Category Archives: Religious beliefs of famous folk

Pope’s strong women are particular women

About six months ago, the Uncertaintist discussed the possibility of ordained women serving as permanent deacons in the Roman Catholic Church. Since then, the Pope has used several opportunities to comment on women’s role in his church, most recently during his long interview with Antonio Spadaro, featured in the current issue of America magazine, and in other Jesuit news outlets worldwide.

So far, there is nothing specific about women deacons. Pope Francis’ answer to a open-ended question about women in the Spadaro interview is the very model of bureaucratic discourse. Tea leaves give clearer counsel.

Q. What should be the role of women in the church? How do we make their role more visible today?

A. I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role.

The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church.

The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.

It is significant, I think, that the one moment of clarity piercing through the fog is when the Pope speaks about a specific woman, Mary. That is typical of the interview as a whole. Specific women are vivid, women in the abstract are a problem that must somehow and someday be better addressed.

One specific woman is Nonna Rosa, his father’s mother. The Pope often refers to her in public. He repeats in the recent interview that he carries a passage from his grandmother’s last will in his breviary. He talks about her teaching him by heart the opening of a Nineteenth Century Italian novel (I Promessi Sposi, the Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni). He finds a reflection of his affection for her in a poem by Hölderlin, written for the poet’s grandmother on her birthday,

I was also impressed because I loved my grandmother Rosa, and in that poem Hölderlin compares his grandmother to the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, the friend of the earth who did not consider anybody a foreigner.

It is, however, an anonymous nun whose story leaps out. Jorge Bergoglio was hospitalized at age 21 for a lung infection. Part of his lung was surgically removed. His doctor prescribed antibiotics, penicillin and streptomycin. The nurse, a nun, agreed with the choice of drugs, but overruled the physician and tripled the young patient’s dosage because

… she was daringly astute; she knew what to do because she was with ill people all day. The doctor, who really was a good one, lived in his laboratory; the sister lived on the frontier and was in dialogue with it every day. Domesticating the frontier means just talking from a remote location, locking yourself up in a laboratory. Laboratories are useful, but reflection for us must always start from experience.

Daring indeed. Hospitals are as hierarchical as the Vatican, and the docs are the bishops and cardinals, not the nurses. And yet, in the Pope’s opinion, he is alive today, more than fifty years later, because of an uppity woman who knew better than her acknowledged superior.

There is nothing specific to report about women deacons, then, at six months into the new papacy. But that the Pope remembers two modern strong women with admiration, gratitude and affection can’t be an entirely bad sign.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Religious beliefs of famous folk

Who got Einstein’s Bible?

Bonhams sold a Bible last week that had been inscribed by Elsa and Albert Einstein. As the auctioneer’s catalog description noted, “Not much is known of the recipient, Harriet Hamilton.” So, here is some background information that may help shed some light.

Barbara Wolff of the Albert Einstein Archives describes Harriet as having served temporarily as Elsa’s, and possibly Albert’s, secretary. The Einsteins visited Caltech during the winters in the early 1930’s. It is plausible, then, that the Bible, given in February 1932, was an end-of-duty gift to a local Pasadena employee for whom the couple displayed an obvious personal warmth.

There was also a remarkable turn in the life of Harriet Freda Hamilton of Pasadena at just that time. As Freda Sophie Henriette Jeddeloh, she had entered the United States from Hannover, Germany in early 1925. She went to live in Akron Ohio. Five years later, in January 1930, she filed a petition in Ohio for naturalization as an American citizen.

Her citizenship petition was languishing before the Einsteins’ 1931-32 visit, but something stirred Harriet into action. In early March 1932, the Ohio court dropped her old petition at Harriet’s request. Two weeks later, she filed a new petition for naturalization in Los Angeles. Harriet pursued that initiative vigorously. Her naturalization was granted in June 1932. Court records noted both her new and former names.

It is tempting to think that Harriet’s contact with the Einsteins, with their first-hand knowledge of deteriorating conditions in her native Germany, may have helped her commit to remaining in the United States. Alternatively, she may have reached that resolution on her own, and the Einsteins wished her well. In any case, that the couple had much personal regard for their helper is plain to see.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religious beliefs of famous folk

Auction of a Bible from the Einsteins

Earlier this week, Bonhams auction house in New York sold a Bible with a handwritten gift inscription from Elsa and Albert Einstein. The Einsteins had given the book to Harriet F. Hamilton in 1932. The Bible sold for $68,500 including the buyer’s premium.

The couple inscribed the book separately.  Albert Einstein wrote a few lines in German, praising the book and recommending that Harriet read from it often. Is Einstein’s advice surprising based on his known views about Biblical literature around the early 1930’s? Do Einstein’s remarks in 1932 contradict the less enthusiastic words that he wrote about the Bible to Eric Gutkind in 1954, which were discussed last year on the Uncertaintist?

