Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Etiquette of Mammon


Have you ever noticed that in our culture, at least in the United States, there is a unique little system of etiquette surrounding how we talk about money? We Americans pride ourselves on being very open when it comes to discussing any topic whatsoever; nothing is taboo, and this sometimes even becomes a fault of ours. When I lived in Austria, the local Austrians remarked on how "talkative" Americans were on a whole host of subjects. Americans are an extremely opinionated people who thoroughly resent being told to curb their language, for good or for ill.

Yet, in the past few years, I have noticed that there seems to be certain taboos in our society regarding how we talk about money with other people. I noticed this first some years ago, when I was just hired at a job. I was talking with another employee (an employee who had a completely different job than mine) and asked them how much they got paid for doing that job. They answered cordially at the time, but later I was rebuked by my boss; I found out that the employee had actually been offended by my question and had complained to the boss about it. The boss told me in no uncertain terms that it was "not appropriate" to talk about money with other employees.

Why? Perhaps it is something management prefers to keep in place so that workers don't become envious of each other in situations where there may be merit based pay? That might be so, but here it was the employee, not the boss, who was first offended, and we did non-competing jobs that weren't in a similar pay-bracket anyway. The employee was offended that I had asked about money, and the boss agreed. It is not just something fostered by employers; rather, it is something about the American workplace in general.

Okay, so we are not supposed to talk to other employees about how much we make. Other taboos: Issues relating to money can only be discussed in private with your boss. It is not appropriate to speak about money in a letter or email. It's not polite to ask a friend of yours how much he makes at his job, nor in social settings should you talk about your own income, especially if it is on the larger side. If you cannot participate in an event, it is wrong to say, "I don't have enough money to do that"; you are supposed to offer a more tactful excuse that doesn't involve money. If somebody owes you money, you can only ask them about it in person. And, speaking of "asking about money", it seems to be an unwritten rule that people who owe you money somehow end up making you feel like a jerk for asking for the money you are rightfully owed!

At any rate, I can probably think of more, but you get the picture. There are a lot of social taboos in place that seem to suggest that money is a topic we simply do not discuss in social situations. 

This doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever. Just because it is etiquette, or "good office manners" doesn't mean it is correct. The way I see it, surrounding money with these taboos and aura of unspeakability tends to raise its importance in our lives. We almost treat mammon like God, someone whose name is only to be used in certain contexts and never lightly. Should money have such a place in our society that even how to talk about it is hallowed by all these guidelines?

I think this comes from our own cultural delusion that we are a classless society of equals. In old Europe, for example, there was an obvious class system that was by and large accepted. There were rich people and everybody knew who they were - this was evident from their dress, homes, manner of living and even their speech. Moreover, their incomes, largely rent based, were a matter of public knowledge, in many cases. Think, for example, about the depiction of the wealthy of Georgian England in the Jane Austen novels. Everybody knows that Mr. Bingley is worth £5,000 per year; likewise, everybody in the whole village and presumably the whole county knows that Mr. Darcy is worth £10,000 per year. Their wealth, and even the degree of their wealth, is common knowledge, because they live in an aristocratic society where divisions based on wealth and prestige are public and an acceptable part of society.

Now take the United States, where we "threw off" our aristocracy and established a government ruled by the people and based not on wealth and privilege of birth, but common citizenship. In our society, we don't like external characteristics that remind us of wealth distinctions. It brings to mind the unhappy reminder that we are not, in fact, a classless society, but a society of great disparity of wealth. We do lack, however, many of the cultural trappings of external wealth that old Europe had. Nevertheless, to maintain the illusion that we are all just citizens who are by and large the same, we negate the issue of monetary disparity by refusing to discuss it. That's my theory, at least.

I didn't even realize how deep these taboos ran until this summer I took a temporary job with the company of a friend of mine, a very good Catholic and a very open, and frank man who lacks any of the monetary taboos I have been talking about. Well, there came a day when I was supposed to ask him about how much he was going to pay me for a certain job.At my previous job, I could never discuss such things easily or openly; they required private "meetings", sometimes much more than one and were always discussed in a very delicate way. but, to my surprise, my friend just said, "So, how much do you want?" I said, "Do you think we should talk about this in private", as we were in front of several other employees. He said, "No, we can talk about it right here." Then, and only then, did I realize how unaccustomed we are to asking for money or speaking about it openly in the company of others. Nevertheless, I did what he wanted and blurted out an amount, which was basically agreed to immediately. It was so easy. Money was really no big deal to him, at least as far as talking about it is concerned.

