Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Desolation of Jackson

‘You don’t normally think of Dr. Rozema as fierce,’ said the husband of the aforementioned Nebraskan couple, ‘but…’

I don’t normally think of Dr. Rozema as fierce. He is a patient, smiling man, always trying to get his students to understand why philosophical questions are asked and what happens between the asking of the question and the giving of the answer. But rumour has it that he was seen fierce on one occasion: while publicly debating the merits of the Lord of the Rings movies with the English department.

After seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug for the first time, I could understand why. I have now seen it two times (due to circumstances) and the initial disappointment has lessened. Yes, it is a visually superb movie. Yes, the dragon is very satisfying. Yes, some parts are hilarious (though usually not very Tolkienesque). And the use of Elvish and Black Speech was very nice, I thought. (Although they should really have made more of an attempt to pronounce Thráin and Dáin correctly.)

Nonetheless, the movie is just not the book. I know that movies and books are two different genres, but it seems to me that the makers of the movie have simply failed to grasp or capture some essential elements of Middle-earth. Like the following (in no particular order):

1) The Free Kingdoms are worth fighting for. In The Hobbit, places like Rivendell and especially the Halls of Mirkwood appear as semi-deserted military bases. They are decors for action scenes, not places with their own vibrant life. True, there are references to a Feast of Starlight going on while the Dwarves are imprisoned at Mirkwood, but nothing is shown of this feast. Beorn, too, is not a jovial bear fellow (in the etymological sense of the word ‘jovial’), but a tortured skinchanger. Laughter appears as something incidental in Jackson’s Middle-earth.

2) Heroes are vulnerable, not demi-gods who remain completely unscathed while torrents of fire rage about them, or while they are sailing down a river of molten gold. Oh, and talking of demi-gods: the contest between high powers is intellectual, not an exchange of conjurors’ tricks. Compare the battle of Gandalf and Sauron, as depicted by Jackson, with that of Finrod and Sauron, as poetically described in The Silmarillion.

3) Fate, and something more elusive, governs the course of history. In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, the intention of the Creator and of other higher powers remains firmly between brackets. The Dwarf-king’s inference that the possession of the Arkenstone betokens a ‘divine right to rule’ (as the first movie says) runs counter to the Free Peoples’ reserve in speaking too freely of the One’s intentions.

4) Beauty, not power, is the prime mover of events in Middle-earth. In the book, Thorin’s longing for the Arkenstone is a natural Dwarvish response to the gem’s beauty. This response is a fundamental recognition that can be shared by other races: in The Lord of the Rings, Gimli takes a rather airy Legolas into the Caves of Aglarond, and the Elf comes out unexpectedly impressed by the halls of stone. In the movie, however, Thorin’s desire for the Arkenstone is mostly extrinsic: he wants it to bolster his claim to lordship.

5) Elven-lords, even those less wise, are not vampires. They do not sinuously coil around their captives or show off their plastic surgery. Nor is heartless elegance an Elvish trait; there are Elven-lords who become rather heartless, but they are not very elegant (Thingol Greymantle). Moreover, they would never promise a captive freedom, then decapitate him and resort to equivocation in order to justify themselves.

6) Vice and insanity are two different things. Thorin Oakenshield is arguably too attached to the treasure beneath the Mountain, the Arkenstone in particular, but that does not mean he would force a frightened Hobbit at swordpoint to go back to a waking dragon. In the book, even when Bilbo gives the Arkenstone to Thorin’s enemies, Thorin does not lose his mind (though he is understandably enraged).
(Edit: While we’re on the subject of vice, I should add something that I forgot earlier, but that did bother me a lot in the movie. This is the degree to which Bilbo is affected by the Ring in The Hobbit. He fights for it like mad, and takes it out to look at it addictively. For some reason, Smaug senses that Bilbo has the Ring; he mentions the word ‘precious’, at which point the Eye of Sauron flashes on the screen and Bilbo takes off the Ring. If all this could happen in a year, how is it credible that Bilbo keeps the Ring for decades and still remains the same? Not to mention that the movie rather detracts from the theme of Hobbit innocence.)

7) The seventh judgment is the climax and summation of all dooms: Tauriel. Tauriel feels like a character that could have been invented by a teenager writing LotR fan fiction. An attractive, invincible warrior, a self-made she-Elf who attracts the prince’s attention but develops an independent interest in someone from another race, and runs across wild country to save her newfound beloved – I mean, really? Really?

There is no romantic interest whatsoever between Tolkien’s Dwarves and Elves. None. In rare circumstances, however, something different blossoms between them: a seed of mutual reverence. To indicate the chasm that ultimately yawns between Tolkien and Peter Jackson’s gang, consider the difference between the following dialogues, and contemplate the Tree that has died and the Jewel that has been lost:

(Fili is searched by an Elvish guard and relieved of his last knife)
Kili: ‘Aren’t you going to search me? I could have anything down my pants.’
Tauriel: ‘Or nothing.’ (Locks the door)

(Galadriel is giving parting gifts to the Company)
‘And what gift would a Dwarf ask of the Elves?’ said Galadriel, turning to Gimli.
‘None, Lady,’ said Gimli. ‘It is enough for me to have seen the Lady of the Galadhrim, and to have heard her gentle words.’
‘Hear all ye Elves!’ she cried to those about her. ‘Let none say again that Dwarves are grasping and ungracious! Yet surely, Gimli son of Glóin, you desire something that I could give? Name it, I bid you! You shall not be the only guest without a gift.’
‘There is nothing, Lady Galadriel,’ said Gimli, bowing low and stammering. ‘Nothing, unless it might be – unless it is permitted to ask, nay, to name a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine. I do not ask for such a gift. But you commanded me to name my desire.’
The Elves stirred and murmured with astonishment, and Celeborn gazed at the Dwarf in wonder, but the Lady smiled. ‘It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues,’ she said; ‘yet that is not true of Gimli. For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous. And how shall I refuse, since I commanded him to speak? But tell me, what would you do with such a gift?’
‘Treasure it, Lady,’ he answered, ‘in memory of your words to me at our first meeting. And if ever I return to the smithies of my home, it shall be set in imperishable crystal to be an heirloom of my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days.’
Then the Lady unbraided one of her long tresses, and cut off three golden hairs, and laid them in Gimli’s hand. ‘These words shall go with the gift,’ she said. ‘I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope. But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.’
(The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Ch. VIII)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Free Will

Sometime in November, I went visiting a Nebraskan couple in Utrecht. They are both very good people and philosophically inclined, he from a background in medical studies, she with a creative and literary bent of mind. They looked exceedingly happy together, and it was very good to be there; of necessity I must summarize this part briefly, for, as Tolkien remarked, it is much easier to tell a story about bad times than about good times (I paraphrase).

