Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thanks for the Homily, Father

So several times in the history of this blog I have harped on the problems related to missionary orders and missionary priests (see "Interreligious Dialogue: A Case Study of the Columban Missions" and "What's Wrong With Missionary Priests?"). And boy, there are huge obstacles out there. As far as I can tell, it all bound up with the Church's identity crisis: If we Catholics are not sure what we are supposed to be doing, how can we convincing spread our Faith to others? And so missionary priests end up as glorified humanitarian aid workers.

Today at my parish we had a missionary priest from India. I am happy to say that after years of disappointment, it was refreshing to finally here a missionary actually talking about bring people to Jesus. To talk about salvation. It was wonderful. And he wasn't a traditional order priest or anything; he was just a Novus Ordo diocesan priest. But he preached about the Great Commission. About the necessity of bringing Christ to people. About baptism. About India's great Christian traditions, both those begun by St. Thomas as well that brought by St. Francis Xavier and the 16th century Jesuits. He offered actual spiritual insights that were relevant.

I remember recently on one of my travels I heard a priest saying how he was preaching on Purgatory at this parish. And afterward a woman came up to him and said, "I never really thought about it, but I think that was the first sermon I heard on Purgatory in thirty years!" I think the same is true with the necessity of bringing the Gospel to pagans. Maybe intellectually Catholics know the Great Commission is out there, but it is so seldom preached about these days.

This is no surprise. Muslims worship the same God. Jews are no longer in need of conversion. Protestants are brethren. Orthodox are not to be expected to return to unity with Rome. Aberrosexuals  are not to be made uncomfortable in any way. Pagans are able to find God in their own rituals and mythologies. Given all this, one wonders who is left that actually needs to hear the Gospel. Mafioso and arms dealers, according to Pope Francis; but they are a lost cause because the pope has already said they are going to Hell.

The point is, you can't mentally affirm one thing but act in a manner contrary to it for forty years. You can't affirm the Great Commission is still a mandate while acting as if there is no particular class of people who actually need Christ and His Church. You cannot say the Great Commission applies to persons individually but not to the Church collectively (related: "The Great Commission is Institutional"). To purport to be able to do so is the worst form of Doublespeak, which the human mind cannot long endure. This is why, given a disconnect between what is taught and what is actually happening "on the ground", the praxis becomes dominant and the teaching fades into the background - not forgotten, but kind of ignored, as the woman noted about Purgatory. 

And sometimes it takes an encounter with the truth to shock you out of it - to hear a real good sermon on Purgatory before you realize you haven't heard one in thirty years; or to meet a regular, diocesan missionary priest who cared about bringing souls to Christ before you realize you had kind of forgotten that those sorts of priests actually existed anymore.

Thanks for the homily, Father.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Memorizing the Readings

This weekend I was traveling out of state and went to Mass in a beautiful historic church from the late 19th century. It has preserved all of its original neo-Gothic decor; of course, a little table altar had been added in front of the high altar, but at least nothing had been positively destroyed.

The liturgy was novus ordo but was done very well as NO liturgies go. The priest in charge evidently cared a great deal about having things done "decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). But during the readings something happened I had never encountered before. The lector who was doing the first readings had apparently memorized the entire reading. This allowed him to not look at the lectionary the entire time; he maintained a steady eye-contact with the congregation and projected his voice in a commanding tone. It was like he was reciting lines, not reading from the lectionary.

For a moment I really did not know what to think about this. In terms of objective quality of the delivery, sure it was better - he had all the emphasis at the right points, was more engaging to listen to, and delivered the reading in an objectively better manner than I have heard most lectors who are just kind of stumbling along over the words in the book. Obviously, taking the care to memorize the reading gave him a much greater familiarity with the text than if he were merely reading it, and it showed in the way he delivered the lines with confidence and depth.

But, it also bothered me some. Regardless of the objective quality of the "delivery", it felt like he ought to be reading out of the book. I thought to myself, "How would I feel if the priest had memorized the Canon of the Mass and delivered it without any reference to the Missal?" And that idea ruffled me greatly; it seems that the book, lectionary or Missal, is not simply there as an aid to help the priest or lector remember what he is supposed to be saying. The book is not like an incidental accoutrement to the liturgy; it is not a kind of glorified cue card that is there to remind the priest or lector of the words but can be dispensed with if they have their "lines" memorized.

Rather, the lectionary and Missal are the tangible representations of the Tradition. When the lector reads from the lectionary and the priest prays from the Missal, he is demonstrating that he is receiving what has been handed on. It is a kind of reverence towards the Tradition. And if I recall, Klaus Gamber makes this same argument in The Reform of the Roman Liturgy.

However well a priest or lector might memorize the words, it ultimately becomes a performance. That's why I noticed that this lector's reading had a certain sort of theatrical affectation to it that I found distracting.Ultimately I felt it was not something I liked. I would prefer the person reading drably rather than someone delivering memorized "lines" with great gusto. It seems like a more proper way of acknowledging that what you are doing is not your own creation- it's something you have received and are handing on.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Nonum Anniversarium

Because I was so busy I actually managed to let yesterday pass without noting that two days ago, June 29th, was the ninth anniversary of the founding of this blog. Has it really been almost a decade? That is just...insane.

Thank you to everyone who has helped contribute to this blog and website, both past and present: Anselm, Maximus, Noah, John, Amanda, Wes, and all the rest. And especial thanks to you, the readers!

I apologize my posts have been scarce as of late. I am unimaginably busy. But you'll be happy to know that yesterday I recorded three more videos in the series on homosexual so-called marriage that I begun back in August of last year (see here). These videos should be available by the end of the month. The subjects of the three new videos are the role of religion in public life, cooperation in objectively sinful acts (vis-a-vis Christian businesses assisting at homosexual so-called weddings), and whether homosexual marriage is a civil right, which is just a video version of this essay I posted on the website.

Hopefully I will have more time in the future to get back into the swing of things. I also want to thank my friends who have promoted this blog over the years and allowed me other venues for writing, especially Ryan Grant of Athanasius Contra Mundum/Mediatrix Press, and Richard Aleman of Distributist Review, and anyone else I am forgetting.

I will remember you all in my Holy Hour tonight.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tradition "On the Ground"

For as long as I can remember following developments within the Catholic world, there is always a particular way the mainstream conservative Catholics have responded to various crises within the Church - and I mean things like liturgical abuse, abuse of canon law, profanation of the Blessed Sacrament, or whatever. And that is to simply cite papal or magisterial documents. Is the Eucharist being profaned? Cite Eucharistia de Ecclesia. A papal address on canonical norms. Trot out Sacrosanctum Concilium to address liturgical deviations. Reams and reams of documents. 

Of course, that never works. Has any liturgically deviant priest ever had a concerned congregant bring him a copy of Sacrosanctum Concilium and been like, "What!? Gregorian chant is supposed to have pride of place? I had no idea!" and then changed anything? Has a priest who calls the entire congregation up to the altar to stretch out their arms an "co-consecrate" with him ever ceased doing so because some parishioner showed him a document that told him it was not allowed?  Well, I suppose at least the parishioners tried; God will reward them.

But this kind of naive trust in the efficacy of documents is related to the modern Magisterium's notion that it can create tradition by issuing documents. The post-Vatican II Church was not the product of an organic development of tradition, but in many respects was an ad hoc creation of committees of experts who simply conjured up the modern Church out of thin air.  It was assumed that new theology, morality, and even the Mass itself could simply be established by magisterial fiat.

And despite the disorders it created, the post-Conciliar Magisterium continued to try to reform the Church by mere judicial decree, regardless of how ineffective those decrees were.

Now, I am not at all suggesting the Church does not need to legislate. Humanae Vitae remains authoritative, even if it is ignored. The point is not that documents should not be issued, but that we should remember that an authoritative document exists not to create the truth, not to establish the tradition, but to attest to it - to bear witness to it.

