Overview of 2018 Reading

Literary classics. I was able to finish 16 different classics this year, and each by a different author! I won’t go into detail here as I wrote a blogpost for each of them. The authors, in the order I read them, are: Virginia Woolf, Honoré de Balzac, Sigrid Undset, Evelyn Waugh, Willa Cather, Ismail Kadare, George Eliot, Chaim Potok, Kazuo Ishiguro, Émile Zola, Vladimir Nabokov, Aristophanes, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jane Austen, Stanislaw Lem, and Mikhail Bulgakov. (Clicking any of those names will direct you to my posts on them.)

Other literary books. Following recommendations from workers at a local bookstore in Rome, I read and finished a couple other literary works this year that I would not list among the classics. The first of these is Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer, an autobiographical account of the author’s attempt to write a biography of D.H. Lawrence. I had previously heard of Dyer only from a lengthy article on Rebecca West, but the recommendation was strong, so I went for it. It was an unfortunate choice. Apart from a few amusing anecdotes about Italy (which eventually led to me watching spaghetti Westerns this summer), the books is basically just a cranky monologue. Another worker from the same bookstore recommended The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. In this case, the book was entertaining and clever at parts, but ultimately left me wanting to read the real thing.

michigan

Michigan. I have often thought: Spain, Italy and Greece have all produced great literature. But what do they have in common? They are peninsulas. Should not then Michigan have an even greater literature? For it is two peninsulas. Indeed, according to the barely-known and perhaps unfortunate 1972 Pledge to the State Flag, it is:

two beautiful peninsulas united by a bridge of steel
where equal opportunity and justice to all is our ideal.

And so I searched for the literary treasure that I expected to find in Michigan, and though I did not have time to search as thoroughly as I would like, I found a very helpful book for this journey: Michigan Literary Luminaries by Anna Clark. In this book, Clark brings forth the best Michigan has to offer: from the more literary Ernest Hemingway and Joyce Carol Oates to the more popular Elmore Leonard and Donald Goines. Anna Clark concludes with a much more hopeful estimation of Michigan’s literary output than I arrived at, but she does a great job telling the story along the way. I will continue my search once I am back in Michigan.

Odd coincidence: While talking with workers at a bookstore in my home town, I found out that Anna Clark once worked there! She was scheduled to give a talk there after I left, but I was able to meet her at another venue in Kalamazoo where she was presenting her newest book on the Flint water crisis. She seemed very excited that someone had found and enjoyed her book on Michigan’s literature!

Also on the subject of Michigan literature, I mention here Michigan author Jon Oldham’s project which I recently wrote a post on.

Books I did not finish. There are probably more books than these that I picked up an put down again, but these stand out. The first is Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, an autobiographical work about a nurse in World War I. It was highly recommended on a number of blogs and had found a place among the Penguin Classics, but I just couldn’t do it after 200 pages. She struck me self-centered and I wasn’t given reasons to expect any improvement, so I decided to let that one go. Then next one was recommended by a lady working at Barbara’s Bookstore in the O’Hare airport, who said it was her favorite book: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It starts with a boy discovering a forgotten book in a hidden library, and the drama goes from there. There were many things I liked about it early on, but the main character became less and less interesting with every chapter, and then I stopped. There are too many good books in the world to be spending time on ones that miss the mark. One last book I did not finish a was a collection of poetry by Cavafy, a modern Greek poet. This book is excellent! I dropped it when I went home for the summer and I hope to pick it up again in the new year.

