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.

The book is softcover, 165 pages, $13.99 USD + shipping. You can purchase by clicking the PayPal button below:

Or click here to go to the product page on Cruachan Hill Press for more information and international shipping.

Click here for a current catalog of Cruachan Hill Press' books

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorite Posts of 2015

Another year has passed us by. How amazing the vicissitudes of history are! How different the situation was in 1978 from 2005, and 2005 from 2007, and 2007 from now. The pendulum swings, back and forth. Good and evil, corruption and reform, light and dark, sin and redemption, and on and on until the end.

We hope you had a good year! This was a big year for me - I left the town I lived in for 35 years and relocated to another part of the state; my wife just gave birth to our fifth child - literally, like three days ago. Of course, things go on in the Church much as they have since 2013. To some degree I have disengaged from them, preferring to focus on more productive efforts like The Life of St. Columba project or writing other things of more permanent value. What goes on in Rome cannot take the Faith away from me. The biggest danger to the Faith, for me, is not Modernism but my own sins.

I want to thank everyone that helps contribute to this blog or lends a helping hand - Noah Moerbeek, my co-blogger - who, by the way, has been promoted within his order to the office of Preceptor of North America. Check him out there, right in the middle!

And here he is again on the left. Very proud of him!

Noah is obviously too humble to mention it, but he deserves hearty congratulations for the good work he does on behalf of the salvation of souls, both through his order and his occasional hosting of the Shield of Faith program on Radio Maria when he fills in for Matthew Arnold. He is a blessed friend and a worthy companion in the Lord.

Also my other contributors, Maximus and Wes Hunt, the former a graduate student of theology living in Rome, the latter a young convert from Protestantism to Catholic Tradition who has written some excellent pieces refuting various aspects of Protestant error on the USC website. These gentlemen are both blessings to me. And of course, Anselm, my co-blogger in absentia who posts about once every two years but who was instrumental in getting this blog off the group.

Also John Goodall who proofreads my website articles, A.R. Danziger Art & Design who does a lot of my graphic design stuff and book covers; Ryan Grant of Athanasius Contra Mundum, a very old friend who actually got me into blogging and who has done much to help me over the years by allowing me to write on his blog, interviewing me on his podcasts, turning my books into eBooks, and launching the wonderful and inspirational Mediatrix Press publishing venture. May God richly bless him and his family. Also thanks to Richard Aleman who welcomed me aboard the Distributist Review this fall.

Finally, thanks to all the readers, especially those on Facebook who share and comment on my posts regularly. Thank you, my friends. As we begin our ninth year year, it is amazing to think that this little effort has blossomed into such a lovely work, with over 1,650 articles spanning almost a decade of my life. God is good. Please pray for me, though. God has given me some measure of wisdom, and a strong faith, but my charity of often cold. I need His grace dearly. Remember my poor soul in your prayers.

Below are a list of my personal favorite posts from 2015. If you enjoy this blog, please consider signing up as a follower on blogger, or follow us on Facebook, where every article from both this blog and the website are posted regularly, as well as other interesting articles from other sources and great stuff from the USC archives.

Great Commission is Institutional: Christ's command to preach the Gospel to all nations was not only given to individual Christians, but the Church as such. No tribe or tongue is exempt from a Church's institutional mission.
Conservatives Failed Strategy: Why an orthodox conservatism has never managed to stem the tide of liberalism and never will.
The Age of Mercy: In what does true mercy consist, and how is this different from what Kasper proposes?
The Obedience of St. Athanasius: Appealing to St. Athanasius to excuse disobedience to ecclesiastical authority is unwarranted, as Athanasius was never disobedient.
The Curiosity of the Modern Encyclical: What role does the modern papal encyclical play in forming Catholic teaching, and how has this changed over the centuries?
Mercy, Annulments & Matrimony: Some sanity to the discussion on mercy and its relation to annulments; an annulment is a legal procedure, and as such cannot be "merciful" or "unmerciful", only more or less just.
Quinisext Council in Trullo and Priestly Celibacy: Getting to the root of the common but incorrect belief that a married clergy is the ancient tradition in the east.
Exquisitely Beautiful: Conversion is the most beautiful thing there is.
The Thief in the Night: Do you want to die listening to a song called "Kiss the Devil" like those unfortunate wretches killed in the Paris attacks?
Why is Masturbation a Sin? Answering common questions about the immorality of masturbation along with practical tips to help stop masturbating.
Not to Abolish, But Fulfill: What our Lord means when He says the Old Covenant has not been abolished by fulfilled.
Foot Washing: What's the Big Deal?: Getting to the heart of traditionalist objections to Pope Francis' Holy Thursday foot washing.
The Vice of Effeminacy: Effeminacy itself is a vice, even if one does not act out one's homosexual tendencies. It is not something that offers one special "gifts" or "perspectives."
Bishop Barron and the Evolution of Christ's Consciousness: Discussing the deep-seated Balthasarian Christology of Bishop Robert Barron.
Synod II Wrap Up: Our assessment of the final session of the Synod on the Family.
Balthasar and the "Faith" of Christ: Hans Urs von Balthasar's Christology is profoundly unorthodox, as he teaches Christ had faith and experienced positive error.
Is Easter Pagan? The Easter-Eostre Connection: Answering a common but ignorant canard about the celebration of Christ's Resurrection.
Christian Marriage Video Project: Helpful original videos explaining aspects of the Church's teaching on marriage and the family.
No Trad Magisterium: There is no one group that speaks for all traditionalists.
The Spirit blows where He will: Many people enter the Church every year; who can predict who will persevere?
Shepherds for the Whole World: Is the pope the pastor of the Church or the world?
Canonization Old vs. New Comparison: A side by side comparison of the differences between the old and new procedures for canonization.
Hagiography and a Populated Hell: The hagiographical testimony to the reality of particular souls damned in hell.
Authority of Rerum Novarum and Quadrigesimo Anno: Examining the Magisterial authority of these two cornerstones of Catholic social teaching.

