Tuesday, October 31, 2006

White Gold

From the Telegraph:
In the 18th century, porcelain was so coveted by Europeans that they called it "white gold". Not much has changed. A porcelain lion and lioness are expected to smash the world record for Meissen when they are sold at Christie's in December.
Though the beasts, made in the 1730s, are chipped, suffer from cracks and have a slightly haughty air, Rodney Woolley, Christie's top ceramics expert, has valued them at up to £5 million — £1.5 million above the previous record price for Meissen porcelain.
A combination of the animals' size, quality and rarity made the pair "the Mona Lisa" of the ceramics world, he claimed yesterday.
Their history is no less extraordinary and in the recent past they survived the Allied destruction of Dresden and then confiscation by the Soviet Union. The secret of porcelain manufacture was, until the early 18th century, known only to the Chinese and Japanese and the pure white ceramic ware, fired at incredibly high temperatures, was highly valued in Europe.

Don Jim links to 'Done with Mirrors' on the goose-step:
The curious thing that nobody seems to question is, why is it called the "goose step?" Geese waddle, sway from side to side as they move on their feet on land. It looks nothing like a "goose step."
Turns out, the original goose step (it dates back to the Napoleonic era, naturally) was a military drill to teach balance. You stood on each leg alternately and swung the other back and forth. This at least looks vaguely like a goose's way of walking. It must have acquired a general sense of "militaristic way of marching" by the time it was applied to "marching without bending the knees." That seems to first have happened in 1916. Like much of the horrible ugliness of the 20th century, it seems to have its roots in WW1.
I remember reading somewhere that Prussian officers liked to use the goose-step as a sort of 'field sobriety test' for their men.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Russians bearing gifts...

From the Telegraph:
Sent with warm greetings from some of last century's most cold-blooded rulers, they are not mementoes that many would choose to cherish. Now though, after decades of hiding them from the public eye, the Kremlin has finally unveiled the gifts that Soviet-era rulers received from admirers round the world.
Visitors to the exhibition, which marks the 200th anniversary of the museum, are likely to be drawn to the many kitsch items. These include a lamp made from a dead armadillo (a gift from an anonymous Brazilian to Stalin in 1949), and portraits of Lenin made from human hair and tobacco leaves.
A cigarette case decorated with models of nuclear warheads was sent to Leonid Brezhnev for his 67th birthday in December 1973 by the head of design at the Soviet Air and Space Research and Industrial Centre. A portrait of Brezhnev done in sugar was a 70th birthday gift from Ukrainian sugar workers. A museum note reads: "To make a leader's portrait was a common way to express loyalty in labour."
I'm willing to bet that the Vatican has some pretty unusual gifts stashed away somewhere too.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Military & Clerical

Knowing the kind of people that hang around here, I thought I should link to some pictures of the Holy Father's recent meeting with Military Ordinaries wherin one can see clerical and military bling combined.
Here, for example.
And here we seem to have some kind of regime change in the Dictatorship of Clericalism.

Also, today is the feast of SS. Simon & Jude - an opportune day to pray for one's favourite hopeless cause. Yes, I am talking about you. ;)

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Desserts with lots of cinnamon make the world a better place.

Florentine Art Treasures - Still in storage

From the Telegraph:
Art restorers in Italy have launched a desperate appeal for money to help rescue hundreds of works of art still caked in mud from devastating floods in Florence 40 years ago.
The frescoes, paintings, statues and wooden crosses, some dating back to the Renaissance, are lying in crates in cavernous storerooms across Tuscany.
They have been untouched since they were rescued from galleries and churches in Florence in 1966, after water from the River Arno swept through the city. But a funding crisis means that many of the masterpieces may not be restored to their original condition for another 40 years. Bruno Santi, director of fine art at Florence's Palazzo Pitti, who is in charge of the restoration work, told The Sunday Telegraph that the situation was a "scandal".
The Sunday Telegraph was shown around the laboratory of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence, an art institute where restoration work on one painting – Giorgio Vasari's famous five-panelled Ultima Cena (Last Supper) — has only just begun.
When the flood swept through the city on November 4 1966, it killed 87 people and poured tons of mud into museums and churches, including the church of Santa Croce, where the Vasari work was stored. At the time the piece was covered in thin layers of paper and taped over it to protect it, but now it looks in a sorry state. Restorers must first -painstakingly rub away the paper, which has become encrusted on to the canvas, before they can begin cleaning the priceless images of Jesus and the disciples.


