Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Papal Visit to America

This current backwash on Pope Benedict XVI's few days in America keeps urging me to throw out my own prejudices against the man, as I did against his predecessor, whose sandbox was the papacy. But I demurred on the realization that my opinion is a simple dislike of both of them, as well as of so many in the long line of 280 or so since St. Peter died. McBrien's History of the Popes is well thumbed, a bit tattered, as is O'Malley's The First Jesuits. When those two are side by side with MacCulloch's The Reformation, I see. And what I see is history. For us alive today, we are making more history for the future, not only in the popes given us by Conclaves, but also presidents by what is sometimes referred to as the vote of the people, except that is not necessarily so. I often wonder why so many reformers insist on we the people electing bishops and popes, when we take a gander at what we have elected in our own beloved America for presidents: Bush, Nixon, Coolidge. Like popes, only a few of our presidents stand out enough to make us proud and grateful that we have the vote.

Cynics say that we get what we deserve. High-minded, impartial, intelligent ones – like us? – have always preceded us and made popes and presidents for good or for bad. Those skilled in politics have usually gotten their own elevated to kingships of sorts and dynasties have ruled, for good or for worse. Where in between those two we are right now is answered by those who like Pope Benedict XVI, and liking him, approve of how he comports himself, as well as by those who do not like him. Same for Nixon and more likely than not for Bush with a W. Used to be the same for Reagan, but apparently he wore well after he died and we forget his bad days. Poor Jimmy Carter has regressed from commanding submarines to peanut farming and is now being called a "bigot." Were Lincoln alive, he'd probably be shot again, as was Kennedy, both brothers, and their friend Martin Luther King. So, we should be careful in talking about those we like and those we dislike. 

Then again, I wonder whether it is Ratzinger a/k/a Benedict we like or dislike, or is it the papacy itself, regardless of the man who is dressed in white?

For those who like history, scan McBrien's History of the Popes; there weren't too many outstanding ones and precious few good ones, according to him. If loyalty is your thing, along with a partiality for Jesuit scholarship, read John O'Malley, The First Jesuits, Chapter 8, "The Jesuits and the Church at Large," beginning at page 284, The first two sections of that chapter are "Bishops and Theologians," and "The Papacy and the Popes."  St. Ignatius and his young companions had a very tough time with some hierarchs. Paul III gave the Jesuits their charter in 1540. Julius III gave them the German College in Rome, later the "Greg."The good Pope Marcellus" lasted just 21 days, a brief but welcomed interlude in the early struggles just to stay alive. And then came the bugaboo of them all, Gian Pietro Carafa, who hated St. Ignatius and all he stood for, and compounded that hatred as Paul IV. He was so well known for nepotism and harshness that he was despised in Rome.

So, the Jesuits rode it out, kept their heads down, rallied friendly hierarchs around themselves, and waited for Pius IV and Pius V, who pushed through the Council of Trent. The 16th century ended with four popes taking the papal throne in an astoundingly short period of 16 months, and the Jesuits were still alive and well when the 17th century began.

The 16th was a tough century in which to found a new exempt order of men, which now faces another uncertain future, it being hard to determine whether Ratzinger/Benedict XVI will be ruthless, as usual, or smiling all the while.

There's an awful lot of politics in the Roman Catholic Church and an awful lot of it is dirty, down and dirty, somehow unbecoming an institution claiming to be a Church, "one, holy, Catholic and apostolic."

Too often I see the Church in the New Testament, not among Jesus and his apostle and disciples, but entrenched in the Pharisees and Sanhedrin, the High Priests of the 1st century, so like unto so many of our own hierarchs of this third millennium. 

Read the Sermon on the Mount and take a look at Rome. Power corrupts, as the saying goes . . .


