Sunday, November 21, 2021

Some Updates

A few months ago I posted an appeal for donations in conjunction with the fourteenth year anniversary of this blog. The purpose of the appeal was to help defray the expenses of updating the woefully dated USC sister site, fund the professional design for some new book projects, and translate my RCIA notes and outlines into Spanish. Unfortunately I did not raise enough to cover all these projects, but enough of you stepped forward that I was able to make some progress. The new Unam Sanctam Catholicam sister site has been constructed, and I am currently migrating all the content over. There is still some design stuff I need to work out, but it feels good to be getting this underway. I especially want to thank one reader who gave an extremely generous donation that covered a big chunk of cost. Deo gratias. 

Anyhow, not much else I wanted to say except that work is going on. I hope to have the new site launched by the time we celebrate this blog's fifteenth anniversary in June of 2022. If you'd still like to contribute, you can use this Paypal link to make a one time donation or set up a recurring donation, which some of you were generous enough to do. Thank you sincerely. It is my hope that once the new site is complete I can turn my attention to working to get the RCIA outlines translated into Spanish, and then Arabic, Lord willing. But for now, one step at a time.

Blessings and grace to you and pray for me, a poor sinner


Sunday, November 14, 2021

We Should Watch for Signs of Christ's Return

It is mid-November, and the Church is contemplating the Last Things. There is a really awful strain of thought out there when it comes to dealing with eschatology and the Second Coming. These are the people who say, "God doesn't want us to think about this. We don't know when it's going to happen; it could be tomorrow or ten-thousand years from now. We're not supposed to look for signs anyway. It's not worth focusing on." Usually, they trot out Mark 13:32: "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." The reasoning seems to be, "Since Jesus Himself says He doesn't know the hour, what purpose is there for us to think about it?"

This is such a sadly misguided reductivist reading of the text. If we read the entirety of Mark 13, we will see that the whole chapter is a string of signs that Jesus specifically tells us to watch for. I'm not going to parse the entire chapter, but let's look at the immediate context of Mark 13:32. Jesus was asked about the signs of the end of the age. After listing various indicators (such as persecution), He says:

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch. (Mark 13:24-37)

First, notice the lesson of the fig tree: "As soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates." In this passage Jesus is specifically saying that signs manifested on the earth will give us knowledge that His coming is near. How anybody can read this passage and think we are not supposed to pay attention to signs in the world as indicator's of Christ's return is beyond me. He literally says, "There's going to be signs that will give you insight into the proximity of my return."

Only after saying this does He say that nobody knows the day or the hour. How does this fit in with what Christ said in the previous verse? In verse 31 He says to pay attention because the signs of the times will let us know when He will return, while in verse 32 He says no man knows the day nor the hour. How do these go together?

The answer is pretty simple. Just because nobody knows the precise moment when Christ will return does not mean there isn't anything we can know about it. While cautioning us that knowledge of the exact time is not possible, Jesus wants us to know that we can discern the season of His coming. That's why His parables on this question are seasonal: when we see the fig tree putting forth leaves, we know we are moving into the season of summer—and what to expect when summer comes. Similarly, we cannot know the exact day nor the hour, but through attention to the "signs of the times", we can know when it is near.

Jesus uses another seasonal-weather parable to address this same issue. In Matthew 16:2-3, He tells the Pharisees:

When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

There are two implications here:

(1) Discerning the "signs of the times" is akin to discerning the weather. You don't know exactly when the first rain drops will fall, but you know that a storm is coming "soon" when all the signs are there.

(2) The tone of Jesus's words tells us that we should be attempting to make this discernment. He seems to express surprise that His hearers are not already doing so.

To return to Mark 13, we see that Jesus's final admonition is for watchfulness. He uses an example of servants waiting for their master to return from a journey. The servants do not know exactly when the master will return, "in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow." Does that mean they should not watch because they don't know the precise moment? On the contrary, Jesus says, "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come...And what I say to you I say to all: Watch." The fact that we do not know the exact time is an argument to pay closer attention for the Master's return. You may not know what time of night he will return, but you know He is coming and that His return is close.

Thus when we read all of Mark 13, the message that emerges is this:

The coming of Christ will be preceded by a series of signs. The signs are not specific enough to let us know the exact day or time, and speculating on such would be futile. But nevertheless, the signs will be sufficient for us to know that we are moving into the "season" of Christ's return. We are to be attentive to these things and prepare ourselves for His coming, even more so to the degree we know the "season" is near.

Sure, I get there is significant debate over what constitutes a "sign", what the signs means, and so on. But the point is this: Anyone who tells you we are not supposed to try to discern the signs of His coming is being disingenuous about what the Bible actually says.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Crises of Faith: The Operation of Grace

When I read the testimonies of those who have lost faith or had their faith severely shaken, I frequently notice these persons will mention the imperceptibility of grace as an issue. Usually commenting on the uncharity of other Catholics, they will say things like, "The operation of grace does not seem present in the Catholics I know; if we are the true Faith, shouldn't it be more noticeable?" or, "I don't see the effects of grace in their life." 

What this ultimately comes down to is people aren't as good as we expect they should be. And it's not an empty argument: The essential trait of a Christian is supposed to be that we are "Christ-like", which supposes the sanctification of the person through the working of grace. And this is not an abstract principle; it is supposed to bear fruit in all manner of tangible signs: fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), corporal works of mercy (Jas. 1:27), and the development of virtue. This is all made possible by grace. If grace is real, shouldn't we clearly notice these manifestations of it?

Furthermore, when Christians fail to respond with grace in sensitive situations, it stings. Hard. Too often Christians, who should be the most reassuring, respond with coldness or astonishing hubris. I seldom speak of my own life on here, but I want to share some of my own experiences in this regard: I am a divorced Catholic and have been so for several years. When this happened, I received virtually no support from my Catholic friends whatsoever. I'm not talking about institutional support from the Church; I don't care about that. I'm talking about Catholic friends reaching out and saying, "Hey, how are you doing?" Or saying, "Wanna go out and do something?" Nobody started a sign-up to bring me any dinners. Invitations to social events dropped off; I stopped getting invited to weddings. They quietly stopped interacting with me online. Even my kids stopped getting  invited on play dates and stuff like that. People stopped chit-chatting with me after Mass or at Sunday coffee and donuts. It's not that people were expressing outright judgment towards me; its just that they weren't...anything. It was so disappointing. I ended up having to make a whole new set of Catholic friends (by and large people I met online).

But...guess who was right there for me? My secular or non-Catholic friends were right there. They wanted to take me out for drinks to soothe my wounds. They texted me "Hey how are you feeling?" They were right there to say, "Aw shit happens man, I'm sorry." They did good to me without any expectation or sense of obligation. May God reward them.

Feeling abandoned by my Catholic social circle was devastating. I'm still kind of angry about it. And I don't understand it. Did they think that by simply being my friend through a hard time they were supporting divorce or something? If so, that's ridiculous; that would be like saying I can't visit someone in prison lest it be construed I support his crimes. I don't know. But it was extremely hurtful to see that persons who I believed ought to have been the most charitable and grace-filled were being outpaced by non-believers. It was my most painful experience with Catholics I ever had, and it wasn't with the clergy or institution, but with the rank and file schlubs in the pews who I thought were my friends. 

Shouldn't these people—who receive the Body of Christ weekly or even daily—have responded with more grace to my pain?

