Friday, July 27, 2007

Traditionalist Trifecta

The 20th Century is being called "the Century of Martyrs".
The question is, who really deserves to be called a martyr?
Must a martyr be a victim for the faith, for politics, or for both?

Republican militiamen "executing Christ" at the
Cerro de los Ángeles, Getafe, Spain - 1936

Warning... This is going to be a very long post.

Pope Benedict and the hierarchy of the Spanish Church are not getting along too well with the Socialist government of Jose Luis Zapatero in Spain. The ill feelings are probably mutual.

After a first year of what were mostly positive reviews for B16, especially after the extraordinarily warm response to the release of his first encyclical, there are clear signs now that the honeymoon period is coming to an end. More mixed reactions started coming in after the Regensburg speech, and the Pope's visit to Brazil. Now more concerned reactions are being voiced around a pronounced, rightward lurch in Benedict's vision for the Church that was more recently seen in the issuance of the Motu Proprio freeing up the 1962 Missal, and the kerfluffle over the meaning of the word "subsists" in the Vatican II documents. The third indicator that he intends to move unambiguously towards advancing a traditionalist agenda, a move which actually preceded the other two, was the announcement of the intention to beatify hundreds of clerical martyrs of the Spanish Civil War.

Once again, I rely heavily on Tom Ashbrook's On-Point radio program. Listen in either Windows Media or Realplayer format to this program from July 17th called The Spanish Civil War and the Vatican's Beatification of the 'Martyrs'. Almost 7,000 priests, nuns, and other religious were killed during the Spanish Civil war, mostly in the first few months of the conflict. A beatification ceremony for almost 500 of them is scheduled to take place on October 28th, 2007. Although no one claims that these murders were not a crime, this announcement is not without controversy. Strong emotions still run high in Spain over the Civil War and its repressive aftermath. There are still many survivors from the 1936-1939 conflict.

(To put things in perpective... Most estimates put the number of people killed during the three years of the Spanish Civil War in the range of 500,000 to 700,000. Within days of the Spanish military's Nationalist insurrection against the Republican government, much of the northern part of the country and the southern cities of Sevilla and Cordoba fell to the Nationalists. The Republicans retained control of Madrid, Barcelona, and other major cites, mostly in the Eastern (Catalan) and southern (Andalucian) parts of the country. In the towns in each zone, the early victors erupted in a brutal paroxsysm of violence and murder against their perceived class opponents. It is estimated that in the Republican (loyalist) zone, 75,000 people perished between the months of July and September of 1936. In the Nationalist zone, it is estimated at 75,000 to 100,000. In the Republican zone, the repression was brought under control and stopped after a few months. As for the Nationalists, the repression never really stopped until Franco died in 1975)

Partisans on both sides still argue about who was in the right and who was wrong. Political judgements and implications are seen in the Vatican announcement, and some see it as an impediment to national reconciliation. As the tagline for the On-Point program puts it:

The Spanish Civil War was Europe's grim curtain raiser on the horrors-to-come of World War II. It was Ernest Hemmingway's bloody backdrop to "For Whom the Bell Tolls".

The Soviets backed Spain's leftist government. Nazi Germany backed the rightwing backlash and dictator-in-waiting Francisco Franco.

So did the Roman Catholic Church.

Half a million or more Spaniards died. Now, Pope Benedict has moved to put hundreds of Spanish clergy killed in the war on the path to sainthood.

In Spain, that is still a hot political act.

"Los Nacionales"

Republican Civil War poster characterizes the Nationalists as military officers, Moroccan Army Regulars, fascist financiers, and bishops.

The Zapatero government that came to power shortly after the Madrid train bombings are the heirs to the side that lost the war. Tensions have been high recently between the Vatican and this government as this article explains the recent events and the history around it:

The Spanish Church opposes several reforms introduced by the leftist government in Madrid, most notably those liberalizing divorce, permitting gay marriage and stem cell research and making religious instruction in public schools optional. According to a recent survey by the Opina Institute, 82% of the Spanish population says it is Catholic, but only 42% are practicing. Most Spaniards in this group vote for the Partito Popular (PP, right-wing). However, 2/3 of Spaniards believe that the Church is far divorced from social realitities...

But in Spain, battles between Church and State may take on exaggerated proportions, given the sad history of the 20th century. Certain Spanish Catholics compare the attitude of the Zapatero government with the anarchist and anticlerical experiment which, according to the Church, nearly crushed the “soul” of Spain...

Historian Bartholomé Bennassar reminds us that the Spanish Civil War was a war of religion. Franco’s forces marched in a crusade in the name of Christ the King against “Marxists,” and carried out hundreds of summary executions of the “red vermin.” The Republicans were equally brutal and placed priests, nuns and bishops in front of the firing squad. 7,000 clerics lost their lives during the Spanish Civil War...

The Catholic Church was the pillar of Franco’s régime. Its backing permitted Franco to don a sort of moral mantle, marking his distance from Fascist and Nazi régimes. The Franco government encouraged the teaching of religion in schools, acceded to every demand of Reconquista Catholicism, and insisted on the right of nomination of candidates for bishop before their appointment by the Pope. But, thanks to internal changes within the Catholic Church of the 1960s and 1970s, Pope John XXIII’s Encyclical Pacem in Terris, the Vatican II Council (1962-1965), the teachings of Pope Paul VI on liberalism, the respect for the right of the press to go on strike, the Catholic Church, with the exception of a few ultra-Francoists and technocrat ministers with membership in Opus Dei, distanced itself from Franco...

El Caudillo, who had his hands full with the separatist Basque clergy, claimed that he was stabbed in the back. He detested Paul VI, who did not reply to his invitation to visit the country. Cardinal Vicente Enrique y Tarancon (1907-1994), Archbishop of Toledo and Madrid and Primate of Spain, preached national conciliation, condemned Catholic triumphalism in the aftermath of the Civil War, demanded liberalization and protested repression...

In the conflict which is occurring now, thirty years later, between the Church and Spain’s socialist government, we should bear in mind the passions of yesterday and the widespread resentment, intolerance and violence which accompanied them. But this unhappy past must not justify an attitude of systematic opposition [to reform] uncoupled from the legacy of Cardinal Tarancon and the Vatican II Council. The way in which Benedict XVI will handle this crisis in the coming months will be an indication of the direction which he has chosen for his pontificate.

As I try to look behind the scenes here, I think I have a feeling for what's going on, in at least some respects. Benedict is very big on precision in speech, writing, and thought. Although he bemoans Europe's secularization and lack of appreciation for its roots, and although Opus Dei (who would most certainly be sympathetic to matters related to the Franco side) is very influential and powerful in the Vatican these days, I think there is a little bit more to this.

