Egyptian PR, Church PR

Eamonn Clark

There is a well-known principle of studying history known as the “criterion of embarrassment.” We see it vindicated in our own day in America every time some self-righteous SJW campaigns to demolish a statue of a Confederate general or what have you, and they call it “progress.” The Romans called it “damnatio memoriae” – the destruction of a person’s memory. It often involved scraping out their names from stone epitaphs… not far off from the methods of the SJW’s. And we see similar things done throughout the world in every age in an attempt to cover up the bad things to make the culture look better than it really is.

The Egyptians did it too. Those of us engaged in apologetic work will sometimes hear the claim that there are “no records” of the Jews having been in Egypt or having left it, therefore, etc. (Never mind the fact that Egypt is like an iceberg – we’ve only discovered the tip.) There are at least two problems with this, corresponding to each part of the claim.

First off, what rich society wants to dedicate precious resources to memorialize their slaves? Even the amateur historian knows, for instance, that even though it appears that we have loads of knowledge about Heian Japan, this knowledge almost exclusively concerns the “1%” of the population – the imperial families, those closely related to them, their hobbies and personal endeavors, and a bit about the military class. We know next to nothing about the lives of the average farmer or merchant, despite knowing all about the aristocratic Fujiwara clan. And that’s how we should expect it.

In the second place, military defeats were embarrassing events for the pharaoh, signaling divine disapproval and encouraging enemy attacks. If I recall correctly, there is not a single known ancient Egyptian record of their nation suffering a military loss. So why should we expect a record of their abject humiliation by their slave-class? That would be extraordinary.

The Jews, on the other hand, are extraordinary indeed. They bucked this dominant trend of self-chronicling. Instead of highlighting their victories to the total eclipse of their failures, the most cursory glance at the Torah – let alone the Prophets – reveals a people obsessed with detailing their own corruption and failure, set in contradistinction to the fidelity and glory of their God.

This is remarkable. It is not how human beings operate. This is “Jewish PR.”

In “Church PR,” there are several things to keep in mind:

  1. The potential public scandal of a revelation
  2. The reputation of the individual perpetrator(s)
  3. The risk of a later revelation
  4. The good of the victim(s)

It seems that in general there has been extremely poor evaluation of the last two items over the past few decades. I should not have to defend that position these days.

Protecting the public good name of the Church is certainly laudable. And it is surely unwise to be too quick to publish names and unnecessarily destroy reputations and cause furor, especially over mere accusations or the mildest perceptions of impropriety. But we should have no “criterion of embarrassment” in Church PR.

Christ did not instruct the Apostles to cover up the actions of Judas, and the Jews were quick to recall how terrible many of their ancestors were. The animating principle there was not a thought about “what people will think,” but rather, “what God will do.” For the faithful have always known that His power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12: 9) In a crisis, a little panic and ineptitude from leaders is understandable, but those who try to make the institutional Church look “stronger” than it really is may as well throw the sleeping Jesus off the boat like dead weight and try to save themselves from sinking in the storm. (Mt. 8: 23-27)

The right order of priorities in any kind of impropriety on the part of Church officials seems to be the reverse of what I have written above… The good of the victim must be the fundamental value, and this should only increase in importance given due consideration of the possibility of later revelation, a situation which almost invariably makes things worse. Then the good name of the perpetrator must be considered in accord with right reason. Finally, almost as an afterthought, one might see if there is a way to minimize the public nature of the affair for the good of the Church’s popular image, without affront to any other values. If that’s not possible, then it’s on God to make it work long-term, just like with ancient Israel.

We are only partially responsible for how people see the Church. God gives sufficient grace to everyone, after all. When we are put in a position where we have the immediate power and authority to help individuals who have been harmed by the institutional Church, then we are entirely responsible for attending to their legitimate grievances, whatever the broader consequences. Let the world know that Judas did something bad. Tell them that he was a bad priest. Better now than later, because in the meantime there will be a festering cover-up implicating more and more people, and crimes which could have been prevented by absence or deterrence will go unstopped.

That’s what happens when the Church uses Egyptian PR… the mighty are cast down from their thrones. (Lk. 1: 52)

 

Main image: “The Weighing of the Heart” from the Egyptian Book of the Dead (even the ancient Egyptians believed in final justice)

Consummatum Est

For your artistic edification this Good Friday: what is perhaps the best piece of music ever written.

Ave verum corpus, natum
de Maria Virgine,
vere passum, immolatum
in cruce pro homine
cuius latus perforatum
fluxit aqua et sanguine:
esto nobis praegustatum
in mortis examine.

