Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Face to Face

In the window, a high-rise clerestory,
Stands a funny little man, that's me,
Made of brightly tinted shards of sculpted glass.

And my fingers make a funny little S
Or something. Why, I'll never guess,
Nor how the lead-lined window holds me firm

Against the wind, while candle flames are turned to smoke.
The organ pipes emit a hollow croak,
Moaning draftily. The rain drips down my back.

"Tace, Obmutesce" read the words below my feet,
More likely meant for boisterous children than for me.
I am a boatman; I never learned to read.

Every morning, there's a lady with a chair;
Early morning, whatever weather, she is there
She rolls in with the dawn and bows in prayer.

And every day she lifts her tired eyes to me
And looking at my boatman's face, she seems to see
Something I cannot, and is at peace.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Review: A Service of Love- Papal Primacy, the Eucharist, and Church Unity by Msgr. Paul McPartlan

If you were to ask the armchair historian of Christianity what prevents the reunion of the Roman Catholic Church with the Orthodox Church, you would undoubtedly be regaled with a smattering of topics that evoke some of the most important theological disputes of the last two millenia: “filioque,” “liturgy,” “papal infallibility,” “Marian dogmas,” “Palamism,” “clerical celibacy,” “doctrinal development,” and the like.  But if you were to ask an expert on Catholic-Orthodox dialogue like Monseigneur Paul McPartlan, professor of Ecumenical Theology and prominent member of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church, he would respond “none of the above.”

For Msgr. McPartlan, an authority on celebrated ecumenical theologians such as +John Zizioulas and Henri DeLubac, the only true sticking point between Catholics and Orthodox is their ecclesiology: the fundamental way that they view the structure of the church.  While issues such as the Filioque and the Immaculate Conception have been formally declared by both Orthodox and Catholic leaders to be questions best sought in union with one another, rather than “church-dividing issues,” there still remains the practical administrative issue of episcopal leadership, and most particularly the Pope.

In his new book, A Service of Love, McPartlan sets out to recast the role of the Roman Pontiff in a way many Catholics may not be familiar or comfortable with, but, he argues, is the most historically and doctrinally sound Catholic teaching on the subject.  In a brief 100 pages, A Service of Love takes the reader on a whirlwhind tour through centuries of papal history.  It contrasts the shepherding role of the office in the first millenium, based on the eucharistic “service of love” with its monarchical, jurisdictional role in the second, and argues for the doctrinal and practical soundness of Roman “collegiality” as the golden mean between the unworkable models of conciliarism (councils can “veto” papal statements) and per Petrum ultramontanism (the authority of every bishop flows from the pope).  Collegiality sees the pope as a corporate personality; as McPartlan explains, “there is no pope without the episcopal college of which he is a member, and there is no college without its head, the pope.”  It may be difficult to understand how this should be taken by Orthodox Christians, whose episcopal succession and synodal Patriarchates are recognized by Catholics, but who do not participate in the Catholic episcopal college.  Perhaps this ecclesiological paradox will only be understood retrospectively, after the hoped-for future reunion of Catholics and Orthodox?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Plus One, or Another Metaphysical Category

I believe that the world is made up only of what is physical; what is non-physical is beyond experience and therefore not worthy of belief.

These words represent a view held by many who are educated by the relics of modernity; call it
“monism” or "scientism" or "methodological naturalism" or whatever you will.  It is the idea that only the physical world exists.  Everything else, be it souls or devils or love or miracles or, ultimately, God, is merely an extension or fabrication of the physical; namely, the human brain.  Those of us who have read the moderns, but have also been educated in classical and medieval philosophy, are quite used to pointing out that such a fallacy ignores the existence of much that even the most scientific thinker acknowledges as givens: mathematical formulae, the proposition that A=A, and relations.  It also leaves much to be desired as an explanatory metaphysical model.

