Thursday, September 21, 2017

On the 225th Anniversary of the First French Republic

The Triumph of the Guillotine in Hell
by Nicolas Antoine Taunay, 1795.

On this day in 1792, the National Assembly decreed the abolition of the Kingdom of France. What followed was the execution of the King and Queen, the destruction of the churches, the Terror, 23 years of war that devastated France and Europe, and a spate of revolutionary movements that led to violence, war, the rise of brutal totalitarian regimes of both the right and left throughout the world, and genocide and mass murder on a scale unimaginable to the pre-revolutionary world.

But it seems that something has happened that has never happened before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.

Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no god; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards.
— From The Rock, by T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

On the Nature of Marriage in Judaeo-Christian Law, with thoughts on the question of "Gay Marriage"

I have been meaning to write on the question of marriage for sometime, but this piece, "The Return of Clandestine Marriage?",  in the Living Church especially brought the matter to my attention.*

​I am glad that the author of the linked piece, Fr. Howard, is addressing these issues, but I think that there are some problems revealed here, the chief of them being that we seem unable to reason back to first principles with regard to marriage.  Thus we end up talking past each other.

The first problem is that we seem totally to have forgotten the origins of Judaeo-Christian marriage. As an examination of Scripture, and of rabbinical, patristic, and other writing shows, in Jewish and Christian thought, marriage exists, as a life-long covenant between a man and a woman, in fulfillment of God's commandment in Gen. 1:28 to "be fruitful and multiply." This is the first of the 613 commandments in the Torah. It imposes a duty to marry and have children on all who are able. (There is no moral blame, however, for those who are unable to marry, or for a husband and wife who are unable to have children.) This is why, in Judaeo-Christian thought, marriage is between a man and a woman—in order to sanctify human natural reproduction and its consequences, and ensure that children are brought up safely, healthily, and with a reverence for God and his commandments.

Similarly any argument for marriage based on natural law has as the chief goal is the welfare of the offspring of persons. (Non-persons, slaves, etc., are denied in many societies the rights associated with marriage, one of the many unjust consequences of depersonalizing and dehumanizing institutions like slavery.) In short, in both natural law theory and Judaeo-Christian thought, marriage is not chiefly about the two persons who marry, but about safeguarding the welfare of the children conceived by them, all other ends being secondary and subordinate to that.  Such a perspective understands that there is no substitute for the natural family as created by God, and that children are best raised by their natural parents, for whom the natural bonds of affection serve as a support for responsible child-rearing.  (There are other factors which may come into play, such as the death of parents, or abusive parents or parents otherwise unable to fulfill their parental duties, which is, for instance, why adoption becomes a necessity, but these is no way negate the unique benefits of the natural family.)

In Christian thought, one may be relieved of the duty to have natural children if one devotes one's self to to the higher duty of a life of prayer and witness to the Gospel, and in fact, for those who are called to it, such is considered a higher form of life, because the Gospel, while it does not destroy nature, does raise it to a higher level.  This is so that such persons may have spiritual children, that is children who are reborn in Christ. Thus the end of marriage, the begetting of children and their raising up in the reverence and knowledge of God and of his commandments is fulfilled, but in another way.

If one wishes to form a familial covenant with another person but not for the purpose of raising natural children, then not marriage, but some other form of familial covenant is called for. One can become family by birth.  One also becomes family by marriage.  However, other than marriage, there are three ways one can enter into into a life-long covenant by (1) by solemn profession into a religious community, (2) by paternal adoption (parents adopt a child), or (3) by fraternal adoption, i.e., two persons adopt each other as brother or sister. There is ample precedent for liturgical rites for all of these.** One of these, entry into religious life, is exclusive of marriage, the other two are not.  In all cases, for Christians to enter into these covenants, there is a moral requirement that they do so in order to assist in the raising of children in the Lord.  In the case of religious life this may is done by witness to the Gospel, and in the case of fraternal adoption (and even occasionally by religious communities) this is can not only be done by common witness to the Gospel, but also possibly by serving as an aunt or uncle to an adopted sister or brother's natural or adopted children, or by co-adoption of children.  The familial obligation in Genesis 1:28 is thus still fulfilled.

