Some friends of mine have been posting unusually good stuff lately. Z Shihab, who lives out in Portland, recently started a blog called Ænigmata where he has this excellent post on the limits we must assign our pride and our impulse to mock, if we want to have any impact on those who don’t already agree with us. Bill Hoard, author of The Dagger and the Rose and co-author (with Ben Y. Faroe) of Hubris Towers, has been doing a series on the Hávamál, an Icelandic collection of old Norse wisdom poetry. And Eve Tushnet’s review of I Am Michael, a biopic with James Franco and Zachary Quinto about a gay activist who converted to Christianity and espoused the ex-gay cause, is, well, just the sort of thing she writes: smart, reflective, patient, and charming. Go forth and read.
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Today is the normal date for the Feast of the Chair of Peter, though we in the Ordinariate observed it this past Sunday—it is our patronal feast. The gospel for this feast is Matthew 16.13-20, the passage in which the famous Petrine confession is made, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Our parish priest pointed out some things in his homily that I hadn’t noticed before.
First, Jesus could have simply told them who he was. He didn’t. He chose, instead, to elicit the declaration from them. It is, in a way, the first time the Church defined a dogma.
And we know that this definition was authoritative even if no others were, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And it is from this that the parallel declaration on Christ’s part comes: Thou art the Christ; thou art Peter. The office of the Rock is rooted in divine revelation, and it is from this, not its own capacity, that its authority comes—that authority being promptly defined as ‘binding and loosing.’ Binding and loosing were standard terms in rabbinic theology at that time: they described the rabbi’s authority both to declare what was and was not authentic midrash, or teaching and commentary on the Torah, and who was permitted a place in the synagogue, the communion of the faithful. The literary echoes of Isaiah 22, where a new steward is appointed for the house of King David by prophecy, reinforce the significance of the office that Jesus is declaring Peter to have, that of the steward or proxy—in Latin, the vicarius—of Christ.
Some of this I’d known before, but I keep coming back to the fact that Jesus chose to elicit the Petrine confession, instead of revealing himself on his own initiative. He had no problem with teaching at great length, nor even with explaining the meanings of his parables to the disciples in private. Yet here, he chose to have his deity disclosed through our humanity.
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I know very little about Milo Yiannopoulos, which I’m perfectly fine with. He has given me the impression of being a rather disagreeable figure, and I am not eager to accumulate those in quantity, especially in an age like ours that so thrives on disagreeableness (which is a different and less noble thing than disagreement). But he said some stuff that sounded like support for pædophilia, and people rightly flipped their lids, and apparently now his career is over. Or, at least, on indefinite hiatus.
I listened to enough of his remarks that I am satisfied he hasn’t been misrepresented. I only had the stomach to listen to a minute or so, but the flow of his comments isn’t ambiguous. He does say that he was wrong to say those things, and I’m prepared to believe that he is remorseful. (I admit I’m also not sorry that he’s resigned from Breitbart.)
But I wonder, and worry a little, about the reaction our culture has to pædophilia, because it’s so absolute and instantaneous, and those kinds of reactions are easy to attack once someone gets the nerve. If and when people really start to question it, will we as a culture be ready to defend it? Will we be ready to set forth an intelligent explanation of maturity (sexual, mental, and social) and consent? Will we be ready to explain why, even though people do mature at different rates, there has to be a specific legal age of consent? And if we aren’t, will our—very right—instinctive rejection of pædophilia be enough to prevent a change in cultural standards? I hope it will; but I don’t think it’s to be counted on, if we don’t learn to have, and articulate, something more than instinct upon which to base our revulsion.
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Horror is an incredibly odd genre. Even though I enjoy watching and writing and reading it, I can’t tell why. I keep trying to come up with an explanation—e.g., that it gives us a sense of power or safety, to witness and yet survive horrors by proxy—and none of them really seem adequate. There seems, to me, to be almost a spiritual quality in some horror; certainly there are a few characters or atmospheres, like the Un-Man of Perelandra or the final dissolution of Wentworth in Descent Into Hell, that depict mystical realities, and insofar as they do that it makes sense that it would be, not pleasurable exactly, yet satisfying, to read them.
Is all horror a mode of Dante’s Inferno?—which is a curiously inverted example, in that Dante never once makes us shudder before the dreams of the abyss: Arthur Machen, H. P. Lovecraft, Charles Williams, Melinda Selmys, or Edgar Allen Poe can give you a more terrifyingly gothic sublimity in the least of their efforts than he. The mathematical perfection of Dante’s universe prevents any such ‘Crawling Chaos.’ Perhaps, in the philosophical and increasingly violent degradation of the West through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, horror has at last come to be a more natural voice for us: our sense of having a place in creation has been ripped out, and through horror, we can at least scream without being mocked for it.
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My spiritual life has been in a rather shabby condition lately. I’m at sea about a number of things; I certainly don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with my celibacy. I hope you all will pray for me as we enter Lent next week.
I haven’t made up my mind what my Lenten discipline will be. A friend suggested that I make a retreat, and/or pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet regularly; I recently acquired a copy of Richard of St Victor’s seminal Benjamin Minor, a sort of preparatory book for contemplative prayer, which I might set myself to read. I haven’t been able to focus on the subject, somehow. Thankfully, since the Anglican Use observes Shrovetide (or ‘Pre-Lent’ if you like lame names), I’ve at least been reminded of it on the regular. That’s one of the nice things about having a regular liturgy as well as a defined creed: it gives you a touchstone.