Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Battle Lines Have Changed


Gather around, little kiddies, and Uncle Boniface will explain to you why popular Catholic apologists can no longer continue to function as if it is still the 1990s and the golden age of Catholic Answers--and why the battle lines of inter-Christian squabbling have fundamentally changed.

In the previous generation (meaning 1980s-2000s), Catholic apologetics was largely defined by disputes about the content of various Christian creeds; i.e., "Lutherans believe this, but Catholics believe that. Let's dispute about who is right." In that sort of climate, it was easy for confessions to dispute with one another. Persons professing some sort of formulaic creed can argue with others who profess a different creed because they had the common ground of both professing some creed.  It was in this atmosphere that Catholic apologetics contra Protestantism could flourish. It was in this sort of climate that apostolates like Catholic Answers thrived and books like Catholicism and Fundamentalism were of essential importance.

You see, in this older situation, we evaluated other Christian confessions on to what degree the content of their creed approximated Catholic tradition. Christians who had more in common with the Catholic faith were considered "closer" to us, those who shared less were "further." Let's visualize it this way:


This view is certainly accurate, considered from a doctrinal standpoint. But I submit that this mental paradigm is no longer helpful—the main reason for this being that the essential divisions within Christianity are no longer confessional. It used to be that Christianity was divided up into several confessions and that the members of each confession were presumed to be faithful at least to the tenets of their own confession. A man was a Baptist because he affirmed the Baptist confession and denied those that were at odds with his. And of course a Catholic was a Catholic because he affirmed the teachings of the Catholic faith. To be sure, the Baptist or the Catholic may have been born into these communities, but did not detract from the expectation that one who belonged to a certain confession actually professed it.

But the situation has changed drastically. The contemporary division within global Christianity is not creed vs. creed, but people who profess a creed vs. people who have no creed—those whose faith has a doctrinal skeleton and those whose faith has no structure at all, but is rather a kind of gelatinous mass molded and vivified by nothing beyond the opinions of the masses. This division transcends all forms of Christianity. Across the Catholic Church, the world of the Orthodox, and the Protestant confessions there is a profound de facto schism between those who believe Christianity has an objective, definable form whose boundaries are delineated by particular doctrines and, on the other hand, those who believe Christianity to be essentially whatever its adherents wish it to be at any given time—which is inevitably going to be defined by popular opinion, fad, etc.

In this atmosphere, creed vs. creed apologetics no longer has the weight it once did when most sincere Christians of any stripe are fighting bitterly simply to affirm the existence of any creed within their respective communities.

The current battle lines are drawn more or less like this, with the current "alliance" being not so much drawn horizontally on the spectrum based on doctrine but vertically, centered on the concept of tradition:


Some Traditionalists will immediately object that it is totally errant to align a traditional Catholic with, say, a traditional Baptist or a traditional Anglican because (a) the content of these other creeds' tradition is different and defective in light of Catholic truth, and (b) the "traditions" of Lutheranism or "The Wellspring" megachurch down the road are themselves forms of liberalism that are ultimately responsible for the destruction of western civilization.

Considered doctrinally, these critiques would certainly be correct. But I want to urge such critics to stop thinking of tradition here only in terms of its content. The question here isn't whose traditions are right. Consider tradition more anthropologically—tradition as existing whenever a group is being faithful to its own customs, founding principles, and internal telos. Thus, a "traditional" Calvinist is going to be a Calvinist who is faithful to the founding principles of Calvinism. A traditional Methodist is one who is faithful to the principal tenets of historical Methodism.

And it is this which is under attack everywhere across the Christian world. It is an attack against any form of Christianity that maintains some form of definable structure based on some external authority—be it Sacred Tradition, the Scriptures, historical confessions, or whatever. The ultimate goal is to transform global Christianity from something that has objective structure into something that is entirely subjectivized, something which takes its form entirely from the mood of the contemporary rabble. Something that is purely based on the ever-shifting emotional cravings of the plebs of [CURRENT YEAR]. It is not only the particular contents of Christianity's skeleton that are under attack, but the very existence of a doctrinal skeleton at all, regardless of its content. The architects of the current zetigeist want to ensure that Christianity will henceforth forever bow its head and alter its position whenever the powers-that-be tell us we are now at war with East Asia and no longer at war with Eurasia.

Catholics should never defend error; we should not defend traditional Calvinism just because we see it is under attack just as we are. We should, however, recognize how the battle is being waged, where the lines are being drawn, and that the locus of our defense of the faith should be on the existence of an objective, definable structure to the Christian religion. This takes precedence over older style apologetical works which focus on the content of our religion. These will always have a place, to be sure, but this is no longer where the greatest attack comes from and hasn't been for a long time. The attacks on Christianity are no longer so much about the content of our creeds as much as Christians' stubborn insistence on having a creed.



Thursday, January 02, 2020

Best Posts of 2019

The year of our Lord 2019 was a monumental one in the history of the Catholic Church. Most of the Church news of the year was dominated by the Amazon Synod and the Pachamama scandal, but on top of that we had ongoing revelations of sexual abuse and investigations by Attorneys General in several states, the publication of the Open Letter to Catholic bishops, the revelations of the Vatican's $200 London investment boondoggle, the extremely problematic “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together", the canonization of John Henry Newman, the fall of Fr. Rosica under accusations of plagiarism, and much more. What a time to be alive and be Catholic!

It was also a busy year for me personally and professionally. Despite all that, USC published 35 essays in 2019. Here are 13 of my personal favorites:

On the Concept of Celebration: Celebration is a very fluid thing that can be anything from solemn and dignified to boisterous and inebriated. People who say the Church's traditional liturgies aren't sufficiently celebratory are using the word in a very reductive sense.

Pius VI and the Synod of Pistoia: Review of the 1786 Synod of Pistoia, an extraordinary event whereby some ecclesiastics of the day tried to shove through a series of reforms very similar to what we later got in the post-Conciliar period.

The Church Doesn't Need More Women's Involvement
: In what sense can anybody claim that women are underrepresented in the Catholic Church? Women already dominate the Church at almost every level.

Praying Through the Mass: The Extraordinary Form of the Mass enables a kind of contemplative prayer that is built right into the structure of the liturgy.

Christ Will Give You Victory: Some excellent reflections a priest gave me on the spiritual life. The distance between yourself and God is only as great as you believe it to be. Christ can give you total victory over your sins.

Inculturation and the Missions: Video about how the idea of inculturation is undermining Catholic missions...and yes, I know I mispronounce the name of Pachamama.

"But Eastern Churches Have Married Priests": How come nobody care's about the traditions of the West but the customs of the East are sacrosanct?

Excommunication is a No-No: The biblical purpose of excommunication is not merely the repentance of the sinner but the protection of the community. In the modern Church, excommunication of lay persons is something our prelates have no stomach for.

Comments on the 'Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church': Some observations on the letter a group of theologians and academics published in 2019 asserting that Pope Francis is promulgating heresy.

The New Double Truth Theory: How theologians and prelates advance heresy while talking out of both sides of their mouth.

Theology of the Body is Not Catholic Teaching: Because of the very low level of authority at which John Paul II's Theology of the Body was delivered (papal homilies) it cannot be considered an authoritative teaching.

There's Always a Priest Shortage in Missionary Areas: Defaulting to a married priesthood in the Amazon because of an alleged priest-shortage is nonsensical; there are always priest shortages in such areas.

What People Don't Understand About Syncretism: A lot of Catholics don't understand what sycretism really is. This article will help explain.

Thank you very much for spending another year in the company of me, your ornery online Catholic friend. It's crazy thinking that after doing this for going on thirteen years, USC is one of the most consistent constants in my life. I don't know whether I should be proud of that or cry.

Some basic information on Unam Sanctam Catholicam:

This blog was launched formally on June 29, 2007. Since then we have published around 2,000 articles that have been viewed 3 million times; we average 20,000 to 30,000 page views per month. Throughout the Benedictine and Franciscan pontificates, Unam Santcam Catholicam has been one of the Internet's most reliable sources of randomly posted, annoyingly pedantic, and contrarian Catholic content. Also our RCIA notes and outlines (offered on our sister site) have been downloaded 80,000 times.

Hope everyone has a blessed 2020!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Unsalvageable Novus Ordo


In my last post ("Converting a Novus Ordo Parish to Tradition") I spoke about situations where a mainstream, diocesan Novus Ordo parish can be "converted" to a more traditional practice of the Catholic faith, culminating in the establishment of the Traditional Latin Mass on a permanent basis. I used the example of my parish and discussed the specific conditions that all came together to bend our parish back from the brink of madness to sanity in a period of five years. I offered this sort of strategy as an option for reaching out to well-meaning Novus Ordo Catholics who are open to tradition and would be amenable to the Traditional Latin Mass.

Now it is time to look at the flip-side of the coin.