Those who are not naturalists often refer to themselves as dualists, asserting that there are two metaphysical categories of existent things: the physical, which is composed of matter, and the non-physical, which, as its name suggests, is not.  This is not an incorrect way of approaching the world, but the classical dualist should be aware that it is not the only way.  Let me explain.  The categorization “physical” and “non-physical” is an arbitrary classification based on a single property of entities: whether or not they are material (in the modern sense of empirically observable).  The metaphysician need not privilege this classification, however; other classifications can exist which may be more helpful and wield more explanatory power.

The 13th-century theologian Bonaventure, for example, in his Disputed Questions on the Knowledge of Christ, chooses to call “matter” (materia primo prima) the “universalized indeterminate element of contingent beings.”  Anything which is not a necessary being is therefore “material.”  In his view, then, angels, devils, ideals, and souls are all “material” or “physical”…only God is not.  This is not a category error: it is merely a new (or perhaps not so new, depending on how the tradition is interpreted) definition for a particular term.

In a similar way, other categorizations can be imposed upon physical reality which rely on different prerequisites and allow for other avenues of reality to be explored than are possible in classical dualism.  Although Bonaventure’s categorization may not be the most applicable, it certainly provided him with a grammar to make his argument about contingency.  What of another categorization, what Walker Percy calls “The Strange World of the Triadic Creature” in his witty masterpiece Lost in the Cosmos?  The difference between the dyadic and triadic creature, he argues, between man and machine or animal, is that one exists in a world of stimulus-response, whereas the other exists in “the world of the self” where three kinds of entities exist.  First, there are those things which exist physically, but which may or may not be present to “the world of the self”: 1) pizza, representing that which is present, and 2) the gravitational pull of Saturn, representing that which is not.  Both exist, but not both are present.  Second, there are those things which may or may not exist physically, but which are present to “the world of the self”: 1) bigfoot, representing that which does not exist, and 2) kisses, representing that which does.  Both are very present (for some people), but not both exist.  Third, there are those same non-physical entities which provide the substantial basis for metaphysical dualism (God, love, etc.).  These three modes of interaction, Percy’s triadic metaphysics, posit a third “cognitive” mode of existence in addition to dualism’s physical and spiritual modes, which is explainable by dualism, but not quite as neatly.  Certainly Bonaventure’s “universalized indeterminate principle” is not the most useful categorization for philosophy by and large, and I would suggest that similarly, classical dualism may at times be less useful than Percy’s triadism.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Public Choice Theory vs. Plato: Love and the Free Market

Try to explain to a laissez-faire economist, committed to the structural model of Friedrich Hayek and the ideology of Ayn Rand, that you truly love and act on behalf of other people than yourself.  Suddenly, you'll find yourself faced with the age-old problem of that poor guy whose girlfriend is convinced that everything he does is to get in her pants!  In a sadly twisted vision of the world, the so-called "classical liberal" economist posits a principle known as Public Choice Theory: that every action, regardless of outward appearances, is actually directed toward the benefit of one's self.  As Ayn Rand put it: "Loving your fellow man is immoral if it is placed above love of oneself.  It is more than immoral, it is impossible."

Like most ideological pillars of modern western society, the foundation of Public Choice Theory rests upon a simple fallacy which was already foreseen and roundly castigated millenia ago; this time, by our wise friend Plato.  In his Republic, Plato writes, "there is an evil, great above all others, which most men have implanted in their souls...It is the evil indicated in the saying that every man is by nature a lover of self, and that it is right that he should be such.”  Plato also predicts the end result of such unrestrained and approved self-love: “when [men] desire, they desire without limit...and when they can make moderate gains, they prefer to gain insatiably.”  Wall Street, anybody?

Granted that a little classical liberalism and free-market policy can be a fine corrective to the problems caused by botched government "oversights" in today's society.  But to what extent can human beings support an ideology of pure selfishness?  I would rather be poor than live my whole life to only benefit myself.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hobbitus Ille Micro-Review

Merry Christmas to all, especially those of you who received HarperCollins' new Latin edition of The Hobbit by Mark Walker as a Christmas present.  Adsumans quidem facultatem tuam ad legendum linguam latinam.

The very endeavor, and the fact that it was published by a major publisher, in hardcover, with a beautiful mosaic image of Smaug (n. smaug, smaugis) on the front, warmed my heart with the Christmas spirit.  The translation has its ups and downs, but it absolutely won me over with the adaptation of Tolkien's poetry for classical Roman meter!  Though I have a lot to say, I'm not going to provide a full review of the book lest I appear to be a detractor.  I liked it, and I wanted to provide a poetic analysis of the holiday favorite "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates" from the chapter "An Unexpected Party" (Convivium Inopinatum).

frange vitra et catilla!
cultros tunde, furcas flecte!
Bilbo Baggins odit illa-
nunc et cortices incende!
textum seca, sebum calca!
lactem funde cellae terra!
linque in tapeto ossa!
vinum sperge super porta!
has patellas aestu lava!
has contunde magna clava;
si nonnulla sint intacta,
volve ea e culina!

Bilbo Baggins odit illa!
cave!  cave!  haec catilla!

So the trochaic tetrameter is immediately recognizable, as well as the ingenious rhymes like catilla and illa, or lava and clava.  Though the rhyme scheme is not always distinct, it is clearly intentional, given that the position of entire lines are completely shifted to maintain it: Walker's first line, for example, is Tolkien's third, "Chip the glasses and crack the plates (catilla)."  I don't know whether to identify it as ABABCCDDEEFFAA or simply ABABAAAAAAAAAA, given that almost every line ends in an alpha-ə.  Doesn't matter, it's still brilliant.

And I'll tell you why: just looking at the first stanza, it might have been hard to capture through a simple Latin imperative the actual "teasing" mood of the dwarves' song.  So what does Walker do?  He eliminates the clumsy "smash the bottles" (rumpe ampullas?) and replaces it with a metrically and meaningfully helpful nunc et...suddenly we understand that Thorin's gang is responding to the protests of a most indignant hobbit.

Though not an easy task, Walker pulls off "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates" with the flair of a true artist and scholar.  I'd call this and the edition's other Latin verse the highlight of this libellumBuy the book!  NOT for Kindle.  Not ever.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sonnet for Motherhood

"Both now and at the hour of our death,"
My mouth half-whispered to the silent air.
Again.  And to the rhythm of my breath,
I tried to make my heart believe my prayer.
Distraction, disbelief, monotony:
"A rosary by any other name."
I have no expertise in botany,
But doesn't every mystery smell the same?
"O mother, mediatrix, hear my plea..."
I knew for sure that I prayed all alone.
For why would such a Queen keep watch with me?
I started at the ringing of my phone.
Just mom, wanting to make sure I was eating--
And bearing sacred secrets in her greeting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Moonlighting: The Priest and the Executioner

They tiptoe in, pale flowers of an early winter chill
On gentle breezes, spinning gently to the tune
Of darkly dissonant nocturnes, or a storm.
One smell, one size, one archetypal form.

Though blank stares they give me, yet I render still
A blessing smile and as best I can, commune
From soul to soul the sympathy within.
O blessed passion, sacrifice for sin.

With oil, my finger on their fevered foreheads seals a sign.
Eyes closed in rite, my left hand pulls the lever of a switch.
My thumb I must remove 'ere fire burns,
And to a cinder this frail body turns.

"Soul of Christ and Sacred Heart, O Savior mine,
Bestow upon this thy wretched creature mercies rich,
That he may hope to wear that starry crown."
And with a soft Amen the switch comes down.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Letter 477 of Everwinus Prior of Steinfeld, to St. Bernard. On the heretics of their times.

This Letter from a Colognese Bishop to 12th-century dynamo St. Bernard of Clairvaux describes some of the heretical activity of the Languedoc region in the year 1143, when it was written.  Bernard wrote several sermons against the heretics described in this letter, and eventually made a preaching tour of the region in 1145.  My translation is in most places a near-reproduction of the original syntax, but takes stylistic digressions where necessary for fluidity.  I have posted the translation here because Everwinus' letter is an important document for studying such heretical movements as Catharism, and I am not aware of the letter's prior translation (Jean LeClerq translates a paragraph from this sermon as part of his argument that Bernard's sermons were not given orally in the form we have received them; the article is called "Le sermons sur le Cantiques ont-ils été prononces?"  Also, I have just recently (11/10/12) discovered full translations of this letter in Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe by Edward Peters and Heresies of the High Middle Ages by Walter Wakefield and Austin Evans).