It is assumed is by Fr. Howard that the state presupposes an institution called marriage. I am not a legal scholar, and am happy to be corrected by legal scholars, but it seems evident that this is no longer true. Marriage in civil law in this country has become a contractual arrangement between two person that provides certain benefits defined in positive law. It no longer bears any intrinsic relation to marriage in either natural law or Christian teaching. We might wish it otherwise, but this is a fact. Given this fact, we not only may use it, but indeed may have a duty to use this institution in positive law in such a way as to bring people justice, while at the same time carefully distinguishing it from marriage in both Judaeo-Christian and natural law.

What then do we make of the Obergefell decision of the Supreme Court of the United States?  As I was taught, every law must be interpreted in accordance with the good toward which it was directed.  Many are quite justifiably concerned that this decision implicitly defines marriage in a way substantially different from natural law (and thus from Judaeo-Christian law).  However, the law was directed at remedying injustice at persons of the same sex who live together as family.  Insofar as the decision does that, then it would be morally permissible for such persons, as a matter of securing justice, to enter into a civil marriage for the benefits and legal protection that it provides to them.  However, they would have a moral obligation, probably best done by the form of ceremony used, to clearly distinguish this from marriage in natural and Judaeo-Christian law.

As far as the sacrament of marriage is concerned, there are some who feel it unjust that marriage should be a sacrament and that other forms of familial covenant should not be.  I would note that in the list of sacraments which the churches have come up with over the centuries, marriage is not always included, and that sometimes other forms of familial covenant, especially entry into religious life, are included.  I can see no fundamental theological reason why marriage should be a sacrament, and other rites not be, and even before the debate over the homosexuality, this was the opinion of may theologians (Fr. Thomas Hopko comes chiefly to mind).  

We are in the midst of trying to figure many of these questions out, so I would be hesitant to judge the actions taken by others.  However, I think that in the future, we should be very careful in our churches to distinguish marriage, which is based on a divine commandment in both natural and positive divine law, and other forms of familial covenant.  If such a covenant is not between a man and a woman for the purpose of begetting offspring, in short if it is not in fulfillment of the divine commandment in Gen 1:28, then it should not be called a marriage. To do so risks serious moral and spiritual damage: in particular, from the sin of blasphemy, for claiming that God has ordained something as "marriage" which he has not, and also the sin of sacrilege, for mimicking a sacred rite with something which is not that rite. To continue to celebrate as marriages things that are not would be especially troubling since there is no historical or theological reason to do so, and the Tradition of the Church provides other rites that do fulfill our needs, as I have outlined above.

I have deliberately limited the scope of this essay to definition of marriage and its relation to other forms of familial covenant, but, as far as the related question of chastity, which is the habitual use of right reason, and habitual action in accordance with right reason, this is something which all are morally bound to pursue.  The question, not for this essay but for further consideration is, what is chastity?  The assumption of many seems to be that within marriage any kind of sexual activity is permissible, and outside of marriage a complete denial of one's sexuality is necessary.   However, this is not in accordance with right reason or the Tradition. Heretofore the debate over what is marriage and the failure to clearly state the tradition with regards to it, has in fact been so framed as to make a rational discussion of chastity (a different if closely related question) impossible, when such a discussion of chastity is very much needed, both inside and outside of marriage.

*My insights are especially prompted by a sermon I recently preached on the question of adultery, being a sin against marriage, in that seriously risks denying children of the love and care of a parent, since the natural bonds and affections of a father for the children he begets, an aid to his raking care and responsibility for them, may be compromised.  

* The last, fraternal adoption has become the subject of much debate, as Prof. John Boswell used it in his discussion of same-sex unions, but the fact of its existence as a form of familial covenant different from marriage, predating Christianity, and existing in the Church from antiquity, is not in doubt.  There is also Scriptural precedent for it, n.b. the covenant between David and Jonathan (which included their offspring), and also our Lord committing his mother to St. John's care.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

​ On Slavery, Secession, and the Morality of Confederate War Memorials

​What no no one (of whom I know) has tired to do, but what it seems to me needful is to analyze the moral question of removing Confederate War memorials in general. The claim is made that since the war was fought to preserve slavery, that all these should be removed. Let us examine this moral assertion.

