Friday, July 30, 2010

Sacral Kingship: Kingship in Liturgy (part 5)

Medieval painting depicting the victory of Emperor Heraclius over the Persians

Part five of the series on Christian kingship, dealing with how royal authority was portrayed in Christian liturgies of the early middle ages, especially liturgies for battle and coronation liturgies; apologies for the footnote numbers strewn throughout the post.

The light in which the Christian ruler of the late empire and early Middle Ages was viewed by the Church and people is best seen through the ecclesiastical liturgies of the period. Treatises on government, epistles of clergymen and individual actions of emperors and bishops are valuable in giving examples of how the relation between Church and government was worked out at various times, but a look at the liturgies of the Roman, Byzantine and early Germanic kingdoms reveal what image of kingship was put before the people on a daily basis. Liturgy reveals the way people lived and thought on a daily basis, and it is by examining these ancient liturgies that an insight can be gained into the basic understanding that the Christians of the early Middle Ages were developing about temporal authority. Lex credendi, lex orandi.

Records of the prayers of regular, daily masses have not been preserved as well as the records of masses for special occasions, such as thanksgiving masses and processions for a military victory, celebrations for the anniversary of an emperor’s reign, coronation liturgies and so on; yet even in the daily liturgies there are invocations for the protections and justice governance of the civil rulers. Ever since apostolic times Christians had accustomed themselves to offering prayers for the rulers, “our ancestral custom,” says Eusebius.1 Once a Christian ruler came to the throne, this aspect of the liturgy took on much more importance. As the Middle Ages progressed, the Church and State grew to be mutual supports for each other. When the two were on good terms, the system worked relatively well.

This section will look at late Roman and early Byzantine liturgies, but will also turn for the first time to the Germanic peoples of the west who were founding the first kingdoms in the lands of the former Western Roman Empire. Here only the early Germanic liturgies themselves will be looked at; discussions about the German influence on the institution of kingship itself will be addressed in the following chapter.

Liturgies for Battle

This era, from about 390 to 565, is the truly formative period of the integration of Church ritual and civil power. During this period the Christianity of the Europe was established beyond doubt, the threat of Arianism was abolished and the Catholicity of the faith ensured, and the first kingdoms of Western Europe were established. For the first time we see the emergence of states that had no pagan background, as did Rome, Greece and the nations of the east.

Not surprisingly, the earliest recorded ecclesiastical liturgies for civic functions center on warfare and battle. The connection of Christian piety with victory allowed for the first real emergence of an integration of civil and ecclesiastical roles. Liturgies were offered on the army field before battle, thanksgiving masses in nearby basilicas after the battle was over (if it was a victory, that is), and masses of petition and supplication, coupled with processions, when a city was under siege. The message to Constantine, In hoc signo vinces, was taken very seriously by Christian clergymen, rulers and common laity alike in the early Middle Ages.

One of the first records of a thanksgiving mass offered after a victorious battle comes from a remarkable letter of St. Ambrose to Theodosius I, in the year 394, after the Emperor had put down a revolt by the usurper Eugenius in the west, who had been acting a de facto ruler of Italy for the previous six years. The Emperor Theodosius had just beaten his rival at the Battle of Cold River and sent a message to St. Ambrose in Milan to notify the bishop of his imperial victory. Ambrose records in a letter to Theodosius how he responded to the news and how he offered what appears to be a novel form of thanksgiving Mass for the victorious Emperor:

"Even though I am unworthy and unequal to such a duty and to the solemnity of such prayers (vota), yet I will write you what I did. I carried your Piety’s letter with me to the altar, I placed it on the altar, I held it in my hand when I offered the sacrifice, so that your faith spoke with my voice and the letter of the emperor discharged the function of the bishop’s offering."2

This extraordinary passage from Ambrose seems to indicate a primitive method of the practice of offering up intentions with the sacrifice of the Mass, in a very literal manner. It is uncertain what he meant when he says, “the letter of the emperor discharged the function of the bishop’s offering,” but it seems to imply a very early development of the ideal of sacerdotal monarchy. The Emperor is clearly not an ecclesiastical figure, but he possesses some vague, undefined priestly power by virtue of his office as head of the temporal order. This allows him to participate in offering the sacrifice of Mass by proxy as it were, through the hands of the bishop. The holding of the Emperor’s letter by Ambrose is a symbolic gesture, but is at the same time a quasi-sacramental one that says symbolically what was only at the time an implied belief: that the ruler of the Christian world could act as both priest and king.

The victory of Theodosius at Cold River also marks another first in the history of ecclesiastical-civic functions: the first recorded instance of a liturgical procession done in celebration of an imperial military victory. Almost nothing is known about the procession itself except that it happened and that it was at the behest of Theodosius.3 Whether or not the Emperor himself took place in the procession, whether it was at the capitol or at the scene of the battle, whether or not there was the use of icons are all things shrouded in uncertainty. Yet within the coming decades, liturgical processions as thanksgiving for imperial victories become more and more common, perhaps the most splendid on record being the great victory procession and triumph given to Belisarius by Justinian upon the conquest of Africa.4 Within the Byzantine sphere, the procession will usually be lead by a bishop bearing an icon of some sort. The special protectrix of Constantinople was the Mother of God. Herakleios would bear this icon on his ship when he came to dispatch the usurper Phokas in 602. Later in the Byzantine Empire, when imperial victories became increasingly rare, the victory procession was replaced by the supplication procession. A city besieged by hostile Arabs or Turks would perform a ritual procession around the walls of the city bearing the icon of that place’s particular patron saint, invoking their protection over the city. Processions would become an integral part of the civic liturgies of the Middle Ages in both the east and the west.

By the era of Justinian, the celebration of a liturgy before a military engagement was a regular facet of the Byzantine military regimen. An example of such a military prayer survives from the Justinianic era. A Mass was celebrated at the army camp or at the site where battle was expected to take place. During the supplications, the commanding officer got down on his knees before the altar and prayed:

"Look upon the Romans at last, look, O highest God…with your power, I beseech you, smash the proud pagans. Let the peoples recognize you alone as Lord and powerful, while you crush the enemy and save your own kind by battle!"5

Then the entire officer corps and all the troops joined in tearful supplications imploring God’s assistance. By this time, the mid-6th century, the association between liturgical ceremony and loyalty to the Christian emperor were firmly fixed. The liturgies were able to unite the community and collectively call out for God’s assistance against the foes of the Empire, while the government got “free advertising” from the Church, which always stressed obedience to the divinely ordained emperors. Surviving Byzantine texts from late 5th and early 6th century liturgies beg God to assist “the princes of the Roman realm that, by thy tranquility and power they might ever be victors with clemency.”6 A similar text uses the form, “Let us also pray for our most Christian emperor, that our God and Lord may subjugate to him all barbarian peoples, for our lasting peace.” 7 Prayers for the protection of the emperors were always included in the Mass somehow. Thus the civic liturgies done by the Church came to provide “an enduring and frequent forum in which the average Roman subject voiced his loyalty to the emperor.”8

Though such liturgies are most popular in the east where imperial strength was felt more keenly, they appear in the west as well where the need for military victory against the barbarians was more pressing. Maximus, the Bishop of Turin, implored God to “defend the city’s ramparts” in a special liturgy when the Ostrogoths threatened the city in the late 5th century. Certain German tribes eventually began to adopt these liturgical occasions for their own military endeavors, and barbarian copies of Byzantine style liturgies begin appearing in the west around the late 6th century, perhaps brought there by the armies of Justinian. A Visigothic liturgy before battle dating from the 7th century fused Christ’s triumph over death with the king’s victory over his enemies in battle. The ceremony seemed to center around the king accepting a blessed standard from a priest. Once the king took the standard, the chorus broke out into antiphons: “Take up the invincible shield of justice! For vengeance! For your power was given to you by the Lord and your strength from the Most High. For vengeance.”9 Even in times of peace, the emphasis on victory was always present in the prayers of the liturgy. A prayer for the king’s victory at the Council of Saragossa in 691 reads:

"May He consolidate his [the king’s] reign in peace through many cycles of years and may He preserve both the race (gentem) and the entire fatherland in tranquility and may Christ’s victorious right hand make him ever victor against the opposing host."10

These examples demonstrate how the Roman ideals of the Christian ruler as Pius and Victor made their way west and found their way into the liturgies of the farthest extent of Christendom. As the last vestiges of antiquity passed away, the emphasis in the west would focus more and more and the Christian king and less on the Byzantine emperor, who by the 7th and 8th centuries was becoming a very remote player in the larger scheme of western European politics.

