Sunday, September 12, 2021

Crises of Faith: The Waves of Darkness

Three months ago I published a piece called "
Alcuin to Higbald on the Christian View of Temporal Disasters." This post was about an interesting letter I came across from the Carolingian era monk Alcuin writing to Abbot Higbald of Lindisfarne to console him after his monastery was sacked by Vikings. Alcuin essentially tells Higbald, "This, too, is an act of God's love. Use it as an occasion to better yourself, pray more, and move on." I highlighted this as an example of the traditional way Christians contextualized disasters in their lives. In the comments, an anonymous reader left the following comment (it is long, but I think it necessary to include it in its entirety):

I find explanations like this sufficient for car crashes and cancers...but we are dealing with something more which tempts me to doubt. We have all heard that God, when He is truly angry with his people will send them wolves rather than pastors. Here in the US, at least, the people have always voted down issues like abortion and gay marriage, when given the chance. These crimes are thrust upon us by the courts and duplicitous politicians. It is so bad today, that every single institution in the world, is run by evil people who hate God, and hate the people under their charge.So it is not enough that we have a fallen nature and tend towards sin. It is not enough that we are tempted constantly by evil angelic powers who are super-intelligent and have access to our imaginations and never sleep. It is not enough that we are surrounded by the general misbehaviours of our fellow humans and the weakness of the flesh, and all the things that make the World a dangerous place for our souls.

No, it is not enough.

In these times, we also have every single institution, world wide, run by human devils that actively seek to corrupt us, destroy our families, and enslave us. It is these human devils that control politics, media, war, economics, education, art, music, commerce, entertainment, leisure, science, healthcare, law, infrastructure, and so on. And these human devils have all the money, all the power, and all the voice, far above any simple sheep.

On top of all that, the Catholic Religion is almost completely shattered. The Hierarchy is cowardly at best, shameful most often, and heretical at worst. There are no two priests that preach the same thing. A close look at the Novus Ordo, the TLM, and the Byzantine rites appear to be almost completely different religions. (Although at the moment, the Sacraments seem to be relatively preserved.) Constant Scandal makes evangelization very difficult, if not impossible. And us sheep, to whom most of these questions are way above our paygrade, are forced to walk the line between deciding what is true, and becoming protestant/our own pope.

Yet God wills all men to be saved. And the saints assure us that most souls will perish into an eternal hell. I don't know why we all don't collapse in despair. We have no Saints, no Signs, and no Signal Graces. Just a book the purports to be God's Word, though we are often told by the "experts" it is no such thing. We have an institution that purports to be Divine, but its leaders and teachers display tendencies that are more diabolic. And we have a world that has, for the most part, forced God out of their daily lives, more through ignorance than choice.

How are we supposed to save our own souls, let alone help save those of our children, our loved ones, our neighbors, and others? Or do we just wait for God to smite us, write off all the sinners of whatever category, and hope to rebuild if we live through whatever is coming? Thoughts like these terrify me.

It's a doozy of a comment. He brings up a lot of things. Constant scandals. Liturgical chaos. "Human devils" that control all aspects of life. He mentions politics, media, war, economics, education, art, music, commerce, entertainment, leisure, science, healthcare, law, infrastructure, and so on. Money and power in the hands of the enemy. Every institution under the sway of darkness. Unrelenting war against the family. Cowardly hierarchy. A veritable litany of chaos.

When I read this comment, my response is, "Friend, who told you to worry about such things?"

When were these problems entrusted to your care? "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:34). I am convinced that this passage from the Beatitudes is instrumental in staving off despair. The commenter is right; power, influence, money, media, institutions—all of it is under the power of the evil one. Little has changed since the beginning: "And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it." (Luke 4:5-7). But none of that is my business. My response to this evil is the same as Christ's: "Worship the Lord thy God, and Him alone shall you serve." None of those issues are my problem. 

Our Lord told us to focus on today, on what is before us, on our small little sphere of influence God has entrusted to us. "Aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs" (1 Thess. 4:11), "that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives" (1 Tim. 2:2). I don't have the resources to fix all or even any of the world's problems. Christ asks us to only be faithful with the little we have been entrusted with. To those who have been given much, much will be required. Those with ten talents will have to account for how they invested those ten talents. But, my friends, the vast majority of us can have no influence on these matters. And since we cannot, what good does it do to worry about them? What does the Psalmist say?

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me (Ps. 131:1)

I can't speak for anyone else, but my faith has been great right now and for the past year at least. I feel like I have finally made real strides in my spiritual life, overcoming things I struggled with for years. God's providence has never seemed so real, and it becomes ever easier to see the working of grace in my day to day life. I have a deeper peace and more profound sense of God's mercy than I have in years past. That's just my experience. I understand that for someone who is in crisis, that will certainly not be their experience. But don't tell me my religion is "broken" because you are in crisis. My faith is not in crisis, and nothing is broken for me

One may say that such a solipsistic approach is merely sticking my head in the sand, ignoring the very real problems in the world that are destroying souls and making a shipwreck of faith. I disagree. I know these problems are real, and I do what I can to combat them within the sphere of my influence. But that little sphere is all I have responsibility over, and beyond that I commend it all to God. Maybe I am excessively focused on my own affairs. But the reality is, that's all I am responsible for. Why load yourself up with the responsibilities to save the world, Church, and civilization? Are the crosses Jesus has given you not heavy enough? Are your sins so miniscule that you need to worry about the sins of everyone else? 

Here's the great paradox: Focusing on the little things God entrusts to us is not turning our back on the world and the Church. It is, in fact, the only way to save them. Christendom was not created because a lot of angry men got together to bitch about the government and the hierarchy and create a "movement" to address it. It was created because a man went out in the desert to be alone with God; because a man walked on the beach with his friend and had a heart to heart conversation about Christ, because a woman decided she wanted to dedicate her virginity to God; because a Roman rhetorician went out into a garden to weep for his sins; because a man decided to live in a cave on the slopes of Mount Subiaco; because slave boy prayed a hundred times a night alone before a rough hewn wooden cross jabbed into the rocky slopes of Mount Slemish while he watched sheep; because a solitary Jesuit father, isolated and suffering immensely from his captors' torments, carved crosses in the trunks of trees in the wilderness of Canada; because a priest decided to work and die with some lepers on the other side of the world. Because the Son of God—when faced with all the hatred and sin and darkness the world had to offer—chose to be silent and do nothing. In such acts was Christendom formed, and in such acts shall our Faith be preserved.

Be faithful to whatever little was entrusted to you in your own sphere of influence. You own little life is all you have to focus on. Stay grounded there and you will have a much better chance of weathering the waves of darkness rushing over the world.

For Part 1 in this series, see: Crises of Faith: Escaping Our Subjectivity

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Six Book Reviews

For several months now I have been promising various book reviews, and seeing how hopelessly backed up I am, I decided to tackle them all in a single post. This means each book will have to be covered with more brevity than I would like, but I figure it is a case of something is better than nothing. If you would like to purchase any of these works, please use the links I have provided, so your ole pal Boniface can get a few bucks in affiliate income.

Bonds of Wool: The Pallium and Papal Power in the Middle Ages (Steven Schoenig SJ, 2016): At 544 pages, Bonds of Wool by Steven Schoenig was quite a read. It took me the majority of the year to get through. And it was dense. But wow, was it worth it! Bonds of Wool is an exhaustive study about the development of the papal pallium, the woolen garment that is conferred upon metropolitan archbishops upon their accession to their see. Covering the period from Gregory the Great to Innocent III, Bonds of Wool traces the story of how the medieval popes utilized this fascinating little garment to expand their influence and centralizing control over the medieval episcopacy. In the service of its prime emphasis, however, the book touched on many interesting ancillary subjects: relationships between metropolitans and suffragans, medieval concepts of gift giving, papal authority (in theory and practice), the dynamic between Rome and other archiepiscopal sees, and tons of historical anecdotes to illustrate the content. It got my mind turning on so many subjects; it also gave me material to blog about that will serve me for the next several years. Overall, I thought Bonds of Wool was a superb book—and really, an exemplar of what a good history text should look like. I have never heard of the author, Fr. Steven Schoenig SJ., but he is a consummate historian. If someone were to ask me how to write a well-researched, thorough, objective history book, I would hand them Bonds of Wool. I can't recommend it highly enough. That being said, be warned: it's a great book, but it's not an easy book. I consider myself an advanced reader, and it still took me 9 months to complete. It's a scholarly work, not a pop book, so take note. But, if you like wading through mounds of primary source text to see how history actually unfolded, this is your book.

Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair (Christopher Oldstone-Moore, 2017): I picked up Of Beards and Men at a library book sale just by virtue of the title and cover art. Being amongst the bearded, and a facial hair aficionado myself, I was amused by the concept of a history book about beards and shelled out $3.00 for a used copy mainly for amusement—something to leave in the bathroom to peruse while in the advanced stages of digesting my Taco Bell. So I didn't have high hopes for it. But I was surprised with how well researched and enjoyable this book was. It combined scholarly exegesis of historical documents with a witty, easy writing style that made it a pleasure to read. Dr. Oldstone-Moore is a senior lecturer of history at Wright University, and his familiarity with the subject matter is plain. I can't imagine what sort of work must have gone into compiling 5,000 years of documentation about facial hair and distilling it down into a 345 page book. But Dr. Oldstone-Moore succeeded admirably. Central to Of Beards and Men is the study of the perception of masculinity in the history of western civilization. When I first caught on to the gender perception theme of the book, I was worried it was going to turn into a Woke screed. To my pleasant surprise, it was nothing of the sort. I don't know Dr. Oldstone-Moore's religious affiliation, if any, and of course it was a secular book, but I was quite happy with how he handled the source material and the conclusions he drew without at all sliding into Woke gender-fantasy land. Of particular interest to me were the three chapters on facial hair during Christendom, which contained sources I had never run across and am interested to learn more about. The major takeaway from this section was that Christians have always tended to exaggerate the aesthetic styles and decorum of their own age as reflective of "natural law" and condemned deviations as contra naturam, usually without sufficient reflection of how these opinions have changed throughout over time. It was fascinating to see how Christian thinkers first eschewed beards, then promoted them aggressively, then went back to saying they are irrational and contra naturam, and then did an another about face to suggest that actually shaving was contra naturam. Not to say there are no valid universal norms of decency, but it is a fine example of why we have to be careful about dogmatizing our societal aesthetics. I thought overall it was an excellent read. I don't approve of every conclusion the author drew, but my objections were minimal.

Pharaohs and Kings (David Rohl, 1996): It was only a few weeks ago that I picked up Pharaohs and Kings by David Rohl at the illustrious John K. King bookstore in Detroit. Pharaohs and Kings is an older book (I think outside the U.S.A. it was released under a different title: A Test of Time), but I am a sucker for Egyptology and ancient archaeology so I lugged this 425 page hardcover tome home with me and started reading it. I finished it in five days. It was that good. Rohl's book is essentially a promotion of something called the "New Chronology" in Egyptology, which is the theory that traditional Egyptian chronology is errant before around 624 B.C. based on a miscalculation of the length of the Third Intermediate Period (1069-525 in traditional dating). Rohl says this period was actually much shorter, perhaps by three hundred years, and thus traditional Egyptian regnal dates should be adjusted downward. For example, he proposes Rameses II reigned in the 10th century B.C., not the 13th century B.C. The book is chock full of archaeological minutiae upon which Rohl bases his theory. In truth, it's probably too much archaeology for the layman to follow cogently, but at least it cannot be said that the argument he presents is without merit. The implications of the New Chronology are pertinent to understanding the archaeological record as it pertains to the Old Testament. While Rohl does not set out to argue about the historicity of the Old Testament, it happens incidentally that adopting his proposed New Chronology situates the Old Testament much more securely within the archaeological record. For example, if Pharaoh Akhenaten ruled not during the 14th century B.C. but the 11th century, then the Amarna Letters of his reign can conceivably be referring to the consolidation of the Israelite monarchy under Saul and David, while such a connection would be impossible in the traditional chronology. Rohl's chronology was not created to "prove the Bible" (it is based on anomalies in the extant archaeological record of ancient Egypt), but it does support the Old Testament record as a secondary effect. It appears that Rohl's thesis is not widely accepted in Egytpological circles, though it is not written off as a fringe theory either—even critics of Rohl seem to admit that he makes valid points about the difficulties of traditional Egyptian chronology and possesses considerable mastery of his material. The jury is still out for me on the New Chronology, but Pharaohs and Kings was a delightful read that I recommend to anybody interested in Egyptology, archaeology, or the historicity of the Old Testament. 

Defending the Faith Against Present Heresies
(edited by John Lamont and Claudio Pierantoni, 2021): Some of the finest work in the traditionalist corpus of late has come from Arouca Press. Defending the Faith Against Present Heresies is Arouca's answer to the controversy over Amoris Laetitia. It's difficult to explain the format of this book; it is not primarily a systematic rebuttal to the "Bergoglian" approach to divorce and the sacraments, but it does end up presenting such a rebuttal. It's primary purpose is to serve as a chronicle of the traditionalist responses to Amoris Laetitia, as it unfolded in real time. It contains, for example, the Dubia of the four cardinals, letters and statements to the pope and bishops, and various articles and interviews, along with a forward by Archbishop Viganò. With around 37 chapters by different authors, I can't possibly give a breakdown of the entire book. It suffices to say that this is the definitive tome for the traditionalist response to the theological and pastoral problems posed by Amoris Laetitia. Every possible angle is examined and addressed with blistering clarity. As a piece of scholarship, and a testament to who stood on what side of the line at this time in history, it is unparalleled. That being said, this book made me depressed. When I read it, I felt a heaviness and a deep anxiety. It was not a pleasant book to read. Not because of any deficiency in the authors or the content. There is just something quixotic and pathetic that in the universal Church the only ones to offer any substantial rebuttal to Amoris Laetitia were the random smattering of scholars featured in the book. The principled resistance of the authors did not inspire me or make me feel optimistic about the traditionalist cause. My visceral response was more along the lines of, "So this is what we got, eh?" Kind of like being utterly surrounded by an enemy force ten thousand times your size with unlimited resources and ammunition, and you look down and see you only have two bullets—good bullets, strong bullets, sure bullets, but still...only two. To be sure, faithful responses to things like the "pastoral theology of accompaniment" are necessary, but my intellect pushed back against the book's attempt to position itself as a monumental, historic, groundbreaking tour de force. That can hardly be laid at the feet of the book, its authors, or Arouca, all of whom did admirably. After all, I am speaking now about how the book made me feel, not what I thought of it. I'd definitely recommend the book for anyone who wants to educate themselves on the traditionalist critique of Amoris Laetitia and its entire supporting superstructure. Every trad who cares about this issue should own this book. As a shot across the bow of Bergoglianism, this book is beyond compare. We have some accurate gunners on our side. I just doubt that, in the scope of the entire battle, their precision shots will even be noticed much less felt. 