That's enough, but there is so much more! Please visit the USC sister site for hundreds of in depth articles on all aspects of Catholic faith, liturgy, history, theology and more - or peruse the archives of this blog, which go way back to June of 2007.

Thanks for another great year! Ad multos annos!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Müller Explanation Fails

As we wrap up 2015 and move into the fourth full year of the Franciscan pontificate, we are offered a perfect example of why attempts to put an orthodox spin on some of Pope Francis' troubling statements are so disappointing.

Case in point: In November, 2015, the pope was approached by a Lutheran woman who was married to a Catholic man. She stated that she and her husband "greatly regret being divided in faith and not being able to participate in the Lord’s Supper together" and asked "What can we do to achieve, finally, communion on this point?" 

In his characteristic long winded, extempore manner, the pope said:

"It’s a problem each must answer, but a pastor-friend once told me: “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present. You all believe that the Lord is present. And so what’s the difference?” — “Eh, there are explanations, interpretations.” Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism. “One faith, one baptism, one Lord.” This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more."

There was much more to this statement, including some very troubling ecclesiology, but here was the crux of the matter - Francis essentially states that Lutherans' and Catholics' similar baptism provides a sufficient level of communion for the two to receive the Eucharist together, provided that one has "talked to the Lord" in good conscience and is comfortable to "go forward" - i.e., to receive Holy Communion. One Peter Five has a decent write up of the whole encounter, along with a complete text of Francis' comments and even video to get the situational context.

So, Francis characteristically says something that sounds confusing at best and heterodox at worst - and I want to remind everyone, this is not a "spin" that some media outlet put on his words. This is the actual text of the pope's statement, before any media outlet or huckster got to it.

In fact, the only real spin has come from those trying to explain Francis' comments in continuity with tradition. I am referring primarily to Cardinal Gerhard Müller's well-intentioned by unsatisfying attempt to square the papal circle here. In a statement "clarifying" what Pope Francis "really meant", Cardinal Müller resorted to the tired old defense that the pope was simply "misunderstood."

In an article published in the National Catholic Register in December, 2015, Edward Pentin reports on Cardinal Müller's explanation of the pope's comments. According to Pentin, Müller says that the pope did not suggest intercommunion between Lutherans and Catholics was possible. Why didn't the pope suggest this? Here is Gerhard Müller's full comment on why the pope was misunderstood:

“That [the Pope’s visit to the Lutheran church] was a sign of hope, that the day would come when full unity of the visible Church in the profession of faith, of the sacramental signs of salvation and the episcopal constitution with the Pope as her head would be reached. Misunderstandings come up again and again because of a failure to take account of the fact that, unfortunately, there is actually a different understanding of the Church between Catholics and Protestants, and these differences are not only theological-conceptual, but of a confessional nature. But the most important object of ecumenical dialogue, which does not want to stick with the status quo (and use "colorful and nice" talk), is rather to lead the ecumenical movement towards its goal, namely the visible and institutional unity of the Church.”

If you missed the part where Müller actually addressed the pope's comments, you're not alone. Müller did not address Francis' troubling comments at all. He merely said there had been a "misunderstanding" due to a "failure to take into account" that Lutherans and Catholics believe differently. Pope Franics' theology of baptism as a ground for intercommunion was not addressed. His ambiguously problematic statement "Talk to the Lord and then go forward" was not addressed. His dismissal of the differences in Protestant and Catholic sacramental theology as "explanations" and "interpretations" was not addressed. His very radical statement that the shared Eucharist is not the goal of ecumenism but the means of getting there was not addressed. Essentially, Müller did not address or explain any of the pope's comments. He merely stated they were misunderstood without explaining how, and then reminded us that there are differences between Protestants and Catholics, without addressing why the pope is apparently dismissive of these differences.

In other words, 
Müller's explanation is no explanation at all. And that's fine; it's really not his job to go around cleaning up the pope's messes. Let Fr. Lombardi do that. But the problem is that certain Catholics will take this as if it were an explanation. When this issue of Luther-Catholic intercommunion is brought up again, neo-Catholics will retort that "the Vatican" had "clarified" the pope's statements and that it was all a "misunderstanding", and that therefore there is nothing to question.

