Sunday, March 29, 2015

Spring Training for the Fall Classic

I don't know about you, but, frankly, I am simply sick of the Catholic news regarding SynodGate 2014/2015.

The Synod was given the title "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization", and perhaps this is the beginning of the disaster. Were one to propose a thesis dissertation with such a title, the advisor would immediately tell the advisee to limit their focus. It would be not unlike calling a synod on the topic of "the Church", or "Sin" - great, but what are you going to talk about?

The subject seems pretty clear - it's about the Family. Now, if we stop here and ask a simple question, and that is "what does the Church understand a family to be?", then I think that, based upon the answer, this would narrow the focus of the Synod, at least a bit.

Okay, next, we see that there is a modifier - it is not just the family in general, we are presupposing a definition of "family" to some extent, and now we are going to see that there are Pastoral Challenges. So far so good - had they stopped here, I am sure that topics such as the universal call to holiness, or sacramental life in the Catholic family, or remaining a Catholic in modern times as a family, etc.

Instead, some genius decides, "oh, we need to be all about Evangelization, so let's make that the 'context' for talking about the family." Now, this is really the kicker because "evangelization" used to mean something. It used to mean going out to the un-churched; however, ever since Paul VI and JPII, there is a "new" evangelization and that means looking inward at ourselves and asking whether or not we are in fact the unchurched.

So, what do the Synod Fathers envision? Perhaps, building off of the word "evangelization", the Synod would have considered looking at renewal in the life of the Church as starting with the family (an excellent topic!), or looking at the un-churched's version of what a family is and trying to evangelize to it. I should say that the latter is also, potentially, an excellent topic, though it is much more limited as to what could be said by the Church about it, and so therefore perhaps not requiring a synod to discuss. (Indeed, calling for a synod on such a subject would seem to invite chaos)

Instead, what we got was some sort of confused version of both. The focus has been, on the one hand how to expand our understanding as a Church to encompass notions of family which are manifestly disordered and sinful, and on the other, how to go as far out of our way not use the word "sin" to describe the state which faithful Catholics have fallen into by adopting "the world's" notion of family.

What a farce this whole thing has become.

The problem, now, is this - the liberals were able to win the day by directing the initial conversations with their own distractions. Now, if the Synod takes up their silly ideas, they win. If the Synod spends  serious time on these fruitless discussions, then the liberals still win, because nothing true, good, or beautiful comes from the Synod in support of the Family.

Thus, I would propose a re-direction of the entire strategy regarding the Synod. All discussion of these more contentious subjects should be dealt with off-line - there is this little-known congregation called the CDF for dealing with heresy.

Instead, I think the conservative team should go in with a unified strategy on how to get the Synod back on track. This is a hard thing because the conservatives are not unified within themselves. It's easy for the liberals because they all want one thing: the destruction of the Church. The conservatives, however, are divided between those who on the one hand want the benefits of the world and so have a tendency toward compromising the perennial teachings of the Church, and those who on the other hand reject the world as being too easily under the manipulation of Satan, and so regard legitimately good things as suspicious. The liberals have abandoned the notion of truth entirely, and so there is room for everyone in their camp, so long as they don't hold on to a truth, absolutely. The conservatives, on the other hand, are utterly convinced that there is a truth, and, due to their disagreement about the relation of the world (and, perhaps disagreement on the difference between progress and development),  spend all of their efforts trying to convince everyone else that the SSPX are in schism (when they aren't), or that capitalism is of the devil (which it isn't).

Perhaps, then, let's look at some subjects we are (mostly) in agreement on, and begin by re-affirming their truth and goodness:

  • The relation between marriage in nature and sacramental marriage, and the Public Discourse
  • Procreation as the primary good of marriage
  • Holiness as being attainable through the married state of life
  • Vocations fostered in the context of the Catholic family life

Then, perhaps, let's look at the challenges and threats to this in the modern world. Perhaps even offer up some real, practical solutions for overcoming those challenges and combating those threats. We could look at such subjects as:

  • That thing which is repugnantly called "sexual education"
  • Contemplation in a world which despises the word.
  • Maintaining the primacy of the married relationship in a culture that is focused on kids

There are some other things, such as the prevalence of mixed marriages, etc, but haven't these all been done before? Why open the can of worms on a subject the liberals will run away with?

