Sunday, November 21, 2004

I must descrease that he might increase

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And my blog must decrease that I might increase.

I'll be actively non-blogging (or passively de-blogging) for an unspecified period of time. This is part of a more basic withdrawal from the Internet (with its Scylla of porn and Charybdis of trivialities). My blog is one of the main reasons I use the Internet, so if I avoid blogging I have that much less reason to waste time online. There's just too much reading and sleeping -- and way too much prayer -- that I've been neglecting offline.

I'll also admit it: I feel more secure, “more better,” when I'm connected. But that dependence bothers me, so I'm fighting back. The digital monkey must get off my back.

Okay, I've spoken my peace. Go on now, you can laugh. I know, I know, this is a silly, drastic Luddite reflex of cutting of my nose to spite my face. Be that as it may, it's one way I can get a grip on my life, or maybe a get a grip off my life, so I'm for it.

Prayers and comments are welcome as always. I’ll see you.

How much is that doggy in the blog?

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This my dog, Dane (not Great Dane, just Dane). I love him.

Yes, he really is that small.

Currently reading...

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_Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church_ by John D. Zizioulas

I first heard about this great book when I read Clark Carlton’s _The Way_ in February 2003. That was a decent book, but would have had a bigger impact on me a year or two earlier.[1] It took some work (like anything good) but I finally got a copy of Zizioulas's very (and rightly) influential book. It was on my bookshelf for weeks, but then one night I just grabbed it and read sixty or so pages of it in one sitting. Despite all the hype -- Carlton said he had to read the first two chapters twice before he understood what Zizioulas was talking about -- this book wasn't as head-crushing as I'd expected. It was nice to know I've read just enough theology not to be shaking my head ALL the time (as I once did).

Of course, this is not to say Zizioulas's book isn't challenging or superb. It is both of those things. He is an excellent communicator of very hard ideas and his scholarship is incredible. He is not immune from it, but he does at least keep “intellectualese” to a minimum. Also, although I technically "got" most of what he said, I need to re-read the first two or three chapters. This is a big deal. If you didn't know, I rarely if ever re-read anything unless I'm referencing it. But Zizioulas covers so much ground and says so much in so few words that I need to re-read him just to see the implications of it all. It's like good poetry: any literate person can "get" it on the verbal level; but it takes patience and a special ear to really hear the deeper, hidden resonances.

I would summarize the book (viz., its main theses) with the following series of connected propositions:

The Church is truth at work in human existence. Truth is (indestructible) life. Life is communion. Communion is love. Love is a person. The person of love is God the Father. The Father is truth. Truth is the basis of the Church. Rinse, wash, repeat.

In fact, the whole book is so full of information and interesting ideas that I might even want to read the whole thing again. It's a veritable catechism of patristics, Trinitarianism, classical metaphysics, ecclesiology and sacramentology. One of the most pronounced effects of the book has been to raise my interest (ignorant but eager!) in St. Maximus the Confessor. Anyone John Zizioulas calls "one of the greatest and most creative geniuses in history" I am certain to give at least a little coffee time to.

Ironically, perhaps because of its breadth and depth, the book's actually been a frustrating experience for me in some ways. Zizioulas achieves such a deep and far-reaching resourcement (esp. of the patristic and biblical), that I'm left shaking my head on almost everything I thought I "knew" about Catholic theology, let alone Orthodox theology. I feel like I'm back to square one, like everything "sure" is up for grabs.[2] It’s late so I won't elaborate on that complaint. It's not even a complaint, though, since, after reading and hearing so much on my journey towards “Cathodoxy” (props to Tom R), it’s nice to feel the foreignness and holy mystery of journey like I did in the early days. Any contemptuous familiarity I had is dead and gone! The game is still afoot, my friends! Make no mistake: I really am learning my Christian heritage all over again for the first time.

Wow, I’m glad I took time to write this. The more I flip back through this book, the more I realize I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Incidentally, as the SVS webpage explains, _Being as Communion_ is part of the CONTEMPORARY GREEK THEOLOGIANS SERIES. Other books included in the series are: _Hymn of Entry_ by Archimandrite Vasileios, _The Deification of Man_ by Georgios I. Mantzaridis, _Deification in Christ_ by Panayiotis Nellas, and _The Freedom of Morality_ by Christos Yannaras. I intend to get every title in the series, especially the last two titles.

[1] More memorable and helpful for my current phase of conversion was Carlton’s book about Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, _The Truth_.

[2] I once heard a great aphorism: If you want to make God smile, tell Him what you know. If you want to make Him laugh, tell Him your plans.

Beards! Books! Beer! Hoorah!

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(In no particular order of enjoyment...)

Erick "DJ Skullfog" Banks has punched it in and the Second Annual International Beard-A-Thon (IBAT2) is underway! I'm saddened to see Devin "Least Likely to Leave Your Kids Alone With" Kaun is not in the running, but I can tell I've got my work "cut" out for me with all these new virile competitors. No matter. I've already dispatched my elite hit squad of Norelco Ninjas to observe and, if necessary, shear the most aggressive competitors. Team Taiwan is not intimidated and will not be outbearded. (You have been warned.)

A small hope: in order to maximize the "international" factor of the IBAT, I say Erick grows for Team Mexico. Mexico's in his blood... even if facial hair isn't.

Well, I still need to get my charity sponsor. Hmmm.... For now, I'll leave you with my start-up and recent two-week photos:

with new Webbed Foot Feature!

with new Optimal Repulsion Feature!

with new Lower Lip Drool Guard!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

A new me?

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Dave Armstrong recently gave me a new nick, the Cogitator, which I think I'll adopt. So, without further ado...

Welcome to The Cogitator's FCA Palace!

Where volume *is* accuracy and the only thing more common than diarrhea of the keyborad is constipation of the mind!

I'm feeling very...collegial today, how about you?

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A reader recently commented on my kinder, succinter statement of a question I have about papal supremacy:

Perhaps I've missed something but, though you've frequently referred to St. Peter as embodying the necessary existence of an infallible "mouth," how do Ecumenical Councils fit into the picture in your view? How does the collegiality of the Apostles fit this view?

I've never quite understood how an infallible Pope fits in with infallible Ecumenical Councils (which both Catholics and Orthodox acknowledge).

As for the pope and collegiality, this is how I see it from the gutter: The Apostles spoke together, which is to say the Apostles spoke and acted together WITH Peter AS their mouthpiece and chief. Likewise, the bishops speak together, which is to say the bishops speak and act WITH the pope as their mouthpiece and chief. Did Peter need to ratify every Apostolic action? I don’t believe so. But did every Apostolic action or proclamation need to pass through Peter (even if in a providentially mystical way)? I’m inclined to say yes. Did Peter need to vet every Apostolic utterance? Hardly. But could any Apostolic teaching have transgressed Peter’s authentic teaching and leadership? I’m inclined to say no. (Alas, we’re batting counterfactuals around.)

Consider also what Peter is in the NT. He is, by the Father’s illuminating grace, the confessor par excellence of Christ’s Messianic divinity. He is the herald, by the power of the Holy Spirit, par excellence of the gospel of Christ. As such, we (all Christians) partake of that Petrine function to some degree. If all can be little Christs, I see no reason why everyone cannot also be little Peters – if both claims are properly understood.

For example, what sensible Orthodox or Catholic has the slightest qualms about calling a priest “Father” even though she knows there is only one TRUE Father in Heaven? Part of being human, and especially being a Christian, means understanding the same words in very different ways. Obviously, there is only one Christ; but who would deny all believers become Him by baptism and theosis, and that bishops in particular actualize His unique but communicable grace? So, obviously there is only one Peter; but why deny we all have a share in his witness, and that the pope in particular actualizes His unique but communicable authority as the vicarious herald of Christ?

So there is, biblically and patristically, a range of meaning for the rock of the Church. Neat-o. I admit this. Why should I waste time bickering with William Webster or Eric Svendsen or James White about patristic ambiguities? Why expect every single quote about Peter to be an ironclad, airtight, hyper-precise declaration of papal supremacy? Indeed, I see no conflict between believing the rock of Matthew 16 was *simultaneously* Peter, his confession of Christ and Christ working IN Peter by the economy of the Spirit in union with the Father. Peter the Rock was inseparable from his faith, and the rock of Peter’s faith was inseparable from Christ the Rock. In the same way are his successors inseparable from his person, his faith and his Lord. Peter carried the weight of the Gospel WITH the Apostles – which necessarily means PETER carried the weight.

By analogy, the pope in every age need not carry each and every single doctrine on his own two shoulders. But his shoulders MUST in some way be helping carry that weight (whether ex cathedra without a council or “passively” with an ecumenical council). Conciliar infallibility (with even the most basic papal cooperation) is a sufficient but not necessary condition for proclaiming true dogmas. Whereas, papal infallibility (usually and ideally with broad episcopal support) is BOTH necessary and in itself sufficient to proclaim dogmas. That is, as I say, how I see collegiality and the papacy relate to each other.

