About Me

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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Do you believe every word of this book?"

In reference to the Bible, this was one of the questions during yesterday's CNN/YouTube Republican Presidential Debate, and of the three candidates to answer the question (Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Gov. Mitt Romney, and Gov. Mike Huckabee), two of them had excellent answers, while one (Romney) fumbled the ball. You can see the video of their answers here.

The first to answer was Giuliani:
The reality is, I believe it, but I don't believe it's necessarily literally true in every single respect. I think there are parts of the Bible that are interpretive. I think there are parts of the Bible that are allegorical. I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be interpreted in a modern context.

So, yes, I believe it. I think it's the great book ever written. I read it frequently. I read it very frequently when I've gone through the bigger crises in my life, and I find great wisdom in it, and it does define to a very large extent my faith. But I don't believe every single thing in the literal sense of Jonah being in the belly of the whale, or, you know, there are some things in it that I think were put there as allegorical.
The mayor gave an answer that would be similar to my own answer to the question, which would have run something like this: "Yes, I believe that every word in the Bible is true. I do not, however, believe that a literal interpretation of every word is always the best interpretation. Rather, much of the Bible is to be understood either allegorically, that is, it speaks to us in metaphor and allegory; or anagogically, that is, it speaks to us about the being of God in analogy and metaphor; or tropologically, that is, it speaks to us in metaphor concerning our own morals and way of life. Do I believe that God created the world in seven, twenty-four hour days as we understand them? No. Do I believe that there is a wealth of meaning that could fill volumes and tell us many things about God, about ourselves, and about the world around us, all to be found in the metaphor that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh? Yes." Or something to that effect.

The best answer of this question, however, was given by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister who was most eloquent while at his most sincere:

Sure. I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. It's the word of revelation to us from God himself.

And the fact is that when people ask do we believe all of it, you either believe it or you don't believe it. But in the greater sense, I think what the question tried to make us feel like was that, well, if you believe the part that says "Go and pluck out your eye," well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye. That obviously is allegorical.

But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation. "Love your neighbor as yourself." And, "As much as you've done it to the least of these brethren, you've done it unto me." Until we get those simple, real easy things right, I'm not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated.

And as the only person here probably on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite God, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small.

'Nuff said.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Two Thanksgivings in Germany

I hope that all my friends and family back home had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend; I had the great fortune to be able to attend not one but two Thanksgiving dinners this past weekend. The first, organized by the German-American Society of Münster, was held on Thursday evening at Henry's Poltertenne, a wonderful, rustic event center on the outskirts of the city. I went with Jennifer Burkart, the former Boston College Fulbrighter, and her husband, Jörg (and had I known that the other American students walked (!) to the dinner, I would have asked Jennifer and Jörg to give them a ride!). The dinner was well-attended both by members of the society, Americans living, working, or studying in Münster, as well as many other friends of the States--including the Mayor of Münster himself, Hans Varnhagen!

All of the food except the turkey was provided potluck-style, and while--alas!--there were no mashed potatoes or gravy, there was an abundance of many different kinds of salads and casseroles and other side dishes that were just as delicious, if not quite as "traditional" to the Thanksgiving feast. Desserts also abounded, with various brownies and cookies and cakes and puddings and custards, all laid out in fine fashion. The crowning achievement was, however, the turkeys--I saw at least two, but there may have been more kept in the hotbox by the master carver beneath the table. Since I couldn't figure out how to say "dark meat" in German, I used the "grunt and point" method to indicate my choice, and when it became clear to me that I might just be able to have it, I asked "Darf ich das ganze haben?", and with a flourish, one of the great turkey legs graced my plate!

The conversation at our table was mainly focused on the goings on both past and present of the English classes taught at the Katholishe Fachhochschule (the equivalent of a community college), where Jennifer teaches, as we were joined by one of her current colleagues, as well as a former teacher there who splits his time now between Münster and his farm in upstate New York. A long focus of the discussion was his lament concerning the skills of German students in writing coherent, well-organized expository essays. It is not, he claimed, a fault of the German students that, when they arrive in his English classes, they cannot seem to write what in America would be the standard "5-paragraph essay" on which we are schooled from 6th grade on, nor that, given an essay, they seem unable to answer the question, "What is this essay about it? What is its topic sentence?" Indeed, he has found that 95% of his students, who were hopeless at the beginning, can after a few months of his instruction, construct a perfectly well-organized expository essay. The problem, he claims, is that the German teachers don't seem to think that such a skill should be (or can be) taught; indeed, his lament extended to the whole German philosophy of education, which he believes eschews the traditional rhetorical tradition, and therefore finds itself incapable of construction well-organized arguments. Though I thought that he went perhaps too far in his criticism, I have found in my experience in classes that German teachers do have tendency to wander from topic to topic in their lectures.

