Know Your Enemy

A few weeks ago, as readers of Crisis are well aware, Cardinal Ludwig Mueller delivered to the American nuns who head the Leadership Conference of Women Religious the most glorious day they’ve enjoyed in twenty years. He noticed them. He called them out for heresy, for praising groups who had “moved beyond Jesus,” for honoring people who fight the Church in such matters as abortion, and for being in the Church institutionally but far outside of it in faith. He pleaded with them to return. They cried with outrage against the bully.

Also a few weeks ago, my daughter, my mother and I stopped to look at and take pictures of the largest glacial pothole in the world. It’s in a tiny state park in my hometown, secluded, accessible only by highway. Ordinary people used to go there, long ago, for picnics. When I was a small boy, the teenagers in charge of our playground took us on a three mile hike to the pothole, and back again. That was probably the last time anyone could have done so, because the place has since become a pickup place for strange flesh.

My daughter is interested in geology, so I said I’d drive her there, but I was hoping that the place would be empty. It wasn’t. There were two cars in the parking lot, each with a man at the wheel. When we got out and began taking pictures and talking and doing ordinary things, first one car and then the other tore out of there—obviously the drivers were angry and embarrassed. I hadn’t looked at them, hadn’t said anything. The mere presence of the ordinary was enough to gall. And there is nothing that anyone can really do about that. I can pretend all day long that the men were only ordinary men with one little sexual wrinkle. But pretending doesn’t make it so, as the men themselves can attest.

I bring these incidents up because they illustrate a moral syndrome which Christians ignore at their peril. Cardinal Mueller mistook his antagonists. Mueller is a normal human being. A normal human being, acknowledging the value of something noble, venerable, lovely, good, and holy, assumes that those who wish to ruin it are mistaken as to fact. Chesterton, that eminently normal man, said that many people hated what they thought was the Church, but very few hated the real thing. Or the normal man assumes that his enemies seek some genuine good, but fail to see that what they wish to destroy promotes that good, or does not obstruct it. Socrates was wholly normal when he said that human evil was a result of ignorance—of not knowing something true, or of not seeing something good and beautiful.

If human beings were utility machines, acting by a calculus of moral duty regardless of passion, memory, the body, and all that they see that cannot be reduced to a calculus, then debates might be simple affairs. But human beings are no such machines. They are made for self-donation, giving themselves completely to what transcends them: homo adorans. Now it’s one thing to adore a god that is insufficient, incomplete, even a distortion of the true. It’s another thing to adore the false god out of frustrated impotence, in enmity against the true. That is the dreadful self-absorption, a mockery of self-donation, that Max Scheler writes about in Ressentiment.

Ressentiment, says Scheler, is not the same as revenge. When the boy next door pushed me around, my father calmly told me to punch him the next time he did it. I followed his advice, and the boy and I were friends after that. My father might have learned that easy lesson from boyhood, or from his time as a sergeant. If two soldiers got into a scrap, they’d be ordered to put on the boxing gloves and get in the ring. The leaders in the Army wanted more than abstract justice or acknowledgment of rights. They wanted order, camaraderie, friendship.

But revenge “tends to be transformed into ressentiment the more it is directed against lasting situations which are felt to be ‘injurious’ but beyond one’s control—in other words, the more the injury is experienced as a destiny.” I can be angry with my neighbor for playing loud music at night. I walk over to him and ask him to stop it. I have it out. But I can’t do that if the injury comes from no one in particular; when I’ve persuaded myself that I suffer the injury because I am who I am. “This will be more pronounced,” says Scheler, “when a person or group feels that the very fact and quality of its existence is a matter which calls for revenge.”

Take the monster Grendel. He hears, within the high hall of Heorot, the singing and the laughter of men, the poet singing of God’s creation, the sway of the hand over the harp. He sees the light of the fires, he smells the smoke of the feast. He is an essential outcast, a descendant of Cain, who slew his brother in the cold passion of envy. Grendel cannot share their joy. He knows it is good, but he must look on it as evil and seek its destruction. So one night he bursts in upon the sleeping men and slays thirty at a swipe, seating himself on the throne of the rightful king, and slinking off to his lair during the day.

Grendel hates that there should be a king in a great hall, yet he sits on the king’s throne. Cain hated that God should favor Abel’s sacrifice, yet against his own wishes he acknowledges the supremacy of God by his petulance, and then by his weakling request that God protect him from avengers. Neither Grendel nor Cain is in error about what is good. For a man sunk into ressentiment, who sees ever before him something good but unattainable, directs his enmity against being itself. The envy grows existential. “It is as if it whispers continually: ‘I can forgive everything, but not that you are—that you are what you are—that I am not what you are—indeed that I am not you.

A friend of mine once boarded a bus in Amherst with three small children. She held a little girl and a little boy by each hand, and the third child she carried in her womb. She was very obviously and happily married, beginning a family in the bloom of youth. But a feminist looked on with a sneer. “What a waste!” she said.

It won’t do to persuade the feminist that my friend was delighted with her children, that having children was good and sweet, and that it’s beautiful to see a young wife with toddlers. That would suppose that the feminist was merely in error. She was not. Her comment wasn’t meant to instruct. It was meant to hurt. If anybody on that bus well knew how good it was for a young woman to be loved by her husband and to have two chattering children with a third on the way, it was that feminist.

A noble man “experiences value prior to any comparison,” says Scheler; he sees boys wrestling and shouting happily, and knows the goodness of it, the value, before he applies it to himself. The common man experiences value “in and through a comparison,” so that to see a ministry flush with vocations, filled with cheerful young women who love Jesus, would move a common head of a religious order to rivalry. But the man sunk in ressentiment, unable to compete, must still relieve his tension. He does so first “by an illusory devalutation of the other man’s qualities.” So the feminist sociologist Carol Gilligan observed how boys settle a conflict in the middle of a game, going through “the rules,” then appealing to an authority, and, if all else fails, doing the play over, as if it never happened. Remarkably creative—it allows the game to go on, it serves the common good, and it helps the boys grow up. But Gilligan had to denigrate it, calling the boys insensitive to feelings. She wanted that the boys should not be so. There’s no point telling her that the boys succeed and end up enjoying themselves. She knows it all too well. Just so, the man who fails to order his sexual feelings toward marriage and children sees the family of six next door and calls them “breeders.”

But the disorder festers. “Secondly,” says Scheler, “and here lies the main achievement of ressentiment—he falsifies the values themselves which could bestow excellence on any possible objects of comparison.” We’re not talking now about intellectual disagreements on what is to be desired. I may say that economic equality is a good thing; you may say that economic liberty is better; then we may have a fruitful discussion. That’s because you and I dwell in the same world, in the same way. I may be wrong in fact, or you may be wrong, but neither of us is living a lie under the pressure of envy and impotence. But the “man who ‘slanders’ the unattainable values which oppress him is by no means completely unaware of their positive character.” The feminist knows that the young mother glows with beauty. The gay man knows it is good for men to play or work together, hurling jocular insults and slapping backs without a shadow of degrading sexual desire. He is the last person who has to be told about it. The good things, the true values “are still felt as such, but they are overcast by the false values and can shine through only dimly. The ressentiment experience is always characterized by this ‘transparent’ presence of the true and objective values beneath the illusory ones—by that obscure awareness that one lives in a sham world which one is unable to penetrate.”

Professors who practice “critical thinking,” not as a tool in the search for truth, but in place of a free acknowledgment of real excellence, are professors of ressentiment, spreading the contagion to their students, for a “secret ressentiment underlies every way of thinking which attributes creative power to mere negation and criticism.” As one exasperated feminist professor put it, when she and her panel were reproached for failing to appreciate the world’s greatest poet: “What you don’t seem to understand is that we don’t like Shakespeare!” Many people in my profession run down the classics to promote the ephemera of some patronized group; they too are creatures of ressentiment. They do not need someone to argue the merits of the classics. The shoe pinches the corns.

“Such phenomena as joy, splendor, power, happiness, fortune, and strength magically attract the man of ressentiment,” says Scheler. Like Milton’s Satan, spying upon the naked couple in Eden, he has to look even while he wants to avert his eyes, because he still longs to possess those good things and yet he knows he cannot. The true apostate does not simply turn from one belief to another, but “is motivated by the struggle against the old belief and lives only for its negation.” No “improvement” will satisfy him. The apostate nun may say she wants only that women might serve as priests. Give her that, and watch the enmity grow. The person whose values have been deformed by ressentiment “does not want to cure the evil: the evil is merely a pretext for the criticism.”

If you let Satan dwell in Eden rather than in Hell, that won’t satisfy; he wants to destroy it, because he cannot share its goodness. “In Heaven much worse would be my lot,” says Satan. He lives only for the enmity; if God should forget about him, he would find it unendurable. If you allow people who cannot share a great good to pretend that their simulacrum of it is also good, you will not satisfy; they know it’s a sham, and as long as there are ordinary and healthy people around, the bare nerve will fire.

Argument will not suffice; argument is what they seek. Only love will suffice—and love can only be offered, never compelled.

Editor’s note: The sculpture above of Adam and Eve from Notre Dame de Paris depicts Satan as half human.   

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • FernieV

    Prayer is all powerful. We should keep praying for these sad old ladies to discover the beauty of humility and above all the Truth of the Gospel, as taught by our holy Mother the Church. In case they don’t, we need to exercise some patience because they are a dying tribe: no one would want to follow Christ in a life of full dedication by the example of these religious sisters who should be honest enough to realize that they don’t belong in the Catholic Church due to their heretical beliefs.

    • BillinJax

      So true FernieV

      This is a prayer they should be required to say each day.
      Prayer for Humility
      Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that you may fortify me with the grace of your Holy
      Spirit, and give your peace to my soul, that I may be free from all needless
      anxiety and worry. Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and
      acceptable to you, so that your will may be my will.
      Grant that I may be free from unholy desires, and that, for your love, I may
      remain obscure and unknown in this world, to be known only to you.
      Do not permit me to attribute to myself the good that you perform in me and
      through me, but rather, referring all honor to you, may I admit only to my
      infirmities, so that renouncing sincerely all vainglory which comes from the
      world, I may aspire to that true and lasting glory that comes from you. Amen
      St. Frances Cabrini

      • FernieV

        Thanks a lot! I will be using it often: Pride is the main weapon of the devil.

  • LarryD

    Great article, Anthony. One question, or clarification, please.

    Chesterton, that eminently normal man, said that many people hated what they thought was the Church, but very few hated the real thing.

    Always thought it was Archbishop Sheen who said that – or was he quoting Chesterton? Thanks.

    • RufusChoate

      Chesterton said it first I believe having predated Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Sheen (born in 1895) was relatively unknown when Chester died in 1936.

    • Bill Russell

      For all his strengths, Fulton Sheen had a tendency to “borrow” from others without attribution, especially Chesterton and Ronald Knox. He had ghost writers as well, and some of this may be blamed on them, but he did claim to be the author.

