Baseball and America: A Place Where Memory Gathers

•August 23, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Hey, Sista! Hey Sista, Sista!

[Baseball is] the perfect game, the very Platonic ideal of organized sport, the “moving image of eternity” in athleticis1the purifying odyssey of exitus and reditus, diastole and systole, departure from and ultimate return to an abiding principle. What could be more obvious? The game is plainly an attempt to figure forth the “heavenly dance” within the realm of mutability. When play is in its full flow, the diamond becomes a place where the dark, sullen surface of matter is temporarily transformed into a gently luminous mirror of the “supercelestial mysteries.” Baseball is an instance of what the late Neoplatonists called “theurgy”: a mimetic or prophetic rite that summons (or invites) the divine graciously to descend from eternity and grant a glimpse of itself within time.


So David B. Hart, tongue partly in cheek, describes baseball as a cosmic phenomenon, a metaphysical truth made incarnate through the act of playing a game. He even goes so far as to make it an ecumenical cosmic mystery, citing Jewish and Buddhist baseball fans who also hold baseball in a near and dear place in their respective worldviews.3 Drew Hyland in his book on sport says that “sport plays a significant role in the life of most societies…Nevertheless, one could plausibly speculate that it has never been more true than in contemporary American society.”4 He goes further on to say of the nature of sport in general that “The order of movement here seems to be as follows: First, sports are a reflection of the values inherent in a given society…the values that sport exhibits…are reflections of values that originate in society. But second, sports teach those values…so that, in turn, those values…are carried back into the society from which they originate.”5 Hart may or may not have been entirely serious in suggesting an exitus-reditus scheme of cosmic emanation and return as a model for baseball. It is interesting, though, that Hyland and other philosophers of sport6 seem to indicate that, on a lower plane, just such a scheme is being played out. The society sets the values that are to be sought, and the popular sport exhibits these values and instills them in the next generation of the culture. Albert Camus, the French writer, said that it was through playing soccer that “I learned everything I know about ethics.”7 Former minor league baseball player and governor of New York Mario Cuomo put the connection between baseball and American communal, even religious, virtue this way:

The Idea of coming together – We’re still not good at that in this country…in moment of crisis we’re magnificent at it…at those moments we understand community-helping one another. In baseball, you do that all the time. You can’t win it alone…You need all nine people helping one another….You find your individual fulfillment in the success of the community-the Bible tried to teach you that and didn’t teach you that. Baseball did.8

The poet David Hall said that “Baseball, because of the sense of its continuity, over the space of America and the time of America — this is a place where memory gathers, a place that we can return to, and it’s a place we can even imagine existing in the future. I think we have some hope that baseball might look like baseball a hundred years from now.”9 Baseball is a quintessentially American sport, brought up in the values of American society for over a century and a half, and further into the murky past, pointing in a formative way towards the future as a carrier of tradition through the associated practices and institutions that transcend their current, past or future instantiations and bind them all through a shared mythic narrative. The narratives that we tell about baseball, in film, in prose, in verse or passed on purely as a practiced tradition, form not only the sport of baseball itself, but to a great degree the broader culture, even for those who do not engage directly with “America’s pastime.”

Michael Novak argues that baseball is a fundamentally individualist sport and that “baseball is not a game that has appeal in every culture. The myth it embodies does not express the inner sense of reality of all peoples…What baseball satisfies in the psyche is restraint in bodily movement, law, grace, swiftness of judgment, poise, respect for order.”10 He sees these as essentially Anglo-American virtues, based in a longstanding communal tradition of frontier independence and personal honor. These values are also attractive, by his analysis, in certain other cultures, namely Japan and Latin America, where large numbers of people are also drawn to the practice of the sport in order to fulfill their own cultural ambitions for virtue. He does see the practices as originating and having their ultimate fulfillment in the values of American culture, and indeed being formative of what fulfills the values of the broader culture, “in baseball, then the form of Anglo-American culture, particularly of rural culture, is almost perfectly embodied.”11

Baseball has permeated every aspect of American culture. Religious kitsch, such as statues or paintings of Jesus teaching children how to swing a bat or a rosary made out of small baseballs can be procured with ease. The moral-religious value of the practice of the sport has been extolled by many figures over the years. Promoters of an Evangelical Protestant “masculine Christianity,” such as the large-scale man’s devotional organization Promise Keepers, use baseball players and imagery in order to promote a certain vision of what a proper American man should aspire to be and to do.12 Evans quotes from a Sunday school publication dated to 1919: “[Baseball’s] problems, its ethical and social questions are the big questions to him…In the game his conscience will be tried, his will tested, his ideals strained. If the [Sunday] school cannot help him in the experience that is so real, so vital, so potent for his life, how can it help him to live as a religious person?”13 Evans and Herzog are not in the “Masculine Christian” camp, and indeed are concerned at the potential for the myths internal to the baseball community to overshadow the practice of the Christian Gospel effectively, yet they do share an attraction to the virtues that the communal practice of baseball has to offer the culture. They value the sense of community that can be formed around the sport, and admire the virtues of those who practice it regularly.

The political and economic elite of the country are also involved in baseball. Teddy Roosevelt would attend parties thrown by owner Albert Spalding in the 1890’s, and was a vigorous fan of the game.14 During the recent World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers, former Rangers owner and President of the United States, George W. Bush was a prominent spectator, along with his father George H. W. Bush. When the Giants won the Series, the city and county of San Francisco threw a huge parade, with Lieutenant-Governor Elect Gavin Newsom and sitting governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, among other notables, on hand to give speeches commemorating the celebration for the city.15

Literary figures throughout American history have been fascinated with the game and its culture. The short poem “Casey at the Bat” written by Ernest Thayer and published in the San Francisco Examiner in 1888 has become iconic, perhaps the most immediately recognizable American poems in the popular imagination, due primarily to the Vaudville act of William DeWolf Hopper who happened upon it and adapted it for the stage when he was called to entertain the players New York Giants and the Chicago White Stockings at an invitation show.16 After that, he made it a regular part of his routine, and other followed suit, and the poem took off, culminating in Walt Disney making a classic animated short out of the narrative.17 The poet Walt Whitman had a high opinion of the cultural position of the sport, and said of baseball in conversation that “Well — it’s our game: that’s the chief fact in connection with it: America’s game: has the snap, go fling, of the American atmosphere — belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”18 Baseball’s life as ‘the national pastime” can be seen as giving a form to what it means to be a nation in the first place, give a shared internal meaning to American-ness separate from transitory external goods. By transcending the here and now, a shared sports traditions such as baseball makes the here and now matter to the practitioners of the sport, whether players or spectators. It is for this reason that fans get so emotional attached to their local teams

No Rounders!”: Commercialism, Pride and American Mythology

“It was a project of mine to replace the tournament with something which might furnish an escape for the extra steam of the chivalry, keep those bucks entertained and out of mischief, and at the same time preserve the best thing in them, which was their hardy spirit of emulation…This experiment was baseball.”19 Mark Twain was an early and adamant fan of baseball, and was one of the supporters of the baseball player turned mogul Albert Spalding in his efforts to make baseball the definitive American game. He took part in a famous 1889 New York gala party thrown by Spalding where the upscale crowd, including Twain and Theodore Roosevelt, responded to speeches extolling baseball as a distinctive and American sport with chants of “No Rounders! No Rounders!” denying the British pre-history of the sport.20 In his fiction, through the device of time travel he reverses the tables and makes American baseball itself the origin of the British sport. The narrative is reversed, interestingly lending some level of credence to the opposing interpretation. Albert Spalding spent a good deal of time and money constructing the narrative of baseball being invented, whole cloth, in Cooperstown, New York, by Civil War General Abner Doubleday. “As Jews and Christians have their Jerusalem and Moslems their Mecca, baseball fans now had their special place, the pastoral village of Cooperstown”.21 Just as other devotional practices have their shrines and their places of pilgrimage, so Spalding created through his marketing machine the home of baseball, irregardless of what the truth might be.