Thursday, April 17, 2008

The People and The Pope, More of the Same

Diarmaid MacCullock, professor of the history of the Church at Oxford, acknowledged as a scholar world-wide, wrote The Reformation: A History, in 2003. Lured by the enthusiasm of the reviewers, I bought it then and am now up to page174 of 792. I'm beginning to imagine I'll say what Father "Stately" Gately, SJ, who had come to Shadowbrook to die, said to the Rector, Father Bill Finneran, SJ, who had given him a two volume history of Ireland to read, "Gee, Bill, thanks, but I don't think I'll have time to finish it."

 In The Reformation, early on, MacCullock says that Luther was inspired, not by the antics in Rome, but by St. Augustine's theories of orginal sin, his  forlorn and bleak nature of man, his blessing on "just wars" and his rigid theology of church, even though all of that was writ a thousand years before Luther nailed his own 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral in 1517. The more I read after MacCullock proposed the relationship to St. Augustine, the more I came to imagine that the same Augustinian stuff is going on strong today. As a novice in ecclesiology and church history, I am quick to jump to opinions in tune with the tumbling emotions within me when I think Rome, Curia, Popes, Cardinals and read Thomas Reese's recent six proposals for the reform of the Vatican. The feeling is that the history of the Church and of Christianity is the history of the mother of all brainwashing, par excellence, by those who could read pagan philosophers and use their thoughts and words to teach the Gospel story told so simply by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the others.  

My own Catholicism right now, the mental stuff of it, feels like a faithless, hopeless, loveless confusion of intellectualities, stuffeed with the big names: Clement, Origen, Chrysostom, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, without too many really big ones after that Thirteenth Century, at least until an Augustinian monk Martin Luther lit the match on the tinder box of western Christianity.  That Catholicism gets a life with Thomas Reese, SJ, and Roger Haight, SJ, and Jacques Dupuis, SJ, and Karl Rahner, SJ, along with so many others of our own times, that I begin to think that all we are doing in our 3rd millennium is repeating what has been going on since St. John finished the Fourth Gospel.

More of the same, over and over, with the instigation of the Reformation of the 16th century itself being attributed to the ideas and thoughts of Augustine of Hippo of the 5th century.  We are still debating today what they were debating from the beginning, each one insisting that his or her ideas are those of Jesus Messiah.  He was crucified for his ideas and words. A lot of those who claimed to explain him were crucified, too, or burned at the stake, by the high priests of their times. And so it goes on and on and on. If today, I were to say I can explain Jesus Messiah, I had first better make sure I please Rome's High Priests.  Wonder how long Garry Wills will last without an excommunication of sorts, after his trilogy: What Jesus Meant; What Paul Meant; What the Gospels Meant. Tom Reese, too, kicked off the Jesuit magazine America by an angry Cardinal Ratzinger as soon as he became Pope Benedict X VI.  

As for Thomas Reese's six proposals for reform, my impetuous and unlearned suggestion would be to abolish the College of Cardinals first, then elect Bishops locally, and set up some kind of governance wherein there are checks and balances on power, its use and abuse. To do that, we need Thomas Reeses, people who know what they are doing and are not just reacting emotionally to the brainwashing of two millennia, some of which cleared the mind, a lot of which drowned it. Like Father Reese, I am pretty sure it will never happen. Not even Luther or Calvin or Zwingli or Henry VIII succeeded. Proof? Cable TV these days has been taken over by the Pope, who was once called a Rotweiler, an Enforcer, an implacable, etc., etc., etc.  He is a powerful man, regardless of his track record in the abuse of power, or maybe precisely because of it. My biased personal opinion is that a good lot of us are not paying him much attention, nor giving him heed.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008



Written back on August 2, 2004



There is in the current domain now a Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World. First dated May 31, 2004, it was released through Vatican Information Services two months later on July 31, 2004, over the signatures of two principals of the most important Dicastery of the Roman Curia, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF): Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Prefect, and Archbishop Angelo Amato, SDB, Secretary. Pope John Paul II approved the document and ordered its publication.

The term Collaboration comes from the New Catholic Catechism, 378 which reads in full:
"The sign of man's familiarity with God is that God places him in the garden (cf.Gen 2:8). There he lives 'to till it and keep it' Work is not yet a burden, (Gen 2:15; cf. 3:17-19) but rather the collaboration of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation."

