Wednesday, January 22, 2014

News from the Lessons

If you're preaching this week, here are a couple of tidbits you might use.

1)  We are now in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an event often observed principally in the breach by American churches.

In Romania, touchingly, it was a pretty big deal.  Churches that genuinely hated each other, and had a long tradition of doing dirt to one another whenever possible, would do their best to suck it up on this one week and try to imagine what it would be like to live the way Jesus wanted them to.

Anyway, the theme of this year's Week of Prayer, "Is Christ Divided?", is taken directly from Sunday's Epistle.

2) "I will make you fish for people," the NRSV translation of Matthew 4:19, is grammatically misleading.  Jesus promises to make the fishermen into something.  And what he promises to make them is a noun, not a verb -- fishers (haliei).

This may very well matter to a preacher.  The word Jesus uses for "make" is poieso, from poiein.  It is the root of our English word "poetry," for which page Sir Philip Sidney and his dubious argument that poets make a new world which is actually better than nature's.  And when we confess in the Nicene Creed that the Father is the "maker" of Heaven and Earth, the underlying Greek is poieten.  One interpretation, then, is that when Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, he offers to make them anew -- with the implication that his mission is in fact a new creation for the whole world.

Another, less cosmic, interpretation is simply that Jesus is giving these two people a new identity.  But this is where the grammar comes in, because he is not giving them a new skill.  He is not, in other words, teaching them to evangelize; he is making them evangelists.  Spreading the Gospel, in other words, is not a thing we do; it is an expression of who are.  "Evangelist" does not describe a skill set, but an identity.  (Better yet, it describes a renewed form of human nature.  But that may be too abstract for most people.)

That said, "of people" is a better translation into modern English than "of men," since anthropos can refer to either or both sexes.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Wrong Again!

That is to say, Fr. A. has cruelly misjudged somebody, and hopes to rectify the mistake.  A few hours ago, we lumped together three accomplished scientists who were also amateur theologians -- Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, and Christoph Rothmann.  Although brilliant, we proposed that all three were, theologically speaking, crackpots.

The Egg's Department of Overreaching Claims has asked us to issue a formal apology.

Based on this paper by Miguel A. Granada, it appears that Christoph Rothmann, who had studied both theology and mathematics at Luther's own university in the 1570s, was not a crackpot at all.  In his correspondence with Tycho Brahe (also a Lutheran, of course), Rothmann defended the heliocentrism of Copernicus against Brahe's hybrid geo-heliocentric theory.  But beyond that, both men, along with Melanchthon's son-in-law Caspar Peucer, attempted a task that occupied many of the finest minds of the 17th century:  to reconcile the newly powerful (because newly available) Christian Scriptures with the emerging conclusions of the natural sciences.

Both Brahe and Rothmann took for granted the reliability of the Bible.  But they differed in their understanding of just what its "reliability" entailed.  Rothmann argued for what is sometimes called God's "accomodation" of the Bible to human understanding:

Authority of Sacred Scripture is no obstacle [to heliocentrism]. It is not written solely for me and for you, but for all men; and it speaks after their capacity of understanding, as all Theologians declare in the exposition of the first chapter of Genesis. Otherwise the moon would be, against all demonstrations of geometry, greater than all other stars.... God speaks accommodating Himself to the capacity of the Hebrews.

This does not mean that God dumbed it down for us mere mortals -- well, not exactly.  It means that the Bible isn't a science textbook, and was never meant to be one.  As Granada says:

Sustained by a long line of scholars stretching from Augustine to Rheticus and Calvin in the sixteenth century, the notion of divine accommodation to common knowledge also employed by Rothmann implied that the intention of the Bible was to teach mankind in matters pertaining to God’s will and his promise of human salvation, not to impart scientific knowledge on cosmological matters irrelevant to its principal end.

This seems obvious, really, to everyone except the Creationist whackjobs in Texas (and, as it happens, to Caspar Peucer -- but that's another story).  Brahe himself embraced a limited accomodationism.  But
... Rothmann went much further [than these other scholars] in conceiving of accommodation in the most absolute of terms; he therefore excluded the possibility of any relevance of Scripture whatsoever to cosmological matters. 
Now, this is indeed a radical stance by theological standards -- certainly by 17th-century standards, and to some degree even today.  It needs to be qualified somewhat; as Granada says, for Rothmann Scripture did speak to "metascientific [and] metatheoretical questions, such as the encouragement or promotion of the quest for a scientific cosmology." In plain words, the Bible teaches us to love all truth, even when the truths it teaches are not scientific ones.

