Friday, May 17, 2019

Dealing With Anti-Semitism Masquerading as "Pro-Life" and "Conservative"

Over the past few days, a couple of social media groups I have been part of have engaged in some discussions which, frankly, have me a bit concerned.  One of the groups called the "Pro-Life and Anti-Communist League," has had an influx of people spouting some very volatile and controversial stuff on it, and frankly, it needs to be addressed.   I am only going to deal with this briefly as I don't want to get into a discussion that is too detailed, but some things need to be said.

Many of the people in this particular group profess to be "traditional Catholics," and to be honest, when I see someone who identifies as a "traditional Catholic" yet spews anti-semitic vitriol, I immediately become skeptical of their professed Catholic faith.  As I am about to demonstrate, it is perfectly fine to do two things in regard to the issue of the Jews:

1.  It is acceptable to criticize some policies of the modern state of Israel without diminishing support for Israel.  Despite any special status Israel has in God's overall plan of salvation, the modern nation of Israel is still led by fallible human beings, and they are not perfect - none of us are honestly.  You can fully support anything but also disagree with an action in connection with that which you support, so that is not the issue.

2.  The salvation of the Jews in lieu of the evangelical mission of the Church is also a valid concern.  We should share Christ's love with everyone, and that includes Jewish people.  As you will see later, it is not only acceptable but also necessary to share the Gospel with Jesus's own people, the Jews.  To do so is an act of love, not hate.  And, therefore, the salvation of Jewish people is not the issue either.

The real issues in regard to this subject are as follows, and thus the anti-semitism

1.  "Jewish conspiracy" theories - when you start hearing comments about how "all bankers and Hollywood executives are Jews," it should send up a red flag immediately.  I have heard some of this talk on the social media pages I have mentioned, and it is an excuse for an anti-semite to use religion to justify hatred of the Jews, which is not the message of the Gospel. Although there are a lot of Jews who are in positions of leadership in politics, banking, etc., it doesn't mean that they as individuals are somehow the fault of the whole Jewish people as a group.  Many of the worst of these people are who they are oftentimes in spite of their Jewish heritage, and not because of it.  Many of these evil individuals over the centuries - George Soros, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, etc. - were actually atheistic and had rejected their Jewish roots and upbringing, and much of what they stand for would be in direct contradiction with the traditional Jewish worldview as embodied in both Talmudic tradition as well as their adherence to the Torah as moral law.  This same sort of argument is often used by those espousing anti-Catholic views as well - some Fundamentalists, for instance, try to point out that Hitler's Nazis were inspired by the Catholic Church when in reality they were directly opposed to it.  Catholics would be wise to be more careful about trying to use this argument to buttress anti-semitism then.

2.  The argument that "Talmudic Judaism is not compatible with Catholic faith" is a serious fallacy, and often the person spouting it is ignorant of what the Talmud actually is.  The Talmud is not a monolithic authority in the same way Scripture is but is defined as a "comprehensive term for Jewish tradition transmitted orally from generation to generation until finally committed to writing." (Rabbi Ben Isaacson and Deborah Wigoder, The International Jewish Encyclopedia. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-Hall, 1973. p. 290).  It must be understood that the Talmud is not a single book either, as the complete collection of it would fill a small library, and like the law books you see in many attorney's offices, it documents discussions on how Jewish moral and ceremonial law is to be implemented - and, within its content are debates and even differing opinions about how those things are implemented, so it is not necessarily authoritative on its own for Jews, but rather provides guidance as to what is to be done in a specific situation.  As Wigoder and Isaacson note, the vastness of the work even includes much irrelevant and even at times offensive content, but it also is, in essence, the symbolism of the continuance of the Jews as a people, and thus its importance cannot be underestimated either.  Anti-semitic groups and individuals at times have tried to target the Talmud as something "evil," and its importance to the literary survival of the Jewish people has always been seen as a threat by their enemies, and hence the problem.  It is also similar to how anti-Catholic Protestant Fundamentalists like to accuse Catholics of "worshipping" the Church Fathers for the same reason, although in reality, the Talmud is more similar to the Catholic Code of Canon Law than it is to the Patristic writings.  So, rather than being a "threat" or "evil," the Talmud is basically just a written record of the centuries-long discourse of rabbis and other authorities debating how certain issues are to be addressed in lieu of Jewish tradition and what the Torah says.   There are also different collections of the Talmud as well, at least three if I am not mistaken, and each of them even differs from the others to some degree.  So, attacking the Talmud is an insufficient reason to be anti-semitic.

3.  The third argument is a bit of a gem, and it is so because there is actually some truth to it.  One individual on the discussion board of the particular social media group actually made the argument that someone who doesn't like Jews cannot be anti-semitic because Arabs are Semites too.  My question to that individual was "yes, so what is your point?"   Jews are indeed a Semitic people, and as such, they belong to a family of Semitic peoples that includes Arabs, Assyro-Chaldaeans, Syriacs, Lebanese Syro-Maronites, Amharic (and related peoples) of Ethiopia, and the natives of the island of Malta.  However, when this argument is used to justify hatred of Jews by saying the term "anti-semitism" is a bad term to use, it is important to remind that individual that the accepted term for anti-Jewish hatred is anti-semitism - the whole world as a consensus accepts that definition.  For a person to use that argument to justify their own bigotry is weak at best and just asserts that they will resort to a semantic argument to attempt to justify their own hatred.

4.  A fourth argument is one I am not hearing as much but it is still bandied about, and that is this - "well, today's Jews are not the same people as the ancient Israelites."  I have heard this one ad nauseum from even college professors, and in general, it entails a fallacy that most of today's Jews are actually Turks by race, as they are supposedly the descendants of a tribe called the Khazars.  The fallacy here is simple - DNA testing in modern times has pretty much established that Jews are a Semitic people, not Turks, and it also flies in the face of history as well.  The Khazars were a historical people, and at a certain point in their history they did adopt Judaism as their state religion, but there is no logical proof that every Jew in the world is somehow merely a Khazar.  As a matter of fact, evidence exists to the contrary - when the Khazar state fell in the 10th century, its rulers wanted to secure help from the neighboring Khwarezm kingdom which was Islamic - the Khwarez sultan refused to help them because they were "infidels," and thus the Khazars became Muslims in order to preserve their kingdom through a political alliance, a claim noted by a contemporary Islamic writer of the time by the name of Ibn al-Athir ("Khazars," at Wikipedia.com, updated 11 May 2019 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khazars - accessed 5/17/2019).  If that is the case, due to the geographic location of where the ancient Khazar kingdom was, it was highly possible that the majority of Khazars were assimilated into Turkish Muslim populations, and the more likely descendants of the Khazars may be some enclaves of Azeri Turks today rather than Jews.  Many scholars also reject the "Khazar theory" as well, based on recent advances in DNA research and other evidence, plus the association of the "Khazar theory" with anti-semitic groups of various persuasions.  Also, if we were even to entertain the notion that in some alternate reality the Khazars would not have been assimilated into another related Islamic Turkish group, but instead lived on as an independent entity with their Judaism intact, it is still not plausible that Jews would somehow all be Khazars today because the Jewish Diaspora predated the Khazars' adaptation of Judaism by centuries, and there were already viable Jewish communities all over Europe and in the Middle East prior to the Khazars.  That is another reason that argument falls flat.

5.  The final argument I wanted to debunk is one that some in the Church have been spewing for centuries, and it is fallacious on many levels.  This one is that because the Jews are somehow a "cursed people" for their rejection of Christ, it is therefore acceptable for Christians to hate and persecute them.  Often, those who espouse this crazy idea (which also flies in the face of clear teaching from the Gospels, I might add) often try to justify it by referencing the Church Fathers, who at times did speak harshly of Jews.  There are two things that totally blow this argument out of the water.  First, often those references are taken totally out of context - no Patristic writer or any other Church authority has ever said it was "acceptable" to hate and persecute Jews, not one.  On the contrary, often the harsh words of the Church Fathers are more chastizing of the Jews for rejecting Christ, which for many Church Fathers and other writers was actually beyond comprehension - their reasoning was that it was foolish for the Jews to reject a Messiah who was sent specifically to them first, and then kill Him, although they also acknowledge that the Atonement was necessary for all of humanity's salvation.  That Jews continued to reject Christ was to them baffling, and they didn't mince words saying so!  However, what many critics and people who use these quotes to justify their own anti-semitism on religious grounds, miss, is the rest of the story in context - if you read further in their writings, many Church Fathers actually prayed for Jews to be converted, and although harsh otherwise, they actually believed that Jews should be the logical ones to convert as their own traditions taught them that a Messiah from among them would be sent to them first, and that rejection of that truth was the ultimate foolish act.  As the Jewish convert to Catholicism, Roy Schoeman, writes in his book Salvation is From the Jews (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, 2003) on page 355, when a Jewish person does convert to the truth of the Christian faith, they often testify that they are far more Jewish after their conversion than before and that on a very fundamental level their thirst for God and His Truth is met in a way it would not have been outside Christianity.   Schoeman also notes on page 354 that Satan has often used "Christian" persecution of Jews as a way to make Jews who are targeted hostile to the Christian message, and that leads to the rise of people like Karl Marx - as noted in #1 above, the worst and most evil representations of people of Jewish heritage who are often used as an excuse to justify anti-semitism are often the result of people persecuting Jews earlier in the name of Christ, and thus a Jew on the receiving end of that gets a flawed witness of religious faith that often makes them hostile to religion.  So, the "Christian" anti-semite is actually more responsible for the people that Karl Marx was and George Soros is than the Jews themselves, so where is the real "conspiracy" then?  It is supposed and professed "Christians" creating monsters through their own hate, and Satan wins as a result in that battle.  We as a Christian people have much to account for in that regard, as much of the moral decay is not the result of some "Zionist conspiracy," but rather it is the result of the failure of the Church to do her mission.  When we stop scapegoating others and take responsibility for our own actions in that regard, it will lead to the freedom of the Holy Spirit to convict us and supernatural grace to do its work in us. 

