Sunday, July 28, 2013

"abortion protects pedophiles"

Not my words, hers.

(click here)

Fr. Z needs no defense; or "Why I like the Rockettes to be long leggy beauties".

It was rather shocking to read that Sam Rocha on the Patheos Catholic Channel has accused Fr John Zuhlsdorf comparing the bishops to Nazis.  On Fr. Z's own blog, he commented unfavorably about a group of bishops in Rio at World Youth Day participating in some sort of the choreography practice, caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment, dancing about like drunk bridesmaids at a wedding reception. Here is the video of the event, for your own discernment: 
I am not sure what Fr. Z's exact point was (there are a whole constellation of legitimate concerns) -- maybe just simple embarrassment for them, or that bishops ought to comport themselves in more dignified manners in public, or that at some point middle age and elderly people should accept the fact that they are no longer youthful and that therefore it is both lame and risible for seniors to think that they are somehow "relating" to the younger generations by adopting their ephemeralities, or that he was genuinely concerned that one of them might well break a hip.

Unfortunately, such displays are not limited to the episcopacy: someone recently posted a video of some Dominicans dancing on a stage to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance -- it made me weep for all the fine, orthodox, and dignified Dominicans who I know and love.
One has to ask who is converting whom?  What sane, healthy, vibrant young man is going to want to be a Dominican if he is made to not be a fool for Christ, but just a regularly old ordinary secular fool, conformed to the world? Didn't Chesterton note that, "the Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age"? Such nonsense was part of my own discernment process in deciding to not pursue a Dominican vocation -- I saw no merit in being forced to endure liturgical abuses in the novitiate for the sake of a vocation. Yet the pressure to conform --whether by the obedience to the novice master, or by the group think of a World Youth Day under the direction of a choreographer, or being subtly influenced by the forces and fashions of the Zeitgeist with which all Christians are daily confronted -- is both real and insidious.

So Fr. Z made this point by showing the meme "Be this guy" of the lone man in a crowd at a Nazi rally, with his arms crossed where everyone else was raising their arms in salute.
Poignant and powerful. Current and relevant. Easily and immediately understandable. 

As prescient as he is, Fr Z even anticipated the blowback by the kneejerk reactives:
DISCLAIMER: Some mouth-breathers out there will claim that I tried to compare WYD to some sort of Nazi rally.  That is NOT what I am about to do.   If there is a better image of non-conformity within a large, uniformed crowd doing something that is just plain wrong, please send it to me.
Other images of nonconformity? Would it have been better to show the Christians in the amphitheatre who are being martyred for refusing to offer sacrifice to the Caesar? Should the Church be likened to the totalitarian power of the Roman Empire?

How about Martin Luther at Worms? 
Would these be more acceptable to the easily offended? Or would Fr. Z be accused of fomenting another Reformation against the hierarchy? 

No, Fr. Z chose well in his image of the lone man not conforming to the pressure of the mob. It is a well known and powerful meme, used for all sorts of statements against totalitarianism, group think, and herd mentalities.

Sadly, even his preemption would not satisfy his detractors.  Mr. Rocha seized on this image to claim that Fr. Z was equating the bishops to the Nazis.  Evidently, Mr. Rocha is unaware of Godwin's law -- he automatically loses the debate once he invokes a comparison to Hitler. 

But beyond the level of internet gamesmanship, Mr. Rocha also fails on two more important levels: reason and charity. 

Mr. Rocha claims:
Fr. Z tries to say that the only significance of the photo is this: it is a description of “non-conformity within a large, uniformed crowd doing something that is just plain wrong.” However, the only reason why this Nazi photograph is such a powerful description of something that is “just plain wrong” is precisely because they are Nazis. In other words, Fr. Z effectively equates the “wrongdoing” of Nazi’s with the, in his view, “wrongdoing” of the Bishops.
Here is where Mr. Rocha errs against reason -- the power of the meme is precisely due to the cultural context. That is a given. It is widely used as a simple statement to not conform to the prevailing currents. The extrapolation that "Fr. Z effectively equates the “wrongdoing” of Nazi’s with the, in his view, “wrongdoing” of the Bishops" is bombastic and grandstanding. The vast majority of people of sound judgment can easily distinguish the morality of acting goofy in public from killing millions upon millions enemies of the State, whether Jewish, Catholics, gypsies or homosexuals. It is curious that Mr. Rocha does not seem to be part of that vast majority.