As I've reflected on this over the years, I've come to see it this way: people generally do the best that they can with the knowledge and gifts they have available to them. It is easy for me to say, "If you really had grace, you should have done X or Y in a given situation." But I can't evaluate a person's objective state on the spectrum of grace. Perhaps someone's behavior to me was a little off-putting; I don't know how much worse it would have been without grace. Maybe someone is a braggart and has always been a braggart for the last ten years you've known them, and despite all their communions and prayers, they are the same bragging fool as they've always been. Well, thank God they are the same bragging fool and not a worse one! That, too, is grace. Perhaps so-and-so comes to Mass dutifully every week, says little, contributes little, understands little, and makes little progress. But how do you know that simply maintaining this station does not require everything he has? Is not the meaning of the widow's mite parable that it's hard to judge the true value of a person's progress on mere externals?

Life is hard, and even with grace it is still a struggle. God knows I have let people down, too. I have had friends call me in need, and I blew them off because their need was inconvenient to me at the time. I've looked the other way. I've sinned by omission. I've been arrogant. But that doesn't mean grace hasn't been working in my life; when I look at where I've come from and where I am now, my entire life is a miracle of grace. I know I have a long way to go still, but that's just because I am a work in progress, and "it hath not yet appeared what we shall be" (1 John 3:2). But this is ultimately a journey and we are all pilgrims. If I am walking from Detroit to Los Angeles, the fact that I have not arrived at Los Angeles is no argument that I never left Detroit. A traveler must not only consider where he needs to go but how far he has come. And thus it is with grace. So, I've come to the conclusion that it's impossible for me to judge how and to what degree grace works in peoples' lives. I simply don't know where people are on their individual journeys. I rejoice when I see moments of grace, but I cannot use these moments to make any sort of judgment on a person's overall state.

And of course, it's rare for someone to become truly saintly. We know where we all want to be: fruits of the spirit, works of mercy, virtue, etc. But few people progress in the spiritual life to the point where these things become resplendent; few reach sanctity this side of heaven. Think about something like physical exercise. Of all the persons who say, "This year I'm going to get in shape this year!", how many of them do you think actually persevere in that resolution? How many of them are actually in shape by next year? The minority. Most make nominal gains, then give up. Only a few make demonstrable progress that is noticeable by others. Given that the spiritual life is compared to athletic training, requiring similar endurance and discipline, should we be surprised that so few become exceptional?

Of course, there certainly are many circumstances when grace is discernible. I mean, starting with my own life, I can discern many places where grace has worked me over the years and brought about real, substantial change. Is this the sort of change that others can easily see from the outside? Not necessarily. Again, others don't know what I struggle with, just like I don't know what others struggle with. Sometimes we have victory in one area and continue to fight elsewhere. I am infinitely more patient and loving now than I was 15 years ago. That's grace. But I also have failures, sins, and bad habits I continue to struggle with. I may be more patient now, but I am just as much of a blabbermouth as I was 15 years ago. It's grace that I am not worse. Someone may easily discern I am an inveterate blabbermouth, but they may not discern that I am more patient or loving. Thus, anyone who would presume to judge the work of grace in my life based on the former without knowledge of the latter would be horridly mistaken in their judgment. 

Similarly, when I spend the time to really talk to my Catholic friends, all of them have stories of grace to tell. And in many cases it is discernible in their life, but only after you have really gotten to know them, entered into their world, and understood where they are coming from. Grace, after all, works like a "still, small voice"; it is engendered by the Spirit, which "blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes" (1 Kings 19:12; John 3:8). It is always working. And when we complain that we don't see it, we are merely complaining that it does not work the way we think it should work, bearing the fruit we think it should bear, visible in a way we think we should see it, in the times we believe it should be seen.

Instead of looking about at the Church and saying, "Grace doesn't seem to be working in these peoples' lives", actually sit down with these people and say, "Brother, tell me a story of how grace has been working in your life", and you'll hear an astonishing tale almost every single time. It will be more interesting and edifying than whatever you assumed grace ought to be doing. After His resurrection, the disciples asked Christ, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Imagine the disappointment of those who could not let go of their own conception of what Christ's work ought to be! But for those who let go of their own expectations of what should be and instead received what Christ actually wanted to give, how rich their joy must have been!

Ultimately, we must avoid trying to judge where and how grace is working in the lives of others, and especially avoid sitting in judgment over how we think it should be working. That is a recipe for frustration and impatience with others—loss of charity, loss of hope, and ultimately loss of faith. Christ's teachings "Judge not lest ye be judged" and "Remove the plank from your own eye before removing the speck from your brother's eye" are not just platitudes to help us be nice; they are life-giving principles that keep us humble, grounded, and seeing the way God sees.  And once we see with His wisdom, the works of grace become manifest.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Book Review: Are Canonizations Infallible?

Arouca Press has published an excellent work for those interested in the debate about the infallibility of canonizations. Are Canonizations Infallible?, edited by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, sets out be a comprehensive tome of reference for the subject, and in this it succeeds admirably. The book is set up as a series of essays on various aspects of the question; (in full-disclosure, I, too, have an essay in the book on the history of the Advocatus Diaboli, the Devil's Advocate). The structure of the book as a collection of essays makes it easily digestible, as the reader can peruse ala carte those subjects of highest interest to him. 

My thoughts on this book are several:

I. First, I want to stress that this is a solid theological text, not a polemical work. I think some were expecting this book to be a collection of traditionalist maledictions on the canonizations of John Paul II and Paul VI; when I said I had an essay published in this book, Dave Armstrong immediately expressed dismay and embarrassment that I would participate in the project. I think he assumed it was just going to be a hackneyed trad critique of the modern papal saints. It's anything but. I was consistently struck by the scholarly tone of the book and how its authors are determined to get to the principles that underlay the question. This is a book for people serious about understanding the theological questions behind canonization. Some of the essays are dense and of a very technical nature.  Expect an enlightening read, but not necessarily an easy one. 

II. The book is not an anti-infallibilist apologetic. I would say the majority of the essays are anti-infallibilist, but certainly not all of them. Both sides are represented fairly, and the arguments are much weightier than "I don't like Paul VI therefore he's not a saint" (anti-infallibilist caricature), or "The Church has spoken, shut up" (infallibilist caricature). On the contrary, the format of this book as a running dialogue between proponents of various positions along the spectrum sheds light on a host of issues of which I'd never been aware. I can't say the anti-infallibilist arguments were wholly convincing, but whether you are pro or anti-infallibilist, this book should make it clear that the questions run a lot deeper than you'd probably assumed.  

III. It may be wondered if this book was written simply as a traddie protest in the wake of the canonizations of John Paul II and Paul VI. While its true that these canonizations have brought the question to the fore, you may be surprised to learn that the infallibility of canonizations has been debated for centuries. This book introduces the reader to the historical arguments, some dating back to the Reformation. Some of the essays in this book predate the canonizations of the modern popes; one of the pivotal essays, by Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, dates from 2003, long before the canonizations of John Paul II, Mother Teresa, or Paul VI were even issues. So, again, this book is not just a trad screed. It's a summary of a debate that has gone on for centuries. I wonder if the neo-Caths who immediately condemned this book before its publication are even aware that theologians have been discussing the matter since before Trent.

