Friday, November 30, 2007

Spe Salvi

Our Holy Father today published his second encyclical, on hope, titled "Spe Salvi." The fulltext from Zenit can be read here.

I have just finished skimming the text, and I won't have time to take it in properly until after my school semester ends. Speaking generally, I see much more of Pope Benedict's own style of teaching coming through here than was the case in "Deus Caritas Est." The Holy Father's text is almost conversational: He tells stories to make his points, and his humble personality is completely transparent. Always the master teacher, I appreciated his grasp of languages -- his knowledge of the Greek text, especially, allowed for a fuller grasp of the biblical texts. A master scholar as well, he managed to condemn Kant, Bacon, and Marx quite politely, both citing his sources and explaining what they meant in such a way that even they couldn't have said it better.

My favorite part comes when he talks about Purgatory:

No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bella finally comes to La Crosse!!!

Hats off to Chris Ruff, head of the La Crosse Diocese's Office for Ministries and Social Concerns:

The good news keeps on coming….
“Bella” opens in La Crosse tomorrow, November 30!!!

Valley Square 64400 Hwy. 16LaCrosse , WI608-781-2335
“Bella” Showtimes: 1:00 PM; 4:00 PM; 7:00 PM; 9:30 PM

Pricing Info : Matinee : $5.75 Adult $5.25 ChildEvening : $8.50 Adult $5.25 Child Now available on 6 digital screens*plus tax where applicable **All available listings for movies and showtimes are subject to change without prior notice.


Golden Compass: Responding to First Things, Catholic Digest

As I was in the final stages of editing my story on The Golden Compass which appears in the previous post, I received a preview copy of the December Catholic Digest, where the editor has a positive take on the movie, based on a scholarly essay in First Things. While I've never been a big fan of the Catholic Digest, I am a subscriber to First Things. I thought the First Things essay, which focused on Pullman's cosmology, was well written; but a few sentences where Moloney took things too far by saying Pullman's cosmology was so unconvincing that it wouldn't be necessary to keep children away, caused it to be misused by Catholic Digest. Since our recent survey showed 34% of Catholic Times subscribers also receive the Catholic Digest, I decided responding to their article was necessary. Thus the following short editorial was added at the last minute:

Is Pullman’s trilogy benign, after all?

In the December issue of the Catholic Digest, managing editor Julie Rattey had a rather positive take on The Golden Compass. She based her opinion in part on an influential essay that appeared in First Things, where that journal’s associate editor Daniel Moloney argued that, despite Pullman’s best efforts to the contrary, he “inadvertently develops … a powerful Christian scene.”
“As is, I can fairly characterize His Dark Materials in this fashion: Imagine if at the beginning of the world Satan’s rebellion had been successful, that he had reigned for 2,000 years, and that a messiah was necessary to conquer lust and the spirit of domination with innocence, humility, and generous love at great personal cost. Such a story is not subversive of Christianity, it is almost Christian, even if only implicitly and imperfectly. But implicit and imperfect Christianity is often our lot in life, and Pullman has unintentionally created a marvelous depiction of many of the human ideals Christians hold dear.”
Moloney is right when he points out that Pullman has failed to produce a compelling alternative cosmology to that of Christianity. But when he says, “If his alternative were more compelling, I would recommend parents keep their children away,” implying that His Dark Materials is acceptable for children, he goes astray.
Unlike properly formed adult readers, children can and will become confused by Pullman’s less-than-compelling alternative. Pullman’s books are dangerous exactly because they contain so many of the Christian ideals that we’ve worked so hard to teach our children. The problem with Pullman’s books isn’t that they contain Christian ideals, it’s that the wrong people have them.
Pullman explicitly and purposefully takes the Church of the past and present and ties it inextricably to the evil Church of his fantasy world. Ann Lankford, director of the diocesan Office of Catechesis and Evangelization, put it best when she summarized: “He’s making evil good and good evil.”
The genre of fantasy fiction is powerful because its reality doesn’t require rational assent to be believed. Instead, Christian works like The Narnia Chronicles and The Lord of the Rings create a certain ethos in our unconscious that influences us to believe in the reality of good and evil, and to be always a hero on the side of good.
Compelling or not, Pullman intentionally takes Lewis’ Narnia series and subverts its Christian cosmology. With their developing minds and incomplete faith formation, children are susceptible even to an unconvincing alternative cosmology such as Pullman’s. This alternative to everything we believe and hold dear, therefore, is not as harmless as Moloney suggests.
Moloney might be right about properly formed adult readers, but he’s dead wrong when it comes to our children.

– Franz Klein

Today's Catholic Times: The Golden Compass

It's not often that a new fantasy movie is the cause of an indepth cover story, and it's too bad the first one I wrote had to blast a bad movie. I enjoy the fantasy genre, and I am often skeptical at first of those who find danger therein. But the editor asked me to look into the series, and the more I read, the more I became convinced that Pullman's books are wrong on so many levels. Below is my cover story from today's Catholic Times:

Parents cautioned about new fantasy film
By Franz Klein
Staff Writer

LA CROSSE – Catholics are often forced to tolerate a certain level anti-religious sentiment in our increasingly secularized society. But even secular critics are saying that a trilogy whose first book is the basis of a new movie to be released Dec. 7 crosses the bounds of decency in its overt and deliberate attack on Catholicism and organized religion in general.
In its entry on New Line Cinema’s “The Golden Compass,”, a Web site respected for its no-nonsense accuracy in dispelling rumors, says the movie is clearly based on anti-religious themes. And the New York-based Catholic League says although the movie is called “The Golden Compass,” but it’s less than golden.
“The film has been watered down significantly, but a word like ‘Magisterium’ remains, something all Catholics would recognize, and the vast majority of non-Catholics as well,” the Catholic League’s Kiera McCaffrey said in a Catholic Times interview.
“We’re used to hearing arguments from atheists these days,” she added. “We’ve got Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and now Philip Pullman. The difference is, the first three gentlemen I mentioned are making arguments aimed at adults using discourse. But Pullman is aiming his argument at children, wrapping it up in a candy coating and feeding it to them at Christmastime.”

Undermining belief
Directed by Chris Weitz, the movie stars Nicole Kidman. It is based on “The Golden Compass,” the first book of “His Dark Materials,” a fantasy trilogy for children. Its author is avowed British atheist Philip Pullman, who told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2003 that his books “are about killing God.”
Pullman acknowledges that his books are an attempt to subvert C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia Chronicles” and even includes a child discovering a parallel world through an academic’s wardrobe in his first novel. So while Lewis was building a Christian fantasy world, Pullman said in a 2001 Washington Post interview: “I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief. Mr. Lewis would think I was doing the devil’s work.”

‘Daemons’ and ‘Dust’
A fantasy world admittedly as fun for children as that of Lewis, Pullman’s literary creation includes daemons – people’s souls manifested as animals which, when they mature, exemplify their essential personality traits. Important to the storyline, the separation of a human being from his daemon turns him into an obedient zombie.
In “The Golden Compass,” readers encounter Lyra Belacqua, an 11-year-old orphan living in a fictional Oxford college. Entrusted with a truth-telling golden compass, called an “alethiometer” (“aletheia” is Greek for “truth”), Lyra leaves the college with a visiting adventurer, Mrs. Marisa Coulter, whom she later discovers is trying to steal the alethiometer from her.
Part of the “Gobblers,” Mrs. Coulter servers on the Church’s “General Oblation Board,” which kidnaps children and performs experiments on them to find out why the “Dust” isn’t as attracted to them as it is to adults. Through a medical procedure, priests remove the children’s daemons from them, rendering them zombies rather than letting the “Dust,” or sin, influence them.
Joining an expedition to the mysterious north, Lyra discovers children imprisoned in a Church experimentation facility and rescues them with the help of the aeronaut Lee Scoresby and her own armored bear, Iorek Byrnison. Together they seek out Lord Asriel, an academic who opposes the Church and studies the Dust scientifically. The first novel ends with Lyra following Lord Asriel into the parallel world from which the Dust comes.

Terrified ‘Authority’
While the movie to be released Dec. 7 only covers the first book’s plot, the second and third installments in Pullman’s series become even more explicit in their Christian references. In “The Subtle Knife,” Lyra meets her boyfriend Will Parry, finds the “subtle” knife and discovers that the Church’s Father Gomez is trying to kill her because she is to become a second Eve.
In Pullman’s final installment, “The Amber Spyglass,” a final battle between the Church and Lord Asriel’s army commences. Accusing the priests of having sexual obsessions, Mrs. Coulter joins Lord Asriel’s side to fight against the “Authority,” which is Pullman’s version of a feeble “god” who isn’t really God.
Together, Lyra and Parry encounter the Authority encased in crystal, “terrified, crying like a baby,” and release him, causing him to dissolve into the air. The Authority, having been killed, Lyra and Parry fall in love and kiss but decide they must live apart and work for a better world.

