Monday, December 05, 2022

Reform of the Reform: Liturgical Russian Roulette

Not long ago I was traveling abroad to visit friends. We went out for dinner and they invited their diocesan parish priest, whom I was blessed to spend several hours in conversation with.

This fellow was impressive. He wore the cassock and carried a dignified beard that Maximilian Kolbe would be proud of. He could smoke cigars and drink whiskey with the best of em, but his demeanor was grounded and he spoke with a wholesomeness and erudition that testified to a sound formation. His breadth of knowledge was imposing, but he was able to converse in a way that brought the complexities of whatever subject he was discussing down to the layman's level. It was a real joy to speak with him.

This priest was what I would term a "reform of the reform" partisan. Though we did not talk about liturgical principles in the abstract or get into Vatican II, it was clear he had a deep love for the Church's tradition. He told me proudly how he had instituted ad orientem worship at his parish some years back, along with communion kneeling on the tongue and how well it had been received. Various fixed Mass parts had been switched over to Latin. When he came to the parish, he found it serviced by a "band"; this was replaced by a schola singing a mixture of sacred polyphony and hymnody from the 18th and 19th centuries. From what my friends told me, his preaching was a solid as it gets. His parishioners held him in deep respect and his changes, even if they required a bit of catechesis, were overall received well by his people.

These are all fine things. I am happy anytime a minister uses his position to attempt to introduce people to traditional liturgical customs, even within the context of the Novus Ordo. For many people, a Novus Ordo Mass decorated with such vestiges of tradition becomes the gateway to the Traditional Latin Mass, a kind of via media that eases them into the traditional rite by introducing them to the concepts of liturgical reverence. I do not know what this priest thought about the Extraordinary Form, but he seemed like he was doing the Ordinary Form as well as he was able.

Good as these things are, though, they are not a suitable mechanism for the long term restoration of liturgical sanity, as evidenced by what this priest told me next

He told me that in the wake of Traditiones custodes, his bishop had outlawed ad orientem Masses throughout the diocese. I asked the priest how he intended to handle this, observing that this was clearly illegal as the GIRM actually implies that the Novus Ordo is supposed to be done ad orientem. The priest said that he knew the bishop's directive was illegal, but he had to "tread lightly" because he did not want to openly antagonize his bishop. Even if what the bishop ordered is technically illegal, he said, there was nobody realistically who was going to stand up for him. "The Vatican certainly isn't going to help me," he said. "And I don't want to be that priest who makes trouble by going over the bishop's head. The bishop has the ability to make my life very difficult." He then told me that he had reluctantly decided to go back to versus populum at most of his Masses; one Mass, however—the one that drew his most traditional crowd—would retain ad orientem. People who wanted ad orientem would have to go to that specific Mass. He believed that the likelihood of this particular Mass crowd "telling" on him was very low; and, he surmised, since they were quite attached to ad orientem, he felt the desires of his parishioners justified his disobedience in this case. Then he shrugged and said, "It's not perfect, I know, but if I make him upset, he could remove me altogether and then all my work would be undone."

First of all, this priest and those like him are in a darn difficult spot and deserve our prayers and empathy. I, as a layman, don't understand the kinds of pressures priests go through and what the episcopal-presbyteral dynamic is like, so I don't want to opine on what this priest "ought" to do in his scenario, much less judge him for his course of action. I do, however, recognize in this situation the perfect evidence for why reform of the reform, noble as its sentiments are, is a losing proposition in the end. 

Let us, therefore, deconstruct this situation somewhat:

  • The priest's years of hard work are capable of being undone by the diktat of his bishop. Whatever good he has accomplished (and I would not deny that what he has done is good) has no stability; it is completely vulnerable to the whims of the bishop. 

  • The liturgical reforms the priest instituted were accepted by the congregation, but not on the understanding that "this is the tradition and this is what we should be doing,"  but because "this is what Father wants." Similarly, when the pastor abolishes ad orientem at every Mass save one, this, too, will be accepted because "this is what Father wants." The objective merit of traditional liturgical customs is subjugated to a "Father wants/Bishop says" approach. It cannot avoid liturgical positivism, despite itself.

  • The above point also testifies to the arbitrariness of such efforts. This diocesan Novus Ordo congregation is lucky to have a classical schola, communion on the tongue, ad orientem, access to (some) Latin, and sound homiletics. But the only reason they have access to those things at all is because they happened to get this particular priest assigned to them. Had they gotten someone else, it would have been entirely different. The priest told me that before he arrived, the parish had a "band" that used guitars and drums. The congregation was subject to guitars and drums because they happened to get a liberal priest; now they get ad orientem because they happened to get a more traditional one. It's an arbitrary luck of the draw, a crapshoot—playing Russian roulette with the liturgy when people's spiritual livelihoods are at stake.

  • The priest's observation that he has to comply despite the illegality of the directive is sadly correct: a parish priest does have very little recourse against a bishop who intends to make his life difficult; since his liturgical work is exposed it will all be lost if the bishop moves him, and therefore he does have to think in terms of "How can I eek by with minimal diminution of my work?" rather than "What do the good of souls and justice require?" Given the plethora of options available in the Novus Ordo, he will always wind up in this position, in which elements of our liturgical patrimony become the subject of barter in the dance between priest and bishop over what the bishop "allows" the priest to "get away with."

  • The priest's resolution to do what he can at the Mass where "no one will tell on me" sends mixed messages to the congregation seems unprincipled. It tells the congregation that "I am doing what the bishop wants, sort of, but I am also disobeying, kind of. This is important enough for me to disobey, but not so important that I want the bishop to know I am disobeying. It's important enough that I ignore an episcopal directive, but not so important that I risk open breach with the bishop. It's important enough that I am going to do my own thing, but not so important that I am going to openly discuss the principles of why I am doing my own thing—it is all hush-hush." None of this nurtures the sacrosanctity of liturgical tradition among the parishioners; rather, it reinforces the sense of reverent liturgy as a matter of priestly preference. The priest isn't coloring outside the lines on principle; he doing so clandestinely to preserve "his work" and "our way of doing things."

If you think I am condemning this priest, you are wrong; if you are condemning this priest, you are certainly wrong. I understand why he is taking this approach; he understands that he has made significant headway introducing his people to traditional elements of worship and he does not want the rug pulled out from under him. Given his position, I don't know what else I expect him to do. But the point is it's an awful position for any priest to be in. It's a terrible dilemma—but an inevitable dilemma that will always happen whenever a starry-eyed priest attempts to restore some semblance of tradition at his parish.

Even if it is not today, eventually this cassock wearing priest will be replaced by someone more modern. His replacement will go get rid of ad orientem and phase out the Latin. The choir members will get disgruntled and quit. There will be a rift between the new pastor and the parishioners who want to retain the traditional stuff. The pastor will be intransigent; the parishioners, unhappy with him, will leave. With these people gone, the new priest will undo all the traditional stuff the previous priest put in place. The parish will again reach equilibrium as a generic western Novus Ordo parish. The conservative parishioners-in-exile, meanwhile, will relocate to whatever the most traditional option remains among the diocesan parishes. Seeing the influx of new traditional parishioners, that pastor will feel emboldened to introduce more traditional elements into his masses. The whole process will begin again.

But it's never a net gain. In fact, the total number of reform of the reform parishioners in the diocesan system will go down because each time this upheaval happens, a fraction inevitably say "I'm done with this; I'm just going to an Institute/Fraternity/Society parish" and they remove themselves from the diocesan system entirely. So nobody ever wins. It's generally just shuffling parishioners, a diocesan shell-game. The snake just eats its own tail.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

"O Beauty Ever Ancient Ever New!" Teenager's TLM Testimony (Part 2)

Last week I published a testimonial from a teenage girl who discussed how her faith and spirituality were profoundly changed when she encountered the Traditional Latin Mass after converting from Protestantism (see "Teenager's TLM Testimony, Part 1"). Today I am presenting another testimony from another teenage girl who was raised with the Latin Mass from childhood, inaugurated into the love of the traditional Roman rite from her father.

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient and ever new! Late have I loved you!” These words of Saint Augustine perfectly describe my love for the Latin Mass. Of all the events I have experienced in my life, attending the Latin Mass every Sunday has been the one thing that constantly deepens my desire to know the truth. Every gesture and word of the Tridentine Rite, the beauty of the many churches I’ve attended, and the sacred music that often accompanies the Mass all raise one’s heart, mind, and soul to Truth Himself. The Latin Mass sparks an awe within me that has grown into a deep desire to draw closer to Our Lord, and through Him to know the truth.

