Thursday, November 20, 2014

Retraction, Apology & Vindication

Good day, friends!

Following the dust up that followed some of my posts earlier this week, I have had time to study and reflect on the propositions I put forward. Having done so, I do believe several statements I wrote were either in error or questionable. In this post I would like to offer a few retractions, make an apology, and share some insight from several theologians I contacted regarding one of the propositions in my previous posts about the relationship between the Mass and the Faith. I also, in the spirit of Pope Francis, want to thank you for your criticism. What I do here is certainly not dogmatic theology; I am an armchair theologian at best, a complete dolt at worst. The erudition of many of my readers and commenters puts me to shame at times. I am always edified by the comments on this blog and learn as much from my commenters as I do from other means of study.

Let me begin with some retractiones.

First, the proposition that a bishop has power to prohibit the saying of certain forms of the Mass. Upon input from several more knowledgeable readers, I am very uncertain of this proposition now. I am not ready to abandon it entirely; it seems that if the Traditional Mass is designated Extraordinary and the Novus Ordo classified as Ordinary, per Universae Ecclesiae, then the bishop may have some sort of say if the Extraordinary starts to replaces the Ordinary. Not that I want bishops to be intervening to stop the EF; I just wonder juridically where his powers lie in this question. At any rate, I am no longer willing to maintain with certitude that a bishop can prohibit a legitimate use of the Mass of the same rite. I am interested to see how Ecclesia Dei will respond to situations where this has happened. Anyhow, I retract this assertion as to its certainty but consider it an open question, the answer of which I am not competent to speculate on.

Second, regarding my statement that the bishop can prohibit certain parts of the Mass. This was an unfortunate statement and a clear error on my part. I think I was trying to make the general case that the bishop can give or retain certain faculties, but it is clear foolishness to say a bishop can prohibit certain "parts" of the Mass. That was idiotic. I don't know how that sentence came out of me. Obviously, though the homily is generally included in a Mass, the homily is not the Mass proper and the examples of Ven. Solanus and Padre Pio are strawmen that don't hold up. So, that statement was probably the dumbest one I've ever written. Please forgive me. Errata humanum est. I retract, anathematize, and apologize for this dumb statement.

Third, regarding my citation of Fr. Ripperger in my last post, many people messaged me saying Fr. Ripperger's words did not support my thesis. I do not suggest they do support the whole thesis; I cited him only in support of a very limited proposition - that traditional Catholics can sometimes have a tendency to think simply attending the Traditional Mass means they don't need to study or familiarize themselves with the tradition. Fr. Ripperger does say this plainly in his lecture. The only thing I cited him in support of was on that particular point and nothing else. Therefore, I want to clarify that I am not suggesting Fr. Ripperger "supports" my argument in general; I apologize for the confusion.

Finally, regarding my comments that "The Mass and the Faith are not the same thing; the Faith is greater than the Mass," I received a ton of backlash about this. I was pretty sure I was correct on this point, but the backlash on the Facebook page gave me some doubts, so I decided to do a little "Ask the Theologian." I selected nine individuals of varying backgrounds - two priests, five theologians, one conservative Catholic apologist, and one traditional professor of Catholic philosophy -  and sent them the following query:

Dear XXXX,

I am in need of a professional opinion. I recently caused a big dust up on Facebook and, my blog by making the following comment:

"The Mass is extraordinarily important, but the Mass is not the Faith. The Mass is an integral part of the Faith, but the Faith is greater [i.e., a broader category, more inclusive] than the Mass."

This caused a huge backlash by many of my readership who insisted that, yes, the Mass is the Faith and the Faith is the Mass and that it is impious and improper to try to suggest a distinction between the two. Therefore, I ask you:

Setting aside metaphor and the language of piety, in the strictly theological sense, it is correct to say that the Mass and the Faith are not the same thing? I want to make sure I am not in error on this point.

Before I present their answers, here is a breakdown of the credentials of the nine respondents:

Respondent 1: Graduate student with MA in Theology
Respondent 2: Traditional priest who regularly says the EF Mass
Respondent 3: Priest of the Oblates of the BVM; not sure if he says EF, but he wears the cassock
Respondent 4: Theologian with an STD from International Theological Institute who attends the EF exclusively
Respondent 5: Graduate student studying Thomistic theology at the Angelicum for an STL
Respondent 6: Dogmatic Theologian with an STL from the Pontifical University in Rome
Respondent 7: Mainstream Catholic apologist who usually disagrees with me but has some good sense
Respondent 8: Traditionalist Catholic writer with MA in theology
Respondent 9: Traditional minded Professor of Philosophy at a Catholic seminary

Here are their answers to my query on whether it is correct to say "The Mass and the Faith are not the same thing":

Respondent 1: I am presuming by “the faith” you mean the Deposit of Faith. So, according to the Catechism, the Deposit of Faith is “the heritage of faith contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, handed on in the Church from the time of the Apostles, from which the Magisterium draws all that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed.” And the Catechism gives as its definition for the Mass: “The Eucharist or principal sacramental celebration of the Church, established by Jesus at the Last Supper, in which the mystery of our salvation through participation in the sacrificial and glorious resurrection of Christ is renewed and accomplished. The Mass renews that paschal sacrifice of Christ as the sacrifice offered by the Church.” 
i.e., they're not the same.

But I do not think it is so cut and dry and simple. The Catechism also says, “The Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith.” (CCC 1327). But I would also say that one needs to think about the use of the word Eucharist, which can sometimes refer to the entire action of the Mass. It can also mean the substantial presence of Jesus Christ (who is in fact the content and object of the faith) in the Sacrament of the altar...The Mass is the mystical exposition of the entire faith. I would never say 'The Mass is not the faith', nor would I say 'The Mass is the faith.' Neither would acknowledge the necessary nuance.

Respondent 2:  I read the article and thought it was a mistake. I knew what you were trying to say, but you communicated your thoughts very poorly...Also, as a lay person, you have no idea what it is to offer the Mass. You may imagine it's just about words and rubrics, but it isn't. You have no idea how it effects the faith of the priest. Because you are not a priest, you can never know. Our connection with the Mass is profound and intimate. I could not function without the Tridentine Mass...Again, I actually know what you were trying to say. You were trying to say that the complete deposit of the faith is not contained in the Mass, but it doesn't therefore logically follow that priests should "stay put" if forced to say only the Ordinary Form of the Mass. Please don't take offense, and certainly don't take it personally. I'm simply trying to explain, in my personal opinion, where I believe you went wrong and why people (including myself) have had the reaction they have. [I had to redact some of this commentary because he went into a lot of other issues not related to the question, hence the ellipsis. This is his full commentary on the immediate question, however. -Boniface]

Respondent 3: Obviously [there is a distinction]. After all there are four parts of the Catechism and the Eucharist is one element of one part, although obviously the center of our reality. The Catechism of the Catholic Church which is the summary of the Faith and it has 4 parts of which the Eucharist is one element of one section of one part of the four parts and takes up 22 pages out of 904. (Not taking away, again, that the Eucharist is the Center of Our Reality). Of course one wants to tread lightly and phrase correctly so that there is no scandalous effect to the piety-faith of receivers. Not to mention Korea which was evangelized by laity way before any priest arrived and even after that received only baptism until the first priest arrived to give the fullness of the sacraments. Of course, the Eucharist is the ultimate goal (in our earthly dispensation as it is) of all the rest of the Faith. But, yes, your distinction is correct.