There has been a push in some circles over the last 25 years or so to have the late Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero beatified and to be declared a saint, along with many other Latin American marytrs who've been victims of repressive governments. Last May 9th, as he was on his way to Latin America, Benedict said of Romero:

"That the person himself merits beatification, I do not doubt," while adding that Romero was "certainly a great witness of the faith, a man of great Christian virtue who worked for peace and against the dictatorship." Then, recalling that the archbishop of San Salvador was assassinated during the consecration of the host while saying Mass, the Holy Father said Romero's was "an incredible death."

Still... Romero's beatification seems stalled. Going nowhere. Interesting parsing of words above, from Benedict regarding Romero... He wouldn't come right out and say that he personally considered him to be a saint or martyr for the faith. It seems that if any case needs to be advanced that might smack of leftism or liberalism in some way, it must be balanced (or even heavily outweighed) by causes from the right. Nowadays, one hardly ever hears of the case for Blessed John XXIII anymore, but much is heard about Pius XII. That has to happen first. Not much is heard about Oscar Romero and Central American martyrs anymore... The Spanish martyrs must come first.

Laurence Cunningham, in an article in America about martyrdom, had some interesting insights into Benedict's thoughts on what constitutes a martyr, which is considered restrictive by some:

In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI remarked that the essential functions of the church are three, for which he gives the Greek terms: leitourgia (worship), marturial/kerygma (witness/proclamation), and diakonia (service). He uses the word marturia (witness) in the original sense of the term-the public attestation of one's faith. It is used frequently in that sense in the New Testament, although the meaning "witness unto death," which is the way we often use the term today, also is found there. The Acts of the Apostles, for example, uses the term martyr (Greek martus) to describe St. Stephen.

In a letter written to the head of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints on April 24, 2006, the pope again brings up the designation martyr, but for a more technical reason. He does not wish the term "martyr" to be used so elastically as to attenuate its sense, common in the tradition, of one who dies because of hatred for the faith. He cites no example of a too generous use of the term, but he may well have had in mind the recent murder of an Italian priest in Istanbul at the hands of a young man, who killed the priest while shouting out "God is great" (Allahu akbar). The popular press described this priest as a martyr at the hands of a fanatical Muslim. In fact, he died at the hands of a mentally disturbed youth.

Benedict's letter insists that the congregation, when it considers causes brought before it, should have a precise sense of what constitutes a martyr in the technical sense of the term. The pope argues that, according to the ancient tradition of the church, a martyr is one who dies, either directly or indirectly, out of hatred for the faith-as the Latin has it, in odium fidei. The papal caution, expressed with the care one expects from a learned theologian, is simultaneously a gentle reminder to the congregation to be precise in its considerations and a reminder that the word "martyr" has both a loose and a precise meaning in church usage, which ponders the various senses of the term in the New Testament…

One of the absolutely new dimensions of the contemporary world is that many people who died for the faith have met their fate at the hands of people who themselves were baptized Catholics. The roll of those Central American martyrs-the victims of the death squads, the activist religious and priests, the bishops (think of Oscar Romero)-includes many who were killed by Catholics and, further, in some cases, by people who argued that what they did was in defense of "Catholic" civilization against the depredations of Communists and leftists. Some bien pensants of the contemporary right have offered that argument to slow down the beatification process of Oscar Romero, maintaining that his death was political and had nothing to do with religious belief. That line of argument seems tendentious, since, obviously, it could be turned against the cause of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, who was murdered by state security forces in Poland in 1984 because of his presence among those who supported Solidarity in their struggles against the Communist state. Such debate is part of the contemporary discussion on martyrdom. It is clear, as Karl Rahner and others argued in a series of essays in the periodical Concilium a generation ago, that a more nuanced understanding of martyrdom was needed if for no other reason than the fact that many have died for the faith in so-called Christian countries.

The key to a better understanding of martyrdom might be found in the refined distinction that Benedict XVI makes between direct and indirect hatred of the faith. When the Rev. Pino Pugliesi was murdered by a Mafia-hired killer in Palermo in 1993 because of the priest's vociferous denunciation of corruption and crime in his poor parish, he was hailed by John Paul II as a martyr. It is clear that his murder was carried out to stop him from speaking against the crime syndicate. But a Sicilian Jesuit pointed out that what Father Pugliesi actually died for was his stout resistance to the burden put on the poor of his parish. It was for that reason, Bartolomeo Sorge, S j., wrote, that he died not directly in odium fidei but in odium caritatis-out of hatred for love. One can also safely say that he died as a violent protest, albeit indirectly, out of a hatred for the faith that impelled his love and solidarity for the poor...

A final point made in a series of books and essays by Jon Sobrino, S.J., is worth recalling. While we single out those who for conspicuous reasons are held up as martyrs,it is crucial that we not forget the countless number of unnamed persons who have been murdered by death squads, in gulags and through judicial malfeasance, who will never be raised to the altars. They died, like Jesus, amid thieves and insurrectionists, because of hatred. To that hatred we can add any number of prepositional phrases: hatred of faith, of love, of justice. They too are martyrs, and like the Holy Innocents whose designation was defended by Aquinas, deserve the name even if the title will not pass muster after official scrutiny.

Dying for "hatred of the faith" dispenses of the need for miracles. Do I think that the Spanish martyrs are going to be strong Catholic role models, models of heroic virtue for Spain and elsewhere? Do I think that Oscar Romero deserves to be canonized more than thay do? Can someone say, Jeff, how can you look at the murder of 7,000 religious and compare it to the murder of one? All I can say in response is to say that I believe that Romero was at least as much a victim of a "hatred of the faith" as they were, and also that Romero died in part for defending his flock from repression and violence and for being their advocate, while in the case of the Spanish clergy of the 1930s, they were largely perceived as being aligned with the powerful oppressors rather than with the oppressed and the poor. Neither has Romero been alone. Thousands have died for the same cause for which he died.

For those religious who were killed in Spain... Was it the fault of the cloistered nun that the landless day-laborers in Andalucia were treated by the owners of the large estates as if they were subhumans? Certainly not. Was it the fault of the individual, humble parish priest that the Spanish military chose to rise up against the Popular Front government? No, but in looking at these events from many years later, might it not give the Vatican pause that the side on which the clergy were aligned in 1937 used methods such as enlisting Hitler's Luftwaffe to undertake history's first large scale aerial bombing of an undefended civilian target when they obliterated the town of Guernica? What is the larger message being made, in addition to the message concerning martyrdom? Especially when the same consideration is not given towards thousands of Latin American victims of oppressive violence, both religious and lay workers, who happened to be on the opposite side of a nearly identical political divide?