Though the evening came to an end far too soon (I would have liked to kibitz much longer, as is my wont), I had the opportunity for more lively discussion yesterday when I attended my second Thanksgiving dinner, this time hosted by the Fulbright Alumni Association of Nordrhein-Westfalen, in the house of Sigrid and Rainer Martin in Bochum, a city about 75 kilometers southwest of Münster. Most of the attendees were Fulbright alumni, i.e. Germans who had studied as Fulbrighters in the United States, but there was another current American Fulbrighter in attendance, Emily, a teaching assistant from Dallas, teaching English at a school about 30 kilometers south of Münster. Together, we engaged the Germans in a long evening of wonderful conversation. The evening began with snacks in the kitchen and a long and involved discussion with Roy Schuster, a delightful middle-aged German, covering the relationship between faith and reason, philosophy, science, and theology in the modern world. I tried as best I could in German (with a surprisingly large amount of success) to explain my own belief, founded in my Catholicism, in the inherent and necessary compatibility of faith and reason, and the ultimate mystery that even reason must admit exists at the end of the philosopher's search for truth. It was at this point that Emily joined the conversation, and for the rest of the evening we were engaged together in a spirited attempt to understand each other (Emily considers herself quite the skeptic when it comes to religion and quite the liberal when it comes to politics).

The discussion continued in this vein during the soup course (a wonderful pumpkin soup with the best attempt I've so far met in Germany at cornbread), now branching out into a discussion of the nature of art, music, genius, and the scientific explanations of the human genome (for the gist of my thoughts, see my post from last October). The conversation, which by now had been joined by several other Germans, passed into politics after we reseated ourselves in front of plates laden with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and, for the German touch, red cabbage, and on then to the war in Iraq and the greater war on terror as we enjoyed pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Alas, by the end of the evening however, my wits dulled by a belly full of good food and good wine, the discussion began to slacken, and when with a shock Emily and I realized it was already 9:00 (both of us with about an hour's train ride home before us and both having classes this morning), we were regrettably obliged to take our leave. It was, nevertheless, a most wonderful evening, full of excellent food, good company, and most interesting interaction, and I shall look long upon the evening in Bochum with good and pleasant memories.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stunning new stem cell research vindicates pro-life positions

According to two new reports, scientists in both Japan and the United States have successfully morphed skin cells (from an adult women in Japan and from a newborn's circumcised foreskin in the States) into viable stem cells exhibiting the properties of embryonic stem cells. This new advance, though still in the early stages of development and with many problems still to be worked out, gives proof to the concept that skin stem cells can be just as useful as embryonic stem cells, but without the destruction of human life that is involved in harvesting the latter type of cells.

Of course, the pro-life community has for quite a while placed their hopes in skin stem cells as an alternative to the destructive embryonic process, and these hopes have finally been fulfilled. The naysayers, of course, protested that skin cells would never be as effective as embryonic cells, but, as we had hoped, they have been proven wrong. It is a great day for humanity, for the scientific community has opened up the opportunity to pursue the life-saving cures promised by stem cell research without concomitant destruction of life.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What to do with $350 million?

According to a recent report from the AP, Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has placed an order with Airbus for his very own A380 - the new super jumbo that dwarfs the old standby, Boeing's 747. Of course, the prince won't be happy with the standard configuration of ca. 500 seats, which comes in at about $330 million. No, he'll want to customize it and turn it into a flying palace with spacious bedrooms, a jacuzzi or two, lounges and bars, an exercise room, and probably a movie theater - at an additional cost of between $50 million and $150 million. Let's say he decides not to be too extravagant and charts the middle course between them: he's still looking at paying $400 million for an airplane, for himself.

I've heard of the wealthy extravagantly flaunting their riches, but really! This super rich, super pampered Saudi prince will sink $400 million into a plaything for himself, while his country's infrastructure languishes (say what you will about the film Syriana, it did make this point very well: Saudi princes have a tendency to invest in their own luxury rather than the future of their country). While nearly a billion people on this planet languish in the deepest poverty and privation, a man in Saudi Arabia, grown rich off his oil, will luxuriate in his own, private flying palace.

