Thursday, June 27, 2013

Progressivism, Independent Thought, The Spirit of the Age, and Other Nonsense

The Gods of the Copybook Headings
By Rudyard Kipling

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;  
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,  
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,  
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

 And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn, 
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

                It’s alarming how relevant Kipling’s poem still is.
                We hear a lot about ‘progressive Christians’ these days. Of course, ‘Progressive’ pretty much just means “whatever ideas are currently popular,” so today a ‘progressive’ Christian is one who supports Gay Marriage, women’s ordination, and all manner of sexual practices. Not so long ago, a progressive Christian was one who supported eugenics, colonization, and harbored serious doubts about the Divinity of Christ. God only knows what progressive Christians will look like in thirty years or so, but I’m very much mistaken if they’ll be anything like the ones we have today.
                Self-styled progressive Christians are never actually progressive; that is, they never actually build up the Body of Christ or do any good on Earth. In a sense, they aren’t actually ‘Christians’ at all. The world, and not Christ, is their God. A ‘progressive Christian’ is someone who tries to conform Christ to the world rather than the other way around.
                How can you tell a true Christian from a PC? It’s really very simple. As Catholics, we believe there are only two viable sources of revelation: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which are infallibly interpreted by the Magesterium of the Church. Therefore, a true Christian will ground his teachings in these sources (Protestants only accept the first of these, but the point still applies). A PC will couch his argument primarily in terms of what is ‘modern’ or in historical interpretation or appeals to rights or equality. Anything, as a matter of fact, except Revelation. If he brings up Scripture at all, it will either be to cite out-of-context passages dealing with completely different topics or to explain why the passages that very clearly refute his position shouldn’t count.  
                For instance, there is absolutely no way you can use Revelation to justify women’s ordination. Scripture, so far as it goes, does not allow for it, and Tradition very definitely excludes the possibility. Yet the current fashion is equality for equality’s sake, meaning that all positions must be open to women, even those that have very excellent reasons for excluding them. Thus, to be ‘progressive’ means to favor women’s ordination.
                You see? Progressivism isn’t based on either Faith or Reason, still less Revelation, but simply on vanity; the desire to conform to the spirit of the age, to be thought trendy and enlightened and all that other rubbish. It’s nothing but the experience of the playground, where you automatically started parroting the opinions of the most popular kids, writ large over a whole society. The important thing wasn’t whether the popular kids were right or wrong; the important thing was that if you agreed with them, they might like you.
                This isn’t a new phenomenon. Every age has its own ‘spirit:’ its own insanities which it fancies makes it superior to all past ages and which it foolishly believes will become the new norm of humanity. An age is almost defined by its generally accepted views, most of which will be thrown out and mocked in the next age. And, of course, most people unthinkingly and unhesitatingly go along with the ‘spirit of the age,’ judging themselves very independent and progressive thinkers in the process. As a matter of fact, it’s usually the people who pride themselves on their independence of mind that are the most eager to conform. Throwing off whatever tradition they are born into in order to foster a ‘spirit of inquiry,’ they quite naturally slip into whatever are the most popular or ‘trendy’ ideas at the moment. They eagerly listen to whatever intelligent and charismatic speaker happens to cross their paths, absorb a lot of unconscious assumptions, and so naturally adopt whatever worldview is most widely held in their particular corner of the globe in their particular time in history, all the while priding themselves on their independence of mind and scrutiny of thought. And so, they accomplish nothing of value, cause a lot of trouble, and are either forgotten or ridiculed when the current of opinion shifts away from them, as it inevitably will.
                Independence of mind is one of those things you will never acquire so long as you are specifically looking for it. By throwing off everything that you fear will color your opinion, you simply create a mental vacuum which sucks in whatever current ideas happen to well-articulated in your general vicinity. If, on the other hand, you don’t bother about what kind of thinker you are and simply seek and follow the objective truth, you’ll find you become a much more shrewd and independent mind than your neighbors.
                The thing we always forget is that independence can never be absolute; it must be grounded in something. I am economically independent insofar as I can earn my own living, but I can only do so within a societal structure with a specific currency and economic system. Independent thought is only independent to the extent that it is based on accepted Truth. That is, you can only be safe from one idea by holding to another and contradictory idea. If you don’t hold the idea that “life is sacred” you will have no defense against the assertion “certain strands of society are unhealthy and should be liquidated.”
                It is skepticism, not dogma, that leads to tyranny. It is because we don’t hold the idea that “man’s first allegiance is to God” that we can conceive of the idea “man’s first allegiance is to the State.” Totalitarian states always first create doubt in people’s minds so that they can fill the gaps with the views they want the people to hold. Once you remove the traditional, assumed truth from someone’s mind, you can fill it with whatever you like.  
                We often wonder how such ordinary, otherwise decent people were able to commit or condone the atrocities of the Nazi State. No doubt future generations will ask the same thing regarding our tolerance of abortion. It’s really the same principle that allows for both: convince people that to be really modern, independent thinkers they need to shuffle off the “spoon-fed” beliefs of their childhood, and they naturally will fall in line with whatever the general opinion is. In Germany, the general opinion was Racialism, that the Jews were inferior, brutal, and dangerous and that the Aryan race needed to be supreme. Today it’s that sex is primarily about self-discovery and expression, that there’s no essential relation between sex and children, and that an unborn, unintended child doesn’t really count anyway.
                Both these ideas are false and evil, but one is popular and the other isn’t. That’s really the only difference between them. Someone who bases his thought on the simple truth “Thou shalt not kill” or “All mankind are ultimately brothers” would see through both in an instant.
                I would say, then, that people can be very roughly and broadly divided into two types: the type that holds to the truth, as he understands the truth, without carrying a whit how old it is or how many people have held it before or where he happened to get it from, and the type that believes that the truth is most likely to be found in modern thinkers, and that to find it he ought to divest himself as much as possible from the traditions and beliefs he was brought up with in order to see the world objectively.
                I should add here that both these men may end up wrong, and both may end up right. And, it goes without saying, both can turn out to be good or bad men. But the former has, I would say, a much better chance of being right and turning into a good man than the latter. The reason is this: the first man’s beliefs are likely based on tradition. Tradition is, by definition, tried and true. It may not be complete, and it may need to be criticized, but it certainly works. If it didn’t, it would never have become tradition in the first place. Therefore, the first man is grounding his personality in things external to and more durable than the present age. He thus is more likely to have a true conception of the beliefs and practices of his modern fellows, and his own beliefs and practices are more likely to yield good results, just as a venerable airplane model is much safer than the prototype that was only completed yesterday.
                The second man, on the other hand, by divesting himself of all his ‘prejudices’ and prior beliefs, does not see the world objectively, but simply opens himself up to receive whatever the world happens to give him. It’s a little as if a knight complained his armor was encumbering him and stripped naked, or if a sailor thought the best way to experience the ocean was to knock holes in his boat.
                And note this; every genuine advance in morality has not been the result of just throwing out past beliefs, but in applying them more forcefully. There was no new moral law that said slavery was wrong; the immemorial belief in the brotherhood of man and the Golden Rule declared it so. Nor did it take a ‘new morality’ (assuming such a thing is possible) to call for more rights for women: “Male and Female He created them” was all that was needed. Every advance, every time man has put a stop to some great, entrenched cultural evil has been accomplished by those who prefer the Truth to the spirit of the age. Contrariwise, every backslide, every new evil has come about when men mistake the spirit of the age for the Truth.  
                Our choices are really only to conform to objective truth, with all that implies about morality, human nature, and tradition, or to conform to the present age. For Christians, the choice ought to be clear: “If it be just in the sight of God, to hear you rather than He, judge ye” (Acts 4; 20). “He that shall deny Me, I also will deny him before my Father who is in Heaven” (Matt. 10; 33).  “Every one therefore that heareth my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man who built his house upon a rock, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock.” (Matt. 7; 24-25). Clear, but no one said it would be easy. Let us pray that we will have the courage and constancy to hold fast to the Truth and to shun the spirit of the age.