Figuring Catholicism: An Ethnohistory of Santo Nino de Cebu
(Julius Bautista, 2011)
: From 2017 through year I had been working on composing a book on the history of the Philippines (which will be available through Arx Publishing, probably around Christmas). In the course of my research I read a number of works on Filipino history and culture, one of which was this text, Figuring Catholicism: An Ethnohistory of the Santo Nino de Cebu by Julius Bautista. Figuring Catholicism is an interesting work. Bautista is a sociologist, and his primary interest is the social importance of the image of Santo Nino de Cebu in Philippine society. If you are not familiar with the Santo Nino, it is the most widely venerated image in the Philippines. Housed in the basilica of Santo Nino in Cebu City, it annually draws more pilgrims that Lourdes. This image of the Child Jesus was presented by Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon and his wife Queen Juana upon their conversion to Catholicism in 1521. Bautista's book focuses on the various meanings of the image in Filipino culture, and how Filipinos contextualize the image in different aspects of their society. He spends the first half of the book talking about the history and the official cultus of the image. The second half of the book is devoted to "unofficial" meanings of the image—ways Filipinos appropriate the image and its power beyond the boundaries of the official cultus. For example, in the 1986 People Power Revolution that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, protestors bore images of the Santo Nino in procession in front of government facilities. The Santo Nino's reputation for endurance against overwhelming odds made it a suitable image for the People Power Movement. After the fall of Marcos, it was widely accepted that the Santo Nino image was responsible for the ouster of the dictator. Bautista's book is written from a sociological perspective for people interested in that field. To that end, it uses a lot of sociological jargon that I felt made it less accessible than it could have been. Even for me it was a challenging read, but still rewarding, and it gave me a lot of insight into Catholicism in the Philippines and the particular devotion to the Santo Nino de Cebu. I would recommend it if you have a studious interest in Philippine culture or Far Eastern Catholicism, but it's definitely not a book for casual reading.

Power from on High: Theocratic Kingship from Constantine to the Reformation
(Cruachan Hill Press, 2021): Finally I get to indulge my ego by reviewing one of my own latest works, Power From On High. I actually teased this book some months ago on this blog when I posted a sample section from the chapter on church controversies under the Normans and Angevins back in February. The book chronicles the development of sacral kingship in the Middle Ages—the idea that the king, by virtue of his coronation, had a kind of sacred or theocratic authority, held directly from God, which enabled him to exercise a trusteeship over the Church within his realm. I proposed this idea as a fusion between Eastern and Western models of authority that were wedded in the Catholic Church; Catholic Christendom made medieval monarchy possible. From there the book becomes a study of medieval propaganda, not so much tracing the development of kingship qua kingship, but rather of kingship's intersection with theology, and how theology was appropriated to serve political ends. For the better part of a thousand years, laymen exercised almost unhindered control over local episcopacies under theories of sacral kingship. The book features cases studies of the late Roman Emperors, the Anglo-Saxons, Carolingians, and Ottonians. For those with an interest in historical liturgy, it spends two chapters covering early medieval liturgies for battle and coronation liturgies. Then it covers the collision between Church and State during the Investiture Controversy, and then up to the eve of the Protestant Revolt. One interesting take away from this research was learning why the Church was dominated for so long by the temporal lords. It is well known that the kings of Christendom attempted to use precedent and propaganda to solidify their influence over the Church and pass that influence to their heirs; what is less well-known is that the Church itself approved and even encouraged this arrangement. Bishops of the first millennium generally preferred royal custody over the Church because it gave them access to resources—monetary, legal, and administrative—to support the the Church's mission. It took centuries for the Church to repudiate this arrangement. Even after the Investiture Controversy saw the papacy break free from imperial domination, local episcopacies continued to favor royal custody for many generations. This submerged preference for state control would fester and erupt into the Reformation doctrine of the State-Church. At 200 pages hard cover with dust jacket, its a lovely looking book, and long enough to give you a meaty study but brief enough to digest in a few sittings. I present it for your consideration, especially for those of you interested in Church-State quibbling during the medieval period.

* * * * * * * 

So, that's it. What did you think? Do you like this format of reviewing plenty of books at once rather than devoting entire posts to a single book? If you'd like me to review a book, you can email me at uscatholicam [at], but please note I am generally months out; a book sent to me today will not get reviewed until December or January. Thanks for reading as always!

Friday, August 13, 2021

Crises of Faith: Escaping our Subjectivity

The past year and a half has been a very challenging time for people. Sadly, I think I witnessed more religious acquaintances lose faith or at least suffer grave doubts (for example, see "Wokeness and Reasons People Leave the Church", USC, July, 2020). Undergoing a crisis of faith is a terribly jarring experience and I pray for the peace of anyone who has suffered through it.

In light of this, I am going to be doing a few posts on some thoughts I have been tossing around on the subject. These posts are not about any one person or person, but culled from the experiences of several persons I have seen struggle with faith over the past year and a half. Today, I want to explore the dynamic I see emerge when people suffering crises engage with others whose faith is intact on social media. 

When someone posts about their crisis of faith online, the back-and-forth than ensures in the comment thread is always of great interest to me. In these exchanges I have noticed that the conversation between the person whose faith is suffering and the person whose faith is intact seems to break down. Neither one seems capable or interested in hearing the other. And neither side seems aware of it. 

First, the people whose faith remains intact often seem to over-rationalize the experience of the doubter.
Faith, even if it is grounded intellectual affirmation, is not merely an intellectual act. It is a kind of assent, a "giving of ourselves" over to a proposition. It involves our will and passion. It is not only believing the truth, but orienting ones life towards it and—by extension—loving that towards which we orient ourselves. The theological virtues are integrated, not isolated. Josef Pieper writes in his treatise Faith, Hope, Love that the theological virtues are acquired in one order but lost in reverse order. We begin with faith, faith engenders hope, and hope gives birth to love. But the process is reversed in the case of one who loses faith: first, their love towards the object of their faith (God or the Church) grows cold. The coldness of love causes hope to wither. With hope and love dried up, there is nothing left to nourish faith, which is extinguished last of all.

This means that the process by which we came to faith from unbelief is not the same process that is needed when confronting doubt in one who already believes (or used to believe). Reading Chesterton might bring you to the faith, but it is less likely to save the faith of one who is wavering. A person who begins to doubt the Church is not unware of the arguments in the Church's favor. Indeed, this person may very well have been converted in the past through the very same arguments. Their issue is not that they don't grasp the reasoning, but that the Church, as an object of affection, is no longer desirable. This means the act of doubt is taking place outside of the realm of pure reason.

Now, if you are about to nod haughtily and say "Yeah that's right, people who doubt are being irrational", stop yourself right there. This act of doubt does not take place in the realm of reason, but it is no less understandable. A problem is no less real or valid just because it might not rational. I am an educator, and in education we have a dictum that "They don't care what you know until they know that you care." This means you cannot expect a student to learn if they do not believe you have their best interest in mind. I cannot habitually belittle, denigrate, and humiliate a student and expect him to master the algebra I am teaching him. He will have a visceral reaction against me and everything associated with me. Part of him will intentionally not want to learn just to spite me. He will feel helpless against me; the one, solitary way that remains for him to exercise autonomy is to simply close his mind off to whatever I tell him. It doesn't matter how logical the algebraic formulations are. By contrast, a student who feels affirmed and encouraged by their teacher yields their mind readily to instruction and the educational dynamic becomes fruitful and even pleasant. 

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski pointed out in a recent article in Crisis that people who lose faith often have focused too much on the Church's human element. This may be the case. They have accustomed themselves to focusing only on the failures of flesh and blood slobs who manage this shit-show. But it also needs to be understood that when a person has suffered extensively at the hands of that "human element", faith is no longer an issue of merely understanding the arguments or "taking the long view." The doubter has a visceral, guttural reaction against the Church that cannot be addressed by appeals to reason. A person who suffered war trauma from combat may duck when they hear any loud popping noise, and it is useless to try to reason with them that the war is over and there is nothing to fear. 

This is why Catholics who have lost faith are no longer swayed by "the arguments." They are familiar with them, but the arguments "no longer satisfy", or they "just don't cut it" anymore. They don't work because the person's crisis is not primarily intellectual; it is rather that they no longer experience Catholicism as something desirable. An argument in service of a truth that is undesirable will not produce assent. You may present me with rock-solid arguments grounded in reason and empirical data that the United States is going to eventually become subservient to China. But if that truth is not desirable to me, the strength of your argument will do nothing to make me embrace it. I may indeed fight against it even though I recognize the strength of the argument.

So this is the first thing I would say: those whose faith is intact need to understand that one who doubts often does so outside the realm of pure reason. Persons whose faith is intact are accomplishing nothing by trying to present doubting Catholics with "the arguments." Stop being so rationalist. Do not treat this as if it is solely a problem with the doubter. 