In retrospect, when we look at the writings of both Catholic and Orthodox Fathers, visionaries, and theologians over the centuries, a common theme can be seen in regard to the Jews and eschatology - prior to the return of Christ, there is to be a conversion of the Jewish people to the truths of the Gospel.  Let's set up that scenario.

Desmond Birch, a phenomenal Catholic scholar, wrote a book some years back called Trial, Tribulation, and Triumph (Santa Barbara, CA:  Queenship, 1996).  This book is a pretty detailed encyclopedic work documenting references from Church Fathers and others in Catholic tradition over the centuries in regard to the end times, and many of them have detailed writings about the conversion of the Jews.  There is a time noted, for instance, that a "fullness of the Gentiles" will take place when Gentiles will no longer come into the Church, and many will actually apostatize from it - we have seen that since the Enlightenment, although in the past century it has accelerated somewhat.  The Scriptural premise for this is based on Romans 11:25-27, which has to do with the re-introduction of national Israel (the Jews) into spiritual Israel (the Church).  We see this also in Ephesians 3:6 as well, as it is called there "the In-Grafting."  There is to be an "Age of Peace" just prior to the Tribulation in which an overwhelming majority of national Israel (meaning the Jews) would be converted, and during this mass conversion of the Jews would be the "Great Apostasy" of the Gentiles, which we also see in Scripture in 2 Thessalonians 1-2 as well as in Matthew 24:10 and in I Timothy 4:1.  This Apostasy would be so great that it would be unprecedented in history up to that time, and if one looks at what is happening in Western civilization today, we see it - no need to go into the details, but just look at what dominates our news, social media, etc.  When this happens, according to St. Jerome and others, the time when Israel would be converted would come.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church also affirms this in CCC 674, and it specifically states there that the Second Coming of Christ will not happen until the conversion of "all Israel." (Birch, pp. 417-419).  Fr. Elias Friedman, in his 1987 book Jewish Identity (Ypsilanti, MI:  The Miriam Press, 1987), notes that the Apostle St. Paul revealed in the noted passage in Romans that the final destiny of post-Christic Jewry would be accession to the Christian faith (Friedman, p. 128), and he also notes on page 130 of his text St. John Chrysostom's Homily on the Epistle to the Romans, where the great saint actually says that as God notes the abuse of the grace He gave the Gentiles, He will recall the Jews a second time.  Fr. Friedman, later in his book, also concurs with the Orthodox ascetic Lev Gillet in the latter's book Communion in the Messiah, with the fact that Israel as a modern state is divinely ordered by Christ Himself as a major part of the plan of a future Jewish conversion - Gillet saw that happening in 1942 when he authored the book, six years before the modern nation of Israel was established, and Fr. Friedman saw in the experience of Israel a sharing in the nature of Christ Himself - the Holocaust, for instance, was a participation in the Passion, while the establishment of Israel was a sort of picture of the Resurrection (Friedman, p. 124), and the later conversion of Israel to the truth of Christ was in essence like a Second Coming.  Birch and Friedman, as well as Schoeman, also cite numerous references that God has not given up on the Jews yet - on the contrary, He wills to save the Jews and bring them into the fulness of His kingdom.  And, those references come from a pretty broad cross-section of Church Fathers, saints, Popes, and even contemporary theologians of the past 500 years or so.  There are likewise Orthodox Fathers and saints who have stated the same - a small book published by Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, entitled  Apostasy and Antichrist includes a number of references from Orthodox Fathers and theologians pretty much stating the same idea as the Catholic references one finds in Birch's and Friedman's books.  I, unfortunately, don't have that small 47-page booklet handy at this point, as it is packed away in a box in my office, but it is worth reading for sure. 

Now, it may be asked how this is compatible with political Zionism?  Honestly, I have serious problems with my own with so-called "Christian Zionism," in that it may be more anti-semitic than it is in support of the Jewish people.  It also does a serious disservice to indigenous Christians of the region as well, and that cannot be tolerated.  Hearing blow-hards on "religious television" such as John Hagee basically saying the Jews are somehow "exempt" from salvation is a heresy, as Jesus died for all humanity, Jew and Gentile included.  Also, in their pursuit of "Christian Zionism," often Evangelicals who embrace that idea throw evangelization of the Jewish people out the window in deference to some political ideology.  It is one reason why I do believe Israel has a right to exist as a nation, and I even believe it is divinely-mandated as a way to disseminate the Gospel to the Jewish people to bring about their conversion, but at the same time I do not support the "Christian Zionist" agenda which often makes Israel look "perfect" when at times its government does make mistakes - not everything Israel does is perfect, as they are still fallible human beings like us all and are capable of bad judgments, and where they do so, it should be addressed truthfully.  Since my own conversion to the Catholic Church and my deliverance from the ideology of "Christian Zionism," my own views on the whole Israel/Palestinian issue have gotten more complicated and it has taken some time to sort them out.  That is one reason why in recent years I think one of the best movies that accurately illustrates what we should be striving for is the Adam Sandler film You Don't Mess With the Zohan. The movie, which entails a super-powerful Israeli spy named Zohan and his nemesis, an equally-powerful Palestinian terrorist called the Phantom, has as its premise how pointless and futile war is, and in the end Zohan ends up actually mending fences with Phantom and marrying his sister, whom he'd briefly worked for as a hairdresser in New York.  Now, the movie is somewhat off-color, as there are some rather raunchy scenes in it, but like most of Sandler's films over the years, once you get past the off-base humor there is actually a good moral underneath it.  And, the moral is this - in the end, we are all still humans despite our differences, which increasingly become more superficial.  And, as humans from a Catholic perspective, we are all deeply in need of salvation and God's grace, both of which he has provided in his Son, Jesus Christ.  And, that leads to my last point.

Anti-semitism, or any other nationalist, ethic, or racially-based hatred and prejudice, is not a Christian virtue.  Therefore, I have a warning for you "Christian" anti-semites out there today, especially if you profess to be Catholic.  Many of those to whom this is directed pride themselves in being "traditionalists:"  they prefer the Latin Mass, rail against anything that smacks of "modernism," and they yearn for the Catholic faith to be restored.  Nothing wrong with any of that in the proper context, but here's the thing - many of these people who decry modernism and other ills they perceive in society have themselves a deficiency of supernatural grace in their own lives.  They are often more concerned with how their fellow communicants receive the Eucharist at Mass (the debate is whether it should be received in the hand or on the tongue, or if it should be received standing or kneeling) than they are with the transformation of their own hearts.   They do all the right things outside but lack inner conversion.  It is often these individuals who are anti-semitic and racist in their attitudes, and many of us who are Traditionalists call them "MadTrads" because they are often obnoxious, self-righteous, prideful, and just unpleasant people.  Those individuals, instead of railing against the Novus Ordo Mass or how the person in the pew in front of them receives Communion, should be paying a visit to the confessional or spending more time studying Scripture and praying, as they have an attitude problem that may imperil their salvation.  They are as much an instrument of Satan, honestly, as the Modernist who tries to advance the LGBT agenda and other junk.  Apostasy comes in a variety of forms, and we should be careful to not be seduced by the siren song of one of those forms.  "MadTrads" without a conversion of heart who spout anti-semitic conspiracy theories are just as evil as James Martin, the "Rainbow Jesuit" who is pushing for "gay marriage" in the Church - both of them represent the worst in concupiscent nature, and both need to have a conversion of heart.  That is what prompted this article today, and more could be said but I have to stop somewhere.  Hopefully, those to whom this is directed will allow the Holy Spirit to use it to work in them to bring repentance, and then we all should pray for the conversion also of our Jewish neighbors, with all the charity Christ commands us to have.  Thanks again for allowing me to share, and will see you next time.



Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A Basic Teaching on the Virgin Mary

Every year that I have been teaching my sixth-graders as a catechist, I devote the last class session of the year to teach about what we as Catholics believe concerning the Virgin Mary, as that is an important topic.  It is important because what we believe about Mary is interconnected to what we believe about Christ, the Church, and everything else, and therefore it is important to have a correct understanding about who she is and what she means to us as the Church.  Unfortunately, much of what is included in the curriculum our own parish uses is somewhat deficient when it comes to teaching about Mary, so I have taken it upon myself to present something pretty basic to the kids on the subject.  However, it may be important to also include it here, as there are many Catholics - not to mention some of our Protestant brethren who say we believe things about Mary we actually don't - who could use this.  That is why I am doing this study today.

