Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Giveaway Winners Update

UPDATE: We had an unclaimed book and CD, so we drew again.

Our book winner is: Patrick!

Our CD winner is: Ebere!

Please send us a note at darwincatholic @ to claim your prize!

We pulled the names from the shark hat and posted the results on the post and in the comments, but here they are again:

Our book winners are: sarah e. and Mathew Smith!
Our CD winners are: Mathew Smith and Rosebud!
Thanks, sarah e. for claiming your book already! Mathew Smith and Rosebud: drop us a note to claim your prizes! They're yours fair and square; my son kept trying to rig the drawing to pull the name he recognized, but I was Lady Justice personified. He's itching to shake the shark hat again, though, so respond before tomorrow night.

The one-eyed shark hat is watching YOU.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Giveaway: Daughters of Jerusalem, and Endless Water, Starless Sky

As I am sick in bed and yearning for some new art to cheer me up (and also to clear my sinuses), I'd like to brighten your day with a quick giveaway. Brilliant friends-and-relations-of-Darwin have been doing lovely and professional things. Here, take a look.

Elizabeth Duffy and her band, Sister Sinjin, have just released their first full-length album, Daughters of Jerusalem. We have two copies to give away.

Besides the gentle Americana weaving of the three-part female harmonies, the physical album itself is a pleasure to hold and look at. Digital music and books can never compare to holding a embossed CD sleeve or feeling the velvet bookjacket and the slightly rough pages as you turn them.

On the family front, our favorite YA author Rosamund Hodge (who happens to Darwin's younger sister) has just released her latest book, Endless Night, Starless Sky. It's the conclusion to 2016's Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in the last city in the world, with zombies.

Amazon's summary of the first book in the series (as it doesn't make sense to give you the summary of part two if you haven't read part one):
Sabriel meets Romeo and Juliet in this stunning and atmospheric novel—the first in a duology—from the author of Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound
When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched. 
The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou, share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on the Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die. 
Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding the Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan. 
Mahyanai Runajo only wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara. 
Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . . .
We'll ship two copies from Amazon to two lucky readers.

I'll be pulling names out of William's shark hat tomorrow night, so leave a note in the comments whether you'd like to be entered for book or CD, or both. Vote early and often, and enjoy your clear sinuses, my friends.


Our book winners are: sarah e. and Mathew Smith!

Our CD winners are: Mathew Smith and Rosebud!

I wish I could have sent something to you all, but thanks so much for playing along.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The English Come to America

This is perhaps less polished than my previous chapter, but I've come to peace with the fact that that's why editors exist. Until I'm under contract and paid, I'm assuming that it's fine to post what I'm working on, especially since it's the reason I'm not writing much here these days.

EDITED TO ADD: I'll only be leaving this post up for a few days, so read it while it's fresh!


…Let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed…
— Richard II, William Shakespeare

The great stories of the past are connected, like puzzle pieces. Sometimes, to understand one part of history, we need to step back to understand what happened first, and why. Then we can use to past to make sense of the present.
Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, was founded in 1607. But we’re not going to jump in there. To understand the bigger picture of how and why the English settled America, and why the English colonies didn’t always get along with each other, we need to travel back to…

1500. King Henry VII of England was ready to take his place among the great monarchs of Europe. After he had ended the Wars of the Roses by defeating King Richard III in 1485, he had ruled as king of England by right of conquest, not because his father had handed down the crown to him. Even though Henry had married a daughter of King Edward IV, he wanted to establish his own family, the Tudors, as rightful rulers of England.

To do this, he needed to form alliances with other European rulers. Spain was newly united into one strong kingdom under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. In 1489, Henry signed a treaty with Spain that would be cemented by the marriage of his son, Arthur, to Catherine of Aragon, the youngest Spanish princess. Henry was well-pleased. Ferdinand and Isabella were good allies to have, and their empire was expanding. In 1492 they had financed Christopher Columbus’s expedition to find a new route to India, and now Spain was raking in gold and other wealth from the New World.

Henry VII himself tried to get involved in the Age of Exploration. In 1497, five years after Columbus sailed, he chartered a voyage led by the Italian explorer John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) to see if England could find a shorter northern route to India. Cabot sailed from the port of Bristol to the coast of Canada, but he didn't set up any colonies, and he died during his second voyage. 

Henry VII didn’t spend much time worrying about this. The New World was of less importance than his son’s marriage. Arthur was a tall, handsome lad, and he was Henry’s great hope of bringing stability to England. His very name was a link to Britain’s legendary King Arthur. The pretty princess of Aragon, Catherine, with her pious intelligent nature and her red-gold hair, would be the perfect queen for him. The children were still too young to marry, but they wrote to each other in Latin. The Catholic Tudor dynasty was assured.