  • RufusChoate

    A splendid article full of wisdom and humility. As a man, I never had an inordinate fondness or positive memories for the orders of grossly misanthropic feminist nuns that I was subjected to in grade school or college and was know in college for bringing them to tears with my acerbic witticisms in class discussion when the one Nun tended to the flaky side of reasoning and Feminist Theology. I note in passing that both orders have evaporated as they moved into Wiccan Feminism rather than Christianity. No tears here.

    The experience of the young Mother was a common occurrence for young families in Andover, Massachusetts where I lived. The nasty and screeching but affluent crones chastised any Mother or Father who had the audacity to venture into a grocery store with more than two children as being selfish and not being concerned about the world or environment. I have seen it done to others and experienced it first hand but never understood the passionate hate. I came to believe that much of the hate is from a world view as all creation but not mankind as an end in itself and not a means to the end of human happiness. This selfish creed that the Lefts is trying to replace Christianity promises the greater fulfillment of saving a world rather than grotesque and fallen man who is a barrier to progress. It is not an anomaly the Leftist regimes have always destroyed the focus of the affection more assiduously than any Capitalist. Hence their mass graves are mostly filled with Peasants, Workers and the Intelligentsia rather than Capitalists and Bankers who usually adapt to what ever social order they have.
    Every the Left in and out of the Church believes has produced nothing but madness and misery and greater anger and resentment. One can see it in every one their mass movements: hate and intolerance in the name of Sin and Tolerance of Sin.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    “You begin to see other people with that hideous spiritual hunger that demons feel all the time, as if they were healthy animals and you were a parasite, looking for somewhere to
    batten on them and drain their strength. Soon the glamor of evil fades, and once it’s too late (by any human power) for you to escape, you feel deep in your bones the crassness, the foulness, the cheapness of what you have become.”
    – John Zmirak, SATAN THE TAPEWORM

  • Scott W.

    The mere presence of the ordinary was enough to gall.

    This is the modern attack that Belloc noted in The Great Heresies. It is no longer a mere contempt for good things: Truth, Faith, traditional families doing wholesome activities, Chastity, etc., but violent hatred. The “mere presence the ordinary” is a scathing indictment and sign of contradiction to those given over to Sin. Therefore, it is no longer a war over what is good: it is a war against Goodness itself. The treasury of goodwill that allowed a kind of “live and let live” stasis among all people has been all but depleted and each Christian must “count the cost” and discern and pray if they prepared and willing to loose reputation, employment, friends, family members, freedom, material possessions, and possibly their lives for the sake of Our Lord and basic Truth and decency.

    • hombre111

      Violent hatred? Example, please, and a feminist from Amherst is no decent example. I do not see this attitude of ressentiment among the thousand or so people who celebrated Mass with me this Sunday. They are simply, just the folks, in the middle of their lives, looking for God.

      • Weary of the Noise

        Your knee-jerk hostility here is example enough. The people who attended Mass this Sunday are the ‘ordinary people’ in Professor Esolen’s essay. Your desire to find fault without understanding the basics of the article says volumes about you – volumes that are loud and clear to the rest of us, but to which you seem – drearily – to be deaf, week in and week out.

      • Sign

        Are they looking in the confessional ever?

      • Scott W.

        Violent hatred meaning an irrational desire to destroy Goodness whether they actually act on it or not. Really, this is just a another way of putting the Gospel of John. “19 And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil.
        20 For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved.”

        As for everything said after “Violent hatred?”, I’m not sure who you are arguing against, but I don’t think it is me.

      • ForChristAlone

        “I do not see this attitude of ressentiment among the thousand or so people who celebrated Mass with me this Sunday.”

        It is unlikely that you would recognize ressentiment when it is there – it is because it is most characteristic of your relationship with the Church.

        • hombre111

          Interesting. My “relationship with the Church.” Not the Church. Only with certain authoritarian members of the hierarchy.

          • John200

            Good grief, father hombre. You clearly state what you have to work on, and then you don’t do the work.You are a RC priest — I dunno how you teach the Catechism and get around the obvious point….

            You can start today, you know.

            Best to you and yours.

      • hombre111

        In my reply to Dr. Esolen, printed somewhere below, I begged to differ with Dr. Esolen’s characterization of the LCWR response as “an angry protest against the bully.” Here is the official reply of LCWR. Sadly, Dr. Esolen was listening to the Press, and not to the Sisters who were the objects of Cardinal Muller’s public shaming.

        “On April 30, the LCWR presidency…met with Cardinal Gerhard Muller and officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Sartain, apostolic delegate, was also present for the meeting. Cardinal Muller’s opening remarks released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accurately reflect the content of the mandate communicated to LCWR in April, 2012. As articulated in the Cardinal’s statement, these remarks were meant to set a context for the discussion that followed. The actual interaction with Cardinal Muller and is staff was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging.”

        This from the LCWR was all that was said. Notice, the Cardinal did not release any summary of the discussion that followed his remarks, or the final conclusions of the meeting. Now the Sisters know something new: Their effort at dialogue was a waste of time. After all that respectful dialogue, the Cardinal then released his harsh opening remarks to the Press. He learned nothing, heard nothing. However respectful his words were during the meeting that followed, he was going to make public his broadside at LCWR as soon as the meeting was over. Same old V atican.

      • RufusChoate

        You provide hilarity for me beyond measure with your facile denial of your own leftist reality.

        The Left no matter what their position of power consistently deny their methods, history and mentality to avoid upsetting their fanciful self image as compassionate champions of the oppressed. Always the victims and never the oppressors. Your political phenotype engages in the most vituperative and divisive language and tactics then claim disingenuously that you are offended and abused. These nuns have destroyed their communities driven out anyone who disagrees with them and are uniformly wretched and intolerant to anyone who fails to support their weird worldview with the same fanaticism. They are shrieking harpies when their opinions are counter and uniformly Misanthropic and terrified of actual men who stand up to their fantasies.

        p.s. If you provide me with your parish’s name and location I would gladly attend a Mass there to experience the mythological unity of dissidents.

        • hombre111

          “Leftist reality.” Hmm. “Nosiree,” said the little conservative kid to his arch-conservative pa, named Rufus, “2×2 does not equal 4. I know it cain’t be true.” “Why?” says Rufus. “Because it’s written in the book we use at public school, and you bin tellin’ me they’s liberls who don’t do nuthin’ but tell their lies to us kids.”

          Need a steady new supply of brain cells when you belong to the non reality-based community, Rufus. Won’t find a whole lot when all you hear is Fox and all you read is Crisis.

          • John200

            Need a steady new supply of brain cells when you belong to
            the non reality-based community, Father hombre111. Won’t find a whole lot when all you hear is the voices in your head and all you read is LeftKook scribbling.

            Don’t make me go back to your CateSchism, you know, that Big
            Book where you learned all your errors.

            Truth to tell, I have no ill will toward you. I rather enjoy our little contretemps. Of course, I wish you would forge ahead and out-progress that sad pack of “progressives” you run with. It would be easy to get ahead of them… wanna try it?

            Best to you and yours (including your sister, even if she is just another ordained lefty).

        • Marylou

          I was thinking the writer was going to go into more depth re: the heretical nuns and who knows the Spiritual damage done instead of criticizing a Bishop who was preaching Catholic Doctrine. It’s rather arrogant when someone – prof or not – places themselves as a critic over one who has committed his life to the Church. So many others have been out there chipping away at the basement, one finally comes along to do some point work and he’s chastised by a …. layman? REally.

          Truth and charity are not opposed virtues. The writer here seems to have the disease of niceness, lacking sensibility. The Bishop had every right (about time, too) to site these nuns as heretics.

          Instead of admonishing this Bishop for telling the truth, he should be held up as an example.

      • musicacre

        You must have your eyes closed pretty hard or just enjoy the replies you provoke. I can think of one (example) a long time ago when the Marxist/feminist movement was in it’s early public stages, literally staging outrages for the public on a daily basis. There was the incident in the early 80’s of a wedding in a large hotel in California and the fems having their own conference at the same time. When the bridal party came down the hallway at one point, the fem group came out en masse and spitting and cursing the bride they practically tore her apart. There were accounts of them performing an abortion in their room, as a sacrifice for their meeting. This is all old news, but along the bra-burning escapades/condemnations of mothers nurturing their children at home, and other desperate measures to get media attention, it show how in human nature there are always those who out of emptiness or hatred turn against their own kind and the real instigators of the movement to disrupt society always have suckers for their plans.

  • fredx2

    Very good article. In debates with progressive Catholics, I have often been surprised at how quickly they devolve into weird personal attacks. As soon as it is pointed out that they base their ideas on false facts, or that their reasoning is faulty. they instantly start attacking you personally, sometimes bringing up the weirdest irrelevant points, I have come to realize there is simply a deep hatred present, something that cannot be overcome with argument.

    As Pope Francis says, some people need the field hospital before anything else can be done.

    Now, this is not to say the same thing does not happen on conservative sites, sometimes one is appalled at the stance taken there as well.

    • DE-173

      “In debates with progressive Catholics, I have often been surprised at how quickly they devolve into weird personal attacks.”
      All progressives traffic in that.

      “Progressive Catholic” is an oxymoron or a form of heresy that asserts the state as a god. As soon as the state demand something not in conformity with Christ, you see their true loyalty as the Christian demands are subordinated to the state’s using some weaselly device like “personal opposition” or increasingly, outright rejection.
      You go from Mario Cuomo to Andrew Cuomo.

      • John200

        “Progressive Catholic” is analogous to “dissenting Protestant” or “Reform Jew.”

        Each wants the privilege of membership in a religion whose central beliefs he does not share. The non serviam is followed by calumnies and other sins. These follow as naturally as a baby’s smile.

        • DE-173

          I was thinking kosher ham.

      • Art Deco

        You go from Mario Cuomo to Andrew Cuomo.

        See Peter Viereck’s observtions offered in 1949: the liberal 1st generation is succeeded by the relativist 2d generation is succeeded by the nihilist 3d generation.

        • DE-173

          I will check that out. Thanks for the pointer.

  • newguy40

    What a great article. Thanks very much.

    What the author said here can be found in the gospel of John. The dark comprehendeth not the light.

    At the risk of calling up more shades of the good AB, Sheen said in the Life of Christ something about how that the burglar caught when the policeman’s flashlight finds him, hates the policeman. True.

    ALL of this is about saying, I won’t serve. This is all about jealousy and hatred of the Truth and how Truth had to be put to death to remove the reminder of it’s presence among us.

    • John200

      What a great comment. Thanks very much.

      Direct, pithy, efficient. John, Bishop Sheen, non serviam; I love it!

  • DE-173


    The next time you wish to encouage the young lady’s interest in geology and glacial history, head a little further South to Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park. Most reports indicate that it remains family friendly. I havern’t mapquested it; vut I think it’s about an hour’s drive South on I-476.