I think we ought to not have so much
sensitivity in the way we speak of this subject; it just gives it more importance than it needs to have. If you need money, ask for it. If you can't afford it, say "It's too expensive." If someone asks you what you make, why not tell them? And don't get offended if somebody asks you. Don't get all touchy is somebody wants to discuss money; it's really not that big of a deal. And, if you owe somebody money, don't try to make them feel like an idiot for asking; you are the one that needs to be humble because you are the debtor; the creditor can ask for his money any way he wants, by letter, email, phone call or in person. I'm not against manners, but I am against stupid taboos that are propagated under the auspices of etiquette.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What of priestly obedience?

First the Fr. Corapi debacle, now Fr. Pavone. Two different priests with different apostolates and different sorts of "falls", yet both undoubtedly tarnished and caught up in scandals that have irreparably sullied their reputations. Yet whatever side one takes on these current events, they are most certainly made worse by what, in my opinion, is a shocking lack of obedience on the part of the priests involved. 

I am not here interested in narrating the details of the Fr. Corapi case or the Fr. Pavone case; I presume my readership to be well enough acquainted with them. At any rate, I use these cases not to make any specific claims about either but to illustrate a general principle - namely, that there seems to be a particular Americanized concept of obedience in play here that sees obedience as justly refused if we subjectively believe our "rights" are being trampled on. Fr. Corapi, in denying legitimate requests from his superiors and bishop and choosing to leave the priesthood rather than submit, and Fr. Pavone, in appealing his case to Rome over the head of his ordinary, seem to be operating on a concept of obedience that is more concerned with asserting their personal rights rather than seeking holiness.

There is a great little book by Fr. Leo Pyzalski, C.S.S.R., called The Holy Will of God, published by TAN books. In this excellent little booklet, Fr. Pyzalski talks about various aspects of submitting to God's will in our life and points out that priests and religious are called to a different kind of obedience than average lay persons. It is an heroic obedience that demands a resignation of our claims to our "rights." Fr. Pyzalski states:

"Those trusted with leadership and administration of religious communities are vested with Divine authority, since they are appointed representatives of God. Hence, the attitude of subjects is expected to be one of sincere and humble deference and childlike docility towards all legitimate Superiors. This is something quite different from modern democracy.

People who join a religious order [or the priesthood] are perfectly aware of the way of life they choose for themselves...they renounce in advance all claims to democratic participation in the administration and spiritual guidance of the whole religious body. They consciously sacrifice their personal liberty, their own will, to please God and to render Him more glory" (Pyzalski, The Holy Will of God, pg. 6-7)

Fr. Pyzalski goes on to say that this obedience is much easier professed with the mouth than acted upon, for as soon as a trial or obstacle crops up, there is a temptation to withhold obedience:

"Particularly, in our day of ultra-democratic tendencies is this likely to happen and, indeed, does happen frequently. Self-will takes the place of humble and cheerful obedience. As long as Superiors adjust their directions to the likes and dislikes of their subjects, they are praised and cherished and obeyed promptly. Whenever the contrary occurs, they will be blamed, at least very often, of imprudence, ruthlessness or lack of charity. Allegedly, Superiors "forget" that all members of the community have the same rights since they are bound by the same religious profession" (ibid, 7-8).