Respondent 4: In the strict sense, of course, the Mass and the faith are not identical things. The Mass is an integral part of the faith. And since a denial of any part of the faith is formally a denial of the faith as a whole, one could say that a denial of the Mass entails a denial of the faith. Again, since the Mass is the unbloody sacramental sacrifice of Calvary, one could say that the Mass is at the very heart of the faith. One could say that the Mass is the primary means by which the faith is learned, lived, and handed on from generation to generation. But one could not simply and literally say that the Mass is the faith, much less of course a particular rite of the Mass.

Respondent 5: You are not wrong when you say what you say, if you mean it in a certain sense. I understood what you meant, and found nothing objectionable about it; although, it would be good to follow up with a whole post on how the liturgy is, in a restricted sense, the Faith.

For brevity's sake, Mediator Dei lays down how the liturgy is a legitimate theological source, something which expounds the Faith, but does not necessarily define the Faith. The whole section is copied below, but the money quote is "In the sacred liturgy we profess the Catholic faith explicitly and openly, not only by the celebration of the mysteries, and by offering the holy sacrifice and administering the scaraments, but also by saying or singing the credo or Symbol of the faith... The entire liturgy, therefore, has the Catholic faith for its content, inasmuch as it bears public witness to the faith of the Church."

I think I see the liturgy in different terms than the way you express it, not as genus and species, but rather as a different expression of the same Deposit of Faith. The dogmas and doctrines express the Deposit didactically, but often this is a negative theology, stating what is not the Faith. The liturgy, however, expresses the Faith positively. Through the liturgy, we have physical, continuous contact with the Sacred Tradition. Thus, it is (or should be) the normative expression of the Tradition.

I think that the reason why your statement might be so objectionable is because for the non-student of theology (either formal or informal), the only real understanding of the Faith is that which they have through participating in the liturgies and pious devotions which they have been raised with. They have a connatural understanding of the Faith that is the fruit of a life lived in the heart of the Church, but couldn't tell you the first thing about notions or relations or persons or processions in the Trinity. But they will probably get to Heaven before me!

Respondent 6: The Mass is the mystical exposition of the entire contents of the Faith in ritual form. Therefore, one can say, ‘The Mass is everything!’ and be quite accurate. The Mass is NOT however THE faith. The Faith is typically understood to be the depositum (above). However, post consecration, the priest says, ‘Mysterium Fidei.’ The Sacrifice of the Mass represents the Mystery of the Faith. The Sacred Liturgy is meant to convey in rite what theological discourse conveys in writing. Both express the Faith in their own way.

Respondent 7: The Mass is obviously not the [whole] faith. It has very little, e.g., about the Blessed Virgin Mary and a number of other things that are part of the faith.

Respondent 8: Your position is correct, provided it is clear that the importance of the Mass is not minimized. With respect to particular locations, people can maintain and practice the faith (e.g. the Japanese Catholics for 300 years) without a priest, sacraments, or the Mass, and the faith continues. So clearly, the Faith is more than the Mass. Yet the Mass is so connected with the faith that if you excised the Mass, you excise the faith as well, for the Mass is at the same time the source and summit of the Christian life. Therefore, it appears to be a both/and.The Mass is a limited concept, embracing many of the truths of Faith and teaching them; the Faith is the broader concept of which the Mass is a part. You're suffering from Trad ignorance of higher theology. We are burdened with the fact that because Trads tend to understand their religion well, they think they understand theology, which is a science.

Respondent 9:  My two cents: On the one hand, there is a well-established tradition that links the Faith with our prayer or worship: lex credendi with lex orandi...I remember reading, somewhere in Geoffrey Hull's marvelous book, The Banished Heart: Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church (which I can't find right now), that liturgy was once referred to as "first theology."
On the other hand, even if liturgy is in many ways the font of much if not all of what we believe, it seems to me a matter of common sense that the Faith is something larger than liturgy. One could reasonably argue that doctrines like the Hypostatic Union of Christ's two natures are somehow implicit in the liturgy, but what about the immorality of contraception or masturbation, or the magisterial teaching on a "just wage"? I doubt that the Faith and the Mass can simply be equated, though I would agree that they are closely identified. My immediate response would be to agree with you that the Faith is larger than the Mass, though maybe in the way that an Oak is larger than the acorn from which it sprang.

These are the responses of the nine people I queried. Based on their answers, I feel somewhat vindicated in this question about the Faith being a broader or more encompassing category than the Mass. Some, like Respondent 1, agreed, but wanted to be very careful with the nuance. Others, like Respondent 2, reluctantly agreed with the narrow point in question but denied that anything else I asserted followed from it and thought the general line of argumentation was a mistake - which I accept (see retractions above). Most others said my assertion was more or less correct, but stressed that this should not be taken to imply a denigration of the importance of the Mass, with which I concur completely. So, all in all, though the particular angle each respondent took was different, I feel overall I am vindicated on this point.

That being said, because it caused such a backlash and confusion, it would probably be prudent to avoid phrases that lend themselves to oversimplification, like "The Mass is not the same thing as the Faith", as Respondent 1 suggested. I much prefer how Respondent 2 worded it, "The complete deposit of faith is not contained within the Mass." Although, as others pointed out (Respondent 5), the two are intimately connected and both the dogmas and the Mass express the faith but in different ways.

So, there you go. Very sorry for the dumb things I said. I will most likely delete those posts or at least heavily redact them. Thanks for correcting me and helping me get over a severe but momentary case of rectal-cranial inversion.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Torture our Enemies with the Truth

St. Cecilia
Today the Sacraments are greatly under attack: marriage, confession and Holy Communion.  The attack is simple: they wish to take our Lord and deliver him over into the hands of his enemies (adulterers), and in order to do that they need to lie and deceive (grant phony absolution to adulterers who will continue in adultery). The idea of admitting the unrepentant to approach communion basically trying to be more Catholic than the Apostles who have forbidden such a sacrilege in the most clear and direct language from the very beginning of the Church.


So what is the battle plan on the good side, what can we use to stop such a vicious attack?  Scripture? Tradition? The Teaching of the Fathers and Doctors? The teaching of the Magisterium? All of these things are against our opponents.  Any book on sacramental theology would condemn them, even a children's catechism for first Holy Communion.

Yet, as a Church we have gotten in the habit of ignoring these things.  Take the Death Penalty for example: the Holy Scriptures support it in both the New and Old testaments, the Fathers upheld the right of the State to use it, the Doctors such as St Thomas Aquinas explained how it was just, and the Popes even used the Death Penalty themselves when they had temporal authority.  Want another example? Female altar servers, which can in no way be justified from tradition or historical evidence.
So these things are being ignored, or not even considered in the light of the teaching of the Church, at least collectively.  What is driving the desire for changes in the Church?  Public opinion.  Should we care about public opinion? No.  

What can we do?  We must let the light shine before men, we must shout the gospel from the rooftops, we must point out how erroneous and evil such an idea is.  Are we going to be faithful rocks, or reeds shaken in the wind.  The more we have to lose for it, the greater the reward is in having lost it for the sake of the truth.