    • Takebackourculture

      It crossed my mind while reading the article that in order to drive out the evil and reclaim that spot, the simplest thing to do would be to organize ordinary people (QUIETLY, not as a public campaign, which would result in ugly backlash) to visit the spot with children or picnic baskets in tow at random times throughout the week. Schedule a group of people from an old folks home to visit and hear the history of the place: they could arrive in a bus, cameras in hand. Schedule groups from high schools to go on field trips there. Turn it into a Sunday-after-church picnic spot. If there’s room and the ground is level, get together a group and play a sport there. Make a campaign by word of mouth: “go out to the old glacial pothole this week and spend some time to reclaim it for families, children and ordinary people. Leave no day ‘free’ for unsavory activities. Have cameras and cell-phones at hand to record anything illegal going on and be ready to report it.” If a few families or groups went out several times per week, especially at weekends and times of greatest unsavory activity, the current users would move on.

      Basically, decent people have to do the same thing that they do when drug-dealers invade their neighborhood: be present, get out on your porches, walk your dogs, play frisbee with the kids on the front lawn, get a football game going in the street, wash your car, water the grass, walk around the block, patronize the local shops. When there are loads of ‘witnesses’ – ordinary people doing ordinary things and noticing the extraordinary – criminals have a way of moving on to ‘safer’ territory.

      It’s the same principle as teenagers not feeling much urge to neck if their ‘date’ is conducted sitting on the living room sofa with mom and dad and the kids in the room.

      The problem is that good people have allowed themselves to be driven away. Take back your geological heritage. Get every family or group you know to go out there – day after day, week after week – until you’ve reclaimed the area.

    • jonnybeeski

      This is Archbald pothole, yes?

      • DE-173

        You bet.

  • Stanley Anderson

    How often I have heard the plaintive cry of the “searching” soul, and felt deeply for them as they sigh, “If only God would perform an unmistakable miracle to prove that he exists, no one would refuse to believe. If he exists as you say he does, it is his own fault through that lack of demonstration that his creatures do not believe in him.” What I have come to discover is that, for the most part, these searchers are really saying, “If only God would perform an unmistakable miracle to prove that he exists in the manner that I want him to exist, I will believe.” The popularity of the woefully inadequate and of-an-entirely-different-category “flying spaghetti monster” meme to mock the concept of God demonstrates this inability to see the distinction between creator and created being – or rather between The Creator and created beings, the latter who may very well have a dim semblance of being able to “create” something themselves, so they think.

    Just yesterday a Christian friend said confidently, “I really have no idea if God exists…” and going on to basically restate his own version of Pascal’s Wager. That’s fine I suppose – a very intelligent and wonderfully moral fellow that I would do well to emulate. I don’t have the formal training in Philosophy (aside from the – as far as I can tell in retrospect, fairly useless – Philosophy 101-type college course I was required to take), so I don’t have all the best historical resources and specific philosophical concepts and references and Epistemological terminology at my fingertips that I’m sure I’m only re-inventing, but I want to note in reply to him that he seems to have a pretty darn “certain knowledge” that his “knowledge of God’s existence” is unassailably uncertain, as if by definition. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya’s famous line in The Princess Bride, “you keep using that word [“know”]. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    In both of these cases, I want to sympathize with their quandaries, and there are obviously those who truly do seek for God or who “want to know knowledge.” But, as you article makes clear, this can also turn into, or simply be a disguise for, sheer desire to deny those desires, if that makes any sense.

    The Gospels themselves give the lie to the first demand, ie, that undeniable miracles would convince anyone to bow down to God. When the leaders saw, first hand, the healings that Jesus performed, their reaction was not, “Proof at last – let us now follow this Jesus,” or even, “ok, impressive maybe, but we need another miracle with a bit more ‘oomph’ to be fully convinced.” Rather, it was “Ugh, this guy’s for real apparently – we’d better destroy him before he takes over.”

    The second example, of “knowing” that one cannot “know of God’s existence”, though certainly not having the evil motive to utterly destroy, still carries, I think, a determination NOT to recognize “knowledge” in the manner of God’s bestowing, and fussing with distinctions that are intended (even if those intentions are not fully conscious to the intender), to obfuscate and eat away at our innate God-given ability to know in order to feel good about having doubts.

    I have often used the example of a faded black-and-white Polaroid snapshot of the Grand Canyon as compared to actually standing by the edge of the Canyon and looking out over the glorious vista. In our fallen state we may not be able to actually travel to that wonderful place to behold it firsthand and must therefore often gaze on the photo in anticipation or longing for the real thing. But as your article points out, such things can turn into “resentiment” wherein the observer would claim to prefer the faded image to the possibility of seeing the real thing and would even try to prevent that goal from being possible, if that were possible.

  • CadaveraVeroInnumero

    “He is the last person who has to told about it.” The gay man, that is.

    The proper (and righteous) thinking about homosexuality is truly known by all. Which is why the debate over the New Homophiles, and such, within these pages is so frustrating – and maybe a waste of time.

    • John200


      You can say directly that it is a waste of time, if one is hoping for new thinking. the topic is repetitive, which the homo”sex”uals intend. Part of the plan is to bore us to death.

      On the other hand, I don’t think the truth is known to all. There are always people who have not been catechized, have not thought it out, don’t have the time to make up their own mind without help, etc. If the reader wants to get at the major premises and arguments, then writing it up is a useful service. The comments are useful, too.

      But in terms of advancing thinking, it was, is, and will be repetitive. Yes, you can say a waste of time.

      I like this “ressentiment.” It is a powerful explanatory concept.

      • ForChristAlone

        excellent as always, John200

        • John200

          Very kind of you to say so. Thanks.

    • ForChristAlone

      Yes, the only thing we can now do for the new homophiles is to love them.

  • wc4mitt

    Who has made Chesterton an authority over the Prefect of the Magisterium of the Church – one appointed to that position by Pope Benedict XVI, the former Prefect for 23 yrs. The Magisterium of the Church is one of the 3 pillars of the Faith – in case you didn’t know. the other 2 are: Tradition and Scripture. Nowhere do I find any one name listed, particularly in this case Chesterton, who may be a writer who some refer to, still like Shakespeare, not accounted a saint. He is simply a writer of his own opinions – like you and me. He has no authority whatsoever over the teaching of the Catholic Faith.

    • Which part of the article pits Chesterton against Cardinal Mueller? A genuine question. I think Chesterton ‘speaks’ with an ‘auctoritas’, a personal authority, as one who knows the truth, and is gifted in sharing it. This is quite a different thing from ‘canonical authority’, and I’ll bet Chesterton would have denied having the former while insisting on the importance of the latter.

    • Sign

      Why do you say this?

    • RufusChoate

      I missed the point of ascendancy of Chesterton over the Perfect of Magisterium. Could you elucidate me? It is a common fault among many good people to think that reason and compassion will reach the wicked who love their sin more than the truth.

  • Pingback: Know Your Enemy | Catholic Canada()

  • hombre111

    Hate to say it, professor Esolen, but I had difficulty following your argument. You know, the old thing we learned in highschool: Main thought, obvious structure, A, B, C.. In other words, not easy to read. I promise to read it again. But I do have to disagree with your portrayal of the Sister’s reaction to the Cardinal’s bawling out. Their words were measured, cautious, and hopeful. If there is any group on earth who can teach us how real dialogue unfolds, it is the religious orders. I listen to my sister return from a meeting of general council, and describe the process. I think about how disordered and haphazard the process is with bishop and diocesan priests. We could learn something.

    • DE-173

      “In other words, not easy to read.”

      Buy a dictionary! (sound familiar?)

      But do tell us about “disordered and haphazard”.

    • The ’60s are DEAD

      Calling people back to their vows is ‘bawling them out.’ Gee, I wonder how you dealt with parental discipline when you were a teenager. Got issues with your father much, Hombre?

      Odd how you say that ‘religious orders’ can teach ‘how real dialogue unfolds,’ but that seems only to be WOMEN religious orders, and only women religious orders that are disobedient to the church. Do the cloistered religious orders have anything to teach us about dialogue? Do the men’s religious orders – active and cloistered – have anything to teach us?

      You have ONE ‘sister’ who reports to you, and that’s enough to condemn the ‘bishop and diocesan priests’ (worldwide, apparently; what do you know about my diocese and my country?) and yet immediately attack Professor Esolen for providing us with one vivid example of an Amherst feminist as not being enough evidence. Yeah, that’s credibility, Hombre. Try again. Or better still, stop trying: you’re wasting your breath. The ’60s are over, your ideas were stillborn. My generation is bored with your lot. Deal with it.

      • DE-173


      • hombre111

        Women religious orders are in trouble with the all male Roman Curia. Now, how could that be?

        • ForChristAlone

          we do love you. do you love us?

    • ForChristAlone

      You AND your sister are loved by us all, hombre.

  • hombre111

    Reread the article, beginning with the crack about the Sisters, who do not resemble any of the religious women I know. I think their problem with the Church is this: They have gone beyond the world as a problem solved by institutions, to the world as a project and a mystery. They believe they are responding to God’s call. With all respect, I don’t think the institutional Church really knows how to lead the way there, and I guess that is OK, because most people do not go on to the world as project and mystery. Especially in this day and age, they remain either in a struggle for survival, or faithfully abide as part of the institution and its problem solving concerns. And so the Church rightly, justly, focuses on them. But it should not try to block the door.

    But, I think of the sister with whom I worked in Latin America, who now works with gangs in LA. Or my sister, whose order is active in the Third World and sees things from a global perspective. They do not resent, despise, or disdain anyone. Nor does my sister feel any rivalry with the orders packed full of fresh-faced young women in full habit. She was there. She saw its value. Now she has gone on. But not beyond Jesus. That is slander. The Sisters I know talk about how Jesus and the Trinity have become the core of their lives, calling them to do what they can for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

    • DE-173

      “With all respect, I don’t think the institutional Church really knows how to lead the way there”

      This reminds me of same type of hypocrisy or lack of self-awareness exhibited by Barack Obama complaining about “Washington”.

      • hombre111

        The Vatican Council began to open the door. But the first thing Saint John Paul did was lose his nerve and try to slam it shut. He could not lead the Church into a deeper understanding and living of Gaudium et Spes. He couldn’t even lead the Church to live and understand The Constitution on the Church, which began with a discussion about the Church as the People of God, along with other biblical images, reserving a discussion about the hierarachy for chapter three. With John Paul, authority was everything. He even ignored the statement on the bishops, which tried to restore a balance between pope and bishop lost at Vatican I. Instead, he centralized authority in the Church as it had never been centralized before. And then, by his looooong death agony, he crippled the Church with years of inaction during times of crisis, like the sex abuse scandal.

        • DE-173

          YOU are the institutional Church, despite the disreputable discharge of your vows. You don’t get to complain about the “institutional Church”, while accepting plaudits (and no doubt, filthy lucre) for fifty years of burrowing into the corpus of your host.

          • hombre111

            TheAbaum? Is that you? You changed your skin, like a snake.

            • ForChristAlone

              You are loved by us all. Who else here loves hombre?

              • John200

                I love him like they love everyone in the south. Bless his heart…..

                He always provides something for a faithful Catholic to oppose and, after prayerful consideration, reject.

                So stir the pot, hombre. Nobody here thinks a Roman Catholic priest really believes what you say.

                • jonnybeeski

                  You have never read the National Catholic Reporter, huh?

            • DE-173

              No, I announced the change. You were too busy gnawing on the Church to notice.

              I’m sure you are quite familiar with snakes, however.

              You were part of the decision to change it, Carlos Allende.

              • hombre111

                I didn’t need your announcement. I recognized your style.

                • DE-173

                  If you did, you wouldn’t accuse me of deception.

                  I recognize your prose as well, “Father”.

        • ForChristAlone

          All we have remaining to us, hombre, is to love you. Everything else has been tried and to no avail. I love you.

      • Sign

        Anytime the phrase “institutional Church” is used it is used by dissenting Liberals. It is code for gender and genital sexuality as in the Church will not let us do what we want. Nothing new here.

    • The ’60s are DEAD

      All religious orders are part of ‘the institutional church.’ If they – and you – find it so evil, do us all a favor and go away to some grey, amorphous unorganized ‘invisible church.’ But no, of course not: you’ve got a living to make and a comfortable lifestyle to support, so you’ll stay in and be the cancer at the heart. It’s no wonder you can’t understand this article: you personify it. How ironic that you illustrate the point while being blind to the point.

      You’re not helping the rest of us who have a great deal of love, respect and GRATITUDE for the so-called ‘institutional church.’ I’m so sick of people of your obsolete generation gassing on about the evils of ‘the institutional church.’ The Church has always been – and must always be – ‘institutional’ somehow (are you ignorant to the ‘Kingdom’ imagery in the OT that the Church’s organization is based on?). It’s got to be organized; someone has got to hold the keys and be at the head (thank God, not you – perhaps that’s part of your hostility to the Church hierarchy?); others have got to find their places in it according to their gifts AND God’s call; and somebody has to decide who works where.

      Obedience to authority is the short road to humility. With no ‘institutional church’ there’s no authority to be obedient to, and no built-in mechanism for learning humility. But of course that’s exactly what you hate: the need to bend to authority, to be obedient, to be humble, even when you disagree. It’s all attack, attack and stir up the rabble with your generation. You can’t see the value of the Church, so you attack it. The Church and the maligned ‘institutional Church’ are the SAME THING, and your ’60s-era silly distinction doesn’t mean anything except that you resent having to bow to authority. As soon as I hear someone blathering about resentment of ‘the institutional Church,’ I know pride is behind it, never humility.

      If even I, a lay person not under any specific authority as to the conduct of my daily life can understand that obedience to rightful authority is the short way to humility, how sad that you cannot see the BEAUTY of ‘the institutional church,’ but prefer only to find fault. Easier to take the speck out of someone else’s eye than to see the beam in your own, of course.

      • DE-173

        Love your moniker.

    • Sign

      AmChurch is alive and well, baby. To deny the obvious is intellectually dishonest and simply deflection.

    • ForChristAlone

      It just might be that you are included in that group characterized by ressentiment and why you rush to defend those for whom the only possible response left is to love them – all else is futile now.

  • Bruno

    I understand Prof. Esolen is implying that Cardinal Müller’s approach may have been naive, that the problem with the feminist nuns is not that they have not been argued with, but that argument doesn’t work with them.

    I suppose that may be the case with some, maybe even the most part… still, I bring to mind one saying of our Lord:

    “Lo! I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”.

    The Christian has always been talking reason to an unreasonable world. The light shines in darkness, but darkness understands it not. But light must keep shining nonetheless.

    I have pondered this question for some time. When is it time to stop talking, to shake the sand off the sandals? I know for sure that there is such time (1JO 5:16), but how can we tell when it is? It would be as grave never to call it as it would be to call it too soon.

    I for one am grateful for not being in Cardinal Müller’s position, for to decide that would be a very great responsibility! Still, even not being in his position, his actions seemed to me very appropriate. It is of charity to give the brothers (sisters) every chance they can get. Are the sisters in that state in which apostle John tells us not even to pray for them? Some of them perhaps are, some rotten apples, but we can’t tell which and how many, and neither can Cardinal. The time may come to pull out a larger stick, but he understands it hasn’t yet come, and he is certainly in a better position to say that than me, or any of us really.

    • NB

      Excellent point, Bruno. In love and charity, one must keep trying fraternal correction – I would assume that’s the Cardinal’s motivation.

      It seems to me that the business of ‘shaking the dust from one’s feet’ was in the context of preaching the gospel to people who have never heard it before – new, potential converts who were hard-hearted and would not accept the truth in the first place: move on to those soft, open hearts who will welcome the good news in peace and joy, since they are waiting for the Gospel. What Cardinal Mueller has got is ‘lost sheep’ – baptized people who are supposed to be ‘in the flock’ already, and not only ‘in the flock’ but very close to ‘the shepherd.’ If he never fails to call them back, never gives up, always tries, then he’s doing his duty and more: he is being a loving pastor to his flock.

      The Church is in the business of healing sinners, bringing Christ’s love and mercy to everyone – and that includes its own disobedient and prodigal children, of course. Mission to sinners is the whole point of the Church – a mission that some people would like to obscure by focusing not on sin and the need of a savior, but on social disorders or material needs. Humankind is always hiding out from the reality of its sin.

      I see the Cardinal more as the Father of the Prodigal, though not waiting for the Prodigal to repent and return, but going out to the Prodigal and calling him to repentance and return, before it’s too late.

      This is a delicate problem whenever we confront sin in the Church. How do we know when a person has willingly embraced evil, knowing it is evil, knowing it separates the person from God, and yet doing it anyway, in a deliberate, full desire for sin rather than good? That’s a very difficult call, one that probably no sensitive pastor of souls wishes to make. Analogously, when does a parent decide that a child is no longer his child, has rebelled so completely against parental love and training and family membership as to be cut off forever? How does the fatherly or motherly heart reach that decision about a child? Even a parent who is wearied and worn out and impoverished by the wickedness of a prodigal son or daughter would welcome the child back if the child changed for the better. A priest should have the same fatherly love for all the souls in his care – and Cardinal Mueller would seem to have such a heart.

      It seems to me that this COULD be the reason why some bishops are being accused of simply shuffling child-molesting priests from one place to another: they erred on the side of forgiveness, prayer, hope for the person to change. It’s easy to say, ‘The psychologists told me he was cured.’ It’s much harder to explain to a non-Catholic, non-Christian, hostile media and society that we forgive ‘seven times seventy times’ and welcome back the sinner as the father welcomed back the prodigal; that if someone shows any sign or potential for repentance and conversion, the door is open. We err on the side of hope – which is why John Paul II could teach that there’s almost no need for the death penalty, because while a person is still alive – even imprisoned for life – there’s still a chance of repentance and reconciliation with God.

      As a sinner, I find it deeply comforting to know that should I fall into heresy or horrible mortal sin, the church is full of real Shepherds like Cardinal Mueller, who will risk personal attack and widespread misunderstanding and abuse by ‘the public’ and even within the Church, but who will not cease to try to save my soul by calling me back to the bosom of the Church and the grace of my heavenly Father.

      Deep in our hearts, we know that in all the world, it’s only Mom and Dad who REALLY have to ‘take us back,’ no matter what we’ve done or how terribly low we have fallen. Holy Mother Church is that Mother; our Shepherds, the priests, are those Fathers. When I see that fatherly love and motherly love shining through the Church, I am moved beyond words.

      • ForChristAlone

        Once again, NB, you have nailed it. Your comment about bishops wanting to restore their wayward priests to moral and spiritual wholeness really was fundamental to their decision about what to do with them. I know since I was part of a group working on behalf of an archbishop who tried to assist in this effort. A Church that offers no hope for reparation of sin – whether it be in the priestly life or in the married state – is not a Church worth having. It’s why divorce and remarriage is so evil – it forecloses the possibility of reconciliation forever. The secular world would have us throw our offending brothers and sisters to the wolves. They would have us re-write the Gospel story of the Prodigal Son by having the father move his household lock, stock, and barrel to some far away country, leave no forwarding address and write his profligate son out of the will. That’s NOT our Good News (Thank you, Father Almighty).

    • Sign

      I do not blame the current Cardinal for this mess. I would ask if it seems reasonable that decade after decade after decade after decade of dissent should go unchecked? Is that fair to souls? Is it fair to anyone?

      No answer is required as the question answers itself.

    • ForChristAlone

      There is only one possible response left for these sisters: to love them. All else is now futile.

  • Tony

    Replying to my gracious interlocutors:

    I am not suggesting that Cardinal Mueller should leave off attempting to bring the sisters back into the fold. I’m suggesting that the methods you might use with an ordinary person in error, or even in an ordinary person in the grip of sin but who still possesses a sane vision of values (say, for instance, a man in adultery who still knows that fidelity is good), will not work with somebody sunk in ressentiment. The moral disease is not only deeper but different, so the cure must be more radical and also not along the ordinary spectrum. It is therefore easier to heal Mary Magdalene than it is to heal the Pharisee whose love of God is mainly a hatred of sinners; and it is dangerous always to be a Tertullian (one of Scheler’s examples), who hated the paganism he rejected more than he loved the Church he embraced.

    I’m not saying that all feminists or all dissident nuns are steeped in ressentiment. Many are fellow travelers, mistaken as to fact, confused, seeing one thing but not another, and so forth. I know quite a few of such, who are better than their beliefs. Here are some of the telltales of ressentiment, as Scheler points them out: an inversion of values, so that what is obviously bad becomes an object of praise (e. g., when one of the leaders of a major order of sisters suggested that the Holy Spirit may DESIRE the death of her order, as a good thing in itself!); when someone is confronted with truth and takes it as a personal attack, far beyond the touchiness that is inherent in many people by their constitution (e. g., the reaction of the sisters here, who do not actually answer the Cardinal’s charges as to fact); when someone is almost obsessed with slandering what is obviously good and sweet (e. g., the contempt hurled at the new orders of sisters; or the contempt that some people express when they meet young married people of faith).

    Almost all academic women are feminists of one sort or another, but the true ressentiment feminist is not too hard to pick out in that context. Many feminist academics are so by the accidents of fashion — we are all a lot of things because of what we see around us — but would in a sweeter world be freer in their acknowledgment of the goodness of men and the goodness of women. These women tend to attract male students to their courses, because the men feel that they can be themselves around them without fear of reprisal. They also do not (much) tailor their courses according to a feminist agenda. They are (almost) as likely to teach Moby-Dick as is the male professor next door. They are good, cheerful colleagues. But the feminist of ressentiment is likely to be constitutionally suspicious of men; is uncomfortable around men, and has to use her authority as a weapon against their physical presence, even against their baritone voices; will arrange syllabi so as to keep away as many men as possible; will zero in on any (normal) man who signs up anyway and who dares to challenge her; will work surreptitiously to ruin the career or prevent the promotion of an active, gregarious, influential, easily masculine professor, who thereby attracts more WOMEN than she does; will slander everything normal, like marriage, boyhood and girlhood, fairy tales, worship of the Father, et cetera. My advice to students both male and female is not to waste their time and money with such. Stay away.