And if the truth it is bearing witness to is not actually being observed by the Church "on the ground", then these documents become strange creatures that somehow retain their theoretical authority while losing any practical authority. What practical authority does a document have that 99% of Catholics ignore?

Like it or not, the tradition is what is going on on the ground. It might not be the "authentic" expression of tradition (like liturgical dancing is not an authentic expression of the Roman rite, or any expression of it for that matter), but to a large degree what establishes tradition is not some documents, but what is actually happening out in the Catholic world. If the 95% of the parishes are doing communion in the hand, that is the tradition that is being established. It is not a good tradition; it is not authoritative or authentic - but it is a tradition, and one that is supplanting the authentic Tradition. And it does no good to appeal to an ecclesial dictate that exists only on paper and is being observed by nobody.

Liturgical abuse does not stop by citing documents saying it should not happen when the reality is it happens all over. Tradition "on the ground" has diverged from tradition-in-writing, and whatever the theological truth of the matter, the practical authority of the Magisterial documents grows weaker and weaker as Catholic "tradition" becomes synonymous with "whatever is actually happening out there."

The new Catholic tradition is spreading all over and multiplying; it is what is happening "on the ground" in a million parishes across the globe. What ultimately matters is what is happening, not what is talked about. Ironically, Pope Francis is the first post-Conciliar pontiff who really seems to get this.

How will it all be combated? By citing documents? The way to combat this faux-tradition is not by citing documents, but by living the authentic Tradition.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Let's Suppose...

Let's suppose - just hypothetically - that most of all Catholic marriages today are invalid. And let's suppose that the reason they are invalid is because the partners, when entering into their marriage, were deficient in some aspect of the faith, or did not fully understand that marriage was indissoluble. They were not sufficiently educated. Let's just suppose that this was the case, that such a lack of knowledge rendered the sacrament invalid.

In that case, the sacrament of marriage would be reserved with those to who have an exceptional level of faith and certain degree of education. Not only the right intention, but also a sufficient level of education would be necessary for the sacrament to be valid.

And not only a certain degree, but an amazing degree, if the knowledge possessed by the majority of Catholics in the most information-rich, hyper-educated age in history was not enough to prevent the majority of their marriages from being invalid.

If that were all true, would it not mean that the sacraments were rewards for the educated, trophies for the righteous, rather than medicine for sinners? 

Because I thought heard somewhere that sacraments are not rewards for the righteous but medicine for the sinners? Or something like that... 

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Hey, Lionel...

Hey Lionel. Yeah, you know who I'm talking about. You go by "Catholic Mission." Do you want to know why in all the many years I have been blogging I never publish any of your comments? Because you never make your comment relevant to anything we are talking about. And you have constantly been blathering about the same three subjects for the past six years. 

On this article about Pope Francis and Kiril, you're spamming about "Cushingism" and extra ecclesiam nulla salus and Vatican II:

Then on this video about Catholic Tradition, again, we get more on Cushingism and Fennyism, with the standard barrage of spammy links I am used to getting from you:

Then on the same post, when I didn't publish your first spammy comment, you post another - same old talking points, extra ecclesiam nulla salus and Vatican II. Then some reference to the Synod even though the post had nothing to do with the Synod. And more spammy links.

And this...what on earth does this have to do with Ganswein's comments?

And this is only a fraction of the spam you try to post. Lionel, please, number one rule for of etiquette for commenting on blogs is please say something relevant to the post - don't just use the post as an occasion to post spammy links to your own garbled work. As long as you can't seem to get that, I will never, ever post any of your comments. Post your own thoughts, relevant to the article you are commenting on, and without spammy links to your own site.

I have been very fortunate on this blog to have a great group of people leaving comments. I'm sorry to call this out publicly, but you have been pestering me for the better part of six years with this nonsense weekly and I am sick of it. Observe some basic etiquette or just go away. 


In response to this post, Lionel tried to spam me again, suggesting that no matter what I post about, his ramblings are somehow always relevant - and repeating the same old three taking points he always has.


After my first update, Lionel posted again, again reiterating the same points. Blah blah blah. Lionel, please learn blogging etiquette and stop posting your spammy, irrelevant comments. I know you don't believe it, but not every article on Catholic Tradition is immediately relevant to EENS, Cardinal Cushing, Feeny, and some letter from 1949. In fact, I don't even understand what you're argument is because this is so illegible. I don't know what "problem" you are saying I can't address because I've never bothered to address any of your nonsense. Stop spamming this blog, or learn to post comments relevant to the discussion and actually engage in discussion with other people. It's like you only have a single dialogue going in your mind and all you can do is repeat it ad nauseam across the blogosphere. Please go away.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Benedict XVI, Ganswein & a Dual Papacy

Rorate is featuring an article by their anonymous cleric Pio Pace. In this article, Pio Pace posits what is in my opinion a ridiculous claim about Mgsr. Ganswein's comments about the "dual papacy."

You no doubt know to what I am referring; Ganswein stated that with the abdication of Benedict XVI, the Petrine ministry had been "enlarged" to include two popes - an active pope and a contemplative pope. So we would have a single Petrine ministry with two dual heads. This is not entirely new; both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis had hinted at a similar idea in the past. 

This is of course, absurd. And Pio Pace admits it, stating that the idea "makes no sense whatsoever" from a theological viewpoint. How ever, in order to save face for Benedict, he posits that the bizarre comments have some sort of "political" motive - that Ganswein and Benedict are attempting to posit Benedict as a "statue" of condemnation against Jorge Bergoglio in order to somehow weaken the legitimacy of the "active pope."

This claim is frankly ridiculous. It is an attempt to try to save face for Benedict XVI by trying to find some legitimizing motive behind the words of Ganswein, and ergo Benedict XVI, who has said similar things in the past.

Pio Pace says the theological explanation for the dual papacy concept "makes no sense whatsoever." The implication seems to be that Benedict XVI would never utter such a theological novelty. Therefore he defaults to assuming some "political" motive that makes Benedict into a clandestine anti-Bergolglian activist. The truth is much simpler: Benedict does in fact believe a theological premise that "makes no sense whatsoever."

This is one issue Traditionalists need to get over: Benedict XVI is not the "traditional" pope as opposed to Bergoglio the progressive pope. Benedict had a certain nostalgia for the traditional liturgy (and in my opinion it was nothing more than nostalgia), but he was a theological progressive in many ways. And with his abdication the "traditional" Pope Benedict perpetrated the greatest novelty of the modern papacy.

Anyone who has really studied the writings of Joseph Ratzinger knows that much of his theology is severely problematic. In fact, it is easier to find objectively heretical statements in the writings of Ratzinger than it is in John Paul II.

This is not to say Benedict is bad or was a failure as pope; but it is to say that we need not bend over backwards to read the bizarre statements coming from him or Ganswein as some sort of clandestine attack on Pope Francis. 

The reason Ganswein and Benedict have discussed an "enlarged" Petrine ministry is simply because Benedict really believes it. That's all there is to it; there's no subtle attempt to condemn Bergoglio. Benedict and Bergoglio are in fundamental agreement on this issue. Benedict has been a friend to Traditionalism, but only in an accidental sense. Essentially, he is a Teilhardian who thinks the Church needs to evolve - a stage in the "complexification" of spirit - and the enlargement of the Petrine ministry is probably just one aspect of this.

That's the simple truth.

Friday, May 06, 2016

The Phantasm of Fiat Continuity

Back at the Second Vatican Council, the Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae made a very interesting statement. The opening paragraph of the declaration states that the document "leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ" - and immediately after stating that traditional Catholic doctrine remains "untouched", goes on over fifteen chapters to propose things that had never before been expressed in any official organ of Catholic teaching. Theologians have been muddled ever since trying to figure out how such a novel document can be reconciled with tradition - how such a document can leave Catholic doctrine "untouched" while seemingly overturning it in every paragraph.