No and no.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Religious beliefs of famous folk

Rewritten Einstein goes wide again

As Monday’s opening of the eBay auction of the Einstein-Gutkind letter nears, traditional journalists’ interest heightens. A write-up by Reuters this week made quite a splash in the me2dia. Reuters’ reporter, Patricia Reaney, flogs this quasiquote from the letter:

“…The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change this,”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/02/us-einstein-letter-idUSBRE89117820121002

Ms Reaney’s unattributed translation excerpt should be familiar. It  is, of course, the Guardian‘s, word for word, Americanizing the honourable.

Here’s an alternative sample. It’s about the same length and still in that much-copied Guardian style. The word count that this excerpt saves by striking through the “pretty childish” that Einstein didn’t write is used to restore Einstein’s context for “The word God,” as he did write it.

“… [Your book] is written in language which is inaccessible to me. The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of many honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change this.”

The point of attending to translations is to understand Einstein’s thinking, and how that influences his culture, our culture. Update a reader kindly pointed to some distinctive big media coverage, Jessica Ravitz’ piece on the CNN Belief Blog,

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/04/einstein-letter-set-for-auction-shows-scientist-challenging-idea-of-god-being-chosen/

Ravitz includes remarks about many aspects of the letter from Diana L. Kormos-Buchwald, history professor at the Caltech and director of the Einstein Papers Project.

None of this attention to translations, so far as I can see, affects what the letter is worth to the relatively small number of people who might afford it, individually or corporately. They know, or should know, what the letter says, independently of what’s in the newspapers or on the web.

The 2012 auctioneers’ photos are beautifully clear and complete, and have been widely distributed for a long while now. If a potential bidder doesn’t read German, then a journeyman 500-word transcription and translation job might cost about $100 or $200, which is a fraction of 1% of 1% of the minimum bid. It is unrealistic to think that anybody will be bidding from misinformation, or second-hand information of any kind.

The Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem, to name just one institution, would be thrilled to have this letter. The public relations value for someone who donated it to them could easily be worth more than the purchase price. Celebrity religion critic Richard Dawkins even managed to score some publciity as an underbidder in 2008.

As was reported here earlier, the Archives are thinking about digitally recreating the 1954-1955 appearance of the letter. Just loaning them the original to make even better images of the current condition of the letter could bring massive favorable recognition. If they succeed in the imaging project, then there could be continuing publicity ever after as the Archives disseminate the resulting image. And you would still own the model for that image, in this scenario.

Some of the articles here featured the disclaimer (until the conclusion of the sale; the higher of two bids made was reported to be $ 3,000,100)

The Uncertaintist does not offer advice to potential buyers. The purpose of this entry is solely to consider some factors which are possibly pertinent to understanding Einstein’s religious thinking and its effects on culture. Questions about the sale or the Einstein-Gutkind letter as an item in commerce should be directed to the auction organizers, through their website,

The price of anything reflects the economic value of what the most enterprising possible owner might do with it. On that, the sky’s the limit. It’s up to the buyer to create the emolument commensurate with the purchase price, whatever that may be. We wish all involved in the auction the best. Please do keep the Albert Einstein Archives in mind.

3 Comments

Filed under Religious beliefs of famous folk

Another Unscoop: An academic translation was published last year

“In 2009 online news media released small, blurry images of Einstein’s letter, along with translations that are not very accurate; mistakes include omitted words, and the insertion of words such as ‘childish.'” So writes Alberto A. Martinez, Associate Professor in the Department of History of the University of Texas at Austin. “I provide an original and very literal word for word translation.”

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Religious beliefs of famous folk

Who translated the Einstein-Gutkind letter for the Guardian newspaper?

In answer to the Uncertaintist’s inquiries about its 2008 catalog translation of excerpts from the Einstein-Gutkind letter, a spokesman at Bloomsbury Auctions wrote, “I am afraid I don’t know who Joan Stambaugh is, we did not use her translation.” When asked to clarify this statement, the spokesman added, “It was translated by a member of staff in house.”

As has been reported previously, there are difficulties with a widely used translation, an abridged version of which ran in the Guardian newspaper in May 2008, after quotes from it appeared in reporting by the Guardian‘s James Randerson. The shorter excerpts which had been printed in the Bloomsbury auction catalog agreed with the Guardian translation verbatim.

The Guardian translation has often been reprinted and adapted in the years since, as has the Guardian‘s attribution of the translation to a woman named Joan Stambaugh. Bloomsbury had not named who translated the letter for them in the catalog listing for the lot.

The Guardian did not identify Joan Stambaugh except for her name, nor did it explain why it thought that was the name. There has been speculation that the attribution referred to Professor Joan Stambaugh, graduate of Vassar College in 1955, who had received professor emeritus status, that is, was retired, from the Philosophy Department of Hunter College in 2001.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religious beliefs of famous folk