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House of God

If you were a medieval Jew in Colmar, a lovely town in the Alsace region of north-eastern France, you knew you might be attacked and robbed at any moment. You were an easy target, because you lived among your co-religionists in just one area of town – mostly on a single street, la rue des Juifs – and because you were devoted to your faith and its practices and dressed accordingly. You had nowhere to hide.

But you could hide your valuables, which is what one Jewish family did, creating what amounts to a safe deposit box: a terracotta pot containing their treasures placed in a hole in the wall of the house, then plastered over. However, some calamity caused them to leave their treasures, only to be discovered in 1863 right where they left them – nearly 400 years later.

As the catalog for “The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy,” a new show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum Cloisters, explains, the exhibit “revives the memory of a once-thriving Jewish community that was scapegoated and put to death when the Plague struck the region with devastating ferocity in 1348–49.”

The “discoverers” of the cache, which includes “silver coins, silver table ware, and gold and silver jewelry including elaborate belt buckles and fifteen silver rings,” probably used a finders-keepers ethos, selling some portion of what they uncovered. What has survived to be seen and loved by future generations is mostly at the Musée de Cluny in Paris, also known as the National Museum of the Middle Ages, which is a source, via loan to the MET, of several of the objects at the Cloisters.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

The Shire and the Amazon

I’ve been hiking West of Oxford this past week – a late vacation after a busy summer – passing through some of the villages where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis walked together. Tolkien had this landscape partly in mind in creating the Shire. I even had a pint and a bacon-and-cranberry sandwich Saturday at Moreton-in-Marsh’s The Bell Inn, Tolkien’s model for “The Prancing Pony” in Lord of the Rings – where the hobbits first meet Aragorn, later the true King of Gondor.

All quite beautiful and uplifting in ways it would be difficult to express unless you had the imagination of Tolkien himself. The region is both the same and – no doubt – quite different than when he and Lewis walked here.

There are tourists and television now. (We accidentally stumbled into the church in Blockley, the village where the Fr. Brown TV detective series – a theologically neutered version of Chesterton’s Fr. Brown – was filmed.) Still, the hills and fields, scattered farms and stone towns, take you out into a different world.

The exact nature of that world often gets lost in our current environmental debates. We have great power over nature now. The large strides in pure science and the near-miraculous developments in technology – especially medicine – are great blessings, to be sure, but also great challenges.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

“The Divine Plan”: a Review

In 1970, the Russian dissident Andrei Amalrik published a short book, Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? Another, more famous refusenik, Natan Sharansky, has said that when he was in a Soviet prison in 1984 and Amalrik’s prediction came up during his interrogation, his KGB guards laughed: “Amalrik is long dead, but we are still very much present!” Amalrik had died in 1980.

Well, as history would show, Amalrik was wrong, though only by a few years. He had believed the Soviet bureaucracy with its brutality, the USSR’s ethnic diversity, its economic stagnation and simmering social unrest would be the death of the Beast. All true. And he thought a war with China was imminent and would devastate Russia. That was wrong, of course, but substitute Afghanistan for China, and he looks more prescient.

Like most dissidents, Amalrik was frustrated by the Western policy of détente. Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter had all met with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to little avail, and all liberty-loving Russians (and their millions of allies behind the Iron Curtain) knew there could never be freedom of speech or religion or in economic activity as long as communism ruled.

Amalrik died just eight days after Ronald Reagan was elected as America’s 40th president, so he didn’t live to see how an alliance between Reagan and Pope John Paul II would become the force – joined to the others Amalrik had identified – that would lead to the Soviet Union’s collapse.

The story of that alliance is told superbly in Robert Orlando’s new documentary, The Divine Plan: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Dramatic End of the Cold War.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s review at The Catholic Thing . . .

From “Home-Alone America” to “Primal Screams”: in 15 Years or Less

This week, Templeton Press is releasing my new book, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics. Because the Faith and Reason Institute is my happy professional home, I’d like to set aside standard book promo, and instead share with TCT’s readers some of the backstory for this new volume.