A misunderstanding? How? Based on what? There mere fact Fr. Lombardi or Cardinal Müller or the Vatican or anyone else says there is a misunderstanding does not mean there is one. Any apologist for these sorts of comments - anyone who says the pope was "misunderstood" - is obliged to explain why and how he was misunderstood. Simply stating there was a misunderstanding does not in itself clarify anything unless you are going to explain what the pope's words actually meant. What did the pope actually mean when he said "Talk to the Lord and then go forward"?

And this neo-Catholics are unwilling to do - at least honestly - because the clear context of his words imply that he was telling Lutherans they could receive communion in a Catholic Church so long as they were alright with it in their conscience. There's no way an honest reading of his statements in context could yield any other interpretation.

Next time you question something the pope said, and you are told that it was simply a "misunderstanding" or that someone had "cleared it up", you really need to dig into it, because in many cases I'd be willing to bet nothing at all was cleared up. Sometimes I think the response to a papal gaffe is to simply say "You didn't hear that", and the papalatrous Catholic media take that alone as a sufficient explanation.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas from Pope Leo the Great

Merry Christmas, and blessings to you and yours going in to 2016. As we celebrate the Octave of our Lord's Incarnation, let us nourish our souls with the words of the very venerable St. Leo the Great, whose famous Letter 28 to Flavian of Constantinople, known as his "Tome", set forth the correct doctrine of our Lord's dual nature against the errors of the heretic Eutyches. It was upon hearing the words of this great pope that the fathers of the Council of Ephesus in 451 arose and exclaimed, "This is the faith of the fathers! This is the faith of the Apostles! So we all believe!...Peter has spoken thus through Leo!”

"It was perhaps that [Eutyches] thought that our lord Jesus Christ did not have our nature because the angel who was sent to the blessed Mary said, "The holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most High will overshadow you, and so that which will be born holy out of you will be called Son of God," as if it was because the conception by the virgin was worked by God that the flesh of the one conceived did not share the nature of her who conceived it? But uniquely wondrous and wondrously unique as that act of generation was, it is not to be understood as though the proper character of its kind was taken away by the sheer novelty of its creation. It was the holy Spirit that made the virgin pregnant, but the reality of the body derived from body. As "Wisdom built a house for herself," "the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us": that is, in that flesh which he derived from human kind and which he animated with the spirit of a rational life.

So the proper character of both natures was maintained and came together in a single person. Lowliness was taken up by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity. To pay off the debt of our state, invulnerable nature was united to a nature that could suffer; so that in a way that corresponded to the remedies we needed, one and the same mediator between God and humanity the man Christ Jesus, could both on the one hand die and on the other be incapable of death. Thus was true God born in the undiminished and perfect nature of a true man, complete in what is his and complete in what is ours. By "ours" we mean what the Creator established in us from the beginning and what he took upon himself to restore. There was in the Saviour no trace of the things which the Deceiver brought upon us, and to which deceived humanity gave admittance. His subjection to human weaknesses in common with us did not mean that he shared our sins. He took on the form of a servant without the defilement of sin, thereby enhancing the human and not diminishing the divine. For that self-emptying whereby the Invisible rendered himself visible, and the Creator and Lord of all things chose to join the ranks of mortals, spelled no failure of power: it was an act of merciful favour. So the one who retained the form of God when he made humanity, was made man in the form of a servant. Each nature kept its proper character without loss; and just as the form of God does not take away the form of a servant, so the form of a servant does not detract from the form of God.

It was the devil's boast that humanity had been deceived by his trickery and so had lost the gifts God had given it; and that it had been stripped of the endowment of immortality and so was subject to the harsh sentence of death. He also boasted that, sunk as he was in evil, he himself derived some consolation from having a partner in crime; and that God had been forced by the principle of justice to alter his verdict on humanity, which he had created in such an honourable state. All this called for the realisation of a secret plan whereby the unalterable God, whose will is indistinguishable from his goodness, might bring the original realisation of his kindness towards us to completion by means of a more hidden mystery, and whereby humanity, which had been led into a state of sin by the craftiness of the devil, might be prevented from perishing contrary to the purpose of God.

So without leaving his Father's glory behind, the Son of God comes down from his heavenly throne and enters the depths of our world, born in an unprecedented order by an unprecedented kind of birth. In an unprecedented order, because one who is invisible at his own level was made visible at ours. The ungraspable willed to be grasped. Whilst remaining pre-existent, he begins to exist in time. The Lord of the universe veiled his measureless majesty and took on a servant's form. The God who knew no suffering did not despise becoming a suffering man, and, deathless as he is, to be subject to the laws of death. By an unprecedented kind of birth, because it was inviolable virginity which supplied the material flesh without experiencing sexual desire. What was taken from the mother of the Lord was the nature without the guilt [of original sin]. And the fact that the birth was miraculous does not imply that in the lord Jesus Christ, born from the virgin's womb, the nature is different from ours. The same one is true God and true man."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Book Review: "Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism" by Thomas McFadden

Some time ago I was graciously provided with a review copy of Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism: A Discussion for Those Who Believe by Thomas McFadden.