Not everybody is bothered by this. Many people will simply take the Declaration's statement that traditional doctrine is "untouched" as establishing the fact, as if there mere statement of continuity is all that matters. 

One recent example is Pope Francis' off the cuff statements on intercommunion between Lutherans and Catholics. After seemingly suggesting that Lutherans could receive Communion in the Catholic Church if their conscience was clear about it, Cardinal Gerhard Müller stepped in to do damage control. But rather than explain how the pope's comments could be reconciled with Catholic doctrine, he merely declared that they were in line with Catholic doctrine and said other inferences were "misunderstandings" - all the while never addressing the pope's actual comments. Please see our article here for a more thorough review of this problem

But who cares? Müller declared continuity so continuity is established.

A more recent example is the hubbub over Amoris Laetitia. Full disclosure: I did not read Amoris Laetitia. Maybe I will someday. I have better things to do with my time, honestly. But I have taken a look at some of the questionable passages, including the controversial footnote 351. And I have read a lot of commentary on it. From what I can see, my raw opinions on the document's controversial passages are fairly in line with what Ed Peters wrote on his blog a month ago. Peters is certainly no traditionalist, but he points out real, substantial problems with the document in terms of some of its assumptions and inherent confusions. Other critics have made further assumptions about the implications of the document (that it allows wiggle room for communion for adulterers, that it implicitly adopts a moral theology of gradualism, that downgrades the obligations of Christian marriage to the level of an ideal, etc).

I am not asserting any of these things, especially as I have not read the document. But others have, such as Athanasius Schneider, who said the document was vulnerable to misinterpretation and needed clarification. 

Now, not every statement of the Magisterium needs a full apologetic for every sentence. But I would also add that they do need them occasionally, especially in eras of great confusion. If there is considerable confusion of how a document is in continuity with tradition, the Magisterium ought to explain how it is in continuity.

But the party line so often is to simply state the document is in continuity without bothering to give us the details - without explaining how. Following the precedent set by Dignitatis Humanae, it's like they think that merely asserting continuity establishes the fact. Sometime over the years they stopped identifying the elements of continuity and restricted themselves to merely proclaiming it. Never mind how. Never mind that educated theologians, canonists and bishops still can't understand in what sense the documents have continuity. Continuity has been declared, ergo it exists by Magisterial fiat.

Thus with Amoris Laetitia. Cardinal Müller comes out and states that Amoris Laetitia is in perfect continuity with tradition. He states that Francis did not mean to call the teaching of his predecessors into question. Fine. But what about those passages that do seem to contradict Familiaris Consortio and Sacramentum Caritatis, like, you know, footnote 351? The cardinal says footnore 351 is only making some very general observations and that's about all we should take away from it, “Without going into detail." Without going into detail? Detail is what we need at this point, sir.

He then simply restates the traditional teaching and says that Amoris Laetitia "does not touch on the former discipline.” His only other comment on the footnote is that if the pope thought it was so important, he wouldn't have included it as merely a footnote.

None of this actually parses what the pope said or explains how it is in continuity; after all, Müller wanted to discuss it "without going into detail." But who cares? Continuity has been declared. The fact is established.

Cardinal Raymond Burke is another example. His essay on the Amoris Laetitia states that "the task of pastors and other teachers of the faith is to present it within the context of the Church’s teaching and discipline." I agree wholeheartedly. But when we don't understand how to reconcile certain statements with the Church's teaching and discipline, you need to tell us how, sir. 

While he admirably addressed the false assertion that Christian marriage is merely an ideal, Burke likewise fails to offer us any way to reconcile the Pope's meanings with tradition. He states: 

"The Church’s official doctrine, in fact, provides the irreplaceable interpretative key to the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, so that it may truly serve the good of all the faithful, uniting them ever more closely to Christ, who alone is our salvation. There can be no opposition or contradiction between the Church’s doctrine and her pastoral practice."

Yes! There can be no opposition between doctrine and practice. Now please explain how the document does not create such an opposition. Merely stating there isn't one does not establish anything.

You can't create continuity just by saying it exists. You can't tell us the traditional teaching is untouched when the context of the words seems to suggest otherwise - and if we are wrong, then please explain how. Please explain how things are not in discontinuity. You cannot create continuity by fiat decree. You cannot substitute a phantasm for substance.

Friday, April 22, 2016

I Give Up

No, I'm not giving up blogging. But I am giving up making any effort to comment or follow the developments of the current pontificate. Not that I had really been keeping up that much anyway; I reject - at least personally - the identity of a quasi-professional commentator who basically ties himself to current events and feeds his readership a never-ending digest of his "take" on what's going on. Honestly, reading about Iron Age ruins in Palestine or 6th century Irish saints is much more interesting and edifying to me than dwelling on what could possibly be going on in the mind of our current Roman Pontiff.

I had offered some commentary though - and I am still sludging through working an eBook on Laudato Si. But, man, I give up. Amoris Laetitia? Haven't read it. Not planning on it. Maybe someday when I'm like, extra bored or feel like punishing myself. Latest papal interviews? Haven't followed them. Probably won't. Speculating about papabile or the "next moves" of Francis or whatever...I don't care.

Well, I mean, I do care in the objective sense - but its too much, I'm too busy, and honestly, none of this stuff concerns my faith in any substantial manner. Some people are terribly scandalized by all of it; some I know have gone over to Sedevacantism or converted to Orthodoxy. I don't doesn't really bother me in a sense that touches on my faith. Perhaps I am too much a student of Church history to be deceived into thinking any higher of the Church's human element than it merits. How would you feel if you were alive in the 10th century and witnessed Pope John XII offering a toast to the devil? Or witnessed the Cadaver Synod? Yeah, it sucks. I know. But my faith was never in the human perfection of the Roman Pontiff anyway.

And - as I have continued to study the obscure saints of the Church, like when I was working on the book about St. Columba - it amazed me the degree to which what went on in Rome was completely, absolutely irrelevant to the lives of these holy men and women. Indeed, many saints in the most distant regions of Christendom were not even aware of who the pontiff is. I have read many stories of travelers from Rome coming to far-off places and the bishops there saying, "You're from Rome? Tell me, who is pope now?" and then finding out that two or three popes have come and gone without their knowledge.

One final thing -it is ironic to me that it was easier being a Traditional blogger when we had a quasi-traditional pope (I say quasi-traditional because Benedict XVI was never a Traditionalist in any meaningful sense - he is a Teilhardian who has a sentimental, nostalgic affection for the Latin Mass). Why would it be easier to complain under a tradition-friendly pope? Not that the essence of Traditionalism is complaining, of course, but the fact is to the degree that we do "complain", it is easier to do when you perceive that the man in power is amenable to your critiques; you feel like there is a chance that someone may listen, and ultimately you have the consolation of knowing that he, to some degree, has got your back, at least in theory.

But when the guy in charge has absolutely zero interest in your concerns - and indeed, when it is questionable whether he even shares the most basic theological and philosophical assumptions as historic Catholicism - there is a strong sense of "Why bother?"

So, no I am not giving up blogging. But I'm giving up trying to keep up with this pontificate. I am a Catholic; I love the papacy. In fact, it was the study of the Petrine Primacy that led me back to the Church fourteen years ago. But never has a papacy been so irrelevant to my faith as this one. I have enough to worry about in my own spiritual life.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Punishment for Abortion

This week, my Facebook feed is on fire with Catholic friends and Pro-Life activists insisting that it has never been a Pro-Life position advocate punishing women who procure abortions. These folks are appalled that anyone would suggest such a thing. It is like, they are utterly disgusted that it could possibly be suggested that women be held legally responsible for the murder of their child.

I for one never gave this much thought until; probably because it seems like such a stretch to imagine a situation where abortion is illegal, let alone argue about who should be punished for it. I think I always assumed that in Christendom there would be some legal penalty for women who procured abortion. After giving this some more thought this week, I have to say I am not totally opposed to the concept of punishing women who have abortions.

