Friday, April 29, 2011

Off to New Jersey

I am off to New Jersey for the weekend to speak at this homeschool conference. The conference will be on Saturday at a place called Mater Ecclesiae in Berlin, New Jersey. Berlin is right across the river from Philadelphia, so if you are in the Philly area or northern New Jersey, consider coming out to Mater Ecclesiae this Saturday. I'm giving a 45 minute talk on Catholic historiography and how to teach history to kids in a way that is interesting and memorable. I'll post the transcript of the talk and details about the conference when I get back on Monday.

Blessings!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Program for Parish Renewal (part 1)

This is a post I have been waiting to do for over a year, but I had to wait for two things to happen before it would be prudent; in the first place, since I intend to blog about how my pastor turned a crazy, liberal parish (my parish) into a bastion of orthodoxy, I thought it would be best to wait until I did not work for said parish anymore before I decided to do any sort of blog posts about it. This was also in accord with what my pastor wished, inasmuch as I was a staff member and he didn't want my opinions, whatever they might be, to attach themselves to himself or the parish at large, which I thought reasonable. Since I have not worked for the parish since August of 2010, I think I am now able to put these worries behind me and speak more freely.

Second, I also was waiting for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to make its debut at my parish. I thought that, in a story about the renewal and transformation of a parish, the reemergence of the Extraordinary Form would be like the jewel on the crown, and that any renewal would be incomplete without it. Well, two months ago our pastor started offering regular (though not weekly) Extraordinary Form masses at our parish. The jewel has been fixed in the crown.

In this two (or maybe three) part post, I will begin with where my parish was five years ago when my pastor arrived and then explain how, step by step, he brought the parish around to the point where now an Extraordinary Form Mass is offered regularly, the faithful hear the Mass (EF & OF) in Latin, Gregorian chant is regular, Communion is received at the rails and orthodoxy is preached. It is a wonderful and amazing story with a happy ending like something out of a fairy-tale.

As I go through this story, I want to encourage anyone who may be a parishioner at my parish to chime in with their thoughts on the matter, even anonymously if you like. I have omitted city names and other geographic indicators to maintain some degree of anonymity.

Let's begin with where this parish was in 2005, the year my pastor arrived.

THE STRUCTURES

Our parish is the third oldest Catholic Church in the state and the oldest English-speaking parish in the state. It still has its original structure, an 1875 neo-gothic edifice with its original high altar, which somehow survived the wreckovation of the early 1970's. However, not everything escaped unscathed - some Victorian era paintings of our Lord and the saints that were on the ceiling panels of the apse were whitewashed over, and the communion rails were removed and placed in front of the front row of pews facing backwards, forming a kind of "wall" between the front pew and the sanctuary. Though the high altar remained, a little table altar was set up in front of it. The high altar, as far as I can tell, was never used between 1969 and 2008. All in all, though, we were very fortunate that the building was preserved as well as it is.

We also have a parish center dating from 1980 and a rectory building, which is the original farmhouse from the property before it belonged to the parish. There us a graveyard adjacent to the parish rectory as well.

THE DEMOGRAPHICS

The people of the parish came from the surrounding town and countryside. A good number of them came from the nearby metropolis, which was only a few miles away. Many also came from a smaller town north of the parish, and the remainder from the surrounding rural countryside. Almost all parishioners were local; almost all kids were public school with a smattering of private schoolers. Many parishioners had long ties with the parish - the roads in the surrounding countryside were named after their families, the original settlers of the area, and the cemetery across from the parish bore the names of their ancestors. Income ranged from upper class to middle class.

THE PASTORS

Our parish really went downhill in the early 70's, when we got a very liberal, social-justice pastor, complete with long-hair and side-burns. He preached against the Vietnam War, spoke out on the progressive issues of the day and was very liberal liturgically. During his 9 year administration he became very popular in the local community, but by time he left he had firmly entrenched the people of the parish in liberal ideology and liturgical practices.

He was followed by a pastor who lacked his charisma but shared his liberal views...I know nothing about this next pastor save that (as I am told) he refused to give people communion if the knelt and would angrily tell them to get up in a loud voice, warning them not to "pull that stunt" again. This guy stuck around for about ten years - so by now we have had nineteen years of this sort of thing.

Then came the priest who immediately preceded our current pastor. What a piece of work this fella was! He was a late vocation - in his former life, he had been an alcoholic and was divorced. Somehow he got himself ordained and sent to our parish. All hell broke loose when he arrived, as we shall see. He never wore his clericals, not even for Mass (throw the vestments over his regular clothes), encouraged people NOT to call him father, delegated almost all his authority to numberless, useless committees, and then allowed them all to rack up HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS in debt. As one older parishioner told me, it was more of a country club than a parish. And, of course, he was a liturgical and theological liberal. This guy was here for ten years. That makes 29 years of liberalism and poor catechesis before my pastor came. Yikes.

THE LITURGY

Liturgies were a nightmare, and I have the photos to prove it, which I dug out of the parish archives. Tie-dye vestments. Streamers. Dancing. Lay people with incense in bowls. Drum set in the choir loft. Beatles songs during Mass. Holding hands in a circle around the altar. Children's liturgies. Outdoor Masses on all occasions. Home made "altar bread" hosts with honey, sugar and all sorts of extraneous ingredients. You get it. There was also weird stuff outside the liturgy; I'm told that some parish women used to do some kind of ritual where they would throw incense to the four winds and invoke them. When I was cleaning out a closet after I became Youth Director, I found a pile of bizarre, cardboard masks that looked like African or Aztec gods. Lord only knows what these were used for.

The religious ed program was big, several hundred students, but catechesis was poor. Many kids went to Communion and Confirmation without the most basic understanding of the Faith.

THE STAFF

During this pastor's tenure, a huge and useless staff was maintained at everybody's expense, something like 14 full time employees and some more half-time for a parish of like 600 families. The DRE had his own secretary. There was people on paid salary that my pastor, when he came in, couldn't figure out for the life of him what they did exactly. But the main staff (beside the pastor) consisted of a parish secretary, maintenance person, DRE, Youth Director (a couple) and music "minister."

The secretary was a divisive woman who hated everything traditional, but I don't know much more about her, except that when my current pastor came in he had to fire her for actively subverting him.

Our music "minister" was not even Catholic, nor was he really a trained musician, just some guy who had some skill on piano and drums. We were subjected to the usual fare of "They'll Know We Are Christians", etc. He seemed to be well-liked, however.

The maintenance man was not a Catholic, either.
The youth director was very interesting...this position was filled by a couple who had been doing it so long that they were an institution unto themselves....I think they were in their sixties. They were devoted to young people, but did not agree with the Church on many important issues, being of a more progressive bent. There was a great emphasis on questioning and seeking, but not as much on answering; I was told that one time a discussion on the arguments "for and against" the Real Presence left more kids confused than edified, since it is easy for anyone to throw out objections to the Real Presence but it takes a good working knowledge of the Faith to answer them. Since nobody had that working knowledge, these sorts of discussions were, in my opinion, ultimately detrimental to the Faith of the kids in the Youth Group (many of whom did not even attend weekly Mass). Some of the Youth Group kids were mixed up in New Age ideologies; I know of one who graduated and immediately abandoned his Faith in college to take of Buddhism.

There was a whole slew of second-tier support staff, too, many of whom were paid in some manner. I think the number of people that were said to be "on staff" was at least a dozen, though it is up for debate what to be "on staff" meant.

THE COMMITTEES

As is usually the case in these sorts of arrangements, there was a excessive number of superfluous committees. I couldn't name them all, but of course you had your standard parish council, liturgy and worship, outreach, youth, cemetery, etc. Some committees were active, others were drains on funds and did little. Later, our pastor would eliminate and consolidate them into only, I think, two or three and things ran better than ever. 

We also had the standard parish organizations present - Knights of Columbus and the Council of Catholic Women. The Knights council was large but took an extremely activist approach to the Faith - an emphasis on performing charitable work at the expense of formation or spirituality.  This was true of the parish as a whole, which was very active in charitable works and involved in a lot of service projects. I'm not sure what the state of the CCW was.

The activism, however, was largely something that replaced rather than supplemented authentic Catholic piety. For example, despite all the charitable works and activism going on, it had been decades since the parish had one man who even went to seminary let alone was ordained. I asked elderly parishioners once if they could remember when was the last time our parish had a seminarian and they could not recall.

