Sunday, July 24, 2011

Places that should be Catholic: Holy Isle and the Cave of St. Molaise; Arran, Scotland


In Scotland's Firth of Clyde, between the Kintyre Peninsula and mainland Scotland, lays the small, quiet island known as Arran. Arran is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in the world. I was fortunate enough to have been able to visit it and bike around the island back in 1998, an experience I shall never forget. It's winding country lanes, lonely castles and beautiful seascapes are forever etched in my memory as the  loveliest places in a country that already abounds with loveliness.

Slightly off the east coast of Arran sits an even smaller island, which locals simply call the Holy Isle. The tiny island is only 1.9 miles around and can easily be passed over as just another one of western Scotland's thousands of tiny islands. Holy Isle, however, was once the home of one of Scotland's early saints, St. Molaise of Leighlin, also known as St. Laisren or St. Laserian.

St. Molaise was an Irish monk of Iona; details of his early life are non-existent but it is possible that he was a disciple of St. Columba. He most certainly met Pope St. Gregory the Great, for he was ordained bishop by the great pope during a trip to Rome sometime around 600 and later returned to Iona as Gregory's legate to the foundling Scottish churches, supporting the Roman doctrine on images against certain Celts who had iconoclastic tendencies. He also argued for the Roman calculation of Easter against the Celtic practice.

Not much is known of the life of St. Molaise. He spent much of his time as a hermit on the Holy Isle, praying in a cave on the hill of Mullach Mòr. He is the subject of the early Celtic tale the Vision of Laisren, one of the first pieces of Christian Scottish literature. In this tale St. Molaise (called Laisren or Laserian) is terrified by a vision of hell in order that he might return and warn his brother monks who were living in half-hearted obedience to their rule. St. Molaise died in 639 and his feast day is April 18th. According to a bizarre legend of questionable authenticity, his death came as the result of plucking out some sort of cursed hair from the eyebrow of St. Sillán. This hair had the strange property that anyone who looked upon in the morning it would die; having plucked it and looked upon it in the morning, Molaise immediately died. This legend has all the fantasy and tragedy of the classic Irish-Celtic sagas (the Death of Diarmid, for example).

Regardless of the historicity of the legends surrounding St. Molaise, he was clearly an important individual in the development of Christianity in Scotland. As a bishop ordained by St. Gregory who argued in favor of the Roman practices, and as a possible convert or disciple of Columba, he is an important link between the primitive foundation of the Scottish church and the later episcopal establishment we read about in Bede.

Thus, it is especially sorrowful that the Holy Isle, and the hermit cave of St. Molaise, have passed into the possession of the pagans. This island and the cave where St. Molaise passed countless nights of lonely penance is now in the hands of the Samyé Ling Buddhist Community. The Buddhists have set up a "Centre for World Peace and Health on the island where they host retreats initiating people into Tibetan Buddhist meditation techniques. The road up the island off the ferry is decorated with Tibetan prayer flags and stupas.

Nor has the cave of St. Molaise been spared from being decorated by the heathens. This sacred spot is now decorated with Tibertan Buddhist prayer flags, ostensibly to honor St, Molaise (as if the prayers of the saint and the meditations of the Buddhists have anything in common), but in my opinion they actually insult the saint and offend God in this.

The cave of St. Molaise on Holy Isle, defiled by the prayer flags of Tibetan Buddhists

This brings up an interesting question - to what degree, if any, does it honor Christ when His saints are honored by pagans? Some, upon hearing this story, may say that it does us honor that even the pagans acknowledge the holiness of one of our saints; should we not rejoice at this? I disagree; I believe it is offensive to the saints when they are honored by pagans in the manner described above.

There are two ways a non-believer can attempt to honor a saint; one is by honoring something in the saint that they believe approximates to their own false religion; the other is by being so impressed with the saints devotion to the Catholic religion that they give a reluctant honor in spite of the fact that the saint is Catholic and they are not. In the first case, the saint is honored not because he is a Catholic but because he is (erroneously) believed to approximate to a pagan; in the second case, he is honored as a Catholic. I believe that the first type of "honor" is offensive to God and to the saint while the second does justice to the saint. Some examples are in order.

Let's take St. Clare. She is often honored by atheist feminists. These feminists honor her, not because she was a devoted, Catholic saint who loved God, but because she disobeyed her father's wishes in a patriarchal society and blazed a trail for feminist revolt by assuming a role of leadership in a world dominated by men. Obviously, this view is skewered, but the point is that they do not honor Clare because she is Catholic; they honor her because they believe that she has something in common with them - that she is a sort of proto-feminist, in whom modern feminists can find something to look up to. Of course, Clare's life and teachings are obscured and twisted to fit this mold, but this necessarily happens when non-Catholics attempt to honor Catholic saints for something other than their Catholicity. Clare is here not being honored as a Catholic, but as some sort of feminazi. This is an example of the first way that a non-believer can honor a Catholic saint, and I believe this sort of "honor" does not truly honor the saint and is offensive to God, because it disregards what is most important about that saint (their identity as a Catholic) and misconstrues what that saint's life revolved around. Clare might have been a powerful woman leader, but she would have had nothing to do with modern feminism had she been acquainted with it.