Henry Chadwick, a British immigrant, was a journalist who was largely involved in the original popularization of the sport, credited with inventing the modern scorecard.22 However, Chadwick was aware of the game’s real origins as a form of Rounders, and was not perturbed by this. He considered it an improvement on an old children’s game, saying that “from this little English acorn of Rounders has the giant American oak of Base Ball grown, and just as much difference exists between the British schoolboy and our American national games as exists between the seedling and the full-grown king of the forest.”23

It was the work of pitcher turned owner and entrepreneur Albert Spalding to form the creation myth of baseball, by forming a commission made up of his friends and fellow owners in the National Leauge, and cooked up . Patrick Samway relates the words of A. Bartlett Giamatti, “Baseball is ‘part of America’s plot’ writes Giamatti. It is a version of the ‘tale America tells the world,’ that we are ‘free enough to consent to an order that will enhance and compound – as it constrains –our freedom.”24 The myths of baseball are part of the glue that holds the practice of the sport together, that give it a collective meaning across space and time.

Talking about the history of commercial baseball in dialogue with cultural baseball, Commissioner Fay Vincent said that “Baseball is resilient and it is strong. It will survive. I submit to you the tension between baseball as a game, as a motion, as nostalgia, as family, and the inevitable progress of baseball as business, as profession, as one long negotiation.”25 There is the game of baseball in and of itself, which has been around for a good long while before it started to be commercialized in the last part of the 19th century.26 Novak describes the pre-major league situation, which was that “For years, baseball was not a money-winning proposition. It was an expense, justified by love of the game, a flair for self-advertisement, some small hope of eventual return, and civic chauvinism: for the honor, for example, of Cincinnati.”27 This is still the state of affairs with numerous local baseball or softball teams. People from a given community, a school or a company, get together in order to practice the game of baseball, for the love of the game itself. Alasdair MacIntyre defines a moral practice aimed at cultivating the virtues as follows:

Any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved are systematically extended.28

The excellences of playing baseball are internal to the actual game itself; this player might get rich, or that one might become a star, but the actual values which are proper to baseball, internal excellences oriented towards human flourishing are accessible to the weekend warrior softball player or even the devoted fan just as much as to the superstar. The enduring stars do tend to be those who have internalized these virtues, becoming paragons of the values that American baseball fans love in the practice of the sport itself. The institutions of baseball, whether a weekend softball team, little league, minor league or major league, exist to foster the practices internal to baseball which are the main point of playing the game at all. The only real reason to play or watch the game is for selfless love of the game itself, and not for any utilitarian or pride-based reasons. The narratives of the baseball tradition, including the creation myth created by the Spalding machine, are part of what forms the practice of the community concerned with the practice of baseball. Major Leaugue Baseball officially stands by Spaldings narrative for the origins of the sport, though the scholarly consensus has moved on at this point.29 The narrative power of the myth has become more powerful than the mere facts, and the official organization is not going to be quick to let that go.

Honus Wagner

The Cult of the Stars: Heroes and Fetishes

It’s difficult to believe that a creased, laminated, and corner-cut baseball card could fetch a whopping $262,000 at an auction. Nonetheless, the holy grail of card collectors, the elusive Honus Wagner baseball card with “Pittsburg” spelled wrong, fell into the hands of the School Sisters of Notre Dame by divine intervention, a blessing in disguise, or plain sheer luck….It was bestowed upon the School Sisters of Notre Dame after the brother of a deceased nun also passed away earlier within this year…a note with it exclaimed: “Although damaged, the value of this baseball card should increase exponentially throughout the 21st century!”30

The nuns of the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore received a huge windfall by receiving the beat-up relics of a bygone hero earlier this year. The card is tremendously value, as there are only 60 copies known to exist. Reportedly, Wagner did not want his image appearing on the cards for American Tobacco. The papers are not clear if this was because he was leery of marketing cigarettes to minors, or because he felt the cut was insufficient, or something in between. In either case, only one run of his card was printed, making the initial printing a hundred years later so priceless that a poor quality card fetched a quarter of a million dollars. These sorts of objects have no intrinsic value, but value that is added by those who care about baseball, narratively constructed value focusing on certain “fetish” objects associated with the beloved heroes of the sport.

The title character of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea has set up Joe DiMaggio as his personal ideal, the exact type of virtuous man he had striven to be as a youth, going so far as to imagine that by fishing well, he will somehow make his hero proud of him.31 Dimaggio in the 50’s seemed to be the living embodiment of the American dream, a poor immigrant’s son married to Marilyn Monroe. But by “By the 1960s, though, Paul Simon penned the lyrics, ‘Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?. . . Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.’ Joe the center-fielder now Joe the relic and, like the bones of saints, signaling both presence and absence, the last shred of a lost golden age. No wonder DiMaggio didn’t understand the lyrics in Simon’s song.”32 The glories of the external goods associated with being a baseball player and star are fleeting, and do not last. Peter Williams says that “the heroes we create in baseball are no different from our heroes in any other area; they, too, represent our efforts to reverse Adam’s curse.”33 His analysis primarily focuses on Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente as secular baseball martyrs, whose lives and death provide a narrative drama the emotional punch of which provides catharsis for the fans who identify with their heroes. By dying in tragic fashion, these players become even greater stars, holding a much dearer place in the hearts of the fans who invested so much in them while alive. When a star fizzles out, like DiMaggio, the payoff

Johnson in his analysis of fan obsession with fetishistic objects associated with their heroes, describes the fevered way that fans fought over the home-run balls that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were hitting in the 1998 season, “bitten hands and broken legs in the Ball’s retrieval, disputes of monetary value, IRS statements on potential tax consequences, congressional rebuttals, and…finally in museum shrines for all to pilgrimage towards in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame.”34

A dark counter-example of the normal relationship of spectators to star hero, indeed a perversion of the virtues of sportsmanship itself, is the case of Ty Cobb. Cobb fed off the hatred of the spectators, “A popular target of scorn during his decade in baseball, Cobb was used to the fans’ wrath and often boasted that a loud and hostile crowd motivated him to play better.”35 Ty Cobb was quite arguably the most successful player of his generation, in terms of statistics, and completely vicious in every way. Alasdair MacIntyre allows in his model of virtuous practices for a vicious practitioner, who achieves the external goods of the practice (success) without internalizing the values the practice is meant to transmit (virtue).36 Cobb was a prime example of this, as immortalized in the dark film Cobb, where he is depicted in all his negativity by Tommy Lee Jones. Violent, temperamental, and hateful he consistently put up some of the best numbers of all time. In one incident with a belligerent spectator who happened to be a cripple, Cobb “hit Lucker in the face, knocked him down, and kicked him with his spiked shoes. Though Lucker was unable to defend himself, having lost parts of both hands in an industrial accident less than a year earlier, Cobb was unrelenting.”37 He was renowned for his violent actions, including sliding into basemen cleats-first, giving them the option of letting him make it to base safe or getting hit with the spikes on his shoes where it would really hurt. He had a fantastic record of making it to base. In the end, Tripp argues that “How then did fans respond to Cobb? Perhaps the best answer historians can offer is that they hated him, they adored him, they were repulsed by him, and they were fascinated by him—sometimes in the course of a single afternoon at the ballpark.”38

The Black Sox in Court

Say It Ain’t So, Joe”: Betraying the Faith of Fifty Million People

“Meyer Wolfsheim? No, he’s a gambler.” Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: “He’s the man who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919.”

“Fixed the World’s Series?” I repeated.

The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World’s Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely HAPPENED, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people — with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.

“How did he happen to do that?” I asked after a minute.

