Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Vehige: Shakespeare's Macbeth

Last night, I started listening to this:

Not knowing how good it would be, I checked it out from the library. I sat down with my headphones, opened the play, and followed along. It's phenomenal -- a great way to experience Shakespeare.

It looks like Arkangel has done all 38 of Shakespeare's plays. I'm not sure I'm interested in reading all of them, but I will be buying the audiobooks for his four great tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth) and for his four great comedies (The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer's Night Dream, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Woodward: St. Thomas Aquinas on Game Four



"The object of hope is future good, arduous, but possible of attainment."


You know, it really is the perennial philosophy.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Woodward: Tintoretto

The claim being made here seems to involve the "high" Renaissance only, rather than the early Renaissance as well. And as we all know, the greatest of the Italian Renaissance painters -- early or late -- was Giotto. (Just ask Miss Jean Brodie.)

In any event, James Panero's opinions are never to be taken lightly, and the linked material in the post at the New Criterion blog is well worth a look.

The Tintoretto Crucifixion is a great painting, even if that nimbus around Jesus makes him look a bit like Elvis.

Woodward: Thomism at Fenway

I continue to try and bring the wisdom of the Angelic Doctor to bear on the World Series, and I think I may have an insight to offer. The Rockies' hitting last night illustrated the difference between potency and act.

As for tonight's game...

Objection 1. It seems that the superiority of the Boston Red Sox is self-evident.

On the contrary....

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Vehige: Big Fat Space Opera


I've never read a L. Ron Hubbard story or novel before, but yesterday I started Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000. Only thirty pages into it, I'm hooked . . . but I still have over 1,000 pages to go. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Woodward: Something Really Important

Efficacious grace ... predestination ... scientia media (okay, we haven't gotten to that one yet but we will, believe me). I think it's time to discuss a really important question: Why, when the Colorado Rockies have already proven that they can take two out of three from the Red Sox and beat Josh Beckett, are they still underdogs in the World Series? Is there a Thomist position on that one???

Vehige: a thomist on St. Thomas

With a post entitled "Some errors about St. Thomas’ doctrine of Predestination," I have to wonder if this guy (or gal) is reading Thursday Night Gumbo.

What I find particularly interesting is this statement:

Failure to determine what light one follows in the discussion of predestination. For St. Thomas, the explication of predestination belongs formally to natural theology, that is, to that part of theology which is known by human reason.


One more reason why I really need to take some time and read closely St. Thomas' Commentary on Aristotle's Physics.

Vehige: Willing the Good

Our will is the power within our soul by which we desire (what we perceive to be) the good. We must keep the word "perceive" in the definition because sometimes what we perceive to be the good isn't really the good. For St. Thomas, this is the only way we can sin -- by perceiving what is evil to be good. If I tell a lie, it is because I perceive the telling of the lie to be better than not telling the lie, or telling the truth. In fact, I may very well know that telling the lie is a sin -- something I want to avoid -- but I sin anyway because for whatever reason I perceive the lie to be better than telling the truth.

Because our will naturally desires the good when St. Thomas speaks of God moving the will to chose good over evil, he means that God helps the will perform its natural function to choose the actual good. Thus, God doesn't force us to act; He doesn't deprive us of our freedom. As I noted in a previous post, though God amplifies our authentic freedom so that we have the power to choose actual good.

Finally, 264 pages into Reginald Garrigou-Lagrage's Predestination, I've come across a passage that summaries this idea quite nicely:

...God, in thus moving our will, by interiorly inclining it, does not force it; for He moves it in accordance with its inclination to universal good; He actualizes this general inclination and causes it powerfully and suavely to confine itself with a dominating indifference to a certain particular good, thus freely willed with a view to happiness, since man naturally wills to be happy and seeks happiness in everything he wills.

I think I've finally reached a point where I can explain the Thomistic notion of efficacious grace.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Woodward: The Good Shepherd

Technically, Vehige and I are supposed to have been blogging the last couple of months on the Pope's book Jesus of Nazareth. It has proved a difficult work to blog about -- not because it is a difficult work in and of itself, but in fact for the opposite reason. I have read it all, and on almost every page I have said to myself, "Yes, that's true" or "Yes, that's well put." And that is about as far as it goes. The book is accessible, it reflects a lifetime of thoughtful reflection on the Gospels, it conveys important truths. There is little to be said about it, other than "Read it."

