Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Happy Prince

High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.

He was very much admired indeed. “He is as beautiful as a weathercock,” remarked one of the Town Councillors who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes; “only not quite so useful,” he added, fearing lest people should think him unpractical, which he really was not.

“Why can’t you be like the Happy Prince?” asked a sensible mother of her little boy who was crying for the moon. “The Happy Prince never dreams of crying for anything.”

“I am glad there is some one in the world who is quite happy,” muttered a disappointed man as he gazed at the wonderful statue.

“He looks just like an angel,” said the Charity Children as they came out of the cathedral in their bright scarlet cloaks and their clean white pinafores.

“How do you know?” said the Mathematical Master, “you have never seen one.”

“Ah! but we have, in our dreams,” answered the children; and the Mathematical Master frowned and looked very severe, for he did not approve of children dreaming.

One night there flew over the city a little Swallow. His friends had gone away to Egypt six weeks before, but he had stayed behind, for he was in love with the most beautiful Reed. He had met her early in the spring as he was flying down the river after a big yellow moth, and had been so attracted by her slender waist that he had stopped to talk to her.

“Shall I love you?” said the Swallow, who liked to come to the point at once, and the Reed made him a low bow. So he flew round and round her, touching the water with his wings, and making silver ripples. This was his courtship, and it lasted all through the summer.

“It is a ridiculous attachment,” twittered the other Swallows; “she has no money, and far too many relations”; and indeed the river was quite full of Reeds. Then, when the autumn came they all flew away.

After they had gone he felt lonely, and began to tire of his lady-love. “She has no conversation,” he said, “and I am afraid that she is a coquette, for she is always flirting with the wind.” And certainly, whenever the wind blew, the Reed made the most graceful curtseys. “I admit that she is domestic,” he continued, “but I love travelling, and my wife, consequently, should love travelling also.”

“Will you come away with me?” he said finally to her; but the Reed shook her head, she was so attached to her home.

“You have been trifling with me,” he cried. “I am off to the Pyramids. Good-bye!” and he flew away.

All day long he flew, and at night-time he arrived at the city. “Where shall I put up?” he said; “I hope the town has made preparations.”

Then he saw the statue on the tall column.

“I will put up there,” he cried; “it is a fine position, with plenty of fresh air.” So he alighted just between the feet of the Happy Prince.

“I have a golden bedroom,” he said softly to himself as he looked round, and he prepared to go to sleep; but just as he was putting his head under his wing a large drop of water fell on him. “What a curious thing!” he cried; “there is not a single cloud in the sky, the stars are quite clear and bright, and yet it is raining. The climate in the north of Europe is really dreadful. The Reed used to like the rain, but that was merely her selfishness.”

Then another drop fell.

“What is the use of a statue if it cannot keep the rain off?” he said; “I must look for a good chimney-pot,” and he determined to fly away.

But before he had opened his wings, a third drop fell, and he looked up, and saw—Ah! what did he see?

The eyes of the Happy Prince were filled with tears, and tears were running down his golden cheeks. His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little Swallow was filled with pity.

“Who are you?” he said.

“I am the Happy Prince.”

“Why are you weeping then?” asked the Swallow; “you have quite drenched me.”

“When I was alive and had a human heart,” answered the statue, “I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot chose but weep.”

“What! is he not solid gold?” said the Swallow to himself. He was too polite to make any personal remarks out loud.

“Far away,” continued the statue in a low musical voice, “far away in a little street there is a poor house. One of the windows is open, and through it I can see a woman seated at a table. Her face is thin and worn, and she has coarse, red hands, all pricked by the needle, for she is a seamstress. She is embroidering passion-flowers on a satin gown for the loveliest of the Queen’s maids-of-honour to wear at the next Court-ball. In a bed in the corner of the room her little boy is lying ill. He has a fever, and is asking for oranges. His mother has nothing to give him but river water, so he is crying. Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out of my sword-hilt? My feet are fastened to this pedestal and I cannot move.”