The question I often ask as an opening to the lesson to my sixth-graders is this - what do you know about the Virgin Mary?  To that question, I get a number of answers, and on a basic level they are all correct - she was Jesus's mother, she was St. Joseph's wife, her name appears in the Rosary prayers, etc.  That is actually a good starting place, because naturally on a surface level all of that is correct, as Mary was indeed all those things.  However, the next question I ask - what does the Church believe about Mary? - tends to get a lot of blank stares.  That is troubling to me, in that we don't have a solid grounding anymore concerning what we actually believe, and when the subject comes up during the time that guy in the white shirt and tie from the local independent Baptist church down the street armed with a portfolio full of Chick comics, no one can counter the misconceptions and faulty accusations that our Fundamentalist friends voice in regard to the Virgin Mary.  So, we are going to start there.

The Catholic Church has four important dogmas that address the Virgin Mary, and of the four, two of them are actually accepted by many Protestants, one is universally accepted by all Christian traditions, and only the fourth is specifically a Roman Catholic position, but in practice it is actually believed by others who aren't Roman Catholic either.  The four dogmas are as follows, and in the remainder of this discussion they will be dealt with more in-depth:

1. The Immaculate Conception
2. Mary as the Mother of God
3. The Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
4. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven

Everything else that we believe about Mary is tied to one of those four dogmas, and those four dogmas also tie into other aspects of theology as well - they play an important part in our understanding of Jesus Christ, for instance.  That being established, let us begin our discussion.

I. The Immaculate Conception




The Immaculate Conception was actually one of the hardest doctrines for me to accept as a convert because when you really think about it, a misunderstanding of this doctrine almost puts Mary on the same level as Christ, and that was troubling - that is, until I understood it properly.  To understand the Immaculate Conception one has to first understand supernatural grace and the Fall.   Prior to the Fall, mankind was perfect - sinless, and the idea of original sin didn't exist until Eve first partook of the fruit and then gave it to Adam.  This necessitated supernatural grace, which has the duty (through the Atonement of Christ) to elevate, perfect, and heal us of the sting of original sin.  For many of us, that will not fully happen until our death and passing on to the next life, but in the case of the Virgin Mary, something important happened.  As you will also recall, one of the prefigurements of Mary in the Old Testament is that of the Ark of the Covenant - the Ark was holy, and was not touched or defamed with human hands.  Mary is the Ark, so to speak, of the New Covenant, and she was chosen to be so from the foundation of Creation by God Himself.  Naturally, a vessel with a special purpose needs to be consecrated, so at her conception, God imparted to her the full measure of the supernatural grace that we acquire over a lifetime to prepare her for the ultimate act of evangelization - giving the Savior to the world.  That being said, there are a couple of clarifications to make here.

First, because Mary was consecrated and sanctified in the Womb does not mean she was birthed in the same way as Jesus.  This is a common misunderstanding, and it is important at this point to clear that one up.  Mary's parents were both biological - her mother was St. Ann, and her father was St. Joachim.  She was also conceived in the normal way, with normal parents participating in the loving act of procreation.  If she had a DNA test today, that would be confirmed quickly.  So, this means that Mary was a human being, not a god.  However, in the womb of her mother, at her conception, God did a miraculous work by giving her an instantaneous measure of supernatural grace, which completely perfected and sanctified her - she became the consecrated vessel from the womb, in other words, of the great vocation that God called her to.  For a Catholic to believe otherwise would constitute a heresy, in other words.  That being said, let us see what the Church herself has to say about this.

The Immaculate Conception is dealt with specifically in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, from 490-493.   In the "Hail Mary" prayer that makes up the bulk of the Rosary, the first line of it proclaims this - Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.   That phrase "full of grace" is seen by the Church as important, in that it is also noted in the Gospel in Luke 1:28 when the angel St. Gabriel greets her in this way.  As the Catechism states, in order for Mary to fully give the free consent of her faith to this announcement, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace.  And, that happened at her conception.  To put it in Evangelical vernacular, Mary was "born again" by God's grace before she was born naturally.  The Eastern Orthodox, while not officially codifying a doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, also affirms this by calling Mary "the All-Holy," and she is affirmed as being "free from any stain of sin...formed as a new creature" (CCC 493, LG 56).  The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which was proclaimed in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, echoes this very thing but elaborates by adding that she is "preserved immune from all stain of original sin" (CCC 491, Ineffabilus Deus 2803).  As Scott Hahn points out, this also ties into Mary's role as the "New Eve," meaning that she can properly be seen as a counterimage of the original Eve - as Eve became bound by original sin, Mary was cleansed of it at her conception (Scott Hahn, ed., The Catholic Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 2009. p. 587).  The earliest mentions of this in the Church Fathers, as Mark Miravalle points out, see Mary referred to in such ways as "all holy," "all pure," "more innocent," "a miracle of grace," "purer than the angels," and "altogether without sin" (Mark Miravalle, Introduction to Mary. Santa Barbara, CA:  Queenship Publishing, 1993. p. 39).  St. Ambrose, from the 4th century, actually wrote that Mary was "free from all stain of sin," and St. Sophronius in the 7th century declared of Mary, "no one has been pre-purified (of original sin - my add) but you" (Miravalle, p. 40).   As Miravalle points out, belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception should be easier than we sometimes make it to be, in that she essentially received through a miraculous imparting of supernatural grace what we all will receive at the General Resurrection, provided we die in a state of that grace in Christ (ibid.).  This hopefully will help to dispel the common Protestant allegations of putting Mary on a level with Jesus, in that we should be looking to her as a symbol of hope in our own perfection in the world to come.

This belief in the Immaculate Conception will still have misconceptions to be sure, but in examining it more closely, it actually makes perfect sense as far as the plan of salvation goes.  And, coming to this understanding myself - mostly due in part to Dr. Miravalle, whom I had the privilege of having as a professor when I pursued my Master's at Steubenville - has been revolutionary for me, and I now can see the plan of salvation in a whole new light.

II.  Mary As Mother of God




As controversial as the Immaculate Conception is, the dogma of Mary being the Mother of God is pretty much universally accepted by all the denominations of Christendom.  This particular dogma is also intertwined with Christology, as the person of Christ is defined in many ways by the dogma of Mary as Mother of God.   This goes back to what we believe about Christ Himself - we accept Him as one man with two natures; He is both fully human and fully divine.  This had to be defined as in the 4th century a variety of controversies arose in the Church about the person of Christ, and heresies evolved out of the controversy on both extremes.  On one hand, you had the Nestorians, who believed that Mary was the mother of Jesus the man but not of God the Son.  On the other, you had the Monophysites, who at that time taught that God could not be in any way human, so therefore Mary literally birthed God in the flesh and the human quality was something that was a "shell" of His true divinity within.  The debates over this became so heated, and they also centered around Mary's role in the issue - did she give birth to God, Jesus, or a being that constituted both?   The final decision on this was made at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431, which rejected the Nestorian heresy and affirmed the dogma of Mary as the Mother of God, and it was later clarified further at the Council of Chalcedon twenty years later in AD 451 when the Monophysite heresy was also condemned. The result of both of those councils was an affirmation of what is called the hypostatic union, in which Christ was correctly understood as one person with two full natures - He is 100% man but also 100% God.  This also impacted how the Church now saw Mary, as she was proclaimed the Mother of God at Ephesus in 431, and the issue was settled once and for all.   Today, as a result, this orthodox Christology is accepted by virtually all of Christendom - Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic - as well as even by Churches that at one time rejected it;  for instance, the Assyrian Church of the East, which originally was thought to be the "Nestorian Church," in 1995 signed a common Christological agreement with the Catholic Church - the signatories were then-Patriarch Mar Dinkha of the Assyrian Church and Pope St. John Paul II of the Catholic Church.  I don't recollect the exact dates, but those who inherited the "Monophysite" label (Armenians, Copts, Syriacs, Ethiopians, Malankara Syrians of India, etc.) accepted this too, first in a formal agreement with the Eastern Orthodox and later with the Roman Catholics.  Most Protestants have accepted orthodox Christology from the outset, as that was really not an area of contention with them at the time of the Reformation.  How that affected Mary will now be discussed.

The Greek term for this nomenclature in regard to the Virgin Mary is the word Theotokos, which literally translates as "bearer of God," or "God-Bearer."  Some confusion can be evident from that term, but a proper understanding of it in no way nullifies the fact that Mary was the human mother chosen for God the Son to be brought into the world.  One thing to note here is that Mary's participation in this important task was totally voluntary, despite her having been consecrated from the womb for it.  What this means, therefore, is that her importance has never been emphasized in isolation from her relationship to her Son, who is the incarnate Word of God - had she not cooperated as a Co-Redemptrix in this work, Jesus would not have been able to take on the human nature He did.  This makes Mary's "yes" to the divine will (concurring the free will she was also given with God's will) a pivotal point in the salvation of mankind.  She, therefore, serves as a model for us of humanity's response to God's initiative (Procurat, Golitzin, and Peterson, Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church. Lanham, MD:  Scarecrow Press, 1996. p. 212).  Mary's acceptance of the role of Theotokos then was an exercise in free will, which deepens the significance of the Incarnation of Christ. 

