Thoughts on the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Delivered From Death

Since the children share in flesh and blood
He Himself likewise partakes of the same nature,
that through death He might destroy him
who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
and deliver all those who through fear of death were in lifelong bondage.
For surely it is not with angels that He is concerned but
with the descendants of Abraham.
                                          Hebrews 2:5–6

This important text occurs in an apostolic letter not securely assigned to Paul until the fourth century.   Born in the heart of a community of Jewish Christians, who must be reminded that Jesus has been counted worthy of much more glory than even Moses, here Hebrews gives insight into a community that has little concern with the Greeks to whom Paul was sent; its interest is in the sons of Abraham.  It is a community that would glory in the Gospel  of Matthew and cherish the advice of the Letter of James.  The author finds this Church in a precarious situation, too much fascinated with the first-born of God’s creation, the angels.  “For to what angel did God ever say, ‘Thou art my son, this day I have begotten you?’”   And again, “Surely it is not with angels that He is concerned, but with the sons of Abraham.”   Perhaps the congregation to whom Hebrews is written had read a work or works such as the Book of Enoch, which is roughly cotemporary with the New Testament, and which contains a very full angelology, including an account of the fallen angels of Genesis 6:1–8.  Hebrews is insistent that Jesus came in flesh and blood because He came to save those who are flesh and blood, who will be joined to Him in Baptism and the Eucharist; and, further, that Jesus had no angelic existence but suffered and was tempted just as we are, in flesh and blood.

Famously, for Paul the problem of living is dying, and in this concern, he was at one with other contemporary philosophers.  The appeal of the atheism of the poet/philosopher Lucretius (BC 99–55), based upon the teaching of Epicurus (BC 341–270), was the assurance that death held no terrors since it ended life, no Hades, no underworld, simply nothingness.  The stoic Epictetus, (BC 155–85) sharing the Platonic belief that souls were created immortal,  proposed that upon death the individual soul joined the great world-soul.  The Christian Paul confronts death squarely.   Death, the reader is told, lies in the power of the devil, from which power Jesus delivers those who believe and who belong to Him.   This He does through His own death, an idea that enjoyed a rich and controversial future in Christendom, with Christians loving and reverencing the cross of Christ without always having a clear idea of its necessity and meaning.    

Why does the death of this person at one time set right a world gone wrong, depriving death of its fearsome aspect, and opening the gates that guard the presence of God? Christ’s death turned what must be always the fear lurking in the back of every human plan and desire as we face death into a door that opens upon the real world of glory of which what we see is a fallen copy.  Death has its sting, but it does not have the victory.  In a certain sense the life of everyman is marked by the engagement with death foreseen.  Its herald  named disease is ever seen as the enemy.  We make puny and tentative claims on the future, hoping that our children will thrive and remember.  There are legal documents and provisions that are intended to govern the future.  But for Christians even these occur within a new context.  

In the words of the great Athanasius:  “Have no fear then.  Now that the common savior of all has died on our behalf, we who believe in Christ no longer die, as men died aforetime, in fulfillment of the commands of the law.  And that condemnation has come to an end; and now that, by the grace of the resurrection, corruption has been banished and done away, we are loosed from our mortal bodies in God’s good time for each, so that we may claim thereby a better resurrection.     

Broadly, the answer is that this world has hidden  from God since in Genesis Adam hid himself, and in that absence and alienation has lived its life as a rebel.  In the day that you eat of the fruit of the tree of willfulness and defiance, making up good and evil for yourselves, you shall die.  Paul and others use the harsh language of the wrath of God, which is directed against all those who knowingly neglect or defy His will, but human nature and those who share in it can be offered to the Father by one who can make that offering for the world because, like us in all things except sin (Hebrews 4:15), He does not owe the debt of every sinner.  Yet we are in this together. Jesus did not act for Himself or for the Twelve, but He took human nature, and as such became the representative of every man.  He is the first-born of many brothers (Romans 8:29).  For this reason the text of Hebrews insists that Jesus was tempted as we are and suffered as we do (2:17–18, 4:15).  For before we share in His divine nature, we share in the humanity that He, first as the Son through whom all things are made, created, and then has called to share in His own supernatural life.   “Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:9)  This is the splendid image of  man and men in glory conformed to the image of Christ.   

Christ does not only die to pay the debt of obedience that we cannot pay, but through His death He purchases for His people the gift of holiness that enables them to share in the great offering (John 16:7),  The Gospel is not only attested to us by those who heard Jesus but “by the gifts of His Holy Spirit distributed according to His will” (I Corinthians 12:11).  Thus it is that from the first days of the Church one did not make the great offering without having examined himself and confessed his sins: “A man must examine himself first and then eat of that bread and drink of that cup” (I Corinthians 11:28).  Our sins are brought before us by the same Spirit, sent to convict the world of sin and of righteousness, so that they may be forgiven by the power of that same Holy Spirit whom Jesus breathed upon His disciples with the command that they forgive (John 20:19).                 

In  a certain sense the glory of this present world is the enemy of the glory that belongs to the future, which is especially true for the citizens of the pacific and comfortable  West in which life can be arranged as a succession of pleasures, from which the holy saying, “Deny yourself” has been stricken.  In fact every Christian is called to live a recollected life, in which knowledge of his true condition and his true responsibilities is allowed to mitigate the blindness which the Other Side encourages.  Our duty is to God and to our neighbor.  Seen in the light of the true knowledge of our insecure situation, lives that are weak, never completely beyond the solicitation of the devil, our hope of success is the protecting, empowering  grace of Christ.  And every duty done in a fallen world is a life-giving death. And His promise is that there is pleasure at His right hand forever. 

Called to be Holy

And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation and kindred and tongue and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of judgment is come, and worship Him that made heaven and earth.
Revelation 14:7
Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Psalm 40:6

The sacrifices mentioned are those offered in the temple, in which animals stood substitute for those offering and through their blood sins were forgiven. It was a divinely ordained system, outlined in Leviticus, that ended abruptly not long after the Lamb of God was sacrificed, fulfilling His prophecy that of Herod’s temple not one stone would be left standing on another (Matthew 24:2). Then at Pentecost the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount was made clear, the more perfect way was made possible; by the power of the Holy Spirit the law was put into Christian hearts, and the prophecies of Jeremiah (31:27–34), Ezekiel (36:26―28) and Joel (2:28―29) that the time was near when God would give a new covenant, not like the old covenant, fulfilled not by the sacrifice of animals but by the obedience unto death, first of the Eternal Son, and then by the obedience of those who would live in and through Him. Obedience of the redeemed heart became the redemptive promise and possibility.

