After years of hanging out on message boards and engaging in endless (and usually fruitless) religious discussions there, and a couple years of reading and commenting on other people's blogs, I've finally decided to launch my own. It turned out to be very easy, using the Blogger software. The name "Ithilien" is probably self-evident to anyone familiar with _Lord of the Rings_. Ithilien is the border province betwen Gondor and Mordor. It's a beautiful place, still unspoiled by the ravages of the Orcs. But it's also a place of warfare--if Sauron wins, Ithilien will become a smoking wasteland like Mordor. And already the filth of Mordor is beginning to seep out into the forests of Ithilien.
If all the words spilled on the Internet every day by me and other fools like me are to accomplish anything, then it must be this--that occasionally something we say weakens in some slight measure the forces of Mordor; reclaims from filth and stench some grassy spot beneath the trees; or perhaps gives aid and comfort to a pair of straggling hobbits, on their way to Mordor with a heavy burden.
The name I have chosen to sign my posts is from that other mythology we call the history of the Church. Cardinal Gasparo Contarini was a Venetian diplomat chosen cardinal in 1535 as part of an attempt to reform the Catholic Church. He was involved (behind the scenes) in negotiations with the Protestants at Regensburg in 1541, which proved to be the last best hope of bringing about a reconciliation. (They reached an agreement on justification, but this was rejected by both Luther and the papacy; and Contarini refused to allow compromises on the Eucharist, which doomed the negotations.) He was one of the few figures of that time whom just about everyone on both sides were forced to respect. He loved the Catholic Church deeply, but was aware of the value of some of the Protestant critiques. He had an experience of God's forgiving grace after going to confession on Holy Saturday, 1511, and this shaped his reforming activity. In other words, he embodied the kind of evangelical Catholicism that I believe to be the heart of the Christian tradition. And so I like to use his name as an alias on the Internet, as a way of declaring where I stand.
I am, of course, not a cardinal or a Venetian diplomat (the former you had no doubt already dismissed as unlikely, and the second is now impossible--at least in the sense of "diplomat for the Republic of Venice"). I am not even a Catholic, in the sense of being in communion with the See of Rome. I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Program in Religion at Duke University, writing my dissertation on Martin Bucer's interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. More on that perhaps in a later post. For now, suffice it to say that Bucer was one of the leading Protestant Reformers, although he's hardly a household name. I am a member of the Episcopal Church, but my background is in the "holiness movement" within the Wesleyan tradition (again, I will explain more about this another time). I am currently living in New Jersey and attending Episcopal and Methodist churches simultaneously, since my wife is United Methodist. (We go to the Episcopal church at 8 and the Methodist church at 10--yes, this makes for a busy Sunday morning!) I am also teaching Western Civ part-time at a local state university (and need to cut this short so I can go teach my class!)
This blog will be mostly devoted to religious subject, with occasional forays into literature, politics, and any other subject that takes my fancy. I will post some links to other websites as I have the time (and as I figure out how to manage this thing).