Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Catholic Creation of Hollywood's Golden Age, or How the Church Saved the Movies, Part Three

Part One is available here.

Part Two is available here.

The beginning of the American Catholic church's interest in cinema dates back to the beginning of the art form itself. However, the Catholic Church's leadership in America was fractured, divided between different dioceses. There was no national body to speak with a unified voice for the American Church until 1917, with the founding of the National War Council, the first national Catholic body in America. American bishops formed it to respond to the nation's request for chaplains needed for the Great War (World War I) and to preserve the faith and morality of Catholics in the military and those women living near bases. Pretty soon this organization became involved in the movies. This group's first exposure to film involved issues with hygiene films produced by the government for service personnel. After organizing opposition from within the Church, the National War Council was successful in pulling certain films it found objectionable from distribution. Following the war, the group changed its name to the National Catholic Welfare Council in 1919 and then the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) in 1922.

Following its success during World War I in preventing troops and the general public from viewing objectionable content, in 1919, the NCWC formed a specific committee to deal with the growing film industry: the Motion Picture Committee. While still focusing on hygiene films, it worked with film producers behind the scenes to fund pro-Catholic movies like the unsuccessful effort, “American Catholics in War and Reconstruction.” By 1923, led by Charles McMahon, it began issuing monthly lists of positive films in the NCWC Bulletin, believing that the best way to promote quality films was to educate the public about what were the quality films. At the same time emerged a similar program under the leadership of the Motion Picture Bureau of the International Federation of Catholic Alumnae, directed by Rita McGoldrick, a graduate of Rosary College in Illinois. While the NCWC could only evaluate 400 films a year, the International Federation of Catholic Alumnae (IFCA), which was staffed by volunteers who graduated from Catholic high schools and colleges), could review up to 11,000. The volunteers would rate the films either “good,” “very good,” or “excellent.”

While there were attempts by some dioceses to create “black lists” for immoral films, the NCWC and the IFCA, which supported the efforts of William Hays, stated it was not necessary, especially following the establishment of the Catholic-written Motion Picture Code in 1930 (as discussed in the last part of this series). However, while the Motion Picture Code was in effect, it was ineffective, with some commentators stating that the films produced during this period were less moral than the ones produced even prior to the institution of the code. As Father Daniel Lord wrote, “Crime, lust, the triangle situation, seductions, remained the normal plot of films. I could see not the slightest improvement.” Even Protestants felt betrayed by Hays and the moral code for motion pictures. Pete Harrison, editor of Harrison's Reports, wrote, “Hays made promises to the church people that he would allow no dirt in pictures and failed to keep his promises—and failed miserably.”

This era, extending from 1930 to 1934, is commonly referred to as the “pre-code era.” This is a misnomer. The Motion Picture Code was in effect. However, it just was not enforced.

Two film genres were prevalent during this period: the “gangster” and the “vamp” pictures. Films like Little Caesar, Scarface: the Shame of a Nation, and Public Enemy represent the gangster films of this time. Movies like Blonde Woman, My Sin, Tarnished Lady, Hot Stuff, Baby Face, Hot Stuff, She Done Him Wrong, and I'm No Angel fell into the category of “vamp” or “fallen women” films. (the last two starring the always provocative Mae West). Even noted crime expert, Al Capone, lamented the immorality of films during this period, saying “[T]hey are making a lot of kids want to be tough guys, and they don't serve any useful purpose.”

Trailer for the "Pre-Code" picture "Baby Face" starring
Barbara Stanwyck

Social scientists also looked into the effects of motion pictures upon children. A group called the “Payne Fund” conducted an investigation into the influence of film upon children, publishing a twelve volume work stating, scientifically (with graphs and such), how the movies were impacting the nation's youth. A summary of the study, called “Our Movie Made Children,” by Henry James Forman, published in 1933, stated that if the industry continued to be unregulated it “is extremely likely to create a haphazard, promiscuous, and undesirable national conscience.”

By 1932, individuals in the Catholic Church such as Father Lord and Martin Quigley were fed up with the non-enforcement of the Code. Father Lord began looking into films produced since the code went into effect and wrote a pamphlet called “The Motion Pictures Betray America.” In it, he wrote, “It is no longer a matter of single scenes being bad, of occasional 'hells' and 'damns,' or girls in scantly costumes,” but “a whole philosophy of evil... depicted with an explicitness that [has] excited the curriosity of children and the emulation of morons and criminals.” After this pamphlet's publication, Hays threatened Lord with a defamation suit, but it came to naught. Lord continued speaking up against the growing sinfulness of film, with this issue coming to a head when Father Lord spoke in front of five thousand young people in Buffalo. As he states in his autobiography:

“...I threw the outline for my speech away.... I reminded them what they were seeing when they went to the theater, and what effect it was bound to have upon adolescents like themselves.

Then I think my tone rose slightly for I was, without preparation, on the verge of a challenge:

'Nobody else seems to be willing to tackle this job,” I said. “How would you like to clean up the movies?'

There was a moment of surprised silence, then somebody cried out, 'Yes!' then the place thundered with applause, and then we worked out our plan.”

The plan was to create a black list of films to be published in Lord's own “The Queen's Work,” a paper that went out to nearly all the Catholic high schools and colleges in the nation in addition to thousands of other Catholic groups. The list would be published every month, with two or three of the worst offenders, demanding protests and boycotts.

“Stay away from the ones we list,' said Lord. “Write indigent letters of protest to the companies responsible. Make it so hot for the offenders that they'll stop in sheer self-defense.”

Martin Quigley did not approve of these new, more aggressive actions by Father Lord. He felt that the Catholics would have more success maintaining a close working relationship with Hollywood, continuing the white lists of approved motion pictures produced by the NCWC and the IFCA. However, some individuals, like Cardinal Mundelein and Bishop Bernard J. Sheil, saw that Lord's work was proving effective. They saw how successful Father Lord was with the nation's youth and decided a national group of Catholics from all age groups (and Protestants and Jews) organized to protect film morality would be even more effective. Thus, the Catholic (soon to be National) Legion of Decency was formed in Fall 1933. As spoken by Archbishop Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, “Catholics are called by God, the Pope, the bishops, and the priests to a united front and vigorous campaign for the purification of the cinema, which has become a deadly menace to morals.”

