What Is That Header Image?

It’s the unbroken seal of the second shrine holding the sarcophagi of Tutankhamun. Untouched for 3,245 years, it was discovered by Howard Carter in 1923 and photographed by Harry Burton before being cut.

It’s not unusual to find ancient rope still intact. We have examples going back almost 30,000 years.

Howard Carter peers into the shrines holding the sarcophagi of Tutankhamun

Howard Carter peers into the shrines holding the sarcophagi of Tutankhamun

A Clarification: Difficult Times, Difficult Thoughts

Some clarifications.

There were some who took exception to my calling the pope “wrong” yesterday. I want to be clear: I believe it was a mistake to open up a rejected proposal for debate and bring discredited theologians and leaders back into prominence. Most troubling is his personal support of Cardinal Danneels, which is inexcusable and reflects very poorly on his judgement.  The record is clear, and there is no place for men who sheltered and protected abusers, and further damaged their victims, in this debate or in this hierarchy. Period.

Of course, I don’t know the Holy Father’s mind on the issues, so I can’t know if he supports communion for the divorced or not. I do know that he’s behaved as though he supports it.  As the quote from Benedict following the 2005 synod made clear, this is not a theologically sound position.

I also know this last year has been chaotic and not good for the church. Many, many people have been distressed and hurt by the way things have unfolded, and his occasionally incautious words have not helped matters.

On the other hand, he has offered the church many beautiful and profound moments of witness that allow us to approach our faith in a fresh, open way. I’ve been genuinely moved by him to consider things anew. That’s good. We need to see other things in new ways. I know what I believe, but I also know that I’m always a student and ready, even eager, to be taught. I can both support my beliefs and be open to new approaches and the action of the spirit. I think he’s led us into a time of discernment, and that’s a good thing.

Yesterday, my friend Elizabeth Scalia was pounced on by some and embraced by others for this post, and neither side got it. Elizabeth was trying to discern what we are being called to. She was just trying to think through–and get us to think through–all the very messy and challenging things that go into this life of faith. She wasn’t either turning her back on tradition or running headlong into progressivism, and that people can’t seem to grasp this is merely another example of the triumph of tribalism over clear thinking and the life of faith.

We can grow ossified in our thinking, and Francis has been a good antidote for that. He leads me to some uncomfortable places, and that’s not a bad thing. We need to shake ourselves from our slumbers and reexamine how we do and approach things. In that way, and several others, he’s been a blessing.

We can’t be afraid to criticize church leaders in charity. Disagreement during debate is expected. Francis expects it.

What I’ve objected to for the past two years is the hard-edged, dismissive, paranoid, and even hysterical tendency of those who hold the man in contempt. This is inexcusable and intolerable, and the people who fling invective and mockery at him are despicable. This is no way to conduct the life of faith, the work of theology, and the business of the church, and they’ve given us a shining example of how not to be Christians.

It’s not easy being a traditional Catholic in a contemporary church coming to grips with new ways of spreading the gospel in a hostile and ever-changing world, and I am a traditionalist.

But whoever said the life of the Christian was supposed to be easy? Complacency is the death of faith. We have a mission: to witness the gospel and Jesus Christ, without compromise, in the world in such a way as to make the message irresistible, so people reject sin and chose a path of salvation. If we’re not doing it effectively (and we’re not: just look around you) then we need to work harder, do better, and think differently.

I don’t like that idea much, but it was never about what I liked: it’s about what I am called to do for the faithful, the Church, and the Lord.

Benedict and the Bishops on Communion for the Divorced

The current synod is certainly not the first synod to consider the issue of communion for the divorced and remarried. In October 2005 the synod kicked around these issues, and in February 2007 Pope Benedict XVI published the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis (the Sacrament of Charity). Note well the long passage of time between synod and publication.

Benedict’s very sound teaching should have put this matter to rest, but Pope Francis dragged Cardinal Kasper back into the limelight to peddle his extremely unsound and rejected proposals. This is obviously because the Pope and a number of support them and would like to see a change.

Since we’ve been hearing from demonstrably bad theologians in the past year, let’s give an ear to a master.

The Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage

29. If the Eucharist expresses the irrevocable nature of God’s love in Christ for his Church, we can then understand why it implies, with regard to the sacrament of Matrimony, that indissolubility to which all true love necessarily aspires. (91) There was good reason for the pastoral attention that the Synod gave to the painful situations experienced by some of the faithful who, having celebrated the sacrament of Matrimony, then divorced and remarried. This represents a complex and troubling pastoral problem, a real scourge for contemporary society, and one which increasingly affects the Catholic community as well. The Church’s pastors, out of love for the truth, are obliged to discern different situations carefully, in order to be able to offer appropriate spiritual guidance to the faithful involved.(92) The Synod of Bishops confirmed the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2–12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist. Yet the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children.

When legitimate doubts exist about the validity of the prior sacramental marriage, the necessary investigation must be carried out to establish if these are well-founded. Consequently there is a need to ensure, in full respect for canon law (93), the presence of local ecclesiastical tribunals, their pastoral character, and their correct and prompt functioning (94). Each Diocese should have a sufficient number of persons with the necessary preparation, so that the ecclesiastical tribunals can operate in an expeditious manner. I repeat that “it is a grave obligation to bring the Church’s institutional activity in her tribunals ever closer to the faithful” (95). At the same time, pastoral care must not be understood as if it were somehow in conflict with the law. Rather, one should begin by assuming that the fundamental point of encounter between the law and pastoral care is love for the truth: truth is never something purely abstract, but “a real part of the human and Christian journey of every member of the faithful” (96). Finally, where the nullity of the marriage bond is not declared and objective circumstances make it impossible to cease cohabitation, the Church encourages these members of the faithful to commit themselves to living their relationship in fidelity to the demands of God’s law, as friends, as brother and sister; in this way they will be able to return to the table of the Eucharist, taking care to observe the Church’s established and approved practice in this regard. This path, if it is to be possible and fruitful, must be supported by pastors and by adequate ecclesial initiatives, nor can it ever involve the blessing of these relations, lest confusion arise among the faithful concerning the value of marriage (97).

Given the complex cultural context which the Church today encounters in many countries, the Synod also recommended devoting maximum pastoral attention to training couples preparing for marriage and to ascertaining beforehand their convictions regarding the obligations required for the validity of the sacrament of Matrimony. Serious discernment in this matter will help to avoid situations where impulsive decisions or superficial reasons lead two young people to take on responsibilities that they are then incapable of honouring. (98) The good that the Church and society as a whole expect from marriage and from the family founded upon marriage is so great as to call for full pastoral commitment to this particular area. Marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to society itself.

Why are we even revisiting this idea? Because the Holy Father wants us to revisit this idea. And he’s wrong.

This isn’t about marriage, or about marriage and divorce. It’s about sex. It’s about divorced people who are remarried without an annulment (ie, adulterers) not wanting to follow the Church’s clear guidelines on reception of communion in a state of grave sin. They want their communion, and they want adulterous sex. They can’t have both.

Is that hard? Yes, it is. So is overcoming a great deal of sin which each of us has to struggle with every day. I’m not sure what places the divorced-and-remarried in a special category of sinner where they get a pass while the rest of us who stayed true to our vows have to keep toeing the line.benedict

Can I have some adulterous sex and still take communion? Cool! What if I was someone interested in gay sex? Could I do that and still take communion? Why not? What’s the difference? How about some other sins I like, like covetousness and lust and greed and gluttony and sloth? I’m pretty attached to some of them. If I go through a penitential period and decide my relationship to them requires that I persist in grave manifest sin, can I go on fornicating and envying and gorging? Why are we making special dispensations for people who follow the modern trend of disposable relationships rather than remaining true to their vows? Is this the bridge we want to die on?

Sin is a struggle. It’s a struggle for all of us. My sins are black as night. I don’t pretend for a second that I’m any better than an adulterer, but I’m also no worse.

Eucharist is not a prize, but it’s also not strictly a “medicine.” If you give a sick person a drug they’re unprepared for it may kill them. You don’t operate on a person in shock. You help the person get well (in this case, through the first-line drug of sacramental medicine: reconciliation). If a person is incapable of swallowing the first draught, they won’t benefit from, and may well be harmed by, the second. Restricting communion, then, is a mercy.

On the other side of the equation we have Christ and the parable of the workers: “Do you begrudge me my generosity?”