Fr. Pyzalski's next comments are especially pertinent to the Fr. Pavone case, which as Ed Peters seems to have proven clearly, is a case of a priest gradually assuming the attitude that his social work, however important it might be, is more important than his priestly ministry and the glory of God. Fr. Pavone has called Pro-Life work "the core of my life", to which Dr. Peters rightly responds, "Something is seriously askew here. Nothing, not even the most visible (and arguably the most effective) pro-life work in the world, is at the “core” of any priest’s life; nothing is there, besides the High Priest Jesus Christ. That is no pious platitude. For any priest, religious or diocesan, to assert before the world that anything is at the core of his life besides the Son of God is very disturbing. "

Fr. Pyzalski says the same thing, reminding us that any social work a priest does must be subordinated to his identity as an ordained (or a religious), and that this identity is ultimately governed by the will of one's legitimate Superiors. He goes on:

"The first and most essential task of every religious community [or priest] is the imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Social, educational, or similar work is not the supreme task...it is only a means to further God's glory...To perform any social work whatsoever without regarding God's glory and the teaching of Jesus Christ [on obedience], the Supreme Master of mankind, would be incompatible with religious obligations and the religious character in general.

After losing the spirit of Christ, which is one of filial docility towards God and His representatives, a religious order is but a poor makeshift of what it ought to be. It cannot expect Divine blessings on its activities, nor real happiness in its members" (ibid., 8-9).

In short, the traditional Catholic teaching on obedience is that obedience is due to all lawful superiors at all times, and that virtue and holiness of character is developed and proven especially when the obedience is due unjustly, or demanded with a heavy hand, or when one suffers some humiliation because of it. To refuse obedience, or even to simply use litigation to get around obedience by asserting one's "rights" and appealing over the head of one's superior, might not be sinful, but it is a demonstration of a very poorly formed idea of obedience...of a life that is more centered on what one wants to do rather than on what should be done in obedience. It reveals a problem with willfulness.

There is much more that could be said. Bottom line: obedience is due in all circumstances unless it is an unjust command (by unjust, I mean one that commands what is sinful). Other than that, even if a priest believes he is in the right, even if "his" ministry is on the line, even if millions of dollars are wrapped up in it, the priest owes complete and total obedience to his superiors.

The sad tales of Fr. Corapi and Fr. Pavone should also furnish us with ample evidence to suggest that priests should probably not become "celebrities" who are independently wealthy. It just...doesn't work out very well.

Click here to purchase Fr.. Pyzalski's book The Holy Will of God!

Update on Website

Hey everybody! Just an update on the new website - I have been working on it for the latter part of the summer and am finally getting comfortable with the interface. It's going to take awhile before it is live; but in the meantime, I had mentioned that I wanted to get a few more contributors. I am looking right now for a couple of articles to add - theology, history, spirituality, economics, whatever. I'm going to go through the whole idea again; I have already mentioned this all here. If you have something to send that you think is good enough to be posted, please send it to me. Leave your name and email in this combox (I won't post it).

Pax.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

St. Cyprian on Disciplined Prayer


In honor of the Feast of Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian, which we celebrated yesterday (September 16th), let us look at Cyprian's excellent Treatise on the Lord's Prayer, where he speaks of a topic that is very relevant today vis-a-vis the discussions between traditionalist and charismatic Catholics on the proper posture for prayer. Rather than preface the saint, I will just let him speak for himself:

"Let our speech and petition when we pray be under discipline, observing quietness and modesty. Let us consider that we are standing in God's sight. We must please the divine eyes both with the habit of body and with the measure of voice. For as it is characteristic of a shameless man to be noisy with his cries, so, on the other hand, it is fitting to the modest man to pray with moderated petitions. Moreover, in His teaching the Lord has bidden us to pray in secret— in hidden and remote places, in our very bed-chambers— which is best suited to faith, that we may know that God is everywhere present, and hears and sees all, and in the plenitude of His majesty penetrates even into hidden and secret places, as it is written, "I am a God at hand, and not a God afar off. If a man shall hide himself in secret places, shall I not then see him? Do not I fill heaven and earth?" (Jer. 23:23-24) And again: "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." (Prov. 15:3)

And when we meet together with the brethren in one place, and celebrate divine sacrifices with God's priest, we ought to be mindful of modesty and disciplinenot to throw abroad our prayers indiscriminately, with unsubdued voices, nor to cast to God with tumultuous wordiness a petition that ought to be commended to God by modesty; for God is the hearer, not of the voice, but of the heart. Nor need He be clamorously reminded, since He sees men's thoughts, as the Lord proves to us when He says, "Why do you think evil in your hearts?" (Matt. 9:4) And in another place: "And all the churches shall know that I am He that searches the hearts and reins" (Rev. 2:23)
[Treatise on the Lord's Prayer, 4]