If we took our first example from Clare, let us take our second example from St. Francis. Now I will speak of the second manner in which a non-Catholic or pagan can honor a saint, and in this manner they can do him justice. Let us recall Francis' memorable journey to the holy land and his conference with the Sultan of Egypt in the Muslim camp outside Damietta. There is exposition of the faith and willingness to die for it so astounded the Sultan that he gave Francis a grudging respect and honor. The Little Flowers of St. Francis, which embellish the story somewhat, relate it this way:

St Francis standing before him, inspired by the Holy Spirit, preached most divinely the faith of Christ; and to prove the truth of what he said, professed himself ready to enter into the fire. Now the Sultan began to feel a great devotion towards him, both because of the constancy of his faith, and because he despised the things of this world (for he had refused to accept any of the presents which he had offered to him), and also because of his ardent wish to suffer martyrdom. From that moment he listened to him willingly, and begged him to come back often, giving both him and his companions leave to preach wheresoever they pleased; he likewise gave them a token of his protection, which would preserve them from all molestation (XXIV).

In this case the Sultan honors Francis precisely because of what is most important about him - his identity as a Catholic; he marvels and honors him "because of the constancy of his faith." Unlike the example above of the feminists honoring Clare, here Francis is honored by a non-Catholic not in spite of his Catholicism, but because he is such an exceptional Catholic.

Note, too, that the response of the Sultan is different. He does not choose to honor Francis with the implements of Muslim worship; on the contrary, he encourages the spread of Christianity and later in the story even professes a wish that he could convert! He honors Francis because he is a Catholic and honors him in a way that Francis would approve of. He does not honor Francis because Francis in any way approximates to anything found in Islam; he honors Francis because Francis is so unlike what he has known in Islam.

We could also cite, in this vein, the tale of Naaman the Syrian, who though a pagan, marvels at the power of Elisha to heal him. He honors Elisha by asking for earth from Israel so that he can honor the true God and expresses sorrow that he must still participate in the external worship of the state gods of Syria. He says:

"Let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD. But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this” (2 Kings 5:17-18).


Again, Naaman honors Elisha not because Elisha reminds him of something good in his own paganism, but because Elisha has demonstrated the power of the true God where the pagan gods have been dumb. It is because the God of Israel is so unlike Rimmon that Naaman marvels.

So, how are we to understand the prayer flags at the cave of St. Molaise? I believe this is a case of the first example, where the pagans are honoring St. Molaise, not because they appreciate him as a Catholic saint who loved our Lord Jesus Christ deeply, but because they see in him a "holy man" in whom they think to find some approximation to their own tradition of contemplation and meditation. In Molaise the hermit they see (errantly) a proto-Buddhist, and as such they honor him not as a Catholic but with the implements of their own false religion.

I think this misconstrues the life and work of St. Molaise, does no honor to the saint and is offensive to God. I don't know how this cave and island came into the possession of the
Samyé Ling Buddhist Community. I do not know why the Catholic Church in Scotland could not get a hold of it; probably because the Catholic Church in Scotland is too busy just trying to stay in existence. It is a tragedy. This place should be a Catholic shrine in the hands of Catholics. If nothing else, some Catholic zealot should go there and tear those prayer flags down, even as Gideon tore down the altar of Baal in his village. Will not someone rid Holy Isle of these troublesome prayer flags?

Pray for the restoration of Holy Isle and the cave of St. Molaise to the Catholic Church! St. Molaise, ora pro nobis!

Related Article: St. Boniface and the Zeal of Gideon

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Say something about Jesus

I read this very interesting article over at Catholic Lane about a Catholic man who seems to have been somewhat shaky in his faith. Some Protestant family members picked up on his apparent ignorance of the principles of Catholicism and moved in on him like sharks at the smell of blood. They asked him, "If you died and stood before the Lord and He asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?" Well of course the Lord doesn't let us into heaven based on whether or not we answer some questions correctly; the purpose is a Protestant ruse in order to find out where the Catholic puts his trust.

Well, the Catholic gentleman in question failed the test. When asked why he had confidence in his salvation, he replied, "I just ask the Virgin Mary to pray for me.”

This answer, while not wrong if expressed to another Catholic who understands the tremendous graces that come to us through our Lady's intercession, it is nevertheless problematic in this context for two reasons.

First and foremost, when a Protestant asks you this question, beyond testing you to find out where you place your trust, he is implicitly seeking to either confirm or debunk the myth that Catholics do not know our Lord. It is not primarily a theological, but an ecumenical question. He is thinking to himself, "I have come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; do you know this same Christ? Have you come to believe and love the same Jesus who I believe in and love?" Even if this is not stated, this is the purpose. It is an opportunity to build bridges and to establish firm footing for a true dialogue.

The average Protestant already suspects that we Catholics pay too much honor to Mary; many accuse us of worshipping her. When he asks this question to a Catholic, he is looking, faintly hoping, for confirmation that this is (or is not) true. To answer, then, by saying, "I just ask the Virgin Mary to pray for me" leads them to suspect the worst about us. It takes what could be a very fruitful ecumenical discussion and ends it before it starts by portraying us as ignorant. As the article above says, "you have to be about as dumb as a box of rocks to sit in Mass for any time and not figure out that your salvation has something to do with Jesus."

But, to come to the second point, why would this answer confirm the worst suspicions of the Protestant? Perhaps we could agree that this answer is "bad form" but it is theologically sound, right?

Not exactly. The Protestant is here inquiring about the primary cause, or efficient cause, of our justification. We know there are many secondary causes. Reading the Bible helps me go to heaven Prayer. Fellowship with other believers. Attending Church assists me on my way to heaven. The intercession of the saints. Even looking at a beautiful piece of art or visiting a beautiful spot in the wilderness might assist me on my way to heaven. Of all these things, in one way or another, it can be said that they "save" us in that they contribute to rendering our salvation more secure.

But this is not what the Protestant is getting at when he asks this question about where we place our trust. He wants to know the efficient cause, the cause from whence all these other secondary causes derive their efficacy. For the answer to this question, there can be no other answer other than the redemptive death of Jesus Christ. This is the only appropriate answer to this question.

St. Thomas agrees. When writing on the cause of sanctifying grace, he of course goes right to the primary cause - God. Nobody but God can save us, and no creature, not even the Blessed Virgin Mary, can possibly be the cause of grace. St. Thomas says:

"Now the gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace. For it is as necessary that God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the Divine Nature by a participated likeness, as it is impossible that anything save fire should enkindle" (I-II, Q. 112 art. 1).

Protestants and Catholics may disagree over how exactly Christ's death saves us; this is something that is a subject for discussion between us - but this discussion will never happen if we do not know how to skillfully answer the questions posed to us by Protestants who are seeking to challenge our beliefs.

Sometimes we may be ill-prepared and lose an argument; we may forget our Scripture and look foolish; we may say something and later regret it; but, if we are going to lose the argument, let's at least lose an argument that has been had, not lose it before it even has a chance ot begin. We can't begin to properly explain Mary's role as a co-mediator unless we first establish common ground with Protestants that we believe in the one Mediator. We can't convince them to share our beliefs about Mary if they aren't convinced that we share belief in Christ.

So, as I have said with regards to our relations with non-Christians, so I say with our intercourse with Protestants - preach Jesus Christ and let the rest follow. That's the only way things will ever work out.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Requiescat in Pace, Dr. Warren Carroll


Dr. Warren Carrol, died. July 17th, 2011. No further information except that he has passed away.

Oprah and the New Age


Oprah Winfrey is a well known proponent of mystical, New Age ideologies. There is nothing new about celebrities being involved in New Age mysticism, but in Oprah's case it is especially dangerous because she is such a well-respected figure, commanding the admiration and I would even say obedience of millions around the world.

I have spoken before on the tragedy of Oprah's falling away from the Christian faith due to a tragic but simple misunderstanding of the phrase "I am a jealous God" from the Old Testament; at least, this is the reason she herself cites for her apostasy. But how did she go from baptist skeptic to New Age ideologue, and what exactly are her current New Age connections?

According to Oprah, this transition happened because of a book entitled Discover the Power Within You by "Unity" minister Eric Butterworth. The Unity Church movement, like the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses, uses your standard Christian vocabulary - God, Christ, the Bible, etc. - but means things totally different by these terms than orthodox Catholics or even conservative Christians would understand by them. For example, "Christ" means the divinity in all people; the historical Jesus is a great teacher who exemplifies the full expression of what it means to discover the "Christ" within you. Prayer is seen as a rejection of negative energy, and so on and so forth.

Oprah, upon reading this book, said, "This book changed my perspective on life and religion. Eric Butterworth teaches that God isn't "up there." He exists inside each one of us, and it's up to us to seek the divine within." This universal immanence of God within all of us, excluding His transcendence or any moral demands upon the human subject of God's indwelling, inform all of Oprah's spirituality. 