The Legion, with the power of the Catholic press and network of organizations, soon became the most feared institution for film producers in America. Variety claimed that fully half of the nation's 20,000,000 Catholics enlisted in the Legion within a few months. Vowing to not attend immoral films (or even the movie houses in general) Hollywood lost a tremendous amount of revenue. As stated in Chicago's “New World,” “Worn out by promises, tricked by pledges, deceived by codes, and dismayed by filth, the Church has finally decided to take action in the one way left for it-- boycott.”

The Legion of Decency raises its sword against the tentacles of the Hollywood octopus in an editorial cartoon from the Chicago's New World, September 28, 1934.

Scientific studies and the Legion of Decency were not the only pressures upon the motion picture industry in 1933. There was also a new presidential administration in Washington, and one without ties to the former Republican cabinet member, William Hays. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was establishing an alphabet soup of new regulatory agencies to deal with the Great Depression. The administration proposed that the entertainment industry should be regulated by the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). Film industry representatives began negotiating with the Roosevelt administration, but there seemed to be little hope to avoid the federal regulation the industry had feared for over a decade. The President apparently felt that the motion picture industry needed the “eagle eye” of federal regulation. There was talk of codifying into statute the Motion Picture Code, thus having the force of law behind what was formally an agreement between the studios. Hays and the motion picture industry, surrounded by the government, social scientists, and the Church, needed a solution. He decided to work with the Church, hoping that the other sides would be placated if the Catholics settled down.

Hays turned to one man, Joseph Ignatius Breen, to help him make amends with American Catholics. Joseph I. Breen was not only a Catholic, but he was also from Chicago with close ties to the diocese, In 1925, he was the publicity director for the 28th International Eucharistic Congress. There he worked closely with Quigley and Cardinal Mundelein (as his personal public relations man). In 1929, he attended the meeting with Quigley and Father Dinnen where the Motion Picture Code was first proposed. By 1931, he was working for the MPPDA as Mr. Hays's assistant and Hollywood's ambassador to the Catholic Church. Trusted by both the Catholic Church and by William Hays, he worked at placating both.

On the fifth of February, 1934, Hays appointed Breen to head the Studio Relations Committee, the committee which had the duty to make sure motion pictures conformed with the Code. Still Breen encountered the ineffectiveness of the existing enforcement program when two motion pictures he denied approval of were successful when appealed to an appeals board made up of Hollywood producers. However, as federal pressure kept up and boycotts led by the National Legion of Decency continued, the MPAA finally decided to take action.

Joseph I. Breen

On June 13, 1934, the Board of Directors of the MPAA met in New York and approved the creation of the Production Code Administration. All films would have to approved by this new administration, under the direction of Breen. All films would be required to obtain a “Certificate of Approval,” a kind of imprimatur for motion pictures. Any production company that did not go through the PCA would be fined $25,000.00 which was soon reorganized as the Production Code Administration. The new PCA would have no appeal board made up of fellow producers. A decision made by the PCA could only be appealed to the MPPDA Board of Directors (located in New York, not in Hollywood). In addition, instead of only reviewing films after production had wrapped, there would be review prior to commencement of production, with the PCA flagging anything in proposed scripts violating the code.

Hays gave Breen and Quigley direction to gain the approval of the Catholic bishops (who were to meet on the 21st of June) of this new system. Hays told them that “the Catholic authorities can have anything they want.” After reviewing the framework for this new administration and making sure Breen would be in charge of enforcement, the bishops issued a letter stating, in part, that they were victorious as “the producer's jury in Hollywood, a part of the original machinery for enforcement of the Production Code... has been abandoned and that additional local authority (Breen) has been assigned to the Code administration.” On July 11, 1934, the PCA and its authority over motion pictures were formally approved by the major production companies.

Production Code Seal
And so, a two-tiered system to regulate the content of the movies was established. A production company would submit a film to the PCA (the Breen Office) and it would be reviewed for compliance with the Code. The film would be reviewed once more by the Breen office after it was completed, where it would receive a Seal of Approval. At the same time, the production companies would submit a copy of the film to the Legion of Decency where it would receive a rating of A(Morally unobjectionable), B (Morally objectionable in part), or C (Condemned by the Legion of Decency). If approved by the Breen Office, a film would normally receive at most a “B.”

The Marx Brothers, in the Pre-Code "Horse Feathers" ask "Where's the seal?"

Pope Pius XI even came out in favor of this system in the Encyclical, Vigilanti Cura . As he wrote:

Although in certain quarters it was predicted that the artistic values of the motion picture would be seriously impaired by the reform insisted upon by the "Legion of Decency," it appears that quite the contrary has happened and that the "Legion of Decency" has given no little impetus to the efforts to advance the cinema on the road to noble artistic significance by directing it towards the production of classic masterpieces as well as of original creations of uncommon worth.

The establishment of this system in 1934 ushered in the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. In the next segment of this series, I will look at specific case studies showing how this Catholic system in regulating the content of motion pictures helped create America's movie classics.


The stage is set for a magnificent piece of worthwhile Catholic action and achievement.”

Joseph I. Breen

Black, Gregory D., Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies, (Cambridge University Press 1994).

Doherty, Thomas, Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration, (Columbia University Press 2007).

Lord, Daniel A., Played By Ear: The Autobiography of Daniel A. Lord, S.J., (Loyola University 1956).

Skinner, James, The Cross and the Cinema: The Legion of Decency and the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, 1933-1970, (Praeger Publishers 1993).

Walsh, Frank, Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry, (Yale University Press 1996).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Listen - lively colors best proclaim her!

Listen - lively colors best proclaim her!
The deathly darkening of grays and black
do not defy light but exist as lack.
All shadows recede. They cannot tame her!
So sweetly she calls all creation back
that the blind hear visions of radiance
as she paints deaf ears with yellows and blues,
deep greens and purples and countless kind hues,
passionate reds in bright blazing cadence!
In love we exclaim how good her good news:
clement and loving, the source of sweet bliss!
Singing, shining, souls stir still at calm call
to come find her here where truth and love kiss,
to dance and to play where love conquers all!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Catholic Creation of Hollywood's Golden Age, or How the Church Saved the Movies, Part Two

Part One is available here.

Part Three is available here.

There is no doubt that identities grow and are strengthened by oppression, and that is what occurred in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in American Catholic communities. Out of these communities came men and women knowledgeable and proud in their faith, especially in the city of Chicago, home of 1,086,209 Catholics by 1936 (the largest diocese in America). Chicago, with the settlement of large numbers of Catholic immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, became known as the City of Catholics. This seat of Catholic strength in America made it an obvious choice to hold the 28th International Eucharistic Congress, from June 20 to 24, 1926, the first Eucharistic Congress in the United States. Fox Film Corporation (run at the time by Winifred “Winnie” Sheehan, an Irish Catholic) filmed this noteworthy event, producing an eight reel, ninety-six minute production entitled, “His Eminence George Cardinal Mundelein Archbishop of Chicago Presents the Pictorial Record of the XXVII International Eucharistic Congress Produced for him by Fox Film Corporation.” All copyright and profits of the production went to the Church. This connection of the Chicago Archdiocese with Hollywood, which began in 1926, to Catholics from the city becoming more familiar with the film industry. Catholic Chicagoans, including Martin J. Quigley, began to leave their mark upon cinema.

(Film of 28th International Eucharistic Congress, courtesy of Chicago History Museum)

Martin Quigley (1890-1964), a graduate of Niagara and Catholic Universities, was the publisher of "Moving Picture World" and "Exhibitor's Harold" (later combined as the the "Motion Picture Harold" in 1931). He was a man of two worlds: the film industry and the Catholic Church, especially the Archdiocese of Chicago. He believed that film and filmmakers should only provide “decent wholesome material.” Such entertainment should be family-friendly and reflect the virtues and values taught by the Catholic Church. These beliefs were recognized in his publications, some of the largest trade rags in the nation. He became familiar with William Hays and others in the industry through his publications and his work producing the film of the 28th International Eucharistic Congress. While Quigley supported morality being reflected in the film industry, he was also an opponent of state censorship to further this goal. By 1929, however, he clearly saw that the local censorship boards were too entrenched to be disbanded. There needed to be another system, not one relying on state censorship, to insure moral cinema.

At the same time, the film industry was having its own troubles. William Hays's "Don'ts and Be Carefuls" system was not working.

(Martin Quigley, Cecil B. DeMille, and Paramount president Barney Balaban, Courtesy of Georgetown University Library)

Senator Smith W. Brookhart of Iowa introduced a bill into Congress in March of 1928 to have the FTC regulate the motion picture industry. There was also a fear that the federal government would ban the practice of “block booking” by which production companies sold a slate of their upcoming attractions, sight unseen, to theaters.

Being involved with the motion picture industry, Martin Quigley knew of the fears of the industry in addition to business woes created by declining profits and film attendance resulting from the Great Depression. The time was ripe, Quigley felt, for him introduce a morals code for the motion picture industry, specifically a Catholic code. Quigley consulted with Father FitzGeorge Dineen, adviser to the Chicago censorship board, who recommended Father Daniel A. Lord, S.J. to help compose this proposed code.

Father Lord grew up with entertainment, and, from an early age, was impressed with movie houses. Throughout his time in the seminary, he followed the new medium, accompanying silent films by playing the piano in the theater with his fellow seminarians. One film left a profound impact upon him. In 1915, he viewed what one can consider the first blockbuster, "The Birth of a Nation" This vile and hate-filled film, based on the novel, The Clansman by Thomas Dixon and directed by D.W. Griffith, is the story of the rise of the first version of the Ku Klux Klan and left such an impact upon its viewers that a second version of the Ku Klux Klan became extremely active in the 1920s.

(Father Daniel A. Lord, S.J., 1944, Courtesy of Georgetown University Library)

As Father Lord states in his autobiography, Played By Ear:

"The deep hatred that Dixon had written into 'The Clansman' had been blown high and hot in the film. Griffith, whether he meant to or not, made many persons hate Negros and dread any emancipation given them. And I knew I was in the presence of a medium so powerful that it might change our whole attitude towards life, civilization, and established customs.... No doubt about it, the horrible bigotry of the KKK which sprang at the throat of the Catholic Church and American liberties not a decade later rode to its brief and ugly triumphs largely on a road down which had dashed Griffith's clansman."

In the years that followed, Father Lord got involved in different activities, focusing upon the theater. He became a theologian and playwright, in addition to being a Professor of English and Drama at St. Louis University, However, that changed when he was called upon to be the Catholic adviser on Cecil B. DeMille's "The King of Kings" in 1926. Joined by Jewish and Protestant advisers (both of whom left a few days into filming), Father Lord gave DeMille suggestions to make this movie about the life of the Christ theologically sound. For example, DeMille originally felt that a love story needed to be added into the film to attract a larger audience, namely a love story between Mary Magdalene and Judas. This romantic relationship between the two would culminate in the betrayal of Christ by Judas.

Father Lord suggested that this was not an appropriate manner to relate the life of Christ, and one evening, while watching the dailies with Father Lord, DeMille stated “He is great, isn't He?” DeMille was not speaking of the actor portraying Christ, but of Christ Himself. DeMille cut over 1,500 feet of film from the Mary Magdalene scenes, and the love story aspect of the plot was dropped from the finished film save for a bit in the opening minutes, posted below. Father Lord's Hollywood adventure being over, he returned to teaching at St. Louis University, until he was contacted by Martin Quigley about the creation of a Catholic morals code for cinema.

(Trailer for King of Kings, 1927)

(First Part of King of Kings, 1927 in early color)

Together Quigley and Fathers Dinnen and Lord discussed the drafting of such a code. It was decided to not make it explicitly Catholic, but in a way “that the follower of any religion, or any man of decent feeling and conviction, would read it and instantly agree. It must make morally attractive, and the sense of responsibility of the movies to its public and unmistakable.” Hays, to whom Quigley proposed the idea, was receptive to this solution.

Hays and Quigley carried the idea to the member companies of the MPPDA which received the idea of a more effective morals code by which the industry could self-regulate the movies, and, thus, avoid state censorship with enthusiasm. However, this was not Quigley's only selling point. There was also a desire for the producers to appeal to the Catholic audience. While those who owned the production companies were mainly of Jewish decent and the majority of moviegoers were Protestant, there was a desire by the film industry to specifically appeal to Catholics for several reasons:
  1. They were the single largest single religious group in the United States;
  2. There was a clear hierarchy and institutional structure to the Church; and
  3. The strong loyalty the lay people had to the Church and its teachings.
Quigley and Lord began work on this code, with Lord making sure A.M.D.G. and B.V.M.H. were the first letters placed at the top of the page. As Lord later wrote:

"Here was a chance to tie the Ten Commandments in with the newest and most widespread form of entertainment. Here was an opportunity to read morality into mass recreation. Here was an industry that might be persuaded to avoid the police by a sane and honorable policy."

The Motion Picture Production Code drafted by Quigley and Father Lord began with three general principles:
  1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.
  2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
  3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.
“Particular Applications,” which was composed of an update of the “Don'ts and Be Carefuls” more carefully arranged by subject, followed this first section. Father Lord added a section entitled “Reasons Supporting the Preamble of the Code,” based upon Scholasticism and Catholic thought, justifying the purpose of upholding the morality of art in general and film in particular. The differences between the limited appeal and reach of other arts compared to film were emphasized. General principles of morality followed with their bearing upon entertainment.

As stated by Joseph I. Breen, future head of the Production Code Administration:

"The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me to be an inspired document that fitted into the then current situation, having to do with motion picture entertainment, like a sharply cut picture puzzle. The code was essentially a moral treatise whose rules and regulations stemmed from the ancient moral law which has been accepted by mankind almost since the dawn of creation. These principles do not arise from timely or geographic considerations. Such principles do not become outmoded."

An additional issue must be addressed about the code. If one explores it, one sees some distinctly un-Catholic parts to it, namely the clause (Particular Applications, II, 6) against miscegenation (sexual relations between the races). This was inserted in the third draft of the code by William Hays himself. Lord and Quigley were very much against this addition. One person familiar with the situation described Quigley as “absolutely infuriated all the time that I knew him with the original Code where it said we could not treat a picture dealing with miscegenation. He thought it was outrageous and un-Christian.” However, Hays included it as a matter of economics. The racial reality of the American South in this period made it necessary to ban this subject matter, at least according to William Hays. Later, in 1942, Hays reconsidered this decision, and Mortimer Adler, Aristotelian and neo-Thomist philosopher, author, and one of the founders of the "Great Books" program (and subsequent Catholic convert), looked into the issue for him. Adler suggested that it be moved from a list of banned subjects to subjects that needed to be carefully dealt with by producers. This was done.

The code was approved by the industry on 31 March 1930, with Hays's name attached, making sure the public, which still looked upon the Catholic Church with distrust, did not know a Catholic priest and layman were the primary authors of this moral code for motion pictures. The Production Code, or what was commonly referred to as the Hays Code, went into effect. Lord and Quigley's role in its creation was not known until 1934.

The problem with this code was that there still was no enforcement mechanism. There was no system to approve scripts prior to filming. This led to the possibility of violations only being discovered after filming was completed, requiring costly reshoots. Second, if a decision regarding the immorality of a film was appealed from the Hays Office, it was appealed to a court made up of fellow producers, which would cost more for their fellow producers. The producers could say they would follow its regulations, but since it was unprofitable for them to do so, they would not. This time period, 1930 to 1934, is what is known by the misnomer, the “Pre-Code era of Hollywood. So-called “gangster” and “vamp” (or “fallen woman”) pictures were extremely popular, glorifying evil and sexual vice. They were also very profitable.

As the age of Republican dominance of the White House came to a close in 1933, the era of the New Deal began. It was not unexpected for a national film regulation board to be included among the alphabet soup of new federal agencies, especially since the industry was not doing the self-regulation it promised in 1930. Father Lord, Martin Quigley, who still had enormous influence through his “Motion Picture Harold,” and the greater Catholic community were also fed up with this lackadaisical enforcement system. Father Lord wrote, “Crime, lust, the triangle situation, seductions, remained the normal plot of the films.... The signatures solemnly affixed by the heads of the companies to the code seemed to bind no one.” Out of these circumstances emerged the Catholic Legion of Decency and the Production Code Administration, the subjects of the next installment of this series.


"In my long and pleasant life the films and Hollywood have been just an incident.... But you asked about it, and here is the record. Some time you may want to check it all in my complete files."

Father Daniel A. Lord, S.J., from Played By Ear.


Black, Gregory D., Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies, (Cambridge University Press 1994).

Doherty, Thomas, Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration, (Columbia University Press 2007).

Lord, Daniel A., Played By Ear: The Autobiography of Daniel A. Lord, S.J., (Loyola University 1956).

Skinner, James, The Cross and the Cinema: The Legion of Decency and the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, 1933-1970, (Praeger Publishers 1993).

Walsh, Frank, Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry, (Yale University Press 1996).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Catholic Creation of Hollywood's Golden Age, or How the Church Saved the Movies, Part One

Those with a general understanding of the motion picture industry and its history will already know that Catholics have been extremely influential as directors and actors. A variety of directors like Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo and North by Northwest), John Ford (Stagecoach and The Searchers), Frank Capra (It's a Wonderful Life and Meet John Doe), Leo McCarey (Duck Soup and The Bells of St. Mary's), Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull and The Departed), and Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather and The Conversation) represent the broad range of the Catholic experience in America, representing those Catholics of Irish, Italian, and English ancestry. Their films cover all the great genres of cinema, from horror and Western to romantic comedy and melodrama. Many commentators have explored the Catholic themes in these men's films, with Catholic understandings of family and community, struggle and redemption, and moral liberty and free will painted on celluloid.

Yet Catholic thought reached the American public beyond these men and their movies, especially during the time period known today as the “Golden Age of Hollywood," a period from roughly 1935 to 1960. The Catholic Church nurtured cinema as an art when it was only considered an industry by the American Government. The Catholic Church helped guide the creation of some of the greatest movies ever made, using subtlety instead of directness; symbols rather than graphic imagery. Lastly, the Catholic Church used the motion picture industry to help integrate Catholics into mainstream American society, going from the Papist "other" to the next-door neighbor. Sadly, apart from several (largely negative) works written over the past two decades, the Church's role nurturing the creation of motion picture industry has been largely forgotten. Over the next few weeks, I will make a series of posts exploring these points and related topics so one can gather a greater understanding and appreciation of the Catholic heritage of American film, why the Church's role should be viewed as a positive influence in the creation of this art form, and the power cinema had and continues to have on our society as a whole.

The Catholic Church has always known the power of art. As Pope Pius XI wrote, "The essential purpose of art... is to assist in the perfection of the moral personality, which is man, and for this reason it must itself be moral." Additionally, nos. 2500 and 2501 of the Catechism state, "The practice of goodness is accompanied by spontaneous joy and moral beauty... To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God's activity in which he has created. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man."

Typically though, art has become almost an archaic term, especially in talking about movies. The term "art" instantly conjures up thoughts of museums, classrooms, and, in absence of a more appropriate term, Rastafarian relics of the 1960s. Instead, many people today consider film "entertainment," immediately creating a picture of escape and abandonment. This distinction in modern society leads to a lesser understanding of the power of film as an art form, a truth the Church has known since the advent of moving pictures. Even though the Catholic Church considers film as a form of art, the American government has not always been so enlightened.

(Directors, from top left clockwise, Alfred Hitchcock, Leo McCarey, Frank Capra, Francis Ford Coppola, John Ford, and Martin Scorsese)

Beginning in the first decade of the twentieth century, local censorship boards sprouted up across America, especially in the mid-west, cutting and splicing scenes from the new "moving pictures" in order to protect public morals and decency on the assumption cinema was not covered by the free speech guarantees of the American Bill of Rights. These boards were typically branches of the local police department, made up of individuals with little to no training in art. There was no philosophical underpinning to the methods of these local boards, leading to differing standards in different communities. Moviegoers in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago could see three different versions of the same film, all of different lengths, depending upon how much the local censorship board objected to in the film. It was a very slow, ineffective, and confusing system.

The film industry fought back. Going all the way to the United States Supreme Court, motion picture producers stated their product was protected as a form of free speech. In this case, Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, 236 U.S. 230 (1915), the Supreme Court disagreed. As the Court stated in its unanimous decision, "…the exhibition of moving pictures is a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit… not to be regarded, nor intended to be regarded by the Ohio Constitution [and, thus, the United States Constitution], we think, as part of the press of the country, or as organs of public opinion."

This decision led to more state censorship boards being established and the threat of the Federal government censoring movies for public consumption. The film industry tried to deal with this new reality in creating the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), made up of the nation's largest studios. William Hays, a Presbyterian and Postmaster General under President Warren G. Harding, was placed in charge, with the hope that his contacts in the federal government would help relieve its threats of censorship. To help achieve this goal, several codes of self-regulation, the most famous of which was the "don'ts and be carefuls," a random list of what things were and what things were not allowed in the motion pictures, were agreed to by the major studios.

However, while they were agreed to, there was no enforcement mechanism in the studio system to make sure they were following these regulations. The situation only got more pressing with the advent of talking pictures in the late 1920s. At this point, federal regulatory agencies were proposed to deal with immorality in film, similar to how the FDA regulates the quality of meat. The film industry had to do something, and that is when the Catholics were called in, leading to the salvation of the film industry.

In my next post, I will write of three influential Catholics who shaped the film industry in America for two decades: Father Daniel A. Lord, S.J., Joseph I. Breen, and Martin J. Quigley and the creation of the Motion Picture Production Code.


Film is one of the three universal languages, the other two: mathematics and music.
Frank Capra

Part two is available here.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Two Paths of Time in T.S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton"

Eliot's "Burnt Norton" is a work which masterfully handles the problem of time. Many are the avenues through which Eliot leads this query: memory, poetry, art, liturgy, Eucharist. And yet the fundamental question concerns our own response: what are we to do about time? What happens if we do nothing? Does Christianity have anything to offer this problem, and if so, what is it? Eliot, in effect, presents us with two paths, in the style of Matthew 7:13-14: there is a narrow way which leads to life and happiness, and a broad way which leads to destruction and despair. In this article, I would like to address the response of those on the narrow way and those on the broad to the problem of time, the final destination of each, and the means to arrive at that destination.
Before examining each path in particular, we need to understand the problem as Eliot has framed it. The human person finds himself a halfling of sorts, being conscious of time (the cosmic flow of events outside of man, and his own interior sense of it), and so in some way outside it: "to be conscious is not to be in time."** And yet man is bound by the limitations of time, expressed through the memory of the past, the endless flow of the present, and the uncertainty of the future, none of which can be escaped. Time, it seems, is a "ridiculous sad waste," stretching ever forward and back, and yet a queer necessity for us as humans. The quest then for Eliot is not so much to define time as to pinpoint its existential meaning.
And this is the problem those in the world (on the broad path)  cannot address. Those in the world find themselves "in a dim light...[in] neither plenitude nor vacancy," which is to say they neither feel the brilliance of eternal (timeless) beauty, nor the joyful fire of hopeful darkness. Time, for those in the world, has no meaning, no end. Rather, it is is the endless stretch, a consuming horizon sprawling ever before them and ever behind them. This endless flow robs the past of meaning, making memory a mere mausoleum, a "bowl of rose leaves" covered in dust.  There is neither meaning in the future, the present, or the past, in the same way that a sailor sees little meaning in each wave that bobbles his skiff. The problem of time is solved by decrying the problem absurd.
In what state does this leave the world, then? As "men and bits of paper, whirled about by the cold wind that blows before and after time" with "strained, time-ridden faces/distracted from distraction by distraction." In other words, Time chews men up and spits them out. Without meaning, time causes men to live lives of "quiet despair" in sensual pleasure ("appetency") and distraction, "filled with fancies and empty of meaning," because the truth of nihilism is itself too gruesome to view head-on. While for the Christian, time itself points to the meaning, for those "in the dim light" of the world, time points to nothing but the grave: "time and the bell have buried the day." And the only logical response to this is to give oneself over to appetites and sense pleasure, seeing no hope for the future and no significance in the past. Indeed, St. Paul's words ring true: "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die" (1 Cor. 15:32).
The Christian imbues time with hope and significance in Christ and His New Creation, and Eliot being a devout Anglican is quite aware of this. For the Christian, time is teleological: "the end precedes the beginning, and the end and the beginning were always there, before the beginning and after the end." According to Eliot, the Christian sees time, not as a Euclidean line extending infinitely in both directions, but more as an arrow, shot with an intended purpose contained within it from the moment the bow was taut. Time is moving somewhere, it is flowering, it is unfolding: "time past and time present are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past.". The echoes of St. Augustine's City of God are unmistakable here: time has an end, and as we shall see, that end is firmly stamped with the mark of the cross.
To what end are we drawn, then, according to Eliot? Simply put, it is "the still point": "At the still point of the turning world...there the dance is, and there is only the dance." In this point, all creation (both new and old), including time, is "made explicit, understood." At this still point, we are freed from the "practical desire," from "action and suffering," from the "enchainment" of the fleshly distractions experienced by those "filled with fancies." And yet, what is this point? And how is it a dance? It is my contention that this point is nothing else -- could be nothing else -- other than the Holy Trinity itself. What other "dance" can we imagine at the center of "the turning world," if not the "formal pattern" of exchange between the Son and the Father, whose infinite self-gift is the meaning and end of it all. Eliot himself points to this at the end of "Burnt Norton," citing Love as the "the cause and end of movement" and end of all desire. The "still point," is the entrance of the soul into love, into eternity. That is our end, much in contrast to that of the world: not death, but "into the silence" of Love.
But we are not there yet. It's well and good that we will arrive in the heart of the Blessed Trinity, the Inner Life of God, but what are we to do now? If the world responds to their philosophy of meaningless time through sensual pleasure, then Christians respond by asceticism: "Descend lower, descend only/Into the world of perpetual solitude...Internal darkness, deprivation/And destitution of all property, dessication of the world of sense,/Evacuation of the world of fancy,/Inoperancy of the world of spirit" (179). Asceticism is often relegated to either the romantic or geriatric categories -- something for pious St. Francis's and old women. And yet, in Eliot's work, the only solution to the problem of time for the Christian is to purify himself of all earthly desires, to act as if time, "woven in the weakness of the changing body," really were leading him into the greatest of all joys, and not merely to decay. Man must be a credible theist, as Fr. Dubay wrote in The Fire Within, preferring nothing to God. The "darkness" of human life, the apparent victory of death, is not cause for despair. Rather, the "darkness [purifies] the soul,/emptying the sensual with deprivation,/cleansing affection from the temporal." We can only conquer time by, in a sense, being liberated from the desires and fancies it engenders, while still in time in the body.
And so, our asceticism, our waiting in darkness, does not free us from time in any gnostic sense. We do not hope for a disembodied existence in a non-spatial realm. Rather Christ, who has brought time into heaven in his ascension, will create a new heavens and a new earth, a new body for each of us and a new perfected time to dwell in. In this sense, it is "only through time [that] time is conquered," by living, in a sense, as a sacrament of perfect time to come. Only by the narrow path of asceticism and darkness can we arrive in time perfected, at the "still point" in the Heart of the Trinity in the New Creation. That is our hope and our liberation: not to be conquered by time and death, but to answer the question of time with the hope of the cross.
R. Carruth
**All quotes, unless otherwise specified, are from Collected Poems by T.S. Eliot.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I is for Incompleteness