Does he think that the world will respect him more for his monumental waste of money? Does he really think that he can buy himself happiness upon that flying monstrosity? Is he really so blind to the abject needs of so many, both in his own country and around the world? Can any man really be so blind? While I dare not to judge the thoughts of his heart, which are known to him and God alone, I will most certainly pronounce judgment on this particular action of the Saudi prince: he mocks all of humanity with so selfish an act, and proclaims to the world that his own private luxury, which exceeds all heretofore known bounds of extravagance, is of greater priority than the charity which could well be done with his $400 million.

Thank God that there are still some in this world who do care: I refer you to the "Anonymous Friend" who has gifted Erie, Pennsylvania charities with $100 million--a fraction, to be sure, of the prince's palatial payout, but done anonymously, not to boast of the having of money, but to be kind in the giving of it.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Missa de Angelis

Notes on Today’s Pontifical Mass at the St. Paulus Dom, Münster
The Solemn High Mass at Münster’s Cathedral was a little special today, because it was celebrated by Bishop-Prelate Clemens A. Kathke, the General Secretary of the Bonifatius Werk, on the occasion of the opening of their fundraising campaign for next year. The Bonifatius Werk (named for St. Boniface) administers to “diaspora” German Catholics, that is, German Catholics living in other countries of Europe. As such, today was quite the to-do.
My first observation should be that, when the Germans mean to, they can put on a Solemn High Mass that would make the most high-church Anglican proud. First, as they process in, one realizes that they have a clean dozen torchbearers alone, in addition to a couple other dozen Ministranten (acolytes) whose function never became clear to me other than to stand in the (appropriately large, for a medieval cathedral) sanctuary. Second, unlike their American counterparts, these Roman Catholics still understand about “smells and bells”: there was a liberal dosage of incense at all the proper moments (procession and recession, Introit, Gospel (they still cense the Gospel book!), Offertory, and Consecration—where the innumerable torchbearers rather formed a ring around the high altar, being, as it is, in the center of the sanctuary), and they still ring the bells at the Consecration. Finally, the clergy of the cathedral chapter were appropriately decked out in their scarlet scapulars and—get this—berettas!
The most wonderful part for me of today’s liturgy was, however, the music, for they decided to sing the Missa de Angelis. Most American Roman Catholics are probably scratching their heads over this one, but as one raised in a high-church Anglican Catholic parish, I am very familiar with this Mass setting, for it was the standard at our church during Trinitytide (for the Roman Catholics, that’s “Ordinary Time”). I relished the ability to sing the Kyrie, for once, without having to look at the hymnal; and though, since the other parts were sung in Latin, I did have to sing from the hymnal (for, though I know them in Latin, I am not familiar with them as they mesh with the music), the graceful familiarity of the notes of this Mass were of great comfort to me. Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Making Saints

As I was in the university library’s stacks on Wednesday retrieving a book on palaeography (a thoroughly Byzantine system, this German library: the stacks, of course, are not organized according to subject but according to accession date of the volume, with the result that, if you pick any four consecutive books off the shelf, you are likely to come across something like an English-language volume with a title I can’t pronounce about biology, a German-language work on literary criticism, a French work on 19th-century colonialism, and a volume of 14th-century Italian poetry—the only common thread between them being that they were all acquired by the library in August of 1986; hence, the only way to find your way around them is through the catalogue), I happened to glance at some of the other random titles on the shelves nearby. One bookcase to the right and three shelves down, my gaze alighted upon a volume bearing the title, Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why, by Kenneth L. Woodward (ISBN 0671642464, Library of Congress number BX2330 .W66 1990, or at amazon here). Though it did not dawn on me that I had checked the book out the day before All Saints Day until I was 60 pages in, it seemed rather providential that I plucked this particular book out of the catacomb-like dungeons of the university library.

After finishing the book this afternoon after lunch, I most whole-heartedly recommend it to everybody. It is a well-written and very engaging book that makes a very detailed and in-depth examination of the inner-workings of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. The author spent several years at the end of the 1980’s becoming as much of an insider as any outsider can be, haunting the halls of the Congregation and befriending its chief “saint-makers”. Woodward uses the examples of many contemporary “saints,” both already beatified or canonized and potential candidates to illustrate the various issues involved in the modern process of declaring people holy. It is especially interesting to see how he treats the causes of many modern “potentials”, including Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, and St. Pio (aka Padre Pio). The political problems associated with Romero’s cause continue to plague it, while Dorothy Day’s was finally begun in 2000, ten years after the release of this book. Padre Pio, on the other hand, whose cause Woodward thought would languish, was quickly beatified in 1999 and canonized in 2002.