What can we say? Although Cyprian obviously reminds us that God searches the hearts and is not impressed by bodily movements, he also states that when we "celebrate divine sacrifices with God's priest", there are nevertheless certain  postures and gestures which are more fitting for divine worship; namely, those that are done under discipline. In case we misunderstand what he means by discipline, he goes on to contrast the moderate, disciplined prayer of the godly man with the prayer of the "shameless" man, who prays with "noisy cries" and "throws abroad" his prayers indiscriminately with "wordy" petitions. We see then that, at least as far as Cyprian is concerned, the sort of prayer services or liturgies that commonly go under the phrase "charismatic" these days would not have met with the approval of the famous bishop-martyr of Carthage.

This is also an important citation because, according to some, the pre-Nicene Church was more fluid and charismatic in their liturgies. The liturgy did not become "crystallized" in any sort of rigid form until after Nicaea. While it is true that the liturgical rubrics were more fluid in the patristic age than in later ages, it certainly does not follow that therefore the worship of the Church was entirely devoid of order. As St. Cyprian states here, the liturgies he celebrated and extolled as the norm for the Church were somber, disciplined, affairs, imbued with a spirit of order and reverent silence.

"Let all things be done decently and according to order" (1 Cor. 14:40).

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Authority Over Demons in the Early Church

Some time ago, I did a post addressing whether or not saints could be possessed by the devil. The topic was brought to my attention by some statements in Fr. Gabriel Amorth's book on exorcism in which he related several stories of canonized saints who had apparently been possessed by the devil, though by no fault of their own.

I took issue with Fr. Amorth, suggesting that it seemed very improbably that a soul that was truly sanctified could be open to demonic possession, as well as doubting whether imposing satanic possession upon a believer would ever be God's will. Many of my readers disagreed with me, which is totally fine; this is highly speculative, and there are purported cases of it in Church history. I also made sure to keep my comments very speculative due to my ignorance on matters relating to exorcism.

That being said, I still take great issue with the concept that  a person with a eminent degree of sanctity can be possessed by the devil. I have spent a lot of time since the last post researching this, and knowing that the Fathers of the Church had a very keen understanding of exorcism and a firm belief in the reality of demons (unlike many modern theologians), I decided to see if the Fathers had any comment on this issue of believers being subject to demonic possession.

What I have found is that, with no exceptions that I know of, the Church Fathers do not believe that believers  (true believers) can be possessed by the devil, and that freedom from and authority over the devil are one of the marks of a true Christian. They also assert that possession always results from some fault on the part of the possessed; either they are mired in sin, apostates, worshiping pagan gods, or else frequenting places where demons are especially active.

In the first place, if we look at the works of Justin Martyr and Tertullian, we can find many statements testifying to the patristic belief in the authority of the common Christian over the demons and the freedom of the Christian from their power. Though these quotes do not mention exorcism or possession directly, they reflect the common view in the early Church that Christians, walking in the power of the Spirit, always had authority over the evil one:
St. Justin Martyr: "For we do continually beseech God by Jesus Christ to preserve us from the demons which are hostile to the worship of God, and whom we of old time served, in order that, after our conversion by Him to God, we may be blameless. For we call Him Helper and Redeemer, the power of whose name even the demons do fear; and at this day, when they are exorcised in the name of Jesus Christ, crucified under Pontius Pilate, governor of Jud├Ža, they are overcome. And thus it is manifest to all, that His Father has given Him so great power, by virtue of which demons are subdued to His name, and to the dispensation of His suffering" (Dialogue With Trypho, 30).
Servitude to the demons is a sign of bondage to sin. A hallmark of Christian freedom, of Christ's atoning death, is that the believer is not only freed from demonic possession but has authority over them. This would not make any sense if we could postulate that sometimes holy saints can be in bondage to demons.
Tertullian: "For, though the whole power of demons and kindred spirits is subject to us, yet still, as ill-disposed slaves sometimes conjoin contumacy with fear, and delight to injure those of whom they at the same time stand in awe, so is it here" (Apology, 27).
"Now if Socrates was pronounced the wisest of men by the oracle of the Pythian demon, which, you may be sure, neatly managed the business for his friend, of how much greater dignity and constancy is the assertion of the Christian wisdom, before the very breath of which the whole host of demons is scattered!" (Treatise on the Soul, 1).