Inverted salvation history
“He actually turns the biblical account of the Garden of Eden on its head,” McCaffrey said. “Lyra, the new Eve, is going to be the mother of the new freedom through her sin. He’s taking Christian themes and Christian belief and completely inverting it. Certainly that’s an extremely harmful message to be feeding children, especially when you dress it up with all sorts of battles and magical worlds.”
According to McCaffrey, Pullman’s books are unmistakably strewn with phrases tying the “bad guys” to the Catholic Church – references include the Magisterium, papacy, cardinals, oratories and intercessors. “It’s not just that he’s presenting an atheistic message, it’s a complete denigration of Christianity in these books,” she said. “Every Christian character is vile. All the priests try to kidnap children and to perform cruel experiments on them.”

Problem with the movie
McCaffrey acknowledged that New Line Cinema’s Weitz removed most of Pullman’s anti-Catholic rhetoric. “The film was purged of some of its worst anti-Christian elements because the filmmakers have said they want it to be financially viable, and they know parents aren’t going to take their children to see it if it remains as it appears in the books,” she said.
“Pullman is even going on the ‘Today Show’ and trying to downplay what he’s said in the past,” she added.
But Peter Vere argues that’s where the real danger lies. Together with Sandra Miesel, Vere has co-authored “Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children’s Fantasy,” a book released last week by Ignatius Press.
“If parents go to see the movie and see it as just another fantasy movie, then they’ll let their children read the books, where (Pullman) is openly attacking the Church and the existence of God,” Vere said in a Catholic Times interview. “The movie is going to create interest in the books and that’s the problem, because these books are so clearly anti-Christian.”

Killing God
Vere is himself no enemy of the fantasy genre. An aficionado of J.R.R. Tolkien and Lewis, Vere said he even enjoyed the Harry Potter series immensely.
Vere said he first saw the preview for “The Golden Compass” while at the theatre to see the fifth installment of Harry Potter. “I thought, that looks great, but when I read Pullman’s books I was horrified,” Vere said.
“The whole plot of the stories is that two 12-year-olds set out to kill God,” Vere explained. “At first they don’t realize that’s the quest, but that’s the whole plot of the books. That they’re anti-Christian isn’t just an accusation. Pullman says he wrote them as the anti-Narnia, the anti-C.S. Lewis.”

What’s a parent to do?
According to Vere, Catholics not only have a duty to stand up for their Church, but also a duty to protect their children’s faith. “We have a right and an obligation to safeguard our children’s moral, intellectual and spiritual formation,” he said.
Ann Lankford, director of the Diocese of La Crosse’s Office for Catechesis and Evangelization, agreed. Having heard from concerned parents, DREs and youth ministers, she has put together a flier about the movie that she hopes to distribute widely.
“I watched the trailer and thought, kids will want to go to this movie,” Lankford said. “It’s exciting, and the special effects are incredible. But the heart of what we believe in is being attacked.”
Lankford was most troubled by the fact that the movie makes good evil and evil good. “Do we really want that twisting going on in a young, developing mind?” she asked.
Both Lankford and Vere said the movie’s release could be a teaching moment.
“Parents are the guardians, protectors and teachers of their children,” Lankford said. “They definitely need to talk about the power of evil, because it really exists.”
Lankford added that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is an excellent reference for parents talking to their children about the existence of evil; she mentioned paragraph 391 as being a good starting point.
Vere hopes his new book will be a useful reference for a more specific conversation about the movie. “I think parents need to know what the content of the material is before they can talk to their children about it,” he said. “In many cases, I’m finding that children have already read the books, in which case it’s even more important that their parents become aware.”
While McCaffrey said the Catholic League is calling for parents to boycott the movie due to its anti-Catholic elements and its ability to corrupt young minds, Vere has another, more practical reason to avoid it: “Why should Catholics spend money to pay someone for attacking the Church?”

Editor’s note: To obtain Ann Lankford’s flier on the movie, e-mail her at or call 608-791-2656. Peter Vere’s book will be available in many Catholic bookstores, and orders can also be made by calling Ignatius Press at 800-651-1531, or by visiting

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Michael Cassio: A Cinthian Character of Falsely Tragic Proportions

I'm sure you're all rearing and ready to start reading my latest 4,000-word paper. But really, if you're interested, feel free to drop a comment. I'm not turning it in for a week, so I'll probably have plenty of time to improve on it. In fact, the paper's interesting if you have the time to read it, because I'm arguing that Othello isn't the perfect tragedy it's often said to be. I'm looking at poor Michael Cassio, who ends up getting the short shrift in commentary, but really does the best of just about anyone in the play -- at that's the crux of the issue: nobody's supposed to do well in a tragedy, let alone someone that I argue is a minor tragic hero who doesn't meet his fate!


Franz Klein
Winona State University: English 517
Professor Jane Carducci
21 November 2007

Michael Cassio: A Cinthian Character of Falsely Tragic Proportions

Embracing the common practice of his age, William Shakespeare made frequent use of source material for the basis for his plays. The primary source for Shakespeare’s play, Othello, the Moor of Venice, is Giovambattista Giraldi Cinthio’s short story, “Il Moro di Venezia,” which first appeared in the Italian author’s 1565 compilation of 113 moralistic tales called De Gli Hecatommithi. One fruitful avenue of Shakespearean studies traditionally involves examining source texts like the Hecatommithi to see how the Bard crafted them into new works of art that fit his purposes in winning over an Elizabethan audience. In the case of Othello, though, the meaning of many of Shakespeare’s alterations has long puzzled the academic world. While a good deal of scholarly effort has gone into comparing and contrasting Cinthio’s Moro and Shakespeare’s Othello, or Cinthio’s Alfieri and Shakespeare’s Iago, little attention has been paid to the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare’s transformation of Cinthio’s Capo di Squadra into Othello’s lieutenant, Michael Cassio.
Given this lack of attention, an analysis of the Capo’s Shakespearean transformation into Cassio could open a previously unopened window into the Bard’s views of tragedy, which, in the case of Cassio, seem to bear a surprising similarity to Cinthio’s own disdain for the purist Aristotelian view. After providing the necessary background to Cinthio-Shakespeare studies, this paper will explore though a careful character analysis exactly how the English playwright molds the Italian author’s Capo. Although Cassio is properly plagued by a hamartic character flaw, in the end he becomes the governor of Cyprus and seemingly spoils what should be Shakespeare’s perfect tragedy. Could this be the effect of Cinthio’s literary influence, or does Shakespeare merely, that is, tragically, stumble?