“He just saw the opportunity.”39

Nick Carraway is stupefied with horror and wonder after having met the fictional architect of the Black Sox gambling scandal of 1919 at a cocktail party at his friend Gatsby’s manse. In contrast to Nick’s intensely negative reaction, in the 1974 film The Godfather, Part II, the ruthless gangster Hyman Roth says that “I’ve loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series in 1919.”40 Much like Gatsby’s cynically nonchalant attitude about the matter and Nick’s naively hurt reaction, the way one reacts to the Black Sox scandal is deeply revealing about the nature of a character. The trauma of the boy asking “Shoeless” Joe Jackson to “say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so” still hangs over the head of baseball as a sport today.41 For the last 90 years, the lurid background details of the scandal have been an obsession of American novelists and film-makers. Just what happened, and who did what, are still matters of tremendous controversy. Herzog argues that Jackson was a Girardian scapegoat, selected by the powers that be to stand for the crimes that were endemic in the system at the time which the general population found revolting. Rob Neyer of ESPN, on the other hand, in an article arguing that Jackson should not be taken off the banned list and admitted into the hall of fame, has said that “Joe Jackson and his cohorts committed a truly evil crime, compromising the integrity of their profession and violating the trust of their fans. Should the day come when Shoeless Joe is inducted into the Hall of Fame, it will be a sad day indeed.”42 Out of the crowd of detractors and mourners, two films based on two very different books are notable for their handling of the notorious players, including Shoeless Joe. John Sayles’ Eight Men Out,43 a drama based on a nonfiction book by the same name,44 stands out as a hard-hitting factual depiction and indictment of the players and their decisions during the fateful World Series. On the other hand, Phil Robinson’s Field of Dreams45 based upon the novel Shoeless Joe by author W. P. Kinsella46 depicts the souls of the eight departed Black Sox players in a purgatorial state, playing baseball in a strange limbo afterlife. Both films, and the books that they are based on, are dealing with the aftershock of the disappointment which echos down through the years for those who care for baseball’s integrity. The betrayal of the virtues internal to the sport are deeply felt in both of the stories. Both have approaches to the question which are worth exploring further in-depth.

Eight Men Out, whether we are talking about the book or the film version, take part in perpetuating the worst possible interpretation of the actions of Shoeless Joe, to the consternation of his fans down to this day. Herzog and Evans are eager to vindicate Jackson as a scapegoat for a deeply corrupt establishment which through him under the bus in order to take the heat off of the rest of the system. The evidence that Shoeless Joe was a part of the plot is scant, and he did actually play well in the games themselves. He even tried to warn the owner of the team, but was blown off at the time. However, for many people, these strange circumstances are not enough to exonerate the fallen star for not trying hard enough to stop the fix, and so he continues to this day to be vilified and held in contempt by many. He is still blacklisted from appearing in the hall of fame, despite being one of the all time great players. Thus is the price he continues to pay, in death and in fictional life.

The novel Shoeless Joe, and the resultant movie Field of Dreams, tells the story of a magical reconciliation of a father and son, across the barrier of life and death, through fidelity to the practice of baseball, the seeking of the internal goods, in spite of the external hardships the pursuit brings on the protagonist, Ray.47 Just as he is reconciled with his father, so too are the other characters moved towards reconciliation. J. D. Salinger (in the book; Terrance Mann in the movie) is reconciled with himself by regaining his passion for life and connection to the broader world. Shoeless Joe and his teammates are on a purgatorial quest to find peace by following the practices that they failed to perform when playing in the World Series. Archibold Graham’s ghost is reconciled with his never having become a major player, and finds peace with his vocation as a doctor. Mark, Ray’s belligerent brother-in-law, is reconciled when he realizes what is going on in the field itself. And the whole cosmos is reconciled when, after having built it, they come.

Disappointments happen in public practices like baseball; such is the human condition. In the early nineties, it was the player strikes which disillusioned saddened vast numbers of fans. More recently, the controversies over steroids have toppled formerly revered heroes, hence putting Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire into the same category as Shoeless Joe. However, despite these disappointments in the fallibility of mortals, and of learning the hard lesson that our heroes and idols are mortals, the hope of baseball lovers springs eternal. Cubs fans have gone over a century without winning any championships; to the true fan, this is not an obstacle. The actual, internal goods of being a fan or player are what truly matter, much as the lack of external success might sting. The stories that are told about baseball are part of the process of living with that stinging disappointment, of learning through practice to have the virtues necessary to get through life.

Conclusion: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”

The Yankee catcher and outfielder Yogi Berra said “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” when he was manager of the New York Mets in response to a question about the prospects for the remainder of the 1973 season.48 Yogi, born Lawrence Peter Berra, in addition to being a top-notch player and later manager, was legendary for his zen koan-like sayings that were the result of an eighth grade education and a tendency to say whatever came immediately to mind. The result was pronouncements of tautologies such as “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”49 (because he lived in a court where taking either a right or a left would lead to his house) or paradoxes such as saying about a restaurant he disliked attending that “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”50 His knack for malapropisms made him into a figure of popular culture, in addition to his status as one of the great players and athletes in baseball history. Because of his high profile as a player, he was put in the spotlight where his sayings have become part of the public consciousness, entering everyday language as clever puns where originally they were simple slip-ups. As a public paragon of virtue, Berra’s eccentricities become something to be admired and even imitated, despite his own dislike of the phenomenon. Here we see the “cult of the star” at work, transforming mistakes into wit. Where the mistakes of the Black Sox are a psychological scar that manifest in the culture in odd ways, Berra’s lighthearted mix-ups are a source of joy the memory of which will outlast him the way that Shoeless Joe’s reputation has haunted him. So Berra, too, becomes part of the American mythology, and his other virtues are sacrificed on the altar of comedy rather than tragedy. His quirck becomes a fetish the same way that a home run ball would, people recalling obscure sayings of his as treasures to be brought out and shown off. In Yogi Berra, we see a sort of microcosm of the relationship of baseball with American culture: formed by the broader culture, but in turn formative; down to Earth, yet iconic; playful, yet taken very seriously. As we’ve seen how different writers, prognosticators and film-makers have dealt with the phenomenon of American baseball, I think it is well to remember that, after all, it is just a game.


Asinof, Eliot. Eight Men Out: The Black Sox Scandal and the 1919 World Series. New York: Henry Holt, 1963.

Berra, Yogi. The Yogi book: I really didn’t say everything I said!, New York: Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 1998.

Burns, Ken. Baseball:A Film by Ken Burns. Florentine Films and WETA-TV, 1994.

Chadwick, Henry. The Game of Baseball: A History of America’s Game, New York: George Munro & Co., Publishers, 1868.

Chidester, David. “The Church of Baseball, the Fetish of Coca-Cola, and the Potlatch of Rock ‘n’ Roll : Theoretical Models for the Study of Religion in American Popular Culture.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 64, no. 4 (December 1, 1996): 743-765.

Coppola, Francis Ford. The Godfather, Part II. Paramount Pictures, 1974.

Dixon, Marilyn. “SSNDs hit home run with Honus Wagner baseball card”, Notre Dame of Maryland Columns, December 9, 2010. (accessed December 12, 2010)

Evans, Christopher H. and William R. Herzog II, ed. The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Hayes Barton Press, 1961.

Gardner, Martin, “The Annotated Casey at the Bat: A Collection of Ballads about the Mighty Casey”, Third Edition, New York: Dover, 1995.

Hart, David B. “A Perfect Game”, First Things August/September 2010, p. 51-55.

Hyland, Drew A. Philosophy of sport. New York, NY : Paragon House, 1990.

Johnson, Paul C. “The fetish and McGwire’s balls.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68, no. 2 (June 1, 2000): 243-264.

