peter

Oct 152014
 

The phrase “objective moral truth” has always puzzled me. Does this mean the same things as “universal moral truth”? The two terms seem quite different to me. Objective truth seems to mean something which is true even in the absence of the “I” of the conscious person (i.e. a “subject”). To speak of objective morality seems non-sense, therefore, like speaking of the morality of rocks, or planetary orbits.

On the other hand, the term, “universal,” seems to mean non-variable; something that is true from place to place and/or from person to person. Whereas the term, “universal” can be applied to persons, the term, “objective” specifically detaches itself from persons. What else should “objective” mean other than that which is concerned with “objects” as opposed to “subjects”? And what then, is the meaning of moral objects? Is there anything moral or immoral – good or evil – in a universe without persons? Show me the evil solar system, the bad rock – only then will I be convinced of “objective moral truth.”

As William James once said, “betterness is not a physical relation.”

http://www.philosophy.uncc.edu/mleldrid/American/mp&ml.htm

…of what we mean by the words “obligation,” “good,” and “ill.” First of all, it appears that such words can have no application or relevancy in a world in which no sentient life exists. Imagine an absolutely material world, containing only physical and chemical facts, and existing from eternity without a God, without even an interested spectator: would there be any sense in saying of that world that one of its states is better than another? Or if there were two such worlds possible, would there be any rhyme or reason in calling one good and the other bad‑good or bad positively, I mean, and apart from the fact that one might relate itself better than the other to the philosopher’s private interests? But we must leave these private interests out of the account, for the philosopher is a mental fact, and we are asking whether goods and evils and obligations exist in physical facts per se. Surely there is no status for good and evil to exist in, in a purely insentient world.. How can one physical fact, considered simply as a physical fact, be “better” than another? Betterness is not a physical relation. In its mere material capacity, a thing can no more be good or bad than it can be pleasant or painful. Good for what? Good for the production of another physical fact, do you say? But what in a purely physical universe demands the production of that other fact? Physical facts simply are or are not; and neither when present or absent, can they be supposed to make demands. If they do, they can only do so by having desires; and then they have ceased to be purely physical facts, and have become facts of conscious sensibility. Goodness, badness, and obligation must be realized somewhere in order really to exist; and the first step in ethical philosophy is to see that no merely inorganic “nature of things” can realize them. Neither moral relations nor the moral law can swing in vacuo. Their only habitat can be a mind which feels them; and no world composed of merely physical facts can possibly be a world to which ethical propositions apply.

– An excerpt from “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life”, an address to the Yale Philosophical Club by William James, published in the International Journal of Ethics, April 1891.

 Posted by at 9:43 pm
Oct 052014
 

Hark – your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil! (Gen 4:2, 10)

— — —

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/19/opinion/timothy-egan-faith-based-fanatics.html?_r=0

It’s not true that all wars are fought in the name of religion, as some atheists assert. Of 1,723 armed conflicts documented in the three-volume “Encyclopedia of Wars,” only 123, or less than 7 percent, involved a religious cause. Hitler’s genocide, Stalin’s bloody purges and Pol Pot’s mass murders certainly make the case that state-sanctioned killings do not need the invocation of a higher power to succeed.

http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/9315062/fields-of-blood-by-ferdinand-mount-review/

It slips so easily off the tongue. In fact, it’s a modern mantra. ‘Religion causes all the wars.’ Karen Armstrong claims to have heard it tossed off by American psychiatrists, London taxi-drivers and pretty much everyone else. Yet it’s an odd thing to say. For a start, which wars are we talking about? Among the many causes advanced for the Great War, ranging from the train timetables on the continent to the Kaiser’s withered left arm, I have never heard religion mentioned. Same with the second world war. The worst genocides of the last century — Hitler’s murder of the Jews and Atatürk’s massacre of the Armenians (not to mention his expulsion and massacre of the Greeks in Asia Minor too) — were perpetrated by secular nationalists who hated the religion they were born into. The long British wars of the 18th and 19th centuries — the Napoleonic wars and the Seven Years’ War — were cheerfully fought by what Wellington called ‘the scum of the earth’ for land and empire, not for the faiths to which they only nominally belonged.

http://www.mtsm.org/pdf/The%20Myth%20of%20Religious%20Violence.pdf

http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385045.001.0001/acprof-9780195385045

The myth of religious violence helps to construct a religious Other, prone to fanaticism, to contrast with the rational, peace-making, secular subject. In domestic politics, the myth underwrites the triumph of the state over the church in the early modern period and the nation-state’s subsequent monopoly on its citizens’ willingness to sacrifice and kill.

http://www.amazon.com/Fields-Blood-Religion-History-Violence/dp/0553399292

Every year in ancient Israel the high priest brought two goats into the Jerusalem temple on the Day of Atonement. He sacrificed one to expiate the sins of the community and then laid his hands on the other, transferring all the people’s misdeeds onto its head, and sent the sin-laden animal out of the city, literally placing the blame elsewhere. In this way, Moses explained, “the goat will bear all their faults away with it into a desert place.” In his classic study of religion and violence, Rene Girard argued that the scapegoat ritual defused rivalries among groups within the community. In a similar way, I believe, modern society has mad a scapegoat of faith.

— — —

Fields of Blood

In the introduction of the book, Fields of Blood, Religion and the History of Violence, Karen Armstrong outlines her findings. Violence is endemic inhuman societies, she notes. The root causes of this violence, she argues, stems in some part from our reptilian brains, but also from the seeming need for civilizations to be born and sustained through “the systemic militancy of the state” – a dilemma that worried the Indian Emperor Ashoka (c. 268-223 BCE):

Appalled by the suffering his army had inflicted on a rebellious city, he tirelessly promoted an ethic of compassion and tolerance but could not in the end disband his army. No state can survive without its soldiers. And once states grew and warfare had become a fact of human life, an even greater force, the military might of empire, often seemed the only way to keep the peace.

… So necessary to the rise of states and ultimately empires is military force that historians regard militarism as a mark of civilization.

… Since all premodern state ideology was imbued with religion, warfare inevitably aqcuired a sacral element. … But to what degree did religion contribute to the violence of the states with which it was inextricably linked? How much blame for the history of human violence can we ascribe to religion itself? The answer is not as simple as much of our popular discourse would suggest.

… In religious history, the struggle for peace has been just as important as the holy war. Religious people have found all kinds of ingenious methods of dealing with the assertive machismo of the reptilian brain, curbing violence, and building  respectful life-enhancing communities. But as with Ashoka, who came up against the systemic militancy of the state, they could not radically change their societies; the most they could do was to propose a different path to demonstrate kinder and more empathetic ways for people to live together.

more to come…

 Posted by at 6:36 pm
Oct 052014
 

From the book, Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

“Why is Egypt so much poorer than the United States?” This is the essence of the question at the heart of this book.

Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are? Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest-growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence?

The authors argue that the difference is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success. And they reject the dominant view held by most economists that “the rulers of Egypt simply don’t know what is needed to make their country prosperous, and have followed incorrect policies and strategies in the past. If these rulers would only get the right advice from the right advisers, the thinking goes, prosperity would follow.”

Most economists and policy makers have focused on ‘getting it right,’ while what is really needed is an explanation for why poor nations ‘get it wrong.’ … We will argue that achieving prosperity depends on solving some basic political problems. It is precisely because economics has assumed that political problems are solved that is has not been able to come up with a convincing explanation for world inequality. Explaining world inequality still needs economics to understand how different types of policies and social arrangements affect economic incentives and behavior. But it also needs politics. (from the Introduction)

The Making of Inclusive Institutions

England was unique among nations when it made the breakthrough to sustained economic growth in the seventeenth century. Major economic changes were preceded by a political revolution that brought a distinct set of economic and political institutions, much more inclusive than those of any previous society. These institutions would have profound implications not only for economic incentives and prosperity, but also for who would reap the benefits of prosperity. They were based not on consensus, but, rather, were the result of intense conflict as different groups competed for power, contesting the authority of others and attempting to structure institutions in their own favor. The culmination of the institutional struggles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were two landmark events: the English Civil War between 1642 and 1651, and particularly the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

The Glorious Revolution limited the power of the king and the executive, and relocated to Parliament the power to determine economic institutions. At the same time, it opened up the political system to a broad cross section of society, who were able to exert considerable influence over the way the state functioned. The Glorious Revolution was the foundation for creating a pluralistic society, and it built on and accelerated a process of political centralization. It created the world’s first set of inclusive political institutions.

As a consequence, economic institutions also started becoming more inclusive. Neither slavery nor the severe economic restrictions of the feudal medieval period, such as serfdom, existed in England at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, there were many restrictions on economic activities people could engage in. Both the domestic and international economy were choked by monopolies. The state engaged in arbitrary taxation and manipulated the legal system. Most land was caught in archaic forms of property rights that made it impossible to sell and risky to invest in.

This changed after the Glorious Revolution. The government adopted a set of economic institutions that provided incentives for investment, trade, and innovation. It steadfastly enforced property rights, including patents granting property rights for ideas, thereby providing a major stimulus to innovation. It protected law and order. Historically unprecedented was the application of English law to all citizens. Arbitrary taxation ceased, and monopolies were abolished almost completely. The English state aggressively promoted mercantile activities and worked to promote domestic industry, not only by removing barriers to the expansion of industrial activity but also by lending the full power of the English navy to defend mercantile interests. By rationalizing property rights, it facilitated the construction of infrastructure, particularly roads, canals, and later railways, that would prove to be crucial for industrial growth.

These foundations decisively changed incentives for people and impelled the engines of prosperity, paving the way for the Industrial Revolution. (p 102-3)

Small Differences That Matter

World inequality dramatically increased with the British, or English, Industrial Revolution because only some parts of the world adopted the innovations and new technologies that men such as Arkwright and Watt, and the many who followed, developed. The response of different nations to this wave of technologies, which determined whether they would languish in poverty or achieve sustained economic growth, was largely shaped by the different historical paths of their institutions. By the middle of the eighteenth century, there were already notable differences in political and economic institutions around the world. But where did these differences come from?

English political institutions were on their way to much greater pluralism by 1688, compared with those in France and Spain, but if we go back in time one hundred years, to 1588, the differences shrink to almost nothing. All three countries were ruled by relatively absolutist monarchs: Elizabeth I in England, Philip II in Spain, and Henry II in France. All were battling with assemblies of citizens – such as the Parliament in England, the Cortes in Spain, and the Estates-General in France – that were demanding more rights and control over the monarchy. These assemblies all had somewhat different powers and scopes. For instance, the English Parliament and the Spanish Cortes had power over taxation, while the Estates-General did not. In Spain this mattered little, because after 1492 the Spanish Crown had a vast American empire and benefited massively from the gold and silver found there. In England the situation was different. Elizabeth I was far less financially independent, so she had to beg Parliament for more taxes. In exchange, Parliament demanded concessions, in particular restrictions on the right of Elizabeth to create monopolies. It was a conflict Parliament gradually won. In Spain the Cortes lost a similar conflict. Trade wasn’t just monopolized; it was monopolized by the Spanish monarchy.

These distinctions, which initially appeared small, started to matter a great deal in the seventeenth century. Though the Americas had been discovered by 1492 and Vasco da Gama had reached India by rounding the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of Africa, in 1498, it was only after 1600 that a huge expansion of world trade, particularly in the Atlantic, started to take place. In 1585 the first English colonization of North America began at Roanoke, in what is not North Carolina. In 1600 the English East India Company was formed. In 1602 it was followed by the Dutch equivalent. In 1607 the colony of Jamestown was founded by the Virginia Company. By the 1620s the Caribbean was being colonized, with Barbados occupied in 1627. France was also expanding in the Atlantic, founding Quebec City in 1608 as the capital of New France in what is now Canada. The consequences of this economic expansion for institutions were very different for England than for Spain and France because of small initial differences.

Elizabeth I and her successors could not monopolize the trade with the Americas. Other European monarchs could. So while in England, Atlantic trade and colonization started creating a large group of wealthy traders with few links to the Crown, this was not the case in Spain or France. The English traders resented royal control and demanded changes in political institutions and the restriction of royal prerogatives. They played a critical role in the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution. Similar conflicts took place everywhere. French kings, for example, faced the Fronde Rebellion between 1648 and 1652. The difference was that in England it was far more likely that the opponents to absolutism would prevail because they were relatively wealthy and more numerous than the opponents to absolutism in Spain and France.

The divergent paths of English, French, and Spanish societies in the seventeenth century illustrate the importance of the interplay of small institutional differences with critical junctures. (p 105-6)

The Dutch East India Company

The spice trade and the effects on Southeast Asia of the colonization into Indonesia

In the early sixteenth century the Portuguese “systematically tried to gain a monopoly of the valuable spice trade”, but they failed…

The opponents they faced were not negligible. Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, there was a great deal of economic development in Southeast Asia based on trade in spices. City-states such as Aceh, Banten, Meleka, Makassar, Pegu, and Brunei expanded rapidly, producing and exporting spices along with other products such as hardwoods.

These states had absolutist forms of government similar to those in Europe in the same period. The development of political institutions was spurred by similar processes, including technological change in methods of warfare and international trade. State institutions became more centralized, with a king at the center claiming absolute power. …

As in absolutist Europe, this generated some economic growth but was a far-from-ideal set of economic institutions for economic prosperity, with significant entry barriers and insecure property rights for most. But the process of commercialization was under way even as the Portuguese were trying to establish their dominance in the Indian Ocean.

The presence of Europeans swelled and had a much greater impact with the arrival of the Dutch. The Dutch quickly realized that monopolizing the supply of the valuable spices of the Moluccas would be much more profitable than competing against local or other European traders. In 1600 they persuaded the ruler of Ambon to sign an exclusive agreement that gave them the monopoly on the clove trade in Ambon. With the founding of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, the Dutch attempts to capture the entire spice trade and eliminate their competitors, by hook or by crook, took a turn for the better for the Dutch and for the worse for Southeast Asia. The Dutch East India Company was the second European joint stock company, following the English East India Company, major landmarks in the development of the modern corporation, which would subsequently play a major role in European industrial growth. It was also the second company that had its own army and the power to wage war and colonize foreign lands. With the military power of the company now brought to bear, the Dutch proceeded to eliminate all potential interlopers to enforce their treaty with ruler of Ambon. They captured a key fort held by the Portuguese in 1605 and forcibly removed all other traders. They then expanded to the northern Moluccas, forcing the rulers of Tidore, Ternate, and Bacan to agree that no cloves could be grown or traded in their territories. The treaty they imposed on Ternate even allowed the Dutch to come and destroy any clove trees they found there.

Ambon was ruled in a manner similar to much of Europe and the Americas during that time. The citizens of Ambon owed tribute to the ruler and were subject to forced labor. The Dutch took over and intensified these systems to extract more labor and more cloves from the island. Prior to the arrival of the Dutch, extended families paid tribute in cloves to the Ambonese elite. The Dutch now stipulated that each household was tied to the soil and should cultivate a certain number of clove trees. Households were also obligated to deliver forced labor to the Dutch.

