Friday, December 28, 2007

Still scratching my head over Justinian's Flea


Justinian's Flea by William Rosen is the latest attempt at a popularization of the Justinianic period--what many consider the last gasp of the Roman Empire and the inception of the Byzantine Empire. The book is centered around the great plague that began in AD 542--the first recorded outbreak of Bubonic Plague, or the Black Death--and uses the devastation caused by this pathogen as an explanation for the collapse of both the Romans and Persians, and the rise of Islam. The book is a decent effort, but ultimately it falls flat.

To Rosen's credit, his writing flows well and his prose is generally crisp and readable. His discussion of the plague bacterium and the physiological impacts of the disease were useful for the reader with little background in medicine or microbiology. The book is reasonably well referenced but idiosyncratic in that the author goes on some fairly extended tangents that have little or nothing to do with the central premise of the book--like an entire chapter on the building of Hagia Sophia, or the discussion of Intelligent Design versus Darwinian Evolution.

That said, my primary problem with the book is that the author frequently trades style for accuracy, presenting events that are very much matters of scholarly debate as if they are closed cases. For example, he presents the accusation that Pope Silverius conspired to betray Rome to the Goths as fact, when much of the primary source evidence indicates that the Empress Theodora wanted Silverius removed. The charge of conspiracy was likely trumped up as an expedient.

The author also explicitly lays the destruction of the Library at Alexandria at the feet of Christians, going so far as to declare that the counter-claims that Julius Caesar and/or Islamic invaders burned it are not only false, but libelous. The astute reader will notice that Rosen doesn't bother to footnote this claim--because it is not supportable. In fact, the Library was probably burnt several times, and the claim that it was destroyed by Christians is probably the least credible, though most well-known thanks to popularity of atheist/deist Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. For a better discussion of this issue, see this article from the Ohio State University's eHistory site.

Rosen has that annoying tendency so common these days, to go out of his way to condemn the Crusades and the Inquisition, even going so far as to put them on the same level as the Holocaust and the gulags. He says:
"While imperial Rome—autocratic, militaristic, arrogant Rome—is scarcely the Kingdom of Heaven, given the horrors of the blut-und-boden states that replaced it—Crusades, Inquisition, Holocaust, gulag—one might, perhaps, be forgiven some wistfulness at its passing."
I would remind Mr. Rosen that almost all of the Eastern Roman Empire was replaced by states ruled by an ideology that believed in torture, slavery, and "religious cleansing" on a scale that would have appalled the average Crusader, made Torquemada look like a piker, and served as inspiration for modern butchers like Hitler and Stalin. While I don't expect Mr. Rosen to chronicle Islamic atrocities in a book on the Justinianic era, it would be nice if he at least refrained from taking out-of-context cheap-shots at later Christian history as well.

Finally, a couple dumb chronological errors crept into the text, for instance, Augustus Caesar did not found the Roman Empire in AD 74 (p. 4)--he was about 70 years dead by then. And a single Roman Empire ruled by a single emperor existed as late as AD 395--a little over 100 years before the rise of Justinian, not 200 years (p. 36). But stuff like this can be safely blamed on whoever edited the book, not the author.

Over all, Justinian's Flea is a quick read for someone interested in the period. Ultimately, though, it is just biased and inaccurate enough to be unsatisfying. If you are truly interested in the fascinating history of the late Roman world, I would recommend going straight to the source. Try History of the Wars by Procopius. It's a truly engrossing read, containing tons of information about the Justinianic plague, and there are several inexpensive editions of the work on the market today. Also worthy of note is the Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius which is cited several times by Rosen in Justinian's Flea. Evagrius records a great deal about the plague, having lost many of his immediate family to its ravages, and survived it himself.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Flip Romney versus Duncan Hunter

Hat-tip to RedStater for this one.

Let's play compare and contrast, shall we? In a recent debate, both Duncan Hunter and Mitt Romney were asked about the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for keeping the military free of open displays of homosexual behavior.

Here's the question as posed by Ret. Brig. Gen. (or Col., his status is unclear) Keith Kerr, an open supporter of Hillary Clinton and obvious "plant":
Kerr: I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians.
I give you Duncan Hunter's excellent response:
Hunter: General, thanks for your service, but I believe in what Colin Powell said when he said that having openly homosexual people serving in the ranks would be bad for unit cohesion.

The reason for that, even though people point to the Israelis and point to the Brits and point to other people as having homosexuals serve, is that most Americans, most kids who leave that breakfast table and go out and serve in the military and make that corporate decision with their family, most of them are conservatives.

They have conservative values, and they have Judeo-Christian values. To force those people to work in a small tight unit with somebody who is openly homosexual goes against what they believe to be their principles, and it is their principles, is I think a disservice to them. I agree with Colin Powell that it would be bad for unit cohesion.
Now let's compare that with Flip Romney's response to a similar question posed by the moderator of the debate, Anderson Cooper:
Cooper: Governor Romney, you said in 1994 that you looked forward to the day when gays and lesbians could serve, and I quote, "openly and honestly in our nation's military." Do you stand by that?

Romney: This isn't that time. This is not that time. We're in the middle of a war. The people who have...

Cooper: Do you look forward to that time, though, one day?

Romney: I'm going to listen to the people who run the military to see what the circumstances are like. And my view is that, at this stage, this is not the time for us to make that kind of...

Cooper: Is that a change in your position...

Romney: Yes, I didn't think it would work. I didn't think "don't ask/don't tell" would work. That was my -- I didn't think that would work. I thought that was a policy, when I heard about it, I laughed. I said that doesn't make any sense to me.

And you know what? It's been there now for, what, 15 years? It seems to have worked.

Cooper: So, just so I'm clear, at this point, do you still look forward to a day when gays can serve openly in the military or no longer?