But it is also an error to assume that everyone else in that picture was actively and deliberately a supporter of the Third Reich, a card carrying member of the Nazi party. In such a coercive and autocratic regime, many Germans undoubtedly went along with the prevailing political current simply in order to survive and not be beaten up or imprisoned. Does the lady to the left of the man look like she's a wild eyed fascist, or rather hesitant about the whole thing? This alone makes Mr. Rocha's claim tendentious, since it cannot even reasonably be derived from the image that anyone not saluting Heil Hitler was in fact a Nazi. Hence it is unreasonable to assume that Fr. Z was making any sort of comparison to the Nazi Party per se, let alone "making a very direct, logical analogy between the wrongdoing of Nazi complicity with Hitler and the Shoah..."

But more importantly, Mr. Rocha fails against charity. Our Catholic moral teaching is that one ought always treat others in justice, to not assume moral fault of one's neighbor, to not harm to the good name of another or give occasion for false judgments against them.  More to the point, we should always strive to interpret another's words favorably.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:
Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.
Even at the most basic level of charity and good will, Mr. Rocha has a moral obligation to take Fr. Zuhlsdorf at his word that he was in no manner comparing World Youth Day to a Nazi rally, which by extension would reasonably suggest that he was not comparing the acts of the bishops to Nazis saluting der Fuhrer before going out to round up the Jews. In fact, Mr. Rocha seems to willfully ignore Fr. Z's explicit intention: "Fr. Z tries to say that the only significance of the photo is this.." 

No, that is precisely what Fr. Z did say, no 'try' about it. We must take another at his word as a basic dictate of civil discourse, which does not even require any application of Catholic moral theology to arrive at.

Perhaps Mr. Rocha would do well to endure the penance he prescribes for Fr. Z: "to remove the post, apologize to [Fr. Z], and consider giving up blogging for an extended amount of time."

As for my preferences of watching a group of people dancing on a stage, I'd rather watch the Rockettes (which I first and only saw when my grandmother took seven-year-old me and my older brother to Radio City Music Hall in 1968 to see The Secret War of Harry Frigg), a bevy of long leggy beauties, than a sea of bishops or a pack of Dominicans line dancing.

But de gustibus and all that.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"fantastical confections of architectural exuberance" ... book review of "Real Presence: Sacrament Houses and the Body of Christ, c. 1270-1600"

Edmund Bishop made an interesting comment that during the Middle Ages, “the Blessed Sacrament reserved was commonly treated with a kind of indifference which at present would be considered to be of the nature of ‘irreverence,’ I will not say indignity.” This is perhaps understandable: the Eucharist, and what we consider to be the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharistic species, could be somewhat taken for granted considering the established place of Eucharistic theology from the early patristic though the early medieval periods. For about a thousand years after the post-apostolic teachings of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus,2 few seriously questioned that the Eucharist was the Body and Blood of Christ, as the Lord himself said. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem gives a typical, simple, and eloquent affirmation of this:
Do not, then, regard the eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith. You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ.
Eucharistic Tower at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, Salt Lake City, Utah
There was little formal or systematic theology behind such utterances, other than the real theology of taking the words of Christ at their face value. Only after that could they be considered as typology, anagogy, tropology, or allegory. In time, the conventional understanding was challenged, first by a ninth century monk named Rathramnus and later (more famously) in the eleventh century by Berengarius of Tours. In response, the Scholastics developed the Eucharistic theory of transubstantiation, with which they robustly defended the words of the Lord. That doctrine was formally articulated for the Latin Church by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215 AD), and subsequently reaffirmed against the Protestants at the Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century.

continue reading 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Only the good of the child" - Thinking about adoption.

The *most* important of human relationships, contrary to what everyone is so focused on today, is not the sexual relationship between partners -- gay or straight -- but between the parent and the child. Spouses and lovers and hookups come and go, die and can be even "replaced" in some sense, but neither the parent nor the child can ever be replaced. These are the most determinative relationships in humanity -- our parents form our sense of self for better or worse, and we would sooner die or kill to protect our children in a way that admits of no rivals.

