Ethnocentrism in the Middle Ages; Or, the World Outside the Summa

There’s a strong tendency among traditionally-minded Catholics to characterize the Middle Ages as a golden age (a golden calf, I almost wrote) when everyone was a great Catholic and the sorts of horrible, outrageous things we see today never, ever happened.

It’s a bunch of rubbish, but it colors a lot of “our” thinking. I recently read an article in which the author cited Aquinas as an example of a natural law thinker who focused on humans qua humans, not qua this or that nationality or ethnicity. The author’s goal was to score a hit against tribalism.

Well and good — to my knowledge, Aquinas doesn’t attempt any taxonomy of nationalities. But then the works of St. Thomas Aquinas aren’t really a mirror of the world in which he lived. Here are some things about the Middle Ages you won’t learn if the only thing you know about the Middle Ages is Aquinas. These facts reveal a world in which tribal/ethnic/national/dynastic identity was very strong and often helped determine the course of history: Continue reading

The Demographic Canard

A canard, so a Google search informs me, is “an unfounded rumor or story.” Today, I’d like to address an old canard that says, “Conservatives/traditional Catholics will outbreed liberals, so liberalism will go extinct and conservatism/traditional Catholicism will triumph.” The idea is that the allegedly higher birth rates among cultural conservatives will lead to eventual demographic victory.

This reminds me of the 2007 French presidential election. The Socialist candidate was a woman named Ségolène Royal. I remember reading that she was one of eight children of a very staunch Catholic military officer . . . who raised a future Socialist presidential candidate.

My point: the demographic canard ignores how many liberals come from conservative families. How many families have a very stalwart patriarch and matriarch, but by the time you reach the third generation, they are just as worldly as any other family? Or the children mostly still go to Mass, but one or two kids are actually liberals? It happens all the time. If anything, it is the fecundity of conservatives that will keep liberalism alive by breeding the children who will turn into liberals. Conservatism is the cradle of liberalism.

The September 11th-Is-a-Date-Important-to-Moslems Hoax

Moslems have their own lunar calendar. They don’t follow the Gregorian calendar. The Battle of Vienna was fought on September 12, *not* 11. No one who recycles these articles about the significance of September 11 ever cites a Moslem source saying the date is significant. See the comment by commenter “49metal” in response to this silly article:

The idea that Moslems actually remember the dates of battles like Vienna and Malta is far-fetched. Modern scholars point out that Moslems didn’t much remember the Crusades until leftist/secular/alienated Westerners reminded them of it.

If you’ve bought into this hoax, please cease and desist.

Why Women Can’t Be Ordained to the Diaconate

I recently listened to a radio show where the participants discussed, “What can a deacon do that the non-ordained cannot?” I don’t think they ever came up with an answer that was satisfying. It seems to me that none of the tasks that are routinely assigned to deacons actually require the sacramental order of Deacon. I propose that the unique power of the sacramental diaconate is that only a deacon can be ordained priest. Seeing as the diaconate is what bestows upon someone the capacity to be ordained a priest, and women can’t be ordained priests, women can’t be ordained as deacons. QED.

Note: I grant that there was an office of “deaconess” in the early Church. Like the offices of widow, nun, abbess, and hermitess, it wasn’t a sacramental order.

Sad News and Glad News for Driftless Area Catholics

First, sad news. His Excellency, the Most Rev. Thomas G. Doran, Bishop Emeritus of Rockford, recently passed away.* A former member of the Roman Rota and a friend of the Traditional Latin Mass, Doran was bishop of the diocese where I grew up, which includes the Illinois section of the Driftless Area. He confirmed me. Requiescat in pace.

As we approach the anniversary of Sept. 11, I recall Bishop Doran’s response after American forces killed Osama bin Laden. Some people criticized the spontaneous outbursts of joy this occasioned. They said it was unworthy behavior. Bishop Doran said that he didn’t object. Instead of condemning the folks who celebrated, he reminded us that bin Laden would now meet Our Lord as Judge. Bishop Doran deserves credit for this.