At table, we talked about our lives and our studies. I mentioned my desire to investigate, at some point or other, our capacity of making free decisions. This has become problematic in light of neurological discoveries (of which I admittedly know little). It is all very well to say that the human person is capable of self-determination, but our physical infrastructure seems externally determined through and through.

The lady from Nebraska said that she believed in free will, and that her stories involved people making truly momentous ethical decisions that changed their lives. Some universitarians (those gowned cogs in the 21st-century machine) considered her too much a Romantic. I cordially sympathized with her outlook, myself undergoing enthusiasm; then went home and tried to make the best case I could make against free will, so that a more skilful philosopher could blow it to bits and perpetually reroute the depraved neurons responsible for this intellectual atrocity.

Consider yourself invited.

The argument:

1. Every act of the will has a mental and a material component.

2. The mental and the material components are in proportion to each other.

3. The material component follows the laws of matter.

4. At the molecular level, the motion of matter does not deviate from Newtonian patterns.

5. The material component of the act of the will occurs in the brain at the molecular level. (*)

6. The motion of the material component does not deviate from Newtonian patterns. (from 3, 4 and 5)

7. The mental component is in proportion to a material component that does not deviate from Newtonian patterns. (from 2 and 6)

8. One and the same material component is in proportion to one mental component only. (**)

9. The mental component cannot deviate from a pattern that stands in proportion to the Newtonian pattern governing the material component of the act of the will. (from 7 and 8)

10. A will that cannot deviate from a pattern is not a free will.

11. Hence, there is no free will. (from 9 and 10)

(*) Though the act of the will involves more than a motion of the brain, yet that motion is decisive for human movement.

(**) There is a certain indeterminacy to the material component, but I find it difficult to believe that one motion of the brain would correspond to multiple essentially different acts of the will (e.g. to repay an insult with another, or to suppress one's anger; to take a walk, or to read a book).

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Negation, and Running

In mid-October, a discussion evening took place, attended by five seminarians and eight others of varying backgrounds and religious beliefs. The topic was the origin and development of man, whether Darwinian evolutionary theory offered the best explanation for it. Like most Catholics, I’m not an opponent of physical evolution per se (Pope John Paul II called it ‘more than a hypothesis’), but I do think that the breakthrough of humanity is not adequately explained by Darwinism. The minor differences in DNA between humans and chimpanzees do not account for the vast difference in rational capacities.

In the course of the discussion, I brought up a point that has fascinated me for some time: negation. This seems to be a phenomenon beyond the reach of animals. They have signals to indicate that something is edible or dangerous, but they cannot express that something is ‘not-dangerous’.

The point was missed by people who argued that animals were quite capable of designating something as not dangerous, or indicating that they themselves posed no threat. The point is that animals have no negative particles or prefixes. The debaters seemed to think this a matter purely of symbolic conventions, but I think it goes deeper than that. Human reason is capable of understanding that something can be or not be: this is pure abstraction. They understand that a thing can have properties or lack them – which is different from the manipulation of the properties of things, which animals do every day.

Animals make boundaries for their territories, but only man can conceive the un-bounded, the in-finite. Man reaches up to God not only through his imagination or his memory (remembering divine interventions, supposed or real), but also very powerfully through his capacity of negation.

This capacity is powerfully exercised by anyone who reads the Summa theologiae, First Part, Questions 3-13, with comprehension. For me, a time of sustained wonderment, a revelation – with the emphasis on ‘revel’.

On Saturday, I went running with a priest and a friend of his. We started at 6.30am with a cup of coffee, then ran just over 8 km (5 miles) in 50 minutes, not without conversation.

The priest in question found it difficult to remain hopeful about the Church’s future. Whole dioceses were being reorganized, but very little was done to bring lost sheep back into the fold. There were (almost) no vocations, and the priests whom he had seen coming out of seminary were remarkably unproductive and stressed out after five or ten years. He had hoped that the new generation of priests would forge a new connection with the youth, because the young, including young priests, are naturally approachable and non-threatening (oh our capacity for negation!). Besides, they were the peers of the youth, they came out of the same world.

(I thought: me, out of the same world as today’s youth? Really? Of the seminarians who actually were in touch with youth culture, almost all were dismissed or ran into problems towards the end of their studies.)

Part of the problem he blamed on seminary formation. We were still being prepared for an orderly situation, for parishes as they existed a few decades ago. Instead of learning to administer the sacraments and preach the Gospel to ever-dwindling communities, much more focus should be on establishing relationships (of the ‘mustard seed’ type: no poorly-disguised, result-oriented ‘conversion projects’, but actual friendships). Our missionary drive, though patient, should be urgent.

He gave me food for thought, and for breakfast he baked us an egg. When I got up to make tea, my legs hurt. I limped for the rest of the day. Next week I might go again, but pay more attention to the cooling-down.

Physical exercise is actually good for the spirit. It gives one renewed vigour.

Later in the day I went to Confession. Also known as the Sacrament of Truth. The truth makes us free indeed.

Friday, 27 September 2013

No Safe Place

There are many sex sites on the Internet. This is a well-known fact. A lesser-known fact is that over a quarter of these sites are hosted in a tiny corner of northwestern Europe called the Netherlands: about 187 million, or eleven for every inhabitant. In this remarkable enterprise we are surpassed only by the United States, which, as all will agree, is no fair competition.

