There is so much for which we are grateful today: our families, our friends, our faith, and for all those who have inspired us and encouraged our efforts. We thank God for such blessings and we thank you for your friendship and your many kindnesses.
The Ordination of Saint Hilary
“In an age when the Church was persecuted from within, as was the case with the Arian crisis in the fourth century, St. Hilary – the Athanasius of the West – made the following encouraging statement: ‘In this consists the particular nature of the Church, that she triumphs when she is defeated, that she is better understood when she is attacked, that she rises up, when her unfaithful members desert her’ (De Trin. 7,4)”
Thank you to those who have responded to our Fall Appeal so far! We are grateful to all who find our work worthy of support. In our annual appeal I listed a number of Gil Bailie’s earlier presentations that remain to be brought into the digital age, but I was recently reminded of another important series…
Publius Vergilius Maro
Below is an item from our old Reflections on Faith and Culture weblog which was originally posted 13 years ago. It reminded me that another of Gil’s presentations from the 1990’s that is awaiting transfer to digital formats: The Truth of Poetry series on Virgil’s Aeneid.
(The word ‘florilegium’ and the word ‘anthology’ are the Latin and Greek forms of the same concept.)
As some of my older friends know, for several years the work I do now under the auspices of The Cornerstone Forum had another name: The Florilegia Institute. A florilegium is a collection of texts, an anthology of quotations. I used the term in the early days because an old friend of mine, Geoff Wood, and I once long ago did a series of joint presentations, and we called the series a florilegium. Because in those years I was leading explorations in various literary texts, and because my modus operanti was to place the texts in some kind of dialogue with one another, The Florilegia Institute seemed an apt name for what I was doing. For instance, I gave a series of classes in those days comparing the Gospel of Luke with Virgil’s Aeneid. The series was called “The Poetry of Truth and the Truth of Poetry,” the former a reference to Luke’s Gospel and the latter to Virgil’s poem. The problem was, of course, hardly anyone knew what the word florilegia meant. It’s aptness notwithstanding, it was confusing.
Since then the work has evolved into another phase, and a few years back we changed the name of our mission to The Cornerstone Forum.
…I will be doing my part of the Forum’s work from home for the time being. In dealing with increasing time constraints, I may often make posts to this weblog consisting simply of quotations that I think are worth sharing. That’s pretty much what a florilegium is.
I may or may not be able to resist the impulse to gild the lily with an observation of my own about the quotation, and I may not have time to indulge that impulse — as I just have — in any case.
Let me inaugurate this weblog feature with the following quotation:
“The acquiring of religious knowledge is akin to learning a skill. It involves practices, attitudes, and dispositions and has to do with ordering one’s loves. This kind of knowledge, the knowledge one lives by, is gained gradually over time. Just as one does not learn to play the piano in a day, so one does not learn to love God in an exuberant moment of delight.”
We are adding to the annual mailbox stuffing of Black Friday Sales and appeals for support from worthy causes. If you are on any of our mailing lists please be on the look out for the Cornerstone Forum’s yearly ‘begging letter’. This is the only fundraising we do for our work and we do our best to ‘live within our means’, adjusting to the vicissitudes of the times.
We ask that you look kindly on our request for assistance and respond as you are able.
This year we are making available to those responding to our Fall Appeal with a donation of $5/month or $60/year a copy of the current edition of the journal Communio in which Gil Bailie is a featured contributor. (Note: this offer is only for US mailing addresses.)
But wait…that’s not ALL!
We also will provide at least 12 downloadable MP3 audio files of archival materials over the course of next year. And for those who generously support us at the ‘Sustaining Donor’ level of at least $25/month or $300/year we will mail CD versions of the same audio materials (a minimum of 12 individual CDs over the next 12 months. Again, this is offered to US mailing addresses only.)
Over the coming twelve months we will be producing digital audio versions of Gil Bailie’s earlier presentations of reflections on TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, The Hollow Men, and Ash Wednesday.
If you find our work of value please help us by making a tax deductible donation here on our secure website or by mailing a check to The Cornerstone Forum 19201 Hwy 12, #221 Sonoma, CA 95476
René Girard passed from this life four years ago, leaving behind both an intellectual legacy and a wonderful example of a well-lived life. He changed my life in so many ways, for which I am deeply grateful.