I'm going to write a bit about what little I understand of the Spanish Civil War and about Spanish anticlericalism, and people can draw their own conclusions. Two of my frequent correspondents here are historians who've actually lived in Spain. If I'm way off in my analysis, I invite them to chime in and let me know.


The Spanish Civil war was one of the most dramatic and fascinating events in the history of the Twentieth Century. All of the great themes and currents of the times were coalesced onto one boiling cauldron - an epic battle between Democracy vs. Dictatorship, Communism vs. Fascism, Anarchism vs. Authoritarianism, and Catholicism vs. Anticlericalism.

Spain is known for outbursts of intense religious fervor, but also for some of the most intense anticlericalism that can be found anywhere. The causes of the anticlericalism are complex, but much of the root of it can apparently be traced back to the end of the Napoleonic Wars in Spain in the early 19th Century. Large scale ecclesiastical control of certain landholdings was lost, and in the view of some historians, the Church lost favor with the peasantry when it subsequently needed to rely more and more on the wealthy gentry to sustain the Church's institutions and activities. The real origin of the anticlericalism was the latifundist economic system, in which enormous landed estates are in the hands of a few oligarchs, and day-laborers are forced to work them in order to survive. A paramilitary force called the Guardia Civil, well recognizable in their tricorned patent-leather hats, were organized to protect the interests and property of the landowners, and to keep these day-laborers, barely surviving on starvation wages, in line. From the wiki article:

In the Iberian Peninsula, the Castilian Reconquista of Muslim territories provided the Christian kingdom with sudden extensions of land, which the kings ceded as rewards to nobility, mercenaries and military orders to exploit as latifundia, which had been first established as the commercial olive oil and grain latifundia of Roman Hispania Baetica. The gifts finished the traditional small private ownership of land, eliminating a social class that had also been typical of the Al-Andalus period. The possessions of the Church did not pass to private ownership until the desamortización, the "secularization" of church-owned latifundia, which proceeded in pulses through the 19th century. Big areas of Andalusia are still populated by an underclass of jornaleros, landless peasants who are hired by the latifundists as "day workers" for specific seasonal campaigns. The jornalero class has been fertile ground for socialism and anarchism.

This latifundist system was especially strong in Andalucia. In the northern parts of the country in places such as Galicia and Navarre, it was not quite as prevalent. In those areas, there were deeply conservative farmers who owned their own plots, and a small middle class. Anticlericalism was not as widespread in those areas either. In my view, this is most significant in analyzing what happened to the Spanish Republic, and why things broke during the Civil War the way that they did.
In 2007, the latifundist economic system still persists in one place today, ironically enough... In Latin America.

The Second Spanish Republic came to power in 1931, with the Spanish King stepping down, and a military dictatorship coming to an end. On the left, hopes were high that land reform and labor reform would soon take place. In an act of very poor judgement, however, the Republic undertook a series of anticlerical laws and policies that very likely sowed the seeds of its own destruction. They felt that in order to transform Spanish society and bring about lasting change, the Church's complete control over the educational system needed to be broken. Church priviliges were removed, clergy were banned from teaching, crucifixes were removed from schools, the Jesuit order was dissolved, and the top cardinal in the country was sent into exile. In addition, extreme elements on the left undertook violent actions in the burning of churches and convents. Ghoulishly, there were instances where the bodies of carmelite nuns were disinterred and displayed on street corners to prove to the pious that the bodies were not incorrupt. The Republican government took very few steps to bring these abuses under control. Class and religious animosities deepened and hardened, and within five years, all sides felt that the situation had gotten so out of control that war was not only imminent, but welcome. Rarely has class hatred ever manifested istelf as viciously as in Spain in 1936. In July, the generals acted.
The Civil War
I've read quite a few books about the Spanish Civil War, most of them quite openly sympathetic to the Republic. Both the Republican and Nationalist sides were combinations of disparate forces. The Republicans tended to be a mix of liberal Social Democrats, Socialists, Communists, Trotskyites, Libertarians, and Anarcho-Syndicalists. The Nationalists were a mix of conservative Catholic parties, military officers, fascists, monarchists, and Carlists (a traditionalist group longing for the restoration of the Spanish Bourbon monarchy). The Republicans had outside aid in the form of miltary advisors and equipment from the Soviet Union. They had limited manpower help in the form of the anti-fascist "International Brigades", volunteers from around the world. The Nationalists were supplied by the fascist powers, with direct military assistance from the Nazi "Condor Legion" and Italian troops.
Many authors have speculated on the reasons why the Republic lost the war, in spite of the fact that they had control of the the navy, the industrialized cities, and the ports. There is much that is made of the fact that France, the US, and England pursued a "Non-Intervention" policy that starved the Republic of equipment, the introduction of Soviet NKVD agents (the precursor to the KGB) that directed a purge of the Communist party's opponents within the Republic's forces, much like was being done in Russia, the squabbles between the Republican factions on whether to pursue revolution first or to win the war first, and the aid from Germany and Italy to the Nationalist cause. I could be entirely wrong, but it seems to me that the Soviet assistance to the Republic was at least as extensive as Germany's assistance to the Nationalists. The Italian forces were considered a joke by both sides. Their acronym, the CTV, was jokingly translated in Spanish to "Cuando Te Vas?" (When are you leaving?). The most effective troops on either side of the war were probably the Carlist Requetes from Navarre, on the Nationalist side.
I'm more inclined to think that the most significant reason why the Republic lost was because in a country that was at least nominally 90% Catholic, they recklessly pursued an anticlerical program that scared the heck out of what used to be called in political circles, the bourgeoisie. Small business men, conservative northern farmers, civil servants, schoolteachers, clerks and the like, had felt that the country had descended into chaos. This does not mean, however, that in my opinion, the Church covered itself in glory in this episode.
A collection of quotes below outline the dangers of letting economic injustice fester for far too long, and for class hatred to run rampant.

Convent of Trinitarian Nuns, burning in Madrid, 1931

The religious situation of a country is not constituted by the numerical sum of beliefs and believers, but by the creative effort of its spirit, the direction followed by its culture... All the convents in Madrid are not worth the life of one Republican.
-- Manuel Azana, Prime Minister of the Republic in 1931, on why he took no action to protect churches and convents.

We shall win. We have a faith, and ideal, and a discipline. Our foes have none of these.
-- General Francisco Franco, upon launching an insurrection against a democratically elected government.