The book Remaining in the Truth of Christ was a good effort by the authors, now we must add our efforts. Rather than trying to convince ourselves that someone who is an adulterer is ignorant of their sin and therefore in some odd theologically nuanced way might be able to go to holy communion, we must rather advance  as much and firmly as possible that there is no inheritance in the kingdom of Heaven for adulterers, nor for those who approve or support them in their sin and that receiving Holy Communion in a state of sin will not only lead to greater punishment in the next life, but also in this one.  We must be ready to greet false teaching with the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.  

“You wish us to pronounce a lie; but in speaking the truth, we inflict much greater and more cruel torture upon you than that which you make us suffer” St. Cecilia, from the Audiobook the Life and Martyrdom of St Cecilia 

Let us kindly, but boldly declare that we do not belong to a religion made up on whims and public opinion, but to the religion passed onto us by the Apostles.  "Hold firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients. Deny this and you dissolve the unity of the Church." St Thomas Aquinas, Disputations Concerning Truth. 

Friends, are we cowardly Catholics, pious and observant until the possibility of harm and conflict show up? If we cannot stand up for the truth in all of our modern comforts and at most risk losing the graces of someone in the Church with power, a few friends, and the ridicule of Catholic bloggers, how will we ever be able to endure torture and death for Christ sake?  

Let us not be gymnasts seeking applause for the complexity of our leaps and bounds to please the world or even leaders in the Church by theological half truths, nuance and platitudes;  rather let us be rocks upon which God can build His Church, Heavy in faithfulness, immovable in fidelity, steady under pressure and stable in Tradition and strong enough to take the crashing of the wave of worldly pressure or the assault of heresy.  It is time for he who has not a sword to sell his cloak at get one.  

"Blessed be the Lord my God, who teacheth my hands to fight, and my fingers to war." -Ps. 144:1
Amen.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Mass is not the Faith and Other Items


Recently I posted an article in which I stated that "The Mass is not the Faith. The Faith is bigger than the Mass." I initially thought this concept would be readily agreed upon by my readership, but on our Facebook thread a rather sizable dispute erupted over the phrase. Some misunderstood this phrase to mean I was saying the Mass wasn't important, or that it did not affect our faith, or that it was disposable; others disagreed and argued passionately that the Mass and the Faith were identical. I wanted to take an opportunity to explore this phrase further and clear up some other issues from the last article.

By the way, thank you for the thoughtful and (for the most part) charitable comments. I learn very much from them and never object to being disagreed with - it has not infrequently happened that a revolt in my combox has led me to reevaluate and change my position subsequently.

So, what is the Faith? What is the Mass? Why is it right to say that the Mass and the Faith are not the same thing?

When we speak about "the Faith", we typically refer to the Catholic religion in its totality. This would include everything a Catholic believers and everything he does. In the words of the Catechism, the Faith is "all that she herself is, all that she believes" (CCC 78). Let us examine what this entails.

First, the deposit of Divine Revelation, included both in the Sacred Scriptures and in the Sacred Tradition.
Second, all theological traditions and interpretations associated with the doctrines of Divine Revelation, as summed up in the Creeds of the Church and the canons of the Ecumenical Councils.
Third, all of the sacraments and liturgical functions and rites of the Church; how the Church worships.
Fourth, all of the Church's disciplinary customs (the Lenten Fast, no communion for divorced and remarried, etc.)
Fifth, the Church's hierarchical constitution.
Sixth, the spiritual heritage of the Church, from great prayers such as the Pater Noster and Rosary down to the smaller devotions that have come down to us.
Seventh, the heritage of the great saints who have all gone before us; the example of their lives, their profound writings, their contributions to doctrinal development, and their intercession from heaven.


Eighth, all of the Church's artistic heritage, both in her sacred art, sacred music and sacred architecture.
Ninth, the historical papal-magisterial corpus of writings.

We could probably include more - for example, great works of Catholic literature like the Divine Comedy or Everlasting Man; Hilaire Belloc, when writing on this question, tended to include European Christian culture as such - hence his famous statement, "Europe is the Faith; the Faith is Europe." But let us not cast our net too far abroad; everyone has their particular focus, but the above nine items would be the core of what I think most Catholics speak of when they refer to "the Faith."

It is a very broad thing, the Faith. It encompasses much more than a few propositions or ceremonies. It is a totality; it is in fact the fullest way of being human.

What is the relation of the Mass to the Faith?

The Mass is absolutely integral to the Faith. Remember the principle Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi. There is an intimate union between Catholic belief, Catholic life and Catholic worship. The Eucharist, the heart of the Mass, is the "source and summit of the Christian life" (CCC 1324). As such, it is the irreplaceable foundation from which Faith is built up and the end towards which it tends. It is difficult to overstate its intimate connection to the Faith. While it is possible to maintain the Faith without access to the Mass (like in Japan), the Faith without the Mass cannot long endure, at least not in its fullest form.

But the Mass is not the Faith itself. The Mass is to the Faith what a heart is to the body, or what an engine is to the car. It is integral. It is the center. The rest is of little value without it. It is that which gives vitality to the whole.

And yet, it is not the whole. Just as it would be foolish to present someone with a car engine and suggest you were giving them a whole car, or display a human heart and suggest you were displaying an entire human person, so it would be very reductive and inaccurate to suggest that the Mass itself is the Faith. Remember, the Faith can exist without the Mass. Did Cardinal Kung lose the Faith when imprisoned for 30 years without the Mass? Some of the Desert Fathers simply did not attend Mass because of their physical isolation. Nobody would accuse the founders of monasticism of not having the Faith. So the Mass is extremely important, but it is not the totality.

Msgr. George Agius in his 1928 classic Tradition and the Church states that the liturgy of the Church is the principal type of constitutive tradition. That is, of all the content that is uniquely passed on via Tradition, the liturgical rites of the Church hold a pride of place. This is because, while the Mass is not the Faith, the Mass sums up the Faith and itself instructs us in all of the fundamentals of the Faith.

Consider our list above. All of these are touched on in the ideal Mass. The Sacred Scriptures are read and expounded, the liturgy of the Church carried out for the glory of God; the Creed of the Church is professed and the Holy Eucharist is administered; the existence of the hierarchy is evidenced and the greatest spiritual treasures of the Church are demonstrated in the Pater Noster and other ancient prayers of the Mass. The saints are invoked and commemorated in an atmosphere of the Church's artistic and musical heritage. All is done in conformity with the Magisterial direction of the Church. All of this is summed up and offered with the most august sacrifice of the Son of God and presented to God the Father.

So the Mass touches on and sums up everything that is integral to the Faith. It reaches into every dimension of the Faith and incorporates each into its rites. It represents the core of the Faith, its most vital heart. But there is more content to the Faith than just the Mass. Yes, the Mass focuses in on those most essential elements and in doing so provides the most perfect form of instruction in the Christian faith. In a way, it crystallizes the most essential elements of the Faith for us in one singular, glorious act.