So, conservative team. It's the spring time, and that means spring training. If we hope to make it to October and win the Big One, then we have to work on our fundamentals. Let's not get too creative with our plays, so leave the phenomenology in the locker room. While we're at it, let's stick with what's in our wheelhouse - leave the psychology and sociology to the secularists. We have a sound theology, rooted in a philosophical and theological anthropology, so let's tease that out a bit and see if we can come up with an application to the problems in the Church and the World today. If we can keep from getting caught out on errors, then we just might be able to learn from last year's mistakes and get the big W this Fall.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ask Dr. Boniface

Many years ago, when I first started blogging while I was a DRE and Youth Group director, I did a series of posts on questions relating to dating, courtship, marriage, etc. I have not written much on this topic lately, but over time several queries have trickled in on these subjects, so I thought I would respond to a few of them - it is time for Ask Dr. Boniface!

Just so you know where I am coming from, I have been married for 14 years this June and have four kids. I was 20 years old when I got married; my wife was 19. I went to college after marriage. My wife and I both basically got married out of high school. We were relatively poor for the first - eh, four years of marriage - but now have settled down into a comfortable bourgeois existence in the Midwest.

By the way, all the questions happened to come from men, and being a man myself, these answers will necessarily be a bit "masculocentric."

Q. I keep hearing this line from priests that one should be "financially ready" for marriage before dating. I've been thinking about this, and it just doesn't seem right. Like, if you go to college, you're gonna be up to your neck in debt. If you don't go to college, you may just be making around 10 dollars an hour, and that's not a lot for supporting a family. In other words, the system is screwed up, and unless you're born with silver spoon in hand, or get lucky with a really good job, you're going to have financial problems. What's your opinion?

A. Well, I would question your assumptions. You may not be "up to your neck" in debt if you choose an inexpensive community college or vocational school or if you work industriously during the summers to at least pay down some of your debt. I know a young woman who finished college with nursing certification with zero debt because she paid her whole way. I would also question the assumption that if you don't go to college you'll be making ten dollars an hour. My neighbor is a plumber who makes $65,000 a year working for another plumber who makes about $350,000 per year. Neither went to college. Another guy I know is a master electrician (no college) who makes about $200,000 per year and lives on a piece of property worth a million. I also know some lawyers who got great educations and law degrees and are struggling. So there are no guarantees.

But in response to your question, finances are very important in marriage. In the old days, many marriages were essentially financial arrangements in which questions of affection, compatibility were more of an afterthought. Given that one of the top reasons cited for marital difficulties is financial problems, you would be foolish not to take this into consideration. Love will not pay the bills, and if the bills aren't paid, fridge isn't full, and utilities shut off, well, it's hard to feel affection. You're wife isn't gonna want to go near you in a scenario like that. Believe me, I have been there. A woman thrives in a secure environment and freaks in an insecure one.

So, yes, you need to have some sort of financial game plan, some sort of feasible means for how things will be paid, as well as the flexibility for in case something happens. 

That being said, "financially ready" need not be taken to the extreme. A lot of secular people think "financially ready" means both partners making $75,000 each, college completed, loans paid off, and ready to purchase a $450K home immediately after the wedding. Obviously the world's conception of "financially ready" is crazy.

So in short, you need to have a stable job that can support you and your spouse with the addition of possibly a baby (though babies are cheap; they cost next to nothing - it's not till they get to be around 10-12 that kids really get expensive). A stable job with prospects for some advancement is fine, just something that can support you in a crappy apartment or rental for a time and maybe allow you to buy a house in a few years. Financially ready, yes. Financially settled for life, no. 

Q. Do you think it is generally possible to learn enough about a woman only meeting them at Church and occasionally talking to them, and if not how would you propose getting to know them better prior to starting an intentional relationship?

A. It is good to observe a woman from a distance - at first. Church is a decent place to start: to learn about her modesty, maybe her family, to find out if the way she breathes through her nose while praying the Our Father is too annoying, etc. Obviously, though, you need to get more familiar with her before starting an intentionally romantic relationship.

I have for some time repudiated the "courtship" concept of dating that is popular among many conservative Christians. Thus idea ultimately has its roots in evangelical fundamentalism; if you don't know what courtship is and why it is fundamentally flawed, I recommend the aptly titled article "Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed" by Thomas Umstaddt. How can you ever get to know a woman privately if you only ever see her sitting in her living room with all her family around? If you are a single man, it is certainly okay to have a platonic, social engagement with another woman without any romantic commitments. But how to arrange these? 

This should be very non-chalant; just invite her to do something socially with you and another group of friends - ideally, mutual friends. This is very non-threatening, and she can comfortably attend without feeling like it is a commitment to you personally, although it is setting the stage for a possible commitment, and that is what is important.