Vive Christus Rex!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On Dinosaurs

Homer: “Well, he’s got all the money in the world, but there’s one thing he can’t buy!”
Marge “What’s that?”
(Homer thinks a moment)
Homer: “…a DINOSAUR!”
-The Simpsons: Dog of Death

Funny as Homer’s example is, he actually makes a profound point. Not that no one can buy a dinosaur, but that everyone would want to buy a dinosaur, if only they could. But alas, all the money in the world cannot buy even the smallest dinosaur. They are gone.
    Everyone loves dinosaurs. It’s a fact of life. Have you ever once encountered someone who says “I hate dinosaurs! They’re so big and scary and dead…”? Of course not (if you have, you have my sympathies. If you are that person, I will pray for your soul).
    Why, though? Why this strange yearning for creatures that had already been dead for millions of years when Adam and Eve left the Garden? No one has ever seen a living dinosaur. Everyone would like to.
    Some might say it’s only the mystery of things that we haven’t seen, the appeal of the unknown (I thought we hated and feared the unknown; make up your minds, people!). But this doesn’t seem to be the case, since this longing only extends to the dinosaurs. Only a select few humans ever saw the Woolly Mammoth, but most people can take the mammoth or leave it. No man ever saw the Indricotherium, but who even knows what an ‘Indricotherium’ is?

It's one of these

    It’s only the dinosaurs that fascinate and inspire us. It’s only the dinosaurs that we long for with this strange and poignant desire that makes us cherish the fossilized bones that are all we have left of them. It’s only the dinosaurs that cause children to wrestle with impossible Greek and Latin names and sends men out into the wilds to sift through rock and sand in the hopes of finding just a fragment of their remains.