Comics. Should I include this in my reading for the year? When I spent time with my family this summer, we often watched either Marvel movies or the recent sequel series to Dragon Ball Z. Inspired by the first of those and tempted by special offers for Marvel Unlimited, I ended up reading the 1991 Infinity Gauntlet comics on which the recent Infinity War film is at least partly based. This led to reading comics about Adam Warlock as well as his Infinity Watch, a group similar to the Guardians of the Galaxy, each member of which is entrusted with an Infinity Stone. These were fun, but I decided not to renew my month’s subscription—they’re almost endless and they make new ones every day! The other comic I picked up was Jaco the Galactic Patrolman, a recent work from the creator of Dragon Ball Z. It was short and fun, but I don’t think it would reading for anyone but fans of Akira Toriyama.

breviaryPsalms. Back in June, I spent a few days the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, where I was at last convinced to switch to the older use of the Roman Breviary for my daily prayers. Instead of praying the Psalms over the course of a month (as the current Liturgy of the Hours does) the Breviarium Romanum (as it was prayed in 1962) moves through the entire Psalter each week. This takes a little more time, but one eventually gets used to the rhythm and the Psalms quickly become more familiar. Recognizing the how central the Psalms are to my daily prayer and how they are used at Mass every day, it seemed worth the effort to understand them better. I started with a commentary on Psalm 119 by St. Ambrose, and then started going back and forth between the homilies of St. Augustine and St. Jerome on various Psalms. Apart from these ancient commentaries, I read John Bergsma’s Psalms Basics for Catholics, a very simple but very helpful overview on the structure of the book of Psalms and how the entire story of the Old Testament is reflected in them. After that I read N.T. Wright’s A Case for the Psalms, which was not so much an argument for their usage as a reflection on his own experience praying and singing them. On a recommendation in that book, I started listening to recordings of Anglican choirs chanting the Psalms—truly something to work up to in our own churches. I didn’t get around them, but I had hoped to read reflections on the Psalms from C.S. Lewis and Girolamo Savonarola, and then a book recommended by Bergsma called Singing in the Reign.

Saints. I love preaching on the lives of the Saints. If there is a Gospel passage that is difficult to interpret, you can never go wrong by seeing how the Saints lived that Gospel in their own lives. The only life that I read in full this year was a small book on Blessed Margaret of Castello. She was born blind and crippled, was ignored and eventually abandoned by her wealthy parents, and attained to the heights of holiness. I highly recommend her biography by Fr. William Bonniwell, O.P.

State of the Church. With all the craziness in the news about goings-on in the Church, I read The Book of Gomorrah by St. Peter Damian, written about 1000 years ago. He writes about the awful lifestyles of clerics in his own day and about the heights of virtue which God demands of every priest. The other book I read, before any of the scandals this summer, was The Last Testament, an interview with Pope Benedict XVI. What a humble and intelligent man! Only time will tell us the full ramifications of his weighty decision to step down from the Petrine office.

tribunalCanon law. Though I don’t usually write about it on here, I would bet that over half of my reading in the last year was in one way or another related to canon law. In the first half of 2018, I was in a seminar on the power of governance in the Church and so I read many articles related to that, especially on judicial power and its delegation as this was the topic I presented in the seminar. This last semester, my focus shifted almost entirely to presumptions as a form of proof, and especially judicial presumptions, as this is the topic I have chosen for my license tesina. I have whole bibliography of textbooks, commentaries, articles, and original sources on this topic, but I’ll wait until it’s finished before I share a summary.

Books started. There are two books I am going through at very leisurely pace, which I do not think I will finish for a very long time. One of these is the Collected Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges, which collects his many collections of short fiction. As finish each of these collections, I will write a post on it, but I am only reading a couple pages a day. The other book I am plodding through is the Disquisitiones Arithmeticae by Carl Friedrich Gauss. When I was reading Stanislaw Lem, there were many references to Gauss as if he were quasi-deity and, though I knew the name, I could not recall any of his discoveries or contributions off the top of my head. A couple searches later, I found that he wrote a textbook on number theory and sent away for it. It is an exact work and I never get through more than a page in a sitting, but it’s a pleasure to pick up something mathematical after nearly 6 years without anything of the kind. I intend to write a post on it soon, though it may be years before I actually finish it.

