Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Paules, Katievs, and Archbishop Chaput

 

“I tend to stand,” Paules wrote yesterday, “with the moral philosophers at Ricochet who believe that the erosion of public morality is a greater threat to liberty than any external force.” Without disagreeing, Katievs said, in effect, don’t frighten yourself to death. “I’m reminding myself a lot lately of the wisdom of the saints. Attend to the tasks of each day and hour. Trust that the grace will be provided for what lies ahead.”

Both Paules and Katievs, I thought, reading their posts yesterday, possessed important insights–insights with which I myself agree. At the same time, I felt a certain tension between them. Paules wants to think about the future, getting a sense of where contemporary developments are heading. And isn’t every thoughtful American inclined to do just that, even if the future looks unnerving? Katievs wants to put worries out of mind, directing our attention to the tasks each of us has at hand. And isn’t that a perfectly sensible approach? But which is it? Are we to think big thoughts? Or confine ourselves to the quotidian? In the present moment, which so many aspects of the American experiment appear to be in danger, what are we to do?

In Washington yesterday, Archbishop of Philadelphia, Rev. Charles Chaput, addressed just that question. The Archbishop’s address strikes me as brilliant, wise, learned, compelling, and–a vital point–helpful. Are things going badly? They are indeed, said the Archbishop–even more badly, perhaps, then we sometimes permit ourselves to realize:

It took less than 30 years for abortion to go from a crime against humanity at Nuremberg to a constitutional right. It’s taken even less time for disordered sexuality to become sacralized in law and redirect the course of our culture….And if we think we have some kind of safe haven from these events in America’s tradition of religious freedom, we should probably think again.

800px-Marco_Aurelio_bronzo.jpgHow, then, are we to lead our lives? What are we to do? The Archbishop directs much of his answer, of course, to Catholics, but–and this struck me as very nearly the most powerful part of his remarks–he also holds up an example of purely human, secular virtue: Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor from A.D. 161 to 180.

[M]any of this thoughts, which we now call the Meditations, were written at war, at night, in winter, from inside a Roman military tent, on the German frontier….[Marcus Aurelius] fought one brutal war after another…and he did it to defend a society that had already lost the values he held dear. Moreover, in the long run he failed. The barbarians won.

Why is Marcus Aurelius worthy of our attention? Because “he chose to seek what is true and right and lasting, and he disciplined his own life accordingly.” The Archbishop offers specific suggestions about what we must do to reclaim American culture–and he insists that whether or not we are likely to succeed is really not for us to say. We must, like Marcus Aurelius, fight the fight in which we find ourselves. In the words of Archbishop Chaput:

Nothing is more compelling than a good man in an evil time.

There are 55 comments.

  1. Fricosis Guy Listener

    I’m with @Drusus. Marcus Aurelius abandoned the most successful succession tradition the Empire knew to establish a blood dynasty. Hardly a model of discernment.

    • #1
    • July 11, 2013, at 3:48 AM PST
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  2. Percival Thatcher

    It might be that all one can do is to order one’s own little garden to the best of one’s ability, and encourage others to do so as well. I try to take my comfort out of that, and out of God’s love. Mainly out of God’s love. The rest can be taken from me: to that rock I’ll cling.

    As Drusus and Fricosis Guy say, although Marcus Aurelius might have ruled with wisdom and prudence, he is also the reason why the Five Good Emperors weren’t the Six Good Emperors.

    • #2
    • July 11, 2013, at 4:08 AM PST
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  3. Giantkiller Member

    Thank you, Peter – a very thoughtful post. Archbishop Chaput always provides a welcome note of calm and holy insight.

    • #3
    • July 11, 2013, at 4:19 AM PST
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  4. Tommy De Seno Contributor

    At what year was America at her best?

    What made that year best?

    • #4
    • July 11, 2013, at 4:19 AM PST
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  5. J Climacus Member

    We must, like Marcus Aurelius, fight the fight in which we find ourselves.

    or as another wise man said…

    ‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo

    ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

    • #5
    • July 11, 2013, at 4:43 AM PST
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  6. The Mugwump Inactive

    Aiyee! So much to comment on!

