Sunday, November 29, 2009

1 Tim. 2:4

Martyrdom of St. Timothy

We know as a matter of faith that hell is real and that, unfortunately, there are some among the sons of men who will reject the grace of God and end up in this unhappy place. All loyal Catholics ought to ardently reject any teaching that hell does not exist, or that it does exist but is empty, as von Balthasar proposed. Hell does in fact exist and there are some unhappy souls among its number, along with the devil and his angels.

However, and paradoxically, we know that God wills that all men come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved, as it says in 1 Timothy 2:4, "[God] wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (qui omnes homines vult salvos fieri et ad agnitionem veritatis venire). Despite the fact that God wills for all men to be saved, since He has made this salvation contingent upon the free will and cooperation of mankind, it happens that there are in fact those who are not saved. Some use the free will granted by God to reject Him and thus choose eternal destruction.

Nevertheless we still ought to pray that, insofar as is possible, all men come to the saving truth and attain heaven. While I acknowledge that not all will be saved, I, with the Father, will that it would be so for all men and pray that everyone would accept Him. Some radical Traditionalists take offense at this, deeming it an acceptance of "universal salvation" to even so much as pray that all might be saved while we know in fact that they won't. I have never seen how praying for all to be saved implies universal salvation if God Himself can will all men to be saved even though they aren't. If God Almighty can say "I will all men to be saved" then I don't see how anyone can take offense that I simply pray that this might be so, even though it won't happen ultimately (kind of like when we pray for "peace on earth").

St. Augustine spoke of the issue this way:

And so when we hear and read in the sacred scriptures that God wills everyone to be saved, although we are certain that not everybody is saved, we should not for that reason envisage any limitation to the will of the Almighty God, but understand the words of Scripture who wills everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) as meaning that nobody is saved except those whom He wills to be saved, not because there is nobody whom He does not will to be saved, but because nobody is saved except those whom He wills to be saved, and so we should pray Him to will, for what He wills must necessarily come about (Enchridion on Faith, Hope and Charity, 27).

By praying for all men to be saved, we pray that those who will respond to God's grace may come to attain that grace and thus be among those whom He wills to be saved - our prayers truly make a difference.

One problem with saying we ought not to pray for all men to be saved is that out of all men we do not know who is on the road to heaven and who is not, and this information is deliberately concealed from us. If we withold prayers from anyone on the premise that "some aren't going to be saved and so we shouldn't pray for them," how do we know we are not witholding prayer from one who would have responded positively to God's grace had we prayed for them? Our prayers can be powerful and effacacious, and for this reason we ought to always pray that insofar as is possible all men from the rising of the sun to its setting come to love and adore our Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. We know that in the end some will be deceived by the wiles of the devil, but I don't see any valid reason why we shouldn't pray for God to extend His mercy as broadly as possible nevertheless.

Therefore I see no reason to heed the advice of some of the more radical Traditionalists in failing to pray for all men (some even reject Fatima because of the invocation "lead all souls to heaven") - such a prayer in no way teaches universal salvation and in the end, I'd rather pray too much for those who reject it than be guilty of not praying enough for those who could have benefited from it. When some radical Traditionalists say to me that they don't pray for all because all won't be saved, I ask them, "And who is it exactly that you want to go to hell?" They inevitably (and rightly) respond, "I don't want anybody to go to hell", then I say, "Then why not pray as you will?" I think this is common sense and I believe we are actually compelled to pray for the salvation of all, as St. Paul commanded, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men" (1 Tim. 2:1).

If there is one thing this sick, weary world does not need, it is for Christians to stop praying for people under the pretext that it's not going to do anything. That is a lie from the pit of hell.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Great new book on the Mass

I normally don't do book reviews on here, but I recently picked up a great little book on the Mass that I recommend highly. Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People by Jeffrey Pinyan of the blog The Cross Reference is the best book on the Mass that I have seen in a while, especially because it is the only one that has been written in conformity with the new English translation of the Mass that should be implemented next year. This alone sets it apart from all other books on the Mass currently floating around.

Jeff's book is meant for those who want to get deeper into the Mass - essentially, it's a practical guide to true active participation and a welcome counter to tired out old activist notions of participation that became dominant in the post-conciliar years. This would be an excellent book for friends or family who have some knowledge of the Mass but want to learn how to go deeper. I purchased twelve copies to give out to my RCIA class when we talk about the liturgy. If you are already a liturgical expert, then this book probably won't tell you anything new, but it would be great to have on hand to give to persons who might have questions about what goes on at Mass and why we do what we do. The book seems to be written to help promulgate a more reverent participation and conscious reflection on the Mass, in keeping with the wishes of our Holy Father to restore dignity and solmenity to the celebration of the Roman Rite.

The book takes you through each part of the Mass chapter by chapter, drawing out the pertinent theological observations and backing them up with citations from the CCC, the Popes and Scripture. The Mass prayers themselves are provided in Latin with the corresponding, correct English translations (the ones that will be coming out soon) next to them. At the end of every chapter are a series of thoughtful questions and reflections designed to help the reader put together the various themes brought up in the course of the chapter.

Jeff's writing is clear and insightful (as you can see from his blog) and his observations and theology all perfectly in line with a traditional understanding of the Mass as a Sacrifice. The book is written about the Novus Ordo, but he frequently refers the Extraordinary Form as a reference point and reminds us that the Extraordinary Form is a valid and praiseworthy expression of the Roman Rite, echoing Benedict's words in the motu proprio. I recommend this book highly. You can click here to go to the book's website for reviews, excerpts, etc. and of course to purchase.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

40 Years of the Novus Ordo Missae

This weekend the 40th anniversary of the institution of the Novus Ordo Missae by Pope Paul VI, which was instituted on the First Sunday of Advent in 1969.