The Index to the Catechism shows 9 more uses of collaboration, all of which are irrelevant as they deal with man's collaboration with God and not with women. One of those sections, however, offered the grace to submit this criticism of the Letter. Number 2238 - The Duties of Citizens states:

Their loyal collaboration includes the right, and at times the duty, to voice their just criticisms of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community."

I respectfully submit, as a lay person, that the letter is harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community. It is, further, an embarrassment for the Roman Catholic Church and must be withdrawn, with appropriate apologies immediately.


The term, although the very title of the document, is used but three times, never defined, never applied, never explained. There is no development of the history of other attempts at collaboration, whether men and women do collaborate or having attempted to do, have discarded it, Without a definition, we are left without any understanding of what the cardinal and the CDF is talking about. Is Rome proposing courtship, marriage, polygamy, monogamy, patriarchy, matriarchy, free sex, prostitution, homosexuality in order to understand heterosexuality, heterosexuality in order to understand homosexuality, biological determinism, or solitary enjoyment of one's own body via self-induced orgasmic events and the teaching of the same to others of the opposite sex? What is the CDF writing about?

Here the three references, each one qualified by "the differences between men and women."

  1. Second paragraph: "After a brief presentation and critical evaluation of some current conceptions of human nature, this document will offer reflections – inspired by the doctrinal elements of the biblical vision of the human person that are indispensable for safeguarding his or her identity – on some of the essentials of a correct understanding of active collaboration, in recognition of the difference between men and women in the Church and in the world.


  1. Par. 4: "4.In the face of these currents of thought, the Church, enlightened by faith in Jesus Christ, speaks instead of active collaboration between the sexes precisely in the recognition of the difference between man and woman,"


  1. Near Par. 13: "Placed within Christ's Paschal mystery, they no longer see their difference as a source of discord to be overcome by denial or eradication, but rather as the possibility for collaboration, to be cultivated with mutual respect for their difference."


Fine, for Cardinal Ratzinger, but what is this difference which has him so apoplectic that he spends years writing and issuing a letter to all the bishops in the world? What does he mean by collaboration? In what does he want men and women to collaborate? Is such collaboration really from "recent times"; "certain currents of thought which are often at variance with the authentic advancement of women"; "some current conceptions of human nature?"

These are, as the reader will easily recognize, the very three phrases with which he belabored us in the opening of that long letter. What are they? Who are they? Where are they? When are they? Why are they? Nameless, unknown, yet recent and current, the cardinal says? Truly? Does that make them so? Even if he is the Prefect of the mightiest Congregation in the Curia, the CDF? When he speaks, do not nations tremble, all bishops bow, the pope himself applauds?

Pardon his reverence, but he is bombasting nothing, absolutely nothing, just pompous empty words. The visible head on earth of a Vox et praeterea nihil – A voice and besides that, nothing."

Let me remind him also, as the Cardinal Prefect that he is, that collaboration is undoubtedly the poorest possible word he could have used for the relationship between men and women. We men and women among the people of God do happen to like and love each other, the Cardinal's warped view of us notwithstanding. The last time the term collaboration was prominent was at the end of WW II when the Free French rounded up the collaborateurs who had been so helpful to the Nazis during the occupation of France.


Unless I misread the letter entirely, it has something to do with feminism, at least in the tendencies – the cardinal's word – of accentuating differences and reaching for power, or of minimizing them and seeking equality between homo- and hetero- as prefixes for sexuality, or as he put it polymorphous sexuality. By which he is taken to mean the exclusion of bestiality, sadism, masochism, and sexual abuse of minors by clergy? If polymorphous, why get so upset? These are merely tendencies. They may not even be real.

The American Heritage Dictionary says that polymorphous means the occurrence of different forms, stages, or types in individual organisms or in organisms of the same species, independent of sexual variations. If we were to stick with definitions we understand, the cardinal's terms are as meaningless as his title on collaboration, leading to the same conclusion: he just does not know what he is talking about, does he?

