Sunday, March 01, 2015

Hearts of Stone to Hearts of Flesh

We hear a lot about Catholics leaving the Church, but we sometimes forget that, though it is undeniable the Church is in a demographic crisis, it is also true that converts continue to flood into the barque of Peter. They come from Protestantism, from New Age mysticism, from atheism, or just from a lax and non-practicing Catholicism back to the observance of the Gospel. Some come in just because a path of study and prayer leads them there, but others come in under circumstances that are fascinating. Often the story of their road to Rome is filled with so much coincidence that it is hard to see it as anything other than providential.

In this post I share five of my most favorite stories about people brought into the Faith by the most unexpected means. In each case I have given only the most abbreviated accounts; no doubt there were more steps, more people, more moments of grace involved, but I think I have presented the crux of each story accurately.

The Wrong Priest

A agnostic young man with a sordid history and nothing but ridicule for the Catholic Church takes a dare from a friend to go into a Catholic confessional. He stops randomly at a parish in Detroit and goes into the confessional with the intention of mocking the priest and wasting his time. Little does the man know he has walked into the confessional of Fr. Eduard Perrone of Assumption Grotto, the most bad-ass priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit and definitely the wrong priest to casually pick on! The priest asks, "What do you have to confess?" The man arrogantly says, "Nothing." Father says, "We'll see about that." He takes out an examination of conscience pamphlet and starts reading through it, asking the man whether he'd committed each sin. By the end of the list the man is broken and realizes his sinfulness. He make a sincere repentance and is received into full communion with the Church not long after. He later becomes a catechist in his own parish.

Converted by Beauty

A man and his fiance are driving through the country. They are secularists, both fallen-away Catholics. They will be getting married later that year are are on the look out for a church - any church - that "looks pretty" so they can be wed somewhere scenic. They see a small little Catholic Church off the main road and pull off to check it out. It is a beautiful neo-gothic era building. It somehow survived the wrekcovation of the 1970s and still has its 19th century high altar and art. The pastor happens to be in the church. They tell him they want to get married there "because the church is so pretty." He opens up into a catechesis on what the Church is, why the art is so beautiful, what is all represents. By the end of the meeting, the two have signed up for RCIA. They return to the practice of the Faith and are married in the Church later that year.

Just One Traditional Latin Mass

A young man who was quite a ways through medical school was invited to Mass by a priest who regularly says the Traditional Latin Mass. He was uncertain about Catholicism in general, let alone the Traditional Latin Mass. The priest implored him. "Just one Latin Mass," he told the medical student. The young man assented and attended the one Traditional Mass. He was blown away. A year later he was in the seminary. He has now been a priest for over ten years. Just one Traditional Latin Mass. The priest who related this story, Fr. Kevin Lutz in Columbus (the most bad-ass priest in Ohio), stated that he had personally led over ten men into the priesthood in a similar manner.

For Love of France

A young man from Flint, MI - rated "the most dangerous city in America" - had a powerful conversion to non-denominational, Protestant Christianity. He never felt completely at home in any church, however, and tried to fill the void by getting involved in a lot of ministries, mission trips, etc. Eventually he wound up on a "mission trip" to...France. But whenever he had spare time, he would sneak away and sit in the various little parish churches that are scattered throughout France, many dating to the Baroque era or older. He fell in love with French culture, taught himself French and, realizing that the most essential thing about French culture was Catholicism, began exploring the Church. He was received into full communion this past fall on the Feast of Christ the King and is currently discerning whether or not he may have a vocation.

Beautiful Singing

An ardent atheist who had made a very determined rejection of God and His Church had a Catholic wife. She attended Mass alone for many years and prayed patiently for her husband. Eventually the husband consented to come to Mass with his wife, where he was struck by the beautiful singing of one of the cantors. The beauty of the singing melted his resistance, and he became convinced of the reality of God. His heart now softened by God's grace, his intellectual opposition withered away. Not long after he entered RCIA and was received into the Catholic Church the following Easter. The cantor served as his sponsor.


The interesting thing is that in none of the above cases was the person converted by hearing a bunch of arguments. It was other things: beauty, liturgy, a sense of their own sinfulness, the glory of Catholic culture. To be sure, after their hearts were converted, argumentation and intellectual reasoning helped edify them in their faith, but in none of the five cases did rational argumentation precipitate their conversion.

These stories should give us confidence in the power of God's grace; He calls whom He wills. It is His Church and He can bring in anybody through any means He chooses. When we see something like this unfolding before our eyes, as I did in a story I narrated recently, our job is to support them with prayer and, when necessary, by answering their questions. But we do not make converts, at least not in the strict sense. The Holy Spirit, "who convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8), it is He who makes converts by turning hearts of stone to hearts of flesh (cf. Ezk. 36:26). Faith is a gift.

What about you? What sorts of unexpected conversions have you been blessed to witness? Leave your stories in the combox.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

One Million Pageviews



Actually, 1,034,255 pageviews, exactly. I remember when I first began this meager effort with Anselm in June of 2007, I never thought I would be doing it for eight years, let alone that we'd ever get a million pageviews. I recall being thrilled when I saw that 30 people had read an article!

Thank you all for your patronage of this blog and website, for your comments and insight. Hopefully we'll be around for two million!

Friday, February 20, 2015

No Trad Magisterium


Some time ago I came across an interesting article on Eponymous Flower (one of the few blogs i read daily, by the way). The article, by guest author Clement Victor Odendorf and entitled "Faithful Catholics and Theological Positions: A Difference Which Must Be Overlooked",  explores the tendency of Traditionalist Catholics to arrogate Magisterial authority to themselves, which leads them over time to conflate their own opinions with orthodoxy itself, with the obligatory condemnations of those outside their own niche.

The example given by Odendorf is that of an SSPX priest who preached on the Feast of Christ the King that Extraordinary Form Masses celebrated by the FSSP were "unacceptable for Catholics" because the FSSP had condoned - or at least remained silent - about the "errors" of Vatican II. Hence they had been compromised and their masses were "unacceptable". This priest went on to pronounce the same about other priests who celebrate the EF under the provisions of Summorum Pontificum

Odendorf notes the implication of the SSPX priest's homily: it is not only participation in the Novus Ordo that was to be rejected, but also every Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite not celebrated by the SSPX. In essence, this particular SSPX priest had assumed a kind of magisterial authority about the importance of the Society, its positions and its Masses. 

That particular argument is not what this post is about. The SSPX priest may have had a point; some priests celebrating the EF under Summorum Pontificum do not have a comprehensive view of tradition and the problems in the modern Church. But that's beside the point. The point is there is no traditionalist "Magisterium" that has the authority to bindingly declare what is an is not an acceptable incarnation of traditionalism. 

There is tremendous variety among traditional Catholics. Some like the Divine Mercy Devotion, others do not. Some believe in the Great King and Era of Peace, others don't. Some are Distributists, others ardent Capitalists. Some attend the EF Mass exclusively while others (like myself) go to the EF sometimes and the Novus Ordo sometimes. Some trads are monarchists, others are not. Some traditionalists are deep into the culture of smoking tobacco and drinking fine wines and beers, a kind of 'classy Catholicism', while others couldn't care a lick for smoking or drinking. Some are willing to openly criticize a sitting pontiff, others believe this crosses the line. Some argue women should never wear pants, others aren't so strict on this. Some pray in Latin, some don't. Some attend SSPX Masses, others want nothing to do with the Society. Some are Thomists, some Augustinians or followers of other theological traditions. Some think the failed Consecration of Russia is the crux and center of all the modern Church's problems, others see this only as a small part of a larger picture. You get the point.