I have been attending the Latin Mass for nearly my entire life. My father, a convert to Catholicism, has been deeply in love with the Tridentine Rite ever since he first discovered it, and he has always shared his love of the Mass with me. We moved to Detroit, Michigan in 2007, and shortly after joined the vibrant Latin Mass community that has been growing in the city since the indult of Pope John Paul II. As I grew and matured, I came to realize the differences between the Tridentine Rite and the Novus Ordo, and I noticed that the Latin Mass always raised my heart and mind closer to God than did the English Mass. When I attended the Latin Mass on Sundays, I could feel the True Presence of Christ in the church, and this feeling was assisted by the reverence of the priests, altar boys, and parishioners, as well as the majestic beauty of the Romanesque-style church that I attend. Every aspect of the Mass, from the incense and prayers to the music and church architecture, stirred something within my heart. I longed to love God more, and I desired to seek the truth about Him and the world He created. This longing has increased as I continue to mature in my Faith, and as I get older I continue to try to draw closer to Truth Himself every day. 

One of the reasons why the Latin Mass makes me desire to seek the truth is the significance of every word and gesture of the liturgy. All of the prayers said by the priest during the Mass have a special meaning, as do all of the little gestures he makes; without these the liturgy would be incomplete. For example, during the Canon of the Mass, the priest makes several small signs of the Cross over the bread and wine. After the consecration, he makes five signs of the Cross over the newly consecrated Body and Blood of Christ, which represent the five wounds of Our Lord. Later, the priest makes five more signs of the Cross with the Body and Blood. The first three (“Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso…”) represent the three hours during which Jesus hung on the Cross; the last two (“est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti, in unitate Spiritus Sancti…”) represent the separation of Christ’s Body and Soul when He died. If so many small words and gestures are necessary in the worship of God, then surely He must really be Goodness, Beauty, and Truth Itself. This significance of every word and gesture is the reason why the structure of the liturgy leads me to desire to seek the truth every time I witness the Latin Mass.

Music also deepens my desire to know the truth, particularly sacred music and Gregorian chant. I have been singing in my parish choir for six years, and the experience of learning sacred polyphony and chant has shaped both my spiritual and secular life.  In the Tridentine liturgy, a great emphasis is placed on polyphony and chant as having pride of place in the musical life of the Church. My parish choir is directed by our pastor, Fr. Eduard Perrone, who was one of the last to graduate from the nationally renowned Palestrina Institute before its closing in 1968. Under Fr. Perrone’s instruction, I have been privileged to learn a wide range of musical works from the broad repertoire of polyphony that has been handed down to us through the centuries. I have also been able to participate in the women’s chant schola, and have directed the schola on certain occasions.

Recently I joined a semi-professional choir that sings once a month for First Fridays, under the direction of another brilliant conductor, Wassim Sarweh. His choir focuses primarily on Renaissance polyphony, such as the works of Palestrina and Victoria. Singing with both of these choirs not only grants a wealth of experience, but it also contributes to a greater participation in the celebration of the Mass. I remember singing Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria at First Friday one month, with only eight other choir members. There is no other word to describe it other than heavenly. The harmonies blended together and wove around each other in such a way that you could feel the music, and we were all truly praying the Ave Maria as we sang. Music such as Biebl’s Ave Maria, Palestrina’s many works, and Gregorian chant all raise the heart, mind, and soul to God. Once we are raised to the contemplation of His glory, desire to seek Him more cannot be far away. Sacred music leads to a strong desire for truth, beauty, and goodness. We do not always recognize this longing, but it is there nevertheless. Music is so beautiful that it often transcends human comprehension, and when we cannot fully understand something, we desire to seek it out more and learn the full truth of it. 

Each one of these factors of the Latin Mass contributes to a deepening of my desire to  know the truth. My father’s love of the Tridentine Rite made me grow to love the Mass from a young age; the structure and significance of the liturgy as well as traditional church architecture both raise my mind and heart to a greater contemplation of God, Who is Truth; and the experience of singing and hearing sacred  polyphony and chant has led me to a deeper love for the Mass, for Christ, and for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  The Latin Mass truly is a “Beauty  ever ancient  and ever new.” Being able to experience it at least once in a lifetime is a gift, but having the privilege of attending the Latin Mass every Sunday is a great blessing. Without the Latin Mass, I doubt that I would be where I am today, and I doubt that I would have a desire to continue seeking the truth in everything I do. To quote Saint Augustine once more, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient  and ever new! Late have I loved you! And, behold, you were within me, and I out of myself, and there I searched for you.” 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Teenager's TLM Testimony (Part 1)

I recently asked some young people to tell me about their experiences with the Traditional Latin Mass and what it means in their lives. I was pretty astonished by some of the responses I received; several kids wrote lengthy testimonies about the TLM and the impact it has made on them. With their permission, I am going to be sharing a few of their stories here over the coming weeks. Every testimony you will read is from a young person of high school age.

The first story comes from a young woman whose family were converts from Protestantism. Through discovering the Traditional Latin Mass, she is now discerning a religious vocation. But I will let her tell you about it in her own words.

The Traditional Latin Mass has changed my life. I don’t know where I would be without it in my life. But I do know one thing: I surely wouldn’t be where I am today.

I’ll begin from the beginning, but before I do that, I’ll release a little disclaimer. I do not think the New Mass is inferior to the Traditional Latin Mass, I do not think the New Mass is invalid, I do not believe that anyone who attends the New Mass should be ashamed. I believe that someone can have a wonderful relationship with God and love their faith if they attend the New Mass. I am just sharing my testimony and not vouching for anyone else’s.

My story begins, naturally, with my first Traditional Latin Mass experience. My family had just converted from Protestantism a year later, and were now living in Las Vegas, Nevada (aka, Sin City). We were church hunting, which we were used to, having moved multiple times. On May 1, we attended a parish for the annual May crowning for Our Lady and met some wonderful people who regularly went to a Latin Mass locally. They were warm, and welcoming, immediately invited us to their parish. Having no prior knowledge of the Latin Mass nor tie to any parish, we accepted and attended our first Traditional Latin Mass. Long story short, we never left. I don’t remember the specifics of the first time we went (I was only 8), but I caught on quickly. We very much changed our lifestyle in our homeschool and faith. I adopted many Traditional practices—such as veiling and modest dress according to the pre-VII guidelines—because my friends all did such things and I wanted to be exactly like them.

After two and a half years, we moved north and had a parish that was pretty much the opposite of a Latin Mass parish. It was very much a country church. We moved again 18 months later where we again had a New Mass parish, but it was much more reverent: We had a schola that did Gregorian chant, about half the Mass was in Latin, and our priest pushed the front pew up to function as our communion rail. But my longing for the Traditional Latin Mass gnawed at me, and I began to have a thirst for the tradition that so long had been in the church. When a local priest began celebrating the Latin Mass last year (In late 2020), I was overjoyed, but my family was not ready to leave our parish; after all, we knew many people, had dear friends, and loved our priest.

We began to go once a month and I began to see the fruits in my spiritual life immediately. Love for Jesus in the Eucharist, revival in my prayer life, and a thirst for tradition—for things as they used to be. Then, in July of 2021, Pope Francis released his Traditionis Custodes, sending the permission of the Latin Mass back to the bishops. Our Archbishop did not tend to be traditional (he had even danced down the aisle at a Youth New Mass) and we knew that the outcome wouldn’t be desirable. Our Latin Mass priest urged us to write letters to the bishop, stating why we loved the Latin Mass and why it should stay. I sent a letter on my own, and my parents sent a separate one. We both got the exact same responses. Basically, the bishop felt it was his duty to implement Motu Proprio in the diocese.

When he finally announced his decision, we rejoiced because it wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared. While he said no new Mass times or locations could be said, the existing one could stay and say Mass twice a month. Still, twice a month was much better than we’d expected. My family made the jump fully, going to the Latin Mass whenever it was offered, and my love just grew. I never thought my faith could grow that deep, that I could feel the fire that I felt in such a way that I carried it with me all the week.

Soon after that, in late 2021, we were faced with the necessity of having to move suddenly. The Latin Mass was one of our top priorities when choosing between two living locations. We ended up moving to Ohio (where we currently are) and my parents promised that we would attend a Traditional Latin Mass no matter what. However, we were not able to buy a house that was within our preferable distance from a Traditional Latin Mass parish. We had three Latin Mass parishes around us, all one hour away. We settled on an FSSP parish in Indiana (so we get to cross the border every Sunday!), but still wanted to try the New Mass parishes in our city we could get to for daily Mass or Holy Days.

We tried the first, a mere seven minutes from our home and were not pleased with what we were confronted with. The parishioners thought they were in a social hall, the priest swore horribly during his homily as well as made a joke out of the whole thing, there were Eucharistic ministers (and guess what? All women!), and what was worse, they didn’t purify their hands! They also did not use a paten when distributing communion, which is a great tragedy, because particles of Our Lord, or even a whole host can fall to the ground. Wherever communion is distributed on the hand, or a paten is not used, we trample Our Lord in the church and no one shouts. It is a great sadness for me.

