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Saturday, December 7


A cheering but disappointing article on J. R. R. Tolkien's religion, "Myth at the Multiplex: Tolkien poured Christian values into a pagan world", appeared yesterday in the "Houses of Worship" column in Friday's Wall Street Journal, but I mention it for those of you who, like me, try to keep up with these things. The author doesn't tell you much, but does declare that "Tolkien deserves a place alongside T.S. Eliot, Russell Kirk and C.S. Lewis as one of the 20th century's great Christian humanists."

I think this is true, and would put him alongside Eliot and ahead of Lewis and Kirk. As much as I admire Lewis, The Lord of the Rings and the associated works are a greater work than Lewis' in depth and power and effect, I think. But I could be wrong about this. Opinions requested.

I think the writer of the WSJ article is too hard on Fr. Francis Morgan, a priest of the Oratory in Birmingham, England - home to John Henry Newman for the last half of his life - when he calls him "severe." Fr. Morgan took care of the young Tolkien and his younger brother when their mother died, and cared for them as best an old celibate could be expected to do. He may have been unwise in trying too much to control the teenage Tolkien's infatuation with a fellow lodger, and thereby driving the romantic young man to marry her as soon as he could, but had he not done so, Tolkien likely would not have done well enough in his studies to get the needed scholarship to Oxford, and then at Oxford not done well enough to get the needed academic position. And then, most likely, there would be no Lord of the Rings. Thank God for the "severe" Fr. Morgan.

My thanks to Amy Wellborn's In Between Naps for this and the following links.

6:50 PM


From the blogsite of Mark Cameron, who describes himself as a "33 year old Ottawa, Canada-based policy wonk / trad Catholic / blogging neophyte," here is an excerpt from an interesting article on Islam and the West by a Canadian journalist named David Warren, ""Wrestling With Islam". I've taken the quote Mr. Cameron offered.

For while it is true the Muslims have no way in theory or practice to distinguish Mosque from State, the consequence of this non-separation has often been the opposite of what we might expect. The unified states or empires of Islam have been over time, almost certainly, much more "secular" and worldly, much less dogmatically religious, than the states of Christendom.

This may well be the very reason Muslims long triumphed over Christians to their west and Hindus to their east in worldly, political and economic affairs. For centuries, they were the multinational businessmen, we were the protectionists resisting market forces. They were rich and we were earnest. . . .

To exaggerate: the strength of Islam, through much of its history, was that it stayed in the background. The religion wasn't oppressive because it did not have an independent, Church-like vanguard. The imams were appointed by the State. The theology itself, which in its pure monotheism is far simpler to grasp than the Christian, was by the same token too one-dimensional, frankly too boring, to engage the finest minds for long. The great philosophers of Islam tend frequently to ignore all that, and are far more interested in "scientific" cosmology and the great, practical political questions.

So that where the finest minds of the Western Middle Ages are engaged in writing summas of theology, and mystical tracts, or constructing orders for the society that can exist only within the confines of the monastery - those in the Muslim East were advising princes on how they should rule, or how they could conquer. The great Muslim travellers show a much broader anthropological curiosity; fewer are missionaries, more are pure explorers or voyeurs.

One of the little ironies in the grand claims made by Osama bin Laden, about the Golden Muslim Age in Al-Andalus, is that the Arab court in Spain was not especially religious; at least, compared to the courts in contemporary Europe. The glorious city of Cordova was where Europe went in the Middle Ages to learn Greek, and some table manners; to see fabulous gardens and noble homes; paved roads and street-lighting; indoor plumbing and outdoor irrigation that made the desert bloom; ladies in splendid finery; international banks - they came and they felt like country bumpkins...

Compared to Christendom, very few apocalyptic visionaries, and much less fire and brimstone from the pulpits. The little I have seen of traditional Muslim sermons has sometimes reminded me of world-weary English vicars: . . . "Be nice." . . . "Say your prayers more regularly." . . . "Give some thought to the poor." . . . "We need money to repair the minarets."

Mr. Cameron doesn't seem to put up many entries, but the ones he did post were often quite interesting.

6:38 PM


The citizens of the United States are vague about geography.

by Rick Mercer
10) In Chicago: "Congratulations Canada on having running water in all five states."
9) In Washington, D.C.: "Congratulations Canada on your first national railroad."
8) In Washington, D.C.: "Congratulations Canada on 268 consecutive days of snow."
7) At Harvard: "Yes, I believe the seal slaughter should be stopped in Saskatchewan."
6) In Chicago: "Congratulations Canada on making Beaver Balls your national dish."
5) At Mount Rushmore: "Congratulations Canada, our Eskimo neighbours to the South, on your new Mount Mulroneyuk."
4) Governor of Arkansas: "Congratulations Canada on preserving your national igloo."
3) In New York: "Yes, I think Jean Chretien-Pinochet should be charged with crimes against humanity."
2) In New York: "Yes, I think it is time to bomb Gilles Duceppe."
1) Texas Governor George W. Bush: I'm glad to have the support of Prime Minister Jean 'Poutine.'

Some of my favorites are

On time keeping: Congratulations Canada on your new 24 hour clock.

On Canadians care for the elderly: We demand that the Government of Canada discourage the Canadian tradition of placing senior citizens on northern ice flows, leaving them to perish.

On derogatory nick-names for residents of Hull, PQ: I am one American that will never use the phrase Hullabaloo because it is hurtful to Canadians.

In the Washington Post, Andrew Sullivan criticized anti-Semitism on American campuses, such as Concordia in Montreal. The Post got these two letters:

From David P Stromberg, Wright Patterson Air Force Base

Columnist Andrew Sullivan should get real. With a name like Montreal Concordia University, the college he accuses of anti-Semitism€must be a privately-funded Christian institution. The prime objective of any church-sponsored college or university is to train church workers in ministerial teaching or missionary work.

Concordia is so named because it is a union (concord) of English-speaking institutions, formed when higher education in Québec was reorganized along language rather than religious lines.

Collin Parry observes

The last I checked, Montreal was a large, metropolitan city in the sovereign nation of Canada, not the United States. Perhaps Andrew Sullivan, by using the example of Concordia University in Montreal€has the same feeling that many Americans have, myself included: that Canada and the United States ought to be one country`

I tend to think of my Canadian friends as living in the northernmost states of our union. With the exception of the Quebecois aberration, who would notice the difference?
But until such time as that happy merger occurs, I feel certain that our good friends in the Great White North would appreciate our continued recognition of them as an independent country.

Canadians shouldn't take this personally. New Mexico magazine has a monthly feature: One of Our Fifty Is Missing. American postal employees are always trying to charge foreign rates for mail to New Mexico, American banks won't honor checks from New Mexico, a foreign county, and American colleges classify New Mexicans as foreign students.

8:27 AM


Readers of G. K. Chesterton will want to know about "Wonder and Welcome," a Chesterton conference to be held at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, on April 4th to 6th. It is sponsored by the college, Asbury Seminary, and the G. K. Chesterton Institute at Seton Hall University. The college does not seem to have put up anything on their web site about the conference.

The ecumenical list of speakers will include Fr. Ian Boyd, the director of the Chesterton Institute and editor of The Chesterton Review; Dr. Sheridan Gilley of Durham University, who has written a very good biography of John Henry Newman, Newman and His Age; Prof. Christopher Mitchell, director of the Wade Center at Wheaton College; professors from Drew, Malone, and Houghton colleges; and several people from Asbury, including their noted philosopher Jerry Walls. And me. Fr. Boyd, Dr. Gilley, and I are Catholics, the rest Evangelicals, mostly from the Methodist or Wesleyan tradition.

8:01 AM


The Nordamerikanische Wocken-Post (11/23) reports in "Catholic Bishops Demolish Churches" that the long term decline of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany continues.

In 1990 the Catholic Church counted 28.2 million adherents, but today there are only 26.8 million.

Resignations from the church in recent years have varied from a high of 193,000 in 1992 to a low of 119,000 in 1998.

The Church is supported by a church tax, part of the income tax. The decline in membership and the general decline of the German economy have reduced church income. Old churches cannot be renovated and instead are being demolished.

The Berlin archdiocese planned for a population of 5 million; the population of Berlin is now only 3.4 million and is declining.

6:08 AM

Friday, December 6


For those who are interested in such things, I will be the guest on the "Coming Home" show on EWTN Monday night at 8:00 (Eastern time). ("Encores," as they call them, will air on Tuesday at 1a.m. and 10 a.m. and Saturday at 11:00 p.m.). I think I will be talking about Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings.

Which reminds me, you may order our special issue on Tolkien by clicking here. Although as one of the authors I probably shouldn't say this, it is a very good issue, which will be of interest both to new and to experienced readers of The Lord of the Rings.

10:04 AM

Thursday, December 5


Responding to Planned Parenthood's raising money with cards carrying the slogan "Choice on earth," Mark Shea's blog - a fruitful source for all sorts of interesting things - offers some alternative versions written by Jeff Miller of the Atheist to a Theist blogsite. Among them is a new child's hymn:

"Red and yellow, black and white/they are worthless in our sight./PP kills the little children of the world!"

and various slogans:

Depopulating the world one person at a time.

Reach out and abort someone

Betcha can't kill just one

Giving breath to the culture of death

Just enough of us, way too much of you.

Thanks for letting me live so *I* can kill *my* child, Mom!

The last two came from the Heart, Mind, and Strength Weblog, for which he also writes.

4:20 PM


"The Delusion of Mere Christianity" is a provocative essay on C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity by a Catholic writer, arguing that he presented "a kind of minimalist Christianity." W. Patrick Cunningham, writing in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (May 1999), objects to Lewis' treatment of the Church, for one thing:

As Christopher Derrick observed in the week after Lewis's death (Tablet, 11/30/1963 at 1296), although Lewis was one of the "greatest Christian apologists of his time," he had an "astonishingly faint and crude" sense of Church. In fact, the Church herself is almost ignored as an instrument of salvation and corporate identification with Christ in his writings as a whole. His early Calvinism shows through in this way. In fact, he concentrates almost exclusively on the individual act of faith and the individual's relationship to Christ.

He also suggests that Lewis erred significantly in his treatments - or non-treatment - of the Mother of God and of contraception. Erred in the sense that he left them out, when they are not, for the Catholic, optional or secondary but part of the package. He thereby raises a good question about the extent to which the concept of "mere Christianity" is really useful, when Christians are still so divided on what is "mere."

My thanks to Mark Shea's Blog for the reference.

4:09 PM

Wednesday, December 4


In the latest column from Terry Mattingly, Canon Mark Pearson, a minister of a Protestant group called the Charismatic Episcopal Church, urges ministers to wear their clerical collars even though the collar will get them abused. (This particular column isn't yet posted on his website, but his previous columns are.)

"There are still many people who need to see someone is available and 'on duty' for them," wrote Pearson, in a Charismatic Episcopal Church newsletter. "While the general mood ... has changed, there are still people who come up to me for a word of comfort or for prayer.

"I'll risk the abuse of some in order to be available to people in need."

He also has a realistic view of the people who have taken to abusing priests in collars:

"Some people are jerks," he said. "Right now they're being a jerk about this. Next week they'll be a jerk about something else. But you never know when you are dealing with someone who is truly in spiritual pain, someone who has experienced abuse or who has a loved one who was abused."