Kinney, Jack. Casey at the Bat. Walt Disney, 1946

Kinsella, W. P. Shoeless Joe. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1982.

Ladd, Tony. Muscular Christianity : evangelical Protestants and the development of American sport. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 1999.

MacIntyre, Alasdair C. After virtue : a study in moral theory. Notre Dame, Ind. : University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.

Neyer, Rob. “Say it ain’t so … for Joe and the Hall,” July 30, 2001 on (accessed 12/15/2010).

Novak, Michael. The joy of sports : end zones, bases, baskets, balls, and the consecration of the American spirit. Lanham : Hamilton Press, 1988.

Patell, Cyrus R. K. “Baseball and the Cultural Logic of American Individualism,” Prospects 18 (1993): 401-463.

Pitruzsa, David. Major Leagues: The Formation, Sometimes Absorption and Mostly Inevitable Demise of 18 Professional Baseball Organizations, 1871 to Present. Jefferson, North Carolina: Mcfarland & Company, Inc., 1991.

Rader, Benjamin G. Baseball: A History of America’s Game, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992.

Randels, George D. and Becky Beal. “What Makes a Man?: Religion, sport and negotiating masculine identity in the Promise Keepers,” in With God on their side : sport in the service of religion, edited by Tara Magdalinski & Timothy J.L. Chandler. (New York : Routledge, 2002), 16-176.

Robinson, Phil Alden. Field of dreams. Gordon Films, Inc., 1989.

Samway, Patrick. “I CAN SEE THEM THERE, AT FENWAY PARK – ANDRE DUBUS AND HIS GOOD FRIEND GOD..” Religion & the Arts 6, no. 1/2 (March 2002): 5-18.

Sayles, John. Eight men out. Orion Pictures, 1988.

Schmidgall, Gary, ed. Intimate with Walt: selections from Walt Whitman’s conversations with Horace Traubel, 1888-1892. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001.

Tripp, Steve. “THE MOST POPULAR UNPOPULAR MAN IN BASEBALL”: BASEBALL FANS AND TY COBB IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY.” Journal of Social History, 67-87. George Mason University, 2009.

Ward, Geoffrey C. and Ken Burns. Baseball: An Illustrated History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Weiss, Paul. Sport: a philosophic inquiry. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969.

Williams, Peter. “Every religion needs a martyr: the role of Matty, Gehrig, and Clemente in the national faith.” In From season to season, 99-112. Macon, Ga: Mercer University Press, 2001.

1David B. Hart, “A Perfect Game”, First Thing August/September 2010, 52

2Ibid. 54


4Drew A. Hyland, Philosophy of sport. New York, NY : Paragon House, 1990, 1

5Ibid. 3 (emphasis in original)

6Paul Weiss, Sport: a philosophic inquiry, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969.

7Hyland, 33

8Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Baseball: An Illustrated History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, 384.

9David Hall in an interview, Baseball, part nine, dir. Ken Burns, Florentine Films, 1994.

10Novak, Michael, The joy of sports : end zones, bases, baskets, balls, and the consecration of the American spirit, Lanham : Hamilton Press, 1988, 59.

11Ibid. 69.

12George D. Randels, and Becky Beal. “What Makes a Man?: Religion, sport and negotiating masculine identity in the Promise Keepers,” in With God on their side : sport in the service of religion, edited by Tara Magdalinski & Timothy J.L. Chandler. (New York : Routledge, 2002), 16-176; see also Tony Ladd, Muscular Christianity : evangelical Protestants and the development of American sport. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 1999.

13Christopher H. Evans, “The Kingdom of Baseball in America: The Chronicle of an American Theology,” in The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture. ed. By Christopher H. Evans and William R. Herzog II. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

14Christopher H. Evans, “Baseball as Civil Religion: The Genesis of an American Creation Story” in The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture edited by Christopher H. Evans and William R. Herzog II. Louidville, Kentucky: Westiminster John Knox Press, 2002, 24.

15Jason Dearen, “Thousands Cheer Giants at Downtown Parade,” Associated Press, (accessed December 10, 2010)

16Martin Gardner, “The Annotated Casey at the Bat: A Collection of Ballads about the Mighty Casey”, Third Edition, New York: Dover, 1995, 2-7

17Casey at the Bat. Animated Short. Directed by Jack Kinney, perf. Jerry Colonna. Walt Disney, 1946.

18Gary Schmidgall, ed. Intimate with Walt: selections from Walt Whitman’s conversations with Horace Traubel, 1888-1892, 261

19Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, New York: harper & Brothers, 1889, 405.

20Evans, “Baseball as Civil Religion: The Genesis of an American Creation Story,” in The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture 24

21Benjamin G. Rader, Baseball: A History of America’s Game, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992, 84.

22Ibid. 17-18.

23Henry Chadwick, The Game of Baseball: A History of America’s Game, New York: George Munro & Co., Publishers, 1868, 9.

24Patrick Samway, “I CAN SEE THEM THERE, AT FENWAY PARK – ANDRE DUBUS AND HIS GOOD FRIEND GOD..” Religion & the Arts 6, no. 1/2 (March 2002): 6

25Cyrus R.K. Patell, “Baseball and the Cultural Logic of American Individualism,” Prospects 18 (1993): 455.

26David Pitruzsa, Major Leagues: The Formation, Sometimes Absorption and Mostly Inevitable Demise of 18 Professional Baseball Organizations, 1871 to Present, Jefferson, North Carolina: Mcfarland & Company, Inc., 1991.

27Novak, 300.

28Alasdair MacIntyre. After Virtue: a study in moral theory. Notre Dame, Ind. : University of Notre Dame Press, 2007, 187

29Evans, 26.

30Marilyn Dixon, “SSNDs hit home run with Honus Wagner baseball card”, Notre Dame of Maryland Columns, December 9, 2010. (accessed December 12, 2010)

31C. Harold Hurley, “The World of the Spirit or the World of Sport?” in Faith of Fifty Million, 84.

32Paul C. Johnson, “The fetish and McGwire’s balls.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68, no. 2 (June 1, 2000): 243

33Peter, Williams, “Every religion needs a martyr: the role of Matty, Gehrig, and Clemente in the national faith.” In From season to season, 99-112. Macon, Ga: Mercer University Press, 2001.

34Paul C. Johnson,”The fetish and McGwire’s balls.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68, no. 2 (June 1, 2000): 244

35Steve Tripp, “THE MOST POPULAR UNPOPULAR MAN IN BASEBALL”: BASEBALL FANS AND TY COBB IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY.” Journal of Social History, 67-87. George Mason University, 2009, 67.

36MacIntyre, 193

37Ibid. 78

38Ibid. 82

39F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby. Hayes Barton Press, 1961, 49

40The Godfather, Part II, motion picture, directed by Francis FordCoppola. Paramount Pictures: 1974.

41William R. Herzog II, “From Scapegoat to Icon: The Strange Journey of Shoeless Joe Jackson,” in The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture. ed. By Christopher H. Evans and William R. Herzog II. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

42Rob Neyer, post on, “Say it ain’t so … for Joe and the Hall,” July 30, 2001 (accessed 12/15/2010).

43John Sayles. Eight men out. Orion Pictures, 1988.

44Eliot Asinof. Eight Men Out: The Black Sox Scandal and the 1919 World Series. New York: Henry Holt, 1963.

45Phil Alden Robinson, Field of dreams. Gordon Films, Inc., 1989.

46W. P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1982.

47Evans, 46-48.

48Yogi Berra, The Yogi book: I really didn’t say everything I said!, New York: Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 1998, 5

49Ibid. 122

50Ibid. 16

What is Philosophy, Anyways?