Obedience is not a much-canvassed topic in contemporary society and religion. The god of sentimental love is too tender to rebuke our sins and weaknesses, families believe the psychology of their tender shoots will not bear punishment and eschew obedience as a requirement and fear as a motive. To be like the god of sentimental love who so easily inhabits the imaginations of post-modern humankind is to be sympathetic and non-judgmental, dispositions that often recommend themselves to Christians, but which, mistaken for the fullness of His revelation, obscure the God who thundered from Sinai and who will in the end judge the living and the dead.

In a fallen world, in which sentiment is bent toward self-serving and the broad way, the laws and aspirations commanded by God are not always pleasant. Often the actions and thoughts that make for holiness are only incidentally good for society and in the long run are not supported neatly by any ethical theory. The commandments of God are not examples grounded in some higher order, for there is no higher order than the will and reason of God. And though we may find happiness in obedience to God’s laws, His laws are not commanded only or even principally for our happiness but for God’s glory. Paul points out in Romans that in this life we are situated so that we will inevitably obey, indeed become the slave, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness (Romans 6:16).

Obedience and fear are almost correlatives, although fear comes in several varieties. There is the fear that besets those who live in conscious rebellion, who are therefore, whether they know it or not―and Satan has no interest in making this clear—in league with Satan and are destined unless they repent to share Satan’s lot. This fear is accompanied by an almost supernatural blindness, so that those thus afflicted cannot see their danger. Repentance, when it comes by the power of the Spirit, can break this fear, transforming it into filial fear, the fear that the prodigal experienced when, realizing that his destiny ought not be sharing husks with swine, said, “I will arise and go to my father’s house, although I am no longer fit to be called your son. I have sinned against heaven and before you.” And with those words the prodigal son became obedient to the will of God and to his father (Luke 15:11–31).

That said, of all the dispositions conducive to the healing of the human soul, obedience is the least mentioned. And this is because, as Paul says in Romans above, obedience means giving one’s own will to another. The Greek word is hupokupos, with hupo being a prefix meaning under affixed to kupos meaning authority. Thus obedience means to be subject to or to be under an authority. There are dozens of ways in which this is ordinarily done in the course of civilized life. We recognize the traffic lights and pay attention to the rules of our bank and to the commands of the Internal Revenue Service. In the practice of a profession there are hundreds of ways in which originality and cleverness, not to say willfulness, may lead to disaster while following the rules of the procedure is likely to produce good results. But in post-modern life on those matters governing our personal actions and thoughts the key is autonomy, rule of the self by the self. If one wants another wife or husband; if one seeks pleasure in soul-destroying ways, who is to say, who is to oppose my will, who is to give me a vision of what my life shall be other than myself? Has not the highest court in the land declared the right to fulfill whatever vision we see as fundamental to liberty. And has not a popular tenor sung for us the theme song of the autonomous life: “I did it my way,” ambiguous words that may reflect the happiness that belongs to accomplishment, but which may also on a certain day conduce to rebellion? In this sea of freedom, who is to command holiness? 

And to that the answer is that in matters that touch most tenderly the citadel of the self it is God who determines what is good and right. It is not difficult to show that the abandonment of families by a husband is destructive and detrimental to the good order of the larger culture, that it burdens taxpayers and creates poverty, but finally the reason divorce, even under the solvent pressures of contemporary culture, is wrong is simply that Jesus said, “What God hath joined together let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). There are reasons that the sin of Sodom deserves civil punishment, making as it does a mockery of marriage and diverting the generative purpose toward futility, but the reasons this is wrong is the divine law of Genesis (18:19-27), Romans (1:21-28), and Jude (7). There are reasons why failure to listen to the cries of the poor is bad policy, leading to discontent and perhaps revolution, creating ugly city streets and crime, but the ultimate reason is God’s warning that those who despise the poor may face eternal darkness at the day of judgement, for He loves the poor and downtrodden (Matthew 25:31―46). 

This is not to say that the civil code, when it proposes, as Paul so hopefully wrote, to punish evil-doers and reward good deeds, may be ignored (Romans 13:3–5). It is to say that if the voice of the civil code does not echo the voice of the divine law, it will prove feeble and futile in the long run. The anchor of righteousness, the inspiration to holiness, the ground of holy fear is the commanding voice of the Lord. After the Lord spoke to Moses the ten commandments, the people said to him, “Speak to us and we will hear, but let not the Lord speak to us lest we die.” And Moses said, “Do not be afraid, for the Lord has come to prove you, that the fear of Him may be always before your eyes, that you may not sin’”(Exodus 20:19–-20). And the Epistle to the Hebrews explains that “if a man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses, how much worse punishments do you think will be deserved by a man who has spurned the Son of God and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of Grace?” (Hebrews 10:29). 

Fear of God, fear of offending Him who died for us, and obedience to his commands is the orienting motive of the Christian life. In the Bernard of Clairvaux’s Steps of Pride and Humility, the next-to-last step on the path to destruction is freedom to sin, leading to a life in which sin is habitual. This is the living death that is now often offered us by the public culture; when, as in the days of Marcus Aurelius, the spectacles of the arena ever more cruel and bloody, political life ever more callous, addressed to a populace who seem often to have forgotten shame and piety. Fear of God is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and is the beginning of wisdom (Isaiah 11:2, Proverbs 9:10). It is the fool who has said in his heart, there is no God; he does not see (Psalm 14:1). And true as it is that what is right is anchored in nothing less than the Almighty, that it is not the child of expediency or ethical theory, obedience to His law is the path to happiness now and here and then and there, forever.

 


 

 – Dr. James Patrick

Alasdair MacIntyre & Contemporary Ethics

Featured speaker:  J.J. Sanford, Ph.D.

Provost, Prof. of Philosophy University of Dallas

Saturday, Jan. 18
11:30 a.m.
Christ the King Community Center
8017 Preston Rd., Dallas

 

 

  • 11:30   Dr. James Patrick – Introductions, and notes on  early twentieth-century ethics
  • 11:40   Kim Rice – On “Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry”
  • Noon   Dr. Jonathan Sanford

 

———-

Dr. Jonathan Sanford, after serving as dean of the University of Dallas’ undergraduate liberal arts college since 2015 was made provost in 2018. Before UD, he was associate vice president of academic affairs at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he also became founding director of the Franciscan University Press. His honors BA is in classical languages and philosophy from Xavier University; his doctorate in philosophy is from the University of Buffalo, State University of New York.  He is extensively published and citied on topics related to ethics, virtue theory, metaphysics, and the ancient and medieval philosophers such as Aristotle and Aquinas.

Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre, a Scottish philosopher, has contributed to moral and political philosophy, and also is known for his work in history of philosophy and theology. He began his career as a Marxist; in the late ‘50s he began work to develop a Marxist ethics to rationally justify the moral condemnation of Stalinism. The project led him to reject Marxism along with every other form of “modern liberal individualism” and to propose Aristotle’s ethics as a more effective way to renew moral agency and practical rationality through small-scale moral formation within communities. MacIntyre’s best known book is After Virtue (1981). After that came two books examining the role that traditions play in judgments about truth and falsity, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988) and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (1990).  

Kim Rice recently earned a master of humanities with a concentration in literature from the University of Dallas. She has 25 years-plus in marketing and communications and currently is vice president of Visual Resource Group. She was a Distinguished Voices community writer for The Dallas Morning News, and is an alumna of the Junior League’s T. Boone Pickens Leadership Institute. 

Thoughts on the Gospel for Epiphany

His Star

             We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.                                                                  Matthew 2:2

         He determines the number of the stars; He giveth them all their names. Psalm 146:4

The stars shone in their watches and
were glad;
He called them, and they said
“Here we are!”
They shone with gladness for Him
who made them.
Baruch 3:34

The wisemen from the East could not have found the newborn king had not the heavens, His star,  led them to the stable in Bethlehem. Various naturalistic attempts have been made to identify His star, none quite convincing.   For the Greeks and Romans the heavens were a place of divinity and mystery, from which the gods might speak, and central to this view was the conviction that nature, stars being nature’s crown, were alive, as in the texts superscript.  For Plato the stars were visible gods. For the Hebrews they were angels, as with the angels of the Churches in Revelation. When probes went into the heavens it was reported that the stars were flaming rocks. That of course is what they are made of, but this observation offers no more satisfactory definition than would a biological description of any person, his height and weight, the composition of his flesh and  bones, tell who that person is that breathes and loves and hopes. So perhaps the Hebrews and the Greeks were right; the stars may be angelic presences. 

            In any event Scripture testifies that nature is alive, and it was essential that the birth of Jesus be announced by His star.  For given the truth that all things were made by the Word, that all things exist in Him, the story would not have been true had nature not confessed Christ in the presence of His star. The nearly universal intuition that nature should acknowledge its creator lies behind the quite non-canonical inclusion of the ox and donkey looking adoringly at the Christ child.  

We know the beasts only as silent, but we also know that this silence will be broken.  For in the age to come nature will sing; the ox. the eagle, the man-like animal, and the lion, all will sing endlessly, day and night,  “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory” (Revelation 4:9). And in that day, when nature is healed of the curse brought upon it by sin, says bishop  Papias of Hierapolis, each vine shall have a thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes. “And when any of the saints shall have taken hold of a cluster, another shall cry, ‘I am a better cluster; take me, bless the Lord through me.’” 

The last three psalms, 148–150, have as their subject the praise nature gives to God, 

                Praise Him, sun and moon,
                          Praise Him all you shining stars!
                Praise Him, you highest heavens
                           And you waters above the heavens.
                Let them praise the name of the Lord (148:3-4)

           And even when nature is silent it witnesses God’s glory:

                The heavens are telling the glory of God;
                          And the firmament proclaims His handiwork.
                Day to day pours forth speech,
                            And night to night declares knowledge.
                There is no speech, nor are there words;
                            Their voice is not heard
                Yet their voice goes out through the earth,
                            And their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:3-4).

           So beautiful is nature, so impressive  its regularity, so compelling its fecundity, so immediate and pressing is its presence upon us and in us, that men have always been tempted to worship nature.   The present form of that worship is not a formal idolatry such as Jeremiah condemned when he prophesied that at the last day the bones of those who have worshipped sun and moon would be brought out of their tombs and spread before the host of heaven “which they have sought and worshipped; they shall not be gathered or buried, they shall be as dung on the face of the ground” (8:2).  

          In the post-modern world, it is rather the naturalism of the philosophers that while it does not burn incense to the sun and moon, commits idolatry by considering nature as we find it to be the sum and source of reality while taking lightly or even purposefully neglecting the universal testimony that nature itself attests to supernature.   As Paul says, we have evidence enough; God’s “eternal power and deity has been perceived in the things that have been made.” Those who “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling man” he abandons to their own willfulness, and finally, having “exchanged the truth about God for a lie, they finally “worship and serve the creature rather than the creator” (Romans 1:20-23).  A philosopher or scientist who considers nature as we find it the sum of reality, who thereby worships the creature, need not journey to Stonehenge at the winter solstice to worship nature. By presenting what we can see and touch as the self-referential sum of reality he is no less an idolater, unwitting though his worship be, than the ancient Hebrews who made offerings to the moon.   

          Whoever the Magi were they were wise; whatever their sources and methods, they knew that nature spoke and they listened.  So they saw His star in the east and followed it until it shone above the stable in which lay Him through whom the worlds were made.

Thoughts on the Christmas Season

Finding the Twenty-Fifth

Christmas has twelve days, counting Christmas Day as the first and ending just short of the Feast of the Epiphany on January sixth.  In the   traditional Roman rite the season of Christmas is longer, lasting until  Lent. But the twelve days, and especially Christmas day, is a time of gift-giving and happiness.  Yet the apostles as they heralded the good news across the Roman world did not begin their proclamation with the story of the baby in the manger, worshipped by shepherds and kings.  They spoke to the condition of the audience to whom they had been sent, men under the wrath of God, living outside God’s will and presence, destined for failure to achieve their divinely-willed destiny.  The apostles began with the cross, with Christ’s death for the remission of sins and with a new life of discipline and sacrifice. Paul is clear that the salvation of mankind began when Jesus was born of a woman, born under the law, but he does not tell us her name (Galatians 4:4).

By the end of the first Christian century there had grown up an alternative interpretation of the Savior, with many, infected perhaps by the Hellenistic presupposition that the body was doomed to meaningless distinction and the soul by nature kin to the divine, denying that Christ had come in the flesh, insisting that Jesus was somehow a theophany.  Notice of this heresy occurs as early as the first letter of John, who denounces those who say that Christ had not come in the flesh (I John 4:2–3, II John 7–9).   This is an early chapter in the battle  for the humanity of Jesus, like us in all things but sin (Hebrews 4:5).    Irenaeus, in a long book written bout 185, called these deniers gnostics, knowers or intellectuals, among whom salvation was not to be achieved by repentance and regeneration through the Holy Spirit but by the ecstatic appropriation of a world system in which creation itself was ultimately an illusion while salvation consisted of a kind of self-knowledge.   