Because the fact is, this is not always feasible. It's not that a parish can be "too far gone" to ever be brought back—remember, when the reform in my parish began, we were using tie-dyed vestments, puppet masses, and engaging in liturgical dancing. Only five years later we had the Traditional Latin Mass. So it's not a matter of how "far gone" a parish is. Even so, for such a transformation to occur, a lot of pieces need to come together in the right manner, some of them fortuitously. For example, in the beginning my parish was suffering financially and scheduled to be clustered or closed. Therefore our bishop didn't really care that our pastor was raising eyebrows with his traditionalism because the parish was on the chopping block anyway. Who cares if an eccentric pastor rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic? But what would have happened had my pastor tried the same thing at one of the very large, multi-million dollar urban parishes with 4000 families? Would the bishop have permitted it to go on?

So as we can see, such a transformation is not always possible, despite peoples' best efforts. Furthermore, to try to work from the inside to help a Novus Ordo parish move towards tradition presumes there is some sort of grounds for hoping this might actually occur. But sometimes, there is no rational basis for hope. Sometimes the situation is manifestly unsalvageable.

This Christmas was very complicated for me. For reasons of family, Christmas scheduling, travel, etc. I ended up having to fulfill my Christmas obligation at a parish I never go to. What a cluster-bleep. The music was just...ugh...they had a full-band with a drum kit and the whole shebang. They played traditional Christmas hymns like Joy to the World and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing but with obnoxiously upbeat tempos and power-chord guitar riffs that rattled by teeth because the acoustics of the church amplified the already obnoxiously loud sounds so much. The homily was tripe. More rock music during holy communion as an army of EMHCs swarmed down into the congregation to distribute the sacrament so no parishioner had to undergo the inconvenience of having to walk more than ten feet to receive Jesus. 

Let me ask you, what do you think of when you think of the Novus Ordo? What vision enters your head? Maybe it's crappy homilies. Perhaps it's some form of liturgical abuse, or bad music, or some other novelty. Those things would come to my mind as well. However, it was while walking back from Holy Communion at this Christmas Eve Mass that I saw something that more perfectly instantiates the spirit of the Novus Ordo than anything I'd ever witnessed. There were these two Boomers sitting there—a husband and wife, probably in their early 60s—sitting in folding chairs against the wall because there was no room in the pews. I passed by them on the way back to my seat. The wife was half-heartedly trying to follow along, mumbling the words to Joy to the World but unable to find the rhythm within the weird rock adaptation being performed. But the husband, well, the look on his face was priceless. He was hunched over, with the most blank, expressionless look of abject apathy. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man the number of shits this guy didn't give. Total indifference. It was the quintessential "Why...am...I...here?" face.

And that, my friends, is the real tragedy of the Novus Ordo. The sheer apathy it inspires, the way (at least in its common manifestations) it siphons off so much of what is truly inspiring about the Catholic faith. If I were writing a book about the Novus Ordo and had to select a single image for the cover that exemplified every objection traditionalists have to this liturgy, it would be the lethargic, drooping face of that Boomer I saw Christmas Eve.

After the Mass ended the band broke out into another Christmas rock anthem, kids were dancing around in the pews, the pastor was doing a pathetic jig in his chasuble while parishioners guffawed and took photographs. And this is one of the larger parishes in the region—one of those very affluent churches with thousands of families, the sort of place where the bishop would probably tolerate no disruption of the status quo. As I left that night, I thought to myself, "Yeah...this parish is probably unsalvageable." The process I described in my previous article would never be permitted to unfold here.

And that's what is so depressing about the Novus Ordo. What you get is entirely dependent upon the mood, disposition, and piety of the celebrant. No matter what anybody says to the contrary, it inevitably ends up being an expression of the priest's desires and liturgical vision. This can be great if the priest is traditionally minded, but even then it's a backhanded victory, as the survival of tradition depends on the priest's good graces. Even in my parish (which I hold up as an example of how a bad parish can change), were a progressive priest to get assigned there, he could undo everything that has happened since 2005. And the bishop probably wouldn't do crap about it.

So...yeah. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Converting a Novus Ordo Parish to Tradition


There are really a lot of excellent Catholic commentators right now. I love all of the other Catholic writers out there who are promoting Catholic Tradition, especially those who don't take themselves too seriously. These are serious times and the stakes are high, but if we can't laugh at ourselves and maintain some levity, how will we enjoy even the victories we do manage to win?

Yes, I love the crop of weird, eccentric Catholic writers, even if we disagree on a few things, sometimes vehemently. One thing I am constantly lambasted for by other traditionalist writers is my assertion that if traditional Catholics are serious about actually restoring the Church, then they ought to maintain some involvement in the Novus Ordo world. I would never say a Catholic must attend the Novus Ordo Mass, of course. But what I can't support is the model of traditionalism whereby we all just hunker down in our own little traditional chapels and oratories and have no meaningful, real life interactions with Novus Ordo Catholics. I mean, if you want the Church to change, how do you think it is going to change? Do you think our blogging is going to do it? Actual Novus Ordo Catholics need to see the beauty of tradition, be educated about the faith, and fight for it in their own parishes. That's the most likely way anything will ever change. This isn't about just making sure I have "my Mass", but rather restoring tradition in the Church at large.

Now, maybe you don't think such a thing can happen. If that's your position I can respect that, and I can understand your desire to just hunker down where you are at. But if, like me, you believe the reform should come to the Church universal, then my goodness, how can you ignore the Novus Ordo world? That's where 95% of our brethren are. That's where our people are at. How can we just ignore that?

For this reason, I will never support the idea that the Novus Ordo is "not really" the Church, and I refuse to call it the Novus Ordo "sect" or infer that Novus Ordo Catholics are not actually Catholic. To be sure, even in its best moments the Novus Ordo liturgy is only an imitation of the Traditional Latin Mass, and in its abuses and worst moments it is a monstrous caricature of actual Catholic practice. But even so, despite its corruptions and deformities, the Novus Ordo Church is the Church. The Novus Ordo Church is our Mother. It is our Mother in the thralls of the a crippling mid-life crisis—our drunk mother who has ran off with a lover she met online, gotten some tattoos, went to Vegas, developed a meth addiction, and started whoring around so she can temporarily feel pretty and wanted again. But she is still our Mother. Our Mother who has temporarily gone insane due to a bad acid trip, who is beating her head against the wall and tearing her own hair out by the roots—but still our Mother. And our duty is not to write her off or try to deny that she is our Mother, but to rather seek her out wherever she is and bring her home, whatever labor that might require. Wean her off of the meth. Send her lovers away. Buy her some clean garments. Pay for the tattoo removal procedures.

I have always been in favor of the idea of working from within Novus Ordo parishes to change things. For those of you who may have only recently started reading this blog, I would recommend a series of four articles to you that I wrote back in 2011. If you think the idea of converting or transforming a Novus Ordo parish into a traditional one is ridiculous, please read the story I chronicled below. These articles talk about how we got the Traditional Latin Mass at my Novus Ordo parish and indeed reoriented the entire parish back towards Catholic tradition. In 2005 there were rainbow vestments, liturgical dancing, and puppet masses—in 2010 we were celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass and even the Novus Ordo Masses were ad orientam, Latin Mass parts, and communion at the altar rail with Gregorian chant. In five years we went from puppet masses to the Traditional Latin Mass. These articles are not short, but they chronicle in great detail how we did this. They are very worth your time if you are interested in these sorts of parish dynamics. 

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 1)

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 2)

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 3)

Program for Parish Renewal (Part 4)


I remember when all this was going on and we had just gotten the Traditional Latin Mass, a certain gentleman showed up at our parish. He was middle aged, very pleasant and intelligent. I soon saw him at the TLMs; every now and then I would see him at the Novus Ordo as well, but praying with a Latin Missal. He began showing up all over the parish. He volunteered to work at the parish fish fries. He was regularly seen helping at events when the pastor said he needed a few men to do this or that. He was always at coffee and donuts chatting with people. I had a few conversations with him. Super nice, down to earth guy. And he was very pleasant and straight forward in explaining to people why he loved the TLM. He was a model traditionalist, in my opinion. He was integrated into the parish and used his involvement in parish activities to get to know people, build meaningful relationships, and through those, evangelize for the Latin Mass in a way that was effective. If every traditional Catholic was willing to do this, we'd have a lot more tradition in our parishes.