•August 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The Philosopher at Work

The one feature all of the Greek philosophers of the Hellenic and Hellenistic world had in common, aside from speaking Greek, was a strong desire to know the proper and profitable way to live. Whether the fractured and tribal city states of the earliest Pre-Socratics and the later Helleniic period, or the vast centralized bureaucratic empires of the Hellenistic age, concern for the right way of living for the individual and community were central questions. No matter what sort of metaphysical assumptions were made or what the ethical recommendations were, all the extant schools of Greek philosophical thought had an agenda for how to live life, and a program for seeking the best way to manipulate the cosmos and the self to achieve the optimum results for human happiness and well-being.

The Pre-Socratics sought to find the unitary elemental principle behind the universe, so that they could understand and gain some measure of control over the world. Thales was an accomplished engineer, merchant and politician in addition to his more esoteric philosophical pursuits. His philosophy was concerned with how the world works, in order to understand how best to act as a human being. Others, such as the ill-fated volcano diver Empedocles, were actually sorcerers and magicians trying to manipulate the visible world through invisible powers. Some thought of all plurality and change as an illusion, some thought change was the only underlying reality. All were concerned with how best to behave in order to fulfill their lives.

Most notably among the Pre-Socratic schools of thought, the Sophists sought the best ways to use language to manipulate other people, a sort of social magic. They would teach others how to work their speeches, and would sell speeches to be used for set occasions. They were professional educators, teaching traditional civil virtues to the highest bidder, much to the chagrin of the established classes. They would teach their clients the fine art of argumentation and disputation, how to use rhetoric to achieve the desired result in convincing others. Their entire program revolved around telling and showing other people how to live in order to accomplish the goals desired for a good life.

Plato’s over-arching concern was with the political life of the polis, in knowing the virtues of citizenship in a city-state. The point of understanding virtue is in order to become more virtuous in practice. The result of philosophical enlightenment is to produce an ethical mission, as in the allegory of the cave when the freed cave-dweller returns back among the chained in order to help them the best he can after having seen the glory of the Sun. Civic virtue is the highest virtue, because by participating virtuously in the polis, one is being most fully in tune with human nature, fulfilling a cosmic role. He saw rational ethics as superior to traditional religion, as seen in figures like Euthyphro, as the traditional religious beliefs of the Greeks did not provide rigorous methods of judging moral behavior. He was concerned with mathematics, as he saw within numbers a basis for reality that can be understood and manipulated by human beings for their own good. The program of the Sophists, of teaching for money, is depicted in Plato as a most distasteful breach of civic virtue. The true teacher does not charge, but offers knowledge for the sake of enlightening another human being. To crassly charge money for enlightenment is tremendously improper behavior, a violation of the natural order. Philosophy, to Plato, is an initiatory experience that leads to real change in life. His primary concern is the understanding and passing on of virtue.

Aristotle was also concerned with proper human action, and developed his four-fold theory of causality in order to understand how the world and everything in it works through exploring the causes of all things inasmuch as possible. The understanding of a topic such as rhetoric is not achieved by being able to write and deliver good speeches, but rather comes from knowing the root causes of rhetoric. The knowledge gained through this investigation could be used for extrapolating further facts through the method of logic he developed for this purpose. The way to approach universal truths for Aristotle is always through particulars, through the primacy of act, as only that which is in act is knowable. The individual is what is real, not forms floating around in a world of ideas. Action is the root of ethical behavior, as human beings are not abstract objects possessing a quality of goodness or badness, but rather we are agents who commit actions which are themselves good or bad. He saw knowledge of the causes as superior to experience in practical use, as experience deals with particulars, and as such is always limited, while theory gained from observation of the causes deals with universals, and as such is always applicable towards informing proper action. While Aristotle felt that knowledge learned from its own sake was the most pure in nature, in preference to knowledge for moral betterment or for the sake of achieving particular effects, he was himself an enthusiastic naturalist who was fascinated with exploring causality and reason within the cosmos, and his entire philosophy was wrapped up in understanding cause and effect, and how to refine that knowledge in order to live a complete life, a happy life.

The Cynics sought to break free of the constraints of convention and political pressures to achieve happiness in life. They represented more of a discipline of physical and emotional asceticism, rather than an intellectual tradition. They railed against the evils of carnal pleasure, power and riches. They would feign insanity in order to make a point though scandalizing others, trying to galvanize people by shocking them out of their comfort zones. Their philosophy was very practically oriented, designed to be lived rather than contemplated.

Epicurus and his school of thought saw the basic point of existence as the seeking of pleasure, but in an ordered way so as to maximize pleasure rationally. The source of unhappiness for the Epicurean model is pain, so the goal is to maximize pleasure and avoid pain whenever possible. Their entire philosophy was built around figuring out to best accomplish this end, and to prove that it is the highest end. Epicurus sought to see truth and value without resorting to speaking of universal truths. His philosophy centered around the learning of self-governance, which would lead to the ability to deal with other people. Epicurus and his followers composed very accessible works for the purpose of being meditated upon and memorized by others, in order to help them live out their lives properly.

The Stoics saw passionless reason as the best method to organize human behavior and life. Like the Epicureans, the Stoics built their philosophy on forming a practical way of life that was designed to fit people’s everyday lives. They saw the reason behind unhappiness as bad decisions, and the way to achieve happiness as learning to make correct decisions on a rational basis. They would study physics and other sciences for the purpose of justifying their existential system. Everything for the stoics revolved around learning to live in accordance with nature.

The lalatt day Platonists, most notably Plotinus, saw the entire cosmos as an emanation of the One, and the destiny of all things as being drawn back into the one. When Plotinus was teaching in Rome, his circle of followers included many professional and politically active individuals, who found his philosophy useful to them in their everyday sort of lives, showing the practical bent of Plotinus mystical philosophy. He taught that the human soul should be sculpted like a statue through serious meditation in order to achieve a perfect shape over time. Plotinus sought to achieve union with the One, and to guide others towards the same goal

Even when they disagree, which was quite often, all of these philosophers were concerned above all with right behavior and seeking the real goal of living. What is the best way to live, and how do we best accomplish it in this world. All the physical and metaphysical investigations were aimed at the primary goal of figuring out the ideal method of achieving vital life goals, and discerning what the best set of goals would be. From the mystical to the empiricist, the political to the Cynic, the Monist to the Pluralist, they all sought the answer to the question of how to live in the world as a human being.

Saint Romanus, Abbot

•March 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

St. Romanus the Abbot

May the intercession of blessed Romanus, the Abbot, commend us unto Thee, we beseech Thee, O Lord: so that what we cannot acquire by any merits of ours, we may obtain by his patronage. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen. – Collect from the Common of Abbots

In the territory of Lyons, in the Jura Mountains, the death of St. Romanus, abbot, who first had led the life of a hermit there.  His reputation for virtues and miracles brought under his guidance many monks. – The entry in the Roman Martyrology

St.Romanus, Abbot of Condat, now St. Claude in the French Jura, b. about 400; d. in 463 or 464. When thirty-five years old he went into the lonely region of Condat to live as a hermit, where after a while his younger brother Lupicinus followed him. A large number of scholars, among whom was St. Eugendus, placed themselves under the direction of the two holy brothers who founded several monasteries: Condat (now Saint-Claude), Lauconne (later Saint-Lupicin, as Lupicinus was buried there), La Balme (later Saint-Romain-de-Roche), where St.Romanus was buried, and Romainmôtier (Romanum monasterium) in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland. Romanus was ordained priest by St. Hilary of Arles in 444, and with Lupicinus he directed these monasteries until his death. His feast is observed on 28 February. Two lives of him are in existence: one by Gregory of Tours in the “Liber vitae patrum” (Mon. Germ. Hist.: Script. Merov., I, 663), and an anonymous “Vita Sanctorum Romani, Lupicini, Eugendi” [ibid., III, 131 sqq.; cf. Benoît, “Histoire de St-Claude”, I (Paris, 1890); Besson, “Recherches sur les origines des évêchés de Genève, Lausanne, et Sion” (Fribourg, 1906), 210 sqq.]. – Catholic Encyclopedia

