The Catholic, Christian and Traditionalist community were shocked and appalled to learn last week that their pillar, blogger Zippy Catholic, had been killed in a bicycle accident last Tuesday evening while riding on a country road.
We are still struggling to reconcile ourselves to this new world, in which Zippy no longer roams about skewering sloppy thought, and so enlightening all of us his readers, interlocutors and students.
It was a severe and devastating blow, completely unanticipated. Zippy was neither old, nor – so far as we knew – ill. So his death came out of left field. No one was prepared for it. He had, we all thought, several decades more of good, fruitful work in him, that all of us would have enjoyed, and that would have profited us all, and man, and the whole human project. We looked forward to that prospect, blithely, happily, as if we possessed it already. Now, it is ripped away from us. We find ourselves bereft, lost, bewildered.
And: we miss him. We want him here with us, still. God damn the evil circumstance that took him from us. And – and – God bless that taking, as proper (as it must have been, necessarily) under the purveyance of Omniscience.
Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Amen. Lord, bless and keep thy faithful servant Zippy Catholic, and make him soon fit to enter into the coruscating Light of thy Holy Presence. Help and heal all his wounds, correct all his defects, and complete him. All this I pray, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen, amen. Hallelujah, hallelujah, thanks be to God. Amen, amen.
I have for many years corresponded with Zippy as a friend and shieldmate in the culture wars. I don’t know when exactly he started writing online, except that it was somewhere around the turn of the century (2002, I think he told me), when he began commenting as Matt – his true Christian name – at View From the Right, the seminal Traditionalist blog begun by our own Jim Kalb and immortally continued by the late Lawrence Auster. Matt’s career as a commenter at VFR was brilliant. With Jim and Lawrence, he was important in and influenced the early discourse that found later elaboration in both Neo-Reaction and the alternative Right. Among other things, he came up in those early years with the term ‘unprincipled exception,’ which has since entered the lexicon of the Right as an essential tool of analysis in understanding liberalism.
Later, Zippy became a regular contributor at that other crucial Christian Traditionalist site, What’s Wrong With the World. There among many other things he began explicating his profound and rigorous analyses of two moral issues sadly neglected in these latter days: torture, and usury. He wrote also with acid ruthless acuity on issues of sexual morality, and in particular on the incoherence at the core of liberalism, which – as he noticed and brilliantly explained – pursues the authority to impose upon all and sundry its notion that authority per se is illegitimate.
He continued this work at his own eponymous blog, where he composed and published his indispensable Usury FAQ (available at Amazon and as a free online book), and where he gathered to himself a convocation of sparkling wits, and a conversation seldom equaled for brilliance anywhere on the web. And that’s saying something.
Zippy’s work on usury was of particular importance. Not so much because it was astonishingly good, penetrating, insightful, and – this is important – savvy both theologically and financially. It was all that. But what is much more, it was revolutionary, in the good way. It upended the modern attitude toward full recourse debt – which is to say, usurious debt – by noticing the crucial, indeed the simply vast moral and spiritual difference between full recourse debt (collateralized by human life value) such as we see in student loans and credit card debt, and non-recourse debt (collateralized by real property) such as we see in mortgages, most auto loans, business financing, and so forth. In short, Zippy noticed, and showed, that full recourse debt is in effect a sort of slavery. As such, it treats men as means, rather than ends in their own right.
Which is why usury – full recourse debt – is a mortal sin.
This was not a new insight. As Zippy copiously and exactly showed, it had been the explicit, and official, and widely understood doctrine of the Church (and indeed of many human cults and their derivate cultures) from the very beginning, that had fallen into desuetude only recently (as the Church reckons recency). Zippy’s achievement was simply to discover that this was all so. Being himself as a businessman and entrepreneur financially astute, he read the Church’s dogmatic pronouncements of centuries, and understood what they meant under the terms of modern finance. Then, he applied that understanding unflinchingly.
He managed to see the plain words written on the page before him so clearly and honestly as to let his own mind be blown, to overturn and then to transcend its previous hard won understanding.
To thus see beyond the purely libertarian notions of modern finance to this bedrock of moral truth that ought – objectively ought, on pain of hellfire – to form what we think of as possibly OK in finance, and so that ought to conform our thoughts and then our practices to moral reality: that took brilliant insight of epic proportions. What is more: it took terrific moral courage and intellectual honesty. It took guts, to dare to see as Zippy saw.
I am a financial professional – indeed, a finance nerd, as Zippy once characterized us both to me – and before I read him on usury I had no notion of what Zippy had discovered. I had long thought of usury as a quaint, abandoned, obsolescent, indeed somewhat ridiculous notion, like the luminiferous ether and mercantilism. He radically corrected my notions of the moral bedrock of finance, and so, by logical extension, of economic transactions generally.
[Mercantilism too has since then been somewhat rehabilitated in my eyes (with major qualifications of my own). Of the luminiferous ether, I am not yet so sure. But about that, I shall say only this: too often in my intellectual life have “outmoded, superseded, and in retrospect fairly ridiculous” notions turned out to be the simple truth, for me to blithely reject the notion of the ether, and of the absolute inertial frame that it entails, as just, simply, wrong.]
No one does that with me. Zippy did. It was hard. Hard for me, that is; Zip had already been through that paradigmatic revolution, all by himself. I had his help with it. I am grateful to him.
He took the further step of realizing that, just as in her public pronouncements and teaching the Church a few years ago “forgot” – i.e., she pretended to forget – that usury is a mortal sin, so likewise is she at this very moment engaged in “forgetting” – i.e., in pretending to forget – that adultery (and, now, in its train, all sorts of other things, as contraception, abortion, homosexuality, God knows what is next, but apparently it is to be paederasty) is a mortal sin.
This realization bore down upon him inexorably – and, thanks to his forthright writing on the subject, likewise upon me, and many others – the realization that the mere untrammelled individual liberty beloved of the modern liberal dispensation both entails and presupposes moral nominalism, and thus the implicit embrace of mortal sin, and so the historical welcome of spiritual disaster, aye and then of disaster economic, political and cultural – of disaster biological.
It is a dire, dour thought. Zippy faced it squarely, and told it forth fearlessly. God bless the man.
Zippy’s style was acerbic, dense, terse, trenchant. He could pack more into a paragraph than most writers can unreel in a whole essay. He suffered no irritation with especial gladness, but fools particularly irked him, and he was mercilessly honest and straightforward in identifying and shredding to bits the errors of his interlocutors – including me. So, we learned a lot from him.
Most of all, Zippy was a deeply faithful, deeply knowledgeable Catholic layman. He was a true Son of the Church – not least, in his evisceral criticisms of her ministers. The principles of the faith were simply his own; that was all. He would not compromise them for any reason whatever. So he followed their logic wherever it took him. I remarked to him once that this often took him right through what had appeared to be formidable brick walls.
Zip had no response to that. It was as if he were shrugging, to say: “Well, what else could I do, and still live?”
What generally appeared on the far side of those walls was the clear light of spacious open day; of sanity, and of health. Zippy was busting through the brick walls of a sick wicked prison.
Zippy’s unblinking, unsparing honesty was but one aspect of his aweful fidelity to his Lord. He could not love Christ and also anywise at all corrupt the pure doctrine of his Body, so far as Zip himself yet reckoned it. He could not insult and wound his Master, by holding his tongue for fear of insulting anyone else, thereby betraying Truth himself.
This unbending integrity was I think the source of his tremendous personal magnetism. It was astonishing. I cared enormously whether or not Zippy agreed with this or that notion I had found credible. If he agreed with me, I felt as sure as sure that I was probably correct. If he did not, well then I had some work to do, by God. Sometimes I convinced him; sometimes I argued him to a standstill. Never, though, did it turn out that I simply proved him wrong (not to him, anyway!). Rather, it seemed usually to turn out that we had been saying the same things, in different and only apparently irreconcilable ways. Sometimes it was Zippy who figured that out, sometimes it was I. But almost always – sometimes after stiff rhetorical blows given and suffered – we ended in agreement.
As for those times when we never arrived at agreement, why, there is no end to the time we may have to hash things out, in God’s love.
Zippy is one of the best minds – intelligent, clear, coherent, careful (in both senses of that word), and simply good – that I have encountered. He is a true friend to me, and a teacher. I shall miss him horribly.
Vale, Zippy, my dear good friend. How sad am I, at this your stirrup cup! How bitter is that draft to me, that is so sweet to you! How bereft am I at your departure, indeed, and lonely, and forlorn! Yet soon I feel sure, soon shall we meet again, as under the magistry of Heaven is soon truly reckoned; and so then shall we converse, long and long, and delightfully; not, then, by mere email and internet posts, but face to face. Then shall we engage again as in this life we did, in many lethal happy disputes, like the men of Valhalla. You shall slay me, again and again; and then, on other days, I shall slay you. And afterwards, every time, we’ll raise a glass and rejoice again together, recounting to each other the story we both know perfectly well of the battle just ended, of the beauty of this thrust, that parry, and then of the final just dénouement, that settles all even as it kills. Until then, my friend – so soon shall it be, thank Heaven, as we then shall reckon things – as, indeed, you already do. Salaam, my friend; shalom. So long.
Love, and blessings, and prayers. Give my love to our dear Lawrence.
Zippy the anonymous Catholic blogger was nowise modest. His yes was yes, and his no was no, and that was that, by God, take it or leave it, and devil take the hindmost (quite literally). But Matt the earnest Christian family man was quite modest. His own family had for the most part to find out for themselves that Matt was writing as Zippy. As his brother told me, Matt did not want his own person – his own life, his natural concerns for his family and friends, and so forth – to interfere in any way with the propagation, the perfection, and aye the correction of his message as Zippy. Or vice versa. So he kept the two personae pretty strictly separate.
I understand that perspective. I share it, and honor it. I therefore ask that you do the same. Please don’t speculate about who Zippy Catholic might be. His real name is Matt; leave it at that. Let Matt rest in peace, and let his family reel and stagger at his sudden untoward violent absence, and then left to themselves eventually begin to recover, so to find some new equilibrium not too horrible, perhaps endurable, and maybe even – God send – noble, and good.
Perhaps someday the brilliant work of the anonymous blogger Zippy Catholic will redound here below to the public honor of Matt the man. But, let that day arrive under the auspices of his family, and what is much more of his Lord. Zippy after all, with Matt his author, is first and foremost a loyal vassal of Jesus Christ, and vowed above all things to the purposes of his Lord. Let those supernal purposes be dispositive then for us, no? Perhaps it is that the future usages under the Provenance of Heaven for the sake of all our souls of the life’s work of that poor and faithful man, Matt, and of his writings under the nom de guerre of Zippy Catholic, are served best by a public ignorance that Matt is in fact Zippy.
Let Zippy live as Zippy, and Matt as Matt. God bless them, both and one.
Of one thing we may after all be sure, that should settle all our worry on Matt’s behalf: his work as Zippy redounds already to Matt forever in the Book of Life, and in the Life of the Heavens. Matt’s work as Zippy is there already perfectly public. There, soon, shall we all know him perfectly well – and, he, us, who are his friends.
Let us all be satisfied with that.
I am who I am. As with so many of the mortal crises of my own life, Zippy’s death – my friend Matt’s death – has triggered in me a wonderful thundery hale storm of new theological and metaphysical comprehension, that has I think important consequences for the way that I – that we – understand and order life concretely here below in relation to him, and to all our beloved dead. None of it is new. As with most of the things I figure out, it turns out to be standard issue doctrine, well understood by the Church – but not by me, or anyone who ever taught me – from the beginning.
I shall write about that stuff in a subsequent post, which I shall dedicate to Matt.
Post Scriptum: In the days since I learnt of Zippy’s death, I have corresponded about it with many friends I had in common with him in the online community of Reaction and Tradition, Catholic and otherwise. Those conversations affected the course of my thoughts and feelings about him, his online career, and his death. Naturally therefore they contributed to what I have written above. I thank my correspondents, all.
It is only right that in this connection I should particularly acknowledge my conversations with our regular commenter Terry Morris, and with Lydia McGrew. Both of them helped me a great deal, and some of what I write above echoes the things they wrote to me.