Do I? Yes, I do, a little. Should I? Probably not. Am I willing to submit will and intellect to the decisions of the church on the matter? Of course I am. That’s why I’m not getting caught up in the hysteria and hatred of the More-Catholic-Than-The-Pope types and their idiotic petitions and blogs.

I’ve commented very little on the synod and the issue of divorce here because I think it’s mostly irrelevant to the life of the faithful. The church goes through these upheavals, people get all worked up, and then things settle down.

If Humanae Vitae didn’t blow apart the church, there’s no chance this will. Humanae Vitae touches me and many other Catholics in a very deep and personal way, every day. Not being divorced, the treatment of the divorced touches me not at all.

I will be sad to see the discipline altered or devolved to the regional conferences because I think it’s wrong intellectually, logically, emotionally, traditionally, historically, culturally, and pastorally. But it won’t change a thing, and it certainly won’t destroy the Church for the very simple reason that the church is indestructible. Damageable? Sure. We’ve been damaging her for 2000 years. Yet there she is, and always will be, until Christ comes again.

Postscript: I didn’t intend to go off on a jag here and talk about these issues. I just wanted to add the Benedict quote to the discussion and be on my way. The rest just kind of came out, which is why it’s half-formed.

Some of this emerged from ongoing discussions, particularly Elizabeth Scalia. Her own take here is different and probably surprised her as well, but as with everything she writes, it’s worth reading and considering.

NY Times Joins the Temple Truthers

My history column for the Register this week is on Temple Trutherism. It’s like 9/11 Trutherism, only with slightly more anti-semitism!

Reporter Rick Gladstone shows us some of those high-quality skills you only get from journalism school by utterly ignoring the experts he interviewed and concocting a story about scholarly doubt as to whether the Temples were on the Temple Mount.

The New York Times found itself at the center of a firestorm last week after publishing an article that suggested there’s no proof the First and Second Temples ever stood on the Temple Mount. The claim is common among Palestinians and their allies eager to deny the historical ties of Jews to Jerusalem, but it’s shocking to find “the paper of record” giving credibility to the notion.

Archaeologists and Biblical scholars—including those quoted for the story—reacted with outrage on the internet. As with the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” hoax, social media and blogs drove the story, pouncing on errors in the report and forcing the Times to retreat with a flurry of corrections, retractions, and ultimately an “editor’s note” attempting to clarify the initial, highly biased piece.

The story, titled “Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place” was written by Rick Gladstone, a reporter and editor on the Foreign Desk, who interviewed several noted academics on the subject. Two of these these sources later issued statements saying their words had been used out of context in such a way as to wholly alter their meaning.

Read it all.

There is no scenario in which this was an honest error or just sloppy writing. The statements of Jodi Magness, certainly one of the most famous and respected experts on the subject, make it clear that she spent an hour outlining the facts for Gladstone, and he simply ignored them.

The New York Times is all arrogance, with little left to back it up. Witness this alarming, jaw-dropping exchange with a Times editor:

[Oren] called the New York Times editorial-page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, after the paper published an op-ed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which Abbas startlingly claimed the Arabs had accepted the UN Partition Plan of 1947. The conversation went thus:

“When I write for the Times, fact checkers examine every word I write,” I began. “Did anybody check that Abbas has his facts exactly backward?”

“That’s your opinion,” Rosenthal replied.

“I’m an historian, Andy, and there are opinions and there are facts. That the Arabs rejected partition and the Jews accepted it is an irrefutable fact.”

“In your view.”

“Tell me, on June 6, 1944, did Allied forces land or did they not land on Normandy Beach?”

Rosenthal…replied, “Some might say so.”


Gallicanism and the Synod

At the Register this week, I write about an idea floated by the German episcopate to go their own way on matters of “pastoral care” and damn what the Universal Church has to say. Trent’s already rendered the verdict on this approach, and pretending “pastoral care” isn’t the same as “discipline” doesn’t make it any less of a schismatic act.

Here’s the beginning:

Gallicanism, and its German sibling Febronianism, was the French notion that regional and state authority and custom have equal or greater authority than that of the pope representing the universal church. It’s not merely an extension of collegiality, but rather a semi-schismatic action that risks full rupture with the one holy Catholic and apostolic church by creating a host of alternate mini-magisteria.

And a version of it seems to be what the German episcopate wants for the Church.

Read the rest.

A new history post goes up at the Register every Monday.