Romney: I look forward to hearing from the military exactly what they believe is the right way to have the right kind of cohesion and support in our troops and I listen to what they have to say.
Which guy would YOU want as your Commander-in- Chief?

Flip Romney's Fairy Tale

No one who claims to be pro-life should be supporting "Flip" Romney. While I lived in Boston in the 1990s, I watched him try to out-liberal Ted Kennedy when running for Senate in Massachusetts. Now, he claims to be a staunch conservative. I don't believe that his "conversion" is sincere, even for a second.

American Right to Life Action is running the following commercial in Iowa. I hope it gives the voters there a serious heads-up about this snake oil salesman.

Enjoy!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Extraordinary, Right?

Guess what? The *new* Extraordinary rite at our parish was featured on a local news broadcast! And very positively, I might add.

Here's the link: Local Pastor Adds Latin Mass to Schedule

Here's a transcript [errors mine]:

Reporter: Well today at noon St. Peter Celestine Catholic Church [sic--it's actually St. Peter's, not Celestine. That's another parish nearby.] in Merchantville, New Jersey takes a bold step. The pastor is putting a traditional Latin Mass on the church's Sunday schedule. As CBS 3's Pat Ciarrocchi reports, this comes at the encouragement of the Pope, who hopes that tradition will ignite the fires of faith.

[Bells]

Ciarrocchi: At St. Peter's, the bells will sound the same, but at the noon Mass on Sundays now, the prayers of the priest will be in Latin.

Fr. Manuppella: They've heard the Sanctus, the Holy, Holy. They've heard the Agnus Dei, Lamb of God. So there should be no problem with them understanding what is being said because we've been saying it for the last 40 years in English.

[Singing]

Ciarrocchi: Nearly two generations of US Catholics have been worshiping in English, ever since Vatican II reformed liturgical practices. But once Pope Benedict lifted restrictions on using the Latin liturgy, Fr. Anthony Mannupella’s Merchantville congregants wanted to know more. So he created a 12-week course. The response shocked him.

Fr. Mannupella: In offering the course, I prepared myself for about 50 people. But people kept coming, and coming, and coming and I had approximately 300 people.

Ciarrocchi: Significant considering Church studies reveal that only 40% of Catholics attend church weekly.

Parishioner: I think it’s something new for the younger people and I think it will be really inspiring for them.

Ciarrocchi: And very different. For starters, the priest and the congregation will face the same direction. And on the prayer cards…

Fr. Mannupella: It’s all in Latin, there’s not a word in the vernacular. In Latin it would be [singing] Dominus vobiscum—the Lord be with you. [singing] Et cum spiritu tuo. And with your spirit. And then the priest says [singing] Oremus.

Ciarrocchi: Let us pray.

Fr. Mannupella: Let us pray.

Ciarrocchi: One of the other requirements of the Latin Mass is that only altar boys can assist the priest. And then at communion, congregants will once again approach the altar, but this time, they’ll kneel again at the altar rail to receive the Host. And instead of placing communion in the hand, the priest will place it on the tongue.

Fr. Mannupella: They kind of like the idea of that more mystical experience. Ah, more of a transcendent experience.

Ciarrocchi: With the hope being a renewal of the faith that could renew the Catholic Church.

Forget "Godless Compost" -- go see Bella instead

Here's all you need to know about Philip Pullman, the author who is responsible for the book The Golden Compass, upon which the movie of the same name is based:
"I've been surprised by how little criticism I've got. Harry Potter's been taking all the flak. I'm a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people - mainly from America's Bible Belt - who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven't got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God." (source)
Mr. Pullman was also quoted as saying:
"What I'm doing is utterly different [from Tolkien]," he says. "Tolkien would have deplored it." So, too, would have another famous Oxford fantasy writer, C.S. Lewis, a devout Christian whose children's series "The Chronicles of Narnia" exemplified his religious convictions. "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief," says Pullman. "Mr. Lewis would think I was doing the Devil's work." (source)
Is it coincidence that Hollyweird is putting out this piece of anti-Christian drivel during the run up to Christmas? Of course not. My advice is not simply to ignore this bloated atheist brainwash fest dressed up with loads of fancy CGI. Take the money that you would have spent on "Godless Compost" and go see Bella instead.

The defeat of the Culture of Death involves more than mere boycotts of what is evil. It requires the full support and endorsement of what is good.

Media purposely obtuse on priestesses

The Fox News affiliate in St. Louis, MO ran an article on Saturday about two so-called "Catholic" priestesses who performed a service of some kind in St. Louis. Here are the relevant sentences:
Two Roman Catholic female priests who were recently ordained co-pastored their first mass Saturday night in the central west end. Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie McGrath led the service at the first Unitarian church of St. Louis.
Now, let's play a game--spot all the gross errors contained in these two sentences.

Here are a few to get you started:

1. There can be no priestesses in the Catholic Church.

2. Whatever it was that they celebrated, it wasn't Mass.

3. Actual Catholic priests don't generally say Mass in a Unitarian Church.

4. Mass isn't generally "co-pastored".

There's more, but I chose not to note this when writing to Fox. Such articles deserve only ridicule. Here's my note:

Dear Fox,

Thanks for running your article on the so-called Catholic priestesses. I wanted you to know that I've recently been elected Pope under the regnal title "Pope Ace Ventura XIV" and I would invite you to attend my installation at the "Bro's Step In Lounge" at the corner of 24th and Main.

Hey, why not? My election as pope has exactly as much validity as the so-called ordination of these priestesses. It would be grossly unfair of you to cover their fantasy antics while ignoring mine.

Sincerely,

Pope Ace XIV
I encourage you to educate our friends at Fox as well: Contact Fox St. Louis.