There are many, many differences among trads, and with them all comes a variety of opinions on a whole host of matters. And our Tradition allows room for these sorts of diversifications. It's not that these differences are inconsequential; I have very strong opinions on most of these points, but I am not so certain in them that I would accuse those who don't agree with me of being subpar traditionalists. What I reject, as what Odendorf rejects in his article, is the idea that there is some sort of Traditionalist "magisterium" that can authoritatively define what a Catholic traditionalist ought to look like and proclaim those who do not adhere to this version of traditionalism to be "unacceptable."

The very existence of traditional Catholic blogs attests to the fact that there are many out there interested in examining Tradition, defining what a traditionalist is, and promoting a return to traditional Catholicism. But there is no one website or blog, no organization, no one author, no one order or society, no one publication, no one prelate, no one individual who authoritatively speaks for Catholic traditionalists, and whom to disagree with is to risk ostracism. There is no trad Magisterium.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Perfecting of Every Work and the Holy Car Ride

"A certain man being in anxiety of mind, continually tossed about between hope and fear, and being on a certain day overwhelmed with grief, cast himself down in prayer before the altar in a church, and meditated within himself, saying, 'Oh! if I but knew that I should still persevere,' and presently heard within him a voice from God, 'And if thou didst know it, what wouldst thou do? Do now what thou wouldst do then, and thou shalt be very secure.' And straightway being comforted and strengthened, he committed himself to the will of God and the perturbation of spirit ceased, neither had he a mind any more to search curiously to know what should befall him hereafter, but studied rather to inquire what was the good and acceptable will of God, for the beginning and perfecting of every good work." The Imitation of Christ, Of the Zealous Amendment of our whole lives.

It is a fair assumption with Ash Wednesday being upon us tomorrow that many if not all of our readers have already figured out what penances, mortifications, and spiritual exercises they intend to do during Holy Lent. Whatever additional burdens you have chosen for yourself to expiate your sins, I think it is a worthwhile endeavor to examine every part of our day and ask "is this work perfect?"

The thought of perfection is enough to make most of us shudder.  Whether considered from strictly a technical point of view (perfecting the action) or an interior point of view (perfecting the intention) our fallen natures and weak bodies resist the discipline under which we put ourselves.

If it was not so sad, it would be laughable that so many people in the devout Catholic subculture are so worried and guarded today about fasting too much. Those people who observe a technical rigor with their lent are scorned, as if a person was incapable of fasting strictly and overcoming sin at the same time.

I admit there is a danger in such a thing, though I am not sure how frequently anyone actually approaches that danger today.  Yet it is a pitiable thing that we toss out the treasure we might store up in the kingdom during Lent with our meager penances by still allowing ourselves many sins and imperfections.    

The Fathers (who kept and preached rigorous fasts) also saw the absurdity of giving up food only to endure in vices.  "Fasting consists not in abstinence from food [only], but in a separation from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it. Dost thou fast ? Give me proof of it by thy works."  St. John Chrysostom, On Fasting, Homilies of the Fathers for Lent.

If I could extend a challenge to you for this Lent, I would suggest that you work on perfecting every good work.  What do I mean?  I mean the pursuing in your Lenten observance - side by side with your penance -  of a pure intention in the execution of your duties (i.e. those which are given to you by your state of life).  For workers that means diligence in labor, for children attention at study, etc. To sanctify those daily moments, those places where we are forced to spend so much time, and to focus on redeeming it rather than waiting for holiness to happen.  In other words, sanctify your "trips in the car".

How can we sanctify our trips in the car?  We must fill our cars with the Spirit of God. Pray the Rosary, listen (or sing along) to holy music, listen to Catholic audio-books and the such like. For the perfect, perhaps sitting in silence, focusing on the presence of God.  Do these things in addition to the prayers you already say, and the reading you already do.  It would be going backwards to go from praying your Rosary on your knees to praying it just in the car; but, it is redeeming the time to go from listening to the radio, to listening to St. Augustine. This does not mean that listening to music is bad, but that we choose something better and more pleasing to God.

Whatever you do, don't try it because you think it is too easy.  People today are more likely to cease being your friend if you insult their favorite band than if you insult their religion.  Our cars are oftentimes quite comfortable, people carefully select their music, and time in the car can be quite pleasant.  It may be easy to fully give car time to God once in a while, but what about every day?

"Now shalt thou labor a little, and thou shalt find great rest, yea everlasting joy. If thou shalt remain faithful and zealous in labor, doubt not that God shall be faithful and bountiful in rewarding thee." Imitation of Christ

This Lent Alleluia Audiobooks (possibly for a very limited time depending on how things go) is offering to send a 6 volume set of the Homilies of the Fathers for Lent playable on any CD player (and of course free to download) to those who ask, more details are available here.

You can also check out our last years Catholic Audio Resources for Lent

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Book Review: "On The Marks of the Church"


Many of you are aware of Ryan Grant's Bellarmine Translation Project, which is the most prominent literary endeavor of Mediatrix Press, the publishing arm of the Athanasius Contra Mundum blog apostolate. If you are unfamiliar with this project, you can listen to Ryan's podcast here explaining the rationale for this mammoth undertaking.

But, to sum it up, St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (1542-1621) was a pillar of the Counter-Reformation and one of the greatest theological luminaries in the Church's history. Along with the work of other great saints of the era like Philip Neri and Charles Borromeo, Cardinal Bellarmine's theology helped establish the direction of the post-Tridentine Church, especially vis-a-vis its engagement with the deficient theologies presented by Protestantism.

Like St. Paul, we may say of Bellarmine that though his bodily presence was weak, his writings were voluminous and powerful. Though Bellarmine was not the most innovative or profound theologian ever, the sheer universality of his knowledge and scope of his writing makes him unique among Catholic authors - perhaps occupying a plane with St. Augustine and a few others. Bellarmine not only knew every aspect of Catholic theology exhaustively, but also had read and understood all the arguments of the heretics as well, often demonstrating an astonishing ability to cut through the polemic and isolate the most fundamental characteristics of each heresy.

His pivotal work was De controversiis, a encyclopedic synopsis of all the heresiarchs of the Reformers and their doctrines, along with refutations of their errors. St. John Fisher had undertaken a similar work against Luther; Bellarmine picks up where Fisher left off, making invaluable new contributions along the way - for example, in being the first Catholic theologian to undertake a systematic refutation of Calvin. Thus De controversiis is a work of astounding breadth and great importance, both as a work of theology and as a historical cross-section of the state of the Protestant movement in the first generation after Trent.

Given this, it is very odd that this important work of Bellarmine was never translated into English. There are various reasons for this; but our dear friend Ryan Grant at Athanasius Contra Mundum has undertaken to rectify that with the Bellarmine Translation Project, an effort to make the great works of Robert Bellarmine available to an English audience for the first time.

The first project in this undertaking has just been released: On the Marks of the Church. This work was originally a sub-section of De controversiis, but it may be considered one of the most important portions. In On the Marks of the Church, Bellarmine evaluates the teachings of various reformers on the characteristics of the Church. He refutes them and responds by identifying the true marks of the Catholic Church.

