Thursday, April 29, 2010

St. Catherine of Siena and Gregory XI


Today is the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, one of the greatest Doctors of the Church. Catherine was the 23rd child out of a family of 25 and turned aside from marriage to pursue a life of consecrated service to our Lord, to whom she was mystically wedded. Throughout her life she was involved in many worldly affairs as a mediator, even in matters of great importance such as territorial disputes between the pope and the other Italian cities. One of the things she is most remembered for is her role in ending the Avignon papacy by admonishing Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome.

It is well attested in history that Pope Gregory XI ultimately chose to move the papal seat from Avignon back to Rome because of the prayers and petitions of St. Catherine (1376). This is interesting, because here we have an example of a saint disagreeing with the pope's management of the affairs of the Church; she clearly thought the residence of the Successor of St. Peter in the French city of Avignon was a bad thing for the Church, and that even if Gregory XI thought otherwise, she still thought it prudent, even meritorious, to charitably yet firmly insist that the pontiff bring about a drastic change of affairs. One thing she certainly did not do is sit back and accept the idea of a pope at Avignon under the idea that popes can't make prudential errors. On the contrary, she saw Gregory XI making a prudential error by residing in Avignon and thought it fitting to charitably correct him. She did not assume that every prudential judgment the pope made was of the Holy Spirit, otherwise she would not have corrected him.

It is interesting to note that if St. Catherine disapproved of Gregory XI's residency at Avignon, she must have implicitly disapproved of the entire course the Church had been following for the previous seventy years, since the papal residency at Avignon had been a reality since Clement V (1309). She disagreed not only with the actions of a single pontiff but with something that had become an entrenched ecclesiastical policy. Yet the fact that she was going against seventy years of precedent didn't stop her; perhaps some tried to tell her that her efforts were fruitless, that this was "the way of the future." Yet this made no difference to her.

Many of you can see where I am going with this - if one of our greatest saints and doctors of the Church can admonish a pope that his prudential judgment in governing the Church is errant, and be praised for it, why is there a stigma attached to questioning prudential judgments of the popes today in their governance of the Church?

At this point, some will immediately jump in and say, "How arrogant! You are not a saint! You are not Catherine of Siena! St. Catherine may have corrected the pope, but she was a saint and a very holy woman. You Traditionalists, on the other hand, are just a bunch of nobody bloggers and nit-pickers with no authority whatsoever."

This is true - we are not saints, nor are we Catherine of Siena. Nor do we have any "authority" (yet neither did St. Catherine, a lay person who was illiterate). Even so, I don't think this argument carries a lot of weight. It is true that sometimes saints do things that the rest of us would not normally be bold enough to do. But on the other hand, when looking at what St. Catherine did, we ought not to think, "She can do that because she is a saint" but rather ask ourselves what St. Catherine's justification for doing so at the time would be.

What I mean is this: If we were to time travel back to 1376 and ask St. Catherine, "Why did you think it was acceptable for a layperson such as yourself (remember, she was only a Dominican tertiary) to question the pope's governance of the Church and even admonish him?" Do you think she would say to us, "Well, it's okay for me to do it because I am a saint." Do saints talk like that? Do saints give as justification for their own actions the fact that they are holy? Of course not! Anybody who has read any lives of the saints knows that saints, even though they do eccentric things, never do them for the reason that "they are a saint." Saints don't know they are saints; they honestly don't believe they are saints, and this is never a justification in their own mind for their actions. Can you imagine Catherine saying, "I'm a saint, so I can admonish the pope; but you? No, you can't because you are not holy like me." Saints think of themselves as lower than others and would be more likely to excuse somebody else doing something rather than justify themselves for doing it. St. Catherine, in her humility, never would have accepted an interpretation of her actions that said, "She can do that because she's a saint and we're not."

So what would she answer if we put the question to her? She would certainly say, "I did it because it was the right thing to do," or something along those lines. And acting out of a care for what is right and good is precisely what goes into the making of a saint. St. Catherine told Gregory XI to go back to Rome because it was right and just for her to do so, because it was right for the pope to reside in Rome, not Avignon. And she would have been happy if anyone else would have done so as well; in fact, she might have preferred someone else do it. Saints typically see themselves as the least worthy to undertake any meritorious deed, especially the weighty sort of political affairs Catherine was enmeshed in throughout her life.

One other point to consider about this affair - isn't one reason saints are made saints is so that we might imitate their conduct? Saints are role models. Now does it make any sense to say, "Yes, St. Catherine is an exemplary role model. If you follow her path, you will attain sanctity; oh, except, there's this one thing she did that you must never do." One could ask, "If I want to be a saint, and she is a model, why should I not imitate her in this one thing?" They might respond, "Because she is a saint and you are not." Hmm...but isn't imitating the saints the way to become a saint??? One cannot simultaneously advocate imitating a saintly person while at the same time forbidding their imitation on the grounds that they are saintly and you are not. It makes  very little sense.

Okay, so I'm not saying we ought to all jump out of our chairs and start sending the pope a list of things we think he ought to do. I am saying that we need to examine our own history and tradition and see how saints and holy persons of old acted when they were convinced that the ecclesiastical authorities were making prudential decisions that they thought harmful to the Church. If we do so, I think we will see that not infrequently in Church history we come across saints admonishing and even rebuking popes and authorities when they make bad choices. Furthermore, we ought not to treat these examples as exceptions that were right for the saints but somehow wrong for us. One reason the saints are saints because their conduct is praiseworthy, and if their conduct is praiseworthy then it is worthy of imitation. Given this example, and others like it, no Catholic should have any excuse for questioning the orthodoxy or loyalty of any other Catholic who sincerely thinks the hierarchy or the pope may have made a prudential error in his governance of the Church or accuse such Catholics of arrogance, as if it's arrogant for one class of persons but praiseworthy for St. Catherine.

Therefore, when we do find these examples from history of saints admonishing or correcting popes, I don't think we need to be cowed into silence by those who would accuse us of arrogance by saying, "You're not a saint!" I certainly don't claim to be a saint, but I do know that St. Catherine, when she was petitioning the pope to change his judgment, wasn't doing it "because she was a saint"; she was doing it because it was right to do, and one never has to be ashamed of doing what is right so long as it is done in charity and sincerity.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mass Marketing Mysticism

A while back I came across this very excellent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Ross Douthat entitled "Mass Market Epiphany" on the way in which Americans have taken mysticism, which is the most interior and personal element of religious experience, and turned it into a mass market phenomenon. With clarity that is unusual in the mainstream media, this columnist states quite plainly that what currently passes for mysticism in America is no substitute for true, radical mysticism; true mysticism is intense and transcendent, while ours tends to be "a pleasant hobby rather than a transformative vocation." Perhaps I am giving this columnist too much credit for his insightfullness; after all, he is basically repeating what Luke Timothy Johnson said in "Commonweal" in a February 2010 article called "Dry Bones" on the struggle between the exoteric and esoteric religious traditions in Christianity, Islam and Judaism (here). At any rate, it was refreshing to see somebody outside of the Catholic circle make this observation.