Seen one way, the work leading up to this book began with a wisecrack. In the 1980s, right after graduating from college with majors in philosophy and government, I was hired as an assistant editor at The Public Interest magazine in New York. Its fabled editor was Irving Kristol, a formidable intellectual and wit with a first-rate, small-“c,” catholic mind. (He was also something of an imp – as his self-description of “neo-orthodox, non-observant Jew” might suggest.)

One day, as we were all sitting in the tiny smoke-filled office on East 53rd Street, Irving looked up from his newspaper and remarked, “One of the funniest things about the twentieth century is that if you were to read all of its documents and ask which one was the most prophetic about the world to come, it would be Humanae Vitae.”

The thought was unexpected and contrarian, as Irving’s bon mots usually were. The staff, myself included, duly laughed. But that heretical notion stuck. This was the first time I remember thinking that there might be something to the argument that the sexual revolution was upending the world – and that it wasn’t only the Catholic Church that could see it.

Click here to read the rest of Mrs. Eberstadt’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

His Way

On December 12, 2012, I had a tiny epiphany, namely, that as long as I live, there will never again be a day when the abbreviated date will be the same repeated numbers, e.g. 12/12/12, which was the last such date until the start of the 22ndcentury, at which point: 01/01/01 – January the 1st, 2101. I can hardly wait.

Science will be of no help in that regard – my waiting, I mean – nor would I choose to hang around if it were. Maybe I’d be looking forward to 01/01/01 as my 154thyear approached. Indeed, that numeric confluence might well be the only thing on the horizon to make me smile. A nurse would whisper in my ear: Happy New Year.  But the slog to 02/02/02 and so on is too much to contemplate.

All my life, I’ve been a good athlete. Good, I say, not great. But from about my 27thyear (there was a period between finishing college through age 26 when I had “gone to seed”), I’ve worked hard at being fit and – my passion for wine, beer, spirits, and chocolate notwithstanding – eating healthfully.

My wife has been my greatest teacher in the matter of nutrition, even if she’s sometimes been guilty of loving me with chocolate. (She’d argue that chocolate is not unhealthful in moderation. Of course, moderation’s my problem.) And when I write stretched out on the bed, as I began to do several years ago in the midst of some health crises, she herds me back into my home office, and mandates periodic standing up, moving around, and the drinking of glasses of water, and she accompanies me on walks and visits to the gym – and it shows! In her, anyway.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

A Kindly Light

Yesterday, August 11, was the anniversary of the death of a great Christian leader, apologist, poet, historian, homilist, controversialist, and soon to be saint (October 13), Cardinal John Henry Newman.

We’ll carry more about him here in coming weeks, but today I’ll focus on one facet of his genius: his greatness as a Catholic writing in English. Newman was not only brilliant himself. He was involved in the conversion and later vocation of the great Gerard Manley Hopkins. And he opened doors for later English converts such as Robert Hugh Benson, Ronald Knox, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, and even the great G. K. Chesterton – what is sometimes called the English Catholic Literary Revival.

It’s not easy to say why Newman’s writing is so great.  Books such as The Idea of the University, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, and A Grammar of Assent, make incisive arguments, of course, and major contributions to Catholicism on multiple fronts. Newman’s views on liberal learning, doctrine, conscience, etc., are inexhaustible sources of clear and deep thinking on crucial questions.

But there’s a certain spirit to Newman that encompasses all the elaborations of thought.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Social “Science” at the JPII Institute

The Catholic world was surprised – though not entirely so – last week when the previously announced “refounding” of the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and the Family resulted in the firing of two prominent longtime professors and the “suspension” – for the time being, we may hope – of all faculty. All this in service of what was reported as Pope Francis’ intention to “broaden its academic curriculum, from a focus on the theology of marriage and the family to an approach that will also include the study of the family from the perspective of the social sciences.”