Translated from PL 182, 676B-677A
(From book 4 of the works of St. Bernard, placed before sermon 65 on the Song of Songs.)

Everwinus of Steinfeld (1), the humble minister, to his reverend lord and father Bernard the Abbot of Clairvaux; that he may be comforted in the Lord, and comfort the church of Christ.

I rejoice at your eloquence, as he who has found a great treasure-trove, for you have this knack for making me remember the abundant sweetness of God with your every word and letter.  This especially in the Song of the love of the Bridegroom and bride, that is, Christ and the Church, for we can truly say to that Bridegroom: you have kept the good wine until now (John 2:10).  He has commissioned you as the cupbearer of this most precious wine to us: do not cease toasting; do not hesitate, you will not be able to empty the wine-jar.  Your infirmity does not excuse you, holy father: for more piety is worked in administration than in the practice of bodily discipline.  Do not say you are busy: we need you to expound on the topic of a necessary and common labor.  O how many toasts you must make for us from the wine-jar, holy father!  First you toasted to our great satisfaction, rendering us wise and resolute against the doctrine and practices of the Scribes and Pharisees; second, against the arguments and confusions of the Gentiles; third, against the subtle deceptions of the [early] heretics; fourth, against false Christians; now, fifth, you must toast against the heretics which come at the end of the age, about whom the Spirit spoke clearly through the Apostle: In the last days certain men will depart from the faith, turning to spiritual errors and the doctrines of demons, in  the hypocrisy of speaking lies, prohibiting marriage, abstaining from bread, which God created to be gained through the action of the graces (I Tim. 4:1-3).  From the sixth wine-jar, let the faithful be made drunk and strengthened against him who will doubtless be revealed in his departure from the faith, namely the son of sin, the man of perdition, who wars with and exalts himself over all which is said to be or worshiped as God; whose coming is the second activity of Satan in all power, and signs, and plentiful lies, and every sinful seduction (II Thess. 2:3-10).  After the sixth wine-jar a seventh will not be necessary, since the sons of men will be drunk from the fecundity of the house of God, and the torrent of his delights.  O good father, you have toasted us all enough from the four wine-jars to correction, edification, and consummation while we were beginning, then progressing, then perfecting our lives.  Until the end of the age your words will be useful against listlessness and depravity, which is in false brothers.  Now the time has come for you to pour from the fifth wine-jar against these new heretics, who have bubbled up from the depths of the abyss in every place, in almost every church, as though their Prince had already been loosed, and the day of the Lord begun.  And in the marriage-song of the love of Christ and his Church, a place has already been marked out for you to treat on these heretics, a point which has already been reached in the course of your sermons: Catch for us these little foxes, who have demolished the grapevines (Song 2:15).  It fits this topic perfectly and so leads you to the fifth wine-jar.  We request therefore, father, that you distinguish all parts of their heresy which has reached your notice, and you destroy them with opposing arguments from reason and the authorities of our faith.

Recently, we detected some heretics near Colchester, of whom some gladly came back to the Church.  Two of them, namely he who was called their bishop along with his assistant, disputed us in an assembly of clergy and laity, where the Archbishop was present along with great noblemen, defending their heresy from the words of Christ and the Apostle.  And when the Archbishop and the clergy had seen that they could make no headway, they petitioned that a day be allowed them, so that they could re-convert these men who had been lost from the faith; the heretics, indeed, promised that they would rather unite with the Church if they could see that their Masters gave insufficient responses.  In the end, however, they preferred rather to die than to be dissuaded from their beliefs.  Everyone heard this, and although they were warned three times, they did not wish to come to their senses.  The people, moved with an overabundance of zeal, seized them, and although I protested, they cast them into the fire and burned them.  Also, even more incredibly, they entered and bore the torment of this fire not only with patience, but with joy.  On this, holy father, if I may insist, I would like to have your response: how did these limbs of the devil have so much strength in their heresy, strength which is scarcely found among those greatly religious in the faith of Christ?