IV. Within that debate, however, it is freely admitted that non-infallibilism is the minority position; not just a minority position, but a small minority. Even anti-infallibilists like Msgr. Gherardini admit that they are a very small minority, that the weight of theological tradition is against them. While the question has not been definitively settled, the tradition of the Church is weightily in favor of infallibility. Gherardini says, "The overwhelming majority of theologians responded in the affirmative [i.e., favoring infallibility of canonizations as directly connected to Christian revelation]; those who lean towards a negative response or even a only a doubtful one are very few" (pg. 138). The same admits that the theologians marshalled in favor of infallibility are formidable: St. Thomas Aquinas, Melchior Cano, Suarez, and even "the acknowledged master in this matter", Prospero Lambertini himself (pg. 142). It is ironic, then, that the Traditionalist who seeks to demonstrate the non-infallibility of canonizations does so against the weight of the selfsame Tradition he seeks to defend. Of course, this issue has not been dogmatically defined, so there is room for discussion and development, but that does not change the fact that anti-infallibilism is not the traditional theological conclusion. What interesting times! 

V. One thing I appreciated about this book is its continued explication over various essays on what infallibility does and does not mean. Since its definition in 1870, papal infallibility has resulted in a kind of "mission creep", investing supreme authority behind judgments of the Holy See that Christians should not have been required to assent to. There are precedents prior to Vatican II, but in modern times the most blatant example is how every casual utterance of a pope is taken as authoritative teaching. The result of all this is that the average Catholic has no clue what infallibility actually pertains to and what it means. For example, conservative Novus Ordo Catholics tend to extend infallibility to everything the pope says, such that they suffer from a kind of cognitive dissonance when forced to grapple with papal nonsense. On the other hand, Traditionalists tend to think if something is not infallible—or if its infallibility is merely doubtful—that it can be dismissed entirely, basically acting as though any official action of the pope can be entirely discarded if it does not proceed from the highest authority. This is the unconvincing "That's invalid so I don't have to listen to it" approach that rank and file Trads have been lazily trotting out for decades to avoid doing the heavy intellectual work of sorting through these difficulties. Are Canonizations Infallible? definitely does that heavy lifting for you. You will be educated about infallibility almost as much as about canonization. What does infallibility entail? What does it not entail? What is the ordinary vs. extraordinary Magisterium? What are the primary and secondary ends of an infallible declaration? What are dogmatic facts? What obligations does infallibility impose upon the faithful, and how do these obligations change if something is not infallible? This book will give you an excellent schooling in these questions.

VI. "Canonizations aren't infallible, therefore I can simply ignore canonizations I disapprove of." That is not the message of this book. Even those authors that argue against canonization are careful to point out that solemn but non-infallible teachings of the Church still oblige the respectful submission of the faithful, reservations not-withstanding. This book does not open the flood gates to every Catholic creating one's own hodge-podge pantheon of saints based one's own scruples. If it wasn't for contemporary concerns about a few specific canonizations, this book would hardly be controversial at all. Are Canonizations Infallible? is an excellent read for traditional Catholics, but it is especially appropriate for conservative Novus Ordo Catholics who want a scholarly, non-polemical introduction to the question.  

In conclusion, I highly recommend Are Canonizations Infallible? and I commend the folks at Arouca Press for doing such good work on this and their other publications. I also want to thank Arouca and Dr. Kwasniewski for including me in such a scholarly and important work, something my credentials and scholarship hardly merit. But still, don't let my inclusion in the book be an argument against it; get yourself a copy and educate yourself about this important issue.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Athanasius Schneider Pontifical High Mass in Detroit

There's no real theme to today's post, just some random smattering of thoughts I put together after returning from Detroit:

Today the great Bishop Athanasius Schneider said Mass in Detroit as part of the Call to Holiness event put on by Assumption Grotto. If the name Assumption Grotto sounds familiar, this is the parish of traditional priest Fr. Eduard Perrone of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Some years ago Fr. Perrone was accused of sex abuse and suspended from ministry. Fr. Perrone fought back, however, and was successfully able to demonstrate that the allegation was fabricated by a detective. Perrone sued the detective for defamation and won a $125,000 judgment against her. Meanwhile, the CDF declined to pursue any discipline against Fr. Perrone, effectively dropping the case—though to my knowledge, the Archdiocese of Detroit has still not reinstated Fr. Perrone to public ministry, but I may be mistaken.

Anyhow, that's the parish this was at. It's a beautiful old urban church in the best style of the golden age of Midwest Catholicism. The church was absolutely packed for Bishop Schneider's Mass. If people are losing interest in Catholic Tradition, there was no sign of it at this event. I had to wait in line in my car out on the main street before I even got onto parish property; once I got onto parish grounds they had ushers outside directing the overflow traffic to park on the grass. And I was there a half hour early!

I was fortunate enough to get a seat very close to the front, maybe third row. Assumption Grotto had produced an extremely fine worship aid that not only gave you both the prayers/readings and fixed Mass parts in one place, but also had an extremely interesting page explaining how a Pontifical High Mass is different from a Solemn High Mass. It had a lot of minutiae on it that even I'd never heard before. I meant to save it and I did bring it home but...of course now I cannot find it :/

I have been to Pontifical High Masses before, but what really impressed me about Bishop Schneider's Mass was the universality represented in who was present. It was truly reflective of the Catholicity of the Church. The diversity was spectacular. There were whites, blacks, Filipinos, Indians, Hispanics, and Japanese. I saw plenty of young families with children, lots of old folks, and many people in between. Millennial hipster Catholics with their beards and slicked back hair sitting side-by-side with boomer homeschool marms. Academic looking tweed jacket types and blue collar schlubs. The Knights of Columbus were there, resplendent in full regalia. I saw some religious, both men and women. The choir was made up of a mixture of ages from teenagers up to elderly. All presided over by a central Asian bishop whose native language is German saying an ancient liturgy in Latin. It truly was a "multitude of every tribe and tongue and nation" (Rev. 7:9), diversity in the best sense—not the ridiculous Babel of woke individualism, but people of every social, ethnic, and demographic background finding unity in the worship of Christ through the traditional rite of the Church. 

Bishop Schneider spoke on several themes: the action of the Holy Spirit within the Church, the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Christian, and the Mass as the highest act of worship the Church can offer. It was such a solid homily. There was no ripping on anyone or trashing different segments of the Church, such as you hear whenever Pope Francis opens his mouth. There was no alarmism about vaccines, nor any of the sort of quasi-political nonsense you get when you read Viganò. It was just good, wholesome, spiritual preaching. 

Year ago, I read Athanasius Schneider's Dominus Est. It remains one of the greatest apologetical works on why we should receive communion on the tongue. During his Mass, watching him seated on the faldstool, eyes cast down in humility, while the subdeacon read the Epistle, more than once I thought, "In what world do we live in where this man is on the margins of the hierarchy? Why can't we have this guy for pope?"

Whatever Pope Francis or others want to say, Tradition is alive and well. It was not created by papal fiat and it won't be destroyed by papal fiat. I am fortunate I got to assist at a Mass said by this good prelate, and I pray for more like him.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

A Sorority Girl Tells Me About Ritual

Not long ago I was talking to an acquaintance of mine, a young woman who is a college junior. I saw her in town and we were standing by her car catching up. She came from a respectable Methodist family, but of very secular attitude. She told me a little bit about how college was going, and from what she said I gathered that she had regrettably fallen into the lifestyle that is so common in many American colleges: frequent partying, drinking, promiscuousness. She mentioned a boyfriend she was "staying with", and also told me she was struggling in some of her classes because she was always staying out too late with friends drinking and having a hard time getting motivated in the mornings. Typical college girl stuff.