We seem to have taken somewhat of a fancy to libertinism. The theme of our film festival this year was ‘Nude’. It was on the journal.

Talking about journal: Facebook alerted me to something called the ‘SchoolTV weekly journal’, which seems to be a program aimed at children aged 10-12 and watched every week in many schools. They have added an element to it: an excited nurse lecturing children about sexuality. In the first four episodes, she has already given a demonstration of French kissing with a classroom skeleton, and declared anyone abnormal who does not consider homosexuality normal. When she did the latter, she seemed to be in quite a temper. So schoolchildren had better prepare to face the Authority’s outbursts of wrath if they have inherited ungood opinions.

Then there was the action taken by the environmental party’s youth movement (‘Dwars’, which can mean ‘Athwart’ or ‘Defiant’), not too long ago. They put up rather graphic and provocative billboards not only in some major cities, but also in some towns in our Bible belt. The billboards all bared bore the message ‘Sex is nice – Let’s talk about it.’ In an interview, the initiator explained that he specifically targeted the Christian towns because homosexuality was not accepted there and people avoided talking about sex generally, so he wanted to get the conversation going. It’s interesting to see how homosexuality is mentioned in connection with an apparently unrelated issue. Perhaps there is truth in R.R. Reno’s argument that it is the symbol of libertinism in general.

What does this all mean? And how do you protect children from this moral toxicity in the air? In a world where young ones at the threshold of puberty can browse YouTube and stumble on Miley Cyrus?

Once in a while there is a gleam of dawn. Mr. Van der Staaij, the surprisingly sympathetic leader of the Dutch Reformed party, has started a conversation of his own. He suggested that advertisements for the site Second Love, a dating site for people desirous of adulterous affairs, should be accompanied by a warning that cheating damages kids. And he walked into the lion’s mouth – a secular TV debate show – to defend it. With honour and integrity.

Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.

Saturday, 31 August 2013


This morning I was driving home from Mass and listening to the radio. They played a song by a Dutch songwriter, Herman van Veen, born in 1945. He sang about a little girl overtaking him on a bicycle. It was a simple song, touching somehow.

There are more such songs, about children just born, the village of one’s youth, the familiar town pub where everyone had fun together. Good songs about memories that allow for some healthy nostalgia, for looking back with gratitude. But such songs seem to be fading from the cultural landscape. We are fast replacing them by an incessant harping on the same theme: romance, love found or lost or hunted for at a party.

Have we lost interest in everything else? That would be bad. The world is full of interesting things which welcome our attention, though without clamoring for it. Songs indicate what is meaningful to us, and if we cannot find meaning or value in the ordinary things, they become indifferent or even hostile. In that cold world, we look all the more for refuge, for warmth – which, the songs tell us, can be found in romance.

But Eros is a volatile and unstable thing, a flighty sort of love, a boy god with wings more fluttery than Apollo’s. We cannot burden him with the whole load of our longing; he cannot carry it, and he has no place to put it. Eros does not build houses.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis juxtaposes Eros with Affection. ‘Affection,’ he writes, ‘is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.’ True! So when simple affection goes out of our songs, nine-tenths of our solid and durable happiness goes with it.

Nevertheless, as the poet sings, ‘I’m in if you’re down to get down tonight’. ’Coz it’s always a good time. So says the poet. And the poet never lies.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Old Treasures and New

In living (though aging) memory, Catholic children in the Netherlands were afraid to receive Communion if they had accidentally swallowed something. I remember refreshments still being consumed just before the Bishop arrived (late) to celebrate Mass at a formation centre for priests, deacons and pastoral workers.

After the Second World War, Catholics declined to rent cheap apartments because it would entail living under one roof with people of the opposite sex and not of the same family. More recently, a cohabitating man with two children approached the Bishop to ask about becoming a deacon, and was surprised to hear that he should marry (though quite ready to do so). No one had ever told him.

Casuistry, according to Fr. Cessario O.P., ‘came to a screeching (though unpublicized) end about fifty years ago’. Many strictures went with it. Few people would want all of them back. On the other hand, to what degree can a priest rely on the old moral theology, if so much of it was too narrow to be applicable now? To what degree can he rely on pre-Tridentine moral theology? What thoughtful person will sort out overly lax and overly fussy from right judgments about human choices – not merely as a series of judgments ad hoc, but referring back to first principles about the human person, virtue, intellect and will? Speaking not only about the recognizable human virtues, but also the resilient-yet-fragile divine secrets which we call the supernatural virtues?

And equally importantly: now the supporting institutions and mindsets have all collapsed, who will be brave, wise and loud enough to proclaim to all God’s people where the kingdom of charity draws its outer boundaries?

Every scribe who has been trained (instructed) for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

To Munich

I am not a born adventurer.

But I do have a Tookish side. So when my most esteemed Philosophy teacher, Dr. Fendt, said he would be in Europe and asked if it would be possible to meet, I looked at all the possibilities. Cardiff and Prague, where he would present his papers, were too far away. He might be able to come to Munich, which was closer. But the plane trip was still too expensive.

So it was that on Friday evening, I found myself in a tourist waiting room of the coach service Eurolines. People who went to Paris checked in. Then the ones bound for London, together with us, bound for Germany or the Czech Republic. A large bus would leave at 10.30pm to take us to Frankfurt, where a number of us would have to take a further coach to Munich at 5am.

We waited, a quiet group of individuals from various countries. There was not much more talking in the bus. I tried to start a conversation with the girl next to me, but she was disinclined. Behind me were a Dutch and a Czech person who were a bit more talkative, especially, of course, the Dutch guy. He expressed his opinion that the Turkish government was oppressive, but that the Turkish people would become stronger because of it. I suppose he was a foreign policy expert of some sort. The Czech guy said that Turkish people were strange. I suppose he had inherited folk wisdom of some sort.