Perhaps you may balk an disagree; I understand, and that's okay. This way I have sketched out is long and hard and depends on many factors beyond one's immediate control. And the outcome is very uncertain. It's slow, painstaking, and laborious. It's easier to just pray for change from the security of our traditional chapels and oratories while blogging about how awful the Novus Ordo world is. And it is awful out there. No doubt about it. But I think back to the example of St. Jean de Brebeuf. St.Jean's mission to the Huron did not begin with homilies to them about the true faith or baptisms; rather, it began with him sitting on a log straining to listen to the strange, guttural language of the Huron while he struggled to make out single consonant and vowel sounds, from which he could painstakingly transliterate the language so as to produce texts of the Scriptures and liturgical texts—a process which took him years. Years just to establish the framework to communicate the fundamentals of our faith. Is it too much to volunteer at a Novus Ordo parish fish fry or making some friends over coffee and donuts?

I'm not going to pontificate on how these relationships have to happen or in what context, but I will say that if we are serious about restoring tradition, we have to do the nitty-gritty, and we have to think in terms of years. And doing that sort of work is not ultimately about what's going on in the Vatican, although that is valuable information as well. It's more about working at the parish level. It's about building relationships with Catholics and spending months or years in discussion with them. It's volunteering to clean up the parish cemetery and sitting down for a break with the guy next to you and discussing traditional Catholics ideas about the dead and purgatory. It's about making friends with a Novus Ordo family and inviting them to attend a Traditional Latin Mass. It's about volunteering on parish committees and charitably working to build support for the introduction of more traditional devotions at your parish. Forget the Vatican. Forget the pope. Go be a good example for Catholic tradition in the places where you can make the most difference. And think in the long term. It took a long time for the Roman Empire to turn Christian. Think how many years it took St.Jean to sort out the Huron language. It takes a long time for trees to grow and blossom and to bear fruit. But whatsoever a man sows, that, too, shall he reap.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

What People Don't Understand About Syncretism

One of the most pertinent facts that emerged from the recent Amazon Synod is the sad truth that a vast number of Catholics don't understand what syncretism is. This is true not only of the dissimulating organizers of the shameful Pachamama rites in the Vatican, but also of the legion of papolatrous Twitterati who defended them, as well as the ignoramuses and faux intellegensia among the sloppy laity who argued "bUt iS JuST tEh VirgUn MAry!" until their faces turned blue.  

One thing all of these folks share in common is apparent unfamiliarity with the concept of syncretism, which was so perfectly exemplified in the Pachamama episodes. Religious syncretism is characterized by blending or "syncretizing" of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated—and often contradictory—beliefs or traditions.

The entire point of syncretism is that religious belief and imagery are blended together, such that they are difficult for the average worshiper to distinguish. A classic example of this is the ancient Romans, who held a fundamentally syncretist view of non-Roman religions. The Romans were masters of adaptation; when encountering a new religion among their conquered peoples, they essentially tried to identify the new deities with the existing deities in their own pantheon. Once such an identification was made, the new god would be worshiped under the rites and name of the old god. This connection having been made, both the Roman gods and the gods of the conquered peoples could be worshiped in unity by the mixed populace. 

For example, when the Romans encountered the Celtic god Lugus in Gaul, they associated him with Mercury. Lugus was referred to as Mercury by the Romans, and Romanized Celts might offer him sacrifices under either name. He was not Lugus or Mercury, but both, depending on the identity, culture, and preferences of the worshiper. He was worshiped under both names by both peoples in a single temple.

Another interesting example is the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus, a popular cult of the early 3rd century AD. Centered in the Syrian city of Doliche, the Jupiter Dolichenus cult was essentially a Roman re-imagination of the older Baal-Teshub-Hadad cults of the region, which went all the way back to the Hittites and the Sumerians. Because Baal, Teshub et al. were storm gods, the Romans shrugged and said, "Oh, okay, that's sorta like Jupiter." The popular cult of Jupiter Dolichenus fused the official worship of Rome's supreme patron deity with the exotic mystery cults of the east. Again, his cultus was the assimilation of pre-Roman Canaanite paganism into the official Roman pantheon such that worshipers of Baal, Hadad, Jupiter, or whomever could worship Jupiter Dolichenus with a sense of cultural unity. The Roman merchant Marcus might worship Jupiter, and the Syrian peasant Yassib might worship Baal, two objectively distinct gods—but in the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus, both might worship one divinity together while simultaneously adoring their own regional gods.

Syncretism is ultimately a manner of thinking found among spiritual people who don't care about truth, for syncretism is not about truth but rather vague, often emotional, concepts. It did not matter whether Baal and Jupiter were objectively different deities. It was not relevant that Baal was killed and spends part of the year in the underworld before being resurrected while Jupiter never underwent such an ordeal and indeed could not be killed or even wounded by anyone. It is of no consequence that Jupiter overthrew his father Saturn while Baal remained on good terms with his father Dagan. It's neither here nor there that Baal overcame and slew the god of the sea (a hideous monster) while the Roman sea god was Jupiter's own brother, Neptune. The contradictions and divergences between the various tales don't matter. All that matters is that the powers of the sky were a very mysterious thing, the forces of which inspired in the ancients a sense of terror and superstitious reverence. It did not matter to whom one was addressing when one worshiped the sky god; all that mattered was the worshiper's emotional needs to venerate this particular force were gratified.

To return to Pachamama, what we saw in the arguments of the defenders of the Pachamama rites was an essential ignorance of how syncretism worked. These folks did not seem to realize that syncretism essentially suspends or ignores the principle of non-contradiction, namely, that two contradictory things cannot be predicated of the same subject simultaneously. Steeped in the assumptions of western thought, the Pachamama defenders assumed that the image we saw in the Vatican gardens was supposed to be either Pachamama, or a representation of Gaia, or the Virgin Mary. And that settling the question was simply a matter of looking at the evidence and determining which of these three possibilities is correct.

Ah, the lingering influence of western rationality! Even when these folks are helping demolish the western tradition, they can't escape the western intellectual paradigms they have been raised with. They don't understand that in a syncretist context, the image can be the goddess Pachamama, and a personification of Gaia, and the Blessed Virgin Mary simultaneously. To try to make an argument that such an image is not Pachamama but the Virgin Mary would be as useless as standing outside the Temple of Jupiter Dolichenus and trying to insist to a befuddled Syrian crowd that the image inside was not Jupiter but Baal, or not Teshub but Hadad. The whole purpose of a syncretist approach is to create a cultural situation where such an image is Mary to the Catholic and also Pachamama to the pagans, so that everybody can worship under one big happy tent without anybody having to change or do anything difficult—Catholics don't have to evangelize, and pagans don't have to convert. Syncretism is the ultimate baptism of the boring status quo.

And the insidious thing about syncretism is how difficult it can be for the uninformed to spot or understand. For example, consider these candles:


The design and images of the saints look perfectly orthodox. There's St. George, the Virgin and Child, St. Martin, St, Lazarus, and others. The unaware might assume that the names at the bottom are merely the saint names in some other language.

However, these innocuous looking candles are in fact Santeria candles used for Voodoo ritual—the titles at the bottom are not appellations for the saints, but are in fact the names of Voodoo demons. If you don't believe me, just do some searching for Papa Legba, Ogou Feray, or Ezili Danto. Haitian Voodoo-Santeria is an excellent example of what a syncretist religious tradition looks like. No two things could be more contradictory than the purity of the Catholic faith and the dark magic of Voodoo; and yet, here we see the traditional imagery of Catholicism and Santeria blended together.

We can imagine the erstwhile defenders of Pachamama belligerently insisting that these candles are perfectly orthodox. "Look at it! It's obviously the Virgin Mary and Christ child. You are being hypocritical. The only reason you are attacking this is because they have BROWN SKIN!"

There's much more that can be said here, but I think the essential point is this: the entire rationale behind syncretism is to blend religious traditions such that people from various cultures can continue to worship their own customary deities under one big tent. It's not a matter of sorting out whether an image is Pachamama or the Virgin Mary; when something is syncretist one can make convincing arguments for either. And that is the whole point.



Saturday, November 16, 2019

The New Double Truth Theory



Many years ago, during the Benedict XVI pontificate, I drew attention to a phenomenon which I dubbed Catholic "dogma ex voce" ("from the voice"). The essential observation of this post was that contemporary dissenters, embarrassed by the Church's traditional teachings, must use the subterfuge of contradicting them in lower level pronouncements in order to promote their garbage while being able to affirm the facade that the Church has "never changed" its teaching because the official pronouncements remain unchallenged. In that article from 2010, I wrote:

Obviously and thankfully, [authoritative declarations] cannot be gotten rid of. They can be ignored and wished away, but they will not go away. Definitive, infallible ex cathedra statements remain for all time and are irreformable of their very nature. No matter how much any bishop or cardinal would like to contradict or get rid of these dogmatic heirlooms, they cannot.
Yet, though these declarations will not go away, there is a way that the hierarchy has found to get around this problem. I have noticed that, in areas where the modern hierarchy takes vastly different positions than the traditional Church, novel positions are not given to the faithful by means of encyclicals or dogmatic statements, but are found throughout lower-level pronouncements, such as speeches, letters, addresses, bishops' statements etc. By repeating these novel positions again and again in very low-level pronouncements, the faithful get accustomed to hearing certain novelties "from the Church" and over time come to accept them as "Church teaching."