Next we need to consider the Church’s Marian and Petrine dimensions. In the baldest terms, Mary is the vessel of grace and Peter is the chief confessor of Christ’s good news. Mary is the model for Christians of fully embracing the pneumatological dimensions of redemption. Peter, on the other hand, is the model for Christians fully embracing Christological dimensions of that same redemption. Apart from Mary’s “Fiat” at the Annunciation and her “Do all he tells you” at Cana, I wonder with aching dread what would have become of the Incarnation as the full in-breaking of the Holy Spirit. And, apart from Peter’s “You are” at Caesarea Philippi and his “Repent!” at Pentecost, I wonder just as anxiously what would have become of the Church’s understanding of Christ as the vicar of God.

Both Mary and Peter are, by God’s providence, hugely significant figures in the ordo salutis and the Kingdom of God. Mary and Peter both mark key turning points in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Luke’s Gospel and Acts. Now, Mary obviously has her enduring and co-redemptive role in Orthodoxy and Catholicism. But why does Peter have a similarly enduring and “vicarious” role only in Catholicism?

I suspect the willingness by the Orthodox Church to embrace the Marian dimensions of ecclesial life while effectively avoiding the Petrine dimensions stems from its much-discussed emphasis on pneumatology. Where pneumatology flourishes, the Church’s Marian dimensions also expand. Where Christology flourishes, the Church’s Petrine dimensions swell. So, say what you will about the Western Church’s supposed “Christomonism” and its supposedly anemic pneumatology, but only in that very Western, that very Roman, Church do I see Marian and Petrine, pneumatological and Christological, energies *all* vigorously at work.

A similar point can be made about the Eastern Fathers I cited a few days ago. One reader (on another blog) said I must show how those alarmingly papalist quotes CANNOT mesh with Orthodox ecclesiology. But, as I replied, I am not at all sure why the burden of proof is on me to show how the Eastern Fathers' papalism CANNOT mesh with contemporary Orthodox ecclesiology. It’s *extremely* hard to prove a negative. The burden of proof seems to be on the person claiming such papalist rhetoric CAN be reconciled with contemporary Orthodox ecclesiology (or, better, vice versa). For me, it's a simple question: who still talks about Rome like the Eastern Fathers I cited (let alone the Western Fathers? Who still embraces and explores the peculiar importance of Rome in the whole Tradition? Who in their right mind today would say what those Eastern Fathers said? As far as I can see, only Catholics. And that's very telling.

Now, having said all this, we need to give ecumenical conciliar infallibility a closer look. For me, one of the most difficult aspects of conciliar infallibility – as the authentic one voice of the ecumenical (ie., universal) Church – is the rejection of even very early councils by some old and august sees (eg., the Oriental Orthodox, Coptics, etc.). The idea of “ecumenical” councils as the Church’s criterion for truth, I admit, does *sound* a lot more reasonable and humane and democratic and, heck, more “Trinitarian” (unity in diversity, etc.). But we must be honest that even the most humane attempts to hear and respect ALL the bishops so everyone can defer to everyone else for the sake of unity is a very naïve way to look at the councils. It’s sad to say, but this side of the eschaton, collegiality has its limits. That’s what anathemas are for; to demarcate the boundaries of the true faith and, sorry to say, to tell others they’re outside that line.

My point? Remember, the question is how allegedly infallible papal declarations can be authentic expressions of the Church’s one true voice if there is episcopal or lay dissent? How can the part be greater than the whole? My reader asks how papal infallibility meshes with ecumenical conciliar infallibility as if this were an *exceptionally* problematic idea. But a more basic question, logically and historically, and one just as problematic, is how ecumenical conciliar infallibility meshes with allegedly infallible *but not ecumenical* conciliar decrees. The councils were not democratic picnics; the truth was not and is not a majority vote. Not every bishop at every council has had equal influence. Some tracts of the episcopal collegial filed were mercilessly razed and salted, sometimes by the minority of bishops, for the protection of orthodoxy. But how can councils apparently BASED ON the full and harmonic testimony of the whole episcopacy “pull rank” on dissenters? How can the parts trump the whole? It seems like trying to lift a ladder your standing on.

Of course, once you admit it is possible for councils to be infallible *even despite massive episcopal dissent*, it is only a difference of degree, *not of principle*, admitting the possibility of a bishop speaking infallibly despite numerically greater opposition. There was some decisive mechanism at work – in the hands of the Spirit, of course – in all authentic infallible councils. What is this mechanism? Orthodox and Protestants, however, are strangely silent about this mechanism. By contrast, Catholics believe the crucial mechanism was and still is the bishop of Rome in sacramental collegial union with his fellow bishops. So allow me to reverse the questions and ask, “How do infallible councils fit in with an infallible ecumenical CHURCH?” How can councils be an authentic expression of the one true voice of the Church if there is episcopal and lay dissent? I don’t know; but I have a strong suspicion the answer to THAT question goes a long way towards vindicating and clarifying the personal (papal) dimensions of infallibility in a Church of PERSONS.

My train of thought has derailed, so let me close by clarifying my manner of communicating. I have a strong distaste for padded language, like “I feel” or “It seems to me” or “I think”. How redundant. What I write IS how I feel and think and how things do seem to me, even if an undetectably tentative way. I state things as “strongly” as I do in order to be clear stay on point. I don’t want anyone to get the impressions I’m bullying just because I avoid “I feel” language in my writing.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Let me make this simple

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I recently posted a couple riddles about the episcopacy, Orthodoxy and Catholicism. I think I made things too complicated (as I'm prone to do), especially about the second riddle. So, let me restate my question as succinctly as I can:

If the acknowledged headship of Peter -- as the Coryphaeus, the Mouth, the Chief, the Keyholder -- of the Apostles did not detract from or negate the authority of the original Apostles, how can or does the Pope's authority, *as Peter's successor*, detract from or negate the authority of local bishops?

It's crucial to keep the Pope in the Church. He's not some bizarre action figure stapled onto Christian history and tradition. We can't talk about him or his role *outside of the Church*. And the Church is infallible. In my eyes, the Pope's "personal infallibility" (already a skewed formulation of papal infallibility) is but the concrete, incarnational consequence of an infallible Church that speaks for God. The Church is the Body of Christ; and every body has a mouth -- especially an infallible one.

Protestants claim the Bible is infallible, which is true. But how is the Bible infallible *in concrete life*? All Orthodox, Catholics and honest classical Protestants admit the Bible is infallible *only as declared by and from the Church*. A problem, however, arises when we agree with Orthodox and Catholics that *the Church also is infallible*. But again, in conrete human terms, how? How is the Church infallible? The Church is infallible as She speaks the truth of God *with one voice, as one Body*. It just so happens that speaking with one voice means a person with one voice speaking. Such is life. I find it very helpful to stop calling the Pope "the Pope /gasp!/" and instead regard him as but the logical result of an infallible *speaking* Church. As Nemwman said, ecclesial infallibility is a consequence of biblical inspiration. Likewise, papal infallibility is a consequence of ecclesial infallibility.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Bowel-quivering prooftexts, anyone?

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Tim Enloe had this to say about my recent posting of Eastern patristic quotes about the bishop of Rome:

I don't care to discuss the issue on the level of "bowel-quivering" lists of prooftexts, Elliot. And I only got as far as your reduction of my post to "merely" rhetoric, "just...different and unfortunately unreliable modes of expression" to see that you truly do not understand the point.

I reply:


Where to begin?

First, I did not call your post mere rhetoric. I took issue with your reflex of waving many (non-Enloe-approved Ref Cath things) things away as rhetoric. Once again, I seem to have struck a deep nerve with you, this time about one of your favorite topics: rhetoric.

Second, I admit you did not deny all substance in material affirming Roman supremacy. But I am very uneasy with your casual dismissal of the BULK of such affirmations as rhetorical excesses we cannot, unfortunately, rely on TODAY. By calling some forms of rhetoric “unreliable” I mean they are unreliable for conveying a discernible meaning outside their immediate, visceral context. Hortatory effectiveness is not the same as catechetical reliability.

You said:

"...many times the grandiose authority claims made by Roman bishops and their supporters are fundamentally wrapped up with the fact that the speakers are deliberately attempting to model conventions of classical rhetoric for the purpose of moving their hearers to some sort of action, usually a moral one."

But how about when these many deliberate attempts to achieve a result are made TOWARD the bishop of Rome by numerous Eastern Fathers? To say all they did without actually believing it is pure dissimulation, as if the pope were some kind of ecclesial dog constantly being called by competing masters.

If contemporary papal sovereignty – which so clearly borrows from the language and meaning of much of what I've cited – was so abhorrent to the early Church, how could these Fathers even imagine stirring a bishop to such heights? Were they simply out of their minds? Was there some inside joke in the whole Christian East? (“Oh, we just love getting that silly ol’ pope all hot and bothered as the ‘ruler of the whole world’ and the ‘foundation of the Church’!) Was this all a prank played on the Romans and the West for the amusement of later Christians?