    • Carl

      John Wayne fist-0-cuffs and playground-do-overs are long dead. Now it’s resentful revenge by social media, bullying, assault by weapon, and gun shots. And there’s no playground-do-overs because children need to go outdoors first.
      This relativism and man creating himself is so prevalent today and not just in strictly religious institutions or terms. Man today thinks he can violate the rules of engineering science, physics, reason, and logic all to fulfil and create himself in his own image.
      A very somber article. How do we stop a “free society” from destroying itself?

      • Carl

        How do we stop a “free society” from destroying itself?
        Know your enemy. Will we heed that advice?

        • Stanley Anderson

          Given the charge of overcautious reservation in confronting evil trends in our society by Bishops, might we paraphrase the famous Walt Kelly line from his comic strip “Pogo” by saying “We have met the enemy and he is wuss”

          (Sorry — the line just struck me and I couldn’t resist tossing it in for fun…)

      • ForChristAlone

        There’s only one possible answer: love.

    • Marie

      I think your article is excellent. One question: the article says that Grendel seats “himself on the throne of the rightful king,” but did he? I thought he was unable to touch the throne. The Douglas Wilson translation says,

      “He made Heorot his home, haunting at midnight,
      Ghostly and gliding in the glittering hall,
      But the thought of the throne was a thought filled with horror,
      He could not come near it, that outcast and outlaw.”

      Perhaps I am missing something. I have read the whole poem more than once, but I am sure you know it much better than I do. But if Grendel cannot sit on the throne, wouldn’t that also fit the description of ressentiment? Maybe Grendel was filled with impotent rage that he could not sit on the throne, so he would not let Hrothgar sit on it either, and continued to kill Hrothgar’s men. Or maybe I am misunderstanding the poem. Either way, the article is very wise.

    • Marie

      I think your article is excellent. One question: the article says that Grendel seats “himself on the throne of the rightful king,” but did he? I thought he was unable to touch the throne. The Douglas Wilson translation says,

      “He made Heorot his home, haunting at midnight,

      Ghostly and gliding in the glittering hall,

      But the thought of the throne was a thought filled with horror,

      He could not come near it, that outcast and outlaw.”

      Perhaps I am missing something. I have read the whole poem more than once, but I am sure you know it much better than I do. But if Grendel cannot sit on the throne, wouldn’t that also fit the description of ressentiment? Maybe Grendel was filled with impotent rage that he could not sit on the throne, so he would not let Hrothgar sit on it either, and continued to kill Hrothgar’s men. Or maybe I am misunderstanding the poem. Either way, the article is very wise.

  • Ron

    Mr. (Dr.?) Esolen, I’m having a hard time understanding why you praise Socrates for noting that human evil is a result of ignorance, then go on to explain that the heretical nuns, homosexuals, and feminists hate the good precisely because they know how good it is. Good, perceived as such, cannot be hated, as I am sure you know. Consequently, it seems these types of people incorrectly perceive the good as evil, thus they hate it. I would have to disagree that “they of all people know how good it is.”

    • Tony

      It’s Dr. Esolen. I think that Scheler explains how this can be done. Good CAN be hated, but only by means of a wholesale inversion or perversion of values. The classic literary cases illuminate the syndrome: Grendel; Milton’s Satan; Shakespeare’s Iago; Dickens’ Mr. Quilp … These are creatures whom normal people, like Socrates, have a hard time understanding — how there could be a lust for hatred.
      Satan: “Evil be thou my good; by thee at least
      Divided empire with Heaven’s king I hold
      By thee, and more than half perhaps shall reign,
      As man ere long and this new world shall know.”

      “For only in destroying I find ease / To my relentless thoughts …”

      Aside the devil turned
      For envy, yet with jealous leer malign
      Eyed them askance, and to himself thus plained:
      “Sight hateful, sight tormenting! Thus these two,
      Emparadised in one another’s arms,
      The happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill
      Of bliss on bliss, whilst I to Hell am thrust,
      Where neither joy nor bliss, but fierce desire,
      Among our other torments not the least,
      Still unfulfilled with pain of longing pines.”

      • Ron

        Dr. Esolen, thank you for taking the time to respond, you seem to have your hands full handling some other commentators. I do have a follow up question, though. Does this perversion or inversion of “values” involve seeing the good as evil, and the evil as good? If so, how can we say that this distorted person, more than anyone else, knows how good the good really is? It is precisely in seeing the good as evil that they hate it, not in seeing it as good.

        The perversion is not of the will, but of the mind. The will can only love the perceived good: this is an immutable truth. But the intellect can be deceived as to what is good (maybe as to “values?”) . Hence, it is possible for Satan to love anarchy and hate order insofar as one seems good and the other evil.

        Thus, I would not say Satan, more than anyone else, knows how good order is, he is the last person to know how good it is. The perfect knowledge of how good the good is is reserved for God and the blessed in heaven, who see (know) the good clearly.

        P.S., I do appreciate the main thrust of this article, I am only trying to fine-tune this point.

        • Tony

          Dear Ron: Thank you! It is indeed a tricky point.

          Thomas Aquinas holds the majority opinion, and I agree with it, that the will follows what it perceives as good. Milton has Adam call it a “specious good,” when he is warning Eve on that fateful day. What we call “evil” involves not only mistaking what is good, but desiring to attain something good in the wrong way, or under the wrong conditions, or for the wrong reasons. Consider the irony of the Fall. Adam and Eve were tempted by the line, “Ye shall be as gods.” But they were already “as gods!” They had been made in the image and likeness of God, and they had been granted a god-like authority over the rest of creation. They wanted that godhood on their own terms; they wanted to be gods without having to acknowledge God. Milton’s Satan continually (and unwittingly) betrays his self-defeating self-deceiving evil — he is PAINFULLY conscious of order in Hell, and goes out of his way, part as a demagogue, part as a sheer tyrant, to make sure that the underling devils keep to their place; and he even says to them that freedom is not incompatible with differences in rank, but that they “well consist.” He both longs for and hates order, just as the feminist in Amherst hated femininity.
          What Plato (and Socrates) did not really see was the curious wickedness of the human heart. They did not see that at the heart of evil was not ignorance but something worse: the lie. And somewhere, deep down, the liar is the one person most painfully aware of the lie…..

          • Ron

            Thank you for the clarification, Dr. P.S., I loved the PIG to western civ, and look forward to ” how to destroy your child’s imagination. God bless.

  • ForChristAlone

    Besides loving them as the only remaining option to those most given to ressentiment (as the “Nuns on the Bus” crowd are) I would recommend that each diocese use the prayers of their exorcist to scatter the demonic which resides at the motherhouses of the most offending orders. Does anyone doubt that Satan is the controlling force in many of these communities?

    “Did he say ‘Satan’?” Yes, I said Satan and in cases where there is possession by the deminic, exorcism is called for.

  • Jonathan McCormack

    Sadly, this sounds like me. Does anyone know of a book or resource to combat resentment ?

    • Tony

      Yes. Steep yourself in Lewis, Chesterton, Pieper, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. Lewis is especially good — and frightening. Also Scheler’s Ressentiment — a painful book if there ever was one.

  • Lisabeth

    The problem with Esolen’s argument is that it only works when he is preaching to the choir. This is because he, with a profound lack of self-awareness, treats his own opinions as incontrovertible facts, and only a selective choir would do the same. He argues that A, B, and C are moral goods and that only the “ressentiment”, apparently shamed into spite by the goodness of others, would oppose them. He then slimes “the opposition” in a way I find rather unsavory and remarkably uncharitable. The problem is that we can take different A’s, B’s, and C’s to make the same argument, and we can make the same nasty insinuations about those who disagree. Regarding “the feminist”, for example, I know a deeply unhappy and frustrated woman who was suicidal, frustrated, and depressed staying home with her five children and who made far nastier remarks about a woman who had a very happy and successful career as a physician. I hasten to add that this was a problem for the individual mother of five and not for mothers of five in general, but Esolen appears to disparage ALL feminists and ALL gay men, which is merely bigotry and possibly “ressentiment.” Why should we accept Esolen’s circular argument that the LCWR nuns are at fault? We could use his own arguments to assert that it is Mueller who recognizes the goodness, the beauty, the brilliance, the vision, and the wisdom of Elizabeth Johnson’s theological works, and it is he who is turning on them in frustrated impotence and resentment. The whole article really boils down to a smug and pharisaical proclamation of “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.”

    • Sign

      Are you serious? You just provided us with a perfect example of moral relativism. Textbook.

    • Tony

      See my reply (somewhere) below. Most of my female colleagues at college are feminists of one sort or another; many of these are untouched by ressentiment. I believe that their feminism is wrongheaded, but their reasons for holding it do not include a desire to destroy or disparage anything genuinely good. These women are feminists more by fashion or by academic culture than by any resentment against ordinary men and women, and male students tend to like them very well.

      A person may be prone to ressentiment even if what he believes is good and right; ressentiment is a real and grave moral sickness. Scheler points to Tertullian as a classic example. He hated his former paganism and his classical learning more than he loved the Church; and eventually even the Church was not good enough for him. I believe the Tridentine Mass is profoundly beautiful, though I do not attend it; and I suspect that there are some people, by no means a majority, who love the TM less than they hate the Novus Ordo. Your unhappy mother of five may well have been steeped in ressentiment. She saw a good (a career is, in itself, a good thing) and hated the fact that she could not enjoy it.

      As for gay men — the behavior of their most vocal advocates speaks for itself. I believe you have not considered that gay men are the way they are because of confusions and cruelties they suffered when they were boys, and which they were then unable to counter or defeat. They are classic cases of people who return, again and again, to the scene of the crime, the source of the suffering — it is why they are strangely attracted to boys. I am not speaking about pedophiles here, who act out that attraction. A normal adult is going to be properly reticent about sex, and is certainly not going to go out of his way to introduce other people’s children to it. A normal adult doesn’t go out of his way to offend, by stripping down for a parade, or simulating sodomy in front of crowds that will include children. It won’t do to say to them, “You may be hurting these kids.” The hurt is of the essence.
      As for Mueller and the LCWR: again you set aside the facts. Mueller is charged with overseeing orthodoxy. He sees that the LCWR regularly engages in activities that promote what goes far beyond heresy — it leaves the bounds of Christianity itself. How can that be a good thing, especially when the orders over which the LCWR have authority are dying? The ladies in question are old and their day is past. THEY are the ones who have a long history of opposition, obstinacy, resentment, complaining, and self-destructiveness — and here I might happily call to witness all the normal and orthodox sisters who have suffered under their rule. If they are indeed motivated by ressentiment, rather than by good old confusion, then Mueller’s action cannot work. They WANT the opposition; it is fuel for their fire. I note again that they do not trouble themselves to acknowledge that there would be any problem with heresy ….