How Scrivener Lost Me to Ulysses

Screenshot 2015-10-05 08.48.52


My coverage of the papal visit was a test bed for mobile computing and reporting. I did all of my writing on an iPad 2 with a Zagg keyboard. It was light, extremely portable, fit in a confined space, and did every single thing I needed.

When we were crammed into the chapel of the Basilica covering the papal mass, everyone was tripping over each other’s bulky laptops. (Some media are probably compelled to run some sort of enterprise software for submitting copy, but it’s 2015: let’s get with the program, people.) I almost knocked over the Macbook of the guy from the NY Times because his stupid mobile adaptor was jutting from the side like an 8-track cassette. Meanwhile, I was nice and tidy and able to transmit from a mobile hotspot tucked neatly out of the way in my pocket.

I used every app I had for writing: Googledocs, Textilus, iWriter, Drafts, and Byword. I would have included my desktop word processor of choice (Scrivener) in the test, but-oops!–there’s still no iPad version.

None of them did the job completely or well. I needed word targets, word counts, easy export, and some configuration options. I needed mobility between platforms, the ability to easily save notes on screen, multiple drafts that could be retrieved quickly, syncing, and a usable, sendable output.

Ulysses not only does all that on iPad, but it has a Mac app that equals, and in some cases rivals, Scrivener. Where Scrivener is a brutal fighter-jet cockpit of confusing options and ugly layouts, Ulysses is a gentle glider that provides much of the muscle of Scrivener with none of its outre options. Scrivener has the look of something designed by Bill Gates circa 1998. Ulysses has the stripped-down, distraction free elegance you want in day-to-day writing.

Ulysses is a plain text editor with Markdown support, which means you do inline formatting (or use a drop down menu: whatever floats your boat) and then export it using stylesheets that provide complete customization of output options. You can make these style sheets, or just download and install ones that fit your needs. The input is simple and the output is flexible and attractive. It outputs DOCX, HTML, PDF, ePub, and plain text. The lack of RTF is its only real failing.

It also has a full-screen distraction-free mode with an option for type-writer scrolling.

It also has a full-screen distraction-free mode with an option for type-writer scrolling.

Data for Ulysses is synced using iCloud, so it’s available on Mac or mobile, which is something I need because I’m always moving between the two. Documents are stored as “sheets” in folders, and can be sorted by folder, tags, or groups, making it easy to find things. Each sheet can have files attachments (including embedded images), allows for notes in a sidebar and annotations, and provides word counts and targets onscreen.

All of this is very simple to use, but there’s customization power there if you need it. The one thing I have left to resolve is its handling of footnotes, which is important for my nonfiction work.

The switch from Scrivener to Ulysses was not an easy choice, and Scrivener has only themselves to blame for delaying two years in getting out an iPad app. I still have a chunk of my research for a history book I’m writing in Scrivener, and I may keep it there or migrate it to Ulysses. Scrivener is still a powerhouse, and I admire many things about it, but it’s falling behind the curve. For my day to day work, I could not be happier with my choice.

Want Some More Catholic History and Archaeology?

"To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." Cardinal Newman

“To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” Cardinal Newman


Well tough, you’re getting it anyway.

This piece (which I talk about here) marks the first of a weekly series, appearing Mondays in the National Catholic Register. I plan to use the space to explore odd corners of Church history, sometimes just for fun, sometimes in order to shed a bit of light on a present issue or concern.

From time to time, I’ll check in with updates about new archaeological discoveries relevant to the Ancient Near East and Christendom. It’s sort of like what I do here, only better and over there.

There may even be comboxes. I’ll put on my happy face about that:

See? I'm delighted.

See? I’m delighted.

I’ve been rolling this around in my head for a while, since I’ve been writing more about history than tech lately. (I left my last tech magazine over the summer.) .

At the World Meeting of Families I ran into Kevin Knight, who I respect immensely for his vital work on New Advent. Kevin is right at the top of a very short list of the most important Catholics on the internet. He’s also now handling blogs for the Register and is passionate about history, so it’s a good fit.

I’ve been writing for the Register since about 2008. After I lost most of this year to health problems, I was able to step up and start working for them again during the papal visit, which was a special time for everyone who was there. I’m glad to be returning to work and doing something fresh on a topic I know and love.

Check me out there starting Monday. I’ll post links here and on social media.