We’ve encountered this “social science” approach repeatedly in recent years: in the Working Documents of the two Synods on the Family, the Synod on Youth, and now the Synod on the Amazon. Third-order sociological analysis was prominent, while there was a relative lack of the distinctive elements that the Church brings to the world – systematic theology, authoritative moral reflection, and long experience of all things human.

In the latest episode, the intentions are clearer than ever. Msgr. Livio Melina (professor of moral theology and president of the Institute for over a decade) was fired – the official explanation: the chair in moral theology was being eliminated. That elimination already speaks volumes, as does the lame, circular explanation: his chair was being eliminated so there was no further need for him at the Institute.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

The Legend of Homer Smith

In celebration of the first century of motion pictures, the Vatican published a 1995 list of what somebody there considered the top 45 films of all time: fifteen each in the categories of religion, values, and art. Although broadly international in flavor, the list includes a dozen or so American films, although not some of the best actually Catholic films made in the U.S. Not Song of Bernadette, Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, or the biggest miss of all: Lilies of the Field, a film worthy of inclusion in each of those categories.

Lilies is best known, of course, as the breakout movie for Sidney Poitier, who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1964. Director Ralph Nelson’s film was also nominated in five other categories, including Best Picture – and might well have won the top prize were it not for Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones, which was nominated for ten Oscars and won four. (Albert Finney would have won that best-actor award as Tom Jones had he not been up against Poitier’s Homer Smith.)

Lilies was based upon the 1962 novella of the same name by William E. Barrett, which differs in some ways from the movie, although both are meditations on faith and freedom; about how God can use us humans to achieve ends we never intended to pursue.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

 

The Amazon Synod That Could Have Been

On Friday, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller – former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – published a second commentary on the Synod for the Amazon, to be held in Rome this October. It follows an earlier critique of his, both of them blistering about the radical nature of what is largely a German “paradigm,” not only for the rainforests of South America, but for the whole Church.

The good Cardinal begins by noting something that has been widely reported but not sufficiently appreciated: the Church in Germany lost more than 216,000 members in 2018, on top of similar departures in past years. The response to this crisis has not been – as happened during similar periods of trouble in the Church (i.e., in the Counter-Reformation) – to re-commit to preaching the Gospel even more forcefully. Instead, the German Church has chosen to “secularize” by accepting many things in our postmodern, post-truth world that have never been part of Catholicism.

The result was predictable. Many people concluded that they didn’t really need even this secularized, supposedly more attractive, German Church, since they could already get most of what it was pushing without bothering about Mass, Confession, Communion, monogamy, self-denial, charity, etc.

Even worse, many German Catholics now believe that the Church is not the Mystical Body of Christ, a communion that persists through time, chosen by God, as He had earlier chosen the Jewish people, to carry out his “self-revelation.”

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Da Vinci’s Saint Jerome

My wife and I are museum rats. We spend a lot of time in museums when we travel and a lot when we stay at home – home being the New York City metro area. New York City itself is home to about seventy art museums (plus many others devoted to science and industry), and the greatest of these is the venerable MET: the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue between 80thand 84thStreets.

The MET is one of the largest museums on earth and the third most-visited (after the Louvre in Paris and Beijing’s National Museum of China) – 6,953,927 visitors last year to be exact, of which those 27 must be the Miners. Our MET membership pays wonderful dividends.

“Museum” comes from the Greek, mouseion the seat of the Muses – and nearly every museum I’ve ever visited has been an inspiration. A great museum is a close cousin of a great cathedral, with similar echoing footfalls and hushed voices. Your eyes are pulled to every compass point, and there are occasions of awe.

The MET collection includes 2,000,000 works of art, so it would take you something like a century to see everything, although, even then, you’d probably be rushing too much through each daily visit.

From the standpoint of The Catholic Thing, the MET offers a treasure of 406,000 hi-res digital images of works in its collections – 1,700 from its holdings of European paintings – not a few of which have illustrated our columns over the last decade.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .