Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hymns and Readings for Sunday

Second Sunday of the Season of the Cross
(Eighteenth Sunday of Pentecost)
30 September 2007


Let thy steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in thee.

Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.

The Reading from the Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians

BRETHREN: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever." He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.


God gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me;

For this I will extol thee, O LORD, among the nations,
and sing praises to thy Name.

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St Luke

THE LORD SAID: As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Hirmos in Tone Six
(a “Megalynarion” [Hymn to the Virgin] sung after the Consecration)

It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, who are ever-blessed and all-blameless and the Mother of our God; more honored than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim: you who without stain did bear God the Word, you are truly Theotokos: we magnify you.

Communion Hymn

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens,
Praise Him in the heights! Alleluia.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Facing the Lord? or Giving People the Back?

Fr Lang has a clear knowledge of history and liturgical theology. What too many 'progressives' in the Roman Church forget is that up until the 'reforms' of the Second Vatican Council, all Catholic and Orthodox priests faced the same direction during the Liturgy, liturgical east. So much for "giving 'em the back!"

Reorienting the Latin Rite Mass
Father Lang Comments on

LONDON, SEPT. 21, 2007 ( The statement asserting that the priest celebrating the older form of the Latin Rite Mass has "his back to the people" misses the point, says Father Uwe Michael Lang.

The posture "ad orientem," or "facing east," is about having a common direction of liturgical prayer, he adds.

Father Lang of the London Oratory, and recently appointed to work for the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, is the author of "Turning Toward the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer." The book was first published in German by Johannes Verlag and then in English by Ignatius Press. The book has also appeared in Italian, French, Hungarian and Spanish.

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Lang speaks about the "ad orientem" posture and the possibilities for a rediscovery of the ancient liturgical practice.

Q: How did the practice of celebrating the liturgy "ad orientem," or "facing east," develop in the early Church? What is its theological significance?

Father Lang: In most major religions, the position taken in prayer and the layout of holy places is determined by a "sacred direction." The sacred direction in Judaism is toward Jerusalem or, more precisely, toward the presence of the transcendent God -- "shekinah" -- in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, as seen in Daniel 6:10.

Even after the destruction of the Temple, the custom of turning toward Jerusalem was kept in the liturgy of the synagogue. This is how the Jews have expressed their eschatological hope for the coming of the Messiah, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the gathering of God's people from the diaspora.

The early Christians no longer turned toward the earthly Jerusalem, but toward the new, heavenly Jerusalem. It was their firm belief that when the Risen Christ would come again in glory, he would gather his faithful to make up this heavenly city.

They saw in the rising sun a symbol of the Resurrection and of the Second Coming, and it was a matter of course for them to pray facing this direction. There is strong evidence of eastward prayer in most parts of the Christian world from the second century onward.

In the New Testament, the special significance of the eastward direction for worship is not explicit.

Even so, tradition has found many biblical references for this symbolism, for instance: the "sun of righteousness" in Malachi 4:2; the "day dawning from on high" in Luke 1:78; the angel ascending from the rising of the sun with the seal of the living God in Revelation 7:2; and the imagery of light in St John's Gospel.

In Matthew 24:27-30, the sign of the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory, which appears as the lightning from the east and shines as far as the west, is the cross.

There is a close connection between eastward prayer and the cross; this is evident by the fourth century, if not earlier. In synagogues of this period, the corner with the receptacle for the Torah scrolls indicated the direction of prayer -- "qibla" -- toward Jerusalem.

Among Christians, it became a general custom to mark the direction of prayer with a cross on the east wall in the apses of basilicas as well as in private rooms, for example, of monks and solitaries.

Toward the end of the first millennium, we find theologians of different traditions noting that prayer facing east is one of the practices distinguishing Christianity from the other religions of the Near East: Jews pray toward Jerusalem, Muslims pray toward Mecca, but Christians pray toward the east.

Q: Do any of the other rites of the Catholic Church employ the "ad orientem" liturgical posture?

Father Lang: "Facing east" in liturgical prayer is part of the Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian traditions. It is still the custom in most of the Eastern rites, at least during the Eucharistic prayer.