Canon Pearson is right to call priests to wear their uniforms in public. Being a visible sign is part of the job, even if at the moment a lot of stupid people will harass them for it. This will pass, but the people who need a priest and don't get one because the priests around were dressed like everyone else will have suffered something they should not have suffered.

By the way, the article concludes with Canon Pearson's hearing someone's confession in a Catholic church in Boston, apparently without telling the poor man that he wasn't a Catholic priest. One shouldn't do that.

6:24 PM


In his latest column, "Religion of Peace? Prove it", the always interesting and entertaining Jonah Goldberg suggests that even if Islam is a religion of peace and the great majority of its adherents peaceful, their silence about their violent brethren is a problem, and they cannot object if everyone else takes their silence for consent.

All around the world, Muslims are declaring, in the name of Islam, that they are at war with the West. More important, all around the world self-declared Muslims are actually waging war on the West. They may be a tiny minority of the global Muslim community. I have no doubt that's true. But if the decent and peace-loving Muslims of the world sit on their hands and do nothing, you can hardly fault many in the West who draw the conclusion that Islam is anything but peaceful. Why is it so hard to find, for example, a Muslim "leader" to condemn the death sentence against the journalist who wrote about Mohammed and the Miss World pageant - without some moral-equivalence weasel words about how she should have known better?

In making his case, he makes several important distinctions between Islam and Christianity - nothing new, but well put. An article worth reading.

6:09 PM


Cardinal Ratzinger, like many Europeans, sees the press attention given to the sins of priest in the US as a deliberate campaign to undermine the Church. According to Zenit:

Q: This past year has been difficult for Catholics, given the space dedicated by the media to scandals attributed to priests. There is talk of a campaign against the Church. What do you think?

Cardinal Ratzinger: In the Church, priests also are sinners. But I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower.

In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than 1% of priests are guilty of acts of this type. The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information nor to the statistical objectivity of the facts. Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the Church. It is a logical and well-founded conclusion.

Cardinal Ratzinger is correct that a small percentage of priests in the US have committed sexual offenses against minors. I am researching the exact percentage in Baltimore, the only diocese that has released all names of priests against whom credible accusations have been made. It looks more like 2-3% rather than 1%. But it is still very small. Philip Jenkins thinks that about 2 ½ % of married men commit sexual offenses against minors, so priests sin in this way about as much as the general population

However, married men usually have only a few victims, and the victims are usually relatives. Priests seem to have many more victims, and they are not relatives, but strangers who have been entrusted to their priestly care. The victims of priests are more numerous because priests were allowed to prey on children by their bishops, who when they learned that a priest was abusing minors, did little or nothing to prevent the priest from committing future crimes.

What Cardinal Ratizinger overlooks is that the media attention is focused not just on the crimes but on the seeming toleration of them by American bishops, all of whom have been appointed by the Vatican. The Vatican needs to examine its own policies. Why did it appoint bishops who almost to a man failed to recognize and deal with grave evil in priestly ranks? Was the policy of transferring priests rather than disciplining them indeed encouraged by the Vatican?

Blaming the media is an attempt to escape from responsibility, and is unworthy of Cardinal Ratzinger. His reference to "intentional " "manipulated" coverage also sounds a little too much like a conspiracy theory. The American press goes into periodic feeding frenzies, but these are not intentional and manipulated. Who is doing the manipulation? Cardinal Ratzinger doesn't say, but other Catholics have fixed on a familiar target: THE JEWS!

Thomas Herron takes on the Jews in Culture Wars (November 2002 p. 16) and observes

"Perhaps the Anti-Defamation League is too busy in attacking Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, who claimed in an interview in the Italian Catholic journal Thirty Days that the current media flap over pedophilia charges against Catholic priests in the United States and other countries is contrived by the owners of the world media outlet as pay back to the Vatican for being insufficiently pro-Israel in its ongoing struggles with the Palestinian people."