There is a great introduction by Ryan introducing the work and explaining what the nota or "marks" of the Church are - in the words of Bellarmine, "testimonies or signs which discern her from every false religion of the Pagans, Jews, and Heretics", those characteristics or aspects of the Church which "cause it to be evidently believable." Of course, we profess four marks of the Church every week in the Nicene Creed (One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic); but those familiar with only these four may be surprised that Bellarmine identifies not four but fifteen marks.

Latin translation is always a tricky thing, especially with medieval and early modern Latin, which tends to be overly wordy with a lot of subordinate clauses ("therefore"..."furthermore"..."moreover", etc) and any translator runs the risk of producing a translation that, while being slavishly literal, is not very readable. If you want to know what I mean, check out our very literal rendering of the bull Dum Diversas of Pope Nicholas V (1452). Ryan, an erudite Latinist and experienced Latin teacher, avoids these dangers and gives us a translation that is faithful to the Latin but is eminently readable.

I highly recommend not only this particular work, but your support of the Bellarmine Translation Project in general. You can donate to the project at Ryan's Go Fund Me Page. He has raised over $5,000 so far and will need much more to plough through the remaining works of the great Bellarmine.

Below are the links where you can read about and purchase On the Marks of the Church:

Click here for the product page at Mediatrix Press.

Click here to purchase on Amazon ($15.99 USD)

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Jack Tollers on Francis the Argentine


Some time ago I did an article entitled "First Impressions" in which I asked readers to submit what they recalled were their very first 'gut reactions' upon hearing of the election of Jorge Bergoglio to the Chair of St. Peter. We got 82 testimonies, and anyone who takes the time to read them all will notice an eerie similarity among them all. I encourage you to view the original post "First Impressions" and browse the comments. Very interesting.

At that time I was contacted by Argentine traditionalist Jack Tollers. Jack is a casual reader who has occasionally popped in and out of my comboxes over the years. I first met him when doing some research on the great Argentine priest Fr. Castellani. Jack has translated some of Fr. Castellani's works and self-published several books on items of interest to traditional Catholics; he also has his own Spanish-language website called Et Voila!

Anyhow, Jack offered his own insights on the election of Jorge Bergoglio from the perspective of an Argentine who intimately knew who this man was and how he operates. For the vast majority of Anglos, Bergoglio was somebody we only heard about for the first time the day he was elected. But Argentines have a long history with him. Jack brought an interesting perspective to the discussion and I asked him to compose a brief essay on understanding Bergoglio in light of Argentine culture.



I posted this on Facebook some time ago but somehow never got it up on the blog, so now you have it. If you have been struggling to understand the character of the current Pontiff or make sense of some of his erratic actions, this essay should help fill in some gaps. It is a troubling sort of essay, but a necessary one.

I want to thank Mr. Tollers for composing this essay for Unam Sanctam. Please see his excellent works on Fr. Castellani.

UPDATE: Interest in this post led to another interview with Mr. Tollers, this time from the blog From Rome. Please view this interesting addendum to this post at the From Rome blog.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

St. Albertus Magnus Center 2015 Summer Course

For many years Unam Sanctam Catholicam has collaborated with the good folks of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies in Norcia, Italy, to promote their wonderful summer theology courses. The Center is happy to announce the theme for the 2015 course: "Light Unto the Mysteries of God: St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians." The substance of the course will be undertaking a thorough reading of the Letter, following St. Thomas's commentary upon the epistle as our guide. The Epistle offers the opportunity to explore in depth the subject of grace as it is found principally in the sacraments.The two week course will be held in Norcia, Italy, from July 12-July 25th. Cost is €675, which does not include airfare but does include lodging and two meals per day. The course also includes excursions to Assisi, Cascia, Norcia and Rome.

The Albertus Magnus center is an organization dedicated to the revival of higher studies in theology undertaken according to the mind and method of the great scholastics. The Albertus Magnus center is also a recognized 501(c)3 non-profit charitable organization.

The mission of the Center is realized principally through the regular hosting of two-week long Summer Programs, in which participants are invited to an intensive course of studies in Catholic theology presented in the form of the great universities of the high Middle Ages. Unique to these programs is the combination of scholastic form and content, namely the study of St. Thomas Aquinas in the way that St. Thomas himself would have studied. Hence the dedication of the Center to his own teacher, St. Albert the Great. These programs thus take as their central focus the three tasks of the medieval masters of theology (praedicatio, lectio, disputatio) together with the course of studies undertaken by medieval students of theology, which involved commenting on the theological textbook of the day, e.g. the Sentences of Peter Lombard.

From the website of the Albertus Magnus center, describing how a typical day at the course is structured:

Praedicatio (preaching). In our programs, this task of the master of theology is generally fulfilled in the context of the daily Mass which participants are invited to attend.

Lectio (lecture). One or several keynote speakers are invited to fulfill this task of the master of theology by delivering a series of academic lectures throughout the program on the principal academic topic, which varies each year.

Disputatio (disputation). The culmination and highlight of our Summer programs is the holding of an authentic scholastic disputation in which participants are invited to pose arguments and objections for and against a disputed question of theology, after which one of the masters organizes the arguments, presents his definitive respondeo (response), and answers each of the objections raised on either side.

Commentaria (commentary). The academic portion of our programs is then rounded out by two or three further courses in theology which consist of daily seminar style discussions of some of the great texts of the great masters in theology, principally Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae, which has long since replaced Peter Lombard's Sentences as the textbook for ‘beginners’ in theology.

In addition to the central academic focus, our programs seek to integrate a wider experience of the Church's culture and history. For this reason, while making sure that participants have plenty of time for careful and fruitful reading of the texts to be discussed in class, some days are set aside for excursions and cultural activities.

The folks of the St. Albert Center work on conjunction with the Benedictines of Norcia; the lay organizers are theologians in their own right from the International Theological Institute in Tramau, Austria, the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, and Wyoming Catholic College. They are also good friends of this blog and of myself personally. In fact John Joy, one of the Directors of the St. Albertus Magnus Center, has published two theology books exclusively available through Unam Sanctam Catholicam - Poena Satisfactoria (2011) on St. Thomas' doctrine of the atonement, and Cathedra Veritatis (2013) on the extension of papal infallibility.

You can visit their website here for more information or to register; I will also be featuring an advertisement on the sidebar of this blog throughout the year.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

St. Ignatius Loyola on Perfect Obedience

The question of obedience is a timely one in the contemporary Church. On the progressive end of the spectrum, disobedience to the teachings of the Church have been ubiquitous since the breakdown of Catholic discipline in the second half of the 20th century. Catholic Traditionalists, also, have had many lively debates on the precise nature of obedience and how far one is bound in obedience when those in authority in the Church are themselves dissenters, heretics or leading lives of immorality.

Fortunately, this is not a question that Tradition is silent on. From the Rule of St. Benedict to the teaching of St. Francis of Assisi to the Imitation of Christ and many more spiritual works, the characteristics of obedience have been thoroughly examined.

In this post, we bring you excerpts from one of the great writings on this subject, the letter "On Perfect Obedience" from St. Ignatius Loyola. This letter was addressed to the Jesuits in Portugal around 1553 when the Society there had been rent by divisions due to certain brothers who withheld their obedience from their superiors. St. Ignatius fiercely condemns this cafeteria obedience and lays down what went on to become the classic Jesuit definition of obedience, which is nothing other than the traditional Catholic teaching. This epistle is Letter 25 in the Ignatius corpus.

