Posts tagged with: Thomas More

Hobby-Lobby-StoreJustice Antonin Scalia caused quite the stir by attending President Obama’s inauguration ceremony wearing a custom-made replica of the painter’s hat depicted in a famous portrait of St. Thomas More, the well-known Catholic statesman and martyr.

Whether Scalia intended it or not, observers quickly translated the act as a quiet game of connect-the-dots between the administration’s punitive HHS mandate and Henry VIII’s executioner, leading conservatives to applaud while progressives don their own less fashionable bonnets of protest.

Although I don’t expect actual heads to roll anytime soon, the symbolism is fitting indeed. This an administration that seeks to lure Christians away from their consciences through threats of economic penalties and pain. If your religious beliefs happen to clash with the coercive methods and materialistic aims of this administration, blood shall be spilt on the altar of “access.”

The irony abounds. Keep in mind that President Obama ran a campaign that ridiculed Mitt Romney as an Ebenezer Scrooge who clings to his coins without empathy for others and without regard for ethics and morality (all despite Romney’s strong record of charitable giving, might I add). Then and now, this same President seeks to persecute good people like Hobby Lobby’s CEO through economic penalties in the millions of dollars, all for the abonimable sin of caring about and believing in something before and beyond the dollar.

If the great secret of capitalism is its power to leverage and channel the human spirit toward more transcendent ends, the great irony of progressivism is its propensity to take on the image of its own materialistic critiques. (more…)

At most inaugural events the sartorial buzz is about what designer dress the First Lady is wearing. But yesterday everyone was more interested in a Supreme Court Justice’s hat. Many people were left wondering: Why is Antonin Scalia wearing a renaissance era painter’s hat?

University of Richmond School of Law professor Kevin Walsh has the answer:
morescalia

The hat is a custom-made replica of the hat depicted in Holbein’s famous portrait of St. Thomas More. It was a gift from the St. Thomas More Society of Richmond, Virginia. We presented it to him in November 2010 as a memento of his participation in our 27th annual Red Mass and dinner.

Was the imitation of More a form of silent protest? As First Things’ Matthew Schmitz says:

Wearing the cap of a statesman who defended liberty of church and integrity of Christian conscience to the inauguration of a president whose policies have imperiled both: Make of it what you will.

Have a new book, or one not so new, that you’d like to recommend to PowerBlog readers for packing away to the beach and vacation spot? Add your picks to the comment box on this post.

Let’s begin with five books selected by Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg, who was a contributor to National Review Online’s symposium, “Got Summer Reading?”

By Samuel Gregg

For those who sense we’re presently reliving the 1930s (sigh), this is the book Paul Krugman and the other high priests of the economic left don’t want you to read. Anyone searching for an account of the New Deal that simply tells the truth about how and why it failed will benefit from reading Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man (2008). Her well-written narrative of the Roosevelt administration’s failures and arbitrariness as it wrestled with the Great Depression not only reveals the New Dealers as truly out of their depth; it also indirectly raisesquestions about some disturbing trends in contemporary American political and economic life.

Another book that gets beneath superficial commentary on a subject that needs further discussion is David Satter’s It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway (2012). As we all know, the Left in America and Europe (in fact, everywhere) has never really acknowledged the full barbarity of Communism. Satter’s text, however, underscores just how much denial and downplaying of the sheer moral and physical destruction wrought by the Soviet experiment continue to poison contemporary Russian politics and culture. (more…)

In Utopia, many modern intellectuals say Sir Thomas More advocates an ideal political and social order without private property, competition, citizens quarreling over worldly possessions, poverty and other “evils” supposedly brought on by a market-based society.

At least that is the way social liberals, including left-leaning Christians, tend to interpret this great saint’s 1516 literary masterpiece, believing the English Catholic statesman’s work presents his vision of an ideal Christian commonwealth modeled on the early Church (even if those proto-communist experiments failed).

Recently, Istituto Acton (Acton’s office in Rome) hosted an illuminating seminar led by the medievalist scholar, Dr. John Boyle, whose April 23 presentation Why Thomas More’s Utopia is not a Communist Manifesto addressed some of the common misconceptions of More’s political fiction.

Dr. Boyle is director of the Graduate Program in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and is currently finishing a semester teaching at the University’s Rome campus. He is also a former professor of mine from my glory days at the St. Ignatius Institute of the University of San Francisco in the late 80s. We welcomed him to lead our monthly “Campus Martius” seminar – organized for English-speaking students of the pontifical universities.

