Sunday, September 26, 2010


From Latin caelibatus (“celibacy, a single life”), perfect passive participle of caelibare, from caelebs (“unmarried”)

I understand that many want to use it to mean abstaining from sexual relations, but I like words to have clear meanings when possible, rather than ambiguous ones. Plus it's from the Latin, which pushes my buttons pretty good when someone uses it in the sexual sense rather than the unmarried sense. Which happened yesterday, strike that, two days ago.

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First casuality of grad school

Besides my dignity, that is. Agreed, the "Open Hardware Summit" doesn't have a lot to do with religion or any of the other topics nominally on topic, but I think that the idea of a producer or tinkerer culture is an important one and that we should do whatever we can do create new and interesting things in the world. If procreation is our helping God to bring new people into the world, surely learning how to knit is helping God to bring interesting clothes into the world. Ok maybe a stretch, but still tinkering and hobbying around are an important way to grow as people and to, if one is lucky, to make the world a slightly better place, even if it only improves your attitude a little.

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Made up statistics take on a life of their own


Colin Powell, Iran, and nuclear reactors

Three of my favorite subjects!

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Color me an extremist

Now, I must also comment on the withering attacks on Delaware Republican candidate Christine O'Donnell. I saw her described in the media as totally unfit for office and scandal-plagued. So I looked for details--what exactly are her alleged misdeeds? Well, it seems that the major source of scandal has to do with her sexual views: she is against masturbation and sex outside of marriage!

Clearly such people shouldn't be allowed into office! They hold other views similar to politicians of the 19th century! Maybe she'd like to extend slavery into Missouri, or place a tariff on manufactured goods being imported from the UK. Clearly she can't be trusted,

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Ghosts - a somewhat Catholic perspective

I tend to think that such things are out there, though not of the "Ghost Hunters" variety. Watch TCJ review a book on the subject, which I intend to check out from the library or purchase.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Benedict at Westminster

The headline is

Pope's address at Westminster rattled Britain's Protestant foundation: columnist

I guess it was a good speech?


Yonkers Mermaid Swims On

My grandmother, once championship swimmer, political party crasher, and overall woman extraordinaire, has passed on at the age of 100. Rest in peace beloved Anna.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fr Fenlon Exiled for Five Years

CALI has been following this particular story of some friars exiled for no one knows what, and the somewhat curious actions of some of the players in the papal visit over there.

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The Hound of Heaven

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Happy Feast of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta

As I sit by the phone waiting for a call from the emergency room about my father, I finished reading Come be my Light, the book detailing the private writings of Mother Teresa, as preserved in the thousands of letters and notes she wrote. I have been reading this book for a couple months and it is appropriate I finish it this morning, the feast of Mother Teresa, and the day I am scheduled to enter into a religious community. With my father in the hospital I wonder if I will still be moving today, but all is in God's hands.

This book, and Mother Teresa's Secret Fire written by MC priest, Joseph Langford, have more than any other writings aside the Gospels themselves, influenced my spirituality and been a great source of strength. I encourage everyone who struggles with darkness, or feels called to serve the poor, to take a close look at the life and spirituality of Mother Teresa. Her mission of responding to "I Thirst" and a life of quenching the thirst of Jesus, is really a mission for us all. You would do very well to start with these two books.

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Prayer request

Please pray for my father who was admitted to the emergency room last night for chest pains and is still there this morning. Thank you.


Saturday, September 04, 2010

Towards a "Climate on Chastity"

I finished reading Dawn Eden's thesis this morning. As I state before, I was not too familiar with the teachings of Christopher West on TOB, but if they are accurately represented by the Dawn Eden, West's presentation is quite disappointing. In all fairness I should perhaps read West's materials for myself, but Eden quotes West extensively. Most disturbing to me are West's emphasis on sexual love and purity as a path to holiness, for which there is no detour. At the end of the thesis Dawn points out that while sex and holiness are by no means opposed, that the preoccupation with sex and sexual purity is misguided. Our emphasis both in marriage and in our Christian lives, should be on charity. Charity in faith is the path to salvation, not sexual purity and nuptial union of the soul. West emphasizes too much the latter.

But to critique Eden's critique, I think that she need not have have emphasized West's involvement with the sexually repressive Mother of God community as much as she did. While it does make the valid point that perhaps West is reacting against negative experiences in his life, attacking his flaws on theological/philosophical basis would have been sufficient. We don't need to know why he might be predisposed towards such mistakes. It would be equally unfair to look at Eden's sexual history and use it against her to say she is overly preoccupied with chastity.

My only regret is that I feel the thesis is too short. Eden spends much time explaining West's presentation, pointing out the flaws, drawing out the criticisms, and then only a few paragraphs on a more valid method for presenting JPII's TOB. I would really like to see Eden formulate her own presentation of TOB, one that is more balanced, that includes an emphasis on charity, the role of suffering, and one in which concupiscence and continence are more properly addressed. Also I would welcome a more feminine viewpoint on human sexuality, which Eden could bring to the table. One thing not addressed is the overwhelming male tone to West's version of TOB.