If you happen to visit either a Byzantine Catholic or an Orthodox parish, one thing you will also note over the altar of these churches is an icon of the Virgin Mary with a circle where her belly is with the Christ Child in it - this is a visual representation of the Theotokos, and it also is a clear imagery that reflects back on the typology of the Ark of the Covenant - within the Ark of the Covenant was the Bread of Life, the manna of the wilderness, as well as an almond branch and the Law.  The almond branch was the staff Aaron used during the Exodus, and there is an interesting fact to note about that almond branch.  The almond branch as depicted in artistic renderings has, oddly, a cruciform shape.  The interesting thing about this is the symbolism of the almond in traditional Hebraic/Judaic thought - for Jews, the almond branch is a symbol of a promise of God to bring his word to pass (Jeremiah 1:11).  It is in Numbers 17 where it is reported that Moses included Aaron's rod in the contents of the Ark itself, and the rod blossomed even without being connected to a tree.  The word God promised to bring to pass was the promise of the salvation of mankind, and perhaps the shape of the almond branch reminds us of that promise.  As far as the depiction of this icon of the Theotokos being found over the altar of an Orthodox or Byzantine Church, it symbolizes that Christ is present on the altar, and that altar has become His new mercy seat, from which grace is given to those who humbly receive it and have belief.  Mary, in essence, also is a foreshadowing of the Tabernacle that houses the Body of Christ we see on altars, in that like the Tabernacle, she truly "bears" the living Christ to all who will receive.  Hence, the importance of Mary as the Mother of God cannot be emphasized enough.

We now turn back to the Catechism on this, which reminds us that "what the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines, in turn, its faith in Christ" (CCC 487).  Quoting from the Vatican II Council's document Lumen Gentium (LG 53 specifically), the Catechism also affirms that the Virgin Mary is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the Redeemer, and by extension also the Mother of His Bride, the Church (CCC 963).  As we become part of Christ through receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we by default also become children of Mary too.  That is why, again, the importance of the dogma of Mary as the Mother of God cannot be emphasized enough. 

III.   Mary as Ever-Virgin


The dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, or Mary Ever-Virgin, is also an ancient belief of the Church that dates back at least to the 2nd century, when St. Irenaeus wrote, "To this effect, they testify that before Joseph had come together with Mary. while she remained in virginity, she was found with child by the Holy Spirit" (David Bercot, Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs.  Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 1998. p. 670).  Also, there is Origen, who wrote around the year AD 245 that the theory existed that Joseph was older and a widower before he met Mary, and that he had children by a former wife.  Origen then elaborates that this belief was in harmony with reason, the belief being that Mary's virginity was preserved to the end of her life and that her body was not to know physical intercourse with a man after the Holy Spirit sanctified and overshadowed her (Bercot, p. 439).  The Church - both East and West - has always understood this as meaning Mary is Ever-Virgin, and thus it is depicted in Church iconography as three stars upon the veil she wears over her and on each shoulder (Prokurat, Golitzin, Peterson, p. 212).  

Many early Protestant Reformers - notably Luther, Wesley, Calvin, and Zwingli - also believed and defended the doctrine, as do many Anglo-Catholic scholars.  A question is raised, as a matter of fact, which is based on the premise of faith and reason together - if Jesus supposedly had other "brothers," then why was the Apostle St. John given the authority to care for Mary at the Passion?  If Jesus indeed had "brothers," this would be the worst of insults to them.  This means, therefore, that the Perpetual Virginity of Mary was a doctrine believed by Christians of all confessions since the earliest of times, and by the 4th century, it was widely accepted by many of the Church Fathers as an essential doctrine.  However, the passages regarding these supposed "brothers of the Lord" was still somewhat debated - although all agreed at the time that these were not biological children of Mary, the debate was whether or not they were children of Joseph's by a previous marriage or were cousins.  Scripture is not explicit on that relationship either, although James and John are said to be sons of another Mary in Scripture (note Matthew 13:55 and 28:1).  And, as far as I have determined in researching this issue, neither of the major languages of Scripture at the time (Greek and Aramaic) have an actual word for "cousin," so the hypothesis I will assert at this point is as follows:  The term "brothers" may have been translated due to misunderstanding about the idea of "cousin," and my personal take on this is a passage may have said "sons of my brother" that the translator may have inadvertently just translated "brother."  By all indications, and as part of a miraculous commitment that Mary made to God at the time of the Annunciation, it appears that Mary was virgin the rest of her life, which also has proven to be an inspiration for many over the centuries that have dedicated their lives to some form of Christian asceticism.

As all of these doctrines are interconnected, and they all are built upon one another, in particular, the Ever-Virgin Mary is connected to the Immaculate Conception we spoke of earlier, as well as the Ark typology of the dogma of Mary as Mother of God.  She is a consecrated vessel, chosen and sanctified from conception, and it would only make sense that this consecration was lifelong.  So, why did she marry St. Joseph then if she didn't "know him in the Biblical sense?"   That is an excellent question, and what I would personally propose based on my own study is this - due to cultural taboos of the time, it was possible that marriage to Joseph may have protected Mary from the scandal of being an unwed mother (despite her virginity) and thus Joseph was God's providential solution to the problem. However, I think Joseph did love Mary, and he more than likely treated the child Jesus like his own son, which gives him a special status in the communion of saints as well.  However, it was not a conjugal love, and there was a grace there that Mary had and Joseph later cultivated that transcended the marriage bed, and thus a marital bond, in that case, would have been totally of supernatural grace's doing.  As I have stated, that is just personal speculation and is subject to revision as I become more educated on that subject as well.

As the Catechism points out, the mystery of the Virgin Birth is that Jesus didn't diminish Mary's virginity when He was conceived, but rather sanctified it (LG 57, CCC 499).  What this means, therefore, is that Mary was further consecrated by bearing the God-man in the womb, thus tying the doctrine of Mary Ever-Virgin to the earlier-discussed dogma of Mary as Mother of God.  In the Protoevangelium of James, an early Church document, the narrative is that until the age of 12 Mary was entrusted to a sorority of Temple virgins until she was given into the care of Joseph, who was a man of means, and being Joseph is also said by this text to have had children by a previous marriage, this means that Jesus would have had no biological siblings to speak of (Hahn, p. 584).  As for the Church codifying this as dogma, the pivotal council for that seems to be the Council of Capua in AD 392.   The principal reason for this particular council was to refute the errors of a bishop named Bonosus, who was one of the first to assert that Mary had more than one child - this was based on a misinterpretation by him of Matthew 1:18-25.  Paul Haffner, as quoted by Monsignor Calkins, noted that the term "brother" in this passage need not be interpreted in the literal modern sense of the word (Arthur Burton Calkins, "Our Lady's Perpetual Virginity," in Miravalle, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons.  Goleta, CA:  Seat of Wisdom Books, 2007. pp. 310-311).  This goes back to my reasoning that the word "cousin" cannot be found in either Greek or Aramaic, so the term was translated "brother," and naturally the concept of step-relatives didn't exist then either if one presupposes Joseph had children by a previous marriage.   The solemn form given to this teaching though was refined and proclaimed at the Lateran Council in AD 649 by Pope St. Martin I, who noted that Mary's "virginity remained equally inviolate after the birth," and thus it became official teaching of the Magisterium. 

Whether or not one accepts these "brothers of the Lord" as step-brothers or cousins in Scripture, the fact that the dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary as truth must be accepted by the faithful of the Church.  I am not exactly sure if the "brothers" mentioned are step-relatives or cousins either myself - I lean toward cousins personally, but am open to the idea of step-relatives too, and in time I will hopefully formulate a more solid consensus on that issue.  However, the issue of whether the "brothers" were cousins or step-relatives is not really the important aspect of this doctrine, and Catholics of good faith can debate that in good conscience while still believing Mary was Ever-Virgin as the Church teaches.  The important thing is believing and accepting Magisterial teaching, which has a long history and is unchanging. 

IV.  The Assumption of the Virgin Mary


The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is something that has had contention among some Christian traditions, but full acceptance among others - the Roman Catholics, Orthodox, many Anglo-Catholics, and some Protestants fully believe in it.  Essentially, what this entails is Mary's being "assumed," or taken up, into heaven at her repose.  In the Church, this teaching has been believed and held since very early times.  For instance, Orthodox Christians in the Levant, Palestine, and Mesopotamia (the Syriac and Greek/Byzantine traditions) have affirmed it since at least the 4th century, and it was extensively discussed in the sixth century by St. Gregory of Tours, Dionysius the Areopagite, and Germanus of Constantinople.  One quote from an Eastern Church Father noted that "her tomb becomes a ladder to heaven" (Prokurat, Golitzin, and Peterson, p. 129).   Other sources I have researched note a belief in the dogma of the Assumption as early as the 2nd century.  However it is viewed, the Assumption of Mary is something that gives the rest of us hope, and there is no conflict as far as I can see with anything in orthodox Christian belief.