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Notes on Rotal Jurisprudence from 1912 concerning lack of form, force and fear

sententiaeIn a class on the jurisprudence of the Roman Rota, our professor was naming all the places to find published sentences and decrees, and also warned us of the danger of taking one sentence alone, as if that was sufficient to represent the constant and common jurisprudence of the Roman Rota. But then I wondered, “How much do we have to read? Surely we can’t read all of it?” I asked her and she recommended reading one sentence a week. If you do that 10 months out of the year, then you will have read 40 sentences within a year. Within two years, I could read 80 sentences, and she said that would be “sufficient” for obtaining some grasp of the common and constant jurisprudence which should guide all tribunals.

Eager to begin this project, I went to the library and found the earliest matrimonial nullity case I could find, and was pleased to discover it was only six pages long! It was easier than I expected, though I still had to look up about 20 words in the course of reading it. I was also curious to see which laws would be referred to, since this case was decided before the promulgation of the first Code of Canon Law in 1917. As an exercise, I will put some observations below. Continue reading

Jesus the Samaritan and Procedural Canons

«Nonne bene dicimus nos quia Samaritanus es tu, et daemonium habes? Respondit Iesus: Ego daemonium non habeo.»

Innocent_III_bas-relief_in_the_U.S._House_of_Representatives_chamberThe more one digs into canon law, past the codified laws of 1917 and 1983, one finds the Scriptural and Patristic roots which were gathered in the Middle Ages and became the basis for juridical action within the Church. Saint John Paul II, the Legislator who promulgated the 1983 Code of Canon Law, was particularly astute and in his addresses on canonical matters delivered to the Roman Rota (the highest appellate court in the Church). Reading his 1980 address, I saw him quote decretals from Pope Alexander II (d. 1073) and Pope Innocent III (d. 1216), and went searching after the original. This brought me to the Liber Extra  of Pope Gregory IX, the first authoritative collection of papal decrees, which remained in effect from 1234 until 1917. Continue reading

An anarchist in Soviet Russia

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Dame Rebecca West

My Disillusionment in Russia by Emma Goldman is certainly one of the lesser know books on my list of classics to read, so it is worth explaining how it got there. The first reason is Rebecca West (and this is not the first time she prompted me to read a book). After reading Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, and loving it, I searched around the internet for short pieces of her writing, and one of the first things I found was her introduction to Goldman’s book. One line from it had stuck with me from reading this introduction a couple years ago: “We must let each people seek God in its own way.” (I had forgotten the less inspirational-sounding next line, “and refrain from persecuting it in its search by such indirect methods as interference with the natural flow of trade.”) Although the line sounds relativistic or indifferent, at the very least, West is making the bold claim that the Revolutionary project in Russia is a search for God. Continue reading

Basil and the Mysteries

img_0303“Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us in a mystery by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learned the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence.”

-Saint Basil, On the Holy Spirit 27

(Also cited by Gratian, Decretum, Distinction 11, Capitulum 5.)

Initial Thoughts on Coccopalmerio

img_0273I was recently asked about Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s recent comments on how to interpret Amoris Laetitia. This gave me an opportunity to spell out some of my thoughts on the possible situations where discernment might lead to the conclusion of permitting someone in an irregular marriage situation to receive the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. The following is all lifted from an email I sent to someone. They are by no means definitive, but just a thinking-out-loud.

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I hadn’t been keeping up with news the last couple weeks, so your email was the first I heard about Coccopalmerio’s new little book. One first note is that even though Coccopalmerio is the President of the Council for Legislative Texts, and even though his book is published by the Vatican, he is not publishing it as head of that Council and so it does not function as authentic interpretation of the law.

Looking around a few websites, it sounds like he is basically open to “discerning” situations where it would be possible to give communion to people in irregular marriage situations, just as the bishops in Germany, Malta, etc. What I’ve read from him looks a bit more moderate than these others, inasmuch as he sees certain cases as exceptional. I’ve been trying hard to figure out what these exceptional cases look like. In the case where you have a couple civilly married that is committed to living as brother and sister, there is no objective sin, and (so long as no scandal is involved) I think everyone agrees that such persons could be admitted to the sacraments.