She has used her fame and the forum of her television program to promote this spiritual vision; in fact, if one takes a topical look at all of the guests on her show over the years, it could be argued that the majority of them have been dedicated to promoting this New Age vision. Take the example of Gary Zukav. Zukav was a physicist who began delving into New Age spirituality in the 1980's, culminating in his best selling book The Seat of the Soul (1989), which taught that the human being was evolving to a point where the existence of the soul would be known and felt empirically - that just as humans evolved to use reason, so they would evolve, and were evolving, to master the powers of the soul. The utilitarian "use" of the souls powers would be as natural as the use of sight or speech. Zukav claimed to be able to possess this ability and taught that others could as well through "moving beyond the limitations of the five senses." 

Zukav was first featured on Oprah in 1998 and since then has appeared on her show 35 times, which is more than any other guest. Oprah says Zukav's book is her favorite book of all time "except the Bible"; by her own admission, Oprah keeps a copy of this book by her bedside. Another favorite New Age author of Oprah is Eckhart Tolle. Oprah summarized Tolle's teaching as about religious experience primarily, "God is a feeling experience and not a believing experience. If your religion is a believing experience, then that's not truly God." (source). In her insistence on religious experience over objective religious fulfillment in any beatific vision, and her belief in universal divine immanence in all humanity, Oprah is nothing other than a New Age modernist.

With her audience of 22 million, mostly female, adherents, Oprah's propagation of these views has tremendous consequences. Christianity Today once called her one of "America's most influential spiritual leaders" (source). For most of you, this is old news; but is important to know, especially if you know a Christian friend who is taken by Oprah. She is a false messiah and a very dangerous priestess of modernism.

Related: Oprah and the Big Questions of Life

Friday, July 15, 2011

Austria's "Call to Disobedience"


Latest news out of the troubled land of Austria: 300 out of Austria's 4,200 priests have pledged to take part in an effort known as the "Call to Disobedience", as reported by Catholic Culture and the National Catholic Reporter. Here is what the signatories to the "Call to Disobedience" website are pledging:

•to pray for Church reform at every liturgy, since “in the presence of God there is freedom of speech”

•not to deny the Holy Eucharist to “believers of good will,” including non-Catholic Christians and those who have remarried outside the Church

•to avoid offering Mass more than once on Sundays and holy days and to avoid making use of visiting priests--instead holding a “self-designed” Liturgy of the Word

•to describe such a Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of Holy Communion as a “priestless Eucharistic celebration”; “thus we fulfill the Sunday obligation in a time of priest shortage”

•to “ignore” canonical norms that restrict the preaching of the homily to clergy

•to oppose parish mergers, insisting instead that each parish have its own individual leader, “whether man or woman”

•to “use every opportunity to speak out openly in favor of the admission of the married and of women to the priesthood”

Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna weighed in on this in a July 7 letter, saying, "This open call to disobedience shocked me...Christian obedience is a school of freedom; it is about the concrete translation into life of what we pray in every Our Father, when we ask the Father that His will be done in heaven and on earth … This willingness is made concrete in religious obedience to the Pope and bishops.” He went on to say that those who persist in disobedience would do better to simply leave the Church altogether.

When I first heard about this and read the Cardinal's statements, one thought crossed my mind: There are only seven dioceses in Austria, and Vienna is by far the largest. Schönborn has been Archbishop of Vienna since 1995, but he was an Auxiliary Bishop in 1991 - that's 20 years in this Archdiocese. There is a good chance that Schönborn personally ordained many of these 300 dissenters. What kind of formation did they have? And if they had poor formation (which it seems evident they did), how did the Cardinal let  them go on for 20 years without trying to rectify the problem? Did this Cardinal, who in the wake of the sex abuse crisis suggested there needed to be "unflinching examination" in the "issue of priest's training" himself fail to recognize the seeds of dissent in these priests? Ths sort of dissent does not just come out of nowhere, though the "shocked" disposition of Cardinal Schönborn would seem to suggest that he at least may think it does. If 300 priests in your diocese suddenly rise up in formal, united dissent, the Ordinary of the diocese who probably ordained a lot of these guys is certainly not blameless.

If he knew this sort of dissent was brewing in his prebyterate, he was negligent in not addressing it. If on the other hand, if he has been there for 20 years and really had no clue this was the temperament of his priests, then he demonstrates an exceptional degree of cluelessness. I grant it may not be so simple; after all, being a bishop in this day and age is a very complex thing, something a layman like me could not possibly understand.

Furthermore, if Cardinal Schönborn insists on personally celebrating Masses like  this and explicitly approves functions like this one, can he really be surprised that he reaps the fruits of disobedience? When he sets this tone for his diocese, on what grounds is he so "shocked"?