Gil Robles, head of the Confederation of Rightist Autonomous Parties (CEDA)
and the Catholic Accion Popular

While anarchic forces, gun in hand, spread panic in government circles, the government tramples on defenseless beings like nuns…
When the social order is threatened, Catholics should unite to defend it and safeguard the principles of Christian civilization.... We will go united into the struggle, no matter what it costs.... We are faced with a social revolution. In the political panorama of Europe I can see only the formation of Marxist and anti-Marxist groups. This is what is happening in Germany and in Spain also. This is the great battle which we must fight this year...
We must reconquer Spain.... We must give Spain a true unity, a new spirit, a totalitarian polity. .. . It is necessary now to defeat socialism inexorably. We must found a new state, purge the fatherland of judaizing Freemasons.... We must proceed to a new state and this imposes duties and sacrifices. What does it matter if we have to shed blood! ... We need full power and that is what we demand.... To realize this ideal we are not going to waste time with archaic forms. Democracy is not an end but a means to the conquest of the new state. When the time comes, either parliament submits or we will eliminate it.
-- Gil Robles, head of CEDA

The Spanish people would rather die on its feet than live on its knees. And do not forget, and let no one forget, that if today it is our turn to resist fascist aggression, the struggle will not end in Spain. Today it's us; but if the Spanish people is allowed to be crushed, you will be next, all of Europe will have to face aggression and war.
-- Communist Dolores Ibárruri, "La Pasionara"

Sewers caused all our troubles. The masses in this country are not like your Americans, nor even like the British. They are slave stock. They are good for nothing but slaves and only when they are used as slaves are they happy. But we, the decent people, made the mistake of giving them modern housing in the cities where we have our factories. We put sewers in these cities, sewers which extend right down to the workers' quarters. Not content with the work' of God, we thus interfere with His will. The result is that the slave stock increases. Had we no sewers in Madrid, Barcelona, and Bilbao, all these Red leaders would have died in their infancy instead of exciting the rabble and causing good Spanish blood to flow. When the war is over, we should destroy the sewers. The perfect birth control for Spain is the birth control God intended us to have. Sewers are a luxury to be reserved for those who deserve them, the leaders of Spain, not the slave stock.
-- Franco's propagandist, Captain Gonzalo de Aguilara

My dear fellow, it only stands to reason! A chap who squats down on his knees to clean your boots at a cafe or in the street is bound to be a Communist, so why not shoot him right away and be done with it? No need for a trial - his guilt is self-evident in his profession.
-- Franco's propagandist, Captain Gonzalo de Aguilara, on why it was a mistake on the part of the Nationalists not to shoot all of Spain's boot-blacks before the war

Muerte al los intelectuales! Viva la muerte! (Death to the intellectuals! Long live death!)
-- Spanish Foreign Legion General Millan Astray
Madrid sera la tumba del fascismo! No pasaran! (Madrid will be the tomb of fascism! They shall not pass!)
-- Republican slogan

We hated the bourgeoisie, they treated us like animals. They were our worst enemies. When we looked at them we thought we were looking at the devil himself. And they thought the same of us. There was a hatred between us - a hatred so great it couldn't have been greater. They were bourgeois, they didn't have to work to earn a living, they had comfortable lives. We knew we were workers and that we had to work - but we wanted them to pay us a decent wage and to treat us like human beings, with respect. There was only one way to achieve that - by fighting them ...
-- Anarcho-Syndicalist Juan Moreno

The bulk of the recruits were peasants from Galicia and Navarre, attracted to the Legion by the higher pay and the excellent food: fish and meat every day. They were men, he observed, without an ounce of political awareness - Men who had had it drummed into them by their priests that the reds were the devil incarnate who attacked the church and would rob them of their plots of land and their livestock. That made a big impact on them. I remember more than one saying that if he caught a red he'd cut his ears off as a trophy. They had the mentality of the small peasant - individualistic, egotistical, tied to their land and the church ...
-- Basque Republican Eugenio Calvo, describing the rightist troops in the Spanish Legionnaires

As the night sky softened with the first gray lights of dawn, the executions began. Sergeant Emilio Paton, the man who had dreamed of retiring to the shores of Galicia, was first. Then, one by one, his policemen followed. Angel Ramero, the town barber, and his brothers were next. Only one prisoner was missing: Lucia Blanca Ortiz, the lady pharmacist, who had been imprisoned for her work in Catholic Action. Her sex had won her the right to a private execution and burial place by the banks of the Guadalquivir. Before each burst of fire, Don Juan Navas, the parish priest, stepped to the edge of the pit and murmured a hasty absolution to his condemned parishioners. Soon the common trench was filled with forty bodies and Don Juan was alone with his captors. He closed his breviary, bowed his head in a rapid prayer and then stepped in his turn to the edge of the pit. He turned and raised his eyes to the firing squad before him. Behind him the early morning sky was now milk-white and the black cassock draping his erect figure stood out like a dark tree trunk against the lightening horizon. A voice called to him from the circle of poised figures.
"Don Juan," it said, "we are not killing you because of what you've done. You were always good for the town. We're killing you for what you stand for." The priest sighed. "My poor sons," he said, "blood shall beget blood. In a few days you too shall, perish here for your crimes." With a sad, and heavy gesture, he offered the last blessing of his life to these men gathered to kill him. Some of them, forgetting for an instant the mission that had brought them to the graveyard, made the sign of the cross along with him. Their shots rang out and Don Juan's body toppled into the pit.
-- The execution of rightists and Fr. Don Juan Navas in Palma del Rio, Andalucia. His prophecy was correct. Within days a Nationalist column captured Palma del Rio, and the executioners and over 300 other men were machine-gunned in the town’s bullring.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is Christian Rock an Oxymoron?

Is there a point to it?

It came from the eighties... Stryper
Big-haired, spandexed, Christian Rock

I guess there's a point to it. Who am I to say there isn't? It's enormously popular, and obviously speaks to the hearts of a lot of people. We've been posting quite a bit lately in our small blogging circle about music, which brings to mind the fairly recent phenomenon of the rise of Christian Rock music. Apparently, it's the sixth most popular form of music in the US, outselling both jazz and classical.

Jars of Clay

I suppose we've come a very long way since the fifties, when DJs and preachers in the Bible Belt were incensed about Elvis Presley's swiveling hips and the acceptance by white society of the unmistakably sexual beat of what was called "race music" at the time. Now it has been fully co-opted and integrated into the religious landscape, with production values and styles not too far off of what is currently found in secular music. Most of these bands come out of the evangelical scene, although there are a few contemporary Catholic ones to be found now. There's Critical Mass, and of course, Father Stan Fortuna of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.

dc Talk

Speaking personally, and no offense is meant to anyone, but I've never especially cared for this type of music. I prefer the spiritual elements to be found as nuggets in secular music. They are usually more profound. To me, there's a rebellious streak that is supposed to be found in rock music and other contemporary forms, and for the message to be co-opted towards the purpose of overt evangelization does a sort of disservice to the purposes of both the music and the evangelization, in my view. In a spiritual sense, I tend to get a lot more out of songs like Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2 and Redemption Song by Bob Marley than I would from most of these bands. But, hey... I'm older.