My recent post about Newman inspires me to remind people to check out the wonderful Newman Reader website which has pretty much all of Newman's important (Anglican and Catholic) works online.
For those of you who prefer to read things in 'dead tree' format (and I count myself as one of them) I can heartily recommend the Ignatius Press edition of the Parochial and Plain Sermons which manages to fit all 8 volumes of sermons into a single book. The quality of the printing and binding, along with the handy place-marker ribbon are a joy. They also sell a matching edition of the Prayers, Verses and Devotions. I don't have that myself - I have an early 20th century edition - but one presumes that the quality is similar to the P&P Sermons.
Incidentally, please note that Ignatius Press are the publishers of much of Cardinal Ratzinger's corpus. If Fr Fessio can have him elected Pope, then one knows that the Jesuit conspiracy that is Ignatius Press can have Newman beatified.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Newman's Cause

The Telegraph has an article outlining the recent development in the cause for the beatification of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman.
The process for his beatification, the step before canonisation, will take a major step forward when an 18-month investigation in America into a "miracle" attributed to the Cardinal is forwarded to the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI has been an admirer of Cardinal Newman since being introduced to his writing as a teenager, and insiders in Rome said that the case would be "moved to the top of the queue" by the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Sainthood.
The breakthrough in the Cardinal's cause came after officials in the Archdiocese of Boston concluded that a deacon from Plymouth, Massachusetts, had been cured of a crippling spinal condition after praying to the Cardinal.
I know that Newman won't attract the same crowds the Padre Pio or Mother Theresa attracted, but all things considered, this is going to be big.

The persecution of Christians

The Telegraph has an interesting article (read it all) about the persecution of Christians as outlined in a recent booklet issued by Aid to the Church in Need.
Incidentally, Aid to the Church in Need is one of my favourite charities.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Needless to say the big news around Roman ecclesiastical circles is Fr Reggie Foster's dismissal as Latin teacher at the Gregorian University. Amy as the news here and here, with the latest update coming from Orbis Catholicus with the announcement of Fr Foster's new Latin Academy.
For what it's worth, I'm not inclined to give much credence to the conspiracy theories which lay the blame on some kind of anti-Latin Jesuit cabal. A far simpler explanation is Fr Reggie's notoriously acerbic approach when dealing with bureaucrats and the fact that the Gregorian was forfeiting quite a large amount of money. By my modest estimate, Reggie would host approximately 100 unregistered students each year. The official fees for Reggie's course would amount to €240 per annum. The continued accommodation of so many unregistered students therefore would represent 'missing revenue' of about €24,000 per annum to the Gregorian.
I'm actually quite a fan of Reggie, and wish him well with his new Institute. The reputation and atmosphere of the Gregorian is much the poorer for his loss.
For some reason there since been an inordinate number of pipesmoking German men about Rome at the moment.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Thought about the limbo debate...

Thinking a little further about the whole limbo debate, I'm a little surprised that no one seems to have tried to see how the issues involve relate to the Church's teaching on predestination and reprobation.
Perhaps someone with a stronger background in the doctrine of predestination (I freely admit that this theological question makes my head hurt...) might care to contribute...

On the impossibility of a simply benevolent end...