THE FINANCES

The financial state of the parish was an absolute disaster. Giving was average, but spending was out of control. When my current pastor took over, he found the finances in disarray. Out of control spending for decades had brought the parish to the brink of insolvency. Money was wasted for years on frivolities; for example, one DRE alone had taken out something like 21 magazine subscriptions, paid for by the parish, and some not related to anything Catholic. As I mentioned above, there was a huge group of support staff who were paid salaries to do jobs that could have been easily combined; I myself did the job that used to be divided up among four people who all were paid. Youth were taken on lavishly expensive trips with little formative value - a $14,000 trip to New York to go skiing, for example. Granted, they raised some of this money themselves, but much was subsidized as well. Older parishioners who remember these days told me the atmosphere was that of a "country club" where money was always flowing to pay salaries, compensate expenditures, have big dinners and fund large and popular (but costly) events like the parish's yearly Labor Day festival, which used to be profitable but by the late 1990's had become a drain.

Couple this with the horrendous record-keeping, and the situation was made worse. The parish book-keeper was actually a very competent, hard-working and responsible woman; the problem was not with the accountant, but with the various staff members and volunteers who were charged with keeping track of their expenditures, categorizing expenditures, allocating funds, etc. From what I understand, nobody really bothered to keep track of how much was spent and what it went to, despite the protestations of the accountant. People just spent and spent with no accountability, and this was encouraged by the pastors, who liked to lavish money upon the parish to keep everybody feeling good.

The truly ironic thing is that, despite this lavish spending, necessary expenditures were put off. The elevator in the parish center leaked oil terribly for years; instead of fixing it, the oil was simply siphoned out of the elevator pit every year and dumped into the field behind the parish center. The drop ceiling in the parish center was allowed to warp and deteriorate until it was quite unpleasant to look at. The historic church itself was allowed to begin to dilapidate so that, when my pastor took over, thousands of dollars of repairs to the concrete, brickwork and roofing was necessary. The trend was to spend lavishly on idle frivolities while refusing to spend for the upkeep of the facilities, choosing instead to take short-cuts and do half-measures just to put off the problems for another day.

THE BISHOP

The bishop at the time did not really do anything to oppose any of this. This bishop (now retired) was a good and pleasant man who loved the Lord, but he was not the best administrator and allowed, some would say encouraged, this sort of management in his diocese. He took no steps to halt liturgical abuses, never bothered to seriously inquire into the financial status of the parish as far as I know. He didn't see a problem with ordaining the alcoholic, divorced man who served as priest for a decade and in general allowed things to go on and on.

That was the state of affairs in my parish for several decades, until in 2005 the priest retired and my current pastor, an young, energetic, orthodox priest with a background in Aristotelian metaphysics and an interest in reverent liturgy was transferred down here. Then all hell broke loose. We'll look at that next time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

God bless you, Athanasius

It is with great sadness that I heard of the departure of Ryan Grant, a.k.a, Athanasius, from the blogosphere. Besides being a knowledgeable and charitable man of tremendous erudition, his blog, Athanasius Contra Mundum, was also the first Catholic blog I ever started following and was in fact my inspiration to start up this blog in 2007. Ryan explains his reasons for taking down his blog here. Please pray for him; I cannot begin to express how I feel about this loss - when I compare my blog to his, mine looks so juvenile that I feel ashamed to be counted in his illustrious company.

Well, this encomium as gone on long enough; Ryan would probably slap me if he were here. Thanks Athanasius for years of great work dedicated to the triumph of Tradition. Let us all raise a pipe to you this evening in mourning even as we say a prayer for you in hope.

See also: Athanasius Contra Mundum to Close Up Shop

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Christ's Descent into Hell

Pax tecum! Anselm here. I thought it would be fitting to post an excerpt in honor of Holy Saturday from my work on Christ's act of Satisfaction-Atonement, chapter 8: St. Thomas Aquinas on Christ's Descent into Hell.

Master's Thesis: Poena Satisfactoria: Locating Thomas Aquinas's Doctrine of Vicarious Satisfaction in between Anselmian Satisfaction and Penal Substitution (Trumau, Austria: ITI, 2010).


In his commentary on the Apostles's Creed, Thomas gives four reasons as to "why Christ descended with his soul into hell," the first of which is this:
First, in order to endure the entire punishment of sin, in order thus to expiate the entire fault. But the punishment of man's sin was not only the death of the body, but there was also a punishment in the soul: since the sin also had reference to the soul, the soul itself was also punished by the lack of the divine vision: for the removal of which, satisfaction had not yet been made. And therefore, before the coming of Christ, all men descended to hell after death, even the holy fathers. Christ, therefore, in order to endure the entire punishment due to sinners, willed not only to die, but also to descend according to his soul into hell. Whence Psalm 87:4, "I have been counted with those who have descended into the pit: I have been made as a man without help, free among the dead." For the others were there as slaves, but Christ as free. [Aquinas, In Symbolum Apostolorum, 5]
This text immediately appears to imply that Christ descended into hell in order to suffer there the proper punishment of the damned, namely the loss of the vision of God, as if it were somehow necessary for him to endure this in order to make a full satisfaction for sin.

Such a position would imply that the pœna endured by Christ was a pœna simpliciter, according to which the pain itself is regarded as formal in the act of "satisfaction" (understood here simply as punishment) rather than the good offered in compensation out of charity. In this case divine justice appears unwilling to accept anything less than the full punishment due to unredeemed sinners, namely the damnation to which they would have been subject apart from Christ's sacrifice. This also implies an act of substitution in the Lutheran sense of a literal exchange of places between Christ and sinners, rather than the kind of vicarious representation in which Christ steps into the place of sinners without displacing them, but rather incorporating them into himself. In short, such a position implies a penal substitution in the full sense of the words given to them by the Reformation.

The most important thing to notice in this text, however, is Thomas's concluding statement that Christ was among the dead, ut liber (as free). In the Compendium of Theology, Thomas explains this unique freedom of Christ in a text which is crucial for a proper understanding of his interpretation of Christ's descent into hell and therefore also of his doctrine of satisfaction as a whole:
In truth, on the part of the soul it follows among men from sin after death that they descend into hell not only as regards place, but also as regards punishment. But just as the body of Christ was indeed under the earth according to place, but not according to the common defect of dissolution, so also the soul of Christ descended indeed into hell according to place, not however in order to undergo punishment there, but rather to release from punishment those who were detained there on account of the sin of the first parent, for which he had already fully satisfied by suffering death: whence after his death nothing remained to be suffered, but he descended into hell locally without suffering any punishment, that he might show himself as the liberator of the living and the dead. From this also it is said that he alone was free among the dead, because his soul was not subject to punishment in hell, nor his body to corruption in the tomb. [Aquinas, Compendium theologiae I, cap. 235]
This text makes it very clear that for Thomas there can be no question of Christ suffering any kind of punishment in hell.

The parallelism presented here between tomb and hell is also instructive. In his treatise on the humiliation of Christ in the Summa theologiæ (III, qq. 46-52), Thomas considers his passion (qq. 46-49), and then his death as the state of separation of soul and body (q. 50). This is followed by parallel questions on the burial of his body (q. 51) and the descent of his soul into hell (q. 52). That Christ descended into hell in order to endure the entire punishment of sin means for Thomas that he willed to endure physical death fully, from the suffering which precedes death, through the separation of soul from body in which it is consummated, to its completion in the resting places of soul and body apart from each other. The descent of Christ into hell according to his soul bears the same relation to punishment as the burial of his body: "just as Christ, in order to take upon himself our punishments, willed his body to be placed in the tomb, so also he willed his soul to descend into hell." [Aquinas, Summa theologiae III, q. 52, a. 4] The descent itself, like the burial, is penal only inasmuch as it is the completion of death, but Christ's soul does not suffer in hell any more than his body suffers in the tomb.