The foundational principle of St. Ignatius' teaching on obedience is that the superior is to be obeyed not by virtue of the excellence with which he wields the power of his office, but simply because he is the superior, and as such is the representative of God to the religious - this is regardless of whether he acts prudently or not:

"The superior is to be obeyed not because he is prudent, or good, or qualified by any other gift of God, but because he holds the place and the authority of God, as Eternal Truth has said: He who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me [Luke 10:16]. Nor on the contrary, should he lack prudence, is he to be the less obeyed in that in which he is superior, since he represents Him who is infallible wisdom, and who will supply what is wanting in His minister, nor, should he lack goodness or other desirable qualities, since Christ our Lord, having said, the scribes and the Pharisees sit on the chair of Moses, adds, therefore, whatever they shall tell you, observe and do: but do not act according to their works [Matt. 23:2-3]."

After laying this foundation, St. Ignatius explains there are three degrees of obedience. The first and lowest consists in simply doing what one is told; in other words, merely performing the command in a purely external manner. He says there is no true merit in this sort of 'obedience of execution':

"...[T]he first degree of obedience is very low, which consists in the execution of what is commanded, and that it does not deserve the name of obedience, since it does not attain to the worth of this virtue unless it rises to the second degree..."

The second degree of obedience is defined as an obedience of the will, in which one not only conforms externally to a command but actually wills to do so, whether or not they personally think it is a prudent command. St. Ignatius defines this level as an obedience

"...which is to make the superior's will one's own in such a way that there is not merely the effectual execution of the command, but an interior conformity, whether willing or not willing the same. Hence it is said in Scripture, obedience is better than sacrifice [1 Sam. 15:22], for, according to Saint Gregory: "In victims the flesh of another is slain, but in obedience our own will is sacrificed."

This obedience has merit because the Lord places such great value on the will of man, especially when it is freely subjected unto obedience in imitation of Christ. He also notes that this obedience is due even in spiritual matters; the discipline of the religious superior does extend to the interior spiritual life:

"Now because this disposition of will in man is of so great worth, so also is the offering of it, when by obedience it is offered to his Creator and Lord. How great a deception it is, and how dangerous for those who think it lawful to withdraw from the will of their superior, I do not say only in those things pertaining to flesh and blood, but even in those which of their nature are spiritual and holy, such as fasts, prayers, and other pious works!"

Yet this is not even the most perfect sort of obedience. The second degree of obedience is to interiorly will to carry out the command, whether we agree with it or not. The third and most perfect degree of obedience is called the "obedience of understanding" and, according to St. Ignatius, occurs when we not only interiorly will to obey but actually mold our understanding in such a manner that we actually submit our judgment to the superior - we presume the superior's judgment is best, that is understanding is more perfect than our own, and that even the command is imprudent, God in His graciousness will reward the religious for his perfect obedience:

"But he who aims at making an entire and perfect oblation of himself, in addition to his will, must offer his understanding, which is a further and the highest degree of obedience. He must not only will, but he must think the same as the superior, submitting his own judgment to that of the superior, so far as a devout will can bend the understanding.

For although this faculty has not the freedom of the will, and naturally gives its assent to what is presented to it as true, there are, however, many instances where the evidence of the known truth is not coercive and it can, with the help of the will, favor one side or the other. When this happens every truly obedient man should conform his thought to the thought of the superior.

And this is certain, since obedience is a holocaust in which the whole man without the slightest reserve is offered in the fire of charity to his Creator and Lord through the hands of His ministers. And since it is a complete surrender of himself by which a man dispossesses himself to be possessed and governed by Divine Providence through his superiors, it cannot be held that obedience consists merely in the execution, by carrying the command into effect and in the will's acquiescence, but also in the judgment, which must approve the superior's command, insofar, as has been said, as it can, through the energy of the will bring itself to this."

St. Ignatius does propose a manner for an inferior to make an objection known to a superior if he legitimately knows of a better way of doing something; for example, a superior orders him to construct a fence in a certain manner but the inferior, through his natural skills, knows of a more secure means of doing so. Even so, the inferior ought to be entirely submissive to the will of his superior. In such cases, Ignatius says:

"But [obedience] does not mean that you should not feel free to propose a difficulty, should something occur to you different from his opinion, provided you pray over it, and it seems to you in God's presence that you ought to make the representation to the superior. If you wish to proceed in this matter without suspicion of attachment to your own judgment, you must maintain indifference both before and after making this representation, not only as to undertaking or relinquishing the matter in question, but you must even go so far as to be better satisfied with, and to consider as better, whatever the superior shall ordain."

One last reflection: It is often repeated that the obedience required of Catholics is not meant to be "blind"; that is, it is not meant to be unthinking. It would be interesting to discuss what people mean exactly by the word "blind", but as far as St. Ignatius is concerned regarding his Jesuits, he does specify that he wishes obedience to be blind:

"The third means to subject the understanding which is even easier and surer, and in use among the holy Fathers, is to presuppose and believe, very much as we are accustomed to do in matters of faith, that what the superior enjoins is the command of God our Lord and His holy will. Then to proceed blindly, without injury of any kind, to the carrying out of the command, with the prompt impulse of the will to obey. So we are to think Abraham did when commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac [Gen. 22:2-3]. Likewise, under the new covenant, some of the holy Fathers to whom Cassian refers, as the Abbot John, who did not question whether what he was commanded was profitable or not, as when with such great labor he watered a dry stick throughout a year. Or whether it was possible or not, when he tried so earnestly at the command of his superior to move a rock which a large number of men would not have been able to move.

We see that God our Lord sometimes confirmed this kind of obedience with miracles, as when Maurus, Saint Benedict's disciple, going into a lake at the command of his superior, did not sink. Or in the instance of another, who being told to bring back a lioness, took hold of her and brought her to his superior. And you are acquainted with others. What I mean is that this manner of subjecting one's own judgment, without further inquiry, supposing that the command is holy and in conformity with God's will, is in use among the saints and ought to be imitated by anyone who wishes to obey perfectly in all things, where manifestly there appears no sin."

He says elsewhere in the same letter while discussing obedience of understanding that obedience ought to be blind, and that religious obedience itself is overthrown when it is less than blind:

"When one acts in opposition to one's judgment, one cannot obey lovingly and cheerfully as long as such repugnance remains. Promptitude fails, and readiness, which are impossible without agreement of judgment, such as when one doubts whether it is good or not to do what is commanded. That renowned simplicity of blind obedience fails, when we call into question the justice of the command, or even condemn the superior because he bids us to do something that is not pleasing. Humility fails, for although on the one hand we submit, on the other we prefer ourselves to the superior."

May all Catholic religious return to these classic principles of obedience.
St. Ignatius Loyola, ora pro nobis!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Facebook fun with His Sheaness

Usually I don't waste my time arguing with neo-Cath apologists on online forums, but I recently had the opportunity of engaging in a tit-for-tat with His Sheaness on Facebook. The occasion was Shea's commentary on Damon Linker's piece "The Foolish Cruelty of Catholics Who Wants Gays to Disappear", published in The Week in December, 2014. Linker's piece itself was occasioned by a previous piece by Austin Ruse entitled "The New Homophiles", featured in Crisis magazine.

I recommend you read the two articles above for background. Ruse's article on the New Homophiles is fairly straight forward and represents traditional Catholic teaching on the question well - he basically makes the point that even if gay Catholics can serve God chastely and in good conscience, we should not view homosexual orientation as some kind of "good", and that the attempts to find special "gifts" and goods in homosexuality qua homosexuality constitutes a real rupture with Catholic teaching. The fact that the Church accepts orthodox homosexuals who are living celibate does not mean we ought to affirm a homosexual "identity".