If Henry VII had been able to see forward to the next 100 years of English history, he would not have been so confident. Arthur, who could not even talk with his bride Catherine because they did not pronounce Latin the same way, died barely six months after his marriage. Eventually Catherine married his younger brother Henry, who became King Henry VIII when he ascended to the throne. But Catherine and Henry VIII could not have a son, and Henry remembered the lesson he’d learned from his own father: he needed a son to ensure that the Tudors could keep an unquestionable hold on the throne. Catherine’s only surviving child was a daughter, Mary. 

At last Henry decided that he needed a new wife to give him the son he wanted so much. He claimed that his marriage to Catherine was not really valid because she had been his brother’s wife.  Henry had always thought of himself as a good Catholic, and he assumed that  Pope Clement VII would give him an annulment. Clement, however, was unmoved.
When the Pope refused to proclaim that Catherine was not really Henry’s wife, Henry took matters into his own hands. In 1534, he declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church in England. He divorced Catherine, took a succession of new wives in hopes of finally having a son, and began to persecute faithful Catholics. He ordered the deaths of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher for refusing to acknowledge that the king was the head of the Church in England. He dissolved monasteries and distributed their land among his nobles. 

Although Henry was succeeded by his longed-for son, Edward VI, the boy died very young, and Catherine’s daughter Mary Tudor took the throne in 1553. Mary was a Catholic like her mother, and she longed to restore England’s Catholic heritage. In her zeal she executed Protestants as her father had executed Catholics. But Mary died childless and was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth I. Elizabeth, raised Protestant, persecuted Catholics in her turn. She required anyone holding public office to swear oaths of fidelity to the Anglican Church, and charged fines to those who did not attend official services. Many Catholics began to look for chances to build a new life outside of England.

King Henry VIII’s rejection of the Catholic Church marked a turning point for the English monarchy. His father Henry VII had relied on a complex family tree to justify his claim to the throne; after Henry, battles over the throne centered around religion, not parentage. The Catholics of England would suffer for years to come.

Why did it take the English more than one hundred years after Columbus discovered America to finally stake their claim in the New World? Henry VII died only a few years after John Cabot’s voyage. Henry VIII was too busy getting married to send expeditions to America. Edward VI was only nine years old when he became king, and he was just fifteen when he died. Mary felt that making England a Catholic country again was more important than voyages of exploration, and anyway, she was married to Philip of Spain. She didn’t need to compete with him for the wealth of the New World.

However, Elizabeth’s reign was long and stable. She also had a long-standing feud with the Spanish, not the least because she had turned down a proposal from Mary’s former husband Philip. Spanish ships were sailing across the Atlantic laden with gold from the fantastic cities of America. Elizabeth encouraged English privateers to capture Spanish ships and take their cargo as prizes. But England needed a base in the New World to be able to compete with Spain. 

In 1584 Queen Elizabeth gave a charter to found England’s first colony in the Americas to Sir Walter Raleigh. Sir Walter, the great flatterer, promptly named the entire eastern seaboard Virginia in honor of England’s Virgin Queen. He sent expeditions to Roanoke Island (off the coast of what is now North Carolina) in 1585 and 1587, setting the stage for one of the greatest mysteries of history.

The Roanoke colony was not destined for success. The first group of colonists had to be rescued and shipped back to England by Sir Francis Drake, the great mariner (and pirate). The second group only lasted a few months before they begged their governor, John White, to sail back to England for help and supplies. John White didn’t want to go. The winter storms were beginning to blow across the North Atlantic Ocean, and his granddaughter had just been born — Virginia Dare, the first person of European descent to be born in North America. But the colony had to have protection and food. Reluctantly, White went.

He returned to England at exactly the wrong time for the Roanoke colonists. Elizabeth’s fight with Philip of Spain had come to open blows. Philip’s great Armada was sailing for England, intent on invasion. Elizabeth declared that every ship that could sail must defend England. England inflicted a great defeat on Spain and broke the power of her navy in 1588, but John White could not get back to America to the people waiting desperately for him on Roanoke Island. It was not until 1590, three years after he’d sailed away from Roanoke, that he was able to return with supplies.

No one was there.

The buildings were dismantled, books were scattered, White’s suit of armor was rusting, but the people were gone. On a tree was carved the word CROATOAN, the name of the local natives, and of a nearby island. But the Maltese Cross, the distress signal that White and the colonists had agreed on, was not carved in the tree.

White was frantic to sail to the nearby island and search for his people and his family, but the sailors refused. Bad weather was coming up, and all they wanted to do was to return to England. Years later, other ships came to look for the colonists, but no trace of them could be found. To this day the word CROATOAN keeps the secret of the lost colony of Roanoke Island.

For a time it seemed that failure was all that could come of trying to start a colony in America. Even after the founding of Fort James in 1607 — named for the new King James, and later to be called Jamestown — the newborn Virginia colony was constantly on the verge of collapsing. The gentlemen adventurers who swaggered into Virginia did not understand farming and considered it beneath them. They were in the New World to make money for the Virginia Company, not to do the work of peasants.

