Thursday, January 29, 2009

Introducing Carl Sandburg

If you're not familiar with Carl Sandburg, you need to get to know him. Not that you'll ever get to meet him -- he's been dead for quite some time, but his words still resonate with power and beauty through his poetry. Even more exciting, many of his poems were never published, and they were recently published through the efforts of his daughter about five years ago. In addition, many of his poems that had been published were re-published in their original form. You see, Carl Sandburg wasn't always as concerned with ridiculing society as was his publishers, so he had to "tone down" many of his poems when first published because his publisher and editor, Alfred Harcourt, founder of the now-great publishing house, feared that he would offend too many powerful and wealthy people. Then, as is now, there was a fear of lawyers.

In my opinion, Sandburg was the first of the great American poets of the 20th Century. I know there would be a lot of debate among poetry lovers because there were many great poets during this time: Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings, Amy Lowell, and William Carlos Williams, but I think Sandburg gets the honor because he was definitely the first to write poetry for the common person. This brought him both enormous popularity with the masses as well as enormous criticism from the high-brow critics. But I love this component of him. He didn't take the high-road insofar as language was concerned. He wrote in the colloquialisms of the average blue-collar worker, and he wrote about things that concerned those people.

Sandburg was at first a Socialist, but not in the sense that we know the word today. During the early 20th Century, there was very little regard for workers, and there was a disparity between the working class and the wealthy. Workers were treated with disdain, and they had few rights. Through his poetry, he made it known that he despised greed, and he presented the plight of the common, average citizen in his poetry. The things that we take for granted today, he fought for, and much of his poetry helped pave the way for reforms such as social security for the elderly, health care for workers, safety regulations at work, public education, etc.

Just like all great movements, his writing was key to bringing these issues to the forefront, and then they gained momentum from there. I can't help but think of the great Russian artists, poets, and writers who were so influential in preparing the Russian philosophers for change in the late 19th Century. The arts do play an important aspect in regards to social change, no matter how much we ignore them today. In fact, I believe society's failure to regard pure art today is at the heart of our decline. We embrace greed and capitalism over creativity, and it shows in our values. My hope is that this tradition will change some day in the near future.

Sandburg was famous for embracing the Imagist movement which proclaimed that poetry should be written with vivid imagery, in the least amount of words necessary, and should avoid using rhyming if at all possible. Its objective was to create poems that became images in readers' heads which would allow them to have their own "revelation" as to the meaning of the poem. It was a clear, concise and very powerful way of writing poetry, and it often allowed poets to express their feelings with more freedom than Victorian poets could. Although the Imagists failed to last a long time as a school of poetry, Sandburg continued to write in that style, and his words captured the hearts of millions of people who had never read poetry before.

He also wrote a lot of free-verse, and sometimes mixed in free-verse with metered lines. I'm amazed at how good this works for the subjects he attacked. He is most famous for his poem, "Chicago," which was one of his earliest works, and this poem is an example of that mix. The first seven lines of the poem sum up the Imagist philosophy and his use of free verse, and I'll include them here:

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen
your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys....

I tell you, this is a beautiful and accurate portrayal of Chicago during the 1920s. Such a wonderful poem, I wish I could write out the whole thing for you, but I'm sure that you can find it on the Internet somewhere.

He's also famous for fighting Billy Sunday, a famous evangelist and preacher during the early 20th Century, and Sandburg despised him because he saw Sunday as a gimmick, fraud, and money-maker. Everything that Sandburg hated about society (greed, intolerance, false-promises from the wealthy) he saw in Sunday. Here is an excerpt from his poem "Billy Sunday:"

You come along -- tearing your shirt -- yelling about Jesus. I want
to know what the hell you know about Jesus?

Jesus had a way of talking soft, and everybody except a few
bankers and higher-ups among the con men of Jerusalem liked
to have this Jesus around because he never made any fake
passes, and everything he said went and he helped the sick and
gave the people hope...

He goes on to talk about Sunday's love of money, his penchant to friend the wealthy, and his desire to take money from the poor. He was most angry that Sunday preached a message that the corporate heads wanted the poor to hear -- stay satisfied with your lot in life and don't buck the system.

Can you see why the average Joe loved Sandburg? Look at how he wrote. He wasn't writing to the academia, and he didn't give a rat's ass (as he would put it) to what they thought. He was ambassador to the common person, the worker, and the poor, and he brought them art, and he gave them hope.

We need another Carl Sandburg today like nothing else. Poetry has been taken hostage by the academia. Poems no longer resonate with the average reader, and they do not reflect the thoughts, concerns, and issues that normal people experience. Too many poets are concerned with high-brow critics, and too many publishers are afraid to publish poetry that connects with the majority of the population. Why is this? I think it's because it's been too long since academia stole poetry, and it needs to go back to the people.

Well, as you can tell, this is what resonated in me over my break. Poetry is in me. It is me. But there's always been something about the system that bothered me, and my revelation came about this past weekend while reading Sandburg's poetry. No one has taken the baton from him since he died, and that's what I want to do. I need to do it, in fact. And since many doors have been opened to me to publish a book of my own choosing this year, I feel that I cannot let myself down on this one. I'm not the academia. I don't relish living off of high-English. Like Sandburg, I am fortunate to have an education, but I still have roots that are deep in the soil.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Reflection on Rest

The brief, but much-needed, mental hiatus is over. After working non-stop on a 360-page book over the past four weeks, I felt drained and exhausted, but I needed to work through it so that I could begin my next book with all due attention required. I literally crawled into bed after writing my last post and slept all afternoon. I was tired, and all of the late nights and early mornings had dragged me down.

This weekend, I did little thinking which is unusual for me, but I needed to give that muscle in my skull a little break. I mostly hung around the house and kept a low profile, but I did have time to spend with Sherry and the kids. In fact, I enjoyed taking Ian to the bookstore on Saturday afternoon just to watch him pick out books. There's a sense of pride in watching your four-year-old out-read kids twice his age, and I enjoyed talking to him about books he was reviewing for consideration.

Sherry and I also watched a movie together which we hadn't done in a long time. It was a very good movie, and we enjoyed just spending some cuddle-time in front of a roaring fire in the dark. Every married couple needs these times together, and I will make it a point to do that more often. On Saturday, she had to go to her parent's house to stay with her grandfather while her parents were visiting my family in North Carolina, so Ian and I spent one night as bachelors. That was a lot of fun too, and I "dumbed out" by watching some movies with him. He and I also worked on his piano lessons a lot during that time, and that was enjoyable.

Taking the short break made me realize how important my family is to me, and I understand how much I work during the day and night when I'm engrossed in a book that I'm writing. You can't see those things when you're in the middle of them, but when you step back, it's easy to see. I'm so grateful that I'm able to work from home, and I see my family more during the day than most fathers and husbands do, but when work is at home, it's easy to get sucked back in at any time, so there are the advantages and disadvantages of this scenario. The important thing, I have realized, is when I do have a chance to back off, I need to take that opportunity. That piece of advice came from my father and Sherry, and it's good advice.

In the heat of working on this last book, I also became confused as to my goals as a writer beyond ghostwriting. With work under my own name, I tend to want to write for profit first, but taking the break made me realize that I have to write from the heart first, and that is where success will come. That was a nice reminder, especially during a time when I turned the old brain off. It's been said many times that "if you write to sell books, you won't sell books." That's very true. Art must come from the heart. That's where the inspiration lies, and that's where the true depth appears. So, there you have it -- my direction was focused through this break as well.

Anyway, those are my notes following the break. There's just not a lot to say because I've kept my attention focused away from thinking too much. But, now that I'm rested, I've turned the brain back on, and now it's time to start writing my next book. Other opportunities are arising every day, and I'm just going to keep in mind the need for a short mental break between them. Not only is it refreshing, it's necessary. And through each project, I strive to make the process easier each time so I don't lose the balance that is necessary for happiness.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mental Exhaustion

I don't have a physical job at all. In fact, I can't have one, but that's another story. I see people every day who work hard, and I know that they're physically tired when they walk through the door of their homes each night. Work is hard. I've done my fair share of hard work in my life, although my dad and brother would never admit it! There's one thing for sure, though, and that is there is another kind of exhaustion from work -- mental exhaustion.

I hit this point several times a year after I've worked on a few projects at a time, and this is a busy time of year for me. I finished a book in December, worked on a large marketing portfolio for a firm, re-wrote another book, and am preparing for a book that I have to have finished by March 31. All the while, I'm struggling with what my next book is going to be. After going through this cycle, I feel like I need a break.

