Thursday, January 28, 2016

St. Louis on Propriety in Dress

We read in Joinville’s Life of St. Louis that at Whitsunday the saintly King of France happened to be feasting with his knights at Corbeil. A dispute arose between Joinville, the king’s Seneschal, and some other knights over a matter of the propriety of certain kinds of dress:

“One Whitsunday the saintly king happened to be at Corbeil, where all the knights had assembled. He had come down after dinner in the court below the chapel, and was standing at the doorway talking to the Count of Bretagne, when Master Robert de Sorbon came to look for me, and taking a hold of the hem of my mantle, led me towards the king. So I said to Master Robert: ‘My good sir, what do you want with me?’ He replied: ‘I wish to ask you whether, if the king were seated in this court and you went and sat down at a bench, at a higher place than he, you ought to be severely blamed for doing so?’ I told him I ought to be. ‘Then,’ he said, ‘you certainly deserve a reprimand for being more richly dressed than the king, since you are wearing a fur-trimmed mantle of fine green cloth, and he wears no such thing.’

‘Master Robert,’ I answered him, ‘I am, if you’ll allow me to say so, doing nothing worthy of blame in wearing green cloth and fur, for I inherited the right to such dress from my father and mother. But you, on the other hand, are much to blame, for though both your parents were commoners, you have abandoned their style of dress, and are now wearing finer woolen cloth than the king himself.’ Then I took hold of the skirt of his surcoat and of the surcoat worn by the king, and said to Master Robert, ‘See if I am not speaking the truth.’”

At this point the king gets involved with the dispute, along with his two sons, taking first one side, then the other, in a discussion about the propriety of clothing, especially among men of authority and high rank and how much is too much. The king eventually takes the side of Joinville, admitting that it is right for a man of rank to dress according to his rank, and that it is not fitting for him to dress lower than his station out of some misguided sense of humility. He concludes with this advice:

“’As the Seneschal [Joinville] rightly says, you ought to dress well, and in a manner suited to your condition, so that your wives will love you all the more and your men have more respect for you. For, as a wise philosopher has said, our clothing and our armor ought to be of such as a kind that men of mature experience will not say that we have spent too much on them, nor younger men say that we have spent too little.’”

St. Louis is advocating moderation in clothing, neither spending too much money on clothing that it is ostentatious nor spending so little that one looks meager. But notice that moderation for St. Louis is governed by station in life. Always dress with moderation, but “in a manner suited to your condition.” A prince or prelate or person in authority does not exercise moderation by abandoning the dress and symbolic vesture of that authority. A man must dress according to his station, “so that your wives will love you all the more and your men have more respect for you.” The implication is that respect is diminished when a man does not dress according to his station.

Yes, moderation must always be exercised, by St. Louis’ point is that moderation looks different for those in different stations in life. Merely pretending we are not at one station by adopting the dress of those of a lower station is not humility.

Related: Humilty and Stations in Life

Click here to purchase Chronicles of the Crusades, containing Joinville's "Life of St. Louis", quoted in this article. There are used editions starting at one cent.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Summer Theology Program in Norcia, Italy

The Saint Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies is hosting its fifth annual Summer Theology Program in Norcia, Italy, in cooperation with the Benedictine Monks of Norcia.Displaying banner1.jpg

The St. Albert the Great Center is dedicated to the revival of higher studies in theology undertaken according to the mind and method of the great scholastics, and in particular the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.

This Summer's program is focusing on St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews. With the sacred text as the primary source, participants will also follow along the interpretive tradition of the Church by reading commentaries of the Fathers and in particular St. Thomas's commentary on the epistle. The Epistle offers the opportunity to explore in depth the subject of grace as it is found in its source, Jesus Christ, the head of the mystical body. In particular, St. Paul's letter focuses on how the excellence of the work of Christ has a three-fold extension: to the whole of creation, to the rational creature, and to the justification of the saints.

This year, in addition to the regular AMCSS tutors (including yours truly), the program is privileged to have Dr. Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College as a guest tutor who will help lead seminar discussion. Besides the daily seminars, there will be a guest lecture by Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, the founder and prior of the monastery. The two-week program reaches its climax in an authentic scholastic disputation, moderated by one of the monks.

In addition to the academic program, there is the opportunity to participate in the daily life of worship (High Mass, Divine Office) of the Benedictine monks who live and pray at the birthplace of SS. Benedict & Scholastica. Optional excursions will be planned to other nearby pilgrimage sites (such as Cascia and Assisi), as well as a longer weekend trip to Rome at the end of the program in order to have a relaxing but formative experience in the Eternal City, the glorious foundation seat of the Church.

The cost of the program includes a beautiful hardbound Latin-English edition of St. Thomas Aquinas's commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, comfortable lodging, and two meals per day: a light breakfast and an authentic five-course Italian dinner.