Moreover, the male and female parental pair optimize the healthy formation of the child -- we are indeed a truly *sexed* species where the complementarity of the male and female not only are necessary to engender life but help us make sense of both the interior world and the exterior world, the physical and the external as well as the emotional and the internal. The natural parents are necessarily one male and one female -- that is the way biology and nature are so devised and that human life flourishes.

So when a child has lost his or her parents, and the State is in the sad need to find a suitable stop gap to provide for the child -- (and the good of the child is the ONLY thing that must be considered in this instance -- all other political, social, and sexual-gender agenda must be put aside for only the good of the child)-- the only sane public policy is to find a situation that best approximates the natural male-female relationship of the natural parents that the child lost.

While it is commendable that gay couples or singles may wish to generously raise children by adoption (or third party contributions), which they must do because their own relationship is necessarily sterile, it seems that it is in the pressing interest of the child as well as the State to try to find suitable male-female couples to meet this need as a matter of policy.

This is not to denigrate the homosexual couple (nor the single who wishes to adopt) who may well be loving, committed, generous and caring surrogates, but rather to seek first, foremost, and exclusively the very best for the child alone. Where society is called in to try to accommodate what nature or circumstance has deprived the child of -- namely, his or her natural father and mother -- the State ought to find an adopting couple to serve as both surrogate mother and father, something a homosexual couple can never do.

Friday, July 5, 2013

"We trust the architect who builds our home"

You heard it right from Pope Francis. That's *magisterial*, baby!

The Light of Faith and the Continuity of the Faith.

The election of Francis on the heals of Benedict's resignation brought uncertainty to the more traditionally minded Catholics and some new sense of hope to the more progressively minded Catholics. 
"Good grief, he is wearing black shoes instead of the red shoes that symbolize the death of Peter!"
"Here is a video of a Mass he celebrated with clowns and puppets! He's going to roll back the liturgical reforms of Benedict and suppress the Extraordinary Form!"

"Egad! He washed the feet of women at Holy Thursday (doesn't he know the meaning of the Latin viri?), and in a prison rather than at the Lateran Basilica!"

"Finally! A South American, breaking the Eurocentric hegemony and man of the people (code word "Liberation Theology")" 
"A return to the spirit of Good Pope John XXIII, a pope who will end the stifling of the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council that John Paul II and Benedict tried to suppress!"

"Look, he is rejecting the Papal palace and the throne, living in a hotel, and walking among the people!  Let's sing a new Church into being!"
As time as transpired, Francis has rather challenged both ends of the spectrum by rejecting their shibboleths, and calling all to a deeper understanding of the Christian life, rejecting the politics of the Left and the formalism of the Right. He neither accepts the doctrines of the modernists, nor rejects the path in which the last two Popes have led the Church, but rather is working with a strong sense of continuity of the Office and the mission of the Church.

This continuity can be made no more obvious than in his decision to release as his first encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei ("The Light of Faith"), which is the first encyclical co-authored by two successive popes. His predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, began this letter to commemorate the Year of Faith for the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II asked that we might,
restore the primacy of God in Christ to the centre of our lives, both as a Church and as individuals. The Church never takes faith for granted, but knows that this gift of God needs to be nourished and reinforced so that it can continue to guide her pilgrim way. (LF, 6)
Lumen Fidei is the continuation of a series of magisterial teachings on the "three things that persist,  faith, hope, and charity" (1 Cor 13:13).  Benedict's first papal encyclical, Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love") grounds the life of the Christian in the reality of a loving encounter with Christ, not merely as an ethical decision but as an existential framework for participating in the love of God and how we are called to truly love our neighborhood in concrete terms. His second encyclical, Spe Salvi ("Saved by Hope") answers the modern claim that social progress is sufficient for the human community to save itself, without faith in Christ. His last encyclical, Caritas in Veritate ("Charity in Truth") is a statement on the Social Doctrine of the Church, that charity must always be grounded in truth and truth must always be sought within the economy of Christian love, and that therefore "charity" understood today must not be reduced to merely its social, juridical, cultural, political, or economic aspects, but it is necessarily theological in order for charity to express the fully human and relational importance of love.