One of the most important results in mathematics and logic in the past century came from Kurt Gödel, an Austrian logician and mathematician. His two incompleteness theorems force a sort of white-knuckled humility upon mathematicians everywhere. However, for the most part, outside of mathematicians, logicians, and philosophers, Gödel’s results remain largely unknown and seem largely irrelevant but the theorems actually have far-reaching impacts for almost any discipline. The two theorems are as follows:

Theorem 1: No consistent algorithm/axiomatization of formal arithmetic is complete.

Theorem 2: For all systems of arithmetic (A), if A is consistent, then there is no proof in A of the consistency of A.

These might seem highly technical and irrelevant, but let’s look at what the theorems actually mean and what some of their consequences are.

To understand either theorem requires some knowledge of terminology:

Arithmetic is one of the mathematical sciences (actually, the mathematical science of the integers)

An algorithm is a system of steps or procedure for solving a problem

An axiomatization is a set of axioms (or self-evident truths) which forms the starting-point for a mathematician desiring to arrive at new conclusions in mathematics

A set of axioms is consistent if and only if none of the axioms are mutually exclusive. That might seem somewhat abstract, but it makes sense. For instance, let’s say one of my axioms was “a certain number exists” and then another of my axioms was “that same number does not exist.” This is an absurdity and this set of axioms would be considered inconsistent.

A set of axioms is complete if and only if that set of axioms can be used to arrive at every truth in its particular science. For instance, a set of arithmetic axioms (or an axiomatization for arithmetic) is complete if it can be used to show every arithmetical truth.

It is desirable that an axiomatization be consistent, because if it is inconsistent, then it will arrive at contradictory conclusions. In other words, an inconsistent axiomatization leads to false conclusions, which is obviously undesirable. It is desirable that an axiomatization be complete so that we can arrive at every true conclusion regarding our particular science (for instance, arithmetic).

Again, this may seem abstract, but I am reaching a point, so please bear with me. Noting all of this information, then, informally we may state Gödel’s incompleteness theorems as follows:

No set of axioms can be proven to be consistent using that set of axioms. Furthermore, even if you could prove that it was consistent, it couldn’t be complete. That is to say, there is no way to show that a set of axioms will never lead to falsehood. However, say you knew you had a consistent set of axioms. That set of axioms cannot possibly arrive at all mathematical truth.

Okay, now to the fun part. Why is all this crazy stuff about mathematical systems of axioms important? The implications of these theorems are huge. Since those theorems are true, it appears to be true that, at least through mathematical methods, not every mathematical truth can be shown to be true. In other words, there are true things that we cannot prove. And if that’s true in mathematics, it’s certainly true in other disciplines as well. This is a strong argument for the existence of objective truth, because it shows that there are truths that are true even though it is impossible for us to prove them – that are true independent of our own minds.

It is also an important conclusion for refuting people who deny the existence of immaterial reality. Why? People who deny immaterial reality deny it on the basis that it can’t be proven using the empirical sciences (with the exception of certain sophists who choose to deny the existence of any reality at all - material or immaterial). But we know there are truths that can’t be proven via deductive reasoning. It is a mathematical fact (which, ironically enough, has been proven). Obviously this, of itself, is not sufficient for showing the existence of immaterial reality, but it is enough to silence those who argue against its existence which might open them up to our own arguments for the existence of immaterial reality.

To conclude, then, Gödel proved his two incompleteness theorems which (together) show that a complete knowledge of mathematical truths is outside the capability of any mathematical system (that is to say there are mathematical propositions that are true that are also unprovable). This has repercussions for our debates with people who believe in the supremacy of mathematics or physics rather than theology and her handmaiden philosophy. As such, even though the theorems themselves might be a little too technical to bring into a discussion, its consequences are (if not essential) highly useful for the Catholic participating in the New Evangelization.

