Sunday, August 29, 2010

Youth Apostolate: Beyond Service Projects

Our diocese publishes a monthly magazine called FAITH; every Catholic household in the diocese receives this magazine in the mail every month for free, whether it is requested or not. FAITH has been hailed as some kind of paragon of Catholic publishing and has won numerous awards; I have personally always found it to be rather shallow, but apparently many people like it. Well, de gustibus non est disputandum and all that; click here and judge for yourself.

This month was the annual "Teen Issue." As a former Youth Director, I groaned as soon as I saw the title, since one thing I have come to believe with great passion is that our teens suffer when we try to pander by them by creating watered down, teen-oriented versions of things, and this applies to literature as well as liturgies. 

Well, the purpose of this post is not to rag on FAITH; at least the diocese is trying to reach its people by sending out literature every month. The purpose of this post is to rag on a certain ubiquitous approach to the Catholic youth apostolate that I found (not surprisingly) put forward in the pages of FAITH, namely, the excessive focus on service projects.

What is wrong with service projects? Well, nothing, in an of themselves. My youth group participated in several service projects over the past three and a half years. Getting young people to serve in their parish and community is a very important part of character formation, in my opinion. But notice that I said that it was not service projects that I opposed per se; rather, I oppose an excessive focus on service projects.

The Catholic Church has a crisis of identity. However serious the crisis is in parish life, it is even more severe in Catholic youth groups. A good parish might be one in ten, but a good youth group is one in a hundred. IN working with my kids and looking at how other parishes approached service projects over the years, I have come to notice a very interesting correlation:

The youth groups that do the most service projects usually consist of kids that are very poorly catechized and come from parishes of questionable orthodoxy.

This is a rule of thumb that will not be true in every case, but as a generalization, I think it stands. It can mean one of two things: either orthodox youth groups do not do enough service projects, or perhaps wishy-washy youth groups do too many. I think the latter is undoubtedly the case, for the simple reason that solid, orthodox youth groups that have healthy spirituality and great catechesis will also do service projects from time to time; but wishy-washy youth groups that do a ton of service projects have neither healthy spirituality nor great (or any) catechesis. The orthodox youth groups strike a balance that is lacking in the service-project focused youth group.

Thus, we come to my second maxim about Catholic youth groups-

An excessive focus on service projects bespeaks an imbalance in the youth group; the kids are put to work on service projects because they don't have anything else worthwhile to do.

This was the case in the days of the Apostles, when we find our first pope clumsily suggesting that the apostolic college take up a service project when worship and adoration was called for. Let's look at the account of the Transfiguration from the Gospel of Mark (Douay-Rheims):

And his garments became shining and exceeding white as snow, so as no fuller upon earth can make white. And there appeared to them Elias with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answering, said to Jesus: Rabbi, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. For he knew not what he said: for they were struck with fear. And there was a cloud overshadowing them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying: This is my most beloved son; hear ye him. And immediately looking about, they saw no man any more, but Jesus only with them (Mark 9:2-8).

St. Peter, when confronted with the glory of the Transfigured Lord and the presence of Moses and Elijah, suggests building some tabernacles. But notice why he suggests it: because "he knew not what he said," or as some modern translations put it, "he knew not what he was saying." Peter suggested building tabernacles because he didn't know what else he should be doing. It was motivated by a lack of direction, a feeling that he should be doing something but not knowing what. Fortunately, the Lord tells him what he should be doing: "This is my beloved son; hear ye him!"

I know this is not the primary (or even secondary) meaning of this text, but it does give us something to ponder - it is easy to revert to doing service projects when we don't have direction. At least service projects, which are necessarily active, give one the sense of having accomplished something. It is easier to boast of having accomplished something by painting a room or building a house than by spending an hour in adoration, where the fruits are often spiritual and hidden more deeply in the soul.

This is why I believe many youth groups focus too much on service projects: they don't know what else they ought to be doing. Usually, service project oriented youth groups do one other thing besides service projects: socializing. A ton of socializing. In many instances, socializing becomes the explicit end for which the youth group is constituted; I have actually read this in some diocesan youth manuals. 

The big danger here is twofold: one, that the youth come to associate Catholicism solely with service projects, thereby fostering an unhealthy disposition towards activism; second, and related to the first, that by fostering an activist approach to youth work, our kids are deprived of the spiritual and intellectual treasures of the faith that can only be found through periods of silent contemplation, private and communal prayer, and zealous instruction in the truths of the faith. Without these treasures, our Catholic youth have no firmly established Catholic identity; anybody can do a service project. Any good-willed Protestant atheist, Mormon or Muslim can paint houses for the poor or dish out soup at a poorhouse. These works are good and need to be done, but when they are made the centerpiece of a youth's experience of the faith, the faith becomes entirely identifiable with service projects. In fact, a good majority of our Catholic teens are already become non-denomination Protestants in practice. In my opinion, Catholic youth groups share a lot of the blame for this.