But the Faith in its entirety is not contained in the Mass. It would be absurd to try to claim, for example, that the entire historic papal Magisterium is some how included in the Mass. Or consider the sacraments - baptism, anointing of the sick, penance, all traditionally done outside Mass. Clearly, the Mass, though central, is not and was not meant to be all-encompassing. In fact, one complaint traditionalists have often made about the Novus Ordo rites is that it tends to try to make the Mass a "one-stop-shop" for everybody's spiritual needs. Baptisms, anointing, penance and everything else is incorporated into Mass, often (at least in the case of the last two) with deleterious results. The Mass was never meant to be a "one-stop-shop", and it is certainly not equivalent with the Faith itself, no matter how important.

It is therefore a little off center when Traditionalist Catholics focus on the Mass to the exclusion of everything else. There are a variety of ways this can happen; I don't want to cite examples for fear of possibly offending some other bloggers. But it definitely happens.

Can too much be made of the Mass? Well, yes and no. No in the sense that the Mass is the offering of Jesus Christ and has infinite merit; this cannot be emphasized too much. But yes if we give the Mass a position it was not meant to have, such as the "one-stop-shop" approach of the post-Conciliar era that is objected to by some traditionalists.

There is perhaps nobody in the Church who knows more about Tradition than Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP. Fr. Ripperger wrote the introduction to the modern reprint of Msgr. Agius' Tradition and the Church, which is admitted by all to be the pivotal work on the doctrine of Tradition. Fr. Ripperger has spoken and written copiously about tradition and has noted that it is a very common pitfall among Catholic Traditionalists to assume that faithful attendance at and devotion to the Extraordinary Form is an adequate substitute for knowledge of Catholic Tradition. In many cases, he says, so-called "Traditionalists" are entirely ignorant of the Tradition they profess to venerate. This is because they assign a role to the Mass it was never meant to have - i.e., assuming that the Mass suffices for everything, and that no further reading, study, etc. is necessary. Consequently they are woefully ignorant of Catholic tradition. You can listen to Fr. Ripperger's homily on this subject here, although the quality of the recording is very poor. His argument is that Traditionalists sometimes think mere attendance at the EF Mass is sufficient and that no further knowledge is necessary; or that mere attendance at such Masses imparts one all the knowledge of tradition they need.

Thus, the fundamental question: Should a priest who has been saying the Extraordinary Form Mass exclusively, upon being ordered to cease by his legitimate superior, obey this order?

I answer, absolutely. Yes. It may be an illegitimate order, but one must obey even illegitimate orders so long as they do not lead you to commit sin - and not saying an EF Mass is not a sin. If the legal channels are open to a priest to seek incardination elsewhere in a more friendly environment, that is a legitimate option open to him. In the meantime, a cleric is bound to observe any canonical penalties imposed by a superior - even if imposed errantly, or based on untruths. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that when a person is censured, even unjustly, "the censure has valid effects in that forum and must be observed externally, to avoid scandal and for good discipline." Therefore until the situation is resolved, or until that cleric becomes incardinated somewhere else, he is bound to observe the censure. 

What he ought not to do is declare that he is going to go off and keep on doing what he wants anyway because somehow the Old Mass just trumps everything no matter what. That is scandalous, to me at least. Am I not scandalized when bishops and members of the Magisterium crack down on good, faithful, traditional priests? Yes. I am horribly scandalized by it. Which is precisely why I do not want my scandal to be made worse by seeing these traditional priests play around with disobedience as a recourse to their difficulties.

Seeking transfer is a legitimate thing to do - in my last article too I stated that "it is certainly legitimate to seek legal redress to these problems through appropriate canonical channels." Even so, I don't think doing that is the most perfect form of obedience. The most perfect form would be to humbly and quietly submit to whatever was dished out to you, per the Apostle Peter:

"For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval...who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good? But if also you suffer any thing for justice' sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear, and be not troubled" (1 Pet. 2:19-20, 3:13-14).

What do these passages from 1 Peter look like lived out in the life of a priest or order unjustly under attack for doing good? That is what I am trying to sort out. I think - especially since March, 2013 - we all are grappling with this. It will probably be sloppy. There will be a lot of collateral damage. But I do believe in my heart that the Church will not be saved by a bunch of people with the "I would like to be obedient, but" attitude.

I'm not bringing these things up because I "like" them or like thinking about them. But we are in strange times and we all need to sort these things out. May God be gracious to us all!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I'm probably gonna lose readers with this one


If any priest I knew told me that he felt called by God to say only the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, I would be overjoyed.

But suppose that priest were commanded to cease saying the Extraordinary Form exclusively, or were put on "sabbatical" because of it. Were he to then tell me that he was contemplating transferring out of the diocese, leaving his vocation, or perhaps disobeying his superior, or going over to the SSPX, I would be appalled. Yes, appalled.

The Mass is extraordinarily important, but the Mass is not the entire deposit of Faith. The Mass is not synonymous with the Christian faith in such a way that a command to cease saying a particular form of the Mass constitutes pressure to deny the Faith. A priest who has been asked by his legitimate superior to stop saying Mass - of whatever form or rite - cannot make the argument that the bishop is making him choose between God and his vow of obedience. A priest derives his faculties from the Bishop. When it comes to faculties, the bishop giveth and the bishop taketh away. 

Perhaps he taketh away unjustly. I admit that happens all the time. We can argue about that. But a priest under obedience must conform to the legitimate demands of his superiors, at least in the external forum. 

The Mass is an integral part of the Faith, but the Faith is greater than the Mass. The Mass is a gift from God. He can give the Mass and He can take away the Mass. He took away the Mass from England, save for a few isolated homes where it was said secretly. He took it away from Communist China, where a similar situation prevailed. And socialist Mexico. Remember Japan; God took the Mass away from Japanese Christians for centuries. But the Faith did not die there, because the Faith is not the Mass. 

Though their treatment has been extraordinarily unjust, it wounds me when I hear members of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate seeking to be dispensed from their vows or transferred to other orders because their access to the Extraordinary Form has been curtailed. Do the have the right to do this? Yes. Is it the most perfect course of action? No. To whom did they take vows? Did they take vows to their order, or to a particular form of the Mass? Was their commitment to their order contingent upon what form of Mass was being used? I think of Jesuits like Fr. James Schall, Fr. Mitch Pacwa or the late Fr. John Hardon who remain loyal to their order despite the ungodly amount of insanity that continues to spew forth from the Society of Jesus. Who of us would not sympathize one hundred percent with Father Schall if he requested to be dispensed from his vows to the Society of Jesus? Yet he remains, as did Fr. Hardon. As they should.

Thus, while I love the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and while I see its growth, promulgation and eventual restoration as the only hope for the Church, I do not equate the Mass with the Faith itself in the absolute sense.

In other words, the sine qua non of our spiritual and sacramental life cannot be "the Extraordinary Form Mass no matter what or nothing." God gives the Mass and God can take it away, and those who think it is permissible to walk away from obedience - or seek dispensation from it - for the sake of continued access to the Extraordinary Form - I think - do not help the cause. If anything, it reinforces Trad stereotypes that we are all quasi-schismatics and precludes us from reaching out to groups who, although sympathetic to tradition, have not yet been adequately introduced to it.