There are many resources out there addressing the question of evolution and its fundamental incompatibility with the Catholic Faith; Mr. McFadden's book, while broad in its scope and addressing many issues, centers in on the question of theistic evolution and Catholic teaching.

At the heart of Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism is the idea that, while theistic creation "works" for some Catholics, it certainly does not "work" for everybody. Because many mainstream Catholics have adopted the position that there's "no contradiction" between evolution and Catholic theology, it has become accepted to assume there are no real problems with theistic evolution. Consequently, there is little real discussion about the question, and Catholics who do not find an easy harmony between Scripture and evolution are left with little to go on.

It is into this breach that Mr. McFadden steps with his book. Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism is dedicated to examining the concept of evolution - especially theistic but also atheistic - addressing the issue from a point of view of science but also theology. The 149 page book is easy to read, broken up into seventeen chapters with many small subheadings addressing various points of science and theology. The Big Bang, DNA, vestigial structures, fossil remains, and much more are all covered, as are the theories of major evolutionary proponents, both Catholic and secularist. This alone would make this book very helpful, although it should be pointed out that none of these topics are covered in an extremely exhaustive manner; the author addresses them by summarizing the main arguments and then pointing to additional resources for further study.

Thus the book is a kind of helpful "go to" guide to find resources on each particular issue. It demonstrates that the fundamental problem is that most Catholics have adopted the premises of naturalism; even when engaging the Faith with an intent to defend it, they often begin with assumptions taken from naturalism (for example, Cardinal Pell's embarrassing exchange with Richard Dawkins). Naturalism has become a kind of monkey on the Church's back, related directly to a continued loss of faith. McFadden presents some convincing statistics demonstrating the relationship between acceptance of evolution and loss of faith. Again, it is clear that just because theistic evolution "works" for some does not mean it "works" for everyone; in fact, based on the statistics McFadden presents, it does not "work" for the majority of Catholics.

But I think the greatest asset of this book was in its chapter on Humani Generis. It is widely known that Humani Generis, Pius XII's 1950 encyclical, remains the last authoritative statement of the Magisterium on evolution. It is often repeated that this encyclical "allowed" Catholics to believe in theistic evolution of a preexisting human body so long as they maintained some other points (reality of original sin, special creation of the soul). This encyclical allegedly "opened the door" for the acceptance of theistic evolution within Catholicism.

Mr. McFadden strongly disputes this point. Through a rigorous analysis of the text and the meanings of different terms employed by Pius, he demonstrates that Pius XII never intended the broad acceptance of theistic evolution among Catholics, nor did he "permit" it to be held as a viable theory of human origins. I will not recapitulate Mr. McFadden's arguments here, but it suffices to say that it was refreshing to read something that actually dug into the text of Pius XII rather than just repeating what others have said.

The book is written in the form of a handbook. It is not what one would call publisher grade printing; it is a very hardy spiral bound, good for duplication, study, and note taking. Mr. McFadden has told me that he hopes this book will find its way into the hands of pastors and catechists - that is, that it will become a tool to be used at the parish level to equip those tasked with passing on the Faith with the answers they need to teach the Church's doctrine uncontaminated by naturalist assumptions. To this end, Mr. McFadden is making his book available at cost ($10 for a hard copy, $4 for a digital copy via CD); I do not know if he is making PDF versions available. There is no website for the book; it must be requested and ordered by contacting the author at: Mr. McFadden has also organized the book printing and distribution through a 501(c)(3) group called the Institute for Science and Catholicism, so donations for the book can be written off.

There's also a really nice appendix on John Paul II and the Galileo case, which McFadden believes (rightly, in my opinion) is one of the historical episodes that cripples Catholics and makes them too tentative to engage naturalism.

If there is one issue I took with the book - and I say this tentatively because there is so much other good stuff in here - it is that the author will often cite Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI as a support for traditional Creationism against evolution. It is my opinion that McFadden misunderstood what Benedict is saying (which is easy to do, as Benedict is extremely nuanced in his verbiage). Benedict does oppose the kind of evolutionary compromise represented by Humani Generis; but this is not because Benedict supported Creationism, rather because he affirmed something more Teilhardian and more evolutionary than the Humani Generis compromise. Theistic evolution was not too evolutionary or Benedict; rather it was not evolutionary enough. We have documented this in our article Pius XII, Teilhard, and Ratzinger.

But, as the author pointed out to me when I discussed this with him, even if this is the case, the statements of Benedict against evolution still hold value on their own, even if Benedict's own position is problematic. Benedict is a potent adversary against a simplistic theistic evolution, despite his own theological baggage. I would certainly still recommend the book. Mr. McFadden has done the Church an excellent service. Anyone interested in the debate about evolution should get a copy of this work, especially those involved in catechesis at the parish level. I plan on hanging on to this book and have already pulled it out for reference in my private reading several times.