It has been a staple of the Pro-Life movement that abortion is murder. If that is the case, then the abortionist is a murderer and the woman who procures and abortion is an accessory to murder. This is rather straight forward. This is the fundamental truth.

However, it seems that another staple of the Pro-Life movement has been to portray the woman as the "victim" in an abortion case: a victim of Pro-Choice propaganda, of Planned Parentood, of unsympathetic relatives who insist on abortion, of the abortionists who downplay the risks and reality of abortion - and, after the abortion has been carried out, a victim of her own guilt.

Anyone who has dealt with women who have had abortions knows that they are under tremendous suffering and often struggling with immense guilt over their deed. In order to help these women heal, the Pro-Life movement has usually chosen a "soft" approach with these women, which necessarily implies helping them get over the guilt of their deed. The "victim" approach makes this easy.

But while the victim approach may be helpful from a psychological point of view with regard to helping the woman heal, there are also legal ramifications. A person has been murdered. The mother who procures the abortion has ordered the murder of a human being. Yes, the abortionist did the killing, but at the mother's behest and with her consent. If abortion truly is murder, then the mother is truly an accessory.

From a legal standpoint, how can that irrelevant? While most Pro-Lifers would advocate strict punishments for abortionists, should the accessory to murder simply go away with no legal ramifications for ordering the death of a human being?

Yes, these women are hurting. Yes, they are probably very troubled. But everybody who murders somebody else is troubled. That is nothing new. And the fact that someone is hurting or confused or guilty or whatever has never been a legal argument that they should not be punished for being an accessory for murder. Yes, the mother is often repentant...but so are many people who kill other people. When has that been justification to omit any legal penalty?

If I hire a hit-man to kill my wife, the hit-man is the murderer and I am an accessory to murder. Both of us will be charged with crimes. Now, if we really believe abortion is actually murder, how can it not be inferred logically that the woman who wills murder, pays for murder, assents to murder, and procures murder is not also legally responsible, at least to some extent?

Will it help women heal from abortion by advocating a legal punishment? I don't know. I don't know if it helps the murderer heal to throw him in prison. I am not addressing a psychological question, but a legal one - is it just that the accessory of murder be punished, at least in some sense?

I am not here advocating any particular punishment. I am merely asking - is advocating some legal ramifications for women who have abortions really that far out there? Should Pro-Lifers who have loudly insisted for 40 years that abortion is murder really be so mortified that someone should suggest that the accessories to murder face some legal penalty for this? It does not seem really that far fetched.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

USC Videos: The Role of Catholic Tradition

So, if you read this blog you probably know who Dave Armstrong is. He has been doing popular Catholic apologetics for years. He runs a blog on Patheos and used to have another website, which I believe is now defunct or redirects to the Patheos site.

I have had several run-ins with Dave over the years and we have butted heads on the issue of Catholic Traditionalism. I have kind of argued with Dave in my comboxes, published articles rebutting things he said that I disagreed with, and bantered with him on Facebook over the years. Other traditionalists have had similar encounters with him - often leading to someone getting banned from Dave's Facebook page.

I have to be honest, I would get so riled up reading Dave's comments on "radical traditionalism" that I unfollowed him on Facebook - not because I dislike Dave personally, but because I was wasting so much time reading his long threads and arguing back and forth. This was last summer I believe.

Well, you might not know it, but Dave and I live only an hour away from each other. He and I have many mutual friends. Dave, to his credit, seems to have not been happy with the way some of his interactions with traditionalists had gone and reached out to me last Fall to kind of build some bridges. Dave has monthly gatherings at his home where he invites speakers to address a variety of topics relevant to the faith. He reached out to me and asked if I would come to his home to speak to his friends about "authentic traditionalism." I agreed. The result was this video.

There were about fifteen people there, including Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Professor of Theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, and Dr. Phil Blosser, Professor of Philosophy at Sacred Heart and blogmaster of the excellent blog Musings of a Pertinacious Papist, which has generously linked to this blog over the years.

A few notes - I know people will object to my comments early on that some people can be "too nit-picky" about liturgy and that this can be a fault. Some people think you can never be too particular about liturgy. I'm sorry, I disagree. When your priest, despite huge opposition, begins to offer the Latin Mass and you complain about his pronunciation; when you tap somebody on the shoulder before Mass and tell them that the genuflected on the wrong knee; when a volunteer amateur choir director puts in arduous hours preparing the chants for Sunday and you complain about the quality of the polyphony - I'm sorry, you are being too nit-picky.

One interesting thing was that both Dave and I wanted to make sure the presentation of the argument for tradition was positive - that is, it was not centered on the problems with Vatican II or exclusively on abuses or papal scandal or things like that. It was to be centered on the positive value of tradition considered in itself, not in relation to all the terrible things happening right now.

I also mention at the end that I am interested in promoting a traditionalism that is not bound up with the fate of the SSPX. For those who read this blog this should be nothing new. I pray for the SSPX to be reconciled fully with the Church. But I do not think traditionalism stands or falls with the SSPX.

Special thanks to Dave for extending the invitation to me. I had a chance to have dinner with Dave and his family before the talk and - as is the case with most humans - he is much more likable in person than as a name in a combox. We still have our disagreements, of course, but that doesn't mean we have to personally dislike each other.

Anyhow, if you're interested, take a look. And subscribe to our Youtube channel.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Woman Caught in Adultery

In today's Gospel, we heard the story from the Gospel of John of the woman caught in adultery. Of course it is the source of the famous anecdote, "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone" (cf. John 8:7).

This is one of the best known sayings of Jesus, but I also believe that this story as a whole is one of the least understood. What was Jesus really saying when He said, "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone"?

The story if often made into a moral about not judging. The assumption is that the Pharisees were being harshly judgmental in publicly accusing the woman of adultery. In their insistence that she suffer the penalty of death they are calling for a strict application of justice without any mercy. When Jesus says, "Let he among who is without sin cast the first stone", our Lord is reminding the Pharisees that everybody is a sinner and we are all in need of God's mercy. The people holding the stones, reflecting on their own sinfulness, suddenly realize they are in no position to pass judgment on the sins of another and go away. Then Jesus mercifully forgives the woman and sends her on her way.

The central assumption of this common interpretation is that, when confronted with Jesus' comment, the Pharisees realized that they were all sinners and that they had no moral standing to insist on the punishment of another sinner. How can they insist on the punishments prescribed by the law when they themselves are also guilty of breaking the law?

This is probably the most common manner of reading this story, and while it has a certain beauty to it, I am convinced that this is not most textually accurate way of reading this story. Here's why:

First, the Pharisees were not being out of line by accusing the woman of adultery. It was not as if this was some unfounded rumor and the Pharisees were jumping to a hasty conclusion. The text says she was caught in the very act (v. 3-4); the Pharisees were neither being judgmental nor hasty in their conclusion.

Second, recall that the Pharisees were not actually insisting that the woman suffer the death penalty. The Pharisees merely noted (rightly) that the Law of Moses called for the death penalty and asked Jesus "what do you say?" (v. 5) They were not insisting that Jesus stone the woman; they were asking for His opinion.

Why were they asking? The Scriptures tell us it was so that they might find some matter in which they could accuse Him (v. 6). Accuse Him of what? To whom? When the Pharisees set traps for our Lord, they did so in such a manner that no matter what answer He gave He would stand condemned, as in the famous example of the Temple tax ("Don't you pay taxes to Caesar?"). Their questions are set up for Him to be inescapable dilemmas.

If that was the case, it does not make sense that they would be trying to urge our Lord to stone the woman. It has to be the case that whatever course our Lord takes - death or clemency - He somehow stands condemned. We understand that if Jesus opted for clemency, the Pharisees could accuse Him of being a lawbreaker, since the Law of Moses specifically commanded death for adulterers (Lev. 20). But how could Jesus stand condemned if He agreed with the application of the death penalty?

