If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time; and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. And five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you. And ye shall eat old store, and bring forth the old because of the new. And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people. But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; and if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant: I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you. And I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass; and your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits. And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate. And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me; then will I also walk contrary to unto you, and will punish ye yet seven times for your sins.
– Leviticus 26:3-12, 14-17, 19-24 (Second Reading of Vespers for the Eastern Church New Year)
This strikes me as a most worthy and necessary meditation for our times.
An acquaintance recently asked me for a list of five or six books that could serve as solid introductions to Eastern Christianity. Naturally, I sent him 25. In so doing, I told him that I had intentionally avoided suggesting any work that was needlessly polemical, theologically heavy, or spiritually dense. Because he is a Roman Catholic, I noted that some of the works listed might rub him the wrong way while also mentioning that it’s important to keep in mind that not every Eastern criticism of what we broadly call “Latin theology” and “Roman ecclesiology” is entirely off base or fueled by a lack of charity. Moreover, given that there are few “perfect books” written about much of anything, I stressed that I did not agree with every point in the books suggested, but felt it best for him to separate the wheat from the chaff himself.
The following list is ordered roughly in the manner I personally would proceed if I were to “start over” on my Eastern Christian reading. There is a heavy emphasis on history here which is entirely on purpose.
You should read Christian Democracy, and not just because they were kind enough to re-publish my recent piece on “Employers, Laborers, and Just Wages.” Read it because the editor, Jack Quirk, wrote a blistering critique of the Acton Institute’s Dylan Pahman. Read it for the dozens of other articles which thoughtfully and faithfully engage Christian social ethics, including the Catholic Church’s social magisterium. Read it because it’s good.
As I work on my next two posts concerning Greek Catholicism in the West, I thought this would make interesting reading for those of you who follow such matters.
From a purely juridical standpoint nothing better has been written on Pope Francis’s motu proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus than Dr. Edward Peters’s two entries (here and here) at his canon-law blog. I don’t know if I can recommend any other reading on the matter in good conscience, simply because so much of what has been written in the Catholic press borders on absurd. “Prudent reforms”; “Nothing has changed”; “Doctrine remains untouched,” and so on and so forth. Of course doctrine has not been touched in any direct manner; it’s just now Catholics will likely have a much easier time circumventing it.
If a silver lining is to be found amidst this fresh storm of confusion to hit the Church, let it be this: No Catholic should any longer strike a triumphalist posture against the Eastern Orthodox with respect to the latter’s marriage praxis. Orthodox doctrine may not be exactly “neat” in this area, but they have dodged the need to engage in legalistic acrobatics to justify their behavior. I hope that charity compels the Orthodox not to snicker too loudly over all of this. When it comes to the crisis of modern marriage, we’re in this together.
The concept of the just wage continues to vex economic liberals, though there can be no doubt that it is an integral element of the Catholic Church’s social magisterium—just as integral as, say, subsidiarity and solidarity. However, even some Catholics who defend the Church’s teaching on the just wage sometimes confuse the concept as the upper limit of what a worker ought to be paid rather than seeing it as the base floor. Here is what Pope Leo XIII teaches in Rerum Novarum:
There is a dictate of nature more ancient and more imperious than any bargain between man and man, that the remuneration must be sufficient to support the wage-earner in reasonable and frugal comfort. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accepts harder conditions, because an employer or contractor will give him no better, he is the victim of fraud and injustice.
My childhood, like the childhoods of many persons, was a mixed bag, though on the religious level it was, perhaps, better than most. Despite some understandable ignorance, if not perfectly normal confusion, concerning both the state of Catholicism and what it meant to be Catholic, I benefitted, for a time, from the insularity of a Greek Catholic existence, one that intersected with both the Melkite and Ukrainian/Ruthenian traditions. Part of that was quite by accident since I spent a number of years living on a military base where the chaplain happened to be a Melkite adorned with bi-ritual faculties. Had he not been stationed there it is entirely possible, even likely, that I would have lived out those years as an impressionable adolescent in a standard, run-of-the-mill Roman milieu with all of the highs and lows that typically entails at this period in human history. Identifying as I did with Greek Catholicism, both liturgically and ecclesiastically, I wrestled at times with having too much pride in my tradition — pride that would sometimes spill over into looking down on the much larger Roman world which surrounded me. Attending a Roman Catholic school will do that to people, especially later when I began to realize that there was nothing authentically “Catholic” about my time in parochial schools, except for the tuition which my mom and her husband often struggled to pay.
Last week’s “bombshell” announcement by Pope Francis that the clergy of the Society of St. Pius (SSPX) would have the validity of their confessional absolutions recognized officially during the upcoming Year of Mercy ignited all of the usual silliness that attends any positive mention of the Society’s name. On the negative side came a horde of conservative-to-liberal Catholics who simply cannot let go of the common narrative that the SSPX is, in a strong sense, “schismatic” and “dangerous.” On the positive side came a smaller band of traditional Catholics who now seem to believe that the Society represents a great gift to the Catholic Church and should be praised despite the fact that many of these same traditionalists have, in the past, gone out of the way to broadcast that they have nothing to do with the SSPX. “Oh, they’re great and all, but I go to a diocesan parish for my Latin Mass…,” etc.
Grzegorz Rossolinski’s Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist: Fascism, Genocide, and Cult (Verlag 2014) is a straightforward book about an immensely complicated man with an exponentially more complicated legacy. In the aftermath of the Maidan in Ukraine, Bandera’s cult reemerged in such a profound way that for perhaps the first time ever, mainstream Western media, both in and outside of Europe, took notice. Fiercely nationalist at a time when that meant being rabidly anti-Polish and anti-Russian (or anti-communist), Bandera is an easy figure to rally around for Ukraine’s minority, albeit still formidable, far-right movements. Although Russian officials and media have been keen to label these groups “neo-Nazi,” the truth is that most of them trace their heritage back to Bandera and his Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) which, for better or worse, never saw the Nazis as much more than convenient bedfellows at a time when the Soviet Union appeared as the great Satan on the horizon.