Now, on the other hand...

The person who doubts tends to wrongly think their doubt constitutes an existential problem for the Catholic religion in general. Their anecdotal experiences become the standard of truth. Because the arguments "don't satisfy" them, they mistakenly think the arguments lack validity. Sometimes they are immune to the force of argument from over-exposure. The truth that once dazzled them and expanded their intellect is now a rote platitude devoid of power. They think this is because the maxim is not compelling, not because they have become numb to it. 

People have a regrettable tendency to universalize their own experiences. If they have a problem, then there is a problem. They have an issue or hang up with something, and suddenly the entire edifice is compromised—"crippled" or "broken" or whatever adjective they choose. They have a hard time imagining that their experience is not indicative of a more universal truth; and this only gets reinforced as others pour out of the woodwork with their own anecdotal stories that agree. The problem is not with them, it is with the "broken" institution or system of belief as a whole, whose brokenness seems so self-evident that those who do not see it appear as naïve. The think their crisis is due entirely to problems inherent to the Church or its philosophy.

This whole issue is really one of perspective. It is extremely difficult to escape the parameters of our own subjectivity. But this cuts both ways, as well: People who do not have a problem can errantly assume there is no problem just because they don't have one. They easily reconcile disparate poles that others cannot. Their peace is not disturbed, and so they have a hard time empathizing with those whose peace has been shattered. They often assume the person who is wavering in faith is "not being logical about it."

Both suffer from an inability to escape their own subjectivity. Just because you have a problem does not mean there is a problem. And just because you have no problem does not mean no problem exists. Ultimately, the problem is not just with the doubter, nor just with Church. The crux of the problem exists on a subjective plane, at the crossroads where the Church and the doubter intersect in an experience that precipitates the crisis of faith.

Both doubter and the faithful have a difficult time understanding this: the doubter does not want it to be his problem, he wants it to be a problem with the Church—that way his doubt is justified and he can be at peace with his conscience. The person of intact faith does not want to confront the doubter's experience; he would rather reduce the matter to a series of dry intellectual propositions that the doubter needs to affirm. He does this because he does not want to consider that the arguments that are sufficient for him are not sufficient for someone else.

We talk past each other because we cannot get away from making our subjective experiences the ground of our approach.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

The Nuns That Quit

 A few months ago I was strolling through an antique store when I caught sight of an old edition of Ladies Home Journal. The magazine grabbed my attention because of the large image of a nun on the cover, juxtaposed with a more "modern" looking woman⁠—modern meaning from 1967, when the issue was published. The feature article was about the exodus of religious sisters from the convents, then in full swing. 

I took the magazine from its sleeve and browsed through it. The article was extremely long and thorough, about ten printed pages in small type. Authored by columnist Robert Blair Kaiser, the article—entitled "The Nuns That Quit"—consisted of candid interviews with women in various stages of stepping away from religious life. It attempts to get to the bottom of why nuns were leaving their vocations in record numbers.

This sort of information is very important to preserve. We write so much about what happened in the chaotic years after the Council, but seldom do we take the time to study the contemporary sources to understand what was really going on and why. I thought this an invaluable resource for further study of the post-Conciliar zeitgeist. So I decided to get ahold of it and make it available to all of you.

Being the cheap-ass that I am, instead of buying the magazine I sat there for twenty minutes meticulously taking photographs of every page. I sent them over to a student volunteer for transcription. The final article is linked below, 13 full pages of text. I hope all persons who care about what happened after the Council will take great interest in this article, which provides an example of the mindset that was sweeping the Church in the immediate aftermath of the Council.


Monday, August 02, 2021

Cardinal Cicognani on Canonical Dissimulation

The weeks since the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes have seen various efforts to formulate a canonical response to the document to allow maximum freedom in its implementation.

Most traditional apologists have latched onto Canon 87, section 1 of the Code of Canon Law, which says that "A diocesan bishop, whenever he judges that a dispensation will contribute to their spiritual good, is able to dispense the faithful from universal and particular disciplinary laws issued for his territory or his subjects by the supreme authority of the Church." Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois invoked this canon in his dispensation from the provision of Traditionis Custdoes.

There is another approach, however, and this is the canonical principle of dissimulation. Whereas dispensation is the exemption from the obligation of the law in certain cases, dissimulation is the non-enforcement of the law in circumstances where enforcing the obligation would cause greater problems than non-enforcement. Dissimulation is an option for the bishop to simply not enforce the law.

If we consult the magnum opus of the great 20th century canonist Amleto Cardinal Cicognani (1883-1973), Canon Law: Commentary on Book One of the New Code (1935), we find a section on canonical dissimulation. Cardinal Cicognani says:

A distinction should also be made between dispensation and dissimulation, whereby a superior, without removing the law's obligation, permits its transgression to go unpunished that greater evils may be avoided. Dissimulation is a true juridic procedure, as may be gathered from the numerous canonical documents, wherein it is stated: "dissimules", or "dissimulare poteris" (you may dissimulate). For in some cases it is very difficult, or even impossible, to enforce a law, and to dispense from it is inexpedient or impossible because the superior lacks the necessary power. Hence at times it is expedient for the superior to dissimulate, to assume a passive attitude—which is permissible even in matters that concern natural or divine law—from which no precedent is established; however, the superior, because of his dissimulation, can take no action in the external forum against transgressors, nor are invalid acts avoided officially.

Connivance or dissimulation is frequently confused with toleration. They differ in this respect, that connivance is a feigned ignorance of transgressions of the law in order that measures may not be taken against them; whereas toleration not only feigns ignorance but grants the transgressor complete liberty of action and freedom to continue. Hence toleration is not employed in matters that are contrary to faith and morals, and with respect to acts that are patently invalid. Furthermore, toleration settles the point at issue by a "tolerari potest" decree, whereas connivance (dissimulation) can be nothing more than a temporary measure. [Cardinal Amleto Cicognani, Canon Law, 2nd ed (Dolphin Press, Philadelphia, 1935), pg. 830-831]

There are a few takeaways here:

First, dissimulation is a "true juridic procedure". That is, it is a legitimate canonical response to a law, not a mere shirking of duty or abdication of responsibility. 

Second, dissimulation is appropriate in situations where it is better to permit a transgression to go unpunished "that greater evils may be avoided."

Third, it is permissible "even in matters that concern natural or divine law."

Fourth, though Cicognani's book was written with reference to the 1917 code, he is not here addressing the text of any specific canon; rather, he is explaining a legislative principle that is found throughout the Church's canonical tradition. It would certainly still be applicable today under the 1983 code.

There is a strong argument that the principles of canonical dissimulation apply in the case of Traditionis Custodes. In the weeks since the document's promulgation, there has been a surprisingly resounding chorus or protest against the hubris, overreach, and cruelty of the document. Even liberals, non-Christians, and atheists have gone on record saying the motu proprio is unnecessarily harsh (a roundup of notable responses to Traditionis Custodes can be found on New Liturgical Movement). The majority of bishops globally seem to believe the implementation of the motu proprio would be problematic, as evidenced by the vast majority of bishops choosing to avoid enforcing the document. As of August 1, 2021, the status of the Traditional Latin Mass globally is as follows:

It is still early and many of these responses are provisional, but they clearly evidence that the global episcopacy is not keen on enforcement. The chaos it could cause amongst traditional communities within a diocese, the multiplication of ill will, the logistical difficulties of relocating peaceful traditional communities, and the horrific canonical confusion of the document itself—not to mention the radical curbing of episcopal autonomy— create a disaster that bishops find best avoided. This seems like a prime case where dissimulation would apply.

Note that it can be permissible "even in matters that concern natural or divine law", so the Sacred Liturgy would certainly fall within that purview.

When would dissimulation be a better approach than dispensation? Perhaps in situations where a bishop, for reasons of Church politics, wishes to avoid enforcing the document but also does not want to "go on record" as opposing the pope. It would also be ideal in situations where too much time has elapsed for the "we're studying the document" is no longer believable.