    It is my personal view (not the official teaching of the Catholic Church) that God always intended man and dinosaur for each other. They belong together; the paragon of animals, and the most magnificent of beasts. What we have today with dogs, horses, and so forth was what we were always meant to have, but even more so, with dinosaurs. They are more than our companions or servants: they were to be our counterparts in the world of beasts. We were meant to be together.

What could have been

    Yes, I realize that sounds silly, but honestly I do think that there is a deep connection between us and them. Since they are dead, we don’t know what it is, but we feel it; we sense a great longing and awe when we look upon their bones, as though they stir a long-forgotten memory that remains just beyond our reach.
    I also believe that this desire to see dinosaurs points to an important truth about the human person. Namely, we have a strange habit of looking back. We turn our eyes to the road already travelled and sigh that we shall never pass that way again. Involved in this backwards-gazing habit is the sense that we’ve left something very wonderful behind; something we would give anything to possess, but which we can never get back. In short, in longing for dinosaurs we long for Eden.
    (Were there dinosaurs in Eden? No, they were going to be reintroduced after Adam and Eve passed the fruit test. Great job, guys!).
    Ever since Man lost his innocence, he has longed to regain it. Everyone has dreamt of Utopia: the perfect world where none would suffer and all would be happy. Some have even tried to put their vision into practice. Best case scenario is that it peters out after a few years, but more often it ends in the gulag. It’s like trying to revive the dead; it may seem like a good idea, but you just can’t make it work.

Just ask this guy

    We can’t create a perfect world anymore than we can bring the dinosaurs back. It’s beyond our power, and trying will only bring disaster. Eden is gone, the dinosaurs are gone, and neither is coming back.
    At least, not yet. We cannot restore what is lost, but for God all things are possible. We are promised a new Heaven and a new Earth, in which every tear will be wiped away. Then the dead will come back to us. Then Eden will be restored, better than ever. Then, as was intended from the beginning, man will behold the dinosaurs.
Vive Christus Rex!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Famous Catholic Friday: Gen. James Longstreet

Since we did a Union General last time, this week we turn to the Southern side.

Catholic Credentials: Devout Catholic covert; man of deep integrity.

Nerd Credentials: One of Robert E. Lee’s most trusted and effective commanders; diplomat and civil servant.