The Dutch also took control of the Banda Islands, intending this time to monopolize mace and nutmeg. But the Banda Islands were organized very differently from Ambon. They were made up of many small autonomous city-states, and there was no hierarchical social or political structure. These small states, in reality no more than small towns, were run by village meetings of citizens. There was no central authority whom the Dutch could coerce into signing a monopoly treaty and no system of tribute that they could take over to capture the entire supply of nutmeg and mace. At first this meant that the Dutch had to compete with English, Portuguese, Indian, and Chinese merchants, losing the spices to their competitors when they did not pay high prices. Their initial plans of setting up a monopoly of mace and nutmeg dashed, the Dutch governor of Batavia, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, came up with an alternative plan. Coen founded Batavia, on the island of Java, as the Dutch East India Company’s new capital in 1618. In 1621 he sailed to Banda with a fleet and proceeded to massacre almost the entire population of the islands, probably about fifteen thousand people. All their leaders were executed along with the rest, and only a few were left alive, enough to preserve the know-how necessary for mace and nutmeg production. After this genocide was complete, Coen then proceeded to create the political and economic structure necessary for his plan: a plantation society. The islands were divided into sixty-eight parcels, which were given to sixty-eight Dutchmen, mostly former and current employees of the Dutch East India Company. These new plantation owners were taught how to produce the spices by the few surviving Bandanese and could buy slaves from the East India Company to populate the now-empty islands and to produce spices, which would have to be sold at fixed prices back to the company.

The extractive institutions created by the Dutch in spice Islands had the desired effects, though, in Banda this was at the cost of fifteen thousand innocent lives and establishment of a set of economic and political institutions that would condemn the islands to underdevelopment. By the end of the seventeenth century, the Dutch had reduced the world supply of these spices by about 60 percent and the price of nutmeg had doubled.

The Dutch spread the strategy they perfected in the Moluccas to the entire region, with profound implications for the economic and political institutions of the rest of Southeast Asia. The long commercial expansion of several states in the area that had started in the fourteenth century went into reverse. Even the policies which were not directly colonized and crushed by the Dutch East India Company turned inward and abandoned trade. The nascent economic and political change in Southeast Asia was halted in its tracks.” (p 246-9)

 Posted by at 11:02 am

The Illiad

 Books, History  Comments Off
Oct 042014
 

From the introduction, Robert Fagles translation:

“The whole poem has been moving toward this duel between the two champions, but there has never been any doubt the outcome. The husband and father, the beloved protector of his people, the man who stands for the civilized values of the rich city, its social and religious institutions, will go down to defeat at the hands of this man who has no family, who in a private quarrel has caused the death of many of his own fellow soldiers, who now in a private quarrel thinks only of revenge, though that revenge, as he well knows, is the immediate prelude to his own death. And the death of Hector seals the fate of Troy; it will fall to the Acheans, to become the pattern for all time of the death of a city. The images of that night assault – the blazing palaces, the blood running in the streets, old King Priam butchered at the altar, Cassandra raped in the temple, Hector’s baby son thrown from the battlements, his wife Andromache dragged off to slavery – all this, foreshadowed in the Iliad, will be stamped indelibly on the consciousness of the Greeks throughout their history, immortalized in lyric poetry, in tragedy, on temple pediments and painted vases, to reinforce the stern lesson of Homer’s presentation of the war: that no civilization, no matter how rich, no matter how refined, can long survive once it loses the power to meet force with equal or superior force.”

Elsewhere it has been argued that the Illiad is not just an epic, but a tragedy, perhaps the first. Case in point, “The Embassy to Achilles,” book 9. The Acheans beg Achilles to return to the fight. Achilles knows his fate is to die in battle and live forevermore in glory and fame. But he seems torn by this trade and instead of acquiescing to their pleas for him to return to battle, he gives a powerful soliloquy:

Cursed is the man, and void of law and right,
Unworthy property, unworthy light,
Unfit for public rule, or private care,
That wretch, that monster, who delights in war;
Whose lust is murder, and whose horrid joy,
To tear his country, and his kind destroy

Long toils, long perils in their cause I bore,
But now the unfruitful glories charm no more.
Fight or not fight, a like reward we claim,
The wretch and hero find their prize the same.
Alike regretted in the dust he lies,
Who yields ignobly, or who bravely dies.
Of all my dangers, all my glorious pains,
A life of labours, lo! what fruit remains?

But what’s the quarrel, then, of Greece to Troy?
What to these shores the assembled nations draws,
What calls for vengeance but a woman’s cause?

Tell him, all terms, all commerce I decline,
Nor share his council, nor his battle join;
For once deceiv’d, was his; but twice were mine,
No—let the stupid prince, whom Jove deprives
Of sense and justice, run where frenzy drives;
His gifts are hateful: kings of such a kind
Stand but as slaves before a noble mind

My fates long since by Thetis were disclosed,
And each alternate, life or fame, proposed;
Here, if I stay, before the Trojan town,
Short is my date, but deathless my renown:
If I return, I quit immortal praise
For years on years, and long-extended days.
Convinced, though late, I find my fond mistake,
And warn the Greeks the wiser choice to make;
To quit these shores, their native seats enjoy,
Nor hope the fall of heaven-defended Troy.

Add to this the passage in book 11 of The Odyssey when Tiresias takes Odysseus into the underworld where he meets his friends and family. His encounter with Achilles is revealing:

The ghost of the splendid runner knew me at once
and hailed me with a flight of mournful questions:
‘Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus, man of tactics,
reckless friend, what next?
What greater feat can that cunning head contrive?
What daring brought you down to the House of Death? –
where the senseless, burnt-out wraiths of mortals make their home.’

The voice of his spirit paused, and I was quick to answer:
‘Achilles, son of Peleus, greatest of the Acheans,
I had to consult with Tiresias, driven here by hopes
he would help me journey home to rocky Ithica.
Never yet have I neared Achea, never once
set foot on native ground …
my life is endless trouble.

But you, Achilles,
there’s not a man in the world more blest than you –
there never has been, never will be one.
Time was, when you were alive, we Argives
honored you as a god, and now down here, I see,
you lord it over the dead in all your power.
So grieve no more at dying, great Achilles.’

I reassured the ghost, but he broke out, protesting,
‘No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!
By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man –
some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive –
than rule down here over all the breathless dead.

Achilles then goes on, breathlessly, to ask Odysseus news of his son, his friends and family.

 Posted by at 12:59 pm
Oct 042014
 

Summary

The Bretton Woods Conference was held in 1944. Its aims were to rewrite the monetary rules of the international economy to prevent devastating trade wars as well as protectionist and speculative currency manipulations and to provide more flexibility for government intervention during downturns in the business cycle.

Monetarily, what came out of Bretton Woods was a dollars for gold system. The dollars for gold system was very beneficial for the US because it placed the dollar in a unique, privileged position in relation to gold and the world economy. But deficit spending during the Vietnam War undermined the dollar and there was a run on US gold reserves which forced Nixon to bring the dollars for gold system to a sudden, dramatic end in August of 1971. Bretton Woods was officially over. It had lasted just shy of 30 years.

The dollars for gold system was then replaced by an ingenious dollars for oil system which put the US dollar in an even more privileged position. In both cases, the dollar acted as a sort of privileged middleman in monetary exchanges. In both cases, the US traded its military assets to secure this privilege, but much more so in the latter case.

What follows are some details of that story.

A modified gold standard for the sake of the workers

“One of the most innovative aspects of the Anglo-American deal [at Bretton Woods] was the fact that it prioritised the need for full employment and social insurance policies at the national level over thoroughgoing international economic integration. To this extent … it represented a dramatic departure from older assumptions about the way the world’s financial system should function. Under the gold standard, which had facilitated a period of financial and commercial globalisation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, governments had possessed few means of responding to an economic downturn beyond cutting spending and raising interest rates in the hope that prices and wages would drop so low that the economy would right itself. Populations simply had to ride out periods of deflation and mass unemployment, as the state couldn’t do much to help them: pursuing expansionary fiscal or monetary measures (what states tend to do today) would jeopardise the convertibility of the state’s currency into gold. For these reasons, the gold standard was well suited to a 19th-century world in which there were few organised workers’ parties and labour unions, but not so well suited to a messy world of mass democracy. The Keynesian revolution in economic governance gave the state a set of powerful new tools for responding to domestic economic distress – but they wouldn’t work as long as the gold standard called the shots.” http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n22/jamie-martin/were-we-bullied

This is a fact of life on the gold standard: there will be periods of deflation and mass unemployment. Those who advocate a return to the gold standard do not deny this, though they tend to gloss over it. This occasional deflationary downturn, they say, is a necessary market correction. They refer to this as the “necessary pain”, likening such periods to an addict’s recovery from the disease of the malinvestment that comes with prosperous boom times and easy credit. The deflation is therefore just “the bitter taste of medicine”, a required pill that must be suffered until health returns.

To the unemployed, to the businessmen and women who lose everything in these periods – not because they were foolish, but because their bank failed – not because the bank was foolish, but because something else went sour somewhere – to those innocent individuals who lose everything during these deflationary periods, the gold advocates say to them, “Life’s a bitch. Suck it up.”

As Alvin Hansen described life under this kind of arrangement, ‘If it gave us good times, we were thankful. If it gave us bad times, we accepted this as an inevitable concomitant of a system of free enterprise.’

Well, the world eventually got tired of all that. A couple of world wars and one Great Depression will tend to do that sort of thing to a world. So, despite the claims of the gold bugs that this was the best of all possible worlds, the world decided to try something new. There were new economic doctors on the scene and they prescribed monetary intervention during periods of economic sickness.

“What was needed, and what both Keynes and White wanted to establish, was a system of fixed but adjustable exchange rates, which would allow states to make domestic policy without worrying too much about how it would affect their international economic position. Along with capital controls, this system would work to stabilise currencies, as the gold standard had done, but in a way that gave states more breathing space to pursue the interventionist and welfarist techniques of national economic management that had recently come into vogue across the Atlantic world. The compromise that Keynes and White reached was based on this fundamental insight, and reflected what had become a new (if fleeting) consensus: that the state owed its citizens basic economic security.”

The world wanted to be able to intervene in times of trouble, and prevent the worst horrors of economic seizure which can arise from the loss of liquidity in periods a fear and panic. And the world increasingly wanted a means of government intervention that could address unemployment.

When it came to economics, domestic policy was the focus of nations in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the later half of the 20th century, however, the world would increasingly turn its attention to international economic policy. World leaders learned from previous disasters that “there is no domestic solution for international problems” (need citation) – a reference to the sorts of protectionist trade policies and currency manipulations that the nations had embarked on to tragic consequences in the previous century.

One of those lessons, which came from the Treaty of Versailles after WWI, was that a functional world economic system was essential in order to prevent the outbreak of more domestic chaos and war. Many believe that the failure to address this question of international economic concerns at the Treaty of Versailles is what ultimately led to WWII as the economic punishments laid on Germany put it in an impossible position.

Moreover, many economists believed that the failed attempt to revive the gold standard after WWI proved that the world needed a new monetary system. What was proposed was a modified gold standard with a fixed exchange rate that everyone agreed with. They argued that the old gold standard did not allow governments and monetary authorities the flexibility to intervene to revive economic activity but this new gold standard would be flexible enough to allow for such necessary interventions.

This sort of intervention was a new idea, a new prescription from the new monetary doctors, a break from classic economic thought. As such, there were many critics – and there still are. (See Keynes vs. Hayek for more) Nevertheless, only time could tell who was right and who was wrong. The second half of the twentieth century would see this idea play itself out.

We are still in the midst of this experiment.

Ultimately, the arrangement at Bretton Woods failed, at least technically. The agreements that were made were broken and the nations who were party to the agreement abandoned it. The final official blow came when Nixon was forced to completely sever the connection of the US dollar to gold as debts exploded in the US.

How the gold standard finally died

As mentioned, the Bretton Woods arrangement of 1944 ultimately established the US dollar as the medium of international trade between countries. The dollar was the only currency available widely enough across the world to play this role. Although the English wanted to establish a new reserve currency to be controlled at the IMF the US prevailed in their efforts to establish the dollar as the world’s medium of exchange.

The dollar became the only currency pegged to gold, convertible at $35 per ounce. This made it a convenient currency for countries to hold and use for trade. Countries could adjust their exchange rate to the dollar as they saw fit to address local concerns regarding growth or inflation and so on.

At issue was how to stabilize volatile exchange rates and protectionist currency manipulations and prevent harmful short-term speculative investments that affected capital flows. These are the sorts of problems that were widely believed to have destabilized the international monetary system in the period between WWI and WWII.

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) was established at this time as a sort of buffer to smooth out trade imbalances and to provide loans to struggling member nations when needed. The intent was to prevent national bankruptcies and sovereign defaults. The World Bank and World Trade Organization were also created at this time. They survived the fall of Bretton Woods.

Trade imbalances occur when a country imports more than it exports, or vice versa.

Balance of payments imbalances can arise when … well, there are many definitions, and disagreements as to what degree such imbalances matter. Thinking on such topics tends to change. But in this transitional period from the gold standard to the new monetary economics, countries paid a lot of attention to this.

One thing is for certain, the US at this time ran very large export surpluses. This meant that US dollars were flowing into the US to pay for the goods flowing out of the US. This created a dollar shortage overseas (known as a dollar gap). Countries needed US dollars to pay for the goods America was exporting.

It turned out these imbalances were what the IMF was designed to deal with, but in reality they were more than the IMF could handle.

The US responded in the 1950s with a series of grants which injected US dollars overseas. The most famous was the Marshall Plan. The US also established multinational financial institutions designed to direct the flow of US dollars overseas. In each case, the intent was for this money to be used to build up the decimated economies of Europe after WWII, which would in turn create new markets for US exports.

A paradox of the dollars for gold system thus becomes apparent: as the world’s economies grow, more and more of the reserve currency is demanded, which means the country supplying this currency must run a constant trade deficit (or balance of payments deficit?) where currency flows out of the country in order to fuel this growth. Eventually, this trade deficit would erode confidence in the currency because as more and more of it is created, the less valuable it becomes. (see Triffin Paradox: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triffin_dilemma#Implication_in_2008_meltdown)

And this is exactly what happened.

The US trade surplus reversed. The dollar gap of the 1940s and 1950s turned into a dollar glut in the 1960s. Foreign countries were no longer experiencing a shortage of dollars, but were awash in dollars that the US was “exporting.” Meanwhile, real Japanese exports were catching up to the US manufacturing levels and the Vietnam War (and the Great Society programs?) were creating large budget deficits in the US. Instead of paying for these costs by raising taxes, the US went deeply into debt as it continued to print more money.

This in effect caused a run on US gold.

By the late 1960s foreign countries concerned with US debt levels were converting their (increasingly devalued) dollars for gold causing US gold reserves to become depleted. Devalued dollars were flowing back into the US while valuable gold was flowing out.

The US responded by offering military protection to those countries who would hold their US dollars at a loss. In effect, the US was using its military assets to protect its gold (if you don’t trade in your dollars for gold, we will offer military protection), but also to protect the capitalist world’s economic system. It was a trade they would use again and again. The new world order of Bretton Woods was designed to run on US dollars and if needed the US military would make sure it did so.

But to some extent foreign countries were only willing to take a loss holding dollars in exchange for favorable US military policy as long as they supported US military policy, and Vietnam was changing that.

Meanwhile, the IMF was trying to create a special kind of currency that could potentially replace the dollar as mediator in transactions between banks and the IMF. The IMF was positioning itself to replace the US as the world’s central banker. (This tension within the IMF between the US dollar interests and the other members is something to watch going forward as the so-called “currency wars” develop.)

By 1970 US gold reserves had been cut in half as countries demanded fulfillment of America’s “promise to pay”. Tens of billions of dollars worth of gold drained out of the US reserves. It seemed as if the world had lost faith in the ability of the US to cut its budget and trade deficits. For the first time in the 20th century, a country (the US) was running a balance of payments deficit and a trade deficit at the same time.

By August, 1971 the US decided that it had no choice: without informing the international community beforehand, President Nixon closed the gold window. On Monday morning, before the markets opened, Nixon made television announcement that the US would no longer allow dollars to be converted to gold.

