21.5.05

The Bread Run: When I Delivered Loaves of Bread for Pennies for Bread

The loaves are already “stacked to the back” of our Ford delivery truck in the morning before we leave. The bread was baked the day before by a handful of Benedictines and sliced and bagged by volunteers, mostly retired men, that same afternoon. All the bread, about 900 loaves, is placed in trays for easy delivery.  We have about twelve different stops to make in the city and we want to finish the route before the southern sun becomes unbearable.
     We leave the Abbey early to beat the commuters; I notice it takes a few swipes of the windshield wiper to get rid of the moisture and insects that have collected through the night.  Even with a full cup of coffee in my system I usually fall asleep on the passenger side as Joe crosses the long causeway over Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans, listening to AM radio.  In the brief moments that I am awake, Joe, in his own words, give a commentary on world and local events and I look out into the lake to see what it looks like this time: either calm and muddy or sometimes the lake is brilliantly blue, like an ocean, but this morning it is dull with an irksome pallor of gray.

1.5.05

Poem: "Ordinary Childhood"


Fontanna della Barcaccia - Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy
brushing past the crêpe myrtles,
their slim, shedding bark legs entangled
on the shadowed front yard of this house,

i see rebecca and her children
hidden in the silence
of their pacific northwest camper trailer,
parked against a red brick wall of a church

my grapes of wrath family laugh and play checkers,
swatting mosquitoes
hoping for a better licorice stick,
praying to god for a sturdy black mailbox.

And even at stan’s funeral the other day
mom and dad with their stoic, but engaged stares
singing remember me when you come into your kingdom
as if they had been with us all along,
comfortable pictures,
hands
firmly embraced on roger’s shoulder,
his ordinary childhood shaped and formed,
sifting sand and dirt through his green hands,
shoveled onto the pine box we have chosen to gather around, singing our songs of christian burial,
quickly rubbing our eyes from the bright daylight −
too much light and not enough darkness

too much information and not enough silence

we all dispersed quietly,
but the children who had lingered,
fascinated by a dead body they once knew,
wishing to sprinkle their own earth over him,
instead ate sandwiches and sprite later on at supper,
their collection of forks and knives piled up in the newly acquired yard of louisiana,
remained silent and grinned,
helping themselves to a bag of chips, tater tots,
hamburgers

© 2005 Greig Roselli

24.4.05

A response to a new pope

The following is a brief response to 
newly elected to the papal throne.
Ratzinger squashes individuality; Roberts questions his rash stamp-out.
Papal Conclave, photo credit: reuters

 
It is true; the church is not immune to the laws of human nature, but according to the church, strict individualism that is separated from objective truth, that attempts to construct its own truth denies human nature.  Roberts champions individuality, the freedom to express one's point of view, to be an individual; Ratzinger sees individuality as a threat, liable to "dissent," tantamount, for him, to infidelity.  
Is individualism to be respected? - or seen as a suspicious slight to Christianity? Has modern individuality silenced human communication with the gods?
 

We are individuals, unique beings created in the image and likeness of God.  God gave us a mind and a heart so we should use it to stumble upon goodness and truth.  I disagree with  Cokie and Steven's use of the word "condemn"; It is not true that this pontiff condemns individuality, but he and his predecessor worry that unbridled individuality separated from truth will cause more damage than good in this world. I can see unbridled individuality divorced from reason as a poison, like an inexperienced student who thinks they know more than the teacher, but really they know nothing, or the kid who spouts out ideology his parents taught him rather than speak for himself.

But, I disagree with Ratzinger more; It is not true that individuality serves only "ego and desires".  The Church needs to realize that individuality is not going away, and maybe honor individuality a little more (just like the Copernican Revolution never went away) and the rest of the world needs to realize that objective truth and goodness should never be separated from individual conscience.

