The Catholic Thing
A Rediscovered Dialogue Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 19 March 2012

Along the river Ilissus, under the plane trees, on a sunny spring day.

P: Socrates, what are you doing here? You always say that you can learn nothing from nature. You’ve told us that we must be among other human beings in the city, reasoning along with them, if we are ever going to draw near to wisdom.

S: True, my dear Phaedrus. But lately I feel a great need to be alone. And outside the walls of our city, which more and more preoccupies me. When I stand alone beside a pillar, lost in contemplation, as you know often happens, people mock me – as if meditation were idle, and bustling around the only profitable thing.

P: It’s funny you say that because I came out here myself – where we had our last talk, as you may remember – because I wanted to get away from the current uproar and try to figure some things out.

S: I’ll never forget that conversation of ours Phaedrus, because we came to several important truths about the nature of love and the way it moves speech, people, and cities – a subject I never tire of.

P: Well, that’s just the thing, Socrates. There’s almost a fistfight going on at home just now about matters of love, the gods, and the city.

S: Then I’m glad, because those are three important things human beings must come to understand.

P: They aren’t seeking much understanding just at this moment, Socrates. It all started when a woman of Lesbos, who also seems to worship a god – he’s named Buda, I think – whose teachings come from the distant lands where the sun rises, entered a shrine to another god – I think also from the East, but his followers are now in the West, the Romaioi I think they’re called – and demanded to be allowed to participate in their most sacred mysteries, which they were celebrating for her mother, who just died, and. . . .

S: Slow down, Phaedrus. You’re mixing up many things because of your passions, which young people should check, if they want to reason their way to truth. Do you realize that you just said that a woman from Lesbos who follows “Buda” demanded to be admitted to another god’s most sacred mysteries.

P: That’s exactly right. And she’s denounced a priest – who refused her – to his superiors, the high priests, demanding he be banished. The high priests are embroiled in a dispute with the city just now over their right to follow their own ways of devotion to the god. And – at least so goes the gossip – some of them really don’t like confrontation. In any case, they removed the priest.

S: My young friend, have you lost your wits? You’re saying that the high priests of the cult of one god are reprimanding one of their own because he didn’t admit a woman who worships another god to their sacred rites? The high priests are prudent and steady men. I’m sure you have things mixed up. That isn’t the least bit logical or sensible. It would only invite chaos and further conflicts.

              Socrates and Phaedrus

P: I don’t know about any of that. But I do know that she is indeed demanding the priest be dismissed. And it’s the talk of the agora. Moreover, the professional gossipers are reporting that some people who claim to be followers of the Western god are saying that she’s right: anyone who deems himself worthy should be admitted to their sacred mysteries.

S: Well. Here is something new, my young friend. Why even have sacred mysteries at all, if anyone may decide to walk in and participate in them? It makes the temple like one of those food shops along the open porticoes in the agora.

P: I know, Socrates. And what’s stranger is that the high priests of the Western god apologized to her in a letter. They didn’t say, exactly, that what she wanted was okay. But somehow they seem to believe that she was wronged, that it wasn’t just a misunderstanding. And even stranger, at the same time, they’re trying to resist the current rulers of the city, who are trying to regulate the schools and agencies of the Western cult, which is arguing that it has a right to its own distinctive beliefs and practices.

S: If what you say is true, my young friend, this is not good for the city. If private citizens can demand almost anything, even from the priests, they will soon be doing the same with their fellow citizens, and the rulers themselves. And the rulers will go along because they want the people’s support, and then our beloved Athenian Constitution will be like an Egyptian parchment buried beneath sand.

P: Some scattered individuals have made that point Socrates. But the conflict grows greater and greater, with no end in sight.

S: I am not surprised. This bodes ill. To introduce quarrels among the gods into the affairs of men often leads to disaster. You have studied Homer. Troy was destroyed because of the Apple of Discord that forced Paris to choose between two goddesses. And Odysseus, poor man, had to wander for ten years because he got caught up in that dispute. And even when worshippers offend their own god, it’s no better. Some barbarian tribes, I’m told, believe that their god has made the people spend forty years in a desert for their offenses – so that a whole, evil generation would die out.

