Beautiful Reflections on Caravaggio’s Adoration of the Shepherds and Botticelli’s Mystical Nativity

Descriptions of two contrasting masterpieces of nativity art. The first is on Caravaggio’s The Adoration of the Shepherds, courtesy of Andrew Zwerneman, President of Cana Academy

These features also indicate the striking humbleness of the stage itself. It is not just Mary’s proximity to the donkey and the second beast whose back we just glimpse. Mary has no place to sit except the stable’s floor, nor even a place to rest her infant.

The second is a video presentation by Denis McNamara on Botticelli’s Mystical Nativity.

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On the Spanish Inquisition

I found this article by Thomas Madden very informative. It fits with what I know of the Inquisition generally. Some excerpts are below I look forward to reading his companion piece on the Crusades.

By the 14th century, the Inquisition represented the best legal practices available. Inquisition officials were university-trained specialists in law and theology. The procedures were similar to those used in secular inquisitions (we call them “inquests” today, but it’s the same word).

Although Christian, most conversos still spoke, dressed, and ate like Jews. Many continued to live in Jewish quarters so as to be near family members. The presence of conversos had the effect of Christianizing Spanish Judaism. This in turn led to a steady stream of voluntary conversions to Catholicism.

Sixtus ordered the bishops to take a direct role in all future tribunals. They were to ensure that the Church’s well-established norms of justice were respected. The accused were to have legal counsel and the right to appeal their case to Rome. In the Middle Ages, the pope’s commands would have been obeyed. But those days were gone. King Ferdinand was outraged when he heard of the letter….That was the end of the papacy’s role in the Spanish Inquisition.

The Spanish Inquisition, it was argued, could never succeed in bringing the conversos back into the fold while the Jews undermined its work. Finally, on March 31, 1492, the monarchs issued an edict expelling all Jews from Spain.

After the reforms, the Spanish Inquisition had very few critics. Staffed by well-educated legal professionals, it was one of the most efficient and compassionate judicial bodies in Europe. No major court in Europe executed fewer people than the Spanish Inquisition. This was a time, after all, when damaging shrubs in a public garden in London carried the death penalty.

Because it was both professional and efficient, the Spanish Inquisition kept very good records. Vast archives are filled with them. These documents were kept secret, so there was no reason for scribes to do anything but accurately record every action of the Inquisition. They are a goldmine for modern historians who have plunged greedily into them. Thus far, the fruits of that research have made one thing abundantly clear — the myth of the Spanish Inquisition has nothing at all to do with the real thing.

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On Leading Discussions

I have known the blessing of discussion-based education for 40 years, first as a student, later as a teacher. I want first to offer a brief description of discussion classes, then try to explain what is really going on, why educators would want to employ discussion as much as possible, and offer some suggestions for how to lead successful discussions. Along the way, I hope to clear up some misconceptions and answer some objections. (N.B. In this article, I am envisioning discussions with students at least in middle school; discussions with younger students are going to be very different.)


Discussion classes look different from the start. A room set up for discussions will have seating arranged so that students face each other, usually without any distinctive place for the discussion leader. With students seated in this fashion, the discussion leader will begin with a question arising from an original text, which all participants will have read beforehand; the question will frequently concern how to interpret some difficult portion of the reading assignment. Typically, the leader will then remain quiet for some time while students discuss the question among themselves. A student will offer an opinion in answer to the opening question; other students will agree, disagree, offer alternative suggestions, or raise their own questions. The conversation will center on understanding well what the author is saying, but also lead to questioning whether the author is right or wrong, and what significance his writing has.

The leader will help students to clarify their own ideas, sometimes by questions, sometimes by restatement.  He will decide which of the ideas need to be explored further, either because they seem more promising, or perhaps because they contain common misconceptions that should be revealed as such.  The leader will ensure that students give reasons for their ideas, and will expect students to cite the text under discussion frequently.  And, importantly, he will help students to listen to one another:  “Gianna, you’re saying that Achilles is petty because he’s crying over an insult.  But Sean has said that the goddess, Athena, seems to be taking Achilles’ side.  How do you account for that?” Sometimes, such discussions lead to common agreement at the end, but frequently disagreements remain, and spill over into non-class time. 