“I am waited for in Egypt,” said the Swallow. “My friends are flying up and down the Nile, and talking to the large lotus-flowers. Soon they will go to sleep in the tomb of the great King. The King is there himself in his painted coffin. He is wrapped in yellow linen, and embalmed with spices. Round his neck is a chain of pale green jade, and his hands are like withered leaves.”

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me for one night, and be my messenger? The boy is so thirsty, and the mother so sad.”

“I don’t think I like boys,” answered the Swallow. “Last summer, when I was staying on the river, there were two rude boys, the miller’s sons, who were always throwing stones at me. They never hit me, of course; we swallows fly far too well for that, and besides, I come of a family famous for its agility; but still, it was a mark of disrespect.”

But the Happy Prince looked so sad that the little Swallow was sorry. “It is very cold here,” he said; “but I will stay with you for one night, and be your messenger.”

“Thank you, little Swallow,” said the Prince.

So the Swallow picked out the great ruby from the Prince’s sword, and flew away with it in his beak over the roofs of the town.

He passed by the cathedral tower, where the white marble angels were sculptured. He passed by the palace and heard the sound of dancing. A beautiful girl came out on the balcony with her lover. “How wonderful the stars are,” he said to her, “and how wonderful is the power of love!”

“I hope my dress will be ready in time for the State-ball,” she answered; “I have ordered passion-flowers to be embroidered on it; but the seamstresses are so lazy.”

He passed over the river, and saw the lanterns hanging to the masts of the ships. He passed over the Ghetto, and saw the old Jews bargaining with each other, and weighing out money in copper scales. At last he came to the poor house and looked in. The boy was tossing feverishly on his bed, and the mother had fallen asleep, she was so tired. In he hopped, and laid the great ruby on the table beside the woman’s thimble. Then he flew gently round the bed, fanning the boy’s forehead with his wings. “How cool I feel,” said the boy, “I must be getting better”; and he sank into a delicious slumber.

Then the Swallow flew back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done. “It is curious,” he remarked, “but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold.”

“That is because you have done a good action,” said the Prince. And the little Swallow began to think, and then he fell asleep. Thinking always made him sleepy.

When day broke he flew down to the river and had a bath. “What a remarkable phenomenon,” said the Professor of Ornithology as he was passing over the bridge. “A swallow in winter!” And he wrote a long letter about it to the local newspaper. Every one quoted it, it was full of so many words that they could not understand.

“To-night I go to Egypt,” said the Swallow, and he was in high spirits at the prospect. He visited all the public monuments, and sat a long time on top of the church steeple. Wherever he went the Sparrows chirruped, and said to each other, “What a distinguished stranger!” so he enjoyed himself very much.

When the moon rose he flew back to the Happy Prince. “Have you any commissions for Egypt?” he cried; “I am just starting.”

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?”

“I am waited for in Egypt,” answered the Swallow. “To-morrow my friends will fly up to the Second Cataract. The river-horse couches there among the bulrushes, and on a great granite throne sits the God Memnon. All night long he watches the stars, and when the morning star shines he utters one cry of joy, and then he is silent. At noon the yellow lions come down to the water’s edge to drink. They have eyes like green beryls, and their roar is louder than the roar of the cataract.

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “far away across the city I see a young man in a garret. He is leaning over a desk covered with papers, and in a tumbler by his side there is a bunch of withered violets. His hair is brown and crisp, and his lips are red as a pomegranate, and he has large and dreamy eyes. He is trying to finish a play for the Director of the Theatre, but he is too cold to write any more. There is no fire in the grate, and hunger has made him faint.”

“I will wait with you one night longer,” said the Swallow, who really had a good heart. “Shall I take him another ruby?”

“Alas! I have no ruby now,” said the Prince; “my eyes are all that I have left. They are made of rare sapphires, which were brought out of India a thousand years ago. Pluck out one of them and take it to him. He will sell it to the jeweller, and buy food and firewood, and finish his play.”

“Dear Prince,” said the Swallow, “I cannot do that”; and he began to weep.

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.”

