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Q&A  March AD 2010
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

On this page:
"Closed Times" for Marriage?
Knowing God through Natural Reason
Morality of The Great Depression (Continued)

Q&A Archives

Our Lady of the Rosary
Closed Times

Question:  In a recent sermon you said that in the Middle Ages people didn’t marry during Lent.  Why not?  [What are “closed times”?]

Answer:   Marriage is, of course, a very intimate, life-long relationship between a man and a woman.  But the family is the building block of society, and marriage brings a new family into existence.  Family, friends, the Church, and in most places someone with civil authority are called upon to witness the marriage—some may come from a good distance, but even if everyone lives close by, marriage is almost always an event of joyous celebration.  Advent and Lent are traditionally penitential seasons when marriages are not scheduled, or at least not celebrated with great festivity and the solemn nuptial blessing of the Church.

    In times past, the Church also insisted that marriages not take place during the Christmas and Easter seasons following Advent and Lent, so as to avoid “upstaging” these all important feasts of our Lord.  The Council of Trent (A.D. 1563) shortened this “closed time—tempus clausus” so that it extended from Advent through Epiphany, and Ash Wednesday trough Low Sunday:

The solemnities of marriage are prohibited at certain times. 
The holy Synod enjoins, that the ancient prohibitions of solemn nuptials be carefully observed by all, from the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ until the day of the Epiphany, and from Ash-Wednesday until the octave of Easter inclusively; but at other times It allows marriage to be solemnly celebrated; and the bishops shall take care that they be conducted with becoming modesty and propriety: for marriage is a holy thing, and is to be treated in a holy manner. [1]

    The 1917 Code of Canon Law permits marriage at any time during the year, but forbids the solemn blessing from Advent to Christmas and Ash Wednesday to Easter (both inclusive).  The bishop can dispense from even this restriction, but the parties are to be cautioned against excessive pomp and celebration.

Our Lady of the Rosary
Knowing God Through Natural Reason

Question:  Why is it that we can know of the existence of God through natural reason but cannot similarly know  “mysteries” like the Trinity of God?  Does our inability to know something through natural reason in make it less true?

Answer:   There are no degrees of truth, but there may be degrees of the certainty with which we believe something to be true.  When we know something through natural reason, we are said to know it “inductively.”  That is to say that our knowledge is based on our observations and those of others.  For example, the collective observations of mankind agree rather closely that there are motion, causality, and order in the universe.  From these observations we posit a prime mover, first cause, and an ordering intelligence.  We can agree to call each of these three by the name of “God.”  Other observations will reinforce the conclusion that there is a necessary being Who is responsible for the universe that we know.

    We have a high degree of certainty through this process of inductive reasoning, but always with the reservation that our observations are always incomplete—we may observe something different tomorrow, and we may have overlooked something in the past.  For example, in the natural sciences, we know that in the past heating water has caused it to boil rather than freeze—this consistent observation causes us to generalize this property of water, but does not guarantee that all future observations will be consistent.  Identifying all of the variables that will influence the outcome of an experiment may be impossible given the current “state of the art.”  Variables like material quantity and quality, temperature, and light have been recognized for centuries--atmospheric pressure and radiation levels are more modern developments—high velocity, mass proximity, and subatomic size, even more so—it would be vain to assume that modern science has identified all such possible variables.

    While we say that we know the truth of God’s existence through natural observation and reason with a high degree of certitude, God has also confirmed His existence through revelation, leaving us with absolute certainty.  God has told us about Himself through the prophets and His Divine Son, entrusting this revelation (and others like it) to His Son’s Church.

    In Old Testament times God revealed only His existence.  There was a strong emphasis in this revelation on unity—there is only one God; “the gods of the gentiles are devils.”[2]  There were only hints that this one God might exist in Trinity—“the Spirit of God moving over the waters” in Genesis, the “Holy, Holy, Holy” of the Angels in Isaias, or that prophet’s enumeration of the gifts of the Holy Ghost.[3]  But all of these hints are appreciated only in hindsight—the hindsight that comes with revelation—the overshadowing of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Ghost, the Father’s acknowledgement of “My Divine Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and the Son’s statement that “I and the Father are one.”[4]

    Remember that all merely natural reason is based on observation.  Before God made such revelations there was nothing that could be observed that would lead us to the conclusion of His Trinity.  But His revelation comes from Truth Itself, and is not limited by any of the pitfalls of human observation.  Our knowledge of the Trinity through revelation compliments the knowledge we have of His existence through natural reason—there is no contradiction between the two truths.  Truth never contradicts itself, no matter how it is known.

    Knowing God in Trinity might be compared with being invited into God’s inner circle—so to speak, meeting the Divine Family, and getting to know then as we had not been able from the outside.

 Our Lady of the Rosary
The Great Depression

[Continued from last month]

    Question:  Were there moral aspects to the Great Depression?  A lot of people suffered for well over a decade.  Shouldn’t someone be held responsible?  Can we prevent such a thing from happening again?

    Answer:  As we have seen thus far, the government response to the Depression was an enormous number of Federal programs and projects—massive spending financed with higher taxes.  With the Revenue Act of 1932

    Many wartime excise taxes were revived, sales taxes were imposed on gasoline, tires, autos, electric energy, malt, toiletries, furs, jewelry, and other articles; admission and stock transfer taxes were increased; new taxes were levied on bank checks, bond transfers, telephone, telegraph, and radio messages; and the personal income tax was raised drastically as follows: the normal rate was increased from a range of 1½ percent-5 percent, to 4 percent-8 percent; personal exemptions were sharply reduced, and an earned credit of 25 percent eliminated; and surtaxes were raised enormously, from a maximum of 25 percent to 63 percent on the highest incomes. Furthermore, the corporate income tax was increased from 12 percent to 13¾ percent, and an exemption for small corporations eliminated; the estate tax was doubled, and the exemption floor halved; and the gift tax, which had been eliminated, was restored, and graduated up to 33⅓ percent.[5]

    By executive order in 1942, the highest marginal tax rates would actually be raised to 100%.  The incredible increase in taxes on an incredible number of things is chronicled in Jim Powell’s FDR’s Folly, pp77-87.[6]

    Nor can one forget the confiscation of all monetary gold, 0the price of which was then raised by 60% to $35. per ounce!

    But with all that money taken in and spent, one has to question how successful the government was in alleviating the Depression—and then one has to ask whether or not the alleviation prolonged the Depression.  The employment rate is probably the most significant indicator of the alleviation.  Unemployment had been running a little over 3% before the crash in 1929, hit 8.9% in 1930, peaked at 24.9% in 1933, and didn’t go below 15% until the government prepared to enter World War II.  Apart from the war years it did not return to pre-crash levels until 1950—a twenty year period.

    The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is another measure of prosperity, and its movements were pretty much the inverse of the unemployment rate.  But GDP includes government spending as a product rather than as a cost!  It includes money that has been taken away from real economic growth.

    The GDP and employment figures included expenditures on bureaucracy, often as a means to secure party loyalty, and to make conditions appear better in states where election outcomes were questionable.  A goodly number of people were employed as artists and writers, but art and literature are for prosperous societies, not for the starving.

    To be sure, there were real infrastructure projects—hospitals, bridges, dams, and such—but such projects then became a liability for the jurisdictions that had to run and maintain them.  (The first bridge across the river is immensely popular, as is the second and maybe the third.  The twelfth is laughable.  And nobody wants to pay to maintain any of them.)  Some of these projects actually destroyed private capital investments—no one can complete with the government and its infinite money supply, even if the government allows competition, which it doesn’t.  The Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 broke up multi-state utilities.  TVA electrification in 1939 forced the Commonwealth and Southern Company to sell assets worth $400 Million for roughly a fifth of their value.[7]  TVA became a notorious scofflaw, holding itself immune from the anti-pollution lows of the states in which it operates.[8]

    This destruction of private capital, coupled with the temporary nature of infrastructure jobs, the rise in taxes. and government tampering with wage and price levels kept the productive economy from recovering to pre-1929 levels for roughly two decades.


The two large spikes correspond to the two World Wars, but note that percentage of government spending was about 8% before WW‑I, 11% after, and about 20% before WW‑II.  Today (2010) we approach the Second War’s peak of 53% with "peacetime" government expenditures at 44.5% of GDP ![9]

    By any rational standard, fifteen or twenty percent unemployment coupled with government spending twenty percent of the GDP indicated the failure of “progressive” policies in dealing with the Great Depression—particularly when this Depression’s length is compared with any previous American depression.  Some will argue that World War II ended the Great Depression and brought about a new prosperity.  The War will have to wait until next month, but for the moment, think of the folly in the idea that the War ended the Depression.

    Yes, the War brought unemployment down to two-percent or so, but look at how people were employed!  Something like 11 Million were members of the US Military, 3 to 4 hundred thousand did not return, and twice that number were wounded.[10]  They lived in trenches and tents, eating C‑rations, in well reasoned fear for their lives. Back at home the women were making tanks, battleships, and every other accoutrement of war.  They had to have ration coupons for butter, sugar, meat, gasoline, tires, coffee, cheese, shoes, and so forth—if and when these things were available.[11]

    The direct cost to the United States alone is estimated at $288 Billion in 1940s dollars (est. 4-9 Trillion in today’s dollars!)  Some 60 Million died world wide.  Only God knows how much damage was done to public and private property, some of it irreplaceable at any price.

    The economist Frederick Bastiat coined the phrase “broken window fallacy” to describe the notion that destruction brings prosperity:  A vandal throws a brick through the shopkeeper’s window, causing the shopkeeper to hire a glassier to replace the window for $500.  The glassier, in turn, spends the $500 in the local economy, causing the foolish to remark that the vandalism was good for the economy.  The fallacy, of course, is that the shopkeeper is $500 poorer and will not be able to spend that money on the things he wanted from the local economy, like a new suit and set of matching luggage.  Bastiat didn’t say it, but the economy would positively damaged if the shopkeeper had been injured or even killed by the brick (as many were during the war.)

    One also must question the moral damage done to a world content to wage war by destroying entire populations together with the cities in which they lived—“Sherman’s march to the sea” on a global scale!


[To be continued]



[1]   Session XXIII, Chapter 10.

[3]   Genesis i: 2,;  Isaias vi: 3,;  Isaias xi: 2,

[5]   Rothbard, America's Great Deprtession, p. 287

[7]    Amity Shlaes,  The Forgotten Man.  p. 182.

[8]   Just Google “TVA pollution” and contrast with just about everything else you find.


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