When Europe Demands that Religions Become “Liberal”

Recent debates in Europe and the U.S. about key societal issues like abortion or same-sex marriages show that, in contemporary Western societies, there is no longer a natural law common to believers and non-believers. In other words, and whatever the intellectual genealogy of contemporary secularism may be, the gap between religious and secular values has become such that there is no longer a “common Go(o)d”. In this context, many share a concern on how to maintain cohesion within increasingly diverse societies. Far from being a theoretical issue, this question is becoming more urgent because of the growing presence of Muslims in Europe. But in essence, the debate is not limited to Islam; it deals with the meaning of religion (any religion) in a secular Europe.

From an essay by Olivier Roy, European University of Florence, at Oasis

On Metaphysics and Ethics

“Metaphysics is a necessary prerequisite of ethics. This truth is masked sometimes, since man, who carries within him the same realities – soul, freedom, the call of destiny – which metaphysics has to study and to know, and who thus lives the life of metaphysics before his mind has grasped its principles, man, I say, can afford the luxury of denying in theory the metaphysical truths of which in practice he makes considerable use. It is plain, however, that such a situation is not normal and that it is of supreme importance for man to take cognizance of all the things that are in him; and of the true dimensions of his being.”

Jacques Maritain, Freedom in the Modern World

The Transcendentals

Truth, goodness, and beauty are so fully transcendental properties of being that they can be grasped only in and through one another. In their communion, they furnish proof of the inexhaustible depth and overflowing richness of being. Finally, they show that in the end everything is comprehensible and unveiled only because it is grounded in an ultimate mystery, whose mysteriousness rests, not upon a lack of clarity, but rather upon a super abundance of light. For what is more incomprehensible than the fact that the core of being consists in love and that its emergence as essence and existence has no ground other than groundless grace?

Hans urs van Balthasar, Truth of the World

The Tunisian Option

From Oasis Magazine:

The creation of a moderate “European” Islam is an idea that is rapidly gaining ground following the events in Paris. The aim of such a project would be to counter the fascination that the bloodthirsty and radical version of Islam propagated by the Islamic State – and by al-Qaeda before it – exercises over the minds of young people, both in Europe and Arab and Islamic countries.

And yet, there’s no need to look so very far afield . . .

Liturgical Conflicts – III

As I’ve noted in earlier entries, in the late 11th century a number of popes were intent upon unifying liturgical practice across Christian Europe. In Spain that effort was opposed by Christians who had been living under Moorish rule for centuries and had developed their own Arab language rite. Loyal to what would later be dubbed the Mozarabic Rite, these Christians didn’t appreciate Rome’s efforts, to put it lightly.

According to lore, in addition to the “El Juicio de Dios”, the battle between two knights, “one a Castilian and the other a Toledan”, as well as the story that two bulls, one named “Roma” and the other “Toledo”, were set to fight, and there also the victory was with Toledo, there was a challenge by fire. As the New Advent encyclopedia describes it, a copy each of the Roman Rite and the Mozarabic Rite “were thrown into a fire. By the time the Roman book was consumed, the Toledan was little damaged. No one who has seen a Mozarabic manuscript with its extraordinarily solid vellum, will adopt any hypothesis of Divine Interposition here.”

As with the earlier two incidents, I have adapted this incident for Song of Toledo. The following is an excerpt. I apologize for cutting the scene off rather abruptly, but it leads to the book’s climax, and for that I hope you’ll read the entire book.

From Song of Toledo:

Across the plaza, in the farthest corner from the cathedral, a large crowd had gathered in a circle. Through the crowd they could see a fire that had only recently been started but, judging by the flames reaching skyward, was becoming larger by the moment.

“What is that?” Brother Bernardo wondered aloud as they slowly began to move forward.

At least 50 people had gathered around a fire that had been started since Vespers began, and more people were spilling into the plaza from the surrounding streets. As they moved closer, the soldiers who had previously been on guard around the edges of the plaza formed a line between the crowd and the fire. They pushed the crowd back into a semi-circle around the fire, and when Pelayo looked closer he could see the cause of the fire behind the soldiers. A monk and two other soldiers, it appeared, were taking books from a cart and throwing them into the fire. Each armload of books sent a shower of sparks flaring skyward, and each shower of sparks spurred the crowd further into what was clearly a state of increasing agitation. When Pelayo and Brother Bernardo first came out of the cathedral, it was difficult in the fading daylight to see who the monk was, but by the time they’d made it half-way across the plaza they could see clearly that it was Brother Raúl.

When he realized who it was, Brother Bernardo began walking more quickly and finally broke into a run. Pelayo followed as closely as he could, but while the guards let Brother Bernarod pass to the fire, they held the boy back. Breathing heavily, Brother Bernardo went to the edge of the fire and picked up one of the books. As an old man with a long, gray beard shouted and shook his fist at Brother Raúl, Brother Bernardo leafed quickly through the charred pages of the book in his hand, then he tossed it aside and began to reach into the fire for any books that weren’t already burned beyond recognition. When one of the soldiers threw another armload of books from the cart into the fire, sending another shower of sparks towering into the air, Brother Bernardo had to jump back. He wiped his face and looked at the fire, then turned to Brother Raúl.

“Has it come to this, Raúl?” he shouted.

The crowd was growing more agitated by the moment, although it didn’t seem clear to anyone what exactly was going on.

“It has come to what is necessary,” Brother Raúl replied without stopping. He was moving quickly, turning as little as necessary and grabbing as many books as he could hold without stopping.

Brother Bernardo reached for the book he’d first picked up.

“This is our heritage,” he shouted, shaking the book at Brother Raúl. “It is written in a language you don’t understand, . . .”

“That is not the point, Brother,” Brother Raúl replied.

