Cardinal Newman, Retrofitted

Poor Frank Weathers writes:

Um, why do I get these kind of comments?!

I thoroughly enjoyed your article ( and the comments) …Except for the image … a medieval castle is a very noble and special place for a true Catholic, and should not be inhabited by the kind of people that the image suggests ….

Medieval castles = sacrosanct. Duly noted. *cough*

This amazing vision of medieval history, which is remarkably unfamiliar with the sort of thing that went on in castles, makes me think of a conversation I once had with a friend of mine who was struck by the fact that, aside from bragging about the “riches of Catholic tradition” in arguments with Protestants, many and many a Catholic she had run into were quite as ignorant of Catholic history and tradition as anybody else and that it was not uncommon to get chewed out as a “modernist” by people who fancied themselves “Traditionalist” for noting something accurately about the Tradition that did not fit in with the cramped world of the Traditionalist.

I’ve noted this too. So for instance, when I pointed out some while back that there is, in fact, room for discussion of lay women cardinals and that no less then Fr. Benedict Groeschel and Cardinal Dolan had noted this as well, self-described Traditionalists had freaked out. Mind you, I don’t particularly endorse the idea (nor do I have panic attacks about it). I merely noted the fact that it is theoretically possible because it, you know, is. Suddenly, not just me, but Fr. Groeschel and Cdl Dolan were enemies of the Faith and modernists, etc. blah blah. By this was meant we stood in the medieval tradition of being able to consider ideas rather than in the peculiarly modern tradition of viewing all ideas only through the lens of ideological utility to maintaining unit cohesion and tribal identity.

St. Thomas could ask thousands of questions about things that were frankly heretical and invoke pagan and Muslim philosophers in answering those questions because he was not immersed in a culture that immediately charged him with being a “neo-Catholic” for doing so. We, alas, live in a time when ideas may not be ruminated on for their own sake but are always immediately assumed to be part of an “agenda”.

To be deep in history is to cease to be a Traditionalist.

  • Zach Foreman

    It is ironic that in the same post that bemoans many Catholics being “ignorant of Catholic history and tradition” the author should write that St. Thomas was “not immersed in a culture that immediately charged him with being a “neo-Catholic’” for investigating controversial subjects. In fact, during his lifetime and especially shortly after his death, he was attacked and indeed condemned for his views. Specifically, Thomas’s “baptism” of Aristotle caused many well-known theologians and prelates to attack Thomas for contaminating the purity of the faith. This culminated with the Condemnations of 1277 which specifically condemned several doctrines distinctive to Thomas. Books titled “The Corrupt Brother Thomas” were published by Dominicans shortly after his death.
    It is simply not the case that one was not in danger of being charged a neo-Catholic in 13th century Paris. Siger of Bribant was condemned for his teachings as was William of Ockham, specifically for his via moderna, which could be easily understood as “neo-Catholic”.
    BTW, I agree with you 100% about the theoretical possibility of women Cardinals. I place it in the same speculative category as “Could you receive all seven sacraments in one day?” as just amusing oneself and friends with Catholic esoterica.

  • Andy

    It is sad indeed – the Catholic Church has long been a proponent of learning and thinking – Thomas is a fine example, however, I think of Newman’s text about Universities, I look to the Jesuits (like them or not many are learned and thoughtful). A friend of mine who is also a priest taught me that to know God is to try and know his creations – not that we can truly understand them or God. He continued that God gave us our “brains” to use and to learn and to grow, not to hide them under a rock (or in may case a football and basketball).
    The idea of neo-catholic or new catholic being a problem seems to me rather foolish. As we live and learn how we see the world I hope changes – so we can find God in the world more clearly ad more readily. To me, at least, without thinking and without asking we become like the servitor in the parables who hid his God-given talents.
    I agree with you that to know our history appears to mean that you cannot be a traditionalist catholic, whatever that means. I was under the impression, I guess mistaken, that the Nicene Creed summed up our faith, and that those who are Catholic express a belief is what is says. Over the weekend I came across a statement (which I paraphrase as I don not have the book in front of me) which said that the difference between the Catholic Church and Protestant churches is that the Catholic Church allows for different spiritualities and has not fragmented, that the Catholic Church preaches and practices charity within its members, while the protestant churches fragment with new ideas. Have we as Catholics lost that. It appears from what I read here and elsewhere that the Catholic ability to find the common ground of the Nicene Creed and accept others who have the same beliefs is disappearing. A sad day indeed.
    By the way as a fan of Medieval History, castles were drafty and not really pleasant places to live. There were built out of fear and a desire to be unassailable. I don’t know that they hold any special place in Catholic History.