To answer this, we need to ask about whom the Pharisees were hoping to accuse Jesus to. If He refused to execute the woman, they could accuse Him to the people as a lawbreaker. But if He carried out the sentence?

It is evident that the only answer would be the Roman authorities. If Jesus insisted on executing the woman, the Pharisees would have grounds to make an accusation against Jesus to the Romans, for the Jews under Roman occupation were not allowed to put anyone to death (John 18:31). The right to execute a capital sentence resides with the sovereign alone. Forbidding the Jews from carrying out the death sentence was an expression of Roman sovereignty. Conversely, if Jesus were to command an execution, it would be tantamount to His denial of Roman sovereignty - a claim to exercise a power independent of Rome. Our Lord would stand condemned as a rebel against Roman power in Judea.

Thus, if Jesus refuses to execute the sentence prescribed by the Law, He is a lawbreaker and could lose credibility with the people. If He agrees to execute the sentence, He makes Himself a rebel against Rome. Either way, however He chooses, He stands condemned. It is an impossible dilemma.

Thus - and this is pivotal - when Jesus stands up and says, "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone", He is not so much making an appeal to the Pharisee's conscience to consider their own sinfulness; rather, He is throwing the dilemma back upon them. Here's how.

What is often forgotten in this story is that the Pharisees really did believe they were without sin. When Jesus says "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone", this phrase was not likely to phase the Pharisees the way we assume, because the Pharisees actually assumed they were sinless. They assumed their adherence to the Law of Moses and the traditions of the elders rendered them righteous in the eyes of God. Jesus' statement cannot be construed as an appeal to their conscience. In their conscience, they believed they were sinless.

As further evidence of this, we must remember that the Law of Moses never stipulated that those who carry out the penalties of the law must themselves be sinless. Not once does the Old Testament ever infer such a principle; therefore, there is no justification for thinking the Pharisees were pricked at their own sinfulness. We have already noted that the Pharisees did not believe themselves to be sinners -  but even if they did acknowledge they had sinned, there is no reason to suppose this would have stopped them from carrying out the sentence, since the Law of Moses never said those who carried out the precepts of the Law needed to be sinless themselves.

This and the prior consideration lead us to see that it is not possible that Jesus' words were intended to prick the Pharisees' conscience about their own sinfulness. What did He intend, then?

By saying, "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone", Jesus is quite cleverly throwing the dilemma back upon the Pharisees. Those who are without sin are the best judges of what is the prudent course of action in a given situation; since the Pharisees claim to be such, let them render a judgment. This puts the Pharisees in the dilemma they intended to trap Jesus in. Now it is the Pharisees who must choose between being lawbreakers and rebels.

This is why Scripture specifically says that it was the old men among the crowd who dropped their stones and walked away first (v. 9). This is another indication that our Lord was not intending to prick their conscience about their own sinfulness. The elder, who were wiser, understood the bind our Lord had put the Pharisees in before the younger. They immediately knew they were beaten and went away. It took the younger ones awhile to figure out what had happened.

Thus, rather than seeing this story as our Lord appealing to the conscience of the Pharisees to recognize that we are all sinners, our Lord's actions actually presume that the Pharisees consider themselves sinless - this is why He is able to take the trap they laid for Him and turn it on them. It is not an appeal against judgmentalism and self-righteousness; rather, it is a clever game in Jesus uses the Pharisees' own assumed sinlessness to make them run afoul of Rome's law if they insist on carrying out the death penalty.

There remains only one question - the Scriptures clearly say that when the Pharisees approached Jesus, He was bent over and writing in the dust with His finger; this is mentioned twice (v. 6,8). But, tantalizingly enough, the Gospel does not say what He was writing. What was Jesus writing in the ground?

There is no way to know, but I would look to the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, chapter 17. There, the prophet says:
O Lord, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake thee shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from thee shall be written in the earth,
for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water (Jer. 17:13)

The names of those enemies of the Lord who forsake Him shall be written in the earth. Was our Lord writing the names of His adversaries? In that same passage, a little further down, Jeremiah says:
Let those be put to shame who persecute me,
but let me not be put to shame;
let them be dismayed,
but let me not be dismayed;
bring upon them the day of evil;
destroy them with double destruction! (Jer. 17:18)

This is perfectly applicable to what the Pharisees were doing to Jesus in John 8. They intended to make our Lord dismayed, but the dismay they intended to bring upon Him was turned upon their own heads.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Scalia and Megiddo

Many of us were saddened at the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia last week. Republicans and Democrats are going round and round with the usual political hullabaloo over Scalia's replacement and whether the nomination should be postponed until after the November elections.

But for people of faith, the question is what does this mean? Why now, God? In a time when the traditional Catholic voice is so muted, when natural law is so poorly understood, when political leadership is devoid of men devoted to the Faith - in other words, when men like Justice Scalia were so sorely needed - why, God? Why take him so suddenly, now, only a few months before the end of Barack Obama's administration? Could you not have found a better time or a better person to take, O' Lord? Why heap misery upon misery on us?

In short, I believe we are facing what I call a Megiddo Moment. Many of you may be familiar with the name Megiddo as the Hebrew source of the word Armageddon. But let us go back to the Old Testament roots of the word.

In the Old Testament, Megiddo was the site of a battle between the Israelites under King Josiah and the Egyptians under Pharaoh Necho II in 609 BC.

King Josiah was one of Judah's few righteous kings. The book of 2 Kings tells us that Josiah was most devoted to God's law of any of Judah's kings. He had purified the Temple of all the abominations introduced by the pagans, tore down the pagan altars around Judah, had the Book of Deuteronomy read to the people (which he and the priests found in the Temple after years of neglect), celebrated the Feasts of the Lord according to the Law, and in general ruled in righteousness according to God's commandments.

But how did God reward the righteousness of this king?

"In his days Pharao Necho king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went to meet him: and was slain at Megiddo, when he had seen him" (2 Ki. 23:29).

Josiah was only 39 years old when he died. He conceivably had decades ahead of him - decades more to do good and lead Judah in righteousness. Why did God cut Him off in the prime of life, despite his goodness? Our answer is found a few verses prior:

"There was no king before [Josiah] like unto him, that returned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with ail his strength, according to all the law of Moses: neither after him did there arise any like him.
But yet the Lord turned not away from the wrath of his great indignation, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah: because of the provocations, wherewith Manasseh had provoked him.
And the Lord said: I will remove Judah also from before my face, as I have removed Israel: and I will cast off this city Jerusalem, which I chose, and the house, of which I said: My name shall be there" (2 Ki. 23:25-27).

Josiah was cut off because God was determined to punish Judah for the sins of Manasseh. Manasseh was the grandfather of Josiah. Manasseh was the wickedest of all the kings of Judah. He had sacrificed children to Moloch in the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem (2 Ch. 33:6) and did more evil than any other Israelite king before or since.

When Manasseh committed these sins, he essentially pushed Judah over the edge - brought his kingdom past the point of no return. God was determined to punish Judah; not even the righteous King Josiah was enough to change anything. And because God had determined to punish, He cut the righteous king off at the prime of his life. Twenty-two years later Jerusalem fell to Babylon and the political power of the Davidic dynasty was extinguished.

Because I am a pessimist when it comes to these things, I think the death of Scalia was just such a Megiddo moment. Our nation and our people have, individually and collectively, so provoked God to wrath by our sins that we have reached a tipping point. There is only judgment now. And if a righteous branch sprouts up - someone like Scalia - God will cut him off at a very inconvenient time in order to facilitate the judgment that He has ordained.