The word Assumption should be examined for a moment.  It comes from the verb "to assume," which in this context it would have the definition of "to take up or in," which means that in the context of Mary, she was taken up to her eternal reward at her repose.   That sounds familiar doesn't it, especially if you happen to be an Evangelical Protestant of some tradition.  This idea of Assumption bears a remarkable similarity that one finds in some Protestant eschatologies, that being the word "Rapture," which comes from a Latin root that means the same thing.  Although Fr. Paul Haffner and other fellow Catholic writers would differ with me on this, I believe the same idea is being talked about here.  Although in a chapter in Mark Miravalle's book Mariology Fr. Haffner says this - "However, this assumption of a last generation of believers is to be carefully distinguished from the notion of the 'Rapture.' current in some Protestant and Pentecostal thought" (Miravalle, p. 318) - he bases his own premise on the very same Scripture (I Thessalonians 4:16-17) that many Protestant premillennialists and dispensationalists use to ground their belief in this doctrine.  And, to be fair, Fr. Haffner is both correct and incorrect in his statement - he is correct in that the interpretation of the word "Rapture" as used by dispensationalist Evangelicals is different, but he is also incorrect in that the notion of "Rapture" is missing from Catholic theology.  The word "Rapture" comes from a Latin word that means "catching up," and would be the exact translation St. Jerome used in this passage from I Thessalonians - the same root word also gives its genesis to words such as "rhapsody" as well.  All the word means is "catching up," and although we as Catholics don't believe it exactly as the Evangelical dispensationalist might, we still believe a "rapture" will happen because we confess it in the Creeds every Sunday at Mass.  It is more a question of debate over timing of the event than the actual event itself, in other words.  As the Catechism notes, the Assumption of Mary is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians - the Byzantine Troparion sung on the Feast of the Assumption (celebrated in the West on August 15th) affirms this by noting that in her Assumption Mary was joined to the source of Life, being God Himself in Christ (CCC 966).  As we confess in the Creed on Sundays at Mass - "...And He shall come again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead, and of His kingdom there shall be no end." - so we do, as orthodox Catholics, believe in the bodily resurrection.  Mary gives us an idea by her Assumption of what the rest of us will experience either "by rapture or repose."  

In the Christian East, the term for the Assumption is Dormition, which means a literal falling-asleep.  Looking at it from this perspective, Mary appears to have died a natural death, and was translated upon her repose to her eternal reward, based on the fact she was totally consecrated from conception to God in order to be the chosen vessel.  In this way, the Assumption intersects all previous dogmas we discussed, as it provides a fitting conclusion to a spectacular life of holiness as embodied in Our Lady.  

There is some debate regarding where Mary's final resting-place was at the time of her Assumption.  Many would say Jerusalem, but others, based on the fact that Jesus entrusted the Apostle John with her care, would say Ephesus since John was bishop there.  Sources from the fourth century - such as Dionysius the Areopagite and Bishop Titus - note her tomb as being in Gethsemane in Jerusalem, a position also held by St. John of Damascus, who affirmed that the place of her Assumption was Jerusalem (Miravalle, Mariology, p. 318).  Others, such as Pope Benedict XIV and private revelations such as those of Anne Katherine Emmerich, maintain that she reposed in Ephesus.  Emmerich in particular describes in fascinating detail the death and burial of Mary she received in a private revelation, including receiving Viaticum at the hand of St. Peter himself.   However, being this has its source in private revelation, it may be a matter of debate.  In this article we will not speculate whether Mary's final repose was at Ephesus or Jerusalem, as location is not relevant to the actual doctrine.  However, all accounts seem to concur that when St. John opened her coffin, she was not there, and thus the Assumption (Donald Carroll, Mary's House.  London: Veritas Books, 2000. pp. 45-47).  

There are also questions regarding her passing, as often some will compare her Assumption to that of Enoch or Elijah.  However, there is an important difference:  the Scriptural accounts of Moses and Elijah have them not actually dying, but being taken up into heaven while still alive (which also gives some substantiation to the appearance of the "Two Witnesses" who face the Antichrist during the Tribulation period, an event held by both Evangelical and Catholic eschatology as part of the legitimate timeline of future events).  By all indications, Mary actually did pass away, and by the evidence I see her Assumption would be more like that of Moses, who was also "assumed" into heaven upon his natural death.  This, however, is a legitimate debate, and it's a debate that goes back at least to the 4th century, when St. Epiphanius in his writings didn't exactly endorse the view, but didn't rule it out either.  Fr. Haffner suggests that Epiphanius was being cautious in his wording as two major heresies regarding the Virgin Mary existed at that time - one being the Antidicomarianites, who denied the perpetual virginity of Mary, and the other being the Collyridians, who basically wanted to make her a fourth member of the Holy Trinity.  Other Church leaders though, notably Timothy of Jerusalem, would assert that Mary didn't die a natural death, and this was later also the position of St. Isidore of Seville and others.  Despite those with somewhat differing opinions however, the consensus of the overwhelming majority of Church Fathers was that Mary died a natural death (Miravalle, Mariology, pp. 320-321).   St. Augustine, for one, made the case that although Mary was free of original sin due to the Immaculate Conception (as defined later), she was not free of the other consequence of the Fall, which is death (Ibid., p. 321).   As Miravalle points out in another text, the death that takes place as a result of sin is associated with the corruption of the body, although death as a consequence of the Fall in general would not be subject to that - Mary's death and its details, he notes, remains a secondary subject in the Church, but given the fact that the Church as a consensus accepts a natural death of Mary, it was a willed acceptance by her of a temporary separation of soul and body which emulates that of Jesus Himself at His Passion - it is a fitting close to a consecrated life free of original sin through the fullness given to Mary of supernatural grace (Miravalle, Introduction to Mary, p. 165).  

In conclusion, Mary I believe personally was as the Church has proclaimed - she was bodily assumed into heaven by Jesus Himself upon her natural death as a climax of her holy life.  And, in her Assumption, she is special but at the same time she also received in a special way something we all will one day experience if we die in a state of grace in Christ - a "rapture" to an eternal reward of everlasting life in glorified form.  

Some Final Thoughts

Now, at the close of our study, I wanted to mention a few additional things about Mary in order to clarify the Catholic teaching regarding her.  First, despite her favored status, Mary is not divinity, and she is not to be worshipped as such.  Despite some Protestant Fundamentalist accusations of Catholics "worshipping Mary," the facts demonstrate this is not the case.  You can honor someone without worshipping them, and in Catholic teaching this is sanctioned in the distinction of what is called Latria and doulia.   Latria, which is a Latin term derived from a Greek word of similar meaning, simply means that it is a worship and adoration that is reserved for the Holy Trinity alone.  It is sacrificial in character, and is offered only to God Himself.  The term Doulia, on the other hand, is a type of respect paid to special individuals - we as a society give a type of doulia to the President, to bishops of the Church, and in medieval times it was also given to nobles of certain peerage.  In the Church, it is given to saints, but even there a hierarchy is evident - in lieu of Mary's exalted position, she is given what is called hyperdoulia, a special honor.  It means that these people are not deity, but due to their examples of holiness and their specific ministries, we can covet their intercessions for us on our behalf.  To put it simply, Latria is praying to God alone, and doulia is asking a saint to pray for you.  

That being said, one of the titles Mary is often given is Mediatrix of graces, and this can be a bone of contention with Protestants and others who misunderstand the term.  What it actually means is not that Mary is a source of graces herself (only Jesus is the Source) but part of her special vocation is being entrusted with the distribution of those graces to the faithful who seek them.  Mary depends on Christ for the grace to carry out this vocation, and in seeking them it is important to understand that.  Although Scripture doesn't specifically note anything about Mary being bestowed this task of Mediatrix, it is implicitly given in passages such as Genesis 3:15 (the Protoevangelium), which is something we see particularly illustrated in the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as in Revelation 12.  In short, the intercession of Mary on the behalf of those who seek it is a powerful weapon against Satan, which is one reason why many dismiss it - the demotion of Mary by Protestants and others, therefore, is in implicit deception of Satan to rob believers of something very powerful, as Satan knows that the perfected Mother of God has been created to be a powerful weapon against him.  Mary, also as Mother of the Church by adoption, is like a good mother also protective of her children too.  More could be said on this, but I may actually devote another article to that aspect of Marian doctrine later. 

I hope that gives you a good synopsis on the Church's basic dogmas in regard to Mary, and at a later time I will follow up with a more specific teaching to clarify some misunderstandings about Marian teaching in the Church.  Thank you, and may you all have a blessed week ahead. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

On The Christian State

To preface what I am about to write, this was an idea I had some years ago about putting into my written life story a number of essays on positions I hold, and one of those had to do with politics. When I originally penned this back around 2005 or so, I was at a different place than I am now, which is why this will be a refined and edited version of my original transcript.  It is my hope that this will both educate as well as provide edifying reading.

