Without Guile

“I know mine, and mine know me.” With these mysterious words, the Lord gives evidence of his credentials as Good Shepherd—the One fit to rule his sheep because he is willing to lay down his soul for them.

In these days when false Christs abound, we may well wonder how precisely the Shepherd and his flock are to know one another. As the parable makes clear, one instinct they share is an opposition to “the wolf,” whose endeavor is to catch and scatter the sheep.

Yet this lesson can be of no avail unless we discern what it means, non-metaphorically, for a herd to proceed unmolested into green pastures.

St. Peter, the first of our vicarious shepherds, explains the positive aim of the Good Shepherd as follows: “Christ suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps, who did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.”

As Christ himself taught, the Way of Life is the Way of Truth, and in order to keep this way and avoid becoming a lupine snack, we must follow him in rejecting all falsehood.

This is in fact the first lesson of Easter, when the Church sings with her original pope, “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile.”

If we are to live by truth, we must reject sin and the deceits by which it is promoted. Insofar as its advocates are wolves, seeking to scatter and consume those who dare to resist their wiles, living without guile takes courage.

But the fear that scatters the flock is not always of a physical nature. For the world attempts to convince us that trickery is an element of wisdom, and under this delusion it can be painful to our pride to speak plain truth, unadorned with sophistic bells and whistles.

This is one way in which salvation requires us to discard our (pseudo) maturity, becoming as “newborn babes” or “little children,” blissfully oblivious to the need to impress our misled fellows.

Allow me to illustrate, as I am wont to do, with an example taken from a sphere analogous to faith, namely that of music.

Alma Deutscher (b. 2005) is a “child prodigy” whose musical compositions seem to have produced genuine excitement in the classical world. For a sampling of her style, see here:

The viewer will quickly note that, while original in the most important sense, Deutscher’s work pays no heed to the dictates of contemporary criticism, which regards the non-ironic adoption of traditional forms as the gravest of all sins.

Thus far, Miss Deutscher has won accolades despite flouting such conventions. When pressed to explain the contempt implicit in her ignoring of popular pseudo-pieties, however, she does so in a delightfully innocent manner.

Asked to write an essay on the topic of “how modern audiences can be reconciled to modern operas,” she replies with an ingenuousness nothing short of ingenious.

Placed in a similar corner, most of us would hesitate to expose the false pretenses behind such a question, for fear of causing offense, and being cast away from polite society.

Even the more daring among us might be tempted to dress our rebuttal in fancy phrases and erudite maxims, fearing that our honesty might be mistaken for ignorance.

This remarkable young lady, on the other hand, responds by telling a fairy tale, whose simple imagery makes as clear as day the stupidity of attempting to reconcile the audiences of any age to the consumption of bread consisting in “hard unrisen lumps.”

Having thus prepared us to see the obvious, she proceeds with guileless good humor to name one very necessary ingredient painfully lacking from most “modern operas”: to wit, melody!

As we witness this childlike confession of a modest but liberating truth, let us ponder how we might apply a similar technique to the recapturing of sanity in the many other spheres of life where cultural predators have succeeded in scattering would-be followers of truth.

Guarding the Gates of Hell

Thou art Peter;
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18

Blogger’s note: The following was originally posted in February of 2021. Though the author makes no pretension to the power of prophesy, subsequent events seem to support the theological premise on which the argument was based.

Later that year, the present successor of St. Peter announced his open hostility to the Tradition of adoration mentioned below, bequeathed to us by Christ for purposes of plugging the gates of hell. Since then, a widening crack in those gates has made itself painfully felt throughout the world.

Illustrating this second point would entail images in excess of the decency limits to be observed on this family blog. One no longer need look far to descry signs of madness, however, and increasingly one sees the maniacs breaking down any barrier erected in defense of the saner members of society, and their children.

Allow me to renew the call below for prayer, and sacrifice.

The temple of Solomon was built on a very special rock. The Foundation Stone was considered the center of all creation, and a junction between heaven and earth.

As Jeff Cavins notes, the Jews also believed that the rock served to cover and hence plug up the gates of hell. So long as God was worshipped there as his covenant demanded, those gates could remain (more or less) sealed.

Speaking of this same rock, Isaias explains that the Lord sometimes chooses certain of his servants to exercise power over it. When he lays “the key of the house of David” upon their shoulders, they acquire the authority to open and shut the gates of heaven, and guard those of hell (Is. 22:15-22).

Such a servant is to be “a peg in a sure place.” If that “peg be removed,” all hell may break loose, “and that which hung thereon, shall perish” (Is. 22:23-25).