We picked up more people at Utrecht and Arnhem. I dozed off. After midnight we got to stretch our legs; many passengers smoked. The ritual was repeated around 2.30 (I think) and 4.30, just before we reached Frankfurt. By then it had started to dawn, sunrise after the longest day of the year. When we transferred in Frankfurt at 5am, it was light.

The next bus did not stop to let us out; I was glad I had something to eat. We stopped only to let people out: Mannheim, Stuttgart, Ulm. At the last stage, the bus was almost empty. By chance, my neighbour from the first bus sat across the aisle on the second. She and a few guys tried to sleep until we arrived, after 11am. By then, I had been reading for several hours, sufficiently refreshed: the Breviary, notes on Church history, and A Song of Ice and Fire. A fellow seminarian had ‘lent’ me his Game of Thrones e-books, and a long bus ride is a good place to start reading.

On arriving, I took the underground to Karlsplatz. When I emerged, this was the first thing I saw:

The Fendt couple had agreed to meet me at the Bürgersaalkirche, where we attended a beautiful German Mass. No better way to start the day together! The first word I said to Mrs. Fendt was ‘Peace’. The church was beautiful, high-ceilinged, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

When we walked out, I said to Dr. Fendt, ‘I suppose you arranged the Augustine in the postcommunion song?’ (The text had clearly been lifted from Confessions.)

He laughed in his own way and said, ‘That was just a happy accident. Or – something else.’

We walked along the Neuhauser Straße, visited a Jesuit church, sat down somewhere for lunch (the Fendts not only made my day, but even paid my day) and talked about anything that sprang to mind: family, people from UNK and Kearney (like people Dr. Fendt had met in church, such as Scott Hahn’s son and an Evangelical missionary out of Wheaton), seminary, recent developments. I ate Bavarian sausages with mustard.

At Dr. Fendt’s suggestion, we went to the Neue Pinakothek, an art museum with paintings and some sculptures from the Modern period. Most of it was not ‘modern art’, but figurative art from the 18th and 19th centuries. There was a room with a series of paintings from the 1850s by Rottmann. When the German king Otto ascended the throne of Greece, Rottmann depicted the remnants of many ancient Greek cities like Corinth, Aulis, Eleusis. The works were made on plaster: we looked not at canvas, but at pieces of wall (you could see the thickness). Dr. Fendt was really impressed by the Rottmann room.

When I was looking at The Disquieting Muses by Georges de Chirico (more symbolist in nature), a few girls joined me. They were not German, so I asked where they were from, which turned out to be South Africa. I said a few words to them in Dutch and they asked in Afrikaans if I could understand them.

Dr. Fendt had heard that I still had exams – that I had ‘taken time off my busy schedule’ as he put it – and predicted that I would look something like the poor guy on the right (full view):

(Hasenclever, Hieronymus Jobs im Examen, 1840)

While we’re at it, I’d like to share some of my favourites among the paintings I’ve seen at the Pinakothek:

(Appiani, Zwei Kinder, 1808)

(Overbeck, Italia e Germania, 1828)

(Riedel, Felice Berardi aus Albano, 1848)

Mrs. Fendt liked this one:

(Waldmüller, Junge Bäuerin mit drei Kinder im Fenster, 1840)

On exiting the Pinakothek, we met Rasheed, Dr. Fendt’s nephew, who was probably about my age. Since we were getting rather thirsty, we sat down somewhere for a Franziskaner Weissbier. Rasheed told us what he was doing in life at the moment. Then we got into a discussion about my thesis on Plato (whether it was appropriate to disguise truth, in order to get the non-receptive to like it), and about civil and ecclesiastical marriage.

We got up only to have dinner somewhere else, and passed an anti-Erdogan demonstration:

Apparently the issue gets lots of attention!

At dinner, the discussion about the good life was renewed. When it seemed to get heated, I asked Dr. Fendt: ‘If you could come back as an animal, what animal would it be?’ He said he’d never really thought about that. Rasheed chose a large bird, like a hawk; Mrs. Fendt opted for the swan (but not in England, as Rasheed pointed out, as she would then be property of the Queen, and she is Irish). I rejected wings (as I said, I’m not much of an adventurer), opining that I’d probably be a squirrel in a park somewhere.

Finally, when it was past 10pm, they took me to the Hauptbahnhof; I would go back to Amsterdam by train. We said goodbye. It had been a good day, more full of lightness than my arid narration could suggest.

The train ride, unfortunately, was less comfortable than the bus ride. Across the aisle were two guys, possibly American and probably younger than I, who talked loudly and incessantly. One of them called his girlfriend, wheedled insufferably and mentioned multiple times that he was drunk (that might explain some things). They were quite full of themselves and quite impatient for the train to get moving (it was somewhat delayed). Thankfully, they were told that they had to be in another waggon. But after they had gone, some more noisy people came in. They left, too. Around 3am, I was woken up by the older man next to me; he wanted to change seats so that he could exit. A fair request.

It seems counterintuitive that a night bus would be preferable to a night train, but such was my experience of this weekend.

Arnhem – I was getting close to home. Utrecht – I had to change trains. Amsterdam – I arrived around 9.30 on Sunday morning, walked around a bit and into St. Nicholas’ Church when the gates opened. It was a beautiful Mass. The priest had once been my fellow student (though over 30 years older). The choir sang very well, and there seemed to be a fair proportion of youthful faces in the congregation. Including my own, admittedly unwashed and unshaven, but bright-eyed.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Burning Ones

One of the five books of the Torah, In the Wilderness (known to us as Numbers), relates that the people of God complained. They were dissatisfied because they had no bread and no water, and hated the manna which they did have. So God sent them a serpent plague, at which they relented and asked Moses to intercede. Moses, the prophet of angelic patience, interceded. Then the Lord told Moses to make a copper serpent and put it on a pole for the people to look at. Those who looked at the serpent were healed.

Now as I happened to be reading this passage (21,4-9) in two translations, I noticed that one had God telling Moses to make a ‘bronze serpent’, but the other a ‘fiery serpent’. Whence the difference? I glanced at the Hebrew text to see if the words were alike. This was not the case, but one of the words was oddly familiar.