I'm going to be attending personally this year, for the first time since 2012, and it would be an unparalleled pleasure to meet some of this blog's fine readership there.

For more information, visit:
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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pope Francis and the Sin of Saul

Sorry I have not posted for a while…we are a family of seven and over the past two weeks every single one of us has been sick multiple times. It’s been one of those “barely keeping my head above water” sorts of months. 

A lot has been going on, too; the pope’s visit to the Synagogue of Rome, the infamous video about interreligious dialogue that constituted the pope’s January prayer intentions, the revelations that Francis flew into such a rage during the 2015 Synod at the letter of the 13 cardinals that the Swiss Guard had to clear the dining hall of Casa Santa Marta. 

Of course, I am not a papal commentator nor a reporter and I feel no obligation to comment on any of this. But I do take myself to be an amateur Scripture scholar (I emphasize amateur); I have studied the Scriptures closely and taught Sacred Scripture at the high school level for eight years. When I read the pope’s rambling sermon against “obstinate rebels” who “resist change”, as reported by Vatican Radio on Monday, January 18th, I could not help but jump in, because there is a serious misuse of Scripture in the pope’s homily.

The pope was commenting on the Old Testament readings from 1 Samuel 15, in which Saul disobeys God in the matter of retaining sheep and oxen from the defeated armies of Amalek for sacrifice. God had commanded Saul to destroy the sheep and cattle of the Amalekites as things devoted to God for destruction. But Saul retains all the cattle for himself, claiming he intends to sacrifice them later. For this sin, God rejects Saul from being King of Israel. First, here is the pope’s commentary on the reading, as well as his insights as to its contemporary application:

“In the first reading, Saul was rejected by God as King of Israel because he disobeyed, preferring to listen to the people rather than the will of God. The people, after a victory in battle, wanted to offer a sacrifice of the best animals to God, because, he said, “It’s always been done that way.” But God, this time, did not want that. The prophet Samuel rebuked Saul: “Does the Lord so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the Lord?”
“[This is] the sin of so many Christians who cling to what has always been done and do not allow others to change. And they end up with half a life, [a life that is] patched, mended, meaningless.” The sin, he said, is a “closed heart”, that “does not hear the voice of the Lord, that is not open to the newness of the Lord, to the Spirit that always surprises us.” This rebellion, says Samuel, is “the sin of divination,” and obstinacy is the sin of idolatry.

The text is taken from Vatican Radio. Notice that not all of the above is direct quotes from the pope; as is normal for the pope’s homilies, some pertinent phrases are quoted verbatim while much is paraphrased.

Note the way Francis interprets this passage. Saul has disobeyed God and lost the kingship. What was his disobedience? According to Francis, it was that Saul refuses to obey God by appealing to tradition. “It’s always been done that way”, is how the pope paraphrases Saul. “But God, this time, did not want that.” Saul is portrayed as obstinately clinging to a tradition that is now contrary to the will of God. God is attempting to innovate with a new command. Saul is not open to the “newness of the Lord.” He has closed himself off to the “surprises” of God and taken refuge behind the “meaningless” veil of custom. 

So according to Francis' exegesis, God is the innovator and Saul is the one stubbornly resisting change.

The problem is, the Scriptures suggest the exact opposite is true. If we read 1 Samuel 15, we see that Saul never once appeals to some custom of tradition to justify his disobedience. He simply makes up excuses. He says, “The people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed” (1 Sam. 15:15); a little later on he repeats his excuse: “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission which the Lord has sent me, I have brought Agag, king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” (1 Sam. 15:20-21).

These are the only two justifications Saul offers for his behavior. He does not appeal to tradition, custom, or that “it’s always been done that way.” Thus, the dichotomy the pope attempts to create between Saul the traditionalist and God the innovator is not supported by the text.

But even if Saul does not appeal to any custom of sparing sheep and oxen for sacrifice, did such a custom in fact exist? If we look back to the immediate command Saul receives from God, we see that he is told by Samuel:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on way, when they came out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass’” (1 Sam. 15:2-3).

The question then becomes, is this command something new? Is this an innovation? A "surprise" of the Holy Spirit? Pope Francis says that God’s command regarding the devoted cattle was a novelty. Remember, he contrasts Saul’s obstinate clinging to tradition with the phrase “But God, this time, did not want that.” This implies that God’s command “this time” in 1 Sam. 15:2-3 to destroy the Amalekites to a man along with their cattle was something fundamentally new – a novel act of “the Spirit that always surprises us.”

Again, this implication simply cannot be borne out by the Scriptures. What God commanded here was not something new, some innovation or “newness.” In fact, God’s command to destroy the Amalekites in totu was part of a long-standing Israelite tradition known as herem warfare.