Rothmann, it seems, offers a reconciliation of the natural and theological sciences (or, if you must, of nature and revelation) which would make sense to many thoughtful readers even in the present day.  He and his collocutors defy the popular caricature of Renaissance scientists struggling under the yoke of a superstitious religious establishment which denounced them all as witches.  On the contrary, they appear to have embraced their religious faith with zeal -- even if it was sometimes, as befits not only scientists but all Christians -- a critical zeal.

Good Science Is Good Religion

Everybody knows that Copernicus figured out that the earth moves around the sun, that Galieo proved him right by looking through a telescope, and that the Roman Catholic Church tried to shut Galileo down because it believed, for theological reasons, that Copernicus could not be correct.

Right?  Isn't that what everybody knows?

Probably, more or less -- but if so, this is one more instance in which what everybody "knows" is not true.

An article in the current Scientific American* neatly summarizes a much more complex story.  In fact, as Dennis Danielson and Christopher Graney show, the ideas that Copernicus proposed in his 1543 De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium -- although eventually proven to be true -- did not fit with the best experimental evidence available to the scientific community of his time.

In addition to the problem of how something as large as the Earth could move, a matter that would not be fully explicable before Newton's Laws of Motion, would-be Copernicans were troubled by the absence of a measurable annual stellar parallax, which suggested that the diameter of Earth's still-hypothetical orbit around the sun was, when compared to  its distance from the stars, far smaller than previously believed.  There was also serious question about the size of the stars in a Copernican system, since their (apparently, but not really) fixed width would make them vastly larger than anbody had reason to imagine.

The heliocentric model of Copernicus was directly challenged by another brilliant and heavily-funded astronomer, Tycho Brahe.  Tycho proposed a"geoheliocentric" model, in which the sun, moon and stars orbit an immobile earth, while the planets circle the sun.  He attempted to reconcile the elegance of Copernicus' calculations with the other evidence, such as it was.

Galileo's subsequent observations, such as the existence of Jupiter's moons, disproved the Ptolemaic cosmology -- but were compatible with Brahe's system.  In other words, Galileo's oservations "were not  .. understood [by contemporary astronomers] as  proof that Earth revolves around the sun."

The upshot is that it took roughly 200 years for the question of heliocentrism to be settled among scientists.  In addition to Kepler and Newton, the contributions of Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis were required.  It was not until 1838 that Friedrich Bessel measured the annual stellar parallax and George Airy "produced the first full theoretical explanation for why stars appear to be wider than they are."  So, although by the late 17th century a growing majority of scientists accepted the Copernican model, they did so, as Danielson and Graney observe, "in the face of scientific difficulties."

Danielson and Graney are interested in the large historical question of how the scientific community is,  often and rightly, reluctant to embrace radically new ideas before a significant body of observational data can be adduced to support them:
Back in [Galileo's day], those opposed to Copernicanism had some quite respectable, coherent, observationally based science on their side.  They were eventually proved wrong, but that did not make them bad scientists.  In fact, rigorously disproving the strong arguments of other was part of the challenge, as well as part of the fun, of doing science.
True, by all means.  We at the Egg have another thread to pick at in this story, though, which is the oft-misrepresented role of religion in the history of cosmology.

We have often observed that, despite the weird mythologies of Fundamentalism and Dawkinsism alike, historic Christianity has never been profoundly hostile to the natural sciences.  More often than not, the Church has been deeply and seriously engaged in reading "the book of nature," seeing in it a revelation of God's will that is comparable in majesty to, if different in kind from, the revelation offered in the Bible.  Especially in the Renaissance, the Church was an active and generous patron of science.  Galileo himself worked for the pope, and popes up to the present day have continued to employ court astronomers.

So it is no surprise that, as the models of celestial motion were debated in the 16th and 17th centuries, churchmen would take an interest in the discussion.  And this is where Danielson and Graney observe an interesting irony:
Rather than give up their theory in the face of seemingly incontrovertible evidence, Copernicans were forced to appeal to divine omnipotence.
They cite a Copernican named Christoph Rothmann, writing to Brahe, and arguing that in fact stellar distances could be as large as the Copernicans estimated on the grounds that God was a great king who deserved a great palace.

(Side note:  Rothmann eventually visited Denmark, studied the stars and argued cosmology with Brahe, then disappeared to his hometown to publish some now-lost theological treatises.  [He had studied theology at Wittenberg.] Brahe's famous assistant, Johannes Kepler, seems to have viewed astronomy as a largely religious undertaking.  Clearly, Newton was not the only early astronomer to be an amateur theologian.  Sadly, we know that Newton was a crackpot, and are inclined to suspect the same of Rothmann and Kepler.  Perhaps not incidentally, they were all Protestants.)

In response to the Copernicans, it was Giovanni Battista Riccioli -- both an astronomer and a Jesuit priest -- who argued, in effect, that God should be left out of the cosmological question:  "Even if this falsehood [i.e., the claim that the stars were far away to satisfy God's dignity] cannot be refuted, it cannot satisfy the more prudent men."  Again, he was defending the wrong model -- but please note this representative of a zealous religious order, and younger contemporary of Galileo, attempting to ague that scientific questions should not be resolved by an appeal to theology.

Our point here, and it is one that can never be made too often by and among people with a commitment to traditional Christianity, is that the Church is not and never has been opposed to good science, because good science -- like good religion -- is an honest inquiry into the nature of reality.  No matter what anybody tells you, there is no war between science and religion, at least from the perspective of religion.  And while the story of Galileo is very complicated, taking place in the midst of tumultuous century, it is not fair to say that the Roman Catholic Church, much less all of Christianity, and far less "religion" in the abstract, is its villain.

*Dennis Danielson and Christopher M.Graney, "The Case Aginst Copernicus," in Scientific American, Jan. 2014, 72-77.  The web version is behind a paywall at this writing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dept. of No Surprise: Tough-Guy Edition

Regular readers will recall that Father Anonymous is a great fan of the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child.  (So are his wife, his mother and his father.)  Reacher is one of the great American tough-guy heroes, a comically tough ex-MP who travels the country by Greyhound, righting wrongs and moving on.  Lee Child is a Brit, but so was Raymond Chandler, to whom the books owe at least a small debt of gratitude.

Child is a great thriller writer, one of the best.  He's not a great novelist, especially -- Tolstoy need not look to his laurels.  Judged on prose style and narrative canniness, Child is better than Ian Fleming, but falls well short of Chandler.  His dialogue is good, his ploys are repetitive but often clever.  But where Lee Child excels -- where he is unsurpassed -- is at actually thrilling people.  Nobody makes our adrenaline flow like Reacher.  Hell, real danger doesn't make our adrenaline flow like Reacher

Those same regular readers will recall that, before Tom Cruise appeared as the cinematic Reacher, we expressed some doubts about how that was going to go.  Reacher is big and deadpan; Cruise is small and cocky.  He's a fine actor, but this was really a part for Nick Nolte circa 1985.

Despite our reservations, we averred that we would probably see the film.  And last night, finding ourselves between Netflix series to binge-watch, we did.

Don't make this mistake.

The Reacher movie is ... not good.

It is bad in a million different ways, some large and some small.  It seems as though the female lead, Rosamund Pike, is trying to channel a little bit of classic noir dame, maybe some early Bacall.  It's not a bad idea, but it fails; her eyes seem to pop out in every scene, and roll around in their sockets.  The real villain, one of Child's more interesting creations, is not given enough screen time.

There are some good things about the movie.  Child's original dialogue and set pieces, when they can be preserved, are still clever.  Robert Duvall hams it up magnificently as a grizzled gunnery sergeant.  There is one sequence, in which Reacher is attacked by the Three Stooges, that is some of the best comic relief we have seen in a lifetime of watching thrillers.

Cruise is, as we exppected, the wrong actor for the part.  he tries hard, but his interpretation of jack Reacher just doesn't ring true.  Reacher is cocky in his own way -- he's smarter and stronger than virtually anybody he meets, and this shapes his world.  But Reacher's version of cockiness is laconic, almost lazy.  Think of vintage Robert Mitchum.  Cruise, in contrast, is energetic, feisty, visibly cerebral.  Think of vintage Tom Cruise.

Still, he's not that bad.  A world that can imagine Roger Moore as James Bond should have no trouble with Tom Cruise as Reacher.

The problems with this movie are not the actors; they are its script and its direction.  Together, they achieve dreary drabness of the picture, devoid of suspense and heavy with routine.

The most grindingly awful example -- SPOILER ALERT! -- comes about 3/4 through.  The damsel is in distress; Reacher has launched a rescue operation which is also intended to punish the villains.  He finds himself unarmed, taking on a team of professional killers with assault rifles. Needless to say, he kills most of them easily.  But then comes the most dangerous of the crew, a man Reacher especially hates.  Reacher sneaks up, puts a captured gun to the bad guy's ear and then says "Drop it."