Pelayo realized then that the cart was loaded with prayer books written in Brother Bernardo’s native Arabic, and he learned later that Brother Raúl had spent much of his time since arriving going into churches across the city and confiscating as many of them as he could find.

On blindness and true guides

“A blind man, if he be not quite blind, refuses to be led by a guide; and, since he sees a little, he thinks it better to go in whatever happens to be the direction which he can distinguish, because he sees none better; and thus he can lead astray a guide who sees more than he, for after all it is for him to say where he shall go rather than for the guide. In the same way a soul may lean upon any knowledge of its own, or any feeling or experience of God, yet, however great this may be, it is very little and far different from what God is; and, in going along this road, a soul is easily led astray, or brought to a standstill, because it will not remain in faith like one that is blind, and faith is its true guide.”

St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mt. Carmel

The liturgy: foremost and indispensable

An Irish monk explains some liturgical differences:

“Jesuits, as practical individuals, are wont to pray privately in whatever posture a man finds congenial; there is a certain distrust of ritual, corporate ceremony, and rubrics. Nec cantat, nec rubricat. This approach to private prayer even affects the way certain Jesuit priests celebrate Holy Mass. Benedictines, on the whole, are wont to submit to whatever rites, ceremonies, and rubrics have been passed on to them. Schooled by long hours in choir, day after day, they habitually engage their bodies in a kind of sacred choreography that affects their most intimate yearnings Godward. Just as the Jesuit’s approach to personal prayer colours his approach to the liturgy, so too do a Benedictine’s liturgical instincts colour his personal prayer.”

Liturgical Conflicts – II

In addition to the “El Juicio de Dios”, the battle between two knights, “one a Castilian and the other a Toledan”, which marked the tension over liturgical issues between Rome and the local church in 11th century Spain, there is also a story that two bulls, one named “Roma” and the other “Toledo”, were set to fight, and as with the knights, there also the victory was with Toledo.

Once again, in Song of Toledo, I have adapted the circumstances of the event to suit my tale. What follows is my version of how that bullfight went.

From Song of Toledo:

Pelayo turned to Ferdinando as the older boy waved him over to the bullring fence in anticipation of the fight to come. He pointed to the barn doors of the low stone building.

“They should be coming out of two of those doors any moment now.”

Sure enough, they had not waited more than a moment longer when a door swung open sharply and a black bull stepped calmly out to the ring. When the bull appeared, a cry rang out from several young voices, and a flurry of children jumped up from the fires where they were eating with their families and ran over to the fence. A moment later, a second side door opened and another bull charged out. Finally, a few moments afterward, a small man with gray hair and a closely cropped beard followed, carrying nothing but what appeared to be a long, sturdy stick with a long knife attached to the end. The bulls stood at a distance from each other, seeming to pay attention neither to the crowd nor to each other. As for the man, he remained along the fence in order to keep his distance from the two animals.

The crowd watched as the bulls began to circle each other, first slowly, then at a trot. Finally, the black bull stopped and lowered its head and pawed at the ground once, then moved at a seemingly leisurely pace toward the white bull, who lowered his head and waited. The collision was not as forceful as Pelayo would have expected. Rather, the two animals locked horns and began pushing, their nostrils flaring as they began to exert themselves. Children let out a cry, now joined by adults, and Pelayo spotted soldiers throwing coins into a cup and a line of monks leaning against the fence across from where he and Ferdinando were standing. The bulls continued to struggle, the white bull breaking once to turn away, only to turn back around and lower his head when the black bull followed. . . .

. . . The crowd was now fully engaged in the fight, with cheers erupting at random from around the ring whenever one or the other of the bulls seemed to score a definitive blow against his opponent. For a while, it seemed the black bull was winning, because twice more the white bull broke off and ran away, only to have the black bull pursue. The third time, however, the white bull turned sooner, catching the black bull in the side of the face with his horns. Both squeals and cheers rang out from the crowd, and while some seemed invigorated by the blood streaming from alongside the black bull’s eye, others groaned and turned away.

Ferdinando had opted to cheer on the white bull, but Pelayo, still feeling the fatigue of the journey, watched with little enthusiasm. When the white bull scored another blow, this time catching the black bull in the side of his neck as the black bull tried to turn away, Ferdinando and Pelayo both glanced behind them and spotted Don Juan Ruíz and Brother Raúl strolling casually toward them behind the crowd along the fence.

“Brother Raúl,” Ferdinando called out. “Since you and Brother Bernardo can’t seem to settle your differences with a civilized discussion, perhaps you should let these beasts do it for you. I’ve taken a liking to the white bull, so perhaps he can represent me and my fellow Toledans.”

Brother Raúl smiled politely at Ferdinando’s comment, but it was clear that Don Juan Ruíz was not pleased to see Ferdinando again. He stopped and touched Brother Raúl on the arm, then gestured toward an opening in the crowd along the fence. Without looking toward the boys again, both men made their way through the crowd toward the spot along the fence. Ferdinando, however, was not to be discouraged.

“My Lord,” he called out directly to Don Juan Ruíz, “I pray that you are not still upset about our encounter. I meant no disrespect. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I often say things which a more sensible man would not.”

As still neither man replied, Ferdinando shrugged and turned his attention back to the bulls, who had again locked their horns and were clearly stuck in a standoff. For several moments, it seemed neither bull was about to make any progress against the other, but then the black bull suddenly reared back and unhooked himself, and he quickly turned and tried to run away from his opponent. The white bull pursued briefly, but then it seemed he was ready to claim his victory, and he stopped and turned and strolled casually away, snorting a couple of times.

“Ah, see there, Brother,” Ferdinando again called out to Brother Raúl. “We can not deny the power of the soil on which we stand. This is not Rome. This is Hispania.”