Proof of this lacuna in his thinking is the heading of this second section of his letter -- I. The Question. I've read that section 25 times now and haven't yet found The Question. Does he have one? Where is it? Here is what I came up with from topic sentences in each paragraph.

  1. New approaches to women's issues. First tendency is subordination.


  1. Second tendency is to deny differences.


  1. Human attempt to be freed from one's biological conditioning.


  1. Patriarchal conception of God nourished by an essentially male-dominated culture.


  1. In the face of these currents of thought, the Church speaks instead of active collaboration between the sexes precisely in the recognition of the difference between man and woman.


  1. To understand better the basis, meaning and consequences of this response turn briefly to Sacred Scriptures.


As the six paragraphs in the section, where is the question? What are the new approaches to women's issues? Any examples, names, places, leaders, authors? What did he mean by attempts to be freed of biological conditioning? Castration? By currents of thought is he actually saying feminism? If so, why not say it – F-E-M-I-N-I-S-M?

There is a long and readily accessible article in the Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catechism, which talks clearly about Mary Wollstonecraft's book on A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792, and notes The First Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Not quite current, or recent, but classic nonetheless. Did the cardinal know from his office at the CDF inside the Vatican that Feminism is perhaps the most important movement in the world today, bar none, and ranges over every human activity, including churches? Just read this quote from Harper Collins at p. 523:

Feminism may be liberal, radical, romantic, or socialist. Liberal feminism emphasizes legal and political equality for women; radical feminism analyzes patriarchal structures for the purpose of liberating women from them. Romantic feminism aspires to bring so-called feminine values to bear on the public order, while socialist feminism focuses on the sexual division of labor, production, and reproduction and the connection between class, race and gender in oppressive systems.

If this is what the cardinal is attacking, why not be clear about it. Which type of feminism? All of them? Just the Radical ones? If not, is he really attacking women in general? For the last time, with some exasperation, I ask, WHAT IS THE QUESTION?


With all due respect to myself, there is no intention of trying to discuss Scripture with the cardinal. He is the Cardinal Prefect of the CDF. I'm an old layman, but I studied Classical and Koine Greek from the age of 10 to 25, and am now refurbishing it to read the NT in its original language. What I read doesn't talk to me the way it does to the CDF. My dictionaries apparently do not agree with theirs. The cardinal and I could spar a little for a while, but he would succeed in the last round with a knockout blow, were I to last that long.

In his section on Basic Elements of the Biblical Vision of the Human Person there were citations to the OT 20 times, and to the NT just 5. They were what any lay person would expect just from being in Church on Sundays, and a lot of them were general references to the ecclesiological theory of the Church being the bride of Christ. Most of the man/woman cites were the few from the Creation story in Genesis: 8 of them. That's all.  I imagined that some young student was given the job to come up with cites, as young lawyers are when the senior partner wants a law memo salted and peppered with legal references. Whoever did it, ran terms like woman, bride, virgin, man, and started at two minutes before closing time, printing out the egregiously few grains he came up with. Then, the cardinal signed it. Just for fun and by contrast, I ran Biblical Nature of Man and Woman in Google and got 314,000 hits in 0.41 seconds. Women in the Bible, got 4,200,000 hits in 0.17 seconds. For Women in the Church the number of hits was astonishing at 7,000,000 in just 0.68 seconds.

So, let me just say that the research assistants who were to find relevant scriptural references for the salt and pepper in the letter, left out a lot of important ones. If they had gone to Google, they would have come up with more than just the standard old stuff out of Genesis, with a couple of smatterings from the rest of the OT and the NT under whatever term they used to find citations. Looks like they mixed up sex with ecclesiology, too, paying more attention to the Church being the bride of Christ, rather than to the Collaboration of Men and Women in the World and in the Church – which is after all the title of the letter and the topic they are supposed to be developing in this teaching of the Magisterium to all the Bishops in the world. Right? Could the cardinal have fallen asleep and forgot what he was doing when he awoke, even over the years this document was in the drafting stages?