Unfortunately for the settlers, what they found in Virginia was sickness, starvation, and a powerful native chief, Powhatan, who didn’t appreciate the arrogance of these newcomers. Little Fort James was poorly organized and badly managed. Captain John Smith took charge, ordering that those who would not work should not eat. The gentlemen grumbled, but they worked. Even so, colonists died at an astonishing rate. In 1610, three years after 214 men first landed in Jamestown, only 60 still survived, and those men were ready to abandon the colony and return to England. Only the arrival of the new governor, Lord de la Warr, who came with supplies, saved the settlement. (The state of Delaware was later named for him.) 

In 1613, Powhatan’s 17-year-old daughter Pocahontas, who had converted to Christianity while being held captive by the English, married John Rolfe. Rolfe had carried to Virginia a small treasure — a cache of seeds for sweet Spanish tobacco, which he’d smuggled off the island of Bermuda after being shipwrecked there. His successful crop proved the riches of Virginia were not in gold, but in smoke: tobacco smoke. The now-wealthy planter fell in love with Pocahontas and married her, uniting the English and the Powhatan confederacy in a rare moment of peace. Now called by her Christian name Rebecca, Pocahontas went to England with  her husband to meet the king. There, amid the pomp and pollution of the Old World, this daughter of the New World fell sick and died at age 21. 

Powhatan himself died not long afterward, ending the fragile peace between natives and English. His tribe decided in 1622 that it was time to rid themselves of the English for good. They planned to kill all the English in one fell swoop. Some natives who had become Christians warned the colonists in Jamestown about the coming attack.  Even so the warriors massacred settlers in the outlying farms along the James River.  330 people, a fourth of the English population in America, were killed.

Still, despite sickness, hunger, and attack, Virginia held on. The smoke-crazed English were snapping up Virginia tobacco, creating a new class of wealthy American planters. England also needed America’s resources, such as shipbuilding supplies like timber, resin, and pitch. Artisans from Germany, Poland, and Slovakia had set up a glass-blowing industry and were exporting their glassware back to Europe. As long as there was money to be made, people would keep settling in Virginia, and Virginia welcomed the new immigrants — as long as they were Protestant.

A new colony was about to make America a land of opportunity for Catholics too.

King Charles I came to the throne in 1625. He was sympathetic to Catholics, being married to the French Catholic princess Henrietta Maria and preferring a Catholic style of worship to Protestant services. A change was in the air. For almost one hundred years, Catholics had been persecuted by Protestant monarchs. Now, Charles began to reverse the trend. He began to crack down on the Puritans, the strictest Protestants who wanted to get rid of all Catholic influence. But Charles was still a Protestant, and there were still plenty of laws that made it difficult to be Catholic in England. Both Catholics and Puritans began to dream of having their own colony where they could practice their religion freely.

Charles’s friend George Calvert, Baron Baltimore, dreamed of creating a Catholic homeland in the New World. He had tried on and off since 1620 to start a colony in Newfoundland (now in Canada), but the weather was too cold for the fledgling farmers. Now he turned his gaze toward the south. Virginia looked like fine farming country, and tobacco was a crop a gentleman could grow. Although George Calvert died before he could found his Virginia settlement, King Charles I granted George’s son Cecil and his descendants a parcel of land north of Jamestown. The new colony was named Maryland. Perhaps that was in honor of Queen Henrietta Maria — no Englishman could argue about a colony named for the queen. But Cecil Calvert had another queen in mind: Mary, mother of Jesus, Queen of Heaven. On the feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1634 , the ships the Ark and the Dove dropped anchor in Chesapeake Bay, laden with settlers, a doctor, chickens, plenty of wine and beer, and three Jesuits. 

Maryland was not meant to be only for Catholics. Its charter extended religious tolerance to every Christian who believed in the Holy Trinity. The gentlemen who would become Maryland’s first landowners were Catholic, but the workmen, artisans, and servants who sailed with them were mostly Protestant. Neither Catholics or Protestants could deny each other freedom of religion. In that way, Maryland was different from England, the mother country.

In other ways Maryland was similar to England. Calvert and the gentlemen who settled Maryland planned to create estates like the ones that dotted the English countryside. Each estate would have a manor house for the landowner surrounded by fields and workshops. Servants and field hands would live on the estate and work for the landowner. Unlike the early Virginia settlers, the Marylanders were prepared to start farming immediately. They also bought their land from the local Yaocomaco tribe and formed an alliance with them, meaning that Maryland could start its existence without fear of attack. 