Herem warfare was the practice of utterly destroying an opposing people along with all their material goods as an offering to the Lord. The act of sacrifice is one of destruction; when a burnt offering is made, the animal is destroyed. In herem warfare, the entire people and all their possessions are “devoted” to the Lord – i.e., dedicated to destruction. It is a kind of holy warfare in the most literal sense, where the defeated people and their entire livelihoods are made into a collective offering to the Lord.

It is not the place here to debate the morality of herem warfare; moderns seem squeamishly troubled by it. I have an entire series of essays on it, beginning here. It is my point, however, to establish that it has a long biblical pedigree. It is instituted by God in Leviticus (Lev. 27:28-29), specifically commanded against the Canaanites in Deuteronomy (Deut. 7:1-6), and reaffirmed and practiced liberally throughout the Book of Joshua. After the fall of Jericho, Achan is put to death for failing to observe the herem by stealing a wedge of Babylonian gold (Josh. 7); herem is carried out in the Book of Judges (Judg. 1:8, 25); indeed, in Judges, the Angel of the Lord even rebukes the Israelites for not practicing herem warfare severely enough; see Judg. 1:28, 2:1-5. And, as we have seen, herem is again commanded in 1 Samuel 15:2-3.

This means the command of the Lord to utterly destroy the Amalekites and devote their cattle to destruction was certainly not something "new"; it was not "surprise" of God. This was a long tradition, going back to the time of the wandering and the giving of the Law. Saul would have certainly been aware of this. God was commanding nothing new in 1 Samuel 15; He was simply instructing Saul to be faithful to the tradition of herem warfare as handed down since the time of Moses.

Not only was herem warfare a tradition in general, but the mandated destruction of the Amalekites in particular. Deuteronomy 25:17-19 reads:

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and cut off at your rear all who lagged behind you; and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget."

Far from being a "surprise", the command to eradicate the Amalekites was established many decades centuries beforehand. 

The implication of this is that Saul's sin is not an obstinate clinging to tradition, but rather an innovation! God had traditionally demanded the destruction of devoted cattle; He did so again in 1 Samuel 15:2-3. Saul was not the traditionalist but the innovator. He disobeyed the tradition of herem warfare by sparing those cattle committed to destruction. Samuel and God rebuke Saul not for stubbornly maintaining a tradition, but for deviating from it. This means Pope Francis actually got it entirely backward.

Given this, the pope's characterization of Saul as blindly clinging to custom makes absolutely no sense. A charitable interpretation of this embarrassing exegetical error would be that the pope innocently confused different stories; after all, the Church Fathers and many saints often quoted the Scripture from memory and frequently got stories confused or reported them incorrectly. That would be the charitable interpretation. The more pessimistic interpretation would be that Pope Francis simply doesn't know the Bible very well. I don't know the pope's mind and I am not going to assert that.

But I asserting that what he said on January 18th was simply incorrect from a textual standpoint and I defy anyone to prove otherwise.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Book Review: Life of St. Columba

For many years, our website has featured occasional sketches of some of the obscure saints of the Catholic Tradition. Featured under our Sancti Obscuri page on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website, these saints are usually from the first millennium and often from the British isles. What has really struck me in profiling over 50 obscure saints is that, while names like St. Beorn, St. Liutwin, and St. Plegmund might be unknown to us, these saints were often anything but obscure in their own day. Who has heard of St. Fursey of Lagny? Very few; but in fact he was the most famous Irish exorcist of his day with a fame comparable to Padre Pio in our own. Like St. Bernard, he founded several abbeys and preached the Gospel across France and England and was held in esteem by both the Anglo-Saxon kings and those of the Merovingians. Despite this, the name of St. Fursey of Lagbny has suffered with the passing of time, such that most have never heard of him (by the way, we have an article on St. Fursey).

Thus, often times we see that a saint's obscurity is not due to the obscurity of the saint, but just the vicissitudes of time, political development, the rise and fall of kingdoms, and so on. 

It was the study of the Sancti Obscuri of England and Ireland that led me to the St. Columba in particular. Columba (521-597) lived during Ireland's golden age, when monks from the Emerald Isle spread out over all of Europe with a missionary zeal that is unrivaled in the Church's history. The great St. Columba of Iona was one of Ireland's most famous missionaries of the golden age. Exiled from Ireland as a young monk for his part in the bloody Battle of Cúl Dreimhne, St. Columba removed himself and a few loyal monks to the island of Iona in Scotland's Inner Hebrides. From his Abbey at Iona he spent decades spreading the faith among the pagan Gaels and Picts of Scotland, a labor that earned him the title "Apostle of Scotland." The introduction of Christianity in Scotland and is due to Columba's work. His hagiography, the Vita Columbae ("The Life of St. Columba"), was compiled in the 7th century by his successor, St. Adomnán of Iona. Full of miracles, prophecy, and visions of the holy angels, St. Adomnán's work reveals a saint mighty in the power of God and moved by a zeal for the salvation of souls. 