I just read an article about Michael Phelps. When he was training hard, and especially during the Beijing Olympics, he talked about the fact that all he did was swim, eat, sleep and swim, eat, sleep. By the end of the Olympics, he was so exhausted that he couldn't sleep. Then, he got off his schedule and did nothing except for capitalising off of his success, and that drained him too. Now, he's back in the pool, a little heavier, and out of shape, and he talked about how good it felt to get back on a schedule. Now he's getting to be every night at 10 - 10:30, and he has a routine. And, although he's hurting right now because he just started working out, he feels much better.

I kind of feel the same way. For the past three months, I've really done nothing but write, eat, sleep and write, eat, sleep. I've worked on so many projects at one time that it became downright debilitating, and now I'm paying for it. I'm not getting enough sleep, I'm not eating correctly, I'm not able to concentrate like I should, I'm stressing about what my next book should be about, and I feel drained all of the time.

I think all writers go through these cycles each year, especially those of us who ghostwrite so much because we are forced to live other people's lives, feel their emotions, and put their words on paper. We begin to become saturated with their lives as well as our own, and that, in itself, can be draining. But the multiplicity of thoughts has been draining as well, and that is another common concern for ghostwriters. Too much time researching, too much time in front of a computer monitor, and too much time not living life.

Fortunately, I'm coming into a position where I can get some relief. I'm now down to one project for now, while I have another sitting there to air out and breath for a few weeks. The other project is almost done, and all I have to do with it is make some minor adjustments and smooth out the transitions. So, I will hopefully be able to get on a schedule that I can stick too which will include more time with my family and less time stuck in the back office of my house typing.

I am still stressed about my book. There's no secret in the fact that my goal is to write under my name only and to stop ghostwriting and editing in the future. That will take time, but I have a goal and a direction, and I'm going to get to that point. What I'm struggling with is the topic and genre. I want this book to be a "coming-out" party where I will have an opportunity to reach a larger audience than in the stuff I've written before. Hence, you will see many "experimentations" in fiction on my website where I've explored different topics and genres. Fortunately, I've had a few people spotlight one excerpt in particular which they said they wanted to read more about, and that lets me know that it could be a winning idea.

And do you know what the best thing about it is? Well, there are two best things. The first is that it would be different from anything I've been ghostwriting about which will give me a little diversity. That's much needed at this point. The second thing is that it will be a book dedicated to my father because it's going to use bits and pieces of his military accomplishments and experiences. Right now, I don't know if it's going to be his story or not because I've never been able to get the man to talk to me about everything he did in a way that I could use it to write a book, but I have enough there to lay the ground for the time-period at least. We'll see where it goes, but I think I have something there that will reach a broad audience.

Anyway, this has been a lumbering rant about nothing really. It's been a rant from an exhausted mind. I think a day or two off in the near future will be needed. I want to take my four-year-old son on a train trip because he loves trains, and I'm thinking that it would be nice, in the very near future, to take a trip to see my parents in North Carolina -- just me and him. I'll probably take my laptop, or maybe I won't. We'll see how I feel at that time!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Theological Debate Ensued

I have been involved in a very inspiring theological debate with people who I would never have thought I would be debating -- extreme members of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX)! The very group that I am a member of. I would expect strong opposition from the Archdiocese of Baltimore or my own parish priest regarding my upcoming book, but I have not. After discussing it with my priest, he somewhat looked at me dumbfounded and said that it was over his head. Oh well... I like him very much, and I think he was playing coy with me just to avoid debate, but he did avoid it, and kudos for him. He's a good man, and I enjoy his homilies.

Members of the SSPX are pretty conservative folks, let me tell you, and I have a connection with them on some points, but, as I found out over the past few days, there are some points that I am more inclined to disagree with them on from a theological perspective. For example, the SSPX states that I am an apostate if I go to Mass at my parish and receive communion from my priest because it is believed that my priest is not worthy to administer the sacraments due to his vows under the Vatican II Conference. Hogwash! Christ will not judge me for participating in His Church and taking His sacrifice because of that, and I vehemently defend my priest and parish in that regard.

But, the SSPX are also "liberal," in my opinion, in that they reject the early Church. They only want to believe in the Church as it existed between the Council of Trent and the Vatican II Conference. When I made my argument that the Council of Trent made erroneous changes to Jerome's Vulgate, and when I stated that Pope Sixtus ruined the Vulgate, and that it had to be hastily corrected after being published and released -- oh boy, watch out -- I'm an apostate! According to one person, "the Council of Trent is the holiest of Councils. How dare you question its authority! I shall pray for you. You are a Protestant!"

After two days of debate against about ten people -- all students of the SSPX seminary in Minnesota -- I finally convinced them that I was correct from a historical and rhetorical perspective. Actually, one of their professors probably made them aware that my argument was sound, and there was no denying its validity.

I made the same points that I've been making in my posts. To begin with, Jerome's translation was considered inspired by the Holy Spirit for 1200 years by Church Theologians. I made the point that the early Church Fathers acknowledged Plato as having been inspired when he developed his point about Truth versus truth through copies. I made my point about language, how it evolves, how it has colloquialisms, and how an entire message can be changed by re-defining a few words.

In addition, I pointed them to the original writings of the Cardinals who opposed the changes to the scripture at the Council of Trent, as well as Saint (Cardinal) Bellarmine's writing about the errors of the changes. Then, I taught them about the early Church history and what being "Catholic" really means.

These young seminarians want to be leaders, but they want to follow the Church instead of Christ, and when I mentioned the fact that the Church is human, and the Pope is the successor of Peter instead of Christ, I believe I made a few of them angry. Some probably had to go to confession afterwards. But it is true, and that's what God wanted through the foundation laid by the Apostles, Paul, and the Early Church Fathers.

At first, they didn't want to believe that anything exists other than the Church, and that people have the right to read the Bible. Perhaps they still believe this, but I made it a point to explain to them that God never changes -- He doesn't need to -- and He states that He won't change. I stated to them that only man and society changes, and that changes to the Bible could not have been inspired by God because that would have been contradictory to God's message, and that, in and of itself, would make God fallible. I also pointed out that their very stance against Vatican II is the same stance I take with the Council of Trent. I received no responses from those last two points, by the way.

I believe the issue around the Holy Scriptures is the single-most important discussion in the Church today. The Bible is God's word to us, and faulty translations lead to faulty decisions. Changes are made, not because God wanted them, but because man wanted them. Yes, the Pope is the leader of the Church, but he is not He, if you get what I mean, and therein lies the core issue with these seminarians.

What this debate taught me is that I'm stuck in the middle. I'm not on either side. There are things that I like about both sides of the Church, and there are things that I dislike. Perhaps God put me in this position for a reason, so that I can speak to both sides. In fact, because my beliefs go back to that early Church, the Church between Christ and the Middle Ages, then I speak to all Christians because we all share that common Church. Again, I believe that all of the division and schisms developed because, first, the Bible was taken from the people in the Middle to Dark Ages, and the Popes took on the role of Christ; and, two, because the Bible has been changed too many times to fit the needs of whatever society, denomination, or priest (minister/preacher for Protestants) wanted to believe in. This is what has kept the Church weak.

On a final note, that is exactly what I left those Pope-centered seminarians with. I reminded them that the Church began to fail Christ when the Popes decided that they wanted power, and they became Christ on earth rather than successor of Peter, and that is exactly the same direction they are heading today if they continue with this line of reasoning. I understand why they have those beliefs. It is because they want to change the Vatican by putting in a strong Pope who can unite the Church. However, two wrongs don't make a right.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Through Humor, Truth is Found

I would like to share with you a little humor from the "Laugh!:)" section of the January 2009 Reader's Digest. I am the first to believe that, through humor, truth can be found. In other words, for a joke to be funny, it must have relevance and semblance to reality. Here are two jokes that support part of my argument against the post-Vatican II Church:

"The new monk is assigned to copy the old texts by hand. Noticing that he'll be copying from copies and not from the original manuscripts, he tells an elderly monk, 'If there was an error in the first copy, that error would be continued in all the subsequent copies.'

"The elderly monk agrees and goes to the cellar with a copy to check against the original. Hours go by and nobody sees him. Concerned, the new monk searches for him in the cellar. Hearing wailing, he finds the old monk leaning over one of the original books. Looking up, he sobs, 'The word is celebrate.'"

Obviously, this joke speaks the truth about making copies from copies, and supports Plato's argument that reality is removed further from the original Truth with each copy made. A joke, yes, but a truth nonetheless. This joke is symbolic of today's Church -- a copy of a copy of a copy. Errors upon errors. Truthes rather than Truth.

The next joke is as follows:

"The so-called Wicked Bible," published in 1631 in England, reads "Thou shalt commit adultery." The printers forgot that all-important 'not.' They were fined."