Ultimately, the bottom line is that canon law contains an option for bishops to say, "This would be a shit show if I enforced it. I'll pass." I do not say this would be a better strategy than dispensation in the long run, but it is another strategy. And we need to be aware of every tool we have at our disposal.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Guest Post "The Latin Mass Saved My Life"

A friend of mine has written an elegant testimony on how the Traditional Latin Mass brought him to faith, delivered him from sexual sin, and taught him the meaning of manhood. It is a touching story from a man who has pondered these matters deeply. But I will let him speak for himself:

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Current circumstances in the Church have moved me to write something that is deeply personal, having defined the course of my life for the past three years. While I can choose to reel in anguish and despair regarding the restrictions imposed by Pope Francis in Traditionis Custodes, I will instead try to use this time as an opportunity to look back on how far I have gone in my relationship with Christ, the eternal defender of Tradition, and remind me to keep hoping in Him and His promises, however trite that might sound and how hopeless the situation for us traditional Catholics might be both at home and abroad. I won’t dwell on the full details of my conversion story. I will also leave the doctrinal and canonical dissection of the motu proprio to Catholics far more competent than me, although this essay will reflect my views regarding this issue.

I grew up in a single-parent, lapsed Catholic household—a rare combination of circumstances in the Philippines. However, it is hard not to breathe the air of a (still) strong Catholic culture and imbibe its influence in your worldview and personal morality. I went to Catholic school all my life, since my non-practicing Catholic mother made a lot of sacrifices to make this possible. Despite her issues with the Catholic faith, she believed that the Catholic Church did a good job at teaching moral values. In fact, she had me baptized on my grandmother’s birthday, who opposed it. Suffice to say, my grandmother had an even less favorable opinion of the Church than her. The Holy Spirit does work His graces however men might oppose or ignore His gentle inspirations. I credit my mother’s fateful decision to baptize me for being reconciled with the Church much later. More on that story shortly.

Growing up in the Philippines in the 2000s was coming to age in your typical JPII conservative Novus Ordo environment—the liturgy was celebrated poorly (I still cringe at the sight of chasuble-albs), cheesy homilies, wreckovated parishes (granted, this wasn’t as bad in the Philippines), and an insistence on seeing all of Church doctrine and history through the lens of the Second Vatican Council. We were taught, as I suspect like our American Catholic brethren back then, that the versus populum orientation was superior than ad orientem, since it welcomed the community to worship with the priest, and that no one understood the Traditional Latin Mass; hence, the matrons in front had prayed the rosary instead. Of course, we were also taught that ecumenism and religious freedom for all were good for the Church. Yet this being your JPII conservative milieu, we were also taught the Church teaching didn’t really change and that the Catholic Church was still the true Church. This was back before Google, and so I agreed with everything my diligent religion class teachers taught me. But even then, with the little knowledge I had of tradition in books (for one, I only learned about the heresy of modernism in Pope St. Pius X’s biographical entry in a book about the saints), I already saw the ruptures in what the Church has taught and done before, and even more so in how the Philippine hierarchy behaved toward non-Catholic sects. While the Philippines has never had a shortage of lay apologists, the hierarchy seemed to be locked in an overly conciliatory, even obsequious, attitude toward sects like the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and Members Church of God International (MCGI), two homegrown churches, given how they have always viciously attacked Holy Mother Church and poached thousands of souls from her. Somehow, I thought, we were the true Church, yet at the same time we had no official response for the rapacity of these false preachers.

When it came to my life at school beyond religion classes and First Friday Masses, I found it quite difficult to keep up with my peers socially. They talked about their fathers playing basketball with them or otherwise doing something that a father and son should do together. I guess this lack of a father figure made it difficult for me to make friends and open up to people, especially when talking about my unique situation of not having a father in the first place. It didn’t help that my mother told me to tell everyone that my father was dead (I still do not know where he is or if he is even alive). Moreover, my introverted and reserved nature didn’t help. I certainly did not have a healthy model of masculinity, despite being enrolled in an all-boys school.

It would be unfair to say that it was this Catholic environment that led me to losing my faith in my adolescent years, since many classmates didn’t, yet it is safe to say that my lack of exposure to a Catholicism that was consistent in what she said and what she did hardly contributed any defense to my teenage brain’s exposure to anti-Catholic and anti-religious arguments. I uncritically gobbled up the New Atheists’ arguments, even if I had not read any of their books (I still haven’t up to now). This was around 2005 when Filipino households started being hooked up to the internet; Google searches provided all the semi-educated arguments I needed. I have always been well-read, ironically, but this did not lead me to buttress the things I learned from my religion classes with arguments from Catholic sources. I reveled being an atheist in a deeply Catholic society and considered other classmates in the same boat as fellow enlightened souls (or rather, purely material beings). I was so arrogant that when I was 14, I declared to myself that I was officially an atheist on the very day of my Confirmation. I did go through it since it was expected of me and I rationalized that I was curious about ritual. My appreciation with ancient, arcane rituals in general and pre-modern aesthetics kept me appreciative of the Latin Mass and the surface beauty of Traditional Catholicism.

Long story short, I (expectedly) fell into existential despair and sexual sin. I had to follow my mother to the United States in 2014 at age 21 after she married my stepfather some years before that. This led me further into social withdrawal and a rapidly metastasizing anomie. I made few friends and struggled relating to American culture, which surprisingly I found to be very welcoming of outsiders. As I got into my mid-20s, I realized that I could not keep living like this. There must be a reason for living, for striving for something, for working toward some end, even if during that time I did not realize I was made to fulfill that end. I knew it didn’t mean going to graduate school, given that I had wanted to pursue an academic career originally, since I learned early on how adjunct professors were underpaid in this country. So at first I thought that I could find my purpose with being financially independent. Furthermore, I knew I had to move out if I was going to have any chance to start my own life, like Americans of my age. This gave me a direction in life beyond finding a job so I could fund my worldly interests, but that wasn’t enough. At this point I still didn’t know the answer. 

Not that I connected the dots immediately, but I also felt that I could not let my addiction to porn and masturbation to define me for the rest of my life. I hated myself for my inability to wean myself off it. Around this time, I also saw how broken American society was with regards to marriage and family. However, there were two things that kept me intrigued about Catholicism. One was the fact that I was surrounded by (nominal) Protestants, and I was trying to look for Catholics with whom I shared something at least. Another was that I never lost interest in the Latin Mass. I have known about it even before Summorum Pontificum, interestingly also thanks to Google. I still cannot explain in natural terms how this interest grew over time while in the States, but one explanation might be that I was looking for beauty (and good and truth) in all the ugliness I found myself mired in.

The opportunity to attend a Latin Mass finally came to me on a trip to New York City in November 2017, over at the Church of Holy Innocents. I didn’t understand anything, nor did I know that something called a missal existed. I did know it was different from all the other Masses I have attended in the past, both as a believer and a skeptic. It did conform to my aesthetic tastes, of course, but I came home with something more than shallow art appreciation. To be sure, I was already reading about Catholicism again, especially regarding the aftermath of Amoris Laetitia. I can’t remember exactly what came first and how everything came to be, but immediately before this I was already entertaining doubts regarding issues like same-sex marriage, the transgender movement, and no-fault divorce. As an atheist then, I found out at last that the only axiom in secular ideology was change, and this did not satisfy my intellectual convictions; after all, I had stopped believing in God because that was the “truth”. However, I did not navigate my way back to the Tiber right away, partly because of the issues with Amoris Laetitia, seeing that the liberals were winning, and also because the bad spirit was still trying to confirm me in my vices. 