    Let’s start with Marcus Aurelius. Don’t bother with his biography, just pick up a copy of his Meditations. While you’re at it, pick up some Confucian philosophy. If you put the two authors side by side, you will swear they must be the same person. Both were focused primarily on what it means to live a virtuous life. Two men separated by 700 years, half a world, a different language and culture pretty much arrived at the same place. Anyone in the mood for a nice heaping spoonful of universal truth?

    • #6
    • July 11, 2013, at 5:10 AM PST
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  7. J Climacus Member

    Peter, the address by the Archbishop is one of the most profound and inspiring things I’ve read in a long, long time… thanks for pointing us to it.

    • #7
    • July 11, 2013, at 5:36 AM PST
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  8. The Mugwump Inactive

    Re: ~Paules vs. Katievs

    I’ll defer to the superior wisdom of my sister. I tend to fret too much about things I can’t change anyway. How do you teach moral virtue to a populace marinated for a generation in a broth of subjective truth? It’s rather pointless to make an intellectual appeal to people taught to believe that their emotions are the only authentic barometer.

    The advice of my sister is both practical and wise. We are each personally responsible before God for our deeds, but we do not bear any collective responsibility for the errors made by others. “The duty is ours,” said Stonewall, “but the consequences belong to God.” I find that reassuring. If we focus on the duties of the day, the rest will sort itself out.

    • #8
    • July 11, 2013, at 5:39 AM PST
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  9. Fredösphere Member

    In the long run, the Roman experiment failed? Oh really? I’d say it’s too soon to tell.

    • #9
    • July 11, 2013, at 5:49 AM PST
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  10. J Climacus Member

    It’s true that Marcus Aurelius was not able to arrest the cultural decline of Rome. Maybe no man could have. But he did the one thing necessary and the one thing that made a cultural rebirth at least possible – which was to call Romans back to virtue supported by an exemplary life.

    We are past the point where political fixes will really do anything or perhaps are even possible. Political fixes work when the politics have gotten misaligned with a fundamentally virtuous civic culture, but that’s not what is happening now. What’s happening is that our politics is realigning itself to a fundamentally corrupt civic culture. That’s why there seems to be an unstoppable momentum for things like gay marriage. Traditional marriage makes sense only in a virtuous culture, i.e. one in which people are educated in virtue. It makes no sense in our culture of self-indulgence and living in the moment and, as Aristotle taught us, you can’t argue a vicious man into virtue.

    Our only hope is to renew the culture from the ground up… which means living as witnesses to virtue, and perhaps martyrdom.

    • #10
    • July 11, 2013, at 5:58 AM PST
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  11. Liver Pate Inactive

    Marcus Aurelius abandoned the most successful succession tradition the Empire knew to establish a blood dynasty.

    Careful writers often bury implicit messages in their public writings. You may wish to think about current US “blood dynasties” and whether there’s a veiled message within them.

    • #11
    • July 11, 2013, at 6:03 AM PST
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  12. Schrodinger's Cat Inactive

    Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

    Let the dead Past bury its dead!

    Act, – act in the living Present!

    Heart within, and God o’erhead!

     

    From Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life.

    • #12
    • July 11, 2013, at 6:06 AM PST
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  13. J Climacus Member

    We need to remember that no man wants to live in misery and ignorance, which are the fruits of a vicious life. But vice can have a short-term attraction because, initially, you can dispense with the difficulty of living a virtuous life before the consequences catch up with you. We are currently doing this in many different ways, not least of which is by subsidizing our corrupt culture by massive borrowing and debt. But this party is about to end, and we will relearn the lesson that the only path to happiness and truth is through virtue and there are no shortcuts.

    As long as we can keep on putting off the day of reckoning via more debt, money-printing, etc., which in effect hides our sins with cash, the culture in general is not going to listen to the warnings. But when the crisis hits, people will start to listen as the lies they have been told are exposed… and it is at that time that the witness to the virtuous life may begin to bear fruit.

    • #13
    • July 11, 2013, at 6:11 AM PST
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  14. Animositas Inactive
    Fredösphere: In the long run, the Roman experiment failed? Oh really? I’d say it’s too soon to tell. · 20 minutes ago

    Wow, now that’s really taking the long view.