Once again, another joke that boils down to copies of copies against an original. There are two copies in my argument: one revolves around copies and re-writing of the original God-inspired translation by Saint Jerome; the second involves copies and re-working of the original God-inspired Church of the Early Church Fathers. All support the facts that copies are not Truth.

No one knew this more than Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Archbishop Lebebvre was the central Apologist for the original Church in the 20th Century, and he founded the Society of Saint Pius X as a result of his disagreements with the Church regarding the Vatican II Council. He stood against a liberal agenda, and he fought against a liberal Church. He believed what I believe from a doctrinal position, and he was chastised by two Popes for his beliefs. Oddly enough, our current Pope, Benedict, made an agreement with him up to a point, yet Benedict turned his back on him when he continued to proclaim his position that the Church was out-of-step with God's calling.

Again, I state that there is an arrogance with this new Church that bothers me to the core, and many Catholics today are vehement that they know doctrine so well, yet they do not. They only know what they are taught through publications written and printed by this post-Vatican II Vatican. Why do they fear the history and the truth about the changes within the Church? Why do they reject the historical realities? Why don't they recognize the decline of the Church? Why wouldn't they want to correct this problem? The answers lie in the fact that God's way isn't the easiest way. It's not the "politically correct way." Our Popes now apologize for telling the truth. They fear the political ramifications of speaking for Christ. They fear reading the true Holy Bible. They want the easiest road to follow; not the path that Christ was forced to limp up while dragging His cross.

By coming to the Church through the Society of Saint Pius X, I am prevented by this post-Vatican II Church from doing anything other than partaking of Mass and being a member of the congregation. Unless I do what Pope John Paul asked of Archbishop Lefebvre and renounce my beliefs. That will not happen. Lefebvre believed that this new Church is one step removed from the anti-Christ. I'm not sure that is the case, but I am sure that its members are afraid to hear the facts, even when they're told through popular jokes such as the ones I included in this post.

Saint Jerome would have been appalled at this new Church, and he would have spoken his mind. As you will find out, he was known for being combative over Church issues, and he was not afraid to stand his ground and defend that which he knew was right. And why should he have? God was on His side, whispering in His ear, and guiding His pen. We need more Saint Jeromes and Archbishop Lefebvres in this Church today to bring it back to God and to bring it back to its rightful place as the true Catholic Church.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Catholic Church: How It Evolved

Now that I've spent some time discussing the origins of the Church, I would like to discuss how it has become that which it is right now. As I pointed out in my last post about the Church, the original Church was founded by the Apostles, Paul, and the Early Church Fathers, and these men built the Catholic (universal) Christian Church in association with the teachings of those who either knew Christ or who knew those who did know Christ.

This was a Church trying to define itself, and as all youths, it went through periods of identity formation, and it had issues and heresies that it had to work through. But, as God led the Church, he laid His hands upon the right people at the right time in order to allow the Church to stay the course and grow. Saint Jerome, of course, is one of the early Church leaders who God led through a personal calling to translate the Bible into Latin so that the Western Church could grow and unite itself.

This, in and of itself, is important because the Western Church had to be the one that prospered for Christianity to survive. As I mentioned before, early in Church history, the Eastern Church was more powerful, yet it was full of heresies and immoral people who achieved rank due to the influence of political powers, and this Church, at that time, was not a reflection of Christ's teachings. Had that Church prospered, and had Arianism won out, the Christian faith would have faltered. Of course, God, in His infinite wisdom, would not let that happen, and the Western Church was guided to eventually become the Church of Christ -- the true Catholic Church.

Before I get to the main point of my line of posts, I want to cover two things, one of which I will discuss in this post: I want to look at how the Catholic Church evolved over time to what it is today, and I want to look at Saint Jerome. Once I have expounded upon those two topics, then I feel like I can move into my main rhetorical point.

In my opinion from deep study of Church history, I have defined three moments in time that altered the Catholic Church to the point where it is today. And by "altered," I am not just stating a gradual shift; I am implying a major turning point. Contrary to what many Catholics believe today, I do not believe that these times in history led the Church closer to God. I believe that they took the Church further from God's true message that was taught in the early Church. Those three periods are:
  1. The Church's growth as a "political" power;
  2. The Catholic/Protestant Reformation; and
  3. The Vatican II Council

I believe that each of these periods of time define the Church as it is today, and I disagree with the fact that they were all led and guided by God because many of these events shifted the Church away from the message of the early Church, and they were shifts due to either political or social changes.

Beginning with the Church's growth as a political power, it is well-taught in Protestant circles that the Catholic Church, during the Middle Ages, became a Church of greed, land ownership, military power, and heresy. The Protestant's are correct, and Catholic theologians cannot deny that either because they addressed these issues during the Renaissance during various Councils after the Protestant Reformation. This led to the lesser known Catholic Reformation, and it was a time where the Church took a step back and looked at what it had become, and it wanted to change its ways.

The early Church Fathers and the early Church were focused upon God and spreading Christ's message. Conversion was the chief concern, and this Church focused upon theology first because it was forced to due to the necessity of defining itself. The doctrines of the early Church are the core doctrines of the Church today, and the beautiful thing about it was that the Church evolved into a Catholic (universal) Church because of the many cultures of its converts, and that was God's desire. This was to be a Universal Christian Church for the world, not just for one people. That was Christ's purpose -- to bring salvation to all. For example, during this time, the liturgy and the institution of the Eucharist and the canon of the Mass were developed, and the layout of the church was created taking on a combination of Jewish and Roman elements that each culture could appreciate. In addition, the hierarchical structure of the Church began to form as we know it today, the concepts such as Apostolic Succession and the Primacy of Peter led to the seat of the Church being in Rome. Doctrines such as Transubstantiation, Baptism, and Excommunication were formed. And in dealing with Greek and Roman cultures, doctrines of Truth and the Infallibility of the Holy Scripture was made doctrine. Another important effect of Jerome's translation of the Bible is the fact that terms were defined correctly, as God wanted it, that took power of the Church away from the political rulers, and this is what ultimately led to the Papacy -- one leader of the Church, separate from leaders of kingdoms. In fact, as you recall, this was one of the heresies of the Eastern Church, and Christ even taught to give to God what is God's and to give to Caesar what is Caesar's. In addition, this was the time when Mary was exalted as being the mother of God -- called by God to give birth to God's earthly presence. This was an important moment for the Church because the opposing view raised by the Arians was that Mary was not important, and she did not give birth to God. She gave birth to a good person, but not to God's Son, Christ. This also led to the understanding of the Holy Trinity.

You see, in that long paragraph, what I was outlining was the tenets of the Catholic faith. They were pure tenets, let by men who were led by God to create the Christian Church and the doctrines of the Church that He wanted the Church to be built upon. If any of these doctrines were left out, the Church would not have survived. It would have fallen, and it would not be able to spread Christ's message throughout the world. So many times during this period, the Church father's would go back to Plato and reason, and coupled with prayer and divine inspiration, they were able to build the faith.

But after a thousand years, or so, the Church began to take a different vision of itself. It moved away from the purpose of the Church as Christ commanded, and it became a state in and of itself. During the Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages, the Church became the largest landowner of all of the kingdoms of the earth. It had military might, and it became gluttonous with wealth. It was a time when the Roman Empire fell apart, Islam became a powerful religion, and invasions of other peoples swept through Europe. While it is true that the Church did provide much law and order during a lawless time, it is also a period where the Church began to react to social and political issues. The Pope's power grew through a fight with falling emperors, and Pope Gregory VII laid down laws that became the structure of the Church. He essentially appointed himself ruler of the earth with the ability to dispose of emperors and that the Pope is the only person who is allowed to interpret God's message. This was a time where Christ was taken from the people and the clergy and was given to the Pope only. It was also the beginning of the Crusades -- an attempt to defeat Islam by bringing people to Christ through physical force rather than the moving of the Holy Spirit.

In the Middle Ages, the Papacy declined. Greed and wealth formed the basis of decisions made by the Pope. To get more money from people, taxes were exacted from those living on Church lands, Bishop and Cardinal appointments were awarded to those who could afford to pay for those appointments, and the all too famous doctrine of Indulgences was used. Indulgences were monetary payments for the forgiveness of sins. Worse than anything, the Bible was taken from the people and was held in a state of suspense by the Pope. It was taken because, taking it from the people meant that they could not discover, on their own, that the Pope was acting contrary to God's teaching. This was a dark period of the Church, and it could not be any further from what God commanded His Church to do. But, as God has proven over the course of time, He let the Church, His child, stray as any parent would because of the lessons it would teach from the results of its sins. Not all was bad, though, during this time because there were many people and priests who knew that the Church had strayed, and these people began to start Holy Orders (Monastics) who disagreed with the teachings of the Pope, and who wanted to retain the original mission of the Church. These people had a profound impact upon Christianity, and many of them worked tirelessly to make copies of the Bible to put back into Priests and laity's hands. So, in all bad things, some very good things did happen, and I believe that was one of the chief reasons God let the Church fall from grace.