Linker's piece trashes Ruse. He suggests homosexuals do have special "gifts" to offer the Church. He suggests that it is wrong to approach homosexuality as something that ought to be "cured". He has no problem with homosexuals being admitted to seminary and, while affirming that Catholic homosexuals have an obligation to live chastely, affirms the concept of homosexual identity.

Mark Shea posted a link to Linker's piece, in which he expressed complete approval with Linker's attack on Ruse and Linker's overall positive assessment of the "gifts" of homosexuals. "Gay identity" is a very broad topic, but I challenged Shea on the very narrow point of whether Linker was right that homosexuals should be admitted to seminaries, which has been very clearly answered in the negative by the Church.

Two things: First, I have not included the entirety of the Facebook thread, not because I want to hide anything but because it was one of those threads with hundreds of comments - and not all relevant - and posting them all would be tedious, so I've only posted the interactions between Shea and myself. Second, I have blacked out my own name. Although many of you know how I am, I have blotted out my own name simply because I choose to blog anonymously and try to keep my name off the Internet whenever possible. So the black boxes are me speaking.

In my entrance into the debate, I start with quoting Linker's article. Linker had criticized Ruse for stating that persons with homosexual desires were not suitable candidates to the priesthood, even if they were successfully practicing chastity. I then go on to quote several Vatican documents affirming the very position Linker slams Ruse for affirming:



Then Mark Shea jumps in and tosses out a typical neo-Cath canard: that of the mean traddie Pharisee:


Now, me it sounds like Shea is disagreeing with the document Religiosorum Institutio, as well as the 2005 Instruction. He seems to be saying that if a man is deeply attracted to men but simply manages not to act on it, then we shouldn't worry about admitting him to the priesthood. Not wanting to accuse Shea of saying something he is not, I ask him a simple yes or no question in order to clarify his position:



This should not be difficult. Linker had attacked Ruse for this position, but Ruse was quite correct in affirming the 1961 document of St. John XXIII, as well as the 2005 Instruction and Bertone's 2008 reaffirmation. Would Shea affirm these instructions?


*Sigh.* I guess I should have known better than to get a straight answer out of him. So, I recap my question and explain how it is related to the articles by Linker and Ruse:



Of course, Shea refuses to answer. To say "yes" puts him in clear opposition with the documents just cited, while to say "no" undermines his attack on Austin Ruse's article - or at least this aspect of it. So, as expected, he waffles on the question again, while also making some astonishing statements:



I respond to his comment about me "wetting myself" about gays sneaking into seminaries next, but notice the comment "discipline is discipline. It's malleable." Well, that is true, but my goodness, we are talking about disciplines reaffirmed as recently as 2008. We're not debating some medieval document. I grant the point that discipline is "malleable" (Shea and I would probably disagree on to what degree), but if discipline is so malleable as to be subject to complete revision and overturning in a space of a mere six years, then there is really no point anymore in talking about Catholic disciplines.

Also, note "since I'm not forming or becoming a priest, I don't much care what the Church does." That's pretty astonishing, but not really that surprising, given an increasing amount of neo-Caths seem to be taking this approach; remember Simcha's statement that nothing going on in Rome or in the Curia was important to her?

But he does reveal a bit of his hand here. He personally sees no problem with homosexual priests being ordained - and offers the argument that they would be the best qualified to minister to other men with same sex attraction! So...if we have a gay priest, we think it's a good idea to pair him up with other homosexual men?

At any rate, Shea dutifully says that he accepts the Church's "current policy" even though he personally doesn't see homosexual ordinations as a huge problem. Setting aside the laughable notion of the non-admission of homosexuals as simply "the Church's current policy" (as opposed to her perennial discipline), I wonder then, if he disagrees, should the discipline then be changed? Should the practice affirmed by the Church's newest sainted pope and reaffirmed twice in the past decade be chucked? And if so, what, exactly, has changed since 2008?



To his earlier comment, it's not me but the popes who cared about gays getting ordained. If this was the case since time immemorial until 2008, then the only justification for altering it must be that something has profoundly changed since 2008. How has the situation changed since then, Mark? Why are the directives of Benedict XVI and John XXIII no longer good enough?


Oh. They have nothing to do with the discussion. I see. It is evident that nothing has changed since 2008 - except public opinion. And now we are seeing a neo-Cath shift to bend with the winds. 

I've basically decided to throw in the towel by this point.



Mark really can't understand why his answers are not satisfactory:


So I toss it out to him one more time: If you disagree with the disciplines, then are you advocating they should change? Are you advocating that "chaste" homosexuals are suitable candidates for the priesthood? Should the traditional discipline be abandoned?



After maintaining a charitable demeanor in the midst of such responses, even another commentator, one who actually took Shea's side on the debate, tries to pry a straight answer out of him:


Well, it was fruitless. I got no more responses from His Sheaness, and the thread eventually deteriorated into some argument about whether the North or South was right in the Civil War.

But I think this thread demonstrates some inherent problems in the neo-Cath position: To what degree will we see that alleged orthodoxy to the Church is really just a matter of supporting what is viewed as "current policy"? Is there not a problem with viewing a perennial discipline as merely "policy"? Is not the value of discipline and tradition severely downgraded. if so? And if these sorts of matters are simply the "current policy" that can change the way it changes with each American presidential administration, what tools does the Church really have to ensure discipline and continuity in the long run?

Ultimately, the neo-Cath strategy is to insist loudly that certain things can never be changed so long as the current Pontiff does not want to change them; then, when the "policy" changes with another pontiff, suggest just as loudly that such matters were never immune from change to begin with. I'm not suggesting the practical question of whether or not to admit persons with deep-seated homosexuality to the seminary is a doctrinal question or that infallibility is on the line here; I am suggesting that reasoning that the Church's very old discipline on this matter (it goes back to Trent and before) can be seen as merely "current policy" is destructively reductionist.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Exquisitely Beautiful

Have you ever really seen a beautiful act of repentance and conversion unfold before you? We all have our own stories, of course, but I mean getting to observe the wondrous working of grace in somebody else, either up close or from a distance?

Some time ago - many years - I noticed in my parish one day a young woman sitting in the back. She was a pretty young thing, perhaps in her early or mid twenties. She was all alone. She was pregnant, perhaps five or six months. I'd never seen her before, and we have a small church so I recognize most of the regulars. I assumed she was new and perhaps not a believer, because never went up to receive communion. She mainly kept to the very back and kind of tried to remain unnoticed, and she always left Mass immediately so there was really no chance to talk to her.

One day, maybe about a month after I first noticed her, I was returning from communion and noticed her kneeling down at the pew and weeping profusely - and I mean weeping! Her head was in her hands, face red, tears streaming down her cheeks and her body heaving with sobs. I knew those tears - the tears of penitence! Oh how beautiful are the tears elicited by God's grace! I was profoundly moved just seeing it, but of course I didn't want to intrude, so I left her alone and gave thanks to God. A lamb was being carried back on the shoulders of the shepherd. She had found the pearl of great price.

Well that girl, she returned week after week. She still sat in the back, and she still did not receive communion. But it was different; there was a contentment on her face now. She was at peace. I often saw her while I was returning from communion. She was always praying fervently, judging by the fire in her eyes and the longing in her face. I saw her now and then lingering after Mass at times as she said hello to the priest and chatted with him, so she must have made an introduction to him.