I think that there is no doubt that the states seceded to preserve slavery. This was morally wrong. But the burden of fighting a just war falls on the aggressor. If the Union had explicitly decided to invade the South to free the slaves, then we would have to discuss that case for a just war. But the Union explicitly fought to keep the states in the Union, which get arguably had a legal right to leave to secede. Thus is so much the case that after the War they had to back off from trying Jefferson Davis because that would mean litigating succession. They would have had to have a surety which they did not possess about the legality of secession to have invaded the South on those grounds.

If the Union was engaged in an unjust war, the the seceded Southern states had to right not only of self-defense, but to act cooperatively in self-defense. In that case we cannot say that soldiers who fought for the Confederacy fought to defend slavery. They fought to defend themselves against unjust aggression, as many of them said. The fact that some persons said they were defending slavery does not change this; it would be unjust to the Confederate soldiery as a whole to generalize from this. To make such a generalization is be a sin of calumny against the Confederate soldier.

Now the question of war memorials is a difficult one. And not that I am talkoing about War memorials here, not memorials to politicians like Jefferson Davis. Now, soldiers (and other lawful combatants like sailors) are not held guilty of the policies of their government unless they personally engage in violations of the laws of war. So, even when a belligerent has engaged in an unjust war, one cannot usually question the morality of war memorials who sole purpose was to honor veterans. However, the case becomes even clearer in the case where people are engaged in a just war, and even stronger when that war was one of self-defense. Now I do not go here into individual cases, as circumstances alter cases, but I think that we can say with certainty that the proposition that all memorials to Confederate soldiers should be removed is thus not morally justifiable, and that to remove them would be to participate in a sin of calumny against the dead, and would in many cases also be a sin of sacrilege, since very many of these are funerary monuments.

Further, the attempt to fight racism in this fashion would be the employment of unjust means, and thus cannot but have the effect of undermining that fight. To proceed as many now wish to do would be thus to commit injustice, and, like all injustice, such injustice will have serious and deleterious consequences on our society.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why we Need to Understand Robert E. Lee

I think people fail, in the fog of controversy, to understand Lee, and his moral reasoning in doing what he did. We owe him and ourselves, especially now, a duty of justice to understand him rightly, and therefore, we must, it we are to understand him, carefully examine his motives and actions from the principle of as objective a moral philosophy as we can muster.

From his perspective, although it was a decision with which he disagreed and for reason which he deplored, Virginia had a legal right to secede from the Union. Further, the reason given by the Union for waging the war was not the abolition of slavery, but to keep the states in the Union. Thus Lee reasoned that the war was being fought on unjust grounds. He had previously served in the Army of the United States in a war that he later concluded was unjust, that against Mexico, and, while this was not explicit in his reasoning, I think that one can detect an unwillingness to repeat that mistake.

Given that his home, Virginia, was the object of unjust aggression, Lee perceived it his duty to fight in her defense. Many other Southerners, I would say most of those who fought, fought not out of a love of slavery or for secessionist principles (which is not to say that they did not approve of those things), but chiefly to defend their home.

Further, during the war, the Union pursued unjust policies contrary to the laws of war, most obviously in Georgia. There were also occasions when Confederate forces violated the laws of wa, but the question here is the moral justification for Southerners, and especially Lee, to fight against unjust aggression. If the Union had sought to abolish slavery by just means, then the story of this conflict and its aftermath, if the conflict had happened, would have been very different. I certainly think slavery would have been abolished, and that in doing so we would have avoided much of the violence and injustice against blacks that happened during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow period, and that the odds for a peaceful and prosperous black community, fully enjoying the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution would have been much greater. However, the result of Northern policy, strategy, and tactics was to provoke the reaction in the South after the war and to enable the partisans of racism — injustice begets injustice.

In Lee's case, while he certainly had imperfections and faults, in this matter I can find no flaw in his moral reasoning. He was a man of profound faith, and of lively, informed, and reasoned conscience, who exercised that conscience to the best of his ability. These are qualities that are admirable as they are rare, and the reason I so highly hold Lee.

The problem that we have in our own day is that we increasingly think that a presumably just cause justifies unjust means: thus we commit injustice on a greater and greater scale, and think ourselves righteous for doing so---and then we quickly condemn and demonize those who question our failed moral reasoning.

I think one reason for this is the temptation to think that we are each of us responsible for all the evils in the world, and thus must act on some grand scale to solve them all. The ridiculousnes of this should be self-evident, but it is a temptation that is hard to resist in our world with its politics and media, and it is fuelled by a quite proper moral outrage at the evils that we see. But we are not God, and this temptation to play God is very destructive, and always ends badly.

