Something to chew on

Shakespeare is right when his Hamlet corrects Horatio’s skepticism of ghosts by telling him that “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.”

That famous saying of Hamlet’s is the simplest way I know to define the difference between “post-modernism,” “modernism,” and “pre-modernism”.  Pre-modernism, or traditionalism, agrees with Hamlet.   There are more things in objective reality than in our minds and dreams and sciences and philosophies.  Modernism, or rationalism, says there are not more things but the same number of things in those two places, in other words that we can know it all.  Post-modernism says there are fewer things in objective reality than in our minds; that most of our thoughts are only dreams, prejudices, illusions, or projections.

I am neither a modernist nor a post-modernist but a pre-modernist. That’s why I habitually feel like a little kid living in a big house full of endless surprises, nooks and crannies. (I’m only 73 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.) I find the real world wonderful rather than ugly, fascinating rather than boring, mysterious rather than predictable, something that invites wonder, exploration, hope, fear, and innocence rather than cynicism, ironic distancing, and what the philosophers call a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion.’

— Peter Kreeft

And he’s right, you know

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

Socrates taught us: Know thyself!

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn

October 25

swingjpeg_dancers_medium1938 An archbishop denounces “swing music”

Churches have always been ambivalent about dance music, some clergy fearing it is the devil’s tool, an incitement to lascivious behaviour; some have made use of dance music in liturgy and in Christmas carols. The waltz, where a man and a woman hold each other in their arms and sway rhythmically, was denounced in the 19th century. The bishop of Santa Fe condemned dances as “conducive to evil, occasions of sin, [providing] opportunities for illicit affinities and love that was reprehensible and sinful.” In 1938, Francis Beckman, the Catholic Archbishop of Dubuque campaigned against “swing music”.

Beckman (1875-1948) was no stranger to controversy. He was an isolationist in foreign policy and a supporter of the radical priest Father Charles Coughlin whose radio broadcasts beamed antisemitic messages to millions in Depression-era America. He believed that calls for the USA to oppose Hitler were a communist plot. In October 1938,  in a speech to the National Council of Catholic Women, he launched a crusade against contemporary dance music which he termed  “a degenerated musical system… turned loose to gnaw away the moral fiber of young people”. “Jam sessions, jitterbugs and cannibalistic rhythmic orgies occupy a place in our social scheme of things,” said the archbishop, “wooing our youth along the primrose path to Hell!” He went on to say that though the Church was zealously trying to promote and preserve the best of modern art, swing music was among “the evil forces … hard at work to undermine its Christian status, debauch its high purposes and harness it to serve individual diabolical ends.”

Archbishop Beckman’s career was curtailed during the Second World War when it was discovered that he had borrowed money in his diocese’s name to invest in a shady gold mine scheme. He was allowed to retain his post but all decisions were left in the hands of a coadjutor bishop.

What I always failed to get my students to understand

So different are the colours of life, as we look forward to the future, or backward to the past; and so different the opinions and sentiments which this contrariety of appearance naturally produces, that the conversation of the old and young ends generally with contempt or pity on either side. To a young man entering the world, with fulness of hope, and ardour of pursuit, nothing is so unpleasing as the cold caution, the faint expectations, the scrupulous diffidence which experience and disappointments certainly infuse; and the old man wonders in his turn that the world never can grow wiser, that neither precepts nor testimonies can cure boys of their credulity and sufficiency; and that not once can he be convinced that snares are laid for him, till he finds himself entangled.

Thus one generation is always the scorn and wonder of the other, and the notions of the old and young are like liquors of different gravity and texture which never can unite. The spirits of youth, sublimed by health and volatized by passion, soon leave behind them the phlegmatic sediment of weariness and deliberation, and burst out in temerity and enterprise. The tenderness, therefore, which nature infuses, and which long habits of beneficence confirm, is necessary to reconcile such opposition: and an old man must be a father to bear with patience those follies and absurdities which he will perpetually imagine himself to find in the schemes and expectations, the pleasures and sorrows of those who have not yet been hardened by time and chilled by frustration.