Of particular interest to me, in light of my recent discussion of the call to holiness and the example of the saints in establishing a Christian society of virtue, was a passage in a section in which Woodward was dealing with the cause of Katharine Drexel, a daughter of one of the richest 19th-century Philadelphia socialite families who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People, and dedicated her great wealth and her life to educating and evangelizing to the Native Americans and blacks. The question in Woodward’s mind was whether or not she should have focused more of her energy on advocating for social and political change (she seems never to have spoken out against segregation laws). He concludes, however, as follows:

The answer seems to be this: in the church's classical hierarchy of Christian virtues, personal charity toward others ranks higher than doing justice by them. More precisely, love of neighbor rooted in love of God and manifested by personal attention to individuals more closely approximates the example of Jesus than does achieving justice for a whole class of people, particularly when justice is instanced, as in this case, by concern for the social and civil rather than the religious well-being of the subject people. As we [have already] observed....“political holiness” would require the saint-makers to think in a new key. Thus, to give the virtue of justice more importance than Mother Drexel attached to it would do violence not only to her own understanding of the virtues but to that of the church as well. In any event, as one historian of Christian sainthood has recently observed, “The saints have not typically sought or advocated political solutions to the problems of the needy—and certainly they have not been inclined toward revolution.” (p. 243)
The implication is, of course, clear: the highest call of the Christian is to love God and neighbor, and the love of neighbor is expressed most ardently in wanting to share with them this love—as Woodward later puts it, we are to work “for the true liberation (i.e., liberation from sin through conversion)” of the oppressed (p. 244). Thus, it is not to political revolution that we are called, but to the personal and spiritual revolution of striving for salvation.

Furthermore, I want to highlight part of Woodward’s discussion on the usefulness and, indeed, necessity of saints to a modern world that seems continually less interested in them. One point that he is keen to make is on the value of the “heroic virtue” exercised by saints:

[T]he grounding of holiness in virtue is particularly important in an age like ours for which, in the spiritually promiscuous climate of the United States, at least, “spirituality” has become a catchall term for elevated states of feeling combined with psychological control over the nervous system and vague communigs with an indeterminate and innocuous higher power—all detached from the moral choices and conduct that produce character. (p. 396)

Finally, he identifies three key qualities that are “missing in societies in which the saint no longer matters” (pp. 404-6):

1. Connection: The cult of the saints presupposes that everyone who has existed, and everyone who will exist, is interconnected—that is, that there really is a basis in the structure of human existence for “the communion of saints.”…But to assert that all human beings are radically connected over space, through time, and even beyond death is to counter the experience and assumptions of Western, free-enterprising societies which prize personal autonomy and the individuated self….How can we imagine and celebrate saints when, as sociologist Robert Bellah has observed of contemporary Americans, we lack “communities of memory that tie us to the past [and] also turn us toward the future as communities of hope”?

2. Dependency: The search for connections is a very modern, very Western experience. The thrust of contemporary Western culture is to encourage autonomous human beings who cooperate as citizens but remain essentially independent. Our prevailing ethos is individualistic, utilitarian, and self-expressive. To be free is to be in control….To cite [John] Coleman…, “Saints…invite us to conceptualize our lives in terms of other than mastery, usefulness, autonomy, and control. As free instruments of higher grace and vehicles of transcendent power, they provide a vision of life that stresses receptivity and interaction.”…What makes us fully human, if saints are to be believed, are gifts: what the gift of life brings, the gift of grace completes.

3. Particularity: Christian holiness is incarnational. Each saint occupies his own ecological niche of time, place, and circumstance, The importance that Christians have traditionally attached to tombs, shrines, and pilgrimages attests to the belief that God’s providence is manifest in the local, the circumscribed—in the particular. Because grace is everywhere, the particular has eternal significance….It is precisely the sort of holiness one might expect in a religion of what God is like but also as the revelation of what every person, in his own concrete humanity, is called to be.