Shortly after this she began receiving Holy Communion. I never saw her name on a list of candidates or catechumens and never witnessed or heard about any profession of faith at any Mass, so I am assuming she was already a Catholic. Her trip home came not in the public profession of faith but in the quiet and solitude of the confessional.

Months went by. The time came for her to deliver her child. Now I saw her at Mass with a tiny infant. I remember praying after Mass one day and seeing her and what I assumed were her extended family in the Church for the baptism. Never seen any of them before, and frankly, some of them looked kind of uncomfortable to be there. With them was a scruffy looking guy who was apparently the father of the baby. He looked kind of...well, let's just say he clearly wasn't sure about this Catholicism thing. I don't want to go too far and infer too much from their demeanor alone, but it seemed clear that the father was there because the girl wanted it, not because he understood what baptism was. Maybe I was wrong, but I'm a pretty good judge of body language. That's about all I could tell, and I left the church so they could have their private baptism.

The child was baptized. As months went by, I noticed the man occasionally attending Mass with the girl. He still looked skeptical about the whole thing, but maybe less so as time passed. He cleaned up a bit, too, and it seemed - from what I could tell - that the man and the girl were making an effort to raise the child together. A change had come over the girl, too. I don't know how to describe it. Just a look of contentment and lightness in her character. The workings of grace made manifest.

Some time passed. Maybe months. Maybe a year. I don't remember. Eventually they had wedding rings on their fingers. I don't know when. By now I'd been noting them for over a year and a half and still had never spoken to them. But somewhere along the line they got wed. The man was also now receiving Holy Communion in the good graces of Mother Church. And the girl was pregnant again.

Beautiful, right? It gets better.

After a time, another girl starts showing up with the first one. By her appearance, I assume she is her sister. Then that girl's husband stars attending. They get pregnant. Now there's two families. I watch their kids all get older. Other kids are born.

But that's not all. Eventually their parents start coming to Mass with them, at first intermittently, but then regularly. The whole huge brood becomes regular attendees at Mass. There's like ten or twelve of them now, a whole huge family of faith, born of the tears of one lonely, scared girl who cried out to God in a moment of desperation. And look what came of it! Faith of a mustard seed, indeed!

I don't know the whole backstory. I don't know the mysterious workings of Grace. I don't know what prayers, what arguments, what must have happened to get each one of those people there. But clearly the witness of the original girl and her fiery faith and love were the center upon which everything else revolved.

It's been years now. Did I ever talk to them? No. Never a word. I was perfectly content to watch this unfold from a distance. Maybe I shall someday. It is still unfolding. But when I think back on what I saw, the little bits I witnessed, of what happened, and remember years ago watching that lonely, pregnant girl weep in the back of the Church, my God! It is one of the most exquisitely beautiful things I have ever seen in this life!

That is what grace is about. That is worth fighting for.

"You tellest all my wanderings; put thou my tears into thy bottle. Are they not in thy book?" -Psalm 56:8

Friday, January 16, 2015

Maybe...coincidence?

If we read the Diary of St. Faustina, we come across the following entry for December 17, 1936, which is paragraph number 823:

December 17 [1936]: I have offered this day for priests. I have suffered more today than ever before, both interiorly and exteriorly. I did not know it was possible to suffer so much in one day. I tried to make a Holy Hour, in the course of which my spirit had a taste of the bitterness of the Garden of Gethsemane.

Clearly something powerful was going on in the spiritual realm that day, and St. Faustina was keenly aware of it. What could have possibly been happening on that day to cause St. Faustina such agonizing pain? What was so special about December 17, 1936?



Oh.

Hmmm...

Well, I suppose we'll just file this under interesting factoids to keep in mind. It's probably nothing.

FYI. Before you comment, please notice the tag for this post is "humour"; it is not our intention to make any insinuation beyond noting the existence of this coincidence.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Old Testament Typology: Epiphany

What is the typological interpretation of Scripture? There are various ways it could be explained, but I think the best is to say that typology refers to the way the truths of the New Testament are foreshadowed or "hidden" in the Old Testament, to use St. Augustine's famous dictum.

It is the way in which Isaac carrying the wood up Mount Moriah to his own sacrifice signifies Christ carrying the cross; the way in which the waters of the great Flood signify baptism, or the valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem symbolizes Hell. The Old Testament is replete with examples in which persons, things and events signify New Testament realities in the same manner a shadow signifies the real thing by which the shadow is cast.

Please note that typology is not the same thing as prophecy; in prophecy, prophets reveal what God is doing or will do in a time to come - a telling or a foretelling. In typology, we have no foretelling but more of a signification, a symbolic affinity that helps us shed light on the mysteries of the New Testament in light of the Old and vice versa.

Two years ago we looked at the Feast of Epiphany as found in the prophetic texts of the Old Testament. This article explained Epiphany as the revelation of the Messiah to the Gentiles and examined many prophecies from the major and minor prophets which foretold this event. The following year we did an article examining the most famous of these prophecies in depth, that of Micah 5, which is the well-known Bethlehem Prophecy ("But thou, O' Bethlehem Ephratha...").

Today we shall again revisit this theme of Epiphany by examining the typological signs of the inclusion of the Gentiles throughout the Old Testament - that is, looking at persons and events of the Old Testament that signify the inclusion of the Gentiles into the household of God, which is at the core of this great Feast.

In the Book of Genesis, the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth are the fathers of the nations and hence representative of the diversity the human race. Shem of course will be the father of the Hebrews and all the Semitic races. Japtheth, because he settled in the western isles, is typically symbolic of the Gentiles. In Noah's prophecy after he discovers Ham has seen him naked, he says:

"May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan be his servant" (Gen. 9:27).

That God will "enlarge" Japheth by making him "dwell in the tents of Shem" is signified that at some point the Gentile descendants of Japheth will be grafted into the house of Shem, which is what is inferred by saying they will "dwell in the tents" of Shem's descendants; i.e., the Gentiles will be grafted in to Israel (cf. Rom. 11:11-24).

Later in the Book of Genesis, we see Abraham, after returning from the victory over the five kings, pays homage to Melchizedek of Salem and offers him tithes (Gen. 14:17-20). This Melchizedek is a Gentile king who nevertheless has knowledge of the true God - at least that is the Catholic Tradition.* In Hebrews 7, St. Paul uses this historical episode to demonstrate the superiority of the New Covenant priesthood over the old, since in Abraham's submission there is a figurative submission of the Levitical order to the priesthood of Melchizedek. Now the priesthood of Melchizedek is one composed of Jews and Gentiles - of all who acclaim the Messiah. Therefore the episode of Abraham paying homage to Melchizedek demonstrates that the future priesthood will include the Gentiles, signified by the Gentile King Melchizedek.

In the Old Testament, especially in Genesis, we frequently see strife between the older and younger sibling with the theme of the younger supplanting the older. The Ishmael-Isaac, Esau-Jacob, and Joseph-Brothers stories all contain this element. Jesus Himself draws on this theme in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). In this parable of our Lord the younger brother represents the Gentiles while the older brother represents the Jews; the older brother is indignant about the Father's forgiveness and restoration of the prodigal son just as the Jews were envious an indignant at the inclusion of the Gentiles into the early Church. That the Gentiles have been grafted in while the Jews have persisted in unbelief is signified by the supplanting of the older sons by the younger in the Genesis patriarchal stories.