If you can get her hanging out socially once or twice, try bumping up to the next level by inviting her on a solo engagement. Don't make a big deal out of it or invest it with a solemnity it does not yet have. "I am considering you for a future spouse and would like the opportunity to evaluate your character more intensively. Would you like to go to the movies?"  Of course not. Just something like, "Hey, I'm gonna be in your neck of the woods next Tuesday. Wanna meet up and grab lunch?" Totally simple. Once you get to the one-on-one hang-out (which, goes without saying, should be in public or otherwise open settings to keep things easy and safe), it is much simpler to start making the assessments you need to decide whether you want to pursue things further with this female.

Q. Do you have an opinion the proper age to get married in our current times and on the ideal and acceptable age differences between husband and wife? I ask because at the age of 30 I already find myself becoming hesitant to pursue a relationship with someone my own age due to the desire to have a large family but would feel awkward marrying someone significantly younger than myself. It so happens that there are very few eligible young women between the ages of 25 and 30 at my TLM parish.

A. Well, first of all, you will probably need to broaden your horizons beyond the girls at your TLM parish. That is a pretty small pool.

But secondly, the rule-of-thumb for age compatibility (if you believe in such things), is half your age plus seven. If you are 30 years old, then 30/2 = 15 + 7 = 22. The reason for this is because women are said to mature more quickly than men, so a younger woman is more compatible with an older man. 

That is the ideal compatibility, according to some obscure custom whose origin escapes me. As far as what is acceptable...well, I have come to see over the years that age is really irrelevant. People are people. I am 34. I recently had the opportunity to develop a very deep friendship with an elderly man over the past two years. I never thought I could have such an open and meaningful relationship with a man so much my elder. But we are buds. We call and talk on the phone, meet for lunch, hang out, etc. My wife thinks it is a little weird, but hey, amicitia is amicitia.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of my best friends is a boy who used to be one of my students and is now a young adult. He is 21. We have a very deep friendship.

So, regarding what is acceptable, as long as she is legal, I'd say it is irrelevant. I know two Catholic couples who have a 12 and 13 year age gap between husband and wife. In both cases the husband is the elder. I would not suggest marrying a woman 12 to 13 years older than you. In my opinion, the age gap works best only going one way. See my response to the last question on this post as to why that is.

Q. My parish priest is making my fiance and I take a compatibility test. He is attaching a lot of weight to it; seems like too much weight, maybe. I find the whole thing suspect. What's your opinion on modern marriage prep in the Catholic Church?

A. Whew...don't get me started on that. I'll have to restrain myself to speak only of the immediate question on compatibility tests.

In general, there is a trend towards over-intellectualizing marriage: focusing on personality tests, psychology, and all sorts of pseudo-intellectual stuff while downplaying the role of grace. I recommend my article "Intellectualizing Marriage?" (USC, June, 2012) for more on this trend.

Compatibility tests are stupid. I will restate the what a very kick-ass priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit once said to some friends of mine when they came to him for marriage prep: "If you haven't figured out by now if you're compatible, there's nothing I can do for you."

Two more great quotes on this, the first from Chesteron:

"If Americans can be divorced for 'incompatibility of temper' I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one" ("The Free Family", What's Wrong With the World).

Second, from the letter of J.R.R. Tolkien:

"Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to" (Tolkien to his son Michael, March, 1941).

How can a compatibility test predict how you two will respond to each other five, ten, or twenty years into marriage anyway? It obviously can't. People change. Such tests' usefulness is very limited. If you guys like each other and have come as far as starting marriage prep, you have obviously figured out you are compatible. For the rest, stay close to Mary and leave to grace.

Q. I am a 29 year old man. I've been hoping that I would have been settled down and married by now, but I am starting to get worried because I am turning 30 this year and have no prospects. Should I be worried about this?

A. I can't answer that. It depends on how bad "you want" to be married. I personally never advise people to strongly desire marriage in that way; St. Paul tells us to be content in whatever state we find ourselves in. "Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife" (1 Cor. 7:27). I typically congratulate a man who has made it to 30 without getting snagged.

Okay, I'm only half-joking. Still, if you really believe you want to be married and this is your calling, I would not worry. You see, time works for men but against women. A man at 18 has very little to offer a woman. He is a new adult, no financial security, probably kind of scrawny and dorky looking. No stature in the world. He has very little "capital", shall we say? An 18 year old girl, on the other hand, has everything in the world to offer. She has no strings. She will probably never be more beautiful. She is fertile and able to bear children. She is prime marriage material. She has a lot of "capital", if you get my drift.