It became known as the “Nixon Shock.” Suddenly foreign countries all over the world were holding dollars that they could no longer convert to gold. And just like that, the Bretton Woods system of dollars for gold was officially over. It had lasted just under 30 years.

Bretton Woods was over and the gold standard was gone.

A most ingenious idea

In response to this waning demand for the dollar, America found an ingenious way to create a new artificial demand for the dollar. The US made a deal with Saudi Arabia, and then later with other oil producing nations, who agreed to denominate their oil in dollars. This meant that they would only sell oil for dollars. Anyone who wanted oil had to first convert their currency to dollars to get it. In return for this privileged position as middleman between the Middle Eastern oil and the rest of the world, the US would provide military weapons and military protection to these oil producing nations. Some say, protection from the likes of Israel.

Instead of dollars for gold, now the US was in the business of dollars for oil, which also meant flooding the Middle East with arms. So the US was able to export its inflation (expanding money supply) to other countries by trading on it’s military assets, just as it had done once before in Europe. Except this time, it was on a much, much larger scale.

The dollars for oil system (known as petro dollars) sheds important light on US foreign policy. “The defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States” – FDR

Indeed, the US provides much much more in aid to these other nations in the Middle East than it does to Israel (citation needed), an act which speaks for itself with regard to real US interests in the Middle East.

But more to the point the world’s demand for dollars absolutely skyrocketed in response to this arrangement. Any country that did not possess a surplus of US dollars could not buy oil. At least, not from much of the Persian Gulf region. Some oil producing nations (Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and North Korea) did not sign on to the dollars for oil program. Many of these nations, interestingly, are known in the US as the “Axis of Evil”.

Countries who needed a supply of dollars could go into the costly currency exchange markets – or they could run an export surplus to the United States. All they had to do was get their prices low enough to attract US dollars. This is exactly what East Asia (Japan) did in the 1980’s. It needed lots of oil, so it sold Hondas cheap to the US.

This is why the US runs a permanent trade deficit while other countries do the opposite. The world needs dollars because the world needs oil. In order to supply the world with those dollars, requires a trade imbalance.

Another part of the deal with Persian Gulf countries is that they agreed that any excess profits made from oil production would be held in US securities in US banks. This has the benefit of keeping interest rates low. Interest rates on bonds and securities work inversely with the price of bonds and securities. An increase demand for US securities raises the price of US securities while lowering the interest rate paid on those securities.

Bonds and securities can be thought of as promissory notes on a loan. Loans that come with interest payments. Promissory notes that can be sold. The purchaser of a promissory note receives the interest payments from the borrower. The price of the promissory note and the rate of interest the note pays the owner move in opposite directions. The higher the interest rate, the lower the price of the note.

The borrower in this scenario is the issuer of the promissory note. In the case of US securities, the borrower is the US government. The purchaser of the security (Saudi Arabia, for example) is making a loan to the US government.

Persian Gulf countries who are part of this system agree to loan the excess dollars they receive from world oil demand back to the US in what Henry Kissinger called “petrodollar recycling”.

So the US was able to create an artificial demand for US dollars by attaching dollars to oil, then it was able to guarantee that an excess of those dollars return in the form of low interest rate loans. Not only does this create an artificial demand for US dollars but an artificial demand for US debt – all backed by military promises and arms deals.

An important thing to notice in these observations is the effect that these US dollar policies have on everything from Wall Street to Main Street to foreign military policy.

On this last point of interest, we should note that if the dollars for oil system ever broke down like the dollars for gold system did – well, the United States can simply never let that happen, right?

Time Magazine ran a story in 2000 that Sadaam Hussein announced its plan to dump the dollars for oil system in favor of euros.

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,998512,00.html

“Iraq says that from now on, it wants payments for its oil in euros, despite the fact that the battered European currency unit, which used to be worth quite a bit more than $1, has dropped to about 82[cents]. Iraq says it will no longer accept dollars for oil because it does not want to deal ‘in the currency of the enemy.'”

Sadaam dumped the dollar in 2002. We went to war with Iraq in 2003. Is it possible that the United States went to war with Iraq to protect its dollars for oil program? It would certainly make a lot of sense. It would fit in line with US policy to use the military to defend the dollar, our truly “vital” interest.

Meanwhile, the US is the unique position among most countries that it can buy oil with money it prints.

And print money it did. As noted, this dollars for oil arrangement causes demand for US dollars to increase exponentially (need citation). And as more and more money is printed, assets prices (stocks, housing) naturally rise – along with consumer prices. This inflation has caused the dollar to lose a lot of purchasing power since 1970.

For example, you would need roughly $3000 by the year 2000 to get the same purchasing power as $500 in 1960. “http://www.measuringworth.com/ppowerus/”

Of course, if wages and incomes rise accordingly, this offsets the rise in prices. As long as it is as easy to get $3000 in the year 2000 as it was to get $500 in the year 1960, there is no problem. But this isn’t what happened.

Those individuals in possession of enough assets are shielded from this consumer level price inflation as the rise in asset prices has more than offset the rise in consumer prices. But the working class depend on rising wages, not assets, to compensate for rising consumer prices. Our current trouble is that while asset prices and GDP continued to climb with the ever increasing supply of US dollars, wages stopped rising in the 1970’s. While GDP has risen as the economy has grown, real wages have not.

Real wages as a percentage of GDP:

http://static4.businessinsider.com/image/4f27d0d9ecad04192d000004/wages-as-a-percent-of-gdp.jpg

Wages adjusted for inflation (so-called real wages) have been declining for over 40 years in the United States. In 1950 a high school graduate could find a job working in a factory and support a family of 4 or 5 on that one income. Once wages stopped rising, women went to work and families increasingly needed to use credit cards to maintain living standards.

The upshot of this analysis is that the “economy” is growing during this time (assets prices are rising, GDP is growing) but non-asset owning wage workers are not benefiting from it.

So why are wages not growing with the economy?

Is it because the “real economy” is not really growing? Remember, in order to supply the world with dollars (which causes assets priced in dollars to rise), the US needs to run trade deficits, meaning no more manufacturing and so on. Is it possible that this has created a situation where the rise in GDP is no longer attached to a rise in US productivity?

In short, yes. GDP growth detached itself from real wages precisely in the 1970’s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_wage

Are we in the midst of a currency war?

There has been increasing talk of a currency war in the past few years, which, if true, could have some very large consequences for the US – especially if the US dollar loses. So, are we in fact in the midst of a currency war?

Since 2007 a series of bestselling books have been sold in China titled “Currency Wars”. The same is true in the US. So this is a somewhat popular idea in both China and the US to some level, but is it true?

In 2010, the Brazillian Finance Minister made headlines by claiming that an international currency war had broken out. Many financial sector writers were in agreement but others – especially in the administration – say the claim was exaggerated and that things had fizzled by 2011.

However, after the crisis of 2008, there have been repeated calls by leaders in several countries to begin a discussion about a “Bretton Woods II”.

Perhaps most notably, the People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said in 2010 that whereas US monetary policy “may be optimal for the U.S. alone . . . it is not necessarily optimal for the world. There is a conflict between the U.S. dollar’s domestic role and its international settlement role.”

If Britain had won out in the original Bretton Woods agreement, the US dollar would not have been the world’s exchange currency. Keynes wanted to create something he called the “bancor” which the IMF would control. This currency would only be exchanged between banks and the IMF as a means of exchange and debt relief and so on. The IMF did eventually create such a thing, called the “SDR” but it represents a small fraction of the reserves there at present.

But more and more nations are speaking out in support of this idea.

Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of China’s central bank, said the global economy would be better off with a “supersovereign” reserve currency, in place of one issued by a specific nation — in other words, the dollar. “The frequency and increasing intensity of financial crises,” Zhou said, “suggests the costs of such a system to the world may have exceeded its benefits.” Zhou recommended turning Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), the unit of account used by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), into the premier international currency. Then a U.N. panel of economists led by Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate, concluded that a reformed financial system with a new No. 1 international currency would help bring greater strength and equity to the global economy. Stiglitz told reporters there was a “growing consensus that there are problems with the dollar reserve system,” which he described as “relatively volatile, deflationary [and] unstable.” http://content.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1889588,00.html

In fact, Zhou even cited the Triffin dilemma as a proximate cause of the 2008 crises. For reference, see page 6 of this IMF document: https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/spn/2009/spn0926.pdf

These sorts of discussions continue and examples are easy to find if you search for them. The fact is, there is increasing talk of creating alternatives to the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency and increasing desire around the world to free itself from what it sees as US financial hegemony that is no longer in the best interest of the world economic system. Whether this is a plausible threat to the dollar is questionable. Some say these nations are in fact trapped in the dollar:
Prasad, E.S.: The Dollar Trap: How the U.S. Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance. (eBook and Hardcover)

But for how long?

Whatever the answer to this question might be, understanding the history of the US dollar is helpful in understanding many of the nuances of US domestic and international policies in the world today.

 Posted by at 12:27 pm
Oct 042014
 

“He had discovered mankind’s tragedy: that it can draw the blueprint of goodness but it cannot live up to them.”

The Proud Tower

 Posted by at 12:25 pm
Oct 042014
 

Notes taken from “The Proud Tower” by Barbara Tuchman

In the late nineteenth century a wave of bombings and assassinations swept the civilized world. By the time of The Great War several heads of state had been taken by assassins devoted to the idea of bringing about a world without government, by violently removing it. The assassinations at highest levels of government included:

* Russian Czar, Alexander II (1881)
* President of France (1894)
* Premier of Spain (1897)
* Empress of Austria (1898)
* King of Italy (1900)
* President of the United States (1901)
* Governor General of Moscow (1905)
* Premier of Spain, again (1912)

These were not isolated historical events, but were part of a much larger body of violence that had been perpetrated by what one historian referred to as “a daydream of desperate romantics.” Their dream was a utopian state “without government, without law, without ownership of property, in which, corrupt institutions having been swept away, man would be free to be good as God intended him.”

Today we know them as the “Anarchists,” a label first self-proclaimed by the French propagandist of the stateless society, Pierre Proudhon. The Anarchists had their leaders all across the nations. Some of these men were theorists, others were terrorists. Together they represented “The Idea and the Deed”.

The unrest and violence that swept the world in the form of “The Idea and the Deed” had arisen from the tensions between two divisions of society: the world of privilege and the world of protest. Having begun with the French Revolution, these waves of revolt were not finished reverberating through the kingdoms, dynasties and empires of the modern world.

From theorists to terrorists, the men of the Idea included:

* Peter Kropotkin – an aristocratic Russian Prince who was an esteemed international intellectual. Bernard Shaw said of him that “he was amiable to the point of saintliness and with his full beard and lovable expression might have been a shepherd from the Delectable Mountains.” Prince Kopotkin was one of the world’s leading advocates of the Propaganda of the Deed, saying “a single deed is better propaganda than a thousand pamphlets.”

* Pierre Proudhon of France – coined the word anarchy, and was a father of the idea, privately using violent rhetoric, but later publicly renouncing assassinations and bombings. “Property is theft” he preached. “Whoever lays his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant; I declare him to be my enemy … Government of man by man is slavery” and its laws are “cobwebs for the rich and chains of steel for the poor.” The “highest perfection” for free society is no government, to which Proudhon was the first to give the name, “An-archy.”

* Michael Bakunin of Russia – preached the coming of an organic revolt and overthrow. He competed with Marx over control of the working class movement. He disagreed with Marx that the revolution would have to come from an industrialized proletariat, arguing that organic revolution could explode in any one of the more economically backward countries, and having learned from Czar Nicholas I of Russia that violence was necessary, he intended to spark just such an explosion.

* Narodniki -

During this time, it was not only heads of state who were killed; many others – in England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia, and America – would fall victim to “The Deed”:

* In Chicago on May 4, 1886 a bomb was “hurled into the midst of an armed police force who were about to break up a strikers’ meeting in Haymarket Square.” The bomb was retaliation against the events that had occurred at another strike the day before. Illustrations of the events of May 3 show what one of the factory managers described as a police force of 200 officers firing “on fleeing workmen and women”, a scene that “resembled a promiscuous bush-hunt.” Five men were caught and sentenced to death for the Haymarket bombing. Louis Lingg, who had made the bomb, blew himself up with a capsule of fulminate mercury the night before his execution. On the wall in his cell he had written in his own blood, “Long live anarchy!” The others were later pardoned by Governor Altgeld, who unveiled deep corruption in the march to trial and conviction, further shaking faith in public institutions.

* In Clichy France on May Day, 1891 several mounted police charged a workers’ demonstration led by “les anarchos” who were carrying revolutionary slogans. The anarchists, calling for the murder of the police, were subsequently dragged to the police station and beaten. At their trial the prosecuting attorney called for the death penalty – even though the three men had no killed anyone. They were sentenced to a few years prison each. This set off a chain of dynamite that included the judge’s home and the prosecuting attorney’ home. The bomber’s name was Ravachol, who later admitted to all sorts of murders and robberies and bombings (including the Clichy bombings) during a two-year reign of dynamite, daggers, gunshots and terror in France. Terror, indeed. During the trial, everyone fully expected the Palais de Justice to be blown up. “It was surrounded by troops, every entrance guarded, and jurors, judges and counsel heavily escorted by police.” Ravochol said what he had done was for the sake of the “anarchist idea” and added, “I know I shall be avenged.” Sentenced to death in 1892, he went to the guillotine crying “Vive l’anarchie!” and became a popular anarchist martyr.

* In Homestead Pennsylvania in 1892 the steelworkers were protesting Andrew Carnegie’s Steel Company which had just cut wages in a deliberate show of force to the union – because they could. In expectation of a battle, the Carnegie Steel Company erected a military style blockade topped with barbed wire. Carnegie decided to spend that summer salmon fishing in Scotland, leaving matters to his manager, Henry Clay Frick. The barbed wire did not stop Alexander Berkman from forging a business card and making his way into Frick’s office and shooting him. Frick lived. Berkman tried to blow himself up at the police station (as Lingg had done), using two caps of Mercury found in his mouth, but he failed. He was sentenced to 16 years.

* In Spain the dynamite campaign was much more fierce, and deadly. The cycle began in January, 1892. An agrarian revolt broke out. 400 men marched on the village of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia to rescue five comrades sentenced to life in prison, in chains, for complicity in a labor dispute ten years earlier. The military stopped the uprising, publicly executing four of the leaders by tying a scarf around their necks and twisting it with a wooden handle. One of those leaders was an anarchist named Pallas who had thrown a bomb at the general, killing his horse and wounding several officers. In response to these executions, anarchists bombed a theater, killing 22 and wounding 50. The police arrested thousands – any who were suspected to be connected to any group of social discontent – and tortured them until they found Santiago Salvador, who admitted to bombing the theater in revenge for Pallas. Several bombings followed. The government countered with more executions.

* During a miner’s strike France, five police officers were killed in an explosion in November of 1892. The city was absolutely seized with fear. Commerce stopped. People were scared to go to church. This was a time of disillusionment, during the infamous Panama scandal in which over 100 officials of government were uncovered in corruption. “As the prestige of the State sank, Anarchism flourished.” In December a bomb went off in parliament. The bomber, named Vaillant, was labeled in the press as one of the “men of blood, born out of the mud of Panama.” Vaillant, whose bomb of nails only wounded, was sentenced to death in 1894, shouting “Death to bourgeois society! Long live Anarchy”. The days that followed were rocked with explosions. The first bomb went off in a peaceful cafe full of anonymous citizens. One person was killed and 20 wounded. The bomber of the cafe turned out to be the same person who bombed the police station. His name was Emile Henry, for whom “there are no innocent bourgeois.” while he was on trial the city suffered a whole series of bombings. While in prison, Emile Henry wrote his manifesto, echoing the teachings of Proudhon, Kropotkin and other propagandist leaders of the movement. Condemned to death, he went to the guillotine shouting “Vive la revolution! Vive l’anarchi!”

