The Infinite Desire

It’s always good to plan. I had a high school teacher, John Weathers, who constantly quipped “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Quite often I have set goals for reading and only partially realized them, and these past two years which saw my name on two books, entailed a good bit of reading beyond what I normally get to just in my course of my own curiosity. The one, a festschrift for Fr. John Patrick Donnelly was a collection of edited essays, but they were a joy to read and work through. The other, my book on Calvin, had me pouring through reams of original sources, as well as the secondary literature. Yet I also sat down with lots of books I had planned to read through, and some I have just begun.

I should say that I read with delight Fr. Deacon Nicholas Kotar’s Raven’s Son series (well the first four books of it, as he hasn’t finished the others yet). I may well read them all again in anticipation of the next volumes (please, Fr. Nic, be quick to press!). I also reread Tolkien’s main works, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and LOTR, as well as a good amount of his extra work (all in prep for the St. Basil Summer program). I also made my way through a large section of St. John Chrysostom’s Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles. Continue reading

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Only the free mind contemplates

“The thinking man, if he wants his thought about freedom to be complete, must also reflect—on the basis of his own experience—that freedom is inseparable from consciousness and the conscious experience of pursuing and discerning truth. If freedom is really free, it must be part of self-reflective thought, or logos; otherwise freedom would be identical with chaos.” Fr. Patrick Reardon, “Pastoral Pondering,” Sunday of All Saints, 2016.

Modern education has turned students into commodities, into cogs for some great machine, and nowhere is this more on display than how the powers-that-be treat what they expect from teachers and professors. Higher education’s current craze, indeed the mania of the last few decades, from state education boards, departments of education, university educational committees, and accrediting agencies, is constructing a pedagogy around outcomes, goals, objectives, and assessment, and all able to be placed in some index of metrics and measurable results. In short, they have turned teachers into technicians of learning. This is all the language of bureaucracy as applied to education, and is predicated on the fraud that the progress of the mind can be measured. Continue reading

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In Memoriam: Robert Schuettinger

I think I first met Bob Schuettinger in 1999. From that first meeting, sitting in Christopher’s on N. Wayne Ave., with him  holding forth in his distinct Yankee accent to Allen Guelzo and me, regaling us with a taste of his innumerable eccentricities (“I’ll have another Manhattan, if you don’t mind. They just don’t know how to make these in Oxford.”), and most of all his passion for liberal, humane life and learning, I knew I was in the presence not just of a real character, but of a good one as well. The years only repeatedly proved this, and often in spades. My true measure of Bob (as I always knew him) came when we met again about two years later, though this time Allen wasn’t with me, and we dined at another restaurant. Bob had a friend with him, a lady form DC, and we were joined by a colleague of mine, a rather humorless scold so innocent of imagination that Bob and his friend quickly tired of the conversation, only for my colleague, dauntless in boring us, piped up that her family came from Scotland. At once Bob’s friend pulled out of her purse an article she said had appeared in the London Telegraph about new research showing that Scots were descended from Neanderthals. My colleague, sadly, never got the barb. Bob and I exchanged looks, equal parts horror and glee. It was then he told me that were I ever coming back to Oxford to let him know. So, of course I did. Continue reading

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Some thoughts from dom Gregory Dix

This was read by Professor William Tighe this morning at the St. Basil Center’s summer program. I thought it worth putting on my blog for others to read: it is wonderful. From the final chapter of dom Gregory Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy, a technical book on the Eucharist that often reads as a novel (and often better than almost all of them).