Coronation Liturgies

As Christianity became a permanent part of European culture, the coronation of a Christian ruler took on increasing significance as a civic and an ecclesiastical ceremony. In pre-Christian times the succession to the Roman emperorship was always filled by the last man standing, who usually had to dispose of several rival generals in a series of draining civil wars. This had put the Empire in bad straits by the 3rd century, and even the ascension of the Christian emperors failed to solve this dilemma. Indeed, it may be said that failure to find a stable method of imperial succession was a decisive factor in the weakening of the Roman Empire, from the time when Julius Caesar was stabbed at the foot of Pompey’s statue right down into the numbing series of overthrows and ceremonial blindings that characterized the transfer of power in the Byzantine Empire.

It took the influx of German elements into the world of late antiquity and the notion of prima geniture to stabilize what was an otherwise chaotic line of succession. Gradually, kings and emperors were no longer proclaimed on the battlefield but acclaimed in churches and crowned in elaborate ecclesiastical ceremonials. Many texts from these liturgies survive to this day and are of pivotal importance for the topic of this work. The coronation of a new monarch was where the ideologies of Church and State merged most powerfully, and it is in these texts that the development, rise and fall of the idea of theocratic kingship can be traced.

Before Constantine, there really was no such thing as a coronation. New emperors took the throne by assuming the imperial purple (paladamentum) and laurel wreath. Constantine was the first to implement a regal diadem. He wore the diadem habitually throughout his life and even ordered it placed on the head of his corpse after death. Thus, from Constantine throughout the Christian period, the diadem came to replace the purple as the primary symbol of sovereignty.11 The identification of the authority of the ruler with the authority of God was accomplished by a ceremonial adoration of the monarch by prostration. This seems to be a novelty introduced by Constantine himself. After the placing of the diadem upon the head of the emperor, the emperor received the Sacred Host, at which point everyone present fell down in adoration, ostensibly in worship of the sacramental Presence, though conveniently in the presence of the emperor as well. It seems that the emperor chose this moment, when he had just received the Host, as a prudent one for the act of adoration by prostration, lest some complain about performing a proskynesis in the presence of merely the emperor’s person.12

This idea of the adoration of God being synonymous with the adoration of His chosen ruler runs deep in Byzantine political and religious thought.13 Devotion to God could be gauged by one’s devotion to the God-appointed emperor. Just as there was only one God, so there was only one Empire and one ruler of that Empire.14 An example of this thought is found in the transcripts of the trial of Maximus from the late 7th century. Maximus, a Greek bishop, was accused of heresy and treason and was brought to trail before an assembly of senators and clergy in Constantinople. An excerpt from this transcript reveals how patriotism and orthodoxy were connected in the Byzantine mind:

They made him [Maximus] stand in the middle of the seated senators, and the bursar said to him with much anger and passion, “Are you a Christian?” He replied, “By the grace of Christ the God of the universe I am a Christian.” The former said, “That is not true!” The servant of God answered, “You say I am not, but God says I am and will remain a Christian.” “But how,” he said, “if you are a Christian, can you hate the emperor?” [italics mine]15

One of the charges of which Maximus was accused was denying that the Christian emperor was also a priest. At his trial, he recalled for his judges a dispute he had with one of them, an ecclesiastic named Gregory:

It is for priests to inquire into and define what concerns the saving dogmas of the Catholic Church.”’ And you said, “What, then, is not every Christian emperor also a priest?’ And I said, ‘He is not, for neither does he stand at the altar….Nor does he baptize, or anoint, or lay on hands and make bishops and priests and deacons….While he [Maximus] was saying this, Menas cried, “In saying these things you split the Church!16

What was implicit and undefined in the time of Ambrose had become by the late 7th century a widely held assumption: that the Christian ruler participated in the priesthood. Maximus, in arguing against sacerdotal monarchy, was fighting against the spirit of the times: he was condemned to exile and had his tongue torn out and his blessing hand cut off. He died four years later in 666.

The coronation rite used in Byzantium from the 5th century onwards reflects this development in political and sacred ideology. The first emperor crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople was Marcian in 450, although at first this seems to be because of the Patriarch’s capacity as a civil official and the coronation ceremony seems to have not been a religious one.17 However, by the time of Emperor Leo II in 473 the ceremony includes prayers by the Patriarch; at the coronation of Anastasius in 490 the prayers of the Patriarch and presentation of the Gospels are prominent. The Patriarch then administers an oral and written oath to the emperor-elect, making him swear that he will “keep the faith entire and introduce no novelty into the Church.”18

The first emperor crowned in a Church is the usurper Phokas, in 602. This seems to have been originally a propaganda method by Phokas, who as a usurper, wanted to do all in his power to bolster his image. Though it did not help him much (he was captured and burnt to death by Herakleios in 610, who became Emperor in his place), by that time the entire imperial coronation ceremony assumed a “formal and religious character.”19 The anointed emperors were compared to biblical kings like David  and his Christian subjects to the new Israel. 20 The ritual became no longer a transfer of political office, but a divine ordination; no longer the proclamation of a de facto ruler, but the creation of a de jure monarch. In some ways, the Byzantine emperor was viewed as some type of ecclesiastic; in the example above taken from the trial of Maximus, the judge Gregory clearly views the emperor as some sort of priest. This is reflected in the coronation liturgy, when the emperor is invested with a mandyas, or cope, and seems to exercise the function of a minor order in the Eucharistic liturgy that followed.21 This tendency toward sacerdotal monarchy was strongest in Byzantium, where there was a long and established tradition of Caesaropapism.

It is in the west that the practice of anointing a king with oil appears. This seems to arise first in Visigothic Spain, seemingly in imitation of the manner in which King Solomon was anointed in the Old Testament. This unction seems to replace the crowning with the diadem as the main feature of the ceremony. The unction was performed by the Bishop of Toledo or another high ranking ecclesiastic after the king made a profession of faith. The best preserved transcript of a Visigothic coronation comes from the coronation of King Wamba in 672, but like the record of the baptism of Clovis, it is shrouded with a miracle story of uncertain origin.22

The English coronation orders provide an especially telling insight into the way the image of the king changed over the course of time. The earliest coronation ceremony, called the Egbertine Order and associated with Archbishp Egbert of York (732-766), contains many elements of sacerdotal kingship. The king is anointed with oil from a horn while the antiphon “Unexerunt Salomonem” (“Thus they anointed Solomon”) is sung. A staff of some sort is presented to the king, with allusions to the bringing of the olive branch to the ark by the dove, but more importantly, to the selection of Aaron as High Priest over Israel when God made his rod blossom. Thus the biblical figures of Solomon, the archetypal king, and Aaron, the archetypal priest, are combined in the coronation of the English king.23 Another instance of sacerdotal imagery comes when the king is presented with three naked swords, one with the end cut off.24 The first two corresponded to the swords of temporal and religious power, representing the king’s promises to govern the state justly and be the defender of the Church. The third was the sword of mercy, cut short to symbolize that the justice of the monarch should be tempered with clemency.25

This implied bend towards theocratic kingship was strengthened after the Norman invasions to give divine sanction to their conquest and was not changed until the after the English investiture struggle. At that time a new order of service was adopted with a much less theocratic emphasis, the Anselm Order, named after the famous Archbishop of Canterbury who struggled against King William II Rufus is the English investiture controversy.

Very significant is the coronation liturgy of the Carolingian rulers, for it is among the Carolingians that the idea of theocratic monarchy was most popular. This is because of the direct correlation in the Carolingian monarchy between kingship and divine sanction. From the very beginning of the Carolingian dynasty, coronation was done by the Pope. It could be argued that it was the Pope who created the Carolingian dynasty by first giving sanction to Pepin to oust the Merovingians in 752 and then by proclaiming and crowning Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day, 800. As with the example of the eastern Emperor Phokas being crowned inside St. Sophia’s, this precedent of papal crowning seems to be a historical accident. If what Einhard and Charlemagne himself asserted is true, that Charles would have never agreed to accept the imperial title at the hands of the Pope had he known about it beforehand, then it is probable that Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as an attempt to both keep the Franks accountable to papal authority as well as counter the claims of the Byzantine emperors to be lords over the papacy.26 Future Carolingian (and later German) imperial coronations retained their link to the papacy: the emperor-elect was always crowned in Rome, took a coronation oath after kissing the pope’s foot, and swore fealty to the reigning pope, as well had an unction performed by the Bishop of Ostia.27 The crowning of Charlemagne created a precedent of imperial authority coming from the papacy.