While Benedict is the original author, and Pope Francis humbly states, “I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own,” the Holy Father is the moral and magisterial author the encyclical. As might be anticipated, the first encyclical of a Pontiff might well be read as a sort of keynote address to frame his own understanding of his pontificacy in the providence of the Holy Spirit continuously leading the Church into the fullness of truth and particularly answering the needs and challenges of the present age. John Paul II stated this plainly in his own first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis ("The Redeemer of Man"): 
It was to Christ the Redeemer that my feelings and my thoughts were directed on 16 October of last year, when, after the canonical election, I was asked: "Do you accept?" I then replied: "With obedience in faith to Christ, my Lord, and with trust in the Mother of Christ and of the Church, in spite of the great difficulties, I accept". Today I wish to make that reply known publicly to all without exception, thus showing that there is a link between the first fundamental truth of the Incarnation, already mentioned, and the ministry that, with my acceptance of my election as Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, has become my specific duty in his See. (RH, 2)
Similarly, Benedict noted at the beginning of Deus Caritas Est,
In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant. For this reason, I wish in my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others. (DCE, 1)
Francis tells us now that he wishes to continue the themes of his predecessor, but not only Benedict but all the Successors of Peter:
These considerations on faith — in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue— are meant to supplement what Benedict XVI had written in his encyclical letters on charity and hope. He himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith. For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own. The Successor of Peter, yesterday, today and tomorrow, is always called to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the priceless treasure of that faith which God has given as a light for humanity’s path. (LF, 6)
Francis's election has brought a new challenge to the Church, we we as Catholic can understand in the light of the maxim, Ecclesia semper reformanda et purificanda (the Church is always to be reformed and purified). This true reformation and purification was the impetus for Pope John XXIII to summon the Second Vatican Council, was a driving theme in the pontificacy of John Paul II. It is noteworthy and apt that the planned canonization of both of these men was also announced today.  This theme of semper reformanda is also embedded in the last farewell address that Benedict XVI gave to the Cardinals:
I am helped by an expression of Romano Guardini written in the year in which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution Lumen gentium, in his last book with a personal dedication to me, so the words of this book are particularly dear to me. Guardini said that the Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time, evolving, like any living being, transforming herself. Yet her nature remains the same. 
As we read and consider this new gift of Lumen Fidei to the Church, let us be cognizant of  the continuity of tradition and the continuity of the Petrine Office now vested in Pope Francis, as the Holy Spirit continues to reform and purify the Church.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Thinking about "equality": Why society can privilege natural marriage between a man and a woman over other consensual relationships.

On the meaning of "natural marriage" and other types of relationships


The following essay is based on the term of "natural marriage", that considers complementary sexuality between man and woman as foundational to optimized social life: since children are naturally engendered of sex between one male and one female at a time, and the child has a natural right to know and be raised by his biological parents, the sanest social policy seems to be that which promotes the natural family as permanent, monogamous, exclusive, faithful and stable. Other sorts of mutually consenting, free will relationships can be accommodated in a healthy society, but these are substantially different from "natural marriage". 

For the purpose of social policy regarding the presumption of a natural marriage, it seems adequate only to ensure that the two persons are entering into the relationship freely, with knowledge of the obligation, and presumed capable of generation by being of an age of sexual maturity.  Whether they can or choose to procreate is not in the interest of the State or society, and any intrusion into that question is a violation of basic human dignity and rights of conscience. It seems sufficient that they are sexually mature, consenting, and with sufficient intellectual capacity for the State to presume and recognize a valid marriage. 

What if there were no such thing as 'natural marriage'? 


In order to discuss rationally the recent movement toward granting homosexual unions the same name and equal status as a natural marriage, we should first consider the following: 

1) If either children were not naturally born of sex between a man and a woman, or 2) if sex had nothing to do with procreation, or 3) if children did not optimally require the stable and loving relationship between their parents for their welfare and emotional, psychological, social, and moral formation, then none of this call for "equality" would even be an issue. Also, 4) if society accorded no special advantages to natural marriage, promoted as 5) stable, faithful, exclusive, and permanent between two persons of complementary sexuality, the call for "equality" probably wouldn't be an issue either. Whether society ought to do so is a legitimate question, but I see neither advantage in not doing so, nor in claiming that other sorts of relationships have the primal societal importance and social interest as does natural marriage. To flesh these out:

