Recent News

The Veil

Sometimes you start thinking (or even writing) about something, and it suddenly becomes more complicated than you initially imagined. Ideas tumble; you hope not uncontrollably.

The Veil of Veronica is such a case for me.

As a convert to Catholicism – one whose growth in the faith has come in fits and starts over 43 years – I’ve been both attracted to and repelled by relics. I’ve a bit of the attitude, I suppose, of the Catholic humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam (d. 1536), who wrote of fragments of the True Cross that “if all. . .were collected together, they would appear to form a fair cargo for a merchant ship.” Mind you, Erasmus believed in Christ and probably assumed some of the wooden shards encased in altars or displayed under glass in churches and cathedrals were authentic; he simply doubted that all of them were.

But I’m not a skeptic. For instance, I’ve come to believe the Shroud of Turin is exactly what it’s claimed to be. In the matter of the Veil of Veronica, however, I’m not so sure.

Who was this Veronica? Well, she is alleged to have been an early Christian woman, one among those along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. She knelt to press a towel or cloth (velum in Latin, thus our English word “veil”) to the face of our suffering Savior when He fell beneath the weight of the Cross.

Her name, however, is unlikely to have been Veronica, because that is a portmanteau word formed from the Latin vera, meaning truth, and the Greek eikon, meaning image, which is to say this woman was the bearer of the True Image, the Real Icon, the Veronica.

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

The Once and Future Papacy

So far as we know, Pope Francis is in reasonably good health and will remain head of the Church for some time to come. A bad case of the flu earlier this year – which some feared was COVID-19, quite dangerous for an elderly man with only 1½ lungs – seems just to have marginally slowed him down.

But three books have recently appeared that – if only to get us off our obsessions with viruses, race, riots, toppling statues, and politics – deserve some attention: Russell Shaw’s Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity; Edward Pentin’s The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates; and George Weigel’s The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission. The great virtue of each of them is not to offer simple solutions or predictions. They seek more to understand the current situation and the role that the Church is going to have to play in a world that has, even more than usual, gone mad.

In a concise but rich treatment, Shaw reviews virtually the whole of twentieth-century papal history from St. Pius X through St. John Paul II.  The “crisis of modernity” in his title continues into post-modernity: “In the manner typical of this era of bloodshed and turmoil, modernity did not go quietly, but unquestionably it went. Now we live in a time of transition called ‘postmodern’ – a nondescript word that fills a gap pending the emergence of a term to capture the special character of this new age, whatever that may turn out to be.”

Eight popes – and one might add Leo XIII’s earlier Thomist revival and inauguration of modern Catholic social thought – tried various ways to deal with the crisis, indeed multiple crises, not only in the world but the Church as well.

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

Tissot’s Great Reversion

One of the great pleasures of The Catholic Thing are the images that accompany every column every day: paintings that, as Bob Royal wrote in our inaugural column in 2008, demonstrate “the concrete historical reality of Catholicism. . .the richest cultural tradition in the world.” [Note from RR: The beautiful images in the columns are the skillful work of Mr. Miner.]

And attentive readers will have noticed that no artist’s work has appeared here more often than J.J. Tissot’s – more than 100 times, in fact.

Jacques Joseph Tissot was born in 1836 in Nantes, near the confluence of France’s Erdre and Loire rivers. His father was in the drapery business, his mother designed hats, and young Jacques never wanted to be anything but an artist.

He went off to Paris at 19 and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Among his friends were James McNeil Whistler, the American who painted a rather well-known picture of his mother, and the great French artist Edgar Degas, one of the founders of Impressionism. (Above: James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot by Edgar Degas, c.1867 [The MET, New York].)

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

We’re All on the Frontlines Now

shrewd woman (to whom I happen to be married) recently read me some passages from an old news story about the re-naming of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, given to writers of children’s books: “‘This decision was made in consideration of the fact that Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness,’ the Association for Library Service to Children said in a statement after the unanimous vote.”