At first, Charles seemed to have been upset by the coronation, but quickly realized how it could work to his authority. If he received his imperial title from the hands of the Pope, this meant that his authority ultimately came not from himself but from the Church. This could cause problems by making actions of the Frankish kings beholden to papal approval. However, it also meant that Charlemagne was endowed with an authority that no one else in the west was: the authority of God Himself, given through the Pope. Other coronation ceremonies only invoked God’s blessing on the king, but Charles had actually been selected by God and crowned by the Pope, giving him a much broader authority that his contemporary kings. This authority would come back to haunt the papacy; several centuries later, the Holy Roman Emperors would attempt to exalt their authority above that of the popes and constantly plagued the papacy, especially during the years from the Investiture Controversy (1072-1122) until the final victory of the papacy with the concessions granted it by Frederick II in 1215 and 1245. No one could have foreseen this on that Christmas Day in the year 800; but before long, the Carolingians, and later the Ottonians, would use their sacral authority to wreak much havoc in the Church.

In the formative years between the fall of the Roman Empire in the west and the rise of the Carolingians, there is much development in the ideals of what Christian kingship meant. Following the precedent set by Constantine and the late Roman emperors, the first place where the civil and ecclesiastical elements of the Empire came together was before of after a battle, where prayers for victory and thanksgiving celebrations were the way the Church sanctified the imperial war effort. Soon the crowning of the emperor himself became an ecclesiastical function; first Marcian was crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople in 450, then the usurper Phokas had his coronation done in the Church of Hagia Sophia in 602, hoping the cement his shaky claim to the purple. These actions became precedents in subsequent coronations and did much to contribute to the idea that the Christian ruler was both a layman and an ecclesiastic of some sort. It was for denying this connection that Maximus the Confessor had his tongue pulled out and hand cut off in 662.

Coronations in the west followed loosely on the imperial models, though the unction, in imitation of David and Solomon, replaced the assuming of the purple (paludamentum) as the central act of the ceremony. Kings were generally crowned and anointed after swearing to uphold the rights of the Church and rule justly, the idea being that the regal authority was being conferred by God, mediated through the Church, to the king in order that the ruler might partake in God’s governance of the temporal order through his office. There were always implications of some sort of vague ecclesial authority on the part of the king, such as the symbolism of the swords used in the Egbertine Order and the allusion to the anointing of Aaron; in the Carolingian ceremonies, it is more defined since the connection between Church and State was stronger.

During this period, 476-800, Europe clearly moved from the Roman sphere into the Germanic sphere of influence. The next section will briefly examine how the transformation of Europe into a German entity altered ideas about kingship and how the Germans contributed to both the rise and fall of theocratic monarchy in the Middle Ages.

1 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History,10.8

2 Michael McCormick, Eternal Victory, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1986), 107-108


4 Procopius, Bella, 4, 9, 3

5 McCormick, 246

6 Ibid., 240

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid., 237

9 Ibid., 309

10 Ibid., 321

11 Herbert Thurston, “Coronation,” In “The Catholic Encyclopedia”, vol. 4, ed. Charles G. Herbermann (Robert Appleton Co.: New York, 1908), 380

12 Ibid., 382

13 This ideal is very prominent in the coronation ceremony of the Russian czars as well, which was influenced greatly by Byzantine coronation orders. The metropolitan bishop prays as he presents the crown to the czar: “Most God-fearing, absolute and mighty Lord, Emperor of all the Russians, this visible and tangible adornment of thy head is an eloquent symbol that thou as the head of the whole Russian people art invisibly crowned by the King of Kings, Christ, with a most ample blessing, seeing that He bestows upon thee entire authority over His people” (ibid., 386).

14Another example of Byzantine Caesaropapism comes from the “Life of St. Euthymios”, a 10th century Patriacrh of Constantinople. Euthymios says to the emperor: “It is right, sire, to obey your orders and receive your decisions as emanating from the will and providence of God. For the king’s heart is in the hand of God.” Vita S. Euthymii, 1

15 Maximus Confessor, “Selected Writings”, Translated by George C. Berthold, (Paulist Press: Mahwah, N.J., 1985), 17

16Ibid., 21

17Herbert Thurston, “Coronation,” In “The Catholic Encyclopedia”, vol. 4, ed. Charles G. Herbermann (Robert Appleton Co.: New York, 1908), 381

18 Ibid.

19Ibid, 382

20The imagery of the Christian emperor as a new David goes back to Ambrose, who compared the military victories of Theodosius I to the triumphs of Joshua, Samuel and David, “by the outpouring of heavenly grace.” ( St. Ambrose, Letter 62) Coins and inscriptions from the reign of Herakleios depict him as a new David.

21Herbert Thurston, “Coronation,” In “The Catholic Encyclopedia”, vol. 4, ed. Charles G. Herbermann (Robert Appleton Co.: New York, 1908), 382

22 The legend is that a miraculous vapor arose from the head of the king after he was anointed with oil, which those present took as a supernatural portent (ibid.).

23Ibid., 383

24This may be a take on the popular “Two Sword” theory of the Middle Ages, which will be expounded on later.

25The king took three oaths as he was presented with the three swords. After each oath, the people present responded with a hearty “Amen.” The oaths corresponded to rule of the state, defense of the Church and extension of mercy, as the swords symbolized. “First, that the Church of God and all Christian folk should keep true peace at all times. Amen. The second is that he should forbid all robbery and all unrighteous things to all orders. Amen. The third is that he should enjoin in all his dooms justice and mercy, that the gracious and merciful God, of His everlasting mercy, may show pardon to us all. Amen.” (ibid.)

26“It was then that he [Charlemagne] received the titles of Emperor and Augustus, to which he at first had such an aversion that he declared that he would not have set foot in the Church the day that they were conferred, although it was a great feast-day, if he could have foreseen the design of the Pope.” Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, 28

27Herbert Thurston, “Coronation,” In “The Catholic Encyclopedia”, vol. 4, ed. Charles G. Herbermann (Robert Appleton Co.: New York, 1908), 385

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Did St. Augustine believe in Sola Scriptura?

Anyone who has read any scholarly works by Protestant apologists knows how readily they turn to the venerable St. Augustine of Hippo to find support for their doctrines. Many Protestants, from Martin Luther to Adolf Harnack, held Augustine in great esteem and saw in him a pre-Reformation reformer. The Protestant Confession of Augsburg (1530) in Article 20 cites Augustine as a supporter of the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide: “Augustine, in many volumes, defends grace and the righteousness of faith, over against the merits of works.” Calvin quoted Augustine more than any other theologian. Indeed, Augustine is almost universally praised by the intellectual Protestant world as a type of proto-Protestant. No such Protestant love is showed for saints like Cyprian, Athanasius or Gregory the Great. From whence comes this Protestant affection for St. Augustine?

To a Catholic, this must seem especially confusing, since we venerate Augustine as one of the Four Western Doctors of the Church and one of the greatest defenders of Catholic orthodoxy in Church history. Why then do Protestants make such use of him? Two reasons, mainly: first, because of Augustine’s tremendously imposing corpus of writing, it is difficult for the layman to comprehend the whole of Augustine’s work and get a balanced view on his beliefs on issues such as faith, grace, and biblical inspiration. It is worth pointing out that a few other heretical groups (notably the Jansenists) also misquoted Augustine in support of their heterodox teachings. This is compounded by the fact that Augustine modified some of his beliefs over time, as we see in his Retractions.

Second, we could cite the fact that even within this body of work, Augustine’s thought on these issues is so much more developed than any of the Fathers who came before him that, as Peter said of St. Paul’s writings, “there are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16). This means that one cannot do adequate justice to Augustine’s thought by pulling out little snippets and proof-texts to make a point. This is especially true of all the Fathers, but especially of Augustine.

Unfortunately, out-of-context citation and off the cuff “proof-texting” are usually what Protestants do when working with St. Augustine. This article deals particularly with this issue in regards to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura. The examples in Protestant literature are manifold: some of the usual suspects are On the Good of Widowhood (c. 413) and On the Unity of the Church (c.405), in which quotes from Augustine are vacuumed out of their original context to suggest support for the Protestant belief that the Bible alone is the sole source of authority in doctrine and morals.

In this article, we will look at just one example of this, a text pulled from Letter 82 of St. Augustine to St. Jerome (c. 405) dealing with some questions about St. Pauls’ keeping of some ritual traditions of the Jewish law. In Chapter 1:3 of this letter, Augustine says, “For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error.” Later in the letter, St. Augustine reiterates this point and adds that he is “bound to yield such implicit subjection as to follow [the Scriptures’] teaching, without admitting the slightest suspicion that in them any mistake or any statement intended to mislead could find a place.” These quotations have been used frequently by Protestant commentators against Catholics as alleged “proof” that Augustine taught Sola Scriptura. But do they really prove this?