— Samuel Johnson

October 21

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1096 The End of the People’s Crusade

In 1095 Pope Urban II summoned the princes of Europe to form an army to journey to the eastern Mediterranean and do battle with Islamic armies threatening the Byzantine Empire and occupying the Holy Land. Thousands of nobles and knights heeded the call and took part in what is known as The First Crusade or the Princes’ Crusade. At the same, millennial crazes were being heeded by the common people of western Christendom who felt that they too had a part to play in liberating Jerusalem. Listening to itinerant preachers such as Peter the Hermit, tens of thousands of ordinary folk, peasants, soldiers, minor nobility, men women and children formed into columns and set out for Constantinople.

On the way, the People’s Crusade proved to be an ungodly menace. They perpetrated anti-Semtic massacres in the Rhineland, extorted food and supplies from the towns they passed through and attacked Byzantine garrisons who were astonished at the arrival of these motley forces. In August 1096 perhaps as many as 30,000 of these folk, drawn from Germany, Italy and France, reached Constantinople. Emperor Alexius, who had no wish to see them linger and become a worse nuisance, arranged to have them ferried across to Asia Minor, which was largely in the hands of Turks. He cautioned them not to take on Muslim armies themselves but to await the arrival of the heavily-armed knights of the First Crusade.

Once in enemy territory the People’s Crusade broke up into quarrelling factions, some reluctant to advance further, some anxious to start the battles they had journeyed so long to fight. While Peter the Hermit was returning to Constantinople to arrange for more supplies the poorly-armed crusaders engaged in several battles and were routed by Turkish forces, particularly at the Battle of Civetot which turned into a massacre. Only a few thousand made it back to the safety of the Byzantine lines; fewer still would survive the rigours of the remaning campaigns and see victory at Jerusalem in 1099.

Montaigne said it

“To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. All other things, ruling, hoarding, building, are only little appendages and props, at most.”

“He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.”

“Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.”

“Ignorance is the softest pillow on which a man can rest his head”

“Democritus and Heraclitus were two philosophers, of whom the first, finding the condition of man vain and ridiculous, never went out in public but with a mocking and laughing face; whereas Heraclitus, having pity and compassion on this same condition of ours, wore a face perpetually sad, and eyes filled with tears. I prefer the first humor; not because it is pleasanter to laugh than to weep, but because it is more disdainful, and condemns us more than the other; and it seems to me that we can never be despised as much as we deserve. Pity and commiseration are mingled with some esteem for the thing we pity; the things we laugh at we consider worthless. I do not think there is as much unhappiness in us as vanity, nor as much malice as stupidity. We are not so full of evil as of inanity; we are not as wretched as we are worthless.”

“There is no more expensive thing than a free gift.”

—  Michel de Montaigne

October 20

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1939 Pope Pius XII attacks Nazi and Soviet war aims

Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli (1876-1958) was elected pope as Pius XII in 1939, having spent much of his ecclesiastical career as in the Church’s diplomatic service. He was well acquainted with Germany have negotiated with its imperial rulers, its democratic regime and its Nazi officials — Pius XI’s encyclical Mit brennender Sorge which condemned Nazi policy was written by Pacelli. His election took place while peace was collapsing in Europe and Adolf Hitler was plotting a continent-wide war. In September 1939, Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR collaborated to invade Poland and divide the conquered nation, an act which triggered World War II.

Summi Pontificatus was Pius XII’s first encyclical, appearing on this date in 1939. In it the pope notes the growing strength of the “host of Christ’s enemies” and the outbreak of war. These calamities he blamed on the denial and rejection of a universal norm of morality as well for individual and social life as for international relations; We mean the disregard, so common nowadays, and the forgetfulness of the natural law itself, which has its foundation in God, Almighty Creator and Father of all, supreme and absolute Lawgiver, all-wise and just Judge of human actions. When God is hated, every basis of morality is undermined; the voice of conscience is stilled or at any rate grows very faint, that voice which teaches even to the illiterate and to uncivilized tribes what is good and what is bad, what lawful, what forbidden, and makes men feel themselves responsible for their actions to a Supreme Judge.

Pius XII went on to condemn racism, totalitarianism and the rape of Poland. The Nazi government in Berlin recognized the encyclical as an attack on their policies; in neutral America, the New York Times praised the pope: A powerful attack on totalitarianism and the evils which he considers it has brought upon the world was made by Pope Pius XII in his first encyclical…It is Germany that stands condemned above any country or any movement in this encyclical-the Germany of Hitler and National Socialism. The French air force scattered copies of the bull over Germany.