The Cinthio-Shakespeare Connection:
The superabundance of Italian influence on Elizabethan writers and playwrights was mainly due to the Counter Reformation that followed the Council of Trent (1545-63), which resulted in a diaspora of freethinking Italians to protestantized countries where their radical theories were more generally tolerated. Among those countries at the dawn of the seventeenth century was newly Anglican England, where John Florio served at the court of King James I (d. 1625) and tutored Queen Anne in Italian language and culture. According to Italian-English literature studies scholar Sergio Rossi of Milan’s Università degli Studi, Florio was a familiar figure for many English writers, including Shakespeare. Rossi adds that Florio and other expatriates sought “to make England more aware of the dignity of the Italian language, and to inform Englishmen about the importance of Italian poetry, especially as represented by such poets as Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, Guarini” (15). While the question of whether Shakespeare was aware of Cinthio’s literary theories remains unanswered and likely – for the most part – unanswerable, the fact that he uses the Italian author’s tales for two plays (Othello and Much Ado About Nothing) leaves the Bard’s familiarity with Cinthio’s short stories beyond question.
“Cinthio”[1] was the penname of a Ferrarese professor named Giovambattista[2] Giraldi (d. 1573). In addition to literary commentary, Cinthio published an epic and nine tragedies. His major prose work, De Gli Hecatommithi, was written in imitation of his countryman Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, but with the decidedly moralistic emphasis that marked him as a Counter Reformation-era writer. Although missing completely from Shakespeare’s Othello, a dialogue on the various types of love prefaces Cinthio’s tales, the thirty-seventh of which is “Il Moro di Venezia.” Only after the discussion turns to rational love[3] are tales exemplifying the opposite presented for the reader. Such moralizing, or addition of commentary, was not only characteristic of Cinthio’s writing but of most Italian writing of that period. And just as Shakespeare would borrow from Cinthio, so, too, did the Italian author borrow from historical traditions popular in his time. According to Italian Shakespeare scholar Maria Cavalchini, it is likely that Cinthio’s own source for “Il Moro di Venezia” was the story of Cristoforo Moro, a Venetian nobleman who lost his wife at the turn of the sixteenth century while returning to Venice from Cyprus (cf. 36).[4] But the late Eugenio Musatti, an Italian expert on popular legends including Cinthio’s, cautions that the Italian author’s tales most often “derive from preceding novelists or from the writer’s imagination or invention” (47).[5]
Whatever the origins of Cinthio’s story, its presence is unmistakably discernable in Shakespeare’s Othello, which was first performed in 1604 and first published in 1622. Although there was no known English-language version of the Hecatommithi, scholars debate whether Florio or some other expatriate produced one that is no longer extant; whether Shakespeare’s source was the original Italian; or, more likely, whether Shakespeare made use of the 1583 French translation of Gabriel Chappuys published in Paris. Demonstrating the literal nature of Chappuys’ translation and the linguistic preference of Elizabethan playwrights for French versions of Italian stories, Cavalchini notes: “[W]e have few elements that could indicate for us whether Shakespeare knew the original Italian, the French version, or a derived English version” (39).[6] Drawing a similar conclusion as editor of the pertinent volume of Columbia University’s Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Geoffrey Bullough makes his translation from the original Italian, “since there is no certainty” (194). However Shakespeare managed to read the Hecatommithi, he clearly knew Cinthio’s fiction intimately, and the changes he made were deliberate and purposeful, not the result of relying on a poor summary or second-hand rehashing.

The Capo di Sqadra and Michael Cassio:
Both Cinthio and Shakespeare’s works have as their central protagonist a Moor, although only Shakespeare gives him a name: “Othello.” In fact, with the exception of Disdemona (Desdemona for Shakespeare), none of Cinthio’s characters have names. As the rehasher of a straightforward, uncomplicated narrative tale, Cinthio presents broad character sketches early on. Following the Moor and Disdemona, the third character readers encounter is the Alfieri, or Ensign, whose wickedness is immediately exposed by the story’s omniscient narrator. Only then does Cinthio introduce his readers to the character on which this paper focuses: the Capo di Squadra, or Corporal:
In the same company there was also a Capo di Squadra who was dear to the Moor. He would very often go to the Moor’s house, and eat with him and his wife. There, since the Lady knew him to be well liked by her husband, she gave him many signs of the greatest kindness. This was much appreciated by the Moor.[7]
Painted in such general terms, Cinthio’s Capo di Squadra presents few complexities. The Capo’s friendship with the Moor is presupposed. And from Cinthio’s first paragraph about the Corporal, it is clear both that he and Disdimona have their own close friendship, and that their friendship has the Moor’s approval.
Shakespeare reformulates Cinthio’s Capo di Squadra both by choice and also – given the transition from narrative story telling to theatre – by necessity. The Bard lacks the voice of an omniscient narrator, and, for this reason, readers or viewers of Othello first encounter Michael Cassio through his own words and the words of others. Shakespeare’s first dramatic choice in molding Cassio’s character is, in fact, a choice that leads to the tragedy that is Othello: The placement of the initial words about Casio in the mouth of his nemesis, Iago. Predictably, Cassio seen through Iago’s eyes seems at first to be a far less desirable character than Cinthio’s Capo. “And what is he?” Iago asks Roderigo rhetorically:
Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
One Michael Cassio, a Florentine
(A fellow almost damn’d in fair wife),
That never set a squadron in the field,
Nor the division of a battle knows
More than a spinster – unless bookish theoric,
Wherein the [togged] consuls can propose
As masterly as he. (I.,i.,18-26)

While Cinthio’s Alfieri is wicked and his Capo good, things aren’t always so clear-cut in his tale as they quickly begin to appear in Shakespeare’s play. For example, Cinthio’s Alfieri wounds the Capo, who has a woman at home, as he exits the house of a prostitute[9] – clearly a rather complicated situation for an upstanding married soldier. But here, through Iago’s own words, Shakespeare’s introduction of Cassio places him dramatically as an innocent victim standing between the inexplicable hatred of Othello’s Ancient and Othello himself, who is the play’s major tragic hero. Thus does Shakespeare establish Othello as a play with polar extremes of moral good and evil. And thus, while Iago is morally evil, the moral goodness of both Cassio and Othello become gradually clearer.
While the Lieutenant’s friendship with Othello remains unmentioned at this point in Shakespeare’s play, the Moor’s trust in Cassio should be evident by now from what we already know. For instance, we already know from Iago’s own words that Othello passed him over for the lieutenancy. We also know from the Ancient’s words that, even if Iago doesn’t appreciate Cassio’s military prowess, Othello undoubtedly does. What we don’t know yet is whether Othello’s judgment regarding Cassio is justifiable. But surely, even from Iago’s first words, the broad hint at his self-proclaimed jealously is bound to create in viewers and readers an innate dislike for the Ancient. And just as surely, an innate like for the jealous man’s foil, Cassio, could be nascent as well. Such a like for the Capo and dislike for the Alfieri are present in Cinthio’s story; but there they are plainly stated, while Shakespeare’s skill transforms this mere statement of fact into a work of art. This allows him to gradually inculcate in readers a sense of the characters’ moral evil or goodness.
As a character, Cassio himself first enters the stage in the second scene of Act I as he searches for Othello at the Duke’s request. Othello’s respect for Cassio is immediately demonstrated upon their encounter. When Cassio reports that the Duke is seeking his presence at a meeting of the Signoria, Othello asks his Lieutenant’s opinion: “What is the matter, think you?” (I.,ii.,38). Othello does not question Cassio’s conjecture that the Duke’s business is “of some heat” (40), but immediately says he will follow the Lieutenant to the Duke. And just as Othello’s trust and care for Cassio are found in the way he interacts with him, so too is Cassio’s reciprocal trust for his Captain evident. This trust is further demonstrated as the “Veronesa” ship arrives in Cyprus at the beginning of Act II, where three gentlemen discuss the Lieutenant. As a premonition of things to come, the third gentleman observes that Cassio “looks sadly” (II.,i.,32); and he adds that Cassio prays his master arrive safely after the violent tempest that separated them in their Adriatic crossing. By the beginning of Act II, therefore, Shakespeare has established a strong bond of friendship and trust between the two men.
A problem Shakespeare encounters that wasn’t present for Cinthio arises in establishing the subsequent bond of friendship between Cassio and Desdemona. While Cinthio’s story includes no explicit or implicit time constraints, Shakespeare’s action-packed drama shuttles the characters directly from the Signoria to ships bound for Cyprus. It is to his Ancient, Iago, a man “of honesty and trust,” and not his Lieutenant that Othello assigns the conveyance of Desdemona (I.,iii.,284 et cf. 295). And it seems from the fact that all three arrive separately (cf. II.,i,25-200) that Cassio and Desdemona have had no contact in the interim. Still, Cassio clearly expresses his quickly developed affection for his Captain’s wife to Montano, then-governor of Cyprus, as they together await Othello’s arrival:
She that I spake of, our great captain’s captain,
Left in the conduct of the bold Iago,
Whose footing here anticipates our thoughts
A se’nnight’s speed. Great Jove, Othello guard,
And swell his sail with thine own pow’rful breath,
That he may bless this bay with his tall ship,
Make love’s quick pants in Desdemona’s arms,
Give renew’d fire to our extincted spirits,
[And bring all Cyprus comfort!] (II.,i.,74-82)