Though these sorts of novelties are not "official", they are spewed out with such regularity and from so many sources that the stupid Catholic faithful eventually come to associate them with "Church teaching" and accept them as "dogma" uncritically. It is essentially the old adage that a lie, repeated enough, becomes taken as the truth. This is how the propaganda machine of dogma ex voce works to slowly undermine Catholic tradition while maintaining that the Church has not essentially "changed."

This has been going on for a long time; in my original article, I cite examples of it from the pontificate of John Paul II. Benedict XVI himself did it all the time in his personal writings and statements. Really its a post-conciliar phenomenon grounded in attempts to push the Spirit of Vatican II whilst simultaneously trying to reconcile the conciliar documents with traditional teaching, the old conservative Catholic two-step dance.

But in recent years it has reached new levels of intensity such that the Church really seems to be breaking down under a kind of institutional schizophrenia. The Amazon Synod brought this to the fore more than ever. The way things are developing, this practice has virtually evolved into a kind of "Double Truth Theory." The Double Truth theorem was an hypothesis proposed by the Latin Averroists of the 13th century as a means of reconciling philosophical principles which challenged Catholic dogma. Essentially, the Averroists asserted that religion and philosophy, as separate sources of knowledge, might arrive at contradictory truths without detriment to either—that something may be true from a philosophical perspective whilst being false from a theological perspective and vice verse. It was the opening salvo in a long war to detach philosophy (and science) from theology while being able to still affirm theological truths—in other words, to be able to affirm error while still paying lip-service to the Church's official pronouncements.

The Double Truth Theory, of course, is nonsense. There is only one truth, but we apprehend it under different modes or ways of knowledge. But ultimately if something is true, it cannot contradict another truth, be that truth philosophical, theological, moral, scientific, or whatever. We cannot say contradictory statements are all true, no matter how badly we might want to. Very rightly did St. Thomas Aquinas reject the Double Truth theorem as the nonsense that it is.

But is that not the very situation we see the hierarchy attempting to foist on us at the moment? Being at least nominally Catholic, these theologians and prelates cannot openly deny the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils or solemn pronouncements of the Church, nor contradict them with new solemn pronouncements. But what they can do is contradict those teachings through the ex voce method—ignoring the official pronouncements while making a slew of contradictory statements on the "unofficial" level: speeches, interviews, magazine articles, books, homilies, letters, and so on. In a pinch they can always claim that the Magisterium has not taught anything contrary to the faith—where "taught" is understood in a very specified way as a solemn teaching. But meanwhile they go about undermining the faith at every opportunity they can in a torrent of constant heterodoxy while expecting the faithful to believe that nothing substantial has changed. And meanwhile actual heretics (like Fr. James Martin) are permitted to continue spreading their poison unhindered, further lending credence to that the novelties being vomited out all over today are in fact "Church teaching."

They know exactly what they are doing as well. When they are among themselves or in gatherings of supporters, they openly boast of how they are undoing Catholic tradition and leading the Church into a brave new world.

In the old days, Catholic teaching served as a bulwark against the introduction of error because it was known that official Catholic teaching is irreformable. The modernists have gotten around this today, not by trying to overthrow the official teaching, but by simply leading us to a place where official teaching no longer matters. "Catholic dogma" is whatever the leaders of the Church happen to be bloviating about in their press conferences and interviews.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

USC Videos: Inculturation and the Missions

It's been awhile since I made a video for the Youtube channel, but the controversy surrounding the Synod on the Amazon and the now infamous Pachamama idol provided excellent occasion for me to make this video exploring the idea of "inculturation"--how is it different from Christianization, how is it being interpreted by contemporary Church leadership, and what it means for the Catholic missions. It's about fourteen and a half minutes long. Enjoy!




Thursday, October 17, 2019

This Female Image is Not the Blessed Virgin Mary


The image above has been showing up all over the Amazon Synod. It has been featured prominently in ceremonies presided over by Pope Francis himself and has been the object of religious veneration in the Vatican Gardens in what looks suspiciously like a pagan ritual.

Defenders of the Amazon Synod and the current pontificate's vision for "Amazonia" are bending over backwards to make this blatant paganism palatable by claiming the image is the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Without getting into the muddy waters of the content of the Synod—which others are already doing with much greater skill—I wanted to simply collect some statements that should be sufficient to disprove this falsehood.

The first statement is from a missionary bishop in the Amazon region, one who, perhaps more than any other cleric, would be in a position to understand what this image is. The latter two statements come from members of the Vatican communications office; Fr. Costa is the Secretary of the Information Commission. Dr Paolo Ruffini is Prefect of the Dicastery for Communications—in other words, both men tasked with delivering official Vatican communications.

Bishop David Martínez de Aguirre Guinea of Peru: "I’d seen this image on various occasions and I did not identify and not even and no one either at the vicarate...it was an image that was shown also on other occasions, and I wouldn’t know how to interpret it. Well, we all have our own interpretations … the Virgin Mary, the Mother Earth, probably those who used this symbol demonstrated, wishes to reflect fertility, to women, to life, the life presence among these Amazonian people … and Amazonia is meant to be full of life. I don’t think we need to create any connections with the Virgin Mary or with a pagan element" (source).

Fr. Giacoma Costa, SJ: "It is an indigenous woman who brings life...nobody said it was the Virgin Mary. I don’t know who might have said so" (source).

Paulo Ruffini: "It is a statue that represents life. That's it" (source).

It's some Amazonian personification of life or the earth or fertility. My own gut is that this is Pachamama, but of course no one at the Vatican would admit that.

At any rate, OnePeterFive has done an excellent job cataloguing the silliness surrounding this image and the contortions of certain persons trying to explain it away as an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary; I highly recommend their article for a much more thorough investigation of this image. However, even if we grant the dubious claim that this image is the Virgin Mary, it would horrifically improper to depict her nude.

No official channel has claimed this image is the Virgin Mary.

If anyone is still saying this image is "just the Blessed Virgin Mary", please share this information with them. Catholics are so dumb right now they will believe any nonsense if it will save them the intellectual effort of recognizing that the Church has sunk into a nadir from which it will take generations to recover, if it ever does before the Second Coming.

UPDATE: On October 25th, Pope Francis issued a statement on the theft of the images in which he referred to them a Pachamamas, thus admitting what many had suspected all along. His words:

"Good afternoon. I want to say a word about the statues of the pachamama that were taken from the church of the Transpontina – which were there without idolatrous intentions – and were thrown into the Tiber."

Source: Vatican News, October 25th, 2019, "Pope Francis announces retrieval of indigenous statues"

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Faith and Life Series vs. Baltimore Catechism



Many years ago I was the Director of Religious Education at my parish. As such, I was responsible for managing the parish's religious education classes. This was undoubtedly my least favorite part of the job—I had always believed religious instruction ought to be done primarily in the context of a lived religious experience in the home, not turned into another academic "class" for kids to sit through for 55 minutes a week taught by a parish employee. I knew whatever effect I would have on these kids for 55 minutes a week would be nil compared to whatever they were being taught and modeled by their parents. Modern parish religious education is often a thankless, fruitless task where many parents who aren't really modeling the faith at home dump the kids off for an hour each week to assuage their conscience about their children's religious formation in hopes that their offspring will "get religion" without having to get too involved themselves. I know this doesn't characterize all families who participate in religious ed by any means but I think it is common enough that anyone who has been a DRE will agree with me.

And the classes always had too few people (the biggest class would have maybe 7 kids and most had 3), and it felt like the pastor and I were always having to nag and guilt parishioners into signing their children up. Our parish had a lot of homeschool families and much of the religious education was done at home and there wasn't a lot of demand for religious ed classes. I was always being pressured to strong-arm families into signing up, and a few homeschool families did so out of some sense of duty to "help the program" rather than because their kids really needed it. As the DRE, I of course was expected to set an example by enrolling my own children as well.

Despite perpetual problems with enrollment numbers, I endeavored to make sure the students were at least given the most solidly orthodox program I could muster—both in terms of the catechists I recruited and the materials we used. At the time, my go-to for catechetical materials was the Ignatius Press Faith and Life series. Ignatius had a reputation for orthodoxy and the Faith and Life books were way meatier than a lot of the fluffy "share your experiences" sort of catechetical materials that were floating around out there. I would always tout the doctrinal fidelity of the Faith and Life when trying to recruit families to the program.