  1. If children were not naturally born of sex between a man and a woman, then all relationships would be completely and truly equal in fact (and therefore presumably in the eyes of the law). 
  2. If sex were not naturally procreative, the State and society would have no legitimate interest in who had sex with whom. It would be an entirely innocuous and benign and morally neutral activity.  There would be no basis for concern whatsoever (nor laws) against incest, pederasty, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, bestiality, or anything else. These are only of any social importance because of the importance of sex itself.
  3. If children did not optimally require a stable and loving family for their flourishing, there would be no pressing need to promote any sort of stable relationships at all. Rather, it can be argued economically for the purposes of a consumerist society that the more transient and mobile and unattached the populace is, the more the economy is fueled and the more the workforce can be shifted as demands change. People might still want to establish such domestic households for emotional, relational, rational, economic or social reasons, but neither the State nor society would have any particular pressing interest in promoting that mode of living. Apart from children optimally requiring some stability for formation, education, and socially developing with friendships, the case for stable and permanent households seems weak. There might well be other considerations, such as our natural propensity to settle down and own property, or an argument that social stability and home ownership reduces crime rates, but these are not necessarily compelling reasons for social policy to privilege any particular mode of living.
  4. If there were no tax advantages (the dependent deduction is a joke economically, but that's beside the point), or recognized common pooling of assets such as joint property ownership, survivorship, automatic insurance enrollment, visitation rights in hospitals and prisons, inheritance, etc. there would be little reason for anyone to ask the government to regulate their relationship. Apart from these 'benefits", why in this age of centralized, bureaucratic, governmental intrusion into every area of private life should anyone be clamoring to be processed and documented by bean counters keeping tabs on citizens at the instigation of policy wonks and meddlesome legislators? 
  5. If there is no intention for stability in the relationship, then why should it be considered marriage or the State take any particular interest in the private intimate lives of individuals? If there is no intention to fidelity, exclusivity or permanence, then how can it justly be considered the same as a relationship that is committed to these principles? If the relationship is inherently sterile, which is necessarily the case of homosexual relationships and cannot be presumed between adults of complementary sexuality (without invasive and grotesque medical testing that is the business of no one but the two parties), then apart from the sorts of social and economic advantages mentioned in #4, there does not seem to be any pressing reason for social policy to privilege any other sorts of private relationships with the same benefits that reasonably adhere to natural marriage.    
But children are born of sex, and sex is naturally procreative, and children optimally flourish in stable households raised by their natural parents. Tens of thousands of years of lived human experience argue for the importance of this particular relationship of the parents to the well being of the child and future generations. Between basic biology and human nature, there seems to be serious reasons that natural marriage is socially privileged over all other sorts of relationships, and is unique from all other relationships.

The argument for Registered Domestic Corporations as distinct from Marriage

I would also suggest that a healthy society in a pluralistic culture as the 21st century West can, and arguably ought to, accommodate other modes of life, whether homosexual or polyamorous or free love communes of any number of consenting adults. From a perspective of Catholic moral theology and anthropology, these would not be optimal for the true end of the human person, and indeed they would be understood as morally and relationally defective. But it is a very legitimate question from Catholic jurisprudence as to whether the State ought to intrude on the rights of persons to prevent them from living as they see fit; and, more importantly, there is an argument from justice that all members of the society ought to be able to enjoy all the benefits and the goods of the society equally as persons under the law.

It seems that the law could therefore legitimately provide for some sort of legal status (
a registered domestic corporation, for instance) to any group of mutually consenting adults of any number for the sake of establishing some domestic arrangement, which can establish and protects rights and responsibilities regarding property, inheritance, insurance, visitation, survivorship, etc. This however is something quite different from marriage of man and woman that can be by nature presumed to be generative and therefore transgenerational, and therefore must accommodate third parties (children) who are not signatories to the original contract. A homosexual relationship cannot ever be fertile or generative, and is naturally limited to the contracting parties, and so the legal needs of the homosexual couple are more limited than those of a natural marriage. It seems these can all be handled easily by a contract attorney working within a duly legislated contractual structure to provide for the rights and responsibilities of the contracting parties, as well as for the State to recognize such rights and responsibilities enforceable in the courts. 

