Fr Martin Rhonheimer, who teaches at the Opus Dei university in Rome, and who is known for defending various other indefensible things, such as the use of prophylactics and (so I’m told) the crushing of the heads of unborn children, both of course only in unusual circumstances, has renewed his attack on the Church’s teaching on the duties of the State. In a recent article in Nova et Vetera he argues that the pope and bishops should never have called upon Catholic civil magistrates to repress heresy. The civil power has no duty to submit to the authority of the Church, he says, because it is substantially secular. We used to think it did have such a duty, but we were wrong; Vatican II has changed all that.

He makes some strange claims. At one point he says that the view that the secular arm was subject to the spiritual arm has no roots in patristic tradition. Then a couple of pages later, he says that it comes from St Gregory the Great and St Isidore of Seville! When does he think the patristic period was? He also says that the two swords’ doctrine is ‘heterodox Augustinianism’ –  a misinterpretation of St Augustine’s ‘City of God’. But St Augustine warmly applauded the intervention of the Roman civil authority which helped to suppress Donatism in north Africa (the saint had been opposed originally, as he had thought it would be counter-productive; but when he saw that it led to sincere conversions, he changed his mind and said so.) I am surprised that Nova et Vetera would let such claims get through.

So, should the secular arm be subject to the spiritual one?

Now Eliseus was sick of the illness whereof he died: and Joas king of Israel went down to him, and wept before him, and said: O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the guider thereof. And Eliseus said to him: Bring a bow and arrows. And when he had brought him a bow, and arrows, He said to the king of Israel: Put thy hand upon the bow. And when he had put his hand, Eliseus put his hands over the king’s hands, And said: Open the window to the east. And when he had opened it, Eliseus said: Shoot an arrow. And he shot. And Eliseus said: The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance (4 Kings 13).

What is the arrow that flies toward the East, if not the intention of man hastening towards Christ and Heaven, with undeviating aim? And whose hands direct him thither, if not the king’s, held firm by the prophet’s?

From Plutarch’s essay “On the failing of the oracles”.

The father of Aemilianus the orator, to whom some of you have listened, was Epitherses, who lived in our town and was my teacher in grammar. He said that once upon a time in making a voyage to Italy he embarked on a ship carrying freight and many passengers. It was already evening when, near the Echinades Islands, the wind dropped, and the ship drifted near Paxi. Almost everybody was awake, and a good many had not finished their after-dinner wine. Suddenly from the island of Paxi was heard the voice of someone loudly calling Thamus, so that all were amazed. Thamus was an Egyptian pilot, not known by name even to many on board. Twice he was called and made no reply, but the third time he answered; and the caller, raising his voice, said, ‘When you come opposite to Palodes, announce that Great Pan is dead.’

On hearing this, all, said Epitherses, were astounded and reasoned among themselves whether it were better to carry out the order or to refuse to meddle and let the matter go. Under the circumstances Thamus made up his mind that if there should be a breeze, he would sail past and keep quiet, but with no wind and a smooth sea about the place he would announce what he had heard. So, when he came opposite Palodes, and there was neither wind nor wave, Thamus from the stern, looking toward the land, said the words as he had heard them: ‘Great Pan is dead.’ Even before he had finished there was a great cry of lamentation, not of one person, but of many, mingled with exclamations of amazement. As many persons were on the vessel, the story was soon spread abroad in Rome, and Thamus was sent for by Tiberius Caesar. Tiberius became so convinced of the truth of the story that he caused an inquiry and investigation to be made about Pan; and the scholars, who were numerous at his court, conjectured that he was the son born of Hermes and Penelope.