"For God, Creator of the universe, has no need of odors or of blood. These things are the food of devils. But we not only reject those wicked spirits: we overcome them; we daily hold them up to contempt; we exorcise them from their victims, as multitudes can testify" (Ad Scapula, 2).
The demons, for Justin and Tertullian, are to be held up to scorn and contempt through their public exorcism. The power of the name of Christ over the demons seems to be a sign of Christ's general triumph; the Christian victory over demonic possession is an attribute of Christ's victory over Satan. Once we see this connection, it seems very unlikely that the Fathers would support the concept of a Christian being possessed by a devil as part of God's will, much less a Christian of eminent sanctity. The personal triumph over demons and a Christian's protection from them are intimately bound up with Christ's victory at the cross. To suggest that holy Christians can be possessed would seem to undermine this, or that's the way the Fathers would see things.

If we go on to some of the later writings, of Cyprian, Origen, Lactantius, the Apostolic Constitutions, we see that this concept of the Christian's power over the demons if developed into a theology of the general freedom of a Christian (a "true Christian", as Origen says) from demonic possession. But first, let's continue with Tertullian, who has two more interesting quotes:
"Do you fear man, O Christian?— you who ought to be feared by the angels, since you are to judge angels; who ought to be feared by evil spirits, since you have received power also over evil spirits" (De Fuga in Persecutione, 9). 
The evil spirits are in the power of the Christian; therefore, Christians have nothing to fear from them. This seems to preclude any notion that the Christian can fall under demonic possession.
"We have the case of the woman— the Lord Himself is witness— who went to the theatre, and came back possessed. In the outcasting, accordingly, when the unclean creature was upbraided with having dared to attack a believer, he firmly replied, And in truth I did it most righteously, for I found her in my domain (De Spectaculis, 26).
This is an interesting example, because the case is related of a Christian woman who was frequenting the pagan games and was possessed by a demon while at the amphitheater, which the demon refers to as "my domain." The demon's words seem to suggest that, while lawful possession can occur if a person is in a demon's "domain", demonic possession of believers who are not in that demon's domain would be "unlawful." It is hard to make a clear, dogmatic point based on something a demon said (although traditionally demons during exorcism are compelled to tell the truth), but it is interesting to think about.

Origen dealt with the issue of demonic possession extensively in his apology to the pagan Celsus. His quotes are long, but worth looking into at length:
Origen: "And Christians have nothing to fear, even if demons should not be well-disposed to them; for they are protected by the Supreme God, who is well pleased with their piety, and who sets His divine angels to watch over those who are worthy of such guardianship, so that they can suffer nothing from demons. He who by his piety possesses the favor of the Most High, who has accepted the guidance of Jesus, the Angel of the great counsel, being well contented with the favor of God through Christ Jesus, may say with confidence that he has nothing to suffer from the whole host of demons" (Contra Celsus, Book VIII:27).
The believer has "nothing to suffer" from the demons, and this may be said "with confidence." A sign of one's belonging to Christ is angelic protection from demonic possession, and this is established through the mandate of God. This does not mean that devils may not attack believers (as we see in the case of St. John Vianney, for example), but it does seem to preclude any concept of a demon gaining entrance into a Christian and possessing them, since this protection seems to be extended more to those who "are worthy of such guardianship." He goes on:
"We do not, then, deny that there are many demons upon earth, but we maintain that they exist and exercise power among the wicked, as a punishment of their wickedness. But they have no power over those who have put on the whole armor of God, who have received strength to withstand the wiles of the devil, and who are ever engaged in contests with them, knowing that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places  (ibid., 34).
Here is where Origen would take issue with Fr. Amorth. Fr. Amorth suggests that demons can exercise power over Christians if this is the will of God; Origen, like the other Fathers, states that true Christians are immune from this sort of thing and that those who are in the power of the demons are those who are "among the wicked" and receive demonic possession "as a punishment of their wickedness." The demons have "no power" among those who have put on God's armor. Continuing on, Origen says:
"But the angels, who are the true rulers and generals and ministers of God, do not, as Celsus supposes, injure those who offend them; and if certain demons, whom Celsus had in mind, do inflict evils, they show that they are wicked, and that they have received no office of the kind from God. And they even do injury to those who are under them, and who have acknowledged them as their masters; and accordingly, as it would seem that those who break through the regulations which prevail in any country in regard to matters of food, suffer for it if they are under the demons of that place, while those who are not under them, and have not submitted to their power, are free from all harm, and bid defiance to such spirits; although if, in ignorance of certain things, they have come under the power of other demons, they may suffer punishment from them. But the Christian— the true Christian, I mean— who has submitted to God alone and His Word, will suffer nothing from demons, for He is mightier than demons. And the Christian will suffer nothing, for the angel of the Lord will encamp about them that fear Him, and will deliver them, and his angel, who always beholds the face of his Father in heaven, offers up his prayers through the one High Priest to the God of all, and also joins his own prayers with those of the man who is committed to his keeping. Let not, then, Celsus try to scare us with threats of mischief from demons, for we despise them. And the demons, when despised, can do no harm to those who are under the protection of Him who can alone help all who deserve His aid; and He does no less than set His own angels over His devout servants, so that none of the hostile angels, nor even he who is called the prince of this world, can effect anything against those who have given themselves to God" (ibid., 36).
Very clearly, Origen sets forth the principle that the protection of the Christian from the demons is bound up with Christ's own lordship over the elect, and that consequently, not even Satan himself "can effect anything against those who have given themselves to God."