This is their heresy.  They say that the Church is among their party only, because they alone follow the footsteps of Christ; and they remain true followers of the apostolic way of life.  They do not seek the things of the world, possessing neither house, nor farm, nor private property: just as Christ possessed nothing, neither do they allow their disciples to possess anything.  “But you,” they say to us, "join house to house, and farm to farm, and you seek those things which are of this world.”  So they say about those who are most perfect among you, like the monks or regular canons; although they possess not their own property, they nevertheless possess all these things.  They say about themselves: “We are paupers for Christ, homeless, fleeing from city to city; like sheep among wolves, we suffer persecution along with the apostles and martyrs.  We lead a holy and most austere life in fasting and abstentions, persisting in prayers and labors day and night, and seeking from them only what is necessary for life.  We maintain this life because we are not of this world, but you are lovers of the world, since you have made peace with the world, since you are of the world.  You are Pseudo-Apostles and adulterers of the word of Christ, who seek your own benefit.”  And to detract from you and your fathers, they say: “We and our fathers were made apostles, we remain in the grace of Christ, and will remain unto the end of the age.  To distinguish between us and you, Christ said: By their fruits will you know them (Mat. 7:16).  Our fruits are the footsteps of Christ.”  In their food they refuse every kind of milk, and whatever is made from it, as well as whatever is a result of procreation.  They flaunt their way of life at us with this custom.  In their sacraments they hide themselves with a veil: nevertheless they confess to us openly that when they eat and drink daily at their table, in the manner of Christ and his apostles, through the Lord’s words they consecrate their food and drink as the body and blood of Christ, so that they may nourish themselves as members of the body of Christ.  But they say that we do not have true sacraments, but only a shadow and a tradition of men.  They have confessed openly that, instead of in water, they baptize and are baptized in fire and spirit, quoting that statement of John the Baptist who baptized in water, and who said of Christ: He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire (Mat. 3:11), and in another place: I baptize you in water, but a greater remains among you, who you do not know (John 1:26), suggesting that he would baptize them with something more than water.  And that such a baptism through the imposition of hands ought to be done, they try to demonstrate through the testimony of Luke, who describes the baptism of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, which he received from Ananias at the bidding of Christ, and makes no mention of water, but only of the imposition of hands: and whatever is found, both in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles of Paul, concerning the imposition of hands, this they want to pertain to baptism.  And they say that anyone baptized thus among themselves is of the elect, and has the power to baptize others who are worthy, and to consecrate the body and blood of Christ upon his table.  For first they receive among the believers through the laying on of hands those from their number whom they call hearers: and thus they are allowed to be present during their prayers, until they have gone enough time to be counted elect.  They do not care for our way of baptism.  They condemn marriage, but I cannot discover from them the reason; either because they do not dare to admit it, or because they do not know.

There are some other heretics in our land, in disagreement with these, each of which I detected through their mutual discord and contention.  They deny that the body of Christ is consecrated on the altar, because not all priests of the Church are consecrated.  For apostolic dignity, they say, has been corrupted by its implication in secular affairs; and in the seat of Peter sits one who does not fight for God, as did Peter, and therefore deprives himself of the power of consecration which was given to Peter.  And what he does not have, the Archbishops who live secular lives in the Church cannot accept from him, so that they may consecrate others.  They take this idea from the words of Christ: Scribes and Pharisees sit upon the seat of Moses; do what they say to you (Mat. 23:2, 3), as if these words show that only the power of speaking and preaching are granted, and nothing more (2).  And thus they devalue the priesthood of the Church, and they condemn the sacraments, retaining only Baptism, and this for adults, whom they say are baptized by Christ, in the words of whoever is administering the Sacrament.  They hold a belief concerning the baptism of infants contrary to that which is presented in the Gospel: He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16).  Every marriage they call fornication, unless it is made between virgins, male and female, adding to the words of the Lord, with which he responded to the Pharisees: What God has joined together, let no man separate; as if God would join such ones in the likeness of the first man.  And adding also to what He said to the same of divorce: From the beginning it was not thus; and also what follows in that place: He who marries a divorcee is an adulterer, and also from the Apostle: Let wedlock be honorable to all, and the marriage-bed undefiled.

