Bad Books

In another discussion thread, TSO disagreed with my opinion that there are too many books in the world, even suggesting that such an opinion was un-Catholic. However, I am sure that my view of books and literature is more liberal than that of the Church, since I do have some formerly banned books lining the shelves in the my living room, and I think these are worthwhile for various reasons. Catholics may disagree about which books to censor and where to draw the line, but I don’t believe a Catholic can assent to the “anything goes” literary anarchy that characterizes modern times. Here’s a great and saintly pope on the subject:

It is also the duty of the Bishops to prevent writings of Modernists, or whatever savors of Modernism or promotes it, from being read when they have been published, and to hinder their publication when they have not. No books or papers or periodicals whatever of this kind are to be permitted to seminarists or university students. The injury to them would be not less than that which is caused by immoral reading — nay, it would be greater, for such writings poison Christian life at its very fount. The same decision is to be taken concerning the writings of some Catholics, who, though not evilly disposed themselves, are ill-instructed in theological studies and imbued with modern philosophy, and strive to make this harmonize with the faith, and, as they say, to turn it to the profit of the faith. The name and reputation of these authors cause them to be read without suspicion, and they are, therefore, all the more dangerous in gradually preparing the way for Modernism.

51. To add some more general directions, Venerable Brethren, in a matter of such moment, We order that you do everything in your power to drive out of your dioceses, even by solemn interdict, any pernicious books that may be in circulation there. The Holy See neglects no means to remove writings of this kind, but their number has now grown to such an extent that it is hardly possible to subject them all to censure. Hence it happens sometimes that the remedy arrives too late, for the disease has taken root during the delay. We will, therefore, that the Bishops putting aside all fear and the prudence of the flesh, despising the clamor of evil men, shall, gently, by all means, but firmly, do each his own part in this work, remembering the injunctions of Leo XIII in the Apostolic Constitution Officiorum: “Let the Ordinaries, acting in this also as Delegates of the Apostolic See, exert themselves to proscribe and to put out of reach of the faithful injurious books or other writings printed or circulated in their dioceses.”[29] In this passage the Bishops, it is true, receive an authorization, but they have also a charge laid upon them. Let no Bishop think that he fulfills his duty by denouncing to Us one or two books, while a great many others of the same kind are being published and circulated. Nor are you to be deterred by the fact that a book has obtained elsewhere the permission which is commonly called the Imprimatur, both because this may be merely simulated, and because it may have been granted through carelessness or too much indulgence or excessive trust placed in the author, which last has perhaps sometimes happened in the religious orders. Besides, just as the same food does not agree with everyone, it may happen that a book, harmless in one place, may, on account of the different circumstances, be hurtful in another. Should a Bishop, therefore, after having taken the advice of prudent persons, deem it right to condemn any of such books in his diocese, We give him ample faculty for the purpose and We lay upon him the obligation of doing so. Let all this be done in a fitting manner, and in certain cases it will suffice to restrict the prohibition to the clergy; but in all cases it will be obligatory on Catholic booksellers not to put on sale books condemned by the Bishop. And while We are treating of this subject, We wish the Bishops to see to it that booksellers do not, through desire for gain, engage in evil trade. It is certain that in the catalogs of some of them the books of the Modernists are not infrequently announced with no small praise. If they refuse obedience, let the Bishops, after due admonition, have no hesitation in depriving them of the title of Catholic booksellers. This applies, and with still more reason, to those who have the title of Episcopal booksellers. If they have that of Pontifical booksellers, let them be denounced to the Apostolic See. Finally, We remind all of Article XXVI of the above-mentioned Constitution Officiorum: “All those who have obtained an apostolic faculty to read and keep forbidden books, are not thereby authorized to read and keep books and periodicals forbidden by the local Ordinaries unless the apostolic faculty expressly concedes permission to read and keep books condemned by anyone whomsoever.”

52. It is not enough to hinder the reading and the sale of bad books — it is also necessary to prevent them from being published. Hence, let the Bishops use the utmost strictness in granting permission to print. Under the rules of the Constitution Officiorum, many publications require the authorization of the Ordinary, and in certain dioceses (since the Bishop cannot personally make himself acquainted with them all) it has been the custom to have a suitable number of official censors for the examination of writings. We have the highest esteem for this institution of censors, and We not only exhort, but We order that it be extended to all dioceses. In all episcopal Curias, therefore, let censors be appointed for the revision of works intended for publication, and let the censors be chosen from both ranks of the clergy — secular and regular — men whose age, knowledge, and prudence will enable them to follow the safe and golden means in their judgments. It shall be their office to examine everything which requires permission for publication according to Articles XLI and XLII of the above-mentioned Constitution. The censor shall give his verdict in writing. If it be favorable, the Bishop will give the permission for publication by the word Imprimatur, which must be preceded by the Nihil obstat and the name of the censor. In the Roman Curia official censors shall be appointed in the same way as elsewhere, and the duty of nominating them shall appertain to the Master of the Sacred Palace, after they have been proposed to the Cardinal Vicar and have been approved and accepted by the Sovereign Pontiff. It will also be the office of the Master of the Sacred Palace to select the censor for each writing. Permission for publication will be granted by him as well as by the Cardinal Vicar or his Vicegerent, and this permission, as above prescribed, must he preceded by the Nihil obstat and the name of the censor. Only on a very rare and exceptional occasion, and on the prudent decision of the Bishop, shall it be possible to omit mention of the censor. The name of the censor shall never be made known to the authors until he shall have given a favorable decision, so that he may not have to suffer inconvenience either while he is engaged in the examination of a writing or in case he should withhold his approval. Censors shall never be chosen from the religious orders until the opinion of the Provincial, or in Rome, of the General, has been privately obtained, and the Provincial or the General must give a conscientious account of the character, knowledge, and orthodoxy of the candidate. We admonish religious superiors of their most solemn duty never to allow anything to be published by any of their subjects without permission from themselves and from the Ordinary. Finally, We affirm and declare that the title of censor with which a person may be honored has no value whatever, and can never be adduced to give credit to the private opinions of him who holds it.

53. Having said this much in general, We now ordain in particular a more careful observance of Article XLII of the above-mentioned Constitution Officiorum, according to which “it is forbidden to secular priests, without the previous consent of the Ordinary, to undertake the editorship of papers or periodicals.” This permission shall be withdrawn from any priest who makes a wrong use of it after having received an admonition thereupon. With regard to priests who are correspondents or collaborators of periodicals, as it happens not infrequently that they contribute matter infected with Modernism to their papers or periodicals, let the Bishops see to it that they do not offend in this manner; and if they do, let them warn the offenders and prevent them from writing. We solemnly charge in like manner the superiors of religious orders that they fulfill the same duty, and should they fail in it, let the Bishops make due provision with authority from the Supreme Pontiff. Let there be, as far as this is possible, a special censor for newspapers and periodicals written by Catholics. It shall be his office to read in due time each number after it has been published, and if he find anything dangerous in it let him order that it be corrected as soon as possible. The Bishop shall have the same right even when the censor has seen nothing objectionable in a publication.

Monday morning

On Mater et Magistra and the question of a just wage: Zippy, as usual, does the heavy lifting.


For Steve, Hilary, B. Nicolosi, et al: some sheltered Catholic families “engaging the culture”.


Dr. Anthony Esolen on “finding the masculine genius”.


Quotidian Online: an amusing site in a class by itself.


I meant to mention this a long time ago, but Saint Cecelia Classical Productions needs a volunteer coordinator for the West Coast. Please contact them if you know someone who might be interested!


The signs of the times are not encouraging: see here (caution: language) and here for examples of our culture’s upside-down priorities. H/T Hilary White and Rod Dreher.

