Archives for December 2009

Alphonse #2

"Spoken of, the world is never naked."

So what am I reading for the final days of Advent? Metaphysical Horror by Leszek Kołakowski, which has – easily – the best opening of any book of philosophy I’ve read:

A modern philosopher who has never experienced the feeling of being a charlatan is such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading.

Safe to say, ergo, that Kołakowski (who died this last summer) had considered the possibility that he is a charlatan.

A good part of the book is concerned with that most famous ergo: specifically, Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, and Kołakowski’s somewhat tenative effort to rehabilitate the claim, or at least the sense of “the Absolute” implied by the claim. And thus we get passages such as this:

Everybody may indeed use the words cogito and sum without hesitation and with a feeling of understanding, but the very use of language is not innocent: every sentence we utter presupposes the entire history of culture of which the language we use is an apect. No word is self-transparent. None may pretend to hand over to the hearer the unadulterated world to which it is supposed to refer. Whatever reality the word conveys, it si a reality filtered through the thick sediments of human history we carry in our minds, through not in our conscious memory. Therefore, by phrasing his immortal sentence, Descartes had no right to plead epistemological innocence, or ‘pressuppositionlessness’ (an ugly and unnatural word, used in English translations of Husserl as perhaps the only possible equivalent to the sound German noun Voraussetzungslosigkeit). Assuming that there is a bottom-reality (whatever that means) and even that there is an experience whereby we touch it, the unique quality of this experience. its uncontaminated freshness, its being the divine beginning, is fatefully lost when it is dressed in words. Spoken of, the world is never naked.

Percy, you may recall, took issue with Descartes, and I admit I’m a fan of both the novelist and the philosopher who helped bring forth the “epistemelogical turn” of the 17th century. Both were inspired by the absolutist claims of the Roman Catholic Church, so I certainly find it difficult to question the motives of either, as I think others would for precisely the same reason. Anyway, this winter I’m thankful to Kołakowski for all his work, and especially the little I’ve read.

The Prisoner (1955)

Theocoid (also known as Bill B.) over at Is My Philactery Showing? (and btw, yes, it is Bill, but it looks pretty good on you) has contributed another review to our priestly film festival! Alec Guinness (who also played Chesterton’s Fr. Brown) makes his second appearance in priestly vestments here.

[Return to 52 Movies for the Year of the Priest.]

New York Times article about St. Elijah’s monastery near Mosul, Iraq

Maybe it was because Pat O’Brien as the WWI military chaplain in The Fighting 69th was still fresh in my mind, but this image of a present-day military chaplain celebrating mass in a shell-shocked ancient monastery near Mosul, Iraq caught my eye. I find the picture fascinating and oddly enticing, and the details outlined in the article more fascinating still.

From the article:

“We stand in a long line of people who bequeathed the faith to us,” said Maj. Jeffrey Whorton, a Roman Catholic chaplain, presiding over Mass in the monastery the other day, attended by three camouflaged soldiers, their rifles leaning in a corner.

In 1743, a Persian king swept through the area and ordered the monks to convert to Islam. They chose instead to die. In a violent place where Christians are still targets, most recently in bombings this week that struck two churches in Mosul, St. Elijah’s history resonates.

Word of the Day: Voraussetzungslosigkeit

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The Fighting 69th

The Fighting 69th (click on the link to view it on YouTube) features James Cagney and Pat O’Brien performing an interesting repetition of the tough-guy priest and charismatic misfit roles they played two years earlier in Angels with Dirty Faces. In my review of Angels, I took issue with the failure of the priest to move beyond the ethical sphere. In The Fighting 69th, O’Brien’s Fr. Duffy–based on an actual WWI army chaplain–is much more satisfyingly depicted in a religious mode proper to his priestly office. Fr. Duffy utters heart-felt prayers, invokes Christ, blesses an officer who unabashedly kneels before him, hears confessions, celebrates Mass, sensitively interacts with and ministers to Protestant and Jewish soldiers as well as their Catholic counterparts, and simultaneously exudes both a lightness and a gravity towards the soldiers under his care. The battlefield setting, fraught with danger and death, highlights the priest’s sacrificial role, his standing in the place of Christ, side-by-side with young men who are also offering themselves up to be sacrificed. Then we have Cagney’s mouthy Jerry Plunkett. Although Cagney’s charisma is still in play, he convincingly portrays Plunkett as a much more repellant and alienated character than his gangster counterpart in Angels. At every turn, Plunkett responds to military discipline with a sneering grin and a smart mouth–towards superiors and fellow soldiers alike. Fr. Duffy alone reaches out to Plunkett and defends him when Major “Wild Bill” Donovan (played by George Brent) decides to transfer him to a different battalion. Fr. Duffy convinces the major to let him stay, but Plunkett continues to be an obnoxious cad out of battle and a coward who endangers the lives of his fellow soldiers in battle. You can guess how it ends. Twice Fr. Duffy references Christ’s words about there being more rejoicing in heaven over the one lost soul who is saved than the ninety-nine that didn’t stray from the fold. Overall the movie is dramatically less successful than Angels with Dirty Faces, but more successful in plumbing the depths of life and death and sin and redemption.

Overall grade: C+
Priest factor: A-

[Return to 52 Movies for the Year of the Priest]

2012 Korrektiv Summit Entertainment Preview

The Onion: Superfluous

Just saw this headline in the video section of the New York Times: “Obama Accepts Nobel Peace Prize: Acknowledges Tension Between War and Peace.”