Remember, I am not knocking service projects per se. Willingness to serve is a fundamental pillar of our faith and a sign of humility. St. James reminds us that "Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation" (Jas 1:27). True faith cannot separated from pious works. But St. Luke builds on this in Acts by telling us that the Apostles, despite the importance of service,  placed catechesis and spiritual formation in a decidedly higher category:

"And in those days, the number of the disciples increasing, there arose a murmuring of the Greeks against the Hebrews, for that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve calling together the multitude of the disciples, said: It is not fitting that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying was liked by all the multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch"  (Acts 6:1-5).

This was what was so distressing about the article in FAITH magazine - when it came to highlighting the dynamic works going on among the youth throughout the diocese, all the magazine had to focus on was service projects. I am not judging anybody mentioned in the article nor any parish's youth program, but I am issuing a warning to all Catholic youth groups and their leaders: what we need is the foster solid, Catholic identity. This is done throught he teaching of Catholic doctrine, formation in traditional Catholic spirituality and (in the third place) authentic works of service that proceed from the first two. If we do service projects, they need to be done in the spirit of St. James, who tells us that these deeds are manifestations of our faith that ensure that it is not dead. They ought not to be done in the spirit of Peter on Mt. Tabor, who wanted to build tabernacles just because he didn't know what else he should be doing. Thankfully, St. Peter, through the outpuring of the Holy Spirit, eventually learned his lesson. If we will learn the same lesson, the growth that could be unleashed in our Church will be no less phenomenal than that experienced by the early Church.

If you agree, please forward this to anybody you know who is involved in a Catholic youth apostolate.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How to Worship

Hey everybody! Sorry for the prolonged absence - I am beginning at a new school this week and haven't had a lot of spare time. This was sent to me recently and I found it very amusing...I can't figure out whether it's making fun of Pentecostal worship or if it is by Pentecostals who are trying to have fun with their own eccentricities. Anyhow, it's pretty amusing either way.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Congratulations, Anselm!

Anselm is rapidly catching up to me in the amount of children he has sired. Case in point, this post here, where you can see see the latest addition to the Anselm family, little Edmund George (named for St. Edmund Campion and St. George the Dragonslayer). If you're not too busy, pop on over there and congratulate him!

In the meantime, my wife and I are expecting our fourth around Thanksgiving, which will tilt the scale of who has more children back in my favor. Sorry Anselm, but since you were married four years after me, I don't think you will ever be able to catch up!

Congratulations, friend!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Head coverings "because of the angels"

For me, one of the most cryptic and difficult passages of the Bible is found in 1 Corinthians 11:7-10. Here, St. Paul discusses the issue of women's head coverings when praying. He says:

"For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels" (1 Cor. 11:7-10, RSV).

What is the meaning of this phrase "because of the angels"? What angels, and why do they care whether or not a woman has her head covered? The Ignatius RSV footnotes give no help;, although I'm told there is a little footnote on the passage in the Ignatius Study Bible. However, I had to do some digging in some older Bibles before I could get anywhere with this, which was where I uncovered my first clue in the mistranslation of the word "veil." The RSV use of the word "veil" is a sloppy translation, as is any edition of the Scriptures that uses the word "veil," for the Greek word in verse 10 is exousian, which is best rendered as power or authority. Some older editions use this translation, such as the Jerusalem Bible and the Douay-Rheims; hence, it should say "That is why a woman ought to have power on her head." Look at the Latin translation from the Vulgate and notice the use of the word "potestatem" (power):

Vir quidem non debet velare caput quoniam imago et gloria est Dei mulier autem gloria viri est non enim vir ex muliere est sed mulier ex viro etenim non est creatus vir propter mulierem sed mulier propter virum ideo debet mulier potestatem habere supra caput propter angelos.

So, the first thing we can establish is that the veil Paul is referring to is best understood as a sign of authority or power, adding a new twist to the idea that veils are signs of submission. But more interesting is the fact that the women bear this sign of authority "because of the angels." Paul does not go on to explain anything else about this cryptic statement, which suggests that he thought the Corinthian congregation sufficiently familiar with what he meant that he did not need to say anything more.