The battle lines once drawn, Gnostics were bound to deny even the reality of Christ’s death, which is surely the reason the Gospel of John is careful to depict the Beloved Disciple standing by the cross so as to see  blood and water flow from the side of the dying Savior (John 18:35, I John 5:8).   At some date unknown, the question of Christ’s birth  would surely have arisen.  For gnostics there may have been no specific time when the heavenly Savior descended into the redeemed souls of the enlightened, but this would have been a fair question:  If Jesus was born like any other man, when and where did this birth take place?   There might then have ensued an intense interest in the life of Christ before He began to teach.  What was His childhood like; where was He born, and to whom.    It would be now that Mary might begin to tell of the things she had previously hidden in her heart, of the angel’s salutation, the visits of the shepherds and the wisemen, of the time when she and Joseph had lost their son because He was listening to the doctors in the temple (Luke 2:19, 51).   And naturally the question of the day of Jesus’ birth would arise in the public forum of apology and counter-apology.  

Mary’s account and Joseph’s would influence the writing of Luke (1:56–2:52), and  perhaps also Matthew (1:18–2:23).  Saint Ignatius, writing about 110, probably knew the story of the star that shone over the stable (Ephesians 19).   Saint Irenaeus had discerned the importance of Mary in the economy of salvation.   But there was still no recorded certainty of the date of the Lord’s birth.   Perhaps Saint Hippolytus knew December twenty-fifth, but scholars warn that this date for the nativity, inserted in a manuscript of 204, may be a later interpolation.   The Feast of the Resurrection was celebrated early, for every Sunday was a commemoration of the Resurrection, the promise with which the apostolic mission led.  At least there was controversy about it in the pontificate of Victor of Rome (189–98), who threatened, ineffectively, to excommunicate all of Asia because they stubbornly preferred the date form the Jewish calendar to the Roman custom that Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday (Eusebius, Church History, 5.14).   

While there are earlier references to the birth  of Christ on December twenty-fifth, there is no document citing that day as the Feast of the Nativity until 354, when a calendar or almanac made  by a famous illustrator Filocalus for the Roman nobleman Valentinus contained the casual note that December twenty-fifth is the feast of the Nativity.  At some time in the past the Church had found Christ’s birthdate and made it a great celebration.

Subsequently there has ensued much speculation as to why we know this date or why December twenty-fifth was chosen.  The simplest explanation is that the Blessed Virgin, who knew the angelic salutation, the flight into Egypt, the visits of the shepherds and wisemen, also knew the date of her Son’s birth, which knowledge at the right time passed into the memory of the Church.  There is also the thought that Christianity, with its assimilative power, may have taken over the Roman festival called Saturnalia, a period of merriment and gift-exchanging that took place between 17 and 23 December.  Slaves were allowed a temporary liberty to do as they chose; masters waited on their servants at a table  There was a general atmosphere of freedom that made the philosopher Porphyry reflect that the festival foreshadowed the freedom that awaited immortal souls. And in addition, December twenty-first was the winter solstice, after which the days would grow longer, signaling the conquest of darkness by the unconquerable sun.  Certainly it was true that the Church had a history of displacing certain Roman festivals with Christian celebrations.   To cite one example, the feast of Lupercalia, celebrated in early February, involved the (unusual) sacrifice of a goat and a dog, whose blood would be smeared on the Luperci, who then would run a race. The Lupercalia was still celebrated in 494 when Pope Gelasius I banned it and substituted the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin.  As a noted scholar remarked, the relation among these Christmas-time festivals, the Christian Feast of the Nativity, the winter solstice, and Saturnalia “has not been established.”

And there is this to be observed.  Doubt that Christians remembered the day of Jesus’ birth, even granting that such knowledge may not have been  important until the controversy with the Gnostics made the details of Jesus’ biography significant, is an attitude fathered on the legend of antique incompetence by the progressive myth read backwards.  For reasons unknown, perhaps due to the persisting renaissance pride that we are better than our forebears, much contemporary scholarship builds upon an unenunciated ‘progressive’ presupposition that Christians in the first century were ‘primitive’ in the sense  that they were uncertain of the day on which they were born and more open to historical confusions and ignorant superstition than moderns, many of whom believe that life on earth will become impossible due to global warning within eleven years and not a few of whom believe that socialism, which reliably enslaves, is the path toward true freedom.  

             This  misplaced pride in our present knowledge and willful ignorance of the past is the darkest side of the myth of progress.  If between 1900 and the present we have in imagination progressed x, projecting the inevitable progression backward, as what must be regression, to the first century in increments of x must leave the first century in Stygian darkness. In fact many dates from the past are forgotten, but some are remembered, and the citizens of the Age of Augustus were no less capable of remembering than we.   It is just possible that when the Church looked, it found that the correct date was December twenty-fifth. The Blessed Virgin Mary certainly remembered the day when Jesus was born in the stable in the little town of Bethlehem.

Educational Alternatives

A symposium on the problems of elementary and secondary public school education versus alternative modes of education that are more aligned to the reality of the human person.

Saturday, January 4th, 2020
12:00 Noon – 2:30 p.m.

Church of the Holy Cross
4052 Herschel Ave, Dallas, TX 75219

Featured presenters:

Barbara Rogers: Director of Admissions, Coram Deo Academy
Daniel Kerr: President, St. Martin’s Academy, Fort Scott KS
Jennifer Spurgin: Montessori Teacher, St. Francis Montessori in Irving
Margaret Jones: Teacher, Founders Classical Academy of Flower Mound

You can reserve your Box Lunch or lets us know you will attend

Cost: $15.00 per person, if convenient, all are welcome

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Education 2020

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Santa Claus: Gentling Gomorrah

Wherever there is a living religion it will influence the popular culture.  The notion of gentling the culture, in that specific language, belongs, I think, to Leo XIII, and was used by him to describe the situation in which Christianity, while it elevates souls directly through conversion touches and elevates the general culture indirectly by the tendency of that culture to engage the customs and themes of religion at a popular level.  Where there are Italian Catholics there still will be processions of the statue of the Blessed Virgin or the local saint, held shoulder high, amidst showers of sparklers and fireworks. Where there are English-speaking Christians there will be Santa Claus and more recently Lessons and Carols. In Czechoslovakia there has recently been objection to Santa Claus, on the grounds that their tradition insists that presents are delivered by Baby Jesus.      

  One of the first and most persistent incursions of Christianity into popular culture involved and still involves the rhythm of time. The Christian calendar is rooted in Jewish practice and in the Roman calendar, while reflecting as well the natural cycle of the seasons.  Over time the Roman week of eight days was replaced by the seven-day Christian week borrowed from Judaism and Genesis. Easter, the first and still-greatest Christian festival, set the Passover, as it were, in a new key, and after a period when it was celebrated (at least in Asia) on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month Nissan, its date was determined by astronomical calculation. In Rome the new year traditionally began in March, the season of nature’s regeneration. The tradition that Christmas was to be celebrated on December 25th dates to the third century.  [I am reminded of the (to us) odd custom of reciting the date of Epiphany and (I think) Easter at the Christmas midnight Mass.]  In the Middle Ages March 25, was New Year’s Day as well as the Feast of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Angel Gabriel, or Lady Day. Nine months after March 25 is Christmas, the celebration of the birth of the Lord, which falls upon or near the December feast of Saturnalia, a time of feasting and gift-giving.