                Robert E. Lee may be the most iconic Southern General, but perhaps no Confederate Commander embodied the tragedy and contradictions of the Civil War like James Longstreet.           
                 Longstreet was born in what is now North Augusta, South Carolina, on January 8th, 1821. He spent his boyhood working on his father’s farm, where his tough, ‘rocklike’ character inspired his father to nickname him ‘Pete,’ a name his friends would call him for the rest of his life. His father early on decided on a military career for his boy and to prepare him academically sent him to live with his editor/minister uncle, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet. When his father died in 1833, twelve year old Pete remained with his uncle.
                At West Point, Longstreet failed to distinguish himself much. He was a poor student and frequently in trouble, but he at least managed to make a large number of friends, including his roommate, William S. Rosecrans, George H. Thomas, George Pickett, and Ulysses S. Grant. He graduated 54th out of his class of 56 and was commissioned a second lieutenant and stationed in Missouri alongside Grant. During their time in Missouri, both men met and courted their respective wives. Longstreet wooed Maria Louisa Garland, the daughter of their regimental commander, while Grant fell passionately in love with Longstreet’s fourth cousin, Julia Dent. 
                But before love came war. Conflict over the border of Texas had sparked the Mexican War, and both Grant and Longstreet were called to the front. Longstreet served with distinction, rising to the rank of Major while commanding part of the 8th US Infantry during the battles of Veracruz, Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec. During the latter battle, he was wounded in the leg while carrying the regimental colors up a fortified hill, which he passed on to his friend, George Pickett, who carried them to the top.
                While he recuperated following the war, Longstreet married Maria and served as a groomsman at Grant’s wedding to Julia. Unlike his friend, Longstreet chose to remain in the Army following the war and served on the Texas frontier, running scouting missions and drilling the 8th Infantry.
                His life, like so many others, was irrevocably changed on April 12th, 1861 when Confederate guns opened fire on Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Though he personally was unenthusiastic about the prospect of succession, Longstreet had been taught by his uncle to believe in States’ Rights, so he resigned his commission and cast his lot with the Confederacy. He was quickly commissioned a brigadier general by President Jefferson Davis and was assigned to Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard.  In this capacity, Longstreet played a minor role during the First Battle of Bull Run, where he endured nine hours of artillery fire and was refused permission to pursue the fleeing Union Army, an action that may have changed the course of the entire war.
                As the Confederate Army solidified itself, Longstreet began to prove himself one of its stars. He put in a strong showing during the Peninsula Campaign, harassing and delaying the hapless Gen. McClellan on his march towards Richmond, and nearly destroyed the Union Army in the Battle of Seven Days with his aggressive assaults. By the end of the campaign, he had become Lee’s most trusted lieutenant, the “staff in my right hand” as Lee put it.
With its imposing trio of commanders at its head – Lee, Longstreet, and Stonewall Jackson – the Confederate Army seemed nearly invincible. Again and again it inflicted humiliating loses on the Army of the Potomac. The Second Battle of Bull Run proved even worse for the Federals than the first, while the winter battle at Fredericksburg was nothing short of a nightmare for the Union. Longstreet played key roles in both battles, including organizing the brutal defenses at Fredericksburg which led to the Union taking eight times as many casualties as the Confederates. The only time they were stopped was at Antietem, where Lee’s initial plan to take the fight to Union territory was turned back in the bloodiest single day in American history. During the battle, Longstreet held off a Union force twice his size to prevent the collapse of Lee’s army.
One of the keys to Longstreet’s success was that he was one of the few commanders in the war who understood the way improved technology had changed the battlefield. With the old ball-and-flint muskets, the attackers had the advantage over the defenders. But with the huge new rifled firearms that were being used now, the defenders could tear an exposed line of marching men to pieces. Again and again, Longstreet exploited this insight to inflict horrific casualties on the Union lines.
Then, in spring 1863 came the Confederacies greatest and most costly victory: Chancellorsville. Lee almost literally ran circles around Union General Joseph Hooker, defeating a force twice his size with a series of brilliant maneuvers. The South had lost fewer men than the North, but one of them was a man they absolutely could not afford to lose. Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot by his own troops while scouting for a follow-up night attack and died a short time later.
Longstreet was not present at the battle. He had been sent several days earlier to besiege to city of Suffolk, Virginia. Following the battle, he and Lee met to discuss the possibility of once again taking the war to the north in the form of a large scale incursion into Pennsylvania, with the potential of assaulting Washington. Longstreet argued against this idea, proposing instead that he should take a portion of the army to confront Ulysses S. Grant, who, along with Gen. Rosecrans, was scoring victory after victory in Tennessee and was currently approaching Vicksburg, potentially capturing the Mississippi River in the process. Lee responded that General Bragg could handle Grant and Rosecrans in the West and denied Longstreet’s request. And so the Army of Northern Virginia, with Lee and Longstreet at its head, marched north on its fateful journey into Pennsylvania.
A chance encounter over a supply of shoes sent both the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac (now commanded by the lackluster General Meade) racing to the sleepy college town of Gettysburg. The Confederates quickly occupied the town, while the Union took the heights of Cemetery Ridge, Culp’s Hill, and Big and Little Round Top. On the second day of the battle, Lee sent Longstreet to dislodge the Union from the Round Tops and so march along the heights rather than attacking them directly. It took Longstreet most of the day to get into position, and when he did he encountered fierce resistance at the local peach orchard, wheat field, and a rocky area nicknamed ‘the Devil’s Den.’ Longstreet managed to drive the Union back from these positions, almost completely destroying the Union Third Corps in the process, but were unable to take the heights, largely due to the incredible courage of the Union 20th Maine on Little Round Top, who held the Confederates off with a bayonet charge after their ammo ran out.
With the Union Line intact and stronger than ever, Lee conceived of an uncharacteristically desperate plan: he would mass he forces and send them straight into the Union line, hoping to break through and seize the strategically crucial Cemetery Ridge by sheer force. Longstreet objected that this was suicidal, but Lee again overruled him. Resigned to his duty, Longstreet ordered his men as well as he could and, too choked with emotional turmoil to speak, gave the order to march with a nod. The center of the assault was led by Longstreet’s friend, George Pickett, who was eager for the chance as his unit had largely missed the fighting so far.