    • Ted Seeber

      “By the way as a fan of Medieval History, castles were drafty and not really pleasant places to live.”

      I would point out that given the standard building techniques of the time, Castles were not exactly unique in having this problem.

  • paladin

    “St. Thomas could ask thousands of questions about things that were frankly heretical and invoke pagan and Muslim philosophers in answering those questions because he was not immersed in a culture that immediately charged him with being a “neo-Catholic” for doing so.”

    Actually, he was immersed in controversy (as Zach points out). Come on, Mark, haven’t you read Chesterton’s book on him? There were extreme traditionalists and doctrinal immobilists back then too. For Thomas, some were called Augustinians.

    St. Francis and his friars met resistance to what they were doing, too. Being a friar was “radical” compared to the settled monastic tradition. Aquinas’s family would probably have been satisfied if he had become a powerful landed abbot. But a poor college professor/friar? For shame!!

    There are cranks in every age. It’s just that history usually forgets them (because they make nothing new), so we always think they’re a recent phenomenon. And therein lies a perverse source of comfort when dealing with their poison and nonsense. :-D

  • Pedantic Classicist

    Mark, I cannot internet-standing-ovation this ENOUGH. Excellent. Concerning the previous posters, fair enough, but realize that Mark’s overarching point still stands (and you kind of help his point really: the orthodox can get in trouble for considering all angles; allowing controversy was the heart of medieval academia). People unfortunately too often mistake convention for substance. Chivalry and castles are nice, and often imbued in literature with all kinds of great Catholic allegory, but that’s no reason to see them as equal in importance to Churches or to the Sacraments.

    The paradigm of the medieval mind is useful to us, NOT so much because St. Thomas is to Catholic theology what Bach is to music theory (granted, in certain ways, he kind of is) and therefore we should just memorize what he says and carry on, but because it offers us a world in which the profoundly faithful man can also ask any question about anything and wrestle with all possible objections and contingencies. Michael Flynn, to his credit, did a not half bad job of showing this in his Eifelheim. Father Dietrich is able, using just his medieval training, to divine a lot of things that are substantially correct about the weird travelers in the forest.

    Here’s an interesting game for students of St. Thomas to play. Not “what does St. Thomas say about….?” but rather “What WOULD St. Thomas say about….?” For I fully believe that St. Thomas and others of the same era would be able to deal quite comfortably with modern questions and debates without missing much of a beat.

    “By this was meant we stood in the medieval tradition of being able to consider ideas rather than in the peculiarly modern tradition of viewing all ideas only through the lens of ideological utility to maintaining unit cohesion and tribal identity.”

    Heh, Mark. I’m gonna remember that one for a long time. GLaDoS: “He says what we’re all *thinking*!” haha. Thanks. PC

    • Mark Shea

      Yep. I’m aware of the reaction of the Augustinians and the condemnation’s Thomas got. Nonetheless, the atmosphere he breathed is enormously different from our. Imagine somebody in our culture seriously attempting a disputatio. He’d be as alien as a Martian. And not just to slogan-shouting lefties. He’d also be foreign to Trads and 99 out of a hundred “conservatives”.

  • Eric

    Laywomen cardinals? Cardinals are priests by defenition — how is it that one can justify lay-women cardianls? Even laymen can’t be cardinals, and I don’t see the point of declaring someone to an honorary cardinalship. If it were true, one would have expected it would have happened already, and theoretically, the RCC could even have had a female pope.

    • Mark Shea

      No. Cardinal are priests by convention, and convention can be changed, which is why lay women cardinal are possible.

  • Ted Seeber

    Castles? Not for me. CATHEDRALS, yes, especially those with anchorages attached. Somehow, being an anchorite attracts me. If I end up surviving and losing my family somehow, if I end up the last one alive (doubt it, medically I’m the candidate for first-to-die) it would be a great retirement for a bachelor with regrets.

  • Observer

    Thomas’s point of view seems to run along the lines of…can an un-baptised person ever receive salvation (can he or she be saved)?