At this point, Mother A. started screaming.  The mission isn't complete yet!  Reacher hasn't rescued the girl.  But, still, he disarms his enemy, throws down his own gun, and decides to fight hand-to-hand.  This is colossally stupid and out of character; of course Reacher can kill the guy bare-handed, but he can't control what happens to hostage in the minute it takes him to do so.  Yes, he's got a mean streak, but he's also a professional:  he focuses on the mission.

Worse yet is the fight itself.  Oh, it's choreographed well-enough.  The two heavies slug it out in a nighttime rainstorm, mud and testosterone splashing everywhere.  It should have been exciting, but it felt lifeless, dull, even familiar.

"It feels like I've seen this already," said Father A.  And then the light bulb went off over his cartoony head, and he exclaimed:  "BECAUSE I HAVE."

Yup.  This was, basically, the fight from the climax of Lethal Weapon.  Good guy throws down his gun and, in defiance of any logic whatsoever, settles score with bad guy the manly way.  Hand to hand.  In the mud.

it was stupid then, but at least it was exciting.  This time it is just dumb.  And at least Mel Gibson's Riggs was supposed to be borderline psychotic.  Reacher is eccentric but, at least in theory, coldly rational about combat.

Anyway, this movie stinks.  Not in a cool, campy way that will make it more fun in 25 years.  It stinks in a dull, uninspired way that will sink a potentially great franchise right out of dry dock.

Slow News About the Fast

A week or so before Christmas, the Lutheran World Federation asked its member churches to beginning fasting for climate change.  The fast is conceived as
a way for Lutherans to express their common faith, spiritual and ethical values; to transform the Lutheran communion; and urge national governments to be more ambitious in climate change negotiations.
Lutherans worldwide are asked to fast on the first day of each month throughout the year, leading up to the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations, which will take place in Peru next December.

This is interesting news for several reasons.  First, of course, is climate change itself -- a serious event with long-term consequences for everyone on Earth, which nonetheless remains politically volatile.

But it is almost as interesting that the LWF has responded, in part, by calling for a fast.  Needless to say, fasting has a long and largely noble tradition in both Judaism and Christianity.  It exists both as a private devotion and as a public one, undertaken collectively by the residents of a city or a nation.  Among Protestants, at least through the 17th century, it remained commonplace for leaders of both church and state to declare a public fast especially at times of war, drought or famine.  As the LWF press release observes, Luther
... called for a civil fast to “teach people to live more moderately” and for a spiritual fast prior to Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. Luther said fasting helps Christians know who they are in relation to God and their neighbors.
Fasting remains a modestly common practice among some Protestants, largely of the non-denominational sort, as well as Pentecostals.  But in our own observation, it has become quite uncommon among the principal Reformation churches -- Evangelical, Anglican and Reformed.  The idea of an Advent fast is a mere historical footnote.  Even Lent is typically honored not with the ascetical rigors of yore (and of Orthodoxy) but by a token surrender of one single earthly pleasure.  Even that is rapidly becoming the exception rather than the rule.

Of course, many Protestants have their doubts about fasting on principle.  Despite its long history, not to mention the example of Jesus himself, they worry that it seems like a legal obligation undertaken to appease or forestall God's wrath, in which case it would indeed be theologically questionable.  Perhaps that's why there's a defensive tone in the LWF release.

Is that also why we have not yet heard anything about this from the LWF's largest Western Hemisphere member church, the ELCA?

Perhaps it was simply lost in the Christmas rush. Perhaps there has been something on Twitter.  Or perhaps we just missed it.  But our search of the ELCA's news releases over the past few weeks reveals not a single word about the proposed fast for climate change.  Humanitarian aid for Syria and the Central African Republic -- check; Malaria Campaign -- check; Christmas message from the PB -- check.  Lots of other stuff on the news blog, both national and international.

But not a thing about an unusual spiritual initiative from our worldwide communion.

We hope this isn't a manifestation of some knee-jerk Pietist bias.  We hope it isn't a a capitulation to the knee-jerk "Climate change is a liberal myth" mindset still hanging on in parts of the US.  We hope, in fact, that we've just missed a thoughtful story on it, or that one is about to be published.

In any case, we personally are not likely to fast on the first of next month.  We have a potluck that night.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Waiting for the Shoe to Drop

A while back, we speculated on the mysterious behavior of Bishop James Justman, who in October took a previously unannounced "sabbatical," and resigned a little later.   While, as we pointed out, there are perfectly reasonable and non-scandalous reasons for an ELCA bishop to resign, there are also embarrassing and scandalous ones, usually involving sex or booze.