The fact is that, like Lee, we are responsible for keeping the commandments to love God in our neightbor, according to our circumstances and ability. We need to remind ourselves of that, and thus do the best we can to do our duty in the circumstances that we are given. It is to remind ourselves of this that we very much do need the example of Lee, and others like him, and also why he is very much a figure from the study of which we can profit in our time.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Newman 's Birthday

Today is the Natalitia (Heavenly Birthday) of John Henry Newman

90. The Pillar of the Cloud

LEAD, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
          Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
          Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
          Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
          Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
          Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
          The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

At Sea.
June 16, 1833.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why our Society is Sick

I was doing more thinking about the article I read yesterday, "Why Do we Murder the Beautiful Friendship of Boys."  Two quotes stuck in my mind:

"Boys know by late adolescence that their close male friendships, and even their emotional acuity, put them at risk of being labeled girly, immature, or gay. "

"Behind the drumbeat message that real men are stoic and detached, is the brutal fist of homophobia, ready to crush any boy who might show too much of the wrong kind of emotions."

So, to sum up, we pretty much have a society of men (including many gay men 😟) who cannot reconcile being male with "emotional acuity" or close supportive friendship, or an appreciation for beauty, or, and here's the real kicker, the kind of spirituality that sees Eros and romance as a way to God.  So if one is male, one either gives up on being male (how self-destructive is that?), or one has to prove one's maleness by sexual acting out, objectifying other persons, and being a jerk. If one is not male, then males are just evil and need to be beaten down and maleness destroyed.

No wonder nuclear war seems closer these days.

Friday, August 4, 2017


I have begun collecting stories of the Caddo, the people who lived in my part of East Texas before whites like us came.  This is the first.


In a village there lived a cannibal at that time and the people called him Snow-Bird-with-White-Wings. He had a handsome son, who would not marry any of his own tribe. The father named his son Braveness because he was very brave in hunting. Whenever he went out to hunt he brought home many kinds of game that he had killed. Many of the young girls tried to win him as a husband, but Braveness would pay no attention to any of them. One night he decided to go hunting the next day. Early the next morning he started out toward the west. While he was going along looking and watching for wild animals he saw some one sitting ahead of him under a small elm tree. He approached the person and saw that it was a woman. She called him to come where she was, and he obeyed and saw that she was very beautiful and very young. She told him that she knew he was coming there and so she had come to meet him. He listened eagerly to hear what she had to say. She asked him if she could stay with him, and if he would take her to his home and let her become his wife. He told her that he would take her to his home, but that she must ask his parents if she could stay with him. They started for his home at once, and when they arrived the girl asked the old people to let her become the young man’s wife, and they consented. After that the young man had some one to love and they lived happily for a long time; but one time while they were alone she asked him if he would do whatever she said, and he finally said that he would. She asked him to go with her to her home and told him that they would return again some day.

A few days after, they started to her home and she led the way. After they had gone a long way they came to high hills, and all at once she stopped and turned around and looked at her husband and said: “You have promised me that you will do anything that I say.” “Yes,” said he. “Well,” said she, “my home is on the other side of this large hill which is before us. I will tell you when we get to my mother. I know there will be many people coming there to see who you are, and they will bother you and try to get you angry, but do not get angry at any of them. The young men will try to kill you in some way. Listen to what I am about to tell you. I was just like you when I met you. I knew you, but you did not know me. I was the one who made you come there to find me. I have said that some of the young men will try to get you angry, and when they get you angry at them one of them will jump on you, and when they see that you are going to try to fight, they will all get after you and will not let you go until they have killed you. They are jealous of you. The reason is that I have refused many of them when they have asked me. I have told you what to do when we get there, and now I want you to lay down on the ground and roll over twice.” The man did, and when he arose he had changed into a Buffalo. The woman sat there watching him for a moment; then she did the same thing and became a Buffalo. They started on climbing the high hill, and when they reached the top of the hill the Buffalo man looked down toward the west. He saw thousands and thousands of Buffalo. Then the woman told him that they were her people. When the herd saw these two coming they began to move to one certain place, as though to wait there and see who was coming. The woman kept on leading Braveness. He followed her until she came to an old Buffalo cow and then they stopped, and Braveness knew that she was the mother of his beautiful wife. They stayed there for a long time. Every now and then four or five of the young Buffalo would come around and bother Braveness, and so they decided to go back again to Braveness’ home. On the way they stopped at the place where they had turned themselves into Buffalo. The Buffalo woman told him to do the same thing that he had done before, and so he rolled over twice and became as he was before, and then she did the same. While they were going she told him not to mention the transformation or her people to any one. When they reached home his father, Snow-Bird-with-White-Wings, asked him where he had been, and he told his father that he had been hunting and then had gone down to his wife’s home, and his father did not ask him any more questions.