Even if Cassio has not had the time to develop a friendship with Desdemona, therefore, he sill holds her in the highest regard given her position as the wife of his master. This is in complete contradistinction to Iago’s hatred and bitter conniving.
Not only does Cassio appear to have a proper affection for Desdemona as the wife of another man, but Desdemona’s own affection for the Lieutenant also seems quite proper. Gradually leading his readers toward the inevitable tragic conclusion of their fated friendship, though, Shakespeare makes Iago serve as the impetus for both Cassio’s hamartic fall from Othello’s favor and even for bringing Desdemona into the play’s tangled web of adulterous implication. Shakespeare takes Cassio’s hamartic drinking problem directly from Cinthio’s tale, as he does the Alfieri’s conniving to create in the Moor suspicion of Disdemona and the Capo’s relationship with her. Then Shakespeare’s Ancient similarly points Cassio to Desdemona as his ticket back to his post after the latter’s fall from favor: “Our general’s wife is now the general,” Iago says. “…Confess yourself freely to her;/ importune her help to put you in your place again” (II.,iii.,315 et 317). Despite Iago’s poisoning of Othello’s mind, Desdemona’s affection for the Lieutenent is properly expressed in her concern for his repentance. After Cassio exits, she entreats on his behalf with her husband: “For if he be not one that truly loves you,/ That errs in ignorance and not in cunning,/ I have no judgment in an honest face” (III.,iii.,48-50).
According to Cinthio’s tale, on account of the Moor’s blackness, the Alfieri cannot believe Disdemona could really be in love with her husband. So, instead, the Alfieri reasons that Disdemona is ignoring him because “she had opened herself to the Head of the Squadron.”[10] This is the driving force behind the Alfieri’s hatred, certainly more potent than Iago’s confused “Now I do love her too…” (II.,i.,292). Cinthio then adds that the Alfieri:
…decided that he wished him [the Capo di Squadra] to be lifted from her eyes, and not only did he occupy his mind with this, but the love he carried for the Lady turned into the bitterest hate, and he gave himself in study and thought to how it might come to be that the Capo di Squadra be killed, for if he would not be able to rejoice in the Lady, neither would the Moor rejoice [in her].[11] (326)
It is worth noting, however, that Cinthio’s Alfieri is inconsistent in his hatred, since he believes Disdemona to be in love with the Capo di Squadra but seeks to keep the Moor, not the Capo, from “rejoic[ing]” in the Lady. Inconsistencies aside, the Alfieri’s scheming has little to do with the Moor and more to do with the downfall of the Capo. This becomes even more evident as he and the Moor plot together not only to kill the Capo but Disdemona as well. In fact, it is the Alfieri, not the Moor, who deals Disdemona her fatal blow in Cinthio’s story (cf. 332).
Iago’s hatred in Shakespeare’s play, on the other hand, proves to be directed at both men, but ultimately at Othello. Certainly Iago hates Cassio, as his early scheming makes clear:
Cassio’s a proper man. Let me see now:
To get his place and to plum up my will
In double knaver – How? how? – Let’s see –
After some time, to abuse Othello’s [ear]
That he [Cassio] is too familiar with his wife. (I.,iii.,392-96)

But Iago’s hatred is especially directed toward Othello, whose hamartic gullibility he next lists: “He hath a person and a smooth dispose/ To be suspected – fram’d to make women false” (397-98). In this hatred, Shakespeare’s Iago proves irredeemable and unrepentant to the end – the perfect villain. In Othello, Iago alone represents wickedness. For even though Othello plots Desdemona’s death with his Ancient, he is redeemed in the end by equaling her fate with his own: “I kiss’d thee ere I kill’d thee. No way but this:/ Killing myself, to die upon a kiss” (V.,ii.,358-59).
Cinthio’s Alfieri, on the other hand, shares his vileness as if it were a communicable disease. Together, he and the Moor plot Disdemona’s death, with the Alfieri convincing his master that they ought to beat his wife with fatal blows and then make the ceiling collapse over her to conceal their crime (cf. 331). With the Alfieri in the closet, the Moor casts the first blow; he then stands by and watches as his Alfieri delivers two more blows and his wife “falling upon the floor, remained there, killed by the impious Alfieri” (Ibid.).[12] In Cinthio’s version, both men meet their just reward, as, in independent circumstances, they are tortured brutally and die. And Cinthio concludes: “Thus did God revenge the innocence of Disdemona” (334).[13] Certainly neither the Moor nor any other character in Cinthio’s story proves to be a tragic hero. Cinthio’s tale is not a tragedy.

From Cinthio to Shakespeare:
Shakespeare, on the other hand, clearly intends to produce Othello as a tragedy. But being the third part of a perverted triangle of love and suspicion surrounding an unsuspecting Desdemona, Michael Cassio stands in essential contradistinction to Iago’s hatred, even if in a lesser role than that of Othello. Without him, the triangle would be incomplete, and without his katharsis as well as that of Othello, Shakespeare’s tragedy would seem to include a character who doesn’t inspire pity or fear. After all, since he fell through his hamartia of a weakness for drinking, Cassio seems to be just as necessary a tragic hero – albeit lesser – as Othello for the play in toto. But unlike Othello, who kathartically dies, Cassio ultimately rises higher than he ever imagined when Lodovico entrusts Cyprus to him at the end of the play (cf. V.,ii.,332). So where is Cassio’s katharsis? He seems to be a “winner.” But can a tragedy have winners?
Florida State University’s Leon Golden, in fact, seems to ignore Cassio completely when he argues that, after Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus, only Othello “conform [s] to the essential nature of tragedy” (142). Following the interplay between Iago’s evil and Othello’s spoudaios, or noble character, that leads to the Moor’s kathartic downfall, Golden concludes: ”The entire action of the play attests to the fact that Othello is a spoudaios hero of the type required by the Aristotelian definition of tragedy” (149). But Shakespeare’s play is more complicated than the interplay between Iago, Othello and Desdemona. The Bard has inherited from Cinthio another character, the Capo di Squadra, whose tragic hamartia he glaringly leaves unredeemed. Unlike the other characters, Shakespeare does not refashion the Capo to fit his tragic mold. True, the Capo’s end is different in “Il Moro di Venezia,” where he never learns that it was the Alfieri cut off his leg; subsequently follows the villain back to Venice; and exits the story towards the end after accusing the Moor – through the Alfieri’s devious persuasion – of cutting off his leg (cf. 330). But in neither story does the Capo, or Cassio, fulfill Aristotle’s requirement of inspiring pity or fear.
Caroline Patey of Milan’s Università degli Studi posits that Shakespeare borrowed more than Cinthio’s characters: Perhaps, even unwittingly, he imbibed through Cinthio’s stories a bit of the disregard for Aristotle that is most clearly expressed in the Italian author’s literary criticism. Patey elaborates:
The tale of Giraldi’s [Cinthio’s] tragedies or ‘novelle’ and of their impact on Shakespeare’s plays has been told on various occasions and often with great authority. But the bizarre quality of the author’s theoretical contribution to the fervid literary debate of his time, and its possible influence on Elizabethan drama, have drawn little scholarly attention. (167)
Patey acknowledges that Cinthio’s own literary criticism does not appear to have been among that translated into English by Florio and other expatriates. But she adds that others of a similar mind, including Cinthio’s protégé, Ludovico Dolce were almost the sole voice of Italian commentary on Aristotelian tragedy in the English language: “If the Italian cultural attaché in England [Florio] may be taken as a reliable source of information, it becomes evident that the seed of anti-Aristotelian ideas had traveled safely from Padua to London…” (168). Key to Cinthio’s disregard for Aristotle was his abandonment of Katharsis, or the purging of the emotions. Patey explains: “A Giraldian play is to represent life as it is and not, Aristotle wise, as it should be” (181). In life, loose ends sometimes fail to be tied up. In stories that represent life, such as Cinthio’s, characters drop out and cease to be important. Such was the case for the Capo in Cinthio’s “Il Moro di Venezia,” where he disappears shortly before the end. Such was also the case for Cassio, at least in regard to tying up all of the tragic loose ends of Shakespeare’s play.
It would certainly be too far fetched to argue that Shakespeare, too, intentionally sought to represent life merely as it is, for clearly his characters in Othello are shaped – in fact, Iago, Othello and Desdemona are undoubtedly molded tragically in a way completely absent from Cinthio’s story. But Cassio remains unaccounted for; he is, in the simplest of terms, a tragic loose end that Gorden Lee seems to ignore in praising the perfection of Othello as a tragedy. Perhaps a more tentative premise could be offered: That Shakespeare borrowedfrom Cinthio – even unintentionally – a disregard for purist Aristotelian tragedy. Surely Shakespeare intended for his play to contain kathartic elements, but a purist would tie up all the loose ends, including Cassio. Shakespeare doesn’t do this.