Both Douthat and Johnson accurately state that mysticism is engaged in a "war" with what could be termed the more exoteric (or, activist) elements of religion - those elements that are centered on the world, this life and charitable deeds; what traditional Catholics have described as the "horizontal" approach to the Faith. It is undeniable that this has been the trend in Christianity for the past several decades - even longer in the Protestant traditions. Johnson says, "Bit by bit Christianity has succumbed to the worldview of modernity, which rejects and even ridicules the notion that a life of renunciation can be a pilgrimage toward God. With the collapse of a miracle-saturated world comes the loss of a robust sense of future life counterbalancing our present “Vale of Tears.” In the eyes of modernity, the very concept of self-renunciation appears as a form of psychopathology."

This is interesting because, despite this obvious movement away from true mysticism in Christianity (and in religion in general), polls consistently reflect that Americans consider themselves far more spiritual today than ever before. While only 22 percent of Americans reporting having a "religious or mystical experience" in 1962, that number has jumped to 50% today. Even as numbers for church attendance drop across the spectrum,  more and more Americans, many of them ex-Catholics, are describing themselves as "spiritual but not religious." How are we to understand the apparent contradiction of less and less of a connection with traditional religious piety while more and more people are describing themselves as spiritual?

The answer must be that people are fooling around with spirituality outside of the traditional religious channels - they are pursuing the experiential element of religion without reference or context to the great traditions of the Church and the Christian mystics.

But this begs the following question: If people are seeking mystical experience apart from the traditional forms of piety, how can they have the sought after experience since the traditions of the Faith provide the framework and the necessary ascesis for how to become a mystic? Obviously, they can't - you can't become a Christian mystic without the framework of Christianity standing behind the experiential. To the degree that people do pursue mysticism apart from traditional dogma, the result is a shallow, flighty esoteric that also perverts the exoteric. Johnson says:

"In Christianity, the “new Gnosticism” espoused by devotees of labyrinths and self-realization workshops eschews the dogmas of Christianity as “underevolved.” Such deracinated forms of mysticism remain oddly superficial precisely because they draw no nourishment from the great exoteric traditions...Christian mysticism that finds no center in the Eucharist or the Passion of Christ drifts into a form of self-grooming. In a paradoxical fashion, it was the exoteric frame that enabled the esoteric to dig into deep soil rather than float off into vaporous fantasy."

So the exoteric and the esoteric stand in need of each other; the latter needs the former to keep from drifting into "vaporous fantasy" while the former needs the latter to ensure that it does not become an empty formalism, a simple "plan for organizing society" with purely worldly ends.

Unfortunately, Americans have tended to do to mysticism what they have done with everything else: "democratized it, diversified it, and taken it to mass market" says Douthat in his New York Times piece. If you walk into any Barnes & Noble, you can go to the religious section and find books that give practical guidance on how to develop your "spirituality" and become a mystic, as if becoming a mystic was a matter of reading a book in your spare time and adopting a few surface changes to your routine rather than a life-changing effort that requires God's grace and the wisdom and experience that can only come from years of struggle and insight, and often suffering. The mystics of the Christian tradition attained their stature by cultivating an extraordinarily rich interior life of contemplation, something that could never be taught in a single book let alone mass marketed to the general populace; even the mystical books of our saints like Interior Castle or the Ascent of Mount Carmel do not claim to be some one-size-fits-all program for those desiring to be mystics; they are rather reflective interior journals of the trials and experiences of individual souls. If general rules can be drawn from them, well and good, but the saints would have been horrified at the thought of someone using their life and experiences the way we use a Julia Child cookbook.The few books that do claim to be a general programme for the spiritual life, such as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, require a level of commitment and discernment that one cannot cultivate without a deep grounding in prayer and Christian orthodoxy.

Besides, as any saint would tell you, the greatest sign that one is not worthy or fit to be a mystic is a strong evidence of the desire to be one. None of the saints wanted to have "mystical experiences"; they wanted to love God, and the experiences followed as unsought after, but welcome, consolations. Furthermore, because their faith was not about having these experiences, they did not suffer loss of faith when the experiences dried up. Rather, the removal of tangible consolations often served to refine and deepen their faith. Compare this to a modern yuppie, bourgeoisie "mystic", who will most likely quit any spiritual endeavor after a brief period if they don't "get anything" out of it.

Modern Christian mysticism (and by this I mean mysticism divorced from tradition and discipline) is wimpy and completely divorced from its complement: asceticism. No Christian saint has attained mysticism without asceticism, yet this is precisely what modern Americans are trying to do: have a mystical experience without  any ascesis. Douthat says in his piece, "The closest most Americans come to real asceticism is giving up chocolate, cappucinos or meat for lunch in Lent...by making mysticism more democratic, we've also made it more bourgeois, more comfortable, more dilettantish."

I have said it before - what we desperately need today is radical renunciation. In the 13th century St. Francis, appalled by the worldliness and greed of his environment, decided that what was needed to truly reform society and return souls to God was a very radical sort of poverty that had not been practiced in the West before the rise of the Mendicant orders. Francis believed that a radical, extreme example was needed to shock 13th century Assisi out of its mercantile, bourgeois slumber. And his formula proved effective,;effective enough to revivify the Church in Italy and across Europe and usher in the greatest period of Catholic history in Christendom.

Here is my recipe for renewal today: We need men who are willing to renounce everything and go into the wilderness, like the hermits of old. Faithful, orthodox men who, without joining a religious order or attaching themselves to a certain diocese, renounce all their possessions, wear their beards long and their hands dirty, and go out into the wilderness, eking out a penitential life of bare subsistence on isolated hillsides, in wooded freeway medians and other out of the way places. These men need to be radical in their commitment to God and to renunciation - absolutely devoted to prayer and the interior life, making a living only by begging and scavenging - a new breed of mendicants inspired by the zeal of the Desert Fathers. Their habits will be filthy, their hair disheveled, their eyes wild and the love of God burning in their hearts. They need to be living rebukes to the materialism and activism of this age, even the activism of some of the established religious orders. When one encounters them we ought to feel like we are running into something from the Middle Ages. I say we need hundreds, if not thousands, of men to take up this kind of life. We need radical examples to remind us of what true renunciation is - it is essential for all of us to have these examples - even our ordinary belief must in some way depend on the presence of extraordinary exemplars.

Without examples of radical renunciation, Douthat says, "faith can become just another form of worldliness, therapeutic rather than transcendent, and shorn of any claim to stand in judgment over our everyday choices and concerns." If we get back a spirit of true renunciation we will find a return to true Christian mysticism - only then will the exoteric and the esoteric, the contemplative and the active, be harmoniously joined again for the building up of the whole Church.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Was Dante a Rosicrucian?


I have to admit, this was one I never heard of before. That is, until a dear friend of mine came to visit me in the hospital during my recovery and said quite causally, "Did you know Dante was a Rosicrucian?"  My friend is not any sort of Rosicrucian, but was merely repeating what he had seen claimed in some videos on the Internet. I was skeptical of the claim at the time, but decided to research it anyway. As I suspected, the claim is spurious and based on a mixture of pseudo-history and plain ignorance of medieval Christian symbolism, as I will explain below. First, let's take a look at what Rosicrucianism is exactly.

Primer on Rosicrucianism

But to begin with, what is Rosicrucianism? Basically, we can see the Rosicrucians as another esoteric fraternity in the tradition of Freemasonry, with which it was later associated.

Rosicrucianism first appears in history around the years 1614 -1615with the anonymous publication of two tracts; the "Rosicrucian Manifestos", published in Germany, were called the "Fama Fraternitatis" and the "Confessio Fraternitatis". They claimed to be from a secret brotherhood called the Rosicrucians, which (according to the documents) was founded around around 1407 by a German Crusader called Christian Rosenkreuz. According to the documents, this Rosenkreuz was initiated into the mysticism of the Arab Sufis and the Kabbalist tradition of the Jews, finally becomeinginvolved in the occult in Europe. The knight founded a secret "Fama" called the Invisible College which consisted of eight members. These eight members, dedicated to esoteric spiritualism and pantheistic mysticism, were bound to replace themselves before they died so that the order could survive. It was not until the early 17th century that the scientific, philosophical and religious freedom had grown so that the public might benefit from the Rosicrucians' knowledge. Thus at that time the order was made public, and the manifestos basically contained an open invitation for all men of means and knowledge to seek admission. Like the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians came into being during the early Enlightenment and sought to oppose what they though to be the superstition of the Catholic Church; many of the first 17th century adherents to Rosicrucianism were Protestants, especially Lutherans. In fact, as we shall see below, it was a Lutheran pastor who is believed to have authored the Rosicrucian manifestos.

Chronological Problems

Of course, there is no way to verify the historicity of what is alleged in the Rosicrucian manifesto; how can one prove or disprove the existence of a secret society consisting of eight members allegedly formed in 1407? There is no historicity to the tale, and there is no mention of any noble named Christian Rosenkreuz in other sources (the name itself appears to be allegorical, and even many occultists consider Rosenkreuz to be an allegorical figure). But the Rosicrucians themselves claim a much more ancient descent than this. The following was taken from a website on Rosicrucianism and Kabbala. Describing the origins of Rosicrucianism, it claims:

[I]ts origins go back to the time of the Mystery School of Pharaoh Thutmosis III (c.1468-1436 BC). The ancient teachings are documented in the Wisdom of Lamech and in the Tablet of Hermes. Pythagoras and Plato added their own part to the History. They found their way in Judaea through the ascetic Egyptian Therapeutate who presided at Qumran just before Jesus’ time. The Samaritan Magi of West Manasseh, under the leadership of the Gnostic Simon (Magus) Zelotes, a lifelong friend of Mary Magdalene, allied themselves to the Therapeutate. Simon Zelotes nominated Mary Magdalene as his devotional sister. The Samaritan Magi who played an important role in the Nativity, were founded in 44 BC by Menahem, a Diaspora Essene and the grand father of Mary Magdalene. Menahem descended from the priestly Hasmonaeans, the family of Judah Maccabaeus...

The list of past Rosicrucian Grand Masters includes the names of Dante Alighieri, the Italian poet and philosopher; the astrologer, mathematician and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, Dr John Dee; the lawyer and philosophical writer, Sir Francis Bacon. Among Bacon’s Rosicrucian colleges, we can mention the Oxford physician and theological philosopher Robert Fludd who participated in the English translation of the King James Version of the Bible. In the Stuart era, the Rosicrucians were linked with FreeMasonry and the Royal Society. Academics like Robert Boyle and Christopher Wren were also linked with the Rosicrucians. The Order aimed to advance the study and application of ancient science, numerology, and cosmic law. It also encouraged the ideals of the Egyptian Therapeutate by promoting international medical aid for the poor. The International Red Cross uses their symbol (the Red Cross) [source]

If there is no way to verify the existence of a Christian Rosenkreuz in Germany in 1407, then the idea of positing, much less proving, the existence of some kind of continual order existing from not only the Middle Ages but the Egyptian Middle Kingdom period is ridiculous and is unbelievable to any serious historian. But those who are accustomed to dealing with these esoteric groups such as the Freemasons will recognize this trick of trying to invent an absurdly long pedigree for their organization. For example, we know that the Freemasons were founded in 1717 in England. Yet, if we consult the Masons themselves, they will claim a descent all the way back to the Templar Knights and even further, like the Rosicrucians, attaching themselves to some venerable figure of antiquity - in the case of the Masons, King Solomon and Hiram of Tyre, who both lived around 950 BC. Thus we have an order established in the Enlightenment attempting to throw up a fabricated pedigree antedating Christianity. The Masonic claims of an existing order going back 3000 years to Solomon are of course nonsense, just as are the Rosicrucian claims of an origin with Thutmoses III.

A similar method is used in claiming many historical figures as Masons or Rosicrucians. We all know that the Freemasons claim persons like Leonardo da Vinci, Victor Hugo, Isaac Newton as Grandmasters, which is of course absurd (akin to the debunked claims of Peter Plantard and the Priory of Sion hoax). By the way, this is not uncommon to what homosexuals also attempt to do, trying to go back into history and claim certain figures for homosexuality - such as Joan of Arc, Lawrence of Arabia and even King David and Jonathon from the Old Testament. It is a common but devious trick to try to give more historical credence to something that really doesn't have any to begin with. And, of course, there is no "list" of Rosicrucian Grand Masters, at least not one with any validity to it.

This is where Dante comes in - just as the Masons attempt to claim that historical personages predating their own existence were in fact secret Grand Masters, so the Rosicrucians have claimed Dante Alighieri as one of their own, assuming his Rosicrucian connection by the alleged heavy presence of Rosicrucian symbolism in the Divine Comedy. What is it about Dante that leads some to posit him as a Rosicrucian?

Before we get into this, we must point out that this assumption about Dante is untenable, even if we do take the Rosicrucian time line seriously. According to the Rosicrucian manifestos, Christian Rosenkreuz did not found the modern Rosicrucian order until 1407 (which in itself is doubtful); even if we take this seriously, how could Dante have been a Grand Master when he died in the year 1321, some eighty-six years before Rosenkreuz founded the Rosicrucians and fifty-seven years before the date given for Rosenkreuz's birth (1378)? How is Dante the Grand Master of an order that didn't exist when he was alive?

That is my first problem with the claim that Dante was a Rosicrucian - the chronology is not just a little off; it is totally unbelievable, even if we grant the fantastical time line in the Rosicrucian manifesto. This is what I mean when I say that these claims are based on faulty chronology and pseudo-history.

The Celestial Rose

But on to the alleged presence of Rosicrucian symbolism in the Divine Comedy. In the first place, what is considered Rosicrucian symbolism? Both Rosicrucians and those who make an effort to find Rosicrucian or Masonic conspiracies behind everything basically assert the presence of Rosicrucian symbolism anytime a rose shows up, or more damningly, a rose and a cross together. Thus, if some tomb, monument, illustration or literary piece makes use of the rose as a symbol, Rosicrucians will often claim that there was a Rosicrucian connection This very well could be true of many things; for example, the Masonic and esoteric leanings of many of our Founding Fathers is well documented and I have no doubt that many of these Revolutionary era monuments in Washinton D.C. probably do contain Masonic-Rosicrucian symbols.

But this method of discerning Rosicrucian influence breaks down when we attempt to apply it to the Middle Ages, which was thoroughly Catholic and had its own rich symbolism apart from later Enlightenment era thought and influenced by Christian allegory. In Dante's Divine Comedy, the Paradiso Canto XXX, Dante beholds the throngs of the blessed surrounding the throne of God arranged in the shape of a great white rose, memorably portrayed in the famous 1868 engraving by Gustave Dore:


The Rosicrucians are quick to point out that this presence of the rose so close as the climax of Dante's vision indicates that he subscribed to Rosicrucian thought, as Rosicrucians were known to insert the symbol of the rose liberally throughout their works of art.

Well, first off, as I said before, Dante simply could not have been a Rosicrucian for chronological reasons.
Second, are we to assume that just because Rosicrucians utilize the rose that everybody else who does so must also be a Rosicrucian? Did anybody out there have rose shaped frosting on their wedding cake? Get their spouse roses on any occasion? Say the rose if your favorite flower? Just because we find Dante utilizing the symbol of the rose to explain a heavenly mystery need not imply he is a member of an esoteric secret society. Let us not forget, the rose also appears as a symbol of love in the Bible itself in the Song of Songs: "I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley" (S.of S. 2:1). Many Fathers interpreted this to be a reference to Christ Himself.

Third, the celestial rose is not the climax of Dante's vision, as any fan of Dante would recognize; that comes in Canto XXXIII when Dante is escorted into the presence of the Trinity with St. Bernard,  where Dante says that his powers of speech failed him in describing the glory he beheld. 

Fourth, the Rosicrucian explanation for the presence of the celestial rose is not necessary because Dante gives us his own internal reason for why he has the blessed arranged in the form of a rose as he does. A cursory look at the introduction to the Dorothy Sayers translation of Paradiso has a very helpful graph showing the logic of Dante's placing of the saints in a rose formation. Here is the illustration taken right from the Sayer's translation of Paradiso:

The center of the rose, of course, is the Trinity, around which all of the saints are gathered in worship. When we read why Dante placed these saints as he did, we see that his arrangement is entirely theological, steeped in Catholic tradition and has nothing whatsoever to do with any Rosicrucian mumbo-jumbo. It comes down to this - if Dante's symbolism can be explained easily in Christian theological terms, why appeal to an esoteric secret society to explain them? Unless of course someone will say, "But Boniface, if there was a secret Rosicrucian society in the 14th century, that is exactly how one would expect them to act - hiding occult symbols in Christian veils." In that case we simply fall into the fallacy whereby the lack of evidence for something is twisted to become evidence in support of it.

The Symbol of the Rose in Medieval Literature

This leads into the fifth, and I think most important, reason why Dante's use of the rose is being misconstrued in this argument: a lack of understanding of medieval Catholic symbolism.

Even today, the rose is a splendid and enduring symbol of love and affection, as it was in the Middle Ages. What is the origin of the association of the rose with love, and how does this play into Dante's use of the symbol in the Paradiso?

In medieval Christianity, flowers were seen to represent virtues. The most well-known example of this is the lily, which has always represented purity. The myrtle was chastity (there is a fairly helpful chart here). Father F. X. Lasance wrote a devotional book called "The Catholic Girl's Guide" back in the 1920's in which the virtues are presented as a wreath of flowers (see here); this book received the acclamation of Pope Pius XI. We could also recall the Christmas song "King Jesus Hath a Garden", originally composed in Dutch around 1633 and calling to mind the traditional association between the soul and a garden; as one toils in the garden to get flowers to blossom, so the Christian must labor to bring forth the fruit of virtue in the soul:

King Jesus hath a garden, full of divers flowers,
Where I go culling posies gay, all times and hours.

The Lily, white in blossom there, is Chastity:
The Violet, with sweet perfume, Humility. 

The bonny Damask-rose is known as Patience:
The blithe and thrifty Marygold, Obedience.

The Crown Imperial bloometh too in yonder place,
'Tis Charity, of stock divine, the flower of grace.

Yet, 'mid the brave, the bravest prize of all may claim
The Star of Bethlem-Jesus-bless'd be his Name!

 Ah! Jesu Lord, my heal and weal, my bliss complete,
Make thou my heart thy garden-plot, fair, trim and neat.

Then what of the rose? What does it stand for in medieval floral symbolism? The rose is love, of course (well, the red and white roses at least - the pink rose has been associated with grace). In the ancient Church, the five-petaled rose was seen as symbolic of the Five Wounds of Jesus. Later, the rose came to stand for the Virgin Mary; one of her titles is Rosa Mystica, the Mystic Rose. Interestingly enough, one prominent use of the rose theme in the Middle Ages was the rose window of the Gothic cathedrals. The most common theme depicted on a medieval rose window was the Last Judgment. In such windows, Christ is shown seated in the centre "light" and within the lights around him are the symbols of the four Gospel writers, Apostles, Prophets, Saints and Angels.This is interesting because if we scroll back up and look at Dante's scheme for the celestial rose of the blessed, we see exactly the same arrangement.


It would not be a stretch to imagine that Dante had the rose window in mind when laying out his vision of heaven. Just as the faithful gathered in the cathedral would have looked up at the rose window to see Christ, blazing in the sun, surrounded by images of the redeemed in glass, so does Dante imagine the blessed in heaven surrounding and adoring Christ in the form of a glorious celestial rose.

The rose as a symbol of love came to the fore during the troubadour age, especially in the wake of the 13th century allegory Roman de la Rose on courtly love. The red rose in particular has always been associated with human love (think Valentine's Day), as expressed by the great Scottish bard Robert Burns: O, my love's like a red, red rose/That's newly sprung in June.