* A month later, on June 24, 1894, the President of France, Sadi Carnot, was assassinated by a young man with a dagger in a rolled up newspaper. The next day his widow received a picture of Ravachol inscribed, “He is avenged.” The assassin’s name was Santo Caserio. He described the act as a deliberate “propaganda of the deed.” He was 21 years old and had spent the last 3 years handing out propaganda pamphlets.

* In June 1896 a bomb was thrown into a religious procession as it was entering the church door led by the Bishop and the Commanding General of Barcelona during the festival of Corpus Christi in Spain. Eleven were killed and forty wounded. The government, led by its Premier, Antonio Canovas del Castillo, arrested 400 of its political enemies from all factions. Trials took place in secret. Letters that escaped spoke of torture. Four were executed and seventy-six were sentenced to prison terms, most to the penal colony of Rio de Oro, the Spanish Devil’s Island. An assassin named Michael Angiollio shot Canovas with a revolver while he was vacationing at a spa. Canovas’ wife struck the man in the face screaming, “Murderer! Assassin!” The man, an Italian journalist replied, “I am not an assassin. I am the Avenger of my Anarchist comrades. I have nothing to do with you, Madame.” Despite attempts to justify himself he was silenced during his trial. He maintained “an unbroken sangfroid” at his execution, refusing religious rites.

* On September 10, 1898 the Empress of Austria, Elizabeth, wife of Franz Joseph, was stabbed to death by Luigi Lucheni. There was no reason for it. It was not in retaliation or revenge. The murderer, a frequenter of Italian Anarchist meetings, simply wanted his name in the papers. Asked why he had killed the Empress he stated, “As part of the war on the rich and the great … it will be Humbert’s turn next.” There was no death penalty in Geneva where the murder occurred. Luigi was sentenced to life in prison from which he wrote many letters, at one point stating that “never in my life have I felt so contented as now. … I have made known to the world that the hour is not far distant when a new sun will shine upon all men alike.”

* In October of 1898 an assassin was found with two bombs intended for the Kaiser, Wilhelm II. Like the assassins of the President of France, the Premier of Spain, and the Empress of Austria, this would-be assassin was an Italian, just as the man who had attempted to kill King Humbert with a dagger a year before in Italy.

* In 1899 Tuscany was put under martial law following bread riots in Italy. Cries that the revolution had finally erupted, the government dispatched half an army corps to Milan to regain control, at least on the surface. On July 29, 1900, King Humbert was shot four times by Gaetano Bresci, whose name had been chosen by lots by a cabal of conspirators of the deed. With no death penalty in Italy, Bresci was sentenced to life in prison, the first seven years to be in solitary confinement. He killed himself after just a few months.

* The assassination of President McKinley in 1901 was carried out by a man who was suspect in the Anarchist underground. Czolgosz had expressed to Anarchist colleagues that he was “troubled by the conduct of the American Army, which, after liberating the Philippines from Spain, was now engaged in war upon the Filipinos. ‘It does not harmonize with the teaching in our public schools about our flag.'” This concern with the flag alerted some to suspect Czolgosz of being an agent provocateur, which turned out to be untrue. “I killed President McKinley,” he wrote in his confession, “because I done my duty,” later adding, “because he was an enemy of the good working people.” Perhaps the least sophisticated and significant men of the Idea and the Deed had committed the most significant act of them all. “McKinley was going around the country shouting prosperity when there was no prosperity for the poor man. … I don’t believe we should have any rulers. It is right to kill them.” Theodore Roosevelt called for the deportation of all known Anarchists in the country and in 1903 the Immigration Act was amended to exclude persons disbelieving in or “teaching disbelief in or opposition to all organized government.”

* In 1887, the same year the Haymarket Anarchists were hanged, five students from St. Petersburg were also hanged in Russia for the attempted assassination of Alexander III by bomb. One of the brothers of these men swore revenge for their hanging. His name was Vladimir Ilyich, which he later changed to Lenin.

* In the years of 1901-1903 the Terror Brigade of the Socialist-Revolutionaries assassinated the Minister of Education, the Minister of the Interior (the leader of the Secret Police), and a Governor who had ended a miners strike with particular brutality. In 1904 a second Minister of Interior, Wenzel von Plehve, the most hated autocrat in Russia, who had said “we must drown the revolution in Jewish blood,” was also killed. Plehve had been waging a reign of terror of his own, killing, beating, burning and plundering of homes and shops, and desecrating synagogues.

* Revolutionary groups of all sorts had been calling for a new constitution in Russia but the new Czar, Nicholas II dismissed them all when he rose to power in 1898. A few years later, in response to “Bloody Sunday” (Dec 1904) in which strikers were gunned down outside the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, a young revolutionary named Kaliaev killed the Governor General of Moscow with a bomb in April of 1905. The Anarchists really wanted to bomb another Czar (they had done so in 1881) but the Governor General was the best they could do at this time. Kaliaev was caught and executed. To his judges Kaliaev said, “We are two warring camps, … two worlds in furious collision. You, the representatives of capital and oppression; I, one of the avengers of the people. … What does all of this mean? It is the judgment of history upon you.” He said that he hoped the executioners would have the courage to carry out his death in the open, publicly, saying to the judge: “Learn to look the advancing revolution straight in the eye.”

Six months later the revolution finally came. “Neither organized nor led by the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Social-Democrats, or Anarchists, it was the spontaneous revolution Bakunin had believed in and did not live to see.” The idea of Proudhon had finally arrived in the Russian Revolution of 1905. The Terror Brigade in Russia would carry several more murders in the years that followed. In 1911, the Premier of Russia was was assassinated. It is unclear if the assassins were revolutionaries or the Russian police themselves.

The events shook the leaders of the world from country to country. “So serious was the problem that in the Italian government convened an international conference in Rome in November, 1898, to try to work out a solution. Secret sessions lasted for a month.” The world was on edge and finally, in 1914 an assassin’s bullet in Sarajevo would precipitate a world wide cataclysm and catastrophe, changing the world forever.

 

Excerpt from Emile Henry’s manifesto, written in prison:

“Scientific studies gradually made me aware of the play of natural forces in the universe. I became materialist and atheist; I came to realize that modern science discards the hypothesis of God, of which it has no need. In the same way, religious and authoritarian morality, which are based on false assumptions, should be allowed to disappear.

What then, I asked myself, was the new morality in harmony with the laws of nature that might regenerate the old world and give birth to a happy humanity?

“It was at this moment that I came into contact with a group of anarchist comrades whom I consider, even today, among the best I have ever known. The character of these men immediately captivated me. I discerned in them a great sincerity, a total frankness, a searching distrust of all prejudices, and I wanted to understand the idea that produced men so different from anyone I had encountered up to that point.

“The idea – as soon as I embraced it – found in my mind a soil completely prepared by observation and personal reflection to receive it. It merely gave precision to what already existed there in vague and wavering form. In my turn I became an anarchist.”

– Emile Henry April, 1894

 Posted by at 12:13 pm
Jan 312013
 

1. Initial Trust
2. Spiritual Curiosity
3. Spiritual Openness
4. Spiritual Seeking
5. Intentional Discipleship

Quoting from the book, Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell:

Trust

Where do we start when seeking to make disciples of unevangelized Catholics? Let us get a common assumption out of the way first. With most twenty-first century people (there are always exceptions), we can’t start with catechesis. They aren’t ready for it yet, and if they aren’t ready, it will just roll off like water off a duck’s back. In any case, catechesis is designed to foster the maturation of disciples, not the initial conversion of thos who aren’t yet disciples.

“The aim of catechesis is to be the teaching and maturation stage … the period in which the Christian, having accepted by faith the person of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and having given Him complete adherence by sincere conversion of the heart, endeavors to know better this Jesus to whom he has entrusted himself.” – Pope John Paul II

The National Directory for Catechesis outlines two critical steps that should precede catechesis: pre-evangelization and initial proclamation of the basic kerygma, or the Great Story of Jesus Christ. Both are necessary to awaken initial Christian faith, and as we have seen, Christian faith is necessary for catechesis to be fruitful.

Here is an article that relates to the above point:

Why do you suppose Blessed John Paul II talked about the “new evangelization” and not the “new catechesis”?

Until recently, I was the director of evangelization and catechesis at a large parish here in Denver. And in that time, it became clear to me that (1) there is a significant difference in meaning between those two terms and that (2) most parishes don’t fully understand that difference, and that hurts our ability to reach the people in the pews.

To put it simply, “evangelization” is the process of introducing someone to Jesus Christ. It is about sharing His good news with them, and inspiring them to make the radical decision to follow Him. It is the fundamental turning of the heart toward God, the reorientation of one’s entire life to live not primarily for self, but for Him. Evangelization is the “why.” Why do I renounce this world for the next? Why do I follow Christ?

“Catechesis,” which happens after evangelization, is the nuts and bolts of instruction — the “how.” It is where we learn in a systematic way what we need to do in order to follow Christ, how to live as a Christian, how to grow in faith and love and grace.
Catechesis, then, presupposes evangelization. It would make no sense to teach people how to live a certain way if they don’t understand why they would want to live that way. It would be like giving someone a road map to a place they have no interest in going. They’d have no use for the map. They’d be more likely to use it to line the bird cage than they would be to actually follow it.

And here is where I see the disconnect in most parishes.

Most churches operate on a presupposition. They assume that their congregations consist of the “faithful” — people who have been evangelized, who have made the decision to follow Jesus Christ, who desire to become “new creations” in Him. They are gathered together to pray, to worship and to learn how to deepen that relationship. The church’s catechesis exists to help those people, who have already made the decision to follow Christ, to follow Him more closely.

Only, in many cases, that presupposition is wrong.

It may have been true, in previous generations, that a majority of the people in the pews on Sunday mornings were fully evangelized, committed Christians who had given their lives to following Jesus Christ. That may still be the case in some evangelical congregations. But it is not the situation in the average Catholic parish here at the dawn of the 21st century.

I believe that there are a lot of people in those pews who have never been evangelized. They’re probably sincere people, for the most part. They’re there. They want to be “good.” They want to meet nice people, maybe please the grandparents, maybe fulfill some kind of obligation. But they don’t get it. They don’t understand the power of Christ to transform their lives. They don’t see the need for the radical, life-altering transformation that He offers.

It’s no wonder our catechesis doesn’t seem to be getting us too far. We’re offering them a road map to a place they have no interest in going.

And hence, the primary need in the average Catholic church is not for catechesis. It’s for evangelization. As Blessed John Paul II said in “Novo Millennio Inuente,” “Even in countries evangelized many centuries ago, the reality of a ‘Christian Society’ which, amid all of the frailties which have always market human life, measured itself explicitly on Gospel values, is now gone.” Our mission fields are no longer in far-off lands. They are right here, in our own cities, amongst the people who gather with us for Mass on Sunday mornings. Those are the people we need to introduce, or reintroduce, to the truth about salvation in Jesus Christ.

Hence the need for the “new evangelization.” There’s nothing really “new” about it, in the sense of new information. As John Paul II himself said, “The new evangelization does not consist of a ‘new gospel.’ … Neither does it involve removing from the Gospel whatever seems difficult for the modern mentality to accept.” What we need to do is to restore the ancient truths, in all of their splendor, and release them from the extremes of sterile question-and-answer catechesis on one side and “Kumbaya and felt banners” emotionalism on the other. We need to speak those ancient truths in ways that are relevant to our modern culture, without watering them down or losing what is essential in them.

How do we do that? Unfortunately, there is no road map for that. It isn’t just a matter of purchasing the right curriculum or scheduling the right programs. It is a matter, first of all, of allowing ourselves to be transformed in Christ. It is about becoming witnesses — showing them what transformation in Christ looks like, and inviting them to pursue the same through the power of our example.

To quote John Paul II one final time: “The new evangelization is not a matter of merely passing on doctrine, but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior.” The first goal of parish ministries should be just that — to facilitate a “personal and profound” meeting between worshippers and the object of their worship, Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t assume they’ve already met Him personally, or that they even know much about Him. Because I’m betting that, in many cases, they haven’t.
But I’m thinking that, if they got to know Him, they’d probably really like Him.

Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the author of We’re On a Mission from God and Real Love.

 Posted by at 8:27 pm
Jan 302013
 

“It is no great thing to associate with the good and gentle, for such association is naturally pleasing. Everyone enjoys a peaceful life and prefers persons of congenial habits. But to be able to live at peace with harsh and perverse men, or with the undisciplined and those who irritate us, is a great grace, a praiseworthy and manly thing.” – Imitation of Christ

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Lord, thank you for those who irritate.
A moment in the fire with them
strengthens my patience
and teaches me more about myself
than many hours
of peaceful meditation.

Lord, teach me to live at peace in turmoil
and among undisciplined men.
By this may your glory be evangelized
and known even among the harsh and perverse.

 Posted by at 7:46 am
Jan 292013
 

As I go over chapter IV more thoroughly, so many avenues of philosophical inquiry open up and I know these would be distractions but I still have to make note of them as I work my way through my “mental furniture.”

To mention just one, at the very end of his section on Profession as notional assent Newman goes into a digression that touches on group theory, the ontological nature of God, the distinction between notions and the “things themselves” – each of which open up enormous vistas of philosophical discourse – quite a digression!

To touch on just one of these, in the last sentence of the section on “Profession”, just before the section on “Credence” he reminds us of what he demonstrated in an earlier chapter where he shows how an assertion can be converted to an assent by making the assertion the subject of a proposition, and predicating of the proposition that it is true. Once I read him say it this way, I recalled that this is exactly what Frank Ramsey denies in his redundancy theory of truth (“Facts and Propositions” 1927, which is a very fruitful theory in mathematics according to what I have gathered of it).

Ramsey says that adding “is true” to a proposition is equivalent to asserting the proposition itself. Ramsey asserts that it is a “linguistic muddle” to treat “is true” and words like “truth” and “fact” as separate from the assertions they are attached to and denies that the word “truth” corresponds to a “thing” in reality, but is merely a convenient way of speaking. “‘The snow is white’ is true” is the same as saying “The snow is white” is an example frequently given.

We have now entered the realm of group theory and puzzlers like “This sentence is false” (which is false if true and true if false) and other paradoxes dealt with by Russel and Godel and soon we find ourselves faced with dealing with the entire thrust of the Vienna Circle, suddenly realizing that this digression has become quite serious and quite perplexing enough that men have spent their lives here.

These are just the sorts of discussions in which one begins to feel as if caught in a very deep and dangerous quicksand. It was just these sorts of problems which can leave the student of philosophy (this one at least) at a loss, and wondering, if ever a conclusion can be reached, who could follow it? For just as Newman puts forth his idea of converting an assertion into an assent with the predication of “is true,” so have men have put forth great tracts disputing this, and men disputing them back in turn and so on, and on and on.

And so one begins to wonder: how, if truth be this arduous to find, will anyone ever make their way to it? And if we were once and for all able to convince the world and solve these puzzles, what exactly would we have gained? For once we have come to some conclusion, if we are able to do so, what is that we have won? Imagining ourselves at this endpoint, having fought our way through Vienna and all the logical positivists who gather against us, I have to wonder if we would have at last satisfied the yearning that originally sent us on our quest? Imagining ourselves here, victorious in truth, what now of the mystery that originally captured our minds and our hearts?

Again, I imagine Job and his philosopher/theologian friends going back and forth and round and round these paradoxes and puzzles until they have developed a highly symbolic, rigorous system of logic that has stripped away all equivocation from propositions, seeking to avoid all the contradictions brought forth by the metaphors of our common language, only to end up with the “Incompleteness Theorem” which says nothing less than that the crystal palace they sought to construct (which I like to refer to as the Tower of Babel) can in fact never be built.