Not all was peaceful, however. Virginia did not care to have a colony right next door that welcomed Catholics. Protestants from Virginia took over Maryland’s government and made life difficult for Catholics. The Calvert family was able to gain control again for a short time, but by 1688, the religious strife in England was mirrored again in America. That year, the Catholic King James II was deposed by the Protestant William III in England’s “Glorious Revolution”, while across the sea in Maryland, Catholicism was outlawed. It would take nearly one hundred more years — and an American revolution against England — before Maryland Catholics would be free again to practice their faith.

Maryland and Virginia were both colonies sustained by plantation-style farming. The fertile land of the Tidewater and Piedmont regions was ideal for growing vast fields of cash crops. Tobacco was exported to England, and corn was shipped to the New England colonies, whose rocky soil made large-scale farming less profitable. Tobacco, in particular, stripped the soil of nutrients and required fresh fields to be cleared every few years. All this work — clearing, planting, picking, preserving, packing — required many people to keep each plantation running. At first much of the labor was provided by indentured servants, people who promised to work for a set number of years in order to pay back their passage from England. Indentured servants were not always treated well, but at least they had the promise of freedom at the end of their contract, and some of them became wealthy in their own right.

The earliest Africans in the colonies were indentured servants, able to earn their freedom. Mathias de Sousa, a Portuguese man of African descent who arrived on the Ark as an indentured servant to the Jesuit fathers, even served as an elected member of Maryland’s assembly in 1642. Plantation owners, however, pushed for laws that declared Africans and anyone of African descent to be slaves for life. Plantations brought in money for the colonies, and plantations required slave labor. The Catholics of Maryland — even the Jesuits — were no exception. They wanted to own property, and they wanted their farms to make them wealthy and comfortable, and slavery made that possible. 

Remember that at the beginning of the chapter we said that the great stories of the past are connected, and that to understand one part of history we must understand what happened first, and why. The stain of slavery, and of an economy based on slavery, tainted the colonies from the beginning. As our story unfolds, we will continue to see the terrible price that America will pay for building its prosperity on the backs of slaves.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Yes, Virginia

While working on my next chapter of my textbook, on Virginia and Maryland, I wrote about "Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in the land, and the first child to be named for the land." But then I got to wondering: is that actually true? Was Virginia Dare the first person to be named for the land of Virginia?

A little cursory research sent me to Wikipedia's page on the given name Virginia. Apparently there is a historical Virginia, a Roman girl whose father killed her rather than let Appius Claudius ruin her virtue. But clearly her name has nothing to do with the New World.

The name of the land of Virginia dates to 1584, when Sir Walter Raleigh received his charter from Queen Elizabeth I to set up a colony, and, being a brown-noser, made the sweeping gesture of applying the name "Virginia" to any part of the New World not claimed by the French or Spanish. Virginia Dare, the first person of European descent born in North America, was born in the Roanoke colony in August 1587.

However, there is an obscure saint named Virginia Centurione Bracelli. She was Italian, the daughter of the Doge of Genoa, and born in April, 1587 -- a few months before Virginia Dare. Is it so implausible that three years after Virginia was named for the Virgin Queen, the Doge of Genoa could have heard of England's claim in the New World and named his daughter after this exciting new land?

Well, so I thought.

It turns out that Virginia is not unheard of as an Italian name before 1584. Indeed, the famous Nun of Monza, born Marianna de Leyva in 1575, took the religious name Virginia Maria. Why Virginia? Because it was the name of her mother, Virginia Maria Marino (d. 1576). Alessandro Monzoni based the character of the nun Gertrude in his novel The Betrothed on Sister Virginia de Leyva.

So, another line of text needs to be altered to maintain historical integrity. My friends, I'm writing a chapter about Maryland. I started several days ago with King Henry VII, and I haven't even reached Maryland yet. Either I'm doing things all wrong, or I'm doing them all right.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Can I Get A Witness?

I've been pondering what we think of as missed chances to witness, versus the moments when we witness without thinking about it.

This past week I was speaking to someone about what I was doing on Sunday, and I mentioned that I had to go to Mass early because the rest of my day was packed. The other person nodded.

"Catholic guilt," he said. "I know all about that. I used to go to Catholic school."

And then the conversation moved on, but I was left feeling like I hadn't acquitted myself or my faith well. Should I have made some riposte? Should I have said, "In him we live and move and have our being," and talked about how worship is necessary for us, not an added burden, or how we eat more than once a week so feeding ourselves spiritually once a week isn't all that onerous? Should I have said that guilt is a useful indicator for assessing whether our conscience is trying to tell us something?

The reason I didn't say any of these things was that they didn't come into my mind until afterwards -- l'esprit d'escalier, "the spirit of the stairs" that haunts you as you're leaving the party with all the witty things you could have said. And the fact that I was given them afterwards means that I wasn't given them in the moment. Which possibly means that I was not intended to say them.