So this will be my last post on Jesus of Nazareth. (And while I don't want to speak for him, I think Vehige may have put up his last post on the book as well.) I simply want to draw your attention to a single line that comes toward the end of the book. Benedict is talking about the multiple meanings that attach to Jesus' image of himself as a shepherd. A shepherd protects his sheep and keeps them safe, because they "belong" to him -- belong not in the sense of property but in the sense of responsibility, as we might say that our children belong to us. The shepherd, in other words, cares for his sheep, in both the literal sense of that phrase and in the sense in which "care for" can be a synonym for "love."

A shepherd also directs his sheep to what they need to live -- good pasture. Benedict cites Old Testament images of God as the shepherd of Israel, particularly Ezekiel 34:14:

I will feed them with good pasture, and upon the mountain country of Israel shall be their pasture.

Ezekiel meant this prophecy literally, of course, but early Christian exegetes saw in the passage a promise that God would feed his Church with the spiritual food of Scripture -- God's truth.

Love and truth. Those are the gifts Jesus holds out to us by telling us that he is our shepherd. And then the Pope says this:

Man lives on truth and on being loved: on being loved by the truth.

How sharply the lines are drawn nowadays between those of us who believe that we are "loved by the truth" (whether we've ever put it in exactly those terms or not), and those who don't believe it -- don't believe it either because they reject the notion of truth altogether, or because they think that whatever truth exists in the universe has nothing to do with love.

Are we loved by the truth? Or do we live in a universe in which the truth (assuming that there is truth) is indifferent to us? The answer to that question, for those of us who have an answer, should make a big difference in the way we live, shouldn't it?

Read the Pope's book.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Vehige: What is human freedom?

When it comes to human freedom, contemporary Catholic thinking makes three distinctions.

(1) Political freedom -- which is pretty much what we're used to here in the United States.

(2) Natural freedom -- the basic choice to choose A over B, or B over A. When we think of the free will, we typical think of "natural freedom"

(3) Authentic freedom -- the freedom to do good and avoid evil. You see, for the Church, the "freedom" to sin isn't freedom at all. Because of original sin, we have an inclination to sin, a tendency to sin. So when presented with the choice to fornicate or remain chaste, our inclination is to fornicate, not to remain chaste. When you think about it, that's not true freedom. For the Christian, true freedom is the freedom to serve God and righteousness (Rom 6.15-19).

Once you understand the Thomistic notion of "efficacious grace" in terms of "authentic freedom," Thomas's idea of predestination begins to make some sense. In a previous post I wrote: "If a man is predestined, then he is 'infallibly saved'; that's how Garrigou-Lagrange states it. If this is true, what happens to that man's freedom?" The answer is that through the mercy of God, that man's authentic freedom is enhanced (if you will) so that he is freer to choose what is good and avoid what is evil. So efficacious grace makes us more free, not less.

Unfortunately, Garrgiou-Lagrange did not have at his disposal the language of "authentic freedom," but after reading another 30 pages in Predestination, I see that is exactly how he understands the Thomistic notion of efficacious grace.

Of course, this still leaves the other problem -- namely, "if a man is not predestined, which means he will be damned, then how can we say that God has given that man sufficient grace for salvation?" As my professor who was also the Balthasar scholar said, "Sufficient grace doesn't sound very sufficient."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Woodward: Blessed John Henry Newman?






Reports of a miraculous cure attributable to the intercession of John Henry Cardinal Newman have prompted speculation that he could be beatified sometime next year.

I've always considered Cardinal Newman's prose a miracle in itself, but I guess that's not the kind that counts.

Woodward: Gethsemani

It was reading Thomas Merton's The Waters of Siloe and The Sign of Jonas that helped me understand the place of monasticism in the Catholic Church and its validity as a Christian way of life. Growing up Protestant in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1950s and 1960s, I had no way of knowing that Merton was living out his monastic vocation barely sixty miles away at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani. But I have visited the monastery several times since my conversion to Catholicism, and I did so again this week with my wife and children (and camera) on a trip back to Kentucky. It's nice to be reminded from time to time that there are people who wake up every day at 3 AM just to pray for me.