They stayed at home about one year, and then they made up their minds to go again and see the woman’s mother. After they had been living with the Buffalo a long time his wife told him that the old people were talking about killing him; that they were going to have a foot race and that they intended that he should run in this foot race. When he heard all this he was worried and did not know what to do. That night he could not sleep, and he went out to take a long walk. He went a long way and walked very slowly. He heard some one calling, but could not see the person, for it was a very dark night. The unknown person said to him: “You are very young, but you must remember you cannot beat those Buffalo running without my help, and I know what they are going to do with you when the race is over. If they beat you running they are going to kill you, and so I am going to help you to win. If I do it there are others who will also help you. If you win the race they will let you have this woman all to yourself and will not bother you any more.” Then the unknown person told Braveness to hold out his hand, and when he did this the unknown person placed a small medicine root in it and said: “At the start you will leave them a long way behind, but finally some one of them will catch up with you, but he will not stay with you long. Remember, whenever he comes up with you, to throw this medicine down behind you and you will leave him again a long way behind. Then some one else will catch up with you again, and here is another medicine to throw behind you when the second man overtakes you. This medicine is mud, and you must throw it down when they come too close to you. Soon after you have thrown the mud you will be near the stopping place; there I will meet you.”

The next day was the day of the race. At about sunrise Braveness saw the Buffalo coming in from all directions to see the race. While he stood watching them, an old Buffalo came and told him that the young Buffalo would like to have him run in a foot race with them. He went with the old man to the place where the runners started. When the young Buffalo saw him coming they all made fun of him. When he joined them they lined up for the race. Braveness placed himself in their midst and they started. Braveness left the Buffalo a long way behind at the start, and they had to run long and hard before they could come near him. When he saw them gaining on him he threw the root behind him that the unknown person had given him. He was almost winded and thought he could not run any more, when he saw that he was far ahead of all of them again. The next time it took them longer to come up to him, but finally he gave out, and then one of the Buffalo began to gain on him. When the Buffalo was about to catch up, Braveness threw the mud, his last medicine, down behind him and soon he was far ahead again. He knew that he had used all of his medicine, and he knew not what would happen to him next, but he kept on running. When he was nearing the goal, he could hear the others coming close behind him, for some of them were gaining on him and he was giving out. He did not know what to do, but just as one of the Buffalo was about to catch up with him, a heavy wind came up and greatly assisted and kept the Buffalo far behind him until he crossed the goal and won the race. Because wind had helped him at the last moment, he knew that it was wind that had talked to him and had given him the medicine and thus saved his life. After the race he stayed with the Buffalo people for a long time and no one ever molested him again.

Finally he and his wife went back to live with his people. They had one child, and when it was about one year old they decided to go again to see the wife’s people, so that her parents might see their grandson. They went and remained with the Buffalo three years, and then they returned to Braveness’ home. The child’s mother would not let him go out and play with the other boys, for she was afraid he might do things that he ought not to do; but one time, while she was cooking dinner, the boy slipped away from her and went down where the other boys were playing. When he joined them they began to play that they were Buffalo. The little boy began to play with them. He laid down to roll like a Buffalo, and when he rolled over twice he got up a real Buffalo calf, and the boys began to run from him. Just at this time his mother had missed him and she looked down where the boys were playing. She saw them running and thought something must be wrong. She went to see what the trouble was and there she found her son changed into a Buffalo calf. She took him and ran down the hill, and then she dropped down on the hill and became a Buffalo, and then ran away before her husband came back from hunting. When he came back he could not find his wife or his son, and then some one told him what had happened while he was gone. At first he could not believe what he heard, but soon he went down to the place where they had rolled and saw their tracks, and then he believed the story. He never heard of them again.