Although often associated with Socrates, discussion classes bear little resemblance to the one-on-one, question-and-answer conversations reported by Plato, or the demanding, challenging questions law professors used to hone the wits of budding attorneys. Many students who visit our college will liken them to the intellectually engaging conversations they have with their parents and siblings around the dinner table.

I have led such discussions with great success with students from high school freshmen through the collegiate years, as well as adults; I have seen them work with middle schoolers as well. 

Here are a few examples:

1)  “In Act III, Scene 4, line 57, Lady Macbeth asks of her husband:  ‘Are you a man?’ How does the play answer that question?” 

So I began a seminar discussion of Macbeth one evening some years ago at Thomas Aquinas College.  The students launched into a fascinating exploration of the different views of manhood held by Macbeth and his Lady, and how the failure to recognize rational and moral restraints on daring led both of them to lose their humanity. 

2)  I began a discussion of the Exodus account of the Ten Commandments with my high school Moral Theology class by asking why “God spoke all these words.”  This led us to ask further questions:  Why didn’t God write them down right away?  Why did God bring them to Sinai in the first place?  How did the Israelites react to God speaking with them?  How important was Moses in the relationship between God and Israel?

3) With an online class of high school sophomores, I asked why Homer’s Iliad ends with the burial of Hector.  This question led to seeing how the rage of Achilles was only finally brought to an end by the pity that he felt for Hector’s father, Priam. 


My very first experience of discussion classes was during my junior year of high school, when I visited a college where they were the norm. I had no understanding of the broader idea of liberal education or the liberal arts, but was immediately sold by the hope that I would be able to bring up in class all the questions and ideas I had, instead of having to simply take notes while passively listening to a teacher lecturing. Judging by the many applications I have since read, I am not the only young person who has found this freedom attractive.

The evident self-activity of the students also makes many teachers prefer leading discussions to lecturing. Teachers cannot put knowledge into their students; students have to acquire it by their own mental activity. Whether the student is reading, hearing a lecture, or listening to others, he must form his own ideas of what is proposed and then look at his own experience to see if his understanding matches up with the reality.  So, in a way, a learner is always engaged in an interior conversation.  “That sounds strange; what did the teacher mean? Does what he said match with things I know?”  Without this interior dialogue, real learning does not take place.  Instead, students act like a tape recorder, taking in words without meaning so that they can replay them on a test and get a good grade. 

Discussion classes make the interior discussion exterior and explicit, so that the teacher and the student can see it going on, and better evaluate it. Discussions also stimulate a student’s own thinking. Students can’t always tell when they are acting like tape recorders. Discussions make students publicly responsible for expressing, defending, and modifying their ideas. They train students to distinguish what they believe because of authority and from what they believe because of substance and evidence. They allow them to share in the great good of teaching itself, when what they say enlightens their fellow students, and even, from time to time, their teachers.

Since discussions center around the writings of great authors, they also teach students to read deeply and carefully. Students will come into class with ideas about what an author has said, but they usually learn quickly that they have missed and misunderstood much. Each time the text is quoted in class, the students come to pay attention more carefully to the words the authors have used. This can lead to confusion, but often an increase of excitement as greater depths are glimpsed. 

Another important reason that teachers love discussion classes is because they learn so much themselves. Even when lecturing, teachers value active students. The more questions students ask, the more the teacher is challenged to be a master of his subject. When teachers ignite serious discussions among eager students, they find they often learn much more by listening and asking further questions than the students do.

In preparing to lead a discussion class, start with a good reading.  Textbooks don’t lend themselves to discussion, because in the attempt to make everything clear and easy to learn, they remove the depth of their subjects.  Of course, you can have fine discussions without any book at all, but good books often suggest to students deeper ideas and clearer arguments than they could develop on their own; they have to read great things before they can think in great ways.  I will often try to find a selection from an important author that touches on subjects in the textbook; frequently the textbook itself makes suggestions along those lines.

To arrive at a good question, begin by being attentive to your own learning process. If I have studied a great text and come to some conclusions about it, then I must have had a question in my own mind that needed answering.  What was that question?  What bothered me?  What didn’t I understand?  What did I really want to understand? Remembering the questions that we ourselves have had on the road to learning is a good guide to figuring out what questions we might ask the students.  So, when I first read The Iliad, I wondered why Achilles reacted the way he did to Agamemnon, and why the other Greeks didn’t just call him a baby and treat him like that. 