Longstreet had been correct; what became known as Pickett’s Charge was suicide. Twelve thousand men marched in line across three-quarters-of-a-mile of open field straight into the teeth of Union guns and artillery. The Confederates reached the Union line in only one place, a bend in the road called ‘the angle’ where they were quickly repulsed, losing their corps commander, Brig. Gen. Armistead in the process. Longstreet later delivered Armistead’s personal bible to his wife, as per the man’s dying wishes.
Half the men who stepped out on Pickett’s Charge never returned. Pickett himself lost seventy percent of his troops. When General Lee ordered Pickett to form up his division in case of a Union counterattack, Pickett gave the agonized response, “General Lee, I have no division!”
The Confederacy would never recover from the blow, and neither Pickett nor Longstreet would ever forgive Lee for his decision. Following their retreat into Virginia, Longstreet again requested permission to go West, even though Vicksburg had fallen the very day after Gettysburg, and just as he had predicted, the Union now controlled the Mississippi, cutting the South in two. The request was granted in September, 1863. Longstreet travelled nearly eight-hundred miles, taking twenty-six cannons and several thousand men with him, to try to reinforce Bragg, arriving just in time to take part in the Battle of Chickamauga. A devastating mistake by Longstreet’s friend, Gen. Rosecrans, allowed him to rip through the Union lines and nearly destroy the army. He was stopped only by the tenacious defense of another West Point friend, George H. Thomas on Snodgrass Hill.
Bragg’s conduct during the battle was inept; he failed to coordinate his men effectively to trap Thomas, allowing the battered Army of the Cumberland to escape. Longstreet was furious and tried to have Bragg removed, joining with a number of other commanders in the effort. Eventually, President Davis had to intercede, and when he did, he sided with Bragg.
In retaliation, Bragg reduced Longstreet’s command to the men that had come with him from Virginia. He also rejected a plan by Longstreet to head off Union reinforcements that were approaching Chattanooga, with result that Chattanooga, the last Confederate stronghold in Tennessee, fell to the Union in November, 1863.
Disgusted by the conduct of the war in the west, Longstreet headed back to Virginia, soon pursued by Gen. William T. Sherman, whom he managed to escape during the winter. In Virginia, Longstreet learned that Grant had taken command of the whole Union Army. “He will fight us every day and every hour until the end of the war,” he warned gloomily. Yet, like Lee, Longstreet was determined to see things through to the end. He struck a devastating blow during the vicious Battle of the Wilderness, causing one of the Union Commanders he fought to later comment “You rolled me up like a wet blanket,” but he was wounded in the process, shot, like Jackson, by his own men by mistake. This prevented him from pressing his attack, allowing the Union to regroup and continue fighting. The wound kept Longstreet out of the war for most of the spring and summer of 1864.
The unbeatable Confederate command team had been shattered, with Jackson dead and Longstreet wounded. Meanwhile the Union now had a spearhead of commanders of its own in the form of Generals Grant, Sherman, and Phil Sheridan. Together, they mauled the Confederacy throughout 1864 in an almost continuous series of vicious encounters. Sherman ravaged Georgia and South Carolina, Sheridan burned the Shenandoah Valley, and Grant held onto Lee like a bulldog as he wrestled his way closer to Richmond, finally ending with the extended Siege of Petersburg.
Longstreet recovered in time to command the defenses at Petersburg, and when Grant finally broke through his lines retreated with Lee to Appomattox Courthouse. There he counseled Lee to accept Grant’s surrender, trusting that his old friend would be fair to the Confederacy. Lee took Longstreet’s advice, and Grant lived up to his expectations.
With the end of the war, Longstreet moved his family (minus three of his ten children, who had died in a Scarlett Fever epidemic in Richmond) to New Orleans, where he became interested in the cotton and railroad businesses. He was initially refused a pardon from President Andrew Johnson, on the grounds that he had “given the Union too much trouble.” “There are three persons of the South who can never receive amnesty,” Johnson told him. “Mr. Davis, General Lee, and yourself.” Nevertheless, with help from Grant, the U.S. Congress went over Johnson’s head and gave Longstreet his citizenship back in 1868.
Longstreet put his citizenship to work by becoming the only major Confederate officer to join the Republican Party. He endorsed Grant for President and attended his inauguration ceremonies. Grant repaid him by appointing Longstreet as customs surveyor in New Orleans. All this, coupled with his criticism of the beloved Lee, earned him the everlasting hatred of the South. He furthered his pariah status by commanding a force of police and Black militia troops against a rioting White League in New Orleans in 1874. He was wounded and captured by the League, who locked him in his own customs house. When they gave the rebel yell, Longstreet shot them a disdainful look and said “I have heard the yell before.” He was rescued three days later when the League was driven from the city by federal troops sent by Grant.
So unpopular was Longstreet with his fellow southerners that even when he attended services at the local Episcopalian Church the congregation would get up and walk out rather than sit with him. When a local priest, Father Abram Ryan (who had been a Confederate chaplain), discovered this, he invited Longstreet to join the Catholic Church, where he assured him that people only came to worship God and didn’t give a hoot about politics. Longstreet converted in 1877 and remained a devout communicant for the rest of his life.
From then on, he remained active. He served as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1880-1881, a U.S. Marshall from 1881-1884, and U.S. Railroad Commissioner from 1897-1904 under Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt. His wife Maria died in 1889, and Longstreet unexpectedly married again in 1897, to a woman nearly forty years his junior named Helen Dortch. A fire in 1889 unfortunately destroyed most of his Civil War documents, meaning that he was largely unable to defend his legacy during his lifetime. He died in 1904 of pneumonia at the age of 82, having outlived most of his critics. His widow, Helen, outlived him by fifty-eight years, most of which she dedicated to restoring his reputation as one of the great generals of the Confederacy.
Longstreet was a man of immense dignity and principles who understood the war he was fighting better than most of his contemporaries, even, on occasion, his legendary commander. His conduct during the war was mostly a series doing his best in the face of highly adversarial circumstances and receiving little but criticism for reward. Strangely enough, it was that criticism and adversity that drew him into the Church of Christ. His story is a reminder that God uses our adversity to bring us to him.

Vive Christus Rex!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

June 6th, 1944

If you know one of the few who remain who fought at Normandy, take a moment to say thank you while you still can. We owe so much to them. 

If not, watch President Reagan's tribute to the honor and valor of those men.

Vive Christus Rex!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Scripture Readings: Feast of Corpus Christ

First Reading: Genesis 14: 18-20

In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram with these words: "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Second Reading: First Corinthians 11: 23-26

Brothers and sisters: I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,  that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,  took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,  "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Gospel: Luke 9: 11-17

Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured. As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, "Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here." He said to them, "Give them some food yourselves." They replied, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people." Now the men there numbered about five thousand. Then he said to his disciples, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty." They did so and made them all sit down. Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.


            Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, a time to reflect upon the fact that Our Lord remains with us bodily in the form of the Eucharist. Given that, the question emerges of why we have this passage from Luke as the Gospel.
            Well, in the first place, the multiplication of the loaves is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist (in John’s Gospel it leads directly into the Bread of Life Discourse). But more specifically, what it foreshadows is the way that Jesus will, in a sense, multiply Himself. Now, obviously there aren’t multiple Jesuses running around, despite what some people seem to think. But, through the Eucharist, Jesus makes Himself present to us in a new and expanded way.
            When He was in the Flesh, Our Lord could only be in one place at a time. He could only minister to so many people, just like a piece of bread can only feed a certain number of people. That was simply the nature of His bodily existence. But in the Eucharist Christ remains present to us, and in an even more intense and intimate manner, but He is unlimited. He can be bodily present wherever the faithful gather. In multiplying the loaves, Jesus is foreshadowing the way He will distribute Himself among His followers.
            In this it is also significant that Jesus doesn’t just create enough bread to satisfy, but more than enough, so that there is a huge amount left over. In the Eucharist, He isn’t just present to us as He was on that hilltop, but present in an even closer and more immediate way. To put it bluntly, His presence ‘overflows’ just like the loaves and the fish.  

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Famous Catholic Friday: Gen. William S. Rosecrans

In honor of the Feast of St. Joan of Arc last Thursday, today we have our first soldier.

Catholic Credentials: Devout Catholic Convert; always carried a Rosary into battle; enjoyed getting into long theological debates with his staff.

Nerd Credentials: Important and successful Union commander during the Civil War; successful inventor, engineer, politician, and businessman.

