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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

What is Worship?

From a friend of mine on Facebook: 
I asked a simple question in this new theological discussion forum I'm in. Answers so far are enlightening. It is a question I have pondered and meditated on for years and years. So, I thought I would ask it of my broad range of FB friends out here as well.
What is worship?
...Catholics have a very specific focus in answer to this question, or can, by pointing to the reality of what happens in the consecration at Mass. Non-catholics have the same general sense of personal union with God, but sometimes it seems diffuse in its expression because of a lack of a sort of experiential category.
My reply: To be fair, they can't afford to have a precise language. The purpose of the Mass, and all liturgy, and all the sacraments, is our divinization. "God became man so that men may become gods." That sentence, right there, sums up the entire purpose of everything in the Catholic Faith.

Throw that sentence in front of any Protestant and watch them run, wild-eyed, away from your "heresy". But that's what union with God requires - divinization. Can't get union without it. And Protestant theology has literally no mechanism by which to accomplish that, nor can they even create language to describe it because it is totally at odds with their "total depravity" theology.

So, all they can do is talk about "a sacrifice of praise" and such. They try plowing around the stump because they can't afford to acknowledge it.

Friend's response:
"I have brought 2 Peter 1:4 up repeatedly, in many contexts. In my experience, before being Catholic, there really are certain parts of the Bible that just go like water off a duck's back. They don't necessary meet any disagreement, just sort of like no handle, no way to pick that up."

My reply:  Right. Exactly. They literally have no words. Even though their particular denomination may not buy into total depravity, the fact is that their CULTURE does, at least to some degree. Apart from the Mormons, there is no Protestant culture that has the ability to even conceptualize what Peter is talking about.

The whole purpose of the communion of saints is to introduce divinization at a child's level of understanding, without the need for precise language. The Protestants don't even have that much, thus they don't even have the symbolic language of the cult of the saints to build on.

Now, to be fair, if you told most Catholics about divinization, they would ALSO call you a heretic. I've had FUS grads tell me that divinization is heresy, and I've had to point out CCC passages to break it to them. Most individual Catholics literally have no words for it either.

But Catholic CULTURE endorses divinization, and Catholic theology DOES have actual, precise language to describe it, so Catholics are more able to handle the concept once the precise language is brought forward.

You know, back in the first century, Catholicism was a mystery cult, like all the other theological systems. A mystery cult is a system whereby the candidates who wish to enter are not told everything until after they have already committed to it and entered. That's how Catholic teaching worked.  Candidates would be taught for a couple of years about the basics of the Faith, but they wouldn't find out about the Eucharist, they wouldn't even know the Eucharist existed, until AFTER they were baptized.

As catechumens, they were never permitted to attend a complete Mass. As soon as the homily ended, they were ushered out, the doors were locked by certain women in the assembly (deaconesses - that was pretty much their only job) and only the fully formed Catholics were allowed to be present for the consecration.

Thus, it was only after their Easter baptism that the catechumens were finally allowed to attend a COMPLETE Mass, it was only then that they found out about the consecration of the Eucharist. They would be soaked from their baptism in the baptistry outside the church, they would be smelling sweetly from the baptismal chrism, each clothed only in a white robe, they would enter the darkened nave, the room lit by hundreds holding candles to light their way. Holy Saturday readings were a summation, a completion of all they had learned, followed by a Holy Saturday homily that taught them, for the first time, about the Eucharist.  This was the very last lesson imparted to them before they saw their very first consecration and received Jesus for the first time.

It took literally years of education before the pagan Romans, Greeks, even the Jews, had built up the vocabulary necessary to understand what they would experience on Holy Saturday night at their very first complete Mass.

Well, I got news for you - we still ARE a mystery cult. We don't teach RCIA candidates about the sacraments and divinization until roughly Lent, at the earliest. We cannot teach it any earlier. We have to build up in the catechumens and candidates a vocabulary and culture that allows them to grasp 2 Peter 1:4.

Sure, pretty much all of them know, walking in the door in August, that Catholics teach the Eucharist is the flesh of Christ. But they do not understand the implications of what that means: divinization. We hold that back until the very end. They need to have the cultural vocabulary built up before they can get a handle on this last, this supreme, teaching.

So, they don't understand what worship is, not really, until they fully grasp and accept divinization, which is union - UNION - with Christ.

Friend's response:
And of course there are a whole lot of the Catholic baptized who have never really experienced mystagogy (or evangelization) at all, and so the sacramental experience is sometimes reduced to mechanics and ceremonies amidst (or, kind of "next to") stirrings of faith. What I try to wrap my head around is "how to be" in the face of all of this reality.
Exactly. All you can do is try to give them the vocabulary, the culture. Feed them milk, not meat. Answer their questions about statues and idols and Mary and yada, so that they can see the language makes sense, even if they can't understand what the language says yet.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

On Foreign Aid

What's the difference between sending foreign aid to a foreign country vs sending checks to foreigners who are living in this country?

Well, when we do the latter, the money stays in the US. Since the aid goes directly to the foreigner without any foreign government middle man, waste and corruption are greatly reduced.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

So, if we are going to spend money on foreign aid anyway, I would much rather it go to illegals in this country. It's a lot more efficient than our usual shenanigans.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Marx and Engels on Race

In 1894, for example, Friedrich Engels wrote a letter to the German economist Walther Borgius. In it, Engels noted, “We regard economic conditions as that which ultimately determines historical development, but race is in itself an economic factor.”

“What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.…. Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man – and turns them into commodities…. The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange…. The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general.” 

In his 1877 Notes to Anti-Dühring, Engels elaborated on the subject of race, observing “that the inheritance of acquired characteristics extended … from the individual to the species.” He went on, “If, for instance, among us mathematical axioms seem self-evident to every eight-year-old child and in no need of proof from evidence that is solely the result of ‘accumulated inheritance.’ It would be difficult to teach them by proof to a bushman or to an Australian Negro.”

Marx used the word "nigger" in the original German.
Eine der großen Entdeckungen unsres nigger
And again:
wenn nicht seine Mutter oder Großmutter von väterlicher Seite sich mit einem nigger kreuzten)
And again:
Die Zudringlichkeit des Burschen ist auch niggerhaft
Here's the original text
go to page 786
and the translation:
It is now quite plain to me — as the shape of his head and the way his hair grows also testify — that he is descended from the negroes who accompanied Moses’ flight from Egypt (unless his mother or paternal grandmother interbred with a nigger). Now, this blend of Jewishness and Germanness, on the one hand, and basic negroid stock, on the other, must inevitably give rise to a peculiar product. The fellow’s importunity is also nigger-like.
And Engels:
Marx's second daughter, Laura, married Paul Lafargue who, Engels said, had
"one eighth or one twelfth Nigger blood".
In 1887, Paul was a candidate for the Paris Municipal Council, in a district which contained the Jardin des Plantes and the Zoo.
In a letter to Laura (April 26, 1887), Engels said about Paul:
"Being in his quality as a nigger a degree nearer to the rest of the animal kingdom than the rest of us, he is undoubtedly the most appropriate representative of that district."
And in a Letter from Engels to Marx, October 2, 1866:
"I have arrived at the conviction that there is nothing to his [Tremaux's] theory if for no other reason than because he neither understands geology nor is capable of the most ordinary literary historical criticism. One could laugh oneself sick about his stories of the nigger Santa Maria and of the transmutations of the whites into Negroes. Especially, that the traditions of the Senegal niggers deserve absolute credulity, just because the rascals cannot write! . . . Perhaps this man will prove in the second volume, how he explains the fact, that we Rhinelanders have not long ago turned into idiots and niggers on our own Devonian Transition rocks . . . Or perhaps he will maintain that we are real niggers."

There were still, in Marx's view, be races that would have to be exterminated. That is a view he published in January-February 1849 in an article by Engels called "The Hungarian Struggle" in Marx's journal the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, and the point was recalled by socialists down to the rise of Hitler.

Auschwitz was socialist-inspired. The Marxist theory of history required and demanded genocide for reasons implicit in its claim that feudalism was already giving place to capitalism, which must in its turn be superseded by socialism.