Hail, true Body, born
of the Virgin Mary,
having truly suffered, sacrificed
on the cross for mankind,
from whose pierced side
water and blood flowed:
Be for us a foretaste [of Heaven]
in the trial of death!

A Public Service Announcement: The Return of the Liturgia Horarum

Eamonn Clark

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus liturgia horarum.

HERE

That’s right, the 4-volume Latin Liturgy of the Hours is (are?) back, after several years of being, unbelievably, out of print.

You can put in a pre-order now. (Disclaimer: I did email them several days ago and have not heard back – but that’s not too surprising, honestly.)

It makes the perfect gift for the N.O.-friendly trad in your life.

A Shameless Plug

Dear readers,

I am now helping to run the YouTube channel of my university here in Rome, the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum):

HERE

We plan on featuring speakers, doing reports on events, and more. We have already uploaded a few videos with names you might recognize…

Check out this video we just released on the recent snow in Rome (the first in 6 years!):

One of our most recent videos is a report on a talk that theologian Andrew Meszaros gave last week – the full talk should be uploaded tomorrow:

 

Much, much more to come – hit that subscribe button, and please share!

-Eamonn Clark

Dr. Grisez has died…

Eamonn Clark

I have learned moments ago of the passing of Dr. Germain Grisez, a longtime professor of my alma mater, Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD, and one of the most important voices in Catholic moral theology in the past 50 years.

Dr. Grisez was the architect of the New Natural Law theory, which has taken off in the past few decades. I have deep problems with NNL, but there is no denying that the man was incredibly intelligent, worked hard, and loved the Lord. I recall frequently seeing him at daily Mass in my college years, where he was often a lector, and though I only briefly personally spoke with him once, I have much respect for the man. I suppose this is more due to his very public openness to correction by the Church as he wandered into uncharted theological territory. In this, he is an example for all theologians.

Much of my recent personal academic pursuits have been done in reaction to this giant, especially his action-theory. I regret that now I will never have the chance to talk with him about it.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

My Predictions for the New Year

Eamonn Clark

I know it’s a week late, but… if you care…

  1. The world will not end.
  2. The Holy Father will resign shortly after a consistory.
  3. Either Cdl. Parolin or an African will become the next pope.
  4. Vatican financial reform will continue to be a scandal and a joke.
  5. Nobody will find D.B. Cooper or his treasure.
  6. The readership of this website will increase by at least 500 subscribers (including email subscriptions which aren’t publicly visible).
  7. There will not be a ruling on Medjugorje.
  8. The Dominicans will overtake the Jesuits in the USA for the most entrants into the novitiate.
  9. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will survive and continue to grow in clout.
  10. I will not be made a monsignor.

If I get number 10 wrong, then I will get number 1 wrong too.

Buon anno!

Masses of Reparation for the Protestant Rebellion

Eamonn Clark

I have a request of the priests reading this blog. This October 31st and beyond, celebrate Masses with the intention of making amends for 500 years of doctrinal and moral chaos. Offer a Mass for Christian unity, perhaps even specifically for the conversion or downfall of all those voices which draw people away from the one true Faith and into the errors of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and beyond.

Our Lord wants such reparation and prayer. I know this because of the High Priestly Prayer (John 17: 1-26)… We should lament intensely the countless souls lost to the nonchalance and non-sacramentality of Protestantism. They are sheep who shepherd themselves, and thus, as we have seen now for five centuries, the errors multiply themselves, as if it were still the days of the Judges.

This anniversary is nothing to celebrate. It is one of the worst moments in the life of the Church. In fact, Our Lord was so concerned that not only did He inspire the Council of Trent, but He even sent Our Lady to the Americas, as if to make up for the numbers being lost in Europe. We should imitate such concern for Christian unity.

While the laity can (and should) pray and fast in reparation, the priest is in a special position to make such intercession. The sacrifice of Calvary perpetuated in the spirit of making amends for 500 years of heresy and spiritual malpractice is surely very pleasing to God… What graces might be occasioned by such a devotion, both for Christian unity, for conversion, and for the ministry of the priest himself? There is only one way to find out.

Perhaps there has been no better moment to offer such Masses than this coming anniversary. Do not let it pass by!

Note: CRM will be hosting a series of articles this year on the Reformation and Protestantism. Be sure to stop by or subscribe!

Waiting in the Wings

Eamonn Clark

I thought it might be nice to share some of what CRM’s itinerary is for the next year. Here are several items we have on deck (in no particular order):

Is Internet Piracy Stealing?