But that's not what this story is about. This story is about something else she told me. She mentioned she was heavily involved with one of the college sororities. She was one of the committee officers. I asked her what her role was and she said Master of Ceremonies. This piqued my interest. "Ah, you're a ritualist?" I asked. She said yes; her job was to coordinate the ceremonies of the sorority for all its various occasions, like the initiation of new members, promotion of members, commemorative events, etc. I asked if she liked it and she said very much so. In fact, she told me she was just then at the store picking up some ritual items. She showed me the back of her car and it was full of candles, satins, what looked to be robes or gowns, and various other ritual objects one could imagine a sorority making use of. I wanted to ask if she had giant paddles but I thought that would be cliché.

Anyhow, I was curious about their ceremonial. Obviously, being a sorority, this was "secret" and she couldn't tell an uninitiated outsider the details. But she told me the rituals went back to the founding of the sorority, which was in 1896. So, by American standards, the organization was quite old. I asked, "How closely do your rituals today reflect the rites as created by the founders of the sorority?" 

"Oh they're exactly the same," she answered. I was very surprised. I said, "They never thought to change or amend them? They never felt they needed to update them for modernity?" She made a disgusted face, as if the very suggestion that the rituals be changed was offensive. "Oh heck no," she said. "It's very serious for us to carry on the rituals as the founders intended." Then she explained that performing the rites as handed down from the past provided a vital link with the history of the sorority, its previous members, and kept it grounded in its mission. It created historical continuity. She was very zealous explaining this to me; whatever else was going on in her life, I could tell that she attached great importance to her office as Master of Ceremonies.

Then she told me that the sorority's by-laws actually punished members who were found to be guilty of deviating from the received rituals of the organization, including expulsion from the sorority for repeated infractions. "So, yeah, we take it pretty seriously!" she said. 

I thanked her for her time, wished her well, and was on my way. But as I left the encounter, I had a startling thought: This young woman—a junior in college living a secular lifestyle shacking up with her boyfriend and getting plastered every night—understands and values liturgy more than the current Successor of St. Peter.

"Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes" (Matt. 11:25)

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Pope Francis' Tragic Misunderstanding of Latin

On September 12, Pope Francis met with the Jesuits of Slovakia in Bratislava. The Holy Father staged an impromptu question and answer session. The text of the session was reported by Antonio Spadaro on La Civilta Cattolica on September 21 ("Freedom Scares Us": Pope Francis' Conversation with Slovak Jesuits). 

During the session, one of the Jesuits observed that Francis was perceived as heterodox by many Catholics within Slovakia, while others idolized him. He then asked the pope how he deals with people who look at him with suspicion. Even though the question did not such on the Traditional Latin Mass or traditionalism, Pope Francis took the opportunity to offer the following reflections about Traditionis Custodes:

Now I hope that with the decision to stop the automatism of the ancient rite we can return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II. My decision is the result of a consultation with all the bishops of the world made last year. From now on those who want to celebrate with the vetus ordo must ask permission from as is done with biritualism. But there are young people who after a month of ordination go to the bishop to ask for it. This is a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.

A cardinal told me that two newly ordained priests came to him asking him for permission to study Latin so as to celebrate well. With a sense of humor he replied: “But there are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach. Then, when you have studied Spanish, come back to me and I’ll tell you how many Vietnamese there are in the diocese, and I’ll ask you to study Vietnamese. Then, when you have learned Vietnamese, I will give you permission to study Latin.” So he made them “land,” he made them return to earth. I go ahead, not because I want to start a revolution. I do what I feel I must do. It takes a lot of patience, prayer and a lot of charity.

How we "return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI" by overturning his signature legislation is a piece of Jesuitical-Peronist sophistry that is beyond me, but I want to focus on the second paragraph, where Francis tells the story of the cardinal dissuading his priests from learning Latin, because these statements are indicative of the pope's thinking on the matter of Latin. I offer the following observations:

I. The anecdote about "There are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach, etc." reveals that Pope Francis does not even understand the concept of a liturgical language at all. He sees liturgical language in a utilitarian way, wholly functional and devoid of any value that is not homiletical. Without reference to tradition, without reference to history, without reference to liturgical integrity. Mere functionalism. 

II. The concept of a priest needing permission from his ordinary to study Latin is manifestly contrary to the Code of Canon Law. Code of Canon Law 249 says, "The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry." We can see that the Code insists on study of Latin in addition to whatever foreign language is necessary for ministry. The liturgical language of the Church is in a different category than those languages which may be needful for ministry. The Church's liturgical language is essential to her, while other languages are incidental and relate to time, place, and circumstance. Also, given the directive to study Latin is enshrined in the Church's universal legislation, no priest needs "permission" to study it. By relating this story in the manner he does, Pope Francis is essentially winking at bishops depriving priests of their canonical rights. 

III. His line of thought nurtures an inherent hypocrisy because we know that the pope would never say these things to Christians of other rites. Can you imagine the pontiff dissuading Eastern Catholics from learning Old Slavonic? Or telling Chaldeans to go learn Farsi and Kurdish before they are allowed to study Aramaic, or making fun of an Egyptian Christian for wanting to study Coptic? Of course not. And since such an attitude would never be promoted amongst other rites, we may conclude it is merely another expression of anti-Latin rite prejudice.

IV. Pope Francis's comments reveal an ignorance of all the reasons why the Church has, even unto recent times, stressed the importance of preserving Latin. We need look no further than Pope John XXIII's encyclical Veterum Sapientia (1962) on the promotion of Latin studies. Here, the father of the Second Vatican Council offered a comprehensive rationale for why Latin should be studied. Every traditional Catholic should review this encyclical, but I will offer a summary of Pope John's rationale for studying Latin with relevant quotes:

Latin is a testimony to the historic witness of the Church: "By their use in sacred liturgies and in versions of Holy Scripture, they have remained in force in certain regions even to the present day, bearing constant witness to the living voice of antiquity."

Latin unifies Christians: it provides "a bond of unity for the Christian peoples of Europe."

It is neutral, its universality favoring no one ethnicity of nation: "Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all"

Latin is uniquely suitable for precision and dignity required by theological expression: "the characteristic nobility of Latin formal structure. Its concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression."

It's "non-vernacularity" gives Latin a special strength to bind the past, present, and future of the Church together in "wonderful continuity", making the treasures of the past accessible: "the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular...the Latin language can be called truly catholic. It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed a treasure of incomparable worth. It is a general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the documents of the Church’s teaching. It is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity."

After enunciating these reasons, John XXIII concludes with the following:

For these reasons the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve Latin, deeming it worthy of being used in the exercise of her teaching authority “as the splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred laws.” She further requires her sacred ministers to use it...Thus the “knowledge and use of this language,” so intimately bound up with the Church’s life, “is important not so much on cultural or literary grounds, as for religious reasons.” These are the words of Our Predecessor Pius XI, who conducted a scientific inquiry into this whole subject, and indicated three qualities of the Latin language which harmonize to a remarkable degree with the Church’s nature. “For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure to the end of time … of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.

The reader will notice that none of the reasons listed by Pope John XXIII concerned themselves with homiletics. Whatever else one may say about "Good Pope John", the man understood the concept of a liturgical language, the Church's need for such a language, the "non-vernacularity" of this language, and the eminent suitability of Latin to be said language in the west. The fact that Pope Francis understands none of these concepts is disappointing, frightening, and evidence that the Holy Father is, once again, speaking about things he knows precious little about.