In 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9, we see that the Queen of Sheba comes to visit King Solomon with a very great retinue laden with all sorts of gifts. She has traditionally represented the nations, and the medievals saw a connection between her gifts to Solomon and the Magi's gifts to Christ. The Queen of Sheba came from the "ends of the earth" (cf. Luke 11:31) to present gifts to the Son of David and hear his wisdom; the Magi came from the ends of the earth to present gifts to the Son of David and learn the wisdom of God. Thus, the homage the Queen of Sheba pays to Solomon is a figure of the Gentiles being drawn into the Church of God, which is what Isaiah prophesied when he said:


'Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.' (Isa. 2:3).

We also should note that the genealogy of Jesus contains several references to Gentile's being grafted in to the messianic line. The genealogy of Christ, which is read at the Easter Vigil, contains references to four women, all of whom are Gentiles. These women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Rahab.

Tamar (Gen. 38) was a Canaanite woman who was wed to two of Judah's sons and eventually, by ruse, became impregnated by Judah himself and gave birth to Perez, who was an ancestor of Jesus.

Rahab is best known as the Canaanite harlot who hid the twelve spies from Joshua in the episode of Jericho. But what is less well known is that after the fall of Jericho she was wed to Salmon of the house of Judah (Matt. 1:4-5) and would subsequently become the mother of Boaz.

Ruth was a Moabite woman who, through her attachment to her mother-in-law Naomi, came to dwell among the people of Israel and wed Boaz, and thus became the great-grandmother of David, and an ancestor of Christ.

Bathsheba, mentioned in the genealogy of Christ as "she who had been the wife of Uriah" (Matt. 1:14), was either a Hittite or a Jebusite. She is particularly important, as she is the Mother of the Son of David (Solomon) and hence a type of Mary (which we see in her intercessory role depicted in 1 Kings 2) as well as the Church. With the Gentile Bathsheba grafted into the royal House of David, we have the most perfect figure of the Gentiles being grafted in to the Church.

In each case we have a Gentile woman who is not only taken into the house of Israel in the Messianic line but who also serves to advance salvation history. None of these women are passive; they are active in the affairs of their day in one way or another and as such serve as instruments of God's Providence by which the Messiah is given to the world. This signifies the centrality of the inclusion of the Gentiles into the New Covenant, which is signified by the centrality Gentile women have played in the affairs if Israel throughout salvation history.

Our Lord also makes mention of some Gentiles in the Old Testament that were recipients of special favors from God:

Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way" (Luke 4:24-30).

Why the anger of the Jews? The widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian were both Gentiles. Elijah's miracle of the widow and the cleansing of Naaman both signify the inclusion of the Gentiles in God's covenant, especially the latter, which is a type of baptism. The Jews react with the same envious anger of the older brother in the Prodigal Son or the workers in the vineyard who were indignant that those hired later will receive the same pay as those who have worked all day. Our Lord suggests that because of unbelief, His message will be of greater news to the Gentiles than to unbelieving Jews, just as the miracles of Elijah and Elisha were done for pagans.

The inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant is not an accidental aspect of the New Testament, but is central to it, something that St. Paul says is a mystery whose revelation had to wait the coming of Christ:

"In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3:4-6).

This incorporation of the Gentiles into God's family is part of the birthright of the Messiah. God, speaking of the Messiah, says in the prophet Isaiah: "You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified," but then goes on to say, "It is too light a thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth" (Isa. 49:3,6).

It is this light, this revelation of God to the Gentiles and their subsequent incorporation into the Kingdom of Christ that we celebrate today on the Feast of Epiphany.

Related:
Epiphany in the Prophets
The Bethlehem Prophecy of Micah

__________________________________________________________________________________
*Jewish tradition, unable to affirm that Father Abraham would pay tithes to a Gentile, has Melchizedek being none other than Shem himself under another name.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Book Review: Magisterial Authority

There is a gap today in many peoples understanding of the Holy Catholic Faith. What is the Magisterium? What authority does magisterial teaching have, and what degrees of intellectual assent are we required to yield to magisterial teaching? In this short and understandable work, Magisterial Authority by Father Chad Ripperger, the author does a solid job explaining the above in a way that most people who have reached the age of maturity will understand.

This book has already been reviewed here at Rorate Caeli by our friend Ryan Grant of Mediatrix Press. While I enjoyed the book and think Ryan did a great job with his review, I had some different thoughts on the work.

There has been some discussion in the press that the Pope will be publishing an encyclical in the near future throwing his support behind the theory that man is causing global climate fluctuations. Fr. Ripperger's helpful book examines the Pope's authority on matters of science or on other topics outside of faith and morals. If the Pope declares that the science behind man made climate change to be true, does that bind on the conscience of the faithful to accept it as well, or else risk becoming a dissident if one does not?

For being so short, the work is fairly comprehensive; I cannot think of an aspect of magisterial teaching that Father Chad did not at least briefly cover, and there was one particularly time I wished he had covered it more in depth in this short work. In the second essay ‘Various Organs of Infallibility’. The author cites Tuas Libenter, of Pope Pius IX, to say that the universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians are to be considered infallible, but he limits those to the scholastic schools from between 1100 to 1750:
“When the term Theologians is used, it should not be confused with the generic theologians. The term “Theologians” refers to a specific group of men, viz. those theologians of the various scholastic schools from the twelfth century until the middle of the eighteenth century (roughly during the years of 1100 and 1750). Pius IX in Tuas Libenter says that we are to hold those teachings as pertaining to the Faith not only found in the decrees of the councils but also in the universal and constant consensus of the Catholic Theologians.” pg 30

He cites Scanelli, who observes the following:

“Although the assistance of the Holy Ghost is not directly promised to theologians, nevertheless the assistance promised to the Church requires that He should prevent them as a body from falling into error; otherwise the faithful who follow them would all be led astray.” pg 30-31

In my mind this raised some further questions which perhaps someone can explain for me.
  1. Why is the cut off date 1750 if the Church stills needs their assistance, according to Scannelli?
  2. Why is it limited to the Scholastics?
  3. Is this idea advanced by Pope Pius IX based on previous teaching on the same topic, or is this just one thought in his magisterial teaching?
  4. Is this statement asserting the infallibility of a consensus of theologians itself infallible? From what I understand from Fr. Chads book,  not every statement in an encyclical is infallible.
  5. Who determines if there is a consensus? Reading all the works of the scholastic presents a practical problem to everyone (even Bishops) except other theologians.

One would have to rely a great deal on the integrity of the theologians to point out when there is a lack of a consensus, (which many of them did, like St. Alphonsus, who would routinely cite people who disagreed with his opinion and then state why the thought they were wrong). This could lead to assuming a false consensus when none exists, a sort of “hyper-infallibility” every time someone reads a few theologians in agreement with each other from that era.

In the fourth essay ‘The Proper Response to an Erring Magisterial Member’ Father Ripperger provides some very sound and practical advice that can be very helpful to maintaining peace in ones soul in these tumultuous times. I thought the advice to pray and do penance when one encounters such a thing to be most excellent. It reminded me of a similar exhortation in the Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus, that before reproofing one’s brother one should pray and do penance in secret for him.

I would like to add a few thoughts to the last point in the essay: to examine ones conscience, asking “what have I done to deserve better leaders?”.