For God's sake (literally), what effect were they trying to produce, Tim? I can think of only two. 1) To make the bishop of Rome act BEYOND his authority as primus inter pares or 2) to call him to FULFILL it as the Head of the Apostles. If the former, then the whole Tradition is a messy joke, as the Fathers themselves laid the foundation for the “hubris” of the See you so ardently criticize. If the latter, then the Tradition is clearly Papal. Why did no one object to the rhetorical excesses as pushing the ecclesial envelope? Why did everyone, instead, act in accordance with what all that high falutin’ language meant?

This dilemma gets at heart of my larger dilemma as a disoriented Christian. I have come to respect and defer to the Tradition as the authoritative voice of God IN the life of the Church. But then I hear such mind-numbingly ROMAN CATHOLIC things in that Church Tradition. How can I be blamed that God built His holy Tradition on men that so readily and consistently and explicitly "trained" the bishop of Rome to claim all he does?

Truth be told, Tim, strange as it may sound, I hope you’re basically right about the use of rhetoric as a manipulative device. Because, assuming the Fathers I cited were just trying – disingenuously – to woo the popes with fansee werds, the question still remains why they were trying to woo THE POPES. Why such hyperbolic adulation for THAT See at the expense of others? This is a dilemma for you. If the patristic and medieval rhetoric was more than rhetoric (ie., straightforward appeals to the Head of the Church), then you must face that feature of the catholic Tradition. If, however, the rhetoric is mere rhetoric meant to win the support of Rome, you must answer WHY the support of ROME was so important. To quote Newman,

"I doubt very much whether the point of the Infallibility of the Pope was understood at that time –the time of Cyprian’s dispute with Pope Stephen – EBB]; but then I also doubt whether the Infallibility of a General Council was at that time understood either, for no General Council as yet had been. The subject was what Vincentius calls ‘obscurely held.’ The Popes acted as if they were infallible in doctrine – with a very high hand, peremptorily, magisterially, fiercely. But when we come to the analysis of such conduct, I think they had as vague ideas on the subject as many of the early Fathers had upon portions of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. They acted in a way which needed infallibility as its explanation.
(W. Ward, _The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman_ (London: Longmans, Green and CO., 1912), vol. 2, pp. 378-79, as cited in S. Jaki, _The Keys of the Kingdom_, p. 188)

I'm curious to know what your explanation of proto-papism is, especially considering how much it was rhetorically inflated by the Fathers.

You said:

"It's not that there's no "intellectual" content in what's being said, but it is that what's being said cannot be reduced to intellectual content, as if it's somehow "just" a statement of "simple" and unadorned "divine truth", "obvious" on its face. Furthermore, it is demonstrably the case that around the same time as Gregory VII began to rise to power, the discipline of classical rhetoric had been seriously recovered and begun to be practiced, led most strongly by the monks at Monte Cassino. This is no made up objection to certain types of naive presentations of historical matters like 'papal primacy'."

I agree it's not a made-up objection, but it's totally off base since I cited numerous Fathers "being all papal" WELL before Gregory VII (1073-1085). What frustrates me so much about your replies here is that while you claim there is some real meaning "behind" or "beneath" the rhetorical flourishes of, say, these numerous Eastern Fathers, you make no effort to engage what that meaning IS. Tim, you write so regally from Moscow as if you are somehow above and beyond the effects of Eastern papal rhetoric. But it seems to me you're so inoculated against rhetoric that you simply ignore the stripped down impact of what the Tradition says. You’re so immersed in the canonical quagmires of the high medieval era that you seem unwilling to listen to the Tradition BEFORE that period.

Frankly, who cares for the moment whether the Orthodox would say I’ve “misinterpreted” the Fathers. (At any rate, what interpretations did I make? I read and posted what the Fathers say.) How convenient it must be to say (as another commenter on another blog did) "one set of prooftexts deserves another," when OTHERWISE those silly little sets of prooftexts would simply BE the record of Tradition. Let me grapple with the Orthodox objections to being Catholic, Tim; that’s too easy an out for you. The issue is for you, as a Reformed Catholic, to listen to the Tradition prior to Calvin and Ockham and Gregory VII, and honestly face what God says through it. You play the rhetoric card vigorously in your blog rounds and I've very mildly called you on it.

You’re much smarter and better educated than me, Tim, so I’m sure you’ll get the joke the Fathers are telling about Rome. But it breaks my heart to imagine you reflexively deflecting a simple presentation of the Eastern Tradition about the pope just because you’re recovering from your many e-pologetic battles. I must be a complete moron to "fall for" the rhetoric of the Fathers. But thank God he calls the morons of the world.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Riddle me this

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I recently expressed my quandary about ecclesial primacy in contemporary Eastern Orthodoxy. One commenter in particular, Chris Jones, replied at length, which I appreciate. I did however find many of his claims dissatisfying, which is what I'd like to address in this post. I'd first like to express a grave concern that I think Mr. Jones almost scandalously evades. Then I'd like to pose two riddles, or conundra, in regard to some ecclesiological points Mr. Jones made. Finally, I’d like to close with a link to several quotes from the Eastern Christian tradition that support the supreme primacy of Petrine Rome.

First, Mr. Jones's nonchalant attitude towards contraception is deeply troubling. Not only is this an extremely important issue for me as I consider my connubial life in Christ, but it’s all an undeniably important feature of the early Church’s witness. Documentation of that fact would be almost insultingly redundant. The early Church was the anti-contraceptive Church. So, for Mr. Jones to brush contraception off as a merely pastoral issue is as tragic as it is glib.

Questions like this are dealt with between an individual Orthodox and his or her father confessor. ... There is simply no need for a definitive "pronouncement" on this question. ... Frankly, I just don't see contraception as that important an issue. It's a pastoral matter, not a doctrinal one. If the Church doesn't have a discernible consensus on it that really doesn't bother me. ... The Bible doesn't explicitly have a whole lot to say about contraception. It has a good deal to say about sexuality in general and its role within the overall purpose of marriage; but any specific teaching about contraception is the result of inference from the general principles laid out in the Bible. And those inferences are best done in the context of pastoral care rather than "in the abstract."

If I may be blunt: who is Mr. Jones to decide the importance of contraception in the deposit of faith? How arbitrary can he get? Who is he to delineate so casually between mere pastoral issues and clearly dogmatic ones? Why should a modernist, Protestant nonchalance about contraception count as the voice of the Church?

Alas, here we are again at the typical Protestant impasse of solo Scriptura. The Bible is relatively quiet about c-o–t-r-a-c-e-p-t-i-o-n? Well shucks, the Bible doesn’t have much to say about the specifics of the “liturgy” or “ordination” or “monothelitic” “hypostatic union” of Christ or “abortion” or the biblical “canon” or the “theotokos” or “phyletism”, either. In fact, it’s sad to say but the Bible is often MUCH more silent or vague on MANY issues I think we’d all prefer to understand better. Mr. Jones says contraception is merely derived from the clearer, basic principles espoused in the Bible. Well, so are the precise dogmas of Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, etc! All these definitive statements were once just as contested as contraception is (well, outside of Rome).

Even allowing for his, if I’m not mistaken, newly embraced Lutheranism, I think Mr. Jones would agree the proper place of Scripture is IN the Church, to be interpreted BY the Church. I also doubt he’s willing to jettison the clear voice of the patristic tradition on this matter. I’m simply amazed Mr. Jones can so easily ignore the vast amount of opposition in the Christian tradition to contraception, even among the leading Reformers. Of course, treating the Bible as your own will do that to you.

Enough. Now I'd like to pose a couple riddles (not meant for Mr. Jones exclusively or even particularly) about two well-known controversies in the discussion of Roman supremacy. The first is a biblical and theological query, the second a more strictly theological question.

Prolegomena to RIDDLE #1:

Countless Orthodox and Protestants cite Galatians 2 as biblical proof of (at least) two major strikes against Roman supremacy. First, this chapter is claimed to show Paul viewed Peter as a mere co-laborer in Christ, hardly the Prince of the Apostles. Second, and more importantly, this passage is supposed to show that, since Peter was able to err, and did in fact err, then his successors are similarly fallible. So much for papistic presumptions.

Although these objections have been met for centuries, let’s assume they are valid for, you know, the sake of a good riddle. Protestants, almost totally following the allegorical (and thus patristically atypical) excesses of Origen and Augustine, see Peter as the type for ALL Christians. Hence, they are perfectly comfortable granting the fallibility of Peter, since doing so only shows the biblical basis for admitting their own fallibility as mere “Peters after Peter.” Orthodox believers, by contrast, are not comfortable limiting Peter’s biblical type to individual believers. In addition, but perhaps not necessarily in opposition, to Protestant Petrology, Orthodox see Peter as the type for all BISHOPS. And, much like Protestants, they are willing to grant the fallibility of each and every bishop, again as mere Peters after Peter.[1]

But here’s where it gets interesting. For, due in particular to the work of Fr. Nicholas Afanassief (O, who can bear spelling Anglicized Russian names!), a common motif in contemporary Orthodox theology is that each local church is in fact THE Catholic Church. As long as the faithful are gathered under their bishop at the Eucharist, each local church is the full (or catholic) Church. Remember, each bishop is understood as Peter and therefore each Church AS THE CHURCH, in the Eucharist, is founded on that Rock. Rome’s Petrine chrism is, therefore, extraneous to the sufficiently Petrine stability of each parish. The holy and infallible catholic (i.e., complete) Church itself is established on the Rock of Peter, even though the totality of all such churches is not built on the Roman Rock. The global unity of the Church is a nice but, strictly speaking, unnecessary aspect of catholicity.

This so-called “eucharistic ecclesiology” is based very much on the heterogonous ecclesiology of Cyprian (especially his _De unitate ecclesiae_)[2] in his heated feud with Pope Stephen about the re-baptism of heretics. In order to win his case, Cyprian was at great pains to undermine the pope’s PECULIAR Petrine power as a common power for all bishops. In this way, he could circumvent Stephen’s opposition as the voice of one bishop among many, one pesky Peter among the equal Apostles.

But here’s the problem. If the Church lives as a mystically full microcosm of the “whole Church” in each church, each church must be infallible and indefectible. The cardinal marks of the Church – unity, holiness, apostolicity and catholicity – must exist in each local church, otherwise that church is ipso facto not the CATHOLIC Church. And yet, two other essential marks of the Church are its infallibility and indefectibility (or its indefectible infallibility). You cannot simultaneously claim 1) the WHOLE Church is indefectibly infallible, 2) that each Church is THE Church and 3) that each Church is defectible and fallible. Each local church – like every human – must possess the essential fullness of the whole Church – or of humanity in se – or it is not THE CHURCH. Hence, if each local Peter is fallible, but each local church possesses all the marks of the whole Church, then the whole Church is fallible.[3]

RIDDLE #1: If the gates of Hell would never overcome the Rock of Peter, and if each local Church is headed by Peter, how can hells of apostasy overcome a single church without also overcoming the whole Church?

Fortunately, the second riddle is a little easier to present. Mr. Jones claims the ultimate doctrinal authority does not rest in any single bishop or patriarch, let alone in the clergy exclusively. Rather, he says, it is the power and duty of all Christians, lay and ordained, to uphold the truth infallibly. As Mr. Jones says,

When a person is catechized in the Orthodox Church in preparation for baptism and chrismation, the Apostolic Tradition is imparted to him. That is the purpose of catechesis. Once that catechesis is complete and the person is baptized and chrismated, it becomes his responsibility to keep, guard, and pass on that Apostolic Tradition - the Catholic faith in its fulness - without either adding anything or taking anything away.

That responsibility to guard the deposit belongs to the whole Church and also to every Christian individually. It cannot be delegated to any priest, bishop, patriarch, or pope. While it is the office of the bishop to teach the faith and govern his local Church, it is not his responsibility alone to keep the Apostolic Tradition. All of his faithful as well as all of his brother bishops and their faithful are also charged with this responsibility.

Sounds good. No bishop babysitters. No top-down passivity. We are all members of a royal priesthood. We are all living stones in the Church. We are all collegial and equal members of the People of God.

But here’s the tough question. How can each Christian have a legitimate and equal spirirutal authority if it derives from the episcopacy? Mr. Jones says all Orthodox Christians receive and possess the fullness of the Tradition. But he ignores a crucial detail, to wit, the MEANS of this reception. Where or how do Orthodox Christians get this Apostolic fullness? From baptism and chrismation and catechesis BY THE CLERGY established OVER them by Christ. That is, each Christian’s apostolic authority DERIVES FROM and DEPENDS ON the antecedent and sacramentally superior authority of his priest and/or bishop.

Now consider the Roman Catholic Church. The RCC claims each bishop receives his authority FROM CHRIST BY VIRTUE OF his union with the head of the episcopacy, Peter-in-Rome. Each bishop under the pope is a legitimate and authoritative successor of the Apostles, but the pope is to them what Peter was to the Apostles. At this point, however, Orthodox critics say this “papocracy” negates the validity of each bishop, rendering them mere emissaries or functionaries of the Pope, not of Christ. And yet, paradoxically, only moments before we saw how each Christian’s apostolic duties are not nullified by their episcopal origin.

RIDDLE #2: How can a Christian have a valid spiritual authority in Christ if it depends on a bishop, while each bishop cannot have a valid episcopal authority even if it depends on the pope?

Let me close with the link to the many quotes about papal supremacy: here they are.

[1 What I find so electrifying is that the Catholic Church can and does admit the full range of the patristic understanding of Peter: Peter is the layman, the bishop and the pope. Mysterious as it may be, none of them are said to conflict.

[2] “Episcopus unus est, cuius a singulis in soldium pars tenetur.” Strangely enough, the same proponents of this Cyrpian Petrology all too easily ignore his living witness of relying on Rome when the chips were down.

[3] Two handy deliverances from this dilemma for Catholicism are 1) the very guarded acceptance of such “eucharistic ecclesiology” and 2) the derivative infallibility of each local bishop by virtue of his organic union with the ultimate infallibility of the Pope. The original college of the Apostles was obviously and indisputably headed by Peter. Peter, in turn, was obviously and indisputably headed by Christ. Hence, the Apostles were headed by Christ IN the headship of Peter. I am at a loss to explain how that clear structure is not an essential feature of the deposit of faith. It is, by extension, beyond me to see what crucial difference (gradually or suddenly) came to exist between that primal collegial structure and the current episcopacy FROM WHICH IT DERIVED.

Good sex is so hard to find these days

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This is worth dragging out of a combox.

A reader objects to the Catholic position against contraception as an intrinsic evil by saying,

If so then all the celibate monks and priesthood are an expression of this intrinsic evil as any move to positively reject that can be seen as an offence against God.

I reply:

Celibacy is no more contraceptive than holding your breath or being a carpenter. Masturbation, on the other hand, is contraception with two hands; the pill is but masturbation with four hands. Contraception is the prevention or perversion of the intrinsic telos of any coital/connubial act. Celibacy is not a connubial, much less coital, act and is therefore not contraceptive. Celibacy allows for the full expression and enjoyment of all the moral-spiritual goods/gifts of each sexual act a celibate person enters into: which is to say none. You may as well charge a fasting Christian with bulimia; both accusations are equally absurd. Fasting respects the nutritive value of every bit of food -- none -- whereas bulimia rejects and quite literally rverses the telos and benefit of eating. Contraception is sexual bulimia (or maybr the reverse is the greater truth).

Also, to head you off at the pass, reader, neither is NFP contraceptive, since it allows for the full fecund potential of each and every coital act. It merely respects the fact that God has implanted seasons of in- or semi-fertility in women. NFP is 100% potentially procreative, (or, if I may neologize, "procreatable"), even if it is not always actually procreative. Contraception, by contrast, violates all the fecund potential and therefore defies the created order of God. NFP allows a man to give himself FULLY -- fertility and all -- to his wife, while contraception short limits the total self-giving that sex is meant to be.

I refer you to my own thoughts on these matters, if you really want a more rigorous explanation.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Dude, I was there...

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and this is how it all went down. Check it.

First, this dude named Elliot, skinny dude with a funky beard, he asks, "If the ‘true’ Reformed doctrine of, say, the Eucharist is actually much more realist than we’ve ever known, and in fact virtually transubstantial, ... then why won’t Ref Caths admit Rome (by God’s grace) upheld the orthodox position and stop muddying the waters?”

Then this guy called the Pontificator steps in and asks, "Why should we care what Calvin believed about the Eucharist?"

And then, oh man, this Reformed Catholic dude named Paul jumps in to defend the REFORMED aspect of Reformed Catholicism. "To answer the question once and for all: we couldn’t be very good Calvinists if we didn’t ask ourselves, 'What does Calvin think about this?' Hope that clears everthing up."

Yeah, pretty crazy, huh? But, dude, it gets way better, cuz then the Pontificator dude says, "But Paul, why would anyone want to be a Calvinist if he is trying to be a Reformed Catholic? Isn’t the whole point of invoking the word catholic to critically subject the Reformed tradition to the entire Tradition of the Church?"

Pretty dope, huh? But the best, man, the cherry on top of it all, was when that crazy Elliot dude jumps back in with a reassuring explanation of it all. Peace filled the horizon, Bambi's mom never got shot and ambidextrous spreading knives covered the earth.

"Silly Pontificator, it’s simple. We can’t be good Christians unless we are good Calvinists. We can’t be good Calvinists unless we listen to and follow Calvin. We can’t listen to and follow Calvin unless we are good Reformed Catholics. We can’t be good Reformed Catholics unless we interpret Calvin through and beneath the whole catholic tradition. We can’t understand the whole catholic tradition unless we interpret it through and under Calvin. Wait a second, you might be right; this is all a bit off. What am I missing? What link in the chain is missing to make this all more than ecumenical sophistry?"

I'll never forget that night, man. Never. The day the Calvinist praise music died. Oh wait.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

All roads lead to... well?

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Where do all roads lead?

The Eastern Orthodox Church claims to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that Christ established. This is an extensive as well as intensive claim. Extensively, Orthodoxy claims to be the breadth, the whole canvas, of the true Church across both history and geography. Intensively, Orthodoxy claims to be the heart or pure mystical body from which any peripheral Christian activity stems and in which all Christian truth subsists. The Roman Catholic Church and claims very much the same for itself (cf. CCC 811 ff.).

A major difference in their claims, however, is the Roman Pope. Catholics can and should listen with special attention to the See of Rome on all matters, but can also rely on their local bishop for most daily matters of faith. Most of the time, and for most issues, the collegiality of all the bishops worldwide suffices to guard the faithful. However, when things become really dicey, when a crisis of faith looms especially large, Rome is the final stop. RCism does not claim Rome is the sole possessor of truth. It merely claims that, in the heat of battle between heresy and orthodoxy, Rome is the one sure harbor for truth if all other sees fall.

I'm not interested for the moment in judging the merit of this claim. Rather, I wonder what the equivalent harbor for Orthodox Christians is. The most obvious answer is the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Indeed, although it's a false caricature, many people think of this patriarch as "the Orthodox Pope" and that city as the Orthodox Rome. Constantinople seems like a good contender for the "last man standing" in contemporary Orthodoxy, but I think most informed Orthodox would reject such "popish" assurance in Constantinople. Church history is rife with ancient episcopal sees, no matter how ancient or honorable, careening into heresy and there is no reason Constantinople is exempt from this ecclesial law of sin (cf. Romans 7). The frailty, as it were, of each see apart from the indefectible infallibility of the WHOLE Church is, in fact, the basis for Orthodoxy's violent resistance to Rome's supremacy. How dare the lone hand of Rome set itself over the whole Body of Christ? Orthodox deny the whole Church should submit to the decrees of Rome. Of course, the same denial can and should be held against Constantinople, or any other see. After all, why should (let alone why must) a Russian Orthodox submit to the whims of a Mediterranean patriarch over against his own Muscovite patriarch?

I witnessed a very interesting discussion on an Orthodox blog about the current shabbiness of Orthodox missions. The blogger asked why Moscow is not doing more to evangelize Africa. A commenter replied that Moscow has no reason, not to mention very little collegial right, to intrude on the Alexandrian patriarchate over Africa. The commenter makes a very good point. Alexandria is Alexandria; Moscow is not; so, with all due respect, back off.

But then I began wondering why Moscow, ex hypothesi, could not intervene with full authority to rebuke and restore Alexandria from a scourge of heresy? If Moscow must be more or less hands off about Alexandria's missions, how could the former be any more hands on about preserving the latter, or anyone else, from heresy? It's one thing to have practical problems evangelizing. It's another to deny the deity of Christ or the resurrection of Christ.

These are easy cases, however. What if a bishop, call him Harrius, is advancing novel and extremely nuanced claims about very controversial matters in the Tradition? And what if there is not a clear canon or dogma already "on the books" to address his subtle maneuverings? What if his heresy truly was an open question? What if, to keep it simple, half the Eastern sees were against him and half for him? In that hairy case, what Eastern see COULD intervene in a supreme manner without infringing on the collegial autonomy of each bishop, no matter how heretical he APPEARS to be? Who has final say?

Forget the larger Church scene for the moment. Let's get personal. My basic question is this: when it really comes down to it, what see of the Eastern Church MUST a man, such as myself, listen to in order to be saved from all heresy? Who MUST each and every Orthodox believer listen to in that great day of heresy? Who has final say?

I know the correct answer is “God the Holy Spirit.” Yes indeed, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate authority in the Church. I accept that awesome truth; but I need to know a little (or a lot!) better what that truth means in the all too concrete world God has placed me in. How, exactly, does the Holy Spirit speak? All I can muster is the following chain of revelation – and then I short-circuit.

The Holy Spirit speaks (to the world and to Christians) in the human conscience.
The Holy Spirit speaks in the Bible over the conscience.
The Holy Spirit speaks in the Bible with and in Tradition (BiT) over the conscience.
The Holy Spirit speaks in the BiT in a local church over the conscience.
The Holy Spirit speaks in the BiT in a local church within the whole global and mystical Church.

And then? What happens when the whole Church is rent asunder with divisions and heresy? What happens when the local church is divided into factions? What happens when the BiT is up for grabs by every theologian, bishop, layman, apologist and skeptic? What happens when the conscience is clouded and wounded by sin? Who speaks for God when all do? Who has final say? Try as I might to "see the big picture," I regret that the Orthodox answer, of a global consensus (a la Vincent of Lerins), or of a mystical Eucharistic wholeness in each church (a la Afanassiev), strikes me as an elegant but ultimately useless abstraction.

I mean all of this very sincerely and very humbly. I am looking for my Lord and Savior, the Truth. I eagerly invite any and all Orthodox readers (or anyone else) to shed some light on my plight.

The doorway into orthodoxy

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[I just posted this over at Dave Armstrong's blog, but thought it might enjoy stretching its legs here at FCA.]

My persistent confusion in these Reformed Catholicism discussions is this:

If the "true" Reformed doctrine of, say, the Eucharist is actually much more realist than we’ve ever known, and in fact virtually transubstantial (as Dr Owen admitted to me on another blog), then why won't Ref Caths admit Rome (by God's grace) upheld the orthodox position and stop muddying the waters? It’s clear what objections Rome (and Constantinople) still (rightly) has against the Reformed view of the Eucharist: no worship, no propitiation or expiation, no sacramental endurance (of Christ in the elements). These are real lacunae in the Reformed view that Rome has every right to hold out on.

But what major issues on the Reformed side still prevent Refs from acceding to the Roman (and effectively Eastern Orthodox) view? Worship of Christ? Nope. Christ’s actual and efficacious presence in (or by) the elements demands it. The epiclesis versus the exact words of institution? Nope. That’s a rabbit hole and over exaggerated between many EOs and RCs. A propitiatory offering? Nope. When God sees the crucified Christ interceding for sinners as He is lifted up by them, either at Calvary or in the Mass, God is propitiated and our sins expiated.

Or maybe the true obstacle is that all too “technical” concept of transubstantiation? But even this is a non sequitur, since it's not the case -- and never was the aim of the Tridentine Fathers -- that transubstantiation EXHAUSTS the dogmatic dimensions of the Eucharist. As the Pontificator has expressed so often so well, transubstantiation merely guards the bare essentials for any orthodox understanding of the Eucharist. Transubstantiation is the doorway into the house of orthodox Eucharistic worship; it is not the house itself. Transubstantiation allows for all that the magisterial Reformed theory of the Eucharist may express, but ALSO demands more than they can grant in accordance with the WHOLE catholic tradition.

Rome is either wrong about the Eucharist or she’s right. If the former’s true, then there’s every reasons to excoriate the Mass as vituperatively as the Reformers (apparently!) did. If the latter’s true, however, it’s sheer perfidy to seek an “alternate” or “reformed” orthodox theory of the Eucharist from the SAME tradition Rome and the East have so clearly shown to declare what the Reformers rejected, namely Christ’s actual, living, substantial, enduring, hypostatically incarnate, propitiatory and venerable Body and Blood. I prefer not to ride Calvin’s magic sacramental carpet woven of threads from obscure passages in Tertullian or Cyprian or Augustine. I’d rather side with the vast testimony not only of the majority of what the majority of the Fathers said, but also, perhaps more importantly, with the countless believers who worshipped Christ in the Eucharist as transubstantiation and the Catholic Mass and the Orthodox Liturgy demand.

Deutsche Hausaufgabe

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Had my first class tonight with Pheong ("Fong"), my Taiwanese-born, half-Vietnamese Austrian German tutor. (Inhale!) It was nice to converse almost 90 minutes straight in German. My German is, sad to say, rusty ("eingerostet"), but I definitely got by, and the next 23 lessons should do wonders.

My assignment for next week is to translate into English the following news article from Der Spiegel Online. For the beneift of any sickos that read FCA, I'll post the article and my tentative first draft translation paragraph by paragraph. Double asterisks indicate squeaky spots in need of some linguistic oil.

Here we go (Los geht's!):

SPIEGEL ONLINE - 10. November 2004, 00:17

US-Minister Ashcroft und Evans zurückgetreten

U.S. leaders Ashcroft and Evans step down

Nur wenige Tage nach der US-Wahl beginnen die Umbauten im Kabinett Bush. Der erzkonservative Justizminister John Ashcroft und Handelsminister Donald Evans haben ihren Rücktritt eingereicht. Ihr Abgang gilt als Auftakt zu einer groß angelegten Personal-Rochade in der Mannschaft des Präsidenten.

Only days after the U.S. election, renovations of Bush’s cabinet are underway. The archconservative Attorney General, John Ashcroft, and the trade minister**, Donald Evans, have submitted** their resignations. Their step back** is a sign** of a long delayed** personal-rochade** in the president’s team**.

Washington - "Der Präsident hat die Rücktrittsgesuche angenommen", sagte Sprecher Scott McClellan. Der Abgang Ashcrofts, 62, war von vielen Beobachtern erwartet worden, er war einer der umstrittensten Funktionsträger in der Regierung von US-Präsident Bush.

Washington – “The President has accepted the pleas** for resignation,” Speaker Scott McClellan said. Many observers had anticipated the resignation** of Ashcroft, 62, one of the most disputed members** of U.S. President Bush’s government.