V. The idea that the Church's liturgical language is somehow in rivalry with learning other vernacular languages is insulting to all the great Catholic missionaries who did both. When I read these comments by Francis, I think of St. Jean de Brebeuf, S.J. (d. 1649), who labored for twelve years to compile a dictionary in the Huron tongue while simultaneously celebrating Mass in Latin. I am reminded of Spanish missionaries to the Philippines, like Fr. Francisco Ignacio Alcina, S.J. (d. 1674), who worked for 37 years among the Visayans patiently creating dictionaries of Visayan language and translating their literature into Spanish whilst also celebrating the Mass in Latin. Or the Carmelite priest, Fr. John Thaddeus (d. 1633) who said Mass in Latin while also learning Persian and Turkic for his mission in Ishfahan, Persia (Iran), a mission that was so successful he became a friend and confidant of the Shah. In other words, the use of liturgical Latin has never been an obstacle to Catholic pastors learning vernacular languages. For Pope Francis to suggest the two are in competition is disparaging to the witness of these heroic missionaries who demonstrated the marvelous complementarity of being well versed in Latin as well as learning local dialects for homiletical reasons.

VI. Finally, the dilemma the cardinal in the story brings up about not wanting his priests to study Latin because they need to devote their time to other vernacular languages could have been totally avoided had the priests been trained in Latin in seminary, as they were supposed to be. That way, by the time of their ordination they would be ready to begin studies of whatever other languages were necessary, already having a solid grounding in Latin. By not promoting the study of Latin in the seminary, this cardinal has created the very problem he complains about.

* * * * * 

It is a sad testimony to our current state that the head of the Latin Rite is so uneducated about the Latin language. And not uneducated by some innocent mistake, but by culpable ignorance and duplicitousness. The tragedy in this story is that a man with such opinions was ever raised to the Chair of Peter. But this all begs the question: If this is how Francis thinks about Latin, we are justified in asking: What does "Latin rite" mean to Francis? In what sense is the Latin rite Latin at all

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Crises of Faith: The Waves of Darkness

Three months ago I published a piece called "
Alcuin to Higbald on the Christian View of Temporal Disasters." This post was about an interesting letter I came across from the Carolingian era monk Alcuin writing to Abbot Higbald of Lindisfarne to console him after his monastery was sacked by Vikings. Alcuin essentially tells Higbald, "This, too, is an act of God's love. Use it as an occasion to better yourself, pray more, and move on." I highlighted this as an example of the traditional way Christians contextualized disasters in their lives. In the comments, an anonymous reader left the following comment (it is long, but I think it necessary to include it in its entirety):

I find explanations like this sufficient for car crashes and cancers...but we are dealing with something more which tempts me to doubt. We have all heard that God, when He is truly angry with his people will send them wolves rather than pastors. Here in the US, at least, the people have always voted down issues like abortion and gay marriage, when given the chance. These crimes are thrust upon us by the courts and duplicitous politicians. It is so bad today, that every single institution in the world, is run by evil people who hate God, and hate the people under their charge.So it is not enough that we have a fallen nature and tend towards sin. It is not enough that we are tempted constantly by evil angelic powers who are super-intelligent and have access to our imaginations and never sleep. It is not enough that we are surrounded by the general misbehaviours of our fellow humans and the weakness of the flesh, and all the things that make the World a dangerous place for our souls.

No, it is not enough.

In these times, we also have every single institution, world wide, run by human devils that actively seek to corrupt us, destroy our families, and enslave us. It is these human devils that control politics, media, war, economics, education, art, music, commerce, entertainment, leisure, science, healthcare, law, infrastructure, and so on. And these human devils have all the money, all the power, and all the voice, far above any simple sheep.

On top of all that, the Catholic Religion is almost completely shattered. The Hierarchy is cowardly at best, shameful most often, and heretical at worst. There are no two priests that preach the same thing. A close look at the Novus Ordo, the TLM, and the Byzantine rites appear to be almost completely different religions. (Although at the moment, the Sacraments seem to be relatively preserved.) Constant Scandal makes evangelization very difficult, if not impossible. And us sheep, to whom most of these questions are way above our paygrade, are forced to walk the line between deciding what is true, and becoming protestant/our own pope.

Yet God wills all men to be saved. And the saints assure us that most souls will perish into an eternal hell. I don't know why we all don't collapse in despair. We have no Saints, no Signs, and no Signal Graces. Just a book the purports to be God's Word, though we are often told by the "experts" it is no such thing. We have an institution that purports to be Divine, but its leaders and teachers display tendencies that are more diabolic. And we have a world that has, for the most part, forced God out of their daily lives, more through ignorance than choice.

How are we supposed to save our own souls, let alone help save those of our children, our loved ones, our neighbors, and others? Or do we just wait for God to smite us, write off all the sinners of whatever category, and hope to rebuild if we live through whatever is coming? Thoughts like these terrify me.

It's a doozy of a comment. He brings up a lot of things. Constant scandals. Liturgical chaos. "Human devils" that control all aspects of life. He mentions politics, media, war, economics, education, art, music, commerce, entertainment, leisure, science, healthcare, law, infrastructure, and so on. Money and power in the hands of the enemy. Every institution under the sway of darkness. Unrelenting war against the family. Cowardly hierarchy. A veritable litany of chaos.

When I read this comment, my response is, "Friend, who told you to worry about such things?"

When were these problems entrusted to your care? "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:34). I am convinced that this passage from the Beatitudes is instrumental in staving off despair. The commenter is right; power, influence, money, media, institutions—all of it is under the power of the evil one. Little has changed since the beginning: "And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it." (Luke 4:5-7). But none of that is my business. My response to this evil is the same as Christ's: "Worship the Lord thy God, and Him alone shall you serve." None of those issues are my problem. 

Our Lord told us to focus on today, on what is before us, on our small little sphere of influence God has entrusted to us. "Aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs" (1 Thess. 4:11), "that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives" (1 Tim. 2:2). I don't have the resources to fix all or even any of the world's problems. Christ asks us to only be faithful with the little we have been entrusted with. To those who have been given much, much will be required. Those with ten talents will have to account for how they invested those ten talents. But, my friends, the vast majority of us can have no influence on these matters. And since we cannot, what good does it do to worry about them? What does the Psalmist say?

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me (Ps. 131:1)

I can't speak for anyone else, but my faith has been great right now and for the past year at least. I feel like I have finally made real strides in my spiritual life, overcoming things I struggled with for years. God's providence has never seemed so real, and it becomes ever easier to see the working of grace in my day to day life. I have a deeper peace and more profound sense of God's mercy than I have in years past. That's just my experience. I understand that for someone who is in crisis, that will certainly not be their experience. But don't tell me my religion is "broken" because you are in crisis. My faith is not in crisis, and nothing is broken for me

One may say that such a solipsistic approach is merely sticking my head in the sand, ignoring the very real problems in the world that are destroying souls and making a shipwreck of faith. I disagree. I know these problems are real, and I do what I can to combat them within the sphere of my influence. But that little sphere is all I have responsibility over, and beyond that I commend it all to God. Maybe I am excessively focused on my own affairs. But the reality is, that's all I am responsible for. Why load yourself up with the responsibilities to save the world, Church, and civilization? Are the crosses Jesus has given you not heavy enough? Are your sins so miniscule that you need to worry about the sins of everyone else? 