You can also start with things that we think are important moments or statements in the work.  In the classroom, we might start by just bringing that up, asking what is going on or what is being said, and then how it came about, or what reasons the author gives for saying it.  You might ask, “God tells Moses, ‘I am who am.’  What does that mean and why does he say it?”  

Sometimes when we read something, we can see that certain episodes are important without understanding why ourselves.  “The Iliad ends with the burial of Hector. Why?” “What is on Achilles’ shield and why?”  Those are good questions to ask, even if we don’t see an answer ourselves.

Having chosen a question (or two or four, just in case the first one doesn’t go well), think about possible ways students might go with it.  During the discussion, listen carefully.  Listening is the most exhausting and most important part of leading discussions. Keep track of the conversation, asking yourself how the current topic relates to the opening question. Try to get students to listen to each other and to pay attention to texts, to give and seek reasons, to quote texts to support their points. 

Perhaps the hardest discipline for a discussion leader is resisting the urge to correct mistakes.  As kids need their parents to let them fall when learning to walk or ride a bike, the teacher has to let his students make mistakes.  Always remember that students are developing good habits of learning even if they are making mistakes about a particular subject. Correcting too quickly or too authoritatively can undermine confidence and sap student initiative. Frequently, through the assistance of fellow students, students will come to see their own mistakes, which increases their confidence that they can learn through their own initiative.  Many mistakes are irrelevant to the important issues being discussed; most will be forgotten after class. Mistakes about more important issues will usually come up again in later conversations. 

When you do move to correct important mistakes, do it by proposing another text for their consideration.  Ask them how this might fit with what they’ve said.  Or suggest your idea, giving the reasons for it and asking what they think of that.  Leave it open for them to reject what you’re suggesting, as long as they understand your reasons for it. But always make it clear that you are as accountable for giving reasons and answering objections as students are.

Helping students prepare is important. Train students to annotate their reading assignments regularly. Have them note significant passages, and raise questions. A brief reading check quiz at the beginning of every class is a good idea. These can be open book so there is little pressure, but only five minutes, with very short answers, so they’d have to have read it beforehand to get the answers in the short time.  Having students submit questions for discussion ahead of time is a great idea. Ask the student whose question is chosen to begin the discussion by raising it in class. This can help quiet students get started.

Discussion and Truth

Some people think of discussion classes as opportunities for sharing points of view, and of discussion leaders as facilitators of conversation rather than teachers. Others use discussions as tools to get students to predetermined conclusions. Many fear that, unless the leader takes this approach, discussions will foster a relativistic attitude towards the truth.

Properly led, discussion classes do not foster relativism, and the leaders are true teachers.  All are encouraged to voice their opinions, but they also have to listen to and respond to criticism.  Students are encouraged to pay attention to the reasons for and against the opinions that are offered so that they can come to a reasonable judgment.  Frequently, this means saying, “Oh, I see that was wrong.” Leaders foster an environment of openness to discussion, but also an expectation of serious criticism of ideas, and an attentiveness to progress toward truth and understanding.

Many times discussions don’t reach a common, agreed-to conclusion, and this can cause anxiety and frustration. Everyone wants to reach conclusions, but discussion leaders realize they must be earned conclusions. That is, to get to solid conclusions students must see  the significance and difficulty of the questions they are answering, and then  must look for deep answers and strong evidence for those answers. As a great teacher of teachers, John Milton Gregory, wrote in The Seven Laws of Teaching:

The object or the event that excites no question will provoke no thought. Questioning is not, therefore, merely one of the devices of teaching, it is really the whole of teaching. It is the excitation of the self-activities to their work of discovering truth.

They have to defend and develop their evidence and their answers in the face of objections, counter-conclusions and counter-evidence.  Since the most interesting questions to ask of a great text are also the most difficult, and all serious questions about great texts get wound up in all the other serious questions involved in the text, it is very difficult to get an earned conclusion in an hour and a half discussion with young people. Quoting Gregory again:

The explanation that settles everything and ends all questions, usually ends all thinking also. After a truth is clearly understood, or a fact or principle established, there still remain its consequences, applications, and uses. Each fact and truth thoroughly studied leads to other facts which renew the questioning and demand fresh investigation. The alert and scientific mind is one that never ceases to ask questions and seek answers. The scientific spirit is the spirit of tireless inquiry and research.