As we all know, this is what led a certain priest named Martin Luther to begin a revolution against the Church. He was especially concerned about the greed of the Church, the sins of the Popes, and the Indulgences demanded. He posted his Theses, and he founded a Protestant Church, separate from the Catholic Church in an attempt to get back to Christ and His teachings. This Protestant Church was very much similar to the Catholic Church (now we have to say Catholic because of the separation), but it took away the concepts that Luther believed were part of the problem with the Church he once served. He took away the role of the Pope, he brought Christ back to the people, he brought the Bible back to the people. However good Luther's intentions, I do not believe that this is what God wanted. This further fractured the universal Church, and it created a scenario where anyone who had a different perception of Christ's teachings could start their own Church. It gave those who wanted to take "this" from the Bible but "leave" that alone the opportunity to do so, and that is proven by the hundreds of splits seen in the Protestant Church today. How can it be that God had one message, but there are hundreds of churches out their proclaiming different messages? It can't be, and this is not what God wanted. He wanted the early Church's message. But as God planned, humans are not perfect, and the one gift that we have is the gift of making choices. He gave that to us for good or bad. In regards to the Protestant faith, it just proves Plato's point that the further removed you are from the original source, the further removed you are from Truth.

What many people don't realize, however, is that the Catholic Church responded to Luther's split by having its own Reformation. That is called the Catholic Reformation, and it occurred during the 1400s and 1500s as a response to all of the upheavals of the Christian faith. It was responding to new Protestant faiths such as the Calvinists and the Anabaptists. Also, it was responding to split of King Henry VII of England because he was not granted the right to divorce. As a result, he started his own church -- the Church of England. Following that, King James decided to have his own Bible to suit the new Church of England, created not from a translation pure like Jerome's, but created with the intent to suit the political and social components of this new church.

In an attempt to reform and to hold onto the message of Christ, the Catholic Church turned itself partially around during this transformation. I say partially because it did not come full circle back to the Early Church. It made some changes that were necessary like the elimination of Indulgences and return of land to political rulers, and it began to look towards Christ more than money, but it also did some things that were not good because this was a Reformation from a social and political necessity, so returning to God's message was not it's primary motivator. In fact, it was not a motivator at all. The motivation came from losing churches and members. The motivation came from losing power.

One thing that it needed to do was to focus itself upon being a Church that helped the needy and poor, and through people such as Cardinal Bellarmine, this was made a reality. He recognized that the Church had to follow Christ's example, and being the leading scholar of the Church during this time, he was very influential in turning this part of the Church around. I've written about him before in previous posts. He was a godly man, and he gave everything he had to the poor. He lived Christ's message, and He gave this gift back to the Church.

However, Saint Bellarmine was also involved in something that was not good for the Church, and in his defense, he did not want to be involved in it at all, but he was forced to by the popes he served under: Sixtus V and Clementine. At the Council of Trent, it was made known that a revision of the Bible had to be made. Pope Sixtus V took it upon himself to make the changes, and according to Saint Bellarmine, he really made a mess of the Holy Scripture. Prior to the Pope's death, he had this new Bible published. After he died, Saint Bellarmine, under Pope Clementine's authority, changed the Bible to suit the requirements of the Council of Trent. This was a tragedy and will be discussed in later posts.

For the most part, though, the Church as a whole turned back towards God after this time, and its focus on missions and converting those who had never heard the word of Christ became its driving force during the 18th and 19th centuries. Although different in Theology from the original source, it was by no means void of God, and Christ's message was delivered powerfully by faithful priests and monks who explored new lands and settled in new regions. South America, Central America, and the western United States are forever grateful to these men of God for what they did to lead people to Christ and take care of those in need.

The final turning point of the Church as I see its move from the pure, original Catholic Church, was in the 20th Century at the Vatican II Council which took place between 1962-1965. This was another attempt of the Church to change its ways based solely upon social and political issues. This was a period following two world wars, and it was a Council that followed up the First Vatican Council that ended abruptly in 1870 with unfinished business due to controversies of the topics discussed. I'm not going to discuss this Council in much detail because it was a very controversial Council and was opposed by many Bishops throughout the world from the beginning, and it was founded upon a vagueness that eluded many who attended. There were many topics on the table, however, and many of those topics included those things which were never approved, so it is not necessary to discuss them.

The chief change, however, that this Council produced that changed the direction of the Church was that the Mass was changed from its original Latin into the vernacular of the people. This was hailed as a massive success because it allowed Catholics to worship in their own tongue. I actually do not disagree with this component, but the by-product of it was a hastily put together of a new missal that was translated not so accurately. Once again, the Mass itself was removed further from the Truth and God's word. The liturgical battles that followed were not a result of the language of the Mass itself (not the priest's sermon -- that had always been in the language of the people, but the Lectionary and Sacramentary), it was a result in the fact that many Bishop's feared that this would further remove the true message of God from the Mass. And this was proven correctly as new editions of the Bible began to appear as a result. New translations in every language, many of them poorly done; many of them inaccurate; and all of them translated, not from Jerome's inspired Bible, but from the revised Bible of Pope Sixtus V -- the one that Saint Bellarmine had to scramble to correct hastily during the Catholic Reformation.

It was during Vatican II, as well, that the Church began to "liberalize" itself and try to fit the needs of modern societies that believed in humanism. Instead of becoming more conservative, and instead of going back to God's original Church, it became more of a part of society. It fell into the trap of post-modernism, and it began to question some of the ways the Church presented itself. I don't have to prove the Church's downfall from this. The statistics are there. After Vatican II, church attendance dropped dramatically, fewer clergy have entered the priesthood, and the message of the Church has been focused on social rather than religious issues. Doing good is only part of God's message. Salvation is the other part, and this has become a Church of following a protocol that looks at symbolism over God's word, and much of that is due to the dilution of God's word through the translations of the Holy Scripture.

Oddly enough, while the Church is barely thriving, priests are acting in not so holy ways because God's calling for the priesthood has been replaced with an academic calling. Fewer holy men are wearing the priest's collar, and, as a result to get priests, the wrong people are entering priesthood. Men who are not following God's word; men who are part of the world. This is not an issue of celibacy. The role of the priesthood is to follow Christ. The issue is that the Holy Spirit is not moving this Church like it did in the early Church, and the Church is suffering as a result because of decisions made by a people who have the God-given right to make choices, good or bad.

Ironically, too, the Church has become arrogant about this new look. It's proud of itself, and it embellishes doctrines that turn people away from coming back to its pews. It focuses itself on issues that were not part of the early Church, and it will continue to decline until the Vatican opens up it secret library and lets Jerome's translation become the starting point for new, God-inspired translations of the Bible.

But, fortunately, just as occurred during the Dark and Middle Ages, Bishops and priests who are godly have stood up and have started their own "monastic" revolts. I came into this Catholic Church through one of those movements, and I am looked down upon in Post-Vatican II churches because of that. Where I live, there are no churches or missions for these societies because the Archdiocese of Baltimore, one of the most powerful Archdioceses in the United States, has firmly stood for Vatican II.

My next post will be about Saint Jerome, and I will take that opportunity to explore his life in an effort to show God's moving through him, and how his work impacted the Early Catholic Church as well as the teachings of that early Church that God was living in. After that, I will take a look at the rhetorical argument regarding Truth versus truth in relation to translation and God's message as it has been diluted over time to create a diluted Church.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Brief Tangent Upon the Subject of Greed

I want to take a short break from the focus of these past posts and talk about the subject of greed because that has been on my mind of late, and I feel the need to write about it. During my next post, which will probably be tomorrow, I will return to the focus of Rhetoric, the Bible, and the Church, but right now, I want to talk about greed.

Where we are at right now with the economy is all because of greed. Greed and the pursuit of happiness through money have created a situation where everyone is in debt, including the government of the United States of America. Were it not for greed, risky mortgage loans would never have been purchased and traded in the stock market. You see, they were purchased because people knew they would make quick money, but they were not thinking about the long-term effects of their purchases.

Were it not for greed, mortgage lenders would not have taken advantage of unsuspecting homeowners who financed more than they could afford. These risky loans made these mortgage brokers rich very quickly, and they were only thinking about making money for themselves and not taking care of their clients.

Were it not for greed, realtors who knew the finances of their clients would not have shown them houses that were too much for them. They would not have pushed the McMansions, and they would have taken people to homes they could better afford. It's ironic that these McMansions are nothing more than facades anyway -- just a bigger and better cookie-cutter neighborhood with small lawns and no privacy. They provide the image of wealth without the quality of construction, yet they cost just as much as a well-built home. An effect of the builders' greed as well.