Faith and Works, Body and Spirit

•February 29, 2012 • 1 Comment

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar?  Seest thou, that faith did co-operate with his works; and by works faith was made perfect?  And the scripture was fulfilled, saying: Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him to justice, and he was called the friend of God.  Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only?  And in like manner also Rahab the harlot, was not she justified by works, receiving the messengers, and sending them out another way? For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead. – James 2:20-26

The metaphor used in the Scripture is of Faith = Body and Works = Spirit.  A body that lies still and does not grow, breath, move or generally live is a corpse, lacking an animating principle (much like this blog  since I started Grad School).  The fallen angels believe in God, insofar as they know the truth, but they are not animated with love of the truth and so tremble.  But a spirit without a body to animate is a ghostly apparition, unable to experience the fullness of life, hence why we look forward to the Ressurection of the Dead rather than being freed from the body.  Without a body, we are ghosts; without the spirit, we are corpses.  Only with both, in a full Hylomorphic union, do we experience actual life.  Similarly, if we believe the truth and do nothing, our faith is like a corpse, stagnant and fruitless.  If we do good deeds and do not believe, our works are like a ghost, adrift and meaningless.

Anyway, that’s a thought for the day.  I’m goign to try doing something a bit more with this blog, maybe a saint of the day sort of deal, which I have been doing on FaceBook anyway.  Maybe some book reviews.  Time will tell.

Si vales valeo, amicos!

Sacramental Worldview: Magic?

•March 14, 2010 • 7 Comments

The Archangel Raphael, on God's orders, uses occult knowledge to help Tobias

A Calvinist aquaintance of mine recently said that “God can appoint whatever means He chooses for communicating His will. The urim and thummim were God-ordained by the written word, which would *de facto* preclude them from the realm of magic.”  This was after he was criticiing the Harry Potter, Narnia and Lord of the Rings books as horribly anti-Christian, and called the Catholic Mass “witchcraft” in a Biblical sense.

So I just though I’d post some Scriptural passages in regards to “magic” in the Scripture, leaving out the abundant examples of approved divination:

“Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.” (James 5:14-15)

“And going forth they preached that men should do penance: And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.” (Mark 6:12-13)

“‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21–23)

“And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God. But they going forth preached every where: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.” (Mark 16:17-20, phah to historical-critical method)

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:10-14)

Justification: Where’s the Beef?

•January 12, 2010 • 8 Comments

“For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14).

“Paul knows that in the twofold love of God and neighbor the whole of the Law is present and carried out. Thus in communion with Christ, in a faith that creates charity, the entire Law is fulfilled. We become just by entering into communion with Christ who is Love. We shall see the same thing in the Gospel next Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King. It is the Gospel of the judge whose sole criterion is love. What he asks is only this: Did you visit me when I was sick? When I was in prison? Did you give me food to eat when I was hungry, did you clothe me when I was naked? And thus justice is decided in charity. Thus, at the end of this Gospel we can almost say: love alone, charity alone. But there is no contradiction between this Gospel and St Paul. It is the same vision, according to which communion with Christ, faith in Christ, creates charity. And charity is the fulfillment of communion with Christ. Thus, we are just by being united with him and in no other way.

“At the end, we can only pray the Lord that he help us to believe; really believe. Believing thus becomes life, unity with Christ, the transformation of our life. And thus, transformed by his love, by the love of God and neighbor, we can truly be just in God’s eyes.”  – Benedict XVI

Justification is the classical issue of the Reformation, and much ink and blood has been spilled over what the correct doctrine is, really.  Some will accuse the Council of Trent of “anathamizing the Gospel”, but a careful reading of Pope Benedict’s statement above and the Councils decree shows that they are the same as that espoused in the Bible.  Paul tells us in Romans and Galatians that Justification comes through faith rather than the works of the Law, but James tells us in his epistle that “faith without works is dead” and that “man is justified by works, and not by faith alone”.  Jesus himself, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, seems to lay the works of love springing from true faith as a standard for our justification before God, the standard that the Holy Father echoes in the above quote.  Once you peel away 500-year old rhetoric, the truth remains: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind: and thy neighbour as thyself.” (Luke 10:27)


My friend Kevin asks:  “So you agree that doing good works does not get you into heaven?”

I respond:

It is not a strict dichotomy of either faith or works, because “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). It is a both/and, a favorite Catholic theology catchphrase. Brownie points will not earn salvation, but “the devils also believe and tremble” (James 2:19). One cannot exist authentically without the other.

“Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

“Many will say to me in that day: ‘Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name?’ And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.

“Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock.

“And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.”   (Matthew 7: 21-27)

Whence “Neo-Catholic”?

•January 6, 2010 • 4 Comments

The Neo-Pope

This is in response to a discussion on Mark Shea’s blog, regarding the term “Neo-Catholic”, apparently meaning  by the definition of the poster DM,  “A Catholic whose enthusiasms and opinions are mostly defined by John Paul II’s papacy.”

This is what I have seen the term used to mean in actual conversations with my Traditionalist friends, it is kind of  a cartoonishly simplistic take on the opinions of those who are orthodox yet not full-blown Traditionalists in their devotional life.  As a Traditionalist-leaning former Protestant (product of Benedict XVI’s papacy rather than JPII, still Chrismy fresh!), I find myself hemming and hawing over these points, “yes, well, sort of…”.  I’ll take them one at a time, for clarity’s sake:

“1) The Second Vatican Council was a positively good thing.  Its documents are “marching orders for the new millennium”. The pastoral strategy given by Gaudium et Spes is authoritative and, more importantly, correct.  The problems in the Church following the council are not the fault of the conciliar documents themselves, but can be blamed on misinterpretation, misimplementation, or ignorance of them. “

Well, yes.  Many problems that have followed from the Council actually contradict the conciliar teachings directly.  This is well documented.  Though I will say that the Council’s teachings, even when not wrong, did lend themselves to misinterpretation and misapplication.  This is true of all the Ecumenical Councils, actually.  They all caused as many problems as they solved, if not more.  I have come to the conclusion that if there hadn’t been a VII, the past 50 years very well could have been bumpier.  I trust the movement of the Holy Spirit that way.

“`2) The Bugninine liturgical reform was a positively good thing. The problems following the promulgation of the new Mas are not the fault of the content, form or circumstrances of origin of the new Mass itself, but can be blamed on liturgical abuse at the diocesan and parochial level.  When celebrated reverently, there is “nothing illegitemate or doctrinally inexact” about the reformed liturgy.”

Well,  I have problems with some of the directions taken with Paul VI Mass, but it is not *illegitimate* as it is a valid Mass promulgated by the Church.  I’d cut the three Euphoras aside from the traditional Roman Canon, among other niggling liturgical tidbits.  I think the transition was ill-advised and poorly handled.  But again, many of the problematic practices of the reform era were indeed not part of the new standards, but people going beyond the rubrics and staying there.  Partly, this is due to the aforementioned poor handling of the changes, but part of it is that there were some serious problems with formation within the Church in the generation leading up to the Council.

“3) The ecclesiastical tradition of the Church has no permanment objective content. All “little T” traditions can and should be modified according to perceived pastoral or evangelical expediency.”

