His real name was Matthew, known in the universe of Catholic blogging as zippycatholic. Having mostly retired from blogging, I am not at the moment well-equipped to write this, but I will not let Zippy go without saying goodbye. As I said to Paul Cella, “It’s just that the sadness of the thing weighs so heavily, I almost feel as if words have run dry.” And even if they hadn’t, I doubt I could find the ones needed to express what Matt’s (Zippy’s) friendship meant to me.
For most of our acquaintance, dating from 2002, I (twenty years his senior) was the student and he the teacher. I can take credit for having awakened him to only one thing: the evil of the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that the evil lay in the fact that this really was a matter of intentionally murdering the innocent. But even for that I can’t take credit, for my own eyes had been opened by Elizabeth Anscombe, and it was primarily her analysis that my essay transmitted. Zippy said he hadn’t thought much about the matter before that, but once he saw the truth of a thing, he took it where it needed to go. Against the apologies still offered for those bombings by some Catholic conservatives, who at the same time vehemently opposed abortion, he took to calling it “abortion by bomb.” You can see him at work here.
But that’s it. After that, I mostly sat at his feet. He (along with an assist from Lydia Mcgrew) helped me to think more clearly about ectopic pregnancy, forced me to question my assumptions about the morality of voting, changed my mind about the justice of the Iraq War, and convinced me that a certain ‘enhanced interrogation’ technique (that marvelous euphemism) known as waterboarding, was in fact what he called it, “water-torture.” That only scratches the surface. His critiques of liberalism and economic injustice (particularly in the matter of usury) were likewise compelling, and if I was not always thoroughly convinced, it was probably because I didn’t fully understand what he was saying.
Naturally, I am going to miss him terribly. He was my brother in the Faith, in arms in defense of it, and my dear friend. Three years ago he sat on the sofa in my living room, his precious, adoring fourteen year old daughter beside him. (One of those girls, possessed of so sweet a nature, that it revives in people like me hope for the future). She played the piano for a couple of hours while Matt and I discussed a few of the issues that consume us online, but there wasn’t really much of that, since it wasn’t necessary. The essentials were already in place. It was more like two old friends catching up after a long absence. That’s how easy he made it. I am an annoyingly inquisitive fellow, but he didn’t deflect any of my questions, which can only be the result of trust. It was as if this were not the first time we had ever met, even though it was. Perhaps some of you have experienced this. Anyway, we took the daughter to an art store, bought her some stuff, and then met up with my daughter and her fiancee for dinner. It was a delightful time; I have pictures, but don’t know if he would want that privacy barrier broken. The important thing about that visit that I must remember, and which struck me only well after the fact, was that he came down here just to meet me and my family, and for no other reason. We were not a stopover on his way to a week at the beach. But why must such gratitude as I now have leave its impress so belatedly?
Last year, we were supposed to meet again in St. Pete, but it didn’t work out. Then, early this October, we (he and his wife, I and mine) were to meet for dinner in Clearwater, but obviously that didn’t work out either. At the age of 52, he was killed while bike riding with his wife, an exercise they indulged frequently, daily for all I know. He was wearing a helmet, but the head trauma sustained was insurmountable. And thus was the internet’s most brilliant Catholic apologist for the moral law, and for the Church’s authority to transmit it, taken from us. His work on the usury question alone ought to find him a place in history, but I don’t know if it will. It’s not clear to me that modern Catholics care enough about the issue for that to happen. You can find that work here.
Even as we attempt to impose order upon the world, and proclaim our worship of the Being who orders all, it is as if some demon of chaos is really in charge, It could not have been his time. Surely he had more to do, and say. His family needed him. It is manifestly unjust, and if ever there was occasion for despair, this is one of those.
But (I think Zippy would tell me) it was his time, else God’s angels would have been there to bear him up. And if he had more to say, he is likely content now just to listen, inhabiting as he does that place where all argument comes to an end. To quote the man directly: “…it is better to have been conceived, died horribly in a tsunami, and spend eternal life in the Beatific Vision than it is to never have been conceived at all….A corollary is that evil doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with God. Literally. The fact of evil (I won’t say existence of evil because that will freak out the evil-as-absence crowd) is an insult to God, at least, again, from our perspective. But it is an insult that He tolerates, and indeed has directly endured Himself personally by becoming one of us — for our sake.” Still, unlike me, he will not see his children marry, or know their children, his grandchildren. And so the anger and the sadness linger, battling in the soul for pre-eminence of place. I know it’s wrong, but that’s the way it is for now.
A lot of people feel cheated. A family of loyal commenters at his website are now left to wander the wilderness in search of a guide, or to content themselves with the Zippy archives, which might be enough. I, and no doubt many others, conversed with him frequently by email. Deprived of his counsel, where do we look to fill this hole in our universe?
But in the end it’s not about us. It’s about a wife (an extraordinary woman in her own right) who has lost her prince, and two college age kids who have lost his protection (on this side of the veil, anyway). I trust, though, and am actually quite certain, that what he gave them will keep them armed for life. I can only pray that the Lord Jesus now holds him close, a man who fought so hard to defend the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, which were not ideas, but a Person who once walked the earth. Saith Zippy: “…upon reflection…even true ideology has the tendency to place abstract truth above the actual incarnate world. And that is backwards in terms of priority, turning the truth into a lie: truth at bottom isn’t about What, it is about Who.”
In our last email exchange I asked him if he’d been keeping up with all the news about the rot in the church. “Yeah,” he said, “this is starting to feel like a tipping point in the Church, but I guess we’ll see.” We made arrangements for that dinner, he brought me up to date on his family, then asked, “How is everyone there? Has the cuteness of your granddaughter created a crack in the space time continuum?”
