Freedom and self controlMen are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity;in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
Jul. 28 at 11:07am
No single person has done more to shape our understanding of Christian personalism than our former professor, John F. Crosby. Last week he and his wife, Pia, visited us in New Hampshire, and he kindly agreed to sit down with me for a recorded conversation about personalism and phenomenology, von Hildebrand, Newman and Wojtyla.
One of the questions I asked had to do with von Hildebrand and Vatican II. Von Hildebrand is well-known for his passionate opposition to the liturgical abuses that followed in the wake of the Council. Less well-known is his profound influence on the substance of its teachings.
Click here to hear the recording of his answer to that question.
(Sorry about our dog whining in the background!)
Members can listen to the full interview at the Member Feed.
Pia and John Crosby sitting at our kitchen table with Alice von Hildebrand.
Jul. 25 at 9:34pm
Business management is not my thing. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal arts type who much prefers words to numbers.
Business lit traffics in words, of course, but it’s so often saturated with the kind of deadly prose you produce when you’re writing for journals that exist to publish articles by people who have to publish there or they won’t gain tenure. They’re read by people in pursuit of tenure and, possibly, by people trying to deny other people tenure. Are they ever read voluntarily, for pleasure? I doubt it.
So it’s a breath of fresh air to discover Juan Antonio Perez Lopez, whose book, Foundations of Management, I’ve been …continue reading
Jul. 23 at 11:48am
Jul. 22 at 10:27am
Alice von Hildebrand is with us for the summer, as usual. She is busy putting the finishing touches on the story of her years of teaching at Hunter City College of New York, soon to be published under the title, Memoirs of a Happy Failure. The manuscript includes several photographs. One in particular stood out.
It's not just that I haven't seen many pictures of her and her husband together; it's that the gesture is so exceptionally eloquent and moving.
A few days after I noticed this, she fowarded to me a copy of the conversion story of one of her former students, Stephanie Block.* Here is part of it.
One semester turned into another and fascinated, I took every course Alice Jourdain …
Jul. 20 at 3:21pm
Katie addressed immigration just the other day, and I wrote about it here last year. There’s plenty more to say, though. So much, in fact, that it’s worth mentioning some things I won’t be addressing here:
At least I’ll try to avoid both. I’m certainly not qualified to do either. What I would like is to identify a few avoidable impediments to the conversation.
Usually one side talks about illegal aliens (or, less …continue reading
Jul. 15 at 11:42am
A few months ago I read that the growing and intractable problem of an ancient culture of thievery among Roma immigrants had induced a French politician to call for their expulsion. The Catholic Church had condemned the call as racist and inhumane.
"Okay," I thought. "But what about the thievery?" It bothered me that the Church would condemn a politician's proposed solution without proposing a practical alternative. Are French citizens supposed to just roll over and let themselves be robbed?continue reading
Jul. 13 at 9:59pm
We were out of town this week, so we got to see how the other half lives—that is, people who aren't fortunate enough to belong to our home parish.
At first, we enjoyed the variety. One priest preached about how great it is to be 70, because you can finally say whatever you like: what do you have to lose? It was a solid homily, even if it did include more about Lois Lerner and the IRS than I was expecting.
Then, the next day, there was the much more ancient priest, the one we’re always startled but happy to see still alive and kicking each year, who radiates a really glorious indifference to conventional wisdom. Speaking about people who try to …continue reading
Jul. 12 at 4:38pm
July 11 is the Feast of St. Benedict, whose deservedly famous Rule is the basis of virtually all rules in all monastic orders to this day. I first learned about it from Alice von Hildebrand, who drew my attention to the affinity between Benedictine spirituality and the phenomenological method of philosophy her husband had espoused. The prologue to the Rule begins like this:
Listen carefully, my child,
to your master's precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20)
It's the emphasis on listening that stands out, and then, a listening of the heart. Philosophy is all too often a construction of the mind. Clever thinkers elaborate theories. The aim of phenomenolgy, as Husserl …continue reading
Jul. 11 at 1:14pm
These days, for my insomnia, I'm listening to Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. I've just come across Franklin's list of "conversational sins". It's good. (I'm afraid I've committed them all.)
1. Talking overmuch
2. Seeming uninterested
3. Speaking too much about your own life
4. Prying for personal secrets
5. Telling long and pointless stories
6. Contradicting or disputing someone directly
7. Ridiculing or railing against things, except in small, witty doses
8. Spreading scandal
Notice how beautifully the list coheres with personaliism. Genunine interpersonal communion, of which conversation is a major aspect, involves a transcendence of the ego, and an attention to, …continue reading
Jul. 7 at 8:49am
Yesterday I got an email from a new member who has been following our modesty discussions with great interest. He said he would like to host a conversation with local friends and colleagues on the subject and wanted to know whether I had readings to recommend.
I didn't, really. I mean, I've read countless articles of varying quality on the objectification of women and the value of modesty. Member Rhett pasted a passage from The Privilege of Being a Woman, a book far superior to most, in terms of linking modesty to the beauty, dignity and high spiritual calling of femininity. Years ago, I read with great admiration Wendy Shallit's book A Return to Modesty. If I remember rightly, she was a …continue reading
Jul. 3 at 11:59pm
Last week, we took a look at the modesty wars. We identified a false alternative: either you fall into indifferentism on the subject or you’re obliged to go around trying (vainly and illicitly) to probe the intentions of other people’s hearts. There's got to be a better way.