But Dante depicts the celestial rose as not red but white, signifying that the love enjoyed by the blessed in heaven is not an earthly love but a heavenly love, wherein all of the saints and angels love unendingly by, with and in that one Love which is Love Itself. It is the love of God, He Who is Love.

The rose had a millennium of rich, Christian symbolism surrounding it before the first Rosicrucian manifesto was ever published. It was this symbolism that Dante was deeply immersed in. If we know that Christianity had such a vibrant collection of images and ideals associated with flowers and the rose in particular, why suppose anything conspiratorial?

Furthermore, we might point out that the Rosicrucian manifestos themselves were almost certainly authored by Johannes V. Andrea, the Lutheran theologian of Würtemberg (1586-1654). According to his own admission, Andrea composed in 1602 or 1603 the Rosicrucian book, "Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosenkreuz 1459", which appeared in 1616. This book, called by Andrea himself "a youthful literary trifle" in which he intended to ridicule the mania of the times for occult marvels (Life, p. 10). Alchemistic occultism is mocked at in these works and the follies of the then untimely reformers of the world are openly ridiculed. The fantastic form of the tracts is borrowed from contemporary romances of knighthood and travel.  One piece of evidence suggesting that Andrea was the author of the Rosicrucian manifestos is the fact that the the rose and cross occur in the family arms of Andrea.  In his later life, Andrea was appalled that people took his satirical works seriously and openly renounced Rosicrucianism, frequently referring to it as a ridiculous comedy and folly.

Numerology

Is there any other evidence for a Rosicrucian connection with Dante other than the fact that he makes use of the image of the rose in Paradiso? There is an obscure argument based on numerology, in which the fact that there are 3 parts to the Divine Comedy, or 33 cantos, or so many circles of hell are given a Kabbalistic significance. You can see here if you really want to dive into this nonsense, but here is an excerpt that makes a Kabbalist interpretation of Dante's Inferno:

There are 9 Circles plus the Well of the Giants; 9 + 1 = 10. There are 10 sefirot on the Tree of Life. The Tree also has a 9 + 1 = 10 structure: Keter + Chakhmah + Binah; Chesed + Gevurah + Tiferet; Netzchah + Hod + Yesod; Malkhut (alone). The Tree has a division between 6 upper and 4 lower sefirot. They are divided by the Veil. Dante’s scheme has 6 Circles in Upper Hell and then 3 Circles plus the Well of the Giants, in Lower Hell. Looking only at the lowest Circles, they have 3, 10 and 4 sub-divisions. There are 3 pillars on the Tree of Life, 10 sefirot and, depending upon how we look at it, 4 sub-divisions of the Tree (which correlate to the 4 Worlds). If Dante is making a cryptic reference to the Tree of Life, then the 32 internal paths lead inevitably to the external 33rd and to Lucifer, the Light Bearer. All 33 cantos describe Dante’s experience in the metaphysical place of Earth; Aristotle’s alchemical element of Earth.    

Now Virgil conducts Dante across the alchemical Water and to the outskirts of Purgatory. Eventually, after meeting 4 classes of Tardy Penitents, they arrive at St Peter’s Gate. The penitents and the gate are all located in the alchemical element of Air. Dante falls asleep and dreams for the first time. They meet the gatekeeper, an angel who strikes Dante 3 times on the chest and paints 7 "P’s" on his forehead. This is clearly an initiation ritual. In mystery religion terms, he has entered the Pronaos of the Temple. He has moved to the alchemical element of Fire.   

Let us pause and note the numbers: 4 classes of penitents correlates to the 4 Worlds of the kabala; 3 + 7 initiation marks correspond to the 3 + 7 division of the Tree of Life. The 3 Supernal sefirot are divided from the 7 lower sefirot by the Abyss. Thus the 3 above are qualitatively different from the 7 below; as blows are different from painted "P’s".   

As in the case of the rose, why resort to this very obscure and overly complex interpretation when standard Christian numerology will suffice? For example, we all know that 3 is a symbol of the Trinity, 12 of th Apostles, 5 of the wounds of Christ, 9 of the Beatitudes, 7 the virtues, etc. But let us take the number 33 - Purgatorio and Paradiso each contain 33 cantos; in traditional Christian symbolism, 33 has stood for the number of years our Blessed Lord was on the earth. This is common knowledge. But here is the Kabbalistic spin:

So what does 33 mean? Obviously, it alludes to the age of Christ at his crucifixion and resurrection...However, 33 also alludes to the kabalistic Tree of Life. There are 32 internal paths on the Tree and then there is the external 33rd path that leads to God.    

Now, is 33 "obviously" alludes to Christ, then why invoke the "32 internal paths" of the Kabbalist "Tree of Life"? Why search for occultic Jewish explanations when Dante's classical Christian numerology is well known and well attested? At some point, Ockham's Razor has to come into play - why multiply these obscure explanations for Dante;s number schemes when conventional Christian numerology satisfactorily explains them all and fits in much better with what we know about Dante and his faith? Like the case with the rose, I think many fail to realize that medieval Christianity had its own very complex economy of symbols - numbers, flowers, animals and even rocks all had symbolic meanings relating to Christ and the Church (see here for an introduction to medieval "Bestiaries and Lapidaries"). This knowledge would have been intuitive to the medieval; perhaps with the strong iconoclastic reaction against symbolism that occured in the 16th and 17th centuries during the Protestant upheaval. In an effort to cleanse the church of statues, symbols and icons, many of these medieval symbols have passed into obscurity.

Conclusion

There is no objective evidence that Dante was a Rosicrucian; it all depends on symbolic meaning read into Dante's works. There is no evidence that the Rosicrucians even existed prior to the early 1600's; the founder of Rosicrucianism, Johann Andrea, wrote the Rosicrucian manifestos as a joke that was never meant to be taken seriously (much like the founders of the Ku Klux Klan started the group as something "fun" to do on Christmas Eve and never meant for it to become what it did). The alleged Rosicrucian symbols in Dante's works make much more sense if we take them in the context of the Christian symbolism that would have been readily understandable in Dante's day. Since everything in Dante can be easily and satisfactorily explained without invoking a Rosicrucian connection (and since the Rosicrucians did not even exist in Dante's day), the claim of the Rosicrucians that Dante Alighieri was one of their member, let alone a Grand Master, is absurd and unhistorical, based on pseudo-history and ignorance of the rich Catholic symbolism of the Middle Ages.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy Feast of St. Anselm

Happy Feast of St. Anselm, one of the patron saints of this blog!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Modern Contradictions




Here is a fine example of one of the many contradictions inherent in the modern world and its approach to our problems. The world is up in arms against the papacy for the unfolding European priest sex abuse scandal and demanding that the pope crack down on abusers and discipline lethargic bishops. Yet those same critics explode with indignation when someone in the Vatican hits the nail on the head and points out the obvious fact that this deplorable tragedy is linked to the presence of homosexuality in the priesthood. "How dare you insinuate that homosexuality has any connection to pedophilia!" the critics of the Church are raging. "There is absolutely no correlation between the two!"