This is an overstatement and misinterpretation of Congar’s “Meaning of Tradition” and the position taken by the Magesterium with regards to “little t” traditions.  The distinction is a true one, though I would say that the past 50 years show that messing with the “little t” can be very dangerous and ill-advised.  But there is a truth that the Church is objectively not the same with regards to these “little t” practices in 1st century Rome, 7th century Lebonon, 19th century France and 21st century Kenya.  It just isn’t.  The issue that was taken up by Congar and VII was that some of the “traditional” practices were only 100 years old, and were in danger of being confused with the Deposit of Faith.  Their mistake was in assuming that they could change the traditions of the Faithful by Episcopal fiat, an action that is obviously folly in retrospect.  In addition, it is dangerous to presume to know where the line between “little t” and “Big T” lies.  This is a complex issue, that doesn’t lend itself to a simplification with “Traditionalists” on one side and “Neo-Catholics” on the other.

4) The pope can and should positivistically innovate in matters of liturgy and devotion.

Well, I don’t much care for Papal fiat in these matters, but this goes back to St. Gregory the Great, St. Gregory VII, St. Pius V, etc.  The Tridentine Mass itself represents a number of liturgical and devotional innovations coming from the Pope and an Ecumenical Council, perhaps moreso than that of Paul VI following Vatican II.

5) Ecumenism is a positively good thing and a “solemn and binding duty” on all believers.

Well, it was said by a Council of the Church, so who am I to disagree?  St. Peter does tell us to be always ready with an answer.

6) Modern philosophical (e.g. phenomenology), artistic, and cultural (e.g. World Youth Day) forms can and should be used as vehicles for the Gospel, and there is nothing intrinsically and qualitatively superior about the forms used by the Church in the past (e.g. Thomism, Gothic architecture).

Are you saying that modern forms cannot or should not be used to advance the Gospel?  I think that traditional artistic forms are vastly superior, for a number of reasons I won’t go into here, but is it a zero-sum game where modern culture is of no potential value?

7) The 1992 Catechism is a “sure guide” to the faith, and can be considered a final authority on any matter it addresses.

I don’t know anyone who would claim the Catechism (or any other Catechism, really) as a “final authority”.  It’s pretty through and useful, however.

8) Disagreement with the above statements puts a Catholic in danger of “private judgment”, “being more Catholic than the pope” or “Protestant mentality”.

Well, when one disagrees with the Pope because he isn’t hewing to tradition, it is an understandable charge, isn’t it?  I don’t think it is a fair charge, but it follows naturally from the positions taken.  I think there is much room to disagree with what’s been going on for the past 50 years, and with Popes and their actions, without being “Protestant”.  The line is crossed by people such as the SSPX, when they declare the Church apostate.  And there lies the charge of “Rad-Trad”.

“I don’t think that any part of that is inaccurate of unfair, and apologize if it is.”

I think you could use some nuance in your statements, and a few (namely number 3) cross the line into parody, but a fair enough list.

And, as usual, I ask that anyone who objects to the term “neo-Catholic” suggest a different name for the set of opinions and enthusiasms I have just described.  (Refusing to call it anything other  than “Catholic” winds up just being an integrist game of its own, as that suggests that “Catholisicm” is coterminous with that set of opinions and enthusiasms.)

One problem with the term “Neo-Catholic”, is that people I know who would fit in that category as understood here, use the term to refer to right-wing dissenters who see the Church as a vehicle for free market/militaristic/nationalist political aims, which makes the term ambiguous, and hence less-than-useful.  Also, the self-understanding of “Neo-Catholics” is not one of being innovative, but of bringing Tradition to bear in the modern world.  The “Hermeneutic of Continuity” as Pope Benedict states it.  Most even consider themselves as Traditionalists, who prefer the OF in Latin with very traditional rubrics.  I don’t know what a better term would be, but “Neo-Catholics” is disrespectful and unhelpful.

Western Exceptionalism

•January 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Learning classical languages is essential to European civilization….Europe’s luck was its initial poverty. For a very long time, Europe remained far removed from the existing cultural centers in Asia. Europeans were barbarians, inhabiting distant, freezing northern shores. And they knew this about themselves. Studying classical languages, and thereby imbibing a civilization wholly different from their own, made them conscious of the fact that they were stinking barbarians, who needed to wash themselves with the soap of higher civilizations. The Romans were well aware that they were culturally inferior to the Greeks. But they also had the courage to admit it. And that is precisely what gave them the strength to absorb the Hellenic civilization, and spread it to the lands they conquered. The essential characteristic of European culture is that it is ex-centric. Not in the sense of an Englishman who takes a bath wearing his bowler hat, but in the sense that the two sources of her civilization, Athens and Jerusalem, lie outside the geographical area of Europe itself. European culture is based on the recognition that we are barbarians who civilized ourselves by internalizing ‘strange’ cultural sources.

Remi Brag

Ecumenism Now

•December 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment
The Council in Action

The Second Vatican Council

From The Second Vatican Council decree “Unitatis Redintegratio”, since this topic seems to be popular lately:



5. The attainment of union is the concern of the whole Church, faithful and shepherds alike. This concern extends to everyone, according to his talent, whether it be exercised in his daily Christian life or in his theological and historical research. This concern itself reveals already to some extent the bond of brotherhood between all Christians and it helps toward that full and perfect unity which God in His kindness wills.

6. Every renewal of the Church(27) is essentially grounded in an increase of fidelity to her own calling. Undoubtedly this is the basis of the movement toward unity.

Christ summons the Church to continual reformation as she sojourns here on earth. The Church is always in need of this, in so far as she is an institution of men here on earth. Thus if, in various times and circumstances, there have been deficiencies in moral conduct or in church discipline, or even in the way that church teaching has been formulated-to be carefully distinguished from the deposit of faith itself-these can and should be set right at the opportune moment.

Church renewal has therefore notable ecumenical importance. Already in various spheres of the Church’s life, this renewal is taking place. The Biblical and liturgical movements, the preaching of the word of God and catechetics, the apostolate of the laity, new forms of religious life and the spirituality of married life, and the Church’s social teaching and activity-all these should be considered as pledges and signs of the future progress of ecumenism.

7. There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds,(28) from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. We should therefore pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble. gentle in the service of others, and to have an attitude of brotherly generosity towards them. St. Paul says: “I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace”.(29) This exhortation is directed especially to those raised to sacred Orders precisely that the work of Christ may be continued. He came among us “not to be served but to serve”.(30)

The words of St. John hold good about sins against unity: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us”.(31) So we humbly beg pardon of God and of our separated brethren, just as we forgive them that trespass against us.

All the faithful should remember that the more effort they make to live holier lives according to the Gospel, the better will they further Christian unity and put it into practice [an area in which I know I have room to improve]. For the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love.

8. This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name, “spiritual ecumenism.” [it’s not about being dismissive of differences, but in seeking real unity with the other]

It is a recognized custom for Catholics to have frequent recourse to that prayer for the unity of the Church which the Saviour Himself on the eve of His death so fervently appealed to His Father: “That they may all be one”.(32)

In certain special circumstances, such as the prescribed prayers “for unity,” and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated brethren. Such prayers in common are certainly an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity, and they are a true expression of the ties which still bind Catholics to their separated brethren. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”.(33) [respect for the other is important]

Yet worship in common (communicatio in sacris) is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of Christian unity [self-respect is also important, for the individual and for the community]. There are two main principles governing the practice of such common worship: first, the bearing witness to the unity of the Church, and second, the sharing in the means of grace. Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice. The course to be adopted, with due regard to all the circumstances of time, place, and persons, is to be decided by local episcopal authority, unless otherwise provided for by the Bishops’ Conference according to its statutes, or by the Holy See.

9. We must get to know the outlook of our separated brethren. To achieve this purpose, study is of necessity required, and this must be pursued with a sense of realism and good will. Catholics, who already have a proper grounding, need to acquire a more adequate understanding of the respective doctrines of our separated brethren, their history, their spiritual and liturgical life, their religious psychology and general background. Most valuable for this purpose are meetings of the two sides-especially for discussion of theological problems-where each can treat with the other on an equal footing-provided that those who take part in them are truly competent and have the approval of the bishops. From such dialogue will emerge still more clearly what the situation of the Catholic Church really is. In this way too the outlook of our separated brethren will be better understood, and our own belief more aptly explained. [this has been useful to a significant degree, but I think a lot of ecumenical dialogue has stalled here, as not all sides have complete corporate reunion in mind as an achievable or desirable goal]

10. Sacred theology and other branches of knowledge, especially of an historical nature, must be taught with due regard for the ecumenical point of view, so that they may correspond more exactly with the facts.