Three months later, in January 2018, I got back to attending Mass willingly after 10 years, forcing myself to wake up on an early Sunday morning with nothing else but the desire to learn more about the Old Rite, and see what followed from there. The rest of it is the Holy Spirit’s story. Slowly, I realized that the TLM was the expression of Catholicism that didn’t present itself to the world with "ifs" and "buts." Rather, it seemed to shout and assert that the Church was the Bride of Christ, that what she was doing was True Sacrifice, and that she opened a portal to something beyond the altar, beyond this world. It was a whole worldview packed in a couple of gestures by the priest, who as alter Christus was the main actor, since he alone had the sweet yoke of re-presenting the Sacrifice of the Bridegroom, ipse Christus, giving back to the Father all the good that He has magnanimously imparted to the universe. Obviously, I did not immediately work out the various arguments from Tradition about the fittingness of all of this, but it was this self-consistent blueprint I saw embedded within the Old Mass that eventually bridged the gap I perceived between what the Church has always taught and what she was currently doing. 

In connection to the brokenness of my family, the ruin of my manhood, and my lack of purpose, the Mass of Pope St. Gregory the Great and St. Pius V taught me that the world runs on order and reason. For one, nothing is superfluous in the Mass, as all its parts contribute toward properly disposing its participants into truly participating fruitfully in the Sacrifice at Calvary. Not only is there beauty in the vestments, the chanting, and the sweet whiff of Latin, but also the prayers express a frank admission of man’s frailty and pleads deliverance from his sinfulness through the economy of salvation as revealed by Scripture and Tradition. It is the whole of salvation history summarized in a few sublime gestures and movements. It communicates through its succinct beauty that the only Beauty, the only Good and Truth to pursue for, is what the Mass points to, to where it derives its beauty from in the first place, and to whom the priest offers the perfect worship. For one, I remembered reading the Roman Canon in an older English translation, and I couldn’t help but tear up not only because of how emotionally moving it was or how powerful its poetry, but more importantly on how it systematically elevated the whole liturgical action to the presence of the Divine at the moment of Consecration.

Thus, it is futile to look for worldly honors, riches or other vain pursuits, since they are at best means to that end we were all created for. Moreover, there is no need to wallow in the brokenness of original sin and its consequences, from our immediate parents up to our first parents, since the death of Christ, the Logos, has already freed us from the chains of the Serpent. Before my conversion I had already accepted that all children needed a father and a mother, yet I eventually realized that only Catholicism had yet to cave in (doctrinally at least) on issues regarding marriage and family. More than being moved by a merely anthropological sense of tradition—and in my case the determination of a child to not repeat his parents’ mistakes—I made the connection between tradition and how it was principally handed over from the previous generation to the next through the family. And it is through the basic unit of the family that we are made members of a larger reality—civil society and the Church. The traditional family is not only the poster child of conservative talking points, but it is the smallest organ in a mystical body that extends to Heaven. 

Intimately connected to this, the Latin Mass has also showed me on how to be a man, which is something I never learned from my absentee father. The exclusive presence of men in the altar coupled with the meticulous rubrics in the Mass is enough to dispute the self-defeating claims of gender ideology, if only in deed and not in word. Both the fixed and proper prayers of the Old Mass are suffused with the spirit of virtus understood in the classical Roman sense. It moreover introduced me to saints who were manly, courageous, and resolute, yet at the same time humble enough to model their lives to the image of the archetypal Man. Real men, tempered by Christian moderation and virtue, are neither toxic nor reap destruction upon the weak, but rather use their strength to fight for what is right and just, for what is truly good, even at the expense of suffering for it. And who else would point them to this than Jesus Christ, whom they see suffer, die, and rise in glory through the priest every Sunday? With this the Latin Mass led me to that other great sacrament, Confession. Through the work of patient priests in the confessional I was able to be freed from sexual sin, and confirmed that a man could truly subject his carnal desires with the Spirit’s grace and His gift of reason. 

I can say this with confidence: the Latin Mass saved my life, and hopefully will save my soul. I would not have written this essay or have even known Boniface and other Catholic friends had I not made an effort to go to a Low Mass one Thursday evening in New York. I think it inappropriate to say that the Latin Mass was my “gateway drug” to Catholicism, but it is true that it all started from there. I am not suggesting that the Latin Mass will always inevitably lead to metanoia or even that it is the panacea to the current crisis; certainly, it is but one tool that the Spirit uses to penetrate hearts walled off and imprisoned by sin. Yet I do think that the restoration of the liturgy is the key to unraveling the current crisis. 

Like everyone else, I remain a sinner and still struggle with many faults. But I am thankful for the Lord for delivering me from sexual sin and the social isolation it brings with it. Now, I am making friends with lots of Catholics, more than I ever had, and also enjoyed dating for the first time free from the clutches of pelvic degeneracy. I am still introverted, but I found out it’s not reason enough to build walls around myself especially when others were reaching out to me. I was also able to start a career that enabled me to support myself, and will hopefully allow me to support a future family as well. Through the Latin Mass, I learned how to bear hardships for love of Him who suffered for me, and to embrace the painful process of change to be a better man. 

Yet despite my personal testimony and that of many others, Francis and the rest of the Spirit of Vatican II crowd keeps plotting to suppress it. Beyond possible envy at the sight of the growing number of (especially young) Catholics who take refuge in the Latin Mass to escape the modernist wasteland that has defined the Church today, they know on an intellectual level that the Mass of All Time is the cornerstone of everything Catholicism has stood for before the 1960s. Or rather, what it has always stood for and will stand for beyond their blighted clerical careers. Its enduring, continued presence stings them as a living rebuke of the failure of their project of bonhomie with the world, the saeculum, forgetting as they do their sworn duty to bring the world into the saecula saeculorum instead with the angels and saints—or else vainly thinking that they can achieve both. In a protean world ruled only by Baphomet’s diktat of solve et coagula, the Mass points to its archetype, the unchanging, eternal Word, and confidently proclaims him as its one true King, against the pretensions of the prince of this world garbed in various disguises. 

The illicit suppression of the Latin Mass is proving to be the greatest challenge to my faith as of yet. A part of me wants to scream and express my wrath acerbically in social media; another part of me even tries to whisper that all I did in 2018 with the help of God was all for naught, and I might as well give in to despair by going back to my old vices. Yet wouldn’t this prove Pope Francis right in claiming that the Latin Mass is only a source of discord among the Church Militant, with few good fruits to show of its work? Wouldn’t that be too easy for our critics, who say that our attachment to it is mere nostalgia and vapid aesthetics? I am trying to cling to hope, seeing this as an opportunity to prove to Him that He has truly changed me, and that I will follow wherever He leads. Bad popes come and go, trends die off eventually, and heresies will have their day of reckoning, but Christ’s promise endures. He has shown this through the refusal of the Latin Mass to die in the decades after the Council, when the de-christianization of society was not as apparent, and how it still produces countless gifts for the Church despite every threat of suppression. This might be, after all, a rebuke to us by Christ, for being at times prideful, clannish, and bitter, as our enemies claim us to be—but doesn’t He always subject those whom He loves to suffer? Nothing impure will enter His presence; Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8). 

I can barely muster words of comfort for my fellow Catholics, for I still do not know how we can effectively respond to this latest attack against Tradition. At least for me, I hope that all these trials in the Church (which have advanced in a worrying pace beginning with the Amazon Synod in 2019) means that the Devil is running out of time; hence, he has been hard at work round the clock to destroy the Church. Anyhow, anything I say will be repeated and better expressed by others. Yet we must resolve not to let this latest saga from the Vatican—from this papacy—be a cause of scandal for us. Let us pray more, let us accept suffering more, let us go to the Latin Mass more. The Spirit will lead us to more concrete ways of responding to the modernists, but let us respond to malice with charity, to detraction with humility, and to abuse with patience. And may faith, hope, and love remain in us the selfsame chalice that bears the blood of Christ, which he poured out for the salvation of souls, so that when this dark cloud finally dissipates, we can again say with confidence in our churches: Introibo ad altare Dei, qui laetificat juventutem meam (Ps. 42:4). 

Click here for a Spanish version of this article

Monday, July 19, 2021

Nine Reflections on Traditionis Custodes

Ha so did you hear there's this thing called Traditionis Custodes that Pope Francis issued? Papa Francesco sure stirred up some lio with this one. If Francis is concerned about the growth of traditionalism that rejects the post-Conciliar Church, giving the SSPX their single biggest marketing boost of all time is certainly a strange way to show it. 