A few Eastern Catholic Churches -- for example, the Maronite and the Syro-Malabar -- have lately adopted "Mass facing the people," but this is owing to modern Western influence and not in keeping with their authentic traditions.

For this reason, the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches declared in 1996 that the ancient tradition of praying toward the east has a profound liturgical and spiritual value and must be preserved in the Eastern rites.

Q: We often hear that "facing east" means the priest is celebrating "with his back to the people." What is really going on when the priest celebrates Mass "ad orientem"?

Father Lang: That catchphrase often heard nowadays, that the priest "is turning his back on the people," misses the crucial point that the Mass is a common act of worship in which priest and people together -- representing the pilgrim Church -- reach out for the transcendent God.

What is at issue here is not the celebration "toward the people" or "away from the people," but rather the common direction of liturgical prayer. This is maintained whether or not the altar is literally facing east; in the West, many churches built since the 16th century are no longer "oriented" in the strict sense.

By facing the same direction as the faithful when he stands at the altar, the priest leads the people of God on their journey of faith. This movement toward the Lord has found sublime expression in the sanctuaries of many churches of the first millennium, where representations of the cross or of the glorified Christ illustrate the goal of the assembly's earthly pilgrimage.

Looking out for the Lord keeps the eschatological character of the Eucharist alive and reminds us that the celebration of the sacrament is a participation in the heavenly liturgy and a pledge of future glory in the presence of the living God.

This gives the Eucharist its greatness, saving the individual community from closing in upon itself and opening it toward the assembly of the angels and saints in the heavenly city.

Q: In what ways does "facing east" during the liturgy foster a dialogue with the Lord?

Father Lang: The paramount principle of Christian worship is the dialogue between the people of God as a whole, including the celebrant, and God, to whom their prayer is addressed.

This is why the French liturgist Marcel Metzger argues that the phrases "facing the people" and "back to the people" exclude the one to whom all prayer is directed, namely God.

The priest does not celebrate the Eucharist "facing the people," whatever direction he faces; rather, the whole congregation celebrates facing God, through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

Q: In the foreword to your book, then Cardinal Ratzinger notes that none of the documents of the Second Vatican Council asked for the altar to be turned toward the people. How did this change come about? What was the basis for such a major reorientation of the liturgy?

Father Lang: Two main arguments in favor of the celebrant's position facing the people are usually presented.

First, it is often said that this was the practice of the early Church, which should be the norm for our age; however, a close study of the sources shows that this claim does not hold.

Second, it is maintained that the "active participation" of the faithful, a principle that was introduced by Pope Pius X and is central to "Sacrosanctum Concilium," demanded celebration toward the people.

Recent critical reflection on the concept of "active participation" has revealed the need for a theological reappraisal of this important principle.

In his book "The Spirit of the Liturgy," then Cardinal Ratzinger draws a useful distinction between participation in the Liturgy of the Word, which includes external actions, and participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where external actions are quite secondary, since the interior participation of prayer is the heart of the matter.

The Holy Father's recent postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" has an important discussion of this topic in Paragraph 52.

Q: Is a priest forbidden from "facing east" in the new order of the Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970? Is there any juridical obstacle prohibiting wider use of this ancient practice?

Father Lang: A combination of priest and people facing each other during the Liturgy of the Word and turning jointly toward the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, especially for the Canon, is a legitimate option in the Missal of Pope Paul VI.

The revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which was first published for study purposes in 2000, addresses the altar question in Paragraph 299; it seems to declare the position of the celebrant "ad orientem" undesirable or even prohibited.

However, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments rejected this interpretation in a response to a question submitted by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna. Obviously, the relevant paragraph of the General Instruction must be read in light of this response, which was dated Sept. 25, 2000.

Q: Will Pope Benedict's recent apostolic letter liberalizing the use of the Missal of John XXIII, "Summorum Pontificum," foster a deeper appreciation for "turning toward the Lord" during the Mass?

Father Lang: I think many reservations or even fears about Mass "ad orientem" come from lack of familiarity with it, and the spread of the "extraordinary use" of the Roman rite will help many people to discover and appreciate this form of celebration.

ZE07092103 - 2007-09-21

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hymns and Readings for Sunday

In response to several requests, I have decided to offer the upcoming Sunday hymns and readings for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, according to the Melkite Greek Catholic Typicon. Please forgive (and let me know) if you spot any mistakes!

For this week only, a few notes about the season, the commemoration, etc., are included in red.

Your rambling Byzantine Copyist.

PS, Sorry for the odd font size, every now and then I seem to have trouble with this element of the new template.

23 September 2007

First Sunday of the Season of the Holy Cross
(Seventeenth Sunday of Pentecost)

Commemorating the Conception of St John the Baptist

In the Melkite Tradition, the Sundays after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross (14 September) are referred to as Sundays of the Cross. They are numbered beginning after the Sunday after the Cross, which has its own set Liturgical Reading. Other than designation as "Sunday of/after", the Lectionary readings are the same as those generally appointed in the Byzantine Tradition following the Feast of Pentecost.

Two excellent resources are Fr Peter Boutros's CyperTypicon, and Fr Alam Alam's monthly downloadable Typcon (look on the panel of options on the left). (By the bye, both men are holy men and exemplary priests!)

Tone Eight — Eothinon Six

Look here for my discussion on this topic.

Troparia and Kontakion
(Theme hymns of the day and concluding seasonal hymn, respectively)

Troparion of the Resurrection in Tone Eight

You descended from on high, O Compassionate One; and consented to burial for three days, that You might free us from suffering: O Lord, our life and our resurrection, glory to You.

Troparion of the Conception of the Forerunner in Tone Four

Joy to you, O barren one unable to give birth! Behold, you conceive today the one who is really a Torch of the Sun, who will enlighten the whole world that suffered from blindness. Rejoice, O Zacharias, and cry out in all confidence: The one who will be born is a Prophet of the Most High!

Kontakion of the Virgin in Tone Two

O never-failing Protectress of Christians, and their ever-present Intercessor before the Creator, despise not the petitions of us sinners, but in your goodness extend your help to us who call upon you with confidence. Hasten, O Mother of God, to intercede for us, for you have always protected those who honor you.

This Kontakion is used throughout much of the year. Henceforth, if no Kontakion is listed please assume this one is used. A further note: In many Melkite churches, other Kontakia are some times also chanted, these being related to the particular celebration of the day.

Liturgy of the Word


Responsory from the Psalter. The first verse is usually chanted by the Psalti and repeated by the choir or people. The Psalti chants the second verse, followed by the choir/people chanting the first verse again. Finally, the Psalti chants the first part of the first verse, the choir/people chanting the second part.

May the Lord give strength to His people; may the Lord bless His people with peace.

Give the Lord, you sons of God, give the Lord glory and power.

The Reading from the Epistle of St Paul to the Galatians

Brethren: It is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, "Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in travail; for the children of the desolate one are many more than the children of her that is married."


The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

They are planted in the house of the LORD,
they flourish in the courts of our God.

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St Luke

At that time: While the people pressed upon Jesus to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men." And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Hirmos in Tone Six*
(also called the “Megalynarion” — Hymn to the Virgin sung after the Consecration)

It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, who are ever-blessed and all-blameless and the Mother of our God; more honored than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim: you who without stain did bear God the Word, you are truly Theotokos: we magnify you.

Communion Hymn*

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens,
Praise Him in the heights! Alleluia.

*Like the Kontakion, these are standard hymns in the Liturgy. When the Liturgy of St Basil is celebrated, and on a few other occasions, a different Megalynarion is used. Similarly, on occasion different Communion Hymns (Kinonika) may be used, in addition to other hymns as needed.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Diaconal Homily for the Sunday after the Feast of the Cross

Every third Sunday, our Deacon preaches the homily. Today, the Sunday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, he preached a good one!* Below is the text. It's a "keeper".

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34)

The Cross changed from a means of death and torture in ancient Rome to a symbol of joy and salvation because of the Resurrection of Jesus after his awful torture and death on the Cross.

A sign of execution and torture was changed to a sign of a means for our salvation.

The disciples saw Jesus’ miracles and listened to his teachings but Peter and the other disciples did not know at the time of Jesus’ Crucifixion that he was to rise again as the Son of God.

Peter even proclaimed to Jesus that he believed Jesus to be the Christ. 29And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”(Mark 8).

But at the time the Crucifixion the disciples did not know that Jesus was to rise in Glory on the Third Day.

Jesus had to show the disciples his wounds after his Resurrection and give them Divine Revelation for them to understand that He was raised from the dead, that the Cross was not His end.

The Cross of Jesus does not cast a shadow of death. Instead it emits the light of salvation. The Cross is now a beacon of light to lead people to salvation.

Crosses surround us Catholics. There are Altar-Cross, The Processional Cross, Papal Cross, Pectoral Crosses, Absolution Crosses, Crosses on Vestments, and Crosses for Private Devotion.

Today is the Sunday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross, which was to be celebrated last Friday, is so important within the Melkite Church that the Sunday before and the Sunday after, today, are designated as such.

Within the Church Calendar we have the beautiful celebrations of the Holy Days.
The Church Calendar of Holy Days is for us our own personal compass to live our lives in the light of salvation of the Cross.

The feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross and all the Holy Days of the Church and our whole Church Calendar of celebrations makes us unique.

That we celebrate these Holy Days makes us Melkite.

The Antiphon Prayers from Friday’s Liturgy plead our case for salvation to Almighty God and describe our faith.

I. O Christ God, who were nailed upon the Cross for our sake, purify us from our sins. Strengthen our faith. Fortify our hope. Inflame our hearts with love for your Cross. Make us temples of the Holy Spirit. For You are our Light and our Life.

II. O Christ God, enthroned with the Father and the Holy Spirit, when You extended your arms on the Cross, You attracted the whole world to your knowledge. Illumine us today by its light. Sanctify us by its power. Comfort us by its Exaltation. And make us worthy to partake of your divine glory.

The beauty and holiness of our celebrations of the Holy Days gives us true sustenance and meaning to our lives.

Celebrating the Holy Days keeps us centered within the Church.

Each Holy Day teaches us a vital portion of the means to salvation, of our church history, of characters in the story of sacrifice and martyrdom that is our Melkite heritage.

When everything around us pulls us from holiness our life within the Church, when celebrated fully in the framework of Holy Days, in Vespers, in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays, when we live our life within the Calendar of the Church, makes our lives full, complete, and happy.

We have innumerable tentacles of the octopus of modern life pulling at us, dragging us here to this activity, tugging us there to this obligation, pushing us everywhere to the point we are wondering what is next on our endless list of stuff to do.

After a difficult week at school, or at our offices, or traveling in our jobs it requires great physical and mental effort to push us to attend the Holy Days within the Church calendar.

But as I tell my own sons, as I try to instill in them what truly matters in our brief life, true happiness and sustaining strength comes from a life centered in the Church. Little else matters in comparison.

True happiness and sustaining strength comes from a life lived within the Holy Days of the Melkite Calendar where we hear of the Saints throughout the ages who are our guides to a pious life.

We gain strength and sanctification from the sacraments received during the Holy Day celebrations.

We live in love when we gather during the Holy Days, during Vespers, and Divine Liturgy as a parish family, with all our warts and all of our shortcomings and all of our wonderful qualities.

Let us not look at how tired we may be, or how busy we may be, or how our health may not allow us, or all our endless obligations.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34)

Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church tells us of the Cross:

“For the Cross of Christ, which was dedicated to the salvation of mortal man, is both a sacrament and an example; a sacrament, in which the divine power is made known; an example, by means of which devotion is kindled among men; for to those freed from the yoke of slavery their redemption also brings them this: that they my imitate it.

For if human wisdom takes such pride in its errors, so that each one copies the notions, the manners, all the ideas, of the one he has chosen as guide, what share have we in the Name of Christ if we are not wholly united with Him Who is, as He has taught us, the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).”
Let us pick up our Cross and follow Jesus through our Melkite Calendar of Holy Days where Jesus shows us the Way of holy living; the Truth of divine teaching; and the Life of happiness without end. Amen.
*The good Deacon's homilies are generally always good!