Yes, I’ll miss him, the man, and the voice God lent him for a time in service to the Truth.
Our houses are built in a foreign land,
You sleep within beneath changing skies,
Till the Christ Child takes at last your hand
And bids you Wake, and then, Arise.
In a follow-up (soon), I’ll be posting some excerpts of Zippy’s participation at my website. Meanwhile, Kristor offers a nice tribute at the Orthosphere, and likewise Austin Ruse (who once clashed with Zippy over the torture question but reconciled with him over lunch) at Crisis. And we must not forget Paul Cella and friends at What’s Wrong with the World, where Zippy and I worked together for several years.
A place I thought lost is becoming, or has become, a bright spot in Catholic higher education. The Catholic University of America, formerly known as Fr. Charles Curran’s heretical playground, is rediscovering, or has rediscovered, its Catholic identity; if, that is, the author Austin Ruse knows what he’s talking about, and I certainly expect that he does. A sign of hope for those of us who always seek them but most often do not find.
I should trouble myself to wish the few who visit here a Merry Christmas, even though
[He] was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
It is a fact, and a sad one. But if He found you and me, He will find others, perhaps many others. We wait and hope, praying always and never losing heart.
Heard a Protestant preacher fielding questions on the radio the other day. He was an expert on something, though I can’t remember what. Maybe God’s justice and the reality of hell. Anyway, he’d written a book he hoped people would buy. One young man wanted advice in answering a question posed by many of his friends, among whom he counts fence-sitters, sceptics, and unbelievers. And even some Christians. The question was: why would an all-knowing, all-loving God create creatures who He knew would rebel against Him?
The preacher said that that was a really good question. (Every talk show host says that. I wonder why.) He rambled a bit, but the upshot was that the young man should tell his friends that they can rest assured that no one goes to hell who doesn’t deserve it. But this doesn’t answer the question, which by implication was casting doubt on hell’s very existence.
The question was in fact just another way of posing the so-called ‘problem of evil.’ It is one of the most, if not the most, common objections put forth by doubters, who often seem not so much in doubt about the answer as dogmatic in what it must be. Thus, it seems to be not really a question at all, but an accusation.
Frankly, I don’t know why the preacher didn’t just tell the young man to tell his friends that if they wanted a universe in which the possibility of evil did not exist, then they wanted one in which human beings didn’t either. No people, no problem.
As an aside, I think people who bring up the problem of evil as presenting an insurmountable obstacle to faith are indulging a sort of blasphemy: God-shaming. ‘If God were perfect, He wouldn’t do this. If God were all-loving He wouldn’t do that. If God were all-good he wouldn’t make people who like to do bad.’ Even though the bad is what we choose, without any help from God whatsoever. Ain’t that just like people, always trying to shift the blame? It reminds me of Adam: “The woman made me do it.” He might have said, “Yes, God, I ate the apple, with full knowledge of the consequences, because I didn’t want her to suffer alone in her alienation. She’s my wife, after all. We’re in it together, to the end.” Who knows, it might have changed the course of human history. But I doubt it.
My daughter’s daughter, my granddaughter. She’s now one year old, and when she looks at me, I’m like a dead man come to life again.
[Update: two more articles went up at Crisis on the same topic, and Zippy makes his appearance in comments to both. Sorry, you'll have to find them yourself. It's easy.]
In case you didn’t get your fill of the atom bomb debate when the Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversaries rolled around, I’m posting a comment exchange between my friend Zippy and the author of an article at Crisis called “Combatants, Non-Combatants, and Double Effect.” I may not have captured all of the back and forth because I haven’t been back in a couple of days. But this should give a glimpse of what a genuine massacre looks like.
Intentional murder of the innocent is about the worst thing one can be guilty of. But my impression of the author’s main point is that Catholic unity is paramount, that in this case it is permissible to believe that the bombings were murderous, and likewise permissible to believe the opposite. It’s okay if you do and okay if you don’t. Amazing.
I also note that early in the exchange, it becomes clear that ‘rhetoric’ in the Deacon’s opinion is a dirty word, so I doubt he knows what it really means. Perhaps he was looking for something like the more commonly maligned ‘sophistry,’ but that’s not a dirty word either.
I guess abortion is OK as long as it is done with bombs rather than suction aspiration.
Deacon Jim Russell •
I’ve got an idea–would you like to read the article and then offer a comment? Thanks.
Got married straight out of high school. To a guy I knew since fifth grade summer camp. Summer wedding. Guests were mostly mosquitos. We had a baby boy, then a toddler, now a teen. Last year my husband phones me at work, says he’s got a boyfriend named Dale, says they’re movin’ in together. Says he’s sorry, says he loves me, but not like that.
“What else is there?” I say. You think the world is somethin’ and it turns out to be something else.
Sheriff’s deputy Gloria Burgle (played by Carrie Coon), from the TV series Fargo.
What else is there? Exactly.
Back in February 2015 I put up a post called The End of Usury. The post’s title reflected wishful thinking, prompted by Zippy’s Usury FAQ at his website. That FAQ has been updated at least three times and, at the urging of readers, at last been put into hard copy and is now available at Amazon. I’ll say again what I said at the time: “…if you’re open to the possibility that certain transactions can still be described in our own time as usurious, that its practice is in fact very real, a very venal and grave iniquity..,” then this is the book for you. I promote it because I have become convinced of its moral urgency. The sin of usury derives, after all, from one man’s use of another human being, from his treating that being as an object. That its connection with other depredations of our time is an intimate one ought therefore to be rather obvious.
Buy as many copies as you can afford. Give them to every priest and religious of your acquaintance, to all your friends, and even send one to the Vatican. The Man Upstairs just might see that it finds its target.