Here's the great paradox: Focusing on the little things God entrusts to us is not turning our back on the world and the Church. It is, in fact, the only way to save them. Christendom was not created because a lot of angry men got together to bitch about the government and the hierarchy and create a "movement" to address it. It was created because a man went out in the desert to be alone with God; because a man walked on the beach with his friend and had a heart to heart conversation about Christ, because a woman decided she wanted to dedicate her virginity to God; because a Roman rhetorician went out into a garden to weep for his sins; because a man decided to live in a cave on the slopes of Mount Subiaco; because slave boy prayed a hundred times a night alone before a rough hewn wooden cross jabbed into the rocky slopes of Mount Slemish while he watched sheep; because a solitary Jesuit father, isolated and suffering immensely from his captors' torments, carved crosses in the trunks of trees in the wilderness of Canada; because a priest decided to work and die with some lepers on the other side of the world. Because the Son of God—when faced with all the hatred and sin and darkness the world had to offer—chose to be silent and do nothing. In such acts was Christendom formed, and in such acts shall our Faith be preserved.

Be faithful to whatever little was entrusted to you in your own sphere of influence. You own little life is all you have to focus on. Stay grounded there and you will have a much better chance of weathering the waves of darkness rushing over the world.

For Part 1 in this series, see: Crises of Faith: Escaping Our Subjectivity

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Six Book Reviews

For several months now I have been promising various book reviews, and seeing how hopelessly backed up I am, I decided to tackle them all in a single post. This means each book will have to be covered with more brevity than I would like, but I figure it is a case of something is better than nothing. If you would like to purchase any of these works, please use the links I have provided, so your ole pal Boniface can get a few bucks in affiliate income.

Bonds of Wool: The Pallium and Papal Power in the Middle Ages (Steven Schoenig SJ, 2016): At 544 pages, Bonds of Wool by Steven Schoenig was quite a read. It took me the majority of the year to get through. And it was dense. But wow, was it worth it! Bonds of Wool is an exhaustive study about the development of the papal pallium, the woolen garment that is conferred upon metropolitan archbishops upon their accession to their see. Covering the period from Gregory the Great to Innocent III, Bonds of Wool traces the story of how the medieval popes utilized this fascinating little garment to expand their influence and centralizing control over the medieval episcopacy. In the service of its prime emphasis, however, the book touched on many interesting ancillary subjects: relationships between metropolitans and suffragans, medieval concepts of gift giving, papal authority (in theory and practice), the dynamic between Rome and other archiepiscopal sees, and tons of historical anecdotes to illustrate the content. It got my mind turning on so many subjects; it also gave me material to blog about that will serve me for the next several years. Overall, I thought Bonds of Wool was a superb book—and really, an exemplar of what a good history text should look like. I have never heard of the author, Fr. Steven Schoenig SJ., but he is a consummate historian. If someone were to ask me how to write a well-researched, thorough, objective history book, I would hand them Bonds of Wool. I can't recommend it highly enough. That being said, be warned: it's a great book, but it's not an easy book. I consider myself an advanced reader, and it still took me 9 months to complete. It's a scholarly work, not a pop book, so take note. But, if you like wading through mounds of primary source text to see how history actually unfolded, this is your book.

Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair (Christopher Oldstone-Moore, 2017): I picked up Of Beards and Men at a library book sale just by virtue of the title and cover art. Being amongst the bearded, and a facial hair aficionado myself, I was amused by the concept of a history book about beards and shelled out $3.00 for a used copy mainly for amusement—something to leave in the bathroom to peruse while in the advanced stages of digesting my Taco Bell. So I didn't have high hopes for it. But I was surprised with how well researched and enjoyable this book was. It combined scholarly exegesis of historical documents with a witty, easy writing style that made it a pleasure to read. Dr. Oldstone-Moore is a senior lecturer of history at Wright University, and his familiarity with the subject matter is plain. I can't imagine what sort of work must have gone into compiling 5,000 years of documentation about facial hair and distilling it down into a 345 page book. But Dr. Oldstone-Moore succeeded admirably. Central to Of Beards and Men is the study of the perception of masculinity in the history of western civilization. When I first caught on to the gender perception theme of the book, I was worried it was going to turn into a Woke screed. To my pleasant surprise, it was nothing of the sort. I don't know Dr. Oldstone-Moore's religious affiliation, if any, and of course it was a secular book, but I was quite happy with how he handled the source material and the conclusions he drew without at all sliding into Woke gender-fantasy land. Of particular interest to me were the three chapters on facial hair during Christendom, which contained sources I had never run across and am interested to learn more about. The major takeaway from this section was that Christians have always tended to exaggerate the aesthetic styles and decorum of their own age as reflective of "natural law" and condemned deviations as contra naturam, usually without sufficient reflection of how these opinions have changed throughout over time. It was fascinating to see how Christian thinkers first eschewed beards, then promoted them aggressively, then went back to saying they are irrational and contra naturam, and then did an another about face to suggest that actually shaving was contra naturam. Not to say there are no valid universal norms of decency, but it is a fine example of why we have to be careful about dogmatizing our societal aesthetics. I thought overall it was an excellent read. I don't approve of every conclusion the author drew, but my objections were minimal.

Pharaohs and Kings (David Rohl, 1996): It was only a few weeks ago that I picked up Pharaohs and Kings by David Rohl at the illustrious John K. King bookstore in Detroit. Pharaohs and Kings is an older book (I think outside the U.S.A. it was released under a different title: A Test of Time), but I am a sucker for Egyptology and ancient archaeology so I lugged this 425 page hardcover tome home with me and started reading it. I finished it in five days. It was that good. Rohl's book is essentially a promotion of something called the "New Chronology" in Egyptology, which is the theory that traditional Egyptian chronology is errant before around 624 B.C. based on a miscalculation of the length of the Third Intermediate Period (1069-525 in traditional dating). Rohl says this period was actually much shorter, perhaps by three hundred years, and thus traditional Egyptian regnal dates should be adjusted downward. For example, he proposes Rameses II reigned in the 10th century B.C., not the 13th century B.C. The book is chock full of archaeological minutiae upon which Rohl bases his theory. In truth, it's probably too much archaeology for the layman to follow cogently, but at least it cannot be said that the argument he presents is without merit. The implications of the New Chronology are pertinent to understanding the archaeological record as it pertains to the Old Testament. While Rohl does not set out to argue about the historicity of the Old Testament, it happens incidentally that adopting his proposed New Chronology situates the Old Testament much more securely within the archaeological record. For example, if Pharaoh Akhenaten ruled not during the 14th century B.C. but the 11th century, then the Amarna Letters of his reign can conceivably be referring to the consolidation of the Israelite monarchy under Saul and David, while such a connection would be impossible in the traditional chronology. Rohl's chronology was not created to "prove the Bible" (it is based on anomalies in the extant archaeological record of ancient Egypt), but it does support the Old Testament record as a secondary effect. It appears that Rohl's thesis is not widely accepted in Egytpological circles, though it is not written off as a fringe theory either—even critics of Rohl seem to admit that he makes valid points about the difficulties of traditional Egyptian chronology and possesses considerable mastery of his material. The jury is still out for me on the New Chronology, but Pharaohs and Kings was a delightful read that I recommend to anybody interested in Egyptology, archaeology, or the historicity of the Old Testament. 