For several years now, since I began this blog in fact, I have identified myself as a "traditionalist", inasmuch as I not only love and revere the traditions of the Catholic Church (which, by the way all Catholics ought to do), but that I think that the Church has in many ways abandoned much of her tradition in the past several decades and would do better to reconnect with it. This disconnect with tradition is what many refer to as the "liberal crisis" in the Church. There are many different positions within a traditionalist spectrum, and I certainly disavow any positions that are of a more radical nature - I think sedevacantism is crazy. I do not think it is okay for Catholics to go to SSPX chapels if they are in a state of schism (I say if, because apparently there is some ambiguity involved). I completely acknowledge the NO as a legitimate expression of the Latin Rite and adhere to everything taught in the CCC, Vatican II and the papacy. The pro multis/for all debate is a non-issue for me. My family wears head coverings but I don't get bent out of shape at people who don't (although I think there is a strong argument to be made that women are supposed to be wearing them still). I attend a parish where the NO is celebrated reverently, ad deum and with most of the fixed parts in Latin. I'm not what is popularly referred to as a "rad trad." I try to be optimistic, remembering the virtue of hope and the promise of Christ that He would guide and protect His Church.

I have gotten some opposition in the past for making use of labels which are perceived as unhelpful and divisive. I do think that labels are a good thing - they help us to draw distinctions and see order in things. I have argued that labels are necessary, and that if they didn't fulfill a valuable function nobody would in fact use them (see here). An interesting thing about labels is nobody minds labelling other groups but seems to get upset if they are labelled. Mainstream conservative Catholics have no problem identifying a particular parish or liturgy as "progressive." Homeschoolers are labellers, very quick to group kids kids according to whether they go to public school or are homeschooled and make decisions about who their own kids can fraternize with accordingly (and I, of course, a homeschooler and do this myself and think there is nothing wrong with it). These practices are not wrong, and those who engage in them consider them quite necessary. Of course not all public school kids are bad influences, but because nobody has the time to examine each case individually, we make a blanket judgment using a label that helps us to draw practical conclusions without having to delve into each individual case.

Back to the liberal crisis. I think one issue that kind of distinguishes the conservative from the traditionalist is how one deals with the liberal crisis. Everyone knows and acknowledges that liberals infiltrated the Church hierarchy and seminaries in the 40's and 50's and managed to hijack the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. Here I think a person like myself and most mainstream Catholic apologists would be in total agreement. The difference comes (in my opinion) in how one deals with this crisis. I feel that not only has the Church been crippled by a liberal crisis, but that the Church's response to liberalism has also been tainted or weakened by compromise with liberal principles.

In the 1960's, the Church faced an onslaught from the rising anti-Christian sentiment of that worst of all decades. In America Mass attendance was strong, but in Europe, still recovering from the economic and moral catastrophe of World War II, Mass attendance was already very low - I read somewhere that it was down to 2% in Spain in the 50's? Don't know if that is true, but it is a fact that Europe was already dying when the American Church was still vibrant.

Many in the Church, for various motives, believed that one reason the peoples of the West seemed disenchanted with Christianity was a perceived inaccesibility in the Church's worship. The celebration of the Mass was too distant and irrelevant to the daily turmoil of the average Christian, and so, they reasoned, in order to involve the laity better in the Christian life it would make sense to bring the Mass down to a level they could more easily grasp and identify with. To be fair, many of the reformers thought this would be an even trade: sure, there would be a simplification of the Church's liturgical rites, a "dumbing down," but most of the reformers who were sincere believed that in simplifying the liturgy they would attract much more interest and participation of the laity, who would then reinvigorate the worship of the Church and cause the liturgy to be more satisfying spiritually and intellectually. Some of the reformers (de Lubac, et. al) later saw the dangers inherent in this view, but at the time it was seen as a positive good by many to simplify the liturgy. This was viewed in terms of "restoring" the Roman rite to its pristine and antique dignity. Of course, this revised liturgy ultimately became the Novus Ordo Missae of Pope Paul VI.

The status of the Novus Ordo is an important bone of contention between traditionalists and more mainline conservative Catholics. There is, of course, much more to traditionalism than just disputes about the Novus Ordo, although that is usually front and center.

Some years ago on this blog I made the following statement:

"I used to defend Vatican II by saying, "I know there have been abuses done in the "spirit" of Vatican II, but the Council itself was necessary,"; now I believe the entire Council was utterly unneccesary and...wish to God it would have never occured."

I still believe that the Second Vatican Council was unneccessary and most of the legitimate reforms envisioned by the Council Fathers probably could have been carried out without the necessity of calling a Council. How do we know this? Because most of the changes in the past 40 years have indeed come after the Council. If radicals could cause so much chaos in the aftermath of the Council by committees, diocesan bureaucracies and the like, don't you think any legitimate reforms of the Church's life that would not have been so drastic could have likewise been carried out without a Council?

I also made the following statement:

"The Novus Ordo, while being a valid form of the Mass validly promulgated by the legitimate Second Vatican Council, was nevertheless a terrible idea. Not only the abuses but the Mass itself are wrought with grave omissions and ambiguities. The Traditional Mass of Pius V should be the normative Mass of the Roman Rite . . The surest route to a true restoration of Catholic Tradition is to restore the Rite of St. Pius V (ie, of Gregory the Great) as the missa normativa of the Roman Rite."

Like many traditionalist minded bloggers who took up blogging to vent their frustrations about the state of the Church, my earlier posts (this was from Nov. 2007) were partially motivated by anger and discontent, which are not good dispositions to have when you go posting stuff online! Had I written this post today, I would not have used such strong language, such as "wish to God [the Council] would have never occurred." However, I still believe that the Second Vatican Council, while I acknowledge everything it taught, represents a error in the prudential judgment of those running the Church in 1958.

Is this heresy? Dissent. I don't think so. To look at a fact of Church history and say "things would have been better had such-and-such never occurred" is not dissent or heresy - it is a judgment about the prudence of something, and we are all free to debate whether certain actions of the Church or hierarchy are prudent or not. I am faithful to the Church's discipline, and discipline says that communion can be received in the hand. I therefore have no right to deny what the Church allows - but I can say that the decision to make this allowance was a mistake, and even go so far as to say that it would be better had it never happened. While some may disagree with me on these types of arguments (and I think with regard to this most orthodox Catholics are on the same page at least), but we don't need to accuse each other of infidelity or dissent when we are simply giving our informed opinions on prudential decisions.

The Novus Ordo and Vatican II are obviously much broader topics, but I think the same principle applies. The timing was bad, despite the intentions of the Fathers. The mood of the Council was permeated by liberalism and the orthodox schemata were all systematically scrapped by a theologically progressive body of periti. Remember, the chaos following the Council was the result of implementation after the fact, but the liberal agenda was there from the first meetings of the first session.