All the outrage follows this statement of Cardinal Bertone in Chile this week:

"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and paedophilia, but many others have shown, I have recently been told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia. This pathology is one that touches all categories of people, and priests to a lesser degree in percentage terms. The behaviour of the priests in this case, the negative behaviour, is very serious, is scandalous."

The world is constantly clamoring about problems but rejecting the obvious solutions to those problems, because the real solutions contradict the commonly accepted secular-humanist worldview held by most in the west. So convoluted is their thinking that they may actually take the problem and extol it as a positive virtue - as in this article the presence of homosexuals in active Church ministry is considered a positive good. Likewise, things that are positive are made into the culprits - like celibacy.

Cardinal Bertone is being so roundly condemned because his words violate two implied tenets of modern thought: First, that celibacy is an outmoded and unreasonable discipline that actually causes sexual deviancy; second, that homosexuality is a perfectly licit lifestyle with absolutely no unpleasant or negative aspects whatsoever. Because of these two firmly rooted assumptions, the modern world cannot and will not accept any explanation of apology from the Church that contradicts them. The real target here is celibacy. This is nothing less than a great big cannon of public pressure aimed at getting the Church to put the blame on  clerical celibacy in order to abolish the discipline.

Is this minimizing the horror of what happened? Not at all. In fact, the Vatican shows it is willing to face up to what really happened because it is getting to the real root of the problem calling it out - the intolerable presence of active homosexuals in Church ministry. It is, paradoxically, the opponents of the Vatican who refuse to see the truth because they are unwilling to connect the dots and admit that maybe, just maybe, sticking active homosexuals in ministry is anything less than a great idea. It is the vociferous critics of the Church who are accusing the pope of covering up the truth that are in fact engaged in a massive fraud., their constant attempts to sell the world on the innocent goodness of homosexuality. But that is one of the many, bizarre contradictions of modernity.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Education, Accessibility and the Traditional Latin Mass


This past Palm Sunday, as I am accustomed to do every Palm Sunday, I took the parish's RCIA class to the traditional Palm Sunday Mass at St. Josaphat in Detroit. The reaction from the class was very positive, as it is every year, despite the fact that most of them have never seen the old Mass under any form and that there is no homily in the traditional Palm Sunday liturgy.

Even more interesting is that, in my experience in taking RCIA catechumens down to the traditional Mass, the vast majority of those who express great enthusiasm at the traditional liturgy are those with very little exposure to Catholicism or to any liturgy at all - most RCIA catechumens are either those with little religious background or else candidates converting from non-Catholic denominations; in either case, they are persons with very little contact with the Catholic liturgy, save through what they get through the nine months of RCIA. These are persons coming to the liturgy off the street, without any knowledge of pre-V2/post-V2 controversies or the abuses done in the name of the Spirit of Vatican II; they are essentially open slates regarding all things liturgical and walk into the traditional liturgy completely blind. Yet year after year they report a very positive experience with the traditional Mass.

In contrast, many parishes that have attempted to move their liturgies in a more traditional direction often face opposition not from the newly baptized who don't find tradition relevant, but rather from life-long parishioners who have in one way or another invested a lot in the slipshod "Spirit of Vatican II" approach to liturgy. It is those who have the most vested interest in preserving an emasculated and desacralized Novus Ordo that voice the most opposition to tradition. I have seen this dynamic played out in a number of parishes, a few from my own experience and many that I have heard of from friends - the newly baptized/converted are curious and excited about the Traditional Latin Mass while the life-long parishioners are most opposed to it. Those who know least about Catholicism are most open to Tradition; those who have been lifelong Catholics and ought to know the Tradition are most opposed to it.

This is an interesting trend when we stop to think about the accessibility of the old Mass to the laity, meaning the degree to which the symbols, rites and dynamic of the old Mass are meaningful and relevant to the laity. If we are to believe the liberals of the Church, the old Mass is utterly inaccessible to modern man because of its archaic structure, dead language and obsolete clericalism. Despite the knee-jerk way that this assumption is supported by many in the Church, experience clearly contradicts it, since there are many who derive great meaning and value from the old Mass. Yet, it could be argued, this value is probably only experienced by those experts in tradition and liturgy, those Catholics who make tradition a matter of study as well as devotion. Some may thus grant that the old Mass could be meaningful to those Denzinger-quoting, Scholastically trained Latinists who thoroughly understand the traditional rites. This means that the old Mass would, at best, have a limited accessibility.

This would imply two things: first, that meaningful experience of the liturgy is tied to intellectual knowledge, and second, that the majority of the laity fall so far short of this requisite knowledge as to make the old Mass practically unintelligible and so distant from the average layman as to make any progress in catechesis unworthy of the effort. Any effort to introduce the traditional liturgy would be tied to the ability of the congregation to receive instruction which, as we discussed above, would be limited by the resistance of certain members of the parish to anything traditional. This would leave power in the hands of a  pastor who was unsympathetic, or even just timid, to perpetually put off saying the old Mass because "the people are not ready."

I admit that I have wrestled with this conundrum - introducing the traditional Mass would require widespread catechesis, but this catechesis would be rejected or ignored by a significant segment of the congregation who were predisposed to dislike the old Mass, prompting a perpetual state of unreadiness by the congregation. What's the solution for the mainstream? Impose the old Mass against the will of the parish and risk alienating them further in order to appease the minority who will possibly appreciate it? Or subject the institution of the old Mass to a democratic vote, which may succeed in getting the old Mass in place but upon the faulty proposition that such liturgical matters are subject to the whims of the people? How can a parish best transition to the traditional Mass, even on a limited basis?

Fortunately, the solution is that the paradigm we have been working with is not the whole picture. It is simply not true that everybody needs to be educated and catechized into the fine points of liturgy in general or the old Mass in particular in order to enjoy it. This brings me back to the original insight I referenced with regards to noticing that those with virtually no knowledge or experience of liturgy of any sort frequently report a wonderful receptivity to the Traditonal Mass. Despite the fact that a practical knowledge of the basics of the old Mass and the meaning of some of the prayers/rites is commendable, it is by no means necessary. It is not necessary to participate in the old Mass, and it is not even necessary to get a tremendous amount of benefit from the Mass, as demonstrated by the praise for the old Mass reported by those catechumens I take to it who are virtually pulled in "off the street" as it were.