They have no confidence in the judgments of the saints; they add that fasts and all other afflictions, which they did as penance for sins, are not necessary for the just, nor for sinners, because on whatever day the sinner mourns, all his sins will be forgiven him.  All other observances in the Church which were not established by Christ and the apostles, they avoid and call superstitions.  They do not believe in the fire of purgatory after death; but rather that souls will set forth straight from the body into either eternal rest or punishment, because of what Solomon said: In whatever direction the tree falls, whether to the South, or to the North, it will remain there (Eccl. 11:3).  And thus they abolish the helps of the saints and prayers for the dead.

Against these multiform ills I ask, holy father, that you be vigilant in your concern, and thrust the tip of your pen against these wild beasts.  Do not respond to me that the tower of David, into which I flee, is sufficiently fortified with ramparts, that a thousand shields, the armor of mighty men, hang from them.  Father, for my own sake I want this armor to be simpler and more deliberate, and your zeal gathered in one place, made more ready to seek out such a monster, and more effective to fight it.  You know also, master, that those who have returned to the Church have said to us that they have a great multitude spread almost everywhere across the lands, and they even have many of our clergy and monastics.  And those who have been burned say to us in their defense that their heresy had been hidden until this time since the days of the martyrs, and it remained in Greece and certain other lands.  Some of these heretics say that they are apostles, and they have their own pope.  Others would abolish the papacy, and do not wish to institute another pope in his stead.  These apostles of Satan have among themselves women who are (as they claim) celibate (3), widows, virgins, their wives, some among the elect, some among the believers; as if in the form of apostles, to whom was given the privilege of marrying wives.

Be well in the Lord.

1. A German bishop.
2. See what they did there?
3. Do you need some ice for that burn?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Queen of Rock Creek

I received the inspiration for this piece recently while playing chess with a friend in Rock Creek Cemetery.  I somehow lost one of my pieces, and had to spend forever looking for it.

The fall sunset of dreary monochrome
Submerged the honking street in red.
I quickly crossed and scaled the fence
And entered, brazen prowler, thence;
The tall grass wished me welcome home-
O crowded field, arcology of the dead.

I have never seen a place so packed
With crosses but bereft of hope.
These aren't streets of gold but roads
Of dirt; the clustered headstones, nodes
To demarcate the puddled tears and compact
Earth- a row of pawns arrayed upon a slope.

Thank heaven's grace I found a friend, and not
A shade, but flesh and blood and mind like mine.
Often we'd pit our black-and-whites to fight.
He'd D-4, I would Nimzo with a knight.
So like we were, in fact, that neither thought
It strange to play a chess game in a shrine.

In this New World a mausoleum holds
No fear for modern men to dark its door.
Quite opposite: their silence is a peace
of friendship and a solace of release.
So brash sat we upon the steps and bold,
And careless, missed a whisper and a roar.

But hark!  A glance behind my line revealed
The absence of my lady and my love,
Who ever hardy in danger'd soldier on;
Tall warrior woman, white, uncaptured, gone.
She'd been my only general on the field,
The only girl I'd take the council of.

Now ghosts and specters cackled my queen to hide
As vengeance for my presence in their crypt.
I had no genius, no judiciousness
To, questing, seek my lady, or to guess
Her whereabouts.  For finding Hades' snide
And sulky pranksters, I was ill-equipped.

O Julianna!  Cleopatra, O!  And Thisbe,
Taken three together, could ne'er compete
With she who'd stood beside me, comrade keen,
In death and glorious checkmate, and had seen
How fell the fall of castles and of clerks is.  Be
Sure: I'd find her, or my own six feet.