Cinthio-Shakespeare studies have long focused the Italian author’s stories as source material for at least two of Shakespeare’s plays. As the undisputed primary source for Shakespeare’s Othello, Cinthio’s “Il Moro di Venezia” provided the Bard not only with Othello, Iago and Desdemona but also Michael Cassio. This paper’s character analysis showed Cassio to be intrinsically tied to Othello in the position of a minor tragic character, who, like Othello, suffers from a harmartic – albeit lesser – character flaw. While Shakespeare correctly modifies Othello to fit the Aristotelian definition of tragedy, the Cassio-Capo character analysis shows that Cassio, like Cinthio’s Capo, ceases at a certain point to be important – at least tragically speaking.
At the beginning of this paper a question was raised: Could Cassio’s failure as a tragic hero be the effect of Cinthio’s literary influence, or has Shakespeare stumbled? Always the master, it seems highly unlikely that Shakespeare has stumbled, at least in the absolute sense. More likely, Shakespeare achieved his intended katharsis with the events surrounding Iago, Desdemona, and the play’s major tragic hero, Othello. In this sense, Florida State’s Golden was correct: Othello’s spoudaios does lead to his downfall, perhaps even as dramatically as did Oedipus’. But only if Cassio’s hamartia has ceased to be important could Othello be considered a perfect tragedy in toto. But unlike Cinthio’s Capo, Shakespeare’s Cassio doesn’t drop out of the picture. Rather, he seems to retain his importance – in fact, as the governor of Cyprus, he finishes the play in a better place than when it began. Whether consciously or unconsciously, it seems safe to conclude that Shakespeare didn’t feel it was important to tie up the loose end of Cassio’s hamartia. But in the end, one must admit that only the Bard can truly say whether this was the result of Cinthio’s anti-Aristotelian influence. And he isn’t talking.

Works Cited:

Bullough, Geoffrey. ”Othello.” Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Vol. 7. Ed. Geoffrey Bullough. New York: Columbia, 1973. 193-238.

Cavalchini, Mariella. “Intorno alle fonti dell’Othello.” Revista di letterature moderne e comparate. 20 (1967). 35-44.

Cinthio, Giraldi. “The Moor of Venice.” Trans. Geoffrey Bullough. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Vol. 7. Ed. Geoffrey Bullough. New York: Columbia, 1973. 239-52.

Cynthio, Giovambattista Giraldi. “Il Moro di Venezia.” De Gli Hecatommithi. Vol. 1. Vinegia: Girolamo Scotto, 1566. 324-34.

Golden, Leon. “Othello, Hamlet, and Aristotelian Tragedy.” Shakespeare Quarterly. 35:2 (Summer 1984). 142-156.

Musatti, Eugenio. Leggende Popolari. Milano: Ulrico Hoepli, 1904.

Patey, Caroline. “Beyond Aristotle: Giraldi Cinzio and Shakespeare.” Italy and the English Renaissance. Ed. Sergio Rossi. Milano: Unicopli, 1989. 167-85.

Rossi, Sergio. “Italy and the English Renaissance: An Introduction.” Italy and the English Renaissance. Ed. Sergio Rossi. Milano: Unicopli, 1989. 9-24.

Shakespeare, William. “Othello, the Moor of Venice.” The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Eds. G. Blakemore Evans et al. Boston: Houghton, 1997.

[1] Or “Cynthio” in contemporary Italian, and “Cinzio” in current, Italian-language commentary.
[2] “Giovambattista” (John the Baptist) is a conflation of “Giovanni Battista,” as it appears in some sources.
[3] “Amore razionale” (10).
[4] Cavalchini adds that others suggest that Francesco da Sessa, called “Il Capitano Moro,” possibly of mixed ethnicity, and imprisoned on Cyprus for a “crime of passion,” served as the basis for Cinthio’s story (cf. 36).
[5] “…derivano da novellieri precedenti o dall’imaginazione e dall’invenzione dello scrittore” (47). All translations, unless otherwise noted, are my own.
[6] [A]bbiamo pochi elementi che ci possano indicare se Shakespeare conobbe l’originale italiano, la traduzione francese o una copia inglese da essa derivate” (39).
[7] “Nella medesima compagnia era anco un Capo di Squadra, carissimo al Moro. Andava spessissime volte questi a casa del Moro, et spesso mangiava con lui et con la moglie. Là onde la donna che lo conosceva così grato al suo marito, gli dava segni di grandissima benivolenza. La qual cosa era molto cara al Moro” (326).
[8] Despite this, it becomes clear later on, because of Bianca, that Cassio is unmarried.
[9] In one paragraph, Cinthio records that the Capo has a woman at home – “Haveva una donna in casa…” (331) – but, in the next, he is wounded by the Alfieri while leaving the house of a prostitute – “…uscendo … di casa di una meretrice” (Ibid.).
[10] “ella fosse accesa del Capo di Squadra” (324).
[11] “...[P]ensò volerlosi levar dinanzi a gli occhi, et pure a ciò piegò la mente, ma mutò l’amore ch’egli portava alla donna in acerbissimo odio, et si diè con ogni studio a pensare come gli potesse venir fatto, che ucciso il Capo di Squadra, se non potesse goder della donna, il Moro anco non ne godesse” (Ibid.).
[12] “…sopragiugendo la terza percossa, rimase uccisa dall’empio Alfieri” (331).
[13] “Tal fece Iddio vendetta dell’innocenza di Disdemona” (334).

Why we still have liturgical abuses

Given his over-the-top style, I wouldn't normally post something from the UK Telegraph correspondent Damian Thompson. But an official letter he obtained, written by a diocesan liturgical director in the UK's Diocese of Portsmouth was just too much.

Peter Inwood, best known as a liturgical musician but also the diocese's director of liturgy, is responding to a woman wanting to know why he's resisting the reform called for by Redemptionis Sacramentum shouldn't be applied. He replies:

“The problem with the language used in the document is precisely that, although it may appear clearly written and straightforward to lay people such as ourselves, in fact this kind of document is normally intended for bishops and their advisers, and not for lay people. The language does not necessarily mean what we think it means – some of the technical terms have specific and special meanings that need to be explained.”

That explains a lot: When the Church writes a document, she doesn't mean what she said. Something's not right here!

So when Redemptionis sacramentum called for an end to the use of glass or earthenware chalices, that really meant what? That they should continue to be used? I'm just trying to decode this. Can someone help me?

...Sorry for the negative tone. Really, I saw a lot of positive implementation of JPII's Redemptionis sacramentum. I hear it cited to correct countless abuses in the liturgy, and I think it is having a wonderful effect. Thank God for this, one of the last efforts of a great pope. And pray that the document's implementation will spread to places where it's still needed.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Posture at Communion

In yesterday's Catholic Times, I published a column on posture when receiving holy Communion, which I've pasted below.

While the general trend of irreverent expression has always bothered me, the fact that communication while kneeling is looked down on has bothered me even more. For myself, I've come to terms with making a simple bow, but I respect the witness of those who wish to kneel. I don't understand why the altar rails were removed. When I attend St. Agnes in the Twin Cities, or Mass in the extraordinary form, I find I am able to more firmly assent to Christ's Eucharistic presence through kneeling. I wish this were still the norm.

I remember, in 2002, when the American version of the GIRM came out and said the unified gesture in the United States was to be a bow of the head. At the time I was a seminarian at St. John Vianney in the Twin Cities, a very orthodox seminary. Even so, seminarians who had knelt or genuflected to receive holy Communion were told to bow instead. That never made sense to me. Neither could I understand how the nuns (a great aunt of mine among them) at a Carmelite monastery in upper Michigan could be told by the bishop at the time that they could no longer kneel to receive our Lord.