This is real life, the real life of the mind.  You know how many questions you have had over the years about issues literary, philosophical, theological,  historical, political, contemporary, ancient, and how you’ve had to dwell on them, and search them out, and ask people who might know (and often get disappointed); and how many times you’ve changed your mind, either to the opposite or to a much more complete understanding.  Why should students be encouraged to think they can earn the answers to questions in an hour and a half?  

They should still be able to see, however, that they are making progress.  They can see this as they begin to marshal evidence for their own opinions, have to dig deeper to fire back at troublesome opponents, and leave behind simple, sometimes stupid answers. Often the progress comes in just seeing the real question: why the question is  a great, hard, deeply important, exciting, and enticing question.  They also see that they are noticing more about the work than they had seen before, or seeing the importance of some parts of it they had not noticed before. Teachers can help them realize how much progress they have made by summarizing the discussion from time to time in class, at the end of class, and/or at the beginning of the following class.

Some students depend so much on common consensus that if the class agrees on something, they think it must be right. Without that consensus, they feel simply confused. Good students don’t let the lack of a commonly agreed answer frustrate them in their pursuit of the truth. They often suspect that one of the proposed ideas was the right answer, but will continue to wonder why others disagreed. They will often continue to argue about it after class. This can lead them to realize that, though they might have been right, they were still only seeing part of the truth.

Sharing Your Thoughts

When should a discussion leader jump into the discussion? In many ways, the answer to this is personal and prudential. Different teachers have different styles; different students have different needs; different discussions provide different opportunities; fostering the all-important relationship between teacher and students requires different things at different times. Also, is the leader really jumping in as a participant, or is he entering as a teacher to present solutions that he expects will be accepted?

As a rule of thumb, I think leaders should be very hesitant to enter discussions, unless they enter as a participant with the confidence that students have reached a point of being able to judge what the leader is proposing, and expressing their agreement or disagreement with it. Seeming to enter as a participant when really entering as a teacher undoes many of the goods that a discussion can achieve. This rule of thumb should be especially binding on younger teachers.

This does not mean that discussion leaders should never present their understanding of texts and questions. They should just do it apart from the discussion. When I taught seminarians for a few years, I would have an hour of discussion of a text followed by an hour of lecture. I think that was most effective because I could build on the ideas they had expressed, and they had greater familiarity with text so as to be able to judge what I was saying.

 As a teacher, I am pleased when I see students make progress towards answers while recognizing that more has to be done to earn the answers. Discussion classes train students to never be passive, to never take spoon-fed answers, to always look to reality and evidence more than authority, and finally to know that the truth is greater than themselves.

In the spirit of Gregory, I will end, as he does each of his laws, with Rules and Violations (really more Proverbial Advice)

You are not a participant, but a leader and a teacher. Whenever you enter as a participant, you will likely intimidate, often frustrate, the real participants.You are hoping that through the discussion the participants will come to a level where they can converse with you about the particular topic.

Make sure all abstract claims are grounded in concrete, interesting examples. Literary and historical examples are usually better than personal.

Hardly ever continue talking when a student starts talking (unless you have determined that they talk too much).

Ask provocative questions – ones where you see there might be multiple intelligent answers. Intelligent answers need not be true, and can often be contradictory. You don’t have to foresee them; frequently you can see that a question will likely have multiple answers, even if you only see one. But avoid asking questions where you think there is only one intelligent answer, unless you are using it as a step in getting to a provocative question. And always be open to the possibility (which becomes actual very often), that even questions which you think have one intelligent answer will be answered in other ways by participants (not always intelligently). But let those answers have their moment in the court of conversation (“Do others agree with that?”).

Watch your tone of voice when asking a question where you think there is only one intelligent answer  and when making a claim that you think is evidently true. Do not show by your tone that you think only one answer is possible; be careful of implying that you are dismissing an idea without allowing the participants to engage it on its own merits. 