Now, glad news. His Excellency, the Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of Madison, has announced that he will offer his public Sunday Masses facing ad orientem.** I currently live in the Madison Diocese, which includes the southern part of the Wisconsin portion of the Driftless.

One of my former bishops returns to the Lord; my present bishop turns toward the Lord. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!



St. Sebastian: Bastion of Catholic Identity

This post is inspired by a homily that the parish priest at my home parish in Illinois* preached about a month ago. The Rio Olympics were in full swing, and the priest commented on American gymnast Simone Biles. He related that Biles, a Catholic, had a devotion to St. Sebastian and lit candles to him. I subsequently found out that St. Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes and of Rio de Janeiro, where the Olympics were held. The full name of Rio de Janeiro is São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, which in Portuguese means St. Sebastian of the River January (the Portuguese first landed there in January). This got me thinking about St. Sebastian’s role as an icon and bastion of Catholic identity.

Here are the basics of St. Sebastian’s story. He was a Roman soldier who was martyred during one of the persecutions inflicted on the Church by the Roman Emperors. He was sentenced to be tied to a tree and shot through with arrows. He miraculously survived the arrows, so he was clubbed to death. The Christians buried him in catacombs outside the city of Rome that have been called St. Sebastian’s Catacombs ever since. Now a basilica in St. Sebastian’s honor stands over the catacombs ( Here’s a photo I took of St. Sebastian’s martyrdom as depicted on the ceiling (!) of the nave of the Basilica of St. Sebastian’s Outside the Walls:


St. Sebastian became very popular in the Middle Ages for a number of reasons**. Here, I’ll focus on just one: the all-out awesomeness of his martyrdom. I think in many Catholics’ mind, the martyrdom of St. Sebastian is the template for their own perseverance in the face of persecution and temptation. If you think of it, his martyrdom is very reminiscent of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. He was bound to a tree, with his face to his persecutors, as they pierced his flesh. He is the patron saint of grit-your-teeth-and-take-it.

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Where Are Youth Groups in Scripture?

The next time a “Sola Scriptura”-type Protestant asks you where some Catholic practice is in Scripture (statues, candles, incense, etc.)*, ask them where the following are in Scripture:

–Organized youth groups. Where does St. Paul ever say, “Organize youth groups so teenagers can flirt with each other and have sleep-overs and get away from their parents”?

–Church camps. Ditto above.

–Church-affiliated schools and universities. Ditto yet again.

–Formal church buildings. I don’t remember Our Lord ever building a physical church building. To our knowledge, the Apostles didn’t, either. They met in a dining room (the Cenacle).

–Pews at church. If you have an issue with statues, why not with pews, or stained glass, or steeples, or bells, or tacky banners?

–Asking people if they’re saved. Where in Scripture does a Christian ever walk up to someone and ask them point-blank, “Are you saved?” Continue reading

American Catholic Parochialism: Some Preliminary Remarks

Tribalism has been a major point of discussion during this election season in the United States, so I thought I might make some remarks on the topic of American Catholic parochialism. I define this as the tendency of some self-identifying Catholics in the United States to interpret American history in light of the specific experience of American Catholics.

I’ll very briefly give two examples: 1.) the entire complex of historical interpretations propagated by E. Michael Jones et al. in “Culture Wars,” Fidelity Press, etc., and 2.) the “Catholic Confederate” meme. That’s the apparently persistent tendency of self-identifying Catholics (often chest-thumping trads) on the Internet who pledge their allegiance to the heritage of the Southern Confederacy on the grounds that the Confederacy was somehow more congenial to Catholic principles.*

Having given those examples, let me ask a question that has been around since America’s Founding, possibly since the foundation of Jamestown: can a Catholic be a good American? By “good American,” I mean an American citizen fulfilling his proper duties under natural, divine, and human law to the commonwealth of the state where he lives and to the federal republic as a whole. I give two answers:

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