We rarely go to this parish, unless necessary for some reason. The next parish was, unbelievably, worse! The priest skipped whole parts of the Mass, ad-libbed the prayers, and just said whatever he wanted to say. It is doubtful whether or not the Consecration was even valid. What a great sadness for Our Lord! We have never returned to that parish.

Despite these experiences, my faith has grown so unspeakably that I am certain we moved to Ohio for a reason. Now I have known for quite some years that I have a religious vocation, but it was here in Ohio that I really started embracing that. I have grown close with a local women’s congregation (Children of Mary) whose charism is to spread love for Jesus in the Eucharist, love the tradition, and make reparation for all the outrages, sacrileges, and indifferences done to Him.

Their charism is extremely attractive to me and the Holy Spirit has made it quite clear that I am to be with them. I took the first step on October 31 a couple of weeks ago by becoming a consecrated virgin and a Littlest Soul. By this consecration, I have given my life to restoring tradition in the church, begging God for holy Priests and Bishops, and making reparation for all the outrages, sacrileges, and indifferences done to Jesus in the Eucharist. I am married to Christ. He is the Eternal Spouse of my Soul and the King of my Heart. My wedding band everyday reminds me of my promise and my vows to Him. I know I wouldn’t be here without the Traditional Latin Mass.

This is the Mass St. Padre Pio said devoutly, this is the Mass St. Jose Maria Escriva fought for, this is the Mass St. Teresa of Calcutta cherished.

This is the Mass that is here to stay. This is the Mass that grows year by year. This is the Mass that will never fail and never diminish. This is the Mass of the Ages.

Thank you, Lord!! Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!


Sunday, November 06, 2022

Fall 2022 Articles on Unam Sanctam Catholicam

Have you been over to the newly revamped Unam Sanctam Catholicam sister site lately? The site went live in July (see here if you missed the announcement) and since then I've been adding a ton of great articles. Here's some of the new essays I've published over the past couple weeks—on subjects as diverse as Filipino Catholicism, the Ark of the Covenant, and beards:

  • The History of Beards in Western Christendom: Easily my most popular new article, this traces the Church's changing understanding of the beard over the first 1500 years of Christendom. 

  • The Leopard: Medieval Christians attributed typological meanings to the animals they encountered in nature. This article explores the medieval symbolism attached to the leopard. 

  • Aspebet Peter, Bishop of the Camp of Tents: This essay tells the story of the conversion and ministry of Aspebet-Peter, the Bedouin bishop who became one of the fathers of Arab Christianity in 5th century Judea.

  • Ark of the Covenant in the Lateran Basilica: Did you know there was a strong tradition in medieval Rome that the Ark of the Covenant was enshrined within the high altar at the Lateran? 

  • The Saga of the Patarenes: The bizarre story of how the Gregorian Reform went off the rail in 11th century Milan, spawning the Patarene movement, a kind of quasi-Donatism.

  • The Jews and the Sassanid Capture of Jerusalem: In 614 the Sassanid Persians captured Christian Jerusalem and carried off the True Cross as a trophy of conquest. How did the Jews of Palestine react to these events?

  • Archbishop Poblete's Missionary Journey to Cavite:  Concerning the missionary journey of a 17th century Spanish archbishop in the Philippines who was determined to stamp out Filipino slavery within the Archdiocese of Manila.

I've also transferred over almost all of my older articles. I'd say at this point 90% of the articles of the old site have been migrated. I'm planning on finishing the rest up this month. Some older articles you might find of interest that I moved over in the past few weeks:

Finally, I have also been writing at
Catholic Exchange over the past few months. Here is a list of what I've been doing over there:

As always, you can also follow us on Facebook, where I post new articles from this blog and the website. And if there's any subject you'd like to see me write on, please let me know in the comments. Thank you for your support! Pray for me, and I will pray for you! 

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Guest Post: Retreat to the Ivory Tower

[Nov 1 2022] Today I am happy to present a guest post from Kevin Tierney, who has often graced this blog with his insights over the years. Today the topic of his reflection is the article "Papal Responses to the Emergence of the TLM Movement," another stinker published in Church Life Journal by usual suspects John Cavidini, Mary Healy, and Thomas Weinandy.

* * * * * 

Today in Church Life Journal, a theology journal at the University of Notre Dame, several eminent professors (including one who is otherwise a staunch critic of Pope Francis) made the claim that the continued existence of the Latin Mass is a betrayal of the Second Vatican Council and the Council Fathers, who only willed one form of worship for Catholics in the documents of Vatican II.

Ignoring for a moment the existence of Eastern Liturgies (which complicate both the argument of only one form of worship and contain a lot of the things they hate about the TLM), I think it should be noted that even if this were true (it isn't), its also irrelevant. The so called abandonment of Vatican II didn't begin with Benedict XVI; it began with Paul VI. Let's do a historical lesson.

When Paul VI promulgated Missale Romanum in 1969, giving us what is now known as the "Novus Ordo," he sincerely believed that of course everybody was going to sign on enthusiastically to celebrate the New Mass. While almost everyone did, a lot of elderly priests not only didn't, they refused to do so, on the premise that to force them, in their advanced age, to suddenly relearn everything was impractical and cruel. Accepting reality, Paul VI made an allowance for them, creating a carve out that was, in his mind, for the good of the Church.

In 1971, Bishops in England and Wales came to him, armed with a letter from numerous scientists, artists and intellectuals, many not even Catholic, telling Paul VI that his desire to destroy the Latin Mass was an act of destruction not just of Catholic civilization, but of Western Civilization. Even though they were firmly committed to celebrating the Novus Ordo, the bishops were sympathetic to this argument, and asked Paul VI, for the good of the Church, to consider a change. Paul VI issued what is known as the "Agatha Christie Indult" (because the non-Catholic author Christie was one of the prominent signatories of the letter), allowing a bishop to give permission to celebrate the TLM when it was judged for the good of the Church.

It was at this very moment, not even 10 years after Vatican II's conclusion, that the Church realized the attempt to suppress the TLM had failed. Now it was a discussion of what terms the Church could live with. The architect of the New Mass, Annibal Bugnini, surprisingly told Paul VI to let the SSPX celebrate the old mass, as enacting further restrictions risked schism, and the juice absolutely wasn't worth the squeeze. Paul VI ignored that plea.

Upon his accession to the throne as John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla decided to have the Congregation for Divine Worship study the issue of what terms he could live with, as he wanted to bring the Conciliar fighting to an end. The study concluded that while most had adopted the new liturgy, some had not, and that this "problem" was one they could not solve by brute force. It was also pointed out that the UK had conditions for the celebration of the TLM nobody else had, and that this was unfair. As a result, John Paul II universalized the Agatha Christie Indult in 1984. He also requested a commission of Cardinals study the status of the TLM. Was it suppressed? Was it abrogated? Did a priest need permission to say the TLM?

The Commission found that the TLM was never abrogated by Paul VI. They further found that a priest did not require permission from the bishop to celebrate a lawful and valid rite of the Church. The tension came between what was permissible in private, and how to balance that permission with the authority of the local bishop to regulate the liturgy in his diocese. Completely ignored were the desires and practical issues facing lay Catholics, as the Church did not give a crap what lay Catholics thought at this point. The Commission presented their findings to John Paul II, who basically ignored them. He sympathized with them, but felt that taking this kind of definitive action would cause a wound in the Church, and could leave the impression that the Church had abandoned its commitment to the liturgical reform.

As that internal debate was happening, relations with the SSPX had deteriorated even further, especially after Assisi; the SSPX and Rome entered the darkness of winter. After the illicit consecrations of the four bishops, John Paul II increasingly came to the realization that the Church's treatment of the TLM was at least partially responsible for the SSPX schism. After announcing canonical penalties, he not only told bishops to be more generous with the 1984 Indult, he erected numerous pieces of ecclesiastical infrastructure to see to it. The Pontifical Commission of Ecclesia Dei was founded. Religious orders were given authority to celebrate the TLM exclusively. The Fraternal Society of St. Peter was founded. From 1988 to 2005, the story was one of gradual acceptance of the TLM within the life of the Church.

This was the situation when Joseph Ratzinger ascended the throne as Benedict XVI. Far from the revisionist history of liberation of the TLM being something that was wholly of his own vision, he was simply taking the suggestion of those cardinals from the mid 1980s, finally deciding to change the Church's approach. No longer would the Church merely make peace with the TLM's continued existence. Instead she would welcome its continued existence as a great benefit to the Church.