But again, even if it could be built, even if we could build a bridge to total and complete understanding and knowledge, would this satisfy? If we were able to construct a machine that could compute any answer, or if we were so brilliant as to be able to solve all the puzzles and mysteries ourselves, would we be satisfied at last? In short, is it really answers that we seek, after all?

I think the book of Job has much to say about this. And I sometimes think of philosophy as a tool, perhaps for sharpening the mind, but perhaps not for finding answers or resolving disputes. Like many tools, it can be used for and against the same purpose. Whether as an aid to finding God, or as an aid in losing God, perhaps it is the philosopher, not philosophy, which determines which of these paths is ventured. I like this thought because it corresponds to the gift of our human freedom. If philosophy had the power to resolve these questions in the way that mathematics has the power to resolve an equation, where would that put man’s relation to God vis-a-vis his human freedom? There would be no more room left for making a commitment, for keeping a covenant, or for love.

I used to think that what I sought was answers and that the mystery of life was about solving some puzzle, but I have come to believe that the mystery of life is not about solving, but rather about choosing. I have adopted the motto, “There are no answers, only choices.” Perhaps this goes too far, but I like the idea that some questions have not (and will not) be solved because some questions involve me so deeply as a person that the last thing I want is for those things to be resolved by some clever algorithm that has nothing to do with me as a person. The last thing I want for myself and my life is to be solvable. No. I do not want a solution for my life, I want a commitment. I want to choose. I want to exercise the fullness of my freedom and experience all the anguish and joy that comes with making a choice; with making a promise, and keeping it.

As Pope Benedict XVI says in “Introduction to Christianity” – “There is no escape from the dilemma of being human.” I am thankful that there is no escape, because what would it mean to escape this dilemma? It would mean the loss of my freedom as a person to choose, and more to the point it would mean the loss of my freedom to choose Christ, for if this were truly “solved” then I would have no more choice in the matter of Christ than I do in the matter of some maths equation. This is why faith is faith and not mathematics. It is at this point in the “digression,” when I see philosophy wanting to become a mathematics, that I have to realize that I am very far from what I seek.

And so, in the end, the consolation of philosophy is for me the acceptance that while I may make use of it for my ends, I do not feel the urgency of finding within it some solution that will resolve the problems of my life, or answer the quest I am on. Only whether I am able to make the choice that is before me, and keep it, will determine this.

 Posted by at 6:21 pm
Jan 282013
 

“To the child who is learning how to swim we explain that because of natural laws there is no reason to be afraid, and if he will only make a few simple movements he will be able to swim. But the child is perhaps still afraid. He shrinks back, and does not seem to believe us. But finally the moment comes when he experiences for himself that what he was told is really possible, after all. He believes, and now he is able to swim.”

-Claude Tresmontant in “Toward the Knowledge of God”

— — –

Lord, you have challenged us to believe;
You have invited us into the water
and assured us we will not sink;

Listening to your word
now we prepare to leave our familiar shores.
Now we cry out, now we reach out
like babes with arms outstretched

as we make our way to you,
Lord, teach us to swim.

 Posted by at 10:27 pm
Jan 272013
 

“Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking.” (CCC 2705)

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Prayer is where the ultimate awareness of self occurs, for it is in prayer where we become most aware of our dependence on Another and therefore it is in prayer where we admit the lie of our self-sufficiency.

In prayer we enter into a relationship (I-Thou) that corresponds with our deepest, truest self. Otherwise it is nothing. Either we are true and we enter into a relationship, or we are false and are alone with our thoughts.

In prayer we are aware of the foundation from which our life, our being, springs. We are aware that we have not created ourselves, and that our creation is not in our past, but rather, it is in our present; it is in this moment, right now. And as our creation is present in every moment, it is present in every action, every breathe, which leads to the question, can our entire life become prayer?

 

Lord, teach me to pray
so that I may know you;
Lord, teach me to pray
so that I might be true.

Lord, teach me to pray
that I might know myself;
Lord, teach me to pray
that I might know you.

Lord, teach me to pray
with my every breath,
with my every word,
with my every action.

Lord, teach me to pray
so wherever I go
I can say, “He is with me,
and has not left me alone.”

 