Vehige: Some notes on predestination

I'm a third of the way through Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's Predestination. I'll have more about the book when I finish it, but for now I just want to list some of the things I've learned.

1. I've been a Semi-Pelagian for nearly all of my adult life. As I understand it, Semi-Pelagianism states that God gives equal amount of grace to all, but then steps back and is a mere spectator of how we use that grace. Thus, once that initial grace is offered, our salvation is completely and totally up to us. The Church, however, teaches not only that all men are predestined to receive grace, but that those who reach heaven were also elected by God, predestined for glory, and that God has given them every grace they need to fulfill this goal. Thus, when we pray, "My life is in your hands, O Lord," it means far, far more than whether or not I'll live till tomorrow. Indeed, the eternal life that I seek is in God's hands, and this becomes the foundation for the theological virtue of hope in God's love, mercy, and goodness.

2. It was either Walter Kasper or Avery Dullus who said that the heart of the Catholic faith is found at the tension that exists between two extremes. The mystery of the Trinity, for example, is found in the tension created between the unity of the one divine nature and the distinction between the three divine persons. To slip in either direction is to fall into heresy. According to Garrigou-Lagrange, the tension of the doctrine of predestination -- and thus the heart of the Church's teaching -- is found between God's desire to save all humanity (1 Tim 2.3-5) and God's election of some to glory (Rom 9).

3. I'll finally have to bite the bullet and read Hans Urs von Balthasar's Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved"? One of my professors at the University of Dallas was a Balthasar scholar, and so I was taught the basic outline of Balthasar's thesis -- and on that I've lived for almost ten years now. But Garrigou-Lagrange writes from the perspective that some will not be given the mercy of salvation -- and though that's not his argument, he writes with persuasion -- so it's now time to read von Balthasar for himself.

4. If I understand it correctly, the traditional Catholic theological understanding of the doctrine of predestination (which may or may not be separate from the Church's official teaching) runs something like this.

(a) After the fall, the just consequence for our sin is eternal separation from God.

(b) God, in his mercy, and from his desire to reveal his mercy, predestined from the beginning of time a certain number of individuals to eternal glory with him. This election is a completely free act of mercy on God's part.

(c) God's predestination to glory does not mean that he actively chooses that some will go to hell; the key here is to remember that hell is the just consequence for our sin, and that heaven is an act of mercy. God chooses to show his mercy to some, but (perhaps) not to all.

(d) A person who is predestined to glory must freely cooperate with the grace he receives from God, and it is through this cooperation that a man or woman merits eternal life. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, there is no difference between the primary cause (God) and the secondary cause (us) of predestination.

(e) Speaking of St. Thomas Aquinas, Garrigou-Lagrange draws a rather astounding conclusion to something Thomas says: "God's love infuses and creates goodness in things" (S.Th., I, 20, 2). Garrigou-Lagrange's conclusion is since God's love is the ground of a thing's goodness, one person would not be better than another person unless he were loved more by God. At first glance, this doesn't seem very fair at all . . . but, then, our lives are not over, and therefore we don't know how good we may become, which is why we should beg God for the grace to advance in virtue and holiness.

(5) To the question of why God chooses one and not another, every major theologian from St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas answered in the same way: "This is known to God alone, and if you do not want to err, do not try to answer it."

****

I'll stop here. Even though the tension between God's will to save all men and God's election of some to glory is a hard one to maintain, what is far more difficult for me is to see how human freedom fits into all of this. If a man is predestined, then he is "infallibly saved"; that's how Garrigou-Lagrange states it. If this is true, what happens to that man's freedom? Also, if a man is not predestined, which means he will be damned, then how can we say that God has given that man sufficient grace for salvation?

Two final points

First, I've only read up to the Protestants, and apparently, there are 16th-century Catholic thinkers who have an understanding of predestination that is different from the Augustinian-Thomistic understanding but is still compatible with Catholic teaching. Do these theologians have different ideas of how to explain the tension between God's will to save all men and God's election? Also, how do they understand human freedom here?