Thoughts from the Catholic view of human relationships in a secular society


While from a Catholic anthropology and sociology the natural family is the basis of society and this precedes the State, our modern post-Enlightenment civilization considers the individual as radically atomic with all relationships being constructs (as is 'gender', 'family', 'rights', 'person', etc.). That is, for better or worse, the political and societal reality we now live in. Our modern society is transient and psychically unmoored. Sex is the medium of exchange in hookup culture. Contraception severs the natural relationship between sex and procreation. Divorce on demand has created a sort of serial monogamy where the bonds of natural family are weakened. The Atomic-age and socially atomic "nuclear family" displaced the extended family as Americans became more mobile and left in droves for the suburbs. Most importantly, our entire legal system is now simple legal positivism informed by the utilitarian and pragmatic principles of social organization. There is no appeal to natural law or natural rights inherent in the person: rather, rights are seen as assigned to individuals and to be allowed or limited as best seen fit by the Government. Even the family today has no natural right to guardianship of the parents' children (the notion that a child can 'divorce' his parents by court order), and the parents have no natural right to form, educate, and care for their own children as they best see fit (the German government's attack on homeschooling, for instance, or the manner in which Social Services will swoop in with militarized police to seize children from the parents).

All of this points to a steady erosion of natural bonds of man - woman - child as the basis of society. And while children are naturally engendered of sex between man and woman, and we as sexual adults naturally form intimate sexual relationships with others, the primary question concerning marriage and family is not about the relationship of the partners or spouses, but rather between the children and parents. There is no more important, permanent, and natural relationship than that of the parent and child. Lovers and spouses and crushes and hook ups come and go. One's mother and father is always one's parent, and one's child is always one's child. The child naturally and properly comes to understand everything through the example of the parent, and the child optimally receives love, affection, care, and affirmation of who she or he is as a person in relationship from the parents. One need not spend too much effort defending this against the obvious evidence of psychological trauma and dislocation that divorce or being made an orphan or adopted precipitates. (This is not a criticism of adoption at all, which is a sad but unfortunately necessary process where society has to step in to provide for the child when the natural parents are lost. Adoption itself is the work of the angels).

There is no greater natural love than a parent for a child, and no greater sense of loss than that of a parent who must bury a child. There is no greater influence on a person's emotional state and ability to have healthy relationships than that given by the parents. The parents are called to properly form their children as healthy, balanced, moral persons to be launched into society, and when they fail to do so the ripple effects to society can be damaging indeed. All of this suggests the primacy of the parent-child relationship which society at large ought to respect, protect, and privilege.

Bad biblical arguments don't undermine the rationality of "natural marriage"


But the central point here is that natural marriage thus discussed is a natural institution which has been privileged by virtually every society for very good reasons. Parenthetically, the commonplace claim that the Bible supposedly gives all sorts of models for "marriage" and "family" is really a bad argument. Deficient Old Testament models of human relationship, even within some Scriptural context, do not argue for no reasonable and rational view of marriage. From a perspective of Christian theology, had the OT patriarchs and Kings gotten it right and had well ordered and just societies, there would be no need for the perfecting revelation in Christ. If one wants to argue that Solomon's 700 wives, or patriarchal slave-concubines are salutary models for human relationship that should be held as exemplars, go for it. But simply arguing that there is no reasonable, rational, and just model for marriage because of deficient understandings in the late Bronze age is as unreasonable as suggesting that there is no ideal to a just society because the Code of Hammurabi required the death penalty for the owner of the tavern in which some conspirators met, and that there is no ideal of justice that sane social policy ought to promote. 

Looking for coherent consistency in language and social policy


Natural marriage serves a different sort of purpose than other voluntary relationships. It is a different sort of thing than other relationships, and so is properly called by a different term. Without getting too philosophical, we as rational beings call different things by different terms to understand their specificity, and to keep them separated for the purposes of understanding and communication. This is the natural pattern of human rationality: we compare and contrast the characteristics and traits of different things, name them, and order them so that we can grasp the created world. This is a fundamental method of human organization, so basic and natural that we forget that is how we can tell the difference between our mother and our father, or between a car and an apple. Different types of things are given different names, and even similar sorts of things are given adjectives to distinguish them: the red apple from the green apple.