In May of 2007, David Nantais (a campus minister in Ann Arbor) wrote an article for America magazine called What Would Jesus Listen To: A Catholic looks at Christian Rock. I tend to be in agreement with him on most points. Some excerpts:

Christian rock has been derided for many reasons, including for what some see as the genre’s simplistic “Jesus is my friend” piety. Indeed there is not much theological substance to some Christian rock lyrics. Bands may legitimately be “on fire” for God, but few have the theological vocabulary to communicate their religious experience. Take dc Talk, a band that is often cited as boosting Christian rock’s popularity in the early 1990’s. The title track from their album “Jesus Freak” features lyrics I would expect to read in a second grade catechetical workbook: “People say I’m strange, does it make me a stranger/ That my best friend was born in a manger.”

Christian rock has also been characterized as mediocre music that sacrifices quality for a message. Hank Hill, a character on the Fox animated show “King of the Hill,” told the lead singer of a Christian rock band during one episode, “You aren’t making Christianity any better, you’re just making rock ’n’ roll worse.”

(My interjection here - I'm not sure that's entirely fair... Jars of Clay, for example, is a pretty decent band, in terms of their skills and production values and in comparison with their secular contremporaries)

The religious roots of Christian rock are largely evangelical Protestant. While there are likely many Catholics in the Christian rock fan base, I, as a Catholic music fan, have always felt uncomfortable listening to it. One reason for this discomfort lies in the foundational differences between Protestant and Catholic theology. Thomas Rausch, S.J., explains such differences cogently in his recent book, Being Catholic in a Culture of Choice. Rausch writes that Protestant theology has traditionally been more “pessimistic” than Catholic theology regarding the holiness of the world. The “Catholic religious imagination,” as portrayed by Andrew Greeley and others, helps Catholics to see the sacred in everyday life. The foundations of Protestant theology, however, focused on “Luther’s personal struggle over justification or his righteousness before God,” which, according to Rausch, “has resulted in Protestant theology’s stressing redemption more than incarnation.” This means that the world is more in need of being saved than it is good and holy. It makes sense that, if Christian rock emerged from this theological foundation, evangelicals would consider it vital to “redeem” rock music by baptizing it with Christian lyrics for a Christian audience. Yet for Catholic rock music fans, the approach is unnecessary.

Since the genre was born, many rock artists have addressed religious and spiritual themes in their music. Often they do it in a very subtle way, but the message can be quite powerful. As songwriter and’s editor in chief, Bill McGarvey, wrote in a recent article in The Tablet, “Although I was raised Catholic, I now realize that my first religious experience came through music.” McGarvey is referring to secular rock music and, more specifically, to Bob Dylan, an artist with a history of grappling with transcendent themes in his music, but also one you would never find in the “Christian rock” bin at your local record store. The same is true for Bruce Springsteen and U2, who are often cited for the religious and social justice themes in their lyrics. Through much of their music, these artists, and others like them, evoke emotions and convey important messages about faith without any heavy-handed proselytizing. In this way, their spiritual and religious roots are more “Catholic,” meaning that God can be found incarnated in the music itself and in the transcendent experience of listening to it. These songs do not need to be baptized or redeemed. They are reflections of the human beings who created them—simultaneously beautiful and sinful, capable of great pain and great joy....

At the end of the day, people are going to listen to the types of music that appeal to them. There are plenty of genres from which to choose, and the number of bands grows daily. If you find Christian rock enjoyable, then, by all means, listen to it. If it helps bring you closer to God, that is even a better reason to listen to it. Christian rock, however, is not somehow ontologically purer than secular rock. Nor do Christians have to forgo the pleasures of listening to a mainstream rock band because they believe their faith requires a spoonful of Christianity to make the rock music go down. For those who do believe this, I am sorry for what they are missing. As for me, I will continue to take my rock music straight with no religion chaser.

I tend to concur. Here's a far less charitable post by Nantais on SoMA Review, where he apparently didn't need to be as nice - I Hate Christian Rock.

Our Secular Franciscan friend Don, on his old blog once wrote...

I'm deeply religious and very profane. I read Thomas Merton and love George Carlin. I don't think there is a "war on Christmas". I think we should have a "war on bullshit." I think the Christian Right is actually the Christian Wrong. I love animals. I don't hunt. I live on the edge of the "hundred acre wood." I love to visit monasteries and stay in quiet places. I like Gregorian Chant and I like Jimi Hendrix. I love my wife and family and I miss our children being away at work and college. I've enjoyed being a blogger this year. Next Friday I'll be celebrating the 36th anniversary of my 18th birthday. December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Mary holds a special place in my heart. Blue is one of my favorite colors and though I carry a Rosary frequently I only pray it occasionally.

Amen. That was very well said, brother.

Monday, July 23, 2007

My Gift of Tongues (or script) is... Demotic

Also known as "Popular Egyptian"

I noticed today that Liam and Talmida had taken the Which Ancient Language Are You quiz.

They came up with really cool stuff like Ogham and Akkadian. Crystal had Hieroglyphics. What did I get? Dull, old, workaday Demotic.

My Score:

You are Demotic, the degenerate wild child of Hieroglyphics. At least, that's what Hieroglyphics used to say. Quicker, nimbler but a definite trouble-maker in the family.

Well, that stands to reason. The scholars were able to figure out Hieroglyphics because of the Rosetta Stone. The top section had hieroglyphs, the middle section was in Demotic, and the bottom section was in Greek. There I go again, getting into trouble trying to maintain a centrist position, as usual...

Then again, maybe I should consider myself lucky that it wasn't some Assyrian or Babylonian thing that the demon Pazuzu (The Exorcist) would have been written about in.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Why We Love Jesus Christ

In response to the "Why I love Jesus" meme.

Christ and Staff, by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1882)

It took me a long time to get around to this, but I’m finally getting caught up with a tag I received from Crystal called “Five Reasons Why I Love Jesus”. In addition to Crystal’s fine responses, I’ve seen other very good, succinct ones from Talmida and The Ironic Catholic.