I also recommend our article Solemn Enthronement of Evolution, as well as James Larson's article The Quintessential Evolutionist.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Great Commission is Institutional

Some further thoughts on the Jewish-Catholic question, following up from my last post on the Holocaust and its influence on Catholic ecclesiology.

The new Vatican document, "The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable", is vexing many because of its apparent contradictions: while stating that there is not "two ways", not "two paths to salvation", it also states that Jews do not need to explicitly confess Christ and that they can have full access to God through their observance of the Old Covenant alone without Jesus.

I am not going to parse this whole document; it is very dense. Although to be fair, it says some good things. But it is also terribly flawed in what it insinuates. Let's look at this for a moment.

Point one:

"The theory that there may be two different paths to salvation, the Jewish path without Christ and the path with the Christ, whom Christians believe is Jesus of Nazareth, would in fact endanger the foundations of Christian faith."

Great. So let's be says that Jesus is the only path to salvation and that to claim there is a "second" path without Jesus "would...endanger the foundations of the Christian faith." So, it is established that Christ is the only way. This is clear from the document.

Now, point two:
"From the Christian confession that there can be only one path to salvation, however, it does not in any way follow that the Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God."

So...for the record, after pointing out that Jesus is the only way to salvation, the document is clear that Jews "do not believe in Jesus Christ." Ergo, they do not believe in the one path to salvation. They reject Jesus' identity as the Messiah and Son of God.

Now...what is the appropriate Catholic response to a group of people - any group of people - who do not accept the one means of salvation? What should be the appropriate Catholic response? Point three:

"In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews."

STOP. If we admit that Jesus is the only way to salvation, and we admit that Jews reject Jesus Christ, how can this statement possibly be justified? How can the Church admit that a certain group does not have Jesus Christ but reject any efforts to bring Him to those people?

Point four:

"While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah."

So...Christians are encouraged to "bear witness" to Jews privately, but the Church rejects doing so in an "institutional" framework? What does that mean?

Does this mean that what is good for individual Christians can be bad for the Church as a whole? How can that be possible? If it is bad for the Church to promote something institutionally, how can it be good privately? And if it is praiseworthy and encouraged privately, why will the Church not support it institutionally?

And, if individual Christians are encouraged to witness Christ to the Jews, isn't that still "the Church" doing it? "Now you are the body of Christ, and members of it individually" (1 Cor. 12:27). When Christians are corporately encouraged to do something - even being told they are called to do it - that is still "the Church" doing it.

Unless we reduce "the Church" to merely the hierarchy. That would be an ironic example of crass clericalism! But even if so, it brings us back to the above point - if it is good for particular Christians to witness to Jews, why doesn't the hierarchy embrace it? And how can it have a "principled rejection" of such a mission, which it "neither conducts nor supports", while simultaneously reminding Christians that they are "called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews"?

And - and - does the Church not have a mission to all men? An institutional mission? There's this Bible verse I seem to remember from somewhere...oh, yes, here it is:
"Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt. 28:19-20).

The Great Commission. Preach the Gospel to all nations. Not just all people individually, but all nations - every tribe, tongue, race, religion.

Was the Great Commission an institutional commission? Of course it was. It was made to the Apostles, who are the foundations of the Church's institutional hierarchy. If it is an institutional commission, the Church is breaking the very commandments of Jesus Himself. If it is not an institutional commission, then please dig up an exegete who can explain why a command of Jesus Christ to the Apostles, the foundation stones of the Church (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14) does somehow not qualify as an institutional directive.

I will accept that the Church has no institutional mission to the Jews the day you can convince me that the Great Commission is not an institutional commission.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." (Rom. 1:16)

By the way, there is an excellent blog called St. Corbinian's Bear that has a series of post on this document. It is one of my favorite new blogs; I have linked them up on my blog roll.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Holocaust and Its Shaping of Catholic Ecclesiology

You may have never heard of Enzo Bianchi. He is the lay "prior" of the so-called "interconfessional monastery" of Bose in Biella, Italy. The Bose community contains over eighty "brothers" and "sisters" from various Christian denominations. In 2012 Mr. Bianchi was named as a peritus to the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization; in 2014 the pontificate of Pope Francis elevated Mr. Bianchi to be Consultor of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Bianchi has gone of record in the past with his belief that the 1917 Fatima apparitions are a "swindle." The reason? Because Fatima does not specifically predict the Holocaust. "A God who thinks in 1917 that there will be a persecution of Christians, but does not speak of the Holocaust and the six million Jews annihilated, is not a credible God", said Bianchi, the quote coming from La Repubblica.

The French leftist dissident Dominican Jean Cardonnel, a friend and supporter of Bianchi, expanded on this theme, stating that, "A credible God, I repeat Bianchi, the God of Catholic racism who cares only for his family, for his Catholic race, while the kin of Jesus may fall prey to oblivion." 

Vittorio Messori, author of the famous Ratzinger Report, summed up the positions of Cardonnel and Bianchi: "Even God must - if he wants to speak to us through Mary - recognize the Shoah and especially curse it, otherwise he is not a credible God."