What does this mean for the expansion of the Traditional Mass in parishes? I think it means that we should recapture part of the Church's instructional methodology that has been somewhat lost in the West but endures in the East. In the West, there is currently a great emphasis on catechesis prior to initiation into the Church, of making sure a person knows and experiences Christianity prior to being fully inducted into Christian life (as evidenced by the ever increasing age for Confirmation in many dioceses). The East, however, the focus is on mystagogy, which is post-sacramental instruction done after the fact - explaining what people have been initiated into after they initiation is complete (a corrolary would be the Eastern practice of Confirming in infancy). Persons are first initiated into the mystery, taught to love the tradition, and then are trained to understand what they already know and experience.

How can we get the old Mass in our parishes? How about we just start saying it. That's it. Let's just start doing the Traditional Latin Mass. No months of going back and forth about the "readiness" of the congregation - just start doing the Mass, invite people to it, get them accustomed to what it is and what it looks like and then teach them the rest on the way. Isn't that how everything else in life is? The Traditional Latin Mass has an innate aesthetic appeal that can bring meaning to the lay person irregardless of their liturgical training or competency in Latin. I say we expose people to this aesthetic appeal first and then fill in the gaps later. Isn't that how we all came ot understand Mass in general? Our parents take us when we are little (or some friend takes us as an adult) and we gradually fill in our knowledge as we grow in our praxis.

Unfortunately, this plan requires definitive action. Not talking about it, discussing it, going round and around it, but just doing the old Mass first and letting everything else fall into place later. Can this really happen? I think to the extent that Tradition becomes more widespread in American parishes, to that same extent will pastors start getting emboldened to just do the old Mass and see that, despite what the liberals say, the Traditional Latin Mass is amazingly accessible to the lay person, whether trained in liturgy or walking in off the street. Pope Benedict has charted the course - let's see where it goes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

John Paul II and Medjugorje

As many of you may or may not know, on this blog I have frequently challenged the claims of the proponents of the Medjugorje apparitions and have maintained the position that the so-called Medjugorje phenomenon is nothing but a sham. I believe that the alleged-Seers have not on any occasion been privy to a single apparition or vision of the Blessed Mother and that the whole Medjugorje mania is hostile to the true spirit of Catholicism. People often claim that there are so many good fruits that come out of Medjugorje that I am being a fuddy-duddy for questioning it, and I have taken up and thoroughly dealt with this lame "fruits" argument elsewhere.

But one other assertion of the Medjugorje crowd that I have been wanting to debunk for a long time is the oft-repeated claim that John Paul II privately approved of the apparitions and encouraged the faithful in their devotion at Medjugorje. This is manifestly false, and whatever else one may think of John Paul II, one thing we can definitely clear him of is promoting Medjugorje. Therefore, I want to clear up with this post once and for all the confusion and untruths promoted by those who assert that the Pope, either JPII of BXVI, has ever approved Medjugorje, even implicitly.

First, if you browse around on Medjugorje websites, you will quickly come across several sayings attributed to John Paul II apparently approving of the phenomenon at Medjugorje. Here's a few examples of what the Medjugorje proponents are attributing to John Paul II:

In 1992 John Paul II told Fr. Jozo Zovko (curate in Medjugorje when the apparitions started and long-time Medjugorje proponent), "Busy yourself with Medjugorje. Look after Medjugorje. Don't tire. Persevere, be strong, I am with you. Watch over, follow, Medjugorje."

An Italian priest, Father Gianna Sgreva, reports that at an undisclosed time, in a private audience, John Paul II drew him close and whispered in his ear, "Don't you be concerned about Medjugorje, because I am thinking about Medjugorje and I pray for its success every day.You be concerned with the vocations and pray for me everyday."

In 1988, JPII allegedly told Mons. Maurillo Kreiger, "Medjugorje, Medjugorje, it's the spiritual heart of the world."

Perhaps most absurd of all the alleged statements of JPII comes from a 1987 "private conversation" with Seer Mirjana Soldo, the Pope said, "If I were not Pope I would already be in Medjugorje confessing.

These comments are absurd and outlandish - the Pope calling Medjugorje the spiritual heart of the world and all that nonsense. But is there any corroboration to these statements? First, we must simply point out that even had the Pope said these remarks and others attributed to him, they all seem to have been done in the context of private conversations, which would have no bearing whatsoever on the official status of Medjugorje as an approved pilgrimage destination. But that is a moot point, because it is highly improbable that these conversations ever took place, and even the supporters of Medjugorje admit that they cannot document these conversations. They are always spoken "privately," or as in the one case illustrated above, the Pope leaned in and spoke his alleged support of Medjugorje privately into the priest's ear. Are we supposed to base JPII's alleged support for Medjugorje on such scanty evidence? One Medjugorje website which purports to list all John Paul's comments in favor of the apparitions has this disclaimed across the top of the page:

While these statements are not verified by the Pope's seal and signature, they are brought to us by persons in whom we may trust (source).

Gee, that doesn't sound suspicious! If you tell a Medjugorje pilgrim that pilgrimages to the site are forbidden, they will insist that you provide some document from the Vatican or the Pope himself condemning the apparitions (nevermind the fact that the Vatican has supported the local bishop's jurisdiction and he has condemned them) - but ask for sources from the Medjugorje crowd and you just get anecdotal stories anonymously promulgated that are "not verified" by the Pope. Give me a break.

But setting aside the Pope's alleged and unsubstantiated statements whispered in ears privately, what did John Paul II actually do with regards to Medjugorje? First of all, if he really liked Medjugorje as much as he claimed, why did he replace Bishop Zanic, a hostile critic of Medjugorje, with another bishop, Msgr. Radko Peric, who is equally as hostile to the events taking place there? Wouldn't the 1994 appointment be the Pope's chance to put in a bishop supportive of the apparitions? The fact that he appointed a man who disbelieves them and who has forbidden pilgrimages there suggests that the Pope must share his opinion.

Furthermore, we must look at the Pope's visits to Croatia and recognize that he did not make one statement concerning the apparitions or even mention the name 'Medjugorje.' On a September 10-11th trip to Croatia on 1994 (right after the war), he failed to make any mentioned of Medjugorje. If the Pope did support Medjugorje, where Mary is venerated as "Queen of Peace," is it not odd that he did not mention this, especially since he was on a mission of peace to a war-torn country? He similarly made no reference to Medjugorje in his 1997 visit either.

Those who claim that the late Pope supported Medjugorje resort to truly pathetic efforts to create any illusion of papal support for their claims. Take this example from Michael Davies' book on Medjugorje:

A truly pathetic attempt was made to indicate that the Holy Father does indeed accept the authenticity of the apparitions. The Christmas 1994 edition of The Children of Medjugorje, published in Scotland, informs us that a group of Medjugorje adepts was present at one of the Pope's Masses in Croatia with a Medjugorje banner, and that: "This earned them a big blessing from the Pope to whom they were quite close." This is not simply a gratuitous but a ludicrous claim. I was able to watch the Holy Father's principal Mass in Croatia on TV, and when it was over he turned to bless each portion of the vast congregation as he always does. It was thus inevitable that he would give a blessing in the direction of the Medjugorje banner, but there can be no possible basis for claiming that it was directed at that banner or that this particular papal blessing was a "big" one. As far as I know, but I am open to correction, papal blessings are not classed in such categories as enormous, very big, big, standard, small, and very small (Medjugorje After Twenty-One Years by Michael Davies).