As is usually the case with instances of Protestants attempting to quote the Fathers against the Church, this example is one of a text being pulled out of context. St. Augustine certainly does not believe in Sola Scriptura; this can be proved easily by several other citations from Augustine in which he upholds the authority of Tradition. For example: 

"But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church" (Letter to Januarius (54) 1,1). 

In his reply to the Donatists on infant baptism, Augustine says:

"The apostles, indeed, gave no injunctions on the point; but the custom [of infant baptism]… may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings” (Baptism, 5,23). 

There are literally scores of quotes from Augustine that demonstrate beyond doubt that he firmly believed in the authoritative Tradition of the Church and did not hold anything close to a Protestant belief in Sola Scriptura.

Such quotations from St. Augustine’s other works allow us to get a more well-rounded look at his teaching and establish firmly that Augustine did not believe that the the Bible alone is the sole source of authority for a Christian. However, we have not dealt with the original quote from his 82nd letter where St. Augustine says, “For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error.” If Augustine does not teach Sola Scriptura in this passage, then what exactly is he getting at?

In the paragraph immediately preceding the cited text, St. Augustine is discussing with St. Jerome the fittingness of using the word ludamus (“let us amuse ourselves”) in their debate over the interpretation of Scripture. Augustine says that it is good that they keep their debate in a friendly tone, so that there is no fear of offending one other by harsh words. But he goes on to say that he would not be offended if Jerome argued against him, for it is not to Jerome the man but to the Scriptures that Augustine yields authority in these matters. The complete quotation reads:

“You ask, or rather you give a command with the confiding boldness of charity, that we should amuse ourselves in the field of Scripture without wounding each other…On such terms we might amuse ourselves without fear of offending each other in the field of Scripture, but I might well wonder if the amusement was not at my expense. For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error” (1, 2-3).

So we see, Augustine is not setting up an opposition between Church Tradition and Sacred Scripture; he is merely saying that if it comes down to taking the word of Jerome, another bishop just as himself, or the Scriptures, he will yield to the Scriptures instead of to the opinions of a private theologian. This is still the Church’s position today: Church dogma, whether it is found in Scripture or Tradition, trumps the views of private theologians.

As is often the case, the problem is one of context. When we read the entirety of St. Augustine’s letter, we see that he is saying nothing at all about the authority of Scriptures over Church Tradition or Church authority. He merely asserts that the Bible is to be preferred to the opinions of a private individual, which the Church would agree with. The problem is that the Protestant who attempts to use this to debunk the Catholic position does not really care what Augustine is getting at; they have no intention of understanding the subtelties of Augsutine’s thought, only of attacking the Catholic position. A verse that seems to support the Protestant position is found and then wrenched out of context to be used against the unknowing Catholic.

Furthermore, if Protestants do decide to insist that St. Augustine was really a proto-reformer, then they picked a very bad choice, because it was this same Augustine who said of the Roman Catholic Church,

“This same is the holy Church, the one Church, the true Church, the catholic Church, fighting against all heresies: fight, it can: be fought down, it cannot. As for heresies, they went all out of it, like as unprofitable branches pruned from the vine: but itself abides in its root, in its Vine, in its charity. "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (On the Creed: Sermon to Catechumens (14) c. 395)

When one really takes the time to dig into the works of Augustine, or any of the Church Fathers, it becomes easily apparent that they did not believe in anything even close to the Protestant notion Sola Scriptura. So don’t be taken in by the novel idea that Augustine, Athanasius or any of the Church Fathers believed in the doctrines of Luther and Calvin. It simply isn’t so.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Out of the mouths of babes...

Among the critics of a further return to the Church's traditional language in the liturgy, there are always those who say that an expansion of Latin would be impractical because nobody would be able to learn or understand it. It is too difficult, they say, to take people who only know English and try to educate them in the meaning and pronunciation of a different language. Nobody would understand what they were saying and, even if they were willing to try to pick up the Latin, it would take way too much time for them to master the phrases. Latin might be fine for those who have taken years of it in college, the say, but for the vast bulk of the laity who have not, this is just a kind of liturgical elitism, a practice that is beyond the ability of most people to find any meaning in. The laity simply does not have the endurance or competency for such an undertaking (a rehash of the old "ignorant laity" argument).

 At my parish we recently did an experiment that blew this argument out of the water. Last week we had about 60 kids from many surrounding parishes participate in our yearly Catholic Vacation Bible School program. Instead of singing a lot of insipid, Protestant-inspired songs, the music director decided to teach the kids to sing the Our Father in Latin. The majority of the kids (I'd say 80%) had never heard it before; I know this because we took a "show of hands" poll to see who had prior exposure to the Pater Noster - very, very few did.

 The student guinea pigs were from grades 3 to 6 and spent 45 minutes with the music director each day (though perhaps only ten or fifteen minutes were devoted to the Our Father specifically). On day one they were introduced to the prayer, were taught why we use Latin, were taught the prayer in its entirety, worked on pronunciation and had an opportunity to listen to the director singing the melody. At the end of the class, they fuddled their way through it once, too.

On day two they practiced singing through the song themselves, working out bumps in the timing and tweaked the pronounciation a little more. 

On the third day they were able to sing through the whole thing, guided by the Music Director, and sounded pretty good. By this time a good number of the phrases were committed to memory.

On day four they rehearsed the whole thing several times - I also reviewed it with them in class, explaining little points about the Latin and how it related to English words they already knew. On the evening of day four, they performed a concert for their parents and sung the entire Pater Noster, reading music off of provided sheets. Was it as perfect as it could have been? Not at all - it could always be better. But the success story here is that we took a group of 7 to 11 year olds who had by and large never heard the Our Father sung in Latin and in the span of four days taught it to them with enough proficiency so that they were able to perform it at a concert.

Our excellent Music Director hit it on the head when, in a little talk to the kids, she said, "You guys are amazing. A lot of adults think what you are doing is too hard, but it's not is it?" The kids laughed and jested at the idea that adults could not do what they themselves were doing with relative ease.

So, are adults too stupid to learn Latin? Are they too busy? Will it take too long to get them proficient? I'd say my Music Director invested maybe two or three hours total time with these kids on this particular song over four days and that was plenty good enough. Next time somebody tells you that a switch to Latin would be too laborious and time consuming, remember that a group of 3rd-6th graders did it in four days. It's really not that big a deal. The obstacles are ideological, not practical.

"From the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise" (Matt. 21:16).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Agricultural Reform

I don't know how many of you are Distributists; I consider myself in the Distributist camp, although I can't say I fully agree with the whole Distributist program, not so much because I have positive disagreements as because what I have read on Distributism is somewhat scant.

Of course, not knowing what I am writing about has never stopped me from writing about it. Case in point: my new article up at The Distributist Review on five practical ways to reform agriculture in this country for the following three ends:

(1) Restoring agricultural production to its pride of place in the economy
(2) Weaning Americans off of cheap, foreign produce
(3) Enabling Americans to enter the agricultural vocation with greater ease

Basically, I just wrote on what I thought was common sense and found out it was Distributism. Anyhow, if you are a Distributist or are interested in things economical, check out my article here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Milton the Catholic

No, not famous poet John Milton, but his brother, Christopher.

I have actually been reading a lot of Milton's prose work lately and have been quite enjoying it, despite the fact that I heartily disagree with the famous luminary of the Puritans. His prose is easy, full of wit and humor and well constructed; also, it's just nice to read something written that is unambiguously trying to win an argument, as opposed to so much modern junk which is just trying to have a dialogue. 

Anyhow, in reading Milton's prose I have came across John's brother Sir Christopher. While John Milton sought to work for the kingdom through religion and writing, Christopher sought to do so through the legal profession. Though not distinguished as a lawyer, he won admiration from the Stuarts for his support of Charles I during the Civil War, for which his house was confiscated during Cromwell's time.

Christopher, like John, was born Anglican and remained so Anglican throughout Cromwell's years. After the Restoration he drifted towards Catholicism, along with many other eminent statesmen of the Restoration period, and was received into the Roman Catholic Church later in life, probably around 1680. Historians as well as contemporary writers suggested that Christopher may have converted for political motives; indeed shortly after his conversion, in 1686, he was invested with the coif, knighted and raised to the Exchequer Bench by his fellow catholic, King James II, in late April 1686. However, this may not be the case, for his eminent brother John, in his personal writings, made mention of the Catholicizing tendencies of his brother years before the latter's conversion and indicated that the two had heated debates in the years leading up to John's death (1674) and the reception of Christopher into the Catholic Church. Clearly if the two brothers had argued heatedly about the subject for years, as John's writings seem to suggest, it would be more probable that Christopher was converting sincerely, though he could not have been blind to the potential benefits of embracing Catholicism during the brief reign of the Catholic James II.