Hippolytus wrote about 204 in his Commentary on Daniel that Christians esteemed December 25 the birthdate of Jesus and March 25 the date of the great sacrifice, or the Easter celebration.  None of this was rationalized until the scholarship of Dionysius (470–554), a Scythian monk called Exiguus, “the humble”, in his work Anni Domini nostril Jesu Christi 532–627 gave the Christian world a calendar that for the first time counted years from the birth of Christ, a task Dionysius undertook because he “preferred to count and denote the years from the Incarnation  of our Lord, in order to make the foundation of our hope better known and the cause of the redemption of man more conspicuous.” This has proved a challenge to secular scholarship, which prefers BCE (before the common era) and CE (Common Era) to “Before Christ” (BC) and AD (Anno Domini, the year of our Lord).   However one does it, unless willing to redate every event, the dividing point is still the life and death of Jesus Christ.  

The relation between the Roman feast of Lupercalia, celebrated in early February, involved the (unusual) sacrifice of a goat and a dog, whose blood would be smeared on the Luperci, who then would run a race. The Lupercalia was still celebrated in 494 when Pope Gelasius I banned it and substituted the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin.  Because the Lupercalia was the merriest feast of the year, a time of gift-giving, there is always the thought that some relation existed between that Roman festival and Christmas, but the date of Christmas seems to have been determined by factors distinctly Christian. 

The influence of Christianity on the calendar was small stuff in comparison to its moral influence in the general culture, especially on the customs and rules regarding marriage.   The Church tried persistently to suppress abortion and infanticide and in general succeeded. The church also attempted with some success to make divorce illegal, resting its case on Matthew 19 and Saint Paul’s analogy relating the indissolubility of marriage to the relation between Christ and the Church.  

            Not the least influence of Christianity was the coopting of the chivalry into what one might call a quasi-religious vocation, especially evident in the crusades. 

The preparation for a knighting (or dubbing as it is sometimes called), which might include any number of knights-to-be, began the day before, with the squire brushing himself up with a bath and a shave or beard trim. Overnight he might spend the hours in a vigil within a chapel with his sword resting upon the altar. . . . On the day of the ceremony the squire was dressed by two knights with a white tunic and white belt to symbolize purity, black or brown stockings to represent the earth to which he will one day return, and a scarlet cloak for the blood he is now ready to spill for his baron, sovereign, and church.  The newly made knight was given back his sword, which had been blessed by a priest with the proviso he always protect the poor and weak. The blade had two cutting edges – one to represent justice, the other loyalty, or more generally, chivalry. The squire was actually knighted by a simple tap on the shoulders or neck with the hand or sword, or even a heavy blow, meant to be the last blow he should ever take without retaliating and to remind him of his obligations and moral duty not to disgrace the man who dealt the blow. A few words might be said but nothing too fancy, perhaps a simple ‘Be thou a knight.’ 

One of the projects of knighthood was the maintenance of the Peace of God. Robert the Pious (996–1031) espoused an oath that instantiated the peace of God, which while never effectively maintained offered some respite from the incessant wars of the Middle Ages.  

I will not infringe on the Church in any way. I will not hurt a cleric or a monk if unarmed. I will not steal an ox, cow, pig, sheep, goat, ass, or a mare with colt. I will not attack a villain or villainess or servants or merchants for ransom. I will not take a mule or a horse male or female or a colt in pasture from any man from the calends of March to the feast of the All Saints unless to recover a debt. I will not burn houses or destroy them unless there is a knight inside. I will not root up vines. I will not attack noble ladies traveling without husband nor their maids, nor widows or nuns unless it is their fault. From the beginning of Lent to the end of Easter I will not attack an unarmed knight.

While these large aims were being pursued as derivative manifestations of Christianity in popular culture, the popular culture itself was recruited into the Christian cause through the mystery plays and through the magnificence of the liturgy.  And one might remember the guilds, an organization of artisans conceived as having the religious purposes of mutual support and dedicated to maintaining the standards of the craft, its activities typically aranged around a patronal festivals. Often the guild would have a church such as Raphael’s Sant’ Eligio degli Orefic, built in 1509 for the goldsmiths of Rome.    

Christmas was of course a liturgical celebration required as the Feast of the Nativity by the Roman missal and the English book of Common Prayer.  Puritans did not like it, attributing its origin to paganism or Catholicism, and in the Cromwellian years of mid-seventeenth century, its celebration was illegal.  This was the Puritan tradition inherited by Massachusetts. When the Reverend Charles Coffin travelled south about 1800, he encountered as an oddity the celebration of Christmas in Virginia.  

To skip to the nineteenth  century, the secularization of the two greatest Christian festivals brought an increasingly secular culture face to face with the fact that it had no cause for celebration that was not ultimately rooted in the Christian story.  One might suppress “Christmas” in favor of “holiday,” but a holiday is nothing but a holy day, and the giving of gifts is derived from Saint Nicholas, whose feast was December 6th. Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas.  

In  1821, the book A New-year’s present, to the little ones from five to twelve was published in New York. “It contained Old Santeclaus with Much Delight, an anonymous poem describing Santeclaus on a reindeer sleigh, bringing presents to children. Our modern idea of Santa Claus was encouraged by the anonymous publication of the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (better known today as The Night Before Christmas) in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on 23 December 1823; Clement Clarke Moore, a professor at the General Seminary in New York,  is reputed to have written it while on a shopping trip by sleigh.”  St. Nick is described as being chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf with a little round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.   The reindeer were named: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem, the last two of which were later changed to the more German sounding Donner and Blitzen. 

Santa Claus lost his character as a Christian bishop and became childhood’s delight and a commercial property, first of New York merchants and then of the country, but he remains the symbol of love and generosity.  And if the world is a bit gentler; if almost everyone gets a day off for the purpose of eating themselves silly and talking with family, this is attributable to the ability of Christ to gentle civilization. The pope chose his words well because the Church does not propose to create a Christian civilization.  It asks the right to be itself and to tell its story, which makes the world a better place, not in the sense of some cumulative progress toward a historical utopia but by way of gentling a culture that without its elevating touch will become coarser by the day. And of course at Christmas stores make money, recouping the dry mid-summer months; and that’s a good gift too.