                  The story of Union General William S. Rosecrans is one of brilliant success followed by crushing failure. Having achieved some of the most dramatic and important Union victories during the war, Rosecrans also suffered one of the Union’s worst defeats, one that nearly destroyed the Army of the Cumberland and that certainly destroyed Rosecrans as a general.
                  William S. Rosecrans was born and raised a Methodist in Kingston Township, Ohio. He came from a military family, as his father, Crandall Rosecrans, was a veteran of the War of 1812, in which had been an adjutant to General William Henry Harrison (who later became President of the United States, in which capacity he had the longest inaugural address and shortest term in office, dying thirty-days after his inauguration). On his mother’s side, he was the great-grandson of Stephen Hopkins, governor of Rhode Island, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and co-author (with John Adams) of the Articles of Confederation.
                  Young William didn’t have much chance to go to school and had to largely educate himself by reading books. Since he was too poor to go to college, he decided to try for West Point. For this he needed to be appointed by the Congressman of his district, in this case Alexander Harper. Harper, coincidentally, had a son of his own whom he intended to appoint. Rosecrans, however, made his case with such determination that Harper changed his mind and appointed the young clerk instead of his own son.
                  At West Point, William excelled academically, graduating fifth in his class of fifty-six. While there, his roommate and one of his closest friends was a promising young Virginian named James Longstreet. Many years later, the two friends would face each other on the battlefield and it would be Longstreet who would destroy Rosecrans’s military career. Another close friend was William T. Sherman, who was a year ahead of him and whom Rosecrans later described as “always prepared for a lark of any kind.” And the year he graduated, while he was serving as officer of the day, Rosecrans met a naïve fellow Ohioan recruit named Ulysses S. Grant who, though Longstreet would be the one to defeat him, would prove to be Rosecrans greatest enemy.
                  Whereas most of his class soon left for the Mexican War, which would break out in 1846, Rosecrans instead was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers and spent the war teaching military engineering at West Point. But in between his graduation and the outbreak of war with Mexico, two very significant events happened in his life.
                  The first was when he met a Miss Anna Elizabeth Hegeman of New York, fell instantly in love, and married her on August 24th, 1843. The second was when he converted to Catholicism in 1845 during his teaching assignment at West Point. When he wrote home to inform his family of the latter, he was so enthusiastic that he inspired his brother, Sylvester, to covert as well. Sylvester later became a priest and the first Bishop of Columbus
                   With a growing family to support (he and his wife would eventually have eight children), Rosecrans applied for a professorship at the Virginia Military Institute, but was rejected in favor of another West Point graduate: Thomas Jackson, later nicknamed “Stonewall.” Following this disappointment, and plagued with a sudden bout of ill health, Rosecrans resigned the army in 1854 and turned his considerable energies and ingenuities into business. He took over a mining business in what is now West Virginia and built it up into a mighty operation, including installing the first lock and dam system in Virginia, patenting a number of his own inventions (including an odorless oil for lamps and a new, more efficient means for manufacturing soap), and building one of the first oil refineries west of the Alleghenies. It was while working at the latter that one of his inventions –a safety oil lamp, ironically enough – exploded. This left him crippled for a year and a half and scarred for the rest of his life with a perpetual smile. That’s right: the Union Army had their own version of the Joker.
                  Just as he was finishing his recovery, Confederate guns opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, sparking the American Civil War. Rosecrans was a passionate Union man, and within days he had left his businesses and offered his services to the governor of Ohio. He was assigned as an aid-de-camp to the infamous Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, who then had command of all the Ohio volunteers. Rosecrans was set to work building fortifications, drilling recruits, and briefly commanded the 23rd Ohio Infantry, which included a pair of soldiers named Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.
                  His first battles, which were some of the very earliest Union victories in the war were as part of a campaign to prevent Confederate forces from occupying the pro-union counties in West Virginia. Rosecrans faced the Confederates at Rich Mountain and soundly defeated them, leaving half their number killed or captured. Though Rosecrans was the commander on the field and had devised and carried out the plan that led to victory, McClellan received all the credit for the battle (he wrote the report). This was followed by another battle at Corrick’s Ford, where again Rosecrans again met the Confederates (on a much larger scale) and defeated with “much maneuver but little fighting,” and again McClellan helped himself to the credit as Rosecrans’ superior. This was a major factor in McClellan being given command of the Army of the Potomac, which in turn was arguably a major factor in war lasting four years instead of one.
                  After McClellan assumed command following the disaster at Bull Run, Rosecrans took command of West Virginia. In the winter of 1861, Rosecrans drew up plans for a daring campaign to capture Winchester, but McClellan, typically, refused, claiming that if Rosecrans took 20,000 men into Virginia, the Confederates would move an equal number of troops against him. This is highly suspect assertion, but McClellan, apparently just to be safe, transferred 20,000 of Rosecrans men to his own command, leaving him with a grand total of 2000 men to defend West Virginia. It was the first of many times that Rosecrans would clash with his superiors.
                  With the dawning of 1862, Rosecrans’ army was placed under the command of John C. Fremont, and he himself was transferred to the Western Theater, but not before serving as a pathfinder for the disastrous campaign against Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley and clashing with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton over the campaign’s tactics. It was an argument that would turn out to have incalculable consequences for both the war and the nation.
                  In the west, Rosecrans was assigned to the command of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, that same naïve student he had met at West Point so long ago. Under Grant’s direction, Rosecrans devised a plan to engage Confederate General Sterling Price at Iuka, Mississippi, which he accomplished brilliantly, inflicting over twice as many casualties on the Confederates as his own men took. Shortly thereafter, he repulsed a Confederate counterattack at Corinth. During the latter battle a rumor started that he had been slain, so he rode up and down the lines to show his men that he did indeed yet live. Pausing at one point in the battle, he dismounted and said to the soldiers “I stand in the presence of brave men, and I take my hat off to you!”
