Monday, October 27, 2008

The Land's Bounty: A Garden Saga

I have had gardens, off and on, for the past twelve years or so. I have always loved the idea of gardening, have read about it extensively, and have gardened off and on with varying degrees of success. But I have never been satisfied enough with my results or my level of experience to call myself a gardener. Until this year.

When we first moved to our current farm, about five years ago, there was too much "deferred maintenance" to allow much time for gardening. But three years ago I did lay out and tend a modest garden, using techniques that I gleaned from Eliot Coleman's Four-Season Harvest. I will be doing a complete review of that very important book in an upcoming posting. Using Coleman's tools and techniques allowed me, for the first time, to keep a garden under control. For me that's important. What I've done several times in the past is plant more than I can manage, in a rather haphazard way that prevents me from tending the garden as I should. And so eventually it becomes an overgrown weed patch. The thought of even stepping foot into that chaotic mess becomes more and more daunting until I basically just give it up as a bad job. But Coleman's tools and techniques, his whole vision and approach to gardening, hold out the promise of a garden so tidy and so (relatively) easily cared for that it becomes a beautiful place that veritably beckons to you to come and spend time there. Gardening, even on a relatively large scale, is hard work, yes, but not frenzied. The garden becomes an inviting place, a relaxing place. Chaos has given way to order and beauty.

That's the theory anyway. Well, after that modest but satisfying plot a few years ago, we got caught up in some major remodeling to our house and, after a long string of miscarriages, finally received the blessing of the birth of our daughter Bridget. Gardening once again was pushed aside by more important things. Now I'd trade a lifetime of gardens for Bridget, but after tasting a morsel of success in the past I was anxious to get back to it.

This year, with the increasingly abundant help of my older children, I tried again. I got a bit of a late start, so I was not able to get a full spring crop of some family favorites, like sugar snap peas. But sometime in May I laid out the plot according to a modified Coleman scheme, amended the soil one more time with the abundant compost that we have on our place, and began to plant. Many of the seedlings for this year's garden were tended in a coldframe (click here to see my earlier posting on this). Each of the three older children got their own plot, in which they could plant whatever they wanted. Between us, we grew the following:

* Swiss Chard
* Spanish Black winter radishes
* Lettuces, varied
* Spinach
* Carrots
* Beets
* Turnips
* Rutabagas
* Sweet corn (two varieties)
* Beans: purple, yellow, green, pole
* Watermelons
* Cucumbers
* Yellow squash
* Zucchini
* Pumpkins
* Broccoli
* Leeks
* Shallots
* Green onions
* Chinese cabbage
* Red cabbage
* Kale
* Tomatoes, two kinds
* Peppers, several colors
* Potatoes, three kinds
* Parsnips
* Tatsoi

In a word, the results have been awesome. We are still harvesting all of the vegetables we consume fresh out of the garden and have put literally hundreds of pounds of turnips, beets, rutabagas, potatos, carrots, cabbage, and radishes in the root cellar. God is very good and I am blessed, after all these years, to be able to call myself a gardener.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Head's Up for Pre-Millennarians

I just finished listening to a talk by an evangelical Protestant speaker, David Pawson, about "De-Greecing the Church". There is lots there that one could discuss, both positive and negative. But he made a claim that I have encountered many times, namely, that with regard to a literal, earthly reign of Jesus Christ for a thousand years after His Second Coming there is "not a trace of any other view....." for the first four hundred years of Church history. And this is a stock claim among premillennialists; do a Google search for "millennium", "early church", and "unanimous" and see. Indeed, I used to make this claim myself.

Now there is no disputing that at least two prominent early writers--Sts. Justin and Irenaeus--are explicitly pre-millennial. But strangely, advocates for this position (like Pawson) seem to have missed a very important phrase in St. Justin's own writing on the topic. Justin himself does hold that there will be such an earthly reign of Christ, but he notes:

I am not so miserable a fellow, Trypho, as to say one thing and think another. I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise. (Dialogue with Trypho 80; emphasis mine)
So there you have it. Pawson (and others) are just plain wrong when they hold that the premillennial position was the unanimous position in the early Church, for even St. Justin Martyr in his day knew of "many" who thought otherwise.

Pawson also alleges, somewhat indignantly, that St. Augustine single-handedly torpodoed the premillennial view and actually was instrumental in having it formally condemned at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431:

The millennium has almost disappeared. And do you know the man responsible? Augustine. In his early ministry he preached that Jesus was coming back to reign for a thousand years to reign on earth and that's what all the Church believed and preached until then; there's not a trace of any other view. . . . We've got into all these different views since Augustine . . . He persuaded a council, in the year 431, in Ephesus . . . they condemned belief in the millennium as heresy. An official council of the Church. That's why you've never heard about it in most churches.
There are a few serious difficulties with what Mr. Pawson asserts here. First, the Council of Ephesus was held in AD 431 and St. Augustine died in AD 430, so his ability to persuade the Council to condemn anything was somewhat limited. (In fact, he was invited to Ephesus but never set out, having died of old age.) Second, although it is asserted by many Protestant scholars, the Council of Ephesus did not, in fact, formally condemn premillennialism (or "chiliasm", as it is often called.) Michael Svigel, in his article The Phantom Heresy:Did the Council of Ephesus (431) Condemn Chiliasm?, has very admirably chased down the source of this assertion and proven that it is quite overstated.