Thoughts for the Feast of Christ the King

 He is before all things,
and in Him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through Him to reconcile all things for Him,
making peace by the blood of His cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

Colossians 1:16

 

In His divine humanity Christ is one of us but without sin.  In His cosmic divinity, while remaining incarnate, He is present in the heart of the Father even while in every moment of time He is the word through whom the worlds were made.  He is present personally in the Eucharist, and by His living and present power He is present throughout creation. He is present in the scientist’s true formula and the philosopher’s right reason.   His glory shines wherever there is beauty, the beauty of a human face or of Mozart or of Bernini or of a summer’s day, wherever there is charity or any virtue.  He is particularly present where evil is being borne and temptation resisted.
            It is a great scandal to Satan’s cosmopolitan mind that in a world full of so many peoples, so many ideas, so many loyalties, it is Jesus alone who is the image of the invisible God.  In Him, in the Word, all things hold together. He has no competitors, and this in part because whatever is true of human experience lives in Him. Whatever is true in humanism, in Islam, in Judaism, exists in Him, while if any of these pretend to universality or even sufficiency, they become idolatries, false gods.   There may be some truth in everything, but nothing is true but Christ. 

 It is the grand illusion of the human race that we are the sole and active agents in creation and in our destiny, when in effect we share a borrowed power, and exist moment by moment by the will of another.  It is by His gift that we live and move. In Him all things hold together. He is the cause of causality, the source of just individuation, the perfection of every perfect thing insofar as it is perfect.     

And without Him all things fall apart.  While He cannot be driven from creation and He wills not to stop the beating heart even as it rebels. But the divinely willed stability of nature provides no morally neutral ground. For where Christ is,  while through His will and power e=mc2 and the Pythagorean their will remain stable, there will also be in a world that neglects Christ and His truth the incessant importunings of Satan, hidden at first in equivocation, self-esteem, and pride, but increasingly unveiled in souls who do not cleave to Christ, until blinded and unknowingly those souls abandon the good and become victims and agents of evil.   

It is the persistent lie of the world that Christ is an optional enrichment, one among many alternatives.  It is the claim of those He sent that He is the way and the truth and that none comes to God by any way other than Christ and His cross.     True, the modern world proposes its alternatives to the scandal of Christ. Beginning with the dispiriting lie that humankind is not only good but unflawed, the proposal is that we must develop a community of natural kindness. This is the humanitarian religion whose victory Newman foresaw in his Biglietto Speech of 1879.  This new religion was developed through Modernism and the New Theology of the Edwardian era, until it became the presupposition of religion in the 1960s. It proposes to obviate the pain of life and in the attempt to do so destroys life’s adventure. Its political form is socialism, its philosophy is cynicism and despair of the truth, its religion modernism, which directs imagination away from God and toward the melioration of the human condition.  Winston Churchill described it as “the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.”   

Secularism, this-age-ism, may take many forms, but like Christianity secularism has its revealed principles, and while it has a philosophy and an economic policy, in its origin and for its power it depends upon faith that this world is what is, all  that is. A secular world is one that cries out for government solutions as a faithless people find the vicissitudes of freedom unmanageable. Then it is easy to put one’s faith in Big Brother, and then follows the belief ; that mankind, having failed to become brotherly and disinterested under the influence of Christ, after a long and painful tutelage under an absolute authorianism, their natural goodness finally revealed,  may become virtuous according to the Socialist pattern; and that there is a race of men, vastly different from the ordinary sinners depicted in the daily newspaper as they are carried off for peculation, abuse, and prevarication, and the common consequences of lust and greed; a race justly capable of planning the future, assigning employments, and distributing resources, to whom the development of a future without risk, pain, or fear may be confidently assigned.  Then, having been unwilling to bow the knee at the name of Jesus, every back will bend beneath the knout and the whip that invariably accompany the expropriation, murder, and torture that is required to establish the humanitarian state. It is a painful truism that since the great example of Israel’s Babylonian captivity, those who will not have God will be taken into slavery.     

Interestingly enough, one may see from the governments that dominate in much of Asia and some of the Caribbean and South American states, that these regimes are established by fear and violence.  Not so the reign of Christ, which in its origin is the kingdom of the heart, which is founded in the mystery of freedom, and which seems to lie defenseless not only before these socialist authoritarianisms but in the face of the moral decay of the great democracies that live in the delusion that one may have justice and freedom without God.   In a very practical way their polities share the principles of Castro and Xi: history is not moving toward the return of Christ but toward the comfortable, pain-free life, a life that summarizes human possibility, which is made available by the state.   

In this situation in which Christ has no army, in which the corporate witness of the Church is weak and confused, the only weapon at hand is the weapon that was available to Christians in the age of Nero, Decius, and Diocletian, their lives.  There are countless lives that by their unwavering faith and exemplary charity testify to the power of Christ. These may be hidden, but there are also heroes, those who dare to receive a family of children as determined by God rather than by reproductive technology.  And there is still individual heroism. One thinks of the priest who dared to deny the body and blood of Jesus to a politician who publicly defends the destruction of little children. And there was this week the Chinese bishop who fled rather than witness to the lawfulness of the official Church. And not long ago a highly placed official made a public speech at a religiously-founded university not noted for unwavering witness in which He denounced the deconstruction of values native to Christianity.  He and his words were condemned as divisive. Christianity is always divisive and is always resented by the secular order which longs for secular peace among a population undisturbed by any idea that rises above the historical horizon. These in their different ways were the witnesses Jesus commanded when He said: you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  

Such witnesses have special importance when the magisterial Church is in disarray, afraid to preach the unique necessity of Jesus—nobody has to believe it but Christian witness hurts feelings, with some notable exceptions lacking the courage to stand up to the sexual revolution, coopted in its humanitarian concerns by the secularists, unclear on the point that holiness is the one thing necessary.  Jesus told us that He had come to bring not peace but the sword, and while we know that the peace He does not promise is secular peace and that the sword is the sword of the Spirit, Christ will always have His army of witnesses, unto the ends of the earth.



Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Gift of Work

 

Brothers, you know how one must imitate us.
For we did not act in a disorderly way among you,
nor did we eat food received free from anyone.
On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day
we worked, so as not to burden any of you.
Not that we do not have the right.
Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you,
so that you might imitate us.
In fact, when we were with you,
we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work,
neither should that one eat.
We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a
disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.
Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.

II Thessalonians 3:6-12

 

It is a matter of consummate interest and importance that before Adam fell, he was put in the Garden and told by  his Creator to till it and keep it. From the beginning, it was God’s plan that the earth required the perfecting hand of man.   Although later the earth would be cursed because of man’s complicity in the great rebellion, work itself was holy, having a specific object, to bring forth from the soil the bread by which mankind lives, which bread in its highest use would become the body of the Lord.  Sin makes the ground resist the human hand, but work itself is a gift commanded at the dawn of creation.  