The implementation of the Council was sloppy and confused and many of the documents, either of the Council itself or those that followed, were ambiguous (Davies' "time bombs"). There was a general mood in the entire Church of a radical break with the past, and I don't think it is a stretch to say that this mood came into the mainstream as a result of the Council. Regardless of the intent of the Council Fathers or Pope John, the result was that Catholics world wide thought the Council signified a throwing off of restraint, a view the implementers of the Council sought to strengthen. Consider this excerpt from an article on the history of my current parish, found in a parish-produced history pamphlet dated 1981:

Until recently, the forms of worship adhered to the Tridentine dictates of the Roman Catholic Church and reflected the Tridentine spirit of the church under siege by heretics...Happily, in the 1960's Pope John XXIII declared that the war and the siege were over.

Vatican II was perceived and still is perceived as a new beginning for the Church, completely cut off from what came prior. Not only did error and abuse creep in after Vatican II, but in the example above Vatican II is cited as the reason for these abuses. We can't go on forever just saying that the Council was "hijacked" after the fact - anybody who knows the history of the Council itself knows that the hijacking began on day one of the Council, not after it was closed. The silencing of Cardinal Ottaviani, the throwing out of the original schemata, the restructuring of the way the members of the committees were chosen - all of these occurrences point to a hijacking of the Council itself and occured in the very opening of the Council.

The proposed revision of the liturgical rites was part and parcel of this hijacking. I completely believe in the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo, but given what occurred prior to, during and after Vatican II, I have no regret in saying that this Council should never have been called. This new liturgy should have never been promulgated. Whatever good intentions or hopes the liturgical movement and the Fathers of the Council had for these things has been swallowed up in a sea of confusion, discord and abuses. Trent solidified and consolidated the ranks of the Church - why did Vatican II destabilize them? Let's say, for the sake of argument, we may have needed some liturgical reform - could it not have been brought about in a more gradual, organic way than the way it was? Was a Council necessary?

Suppose I go for a trip to the grocery store. Suppose on the way to the grocery store, I get in a car accident and trash my vehicle. Seeing the calamity that befell, I muse to myself, "It would have been better had I never made that trip. I should have stayed home." Is the trip itself bad? No - there's nothing wrong with going to the store. But regardless of whether or not it was okay to go to the store, the destruction that ensued as a result of me making the trip is enough to justify my assertion that it would have been better had I stayed home.

Once the Pope convokes an ecumenical Council, we are bound by its decrees. I have no qualms with that - but I don't have to acknowledge that the calling of that Council was in itself good, nor that the Novus Ordo which came afterwards was a great idea. In the 1985 "The Ratzinger Report", our Holy Father stated:

"Whoever accepts Vatican II, as it has clearly expressed and understood itself, at the same time accepts the whole binding tradition of the Catholic Church, particularly also the two previous councils . . . It is likewise impossible to decide in favor of Trent and Vatican I but against Vatican II" (The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985, 28-29, 31).

I cite this passage because it was once produced against my opinion to try to show that you cannot be a good Catholic and at the same time say that Vatican II was prudentiall a bad idea. I see no conflict with the Cardinal's statements and agree one thousand percent, if we are speaking on the level of authority. Vatican II is an ecumenical council the same as Trent. But two things need to be pointed out - the fact that all Councils are equal in authority does not mean all produce equally good results and that we need equally acclaim all Councils as equally good and prudent. Lateran IV is called the greatest council of the Middle Ages, and rightfully so. Nobody implies that other medieval councils somehow have less authority than Lateran IV, but Lateran IV clearly has a pride of place. It is because of the great success and fruits of Lateran IV that it is accorded this honor, without meaning to detract from the authority of other councils. Is Lateran IV more authorative than Lateran III? Not at all - but Lateran IV was much more successful and bore better fruits than Lateran III, which is virtually forgotten.

Second, we have to remember that, despite their close association, the Novus Ordo and Vatican II are not the same thing. The Novus Ordo was not promulgated until Advent of 1969. It is not part of the Council. The Council called for a revision of the liturgical books and laid the path for the Novus Ordo, but it is nevertheless distinct from the Council itself. This means, as far as I can tell, that one is free to call into question the prudence of the Novus Ordo without in any way impugning the authority of Vatican II, which ended four years before the Novus Ordo was promulgated.

I really and truly think that, despite whatever problems may have been lingering in the Church in 1958, things would have turned out better had the Council never been called and had the Church simply stuck with the traditional Mass. Once a liturgy is promulgated by the lawful authorities, we are bound to accept it - but we are not bound to accept the prudence of the decision to promulgate that liturgy in the first place. I for one would like to see some acknowledgement of this fact by those who tend to lump all traditionalists in with the Sedes and SSPX. The Holy Spirit guides the Church and protects it from promulgating error as truth; He doesn't protect it from making sloppy administrative or pastoral decisions, and there is nothing wrong with pointing this out.

So, forty years of the Novus Ordo this weekend. I can give the Novus Ordo its due, mind you. I have seen some extraordinarily reverent celebrations of the NO, at my own parish for starters. All the formative years of my faith have been in the NO and my spiritual life has been nourished by it. But witness the amazing transformation that it taking place today in the Church, three years after the Traditional Mass was unleashed with Summorum Pontificum! Traditional Latin Masses are sprouting up all over the world, bishops are starting to stand up for the faith, there is a renewed interest in Catholic identity, a better translation of the Mass texts and the fruits of Benedict XVI's thought on the liturgy are spilling over into more reverent celebrations of the NO all over the world. This is the type of renewal we need - and Benedict didn't need to call a Council to get it either (this is a fruits argument I can go for)!