 Posted by at 5:07 pm
Jan 262013
 

The king hath brought me into his chambers;
[...] He brought me to the banqueting house, 
and his banner over me was love.
~~~~~ 

The most profound insight of the Desert Fathers is that entering into the heart is entering into the kingdom of God. In other words, the way to God is through the heart. Isaac the Syrian writes: “Try to enter the treasure chamber … that is within you and then you will discover the treasure chamber of heaven.” [more...]

 — — — —

Lord, call me to your chamber.

When I am distracted and confused;
When I am far from you and lost.

Call to me with the glance of another
so I may know I am not alone.
Call me to your chamber
that I may see your face.

Call to me in the gentle breeze
that speaks of your peace
so that I may feel your presence.

Call to me in the silence
of contemplation
so that I may hear you.

Call to me in the candle flame
that flickers in the darkness
so that I may see your light.

Lord, call to me
so that I may follow you
and know your love.

Lord, call to me
so that I may know
how to love.

 Posted by at 1:39 pm
Jan 262013
 

They said, “We see plainly the Lord has been with you.
[...] So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank.”

May the Lord be plain to see in our lives.
Amen.

 Posted by at 1:08 pm
Jan 262013
 

Some therefore think religion is unreasonable, but is this true?

Religious knowledge cannot be imparted like other information, simply by scanning the sacred page. And so it is said that religious experience transcends reason, not in the sense of being unreasonable, but that such experience is not a product of reason.

Just as reason does not produce love, reason does not produce religious experience. Rather, reason merely seeks to understand something it did not generate.  Grace does moves through scripture, but this is despite reason, not because of reason. Scanning the sacred page may or may not be followed by the religious experience, but it is not mere apprehension of the text that separates one from the other.

To say this does no damage to reason, nor does it dismiss reason, for surely it is necessary to seek an understanding of experiences. Love without reason would not be enough for the covenant of marriage. I must base my commitment fully upon my reason or else my promise becomes too fragile to hold and survive. Just as I must use reason to enter into a covenant with my lover, I must use my reason to respond to religious experience, though it was not my reason that produced it.

 Posted by at 12:37 pm
Jan 252013
 

These are my notes from reading Churchill’s “History of English Speaking Peoples” and other histories of “Brettaniai” as the Greek merchant and explorer Pytheas named the island when he landed in 325 BC. I will be coming back to this page to fill in the gaps and flush out my learning, but for now I am tracing bloodlines…

———

Emma Queen of England (985 – 1052)

The history of the English-speaking peoples (the Anglo-Saxons) on the island of Britain is often told as the story of bloodlines mixing, and among other things, of marriages designed to bring peace to warring kingdoms. In that regard it is fitting to begin that story with the woman who sits at the very nexus of it.

Daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, Emma is the first to bring the Norman bloodline to the crown of England. She is also the second. Emma was in fact twice the Queen of England. Her first husband was a high-born Saxon and her second a high-born Viking – both were kings of England. Her second husband’s father had taken her first husband’s crown.  The Saxons and the Vikings were, after all, at war. A war which her first marriage was supposed to end.

Emma is also mother to two kings of England. Two of her stepsons would become king, as would her great-nephew, William the Conquerer, Duke of Normandy. Her Norman blood is mixed with Saxon blood and Viking blood through her children. Emma sits at the crossroads of Norman, Saxon, and Viking rule.

Her first husband was an English king named Aethelred who was descended from the first Saxon king of England, Alfred the Great who is known for his great victory against the Viking siege of the English island in the 9th century. But in Aethelred’s time the Viking raids had returned and Aethelred had married the daughter of the Duke of Normandy with the hopes of bringing an end to the Viking raids.

Emma’s second husband was named Canute. He was the Viking son of Sweyn Forkbeard, who took the throne from Aethelred in 1013 (likely in retaliation of his sister’s murder in a massacre ordered by Aethelred against the Danes in 1002).

After Forkbeard’s death in 1014, Aethelred returned to the crown (the Vikings ruled England for but one year). He had to sign a pact with the noblemen of England agreeing to bring reforms and to forgive all that had been said and done against him in his previous reign. This is the first time a pact is recorded between a king of England and his subjects.

The Danish raids of the Vikings continued under the rule of Sweyn Forkbeard’s son, Canute, who defeated Aethelred’s son, Edmund Ironside, who had actually rebelled against his father before reuniting with him before his death. He became king in 1016.He married Emma, Aethelred’s widow, and conquered most of England. He is the one who famously could not rule the waves and testified to the limits of the power of kings.

 

The Matildas

Henry I had a mother named Matilda. He had a wife who changed her name from Edith to Matilda and he named his daughter Matilda. Tracing the story of these three Matilda’s will further illustrate how the the story of England is the story of bloodlines mixing between the Normans, Saxons, and Vikings.

Henry I’s mother, Matilda of Flanders, daughter of the Count of Flanders, was married to William the Conquerer (William the bastard), who becomes the first Norman king of England.  Legend says Matilda originally refused his proposal, considering herself too high-born for a bastard. But this bastard fathered a Norman dynasty that changed England forever, supplanting the Saxon bloodline which had ruled England for nearly 500 years and would itself last nearly 100 years.

Edith, wife of Henry I, known as Matilda of Scotland and Queen Matilda, was the daughter of the sister of Edgar the Aethling, the uncrowned king of England after King Harold and was related to Edmund Ironside of the House of Wessex. She therefore carried the line of Anglo Saxon blood. This is a significant detail. The families of the Normans were descended from Vikings (like the Danes) and their bloodlines continue to mix with the Saxon blood which has ruled the lands of England since the fall of Rome.

Henry I and Queen Matilda in turn had a daughter named Matilda. While she was still a child, she was betrothed to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor of the Salian dynasty of the four German Kings, also known as the Frankish dynasty. The Emperor died, ending the Salian dynasty, when “Empress Matilda” (Henry’s daughter) was 22 and still childless.

Henry I of England subsequently had his daughter, Matilda, married to the Count of Anjou (an enemy of England) for diplomatic reasons. This became a controversy after her brother, William Aethling (or Adelin) tragically died at sea, and Anjou, enemy of England, is now married to the heir in succession to the throne, Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry.

When Henry I falls ill and dies in 1135, Stephen, Matilda’s cousin, immediately seizes the throne despite having sworn not one but two oaths to Henry agreeing to accept Matilda as ruler after he died. Stephen’s rule is troubled and he soon loses control of the barons who begin minting their own coins. This is the first and last time a king of England loses control of the coin.

In 1137 Matilda takes seige of Western England and civil war breaks out. England is divided East and West. In 1141 Matilda defeats her cousin at the Battle of Lincoln and imprisons him. She arrives in London to be crowned, “Lady of the English” but she refuses the noblemen’s requests to halve their taxes. Matilda flees London as civil war returns to England. Stephen is released from prison and restored to the crown.

For the first time in thier history, the people had a say in who was allowed to be king of England.

In 1147, Matilda and her first son returned to England with an invasion force, but she failed. Henry was enboldened, however. He was only 14 but he was convinced of his mother’s right to rule, and so his own.

Stephen dies in 1154. He is the last in the line of the Norman kings to rule in England; the last of the dynasty that began when his grandfather, William the Conquerer, defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Empress Matilda’s son becomes King Henry II. The Saxon blood had returned to the crown. This new dynasty born of Henry II, the Plantagenet dynasty, will last 300 years.

 

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)

Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Western Europe during the high Middle Ages. She was married twice, to enemy kings; first to the King of France, then to Henry II, King of England. She produced many children, including Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) and his brother John, both of whom would become king.

Eleanor’s husband, Henry II was one of the most powerful, charismatic of the English kings. Born in Anjou, Henry is only half English but rules Anjou, Normandy, Aquitain (France), and England all at the same time. During this period, the barons tried to grab power by building “illegal castles” and setting up baronial states which Henry ordered destroyed, establishing his dominance. Henry II is known for his legal innovations and for bringing his lands together under a “common law.”

Henry has 4 sons and in 1169 decides to divide his lands among them. His son, Henry gets England, Normandy and Anjou; Richard gets Aquitain; Jeffery gets Brittany; John is just a baby and gets nothing. However, Henry plans to conquer Ireland; a gift to give to his youngest. This division of his land was disastrous, only whetting his sons’ appetite for power; the seeds of discord and war.

This period is also a time of clashes with the Catholic Church over the authority of courts, taxes, lands, appointments of bishops, and so on. So Henry II sends his best and most loyal friend, Thomas Beckett, to Rome to become Archbishop of Cantebury to influence Rome and the Pope in the kings favor. But having given himself to a higher power, Thomas Beckett’s loyalty goes to the Catholic Church instead, shocking Henry. Thomas Beckett disputes his friend Henry over whether bishops are to be subject to the king’s laws and courts. The disputes came to a sharp point regarding clergy who had committed secular crimes. Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Cantebury was protective of his flock and would not hand over a bishop charged with rape to be tried in the king’s court, maintaining the only the Catholic Church could try clergy.

In January of 1164, Henry passed the Constitutions of Clarendon, composed of 16 articles restricting ecclesiastical privileges and curbing the power of the Church courts and Papal authority in England, which had been extended under the weak rule of Stephen.

In December of 1170 Thomas Beckett excommunicated three bishops who were loyal to Henry over the Church. Enraged, the king publicly cursed his court for allowing Beckett to continue to thwart him. Taking the king’s word as a veiled order, four of the king’s knights went to Canterbury to arrest Beckett during a Mass. Refusing to be interrupted, Beckett proceeded with the Mass and the four knights hacked him to death in front of the altar. Henry plunged into a deep grief. Outrage quickly spreads. People begin to claim the Henry II, King of England is worse even than Nero; worse even than Judas. In 1173 Henry’s own sons lead a rebellion against him.

Henry responds by walking barefoot to the shrine of Thomas Beckett and submits himself to a public scourging by the clergy. He lay prostrate all day and night before the shrine of his best friend, Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury. The next morning news spread that the rebellion had been thwarted.

Henry II dies in Anjou in 1189 after fighting against his sons who had allied with his enemy, the King of France.

 

Magna Carta

After Henry’s death, Richard the Lionheart rules for 10 years, almost entirely from Jerusalem while fighting in the Crusades. He died on his way home. John, the youngest of Henry’s sons was not a mighty warrior. He was paranoid and obsessive, however, and as a result he focused on the administration of government and record keeping. His high level of documentation resulted in more and more taxes. Soon John loses the loyalty of his people and loses a third of his land to the king of France, Phillip Augustus.

By 1204 John had lost Normandy, Brittany, Maine, Anjou, and Toraine, holding only Aquitaine, his mother’s domain; Eleanor’s homeland. John struggles with Pope Innocent III who placed England under an interdict whereby Masses and sacraments were stopped. Pope Innocent III also deposes John and offers England to Phillip. John conceded everything to the Pope in order to keep the crown, paying Rome compensation for everything John’s army had seized from the Church after the interdict. Plus, John acknowledges the Pope as his overlord and offers to pay an annual cash tribute to Rome.

The Pope now has ultimate authority over England, which is leased out to the crown. John is humiliated as king and man. In 1214 he attempts to re-conquer his lands in France but loses in battle with Phillip. The people of England and especially the barons are enraged. They develop a list of demands to deliver to the king. In 1215 they meet the king in a field called Runnymeade. (This is re-enacted in the movie, “Robin Hood” with Russel Crowe)

John signs the Magna Carta which lays out the rights and duties of king and people. In rough outline these rights and duties are established as:

1) The church in England shall be free from royal interference.
2) The king’s rights are limited.
3) The people’s rights are expanded.

Once again in the history of England we see the English people, mostly barons and noblemen, playing a role in determining the nature of their rule.

John quickly appeals to Pope Innocent III to have Magna Carta declared null and void. Open war breaks out between the barons and King John. The barons even invite Louis, son of the King of France, to take the crown and rule them. For the first time since the earliest days of Saxon kings men had decided to be ruled by a foreign, hopefully disinterested power. Louis invades and seizes most of southern England, including London. John dies suddenly in 1216. His son, 9 years old, is quickly crowned. The barons surround the boy as his regents, hoping to raise and influence their king. Henry III is crowned and Magna Carta is re-issued by the baron regents.

 

Puppet King

Henry III is the builder of West Minster Abbey – the most ambitious building project Europe had ever seen. Henry III is influenced by French culture and royal style. The friction between the barons and the crown returns. Under the leadership of Simon de Montfort the barons conspire to develop a new constitution in Oxford, known as the Provisions of Oxford, which redefines the nature of the monarchy, making the king in name only, subject to parliament. The King of England was now a puppet, a mere figurehead. In 1258 the barons ruled at last.

In the following years the country became more and more polarized and Henry and his son, Prince Edward fought back. In 1262 Henry received a Papal bull exempting him from his oath and both sides began to raise armies. Civil war, known as the Second Baron’s War, breaks out. In May of 1264 Henry and his son Edward are defeated and captured.

In 1265, parliament expands to a wider class of the community, including shopkeepers and other community leaders. 15 months later Henry and his son Edward escape prison and regain control. Edward is crowned king, Simon de Montfort’s grave is defaced, but the ideas of parliament had taken root and it would be would be Simon de Montfort’s legacy that would be decisive in the future history of England.

 

Hammer of the Scots

Edward I saw the results of a weak king, his father John. He never forgot the lesson of the rebel barons and aligns himself with the common man, as against their baron overlords and promises “equal justice” to all his subjects. The memory of his father’s defeats made him wary of competing powers and he demands submission from the prince of Wales. After three refusals Edward declares war on Wales in 1273. He charges the prince with treason, the new high crime.

Edward also desired the king of Scotland to be subjected under his sovereignty and of the courts of England. When Edward calls the king of Scotland to an English court of justice at Westminster Abbey the Scots are provoked into rebellion. Edward sieges Edinburg and Scotland falls. Edward subsequently removes the stone of destiny upon which the Scottish kings had been crowned for 400 years. It would remain in English possesion in Westminster for the next 700 years.

In the movie Braveheart, it is Edward that William Wallace opposes, and some say that the legend of Robin Hood is actually based on William Wallace. Edward calls on parliament to get permission to levy taxes for his Scottish invasion. To get their support he promises to re-issue Magna Carta. Edward is buried at Westminster where it is written on his tomb, “Hammer of the Scots.”

 

The Murdered King

Edward II was very different from his father. He did not care for princely things, but liked rowing and common livelihoods. He was very conciliatory and agreed to rule with the consent of the nobles. But he had an open homosexual relationship that upset the nobles. They sent the king’s lover away in exile and eventually had him killed and it was known that the king could not save the one he loved most.

The Scots take advantage of a weak king in England, defeating him in battle and further damaging his reputation. Rumors began to spread that Edward II was not really the king’s son. In further embarrassment Edward’s wife, Isabella, flees to France with her lover, Mortimer. Isabella and Mortimor return to invade England with French soldiers in 1326. Isabella lands in England and claims the crown for her son, Edward III. To depose Edward II, Isabella and Mortimer accuse him of a series of high crimes against England. The king of England is imprisoned and murdered. To hide the murder, they inserted a hollow tube into his rear and ran a searing hot poker into his bowels. This was his final punishment for being a homosexual. English citizens had killed their king.

Of did they? There is a rumor of Edward II escaping prison by swapping places with a guard who was killed in his place. A letter with Edward’s seal appeared after his death fueling rumors that he escaped and lived his days in hiding.

 

Isabella of France

Isabella was daughter, wife, mother, sister and ersatz murderer of kings. Daughter of Philip IV. Wife of Edward II. Mother of Edward III. Sister to three Kings of France.

 

The Chivalrous King

Edward III had four sons: Edward, known as the Black Prince; John of Gaunt, Lionel, and Edmond. In time it would be the lineage of these sons that would war with each other in the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487).

Edward III’s first son, the Black Prince, was a mighty and beloved warrior. When the Black Prince died, his young son took the thrown and became King Richard II, who was eventually deposed by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt.

Edward III personified the values and virtues of the age. He was an excellent gamesman, great at the joust, a warrior king besting the best of his knights. But he was not an authoritarian. He was a family man, charming and affable while sporting, brave and most of all, popular. Edward III works with the nobles as was his pleasure and his duty. He tries to restore the order of Christian chivalry and strives to be another Arthur.

War was the highest sport of the day and it was a political necessity; the English loved their king only insomuch as he was victorious in war. In this Edward III did not disappoint. A master of the long bow, he conquers Scotland at the age of 21.

When Edward III’s uncle, Charles IV of France, dies in 1328, Edward III is the closes male heir to the crown of France. Isabella was closer to the crown as sister to Charles IV, but women could not take the crown at this time in France. Instead, Phillip VI, cousin to the dead king, became the new King of France.

The question of legal succession to the crown would come to a head in the start of the Hundred Years War roughly ten years later (1337), which is in essence a quarrel between two monarchs of the same family, something we will see again 100 years later during the Wars of the Roses, which is basically a family feud between the heirs of Edward III.

Parliament finances Edward III’s wars with France, always negotiating victories along the way. As Edward III is victorious his people share in the plunder and nationalism begins to have a heightened significance in the politics of England. These wars are very successful in some ways and actually remake England. Dominant, with abundant plenitude, wars now become supported only if they serve the “national interest.”

 

The Plague

This was also the time of the Plague. The Hundred Years War is not one continuous battle but a period of several wars (usually divided into three periods). In the end, the English long bows will ultimately lose to the French cannons.

This family feud between the monarchs eventually took their toll on the people. Taxes were going up and the plague had killed half the population, a loss that would take 200 years to recover. Labor was scarce and the heavy taxes that this war created to fund itself ultimately lead to the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381.

 

The Peasants Revolt (1381)

Richard II, son of the Black Prince, was ten years old when he was crowed and only 14 when the greatest rebellion in English history broke out.

[This revolt was a turning point in this history of the English speaking peoples. It would lead to the demise of the feudal system in England and the rise of a stronger labor market. This would be very important for the development of inclusive economic policies that would ultimately arise from English Civil War (1642-1651) and the Glorious Revolution (1688) and the Industrial Revolution in the centuries to come. Because of this event, English history would track a different course than Spain and France following the discovery of the new world and the trade that followed. Whereas in France and Spain the riches of this Atlantic trade would accrue to the monarchs who had retained their market monopolies, in England much more of the wealth would fall to private adventurers and entrepreneurs. The Glorious Revolution had limited the power of the king and executive and relocated to Parliament the power to determine economic institutions. It was the foundation for creating a pluralistic society and from it came the world's first set of inclusive political institutions. All of this was made possible because of what the peasants in England had won in the aftermath of the Plague.]

In the city of York armed rebels had driven out the mayor in a protest over the level of taxes imposed by the royal court. Parliament responded with another tax, three times worse than the last, which fell hardest on the poor. Tax collectors refused to collect in the poor districts for fear of being killed.

The men of Essex were the first to refuse to pay. On May 30, 1381 a royal official was attacked and driven off. The rioters occupied Canterbury and released all the prisoners in the archbishop’s prison. One of these men was John Ball, who became a rebel leader and preacher, influenced by the Lollard teachings of Wycliffe.

The rebellion spread. Riots erupted all over England. Some 30,000 men were on the march to London. The king had retreated to the Tower for safety. All over England the manors of the lords were pillaged and the inhabitants killed. Prisons were opened, lawyers and judges were seized tax records were burned. The residence of John of Gaunt, the leading nobleman and regent of the king, was burned down. The young king watched from the Tower.

This was the result of war and plague. Similar revolts were happening on the continent. The count of Flanders had been chased from court; waves of riots and bloodshed were unleashed in Paris and the surrounding countryside; the political structure of the city of Florence was destroyed.

Then, in a great show of leadership the 14 year old King Richard II mounted his horse and with the mayor of London, rode out from the Tower to meet the rebels in person. While he negotiated with them other rebels had entered the Tower, capturing the archbishop of Canterbury and other officials. They were all beheaded.

But Richard II had shown an ability to lead. He placated the mobs at Miles End with a charter of emancipation, meeting the serf’s demands for freedom. However, once the rebellion had subsided he famously recanted, claiming he had been extorted by violence. “You wretches,” he said to them after the revolt had been put down, “are detestable both on land and on sea. You seek equality with the lords, but you are unworthy to live. Give this message to your fellows: rustics you are, and rustics you will always be. You will remain in bondage, not as before, but incomparably harsher. For as long as we live we will strive to suppress you, and your misery will be an example to posterity.”

In some areas the punishments were harsh. The leaders of the rebellion were beheaded. John Ball was hanged, drawn and quartered. In other areas the authorities were more lenient, not wishing to inflame a dangerous situation.

The revolt is called the peasants revolt, but records show that the participants were generally leaders in of village life; they were the bailiffs, constables and jurors in their neighborhoods. Far from opportunistic rebels, these were men with real grievances. After the Black Death lords were beginning to offer workers higher wages to compete for scarce labor. In response, the government implemented the Statute of Laborers which made it illegal for serfs to negotiate for higher wages or to leave the land they belonged to. The law had become become a tyranny.

The protests were also a response to the unpopular foreign wars, which they had to pay for. It was the first and last popular rebellion in England’s history. Over the next decade wages began to grow and life expectancy rose. The young king had passed a test of fire. He was 15 years old, but he was big and handsome with blonde hair and stood over six feet tall.

Eventually he married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor who died from the plague 12 years later.

 

The Twice Deposed King

Richard was distrustful of his uncles, John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock and his hereditary advisors, fearing their designs on the throne. He surrounded himself with his own advisors and household favorites, granting lands and favors lavishly while denying as much to old guard. Tensions were rising and the power struggle escalated. When Richard II was 21 years old, a parliament was held and Richard agreed to have his household investigated and administered by a commission which was issued for one year. During this time the lords dismissed and imprisoned and replaced various servants, chancellors and bishops. Richard was enraged and sought advice from the judges who told him he could punish as traitors any member of Parliament who attempted to curb his power. A tense confrontation ensued in which the Lords deposed the king for several days. Unable to agree upon his successor they reinstated the young king.

The Lords called another parliament to deal with their remaining enemies. The judges were the first to be targeted. The Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, Robert Tresilian was tried and condemned to death and his judicial colleagues were exiled. Tresilian fled for sanctuary in Westminster Abbey but was dragged out and carried off. A mob carved images of the devil on his body, cut his throat and hung his corpse on the gallows. Seven more of the king’s followers were executed.

The financial and judicial reform that the Commons had hoped for did not arrive, despite the removal of the king’s “evil” counselors. The Lords were divided and pursued their own interests to the detriment of the Commons. Finances did not improve and violence increased. The king responded by mediating between the Lords and the Commons. He re-imagined himself and re-asserted himself as the sole source of justice, order, and authority. He had three Lords arrested, including his uncle, Thomas of Woodstock who was later killed. These were the men who had deposed him. Then he called a parliament and claimed the full plenitude of his power.

…to be continued

 Posted by at 10:37 pm
Jan 252013
 

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/ray-monk-wittgenstein/

 

Philosophy, he writes, “is not a theory but an activity.” It strives, not after scientific truth, but after conceptual clarity.

 

How does one demonstrate an understanding of a piece of music? Well, perhaps by playing it expressively, or by using the right sort of metaphors to describe it. And how does one explain what “expressive playing” is? What is needed, Wittgenstein says, is “a culture”: “If someone is brought up in a particular culture-and then reacts to music in such-and-such a way, you can teach him the use of the phrase ‘expressive playing.’” What is required for this kind of understanding is a form of life, a set of communally shared practices, together with the ability to hear and see the connections made by the practitioners of this form of life.

 

“Understanding a sentence,” Wittgenstein says in Philosophical Investigations, “is more akin to understanding a theme in music than one may think.” Understanding a sentence, too, requires participation in the form of life, the “language-game,” to which it belongs. The reason computers have no understanding of the sentences they process is not that they lack sufficient neuronal complexity, but that they are not, and cannot be, participants in the culture to which the sentences belong. A sentence does not acquire meaning through the correlation, one to one, of its words with objects in the world; it acquires meaning through the use that is made of it in the communal life of human beings.

 

All this may sound trivially true. Wittgenstein himself described his work as a “synopsis of trivialities.” But when we are thinking philosophically we are apt to forget these trivialities and thus end up in confusion, imagining, for example, that we will understand ourselves better if we study the quantum behaviour of the sub-atomic particles inside our brains, a belief analogous to the conviction that a study of acoustics will help us understand Beethoven’s music. Why do we need reminding of trivialities? Because we are bewitched into thinking that if we lack a scientific theory of something, we lack any understanding of it.

 

One of the crucial differences between the method of science and the non-theoretical understanding that is exemplified in music, art, philosophy and ordinary life, is that science aims at a level of generality which necessarily eludes these other forms of understanding. This is why the understanding of people can never be a science. To understand a person is to be able to tell, for example, whether he means what he says or not, whether his expressions of feeling are genuine or feigned. And how does one acquire this sort of understanding? Wittgenstein raises this question at the end of Philosophical Investigations. “Is there,” he asks, “such a thing as ‘expert judgment’ about the genuineness of expressions of feeling?” Yes, he answers, there is.

 

When Wittgenstein was once discussing his favourite novel, The Brothers Karamazov, with Maurice Drury, Drury said that he found the character of Father Zossima impressive. Of Zossima, Dostoevsky writes: “It was said that… he had absorbed so many secrets, sorrows, and avowals into his soul that in the end he had acquired so fine a perception that he could tell at the first glance from the face of a stranger what he had come for, what he wanted and what kind of torment racked his conscience.” “Yes,” said Wittgenstein, “there really have been people like that, who could see directly into the souls of other people and advise them.”

 

“An inner process stands in need of outward criteria,” runs one of the most often quoted aphorisms of Philosophical Investigations. It is less often realised what emphasis Wittgenstein placed on the need for sensitive perception of those “outward criteria” in all their imponderability. And where does one find such acute sensitivity? Not, typically, in the works of psychologists, but in those of the great artists, musicians and novelists. “People nowadays,” Wittgenstein writes in Culture and Value, “think that scientists exist to instruct them, poets, musicians, etc. to give them pleasure. The idea that these have something to teach them-that does not occur to them.”

 

At a time like this, when the humanities are institutionally obliged to pretend to be sciences, we need more than ever the lessons about understanding that Wittgenstein-and the arts-have to teach us.

 Posted by at 4:10 pm
Jan 242013
 

What is it in us that seeks the truth? Why do we seek the truth? How do we find the truth? What is the truth?
~~~~~~

What? Why? How?

I have heard many esteemed positivists who are far more educated and intelligent than I am proclaim that most “why” questions that we ask are really “how” questions and that we would do ourselves a great service in the name of progress and enlightenment to put aside questions of why as into the dustbin of of our evolutionary history, along with our prehensile tails.