And second, one has to wonder about Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's presentation. He was a neo-Thomist, after all, and saw Thomism as a living intellectual tradition rooted in the work of St. Thomas, but also dependent on later Thomists. As someone who is more inclined to a historical approach to theology, I find this approach rather problematic. Does anyone know of another work on predestination that is more historical in it's approach? I have Henri Rondet's The Grace of Christ on my shelf; maybe I should put this book on my list.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Vehige: Baptismal Names

I teach the baptism class at my parish, and today from our one-and-only deacon I received this email:

In your research about Baptism, I am interested to see if you can find out why Catholics no longer follow the tradition of choosing a Saint's name, (as either the first or second name), for their child to-be-baptized. Historically, this saint chosen would/could have been a role model for the child to follow in his or her life.

I'm not sure the answer to his question is going to be found in any research. My own answer is that most Catholics are ignorant of traditional Catholic culture -- not only are they unaware that they should name their children after saints, most probably can't name five saints who weren't one of the Apostles. But even if they do know the tradition, as well as some of the saints, do they have a working knowledge of the Communion of Saints to understand they importance of naming their child after a saint? Not likely. Most parents probably see naming their children after saints as something Catholics do in the same way Protestants name their children after biblical figures -- or the way other people might name their children after a grandparent or uncle. In other words, it's little more than a tradition; there's nothing transcendent or supernatural about it. So the simple answer is that Catholic parents rarely choose a saint's name for their child because they haven't been taught why this is necessary, and by the time they show up in my baptism class, their kids have been born, named, and it's altogether too late.

Does anyone have another take on this?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Vehige: Book Recommendation

I'm always on the lookout for good books, so whenever I see a book list entitled Books that have changed my life, I tend to pay attention. Most of the time I make a mental note of the books I'd like to read someday, and on occasion I'll hop on over to Amazon.com and buy the book. Only rarely, however, will I actually read the book before I've forgotten why I bought it in the first place. Happily, I waited less that two weeks to read James V. Schall's A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning.


At 49 pages, it's a quick read -- something you can do over a leisurely lunch. So the only question you have to ask is whether a 49-page book is worth the $8.00 it costs. In my opinion, it is.

Depending on where we're at in our intellectual life, this book will affect us readers differently. If I had read this just after high school -- maybe during my first semester in college, when I was still at a state junior college -- I think what would have latched on to the concept that if one wants a true education, one shouldn't expect to get that education in the classroom. Though I'm a generation younger than Pink Floyd's The Wall, "We Don't Need No Education" was one of my theme songs when I was a teenager, and Schall's idea that true education is found outside the confines of school would have delighted me to no end.

But reading the book now, what strikes me as most exciting is the idea of intellectual freedom. It doesn't really matter what you read, just read the books that excite you and follow the ideas that excite you. When I read Schall's ideas on the subject, I felt that excitement I felt during my first semester at the University of Dallas (a university Schall lauds in his book, Another Sort of Learning) -- that feeling that the world of ideas was suddenly open to me, and all I really had to do was find a quiet spot in the library and read.

Alas, the grind of college and graduate school can destroy that initial love. One day, C. S. Lewis and a colleague were walking out of an examination, and Lewis started talking about the poem the student had been questioned about. This colleague of Lewis turned and said, "God Lord, we're after hours!" Somehow, Lewis had preserved that love of learning, that love of ideas.

From one perspective I have, but from another I haven't. It's not like I stopped reading after graduate school, but I often battled the notion that if there's no test to be taken, no paper to be written, no seminar to contribute to -- what was the point? What I see now is that I'd replaced the liberal learning Schall speaks of -- learning those things that are freeing, that have no use in the practical sense -- with getting a grade, or the pleasure showing off in front of my peers or my professors.

Thanks be to God, my desire to engage in serious reading has been growing. Yet, it's been hindered by a paralysis of not knowing what I should read. You see, the practical side, the non-liberal side, kicks in and says, if you're going to spend time reading a book, it better be something worth your time.

Which book to read? Why should I read it? Is this the best book I could be reading right now? Aren't their other books, better books, more important books, I could be reading? Ah, to hell with it, I'm gonna watch a few episodes of 24.

That's been pretty much my problem.

But thanks to Schall (as well to Robert) I see the solution. The best books to read -- the most important books to read -- are those books that excite you. If a book isn't dealing with questions you have, or a novel isn't riveting your imagination, why read it? I see now that this is the only way one can keep a healthy mind.