Chapters 1 and 2 of Eden's thesis were great, but chapter 3 seemed rushed. Maybe she is holding off on formulating her own complete synthesis for her PhD dissertation. I will certainly at any rate look forward to following her continued work on this topic. I just ordered her book, The Thrill of the Chaste, and eagerly anticipate reading it.

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Word of the day - infralapsarian

Also called postlapsarian and sublapsarian, from the Latin lapsus meaning fall.

of the assertion that God's decrees of election and reprobation logically succeeded the decree of the fall

I came across it in Dawn Eden's thesis, although it was in a quote by David Schindler.

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Dawn Eden critiques Christopher West

I had the pleasure of meeting Dawn Eden in November 2008 on the feast of St. Albert the Great at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC and I check her blog from time to time to see what she is up to.

I am thrilled to see she had the courage to critique Christopher West's presentation of John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Not that I am anti-Christopher West, I have only skim read his work to be honest. As Dawn notes, he is a great public speaker, and effectively spreads enthusiasm for TOB. I was always disappointed though that many of my friends would read West's literature, rather than reading the original Wednesday audiences of JPII themselves. I know that John Paul's writing isn't for everyone, but most of my friends are college educated, and even have advanced degrees, and I did not understand why they needed someone else to interpret or simplify TOB. I greatly enjoy reading the original thoughts of John Paul II on this topic. He is so brilliant!

At any rate, whenever I shrugged my shoulder's at Christopher West I would get disapproving looks from friends who hold him on a pedestal as the thinker par excellence of all things TOB. So I am excited to see someone critique him, if only because it seems so taboo.

I love things TOB, but have stayed away from joining TOB study groups and the wider cult of TOB, because I fear that sometimes people run away with the teachings and add interpretations that are not entirely sound. For example, I knew someone who invented from the TOB philosophy the idea that are souls are intrinsically spousal in nature, and that we all have a soul mate, either in this life or the next. A romantic notion perhaps, but not theologically sound. That's TOB run a mock.

At any rate, I can't wait to sink my teeth into Dawn Eden's thesis, which is available for free from CNA. Simply scroll to the bottom of the interview to obtain a copy. Although with nearly 100 pages, and my impending move and new job starting next week, I'm not sure if I am up to the task. At least I will use some of my remaining vacation time to skim through this. I will let you know my thoughts after reading her work for myself.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Song of Songs

I have spent the last several months meditating upon that which is perhaps the most poetic and beautiful book in the Bible, the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon as it is sometimes called. I have read many different translations of it, and many commentaries, and I do not feel I could add much that has not already been said by other scholars who are much more learned in Hebrew, historical context, and theology, than I. However, I would like to share a few fruits of my labors, that may be of interest to anyone else who is seeking to study this piece of Scripture.

Point 1: Of Finding the Best Translation

 The best translation, hands down, is this Modern Library Classics by Bloch and Bloch. The layout is very user-friendly, with the original Hebrew on one side, with the English translation on the other. Anyone who knows or is studying Hebrew will appreciate this feature. Also the Song jumps between voices and narrative without the typical "he said"/"she said" obtrusions that are common to modern dialogue. Using context clues it is not too challenging to figure out if the lines belong to the Lover or the Beloved, but the translators' use of italics and bold, makes this distinction clear and renders a very smooth reading. 

What makes this translation supreme is Bloch and Bloch's great command of Biblical Hebrew combined with their artistry in maintaining the poetic beauty of this text. They took great care to translate this text as closely as possible to the original Hebrew, but still made some artistic adjustments when a too literal translation would be awkward. 

This edition includes a wonderful introduction which discusses the various historical interpretations of this text, as well as their own take. A detailed commentary follows which explains in minutiae the justifications for various translation decisions. For example the word "love" in 5:1, Bloch and Bloch argue has in Hebrew really the specific meaning of "love-making" as opposed to other Biblical terms for love such as the NT Greek "philos," or "agape," or the OT Hebrew "chesed" all of which can have meanings quite different from the act of coitus implied in "love-making." But the Blochs are careful to point out that the same Hebrew word used for love in 5:1 is used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, and in those instances is very clearly in the context of romantic lovers spending the night together. 

The Bloch translation manages to capture the mystery, the beauty, the sensuality of the language, in a way that is fresh, readable, and true to the Hebrew.