Certain bishops at the Council did refer to the doctrine of chiliasm as "deliramenta, fabulosique", (not exactly a ringing endorsement) but there was nothing like a formal condemnation issued by the Council at large. Still, this represents important evidence. Already in St. Justin Martyr's day (the mid-second century AD) there were "many" Christians who did not hold to chiliasm (again, contra the oft-repeated assertion that "there's not a trace of any other view.") And the chiliastic position gave way in the Church until, by AD 431 it had been essentially rejected--if not formally, at least strenuously--by both East and West. Some people would consider this a corruption. But for those who believe that the Church is the "pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15) and in our Lord's promise to "be with you always, even unto the end of the age" (Matt 28:20), then it is more appropriately seen as the winnowing action of the Holy Spirit, guiding the Church into all truth.

It is a recurring theme in anti-Catholic apologetics that St. Augustine, the great "boogey man", single-handedly scuttled doctrine after doctrine that had been unanimously held for the four hundred years prior. I have cited (and refuted) many examples in the chapter on St. Augustine in my review of David Bercot's Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up? Frankly, the thesis is ridiculous on its face. No one who knows anything about the relations between various local churches, the oft-times fiercely independent nature of the Catholic bishops, and the difficulty at times of having the East and West agree on anything could possibly believe that one man in an African bywater could over and over shift the entire body of Christendom away from what all had held for four centuries, to embrace some completely alien theology.

In the rejection of chiliasm St. Augustine lent his not-inconsiderable influence to a position that was already widely held throughout the Catholic Church.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hey Father, Leave This Mass Alone!

Well, it has finally happened. Last Friday we assisted at our first traditional Latin Mass in which the priest introduced a blatant, purposeful liturgical abuse. Just before Mass started, he went to the pulpit to announce that, since the cathedral was built in 1962 and (supposedly) had only "standing stations" for receiving Holy Communion, we were all to stand up to receive our Lord.

I am happy to say that, in our line at least, the convinced traditionalists and even many of those Catholics who would not self-describe as traditionalists knelt anyway. In the other line most stood. The priest's illicit directive created the appearance of division and perhaps even "disobedience", whereas of course the division and disobedience emanated entirely from him.

It was unnecessary. It was senseless. But it was hardly unexpected.

Some years ago, The Latin Mass magazine had an editorial in which concern was raised over opening the Gregorian rite to those priests who lack the formation and the mindset to say it well. I think that in many ways this is a valid concern. Now I'm not one who believes that having diocesan priests (or others who regularly say the Pauline rite) also say the Gregorian rite is an inherently bad thing. (Some traditionalists go so far as to imply a sort of "ritual impurity" if a priest also says the Novus Ordo. Although I concur with many of the serious negative critiques of the new rite, I think this particular position beyond the pale.)

It remains true, however, that priests who received their whole formation in a traditionalist seminary and therefore were specifically formed to say the Gregorian rite have a very different approach to the Catholic faith, to their priesthood, and of course to the liturgy itself.

Still, there are many fine diocesan priests who cultivate a traditional outlook and bring only the best intentions and motivations to their celebration of the traditional Roman rite. Such priests would, in fact, be more than willing to be corrected in order to bring their celebration of the ancient rite more in line with its text, rubrics, and spirit. I think this is all for the good, both for them and for those they serve.

But what if the priest does not have a traditional outlook and a real desire to submit himself to the text, rubrics, and spirit of the ancient liturgy? Well, it's asking for trouble to try to get him say it. In this case, the events of this past Friday evening were entirely avoidable, for that simple reason. This priest did not want to say the traditional Latin Mass in the first place. Or, to put it more accurately, I think, he didn't want to say it if any traditionally-minded Catholics were there. It seems that for some, the traditional Latin Mass is okay in the abstract, it's just that it's connected with those creepy traditionalists (you know, those folks who have taken the slings and arrows from both liberals and neo-conservatives for these past forty years for having the gall to insist on what has now been affirmed publicly by the Holy Father, that they had all that time been unjustly deprived of the Gregorian rite of the Mass.)

Indeed, when some years ago this particular priest was in a position of significant authority in this diocese and was interviewed by the diocesan newspaper as to what the laity should do when faced with liturgical abuse in their parish, he said they should go to the priest to point out his error to him. And if the priest refuses to listen, what should they do then Father? Nothing. That was his answer. They can do nothing. Because on his watch, at least, if they brought it to his attention he wasn't going to do anything about it.

Catholics confronted with what will inevitably be an increased number of attempts to introduce liturgical abuses into the traditional Latin Mass have a golden opportunity to replay the systemic acquiescence that led to and allowed the staggering institutionalization of abuses into the liturgy in 99.8% of the world's parishes. The threshold for liturgical abuse in the traditional Latin Mass should be zero. Vote with your feet. So fool me once, shame on you Father. But fool me twice, shame on me.

Okay, the lesson for Catholics seeking greater access to the Gregorian rite in the post-moto proprio era is: If a priest doesn't want to say the Gregorian rite, don't force him. Because he'll make you pay, one way or the other.

Note: A reader rightly corrected me that no priest should be "messing around" with any rite of the Mass. Although there are many options given to the priest who says the NOM, I am of the opinion that he should not take any of them as an opportunity to assert his creativity, but rather should say the NOM as much in the spirit of the venerable Roman liturgical tradition as possible. I appreciate the correction and have retracted my original statement.