Contrary to Balthasar, who holds that Christ had to endure both a natural death (the separation of the soul from the body), and the "second death" spoken of in the Revelation to John (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8), the spiritual death of the soul (that is, the separation of the soul from God), in order to fully free man from this twofold death, Thomas clearly holds that Christ's one (natural) death is itself more than sufficient for this purpose, as can be seen in the mystical interpretation which he gives to the two nights and one whole day that Christ spent in the tomb (and in hell):
[B]y the death of Christ we have been liberated from a double death, namely from the death of the soul and from the death of the body: and this is signified by the two nights through which Christ remained in the tomb. His death, however, not coming forth from sin, but undertaken from charity, had not the account of night, but of day: and therefore it is signified by the whole day in which Christ was in the tomb. [Aquinas, Summa theologiae III, q. 51, a. 4]
Another important text for an accurate understanding of Thomas's doctrine of the descent of Christ's soul into hell can be found in his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, his first major work. There he reiterates the principles on the basis of which he excludes any pain or suffering from the soul of Christ in hell. The Incarnation was ordered toward salvation, for the accomplishment of which God had chosen to require satisfaction. In assuming a human nature therefore Christ willed to take upon himself certain defects, according to a twofold criterion: they should be those which were common to all men on account of sin, yet did not imply or even incline toward any defect of grace or virtue. That a soul should descend into hell after death was, before Christ's coming, common to all men on account of original sin, and so Christ also endured this, descending locally into hell. Thomas then considers each possible kind of punishment (pœna), and concludes that Christ cannot have suffered any of them in hell. The pain of loss (pœna damni), which is the lack of the vision of God, would clearly imply a defect of the consummate grace of glory, and hence is excluded. The pain of sense (pœna sensus) could be either satisfactory (pœna satisfactoria), purgative (pœna purgativa), or damnative (pœna damnativa). Now pain cannot be satisfactory after death inasmuch as satisfaction, like merit, belongs to the state of the viator, to this earthly life alone; but purgative pains (after death) are only due on account of impurity and damnative pains on account of mortal sin, either of which would imply a defect of grace. Hence: "It was befitting to Christ to descend into hell insofar as it implies a place, but not insofar as it implies punishment." [Aquinas, In III Sententiarum, d. 22, q. 2, a. 1a]

Conclusion

Although a single text taken out of context can easily give the impression that Thomas holds essentially the same doctrine of penal substitution as Calvin, namely that in order to pay the debt due to sin Christ had to suffer the pain proper to damnation (which consists essentially in the loss of the vision of God), Thomas's parallel texts on the same topic make it abundantly manifest that this is not the case. According to Thomas, Christ descended locally into hell in order to endure death all the way through to the end, but his soul did not suffer there. On the contrary, he came to release from their punishment and from the captivity of the conquered devil the souls of the holy fathers who were detained there on account of original sin, which he accomplished with such a manifestation of power that, although he entered only into the limbo of the fathers according to his essence and freed only them, even the damned felt the power of his presence.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why Tradition is desperately needed


"I have something to give you!" my next-door neighbor's wife said excitedly as she went out to her car yesterday evening. I had come over to the neighbor's house for the rather dull purpose of borrowing a very specific type of screw driver (the very dinky kind  that you can work on a circuit board with). It was while he rummaged around looking for the screw driver that his wife said she had something for me and went out to her car. She returned momentarily with a small postcard sized flier for her church. "I wanted to invite you guys to our Easter service - it's phenomenal," she said with obvious and sincere excitement.

I recognized this church; it was a non-denominational "seeker friendly" church, the kind that are now popping up all over the place where the pastor where's blue jeans, there are multi-media productions involving dance and drama, and the service (or "Weekend Experience" as this church refers to their service) is highly emotional. I told her politely that we always went to the Catholic Vigil Mass for Easter at our own parish with our family and probably would not attend (I threw in the "probably" just to be polite). She pressed me, however, pointing out on the card that there were five different service times for the weekend and day care so we could dump off our kids. 

Then she said something that made my heart ache. She told me, "It's going to be phenomenal. We went to their Christmas program and it was amazing; I can only imagine how great the Easter program will be!" I asked her how long she had been at this church and she said, "Only a year. We were going to St. Mary Magdalen before [a nearby Catholic parish], but we got absolutely nothing out of it." Here she made a sour face, as if the bad experience at the Catholic parish at left a palpable bad flavor in her mouth. "This church is totally different; it's life-changing!" Well, I was devastated. Another casualty of the Catholic identity wars standing before me. The parish she mentioned being disappointed with is known as the most progressive in town, with a resurrected Jesus instead of a crucifix (or a "Resurrectifix"), no kneelers whatsoever, Protestantized rock music, and, according to their parish "vision statement", reaching out "to other faiths, cultures and traditions.  Through shared friendship and service we hope to foster understanding and peace."  I knew that the reason she had been so let down by this parish was because it offered her absolutely nothing of substance. She had been attending this parish for years without deriving any spiritual benefit from it. Apparently, hearing that I was going to the Catholic Mass for Easter, she simply assumed that my own Catholic experience was as unrewarding as her own.

I should have gave her some response. I should have talked about the Mass, or why we are Catholic, or that I had fooled around in these churches before when I was a young adult and found them completely empty. Unfortunately I made no such response. I was too taken off guard; I was in the middle of repairing something and came over to borrow a screw driver and was absolutely not prepared to talk about the subject, so in the end I simply thanked her for thinking of us, told her we "most likely" would not come and parted company. 

I should have really gotten into a discussion or counter-invited her to our parish for Easter. Heck, perhaps if I had really fulfilled the Gospel and invited them at least a year prior they might not have winded up as non-practicing Catholics in this "seeker sensitive" church. Well, I have only myself to blame for that. We had talked about faith-related things before with them, like homeschooling and the blessings of children and whatnot, but neither my wife nor I had taken the next step to actually invite them to Mass. From the sound of it, an invitation to Mass might have not gone over well anyway, since their experience of Mass at their progressive parish was do putrid. But, who knows. I shall try, by God's grace, to rectify this omission and not make the same mistake again.

I do lay part of the blame on the progressive parish they went to. After all, ideally, if they were already attending a Catholic parish and were practicing their faith, I wouldn't have to be concerned enough about them to have to invite them to my own parish. But, as it is, they received nothing whatsoever from their Catholic parish. Now, while there is never a valid excuse for a Catholic to actually leave the Church, I think the Church definitely bears some of the responsibility. After all, if people come looking for a transcendent experience of God and the liturgy as celebrated gives them nothing, who's fault is it? They came looking for God and were given a man-made sham; they came asking for bread and were given scorpions. They asked for an egg and were given a stone.

Some popular Catholic apologists put all the blame squarely on the persons who finally get sucked into other churches. In a talk called I'm Not Being Fed, for example, speaker and author Jeff Cavins makes the case that in scenarios like the one described above, my neighbors would be entirely to blame because they failed to take ownership of their faith and educate themselves about why they were Catholic and what Catholics believe. This is partially true, as in the end, everybody ultimately has responsibility for the state of their own soul. But we cannot simply ignore the other side of the equation; we cannot just shrug at heterodox priests, lame liturgies, banal homilies, non-existent catechesis, defective, man-centered spiritualities, worship experiences totally devoid of any transcendent element, near heretical preaching and then blame the parishioners for being ignorant and wanting something more. Sure, learning about your faith is an uphill struggle; but incline can become so steep that we start to wonder if something is wrong with the hill. We have a situation in which uneducated Catholics are thrown into the worst possible spiritual and intellectual climate imaginable and then blame them for not growing.

As I said, there is no excuse for leaving the Church, but I wonder if the parish that led them to this act "has the greater sin" in the words of our Lord. "Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!" (Matt. 18:7)

This is why a restoration of Catholic Tradition is so vitally important. The Catholic Faith, as it has been understood and practiced throughout the centuries, can bring people into transcendent contact with the Lord of Lords. It the words of sales jargon, it has a "proven track record" of creating saints, transforming lives and even transfiguring whole civilizations. I'm sure my neighbors had other things going in their personal lives that contributed to their decision to abandon the Catholic Faith for a "seeker sensitive" media-production that makes them feel good and lifts them up; but, who knows, if the parish they had been clinging to had been more vigilant about preserving the Faith as handed down throughout the ages and less concerned with propping up a lame man-centered approach to spirituality, my neighbors might be worshiping the Risen Christ at the sacred Easter Vigil rather than watching a "weekend experience" at this other place, like the man our Lord warns us about who left the fold when someone said, "Lo, he is out in the desert!" (Matt. 24:26)


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

America's Pertinax Moment

We are facing increasing turmoil in our nation and our world as it becomes painfully apparent that the West cannot sustain the level of spending we have been accustomed to for the past sixty years due to the ever-growing specter of an unsustainable level of debt. This truth is played out daily in the arguments going on in the Senate and House about the debt ceiling and spending cuts and in the European Union by disputes and riots over "austerity measures." It is not intention here to take sides on these issues or propose a solution; quite honestly, I don't believe there is a tenable solution that doesn't involve dramatic lifestyle changes and a lower standard of living. My intention is to merely point out that we have reached a turning point, or rather I should say a tipping point, from which there can be no return.

