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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 . . .

Humanism – True and Untrue

We’re all lamenting many things that we cannot do because of the virus lockdown – true human goods to be recovered as the world now carefully begins to re-open. But we should also be grateful for many things that are not happening, some inside the Vatican.

Personally, I’ve been healthier, maybe even happier these past months, not having to spend hours on planes. Particularly, not having to fly, in March, to a meeting in Assisi on the Economy of Francis and, last week, to the planned activities in Rome on a Global Education Pact for a “new humanism,” both now postponed to the Fall.

Economists close to Vatican offices are trying to introduce more proven, less Socialist-Lite principles into the preparations for the economics meeting.

The “new humanism,” however, raises more fundamental questions, not least because, as we learned to our sorrow in the 20th century, wrong notions of the human person quickly led to enslavement and death for millions.

The problem begins, as all deep problems do, with theology.

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

Patriotism in the Fourth Commandment

The Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”

That’s not just a call to filial piety; it’s a call to patriotism as well.

One might argue that the regulation of our lives begins in God’s love for each of us, except there is nothing in the Ten Commandments about honor due to oneself. God knows most of us need no instruction in that, which is why the Commandments direct us out of ourselves: to family and the “land,” the ground we stand upon but also the people standing with us in neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, nations, and the world.

This comes across clearly in Luke 10:25-37. A lawyer has asked Jesus how he might inherit eternal life. Knowing this fellow’s profession, the Lord answers with His own questions: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

How elated the lawyer must have been! The Galilean preacher has fallen into my trap! The lawyer slyly quotes Christ’s own answer (see Mark 12:28-34), which he may well have heard Jesus say at another time in another place or heard it reported by someone else. The shyster recites the Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), the Commandment to love God totally, adding, as Jesus earlier had, the phrase from Leviticus (19:18) about loving one’s neighbor.

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

Courage: Grace Under Pressure

The Batflu has driven us all batty, with talk of many things most of us never expected we’d have to think about. But amid all the talk of safety and suffering, lives vs. livelihoods, deaths from the pathogen and deaths from isolation, there’s been one term strangely absent, except when it comes to our heroic healthcare workers: courage.

The absence is strange because the virtue of courage is precisely what is supposed to kick in, for everyone, at a moment like this when we’re all on the frontlines. Since we’ve lost touch with the virtue tradition and even with the simple wisdom that used to guide everyday life, we don’t much give something like courage – the need to “man (or woman) up” – a thought anymore.

Instead, we’ve been busy trying to create a world where everyone is “safe” and no one has to face anything “offensive.” And where institutions – or someone else, in any case – will someday arrange things so that no one will ever have to be personally courageous again.

This is the purest delusion and – sad to say – even widespread fear of death seems not to have brought many people back to reality. There’s an old Latin saying: mors certa, hora incerta (“Death is certain, the hour uncertain”). We know that it will all someday, perhaps even today, come to an end. Most people spend their lives trying to ignore or deny the fact. Still, every day brings uncertainties and dangers – that demand courage.

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

I Knew It When I Saw It

My friend (and fellow TCT contributor) Michael Pakaluk recently published a column here titled “Yes, I’d Become Catholic Again.” It got me thinking about my own decision at age 25 to enter (and remain in) the Catholic faith.

I was what you might charitably call an Augustinian youth. The reference is to the great Church Father and author of The Confessions, who, though born to a Christian mother, remained unbaptized until his conversion at the age of 33. Augustine’s account of his life (and sins) is vivid, although possibly defined to some extent by what’s left out. Anyway, he was a pagan with a vengeance – until he wasn’t.

The same may be said of me only more so, even though I was baptized as an infant.

For me, the summum bonum of life, from my teens until I entered the Church, is best captured in the phrase made famous by Alexandre Dumas: Cherchez la femme.

My father was a marketing professor at Ohio State, appreciated by his male students for “teaching Playboy.” From an academic point of view, my dad was fascinated by the success of Hugh Hefner’s magazine and business model. He read Hefner’s “The Playboy Philosophy” series (1962-65), treating Hef’s libertarian nattering as a modern version of Epicurus.

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

The Start of a Reckoning

As the coronavirus seems to be receding, many questions will now arise. Some quite surprising.  For instance, who – other than the historical greats like St. Benedict, St. John of the Cross, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn – knew that confinement could have beneficial effects? And in so many ways? Inspiring spiritual reflections. Good practical advice (here, here, here, here). And much (gallows) humor.

And that’s just scratching the surface. We’re not as poor and mean and savage as we sometimes seem, even to ourselves.

A legitimate Christian debate is underway about whether the virus is a “chastisement” for the many sins of the modern world, even in Christian and formerly Christian nations. In the nature of things, we can’t say for sure, unless we receive some message from on high. But whether God sent the plague or has merely permitted it, He must want good things to come from it. And in unexpected ways they already have.

On the personal side, the virus has made me, I’m convinced, healthier than before (antsiness aside): no exhausting professional travel; no crowded planes with their own pathogens; no nights in foreign hotels, and dinners in restaurants; more regular work, food, rest, and exercise; quiet time at home. Even a few better spiritual habits. Among things I once said I’d do “if I had the time,” I’ve learned the Hebrew alphabet (אלף – בית, hard labor, believe me). Simple OT passages are next – unless I forget what I’ve learned before I get around to that.

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

The Third Day: a fantasy

When his scribe informed Pontius Pilate that Titus was seeking colloquy, he knew something was amiss. The Prefect of Judea had sent Titus, his best man, for what was surely the easiest-ever assignment in the long career of one of Rome’s finest soldiers. So, why has he returned early?

Titus was an old man – by Legion standards – but still twice the warrior of men half his age and the most reliable of all.

Yet he has abandoned his post. Why?

Titus entered the hall, slapped his right fist against his breast: “Prefect!”

Pilate looked up from behind a desk covered with dispatches. He met the soldier’s eyes and frowned. Then he looked back down at whatever it was he’d been reading and said:

“Why are you here, sergeant?”

Titus knew that the prefect was more irritated than angry. So far.

“Prefect, the tomb has opened and the man, Jesus, is gone.”

The scribe stood to Pilate’s right. He had been scribbling the prefect’s dictated messages. At the entrance to the room – the one through which Titus had just marched in – two guards stood silently at attention.

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