Entire races would be left behind after a workers' revolution, feudal remnants in a socialist age; and since they could not advance two steps at a time, they would have to be killed. They were racial trash, as Engels called them, and fit only for the dung-heap of history.
     "True, it is a fixed idea with the French that the Rhine is their property, but to this arrogant demand the only reply worthy of the German nation is Arndt's: "Give back Alsace and Lorraine". For I am of the opinion, perhaps in contrast to many whose standpoint I share in other respects, that the reconquest of the German-speaking left bank of the Rhine is a matter of national honour, and that the Germanisation of a disloyal Holland and of Belgium is a political necessity for us. Shall we let the German nationality be completely suppressed in these countries, while the Slavs are rising ever more powerfully in the East?"   ~Engels, The German, 1841
"...Allerdings ist es eine fixe Idee bei den Franzosen, dass der Rhein ihr Eigentum sei, aber die einzige des deutschen Volkes wuerdige Antwort auf diese anmassende Forderung ist das Arndtsche 'Heraus mit dem Elsass und Lothringen!' Denn ich bin - vielleicht im Gegensatz zu vielen, deren Standpunkt ich sonst teile - allerdings der Ansicht, dass die Wiedereroberung der deutschsprechenden linken Rheinseite eine nationale Ehrensache, die Germanisierung des abtruennig gewordenen Hollands und Belgiens eine politische Notwendigkeit fuer uns ist. Sollen wir in jenen Laendern die deutsche Nationalitaet vollends unterdruecken lassen, waehrend im Osten sich das Slawentum immer maechtiger erhebt?"
Engels described Slavs as non-historic people deserving of extermination.
(...)Justice and other moral considerations may be damaged here and there; but what does that matter to such facts of world-historic significance? (...)
Following that, Bohemia and Moravia passed definitely to Germany and the Slovak regions remained with Hungary. And this historically absolutely non-existent "nation" puts forward claims to independence? (...)
Of course, matters of this kind cannot be accomplished without many a tender national blossom being forcibly broken. But in history nothing is achieved without power and implacable ruthlessness, (...)
To the sentimental phrases about brotherhood which we are being offered here on behalf of the most counter-revolutionary nations of Europe, we reply that hatred of Russians was and still is the primary revolutionary passion among Germans; that since the revolution hatred of Czechs and Croats has been added, and that only by the most determined use of terror against these Slav peoples can we, jointly with the Poles and Magyars, safeguard the revolution. (...)
Then there will be a struggle, an "unrelenting life-and-death struggle" against those Slavs who betray the revolution; an annihilating fight and most determined terrorism -- not in the interests of Germany, but in the interests of the revolution!      ~ The German, Engels, NRZ 15. Feb. 1849 
Engels liked the idea of a "Thousand year Reich" too
    This is our calling, that we shall become the templars of this Grail, gird the sword round our loins for its sake and stake our lives joyfully in the last, holy war which will be followed by the thousand-year reign of freedom.
"Among all the nations and sub-nations of Austria, only three standard-bearers of progress took an active part in history, and are still capable of life -- the Germans, the Poles and the Magyars. Hence they are now revolutionary. All the other large and small nationalities and peoples are destined to perish before long in the revolutionary world storm. (...)
This remnant of a nation that was, as Hegel says, suppressed and held in bondage in the course of history, this human trash, becomes every time -- and remains so until their complete obliteration or loss of national identity -- the fanatical carriers of counter-revolution, just as their whole existence in general is itself a protest against a great historical revolution. (...)
Such, in Austria, are the pan-Slavist Southern Slavs, who are nothing but the human trash of peoples, resulting from an extremely confused thousand years of development. (...)
The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is progress." MEW a.a.O. 6, 176. 

"By the same right under which France took Flanders, Lorraine and Alsace, and will sooner or later take Belgium -- by that same right Germany takes over Schleswig; it is the right of civilization as against barbarism, of progress as against stability. Even if the agreements were in Denmark's favor -- which is very doubtful-this right carries more weight than all the agreements, for it is the right of historical evolution"  ~Friedrich Engels, NRZ 10. Sep. 1848 (NRZ = Neue Rheinische Zeitung)

     "The plentiful meat and milk diet among the Aryans and the Semites, and particularly the beneficial effects of these foods on the development of children, may, perhaps, explain the superior development of these two races."  ~ Engels, "Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State", Fourth revised edition, 1891, in Marx & Engels, Selected Works In One Volume, Lawrence & Wishart: London, 1980, p 464. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Free Market, Open Borders

If you are really a capitalist and you really, really believe in a free market, then you necessarily believe in the free movement of people to pursue the market in whatever way they want.

Insofar as you want controlled borders, you are opposed to free market capitalism.

Amazing how many Trump supporters are socialists.

An Open Letter Abeba Birhane

Your endorsement of "a person is a person through other persons" is a brilliant one-sentence summary of Christian Trinitarian theology. As you know, the word “person” was itself invented by Christians to describe the three Persons of the Trinity. Tertullian adapted it from the Latin word "personae" (Greek prosopon), which referred to the mask worn by actors on the stage, and it has been used in Tertullian's sense ever since.