The blog Eponymous Flower has an excellent refutation of this absurd line of thinking - as if God cannot speak on whatever subject matter He wants at any time! I highly recommend the article, where you can also find all the sources for the above citations.

The phenomenon I want to comment on is this fixation on the Holocaust in contemporary Catholic discourse. The Holocaust was undoubtedly one of the most horrendous events in human history - not the first genocide, and not even the biggest, but certainly horrendous nonetheless. Still, the Holocaust - like the Norman Conquest, Reformation, or Civil War - is ultimately only a historical event. While the will of God unfolds throughout history, and while grace can be found in any event, the Holocaust possessed no special eschatological or salvific significance. The Holocaust is not an article of faith that must be continually referenced and paid special tribute to.

It is fascinating to see how the Holocaust has slipped from the realm of history into a theological context. In fact, as we shall see, the obligation of memorializing the Holocaust has become a theological linchpin in the contemporary Church's approach to Judaism.

* * * * *

Let us begin with the document "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah", the 1998 letter issued by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews under John Paul II. This letter establishes the principle that the Holocaust cannot be considered as a mere historical event, but deserves a kind of "religious memory":

"The very magnitude of the crime raises many questions. Historians, sociologists, political philosophers, psychologists and theologians are all trying to learn more about the reality of the Shoah and its causes. Much scholarly study still remains to be done. But such an event cannot be fully measured by the ordinary criteria of historical research alone. It calls for a "moral and religious memory" and, particularly among Christians, a very serious reflection on what gave rise to it."

Certainly moral lessons can be drawn from any historical episode; but not every historical episode calls for a special "moral and religious memory." In taking this approach, the Magisterium of John Paul II seemed to be saying that the Holocaust must be elevated beyond other historical events, not in terms of its importance, but in terms of what sort of phenomenon it was. It makes sense to say that Civil War was a more important historic event than the War of Jenkins' Ear in terms of its magnitude and consequences; but here we are just moving along a spectrum of magnitude on the axis of historical events. What We Remember is saying is something different; it says not that the Holocaust is a more important historical event than other historical events, but rather that it should not be understood as merely a historical event at all - rather, it merits "moral and religious memory." It is a difference of quality, not just magnitude.

* * * * *

By allowing the Holocaust to bleed over from the historical into the religious, this historic event can now be considered as a kind of theological criterion for understanding Church teaching. The introductory letter by Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy in the above mentioned document demonstrates the attempt to move the Holocaust from the historical into the theological. He wrote:

"In the Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate,n. 4, published on 1 December 1974, the Holy See's Commission recalled that "the step taken by the Council finds its historical setting in circumstances deeply affected by the memory of the persecution and massacre of Jews which took place in Europe just before and during the Second World War". Yet, as the Guidelines pointed out, "the problem of Jewish-Christian relations concerns the Church as such, since it is when "pondering her own mystery" (Nostra Aetate, n. 4) that she encounters the mystery of Israel." 

This needs a bit of parsing. The memory of the Holocaust provides the "historical setting" for the Council's discussion of the Church's relation with non-Christian religions, specifically the Jews. The relationship is bound up with the Church's own self-understanding, since in "pondering her own mystery" the Church inevitably confronts the "mystery of Israel." In other words, the question of Jewish-Christian relations is central to the mystery of the Church, and the "historical setting" by which this question must be framed is the Holocaust. The Holocaust thus becomes a point of departure for theological considerations relating to the Church's own identity.

The modern context for Catholic ecclesiology is the memory of the Holocaust, at least in considering relations with Jews. This one historic event is thus elevated to the level of a meta-historical act whose import is religious, similar to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. It is the theologizing of the Holocaust.

* * * * *

It is well-known that the enemies of the Church are fond of blaming Christian civilization for creating the atmosphere of European anti-Semitism that made the Holocaust possible. Pop-Catholic apologists have spent a great deal of effort refuting this position. What these pop-apologists might not be aware of is the modern Magisterium itself is in agreement with these claims. In We Remember, the Magisterium of John Paul II unambiguously endorses the view that centuries of negative Christian attitudes towards Jews bear some responsibility for the Holocaust. The relevant points are worth citing at length:

"The fact that the Shoah took place in Europe, that is, in countries of long-standing Christian civilization, raises the question of the relation between the Nazi persecution and the attitudes down the centuries of Christians towards the Jews.  The history of relations between Jews and Christians is a tormented one. His Holiness Pope John Paul II has recognized this fact in his repeated appeals to Catholics to see where we stand with regard to our relations with the Jewish people. In effect, the balance of these relations over two thousand years has been quite negative.
Despite the Christian preaching of love for all, even for one's enemies, the prevailing mentality down the centuries penalized minorities and those who were in any way "different". Sentiments of anti-Judaism in some Christian quarters, and the gap which existed between the Church and the Jewish people, led to a generalized discrimination, which ended at times in expulsions or attempts at forced conversions. In a large part of the "Christian" world, until the end of the 18th century, those who were not Christian did not always enjoy a fully guaranteed juridical status." 