Point 2: Of Interpreting the Scripture

So I have looked at many commentaries on this text, but have by no means exhausted them. Perhaps second only the Book of Revelations, never have so many meanings been put upon so simple a text. The Song of Songs is rich in images of landscapes, food and drink, royalty, and pastoralism, and they are interwoven in such a way that if you try to imagine the everything literally it becomes a dizzying journey as a woman becomes a garden, becomes a pleasing feast, a sealed fountain, and her parts become at different times jewels, animals, fruits, landscape features, and spices. The man in turn is her brother, her lover, her king. The language is neither allegorical, or strictly metaphorical, but rather paints a landscape, appeals to all the senses, and in the end the excitement, the allurement, the emotions and sensations recreated in the reader, are perhaps more the point, than any dry parsing of words and scholarly exegesis can convey. 

I briefly read through many of the Church father's interpretations, but found them difficult to take seriously. Not that I discount them completely, but when dear St. Ambrose writes about the line "Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love" (5:1) and speaks of a "sobering inebriation" one that is "one of grace, not of intoxication" and speaks of the poem as a metaphor for the "banquet of the church" it leaves something to be desired. I think that "drunk" means precisely "intoxication." Even if one is to accept the interpretation of the wedding feast as a metaphor for the joyful wedding banquet of Christ and the church, even so, to be "drunk on love" means that we are intoxicated by Christ's presence, and our senses become befuddled. We become blinded by love and see only the beloved, and our higher reasoning goes out the window, for all we can do is delight in the presence of the Beloved, living in the present moment, oblivious to all else besides. But in St. Ambrose's defense he does hint as much in saying that "Christ dines ... in us. he drinks such drink in us; with the intoxication of this drink, he challenges us to make a departure from worse things to those that are better and best." 

There is much of value in the Church Fathers' exegeses, I don't mean to discount them by any means. But their readings are often very dry and often come across as scholarly intellectual exercises, and miss out on the passion conveyed in the poem. Also by reading things too allegorically, they miss the forest for the trees. Every little symbol is parsed out for meaning, but the poem must also be read as an organic whole.  Some of the various interpretations, which all had some merit, but failed to capture the essence of the poem included interpreting the Lover and the Beloved as:

  1. Christ and the Church
  2. Christ and Mary
  3. Christ and the soul
  4. God and Israel
  5. divine Wisdom and the man who seeks it
  6. mystical marriage of God and the soul

Interestingly, God is never mentioned in the Song of Songs, but the poem is clearly Jewish as the Beloved's name is roughly translated as "Jerusalamite" and she speaks often to the "daughters of Jerusalem." Also much of the imagery and language has strong Jewish roots or references. But sometimes the question has been asked, is this poem about God at all, or are we injecting religious meaning simply because somehow this book wound up in the religious canon? 

After much research I had to keep returning to Bloch and Bloch's assertion that we should take the text for what it is at face value: a beautiful love poem. All other meanings are secondary. It is no crime to use a beautiful work such as this to help illustrate theological points, such as St. Louis de Montfort does in putting lines from this poem in the voice of Mary. But to read the poem as simply a prophetic work about Mary, does not make sense.

Point 3: Song of Songs in Theology of the Body

Well, JPII did it again. The man who seems to have the final say on everything, apparently discussed his interpretation on the Song of Songs in his Wednesday audiences in May of 1984. Of course I only discovered this last night in flipping through my copy of Theology of the Body. I have read Part I of TOB several times, but I have not read through the whole book. If I had I might have recalled that about 8 pages are spent discussing the pope's interpretation of this work. 

JPII says the Song speaks of "the language of the body, a singular language of love originating in the heart." He maintains that "It is not possible to reread it except along the lines of what is written in the first chapters of Genesis, as a testimony of the beginning - that beginning which Christ referred to in his decisive conversation with the Pharisees (Mt 19:4). The Song of Songs is certainly found in the wake of that sacrament in which, through the language of the body, the visible sign of man and woman's participation in the covenant of grace and love offered by God to man is constituted." 

I won't spoil it for you by attempting to convey the full 8 page discussion, but it is well worth a read. Also, there are two pages of foot-notes, which to me are just as interesting, and deal with reconciling (or even discarding!) previous Christian interpretations of this text. As one footnote says, "the Song therefore is to be taken simply for what it manifestly is: a song of human love." (J. Winandy, OSB) Also it footnotes note that "the content of the Song of Songs is at the same time sensual and sacred. When one prescinds from the second characteristics, the Song of Songs comes to be treated as a purely lay erotic composition, and when the first is ignored, one falls into allegorism. Only by putting these two aspects together is it possible to read the book in the right way." 

Who knew that the synthesis to so much of my independent research on the Song of Songs has been sitting on my shelf all these months in my copy of Theology of the Body

So in the end, I have nothing really original to say on the Song of Songs, that has not been already stated much more eloquently by far more authoritative sources than myself. But I enjoy dabbling in exegesis and scriptural studies and hope that this post may help direct some other lay person who has an interest in researching the Song so that they don't start completely from scratch as I did.

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