Whatever you think Vatican II did or didn't will, Summorum Pontificum was the logical end not of 2005, 1988, or even 1984. It was the inevitable result of 1971. It was the final admission that the attempt to impose the Novus Ordo on the entire Church was a failure, something that Paul VI and John Paul II had recognized, even reluctantly. It is the height of folly, hubris, and stupidity to attempt to yank the Church, by force, back to 1970, a move Paul VI and even Bugnini himself admitted was a failure and not worth it.

As for the Church Life Journal article, imagine arguing about the relevance of CDW decision from 1974 that couldn't conceive of the TLM having any bearing on the world in 2022, let alone existing independently of the Novus Ordo with four decades of growth! Having lost the argument on the ground, they have retreated to their ivory towers arguing academic theories.

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Extinction of Steubenville and the Future of American Catholicism

[Oct. 27. 2022] The recent drama unfolding in the Diocese of Steubenville is a foretaste of what many dioceses can expect as the demographic winter continues its slow avalanche over Catholic life in the west.

For those of you who are unaware, on this October 10, Steubenville's ordinary, Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, announced to an assembly of priests ad deacons that the Diocese of Steubenville was going to be merged back into the Diocese of Columbus. Steubenville was originally carved out of the Diocese of Columbus in 1944. The ostensible reasons given by Bishop Monforton are demographic—Steubenville has seen decreasing numbers of Catholics for years now, with only an estimated 40,000 remaining in the diocese.

Per canon law, only the pope can merge or notably alter a diocese (Can. 373 et al); Bishop Monforton has stated that the Vatican is involved in the merger. The merger is also being described as "extinctive," which means the Diocese of Steubenville will  cease to exist. The 13 counties that currently comprise the diocese will all be folded back into the Diocese of Columbus. Priests ordained in Steubenville who vowed to give their lives to the church in Steubenville will now be priests of Columbus.

As one might expect from the machinations of the modern episcopacy, Bishop Monforton has been less than transparent about how this decision was arrived at. Consider the following:

  • Monforton says the decision was made by a vote of the six Ohio bishops in 2021. When was this meeting? How was this subject brought up? What bishops voted for it and who voted against it? Nobody knows.

  • Nobody within the diocese was consulted, neither the presbyteral council, the chancery, or any representatives of the laity. The only people consulted, according to Monforton, were a group of anonymous  "local entrepreneurs and business people", who  apparently told Monforton the demographics and financials were terminal. Who these "local entrepreneurs and business people" were and why they were consulted instead of the people of the diocese remains a mystery.

  • In what sense is the Vatican involved? Did the idea for this merger originate with Monforton, who subsequently went to the Vatican for approval? Or did the Vatican pressure Monforton to execute the merger? Monforton has stated that he first sought the approval of the Vatican 18 months ago about the possibility of the merger, but the exact nature of the Vatican's involvement remains uncertain

  • While I don't want to get bogged down in numbers and statistics, I will say that the demographic and financial picture Monforton paints of Steubenville is contested. While no one denies the demographic troubles that have beset the Church in recent years, critics say the crisis is not so severe as to merit the extinction of the entire diocese. Other indicators—such as Mass attendance among the highest levels in the country—suggest that, though the Catholic population of the Steubenville diocese is small, it is vibrant and hopeful.

This is the sad reality many of us will deal with within our lifetimes—not merely the closure of a school or cluster of a parish, but the extinction of an entire diocese executed by episcopal fiat. You can be sure that the change will not be merely administrative, consisting only of scratching out Steubenville on a map and writing Columbus over it. The merger will have profound ramifications on the spiritual life of Catholics in Steubenville. Columbus might not have the same level of decline as Steubenville, but it is certainly not free of its own demographic issues. As soon as Steubenville is folded into Columbus, no doubt Archbishop Schnurr or his successor will immediately conduct some sort of inventory of all of their newly acquired territory and infrastructure. There will be meetings and "listening sessions"—sessions of the same sort that a corporation holds in a company they have just acquired to see whose jobs they can cut.

Afterwards, there will be some new initiative announced. It will have some schmaltzy, saccharine name concocted by a marketing firm, something like "The Way Forward" or "On the Road Together." These names, of course, will be shells hiding the fact that the program's purpose is to dissect the corpse of Steubenville. Like Orwell's Ministry of Truth, the program's true nature will be the opposite of its nomenclature. 

Then the closures will hit. Columbus, with its own limited assets, will not wish to extend its already stretched resources to maintain the parish infrastructure in east Ohio. Even the assumption of the entire presbyterate and property of Steubenville will not furnish Columbus with what it needs. If Bishop Monforton says that the Diocese of Steubenville does not have the resources it needs to continue now, it follows that handing those resources over to Columbus won't solve the problem. Columbus will need to either allocate more priests and funding to its newly acquired possessions (which it won't), or start cutting. There will be more closures, clusters, and mergers. But since Steubenville already has such a small Catholic population, the closures will hit especially hard. Families who already drive 45 minutes to Mass will now drive an hour and a half. More duties will be farmed out to permanent deacons, lay administrators, and parish councils. Priests will have less personal involvement with their parishioners as they constantly drive between multiple parishes scattered about the countryside, having no place to lay their head. Confessions will be challenging to come by. Counseling or spiritual direction from a priest will be nigh on impossible; these "functions" will be delegated to "certified" spiritual directors (mostly middle aged women) who fancy themselves spiritual masters because they passed a diocese training course.

I don't know what the status of the Traditional Latin Mass is in Steubenville, but this certainly can't bode well for it, simply in terms of the availability of venues.

This is the future of Catholicism in much of America. And while the reform of the Conciliar era and the dismantling of Catholic tradition certainly holds much of the blame here, it is not the sole culprit. Eastern Catholic and Orthodox communities in America—who maintained their ancient rites and had no "Vatican II moment"—are seeing similar demographic declines to we Catholics. It is more deeply rooted than the changes of Vatican II. The conciliar reforms have merely exacerbated something far more destructive and insidious; like Gmork aiding the Nothing in The Neverending Story, they are not ultimately responsible for the loss of faith but are accelerating it through their collaboration with the spirit of modernity. 

Will you keep faith? I believe you will. But will you maintain your peace? Will you maintain joy? Will you radiate the love of Christ as you drive two hours one way to receive Holy Communion once a month? These will be tough times for all of us. May they only serve to heighten our faith, strengthen our resolve, and nourish our charity.

As for Steubenville, there are two websites I'd like to draw your attention to if you'd like to learn more about this issue: The first is Save the Diocese of Steubenville, a very informative site run by Tom Crowe with plenty of articles. I would characterize Mr. Crowe's site as investigative, providing oversight, commentary, and criticism of the process which, thus far, has been far from transparent. The second site is United Voices in Defense of the Diocese of Steubenville. United Voices is more of an activist site dedicated to using all available canonical means to preserving the diocese.

Sunday, October 09, 2022

The Most Fruitless Search

There is a moment of epiphany on the road to Traddie-dom that occurs when you realize that the progressive junta that controls the Church does not actually care what Vatican II taught. 

I remember my mindset before this earthshaking revelation! I recall arguing that what we needed was fidelity to the conciliar documents, getting back to "what Vatican II really taught." I used to post essays exegeting the conciliar documents in an attempt to show "what they really mean." I was fully aboard the Weigelian Express, hoping, ever vainly, for a "real implementation of the Council." I thought patient explanation of the "real meaning" of these documents was a sufficient response to the Modernist crisis; that the reason priests and bishops allowed nonsense unchecked throughout their churches was because they honestly didn't know that Sacrosanctum concilium called for the preservation of Latin and chant, or sincerely didn't understand the real meaning of participatio actuosa.

But how many years can one exhaust themselves in such pursuits? How long can you beat your head on the wall? To be sure, it is important to understand the documents from a theological perspective; but it is another thing if we think that patiently explaining the documents in hopes that the "real Council" will emerge is anything other than chasing an elusive will-o-the-wisp. 

At a certain point I realized—as many of us have—that the progressives don't care what Vatican II said. They don't view the Council as a series of teachings; rather, they view it as an event. And not just any event, but an event whose nature is meta-historical. It is not merely another step in the long path of historical development; it is a paradigm shattering upheaval that breaks the fourth wall of history, purporting not just to change the historical trajectory of the Church, but to remove the Church entirely from the bounds of history and tradition. What do people with such lofty vision, such grandiose pretensions, care about the precise definition of participatio actuosa, the rubrics of the GIRM, or any other considerations that are merely textual?