P: The gods forbid that such a fate should fall on our city.

S. May they indeed, o pious Phaedrus. And may the heavenly love that sets all other loves in divine harmony come down and powerfully show itself among us again. 

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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written by Titus, March 19, 2012
Well, we might maintain that the Church's positive law on admission to the sacraments and apostasy is not written as well as it might be. And we might easily agree that the judgment of the priest in question was entirely understandable and that his cashiering was uncalled for. But if Dr. Peters is correct about what the law means---and his position cannot reasonably be described as it is described here---then the observation that the priest acted incorrectly is correct. It's elementary that two wrongs do not make a right; a priest who does what the Church's law compels cannot be responsible for the sacrilege that someone else uses the circumstances to commit. How many people who identify themselves as Catholics approach the Blessed Sacrament unworthily each day? Each time we do so we solicit the assistance of our priest in our sacrilege: yet no one howls at that situation. The law, even the law that this vile woman manipulated for her own purposes, exists for the protection and salvation of all of us. Antinomianism is no cure for thuggery.
written by Savonarola, March 19, 2012
Well done, Bob. On the other hand, they love Ms. Johnson at the New Ways Ministry !
written by Achilles, March 19, 2012
Dr. Royal, very entertaining! Dr. Peter’s may be technically correct according to the letter of the law. However, Fr. Guarnizo is a soldier for Christ and he claimed his judgment was not about 915 and perhaps it is not impossible for him to have determined that Ms. Johnson’s sin was manifest, grave, obstinate etc… If he erred, there is still compassionate charity behind those actions in a message to Ms. Johnson to repent.

Dear Manfred,
I am not too comfortable with the idea of our Holy Father kissing the Quran but I must stop short of judging his heart and condemning him when it is more likely that he was imitating St. Paul in “being all things to all men” or St. Francis in his interactions with the Muslims. Jesus commands His disciples to “judge correctly”. Talk about the tail wagging the dog or the one trick pony, your “novus ordo” complex is a hammer and everything you see is a nail. You presume to know that Bishop Fellay “wants nothing to do with the Church”???? How would you know this? The same way you believe you have license to insult John Paul the Great? If you are right about the Bishop, what does that say about his character for entertaining these talks if he wants nothing to do with the Church?
Manfred, I would kiss you even knowing that you are an ideologue with a deeply flawed ideology and a world view that doesn’t square with reality because I know of your incalculable dignity and worth as a human soul.
Please pray for me, Achilles
written by senex, March 19, 2012
How much longer, Socrates, will the high priests of the capital abuse the gods? The high priests demand that we follow their teachings unless and until it causes a public outcry. For them the lesser ministers of the gods are held in no repute and are sacrificed when they follow the rule of the gods. How, O Socrates, shall we know what is right and just and how we should act when the people’s demands are more pleasing to the high priests than the acts of the ministers of the gods? I am confused.
written by Manfred, March 19, 2012
You may have heard/read that a priest/chaplain? of the Kansas Legislature was invited beforehand to offer an opening prayer. In the prayer he asked that marriage be recognized as between a man and a woman, abortion was a great evil, etc. This brought down the wrath of the legislators on him for crossing politically correct lines, yadda, yadda.
The initials of his order are F.S.S.P. A new day is dawning with an A-Team of young priests.
written by Arnobius of Sicca, March 19, 2012
To answer Socrates with Aristotle,

" To say that what is is not, or that what is not is, is false; but to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true; and therefore also he who says that a thing is or is not will say either what is true or what is false.

—Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1011b 25"

I am inclined to think Mr. Peters has more accurately assessed the situation (said that what is, is) then the article does. This doesn't mean I think Fr. Guarnizo is a bad priest. Far from it. I think he acted in good faith in a very difficult situation.

Obviously we need to pray both for Fr. Guarnizo and his bishop, but avoid making "good guys and villains" out of the two.
written by Robert Royal, March 20, 2012
Arnobius, you are assuming that this fictional dialogue is an analysis. There may be a reason why Phaedrus is reporting rumors and Socrates is not entirely convinced that he has things right. And it may also matter that the impression the events have made, whatever the truth of the case, seems disturbing.

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