Mater et Magistra

The best known and most influential social/economic encyclical of our time is undoubtedly Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII. And quite deservedly so. But I became aware only recently that Rerum Novarum has two sequels: Quadragesimo Anno by Pope Pius XI, and Mater et Magistra by Pope John XXIII. The latter encyclical, which reformulates and expands upon the doctrines of Rerum and Quadragesimo, ought to be dusted off and studied much more than it is. Here are some excerpts:

17. You know well enough, Venerable Brethren, the basic economic and social principles for the reconstruction of human society enunciated so clearly and authoritatively by this great Pope.

18. They concern first of all the question of work, which must be regarded not merely as a commodity, but as a specifically human activity. In the majority of cases a man’s work is his sole means of livelihood. Its remuneration, therefore, cannot be made to depend on the state of the market. It must be determined by the laws of justice and equity. Any other procedure would be a clear violation of justice, even supposing the contract of work to have been freely entered into by both parties.

19. Secondly, private ownership of property, including that of productive goods, is a natural right which the State cannot suppress. But it naturally entails a social obligation as well. It is a right which must be exercised not only for one’s own personal benefit but also for the benefit of others.

20. As for the State, its whole raison d’etre is the realization of the common good in the temporal order. It cannot, therefore, hold aloof from economic matters. On the contrary, it must do all in its power to promote the production of a sufficient supply of material goods, “the use of which is necessary for the practice of virtue.”[7] It has also the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children. It can never be right for the State to shirk its obligation of working actively for the betterment of the condition of the workingman.

21. It is furthermore the duty of the State to ensure that terms of employment are regulated in accordance with justice and equity, and to safeguard the human dignity of workers by making sure that they are not required to work in an environment which may prove harmful to their material and spiritual interests. It was for this reason that the Leonine encyclical enunciated those general principles of rightness and equity which have been assimilated into the social legislation of many a modern State, and which, as Pope Pius XI declared in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno,[8] have made no small contribution to the rise and development of that new branch of jurisprudence called labor law.

22. Pope Leo XIII also defended the worker’s natural right to enter into association with his fellows. Such associations may consist either of workers alone or of workers and employers, and should be structured in a way best calculated to safeguard the workers’ legitimate professional interest. And it is the natural right of the workers to work without hindrance, freely, and on their own initiative within these associations for the achievement of these ends.

23. Finally, both workers and employers should regulate their mutual relations in accordance with the principle of human solidarity and Christian brotherhood. Unrestricted competition in the liberal sense, and the Marxist creed of class warfare, are clearly contrary to Christian teaching and the nature of man.

24. These, Venerable Brethren, are the basic principles upon which a genuine social and economic order must be built.


27. Forty years after the appearance of this magnificent summary of Christian social principles, Our Predecessor, Pius XI, published his own encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno.[10]

31. As for the wage system, while rejecting the view that it is unjust of its very nature, he condemned the inhuman and unjust way in which is it so often implemented, and specified the terms and conditions to be observed if justice and equity are not to be violated.

32. In this connection, as Our Predecessor clearly points out, it is advisable in the present circumstances that the wage-contract be somewhat modified by applying to it elements taken from the contract of partnership, so that “wage-earners and other employees participate in the ownership or the management, or in some way share in the profits.”[11]

33. Of special doctrinal and practical importance is his affirmation that “if the social and individual character of work be overlooked, it can be neither justly valued nor equitably recompensed.”[12] In determining wages, therefore, justice demands that account be taken not only of the needs of the individual workers and their families, but also of the financial state of the business concern for which they work and of “the economic welfare of the whole people.”[13]


71. We therefore consider it Our duty to reaffirm that the remuneration of work is not something that can be left to the laws of the marketplace; nor should it be a decision left to the will of the more powerful. It must be determined in accordance with justice and equity; which means that workers must be paid a wage which allows them to live a truly human life and to fulfill their family obligations in a worthy manner. Other factors too enter into the assessment of a just wage: namely, the effective contribution which each individual makes to the economic effort, the financial state of the company for which he works, the requirements of the general good of the particular country — having regard especially to the repercussions on the overall employment of the working force in the country as a whole — and finally the requirements of the common good of the universal family of nations of every kind, both large and small.


76. We should recall here the principle enunciated by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno: “It is entirely false to ascribe to the property alone or to the work alone whatever has been obtained through the combined effort of both, and it is wholly unjust for either, denying the efficacy of the other, to arrogate to itself whatever has been produced.”[28]

77. Experience suggests many ways in which the demands of justice can be satisfied. Not to mention other ways, it is especially desirable today that workers gradually come to share in the ownership of their company, by ways and in the manner that seem most suitable. For today, even more than in the time of Our Predecessor, “every effort must be made that at least in future a just share only of the fruits of production be permitted to accumulate in the hands of the wealthy, and that an ample sufficiency be supplied to the workers.”[29]

78. But a further point needs emphasizing: Any adjustment between wages and profits must take into account the demands of the common good of the particular country and of the whole human family.

79. What are these demands? On the national level they include: employment of the greatest possible number of workers; care lest privileged classes arise, even among the workers; maintenance of equilibrium between wages and prices; the need to make goods and services accessible to the greatest number; elimination, or at least the restriction, of inequalities in the various branches of the economy — that is, between agriculture, industry and services; creation of a there should be the possibility of moderating the contract of work by one of partnership.”[30]

85. Hence the craftsman’s business and that of the family farm, as well as the co-operative enterprise which aims at the completion and perfection of both these concerns — all these are to be safeguarded and encouraged in harmony with the common good and technical progress.


137. Given the special nature of agricultural produce, modern economists must devise a suitable means of price protection. Ideally, such price protection should be enforced by the interested parties themselves, though supervision by the public authority cannot be altogether dispensed with.

138. On this subject it must not be forgotten that the price of agricultural produce represents, for the most part, the reward of the farmer’s labor rather than a return on invested capital.

139. Hence, in Quadragesimo Anno Pope Pius XI rightly observed that “a proper proportion between different wages is also a matter of importance.” He continued: “And intimately connected with this is a proper proportion between the prices charged for the products of the various economic groups, agricultural, industrial, and so forth.”[39]

140. While it is true that farm produce is mainly intended for the satisfaction of man’s primary needs, and the price should therefore be within the means of all consumers, this cannot be used as an argument for keeping a section of the population — farm workers — in a permanent state of economic and social inferiority, depriving them of the wherewithal for a decent standard of living. This would be diametrically opposed to the common good.


149. In the work on the farm the human personality finds every incentive for self-expression, self-development and spiritual growth. It is a work, therefore, which should be thought of as a vocation, a God-given mission, an answer to God’s call to actuate His providential, saving plan in history. It should be thought of, finally, as a noble task, undertaken with a view to raising oneself and others to a higher degree of civilization.


161. Justice and humanity demand that those countries which produce consumer goods, especially farm products, in excess of their own needs should come to the assistance of those other countries where large sections of the population are suffering from want and hunger. It is nothing less than an outrage to justice and humanity to destroy or to squander goods that other people need for their very lives.

162. We are, of course, well aware that overproduction, especially in agriculture, can cause economic harm to a certain section of the population. But it does not follow that one is thereby exonerated from extending emergency aid to those who need it. On the contrary, everything must be done to minimize the ill effects of overproduction, and to spread the burden equitably over the entire population.

163. Of itself, however, emergency aid will not go far in relieving want and famine when these are caused — as they so often are — by the primitive state of a nation’s economy. The only permanent remedy for this is to make use of every possible means of providing these citizens with the scientific, technical and professional training they need, and to put at their disposal the necessary capital for speeding up their economic development with the help of modern methods.


249. To safeguard man’s dignity as a creature of God endowed with a soul in the image and likeness of God, the Church has always demanded a diligent observance of the third Commandment: “Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day.”[52] God certainly has the right and power to command man to devote one day a week to his duty of worshipping the eternal Majesty. Free from mundane cares, he should lift up his mind to the things of heaven, and look into the depths of his conscience, to see how he stands with God in respect of those necessary and inviolable relationships which must exist between the creature and his Creator.

250. In addition, man has a right to rest a while from, work, and indeed a need to do so if he is to renew his bodily strength and to refresh his spirit by suitable recreation. He has also to think of his family, the unity of which depends so much on frequent contact and the peaceful living together of all its members.

251. Thus, religion and moral and physical well-being are one in demanding this periodic rest, and for many centuries now the Church has set aside Sunday as a special day of rest for the faithful, on which they participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the memorial and application of Christ’s redemptive work for souls.

252. Heavy in heart, We cannot but deplore the growing tendency in certain quarters to disregard this sacred law, if not to reject it outright. This attitude must inevitably impair the bodily and spiritual health of the workers, whose welfare We have so much at heart.

253. In the name of God, therefore, and for the sake of the material and spiritual interests of men, We call upon all, public authorities, employers and workers, to observe the precepts of God and His Church and to remember their grave responsibilities before God and society.

Random thoughts on the past week

Thursday concluded with a wonderful concert followed by dinner at a popular Vietnamese restaurant. I have some fascinating and generous relatives, let me tell you. It was great to catch up with them. We left Palo Alto at around 9:30pm and arrived home at 12:30am, exhausted. Some random thoughts:

1. The great tradition of western classical music is not dead. Dozens (if not hundreds) of dedicated Suzuki students from all over the country are “picking up the baton” – with enthusiasm.

2. The teachers were excellent. Their love for the music is utterly infectious. Passion makes the difference when it comes to teaching.

3. Amy turned to Jonathan one evening and said, “You know, we’re really not that good.” “I know”, he replied grimly. Ha! At home they are big fish in a small pond. At Stanford they are little fish in a big pond filled with lots of kids who play better than they do. A necessary humility check.

4. Jonathan told me about a conversation he had with a fellow student. This young man was very surprised to learn that not only was Amy his sister, but that Jonathan had another brother and two more sisters at home! Jonathan explained that his wasn’t a large family at all, and that he knew many other families that are much larger. The boy responded solemnly that having so many children was “irresponsible”. I had almost forgotten that many secular people consider contraception/abortion to be not merely a choice, but a moral imperative.

5. The hours I spent browsing in the university bookstore made me sad. There are too many books in the world. Most are either frivolous, or morally dangerous, or full of lies and propaganda. They are a waste of time to write, a waste of money to print, a waste of paper and ink, a waste of money to buy, a waste of time to read. I left the bookstore thinking that the world would be a better place if no more books were published for at least another generation or two. The good stuff has already been written; perhaps now is the time to actually do something worth writing about.

6. Real estate prices are still sky high in Palo Alto.

7. There is more wealth on five or six city blocks of Palo Alto than all of Glenn County.

8. I truly enjoy the intellectual and social stimulation of the big city.

9. I also enjoy the peace, simplicity and relative isolation of farm life.

10. I know that I can’t have both.

11. Even in an elite context like Stanford University, standards of dress have fallen so abysmally low that it is impossible to imagine how they will ever recover.

12. Do not hurry down carpeted stairways with bare feet.

13. The school cafeteria brought back lots of bad memories. And it’s hard to eat cafeteria food once you are used to homegrown food and home-cooked meals.

14. “Gettysburg” is not anywhere near as good as “Gods and Generals”.

One high point of the week was meeting the enigmatic Ted Chan of The New Beginning. He’s an impressively well-read, intelligent, and thoughtful Catholic gentleman, but his modesty and kindness put you instantly at ease in his presence. I enjoyed our conversation immensely.

As we were eating lunch yesterday a nice Chinese girl came up to our table and asked if we would take a survey. We agreed, and she gave us each a piece of paper with a number of questions about same-sex marriage. We answered the questions, some of which were loaded with problematic assumptions. She asked me about my answer to the question about whether I thought homosexuality was innate or learned. I said it could be either, depending on the person, but that it was really beside the point. As an example I mentioned that some people are born with predispositions to alcoholism or other addictions, but that doesn’t mean they are condemned to a life of substance abuse – they can still control and choose their behaviors, and very often overcome their destructive propensities. “But doesn’t that mean they can’t be happy?” she asked. No, says I, happiness is not doing what you want: happiness is doing what is right. She smiled, nodded, and seemed to understand. Mr. Chan commented that we were probably the only two people on campus to answer the questions the way we did.