Maradiaga is considered papabile: just what the Church needs, a pope who buys into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Would Cardinal Ratzinger like to explain who in his opinion is manipulating the media and intending to conduct a campaign against the Church?

4:33 PM

Monday, December 2


As Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and others have pointed out, modern Americans keep telling themselves that divorce is just fine for everyone, including the kids, but this is not true. In Rationalizations about divorce, CNN and Fox News commentator Betsy Hart describes two recent attempts to do this. One appeared in The Washington Post (no surprise) and the other in Parenting magazine (slight surprise, followed by feeling of depression). She writes:

Looking back at me from the cover of the Post magazine is a middle-aged woman who divorced a middle-aged man because she couldn't "emotionally connect" with him. Though they had had, she says, "an incredibly functional marriage" and "we believed ourselves to be happy." But, she says, "people have one shot at life."

Oh, right, well. This silly woman and her ex-husband have, or are presented as having, a great relationship. The ex-husband even comes over every morning to help get their children off to school and they sometimes go out to eat and take vacations together and everything. The article continues with some tart, and rather funny, observations on the absurdity of the enterprise. And with one simply astonishing line:

Back at Parenting, Harm writes with apparent seriousness that "her husband's offer to spend Christmas away from his sons reminded me how much he loves them."

9:11 PM


Something else from our contributing editor Peter Toon, which I think you will find helpful. This first appeared in the magazine Mission & Ministry, which I edit for Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In Thy Faith and Fear
by Peter Toon

Apparently few Christians today are convinced that "the fear of God," so important to the Anglican Reformation and its liturgy, is a necessary or legitimate ingredient of genuine spirituality. Some clergy have reprimanded me for claiming that it is part of authentic Christianity. Usually they quote St. John, who said "Perfect love casts out fear" (John 4:18) or Jesus, who said "Fear not" (Luke 5:10).

By "fear" they understand the emotion that reduces one to uneasiness, anxiety, insecurity, and immobility. Surely (they reason) the God who is love does not want to reduce His creatures to such a state. He is not like the stern Victorian father whose arrival makes his child nervous, worried, and frightened. He is like the father whose arrival makes his child happy, contented, and expectant.

The Christian concept
The Christian concept is not "fear" but "filial fear" (happily "filial" applies to female and male). This fear is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

As the Spirit of the Messiah, He is the Spirit of "the fear of the Lord," for the Messiah delights "in the fear of the Lord" (see Isaiah 11:2-3). As the Spirit of Christ, He causes believers to cry out "Abba, Father." Thus the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the fear of God and of our adoption by God.

The best way to get people to understand the "fear of the Lord" is by studying the incidents where God creates "fear," such as Jacob's experience at Bethel in Genesis 28:17. A general definition would go something like this (the second sentence in each section shows the intensification of fear in the new covenant).

First, fear is the sense of dread and awe felt by the creature (made in God's image and after His likeness) before the majesty of the holy God, the eternal Creator. When God is also known as a Holy Trinity of Persons, fear is more profound.

Second, it is the sense of fear felt by a guilty sinner before God the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-pure Judge, whose holiness rejects and punishes sin. When God is also known as the Incarnate Son, who bore the wrath of the holy God against sin for sinners, fear is intensified by a great sense of unworthiness and gratitude.

Third, it is a sense of profound respect and reverence for God's self-revelation, will, and law and a fear of displeasing Him by being irreverent, disobedient, and selfish, and thus it leads to glad submission to Him and His will. When God is also known as revealed in Jesus Christ, who perfectly obeyed His Father's will on behalf of sinners, there is a greater feeling of reverence, respect, awe, and determination to do the will of God freely and gladly.

Therefore this filial fear is the very foundation from which, and the very atmosphere in which, love, joy, faith, hope, worship, and freedom as fruit or gifts of the Spirit of Christ function best. Filial fear is the right attitude of a believing sinner who has been placed in a right relation with God through the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Without filial fear it is easy to cheapen the grace of God, to minimize duty to God and the neighbor, and to diminish the glorious attributes and transcendence of the eternal God who is the Lord our God.