As always in the Christian story, the causes of the saints center ultimately on the greatest virtue, which shares in the divinity itself: love. So Woodward ends his tale:

My own hunch is that the story of a saint is always a love story. It is a story of a God who loves, and of the beloved who learn how to reciprocate and share that “harsh and dreadful love.” It is a story that includes misunderstanding, deception, betrayal, concealment, reversal, and revelation of character. It is, if the saints are to be trusted, our story. But to be a saint is not be to be a solitary lover. It is to enter into deeper communion with everyone and everything that exists.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Difficult Mix of Religion and Politics, Part II


In Festa Die Omnium Sanctorum


This post is to respond to a comment left on my previous post on this subject by Abu Daoud:

I will say though that IMHO the command for social justice need not and should not be accomplished through governments (the earthly city) but through the City of God and her instrument here--the Church.
When we ask the government to accomplish the duties of the church we harm both.
Mr. Daoud has hit on an excellent point, and given me the opportunity to say what I would have liked to say in my previous post, but which I couldn't fit in anywhere because of the train of thought within it.

My own (idealistic) self-styled political views would come under the heading of "Christian Libertarianism." That is to say, I would propose that we reform our system of government and society along two lines. First, the civil, secular government should be constructed along a strictly libertarian point of view, i.e. it should be extremely limited in its powers and functions to those which are strictly necessary to the civil, secular government, namely, providing for the national defense (a power which is reserved under natural law to the civil, secular government; it is unjust for either the Church or any private citizen to declare a war, the authority for which, under the just war doctrine, is strictly reserved to the lawful body of the government) and for a system of domestic criminal and civil law, with attendant courts; and, I would argue (though there is no ground in natural law for the necessity of such a governmental function per se), the provision of a national, civil infrastructure, e.g. providing for an interstate highway, and the regulation of such industries as air-traffic control and for the public utilities.

The civil, secular government should not engage in the provision of social welfare programs, which would include taking care of the sick, aged, and poor, as well as providing for education and emergency relief (things to which a great portion of our modern governmental bureaucracy tends). Such services should, in my idealistic opinion, be left to social organs other than the state, namely, to the Church.

The reason for this (drastic, some would say) redefinition of the responsibilities of government and society is based on the fundamental fact that any action of a civil government is, by its very nature, coercive. The civil government is supported in its duties and actions by means of taxes, and taxes are obligatory, not voluntary. This is, of course, as it should be; according to the natural law, the civil government has the right to collect taxes in order to carry out its responsibilities. Furthermore, the responsibilities of national defense, domestic security and law, and (I would argue) domestic infrastructure are placed upon the civil government by natural law—and we as citizens are, therefore, obliged by the natural law to support that government, even if we do not want to.

The functions of social welfare are not, however, incumbent upon the civil government because they are actions which spring not from the necessary obligation of natural law but from the gracious act of charity. (N.B. I say that they spring not from the necessary obligations of natural law, but not that they do not follow logically from it; indeed, as must be recognized from history, acts of charity are not limited to Judeo-Christian societies, and must, therefore, arise within societies acting only according to the bounds of natural law; furthermore, any shrewd observer of the natural law will note that acts of charity so become the well-being of a society that they must be at least somehow founded within the natural law—but such an observation does not prove, nor can it, I believe, that they are necessary obligations, but only prudent deductions, of the natural law.) By its very nature, the gracious act of charity cannot be coerced, else it ceases to be an act of charity—this is, of course, at the very heart of the Christian notion of charity (I use here the term "charity" in its root sense coming from the Latin caritas , the equivalent to the Greek αγάπη, which are the words used by Christianity to describe the love of God—see my post from Maundy Thursday of this year, Deus Caritas Est). It is this nature of a gracious act of charity that requires that it originate not in the edict of a civil government but from the hearts of the individuals who make up society. Furthermore, it is not for the civil government to direct these acts; rather, this authority falls to the Church. Acts of charity are most abundantly given and most thoroughly realized as acts of the spirit moved by love, and they fall, therefore, within the providence of the Church. This fact should be no clearer to us than today, the Feast of All Saints, in which the Saints of the Church stand before as most perfect examples of charitable actors.

The Gospel today is of the Beatitudes, and the homily preached by the Bishop of Münster, Dr. Reinhard Lettmann, focused on the Seven Acts of Corporal Mercy, namely, to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, and bury the dead (cf. Matt. 25:31-46). The point behind the Gospel reading and the Bishop's homily is that, as we celebrate today the saints of the Church, we are called most strenuously to imitate them, to carry out the implied command of the Beatitudes, and to live according the life of charity that characterizes a Servant of God. The Gospel calls on us all to be saints, and it is in the act of charity, that is, the life of love for God and neighbor, that we become the blessed Servants of God.