I don't know what the future of the NO is. My gut tells me it is probably permanent. But no matter what, tradition will not be stopped. It is creeping back from the places it was driven in the 60's and 70's, reclaiming its rightful place in the Church, and many who in the past considered themselves mainstream Catholics but were ignorant of tradition are starting to have a real love for Catholic Tradition awakened in them. I began this post by talking about labels and their usefulness. Sometimes I draw distinctions between traditional Catholics and mainstream conservative Catholics (although I admit this distinction can be blurry, overlapping and not always helpful). Nevertheless, for my own personal experience, I say that the transition from being a mainstream orthodox Catholic to being a traditionalist came when I started to see tradition not only as a preference ("I happen to prefer Gregorian Chant to Haugen and Hass", as if they are both equally valid choices) but as a vital necessity. Those who do not call themselves traditionalists may disagree with this distinction, but those who have experienced this change first hand understand that there is a real shift in emphasis when one starts to become a traditionalist. One recent blurb in my combox read:

Boniface...I must say that your blog has been absolutely instrumental to my progression from Catholic conservatism to being a traditional Catholic...I've been able to read your reasoning on this blog and then see the practical reality and truth of your points when attending the TLM. So for that, I would like to say thank you and that you're in my prayers :)

Why do I cite this? There are those who say that orthodox, conservative Catholics and faithful, obedient traditionalists are really just the same thing. I'm not going to repeat my past mistake of trying to make generalizations about this, but in my own case, and in the case of this person quoted above, there is a definite difference between the two, one that one perhaps only notices once one starts to identify themselves as a traditionalist. I like the way the commentor calls it a "progression"; that's really what it is. There is a spectrum, and as long as the TLM exists at one end it will continue to influence the NO and everything else along that spectrum - including the persons who move along that spectrum.

My view of the Church is much more optimistic now than it was when I began this blog - the changes in three years have been amazing. The NO will remain, but it will probably look a lot different in the future. My guess is that over time the NO will take two divergent routes - one the one hand, the faithful will continue to explore the riches of tradition and the NO will gradually start to look more and more like the TLM; reverent celebrations of the NO will become the norm. Somewhere way down the line, it may be phased out or perhaps even merged with the TLM into something new. I don't think that would be ideal, but hey, it's happened before. On the other hand, those Catholics who hate tradition will continue to celebrate Masses irreverently, especially moreso as the Church rediscovers her identity. Their celebrations will finally become so irreverent as to become invalid and these branches will have to be supressed.

These are my prognostications for, I'd say, the next one hundred years. In the meantime, happy fortieth birthday Novus Ordo. The NO is starting to do what all people do - though liberal and radical when they are young, as they get older they see the wisdom of their forefathers and begin to become more conservative and traditional. That's the way I see the NO going in the future.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Concerning Monarchy

I just saw Boniface's post of last May in which he discusses a Monarchial Dilemma. I have only a couple of comments to make in that regard.

1. The first commenter (anonymous) stated that Otto von Habsburg is the last living descendant of Blessed Kaiser Karl I. This is simply not true. Otto is perhaps the last living child of the blessed Kaiser, but he is far from being the last living descendant. In the last count that I saw, he had 7 children, 23 grandchildren, and already 1 great-grandchild. Although Otto is still alive, his eldest son HI&RH Archduke Karl is already the titular Head of the Imperial family.

2. The commenter "Creary" mentioned St. Thomas' De Regno (one should also look at ST I-II 105.1 in which he basically describes constitutional monarchy as the best form of government) in response to Boniface's lament over not having found a good systematic presentation / apologetic for the superiority of monarchy. Unfortunately, I don't know of any modern works along those lines either, but I'll throw out there an even older source instead: St. Thomas draws on Aristotle's Politics; so might we. It should be no surprise, after all, that Aristotle treats this topic a bit more thoroughly than St. Thomas did, since the question of democracy vs. monarchy was a bit more pressing in ancient Greece than in Medieval Christendom.

3. WARNING: What follows should be taken cum grano salis since it may contain traces of peanuts. How's this for an apologetic for monarchy? Let's take as a premise that roughly 10% of a given population is really virtuous in the precise sense of being generally willing to act for the common good even against their own private good. The result will be that democracies will elect virtuous leaders 0% of the time while monarchies will produce virtuous leaders 10% of the time. Let me explain: in a democracy, people who are more interested in their own private good than in the common good will elect as leaders those who promise to provide for their private goods. The virtuous who would like to elect a virtuous leader will never gain more than 10% of the vote, and thus will fail 100% of the time. Arguing that 15% or 20% of men are really virtuous has no effect on the 100% failure rate. Only if one really thinks that 50% or more of the men of a population are virtuous can democracy function well.

In the case of a hereditary monarchy, however, roughly the same percentage of kings should be virtuous as of any other men, hence 10% of kings should be virtuous. Now whether one thinks that this percentage should be lower than that of the general populace because "power corrupts" or that it may sometimes be higher because of the thorough education in virtue that a good king will see that his son gets, and he his son, etc. matters little. Even on the most pessimistic view, a good king may at least once just happen to turn up, and in fact history shows us many examples of good kings.

The odds of having a virtuous king will thus always be at least 1% and more likely something like 10% while the odds of having a virtuous democratically elected leader will always be 0%. Therefore, monarchy is a superior form of government.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Medjugorje Rumblings

There has been a lot of rumblings about Medjugorje this fall from many different sources and on an amazingly broad spectrum: some of pro-Medjugorje crowd have been claiming that the (non)pilgrimage site is about to get a big endorsement from a visit by Cardinal Schönborn this December. On the other hand, there have been rumors in the Vatican that a very high level pronouncement about Medjugorje is about to be issued - before the end of 2009 - and that this pronouncement will probably be a condemnation of the alleged apparitions (this would make logical sense since every action the CDF and the Vatican has taken with regards to Medjurgoje connected issues in the past few years has been negative, as in here and here).

First, Cardinal Schönborn's visit. This news originally broke about ten days ago, and Medjugorje supporters immediately began trumpeting it as a victory for the cause of the apparitions. Schonborn has apparently supported them, even hosting one of the "seers" in his cathedral. It was reported (as here) that Schönborn was supposed to visit from December 8th to January 4th (a month long visit?). All the old quotations from Cardinal Ratzinger allegedly supporting Medjugorje were also brought back out, quotations which Ratzinger has said are "freely invented."

This has become somewhat embarassing for the Cardinal, who apparently was making the trip as a private individual and was a little chagrined that the news was leaked to the public, who immediately started taking it as a sign of support for the apparitions. The Cardinal's secretary, Fr. Johannes Fürnkranz, told CNA:

"It was supposed to be a completely private visit, it was not supposed to go out to the internet...The cardinal's visit was supposed to be absolutely personal and not public, but since it has been leaked, I can only confirm that it will take place. There is no statement whatsoever involved in the visit" (source).