Seinen Anhängern galt der Minister als unermüdlicher Kämpfer gegen den Terrorismus. Für die oppositionellen Demokraten war er dagegen ein Symbol der konservativen Revolution, ein Mann ohne Respekt vor Bürgerrechten und Verfassung. Während seiner Amtszeit war er unter anderem für die Bundespolizei FBI zuständig und immer wieder unter Druck geraten. Unter anderem hatten Kritiker der Polizeibehörde vorgeworfen, wichtige Warnsignale vor den Terroranschlägen des 11. September nicht beachtet zu haben. Mitarbeiter hatten Ashcroft bereits seit einiger Zeit als "erschöpft" beschrieben, Gesundheitsprobleme zwangen den Minister zu Krankenhausaufenthalten.

To his supporters, the attorney general was** an untiring warrior** against terrorism. Democrats, by contrast, opposed him as a symbol of the conservative revolution, a man without any respect for civil rights and constitution**. During his time in office, he was among other things responsible** for the FBI’s federal police and repeatedly under pressure. Among other things** critics accused the police forces of having ignored important warning signs before the terrorist attack on September 11. Ashcroft’s staff** had described him for some time as “exhausted.” Health problems forced him to hospital stays.**

Bush brauche bei den Verhandlungen mit den Demokraten über die kontroversen Gesetze zur inneren Sicherheit keinen Polarisierer und "Terminator", sondern einen Vermittler, schreibt die Zeitschrift "U.S News&World Report". Aussichtsreichster Nachfolger sei Ashcrofts früherer Vize Larry Thompson, der als erster Schwarzer dieses Regierungsamt übernehmen könnte.

The news magazine “U.S. News&World Report” said Bush needed a mediator, rather than a polarizer and „terminator“, to discuss the controversial domestic security laws with Democrats. The most likely/ hopeful** replacement is Ashcroft’s former vice attorney general, Larry Thompson, who could be the first black person to receive** this government position.

Ashcroft hat seine Entscheidung in einem fünfseitigen handschriftlichen Brief begründet. In dem Schreiben betonte der konservative Politiker, dass die Amerikaner vor Kriminalität und Terror erfolgreich geschützt worden seien. Nun sei es an der Zeit, eine "neue Führung und frische Inspiration" im Justizministerium zu installieren. Auch Handelsminister Donald Evans hat seinen Rücktritt eingereicht. Der Mann aus Texas ist einer der engsten Freunde von Präsident Bush und galt als möglicher Nachfolger von Finanzminister John Snow, falls dieser demnächst abtreten sollte. In einem Abschiedsbrief schrieb Evans, es sei Zeit für ihn, "nach Hause zurückzukehren".

Ashcroft declared** his decision in a five-page handwritten letter. The conservative politician emphasized that Americans have been successfully protected from criminality and terror. Now is the time to install a “new leadership and fresh inspiration” in the attorney general’s office**. Trade minister** Donalad Evans also submitted his resignation. Evans, from Texas, is one of the closest friends of President Bush and stands** succeed finance minister**, John Snow, should Snow resign. In a farewell letter Evans wrote it is time for him to “return home.”

Als unsicher gilt auch die Zukunft von Heimatschutzminister Tom Ridge, Außenminister Colin Powell und Verteidigungsminister Donald Rumsfeld. Die Rücktritte von Ashcroft und Evans erfolgten einen Tag nachdem Präsident Bush von seinem Wochenenddomizil Camp David nach Washington zurückgekehrt war. Während seines Aufenthalts dort wollte Bush über mögliche Kabinettsumbildungen nachdenken.

Also uncertain are the futures of Homeland Security Chief**, Tom Ridge, foreign minister**, Colin Powell, and defense minister, Donald Rumsfeld. The resignations of Ashcroft and Evans came a day after President Bush had returned to Washington from his weekend retreat**, Camp David. During his time stay, Bush wanted to consider possible cabinet changes**.

Und das ist das.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Augustine (more or less) Day by Day - November 10 - Warming the Cold One

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"Hence, you who are fervent in spirit, be enkindled with the fire of love. Let your lives glow with the praises of God and irreproachable morals. One person is hot, another cold. Let the one who is hot warm the cold."

-- Sermon 234, 3

Prayer. Glory to our Lord and to his mercy and to his truth! Out of his mercy he did not fail to make us blessed, nor did he hide from us his truth. The Truth, clad in flesh, came to us and healed through his flesh the inner eye of our heart, that afterward we might be able to see him face to face.

-- Commentary on Psalm 56, 17

November 10

Christian Heritage - November 10 - Take Pride in the Title of Christian

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"If with faith and religious feeling you take pride in the title of Christian, value the grace of this reconciliation at its true worth. Once you were cast off, driven from paradise, dying in weary exile. Reduced to dust and ashes, you have no further hope of life; but now through the incarnation of the Word you have the power to return from afar to your Creator, to recognize your Father, to be freed from slavery, and raised from the status of a stranger to that of a child. You were born with a nature liable to decay, but now you can be reborn through the Spirit of God and obtain by grace what you lacked by nature. You need have no doubt that if you keep the terms of your engagement in the heavenly army, you will receive the victor's crown in the triumphant camp of the eternal King. You will rise again with the just to enter into the fellowship of the kingdom of heaven."

Leo the Great, Sermo 11 in nativitate Domini 5: SC 22, 88-90

True assurance of salvation consists in the assurance of BEING saved AS you attain salvation.

It has arrived! Tradedat!

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I finally got a copy of Cdl. Yves Congar's magnum opus, _Tradition and Traditions_. I'm pleased with my copy, a nice, new hardcover editon from Basilica. It's printed on a clean, thick grade of paper with substantial margins. (Hey, I'm a book geek. By Thor's anvil, I even wrote an article on bookbinding!) It's chockful of untranslated Latin and Greek, oh boy! Sacred bliss, now it can stand on my bookshelf among the *other* countless unread magna operis [Latin buffs?]! One day, one day. ("I'll get you, Hey Steve, if it's the last thing I dooooooo!")

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Gearing up

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In the next few days, I intend to email several people, which have expressed willingness in dialoguing with me, some questions about the "pros and cons" (hideous turn of phrase, but there it is) of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, particularly as each sees the other. I know a handful of Orthodox folks and some Catholics that I want to dig into the big issues with.

While I'm drafting that letter, I implore you, O kind and wise readers, to suggest any good Q's you think I should ask. As in, what are the big hurdles for Orthodoxy and Catholicism, respectively? What are the strong cases each has "over" the other? The follwong are the skeltons of what I plant to send:

+ the differences between Trinitarian simplicity vs. Trinitarian relations (and their importance for other issues)

+ caesaropapism vs. papism

+ tollhouses vs. purgatory

+ baptism, confirmation and paedocommunion

+ confession (to a priest or bishop) and penance

+ original sin: how does the (Augustinian) penal view nullify the (Orthodox) existential/corruption view? If Mary was subject to original sin (in the latter snese), was Christ, then, also subject to it?

+ a primacy of honor without a primacy of power -- really? how so?

+ the warning of falling away given to the church of ROME (cf. Romans 11)...

+ the deuterocanonicals -- inspired or not?

+ how or why should Marian dogmas be kept apart from the total, binding kerygma?

+ where is the infallible "mouth" of the infallible Church?

PLEASE leave your objections, questions or suggestions here.

Thanks and good night! (Does this post make any sense?)

Second Annual International Beard-A-Thon (2004)!!!

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I doubt many of you readers know about last year's Beard-A-Thon. (If you followed the link, you now know, even if you still don't care to.)

Well, it's that glorious time of year again. I, Elliot "Gulag Fry Cook" Bougis[1], last shaved at 1 AM on 1 November. I will not shave again, except for some licit and minimal throat edging, until January 1, 2005.[2] Due to laziness, fatigue and sloppiness on my part, I will not be able to submit an initial photo, but I do plan to post the two-week, one-month and two-month-finale shots. I'm debating submitting a one-week start-up shot, resubmitting last year's first pic[3], or using my DigiMe portrait[4] to dramatic ironic effect.

Now it's time for Erick "The Mexican Broom" Banks[5], that slacker youth, to get this year's event online. He's trying to make it a charitable pledge effort, which is cool. (Won't you be my Beard Pledge?) ATTN READERS: Any good ideas about what charity I could drive for? I have every hope of taking Fullest Beard again this year, but expect another serious run for my whiskers by Devin "Deep Follicle" Kaun[6].


[2] Yes, I have a visible adam's apple, so I'm not disqualified by the Ancient Canons of Hirsute Maledom{TM}.





The Kingdom of Dog, the Kingdom of God

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As has been the case for the past few weeks, I've been doing so much living I haven't had much time to reflect on it by writing. What of all this living? First, last week was very invigorating, until Friday. I had been full of energy all week, but began unraveling (or raveling) Thursday night. I stayed up much too late Thursday night catching up on the election and went to bed kicking myself. (Yes, the next morning I was sore.) Despite all the sleep I got Tuesday and Wednesday nights last week and Friday and Saturday nights this weekend, I have been oppressed by a constant low-grade fatigue with a nagging sore throat. I've avoided the gym so as not to "over do it" in my "weakened state," but have decided to go the other way tomorrow and smoke out my unhealthful torpor with exercise (my usual method). I’ve also been busy with a few teaching assignments on the burner, but managed to put them off until Sunday night and tonight.