Furthermore, it is clear from the Seven Acts of Corporal Mercy and from the Beatitudes that the social ministry of the Church is the social welfare we enumerated before. The task of caring for the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and imprisoned, the poor and the oppressed: this is the ministry of the Church. There is no organization on Earth better suited to carry out this charism than the Church, and it is because the Church operates not according to the rights and responsibilities of the natural law (though she does no contradict them, either), but according to the graces of the divine law. This is why I have referred to acts for the social welfare as gracious acts of charity, for ultimately, they are enacted not by human ingenuity but by the grace of God working in us.

It should come as no surprise that the socio-political philosophy that I have here laid out reflects my study of the Middle Ages. As a medievalist, I can recognize the benefits of a medieval system in which the responsibilities of social welfare were left in the hands of the Church. No doubt, some of my readers are already reaching for the mouse to post a comment along the lines of, "You would have us return to the Middle Ages?" The answer to this question is both yes and no. I would not have us return to the Middle Ages if by that one means a return to a society in which the vast majority lived lives of painful poverty, whereas a tiny minority, enjoying the labor of those poor, lived a life of enriched pleasure. I would contend, however, that such a characterization of the Middle Ages, while perhaps a fair picture of the social conditions of the time, fails to recognize many features of the Middle Ages; the reality is far more complex. I would argue that a return to the Middle Ages is exactly the kind of thing our world needs, if by it one means a world in which the intellectual tradition recognized not the opposition but both the compatibility and necessary interdependency of faith and reason; a world in which belief in the supernatural power of God was held in esteem rather than derision; above all, a world in which charity was the greatest virtue (cf. I Cor. 13:13), as opposed to the accumulation of capital or the fight for the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.

Do I recognize that the relationship between civil government and the Church was not often ideal in the Middle Ages? Do I recognize that for most of the Middle Ages, as indeed for most of human history, the powerful have exploited the weak and trampled over them? Of course I do; any student of history and of the human condition sees that, from the dawn of man even unto today, nothing has been more constant than the injustices that have left the vast majority of humans oppressed by the powers of wealth and opportunity that have exploited them for the benefit not of the poor but of the rich.

It is part of the Christian project to recognize this and to fight against the injustice wherever it is to be found. But, unlike modern political theories like Marxism, and unlike such "politco-theological" systems as liberation theology (which, when it allows politics to trump the Gospel, is an abhorrence to the Church), the Christian is called by the Gospel to fight this injustice not by the means of power recognized by this world, not by violence and strength of arms, nor by playing the political game. No, the Christian is called to shun the powers of this world as the very weaknesses of the flesh, and to put on the true armor of light and love, the true strength of God found in humility and charity. St. Paul calls it the folly of the Cross: this world laughs at the Church, scorns her and holds her in derision, for she preaches the Cross, the ultimate sign in secular eyes of weakness. What strength is there, the world says, in a man, broken and beaten, who dies a most ignominious death? What kind of God is this who suffers a most humiliating and non-heroic death, for Christ died not in glorious battle but as a common criminal?

The answer calls from across two millenia, and the reality of victory is revealed to us in the lives of the saints: the martyrs who suffered as did their Lord; the confessors who were ready to do so; the hermits who rejected the pleasures of this world in order to find true happiness in purest poverty; the religious whose vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are assailed by the world as the ridiculous abjurations of crazy people. And it is in the saints that we discover, finally, the key to putting together our new socio-political system of Christian Libertarianism.

We realize when we gaze upon their example that the way forward is in establishing a society in which every single member understands that he or she is called from womb to grave to be a saint. The way forward is for us to engender a revolution, not in the organs of state but in the very hearts of every individual member of society. It will not be a political revolution, nor even primarily a social one, but rather a spiritual revolution to transform the Zeitgeist from one that worships the almighty dollar and administers to the wealthy and successful to one that worships the Almighty God and administers to the poor and oppressed.

Finally, we must recognize that in this revolution we do not speak in terms of classes of society, nor of this section or that interest group. Rather, in this revolution, we speak of individuals, for we must recognize that far outstripping the importance of society as a blanket organ is the importance of the individual dignity of each human soul. The time has come to stop looking at society from the top down and seeing it is a collection of the masses—no more talk of "the American people", of "the working class", of "the bourgeoisie". No, we talk now of "the individual human being that is Nathaniel Campbell" and "the individual human being that is Abu Daoud", for it is the work of the individual soul that glorifies God. There is but one blanket grouping of humanity that remains important, and that is the Church, the Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints into which we each enter when we partake of the Eucharist, for the great common factor to every human being is the love God showed in creating him, which love we are therefore commanded to give to each other: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." (John 13:24).