Next, Origen compares the oracles of the Pythian priestess at Delphi with the ministry of exorcism performed by the Christians:
"If, then, the Pythian priestess is beside herself when she prophesies, what spirit must that be which fills her mind and clouds her judgment with darkness, unless it be of the same order with those demons which many Christians cast out of persons possessed with them? And this, we may observe, they do without the use of any curious arts of magic, or incantations, but merely by prayer and simple adjurations which the plainest person can use. Because for the most part it is unlettered persons who perform this work; thus making manifest the grace which is in the word of Christ, and the despicable weakness of demons, which, in order to be overcome and driven out of the bodies and souls of men, do not require the power and wisdom of those who are mighty in argument, and most learned in matters of faith" (Contra Celsus, Book VII:4).
I thought this quotation was interesting because it attested to the reality of lay-exorcisms in the patristic era (which I don't think would be a wise thing to return to now), but more so, because it demonstrates that power over and freedom from the demons was not seen as restricted to the clergy or the eminently saintly, but to even the rank and file of the Church.

St. Cyprian of Carthage goes on step further and explicitly denies the possibility of the demons inhabiting the body of one who has been baptized:
Cyprian: "The obstinate wickedness of the devil prevails even up to the saving water, but that in baptism it loses all the poison of his wickedness...when, however, they come to the water of salvation and to the sanctification of baptism, we ought to know and to trust that there the devil is beaten down, and the man, dedicated to God, is set free by the divine mercy. For as scorpions and serpents, which prevail on the dry ground, when cast into water, cannot prevail nor retain their venom; so also the wicked spirits, which are called scorpions and serpents, and yet are trodden under foot by us, by the power given by the Lord, cannot remain any longer in the body of a man in whom, baptized and sanctified, the Holy Spirit is beginning to dwell" (Epistle 75:15).
The demons "cannot remain any longer in the body of a man in whom...the Holy Spirit is beginning to dwell." This summarizes my thought on this aptly. Like the other Fathers, Cyprian sees freedom from sin as expressed by freedom from the devil; he knows nothing of any concept of people being sanctified in their soul but possessed in their bodies. The Spirit and the demons cannot share the same frame, and this applies to every Christian who lives in a state of grace ("true Christians", as Origen says).

