Christ the Physician Walks the Wards

Professor Carole Rawcliffe

This week our Newman Lecture from UEA is by Carole Rawcliffe of UEA. Here is part of her biography:

Carole Rawcliffe was an editor on the History of Parliament Trust (1979-92) before becoming a Senior Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at UEA (1992-7). She was made Reader in the History of Medicine (1997-2002) and Professor of Medieval History (2002).

Her research focuses upon the theory and practice of medicine in medieval England, with particular emphasis upon hospitals, the interconnection between healing and religion, and urban health.  As editor of The History of Norwich (2004), she maintains an interest in the East Anglian region, and has written extensively on its medical provision.  Her most recent book, Leprosy in Medieval England (2006), is a study of medieval responses to disease.  She is currently investigating concepts of health and welfare before the Reformation.

Her full biography is here.

I found this one particularly interesting, especially when I contemplated how few of our medical people even believe in God anymore,let alone that  He will help in particular cases. of course, that hit close to home with me, since I have seen His work, when all of our skilled people had given up.

You’ll also note that this week Professor Charmley has provided us with the visual aids as well. Actually there is a Storify story linked at the end of the article, I simply could not get it to embed, so I compromised.

Here’s Dr. Rawcliffe

And here is a slide show of the visual aids to watch while you listen. I am afraid the may have gotten somewhat jumbled. Sorry.

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The Decline and Fall of the Person

Dr. Jeff Mirus over at Catholic Culture did some musing the other day on his stack of unread books. I tend to be sympathetic because I have one of those plus a bunch of half-read ones on my Kindle. That tends top be life in the Information Age. His musing is a lot more informative and useful than my whining though. Here’s some of what he had to say:

The grand synthesis between Christian revelation and classical reason which formed Western culture placed the person at center stage. As a direct result, the universe was perceived as pregnant with meaning, created by and for persons, and capable of generating a kind of wonder that leads back to the Creator. But under various internal and external pressures, this intensely human synthesis tended to break down. People began to relativize ideas—the human grasp of meaning which is so often subject to disagreement, debate and conflict. And they began to absolutize facts—descriptions of material reality which are amenable to physical measurement and empirical proof.

There are so many ways to trace this shift in perception that it is difficult to know where to start. However it is traced, what we now call “science” gradually took the first place in human studies. Deeply dependent on earlier Western ideas about order in the universe as a whole, the rapid advance of the physical sciences won them deep respect. They offered largely non-controversial benefits to mankind while appearing to reduce the need for moral improvement.

The attraction is not hard to understand. Nobody has to grow in love or overcome habitual vices to appreciate the benefits of science and its resulting technology. In fact, whether good or evil, the achievements of science readily appeal to personal selfishness. They can make us healthier and more comfortable; they can reduce sweat equity; they can maximize pleasure.

I can’t really say I disagree with any of that nor, in some ways, do I think it bad.

Unfortunately, this relativization of what we might also call the moral or the spiritual, and this absolutization of what we must call the material, led the West as a whole to commit a fundamental error. We might call it a philosophical or a logical error, but it is just as much an error of common sense. A whole culture began by choosing to focus overwhelmingly on the material world. For obvious reasons, it then lost awareness of what it chose not to focus on. Finally, it proclaimed—completely without warrant—that what it was focused on is all there is. In other words, the West slipped progressively into a deeper and deeper materialism.

This has created gargantuan problems. If everything is material, how can we account for meaning and purpose? The answer is that we cannot, and the long-term result of this reticence concerning meaning is an insistence that everything must be random. In its evolutionary form, this randomness is thought to tend toward continuous improvement, at a huge but justifiable cost to whatever is left behind.

Nothing to disagree with here either but like the author, let’s think about this a bit. If there is nothing but the material world, then there is no cause for any morality at all, might is right is the way they phrased it in Camelot, if for some reason you are not the one with the power, you simply do not matter, get out of my way. Sounds a lot like a stone age tribal society, doesn’t it? Or maybe the twenty-first century industrialized world. Because in large measure we have devolved to a society in which if you can’t buy enough influence from the corrupt court, you’re gonna lose.

Another way modern Western culture has dealt with the absence of meaning is through the reduction of happiness to pleasure. It is an ever-present human tendency to prefer easily-gained and primarily physical pleasures over hard-won but more deeply satisfying growth in perfection (which presumes purposes and ends). Technology excels at producing pleasures for our consumption. Unlike ideology, pleasure does not provide an alternative form of “meaning”. Instead, it makes it easier to forget meaninglessness. In this sense it is also an escape from moral responsibility. But this is really a flight from despair, a flight from the frightening emptiness of a valueless existence, of a life without meaning.

Sound familiar? Yeah, it does to me as well, and I suspect it is true for a large part of our populations. There just aren’t many things our society thinks worthy of belief, are there?

There is quite a bit more at this link, The decline and fall of the Person: Musings on my stack of unread books – Catholic Culture. all of it worth reading, including Benedict’s  Caritas in Veritate. But let’s finish as Dr. Mirus does, because I don’t think it can be improved on.

[…] But when I looked at the clutter on my desk today, I realized that there was a very definite pattern to the clutter. A pattern, yes, and therefore purposes and ends and meanings which can only be discerned by persons.

To put the case in a nutshell, there really is a theology of the body. The end of our modern insanity is to learn again who we really are. I have chosen my words carefully: I do not mean what, but who.