The town librarian used to be the enforcer of “community standards” by preventing unsuitable material from falling into adolescent – or anyone’s – hands. And even in demanding good behavior, as per “The Music Man”:

For the civilized world accepts as unforgivable sin
Any talking out loud with any librarian
Such as Marian . . . Madam Librarian.

He/she still is an enforcer, but now – despite talk of “inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness” – pushes Heather Has Two Mommies, proudly defends “drag-queen” story-hours that would make any normal child run screaming, and polices the literature of past, present, and future (certain books never get published for fear of running afoul of her/him).

People talk a lot about “cultural Marxism” now. I don’t know exactly what to make of the expression because during the Cold War some of us actually studied Marxism and its rigid tenets, which serious Marxists regarded as “scientific.” Marx himself would have looked askance at much of what falls under that rubric today.

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

Seattle, Columbus, and Historical Fictions

Chief Seattle, who gave his name to the currently troubled city in the State of Washington, was pure Native American (father Suquamish, mother Duwamish). A mighty warrior, he essentially eliminated the rival Chimakum tribe in a battle on what is now the Quimper Peninsula. Like other native chiefs, he owned slaves. And he was a convert, probably in his fifties, to Roman Catholicism.

I learned about him more than 30 years ago, when I was researching my very first book, 1492 and All That, as controversy was raging about the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the New World. Seattle’s story shows how complex, to say the least, are our individual lives – and how false and disrespectful of those lives it is to use past historical figures in what are manufactured, simple-minded, ideological morality plays.

Native Americans are not supposed to have been violent, like “white men.” Or at least not against other Native Americans, because all those different peoples must have been One Harmonious Anti-White Thing, no?

And his tribe, as “people of color” (which for the moment seems to include Hispanic descendants of Spanish conquistadores), couldn’t have owned slaves or perpetrated “genocide” against another tribe.

And how could such a man, as a successful and mature adult, choose to become, of all things, a Catholic?

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

Further Thoughts on Transgenderism

I’m like Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III: “Just when I thought I was out. . .they pull me back in.”

When I wrote “Lysenko at the Olympics” on March 2nd, I assumed I would not be writing again about the movement to allow male-to-female (MtF) transgender athletes to compete against biological females until at least the 2021 Olympics (I predicted in that column that the 2020 Games would be canceled because of COVID-19), but the Supreme Court has pulled me back in.

On June 15th the Court ruled for the plaintiffs in Bostock v. Clayton County, GA (using here just the name of one of three cases decided together). Here’s the case summary from the Court’s opinion:

In each of these cases, an employer allegedly fired a long-time employee simply for being homosexual or transgender. Clayton County, Georgia, fired Gerald Bostock for conduct “unbecoming” a county employee shortly after he began participating in a gay recreational softball league. Altitude Express fired Donald Zarda days after he mentioned being gay. And R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes fired Aimee Stephens, who presented as a male when she was hired, after she informed her employer that she planned to “live and work full-time as a woman.”

A simple employment dispute, right? Wrong. The Court ruled that “homosexual” and “transgender” are actually sexes, not just sexual preferences, and since Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination based on sex, “gays” and transgender people may not be fired from their jobs if the reason for dismissal has to with their newly defined “sex,” now firmly put into law as equal to (i.e., the same as) heterosexuality. This is despite the fact that nobody really believes such equality was in the minds of those who wrote and approved the original law.

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

Today Is Not That Day

Somewhere in his vast corpus (thanks in advance to any reader who will remind us all precisely where), Chesterton says, in effect: it takes three to fight. Two to disagree and one to try to make peace between them.

He didn’t try to tackle the even greater difficulty when two are already fighting, bitterly, and another, seeking to bring peace, only opens up a third front, vilified by both.

So in full knowledge that I’m ignoring my own best judgment, I offer what follows.

I will not try to solve America’s – and the world’s – race problems today. Many are already hard at work on what will necessarily be that long-term task. Others merely agitate. Anyway, emotions are too raw at the moment.