I just can't resist this assessment, as a former teacher of freshmen English Composition at Sophia University, Tokyo. This letter is the worst piece of amateurish writing I have seen in a long time. It deserves an F and its author would most likely have flunked the course.

It is poorly conceived, illogically laid out, purports to be feinting at a "straw woman", who is so "strawy" that she can't even be seen, and in the final analysis is all stressed out on sin and sex. The most laughable idiocy in the whole thing is that the heavenly reward is going to be celibacy for all, leading me to imagine the look on the cardinal's face when St. Peter welcomes him and introduces him to the woman who is to be his wife for eternity: Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ratzinger. an eternal collaboration.


This is a very important part of the Letter, insofar as it manifests what the CDF and Cardinal Ratzinger see when they behold women in our society in this third millennium, not only here in America, but in Europe and throughout the world, in all those places where the Catholic Church has a presence. As in other sections of the letter, the quickest and simplest way to approach such profound insights is to line up the topic sentences of the eight paragraphs constituting the section.

  1. Women in society have a "capacity for the other".


  1. Women's physical capacity is to give life in motherhood.


  1. Virginity refutes any attempt to enclose women in a mere biological destiny.


  1. The role of women in all aspects of family and social life involving human relationships and caring for others is irreplaceable.


  1. The interrelationship between the two activities of family and work has characteristics different from those in the case of men.


  1. Femininity is more than a simple attribute of the female sex. It designates the fundamental human capacity to live for the other and because of the other. And, we concede, so do men.


  1. The role of women within society is understood and desired as a humanization accomplished through those values. And also for men.


  1. The defense and promotion of equal dignity and common personal values must be harmonized with attentive recognition of the difference and reciprocity between the sexes where this is relevant to the realization of one's humanity, whether male or female.


What I get in this section is living for the other because of the other, at first for women only, then by an aside, for men also, to show "attentive recognition of the difference and reciprocity of the sexes."

What I do not see is conflict, enmity, opposition, struggle, nor do I see collaboration to overcome them. I also do not see why it took years to draft this part. It looks real nice and is, I assume, the way that most happy and contented people are living their lives these days, together. But, what is the point? Where are we going in the letter? Does its author know? Why does it need a letter to all the bishops?



After seeing the heading, I wasn't looking for anything vapid or cloying, but that is what I saw and got. There were six paragraphs in this section, kind of sweet and nice, but not anything novel, new, or even important for the collaboration of men and women in society, that is to say in their homes, where they shop, the places of work, vacations that are too short. The topic sentences of the paragraphs sum up the section, but leave one wondering why it took years to write it. Topic sentences in a row, with running comments in brackets below:

  1. Woman as a "sign" is more than ever central and fruitful.
    1. [And so she always has been, my cardinal.}


  1. The existence of Mary is an invitation to the Church to root her very being.
    1. [But, of course: beginning with her Fiat and lasting to her standing at the foot of the Cross.]


  1. It is from Mary that the Church always learns the intimacy of Christ.
    1. [Not only the Mother of God, but also Mary of Magdala and Christ's other women friends]


  1. To look at Mary and imitate her does not mean, however, that the Church should adopt a passivity inspired by an outdated conception of femininity.
    1. [The cardinal is correct in leaving Total Woman" as a caricature of the past, one created by men.]


  1. The reference to Mary, with her dispositions of listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting, places the Church in continuity with the spiritual history of Israel. In Jesus and through him, these attributes become the vocation of every baptized Christian.
    1. [These 6 dispositions -- 1.listening, 2. welcoming, 3. humility, 4. faithfulness, 5. praise and 6. waiting – all seem, however, to clothe the woman in the cardinal's imagination, and while nice qualities, do not comprise a full description of the women of our times. Taken alone, all 6 together, are a Ratzinger reverie. A lot of guys I know have all six qualities, too.]