In neither case, though, was anyone ever denied holy Communion. That was something I saw happen for the first time at a wedding in October. And that's why I wrote the column that appears below:

Remember to express adoration before receiving your Eucharistic Lord
By Franz Klein
Catholic Times Columnist

The composition of the congregation at a wedding often differs from that of an ordinary Sunday. Normally there are a number of non-Catholics in attendance and, at many weddings, there are many non-practicing Catholics as well.
Given this situation, any priest or extraordinary minister of the Eucharist knows that reception of Communion poses a number of difficulties. Even though many priests announce guidelines for receiving Communion before they begin to distribute it, many people come forward nonchalantly, perhaps holding out a single hand and expecting to receive a small wafer of bread.
But the Communion line at a wedding is only an extreme example of a growing irreverence towards the Eucharist, wherein Jesus Christ is present, body, blood, soul and divinity. Even at an ordinary Sunday liturgy, the majority of people – frequent if not weekly communicants – fail to reverence the Eucharistic presence of our Lord.
In the “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” published in 2002, the Vatican sought to return greater reverence to the reception of holy Communion. With this in mind, the United States’ version of the GIRM established that “the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence” before receiving either the body or blood or our Lord. A simple gesture, the bow of the head is an exterior action reflecting one’s interior disposition toward Christ’s Eucharistic presence.
In their commentary on Pope Benedict XVI’s recent motu proprio ”Summorum Pontificum,” many theologians are saying the Holy Father is hoping the reverence of the extraordinary (Tridentine) form of the Mass will positively affect the ordinary (new) form of the Mass. In the extraordinary form, as well as in the ordinary form in some other countries, the normative posture for receiving holy Communion is kneeling – a posture that connotes profound reverence.
Although in the ordinary form of the Mass the Vatican allowed the United States to make standing the norm for reception here, and the GIRM states that a common posture “is a sign of unity,” the document also states that communicants “should not be denied holy Communion because they kneel.”
Some Catholics feel standing as a norm for receiving holy Communion in the United States is part of the reason so little reverence is now paid to our Eucharistic Lord in local parishes. Thus they continue to exercise their right to kneel when receiving holy Communion. Sadly, however, some of our nation’s pastors have gone beyond the catechesis called for in the GIRM in explaining why bowing is the normative expression of reverence here and have denied kneeling communicants holy Communion.
That such a denial was widespread was clear already in 2002, when the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship wrote to a U.S. bishop that it had received the complaints of people who had been denied holy Communion for kneeling in “a number of places.” Noting that kneeling remains a legitimate form of reverence and that one of a Catholic’s fundamental rights is access to the sacraments, the letter signed by Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez states that “there should be no such refusal to any Catholic who presents himself for holy Communion at Mass.”
Cardinal Estévez’s letter also said, “Priests should understand that the Congregation will regard future complaints of this nature with great seriousness, and if they are verified, it intends to seek disciplinary action consonant with the gravity of the pastoral abuse.”
Rather than being denied holy Communion, therefore, kneeling communicants could teach all of us a lesson – a message that has been missing, sadly, from far too many Eucharistic liturgies: Jesus Christ is truly present in the sacred Species, and proper adoration should be expressed before receiving Him, whether that adoration be expressed by kneeling or bowing.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Day in the Life of Pope Benedict

Hats off to AmericanPapist, who posted a video from a German television station that follows Pope Benedict XVI through an ordinary day. A link to the video on YouTube is here.

All I can say is, "Wow!" Pope Benedict is a far more private person than was Servant of God Pope John Paul II. There are a number of behind-the-scene shots in this video that I simply never expected to see -- everything from his dinner to watching television in the evening.

Here are a couple observations:

1. JPII's morning Mass was celebrated with a constant stream of different pilgrims attending. I know many, many people who attended Mass in the pope's private chapel. Such is not the case with Pope Benedict, whose Mass is attended normally by a core group of those who work with him, and very occasionally a small group of pilgrims. In the video, the pope celebrates in Latin ad orientem. Why aren't we doing that??? I also liked the clip of Pope Benedict in silent meditation. I've read elsewhere that this is his ordinary morning practice following Mass.
2. JPII prefered to eat with a wide variety of visiting bishops, young people, and especially visitors from Poland. Pope Benedict's meals are much more private, and even focused on work. I had to cheer when I saw Fr. Wojciech Giertych, OP, former professor of moral theology at the Angelicum and now the papal theologian, sit down with the pope for dinner. It is good to see that "papal theologian" means just that and isn't simply an honorary title.
3. More in keeping with JPII, Pope Benedict takes time to relax in nature. While JPII's activities were more strenuous -- I've been to Castel Gandolfo and seen the swimming pool the late pontiff would frequent during his summer siestas. So even if Pope Benedict merely walks instead of climbing mountains incognito and taking an afternoon dip in the pool, the two popes do share a love for time outside.
4. And lastly, the two popes both use/d modern mass media to stay informed. I honestly hadn't expected to see Pope Benedict sit down to watch the evening news, but that's what he does in the video. All those telegrams regions that have experienced disasters receive come from a pope trying to stay as intimately involved in the world as possible. At the same time, he spends supper with his theologian. How's that for staying grounded? Certainly, Pope Benedict is in the world while not being of it.

Go check out this video!!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Latin mystery

I have no clue how he stumbled upon this, but a fellow Latin lover, Father Joel Sember of Green Bay, Wis., recently pointed out to me that when you copy and paste the text from a page on the Vatican City State's new website (, a hidden, somewhat Latinate warning mysteriously appears.

Here's the text of the warning:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

I can't make heads or tails out of it, so I'm almost ready to conclude that it's a bunch of nonsense words strung together. But then again, parts of it, when modified slightly, seem to make sense:

Ut enim ad minim[am] veniam,
could be...
For even as a minimal kindness,

nostr[ae] exercitation[em] ullam[...] laboris
could be...
Any exercise of our labor

Other words seem ominous, especially the repitition of dolor.

Unfortunately I don't have the time to decode it, but any other Latin lovers out there who want to tackle it, be my guest.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

St. Louis Magazine on the Tridentine-rite ordinations

Published in St. Louis Magazine is an excellent reflection by Jeannete Cooperman on the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest's June 15 Tridentine-rite ordination of two Americans in the St. Louis Cathedral. Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, formerly La Crosse's bishop conducted the four-hour ceremony. One of the two men, Father Avis (read more about him below), is originally from the La Crosse diocese; additionally, a current member of the Institute's community near La Crosse at St. Mary's Ridge was quoted in the article.

After contemplating at length on the aesthetics of the extraordinary form of the Mass, Cooperman focuses on the division she feels the rite is causing -- both within the Church and with the Jewish community. I would call her concern overwrought, except for the fact that so many Jews and Catholics are reacting negatively to the reintroduction of the extraordinary rite.

A negative Catholic reaction from the article:
“It’s a power thing,” snaps a devout Catholic with a graduate degree in theology and strong feminist sensibilities. “Only the boys who know the language know what’s going on. They’re saying the words; if you can’t answer, so what? They’re battening down the hatches.” She takes a deep breath. “Yes, the mystique of Latin takes people to another world. But it’s a world that doesn’t exist.”

And a negative Jewish reaction (in regard to the Triduum prayer asking that the veil from the eyes of the Jews):
“The other thing that’s going on here is a dynamic that is very dangerous,” (Rabbi) Shook continues. “In the old days, pre–Vatican II, there was a sense that Christians needed to help their Jewish brothers and sisters see the truth—and the reason they did not see the truth was because they had not been instructed in the truth—so it was the Catholics’ job to instruct them. Now, what happens when Jews say, ‘I’m not interested’? Then they are being willful in their denial of the truth. And the next step is anti-Judaism. The minute you assign a defect to a community—i.e., that the community is not in a proper relationship with Christ—your relationship from that point on is one of superior to inferior.

Within these two quotes are too many issues to address with the attention they deserve. I think the Jewish reaction to this prayer is a fault of current interreligious dialogue -- our current mode of interreligious dialogue doesn't seem to include the Church's hope that all humanity embrace Jesus Christ. Why can't we pray that the Jews come to know Christ? I wish the current (ordinary) good Friday prayer were more explicit in this regard. This isn't a liturgical problem -- it's an ecclesiological problem.

As for the negative reaction from within the Church, I think a lot of it comes from ecclesiological misunderstanding ("It's a power thing") as well as liturgical misunderstanding. Someone needs to address what it means to "participate" in the liturgy. If all participation means is dialoguing with a priest celebrant, there's not much going on. But if participation means uniting one's heart, mind and senses to the mystery being re-presented, then perhaps being "taken to another world" is exactly what we want. Does that world exist? I don't know what the "devout Catholic with a graduate degree" is hopeing for, but my faith tells me this world exists!