The ‘fiery serpents’ that the Lord sent His people are, in Hebrew, ha-nechashim ha-seraphim. The last word’s meaning is related to ‘kindle’ or ‘burn’; it probably refers to the effect of the poison. God tells Moses to make a saraph (the Hebrew-English Tanakh translates ‘a seraph figure’) and put it on a pole. So Moses makes a copper serpent (nechash nechosheth).

Intrigued, I wanted to find out if there is any connection between the snakes and the angels. It seems that seraphim do not often appear in Scripture. They appear in this story and its flashback in Deuteronomy. Other than that, they are only mentioned in Isaiah – but in very different contexts. Twice the saraph appears as a dragon-like creature, a horrifying enemy:

Rejoice not, all Philistia,
Because the staff of him that beat you is broken,
For from the stock of the snake there sprouts an asp,
A flying seraph branches out from it.

Through a land of distress and hardship,
Of lion and roaring king-beast,
Of viper and flying seraph,
They convey their wealth on the backs of asses…

But in one passage, we suddenly find the seraphim at the Heavenly Court – hardly less terrible:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I beheld my Lord seated on a high and lofty throne; and the skirts of His robe filled the Temple. Seraphs stood in attendance on Him. Each of them had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his legs, and with two he would fly.
And one would call to the other,
“Holy, holy, holy!
The LORD of hosts!
His presence fills all the earth!”
The doorposts would shake at the sound of the one who called, and the House kept filling with smoke.

These ‘burning ones’ do not seem to have any serpentine features; they are like winged men. One of them purifies the prophet’s lips by pressing a live coal to it. It is therefore assumed that there is no direct connection between the snakes and the angels. But the double meaning of saraph (in one book!) remains intriguing.

Traditionally, the Seraphim have been identified as the highest order in the hierarchy of angels, because they ‘burn’ with love for God; they surpass even the Cherubim, who are characterized by wisdom and deep knowledge of God. Apparently love is higher even than wisdom.

By the way, if you were wondering what happened to the saraph that God commanded Moses to make: it turned out just a copper serpent after all. After it had served its purpose, the Israelites started worshipping it as an idol, which was reason for King Hezekiah to smash it (2 Kings 18,4). Yet it still burns in the Christian spiritual memory as an image of Jesus, the life-giver lifted up on the cross (John 3,14-15) in the wilderness of the world; the Son of Man and Son of God, who burned with zeal for his Father’s house, and offered up ‘this temple’ as the final burnt offering.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Measure for Measure

As you judge, so you will be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

Judgmental men like to share their judgment that this passage from the Sermon of the Mount is frequently misinterpreted. And so it is, wrested from Jesus’s mouth as a paper shield against Christian scorn. The saying itself, however, is clearly a warning against arrogance and contempt, or positively put, an exhortation to mercy and forgiveness.

Since this text is so well-known even among non-Christians, it came as a surprise to me to find its parallel in the Gospel of Mark (4,24), which occurs among several parables comparing the kingdom of God to a seed. St. Mark remembers the saying about measuring in a different context:

Take care what you hear. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you.

Intriguingly, Jesus does not say here that men might fall short of (or exceed) the moral measure they use for others; instead, measure is related to gift. The measure (metron) is not twodimensional, but threedimensional: of content, not of extent. It is not only used for calculation, but also for reception, storage and sharing.

Storage of what? Take care what you hear: the measure is made to contain the word, sown, grown, and harvested. We are encouraged to open our ears, for if our heart rightly measures the word of Jesus as divine and life-giving, the word will be measured out to us – and still more will be given.

(Reader, if I am interpreting this wrongly – for it remains cryptic – grant, of your courtesy, the excess to my small measure!)

The Gospel of Luke seems to synthesize Matthew and Mark (6,37-38):

Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Five Years Catholic

By the time this post goes up, I should be in Prague, happily hanging out with the Wegener sisters.

Five years ago, on Pentecost (11 May), I was received into the Catholic Church. To commemorate this happy occasion, I wrote a poem:

Theandric acts and sacramental seals
have beaconed me; the locus of right vision
unshaken in the world’s great woes and weals,
still strength in times of rapture and misprision.

Pellucid words brought from the deepest days,
freighted with wealth and in anointment spoken,
memorial and presence, gift and praise,
give substance to the sign, the Body broken.

Five years ago my skin could feel the calling
indelibly engraved upon my soul,
the hope that after many times of falling
and fruitless searches I might be made whole.

The bishop’s act was human and divine:
through it the Word acceded to the Sign.

Blessed Pentecost!

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Maximal Commitment

Lang leve de Koning!

Today, Queen Beatrix (now Princess Beatrix) has abdicated and ceded the throne to her son Willem Alexander. We watched the abdication ceremony and the inauguration of the new King, accompanied by Queen Máxima and their three beautiful daughters. The event was a great ceremony, for it is right and just that there should be much ado about sovereignty. Though the lion’s teeth have been drawn, there is still a plentiful supply of affection and longing for unity (a national unity, including our Caribbean domains and in friendship with other nations).

In his speech, the King thanked his old mother for the tireless and inspiring effort with which she had fulfilled her responsibility. He also proclaimed his happiness with the support of his wife, Queen Máxima; and he mentioned her awareness that her position implied personal limitations. Yet he continued: ‘To the utmost, she is prepared to place her many capacities in the service of my kingship and the kingdom of us all.’

At that moment, Queen Máxima – incidentally the first Catholic Queen of the Netherlands since it regained its independence from France in 1815 – struck me as a vivid image of the Church, or (in microcosm) the Christian soul. Aren’t we all the King’s bride? It is a destiny that can sometimes be constraining and demanding; it implies devotion and vigilant perseverance; and it also elevates, beautifies and beatifies us. It is the glory of the King in which we are meant to take part, the King who stands unmoving to receive the pledge of submission from every singular dignitary at the many-membred heavenly court.

As Psalm 45 describes the King:

God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Warden in Lunacy

Almost a year ago (how time flies!), I read The Greater Trumps by Charles Williams. It is a book about the glorious movement of the Fool on the edge of the abyss. About Tarot cards, domination and surrender. About rising to adore the mystery of Love.