Six years ago I was invited to the home of a mainstream Catholic apologist to deliver a talk on the role of Catholic Tradition (you can find the lecture on YouTube). Therein I argued—as I still argue today—that treating the Council like a collection of texts while failing to understand it as a historical event is the principal reason why "conservatives" make no headway against the progressive revolution. After the talk, one of the attendees, a notable hyperpapalist theologian, just kept shaking his head in disagreement, saying, "No, no, the documents matter!" as if it were a mantra. This fellow has been rightly lambasted in traditional Catholic outlets recently for ridiculous attempts to square the circle concerning Traditionis custodes. Six years later and he's still shaking his head and repeating the mantra.

When speaking of Sacred Scripture, St. Thomas Aquinas says we can have a meaningful disputation with an opponent only if they at least admit at least some of the truths of revelation. "Against those who deny one article of faith," he says, "we can argue from another." But what if the opponent does not grant any of the articles of divine revelation? Then argument becomes impossible, as there is no common ground, for, he continues, "if our opponent believes nothing of divine revelation, there is no longer any means of proving the articles of faith by reasoning, but only of answering his objections" (STh I, Q. 1, art 8).

Similarly, if it has become clear that progressive don't grant any authority to the texts of Vatican II, then upon what common ground can we stand? Upon what foundation do we plant our feet when we presume to uncover "what the Council really said" when our opponents do not care? We are not dealing with two different hermeneutical approaches to conciliar documents, but two different paradigms of the Council itself, between which there is a vast chasm fixed, that those who would pass from one to the other might not be able.

I can hear some objecting, "Trads don't grant authority to the texts of Vatican II either!" It is true that we do not grant it infallible authority, but this is hardly novel; it is nothing beyond what Paul VI himself taught, when he said:

"There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification, the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the Church's infallible teaching authority. The answer is known by those who remember the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964. In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided proclaiming in an extraordinary manner any dogmata carrying the mark of infallibility." (Pope Paul VI, General Audience of January 12, 1966)

Traditional Catholics are in fact the only segment of the Church attempting to construct an accurate interpretation of Vatican II, both in terms of the documents' meaning and authority. While understanding the documents were only part of the phenomenon known as Vatican II, we still affirm they have an objective content that should at least be understood. 

This is totally contrary to the progressive manner of utilizing the documents. The examples are legion, but to take one recent occasion, we could turn to this article from America magazine where a Jesuit cardinal waxes eloquent about the Amazon's newly approved "ecclesial conferences" that will replace the regional episcopal conference. These new conferences will incorporate lay people—men and women—in the governance of the Church. The cardinal says this arrangement "stems from the Second Vatican Council" and cites Lumen Gentium in justification. Lumen Gentium says nothing about lay people governing the Church; it specifically says that the bishops rule the Church by divine decree, and that lay people participate in the work of God through their secular work and family life. I do not want to revisit the whole matter here, but if you want my take I recently recorded a video breaking down this ridiculous article, which you can view here on the Unam Sanctam YouTube channel (apologies for the blurred video at some parts; blame my sketchy rural internet). The cardinal doesn't care what Vatican II teaches. "Vatican II" becomes a meaningless label assigned to any and every novelty.

If you do watch, you will see that the ridiculous novelties the Vatican is churning out faster than the Fed churns out USD are more likely to elicit my laughter than my consternation these days. To be sure, I am deeply saddened and appalled at the state of my Holy Mother Church, but there is only so much a person can stand up to before their battle-worn face cracks into a smile, then breaks forth into laughter at the nonsense of it all. It is a strange but proper human response to absurdity, especially in situations where the severity has escalated to the point of ridiculousness. Saddle me with a ten thousand dollar debt and I will be concerned; saddle me with a ten million dollar debt and I am more likely to laugh in your face. 

There is no more useless endeavor than to search for "the real Vatican II." One has better chances finding the Fountain of Youth or the Ark of the Covenant. That's because there is no "real Vatican II" that can be found by documentary analysis alone, and it is a most fruitless search to think otherwise. Vatican II can't be found solely in the documents any more than the French Revolution can be found by reading the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

And so, I no longer engage in intellectual hand-wringing over the "real meaning" of Vatican II. I certainly acknowledge an objective meaning of the documents, and I am even capable of extrapolating upon it if I've had enough to drink. But I have long since jumped off the Weigelian Express, preferring rather to walk in "the ancient paths where the good way is" (Jer. 6:16), even if I move at a snail's pace, for I prefer the exile of the desert to the plunge off the precipice of irrelevance that the "real council" railcar is heading for.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

An Alternative Take on Fr. Capodanno

[Sept. 25, 2022] Not long ago, traditional Catholic outlets reported on the suspension of the cause of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, a United States Marine Corps chaplain and Maryknoll Father who died on the battlefield in Vietnam shielding a Marine from machine gun fire. The story was presented in such a way as to suggest that the reason the cause was suspended was because the advisory panel to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints that suspended the cause was "woke," based on an objection to Fr. Capodanno serving in the U.S. armed forces. 

After reading about this decision in depth, I found myself frustrated with the way traditional Catholic outlets chose to cover it, which I find to have been disingenuous on several points, which I will enumerate here.

1. Fr. Capodanno's Cause Has Not Been "Canceled"

The decision of the advisory panel relates to a document known as a positio; this is essentially a summary of the candidate's cause. The advisory panel's purpose is to examine the positio, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the cause. The positio for Fr. Capodanno's cause was examined by an advisory panel to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints in May of this year. This panel renders a consultative vote to the Dicastery; this means it is merely advisory, and the Dicastery can accept or reject the panel's recommendation. 

The advisory panel's vote recommended the suspension of the cause. However, since this vote is consultative and not binding, Fr. Capodanno's cause has not been "canceled"; it has merely hit a roadblock. The Dicastery has the option to reject the panel's judgment, and the postulator of the cause has the option to appeal, which, to my knowledge, has already been done. The Fr. Capodanno Guild itself does not believe the cause is dead. The Guild (a private association promoting Fr. Capodanno's cause), said, “Other causes have had to struggle through the process in Rome...Initial engagements with congregation leaders have emphasized the widespread interest in the cause,” the Guild said. “These leaders have responded that the possibility to move forward exists and should be pursued.” (source) Certainly, the negative vote is a setback, but it is hardly tantamount to the case of Fr. Capodanno being canceled. 

2. His Cause Was Not Suspended Because of the Ukraine War

A more important clarification relates to the reasons why the panel voted the way it did. Traditional Catholic coverage of this event focused in on the widely reported objection that "with ongoing military action in the world (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church." It was alleged that limp-wristed wokeness had torpedoed Fr. Capodanno's cause; that it was suspended for mere optics. One outlet even ran a headline that Fr. Capodanno had been "unsainted." 

In fact, the objection about the Ukraine war was only one of many. There were five reasons the panel gave for the vote of suspension. These five reasons were:
  • The positio focuses mainly on the final years of Fr. Capodanno's life. In doing so, it offers little documentation of spiritual growth over time.
  • Fr. Capodanno's own congregation, the Maryknoll Fathers, had not pursued Fr. Capodanno's cause.
  • Fr. Capodanno seemed fastidious about his appearance in such a way that may have suggested the sin of vanity.
  • Father's dissatisfaction with his assignment to Hong Kong indicates disobedience.
  • With ongoing military actions in the world today (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church.
That several Catholic media outlets chose to report only the objection about Ukraine was disingenuous, as it gave the mistaken impression that squeamishness about the military was the sole reason that Fr. Capodanno was "canceled." As there were five stated reasons for suspension, any one of those reasons could have been the cause, or (more likely) it was a judgment based on the cumulative weight of all the causes. As neither the advisory panel nor the Dicastery nor the Fr. Capodanno Guild nor the Archdiocese for Military Services has stated that concerns about Ukraine were the sole reason for the suspension, it is disingenuous and false to suggest otherwise—and suggesting these reasons are "woke" is downright slanderous. They all fall within the purview of reasoned objections, as we shall see.

To those who say that "optics" or "untimeliness" are not valid objections: I agree that this objection is weak, but it is not unfounded; in my readings of Church history, I have often come across Congregations and even the Roman Pontiffs taking juridical action or refraining from it based on timeliness, or what today we would call "optics." But even if it is a weak objection, it is still perfectly legitimate to proffer weak objections.

3. Francis's Novel "New Path to Sainthood" In Play

I realize that the Fr. Capodanno Guild has responses to all of the objections of the panel. However, having not read the positio myself, I am certainly not going to comment on their merit relative to the objections. I will say, however, that the first objection is not insignificant. Traditionally, the only time one's life is not completely relevant is in the case of martyrdom. Since Fr. Capodanno's cause was not a martyrdom, his manner of living is relevant; there needs to be a demonstration of growth in virtue leading up to the time of his death.