Since my co-blogger at large, the illustrious Anselm, lives in the great land of Austria, I would be more than interested to hear is take on this.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reliability of the Fathers (part 3 of 7)


Continuing this long and in depth series on the reliability of the Church Fathers as guides to Christian belief and practice, we return to the objections of my scholarly Protestant interlocutor, who had argued that the Fathers were an unreliable source for determining true doctrine, essentially saying that modern, critical biblical scholarship should be preferred before the testimony of the Christians of the first four centuries. He had many objections, the first on the allegation that the Greek and Latin Fathers were "insensitive" to different "cultural horizons" and could not possibly understand the Jewish Scriptures correctly (refuted here) and the argument that the transition from a Jewish Church to a Gentile Church also caused a transition in the Church's theology further away from biblical principles (refuted here).

The next fact the interlocutor cites in favor of his view is the following:

The evolution of Christianity as a progressive and subversive challenge to social structures into Christianity as an upholder of said social structures.

Thus, because Christianity went from being illegal and subversive to legal and supportive of the imperial structure under Constantine and his successors, the objectiveness of the Fathers in intepreting the content of revelation was somehow impugned. Basically, it is the same argument has the last one but rehashed - an external transformation in the Church's socio-political station is taken as grounds to assume an inner evolution in the life of the Church - presumably, an evolution away from the Truth rather than towards a deeper understanding of it.

This proposition rests on three assumptions, which I think are all ungrounded: (1) That the political categories of "progressive" and "conservative" are rightly applied to the Church of Christ (2) That Christianity was "progressive" before the conversion of the empire and "conservative" after its conversion (3) That the changes in the post-Constantinian Church represent not just developments but breaks with the apostolic past. Let us examine and break down these assumptions one at a time. I ask your forgiveness ahead of time for the length and depth of this post, but it is a complex issue that requires a complex answer.

1) Political categories applied to the Church?

It is a constant temptation, especially in modernist or liberal ideologies, to see the Church in political terms: progressive or regressive, liberal or conservative, supporting the oppressed or serving as a tool of the oppressors. Such blanket judgments about the Church's relation to existing social mores should always make us pause. The Church is not a political body and does not fall into political categories; she is a supernatural reality that transcends them all. The Catechism, quoting Gaudium et Spes, reminds us of this: "The Church, because of her commission and competence, is not to be confused in any way with the political community. She is both the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental character of the human person" (CCC 2245).

Since the mission of the Church is the salvation of souls, the Church will be in different relations to differing political institutions in the context of this mission. Hence, she appears conservative to some and progressive to others; in reality, she is both because she is neither. She is neither conservative as the political conservatives mean it, nor is she liberal as the political liberals mean it. When a political ideology denigrates some long-held teaching of the Church, then the Church appears conservative for adhering to tradition. The Church also appears progressive when it challenges society to have more care for the poor, the fatherless and the widow. and to turn away from the snares of imperialism, consumerism and unchecked capitalism.

So, in the first place, we must recognize the supernatural character of the Church and her transcendental mission. This reality means that, although words like "conservative" and "liberal" might help in understanding the Church's position on certain specific matters relative to the culture at large, but these political categories are of no help in coming to understand the Church's inner reality.

If political categories are inadequate, how can we best describe the Church? Pope Pius XII answers this for us: "If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ - which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church - we shall find nothing more noble, more sublime, or more divine than the expression "the Mystical Body of Christ" (Mystici Corporis, 13). All of these theories that we are debunking fail in that they refuse to see the mystical reality behind the institution.

2) Was the Church always "progressive" before Constantine?

But now that we have dealt with the issue of our language and categorization of the Church, let us examine the question of the Church's societal role prior to the advent of Constantine. It is generally assumed that the pre-Constantinian Church was progressive and subversive of Roman culture while the post-Constantinian Church was conservative, oppressive, and upheld the status quo. An group is said to be "progressive" or "subversive" if it undermines accepted mores by insisting on a loosening the bonds of tradition; hence, support of homosexual marriage is said to be "progressive" because it proposes loosening the bonds of traditional mores and weakening the power of tradition. A group is said to be "conservative" or "regressive" (or even "oppressive") if it seeks to uphold the power of traditional mores and represented by the status quo. Hence, proponents of traditional marriage are called "conservative" because they believe in upholding and strengthening the traditional understanding of marriage.

Unfortunately for my interlocutor's view, we see the Church prior to Constantine being quite conservative on many issues. For example, while the sanctity of marriage was basically a joke in the late pagan empire (with adultery common and divorce rampant), the Church insisted on a extraordinarily rigid marital code - marriage only once and no such thing as divorce. Old Republican Rome had strict marital mores as well, but they were about 400 years extinct by the time the Church was large enough to influence Roman society. It was an amazingly regressive position to take socially, as if we were to suddenly today to insist on the etiquette of the court of Louis XIV as the social norm. Yet this was prior to Constantine. Here we see the pre-Constantinian Church as definitively conservative.