In Cesarea Philippi, the Lord gives to Peter and his successors the keys to heaven, and with them the duty to guard the gates of hell (Mt. 16:19).

The rock upon which Peter was to exercise this authority is not the stone of Mount Moriah, whose temple the Romans were soon to destroy. Rather, the worship over which Peter is to preside, which will deter the forces of hell, is an adoration “in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24).

Peter receives this commission after proclaiming Jesus to be “Christ, the Son of the living God,” a truth not revealed to him by “flesh and blood,” “but by [our] Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 16:16-17).

Moments later, Christ rebukes Peter for causing scandal. When it came to the Passion of Christ, Peter had opted to favor “the things that are of men” instead of “the things that are of God” (Mt. 16:23).

Today, there seems to be no shortage of demons spilling forth from the gates of hell.

Though we must each take up our own cross (Mt. 16:24), let’s not forget to offer up sacrifices for the servant of the servants of God, who stands upon the rock facing heaven and covering the netherworld.

When Peter lifts his eyes to heaven, we are spared the full brunt of Satan’s assaults. When he turns his gaze to “the things that are of men,” the battle intensifies.

No matter what Peter does today or tomorrow, we know that one day “the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father” (Mt. 16:27), and all shall be well for them “that love his coming” (2 Tim. 4:8).

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Being a Good Liberal

In his classic work, The Framework of a Christian State, the Reverend E. Cahill, S. J. identifies three meanings of the term “liberal.”

Most properly, the term is “derived from the Latin word liber (free),” referring to “such personal qualities or style of acting and thinking as may be thought worthy of a freeman.”

In this sense, dear reader, I pray that God may make each of the best of liberals, and keep us that way until the dawn of a better day.

In a more derivative, but hardly trivial sense, “Liberalism may also denote a political system or tendency that is opposed to centralization and absolutism.”

Here again, it is our solemn duty to strive every moment of every day not only to think liberal thoughts, but also to act upon them as prudently and vigorously as befits our God given capacities and opportunities.

Finally, and regretfully, there is another sense of the term, weightier for its undue influence on lighter minds than for any gravitas of its own.

With this usage the reader is alas all too familiar. “Since the end of the 18th century,” Cahill observes, “the word Liberalism has been generally applied . . . to denote those tendencies and principles in intellectual, religious, political and economic life, which imply a partial or total emancipation of man from the obligations of the supernatural order and even from the authority of God.”

Readers of this blog will not be shocked to find my attitude to this linguistic variant somewhat less enthusiastic than to its esteemed forebears.

On one point, however, I would dare to quibble with the good reverend. Before proceeding justly to dismantle the unearned veneration in which this last liberalism has come to be held, Cahill warns that “the champions of unchristian Liberalism frequently utilize these [praiseworthy] meanings of the term to confuse issues and obscure the real character of their policy.”

True enough. But more to the point, in the long run, is a principle I would insist is indispensable if we are to reclaim this wayward world for the cause of sanity.

Namely: the imperative of never surrendering good words to bad people, or their evil causes.

In brief, our response to the perversion of a good and vital thing—human freedom and the quest for heavenly glory it makes possible—must be to reject the perversion, and embrace the good it distorts.

Let us therefore resolve to be liberals, in every good sense of the term. And proud thereof, in the benign and ennobling sense of that term—whose defense in these ethereal pages will have to await another day.

Advice for the True Taking of the Old Faith

In times of doctrinal confusion, how are we to know what God will have us believe? Some advice from St. Thomas More:

I will advise you therefore, good readers, for the true taking of the old faith, and for the discerning thereof from all new, to stand to the common, well-known belief of the common-known Catholic Church of all Christian people; such faith as by yourselves, and your fathers, and your grandfathers, you have known to be believed; and have, over that, heard by them that the contrary was in the times of their fathers, and their grandfathers also, taken evermore for heresy.

We must also, for the perceiving of the old faith from new, stand to the writings of the old holy doctors and saints, by whose expositions we see what points are expressed in the Scripture, and what points the Catholic Church of Christ hath, beside the Scripture, received and kept by the Spirit of God and tradition of his apostles.

And specially must we also stand, in this matter of faith, to the determinations of Christ’s Catholic Church. [Referring, of course, not merely to the latest communications from reigning prelates, but to all the determinations of the Church as collected in approved sources.]