Were it not for greed, home-buyers would not have been trying to live a false life, seeking happiness in possessions that they could not afford in order to maintain an image and lifestyle that they were unable to pay for. Greed led them down a dark path in the decisions they made, and they overlooked poor quality and saw the size of the home and the pretty pictures painted by sales people who profitted off of their dreams of greed.

When I was in sales, I would go into people's homes. I walked into the McMansions with the BMWs and Hummers sitting outside, and I would walk into the halls of a faux-palace to find that there was no furniture in the house. I even went into one home where the wife confessed that they could not afford a washer and dryer, so they were taking their clothes to a laundromat instead. Yet, these people had a million dollar home and over a hundred thousand dollars worth of cars sitting in the driveway. Greed got them to that point, and there was no happiness in those households. They could not afford to keep up with home maintenance, and they also realized that the builders had duped them by building those million dollar homes with the poorest of materials. Mortgaged to the hilt, trying to heat a 10,000 square foot home, these people were forced to put plastic over new windows and patch rotting wood. They were trapped in their lives by greed.

During this time, I had a manager who preached greed. He worshipped at the altar of money, and he encouraged all of us to be "hungry" and to buy so much stuff in our own lives that we would be "hungrier" for more money. That was his philosophy, and I did make a boat-load of money at the time which was nice, but I fell prey to his belief system, fortunately, though, only for a short period of time. This manager owned two homes. One was in Pennsylvania, and it was decked out with the biggest and best of all things -- jacuzzi, underground concrete swimming pool, massive deck, playroom, large master bedroom, and the finest furniture around. He owned another home in Florida where he spent an enormous amount of time. He flew to Florida in his own twin-engine airplane, and he kept a brand new Corvette down there to compliment the Corvette he kept in Pennsylvania, along with another luxury car and a new van. He also owned a huge boat in Florida with a $100,000 pier. He bragged about all of this stuff, and it consumed him. Greed owned him, and he wanted us to follow his ways.

We always joked that he seemed drunk all of the time, and that he was a chain-smoker. It seemed that something was wrong in his world, and then he began to make bad business decisions, and money was being taken away from us in unethical ways. He eventually got fired. I haven't heard from him since, but a friend of mine who still works for the company has, and my ex-manager is in pitiful shape now. All of this greed has torn him down. I found out that he had mortgaged himself to the hilt to buy all of the things that he bought, and that he had credit card debt over $100,000. He had everything, but he owned nothing, and he was now trying to sell his airplane and house in Pennsylvania at bargain prices just to get by each month. On top of it all, his wife developed cancer during this time, and his medical bills piled higher. Greed put him in a position where he could not take care of his own family, and now I feel sorry for him. I don't know why. He built his own world, but he built it upon the wrong foundation. Worst of all, he tried to lead me down that path just like a drug addict tries to get other people hooked so they don't feel alone in their addiction.

Yet, he and everyone else caught in this trap, blame the economy for all of their troubles instead of looking in the mirror. The consumers blame the banks, and the banks blame Congress for the problems. Truth be told, our government is more to blame than anyone else. Our leaders have fostered this greed-mentality, and it is due to their own greed by taking money from companies who profit off of this never-ending cycle. I am working on a book, right now, that tells this story very well, and it proves that our society is trapped in a cycle of buy, charge, "own."

Congress mandated that the banks issue more loans to people who were low-income so that they could purchase homes, and the banks complied. These same people in Congress now point the blame at the banks for issuing loans to people who couldn't afford the loans. Thanks Barney Frank. Yes, I'm pointing a finger at this man, in particular, for the hypocrite that he is. He is a big part of the problem in this whole mess, yet he stands in front of the television cameras every day acting as if he's trying to save the world now. He is the one who pushed for the types of loans that fostered greed in the poor, and now he is bullying the banks about their greed. Shame on him!

The whole point here is happiness. Where does happiness originate from? Does it come from things, or does it come from within? Lately, I've been forced to think about these things. I've thought a lot about how I used to live my life, along with how others, such as my manager, live their lives, and I have come to the conclusion that happiness does not come with things. Happiness and peace come from within. Greed only produces evil, and this evil corrupts and destroys families and lives all of the time. It's an endless cycle.

The things that we need are food, shelter, clothing, and transportation. Those are the basic necessities in life. Everything else is a blessing, but you cannot enjoy those moments if they are purchased on borrowed money, and that is what separates greed from smart-thinking. So, beware of greed. Think about those things that you want, and ask yourself if you really need those things. It's OK if you say no. It's OK to not buy all those things even when your best friend or neighbor has them. There's no shame in waiting for the better moment. These decisions are what define us in life, and we want to be defined as being happy rather than being trapped by debt.

The good news is that the cycle can be ended. We have all cut back this past holiday season, or at least most people did. The government wants you to believe that this is bad because they are looking out for their donors. However, I know that, as far as my family is concerned, we had a great Christmas, and there is no debt to pay off because of gifts. It was one of the best Christmases, in fact, because we spent more time with family and less time shopping for things that we really didn't need. Sure, there will be companies that fall apart, and there will be jobs lost if we really stop our greedy practices, but new things will develop, and new opportunities will emerge. Imagine a United States where quality is more important than quantity. Imagine manufacturing returning to our country where things are made with care, and the value of those things is higher. Then, when we do need to purchase something, it will be made well. If we take greed out of the equation, then those things are possible.

You see, restoring our economy from a greedy economy to a need-based economy is like quitting an addiction. It will be rough going for a while, but when it's all said and done, things will get better, and we can prosper like we should -- in a true happiness instead of a faux-happiness like my former manager built around himself.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Church Frontier

We've all heard the American West being described as the frontier during the time when cowboys and Indians lived not so peacefully together in the Old West, or perhaps we know the Last Frontier of Star Trek. In each case, frontier described not only a lawless, disorganized place, but it also described a journey of settlement and discovery. The Christian Church also had a frontier phase in its very early history because it was spread out across the Roman Empire, accepted by people of many ethnic cultures, and was full of turmoil as it developed its doctrine.

The furthest thing that I wanted to convey in the last post was that this early Church was without its problems. Indeed, the books of the New Testament, withstanding the Gospels and Revelations, are admonitions from Paul to the churches he founded on his missions, as well as other churches that other Apostles had founded prior to their executions under Roman rule. Being that the only people who actually knew Christ's teachings were those who were with Him during His life, and the fact that the Bible wasn't published yet in its entirety, there was little to guide these infant congregations after the missionaries left, and they were sure to stray at least a little bit from the teachings of the Apostles and Paul as time passed.

I really cannot go into my rhetorical point about Truth as it relates to doctrine and the Bible until I give you a little history of the church itself from 80 AD - 350 AD. It was this period of time that the Church began to develop into what I call the true Catholic Church, and it was during this period of time that Saint Jerome became inspired to create a completed Bible that was accepted as an accurate translation.

The issue was due to geography. At this time, there were several church districts that were recognized as being powerful, and, by powerful, I mean being respected as "centers" of Christianity where a Bishop ruled, and where doctrines were created, deciphered, and expounded upon. During this time, most of the churches were located in Jerusalem, North Africa, Greece, and Rome. Rome, at this point, was not considered a major province or district. Most of the church leaders were Greek, as a matter of fact, because most of the early missions were in Greek regions, although under Roman rule. In fact, aside from Rome, the only church that used Latin as its official language was the church in Alexandria, Egypt. The North Africans adopted Latin because they were adopting the language of their rulers, the Romans. And besides North Africa and parts of Italy, everyone else leading the Church possessed Greek names.

Therefore, we had a split in the Church between the East and the West. The West composed the North African and Italian churches, the East composed the Greek and Asian churches. Politics were very predominant within the churches during this period because of the issues with the Roman Empire. Remember, the Roman Empire split into the Western Empire and the Eastern Empire, and the Eastern Empire built Constantinople as its imperial city (now Istanbul in Turkey). This political issue further complicated the church because both emperors (brothers) were Christians, and they each wanted to have a say in the affairs of the state-religion they chose.

Throughout this time, the early Church Fathers were dealing with theological questions arising from mission churches, as well as the political ramifications during the split of the empire. In fact, the term "Holy Roman Empire" was created when the Western Empire finally took its place as the Catholic leader with the Holy See located in Rome while the Eastern Church, led from Constantinople, became the Orthodox Church -- similar to the modern Catholic Church but very different in many regards, especially the Liturgy.