Now, it may be responded, "Fr. Capodanno is proposed for canonization under the criteria of 'giving freely of his own life,' which does pertain to the end of the candidate's life in particular." This, in fact, is the response offered by the Guild. To this I would ask, where in Christian history have we heard of candidates being canonized for "giving freely of his own life"? If you've never heard of that path to canonization before, it's because it is a complete novelty conjured by Pope Francis in 2017 with the motu proprio Maiorem hac dilectionem. The purpose of this "new path to sainthood" was for cases whether neither martyrdom nor heroic virtue seemed applicable.

This raises several points:

(1) To my knowledge, no one has yet been beatified or canonized under the guidelines laid down in Maiorem hac dilectionem. That being the case, extra caution is prudent before proceeding. It has not been settled exactly what level of documentation is sufficient for a candidate to move forward under this process, and—given the times being what they are—it is preferable to move with greater rather than less reluctance.

(2) Granting the validity of the "new path to sainthood," this method still requires the candidate to demonstrate Christian virtues to the degree that they had a "reputation for holiness" (Art. 2). If the advisory panel believed the documentation of the positio did not demonstrate this "reputation for holiness" due to its focus on the end of Fr. Capodanno's life, then this is a legitimate objection.

(3) The idea of traditional Catholics objecting that a candidate has not gotten beatified fast enough under a novel "new path to sainthood" created by Pope Francis in 2017 is rich. 

4. Do You Want a Devil's Advocate Or Don't You?

We must now consider the content of the objections themselves. The reader may feel that these objections are trite, insignificant, and seemingly slight. I agree. However, this is a proper part of the examination of candidates for sainthood.

Traditional Catholics are habitually complaining about the elimination of the office of Devil's Advocate in modern canonizations. While the office still technically exists, its role has merely been revamped to be less adversarial, and it is true that modern canonizations no longer resemble the trial that they did in earlier ages. This is what concerns traditional Catholics—that there appears to be a lack of scrutiny, of due diligence in vetting candidates. But if we did have a Devil's Advocate exercising his traditional function, what would it look like? I refer you to the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia's entry for the Advocatus Diaboli:

"To prevent any rash decisions concerning miracles or virtues of the candidates...all documents of beatification and canonization processes must be submitted to examination, and the difficulties and doubts [raised] over the virtues and miracles are laid before the congregation and must be satisfactorily answered before any further steps can be taken in the processes. It is his duty to suggest natural explanations for alleged miracles, and even to bring forward human and selfish motives for deeds that have been accounted heroic virtues...his duty requires him to prepare in writing all possible arguments, even at times seemingly slight, against the raising of anyone to the honors of the altar." (source)

The Devil's Advocate is supposed to intentionally bring up all possible objections to a candidate's sanctity, even ones we consider trivial, "even at times seemingly slight." That is literally his job. To put it crassly, the job of the Devil's Advocate is to crap all over whatever candidate is brought before him, using whatever grounds he can scrape up, even if they are petty. 

Although the Devil's Advocate no longer fulfills his role in this manner, we see that the advisory panel to the Dicastery does. In examining a candidate's positio, the panel is tasked with highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the cause. In Fr. Capodanno's case, we see the panel is carrying out the function traditionally assigned to the Devil's Advocate in suggesting selfish motives for Fr. Capodanno's actions and raising "all possible arguments, even at times seemingly slight" against elevating him to the altars. The Devil's Advocate (or, in this case, advisory panel) need not even believe the objections they are raising; it is their job to raise them nonetheless.

In other words, the advisory panel here was doing exactly what the Devils' Advocate used to; doing exactly what trads complain isn't being done enough. When you say you want the Devil's Advocate restored to its traditional role, this is what you are asking for. This is the sort of thing the Devil's Advocate would do, and probably more so. If you have ever said that the Devil's Advocate should be restored but take issue to these petty sorts of objections, then I respectfully suggest you need to learn more about this whole process. 

I personally think it's good that these sorts of objections are brought forward; "all possible arguments" are supposed to be made against the candidate. As mentioned above, the decision is not binding, and can be appealed. This gives the postulator, the Guild, and supporters of Fr. Capodanno to revise the positio to more specifically address the concerns of the panel. 

Do I think these specific objections merit the cause being suspended? I do not. I am frankly surprised that these objections resulted in the negative vote. But I am not surprised at the types of objections. Which brings me to my final point—

5. "We All Know How These People Are"

In my (long) experience debating these sorts of issues with traditional Catholics, when I point out that the specific facts in a case do not warrant the narrative trads are making of it, a standard response is, "Yeah, well even so, we all know how these people are."  Even if it can't be proven that Fr. Capodanno's cause was suspended because of a progressive attitude towards the military, "we all know" why they did this. It is a way to preserve the narrative despite lack of evidence; a way to say, "Even if my premises are all wrong, my conclusion still stands."

I sympathize with this. Indeed, we all do know exactly how "these people" operate. We've had ample opportunities to observe them over the past several years. Even so, the cause of a candidate for canonization is a juridical process, and as such must be subject to juridical norms. Imagine you were on trial for a crime. Imagine that you were able to empirically demonstrate conclusively that you were innocent of the charges. Now imagine, after proving your innocence, that the judge simply said, "Well, even so, we all know how you are," and found you guilty regardless. That would be a travesty of justice; it is no less a travesty to shrug off the facts here by saying, "C'mon, we all know how these people are." 


This post is neither pro-canonization nor anti-canonization for Fr. Capodanno. But it is pro-"support the process." And again, I want to stress, if you have ever lamented the reform of the Devil's Advocate but also dislike these sorts of trivial objections being put forward, then you are being inconsistent. Do you only want the Devil's Advocate to screen out candidates you disapprove of a priori but not apply that same rigorous screening to candidates you support? Either we apply rigorous procedural scrutiny to candidates or we don't. 

I think Fr. Capodanno deserves another round. I hope the appeal is granted and the postulator brings back a beefed up positio that definitively answers the objections raised by the panel. But the narrative that his canonization was "canceled" because the "woke" panel objected to the Ukraine War is simply untrue.

Friday, September 09, 2022

Response to Robert

Earlier this month, I was written an open letter by Robert at the lovely blog Pater Familias. This post is my response to his letter. Before you read this post, therefore, you should visit Robert's "Letter to Boniface" post and read it in order to understand my response in context.

My brother, I am touched by your correspondence. I commend you for your candor and openness. You brought up many points, to which I don't know if I will have adequate answer; but I will answer as I can, according to my poor ability. Please understand that my words here represent my own peculiar spiritual approach to the vicissitudes of life. I am no spiritual advisor and do not intend to lecture you on how you ought to be doing things; I am just one beggar telling another beggar where I have found some bread. 

You spoke of the fear that your children may one day apostasize. I understand the anxiety a father experiences over their children's faith; I have suffered with it myself occasionally, although—thanks be to God—it is something I no longer fret over. Certainly not because the world has gotten any better. Rather, it has served me well to remember what Christ has said: "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). If I wish to have peace, my focus must be on what is before me. The only moment I have any control over is the present, and this is where our Lord desires us to keep our focus. Now is the day of salvation; now is the moment of grace. What good can come of anxiety over a future that has not happened, and may never happen? The best way I can secure my children's faith in the future is to be Christlike now.

We imagine our theater of action is vastly broader than it is; in actuality, it is quite small, confined to the tiny, fleeting moment we retain control over, a moment so brief it is gone by the time we even conceive of it. But it is to our great benefit that the window is so small, for it puts our salvation into a context we can manage. The grand arc of my life, my eternal destiny, and that of my children and friends, and the will of God overarching it all—it's all too much for me to maintain in head and heart; "such knowledge is too wonderful for me; far too lofty for me to reach" (Ps. 139:6). Thank God He does not ask me to navigate such a tremendous vessel all at once! Rather, he commits to me a single oar and tells me "Row well, and live"; he entrusts me with a single coin and says, "Use this wisely." And that I can manage, especially with the aid of His grace which enlightens my mind. The burden of our salvation is actually quite small; "my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30). That's not to say salvation is not of tremendous import, obviously, but it is one of the paradoxes of the Kingdom of God that the import of such a grave matter can be a burden of light and an easy yoke. Just because something is important does not mean it must be draining; I am reminded of Chesterton's famous quip, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." To achieve great things, we must become small. That includes shrinking the locus of our attention in the way Christ suggests in the Beatitudes.