The cases that people are more interested in are those where the irregular couple continue to have sexual relations, since this seems (pretty obviously) to mean that they are objectively in a state of sin. Now Coccopalermio says that all that is necessary is “verification of two essential conditions — that they desire to change that situation, but they cannot act on their desire”. The only cases I can think of where they cannot act on the desire seems to be where there is disagreement between the persons involved with respect to either understanding or will. I will give two scenarios where I think there is reason to consider giving communion to a civilly remarried person.

The first case is disagreeement of will between the spouses: both spouses know they are in an irregular situation (i.e. not actually married), and one spouse wants to abstain from sexual relations, but the other one does not. Both of these people live together perhaps for a number of reasons (financial dependence, children) and so that it would be inconvenient for them to live apart. Here it seems possible to me that one spouse could have a real desire to abstain from relations, but this is impossible while living in the same house with someone who is not committed to living in that manner. Now there is a distinction that St. Raymond of Penyafort makes for dealing with certain odd marriage situations that may be relevant in this case. He distinguishes between requesting the marriage debt and paying the marriage debt, and gives some cases where he thinks it would be morally acceptable to pay the marriage debt but not morally acceptable to ask for it. Now in this case, it is not a true marriage, but I think there may be a difference between to requesting relations and acquiescing to someone seeking sexual relations (especially when to resist could lead to dangerous consequences). I’m not 100% sold on this, but it is the sort of case that I would consider.

The second case is like the first, but with an added element. Let’s say that a woman was married to a man who then left her, and is now civilly married to an unbaptized man with whom she has 3 children. She has been from the Church for years and now is wanting to go to confession and receive communion again. Since she is objectively still married to the man who abandoned her, this means that relations with her irregular spouse would be adulterous, and so she should not have relations with him. From her side, this seems clear enough. But now look at the conscience of the unbaptized man. He is not a man of faith, and so he does not have any sense of anything but civil law governing his marriage situation, and so objectively has no reason to think that he is not legitimately married to this woman who was divorced from her first husband according to civil law. As far as he is concerned, he is not doing anything wrong in having relations with a woman whom he considers in good faith his spouse. Again, it seems this is a case where the woman involved could certainly not ask the marriage debt, but perhaps could acquiesce to the man who asks it in good faith. Again, I’m not completely sure on this, but it is a case I would consider.

Here is another case that comes to mind: Polygamy exists among Muslims. Let’s say there is a Muslim woman who is the third spouse of a Muslim man, and she comes to faith that Jesus is Lord. In societies where Sharia Law reigns, I don’t think she could be expected to separate herself from this man upon whom she depends, especially in a society where the civil law does not give her freedom to leave. In such a case, I would be inclined to admit this woman communion, following the same distinction: so long as she does not ask the marriage debt, but only renders it. This case is similar to the second case, but the lack of freedom involved is more obvious and certain.

So those are the cases where I think it may be possible that the conditions named by Coccopalmerio, “that they desire to change that situation, but they cannot act on their desire”, might actually be met. Looking at his comments, I think he would apply it more widely. But I as far as I understand it, it would only be one-sided situations where there is a disagreement between the irregular spouses that I can even conceive of a moral impossibility. If it was both spouses coming to me, and both Catholic, I can’t imagine “discerning” to give them communion unless they were at least committed to living chastely. “Oh, you’re both Catholic? You both understand the Church’s teaching on marriage, and accept that you are not actually married? But you are going to continue having sexual relations but want me to give you communion?” No, I can’t imagine giving communion in that case. Now, if they were committed to living as brother and sister and occasionally fell (for it is reasonably difficult to live continently with someone to whom you are attracted and with whom you have been in the habit of having relations with), then that would be another matter. Some people have trouble seeing the difference.

Again, I am not completely convinced in the cases I have named for you, but I only think that these sorts of situations are the sort where a debate is actually possible.

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If anyone out there has comments, feel free to share! Just today, I purchased Coccopalmerio’s book, so I will be able to take a closer look at what he is actually saying and to think it over. More to come…