Dr. Boyle began the seminar by putting Thomas More’s Utopia in its proper place as a work of intellectual sarcasm.

The entire work, Boyle said, does not represent a paradise-on-earth scenario the English political genius and martyr actively searched for.

Indeed, Boyle explained that Utopia was so cleverly crafted in the Latin language that even erudite Renaissance humanists – the audience to whom More addressed the great social-political questions of his time –might not have understood the subtle brunt of his irony: “Utopia is certainly a puzzling work, which puzzled even More’s contemporaries. Indeed, Utopia is a work of stunning complexity and sophistication, written especially for More’s renaissance contemporaries,” Boyle said.

The seminar was attended by Zenit’s Rome correspondent, Ann Schneibel, who published a follow-up interview with Dr. Boyle yesterday.

While remarking on some of the main communist values playfully envisioned in Utopia (e.g. command and control economies, regulated lifestyles and fashion, shared gardens and housing for family communes, absence of private property, eradication of human envy, etc), Boyle told Zenit:

The political order is not the source of our happiness. This is a theological point, but it’s very dear to More’s heart. The political order can serve to help order men to their happiness, but it cannot achieve it. This is a matter of Church, of the City ofGod. Political order can more or less help, but it can’t achieve what I think, in the modern sense, is the Utopian dream.

Utopia is a very cautionary tale. I’d say it’s relevant in all kinds of ways, as well as reminding us of humorous good things,” Boyle said.

During the seminar Dr. Boyle explained that More’s life-long friend Erasmus of Rotterdam, the great Dutch humanist and Catholic priest who arranged for the publication of Utopia, wrote to his colleagues in private letters that if they really wanted a good laugh they had better read More’s book about the fictitious island.

“Some of the names [of places] used in Utopia are famously indicative of this [humor]…Utopia is a Greek neologism for ‘nowhere’, the principal city of the island is Amaurot, which means “foggy or phantom”, the principal river…is the Anider,  which is Greek for ‘waterless,’ and the man who tells the story of Utopia, Raphael Hythloday, [his surname] is probably best translated as ‘peddler of nonsense’.

To read the rest of Dr. Boyle’s Zenit interview, go here. For your pleasure, you can listen to the entire April 23 Campus Martius seminar below.

 

This week’s Acton commentary from Research Director Samuel Gregg. Sign up for Acton News & Commentary here.

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Benedict’s Creative Minority

By Samuel Gregg

In the wake of Benedict XVI’s recent trip to Britain, we have witnessed—yet again—most journalists’ inability to read this pontificate accurately. Whether it was Queen Elizabeth’s gracious welcoming address, Prime Minister David Cameron’s sensible reflections, or the tens of thousands of happy faces of all ages and colors who came to see Benedict in Scotland and England (utterly dwarfing the rather strange collection of angry Kafkaesque protestors), all these facts quickly disproved the usual suspects’ predictions of low-turnouts and massive anti-pope demonstrations.

Indeed, off-stage voices from Britain’s increasingly not-so-cultured elites—such as the celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins and others whom the English historian Michael Burleigh recently described as “sundry chasers of limelight” and products of a “self-satisfied provincialism”—were relegated to the sidelines. As David Cameron said, Benedict “challenged the whole country to sit up and think.”

Of course the success of Benedict’s visit doesn’t mean Britain is about to return to its Christian roots. In fact, it’s tempting to say present-day Britain represents one possible—and rather depressing—European future.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates mass at Westminster Cathedral


In an article welcoming Benedict’s visit to Britain, the UK’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs observed, “Whether or not you accept the phrase ‘broken society,’ not all is well in contemporary Britain.” The facts cited by Sach were sobering. In 2008, 45 percent of British children were born outside marriage; 3.9 million children are living in poverty; 20 percent of deaths among young people aged from 15 to 24 are suicides; in 2009, 29.4 million antidepressants were dispensed, up 334 percent from 1985.

Such is the fruit of a deeply-secularized, über-utilitarian culture that tolerates Christians until they start questioning the coherence of societies which can’t speak of truth and error, good and evil, save in the feeble jargon of whatever passes for political correctness at a given moment.

But what few commentators have grasped is that Benedict has long foreseen that, for at least another generation, this may well be the reality confronting those European Catholics and other Christians who won’t bend the knee to political correctness or militant secularism. Accordingly, he’s preparing Catholicism for its future in Europe as what Benedict calls a “creative minority.” (more…)