Questions from a man in the trenches, with answers from yours truly:
When we read a biblical passage, what is the criteria for determining when the biblical author is making an assertion; and when the author is expressing his opinion, or making an assumption? The same question would relate to the Church Fathers scientific and historical knowledge of their day, compared with the scientific and historical knowledge of our day.
The initial problem here is that most of us are unaware of the intricacies of our own speech. We think there is a simple on/off between assertion and non-assertion, and we think it is fairly clear which is which, so we want to know what are the two or three criteria one would need to detect the on/off in Scripture. Newman’s An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent is helpful for beginning to explore how many subtle distinctions there are within our own experience of thinking and claiming. Add in the further complications of multiple genres of text and distance in time and culture, and you can imagine that a list of criteria for determining when Scripture is or is not asserting could go on more or less indefinitely. How many ways are there for a human being to signal his intent linguistically? It would be like trying to make an exhaustive list of criteria for determining whether an individual from any given contemporary culture is serious or telling a joke.
[Tune: BESANÇON. The leader sings the italicized lines, and everyone sings the non-italicized lines. The leader joins everyone in the last line of each verse.]
In the beginning was the Word, God’s own Word, as yet unheard. And the Word was with God the Father, Radiance of eternal splendor. And the Word was our God on high, God from God and light from light.
Through the Word all was made that is; All creation’s splendor his. Nothing without the Word existed, Only in him the world persisted. He was before all things with God, Everlasting, changing not.
In him was life, the light of men; Dark can never enter him. In the dark shines the light engendered, Radiance of the Father’s splendor. Darkness can never overcome Light from light, God’s only Son.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt on earth, Of a virgin taking birth. We have beheld his glory gleaming, Radiance from the Father streaming, Glory as of the Son most high, God from God and light from light.
Last night I gave a lecture to interested students about why we should obey authorities. As I have listened to people and watched the Internet over the years, I have had the impression that most people in fact do not believe we have any obligation to obey authorities, so decided to enrich our local conversation with another viewpoint. Download here or listen here:
The lecture was followed by a lively Q&A. Download here or listen here:
Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a country not far from here, there lived a sculptor. By making statues, he supported himself and his wife comfortably. He had very few problems with his neighbors, a small community of people whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers had eaten at the same tables; and the town was nice, located in the deepest part of a valley with large, noble mountains on all sides.
If you have ever been to a traditional Latin Mass, you no doubt noticed that the altar servers make a big ceremony out of carrying the big book to the left side of the altar before the priest reads the Gospel. Is there some kind of symbolism going on with left and right? Are we supposed to think of those who stand at our Lord’s left and right at the judgment?
It turns out that the ceremony has nothing to do with left and right.  According to the rubrics, the priest reads the Gospel toward the north. In fact, what we usually see at a Low Mass or High Mass is a compressed version of the full ceremony of a Solemn Mass, where the subdeacon chants the Epistle on the right side and the deacon, after a procession with candles, chants the Gospel on the left side of the Church, facing directly toward the north. We’re all aware that churches are traditionally oriented toward the east, and east is important because the rising sun symbolizes Christ coming. But in liturgical terms, north is also important because, by a long tradition, the north represents the dark realm where the light of the gospel has not yet shone. We read the Gospel toward the north to represent the Church’s mission to the unevangelized.
In fact, after the Council of Trent permission was given for churches to be oriented not just toward the east but in other directions, if needed for some reason—any direction, in fact, except to the north. No church shall point in the direction of evil.
A while back I posted my conversation with Matt Whitman of the “10-Minute Bible Hour”. Matt has put up the second part of that conversation, arguably more intense than the first:
The strength of the video is its limitation: it’s a real conversation between people who actually care what the other guy thinks. Matt raised questions faster than I could possibly handle them, so I was constantly choosing which angle would actually be interesting and helpful to Matt and leaving everything else behind. On the one hand, that meant some really good questions left in the dust. On the other hand, it made for all the energy and direction of a good give-and-take.
One of my former students, a graduate of Wyoming Catholic College, ended up teaching a K-12 school to support his family. Looking to supplement his income, he acquired an old property originally established in 1826 with seven houses on it.
When COVID-19 swept the country and everyone had to work from home, he invited many of his friends to join him in a group quarantine on his property. They had a number of married couples with kids, as well as a house for singles, and all together they holed up in their village behind a strong wall of isolation. Quite a few were WCC grads, and one current student joined them when WCC sent everyone home.
Over the years, I have written a fair bit about Holy Week. Bereft of public liturgies this year, one of the most helpful things we can do is contemplate what happens in those liturgies with longing, like the people Israel contemplating the Temple in their exile. Without the rushing around to get ready and managing kids in Mass and worrying about preparations for guests, this may even be a privileged time to absorb and think over what we have seen at all the liturgies of years past. So I’ve gathered links to my blog posts for each of the Holy Week liturgies:
On the Feast of the Annunciation, Kyle Washut, Kent Lasnoski, and I had a round-table talk about the most famous treatment of the Annuncation, namely Bernard of Clairvaux’s Missus Est. Although we mostly stayed with the themes Bernard raises, we went on some fruitful tangents as well. All in all, I thought it was a great way to celebrate the day!
Here’s the video:
You can download an audio-only file by clicking here, or you can listen via this embedded player:
As Wyoming Catholic College has shifted temporarily to online classes, a lot of us are recording conversations to share with the students. Happily, that makes it easier to share with you! Recently Kyle Washut and I discussed John Henry Newman’s Letter to Pusey, of the best treatments anywhere if Catholic doctrine and devotion concerning Mary. Wyoming Catholic College posted the video as well as an audio-only version, and I’ve snagged the links.
Here is the video:
You can download the audio-only from this link, or listen to it here: