Tuesday, May 13, 2008

He should have looked before he leaped

I come to bury iTunes, not to praise it
— Mark Antony (William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act III, scene 2)

Melancholicus occasionally relieves the tedium of his day job by listening to his music library on iTunes, that marvellous piece of software brought to us by those good people at Apple. One of the best features of iTunes is the iTunes store, where one can acquire one’s favourite releases with a simple click of the mouse; no more weary pilgrimages to HMV on Grafton street, with the concomitant headache of trying to find parking in Dublin city centre. There is of course a fee for this service; no such thing as a free lunch.

One of the best features of the iTunes store is that one can purchase audiobooks, and Melancholicus has over the past few months acquired a number of these — Aesop’s fables, Claire Tomalin’s biography of Samuel Pepys, Cyril Robinson’s History of Greece, Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Capote’s In Cold Blood, various Shakespeare plays, the New International Version of the Bible, and others too numerous to mention.

Browsing about yesterday for something new, he came across a book on the Reformation, listened to the free sample, thought “this sounds interesting!” and decided to buy it. And so he downloaded the work to his iPod.

Melancholicus wasn’t listening to his new audiobook for very long before he became aware of a definite and unmistakable bias in its author’s approach to his subject. The fellow’s name is G. L. Mosse; Melancholicus googled him and found — O dear! — that Mosse, who died in 1999, was a Jew. Not only that, but a left-winger. And a homosexual. All of which combine to render him no friend, to say the very least, of the Catholic Church.

So Melancholicus was bitten, having paid the princely sum of €14.95 for an erroneous book, a work which — if the Church were functioning normally with all her faculties intact — ought to be on the Index.

If Melancholicus had known what he was getting, he would never have bought the thing in the first place. It’s always a good idea to google the names of authors with whom one is unfamiliar before paying good money for their works. Paying first and googling later is like shutting the stable door ... anyway, you get the picture.

Mosse’s Reformation is interesting enough for readers who know their history, since it is a clear and succinct restatement of the protestant myth. Readers unfamiliar with the sixteenth century, however, should be on their guard. Mosse does not present his public with an accurate account of what precisely an indulgence is, whether through ignorance or malice — I suppose it would be a charitable conclusion to blame his ignorance, but as the doctrine of the Church on indulgences is not excessively complicated and it should not have been difficult for one with Mosse’s intellectual prowess to grasp correctly, I fear that malice may in fact have been the motivating factor. Hence he fails to distinguish between the right use of indulgences and the abuse thereof and, with the protestant revolutionaries, ends by throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Mosse’s Luther is likewise not an historical figure, but an exercise in hagiography. Instead of a well-rounded presentation of Luther the man, what we are given instead is a two-dimensional cardboard saint, a character that has stepped right out of pious protestant legend. Mosse’s Luther is a towering scholar, a fearless crusader for truth, a thoroughly admirable man of unimpeachable honesty and goodwill. The real Luther was much more complicated than Mosse would have us believe, and his more audacious acts and statements are glossed over, explained away, or altogether omitted as being piis auribus offensivum. He does not whitewash the corrupt venality of the Renaissance popes, so why should he whitewash Luther? He is supposed to be an historian after all — not a homilist.

This is as far as Melancholicus has penetrated into this work, for he can only tolerate it in small doses, but he would be surprised if it did not continue in much the same vein in which it began. One might wonder why Mosse should evince such enthusiasm for Luther and for the Reformation generally, since as a Jew he ought to have been disinterested and impartial, if not actually repulsed by Luther’s rabid anti-semitism. The reason, of course, is that Mosse was not a religious man at all, but a rationalist; and whatever one may think of Martin Luther, the movement he initiated or protestant Christianity generally, there is no denying that the sixteenth-century revolt against the Church ushered in a new age of unbelief, for if one can refuse to hear the teaching of the pope of Rome, preferring the Bible interpreted according to one’s own private authority, one can end by constructing for oneself a view of reality which owes nothing to Scripture, or Tradition, or authority, and everything — including even the existence of God — to one’s own tastes and fancies. In inaugurating the Reformation, and in letting the cat out of the bag with private Biblical interpretation, Luther is the father of rationalism, despite his insistence that faith must crush all reason and understanding. The Reformation makes the first step on the road to atheism. The so-called Enlightenment, with its scepticism and naturalism, makes the second. And modernism completes the journey, as a glance at the remains of the Catholic Church in our time is sufficient to show.

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