 (If one objects to that, I would like to know in what other cases we fail to call different types of things by different terms to keep them separate: if any relationship can be termed "marriage" then marriage simply means relationship, which gets us nowhere.)

The proper political question is "how do we properly ensure the rights and responsibilities of all citizens, while providing for the necessary social structure that optimizes the good of children and the formation of future generations?"  It seems to me that there are other legal remedies that don't impinge on the primal and foundational relationship of the natural family as the basis of society.


If you disagree with the above, I am happy to discuss the arguments in civil and mutually respectful terms. Uncivil or disrespectful comments will be deleted.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Duke and Duchess of North Caldwell

With the untimely passing of James Gandolfini, I was reminded of being "one degree of separation" from Mr. Gandolfini. The six degrees of separation is the notion that everyone on earth can be introduced to everyone else on earth via "friends of friends" with each introduction encompassing all the people your friend knows, and then to all the people those people know, etc. Modestly, let us consider "friend" as someone you know even if on Facebook, perhaps had a meal with, or at least "someone who will return your phone call".

Several years ago when I was working on the new Our Savior Catholic Center for the Catholic chaplaincy at the University of Southern California, we put out a national call for artists in the process of selecting the nation's best talent for traditional, figurative sacred art. One artist I particularly wanted to bring to the artist selection committee for consideration was Federico Castellucccio, an Italian-born American classical figurative painter who is steeped in the Renaissance tradition, and whose works frequently allude to the great 15th, 16th, and 17th century Netherlandish and Italian masters -- Titian, Petrus Christus,Cranach, Correggio, Memling and Caravaggio. His work is often whimsical, especially when he masterfully plays with trompe l-oeil, such as his "Torn Titian Taped", "Cranach, Crackers, and Cardboard", or the delightful "Eggplant Parmigianino."

Torn Titian Taped (2004)

Oil on poplar panel
10” x 8“
Permanent Collection of Kresge Art Museum 
(c) Federico Castelluccio

Cranach, Crackers and Cardboard (2004)

Oil on wood
14” x 11”
Private Collection, New York 
(c) Federico Castelluccio 

Yet Mr. Castelluccio's work, even when humorous, is very serious. He obviously approaches form, technique, composition, and attention to detail with great sobriety, and his work suggests a calm and contemplative method. A comparison of Mr. Castelluccio's "Eggplant Parmigianino" (below right) to the original self portrait of the artist, Girolamo Mazzola (below left), with the wonderful still life in the shadowbox, shows nothing hurried, impetuous, or capricious, but rather a focused and purposeful approach to his subject.

(left) Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror, by Girolamo Mazzola; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (1524)
(right) Eggplant Parmigianino, (2004) (c) Federico Castelluccio

Even the wonderful burl pattern on the frame is an homage to the sort of attention to materiality that one finds in the 15th and 16th century masters: anyone who has spent anytime before Van Eyck's "Madonna and Child with the Canon van der Paele" at the Groeningemuseum in Bruges can be swept away in awe of the mastery of materiality looking at the golden embroidery on the cope of St. Donatian, the Virgin's velvety red robes trimmed with precious jewels, or the mirrored gleam of St. George's metal armor. Such attention to materiality is typical of Mr. Castelluccio's work. It is practically a signature feature that is not mere showmanship or artistic bravado, but seems to be integral to his striving to capture the material accidents presented to the eye which his art requires be communicated to the viewer. This is indeed serious work, the most serious work of an artist, since it is about the communication of being itself.

Detail of Armor from The Virgin and Child with Canon Van der Paele, by Jan van Eyck, 1436-1436.
A few years before the USC project, I had contacted and spoken with Federico about another commission I was interested to discuss with him: the enormous reredos mural painting at Saints Anne and Joachim Catholic Church in Fargo ND. Federico's calendar was too busy to accommodate such a massive project, and the project was successfully completed by the very talented group at Evergreene Studios. 