Like so much else I have written - and that hopefully you have read and still are maintaining your level of attentiveness! - what I am about to say here is a microcosm of what was a proposed book I wanted to write at some point.  I have always maintained a strong interest in political and social theory, and this is reflected in my very identity.  As of this time (now 2019) there are many people out there who are putting out their own political and social theories; one that comes to mind is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the wacky socialist Congresswoman who often makes so many outlandish statements that it baffles the mind as to why she is taken seriously, if one is to be honest.  And, there are others - over the centuries we have seen volumes written by many people across a wide ideological spectrum, some of which made sense and others being outright dangerous if implemented.   I myself politically would be I guess what is called a paleoconservative Catholic Monarchist, although some years back I was also identified as a Christian Falangist (an American conservative political movement inspired by Lebanese statesman Bashir Gemayel).  As a relatively old-school Monarchist, I have also been associated with the Constantian Society and currently with the American Monarchist Congress and the Counter-Revolution.  However, the paradox here is that I also am a strong proponent for local government, and am sympathetic towards the "States-rights" movement.  As an economic Distributist, I am also not a fan of the IRS and would strongly support the abolishing of the income tax (people should not have to be taxed on money they rightly earned honestly, although I would not be opposed to a fair-tax system that would institute taxation at the lowest amount - taxes are a necessity, but shouldn't be a burden, in other words).   And, as a true Monarchist, I think the United Nations is a sham, and strongly oppose US involvement in it - the UN has done much more harm than good in the world, and its demise would not be mourned by me, I will just say that.  Additionally, although I don't necessarily identify as part of the "Religious Right," I also do sympathize with many positions they would hold, such as religious freedom, opposition to abortion and "same-sex marriage," and other issues.  As a movement though, I don't believe the "Religious Right" always embodies Christian convictions and there are two problems I have with it as a movement.  For one, the "Religious Right" in American politics tends to be rather fickle in some areas, having more in common with Machiavelli at times than with Moses.   Secondly, there is a fallacy that the "Religious Right" embraces that in order to be a Christian voter, one has to be a card-carrying member of the Republican Party.   This is a major fallacy, because more often than not the Republican career politicians are no better than their liberal Democrat counterparts, and if one is going to use Christian conviction as a voting criteria, often third-party independents represent Christian values more than do many Republican Establishment candidates.  However, the biggest departure I have with many of my fellow Christians who support the "Religious Right" is more fundamental and is at the core issue of this essay, and let me talk about that now.

There is a popular mythos perpetuated by many Christian conservatives about a place they call "Christian America."  This myth asserts that America was founded as a Christian nation, and thus we are supposed to be "returning" to its founding principles.  However, is this true?   Is America a Christian nation?   Well, yes and no.  Yes, in that if one talks about the grassroots values of American history, a lot of Christians of various traditions did shape it - many were persecuted sects as well as Catholics and others who wanted to actually use the New World as a place where the Gospel could be lived.  In this regard, they also continue the Judeo-Christian dimension of Western Civilization, which is important as well.   If you want to find "Christian America," look to the small towns.  However, I would also contend that on another level - institutional - America was not Christian, nor was it intended to be.   A Christian speaker by the name of Rob Skiba said once in regard to this that the first immigrants who came to these shores on the boat did have a lot of Christians counted among them, but also on that same boat were Freemasons, Enlightenment secularists, and others who had a radically different worldview from the Judeo-Christian position.  Many of those people eventually are who became the Founding Fathers of this nation, and their footprints can be seen especially all over Washington, DC, which for all intents and purposes is a Freemason monument on steroids.  The good news in all of this though is that even the Freemasons and secularists among the Founders recognized at least the value of the Christian worldview, and on a basic level they preserved that.  Unfortunately, in the last century, what little Christian influence the Founders had is depleting as secularization becomes more prominent in American society, and that should raise some serious concern for people of faith.  However, not only should it raise concern, but the informed Christian should also not be surprised either - secularism is at the roots of American beginnings, and its growth and proliferation should be expected unfortunately.  There have always been - and still are - strong Christian enclaves within the US, but they had little to do with the nation's founding and also have had dwindling influence as the true secularism of the Founders began to move away from any Christian moorings it had beginning in the 19th century and exploding in the 20th.  So, what are some ways I part company with many of my "Religious Right" friends?  Let us talk about that now.

To begin, I self-identify as a religious traditionalist, as anyone who knows me can attest.  In many aspects, that makes me different in many areas than leaders in the "Religious Right" movement in that I don't see everything they advocate as being truly Christian - there are many things they advocate, for instance, I would find downright reprehensible.  One particular thing is their baptism of rock music in many cases to create "contemporary Christian music," which I find pointless.  Efforts like "Christianizing" certain secular things will do little to solve the underlying issues that face us.  While some cultural appropriation can happen and is necessary (good example is Aquinas, who cleaned up Greek philosophy to make it compatible with Christian doctrine), we need to be careful what we appropriate.  Cultural appropriation in this context is a good thing, in that it represents a soteriological dimension on a societal scale - societies, like persons, can benefit from supernatural grace.  Supernatural grace, as we know, is essential for the restoration of things as they should be, in that it takes something and then elevates, perfects, and heals it according to God's purposes.  It happens in our individual conversions to Christ, and it also happens in societies which are transformed by the proclamation of the Gospel.  But, there are stipulations to this.  First, the appropriated things must be aspects of the common good - a benefit should be seen, in other words, in their preservation and appropriation.   Second, we need to ask if these things embody the attributes of truth, beauty, and goodness - if they do, they have potential, but if they don't they should be discarded in that they will be more harm than good.  It is one thing, for instance, to incorporate Roman law into the Judeo-Christian worldview - much of what Roman law and Greek philosophy offered was good, and it was based on universal truth, as well as preserving the beauty of established order.  It is quite another thing, however, to appropriate rock music - rock music by nature embodies rebellion against order, and its cacophonic form doesn't embody beauty or goodness.  What is true for society as a whole also applies to the individual person - God created the individual with certain attributes unique to them (philosophically called incommunicable properties) and thus by their essence they embody truth, beauty, and goodness.  God did create us, incidentally, as individuals, and thus individuality and free will are two very important gifts he has given each and every person who has ever existed since Adam and Eve in the Garden.  Even the unbeliever has the beauty of individuality of personhood, and that comes from God Himself.  When one accepts Christ as Savior and believes in Him though, it allows for the work of supernatural grace to come in and elevate, heal, and perfect that individuality into the person God originally intended - supernatural grace, provided by Jesus Himself by giving Himself in death for our sin, therefore restores us to the individual God created us to be.  As societies are built by individuals, it only follows that the work of supernatural grace flows from the individual into the society he or she is part of, and thus this leads to both transformation and restoration - it is a bi-product, in many ways, of the proclamation of the Gospel in the work of evangelization.  This therefore is where the true Christian state has its origins.

Building upon this now, for me the Christian society begins at its most fundamental element, which is the family unit.  Unfortunately, in this day and age, professing Christian families are about as dysfunctional and star-struck as their secular counterparts, and it has produced a nation of spoiled, selfish, lazy people.  The luxury of convenience in many cases has produced this mentality, and given everything comes in pretty little packages such as computers, smartphones, and shopping malls, and this makes productive labor a thing of the past.  As Catholic thinker Plinio Correa de Oliviera points out in his classic text Revolution and Counter-Revolution, this has caused a conflict of worldviews:

"In its material aspect, genuine progress consists in the rightful use of the forces of nature according to the law of God, for the services of man.  For this reason, the Counter-Revolution makes no pacts with today's hyper-trophied technicalism, with its adoration of novelties, speed, and machines, nor with the deplorable tendency to organize human society mechanistically.  These are excesses that Pius XII (specifically referencing a broadcast he made in 1957) condemned profoundly and precisely. (Plinio Correa de Oliviera, Revolution and Counter-Revolution.  Hanover, PA: American TFP, 1993. pp. 79-80).  

This obsession with and worship of "progress" is something that another Catholic writer, American TPF leader John Horvat II, called "frenetic intemperance" in his 2013 book Return to Order.  Horvat defines frenetic intemperance in that book in this way - a restless, explosive, and relentless drive inside man that manifests itself in modern economy by first seeking to throw off legitimate restraints and then gratifying disordered passions (John Horvat, Return to Order.  York, PA:  York Press, 2013. p. 17).  The late Reformed Protestant theologian Francis Schaeffer likewise identifies this problem in his classic book A Christian Manifesto when he notes the following:

"They have failed to see that all of this (referring to the rise in abortion, pornography, etc. - my add) has come about due to a shift in worldview - that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole.  This shift has been away from a worldview that was at least vaguely Christian in people's memory (even if they were not individually Christian) toward something completely different - toward a final worldview based upon the idea that the final reality is impersonal matter or energy shaped into its present form by impersonal chance.  (Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto. Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 1981.  pp. 17-18)

This is further illustrated in the final quote I want to present to buttress what I am going to expound on shortly which is taken from Belgian Catholic political thinker Christophe Buffin de Chosal in his classic text The End of Democracy, when he says the following:

"Wealth, and in particular sudden financial affluence, has a disastrous effect on the morality of its beneficiaries.  And among the disorders observed, the most flagrant is the loss of the sense of reality.  Very quickly, the newly enriched person comes to believe he deserves his salary - and even that he deserves more than his salary.  He ceases to see poverty or the financial difficulties of those around him.  He thinks of himself as the norm and sees nothing excessive, scandalous, or unjust in making ten times more than certain modest workers.  This transformation can happen very quickly."  (Christophe Buffin de Chosal, The End of Democracy.  Arcadia, CA:  Tumblar House, 2017).  