We have known for decades that health care needed "reform." We have known for decades that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, huge unfunded liabilities, had the potential to cause serious problems for us fiscally down the line. We have known forever that America has huge trade deficits, budget gaps and an unsustainable level of debt. We have known for decades that our tax system is in serious need of reform and that our public schools are in free fall. What is new then about this current state of malaise, and why is this moment so unique?

Because nobody really wants to solve a problem until it becomes a crisis. We knew about all our problems for decades but never had the stomach to do anything about them, because it was always easier to keep on living in debt and maintaining our artificially inflated standard of living for another year or two. When bad times did come, like the 81 recession, the S&L crisis, the recession of 90-91, the dot com bubble or any similar setback, we failed to significantly address the root causes of these calamities and instead allowed ourselves to return to the status quo. It was easier to do nothing than to change.

This is a farce we can no longer maintain, and people are starting to realize it. We are realizing that the time has come where fiscal discipline must be restored or else we collapse; we must change or we will die. Politicians are scrambling to fix our problems, each along their own partisan ideological lines, although the time when change could have come more painlessly is long gone. We have reached what I call the "Pertinax Moment."

Pertinax was a Roman emperor who ruled briefly in 193 AD following the assassination of Commodus. Commodus, though a tyrant, paid little attention to Roman military affairs and allowed the frontier fortresses to fall into a state of neglect and allowed the legions to slip into laxity. He patronized the Praetorian Guard with large sums of money and likewise allowed their discipline to falter. He increased the grain dole to the people and expanded the size and role of the Roman welfare state with his lavish games and spectacles. He further brought on a succession crisis, as he was too paranoid to name a successor while still living, as his father and the four emperors before him had done to ensure a stable transition of government. Rome prospered in the 2nd century only because her emperors were just and wise, but the system itself was more fragile than the emperors knew, as would be discovered after Commodus died without an heir.


Enter P. Helvius Pertinax, proclaimed emperor by the Praetorian Guard upon the murder of Commodus. Pertinax was a reformer and had a reputation for being a disciplinarian. He saw the laxity and excesses into which Rome was falling, knew first hand about the threat posed by the Germans to the frontiers and was concerned about the role of the Praetorian Guard. He therefore ascended to the purple with a promise to reform the discipline and morals of Rome, beginning with the Praetorian Guard. He tried to return to a more democratic style of leadership as exemplified by some of the previous emperors such as Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. In every way he was just and restrained in the exercise of his office. Cassius Dio tells us:

"[Pertinax] obtained all the customary titles pertaining to that office, and also a new one to indicate his wish to be democratic; for he was styled Chief of the Senate in accordance with the ancient practice. He at once reduced to order everything that had previously been irregular and confused; for he showed not only humaneness and integrity in the imperial administrations, but also the most economical management and the most careful consideration for the public welfare. Besides doing everything else that a good emperor should do, he removed the stigma attaching to those who had been unjustly put to death, and he furthermore took oath that he would never sanction such a penalty. And immediately some bewailed their relatives and others their friends with mingled tears and joy, even these exhibitions of emotion not having been permitted formerly. After this they exhumed the bodies, some of which were found intact and some in fragments, according to the manner of death or the lapse of time in each case; and after duly arranging them, they deposited them in their ancestral tombs" (Roman History, 74:5).

His reforming and noble disposition did not please everybody. He immediately offended the guard by this talk about discipline and reform. He further alienated them by refusing to pay out the expected donative (read bribe) the Praetorians typically received upon the ascension of a new emperor. The Praetorians and the army did not want a disciplinarian for an emperor. Pertinax knew that a return to discipline was necessary, but the Praetorians would have none of it. On March 28th, 193, a mob of a few hundred Praetorians came to the palace of Pertinax to demand that he repeal the "austerity measures" he was planning. The emperor foolishly went out to talk to the Praetorians and was killed by the mob. Dio says:

"Since, now, neither the soldiers were allowed to plunder any longer nor the imperial freedmen to indulge in lewdness, they both hated him bitterly. The freedmen, for their part, attempted no revolt, being unarmed; but the Pretorian troops and Laetus formed a plot against him...two hundred, bolder than their fellows, actually invaded the palace with drawn swords. Pertinax had no warning of their approach until they were already up on the hill; then his wife rushed in and informed him of what had happened. On learning this he behaved in a manner that one will call noble, or senseless, or whatever one pleases...hoping to overawe them by his appearance and to win them over by his words, he went to meet the approaching band, which was already inside the palace; for no one of their fellow-soldiers had barred the way, and the porters and other freedmen, so far from making any door fast, had actually opened absolutely all the entrances. The soldiers on seeing him were at first abashed, all save one, and kept their eyes on the ground, and they thrust their swords back into their scabbards; but that one man leaped forward, exclaiming, "The soldiers have sent you this sword," and forthwith fell upon him and wounded him. Than his comrades no longer held back, but struck down their emperor...The soldiers cut off the head of Pertinax and fastened it on a spear, glorying in the deed. Thus did Pertinax, who undertook to restore everything in a moment, come to his end. He failed to comprehend, though a man of wide practical experience, that one cannot with safety reform everything at once, and that the restoration of a state, in particular, requires both time and wisdom. He had lived sixty-seven years, lacking four months and three days, and had reigned eighty-seven days (Roman History 74:8-10).

Of course, after Pertinax comes the tyranny of Severus and Caracalla, and then right on into the Crisis of the Third Century. Pertinax's brief reign was truly the tipping point for the empire. It could never recover from the chaos that ensued after his reign and the problems he sought to address only got worse under his successors.

Pertinax wished to reform Rome, but the time had long passed when such a reform was possible. The Praetorians had gone on so long in their position that there was no more returning to discipline. Most telling of all are Cassius' words that Pertinax "undertook to restore everything in a moment." This is the moment we have reached in our society I believe: the time when prudent leaders see that it is necessary to do something, but that we have become so accustomed to our privileges and manner of living that our populace will not tolerate any real change, just as the Praetorians refused to have any of the reforms that Pertinax entertained. Our civilization has reached its Pertinax Moment, the time when it is evident that change is direly needed but the people no longer have the stomach for discipline.

Am I writing this to support any particular political party's program? Not at all. The budget wrangling is stupid, arguing over $38 billion in cuts when the government incurs $4 billion of debt per day. The fighting between the Democrats and the Republicans on these matters is simply a sign that everybody knows we must do something - but as Pertinax found out, we cannot correct the misgovernance of decades in a day, nor will our people stand for it. We no longer tolerate good government; in fact, it has been so long since we had it that we wouldn't even recognize it if we had it.

Let's offer prayers up for our country and civilization this Holy Week. Blessings.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Blessed Passion Sunday!

Happy Palm Sunday! Here is a very informative post I did from last year on the Old Testament background to what happened on Palm Sunday. By the way, those of you who subscribe to this blog probably noticed a slurry of eight or nine posts that went up last night. I apologize for this blitzkrieg of posting; these are all old posts that were formerly on Athanasius Contra Mundum. But, as I hear on good authority that this blog will probably be shut down after Easter, I removed them to this blog so they could be preserved.

Blessed Holy Week!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Liturgical minimalism hurts the poor



Too often, when every other attack by liturgical progressives has been exhausted, we get the absurd old argument trotted out that reverent celebrations of the liturgy are too triumphalist and unconcerned about the poor. This is a technique they pick up from the political left - that of attempting to establish a monopoly on care of the poor. Of course, everybody who is a true Christian cares about the poor. But if you do not care about the poor in the manner they think best, then you are accused of not being sensitive to the plight of the needy.