So the Swallow plucked out the Prince’s eye, and flew away to the student’s garret. It was easy enough to get in, as there was a hole in the roof. Through this he darted, and came into the room. The young man had his head buried in his hands, so he did not hear the flutter of the bird’s wings, and when he looked up he found the beautiful sapphire lying on the withered violets.

“I am beginning to be appreciated,” he cried; “this is from some great admirer. Now I can finish my play,” and he looked quite happy.

The next day the Swallow flew down to the harbour. He sat on the mast of a large vessel and watched the sailors hauling big chests out of the hold with ropes. “Heave a-hoy!” they shouted as each chest came up. “I am going to Egypt”! cried the Swallow, but nobody minded, and when the moon rose he flew back to the Happy Prince.

“I am come to bid you good-bye,” he cried.

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?”

“It is winter,” answered the Swallow, “and the chill snow will soon be here. In Egypt the sun is warm on the green palm-trees, and the crocodiles lie in the mud and look lazily about them. My companions are building a nest in the Temple of Baalbec, and the pink and white doves are watching them, and cooing to each other. Dear Prince, I must leave you, but I will never forget you, and next spring I will bring you back two beautiful jewels in place of those you have given away. The ruby shall be redder than a red rose, and the sapphire shall be as blue as the great sea.”

“In the square below,” said the Happy Prince, “there stands a little match-girl. She has let her matches fall in the gutter, and they are all spoiled. Her father will beat her if she does not bring home some money, and she is crying. She has no shoes or stockings, and her little head is bare. Pluck out my other eye, and give it to her, and her father will not beat her.”

“I will stay with you one night longer,” said the Swallow, “but I cannot pluck out your eye. You would be quite blind then.”

“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.”

So he plucked out the Prince’s other eye, and darted down with it. He swooped past the match-girl, and slipped the jewel into the palm of her hand. “What a lovely bit of glass,” cried the little girl; and she ran home, laughing.

Then the Swallow came back to the Prince. “You are blind now,” he said, “so I will stay with you always.”

“No, little Swallow,” said the poor Prince, “you must go away to Egypt.”

“I will stay with you always,” said the Swallow, and he slept at the Prince’s feet.

All the next day he sat on the Prince’s shoulder, and told him stories of what he had seen in strange lands. He told him of the red ibises, who stand in long rows on the banks of the Nile, and catch gold-fish in their beaks; of the Sphinx, who is as old as the world itself, and lives in the desert, and knows everything; of the merchants, who walk slowly by the side of their camels, and carry amber beads in their hands; of the King of the Mountains of the Moon, who is as black as ebony, and worships a large crystal; of the great green snake that sleeps in a palm-tree, and has twenty priests to feed it with honey-cakes; and of the pygmies who sail over a big lake on large flat leaves, and are always at war with the butterflies.

“Dear little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you tell me of marvellous things, but more marvellous than anything is the suffering of men and of women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery. Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there.”

So the Swallow flew over the great city, and saw the rich making merry in their beautiful houses, while the beggars were sitting at the gates. He flew into dark lanes, and saw the white faces of starving children looking out listlessly at the black streets. Under the archway of a bridge two little boys were lying in one another’s arms to try and keep themselves warm. “How hungry we are!” they said. “You must not lie here,” shouted the Watchman, and they wandered out into the rain.

Then he flew back and told the Prince what he had seen.

“I am covered with fine gold,” said the Prince, “you must take it off, leaf by leaf, and give it to my poor; the living always think that gold can make them happy.”

Leaf after leaf of the fine gold the Swallow picked off, till the Happy Prince looked quite dull and grey. Leaf after leaf of the fine gold he brought to the poor, and the children’s faces grew rosier, and they laughed and played games in the street. “We have bread now!” they cried.

Then the snow came, and after the snow came the frost. The streets looked as if they were made of silver, they were so bright and glistening; long icicles like crystal daggers hung down from the eaves of the houses, everybody went about in furs, and the little boys wore scarlet caps and skated on the ice.