  1. The reservation of priestly ordination solely to men does not hamper in any way women's access to the heart of Christian life.
    1. [Of course it hampers women. It is rank discrimination born out of hatred for woman. Celibate cardinals and the popes slithering from their circle, in abject, craven fear of women, ignore and deny the Word of God that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.]


Typical churchese from those who think they are church. So-so, but cloying. Women are good. They should be like Mary, the Mother of God, to be seen and not heard. Refusing them the priesthood is fine, the men who run the Church say, for women can love the bridegroom of the Church, making some of us men feel a little out of place in such an analogy.

Before I get to the Conclusion, has anyone noticed that there is almost nothing so far devoted to men? No discussion of their role in society or in the church. Nothing about their basic qualities. Precious little as to whether they even have a biblical nature or not. Sort of quirky male pride in noting that Jesus came as a male, forgetting that he is, so far, the only male every conceived in the union of a virgin girl with the Holy Spirit. None of us males can make, dare make, such a claim, meaning that Jesus is not so much male as he is unique among all human beings.

And if it is taken one step further, since we are all created in the image and likeness of God, there really is no distinction between us, men and women, and since Jesus is God, we, men and women, are created in his image. Why, then cannot women, created in the image of God and like unto Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, be priests as well as men?

This is, after all, a response to a letter indicating that there is something amiss or awry in our world and church concerning the Collaboration of Men and Women. Almost Cardinal Ratzinger's entire letter is about women, with precious little comment about men. Why?



Forgive me, my friends, for being so consistent, but once again, I must resort to the topic sentence routine. It is the only way in which we can see the inanity of this letter which purports to be an urgent and world-shaking statement of Catholic teaching due to recent events. It was years in the drafting and writing. It comes from the CDF, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by the most powerful cardinal of all cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger, and commanded to be published by our elderly pope, John Paul II. The conclusion is not a conclusion to the letter; it does not conclude. It makes no reference to any part of the letter at all. It is a few paragraphs of spiritual sounding phrases, tossed together like a salad, light and frothy and holy, as if it were being offered to third graders at a mid-afternoon recess.


Like the rest of this confounding letter, I have read the Conclusion 25 times now. Here is what I think the Cardinal is saying to all the Bishops in the whole wide world as the new way for the collaboration of men and women in the world and in the church.

Jesus makes all things new and is triumphant over sin.


Thus, man's relationship with woman is transformed in converting to God who loved us so he gave us his Son.


We must humbly pray to the Blessed Virgin who showed us how to love.


The Church knows the power of sin can almost lead to despair but the power of forgiveness leads to peace, because "God is love."


The Pope has read this document and approves of it.


And that, my friends, is it. If you can garner anything from it, you are better than I. I struggled with this letter for three full days, trying to find out

  1. What is he saying?
  2. Why did he say it?
  3. What does it mean.


I came up with answers for each of those three questions:

  1. Nothing.
  2. I don't know.
  3. Nothing.


Besides, if you look at the topic sentences in 1-5 again, I think you'll agree that the bishops of the world already knew that.

What did Cardinal Ratzinger write that I failed to mention? Check out the 20 footnotes: 19 references are to letters written by John Paul II. Of the rest, 2 are from the CDF, and 1 each from 3 Saints. Not one Academic paper is cited. No scholarly articles are mentioned. Obviously, no research at all was conducted.

What did Cardinal Ratzinger leave out? Everything that a competent scholar and teacher would have included on such an important document from such an important source. There is absolutely no mention of one, single woman theologian or scholar, not one. He made no contact with scientists, theologians, doctors, academic deans, professors emeriti, learned scholars, government experts, authors, poets, ordinary men and ordinary women. He examined no sources in Philosophy, Theology, Sociology, Psychiatry, Family Studies, Women's' Studies, Men's Studies, Anthropology, Fertility, the History of Civilization. There is no treatment of Inalienable Rights of the Dignity of the Human Person, be she Female or he Male; Common Courtesy; Decency; Respect; Love.