I didn't think this debate about who really cares about the poor could come into the discussion of the sacred liturgy, but it has been brought up by progressives who think that Masses that are reverent are too "vertical" and thus not concerned enough with human-to-human relations, especially relating to the scourge of poverty. There is very often a false dichotomy brought up between good liturgy and service to the poor - missionary priests preaching on behalf of the poor are often the worst abusers, and as mentioned above, those who care about reverence are accused of being cold to the poor. What can be said about this accusation?
I think we could not only answer this accusation but really flip it on its head: it is actually liturgical minimalism that injures the poor. In a 2004 conference at the Augustinianum in Rome, Cardinal Cottier stated that beauty was an important means of evangelization and hence not something merely aesthetic or "showy" that could be discarded without consequence:

"In order to fulfill the New Evangelization, we have two extraordinary means: beauty and novelty. The beauty of Christian heritage, which is constantly being rediscovered through all of Europe, and the always effacacious novelty of the Grace of the Holy Spirit" (29 Jan, 2004).

I would have chosen a better word than "novelty" to describe the movements of the Holy Spirit, but I get his point. At any rate, he says that it is the "beauty of the Christian heritage" which is leading to a rediscovery of the faith throughout Europe. To understand the argument for liturgical excellence, we have to see beauty as essential to the liturgy rather than extrinsic. This is not hard once we have established the liturgy as being principally about God.

Those who accuse traditionalists of being unconcerned with the poor seem to maintain two contradictory positions: on the one hand, they castigate the traditional liturgy for being too God centered. But then when they accuse a reverent liturgy of being unconcerned with the poor, it is like they are assuming that we are the ones for whom all of this is being done! In an excellent letter sent out by the priests of the Miles Christi order this month, Fr. Patrick Wainwright made an excellent argument along these lines:
"Why do we always want to insult the care, attention, and primacy given to God in the liturgy, attention truly set apart due to the detail of the gestures and the beauty of the sacred vessels and vestments? The priests are not the ones being enriched by using them, but rather it is God, to whom we tribute respect, who is visibly and publicly honored" (bold in original)
The excellence demanded of a reverent liturgy is not for the benefit of the priests, or for us (well, indirectly it is insofar as we are able to better participate in the liturgy). It is about worshipping God, and part of worshipping God should be coming into contact with mystery and transcendence, which human kind approaches through beauty. Thus, to deprive the liturgy of beauty is to deprive men of one the most common and universal means of approaching God.

Here's another great quote from Loïc Merian, president of the CIEL (the Centre International d'Etudes Liturgiques) on how this minimalism actually hurts the poor:
"When the Pope no longer appears elevated in the portable Throne, when Bishops are no longer clothed with rich adornments, when the Mass is celebrated in the language of the people, when Gregorian chant is consigned to the old-recording museum, and things of that sort, they have determined that the Church will there be the Church of the poor. That means, when the poor were deprived of the only beauty which they can freely access, which is known to be accessible to them, which is known to be friendly to them without losing any of its transcendence - as is liturgical beauty. When the ceremonies of the Church are debased, trivialized, and no longer evoke the glory of the Heavens, when those liturgies do not transport them to a loftier world, when they no longer lift them beyond themselves, when, to sum up, the Church has nothing but bread to offer them - and Jesus said that man does not live on bread alone. Who has told the poor that they have nothing to do with beauty? Who has told them that respect for the poor does not require offering to them a religion of beauty, in the same way that true religion is offered to them? Why are some so insolent to the poor denying them the sense of the sacred?...Is it the poor who cried out due to the waste when Mary Magdalen poured the oil of spikenard on the head of Jesus, even breaking the flask so that no perfume be saved?...What will the poor gain from all of this? Oh, they will lose everything!" (La Nef, May 2004)

When we minimize our liturgies in hopes of making them more accesible to the poor, we actually rob the poor of the one free access to beauty that they have available to them, and thus shut off another door by which the poor can come in contact with the divine mystery. Liturgically minimalist Masses do no good for anybody, neither the well-to-do, for whom it just reinforces them in their complacency, or the poor, for whose sake these are ostensibly carried out.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Exorcist Andrea Gemma on Medjugorje: "Absolutely diabolical"


We haven't heard much from Medjugorje lately - I was following the Ruini Commission for awhile, which was charged with investigated the alleged apparitions by the Holy Father and was supposed to come up with some sort of  definitive judgment. I still haven't heard anything from Cardinal Ruini, but this 2008 interview with Bishop Andrea Gemma, one of the Church's foremost exorcists, has recently come to light in which the bishop soundly condemns Medjugorje as a diabolical phenomenon.

Here's a background item on the Medjugorje case, a May 2008 interview with Bishop Andrea Gemma from Gianluca Barile's website Petrus. It was reported in the press at the time, and some quotations did appear, but I never came across the full text until recently. 

Medjugorje: the accusation of the bishop-exorcist Mons. Gemma: "The apparitions of the Madonna? Completely false: the seers lie under the inspiration of Satan to profit economically"
(Gianluca Barile, Petrus)

VATICAN CITY - A mixture of economic and diabolical interests, with the alleged seers and their collaborators directly involved in profits related to the increased flow of pilgrimages and visits in the area, and the Evil One well content to sow discord between the faithful most convinced of the validity of the apparitions of Medjugorje and the Church, sceptical as ever in the face of what she has declared more than once, through the words of two successive bishops of Mostar during that time, "a great deception." Monsignor Andrea Gemma, former bishop of Isernia-Venafro [served 1990-2006], among the greatest exorcists living, does not mince his words: instead of the Virgin, so far only rivers of money have appeared at Medjugorje, a grave accusation that sums up not only the courage but also the moral and spiritual capacity of the prelate who agreed to respond to questions from "Petrus" on such a prickly event.

PETRUS:  So, Excellency, how do you define Medjugorje?

"It is an absolutely diabolical event, around which numerous underworld interests revolve. The Holy Church, which alone can make a pronouncement, through the words of the Bishop of Mostar, has already said publicly and officially that the Madonna never appeared in Medjugorje and that this whole production is the work of the Devil."

PETRUS: You speak of "underworld interests". Of what kind?

"I'm referring to 'the Devil's dung', to money, what else? At Medjugorje everything happens for the sake of money: pilgrimages, overnight stays, the sales of trinkets. In this way, abusing the good faith of the poor people who go there with the idea of meeting the Madonna, the false seers have set themselves up financially, they have married and live a wealthy life, to say the least. Just think: one of them, directly from America, with a direct economic profit, organizes tens of pilgrimages every year. These people don't seem to be really disinterested persons to me. Rather, with all the people vulnerable to this noisy swindle, they evidently have a great material interest in getting people to believe that they see and speak with the Virgin Mary."

PETRUS: Monsignor Gemma, is there no appeal from your verdict?

"Could it be otherwise? These people claim to be in contact with the Madonna, but in reality are inspired solely and exclusively by Satan, are creating chaos and confusion among the faithful for the sake of absolutely deplorable interests and advantages. Think, then, of the disobedience they have fed in the bosom of the Church: their spiritual guide, a Franciscan friar expelled from the Order and suspended a divinis, continues to invalidly administer the sacraments. [NB: The interview took place in 2008, before the laicization of Tomislav Vlasic.] And numerous priests from all over the world, despite the express prohibition of the Holy See, continue to organize and participate in pilgrimages with Medjugorje as their destination. It's a shame! This is why I speak of a mixture between personal and diabolical interests: the false seers and their helpers are pocketing money, and the Devil creates discord between the faithful and the Church; the more fanatical faithful, in fact, aren't listening to the Church, which - I repeat - has, from the beginning, warned about the mendacity of the Medjugorje apparitions."

PETRUS: And if the alleged seers were really seeing the Madonna?

"In reality they would be seeing Satan under false pretenses. Because Satan has great interest in splitting the Church, setting the two currents of the 'pro' and the 'contra' Medjugorje against each other. Moreover, it wouldn't be the first time: St. Paul himself asserts that the Devil can appear as an Angel of Light and can, so to speak, camouflage himself. He did that, for example, with St. Gemma Galgani. But beyond his disguises, the Evil One has already intervened and I can assure you that it is he inspiring the false seers since the beginning with the promise of easy money."