It's been a hundred fifty years tomorrow
Since I first began to haunt that hallowed ground.
My friend has since passed on: he lies just there.
She wasn't his queen, she wasn't his lady fair.
No thimble, no coin could stand in for my sorrow;
Until I find my piece, peace can't be found.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Warrior (Review)

Take one look at the movie poster or DVD cover of the recent film "The Warrior" starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte.  Two grim-faced, shirtless men with impossibly defined musculature and the smell of death (yes, you can smell it on the DVD) stare out angrily from a black-and-white background.  I will be the first to admit that I watched this movie because I had nothing better to do and wanted to see some good old-fashioned face punching, and maybe some underdogs winning the pennant (or whatever they do in fighting).

So you can imagine my surprise when the film, from beginning to end, instead provoked deep thought and communicated a powerful Christian message.  It opens on old Paddy Conlon (Nolte) walking out of St. Mary's Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh, PA and driving home, listening to an audiobook version of Herman Melville's Moby Dick as a large crucifix swung from the rearview.  Upon arriving home, he finds out his past has come to call- in the form of his son Tommy (Hardy), who had run away years earlier from the man Paddy used to be.  But Paddy's been sober, almost 1,000 days now, and from all appearances, his new found faith has turned his life around.  As Tommy bitterly demurs, though, "I think I liked you better when you were a drunk.  At least you had balls then."  In other words, the past is not automatically forgiven by the present, and a soft answer doesn't always turn away wrath.

Paddy's other son, Brendan, harbors similar resentments toward his father.  Even though he never ran away with Tommy and their mother, but stayed in "the 'Burg" with Paddy, he has still cut his family off from communication with Paddy in response to some unnamed "s**t he pulled" many years ago.  Brendan consistently rejects Paddy's overtures of reconciliation under the guise of protecting his family.  "Can't you find a little space in your heart to forgive me?" Paddy asks.  "I forgive you, Pop," Brendan replies as he ejects his father from his home in the presence of his wife and two little girls.  "I forgive you, but I don't trust you."  Tearfully, Paddy whispers to a closed door: "But they're not different things.  You've got to trust to forgive..."

As the story progresses, it is discovered that both brothers were sportsmen in different forms of martial arts, and Paddy was an expert trainer.  Brendan has financial troubles and is in danger of losing his home; Tommy, an ex-Marine, is on the run from his past, yet wants to help a dead military friend's widow any way he can.  Both are given this opportunity in the form of the 5 million-dollar Sparta tournament, a winner take all, single elimination mixed-martial arts grand prix.  Many other critics (83% on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as Roger Ebert) have lauded the fact that this buildup leads the viewer inevitably toward a conflict in which the audience wants both men to win.  However, although Tommy Conlon vs. Brendan Conlon: Saturday Night Fights is what got me jumping out of my chair, adrenaline pumping, neither man was my favorite to win.  In fact, the result of the fight was not the most important part of the ending.  The film's true hero, and the man whose fight I most cared about, is old Paddy Conlon, ex-alcoholic-turned ascetic Christian dad.

As much as I loved the thrill of the victories (and defeats) of the two Conlon brothers, I felt that the victories Paddy achieved and the defeats he suffered were much more evocative and deepened the message of the film.  It was clear that in his journey to the Orthodox faith, Paddy had applied the theology of the Holy Fathers of Orthodoxy to heal his broken life.  Here's how:


1) Forgive your brother, so that you also may be forgiven.  -Abba Isidore

Paddy is not the only character in Warrior to make mistakes.  His mistakes have deeply affected the lives of his sons, and their mistakes are clearly a reflection on him.  Paddy drove Tommy to run away from home; Tommy spends the rest of his life running away from his problems.  Paddy was a cruel husband; Brendan is loving, but does not respect his wife enough to share his decision-making with her at all.  Tommy hates Brendan for not running away with him as kids.  Brendan hates Tommy for never allowing him to reconnect with his mother before her death.  The family is broken.