On some calmer day, I may write another column in which I’ll try to define terms like systemic racism, privilege, violence, crime, justice, so that maybe we can start to understand what we’re arguing over. Such words fly past us all, as if they were merely rocks you pick up to throw in a street fight, not things needing to be carefully considered.

But today is not that day.

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

Caravaggio: Reason and Revolution

Mchelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) created fewer than 100 paintings (that we know of), of which 65 have religious/Biblical themes. His Catholic paintings began with Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy (1595, when he was 24) and culminated with six painted in the year of his death at 38, the last being The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula.

Some skepticism is justified in assigning academic categories to artists in their time. Certainly, Caravaggio never thought of himself as a Late-Renaissance or Mannerist or Early-Baroque painter.  He was a young man in a hurry and probably never worried about his place in the pantheon of artists. And, although the case may certainly be made that Leonardo da Vinci (d. 1519) was the greatest figure of the Renaissance (not just an artist but an inventor too) or that Michelangelo Buonarroti (d. 1564) was the greatest artist of the period (a master of sculpture, painting, and architecture), it is Caravaggio who was the greatest painter – and not just of his own period but of all time. That’s my opinion anyhow.

Caravaggio was orphaned at an early age and spent his teenage years as an artist’s apprentice in Milan (Caravaggio is the name of the town of his birth), before moving south to Rome, which is where most of his finest work was done. Rome was a place of power and patronage, and, besides, he was fleeing the Milanese police, one of whom he’d wounded in a brawl. Caravaggio was famous for carrying a sword around town, which was illegal at the time.

It is not uncommon for artists to paint a particular subject more than once. Caravaggio, for instance, did four versions of his earliest known painting, Boy Peeling Fruit (1592-93), and he did two versions of what I think was his greatest subject, Supper at Emmaus – one in 1602 (now in London’s National Gallery) and the other in 1606 (at Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan).

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

Walking a High Road

If things had gone as planned, by this time today, I would be sore and probably hitting the bottle (of Ibuprofen) from having walked fifteen miles, after sleeping on the ground for the past two nights, in a tent.  Because – finally – some work that was supposed to take me to Europe around now coincided with this weekend’s annual walking pilgrimage from Notre Dame of Paris to Notre Dame of Chartres.

None of that has happened, of course, because of the virus. A great shame, too, because the Chartres Pilgrimage originated with a man I regard as one of the greatest modern writers – and great Catholic spirits – Charles Péguy.

Charles Péguy

When Pierre, one of his children, fell sick with typhoid and was near death, Péguy made a vow to the Virgin: if his son recovered, he would make the pilgrimage on foot. Pierre survived; Péguy kept his vow.

It didn’t end there. Péguy died of a bullet through the head at the Battle of the Marne in World War I. He later became famous for his sheer genius and the heroism his works inspired among the French during World War II when the Nazis occupied France. (De Gaulle begins and ends his memoirs quoting Péguy.)

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

Our Plague

One doesn’t know what to believe, does one?

The nature and consequences of the novel coronavirus defy easy comprehension and demonstrate what we frequently observe in other matters: the eye-rolling reality of conflicting expert opinions, not to mention the kibitzing of non-experts. Some say the lockdowns are necessary to prevent the spread of the disease, and, therefore, America must remain closed; others say that, without a vaccine, we can’t stop the spread of the disease – we can only slow its progression. And slowing it only prolongs the crisis.

This reminds me of two things. The first is #1 among scholar Robert Conquest’s three laws of politics: “Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.” This is true of scientists of all kinds. The second is the way one paleontologist described the tension at one scholarly conference: some attendees asserted dinosaurs were cold-blooded, like reptiles, and others insisted the beasts were warm-blooded, like birds. So great was the disagreement that the two groups sat apart at this meeting, barely able to acknowledge each other’s presence.

This is true of paleontologists, epidemiologists, and politicians. As a layman, I find this troubling.

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