Many people more astute than myself have already commented on Traditionis Custodes extensively, so I will try not to repeat their talking points. Here are my nine reflections on the new motu proprio.

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First, on the antithesis between Francis and Benedict. Some are saying this isn't a repudiation of Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum. They are arguing that those who are saying so are being unnecessarily partisan and dramatic. Have these people even read these documents? We need to start by realizing that Summorum Pontificum did not "legalize" or "allow" or "liberalize" the Traditional Latin Mass. It did not make the Latin Mass available by positive decree; rather, it stated the principle that the Latin Mass could never truly have been abrogated and, therefore, by consequence was (and is) always allowed. Traditionis Custodes, on the other hand, completely repudiates that principle. It's not just that it suppresses something that Benedict XVI allowed; its that by presuming to suppress the traditional liturgy by papal dictate, it contradicts the principle elucidated in Summorum Pontificum while giving no explanation of why or how that is possible. But that's par for the course these days; the modern magisterium creates continuity by merely declaring it (see "The Phantasm of Fiat Continuity", USC, May, 2016). We are to accept continuity and harmony exist merely because we are told it does.

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Francis's motu proprio was issued out of concern that traditional communities foster a divisive spirit, believing that they alone are "the true church." What does this even mean? Does this refer to traditionalists who literally think the Church presided over by Francis is a false church? That Francis is a false pope? Or perhaps it merely means the belief that Traditional Latin Mass reflects the authentic heart of our faith? It's hard to say. Traditionis Custodes does not elaborate on what the false premises affirmed by these divisive traditionalists actually consist of. It is impossible to determine when and whether someone is guilty of thinking they are "the true church", as the document provides no explanation of this new and dangerous schism, which is nevertheless so grave as to justify suppressing an entire rite. It is meant to cast suspicion on an entire subsection of the Church.

The crux of the matter is this: there is a subtle transmutation being wrought upon word "schism", morphing it from a canonical status into an attitude. It is very difficult to pin the canonical state of schism upon somebody; it is extremely easy to accuse someone of having a "schismatic attitude." I think most uses of the word "schism" I see on social media these days are in the context of an attitude rather than an objectively existing canonical state. Basically, "schismatic attitude" has become the catchphrase to denote anyone who posts mean things online about the current regime. Its definition is so broad it means nothing; its used the way Wokies use the word "racism."

Also, the fact that the Holy Father is taking punitive action against an attitude is horrifying. And this isn't even speculation; Francis says plainly in his accompanying letter that his edict is prompted by "words and attitudes."

As for real schism, the number of traditionalist groups or parishes who have gone into schism during the pontificate of Francis is zero.

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But if there are traditional Catholics who literally believe that they and they alone are the "true Church," they must number only a few thousand worldwide. And apparently we are to believe that this tiny sliver of a demographic poses an existential threat to the unity of a communion of one billion believers?

But fear not! As a remedy, we shall herd every catholic who loves in a Latin Mass into one or two parishes in a diocese, place draconian restrictions on them, functionally ban them celebrating in new parishes or even with new priests, and then we're going to let them stew in an age of social media. Sounds like a winning plan for unity. 

The harshness of this diktat is only surpassed by its sheer imbecility.

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Even if there is a real threat of schism, it is exceptionally bizarre to suppress a legitimate rite because of such concerns. Canonically speaking, it is persons, not rites, who are the objects of legislation in such cases. Consider this nugget of history:

During the pontificate of Bl. Pius IX, Chaldean Patriarch Joseph Audo was frequently at odds with the Vatican. Most notable was his efforts to bring the Syro-Malabar Catholics of India under his jurisdiction, sending the Bishop of Aqra, Mar Elias Mellus, to India as his envoy in 1874 to accomplish this. Mar Elias was actually excommunicated for fomenting schism there. This did not stop Joseph Audo, who continued to consecrate various bishops without prior consultation with Rome in the following years, effectually setting up a rival hierarchy in India. In September 1876, Pope Pius IX finally threatened to excommunicate the Patriarch and the bishops he had consecrated if they remained disobedient. Patriarch Audo finally submitted to the pope, who then commended him for his compliance and recognized all his episcopal appointments outside of India. Bishop Mellus also reconciled with the Holy See and went on to become the Bishop of Mardin.

This story is noteworthy because the promotion of the Chaldean rite in India was directly linked to the establishment of a rival and schismatic hierarchy in a blatant usurpation of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nevertheless, Pius IX made no attempt to limit the use of the Chaldean rite, despite the serious threat of schism. Canonical penalties were imposed against the persons fomenting schism. A rite itself is not the proper subject of these types of canonical penalties. I hope more commentators and canonists start pointing out how truly bizarre the rationale of Traditionis Custodes is in this regard (Thanks to my friend Konstantin for making me aware of this story).

* * * * *

Francis's accompanying letter says, "Most people understand the motives that prompted St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI to allow the use of the Roman Missal, promulgated by St. Pius V and edited by St. John XXIII in 1962, for the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The faculty—granted by the indult of the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1984 and confirmed by St. John Paul II in the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei in 1988 was above all motivated by the desire to foster the healing of the schism with the movement of Mons. Lefebvre."

This is demonstrably false. The indult was not set up to heal the schism with the SSPX. Rather, the indult was set up to create a home for the faithful who loved the Latin Mass but nevertheless did not want to follow the SSPX into formal schism. That is to say, the object of John Paul II's legislation was the faithful who did not want to join the SSPX; but Pope Francis says that the object of John Paul's legislation was the SSPX. This is a colossal blunder. Rorate Caeli has an excellent piece documenting the way John Paul's intent is mischaracterized by Francis.

* * * * *

Despite the motu proprio's insistence that the abuses in the Novus Ordo be checked, we all know that will never happen. If Francis is really concerned about Catholics dissenting from Church teaching, then Traditionis Custodes is like pulling the speck from the traditionalists' eye without removing the plank in the eye of the Novus Ordo. Polls consistently show that 89% of Catholics reject papal authority to teach on the immorality of contraception; 51% reject papal teaching on abortion. And 69% of Catholics do not believe in transubstantiation (source). Is the Holy Father distressed about this? Is he going to take decisive action against these people?

Of course not. The double standard does not invalidate the weight of Traditionis Custodes (whatever that may be), but it does destroy any pretense of good will on the part of the Holy Father, and it destroys any likelihood that the faithful will receive this with docility. In the face of such brazen injustice, the prospect of traditional Catholics just rolling over and accepting this is ridiculous. This is just going to cause more trouble. And it was 100% avoidable. What a waste. Talk about fights that did not need to happen.

* * * * *

As for you self-hating trads who are saying, "We asked for this and we're getting what we deserved," and "the Holy Father's assessment of traditionalism must be correct", I can't imagine what sort of mental torture you must put yourself through to square these circles. I understand that traditional Catholics can be toxic; I've whined about it just recently. But if you think the bad attitudes of a few online traddies merits the global suppression of an entire rite—and not just any rite, but the preeminent historical rite of Latin Christendom—then you are infinitely more unbalanced than the boogey-man trads you are wringing your hands about. This is akin to amputating a hand to fix a hangnail.

* * * * *

One of the most laughable passages in the accompanying letter is where the pope says, "Whoever wishes to celebrate with devotion according to earlier forms of the liturgy can find in the reformed Roman Missal according to Vatican Council II all the elements of the Roman Rite, in particular the Roman Canon which constitutes one of its more distinctive elements."

This is a frighteningly reductionist view of the liturgy. There is a certain attitude amongst conservative Catholics that the only thing that matters in the liturgy is a valid Eucharist. "It's still Jesus!" they would predictably intone, as the balloons ascended and the sanctuary was filled with the strumming of guitars. This represents a radical minimalist view of the liturgy, reducing the Mass down to its most barebone  component and rejoicing that we at least still have the sine qua non of the liturgy. Pope Francis evidences a similar view with this quote: the entire liturgical tradition of the West is boiled down to just the Roman Canon. "What are you complaining about? You have the Roman Canon." If that's the pope's view of continuity, then literally nothing in the Church is safe from his novelty. I hope more people realize what a horrifically reductionist hermeneutic this is. It's as if after years of feeding my children healthy, balanced meals, I suddenly throw them outside and tell them to eat insects. And when they complain that they can't survive on insects, I dismissively say, "It's still protein."