I may be wrong...I tend towards apocalypticism and pessimism in such questions, but I suspect this is the case.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Francis and Kirill: Smoke and Mirrors

Pope Francis has concluded his historic meeting with Patriach Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in Cuba this past week. Their Joint Declaration calls for Catholic and Russian Orthodox to stand together in support of persecuted Christians, and also to give a joint witness in favor of life and traditional marriage.

There are many good things in this document, but paragraphs 24 and 25 in particular caught my attention vis-a-vis their implications for ecumenism. Here are the paragraphs in question:

24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.
We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation” (Rm 15:20).
25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

The first two paragraphs contain the standard warnings against "proselytism." While the document limits "proselytism" to only those means of conversion which use "disloyal means" to convert people, we have seen how the word "proselytism" is infused with ambiguity in modern Vatican statements. While its usage always leaves room for people to claim it means only dishonest or immoral means to win converts - as in the above citation - we also know that for Pope Francis and many theologians "proselytism" is equated with conversion pure and simple, for example, an address of Francis in Argentine in 2013 where the pope condemned proselytism and said, "Do you need to convince the other to become Catholic? No, no, no!", or when he said in Korea "with my identity and my empathy, my openness, I walk with the other. I don’t try to make him come over to me, I don’t proselytize" (source), where to "proselytize" is equated with getting the other to "come over"; i.e., convert. For more on the dishonest manner in which the word "proselytize" is used in contemporary documents, see the USC article "Proselytism and Conversion."

The most interesting statement, however, is found in paragraph 25 where the pope and patriarch reject what is called "uniatism." What is uniatism, and why is it categorically rejected?

Historically, uniatism was a means of reconciling churches of the Eastern Orthodox communion with Rome. This was done by usually establishing juridical and canonical norms particular to these communions that allowed them to retain some degree of cultural distinction in return for their recognition of the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff. This arrangement brought about ecclesial unity - hence their designation as "Uniate" churches. 

There are a total of 19 Uniate Churches with 253 bishops governing over 18 million worldwide. Some of these are very small, like the Albanian Byzantine Catholic Church (3,800 adherents) and the Greek Byzantine Catholic Church (2,400), while others are extremely large, like the Melkites and the Syro-Malankar rite, which each have near a million. The largest Uniate Church is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which has 44 bishops spread over 31 eparchies governing over 5 million Ukrainian Catholics. With 18 million adherents, the Uniate churches are by no means insignificant. It is wonderful that the new Joint Declaration concedes these 18 million Catholics "the right to exist."

By the way, since uniatism is only a method for reconciling Orthodox to Rome (and not for converting Catholics to the Orthodox), this agreement to reject uniatism is very one-sided against the Catholic Church. The Russians give absolutely no ground; the Russian Orthodox have always hated the Uniate Churches and viewed them as traitors. Thus the Joint Declaration is essentially the Catholic Church adopting the Russian Orthodox perspective on the Uniate Churches.

It is mind-boggling that uniatism is rejected as a model for reconciliation, since uniatism has historically been the single most successful method of reconciling the Orthodox. Why would the Church reject what has historically been the best tool in her chest for reconciling the orthodox? Because to do so implicitly means the uniate churches must break away from the Orthodox communion, and this is forbidden in the new world of ecumenism. This has been the Church's implicit position since the Ostpolitik of the Second Vatican Council, and was formalized in the Balamand Declaration of 1993. Please see our article on the Balamand Conference for the background of this declaration.

What this ultimately means is that, despite the show of unity between Francis and Kirill, this declaration brings us absolutely no closer to any sort of reunion between Rome and Moscow. Indeed, any such reunion is explicitly repudiated, as in paragraph 24 the Declaration bizarrely quotes Romans 15:20 out of context ("Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation”) to make the point that Rome is not seeking converts from Moscow. It is astonishing that Francis' cites St. Paul in this manner; the other "foundations" St. Paul is speaking of are other Christian churches. Let us not forget that, from the Catholic perspective, the Russian Orthodox are schismatics. There is no precedent in Catholic ecclesiology for viewing schismatic churches as other "foundations" upon which we cannot build.

More smoke and mirrors here.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Bayside Compendium

For the better part of three years now I have been promising a very large expose of the ridiculous Bayside apparitions and their absurd messages.

I honestly almost gave up on this project because it involved reading every single locution from Bayside, which proved to be the biggest waste of my time ever and unbelievably tedious. But, I finally finished and have it linked up below:


Bayside is probably one of the dumbest apparitions in existence and I don't plan to devoting much more time to it (although I think I may have one more article). And the tragic thing is people who are sold on goofy private apparitions really cannot be shaken in their convictions, so I doubt this massive article (so big it needed a Table of Contents) will change anybody's mind; if it only serves to show others how wacky and unworthy of credibility this apparition really is, my purpose will be served.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

St. Louis on Propriety in Dress

We read in Joinville’s Life of St. Louis that at Whitsunday the saintly King of France happened to be feasting with his knights at Corbeil. A dispute arose between Joinville, the king’s Seneschal, and some other knights over a matter of the propriety of certain kinds of dress:

“One Whitsunday the saintly king happened to be at Corbeil, where all the knights had assembled. He had come down after dinner in the court below the chapel, and was standing at the doorway talking to the Count of Bretagne, when Master Robert de Sorbon came to look for me, and taking a hold of the hem of my mantle, led me towards the king. So I said to Master Robert: ‘My good sir, what do you want with me?’ He replied: ‘I wish to ask you whether, if the king were seated in this court and you went and sat down at a bench, at a higher place than he, you ought to be severely blamed for doing so?’ I told him I ought to be. ‘Then,’ he said, ‘you certainly deserve a reprimand for being more richly dressed than the king, since you are wearing a fur-trimmed mantle of fine green cloth, and he wears no such thing.’

‘Master Robert,’ I answered him, ‘I am, if you’ll allow me to say so, doing nothing worthy of blame in wearing green cloth and fur, for I inherited the right to such dress from my father and mother. But you, on the other hand, are much to blame, for though both your parents were commoners, you have abandoned their style of dress, and are now wearing finer woolen cloth than the king himself.’ Then I took hold of the skirt of his surcoat and of the surcoat worn by the king, and said to Master Robert, ‘See if I am not speaking the truth.’”

At this point the king gets involved with the dispute, along with his two sons, taking first one side, then the other, in a discussion about the propriety of clothing, especially among men of authority and high rank and how much is too much. The king eventually takes the side of Joinville, admitting that it is right for a man of rank to dress according to his rank, and that it is not fitting for him to dress lower than his station out of some misguided sense of humility. He concludes with this advice:

“’As the Seneschal [Joinville] rightly says, you ought to dress well, and in a manner suited to your condition, so that your wives will love you all the more and your men have more respect for you. For, as a wise philosopher has said, our clothing and our armor ought to be of such as a kind that men of mature experience will not say that we have spent too much on them, nor younger men say that we have spent too little.’”

St. Louis is advocating moderation in clothing, neither spending too much money on clothing that it is ostentatious nor spending so little that one looks meager. But notice that moderation for St. Louis is governed by station in life. Always dress with moderation, but “in a manner suited to your condition.” A prince or prelate or person in authority does not exercise moderation by abandoning the dress and symbolic vesture of that authority. A man must dress according to his station, “so that your wives will love you all the more and your men have more respect for you.” The implication is that respect is diminished when a man does not dress according to his station.

Yes, moderation must always be exercised, by St. Louis’ point is that moderation looks different for those in different stations in life. Merely pretending we are not at one station by adopting the dress of those of a lower station is not humility.

Related: Humilty and Stations in Life

Click here to purchase Chronicles of the Crusades, containing Joinville's "Life of St. Louis", quoted in this article. There are used editions starting at one cent.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Summer Theology Program in Norcia, Italy

The Saint Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies is hosting its fifth annual Summer Theology Program in Norcia, Italy, in cooperation with the Benedictine Monks of Norcia.Displaying banner1.jpg

The St. Albert the Great Center is dedicated to the revival of higher studies in theology undertaken according to the mind and method of the great scholastics, and in particular the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.