Defending the Faith Against Present Heresies
(edited by John Lamont and Claudio Pierantoni, 2021): Some of the finest work in the traditionalist corpus of late has come from Arouca Press. Defending the Faith Against Present Heresies is Arouca's answer to the controversy over Amoris Laetitia. It's difficult to explain the format of this book; it is not primarily a systematic rebuttal to the "Bergoglian" approach to divorce and the sacraments, but it does end up presenting such a rebuttal. It's primary purpose is to serve as a chronicle of the traditionalist responses to Amoris Laetitia, as it unfolded in real time. It contains, for example, the Dubia of the four cardinals, letters and statements to the pope and bishops, and various articles and interviews, along with a forward by Archbishop Viganò. With around 37 chapters by different authors, I can't possibly give a breakdown of the entire book. It suffices to say that this is the definitive tome for the traditionalist response to the theological and pastoral problems posed by Amoris Laetitia. Every possible angle is examined and addressed with blistering clarity. As a piece of scholarship, and a testament to who stood on what side of the line at this time in history, it is unparalleled. That being said, this book made me depressed. When I read it, I felt a heaviness and a deep anxiety. It was not a pleasant book to read. Not because of any deficiency in the authors or the content. There is just something quixotic and pathetic that in the universal Church the only ones to offer any substantial rebuttal to Amoris Laetitia were the random smattering of scholars featured in the book. The principled resistance of the authors did not inspire me or make me feel optimistic about the traditionalist cause. My visceral response was more along the lines of, "So this is what we got, eh?" Kind of like being utterly surrounded by an enemy force ten thousand times your size with unlimited resources and ammunition, and you look down and see you only have two bullets—good bullets, strong bullets, sure bullets, but still...only two. To be sure, faithful responses to things like the "pastoral theology of accompaniment" are necessary, but my intellect pushed back against the book's attempt to position itself as a monumental, historic, groundbreaking tour de force. That can hardly be laid at the feet of the book, its authors, or Arouca, all of whom did admirably. After all, I am speaking now about how the book made me feel, not what I thought of it. I'd definitely recommend the book for anyone who wants to educate themselves on the traditionalist critique of Amoris Laetitia and its entire supporting superstructure. Every trad who cares about this issue should own this book. As a shot across the bow of Bergoglianism, this book is beyond compare. We have some accurate gunners on our side. I just doubt that, in the scope of the entire battle, their precision shots will even be noticed much less felt. 

Figuring Catholicism: An Ethnohistory of Santo Nino de Cebu
(Julius Bautista, 2011)
: From 2017 through year I had been working on composing a book on the history of the Philippines (which will be available through Arx Publishing, probably around Christmas). In the course of my research I read a number of works on Filipino history and culture, one of which was this text, Figuring Catholicism: An Ethnohistory of the Santo Nino de Cebu by Julius Bautista. Figuring Catholicism is an interesting work. Bautista is a sociologist, and his primary interest is the social importance of the image of Santo Nino de Cebu in Philippine society. If you are not familiar with the Santo Nino, it is the most widely venerated image in the Philippines. Housed in the basilica of Santo Nino in Cebu City, it annually draws more pilgrims that Lourdes. This image of the Child Jesus was presented by Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon and his wife Queen Juana upon their conversion to Catholicism in 1521. Bautista's book focuses on the various meanings of the image in Filipino culture, and how Filipinos contextualize the image in different aspects of their society. He spends the first half of the book talking about the history and the official cultus of the image. The second half of the book is devoted to "unofficial" meanings of the image—ways Filipinos appropriate the image and its power beyond the boundaries of the official cultus. For example, in the 1986 People Power Revolution that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, protestors bore images of the Santo Nino in procession in front of government facilities. The Santo Nino's reputation for endurance against overwhelming odds made it a suitable image for the People Power Movement. After the fall of Marcos, it was widely accepted that the Santo Nino image was responsible for the ouster of the dictator. Bautista's book is written from a sociological perspective for people interested in that field. To that end, it uses a lot of sociological jargon that I felt made it less accessible than it could have been. Even for me it was a challenging read, but still rewarding, and it gave me a lot of insight into Catholicism in the Philippines and the particular devotion to the Santo Nino de Cebu. I would recommend it if you have a studious interest in Philippine culture or Far Eastern Catholicism, but it's definitely not a book for casual reading.

Power from on High: Theocratic Kingship from Constantine to the Reformation
(Cruachan Hill Press, 2021): Finally I get to indulge my ego by reviewing one of my own latest works, Power From On High. I actually teased this book some months ago on this blog when I posted a sample section from the chapter on church controversies under the Normans and Angevins back in February. The book chronicles the development of sacral kingship in the Middle Ages—the idea that the king, by virtue of his coronation, had a kind of sacred or theocratic authority, held directly from God, which enabled him to exercise a trusteeship over the Church within his realm. I proposed this idea as a fusion between Eastern and Western models of authority that were wedded in the Catholic Church; Catholic Christendom made medieval monarchy possible. From there the book becomes a study of medieval propaganda, not so much tracing the development of kingship qua kingship, but rather of kingship's intersection with theology, and how theology was appropriated to serve political ends. For the better part of a thousand years, laymen exercised almost unhindered control over local episcopacies under theories of sacral kingship. The book features cases studies of the late Roman Emperors, the Anglo-Saxons, Carolingians, and Ottonians. For those with an interest in historical liturgy, it spends two chapters covering early medieval liturgies for battle and coronation liturgies. Then it covers the collision between Church and State during the Investiture Controversy, and then up to the eve of the Protestant Revolt. One interesting take away from this research was learning why the Church was dominated for so long by the temporal lords. It is well known that the kings of Christendom attempted to use precedent and propaganda to solidify their influence over the Church and pass that influence to their heirs; what is less well-known is that the Church itself approved and even encouraged this arrangement. Bishops of the first millennium generally preferred royal custody over the Church because it gave them access to resources—monetary, legal, and administrative—to support the the Church's mission. It took centuries for the Church to repudiate this arrangement. Even after the Investiture Controversy saw the papacy break free from imperial domination, local episcopacies continued to favor royal custody for many generations. This submerged preference for state control would fester and erupt into the Reformation doctrine of the State-Church. At 200 pages hard cover with dust jacket, its a lovely looking book, and long enough to give you a meaty study but brief enough to digest in a few sittings. I present it for your consideration, especially for those of you interested in Church-State quibbling during the medieval period.

* * * * * * * 

So, that's it. What did you think? Do you like this format of reviewing plenty of books at once rather than devoting entire posts to a single book? If you'd like me to review a book, you can email me at uscatholicam [at], but please note I am generally months out; a book sent to me today will not get reviewed until December or January. Thanks for reading as always!

Friday, August 13, 2021

Crises of Faith: Escaping our Subjectivity

The past year and a half has been a very challenging time for people. Sadly, I think I witnessed more religious acquaintances lose faith or at least suffer grave doubts (for example, see "Wokeness and Reasons People Leave the Church", USC, July, 2020). Undergoing a crisis of faith is a terribly jarring experience and I pray for the peace of anyone who has suffered through it.

In light of this, I am going to be doing a few posts on some thoughts I have been tossing around on the subject. These posts are not about any one person or person, but culled from the experiences of several persons I have seen struggle with faith over the past year and a half. Today, I want to explore the dynamic I see emerge when people suffering crises engage with others whose faith is intact on social media. 