1.3.05

Theology: On Augustine and Pelagius

A Review of Gerald Bonner on Augustine and Pelagius

        Gerald Bonner has written extensively on the Pelagian Controversy in books and scholarly articles. Two chapters of his book on Augustine are dedicated to the Pelagian controversy. He also has two later articles on the subject in Augustinian Studies, “Pelagianism and Augustine,” a two-part series.  Also, his article “Rufinus of Syria and African Pelagianism” in the same journal is worth reading.  In these writings, Bonner writes on the origins of Pelagianism, not as a negative force in the church but rather as a positive movement that had intentions of building up, not destroying.  Bonner’s thesis is that if we begin from this positive point of view then, in the end, we can see if there are negative attributes of Pelagianism.[1]  It is a certain methodology Bonner follows: to start from “seeing what is right” about the Pelagians to a conclusion about what may be wrong about their positions; how they themselves would have looked at their movement, from the inside out, not outside in.[2]
        The problem is that we view Pelagianism through the lens of Augustine which distorts what Pelagianism actually stood for.  Looking back at a centuries-old problem, we can fail to see the man who began it all, Pelagius himself.  What did Pelagius actually say and what has been merely been attributed to him?  This is the task of the historian, to be as objective as she can be in the presentation of the facts, to steer clear from any biased retelling of history as far as possible and to sometimes relook history from the lens of another key figure.  In this case, let us look at the Pelagian controversy through Pelagius’ eyes rather than Augustine.  Of course, this task is never perfect; for, even the historian, merely reporting the story, informs history from their own vantage point, not only personal vantage point but the perspective of her time in history, the culture the historian writes from and the intent of the article.  Bonner is suggesting that history has been in favor of Augustine; so, do we get any new insights taking a retrospective look in the shoes of Pelagius?  

The Life of Pelagius

        From 408 - 431 are the years of Pelagianism, but it must be remembered that Pelagianism was not like other theological movements that found disfavor in the church because it was a local phenomenon and not systemic to the entire church at the time.  It basically sprung up in Rome, northern Africa and other pockets of Europe where Pelagius’ followers traveled.[3]   Bonner calls the modern retelling of Pelagianism “the demolition of what may be called the monolithic view of Pelagianism”.[4]   Nascent Pelagianism was not as grand a scheme as people make it out to be. Really, it is Augustine who brought the teachings of Pelagius into more universal awareness.  If it were not for Augustine’s extensive writings against Pelagius we probably would not know about it, but because Augustine spoke out against it so vehemently it has stood the test of time.[5]       
        In 408 Pelagius first comes onto the stage in Rome.  It arose first in aristocratic circles of women in Rome because Pelagius was a spiritual advisor to many women there. Demetrias, the daughter of Anicia Faltonia Proba.  Melania the Younger. All devout women of high rank -- like Jerome before him Pelagius courted single, young women of the bourgeoisie.[6]     About 410, around the same time as the Donatist movement (which is closely related to Pelagianism, sometimes confused with one another) is when Augustine began to preach against Pelagius.  Actually, in 415 The synod at Diospolis declared the writings of Pelagius to be orthodox but in 417 Pelagius was condemned in Rome.  The final stake in the Pelagian coffin was in 418 at the Council of Carthage, with over two hundred bishops under Augustine's leadership, Pope Zosimus pronounced Pelagianism heretical.[7] 
        Pelagius was a monk (although it is not quite clear whether he really was a monk or not) from the present day British Isles and came to Rome where most of his influence was felt; he was well-educated with “a profound knowledge of the bible” so he attracted the higher echelon of female society in Rome.[8]   He was probably born in the latter half of the of the fourth century.  He is different from other infamous dissidents in that there are no scandalous accounts attributed to his name, no grisly tales, and lecherous behavior: He did not die a horrible death, nor was he accused of licentious behavior with the young.[9]   Even Augustine, at one time, attested to his character.[10] Probably Pelagius was not searching for glory and fame; he was not a rabble-rouser dissident but actually a quiet man who tried to stay out of the public eye as much as he could and avoided publicity.[11] Augustine was quite pastoral in his letters to Pelagius which were later used to conclude falsely that Augustine was favorable to Pelagius’ cause.[12]   It is good to note here that Pelagius himself was probably closer to the truth (to orthodoxy) than the followers who took up his name. The third council of Ephesus condemned Caelestius, not Pelagius, who was considered apart of the Pelagian party (but to call the Pelagians a party is misleading because there is no evidence to support that they represented a strongly connected band).[13]   Maybe in the eyes of Augustine, but in reality, the movement was much more provincial than widespread.  Sometimes we tout certain ideas as from Pelagius but when really they are words from his admirers, like Caelstius and Rufinus.[14]
Actually, this is true of many movements in the church.  Jansens is less Jansenistic than Jansenists. Luther was less a Lutheran than the Lutherans.  Pelagius himself did not deny the need for grace nor did he dismiss baptism as essential.[15] 

2.2.05

Poem: "The Pope and Mr. Murdoch"