As for Father Avis, one of the two men ordained in that ceremony, I wrote about his faith journey for the Catholic Times at the end of June:

Former Prairie du Chien resident ordained for Institute of Christ the King
By Franz Klein
Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Catholic Times) – A former resident of Prairie du Chien, Wis., Father William Avis, was one of two men ordained to the priesthood June 16 by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. The newly ordained are religious of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a society of apostolic life.
Countless priests, including Monsignor Gilles Wach, founder and general superior of the Institute, participated in the three-hour Tridentine ordination Mass – the first to be celebrated in a U.S. cathedral in over 40 years. Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., and auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry of Chicago sat in choir.
The son of Walter Avis and Roberta Cunningham, 28-year-old Father Avis said he always felt drawn to the religious life, and to the priesthood. But, raised Lutheran, he first had to become Catholic.
“It was almost like an intuition that it (Catholicism) was the true faith,” he said, explaining that the beautiful prayers he encountered in an old missal captivated his imagination as a child. “The first time I tried to become Catholic, I was in eighth grade. But, because my mother was against it, I couldn’t be received into the Church.”
Father Avis said his mother eventually came to terms with his desire to convert, and he went through the RCIA program at St. Gabriel’s Parish in Prairie du Chien.
It was during his first year at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse that Father Avis discovered the Institute of Christ the King. “I was very drawn to the charism of the Institute, especially in that it had the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales,” he explained. “I had just finished reading “An Introduction to the Devout Life, and I was captivated by Salesian spirituality.”
Father Avis said Salesian spirituality consists in “not doing the big things, but doing everything for the love of God.”
While at UW-La Crosse, Father Avis attended the Tridentine Mass celebrated by priests of the Institute at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, St. Mary’s Ridge. He then spent a year working with the Institute at their St. Mary’s Oratory in Rockford, Ill. This experience of community life, of living and praying in common, convinced Father Avis he was called to join the Institute.
After a year spent learning French – the common language for the Institute, which was founded in France in 1990 – Father Avis was accepted to the order’s international seminary in Gricigliano, Italy.
During his years in Gricigliano, Father Avis studied Salesian spirituality, and attended philosophy and theology lectures based on St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. “Most of our professors were Benedictine monks who were living a contemplative life, and that was linked with the theology,” he said.
Father Avis said his ordination to the subdiaconate was a decisive moment. “There, the candidate for the priesthood takes a vow of celibacy and also the duty of saying the Divine Office every day,” he explained. “It’s there where you really throw yourself in the arms of God and give yourself completely. Always before I would have some hesitation. But, seeing how my life had progressed so far, I could see this is what God was calling me to do.”
Together with three other men, Father Avis was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Luciano Giovannetti, of the local Fiesole diocese, earlier this year.
And on June 16, in St. Louis, he completed a long journey by being ordained to the priesthood.
Father Avis said the fact that he was a priest first sank in as he concelebrated with Archbishop Burke later on during his ordination Mass. “I knew already that I was a priest, but when I said the words of consecration, I really felt this is what a priest does,” he said.
Father Avis has been assigned to St. Francis Oratory in St. Louis, which celebrates the Tridentine Mass for Catholics in south St. Louis. He served at that parish during his time as a deacon as well.
He said much of his time will be occupied in hearing confessions. “We’re one of the few churches in the city of St. Louis that have confessions each day, so a lot of people come specifically for that reason,” Father Avis explained.
“I’m looking forward to giving spiritual direction,” he said. “The charism of our Institute is to spread Salesian spirituality, and that’s usually done with retreats or spiritual direction.”
“Pray for me,” Father Avis added. “One of the things that strikes me about the priesthood is that God, in His providence, decides to use the instruments that we would think He would be the least likely to use.”

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reflections on university common texts

A few days ago I mentioned on this blog parental opposition to the University of St. Thomas English department's 2007 "common text": Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale. The group of concerned parents has been in contact with the St. Thomas English department, and has set up a website: UST Class Action.

The parental group believes that, not only is Atwood's book sexually graphic, but it is also blatently anti-Catholic. They describe it as "vulgar, sexually offensive and anti-Catholic." Since I haven't read A Handmaid's Tale, I'm not in a good position to confirm or deny what these parents say. Certainly, from the examples they give, Atwood's book contains some very vulgar and explicit language. And from the quotations they provide, the argument that the book is intentionally anti-Catholic is also quite convincing. Refer to the link above if you want to read for yourself.

My post, though, is more of a reflection on university common texts. At most universities, English instructors of introductory classes have quite a bit of freedom regarding how they teach their course and what they assign their students to read. Among the only common elements is a "common text," which all students read. In my mind, the common text should establish a vision of sorts. It should answer the question of what English is about: it should display the basic philosophy and drive of the English department and what it hopes to accomplish in conveying knowledge and wisdom to its students.

So why would a department choose a text like Atwood's? I can't fathom the beginning of an answer to that question. To me, literature involves the exploration of the nature of man. It asks and seeks to answer, at least in part, the deepest questions: Why do we exist? Is there meaning to suffering? It is the good, the true and the beautiful as expressed by written words. Do we find this in Atwood's text. My first guess would be in the negative, but anybody who has read the text is free to chime in.

As a student of literature and a future teacher (I will probably be teaching Winona State University's common text to incoming freshmen next fall), I am deeply concerned with where the study of literature is headed. I believe the problems at St. Thomas have less to do with anti-Catholicism and more to do with a general lack of direction in the study of literature.

The first thing a department should do, in my opinion, is establish some first principles -- and here's where a Catholic college has an advantage. At St. Thomas, a Catholic university, those first principles could include the reigious affirmation of some of those deep questions. Life, and suffering, do have meaning, which is found in Jesus Christ. Shouldn't a Catholic university's common text express this clearly?

A couple suggestions for St. Thomas' 2008 common text:
1. Dante's Divine Commedy.
2. Hilaire Belloc's The Path to Rome
3. Flannery O'Connor's collected short stories
4. G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy
5. Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest
6. Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
7. Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

There are so many more works that I could list, but what these seven share is a sacramental vision that is explicitly Catholic -- something that should be "common" to all into English courses at a Catholic university.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Foreign priests too dogmatic for the British

According to an interesting news byte in the Anglican Journal, foreign Roman Catholic priests coming to work in Britain now undergo training in "Britishness," which includes an attempt to make them less dogmatic:

“Some foreign priests working in Britain tend to be too dogmatic about the church’s moral rightness on just about everything,” said Rev. Terry Drainey the president of Ushaw College. “That’s not how we do things here. This course shows how we deal with a whole range of issues affecting Catholics, including the role of women, divorce, the lay ministry and homosexuality.”It is the first course of its kind and is the brainchild of Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth. The number of foreign priests in Britain is rising as the number of home-grown priests declines. The priests undergoing training in “Britishness” come from English and Welsh parishes. "

Here in Wisconsin, we have a large number of foreign priests, mostly from India and Africa, working in our parish. I can confirm that most of these priests have a dogmatic tendency. What a wonderful thing -- having priests who know what the Church teaches and aren't afraid to say it! Thank God for these foreign priests! It shouldn't puzzle us very much why the Church is growing in India and Africa while British and American Churches suffer. I hope the foreign priests coming to Britain prove resistant!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bad news at St. Thomas

Father Dease, president of my undergraduate alma mater, the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn., recently published a report on the Board of Trustee's fall meeting. In his report, he announced that the St. Paul/Minneapolish archbishop would no longer serve as ex officio chairman of the board, but would instead be elected to five year terms.
Father Dease writes:
One very upbeat moment during the plenary session came when the board saluted Archbishop Harry Flynn for his leadership as chairman since 1995. The board presented him with a framed certificate of appreciation that said: "Champion of Catholic higher education and model of servant leadership, intellectual and moral courage, you exemplify caritas, the greatest of all Christian virtues. You do us honor, and we thank you."
Implementing a process the Board Affairs Committee began last February, the board also elected Archbishop Flynn to a five-year term as chairman of the board after making appropriate changes to the university's bylaws which heretofore had stipulated that the ordinary (head) of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis serve ex officio as chairman.
The changes were made to recognize the increasingly important role that Archbishop Flynn has at St. Thomas. He has been a very active chairman, meeting regularly with faculty, staff and students, attending campus events and serving on committees such as the one that wrote our new mission statement. More recently, he has agreed to serve as an honorary co-chair of the Opening Doors campaign. After he retires as ordinary next year, he will move into the late Monsignor Terrence Murphy's office in the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center.
The board also removed ex officio references from two other board positions. Father Kevin McDonough, vicar general of the archdiocese, will continue to serve as vice chairman and was elected to a five-year term. The board elected me to five-year terms both as a trustee and as president of St. Thomas.
These changes as well as others made previously reflect recommendations made to us five years ago by the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities when it reviewed with our board best governance practices. One AGB recommendation was to conform our bylaws to what is now the common practice among Catholic colleges and universities: to elect the board's chairman and vice chairman.
(You can read Father Dease's full letter here.)
For obvious reasons, this is very troubling. What connection to the Church does St. Thomas now have? What clout can the Church exercise if the university goes astray? What if the archbishop openly criticizes the university, and the board decides not to elect him to another term?
There are so many good things happening at St. Thomas -- everything from the seminarians at St. Paul and St. John Vianney, to the Catholic Studies program, to the faithful Catholic professors I studied under in the philosophy department. But without a regulating body, there is now nothing to ensure that these good things will continue. I'm very afraid for St. Thomas' future.
Another alumna has been keeping me abreast on another situation brewing: St. Thomas' English department adopts a "common text" every year, which all incoming freshmen are required to read. Apparently this year's text is quite unsavory and even anti-Catholic. You can read about it here.
I'm trying to think positively about St. Thomas, especially since the education I received there left me a better formed Catholic, but all I can do is pray for the university's future. As much as I love to hear of new, vibrant universities like Christendom, I continue to pray for established universities like St. Thomas, because so much good could happen if they were to re-embrace their Catholic identity -- not only as individuals or programs, but as an entire university administration.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bishop Morlino interview

If you recall, a year ago Wisconsin voters went to the polls to vote on an amendment that would define marriage as being between one man and one woman. That amendment passed, and playing a role in its success were the efforts of Bishop Morlino of Madison. The bishop required all his priests to toe the line, something that caused controversy in the eyes of the secular press.