As you can see from the title of the post, I’ve taken the liberty of renaming the meme “Why We Love Jesus Christ”. I use “we”, because in addition to the importance of having a relationship with “my personal Lord and Savior”, I think it’s important to remember that as Christians we are meant to have a communitarian ethos, not an individualistic one. In the best of both the large “C” Catholic tradition and the small “c” catholic (universal) tradition, we are called to recognize that we are a community of gifts and needs, one Body in Christ, with Jesus at the head. We should all work harder towards that unity, whether we are Catholics, Protestants, or Orthodox alike… I use “Jesus Christ” rather than “Jesus”, because Jesus would not be especially relevant to us if he was not the Messiah, the “Anointed One”.

The Good News:

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."
-- Luke 4: 16-21

My favorite New Testament verse:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
-- Matthew 11: 28-30

We love Jesus Christ (or, IMHO, should love him) for:

1) Saving us through his life, cross, and resurrection. Whether your theory of atonement is the Satisfaction model, or Recapitulation, Ransom, Substitutionary, Moral Influence, Christus Victor, or any other type, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ was salvific for us. Through the Incarnation, He deigned to become one of us and to share in our joys, sorrows, laughter, tears, satisfactions, disappointments, friendships and betrayals, even onto death. All of this in part of God’s plan to reconcile humanity to himself, gather and sum up all things in himself, and allow us to be inherited sons and daughters who will be with Him forever.

2) Being there for us and for answering our prayers. I can think of many circumstances and events in my own life when I was at my wit’s end and at the limit of my own abilities and couldn’t have endured or overcome without Jesus answering my prayers. As a family, He has been good to us and has answered our prayers, even if trite to say, he has not always answered them in a way that we would have wanted or expected. Nevertheless, we haven’t been given a stone when we’ve asked for bread, or a snake when we’ve asked for fish.

3) His program of radical justice. As said so well on the other blogs, Jesus was the friend and champion of the outcast, the weak, the despised, the persecuted, the meek, the poor, the stranger, the outsider, and the shunned. In proclaiming the “Kingdom of God”, or more accurately, the “Reign of God”, He reminded those who would hear of what was so loudly proclaimed by the prophets in the Old Testament - that the earth belonged to the Divinity, and that to follow Him we must “defend the lowly and fatherless; render justice to the afflicted and needy, rescue the lowly and poor; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." (Psalm 82). A kingdom where the last shall be first and the first shall be last. While stating that “Man does not live by bread alone”, neither did he neglect His people’s material needs while feeding their spirits. He healed illnesses and afflictions, drove out spirits, and fed the hungry, thereby rejecting by his own actions and example the Hellenistic dualism between spirit and flesh that denigrates the flesh and makes earthly justice unimportant. When the crowds came to hear him preach, he made sure they were fed. When he raised up the little girl from the dead, he commanded “Give her something to eat.” By the same token, recognizing the longings of the human heart and our need for tangible things, he gave us the gift of the Eucharist to give us to eat of himself and to be with us always as we hold to one community in Him.

4) Speaking truth to power and all of the pretensions that power carries with it. In this He turned all conventional wisdom on its head. Completely non-plussed by wealth, titles, status and power, Jesus rejected all violence and the arrogance that goes with the wielding of power that crushes people underneath it. He taught what a true leader is –one who lives to serve rather than to be served.

5) Proclaiming the “Reign of God” in parables. Many people came to Jesus prodding Him, testing Him, looking for contracts, formulas, facile answers. “What is the least I have to do?” Rather than speaking in those legalistic terms, Jesus spoke in parable and story for those who were able to discern and understand. Speaking to our hearts directly in story, and stepping right through all kinds of purity boundaries and barriers, Jesus made it clear that internal purity was more important than external purity, and that what was in the heart, like love, mercy, and forgiveness, mattered more than the letter of the law.

"Simon, I have something to say to you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. "Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days' wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?" Simon said in reply, "The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven." He said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
-- Luke 7: 40-48

Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
-- 2 Phil 6-11

Monday, July 16, 2007

Which Mass is Better?

Never mind for now... Which Fleetwood Mac is better?

Crystal put up an interesting post about a bunch of theologians and religious commentators weighing in on Newsweek's "On Faith" with some lively opinions about the Latin Mass... but what I want to know is, which Fleetwood Mac "rite" was the best...

Fleetwood Mac - 1997

Fleetwood Mac - 1977

Fleetwood Mac - 1969

Stevie Nicks was cute and all, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm a staunch traditionalist on this. Peter Green (1969) was the High Priest of what passes for the Fleetwood Mac Tridentine Rite.

Danny Kirwan wasn't bad either...

While I'm Youtubing here, here's a hat tip to Alyosha at Cascadia Catholics for The Simpson's "Protestant vs. Catholic Heaven", all meant good naturedly, of course...

Finally, Mike McG clued me in to this very talented fellow who won the Britain's Got Talent competition.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Francis, Thomas, and the Radically Unprotected Life

On the Magna Animi and the Pusilla Animi.

St. Francis of Assisi,
by Annibale Carracci (c. 1585-1590)

A few weeks ago I happened to be passing by the sign-up sheet in the basement of our church when I happened to come across a neat little novel called Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale, by Ian Morgan Cron, a Senior Pastor at Trinity Church in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Cron weaves the story of Chase Falson, the founder and pastor of a megachurch who is undergoing a crisis of faith and publicly loses it completely one day during a sermon in front of the whole congregation. The stunned Board of Elders call for an emergency meeting and it's decided that Chase should go on an extended leave of absence while the Board considers what to do about Chase and what the next steps should be. Hitting rock bottom with no one else to turn to, Chase calls his Uncle Kenny in Italy. Uncle Ken is a Franciscan friar. The next thing you know, Chase is jetting on Alitalia for Italy, soon to be on a pilgrimage "chasing Francis".

There is a scene where Chase is sitting one night on a hillside overlooking Assisi with Brother Thomas, a companion of Uncle Kenny's, and a Spiritual director. Chase relates:

I couldn't figure out how Thomas knew about my relationship with my father, much less that I was a pastor trying to fool people into believing he was perfect. For years I'd felt this pressure to convince everyone that I had the leadership skills of Bill Hybels, the pastoral gifts of Henri Nouwen, and the teaching acumen of John Stott. I'd never thought sharing my brokenness with people was an effective church-growth technique.

"Do you know the story of Rabbi Zusya?" he asked.
"He was a Chasidic master who lived in the 1700s. One day he said, `When I get to the heavenly court, God will not ask me `Why weren't you Moses?' Rather he will ask me, `Why were you not Zusya?"'