I don’t think Mr. Chan will mind if I mention that he is working on a big project right now and could use your prayers. He’s certainly got mine.

Stanford University

This week I’m at Stanford University in Palo Alto, with my two oldest children, for a week-long violin workshop organized by the Suzuki Association of Northern California. We are here with children from all over the state and beyond – one coming from as far away as Hawaii – who have a passion for classical violin and the famous pedagogical method of Dr. Suzuki. The last couple of days have been eye-opening for my kids. We eat in the cafeteria with other groups of students here for various events. The classes are small but obviously much larger than my kids are used to. And they are on their own – no parents around all day, they must look to their teachers for direction and make their own way from classroom to classroom.  They are surrounded by children who are very different in behavior, dress, and attitude. Their classmates seem to be mostly public school children and come with all that implies, but these are also the “cream of the crop” and are mostly harmless. True, we switched dining rooms at breakfast this morning to avoid listening to the constant profanity coming from a table nearby – my kids had never heard the “f-bomb” until now – and last night at dinner I nearly lost my cool with three punks who stole the seats of three girls who were away from their table. These boys, before occupying the girls’ seats, went so far as to remove their trays full of food and to place them on the next table over, so when the girls returned they were laughed at and had a tough time finding other seats in the crowded dining hall. Otherwise the Suzuki students seem to be a decent, happy, and talented bunch of ordinary kids. Jonathan and Amy are learning a lot and are already making friends.

My daughter Amy, who is herself half-Vietnamese, wonders  why so many of her fellow musicians are Asian. Good question! The same proportions seem to hold true among Stanford University students in general. It is an interesting sociological question, to be sure, but not something to be obsessed over, and thankfully there are no signs of that happening. 

Stanford University is one of California’s premier architectural jewels. Last night after dinner we headed over to the quad, the oldest part of the campus and by far the most impressive. The memorial church is the most prominent building, the center of gravity holding everything else together. A vast, colorful  mosaic of the Sermon on the Mount rises from the arches to a large cross sitting high atop the church. Peeking inside, the church and sanctuary have a very Catholic look. There even appears to be a high altar against the sancturary wall. Wandering about the medieval-like courtyard Jonathan was absolutely beside himself with delight. I’m not a scholar or even a student of architecture, but here everything was “in its place” –  the orderliness, symmetry, proportionality, and grandeur of the place delivering a little bit of heaven on earth.


The founders of Stanford were protestants, and very unorthodox protestants at that, influenced by east coast Transcendentalism and other strange theologies. But they had an immense respect for California’s Catholic heritage and did not shy away from overtly Catholic allusions. The images of the mosaic on the memorial church are clearly influenced by Catholic art. Streets are named for Junipero Serra, El Camino Real, and Saint Teresa. However, somewhere along the line, it seems the educators become embarrassed by this, and the newer parts of the campus with its modernist buildings and landscaping have avoided any taint of the old religion. For example, we are staying in a dorm called the Casa Italiana. The theme of the dorm is all things Italian. Italian art adorns the walls, etc. And yet – if you can imagine this – there is not a single hint of Catholicism in the entire building. A very large photograph of Michelagelo’s nude sculpture of David met with their approval, and this full-frontal greeting meets everyone coming through the front door at eye level. There is another photo of an Italian city skyline (I don’t know which city), but it must be the only skyline in all of Italy without a visible church.  One has to work hard to imagine an Italy without steeples, or Italian art without the Madonna, but apparently it can be done if one is sufficiently motivated!

Anyway, I’m very happy to be here in what feels like the heart of old California. Today I plan to hear a violin recital, explore a few more corners of the campus, and spend some quality time in the university bookstore.  There will be a two-hour concert on Thursday night with all the Suzuki students, and afterwards we will be going to dinner with my cousin, a brilliant and engaging lady who spent an illustrious career as an archivist with Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and her husband, who is Swedish but does have many good qualities. Expect light blogging this week.