So I picked out one book that deals head-on with some questions I've had for some time now -- Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's Predestination -- along with a novel that I hope will capture my imagination -- J. F. Power's Morte D'Urban -- and I hope this is the beginning of a new phase in my intellectual life.

Ora pro me!

Vehige: Sad, but True

A t-shirt I should buy and hang above my computer.



Unless, of course you're John Scalzi.

HT: The Sci-Fi Catholic.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Vehige: The Lost Tools of Living

I'm breaking my silence because I want to direct everyone's attention to a series of riveting posts entitled The Lost Tools of Living written by Rick Saenz of Dry Creek Chronicles. Here is the link to his "Useful Posts" page. Scroll down a bit and you'll see links to the posts in the series.

He finished up today, and in his conclusion he states something that I found very intriguing: "I think that we took a wrong turn when we began to look at entertainment as something to be purchased rather than something we produced for ourselves." In other words, can we truly relax by becoming passive?

At any rate, get over to Dry Creek Chronicles and read Rick's posts on the lost tools of learning. You might not agree with everything he says -- in fact, you probably won't -- but he'll make you think, which is a precious gift indeed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Woodward: Uh-Oh



Gerald has used that word. And it's hard, frankly, to believe that he didn't do it on purpose.


By the way, his photo of the stained-glass window in question (left) is much more detailed than the one I posted. Seems to me that it looks even worse close up.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Woodward: Fr. McBrien Is Right

Writing in The Tidings, the Los Angeles archdiocesan newspaper, Fr. Richard McBrien explicates a recent document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) providing "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church." You may recall that that document, released last June, caused a stir among non-Catholic groups (and among certain kinds of Catholics as well) because it reaffirmed and clarified the consistent Catholic teaching that eastern Christian churches not fully in communion with the Catholic Church, and those ecclesial communities that arose as a result of the Protestant Reformation, suffer from "defects" but "are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact, the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church."

It was, of course, the word "defects" that leaped off the page for many people. In his Tidings column, Fr. McBrien attempts to put that word into some sort of ecclesiological perspective. This is how he does it:

What needs to be emphasized is that the so-called "defects" are institutional, not spiritual or moral. All that the CDF and the council are saying is that the Catholic Church alone fully possesses all the elements that are essential to the institutional integrity of the Body of Christ.

I agree completely with Fr. McBrien. (Mark this date on your calendars.) And yet I suspect that Fr. McBrien and I weigh the significance of "all that the CDF and the council are saying" a bit differently. To say that the only "defects" exhibited by Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism are "institutional" is not to say as little as Fr. McBrien's syntax would suggest. It is, after all, the Church as institution that exercises the teaching authority of Christ. Any "merely" institutional defect in a church's or ecclesial community's union with the Catholic Church is a defect in the authoritativeness with which that church or community can proclaim the Gospel. And that is no insignificant thing.

Where authentic Catholic teaching differs from the teachings of Orthodoxy or Protestantism, Catholics will believe -- of necessity -- that those differences arise from the greater, indeed the perfect, fidelity of the Catholic Church to the truth of Christ which has been entrusted to it. Orthodox and Protestant Christians will, of course, have a different explanation of the differences. That's no reason for us not to love each other, but it's also no excuse to discount the substance of the differences themselves by characterizing them as "only institutional." After all, it is the Church as institution that gives us the Petrine office (which neither Orthodoxy nor Protestantism has) and the sacraments (which Protestantism does not have fully).

Does all this mean that non-Catholic churches and communities are not made up of good people, good Christians? Certainly not. Or that non-Catholic churches and communities cannot be instruments of grace and salvation for those who look to them in that capacity? Certainly not. Here again I am in complete agreement with Fr. McBrien -- mainly because both he and I are in agreement with the Church on those points. I would never claim, as I'm sure Fr. McBrien would not, that the Catholic Church makes me morally or spiritually superior to any Christian of any other church or community. But unlike any other Christian church or community, it does offer me -- and Fr. McBrien -- the fullness of truth.

Woodward: "And I alone am left..."

As you've seen by now, my erstwhile blogging partner is off on a leave of absence for the rest of October. I will try to mind the store as best I can.