For example, they say that when we ask, “Why is the sky blue?”  what we are really asking is not for the meaning or purpose of the blue sky, but rather, how is it blue, what causes it to be blue, for which chemistry and physics hold the answer. Positivists like to point this out because the how questions of the material world around us succumb well to the development of physics – so well, that some would desire to see that everything succumb to physics.

But is this a reasonable position to take? Is it even possible? Of all the matters most dear and most important to humanity, and to the heart of each individual, can physics really provide the ultimate answers and consolations we seek?

In short, is positivism enough?

I will quote someone with better credentials on this matter than I: It was William J Broad after all, the 2-time Pulitzer Prize winning science writer of the NYTimes who rightly says, “The scientific process is unable to answer the most important questions in life.”

And so to the positivists, we present a counter proposition and hold that the deepest yearnings of the human heart – that ethereal predicate for which we refer to when we use words like “humanity” – are never satisfied with the answers that the “how” provides.

 

The Teacher of Israel

Nicodemus makes the exact opposite mistake our positivist friends have accused us of when he comes to Jesus and asks him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter into his mother’s womb and be born?” (Jn 3:4). Nicodemus asks “how” but for what Jesus is describing there can be no how. When Nicodemus repeats his question, “How can these things be” (Jn 3:9) Jesus responds, “Are you the teacher of Israel and you do not understand these things?”

In this reference to Israel Jesus indicates that he is describing something more than “earthly things” (physics), something that transcends the physical. Just as you cannot ask “why” of love, you cannot ask “how” of the supernatural. You can deny love, and you can deny the supernatural (“heavenly things”), but you cannot ask these questions of them. The positivist is simply one who denies the reality of all things not bound to his question.

“We speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.” (Jn 3:11)

 

Philosophy, Science, and Religion

Philosophy wants to know the “what” of the world. Religion wants to know the “why” of the world. Science wants to know the “how” of the world.

  • What is it: philosophy
  • Why is it: religion
  • How does it work: science

Of these, is the God question a what, a why or a how? Is God a truth (a what) that you find, or is God why you look for truth in the first place?

According to the Catholic Church, the search for truth – the desire for truth, beauty, justice – is the very presence of God and this desire is what connects man to God and the things of this world to heaven.

According to the Catholic church, the world is both ordered and mysterious. It is both comprehensible and incomprehensible. It is both of these at once. Just as we are to ourselves. No amount of knowledge of how will ever answer why. Science will never discover God. This discredits neither science nor God. It merely states facts as they are. We can and cannot understand at the same time.

 Posted by at 10:50 pm
Jan 242013
 

“The Summer Day”

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

 

http://www.onbeing.org/program/approaching-prayer/feature/summer-day/618

 Posted by at 2:30 pm
Jan 242013
 

More: http://www.teilharddechardin.org/

Chapter 1: The Mass On The World

THE OFFERING

Since once again, Lord — though this time not in the forests of the Aisne but in the steppes of Asia — I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world.

Over there, on the horizon, the sun has just touched with light the outermost fringe of the eastern sky. Once again, beneath this moving sheet of fire, the living surface of the earth wakes and trembles, and once again begins its fearful travail. I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labour. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits.

My paten and my chalice are the depths of a soul laid widely open to all the forces which in a moment will rise up from every corner of the earth and converge upon the Spirit. Grant me the remembrance and the mystic presence of all those whom the light is now awakening to the new day.

One by one, Lord, I see and I love all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life. One by one also I number all those who make up that other beloved family which has gradually surrounded me, its unity fashioned out of the most disparate elements, with affinities of the heart, of scientific research and of thought. And again one by one — more vaguely it is true, yet all-inclusively — I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come, and those who go; above all, those who in office, laboratory and factory, through their vision of truth or despite their error, truly believe in the progress of earthly reality and who today will take up again their impassioned pursuit of the light.

This restless multitude, confused or orderly, the immensity of which terrifies us; this ocean of humanity whose slow, monotonous wave-flows trouble the hearts even of those whose faith is most firm: it is to this deep that I thus desire all the fibres of my being should respond. All the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too that will die: all of them, Lord, I try to gather into my arms, so as to hold them out to you in offering. This is the material of my sacrifice; the only material you desire.

Once upon a time men took into your temple the first fruits of their harvests, the flower of their flocks. But the offering you really want, the offering you mysteriously need every day to appease your hunger, to slake your thirst is nothing less than the growth of the world borne ever onwards in the stream of universal becoming.

Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing host which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism, offers you at this dawn of a new day.

This bread, our toil, is of itself, I know, but an immense fragmentation; this wine, our pain, is no more, I know, than a draught that dissolves. Yet in the very depths of this formless mass you have implanted — and this I am sure of, for I sense it — a desire, irresistible, hallowing, which makes us cry out, believer and unbeliever alike:

‘Lord, make us one.’

Because, my God, though I lack the soul-zeal and the sublime integrity of your saints, I yet have received from you an overwhelming sympathy for all that stirs within the dark mass of matter; because I know myself to be irremediably less a child of heaven than a son of earth; therefore I will this morning climb up in spirit to the high places, bearing with me the hopes and the miseries of my mother; and there — empowered by that priesthood which you alone (as I firmly believe) have bestowed on me — upon all that in the world of human flesh is now about to be born or to die beneath the rising sun I will call down the Fire.

FIRE OVER THE EARTH

Fire, the source of being: we cling so tenaciously to the illusion that fire comes forth from the depths of the earth and that its flames grow progressively brighter as it pours along the radiant furrows of life’s tillage. Lord, in your mercy you gave me to see that this idea is false, and that I must overthrow it if I were ever to have sight of you.

In the beginning was Power, intelligent, loving, energizing. In the beginning was the Word, supremely capable of mastering and moulding whatever might come into being in the world of matter. In the beginning there were not coldness and darkness: there was the Fire. This is the truth.

So, far from light emerging gradually out of the womb of our darkness, it is the Light, existing before all else was made which, patiently, surely, eliminates our darkness. As for us creatures, of ourselves we are but emptiness and obscurity. But you, my God, are the inmost depths, the stability of that eternal milieu, without duration or space, in which our cosmos emerges gradually into being and grows gradually to its final completeness, as it loses those boundaries which to our eyes seem so immense. Everything is being; everywhere there is being and nothing but being, save in the fragmentation of creatures and the clash of their atoms.

Blazing Spirit, Fire, personal, super-substantial, the consummation of a union so immeasurably more lovely and more desirable than that destructive fusion of which all the pantheists dream: be pleased yet once again to come down and breathe a soul into the newly formed, fragile film of matter with which this day the world is to be freshly clothed.

I know we cannot forestall, still less dictate to you, even the smallest of your actions; from you alone comes all initiative — and this applies in the first place to my prayer.

Radiant Word, blazing Power, you who mould the manifold so as to breathe your life into it; I pray you, lay on us those your hands — powerful, considerate, omnipresent, those hands which do not (like our human hands) touch now here, now there, but which plunge into the depths and the totality, present and past, of things so as to reach us simultaneously through all that is most immense and most inward within us and around us.

May the might of those invincible hands direct and transfigure for the great world you have in mind that earthly travail which I have gathered into my heart and now offer you in its entirety. Remould it, rectify it, recast it down to the depths from whence it springs. You know how your creatures can come into being only, like shoot from stem, as part of an endlessly renewed process of evolution.

Do you now therefore, speaking through my lips, pronounce over this earthly travail your twofold efficacious word: the word without which all that our wisdom and our experience have built up must totter and crumble — the word through which all our most far-reaching speculations and our encounter with the universe are come together into a unity. Over every living thing which is to spring up, to grow, to flower, to ripen during this day say again the words: This is my Body. And over every death-force which waits in readiness to corrode, to wither, to cut down, speak again your commanding words which express the supreme mystery of faith: This is my Blood.1

FIRE IN THE EARTH

It is done.

Once again the Fire has penetrated the earth.

Not with sudden crash of thunderbolt, riving the mountain-tops: does the Master break down doors to enter his own home? Without earthquake, or thunderclap: the flame has lit up the whole world from within. All things individually and collectively are penetrated and flooded by it, from the inmost core of the tiniest atom to the mighty sweep of the most universal laws of being: so naturally has it flooded every element, every energy, every connecting-link in the unity of our cosmos; that one might suppose the cosmos to have burst spontaneously into flame.

In the new humanity which is begotten today the Word prolongs the unending act of his own birth; and by virtue of his immersion in the world’s womb the great waters of the kingdom of matter have, without even a ripple, been endued with life. No visible tremor marks this inexpressible transformation; and yet, mysteriously and in very truth, at the touch of the supersubstantial Word the immense host which is the universe is made flesh. Through your own incarnation, my God, all matter is henceforth incarnate.

Through our thoughts and our human experiences, we long ago became aware of the strange properties which make the universe so like our flesh:

like the flesh it attracts us by the charm which lies in the mystery of its curves and folds and in the depths of its eyes;

like the flesh it disintegrates and eludes us when submitted to our analyses or to our failings off and in the process of its own perdurance;

as with the flesh, it can only be embraced in the endless reaching out to attain what lies beyond the confines of what has been given to us.

All of us, Lord, from the moment we are born feel within us this disturbing mixture of remoteness and nearness; and in our heritage of sorrow and hope, passed down to us though the ages, there is no yearning more desolate than that which makes us weep with vexation and desire as we stand in the midst of the Presence which hovers about us nameless and impalpable and is indwelling in all things. Si forte attrectent eum.2

Now, Lord, though the consecration of the world the luminosity and fragrance which suffuse the universe take on for me the lineaments of a body and a face — in you. What my mind glimpsed through its hesitant explorations, what my heart craved with so little expectation of fulfilment, you now magnificently unfold for me: the fact that your creatures are not merely so linked together in solidarity that none can exist unless all the rest surround it, but that all are so dependent on a single central reality that a true life, borne in common by them all, gives them ultimately their consistence and their unity.

Shatter, my God, though the daring of your revelation the childishly timid outlook that can conceive of nothing greater or more vital in the world than the pitiable perfection of our human organism. On the road to a bolder comprehension of the universe the children of this world day by day outdistance the masters of Israel; but do you, Lord Jesus, ‘in whom all things subsist’, show yourself to those who love you as the higher Soul and the physical centre of your creation. Are you not well aware that for us this is a question of life or death? As for me, if I could not believe that your real Presence animates and makes tractable and endless even the very least of the energies which invade me or brush past me, would I not die of cold?

I thank you, my God, for having in a thousand different ways led my eyes to discover the immense simplicity of things. Little by little, though the irresistible development of those yearnings you implanted in me as a child, through the influence of gifted friends who entered my life at certain moments to bring light and strength to my mind, and through the awakenings of spirit I owe to the successive initiations, gentle and terrible, which you caused me to undergo: through all these I have been brought to the point where I can no longer see anything, nor any longer breathe, outside that milieu in which all is made one.

At this moment when your life has just poured with superabundant vigour into the sacrament of the world, I shall savour with heightened consciousness the intense yet tranquil rapture of a vision whose coherence and harmonies I can never exhaust.

What I experience as I stand in face of — and in the very depths of — this world which your flesh has assimilated, this world which has become your flesh, my God, is not the absorption of the monist who yearns to be dissolved into the unity of things, nor the emotion felt by the pagan as he lies prostrate before a tangible divinity, nor yet the passive self-abandonment of the quietist tossed hither and thither at the mercy of mystical impulsions. From each of these modes of thought I take something of their motive force while avoiding their pitfalls: the approach determined for me by your omnipresence is a wonderful synthesis wherein three of the most formidable passions that can unlock the human heart rectify each other as they mingle: like the monist I plunge into the all-inclusive One; but the One is so perfect that as it receives me and I lose myself in it I can find in it the ultimate perfection of my own individuality;

like the pagan I worship a God who can be touched; and I do indeed touch him — this God — over the whole surface and in the depths of that world of matter which confines me: but to take hold of him as I would wish (simply in order not to stop touching him), I must go always on and on through and beyond each undertaking, unable to rest in anything, borne onwards at each moment by creatures and at each moment going beyond them, in a continuing welcoming of them and a continuing detachment from them; like the quietist I allow myself with delight to be cradled in the divine fantasy: but at the same time I know that the divine will, will only be revealed to me at each moment if I exert myself to the utmost: I shall only touch God in the world of matter, when, like Jacob, I have been vanquished by him.

Thus, because the ultimate objective, the totality to which my nature is attuned has been made manifest to me, the powers of my being begin spontaneously to vibrate in accord with a single note of incredible richness wherein I can distinguish the most discordant tendencies effortlessly resolved: the excitement of action and the delight of passivity: the joy of possessing and the thrill of reaching out beyond what one possesses; the pride in growing and the happiness of being lost in what is greater than oneself.

Rich with the sap of the world, I rise up towards the Spirit whose vesture is the magnificence of the material universe but who smiles at me from far beyond all victories; and, lost in the mystery of the flesh of God, I cannot tell which is the more radiant bliss: to have found the Word and so be able to achieve the mastery of matter, or to have mastered matter and so be able to attain and submit to the light of God.

Grant, Lord, that your descent into the universal Species may not be for me just something loved and cherished, like the fruit of some philosophical speculation, but may become for me truly a real Presence. Whether we like it or not by power and by right you are incarnate in the world, and we are all of us dependent upon you. But in fact you are far, and how far, from being equally close to us all. We are all of us together carried in the one world-womb; yet each of us is our own little microcosm in which the Incarnation is wrought independently with degrees of intensity, and shades that are incommunicable. And that is why, in our prayer at the altar, we ask that the consecration may be brought about for us: Ut nobis Corpus et Sanguis fiat. . .If I firmly believe that everything around me is the body and blood of the Word,4 then for me (and in one sense for me alone) is brought about that marvellous ‘diaphany’ which causes the luminous warmth of a single life to be objectively discernible in and to shine forth from the depths of every event, every element: whereas if, unhappily, my faith should flag, at once the light is quenched and everything becomes darkened, everything disintegrates.

You have come down, Lord, into this day which is now beginning. But alas, how infinitely different in degree is your presence for one and another of us in the events which are now preparing and which all of us together will experience! In the very same circumstances which are soon to surround me and my fellow-men you may be present in small measure, in great measure, more and more or not at all.

Therefore, Lord, that no poison may harm me this day, no death destroy me, no wine befuddle me, that in every creature I may discover and sense you, I beg you: give me faith.

COMMUNION

If the Fire has come down into the heart of the world it is, in the last resort, to lay hold on me and to absorb me. Henceforth I cannot be content simply to contemplate it or, by my steadfast faith, to intensify its ardency more and more in the world around me. What I must do, when I have taken part with all my energies in the consecration which causes its flames to leap forth, is to consent to the communion which will enable it to find in me the food it has come in the last resort to seek.

So, my God, I prostrate myself before your presence in the universe which has now become living flame: beneath the lineaments of all that I shall encounter this day, all that happens to me, all that I achieve, it is you I desire, you I await.

It is a terrifying thing to have been born: I mean, to find oneself, without having willed it, swept irrevocably along on a torrent of fearful energy which seems as though it wished to destroy everything it carries with it.

What I want, my God, is that by a reversal of forces which you alone can bring about, my terror in face of the nameless changes destined to renew my being may be turned into an overflowing joy at being transformed into you.