What few non-Christians realize is that the three Persons of the Godhead are distinguishable ONLY through their relationships (Father begets, Son is begotten, Father and Son breathe forth Spirit, Spirit is the One breathed forth). If any other aspect of God is examined, the Persons of the Trinity cannot be distinguished or identified. This is why God is One, but also Three - as you imply, only the relationships reveal the Three.

Likewise, we are persons only because of our relationship to the original three Persons. God calls us into intimate relationship with Himself, the original three Persons, thus we bear the “image and likeness” of those Persons, we are - by that call - made persons. It is the call to relationship which makes us persons. This is straight Thomistic understanding.

In fact, this understanding explains what many people consider a peculiarity of Christian theology. It is de fide that Jesus is fully God, fully the Second Person of the Trinity, fully human, but NOT a human person at all. Fully human, but NOT a human person: to say that He is a human person is the condemned heresy of Nestorius. Why not a human person? Because He, via the relationships within the Trinity, is already in full, perfect, intimate relationship with two other perfect Persons of the Godhead, He is already fully a (divine, perfect) person.

A human being, by himself, does not possess a nature not capable of this full, perfect, intimate communion, with the divine nature. Human nature has to be perfected, elevated, deified. This is the role of the sacraments. Sacraments impart grace so that the human nature is capable of something outside of itself - perfect communion with perfect Personhood. We are already fully human, but the sacraments make us, as it were, fully persons, every relationship to every other existing person is perfected. Since the Second person of the Trinity already has the perfect communion, the full divine nature capable of this perfect communion, is already perfectly a Person, He has no need for human personhood. Thus, Jesus has a full, complete human nature, but is not a human person at all.

When Descartes insisted on cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore, I am) he thereby denied the role of relationships (and grace) in his own personhood. True, God is pure rationality, but reason leads to conclusion, and the conclusion is Love. Descartes' statement was an emphasis on process, without mention of purpose or end. Thus, all subsequent philosophies built on Descartes' foundation would necessarily get lost in the forest of process. They will all necessarily deny some important aspect of personhood as originally defined and used for millennia in Western culture. In short, they won't be able to properly handle Love.

A person is a person through other persons. Exactly right. That’s the substance and foundation of the word "person" as Tertullian originally intended it. It is the substance and foundation of Christianity.

The Ubuntus have a basic understanding of this, but the Zulus have summarized it best.

Thanks for the essay!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Smallpox, Polio and Wuhan

As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization estimated that 15 million people contracted smallpox and that two million died in that year. In 1967, smallpox killed 2 million people out of a world population of 3.463 billion, for a world-wide death rate of 0.00057753. That was enough to spur a world-wide vaccination effort to successfully wipe that disease from the face of the earth.

The first major polio epidemic in the United States occurred in 1916 and reached its peak in 1952. Of the 57,628 reported cases in 1952, there were 3,145 deaths. The 1952 US Population: 157.6 million. So, in the worst year we ever experienced, the US had a polio death rate of 0.00036. That kind of death rate was enough to spur a world-wide campaign to eliminate polio forever, a campaign which is still ongoing.

In the United States, coronavirus has produced a death rate of 43,995 in a population of 330 million (that's as of 4/21/2020. Today, 5/16/2020, it's 87,697. In three weeks, the death count doubled). The first case of the Wu-flu in the US was January 19, 2020, just about three months ago. So, in three months, CCP-virus has produced a death rate of 0.000133. But that’s just three months. To get the full year death rate, multiply by 4.  It is not unreasonable to project an annual death rate from coronavirus of 0.000533 by the end of December.

Now, you may argue that the death rate in the US has been artificially inflated, because officials are including all kinds of deaths into the Covid 19 virus death rate that shouldn’t really be counted against the Chinese virus. But we also know that China definitely lied about the death rate they experienced with Wuhan virus, deliberately under-counting deaths by at least tens of thousands.  Do the two miscounts balance each other out? We don’t know. We can only work with the numbers we are given. Even if there is fudging in the US, I trust the US numbers more than the China numbers, which is why I'm doing US death rates instead of world mortality death rates. . The world death rate would be 177,230 out of 7.8 billion, which yields an annual world mortality rate of 0.00009, which is likely an undercount (as of 5/16/2020, it is 308,899 out of 7.8 billion, annual mortality rate: 0.00016).

Annual mortality rates
  • Smallpox (1967)    0.00058
  • Polio (1952)           0.00036
  • Wu-Virus (US)       0.00053
  • Wu-Virus (World)  0.00009 
  • US Deaths WW II: 0.00076 (average per year)

So, our current epidemic is killing people faster than polio did in the US in the worst year we ever had for polio, and nearly as fast as the death rate smallpox delivered to the world in 1967.