... or why the order of salvation isn't simple.
The whole debate about limbo has caused me to reflect on questions of salvation and predestination in general. And it strikes me with the prevaling climate of univeralism in some areas, it's worthwhile reminding ourselves that if we take the history of salvation seriously that we cannot jump too quickly to the benevolence of God as the solution to all our theological dilemmas. In particular, there is the usual plea that surely a good God would not allow Hell to exist and that we are justified therefore in not worrying about our own salvation or the salvation of others. In dealing with this question, I find the following passage from one of Newman's University Sermons particularly helpful:
[...]it may be doubted whether the notion of justice be not more essential to the mental constitution of free agents, than benevolence can be. For our very consciousness of being free, and so responsible, includes in it the idea of an unchangeable rule of justice, on which the judgment is hereafter to be conducted; or rather excludes, as far as it goes, the notion of a simply benevolent Governor; a simply benevolent end being relinquished (as we may speak) by the Creator, so soon as He committed the destinies of man to his own hands, and made him a first cause, a principle of origination, in the moral world.
But even if the general happiness of mankind could be assigned in hypothesis, as the one end to which all our moral instincts tended, and though nothing could be adduced in behalf of the intrinsic authority of the notion of justice, it would not be allowable thence to infer the unmixed benevolence of the Divine Mind, seeing we have actual evidences of His justice in the course of the world, such as cannot be explained away by a mere argument from the analogy of our own nature. Should any one attempt here to repeat the process of simplification, and refer in turn Divine Justice, as seen in the world, to Divine Benevolence, as if reward and punishment were but means to the one end of general good, let such a venturous speculator bethink himself what he is essaying, when he undertakes to simplify such attributes of the Divine Mind, as the course of things happens to manifest to him.

Don't put Limbo in Limbo

I'm quite flattered by the fact that Beliefnet have re-printed an edited version of my article about limbo.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

News for Latin Lovers...

... no, I've not heard anything about the rumoured universal indult. However, a source at the North American College passes on the news that the legendary Fr Reggie Foster (familiar to many readers of this 'blog) will not be offering his usual Latin langugage courses at the Gregorian Univeristy, despite their being advertised in the University 'Ordo'. My correspondant is as much in the dark as I am as to the reason behind this unexpected cancellation.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Some thoughts about Limbo

Some time ago I had to prepare a brief piece dealing with St Augustine's De peccatorum meritis et remissione for another forum and it so happened that the perrenial 'Vatican to Abolish Limbo' story was in the news at that time, so I prepared a brief (and decidedly inadequate) treatment of some of the issues involved. It's at the suggestion of an acquaintance that I post the following in this forum (and I've not had time to re-edit it to suit the 'blog format) before the document of the ITC changes the theological landscape in this area. My basic position is largely unchanged from the time I wrote this paper - the ITC would be prudent to say no more than the Cathechism of the Catholic Church.
Comments and civil critism of my position are most welcome - albeit with a request that it be borne in mind that the piece is neither as long or as in depth as I would like it to be, and I'm aware of the various lacunae extant in the argument.

On Limbo

The announcement that the International Theological Commission was to consider the fate of unbaptised infants provoked the usual rash of stories about the (supposedly) forthcoming decision of the ‘Vatican’ to ‘abolish limbo’. One might suppose that to the eyes of the secular press, this was a somewhat amusing piece of doctrinal housekeeping by a Church whose teaching seems irredeemably medieval. However, the fate of unbaptised babies and the question of limbo does touch on weighty theological issues and on delicate pastoral matters.

Pastorally speaking the death of a baby is always difficult. Additionally, in recent years there has been an increased awareness of the number of pregnancies that end in miscarriage[1] and a greater openness allowing parents to grieve for their stillborn or miscarried offspring. When an baptised infant dies before reaching the age of reason, the Church can comfort the parents with the assurance that the merits of Jesus Christ have won their child eternal beatitude in Heaven. However, no such promise can be made with respect to unbaptised children. Thankfully, practices such as the burial of unbaptised children in unconsecrated ground (a distinction shared with suicides) have been discontinued, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church can say no more than:

As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.[2]

The scandal of the millions of unborn babies killed through abortion also challenges the Church in a manner not dissimilar to the way in which the discovery of new and unevangelized countries during the age of exploration challenged the Church to meditate on the prospects of salvation for those who have never had the chance of hearing the Gospel. In the initial edition of Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II seemed to propose a development in the Church’s teaching on the fate of the victims of abortion. He wrote:

