the one you made. He said words to the effect that everyone is against unjust discrimination, but not all discrimination is unjust. I reply, "true, sure: we don't give driver's licenses to blind folks, do we? We don't complain that professional sports teams don't give playing contracts to paraplegics, do we?" I could go on with a politically incorrect litany of everyday realities with which we have no moral trouble negotiating but about which you might feel bad laughing - and you would laugh after you read how I presented them, of that be certain, gentle reader. The point is that making such a point is politically worse than useless: it is suicidal. Think of the gigantic, 3-inch, above-the-fold headlines in the Brit press: "Catholic Bishops favor Discrimination!" "Cardiff Bishop Says Some Discrimination Justified!" "Bishop Smith: 'OK to Discriminate against Gays'!" and so on, and so forth, ad nauseam.
In any case, it's not about the merits of this or that act of discrimination: it is about the immunity of the Church from government interference. The civil authority may neither limit the Church's right to speak on matters touching the public weal, nor set the Church's internal agenda. That is the point, and that is what the equality bill would do, and that is just plain wrong. Saying things like what the excellent bishop of Cardiff said may score you some points in a faculty coffee room debate, but it will also get you murdered in the press, and that last is the only one that counts, if your goal is to protect the rights of the Church and serve the real interests of society.

Just sayin'.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

"Does God Exist?": some thoughts for a young reader

Some time ago, one of our readers, a young man, submitted that he does not believe in God.

A sample of the reasoning our reader offers would contain some of the following observations: God is a crutch - a metaphysical security blanket there for us when we are weak and helpless, or feeling so; mankind have so many names and such contradictory notions about God (or the gods), that it is impossible to take any of them seriously; church services are boring, and best when over quickly.

These are only a few of the objections, to each of which I am tempted to reply at length.

I will resist the temptation, because I would like to take the observations, offered in their original form as objections to the idea that there is a God, and show how each might just as easily (at least) be taken to show that God might exist.

I shall do this, and then conclude with some of my own considerations regarding our reader's situation, which he describes as one in which he has many questions and few, if any answers.

With regard to the first objection, I would urge that, granting the supposition, i.e. that many people turn to "God" when feeling weak and helpless, might be indicative of a sort of innate tendency, which may in turn have been put there by the divine creator of mankind. On its own, the fact does not prove anything, and really cannot be taken in isolation. What about expression, "Thank God!" which is a frequent and seemingly natural reaction to unexpected and/or unexpectedly good news? If we take the tendency to invoke the divine in moments when we are beside ourselves with distress and joy, might not a reasonable observer of human nature conclude that there is in man a tendency to invoke the divine in such moments, and would it not be reasonable then to hypothesise that God our creator has placed this tendency in us?

This line of questioning shades perceptibly into that, which is properly a response to the second objction, namely that God's nature is everywhere disputed. Let this statement of fact go unchallenged. That God's nature is everywhere disputed in fact depends on a prior and basic fact: that His existence is everywhere supposed. Might this fact, i.e. that no society of men has ever based itself on the denial of the proposition that God exists, but rather every society of men throughout history has organized and qualified itself precisely in terms of its members' understanding of the divine nature and the way in which they offered divine cult (worship), be taken to suggest that human society as such is an expression of the basic human impetus to be united with the creator?

Thirdly, and most briefly, I agree. Church services are often boring. I confess that I go more often than not out of a sense of duty or obligation. I would ask, however: whence the sense of duty, of obligation? I do not mean the sense of duty or obligation to attend church at the appointed times. I mean to inquire into the origin of the sense of duty as such. Before taking the tedium of church services as evidence of their empiness, one must first offer an adequate account of why so many have gone and continue to go to church, at all.

Now, let me offer one further consideration to our young reader: before you let yourself be discouraged by the multiplicity of questions and the apparent lack or elusiveness of answers, ascertain for yourself that you are asking the right questions, and in the right way.

For example: from the fact that things just seem to be a certain way, that people have certain inclinations, that there are observable and predictable cycles in nature, might one conclude that there is order in the universe?

To be sure, either there is order or there is not. If there is order, then has some power or principle ordained it? In everything we perceive as ordered in the universe, we certainly do not claim to have understood the order until we have arrived at a certain knowledge of the power by which the order is established - and this woudl tend to suggest that the presence of order implies of needs an ordering power.

I submit to you, young friend, that this ordering power - not of this or that thing, but of all things - is what all men call "God".



I read the Pope's speech the LD posted last time. And I also read some press comments on it.

Now, it seems that in the background of the Pope's address to the bishops of England and Wales, inviting them to make their voice heard in the public square, there is the equality bill, in which it is stated the British legislation against discrimination.

Funny, why should the Catholic Church be in favor of discrimination?

Actually, this is one of those cases in which we find ourselves dealing with the neo-language of the Brave New World (if I remember correctly the quote, or was it 1984?): i.e. with a total twisting of the meaning of words.

Question: is discrimination wrong?

Answer: yes, if it is a wrong discrimination.

To discriminate means to be able to judge what is what. So, to be able to discriminate is a good thing: not to take one thing for another.