    • #14
    • July 11, 2013, at 6:14 AM PST
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  15. KC Mulville Inactive

    Well … who does philosophy anymore anyway? Who does meditation? Who prays? Who does reflection on virtues?

    The unexamined life is not worth living. (Funny, I’m sure I heard someone say that once.)

    The regular practice of examination, prayer, meditation, contemplation, and even study … gives depth to life, rescuing us from the mere drudgery of living it. But like Marcus Aurelius, we have to make such contemplations while living it, while in the midst of troubles, bills, and Democrats (but I repeat myself).

    We have to be, in other words, contemplatives in action.

    • #15
    • July 11, 2013, at 6:27 AM PST
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  16. katievs Member
    ~Paules: Re: ~Paules vs. Katievs

    I’ll defer to the superior wisdom of my sister. 

    What I said is what I have to preach to myself, because like you, dear Paules, I fret. Like you, I see what’s coming, and I see how few others see it—how ill-prepared we all are. 

    But I’m consoled by another thought from another one of my good Archbishop’s homilies: “We don’t know what kind of America we’re going to be living in, but we know it’s the one God wants us to be in.”

    I believe that.

    • #16
    • July 11, 2013, at 6:38 AM PST
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  17. katievs Member

    About this point: 

    Nothing is more compelling than a good man in an evil time.

    My daughter was married on Friday. At moments my natural melancholy would incline to thoughts like: “What kind of a world will she be raising her children in?!”

    But at other moments I felt so elated to be offering the world this beautiful witness of true marriage at just this moment in time. She was married in the Year of Faith, on the very day the Pope promulgated his first encyclical “The Light of Faith”.

    Fills me with hope.

    • #17
    • July 11, 2013, at 6:45 AM PST
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  18. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member
    Tommy De Seno: At what year was America at her best?

    What made that year best?

    1982.

    At least, that’s my standard answer, and the coordinates I’ve locked into my time machine. Should I finally get it functioning properly, that’s where I’m headed.

    25 years of prosperity! Plus video game arcades awaiting my quarters. Woo!!

    • #18
    • July 11, 2013, at 6:55 AM PST
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  19. Western Chauvinist Member

    Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge, he will lose sight of what is essential.iv” To put it another way: Wisdom comes to the humble, not to the proud. And that simple truth may help us understand the moment we’ve arrived at in the life of our nation

    Oh, my! Archbishop Chaput couldn’t be making a subtle reference to the president who perpetually bemoans the lack of humility on the part of… the nation he leads. Could he?

    Being a fan of the absurd, I always love it when our president pridefully pleads for America to act with humility. Can’t say I enjoy that he humiliates us, though.

    With the Left, it’s always about their (godless) virtue.

    Thanks for posting this, Peter. I’m passing it around and posting it on my (metaphorical) door. 

    • #19
    • July 11, 2013, at 7:01 AM PST
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  20. BlueAnt Member

    At the risk of sounding callous, this is an easy quandary for those of us with no children.

    Western civilization is coming to an end? Before we can answer “who cares” we have to ask “who will be around to care?” No progeny, no worries. Empires and political states always crumble eventually–and here is where I make my usual tired allusions to Rome, except the Archbishop helpfully brought it up first.

    Liberty at the individual level is easily secured through withdrawal from society; having a family to take care of binds you to your surroundings. Being virtuous in the moment is always an easy moral call, and sufficient for the individual. Concern arises only if you must worry about the virtue of some future environment, instead of your own personal future.

    In short, if you are forced to care about social levels of liberty, then Paules is right to fear, and you have something to fight for. I don’t want to resurrect the women vs unmarried men fights from a few months ago, but… the “freedom of bachelorhood” is a very real, multifaceted thing.

    (Why yes, I am a doom ‘n’ gloom conservative, how could you tell?)

    • #20
    • July 11, 2013, at 7:08 AM PST
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  21. The Mugwump Inactive
    Western Chauvinist:

    With the Left, it’s always about their (godless) virtue.