Others say the pope should quit
to a monastery
to live out the rest of his days,

but I say look at the gnarled hands that scoop up soup on
a Saturday afternoon at the old folks home,
insistent on doing it himself, murdoch says,
dribble of reason coagulates on the tip of his chin

and the pope rolls on like murdoch,
both stubborn in their resolve,
clutching oversize spoons,
suffering from influenza

and doesn’t he look beautiful
sitting alone during bingo,
munching on fried rice
that I had brought him
despite the MSG −

once a six pack −

and now he asks the orderly for a Splenda,
which he brings −
he tears open the package himself,
as if following a medieval rubric,
gingerly pouring the contents into his mug that reads:

what do you get when you work like a mule?

O L D 

stenciled across the porcelain
in a marker felt type.
 
© 2005 Greig Roselli

Poem: "when i get home from work"

i sit in the car and let the engine run when i get home from work

so i can breathe again

before easily letting go of the ignition,
sighing as the car dies,

having heard the cries of the kids splashing in the pool,
i realize i have not yet sloughed off the ink of my nine to five,
not yet ready to slip into this domestic ilk,
so i breathe again,
feeling the in-between-different-things feeling,
the uncomfortable transition from work to home:
the unique expectations,
the feeling that I still have not yet left, that i am somewhere else and part of me has run ahead of myself,
stuck somewhere on the corner of eighth and palmer,

unable to make a distinction between human resources
and the simple question of do you love me or not
can you help me with my homework
can you talk to me about this
can we talk about this
worrying about if the silence emitting from the backyard
is one of my kids drowning in the newly chlorined pool
or if mark, who is making supper for us all
really needs my help or his own space

so i breathe again,
letting greg catch up from his jog around the block,
his dress shoes and socks on top of the kitchen table;
the concentric circles of reality: the kids are inside, dry and
by the time the scrambled eggs and jambalaya are done on the front burners I can reset the clock, expectantly

© 2005 Greig Roselli

25.1.05

Review of the Papal Encyclical "Veritatis Splendor": John Paul II and Moral Theology

Book Cover of John Paul II's papal encyclical Veritatis Splendor (Splendor of Truth)
Veritatis Splendor is John Paul II's 
papal encyclical outlining the 
Catholic Church's moral teaching.
Why is Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor so hard on  "teleological", "consequentialist" and "proportionalist" ethical theories?
    John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor places emphasis on the good rooted in a divine, or eternal law.  In saying this he is advocating a moral system based on the principles of Natural Law Theory, even though in the encyclical he states that the Church does not support a particular theological or philosophical system, it is precisely natural law that he advocates in this encyclical.  The Pope doesn’t like the systems he calls “teleologismand “proportionalism”.  About Teleologism and Proportionalism, he says, “Such theories however are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behavior contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law.” So, again, it seems John Paul II doesn’t like it when a moral system does not place commandment over love, for example, or personal responsibility.  It makes sense that he would argue in this manner, considering the Gospel passage he chose to set the stage for this encyclical, the story of the rich young man, which he uses to set up the standard for moral norms.  The Pope wants to place certain ethical norms in place, based on an ethics of divine commandment.
Using "Object - Act - Consequence" When Evaluating Moral Decision-Making
     The Pope tries to work out a system that claims certain actions are evil, because their objects, in of themselves are evil. He claims that the so called proportionalist and teleological systems do not claim the “object” of an act  such as contraception  as evil in of itself, but instead attempt to examine the intention or circumstances of the act, invariably “letting people off the hook”.  For the Pope, an evil act is evil, regardless of the circumstances or intentions. For example, contraception is evil, because the object of preventing life to form in a woman’s womb artificially is always an intrinsically evil act  even though in Humane Vitae, Paul VI tried very hard to steer clear from such wording, the Pope seems to have no qualms in doing so.
Is There a Middle Ground in Moral Teaching that Still Stays True to Catholic Teaching?       
    It seems to me that instead of point-blank condemning these moral systems the right thing to do would be able to form some kind of compromise between the two or to discover a moral theologian that seems to be able to form a really good systems based on something rather than the object in of itself and still remain true to Catholic teaching.  I myself do not consider myself a proponent of Natural Law. I am too Platonic, too much of a Romantic, to get into the Aristotelian flavored ethics of Thomas. Although, it seems to me the Pope should be more like Thomas in attempting to incorporate “pagan” ideas into Christian thought.  Maybe there is something good out there that we really have not integrated well into our Catholic moral teaching. If Thomas could do what he did with Aristotle, why can’t we do the same with Existentialism  or even Phenomenology?
Billboard in front of Canadian Memorial Centre for Peace
Should the Church's moral teaching be more open or closed?
  