It is also specifically about people. And these people are like Tarot cards: once you get to know them, you do not easily forget them. There is Nancy, the girl who has fallen in love. There is her brother (or not, because he’s mostly absent). And their aunt Sybil, who is holy, but in such a way that you don’t really notice it unless you know the signs. And their father. He is the one to whom the title of this post refers, and the one with whom the book starts – as follows:

“…perfect Babel,” Mr. Coningsby said peevishly, threw himself into a chair, and took up the evening paper.

He then proceeds to ignore his smart-alecky daughter (whispering that Babel never was perfect); to disturb his sister, Aunt Sybil, because she looks comfortable and interested in her book; and to complain about the government raising taxes. He forbids Nancy from telling her brother to ‘Go to hell’, at least within his house. He also forbids her from answering back to Aunt Sybil, who at least is ‘a lady’ – at which Nancy throws back, in a spirit of hyperbole, that she’s a saint.

Lothair Coningsby does not like to be disturbed. Mania, whether heavenly or chaotic, is not allowed a place in his house. How appropriate, therefore, that he is ‘a legal officer of standing, a Warden in Lunacy’ (with the privilege of going in to dinner before the elder sons of younger sons of peers). He has an interest in trivial arguments. His hand’s line of life stops at forty, but (as Nancy remarks) ‘here he is still alive’. He also happens to be the legatee of the original pack of Tarot cards, which draws his family into a mystery tale that he never becomes conscious of.

Mr. Coningsby is a creature of habit. He happens to have the laudable religious habit of going to church on Christmas Day. Fortunately, when the family spends Christmas elsewhere, his host provides a car and chauffeur to enable him to go:

Mr. Coningsby held strongly that going to church, if and when he did go, ought to be as much a part of normal life as possible, and ought not to demand any peculiar demonstration of energy on the part of the churchgoer.
Sybil, he understood, had the same view; she agreed that religion and love should be a part of normal life.

One should read The Greater Trumps if only to sharpen one’s dialectical sense. The church scene, by the way, is unforgettable; a marvellous example of that ecstastic ‘actual.participation’ which a recent Council has encouraged. Put more simply, reading this book might make your heart larger.

And if it does, perhaps you will even come to appreciate the Warden in Lunacy. For the author views him several times through Aunt Sybil’s eyes, and then affirms that he is ‘as generous as he knew how to be’ – which would be damning with faint praise if it were damning. But his generosity is real. And at church Nancy sees him in a different Light:

He seemed no more the absurd, slightly despicable, affected and pompous and irritating elderly man whom she had known; all that was unimportant. He walked alone, a genie from some other world, demanding of her something which she had not troubled to give. If she would not find out what that was, it was no good blaming him for the failure of their proper relation. She, she only, was to blame; the sin lay in her heart whenever that heart set itself against any other.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


On the day of the inauguration of Pope Francis, we had no class because it was the Solemnity of St. Joseph. This gave us all the opportunity to watch the papal Mass on the big screen. It was heartening to see so many people congregated in St. Peter’s Square. As for the liturgy, I was particularly intrigued by the Gospel reading, chanted in Greek by an Eastern Catholic Deacon. At the time we guessed that he was Eastern Orthodox, because Patriarch Bartholomew might not have approved of such prominence given to an Eastern Catholic. I am still trying to find out who the Deacon was and to which Church he belonged after all.

In the Pope’s homily (or Bishop of Rome, as he calls himself), there were two points which made an impression on me. One of them is the connection between St. Joseph’s office as protector of Christ (and the God-oriented sensitive realism with which he fulfilled it) and our own calling as Christians: ‘Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!’ Concretely, this includes caring for our families and ‘building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness’.

The second point is the sentence which Pope Francis said twice: ‘We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!’ Tenderness, which St. Joseph showed to the other members of the Holy Family (in his own carpenter’s way), is a prerequisite for care and protection. It is ‘not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit’. We have to protect that strength in us, to keep watch against hatred, envy and pride: ‘Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down!’ Being a protector means looking on other people ‘with tenderness and love’ and thus opening up ‘a horizon of hope’.

To speak personally: there are persons who are fire to the tinder of my protectiveness, not because of any immediate danger, but because they are in a crisis of vigorous self-questioning. To keep their horizon unobstructed is the task of the street-sweeper, the quiet worker who labours not for himself. And even if someone should ultimately labour for himself, the labour need not be lost.

For it is not merely an inner joy that we seek; it is the stormwind of peace on the horizon, the Perichoresis. Thus, at least, says the Office of Readings for St. Joseph, in the words of St. Bernardine of Siena:

In fact, although the joy of eternal happiness enters into the soul of a man, the Lord preferred to say to Joseph: “Enter into joy”. His intention was that the words should have a hidden spiritual meaning for us. They convey not only that this holy man possesses an inward joy, but also that it surrounds him and engulfs him like an infinite abyss.

Blessed Triduum to all!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Tu es Petrus

On the feast of the Chair of St. Peter (Cathedra S. Petri), and surrounded by the buzz about the upcoming resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, I would like to offer a few words on the subject. And what a subject he is!

I am a Catholic of the ‘Benedictine generation’. This is true on a chronological level: I was received into the Church when he had been reigning for three years. It is also true on a personal level: our Pope’s humility, shyness, patristic exegesis and academic clarity greatly appeal to me, as does his concern for the soul and structure of Europe.

So, on the one hand, I am sad that he is leaving. On the other hand, I admire him for it and I am happy for him. Besides, the idea of the quiet Pope, having accepted, fulfilled and renounced his duties all in due time, and now ending his life in monastic peace, reading and praying, should appeal to our religious sense of aesthetics. It reminds me of nothing so much as Bilbo Baggins, who was not destined to carry the Ring to the Fire and ‘the End of All Things’.