Until the day of our grandfathers, while there would be workers with words, priests and teachers, and also men of just violence, soldiers, tilling the soil would be the common vocation. Now work is likely to involve neither the plow nor the scythe, but the electronic screen through which all that is in the world flows into mind and imagination. 

Paul’s situation is one in which some do not work while living off the charity of others, perhaps believing that the apostolic order of common property remembered in Acts and effective in the days of Pentecost was permanent (Acts:2:44, 4;32). It may have been easy to fall into this way of life in a community of Christians who were daily expecting the Lord’s return, making the pursuit of duty and profit  redundant. Paul’s point is that work, producing one’s own food, orders the soul rightly, whereas sloth, the vice of laziness should not be found among Christians, leading as it does to moral and hence finally to civil chaos.. In support of this admonition, Paul offers his own example, the example of a life spent not only in apostolic labor that repeatedly brought him into distress and great labor but also a life spent practicing the craft at which he was a master, tentmaking, so that his maintenance was never a charge on the Churches he served (Acts 3:18).  It was a tender point. Paul pointed with some pique to the fact that he and Barnabas were the only apostles who had foregone the support they might justly have claimed and which others enjoyed (I Corinthians 9:3–7).    

Work usually means doing, and so it is a verb, but there is also a noun, the Latin opus, used with reference to something created with forethought and imagination.    We will say that Beethoven’s Opus 53 is Sonata Number 21 in C Major, a work complete in itself, as perfect as its composer could make it.   Paul is seeing his life as an opus, a finished work when he writes the beautiful passage that begins, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.  Therefore there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness” (II Timothy 4:7). And in that way every life can be an opus, not simply a labor. 

The key to a life that is a perfected work is discovering a vocation, from the Latin noun vocatus and the verb voco,  or calling. For many this will mean  accepting the shape of necessity as the will of God,  a life of labor dictated by circumstance, which must then be transformed often by labor into an opus. This possibility is among the blessings of a world now often freed from labor on the land and cast into a cauldron of possibility.   A person now twenty may become if not anything at least a great number of things, and in a world in which we no longer inherit our vocation from our father, and are often not bound by necessity, this means the danger of possibility.   When the forms are dissolved, each person must as is said “Make up his own mind.”  

In this exercise of discerning a vocation there are no rules but there are considerations.  There is the possibility that God is calling you into His immediate service.  There are your responsibilities which must be consulted. Then there is the fact of your natural abilities, which are a guide.  And perhaps above all there is the fact of your interests. And out of this texture of projects and necessities the Christian will make a life that is his or her opus.  

At present work is more than usually frustrated  by various schemes that propose to take away that part of work that contributes to the pain of life; the monotony, the limitations on freedom.  It was part of the grand illusions of the sixties that we just might be able to invent a laborless world. Perhaps robots would do it all! Or automation.  This, these proposals, overlook the truth that work is not only good for the soul but essential to the good life. Our meaning is in forming our own opus, that finished work of  our lifetime, spent either in the factory or the office, that says well done.     

That opus will have many meanings and many levels;  imaginative, affective, economic, but the one level that will locate and give true value to the others is the moral meaning of every action of a lifetime.   Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew that what our lives mean is to be found in what we do for others. This begins, as Paul says, by working with our hands and minds, by minding our own duties and not the business of others, taking care of ourselves and our families.  Paul has harsh words for those who fail in this, writing that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and I worse than an unbeliever” (I Timothy 4:8). This care for others ranges out from our own to touch the hungry, the stranger, and the naked with the divine charity.  To those who do these things, the Lord will say, “Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). 

There are varieties of Christianity that doubt that our works matter in the face of the all-sufficient efficacy of faith.  To this it can only be said: These, these works, this are my life, taken together my opus, a work of your grace offered to you, O Christ.         

         

    

 

Hispanics and Anglos

The Ancestors of English-speaking Americans were living in wattle huts and trying unsuccessfully to fend off the armed Scandinavian migration.  Iberia, later called Hispania, was a much coveted colonial post among aspirant consuls-in-the-making, its climate warm and welcoming, its fields fertile, and the commerce of its ports, Barcelona and Valencia, humming.   This peace was interrupted by the Vandals and then by the Muslim invaders, who occupied various parts of Spain for about seven hundred years.  

Then two things happened.  In 1492 the last Muslim stronghold, Grenada, was taken.   Spain was the result of the slow union of Leon, Castile, and Aragon, accomplished as the war against Islam became increasingly successful.   Spain’s Atlantic trade challenged the Hansa and her Mediterranean commerce rivaled Genoa and Venice. In that fateful year Isabella, Queen of Castile from 1474 until her death in 1504, supported and financed the journey of the mystical, able Genoese  Christopher Columbus that led to the opening of the New World and to the establishment of Spain as the first global power which dominated Europe and much of the world for more than a century.  Her reforms and those she made with her husband had an influence that extended well beyond the borders of their united kingdoms. Isabella and Ferdinand are known for completing the Reconquista and for ordering conversion or exile of their Muslim and Jewish subjects.  Their national existence won by a long, bloody struggle, perhaps Ferdinand and Isabella were inspired by a Poland-like nationalism; being occupied by the Russians and the Third Reich has a clarifying power. Isabella, granted together with her husband the title “the Catholic” by Pope Alexander VI, was recognized as a Servant of God by the Catholic Church in 1974. Perhaps some day she will be considered a saint. Meanwhile the president of the Catholic University covers the murals depicting  Columbus’ voyage, preferring perhaps an America in which the Aztecs are unimpeded in their penchant for sacrificing maidens and ravaging their neighbors.  

Before Roanoke, before Jamestown, before Plymouth, the Spanish had organized an empire that included the Caribbean islands, the west coast of North America—yes, Virginia, Mexico is in North America—from what would be Oregon to the Terra Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina, including ultimately the distant Pacific Islands named for Phillip II.  It is satisfyingly hyperbolic but also true that there was grand opera in Lima before Jamestown was envisioned. 

It is hardly surprising that Henry VII was anxious to marry his heir Arthur to Catherine, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, or that after the death of Arthur, only six months married, Henry hastened to negotiate Catherine’s marriage to his second son Henry, despite the difficulty involved in dispensing the bond of consanguinity that existed between Henry and Catherine due to her previous marriage to Arthur.  From the attempt of Henry to have his marriage to Catherine annulled would grow the Black Legend, Spanish Leyenda Negra, a term indicating an unfavorable image of Spain and Spaniards, accusing them of cruelty and intolerance, prevalent in the pre-modern works of many non-Spanish, and especially Protestant, historians. “Bloody” Mary and her failed marriage to Phillip II is part of that story, the lynchpin of which is the attempt of Phillip in May 1588 to invade England and unseat the heretic Elizabeth.  It was this event which snuffed out the last Catholic resistance, ushered in violent persecution of Catholics, and, I think, made nationalism an essential part of the English national religion. A proud people do not take kindly to the attempt, however unsuccessful, to invade their country and change their government. Overlooked is the Treaty of Nonesuch, under which Elizabeth had offered support to the rebels in the Spanish Netherlands.