As I pondered the interaction later, it occurred to me that maybe my witness was not the wise things I might come back with, but the part of the conversation that I didn't even think about -- the fact that I had it at all. It was so obvious to me that I would be going to church on Sunday that it didn't strike me as being anything exceptional to mention. It was simply a fact of my existence, along with breathing and planning to eat that day. It came up in conversation not because I was trying to make a point or teach, but simply because it was the next thing to say. It was given to me, so easily and naturally that I didn't feel it being given.

I often think of "the witness" as being something we have to go out of our way to do, and I forget that our very lives are witnesses. Everyone knows someone who talks a good game but whose life contradicts what they say. Our being, our mode of existence, is our first and often our only witness. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, being from the Holy Spirit linger with people long after the points we've made are forgotten.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dissent Undermining Witness

There is a real blindspot in some conservative Catholic circles about the wrongs and sufferings caused by trying to enforce border policy more strictly, the injustices some employers inflict on workers, etc. This blindspot originates from the fact that conservative Catholics find themselves so under attack from the cultural and political left in other senses that they are too ready to ignore the wrongs associated with the right. This is not unlike, for instance, the blindness that many Catholic circles had to the real injustices suffered by the peasants and workers in pre-Civil War Spain.

In this regard, it would be a good thing if there was a faithful Catholic left, devoted to both the teachings of the Church and justice for the oppressed.

One of the things that fries me every time another Commonweal email shows up in my inbox is how determined they are not to be such a voice. Yes, they gesture at justice for the oppressed at times. But the key reason for being for the Catholic left (at least as represented by Commonweal) is very clearly dissent from Catholic doctrine.

Primarily this dissent is focused on practical morality, because we are a practical people and the average American cares far more about being able to marry without the Church saying that divorce and remarriage is impossible or that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, to be able to have sex when and how he desires without reference to any standard of morality other than his own preference or any concern that this might result in the inconvenience of new life, about his ability to purchase pornography, etc. than he does about the nature of the priesthood or the Eucharist or the Trinity or the relationship between the human and divine natures of Christ.

Over the past year, the particular focus of this dissent has been an ever-escalating crescendo of assaults on the encyclical Humanae Vitae and the moral prohibition against artificial birth control laid out therein.

Little does it seem to occur to their writers than every time the attack the ability of the Church to teach authoritatively, every time they assert that a doctrine must be "accepted" in order for it to be true, they are attacking their own ability to use that same Church authority to persuade fellow Catholics to break with their political allies and cultural tribes over issues such as treatment of migrants and workers.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Doctrine is Fixed, the Explanation Can Change

The Catholic Church is the guardian of the deposit of the faith, the true teachings handed down to her by Christ. In explaining these truths to people, the Church has through her history made use of the best understandings of the world available through philosophy and natural science.

So, for instance, we know from Christ that in the Eucharist we receive Christ's true Body and Blood. We also know that the bread and wine continue to look and taste like bread and wine. Jesus put a lot of weight on this teaching. Indeed, when many of his disciples leave him over it, he readily lets them walk off. He certainly, doesn't say, "Oh, gee, guys, I was only using a figure of speech!"
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:53-69
And yet, while Christ clearly taught this doctrine, He didn't explain it in the terms of every philosophical system which might come along in the millennia to come. Thus, for instance, in response to questions that arose in the 13th and 14th centuries, the Church defined the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist using the philosophical language of Aristotle, using the term transubstantiation. We've continued to use this term ever since, because Aristotelian philosophy (as used by Aquinas and other Scholastics) happens to be a really good way to explain the real presence: The substance, the true being, the is-ness, of the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, and yet their physical characteristics remain those of bread and wine. They look the same, they taste the same. And yet they are truly Christ.

And yet, Aristotelian philosophy is a human system of thought. It is not perfect. There may be ways in which we find that the explanations of the world given by Thomistic-Aristotelian philosophy do not match things which we believe we know from other means. Does this mean that, since many Church doctrines are expressed in Thomistic-Aristotelian terms, that those doctrines may change or simply be wrong due to being based on mistaken philosophical notions?


What we need to remember is that while the Church is responsible for explaining Christ's teachings, the teachings themselves come from Christ. Even if the Church has expressed teachings in terms with which we may later find problems, the teachings themselves are not from the Church and thus cannot be changed by the Church.

So even if we find the Thomistic-Aristotelian ideas of substance and accidence to be problematic in some other areas, and perhaps even come up with other philosophical explanations of the Real Presence, the Real Presence itself is not dependent on the accuracy of the Thomistic-Aristelian understanding of substance and accidence.