The Ballad of the White Horse

Sorry, guys. I’ve got a cold, a head full of antihistamines, and a full inbox. So you get one of my favorite poems; G.K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. You’ll recognize some lines that are used here often. Enjoy!

The Culture of Prayer Amongst Persecuted English Catholics; 1560-1760

PROFESSOR JOHN MORRILL University of Cambridge

This is a very interesting lecture, I think. It’s sponsored by the University of East Anglia Institute,  and the Newman Lectures. This is the second season of the lecture series they sponsor each spring, and I think they need more exposure here as well as in England.

In full disclosure the head of the Institute, Professor John Charmley is one of my closest friends, and yes, I met him through Jessica.  In fact I was one of several people worldwide who urged John to make these available to the rest of us in podcast or video form. As he told us, it is up to the speaker what form, if any, we will have available but we will have them here as available. He is ably assisted by another friend of mine, Siobhan Hoffmann Heap. The appropriate biographies are here.

But you know me well enough to know that I don’t feature things here because a friend had something to do with it, for me it’s all about quality, and John is the same way. He is also why you get a fair amount of British history here, through John I  have interacted with quite a few distinguished British historians, some whom you will see on TV (if you watch British history anyway).

This lecture was delivered by Professor John Morrill of Selwyn College, Cambridge. One of his main research interests is the religious dynamics of early modern British History. His biography is here.

Enjoy!

John and I commented yesterday that knowing how the Catholics managed their prayer life in early modern Britain may be useful knowledge given how poorly our governments are doing in dealing with ISIS, although Elizabeth was far kinder to her Catholic subjects than ISIS is likely to be. And it looks to me like what she really wanted to do was look the other way, until the Pope foolishly told her Catholic subjects that they should depose her.

Back Into the Wasteland

 

keep-calm-_-hes-back

A note from Neo

Well, I’m back again, not that I really left, I’ve been  posting some on the Watchtower because that has been more appropriate to my thoughts lately. I have been thinking of you though, there aren’t so many of us here, but we tend to be, I suspect a good bit alike, and if you’re like me, you feel very much like a sojourner in a strange land.

Today is, of course Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, when we traditionally give up things by which we commemorate Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness , as we prepare ourselves for Easter.

Well, I’ve decided to give up feeling sorry for myself this year, as many of you know Jessica, my editor here, is also my best (and best-loved) friend. When she was stricken with cancer last September, my life pretty much stopped. She survived thanks to what can only be described as a miracle from God himself. She is now recovering in a convent in England, and while I have limited contact with her, for which I give huge thanks to the abbess, I miss her daily presence immensely. But in many ways that’s not important, but what is, to me at least, is that you, my readers, still read her posts, very nearly everyday. And so do I, her writing here and at the Watchtower comforts my soul. And so for your (and my) enjoyment and remembrance, I decided to repost one of her best. NEO

Into the Wasteland

The Hollow Men 5We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

The opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem speak with eloquence to any age and people who feel disconnected from what they feel is a calamitous and collapsing socio-political world.

Eliot was writing in the aftermath of the most catastrophic war in the history of the Western world. It was the war when hope died. How could one believe in progress after the Somme and the horrors of the Western Front? And what had all of that slaughter been for? A settlement at Versailles which few believed would really bring peace to the world.  Men like Wilson and Hoover, or MacDonald and Baldwin, seemed small men facing giant problems, and sure enough, within fifteen years the world had once more descended into the abyss.

Does the fault lie in our leaders? They do, indeed, seem to be hollow men, with heads stuffed with straw. The words of Yeats’ Second Coming seem apposite to our times:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

Writing in 1919, Yeats wondered:   

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand

But it was not so. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo tells Gandalf that he wishes he did not live in the time he did, when such dreadful things were happening. Gandalf’s reply is for all of us:
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.’

It is not for us to decide such things. All each of us can do in the end is to decide how we live our lives and by what star we steer. Those of us with a Christian faith, like Tolkien himself, know we are strangers in this world, and we know by whose star we steer. We can rage all we like against the way the world seems to be going, so did our forefathers, and so will our descendants. Eliot ends with a dying fall:

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

But Yeats, in best prophetic mode wondered:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

For me, Eliot’s words in Ash Wednesday ring truest:

Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us


That’s pretty much what the world feels like, increasingly to me, at least, it seems that we may have to simply burn it down and try to rebuild in the ruins.But I continue to hope not, so we will see.

In many ways Kipling asked the question I think our political leadership should have to answer

I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

But as Jess said above, we don’t get to pick the era in which we live, we are simply called to do the best we can. And so we shall, God willing.  NEO

 

P.J. O’Rourke on the Baby Boomers

It’s funny sometimes how things happen. Yesterday, I was chatting with some friends on a blog post about how the world went to hell in a handbasket between about 1963 and 1970. Specifically we were talking about how Vatican II unleashed the hordes of modernist (supposedly) Catholics in the clergy and academia, drawing on example we saw from Oxford to Notre Dame.

So last night I’m sitting here idly wondering what I’ll write about today when I run a cross this video. P. J. O’Rourke on his new book: The Baby Boom, they also talk about what may be the best book ever on politics, Parliament of Whores. It’s an outstanding video, worth more than your time in watching it. One of our generations best authors speaking about us.

Simply outstanding.

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