But notice, as that scrawny 18 year old goes out into the world and becomes a man, he gets more capital. By the time he is 30, if he is not a total screw-up, he has probably built up quite a bit. More manly and handsome. More successful. Able to make his way in the world, able to take care of a woman. Now that is desirable. His capital has gone up. And - again, as long as he isn't a screw-up - a man's capital will continue to go up as he moves into middle age. Not that we care what the secular world thinks, but have you ever noticed how the "world's sexiest men" are always in their mid-40's or early-50's?

Now what about that 18 year old girl? What happens when she gets older? Well, her "capital" goes down. An unmarried girl has less to offer at age 30 than at 18. Her looks have deteriorated severely. She is almost past childbearing years. If she has gone to college, she may have debt that any potential husband will have to deal with. She has much less to bring to the table. Her capital has gone down.

Bottom line: a 30 year old single man is at the top of his game and has every reason to be confident he will find a woman because time works for the man. A 30 year old woman who is still single is running out the clock because time works against her. So, rejoice, my friend. The world is yours, and all things being equal, I would not worry. In fact, I would consider your position somewhat envious.

Now my female readers will undoubtedly be saying, "Well shoot, I am that 30 year old single woman looking for man. Now you say time is working against me? What am I to do? Why haven't I found my man and what should I do about that?"

The answer to that is a bit more complex and will have to wait for another time. Sorry ladies!

Contact: uscatholicam[at]

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Children's Crusade and the Age of Mercy

Our Holy Father Pope Francis has declared the jubilee Year of Mercy, which will begin on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception this year and run through the Feast of Christ the King in 2016. I praise God for His mercy, which is one of His greatest attributes. "Mercy triumphs over judgment", the Epistle of James tells us (cf. Jas. 2:13), and the chorus of Psalm 136 contains the response "His mercy endures forever" twenty-five times, lest the devout reader ever doubt God's great mercy. God has shown me great mercy in my life, and I will always rejoice in His loving-kindness and long-suffering.

*   *   *   *   *

Still, we live in an age of grayness, an age of ambiguity, of ignorance and shadows - an hour of darkness where the power of evil moves most freely and audaciously (cf. Luke 22:53). Words are as fluid and ethereal as mist. One striking characteristic of our time is the degree to which words have been redefined away from their classical connotations; concepts such as the state, nature, grace, judgment, punishment, love have all been redefined in the image of post-Christian man. Since the announcement of the Synod of the Family early in 2014 and the ascent of the Kasper party, we have seen a similar attempt to redefine "mercy."

Aquinas defines mercy as the virtue by which one experiences grief for another's distress (STh II-II, Q. 30, Art. 3). The causes or "motives" of mercy are "corruptive or distressing evils, the contrary of which man desires naturally, wherefore the Philosopher says that "pity is sorrow for a visible evil, whether corruptive or distressing" (ibid., Art 1). 

Thomas is speaking here of natural evils, not moral evils, for St. Thomas says that evils are most worthy of pity when they are contrary to a deliberate choice. Since the very essence of a moral act is its voluntary nature, we more easily extend mercy to people to whom "something happens" rather than those who merely suffer the consequences of their deliberate choices (ibid).

He goes on to say that the greatest motive of mercy occurs when the evil occurs not only without deliberate choice but absolutely contrary to a person's will, such as when something bad happens to a man who only desires to do good. Quoting Aristotle, he notes that "we pity most the distress of one who suffers undeservedly" (ibid).

St. Thomas notes that though sinners suffer deservedly, the punishments of their faults are not willed; a repentant sinner acknowledges their fault and the justice of punishment but simultaneously wishes to escape punishment, as the punishment due to sin is contrary to their will. In this sense we are able to feel pity for sinners: "It is essential to fault that it be voluntary; and in this respect it deserves punishment rather than mercy. Since, however, fault may be, in a way, a punishment, through having something connected with it that is against the sinner's will, it may, in this respect, call for mercy" (ibid).

The Thomistic doctrine of mercy, therefore, is that the motive or cause of mercy is evils experienced by another, especially when these evils are undeserved and contrary to the will of the one experiencing them. Therefore, it is an essential aspect of mercy that the one experiencing the evil not will the evil he is experiencing. It is this repugnance to the evil endured that becomes the bridge linking the suffering of the individual with the mercy of another.

This means, from Thomas' point of view, those persons who do not oppose the evil they endure cannot be the objects of mercy, properly speaking - much less those who don't even admit that they have committed any evil. A sinner who does not fear the punishment for his sin but rather abides in his sin and even demands it be praised and accommodated does not elicit mercy. The accommodation of people in this scenario is not an act of mercy, but rather an act of complicity in the sin of another. Or, to put it more plainly, only those who repent can be the recipients of the mercy; an unrepentant person is incapable of receiving mercy.