Why is it then that discrimination has become a bad word? Easy, because the neo-language rests on the assumption that there is nothing to discriminate: that all is equal, and mostly so human beings.

In the neo-language equality is presented absolute as the criterion of justice. And though, it can be so profoundly unjust.

Of course we hold this truth as self-evident, that "all men are created equal". But this means that they are equal in as far as they are all God's creatures, therefore equally endowed with the inalienable rights to "live, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Never to be forgotten. If we discriminate on this regard, we are profoundly unjust.

But human beings are also very different among themselves, starting from that strange reality that makes them "he" or "she", changing according to age. If justice requires to treat them for what they are, it is injustice to treat them equally where they are different.

It would be like the bed of Procustes: the character of Greek mythology known for wanting to make people fit the right measure, given by his bed; so, if they were too long he cut them to fit it, if too short he stretched them.

This is what happens when we don't believe in God anymore, but still hold to the principle of equality.

Consider what happens if we grant to the state unlimited power of legislating:

if by an act of legislation what is different may be declared equal, then what is equal may also be declared different.

It's like a riddle, and I invite you to give the solution, guessing what I am thinking about with the two cases.


Monday, February 01, 2010

Pope to Catholic Bishops of England and Wales: take back the square!

Below, please find the full text of Pope Benedict XVI's ad limina address to the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales (courtesy of the Vatican Radio World News in English Website).

I do not have time to gloss it, but then, it speaks for itself.

Dear Brother Bishops,

I welcome all of you on your ad Limina visit to Rome, where you have come to venerate the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. I thank you for the kind words that Archbishop Vincent Nichols has addressed to me on your behalf, and I offer you my warmest good wishes and prayers for yourselves and all the faithful of England and Wales entrusted to your pastoral care. Your visit to Rome strengthens the bonds of communion between the Catholic community in your country and the Apostolic See, a communion that sustained your people’s faith for centuries, and today provides fresh energies for renewal and evangelization. Even amid the pressures of a secular age, there are many signs of living faith and devotion among the Catholics of England and Wales. I am thinking, for example, of the enthusiasm generated by the visit of the relics of Saint Thérèse, the interest aroused by the prospect of Cardinal Newman’s beatification, and the eagerness of young people to take part in pilgrimages and World Youth Days. On the occasion of my forthcoming Apostolic Visit to Great Britain, I shall be able to witness that faith for myself and, as Successor of Peter, to strengthen and confirm it. During the months of preparation that lie ahead, be sure to encourage the Catholics of England and Wales in their devotion, and assure them that the Pope constantly remembers them in his prayers and holds them in his heart.

Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed. I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth. Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society. In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them: when so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel’s right to be heard?

If the full saving message of Christ is to be presented effectively and convincingly to the world, the Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice. This requires not only you, the Bishops, but also priests, teachers, catechists, writers – in short all who are engaged in the task of communicating the Gospel – to be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit, who guides the whole Church into the truth, gathers her into unity and inspires her with missionary zeal.

Make it your concern, then, to draw on the considerable gifts of the lay faithful in England and Wales and see that they are equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church’s mission. In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free. Cardinal Newman realized this, and he left us an outstanding example of faithfulness to revealed truth by following that “kindly light” wherever it led him, even at considerable personal cost. Great writers and communicators of his stature and integrity are needed in the Church today, and it is my hope that devotion to him will inspire many to follow in his footsteps.

Much attention has rightly been given to Newman’s scholarship and to his extensive writings, but it is important to remember that he saw himself first and foremost as a priest. In this Annus Sacerdotalis, I urge you to hold up to your priests his example of dedication to prayer, pastoral sensitivity towards the needs of his flock, and passion for preaching the Gospel. You yourselves should set a similar example. Be close to your priests, and rekindle their sense of the enormous privilege and joy of standing among the people of God as alter Christus. In Newman’s words, “Christ’s priests have no priesthood but His … what they do, He does; when they baptize, He is baptizing; when they bless, He is blessing” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, VI 242). Indeed, since the priest plays an irreplaceable role in the life of the Church, spare no effort in encouraging priestly vocations and emphasizing to the faithful the true meaning and necessity of the priesthood. Encourage the lay faithful to express their appreciation of the priests who serve them, and to recognize the difficulties they sometimes face on account of their declining numbers and increasing pressures. The support and understanding of the faithful is particularly necessary when parishes have to be merged or Mass times adjusted. Help them to avoid any temptation to view the clergy as mere functionaries but rather to rejoice in the gift of priestly ministry, a gift that can never be taken for granted.

Ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue assume great importance in England and Wales, given the varied demographic profile of the population. As well as encouraging you in your important work in these areas, I would ask you to be generous in implementing the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, so as to assist those groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. I am convinced that, if given a warm and open-hearted welcome, such groups will be a blessing for the entire Church.

With these thoughts, I commend your apostolic ministry to the intercession of Saint David, Saint George and all the saints and martyrs of England and Wales. May Our Lady of Walsingham guide and protect you always. To all of you, and to the priests, religious and lay faithful of your country, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.

From the Vatican, 1 February 2010