This Summer's program is focusing on St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews. With the sacred text as the primary source, participants will also follow along the interpretive tradition of the Church by reading commentaries of the Fathers and in particular St. Thomas's commentary on the epistle. The Epistle offers the opportunity to explore in depth the subject of grace as it is found in its source, Jesus Christ, the head of the mystical body. In particular, St. Paul's letter focuses on how the excellence of the work of Christ has a three-fold extension: to the whole of creation, to the rational creature, and to the justification of the saints.

This year, in addition to the regular AMCSS tutors (including yours truly), the program is privileged to have Dr. Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College as a guest tutor who will help lead seminar discussion. Besides the daily seminars, there will be a guest lecture by Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, the founder and prior of the monastery. The two-week program reaches its climax in an authentic scholastic disputation, moderated by one of the monks.

In addition to the academic program, there is the opportunity to participate in the daily life of worship (High Mass, Divine Office) of the Benedictine monks who live and pray at the birthplace of SS. Benedict & Scholastica. Optional excursions will be planned to other nearby pilgrimage sites (such as Cascia and Assisi), as well as a longer weekend trip to Rome at the end of the program in order to have a relaxing but formative experience in the Eternal City, the glorious foundation seat of the Church.

The cost of the program includes a beautiful hardbound Latin-English edition of St. Thomas Aquinas's commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, comfortable lodging, and two meals per day: a light breakfast and an authentic five-course Italian dinner.

I'm going to be attending personally this year, for the first time since 2012, and it would be an unparalleled pleasure to meet some of this blog's fine readership there.

For more information, visit:
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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pope Francis and the Sin of Saul

Sorry I have not posted for a while…we are a family of seven and over the past two weeks every single one of us has been sick multiple times. It’s been one of those “barely keeping my head above water” sorts of months. 

A lot has been going on, too; the pope’s visit to the Synagogue of Rome, the infamous video about interreligious dialogue that constituted the pope’s January prayer intentions, the revelations that Francis flew into such a rage during the 2015 Synod at the letter of the 13 cardinals that the Swiss Guard had to clear the dining hall of Casa Santa Marta. 

Of course, I am not a papal commentator nor a reporter and I feel no obligation to comment on any of this. But I do take myself to be an amateur Scripture scholar (I emphasize amateur); I have studied the Scriptures closely and taught Sacred Scripture at the high school level for eight years. When I read the pope’s rambling sermon against “obstinate rebels” who “resist change”, as reported by Vatican Radio on Monday, January 18th, I could not help but jump in, because there is a serious misuse of Scripture in the pope’s homily.

The pope was commenting on the Old Testament readings from 1 Samuel 15, in which Saul disobeys God in the matter of retaining sheep and oxen from the defeated armies of Amalek for sacrifice. God had commanded Saul to destroy the sheep and cattle of the Amalekites as things devoted to God for destruction. But Saul retains all the cattle for himself, claiming he intends to sacrifice them later. For this sin, God rejects Saul from being King of Israel. First, here is the pope’s commentary on the reading, as well as his insights as to its contemporary application:

“In the first reading, Saul was rejected by God as King of Israel because he disobeyed, preferring to listen to the people rather than the will of God. The people, after a victory in battle, wanted to offer a sacrifice of the best animals to God, because, he said, “It’s always been done that way.” But God, this time, did not want that. The prophet Samuel rebuked Saul: “Does the Lord so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the Lord?”
“[This is] the sin of so many Christians who cling to what has always been done and do not allow others to change. And they end up with half a life, [a life that is] patched, mended, meaningless.” The sin, he said, is a “closed heart”, that “does not hear the voice of the Lord, that is not open to the newness of the Lord, to the Spirit that always surprises us.” This rebellion, says Samuel, is “the sin of divination,” and obstinacy is the sin of idolatry.

The text is taken from Vatican Radio. Notice that not all of the above is direct quotes from the pope; as is normal for the pope’s homilies, some pertinent phrases are quoted verbatim while much is paraphrased.

Note the way Francis interprets this passage. Saul has disobeyed God and lost the kingship. What was his disobedience? According to Francis, it was that Saul refuses to obey God by appealing to tradition. “It’s always been done that way”, is how the pope paraphrases Saul. “But God, this time, did not want that.” Saul is portrayed as obstinately clinging to a tradition that is now contrary to the will of God. God is attempting to innovate with a new command. Saul is not open to the “newness of the Lord.” He has closed himself off to the “surprises” of God and taken refuge behind the “meaningless” veil of custom. 

So according to Francis' exegesis, God is the innovator and Saul is the one stubbornly resisting change.

The problem is, the Scriptures suggest the exact opposite is true. If we read 1 Samuel 15, we see that Saul never once appeals to some custom of tradition to justify his disobedience. He simply makes up excuses. He says, “The people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed” (1 Sam. 15:15); a little later on he repeats his excuse: “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission which the Lord has sent me, I have brought Agag, king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” (1 Sam. 15:20-21).

These are the only two justifications Saul offers for his behavior. He does not appeal to tradition, custom, or that “it’s always been done that way.” Thus, the dichotomy the pope attempts to create between Saul the traditionalist and God the innovator is not supported by the text.

But even if Saul does not appeal to any custom of sparing sheep and oxen for sacrifice, did such a custom in fact exist? If we look back to the immediate command Saul receives from God, we see that he is told by Samuel:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on way, when they came out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass’” (1 Sam. 15:2-3).

The question then becomes, is this command something new? Is this an innovation? A "surprise" of the Holy Spirit? Pope Francis says that God’s command regarding the devoted cattle was a novelty. Remember, he contrasts Saul’s obstinate clinging to tradition with the phrase “But God, this time, did not want that.” This implies that God’s command “this time” in 1 Sam. 15:2-3 to destroy the Amalekites to a man along with their cattle was something fundamentally new – a novel act of “the Spirit that always surprises us.”

Again, this implication simply cannot be borne out by the Scriptures. What God commanded here was not something new, some innovation or “newness.” In fact, God’s command to destroy the Amalekites in totu was part of a long-standing Israelite tradition known as herem warfare.

Herem warfare was the practice of utterly destroying an opposing people along with all their material goods as an offering to the Lord. The act of sacrifice is one of destruction; when a burnt offering is made, the animal is destroyed. In herem warfare, the entire people and all their possessions are “devoted” to the Lord – i.e., dedicated to destruction. It is a kind of holy warfare in the most literal sense, where the defeated people and their entire livelihoods are made into a collective offering to the Lord.

It is not the place here to debate the morality of herem warfare; moderns seem squeamishly troubled by it. I have an entire series of essays on it, beginning here. It is my point, however, to establish that it has a long biblical pedigree. It is instituted by God in Leviticus (Lev. 27:28-29), specifically commanded against the Canaanites in Deuteronomy (Deut. 7:1-6), and reaffirmed and practiced liberally throughout the Book of Joshua. After the fall of Jericho, Achan is put to death for failing to observe the herem by stealing a wedge of Babylonian gold (Josh. 7); herem is carried out in the Book of Judges (Judg. 1:8, 25); indeed, in Judges, the Angel of the Lord even rebukes the Israelites for not practicing herem warfare severely enough; see Judg. 1:28, 2:1-5. And, as we have seen, herem is again commanded in 1 Samuel 15:2-3.

This means the command of the Lord to utterly destroy the Amalekites and devote their cattle to destruction was certainly not something "new"; it was not "surprise" of God. This was a long tradition, going back to the time of the wandering and the giving of the Law. Saul would have certainly been aware of this. God was commanding nothing new in 1 Samuel 15; He was simply instructing Saul to be faithful to the tradition of herem warfare as handed down since the time of Moses.

Not only was herem warfare a tradition in general, but the mandated destruction of the Amalekites in particular. Deuteronomy 25:17-19 reads:

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and cut off at your rear all who lagged behind you; and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget."