First of all I shall stretch out my hand unhesitatingly towards the fiery bread which you set before me. This bread, in which you have planted the seed of all that is to develop in the future, I recognize as containing the source and the secret of that destiny you have chosen for me. To take it is, I know, to surrender myself to forces which will tear me away painfully from myself in order to drive me into danger, into laborious undertakings, into a constant renewal of ideas, into an austere detachment where my affections are concerned. To eat it is to acquire a taste and an affinity for that which in everything is above everything — a taste and an affinity which will henceforward make impossible for me all the joys by which my life has been warmed. Lord Jesus, I am willing to be possessed by you, to be bound to your body and led by its inexpressible power towards those solitary heights which by myself I should never dare to climb. Instinctively, like all mankind, I would rather set up my tent here below on some hill-top of my own choosing. I am afraid, too, like all my fellow-men, of the future too heavy with mystery and too wholly new, towards which time is driving me. Then like these men I wonder anxiously where life is leading me . . . May this communion of bread with the Christ clothed in the powers which dilate the world free me from my timidities and my heedlessness! In the whirlpool of conflicts and energies out of which must develop my power to apprehend and experience your holy presence, I throw myself, my God, on your word. The man who is filled with an impassioned love of Jesus hidden in the forces which bring increase to the earth, him the earth will lift tip, like a mother, in the immensity of her arms, and will enable him to contemplate the face of God.

If your kingdom, my God, were of this world, I could possess you simply by surrendering myself to the forces which cause us, through suffering and dying, to grow visibly in stature — us or that which is dearer to us than ourselves. But because the term towards which the earth is moving lies not merely beyond each individual thing but beyond the totality of things; because the world travails, not to bring forth from within itself some supreme reality, but to find its consummation through a union with a pre-existent Being; it follows that man can never reach the blazing centre of the universe simply by living more and more for himself nor even by spending his life in the service of some earthly cause however great. The world can never be definitively united with you, Lord, save by a sort of reversal, a turning about, an excentration, which must involve the temporary collapse not merely of all individual achievements but even of everything that looks like an advancement for humanity. If my being is ever to be decisively attached to yours, there must first die in me not merely the monad ego but also the world: in other words I must first pass through an agonizing phase of diminution for which no tangible compensation will be given me. That is why, pouring into my chalice the bitterness of all separations, of all limitations, and of all sterile failings away, you then hold it out to me. ‘Drink ye all of this.’

How could I refuse this chalice, Lord, now that through the bread you have given me there has crept into the marrow of my being an inextinguishable longing to be united with you beyond life; through death? The consecration of the world would have remained incomplete, a moment ago, had you not with special love vitalized for those who believe, not only the life-bringing forces, but also those which bring death. My communion would be incomplete — would, quite simply, not be

Christian — if, together with the gains which this new day brings me, I did not also accept, in my own name and in the name of the world as the most immediate sharing in your own being, those processes, hidden or manifest, of enfeeblement, of ageing, of death, which unceasingly consume the universe, to its salvation or its condemnation. My God, I deliver myself up with utter abandon to those fearful forces of dissolution which, I blindly believe, will this day cause my narrow ego to be replaced by your divine presence. The man who is filled with an impassioned love for Jesus hidden in the forces which bring death to the earth, him the earth will clasp in the immensity of her arms as her strength fails, and with her he will awaken in the bosom of God.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, now that beneath those world-forces you have become truly and physically everything for me, everything about me, everything within me, I shall gather into a single prayer both my delight in what I have and my thirst for what I lack; and following the lead of your great servant I shall repeat those enflamed words in which, I firmly believe, the Christianity of tomorrow will find its increasingly clear portrayal:

‘Lord, lock me up in the deepest depths of your heart; and then, holding me there, burn me, purify me, set me on fire, sublimate me, till I become utterly what you would have me be, though the utter annihilation of my ego.’5

Tu autem, Domine mi, include me in imis visceribus Cordis tui. Atque ibi me detine, excoque, expurga, accende, ignifac, sublima, ad purissimum Cordis tui gustum atque placitum, ad puram annihilationem meam.6

‘Lord.’ Yes, at last, though the twofold mystery of this universal consecration and communion I have found one to whom I can wholeheartedly give this name. As long as I could see — or dared see — in you, Lord Jesus, only the man who lived two thousand years ago, the sublime moral teacher, the Friend, the Brother, my love remained timid and constrained. Friends, brothers, wise men: have we not many of these around us, great souls, chosen souls, and much closer to us? And then can man ever give himself utterly to a nature which is purely human? Always from the very first it was the world, greater than all the elements which make up the world, that I was in love with; and never before was there anyone before whom I could in honesty bow down. And so for a long time, even though I believed, I strayed, not knowing what it was I loved. But now, Master, today, when though the manifestation of those superhuman powers with which your resurrection endowed you you shine forth from within all the forces of the earth and so become visible to me, now I recognize you as my Sovereign, and with delight I surrender myself to you.

How strange, my God, are the processes your Spirit initiates! When, two centuries ago, your Church began to feel the particular power of your heart, it might have seemed that what was captivating men’s souls was the fact of their finding in you an element even more determinate, more circumscribed, than your humanity as a whole. But now on the contrary a swift reversal is making us aware that your main purpose in this revealing to us of your heart was to enable our love to escape from the constrictions of the too narrow, too precise, too limited image of you which we had fashioned for ourselves. What I discern in your breast is simply a furnace of fire; and the more I fix my gaze on its ardency the more it seems to me that all around it the contours of your body melt away and become enlarged beyond all measure, till the only features I can distinguish in you are those of the face of a world which has burst into flame.

Glorious Lord Christ: the divine influence secretly diffused and active in the depths of matter, and the dazzling centre where all the innumerable fibres of the manifold meet; power as implacable as the world and as warm as life; you whose forehead is of the whiteness of snow, whose eyes are of fire, and whose feet are brighter than molten gold; you whose hands imprison the stars; you who are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again; you who gather into your exuberant unity every beauty, every affinity, every energy, every mode of existence; it is you to whom my being cried out with a desire as vast as the universe, ‘In truth you are my Lord and my God.’

‘Lord, lock me up within you’: yes indeed I believe — and this belief is so strong that it has become one of the supports of nay inner life — that an ‘exterior darkness’ which was wholly outside you would be pure nothingness. Nothing, Lord Jesus, can subsist outside of your flesh; so that even those who have been cast out from your love are still, unhappily for them, the beneficiaries of your presence upholding them in existence. All of us, inescapably, exist in you, the universal milieu in which and through which all things live and have their being. But precisely because we are not self-contained ready-made entities which can be conceived equally well as being near to you or remote from you; precisely because in us the self-subsistent individual who is united to you grows only insofar as the union itself grows, that union whereby we are given more and more completely to you: I beg you, Lord, in the name of all that is most vital in my being, to hearken to the desire of this thing that I dare to call my soul even though I realize more and more every day how much greater it is than myself, and, to slake my thirst for life, draw me — through the successive zones of your deepest substance — into the secret recesses of your inmost heart.

The deeper the level at which one encounters you, Master, the more one realizes the universality of your influence. This is the criterion by which I can judge at each moment how far I have progressed within you. When all the things around me, while preserving their own individual contours, their own special savours, nevertheless appear to me as animated by a single secret spirit and therefore as diffused and intermingled within a single element, infinitely close, infinitely remote; and when, locked within the jealous intimacy of a divine sanctuary, I yet feel myself to be wandering at large in the empyrean of all created beings: then I shall know that I am approaching that central point where the heart of the world is caught in the descending radiance of the heart of God.

And then, Lord, at that point where all things are set ablaze, do you act upon me though the united flames of all those internal and external influences which, were I less close to you, would be neutral or ambivalent or hostile, but which when animated by an Energy quae possit sibi omnia subjicere7 become, in the physical depths of your heart, the angels of your triumphant activity. Though a marvellous combination of your divine magnetism with the charm and the inadequacy of creatures, with their sweetness and their malice, their disappointing weakness and their terrifying power, do you fill my heart alternately with exaltation and with distaste; teach it the true meaning of purity: not a debilitating separation from all created reality but an impulse carrying one though all forms of created beauty; show it the true nature of charity: not a sterile fear of doing wrong but a vigorous determination that all of us together shall break open the doors of life; and give it finally — give it above all — though an ever-increasing awareness of your omnipresence, a blessed desire to go on advancing, discovering, fashioning and experiencing the world so as to penetrate ever further and further into yourself.

For me, my God, all joy and all achievement, the very purpose of my being and all my love of life, all depend on this one basic vision of the union between yourself and the universe. Let others, fulfilling a function more august than mine, proclaim your splendours as pure Spirit; as for me, dominated as I am by a vocation which springs from the inmost fibres of my being, I have no desire, I have no ability, to proclaim anything except the innumerable prolongations of your incarnate Being in the world of matter; I can preach only the mystery of your flesh, you the Soul shining forth though all that surrounds us.

It is to your body in this its fullest extension — that is, to the world become through your power and my faith the glorious living crucible in which everything melts away in order to be born anew; it is to this that I dedicate myself with all the resources which your creative magnetism has brought forth in me: with the all too feeble resources of my scientific knowledge, with my religious vows, with my priesthood, and (most dear to me) with my deepest human convictions. It is in this dedication, Lord Jesus, I desire to live, in this I desire to die.

 Posted by at 8:52 am
Jan 232013
 

“The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” St Irenaeus

From the On Being blog:

The late Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue, is beloved for his book Anam Ċara, Gaelic for “soul friend,” and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God. In one of his last interviews before his death in 2008, he articulated a Celtic imagination about how the material and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible worlds intertwine in human experience.

“In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam c.araAnam is the Gaelic word for soul and c.ara is the word for friend. So anam c.ara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.” In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam c.ara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam c.ara you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam c.ara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.

…In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.”

Read more….

I thought of him there, felt his spirit, and was differently attuned to the meaning and working of beauty … and that a defining quality of beauty is that we feel more alive in its presence. I have spent time since pondering a wonderful statement he made, so true for me right now, that beauty isn’t all about “nice, loveliness like” but a “kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”

“It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you. No one else can bring you news of this inner world.”

Read more….

In his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, John O’Donohue writes,

“In Greek the word for ‘the beautiful’ is to kalon. It is related to the word kalein which includes the notion of ‘call’. When we experience beauty, we feel called. The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us and calls us forth from aloneness into the warmth and wonder if an eternal embrace. It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life.”

Listen

 Posted by at 9:11 pm
Jan 232013
 

Rule #1 Two knots are identical if and only if their complements are identical

Rule # 2 Two knots can have the same group yet not be the same knots

Therefore:

.           A knot and           .
.               another             .
.               knot may          .
.                 not be the       .
.   Same knot, though   .
.      The knot group of  .
.      The knot and the    .
.  Other knot’s                  .
.              Knot group       .
.     Differ not; BUT         .
.   If the knot group       .
.      Of a knot                     .
.  Is the knot group        .
.   Of the not                      .
.             Knotted                .
.              knot,                     .
.      The knot is                  .
.                not                       .
.              knotted                .

 Posted by at 8:19 pm
Jan 232013
 

Risk and Adventure Retreat for Young Adults

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one….Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

–C.S. Lewis

 Posted by at 7:49 pm
Jan 232013
 

http://catholickey.org/2012/01/26/a-festival-of-faith-and-reason/

The New York Encounter is a cultural festival that takes place for two days and one night on Martin Luther King weekend in New York City. This year marked the third edition of the festival. It’s eclectic—there are science lectures, art exhibits, panel discussions on John Paul II. It’s full of people—13 guests, 180 volunteers, 5 folk dancing groups; 2 chamber orchestras; 3 children’s groups for kids’ show and approximately 2,000 attendees per day. It’s free of charge. What is it all about?

Having completed his presentation on the question, “What is Christianity?” to an audience of hundreds at the New York Encounter, the curtain fell before him and Fr. Julian Carron turned around to find his way off the stage. He found his path immediately blocked by a camera crew from the TV channel of the Brooklyn Archdiocese. Would he be available for a brief interview? They spoke to him in Spanish—they worked on a TV show catering to the Spanish-speaking population of the diocese and they knew Fr. Carron is a Spaniard. Of course! A brief one, but yes, of course.

After a few perfunctory questions, the crew asks Fr. Carron a question that most modern-day professional philosophers will never deign to ask: “What is the relationship between faith and reason?” This being television, the answer had to be expressed in ten seconds or less.

Fr. Carron didn’t need that much time. He said: “It’s an encounter.”

Show, Don’t Tell

Fr. Carron has a degree in theology from the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, so he was perfectly capable of giving the type of textbook answer that would satisfy someone who is dissatisfied by the simple reply, “It’s an encounter.” But at that place and time a long answer would have been a moot point. The New York Encounter is meant to be a stage upon which the answer to the TV reporter’s question could be seen. Reason is what we use to understand the world. If faith is somehow reasonable, then it should help us to understand the world better—with visible results.

One way to look at the New York Encounter is as a showcase of those visible results. This is why there were, in the 2012 Edition (January 13-25), events on politics (Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon spoke about the vocation of politics), science (Massimo Roberto of the Space Telescope Science Institute of Baltimore spoke about star formation), art (Jane Milosch on the painter William Congdon), education (Ross Douthat, Matthew Kaminski, and Chris Bacich on secondary education and the meaning of life) and concerts of dance and music—in short, virtually every realm of human endeavor.

The Encounter was not all about lectures and panel discussions, however. There was food and drink and, most importantly, music. A concert on the last evening of the Encounter—Sunday night—became the concluding spectacle of the festival. It was called “Pure American Juice” and it was a celebration of American musical traditions, from jazz to rock.

Saxophonist and composer “Blue” Lou Marini (of Blues Brothers fame), songwriter and singer Vaneese Thomas headlined; they were backed up by a band who could play everything from blues to rock and roll. The lead guitar was played by a very young music student named Phil Faconti; at one point, he got so into a Beatles tune that he lifted his guitar to his mouth and played a few notes with his teeth, a la Hendrix. The program was MC’d by Joey Reynolds, host of the Joey Reynolds Show, and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—a legendary disc jockey, his show was the highest-rated rock and roll program of all time.

So the Encounter is what happens when a group of people who experience life as Christians and pursue widely diverging interests and proclivities put their heads (and time, and strength) together, and launch a cultural festival. The cultural festival takes place in a building called the Manhattan Center near Penn Station. It is inspired by the Rimini Meeting, co-sponsored by Crossroads Cultural Center, and born out of the charism of Communion and Liberation.

These last few lines approach a question that the reporters did not have time to ask: Why put together an Encounter in the first place?

The Encounter is possible only because of a series of smaller encounters, which take place in many places around the world. Someone somewhere at some point in time and space met Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, struck up a friendship, learned that she was writing a book about political vocation—The Forum and the Tower—and eventually asked her to give the keynote address of the NYE. The NYE does not count on the cultural cache of the Aspen Festival of Ideas or the money of the Venice Biennal, but even if it had both of those things, it would rely on the individual encounters between people and the actual, real-existing relationships that make exchange possible. “Encounter” is, through and through, part of the festival on every level.

But why do it? Angelo Sala, one of the founding members of both Crossroads Cultural Center and the New York Encounter, gave a speech in which he attempted to describe the reasons for doing what he does. The speech refers to Crossroads but—he tells us himself—it could be instantly applied to the NYE as well:

The main activity of Crossroads is the organization and promotion of public events on any topic that fascinates us. This was true at the beginning and it is still true today. It is a very important point for us: we choose our topics and speakers because of the way we’re struck by reality, not based on an ideology or a pre-determined agenda. When we started Crossroads, we had no intention of focusing on a predetermined subset of issues, people or ideas that fall under the “Catholic” label. On the contrary, for us, being a Catholic cultural center means precisely the opposite, that is, to be interested in everything, in the entire spectrum of reality. It means to have the ability – or at least the desire – to encounter people from all walks of life, and to look for and give value to everything that is true, good and worthy in various expressions of human life.

Here we can see, from another angle, how adequately the word “encounter” answers the TV reporter’s questions.

But more importantly, we can also see the beginnings of a new model—now, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council—of Catholic cultural engagement.

 Posted by at 7:42 pm