Happily, Fr. Ramon was able to stop by Saturday afternoon. We had a very good talk, as usual. He called me a "classic example" of someone guided predominantly by my intellect. The brain is marvelous, but it is a marvelous machine. It must be put in the service of the whole person being put in the service of God. As any regular readers should have noticed, very much of my RCIA process has been a pastoral and emotional "inner pilgrimage." This inner regress is vital to my theological progress, since I can never really give my self to God in His Church unless I can actually give ALL of my self – emotions, intellect and body – to Him. This inward journey to God involves peaks of self-awareness and valleys of utter confusion, prairies of acceptance and deserts of shame. It also involves the subjugation of my mind to a rightful position in the tripartite balance of healthy personhood. In English, I've been learning to listen to my emotions and imaginative hopes as valid means, or modes, of knowing God, even at the expense of my rational hemming and hawing.

The most bizarre epiphany I've had on the journey is that I am afraid of, or at least very skeptical of, happiness. No joke: I fear happiness. This is not to say I don't like happiness as an intensive sensation brought about by particular events or things. It is to say that I fear making happiness a pervasive, sustained feature of my life. I evade accepting happiness, even construed most highly as spiritual joy, as a real blessing from God. The easy way to look at it is that I'm all too stoical. I need to lighten up; not take myself so seriously; learn to smile at the smiling, not analyze them. At a deeper level it means I am petrified about the lived, incarnational, rooted and concrete rhythms of enjoying life as a continual encounter with God in Christ. I studiously, albeit not always so consciously, avoid acknowledging my needs as a mere mortal; and then even when I acknowledge my needs, I just as carefully avoid taking paths that would fulfill those needs. This is, to put it mildly, a problem. To live is to live in Christ and to live in Christ is to live as Christ. He is the Resurrection and the Life because was first the Loss and the Death. Christ did not fear happiness; He loved it so much, in fact, that He died on the Cross to attain it for Himself and us. I, on the other hand, fear happiness so much that I take up a thousand smaller crosses to avoid that one life- and joy-giving Cross of Christ. Hence, my problem.

But this weekend I took a step toward solving it. Friday night as I walked to the English Corner, I saw a tiny black and white puppy in the window. I of course asked how much that doggy in the window is. Expensive. Move on, I told myself, even though the scent of sheer, transcendent and literally gratuitous happiness kept clutching me. I rejected the puppy as a silly extravagance and tried to get on with getting on. Then, that evening, I had a crippling experience exactly about my fear of happiness and forgot about the little dog for the night.

The next morning I mentioned the little dog to a very good friend of mine and expressed how much I'd wanted to buy him. "Don't do it," she told me, knowing me better than I'd like to admit, "you'll regret it. He'll take away from you Internet and reading time." Eureka! Life comes by giving; giving means giving up; and caring for another life means giving up your own. The dog was an adorable cross of Christ and I knew I needed to take him up, daily. My time with Fr. Ramon a few hours later only reinforced this principle. I need a concrete living expression of God’s goodness as well as a living, concrete outlet for my egocentric energy. I need to empty myself, of intellectualism and navel-gazing, even if only on a puppy for the time being.

So, immediately after Fr. Ramon left Saturday, I ran to embrace God’s gift, the happiness of emptiness. I withdrew some cash, returned to that dog shop and bought my new little friend, Dane, without a second thought. (His full name is Lesser Dane.) He’s a miniscule and outrageously cute two-month old Chihuahua puppy. I’ll have pictures up insh’allah as soon as my other blog server lets me post them.

That’s right. I, Elliot Bougis, bought an expensive (!) two-month old Chihuahua puppy. Because he makes me happy. Because he makes my friends happy too. Because he is one of the countless good things in God’s good creation and deserves to be enjoyed for that reason alone. Because he forces a structure of giving into my life. Because I have to wake up and go to bed (i.e., get offline!) a little earlier to feed him. Because I have to “waste” time giving him love.

I’ve never been much of a pet person, but owning this dog is not about being a pet person; it’s about being a disciple of Christ. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but buying and owning Dane is an act of faith. I needed something to take care of. I needed more life in my life. I needed to empty myself on something that only understands taking. Little Dane is a strange symbol of myself these days, of what I’m learning to do: grow down. He is a puppy and he merits the Kingdom of Dog for that very reason; I am a wizened young man and foreclose the Kingdom of God to myself for that very reason. God opened His Kingdom for humankind by becoming a baby; I believe He can open it for me by giving me a puppy.

Dane has led me to some deep thoughts – among other things, about the accepting and rejecting goodness as doing the same to God Himself, about the flaws of most teleological and intelligent design apologetics, and about God’s various angels – but those words will find their place here at FCA in due time. Dane has eaten and peed. He’s now sleeping. I’ve completed most of my teaching tasks. You’re now reading. It’s time for me to sleep. I must decrease that He may increase in me and in the world; and I must decrease that He may increase me in Him. Christ is now reigning. The Kingdom of God awaits me, a puppy.

Before I go...

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[This was originally at the end of a post below, but I wanted to give the other post its own integrity, so I prefer to let this post, basically an aside, stand on its own.]

I've been making my way through Pope John Paul II's _Veritatis Splendor_ to better understand Christian morality. After that I hope to read his _Evangelium Vitae_ for a better understanding of what living, suffering and dying for a "culture of life," the only culture suitably offered to the God of the living. I am, you know, probably going to be a Catholic. Part of that means forming and informing my conscience according to the Truth.

I've decided to read both encyclicals (and perhaps all texts of interest I can find not originally in English) in a German translation, as part of my German renaissance. My German class begins next Wednesday. 100 minutes per week for 24 weeks. My teacher, a Taiwanese-born woman who is culturally, linguistically and politically Austrians, was very pleased with my German. It was a pleasure for both of us to speak auf Deutsch. The curriculum will focus on translating English texts into German, in order to "activate" my large but "passive" knowledge of German. I've decided to refrain from Spanish lessons, not the least because private tutors are expensive! Chinese lessons look to start in greater earnest this Saturday [6 Nov 2004] (once or hopefully twice a week 50-90 minutes per session).

Oof. I need to sleep.

Friday, November 5, 2004

Having said that...

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My head spins with all the spin. Bushies are masters of illusion and spin! Moore and the Dems are masters of illusion and spin! There is no savor of truth in any of it. All of it is contested and nuanced and yet so awfully clear cut. It -- the maelstrom of political blogging and commentary -- actually makes me sick. The endless ranting and counter-ranting, the cunning demonization of man simultaneously a moron and a mastermind, the completely skewed hierarchy of moral issues -- it all really nauseates me. And here I am, blogging away, adding to the clatter, and I feel ill for it.

But I guess that just proves I'm an immature fideist most comfortable with my head in the sand. Truth does not and will never come from the media or from a cluster of facts. Truth is a person and it is a relationship of persons, because persons are relationships. The truth of life is not a reception of correct propositions, but is an intensive encounter with living persons in the whole range of our physical and mental faculties. The truth of faith, in turn, is an intensive encounter with one ultimate Person in the whole range of our bodies, minds and, uniquely, our conscience. The truth of life is not, however, really distinct from or opposed to the truth of faith, since, on the one hand, each encounter with a person is itself an encounter with God refracted through the particular finiteness of His creatures, and, on the other hand, each encounter with God is an encounter with the brilliant power that sustains and crafts the life of every person we meet. To know yourself alone is not to know yourself. To know yourself is to know another; to know another is to know God; and, of course, to know God is to know another.

My point? There is no truth without prayer. (Don't ask me how the second paragraph brought me to that claim. It was more the first paragraph that pushed me to that stark plea. That stark plea should explain how I got to the second paragraph.) My only shelter is prayer. God, when will I actually accept that truth into my life? Why waste so much time hating our neighbors, or at least "disputing" their "views," when there is only so much time for loving God, His ways and His creatures, our neighbors?

Impossible not to blog

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eBAY is apparently the political Zeitgeber of the Zeitgeist.

What is -- or WAS -- up for auction?

Michael Moore's Relevance

Ouch. Dot com.

Props to for the original lead.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Life in the bowels of Taiwan

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Despite typhoons, earthquakes and malodorous grilled animal parts, I am thankful as always to be here. As for the animal parts, I went to one of my favorite little places a few nights a go (where I eat at least once a week) and was urged to try the "pork" things that look like waxy carrots. Meat carrots, they look like big orange candles with a stalk of scallions sticking out. I've seen them every time I go there, but have never gotten past a vague curiosity. I'm generally suspicious of foods pretending to be entire other food groups, let alone specific foods. It's like animal clothing for food. But animal clothing for animals unnerves me. I imagine the little beast in a tux is about to say something; or, if a male, readjust itself; or, if a female, pose in a tiny pawheld mirror. I want my animals naked and my neighbors clothed. And I want my carrots to look like carrots and my meat to look like meat.