Sir Christopher died in March  1693, and was buried, on 22nd of that month, in the church of St. Nicholas in Ipswich.

It's nice to learn about the Catholics that are always "hiding in the shadows" behind the personages of their more eminent Protestant kinsmen.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Personal Relationship with Jesus"

How I used to use this phrase when I was going through my Protestant phase and a young man! "Personal relationship with Jesus." This was a good way to trip up Catholics; "Yes, you profess belief in God, but do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?" Chances are a poorly catechized Catholic would not know what the heck you were talking about. A good Catholic should of course realize that this is a canard; all practicing Catholics have a relationship with Jesus (what do you think happens when we receive Holy Communion anyway?); just because we might not use this language, we ought never to let non-Catholics trip us up and get us thinking that we don't have a relationship with Jesus.

So even though it's been a while since I have head this phrase bandied about, and even though this is a no-brainer to most of you, it is good to revisit this issue occasionally and remind ourselves, and Protestants, that, yes, Catholics do have a "personal relationship with Jesus" and that this friendship with Christ is in fact the source of the spiritual life so recommended to us by all of the contemplatives saints.

There are a great many places we could go to to prove this, but let's look at an excerpt from the famous Imitation of Christ of Thomas A'Kempis. I choose this work because it was written during that awful 15th century, the hundred years before Luther when (allegedly) the corruption of the Church was at its height and Catholic spirituality was (allegedly) both superficial and superstitious. This is a good place to point to if a Protestant alleges that the Church's tradition or spirituality dissuade one from having a personal friendship with Christ our Lord. A' Kempis writes:

On The Intimate Friendship of Jesus (Book 2, Chapter 8)

WHEN Jesus is near, all is well and nothing seems difficult. When He is absent, all is hard. When Jesus does not speak within, all other comfort is empty, but if He says only a word, it brings great consolation. Did not Mary Magdalen rise at once from her weeping when Martha said to her: "The Master is come, and calleth for thee"? Happy is the hour when Jesus calls one from tears to joy of spirit. How dry and hard you are without Jesus! How foolish and vain if you desire anything but Him! Is it not a greater loss than losing the whole world? For what, without Jesus, can the world give you? Life without Him is a relentless hell, but living with Him is a sweet paradise. 

If Jesus be with you, no enemy can harm you. He who finds Jesus finds a rare treasure, indeed, a good above every good, whereas he who loses Him loses more than the whole world. The man who lives without Jesus is the poorest of the poor, whereas no one is so rich as the man who lives in His grace. It is a great art to know how to converse with Jesus, and great wisdom to know how to keep Him. Be humble and peaceful, and Jesus will be with you. Be devout and calm, and He will remain with you. You may quickly drive Him away and lose His grace, if you turn back to the outside world. And, if you drive Him away and lose Him, to whom will you go and whom will you then seek as a friend? You cannot live well without a friend, and if Jesus be not your friend above all else, you will be very sad and desolate. Thus, you are acting foolishly if you trust or rejoice in any other. Choose the opposition of the whole world rather than offend Jesus.

Of all those who are dear to you, let Him be your special love. Let all things be loved for the sake of Jesus, but Jesus for His own sake. Jesus Christ must be loved alone with a special love for He alone, of all friends, is good and faithful. For Him and in Him you must love friends and foes alike, and pray to Him that all may know and love Him. Never desire special praise or love, for that belongs to God alone Who has no equal. Never wish that anyone's affection be centered in you, nor let yourself be taken up with the love of anyone, but let Jesus be in you and in every good man. Be pure and free within, unentangled with any creature. You must bring to God a clean and open heart if you wish to attend and see how sweet the Lord is. 

Truly you will never attain this happiness unless His grace prepares you and draws you on so that you may forsake all things to be united with Him alone. When the grace of God comes to a man he can do all things, but when it leaves him he becomes poor and weak, abandoned, as it were, to affliction. Yet, in this condition he should not become dejected or despair. On the contrary, he should calmly await the will of God and bear whatever befalls him in praise of Jesus Christ, for after winter comes summer, after night, the day, and after the storm, a great calm.

Of course the Catholic "friendship" with Jesus Christ, though truly a communion of love and a friendship in the truest sense, does not become soured by a base familiarity (or at least it should not). Jesus is truly our friend, saviour, intercessor and companion, but He is also Lord, God, King of Kings; He who will break the nations with a rod or iron (Ps. 2). Thus our friendship with Him must never lose sight of our true stature in relation to Him; we draw near to Him, but with awe, and without giving in to the kind of sappy emotionalism which is found in so much modern worship music, where people sing about Jesus as if He is their boyfriend (this, in part, is one of the issues with modern Catholic liturgical translations - an over-familiarity that does not adequately communicate God's majesty).

"Wherefore, my dearly beloved...with fear and trembling work out your salvation"
(Php. 2:12).

By the way, if you liked this post, click here for some of the most popular posts on this blog.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

CCC on Armed Resistance

A while back some friends and I were discussing the conditions that must be met in a hypothetical scenario for armed resistance against the government to be justified according to Catholic social teaching (don't worry - it was really only hypothetical). We used the guidelines laid down in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 2243) as our norm. As we discussed various hypothetical scenarios, using the CCC as our guiding light, I began to see that this question is not nearly as easy to parse out as I thought and that the CCC's "guidelines" for when we can have recourse to armed resistance are practically useless when you attempt to apply them concretely.

Let's review what the CCC says on the issue of armed resistance. Here is paragraph 2243:

Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution. 

These will be our five criteria in examining when, in a given situation, it is just for persons to resort to armed resistance against their government. In this strictly hypothetical scenario, the government in question will be our own government and the conditions will be our current conditions or future ones that are reasonably able to be deduced as the outcome or logical end of our current condition.

1)  There is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights.

My first question upon reading this is what is a "fundamental right?" Usually the phrase "fundamental rights" is used to denote life issues and abuses relating to human dignity, the fundamental right to life, etc. But is this narrow interpretation of "fundamental rights" really justified? If we look to another part of the CCC, the section on sin, we find a listing of the traditional "sins that cry to heaven for vengeance." They are:

The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are "sins that cry to heaven": the blood of Abel [murder], the sin of the Sodomites [homosexual acts], the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt [political oppression], the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner (CCC 1867).

May we reasonably conclude that any of these "sins that cry to heaven" could be said to be violations of "fundamental rights" if done on an institutional level by some government? I think this is reasonable; it is hard to see how a sin that is so horrendous that it "cries to heaven" would not be a violation of a "fundamental right." In fact, we could make the connection that these sins cry to heaven precisely because they violate some fundamental right.

If this is so, then we have to take into account not only offenses against life (abortion, euthanasia, etc.) but also social ills like the widespread acceptance of homosexuality and even economic factors (defrauding workers of their wages). But in order for the presence of these evils to be relevant to our discussion of armed resistance, it seems that they would to be not only present in society, but actively tolerated and even supported by the government.

Obviously one could (and many have) had this discussion in the context of government sponsored abortion. But what about laws that grant homosexuals a privileged legal status by extending "civil rights" to their lifestyle? More intriguingly, what about excessive federal, state and local taxation? A worker has a right to his wages. While some taxation is just, is it just to take up to 32% of a man's income in fees, federal, state and local axes and witholdings in order fund excessive government waste, abortion, and a bloated bureaucracy that has a legendary reputation for inefficiency and corruption?

Another question - whose "fundamental rights" have to be violated for resistance to be just? For example, what if the rights of only a small minority are being violated (e.g., the unborn)? Are the vast majority of those whose rights are perfectly secure justified in revolt on behalf of the small minority whose rights are not safeguarded? Or does the CCC envision an oppression that is more broad and general?

One could of course say that if the rights of a minority are not secure, then really nobody's rights are, since it is conceivable that a government that can't respect the right to life of a baby will not respect the right to life of anyone else. However, the CCC says that the violations need to be certain (not hypothetical); they need also be grave and prolonged (i.e., not occurring once in awhile but on a constant, institutional scale).

Taking all of this information together,we can see that this first guideline leaves a lot of things up in the air: How grave is grave? Does "fundamental rights" apply strictly to life issues or to broader things, such as institutional support of "sins that cry to heaven?" How much of the population has to be deprived of these rights before recourse to arms is just? Also not addressed is whether a non-oppressed segment of the populace can have recourse to arms on the part of the oppressed element, who may be incapable of aiding themselves. If so, when and who makes this judgment?