The poor little Swallow grew colder and colder, but he would not leave the Prince, he loved him too well. He picked up crumbs outside the baker’s door when the baker was not looking and tried to keep himself warm by flapping his wings.

But at last he knew that he was going to die. He had just strength to fly up to the Prince’s shoulder once more. “Good-bye, dear Prince!” he murmured, “will you let me kiss your hand?”

“I am glad that you are going to Egypt at last, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you have stayed too long here; but you must kiss me on the lips, for I love you.”

“It is not to Egypt that I am going,” said the Swallow. “I am going to the House of Death. Death is the brother of Sleep, is he not?”

And he kissed the Happy Prince on the lips, and fell down dead at his feet.

At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two. It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost.

Early the next morning the Mayor was walking in the square below in company with the Town Councillors. As they passed the column he looked up at the statue: “Dear me! how shabby the Happy Prince looks!” he said.

“How shabby indeed!” cried the Town Councillors, who always agreed with the Mayor; and they went up to look at it.

“The ruby has fallen out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he is golden no longer,” said the Mayor in fact, “he is litttle beter than a beggar!”

“Little better than a beggar,” said the Town Councillors.

“And here is actually a dead bird at his feet!” continued the Mayor. “We must really issue a proclamation that birds are not to be allowed to die here.” And the Town Clerk made a note of the suggestion.

So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince. “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,” said the Art Professor at the University.

Then they melted the statue in a furnace, and the Mayor held a meeting of the Corporation to decide what was to be done with the metal. “We must have another statue, of course,” he said, “and it shall be a statue of myself.”

“Of myself,” said each of the Town Councillors, and they quarrelled. When I last heard of them they were quarrelling still.

“What a strange thing!” said the overseer of the workmen at the foundry. “This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace. We must throw it away.” So they threw it on a dust-heap where the dead Swallow was also lying.

“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.

“You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.”

- By Oscar Wilde.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

November 17: Hugh of Lincoln

Today's the feast day of Hugh of Lincoln, 17 November 1200.
As a sign of his remorse for his role in the murder of the Archbishop Thomas a Becket, King Henry II founded the first house in England of the strict monastic order called the Carthusians. Difficulties arose with the first two priors, and a French noble recommended Hugh de Avalon, who at that time had been a monk at the mother house of the order for 17 years.

On his arrival in England in 1176, Hugh found that the building of the monastery had not begun. Worse, no compensation had been paid to those who would have to lose their lands and property to make room for it. Hugh refused to take office until these persons had been paid "to the last penny." He intervened again on behalf of the builders, whose pay was not forthcoming.

Henry loved him for his plain speaking. "I do not despair of you," Hugh said to him at their first interview; "I know how much your many occupations interfere with the health of your soul." Henry, impressed by his frankness, swore that while he lived he should not leave his kingdom, and took so much pleasure in his conversation, and paid so much heed to his counsels, that a rumor arose that Hugh was his son. Hugh's biographer wrote that "of all men only Hugh could bend that rhinosceros to his will." When Henry was in danger of shipwreck, he cried out, "If only my Carthusian Hugh were awake and at prayer, God would not forget me."

This affection never diminished, though Hugh dared to oppose the king, particularly in the matter of keeping bishoprics vacant in order that their revenues might fall to the king's treasury. One of the worst examples was Lincoln, which, except for a few months, had been without a bishop for eighteen years. Hugh was elected to the post in 1186, and his monastic superiors ordered him to accept. After so long a period of neglect, there was great need of reform. Hugh employed priests of great piety and learning, and made the fullest use of his authority in disciplining his clergy. He took a stern view of the ill-treatment of the poor by the royal foresters, and when a subject of the church of Lincoln suffered at their hands he excommunicated their chief.

He also refused to appoint a royal favorite to a meaningless but lucrative post. Henry was furious, and summoned him to his presence. He came, and Henry turned away his face and would not speak, but by way of ignoring his presence took out a torn glove and began to sew it. At last Hugh said, "How like you are to your relations at Falaise." The king might have resented this allusion to the humble birth of William the Conqueror's mother, the daughter of a glove-maker, but he only laughed, and the quarrel was made up.