So, throughout this time, there were two main groups of people -- those who supported the Eastern Church and those who supported the Western Church. In the early stages of this split, the Eastern Church was victorious in winning more "theological disputes" for two reasons: the Greeks still felt intellectually superior to the "vulgar" Romans, so they assumed that their writers and scholars were more intelligent and more correct on issues of theology, and, secondly, the Eastern Church was more organized and had more support from the Eastern Roman Empire. The Western Church, on the other hand, was battling the fact that it was spread from Africa to Rome, and it had yet to produce a remarkable theologian. As well, it did not have a Bible to call its own as most of the texts were in Greek.

This brings us to the Bible. In order for the Catholic Church to grow and survive, it needed a Bible. At this time, the original documents, letters, songs, and books of the Bible were in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. These original documents were right from the hands of the writers who were inspired by God when they wrote. The Western Church needed a Latin Bible, but no scholar had been able to get the original writings to translate them, nor did any Latin scholar have the ability to do so. It was noted that the church in Alexandria had a Bible that was translated into Latin (really, only the Psalms and the Gospels), but this translation was full of errors and was written in a very rough Latin which the people of Rome could barely understand. This is common when a language is a second-language, so there were many Latin/African colloquialisms which prevented it from becoming a Bible the Western Church could use everywhere -- and it was full of errors, omissions, and incorrect translations. No copy of this Bible exists anymore, but it did during Jerome's time.

What is even more important to the development of Christianity is the fact that the Western Church was intent on being the "orthodox" Church. In other words, it was the more conservative of the two branches of the Church (paradoxical considering the fact that the Eastern Church finally called itself the Orthodox Church). The Western Church rejected political appointments of Bishops, they rejected Arianism, which I discussed during the last post, and they were holding their ground on the basic issues of the Christian faith. Issues such as the Holy Trinity, Christ being God-incarnate, and Communion (Transubstantiation -- the bread and wine actually become the blood and flesh of Christ rather than a symbolic gesture) were a few of many questions being dealt with at the time. The Eastern Church succumbed to much political intervention, and they had many prominent leaders who believed in Arianism, but because they had the language and culture that the West didn't, they were stronger, and their Councils were more powerful than the Western Councils. For the Christian Church to survive as Christ and the Apostles preached, the Western Church would have to succeed at becoming the stronger of the two, and for this to happen, it needed its own Bible that was true to God's voice.

This is where Saint Jerome falls into the picture. By 382 AD, Jerome had gone from an obscure monk living an ascetic life in the deserts of Syria to a recognized scholar. Like I said, Jerome was an educated young man who grew up with the best that Roman culture and learning could provide. He gave it all up to devote himself to the secluded environment of the desert where he fasted, prayed, and studied. While in the Syrian desert, he also learned Hebrew from a Jewish convert who lived near him outside of Antioch in the wilderness. Although Jerome had written several books during this seclusion, he was not known in the Church beyond Antioch, but he did have a friend who was the Bishop of Antioch, and at the request of his friend, he went to Rome to record the proceedings of the Roman Council which was an attempt to counter the Council of Constantinople (these Councils were scholarly attempts to define doctrine by the Bishops and theologians). Jerome was so well-regarded during his time in Rome, that the Bishop of Rome, Demasus, asked him to remain in Rome as his secretary. Contrary to his desired lifestyle of monastic seclusion, Jerome accepted, and he also became a priest during this period, even though he preferred being a monk. The priesthood, however, gave him more authority as a scholar, and it eventually gave him the ability to become a leader in the Church.

Demasus is considered to have been the first Roman Bishop who actually made good changes for the Church in Rome, and he was beginning to solve the problems of the Church that kept it from being a leader of doctrine. Although Rome was not a powerful Church at this time, it was growing in strength because of his work. In Jerome, he found a true scholar, and he felt God's presence in Jerome. He also felt that God had led Jerome to him for a reason, and that reason was to give the church a Bible. Because Jerome was the only theologian in the Western Church who had a knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and because he knew theology so well and had a deep spiritual life, Damasus felt God's hand when he encouraged Jerome to give the Western Church a Bible.

Jerome understood the complexity and importance of this task, and he knew that if he were going to convey God's message, he would have to do it from the original documents. For example, there were two Old Testaments: the Greek Septuagint and the original Hebrew. The Septuagint was written by Jewish scholars and translated from Hebrew to Greek 200-300 years before Christ, but Jerome considered it full of errors and contradictions. In addition, the texts of Bibles existing during Jerome's time were full of the same. He found everything available to be full of mistakes "by false transcription, by clumsy corrections and by careless interpolations," and the only way to avoid further confusion was to go back to the original source.

What Jerome undertook was a rhetorical necessity. If God's words were being translated incorrectly, then God's message was being delivered incorrectly. And he believed that many of the schisms within the Church was due to misinterpretations of the Bible.

He was absolutely correct. In fact, during this time, there was one significant issue between the Eastern Church and the Western Church, and the issue is chief to the core concept of Christianity, and it all revolved around the translation of two words: ousia and hypostasis. These were Greek words, and when translated to Latin, they could mean two separate things regarding the nature of God and the Holy Trinity. The Arians used a "modern" Greek interpretation of the words, and that meant that the Apostles were stating that Christ was not God-incarnate, but just a good man who walked the earth. Jerome went back to the original Greek that the Apostles wrote in, and deciphered their statements as Christ being God in flesh.

It was controversies like this, based upon language and the changing nature of language, that was so problematic for the Church, and it was given to Jerome, by God, to ensure that a Holy Bible, available to all, would speak God's word without flaw. Damasus was not mistaken about his perception of God's purpose for Jerome. Noted 19th Century Theological Professor James Westcott, says of Jerome: "This great scholar, probably alone for 1,500 years, possessed the qualifications necessary for producing an original version of the scriptures for the use of the Latin churches." And because of the political upheavals of the Middle Ages, without Jerome's answer to God's call, the Christian Church would have fallen apart. The Eastern Church eventually fell apart over time due to its inherent weaknesses and attacks from Muslim countries; therefore, the conservative Western Church was the key to Christianity's survival.

This is a very brief discussion of a long and detailed history of the early Church. I have skipped many issues and have briefly covered others. My point, however, is two-fold: a Bible for the people was needed in order to build the Church, and, secondly, rhetorically speaking, the translation of that Bible was important in relaying the Word of God.

This all being said, in my next post, I want to start looking at the issue that I am concerned with from a rhetorical point of view as the Church progressed, faltered, and then changed over time. When I profess that I belong to the Original Catholic Church, that profession is made regarding the Church, once seated in Rome when it became the Holy See, and the Church that based its beliefs off of the Bible that Jerome translated and put together. Those doctrines, those beliefs, and those proclamations are what I believe in. They are not necessarily the same as the Catholic Church today, especially post-Vatican II (another Council from the 20th Century), but not that far apart either. As a result, I still feel comfortable celebrating Mass in my church, but I don't agree with everything I hear from the catechism being taught, and I have proof of the errors that exist -- proof from a theological perspective as well as a rhetorical perspective, and that is what I will be discussing.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Truth, Divine Inspiration, and the Catholic Church

In the last post, I wrote about two important concepts, "truth" and "reality." Like I said, those concepts have been discussed for thousands of years, and they began with the teachings of Gorgias and Plato. From a rhetorical point of view, these are important concepts because they define the world around us, and, through communication, we are able to confront and deal with our world. Language is built upon these philosophies, as it should be, because it was during this time when the Western Civilization became literate. An important point to remember is that language and communication is the vehicle that we depend upon to live and thrive, and it is the most important component of our lives, no matter how advanced our civilization is.

But I am not here to talk about ancient Greek rhetorical tradition. I am more interested in something else: the Christian Church. I became a Catholic after being raised a Baptist. I made the "conversion" because I felt God's call to His original Church, and I have been happy ever since. The word "Catholic" simply means Universal, and this is the original word applied to the universal Christian church as it grew from Jerusalem to Greece to Rome and throughout the world.

The history of the Church is very interesting, and I believe that most Christians today do not know the history of their own religion. That is a shame. I believe if most Evangelical/Protestant Christians were to read about the beginning of the Church, from Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and the Apostles, they would realize that God's intention was to create a universal or "Catholic" Church, and He would not be happy with all of the factions and splintered sects that we see today professing Christianity.

Indeed, Saint Peter and Saint Paul fought very hard to prevent this from happening. During their time, all over the world, there were churches springing up that had different viewpoints and different opinions. Some of those differences were as simple as taking communion only once a week, and some were as major as stating that Christ was just a good man. In fact, should one do the research, the Muslim faith was seeded from a sect of Christians who believed that Christ was a good man and a prophet, but not the Messiah as predicted by the Jewish tradition. This sect was called Arianism, and it later propagated Mohammed's rise to fame.