Now, a year later, the Wisconsin State Journal has published the transcript of a recent interview with the bishop about his defense of marriage, which can be read here.

Feeling sorry for the priests of Chippewa Falls...

Back in July, I posted an article about a certain Alvin Coffman's habit of stealing jars of coins from the rectory of Holy Ghost Parish in Chippewa Falls. Well, it seems there's more than one person causing grief to beleagured pastors and their parishes in the small Wisconsin city of Chippewa Falls. Check out this article:

Erickson accused of harassing priest

Monday, November 5, 2007 10:31 AM CST

A Chippewa Falls man is facing criminal charges for allegedly harassing a Catholic priest over a two-year period, including recent threats to defame him with false accusations.
James E. Erickson, 59, 8811 Highway 178, was charged Friday with threatening to injure or accuse another person of a crime, defamation and stalking. Erickson was taken into custody Thursday. A $100 cash bond was set by Judge Roderick Cameron.
According to the criminal complaint:The Rev. Brian J. Jazdzewski, of Notre Dame Catholic church in Chippewa Falls, told officers that he had been receiving threatening letters and voicemails since October 2005 from Erickson.
The letters and voice messages have become more frequent and more threatening, Jazdzewski reported.
At first the letters stated that the church was staging a conspiracy against Erickson and his wife.
Letters received at the end of 2005 said that Erickson had been abused by a priest when Erickson was 10 years old, and he expected $500,000 from the church. Erickson wrote that he expected Jazdzewski to help; and if he didn’t help, Erickson could have him “kicked out of the church.”
On Oct. 24, Erickson was approached by Chippewa Falls Police Officer Mark Hanson, who told him to cease contact with Jazdzewski and the church.Erickson agreed with Hanson. However, Jazdzewski said he received threatening messages on Oct. 26 and 27.
Erickson also sent a letter to Candi L. Anderson, Jazdzewski’s administrative assistant, warning Anderson to avoid working alone with Jazdzewski.
This isn’t the first time Erickson has been involved in a harassment complaint.
In October 2005, the Chippewa County Department of Human Services obtained a restraining order against Erickson. Erickson had been sending letters to the department allegedly trying to extort money from a nurse and doctor who were working for the department.
That restraining order remains effective until Oct. 16, 2008.Erickson will return to court on Nov. 20. His bond is contingent that he has no contact with Jazdzewski, Anderson or the church.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Father Kubat on emergency contraception

My apologies for the continued sparse posting. Part of it is due to illness, and another part to a pretty hectic schedule. I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things this coming week.

Of all the articles from this past Thursday's Catholic Times, I'm most proud of the one I wrote on Father Christopher Kubat's lecture on emergency contraception, which he delivered Oct. 17 in Chippewa Falls. This talk is very notable here in Wisconsin, since our bishops have officially dropped opposition to a bill that will force Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception after the administration of a pregnancy test. For reasons Father Kubat lays out quite clearly, this legislation is unacceptable, as is the bishops' current position. I'm hoping this article's prominence in a diocesan paper will help get the ball rolling for the bishops to re-examine their position, something I've hear is in the works.

‘If there’s doubt of fact you don’t act’
Doctor-priest sounds off on emergency contraception
By Franz Klein
Staff Writer

CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (Catholic Times) – “If there’s doubt of fact, you don’t act,” said Father Christopher Kubat, M.D., Oct. 17 in regard to providing the morning-after pill to victims of sexual assault.
After fertilization occurs, he said, taking the morning-after pill would induce an abortion.
Speaking at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Chippewa Falls, Father Kubat said that “reliable testing” for determining whether fertilization has occurred “does not exist.” And he added that neither pregnancy nor ovulation testing provides the absolute certainty he argues is necessary to proceed with dispensing a pill that would be lethal to an unborn child.
“There’s a moral principle: If there’s a doubt of fact, you don’t act,” he said.
Not only does the morning-after pill have the potential to induce an abortion, but Father Kubat also cited a 2003 study that showed its powerful ovulation-suppression drugs increase the rate of often-fatal ectopic pregnancies, where the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus.
Why? “Because,” Father Kubat said, even as they affect a fertilized egg’s ability to implant properly, “these agents do not reliably suppress ovulation.”
A doctor who practiced urology in Milwaukee before he became a priest, Father Kubat is a nationally recognized bioethics expert. He is also the executive director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb. Father Kubat’s Oct. 17 lecture was co-sponsored by the Chippewa Falls Knights of Columbus, Pro-Life Wisconsin and the Chippewa Falls Guild of the Catholic Medical Association.
Father Kubat said addressing the issue of providing emergency contraception to rape victims is “timely,” given that Wisconsin is currently considering legislation that would require hospitals to administer the morning-after pill, also known as Plan B, to sexual assault victims.
In early September, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s five dioceses, dropped its opposition to SB 129/AB 377. “Catholic hospitals can and do treat victims with emergency contraception,” WCC associate director Kim Wadas said in testimony before the Assembly’s committee on judiciary and ethics. “Some perceive that our moral and ethical principles … preclude Catholic health facilities from making contraception available to rape victims. This is not the case.”
However, the Catholic Medical Association, the nation’s largest association of Catholic doctors, as well as many pro-lifers, believe the WCC testimony was problematic and constitutes cooperation in the administering of abortifacient drugs. And CMA president-elect Dr. Kathleen Raviele told that the current situation requires reassessment. “In everything we err on the side of life,” she said.
The CMA points to Connecticut, where the bishops had also dropped their opposition to this portion of a similar bill but are now backpedaling. “The Church in Connecticut would have had a greater opportunity to resist” the state law if there had been definitive statements on Plan B from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and/or the Vatican, Hartford diocesan spokesman Father John Gatzak told Catholic News Service Oct. 11.
But others say, at least in regard to the morning-after pill, the Vatican has already spoken. They cite a 2000 statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life, which said: “The absolute unlawfulness of abortifacient procedures also applies to distributing, prescribing and taking the morning-after pill. All who, whether sharing the intention or not, directly co-operate with this procedure are also morally responsible for it.”
Although the Connecticut law took effect Oct. 1, Father Kubat said Oct. 17 that it’s not too late in Wisconsin, where the proposed law has yet to pass. To help guide bishops, he said the current USCCB statement’s ambiguity on what type of certainty is acceptable before dispensing the potentially fatal morning-after pill needs to be clarified.
According to the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” published by the USCCB in 2001: “If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, (a woman) may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization.”
But Father Kubat emphasized that “there is no appropriate testing,” and neither would there be appropriate testing until medical science comes up with a way to determine if fertilization has occurred. He said a pregnancy or urinary test won’t show up as positive until two to three weeks after fertilization, and ovulation testing isn’t completely reliable either. “So if you give Plan B,” even if these tests have come back negative, “it could cause an abortion,” he said.
According to Wadas’ testimony, the WCC’s lack of opposition to SB 129/AB 377 is conditioned upon being able to “follow testing protocols that establish with moral certitude that a pregnancy has not occurred.” The WCC argued that pregnancy and ovulation testing can and do establish the necessary certitude that a woman is not pregnant.
But Father Kubat vehemently disagreed. “If we are morally certain about anything, it is that the risk of an abortion using these drugs is significant based on the scientific data presented,” he said. “That’s what we can be morally certain of if we want to talk about moral certainty.”
“If you take an honest look at the scientific data, reliable testing” to establish absolute certitude “does not exist,” Father Kubat added. “But now, unfortunately, most hospitals regularly dispense emergency contraception, including Catholic hospitals.”