All posts tagged: history

Justice Kennedy, Judge Kavanaugh, and Our Two Supreme Courts

As many people now know, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alexander Hamilton insisted, in one of his famous essays urging his fellow New Yorkers to embrace the proposed Constitution of the United States, that the Supreme Court “is beyond comparison the weakest” of the national government’s three branches. After all, the other two branches “dispense[] the honors,” “hold[] the sword,” “command[] the purse,” and “prescribe[] the rules.” But the Supreme Court? It has “neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment” and is, therefore, the government’s “least dangerous branch.” Things have changed. For a variety of reasons—including the “rights revolution” of the 1960’s and Congress’s inability, or unwillingness, to legislate—the Court’s role in the country’s policies, politics, culture, and imagination has ballooned. Every summer, as the Court’s term comes to an end and the high-profile, hot-button decisions are released, judicial junkies are glued to their screens and the SCOTUSblog website like MCU fans waiting for the new Avengers trailer to drop. Each new much-anticipated, 5-4 ruling prompts howls and hosannas, grim pronouncements that doom is near and …

The Mocking of Christ by the Glittering Spectacles of Consumerism

Everything vies for our attention. Movies, marketing campaigns, even medicines, all seek to fulfill our desires for release and joy. Entertainment captures our minds and transports them to different realities through various spectacles that shape our lives. This insight is blindingly obvious even though we are submerged in rampant consumerism and subversive capitalism. Chanon Ross unpacks how the early Christians dealt with their version of spectacle and draws parallels to how this theology of the spectacle shapes the Christian faith through the centuries. Gifts Glittering and Poisoned: Spectacle, Empire, and Metaphysics invites readers to take a trip back in time to the Coliseum and recognize that the horror of the past still exists in a (not always) bloodless and potent fashion now. Ross argues that it is only through the True Spectacle of Christ that Christians can be freed from the seductive draw of the “society of spectacle” to devote our deepest longings to the Triune God. Ross expands the idea of spectacle by contrasting it with the capital-s Spectacle (of Christ) in a tripartite …

The Patron Saint of Media Studies

When WIRED magazine christened the Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan its “patron saint” on the original masthead in 1992, it seemed like a fitting honor. After all, the new tech culture magazine was the self-proclaimed authority on where the world was headed in the digital age. So tagging McLuhan, the late English professor turned media philosopher, added some prophetic pomp. His popular slogans like “the medium is the message” sounded like Zen koans written by an ad man, perfect for a Silicon Valley culture fixated on spreading the gospel of techno-utopianism. Here is something you will not find in WIRED magazine: “In Jesus Christ, there is no distance or separation between the medium and the message: it is the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same.”[1] A theological take on “the medium is the message.” This is also McLuhan. Whether McLuhan coined his famous phrase while looking at a television or a crucifix is of little importance. What is interesting is how McLuhan applied …

Musical Mystagogy: St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart

October 16th marks the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–90), a Burgundian nun who experienced a series of visions from 1673 to 1675 that ultimately resulted in her petitioning Church authorities to institute a feast in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 8th. In addition to the feast itself, St. Margaret Mary promoted acts of devotion in honor of the Sacred Heart, chief among which was the reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month, a devotion many still practice to this day. It is for her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and her untiring efforts to spread that devotion to others that Margaret Mary Alacoque is honored as a saint, and so today’s musical piece will focus not on the saint herself, but on the object of her unwavering devotion: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The devotion to the Sacred Heart is twofold: on the one hand, we honor the physical heart of Jesus, the pulsing heart of muscle and blood with its valves and …

Must Catholics Hate Hegel?

Among the vanishingly few things that command agreement among Catholics is that Hegel is a bad idea. Divergent, even mutually antagonistic, Anglophone Catholic circles such as Concilium, Communio, and paleo-Thomism hate Hegel because they see him as dodgy, corrosive, or just plain heretical. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a figure at once more disdained and less read by Catholics than him.[1] A recent piece by C.C. Pecknold offers a near perfect object lesson.[2] Its title, “The philosopher who poisoned German theology,” blazons its intentions. The German Church’s problems—empty pews, a vocation shortage, administrative tumescence, liberal bishops—are, Pecknold argues, in large part the consequence of a theological decision. German theology summoned the wrong doctor to its bed to dress trauma-wounds inflicted by the Enlightenment: none other than G.W.F. Hegel. But Hegel’s salves only deepened the damage. And German theology’s wounds fester still. To be sure, Pecknold’s not altogether interested in Hegel. He is rather interested in genealogy, in locating the poison tree who bore German Catholicism’s bitter fruit—particularly certain elements of its prelates’ proposal on …