The rest is silence.

I wrote still yet another story!

Religion, America, etc. Glenn Beck’s The Christmas Sweater: A Return to Redemption.

mercy, mercy in this world

Little Drummer Boy

The Day St. Nick Decked a Heretic

This heartwarming tale doesn’t get enough press during the holidays. Click on the image above for Taylor Marshall’s take on it.

Goose Shit on the Grass

Geese are nice
But shit is not
This old device
Is filled with shot

The Handsome Gregory Peck

Some Peck porn from the YouTube Moviegoer Archives for all you ladies out there.

The Scarlet and the Black (1983)

Theocoid over at Is My Philactery Showing? posted another Year of the Priest review — and it’s another one with grim Gregory!

[Return to 52 Movies for the Year of Priest]

Gopnik on Lewis, Part One

So Adam Gopnik wrote an essay on C.S. Lewis for The New Yorker about four years back, and in true Godsbody tradition (Yesterday’s News Today!), we’re just getting to it now. Of course, we’re not going to tackle the whole piece at once – who has time to read anything that long any more? Instead, we’ll just offer piecemeal comments here and there over the next little while. Cheers!


“Yet a central point of the Gospel story is that Jesus is not the lion of the faith but the lamb of God, while his other symbolic animal is, specifically, the lowly and bedraggled donkey. The moral force of the Christian story is that the lions are all on the other side. If we had, say, a donkey, a seemingly uninspiring animal from an obscure corner of Narnia, raised as an uncouth and low-caste beast of burden, rallying the mice and rats and weasels and vultures and all the other unclean animals, and then being killed by the lions in as humiliating a manner as possible—a donkey who reëmerges, to the shock even of his disciples and devotees, as the king of all creation—now, that would be a Christian allegory. A powerful lion, starting life at the top of the food chain, adored by all his subjects and filled with temporal power, killed by a despised evil witch for his power and then reborn to rule, is a Mithraic, not a Christian, myth.”

Really? Gopnik’s version would be a fine allegory of Christianity seen, as it were, from the outside – the wondering world marveling that this odd little tribe could provide the seeds of a new dominant paradigm. But if we’re talking about what Christians think really happened with the Incarnation, then Aslan sort of has to be a lion – God Himself come down to earth, yes? And even so, his account of the “Mithraic, not Christian” myth doesn’t quite tell the whole story. What makes Aslan a Christ figure is that he not only descends to earth and walks among us, but also that he strips himself of power and delivers himself over to his enemy, out of love for one who betrayed him. That’s the moral force of the story.

This is not a particularly clever or subtle observation, but that’s precisely my point. It feels a little like Gopnik is twisting the text a bit to fit his larger point. (And what is his larger point? I’m afraid you’ll have to go read the thing to find out.)

The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)

I watched The Keys of the Kingdom back in August and then got sick (the flu followed by pneumonia) and busy (trying to publish rather than perish at my day job) and never got around to posting a review. (That’s my excuse, what about all you other Year of the Priest reviewers out there?) Without giving the film another viewing, I’ll offer up my shame and a few fragmentary comments.

Gregory Peck made his screen debut in the film as Fr. Francis Chisolm. I couldn’t help but think of Binx Bolling’s reference to Peck in The Moviegoer. Binx’s initial strategy in seducing his secretary is to maintain a “Gregory Peckish sort of distance.” Later he describes himself as “Gregory grim.”

(This has nothing to do with the movie at hand, but when we’re done with this Year of the Priest cinematic celebration, maybe our next film festival should revolve around films that are mentioned in The Moviegoer. In fact, one of Korrektiv’s many Walter Mitty projects ought to be–and therefore is, since we’re not talking about reality here–to open an art house theater called The Moviegoer in historic downtown Moses Lake.)

The main storyline is framed by a scene in which the elderly Fr. Chisolm has been called back from his Chinese mission and is being investigated for “unorthodox views” (which are never specified).

Not much specifically Catholic or theological content. I read somewhere (one of those “external reviews” links on IMDB) that the screenplay was written by an atheist and that the author of the novel on which the film is based may have been more atheist than Catholic as well. (Speaking of atheists, check out Lickona’s recent piece.) The focus of the movie, at any rate, is on the humanity of the priest. Peck’s Fr. Chisolm embodies an admirable combination of meekness and strength. Christ’s admonition to be gentle as a dove but wise as a serpent comes to mind. That clip from Kung Fu comes to mind.

But Fr. Chisolm is a bit harsh in his criticism of “rice Christians” and his refusal to accept the conversion of the high ranking official whose son he saved with some rudimentary Western style medicine.

Vincent Price appears as a smarmy monsignor who later becomes a bishop — and initiates the investigation of Fr. Chisolm. The investigator sent by the bishop reads Fr. Chisolm’s journal and is convinced he is a good and holy priest.

The long timespan covered by the film–with Peck portraying Chisolm from the age of about 20 to maybe 70–is believable. Peck earned an oscar nomination for the role.

Overall, the film was OK. Peck was great and his greatness infused the possible greatness of Fr. Chisolm, forcing me to give the film a higher priest factor rating than might have otherwise been the case.

Overall grade: B-
Priest factor: B+

[Return to 52 Movies for the Year of the Priest]