PETRUS: You're not exactly fond of those seers...

"Please! It's enough to see how they act: they're disobedient to the Church, they should have withdrawn to private life and instead they keep on making propaganda for their lies, for the sake of money, and thus playing the Devil's game! My thoughts go immediately to St. Bernadette, the seer of Lourdes: that sweet creature wanted to shed her life and took up the habit of a Sister to serve the Lord. Instead, the impostors of Medjugorje continue to live comfortably in the world without showing any kind of love either for God or for the Church."

PETRUS: The supporters of Medjugorje emphasize that the Holy See has never expressed any position on the matter.

"That's another lie! As I pointed out before, the Vatican has forbidden pilgrimages by priests to the place and has spoken through the words of the two successive bishops of Mostar, Monsignors Zanic and Peric, with whom I have spoken personally, and who have always manifested their doubts to me. You see, even for Fatima and Lourdes, the Holy See didn't express any position directly on those Marian apparitions. So why would they have to make an exception in this case? The truth is that when the Bishop of Mostar speaks, the Church of Christ speaks, and is it to him, who speaks with the authority conferred to him by the Vatican, that we need to listen. Thus, the Holy See has already expressed itself with the words of the Bishop of Mostar, making evident that Medjugorje is a diabolical trick. But I will share a secret with you. You'll see that soon the Vatican will intervene with something explosive, to unmask once and for all who is behind this swindle."

PETRUS: The same supporters note that at Medjugorje every year they report a record of conversions and miracles...

"It's artificial. And who is counting all these conversions? You see, if someone has a conversion, it's because he had a certain predisposition, because he thinks to look inside himself, because he receives the gift of the Spirit. The place in which this conversion happens is completely relative. Let's think of St. Paul: he converted on the road, and now what should we do, all go out to the road and wait to be converted? As regards the miracles, I'll tell a personal anecdote. I owe the miraculous healing of a person in my family to the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary at Pompei, but that doesn't imply that the Madonna ever appeared to me at Pompei. So, just from believing, or from being healed inside or outside, it doesn't necessarily mean that Mary is letting people see her."

PETRUS: To the best of your knowledge, what opinion does the Holy Father Benedict XVI have of Medjugorje?

"I'll limit myself to underscore what he did as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to send out official notes adverse to Medjugorje, such as the one which forbade priests and religious from going on pilgrimages in that country."

PETRUS: Yet it is said that John Paul II was convinced of the goodness of the apparitions.

"An unproven legend, considering that his opinions were personal and did not in any way represent an act of the Magisterium" [by the way, please see here for John Paul II's alleged "support" for Medjugorje].

If one of the Church's foremost exorcists, a man who spends his life observing the methods and schemes of the Evil One, says that Medjugorje reeks of diabolical influence, should we not pay him heed?

The sources for this story are this recent post from Catholic Light and another from the Italian site Petrus.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Parishes in Sarasota area?


Next month my family and I are going down to Sarasota, Florida for a week and a half to stay with some family. Can anyone give me some recommendations of parishes to attend in the Sarasota-Bradenton area for Sunday and daily masses? The Extraordinary Form would be nice, but a reverent Novus Ordo would be fine as well. Last time we went to Sarasota we just went to the first Catholic Church we found in the phone book and wound up at some weird, roundish-shaped parish that was fairly progressive. Can anyone offer any input so this doesn't happen to us again?

Also acceptable would be a Uniate, Ukrainian, Maronite or Chaldean rite parish. I'm sure I could just Google these things, but just googling parishes and looking at their websites doesn't give you the kind of feedback that individuals can provide.

Blessings and grace!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Cathar Apocalypticism

I just got through with a really great article from an old edition of Koinonia, a journal of the Princeton Theological Forum, on the problem of Cathar apocalypticism, or rather I should say the mysterious lack of it. The basic problem is surrounding Cathar apocalypticism is that, despite the fact that the medieval world was a world in a constant state of eschatological expectation, and despite the fact that almost all of the other notable medieval heretical movements were shot through with eschatological apocalypticism, the Cathar system was notably lacking in any sort of apocalyptic fervor that characterized so much of medieval society. Why did the largest and most organized heresy of the Middle Ages fail ultimately to produce any apocalyptic strain, something that was present in other heretical movements as well as in orthodox Catholicism? To the best of my poor ability will I endeavor to condense seventeen pages of the original article into a few paragraphs here. Those interested in medieval heresy and the Cathars in particular should definitely read the original article, which draws on some very important (but not very well known) primary sources from the Cathars themselves.

To understand what we mean by "apocalypticism," we can use the following definition: The vivid expectation of a violent end to human history and the present world - an end preceded by conflict and the persecution of God’s faithful ones, centered on the resurrection of the dead and divine judgment, and culminating in the punishment of the wicked and the transformation of the cosmos into a glorious new home for the just (note that this definition says nothing about the issues surrounding millenarianism; it merely concerns itself with a violent end for the present world followed by its transformation).

The failure of the Cathars to produce any real apocalyptic expectation of this sort is especially odd given the fact that they were intensely persecuted by Church, and in the history of other persecuted sects, the persecution tends to engender apocalypticism, wherein the persecuted minority see themselves in terms of a "faithful remnant" being persecuted by a "whore of Babylon", which naturally suggests scenes from the Apocalypse. Why did the Cathars fail to develop this apocalypticism?

Like many other points of Cathar practice, the answer to this problem lies in the dualism of the Cathars. Cathars held that the world and everything in it was created by the agency of an evil principle (unmitigated dualism); this evil physical world was sometimes seen as a metaphysical parallel to the good, spiritual realm. If the good principle and the evil principle were equal, then so also were their creations equal. Thus, the evil, physical creation was just as eternal as the spiritual realm and could never pass away. In fact, it was something akin to hell, eternal in its duration and in its misery. If the world then was eternal, as the evil principle was eternal, then there was no place in this scheme for any sort of final conflagration of apocalytpic consummation. It was entirely irredeemable; earth was hell. An anonymous Cathar tract entitled "An Exposure" puts it simply: "“The present world ... will never pass away or be depopulated” Another Cathar text describes “this world” as “the last lake, the farthest earth, and the deepest hell,” while another asserts that “hell and eternal punishment are in this world only and nowhere else”

Some Cathars, on the other hand, did hold that this present world would perish, but this only confirmed them in the belief that it was outside the agency of the "good God," for everything the good God created was eternal. The very fact that the world was transitory only demonstrated that it was irredeemable. Another Cathar tract states: "[S]ince there are many ... who pay little heed to the other world and to other created things beyond those visible in this wicked world, which are vain and corruptible, which as surely as they come from nothing shall return to nothing, we say that in truth there exists another world and other, incorruptible and eternal created things .... ”

Another problem is that the traditional implements of apocalyptic destruction were not even available to the good god of the Cathars. In the Book of Revelation, God uses earthquakes, meteors, fire and brimstone and all sorts of plagues as means of judgment on the wicked. These means are not available to the Cathar god. According to a Cathar tract, "The Secret Supper", "Satan made fire ... also thunder, rain, hail, and snow ...” Fire was the handiwork of the evil god; it could have no purifying role in punishing evil or dissolving creation for the good god’s purposes. In fact, even the concept of God punishing or killing was attributed to the evil principle (remember, the acts of divine judgment presented in the Old Testament, such as the Flood, are also works of the evil god). Thus, the good god of the Cathars is faced with an irredeemable world and left without even the physical implements to execute judgment upon it. There can be no dies irae in Cathar theology.

The realm of the good god is a mirror reflection of the present world, not akin to the traditional idea of heaven at all. According to the Inquisiton records, the heretic John of Lugio taught that “the good God has another world wherein are people and animals and everything else comparable to the visible and corruptible creatures here; marriages and fornications and adulteries take place there, from which children are born. And what is even more base there the people of the good God, against his command, have taken foreign women to wife, that is, daughters of a strange god or of evil gods, and from such shameful and forbidden intercourse have been born giants and many other beings at various times.” It was actually in this other world that Christ was born and crucified. The work of the good god takes place in this other realm.