Is The Synod the Most Dangerous Crisis in the History of the Church?

It is to hear some people tell it. I think it was this video that got me thinking about Pius VI, but all the daft ranting of the past year certainly played a part in my realization that people have no context for what they’re experiencing.2015-07-18 23.07.01

I’ve written a bit about Pius, his times, and the way they still impact our own for the National Catholic Register. Part of this is by way of urging you to ignore anyone saying this is “the most dangerous time in the history of the Church.” That’s pure bosh.

As I say in the piece, that’s cold comfort. The worst thing happening to the Church in our own times is the worst thing we can know. We have to deal with the problem in front of us. That’s the other reason I wrote about the particular period I did: in it lay the roots of the current problems. Here’s a bit of it:

Over the past year I’ve seen Catholics claim that we are in a uniquely dangerous place in the history of the Church. Many call it a crisis that could tear the Church apart. Some are saying it’s the worst crisis in the history of the Church.

The source of this crisis: the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family and the proposed revisions to the Church’s handling of divorced-and-remarried Catholics.

As crises go, it’s something less than, say, the early persecutions, the investiture controversy, or the Reformation, but one of the defects of modernism is that man feels himself at the center of history, in unique times where epic battles are being waged for the very future of the Church. (Note: An epic battle is always raging for the future of the Church.) It satisfies the tendency to self-dramatization and allows for free-form spleen-venting as people work out their issues under the guise of trying to save the Church from itself.

Read the rest.

I don’t care to argue with individuals and pick apart their posts. It just doesn’t interest me, plus Scott Eric Alt has been doing that with intelligence, wit, and style.

This is how I prefer to respond because it’s in my wheelhouse, and I think drawing back to the long view always helps put problems in their proper perspective, understanding them not as isolated moments that we react to one after another, but as part of an ongoing process of steering the barque, making course corrects, and, sometimes, rushing for the bailing buckets.

The weirdest part is that in 2014, a bunch of Catholic pundits seemed suddenly to notice that a coterie of liberal bishops was trying to chip away at the fundamental truths of the faith.

Liberal bishops have been doing this since Arius.

The perfect storm that seems to have unmanned so many is a combination of America’s decline under Obama; always-on electronic media (you’re soaking in it!) and its Godwinian drift into extremes; the sudden resignation of Benedict XVI, a rock of orthodoxy and liturgical renewal; his replacement with the undeniably more progressive Francis; the return to prominence under Francis of some liberal bishops who we’d hoped we’d seen the last of; and the mad media spinning of everything coming from the Vatican as they try to shove it into their narrow left/right culture war narrative.

None of these things alone would have allegedly sober publications calling schism and apostasy “inevitable.” That’s not merely irresponsible: it’s dumb. Fears feed on each other. Social/political unease creates the disturbed ground on which anxieties and doubts about the Church take root. We fear the mad pace of technological, economic, and social change will sweep the Church into its raging currents.

That’s a completely legitimate concern, and so we counteract it by continuing to represent the truth and expose the lies. There’s a really loud minority, however, who rush to the extremes and say insane things like the Pope hates god and is trying to destroy marriage. It’s like the meme says:


I only pay attention to the modern world when I have to. I’d like to think I have the pious faith of a medieval peasant, only with literacy and WiFi. I know that’s a pose, and I am very much a man of my generation. The transcendent affects each time in a different way, creating an irreproducible moment in the life of faith and the individual.

The Church is a bell summoning the world to conversion and repentance. The bell once rung fades until it is rung again, only next time it has a new tone, and each time thereafter. It’s the same bell, with the same clarity and the same heft. But each generation that turns to its sound hears the summons in a different way as the environment around both bell and sinner changes. The trick is to clear away the distortions and background noise that risk drowning out or warping the sound, and let our Truth–the only saving Truth–do what it’s supposed to do: draw sinners to repentance and salvation.

Podcast: Tarot, The Dark Lord, and Me

This week’s radio show with Dark Lord Mark Shea and me was really well received, even though I talked about those eviiiiil tarot cards. Mark’s been wanting to do this show for a year, and he figured it was a good fit for October. So he let me ramble on for an our

We spend the first 15 minutes talking about the Synod and slapping the hysterics and doomsayers across the face, shouting “SNAP OUT OF IT”!

Listen below or at the link above.