If you don’t think the precautions being taken are worthwhile, then be logically consistent. You must also insist that too much fuss has been made about smallpox and polio as well.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Pope Francis and the Universal Basic Income

Is the Pope embracing socialism when he calls for a universal basic income? Actually, it is quite the reverse: socialism has always been an atheist’s parody of Christian teaching. The idea that the rich are in debt to the poor is an ancient teaching of the Church with roots in Judaism.

The approach Christians are to use towards the poor is highlighted in the ancient rabbinic example of two men walking through an arid desert. According to the rabbis, if one man has enough water to make it out of the desert, but not enough water for them both, it is not reasonable to expect the first man to share his water. Since a man can only be expected to look out for himself, he is morally permitted to keep the water for himself, even if that guarantees the death of his companion. But notice, this is only true if both are normal men. If both men are scholars, learned in the ways of God and His laws, then the scholar with the water is obligated to share with his companion, even if this means both men will die.

Christianity has always taught that every Christian must act not as a normal man, but as a scholar, a rabbi; every Christian must act as the most learned of men. Because Christians have been given the light of grace through baptism, every baptized man has the fullness of revelation, thus every Christians is required to act as a learned rabbi would, and share his riches, even at risk to himself. Now that we remember this, we can look on the Pope's words with renewed understanding:
I know that you nearly never receive the recognition that you deserve, because you are truly invisible to the system. Market solutions do not reach the peripheries, and State protection is hardly visible there. Nor do you have the resources to substitute for its functioning. … 
...The ills that afflict everyone hit you twice as hard. Many of you live from day to day, without any type of legal guarantee to protect you. Street vendors, recyclers, carnies, small farmers, construction workers, dressmakers, the different kinds of caregivers: you who are informal, working on your own or in the grassroots economy, you have no steady income to get you through this hard time ... and the lockdowns are becoming unbearable. This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out. It would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights.
How does the Pope make the insistence on a universal basic income fit with Paul's exhortation: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." (2 Thess 3:10)? Well, keep in mind that the Christian understanding of what constitutes work does not match the modern understanding:
[Bernadette of Sourbirous] sat sometimes all night on the side of her bed in constant pain, because to lie down was to suffocate. That she understood this vocation to suffer is borne out by the answer she gave one of her superiors who came into the room one day and asked jokingly: “What are you ding here in bed, lazybones?” [Bernadette] replied: “I am working away at my calling, dear Mother. I am being ill.”
Suffering is work, spiritual work. This suffering has worth. Still, while every Christian is called to bear the cross of suffering, we are not meant to seek out crucifixion. Physical suffering and the various physical poverties are necessary evils, but these are natural evils, and should be avoided when possible. At one time or another, all of the apostles, including Paul, fled cities in which their lives were threatened (Acts 9:25; 2 Cor 11:32-33). In the same way, while the poor suffer, if they can avoid that suffering, then we should help them do so, just as the friends of Paul helped him avoid suffering by lowering him in a basket outside the city walls.
“When someone steals another's clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.” ~ St. Basil the Great (d. 379 AD)
"People give all sorts of reasons to excuse their lack of charity, their hardheartedness!  Some say, 'hard times.' But if the times are hard for those who have a sufficiency, how much harder are they for the poor? This pretext alone should lead one to give all the more generously."   - St. Theophan the Recluse (d. 1894 AD)
Clothe your brother first, then clothe the altar table. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table.  ~ St. John Chrysostom (d 407 AD)
Christians have a duty to provide for the poor. In fact, the needs of the poor outweigh even the needs of the liturgy.

Has the Church led by example?

The Pope calls for every nation to provide a basic universal income. But is not Vatican City a nation? Has the Church led by example? Has the Church given her riches to help the poor? And if you say that she has, then what of her artwork? What of her grand cathedrals? If she insists on a universal basic income, then should she not give to the poor first?

Of course, the Church leads by example, and the example is instructive. For example, according to the Economist, the Catholic Church in America alone already spends 170 BILLION dollars a year in charitable work. If American Catholic charitable work were compared to the annual GDP of the world's countries, then the American Catholic Church alone spends more each year on charity than the GDP of 136 of the world's 189 countries. That's more spent on charity by just one branch of the Church than the entire GDP of  countries like Algeria, Qatar, Khazakhstan, Hungary, Angola, Kuwait, Sudan, the Ukraine, Morocco, Ecuador, Cuba, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Guatamala, Oman, Myanmar, Luxembourg, Panama, Ghana, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Croatia, Belarus, Lebanon, Tanzania and Macao, just to name a few. And that's just the American Catholic Church. So, if just one branch of the Catholic Church already provides more in charity than two-thirds of the world's nations earn in GDP, then how much more does Vatican City, the smallest nation in the world, need to provide before the world is willing to grant that she is "leading by example"?