Since there could be no eschatological climax for this present world, passages in the Bible referring to a future end of the world were interpreted to apply to the past in a kind of radical preterism. For example, the seven seals of Revelation were interpreted to have taken place in remote antiquity and correspond to the original "fall" of purely, spiritually created humans into their fleshly bodies for imprisonment in the world of the evil god. Therefore, since this world was hell, the goal was to escape the world. The righteous would be translated to the world of the good god, but the unrighteous would suffer no other damnation than to remain on earth: 
"No soul will be saved other than the spirits who fell, who... will all be saved, ... other souls created by the devil, the evil principle, will be condemned ....This condemnation... is here in the darkness of this world, that is, to sustain hunger, cold, weariness and the like ... souls will not be condemned, that is, by a second condemnation, because they are already damned. Thus t[the Cathars] deny that future day when ... souls will be condemned because it is already past” (Anon.,‘Brevis summula’)

Naturally, if materiality were evil, then even for the just there was no anticipation of a general resurrection, a doctrine that was vehemently denied by the Cathars. There is no sense of redemption for this present world, and that longing for redemption, for a new creation and a day of justice, are what lie behind all apocalyptic ideals. Since there could be no redemption, no transformation of man qua man or of the world, then there was likewise no Cathar apocalypticism.

Anyhow, it's a really great article. I suggest you check it out for a fuller explanation of the concepts paraphrased above.


Thursday, April 07, 2011

Bishop Boyea says Mass in the Extraordinary Form

Here is something you definitely don't see every day - on Laetare Sunday, our Bishop, His Excellency Earl Boyea, came to say Mass according to the Extraordinary Form in our parish. Before being elevated to the bishopric of Lansing, Bishop Boyea was a proponent of the Traditional Mass as Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit and used to say it monthly at the St. Josaphat-Sweetest Heart of Mart cluster. It was really awesome to be able to assist at an EF Mass said by a bishop. The church was absolutely packed; I spent the whole Mass standing (and kneeling) in the vestibule.

Here are some pictures. The third one is of myself and my daughter greeting the bishop; the fourth one is my wife.




Sunday, April 03, 2011

St. Athanasius' doctrine of Divinization


Last time I blogged about St. Athanasius, we spent the entire post examining the famous doctor's statement that "God became man so that man may become God" and endeavored to show that this concept (called "divinization") ought not to be interpreted in a pantheistic or New Age sense, quoting other statements from Athanasius and other Fathers to establish this fact; thus, we were looking at Athanasius' statements negatively by showing what they do not mean. This time we will examine what exactly St. Athanasius' doctrine of divinization does mean in a positive sense.

Before we go any further, I have two corrections/clarifications to make from the last post. In the first place, I made the statement last time that divinization was basically the same thing as St. Paul's doctrine of adoption, since both have to do with transitioning from sons of Adam to sons of God. Though the concepts are somewhat related, they are not the same thing. St. Paul's doctrine of adoption precedes divinization, and divinization, in turn, presupposes adoption. Adoption as God's sons and daughters is what makes divinization possible, as divinization (of course) is something applicable only to Christians who are born again as God's children. Adoption, as the Council of Trent declared, is nothing other than justification, the "translation from that state in which man was born as a child of the first Adam to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ." Catholic Tradition and Trent see this as occurring in and through the Sacrament of Baptism; Trent continues: "This translation, however, cannot, since the promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the laver of regeneration or its desire, as it is written: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (Council of Trent, Session VI, caput. IV). Divinization is the process that follows upon adoption by which the newly born sons of God become conformed to His image; adoption makes divinization possible.

Second error I need to correct is my statement in the combox that divinization was the same idea as theosis. In this I was incorrect, for the two concepts are different in two very important ways. First, divinization is taught by St. Athanasius to be something normative that all Christians undergo as part of the typical Christian life. Theosis, on the other hand, was something the orthodox monks saw as applicable most perfectly to only those who had renounced the world and were living in a state of monasticism seeking union with God; it is something for an elect few. The second and more fundamental difference, related to the first, is that theosis is primarily a mystical concept, the idea of divinization transformed under the hand of Pseudo-Dioynisius the Areopagite into a mystical doctrine. Divinization, on the other hand, is taught by St. Athanasius as a soteriological concept, concerning itself not with mystical progression through various stages towards union with God in some kind of hesychastic vision, but as a fundamental soteriological statement about what it means for Christians (all Christians) to be saved. This is why the word for divinization (theopoie) is a distinct word from theosis.

Phew. Now that I have amended my errors (hopefully without stumbling into more errors), let us proceed with the main point of this post: what does divinization entail for St. Athanasius?

For St. Athanasius, divinization consists of the ennoblement of mankind by God - the working out of the effects of the grace merited by Jesus Christ on human nature. It is the process by which human nature is made conformable to Christ; since Christ is a divine Person, this process is rightly called "divinization", as in it we witness the glorification of human nature under the divine hand of Christ. Therefore, divinization means positively the perfection and glorification of human nature. In Scholastic thought, the final end of divinization is similar to those conditions of the just in the resurrection, found in the Summa (Suppl.Tertia Partis, Q 82-85).

In the first place, St. Athanasius mentions bodily immortality as the first result of divinization. Athanasius sees the attainment of immortality in a kind of reciprocal exchange between Jesus and humanity: Jesus, in the Incarnation, assumes mortality by putting on human flesh, enabling us to assume immortality by putting on Christ. He says, "As the Lord, putting on the body, became man, so we men are deified by the Word. as being taken to Him through His flesh and henceforth inherit life everlasting" (Third Discourse Against the Arians, 34).

Besides immortality, St. Athanasius also includes incorruptibility in the idea of divinization. This incorruptibility refers not simply to the incorruption of the body (which would then make it the same as immortality), but to the reality that the divinized, resurrected body will be free from all sin and its corruptions. He describes the Crucifixion as occurring so that "men might for ever abide incorruptible, as a temple of the Word" (ibid., 58), hearkening to 1 Cor. 6 where Christians are referred to as God's "temple" in the context of purity and holiness. He says again in the same place:

But now the Word having become man and having appropriated what pertains to the flesh, no longer do these things touch the body, because of the Word who has come in it, but they are destroyed by Him, and henceforth men no longer remain sinners and dead according to their proper affections, but having risen according to the Word's power, they abide ever immortal and incorruptible (ibid, 33).

So incorruptibility, though related to immortality (in fact, we could say that immortality is a result of freedom from sin, since the fruits of sin is death), is not the same; it has to do with freedom from sin and its consequences.  

Finally, St. Athanasius mentions impassibility as the third aspect of divinization, meaning the impossibility of suffering any pain or want, a state of insensibility to evil. A few articles I consulted on this aspect of divinization tried to attribute it to pre-Christian philosophy, especially the philosophy of Plato and Philo of Alexandria. Though these two philosophers certainly taught that the ideal state consisted in being freed from the sufferings attendant upon having a corporeal body, I don't think we necessarily need to look to pre-Christian philosophy for the source of this ideal. We need look no farther than Revelation 21:3-4: 

And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men: and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people: and God himself with them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more. Nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away.

This concept is also found in Isaiah 25:8 and Isaiah 35:10 as well,so it is quite biblical. As in the case with immortality, where there is a reciprocity between Christ's putting on mortality and our putting on Christ, so here Athanasius envisions a kind of relationship whereby the sufferings of Christ render us free from suffering. "We by His sufferings might put on freedom from suffering and incorruption, and abide unto life eternal" (Ad Maximus 4 [Letter 61]). Also, we could return to the very rich Third Discourse Against the Arians, from whence many of our quotes have been taken: "He let His own body suffer, for therefore did He come, as I said before, that in the flesh He might suffer, and thenceforth the flesh might be made impassible and immortal" (58). Like much else about the glorification of man in St. Athanasius' writings, this process is grounded in the Incarnation: "The Lord became man...that He might Himself lighten these very sufferings of the flesh and free it from them" (ibid., 56).

One final word on the concept of divinization. Though I thoroughly understand what St. Athanasius means by this concept, I do not think it is a helpful term to use in the modern climate. Because of the inroads that paganism, New Age thought, pantheism and all sorts of man-centered philosophies have made in our culture, I think the terms "divinization" and "deification" are simply too confusing to be used safely. I would never recommend utilizing this term in dialogue with anyone (save the Eastern Orthodox). 