Now, if any man will bear other in hand that this point or that point is not determined, or that the holy doctors of the Church write not in such wise but the contrary, then whosoever is not of such learning as to perceive by himself whither of those two say true that hold therein contrary parts—then, except the article be a plain, open-known thing of itself, not doubted before—let him not be light of credence in the believing either the one disputer or the other, though they would both preach high praises of their own cunning, and say that besides all their much worldly business they had spent many years about the study of Scripture, and boast that their books of divinity were worth never so much money, or that by the Spirit they were inspired and with the celestial dew suddenly sprung up divines, as lusty, fresh, and green as after any shower of rain ever sprung any bed of leeks.

Let no man, I say, be light in believing them, for all that; but let him, by my poor counsel, pray God inspire himself to believe and follow the thing that may be his high pleasure; and let him thereupon appoint with himself to live well; and forthwith, to begin well, get himself a good ghostly father, and shrive him of his sins; and then, concerning the question, ask advice and counsel of those whom himself thinketh, between God and his new-cleansed conscience, for learning and virtue most likely, without any partial leaning, indifferently to tell him truth.

And thus finish I this matter concerning heresies, beseeching our Lord and Savior, for his bitter Passion, that as his holy sacraments thereof took their strength, so by the prayer of all those holy saints that have both by their holy doctrine and example of living, some of them planted the faith and some of them in sundry times well watered the plants, so himself will of his goodness specially now vouchsafe as the warm sun (the very, eternal, only-begotten Son of his eternal Father) to spread his beams upon us, and aspire his breath into us, and in our hearts, as Saint Paul saith, give his faith strength and increase.

Good Tom Truth

A cautionary tale, by St. Thomas More:

If we, because we know our cause so good, bear ourselves thereupon so bold that we make light and slight of our adversaries—it may happen to fare between the Catholics and heretics at length as it fareth sometimes in a suit at the law by some good man against whom a subtle, wily shrew beginneth a false action, and asketh from him all the land he hath.

This good man sometimes, that knoweth his matter so true, persuadeth to himself that it were not possible for him to lose it by the law. And when his counsel talketh with him, and asketh him how he can prove this point or that for himself, answereth again, “Fear ye not for that, sir, I warrant you—all the whole county knoweth it—the matter is so true, and my part so plain, that I care not what judges, what arbiters, what twelve men go thereon. I will challenge no man, for any labor that mine adversary can make therein.”

And with such good hope, the good man goeth him home, and there sitteth still and putteth no doubt in the matter.

But in the meanwhile his adversary (which for lack of truth of his cause, must needs put all his trust in craft) goeth about his matter busily, and by all the false means he may, maketh him friends, some with good fellowship, some with rewards, findeth a fellow to forge him false evidence, maketh means to the sheriff, getteth a partial panel, laboreth the jury, and when they come to the bar, he hath all his trinkets ready.

Whereas good Tom Truth cometh forth upon the other side, and because he thinks all the world knoweth how true his matter is, bringeth never a witness with him, and all his evidence unsorted.

And one knew I once, that brought unto the bar (when the jury was sworn) and openly delivered his counsel his tinder box, with his flint and his matches, instead of his box of evidence; for that had he left at home.

So negligent are good folk sometimes, when the known truth of their matter maketh them over-bold.

Whether it Be of God

And the Jews wondered, saying: How doth this man know letters, having never learned?

Jesus answered them, and said: My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.

If any man will do the will of him; he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

He that speaketh of himself, seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh the glory of him that sent him, he is true, and there is no injustice in him.

~ John 7:15-18

Committed in a Holy Place

As we reach back into the section of our spiritual wardrobe where sackcloth and ashes are providently stored, this blogger would like to impart a friendly word, spoken in Christian mercy, to those who fancy that occupying a place somewhat loftier than their fellow mortals, not yet deceased, equips them with an alchemical power to make a virtue of vice, or vice versa.

From The Reign of King Edward III, plausibly attributed to one William Shakespare:

The greater man, the greater is the thing,
Be it good or bad, that he shall undertake:
An unreputed mote, flying in the Sun,
Presents a greater substance than it is:
The freshest summer’s day doth soonest taint
The loathed carrion that it seems to kiss:
Deep are the blows made with a mighty Axe:
That sin doth ten times aggravate it self,
That is committed in a holy place:
An evil deed, done by authority,
Is sin and subornation: Deck an Ape
In tissue, and the beauty of the robe
Adds but the greater scorn unto the beast.

For illustrations of what the Bard was harping upon, a glance at the most recent headlines will suffice.

And then, dear reader, may I suggest that each of us, in humble supplication, turn to the Lord?