One last thing - it is interesting to look back at history and various rebellions Catholics have been engaged in and see how violations of "fundamental rights" were interpreted in the past. The German Catholics of the 11th century felt justified in open revolt against Emperor Henry IV based solely on the fact that he had been excommunicated; the Catholic of England during the Pilgrimage of Grace had their justification in Henry VIII's closure of the monasteries and the promulgation of the Book of Common Prayer. Do the authors of the CCC envision these scenarios as just revolts?

2) All other means of redress have been exhausted.

This one leads to the most problems - no matter what one does to try to secure peace, one could always conceivably suggest that more could have been done. How is anyone to tell with certainty when "all" other means of redress have been "exhausted?" Perhaps negotiations have failed, but it could always be said that more negotiations may have produced a different result, or perhaps trying with different people involved, or at a more fortuitous time, etc. In short, one can always make the claim that there are still more "means of redress" that have not been exhausted before one resorts to armed resistance. It is a very ambiguous and practically meaningless guideline if one is trying to use it to make concrete, prudential decisions. I suppose it has value in a very generic way: try everything first before resorting to violence. That's a helpful platitude, but it breaks down as soon as you attempt to apply it to your situation - okay, have we really tried everything else?

For example, when, practically speaking, do pro-life Americans decide that "every effort" short of violence has been made to stop abortion? Some could argue of the great gains that the pro-life cause has made in recent decades, successful state bans of partial birth abortion, etc. But others could argue that, after 37 years, if abortions are still happening at a rate of about 4,000 per day, then clearly our strategy is lacking and perhaps every other "means of redress" has been exhausted.

This brings up another problem - who decides when every means of redress has been exhausted? Does the CCC envision some sort of organized "Committees of Correspondence" type delegation making these decisions, or is it something left to the conscience of the individual? For example, back in February of this year, a man furious with the IRS committed suicide by crashing his plane into an IRS office building in Texas (story). The guy was a raving madman and of course suicide is never condoned, but here is an interesting thing to think about: every means of redress had been exhausted, for him. When Scott Roeder shot abortionist George Tiller in 2009, clearly Roeder felt every other means of redress had been exhausted in this case. In both of these situations, individuals were motivated to commit acts of violence on the personal belief that they had exhausted all other avenues.

Now, many will jump up and say, "But that's not for them to judge!" Then whose job is it? When the CCC says that armed resistance to the government is not legitimate unless all other means of redress have been exhausted, does this mean every individual makes this judgment in their conscience? Or does it refer to perhaps some organized "revolutionary" body making these judgments? And, since the CCC views all armed revolts as almost always unjustified, how can a revolutionary organization make such a judgment with any legitimacy?

3) Such resistance will not provoke worse disorders.

Like the second point about all means of redress being exhausted, this guidelines suffers from the fact that nobody can know if and how it will ever be met.

First, what constitutes a "disorder?" Violence is obviously a disorder. Is economic collapse a disorder? Is, say, 1/4 of Americans losing their homes a disorder? What about an environmental disaster? What about corruption at high levels, etc. We really can have no way of knowing what sorts of disorders, other than violence, the CCC is speaking of here.

Which leads to the following question: if armed resistance cannot provoke "worse disorders", how do we objectively measure which disorder is worse than another, especially if they are of two different types? Is the displacement of 100,000 people a worse disorder than the killing of 100? Is an economic collapse a worse disorder than rampant abuse of power? Is the subversion of the Constitution by a powerful elite a worse disorder than a Constitutional crisis in the wake of some sort of uprising? How can we even begin to measure these sorts of things against one another and determine when "worse disorders" will be provoked?

Even if we were talking strictly about violence, are we to automatically take a mathematical approach, for example, "Well, if we resort to armed resistance, we can kill about 50 of their guys, but they might kill 51 of ours, so 51 is worse than 50 and therefore we can't have recourse to arms"? Nobody makes judgments based on that sort of thinking in real life; besides, even if numbers were equivalent, this approach does not take into account what types of casualties are being incurred. For example, is 100 men killed in combat "better" than 25 innocent civilians killed? Even though 100 is four times the amount, many would make the argument that, if anybody has to risk their life, its better than people be killed in battle, armed, than that even a small amount perish who are unarmed.

My point with all this is, as with the second criteria, there is no meaningful way to measure when a "worse disorder" will occur as a result of ones actions, especially when there can be no certainty of how the other side will react.

Furthermore, even supposing the government being revolted against would employ harsh measures against a revolt, provoking "worse disorders", is this really a sign that the people should not have recourse to armed resistance, or is it perhaps evidence that they should? For example, suppose the government said (and this is purely hypothetical), "In the case of an armed revolt from the citizens of Texas, we will immediately apprehend, detain and deport every single inhabitant of the state of Texas to concentration camps for an indeterminate amount of time." This would be an obviously draconian measure, and certainly could qualify as a "worse disorder." Yet, would not the fact that the government would make this kind of threat (in this scenario) constitute a greater reason for revolt against it rather than a reason to submit?

4) There is well-founded hope of success.

How on earth can anybody know that ahead of time? Sometimes even the best-planned revolts/coups fail (consider Hitler's "miraculous" escape from the Stauffenberg bomb plot) while revolts that nobody would bet on succeeding end up gaining momentum - would anyone who saw the rag-tag Lexington militia flee before the British on April 19th, 1775 imagine that the colonists would ultimately win their independence from the mightiest empire on earth?

Furthermore, it depends on what success is defined by. Is it independence, as in our own revolt against Great Britain? Is it secession? Whole scale revolution and the dismantling of the previous system? Is it the simple recognition of previously unrecognized rights, as occurred in ancient Rome in the struggles of the plebeians against the patricians? I can see that there should be some potentially attainable end - it makes little sense to resort to violence if the case is absolutely and utterly futile. But going back to my above point, sometimes it is only in retrospect that one can determine whether or not a cause was futile. The Pilgrimage of Grace was futile, but it didn't seem that way to those involved in it.

And, as with all of these criteria, who makes the judgment of whether the cause has a well-founded chance of success?

5) It is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution.

This seems like a restating of point two about "exhausting"other means of redress, but a few things:

"Impossible" - very strong word. How do we know when something is not only unlikely but downright "impossible"? Especially when we are not talking about an outcome but just aour ability to "foresee" a better outcome. When is it impossible to "foresee" something?

"Reasonably" -who decides?

"Better solution" - See my above comments on "worse disorders" and means of redress being "exhausted."

What's the conclusion here? Even if you into account everything the CCC gives us on when it is just to have recourse to armed resistance, there are so many variables and questions still left to be resolved that it basically seems to devolve upon the individual to make this judgment for themselves - or at least to acknowledge that there is really no certain way to make this judgment based on the CCC's criteria. Obviously all of Catholic Tradition and history militates against the idea of revolution or rebellion as noble ideas - but there are times when it is justified and it is important to know when. Unfortunately, the CCC does not seem to help.

Friday, July 09, 2010

James and Paul on "works of law"

This question came up a while back in a Sacred Scripture class I teach for the local home school co-op:

 In James 2:24, St. James clearly says, “Man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (the only time the phrase "faith alone" appears in the Bible). Yet Protestants will typically turn to St. Paul's discussion of justification in Romans, specifically Romans 3:28, where St. Paul says precisely the opposite of St. James: "We hold that man is justified by faith apart from works of law." What is the solution here?

In looking at the issue of justification, we run the risk of muddying the waters of discussion if we are unable to clear up what, on the surface, appears to be a confusing contradiction.As with most other troublesome issues that come up when reading the Scriptures, the problem here is one of context. In this case, the issue is resolved by looking at what context Paul and James are using the word "works." 

In Romans 3, what is St. Paul referring to when he says that Abraham was not saved by "works of law?" What "works of law" is he referencing? Reading a little further ahead, throughout most of chapter 4, makes it clear that the works Paul is referring to are the ceremonial acts of the Old Testament: the washings, sacrifices, feasts, but especially circumcision:
What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."  Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.  However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:  "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD will never count against him."  Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness.  Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.  And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith (Rom. 4:3-13).
In the context of Romans, St. Paul is telling the Christians of Rome that the ceremonial precepts of the Jewish law are not efficacious to salvation - that circumcision will not add anything to those who are in Christ, as he states in Galatians 5:6, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love." The phrase, "works of law," which occurs 74 times in the writings of Paul, is a technical phrase, erga nomou, which is commonly taken to refer to the ceremonial precepts of the Law, not the moral imperative of all men to do good in general.

The context of Romans is clearly that St. Paul is warning the Roman believers that the Judaizing "works of law" are incapable of saving them; he is certainly not making some kind of Lutheran assumption that all of our deeds are valueless and that mankind can in no way cooperate with God's saving grace in a meaningful way.