Abortion is another example. While ancient and Republican Rome allowed infanticide for deformities (see Table IV of the Twelve Tables), Roman tradition strictly condemned abortion. The early Roman view of abortion is summed up in the Sentences of the Roman jurist Paulus, who wrote: "Those who administer a beverage for the purpose of producing abortion, or of causing affection, although they may not do so with malicious intent, still, because the act offers a bad example, shall, if of humble rank, be sent to the mines; or, if higher in degree, shall be relegated to an island, with the loss of a portion of their property. If a man or a woman should lose his or her life through such an act, the guilty party shall undergo the extreme penalty." Yet this law had become a dead letter by the time Paulus wrote it, for beginning in the 1st century BC, abortion became more and more acceptable, so much so that Augustus had to order all bachelors in Rome to marry and have children because they were aborting themselves out of existence!

And yet here again we see Christianity exerting a conservative influence, not a progressive one. The Church had always opposed infanticide as well as abortion, despite the trend of Roman society to embrace contraception and abortion. It was the Church that called Rome back to its ancient discipline through her exemplary moral virtue.

Likewise, we could point to examples of Christian progressiveness after the age of Constantine. If the post-Constantinian Church really was only a tool of the state, we would not expect it to subvert any of the power structures of the state. Yet we see the abolition of slavery in the Christian empire, that very institution which the pagan empire was built on. Another example is the ending of the gladiatorial games and of the Olympics, the removal of the Statue of Victory, the continued exodus of men to the monasteries who in prior ages would have been diverted to the military. In all these movements the Church exercised a progressive influence upon the post-Constantinian empire.

Not to mention the moderating effect that Christianity had upon the monarchy. Roman monarchy after Constantine was abundantly better than monarchy before Christianity. There are no more tyrants like Caligula, Nero or Caracalla in the Christian age. Plus the imperial throne became more stable, despite the fact that the empire itself became less so. From 217 to 313 there were 30 emperors, almost all of whom died violently. But from 313 to 410 there were only 12 western emperors, almost all of whom died naturally. Add to this the  role the Church had in confronting and condemning emperors who overstepped their bounds, as when St. Athanasius confronted Constantius II about the latter's support for Arianism or when Theodosius was rebuked by St. Ambrose. No noble of the age of Nero or even Hadrian would rebuke an emperor in such a way; this freedom of expression (called parrhesia) had a truly progressive effect on the empire. Check out this this post here for more on parrhesia.

The Church before Constantine prayed for and supported the pagan emperors just as the Church after Constantine prayed for and supported the Christian emperors; pre-Constantinian apologists like St. Justin wrote rebukes to emperor's for their immorality just as post-Constantinian bishops like Athanasius and Amrbose rebuked Christian emperors. When looking at the patristic Church, the one constant is that it was always jealous to guard its own prerogatives.

So what does all this have to do with the Church Fathers? If nothing else, it at least demonstrates that the Church cannot be said to be "progressive" pre-Constantine but "conservative" post-Constantine. It is not that clear-cut of a break. In fact, as we will see below, there really was no break - and if there is no break, it is that much more difficult to establish a break down in the quality or reliability of patristic thought during the period.

3) The development of the 4th century was not a rupture

We have it on the authority of the illustrious Cardinal Newman that, if we see hints or traces of a dogma in earlier phases of Church history, we ought to interpret those dogmatic seedlings in the context of the fully formed dogmas they later became. Newman says, "The fact of such early or recurring intimations of tendencies which afterward are fully realized, is a sort of evidence that those later and more systematic fulfillments are only in accord with its original idea" (Essay on the Development of Doctrine, II:V.5.1), thus, though a systematic Mariology was not worked out until the middle ages, we have Ireneaus, for example, teaching that Mary is the "cause of salvation" by untying the "knot of Eve's disobedience" (Adv. Haer. 3:22:24). Though Irenaeus' statement does not contain anything like the systematic fullness of medieval Mariology, because the rude patristic Mariology was followed by that of the medievals, it makes sense to see statements like that by Ireneaus as representing the true precursor of the later development.

Thus St. Ireneaus' statement on Mary is always placed as one of the most important Mariological texts of the patristic era, though Protestant commentators, because they do not accept Newman's principle of definite anticipation, fail to see any connection between the Mariology of Ireneaus and that of, say, Bernard of Clairvaux. But, if we are to make sense of the doctrinal development that occurred in the Church from the patristic to the medieval period, we must understand that earlier doctrinal seeds should be interpreted in light of what they eventually grow into, just like a sapling or an infant is cared for with an aim towards what it will eventually become.