Far from being a "surprise", the command to eradicate the Amalekites was established many decades centuries beforehand. 

The implication of this is that Saul's sin is not an obstinate clinging to tradition, but rather an innovation! God had traditionally demanded the destruction of devoted cattle; He did so again in 1 Samuel 15:2-3. Saul was not the traditionalist but the innovator. He disobeyed the tradition of herem warfare by sparing those cattle committed to destruction. Samuel and God rebuke Saul not for stubbornly maintaining a tradition, but for deviating from it. This means Pope Francis actually got it entirely backward.

Given this, the pope's characterization of Saul as blindly clinging to custom makes absolutely no sense. A charitable interpretation of this embarrassing exegetical error would be that the pope innocently confused different stories; after all, the Church Fathers and many saints often quoted the Scripture from memory and frequently got stories confused or reported them incorrectly. That would be the charitable interpretation. The more pessimistic interpretation would be that Pope Francis simply doesn't know the Bible very well. I don't know the pope's mind and I am not going to assert that.

But I asserting that what he said on January 18th was simply incorrect from a textual standpoint and I defy anyone to prove otherwise.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Book Review: Life of St. Columba

For many years, our website has featured occasional sketches of some of the obscure saints of the Catholic Tradition. Featured under our Sancti Obscuri page on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website, these saints are usually from the first millennium and often from the British isles. What has really struck me in profiling over 50 obscure saints is that, while names like St. Beorn, St. Liutwin, and St. Plegmund might be unknown to us, these saints were often anything but obscure in their own day. Who has heard of St. Fursey of Lagny? Very few; but in fact he was the most famous Irish exorcist of his day with a fame comparable to Padre Pio in our own. Like St. Bernard, he founded several abbeys and preached the Gospel across France and England and was held in esteem by both the Anglo-Saxon kings and those of the Merovingians. Despite this, the name of St. Fursey of Lagbny has suffered with the passing of time, such that most have never heard of him (by the way, we have an article on St. Fursey).

Thus, often times we see that a saint's obscurity is not due to the obscurity of the saint, but just the vicissitudes of time, political development, the rise and fall of kingdoms, and so on. 

It was the study of the Sancti Obscuri of England and Ireland that led me to the St. Columba in particular. Columba (521-597) lived during Ireland's golden age, when monks from the Emerald Isle spread out over all of Europe with a missionary zeal that is unrivaled in the Church's history. The great St. Columba of Iona was one of Ireland's most famous missionaries of the golden age. Exiled from Ireland as a young monk for his part in the bloody Battle of Cúl Dreimhne, St. Columba removed himself and a few loyal monks to the island of Iona in Scotland's Inner Hebrides. From his Abbey at Iona he spent decades spreading the faith among the pagan Gaels and Picts of Scotland, a labor that earned him the title "Apostle of Scotland." The introduction of Christianity in Scotland and is due to Columba's work. His hagiography, the Vita Columbae ("The Life of St. Columba"), was compiled in the 7th century by his successor, St. Adomnán of Iona. Full of miracles, prophecy, and visions of the holy angels, St. Adomnán's work reveals a saint mighty in the power of God and moved by a zeal for the salvation of souls. 

The biography of St. Adomnán has been availble online in various corners of the internet, but it is not well known. Even the Community of Iona, the organization that has custody of Columba's famous monastery, does not offer any edition of  St. Adomnán's work for sale, as far as I can tell.

What is special about the new Cruachan Hill Press edition of the Life of St. Columba that you can't get elsewhere?

The new edition contains the complete biography of Adomnán, updated with historical footnotes to help better understand the people and places of St. Columba's day. It also features an original 30 page introductory essay on the life and times of the Irish golden age, the spirituality of St. Columba, and the genius of Irish Catholicism. Here is an excerpt of a page out of the introductory essay:
St. Columba was born in 521 in Gartan, now in County Donegal in Northern Ireland. He parents, Fedlimid and Eithne, were members of the local ruling dynasty, the Uí Néill clan. The Uí Néill were descended from the Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Tara who died sometime around 405. Following the death of Niall, the Uí Néill family dominated Leister and Ulster, ruling as petty kings over a small but vibrant northern Irish kingdom.
St. Columba was the great-great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages. He was baptized “Colum”, which means “dove”, and is sometimes known as Columcille, meaning “Colum of the Churches.” Columba lived during the golden age of Irish Catholicism, when the young Christian faith was aggressively shaping the minds and culture of the Irish people. Ireland of Columba’s day was rife with saints; to this day one cannot go from one village to the next without stumbling across some well, stone, chapel, or shrine associated with some saint from this era.

From St. Columba’s earliest years he had the fortune to be surrounded by saints. We do not know when or how he discerned his vocation, but it must have been early. It was not uncommon for the children of the nobility to be given to tutors for their education; Columba was tutored as a boy by the priest St. Crunathan (also called Cruithnechán) who seemed to be an uncle of some sort and taught the young saint to read by reciting the Psalms; according to Adomnán, Crunathan once saw a ball of light hovering over the boy’s head as he slept, which portended great things for Columba’s future.
Columba is also said to have spent some time with a bard called Gemman in the region of Leinster. This would not have been uncommon in early medieval Ireland, as the bards were the keepers of a family’s oral histories and St. Columba would have learned the history of his people – as well as how to speak and sing – from such men. Indeed, Columba must have been well trained in this art, for Adomnán mentions he had a particularly lovely voice.In the company of Gemman he once witnessed the murder of a young girl. This moved him deeply, and in righteous indignation Columba declared that the girl’s soul was among the blessed while the murderer would go to hell. The murderer in fact died unrepentant almost immediately, another strange portent which established Columba as a prophet.
As a young man Columba attended the famous monastic school at Movilla, then under the guidance of the celebrated St. Finnian, also known as St. Findbarr. Here young Columba drank deeply from the wellspring of the Irish monastic heritage, which was then in its hey-day. Irish monasticism of Columba’s day was pre-Benedictine. St. Columba himself was a contemporary of St. Benedict, who died when Columba was just beginning his monastic career. Benedictine monasticism would not come to the British Isles until 597 (the year of Columba’s death) with the arrival of St. Augustine on Thanet and the beginning of the English missions.

What sort of monasticism did Columba imbibe at the monastic school of St. Finnian? We do not know too much about the particulars of early 6th century Irish monasticism; it is mainly known of through archaeological remains and hagiographies, such as the Vita Columbae. The early 7th century Rule of St. Columbanus probably resembles the rule of life Columba would have known. St. Columbanus’ rule is brief, only ten chapters. It emphasizes private confession of faults followed by corporal discipline, strict manual labor, and admonitions to poverty, chastity, and obedience. The most interesting aspect of the Rule of St. Columbanus is its provision for perpetual prayer, laus perennis. Whereas the Rule of St. Benedict punctuates the day by eight canonical hours in which all of the monks gather together, the laus perennis of St. Columbanus has the monks divided into different ‘shifts’ who relieve each other in the choir throughout the day. The purpose is that the praises of God be sung in the chapel without ceasing.
St. Columbanus died in 615 (eighteen years after St. Columba) and was reflective of the usage at Bangor Abbey in northern Ireland. How much it has in common with what St. Columba would have learned as a boy in Movilla is uncertain, although it is probable that at the Rule of St. Columbanus at least preserves the monastic spirit of the preceding century, even the particulars are different from what St. Finnian taught St. Columba.
There is also an excellent appendix that compiles all the hymns and prayers attributed to St. Columba, along with another essay on the hymnary of Columba and the Iona monks. These great additions make the new Life of St. Columba by Cruachan Hill Press the best English language resource available on this great saint. Full of saints and miracles, this classic Irish hagiography of one of Erin's greatest saints is a must have for any student of Irish Catholicism's golden age.

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