Where should we be focusing our attention in these days? Lets see…there is:
the danger from foreign governments interfering in US elections
the on going investigations of the President which may lead to an impeachment
the human rights abuses from abortion to police racial profiling
the global climate change crisis
the opioid abuse crisis
the immigration crisis at the southern border of the United States, as well as in Europe from the Middle East and Africa
the danger of resurgent terrorist activity due to wars in Syria and Afghanistan
the outrages over male sexual predation, e.g. Harvey Weinstien, Jeffery Epstein, #Metoo, college rapes, etc
the economic slowdown and possible recession due to strained trading relations with China
the homeless crisis in large cities across the country.
One could go on and on…and each of us could prioritize the list according to our individual prudential understandings. With so many important issues clamoring for our attention it is understandable that people complain of fatigue whether from outrage or empathy – these matters use up all the oxygen in the room.
And then there is the crisis within the Catholic Church; from the massive damage done over the past decades by clerical abuses to the possibility of portentous changes in the Church herself guided not by her scriptures and traditions but rather by a new spirit from the depths of the Amazon – a spirit that looks and sounds suspiciously like the spirit of the age.
Earlier this year Gil Bailie at the Convocation of Fellows at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology spoke about this latter concern. His recorded remarks are below:
In 1968, Malcolm Muggeridge resigned in protest as Rector of Edinburgh University because of the university’s relaxation of its policy on drug use by students. His resignation speech – delivered from the pulpit of St Giles Catherdral in a service marking the beginning of the university term in January 1968 – includes the following:
“Speaking for myself there is practically nothing that you could do in a mood of rebellion against our impoverished way of life for which I should not feel some degree of sympathy. But how infinitely sad, how macabre that the form of your rebellion should be a demand for drugs, for the most tenth-rate sort of self-indulgence ever known in history. All is prepared for a release of new life. We await great works of art, the spirit of adventure and courage, and what do we get from you? Self-centered folly. You are on a crazy slope. For myself, I always come back to the King, to Jesus, to the Christian notion that all our efforts to make ourselves happy will fail, but that sacrifice for others will never fail. A man must become a new man, or he is no man. Or so at least I have concluded, having failed to find in past experience and present dilemmas any alternative proposition. As far as I am concerned, it is Christ or nothing. Goodbye and God bless you.”
Listening to a symposium on social media and the 1st Amendment hosted by Georgetown University and the Knight First Amendment Institute I heard the above permutation of the ‘Golden Rule’. The entire hour and forty minute panel discussion was interesting but a short part of it near the end caught my attention. One of the panelists, Sarah Jeong of the New York Times, in describing the problems that social media companies encounter in trying to filter out prohibited ‘speech’ made the following observation:
There is something at the foundation of these companies that is quite poisonous, something that feeds off how much human beings love to hate each other. And limiting that instinct instead of promoting it, I think there is a tech solution in that sense. That said, I don’t know, there are bigger political, geopolitical things going on that I think we are all really afraid to talk about, and we would much rather talk about the tech stuff.
What could the “bigger political, geopolitical things” be that we are afraid to talk about?
Sin and human nature.
As the excerpt linked to above shows, Ms. Jeong’s comment was immediately responded to by another panelist with a reflection on the noble and benign intentions at the inception of what has become our digital wasteland that may be viewed as a bizarre and vain attempt at ‘whistling past the graveyard’.
Besides both subsuming and bursting ‘political/geopolitical’ concepts, it is likely such ideas would be unfamiliar to the panelists. However, as long as we avert our eyes from our fallen nature we will continue to be baffled by the perversity of human behavior and bedeviled by its pernicious and protean manifestations. Seeking technological solutions to spiritual problems may mitigate some aspects of human sinfulness but only the grace of confession and repentance available through Christ and his church will lead us out of the tangled webs we have woven. For our modern progressives, like those on the panel, sin and its entrenched place in the human heart is alien and retrograde.
Would that the heads of Silicon Valley social media companies, in lincolnesque fashion, publicly confess their complicity in abetting the darkest instincts of our nature. Where are our Prophets calling them out? Here is something that comes close…
You wanna talk to me, you got many things to say. You want the spirit to be speaking through, but your lust for comfort get in the way. I can read it in your eyes, oh, what your Heart will not reveal. And that old evil burden has been draggin’ you down, bound to grind you ‘neath the wheel. Yonder comes sin.
(Walkin’ like a man, talkin’ like an angel) Yonder comes sin. (Proud like a peacock, swift like an eagle) Look at your feet, see where they’ve been to. Look at your hands, see what they been into. Can’t you take it on the chin? Yonder comes sin.
You see this woman standin’ next to me? She’s foreign to your sight. Well, her eyes may be a different color than mine, but her blood is red and her bones are white. You’ve been seeking them eternal, spiritual things, but your fifty-dollar smile confirms You’re still tryin’ to buy your way into the dreams of them Whose bodies will be food for worms. Yonder comes sin.