It is certainly legitimate to seek legal redress to these problems through appropriate canonical channels. But, if they would take the more perfect route, it seems that until this is settled, the FFI priests and brothers should obey and just stay where they are at. We all need to stay put and wait out the storm. The most perfect form of obedience is not to seek legal channels to get out of an unpleasant situation, but to stay where one is planted and endure, counting it a blessing to suffer for the sake of the truth.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Peace in Christ and Peace of the World

In two previous articles we looked at the concept of Catholic unity as symbolized by garments in the Sacred Scriptures (here) as well as accusations that frank commentary on problems facing the Church today constitutes the sins of 'discord' and 'contention' (here). Today we will examine the question of how the peace that Christ commands us to have is different from worldly peace.

This is a very relevant question. Our Lord says plainly in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matt. 5:9). But as we have seen in our previous articles, remaining faithful to the truth sometimes means that falsehood must be contended against or that men of equally good standing will disagree on the best approach to something. 

In other words, the necessities of the Christian life mean that there is no escape from argument, debate, and disagreement - at least for most of us. This is why one cannot simply say that contention is bad; as we saw in our examination of Aquinas, contention for the truth is praiseworthy. It depends upon the nature of the contention. This is why St. Paul condemns contentiousness in Titus 3:9 ("avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain") but why St. Jude in Jude 1:3 encourages Christians to be contentious in striving for the Faith ("I found it necessary to write appealing to you to earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints"). If contention simplex were always bad, St. Jude could not appeal for Christians to contend.

The question then becomes one of peacefulness. How can we fulfill the appeal of St. Jude to earnestly contend for the faith while also obeying Christ's command to be a peacemaker? Are not disagreement and peacefulness contradictory?

Again, we must examine what our Lord means by "peace" and "peacemaker." It would be simple to assume that peace means the simple cessation of hostility; that promoting "peacefulness" means bringing together, and therefore whatever unites is good and whatever divides is bad. But is this what our Lord means?

Our Lord's exhortation to peace in the Beatitudes should not be understood apart from his other comments about peace in Matthew 10 and the Gospel of John chapter 14. 

In Matthew 10:34, our Lord says:

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to earth; I come not to bring peace, but a sword."

What does this "sword" refer to? It refers to the fact that adherence to the Gospel brings division; its sets men apart from others, both in their belief and their conduct, sometimes even within their own household. This is why in verses 35-37 of the same chapter Jesus goes on to say:

"For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household."

The Faith is a kind of boundary that sets the Church apart from those outside it. Those outside its confines not only do not understand it but are hostile to it. Hence our first Sovereign Pontiff observes:

"They [the non-believers] think it strange, that you run not with them into the same confusion of riotousness, speaking evil of you" (1 Pet. 4:4). 

They find our beliefs and morals strange, even incomprehensible, and so revile us for them. Thus Matthew 10 reminds us that adherence to the truth necessarily sets one apart from others. Interestingly enough, Aquinas quotes this passage in his comments on discord and how discord is not always against charity (STh II-II Q. 37 art 1).

That truth divides provides an obvious corollary to the fact that is also unites. When we draw a circle around a group of people and define ourselves as "in" that circle, there is unity among those who are inside - but this implies a disunity or a separation from those outside. That circle is our Creed. And, as Chesterton says, a creed does not unite men by itself. It is differences in creeds that unite men - boundaries that distinguish one creed from another. Paradoxically, the boundary that separates also unites:

"It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of creed unites men—so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary unites." (G.K. Chesterton. What's Wrong with the World, Part I. Chap 3, "The New Hypocrite").

So to think of Christian peace in terms of simply "bringing people together" - that is, in the manner which the progressives tend to think of it - is seriously deficient. In John 14, our Lord reminds us that the peace He gives us is not the peace of the world; it is something drastically different:

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you" (John 14:27).

What is the difference between the peace of Christ and the peace of the world? Aquinas defines "concord" simply as a union of wills (II-II Q. 37 art. 2); peace is union of wills but also a kind of right ordering of appetites, even within a single man (II-II Q. 29 art 1) which presumes man in right relation with God. Worldly peace takes no consideration of man's relation to God. Worldly peace then is a simple union of wills. Christian peace, on the other hand, would be a union of wills of men in right relation with God; that is, joined together in the truth. Worldly peace ignores the question of truth and is content with mere union of wills in the cessation of hostility; Christian peace seeks for a union of wills, but subservient to and in the truth, and is willing to sacrifice temporal peace for the sake of eternal truth. Worldly peace, on the other hand, is willing to sacrifice truth for the sake of temporal advantage. This is in fact one of the characteristics of the End Times:

"For when they shall say, peace and security; then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape" (1 Thess. 5:3).

Jeremiah 6:14 and Ezekiel 13:10 also associate a misguided notion of temporal peace with a corrupt society on the verge of judgment. Let us examine ourselves and see if we have not allowed the world's definition of peace to color our thinking. There are many things in the world, some good, some bad, but in general, my approach is to view worldly issues in the context of James 4:4: 

"Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becomes an enemy of God."

Being a peacemaker cannot mean promoting peace in a purely worldly sense without reference to the truth, and here the advocates of a Christianity dedicated to merely fixing social ills and speaking out against war, etc. go astray. Truth is supreme. Where there is no truth, there can be no unity. It does not matter what other external circumstances we are dealing with. Let us recall the story of St. Peter of Alexandria and the heretic Meletius from the days of the Roman persecutions. St. Peter and Meletius were both imprisoned in the same cell and awaiting death during the time of Diocletian. Yet when St. Peter found that Meletius was an adherent of a heretical sect, he put up a curtain in the prison cell to separate himself from the heretic. Even when both were awaiting death int he same cell, St. Peter wanted to make it clear that there was no semblance of unity between himself and a heretic. 

Christians are certainly called to work towards temporal peace, as temporal peace provides the necessary social tranquility necessary for men to be able to think about and work towards saving their souls. For this reason peace is said to proceed from charity (STh II-II Q. 29). We should always promote and work for tranquility and those things that will best affect tranquility, but always in subservience to the truth. Because without truth, there can be no peace. The first consideration of a Christian is for adherence to the truth. We are not called to die for peace. We are called to die for the truth.

Thus, the Christian becomes the most docile laborer for peace when it is sought in the truth, but the most intransigent and obstinate foe of every work contrary to truth.

The Christian is the most humble and most willing to serve others in his household and his work, always willing to take upon himself unpleasant or difficult tasks without complaint - but is also willing to die rather than compromise his conscience by one jot or tittle when it comes to performing some work that is displeasing to God.

The Christian rejoices at the thought of all men joined together in one worship and one communion giving praise and honor to the true God, but would prefer to see the entire universe obliterated than tolerate God being dishonored.

The Christian is silent and willing to let faults and wrongs go unrequited without raising a voice in protest, but when he sees God being blasphemed or the Church being assaulted he becomes the most vocal of opponents. In other words, he is willing to suffer for the sake of the Bride but does not stand by idly while the Bride is ravaged.

One final thought: Aquinas says it is possible to construct a worldly concord based simply on a union of wills. but for there to be true peace, individual men must be in right relation with God. Therefore, if we really want world peace, the best thing we can do is bring people to Christ. This is how we build a peaceful world. Yes, unbelievers are excluded from the circle, but we should work to make the circle as big as possible, because all men are called to enter the circle. This work will not be easy; at times it will mean that the Gospel will actually divide. We will be called "divisive" because the truth itself is offensive. But this is the great work. To be peaceful is to labor patiently in service of everything that advances the truth, and to be the most intractable opponent of everything that keeps men from the truth. There can be no harmony between truth and error.