And there is. Katie and others have been urging that we take seriously the harm done by a fixation on externals, a tendency to see a woman as less a person than an occasion of sin. To rebel against this isn’t a flight into over-abstraction. Nor is it tantamount to “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” How to strike the right balance in everyday decisions is still under discussion, especially among those of us raising …continue reading
Jul. 1 at 11:52am
What does it mean to love?
Well-catechized Catholics are typically ready with an answer to this question. "To love means to will and do the good." Travel a mile in Catholic circles, and every two or three minutes you will come across an article or talk or homily passionately proclaiming that "love isn't a feeling, it's an action."
I suppose I'm revealing something intimate about myself when I say I hate this. I hate it so much that hearing it makes me break out in spiritual hives. To refrain from getting mad at the one saying it, I have to quick remind myself: "He doesn't know any better; this is what everyone is taught. And—remember!— there's an important sense in which it's perfectly …continue reading
Jun. 26 at 1:48am
The modesty wars have been raging so long already that now we’re in the throes of a backlash against a backlash against a backlash (as Simcha Fisher put it the other day).
First came a tendency, more Puritan than Catholic, to devise dress codes that micromanaged every centimeter of flesh from collarbone and kneecap, at least. They focused everybody’s attention firmly on the outside of the cup, the whited part of the sepulchre.
This fomented phariseeism, some objected, and made womanhood itself seem suspect and dirty.
Then came the reaction: people got fed up with the holier-than-thou-ness of it all and refused to humor the micromanagers of appearance any longer. …continue reading
Jun. 24 at 10:55am
A few years ago I spent some Lenten days alone at our summer house, on retreat and cleaning out the attic. I found there boxes of letters and diaries from my youth. (I was a prolific letter-writer in those pre-email days.) Reading through them filled me with melancholy. I didn't really like the person I found there—so much self-absorption and sentimentality!—but I sympathized with her. She was sincere in her unreality, poor thing. I accepted that she was me, and that I'd had a lot to learn in the years since. I thanked God for all He has taught me, in His goodness and mercy. He had meted out reality in a measure I could manage, surrounding me all the while with love and friendship and …continue reading
Jun. 24 at 10:43am
My search for a Newman quote this morning brought me to his Wikipedia page and this arresting description of him by James Froude (brother of Hurrell Froude, the close friend and companion of Newman's youth, who first opened Newman to Catholicism and helped him launch the Oxford Movement.)
Newman's face was "remarkably like that of Julius Caesar.... I have often thought of the resemblance, and believed that it extended to the temperament. In both there was an original force of character which refused to be moulded by circumstances, which was to make its own way, and become a power in the world; a clearness of intellectual perception, a disdain for conventionalities, a temper imperious and …
Jun. 19 at 2:55pm
Very early in my writing career (that is, a couple years ago), I wrote a post called “Diversity: Reclaiming a Buzzword.” The term had been hijacked: reduced to a code word for relativism and indifferentism, with anti-patriotic connotations thrown in for good measure.
And yet, it’s a perfectly good word. It should never have been ceded to people with as little imagination as the bureaucrats and politicians who use it the most.
It occurred to me yesterday, reading Archbishop Cordileone's response to Nancy Pelosi's warning to withdraw from today's March for Marriage, that a lot more words could use rehabilitating. We might start with “dialogue” …continue reading
Jun. 11 at 10:13pm
As I may have hinted (here and here and here and here), I’m partial to Pope Francis. I defend him when he rubs my friends the wrong way. Some people, it seems, get defensive precisely when we ought to sit up and pay attention.
Some things he says do make me squirm, make me shrink into my seat and mutter “Busted!” He has a disquieting way of suggesting that "weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness" (Evangelii Gaudium, 263) can be just as poisonous as more barefaced sins of perversion or violence.
So I like to think of myself as an objective observer, qualified to correct the misguided.
But now I have new empathy for …continue reading
Jun. 8 at 5:43pm
1. I am in the Old City of Jersalem, enjoying the sights and admiring the traditional styles of clothing. I am loving the way old men and boys alike proclaim their identity—their belonging to God—by wearing a yamulke. I am charmed by the way different sects are easily recognizable by their distinctive dress. I notice how feminine and dignified the long, dark skirts and headscarves look on women. I'm thinking I prefer the Jewish mode of scarves knotted at the neck to the Muslim mode of completely covered necks. But mainly I'm thinking about how much more attractive both styles are than the faded jeans I am wearing.
A young couple walks toward us. I gather by his tall hat and payot that …continue reading
May. 31 at 8:14pm
The things that have inspired me most are not what you might expect.
Some of them are not very inspiring at all. For example:
May. 29 at 4:02pm
I want to propose a definition for modesty that seems to me to fit all of the best, most common-sense ideas of dress and modesty, while avoiding the traps some fall into which make it such a difficult virtue to talk about.
First of all, I want to reject any definition that defines modesty strictly in terms of a negative: "Modesty is avoiding tempting others to lust. Modesty is avoiding drawing attention to your sexual attributes. Modesty is not standing out."
|Modesty is passing the two-finger test.|
While some of those things might be the effects of a modest wardrobe, a virtue should not be a negative. A virtue must be something that can be aspired to and embraced, not merely the …continue reading