Similarly, the doctrine of original sin is not dependent on a Thomistic-Aristotelian understanding of what a species is. Teachings regarding marriage and sexuality, similarly, are not dependent on ancient or medieval human understandings of sexuality or gender for their truth. Etc. If Christ's truth has been explained in human terms that are no longer well understood, then it's important for us to come up with new explanations which address our modern understanding of the world. And yet, it's even more important that we not deceive ourselves into thinking that because we may see some problems with the philosophical system which was used in formulating an explanation, that the doctrine itself is therefore up for grabs or out of date. It isn't. God is eternal and is not subject to the errors of one time or another.

Monday, July 09, 2018

A Gun For Dinosaur

As the rest of the family has moved into rehearsal-every-night mode, I've been spending my evenings with the one and four-year-old members of the family, who are not yet old enough to be reliable on stage.

Young Pog knows what he wants: he wants to be held all the time, and not while I'm doing anything as upsetting as reading or even sitting. But his older brother is at one of the stages of life where nothing fascinates quite like a dinosaur. We've sampled a number of dinosaur specials, and this has brought important concerns to his mind such as the one he stated while getting ready for bed tonight: "Dad, I don't know how to kill a dinosaur. Is it tricky to kill a dinosaur in real life?"

Well, it's for questions like this that we have classic Science Fiction authors. L. Sprague de Camp tackled the question memorably in his 1956 short story "A Gun For Dinosaur".

No, I'm sorry, Mr. Seligman, but I can't take you hunting Late Mesozoic dinosaur.

Yes, I know what the advertisement says.

Why not? How much d'you weigh? A hundred and thirty? Let's see; that's under ten stone, which is my lower limit.

I could take you to other periods, you know. I'll take you to any period in the Cenozoic. I'll get you a shot at an entelodont or a uintathere. They've got fine heads.

I'll even stretch a point and take you to the Pleistocene, where you can try for one of the mammoths or the mastodon.

I'll take you back to the Triassic where you can shoot one of the smaller ancestral dinosaurs. But I will jolly well not take you to the Jurassic or Cretaceous. You're just too small.

What's your size got to do with it? Look here, old boy, what did you think you were going to shoot your dinosaur with?

Oh, you hadn't thought, eh?

Well, sit there a minute . . . Here you are: my own private gun for that work, a Continental .600. Does look like a shotgun, doesn't it? But it's rifled, as you can see by looking through the barrels. Shoots a pair of .600 Nitro Express cartridges the size of bananas; weighs fourteen and a half pounds and has a muzzle energy of over seven thousand foot-pounds. Costs fourteen hundred and fifty dollars. Lot of money for a gun, what?

I have some spares I rent to the sahibs. Designed for knocking down elephant. Not just wounding them, knocking them base-over-apex. That's why they don't make guns like this in America, though I suppose they will if hunting parties keep going back in time.

Now, I've been guiding hunting parties for twenty years. Guided 'em in Africa until the game gave out there except on the preserves. And all that time I've never known a man your size who could handle the six-nought-nought. It knocks 'em over, and even when they stay on their feet they get so scared of the bloody cannon after a few shots that they flinch. And they find the gun too heavy to drag around rough Mesozoic country. Wears 'em out.

It's true that lots of people have killed elephant with lighter guns: the .500, .475, and .465 doubles, for instance, or even the .375 magnum repeaters. The difference is, with a .375 you have to hit something vital, preferably the heart, and can't depend on simple shock power.

An elephant weighs—let's see—four to six tons. You're proposing to shoot reptiles weighing two or three times as much as an elephant and with much greater tenacity of life. That's why the syndicate decided to take no more people dinosaur hunting unless they could handle the .600. We learned the hard way, as you Americans say. There were some unfortunate incidents . . .

I'll tell you, Mr. Seligman. It's after seventeen-hundred. Time I closed the office. Why don't we stop at the bar on our way out while I tell you the story?

[continue reading]

The .600 Nitro Express here mentioned is a real rifle round, the grand daddy of all the turn of the century big bore safari rifles, with a cartridge as big as your hand.

Here's someone firing it.

Given my historical fascinations, I was intrigued to discover that Wikipedia even had a World War One angle for me:

WWI service
In 1914 and early 1915, German snipers were engaging British Army positions with impunity from behind steel plates that were impervious to .303 British ball ammunition. In an attempt to counter this threat, the British War Office purchased sixty-two large bore sporting rifles from British rifle makers, including four .600 Nitro Express rifles, which were issued to Regiments. These large bore rifles proved very effective against the steel plates used by the Germans, in his book Sniping in France 1914-18 MAJ H. Hesketh-Prichard, DSO, MC stated they "pierced them like butter."

Stuart Cloete, sniping officer for the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, stated "We used a heavy sporting rifle - a .600 Express. These had been donated to the army by big game hunters and when we hit a plate we stove it right in. But it had to be fired standing or from a kneeling position to take up the recoil. The first man who fired it from the prone position had his collar bone broken."

So, if you find yourself needing to hunt a Tyrannosaur, you'll now know how to equip yourself.