I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. […] If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. […] You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord.[3]

However, as Dominic Farrell LC notes:

Among other things he (Pope John Paul II) pointed out that they are able to ask forgiveness from their aborted child, “who is now living in the Lord”. This phrase implied that the souls of aborted infants are currently in heaven. However, it was removed from the official Latin version. It seems the Pope had taken too strong a position on a question still under discussion. The official edition says instead, “However, you can entrust your baby to the Father and his mercy with hope.” It basically repeats the Catechism’s position.[4]

The situation that the Church finds itself in is that she can only pronounce authoritatively on the fate of the unbaptised, in a manner consistent with the divinely revealed truths about original sin and the necessity of baptism for salvation.

The doctrine of original sin was initially systematically articulated by St Augustine in his debates with the Pelagians in the 5th Century[5]. Expressed briefly (and hopefully without doing too much of an injustice to a complicated doctrine), the Church teaches that Revelation tells us that due to the disobedience of our first parents, the default condition of human beings from their conception is that of a certain estrangement from God. The extent of this estrangement is such that the Council of Florence taught:

…the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.[6]

Now, it is worth noting that the above teaching of the Council needs to be understood within the context of the entire doctrinal edifice of the Catholic Faith. It may be argued in particular that the council did not have in mind the case of unbaptised babies and unborn children. However, it is quite clear that the Council teaches that the state of original sin demands some remedy before the one afflicted can see God.

St Augustine devoted a great deal of attention to the question of the fate of unbaptised infants. Because the nature of original sin (as distinct from personal sin) was the key point of dispute with the Pelagians, the fate of these ‘little ones’ provided the ideal ‘test case’ for him to demonstrate the effect of man’s fallen condition. He argues with great vehemence that these children are condemned, albeit ‘under the mildest condemnation of all.’[7] He adduces numerous scriptural and theological arguments for this thesis and, distasteful as we may find his conclusion[8], it must be admitted that many of his arguments still have force today. Probably the most important argument is the relationship between the doctrine of the redemption and that of original sin. Without affirming the doctrine of original sin the universal nature of Christ’s redemptive work is gravely compromised[9]. It is a central truth of the faith that all human beings are in need of Christ’s salvation. Deny the doctrine of original sin and one denies the salvific work of Christ. Indeed, some modern reformulations of the doctrine which re-propose original sin in terms of ‘structures of sin’ and so on, rather than in terms of an inherited defect in human nature seem to offer hope of self-salvation or rather salvation by means of purely human activity in overturning these structures. Augustine also makes much of the inseparability of the categories of Eternal Life and the Kingdom of God[10]. This ties into Augustine’s ecclesiology of tightly identifying Christ with the Church and the consequent necessity of baptism into Christ for salvation. This reluctance to adopt any ‘novel and strange hypothesis’[11] is laudable, but one might ask whether the position he adopted with respect to unbaptised children was asserted too strongly in the heat of debate.

Notwithstanding the weight of St Augustine’s arguments, the notion of these little children suffering seems at odds with the mercy and goodness of God and a variety of theological positions were developed which mitigated the severity of his position. In particular, it was seen that the distinction between the ‘poena damni’ (exclusion from the beatific vision) and the ‘poena sensus’ (material or sensible suffering of Hell) could afford a certain tempering of the position by suggesting that those infants might suffer the former only. The scholastic proposition that a state of purely natural happiness might not be incompatible with separation from the beatific vision[12] (i.e. the state[13] of limbo) can therefore be seen as a merciful solution to a thorny theological problem.

The idea of limbo did receive some occasional magisterial support (e.g. when Pius VI condemned the synod of Pistoia for dismissing Limbo as a ‘pelagian fable’[14]) and broad popular acceptance until relatively recent times, but has not been authoratively taught by the Church as dogma. There is a certain theological elegance about this scholastic speculation, but it must be frankly admitted that it does not seem that a plausible case can made for it being a revealed truth, or necessarily implied by revealed truths.