(Ready and steady, willing and able) Yonder comes sin. (Standin’ on the chair, standin’ on the table) Look at your feet, see where they’ve been to Look at your hands, see what they’ve been into. Can’t you take it on the chin? Yonder comes sin.
I say: See them six wild horses, honey. You say: I don’t even see one. You say: Point them out to me, love. I say: Honey I got to run My brother’s blood is crying from the grave but you can’t hear the voice. I stand in jeopardy every hour, Wonderin’ what reason you have to rejoice. Yonder comes sin.
(Down on your knees, down into the ditches) Yonder comes sin. (Vomiting up jewels, vomiting up riches) Look at your feet see where they’ve been to. Look at your hands, see what they’ve been into. Enough to put you to tail-spin. Yonder comes sin.
Jeremiah preached repentance To those that would turn from hell. But the critics all gave him such bad reviews Put him down at the bottom of a well kept on talking, anyway. As the people were put into chains Wasn’t nobody there to say “Bon voyage” or shatter any bottles of champagne. Yonder comes sin
(Cracking that whip, just like a feather) Yonder comes sin. (Put a knife in your back while talking about the weather) Look at your feet see where they’ve been to. Look at your hands, see what they’ve been into. Can you take it on the chin. Yonder comes sin
High cost of survival Gets a little higher than you expect. When you’re trying to get along with your enemies And still maintain your self-respect. As a child you knew all there was to know It just couldn’t get expressed. Now it scares me to see what you accept as good. At one you wouldn’t have settled for less than the best. Yonder comes sin.
(Way down deep and dirty, not a day under thirty) Yonder comes sin. (Tasting like peaches, hanging on like leaches) Look at your feet see where they’ve been to. Look at your hands, see what they’ve been into. So masculine, so feminine. Yonder comes sin.
You turn your back on the hard truth Just to fatten up your purse. Sings of an unrighteous world Dare the same thing as a curse. No kingdom made of human hands can stand. Too bad about MacBeth. In order to possess that corruptible crown Gotta make a deal with Mr Death. Yonder comes sin.
(Can you comprehend it, can you understand it) Yonder comes sin. (It rules the airways, it rules the planet) Look at your feet see where they’ve been to. Look at your hands, see what they’ve been into. Take off that sheepish grin. Yonder comes sin
There’s a place down in your soul Where the law can never touch. You do most likely what you please And not think about too much. I’ll be down the line when morning comes. And that I pulled the hood up for you So that you could see real good your uninvited guest. Yonder comes sin.
(It’s a pleasure to meet ya, nice to have known ya) Yonder comes sin. (It wants to kill you, it wants to own you) Look at your feet see where they’ve been to. Look at your hands, see what they’ve been into. Being pulled in all directions by the wind. Yonder comes sin.
– Bob Dylan
(Like many old gospel songs this was based on a secular tune – Ma Rainey’s Yonder Comes the Blues)
At one point, [Orson] Welles – speaking as the elusive crook Harry Lime – proclaims:
“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed – they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
(this was initially posted on our old blog site on September 11, 2006)
My father was killed in the Battle of the Bulge on January 7, 1945 a few months after I was born. I have not been particularly preoccupied with the details of that utterly senseless slaughter, though some years ago I was able to visit with the people with whom my father and his fellow soldiers spent the Christmas of 1944. My visit just happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Europe, and there was considerable attention given to the closing days of World War II at the time. I was received by the local farmers as a hero, as they bestowed on me the gratitude they felt for the sacrifices made by Americans on their behalf.
At no time during my visits with the Belgian farmers, or in what I saw and heard on the various BBC programs dealing with the liberation of Europe, do I recall the word “tragedy” being used. Was it a tragedy that 19,000 Americans lost their lives in a battle that had no chance of changing the outcome of the war? Well, at one level, yes. But the word “tragedy” might best be reserved for things like hurricane Katrina. Tragedies happen. When tanks roll and cannons fire and machine guns blaze and bombs fall, it’s because the decision has been made for those things to happen.
As we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the mass murder that occurred on September 11, 2001, I have already heard the word “tragedy” used several times. No one can deny that the events of that day were terribly tragic for the families and friends of those who died in the attack, just as my father’s death in a German bombing raid was a terrible tragedy for my mother. Use of the word tragedy, however, can reinforce an already prevalent tendency to ignore the fact that those who died in lower Manhattan five years ago were killed by mass murderers, and their deaths were jubilantly celebrated by dancing in the streets in the Muslim world.