Oh, and while Vehige is gone, I think we should all take advantage of the opportunity to talk about him behind his back.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Woodward: So Now I'm a "Soulist"?

Having railed from time to time about the absurdities that result when scientists posit a materialist philosophy solely on the basis of scientific inquiry, I feel honor-bound to say something about the corresponding problems inherent in using science to prove supernaturalism. A new book, judging from this review, attempts just such a proof. Mario Beauregard, a University of Montreal neuroscientist, and journalist Denyse O'Leary argue in The Spiritual Brain that the activity of the human mind -- thought, in other words (actually, that's just one word, isn't it) -- cannot be explained fully in terms of physiological functions. I believe that that is true. But I do not believe that science can demonstrate such a truth. And I am certain that scientific materialists will be rushing to point that fact out if this book generates any degree of public interest at all. The scientific materialists will be right, and their rightness -- on this one point -- will be seen by many as a vindication of materialism itself. Which will be a shame.

In his review of
The Spiritual Brain linked above, Bryan Appleyard hits -- accidentally, I think -- on the reason that science will never have anything meaningful to say on the old question of whether mind events are brain events. He summarizes quite succinctly the repeated failures of science to offer a purely mechanistic explanation of "mind," "personality," "soul." But then he adds, by way of balance:

That said, the claims of the soulists, once we step back from the simple experience of being an aware self, are equally problematic.

"Once we step back from the simple experience of being an aware self." Huh? Once we "step back" from that, what, pray tell, do we step back to? What human faculty other than our "aware self" are we supposed to bring to bear on the task of analyzing our "aware self"? C. S. Lewis pointed out the absurdity of such an exercise in a 1943 essay, "The Poison of Subjectivism":

After studying his environment, man has begun to study himself. Up to that point, he had assumed his own reason and through it seen all other things. Now, his own reason has become the object: it is as if we took out our eyes to look at them. Thus studied, his own reason appears to him as the epiphenomenon which accompanies chemical or electrical events in a cortex which is itself the by-product of a blind evolutionary process. His own logic, hitherto the king whom events in all possible worlds must obey, becomes merely subjective. There is no reason for supposing that it yields truth.

That, in a nutshell, is why materialism will never be able to offer an intellectually satisfactory explanation of the human mind. It has disqualified itself from doing so by its own premises. But just as we "soulists" insist on disqualifying empirical science from making a case against supernaturalism, so we should be very cautious about acknowledging any role for it in making the case for supernaturalism. It is simply not the right tool for the job.

By the way, while her new book does not sound like my cup of tea, and I cannot follow her all the way down the intelligent design path, Denyse O'Leary writes a couple of very interesting blogs on evolutionary science and its limitations. They are worth a look.

Woodward: Vesuvius-Centered Curriculum

If you're an American home schooler, it's not especially hard to arrange American history field trips. Nor is arranging Texas history field trips too much of a chore for those of us blessed enough to live in Texas. But how do you make classical history "real" -- concrete to the senses -- for elementary and high school students if you don't happen to live in a place that was once part of the Roman Empire? The problem will be a persistent one for any home schooling parents who -- like me -- use the Latin Centered Curriculum. But it is bound to be a challenge, at some point, for other home schoolers as well.

You can collect Roman coins -- a surprisingly affordable and rewarding hobby, especially if you're willing to buy them dirty and unidentified, and scrub away until you see something you recognize. Here's one, for example, that brought a bit of Roman civic mythology to graphic life for my daughters -- Romulus, Remus, and the she-wolf, minted between 330-346 AD.

An even better resource, obviously, is a good art museum with an antiquities department, if you live within striking distance of one. In Dallas, we do. And this week, we were especially lucky to catch the "In Stabiano" exhibit that is touring U. S. cities this summer and fall. The exhibit features objects taken from the ongoing excavation of a number of posh villas near Pompeii -- the "Malibu of the Roman Empire," as the exhibit notes rather crassly put it -- buried by the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

An exhibit of this kind can make history come alive -- did I really just say that? -- for young students in a way that no book or classroom instruction can. There is something irreproducibly pedagogical about showing your children proof that the ancient Romans had dinner parties, and wore gold jewelry, and used iron frying pans, and liked spending time at the seashore, just the way we do.