The recommendation is to withdraw it from publication as soon as possible with an abject apology that it was probably lost with the composition notebook of a high school sophomore and got found in a bundle at the Vatican Press printing house. Then, the CDF should retain a woman theologian or woman scholar from another discipline to help them open their eyes and see what is directly in front of them: the people of God. Some of us are men. The rest are women. We are equals. We love each other and share with each other. A lot. Each of us is very comfortable with Jesus as Our Lord, as He is with us. We are real people, gentlemen, real people. We are the Church. We are the People of God.

The cardinal and his CDF should be told, simply, directly, that this letter of theirs is the poorest piece of writing a lot of us have ever seen. We are quite worried about the CDF and its other activities. For a Church beset from within by the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, the criminal conduct of bishops and other hierarchs, the filing of bankruptcies, the grip of litigation, both civil and criminal; the stonewalling silence of Ordinaries to the people in their dioceses; sexcapades in their seminaries and rectories and convents and monasteries all over the world; the competition among bishops to see who can exclude more from the Eucharist; the drill instructor commands that lay ministers sign documents of Agreements or resign; this letter on collaboration by men and women is an abomination.

The letter is harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community.


The grade for the letter is F.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Vox et Praeterea Nihil – A Voice and Besides That Nothing

It is obvious, to me anyway, that I am not competent to judge anyone running for public office on his/her character, antecedents, race, color, creed, friends, or how the ladder was climbed, any more than those who have written about those factors. Like my friends, I listen to my gut when it gurgles, and have a hard time changing initial impressions, those first ones that are more often than not lasting. In my lifetime of work, I found it relatively easy to speak during depositions or in a courtroom, be it a jury or non-jury trial, or on the appellate level, when and if prepared. Once the bathtub of my mind was filled with the case and its issues, the words came. I had prepared yellow pads with notes, but almost never referred to them while clambering to my feet.

In later life, when writing became the way for me to communicate --- no live audiences around in the apartment and the soap boxes were gone from the public parks --- the same thing happened: words came, if and when I was prepared, and came better, if and when they were edited, rewritten, rewritten, honed, deleted, toned down, practices absent from the oral life led before retirement. Often, I was not prepared but yacked on anyway, and in writing, often did I send out what had been written as quickly as the thoughts tumbled out, even without a spell-check. On those many occasions, it was evident to me that I was: Vox et praeterea nihil ---A voice and besides that nothing.

As a lawyer, it was so easy for me to find our antecedents in the ancient Sophists, the speakers, the advocates for whomever: a mind quick enough to grasp the issues and a tongue glib enough to spill out the solution favored by the client, regardless of which solution was favored. A lawyer friend of mine was accosted by the Chief Justice during an appellate argument, "Brother, you said just the opposite last week in another case. Which one do you wish us to follow?"  My friend answered, "I am an advocate. For clients. You are judges. It's up to you to decide." I think that later he said, "You win one, you lose one."

To me, about myself, when aware of the flow of words, I could always sense whether it was Prepared advocate or Vox et praeterea nihil. The former was OK, sometimes with an authentic ring of sincerity and earnestness mingling with the timbre of the voice. The latter was glib, shallow, gilt, based often on what I had assumed the audience wished to hear, and just as often sickening to the speaker, me. Knowing my own vox et praeterea nihil so well, I always found it relatively easy to spot its tone and the rush of its words in another. Gilt is not gold. Glib is not pondered. Shallow has no depth.

I see and hear that in and from Barack Obama, my gut tells me so. And lately I have begun to hear the gurgle groan into a growl when he shows an adept ability to attack opponents, whether ad mulierem for the other gender
or ad hominem for an older man. His honed skills show by simultaneously denying that personal attacks are being simultaneously uttered, because vox et praeterea nihil often requires two tongues for double-speak, three for innuendo, and four to keep up the impression of being on the high road, above us all.

As of now, our choices for President are three. In the fall, there will be but two. Next January, the horror of the Fall and Decline of the United States of America may be arrested, even reversed, depending on the Vox and our gut's reaction to it.