In my opinion it is extraordinarily naive of the Cardinal to think that such a high-ranking ecclesiastic as himself could pull off a visit like this and have it kept private - he is also naive for thinking that a visit by such a high ranking member of the hierarchy would not be construed as support for the apparitions, especially since the Medjugorje movement has shown itself unscrupulous in the past when attempting the dredge up alleged support for itself from the Vatican (see here). At any rate, Schönborn probably shouldn't have arranged his visit in this manner anyway - there is protocol that must be followed when one bishop visits another bishop's territory, and at least it seems that Schönborn planned and announced this visit without notifying or consulting the Bishop of Mostar, Ratko Peric. This is just speculation, but this seems to be one reason why Schönborn got so upset when this was made public - Peric had not yet been informed or involved. It would be interesting to get Peric's opinion on the matter, since he has specifically stated that Medjugorje is not a shrine and has no business acting like one (see here). The announcement of Schönborn's visit, even if private, is an admission that the Cardinal is violating protocol. I personally have been suspicious of the prudential judgment of the Cardinal since this episode.

The controversy over the visit apparently prompted a leak from the CDF, in which an unnamed official reported the following, which was published by CNA on 11/11/09:

Speaking on background, an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told CNA that the Roman dicastery remains behind the bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"The local bishops have the ultimate authority on this matter, and their arguments against the alleged apparitions are doctrinally solid," the official said.

Asked if Medjugorje should not be judged by its fruits of many conversions and vocations to the Church, the official responded: "It is not the duty of this Dicastery to make a pastoral assessment, but a doctrinal one. But regarding the argument, it can equally be argued that God can write straight with crooked lines, just as it has been proven in several previous occasions with patently false apparitions"

By making the comparison between the fruits of Medjugorje and other "patently false apparitions" is the CDF making an allusion to the Vatican's mind in the matter? This brings us to our next news item regarding Medjurgorje: the rumors that the Vatican will issue a ruling on Medjugorje before the end of 2009. This I think is more than a rumor, for it was stated quite categorically by Cardinal Vinco Puljic, head of the Bosnian bishops' council (their UCSSB). He stated on October 7th, 2009:

"We are now awaiting a new directive on this issue. I don’t think we must wait for a long time, I think it will be this year, but that is not clear… I am going to Rome in November and we must discuss this (source).

This is exciting news, indeed. I wouldn't be surprised if there is some statement upon the issue on one of the major Marian feast days coming up - perhaps Immaculate Conception, Guadalupe (which would eb especially fitting since Guadalupe is a true Marian apparition as opposed to these false ones, and it would send the signal that the Bosnian bishops are not against Marian apparitions per se, as is often claimed), or maybe January 1st.

Let's hope this is more than just rumors - and if so, given the actions of the CDF with regards to Fr. Vlasic, the new directives on Medjugorje from Mostar and the unswerving support of the Vatican for the local Bosnian bishops, I think we can safely say what way a ruling would fall.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How much are you taxed?

For several months now I have kept a very detailed, itemized account of every penny my family spends in attempt to reign in our spending to the most frugal level possible. I have a spreadsheet file of every single expenditure down to the cents, with everything placed into one of fifteen categories. I thought it would be interesting, given the present waste of tax-payer money going on, to take these records, plus information from my pay stubs, mortgage statements and other forms to find out exactly how much I pay in taxes every year and to where it goes. Here's the breakdown:

Taxes Paid Yearly

Property Tax = $2870

Income Tax, Social Security, Medicaid, etc. = $4800

License Plate Renewal = $90

Gas Tax (in Michigan, $0.62 per gallon - see here for your state's rate) = $892

Taxes on my phone bill = $240

Sales Tax (6% in Michigan) = $1322

Ten cent bottle deposit on bottled/canned drinks = $54

Total Amount of Taxes I Pay in a Single Year =

$10, 268

This amount represents almost 32% of my income. Granted, I get most of the income tax back, but that still leaves about $5800 per year in taxes I don't get back, or close to 18% of my income. When people talk about how much they pay in taxes, they are often only referring to the income tax. But if you were to add up every type of tax you pay, as I have above, what would your total be? And more importantly, do you think it is a just amount? Is it just that one in the second to lowest tax bracket, like myself, has to give away over one third of my earnings in taxes?

I know the government has the right to collect taxes, but if someone in the lower brackets, like myself, ends up giving over 32%, what does someone in the middle brackets whose income tax alone in 25% pay when you factor in sales tax, property, gas, etc.?

Just a thought...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Doctrinal Minimalism

Sometime ago I did a post on Athanasius Contra Mundum in which I made reference to something called "doctrinal minimalism", which I cited as hurtful to the Church and associated with those who are zealous, orthodox Catholics but whose understanding of the history of the Church and the Church's Tradition were somewhat lacking. Dave Armstrong did a counter-post in which he questioned the use of this phrase "doctrinal minimalism." He asked:

What is "doctrinal minimalism"? What apologist is advocating this? It makes more sense as applied to liturgical matters....How "minimal" must one's views be to be classified in this way, liturgy-wise?

This is a fair question for Dave to raise. Often we hear only about liturgical minimalism (as here). I intend not to rebut Dave Armstrong (I think he had some good critiques of my post and I can grant some of his points); rather, I am seeking here to elucidate a point I raised in another post but failed to elaborate on in the time. As it could give rise to misunderstanding, I hope to clear it up here.

First, I admit that, as far as I know, I invented the phrase "doctrinal minimalism", so I am not surprised that Armstrong, or anyone else for that matter, would question me about it. On this blog I frequently discuss trends and ideas in the Church and sometimes classify them according to my own terminology. I've always maintained that my blog is a place, among other things, to throw ideas out and discuss them. I've never maintained that I'm publishing scholarly, peer-reviewed material here; it's a blog, for crying out loud. I do try to give my posts a touch of professionalism and research (who wouldn't want to?), but at the end of the day they are just my own beliefs and opinions in my own words.