One interpretation given by some of the Fathers, especially Tertullian, is that this phrase refers to the fallen angels described in the apocryphal Book of Enoch - these angels, called the "Watchers," were not among the angels that rebelled with Lucifer but were nevertheless led astray by lusting after the daughters of men. Acting out of lust, these angels took on human forms and mated with human women, giving birth to the "giants." God punished these angels by casting them down into the netherdarkness to be reserved for punishment at the end of the world. This is described in the Book of Enoch VI and VII and merits quoting at length:

And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: 'Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.' And Semjâzâ, who was their leader, said unto them: 'I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.' And they all answered him and said: 'Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.' Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And these are the names of their leaders: Sêmîazâz, their leader, Arâkîba, Râmêêl, Kôkabîêl, Tâmîêl, Râmîêl, Dânêl, Êzêqêêl, Barâqîjâl, Asâêl, Armârôs, Batârêl, Anânêl, Zaqîêl, Samsâpêêl, Satarêl, Tûrêl, Jômjâêl, Sariêl. These are their chiefs of tens.

And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another's flesh, and drink the blood. Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones.

This story is obviously an explication of Genesis 6 and was very well known in the time of St. Paul. It is mentioned in the Book of Jude 1:6 ("The angels too, who did not keep to their own domain but deserted their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains, in gloom, for the judgment of the great day") as well as some other apocryphal works like the Book of Jubilees and the Testament of Adam.

Relating this story to St. Paul's admonition that women wear veils in Church "because of the angels," Tertullian says: "What angels? In other words, whose angels? If he means the fallen angels of the Creator, there is great propriety in his meaning. It is right that that face which was a snare to them should wear some mark of a humble guise and obscured beauty" (Contra Marcion 5:8).The meaning is plain - because the angels once were led astray by the beauty of human women, it is fitting that women cover the heads so as to not arouse the lust of these fallen angels who may be lingering about.

This is not the only time Tertullian mentions this. He says, in his essay On Veiling of Virgins, that the countenance of a woman can be a "stumbling stone" even as far as heaven:  

"For if (it is) on account of the angels— those, to wit, whom we read of as having fallen from God and heaven on account of concupiscence after females— who can presume that it was bodies already defiled, and relics of human lust, which such angels yearned after, so as not rather to have been inflamed for virgins, whose bloom pleads an excuse for human lust likewise? ...So perilous a face, then, ought to be shaded, which has cast stumbling-stones even so far as heaven: that, when standing in the presence of God, at whose bar it stands accused of the driving of the angels from their (native) confines, it may blush before the other angels as well; and may repress that former evil liberty of its head—(a liberty) now to be exhibited not even before human eyes. But even if they were females already contaminated whom those angels had desired, so much the more on account of the angels would it have been the duty of virgins to be veiled, as it would have been the more possible for virgins to have been the cause of the angels' sinning" (Veiling of Virgins, 7). He mentions a similar argument in Apparel of Women 2:10, where he states that because it was through the agency of the evil angels that women first were taught to wear costly items (gold, silk) and use eye-powder and make-up.

While tempting for its exotic nature, this argument is problematic for a few reasons: first, according to the Book of Jude, Enoch and the other apocryphal works that mention this episode, the angels that lusted after human women are being kept in "chains" by God and are "reserved" for punishment; we do not get the idea that they are freely roving about, least of all hovering around over the Church's liturgies looking for unveiled women to lust after. Second, we can't ignore the huge problem of how an immaterial, spiritual being like an angel is capable of carnal lust, something that pertains to the flesh. Thus, the problem of angels looking down from heaven and lusting after the daughters of men is highly questionable.

It is also questionable that St. Paul, who so frequently warned his flocks not to go astray after Jewish fables and mythologies (1 Tim. 1:4 and 2 Pet. 1:16,  for example) would go ignore his own words and base an ecclesiastical discipline upon such fables.

Nevertheless, we don't want to rule it out entirely - St. Augustine says in The City of God (Book X), that the demons are attracted by certain sensible things, not as animals to food but as spirits to signs. Therefore, it is not impossible for demons to be attracted by sensible realities, though not in the way that a person would be attracted to something by sense perception. This is how Augustine explains the demon's attraction to the rites and sacrifices to the pagan gods. It is also a common interpretation, from Augustine on down to Aquinas, to insist that it is indeed possible for angels to have intercourse with human beings, although there are differences of opinion on how this is possible (remember Aquinas' writings the issue of demons begetting children?) - Even Pope Benedict XIV, in his famous De servorum Dei beatificatione, says of Gensis 6:4, "This passage has reference to devils known as incubi and succubi"; he went on to say, "Some writers deny that there can be offspring…Others, however, asserting that coitus is possible, maintain that children may result." Opinion on the matter is obviously divided, and I do not want to make any certain determinations one way or another.