The letter goes on to make a distinction between "anti-Judaism" and nationalist "anti-Semitism", convicting Christians of the former but not the latter. It points to Naziism as a neo-pagan ideology that was also anti-Christian as well as anti-Jewish, in attempting to draw a historical separation between the two types of anti-Jewish hostility. But the document goes on to ask:

"But it may be asked whether the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts. Did anti-Jewish sentiment among Christians make them less sensitive, or even indifferent, to the persecutions launched against the Jews by National Socialism when it reached power?"

While making mention of Christians who helped persecuted Jews, the document goes on to condemn the attitudes of the majority of Christians who "were not strong enough" in their opposition to National Socialism:

"Nevertheless, as Pope John Paul II has recognized, alongside such courageous men and women, the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ's followers. We cannot know how many Christians in countries occupied or ruled by the Nazi powers or their allies were horrified at the disappearance of their Jewish neighbours and yet were not strong enough to raise their voices in protest. For Christians, this heavy burden of conscience of their brothers and sisters during the Second World War must be a call to penitence. We deeply regret the errors and failures of these sons and daughters of the Church."

Thus, while anti-Judaism is logically and historically distinct from "pagan anti-Semitism", the earlier Christian anti-Judaism aided anti-Semitism in a fashion by deadening the responses of Christians to the horrors of the Holocaust.
* * * * *

We Remember references John Paul II. The reference in questions is from John Paul II's 1997 Address to the Symposium on the Roots of Anti-Judaism, in which the pope specifically says that alleged Christian indifference to the Holocaust proceeded directly from the pre-modern Christian hostility towards the Jews:

"In fact, in the Christian world — I do not say on the part of the Church as such — erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility towards this people. They contributed to the lulling of consciences, so that when the wave of persecutions inspired by a pagan anti-Semitism, which in essence is equivalent to an anti-Christianity, swept across Europe, alongside Christians who did everything to save the persecuted even at the risk of their lives, the spiritual resistance of many was not what humanity rightfully expected from the disciples of Christ."

Among the "erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament" that John Paul II references is presumably the belief that the Church has replaced the Jews as the true Israel, as well as the perennially held Christian assertion that the Old Covenant, on its own, is no longer salvific. He does not suggest this explicitly, but it is easily inferred by the fact that the pope cites Romans 11:29 ("the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable") in the conclusion of his address, a verse consistently but erroneously invoked by those who argue that the Jews have "their own covenant" with God outside of Jesus Christ. 

It is baffling how John Paul II could say these teachings were never taught "on the part of the Church as such", since the Council of Florence Cantate Domino specifically and unambiguously taught the very thing John Paul II seems to consider "erroneous and unjust":

“[The Holy Roman Church] firmly believes, professes and teaches that the legal prescriptions of the Old Testament or the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, holy sacrifices and sacraments, because they were instituted to signify something in the future, although they were adequate for the divine cult of that age, once our Lord Jesus Christ who was signified by them had come, came to an end and the sacraments of the new Testament had their beginning. Whoever, after the Passion, places his hope in the legal prescriptions and submits himself to them as necessary for salvation and as if faith in Christ without them could not save, sins mortally. It does not deny that from Christ's passion until the promulgation of the Gospel they could have been retained, provided they were in no way believed to be necessary for salvation. But it asserts that after the promulgation of the gospel they cannot be observed without loss of eternal salvation.”

Thus, John Paul II seemed to think that the traditional ecclesiology of the Church vis-a-vis the Jews was in fact responsible for a deadening of feeling and an indifference among Christians that helped facilitate the Holocaust.

* * * * *

We Remember states that the religious import of the Holocaust is understood in terms of a binding commitment of future generations to let the Holocaust serve as the starting point for a new beginning with the Jewish people. In the following extraordinary statement, notice the admission of Catholic guilt and repentance for Christian failings in facilitating the Holocaust, coupled by the assertion that this repentance calls for a "binding commitment" to develop a "new relationship" with the Jewish people for the purpose of eliminating "anti-Judaism":

"At the end of this Millennium the Catholic Church desires to express her deep sorrow for the failures of her sons and daughters in every age. This is an act of repentance (teshuva), since, as members of the Church, we are linked to the sins as well as the merits of all her children. The Church approaches with deep respect and great compassion the experience of extermination, the Shoah, suffered by the Jewish people during World War II. It is not a matter of mere words, but indeed of binding commitment....
We pray that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people has suffered in our century will lead to a new relationship with the Jewish people. We wish to turn awareness of past sins into a firm resolve to build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Judaism among Christians or anti-Christian sentiment among Jews, but rather a shared mutual respect, as befits those who adore the one Creator and Lord and have a common father in faith, Abraham."

Notice the use of the term "anti-Judaism." Given that the document went to lengths earlier to distinguish between "anti-Judaism" and "anti-Semitism", we must presume an internal consistency in the term's usage. This would infer that the elimination of "anti-Judaism" is referring to, not nationalist anti-Semitism, but rather "the erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament" that John Paul II referred to - in other words, the teaching that the Jewish covenant taken on its own is not salvific and that Jews need Christ. The traditional position suddenly becomes problematic because it infers that the Jews are not alright just where they are - that their condition is not enviable, that they need Jesus Christ. This position is untenable to the modern Magisterium.