Let us move on to Lactantius, who wrote around the period of Diocletian's persecution:
Lactantius: "For they think that those demons profit them when they cease to injure, whereas they have no power except to injure. Some one may perchance say that they are therefore to be worshiped, that they may not injure, since they have the power to injure. They do indeed injure, but those only by whom they are feared, whom the powerful and lofty hand of God does not protect, who are uninitiated in the mystery of truth. But they fear the righteous, that is, the worshipers of God, adjured by whose name they depart from the bodies of the possessed: for, being lashed by their words as though by scourges, they not only confess themselves to be demons, but even utter their own names— those which are adored in the temples— which they generally do in the presence of their own worshipers; not, it is plain, to the disgrace of religion, but to the disgrace of their own honor, because they cannot speak falsely to God, by whom they are adjured, nor to the righteous, by whose voice they are tortured. Therefore ofttimes having uttered the greatest howlings, they cry out that they are beaten, and are on fire, and that they are just on the point of coming forth: so much power has the knowledge of God, and righteousness! Whom, therefore, can they injure, except those whom they have in their own power? In short, Hermes [pagan pseudonymic author Hermes Tresmegistus] affirms that those who have known God are not only safe from the attacks of demons, but that they are not even bound by fate" (Divine Institutes, Book II:16).
Lactantius repeats the teaching of Cyprian that Christians are "safe from the attacks of demons" and that those who suffer from the demons are those "who by whom they are feared"; i.e., those who, either through their disbelief or sinful lifestyles, are in the power of the devil, who are "in his dominion."

Finally, we have the Apostolic Constitutions, which, while not mentioning the issue of whether believers can be possessed or not, states that the power of exorcism was exercised (pun intended) by the common rank and file:
Apostolic Constitutions: "An exorcist is not ordained. For it is a trial of voluntary goodness, and of the grace of God through Christ by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For he who has received the gift of healing is declared by revelation from God, the grace which is in him being manifest to all. But if there be occasion for him, he must be ordained a bishop, or a presbyter, or a deacon" (Apostolic Constitutions, 26).
The purpose of stating that an exorcist is not ordained in the early Church is in that is signifies that "the plainest person" has power over the devils, which is a form of "making manifest the grace which is in the word of Christ." Freedom from devils, including freedom from demonic possession, was seen as the common inheritance of all Christians.

In the end, it seems to me that the Church Fathers are completely against the idea that any true Christian can be possessed, let alone a saint. That this is their consensus, I think, is undeniable.

Here is the problem. The Fathers all agree that Christians are "free" from the "power" of the devil, but they do not really define what it means to be "free" from the devil's power. Clearly, the devil has a limited amount of accessibility to us that is granted by God, as evidenced not only by the Book of Job, but by Church History (the devil's attacks on St. John Bosco, St. John Vianney, etc). The question is how far this access of the devil to us extends. Fr. Amorth seems to say that it can extend indefinitely, even to the point of exorcism, while I, and it seems the Fathers, contend that this power seems to stop short of full-blown exorcism.

Of course, none of this solves the problem of whether or not God might permit such a thing, which is what some have asserted. The Fathers all agree that Christians have nothing to fear from the evil one, and that Christians have power over devils, but what if God, for some unknown purpose, seeks to temporarily suspend or withhold His protection, as He did in the case of Job? I suppose there is no way to know; I generally do not to take a stand on something like this based on private revelations, even those made by saints. All I can say is that it seems like the Christian freedom from Satan is so closely bound up with Christ's work of redemption, as evidenced by the writings of the Fathers, that possession of a Christian by the devil seems to be outside of the realm of what God would will.

Obviously God is not opposed to Christians being humbled, or undergoing humiliating circumstances on this earth, but bodily subjection seems to be a sort of humiliation or subjection that is of a different order, something abhorrent to God and outside of the will of Him who "appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8).

This is just my opinion and I admit I may be wrong.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Law and Tradition


In two weeks, all of the dioceses in the U.K. will reinstate the pre-Vatican II law requiring (not recommending) but requiring abstinence of meat on Fridays. This is a very welcome development from a region of the Church that is known for its wackiness and extremely progressive tendencies. We should all applaud this move by the British bishops as a step in the right direction and pray that such measures would be contemplated and enacted by their American counterparts.

How often have we all wished that the bishops of the world and the Holy Father would take definitive stands for the restoration of tradition! Imagine if this directive was followed up by another directive forbidding communion in the hand, or abolishing altar girls, or forcefully asking the bishops to stop relegating all the major feast days to Sunday, or forbidding drums in Mass, mandating chant, etc. How we would rejoice?