But what of the vast, hidden wealth of the Vatican? "The Vatican has amassed incalculable treasures ranging from art to buildings to property to gold reserves, commercial concerns and investments(!)..."  All true. Should these reserves be sold and the proceeds given to the poor?

Let us assume you were a lawyer, independently wealthy, but interested in assisting the poor through pro bono legal work. This is a laudable goal, one the Pope would applaud. Now, would you be able to assist the poor if you sold off all your law books, gave up your subscription to Lexus/Nexus, dressed in rags because all of your clothing had been given to the poor, and lived out of a cardboard box on the street, because you sold your house and gave the proceeds to the poor? Would a judge let you in his courtroom? Now that you have surrendered every tool you have to assist the poor with their legal needs, would you, in fact, be able to help the poor at all?

Can a carpenter build houses for the poor if he has no tools to join or cut wood? Can any skilled professional help the poor if he has none of the tools of his profession at hand?
"It would be excessive to take so much out of one's own means to give away to others that with what was left one could not very well keep up the way of life that accords with one's station, and meet contingencies as they arise.... [however] there are three exceptions... Thirdly, when he is in presence of extreme indigence in an individual, or great need on the part of the common weal. For in such cases it would seem praiseworthy to forego the requirements of one's station, in order to provide for a greater need."  ~ St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274 AD)
"Whatever is necessary for one's children, one's household, honest gifts, entertainments, hospitality, in view of common contingencies, provision for heirs, future needs, etc. is not superfluous." ~ St. Alphonsus Liguouri (d 1787 AD)
The Church's job is to teach the world who God is. God is Truth, God is Goodness and God is Beauty. All three must be taught. In order to teach the last aspect of Who God is, the Church needs the artwork it has commissioned, built up and protected over the centuries. These are necessary tools to do the work of evangelization. Teaching about God without artwork is like teaching about God without Scripture – it is hard to imagine how it could be done. That's why the Church values its entire collection of art at one (1) Euro. None of this magnificent artwork, this architecture, these cathedrals, have any commercial value because none of it can be sold. All of it is necessary to the work of evangelization, just as law books are necessary for lawyers and hammers, nails and saws are necessary for carpenters.

The Church runs 5,500 hospitals, 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, with sixty-five percent of them located in underdeveloped and developing countries. To help the poor, the Catholic Church invented the modern hospital, the orphanage and the modern university. If you believe Wikipedia (which does not exactly lean in favor of religious institutions), the Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of education and medical services in the world. The Pope's call to the nations is to imitate what the Vatican has done for centuries. The call is not to give up everything, for if everyone did this, no one at all could be helped. Rather, we are to provide for the poor in a way that preserves our ability to always help the poor. Most especially, we are to give out of our excess. And yes, we do have excess.

Let's try this a different way.

Certainly, every Christian must agree that every human person should have enough to eat, should have adequate shelter and access to clean water, yes? Is it not the case that every Christian would insist that people have a right to adequate food, clean water, shelter, even if that right is often unfulfilled? You see where I'm headed with this, of course.

If you deny that people have such rights to basic sustenance, water, shelter, then you've essentially denied the Faith, the basic teaching that we are all equal and all deserve equal, dignified treatment. So, every Christian must admit that everyone has a right to these basic needs being fulfilled.

Clearly, these basic needs have a dollar value. So, by saying that everyone has a right to basic needs being fulfilled, we have already admitted that everyone should receive a universal basic income - enough cash (or goods-equivalent) so the poor can fulfill their basic needs. For Christians, the argument is not whether people have a right to a basic, universal income, but only how much is required and how it should be delivered. It is about where the lines gets drawn, not whether to supply a basic universal income at all.

And, since the Pope didn't supply a number (nor could he, as the cash-equivalent would differ depending on the exact locale of the person in need), anyone who agrees that people have a right to not starve to death necessarily agrees with the Pope's basic principle: everyone has a right to a universal basic income. The Pope is simply using modern economic language to say what all the saints have said for the last two millennia - everyone has a right to basic food, water, shelter, etc., everyone has a right to equal dignity in treatment.