St. Thomas Aquinas also deals with this verse in his Commentary on First Corinthians. He begins his treatment of this passage by saying that the veil is a sign of woman's submission to man, but that through this orderly submission, she actually submits to God's design and thus to God, and this is her glory:
Then when he says, "That is why", he draws the intended conclusion, saying: "That is why", namely, because man is the image and glory of God, but woman the glory of man, a woman ought to have a veil on her head, when she places herself before God by praying or prophesying. In this way it is shown that she is not immediately under God, but is also subjected to man under God. For the veil put on the head signifies this. Hence another translation has it that the woman ought to have power over her head, but the sense is the same. For a veil is a sign of power.
Then, regarding the verse "because of the angels," Aquinas speculates that the word "angel" refers either to the good angels, who are present when the Church comes together corporately to worship, or perhaps is another word for priest. According to Aquinas:
[W]hen he says, "because of the angels", he gives a third reason, which is taken on the part of the angels, saying: "A woman ought to have a veil on her head because of the angels." This can be understood in two ways: in one way about the heavenly angels who are believed to visit congregations of the faithful, especially when the sacred mysteries are celebrated. And therefore at that time women as well as men ought to present themselves honorably and ordinately as reverence to them according to Ps 138 (v. 1): “Before the angels I sing thy praise.”

In another way it can be understood in the sense that priests are called angels, inasmuch as proclaim divine things to the people according to Mal (2:7): “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the angel of the Lord of hosts.”

Therefore, the woman should always have a covering over her head because of the angels, i.e., the priests, for two reasons: first, as reverence toward them, to which it pertains that women should behave honorably before them. Hence it says in Sir (7:30): “With all your might love your maker and do not forsake his priests.” Secondly, for their safety, lest the sight of a woman not veiled excite their concupiscence. Hence it says in Sirach (9:5): “Do not look intently at a virgin, lest you stumble and incur penalties for her.” [Note that this is the same as Tertullian's argument, save that physical priests have replaced angels - the issue is still about a woman protecting herself from lust]

Augustine explains the above in another way. For he shows that both man and woman are made to the image of God...considered according to the spirit there is no difference between male and female; consequently, the woman is the image of God, just as the male. For it is expressly stated in Gen (1:27) that “God created man to his own image, male and female he created them.” Therefore, Augustine says that this must be understood in a spiritual union, which is in our soul, in which the sensibility or even the lower reason has itself after the manner of the woman, but the superior reason after the manner of the man, in whom the image of God is considered to be. And according to this the woman is from the man and for the sake of the man, because the administration of temporal or sensible things, in which the lower reason or even the sensibility is adept, ought to be deduced from the contemplation of eternal things, which pertain to the higher reason and is ordained to it.

Therefore, the woman is said to have a veil or power over her own head, in order to signify that in regard to dispensing temporal things man should apply a certain restraint, lest he transgress the limits in loving them. This restraint should not be applied to the love of God, since it is commanded in Dt (6:5): “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart.” For no limit is placed in regard to loving the end, although one is placed in regard to the means to the end. For a doctor produces as much health as he can, but he does not give as much medicine as he can, but in a definite amount. Thus a man should not have a covering on his head. And this on account of the angels, because, as is said in a Gloss: “Sacred and pious signification is pleasing to the holy angels.” 
This last statement about pious significations being pleasing to the holy angels comes closer to what was written by St. John Chrysostom on the subject.Chrysostom, in his Sermon for the Ascension (c. 407), writes:
"The angels are present here. Open the eyes of faith and look upon this sight. For if the very air is filled with angels, how much more so the Church! ...Hear the Apostle teaching this, when he bids the women to cover their heads with a veil because of the presence of the angels." 
Chrysostom's words draw upon the perennial teaching that, in the Sacrifice of the Mass, not only the Church Militant but the Church Triumphant is engaged as well - the angels and the saints are present along with those members of the Body still on earth as the entire Church joins together in adoring Christ. Thus, the veiling of the head during Mass becomes a sign of the acknowledgement of the presence of the holy angels. This is pleasing to the holy angels, who always rejoice when men act righteously, because in veiling their heads women in effect assent to God's plan. Chrysostom mentions this again in Homily XXVI:5  in his series of homilies on 1 Corinthians, where he says that veiling the head is a way that women "reverence the angels."