Mariae et Jesu Semper Servus Sum,


Source: Philosophy of Mathematics: A Contemporary Introduction to the World of Proofs and Pictures, 2nd Edition, written by James Robert Brown

Monday, October 04, 2010

Not So Mysterious Ways: God's Definitive Revelation in Jesus Christ

Recently, I was having a discussion with a group of atheists regarding the existence of God--not on the more general level of the God of the philosophers, but rather the God of Christianity in particular. “Why,” they asked, “if the Christian God exists, are there so many non-believers? Surely, if he wished to make it so, he could make his identity as obvious as the existence of the moon, say by a worldwide public revelation of himself, not in a way that coerced the will, but in a way that made his presence clear to everyone?” Essentially: if God wants everyone to be saved and, in his omnipotence, is able to reveal the truth about salvation to everyone, why doesn’t he simply make the truth so obvious that we have a firm ground on which to accept or reject him?

There are several ways to go about responding to an issue like this. The most simple and obvious is, of course, to say “Why, God did make his existence as obvious as the moon—in fact, the moon itself is positive evidence for the existence of God: all the world is a testimony to his reality!” Which is, of course, true, as St. Paul told us (Romans 1:20ff). But this is rather ineffective to the atheist. Furthermore, while true, it doesn’t really strike to the core of the question of Christianity, in particular, nor does it explain the inconsistency in the beliefs (specifically about salvation) amongst those who already believe in God. So, where are we as Christians to turn?

I’ve always maintained that all of Christian theology can be summed up in two words: Trinity and Incarnation. Interestingly, enough, it is on these exact two points that the atheists most fail to comprehend the nature of Christian revelation. So, let us ask, why doesn’t God give a universal revelation of himself and make it obvious to everyone? The answer: Incarnation. St. John of the Cross in his Ascent of Mount Carmel said:

Wherefore he that would now enquire of God, or seek any vision or revelation, would not only be acting foolishly, but would be committing an offence against God, by not setting his eyes altogether upon Christ, and seeking no new thing or aught beside. And God might answer him after this manner, saying: If I have spoken all things to thee in My Word, Which is My Son, and I have no other word, what answer can I now make to thee, or what can I reveal to thee which is greater than this? Set thine eyes on Him alone, for in Him I have spoken and revealed to thee all things, and in Him thou shalt find yet more than that which thou askest and desirest. For thou askest locutions and revelations, which are the part; but if thou set thine eyes upon Him, thou shalt find the whole; for He is My complete locution and answer, and He is all My vision and all My revelation; so that I have spoken to thee, answered thee, declared to thee and revealed to thee, in giving Him to thee as thy brother, companion and master, as ransom and prize.

So, as Christians, we declare that Christ is the definitive revelation of God and all things are contained in him. There is no need or desire for further revelation because everything rests in the sacred heart of Jesus, the Christ. After all, what more could God possibly reveal about himself than the person of himself, in the flesh, walking amongst us, no longer communicating with mere words, riddles or dreams, but speaking to us face to face, as with friends?

But the atheist is still unsatisfied with the response. They don’t think that Christ is the best possible revelation because the Incarnation does not—in their minds—meet the criteria of being the most direct means of conveying the knowledge of God and salvation to the broadest number of people. That God has come among us in the flesh, they argue, is not as obvious as the existence of the moon. But since God is omnipotent, he could reveal himself to more people with more uniformity and therefore lead more people to salvation. Since God is supposed to desire the salvation of all men, must it not be the case that God does not exist? The answer: the Trinity.

The interior life of God can always tell us something about God’s relationship with the world. Particularly since this specific question raised by the atheists addresses the salvation of mankind, we must touch upon what salvation is from this perspective. In the interior life of the Trinity love is most perfectly manifest, for God is Love. The Father gives himself completely and freely to the Son, the Son returns himself completely to the Father and the bond of giving and receiving one another is the Holy Spirit—one God composed of three persons in an eternal dance of absolutely self-giving, interpenetrating Love. What does this tell us about salvation and the fittingness of the Incarnation as its definitive expression? The saints have always affirmed that the meaning and purpose of the Incarnation was that men might partake of divinization or, as it is called in the East, theosis. As St. Athanasius said, “God became man so that man might become god.” That is, God wishes to bestow on mankind his divine nature and welcome mankind into the interior life of the Trinity.

With that in mind, we see how fundamentally fitting it is that God should reveal himself definitively through the Incarnation. God wants mankind to partake of the divine nature; that is the definition of salvation. Then God himself likewise takes on human nature. God wants to reveal himself to mankind? Well then, God should invite mankind to be co-workers in that with him as in all things. And that is the reality. Why does God reveal himself in the Incarnation and then Ascend to Heaven, leaving the propagation of the saving message of the divine life in the hands of the Church (a sacramental body of both divine and human elements)? Because, given the nature and meaning of salvation, it simply would not be fitting for it to happen in any other fashion. God wants man as active co-participants in all his works—from the creation of new life in the conception of children, to the redemption from sin by way of the sacraments through his priestly ministers, and the proclamation of the Gospel and the world-wide realization of his saving message is part of that cooperation, a duty and a responsibility incumbent upon all Christians.

So, in short, why doesn’t God simply make a great, world-wide revelation of himself directly to every individual that makes his presence as obvious as the moon? He simply loves you too much to leave you out of the work.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Little Way and the Mercy of God

You have probably been told before that all the saints are really speaking the same Truth – that is, Jesus Christ – only in different voices. This is the beauty of the Communion of Saints! Every saint speaks only of Christ but chooses to highlight a different aspect of His Truth. For example, I would venture to say that Thérèse points to the mystery of God’s love for us and our reciprocal love for Him, which allows us to become like little children and so enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

That is not to say, however, that the message of Thérèse does not "overlap" with the message of other saints. In fact, the more I read the writings of the saints, the more I wonder at how often this sort of "meeting" occurs. Recently, I was impressed deeply by the Diary of St. Faustina, particularly by how much it reminded me of Story of a Soul. Curious to see how much these two saints really echoed one another, I began re-reading Thérèse... and it seems that she was just as fascinated by the Mercy of God as Faustina. Consider the following passages side-by-side:

Faustina: "He Himself descends to me and makes me capable of communing with Him... O inexhaustible spring of Divine Mercy, pour yourself out upon us! Your goodness knows no limits. Confirm, O Lord, the power of Your mercy over the abyss of my misery..."
Thérèse: "... Jesus showered His graces so lavishly on His little flower. He, who cried out in His mortal life: 'I thank thee, Father, that thou has hidden these things from the wise and the prudent and revealed them to babes,' willed to have His mercy shine out in me. Because I was little and weak He lowered Himself to me..."