CNN’s chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour recently spoke with Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Scheuer told her that he had learned that Osama bin Laden has recently been given permission by a cleric in Saudi Arabia to use nuclear weapons against the United States, “capping the casualties at 10 million.” The dumbfounded Amanpour asked Scheuer: “He’s had a approval, a religious approval for 10 million deaths?” “Yes,” Scheuer told her.
We have every reason to vigorously debate the morality of this or that domestic law or policy, on one hand, or this or that foreign policy or military adventure of our nation or any other nation, on the other. We needn’t agree with the policies of our own or any other government; it goes without saying that many will strongly disagree. It would be a very dangerous world if it were ever to be otherwise. That said, however, there is a world of difference between policies aimed at preserving and protecting a society – however misguided these policies might conceivably be – and policies that are explicitly and unapologetically murderous and genocidal.
We may disagree sharply on how to respond to the new forms of genocide that have emerged in our day. The actions of the U.S. and of other Western nations and institutions may at times be unconscionable, and vigilance is the watchword. It is not out of the question that, as in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the West might commit appalling atrocities in its attempt to prevent the atrocities the jihadist are now planning and committing. The powerful mimetic dynamic that operates in such conflict is terribly dangerous and not to be overlooked. But to imagine that a moral equivalence exists today between the West and the jihadists is to forsake reality and renounce the only moral progress for which we can legitimately hope.
What we must never forget, of course, is that we are all God’s children; none of us is immune to the seductions that lead to hatred and violence. But awareness of our moral predicament and the fallibility of our judgment does not absolve us of our responsibility to protect the innocent as best we can from those maddened by racial hatred and pathological forms of religious zealotry. The more clearly we recognize the threats from which we must try to protect the innocent, the more reason we have to remember St. Paul’s reminder that it is not against flesh and blood that we struggle, but rather against spiritual forces to which we ourselves are never immune. That those who have fallen under the influence of these forces are brothers and sisters of ours does not mean that we should not repel them as best we can and prevent the damage they will otherwise cause, but it does mean that we must not loose sight of their humanity and our kinship with them.
For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. (Ephesians 6: 12-15)
Christians and Jews understand that history will all too often be the arena of crushed hopes and broken hearts. Knowing that, however, is the precondition for recognizing one of the greatest gifts of Christian faith, namely, the sure knowledge that where sin abounds, grace super-abounds, and that none of the suffering in history is meaningless, however inaccessible that meaning might be to those in the midst of the suffering. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That such cries are heard by a loving and all-caring God, a God who will in the end wipe away every tear, is the bedrock of Christian hope.
To those who struggled up the stairwell of the North and South towers of the World Trade Center with fire-fighting equipment, and to those, like my father, against whom Hitler’s last mad murderousness spent itself, the world owes its respect and gratitude. In neither case did they die in a tragedy. They died rather in a struggle to preserve civilization and protect the innocent from the barbarians threatening them. We have not seen the last of such things, and we have almost certainly not seen the worst of them. If we are to face today’s historical exigencies responsibly, we will need to summon an uncommon measure of faith and fortitude.
Archeologists in Peru have discovered 227 bodies of children sacrificed by the pre-Columbian Chimu culture to appease the gods of wet weather – the El Niño. “Wherever you dig, there’s another one,” the chief archeologist Feren Castillo said.
We would never sacrifice children because of changes in the weather. Admittedly some of those most alarmed about “climate change” choose not to have children. That’s foolish and sad, but it’s not savage.
On the other hand, what will future historians have to say about a culture that kills between 2000 and 3000 children EACH DAY in THIS COUNTRY ALONE? These historians will know what everyone who watches the first few minutes of Unplanned discovers: the unspeakable truth about the abortion industry, all to appease the gods of sexual license and convenience.
In historical retrospect, the movie Unplanned may be seen as having done for the central moral and civil rights issue of our age what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did in exposing the horrors of slavery in the mid-nineteenth century and what Martin Luther King, Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail did for the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
Despite all the political realignment over the last 50 years, it may not be entirely coincidental that each of these three instances of exploitation of the powerless by the powerful was staunchly defended by the Democratic party.
Unplanned is not easy to watch, but that’s the point: almost a million babies a year brutally killed by medical professionals. God help us. This movie just might be the moment when the comforting euphemisms fall away and we recognize what we have allowed to happen. The first five minutes of the film will change even the fiercest champion of abortion, which is why the abortion lobby and its powerful friends are doing everything they can to keep people from seeing it.