Are All Immoral Acts Equal Evil?
     The Pope is a phenomenologist, I understand, but this encyclical does not seem to be written in a phenomenological vein, instead, it is much more steeped in the language of law and norms, especially in regards to sexual ethics. Wouldn’t it be okay to sanction certain objectively evil acts?  Doesn’t the church in a way use proportionalism when it attempts to justify war? I may be wrong, but it seems that the Pope is unyielding when it comes to matters of sexual ethics, when in fact, the parable of the rich young man is more about wealth. There seems to be a trend in moral theology that condemns without reserve evil acts such as abortion but allows wiggle room for war and deportation, for example. Again, I believe we should be able to reach a compromise.
On Some Criticisms
      When I read Veritatis Splendor I also read Häring’s criticism in the Tablet.  I also looked at op-ed pieces that were written at the same time and was amazed at the flood of criticism.  Melina is right; most of the critics focused on chapter two of the encyclical, the part about the sources of Moral of Theology and intrinsic evil and not on the other chapters.  Chapter two of the encyclical is the most important part of the encyclical, I agree, but Melina argues that the document should be looked at in its entirety.  Melina wants renewal in Moral Theology too, new Gospel wine, a new, comprehensive outlook yet profoundly traditional (6).  Melina knows that one cannot get rid of the the moral norms but at the same time he realizes that morality should not be governed by a legalism so prevalent in older systems.  There has been a “rupture of the bond between freedom and truth” and there is a crisis in Moral Theology.
     The subject has been fractured and takes on the guise of whatever social environment it finds itself in.  The fractured “I” is not truly free because it is bound to the truths of disconnected moral systems, never really able to “become a free subject of action”.  He points a finger at the bourgeois society of the “rich young man” as the result of the shipwreck in morality.  He also sees technology as destructive to man when disconnected from conscience.  He quotes Heidegger and Rabelais.  Our computers and super-fast jets are nothing without conscience.  I passionately believe this; that technology can remove us from a “connect”, not only from a guiding conscience but from the connect of the other as well, thus a disconnect from God.  I am reminded of Fahrenheit 451, the novel about a dystopia where firefighters burn books to keep people from thinking and feeling.  Maybe there needs to be an embrace of the more profound questions of human existence, rather than just “What must I do”?   

       How is Melina going to recontextualize Moral Theology yet remain profoundly traditional?  It seems he is going to bring in the virtues to put together the pieces of the shattered ego.  I don’t know how he is going to do this, but noticing that he has already quoted Alistair McIntyre (After Virtue) and C.S. Lewis and Aristotle in the first thirty-three pages I can see that Virtue Ethics will play a large role in resurrecting the fragile “I”, the wounded subject that seems to be the cause of the crisis in Moral Theology.  He will also bring in the necessity of community in creating a moral realm that is aesthetic and good.  Beauty is necessary for salvation, I believe.  Beauty is the splendor of truth.  If we lose the beautiful then we have lost humanity.  If we lose the community, the need for friends, that Aristotle so beautifully wrote about in the Nichomachean Ethics, then humanity will surely be at lost, no matter how technologically advanced we become.  Melina asks a beautiful question that I hope he expounds upon: “What kind of community will help me to attain the values to which I am called”.  I get frustrated in thinking about what I should do; I am asked about what I do in my life, so much so, that I wish sometimes people would ask me, ‘how will you attain the values to which you are called’?  There has to be a return to the virtues, to an aesthetic, and a re-tethering of freedom and truth, I agree and the moral life must find a home.   
      But, still, I wonder what he means by remaining profoundly traditional?  He mentions that he is going to address the nexus between freedom and truth, which may bring a profoundly traditional Moral Theology, yet, still I do not know what he means by that statement.  He is also going to bring in the connection between faith and morality.  I can see how this will also be profoundly traditional because Melina does not want the attitude of faith lost to morality; he wants to affirm that to believe is also a profoundly moral assertion.  So, I hope that these books provide some insights into bringing back the human family, so we can more authentically say to one another, “What?  You too?  I thought that no one but myself  ...” (32).