Over the years, however, I noticed that the response to the Faith and Life series on the part of young people was always lackluster. Not that I necessarily expected kids to be excited about a catechetical text, of course. What I mean is not only did they seem very ambivalent about the text, but they seemed to have a hard time comprehending it and retaining information. As if the children struggled to get what Faith and Life was ultimately trying to tell them. Even among students who came from faithful families. This was especially true with the middle grades, like grades 4-7. I noticed it with my own children, as well. Despite doing the reading, attending the CCD classes weekly, completing the quizzes, and participating in an otherwise normal faith life at home and at Mass, they seemed to barely retain anything from the Faith and Life books.

Eventually I got out of parish work and no longer had to deal with Faith and Life. I did what I should had done long before, which was adopt the Baltimore Catechism. I was worried that the Baltimore Catechism's question and answer format would be a little too dry, but I was pleasantly surprised how quickly my children took to it. They were eager for religion class, showed initiative in mastering the material, understood the content clearly, and were proud to show how they had memorized the questions. Not only this, but they also clearly grasped the substance of what was being communicated to them, both because of the systematic way the teachings are presented, as well as the super helpful illustrations, which my kids thoroughly enjoy.

In short, I came to realize that the pedagogy of the Baltimore Catechism was far superior to that of the Faith and Life series. 

The Faith and Life series uses a pedagogical method that can best be described as the "Salvation History" approach. The books attempt to tell the story of creation and redemption following the basic outline of the Bible: creation, the patriarchs, call of Israel, kings, prophets, life of Christ, redemption, the Church, etc. Individual books may vary slightly but overall they follow this pattern. Opportunities are taken within this story arc to present the truths of the faith as needed. For example, the giving of the Ten Commandments gives an opportunity for a discussion of the moral law, the sacrifice of Abraham illustrates Eucharistic typology and the sacrifice of Christ, etc. 

This approach presents a formidable obstacle to really learning the faith for the same reason that a person can't really get a comprehensive grasp Christian faith from scratch simply by reading the Bible cover to cover: the Salvation History approach is not systematic. The Bible is not written as a systematic theology text, and pedagogical approaches based on following the story arc of the Bible will consequently suffer from being unsystematic as well. You get a similar problem with faith formation programs that adopt the liturgical cycle as their backbone—the liturgical cycle is not systematic.

I can foresee some dense comments from people snarkily saying, "Ha! Reading the Bible isn't good enough to learn the Christian faith? What hubris." Look, I'm not saying that reading the Bible isn't good or necessary for learning the faith, only that it is not structured in a systematic way. That is to say, the Bible was not meant to be used as a text for classroom instruction. Nor was the liturgical cycle. Imagine being expected to learn math from reading a history book about the development of mathematics over the centuries. This would certainly give you valuable insights into math and you might even pick up some equations, but it would be a far cry from a systematic approach to learning mathematics.

The Baltimore Catechism, on the other hand, is about as systematic as one can possibly get. It certainly draws on salvation history—every chapter begins with passages from Scripture—but it is ordered in a logical sequence that respects the hierarchy of truth, the ordered structure by which we understand certain truths of the faith to logically flow from others. This is such an essential part of teaching that it's hard to overemphasize.

The Faith and Life books also follow what I have recognized as the very modern tendency to over-explain everything. Long winded. It is no longer sufficient to say what the Church's teaching is; one must make sure the reasons for everything are thoroughly explained. This makes it difficult for a young person to follow the exact train of thought the text wants them to grasp. I realized this is why so many kids I saw go through Faith and Life had a hard time understanding what a particular chapter was trying to teach. Sure there were vocabulary words to memorize, but as far as what the point of each chapter and the essential take-aways, these were more convoluted because the material tries to hard to explain everything and is too wordy.

The Baltimore Catechism doesn't waste time with cumbersome explanations. It's aim is to teach what the faith is, and it does this with an admirable directness and simplicity. Why did God create man? To show forth His goodness so we could be happy with Him in heaven. How do we attain heaven? By knowing, loving, and serving God. Done. A more modern text would have answered the question about God's creation of man with a very drawn out monologue. In fact, it wouldn't have answered the question at all because it wouldn't have been presented in a question and answer format. There is a very sound pedagogical reason why traditional catechetics is question and answer—and why the very word for catechesis is related to the word for questioning. It is so much more conducive to memorization than simply offering drawn out explanations.

Now again I can hear people derisively saying, "What? Don't you want your kids to understand the faith? There's more to religion than rote memorization." Of course I want them to understand, but I don't want to try to impose a level of understanding on them beyond what they are cognitively able to grasp at age 6 or 10 (before an ability for complex abstract thinking has fully developed), nor do I want to confuse the goal of catechesis, which is to instruct one in the chief truths of the faith; in other words, to inform one of what the teaching of the Church is. The why belongs more properly to the realm of apologetics, which is the explanation of why Christians believe what they believe. Catechetics pertains to what, apologetics to why. Of course I want children to understand why we believe what we believe. But I also know that it is an endemic error of modern faith formation materials to confuse catechetics with apologetics, with the result that neither discipline is properly served and students walk away with a few disjointed factoids and no real comprehension of what they were supposed to have learned. Apologetics has its place, but it is not in a catechetical class, at least not primarily.

The point of all this is that pedagogy matters. A lot. And the pedagogy of the Baltimore Catechism is supreme. I recommend using the Baltimore Catechism for elementary or middle school level catechetics and then introduce the student to apologetical studies in high school, letting the latter build on the former. All ensconced within the context of a home life where Catholicism is lived vibrantly.

None of this is to say that Faith and Life is a bad or harmful product. It's just a "Why re-invent the wheel?" sort of issue. It's orthodox, and the art is beautiful, but it's kind of a muddle and I don't think it's structure best serves the audience it is intended at. Stick with the Baltimore Catechism, at least for younger grades.

I also predict a concerned rep from Ignatius Press will contact me.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Papal Nullification: Revisiting the Cadaver Synod


The crisis precipitated by the Franciscan pontificate has faithful Catholics struggling to come to terms with the state of the Church and desperate for any means of redressing the calamities we have witnessed since 2013. Some are speculating that Benedict XVI did not validly resign and is still in fact pope; others are hoping that a future convocation of bishops of cardinals declare that Francis has vacated the papal office. All thoughts are bent on ways to undo or at least halt the unprecedented damage that this man continues to do to the Church every day he remains in office.

One frequently overlooked remedy to the current crisis is that a future pope can annul the acts of a previous pope. This has occurred on various occasions throughout Church history, but probably the most striking example of it was in the conflict between Pope Formosus and Pope Stephen VI, the popes of Cadaver Synod fame.

It is beyond the scope of this brief essay to trace the background of the controversy between the two parties; much of it is political and bound up with the affairs of the late Carolingian dynasty. Pope Stephen VI (r. 896-897) famously dug up the corpse of Pope Formosus and put him on trial for alleged crimes committed during the episcopal career of the latter, which resulted in the body of Formosus being desecrated and sunk in the Tiber. The Cadaver Synod is usually presented as an exemplar of papal corruption during the era of the Saeculum obscurum, the period in the late 9th and early 10th centuries when political corruption and immorality brought the papacy to its moral nadir--and indeed, the Cadaver Synod does exemplify this age of scandal most spectacularly.

But here I am more concerned with the acts of the Synod, rather than its shock value. The Cadaver Synod was a synod convened by Pope Stephen VI and held before the Roman clergy in January of 897. The synod published several acts, which were confirmed by the decree of Pope Stephen:

  • Declared Pope Formosus had been "unworthy" of the papacy
  • Declared his papal election invalid by reason of the violation of the 15th canon of the Second Council of Nicaea prohibiting the holding of multiple benefices by clergy (Pope Formosus had been elevated to the papacy while simultaneously exercising jurisdiction over the See of Porto)
  • Nullified all the decrees of Pope Formosus
  • Declared the orders conferred by Pope Formosus null by virtue of the illegitimacy of his papal election

The nullification of Formosus' orders was politically motivated, aimed at purging the Italian clergy of partisans of Formosus' party. To that end, his election had to be invalidated, to which the appeal of Second Nicaea was an afterthought. In other words, the architects of the Cadaver Synod did not think Formosus' election was invalid and ergo nullified his ordinations; rather, they began by wanting to nullify his ordinations and thus declared his papal election invalid as a means to that end.

Pope Stephen died shortly after the synod, murdered while imprisoned. Stephen's acts were wildly unpopular. The nullification of Formosus' orders had caused widespread chaos in the Church, as many of these clergy had already ordained others, whose own ordinations were now being called into question. The subsequent pope, Theodore II, annulled the decisions of the Cadaver Synod in 897, declaring all of Formosus' ordinations valid.  Another pope, John IX, confirmed the acts of Theodore II in two future synods, one held in Rome and another at Ravenna in 898. The latter synod not only nullified the acts of the Cadaver Synod but ordered them destroyed. The Synod of Ravenna also excommunicated the seven cardinals involved in the Cadaver Synod and henceforth prohibited the trial of any deceased person.