Faustina: "I count on nothing in my life but only on Your infinite mercy. It is the guiding thread of my life, O Lord. My soul is filled with God's mercy."

Thérèse: "How merciful is the way God has guided me. Never has He given me the desire for anything which He has not given me, and even His bitter chalice seemed delightful to me."

Faustina: "O Jesus, my heart stops beating when I think of all You are doing for me! I am amazed at You, Lord, that You would stoop so low to my wretched soul! ... God usually chooses the weakest and simplest souls as tools for His greatest works."

Thérèse: "I feel that if You found a soul weaker and littler than mine, which is impossible, You would be pleased to grant it still greater favors, provided it abandoned itself with total confidence to Your Infinite Mercy."

Reading passages like these, I realized that the "Little Way" was deeper and broader than I ever imagined. It wasn't just about doing little acts of love for Jesus -- it was also about the way I viewed my own sinfulness and my trust (or lack thereof) in the Mercy of God.

Thérèse reminds us that in our spiritual growth, the emphasis must not be placed on our good deeds (nor on our sinfulness) but rather on our confidence in God's Love and Mercy. Our works are a necessary expression of our love for God, but when we fail at them, our immediate reaction must not be one of fear or discouragement but rather one of confidence, which leads us to depend on His Mercy and to simply begin again with our good resolutions.

"What a comfort it is, this way of love! You may stumble on it, you may fail to correspond with grace given, but always love knows how to make the best of everything; whatever offends our Lord is burnt up in the fire of Love, and nothing is left but a humble, absorbing peace deep down in the heart."

Think of how a small child acts when he realizes he has done some wrong -- a child who does not fear his father. At the very moment the child begins to feel guilty for what he's done, he rushes tearfully into the arms of his father to bury his face in his father's chest, confident that the only necessary thing on his part is this utter abandonment, this blind trust in his father's merciful love.

Along the same lines, when we are tempted to dwell on our faults and shortcomings, we ought to toss them immediately into the fire of Love which consumes the Heart of Our Lord.

"When we cast our faults into the devouring fire of Love with total childlike trust, how would they not be consumed, so that nothing is left of them?"

She's right, of course. The Little Way leads us to the Mercy of God, on a path of total childlike trust. Little Flower of Jesus, pray for us!

St. Thérèse of Lisieux and the Proper Disposition of the Intellect

The world is full of false dichotomies, and some people might assume the Parousians played into one of them when we chose St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Thérèse of Lisieux as our patron saints, the Dumb Ox being the height of Catholic intellectual life and the Little Flower being cute and small and flowery, stereotyping two doctors of the Church in ways that do no justice to their common sanctity and mental dexterity. St. Thomas Aquinas was renowned for his humility and tender devotion to our Lord. And just as St. Thomas Aquinas had a keen command of small details that led him to the universals, St. Thérèse had an alertness born of humility to see reality as it really is, drawing her to the revelation that all is grace, a revelation that contradicts the nihilism of her age and our own.

Saints are canonized in the Catholic Church according to their saintliness, and from that number a select few are chosen because of their contributions to the doctrine of the Church. Doctors help the Church come to a greater clarity on how we understand the Revelation of Christ. Pope John Paul II declared St. Thérèse a doctor recognizing her insight:

Thérèse of Lisieux did not only grasp and describe the profound truth of Love as the center and heart of the Church, but in her short life she lived it intensely. It is precisely this convergence of doctrine and concrete experience, of truth and life, of teaching and practice, which shines with particular brightness in this saint, and which makes her an attractive model especially for young people and for those who are seeking true meaning for their life. Before the emptiness of so many words, Thérèse offers another solution, the one Word of salvation which, understood and lived in silence, becomes a source of renewed life. She counters a rational culture, so often overcome by practical materialism, with the disarming simplicity of the "little way" which, by returning to the essentials, leads to the secret of all life: the divine Love that surrounds and penetrates every human venture. In a time like ours, so frequently marked by an ephemeral and hedonistic culture, this new Doctor of the Church proves to be remarkably effective in enlightening the mind and heart of those who hunger and thirst for truth and love. An eminent model and guide for Christians today.

St. Thérèse bucks the trend of reducing everything to their molecular composition and sees the love of God, his grace teeming in all human affairs, in all creation, even in the smallest acts. She was tuned into reality as it really is, and this darkness in our understanding is not overcome by faculties unfortunately sectioned off as being the whole intellect.

St. Thérèse lived in the light of truth undetectable by the proud, be they new atheists in their irrationality or ill formed apologists who reduce the mystery of transcendental truth to easily apprehended talking points void of the reality of Christ.

The Little Flower herself said, "It seems to me that humility is truth. I don't know if I'm humble, but I do know that I see the truth in all things."

St. Thérèse's willed humility opened her eyes to the grandeur of God displayed in all things. Humility is a necessary disposition to be receptive to reality as it really is, lest we get caught up in out own irrationality and have the arrogance to insist that our skewered vision of the world is accurate.

In my twenties, even with a degree of catechesis and an intellectual formation rooted in the great books, I became obsessed with the problem of evil. I would try to couch my own personal hurt in "intellectual" arguments against a Christian understanding of theodicy. In truth these "intellectual" arguments were rationalizations that did not even match up to my own experience. I moved far from agnostic doubt into nihilistic despair. Somewhere along the way, my doubts had gotten the best of me, and I had forgotten the reality of the love of God I had known both in previous times of prayer and in a world where I had witnessed love and beauty and goodness in spite of the evil I was dwelling on. After a few years of fighting with God out of my hurt, I realized my reasoning was off, and pride had driven me to cut myself off from graces that kept revealing the love of God if I only had eyes to see them, if only I had eyes like St. Thérèse.

St. Thérèse was hurt, but she did not make herself and her hurts bigger than the God who loved her. She made herself small, remained childlike, and did not lose the sense of wonder long-forgotten by so many who think they have figured the world out. This smallness enabled her to see the love woven into all truth so that she might express the truth of that love in each of her own small acts.

She said, "I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul."

And in recognizing her as a Doctor of the Church, John Paul II knew this line of thinking was not the naivete of an innocent nun, but the sacramental vision necessary to understand the world as it is, a place where the love of God is constantly being revealed. This openness to see grace in all things could only be found in someone small enough to find grace in the smallest things.