Darwiniana: In Praise of the Amateur

My friends, it's not that we've forgotten that we have a blog. It's that the stage is a high and consummate calling, devouring time and talent. This past week has been devoted to theater-related doings, yea, even the Fourth of July and the usually sacrosanct Friday night. And this week is not only tech week (which for you uninitiates is the week the show opens, in which the technical glitches get ironed out because it's our first and only week in the actual theater) but it's also Vacation Bible School in the parish. In the morning I put on a VBS shirt and spend multiple twenty-minute shifts talking to squirmy children about saints and Bible stories and memory verses, and in the evening I put on a skirt and jazz shoes and sometimes a fake beard and play a variety of chorus roles. As we incorporate our orchestra, here's a snippet of our rehearsal here. (Even those who aren't acolytes of Zuckerburg can get around the wall by clicking "Not Now".)

Our VBS isn't run by professional theologians biding their time until they can break into the exciting world of celebrity catechesis. Our community theater isn't manned by aspiring thespians looking for their shot at the big time. We're the talent, and the kinda-talent, that stayed home. We're the big fish in the small pond (or even the middling fish), but we're also the fish who showed up and were faithful. And we are the people who run the world.

Not everyone gets famous, and those who get famous aren't the most talented or the best at what they do. The famous one are the ones who put the time and effort into self-promotion and networking and getting a good agent or manager. Our show has some people who would shine anywhere. Most of the rest of us, though, are good enough for Delaware, OH. And that's okay. The people of a mid-sized town in central Ohio deserve theater as much as the tourists of New York or London do. The children in the parish north of Columbus deserve VBS volunteers who will work in person instead of devoting their time to video catechesis series. There are a lot of gifts in the world, and they don't all need to be concentrated in centers of culture and education.

Today at VBS I talked about the Holy Family, and I told the kids that what made them holy is not that they were strange or unusual or did things differently from everyone else. What made them holy was the love of God shining through all the normal things they did. Holiness doesn't consist of heroics, but in loving God whatever you're doing, and allowing him to work through you.

Not everyone is called to make sacrifices for their Art, and most people are never going to make it big, no matter how talented. That's how it should be. You don't love God better simply because you have a big audience. The size of your stage doesn't dictate the size of your gift. And thank goodness. The New York pros have lots of access to master classes and auditions and development opportunities, but not many of them get to watch their seventh child smash his birthday cake.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Seventeen Years of Marriage


As I start this post, it's still our wedding anniversary, June 30. Perhaps I should grant myself another full three hours of leeway, since we were after all married in the pacific time zone. But honestly, it seems more in keeping with the overall ethic of our marriage that a post commemorating it be started right before a deadline and finished late at night.

Looking back has been a frequent mode of ours of late. We turn forty in a few months. The oldest child will be getting her drivers license shortly. It's a time for looking forward and looking back.

Several things I know to be true, after seventeen years and seven children.

I was very lucky to meet MrsDarwin. We're so well suited to each other in mind and temperament. As we so often find ourselves saying to each other at moments of mild frustration such as come often in a large house full of rambunctious mammals (many of them descended from us): I wouldn't want to do this with anyone but you.

There's a genre of advice piece in which the author opines that people (usually women are singled out) are too picky when it comes to spouses, and as a result they never get married. The solution, it is suggested, is to settle. Realize you're not going to find someone perfect, and settle for someone you can live with comfortably enough. This, of course, assumes that when people go unmarried it must be because they've been ignoring the presence of many perfectly suitable partners around them out of misplaced idealism. Perhaps there are people who do 'refuse to commit' to a perfectly marriageable prospect right in front of them. But being married to someone who seems to well suited to me, and I to her, it's easy for me to imagine that had I for some reason not met MrsDarwin, I would simply not have found someone right for me to marry, or not done so so quickly.

And yet, something which I perhaps didn't realize seventeen years ago when we got married is that even for people as well suited as we -- and people with a temperament which leans against the drama of fighting or even arguing -- successful marriage does not just take the great luck of meeting the right person, it also takes the choices, each minute, hour, and day, to act rightly. Just the two of us with lots of free time (at college, in other words) never really need to exert any work to get along. But throw in the frictions of a half dozen or more children, a house and yard always in need of work, business trips, play rehearsals and kid activities and parish obligations, and there are plenty of times when one needs to bite back the frustrated word, or push down the feeling of self pity or resentment.

These little choices to not selfishly take out one's frustration on another are not so different from the choices we have to make elsewhere in life in order to get along with others. In this sense, getting along with MrsDarwin is not so very different from getting along with anyone else. Thinking about marital virtue in this regard, one can think: Love is a choice. It doesn't have to be just one person.

There's truth in that too. Yet, it's so much easier to make those choices with someone to whom I'd so much rather be married.

I wouldn't want to do this with anyone but you.