* * * * *

It all begins to come together. Because of the horror of the Holocaust - and guilt for perceived Christian numbness to Jewish suffering - the modern Magisterium has lost the fortitude to tell the Jews that they are in need of salvation through Christ. Any suggestion that the Jewish religion is not a complete and integral salvific system are taken as a type of "anti-Judaism", for such a position necessarily finds fault with the current status of the Jews. Never mind that the Nazi remedy to the Jewish question was extermination whilst the Christian remedy is conversion; if the Church is sufficiently to distance itself from the Holocaust, it must no longer insist that there is anything lacking or objectionable in Judaism. The Holocaust is the event - at once historical, religious, and moral - that has become the historical context for this change in direction. And the obligation to continue in this trajectory is a "binding commitment" on Christians. This is why we will only ever see more waffling from the Magisterium when it comes to the question of Jews and salvation.

A case in point is the horrible new document "The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable" (2015). This document will go further than any other Magisterial statement in teaching the Jews do not need conversion to Christ and the Church for salvation. Note the title is taken from Romans 11:29, the same verse John Paul II cited against the "erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament", as found in the Council of Florence. It is eminently schizophrenic, suggesting that "From the Christian confession that there can be only one path to salvation, however, it does not in any way follow that the Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God." Apparently the principle of non-contradiction has been replaced with Folgers Crystals, as Steve Skojec so tartly put it.

But yes, the document repudiates the centuries old teaching that the Church is the true Israel, even though admitting that this teaching was "the standard theological foundation of the relationship with Judaism" from the patristic era and for the entirety of the Church's tradition, "only to be defused at the Second Vatican Council...with its Declaration Nostra aetate", which has replaced the 2,000 year tradition with a new "constructive dialogue relationship." What crass arrogance to so blatantly "defuse" what the document admits is the universal tradition!

But look at how evangelization to the Jews is said to be a no-no and the Shoah is invoked:

"In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews. While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah."

It goes on about "the dark and terrible shadow of the Shoah", and encourages Christians to "reflect anew" upon this tragedy as a point of departure for Christian-Jewish relations. Following John Paul II, it speaks of a moral "duty of Christians" to remember the Shoah. This language is truly amazing; strictly speaking, the only historical events we have a moral duty to recall are those that are part of salvation history: the great stories of the Old Testament, the events surrounding the life, death and Resurrection of our Lord, the miraculous founding of the Church, Of course we commemorate many saints and other historical events, but nobody ever speaks of a grave "duty" to remember Lepanto or tells us we have a "binding commitment" to never forget the Investiture Controversy. The only historical events we have any binding commitment to remember and honor are those which are integral parts of salvation history.

And this is precisely the role many would like to assign to the Holocaust. The Church's "new relationship", her new "constructive dialogue" with Judaism exists as a kind of theological response to the Shoah, which is put forward as an event of such meta-historical importance that it justifies abandoning 2,000 years of Catholic Tradition.

* * * * *

I recall once when I was in college I was taking a philosophy course by a professor who was a fairly decent Catholic but who was unfortunately an ardent disciple of Von Balthasar. He was discussing changes in Catholic theology, art, architecture, and literature in the wake of World War I, and how all these changes were prompted by a desire of Catholic intellectuals to "respond" to the horrors of the war. I raised my hand and asked why Catholicism had to "respond" at all? Why could not the Church simply address the horrors of the modern world by continuing unperturbed on its ageless mission, without turning to the left nor to the right? Instead of "responding" to the modern world, why not call the modern world to respond to the timeless Gospel? The professor kind of hemmed and hawed; the thought had apparently never occurred to him.

I have often mentioned Alyssa Lyra Pitstick's book Light in the Darkness, which is mandatory reading for those interested in learning what an outrageously heterodox theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar was. In the introduction to her book, Pitstick notes that modern theologians who put forward novel theories often are driven by the desire of these thinkers to "respond" to the horrors of the modern age; to allow their thinking to be "conditioned" by the times. She makes this point with reference to theories about Christ's death, but it is just as applicable to our discussion:

"In particular, the face of death in the twentieth century - conditioned by philosophical and social alienation, the great wars, and atheism - often figures noticeably in the new interpretations of Christ's death...However, as Vatican II suggests, such pastoral exigencies can only be adequately met with God's revealed truth, proclaimed anew to a changed audience, not by the molding of doctrinal content to the image of human horror in any age" (Pitstick, Light in the Darkness, pg. 3)

Is not the contemporary Church's refusal to say anything remotely challenging to the Jews an example of doctrinal content being molded in response to the Holocaust? Indeed, it is the elephant in the room; because of some kind of collective guilt over the Holocaust, the Catholic Church has lost the ability - or rather the will - to tell them they need to convert to Christ. Instead of proclaiming the timeless truth of Christ to a modern audience, we are allowing our "response" to the horrors of the 20th century to alter the truth.