Thomas let that thought hang in the air for a moment, then continued. "Churches should be places where people come to hear the story of God and to tell their own. That's how we find out how the two relate. Tell your story with all of its shadows and fog, so people can understand their own. They want a leader who's authentic, someone trying to figure out how to follow the Lord Jesus in the joy and wreckage of life. They need you, not Moses," he said.

"I don't think I'm ready for that yet," I replied.

Thomas took my hand and squeezed it. "You will be," he said. "Do you know how Simon Tugwell described Franciscanism? He called it `the radically unprotected life,' a life that's cruciform in shape," he said, opening his arms to mimic the posture of Jesus on the cross.
"It's to live dangerously open, revealing all that we genuinely are, and receiving all the pain and sorrow the world will give back in return. It's to be real because we know the Real. Maybe living the unprotected life is what it means to be a Christian?"

I pondered this artful description of a follower of Jesus. "How `real' was Francis?" I asked.

"There was nothing false about him. He only knew how to be Francis, nothing more and nothing less. Do you know Thomas Aquinas?"

"Not well. I read some of the Summa Theologica in seminary, but it's been a long time."

"Aquinas spoke about two kinds of souls-the magna animi and the pusilla animi. The magna animi is the open soul that has space for the world to enter and find Jesus. It's where you get your word magnanimous. The pusilla animi is like that." He pointed at the dark outline of the Rocca Maggiore, far up on the hillside, the fortress where the people of Assisi used to run when they were attacked by a neighboring city.

"The pusilla animi is the defended heart. It's a guarded and suspicious spirit that's closed to the world. It sees everything and everyone as a potential threat, an enemy waiting to attack. It shields itself from the world. It's where you get the word-"

"Pusillanimous," I said.
"Someone who is fearful."

"Precisely. Francis possessed the magna animi. That's what each Christian, and the church, should be like."

I'm not sure how long I sat quietly, moving across the waters of Thomas's words.

"Thomas, why does it feel like God's abandoned me?" I asked at last. •

'Thomas sighed. "Sometimes God's presence is most strongly felt in his absence." He stood up and brushed the grass off his tunic. "Until tomorrow, then?"

"Yes, tomorrow," I replied.

It's so easy to be fearful of things these days. The planet seems in such imminent danger. Many of us in mid-life and even younger can feel let down by people and institutions alike. We can feel let down by country, church, job, school, friends, family, and even by God. For those who wish they could cultivate a worldview and spirituality like that of Francis, open to the world, and ever-cognizant of and joyful in the inherent goodness of the world and the goodness of creation, how does one get there if it doesn't come naturally to him?

Perhaps this is a question that some of my Franciscan friends and partisans out there can weigh in on, like Brother Charles, Don, Rashfriar, and Paula. As I think about the question, however, I get a feeling what some of you might say and what Francis would most certainly say. "Don't look to Francis for an example, but look to the example he looked to - Christ."

Just the same.. Is there a Franciscan temperament, and can it be cultivated, being one of "God's Fools", if magnanimity only comes with a struggle instead of coming naturally? I'm sure it didn't come naturally to the young Francis either.

Cron (as Chase, writing in his journal):

A quote from The Francis Book, "Rembrandt painted him, Zeffirelli filmed him, Chesterton eulogized him, Lenin died with his name on his lips, Toynbee compared him to Jesus and Buddha, Kerouac picked him as patron of the 'Beat' generation, Sir Kenneth Clark called him Europe's greatest religious genius." That's quite a list of admirers...

Francis - a maverick saint who found the tertium quid, or third way. Francis didn't criticize the institutional church, nor did he settle for doing church the way it had always been done. He rose above those two alternatives and decided that the best way to overhaul something was to keep your mouth shut and simply do it better. It's like Gandhi said: "Seek to be the change you wish to see in the world." ....Francis had no theory to offer, but an old practice - the practice of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Motu Proprio, Finally

Roma Locuta...

The Pope has finally issued "SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM"

Fr. Joseph O'Leary has the best relevant commentary here.

Not long ago, I read a book called The Reform of the Papacy, by the former Archbishop of San Francisco, John R. Quinn. It was written in 1999 as a reponse to the broad invitation issued by John Paul II in the encyclical Ut Unum Sint.

Archbishop Quinn made some interesting observations at the time on this topic.

(A) sign that (a certain) curial mind-set still exists is indicated in a more observable way by what may be called the restorationist direction of the Curia at the present time. This seems to be an effort to recreate the preconciliar situation of the Church. It is manifest, for instance, in the encouragement of a return to the preconciliar Latin liturgy. This began as a limited conces­sion with the hope of avoiding a schism on the part of the fol­lowers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.* The concession did not in fact avoid schism, but it has led to the development of groups who rally around a return to the preconciliar liturgi­cal forms. These groups now use not only the preconciliar Mass liturgy but also the preconciliar sacramental liturgies. ** From being a concession granted as an extreme measure to avoid schism, the return to the preconciliar liturgy has now become almost a campaign.

Cardinal Ratzinger, for instance, holder of one of the most important and influential offices in the Vatican Curia, was quoted in an interview as saying:

On the basis of my experience, I am convinced above all that we must do everything possible to form a new generation of prelates who can see that this is not an attack on the Coun­cil ... we must ... help priests and bishops of goodwill to see that celebrating the liturgy according to the old texts does not mean overshadowing.

This would seem to be a statement that the Curia has the role of teaching and shaping the episcopate on a matter that is not of faith. The assumption of such a role by the Curia seems to be quite in conflict with the understanding of the episcopate as taught in Vatican II and as taught in the divine tradition of the Church. The episcopate is not simply a sec­ondary body to be shaped and formed to a certain point of view by the Curia, especially on matters open to free opinion in the Church. Admittedly the Curia has delegated authority. It is quite another thing when the Curia assumes a role of authority over the episcopate to shape its thinking in a mat­ter open to legitimate debate in the Church. Not only has the cardinal expressed this need to form a new kind of bishop who will favor the preconciliar liturgy, but he himself at times publicly celebrates the liturgy in this form. For such an influential and central figure of the Vatican to invest himself in word and action to such a high degree in promoting the preconciliar liturgy and to declare that the Curia must form bishops who will follow his lead is a matter of great signifi­cance.

* Archbishop Lefebvre was a French Catholic archbishop who had been a member of Vatican II. He was leader of a movement that bitterly opposed the reforms of the liturgy at the council and sought to restore the use of the Latin liturgy as used prior to the council. The council itself had not forbidden the use of Latin in the liturgy as reformed by Vatican II. But the Pope did suppress the use of the Latin rite of the Mass as it existed prior to the council so that those who wished to use Latin should use the reformed rite of the Mass.