The biography of St. Adomnán has been availble online in various corners of the internet, but it is not well known. Even the Community of Iona, the organization that has custody of Columba's famous monastery, does not offer any edition of  St. Adomnán's work for sale, as far as I can tell.

What is special about the new Cruachan Hill Press edition of the Life of St. Columba that you can't get elsewhere?

The new edition contains the complete biography of Adomnán, updated with historical footnotes to help better understand the people and places of St. Columba's day. It also features an original 30 page introductory essay on the life and times of the Irish golden age, the spirituality of St. Columba, and the genius of Irish Catholicism. Here is an excerpt of a page out of the introductory essay:
St. Columba was born in 521 in Gartan, now in County Donegal in Northern Ireland. He parents, Fedlimid and Eithne, were members of the local ruling dynasty, the Uí Néill clan. The Uí Néill were descended from the Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Tara who died sometime around 405. Following the death of Niall, the Uí Néill family dominated Leister and Ulster, ruling as petty kings over a small but vibrant northern Irish kingdom.
St. Columba was the great-great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages. He was baptized “Colum”, which means “dove”, and is sometimes known as Columcille, meaning “Colum of the Churches.” Columba lived during the golden age of Irish Catholicism, when the young Christian faith was aggressively shaping the minds and culture of the Irish people. Ireland of Columba’s day was rife with saints; to this day one cannot go from one village to the next without stumbling across some well, stone, chapel, or shrine associated with some saint from this era.

From St. Columba’s earliest years he had the fortune to be surrounded by saints. We do not know when or how he discerned his vocation, but it must have been early. It was not uncommon for the children of the nobility to be given to tutors for their education; Columba was tutored as a boy by the priest St. Crunathan (also called Cruithnechán) who seemed to be an uncle of some sort and taught the young saint to read by reciting the Psalms; according to Adomnán, Crunathan once saw a ball of light hovering over the boy’s head as he slept, which portended great things for Columba’s future.
Columba is also said to have spent some time with a bard called Gemman in the region of Leinster. This would not have been uncommon in early medieval Ireland, as the bards were the keepers of a family’s oral histories and St. Columba would have learned the history of his people – as well as how to speak and sing – from such men. Indeed, Columba must have been well trained in this art, for Adomnán mentions he had a particularly lovely voice.In the company of Gemman he once witnessed the murder of a young girl. This moved him deeply, and in righteous indignation Columba declared that the girl’s soul was among the blessed while the murderer would go to hell. The murderer in fact died unrepentant almost immediately, another strange portent which established Columba as a prophet.
As a young man Columba attended the famous monastic school at Movilla, then under the guidance of the celebrated St. Finnian, also known as St. Findbarr. Here young Columba drank deeply from the wellspring of the Irish monastic heritage, which was then in its hey-day. Irish monasticism of Columba’s day was pre-Benedictine. St. Columba himself was a contemporary of St. Benedict, who died when Columba was just beginning his monastic career. Benedictine monasticism would not come to the British Isles until 597 (the year of Columba’s death) with the arrival of St. Augustine on Thanet and the beginning of the English missions.

What sort of monasticism did Columba imbibe at the monastic school of St. Finnian? We do not know too much about the particulars of early 6th century Irish monasticism; it is mainly known of through archaeological remains and hagiographies, such as the Vita Columbae. The early 7th century Rule of St. Columbanus probably resembles the rule of life Columba would have known. St. Columbanus’ rule is brief, only ten chapters. It emphasizes private confession of faults followed by corporal discipline, strict manual labor, and admonitions to poverty, chastity, and obedience. The most interesting aspect of the Rule of St. Columbanus is its provision for perpetual prayer, laus perennis. Whereas the Rule of St. Benedict punctuates the day by eight canonical hours in which all of the monks gather together, the laus perennis of St. Columbanus has the monks divided into different ‘shifts’ who relieve each other in the choir throughout the day. The purpose is that the praises of God be sung in the chapel without ceasing.
St. Columbanus died in 615 (eighteen years after St. Columba) and was reflective of the usage at Bangor Abbey in northern Ireland. How much it has in common with what St. Columba would have learned as a boy in Movilla is uncertain, although it is probable that at the Rule of St. Columbanus at least preserves the monastic spirit of the preceding century, even the particulars are different from what St. Finnian taught St. Columba.
There is also an excellent appendix that compiles all the hymns and prayers attributed to St. Columba, along with another essay on the hymnary of Columba and the Iona monks. These great additions make the new Life of St. Columba by Cruachan Hill Press the best English language resource available on this great saint. Full of saints and miracles, this classic Irish hagiography of one of Erin's greatest saints is a must have for any student of Irish Catholicism's golden age.

The book is softcover, 165 pages, $13.99 USD + shipping. You can purchase by clicking the PayPal button below:

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