Riots against the Jews broke out in England at the time of the Third Crusade. In defence of the persecuted, Hugh faced armed mobs in Lincoln, Stamford and Northampton and compelled their submission.

We are lucky to have a Hugh of Lincoln to celebrate; if we can choose our own patron saints, I'd likely choose him. (Hugh is listed as patron of "sick children, sick people, and swans.") Here's his collect:
O holy God, who endowed your servant and bishop Hugh of Lincoln With wise and cheerful boldness, and taught him to commend the discipline of holy life to kings and princes: Grant that we also, rejoicing in the Good News of your mercy, and fearing nothing but the loss of you, may be bold to speak the truth in love, in the name of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And today's my 24th A.A. anniversary, too. An auspicious day, all around, I'd say.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Traumatic Truth of Human History

Awhile back, I posted several times about Rene Girard's "anthropological" take on Christian faith, and wondered why we weren't talking about it in the Episcopal Church. It seems to be a really good way for the modern, skeptical mind to begin to catch hold of some of the central concepts of Christianity - and in fact, as one of those articles explains, thinking about it this way convinced Girard himself that Christianity was true.
Girard's genealogy casts an anthropological light on the Christian ethic and on the meaning of the Eucharist; but it is not just an anthropological theory. Girard himself treats it as a piece of theology. For him, it is a kind of proof of the Christian religion and of the divinity of Jesus. And in a striking article in the Stanford Italian Review (1986), he suggests that the path that has led him from the inner meaning of the Eucharist to the truth of Christianity was one followed by Wagner in Parsifal, and one along which even Nietzsche reluctantly strayed, under the influence of Wagner's masterpiece.

Well, apparently we are now beginning to talk about it; Episcopal Cafe has a new video up in which James Alison discusses the topic. It's just a short video, and a quick mention of Girard, but there it is. [EDIT TO ADD: Here's a full James Alison lecture at Trinity on video. It's an hour and 20 minutes - a big file - so it does take a bit of time to load. The theme is "Reconciliation."]

Speaking of: for many months I've been trying to find a particular quote related to this topic. I found it while searching for something else (naturally!), in Terry Eagleton's review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. I added the bold below:
Jesus hung out with whores and social outcasts, was remarkably casual about sex, disapproved of the family (the suburban Dawkins is a trifle queasy about this), urged us to be laid-back about property and possessions, warned his followers that they too would die violently, and insisted that the truth kills and divides as well as liberates. He also cursed self-righteous prigs and deeply alarmed the ruling class.

The Christian faith holds that those who are able to look on the crucifixion and live, to accept that the traumatic truth of human history is a tortured body, might just have a chance of new life – but only by virtue of an unimaginable transformation in our currently dire condition. This is known as the resurrection. Those who don’t see this dreadful image of a mutilated innocent as the truth of history are likely to be devotees of that bright-eyed superstition known as infinite human progress, for which Dawkins is a full-blooded apologist. Or they might be well-intentioned reformers or social democrats, which from a Christian standpoint simply isn’t radical enough.

The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you. Here, then, is your pie in the sky and opium of the people. It was, of course, Marx who coined that last phrase; but Marx, who in the same passage describes religion as the ‘heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions’, was rather more judicious and dialectical in his judgment on it than the lunging, flailing, mispunching Dawkins.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Yet More Music Links from Trinity

The Organ Series at Trinity Wall Street is in its second year at Trinity; it's a pretty interesting story as to why this is going on at all:
When the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ at Trinity Church was damaged by dust and debris from the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the church dismantled the instrument and planned to either restore or replace it. For the short term, the church installed a “virtual pipe organ” that uses digital samples of real pipe organ timbres, played through a computerized audio system and nearly 100 speakers hidden behind dummy pipes.

To organ purists who have had epochal debates about whether organs with electronic keyboards can equal the more time-honored pneumatic action, and to organ agnostics who simply have a soft spot for traditional instruments in historic settings, the notion of replacing Trinity’s Aeolian-Skinner with a “virtual” instrument was a horrifying sign of the times.

But the digital organ, built by Marshall & Ogletree, has had a thorough workout since it was installed in 2003, and its performance has persuaded the church’s music office, as well as a good number of visiting organists, that it is worthy of its setting. Trinity has now decided to make the Marshall & Ogletree its permanent organ, and to commission a second for St. Paul’s Chapel. On Tuesday, the church announced that it would sell off the parts of the lamented Aeolian-Skinner.

Here's a whole section about this organ at the Trinity Wall Street website. This year the American Guild of Organists New York Chapter was meeting at the same time as Cameron Carpenter's concert (see yesterday's post), and AGO members filled the pews for his recital. The archives from last year are still available, though, and here's Cameron Carpenter's recital from last year. What a mad boy he is!

But I really wanted to provide this link to the wonderful Brasil Guitar Duo who played for the Concerts At One series. Here's the Duo's own website, and here's something about them. (More videos can be found in the archive pages as well.)

And don't forget: you can listen to James Alison speak, and Archbishop Tutu, too. I haven't yet, but they're on the list.

I know you're thinking, "Doesn't she talk about anything but Trinity, Trinity, Trinity and music, music, music?" Well, no: not really....

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, "the chief eunuch of Nebuchadnezzar II"

From the Telegraph:
The sound of unbridled joy seldom breaks the quiet of the British Museum's great Arched Room, which holds its collection of 130,000 Assyrian cuneiform tablets, dating back 5,000 years.

But Michael Jursa, a visiting professor from Vienna, let out such a cry last Thursday. He had made what has been called the most important find in Biblical archaeology for 100 years, a discovery that supports the view that the historical books of the Old Testament are based on fact.

Searching for Babylonian financial accounts among the tablets, Prof Jursa suddenly came across a name he half remembered - Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, described there in a hand 2,500 years old, as "the chief eunuch" of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.
Prof Jursa, an Assyriologist, checked the Old Testament and there in chapter 39 of the Book of Jeremiah, he found, spelled differently, the same name - Nebo-Sarsekim.
Related Articles

Nebo-Sarsekim, according to Jeremiah, was Nebuchadnezzar II's "chief officer" and was with him at the siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC, when the Babylonians overran the city.

The small tablet, the size of "a packet of 10 cigarettes" according to Irving Finkel, a British Museum expert, is a bill of receipt acknowledging Nabu-sharrussu-ukin's payment of 0.75 kg of gold to a temple in Babylon.

The tablet is dated to the 10th year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 595BC, 12 years before the siege of Jerusalem.

Evidence from non-Biblical sources of people named in the Bible is not unknown, but Nabu-sharrussu-ukin would have been a relatively insignificant figure.
"This is a fantastic discovery, a world-class find," Dr Finkel said yesterday. "If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power."

Cuneiform is the oldest known form of writing and was commonly used in the Middle East between 3,200 BC and the second century AD. It was created by pressing a wedge-shaped instrument, usually a cut reed, into moist clay.

The full translation of the tablet reads: (Regarding) 1.5 minas (0.75 kg) of gold, the property of Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch, which he sent via Arad-Banitu the eunuch to [the temple] Esangila: Arad-Banitu has delivered [it] to Esangila. In the presence of Bel-usat, son of Alpaya, the royal bodyguard, [and of] Nadin, son of Marduk-zer-ibni. Month XI, day 18, year 10 [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Affirming Catholicism

They have at last updated their website! And an interesting note: there is to be a conference in Seattle this fall at which James Alison will be a speaker:

Fall 2007 Conference Update

The October 2007 Conference in Seattle is in its final stages of preparation.

Pre-registrations accepted now!!

