Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In defense of pseudonymous blogging

It happens occasionally that a reader of the New Theological Movement – or more often a one-time visitor with a grudge – will demand to know the identities of the writers of this blog. Rarely is this in any way related to the theology being presented, but more often it is purely out of curiosity (which St. Thomas considers to be a vice). Nor is this phenomenon limited to the New Theological Movement: It seems that just about anyone who consistently maintains a pseudonymous blog (if it is at all popular) will be criticized for this pseudonymity.
In this short post, we will make a defense of pseudonymity, and specifically, of pseudonymous blogging. At the end, we will offer a couple of reasons why the New Theological Movement adopted this pseudonymous approach thus far.

Pseudonymity in the Sacred Scriptures
Turning to the “soul of theology,” the Bible, we recognize a substantial precedent for pseudonymity. Even setting aside the doubts which certain biblical scholars have raised in modern times (doubts which, we believe, are rooted more in secular post-enlightenment philosophy than in honest and sincere study), we must recognize that several of the books of the Bible present themselves as either anonymous or pseudonymous.
The five books of Moses do not directly claim Mosaic authorship – though the case can certainly be made that Moses is the true author, one must admit that the Pentateuch was written with a degree of anonymity. Likewise, many other books of the Old Testament – nearly every one of the historical books (e.g. Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Chronicles, etc.) lack any direct claim of authorship.
While the prophetic books do specify their authors, several of the wisdom books adopt pseudonymity or anonymity. One of the best examples of this is the book of Ecclesiastes: The words of Ecclesiastes, the son of David, king of Jerusalem. […] I Ecclesiastes was king over Israel in Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 1:1,12). The author (presumably Solomon) adopts the pseudonym Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth, which probably means “Preacher.”
Even in the New Testament, though to a lesser extent, there are many anonymous or pseudonymous books – all four Gospels (St. John adopting the pseudonym, the disciple whom Jesus loved), Acts of the Apostles, Hebrews (the only letter to which St. Paul does not sign his name), 1 John, 2 and 3 John (in which the apostle adopts the pseudonym the elder or the ancient), and even Revelations (in which the author identifies himself as John, but does not specify his identity any further; hence, maintaining some mystery about his person).
By no means are we here attempting to call into question any of the traditional beliefs about biblical authorship; rather, we simply point to the fact that pseudonymity and anonymity are quite common in the Sacred Scriptures.
Pseudonymity in the Church Fathers and medieval writers
Many of the great theological works of the early Church were written pseudonymously. Consider the Shepherd of Hermes and the Didache. Additionally, it is generally recognized that several writers in the early Church and even in the middle ages would adopt other names as pseudonyms. Hence, several works ascribed to St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Dionysius the Areopagite, etc. may not have been written by these Fathers.
Here again, our aim is not so much to doubt or question the authorship (nor less the authority) of these works, but simply to point out that pseudonymity has a long tradition in the Church.
Pseudonymity is not a lie
Some disgruntled readers have complained that writing under a pseudonym (like, “Reginaldus” or “Campion”) is sinful, because it is lying. First, we point out the insincerity of many of these naysayers, since they often leave their accusatory comments unsigned and purely anonymous. Second, we insist that there is no lie in using a pseudonym – as long as it is clear that the name is a pseudonym.
The Catechism, following St. Augustine, defines a lie as: “Speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving” (2482). Again: “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error” (2483). If any were to use a pseudonym in order to communicate falsehood as truth – e.g. to write under another’s name in order to lead others into the error of thinking that the text came from someone other than the author – this would be a lie.
Now, at the New Theological Movement, we have adopted pseudonyms which could not possibly lead any reasonable person into error. If anyone thinks that “Campion” really is St. Edmund Campion or that “Reginaldus” really is Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, the stupidity of that person is to blame, not the pseudonymous authorship. There is no lie, for we present no falsehood, but simply withhold a certain degree of personal information (namely, our names).
Why write pseudonymously?
Recognizing that there is nothing inherently wrong about pseudonymous blogging, and further seeing the long tradition of pseudonymity in the Church, one may still ponder why it is that any would choose to adopt a pseudonym. Obviously, reasons will differ according to each particular case. Hence, we can only speak for ourselves in this regard.
Some have accused us of cowardice, and others have accused us of worse vices. However, the primary reason we have adopted pseudonymity is that the arguments and the theology should be taken on their own merit and not on the merit of the author. Arguments from human authority are the weakest of all, but those based on divine authority are the strongest – adopting pseudonymity, we have attempted to obscure as much as possible the contemporary human element and to emphasize the Tradition. In this regard, we are following the example of our patron, St. Thomas Aquinas, who scarcely wrote a word about himself – indeed, reading his works, one may almost think him truly to be an angel and no man, since he is so far disassociated from his own self-interest (he appears almost as a disembodied intellect, rising far above the limitations of his historical existence).
Additionally, we adopt pseudonymity as a means of humility – for there is great danger in popularity. Indeed, though it is not at all uncommon today to see various bloggers promoting themselves and asking for donations, it is our desire to remain hidden – amare nesciri. Certainly, there is nothing inherently wrong about becoming famous as a blogger and even gaining some modest income from one’s blog, but this is not the aim of the New Theological Movement. The contributors to NTM do not rely on the blog for financial support, and hence there is no need to ask for donations. That this would cause some to scorn us is a bit of a surprise – we have asked for nothing, we have not promoted ourselves, we have not asked you to buy our books or donate to our bank accounts; all we have desired is to share the truth with you. We should not think that such generosity would elicit a rebuke.
A final word
At the New Theological Movement, we are dedicated to the truth and we strive to hand on what we have contemplated. We do this with no earthly recompense, but purely out of a desire to allow the light of Christ to illumine our fallen world. While the splendor of the truth shines on, our desire is to be forgotten. As the voice fades away, the Word alone remains.