But though I think I coined this phrase "doctrinal minimalism", it refers to a real phenomenon in the Church. Just as liturgical minimalism is an attitude towards the liturgy which sees the bare essentials as being good enough, so doctrinal minimalism is an attitude towards doctrine which takes as important only the bare minimum and nothing more.

How does doctrinal minimalism look in practice? I frequently give talks on a variety of topics to different groups; when I do these talks, I always draw from many sources, such as the Catechism and the Bible, but also the lives of the saints, writings of the Fathers and St. Thomas and other eminent theologians. One time (I don't recall the topic, but I think it was eschatology), a woman kept raising her hand every time I said that something was a long-held tradition of the Church and would ask, "Is that in the Catechism?" Sometimes what I was speaking about was in the Catechism, other times it wasn't; she told me that "If you can't show it to me in the Catechism, you shouldn't be saying it." She seemed to have a "Catechism alone" understanding of theology.

I explained to her that the Catechism, while being a sure norm for the faith and an excellent exposition of the faith, does not in itself exhaust the faith. There is much more to Catholicism than just what is in the Catechism. To be sure, the CCC has all of the essentials - Creed, Commandments, Sacraments, Prayer - but it doesn't contain the fullness of the Church's doctrinal, moral and mystagogical tradition. Catechisms are meant to be summaries, not exhaustive expositions. She seemed to accept this and was satisfied, but it got me thinking about this question of the degree to which one can get to the real heart of Catholic Tradition through the CCC alone.

An example - a few weeks ago, my pastor was looking for a list of the works of mercy, but to his surprise found that the list in the CCC does not mention praying for the dead as a spiritual work of mercy. At first we could not believe this, but it is true: in 1473 we are urged to do works of mercy; in 2447 the works are listed, but only six spiritual works of mercy are enumerated: praying for the dead is omitted. Paragraphs 958 and 1032 instruct us to pray for the dead, but not in the context of the works of mercy. If we were to go by the CCC alone, we would completely miss the fact that there are seven, not six works of mercy. Yet I would say that the seven spiritual works of mercy, with praying for the dead among them, are a firm part of Tradition, something that can be taught and asserted regardless of whether or not the CCC happens to mention one of them.

Perhaps this is a typo or innocent mistake; I'm willing to bet it is. However, the problem is not with the CCC, but with an approach to it that assumes that it is exhaustive, and that if you can't "show it to me in the Catechism" then it is not important and is therefore dispensable. The Catechism just gives us an introduction to the basics of the faith and points us to a further learning and understanding - we ought not to confuse the starting point for the end. Granted, the Catechism is rich and in itself is an excellent study, but it is not the fullness of Catholic dogma. This is because (and perhaps Trads would part ways with other Catholics here), just because something is not defined de fide or part of the CCC does not mean that it is dispensable; in popular terminology, the "small-t traditions", though not always infallible or irreformable, are not therefore simply dispensable.

An example is Church architecture - traditional architectural principles were in practice jettisoned in the 1960's and 70's on the belief that architecture was extrinsic to the faith; after a generation of horrid architecture and its liturgical and doctrinal consequences, I don't think any orthodox Catholic would today argue that architecture isn't important. The whole experience of the 60's, 70's and their aftermath teaches us that things assumed to be extrinsic to the faith are actually more integral to it than we thought. Bad architecture really can damn souls, depending on what sort of practices and beliefs it leads to.

No faithful Catholic wants a bare-bones liturgy where the norm is the least - likewise, we shouldn't content ourselves with an intellectual apprehension of our faith that is content with just the bare minimum, with solely the CCC. We shouldn't take a sola scriptura approach to the Catechism or stand on it like a Protestant on the Bible; I am not denigrating the CCC by any means, but only pointing out that it's not the entirety of the faith.

In my original post I stated the belief that perhaps Protestant converts are responsible for this mentality in places - I think now that this is too great a generalization in order to be of any constructive use. Instead, I would challenge all of us to simply go further. Study the CCC, but look what the CCC references in its margins and citations. What do these documents say? And what earlier documents were these documents inspired by and built on? What did the Fathers say? One great weakness of the CCC (in my opinion) is that it tends to reference in the majority only Conciliar and post-Conciliar documents; it would be good for any Catholic to round this out with a thorough study of the Fathers and the Medievals.

Does doctrinal minimalism exist? Absolutely, and I think liturgical minimalism leads to it. This explanation is just a rough essay, I know; perhaps it can be refined and fleshed out more in the future. But I definitely think there is a danger of reducing our beliefs to just a few important essentials and not taking in the fullness of what our Tradition has passed on to us. For me, being a Traditionalist is just about bringing in the whole of our Tradition to bear on our life and outlook - so for me its not about the specifics; not about just the TLM, or the pro multis, or the music (although all these things are important) - it's more about just being part of the entirety of Catholic teaching and practice, past and present. I'm sure there are many Catholics who adopt this position who don't consider themselves Trads, and some Trads who think this is too simplistic and explanation. Let every man define or not define himself as he sees fit; I can only speak for myself.

Related Articles: On the Need for Theological Precision, What is Traditionalism?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Flashback: Vatican official says Traditional Anglican Union "unlikely"

In response to the new norms for the reception of Anglicans into communion with Rome, I went back and dug up this article from Feb. 2009 in which some Vatican spokesman says that such a union would be very unlikely. Quite amusing, and a testament to how little some Vatican spokesmen actually know about what is going on.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Problems of Multiple Authorship

In many books of the Old Testament, such as Daniel, Isaiah and especially the Pentateuch, it has become commonplace among scholars to attribute the authorship of these books to multiple authors (First and Second Isaiah, or especially J,E,D and P in the Pentateuch). I have in the past stated my opinion that these multiple authorship theories subtly undermine faith (see here and here). One commentator stated in the combox to one of these posts:

"I agree with the idea that scholarly concepts as the Documentary Hypothesis or multiple authorship of Isaiah are potentially detrimental to the idea of a consistent and unitary Revelation, I still don't think that there's a necessary link between the two. In other words, it's hard for me to see what difference it makes how many people over however long a period of time wrote the book of Isaiah, so long as we are guaranteed that the ultimate author of its content is God and that He will guide the Church to the true meaning of the text."