Chrysostom is not alone here; Origen seconds this view:
"There are angels in the midst of our assembly we have here a twofold Church, one of men, the other of angels. And since there are angels present women, when they pray, are ordered to have a covering upon their heads because of those angels. They assist the saints and rejoice in the Church."
The angels take joy in seeing men and women obedient to God; likewise, in a mysterious manner they are "grieved" when God is dishonored. In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, St. Cyril of Alexandria said "The angels find it extremely hard to bear if this law [that women cover their heads] is disregarded."

Which is the correct view? Each position has its own merit, but the last one mentioned - that of Chrysostom - seems to have become the mainline view of theologians on this point by the early Middle Ages (Aquinas mentioned this view first in his elucidations).

The wearing of the veil is something that has by and large fallen away in the modern Church; even in orthodox parishes, veils are seldom seen outside of independent Traditionalist chapels and parishes that offer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass exclusively. I am blessed in that we attend a parish where a good number of women wear veils, my wife included. How rich a custom it is to know that that veil is a sign of power and authority and is meant to call to mind the presence of the holy angels at the sacred liturgy! May the Holy Spirit move more women to take up the veil, the sign of their dignity and power in God's providential ordering of creation.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Queries on Henry VIII's Divorce

A few brave souls have taken the time and trouble to read through my 2009 history thesis on the canon law of Henry VIII's divorce; for this I thank you! Now, two questions have been posed regarding some of my conclusions/research, which I intend to answer here to the best of my ability. Those who are unfamiliar with this issue may be a little lost - please review here and here for more background on the canonical issues surrounding the divorce and the problems posed by various interpretations of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

First, regarding impeding vs. diriment impediments and the impediment of public honesty, one person writes:

I just read your thesis on the validity of the marriage of Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon and I must say that it is very good.

However I do have one question concerning it. You brought up at the end the question of public honesty and whether Henry could have used it to show that his marriage was invalid. Your conclusion is that it is unlikely that Clement would have agreed that because the marriage was never consummated that a dispensation for the sake of public honesty would be required and thus render the marriage invalid.

My question is; is public honesty a 'impeding (or prohibitory) impediment' 'which renders a marriage illegal but not absolutely void. The impediment is said to "impede" the marriage so long as it exists, but once it is taken away, a valid marriage remains insofar as the obstacle has been removed.' Or is it a 'diriment impediment' which 'renders a marriage null and void from the beginning, unlike an impeding impediment which merely makes it illegal.'

What resolution would there be to the problem if the marriage was only 'impeding'?

Good question - public honesty was seen as a diriment impediment that would have rendered the marriage absolutely invalid. However, it was not a diriment impediment according to natural law; if it were, the pope would have had no power to dispense from it. The fact that popes did dispense from it, usually alongside a dispensation for affinity, suggests that the Church never thought of public honesty as something pertaining to natural law, but more to positive ecclesiastical law (especially since much of this issue was bound up with custom, which could vary from region to region, as in the case of Innocent III, who dispensed recently converted Latvians to marry their brother's wives irrespective of issues of public honesty).

What if the problem with Henry's marriage had been merely an impeding impediment and not a diriment one? This I do not know - I am uncertain what steps the Church would have taken back then for a marriage that was deemed illegal but not invalid. Obviously (re)marriage would not have been permissible since they would have been already validly married. My guess is that sacramental confession and a proscribed public penance would have been in order, probably followed up by an papal bull declaring the marriage honest and legal once it had been confessed and Henry had made appropriate satisfaction.

Another person writes regarding the proper reconciliation of Deuteronomy with Leviticus regarding marrying a brother's wife:

From the moment I first read Leviticus 20:21 my first instinct was that it referred to adultery, almost in the exact same wording as does Lev 18 which continually admonishes us not to "uncover the nakedness" of close relatives nor those married to close relatives even if they are not "blood" relations. However, in the case that a blood relative should die, like a brother, since his wife has become one with the family, then it is proper duty for his brother to, in a sense, "take the place" of his brother to build up progeny for him.

I understand your argument of "redundancy" against the adultery argument, but isn't that what scripture is all about? To hammer the point in until us thick-brained dummies get it? God and his prophets repeatedly admonish us to following His commandments throughout all the scriptures to remind us of their great importance.

To me THIS reconciles the contradiction. Henry the VIII got it wrong; or he just REALLY wanted an excuse for a divorce. 

First let's tackle this issue of "redundancy." In my original post on this issue, I made the following observation: Some could argue that Leviticus 20:21 simply forbids intercourse with a brother's wife while the brother was still living, thus leaving freedom for a younger brother to marry the wife of a deceased brother who had died without issue. This argument was supported by Alexander of Hales as well as St. Albert the Great, but it has one major weakness, being its redundancy. To say you can't have intercourse with your brother's wife while he is still alive is to merely condemn adultery, and adultery is condemned already in many other places, rendering the specific prohibition of Leviticus superfluous.