      You say that I am motivated by ressentiment, but I am describing a spiritual malady that can afflict anyone, though certain groups of people are especially prone to it. I don’t see anything good about sodomy; I pity people who are caught in the habit. Pity may not be a very edifying feeling, but it isn’t ressentiment. I don’t resent the LCWR; I think they are dinosaurs, and I wish that Cardinal Mueller had treated them as such. I pay no attention whatever to them. They are no longer in the ballgame. I have plenty of my own sins to trouble about, without having to confess any extra ones.

    • ForChristAlone

      The only option left for us is to love you Lisabeth which we do with all sincerity.

    • Ron

      Your argument would only stand if Dr. Esolen is saying that every kind of hatred is motivated by “ressentiment.” From this,you could logically argue, as you do, that Mueller has ressentiment for the teachings of the LCWR nuns, insofar as he hates that teaching.

      However, this is absurd. A cursory reading of the article will clearly show the author is arguing no such thing. Dr. Esolen is assuming some things as given and true, i.e. homosexuality is unnatural/wrong. Consequently, he is diagnosing a side-effect of what he is presuming is wrong, i.e. “ressentiment.” He is not saying all hatred comes from personal disorder, only this kind of hatred. It is a hatred motivated by something amiss in the person.

      As to the flippant accusation that he “treats his own opinions as incontrovertible facts,” you’ll be thankful to learn that the Church recognizes homosexuality as disordered as well; for a Catholic, then, this is an incontrovertible fact. Reason, no doubt, adds a strong support to the Church’s position.

      Lastly, if you have a problem with his style of writing, no one can reasonably expect the author of an online article to argue for every single one of the presumptions he is using in making his case; that would result in tomes of literature. Some things have to be presumed as true in order to make a succinct argument.

      In effect, your entire comment adds up to destroying a straw-man.

  • PigSlop

    After seeing your artwork at the top of this article, I knew you had nothing to teach me, that you’d be open to learning. I defer to God’s example of giving ‘garments of skin’ to Adam/Eve after they committed Original Sin; and Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima’s words, ‘Certain fashions will be introduced, that will offend God very much.’

    • sign


    • Bill Russell

      I’m am not sure what you are getting at, but it sounds a lot like Jansenism.

      • Crisiseditor

        To describe Piggy’s comments as Jansenist would give her too much credit. First of all, the image was not chosen by the author, so Piggy never learned to not “judge a book by its cover.” She has not read the article and therefore is speaking from ignorance. Secondly, the sculpture, located in Notre Dame cathedral, depicts Adam and Even at the moment of committing Original Sin. Therefore, they would not have been clothed. Furthermore, how could God or Mary be offended by Adam and Eve before the fall? Their nudity is not a “fashion.” Could it be that she has no clue what is being depicted in the image?

    • ForChristAlone


    • John200

      Perhaps I miss the significance of your name, “Pig Slop.” More than likely, it defines you in some way. Maybe you ape the prodigal son, pushing the hogs aside to get his dinner — husks. Then he returns to his father and to good sense. Is this your intended meaning? Or maybe you are the husk? Or, literally, the slop that a hog… Well, that can’t be it, so let us redirect our efforts.

      Second point: Dr. Esolen has nothing to teach you. Maybe you know that he has taught thousands at the university level. OK, he has nothing to teach you.

      I look for more, but the incoherence of your verbwork broke my hopes. Most of your note is unintelligible. So I give it up; I say that as a faithful Roman Catholic, fluent in English.

      Carry on.

  • windjammer

    How’s all that “dialoguing” working out with the LCWR?” About the same as the results from the last 50+ years of all the “ecumenical” dialogue. The Church and the LCWR are in rapid decline. Wonder why? A coincidence maybe? For sure Not. One will survive while the other will eventually die off.

    • quisutDeusmpc

      Would you prefer a return to the European wars of religion, the Thirty Years War? We shake our heads at the Middle East and the sectarian violence and forget why the eldest daughter of the Faith likely turned to “laicite” in the 18th century.

      And yet what subsequently was born out of that time but the LIturgical Movement (Dom Gueranger, Beauduin, Dom Casel, et al); Father Kentenich and the Schoenstatt movement in Germany; the “nouvelle theologie” of Le Salchoir and Fourvier in France; the Cistercian renewal both in Europe and the U. S.; Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement; St. Escriva de Balaguer and the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei and the call to the laity to personal holiness and the fullness of charity in Spain; Mother Theresa and the Missionaries of Charity in India; Chiara Lubich and Focolare in Italy; Marriage Encounter in Spain; Catherine de Hueck Doherty and the Friendship House / Madonna House Apostolate in Canada; and the Second Vatican Council.
      Inter- and post-Second Vatican Council developments include Kiko Arguello and the Neocatechumenal Way in Spain; Msgr Giusanni and Communion and Liberation in Italy; Couples for Christ in the Philippines; Karl Keating and Catholic Answers in the U. S.; the World Youth Days; the Catholic homseschooling movement; the self consciously evangelical Catholic colleges and universities that have sprouted up in North Carolina (Belmont Abbey College), Ohio (Franciscan U. of Steubenville), in Virginia (Christendom College), in Florida (Ave Maria University), the classical/Catholic institutions in Dallas (Unviersity of Dallas), in NH (Thomas More College of Liberal Arts) and in CA (Thomas Aquinas College); cable and internet networks: CatholicTV in Boston, MA and EWTN in Mobile, AL; the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) in 1992….

      I could go on. I hope you are beginning to catch the Spirit…

      There are many hopeful signs:

      • windjammer

        You are either misinformed or in denial. Would it be only the 30 year war. This has been going on for 500 years. Most recently it’s nothing more than a continuation of the French Revolution. Although the words are different the meaning is the same…”Ecumenism”, “Collegiality”, “Religious Freedom”, “Pastoral Concern” blah, blah all had their equivalents in the FR. It’s all about man and not about God. In spite all your enumerated points of light above…the fact is that for every person that joins the Church through the front door, 4 are leaving through the back door. The demographics have kicked in and the New Religion of Church Nice is imploding. That’s the reality and the fruit of the modernism heresy which PSPX warned/and condemned in ‘Pascendi” and which was essentially implemented by Vatican 2. Go checkout Rahner, Congar, Dubac, Bouyer, Junngeman, Bugnini et al and the Cardinals/Bishops they were the periti for. Lot of books on Vatican 2. All will confirm that V2 was a “pastoral” council and not a “dogmatic” council. Both PJ23 & PP6 so stated more than once. Curious that it was the only pastoral council of 21 in the history of the Church. The first 20 were dogmatic councils. One of the best books is “The Second Vatican Council (an unwritten story)” by Prof Roberto de Mattei. Also check out “Rite of Sodomy” by Randy Engel (best on Kindle) Do some homework. Take care.

        • quisutDeusmpc

          “…’ecumenism’, ‘collegiality’, ‘religious freedom’, ‘pastoral concern’…”

          i.) ecumenism’s purpose is missionary/evangelistic

          I don’t think you look deeply enough. They have their roots in Jesus Christ. While the “kingdom of God” had grown from a couple (Adam & Eve) to a family (Noah), to a tribe (Abraham), to a nation (Israel), to a kingdom (David), Jesus Christ extended it to be universal (both Jew and Gentile – first in Jerusalem, then in Judea, THEN to Samaria, and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. When St. Paul confronts the Greeks in Athens, at the Areopagus, he employs the benefits of his classical education to dialogue with them regarding points of contact between the Greek philosophers, and poets of their age, as well as their pagan monuments to the pantheon of their gods, to preach an evangelistic message to them (cf. Acts 17: 22-34).

          ii.) collegiality

          Did not our Savior and Lord commission the Twelve who were delegated His authority to act in His name, infused with His Spirit. Jesus doesn’t solely govern all by Himself, by His personal choice. He includes man in that project, just like in Tanakh (what Christians call the ‘Old Testament’) – Moses and Aaron (cf. Numbers 11: 16-30). Do not the Apostles, after His example, appoint ‘diakonia’ (deacons), ‘presbyters’ (priests), and ‘episkopoi’ (overseers, bishops) by the laying on of hands. Further diversifying the gifts of administration within the Church. Surely seems to be a collegial action to me. Although Jesus Christ initially confers the power of the keys to St. Peter after the confession of the revelation he received from the Father (cf. Matt. 16: 19), ALL of the Twelve also receive the “power of the keys” as a “college” of the Twelve (cf. Matt. 18:18). After His Resurrection, with the Apostles gathered in the upper room, Jesus Christ appears and breathes on them all His Spirit to “bind and loose” (cf. John 20: 22, 23). In other words, not only is He not immediately involved in governing the Church, so likewise, not only does St. Peter rule the Church solely by himself, the Twelve participate in the governance of the Church in communion with the successor of St. Peter – collegiality. It is instructive to know that both St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI each held twice as many episcopal synods as Pope Paul VI (considering the amount of time post-council until the end of his pontificate that Pope Paul VI had, it isn’t surprising that such would be the case; however, the point is that if this were merely Pope Paul VI’s interpretation of what the Council was calling for, would his successors have continued the practice, much less extended it the way they did?

          iii. Religious freedom

          When Cain brought his offering to the LORD along with Abel, although Abel’s offering was accepted and Cain’s not, what did the LORD say to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted; but if not, sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it.” (Gen. 4: 6, 7). In Nazareth, Jesus Christ’s intention was to work many miracles among them to confirm His teaching, but because of their “lack of faith”, He did not (cf. Matt. 13: 54-58). He could have “coerced” them, by impressing them, against their will. He confines Himself to working within the confines of our free will. While it is true “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (cf. Hebrews 11:6), God does not force anyone to believe against their will (“Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem how I would have gathered you under My wing like a hen does her chicks, but YOU would not” (cf. Luke 13: 34). When St. Peter drew his sword thinking that force was an aspect of the kingdom, Jesus rebuked him (cf. Luke 22: 47-53). St. Paul confronts the Judaizers in Rome in his epistle and says that it is not what we claim to believe, but the works that we do by which we will be judged. That there are Gentiles (non-believers) whose actions will be accepted because they are actually doing God’s will (unbeknownst to themselves), while those within the household of God who merely claim to believe, but whose actions are speaking louder than their words because they contradict their profession of faith. St. Paul claims the Gentile will be accepted, and the “believer” rejected (cf. Romans 2: 11-24). Doesn’t Jesus say in Matthew 25: 31-46 we each have choices we make with our lives. His will is that we do His will, not our own. We are free to reject and free to obey. Serviam or non serviam, the choice is ours – ‘for freedom He has set us free’ – to willingly and lovingly choose His will.

          pastoral concern

          Did not Jesus heal people of all manner of illness (sight to the blind, heal the lame, restoration of hearing to the deaf, raise to life the dead, cast out demons, pastorally instruct and patiently bear the lack of faith of the disciples, Martha’s disintegration, etc.)?