All of the above writers note the same thing in different words - a misguided focus on one's own personal gain coupled with an unbridled gluttonous consumerism leads to a "me-centered" culture that forsakes the values that made that success possible in the first place.  For the Christian, this means that God is the source of our provision, protection, and direction, and if we lose sight of that we fail.  Based on the American obsession with celebrities - many teachers who work hard scrape by while NFL athletes, CNN talking-heads, and Hollywood actors get ungodly salaries based on nothing more than throwing a stupid ball around, spouting an opinion in the name of "journalism," or acting in front of a camera and microphone - we see exactly the worldview today that both Schaeffer and de Chosal as quoted above noted, and it also fits Horvat's definition of frenetic intemperance.  That, in turn, has led to an inflated and false sense of entitlement on the part of beneficiaries of this system where feelings outweigh facts and therefore a person's whole life can be ruined based on how said person supposedly "offends" someone with politically-incorrect language, whether intentional or not.  The basis of both economic and moral life then has shifted from the family (where it should be) to the faceless government buildings in Washington, DC, or the casting-couches of big movie studios in Hollywood, often in concert with each other.  It is important, as Chesterton, Belloc and others have submitted over the years, that the family must be restored as the fundamental basis of the economy, and it does so with the premise that morality also will follow as well as values are imparted that impact both personal development and business.  The next stepping-stone to this is the Church - things such as welfare and education were once the primary domain of the Church until she surrendered them to the secular state with disastrous consequence, and it is time that the Church reassert herself as the primary beacon of both the common good and of sound education. In the area of education then, where the Church lacks this can be picked up by either the military and/or private endowments which promote those things that aid in basic skills to function in society.  The military, as a matter of fact, should be the only government involvement in the education of future generations, in that the military itself should be grounded in the defense of the common good.  And, the military would be an extension of royal authority, if the system of government is a monarchy.   If a radical restructuring of education were to take place in this way, it would inevitably mean the restoration of a more classical educational curriculum that would shape students in a more well-rounded way to produce true statesmen and less celebrity.  To put it this way, it is time Johnny reads again, not to mention counting, reasoning, etc.  The home business ethic (the "Mom and Pop model," if you will) as well as a well-rounded classical curriculum in the academy are two vital components which would be perfected by the involvement of the Church, as the herald of supernatural grace that would aid in transforming individual worldviews which in turn would lead to positive societal transformation.  And, that is where the Christian State in the true sense begins.

This also entails Church leaders seeking to be less "culturally relative" and more truth-proclaiming.  We need bishops, priests, pastors, rabbis, etc., who will be leaders in the areas of both cultural and spiritual renewal rather than being trend-setters of societal norms, which many of them unfortunately are now (including as of this date the current Roman Pontiff).  If the Church is renewed in its mission with a passion to infuse society with the Gospel, what then follows is a transformation of civil government, so let's talk about that next shall we? 

Being that Ocasio-Cortez's "Green New Deal" has been in the news a lot, and this whole "global warming" and "climate change" hysteria has gripped many Leftists in the US these days, it is important to address that.  Our planet's welfare is indeed important, as God has made us a steward over it, but at the same time it must be understood that "climate change" is a part of the created order, and in the course of Earth's existence climate change has happened several times.  So, unlike Ocasio-Cortez's assertion that somehow airplanes and bovine flatulence will end the world in 12 years, in reality the methane emissions of dairy cows in Wisconsin have little impact on the ozone layer.  This is a weird theory that even some evolutionists have used to prove the extinction of dinosaurs happened millions of years ago, in that some actually say the dinosaurs farted themselves to death - what is the Leftist infatuation with farts, honestly??   While pollution and bad stewardship are issues, they are not the catastrophic alarmist triggers many radical environmentalists inflate them into - the key to reducing pollution is simple - if you make a mess, clean it up!  It is not as complicated as it sounds either.  We should definitely recycle more, as our consumer culture has a superfluous amount of waste that is seriously unnecessary, but like faith and work ethic, it starts with individual responsibility rather than forced government regulation.   I personally am also very much in favor of using biodiesel, ethanol, solar power, composting toilets, etc. - by all means use them!  Also, it has been pretty neat in recent years to see people building homes from discarded beer cans, soda bottles, and other such rubbish - a guy in Florida, as a matter of fact, built a "castle" from this stuff, and it was a clever idea.   Things like this in and of themselves are good, but they must be done with the free will and voluntary actions of each of us and not by government regulation and legislation.  Education and incentive again are the key elements here too.  If people did this sort of thing voluntarily, then Ocasio-Cortez would be seen as dangerous, insane, and irrelevant as she actually is, and this so-called "Green New Deal" would be properly dismissed for the ravings of lunatics that it actually is. On the issue of endangered species, I am definitely in favor of trying to preserve them too, but not at the risk of enforcing government regulation or sacrificing the common good to do so.  All of this is just a matter of becoming wiser stewards of the world God gave us, and this is something we must want to do rather than being forced into by insane and unrealistic regulations.

We now turn our attention briefly to foreign policy.  If I were in a position of leadership to do so, one of the first actions I would implement is this - pull the US completely out of the United Nations.  We need to focus on our own affairs instead of either playing the world's police (often with disastrous consequences) or letting foreign governments dictate to us our own policies - that needs to stop.  We also need to pick our friends better too - we often prop up Islamic dictators who slaughter thousands and even millions of innocent people, often aided with US dollars to do so.  We tend to choose allies and friends with the most wealth instead of aiding those who need us the most, and while it has been propped up as being diplomatically correct, it is morally wrong.  One example is Turkey - the current regime in Turkey is no different than the Young Turk regime that murdered 1.5 million Armenians as well as several million other Greeks, Assyrians, and others, yet we have marginalized the modern state of Armenia today to appease Turkey.  We need to rethink those policies.  We have also aided and abetted Islamic terrorists in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Syria, and in some cases the US has to take responsibility for the rise of both ISIS and Al-Qaeda.  In many cases, the beast we are feeding will turn on us and bite us too.  This flawed foreign policy goes back generations, as we did the same thing in both Germany after World War I and in Spain during the Spanish Civil War - in the latter case, we should have backed Franco but did not, and instead funneled money to Marxist "Republicans."  In the case of Germany, our harsh Versailles terms in World War I led to Hitler's rise to power later, and 6 million innocent Jewish lives (among millions of others) is what the price tag was on that mistake.  It is time to overhaul our diplomatic practices to reflect more conscience and less currency, and if we have ambassadors overseas, let them be the caliber of people like the late Henry Morganthau instead of like Hillary Clinton.  More could be said here, but you get the point.

In order for a Christian state to exist that is recognizably Christian, it would require more of an influence of Christianity in society than we currently see.  The American model, based on the noble but misguided notion of "separation of church and state," doesn't quite fly.  In order for a true Christian nation to exist, both Jews and Christians would have to have a status they don't currently have, and to start they should be given authority over all social programs, as secular government has proven largely ineffective at administering those (which it wasn't meant to do anyway).   This means a radical stratification then of religious liberty that also doesn't currently exist, because at the end of the day all religions are not equal.  A proposed order I would set forward would look like this:

Category I - Jewish and Christian denominations;  granted full priveleges, rights, and also authority over social welfare programs.

Category II - Secondary sects, such as Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Wiccans, etc.  These would be allowed fundamental religious liberty provided they do not proselytize Jews or Christians.

Category III - Immigrant world religions and atheists.  Immigrant populations of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, etc. would have the freedom of religious practices as well as being able to maintain their own social organizations, schools, etc. They would be protected from harassment and persecution, but also subject to the prohibition of proselytism in regard to Jews and Christians.  In the case of atheists, as long as they didn't try to infringe upon the public display of faith of Christians and others, would have full freedom of conscience to believe as they felt led to do so.

Category IV - "Dark" occultists (Satanists, vampire cults, voodoo, etc.), New Age groups, Muslims, and controversial sects like Mormon polygamists.  There would be tight restrictions on these groups, and if deemed a threat, they could be deported from the country.  There would be a strict prohibition on the building of mosques, mirroring how strict Islamists treat Christians in areas they control in the world.  If occultic ritual sacrifice involving human victims or Islamic terrorism that results in casualties happen, the penalties of capital punishment for perpetrators would apply.  In other instances - such as child brides, etc., as practiced by Mormon and Islamic polygamists, as well as sodomy - stiff punishments such as involuntary castration and indefinite confinement, as well as stiff civil penalties paid to the victims of such atrocities.

Speaking of sodomy laws, they would require reestablishing and any activity associated with that lifestyle would be strongly discouraged and also publicly prohibited.  Treatment of gender identity disorders would also be reinstituted, as "drag queens" are not normal, and pedophilia would be treated as a felony crime in which involuntary sterilization of the perpetrator would be enforced.  This leads into the realm of "special-interest" non-profits who work against the common good, and those would also be regulated heavily - groups that pose a threat to religious liberties or other personal freedoms (ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, etc.) would be compelled to disband by regulation. The same rule applies to neo-Nazis, anarchist groups like Antifa, the KKK, and other such subversive groups.  Any actions perpetrated by these groups to promote agendas would be taken as an act of terrorism against the nation and dealt with accordingly. 

Returning to education, one thing that needs reform is the curriculum taught.  Evolution, for instance, would be taught in the context of the theory that it actually is, and as much of education would be returned to a religious basis, a Biblical worldview in regard to the sciences must be advanced.  Evolution should, if addressed, be taught honestly for the dehumanized theory it is and also noted for the tragedy that it has caused since its inception.  Therefore, it would not be proper to ban this and other controversial subject matter, as it is also vital for one to "know the enemy" as well in case such views surface.  However, this could only be possible after being grounded in the correct Biblical Judeo-Christian worldview, which would now be a responsibility of Church-sponsored public education.