The Jeopardy approach – “I want them to get to this answer; what question should I ask them to get that answer?” –  usually fails until you grow in the prudence of leading.

Sometimes leaders say, “This is a real question I have,” implying that normally they are not asking “real questions”. This is problematic. Always ask real questions. I suspect that every article in St. Thomas’s Summa is a real question; he always begins with objections to show the reader that he is asking a real question. Even if you no longer have them, they should usually be ones you once had, that were at the time real to you, that remain interesting to you, and whose answers you expect you will come to understand better through the conversation. 

A good opening question is one you hope will open up a discussion of the whole reading, or the whole of major parts of it. You should not prepare a list of unrelated questions that you hope to get through one after another throughout the discussion. E.g. In Book XXIV of the Iliad, Achilles and Priam weep, then Achilles says, “There is no use in weeping.” Is he right? [This will connect with why they are weeping, how this fits into Zeus’s plans, and allows connecting to the weeping of Thetis, and of the Trojan women.]

When a student says something you like, don’t just use it to go on before finding out whether everyone else has understood and agreed with it. 

Always doubt that participants understand what they think they understand. Always suspect that you are too ready to move on before ensuring that points have been discussed to such an extent that their significance is seen by all.

Focus on questions and topics that make the reading and discussion seem worthwhile.

Do not squelch all digressions, but frequently connect or draw back to the main question.

Beware of assuming that anything in the reading is obvious, either in itself, or especially to participants. Leaders far more often make the mistakes of underestimating authors and overestimating participants than their opposites. What you judge to obvious but important in the text is often a great opportunity for getting participants to discover truth in the text for themselves. 

Don’t let anyone go on too long. 

Be careful about when and to what extent you become a participant as well as leader.

When you ask a question, always be open to following up with answers you don’t like.

Posted in Classical Education, For Teachers, Post-Secondary Education, Reflections on the Books, Secondary Education | Leave a comment

Why Does Christ Say “Do Not be Called Teachers”? A Word to Teachers for the New School Year.

My friend at the Lion and Ox shares the core of St. Thomas’s view of the role of a teacher.

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A Great Week — DC and Rome

It has been a great week. From Sunday to Thursday last, I helped run ICLE’s national conference at CUA in what the locals call, “Catholic DC”. So many beautiful teachers, praying and learning together about the treasures of Catholic thought and practice in education. Two bishops, including the head of the bishops’ committee on education, many superintendents, lots of St. Cecelia Dominicans and School Sisters of Christ the King. We rocked the Crypt Chapel with our hymn singing (from Classic Hymns for Catholic Schools).

I am now blessed to be in Rome, sharing time between the Irish College near St. John Lateran, and the lovely villa-like campus of the University of Dallas south of Rome. So many things I would like to share! This is my third visit to the Sacred City. It is so easy to feel at home here — the city is packed with more than a lifetime of inspiring churches and monuments, and yet you can walk from one end to the other and back in a day (and now zip around on easily rentable motor scooters and electric bicycles). Romans always seem welcoming but not fawning. Rome is a city reborn (Renaissanced) as a place of pilgrimage, and the citizens respect that.

This morning I was privileged to get a private tour of San Clementi, a stone’s throw from the College, from an Irish Dominican archaeologist. If you start from the ceiling, and work your way down by vision and then physical descent into the excavated portions below, you experience an historical/spiritual pilgrimage through the Church, moving from the Baroque ceiling to the twelfth century current church, to the Byzantine period of Rome to the 4th century time of the Church’s liberation, then back further to the “house church” of the third century, then to the pagan military cult of Mithras, all the way to the Roman mint built just after the burning of Rome in 66 AD. The central apse is covered by a mosaic of Byzantine flavor but medieval setting, in which the vine of the Church grows out to encompass Christians in every walk of life, and all of nature as well; the vine flows down into the floor mosaics, drawing contemporary worshippers into life that flows from the Cross.

At Mass in the very simple small chapel of the Irish College, I heard these words of Our Lord about the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon.