In fact, it is humanism in the best (and only legitimate) sense of the word to recognize that people separated from us by half a world and 2000 years recognized beauty in the same things that are beautiful to us. Like this.

Or this.

Dallas was on the tail end of the "In Stabiano" tour, which means that I can't alert all that many people to how enjoyable and educational an outing it can be. But if any of you are within easy driving distance of the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida, by all means try to get there between November 7, 2007, and February 3, 2008.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Vehige: Taking Off

I've decided to take the rest of the month off from blogging. There's nothing going on. I know people stop blogging for a while because "something big" is happen. There's nothing like that.

The problem is that whenever I get on the Internet to blog, I end up wasting a lot of time. So I want to step back, mortifying my addition to the Internet, and focus on the more essential things in life.

See you in November.

Maybe.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Vehige: Some notes on the books I'm reading

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Though I've been reading fantasy fiction since I was a kid, I didn't read LOTR until I was in my mid-20's; I read it while studying for the GRE as a way to keep my mind off the pressure of the exam. Incidentally, the first movie came out the year I read Tolkien, and it occurred to me a few weeks ago that when I think of Tolkien, what I'm really thinking about is Jackson's interpretation of Tolkien. So I've decided to reread Tolkien and watch Jackson's version simultaneously in order to separate the two in my mind. Considering how long LOTR has been placed "On My Bookshelf," I'm not very far into this project. But what is really startling is how slow Tolkien's drama is. Frodo, Sam, and Pippin (Merry is waiting for them in Buckland) are more or less taking a three-day stroll through the shire. I understand why Jackson changed this for the movies, but I'm not sure which one I like better. Jackson seems a little more realistic in terms of panic, but it seems to me that Tolkien has different concerns that he has yet to reveal.

Mariology by M.-J. Scheeben. Fr. Scheeben was one of the great Catholic theologians of the 1800's. He is best known for The Mysteries of Christianity (his work on dogmatic theology) and his two-volume Mariology. A detailed knowledge of Mariology is one of the gaps in my own theological education, and my hopes is that Scheeben's work will be to Mary what Cardinal Walter Kasper's The God of Jesus Christ is to the Trinity: A comprehensive overview that provides a starting place for further study.

In Conversation with God by Fr. Francis Fernandez. I am very glad I bought this book, and I'm enjoying it very much. It's exactly the kind of spiritual reading I've been looking for: thoroughly contemporary, and thoroughly traditional. Fr. Fernandez cites Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, and contemporary Catholic thinkers with an ease that is staggering, but with a humility is endearing. He never overwhelms you with his ideas, but neither does he evade issues. Perhaps the best way to describe this book is as a storehouse of Catholic wisdom. Without a doubt, I am going to buy the entire set.

Opus Dei by John Allen, Jr. Since reading In Conversation with God I've become very interested in Opus Dei. Fr. Fernandez is an Opus Dei priest; once I fell in love with In Conversation with God, I became interested in the man who wrote it, which, in turn, made me interested in Opus Dei. I'm getting the basic Opus Dei spirituality from Fr. Fernandez, so I decided to read Allen to get a basic understanding of the organization itself as well as a grasp of the rumors and controversies surrounding Opus Dei.

General Directory for Catechesis. It's occurred to me more often than not that I should focus more on catechesis than theology. Though it is true that one cannot be a good catechist if one hasn't read some theology, it's also true that catechesis and theology are distinct disciplines. Catechesis is about teaching the faith in such a way that it opens the doors to discipleship and a deeper relationship with Christ. Theology is an academic discipline that seeks to ask critical questions of divine revelation and the theological tradition. I spent years thinking of what it means to be a theology; this book is really my first step to begin thinking about what it means to be a catechist.

Vehige: Free Advertising

From here on out, the Vehige side of Thursday Night Gumbo will follow the rule of Classic Catholic. And I quote:

I do not intentionally link to commercial bookstores on this site. Why should I give them free advertising? I presume anyone reading this will know how to find a book at a library or a bookstore.

I'd also like to add that adding links to Amazon.com is a huge waste of time on a blogger's part, as well as an annoying activity that has, in the past, deterred me from writing a post. So if you had an option, which would you chose: Posts without links, or no posts at all?

On second thought, don't answer that.