Repentance, of course, means not only admitting an action to be morally wrong, but taking active steps to remove oneself from the state of sin with the resolution to avoid committing that sin again in the future.

*   *   *   *   *

What aspects of mercy will be stressed in the upcoming Year of Mercy? No doubt this jubilee year is connected with the 2015 Synod on the Family, where the debate of the Kasperite doctrine of mercy will be front and center. The Holy Father is trying to push a coup de force in preparation for the synod by focusing the attention of the public on "mercy." The Year of Mercy will begin shortly after the close of the Synod; presumably there will be a post-synodal exhortation of some sort. The Year of Mercy is a propaganda tool to shape public opinion in such a way that bishops who dissent from the Kasperite heresy are under intense pressure to comply; they will be made to look "unmerciful." It is an attempt to create a false dichotomy between the "merciful" progressive and the Pharisaical conservative. This is the simple "politics" behind the Year of Mercy - to make the triumph of the Baldisseri-Forte-Kasper axis a fait accompli, which the smiling Holy Father will proclaim to be a movement of the Holy Spirit, with the accolades of the press.

In case you are inclined to disbelieve the connection I am positing between the "Year of Mercy" and communion for adulterers, only a four days after announcing the Year of Mercy, Francis made the following comments in a homily:

"A man - a woman – who feels sick in the soul, sad, who made many mistakes in life, at a certain time feels that the waters are moving - the Holy Spirit is moving something - or they hear a word or ... 'Ah, I want to go!' ... And they gather up their courage and go. And how many times in Christian communities today will they find closed doors! 'But you cannot, no, you cannot [come in]. You have sinned and you cannot [come in]. If you want to come, come to Mass on Sunday, but that’s it – that’s all you can do.’ So, what the Holy Spirit creates in the hearts of people, those Christians with their ‘doctors of the law’ mentality, destroy. This pains me...It’s Jesus’ home and Jesus welcomes [all]. But not only does He welcome, He goes out to see people just as He went out to find this man. And if people are hurt, what does Jesus do? Scold them because they are hurt? No, He comes and He carries them on His shoulders. And this is called mercy. And when God rebukes his people - 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice!' – He’s talking about this " (source).

There is much one could say about this passage, but it suffices to note that the phrase "If you want to come, come to Mass on Sunday, but that's it - that's all you can do" clearly indicates that Pope Francis disapproves of the non-admission of adulterers to communion. It is not sufficiently welcoming; to disagree is to be a Pharisaical "doctor of the law." To admit them is "mercy." Make no mistake about it, the Year of Mercy is yoked to the Synod with the purpose of pushing through Kasper's designs.

*   *   *   *   *

The constant assignment of a particular theme to each year by the Holy Father is a modern phenomenon begun, I believe, under John Paul II. It has grown extremely tiresome. Does anything positive truly come out of these annual assignments? Are Catholics any more knowledgeable about St. Paul after the 2008-2009 "Year of St. Paul"? I seriously doubt it. Like World Youth Day, this "Year of" phenomenon seems to be more about feeling good than accomplishing anything enduring.

At the beginning of the crisis in the Ukraine, Pope Francis had two Ukrainian children release doves as a prayer for peace in the Ukraine. The doves were immediately set upon and killed by a crow and a seagull; the whole episode was caught on film (see pictures at the top of this post).

A similar phenomenon happens with these "Year of" designations. Whatever topic the Holy Father assigns for a year, the Church ends up suffering severe attacks and setbacks in that area. The Year of the Priest saw global assaults on the priesthood; the Year of Faith saw an unprecedented advance of militant atheism; and the Year of the Consecrated Life has witnessed, among other things, the destruction of the FFI.

If you think I exaggerate or am drawing connections where none exist, let us consider this a little deeper:

The Year of the Priest (2009-2010) saw the Archdiocese of Milwaukee go bankrupt due to its financial obligations to sex abuse victims. The Irish clerical abuse scandal broke in 2010, the depths of which were so horrid and despicable that it prompted an unprecedented personal letter from Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics in Ireland. As the Year of the Priest wore on, further clerical abuse scandals broke in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Brazil, and many other countries. CNN ran a headline titled "Catholic Church Sex Abuse Scandal Goes Global." Only months after the Year of the Priest ended, 300 priests in Austria signed a document called the "Call to Disobedience", pledging resistance to Rome until ultra-liberal reforms of the clerical class were implemented, including women's ordination. The Year of the Priest thus closed with a mockery of the priesthood throughout the world.