The New Albigensianism: Parts IV & V

Reflections of a New Priest

Limbo: A Sensible and Comforting Doctrine

Some New Solutions to the Abiathar Problem

What Heaven is Not

Moses: The Key to Revealed Religion

The Men Caught in Adultery

A series on the Reformation (500 years)

Why the Ascension Makes Sense

What is a Spiritual Communion?

Probabilism, Probabiliorism, and Equiprobabilism: What’s a Conscience to Do?

…And More!

Stay tuned, hit that subscribe button, and be sure to share.

 

 

First Friday: Thessalonians 4:1-8

Why is the Bible so boring sometimes? Consider today’s first reading. Read as it is written on the page, St. Paul seems to be repetitive, condescending, and platitudinous. This section of the letter seems to say, “You Thessalonians are doing a good job. I want you to keep doing well, and keep improving.” You hardly need St. Paul to tell you that you should try to do good. But, before we write off St. Paul, we might consider if the text has some hidden gems, that we only need the right interpretive key to unlock. In other words, the Bible might be boring sometimes, not because of how its written, but because of how we read it.

We might begin by remembering that this letter, like many if not all of the epistles, was likely intended to be read aloud. Thus, instead of reading it in paragraph form, we should look for certain structures that we would expect in an oral speech of the time period. One of those is what’s called a chiastic structure. A chiastic structure is essentially a “pyramid pattern” where a theme presented at the beginning is repeated in a modulated fashion at the end, often with repeated words; a second theme presented after the first one is then the second to last presented in a similar modulated fashion, and so on so forth. This reversed repetition circles a central theme in the middle. We might visually represent it like this:

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 12.19.10 AM.png

This kind of pattern is found throughout the bible as well as other oral works from diverse places and time periods. Here is one from the story of Noah:

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 12.19.50 AM.png

Here is one from Beowulf:

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 12.21.04 AM.png

Is there one in today’s reading? I actually think there are two. I also think that these chiastic structures, are part of a three part movement including Thessalonians 4:9-12, which together make a larger ABA’ pattern. So, instead of reading the passage in the block paragraph format, let’s try something like this:

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 12.22.53 AM.png

Clearly there is a lot here to unpack, and this is only scratching the surface. I also don’t want to pretend this reading of the text is necessarily the best. I am sure someone with more education would find an even better way to read this passage. But for our purposes, this helps us get a sense of how these words may have read to the ancient readers of this text. Not wanting to try to say too much and losing important things in the deluge, I won’t comment on everything I’ve picked out here, but only on some of the key moments of the text.

First, Paul refers to his audience as brothers. This is the same word as Jesus used in Matthew 23:8 when he said to the disciples that they are all brothers in the one Teacher (Himself.) Paul’s use of this term here and elsewhere shows the understanding that by receiving Christ’s word, the newly baptized also share in that brotherhood of Christ. More will be brought out on the use of this word later.

Second, the word used for “conducting yourselves” in Greek literally means “to walk.” So, when Paul is saying “How you should conduct yourselves,” he’s literally saying, “How you should walk.” Keep this in mind as we get to the end of the text.

The center of the first chiasm seems to be “to please God.” Right away, Paul is putting a context around the exhortation he is giving to his readers. We don’t “conduct ourselves” rightly for our own sake, we do it in order to please God; or, as the Greek word literally means “to win God’s favor and affection by being in moral agreeement with him.”

Moving on to the second chiasm, we see the phrase, “This is the will of God, your holiness.” Already, Paul is advancing his argument. In the first chiasm, he said that we “conduct ourselves” rightly in order to please God. Now, he’s advanced his argument by saying, “What pleases God is your holiness.” The word for holiness in Greek, when applied to believers means “being transformed by the Lord into His likeness.” Thus, we’re not just good because God likes it when we are good, and we like it when God is pleased with us. In fact, we are good because being good makes us more like God.

Next, I underlined the phrase “you know how to acquire a wife,” because it’s linguistically interesting. The phrase literally rendered might read something like “to know how to win mastery over your own vessel.” Clearly, this is an idiom of some sort, but there are actually two possible interpretations. The first is the one above, where “vessel” means wife and “win mastery” means acquire. This is certainly possible. St. Peter referred to wives as vessels (1 Peter 3:7) so there is certainly a precedent for this interpretation. However, there is another equally strong interpretation where vessel means one’s body. Hence, Paul is exhorting his listeners to gain mastery over their body. Personally, I prefer the second interpretation, given that the first seems to suggest that Paul is encouraging marriage, whereas in the majority of his letters he seems to promote celibacy as the ideal. However, both interpretations have strong scholarship behind them, and at this point there is no clear scholarly answer as to which 1st century Christians would have taken. It is also possible that Paul was aware of the double meaning here, and deliberately left it vague.