Friday, September 07, 2007

The 1960's - Revolution and Religion

The Wall Street Journal has an inciteful op-ed on the absence of religion in most histories of the 1960's. The piece is entitled, "Hippie Shakeup: Christians were part of the '60s, too and is by John Wilson. Below are excerpts.

Not long ago, I took a look at a half-dozen histories of the '60s. Every one of them mentioned Students for a Democratic Society. Only one of them mentioned the Catholic charismatic revival that began on a retreat held by Duquesne University faculty and students early in 1967. Or the parallel influence of Pentecostalism on Protestants, especially of the evangelical variety, that changed the face of worship and piety in countless American churches and connected American believers with the global surge of Pentecostalism. And what about the Lubavitchers and similar Orthodox Jewish movements that began to attract young people at the same time?

Why this ludicrous disparity in coverage? Simple. In the master narrative of these histories, shaped by a peculiarly complacent conception of civil society, what millions of people happened to be doing in churches or synagogues isn't worthy of notice, especially if it contradicts the assumption that the trajectory of the '60s was taking a whole generation away from organized religion. Sure, the slideshow will feature Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but a bunch of Christians speaking in tongues? Please!
Read the entire article at this link.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Moscow Representative Speaks on Real Truth and Sin

Hat tip to Catholic World News for a series of links related to the recent European Ecumenical Assembly in Romania. Metropolitan Kiril of the Moscow Patriarchate is reported to have spoken strong words in support of strengthening Christianity in Europe and forthrightly teaching the reality of sin.

Check out four reports on his remarks here, here, here, and here.

For the complete list of speeches, click here for the Italian Episcopal Conference collection.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Pope Teaches on the Cappadocian Fathers

Pope Benedict has been giving a series of talks on the Church Fathers. This follows his earlier catechesis on the Apostles. Having already spoken on Sts Ignatios, Athanasios, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, today the Holy Father continued with a discussion on St Gregory of Nyssa (Basil the Great's younger brother). The series on the Church Fathers, and the previous series on the Apostles, is shaping up to be Benedict's Theology of the Body, as his clear elucidation is heightening awareness and appreciation of these holy witnesses to the Faith. Below is the Vatican Information Service report on today's catechesis.


VATICAN CITY, SEP 5, 2007 (VIS) - This morning, the Pope travelled by helicopter from his summer residence at Castelgandolfo to the Vatican, where he landed shortly before 10 a.m. He then went to St. Peter's Square where he presided at his weekly general audience, attended today by 16,000 people.

Continuing his series of catecheses on the Fathers of the Church, the Holy Father returned to consider the figure of St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395) - who had also been the subject of last week's catechesis - highlighting how the bishop saint always "showed a highly elevated sense of man's dignity."

For St. Gregory, "man's aim is to make himself like God ... through love, knowledge and the practice of virtues, ... in a perpetual and dynamic adherence to good, like a runner stretching forwards."

However, "the perfection that makes us participants in God's own sanctity is not something granted forever," the Holy Father warned. Rather it is "a permanent journey, a constant commitment to progress ... because complete likeness to God can never be achieved, The history of each soul is that of a love ... open to new horizons, because God continually expands the possibilities of the soul, so as to make it capable of ever greater good."

"In this journey of spiritual ascent, Christ is the Model and the Master Who shows us the beautiful image of God. Looking at Him, each of us discovers ourselves to be 'the painter of our own life' in which our will undertakes the work and our virtues are the colors at our disposal."

"The value that St. Gregory gives to the word Christian is very important," said Pope Benedict, "because a Christian is one who bears the name of Christ, and one who bears the name of Christ must be like Him also in this life. ... But Christ, Gregory recalls, is also present in the poor," and he invites people to recognize the dignity of the poor, precisely because "they represent the Person of the Savior."

The Holy Father concluded by saying that "the path to God, then, passes through prayer and pureness of heart, and through love for others. Love is the stairway that leads to God."

At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted participants in various anguages. Then, addressing Missionaries of Charity who have come to Rome for the tenth anniversary of the death of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, he highlighted how "the life and witness of this true disciple of Christ ... are an invitation for you and for the entire Church always to serve God faithfully in the poorest and the most needy."


The Zenit report of the Holy Father's catechesis on St Gregory is here.