Yet although nobody explicitly forgives Paddy for his past in the film, his constant and selfless expression of true forgiveness toward his sons eventually leads at least to their reconciliation.  Though they constantly insult, wound, and ignore their father, he works tirelessly and meekly behind the scenes to bring the family back together.  His forgiveness begins to trickle down into the lives of those around him.

2) Boldness of speech is success; anger is failure. Therefore, if we should aspire to boldness, we must be free from anger, in case anyone should attribute our words to the latter. For no matter how just your words may be, when you speak with anger, you ruin everything. This is true no matter how boldly you speak or how fairly you admonish--in short, no matter what you do.  -St. John Chrysostom, 4th c.

When Tommy first comes to his father to request training, Paddy's tiny smile reveals that he is overjoyed at his son's attention.  Yet his son's cold and demanding tone draw some ire from Paddy, who begins to lecture his son on schedule, commitment, diet, and most of all his use of prescription drugs.  For a moment, his harsh words suggest he has lost his Christian charity- but in reality, he has only spoken justly and with boldness to effect a change in Tommy's life.

3) Do not be surprised if you fall back into your old ways every day.  Do not be disheartened, but resolve to do something positive about it; and without question, the angel who stands guard over you will honor your perseverance.  -St. John of the Ladder, 7th c.

Paddy breaks the 1,000 days mark during the course of the film, and it is clear to see that his life is different.  But Tommy's bitter, hateful words wound him to such an extent that in one scene, after a particularly caustic exchange, he returns to his hotel room, where Tommy later finds him red-faced in a pile of bottles, screaming at his audiobook: "Ahab, you godless son of a b***h!  You turn this ship around!"  Paddy is Ahab, screaming at himself to stop the ship of his mistakes, to "do something positive" and persevere.  Thankfully, though he has fallen off the horse, he is still in the race.  The next day, he returns to his mission of reaching out to his son and does not slip into despondency.

4) The man who endures accusations against himself with humility has arrived at perfection. He is marveled at by the holy angels, for there is no other virtue so great and so hard to achieve.  -St. Isaac the Syrian

"Does a guy like you get 24 steps instead of 12?"
"I liked you better when you were a drunk."
"Take your have-a-heart bulls**t and run it on down the road."
"I have absolutely no use for you."
"You never remarried?  Must be tough to find a girl who can take a punch nowadays."

Like the cage fighters of Warrior, Paddy Conlon takes blow after blow from those he reaches out to, sending him reeling backward, covering up with his humility, but ever-returning for even more punishment.  We viewers, his cloud of witnesses, marvel at his perseverance, the earmark of his faith.

5) You should know which of the demons torments you the most, and you should especially struggle against it.  To achieve this, you must examine your conscience daily.  -St. Tikhon

At one point in their training, Paddy remarks to Tommy, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't."  Tommy has many personal demons, and does not seem willing to face a single one.  Introspection and self-examination are sorely lacking from today's world, and many, like Tommy, are too quick to simply live and act without thinking about their conscience or their spiritual health.  Tommy has seared his conscience and wounded soul for so long, that he is like a machine or an animal, with one mission: to hurt other people.  Only love can break the cycle and force him to look inward and face the monster.


So who is the Warrior?  Though muscle-bound men with heart-wrenching stories take center stage in this movie, Paddy Conlon's background act strikes me as the real knockout.  Nick Nolte's Academy Award-nominated performance truly brings to life a man who "does not struggle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers" (Ephesians 6:12), or spiritual enemies who torment him with the consequences of his past.  When I stood up and cheered at the end of Warrior's climactic fight, I was not cheering for either brother or the 5 million dollar prize money...emotionally engaging as these stories were.  I was cheering for Love, the Love that had trickled down from the film's true hero to his two sons and was beginning to heal the broken family.  Though Brendan Conlon's walkout music, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", seemed slightly out of place at a rough-and-tumble fighting tournament, it couldn't have better described my feelings at the film's ending.  The tune's hymnodic lyrics by Henry van Dyke ("Joyful, joyful, we adore thee") also gave a nod to the Author of this Love, and reminded me, as did the comforting presence of the Cross throughout the film, that no relationship can be broken beyond His power to redeem it.