Nor is this only my own opinion. This phrase never did catch on in the western Church, the Latin Fathers being apparently uncomfortable with the term, though perfectly at home with the concept. Even the Greek Fathers began to put qualifications on the terminology in later centuries, apparently sensitive to possible misinterpretations the phrases "divinization" and "deification" could lead to. The eastern Father Babai the Great (551-628) rightly rejected the idea that "we are sons of God as He is and are to be worshiped through our union with God the Logos." The Nestorian Patriarch Timothy strictly emphasized that divinization "did not mean that we become sons of God by nature or that we are worshiped by all men as our Lord is." Even St. Gregory Palamas felt the need to qualify St. Athanasius' doctrine by reminding that deified persons did not become God by nature or essence (I'm sorry, I found these quotes on other sites but was unable to find sources for them, so hopefully they are legit).

Of course, these authors are absolutely correct in their assertions, of course, but the fact that they felt the need over time to increasingly qualify St. Athanasius' doctrine shows the degree to which they must have been a little uncomfortable with the terminology, in my opinion.

At any rate, hopefully these posts on this topic will help shed some more light on this deep but misunderstood teaching of one of the Church's greatest minds.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Inspiration "for the sake of our salvation"


Dei Verbum 11. Few Conciliar documents give me more headaches than this one passage out of the Constitution on Divine Revelation. The passage states that the Bible "teaches, without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation."

As we know, this passage is universally misapplied by modern Scripture scholars to mean that only those things pertaining to salvation can be considered to be truly inspired. Nor is this interpretation made by liberal or modernist scholars either; otherwise orthodox Scripture scholars read the document the same way. Back when I was at Ave Maria, our professor of Sacred Scripture (who happened to be the Academic Dean and is still employed by AMU) had us read Dei Verbum and told us that only those parts of the Scriptures that pertained to faith and morals could be considered inspired, and therefore infallible. When I objected and stated that he was misinterpreting Dei Verbum 11, he looked at me blankly and said that he was "not aware of any other interpretation."

Reading any of the other pre-Vatican II Magisterial documents that treated on Scripture study would have put the passage in context; apparently this professor had never read them. When we read other documents, especially Providentissimus Deus of Leo XIII, we see that the correct way to interpret Dei Verbum's "for the sake of our salvation" passage is that the Bible is immune from error in everything it says, and everything it says God wanted there for the sake of our salvation.

Modern interpretation tends to favor a narrower scope for infallibility: that the Bible is immune from error in so far as it teaches about salvation, but can err when it treats of other topics. By the way, lest we think that this narrower interpretation of inspiration is not as widespread as I am making it out to be, we need only look to the 2008 Synod on the Word of God and their working document, "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church." In this document, in which the Synod proposed to "rediscover Dei Verbum" (2), we see the following restatement of Dei Verbum 11 on the topic of inspiration:

...with regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to 'that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation' (15)

If Dei Verbum 11 is problematic, this passage is downright useless. With such qualifying statements as "might" and "only", we are left wondering if there is any way to tell what is inspired and what isn't. Clearly, the Synod was leaning more towards the liberal intepretation of Dei Verbum (thankfully this document never turned into an encyclical). This should serve as a sober reminder of how widespread this narrow view of inspiration is in the Church.

While I have already dealt elsewhere with the proper understanding of the "for the sake of our salvation" passage, it remains to be explained what the Council Fathers were thinking exactly when they chose this phrase, "for the sake of our salvation." To get an insight into this, we can turn to the memoirs of Augustine Cardinal Bea, primary author of Dei Verbum. Regarding the drafting of the document, he says:
An earlier schema (the third in succession) said that the sacred books teach 'truth without error'. The following schema, the fourth, inspired by words of St. Augustine, added the adjective 'saving', so that the text asserted that the Scriptures taught 'firmly, faithfully, wholly and without error the saving truth.' In the voting which followed one hundred and eighty-four council fathers asked for the adjective 'saving' to be removed, because they feared it might lead to misunderstandings, as if the inerrancy of Scripture referred only to matters of faith and morality, whereas there might be error in the treatment of other matters. The Holy Father, to a certain extent sharing this anxiety, decided to ask the Commission to consider whether it would not be better to omit the adjective, as it might lead to some misunderstanding. (Augustin Cardinal Bea, The Word of God and Mankind
(Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1967), 188.
Bea then proceeds to raise the question: "Does the inerrancy asserted in this document cover also the account of these historical events?", which he answers:
For my own part I think that this question must be answered affirmatively, that is, that these 'background' events also are described without error. In fact, we declare in general that there is no limit set to this inerrancy, and that it applies to all that the inspired writer, and therefore all that the Holy Spirit by his means, affirms.... This thought, which re-occurs in various forms in the recent documents of the Magisterium of the Church is here clearly understood in a sense which excludes the possibility of the Scriptures containing any statement contrary to the reality of the facts. In particular, these documents of the Magisterium require us to recognize that Scripture gives a true account of events, naturally not in the sense that it always offers a complete and scientifically studied account, but in the sense that what is asserted in Scripture - even if it does not offer a complete picture - never contradicts the reality of the fact. If therefore the Council had wished to introduce here a new conception, different from that presented in these recent documents of the supreme teaching authority, which reflects the beliefs of the early fathers, it would have had to state this clearly and explicitly. Let us now ask whether there may be any indications to suggest such a restricted interpretation of inerrancy. The answer is decidedly negative. There is not the slightest sign of any such indication. On the contrary everything points against a restrictive interpretation."
(189-190).
From Cardinal Bea's commentary we can see that the use of the adjective "saving" was considered too ambiguous; unfortunately, the final phrase, "for the sake of our salvation" nostrae salutis causa) proved equally problematic. We see that the use of this concept of "saving truth" was disputed from the very beginning.

This idea, though open to misinterpretation, is certainly not unorthodox, however. I'm guessing the Council Fathers probably had in mind the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, who says in the very first article of the Summa:
It was necessary for man's salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: "The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee" (Isaiah 64:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man's whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation (STh, I. Q. 1 A. 1). 
This is what Dei Verbum was getting it - it is not the specifically the content of Scripture that it is referring to when it says "for the sake of our salvation," but the fact of Divine Revelation: because God willed to save us, He graciously and condescendingly chose to impart to us such truths as we could not have known without His revealing them to us. Of course, the content of Divine Revelation is salvific as well, but the context of the passage is referring not to Revelation's content but to Revelation as a mode of transmission.

Pope Pius XII echoes Aquinas in the first paragraphs of Humani Generis:
For though, absolutely speaking, human reason by its own natural force and light can arrive at a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, Who by His providence watches over and governs the world, and also of the natural law, which the Creator has written in our hearts, still there are not a few obstacles to prevent reason from making efficient and fruitful use of its natural ability. The truths that have to do with God and the relations between God and men, completely surpass the sensible order and demand self-surrender and self-abnegation in order to be put into practice and to influence practical life. Now the human intellect, in gaining the knowledge of such truths is hampered both by the activity of the senses and the imagination, and by evil passions arising from original sin. Hence men easily persuade themselves in such matters that what they do not wish to believe is false or at least doubtful. It is for this reason that divine revelation must be considered morally necessary so that those religious and moral truths which are not of their nature beyond the reach of reason in the present condition of the human race, may be known by all mean readily with a firm certainty and with freedom from all error (Humani Generis, 2-3).
Once again, what is necessary for our salvation is the fact of Divine Revelation - because man is incapable of coming to the fullness of the truth with certainty by his own unaided reason, God has made a revelation of Himself to mankind, in the Scriptures but ultimately in the Person of Christ; the giving of this revelation was done "for the sake of our salvation."

The memoirs of Cardinal Bea, the teaching of Aquinas and the words of Pope Pius XII, coupled with the teachings of other popes on the issue of inspiration, should give us no doubt as to the true interpretation of Dei Verbum 11. Thus we can unhesitatingly affirm with Pope Leo XIII that:
It is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Sacred Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred... For all the books which the Church receives as Sacred and Canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can coexist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the Supreme Truth, can utter that which is not True. This is the ancient and unchanging Faith of the Church... [T]hose who maintain that an error is possible in any genuine passage of the sacred writings, either pervert the Catholic notion of inspiration, or make God the author of such error (Providentissimus Deus, 20).