Fr. Leo said...

When one speaks the truth, those who hear it are either glad because it affirms what they are doing, or sad because it challenges them to change. It is so easy for those standing up for the truth to become the victim of personal attacks. It is also easy for commenters on blogs to remain more anonymous and use that anonymity to spew hateful things. Thanks for what you are doing

Fr. Leo McDowell

Adoro said...

Well stated! I, too, have had anonymous people inquiring into my identity, so much so that one day I actually wrote a tongue-in-cheek response giving the phone number to the "complaint department".

I blog with a pseudonym for many reasons, and yet give my true identity to some.

There are also those who will comment, not asking for my identity directly, but the location of my work, specific content of things, etc., positing their questions clearly to try to obtain personal information about me to which they have no right to possess.

Maybe one day I'll start signing my real name to my blog - but probably not any time soon!

Anonymous said...

Some people must lie awake at night thinking of things to complain about. Maybe they are not of the household of the faith. NTM bloggers, you are my new heroes.


anon said...

You'll get no argument from me.
It amazes me that people would have the time to go round and read blogs, then tell the bloggers how to blog. Then be critical. Then come back and check to see if there's more to criticize. I've experienced none of this, since my blog is not widely read-but it always surprises me when I see it elsewhere.

shane said...

There is no lie, for we present no falsehood, but simply withhold a certain degree of personal information (namely, our names).

I understand that a priestly confessor has no *right* as such to know the identity of the penitent (hence the screen) --- would it be okay for the penitent to change his accent/voice when reciting his sins so that a known confessor would be precluded from establishing his identity?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, the penitent may disguise his voice when confessing.
A very simple way to do this is to whisper -- it is extremely difficult for a priest to discern the identity of a whisperer ... though you have to be careful to "whisper" loud enough for the priest to hear you clearly and easily!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I have read your post on pseudonymity ... I believe it is called "My Identity" ... I really enjoyed it! In fact, your post was part of the inspiration for my own post.
Peace to you! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Fr. Leo, perri, and Full Spectrum Mom,
Thank you for you kind comments! Blessings to all! +

Anonymous said...

I don't blame you for using a pseudonym.

Let's be realistic. Good solid Catholic priests are not easy to come by for many of us. Deo gratias, that is changing, but it will take time. If everyone knew who "Fr. Reginaldus" truly is, he might not have much time to attend to his flock.

I am so very grateful for this blog.


Adoro said...

@Reginaldus Seriously! Ha! That's hilarious! :-) Glad to be a good influence. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this helpful and enlightening piece. I've used a pseudonym for blogging and Facebook evangelizing because I live alone and have a name unusual enough to be easily tracked down. I have felt that under today's circumstances it might be prudent to obscure my name for those who don't have a "need to know." Now I have some firm footing for my decision. Happy Easter!


Anonymous said...

Excellent blog post.

I would add that in many parts of the West anonymous blogging is a way of protecting the blogger from persecution at his workplace. As there is no obligation to voluntarily choose persecution, the choice can be seen as simply the fruit of prudence.

I have blogged on the matter here:

Paddy said...

Your humility is a blessing and an inspiration ... as is your generous sharing of your gifts.

Anonymous said...

You said: "Some have accused us of cowardice, and others have accused us of worse vices. However, the primary reason we have adopted pseudonymity is that the arguments and the theology should be taken on their own merit and not on the merit of the author......"

I completely agree with you; however, I do not understand why do you list the fact that the theologians are ordained people with specific degrees. That could appear to be a call to authority that transcends the merits of the argument. It also makes it difficult to verify such information and thus we have to accept de facto the statement about ordinations and education. I have mixed feelings about it because when knowing about the alleged (I am not being derogatory but factual) ordinations and degrees I feel more comfortable but I also feel like someone is trying to steal (just a feeling and not a factual statement) from the intellectual rigor.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Anonymous (1:09pm),
I see your point. The principle reason we mentioned the ordinations and degrees was to be held more accountable by readers -- that we would always write with a priestly heart and in communion with the Church.

I can say this ... we have never (not even once) referred to our status as licensed theologians or as ordained priests as an argument from authority.
In fact, I do not believe we have ever appealed to our own authority in any respect whatsoever.

The authority we appeal to is that of the Church and of the great Doctors, Saints, and Theologians of the past.

In any case, we are considering modifying the pseudonymous status...

Peace to you! +

Dolorosa said...

hi, greetings form Indonesia..
I came across this blog while I was doing a lot of thinking about the belief that I convert in to, Catholicism. I have nothing particular in mind except that I promised myself to keep looking and studying more about catholic. I must say that this blog triggers me to read more and more. Maybe it's because the style of writings, maybe it's because the contents of the writings. But what i'm trying to say is, this is probably the first blog that does not give me the same old boring style.
As for the reason to write in Pseudonymity, I think that makes me like this blog even more.
so I'm hoping that we could talk more.
Oh, and I guess you can call me.. Dolorosa? :)


researching on Teresa of Avila, i stumbled upon your blog. what a find, Deo gratias! it was breakfast time but i forgot about hunger pangs while devouring your posts. i've bookmarked your blog--first because i can resonate with you (not a very common thing to find affirmation), and second, i like the feeling i'm enriched by your thoughts. keep it up!

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