Biblical background
Those who insist that "the fear of God" belongs to the old covenant and has no place in the new covenant have to avoid a range of texts in the New Testament.

Jesus said, for example, "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him" (Luke 12:4 5). After the death of Ananias and Sapphira we learn that "great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events" (Acts 5:11), for "it is a dreadful [fearful] thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).

Then, in Revelation, the angel proclaims: "Fear God and give him the glory" (Revelation 14:7). This is followed by a voice from God's throne that says, "Praise our God all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!" (19:5).

This positive meaning of fear is also found in great richness in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and Proverbs. Here to fear the Lord is not only the beginning of wisdom but also the hallmark of genuine piety, devotion, and religion. It is a dread, a reverence, a profound respect for the living God who has revealed Himself.

This godly fear becomes the basis of ready obedience to God's law and of walking in His ways. Thus the command to fear God supports the command to trust, obey, love, and worship Him.

The Book of Common Prayer
If we go back to the sixteenth century we find that for both Protestants and Catholics the "fear of God" was a basic emotion of the Christian life and a necessary ingredient of authentic spirituality. The affection or emotion of godly fear is certainly fundamental to the spirituality set forth and encouraged by the English Book of Common Prayer of 1662.

The Catechism in the Prayer Book explains "my duty towards God" as "to believe in him, to fear him, and to love him, with all my mind, with all my soul and with all my strength." At confirmation the bishop prays for the candidates in these words: "Fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear, now and for ever. Amen."

In the Litany the Church prays that "it may please thee to give us an heart to love and dread thee" and that God would rule the sovereign's heart in "thy faith, fear and love." In the marriage rite the first cause given for the institution of matrimony is "the procreation of children to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord and to the praise of his holy name."

The Collect for the Second Sunday after Trinity begins: "O Lord, who never failest to help and govern them whom thou dost bring up in thy steadfast fear and love . . .". And in the Order for the administration of the Lord's Supper the priest praises God for the faithful departed: "We bless thy holy name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear." In the same prayer he has already asked God that the assembled congregation "with meek heart and due reverence" may hear and receive the divine Word.

Obviously, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the other theologians who worked on the Book of Common Prayer felt no tension between the godly affections of fear and love. In fact, as the sermons and treatises of that period indicate, clergy were well aware of the variety of meanings of the word "fear" in the Bible. However, they believed that there is a right and appropriate use of fear as a necessary affection of the soul as it comes before God in the name of Jesus Christ.

They knew something that we in a generation of instancy and of familiarity seem to have forgotten. They knew that a profound reverence and dread of the eternal, infinite, holy God who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Judge, is the very foundation of our true spiritual worship, service, love, and obedience. While He has united himself to us by the Incarnation, and while He bids us to come boldly to Him through Jesus, He still expects us to come to Him in holy dread and reverence, always aware of who He is and what we are.

Some would argue that one weakness of both modern Anglican and Roman Catholic liturgies, and especially of charismatic services, is that the emotion of godly fear is often minimized, marginalized, or even eliminated altogether. Though part of the problem is the liturgical rites themselves, often those who preside believe that to be joyful in the Lord a believer must not have any feelings of dread before God.

I do not suggest that they reject godly fear, but that they do not see that this emotion of the regenerate soul ought to develop in worship. They have simply absorbed the modern view that fear belongs to the old and not to the new covenant.

If godly fear is a genuine part of authentic Christian spirituality, we need to ask whether our piety and worship allows for the proper exercise of godly fear.

My own conviction is that godly fear is a genuinely Christian emotion and that we can and must recover it in our spirituality and worship, without losing our sense of charismatic power and joy. For Anglicans the use of the Book of Common Prayer might help in the recovery of the sense of fear, awe, and dread before the LORD, the living God.

8:32 AM

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