In addition to St Augustine’s position and that of limbo, attempts have been made in more recent times to consider the question in terms of God’s universal salvific will. Whilst sacramental baptism is the ordinary means of salvation made known to us by Christ, the Church humbly acknowledges that God is not bound to confine Himself to her sacraments and we therefore cannot exclude extraordinary means of salvation. Most commonly recognised amongst these is that of the baptism of desire of the catechumen and the baptism of blood of the unbaptised martyr. Amongst the latter, the most extraordinary case is that of the Holy Innocents who are venerated as saints and martyrs despite not being killed for adherence to the Gospel; rather an accident of time and space meant that they were slaughtered out of Herod’s hatred for Christ. Amongst the possible solutions to our dilemma listed by Ott[15] are baptism by vicarious desire (this would only apply to the children of Christian parents, presumably), the child being granted the privilege of reason at the moment of death to decide for or against God or the suffering and death of the child as a quasi-baptism (one immediately thinks of abortion, in particular). In addition, I also note that St Thomas Aquinas in considering whether an unborn child might be baptised says:

Children while in the mother's womb have not yet come forth into the world to live among other men. Consequently they cannot be subject to the action of man, so as to receive the sacrament, at the hands of man, unto salvation. They can, however, be subject to the action of God, in Whose sight they live, so as, by a kind of privilege, to receive the grace of sanctification; as was the case with those[16] who were sanctified in the womb.[17]

However, it would seem that there is no truly convincing argument in favour of any one of these particular ‘extraordinary means’.

It is worth reflecting briefly on the particular context in which the question of limbo is being considered. There seems to be a declining belief in the reality of damnation and a move towards a de facto universalism. In such a context, the previously merciful teaching of limbo becomes an abomination. Additionally, with the trend towards eliminating the concept of super-nature, the idea of a natural beatitude loses coherence. However, if the decision is taken to ‘abolish limbo’ (i.e. forbid it as a permissible theological position) do we not run the risk of sliding into universalism and denying the general necessity sacramental baptism by presumptuously relying on ‘extra-ordinary means’ about which the Lord has not chosen within the deposit of revelation?

If we turn to the liturgy and the law of the Church we see that her mind is not to treat baptised and unbaptised child similarly. There is a particular funeral rite for unbaptised infants and there remains the obligation to baptize every child in danger of death[18] (even against the wishes of the parents[19]).

With all due respect to St Augustine, I would suggest that we might more accurately say, not that infants who die before baptism are condemned, but that infants before baptism are under condemnation by being under original sin. Beyond that, I think that we can prudently affirm no more than the sober optimism of Catechism[20].

[1] Various studies suggest that as many as 50% of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage. About half of them occur before the parents are aware of the pregnancy.

[2] CCC 1261

[3] Evangelium Vitae 99 (English Version - http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae_en.html )

[4] Dominic Farrell LC, Is Limbo in Limbo, http://www.catholic.net/the_road_to_heaven/template_channel.phtml?channel_id=16

[5] CCC 406

[6] Council of Florence, Latentur Caeli, DH 1306

[7] St Augustine, De peccatorum meritis et remissione I, 16.21

[8] Let us not forget the fact that St Augustine himself was troubled by this conclusion. C.f. ibid I, 21.30

[9] c.f. ibid I,16.21-19.25

[10] Ibid I, 20.26-21.30

[11] Ibid I, 20.26

[12] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 114

[13] Often conceived of as a ‘place’. In eschatological discourse such spatial language is best considered as (very) analogical.

[14] DH 2626

[15] Ludwig Ott, op. cit. 114

[16] i.e. Our Lady and St John the Baptist

[17] St Thomas Aquinas, ST, III, 68, 11 ad 1

[18] CIC 867 §2

[19] CIC 868 §2

[20] c.f. CCC 1261

Say it ain't so...

We bid farewell to Enbrethiliel and the Sancta Santis 'blog. Her quiet and insightful presence will be missed around here.
I, on the other hand, hope that I'll be able to 'blog on a slightly more regular basis in the near future. Circumstances have conspired against that lately, but I might have something to say about Limbo in the near future.