First Things On the Square Topic for 5 September - Relativism

On Relativism
By Edward T. Oakes, S.J.

At first glance, the expression “the dictatorship of relativism” sounds like a paradox, maybe even an oxymoron. After all, aren’t dictatorships a form of absolutism? And don’t relativists find it difficult, if not impossible, to make judgments about differing moral systems? So how can they “dictate” the behavior and thoughts of others if they can’t make judgments about what people should think and do?


Maybe, in fact, there are no relativists and “we’re all absolutists now,” to paraphrase a line from Nathan Glazer. Alasdair MacIntyre opened the second chapter of his famous book After Virtue with a scene we can all recognize: Debates on just war, abortion, capital punishment, and the like are echo chambers, with everyone essentially hurling absolutes at the other side of the debate. But since these absolutes are conceptually incommensurable, the shrillest debater gets the last word.

But where do these incommensurable absolutes come from? To sum up MacIntyre’s argument as briefly as possible (a longer account can be found here), the word good when applied to moral situations has changed its meaning. In Aristotle it was simply taken for granted that the word good can, with no violence to its meaning, be equally applied to a good saddle, a good horse, a good cavalryman, a good general, and a good person: The adjective properly belongs to all these nouns if each item is doing what it is assigned, or designed, to do. But with the loss of Aristotle’s equally teleological understanding of physics and biology, the moral application of good came under heavy challenge, above all from David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche: Now man no longer seems to have a purpose or function that can be assessed by easily adjudicable standards. The result of this is that, according to MacIntyre, good becomes a mere term of approval, and all contemporary debate about morality boils down to a choice between either Aristotle or Nietzsche.


The sexual revolution marched under the banner of freedom; feminism under that of equality. Although they went arm in arm for a while, their differences eventually put them at odds with each other, as Tocqueville said freedom and equality would always be. This is manifest in the squabble over pornography, which pits liberated sexual desire against feminist resentment about stereotyping. We are presented with the amusing spectacle of pornography clad in armor borrowed from the heroic struggles for freedom of speech, and using Miltonic rhetoric, doing battle with feminism, newly draped in the robes of community morality, using arguments associated with conservatives who defend traditional sex roles, and also defying an authoritative tradition in which it was taboo to suggest any relation between what a person reads and sees and his sexual practices. In the background stand the liberals, wringing their hands in confusion because they wish to favor both sides and cannot.

Amid these random observations, I’m sure I must have an argument buried here somewhere, although given the confused way absolutes and relativities rattle around inside our minds and in contemporary debate, I’m not exactly sure what that argument is or how to conclude. But I think I can at least say this: (1) everyone is an absolutist about something; (2) relativism, both in the moral and theological sense, represents the single greatest challenge to the Christian religion in our contemporary setting; (3) relativists usually have arguments, but that doesn’t mean they are not arguing for relativism, even if, like the rest of us, they are absolutist about something.
For the whole article, click here.

Patriarch awards Vatican representative for strengthening Orthodox-Catholic relations

Alexy II awards Vatican representative in Russia an order of merit for strengthening Orthodox-Catholic relations

Moscow, September 4, Interfax - Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia has awarded Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Holy See representative in Russia, the Order of the Holy Prince Daniel of Moscow, third degree.

Archbishop Mennini is thus awarded ‘in recognition of his efforts for establishing good relations between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches and on the occasion of his 60th birthday’, the official site of the Moscow Patriarchate has reported on Tuesday.

The award was present to the archbishop on September 3 at the apostolic nunciate in Moscow by Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, vice-chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations, and Rev. Igor Vyzhanov, DECR secretary for inter-Christian relations.

Mgr Mennini was appointed the Vatican’s representative in Russia in November 2002 by the late Pope John Paul II.

Archbishop Mennini was born on September 2, 1947, in Rome. On December 14, 1974, he was ordained priest, and in April 1981 he entered upon the Holy See’s diplomatic service.

He served in the Vatican’s embassies in Uganda and Turkey and later in the Vatican’s state secretariat. On July 1, 2000, the Pope of Rome appointed him his representative in Bulgaria and in September of the same year he was elevated to the rank of archbishop.