The Year of Faith (2012-2013) witnessed an unprecedented attack on the very notion of faith as the proponents of the 'New Atheism' launched broadsides against revealed religion. Lawrence's Krauss's A Universe From Nothing made big headlines in 2012, but a whole slew of other atheist books made their appearance during the Year of Faith, including The Manual for Creating Atheists, Drunk With Blood, Hope After Faith, Atheism for Dummies, The Skeptics Annotated Bible, and Beyond Belief, all of which appeared during the Year of Faith. Meanwhile, the Year of Faith saw atheist Richard Dawkins humiliate Cardinal Pell on Australian television over the question of Original Sin while 2012 saw the first ever Global Atheist Convention. While atheists were trashing religion all over the world, the Vatican held a scientific exhibit in which the Chief Astronomer of the Vatican, Fr. Gabriel Jose Funes, declared triumphantly that evolution was perfectly compatible with Catholicism. Thus the Year of Faith saw the very notion of faith ravaged by unprecedented atheist propaganda and faith undermined within the Church by a continued enthronement of the principle of evolution within the Church (cf. "Solemn Enthronement of Evolution").

The Year of Consecrated Life (2014-2015)
, still ongoing at the time of this article, has seen perhaps the greatest undermining of consecrated life in modern times with the unwarranted persecution of the FFI, one of the most faithful exemplars of consecrated life in the Church. Simultaneously, the apostolic visitation to the women's religious orders in the United States ended with a feeble report gushing with praise for American nuns and lacking any disciplinary measures whatsoever. The Year of Consecrated Life saw a faithful order destroyed and the neo-pagan dissenting American nuns praised. In both instances, consecrated life was mocked, not upheld.

Just as the doves released by Pope Francis were destroyed before they could take flight, the themes proposed by Benedict XVI and Francis have similarly been the subject of distortion and destruction.

*   *   *   *   *

Therefore, we have good reason to suppose that the 2015-2016 "Year of Mercy" will result in an unprecedented attack on the Catholic concept of mercy, both from within the Church and without. The Church's traditional understanding of mercy will be ridiculed and distorted to be more palatable to the perversions of modern man, who desires to be told that he need not renounce his concubine in order to receive Holy Communion. We should mentally and spiritually prepare ourselves for a very fierce onslaught on the Church's praxis in the next year and a half, such that will make 2014 seem like a mere rehearsal.

Still, God is in control. God either wills all things positively or else permits all things for a greater good. We have documented how the Year of the Priest, Year of Faith and Year of Consecrated Life were all failures - setbacks for the very objects they were supposed to promote. Why is God allowing this? Why has God so orchestrated things that, in His Providence, the themes proposed by the popes are being thwarted?

I believe the answer lies in the Scriptures. Let us begin with the Book of Isaiah. The prophet begins in chapter 1 by recounting the sinfulness of Israel and the poor state of the Israelite kingdom:
"Woe to the sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a wicked seed, ungracious children: they have forsaken the Lord, they have blasphemed the Holy One of Israel, they are gone away backwards. For what shall I strike you any more, you that increase transgression? the whole head is sick, and the whole heart is sad. From the sole of the foot unto the top of the head, there is no soundness therein: wounds and bruises and swelling sores: they are not bound up, nor dressed, nor fomented with oil.Your land is desolate, your cities are burnt with fire: your country strangers devour before your face, and it shall be desolate as when wasted by enemies" (Isa. 1:4-7).

Despite that Israel is "laden with iniquity", they continue to participate in the feasts and sacrifices without repenting and changing their ways. Because they refuse to acknowledge their corruption, their participation in the festivals, the new moons, and the sabbaths become especially displeasing to God, such that He even compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah:

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats.“When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow (Isa. 1:10-17).

Because Israel has "forsaken the Lord" and "blasphemed the Holy One of Israel" and refuse to repent, God is so angry that He says He "hates" their festivals, that he "cannot endure" them because of their iniquity. Thus, though the people may pray and stretch out their hands - though they may call for Years of Faith, Years or the Priest, etc. - God says "I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen."

The prophet Amos gives a similar admonition. God says:

"I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream" (Amos 5:21-24).

How can God bless the Year of Consecrated Life when the Church allows consecrated life to be mocked? How can He bless the Year of the Priest when corruption is not rooted out from the priesthood? How can He bless the Year of Faith when prelates and theologians continue to worship before the idol of evolution and reductive scientism? And how can He bless a Year of Mercy when most in the Church are only interested in promoting a worldly, false mercy? These endeavors will continue to fail until we recognize the depth of our sickness and return to God in spirit and truth.

Brethren, what shall we do?