The voyage of Columbus ultimately unleashed a three-way race among the great European powers to claim territory in the New World.  Spain had a head start, and a state of war existed between Spain and England. Elizabeth never financed an expedition to the New World, but she licensed privateers who preyed upon the Spanish ships bearing gold back to Spain.   Sir Francis Drake, famous for his circumnavigation of the globe, the most famous of the privateers, claimed California for England and attacked St. Augustine in 1586. Relations between England, and Americans, the English surrogates  and Spain would remain anxious, erupting into armed hostility as English-speaking settlers brought the lightly settled Spanish frontier in North America under pressure. Spain’s last-minute entry into the French and Indian War on the side of France cost it Florida, which the British acquired through the first Treaty of Paris in 1763. After twenty years of British rule, however, Florida was returned to Spain as part of the second Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution in 1783.  In 1819 Secretary of State John Quincy Adams achieved a diplomatic coup with the signing of the Florida Purchase Treaty, which officially put Florida into U.S. hands at no cost beyond the U.S. assumption of some $5 million of claims by U.S. citizens against Spain. Formal U.S. occupation began in 1821, and General Andrew Jackson, the hero of the War of 1812, was appointed military governor.   Louisiana was part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain from 1763 to 1801 that consisted of territory west of the Mississippi River basin, plus New Orleans. Spain acquired the territory from France.  It was sometimes known as Spanish Louisiana. The district was retroceded to France, under the terms of the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso and the Treaty of Aranjuez in 1802 only to be acquired by Jefferson from the cash-strapped Napoleon in 1803. 

In 1821 Mexico won independence from Spain.  Meanwhile, Anglo settlers kept pushing west, and in 1836 the Republic of Texas was founded in the face of Mexican territorial claims.  This dispute was settled, supposedly, by the Mexican War of 1846–1848, which took American troops to California, Santa Fe, and finally to Mexico City.  In Mexico it is called the American Intervention of 1846. Meanwhile there was the French-Austrian attempt of 1864–67 to make Mexico a monarchy and an empire, narrowly defeated. The war of 1846 was the curtain-raiser  to the Spanish-American War, when, with doubtful justification Cuba, Porto Rico, and the Philippines were annexed from a weak Spanish monarchy, a project promoted by a subtle anti-Catholic propaganda. In 1903 the United States built the Panama Canal on land acquired by purchase.  

Since Henry’s rejection of Catherine of Aragon, since the Spanish Armada,  relations between Spain and England have intermittently been stiff. Things were not helped by the English acquisition in perpetuity of Gibraltar under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which now seems to the Spanish an unjust humiliation.  More recently there was the mystery of Franco, who either quashed a duly elected liberal government with savage violence, or prevented Spain’s becoming a socialist tyranny and Russian client state. What is forgotten, because we are more ignorant of Spanish cultural history than of the history of France and Italy, is Vasquez, El Greco, and Cervantes.  Also often neglected are great moderns: Antoni Gaudi and his Sagrada Familia, Ortega y Gasset, and Miguel Unamuno. 

For five centuries relations between Anglos and Hispanics have been complicated by religion, of which relation the black legend is the pathology.  Spanish Catholicism is the Inquisition, the enslaving of conscience to superstition, given which representation, the freeing of territory into American influence and possession is right and just.  But at the heart of the distanced relationship is the fact that so many Hispanics don’t do like folks do. Well, some do: the business elites, and maybe Costa Rica and Chili. But there is too much disparity between rich and poor, too much violence and disorder.  This is partly due to the fact that Latin America was not really settled by Europeans; there were two few Spaniards; partly due to the fact that the Spanish regime while not barbaric or anti-Christian lacked any meaningful element of consent or participation. There was no Magna Carta.  Some of the reasons for this would include the apparent inability of post-feudal colonial culture to support the idea of any degree of transcendent lawfulness. Remembering that for corruption to be damaging it does not have to be universal, it would seem that what one often finds is the survival of a degenerate, lawless bastard feudalism in which the strong man and his clientelia are the government.  As one politician put it, “For my friends anything; for my enemies the law.” In this environment it’s to some degree every man for himself. At the top the rich will build a gated and guarded compound. At the very bottom one might join a gang. In the middle one muddles through, remembering that the police may or may not be your friend; they are taking care of themselves too. This creates an environment in which investment is hard to find because it is never quite secure.   When there is no job there is trafficking in drugs, or smuggling. And there is always Socialism and Revolution. What makes a public political culture. Religion surely, but more importantly legal tradition, and still more importantly an incorruptible judicial system. As in Chicago, the police may charge but the case will never come to trial.  

Ukraine has some of the most exceptional farmland on the planet. But the country is totally broke.  150 years ago, Hong Kong was a tiny village of illiterate fisherman. 50 years ago in Singapore they used to defecate in the streets.  Twenty-five years ago Estonia was still part of the crumbling Soviet Union. None of those places has any resources to speak of. But they’ve become among the wealthiest in the world. What’s the difference between Hong Kong and Ukraine? Singapore and Venezuela? Estonia and Nicaragua? Wealthy nations do have some common characteristics.  Wealthy nations have a culture that values hard work. Knowledge. Productivity. Innovation. Risk-taking. Saving. Self-reliance. It’s not that people in poor countries don’t work hard. Far from it.” But there is no culture that supports these values. Poverty is in large measure the failure of public political culture.  

Perhaps Protestant critics are right.  Perhaps it’s their religion. It is true that Catholicism in health considers neatness and industry a bit downstream from some higher values. But persistent, even failed, Catholicism, hasn’t quite made mainland Spain or France or Italy an economic-political wasteland, although parts of Italy are marginal.  The trash cannot be dealt with in Sicily and the Milanese consider Neapolitans a lesser breed.    

One way to look at the problem of poverty in Latin American is to think of their pattern as predictive of where we may be headed as the political culture becomes Godless.  It is important to remember that while Argentina may still have Roman Catholicism in its constitution, Mexico is officially, and in the 1920s viciously, anti-clerical. Not everybody in El Salvador or Guatemala or Mexico is poor.  If you are well placed, you go to a (probably) religious high school and you may get out of Mexico for university. There is probably a pious picture of Msgr. Escriva somewhere in the house. On the other hand there are the cardboard villages, the untreated disease, and always the shrine to Archbishop Oscar Romero.  And if these are persistent you come to the United States. Deep in your consciousness there lies the conviction that Texas and Arizona and California belong to you.