Sts. Anne and Joachim, Fargo, ND. Reredos Mural, by Evergreene Studio New York.
When I brought his portfolio to the liturgical arts committee at the USC Catholic Center, the committee was very favorably disposed to his work.  His evident talent captured the eyes of the committee, and even his Hollywood familiarity presented a serious challenge to those who were predetermined to limit the call-for-artists to Los Angeles basin artists, and preferably USC alums, but the various painting commissions went to other excellent talent. Someday, perhaps, I'll finally get the opportunity to work with Mr. Castelluccio on a commission for a work of sacred art when the time, opportunity, subject, subject, and budget all align. In the meantime, let's go back to the beginning of this essay, the untimely death of Mr. Gandolfini, who is forever embedded in the American landscape as Tony Soprano. One of Mr. Castelluccio's seriously witty works, and perhaps his most important commission which is iconic of American culture in the early 21st century, is his "Duke and Duchess of North Caldwell", depicting Tony and Carmella Soprano in the guise of Piero della Francesca's famous "Duke and Duchess of Urbino".

Duke and Duchess of North Caldwell

Oil poplar panel two panels
16” x 11”
Private Collection, Toronto, Canada 
(c) Federico Castelluccio 

Portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino

Piero della Francesca
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
The poetry of the subject is delightful in the parallels between the historical Federico da Montefeltro and Tony Soprano. Montefeltro was a condottiero -- a "contractor" -- actually a mercenary who would fight and lead his army for hire into battle to win lands for his employers. He was man of violence and intrigue, commanding a small army in a modest backwater town of Urbino against much larger opponents such as Sigismondo Malatesta, the lord of Rimini (parenthetically, for whom Alberti designed the famous Tempio Malatestiano as the new Cathedral for Rimini), much in the way that the Soprano crew would be outnumbered and outgunned in Newark by the New York families.

Montefeltro may well have been part of the plot to assassinate his half-brother Oddantonio, who had been made Duke of Urbino by Pope Eugene IV, though his involvement in the conspiracy has not been proved, yet Federico seized control of the city after the murder. Montefeltro thereafter fought for the powerful Sforza family, the Dukes of Milan, and later for Alfonso V, the King of Naples, in their various battles. He later rose under the patronage of Pope Pius II to become a Gonfaloniere of the Holy Roman Church, and won many battles for the Pope, but then took up arms against the Papal armies and vanquished them to retain control of Rimini and Urbino. Whether fighting for or against the Papal States, or for or against the Florentines, Federico da Montefeltro had an uncanny ability to always promote his own position with strategy, violence, conspiracies, the unwavering loyalty of his troops, and political acumen in an age that was far more dangerous and politically complicated than David Chase's Sopranos could ever hope to emulate.

These were not just turf wars for the union contracts to build docks or collect trash or run numbers, but wars and battles for whole regions of the Italian peninsula. Conflicts that involved the great families: not the petty Newark  DiMeo crime family or new York-based Lupertazzi family, but the Gonzagas and the Sforzas and the Borgias and the Delle Rovere who were fighting for the papacy and control of the city states. Such was Federico da Montefeltro's prestige in the Renaissance that he was an inspiration for Machiavelli's The Prince.

Palazzo Ducale, Urbino

As it turned out, the Duke of Urbino turned into one of the most important patrons of the Renaissance. He used his great wealth to turn Urbino into an important cultural center, with and ducal elegant palace that was a training ground for the children of nobility and a vast library that employed dozens of scribes, and he supported artists and architects such as Raphael, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, and of course Piero della Francesca who painted the famous portrait.

Unlike da Montefeltro, Tony Soprano never became legit, but he earned a place in the American fictional landscape as well known as the Duke of Urbino held in the geo-political landscape of the 15th century Italian Renaissance. The Mafia families seem to have remained in the brutal, violent, and avaricious world of medieval and early modern Italy, but where they operate outside the law, the great ruling families that fought for control in the 15th century were the law. They answered to no one, even daring to defy the Church and endure excommunication, yet ready to pay the necessary tribute to the Pope in order to avoid the pains of eternal damnation. The violence and intrigues, conspiracies and extortions, assassinations and payoffs, hired enforcers and demands of loyalty to death, and the need to be both politically astute and ruthless when required in order to survive, show marked similarities between the two figures.

It seems therefore entirely fitting that Tony was painted into the role of the Duke of North Caldwell by one of his own soldiers, Furio Guinta, the very talented painter Federico Castelluccio.

The late James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano (left) being driven by his artistically sensitive enforcer Furio Guinta, played by Federico Castelluccio. 
May the soul of James Gandolfini, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.