But, for the sake of argument, let me pose a question: Were all these things to take place, were the Magisterium to do nothing for the next two years other than legislate against abuses and forcefully impose traditional Catholicism, would Tradition be restored?

My answer is no. Tradition, in its fullest sense, cannot be restored by force of law. The loss of tradition was permitted by a relaxation of law, but a constricting of the law is not enough to bring Tradition back. Imagine a tank full of water that has a hole in it. The hole in the tank may certainly have allowed the water to seep out over time, but once the water is gone, repairing the hole will not bring the water back. Repairing the hole is integral in preparing the tank to receive water again, but we cannot be deluded into thinking that repairing the hole alone is sufficient to restore what was lost.

There are two elements to restoring Catholic Tradition and Catholic culture: one, of course, is the restoration of discipline from the top down. This involves the Magisterium being a bit more assertive in cracking down on abuses, restoring practices that have fallen into disuses, and backing up its wishes with canonical legislation, if necessary. The second element, however, is a docile and obedient flock who have hearts that are truly converted and are already predisposed to live out the full expression of Catholicism within their homes and spheres of influence.

Even if we were to have all the legislation and "top down" changes we all desire, unless they were embraced by a flock willing to put them in to practice, we cannot really say Tradition has been restored. Certainly we would be a lot better off than where we are now; perhaps some such moves on the part of the Magisterium would "trim the fat" of the Church by encouraging people who are Catholics in name only to "sh*t or get off the pot," so to say.

Even so, we as Traditionalists cannot become legalists. We cannot imagine that a true restoration of our culture can be simply imposed from above. That would be a very important step, just like it is an important step in refilling the tank to first repair the hole. But culture cannot be regained in the same manner it was lost. Though we speak of culture being "restored", in actuality we have to start over. With great care and intentionality we have to cherish and nurture a cultural and spiritual heritage that may not yet be a tradition for ourselves or our kids but will one day be so if it is faithfully passed on. This homegrown expansion of Catholic culture will be solidified, reinforced and given direction by a Magisterium that legislates in favor of discipline and tradition rather than against it.

There are two sides to this issue - one that comes from above, and one that comes up from below. We have to realize that both are necessary. Unless we personally are forming Catholic culture in our homes and families, we can't expect the Magisterium to form it by passing some new directives. Unless we are obedient, we can't expect new demands for obedience to be heeded. Unless we are pious, we cannot expect new legislation to create piety (though it can reinforce it).

I will share a personal story, the sort of which I do not usually share on here. Several years ago, perhaps around 2003, I was attending Mass at a local parish. It was one of those days when someone was sick, I had to stay home in the morning and catch a Sunday evening Mass to make up for it. Well, the liturgy was terrible. Music awful. People in tank-tops, Daisy-dukes, flip flops, etc. Priest gave an awful homily. Scores of people leaving Mass after communion. It was a disaster.

As I sat praying after communion, I was lamenting to God about the sad state of things in this parish, essentially complaining about the lack of reverence and extraordinarily shallow spirituality. I was pleading with God to renew His Church and wondering why the priests and bishops allowed this sort of thing. Then God spoke to my heart in a very firm manner, a manner in which one has a fair degree of moral certainty that the Holy Spirit is telling you something. He said to me, "If you think the Church lacks piety, you be pious. If Catholics do not pray enough, you pray. If there is a lack of reverence, you be reverent. If they there is a lack of penance, you do penance."

I don't think the message was that other people do not need to reform or that the Church on the institutional level doesn't need to make some serious changes; the point was that renewal starts with the individual. Laws and disciplines given by the Church are given for the purpose of building up and empowering individual Catholics to have a more dynamic relationship with the Lord and make true success in pursuing holiness.

I applaud the bishops of the U.K. for reintstating the Friday fast. But with what we know about the state of the Church in the U.K., how will this legislation play out when the people there are so poorly formed? No doubt it will beneficial to some; no doubt it is a step in the right direction. But unless we have true conversion from our hearts, we will find these sorts of legislation always bringing us up short of where we want to be.