As we near the climax of this passage, we are given a clear contrast between the brothers and the Gentiles. The brothers follow the will of God for holiness. The Gentiles follow their passionate lust because they do not know God. It’s interesting to note that the language here mirrors this contrast. The word for will is θέλημά (Thelayma) and the word for lust is θυμία (Thymia). This similarity would not have gone unnoticed in an oral reading.

Now, having established a contrast between the brothers and the Gentiles, Paul does something interesting. Paul says, “not to take or exploit a brother.” This is striking because of the seemingly limited scope. Are Christians only not to exploit other Christians? How can St. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles as he is called, seem to take such an anti-Gentile position? Keep this question in mind as we get to the end of the text.

Finally, we reach the third chiasm. I highlighted “mutual charity” in purple, the color I used for brothers, because the word used here is, “philadelphias,” or brotherly love. This is important because the sentence reads, “On the subject of mutual charity you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” The Greek word used for love here is agape.
Without knowing the Greek, one might think that mutual charity and love are synonymous here, and they might be! Or, they might not. Now, I want to be upfront and say that I have not found any commentaries which support the interpretation I am taking here, so take it with a grain of salt. And, if anyone finds work contradicting what I am saying here, I would certainly be happy to read it and revise my interpretation. But, my take is not that St. Paul is saying, “I don’t need to write to you about friendship, because God has already taught you about it.” Rather, St. Paul is saying, “I don’t need to write to you about friendship, or love among brothers, because God has already taught you a higher love.”

This brings us to our climax of the third chiasm. Paul writes, “Nevertheless, we urge you, brothers, to progress even more.” We’ve heard this language of even more before, in the first chiasm. Taking the interpretation given, Paul has just revealed what he means by “do so even more” or “progress even more.” He is calling them from a brotherly affection with each other into agape love, Christian love, the unbounded love of Jesus Christ.

It is finally at the conclusion where Paul tips his hand. Paul is calling them to live a tranquil life and essentially be good citizens so that they can conduct themselves properly toward outsiders. Here Paul resolves the dichotomy between the Brothers and The Gentiles or Outsiders. Remember, in the beginning we said that “conducting yourselves” can also mean “walk.” Perhaps, this part of the passage ought to be read as a call to live the law of Christ in faith in order to walk toward the outsider. Perhaps, this passage is not meant merely to distinguish between the brethren and the gentile, but to encourage the brothers to bring the gentile into the brethren. Essentially, Paul appears to be encouraging evangelism, first, by moving from a love among brothers to a universal love of and through Christ, and second, by living the law of Christ ourselves.

If this is what St. Paul is asking of us, I think that raises a lot of questions for us today. When we speak of evangelism today in our local parish, do we seem to be following the advice of St. Paul? Do potential churchgoers see Christians living a calm life of service to the community such that they know that our faith impacts the way we work and live? Do we hold ourselves up to the high standards of St. Paul, and thus attract possible converts by living an attractive life? Or do we try to sink to their level in order to be “relevant?”

Conversely, do we live the high demands of a Christian life for the sake of sharing the joy of the Christians life with others, or does our close-knit parish community become a clique separated from outsiders? For example, I remember a parish I was at once that had a meeting on evangelization that was trying to answer the question, “Why don’t we get more newcomers?” When asked what was positive about the parish, the people present said, “We are a small community parish with families that have known each other for ages and we want to keep it that way.” It wasn’t until someone pointed out the dichotomy between this sentiment and the desire to attract new people that those present began to realize the deep messaging problems they were having. These were certainly not bad people! Between them, they dedicated countless hours of service and underpaid employment to the parish out of love for God and their community. Any parish would be lucky to have people like them! However, what St. Paul is reminding us today is that God calls us not just to love our church family, but to love all people, in the hopes, that through our evangelism, all people are led to Christ, and all people are then members of our Church family.

 

Post by: Niko Wentworth

-References to Greek words in the passage were done through biblehub.com
-Chiastic structures for the Noah and Beowulf passages taken from the wikipedia article for Chiastic Structure
-Main image is “Paul preaching at the Areopagus” by Raphael