When someone posts about their crisis of faith online, the back-and-forth than ensures in the comment thread is always of great interest to me. In these exchanges I have noticed that the conversation between the person whose faith is suffering and the person whose faith is intact seems to break down. Neither one seems capable or interested in hearing the other. And neither side seems aware of it. 

First, the people whose faith remains intact often seem to over-rationalize the experience of the doubter.
Faith, even if it is grounded intellectual affirmation, is not merely an intellectual act. It is a kind of assent, a "giving of ourselves" over to a proposition. It involves our will and passion. It is not only believing the truth, but orienting ones life towards it and—by extension—loving that towards which we orient ourselves. The theological virtues are integrated, not isolated. Josef Pieper writes in his treatise Faith, Hope, Love that the theological virtues are acquired in one order but lost in reverse order. We begin with faith, faith engenders hope, and hope gives birth to love. But the process is reversed in the case of one who loses faith: first, their love towards the object of their faith (God or the Church) grows cold. The coldness of love causes hope to wither. With hope and love dried up, there is nothing left to nourish faith, which is extinguished last of all.

This means that the process by which we came to faith from unbelief is not the same process that is needed when confronting doubt in one who already believes (or used to believe). Reading Chesterton might bring you to the faith, but it is less likely to save the faith of one who is wavering. A person who begins to doubt the Church is not unware of the arguments in the Church's favor. Indeed, this person may very well have been converted in the past through the very same arguments. Their issue is not that they don't grasp the reasoning, but that the Church, as an object of affection, is no longer desirable. This means the act of doubt is taking place outside of the realm of pure reason.

Now, if you are about to nod haughtily and say "Yeah that's right, people who doubt are being irrational", stop yourself right there. This act of doubt does not take place in the realm of reason, but it is no less understandable. A problem is no less real or valid just because it might not rational. I am an educator, and in education we have a dictum that "They don't care what you know until they know that you care." This means you cannot expect a student to learn if they do not believe you have their best interest in mind. I cannot habitually belittle, denigrate, and humiliate a student and expect him to master the algebra I am teaching him. He will have a visceral reaction against me and everything associated with me. Part of him will intentionally not want to learn just to spite me. He will feel helpless against me; the one, solitary way that remains for him to exercise autonomy is to simply close his mind off to whatever I tell him. It doesn't matter how logical the algebraic formulations are. By contrast, a student who feels affirmed and encouraged by their teacher yields their mind readily to instruction and the educational dynamic becomes fruitful and even pleasant. 

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski pointed out in a recent article in Crisis that people who lose faith often have focused too much on the Church's human element. This may be the case. They have accustomed themselves to focusing only on the failures of flesh and blood slobs who manage this shit-show. But it also needs to be understood that when a person has suffered extensively at the hands of that "human element", faith is no longer an issue of merely understanding the arguments or "taking the long view." The doubter has a visceral, guttural reaction against the Church that cannot be addressed by appeals to reason. A person who suffered war trauma from combat may duck when they hear any loud popping noise, and it is useless to try to reason with them that the war is over and there is nothing to fear. 

This is why Catholics who have lost faith are no longer swayed by "the arguments." They are familiar with them, but the arguments "no longer satisfy", or they "just don't cut it" anymore. They don't work because the person's crisis is not primarily intellectual; it is rather that they no longer experience Catholicism as something desirable. An argument in service of a truth that is undesirable will not produce assent. You may present me with rock-solid arguments grounded in reason and empirical data that the United States is going to eventually become subservient to China. But if that truth is not desirable to me, the strength of your argument will do nothing to make me embrace it. I may indeed fight against it even though I recognize the strength of the argument.

So this is the first thing I would say: those whose faith is intact need to understand that one who doubts often does so outside the realm of pure reason. Persons whose faith is intact are accomplishing nothing by trying to present doubting Catholics with "the arguments." Stop being so rationalist. Do not treat this as if it is solely a problem with the doubter. 

Now, on the other hand...

The person who doubts tends to wrongly think their doubt constitutes an existential problem for the Catholic religion in general. Their anecdotal experiences become the standard of truth. Because the arguments "don't satisfy" them, they mistakenly think the arguments lack validity. Sometimes they are immune to the force of argument from over-exposure. The truth that once dazzled them and expanded their intellect is now a rote platitude devoid of power. They think this is because the maxim is not compelling, not because they have become numb to it. 

People have a regrettable tendency to universalize their own experiences. If they have a problem, then there is a problem. They have an issue or hang up with something, and suddenly the entire edifice is compromised—"crippled" or "broken" or whatever adjective they choose. They have a hard time imagining that their experience is not indicative of a more universal truth; and this only gets reinforced as others pour out of the woodwork with their own anecdotal stories that agree. The problem is not with them, it is with the "broken" institution or system of belief as a whole, whose brokenness seems so self-evident that those who do not see it appear as naïve. The think their crisis is due entirely to problems inherent to the Church or its philosophy.

This whole issue is really one of perspective. It is extremely difficult to escape the parameters of our own subjectivity. But this cuts both ways, as well: People who do not have a problem can errantly assume there is no problem just because they don't have one. They easily reconcile disparate poles that others cannot. Their peace is not disturbed, and so they have a hard time empathizing with those whose peace has been shattered. They often assume the person who is wavering in faith is "not being logical about it."

Both suffer from an inability to escape their own subjectivity. Just because you have a problem does not mean there is a problem. And just because you have no problem does not mean no problem exists. Ultimately, the problem is not just with the doubter, nor just with Church. The crux of the problem exists on a subjective plane, at the crossroads where the Church and the doubter intersect in an experience that precipitates the crisis of faith.

Both doubter and the faithful have a difficult time understanding this: the doubter does not want it to be his problem, he wants it to be a problem with the Church—that way his doubt is justified and he can be at peace with his conscience. The person of intact faith does not want to confront the doubter's experience; he would rather reduce the matter to a series of dry intellectual propositions that the doubter needs to affirm. He does this because he does not want to consider that the arguments that are sufficient for him are not sufficient for someone else.

We talk past each other because we cannot get away from making our subjective experiences the ground of our approach.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

The Nuns That Quit

 A few months ago I was strolling through an antique store when I caught sight of an old edition of Ladies Home Journal. The magazine grabbed my attention because of the large image of a nun on the cover, juxtaposed with a more "modern" looking woman⁠—modern meaning from 1967, when the issue was published. The feature article was about the exodus of religious sisters from the convents, then in full swing. 

I took the magazine from its sleeve and browsed through it. The article was extremely long and thorough, about ten printed pages in small type. Authored by columnist Robert Blair Kaiser, the article—entitled "The Nuns That Quit"—consisted of candid interviews with women in various stages of stepping away from religious life. It attempts to get to the bottom of why nuns were leaving their vocations in record numbers.

This sort of information is very important to preserve. We write so much about what happened in the chaotic years after the Council, but seldom do we take the time to study the contemporary sources to understand what was really going on and why. I thought this an invaluable resource for further study of the post-Conciliar zeitgeist. So I decided to get ahold of it and make it available to all of you.

Being the cheap-ass that I am, instead of buying the magazine I sat there for twenty minutes meticulously taking photographs of every page. I sent them over to a student volunteer for transcription. The final article is linked below, 13 full pages of text. I hope all persons who care about what happened after the Council will take great interest in this article, which provides an example of the mindset that was sweeping the Church in the immediate aftermath of the Council.