Since then, we have heard virtually nothing.  We suppose it speaks well for our readers that either they choose not to pursue gossip or that, having pursued it, they choose not to share.  Still, we're getting desperate.  Come on, Midwesterners, throw poor Fr. A. a bone!

More to the point, we imagine that the people of the East-Central Wisconsin Synod must be curious.  And unlike Father Anonymous, they have a genuine right to know what is going on.  By electing him as their bishop (twice!) they engaged Justman in a relationship of mutual trust, just as a congregation does when it calls a pastor.  Simply by dimitting -- regardless of his reasons -- Justman has brought that trust into question.  Moreover, the official silence of his synod council and officers, although surely intended charitably as a means of preserving Justman's dignity, further jeopardizes the ability of church members to trustt their leaders.

Failure of trust is, as we hope we need not say, a corrosive acid which eats away at any institution, especially one in which association is voluntary.

We have heard that there is pressure building on the synod to display a little transparency here, and that if it does, we will discover that Justman has done things he ought not have, without (for example) having committed a crime.  While embarrassing to him and possibly to other people, this is almost certainly less harmful to the church than a silence that breeds suspicion.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

"A Figure of Discontinuity"

Bishop Enrico dal Covolo is the rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, a position to which he was appointed by Benedict XVI.  Speaking in Guam just before Christmas, he expressed great approval of Benedict's successor -- who of course is not unreservedly admired by all of Ratzinger's friends, fans and appointees.

Dal Covolo said:

I believe that Pope Francis is a figure of discontinuity with the previous pontificate, but a very, very good discontinuity because he's pushing the Church, he's exorcising the Church from all the fears that she had in the past. 
I agree totally with these changes that Pope Francis is doing because they correspond precisely to the challenges we face today.

On one hand, it should come as no great surprise that a prominent bishop supports the Pope.  That's pretty much what you would expect.  On the other hand ....

Rorate Caeli, the blog from which we have this story (and at which you can see a YouTube clip of dal Covolo speaking) reads this as an expression of ingratitude toward one's patron.  To do so seems a little short-sighted to us, as it depends upon any number of dubious assumptions (as, for example, that Francis stands in polar opposition to Benedict; that Benedict was always right and Francis therefore always wrong; that "gratitude" is best expressed as unswerving loyalty to a person rather than to the institution the person serves, and so forth).

But consider the source:  Rorate Caeli, the go-to blog for Traddie gossip, has a view of Vatican affairs as jaundiced as the most antipapal Protestant.  It seems to believe that Benedict abdicated under pressure from liberals who had engineered the so-called Vatileaks scandal, who threatened to release more embarrassing information, and who since then have determinedly purged Benedict's supporters.  So he writes:
[D]espite the amazing coincidence of the end of all "Vatileaks" rumors or threats via the media after February 2013 (indicating clearly that the Vatileakers got what they wanted, that is, the end of the Ratzinger pontificate), and all of Francis's repeated words against "gossip"..., intrigue and backstabbing are more intense in the Vatican now than at any time since the [Second Vatican] Council. 
We have no idea whether or to what degree any of this may be true.  We scarcely care; it is, after all, somebody else's hierarchy.  But it sure makes for fun reading.

There is one thing in that brief clip from dal Covolo which supports Rorate's argument, though:  the choice of the word "discontinuity."  Benedict and his supporters have used "continuity" as their rallying cry, if not indeed their organizing principle, hermenuetically and otherwise.  (This is, in our own estimate, a brilliant and inspiring move despite certain inherent limitations.)  So, when dal Covolo praises Francis for discontinuity, it is hard to imagine that some slap at Benedict, or at least Benedict's crowd, is not intended.

Needless to say, that's no real evidence for "intrigue and backstabbing," but it is still noteworthy.

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Big Chill

This is what it just have felt like, long ago, when on a pleasant spring day the tranquility of your village was interrupted by a single horseman, an arrow protruding from his blood-caked leather vest, arrived at the town well and slipped from his saddle, barely able to mouth out the message he had spent himself to deliver:  "The Mongols are coming."

That sense of a deadly and implacable force readying itself just over the horizon, moving inevitably toward you, is how we in the Old Dominion feel about the "polar vortex" that has already gripped much of the United States.