“This do in remembrance of me.” Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; Continue reading

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The Ambiguous Metropolitan

This past week, the ostensibly Orthodox journal, The Wheel (whose pages and staff include defrocked priests and people who openly promote jettisoning the Tradition of the Church) ran an issue purportedly on what it means to be human, all the while bringing in as well all sorts authors to argue for (one essay) and against (multiple) Orthodox Christian teaching on marriage, chastity, and sexual mores. The Introductory essays were studied models in ambiguity and question begging offered by two well-known names, viz., Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) and Fr. Andrew Louth. While neither broke openly with the Tradition, both of them left me asking exactly how they were affirming it; more a muddying of waters than a pouring of oil them. Now, Met. Kallistos has always been a very gracious man, though I have only had a very few conversations with him. He hosted me at his digs in Oxford more than 20 years ago and patiently endured my questions. His book, The Orthodox Church, has been keenly influential in the conversion of thousands, including some of my own students, so I am not taking after him. Further, he needs our prayers, as age has caught up with him. The last few times I have been in Oxford he has always been a bit more frail, and he suffers from a number items attendant on age. All the same, this essay was not what one would hope from him.

You can read Met. Kallistos’s essay here; Fr. Louth’s here.

Rebuttals of various weight and insight have come from Pr. Edith Humphrey (here), Fr. John Cox (here), Fr. Lawrence Farley (here), and Hieromonk Herman (Majkrzak) which is here. The news of this came out via a rather distasteful essay on his Excellency’s piece, making rather imprecise, and I would say, inflammatory statements. I am not linking to it.

Now, there are other essays in The Wheel besides the two mentioned, but most of them are behind a paywall (I am not ponying up for these) but two others are not, both very good essays, the one by Fr. John Behr (here) and the other by Prof. Bradley Nassif (here). I commend both to you for your edification.

Currently, I am working on something that may take several posts on what exactly marriage is, looking at it from the Old Testament, the Gospels, the Epistles, the Early Church, and then from the perspective of marriage as a sacrament, that is, that it is an instrument of Grace, one of the means by which we are sanctified to God, along with our whole family.

One of the matters that bugs me about people who crow that homosexuals should be afforded the same outlets as heterosexuals (both labels I find problematic), that they should have the same rights to approach God in marriage to those they love, is the notion that someone, indeed anyone has a right to grace. I have no ‘right’ to marry if no woman will have me. Indeed I have no right to anything from God, it is all a gift, and were I not blessed with the gift of my wife, I cannot go out and demand someone marry me simply because I don’t like to be single. But more on that anon.

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Humility: a sine qua non of scholarship

“We are not sure we are right until we have made the best case possible for those who are wrong.” Lord Acton

Reformation debates could turn into bruising affairs. Anyone who has studied the Reformation knows this. Not only did it take quick wits, a vast memory, and a comprehension of all the implications of doctrines and the arguments attendant on them, but it took thick skin and a ready wit. The key thing, however, was never to underestimate your interlocutor. Sure, you could call him a Hussite, tell him you’d eat shit if that’s what God told you to do, imply that he had neither moral courage nor even any sense of conviction, but you could not take him for granted. A complete history of the disputations and colloquies of the sixteenth century has yet to be written, even though we have a good bit already done on a number of them (Leipzig, Marburg, Lausanne, Regensburg, Westminster, et al.). A whole study unto itself would be the rhetoric and framing of the arguments in these episodes. Johann Eck alone would warrant a lengthy chapter. One of the things that stands out, however, is that despite each side’s assurance that it held the truth whole and undefiled, none of the individuals really acted as individuals (though Eck affected this for the first part of the Leipzig disputation, especially in handling Carlstadt, but that is not how he ended). In short, scholars understood that no one could master all the facts. Continue reading

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And now a message from R. G. Collingwood

My good friend Chuck French has encouraged me to be more deliberate about my blog (this was a few weeks ago), and I hope now to be so. I found this from a friend. I don’t always agree with Collingwood, but found this so remarkably spot on, indeed prophetic in all senses, that it compelled my will to publish it here. So, without any further ado, “let him who readeth understand:”

Let us suppose a civilization whose most characteristic features had for many centuries been based upon the predominance, among those who shared it, of the belief that truth was the most important thing in the world, and that consequently scientific thinking, systematic, orderly thinking, theoretical and practical alike, pursued with all the energy at his command and with all the skill and care at his disposal, was the most valuable thing man could do. In such a civilization every feature would be marked with some peculiar characteristic derived from this prevailing habit of mind and not to be expected in a civilization differently based. Continue reading

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