What makes the argument "redundant"? The argument is redundant not just because adultery is condemned already in Scripture; of course, Scripture often hammers away at the same thing, in many different ways. But it is redundant because of the level of specificity of gives. For example, suppose we had a law that said, "Thou shalt not break the window of your next door neighbor's house, sneak in and steal his potted plant," but the real meaning of the law was just to condemn stealing in general. If simple stealing was what was being condemned, why the extra details about breaking the window and stealing the plant? We could say that this law is redundant - it uses an unnecessary amount of specificity to condemn something already broadly condemned elsewhere.

Similarly, if adultery is all that is condemned in Leviticus is adultery, then why the specification about it being a brother's wife(why not anybody's wife?)- also, why the phrase "they shall be childless"? Usually, when one is committing adultery, they do not want children from the adulterous union anyway. This context implies that the man is not just committing adultery with the wife, but is actually taking her to be his own wife.

I do think you are right that Henry really just wanted an excuse for a divorce, and I agree that your interpretation would still resolve the difficulty, but it would leave too many points unanswered. The solution I propose is the one adopted by some of the most eminent fathers and theologians and the one that the Pope Clement did in fact use in Henry's case. Thus Leviticus is seen to be forbidding a man to marry his brother's wife under any circumstances - whether she was a widow or not - with one important exception: if that brother had died without issue. This interpretation has the benefit of being true to the context of each Scripture, does not rob Leviticus of its binding nature but gives full room for a man to fulfill the obligation of Deuteronomy. Thus, Deuteronomy can be seen as the one exception to the general rule laid out in Leviticus.

Thanks for all the questions and the interest in this issue!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Books and discounts

This post has been deleted by the author.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Can saints be possessed?

This week I've been reading An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome. It's a pretty neat book, a good introduction to the theology and praxis behind exorcisms that lacks the hyper-sensationalized accounts one finds in Malachi Martin's Hostage to the Devil. Also interesting from a Traditionalist point of view is Fr. Amorth's statements that exorcism prayers said in Latin are always more effective (p. 77), that the removal of the exorcism prayers from the new baptismal rite was a "grave mistake" (p. 54) and that "allowing the ministry of exorcism to die is an unforgivable deficiency" on the part of diocesan bishops; for all these things he says that the hierarchy must say a "forceful mea culpa" (p. 55). When ancient rites are modified and divested of some time-tested prayers and rituals, their spiritual efficacy can be weakened dramatically. 

Yet there are also some things in his book that are a bit difficult to get a grasp on. My biggest sticking point is his assertion that absolutely anyone is open to satanic possession, not excluding saints living lives of unitive contemplation with God. On page 57 of his book, Fr. Amorth makes this stunning statement to the effect that  saints are not exempt from full-blown diabolical possession:

"The lives of many saints include examples of this affliction. Among modern saints, I can cite two who have been beatified by Pope John Paul II: Father Giovanni Calabria and Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified (who was the first Arab to be beatified). In both cases, and without any human fault, they were subjected to periods of true satanic possession. During those periods, the two saints did and said things totally incompatible with their holiness without the least fault, because it was the devil who acted through their bodies" (p. 57).

Fr. Amorth is an experienced exorcist, and when he uses the phrase "true satanic possession" I am assuming he is being precise with his words and does not mean either diabolical oppression or obsession (many saints, like St. John Vianney, St. Padre Pio and St. John Bosco, were oppressed by the actions of the evil one). But true satanic possession of saints? I have never heard of this - I do not deny it's possibility outright, so maybe some of you can enlighten me if there is something I am missing. But my sensus fidelium reacts against the idea at the outset for the following reasons:

If a person is described as a saint while still on the earth, this means they are living a life of eminent sanctity - meaning a detachment from all mortal sin and most voluntary venial sin and the heroic practice of the virtues, inspired by an abundance of sanctifying and actual grace conferred by the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost dwells in this person in an abundant way, directing all of their natural faculties and works towards supernatural ends: the love of God. In the saint, the Scripture is most perfectly fulfilled which says, "I will dwell in them and with them" (2 Corinthians 16).

Yet, if this is undeniably the case with saints, how can a demon also dwell within their body? As St. Paul asks rhetorically, "What fellowship hath light with darkness? What concord hath Christ with Belial?" (2 Cor. 6:14-15). It seems to me that, based on the presence of such an eminent degree of grace and holiness in the soul of the saint (through the Spirit), that this state is incompatible with true demonic possession.