                  These two battles made Rosecrans a hero in the Northern press, but he had made a crucial mistake. The battle had raged for two days and the Union had again inflicted nearly twice as many casualties on the Confederates. But as the Confederates retreated, Grant gave Rosecrans explicit orders to pursue and destroy the Confederate Army. Rosecrans, however, delayed, pleading that his men needed rest and didn’t set out until the next day, far too late to do any good. The mangled, but still functional Confederate Army escaped to fight another day. Grant was furious, and Rosecrans, per usual, let it be known what he thought of Grant’s objections. The two men had been set at odds and they would never reconcile.
                  In the meantime, though, Rosecrans was promoted to lead the Army of the Cumberland against Confederate General Braxton Bragg. In this capacity, he was one of the most popular officers in the army, known affectionately by his West Point nickname, “Old Rosy.” He was famous for carrying a Rosary everywhere and praying it during battles. He also became known for keeping his officers up all hours discussing theology and, presumably, trying to convert them all. 
                  Months after his appointment, a few days after Christmas, 1862, Rosecrans led the Army of the Cumberland out of Nashville to face General Bragg. The two armies met at Murfreesboro, where they engaged in one of the bloodiest battles of that extremely bloody war. By the end of the first day, the Union had been pushed back up against the Stones River. The fighting was so intense that the center of the battlefield was known forever more as “Hell’s Half-Acre.” At the end of the first day, Rosecrans called a council of war and asked his commanders whether they thought the battle should continue. General George H. Thomas answered “There is no better place to die.” Rosecrans agreed and they prepared for battle the next day.
                  Bragg, for his part, thought he had won. But when New Years Day, 1863, came and went with no Union retreat, he became impatient and ordered an attack. The attack was brutally repulsed, and the next day Rosecrans received badly needed supplies and reinforcements. Bragg, realizing that what he thought was a victory had turned into a hopeless defeat, had no choice but to flee. 12,000 men on each side lay dead, wounded, or captured.
                  The year 1862 had been a terrible year for the Union Army, and it had ended on a particularly grim note with the horrific and senseless battle of Fredericksburg. Had Rosecrans failed at Stones River, it is possible that the Western front could have collapsed and the war failed. Lincoln himself said that “the nation could scarcely have lived over” a defeat at Murfreesboro. Rosecrans, for his part, concluded his report of the battle by declaring “Non nobis Domine! non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam.” Not to us, Lord! Not to us, but to your name be the glory!”
                  It was the high point in his career; Rosecrans’ finest hour. After that, like a cresting wave, it was all downhill.
                  First there was Grant’s Vicksburg campaign. Rosecrans was ordered to attack the Confederates to draw off reinforcements that might have endangered Grant’s siege of Vicksburg. It took repeated orders to move, even from Lincoln himself, to finally coax the Army of the Cumberland out of Nashville and again moved against Bragg. His Tullahoma campaign, from June to July 1863, was another brilliant example of Rosecrans’ skill at maximizing his maneuvers while minimizing casualties. Bragg retreated back to Chattanooga. Unfortunately for Rosecrans, his victory was overshadowed by both Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg and Grant’s victory at Vicksburg occurring the day after the Tullahoma campaign ended.
Stanton, overjoyed by these developments, urged Rosecrans to pursue Bragg and “give the finishing blow to the rebellion.”  Rosecrans, again, delayed while he tried to map out the best way to outmaneuver Bragg. When he finally moved, he pursued Bragg to the Chickamauga Creek.
On September 19th, 1863, the Battle of Chickamauga began. The first day saw Bragg break helplessly against the entrenched Union lines. The second day brought disaster.
Rosecrans, somehow, had gotten word that there was a gap in his lines and ordered Gen. Thomas J. Wood to fill it. Not only was there no gap for Woods to fill, but his movement opened up a real gap just as Rosecrans’ old friend Longstreet was launching a full scale assault on that very point. The Union lines broke like a dam as the Confederates poured in. That very well might have been the end of the Army of the Cumberland, and of the Union success in the west, if hadn’t been for General George H. Thomas who made a tenacious defense of his positions, earning him the nickname “the Rock of Chickamauga.” That night, the Army withdrew to its positions near Chattanooga.
It was the worst defeat the Union suffered in the west in the entire war, and it was entirely Rosecrans responsibility. He had lost over 16,000 men, had nearly destroyed his army, and his attempt to complete the Union conquest of Tennessee had failed. Had it been any other commander, it’s likely that he would have been able to recover his career. But Rosecrans had offended and infuriated both his commanding officer and the Secretary of War, meaning that both Grant and Stanton were eager to be rid of him. Grant met with Rosecrans outside of Chattanooga, received his plans for taking the city, and relieved him of his command. Rosecrans went to Cincinnati to await further orders. In January 1864, he was sent to Missouri, far from any fighting. His military career was over.
And yet, even now he came within a hair’s breadth of ascending to the highest possible office. During the election of 1864, Lincoln’s campaign was looking to replace the unpopular Vice President Hannibal Hamlin with someone who would bring votes from the Democratic Party. Rosecrans was a life long Democrat, and his former chief of staff, James Garfield, telegraphed him to ask if he could run as Lincoln’s new Vice President. Rosecrans gave a cautiously positive reply, but Garfield never received it. It’s speculated that Stanton, ever his enemy, intercepted and suppressed it. Had he not, and had the experienced, popular soldier Rosecrans assumed the Presidency instead of the hapless Andrew Johnson, then the history of the nation might have turned out very differently.
With the end of the war came the end of his military career. Rosecrans returned to business, trying his hand at railroads. He briefly served as Minister to Mexico, but the election of his old enemy Grant to the presidency ended his diplomatic career. Rosecrans tried to use his Mexican experience to build railroads down there, but the venture was failure. He eventually moved his family out to California, where his fortunes improved somewhat, though he was never as successful after the war as he had been before. Following a period where he was approached and declined numerous political posts (earning him a new nickname; the Great Decliner), he served as a Congressman from California from 1881 to 1885. At the same time, his old friend Garfield was elected President, partially by taking credit for some of Rosecrans’s wartime successes. This destroyed their friendship, and with Garfield’s assassination within months, they never reconciled. Rosecrans himself died a beleaguered, but hardly destitute man in 1898.  
 Rosecrans is a living example of the saying “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” He rose to almost the pinnacle of military success and arguably saved the Union cause by his heroic actions, only to nearly destroy it by one terrible mistake. Yet he never wavered in his faith, nor doubted that God was with him, even in his worst hours. He is a reminder to us all that great success can be followed by equally great failure, but God watches over us always.

Vive Christus Rex!