If we understand this principle, we see that what happened between 313 and the early medieval period was not a rupture, but a continuation of that development which had already been going on uninterrupted for centuries. It is very important to note the circular reasoning in the interlocutor's accusations: In order to postulate a huge doctrinal break between pre-Constantinian and post-Constantinian Christianity, one has to adopt the assumption that Catholicism of the 5th and 6th centuries was errant. "Obviously there was a drastic change after Constantine because the Church in the 5th and 6th centuries started teaching that Mary is the Mother of God and that the Bishop of Rome is the head of the Church on earth!" This only seems like a rupture if you have predetermined that these doctrines are errant. But to those who accept the Catholic Faith and understand that these doctrines which Protestants assume "appeared" in the 4t, 5th and 6th centuries were actually developments from earlier ideas present even in apostolic Christianity, there is no rupture, only a glorious unfolding and a seamless continuity.

This rupture, attributed to a supposed influence of Greek philosophical and Roman pagan thought on the Church's doctrines during this time, is what Mark Shea has rightly referred to as the Pagan creep Theory - that throughout the patristic age (but especially after the time of Constantine), the Church, in order to accomodate the world, allowed pagan influences to "creep" into the Church, eventually perverting the Gospel to such a degree that it would be unrecognizable to Christ and the Apostles.

This Pagan Creep Theory is widely accepted as fact in the Protestant world; indeed, I myself once touted it as truth. But there are many huge problems with it, which Mark Shea points out in his excellent book By What Authority? According to Shea (whom I second here), the Pagan Creep Theory requires us to believe some principles which would be considered quite absurd by the principles of secular history (that is, if we were dealing with any other subject besides the catholic Church). The Pagan Creep Theory forces us to believe the following "schizophrenic absurdities" about the Church Fathers:
  • That these presumably apostate successors of the apostles were both promulgating alien pagan dogmas in direct defiance of apostolic teaching and simultaneously undergoing suffering, persecution, and fearful deaths with an avowed determination to bear witness to the Faith of the Apostles. 
  • The these same Fathers were allowing pagan ideas en masse into the Faith while at the same time contending vehemently over the subtelties of Trinitarian and Christological theology, like the difference between homoousios and homoiousios.
  • That not one single Christian anywhere was willing to oppose this apostasy, even though many Churches were apostolic and had the apostolic preaching "ringing in their ears."
  • And that while all this was going on, all of these supposed apostates and heretics (the Fathers), these lax stooges of paganism who perverted Scripture, were all still willing to vehemently defend Scripture against the paganizing attacks of other heretics, such as Marcion and Montanus (see By What Authority, pp.148-151).
When confronted with the contradiction we must believe to hold this Pagan Creep Theory, we can see how absurd it truly is.

But if the explosion of Catholic dogma appearing in the writings in the 4th and 5th centuries is not due to a copromise with the world or the accommodation of paganism, to what do we attribute it?

I would attribute it simply to the cessation of the persectuions. Anyboy who has really read the Fathers, even without acknowledging Newman's principle of definite anticipation, can see that even the pre-Nicene Fathers hold many peculiarly Catholic dogmas - the Real Presence, consecrated virginity, monasticism, the priesthood, episcopate and even indulgences are clearly and undeniably found in the pre-Nicene Fathers. But, as the pre-Nicene Fathers practiced the discipline of arcana (secrecy) because of constant persecution, we ought not to be surprised that they did not write more and only alluded to certain dogmas in less precise terms than we would like, since many of their treatises were not so much theological as apologetical or pastoral. Once the persecutions ceased, the Church could come out in to the light and begin to truly develop a systematic theology, expounding on those truths she had always professed, but which the necessity of secrecy due to persecution had always kept partially obscured. Thus, the developments of the 4th and 5th centuries can be seen in this light to be nothing other than the mature theoloical blossoming of a garden whose seeds were firmly planted in the apostolic and pre-Nicene age.

To sum up - it is not true to simply assert that the Church went from being subversive to conservative; the reality is more complex than that. But even given this complex realities, there are better historical solutions to the developments of dogma in the 4th and 5th centuries than to simply assert that the political changes in the Church's status vis-a-vis the empire changed its doctrine substantially, as exemplified by the absurdities we fall into if we adopt the Pagan Creep Theory. What accounts for the astounding development of dogma in the generations after Nicea is the cessation of persecution which allowed a freer and more open development and a real systematic theology, which though it certainly became more refined, nevertheless preserved and built on the Faith of the apostolic age.