It is beautiful to see the precedent of Pope Celestine V thus transposed to the busy 21st century, which, notwithstanding its garrulous streams of commentary, has probably been touched somewhere deep by this unexpected news. (And this style of saying farewell, too, reminds me of Bilbo Baggins.)

I salute His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, with the words of Galadriel:

Namárië! Nai hiruvalyë Valimar.
Nai elyë hiruva. Namárië!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Corpus Traditum

This post is in honour of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose memorial we celebrate today.

Some time ago I was struck by the following text:

Without tradition, the Scripture of the New Covenant too would remain Old-Testamentic; it would have the character of law and promise, and would not be the Word-body of him who necessarily also, as eucharistic Life-body (which did not exist in the Old Testament), lives and works in his Church.
(Hans Urs von Balthasar, Verbum Caro, p. 19)

This, so casually tossed out, seemed to me to merit closer examination. In its context, Von Balthasar also claims that the denial of the sacrificial character of the Eucharist is consistent with the generally eschatological character of Protestantism. The general drift of both statements seems to be that Protestantism is a form of Christianity that looks forward to the definitive coming of the Messiah, but does not experience the same Presence of the Anointed in their midst.

Scripture in Protestantism, according to Von Balthasar, is approached as in the Old Covenant: it lays down moral commandments and guidelines to make people wise, and it promises a new heaven and a new earth, in which the just(ified) will dwell. It is law and promise. But it is not Word-body (Wortleib), existing in conjunction with Life-body (Lebensleib). Why is tradition necessary to make a Body out of Scripture? And what does ‘Body’ mean, if it can be applied to Scripture?

The fundamental sense of the phrase ‘body of Christ’ is simply the historical body which Jesus received from Mary, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. With this body Jesus founded the Church, the mystical body of Christ, which incorporates humanity into the historical body (we are crucified with Him!). To demonstrate the strict unity of the historical and the mystical body, there are ‘two intermediate forms of corporeity’. They make the Logos, origin and measure of things, into the Way in which we can be incorporated into God; the Eucharist as Life, Scripture as Truth.

Scripture is not merely a universal human word or abstract wisdom; it transmits to us the word and spirit of Christ. It reaches out universally, without losing its concreteness; the same could be said about the Eucharist. But it is always reflects the revelation of the God-Man, the definitive Word which no Scripture can exhaust. To say (as I once heard a Reformed presuppositionalist do) that Scripture is as close a reflection of the mind of God as possible, is false; such an idea sees the Incarnation as serving Scripture, not the other way around.

The words which God spoke in the Old Covenant did have some sort of absolute quality; they could only be passed on, but not elaborated. Any tradition that grew up around them was not the expression of the fullness of the spoken word, nothing that would become an object of faith.

In the fullness of time, however, the fullness of divinity has appeared bodily; God does not merely speak from Heaven, but gives himself over (tradiert sich). In the same way as the self-gift on the Cross (which is also the gift of the Spirit to the Church), Christ gives Himself under the two corporeal forms of Scripture and Eucharist. These carry within themselves ever-new surprises. Because the Revelation infinitely surpasses Scripture, it gives a vitality to the Church which receives it (or rather, Him in it). Scripture is tradition: it is Christ’s self-tradition, it arises from tradition, and its authority could never be established without tradition. It is a ‘divine mirror of the divine revelation’, and certifies that the Truth is preached in the Church.

According to Von Balthasar, the handing-over and preaching of the truth in the Church would be made impossible without this security – as holiness would be without the Eucharist. This is certainly an interesting comparison.

In short, Scripture and Tradition mutually attest to each other and to the plenitude and faithfulness of God’s Christ.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Sitting in Judgment

When I was younger, I used to wonder vaguely what would happen if I were visited by my older self. Now that has been reversed: every now and then, I wonder vaguely what my younger self would say and do if he could see me now (the third person feels appropriate). I’m not sure when, or why, the change occurred. But at least I am not alone in the experience, for Wordsworth had it too:

                        …so wide appears
The vacancy between me and those days,
Which yet have such self-presence in my mind
That, sometimes, when I think of them, I seem
Two consciousnesses, conscious of myself
And of some other Being.
(Prelude, II.28-33)

The child dreams of himself as full-grown because he knows he is expanding; but at some point, one discovers that even the fullest growth is still severely limited. Even the eminent Cardinal Newman said that he who would know much must make up his mind to be ignorant of much. One coalesces into a particular shape, in the interplay of circumstance, self-determination, apollonic callings and apollyonic whisperings. And one’s wide-eyed young self still has many wide-open potentialities one no longer has.

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
(T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, I)

Thus one’s self at a different stage serves as some sort of yardstick, a measure against which to size up oneself, partly because it suggests a different possible way of life. Perhaps this is one good reason to have and raise children: to have an unromanticised, unpredictable younger self, who still has all the energy no longer possessed by the one whose very memory of childhood has aged with him. And to see what course he runs.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Dominus Sabaoth

Any church-going or merely Bible-reading Christian will be familiar with the phrase ‘LORD of hosts’. It occurs repeatedly in the books of the prophets, and its Latin form Dominus Deus Sabaoth has made its way into the Catholic liturgy. It is clearly a stock phrase, for sabaoth, like amen and alleluia, is a modified Hebrew word.

In Hebrew, ‘LORD of hosts’ reads JHWH tsva’ot. I always assumed that these ‘hosts’ were the heavenly hosts of angels. However, yesterday I was reading Exodus and came across the phrase ‘the hosts of the LORD’. It set off a bell somewhere, and indeed, the words are basically the same – before Scripture calls God JHWH tsva’ot, it speaks of the tsiv’ot JHWH. They are the tribes of Israel, celebrating the great first Passover: ‘And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.’ (Ex. 12:41)

It is the chapter in which God gives directions for the first time on how to celebrate the feast(s) of Passover and of the Unleavened Bread, in which the people are protected from the destroyer by the Blood of the Lamb, and in which they set out from the land of slavery.

We are the hosts of the LORD.

And the LORD and his hosts celebrate the same Passover, for so the story continues: ‘It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.’

So we hold our vigils.