At the moment, we're warm by the standards of winter -- last night's rain washed away most of the snow, today is pleasant enough that you might skip the coat if you were only headed out for a few minutes.  Somewhere in the region, a young man is almost certainly wearing cargo shorts.  He looks like an idiot, but he's doing it, because there's always one guy like that.

He'll change his tune tomorrow.

The temperatures are expected to drop about 40 degrees F over the next few hours, to near-zero.  The wind chill will make it feel like twenty-five below.  It will still be warmer than places north and west of us, but it may be colder than the kids in our youth group have ever experienced in their lives.  Some people will discover that their homes were not constructed or insulated  to keep out that sort of cold.  Cities and larger towns will set up warming centers, but many of the people who should got to them won't.  A few people may die -- cold especially kills the old, the poor and the foolhardy.

We ourselves aren't all that concerned.  Father Anonymous grew up in a moderately cold climate, and is certainly no stranger to zero-F temperatures.  Wear layers, stay active, or stay inside by the fire.  Sadly, attendance at the Epiphany service looks to be very small, but ... well, that would probably be true on a balmier night than this.  (Hora novissima, tempora pessissima sunt, as Bernard of Morlaix so memorably put it.)

In any case, that's not what we came here to say this morning.  No, we just wanted to point out that Polar Vortex would be a great super-villain name.  Batman has Mister Freeze, the Flash has Captain Cold -- why shouldn't Green Lantern or, better yet, one of the faux Silver Age characters in Kurt Busiek's brilliant pastiche Astro City match wits with an ice-themed villain named Polar Vortex?

Oh, and one more thing.  If you could only send back one Canadian import, would it be the polar vortex -- or Ted Cruz?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year -- New Blog!

A few years back, we got to talking with our chum Father James of the Tonsure.  Although we were both reasonably smart guys with a taste for traditional theology, it turned out that neither of us had ever read St. Augustine's City of God.  It's just so long and ... hard.

Seriously.  You guys know how much we love St. Augustine.  We like the Confessions, we adore the sermons, we are keenly interested in his arguments against the Pelagians and (to a lesser degree) Manichaeans, his use of the Psalms to derive a description of sin as being incurvatus -- bent over toward the earth, and unable to face upward toward heaven.  We love that he is, like John Donne, one of those writers in whom sex, religion and politics are all mixed up together.

We're Lutheran, for pity's sake -- Augustine is in our blood.  But the City of God is one of those books, like the Summa or Proust or the entire shelf of Cerebus the Aardvark, that sits there, mountainous in its size and abysmal in its depth, terrifying the faint of heart and foiling the casual skimmer.  So, to our shame and sorrow, we've read about it without ever reading it.

Back in the day, we talked with Fr. James about reading it together, over the course of a year or so, sharing notes to keep each other going.  It was a promising idea, but then Father Anonymous and his family relocated to Transylvania for a few years of vampire-hunting in the Carpathians, and nothing ever came of the virtual sojourn to ancient Africa.  His continuing professional education devolved into language tutoring (and, of course, the compilation of that neat little Latin/English breviary you can purchase by clicking on the right sidebar).  His pleasure reading, during those years, consisted largely of the The Economist and some Romanian newspapers.

Now, at last, things have settled down a bit.  The Egg's publishing headquarters is located in bucolic Fauquier County, a place no New Yorker can name without lapsing into vulgarity.  The parish is busy but stable, and the obscure machinations of the Hungarian nobility are an ocean away.  We do need to make time for developing the Adventures of Purple and Nine, a cartoon which will change the world, but that will get easier come the Epiphany.

So now is our chance to climb the mountain, metaphorically speaking.  This year we, God willing and the creek don't rise, we will finally read De Civitate Dei Contra Paganos, all XXII libri.

And more than that, we plan to blog the blessed thing.

Not here, though.  The Egg remains our suppressed voice, the escape valve to vent those things the congregants don't need or want to hear -- ideas about sex, politics and (pathetically) religion.  It will stay cranky, obscurantist, and first-person plural.  But Augustine deserves better treatment.  So for him, we need to adopt a tone that is gentler and more direct -- and it won't hurt to have a website dedicated solely to this particular voice and project.

To which end, we offer Most Glorious City.  It's another Blogger site, deliberately simple-looking.  Over time, we'll expand its offerings to include many, many more links to online Augustiniana.  But its only real purpose is to serve as a notebook for our reflections on the City of God.

We hope some of you will be moved to read along.  Pick up a copy (it's probably on your shelf already) and join us.  We're planning to move very, very slowly.  It may take us a year to read the whole thing.  It may take us longer.  But it should be fun.