It is most important that future shepherds and priests should have mastered a theology that has been carefully worked out in this way and not polemically, especially with regard to those aspects which concern the relations of separated brethren with the Catholic Church.

This importance is the greater because the instruction and spiritual formation of the faithful and of religious depends so largely on the formation which their priests have received.

Moreover, Catholics engaged in missionary work in the same territories as other Christians ought to know, particularly in these times, the problems and the benefits in their apostolate which derive from the ecumenical movement.

11. The way and method in which the Catholic faith is expressed should never become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren [Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa…]. It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism [dialogue is good, as long as truth remains central], in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded.  [muddying the truth helps nobody]

At the same time, the Catholic faith must be explained more profoundly and precisely, in such a way and in such terms as our separated brethren can also really understand.

Moreover, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians standing fast by the teaching of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with the separated brethren must proceed with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a “hierarchy” of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of the unfathomable riches of Christ.(34)

12. Before the whole world let all Christians confess their faith in the triune God, one and three in the incarnate Son of God, our Redeemer and Lord. United in their efforts, and with mutual respect, let them bear witness to our common hope which does not play us false. In these days when cooperation in social matters is so widespread, all men without exception are called to work together, with much greater reason all those who believe in God, but most of all, all Christians in that they bear the name of Christ. Cooperation among Christians vividly expresses the relationship which in fact already unites them, and it sets in clearer relief the features of Christ the Servant. This cooperation, which has already begun in many countries, should be developed more and more, particularly in regions where a social and technical evolution is taking place be it in a just evaluation of the dignity of the human person, the establishment of the blessings of peace, the application of Gospel principles to social life, the advancement of the arts and sciences in a truly Christian spirit, or also in the use of various remedies to relieve the afflictions of our times such as famine and natural disasters, illiteracy and poverty, housing shortage and the unequal distribution of wealth. All believers in Christ can, through this cooperation, be led to acquire a better knowledge and appreciation of one another, and so pave the way to Christian unity.

Just though I’d share what I’m thinking about right now.

Some Random Thoughts on God’s Nature

•October 29, 2009 • 12 Comments
"So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God."

"So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God."

This post is just basically a bit of an info dump, some scripture and some St. Thomas Aquinas quotes.  Just things on my mind.

“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent.” – Numbers 23:19
“For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” – Malachi 3:6

“Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” – Hebrews 6:17,18

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” – James 1:17

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, giving his first arguement for God, showing that He is the unmoved mover, a being of Pure Act:

“The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.” 1…02.htm#article3

More St. Thomas, regarding whether it is possible to know God:

“It is written: “We shall see Him as He is” (1 John 2:2).

I answer that, Since everything is knowable according as it is actual, God, Who is pure act without any admixture of potentiality, is in Himself supremely knowable. But what is supremely knowable in itself, may not be knowable to a particular intellect, on account of the excess of the intelligible object above the intellect; as, for example, the sun, which is supremely visible, cannot be seen by the bat by reason of its excess of light.

Therefore some who considered this, held that no created intellect can see the essence of God. This opinion, however, is not tenable. For as the ultimate beatitude of man consists in the use of his highest function, which is the operation of his intellect; if we suppose that the created intellect could never see God, it would either never attain to beatitude, or its beatitude would consist in something else beside God; which is opposed to faith. For the ultimate perfection of the rational creature is to be found in that which is the principle of its being; since a thing is perfect so far as it attains to its principle. Further the same opinion is also against reason. For there resides in every man a natural desire to know the cause of any effect which he sees; and thence arises wonder in men. But if the intellect of the rational creature could not reach so far as to the first cause of things, the natural desire would remain void.

Hence it must be absolutely granted that the blessed see the essence of God.”

More St. Thomas, regarding change in God:

“I answer that, From what precedes, it is shown that God is altogether immutable.

First, because it was shown above that there is some first being, whom we call God; and that this first being must be pure act, without the admixture of any potentiality, for the reason that, absolutely, potentiality is posterior to act. Now everything which is in any way changed, is in some way in potentiality. Hence it is evident that it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable.

Secondly, because everything which is moved, remains as it was in part, and passes away in part; as what is moved from whiteness to blackness, remains the same as to substance; thus in everything which is moved, there is some kind of composition to be found. But it has been shown above (Question 3, Article 7) that in God there is no composition, for He is altogether simple. Hence it is manifest that God cannot be moved.

Thirdly, because everything which is moved acquires something by its movement, and attains to what it had not attained previously. But since God is infinite, comprehending in Himself all the plenitude of perfection of all being, He cannot acquire anything new, nor extend Himself to anything whereto He was not extended previously. Hence movement in no way belongs to Him. So, some of the ancients, constrained, as it were, by the truth, decided that the first principle was immovable.”

Perhaps more importantly, St. Thomas on the love of God:

“It is written: “God is love” (John 4:16).

I answer that, We must needs assert that in God there is love: because love is the first movement of the will and of every appetitive faculty. For since the acts of the will and of every appetitive faculty tend towards good and evil, as to their proper objects: and since good is essentially and especially the object of the will and the appetite, whereas evil is only the object secondarily and indirectly, as opposed to good; it follows that the acts of the will and appetite that regard good must naturally be prior to those that regard evil; thus, for instance, joy is prior to sorrow, love to hate: because what exists of itself is always prior to that which exists through another. Again, the more universal is naturally prior to what is less so. Hence the intellect is first directed to universal truth; and in the second place to particular and special truths. Now there are certain acts of the will and appetite that regard good under some special condition, as joyand delight regard good present and possessed; whereas desire and hope regard good not as yet possessed. Love, however, regards good universally, whether possessed or not. Hence love is naturally the first act of the will and appetite; for which reason all the other appetite movements presuppose love, as their root and origin. For nobody desires anything nor rejoices in anything, except as a good that is loved: nor is anything an object of hate except as opposed to the object of love. Similarly, it is clear that sorrow, and other things like to it, must be referred to love as to their first principle. Hence, in whomsoever there is will and appetite, there must also be love: since if the first is wanting, all that follows is also wanting. Now it has been shown that will is in God (19, 1), and hence we must attribute love to Him.”

And more on love, because it is awesome:

“It is said (Wisdom 11:25): “Thou lovest all things that are, and hatest none of the things which Thou hast made.”

I answer that, God loves all existing things. For all existing things, in so far as they exist, are good, since the existence of a thing is itself a good; and likewise, whatever perfection it possesses. Now it has been shown above (Question 19, Article 4) that God’s will is the causeof all things. It must needs be, therefore, that a thing has existence, or any kind of good, only inasmuch as it is willed by God. To every existing thing, then, God wills some good. Hence, since to love anything is nothing else than to will good to that thing, it is manifest that God loves everything that exists. Yet not as we love. Because since our will is not the cause of the goodness of things, but is moved by it as by its object, our love, whereby we will good to anything, is not the cause of its goodness; but conversely its goodness, whether real or imaginary, calls forth our love, by which we will that it should preserve the good it has, and receive besides the good it has not, and to this end we direct our actions: whereas the love of God infuses and creates goodness.”

In conclusion: God is pure act, without any potentiality, yet he is not static and is a knowable, personal and loving God. This is the account of the Bible as well as the philosophers. Pascal was wrong: The Unmoved Mover is Love, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the great I AM THAT I AM.