"What concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath the faithful with the unbeliever?" (2 Cor. 6:15)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

A Counterblast: Discord and Contention

One of the interesting things about the current state of affairs in mater ecclesiae is watching the way people are bending over backwards to square the circle regarding the messages coming from Rome - trying to explain how everything is fine, calm down, relax, nothing to see here, move along, etc. etc. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

A major threat to the "nothing to see here" mentality is of course the stubborn persistence of traditional Catholic bloggers who insist loudly that there is in fact quite a bit to see here, and that this is not business as usual. This can be disconcerting to the worldview of some Catholics, I admit; how could it not be? The implications, if accepted, could be very troubling. It would mean nothing less than that the Church herself is responsible for her sorry state of affairs - not the world, the media, or whomever else. To admit this would constitute a revolution of Copernican proportions for many Catholics.

Therefore, it often prompts anger, confusion and resentment, characterized by lashing out at "rad trads" and Catholic bloggers who dare to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Many of you have been on the receiving end of this. I know I have.

We traditionalists are all terribly sick of the "shoot the messenger" nonsense. The bishops of the world dally around with changing two millennia of pastoral practice, with devastating consequences to doctrine, and we are the kill-joys for pointing it out! After seven and a half years of blogging, I am still banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how the problem is not that there are priests, bishops and cardinals actively trying to destroy the faith, but that I am writing about their attempts to destroy the faith. Their perfidity merits a shrug - after all, who am I to judge? But our writing about their perfidity merits condemnation.

Recently, I heard a new take on the "traditionalist Catholic bloggers cause disunity" assertion. The argument relied upon St. Thomas Aquinas' definitions of the sins of discord and contention. Let me phrase the argument in the context in which I heard it:

Catholics should be unified. Unity is one of the hallmarks of Catholicism. Catholic bloggers who frequently write about things wrong in the Church can damage the unity Catholics are supposed to have (because posts about scandals, heresy, etc. can damage the faith of other Catholics, lead to a loss of hope, and be done without charity). It can create a climate of bickering and dissension within the Church. This is bad.

And not only bad, but sinful, perhaps mortally so. Here were invoked the sins of discord and contention as defined by St. Thomas in the Summa. Discord was defined as obstinately clinging to your own way of thinking. Contention was defined as putting such discord into speech or writing.

I don't want to retread a lot of old ground, but let's at least look at whether Aquinas' definitions are being used correctly. In the Summa II-II, Q. 37, Aquinas deals with the question of discord and whether it is a sin.  Discord is defined as a disunion of wills (Q. 37 art. 2). Unity of wills can be destroyed by discord two ways - directly or accidentally. Hence Aquinas distinguishes between active and passive discord, the first consisting in actively willing to cause discord, the latter in which discord happens in a way accidental to the intention of the agent. In other words, to cause discord for the sake of creating discord - as when family members create discord by gossiping simply because they relish drama - is certain sinful. This is active discord. 

But passive discord occurs when human disagreement arises from two people disagreeing about the best way to attain a certain good. The object of such discord is not discord as such, but a certain good about which the parties disagree. One co-worker at the office wants pepperoni on the pizza for lunch, the other wants pineapple and ham, and they have a disagreement. Yes, there is discord in the office, but it is of an accidental nature. Aquinas states:

"Hence when several intend a good pertaining to God's honor, or our neighbor's profit, while one deems a certain thing good, and another thinks contrariwise, the discord is in this case accidentally contrary to the Divine good or that of our neighbor. Such like discord is neither sinful nor against charity..." (Q. 37 art. 1)

Passive discord is thus not really discord in the fullest sense, since it is not so much a disunion of wills as much as a disunion of opinions. And there is no mandate for unanimity of opinions. Again, Aquinas:

"concord...is an effect of charity, a union of wills, not of opinions." (ibid)

We all want the good of the Church. We all want to bring souls to Jesus Christ. Our disagreement is on the prudence of what is going on in the Church today. Catholic bloggers - speaking for myself at least - do not will disunity or discord and do not blog in order to create it. When disagreements arise, then discord arises accidentally because we are all of different opinion on these matters. But as Aquinas states, this sort of discord is not sinful nor against charity.

Another sin was mentioned - contention or contentiousness. This was defined as putting our discordant opinions into speech or writing. St. Thomas takes up contention in II-II Q. 38. Again, he agrees that contention is a sin, and that is principally consists in tending against someone or something in speech or writing. 

"To contend is to tend against some one. Wherefore just as discord denotes a contrariety of wills, so contention signifies contrariety of speech." (Q. 38 art. 1)

He says such contentiousness is mortally sinful. Is this the end of the story? Should all traditional blogs finally shut down under the weight of the argument that we can never express our misgivings in writing? Hardly. Aquinas goes on:

"Now contrariety of speech may be looked at in two ways: first with regard to the intention of the contentious party, secondly, with regard to the manner of contending. As to the intention, we must consider whether he contends against the truth, and then he is to be blamed, or against falsehood, and then he should be praised." (ibid)

Contention cannot be understood in isolation from what is being contended against. If it is falsehood against which one is contending, it is not sinful; on the contrary, it is praiseworthy. Clearly in the case of Catholic bloggers, we contend not against truth but against error and cannot be charged with the sin of contentiousness.

In the case of both discord and contention, Thomas notes that even if we do not sin in intention or content of our words or writings, we may sin in the manner or mode in which they are delivered; i..e, if our mode of delivery lacks charity. Agreed. I have always agreed to this, as do almost all Catholic bloggers I know. Of course, we have different opinions on what is charitable and where the line is. But we all agree that our opinions must be expressed in an attitude of charity, and that this charity is due even to those we find ourselves in vehement disagreement with.

So, like other variants of the "you bloggers should just knock it off because you are wounding unity" argument, this one from Thomas' definitions of discord and contention fails as well. It fails because it does not allow for Aquinas' distinctions between active and passive discord or whether the blogger contends for truth or falsehood. The failure to make necessary distinctions is a common modern pitfall.

Yes, traditionalist bloggers do upset people occasionally; as long as this is because of the content alone and not because of the manner in which it is delivered, I do not apologize for this at all. This is part of what disagreeing is about. And having disagreements about prudential things is not necessarily bad. If pointing out certain evils leads some to lose faith, this is very unfortunate - but ultimately the guilt for these sorts of things lays with those committing these scandals, not the messenger who merely reports they are happening.

Finally, this whining about there being too much polemics in the Church really ignores the fact that the second greatest amount of writing in the history of the Church has been polemical in nature (spiritual works being first). Anyone who has really studied the history of the Church understands this implicitly. St. Paul against Judaizers. St. John against the Docetists. Irenaeus against the Gnostics. Tertullian against Marcion. Athanasius against the Arians. Cyprian against the Pope and Stephen against Cyprian. Jerome against Jovinian. Jerome against everybody. Augustine against all sorts of people. Irish monks against Roman monks. John Damascene against the Moors. Benedict against lazy monks. Cluniacs against Cistercians and Cistercians against Cluniacs. Secular against religious clergy. Mendicants against secular clergy. Aristotelians against Averroists. Bernard against Abelard. Aquinas against the Gentiles. Nominalists against Realists. Jesuits against Dominicans. Spiritual Franciscans against Conventuals. Guelphs against Ghibellines. Molinists against Thomists. And on and on and on. The vast majority of ink ever penned by Christian hands has been polemical in nature.