Anyone who has seen a papal Mass knows that there are dozens if not hundreds of flags and banners in the crowd. I could easily go to a papal Mass, wait until the blessing and then hold up a flag that said "Ku Klux Klan: Klavern No. 14, Pulsaki, TN" and technically receive a blessing in my direction - but it would be highly deceitful to say that the Pope had given my banner specifically a "big" blessing, and even worse to say that this evidenced support for my positions. Yet the incident with the banner related above was widely promoted by Medjugorje enthusiasts.

It had been alleged that John Paul II sent autographed portraits of himself to each of the Medjugorje Seers, with a message that said, "If I could have my own way I would be a parish priest, and that in the church of St. James [ the Medjugorje parish]." An inquiry to the Vatican brought a categorical denial of any such action by the late Pontiff. In fact, many alleged-statements made by John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger were being circulated in the early and mid-1990's, so much so that they were even being reported in mainstream Catholic publications (the July 29th issue of the National Catholic Register quoted the Pope as saying, "Let the people go to Medjugorje if they convert, pray, confess, do penance," a statement still repeated on Medjugorje sites to this day). This quote had been circulating for quite a while (since 1988) and had prompted an inquiry to the Vatican, to which Archbishop Pio Laghi, Apostolic Pro Nuncio, responded:

The statement you cite as a quotation from the Holy Father has never been published or officially verified. Although there have been made observations about Medjugorje attributed to the Holy Father or other officials of the Holy See, none of these have been acknowledged as authentic.

Cardinal Ratzinger further confirmed the falsity of these alleged statements by the Holy Father and by himself in a statement of July, 1998. In response to an inquiry from a reporter about some of JPII and Ratzinger's alleged sayings, he writes:

First of all, I have to apologize for answering your kind letter from 27th May only today. The burden (i.e. work load) of the last few weeks has been so heavy that I had to postpone my private correspondence again and again so that only now, as my vacation is about to begin, I can at last try to answer the more important letters.

I thank you very much for sending me the memorandum by Claus Peter Clausen, whom in fact I know as the author of the Schwarze Briefe (Black Letters). I
can only say that the statements attributed to the Holy Father and me are freely invented.

With my best wishes for your manifold activities.
Josef Ratzinger

However, I think it is possible that the Pope was alluding to Medjugorje when he made the following comments in the September 18th, 1996 edition of L'Osservatore Romano:

Some members of the People of God are not rooted firmly enough in the faith so that the sects, with their deceptive proselytism, mislead them to separate themselves from true communion in Christ. Within the Church community, the multiplication of supposed "apparitions" or "visions" is sowing confusion and reveals a certain lack of a solid basis to the faith and Christian life among her members.

In some instances, the alleged support of JPII for Medjugorje comes down to nothing but absurd stories that he said the word "Medjugorje" while smiling, or this characteristic example from the Medjugorje- A Millenium Update:

At the Sarajevo airport 12 April, the very first to await the Pope's arrival were the bishops and provincials of Bosnia-Herzegovina. When the provincial of the Sarajevo Province, Father Peter Andjelovic, as the first of the provincials approached the Pope to greet him, the Pope asked him the question, "Medjugorje?" He pointed to Dr. Father Tomislav Pervan, the provincial of Herzegovina who said, "I am from Mostar and Medjugorje." The Pope nodded his head with satisfaction and twice repeated, "Medjugorje, Medjugorje." All TV viewers who watched the presentation of the Pope's arrival also saw it (pg. 53).

First, does the fact that JPII acknowledged Medjugorje by saying the name of the city twice prove anything? If anything, more important is the fact that this event occurred during the 1997 trip to Sarajevo in which John Paul made no mention whatsoever of Medjugorje and did not visit it. The Pope's silence regarding the site is much more important than this absurd piece of "evidence" cited above. Another absurd incident, cited in Davies' book, from the Pope's 1997 visit:

After supper in the Sarajevo Catholic School of Theology Father Tomislav took advantage of the occasion to personally present the Pope with the newest photo-monograph on Medjugorje which the Franciscans who work in the parish of Medjugorje had sent to him. On that occasion he spoke to him briefly about Medjugorje. The Pope did not say anything, but by the expression on his face, he accepted both the former and the latter with satisfaction and interest.

So now we are determining papal approval for something by mere facial expressions? Whatever expression may have been on the Pope's face, the fact remains that he has never mentioned Medjugorje in any official capacity whatsoever.

Just for a refresher, let's take a look at a devotion that was approved recently by the Vatican and see what such an approval would look like.

In April of 2000, John Paul II canonized St. Faustina Kowalska, another visionary who was the recipient of special messages from the Lord. Look at the language JPII used publicly at her canonization (section 8):

And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of divine mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment (source).

Here is no ambiguity, no saying Faustina's name with a smile: here is a solid declaration of the highest authority in the message of a visionary.

Here is another example from the official decree concerning Fatima, from 1930:

In virtue of considerations made known, and others which for reason of brevity we omit; humbly invoking the Divine Spirit and placing ourselves under the protection of the most Holy Virgin, and after hearing the opinions of our Rev. Advisors in this diocese, we hereby: 1) Declare worthy of belief, the visions of the shepherd children in the Cova da Iria, parish of Fátima, in this diocese, from 13 May to 13 October, 1917. 2) Permit officially the cult of Our Lady of Fátima (Bishop of Leiria-Fátima, October 13 1930).

So there you have it. This is what it is supposed to look like when the Pope or the hierarchy approves of a vision. Do we have anything like that with Medjugorje? Not at all - only the Pope whispering in peoples' ears and supposedly communicating his approval through expressions. Let's stop all this nonsense regarding John Paul II approving of Medjugorje because it is manifestly false. Even if he did support it, it doesn't matter because he is gone now, never approved it officially during his pontificate and currently the papacy is in the hands of a man who unambiguously has stated that he thinks Medjugorje is hogwash and is shocked that anybody believes in it:

We at the Congregation always asked ourselves, how can any believer accept as authentic apparitions that occur every day and for so many years? Are they still occurring every day? (source)

But I guess even that doesn't matter, apparently, because the Medjugorje fanatics are already saying that Benedict supports the apparitions, too!


Much of the information in this post was drawn from the exhaustive work of Michael Davies on Medjugorje, which you can view in its entirety here.