But I was feeling frisky, trying to feel more at home as a "regular," so I said, "Okay, chi chi kan. [Okay, I'll try them.]"

Minutes later, a plate of... them came out to me, grilled and cut into rings. My misgivings began to swell. I assumed they were a sort of pork wrap, but didn't see a seam. First hint. The server lady told me to eat them fast while they were still hot and crispy. So, I prayed especially fervently over my food, unsheated my chopsticks and went in for the first extraction.

I should have taken the second hint -- a distinctly fecal musk in each bite -- but I kept on shouldering through the plate of hot crispy O-rings. Eventually, though, the endless chewing of fat and very unyielding skin slowed me down. I looked closer, rang up my old anatomy knowledge, and held back a gag. Chewy smooth skin on the outside. Then a layer of fat. Then a ring of striated muscle, textured like a tongue, on the inner perimeter. Bingo. Intestines. Grilled intestinal carrots.

"Hao chi ma?" the server asked me with a smile. "Good food, eh?"

"Oh, hao, hao," I managed to squirt out past the musty O-rings and fat. "Good, right. You said they're pork?"

"Inside a pig. They're inside a pig," she said, still smiling, now waving her hands in a circle over her belly.

All I could manage in reply was to raise my eyebrows in mock approval and mutter, "Ah, dui, dui. [Right, right.]"

My only solace at the time was that they were the small intestines, not the large -- not the colon itself. But I was later relieved of that comfort when I learned the name of the food wquite simply means "big intestines," the pig's colon itself.

Augustine Day by Day - November 2 - Good Life -- Fearless Death

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"Scripture says: 'Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his holy ones.' We must look upon the mystery of death with the eyes of faith so that we shall believe what we do not see and shall bear with fortitude the evils to which we are unjustly subjected. Admittedly, it is not in our power to determine how our death may come about. However, it does lie in our power to determine how we live, so that we may die without fear."

-- Sermon 306, 2

Prayer. O death, when you seized my Lord, you then lost your grip on me.

-- Sermon 233, 5

November 2

Christian Heritage - November 2 - All Souls

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"It is inevitable that we should be sad when those we love depart from us by dying. Although we know they are not leaving us for ever, that they have but gone a little ahead of us, that we who remain will follow them, nevertheless our nature shrinks from death, and when it takes a loved one we are filled with sorrow simply because of our love for that person. That is why the apostle did not tell us that we should not be saddened, but that we should not be saddened in the same way as those who have no hope. In the death of those who are close to us we experience both sadness at the necessity of losing them, and hope of getting them back. By the former we are distressed, by the latter consoled; in the one our weakness touches us, in the other faith restores us. In our loss the human condition mourns, but through hope the divine promise heals."

Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430), Sermon 172, 1

Monday, November 1, 2004

Before I go... and before more go...

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I saw this at the top of New Advent's page:

In the past 16 months. . .

(Each + represents 8,000 human lives)

Capital Punishment killed 98 Americans .

War in Iraq killed 100,000 people + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Abortionists murdered 1,750,656 American infants + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

"The common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life is not defended with maximum determination."

-- Pope John Paul II (Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifidelis Laici, "The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World" [December 30, 1988], chapter III, § 38b)

Now I'm going to shower, study, pray and sleep. Please join me in the third action.

Augustine Day by Day - November 1 - The Holy Martyrs

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"Those who spout vain words and are true Philistines do not form part of the family of Christ. 'Who can equal me? Who dares attack me?' Is not this the language of those who pride themselves on their own resources? The just will bring low all that pride. This is what martyrs did. They vanquished the wicked at the very moment when the latter appeared to be victorious."

-- Sermon 32, 4

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. 16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

-- Colossians 2:13-17

Prayer. Lord, you are delightful food for the pure of heart.

-- Confessions 13, 21

November 1

Christian Heritage - November 1 - All Saints

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"The saints already with Christ have drawn away the saints from among ourselves. Those who were once with us have departed from us, returning to their true homeland and leaving us orphans. They have passed from a state of corruptibility to one of incorruptibility; they have gone from this world and risen again in Christ, exchanging their tent-dwelling for the heavenly Jerusalem. Leaving to us the emptiness of this life, they have attained to the bliss of heaven; leaving to us our earthly worries, they have passed to a land without worry. They have left behind the winds and waves of this world and have anchored in harbors of perfect calm.

"Yet even while they seemed to be with us they were not so in reality, for their minds were turned to God. They lived on earth as citizens of heaven. Having here no lasting city, they sought a heavenly one; having no earthly riches, they sought the riches of heaven."

Just as true, while they now seeme to be gone from us, they have their eyes upon in intercession and praise before the Lord

Anastasius of Sinai (ca. AD 599), patriarch of Antioch, Sermon: PG 89, 1192-1193

Would-Be New Logism Day!

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(or, Botched Neologism Day!)

I thought I coined a new term today as I was walking to my Providence Bible study -- "igentity" -- but discovered it's already trademarked and branded. This is my third or so foiled neologism.

I once read (in a Vonnegut novel?) that Aristotle was the last man to have read aevery available book in his world. The possibilityt of anyone else doing that shrank exponentially with every passing year after him until our own age when (according to another book I read but can't recall) more information is released in a Sunday edition of the New York Times than was printed in a whole year in seventeenth-century London. The odds of coining a truly new term must similarly decrease the longer the world processes and re-processes the same fields of information, no matter how vast. I'm curious to know if more words are created, even if only for technological and commercial purposes, than are discarded and forgotten, or vice versa. What's the lexical growth rate (of English)?

New Quote Day!

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"We must reimmerse ourselves in the Sacred Tradition of the Church. ... Israel’s story must become our story. Israel’s prophets, our prophets. Israel’s sins, our sins. Israel’s redemption, our redemption. Our knowledge of God is not abstract and philosophical. It is particular and historical. We believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–not the god of the philosophers and certainly not the deities of the heathen. It is this God of Israel who has become incarnate in his Son, Jesus, son of Mary. But our reading of the Scriptures must also be accompanied by our reading of the Church Fathers. We must read Exodus and Romans with Athanasius, Basil, and Augustine. The Fathers teach us how to comprehend the Scriptures. They initiate us into the grammatical structure of the catholic faith."

-- The Pontificator (31 Oct 2004)

"The Scriptures are the Tradition. The Bible lives only within Tradition and Tradition lives not without the Bible."

-- Elliam Fakespeare


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_Jesus in Beijing_ by David Aikman

It's my roommate's book, but I want to read it while he's in China. Only a chapter or two in, I have my Only Comments at this moment are that Aikman conveys a faint whiff of anti-Catholicism (or perhaps just "high-churchism") and that the book is a great springboard for further study.

Speaking of which, I went to the library this Saturday (Wǒ xīngqí liù chyù túshūguǎn / 我星期日去圖書館) and got a library card. Even before I left, I had resolved to donate about half my books to the library. It's a truly massive library (at least ten stories). But it was pitiful to see, on the one hand, how few English books they had for the ex-pat community on some subjects and, on the other hand, how many books they had that I could profit from even without owning my (largely unread) library.

For a bibliophile, I am shamefully negligent towards public libraries. I've wrestled with years why I should own so many books when I have dozens of others ahead of me still unread. My main justification has been to keep books as resources if other people need them. But my donating books hardly detracts from my ability to get said resources. Plus, it feels good to "lose some weight" and to contribute to my urnam community.

Bizzy bizzy bizzy...

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German's been getting in my blood again and I've been restless to keep it up. Hence, the Kaschnitz. Hence, by providence, the German conversation partners at Starbucks (neither of which had heard of Kaschnitz). Hence, also by providence in a double sense, I discovered a multilingual school only blocks from my home.

I was returning from my Bible study at Providence University (Fr. Ramon was spending time with other priest in Taichung) and I missed my usual stop at Geant. I got off the bus as soon as I could which turned out to be a random strip of the road when the bus hit a red light. I reached the sidewalk and, for some strange reason (so as to feign I intentionally got off at such a random spot), I walked away from my apartment building. And then I say the Ocean English Private Teaching. I assumed it was just a school that offered English to people in almost any language, but I felt an urge to check it out. Turns out, they teach Spanish, Chinese, French, English, German and Italian (if not more). They initially assumed I was applying for a job, which, if I stay another year, isn't too bad an idea, if I can get my German up to real speed.

Mopping up my drool, I spoke with a consultant and may have gotten a private Spanish and German tutor for the next three months at least (24 classes each, German once a week, Spanish twice a week). My teachers will come to my house for 100 minute sessions. Feeling inspired (and having put it off long enough), I also hope to begin biweekly Chinese lessons. Altogether it's not what I'd call cheap, and the extra time commitments will be a challenge, but it's also not what I'd dare call a waste of time. I'm prepared to sacrifice a couple other activities and I know from my time in college that I function best on a full schedule. I've mapped out my schedule and it's do-able. I'll of course give it all some thought and prayer.