The "traditionalist bloggers cause disunity" is just a trope that some Catholics have latched on to. Polemic - done in charity - is the way we move forward.

Related: Are Trads Guilty of Pharisaism?

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The Reductive Priest


Imagine for a moment that all priests were faithful to the Church's teaching and traditions; or if that is too far-fetched, imagine at least that the majority of them were. If this were the case, what would our definition of a "good" priest be? It certainly would not be orthodoxy, since this would be a sine qua non of all the ordained. What would a "good" priest be in those happy circumstances?

I'd imagine a "good" priest would be characterized by his well-rounded character, his patience, or courage in the face of adversity. Probably his skill at homiletics, prudence in dealing with the parish's financial resources, manner of offering the Mass, management of volunteers, or quality of his confessions would all play a part as well. All of these things are important to one degree or another, and they all go in to making a great pastor.

Unfortunately, is this what we are getting at when we talk about a "good" priest? Usually not. In a situation where the vast majority of priests are heterodox, we do not have the luxury of discussing "good" priests in terms of the criteria mentioned above. In a given diocese where, say, 80% of the priests are heterodox or progressive, it is inevitable that a "good" priest is simply one who is orthodox and says a decent Mass,

This is a shame, for two reasons. One is that it is an extraordinarily reductive view of what makes a good pastor. Orthodoxy was never meant to be a quality that makes a particular priest good or better than any other; it is simply supposed to be a sine qua non of the priesthood. To speak of a priest being a "good" priest because he is orthodox is like saying a fireman is a good fireman because he has legs, or that a chef is a good chef because his food is edible. These things are not meant to be measurements of goodness or skill, but rather are very general attributes that make the vocation possible. So to speak of a priest as "good" because he is merely orthodox contributes to a greatly reductive view of the priesthood.

Second, this means that all sort of other faults and problems must simply fade into the background. Suppose Father is orthodox and his Mass is fairly reverent. But also suppose Father is terrible with money Suppose he is arrogant and rude to people. Suppose he is an alcoholic. Suppose he is socially awkward and cannot maintain professional relationships. Suppose, though his homilies are orthodox, they are still awful. Suppose he is a bully. Suppose he is greedy. Suppose he is a terrible confessor. Suppose his character is horribly out of balance. Suppose he has all or many of these problems in such a way that they present tremendous obstacles to the efficacy of his ministry and the good of the parish's life.

Well, so what? Where else will one go? "You alone have the words of eternal life." It's either deal with Father's occasional drunkenness and endure a crappy - but orthodox - homily once a week, or else go off to the parish where the priest is a heretic. Of course, I would never go to a parish where heresy is being preached. But because there are so few parishes where heresy is not being preached, our choices are extraordinarily limited, and whatever orthodox remnant we are left with we have to deal with, regardless of all the other problems that might be simmering there.

And who would ever complain? If we nitpick about these sorts of problems, why would an orthodox priest want to serve us? I should just shut up and be happy that Father is not preaching heresy; who cares if a couple million here and there gets frittered away? Who cares if he is a bully? I should just be thankful that he's not a heretic!

You see the dire straits the situation with the priesthood has placed us in. I understand that traditionally laity did not "choose" their priests. But modern transportation has made that inevitable, and realistically, we all do it. Territorial parish boundaries are practically meaningless. We all search around for the orthodox, home-school friendly parish to call our own. The fact that these things have to be actual criteria upon which we choose where to worship - as opposed to characteristics common to all Catholic parishes - is very unfortunate.

Please note that I am not writing about any particular priest. I am writing to try to put words to something I have noticed over the years where good Catholic families are willing to "trade" putting up with a priest's (sometimes serious) personal problems in exchange for getting someone who is not a heretic. It is just a sad thing that Catholic families have to be in that dilemma. It'd be great if priestly orthodoxy was as common as arms and legs on a fireman. But we live in dark times and we must make do with what we can.

Measuring a priest as "good" by his orthodoxy is like measuring a doctor or lawyer by the fact he is licensed to practice. That should not be a measure of how "good" he is; it is merely the bare minimum. Unfortunately, circumstances are such that we have to search just to find that bare minimum, and it shouldn't be so. If you have a priest who is both completely orthodox, traditional and has a well-formed personality with no major character flaws, you are extremely blessed.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Sainthood and Brotherhood

When I think of the kingdom of heaven, I have found two directions I can take my meditation.  “That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.” 1 Cor 2:9  This first consideration is the great veiling of heaven, which allows one to ponder and consider how every fine good thing in this life will be exceeded by the joys of Heaven.

The second considerations come from our Blessed Lords description of heaven: a banquet, a kingdom,  many mansions, sitting down to table and the such like.  Imagine the cheer, hospitality and joy of the Saints sitting down to supper together. The great anticipation of joy is felt in the heart at seeing of the austere Saints such as the Desert Fathers laughing, and the penitents rejoicing, the Martyrs playing games and the ever abiding kindness between all.

The Love of a perfect family in heaven, the never ending feast.  Yet, it is easy to forget being separated from that perfect beatitude that those same Saints who enjoy each other in perfect charity now in heaven actually  in their hearts have same love for us, even though we are often times far from lovable.  .

And if it is easy to forget that the Saints love us despite ourselves, it is even easier to forget that they love our brethren in the Church as well, and that if we wish to be numbered among them we also must love them. “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.” 1 Peter 2:17

There has not been a shortage of discussion of what level and amount of criticism is allowed of the Pope, Bishops, Priests etc. I think that is the wrong place to start the discussion - that is, how much can we criticize someone who holds a certain office? Rather, it should be what can we say and still “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God” as this law comes before consideration of a persons office.

The words are simple enough; we must honor all men, and love each other as brothers. The Pope does deserve this treatment, but so do the Pope's critics (that is, to be critiqued in honor and love).  The Pope, in one of his finest moments, called and thanked his critics

What if it is us on the receiving end of criticism?  What if it is us who are punished unjustly by those in authority?  Saint Peter explains “if for conscience towards God, a man endure sorrows, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if committing sin, and being buffeted for it, you endure? But if doing well you suffer patiently; this is thankworthy before God.  For unto this are you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps. Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.  Who, when he was reviled, did not revile: when he suffered, he threatened not, but delivered himself to him that judged him unjustly.” (1 Pet. 2:20-23)

One of the great rewards found in doing this is that it is a great way of avoiding a harsh purgatory after death. “Blessed Margaret Mary received from our Divine Lord another communication relative to Charity. He showed her the soul of a deceased person who had to undergo but a light chastisement, and he told her that among all the good works which this person had performed in the world, He had taken into special consideration certain humiliations to which she had submitted in the world, because she had suffered them in the spirit of charity, not only without murmuring, but even without speaking of them. Our Lord added, that, in recompense, He had given her a mild and favorable judgment. ”  Taken from the Free Catholic Audiobook: How to Avoid Purgatory

Often times it is our enemies that help us see if we are walking in the way of Jesus Christ.   Our enemies test our patience, our virtue, our charity and our Love for Jesus Christ.   