The story does not end there, though. In 904 Pope Sergius III ascended the Chair of Peter. An enemy of Formosus' party, Sergius tried to undo what his predecessors had done; he formally nullified the decrees of the synods of Theodore II and John IX and reaffirmed the decrees of the Cadaver Synod, declaring the orders conferred by Formosus to be invalid.

The interesting thing is that, while Sergius' decrees were never themselves invalidated, they were subsequently ignored. The Church continued to uphold the prior decrees of Theodore II and John IX while simply ignoring those of Sergius III, which are technically the last canonical judgment on the Cadaver Synod. The Church essentially acted like the decree of Sergius III never happened.

It gets even messier—Sergius declared the orders of Formosus invalid. If this were the case, then Sergius' own episcopal orders would be invalidated as well, as he received his own episcopal consecration from Pope Formosus in 893. Theodore II had declared Sergius' episcopal consecration valid by a special decree during his brief pontificate, but if Sergius annulled the synod convened by Theodore II then it is difficult to see how he did not annul his own episcopal consecration. This would not have invalidated his papacy, but it could have invalidated the holy orders he conferred during his own papacy.

The era of the Cadaver Synod controversy spanned 14 years. During this time we see popes frequently having recourse to nullifying the decrees of their predecessors:

  • Stephen VI annulled the acts of Formosus
  • Theodore II annulled the Cadaver Synod and its acts
  • John IX reaffirmed the annulment of Theodore II and had the acta of the Cadaver Synod destroyed
  • Sergius III annulled the decrees of Theodore II and nullified the two synods of John IX

By the time of Sergius' final decrees of nullification, the Church apparently got tired of the back and forth and simply ignored the acts of Pope Sergius.

It is not relevant to this post which partisan was correct or whether these decrees of nullification were abused. The point is that the episode provides a striking piece of historical testimony to the ability of the popes to nullify the decrees of their predecessors—even nullifying entire synods. No pope, theologian, or canonist at the time or since disputed that the popes had the power to do this.

The problem with the Cadaver Synod, canonically speaking, is that Stephen reached too far. He should have been content with condemning Formosus as "unworthy" of the papacy and nullifying his decrees and episcopal appointments. This is within the authority of any pope. But when Stephen tried to declare Formosus' orders invalid he went too far, for rather than seeking to undo the acts of a single man he struck out at an entire swath of the clergy with a judgment which, if true, would have thrown the hierarchy into chaos.

Incidentally, the charge that Formosus was invalidly elected is without merit; the 15th canon of Second Nicaea does prohibit a cleric from holding two offices simultaneously. But it does not state that this cannot be validly done, only that it "savours of merchandise and filthy lucre" and that a cleric "ought" to hold only one office at a time, but it does not say he loses his office if he disobeys the canon. There is no indication that this canon would invalidate Formosus' papal election. And even if his papal election were invalid, this would not invalidate the Holy Orders conferred by Formosus, as the validity of ordination flows from episcopal orders--and nobody had ever denied that Formosus was a legitimately ordained bishop.

The moral of the story is this: it is within the authority of a future pontiff to nullify the decrees of a current or former pontiff. Taking the pontificate of Pope Francis for example, a future pope could nullify Cor Orans, nullify Francis' acts with regards to the Franciscans of the Immaculate and the Knights of Malta; while Francis' episcopal consecrations could not be nullified, all of his administrative appointments could be--that is, a future pope could say "Every cleric who holds an office by appointment of Pope Francis shall immediately cease exercising authority in that office and is to be considered removed from said office" while he takes time to figure out what to do with them. Furthermore, he could declare that the Synods of the Family, the Synod on Youth, and the Synod of the Amazon were all annulled--along with their subsequent Apostolic Exhortations. He could decree that Pope Francis was "unworthy" of the Chair of St. Peter and issue what amounts to a damnatio memoriae of the Franciscan pontificate.

Or, following the example of the Church in the age of Sergius III, a future pope could simply ignore the age of Pope Francis as thoroughly as Francis ignores the his predecessors prior to 1963.

Is it likely that all of this will happen? I doubt it. I suspect the next pope will probably try to out-Francis Francis. But the point is there is a way to undo this sort of damage without having to resort to Sedevacantist or Bennyvacantist hypotheses, or hoping that some sort of gathering of cardinals will declare that Francis has vacated the office. The course I have explained here is a much more realistic way of proceeding, because it has happened before, and on more occasions than just those narrated here.

Of course, like any other hypotheses, what I have written here makes the massive assumption that a future pope will actually want to undo what Francis has done and have the testicular fortitude to do so. Bu given the zeitgeist, I'm not holding my breath. We have much longer to suffer through our own age's Saeculum obscurum.

And what does it say about our own troubles when I have to reach back to the Cadaver Synod to find some precedents for digging ourselves out of them?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Sample General Intercessions from Traditional Sources


Let's talk for a moment about the part of the Novus Ordo Missae known as the "General Intercessions", or the "Universal Prayer" as it is called in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. 

The GIRM (71) entrusts the priest with regulating these prayers, essentially giving him carte blanche to conduct them as he pleases—the only stipulation being that the priest introduces the intercessions and that prayers be made for the church, political authorities, the suffering, and the local community (although this structure is merely a recommendation that is "desirable" but not mandated). The prayers are to be "sober" and composed with "wise liberty" and should not be overly wordy. They may be read by anybody from anywhere—"from the ambo or from another suitable place, by the Deacon or by a cantor, a reader, or one of the lay faithful."

Because of the broad diversity allowed here, how the General Intercessions are presented can vary tremendously from parish to parish. And, as is usually the case when individuals are granted more leeway in liturgical celebrations, things tend to go awry.

The image at the top of this article was sent to me by a friend recently who noted with irritation that the General Intercessions frequently become occasions of political propagandizing. Even when they are not, they are often banally composed platitudes devoid of any sense of the majesty of the one to whom they are addressed. Often they are merely presented for merely temporal concerns without any reference to man's supernatural end. As Fr. Z used to say, they are variations of "O God, you are big. Help us to be big like you."

When I was a DRE, my pastor stuck me with the very unenviable job of composing these intercessions every week. I was a bit resentful at this; even if it had become common for lay people to read the intercessions, I always felt it was not our job to compose them. One of the most essential duties of a pastor is to lead his people in prayer; if we were using a Mass that required these prayers to be composed, it seemed to be something the priest himself ought to do himself. Still, I did my job and composed the prayers, trying as best I could to meet the demands of my pastor and the liturgy while making sure the intercessions reflected the traditional thought and vocabulary of the Church.

This made me think that there are probably many others who are in a similar situation: faithful, traditionally minded Catholic DREs or lay volunteers who find themselves having to compose the General Intercessions who may dislike the task or not be any good at it.

To that end, I took it upon myself to put together some intercessions taken from traditional sources—the prayers of various saints, bishops, and traditional devotions—that can be used during the General Intercessions in the Novus Ordo. You won't find any phrases like "encounter", "faith journey" or "parish family" in them. I've tried to include several different prayers for each of the four categories referenced in the GIRM so that these can be mixed up and used over several months. Some of the prayers I had to paraphrase or edit a bit to get them in the right format, but they are 90% unchanged.

Also, I can hear some people arguing that these prayers are "overly wordy", which the GIRM specifically suggests we avoid. To that I say...eh...whatever.

I have linked them as downloadable PDFs:

I don't like the thinking behind the General Intercessions in the Novus Ordo. I don't like the idea of the prayers for the Mass being composed willy-nilly every week by whomever. But, given that this is happening and that it is the norm in the Catholic world, maybe we can at least do it better. If you're going to do it wrong, at least do it right.

Of course, as I have said many times before, this problem and many others could all be avoided entirely by using the Traditional Latin Mass. Just saying.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

"But the Eastern Churches have married priests..."



"I don't see what is the big deal about married priests. There's a tradition of married priests in the eastern Churches."

Granted. And such is not the tradition in the Latin Church. Do you care at all about the Latin tradition? Or is it only eastern churches that get a pass? No doubt these same people who say "Eh...it's cool, there's married priests in the East" would throw a fit if celibacy were somehow foisted on the East. They would raise the hue and cry and say how it was not part of the eastern tradition and how unjust it was. By the same token, can't you see how unjust it is to shove a married priesthood on the Latin rite churches of the West? Apparently it's always acceptable to dismantle the Latin Church if we can find some obscure justification for it in the annals of the East, but meanwhile the Eastern Churches are sacrosanct.

Also, a few points about this topic, because people are seriously uneducated about it:

It is not true that priests in the Latin rite used to be sexually active until celibacy was mandated in the Middle Ages. Latin rite priests were never sexually active; priestly celibacy is an apostolic tradition.

Yes the patristic Church had married priests, but these married priests were sexually continent. These priests remained married but were expected to live celibate. This is well established in the canons and writings of the fathers. 