This is a fair question. Though I have maintained the traditional authorship of Isaiah by a prophet of the same name living in the 8th century BC, what difference does it make to Revelation if in fact the book was a compilation of two or more authors? In the first place, I point to the Pontifical Biblical Commission's 1908 statement on Isaiah that there is no good reason to doubt a single authorship (see here). But beyond this statement, how does asserting a second author to Isaiah in particular (or multiple authors to any biblical book in general) undermine faith? In the words of the commentator, where is the "necessary link" between multiple authorship and heterodoxy?

I personally think the link is not in the fact of multiple authors, but of the chronology one builds around those alleged authors. There is nothing inherently wrong with postulating multiple authors of the Scriptures. At the minimum, we already have 50+ human authors to the Bible, probably a ton more if you factor in scribal additions to the Old Testament throughout the centuries. What is the real difference whether we posit 50 authors or 75 authors? The Church acknowledges that God inspired these authors, and so who they are is not entirely of that much importance in and of itself (although I would suggest identity is much more critical in the New Testament). Was II Samuel the work of a single scribe or mutliple scribes over decades? These type of questions, in and of themselves, are not problematic.

They do become problematic in two cases, however (1) When the book in question is prophetic in nature, and when (2) positing additional authors causes us to shift the date of the composition of the book to beyond the events prophesied.

Say we take the Book of Daniel. Daniel traditionally was composed during the period of the Exile, sometime between 550-450 BC. However, the book prophesies many events that do not occur until the time of Alexander and then some things that occur in the time of Christ. Now, suppose we look at these prophecies from an anti-supernaturalist viewpoint by assuming that they could not be legitimate. If we take this as our axiom, then the only way we can explain away these prophecies (which would otherwise be miraculous) is by saying that the prophetic portions of the book must have been written in what is called ex eventu ("after the event") narration. This means there must have been a second author who added to the book of Daniel, in a sense writing prophecy backwards to make it look like Daniel had made accurate prophecies when in fact they were written by some other person after the events prophesied had already come to pass (see this article on Daniel's historicity).

Now we have come to a place where the assertion of a second author causes a real problem, for by saying that this second author came centuries later and added ex eventu prophetic portions to Daniel, we are in effect denying the supernatural prophecies of the book and thereby denying the supernatural nature of revelation; Daniel (or Isaiah, or whatever) clearly says such-and-such is a prophecy still to come, but by positing a second author, we offer a naturalistic explanation for the prophecy and rob these passages of their supernatural character.

Interestingly enough, the PBC condemns this thinking in the same response in which it deals with the question of Second-Isaiah. The following position is condemned:

That the predicitions read in the Book of Isaiah-and throughout the Scriptures-are not predictions properly so called, but either narrations put together after the event, or, if anything has to be acknowledged as foretold before the event, that the prophet foretold it not in accordance with a supernatural revelation of God who foreknows future events, but by conjectures formed...and shrewdly by natural sharpness of mind...

Regarding Isaiah in particular one notices an abundance of prophecy. The Exile and return are foretold; the name of the king who would issue the edict of return is stated (Cyrus); future judgments on Egypt and the nations are described that later come to pass, not to mention all of the Messianic prophecies found throughout Isaiah. Now, if Isaiah prophesies the Exile to Babylon and the return, this is truly miraculous, given that these events did not occur until almost two hundred years after Isaiah. But if we say there was a Second Isaiah writing after the exile, then we can just say "ho hum" when the book makes these prophecies, for we have vacuumed out the supernatural, or in the words of the PBC, asserted that the alleged prophecies are simply "narrations put together after the event." And this is what Second Isaiah is all about; do a simple Wikipedia search on "Deutero-Isaiah" and you will find this explanation:

Passages of Isaiah 40-66 contain some events and details that did not occur in Isaiah's own lifetime, such as the rise of Babylon as the world power, destruction of Jerusalem, and the rise of the Persian king Cyrus the Great and his destruction of Babylonian Empire.On the other hand, the first section of Isaiah saw the destruction of Babylon at the hands of the Medes and the Elamites(13:1-20, 21:2) . This is generally explained by either considering Isaiah to have been given such information by divine means, or by considering the later sections of the book to be, not written by Isaiah, but written by those who lived later than Isaiah himself. Those that reject the supernatural revelation of God's foreknowledge to Isaiah hold to the second explanation and the mainstream scholarly understanding.

Therefore, yes, positing multiple authors can be very damaging to faith, if they involve prophetic books and chronologies.

Is there ever a licit recourse to multiple authorship? Sure. The PBC said, in its day, it saw no reason to posit more authors for Isaiah, and nor do I. That's not to say there couldn't have been, only that the PBC saw no necessity in arguing for them. But let's say that maybe Isaiah dictated his prophecies to a series of scribal pupils who compiled them over several decades. This is highly possible and would account for various stylistic variations. Let's say Isaiah wrote half of it and the latter portion was composed by pupils after his death who nevertheless heard his words, just like Aquinas' pupils finished the Summa for him. That is plausible, too. But if you are going to say that it was added to centuries later by persons who wrote in prophecies retroactively, then that is damaging to faith.

So, to answer the commentator, it is not simply sufficient to say one the one hand that we believe the author is God and that the Church gets the true context if, on the other hand, we take up critical exegetical positions that lead us to deny everything supernatural about the book.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

I'm sorry I haven't had anything more substantial lately - I am going to be very busy in the upcoming week with a student observation, so I probably won't get a lot of time to post. Check back next week, and raise a mug of ale to Guy Fawkes and to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

All Saints Day Pics

Here's two pictures of me with my son at our parish's All Saints Day party last week. He obviously is St. Francis - I am my 85 year old alter ego, Walter Grabowski. I know he's not a saint, but I had no other costume.

EU ratifies Lisbon

This week the European Union finally, after eight long years of floundering, managed to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, which effectually strengthens the power of the EU, establishes a two and a half year presidency instead of the 6 month rotating presidency, gives much more political clout to the bloc and creates an astonishingly complex gaggle of new bureaucratic positions (the EU president alone will have 3,500 workers immediately under him).

The Treaty is not the final step in creating a United States of Europe, but it brings them a great deal closer. It does call for a single EU currency by 2020, even in states (like Britain) that have rejected such proposals in the past.