*   *   *   *   *

God's word helps us identify the problem, but it also gives us grounds for hope:

"Thus saith the Lord to you: Fear ye not, and be not dismayed at this multitude: for the battle is not yours, but God's"  (2 Chronicles 20:15).

"And all this assembly shall know, that the Lord saves not with sword and spear: for the battle belongs to the Lord..." (1 Sam. 17:47).

A deep darkness is afflicting the Church, such as can only be driven out with prayer and fasting (cf. Mark 9:29). Each person must choose his own path of prayer and penance for the sake of God's Church, confident in the final victory of Jesus Christ and His saints in glory. Still, there is a little bit we can do together.

At the top of this blog, you will notice a banner for the Children's Crusade. I believe that all faithful Catholics, as a necessary act of militancy in protection of their families and especially their children, should write Pope Francis in defense of the Sacrament of Marriage and the Holy Eucharist. I think that pictures (especially of their children, grandchildren, etc) are crucial to this campaign. I further believe that every Catholic website and blog should promote such a "Children's Crusade" (variations are of course desirable) from now until the closing of the Synod. It might be difficult for Pope Francis to dismiss such children and their families as "Self-absorbed, Promethian, Neo-pelagians" (his terms for “traditional” Catholics), especially if such an effort is picked up by the larger media. The address of the Holy Father should also be provided. Following is a suggestion for such a letter:

His Holiness, Pope Francis
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City
Holy Father,
Our children, and our entire family, are praying the rosary with the following intention:
"For Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, that he might not promote a false mercy, but that he might do what is necessary in order to protect both the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Marriage from sacrilege."

If you click on the "Children's Crusade" banner at the top of this blog, you can download a printable form letter with the language depicted above. Any Catholic blog or website has permission to reproduce this form letter and any or all of the content relating to the Children's Crusade, as I myself borrowed it from James Larson at War Against Being, who came up with the idea and encouraged me to promote the Crusade.

May the Lord bless and keep our Holy Father, and may His will be done at the 2015 Synod on the Family. May sinners, in the great mercy of God, be brought to repentance, turn from their evil deeds, and embrace the fullness of the Gospel. May this repentance begin with myself and all who read these words. Amen and amen.

Contact: uscatholicam [at]

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Essential Reading for 2015 from Dr. Kwasniewski

Today I am happy to present a guest review from a long-time reader and fan of the Unam Sanctam Catholicam blog, Chris Owens. Chris is a student at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (“the Angelicum”) in Rome, where he is a candidate for the S.T.L. in Thomistic theology. He is also a co-director for the St. Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies, “an organization dedicated to the revival of higher studies in theology undertaken according to the mind and method of the great scholastics”, which we have often promoted here on USC.

Chris recently submitted a review of the new book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, who many of you will recognize as a contributor to many traditional Catholic blogs, including Rorate Caeli and New Liturgical Movement. Dr. Kwasniewski is also a well-known professor of theology and philosophy and a director and composer of sacred music at various Catholuc institutions. I myself have had some personal encounters with Dr. Kwasniewski and his family over the years and can honestly say he is one of the more well-rounded voices out there in the traditional Catholic world.

Dr. Kwasniewski's new book takes a refreshing look at the contemporary Catholic landscape. Rather than your typical harping on the abuses and ambiguities of the post-Conciliar wasteland, Dr. Kwasniewski shifts gears and looks instead at the signs of resurgence and restoration, which are blossoming all over Christendom. Here is an excerpt from Chris Owens' review:

"As a husband and father, Kwasniewski offers to his reader the rich liturgical experience which he and his family have obtained through living abroad for many years, and his intimate relationship with not only the Roman Rite, but also the various Eastern Rites, as well. With fatherly solicitude, he observes the pitfalls that he wants his children to avoid, and offers this as an admonition to us all. This unique perspective is worth the reader’s pause, for it is not merely that of an Americo-centric, sanitized experience of the Faith, but rather he presents to the reader a truly “catholic” perspective on his subject, one which is nourished by those great treasures of Christendom, of Counter-Reformation art and 3architecture produced ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, embracing all of those spiritual and sacramental aids which formed so many great Saints in our history.

In the midst of a far-reaching “crisis”, one that has resulted in the loss of faith for so many, Kwasniewski observes that there has been a “resurgence” - a second wave, as it were - of the Church Militant, nourished by the graces of the rich sacramental life found in the tradition washing over them. This aspect of the book speaks to the sweetness of the truth, goodness, and beauty which is found in the rites we have received from the tradition. With a keen insight, Kwasniewski does not fail in his effort to impress upon the reader the necessity of this patrimony if one is to persevere in the spiritual life."