My soul looks for the Lord
more than sentinels for daybreak.
More than sentinels for daybreak,
let Israel look for the LORD,
For with the LORD is kindness,
with him is full redemption,
And God will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
(Psalm 130:6-8)

Friday, 4 January 2013

Reports from the Fringe

Well, I spent enjoyable days at home, and now I have returned to the Tiltenberg to study for my exams. My first exam is Ecclesiology, on the 11th.

While at home, I attended one Reformed church service to witness the baptism of my cousin’s son. There were good things about it, such as my cousin and her husband (especially), the faithful attendance, the psalm-singing, and even the traditional Reformed formula read in the baptismal liturgy, which speaks of Baptism as God’s pledge that He makes an eternal covenant of grace with us. (Although the words ‘of grace’ were tacitly omitted by the minister.) Apparently the older Reformed tradition had a more robust view on Baptism.

And the Baptism itself, of course, you say! I think so, but I will come back to that.

Mostly, however, the service was rather disappointing. The minister introduced the sacrament by saying that we should look carefully, for God had given as this sign as a ‘visible sermon’, and therefore he would scoop his hand full of water, not just a few droplets. This sermon would remind us of our own Baptism (so far so good), a sign that we all stand in need of washing because we are all filthy. (St. Paul writes: ‘Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.’)

The minister did scoop his hand full of water, but let it fall before it reached the baby’s head, then applying what moisture remained. Visible sermon indeed: God has much power to purify, but it is so cautiously applied that no impurity is taken away… But that is a low-blow polemic worthy of the sixteenth century. More fundamental are the implications for the validity of the sacrament: can we speak of a true Baptism when the water does not flow over the person, when he is neither immersed, nor partly immersed, nor sprinkled with water? According to the Encyclopedia, such a Baptism is at least doubtful.

The sermon (and I speak what I remember, with apology for inaccuracy) was about Zechariah and Elizabeth naming their child John. It was a kind of Reformed midrash, a colouring of the outlines of the Biblical story (with some details added), an exposition on the spiritual attitude of the characters. This is intended to reveal what the story leaves unspoken, but usually reveals something about the interpreter as well.

Zechariah, for one, was painted as a man who had laboured for nine months in the throes of conscience, after he had failed to believe the angel’s word. Deaf and mute, he had been locked in a small world of his own, to learn how to listen to God. The possibility that he might have been glad of the word’s fulfilment, of his fatherhood even in old age, was briefly mentioned, but called a bright spot against the dark background of his unbelief. When the time came for Zechariah to confirm the name that his wife had given to the child, he bent very low over his writing tablet and slowly spelled out the name John.

The minister spoke words in this vein: ‘Perhaps you will say: but how do you know that he bent very low over his writing tablet? Scripture does not say that, does it? But his spirit was moved!’

Then once the name has been written, the bonds of his spirit are loosed and he writes the name fast, looking up to God in joy because His word has come true. The name of the child is John, not Zechariah like his father’s, because ‘everything of Zechariah has to disappear’.

The people of Hebron – the neighbours – were present as well. They had been chatting amongst themselves and had already decided that the child’s name was to be Zechariah. When lonely Elizabeth lifted up her voice and declared the child to be John, she felt all their ‘piercing stares’ on her. Thus the world ever looks at the handmaid of the Lord, I suppose: with hostile incomprehension.

After the child had been named, the neighbours talked much about what had happened. Although they saw the strangeness and divine origin of these events, apparently their reflections did not reach their hearts, for ‘six months later, none of the people of Hebron were at the manger in Bethlehem’.

In the flow of his sermon, the minister also mentioned that no one was worth anything, and that there could not be grace without prior guilt. When I left the building, I felt that in the experiential-Reformed picture, God’s dealings with men are almost restricted to an endless cycle of forgiveness, the merely human dimension of life (like becoming a father!) is inconsequential, and true joy is incommunicable. This is seen as religious earnestness; a more positive valuation of the common activities of the nature God deigned to adopt is quickly discarded as spiritual immaturity.

Thus far the first report. Second report: Rev. Kort from the Old Reformed Congregations in the Netherlands, formerly from the Dutch Reformed Church (before it merged into the Protestant Church in the Netherlands), has stridden to a theological border, seeking a skirmish. His beef is with what he calls the ‘embryo theology’, according to which sinners can be regenerate without conscious faith in Christ (i.e. the belief that Christ has forgiven their sins), merely yearning after God, mourning over sin and hungering for salvation. Against this he argues that a personal knowledge of Christ as Mediator is indispensable.

The ‘embryo theology’, popularised by the 18th-century minister Alexander Comrie, makes unscriptural, Aristotelian-Scholastic distinctions between the ‘act’ of faith and the ‘habit’ of faith, which could be given by God before the act of conscious faith is exercised. According to Rev. Kort and his supporters, this leaves people satisfied with an apparent, probable, untrue and presumed rebirth, rather than a true conversion and union with Christ.

As I was checking my sources, I came across a rather acerbic publication in support of Rev. Kort, which exclaims:

...many professors [of faith] and leaders engage in hostile outbursts against the separating, liberating doctrine of the Gospel of the Cross, because they, through the teaching of Christ and the experience of faith that necessarily goes with it, see their imagined conversion go up in smoke! Christian persecution within the Refo-ranks has thus been in full swing for many years and I would like to say to Rev. Kort: welcome to the battle!

Meanwhile I, in my hammock (so to speak), have been reading Verbum Caro by the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. It contains interesting ideas, like the following (p. 66, translation mine):

And so, the fruitfulness of [Mary’s] faith unites itself with the fruitfulness of her womb and her entire human nature. At this place, Luther’s interpretation of the act of faith has undergone a certain narrowing in respect to the old Germanic-Christian interpretation, in which the moment of surrender, of the faithfulness of the follower, thus of the human, was much more prominent than in the Reformed sin-grace dialectic. Where that human dimension does not appear to be implied in the Church’s holiness, the chargedness of a ‘naked’ soteriological dialectic all too easily changes into professorial abstractions.