“DO NOT yield to every impulse and suggestion but consider things carefully and patiently in the light of God's will. For very often, sad to say, we are so weak that we believe and speak evil of others rather than good. Perfect men, however, do not readily believe every talebearer, because they know that human frailty is prone to evil and is likely to appear in speech. Not to act rashly or to cling obstinately to one's opinion, not to believe everything people say or to spread abroad the gossip one has heard, is great wisdom. Take counsel with a wise and conscientious man. Seek the advice of your betters in preference to following your own inclinations. A good life makes a man wise according to God and gives him experience in many things, for the more humble he is and the more subject to God, the wiser and the more at peace he will be in all things.” (The Imitation of Christ, Book 1 Chap 4, "Prudence in Action")

These godly commands and precepts do not just apply to one side of an issue or another, but to all who dare call themselves Christians.  Correction and criticism can be made but, if it is to be made to anyone let it be done with honor and brotherhood in the fear of God. This applies to our enemies as much as we would expect it of ourselves.

To my brothers, God love you, bless you, and may He bring you to eternal life!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Garments as Symbols of Unity


One of the most powerful historical symbols of the unity of the Catholic Church has been the seamless garment worn by Christ at the crucifixion. The Gospel of John tells us that the garment Jesus was wearing at the time He was sent to the cross "was without seam, woven from the top throughout" (John 19:23). This signifies the "oneness" of the Church. The lack of seams means that the garment is a unity; it is not cobbled together from various distinct pieces. Just as the seamless garment of Christ cannot be divided without destroying it, so the Church of Christ can suffer no division.

The identification of the garment with the Church is very ancient. As far as I am aware, it goes back to St. Cyprian of Carthage in his famous work De unitate ecclesiae, "On the Unity of the Church." This is St. Cyprian's masterpiece, in which he explains the true supernatural unity of the Catholic Church and also becomes the father of Catholic ecclesiology. 

Of the bond of unity which makes the Church one, St. Cyprian of Carthage writes:

"This bond of a concord inseparably cohering, is set forth where in the Gospel the coat of the Lord Jesus Christ is not at all divided nor cut, but is received as an entire garment, and is possessed as an uninjured and undivided robe by those who cast lots concerning Christ's garment, who should rather put on Christ. Holy Scripture speaks, saying, 'But of the coat, because it was not sewed, but woven from the top throughout, they said one to another, Let us not rend it, but cast lots whose it shall be." That coat bore with it an unity that came down from the top, that is, that came from heaven and the Father, which was not to be at all rent by the receiver and the possessor, but without separation we obtain a whole and substantial entireness. He cannot possess the garment of Christ who parts and divides the Church of Christ" (On the Unity of the Church, 7).

As the garment was woven throughout from the top down, so the Church of Christ is established "from the top down", that is, from God the Father, and possesses an indivisible unity. Elsewhere Cyprian teaches that this unity is not a mere human unity based on the consensus of wills or on a common goal, but is the supernatural unity of the Trinity itself:

"He who breaks the peace and the concord of Christ, does so in opposition to Christ; he who gathers elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ. The Lord says, 'I and the Father are one; (John 10:30) and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 'And these three are one.' (1 John 5:7) And does any one believe that this unity which thus comes from the divine strength and coheres in celestial sacraments, can be divided in the Church, and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? He who does not hold this unity does not hold God's law, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation" (ibid., 6).

The unity of the Church is the very same unity our Lord shares with the Father, as explained in John 17. The perfect sign of that unity is the seamless robe of Christ. This theme will be repeated by subsequent Church Fathers as well as the medievals. For example, the symbol is again employed in Boniface VIII's famous 1302 bull Unam Sanctam:


"He has called one because of the unity of the Spouse, of the faith, of the sacraments, and of the charity of the Church. This is the tunic of the Lord, the seamless tunic, which was not rent but which was cast by lot" (Unam Sanctam, 2).

Could it not, however, be argued that this is a kind of typology run amok? The Fathers and especially the medievals were fond of finding typological significations for Scriptural passages. Everything from the pillow of Jacob to the stones slung by David to the two swords carried by the apostles were eventually assigned typological meanings. And not every typological connection ever proposed by a theologian is accurate, much less infallible. The famous 15th century Biblia Pauperum proposes the house of Job as a type of heaven. That's right, the house of Job. The one that, due to the devil, collapses and kills all Job's children. Not the best type of heaven, in my estimation.

Perhaps the identification of the oneness of the Church with the robe of Christ is a similar fabrication, a sort of typological "grasping for straws" to find a theological justification for something with scant biblical support?

In fact, St. Cyprian is here only following an interpretive scheme that is found in the Bible itself. If Cyprian assumes that the garment of Christ signifies the unity of the Kingdom of God, it is only because in the Bible garments are always signs of the unity of a kingdom; conversely, the ripping or rending of garments is a sign of the dismantling of a kingdom. 

In the days of Saul, the king was commanded by God to destroy the Amalekites but King Saul spared their king and took spoil for himself and his men. The prophet Samuel comes to rebuke King Saul for this disobedience, which will lead to Saul losing the kingdom. Note the symbolism of the episode:

"And Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord.” And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” As Samuel turned to go away, Saul laid hold upon the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you" (I Samuel 15:24-28).

The unity of the kingdom of Israel was signified by the robe of Samuel. When Saul tore this robe, it symbolized that the kingdom was being "torn" from him.

We see a similar episode in the reign of Solomon. When Solomon sinned by worshiping foreign gods, the Lord promised to tear the kingdom away from him: "Because thou hast done this, and hast not kept my covenant, and my precepts, which I have commanded thee, I will divide and rend thy kingdom, and will give it to thy servant" (I Kings 11:11). And how does God signify this rending? In the following passage, the prophet Ahijah goes to the rebel Jeroboam son of Nebat to tell him that God will bestow a kingdom upon him. Pay attention to the prophetic imagery:

"And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clad himself with a new garment; and the two of them were alone in the open country. Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes; but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem (I Kings 11:29-32).

The rending of the garment signifies the destruction of the unity of the kingdom. Though it is not specifically stated, we could also note that the destruction of the robe of Joseph by his brethren (Gen. 37:29-32), who rent it and splattered blood on it, signifies the disunity of the House of Jacob.

So it is a thoroughly biblical principle that the garments tend to represent houses or kingdoms. The rending or destruction of the garment signifies the rending or disunity of the kingdom; similarly, the integrity of the garment symbolizes the unity of the kingdom. Thus Cyprian and the Catholic Tradition are following very biblical lines of thought when they see in the seamless robe of Christ a type of the Kingdom of God, the Church, and its dynamic inner unity. Cyprian is treading on very firm ground with his comparisons.

For more on St. Cyprian of Carthage, I highly recommend the The Complete Works of St. Cyprian of Carthage by Arx Publishing. This was a work I helped edit and which Ryan Grant wrote the foreward to. It contains apologetical footnotes and a great topical index for navigating the copious works of the Father of Carthage. A great resource!

Also related: The Problem of Catholic Unity (Part 1) and The Problem of Catholic Unity (Part 2)