    The left defines virtue as whatever feeds their animal appetites. Therein lies the danger. They start as mean and base until they devolve into the cruel and tyrannical. When a man rejects God, he himself becomes the final moral authority. Power becomes his god, and the pursuit of power the justification for his actions. It ends in the gulag.

    • #21
    • July 11, 2013, at 7:15 AM PST
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  22. Fricosis Guy Listener

    Thanks for catching that one, Areopagite.

    I always rail during Gladiator that the bloody fool should never have elevated the bloodier fool to the purple (I almost ruined the assasination plot device for my wife in the theatre).

    Pseudodionysius

    Marcus Aurelius abandoned the most successful succession tradition the Empire knew to establish ablood dynasty.

    Careful writers often bury implicit messages in their public writings. You may wish to think about current US “blood dynasties” and whether there’s a veiled message within them. · 1 hour ago

    • #22
    • July 11, 2013, at 7:32 AM PST
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  23. Bill Thom Inactive

    I’ve never forgiven Joaquin Phoenix for killing Marcus Aurelius.

    • #23
    • July 11, 2013, at 7:40 AM PST
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  24. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author
    katievs:

    My daughter was married on Friday….

    Fills me with hope. · 1 hour ago

    Setting everything else aside for just one moment….

    CONGRATULATIONS!

    • #24
    • July 11, 2013, at 7:59 AM PST
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  25. Percival Thatcher
    Peter Robinson
    katievs:

    My daughter was married on Friday….

    Fills me with hope. · 1 hour ago

    Setting everything else aside for just one moment….

    CONGRATULATIONS! · 42 minutes ago

    At least her kids will be blessed with an awesome grandma.

    • #25
    • July 11, 2013, at 8:56 AM PST
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  26. Fredösphere Member
    Animositas
    Fredösphere: In the long run, the Roman experiment failed? Oh really? I’d say it’s too soon to tell. · 20 minutes ago

    Wow, now that’s reallytaking the long view. · 2 hours ago

    Heh. That’s a reference to Chou En Lai’s comment about the French Revolution.

    • #26
    • July 11, 2013, at 9:12 AM PST
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  27. Roberto, Crusty Old Timer Member
    Fredösphere
    Animositas
    Fredösphere: In the long run, the Roman experiment failed? Oh really? I’d say it’s too soon to tell. · 20 minutes ago

    Wow, now that’s reallytaking the long view. · 2 hours ago

    Heh. That’s a reference to Chou En Lai’s comment about the French Revolution. · 20 minutes ago

    An amusing aside to this off quoted cliché is the claim by Chas Freeman, a foreign service officer at the time, that the exchange was actually just the result of a poor translation:

    The former premier’s answer has become a frequently deployed cliché, used as evidence of the sage Chinese ability to think long-term – in contrast to impatient westerners. The trouble is that Zhou was not referring to the 1789 storming of the Bastille in a discussion with Richard Nixon during the late US president’s pioneering China visit. Zhou’s answer related to events only three years earlier – the 1968 students’ riots in Paris, according to Nixon’s interpreter at the time.

    Hmm, I wonder if this is a case where we are better off with the error.

    • #27
    • July 11, 2013, at 9:50 AM PST
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  28. Fredösphere Member

    Thanks, Roberto. That’s really interesting.

    I find Chou En Lai’s (possibly misleading) comment amusing. After five disposable republics, two Napoleons, two subsequent uprisings in 1848 and 1968, and the Nazi collaboration, that wily old man of the hard left chooses to avoid concluding that the French Revolution was the abject failure that it manifestly is.

    • #28
    • July 11, 2013, at 9:55 AM PST
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  29. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Amen.

    • #29
    • July 11, 2013, at 10:47 AM PST
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  30. Man With the Axe Member

    Those that prophecy the end of the American experiment and western civilization (e.g., Mark Steyn) could turn out to be right, but the outcome is not yet written. The prophets of doom provide a great service if they serve to awaken the somnambulant and rally them to action, thus proving themselves (the doomsayers) ultimately wrong.

    Think about how bleak it must have seemed to our forebears during the depression and the first years of World War II. Most did not despair, nor did they turn inward. Nor should we.

    • #30
    • July 11, 2013, at 10:52 AM PST
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