Although much more could be said, we essentially have the basics, but at the same time another question arises, and that is this - what is the governing structure of a Christian civilization?  Without going into great detail, only one system of government over the centuries has proven itself ideal to be compatible with a Judeo-Christian worldview, and that government is monarchy.  True democracy, as noble as it sounds, never ends well and in time it becomes a tyranny.   Republics, while in purpose they have good ideas, also fail in that the continuity and stability of a king or queen is missing, and thus a republic can fall to a regime that could turn it into totalitarian hell.  Socialism, as both a government system and as an economic model, fails in that it is a direct violation of Judeo-Christian morality - socialism is legislated theft from the "haves" to give to entitled "have-nots" who did not earn it in the same way, and thus it is playing a bureacratic "Robin Hood" in stealing from some to give to others.  Fascism likewise is a bad idea, in that while grassroots, it also is feelings-induced and uses violence to advance itself, and is often intertwined with socialism.   Although a true "Nation Under God" will not happen until Christ returns to earth, I do believe that despite the imperfection of human nature there are some governments that are much better than others, and a monarchy is at the top of that list.  Although monarchy is the leader of one over a nation, it also promotes localized grassroots leadership in the name of the monarch and thus assures more personal liberty than a democratic system actually would.  And, in the case of Catholic monarchy as I would personally advocate, the Church would serve as a checks-and-balances system to the king, as a sort of national conscience.  This means that ultimately a monarchy is truly theocratic, as the ultimate rule of the nation is the Kingship of Christ over the temporal king.  And, that should be the goal of a Christian state.

At the present time, the possibility of Christian monarchy in the US is slim, if at all - America unfortunately was not founded in that way.  In order for an American monarch to exist, the continuity must be there - a potential American monarch would have to have connections to royal lineage that at one time had a vested interest in the Americas, and that could be a British, French, Spanish, or Russian line (or Hawaiian, although that means Hawaii would need to cease being a state and gain its independence).  This is the position that is held by noted Monarchists in the US such as Charles Coulombe, and I am in agreement with it.  So, what is a devoutly Catholic American Monarchist to do??   Monarchy can exist in a microcosm in the home and the family, and although we should respect the laws of the current US system as responsible citizens, there are things in one's own family and personal life one can do to keep the Christian state alive - education, political involvement, cooperation with like-minded conservatives who may not be Monarchist themselves but do hold to core values you do, etc.  This means that as a Monarchist, it is perfectly OK to listen to Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, Tucker Carlson, and other noted conservatives, and it is also OK to work with them where there is common ground.  A political transformation, as my good friend Charles Coulombe notes, starts first with you, and is tied into the evangelistic mandate of the Gospel as well.  Supporting Christian monarchy can also be practiced by the revival of chivalric codes and of implementing things that would be responsible of you as a citizen of a Christian monarchy - that is why I advocate heavily for the concept of Noblesse Oblige as a life code.  Also, reflect the values of an ideal Christian state in your personal culture - find out what of the true, the beautiful, and the good resonates with you, and immerse yourself in it.  The quality of music, art, literature, and philosophy one engages with will determine much as well on a personal level.  Those of us who think this way may well be the bastions of Western Civilization in a society gone crazy with decadence, so it is important for us to be a light and a pinch of salt to season the culture around us.  If more of us would do that, a Christian state might be a possibility, and then people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could be consigned to the negative of history like the Emperor Diocletian, with whom she has much in common.

It is not a secret that what I have said is going to probably generate discussion, as a lot of things I talk about are not exactly popular.  But, for a society in decay, it is vital to explore alternatives to help the legacy of Western Civilization to survive, and in small enclaves it can thrive until the next Constantine comes along who will make a Christian state a reality.  Until then, we cannot be a Constantine necessarily, but we can be an Orestes maybe - Orestes, despite his imperfection and some dumb moves at the twilight of the Western Roman Empire, nonetheless must be admired for trying to preserve the core of what he believed to be Roman in the face of encroaching barbarity.  He wanted desperately to restore and preserve the Empire of old, and although he met a tragic end doing so, it was actually preserved - faithful, godly monks in monasteries all over Europe labored to preserve the best of the Greco-Roman legacy while at the same time allowing supernatural grace to do its work of elevating the best while healing the worst and perfecting the whole.   So, societies can receive salvation too, just on a different level.  And, that essentially is my discourse, although much more could be said on this.

Monday, March 11, 2019

A Primer on Ash Wednesday




Last week I talked about Lent, but really wanted to do a brief study for you on why we as Catholics observe Ash Wednesday.  Although the Eastern Church doesn't observe Ash Wednesday, it is an integral part of the Western Church calendar.  I think it is probably appropriate to give some historical background on the custom first, and then also some Scriptural background, as it has a lot to do with both the Sacraments of Baptism as well as with ancient customs of mourning. 

The practice of observing Ash Wednesday as the first day of Lent originated with St. Gregory the Great during his reign as Pope in the 6th/7th centuries.  The ashes come from the previous year's palm branches, which are incinerated and the resulting ash is then mixed with incense and either Holy Chrism or holy water and at the Ash Wednesday Mass they are distributed by the priest, marking each communicant on the forehead with the sign of the cross traced with the ashes while he says "Remember man, from dust thou hast come and to dust thou shalt return."  The purpose of this was to remind the communicant of several things:

1.  Genesis 2:7 reminds us that we were created from God from the dust, and into our being he breathed life.

2. Genesis 3:19 reminds us of our mortality - because of sin and death, our bodies naturally return to dust once the life leaves them (as also affirmed by natural science as well).

3.  Job 30:19 is a potent reminder of our own repentance that we must pursue if we allow sin to happen through us - ashes, in this case, are a sign of sorrow.

4. Many passages from Ecclesiastes during the entirety of the Lenten season serve to remind us as well of our mortality, and the mourning aspect of ashes comes into focus there.

In ancient times, the idea of "sackcloth and ashes" was one often associated with a corporate time of contrition in lieu of a calamity such as famine, or it also was a form of mourning the dead (Note Matthew 11:21 as well as Psalm 102:10).   This carried over even into ascetic penitential practices in the early Church, where often "sackcloth and ashes" were donned to indicate a personal penance was being undertaken.  The incineration of the previous year's palms also provides a sort of liturgical continuity with the Church calendar in that a sacramental is still a sacramental whether it is a branch or a pile of ash.  This physical action of the administration of ashes is therefore an ideal start to a penitential season as Lent is. 

There are those among more Fundamentalist Protestant sects who have serious issues with the imposition of ashes, in that they view this as a "display of piety" and thus would be, according to their strict Sola Scriptura perspective, some sort of show.  This is absurd on so many levels, as to begin with it identifies the person who wears the ash on their forehead as an imperfect being who, although in Christ, still struggles with sin and temptation - far from being "showy," it is a sign of public humility to honestly say that you are not perfect and in need of the grace the Cross gives us.  Also, if such detractors think ashes smeared on one's forehead is a fashion statement, let's think about that for a moment - why would anyone do it just to do it?  It has no aesthetic value to it, nor is it really even a popular display - the Cross is one of the most hated symbols in our modern society honestly.  It is what it is - a sign that we are sorry for our shortcomings, and we acknowledge only the grace afforded by Christ's death and resurrection helps us to overcome such things.  Admittedly, there is a sort of pride in wearing them though, in that it shows us God loves us.  However, it is not a self-serving pride, as every sacramental action also has an evangelical dimension in that it makes us a visible witness of our Christian faith.  The same Fundies who often castigate faithful Catholics for having ash crosses on their foreheads have no problems at all with carrying a Scofield Bible around the size of a Buick, and oftentimes they do advertise for show when they do that, although they also think they are being "witnesses." In reality though, said Fundamentalists often use the Bible to communicate a sort of stuck-up triumphalism at the "sinners" around them, seeing God's Word as a sort of "badge of holiness."  In short, they really have no room to accuse Catholics of "show" for having ashes on our heads one day a year when they themselves need a small cart to wheel around the giant Scofield that makes them look all "Christian" or something.  These people make me think of Ned Flanders on the old Simpsons cartoons, although Ned was a heck of a lot nicer than some of them.

Artistic rendering of King Hezekiah in sackcloth and ashes calling for a time of corporate national repentance for his people.

Bottom line of this is that Ash Wednesday represents for us a time of self-examination - it is one we should be doing every day honestly, but the pressures of life often make this impossible so the Church has set aside a season for us to do it in Lent.  Also, given that the Lenten season is traditionally also a time for catechumens to prepare for reception into the Church, it serves to remind us of our own commitment to Christ and our joining with the catechumens also communicates that even those older in the faith still need the grace of God to work within their lives too.  It goes without saying then that Ash Wednesday is not unscriptural nor is it some sort of self-righteous "showmanship" on the part of "them Catholics," but rather is a full expression and tangible demonstration of what our need for God is, and in contrast to pride or self-righteousness, the Lenten season conveys the opposite - we are not, in and of ourselves, righteous at all, and it is only through the grace of Christ that we gain righteousness.  At the conclusion of this time, we then celebrate at Easter the fulness of that grace, through His Resurrection and victory over sin and death.   In a couple of weeks, I will further examine Holy Week, in particular Palm Sunday, and I am also contemplating how the drama of the Gospel story is played out in these seasons of the Church year.  And, as I close, here is a lighthearted Catholic humor item to show that even a penitential season still affirms that a little laughter is the best medicine at times:




Dealing With Anti-Semitism Masquerading as "Pro-Life" and "Conservative"

Over the past few days, a couple of social media groups I have been part of have engaged in some discussions which, frankly, have me a bit c...