TOPIC: Orthodoxy: Living Communion in Worship and Belief

SPEAKERS: James Alison
The Rev. Diane Butler Bass
The Rev. Kenneth Leech
The Rev. Elaine Farmer, retreat leader

DATES: October 21-25,2007

LOCATION: Seattle, Washington

HOST PARISHES: St. Thomas, Medina
Trinity Church, Seattle

COST (of Conference ONLY): US$525

You will be notified about details of lodging and meals when these have been finalized.

Affirming Catholicism conferences begin with a day of retreat to form a praying community. The conference then continues in the context of a community of prayer and liturgical celebration.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


The incoherence of "church teaching" on the topic of you-know-what, that is. It's from the James Alison article *Christopher linked in comments on another post:
Please notice that there are two logical barriers which the ecclesiastical argument cannot jump without falsifying it’s own doctrine. The first is this: The Church cannot say “Well, being that way is normal, something neutral or positive, the Church respects it and welcomes it. The Church only prohibits the acts which flow from it”. This position would lack logic in postulating intrinsically evil acts which flow from a neutral or positive being. And this would go against the principle of Catholic morals which states that acts flow from being – agere sequitur esse. The second barrier is this: the Church cannot say of the homosexual inclination that it is a desire which is in itself intrinsically evil, since to say this would be to fall into the heresy of claiming that there is some part of being human which is essentially depraved – that is, which cannot be transformed, only covered over.

Faced with these two barriers, ecclesiastical logic did a backward double-flip worthy of an Olympic gymnast so as to arrive at the following formulation: “The homosexual inclination, though not itself a sin, constitutes a tendency towards behaviour that is intrinsically evil, and must therefore be considered objectively disordered.” With this phrase, the Vatican Congregations sought to maintain the absolute prohibition of the acts without describing the desire as intrinsically evil. Nevertheless the price of this definition is very high. It obliges its defenders to insist that the homosexual inclination, independently of any acts flowing from it, is something objectively disordered. And the kind of objectivity they have in mind is deduced not from what can be known through experience, but is an a priori which depends on the Church’s teaching concerning marriage. That is to say, the a priori of the intrinsic heterosexuality of all human beings. In other words, from the presupposition of the intrinsic heterosexuality of all human beings, it is deduced that the person whose inclination is towards those of the same sex is a defective heterosexual.

Well, let us not delude ourselves here. This characterisation of the gay or lesbian person as a defective heterosexual is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the prohibition, as the authors indicate with the “must be considered” of their phrase. The problem is that, for the characterisation to work properly within the doctrine of original sin and grace, it would have to be the case that the life of grace would lead the gay or lesbian person to become heterosexual in the degree of his or her growth in grace. That is to say, in the degree to which grace makes us more patient, faithful, generous, capable of being good Samaritans, less prisoners of anger, of rivalry and of resentment, just so would it have to change the gender of the persons towards whom we are principally attracted. The problem is that such changes do not seem to take place in a regular and trustworthy way, even amongst the United States groups which promote them with significant funds and publicity. As the senior representatives of such groups indicate: at most, and in some cases, a change in behaviour is produced, but the fundamental structures of desire continue to be towards persons of the same sex. [3]

This then is the conflict: for the prohibition of the acts to correspond to the true being of the person, the inclination has to be characterised as something objectively disordered. However, since the inclination doesn’t alter, unlike desires which are recognisably vicious, the gay or lesbian person would have a desire which is, in fact, intrinsically evil, an element of radical depravity in their desire. And we would have stepped outside Catholic anthropology. Or, on the other hand, the same-sex inclination is simply something that is, in which case grace will bring it to a flourishing starting from where it is, and with this we would have to work out which acts are appropriate or not, according to the circumstances, and we will have stepped outside the absolute prohibition passed on to us by tradition.

I'm still reading - James Alison's writing often takes days to get through - but it's another great one. Even just the above snippet has already, in exposing the contradictions inherent in Catholic doctrine (which is, let's face it, the product of centuries of massive intellectual tradition, and way beyond most of what we see from the Anglican side these days) started to whisper to me: "This argument is just about over, folks; they really haven't got even a thread of a leg to stand on."

The intro is truly chilling, too, and I can't wait to see how he ties it all together....