          • windjammer

            I am not going to do your work for you. Go check on FR and their slogans…then come back and compare them to what was enumerated in V2. Real simple if you want to know the truth. Just google it and see what you come up with. Hint: they always wrap in a religious context if possible. That’s why it “sounds” so reasonable. Again do some homework in the real world. Take care

            • quisutDeusmpc

              Are you suggesting that the rally cry of the French Revolution (Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite) is the interpretive paradigm of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council? That’s ludicrous. I thought you were going to rehash the whole SSPX / SSPV thing. This is really out there. Randy Engle? Really? OK, thanks for the advice I am going to go do my homework windjammer. beep boop beep Take care

              • windjammer

                I can see you haven’t done any homework at all. Your guessing and parroting. Sounds knowledgeable but no substance. Take care

                • quisutDeusmpc

                  O ye of little faith…

  • quisutDeusmpc

    I must admit that I find myself half in and half out with your argument Dr. Esolen.

    I understand and concur regarding both the doctrinal difficulties and the LCWR’s choice of keynote/thematic speakers at conferences; the problem with honoring a theologian(s) whose works have been determined to contain incoherent irregularities and errors; and entertaining conference foci that aren’t merely proffered to foster ecumenical dialogue, but to insinuate that it is possible to be “faithful” to the Faith, and yet transcend Him [they, perhaps, would say, ‘It’ or ‘She’ or suggest that since God is that which is greater than all that can be said (a philosophical category), we also must transcend all that has been said (theologically or even expressly revealed both in the sacred Scriptures and/or Tradition)].

    I also understand the point you are making with regards to ‘ressentiment’ being particularly manifest in the general culture at large in relation to the Church (e.g. aggressive secularism, relativist materialism), and therefore, by extension or implication, the LCWR leadership (an important distinction to make – they claim to represent, I have read, 80% of the religious in the U. S.. However, I have also read anecdotal reports from rank and file members that suggest that not everyone, perhaps not most, are represented by their “representatives”) suffer from the same malady that you believe you have witnessed in academia and the prevailing American culture. Rereading the Letter of St. Jude 1-25, in both regards, suddenly seems both prescient and contemporary.

    However, although it is fine and well to describe the meaning of a term, and apply a label to persons or groups you believe warrant such a moniker, however, neither persons nor groups exist as ideas, or concepts to be rhetorically manipulated for effect. Your ‘feminists’, the ‘tekna porneia’ caught ‘in flagrante dilecto’, and the LCWR leadership are persons, according to St. Pope John Paul II. Persons are never to be reduced simply to a particular error or sin no matter how grievous. Their identities rest in the ontological fact that they are persons created in the ‘imago Dei’. It would serve us all well if we realize the historical context out of which many of these creatures of God that possess the “feminine genius” came of age; who, likely, ALL entered into religious life full of the love of God and their fellow man bursting forth from their hearts like ‘streams of living water’.

    They likely were born in the 1940’s. A time still dominated in the United States by a WASP establishment, themselves the inheritors of the “Victorian” ideal of women viewed as the ‘pater familias’s’ possession to be treated, disinherited, divorced as he saw fit. It was only the rich and famous whose daughters were educated in finishing schools, colleges, and universities. Those opportunities were denied the average woman who was expected to marry early and bear children, or should she enter the work force, she held the low level positions of clerk or receptionist (“secretary” was considered the “executive assistant” of its day) until she met the ‘right’ guy. These kinds of attitudes towards women were not merely Protestant. I remember many a holiday gathering, growing up, when the CINO (a term which hadn’t been invented yet, the term was “nominal” then) “men” of the family referred to their wives as “the cross they had to bear” with more gravity than humor, or worse, “old paint”. I have known religious who described their earlier enthusiasm and idealism slowly and progressively become disillusioned while acting as servers in rectories to clergy and prelates who sumptuously consumed filet mignon, a fifteen year old cabernet and some Cuban cigars while they went downstairs and dined on Campbell’s soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Those were the days when it was expected that the princes of the Church be seen as every bit as powerful and influential as a corporate executive, an ambassador or head of state for the Church was every bit as involved in its “cold war” with the Protestant establishment and the secular state as the U. S. government was with the Kremlin.

    At least in part, one of the attractions of religious life for the poor or blue collar Catholic woman, was an opportunity at higher education that would have been denied her in the secular realm. And not merely the opportunity for bachelor’s and graduate or even post-graduate coursework, but the opportunity, by and large, for responsibility available only to males in the secular realm – university and seminary professors/theologians, the directors/administrators of hospitals, the chancellor’s of universities, and the “CEO/CFO/COO” (pardon the rhetorical/secular comparison for effect) of a monastery (i. e. an abbess), etc..

    So imagine these “dinosaur’s” surprise when not only have they educated our grandparents, our parents, and our brothers and sisters; not only did they care for them in hospitals; not only did they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and pray for the salvation of our souls; but day in and day out they served the clergy and the heirarchy, being asked to make every sacrifice at little to no pay; while they witnessed some clergy and prelates aggrandizing themselves (cf. Is. 22: 15-25; Matt. 23: 27-33) at the parishioner’s expense (while those same parishioners were living on franks and beans) and the good sister’s labor. Then, to top it all off, the Second Vatican Council rediscovers the vocation of the laity and recorrects course on the teaching that consecrated religious life is no more “holy” than the lay state (from the time of Trent until the eve of the Second Vatican Council the teaching regarding vocations in the Church – whether lay, religious, or clergy – had become a distortion and gained traction that somehow to be a clergy, or better, a religious, or even better a religious cleric, were “holier” than those who lived the secular state, who had one foot on earth and one in hell), and now the “reason” why some joined the religious life to begin with, a kind of detached distinction or “holiness” by outward vocation rather than interior union, seems to be ALSO yanked out from underneath them, to add insult to injury, which would prior to ‘Apostolicam Actuositatem’ been a kind of consolation that made up for all of the lackluster or disruptive students, the runny noses and skinned knees, or the medications dispensed and bedpans emptied (e. g. It’s OK, because I’m a religious, I’m already practicing the ‘holiness’ that they won’t begin until they leave this present life).

    My point is that “ressentiment” RARELY is the spirit of Satan immediately, without any exterior provocation from the world or even from within the Church, maliciously entering into these “dinosaurs” and winning their hearts and minds to make them malicious “traditores” for no earthly reason. I suspect many of them saw the social revolution going on outside the Church during the 1960’s and realized the opportunities that ONLY were to be had inside the Church for women, were suddenly opening up outside the Church in the world – in the 1960’s the dawning realization of the corporate “glass ceiling”, became the realization and beginning of the “feminine genius” in the 1980’s that St. Pope John Paul II lauded in his “Letter to Women” of June 29, 1995, which had by that time seen an “elan”. I also suspect this is the same impulse that is guiding the laity to justifiable disappointment or outrage at a Father Corapi, the Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo who was married to the Korean accupuncturist Maria Sung in a wedding ‘en masse’ by the “Rev.” Sun Myung Moon, the “Bishop” Peter Njogu, Father Maciel Macial, or the “bling bishop” His Excellency Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, not to mention the clergy sexual abuse scandal and the episcopal mishandling of the fallout.

    Nor does the provocative tagline (one hopes the efforts of a zealous ‘Crisis’ editor and not of your own choosing) “Know Your ENEMY” or the pejoratives “dinosaur(I certainly realize that the real enemy is the spirit of “ressentiment”, but considering all of the ink spilled over the LCWR it is hardly necessary to point out to some of the kinds of people that are following your monographic efforts and posting their comments will make the mental association that the “enemy” refers to the “dinosaur” sisters, as well as the feminist academics of the more radical corollary, as well as the hedonistic libertines who potentially ruined the outing with your daughter and who are likely allies of their ‘confreres’, the militant shock troops responsible for advocating and now largely securing, to their minds, the redefinition of ‘marriage’, instead of the spirit of “ressentiment” itself where it rightfully belongs. I find it instructive that our Savior and Lord advised that while, yes, we should be “as wise as serpents”, we must be as “harmless as doves”; that His primary focus, a missionary evangelistic focus, was on loving one’s enemy (cf. Matt. 5: 43-48) and returning them to the fold, however unlikely it may seem to us.

    I have no truck with you. I have personally purchased and enjoyed “Ironies of Faith”, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization”, and the Modern Library Classic’s “Dante’s Trilogy”. My concern is the tone of the rhetoric. The kinds of readers that read Crisis are well aware of the LCWR and have even probably read Anne Carey’s “Sisters in Crisis: From Unravelling to Reform and Renewal” (and/or “Revisited”). I’m wondering what the benefit is to putting our finger on the potential spirit that animates the three camps you delineated. Perhaps we see it clearly, perhaps we don’t. I have never met anyone who, in the throes of some sin or another, when confronted with their sin, experienced St. Paul’s blinding light. More likely than not it occasions an initial or further defense/justification/rationalization. What does tend to work, however, is the tack that the prophet Nathan took with King David regarding Uriah and Bathsheba in II Samuel 12. With a hypothetical, you provoke the outrage within the offender (effectively sneaking up on them), and then allow them to see themselves in the hypothetical in order to analyze their personal actual, “You are the [one]” (cf. II Samuel 7).

    Either way, I still do not see the benefit. Do you know how U. S. Treasury agents used to be trained to detect counterfeit bills? For weeks and weeks their instructors examined the minutiae of a $20, a $50, a $100 dollar bill. Over and over they ONLY handled the real thing, examining the color of the ink, the weight of the bill, how it felt to crumple it and return it to its original shape, pouring over every swell and curve of line, etc. After weeks and weeks, when the counterfeit was finally put in their hands, often without even knowing why, they could instinctively tell the difference between the counterfeit and the real because they had been handling the real for so long. The instructors didn’t put the counterfeit in their hands and try to describe for them why or what was wrong with the counterfeit and how it differed from the real and the true. They put the true in their hands for so long that they could intuitively tell the counterfeit. In Hebrews 12, the author talks about the “cloud of witnesses” that are cheering us on, who have run the race before us, who have suffered like trials as we and whose lives, actions, and words are meant to encourage, exhort, rally, provoke, and challenge us. I wonder if the time wouldn’t have been better spent examining the biblical narrative of Abraham and Lot (in Sodom and Gomorrah) and drawing out the implications of Abraham rescuing Lot from the kings of the plain and the sacrifice of bread and wine; or examining St. Athanasius and his struggle against Arianism as well as his multiple exiles and final redemption, or St. Ambrose’s efforts in the West against Arianism, or St. Augustine’s against Pelagianism and the disintegration of the pagan Roman empire and the monumental exhortation of ‘De Civitate Dei’. The benefit, I see, is intuitively then we will know the counterfeits “by their fruits” after the close encounter of even modern, as Fr. Rutler wrote, “Cloud of Witnesses”.