This relates to our Lord's command to be as children. We usually interpret the childlike faith to relate to trust, and this is certainly true, but I think it also relates to our focus. Children are concerned only with what is before them; they take no care for tomorrow and scarcely remember yesterday. Their attention is entirely fixated upon whatever they are doing at the moment. Imagine if your own spiritual attention was so fixated on the moment! Invest that kind of focus in the here and now and you will do better. "Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?" (Matt. 6:27)

I realize this is easier said than done, especially given the darkness that is overtaking the world. You mention your disgust with the world increasing with each passing year, and a fear that your faith is being corrupted by a kind of judgmental self-righteousness. I read this part of your letter many times, contemplating it from various angles, and I think you are correct to be concerned about this matter. Our Lord does not want us to be consumed with disgust, even if we are surrounded by things that truly merit it. Jesus promised that His commandments would bring us joy. He said, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love...These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:10-11). Our Lord intends our joy to be "full." If we are not people of joy, we therefore must stop and ask why?

The world is covered in darkness, the Church is in chaos, society is adrift, the economy is collapsing. How can we be joyful? I return, again, to my previous theme, reduction of scope; in other words, my brother, who told you any of this was your concern? Has God laid it upon you to save the world? Is the goings on of the Vatican your personal responsibility? Or are the economy and western civilization entrusted entirely to your hands? Assuredly not. Of course, there are some men whose responsibilities are much more vast; some men have been given ten talents, and their obligations are weighty. But such is not you, and such is not me. The Church? Not my concern. The country? Not my concernat least not in the sense of making it all my personal business and wasting my energy fretting about it all. Commending it all to prayer is the best we can do, fulfilling what Paul asks of Timothy, to make prayers and supplications for all all in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Then what is my concern? The Lord requires my faithfulness in the things He has entrusted to me. What talents has He put into your hand? Your work, your children, your wife, your parish. All relatively modest, when you think about it; at least vastly more so than worrying about the world, the church, and society. My brother, just be attentive to the little circle of this universe that is under your immediate gaze. Hug your wife and children. Be diligent in your daily tasks. Plant and grow your garden and rejoice in the dirt under your fingers, the greenness of grass, blueness of sky, and the wind on your face. Walk down your road and marvel at the movements of bone, sinew, and limb before the ravages of age deprive you of them. Thank God for the breath in your nostrils. 

The small things, the small things, ah, yes, that is where happiness lies, if it lies anywhere. Not in the fire, or earthquake, or roar of wind but in the still, small voice. Find Him there. I understand your restlessness to "do more" and "be more"; believe me! I feel it every day of my life. But if you want to do more, then be less. If you want Him to increase you, then decrease. In the Kingdom of our Lord, the way up is down. Instead of thinking about doing greater things, do average things with greater love. Imbue your routine with meaning, and you may find that a golden tide washes over all of it and the mundane becomes bathed in glory like a sunbeam falling through your window on a summer afternoon.

You noted that you are alarmed at your shortcomings despite doing the "right things." I see how this alarms you, but I think it alarms you more than necessary. The faith is not a matter of box-checking;  certainly these things you mentioned (Rosary, First Fridays, Adoration, etc.) are all of great importance. But we delude ourselves if we think things are going to go our way just because we have checked the boxes. There is a "not knowingness" that is inherent to faith; a kind of "not yet"—a haze that caused St. Paul say "we see in a mirror yet darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12); this mist must simply be accepted. Embrace your status as a viator; we are not yet what we will become (cf. 1 John 3:2). We are pilgrims, whose feet ache, whose brows are beaded with sweat, whose stomachs hunger; and for all our trials we do not see clearly our destinationbut it is sufficient to know we are on the road there. We wrestle with God like Jacob wrestled the angel. You must simply accept this; accept the not-knowingness. Of course, continue to do the "right things," but abandon any notion that the "right things" are going to yield some specific, concrete result in the here and now. Paradoxically, if you let go of that expectation, you might find things begin to change for you. Things change for us when we stop forcing them; the Spirit works in those realms beyond our mind and strength.

Of course it is only by grace that any of us can hang on. But what has comforted me greatly is a passage from 1 Corinthians, in which Paul says, "if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not" (1 Cor. 8:12). If we yield ourselves to God in sincerity, He accepts our offering based on what we have, not what we lack. If we invest our talents faithfully, His standard of judgement is proportional to what we had to work with. The man who is given one is only expected to yield one; the man with ten is expected to yield ten. I have returned to this passage again and again to help me see my own life in perspective. I hope it may be of benefit to you as well. That we hang on by grace is nothing to be ashamed of; in fact, it is a tremendous consolation, or ought to be. 

I understand loneliness all too well. I, too, am a father, but I have been divorced for several years and have no woman. I'm not sure if my loneliness is of the same as yours; I am fairly content where I am at and don't feel the urgent desire for companionship you express. Such was not always the case, though; I have spent many years learning the art of happiness. St. Paul says he had learned to be content in all situations (cf. Php. 4:11-13). I have realized over time that I, too, can be happy despite my circumstance. I can be happy even in my loneliness. Just like I can have faith even when I don't understand. I can have hope even when I feel broken. I can have love even when darkness is crashing around me. We all can.

Have you ever seen the HBO John Adams series? There is a fantastic scene at the end where John Adams, now elderly and looking back on his life, counsels his son to live in jubilation at the wonders of the mundane. I highly recommend you watch this scene if you haven't seen it before. 

Your expression of the loneliness at Adoration grieved me. I do not know what to tell you, other than such has not been my experience. But then again, when I come before our Lord, all I expect Him to do is just be. I suppose I do not contrast His "affirming" or "speaking" with His "being." When I come before Him, I come unto the ineffable light, that which simply is. And in merely beholding Him, He both affirms and speaks all that must be affirmed and all that needs be said. His gaze is transformative. Heaven is the vision of God. The only thing that ever needs to change in light of that vision is me.

I will say one more thing: when I was a new Christian, I glossed over the Beatitudes because they seemed so simple. Of course I affirmed them and believed them, but they seemed very "basic"; I was eager to get onto bigger things. I did not want milk; I was eager for meat. But now I see that what St. Paul said applied to me: "I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready" (1 Cor. 3:2). I have since gone back to the Beatitudes and found a treasure trove of riches therein, especially of value for maintaining the right balance and proper spiritual focus. I have derived more spiritual benefit from them than I ever though possible. So I encourage you to interiorize the Beatitudes until they are your very breath and the pulse in your wrist.

I apologize in advance that my answer is so poor. I fear I may not be of much help to you. But know that I have prayed for you in hopes that you, too, may find light, refreshment, and peace in His glory. 

Friday, September 02, 2022

Answering Objections about Hyperpapalism and Gregory VII

[Aug. 30, 2022] A few days ago, One Peter Five published an essay of mine entitled "Hyperpapalism Under Pope St. Gregory VII." While most feedback on the article was positive, I received some criticisms I'd like to address in a brief follow up. I don't usually respond to criticisms, but I am feeling saucy today.

The gist of the One Peter Five article is two-fold: 

(1) That historically the papal office has grown its authority by means of the gradual expansion of precedent—i.e., those prerogatives claimed by the popes by custom.

(2) While papal precedent has traditionally expanded, there were times when the popes were not successful at growing their precedential powers. A notable example was the pontificate of Gregory VII, who made radical claims about the powers of the papacy during the Investiture Controversy. Though the emperors eventually agreed to give up episcopal investiture with ring and staff, the push-back to Gregory's claims by significant segments of the Church (and state) was substantial enough that succeeding popes withdrew from Gregory's radical agenda, instead opting for a much more moderate version of his program.

I concluded with the observation that if we did not want Francis's actions to become established precedent, then we, too, need to offer "push-back" to the Franciscan program.

Regarding Dictatus papae

Some critiques I received were extremely particular gripes about my interpretation of Gregory's document Dictatus papae, specifically Article 10 ("That his name alone shall be spoken in the churches") and Article 23 ("That the Roman pontiff, if he have been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter, St. Ennodius, bishop of Pavia, bearing witness, and many holy fathers agreeing with him. As is contained in the decrees of St. Symmachus the pope.").

In my essay, I reference Article 10 briefly in summary, saying, "Dictatus papae claimed...that his name alone should be said during the liturgy," which is essentially just a paraphrase of the text of Article 10. The critique is that I am interpreting Article 10 too literally; that it does not mean literally that the pope's name is the only name to be said in the liturgy, but the only name to be said universally

I respond: I offered no interpretation of Article 10. I merely paraphrased what it stated as an example of the claims of Pope Gregory VII. I my discussion of Dictatus papae, I linked to a longer essay I wrote on Dictatus papae in 2012. If the critics had read this, they would have found my analysis of Article 10:

Two interesting statements are found in Articles 10 and 11. Article 10 states “[The pope’s] name alone shall be spoken in the churches.” This clearly refers to the practice of including the name of the reigning pontiff during the Roman Canon. This decree perhaps means that the pope’s name alone shall be mentioned universally (versus bishops or secular rulers, who are only mentioned within their respective territories). Eleven is of more interest, for after establishing that only the pope’s name shall be used universally, it goes on to say of the pope “that this is the only name in the world.”