What then is the context of James 2:24, "For you see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone"? To what "works" is St. James referring to? In the first place, though the same Greek root word is used for the English "work" (ergon), the familiar Pauline formula "works of law" is absent, suggesting that James is probably not using this word in the same manner. So what "works" is James referring to here?
"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe; and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:14-26).
Look at the examples James cites of "works": clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, the obedience of Abraham, the faithfulness of Rahab (note that Rahab's faith is a work: compare James 2:25 with Heb. 11:31). These works that James cites as salvific are the proverbial "good works" so derided by classical Protestantism. Here St. James' point is to stress that simple, intellectual adherence to the truths of the Faith is not sufficient for justification; good deeds must follow as well, or else one's faith is in vain. This is the traditional Catholic interpretation of these texts: that while the kind of ceremonial Jewish precepts written against by St. Paul are certainly not salvific or necessary for our salvation, it is absolutely essential to persist in charity and to cooperate with God's grace by doing "good works"; this is, after all, the meaning of our Lord's parable of the talent. Only those who put their master's money (grace) to "work" and reaped a profit were able to enter into their master's happiness. The servant who did nothing was cast out.

Therefore the Catholic need never play St. Paul off against St. James. Both Apostles are correct in their statements, of course. The Church has always reiterated the fact that the ceremonies of the Jewish law are powerless to convey salvation; indeed, for those enlightened by Christian doctrine and educated in the truth, it actually becomes sinful to revert back to the practice of the external forms of Judaism, as taught by the Council of Florence and Pope Eugene IV:
"[The Church] firmly believes, professes, and teaches that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, of the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, sacred rites, sacrifices, and sacraments, because they were established to signify something in the future, although they were suited to the divine worship at that time, after our Lord's coming had been signified by them, ceased, and the sacraments of the New Testament began; and that whoever, even after the passion, placed hope in these matters of the law and submitted himself to them as necessary for salvation, as if faith in Christ could not save without them, sinned mortally. Yet it does not deny that after the passion of Christ up to the promulgation of the Gospel they could have been observed until they were believed to be in no way necessary for salvation; but after the promulgation of the Gospel it asserts that they cannot be observed without the loss of eternal salvation.  All, therefore, who after that time observe circumcision and the Sabbath and the other requirements of the law, it declares alien to the Christian faith and not in the least fit to participate in eternal salvation, unless someday they recover from these errors (Pope Eugene IV, Papal Bull Cantate Domino).
 St. Thomas Aquinas affirms this as well:
All ceremonies are professions of faith, in which the interior worship of God consists. Now man can make profession of his inward faith, by deeds as well as by words: and in either profession, if he make a false declaration, he sins mortally. Now, though our faith in Christ is the same as that of the fathers of old; yet, since they came before Christ, whereas we come after Him, the same faith is expressed in different words, by us and by them. For by them was it said: "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son," where the verbs are in the future tense: whereas we express the same by means of verbs in the past tense, and say that she "conceived and bore." In like manner the ceremonies of the Old Law betokened Christ as having yet to be born and to suffer: whereas our sacraments signify Him as already born and having suffered. Consequently, just as it would be a mortal sin now for anyone, in making a profession of faith, to say that Christ is yet to be born, which the fathers of old said devoutly and truthfully; so too it would be a mortal sin now to observe those ceremonies which the fathers of old fulfilled with devotion and fidelity (STh, I-II, Q. 103, Art. 4).

 Furthermore, the Church unhesitatingly affirms the meaning of St. James in asserting that good deeds ("faith working through love") are essential for our salvation, as taught by the Council of Trent and Vatican II:
"Having, therefore, been thus justified and made the friends and domestics of God, advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day, that is, mortifying the members of their flesh, and presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith cooperating with good works, increase in that justice received through the grace of Christ and are further justified, as it is written: "He that is just, let him be justified still" and, "Be not afraid to be justified even to death;" and again, "Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only?" This increase Holy Church asks for when she prays, "Give unto us, O Lord, an increase of faith, hope and charity" (Council of Trent, Session VI, Chapter X).
 From Vatican II:

"He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a "bodily" manner and not "in his heart"(Lumen Gentium 14).

That's the great thing about being Catholic: not having to play Bible verses off against one another to fit certain theological presuppositions, like many Protestants who quote Romans 3:28 verbatim but would like to ignore James 2:24, or who stress a symbolic application of Christ's Hoc est enim corpus meum while conveniently ignoring the Bread of Life discourse in John 6, or who decry the sacrament of confession as clericalism and superstition whilst not having any satisfactory answers for Christ's commission to forgive or retain sins in John 20.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Apologia pro Christian Rock: Syncopation & Sexualization (part 4)

After a long delay, it is time for the fourth installment of everybody's least favorite series! This time, I will dealing with the issue of syncopation directly and addressing the claims that syncopated rhythms (a) cause one to become "sexualized", (b) are contrary to natural law and (c) are from the devil. In this post we will only have time to look at question A, whether syncopated beats cause a person to become sexualized.

For many who oppose rock music as intrinsically disordered, the focus is on the syncopated rhythm of the music. Before proceeding any further, we ought to define syncopation, since it can be a difficult concept to grasp for those who do not have a musical background.

Syncopation occurs when a typically unstressed beat is stressed, i.e., an "offbeat." A standard textbook in music theory, the Benward and Saker's Music: In Theory and Practice states that "If a part of the measure that is usually unstressed is accented, the rhythm is considered to be syncopated." Basically, it is the placement of stresses or accents where one wouldn't "normally" occur. If this makes any sense, a traditional rhythm might have the following accent: ONE two ONE two ONE, whereas a syncopated rhythm might go one TWO one TWO one TWO. If we imagine the one's as the bass drum and the two's as a snare drum, then we can see that syncopated rhythms form the "backbeat" to almost all contemporary rock, but also reggae, blues and other forms of music, as we shall see later.

So for the most part, rock music is heavily syncopated. Although, we ought to point out right away that rock music does not consist solely of syncopation - syncopation is one type of rhythm and rock can contain a variety of rhythms. Furthermore, syncopation did not begin with rock. It was used in traditional classical compositions, especially those of a martial nature (march music). Syncopation was used in compositions of the Middle Ages, and such masters as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky have also made extensive use of it (source). So in our discussion of syncopation we ought not to view it as some bizarre novelty invented by the depraved minds of modernity; rather, it is one musical tool among many that composers have always used in assembling their compositions.
Now, let's look at these three objections to syncopation in music - that it causes one to become sexualized, that it is intrinsically disordered and contrary to natural law, and that it is from the devil.

The first objection is perhaps the most common, and the point in the argument where objections to syncopation become moral imperatives. If it were true that listening to a certain beat made one sexualized or aroused lust, I suppose it would be morally dangerous to listen to music with that beat, regardless of whether it were a secular rap song or a Christian praise and worship tune. Remember, according to proponents of this theory, the precise style of music or lyrics do not matter - all that matters is the presence of the syncopated rhythm. But does syncopation in fact make one sexualized?

Fr. Basil Nortz of the Opus Sanctorum Angelorum in his talk "Music and Morality" states that (and I paraphrase) syncopated rhythms cause the body to "channel energy" from the upper body down into the pelvic region, giving the listener a desire to thrust or move their hips in sexually suggestive motions. So for Nortz, the connection here is a very physical, biological one: the music actually channels physical energy from the rest of the body to the pelvis, presumably getting one sexually aroused.

Andrew Pudewa, though not making this sweeping of a claim, states that a syncopated rhythm arouses the "lower passions" of man and therefore makes it more likely that the sexual passion or appetite will be awakened by listening to such rhythms. While there is nothing wrong with the sexual appetite, Pudewa states that it is nevertheless dangerous to risk awakening this passion, especially since syncopated rhythms seem to grant it a dominant role in modern music. Pudewa says that rhythm is dominant in modern music based on the fact that "if you turn the volume down very low, the instrument you can still hear is the dominant one." Since in most instances a drum beat can be perceived at much lower amplitudes, therefore music that uses syncopated rhythms is dominated by this beat which sexualizes the listener. This is what Pudewa and Fr. Nortz refer to as rock music's use of "relentless" and "driving" rhythms.

Regarding Fr. Nortz's claims that syncopated beats channel energy to the pelvis, I think we can regard this as pseudo-science. If energy is indeed channeled to the pelvis, then what I want to know is what energy? How is it "channeled"? Does it flow through veins or arteries? Intestines? If you are saying that "energy" is "channeled" then you are making a biological claim about the functioning of the human body and its systems. Unless you can tell me specifically what kind of "energy" this is and how it gets "channeled", then this claim becomes as foolish as the claims of those who say they can "channel energy" from crystals. Therefore, to those who say that a syncopated rhythm channels energy to the pelvis, either explain biologically what exactly it is you are saying gets channeled and how or else refrain from using these meaningless phrases of pseudo-science; it's as worthless as saying that a dog moves by virtue of an "inherent locomotive principle." Frankly, I'm surprised how many people buy this argument about channeling energy, but if you think about it biologically it makes little sense.