As there have been certain requests to somewhat raise the girly note of this blog again, I hit upon the topic of ‘getting older’.  When a colleague of mine turned 30 this year, and literally fled the country on that occasion, I had little sympathy. When I myself turned thirty, I was conscious of a sudden influx of maturity, equanimity and wisdom that enabled me from that moment onwards to look down with incredible benevolence on those young folks in their twenties with whom I had to do. Looking into the future, I guess turning 50 also has a sort of romance to it. But 40 – that, I thought, might be possibly the only milestone birthday (goodness me, there seems to be no proper translation for this concept!) that might be thought depressing. However, one has to face these things – and some time ago I realized that 40 was the age at which one could leave behind oneself all attempts of appearing ‘youthful’, and instead, turn eccentric.

Proposing that idea to a group of female friends, I was met with astonishing enthusiasm. But the question also came up: What would you do to be eccentric? Personally, I would have my hair cut quite short, either dye it bright red or (as this is unfortunately  too an common idea) just leave it to grey in a haphazard and undyed way; wear glasses with broad black rims (I know, they are fashionable now, but hopefully will not be by then) and look at students coming into my office over the rim of these; I will wear brightly coloured clothes of unusual cut, and large necklaces (I am even pondering if the option of wearing huge, unusually shaped earrings might not be worth to get myself earring holes, but I think it is not worth it). Of course one would not have a television, or a car, and steadfastly refuse to be on twitter, facebook, or whatever new fad might be around by then. Already, I have started to use a fountain pen and bought myself a paper (!) diary for 2013.

Aelianus also suggested to me to put a quote of Cato or Varro in every one of my lectures (though unfortunately they were not as prolific on meadows as they were on other agricultural subjects).Forty would also be the time to start saying: ‘I call it Elymus repens. I do not care what they choose to call it now: they will change it back or to something else in five years’ time, anyway, and I am beyond caring for these short-lived whims.’ Having even the slightest tinge of a British sense of humour (by association) would make one an eccentric in Germany in any case. One could add to this by frequent references to Terry Pratchett (may God grant him the grace of conversion), Woodhouse, Dorothy Sayers, and 19th century English novelists, besides, please God, being offensively Catholic.

Yet: is the potential already exhausted? Any creative ideas would be welcome.

We will turn now to our second question, concerning the role of man and woman’s mutual destiny in large communities. Here it is important to counteract two dangers. The first is the already mentioned danger of an encroachment into the sexual sphere. The second consists of a blunting taking place through the association of men and women. These two dangers come strikingly to the fore in high school and college education. This particularly affects the woman; it reduces her femininity, thereby annulling the beneficial effect of the two sexes on each other as well as destroying the characteristic individual value of the feminine.

   In order to compensate for the second danger it is necessary that the good which unifies the group be either of such a high nature that it requires a Sursum corda of all its members – as in the case of religious communities, or secular communities in which a certain ideal holds all together – or the good must possess a colourful festivity, as in social affairs in former times. Although the two situations are very unalike, they yet possess such a constitutive force that both sexes retain their specific nature and value; thus they have a stimulating, beneficial and complementary effect on the group atmosphere and on each other. But if the groups here in question are founded on a strictly pragmatic basis, for instance are centred on economic interests or are based on a mere feeling of comradeship, then the situation is inimical to the nature of woman as woman, and the possibility of influencing and rounding out the atmosphere through her participation, i.e. to have this effect upon the men, is eliminated.

   The mission of the sexes for each other can therefore not always simply take effect in every group; it demands certain prerequisites. If these do not exist, and if a certain conviviality reigns in the situation, it is better if women are not present.  (Man and Woman, 1965)

Dagnabit. One should not read work e-mail on a Sunday, so I cannot complain that this one carried the due punishment with it.  As an excuse I have to say that when one hears at last something of a paper submitted half an eternity ago, one may be excused for just having a glimpse at the reviewer feedback. One should not have done so, though! Reject and resubmit!! What next?! FIVE (!) reviewers, in a journal that normally just uses one, and all complain about/praise different things!! (And all but one moron less well informed person think it should be published; considering the rubbish they do publish they ought to be glad; but I always thought it was a thouroughly disagreable journal…)  [grumble]

As usually, PHD comics hits the nail on the head:

I sat at the desk at which a certain ks. dr hab. Karol Wojtyła lectured:


I sat at the desk at which the late great fr Mieczysław Krąpiec OP died two years ago, in the middle of an article:

And I met a man who built spaceships!  But I have no photo of him.  Here’s his wife lecturing in the room in which fr Krąpiec did most of his teaching:

I stayed first a week with the parents and teenage sister of Pianticella, some ten miles to the south of Lublin; glorious countryside, a jacuzzi bath and sandwiches made for me every morning by her mum. The second week I stayed with the graduate student who was partly responsible for organizing the lecture series I was attending – he and his wife have a flat next to the bus stop “Majdanek Pomnik”. Easily identified.  They were most hospitable, and we sat up late a couple of times talking about everything and nothing.  The week finished with three-course lunch cooked by them for the Mrs Guest Lecturer and Mr Spaceships, when Mrs Host said “why  keep dragging them around restaurants?” What with the lectures themselves, Gilson Society conferences, meeting my employers, having my French pronounciation angst cured, new shoes, new books, old books, … I made a good decision when I decided to go.

Finnis argued that biology and metaphysics determined the status of the fetus, not ethics as suggested by Singer.  Finnis objected to the very use of the term “fetus”, saying that it is an “F-word”.

“As used in the conference program and website, which are not medical contexts, it is offensive, dehumanizing, prejudicial, manipulative,“ Finnis said.  “A website describing ultrasound for expectant mothers doesn’t talk about her fetus but her baby, and so do her doctors unless they’re her abortionists or think she has been or is interested in abortion.”

Finnis underscored the point that rights are recognized, not conferred, and rejected Singer’s “moral status” approach, which negates the personhood of unborn children.

Singer defended his support for infanticide, stating that self-awareness confers moral status, and not species membership.  Abortion is the killing of a human being, but is not immoral because the child does not meet the self-awareness test, said Singer.

In his utilitarian view, Singer believes that there can even be a moral duty to kill humans lacking self-awareness, including the disabled, which he has been criticized for not following in the case of his mother


The conference website: Two of the four organisers are Frances Kissling and Peter Singer (no idea who the others are).

An article by Finnis based on his contribution to the debate.

Long long ago in a galaxy far far away when I was a little undergraduate I found myself on the college JCR Executive Committee in a lowly capacity and a motion came up for consideration at the next JCR meeting. The motion called for the JCR to petition the SCR to admit no more natural scientists to the College on the grounds of their poor sartorial choices, inability to make intelligent conversation and general ignorance of anything other than their menial and myopic little disciplines. Rumour of the motion had swept through the undergraduate body and it enjoyed tremendous support. There was a serious chance that it might pass. The JCR President employed procedural devices and rule bending to avoid its ever being presented to the JCR for fear of the horrifically divisive consequences.

I often reflect fondly upon that Exec’ meeting. I was greatly edified by the groundswell of support for the motion. A few years earlier my first encounter with the allegory of the cave had instilled in me a powerful distain for matter. One of the great disasters on the road to ruin of western civilisation was the day that the hypothetico-inductive method and its fruits usurped the name of science. For by the nature of the case such reasoning is forever condemned to be not science but opinion. In essence, physicists, chemists and biologists are just glorified plumbers and electricians. Universities are places for the acquisition of knowledge and for the study of the liberal arts. “Every art is called liberal which is ordered to knowing; those which are ordered to some utility to be attained through action are called servile arts”. I’m sure institutions for these arts and their practitioners could be separately established at a safe distance where the inmates might fill their days torturing frogs with Bunsen burners and their nights watching Red Dwarf DVDs without causing further unnecessary distress to others.

Yes, there are lots of Americans. But they’re not that bad 🙂

Fr Foster, the Latin Legend, will not be coming back to Rome. His superiors, I suppose because of his health, have said he is to stay in Milwaukee.  Sad.

He plans to start teaching Latin there, though. 🙂

Raphaela the knitting Latin blogger has more details (Latin, but I’ve told you the gist.)

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