* * * * *

"What are we to do?" That's really what everyone wants to know. To this I shrug. I don't know. But I will say two things:

(1) Traditional Catholics have a tendency towards scrupulosity. We worry way too much about rules, about minutiae, about jots and tittles. And the current situation just exacerbates scrupulous anxieties. This development has put many of us in extremely challenging dilemmas that no Catholic should ever have to be in. No Catholic should have to pit pope against liturgy, obedience against worship, fidelity to tradition against the living magisterium. In these dilemmas, we cannot afford to be overly scrupulous. I'm speaking to laypeople, but also bishops and priests. We are way too litigious in the West. With all the shit going on in the world and the church, with civilization falling apart and the Church in total chaos, with all the confusion and misinformation and lies and double-standards being vomited forth from the hierarchy on a daily basis, do you really think God is laying the responsibility entirely on your shoulder for determining the precise canonical status of that independent chapel? Just do what you need to do and don't worry too much about the fine print. 

Also, I said "shit" just to irritate the scrupulous people who, in a post about this crisis, will think complaining about the word "shit" in the combox is the best use of their energy.

(2) As awful as this situation is, I always try to remember that the Mass is not my faith. It's an integral part of how I live my faith, but my faith is much bigger than the Mass. I make this point because people will message me and say "This is damaging my faith." I don't know if they really mean that, in the sense that this is making them believe in God less; sometimes I think they just mean "This is making it challenging for me to live my faith." The Latin Mass is an absolute treasure. But God doesn't owe you the Mass. He gives it, and He can remove it. If deprivation of access to the Latin Mass actually makes you lose your faith, what would you have done in Japan all those centuries when the Catholics there had no Mass? Or in Elizabethan England? Would you have simply lost faith? Many of the Desert Fathers didn't even go to Mass at all; nor immured nuns in the Middle Ages, nor many of the hermits.

God is still on the throne. Jesus is still risen from the dead. I am still redeemed by His blood and incorporated into His body through the sacred font of baptism. Has any of that changed? No. None of it has changed, and therefore my faith is unchanged. I don't mean to diminish the importance of the Mass in any way; but if your actual faith in God is predicated upon a certain level of access to the Traditional Mass, where will your faith be when it becomes even more difficult in ages to come? I am not insulting you if your faith is being challenged. Rather, I am challenging you to go back to the basics, the unchanging truths that no prelate can touch. Have faith in God. And I'm not talking about "Have faith that the Traditional Latin Mass will triumph!" or "Have faith that some future pope will reverse all this." I mean have faith that God is with us, that the blood of Christ had freed us from sin, and that in Him we can live a life of grace and holiness—even if these disorders are never remedied unto the very ending of the world.

* * * * *

I'm praying for all of you, wherever you are and whomever you are! Just last month I posted about this blog's 14th anniversary. What a different world it was then! Summorum Pontificum had not even been issued. My blog has outlived the entire Summorum Pontificum era. Insane. But now more than ever it is important to patronize and support good traditional Catholic blogs. I'm not going anywhere; remember, even if the hierarchy has control over the exterior forms of our worship, it has no control over my spiritual life (see "Into the Woods", USC, May, 2018). Even though those forms of worship are meant to nourish my spiritual life, they can't ultimately be identified with it. The life I have in Christ is "an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven" (1 Pet. 1:3-4). And that will never be touched, even though a pope worse than Francis should destroy ten times as much. Christus regnat.

Click here for a Spanish language version of this article.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Fourteen Years and an Appeal

Every year on the Feast of St. Peter and Paul it has become custom for me to write an anniversary post commemorating the founding of this blog, which (in its current form) was launched on June 29, 2007. Today I am celebrating fourteen years of Unam Sanctam Catholicam.

But beyond celebrating this enduring blog, I also wanted to give you some news and make an appeal.

First, I want to let you all know I am going to be taking an extended break for awhile. Nothing is wrong in my life or anything, I am just fairly busy and I want to disconnect for a time. I have a lot of books and projects I am involved with, and I also just want to step away from online Traddie-dom for a bit. 

One project I am going to be working on this year is switching over the sister site to a new format. I have been operating since 2012 on a Joomla template that has become woefully clunky and outdated.  I am migrating that site and all its content over to a much sleeker Wordpress-based template that will make it a lot more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate. I don't expect this will be done before the end of 2021, but I am going to be spending a lot of time on it.

As I break and revamp the sister site, I'd like to ask you to consider making a financial donation to support the work of Unam Sanctam Catholicam. 

What is this "work" you ask?

Unam Sanctam Catholicam is consistently one of the top-ranked Catholic blogs in the English speaking world. It has been in the top 100 for the past decade and has occasionally been in the top 10. It's content has been 4.3 million times; an average of 38,500 people read our articles every single month. That's 38,500 readers every month being exposed to our articles about the goodness, truth, and beauty of the Catholic faith—articles devoid of clickbait, not beholden to any organization or authority, written in a spirit of patient reflection without pretension. Granted, that means you sometimes have to deal with my own stupidity, but at least there's no commercial angle or institutional gags on my content. I am a fool, but you get to enjoy my foolery without any hook.

My free RCIA notes and outlines have been downloaded 80,000 times and show up first for the Google search "RCIA notes." That's 80,000 people who chose to go with my outlines—full of quotes from the Catechism, Aquinas, the Councils, and the Fathers—instead of any number of the garbage RCIA resources floating around out there.

Countless people have messaged me over the years saying the Bayside article I did back in 2013 had helped them come out of the Bayside hoax. Ditto for my articles over the years on Medjugorje.

I am not a social media influencer. I have never tried to monetize this site by turning into a subscription service, nor have I ever hocked "premium content." I don't make a living from this blog; if I feel like posting I do, and if I don't I don't. 

That being said, a little bit goes a long way. If you've ever been entertained, edified, or educated by Unam Sanctam Catholicam, please consider helping. There’s many ways your contributions can benefit Unam Sanctam Catholicam: 
  • I would like to get my RCIA notes and outlines translated into Spanish and then Arabic. I'd like to be able to pay people for this translating work.

  • As I mentioned above, I am revamping the USC sister site. I would like funds to help pay for the redevelopment and obtain improved design elements of the new site.

  • While I work as a professional writer, I also self-publish works on matters of interest to traditional Catholics. For example, the USC Ebook, Laudato Si: The 40 Concerns of an Exhausted Layman, The Book of Non-Contradiction on harmonizing apparently divergent biblical accounts, and most recently, Power from On High on the history of theocratic monarchy in the Christian west. Your donations allow me to (a) spend more time working on these passion projects instead of grinding away at the corporate stuff, and  (b) help me pay professional copywriters and artists to improve the quality of these self-published works. 

In the meantime, I have a lot on the docket for the rest of 2021. Here are just a few of the articles I have in the works for the next sixth months (hopefully):

  • The legend of St. Maternus
  • Use of ostrich eggs in the traditional liturgy 
  • Various book reviews
  • The Church and autopsies
  • St. Gregory of Narek
  • Cuss words in the Middle Ages
  • Medieval clerical opinions on beards
  • English bishops and the pallium journey to Rome
  • Gemstones in the writings of St. Hildegard
  • Part 3 in my series on the Nephilim (hopefully)

If there is something else you would like to see me write about, please do not hesitate to shoot me an email at uscatholicam[at] Thank you for your patronage over the years. Please use the Paypal button below to make a donation; if you'd like to send a check in the snail mail, message me at uscatholicam[at] and I'll let you know how. And as always, follow us on Facebook. May the Lord richly bless you.