The Nations Have Already Been Working Towards This

But, as happened with Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, wherein the Pope called for reforms that were already underway, the world has already anticipated the Pope's request and has already been working to fulfill it. After all, we have fewer poor people alive today, even with a population of 7 billion, than we have had at any time in human history, even when the human population was below 1 billion.
At this month's meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davis, Gates cited data that show the proportion of people living in extreme poverty declining from 94 percent in 1820 to only 10 percent today.... Starting with that $1.90-per-day measurement, the level of extreme poverty fell from 42.2 percent of the world's population in 1981 to 8.6 percent in 2018. In 1981, 1.9 billion people lived on less than $1.90 per day; in 2018, the number was around 660 million.
Contrary to the Pope's assertion, market solutions have actually already reached to the peripheries. We know this, because the benefits of the market have already touched every living person in the world. After all, thanks to the contributions of the world's richest countries, no one today needs to worry about dying from smallpox. Nowhere in the world are cattle still dying from rinderpest. Almost no one in the world has to worry about polio. The incidence of Guinea worm has dropped from an estimated 3.5 million in 1986 to 54 in 2019. Even as the world's population increases, the incidence of plague and famine continues to drop around the world.

Is it the case that every poor person has access to the basics necessities? Obviously not. Is it the case that the poor are receiving the income they need in order to access those necessities? Again, obviously not. But, are we assisting the poor, helping them move out of their place of suffering? Yes. Yes, we truly are. More can be done. More will be done. But, it is good to be reminded that we are not yet done.

Once we review the ancient Christian teaching, we can see the papal call for a universal basic income is not just a call for money, but a call for all people to become scholars, to become rabbis, to become even more: to become Christians and live the life of baptismal grace. The Pope's call is simple: embrace and believe in the Gospel.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Saints vs the Plague

Just a century ago, plague was common. Smallpox, malaria, measles, whooping cough, polio, plagues raged, they ravaged, they subsided. Plagues came in waves, years or even decades apart. We all remember learning of the Black Death in 1348, but that was merely the worst wave, the largest tsunami in the constant ebb and flow of the oceans of plagues that surged about an afflicted mankind. Famine punctuated the plague waves, acting in concert with them. Famine weakened the immune systems of those who survived the last plague, plague killed the workers who might have otherwise been able to farm and harvest enough crops to avert the next famine.

Together, famine and plague led to war, as neighboring countries desperately tried to grab enough resources between plagues and famines to survive the next wave of famine and plague. And war led large groups of sick, weak, ill-fed troops to gather tightly together, each spreading their own illness to the others, as the troops and their camp followers tried to wage it. It is often forgotten that World War I was was the very first big war in history in which more were killed by military action than by infectious diseases (and even that is arguable, since the Spanish Flu killed five times more people than World War I did). War brought violent death, but it wrought more death by famine and disease than it ever did by sword or spear.

We are shocked by famines and epidemics because we really don’t have them anymore. But epidemics, famine and war wrought suffering and out of that suffering came saints. We have been so shocked by this latest plague that we have forgotten how the saints handled plague. But we are slowly remembering.

St. Roch (d. 1327) lived through plague years. He was said to have cured plague victims he visited in Italy with his prayers and by marking the sick with the sign of the cross. St. Roch saw in the plague-stricken an image of the Savior stricken with suffering for the sins of us all. However, when he, too, was sickened by the plague, he withdrew to a hut in the forest until he recovered. He did not know germ theory, but he knew enough to respect the illness, and the possibility that he might transmit it to others. When stricken with plague, he isolated himself, lest he injure others.

Damien of Molokai (d. 1889) chose to personally enter a Hawaiian leper colony in order to minister to the victims, but he didn't bring others with him, nor did he endanger others. In fact, when he needed to make confession, he was willing to shout out his sins to the priest on board a coastal ship, so that all the shipboard crew could hear, rather than come aboard and risk infecting others.

Charles Borromeo (d. 1548), like St. Roch, knew nothing about germ theory, yet he ministered to the sick during the 1576 outbreak of bubonic plague in his city, Milan. He was sure the plague was God's wrath poured out on the city, a wrath that only spiritual humility and abasement would end. Even so, while he led processions of the faithful to receive ashes on their foreheads, he also ordered them to stay at least a stick's length apart while in procession. He closed all the churches, but erected crosses in the piazzas so that those under quarantine could join in prayer from their windows. If plague were purely an example of God’s wrath, then why engage in social distancing? Why close the churches? Indeed, why would a stick’s length distance between sinners avert the wrath of God Himself? Yet he enforced precisely this social distancing on, and allowed quarantining of, the Catholics under his care.