In the eastern churches, married priests were expected to live in continence as well.

The tradition of allowing priests in the eastern Churches to be sexually active is not a patristic custom but something that began to encroach upon the east in the era of Justinian II (around 691) due to civil legislation relating to the bishoprics, inheritance, and other secular matters and is based on a misrepresentation of apostolic teaching. It takes its origin from the legislation of the Quinisext Council in Trullo.

Even if there were married priests, there was never an ancient tradition approving of a sexually active priesthood. Never.

Do the research. If you need a place to start, see our essays:

Book Review: The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy by Christian Cochini
The Truth About Priestly Continence and Celibacy in the Early Church
The Council of Ancyra and Clerical Celibacy
The Quinisext Council in Trullo and Priestly Celibacy



Sunday, September 01, 2019

Theology of the Body is not Catholic Teaching



The title of this essay is admittedly a bit provocative, but it is my hope that this will lead to the article being shared with well-meaning Catholics who seem to be muddled on the authority of John Paul II's teachings on human sexuality known as "Theology of the Body."

The immediate impetus for publishing this essay was a recent exchange I had with a young woman who was telling me that "the Church's teaching" on some point of sexual ethics was such-and-such. I told her that I had never heard that such-and-such was the Church's official position, and as if to prove her point she referred me to a citation from a Christopher West book on Theology of the Body. She was surprised when I told her that Theology of the Body is not official Catholic teaching and that Christopher West is certainly not any sort of official organ of Catholic dogma. This was actually news to her; she had been under the impression that Christopher West was some sort of authoritative interpreter or what she took to be a dogmatic teaching of the Church.

Therefore, let me say it again plainly: the teachings known collectively as Theology of the Body are not authoritative Catholic teaching. In this essay I hope to explain why—but contrary to many traditionalist critiques of Theology of Body, I will not in any way be addressing the content of John Paul II's teaching on the subject. So don't get excited; this is not going to be some take-down of the content of Theology of the Body. I think the argument that Theology of the Body is not authoritative can easily be made by an appeal to the manner in which it was communicated by the late John Paul II without ever having to wade into the morass of critiquing the principles of TOB.

Before we begin, it is necessary to understand the background of TOB and why John Paul II thought the Church needed a new grounding for sexual ethics.

Prior to the post-Conciliar era, Catholic sexual ethics were largely centered on the procreative ends of the sexual act viewed through a Thomistic-Aristotelian framework. Those things which were conducive to the natural ends of the sexual act were permissible, those that hindered the fulfillment of those ends were not. This is all well and good, but from the point of view of John Paul II, this approach had two distinct downsides:

(1) The pedagogy of Catholic sexual ethics tended to be reduced to a series of "don'ts" grounded in mere obligation and obedience.

(2) The sexual act tended to be discussed only with reference to things external to the spouses themselves (i.e., the procreation of children, or the obligations laid upon the couple by God and the Church).

The first point is admittedly a problem I have often seen in older Catholic literature on relationships and sexual ethics. There is a Fr. Lovasik flyer or pamphlet on Catholic dating that is essentially one long list of prohibitions. Catholic sexual ethics are weakened when they are reduced to simply telling single people "Don't fornicate! Don't fornicate! For the love of God, DON'T FORNICATE!"

The second objection holds some validity as well; people want—I would argue need—to have intrinsic motivations for their actions. Appeals to authority or the procreation of children, even though they are perfectly valid, are not always enough for some people to get on board. For example, people whose only substantial argument against divorce are that it can harm the children don't have much of an argument when addressing an infertile couple considering divorce. Similarly, in education, it is not sufficient to tell a student "You must learn this material because if you don't you will get grounded by your parents and won't be able to get into college." Both of those things may be true, but they are what we would call extrinsic motivations; students do not truly learn and internalize material—do not truly enjoy and embrace education—unless they have an intrinsic motivation based on wanting to know the material for its own sake because it is interesting to them.

Pope John Paul II wanted to give Catholic couples an explanation of the Church's sexual ethics that was not based on an ethics of obligation or reference to procreation alone. Now, the Church's tradition already had some raw material for this in the concept of "the good of the spouses" as one of the ends of matrimony. John Paul II sought to elaborate on this aspect of the sexuality and chose as his point of reference the school of thought known as Personalism or Phenomenology. It is beyond the scope of this article to give a comprehensive account of Personalism as a philosophy, but it suffices to say that Personalism takes an approach to ethics that makes the reference point of moral actions the dignity of the human person (if you've noticed the ubiquity of the phrases like "human person" and "dignity of the human person" in modern Catholic literature, it is due in large part to the influence of the introduction of a Personalist vocabulary into Catholic thinking).

I am neither pro nor anti-Personalism; and please don't spam the comments with links or YouTube videos arguing one way or another on it. It's not relevant. The point is, John Paul II thought the Personalist vocabulary could help provide Catholics with a fuller picture of sexuality that could fill out the traditional approach by using the good of persons as a point of reference. In other words, instead of just telling Catholics what they should not do regarding sex, John Paul II wanted to tell them what they should do, and more importantly, why they should do it. This goal is at the heart of Theology of the Body. And it's not an ignoble goal. Catholics ought to understand what they should be doing and why with regards to sex. Too many Catholic couples are crippled with debilitating anxiety, uncertainty, ignorance, and embarrassment about sex—and I am talking about traditional Catholics as well as mainstream Catholics.

But I digress. So, John Paul wanted to deliver a fuller explanation of the Church's ideas about human sexuality using Personalist ideas to help build a more anthropological case for the Church's teaching that would give Catholics a deeper intrinsic motivation to live out the Church's integrated vision for marriage, sexuality, and family life. These ideas he fleshed out in a series of Wednesday audiences spanning five years, from September 1979 to November of 1984. It was this series of speeches which were later collected and termed Theology of the Body.

Why is Theology of the Body not an authoritative teaching of the Church? Catholics know (or ought to know) that papal statements carry different levels of authority. An ex cathedra declaration is infallible; papal encyclicals and apostolic exhortations where the pope intends to teach authoritatively are of very great authority as well. These are the sorts of papal teachings that command the assent of the faithful; ex cathedra teachings demand the assent of the Catholic faith, while others call for human assent.

But below this, there are teachings of the pope that are of lower authority. This could include letters (such as John Paul II's "Letter to Artists") or formal addresses (John Paul's "Address to Scientists of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences"). In these sorts of teachings, the pope is often speaking as a private theologian, or even if he is speaking as pope, he is speaking on matters that are more particular and are not considered universal teachings of the Church. Often times he is giving his opinion on a matter. These letters may later be collated into a single body of teaching and granted a higher level authority (Dictatus Papae of St. Gregory VII and the Syllabus of Errors of Bl. Pius IX were both authoritative documents composed of excerpts of papal letters), but the excerpts of the letters were later elevated to this level of authority by subsequent papal acts.

A still lower level of papal teaching comes from verbal statements made by the pope in the context of homilies, audiences, ad limina visits, and other formal occasions. In a papal homily or audience, the pope is speaking merely as a pastor and private theologian. Now, if we recall, TOB was originally this level of communication. It was a series of speeches given in the pope's Wednesday audiences. These audiences were subsequently compiled by independent authors—for example, Christopher West—and marketed as "The Theology of the Body." This has given the illusion of a comprehensive, single corpus of thought to what was essentially a series of homilies on a common theme given over many years. Some Catholics even think Theology of the Body is an encyclical.

A collection of papal speeches cannot be an authoritative teaching of the Church. Though John Paul later reiterated some of the themes from the TOB audiences into his encyclicals, there has never been the sort of wholesale elevation of his particular audience statements to the level of authoritative teaching, such as occurred with Dictatus Papae or the Syllabus of Errors. Theology of the Body is essentially a very popular collection of papal speeches, but it does not constitute "the teaching of the Church" anymore than if we took a collection of Francis' scattered statements on ecology, smooshed them into a single volume and called it "The Theology of the Earth." Such would not be Catholic teaching, no matter how popular it was.

Incidentally, speaking of Pope Francis, there is a level of papal teaching even lower down on the food chain than speeches and homilies: that is unplanned, informal, "off the cuff" remarks. And yet these very sorts of statements are somehow supposed to constitute the most important teachings of the Franciscan pontificate. This just demonstrates how backwards things have become where Catholics feel free to ignore the authoritative teaching of the Councils but a pope's comment on an airplane is treated like a fifth Gospel.

At any rate, regardless of what you think of the content of Theology of the Body, it should be clear that TOB is not any sort of authoritative Catholic teaching. It is essentially a compilation of papal speeches that has gained a broad popularity among contemporary Catholics. I do not blame the young woman for thinking TOB was authoritative; the way it is trumpeted about, the lauds that are heaped upon it, and the ubiquity of Christopher West materials gives the impression that this collection of speeches has way more weight than it does. If only the Church would push authentic liturgical renewal with the same vigor that TOB is popularized!