I think Christians should be inherently opposed to such schemes - and I do not use the word "inherently" lightly. In my opinion, we should have a default attitude of skepticism and mistrust towards any centralization or conglomeration of states into such blocs. The technology is so advanced, the mores so anti-Christian, the human heart so prone to corruption that these experiments cannot end in a way favorable to Christians. Perhaps I am not as enthusiastic about giant multi-national entities as the Vatican apparently is. Centralization and conglomeration are two of the biggest ills of the modern age - we need things broken up and individualized, not conglomerated.

It is not surprising that the EU, at the same time that it is being given more teeth is also trampling on the religious traditions of Italy. In a new ruling out of Strasbourg, an EU court is commanding Italy to remove crucifixes from their classrooms so as to avoid offending non-Christian students. The order has sparked outrage in Italy (see here). Rocco Buttiglione, a former culture minister, said, “This is an abhorrent ruling. It must be rejected with firmness. Italy has its culture, its traditions and its history. Those who come among us must understand and accept this culture and this history.”

I happen to agree with Buttiglione, but I have to ask him whether or not this is not what you get when you bargain away your sovereignty to foreign multi-national courts? Protest as they might, the Italians have gotten themselves into this mess by going along with this EU debacle. This ought to be a sign to all those in the Vatican who are still clinging to the notion that a one world government or a stronger EU or UN would be beneficial - these institutions are fundamentally anti-Christian and will only use their influence to destroy Christian culture.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Authority of Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur

One of the most puzzling things for new Catholics is sorting out the various degrees of authority within the Church and understanding from whence different "official" statements they come. This happens a lot with the media, as well, as when some Vatican official gives his opinion in an interview, which is later touted as the view of "the Vatican." For someone who really hasn't learned that much about the hierarchy and degrees of authority, how are you to react when somebody takes a questionable book and flashes its Imprimatur. To the new Catholic, this Imprimatur is impressive because it is an "official" statement that comes from "the Church." One reader came across this exact problem in an RCIA class. This following is from a question in the combox:

In the New American Catholic Study Bible, 2nd Edition, there is commentary in the reading guide that says that the taking of Jericho, Ai and Gibeon were not historical events. I was given this text along with a paragraph out of a New Jerome that I do not have handy since I do not have my own New Jerome. My question to you is, what exactly is Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur because this Study Bible claims both. I need to know if the Reading Guide in a Study Bible holds the same authority as a standard Bible or an Encyclical. If it does, then what? -Michael

The question originally came in the combox of the series on the Book of Joshua, and for the full context please see the comments after the post Genocide in Joshua Part 3 (the whole series is linked up on the sidebar). Basically, Michael's RCIA instructor told him that the Book of Joshua was not historical, citing certain battles that (according to this instructor) never happened. When Michael protested that he thought the Book of Joshua was in fact historical, he was referred to the NAB Bible commentary that says it is not and the instructor used the fact that the NAB has a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur as evidence to browbeat him into accepting the NAB commentary as Church dogma.

First off, the NAB has its own peculiar set of problems, specifically what my co-blogger in absentia Anselm has called a "poisonous" commentary - I recommend this article from 2007 on the NAB commentary and some of its errors. My own pastor, when he came to our parish, removed all the NAB's and stored them in a box because he didn't know what to do with them. On the one hand, the primary text was the (slightly mistranslated) Word of God, so he felt it would be wrong to destroy them; but ont he other hand, the commentary was heretical, so they were dangerous to leave out. He ended up actually burying them in the parish cemetery in their own plot! I imagine he had the verses from 1 Maccabees 4:44-46 in mind...

At any rate though, regarding Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur. Any book dealing with theology, Catholic morality or anything written by a cleric is supposed to get these before going to print. Both of these declarations are given at the diocesan level under the competency of the local bishop. In brief, a Nihil Obstat is a declaration from a theologian called the Censor Librorum that a book is free from doctrinal or moral error - it literally means "Nothing Hinders." If the bishop's Censor Librorum grants the Nihil Obstat, then the Bishop, in his name and by his episcopal powers, confers the Imprimatur, which means "let it be printed." The Imprimatur is the result of the Nihil Obstat -i.e., "Nothing hinders", therefore, "let it be printed." Both can be taken as gurantees that the book is free from moral or doctrinal error, but because the Imprimatur comes directly from the Bishop and is the final step in the printing process, it is commonly considered to be more authoritative, though I'm not sure whether or not this is true.

Many works will include this statement:

"The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur agree with the content, opinions or statements expressed."

Notice the statement says only that it is free from doctrinal or moral error - this means that what is contained in the book may still be completely false; however, as long as it doesn't contradict faith or morals, the Imprimatur can still be granted. For example, a book on Church history might errantly and ignorantly report the commonly stated canard that 9 million people were killed in the Inquisition. This is a completely false statement, but it does not conflict with faith or morals (just common sense) and so the book could still get the Imprimatur.

Furthermore, we should understand that since these declarations come from the Diocesan Bishop, they can ultimately only be as good and reliable as the Bishop who grants them. This is the key principle to keep in mind with these declarations. They are not authoritative statements of the Magisterium, nor are they in the least bit protected by the charism of infallibility. They are the opinions of a private theologian (the Censor Librorum) and the official declaration of the Bishop, who in most cases is simply going along with what the Censor Librorum says.

If a Bishop is a solid theologian or good repute and orthodox disposition, then you have every reason to implicitly trust the Imprimatur - however, even that does not mean that what you find in the book is not errant, especially in your example (historical facts relating to archaeology). An Imprimatur issued by a very unorthodox Bishop would be suspect by that fact alone - remember, as stated above, these declarations are extensions of the Bishop's own ideas of what is acceptable and what is not. They are only as reliable as the Bishops who issue them and possess no inherent protection from error.

To bring it back to your case - the fact that the NAB has an Imprimatur does not in any way sanction the historical accuracy (or inaccuracies) of the commentary. It merely means that nothing in the commentary contradicts the official teaching of the Church - which might not even be the case depending on who granted it. Therefore, I would continue to protest the ignorant and dishonest ruse of persons who try to say that the historical books of the Old Testament are not historical. In general, denying the historicity of certain parts of the Scriptures is a method of modernists to undermine the spiritual authority of the Bible. Please see this post for more on these tendencies within Bible commentaries.

I hope this helps, Michael.