Despite these precautions, and the fact that he spent all of his family’s enormous wealth on the care of the sick, the good saint's insistence on gatherings large groups of people together for spiritual ministration were not very effective in "appeasing God's wrath", for Milan lost about one-third of its population, which is about the same as the rest of the European cities struck by plague at that time. That is, if the plague were a physical manifestation of the outpouring of God’s wrath, then his processions to appease that physical wrath were not very effective.

St. Don Bosco (d 1888), on the other hand, lived at a time when germ theory was finally being understood. He organized his students to help during a cholera epidemic, but he ordered them to wear face masks at all times and wash their hands with vinegar after ministering to cholera victims. If they ran out of vinegar, they were to come straight back to the oratory without talking to or in any way interacting with anyone. That is, Don Bosco enforced the same social distancing his forebears had, but he was able to employ a much better form of PPE.

Don Bosco lost none of his boys to cholera. Don Bosco had a lot better luck appeasing God's wrath with his face masks, vinegar bottles and social isolation than our sainted friend Borromeo had with his constant processions. That either means Don Bosco was holier than Borremeo, or that God's wrath is better appeased by correctly using the tools and the reason God gave us. Perhaps God favors the people who understand and respect how to deal with His creation, the viruses and bacteria. Perhaps all of the above.

Remember, processions didn't save Milan from the plague.
Vinegar and face masks DID save Bosco's boys from the plague.

So, take some lessons from the lives of the saints who fought plagues:
  • Engage in social distancing, as all the plague saints did. 
  • Wash your hands and wear face masks, as Bosco's boys did. 
  • Quarantine yourself, as all the saints encouraged plague victims to do. 
  • Remember that Bosco's mother stripped the altar of its linens to care for the sick, and 
  • St. Charles Borromeo closed the churches during plague years, just as today’s bishops have done. 
Show a healthy understanding and respect for God’s creation, right down to the bacteria and the viruses, as the bishops do. As Eastertide approaches, do not murmur and grumble against your spiritual leaders, as the followers of Korah did against Moses, as the bishops’ detractors do today. For the followers of Korah thought themselves chosen by the Lord, but even in the midst of their holy prayers, God caused the earth to swallow them alive, and those who whined and grumbled against Moses’ leadership were struck down by the plague that followed.

UPDATE - Even TLM priests closed down Masses:
Dear TRADITIO Fathers:
Some people think that Catholic churches were closed too quickly in response to the Chinese Virus pandemic. When the Spanish Flu pandemic struck in 1918, did the Catholic Church close down its churches and Masses in accordance with civil orders to stop the spread of the deadly virus? I have seen a documentary that mentioned that churches were in fact closed then.

Yes, Catholic churches were closed for up to five months during the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. The hierarchy supported the public-health emergency orders, and the few scofflaw priests were apprehended, and their churches barred shut. From October 1918 to February 1919 in the United States, for instance,, essentially no Masses were celebrated around the country.. Catholic pastors said that the closure orders would be followed "to the letter." One priest addressed his congregation as follows:
A situation unprecedented in the history of our state presents itself to you today. By order of the civil authorities, and by the advice of your religious leaders, you will not assemble, as you were wont to assemble on Sundays, in your various Catholic churches to assist at Holy Mass. That you may have some words of uplift and cheer, you are for the first time in your lives deprived of the opportunity of hearing Mass on Sunday, and you will, I trust from this very circumstance, appreciate more thoroughly what Holy Mass is for the Catholics....
The Mass, the unutterable sweetness of the Mass. Nothing human could draw, but the Mass is the God-given sacrifice offered the Creator, it is Holy Thursday come down and Calvary made present today. Mass is God really and truly present on our Catholic altars, a living unbloody victim offered again for the sins of men, offered, too, in thanksgiving for all the wondrous graces that unceasing flow from God’s great mercy throne on high....
Ah, brethren, let us today reflect on the meaning and the history of that great sacrifice at which we may not assist, a sacrifice that links us with the saints and sages of every age from Christ’s time till now, and let us beg God in his mercy to remove from us that sickness that keeps us deprived of the great sacrifice, so that soon we may again with glad, worshipful hearts, meet in our churches and assist in offering to the All High that clean oblation, seen by the prophet Malachy in vision, that sacrifice that is offered in every place from the rising to the set of sun [verse 11 of chapter 1 of the prophet Malachias has traditionally been understood as referring to Christ's sacrifice as perpetuated through Holy Mass.]