Lenten blessings to one and all!

Frivolous People

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

Luke 8:11

Scatterbrained frivolous people
rob themselves of the Word’s power.
Belial with his children
anyhow seeks to obstruct it
so that it produces nothing useful.

Cantata BWV 181

For your (non-frivolous) delectation & meditation, here is a link to a marvelous performance of this Cantata for Sexagesima Sunday. (For a better translation of the text, see here.)

The opening aria is a sprightly tune, shamelessly skipping about like the dissipated spirits it mocks. Though there is a tinge of terror when Belial is referenced, we are not yet in the heart of Lent, contemplating the horrors of sin in light of the Lord’s redemptive Passion. We are able to laugh at the devil’s tricks, recognizing that levity well employed may be the opposite of distraction.

The concluding chorus is in Bach’s finest style, using complex counterpoint and a stunning range of instruments and voices to inspire an upwelling of joy at the prospect of bringing forth the fruit of the Lord in good and perfect hearts (Luke 8:15). In this recording you can see the singers’ eyes sparkle at what they know is coming before their parts begin.

Though the text’s focus on Faith and the Word strives to conform to Lutheran principles, the effect of its admonitions is to remind us that it is our choice whether to cooperate with the salvific power of God, or to deflect it with hearts harder than any stone.

As we see here, Luther’s attempt to deny the existence of free will only succeeds in furnishing us with an illustration of the general rule that, free as we are to deny self-evident truths with our lips, we cannot help professing them by the choices we make when our ideological guards are down.

In other words, we are free to reject free will with frivolous words, but not from the depths of our souls.

With this in mind, may we each open our hearts to the only Truth whose Word has the power to make us wholly free.

Ratio as Remedy

According to Eric Voegelin, the “spiritual disorder of our time” is driven by the prevalence of ideologies whose aim “is to destroy the order of being, which is experienced as defective and unjust, and through man’s creative power to replace it with a perfect and just order.”

Since this last bit is an absurdity—as the progenitors of such “gnostic” agendas fully realize—the result of their seductive doctrines is something other than the paradise they promise.

Though their “attempt at world destruction will not destroy the world,” if allowed to continue it will “increase the disorder in society.”

This disordering mania for civilizational self-destruction has now reached a global scale, having afflicted a critical mass of those currently controlling our major institutions. In such a situation, what is a poor sanity-seeking soul to do?

Voegelin assures us that our “civilizational crisis” “does not by any means have to be borne as an inevitable fate.” Rather, “everyone possesses the means of overcoming it in his own life,” and is therefore “obliged to avoid this folly and live his life in order.”

If this sounds like a formula for survivalist retreat, then we have missed the good professor’s point. It is Gnosticism’s flight from reality that threatens to wreak havoc in the world. By contrast, our embrace of the order of being is a remedy for both self and society.

Ideology blames God and nature for the ills we experience, and seeks salvation in the replacement of true religion and genuine science with manmade systems of pseudo-salvation.

A truthful analysis demonstrates that evil arises from man’s failure to live in accordance with the nature of things. The fault is not in our stars, or their Creator, but in ourselves.

This recognition comes to light as we engage in a ratio—a process of reasoning or analysis—which enables us to diagnose the disorder in our own lives, and the lives of others, and to suggest specific remedies for specific sins.

Here below, such a ratio will always be limited by the fallibility of its agents. As St. Thomas More said, “it is impossible for everything to turn out well, unless all human beings are good, and I don’t expect that to happen for some years to come.”

On the other hand, we should never underestimate the good such a ratio can do. The power of what Voegelin calls “the therapy of order” is witnessed, however perversely, in the fury with which ideologues enforce prohibitions on questioning their dogmas.

Today’s “cancel culture” is only the latest iteration of the perennial trend by which “society resists the therapeutic activity of science.” The deaths of Socrates, Christ, and countless of their followers, is proof positive of the seriousness with which the madmen cling to the helm, despite the perils of the course they are steering.

The most “successful” of their suppressive strategies is not so much “the pressure of totalitarian terror,” as effective as that can be. Far worse is when ideology “arrogates to itself the name of science and prohibits science as nonscience.”

In order for such a prohibition to be “made socially effective,” each of us has to agree to be silenced by the threats, insults, and penalties inflicted on transgressors by the pseudoscientific police. In other words, we have to betray the order of being, whether for survival, or (as C. S. Lewis put it) “for sweeties.”

Refusing to be so silenced is not only the first step in a process of personal liberation, but also the beginnings of a powerful public service.

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