The Catholic Church in Pagan Rome

More than by words, Christianity was served by the actual renewal of life which appeared in the Christian community and was in the final analysis alone capable of proving the life-giving force of the Gospel. ~ Fr. Alexander Schmemann In 1941, the liberal biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann asserted, “We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.” To Bultmann, one must get beyond this primitive worldview to its…

Christian Sexual Ethics: What Went Wrong? pt. 4

This is the final installment of this series. For the full series here is Part 1,  Part 2, Part 3, of this series. This brings me to the second way in which Christianity performed an end-run around the entire complex of assumptions that governed ancient thought about sex and marriage. It did so, not by addressing these subjects directly, but by presenting a model of holiness even higher and more exalted than the ascetics. I have in mind, of course, the Virgin Mary. Her elevation to a central place in Christian life and devotion revolutionized how…

Christian Sexual Ethics: What Went Wrong? pt. 3

This is the third installment of this series. For the full series here is Part 1,  Part 2, Part 4, of this series. The first was monasticism. It is unfortunate that early in western Christianity monasticism came to be set in opposition to the married life, as if the two are rivals that must be judged against one another. Views on this subject were crystallized by the writings of a monk named Jovinian, who held that virgins, widows, and married women, if they are equal in other respects, are of “equal merit.” St. Jerome and others…

Orthodox Social Thought and History

The starting point of the Christian faith, is the acknowledgement of certain historical events, in which God has acted, sovereignly and decisively, for man’s salvation, precisely “in these last days.” ~ Fr. Georges Florovsky In the film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo first sees Gandalf riding down the road to the Shire in a carriage loaded with fireworks for his uncle Bilbo’s “eleventy-first” birthday, and he calls out to him, “You’re late!” “A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins,” Gandalf reprimands, “nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.” Unable…

Christian Sexual Ethics: What Went Wrong? pt. 2

This is the second installment of this series. For the full series here is Part 1,  Part 3, Part 4, of this series. We must begin by recognizing that Christianity was born into a world whose assumptions about sex and marriage were radically foreign to our own. Aristotle devotes a chapter of the Politics to discussing the ideal age of marriage. Questions of mutual compatibility or love do not enter the discussion. The issue as he frames it is that of how to maximize the couple’s childbearing potential. Since a man (as he believes) remains fertile…

Christian Sexual Ethics: What Went Wrong? pt. 1

This is the first installment of this series. For the full series here is Part 2,  Part 3, Part 4, of this series. On September 12, 1966, William F. Buckley hosted Hugh Hefner on his weekly talk program, Firing Line. Their subject was the “Playboy philosophy” that Hefner advocated through his magazine and associated enterprises such as the Playboy Clubs. Hefner was an articulate and thoughtful spokesman for his views. He described his goal as to replace the “old legalism” of “thou shalt not” with a more flexible and realistic approach to sex that truly promotes…

Orthodox Social Thought and the Biblical Apocrypha

“I could not venture to reject [Revelation]…. For if I do not understand I suspect that a deeper sense lies beneath the words. I do not measure and judge them by my own reason, but leaving the more to faith I regard them as too high for me to grasp. And I do not reject what I cannot comprehend, but rather wonder because I do not understand it.” St. Dionysius of Alexandria My friend Nick hosts a podcast about UFOs. In his first episode he jokingly riffs on a John Steinbeck quote: Steinbeck once wrote something…

Attention Must Be Paid

“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what he saw in a plain way.” –John Ruskin As nearly a year has passed since my last blog post, a year during which both my parents died (among other personal catastrophes), I am not going to attempt a continuity with that post I cannot feel. From where I am now, I cannot muster any confidence in my ability to write a “Part 2” that reasonably maintains the logic and tone of the first installment. Instead, I will attempt…

Guidance for our Times, and Always: Twenty Beautiful Life-Giving Patterns of Reality Concerning Sex and Marriage

In light of the widespread misunderstandings and confusion about human sexuality and marriage in our own day, and the vast amount of suffering that this is bringing to so many people, especially young people, I would like to humbly offer this list of simple, clear patterns of the way Reality has been set up by our Lord for the optimal well-being of all.  I hope and pray that this list will be helpful for those who are wondering how to personally navigate among all the various views about sexuality that are vying for our attention today.  …

Orthodox Social Thought and the Apostles

“I am convinced and believe that even after the resurrection [Christ] was in the flesh. Indeed, when he came to Peter and his friends, he said to them, “Take hold of me, touch me and see that I am not a bodiless ghost.” And they at once touched him and were convinced, clutching his body and his very breath. For this reason they despised death itself, and proved its victors.” St. Ignatius of Antioch Growing up, my mother tried to enforce age-appropriate entertainment consumption for me. However, she did make exceptions, one such being legal dramas…