    The Church stated, “yes” in so far the person is disposed with the desire for baptism because he or she did not have the chance and satisfaction as the Church’s warrants what is necessary and efficacious enough to be baptised.

    In translation, God is the primary provident giver. He gives baptism through the Church inherited by Christ in the Holy Spirit.

    As far as woman cardinals, the conventions of canon law for the allowance as such must not jeopardize nor work contrary to the mission of the Church. And as such, the Apostles began to chooose successors (whe Judas was no longer with them – he past away.) As well, Christ chose the frist Pope (St. Peter.)

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    A medieval castle? A real one? Stone walls and stone floors. Always cold. As if a slight breeze was blowing through them, even in winter. No nice expansive windows – arrows could be shot in through them. Slit windows. Let in very little light. Torches and lanterns and fireplaces. Therefore the place was cold, drafty, and dim and smokey.

    Also, there was – how shall we say this . . . only the most rudimentary sanitation. Lots of people lived in the castle – soldiers, servants, retainers, guests, entertainers, musicians, as well as the lord and his family. After all, if the lord was to provide security, he needed a company of solidiers. And if the lord was to maintain his position in society as a true nobleman and not as just a chieftain of some gang of marauders, he had to entertain guests; he had to hold lavish banquets; he had to have other nobles for extended stays and provide charming entertainments for them. It took a lot of people to chop all that wood, boil and carry all that water, and then chop, mix, knead, bake, roast all that food from scratch – no Safeway; no Mickey Ds. Also – the laundry – no automatic washers, driers, no wash-n-wear clothing; everything had to be laundered and ironed by hand. And no electronics – no TV, only live music. You had to have servants, lots of servants, and entertainers, or you would be cold, bored, hungry, dirty, and have nothing clean to wear.

    All kinds of work and commotion going on all the time: Many people banging and carting, boiling and lugging, yelling and throwing, heaving and carrying, straining and clambering – just to carry on routine household chores that we do with the throw of a switch.

    In many early medieval castles, all those servants and soldiers, and guests and family slept in two rooms: the Hall for all of the men; the ladies in a single large room above, with a separate, curtained bed for the lord and his lady. Not much privacy, none, really. No peace and quiet. If you wanted peace and quiet, you went off by yourself into the woods. But not at night.

    Anyway back to sanitation: people didn’t bathe often because to do so was difficult and expensive. So almost everyone stank. And there they were crowded together in the castle. And there were no flush toilets – just a privy, usually reserved for the lord and his family and their higher-ranking guests. the privy was essentially an indoor johnny-on-the-spot, but with no chemicals. Just a pit. Same with the outhouse in the courtyard that the rest of the household used – soldiers, and servants, etc. Just a pit. So the privy and the outhouse would stink also. In fact, among the wealthier noblility, it was customary to pack up and move to a different family home every few months as the air in the house became too foul to breathe.

    An early medieval castle would have been a drafty, dank, dimly-lit, smokey, crowded, noisy, chaotic, evil-smelling place without any privacy and without any peace and quiet. Our forefathers and mothers were happy to abandon them as soon as they could!

  • http://g Hezekiah Grxarrett

    To hear my own ancestors tell it then, hygiene must be the last thing modernity changed, because most of you wouldn’t bathe on a continent covered in streams and rivulets of pure clean water.

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      I don’t know about the continent of Europe, but the water in the streams and rivers in the settled areas of England were in medieval and Renaissance times, undrinkable, due to agricultural, domestic animal, and human contamination. People – even children – drank ale and beer – which was considered safe to drink (the alcohol content, we now know, killed off many of the contaminants), so much so, that when the Pilgrims arrived on these shores, and sometimes had no ale, beer, or mead to drink, they were horrified at the prospect of having to drink water. Which to do in England, and presumably in the Netherlands, too, would have sickened them.

      I suspect rainwater, which would have been precious and carefully used, would have been collected and used to make the household ale and beer. If there was any available after that, it would have been heated and used for a bath before the kitchen fire – a special luxury.

  • Eric

    Nothing is simply convention. The hats are red for a reason.

    • Mark Shea

      Of course, there are human reasons. My point is that there is nothing in divine revelation about who can be a cardinal because the cardinalate is a human invention, like a finance council or some other human committee.


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