The other thing that comes to mind looking back over years of marriage is how much has happened since then. When we picked June 30th as our wedding date, we did so by deciding arbitrarily that since we were going to get married in Los Angeles (where my family lived) after graduating college, we'd give ourselves six weeks after graduation to find a job, place to live, etc. The date was put on the calendar, the parish reserved it for us, and we were on a crash course with finding a way to support the little family we would stand before God and the Church and vow to become.

The mere fact of deciding to get married, and thus to support ourselves and any children that might come, made certain decisions for us. I'd thought and talked through college about going into some kind of artistic work. I'd looked at film schools. I'd talked of writing.

With those looming six weeks between graduation and marriage, I took some spare days during my last exam week to fly out to Los Angeles and interview at a couple jobs and placement agencies. I took the first job that came along: office work at a chemical distribution company. It was the sort of thing no one lists as a dream job, but it would pay our rent -- no mean feat in the LA area, even then.

I never did return to the road of pursuing a creative job as my means of support. 'Follow your passion,' goes the clarion call these days. But my deeper passion was having a family with MrsDarwin, not pursuing a particular kind of job. Instead I went after what I was good at and paid well. Now I lead a team that does pricing analytics. It's work that stimulated my intellectual curiosity. I'm glad of that. But it's not what I'd choose to do if I were landed gentry free to pursue my personal interests.

The twists and turns that brought me there were things I could not have predicted seventeen years ago. But what we did know back then was that maintaining the household would be the central priority for us, with jobs a means to that end. That means that MrsDarwin's work at home with the children is part of the same project as my work outside the home. Together, we're both working to provide for the family: provide money, shelter, and food; provide education, nurturing, and affection.

And of course: I wouldn't want to do this with anyone but you.


Go not to the Elves for counsel, they say, and in that spirit I offer not marriage advice, but our own experience. By their fruits you shall know them, they also say.

Our abiding rule — more than a rule, a bedrock principle — is: Never speak in anger. Never. Better to bite out my tongue than lash out with angry words. Darwin and I have the same temperament, the kind that remembers what was said. And angry words, spoken from despair or pain or weariness, often have that grain of truth that lodges far more deeply than any hyperbole or fabrication. You can never really take something back. Better by far never to say it in the first place.

Fortunately, we’re rarely angry at each other. Sometimes we’re both angry at something external, in which case we can beef together. Occasionally one of us will be in a deep blue funk or a foul mood, and the other does what they can to ameliorate it, even if that’s just staying out of the way. It does happen that one of us is angry at the other irrationally (because it’s easiest to blame someone who won’t reject you) and knowing that the irritation is irrational is even more irritating. In that case we opt for silence. Silence can speak volumes. It can be oppressive. It can also provide time to heal and calm. It is a buffer between the thought and the other, a buffer in which angry thoughts can fade away before they’re expressed.

Fortunately, this hasn’t been a lesson we’ve had to learn through our own painful experience. The marriages of our own parents provided a vivid witness to us — positive, in Darwin’s case; negative in mine. From the very start of our relationship we’ve lived by this principle. That’s 21 years of feelings, moods, whims, irritations, hurts, snarks, snipes, unreasonable urges, crankiness, and straight-up ugliness that haven’t been allowed to set up and harden into concrete spoken form.

I’m not talking here of feeling powerless to speak out against abuse, which is outside the purview of our relationship anyway. Nor do I advocate allowing wounds to fester. But two people — especially two people bolstered by the graces of marriage — can have awkward, painful, or intense discussions without lashing out at each other. My spouse is not a whipping post for my moods.

This is not pure virtue. We both play a long game, and being reasonable and patient is a good way to win. It’s tempting sometimes to be the one who’s putting up with more, who’s being less demanding. But those are separate scores, and in marriage, if you’re not winning together, you’re not winning at all. And sometimes Darwin and I are gracious because we know that we’ll need the same concession from the other soon. I bear up through his play rehearsals because I know I’ll need him to support me through mine. He puts up with my writing time because he needs me to put up with his. Even this is a lesser effort, though. The best of all is when I love him because he is, literally, God’s gift to me: the unique spark of God’s creative love through whom, by the graces of marriage, I find my path to heaven. The path may be dark sometimes, or rough, or busy, or blissful, but it’s never solitary. Through the sacrament of marriage, we walk it together, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

From our fifteenth anniversary post:

O Jesus, I ask you to grant my love every good gift. Give him grace, strength, and wisdom; give him fortitude and prudence and charity. Give him riches, spiritual riches that will last into eternity. Give him peace and purity and patience. Give him rest.

And choose me, Jesus. Choose me to be the one through whom he receives these gifts. Allow me to be your way of loving him on earth. Keep us always united in your love.

May our marriage on earth be a sign of the perfect love of heaven, and may we come, with our children, into eternal life with you.