This phrase sounds a little awkward in English and makes no sense on the literal level. The Latin says Quod hoc unicum est nomen in mundo, which can also be rendered “there is only one such name [pope]” or “the title [pope] is only to be used of the Roman pontiff”, which would be a declaration against both the Holy Roman Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople, both of whom had tried to usurp the title “Universal” in one way or another. This was already stated in article two, but perhaps it builds on Article 10, which stated that the pope’s name alone shall be spoken in the churches, and that in article eleven this is to be understood as applying universally and exclusively.

I think it is clear that I allow for varying interpretations of Article 10, none of which I argue for in my One Peter Five essay. At any rate, Dictatus papae did not come with any interpretive key, and the original context of its articles has long been lost. This is why it remains such a fascinating document—we know what it literally says, but its meaning is debated.

The second critique concerns Article 23, the strange clause where Gregory argues that a canonically elected pope "is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter." Of this I said that Gregory believed "the pope was de facto a saint by the grace of the Petrine office." The critique here was that, again, I was taking this passage too literally. It was argued that this is just another way of suggesting that the pope's authority comes by virtue of being successor of St. Peter. 

I respond, in my 2012 essay I offer three possible interpretations of this bizarre phrase, which in Latin reads "meritis beati Petri indubitanter efficitur sanctus." In 2012 I was unsure whether Gregory meant efficitur sanctus ("he becomes a saint") in the sense of literal, personal holiness. After studying Gregory's other writings, however, I am convinced this is what he meant indeed. This is corroborated by Gregory's letter to Bishop Hermann of Metz. Penned in 1081, a lengthy treatise penned in defense of Pope Gregory's policies. In this letter, Gregory expands upon the concept of efficitur sanctus. Commenting on the superiority of popes over kings, he says:

If, then, men who fear God come under compulsion with fear and trembling to the Apostolic See where those who are properly ordained become stronger through the merits of the blessed Apostle Peter, with what awe and hesitation should men ascend to the throne of a king where even good and humble men like Saul and David become worse! What we have said above is thus stated in the decrees of the blessed pope Symmachus—though we have learned it through experience: "He, that is, St. Peter, transmitted to his successors an unfailing endowment of merit together with an inheritance of innocence;" and again: "For who can doubt that he is holy who is raised to the height of such an office, in which if he is lacking in virtue acquired by his own merits, that which is handed down from his predecessor is sufficient. For either he [Peter] raises men of distinction to bear this burden or he glorifies them after they are raised up. 

The quote above can be found in “Letter to Hermann of Metz, Registrum, Book VIII, Letter 21, as found in The Correspondence of Pope Gregory VII, translated with an introduction by Ephraim Emerton (W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 1969), pg. 174. 

We know Gregory is speaking of the same concept as Article 23 because both his letter to Hermann and Article 23 reference Pope Symmachus. This passage strongly suggests Gregory does indeed take efficitur sanctus to mean personal holiness. This is evident in several ways:

First, consider the contrast: Gregory contrasts kings who are "made worse" by their office with popes who "become stronger" through the merits of Peter. The references to Saul and David becoming "worse" is clearly a reference to their personal sins. Ergo, for the contrast to make sense, Gregory must be contrasting personal vices with personal virtues. Kingly office makes one "become worse" by temptation to personal vice; the occupant of the Apostolic See will "become stronger" by being supplied with personal virtue through the merits of Peter.

Second, notice that Gregory is speaking of the popes' personal merit. Each successor of Peter receives "an unfailing endowment of merit," but also "an inheritance of innocence." The phrase "inheritance of innocence" is awkward, but I think it is clear that he is referring to a pontiff's personal innocence, which he is provided by virtue of holding the Apostolic See. This is made explicit with his final clause, a striking passage that merits close attention:

For who can doubt that he is holy who is raised to the height of such an office, in which if he is lacking in virtue acquired by his own merits, that which is handed down from his predecessor is sufficient. For either he [Peter] raises men of distinction to bear this burden or he glorifies them after they are raised up.

Again, he says that "he is holy" by virtue of being raised to the Apostolic See. This is understood in such a sense that even if the pope lacks this virtue in a personal sense, it is provided for through the office, a Petrine "inheritance" that "glorifies" the pope after his canonical election.

This all suggests that Gregory believed that one who ascends to the papacy is possessed of a kind of "supplied holiness" by the merits of St. Peter. This sanctity is described with the words "holy," "endowment of merit," "inheritance of innocence," "virtue," and "glorifies," all of which are used in a personal sense. This letter provides the context for Dictatus papae Article 23, and anyone suggesting Gregory does not mean this must offer a better interpretation of this passage. At any rate, I do not think I am amiss for taking the obvious interpretation, and I cited this passage as support in my One Peter Five essay.

I will grant that it is an admittedly obscure text and concept; but if it is so, it is precisely because it was not reaffirmed by successive popes, which was the point I was trying to establish by citing it to begin with.

Supporting Heretics

One critique I predicted when I wrote the essay is that the argument "supports heretics" by citing the enemies of Pope St. Gregory VII to establish a point. After all, these opponents of Gregory were arguing in favor of Emperor Henry IV, a repeat excommunicate. And they supported a practice (lay investiture) that was ultimately condemned by the Church. What sort of pathetic point must I be trying to make if I am enlisting these chaps in my corner?

The citation of men like Gerard of York, Hugh of Fleury, St. Ivo of Chartres, Wido of Osnabrück, et al is not meant to be taken as an endorsement of their ideas. I am not concerned with the content of their protest but the mere fact of their protest. As I stated in the One Peter Five essay:

These examples are not cited to argue that the positions of the pope’s opponents were correct. Many of them had their own problems...This is all irrelevant; the point is simply that there was significant, sustained opposition from the European episcopate.

Those who opposed Gregory VII did so for many reasons: some were political hacks just doing what Emperor Henry IV wanted them to do, some agreed in principle to Gregory's reforms but opposed the pace at which he sought to implement them; others affirmed Gregory's crusade against simony but opposed his ideas about lay investiture; some agreed that laymen should not dominate the Church but denied that kings and emperors were laymen; others believed that Gregory had valid points but that custom should take precedence; some denied the theoretical powers Gregory claimed; others affirmed Gregory's claims of spiritual authority but denied his aspirations to temporal supremacy; some, like St. Ivo of Chartres, were saintly men whose opposition was motivated by a sincere zeal for the good of the Church; others were just hoping to maintain their ill-gotten benefices obtained through bribery. The point is, we do ourselves much harm when we segregate historical characters into good guys and bad guys, especially within the Church. There is usually a diversity of motivations that need to be studied to truly understand the times. 

It is not "supporting heretics" to observe the phenomenon of broad opposition to Pope Gregory's ideas. I am not defending any specific rationale for their opposition, merely noting that Gregory's teaching provoked opposition and was considered radical. This is the common consensus of historians on this period. In the essay I cite medievalist Norman F. Cantor who, speaking of the ideals enshrined in Dictatus papae, said, “Dictatus papae was a sensational and extremely radical document, and it is inconceivable to think that Hildebrand [Gregory VII] was so naïve as to not realize that it would make that impression.” Gregory's document was radical and was perceived as such, most likely by the pope himself as well.

Ultimately, viewing Church history merely a series of villains and heroes isn't helpful if we want to truly understand the history. People are not dramatic foils, and even if one side was wrong on one point does not mean they were wrong on all points, nor that the "good guys" did not have their own problems. Not every historical observation is made to score a point for a side. 

"Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel"

Finally, my favorite: a critique of the overall thrust of the article, suggesting that I am pathetically scraping the bottom of the barrel by "going all the way back" to Gregory VII to find ammunition to attack contemporary Ultramontanism. This critique is annoying for two reasons:

My article is not a polemic against contemporary Ultramontanism. It is a historical observation about the ebb and flow of papal power in previous ages and how that may apply to current discussions about papal authority. It may have import in the current discussions about hyperpapalism, but that is secondary.

Furthermore, the charge of "going all the way back" to Gregory VII is confusing to me. As Catholics, "going all the way back" is what we do. The pontificate of Gregory VII was pivotal in the history of the Church, marking the turning point between two differing conceptions of ecclesiastical power that had characterized the first and second millennia of Christendom. This period was not inconsequential, and the implication that our history has less relevance the further back we go is not a Catholic approach. Ridiculing an argument because its source material is "old" is a tactic that has been used before, but not by serious Catholic scholars.

* * * * *  

I could say more but I think this is sufficient. Hopefully these concepts have provoked further discussion on these important matters we are all trying to understand.

[1] Norman Cantor, Medieval History, 2nd ed. (Toronto: MacMillan Co., 1971), 286