Mainstream Catholics who think TOB is Catholic dogma are simply wrong—as are trads who will inevitably come back with "Theology of the Body is modernist heresy!" and other such nonsense statements. Ultimately, TOB is merely one pope's idealized pet project for better explaining Catholic sexual ethics to modern man, no more, no less. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The USCCB and the Real Presence


The USCCB has been lamenting the fact that only 1/3 of Catholics in the United States believe in the Real Presence, according to a recent PEW survey. Lifesite News published a great article about how the faithful, when the bishops asked how to remedy this, overwhelmingly suggested a return to traditional practices. 

It is really frustrating to see the shoulder shrugging of the bishops on this question. I don't know if their "let's ask the faithful" was an attempted display of humility—like when Pope Francis asked for the prayers of the people at his papal election—but it comes across as desperate and grasping for straws: like the financial manager of a failing investment firm emailing his clients and saying, "I don't know guys, I'm stumped...anyone here got any investment ideas?" 

As long as I have been following affairs in the American Church (around 2002), the failure of U.S. bishops to sufficiently promote traditional piety has always been infuriating to me. Sure, some of the better ones may give lip-service to traditional liturgical practices and devotions, but when it actually comes to using their authority to do something, very few will. Even my own bishop—who celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass and has been a relatively good pastor compared to others in this country—has done very little in way of actually changing anything at the parish level.

An individual bishop has broad authority over the celebration of the sacred mysteries within his diocese. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says:

"The diocesan Bishop, who is to be regarded as the high priest of his flock, and from whom the life in Christ of the faithful under his care in a certain sense derives and upon whom it depends, must promote, regulate, and be vigilant over the liturgical life in his diocese. It is to him that in this Instruction is entrusted the regulating of the discipline of concelebration (cf. nos. 202, 374) and the establishing of norms regarding the function of serving the priest at the altar (cf. no. 107), the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds (cf. no. 283), and the construction and ordering of churches (cf. no. 291). With him lies responsibility above all for fostering the spirit of the sacred Liturgy in the priests, deacons, and faithful" (GIRM 387).

Let us unpack this a bit.

The bishop establishes norms for who may assist the priest at the altar; if we look at GIRM 107, cited above, the bishop has total discretion over who may serve as acolyte, lector, cantor, sacristan, and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and in general regulate the conduct of all who serve at the altar or handle Holy Communion. If he wished, a bishop could do the following:

  • Direct all who serve the altar to reverence the Eucharist with a genuflection (instead of a bow) unless they are physically incapable of doing so.
  • Phase out female altar servers and return to male-only servers, as Fr. Joseph Illo did in San Francisco.
  • Mandate that all servers wear the cassock.
  • Direct cantors and scholas within his diocese to use only traditional chants during communion, as well as avoid any hymns which refer to the Eucharist as "bread and wine" or speak of the altar as a "table."
  • Do away with EMHC, or at least reduce their ranks or offer stricter guidelines of when they can be utilized.
GIRM 283 says "The diocesan Bishop may establish norms for Communion under both kinds for his own diocese." In theory, a bishop could go back to a more traditional practice of reception whereby communion under both kinds is reserved for special occasions or communities. Apart from any supernatural considerations, merely making the reception of communion under both species rarer, as well as restricting who may handle the sacred species, would psychologically elevate the importance of Holy Communion in the minds of the faithful—and that is before we even begin to consider the graces that would come through such changes.

But I think the individual bishop's greatest mechanism for using his authority to promote Eucharistic piety is found in GIRM 291, which gives the bishop authority over "the construction and ordering of Churches." GIRM 291 says:
"For the proper construction, restoration, and remodeling of sacred buildings, all who are involved in the work are to consult the diocesan commission on the sacred Liturgy and sacred Art. The diocesan Bishop, moreover, should use the counsel and help of this commission whenever it comes to laying down norms on this matter, approving plans for new buildings, and making decisions on the more important issues."

So the bishop, through his diocesan commission on liturgy and sacred art, can lay down norms for how churches are to be constructed or remodeled and can even mandate that all such plans must be personally approved by himself. The implications of this are astounding when you think of it. Any bishop could:
  • Create a diocesan commission on liturgy and sacred art whose members are all wholly committed to the restoration of Eucharistic piety and make this the matrix through which they view all changes to church structures.
  • Direct all parishes to replace table altars with wall altars suitable for ad orientam celebration.
  • Mandate all tabernacles be placed in the center of the sanctuary.
  • Approve only sacred art that is traditional and tasteful.
  • Establish certain norms for the appearance and materials of sacred objects such as altars, ambos, etc. that ensure a traditional aesthetic.
  • Prohibit the use of "Resurrectifixes" in parish sanctuaries.
  • Decree that every parish must have—and utilize—a functional altar rail.
  • Only allow traditional stained glass windows, not weird 1960's Pablo Picasso looking window images.
  • Mandate all parishes must have pews with kneelers; no more chairs.
  • Approve only those renovations which are based on some sort of traditional design (i.e., no more space ship churches).
  • Establish a fund for the express purpose of helping less well-off parishes pay for the most important restorations.
  • Decree that all monstrances meet certain artistic standards and aren't ugly, modern looking objects.

And these are only considering the prerogatives that flow from a bishop's specific authority over church buildings and those who serve at the altar. If we step back and look at a bishop's general competency over his flock as pastor of the diocese, he has even more opportunities. He could:

  • Celebrate his own Masses in the cathedral in such a way that offers the faithful an exemplary model of Eucharistic piety.
  • Insist on these norms when he travels and celebrates Masses in the parishes of his diocese.
  • Go on a tour of all his parishes promoting Eucharistic adoration and Eucharistic chapels.
  • Call for more Eucharistic processions as well as preside over more of them personally.
  • Hire individuals in the offices of religious education and catechesis who are committed to the truths of the Eucharist and promoting Eucharistic piety and decree that all such catechists working in parishes be committed to a similar vision—and encourage and back up pastors to dismiss such catechists as do not affirm these things.
  • Ensure that proper Eucharistic doctrine is taught in diocesan seminaries; forbid the use of such texts as question or belittle the understanding of the Eucharist.
  • Make Eucharistic adoration a regular, structured part of the formation of seminary candidates and in general instill in seminarians a love for the Holy Eucharist. 

Now, thus far we have only considered what an individual bishop can accomplish. But the initial complain we twere evaluating came from the USCCB, the national episcopal conference of the United States. When we look at what a national episcopal conference has the authority to do, the scope of episcopal negligence becomes more appalling. GIRM 390 says:

It is up to the Conferences of Bishops to decide on the adaptations indicated in this General Instruction and in the Order of Mass and, once their decisions have been accorded the recognitio of the Apostolic See, to introduce them into the Missal itself. These adaptations include
  • The gestures and posture of the faithful (cf. no. 43);
  • The gestures of veneration toward the altar and the Book of the Gospels (cf. no. 273);
  • The texts of the chants at the entrance, at the presentation of the gifts, and at Communion (cf. nos. 48, 74, 87);
  • The readings from Sacred Scripture to be used in special circumstances (cf. no. 362);
  • The form of the gesture of peace (cf. no. 82);
  • The manner of receiving Holy Communion (cf. nos. 160, 283);
  • The materials for the altar and sacred furnishings, especially the sacred vessels, and also the materials, form, and color of the liturgical vestments (cf. nos. 301, 326, 329, 339, 342-346).
Directories or pastoral instructions that the Conferences of Bishops judge useful may, with the prior recognitio of the Apostolic See, be included in The Roman Missal at an appropriate place.
This is extremely broad. The USCCB could call for universal communion on the tongue and kneeling. In such places where the Missal says standing or kneeling are acceptable, they could mandate kneeling. The could ordain a specific set of approved chants for Holy Communion. According to the last bullet point, the USCCB could direct that only traditional liturgical vessels and vestments be used.

Now, of course, all of this has to be approved by the Holy See with the Apostolic recognitio if it were to actually be incorporated into the GIRM in use in the United States, and who knows how that would go. But that's beside the point; the fact is, they have never even tried.

This is why the episcopal hand-wringing over "What can we do about Catholics' lagging belief in the Real Presence?" doesn't arouse my sympathy. The contemporary American hierarchy has made no effort to solve the problem because they are too dependent upon the masses of quasi-believing Catholics to keep the diocesan apparatus functional—and they fear the backlash of what would happen should they try to actually change things. And so nothing happens, and they wonder why the problem persists; to again quote Ned Flanders' parents, "We've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas."

Let us pray for our bishops, that they will find the courage to do what needs to be done and trust in God to give the increase where man has sown and watered.