My desire to elaborate comes in part from the use of the quote from St. John Eudes in the text used in Fathers exhortation, the quote that is ubiquitous in traditional catholic circles from Catholic sites, blogs, forum signatures, memes, and has become a traditional Catholic cliche. The reliance on this singular quotation is curious, since there are many other works on calamity and why bad things happen written by greater authorities that appear to be neglected such as: St. John Cassian’s conference on the Slaughter of Holy Men, and even more modern works like Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Father Raoul Plus (A slightly abridged version on Audiobook here).

I wish to draw from that well of knowledge of St. John Cassian, not in opposition to examination of ourselves, or that bad leaders are not sometimes a divine chastisement . Rather that bad leaders in and of themselves are an indifferent kind of thing.

St. John Cassian, in conference 6 talks about the three kinds of things in this world: the good, the bad, and the indifferent. The only thing bad is sin, the only thing good is Godliness and the practice of virtue and the indifferent are

“But those things are indifferent which can be appropriated to either side according to the fancy or wish of their owner, as for instance riches, power, honor, bodily strength, good health, beauty, life itself, and death, poverty, bodily infirmities, injuries, and other things of the same sort, which can contribute either to good or to evil as the character and fancy of their owner directs.” ~On the Slaughter of Some Holy Men, St. John Cassian.

Evil, that is sin we are responsible for can never be forced on us, even if our bodies were possessed by a devil, we are only guilty in so far as we cooperate with evil at the level of our will.

Is our anger at bad leaders because we wish to avoid suffering? If our examination of conscience returns us to compunction and a willingness to suffer then it is good, but we should be cautious as to think that even if we and the majority of Christians should show perfect fidelity to grace for the rest of our lives that we would avoid suffering the scourge of bad leaders.

Bad leaders, whether they are chastisements for the wicked, and/or trials for the just, are to bring out a greater good. Father Chad says “We must make sure that our conscience is clear by making sure that we do prayer and penance to make sure that we have priests and bishops who love and teach the Orthodox Catholic Faith”.pg 58

Can man ever make sure, even by prayer and penance? When our ability to say pleasing prayer and make righteous penance comes from the movement of Grace? When our Lord was in agony, He asked that the cup pass from him, was not His Prayer most perfect? Yet, He said “Thy Will be Done”, and we must pray similarly - when we ask God to send us good and holy priests, it must be within the greater context of His Adorable Will, understanding that He may send us good or bad for His own reasons. God allowed the betrayal of Judas to bring a greater good out of it.  God can allow bad leaders for the same reason, and that He will give the grace to resist the temptations to sin that arise both from their bad example and leadership, and  I cannot conclude otherwise. We cannot make sure why we have bad leaders at any given time, and so we should rather seek to unite ourselves with the will of the Father whether He gives us good leaders, or he allows bad ones for our sanctification. 

Even though I found certain parts I disagreed with, I still found this work is still most necessary, and I feel that it will become even more important in the coming year. I would encourage you to read, buy and distribute this to your friends and family. In my opinion, its presentation is solid and should appeal to more than just traditional Catholics. I certainly plan on passing around my copy.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Posts of 2014



It's time to wrap up another year here at Unam Sanctam Catholicam. And what a great year it was! Back in February we announced the addition of two new contributors, Noah Moerbeek of Alleluia Audio Books, as well as Maximus, who is now residing in Italy as our "Roman Correspondent" (LOL). A shout out of course to my very old and dear friend and co-blogger Anselm, who still pops in once or twice a year with some commentary or book review.

Thanks also to John Goodall for meticulously editing all of the articles on the Unam Sanctam website, to Throwback from Popin' Ain't Easy for his movie reviews, and A.R. Danziger Art & Design for occasional design work over the years.

Finally, shout outs to those other sites and Facebook pages who are instrumental in spreading our writing, especially: Tantumblogo from the always pleasant Blog for Dallas Area Catholics, Bruce from Catholic Faith: In the Light of Tradition, which is a neat Facebook page that kind of serves as an aggregator of good traditional content from all over the web. Please go give them a few likes, as well as Catholic Issues,  New Zealand. Also worthy of mention in this regard are Pewsitter, who gave us more traffic this year than any other site, as well as Dr. Blosser at Musings of a Pertinacious Papist. I'm sure I'm missing some, but God bless all of you.

Special thanks to that blogger who variously goes by the names of Immature Brain Surgeon, Mighty Joe Young and I Am Not Spartacus. He has given me a lot of encouragement over the years and is always great at tipping me off to excellent little nuggets.

And now, on to my favorite posts from 2014:

God is Not Impressed by Numbers:Yes, our Lord wants all men to be saved. But they will be saved on His terms, and if they will not heed Him on His own terms, He is willing to wipe them away and start all over again. He has delivered His truth and His commands, and if people are not willing to keep them, He will blot them out - even if He has to blot out an entire nation or even a race and start all over again from scratch.

Ecumenism is the Church's Bad Dream: Just like the bad dream where you know you have to leave to go somewhere but keep finding yourself bogged down by various details, so the Church speaks of reunion but never actually moves towards it. It has repudiated the only path towards real reunion - return to Rome.

Jewels for Your Crown: Whatever evil afflicts us we should like valiant warriors go to fight the dragon. To bear wrongs patiently is not to run from battle, but to fight bravely with the arms that God has given us: meekness, patience, goodness and all the other Fruits of the Holy Ghost.

Lost Practice of Christian Shunning: We do not go out of our way to avoid the sinners of the world – those folks are targets for conversion and anyhow its impossible to get away from them ultimately. But we do expect a certain degree of behavior and fidelity “on the inside” of the Church, to use St. Paul’s language. Those Christians who obstinately refuse to maintain it ought to be avoided. 

Synod Wrap Up: Our analysis of the epic Synod on the Family of October, 2014.

Steel or Platitudes: There was a time when the Church defended her flock with steel instead of empty platitudes and fuzzy feelings.

Critiques of the Brick by Brick Mentality: Why not denying that reform happens incrementally, this post examines some of the questionable premises associated with the movement that has become known as the 'reform of the reform', or also, the 'brick by brick' approach.

Two Tales of Tradition: A very straightforward way to underscore the importance of Tradition by reference to the experience of two small European villages.

Profile of a Theological Liberal: What does it mean to be a "liberal" theologian? Catholics have appropriated secular-political definitions of what it means to be "liberal" or "conservative", essentially equating indicators of political liberalism with theological liberalism. We defer to Pius IX and Pius X to set us straight.

Is the Novus Ordo a New Rite of the Church? Discussing a perennial problem in Catholic Traditionalism - is the Novus Ordo of Paul VI to be understood as a new rite of the Church or not?

Right Reading of the Old Testament: First in a three-part series about the right way to read the Old Testament.

This is Not About Chesterton: Objections to a prospective candidate's beatification should be addressed, not simply swept aside because we "like" him.

The Great Inversion: One of the greatest inversions of modern theology is found in the notion that love has primacy over truth. In this blog's 1000th post, we examine this inversion in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger.

A Counterblast: Discord and Contention: Why it is not sinful to point out the problems in the Church; refuting the common accusations about 'grumpy' traditionalists fostering discord and disunity in the Church.

As always, please visit our sister site for more in-depth articles on items of interest to Catholic Tradition. There are a lot of great Traditional Catholic websites out there, but it is my experience that very few of them offer original content or research. We try here to make our little poor contribution in this field. May the Lord richly bless you.