I encourage you to read the rest of this excellent review, which Chris Owens prepared just for USC. The rest of the review is available on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website. Click here to read Chris Owens' review of Peter Kwasniewksi's Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis.

If you want to purchase the book, it is available on Amazon (click here for product page).

Below are the personal website for Chris Owens and the site for the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Reminder About Capital Punishment

In other news, while the Church is hemorrhaging across the western world; while the homosexual mafia continues to infiltrate and denigrate the priesthood; while the E.U. votes to make abortion a fundamental human right and public schools in Michigan are holding "Hijab Day" to promote Islam - while the partisans of the religion of peace are rampaging across the Middle East beheading people and exterminating Christian communities and Rome is gloomily silent; while huge swaths of the Catholic world cave in to legalized sexual immorality, the Church hierarchy is rent by division over the question of admitting adulterers to communion and Germany threatens to go into schism if Rome doesn't go their way in October - and while a California archbishop is taking hell for supporting traditional Catholic morality and yet receives no support from the Vatican; and while liturgies across the Catholic world are still a disaster and the majority of Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence or the Church's teaching on contraception...

...four Catholic newspapers decide to take a stand on capital punishment!

This is so dumb, so facile, such a waste of space and breath and intellect that I'm not really going to bother addressing it. We all know the Church's teaching on capital punishment. We all know the Catholic world for centuries until the last thirty years never had any qualms about capital punishment. We all know this is just a stupid "feel good" position taken by some liberal/moderate rags who are too intellectually lazy to sort out the moral theology of the question and too cowardly to take on something of real importance (i.e., the homosexual lobby) in a pitiful attempt to pretend that they still have relevance.

I just want to remind people of one thing to keep in mind in the midst of this whole absurd story:

The prime rationale employed by those who oppose the death penalty absolutely is that it is unjust to take a human life because of the intrinsic dignity of the human person. As a being made in the image and likeness of God, man possesses a certain inherent dignity, which - they say - makes it an offense against the dignity of the human person to take his or her life.

Let's go back to the beginning, shall we?

In Genesis 9:6, the practice of capital punishment is instituted by God Himself. Note that He does not simply tolerate and permit capital punishment (as he tolerated polygamy and divorce in the Old Testament), but He actually institutes it by a positive decree. That alone tells you it could not be intrinsically evil.

But anyhow, look at the rationale God gives for instituting capital punishment:

"Whosoever shall shed man's blood, his blood shall be shed: for man was made to the image of God." - Gen. 9:6

In other words, the very rationale God gives for instituting the death penalty is the same rationale now given to abolish it! Those who argue against capital punishment based on man's intrinsic dignity as an imago dei are appealing to the same principle God did when He instituted it! 

What strange times we live in. What a total inversion. "Woe to those who call good evil and evil good." (Isa. 5:20)

It is really quite simple...if we believe man is made in the image of God and has an immeasurable human dignity, how do we treat those who violate it? The Book of Genesis says murderers deserve death because life is precious, because man is an imago dei. How convincing is our reverence for life if its mockers are suffered to live?

For a great exposition of this, I direct you to "Capital Punishment: The Case for Justice" by J. Budziszewski, First Things, August, 2004.

I also recommend "The Corrupt Theology of the 'Seamless Garment'" by Matthew J. Bellisario on the blog Coalition for Thomism.

That's all I am going to say about this stupid topic. I pray that the editors of these Catholic publications - as well as the Catholic prelates who keep harping about this while ignoring the other elephants in the room - cure themselves of the case of rectal-cranial inversion they have obviously been laboring under and join the real world.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Hearts of Stone to Hearts of Flesh

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

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

The Wrong Priest

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

Converted by Beauty

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

Just One Traditional Latin Mass

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

For Love of France

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

Beautiful Singing

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

The interesting thing is that in none of the above cases was the person converted by hearing a bunch of arguments. It was other things: beauty, liturgy, a sense of their own sinfulness, the glory of Catholic culture. To be sure, after their hearts were converted, argumentation and intellectual reasoning helped edify them in their faith, but in none of the five cases did rational argumentation precipitate their conversion. This is certainly not to say that nobody is ever "argued" into the faith; many people are. The point is that the manner is which God chooses to bring an individual into the Church is as varied as people themselves.

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

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

One Million Pageviews

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

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

Friday, February 20, 2015

No Trad Magisterium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Perfecting of Every Work and the Holy Car Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Book Review: "On The Marks of the Church"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the product page at Mediatrix Press.

Click here to purchase on Amazon ($15.99 USD)

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Jack Tollers on Francis the Argentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

St. Albertus Magnus Center 2015 Summer Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

St. Ignatius Loyola on Perfect Obedience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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