It’s More Effective to Attract Than to Simply Chastise

My children recently watched a film with me on St. Philip Neri and they were practically spellbound. “He’s really funny,” one of them commented. “I like that guy,” said another. In a way that books about or even the sayings of Philip Neri can’t quite get, the film made an attempt at presenting the personality of the saint. Of course, watching him on screen is not at all the same as being in his presence, and I for one have come to wonder at what it would have been like to be near to him on the streets of Rome in the mid 16th century. From all accounts, Philip Neri’s personality was unrepeatable. There is something of the man himself that just seems to evade comprehension. Even a film as wonderful as the one we watched—Preferisco Il Paradiso (I Prefer Heaven)—relies on the history of Neri’s effects that only points to but does not fully deliver the personality of that singular man. That personality made crowds flock to him, young people entrust themselves to him, grown …

Voucher Programs: Problems and Promises for Catholic Schools

During the recent confirmation process of current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos, her critics decried a 2001 speech in which DeVos referred to her work in education reform as an attempt to “help advance God’s kingdom.” The New York Times cried “theocracy,” while the secretary’s Calvinist coreligionists assured us that this simply means she wants to help people.[1]  Of course, both condemnation and reduction of DeVos’s religious motivations elide the fact that both the advent of common schooling in America and the early 20th century movement for mass secondary education were animated by religious convictions. Antebellum Whig reformers sought to establish a system to inculcate pan-Protestant piety and morality.[2] Progressive Era social meliorists were informed by the Social Gospel movement, which imagined the Kingdom of God as a primarily material affair.[3] Historical precedent notwithstanding, it seems that DeVos’s statement raised alarm because of concerns with institutional mingling, or in the language of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), an “excessive entanglement” of government and religion.[4] Voucher programs and other state aid measures raise a similar question …

The Month of Mary and Music

Editorial Statement: During the month of May (Mary’s Month), Church Life Journal will celebrate the month of Mary by consider the nature of the  Marian imagination in art, music, folk customs, private devotion, and ritual action. The dedication of May as Mary’s Month is attested by several traditions, rather than by one definitive tradition. The earliest mention of it is from King Alfonso X of Castille in the 13th  century. The king speaks about honoring Mary on various dates in May in his Cantigas de Santa Maria.  However, the dedication of the full month only developed sometime between the 17th and 18th centuries. If that explanation is not precise enough for you, then here’s Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetic attempt at one in “The May Magnificat”: MAY is Mary’s month, and I Muse at that and wonder why: Her feasts follow reason, Dated due to season— Candlemas, Lady Day; But the Lady Month, May, Why fasten that upon her, With a feasting in her honour? Is it only its being brighter Than the most are must delight her? Is it opportunest And flowers …

The Mysterious Miriam of Nazareth

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and several verses later the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This seismic shift in the orientation of creation, this cataclysmic re-location of the logos into the corruptible world of mortality took place not in a hermetically-sealed scientific laboratory or in the archetypes of myth, but in the flesh-and-blood of a human person. And the person’s name was Mary. When imagining Incarnation—in both our intellectual and pious imaginaries—we too often recite a story something like this: notional God theoretically unites to abstract human nature. The story is more like a mathematical formula. 1 + 1 = 2, and Incarnation remains simply a more subtle cosmic algebraic formula in which 1+1 = 1. But this is not what it is to be or to take up flesh. To become a human person means to be born: a physical, messy, risky business. To be born means to be thrown into the world drama in a specific time (e.g., 1991, …

The Revolutionary Storming of the Winter Palace

  “Your Imperial Highness! Your Imperial Highness, wake up!” The voice was so kind, so homey-rather than rouse him he practically entered into his dream. But the warm huskiness repeated and repeated—and finally made him wake up. This old, gray-haired, Winter Palace footman, with luxurious, flowing side-whiskers, who had long since grown accustomed to the idea of no one from the Tsar’s family spending the night here, instead of the joy of not disturbing the high-born guest’s sleep, had decided to enter the room and lean over the bed. “Your Imperial Highness! The palace has become dangerous. After the troops left, some gangs tried to break through different doors a few times. Only the locks are holding them back. What forces do we have to fight them off?” The cold and nasty waking got through to Mikhail. Now this he had not expected! That gangs would invade the palace. What gangs could there be in the capital? “Gangs from where?” “God know where.” The footman was distressed. “A few have gathered up and gone wild. …