    • Sign

      One of the problems with your rhetoric here is that this is not a new issue. It has been going on for decade after decade unchecked. The harm they have caused is not minor. To go on and on about the perceived drama of their upbringing as some kind of excuse seems very shallow and unconvincing.

      • quisutDeusmpc

        “…for decade after decade unchecked.”

        Prior to the Second Vatican Council, issues such as this were dealt with swiftly and harshly. Prelates, clergy, and laity were so high strung with regards to the slightest whiff of schism, heresy, or apostasy that no less a personage than St. Padre Pio was accused of an indiscrete relationship with a confessee and his confreres attempted to tap his confessional to gather evidence against him

        My point being that post-Vatican II, since, it was perceived St. Pope John XXIII had called a pastoral council, it was believed that a more pastoral approach would be taken (e. g. conference, dialogue, mutual understanding was sought). There are down sides and up sides to both approaches. Swift, cut and dried can both prevent the spread of schism, heresy, and apostasy AND foster an environment where people will report each other and innocent people will be accused and perhaps condemned unjustly. A pastoral approach may foster dialogue and a generous liberality while allowing, as you mention, problems to drag on threatening to drag those who would not otherwise hear about them, into the fray. Both options put the episcopacy in a compromising situation with detractors on both sides.

        “go on and on…as some kind of excuse…”

        When internal problems are found, say, in an administration, or a scandal arises, an investigation is conducted, cases are made, witnesses proffer testimony, etc. in an effort to provide a fair hearing of both sides of an issue. Considering there is no context provided for in the essay, nor in any of the comments I have read, it hardly appears, to my mind, to be going “on and on”. There was a time when these women were the vanguard of Catholicism in the U. S.. Because there were no teachers unions advocating for maximum salaries and pensions and benefits, a top flight education could be had by the commonest among us at half the cost or less than the secular, Protestant prep schools. Catholics climbed out of poverty, and solidly into the middle class and better because of the educations they received, family members convalesced and recuperated because of their life’s work, I hardly feel that I am making “excuse(s)” for anyone. My intent has been to provide context. WE didn’t grow up through the Great Depression, the Second World War (with the loss of fathers, uncles, brothers who would have provided incomes for their families and where mothers would have been anxious for the security of their children’s futures until these women formed their characters, taught them their catechism, educated their minds, took them to liturgy and prepared them for the sacraments), the social upheaval of the 1960’s and the assassination of President Kennedy, the Cold War (the drills in the event of an atomic bomb and mutually assured destruction) and the arms race, OPEC and the Iran hostages. It is way too simplistic to cast dispersions forty and fifty years removed without making a modicum of effort to understand from where people are coming. It will hardly do to simply dismiss them out of hand without trying to understand them and exercising a due diligence to call them back home (which is precisely what I perceive the episcopacy, laudably, has done).

        Your reply calls to mind our Lord’s conversation with St. Peter as recorded at St. Matthew 18: 21-35: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?”. I am making no excuses for anyone. I believe I stated I concur with Dr. Esolen that one’s apostolate may be beyond reproach (in the exercise of Gospel charity) and that does not give one the excuse that they may privately hold or publicly teach error (see above). However, last time I checked, we are still a people of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….who mourn…..who are meek…who are merciful…the peacemakers….” and one might add, “…love endures all things”. It doesn’t read, Blessed are the arrogant….who rejoice at others comeuppance…who are intolerant…who are merciless…who condemn. I read the level of vitriol in here at times and it hardly can pass the level of Christian ‘agape’. God has his way, and his time. We should be grateful that it has “dragged on and on”. If it is this way with them, perhaps there is hope for us as well.

      • John200

        Sign is on it. The harm from these people is not caused by their mommies, or their toilet training, or Oedipus or Electra, or anything similar. It is caused by pride (of course!), by various heresies (all of them very old indeed!), and, in some cases, outright apostasy.

        “Dissenting” theologians, priests who don’t want to be Roman Catholic priests, nuns who don’t want to be nuns, cafeteria Catholics, et al. do much direct harm, which complements an incalculable amount of indirect harm in the form of scandal.

        These — and their victims — are to be pitied. They need prayers and reconciliation, and prayers for their reconciliation. And good works offered up for their benefit. And indulgences.

        Alright, back to work: prayer; and fasting; and almsgiving.

    • Tony

      I do try to do what you say — I am more often praising the good than blaming the bad. It’s just that I have found Scheler’s book to be fascinating, accurate, and deeply disturbing. It describes a particular (and devastating) spiritual malady, and one that can hurt any one of us, and that needs a special kind of care.

      I disagree with you, though, about colleges and feminism and opportunities for women and so forth. Already by the 40’s women made up a third of all college students; and it seems wrong to me to read back into that era our own dissatisfaction with “mere” family life. Most people were, in absolute terms, a great deal poorer than we are now, and their first goal was to find a good spouse, get married, have children, raise them well, have a decent place to live and food on the table.

      We can see the phenomenon of ressentiment at work, though, not just in persons but in groups and in movements. It is quite dangerous. There are people — not in the majority, but I’ve met one or two — who hate the Novus Ordo more than they love the Latin Mass. There are people who hate heretics more than they love saints. We might call it the Tertullian Syndrome. There’s a streak of it in Pascal, says Scheler. There’s more than a streak of it, now, in the gay movement; in fact I believe it is the chief characteristic of that movement.

      Scheler does say that certain groups are especially vulnerable to ressentiment — those who, for one reason or another, cannot “get back” at their (perceived) persecutors but must work indirectly and surreptitiously. I would not say that in all of these cases the ressentiment is a response to a genuine wrong. Sometimes, alas, it is in response to a perceived good that one is not capable of attaining for oneself, on one’s own terms. See the elder brother in the parable, who hates his brother more than he loves his father… perhaps he is a case of it. He is not saddened by his brother’s dissolute life. He is saddened by the love that the father shows to the younger brother.

      • quisutDeusmpc

        Having read and enjoyed the many spiritually uplifting, thought provoking and encouraging columns here and in “Magnificat” magazine as well as your books, I can attest to the validity of the claim that, on the balance, the Christophers themselves would praise your candle burning in the darkness. Perhaps my concern is rather a fear. If these ladies, whose good works vivified the Church for forty years and more, have turned aside to ‘ressentiment’, how will it go for us.

        The interest in Scheler is understandable considering his circle (von Hildebrand, Husserl, Edith Stein, etc.) and his influence on European philosophy; particularly Saint Pope John Paul II. It is curious to wonder why, in light of the book and its title, he turned from a public walk with the Church in his later years.

        The words from “Beowulf” of Grendel, could just as easily be attributed to all of us, as put in Satan’s mouth (“Where are you?”, cf. Gen. 3:9). One would think every Catholic and Christian could identify with St. Paul’s lament in Romans 7 – our powerlessness in the face of the ‘mysterium iniquitatis’ that coincide with the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer / Our Father that the Lord not put us to the test, but rather deliver us from the Evil One. In addition, considering the Lord’s original hearers were being prepared for the inclusion of the Gentiles into the fold of the people of God of Israel, the universal applicability of the “older brother” syndrome, could just as easily be applied to “cradle Catholics” being called to evangelize their brothers and sisters who have fallen away from the faith, as well as the missionary focus of the new evangelization with the promise that these “converts” (‘younger brother’) would be paid the same wage as their ‘older brother’ (cf. Matthew 20: 1-16).

        • Tony

          Dear Michael — for who indeed is like unto God? Thank you for your kind words. I’ve been persuaded that the best work I can ever do in the classroom can’t have even a whiff of ressentiment about it, or the love of enmity. It doesn’t do. It makes no converts, but it sure can turn people from being good faithful Catholics into self-appointed crusaders and critics of others who are not Catholic enough. Instead, all I do is to show the students how beautiful and glorious and wise — and complex, and fascinating — are the works of art and poetry from pagan Greece and Rome, ancient Israel, the early church, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance; I let Homer, Virgil, Augustine, Boethius, Dante, Cervantes, Herbert, and Milton and dozens of others speak for themselves. The thing is, once you see the beauty of, for example, relations between men and women in a culture that honors marriage, you have a choice to make, and if you make the choice for reality and therefore grace, your life is changed for good. That’s actually happened to many of my students …

          And now that I think of it, to concentrate on beauty and excellence is itself a strong guard against ressentiment. There are poets that are so superlatively great, they exceed envy or even emulation; the fit response is simple, grateful wonder.

          • quisutDeusmpc

            Not me, sir, not me (Non nobis, Domine, non nobis…cf. Ps. 115 & St. Luke 17: 7-10).

            Like some children raised to maturity, I imagine there are students who return to their ‘alma mater’, and express their ‘eukharistia’ for a baptism into the beautiful, the good, and the true.

            Spring and Fall

            to a young child

            Márgarét, áre you gríeving
            Over Goldengrove unleaving?
            Leáves, like the things of man, you
            With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
            Ah! ás the heart grows older
            It will come to such sights colder
            By and by, nor spare a sigh
            Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
            And yet you will weep and know why.
            Now no matter, child, the name:
            Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
            Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
            What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
            It ís the blight man was born for,
            It is Margaret you mourn for.

            God’s Grandeur

            The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
            It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
            It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
            Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
            Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
            And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
            And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
            Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
            And for all this, nature is never spent;
            There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
            And though the last lights off the black West went
            Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
            Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
            World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

            Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1899)

            One of my trusted go to’s when “ressentiment” prowls around like a roaring lion…

  • Pingback: Dads, Give Your Kids a Head Start -

  • Gary Adrian

    Oddly, it is always the left, the liberal, the progressive, that turns to revolution, then death and destruction follow. Look at National Socialism, later know as Nazism, then Communism, the socialist revolutions in France, Spain, Portugal and Mexico. All brought death and destruction, most of all to innocent priests and nuns. Tell me about the goodness of progressives and I will show you hundreds of millions of dead. Who becomes the true oppressor. Was there need of change in those countries, perhaps, but it can never happen fast enough for the progressive, they must have revolution which rarely brings out the good. As we see the US and Europe going ever closer to the day that we will not be able to freely practice our faith because we don’t agree with sin, we pray for God’s help.

    Truly there is no good in Earthly politicals, neither will bring us peace. Only one can bring us peace, that is Jesus Christ and his Holy Roman Catholic Church.

  • Marie

    Excellent article. One question: the article says that Grendel seats “himself on the throne of the rightful king,” but did he? I thought he was unable to touch the throne. The Douglas Wilson translation says,

    “He made Heorot his home, haunting at midnight, Ghostly and gliding in the glittering hall, But the thought of the throne was a thought filled with horror,
    He could not come near it, that outcast and outlaw.”

    Perhaps I am missing something. I have read the whole poem more than once, but I am sure Dr. Esolen knows it much better than I do. But if Grendel cannot sit on the throne, wouldn’t that also fit the description of ressentiment? Maybe Grendel was filled with impotent rage that he could not sit on the throne, so he would not let Hrothgar sit on it either, and continued to kill Hrothgar’s men. Or maybe I am misunderstanding the poem. Either way, the article is very wise.