In the attempt to join Christians together all over the world, Saint Peter and the early Church Fathers met at many councils to decide how to preach the gospel of Christ and how to worship. Their goal was to celebrate Christ in one uniform way, under one uniform teaching. The seat of this Church was in Rome because that is where Peter and Paul both lived, and they both oversaw the Church in Rome. This is why the Papacy is seated in Rome, among other historical reasons that I am not going to get into right now.

Interestingly enough, the early Church Fathers (those who founded the Christian Church) saw the Greek philosophers as having had revelations from God. In other words, God gave them a wisdom, even though they were pagans and worshipped other gods. The early Church Fathers believed that the Greeks were not sinners because Christ had not been revealed to them, and that God spoke through their words as timely wisdom for humankind. Plato was one of the philosophers who the early Church Fathers recognized as having received divine revelation. Gorgias, as you may imagine, was not considered by the Church Fathers to have received God's revelations. Perhaps this is why such a schism and hatred existed between the two and why Plato felt so strongly that Gorgias was evil. Many scholars have wondered why Plato hated Gorgias so much, and, perhaps, it was through God's whispers to him.

As the early Church grew, there became a need to meet in churches instead of homes, and the Apostles and Bishops of the early Church adopted the Roman government building as the basis of the Church, not the Roman Temple as many people have tried to suggest. The Roman government building was where the Emperor sat to oversee government business, and it was identical to the first Church, and many documents prove that the layout was exact and purposeful because it needed to hold hundreds, if not thousands of worshippers. The Roman Temple, on the other hand, was only large enough to hold a priest and an altar.

Early Christian doctrine was based upon the teachings of those who knew Christ (the Apostles) and those who were converted directly by Christ after His death (Paul). After these men died or were martyred, the Church leaders (the Church Fathers) were those who knew these men, and they are the ones who actually formed the Catholic Church as we know it today. They were able to build this Church due to Rome's eventual acceptance and conversion to Christianity.

At that time, there was no Bible per se. The teachings of the Church were based upon the writings of the Apostles and Paul who were responsible for writing the books of the New Testament under God's hand. The problem was, most of the New Testament was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. In addition to that, the vast majority of Christian converts in the early Church were Jews, and the Old Testament (Torah) was considered a necessary element to the Christian Church because the entire Old Testament was based upon the coming of the Messiah, and this book, or collection of books, was considered to be part of the Christian faith as well, especially by those Jewish converts in Jerusalem. By the way, the Church in Jerusalem was the first Church in Christianity. This Church was destroyed a long time ago, and since then, a Jewish Temple was built upon it and destroyed, and now a Muslim Mosque sits on that site. This is the site that John spoke about in Revelations, and it is the site that was spoken about in the Old Testament. Both John and the Old Testament authors viewed this site as the most holy ground where the final conflict would begin.

As time moved on, the Church grew and grew, and it was mostly because of the organization of the Church as outlined by the Apostles, Paul, and the early Church Fathers. This was when the Catholic Church began to take on the properties that we now know as the Catholic Church: Priests were ordained to lead congregations, Bishops were elected to oversee regions, and eventually, a Pope was put in place to lead the Church -- not as a descendant of the previous Pope, but as a successor to Peter whom the Church was built upon as revealed by Christ.

During this time of infancy, God placed His hand upon certain individuals who would eventually make decisions and write documents that were divinely inspired. The most critical person in this period was Saint Jerome. Saint Jerome was a priest, and eventually a Cardinal, within the Church who took the documents that professed the Christian faith -- the writings of the Apostles and Paul, and the writings of the Old Testament, and translated them into a language that all people in the Roman-dominated world could understand -- Latin. In other words, he took the core component of the Christian tradition, and under God's divine intervention, recorded the Bible from many languages into one language. This gave the Church the ability to spread and grow.

How difficult a task is this, and why is it considered divinely intervened? First of all, translation of any kind is difficult, especially when you are dealing with many languages, some of which had evolved over time. Words and phrases change, and there are multiple options for choosing meaning when translating. During the translation, one thing that was said in the original document could have been completely altered from its original intention due to a mis-interpretation of that original language and due to the subsequent reinterpretation and transformation into Latin. We know that God had his hand on Jerome during this process because, for one, his translation withstood the test of time and was considered by thousands of scholars for over 1500 years as the best translation ever created, and we know that he was divinely inspired because God would never have let the early Church go astray during such a crucial period of its development. There were no political or social questions to deal with. Jerome was working to preserve the written word solely for preserving the written word. He had no ulterior motive. In addition, his life was full of opened doors and special acquaintances that gave him access to all of the original documents of the authors of the Bible. He was the only one who had such access to those documents, and he was the only one who had the calling from God to perform such a tremendous task that took many years and much study to complete. Saint Jerome devoted his life to God to do this, and he, himself, felt God's gentle hand throughout the process.

Jerome's translation of the Holy Bible was the Bible that built the Church, and it was the Bible that had been questioned and examined by the brightest minds over a 1,500 year period, and no one could find it fallible as a translation in any way. It was the essence of Christianity. As such, Jerome is considered to be a Saint of the Church, and he is also one of 33 Doctors of the Church. His contributions were, and are, unparalleled to the growth and spread of Christianity. His work, through God, is what created the great spread of the Christian faith. He was a holy man who loved Christ and loved literature, and his entire life from childhood was one continual preparation for such a task.

Around 350AD, we had a unified Catholic Church, we had a complete translation of the Bible that everyone could read and understand, and we had an organized priesthood and Liturgy that was based upon that which Peter and Paul built and created. That was the original Christian/Catholic Church, and it flourished.

Here's where Plato comes in. Remember, now, that Plato was considered by the founding Church Fathers as divinely inspired by God, and his philosophy was based upon God's teachings (this concept was dropped by the Church during the Middle Ages, by the way, when the Church led astray from worshipping Christ to worshipping itself). If you remember in the last post, Plato taught that there was one single Truth in this world. He taught that copies of that Truth were further removed from that Truth, and that copies did not completely exemplify the original Truth. This was the primary teaching of his life, and, again, was accepted as revealed to him by God by the original Church Fathers, as well as the Apostles and Paul.

Where am I going with this, you may ask?. Well, if we understand Plato, then we must look at Truth where it begins. Truth began with God through Christ. If the writers of both the Old and New Testament were divinely inspired by God as they wrote their books, then Truth begins there through their writing. Being in multiple languages, and not being able to create a situation where the Church could grow, Saint Jerome, too, was divinely inspired by God to create a translation of the Bible that would allow the Church to grow, so we have to believe that Truth existed there as well. If you believe in the Christian faith, then you must believe in these things because you would believe that God led and guided the development of the Church itself so that the message of Christ could be taught, conversions could be made, and growth in the faith could occur. According to Plato, anything divinely inspired would be the essence of Truth.

That is where I am going to leave it for now. This is a lot to chew on, and I want you to think about these things if you are so inclined. During the next post, I am going to elaborate upon the movement away from Truth from Plato's perspective as it relates to the Church and the Bible. Again, I believe in my Catholic faith, but I am a Catholic of the original Church. This does not mean that I profess Protestant beliefs. I do not. I believe in the Catholic Church, I believe in its organization, and I believe in its Liturgy. But I also believe in that which I will discuss in the next post.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Little on "Truth" and "Reality"

There were approximately two major theories that evolved in ancient Greece around 500BC. Both theories are philosophical, and both are rhetorical. Meaning, philosophers use them to question the way things are, and rhetoricians use them to analyze language and communication. Each theory has its own merit, and each theory is interesting. They actually give us the foundation of how we view everything in our world, even today.

The first theory was proposed by Gorgias and the Sophists. Gorgias believed that nothing existed at all. He wasn't referring to physical objects, though. He was referring to our perceptions of things. In other words, what he said was, "This object means something to you, yet it means something else to another person, and so on and so on, so the true essence of that object, the true reality of that object, cannot exist because everyone creates different realities of that object in their own head." This is absolutely true, and there can be no argument about it. We are all keepers of our own realities, and our perceptions do define the world around us, so there is no one single truth. Gorgias would say Truth doesn't exist, but truth does exist.

The second theory was proposed by Gorgias' arch-enemy, Plato. Plato didn't believe Gorgias' point of view. He believed that there was a definable reality -- he believed in an existing Truth; however, he believed that there could only be one true object, and that everything else was a copy of that object, and therefore, each copy was different from the original. He would say, "Look at this chair. It is a beautiful chair crafted by a master chair-maker. This chair-maker has the blueprints, and he makes one chair every day of the week off of his blueprints. Yet, each chair is different. Each copy of the original chair is different. None of the chairs are the same as the original one from where the blueprint was made; therefore, copies of the original chair are one step removed from the original and cannot be the same."