** This ranging beyond the Latin Mass reformed by the Council of Trent to the Tridentine form of the sacraments is surprising. After all, Pope Paul VI, by an act of the supreme apostolic authority, changed the form of several of the sacraments. Is another act of the supreme apostolic authority necessary to change the form of the sacraments back? Has this been done? Furthermore, the entire liturgical reform of the council was made on the basis of significant theological principles, among them giving new emphasis to the centrality of the mystery of Christ and opening this mystery more effectively to the people. The reform was not a superficial matter of introducing the vernacular or changing ritual. Can these theo­logical principles now be simply set aside? What is to be said of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults)? Is this required of those who return to the past forms? If not, how does such a return to the past respond to the deep theological and patristic developments which under­lie a thing such as the RCIA?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Erich Maria Remarque, and the Introduction of the Anti-War Novel

Photo by Jules Aarons

My maternal grandparents lived on the last street that was left standing in Boston's West End. The West End was a multi-ethnic neighborhood that was virtually eliminated in a misguided urban renewal project in the 1950's. When my siblings and I were kids, our grandparents often used to take us in for about a week or two in the Summertime along with our closest first cousins. The six of us (of whom I was the youngest), would sleep on couches and cots all over the small tenement apartment. One of our favorite things to do was to cross the street over to the old Madison Hotel, which shared a lobby with North Station and the Boston Garden. There was a smoke shop there where we used to buy candy, novelty joke items, and comic books. I loved the Classics Illustrated series that was out at the time. I love reading, and I trace a lot of that appreciation to those comics in particular, which covered classic literature such as Moby Dick, Taras Bulba, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Red Badge of Courage. My favorite Classics Illustrated, though, was an adaptation of All Quiet On the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. I was quite surprised to be able find a complete reproduction of it here, page by page. It's amazing what you can find online.

Being somewhat captivated by that representation, All Quiet on the Western Front was probably the first adult novel I was inspired to read, and I still think it ranks up there with one of the greatest novels ever written. Remarque was drafted into the German Army in World War I at the age of 18 and was wounded 5 times. The story is fiction, but the experiences of the protagonist, Paul Baumer, are clearly based upon what must have been his own. As a consequence, I've always been fascinated by military memoirs or novels written by rank-and-file men. I confess that I am drawn towards the martial life and repelled by it at the same time. What makes men do what they do under extreme pressure and danger? What makes certain men courageous and some men cowardly? Why are some men able to function under incredible stress while others are paralyzed by fear? Why are some cruel, while others show mercy and compassion? I always find myself wondering what I would do under such circumstances. I suppose what draws me is the shared sense of brotherhood, cameraderie, loyalty, discipline, and the willingness to make sacrifices on behalf of your friends. What repels me, and is a distinguishing and constant feature of every decent book about warfare ever written, is the utter obscenity, barbarism, and wanton wastefulness of war itself. Each author relentlessly pounds home the point that there is no glory whatsoever to be found in war.

As far as I know, All Quiet... was probably the first overtly anti-war book written (as far as I know of). In the wake of World War I, there were several others quickly written such as Robert Graves' Goodbye To All That, Siegfried Sassoon's Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, Edwin Campion Vaughn's Some Desperate Glory, and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms. In World War II, some of the better ones included Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, Jim Jones' The Thin Red Line, Paul Fussell's Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic, and Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. Viet Nam had Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War, James Webb's Fields of Fire, and Tim O'Brien's Going After Caciatto and The Things They Carried. The Gulf War had Anthony Swofford's Jarhead. This conflict in Iraq is already producing many more...

Erich Maria Remarque was born in the Westphalia region of Germany in 1898, into a Catholic family of modest means (his father was a book-binder of French ancestry). He was drafted into the war 1916, and as stated previously, was wounded several times in combat. After the war, he knocked around at several jobs, but was too restless and alienated to stay at any one of them for very long. In 1929, he wrote All Quiet.... His publisher didn't expect much from it, but it was an instant success worldwide and it gained Remarque a good amount of fame and made him very wealthy. He went on to write other novels such as The Road Back, Three Comrades, The Night In Lisbon, and The Black Obelisk, but none of them were ever quite as successful as his first. They say he was shy by nature, but he seemed to have had a taste for nightlife and an eye for lovely screen actresses. He was romantically involved with Marlene Dietrich, and later married the American actress Paulette Goddard.

In the early 1930's, with militaristic nationalism on the rise in Germany, Remarque felt compelled to leave his country due to increasing criticism and settled in Switzerland on the shore of Lake Maggiore (Anne and I visited LM during the last days of our honeymoon... very beautiful spot... the location of the Charles Borromeo Palace). When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they banned his books and stripped him of his citizenship. Remarque eventually became a naturalized US Citizen.

Anyway, the reason I mention all this is because I happened to run across a 1937 edition of Three Comrades at the town book swap, and I thought what was written on the back of the dust jacket was very good. As a shy people-watcher myself, a lover of dogs and good books, I was feeling a bit of kinship with it. Here it is, slightly rearranged.
Born in 1898 in Osnabruck in Westphalia, Remarque has perhaps inherited the traditional Westphalian peace-loving, even tenor of mind. At eighteen he went directly from school into the army, like the boy soldiers in "All Quiet on the Western Front." He served in the infantry to the end of the war. "We felt convinced," he says, "that we were fighting for the salvation of the world . . . I am now convinced that young Englishmen and young Frenchmen thought the same thing. But afterward, afterward ! . . . If, from time to time, certain people in Germany accuse me of treason, it is because it is hard for them to admit that one can love one's country and at the same time believe that war is not an excellent way of assuring human progress."

For some time Remarque has made his home in Switzerland, first because of his health and later because of political considerations, because of those "people in Germany" who do not understand his kind of patriotism.

Though Remarque is a lover of dogs he does not share the feeling of the man who said, "The more I see of men . . ." For Remarque humanity has an all embracing interest. The only hobby he will own to is that of sitting at a Paris cafe to watch the crowds go by-not a surprising taste when one recalls that he comes from a family which emigrated from France to the Rhineland during the Revolution. But there is a deeper meaning in this hobby which Remarque himself expressed when he once said: "That crowd is life, and I adore life above everything else. Even a book interests me only if it makes us love life better, if it lifts us out of our routine by making us reflect on the greatest of all problems, on the most marvellous of all miracles: we live."

P.S. In 1930, Hollywood produced a film version of All Quiet On the Western Front. It had amazing, realistic production values for its day, and was a brilliantly made film despite a very wooden performace by Lew Ayres in the leading role. Here are some short clips showing the original trailer (with the audio trailing the video a little bit), and a battle sequence.

The Remarque Institute