Until next time, when we look at the influence of the development of the hierarchy and the monastic movement.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Requiescat in Pace, Otto von Hapsburg (1912-2011)

This week marked the passing of Archduke Otto von Hapsburg, the eldest son of  Blessed Karl of Austria, head of the House of Hapsburg and last crowned prince of the venerable Hapsburg family.Otto passed away in his sleep on July 4th at the venerable age of 99.

Otto was born in 1912, only two years before the Austro-Hungarian empire would be engulfed in the First World War. He became Crown-Prince of Austria in 1916 when his father took the imperial throne but was forced from Vienna after the war when the Austro-Hungarian empire. When Blessed Karl died in 1922, Otto assumed the leadership of the Hapsburg house.

From 1922 to 1961 he tirelessly advocated for the the restoration of the Hapsburg monarchy and claimed the throne of Austria; at the same time, he opposed Nazism, Communism and worked for pan-European cooperation. Otto was a devoted Catholic and believed that, after the horrors of two World Wars and the spectre of Communism looming over the world, the greatest way to ensure peace in Europe was through a pan-European association based loosely on the old Holy Roman Empire. To this end, he served as Vice President (1957–1973) and President (1973–2004) of the International Paneuropean Union, and served as a Member of the European Parliament for the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) 1979–1999.

Shamefully, Otto was banned from his homeland of Austria after World War II and the establishment of the Austrian Republic. Despite his heroic opposition to Hitler during the thirties, the Austrian Republic continued to ban Otto from his homeland, leaving him stateless (he was, however, granted honorary citizenship in over 1,300 Austrian towns, was an Knight of Malta and was even offered the throne of Spain by Francisco Franco in 1961). The Austrian authorities took the Hapsburg ban very seriously; if it was rumored that Otto was in the country, police would be dispatched to search for him, as he was labeled an enemy of the state. 

Finally, in 1961, Otto signed an agreement with the government of Austria formally renouncing all his claims to the throne and promising to stay out of Austrian politics in exchange for Austrian citizenship. This was only a gesture on Otto's part, something he did "for purely practical reasons" and never agreed with; he stated, ""This was such an infamy, I'd rather never have signed it. They demanded that I abstain from politics. I would not have dreamed of complying. Once you have tasted the opium of politics, you never get rid of it." Many progressives in the country were wary of allowing Otto back in - it was not until 1966 that Otto was finally issued his Austrian passport.

From 1966 until the death of his wife in 2007, he worked tirelessly in European politics. He went into seclusion after the death of his wife Princess Regina in 2007.

I was blessed to have the opportunity to meet Otto von Hapsburg in October of 2003 when he came to visit the students of the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria. He was robust and energetic, surprisingly so for someone who at that time had just turned 91. He gave a short speech on European politics and the (then) escalating conflict in Iraq. I got a chance to address him personally during the question and answer session and asked him his opinion on the role of John Paul II on the fall of Communism. He replied that he believed John Paul II was absolutely instrumental in the collapse of Communism in Europe and that the media did not understand the cultural role the Church, and the Pope, played in this struggle.

Some other anecdotes from other students' questions:

  • He insisted that we all understand that the Kurds in Iraq were not actually Iraqis, but Turks who migrated into northern Iraq generations ago. He told us that in his day they were called "Mountain Turks." He insisted that we view Iraqi sectarian violence as ethnic and not religious.

  • He told us that his mother, Empress Zita of Bourbon-Parma, began teaching him the complex Hugarian language at age two, saying that he needed to master Hungarian as well as German in order to rule two peoples. He asked his father, Blessed Karl, if he could learn English. Blessed Karl told him that he had to learn seven other languages before he was allowed to learn English, because, in the words of Blessed Karl, "English makes you lazy and you won't want to learn other languages after that." He then told us that at that time (2003) he was working on learning Tibetan, which was about the 19th language he knew.

  • Somebody asked him what he thought about smoking. He replied that the U.N. had declared an annual smoking awareness day where everybody was supposed to give up smoking; he then stated that on that day he always made sure to light up a huge cigar. This got the crowd laughing.

  • When somebody asked him who he thought the most influential European of the 20th century was, he said immediately that it was Pope Pius XII. He stated that Pope Pius XII was not only a great leader but a saintly man who deserved more recognition than he got.
A lifelong Catholic and believer in the vision of Europe united under Catholic monarchy, Otto will be sorely missed by all faithful Catholics. Sadly, his passing in Europe seems to have barely been noticed. Here is a photo of his coffin laying in state at the chapel of Poecking on Lake Starnberg in Bavaria. Notice the number of persons in attendance:


Archduke Otto von Hapsburg, last of the great Hapsburg monarchs, the first rulers of Christendom, requiescat in pace.

Related: Duke Henri of Luxembourg stripped of his power for opposing abortion.
             "Good night, good prince" by John Zmirak