Like I said, these theories were very important turning points in the way Western civilization developed because it forced people to consider all of the ramifications of these theories. In Gorgias' instance, Nietzsche, for example, made the claim that God didn't exist. There has been considerable debate as to what he meant when he said this, and recently, scholars believe he was using Gorgias' theory to state that, since God is perceived differently by everyone, God is different to everyone; therefore, God, as a single, unified entity cannot exist. Now, I do not believe this at all. I believe that God does exist as a whole, and I think that the fallacy of mankind is that we are not able to perceive God due to our position on earth and our inadequacies; however, that being said, the theory is accurate from a human's perspective. God does mean something differently to all of us, and no single definition of God can be attained. The same holds true with every definition of a word that exists. When I say "blue," you immediately think of your perception of "blue." Your perception, and my perception are different, and so is everyone else's, so there is no true definition of "blue."

Equally, Plato has similar relevancy to our current belief-systems. Let's look at the concept of God again so that we can make a direct comparison. Under Plato's philosophy, God would be one and whole, and He would exist as a real entity; however, as humans, we would create a "copy" of God in our mind, and that copy of God is always going to be one-step removed from God. Take this further to the church environment. The priest or minister is going to teach you about God, but his teaching is going to be based upon his "copy" of God, and your beliefs are going to be another "copy" of God, and your "copy" will now be two-steps removed from the original. And so forth and so on. Plato believed that the more something is passed around and the longer it is passed around, the original entity is further removed from its original form. Again, from a language standpoint, let's take the word "blue." According to Plato, at one point in time, there was a real "blue," and it stood alone as the one true "blue." But over time, through many centuries, and through many artists and printers, "blue" is not the same because it has been removed from the original "blue" thousands of times over.

I used to believe in Gorgias' philosophy, and to a degree, I still do when it comes to many things. I believe our perceptions of things are very influential to who we are, and from a rhetorical point of view, I think that his theory is very valid. In fact, I wrote a book about Gorgias' Sophistic philosophy in regards to how writing and language is taught, and I designed an entire writing curriculum around this philosophy.

However, over time, and as I mature more and have lived life longer, I am beginning to see more relevancy to Plato's point of view, and I see how it can also be used to describe many phenomena we encounter each day. Since my days in graduate school, I am becoming more of a Platonic than Gorgianic rhetorician, and that has changed my outlook on life significantly.

As I have said, both theories are important concepts for the development of Western thought, and they have relevance in every aspect of our lives should you wish to consider them. From a practical standpoint, this is what philosophers and rhetoricians ponder as they develop new theories and make new arguments, but, to the general population, they are irrelevant on the daily level. They are not irrelevant to how we live our lives and think about things, though.

I wanted to introduce these concepts today because I want to make an argument over the next week that will use Plato's theory to prove a point that IS meaningful to the way we view one thing in particular, and this one thing HAS shaped our world in a significant way. It will be an interesting study, and, I am sure, a little bit controversial for some of you out there.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Defining "Hero"

I'm sorry it's been a few days since my last post. I've been fighting a nasty cold that seems to be hitting everyone lately, and I'm knee-deep in a couple of writing and editing projects. Being focused on other things and sick at the same time has kept me from serious thought of any kind, and I don't like to write about "nothing," so I've kept away from the blog. Today, however, I do have something of importance to say, so here I am.

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of "heroes" in our society and what they mean to us in general. Two things started me on this thought-process: my father's birthday which is tomorrow, January 4, and the recent bad press related to Plaxico Burress, Charles Barkley, and John Daly.

For whatever reason, Americans have always put their faith in the wrong people, and the "heroes" we choose are simply wrong. Ever since I was a kid, heroes have always been defined as the sports stars and movie stars. I have no clue as to why this is the case, but I have a suspicion that it's because of television. I don't think this was the case before the TV came into existence, although I wouldn't know it because I wasn't around during that time, and I know very few people who were, so I am guessing at this (actually, I do know a few people who were around before the TV was invented, but I'm not going to mention them because I'd hear about it later).

The question that bugs me right now and has bugged me for a long time is: what is a hero? Webster's Dictionary defines "hero" as "a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities; one that shows great courage; the central figure in an event, period, or movement; etc." The "etc." was added by me because Webster's continues to define the literary component of hero, and that doesn't apply to my question at all.

What is interesting to think about, though, is the evolution of words and definitions in our society. I guarantee you that this word has undergone many changes of definition throughout the years. I know this to be a fact. Dictionaries are updated on a continual basis in order to reflect the current definition of a word as it applies to society. Words are powerful, and they change definition quite frequently because there is no single way to define an object or event as our perceptions of those things change quite frequently.

In regard to hero, Webster's gives a definition that allows one to feel comfortable with making a Barkley, Burress, or Daly a hero because they are central figures in our "period." They are sports stars, and, being in the limelight for so long and on television all of the time, they become idols to many people, especially children.

This is nothing new. Every year or so, I hear the debates about who our children should be defining as heroes. The principle argument revolves around the sports or movie star because their lives aren't always the lives that we want our children to follow and strive for in their own lives.

I suppose that children's mimicking the lives of a "hero" is the true issue with the word , and I wish Webster's would add that somewhere in the definition. In our society, a hero is someone who children look up to and strive to be like. Remember the slogan, "Be like Mike?" That was referring to Michael Jordan. Of course, it was Nike's way of selling shoes, and the hero and brand became one. That's where we are today with our "heroes," though, and we are faced with the fact that a lot of these folks just aren't good role models for our children. I'm actually not convinced that many of these people want to be heroes either. I've heard a lot of stars claim that they don't want the role, and I respect them for saying that, but their lot in life, because of their fame, casts them into that role whether they like it or not. That's our society. Nothing else.

Through it all, though, I think the true shame is the fact that our children's heroes are not their fathers and mothers, and that shows the true breakdown of the family. If I were to guess, and I'm betting that I'm guessing correctly here, if a poll were taken every twenty years since the early 20th Century, I believe you would see that children, long ago, viewed their fathers and mothers as their heroes first. As society and society's morals began to decline around 1940, I believe you would see those statistics drop off as other people began to take the role of hero away from the parents. So, in essence, the definition of hero could be an indicator of the slow breakdown of core family values and morals. At least, that's how I look at it.

I was fortunate to have been brought up in a two-parent home, and morality and discipline were enforced in my home. Now, my parents never spanked me one time (because I was such a good boy!), but the rules were clear, and, most importantly, I was taught that I should honor my father and my mother by being obedient and by showing them respect as my parents. There was never any question about this in our family. In return for my obedience, I was given a lot of love, and I was a part of a loving family.

If you were to ask me who my hero is, I will always say "my parents." They are who I have always looked up to, and they are the role models who I want to model my life after. And as an adult, every decision I make, I always think about what my parents would do under the same circumstances.

I remember years back, I was interviewed for an article that appeared in the Boston Globe regarding my experiences at a college I was attending. When the article came out, I was disgusted because the writer wrote that I told him that my hero was Terry Bradshaw. I never said that! I could tell that my father was hurt by that statement, but I assured him that I never told the writer that Terry Bradshaw was my hero (I've learned since that journalists make up a lot of information to fill space regardless of the truth). If I were asked that question, I would have proudly said, "My Parents." Even then, I knew they were the role models I wanted to follow.

As a parent, it is my desire to make sure that I give the love and encouragement to my two boys so that they will see me as their hero as well. If they see me in that role, then I know that I have done my job. However, if they choose another person as a hero, I will know that I failed to make my mark on them somehow, somewhere. After all, I spend more time with them (Sherry included in these comments as well) than anyone else.

So, yes, I think that we can look at hero-worship as an indicator of social progress or decline, as it may be. I think that all of this talk of sports heroes and movie star heroes is an indication that the family-unit is broken. Of course, we know that the family-unit is broken in this country. My hope is that we will see improvements in this area in the years to come. I hope that America puts more emphasis on the family than it does on materialism. I hope that families, especially those with children, will stay together. I hope that children will stop having children. It goes on and on. The facts and statistics prove it all, so I do not need to belabor the point.

So, tomorrow is my father's birthday, and I would like to wish him a Happy Birthday. My father is a true hero, and he is one of my two heroes in life (my mother being the other). He is a real American hero (I could write a whole other post about this) because he spent his life serving his country. A veteran of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, he gave everything and sacrificed a whole lot for his country. It is men like him who should become the heroes of children who have no one else to turn to as hero. He is a hero to me, not just for what he did for our country, but for what he did for me. He raised me to be the best that I could be, and he gave me every opportunity in the world. He put me first, and he loved me (and still does) with all of his heart. That is why he is my hero. And again, the same applies to my mom, but tomorrow isn't her birthday! :)

Let's all make it point to help our next generation choose better heroes. And if you're a parent, please strive to be a hero for your children!