The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

When we turn to the story in 1 Kings, we read:

When the queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s great wisdom, the house he had built, the food at his table, the seating of his ministers, the attendance and dress of his waiters, his servers, and the burnt offerings he offered in the house of the Lord, it took her breath away. “The report I heard in my country about your deeds and your wisdom is true,” she told the king. “I did not believe the report until I came and saw with my own eyes that not even the half had been told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report I heard. Happy are your servants, happy these ministers of yours, who stand before you always and listen to your wisdom. Blessed be the Lord, your God, who has been pleased to place you on the throne of Israel. In his enduring love for Israel, the Lord has made you king to carry out judgment and justice.

This is the experience of coming to Rome. One feels the spiritual power of the man, Jesus Christ, “the Power and Wisdom of God” radiating through all the centuries of the Church.

The Communion Antiphon today was from Revelations: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with that person, and they with me.” After much knocking, Roman civilization opened its doors to Him, and He dined with it, and continues to do so.

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Parish Choir Blog

Our wonderful choir director (and co-author with me of a hymnal for Catholic schools) has begun blogging about hymns, liturgy, and parish choral singing here:

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Nicodemus – Inkant

A wonderfully imagined encounter between Nicodemus and the 12-year-old Jesus.

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A Picture to be Painted

Somebody paint me a picture that I am sure a thousand words could not capture: a slight girl, blonde hair waving above her head in a “Pebbles-tail”, her back turned towards the sanctuary, giving her mother across the pew that quintessential two-year old impish, “Isn’t what I am about to do exactly what you don’t want me to, but oh-so-fun” smile as she leaned out into the aisle, her mother turning toward her in a restrained lunge, her profile revealing some wear from years of steady determination to bring her young to daily Mass, while her five-year old boy with close-cropped hair hits her on the back with his casted arm, pointing excitedly forward with his good arm, past fellow congregants of varying ages and professional status scattered in front of them — some alone, some couples, another family with older kids — towards the altar, where his slightly older brother stands proudly but nervously in his black cassock and white surplice, beside an enormously tall teen-ager (his impassive face not quite hiding a just so slightly put out expression at having to oversee the squirt next to him), handing a cruet to the priest with the tabernacle framed behind.

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Faraday introduces the Forces of Nature

I have been leading a course in electromagnetic theory which draws a lot on Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. The course is in need of reorganization, which has prompted me to do a lot of extra reading in these two authors particularly. I have discovered some real gems. I just ran across a reference to Faraday’s 1859 Christmas lectures for the young, which looks like it might provide an excellent entry into the fundamental phenomena of electricity and magnetism. Here’s hoping. (Complete text here.)

The blog also mentions that Faraday studied the art of lecturing — he does seem like a model for teachers.

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St. James and the Internet

St. James, that we might control our tongues — and input devices!

Recently, a colleague responded critically to a group email I sent around. There was nothing terribly wrong with it, other than he stated frankly that he thought I was very wrong. I wanted to immediately hit that reply-all command! So many responses flooded my imagination and inflamed my heart – wry, scoffing, witty “put-him-in-his place” retorts. Thankfully I wasn’t able to respond at the moment. But I kept running through possible replies. They weren’t all openly bitter, though I couldn’t completely remove patronizing or belittling nuances. I could keep going with the narrative, but you have no doubt lived this story yourself.

St. James the Less, ca, 1500 (restored 20th century)

This episode reminded me of something I have been wanting to suggest for awhile. We who communicate through social media should develop a devotion to St. James the Lesser. Believe or not, I know quite a few who don’t use social media, in part because they see the ways in which it drives people apart instead of bringing them closer. I myself have refrained from most social media since the bitter 2020 battles over the virus and the riots. Those fights tore apart families and friends. While some of it did help me by forcing upon me information and perspectives I would not have gotten from my own bubble, the whole affair left so much permanent damage that I could almost wish the internet had never been invented.

But the destructive power of the internet must be curbed through the intercession of a great saint who can become the terror of its demons. St. James is just the ferocious spirit we need. He devotes a considerable portion of his short epistle to warnings of the evil of the tongue. The eloquent power of these short passages should scare the hell out of us. He describes that inner fire we know so well, and warns us of the insurmountable difficulty of refraining from bitter, harmful speech. Let us meditate frequently on his exhortations, and beg through his intercession for the peaceable spirit of wisdom to ennoble all of our communications with our brethren, actual and desired.

1:26 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain.

3:3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no man can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. 

3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. 

4:11 Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?

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