What about the argument that rhythm has an especially dominant role in rock music (of whatever variety) and that the dominant place of this rhythm "arouses" the lower appetites?

Again, what is the biological connection between the rhythm and how one gets "aroused" sexually? Do not most of these arguments make use of the unwarranted assumption that a syncopated rhythm arouses one's sexual appetites? Pudewa and Fr. Nortz seem to take this for granted. As a musician of twenty years, I can say this is not the case, but we'll come back to this.

Is rhythm dominant in modern music? Rhythm in fact is dominant in all music, of whatever variety. You cannot have music that is not dominated by rhythm. Classical music is dominated by rhythm. Ancient Greek music is dominated by rhythm. Mozart is dominated by rhythm. So how can Pudewa say that modern rock music is dominated by rhythm? Here we have to make a subtle distinction - when it is said that modern music is dominated by rhythm, what is meant is that modern music makes extensive use of percussive instruments. This is the difference between modern and pre-modern music: while all music is dominated by rhythm (which is just the timing of the music), classical or pre-modern musical forms were written in such a way that the rhythm was not expressed as percussively (note the lack of "drums" in classical compositions, which keep rhythm without them). In modern music, percussive instruments are used for the purpose of keeping rhythm. But in both cases the rhythm dominates the music - it can't be otherwise; without rhythm, there is no music, just minimalism; and however much one dislikes rock music, one cannot accuse it of being minimalist, since most rock music maintains a variety of rhythms, melodies and can be very complex - one might not like the solos of Eddie Van Halen (whose music I can't stand), but one cannot claim that they are minimalist or not complex.

So, it's not rhythm but percussion that allegedly dominates modern music. Andrew Pudewa says that we can prove this by the experiment of turning down the volume when a rock song is playing. If we do this, the last instrument we can still hear as the volume goes down is the drums. This is said to "prove" that the drums dominate the music.

I don't know how scientific this is, but I think what instrument you hear "last" when the volume is turned down has way more to do with tone and pitch that what is "dominant." For example, a lot of classical compositions will have an occasional cymbal crash in them, perhaps only three or four times in the whole piece. Yet, because of the tone and pitch that a cymbal has (as opposed to a violin or cello), you can be sure that if you turned the volume down, you'd hear that cymbal crash above everything else. Does this mean that classical music is dominated by cymbals? No; it simply means that a cymbal is of such a tone that it can be picked up by the human ear with greater ease than a bass. Similarly in rock music, I don't know that we can say that drums "dominate." Obviously, the music has to have rhythm, either with or without drums. I would say that drums don't dominate - they coordinate, as without drums it is very difficult for the guitarists to keep their own rhythm, depending on their degree of expertise.

One more thing to harp on here, and that is the use of this deceptive vocabulary about "relentless" beats and "driving" rhythms. Both Pudewa and Nortz use this language, and I hear it mimicked by many who criticize Christian rock music. What do these adjectives actually mean? Nothing at all. By saying "relentless," isn't this just a more negative way of saying that the beats are constant? Well, so what? Most musical compositions have an instrument that is constantly present. Or when we say that the beat is "driving," don't we really just mean that the beat sets the pace of the music, which is precisely what percussion is supposed to do? These adjectives "relentless" and "driving" are not helpful and are somewhat deceptive- couldn't we just as easily say that compositions by Bach are made up of "relentless piano playing" or that  the 1812 Overture features the use of relentless, driving use of horns; we could even say that Canon in D makes use of that one, "relentless" chord progression. In any of these case the use of the adjectives "relentless" and "driving" would be technically true; yet these adjectives are reserved for reference to rock beats alone because they carry with them obvious, loaded connotation that is negative. Heck, most classical music consists of relentless, driving violins.

But we have strayed from our original question - does any of this have anything to do with people getting sexualized from these beats?

That some music is associated with sexuality is unmistakable, but we have to be clear about what is causing what. For example, rap music and hip hop are more associated with sexuality than most other sorts of music, which is easily proven by a look at their music videos, lyrics and the life-styles engaged in by those who listen to such music. But does the music cause this sexualization? Could the sexuality associated with hip hop and rap perhaps have more to do with culture and socioeconomic status? That is, could not the emphasis of the hip hop "culture" on sex and promiscuity be more about the lack of positive male role models, inverted values that see promiscuous men and loose women as the norm and grinding poverty that leads to a focus on immediate gratification rather than fortitude and temperance? Doesn't this make more sense than saying the beats did it? When we factor in the way this music is marketed and advertised, this reinforces the sexual images associated with the music. The music is marketed using sex, but the rhythms in the music don't cause sexualization. If you remove the cultural background to a lot of this music, I think it is rendered quite innocuous, as in the case of Christian rock music.

And by the way, if the beats really do cause sexualization in hip hop music, then every single person who listens to hip hop should become sexualized and promiscuous, whether they are an African-American youth from Chicago or a dopey, middle-aged white Yuppie professor from Berkley.  Remember, if its about beats then its about beats, and every syncopated rhythm is equally dangerous and sexual - Barry White becomes just as sexual as the Mr. Lunt's "Cheeseburger" song in Veggietales, which is absurd. Yes, syncopation is used in rock n' roll and hip hop, but it also occurs everything from country and blue grass to the Muzak you hear in the department store and the innocent little tunes your kids pick up from Veggietales and Dora the Explorer. Yet sexuality is only associated with a few genres of music, not everything that uses syncopation. Here we have a fallacy of attributing the cultural trappings of a few genres to the whole. That this is a fallacious attribution is easily provable by the fact that (a) it is very easy to separate the musical style from the cultural baggage, and (b) the existence of a vast numbers of musicians and fans of other forms of syncopated music who are not sexual deviants.

I am a musician. I play Christian rock and write Christian rock songs about Jesus but using modern instruments, rock beats and syncopation. If everything was true about syncopation that some assert, then I should be a sexual deviant, not living chastely in a monogamous marriage. It is easy to pick out a few secular rock stars who are sexual deviants, but to focus exclusively on Ozzy Osbourne and the like ignores the throngs upon throngs of other musicians, many Christian but also many secular, who are not deviants, not sexually promiscuous and who are likewise (and most importantly) not famous. Therefore, is it not more plausible that it is the fame and fortune of many rock stars that leads them into immoral lifestyles rather than the type of beats they use in their music? It is a well established fact that fame and wealth corrupt; why invoke syncopated rhythms when we have a much more plausible explanation, especially when there exists a vast number of musicians who are not famous and likewise not living immorally?

Now, it could be argued that syncopation does in fact lead to sexualization by invoking the behavior that goes on at rock concerts. Men and women drunk, scantily clad, sometimes dancing and grinding in a sexual manner, sometimes engaging in unchaste activities right at the show. That this goes on is undeniable, and does it not prove that these beats stimulate the body and cause people to become sexualized?

My answer: absolutely not, and for a simple reason of plain logic. If the argument is made that the beats themselves cause all of these behaviors, and then we bring forward the dissolution that happens at rock concerts as evidence, then it follows that it is necessary to isolate the beats from the concert to prove that the rhythms themselves are responsible for this behavior and not the fact of the large gathering or people, alcohol, loud volume, etc. Basically, if the beats really do cause these behaviors, then they should cause these behaviors under all circumstances, not just when at a rock concert. If we see that syncopation does not produce these behaviors under all conditions, then it is clear that the behaviors described do not derive from the rhythms but arise instead out of the conditions/circumstances in which the music is being performed.

That this is the case is proven by the simple fact that the lewd behaviors described above are associated mainly with rock concerts - i.e., people do not start taking their shirts off and grinding when they are listening to rock music in their car on the way to work in the morning, much less if it is a Christian artist. Nor do they do these things when listening to rock, say, while working in the garage on a Saturday afternoon. In fact, these behaviors seldom occur at all unless in the context of a large gathering of teenagers with plenty of alcohol and loud music. That is definitely a bad combination, but it doesn't have anything to do with beats or rhythms. If you don't believe me, check out the history of opera: opera was banned in the papal states in the 1700s because of the lewd and dissolute behavior that went on at operas. Operas were the rock concerts of the 1700s. And what was the common factor? Certainly not "syncopated rhythms," but the volatile combination of young people, large gatherings at night, alcohol and the latest faddish entertainment.

I apologize for the length of this post - next time I will examine whether syncopation is "against natural law" and whether or not syncopated rhythms are "demonic" in origin.