It may be argued that in demonic possession, the demon takes hold only of the person's body but not of the soul, and it is the soul that is sanctified by the presence of grace. Thus, a demon could theoretically take full and complete possession of a body, leaving the Spirit-filled and sanctified soul completely unhindered. In my unlearned opinion, this seems to posit too much of a radical distinction between the soul and body, for two reasons:

1) The saint is one who, by virtue of the excellent state of their soul, is able to bring their body into perfect subjection to the soul through prayer and mortification. The fact that the soul is eminently sanctified does not mean the body is cut loose - rather it means that the soul has a more perfect degree of control over the body and its passions. Since the body is subject to the holy soul, it seems unlikely that such a soul would succumb to the entrance of a demon into the body.

2) When a person is sanctified, their whole being is sanctified, body and soul - this is why the relics of the saints have efficacy, because their bodies, in a mystical way, anticipate the general Resurrection and already possess a degree of that glorification that will come at the end of time with the ultimate vindication of the just. If, therefore, a saint's body already possesses on this earth a foretaste of that glorious exaltation, how can this same flesh be overcome and possessed by a demon?

One other argument to take into account:  True demonic possession is rare, but mortal sin is common.Yet, in the case of mortal sin, we know that grace is lost if a mortal sin is committed; or to put it another way, deadly sin and grace cannot co-exist in the same soul at the same time - they are contradictions, akin to the distinction between life and death. But one can commit a mortal sin without the presence of an actual devil in the body. But if grace and mortal sin cannot coexist in the same person, why should a demon be able to coexist with grace?

It could be objected, I suppose, that committing a mortal sin destroys the soul, while a demon only possesses the body. But I think this brings us back to the point I raised above about the manner in which sanctity effects even the bodies of the saints.

Thus, it seems to me that we should not be seeing cases of true, full-blown satanic possession in the lives of the saints, especially since (as Fr. Amorth points out) demons tend to enter people through the senses (p. 78), especially through the eyes. Since saints exhibit an extraordinary control over their bodies and passions, especially in custody of the eyes, it seems extremely unlikely that a demon would find occasion to enter the saint - furthermore, because of the saints' radical commitment to the interior life, we might ask how a demon could force entry into a saint and the saint not "notice" what was happening to them, especially since saints are so adept and detecting the presence of the evil one?

The only recourse we really have left is to suggest that perhaps God allows Satan this access for the purpose of trying His saints. Yet, if so, why is this not mentioned by spiritual writers like St. John of the Cross? We know of the dark night of the senses (or the passive purgation of the senses) and the spirit, but we hear of no "Dark Night of Demonic Possession." We could also note than even in extreme cases of demonic oppression, like that experienced by St. Anthony in the desert, we do not hear of Satan actually entering the saint and possessing them.

So, while I admit a lack of theological training on this point, I have grave reservations about Fr. Amorth's statements here. I admit that I do not know much about Father Giovanni Calabria and Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified; perhaps the possessions occurred at some point in their lives before they entered into a state of sanctity? I could be wrong on all this and would be grateful for any insight any of you could offer. In the meantime I'm going to have to answer this query in the negative.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Signum Crucis in the Mass

One of the changes made by the post-Vatican II reformers to the Mass was the elimination of many of the signs of the cross, which were seen as superfluous and repetitive. 

Now, it is the case that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass contains abundantly more signs of the cross than does the Novus Ordo - forty-eight, I have heard (I've also heard 40). But does the fact that this sacred gesture is repeated so often mean that it is superfluous? Is it a medieval "encrustation" that has been uselessly repeated and multiplied until it has lost all meaning?

Surprisingly, this is the same argument made by Protestants regarding memorized prayers and "vain repetition": that the very fact of repetition is what makes a gesture "vain." Saying 50 Hail Mary's is a vain repetition Protestants will tell us; so is making 48 signs of the cross, the liturgical reformers insisted. But just as the argument is false with regards to the Rosary and memorized prayers, so is it equally groundless with regards to the sign of the cross.

In the first place, let us turn to the writings of Msgr. Jean-Joseph Gaume, whose writings on the sign of the cross in the 1860's sparked a renewed interest in the Church's most ancient prayer and led to the establishment of an indulgence for simply making this sign of the cross, issued in July, 1863. Msgr, Gaume in dealing with this objection of vain repetitions, says:

"Behold what the Church does, when, in the person of the priest, she ascends the altar. Armed with omnipotence which has been given her, she comes to command, no longer a creature, but the Creator; no longer a man, but God. At her voice, the heavens are opened; the Word again becomes incarnate, and renews all the mysteries of His life, death, and resurrection. Is there an act which ought to be performed with more solemn gravity? An act from which should be more carefully banished everything that might be foreign or superfluous?

Now, in the course of this, the action, by excellence, the Church, more than ever, multiplies the sign of the cross; she clothes herself with the sign of the cross; she goes through it with the sign of the cross; she repeats it so frequently that the number of times would seem to be exaggerated, were it not so profoundly mysterious. Do you know how many times the priest makes the sign of the cross during Mass? He makes it forty-eight times! I am wrong; throughout the whole of the august sacrifice, the priest is himself a living sign of the cross.

And the Catholic Church, the grave teacher of nations, the great mistress of truth, does she amuse herself by repeating so frequently, in her most solemn act, a sign, useless, superstitious, or of minor importance? If your companions believe this, they are wrong to call themselves unbelievers; it is not credulity that is wanting of them (The Sign of the Cross, Loreto Publications, pp. 12-13)."

Note that Msgr. Gaume states that the very fact that the sign of the cross is so frequently utilized in the Mass is the strongest argument that it is not a useless repetition. Since the Mass is the most solemn act of worship offered by the Church, everything contained in its rites ought to be uniquely suited to the dignity of the Sacrifice that occurs therein; the fact that the sign of the cross not only appears but appears with great frequency means that its repetition is specifically suited for the Church's highest act of worship.

St. Thomas Aquinas, too, addresses this very question in the Summa when responding to the objection, "Further, the ceremonies performed in the sacraments of the Church ought not to be repeated. Consequently it is not proper for the priest to repeat the sign of the cross many times over this sacrament." Notice how Aquinas says that every sign of the cross is placed "strategically" to coincide with whenever the mystery of Christ's sacrifice is mentioned; thus there is nothing superfluous or meaningless. Aquinas says in STh III,q. 83, a. 5, ad 3:

The priest, in celebrating the mass, makes use of the sign of the cross to signify Christ's Passion which was ended upon the cross. Now, Christ's Passion was accomplished in certain stages. First of all there was Christ's betrayal, which was the work of God, of Judas, and of the Jews; and this is signified by the triple sign of the cross at the words, "These gifts, these presents, these holy unspotted sacrifices."

Secondly, there was the selling of Christ. Now he was sold to the Priests, to the Scribes, and to the Pharisees: and to signify this the threefold sign of the cross is repeated, at the words, "blessed, enrolled, ratified." Or again, to signify the price for which He was sold, viz. thirty pence. And a double cross is added at the words---"that it may become to us the Body and the Blood," etc., to signify the person of Judas the seller, and of Christ Who was sold.

Thirdly, there was the foreshadowing of the Passion at the last supper. To denote this, in the third place, two crosses are made, one in consecrating the body, the other in consecrating the blood; each time while saying, "He blessed."

Fourthly, there was Christ's Passion itself. And so in order to represent His five wounds, in the fourth place, there is a fivefold signing of the cross at the words, "a pure Victim, a holy Victim, a spotless Victim, the holy bread of eternal life, and the cup of everlasting salvation."

Fifthly, the outstretching of Christ's body, and the shedding of the blood, and the fruits of the Passion, are signified by the triple signing of the cross at the words, "as many as shall receive the body and blood, may be filled with every blessing," etc.

Sixthly, Christ's threefold prayer upon the cross is represented; one for His persecutors when He said, "Father, forgive them"; the second for deliverance from death, when He cried, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" the third referring to His entrance into glory, when He said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit"; and in order to denote these there is a triple signing with the cross made at the words, "Thou dost sanctify, quicken, bless."

Seventhly, the three hours during which He hung upon the cross, that is, from the sixth to the ninth hour, are represented; in signification of which we make once more a triple sign of the cross at the words, "Through Him, and with Him, and in Him."

Eighthly, the separation of His soul from the body is signified by the two subsequent crosses made over the chalice.

Ninthly, the resurrection on the third day is represented by the three crosses made at the words---"May the peace of the Lord be ever with you."

In short, we may say that the consecration of this sacrament, and the acceptance of this sacrifice, and its fruits, proceed from the virtue of the cross of Christ, and therefore wherever mention is made of these, the priest makes use of the sign of the cross.

Just as is the case with Protestant objections to the Rosary being a jumble of useless repetitions, so the case of the progressives disdain for the sign of the cross: the Church does nothing that is useless or vain, especially in her most solemn acts of worship, and the frequency with which the Ave Marias of the Rosary or the Signum Crucis of the Mass are repeated are not indicators of their superfluity but rather of their immense importance in the Church's piety and worship.