Sunday, February 26, 2012

Taking Protestants to a Bad Novus Ordo

When the Novus Ordo Missae was first promulgated, it was presumed, almost assumed, that a simplification of the liturgy would mean that the new Catholic Mass would be more acceptable to Protestants. Though this was certainly not a primary motive in promulgating the new Mass, some envisioned that true ecumenical progress could come from the Novus Ordo, and this was seen as a happy consequence of its promulgation. Given that theory, it is ironic that the Novus Ordo that we often get in practice actually has a contrary effect. I am referring to what others have called the "Can't Take a Protestant to a Bad Novus Ordo" phenomenon.

For a moment let us forget about rubrics and papal instruction, on lofty ideals of how the Mass ought to be celebrated and what we ought to get out of it - let us put it all aside and instead look at the experience of an average Catholic at your average parish. Judging by my experience in my own region, I would say that probably 15% of the liturgies are what I would call more or less in line with what the Church envisions, while the other 85%  deviate from the Church's ideal, some to a greater degree than others. You know what I am talking about - inventive liturgies, ad libbed prayers, weak homilies, terrible music, no spiritual development, little sense of the transcendent, bad art, etc. etc. I don't think I need to go on listing the catalog of Novus Ordo bizarrities here.

This fact is bad enough for the Church as it is, but the problem is compounded from an apologetical standpoint when we start to bring into the equation Protestants who are seeking the Truth or whom we actively recruit to come to Mass. It is standard fare of Catholic apologetics to insist upon the superiority of the Mass to any other form of Christian worship, due to its institution by Christ, the sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the ordering of the Mass towards the glorification of God, the participation of the angels and the saints in the worship, the immense graces made available, etc.

This is all well and good, but it is when we actually first convince our Protestant friend to attend a Mass that our real problem begins. If we are lucky, we can convince him to come to Mass where and when we choose, and go alongside with him to ensure his experience is authentic. He of course will want to know why, in the Universal Church, must he only attend a certain, limited amount of parishes and not others, and we will have to explain to him how the vast majority of Catholic parishes are not suitable places to grow in spirituality, that they may not preach orthodoxy, that despite professing, "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church," the reality on the ground is that few parishes actually practice the historic faith as professed in the Creed. The Protestant will invariably ask why this is, and then we introduce them to the entire sorry history of the post-Vatican II era, introducing the Protestant to terms like "liturgical abuse" and other things he would have never heard or even thought of had he not expressed interest in Catholicism; he must learn about liturgical worship and lose his liturgical innocence in the same breath - in short, he must be made aware that since Vatican II, the Church has apparently become schizophrenic. If he ventures to go off on his own to check out a Catholic Mass and randomly attends one of these progressive parishes, he will see confirmation of all of this, at which point he may wonder how the Church professed in the Creed and defended by Catholic apologists relates to the freak-show liturgy and limp-wristed homily he just had to endure. If anything, he goes away shaking his head wondering what this thing called 'Catholicism' is.

To put this into a concrete example: I have a very dear friend, a Protestant, who loves the Lord tremendously, has a hearty respect for Church history and the Fathers, and in all things is an exemplar of a good Christian soul, though being non-Catholic, his faith is imperfect. I desire with all my heart for this friend to come into the fullness of faith. And yet, if he were to suddenly get interested in Catholicism and go to his local Catholic parish on a whim, what he would see would make him laugh (or cry?), and he would come away, not more impressed by the faith, but rather less interested than before. If he were ever to come to a Mass, I would have to go out of my way to make certain that he only went to a parish that I approved of him going to - and this state of affairs ought not be.

In looking at this, I think there are several areas we can meditate on in their relation to how a Protestant might be affected:

1. It is part of the Church's teaching that God is encountered in the Mass in an immediate and exceptional manner. Does the nature of the liturgy reflect this reality?

If we teach that the Eucharistic liturgy is an encounter with the divine, do sparsely decorated sanctuaries, sloppily dressed altar boys, ad libbed, flippant prayers, and banal, poorly executed music serve to reinforce this ideal? Do they not rather detract from it, and leave the outside observer with the impression that we do not practice what we preach? That our faith at best suffers from a disconnect between praxis and dogma and at worst is a hypocritical sham?

2. Our faith tells us God becomes present to us through the Church's liturgical action. We have already examined the role of the clergy; what about the disposition of the congregation? Do they testify that liturgy is a meeting with God?

Lex orandi, lex credendi.
We know that these weak liturgies beget congregations who are likewise lukewarm in their participation: people sloppily or immodestly dressed, yammering in the Church, clapping as at performances, little participation in singing the Mass parts, checking cell phones and playing with iPods during the liturgy, chewing gum, and acting in general in a way that is not fitting with the dignity of the liturgy.If an outside observer, knowing what we claim about our liturgy, sees such behavior on the part of the people who claim to be benefiting from the fruits of the Mass, will they not presume that Mass itself must be no less casual than the people attending it? Will they not think that all this talk about Christ being present during the Mass is simply empty words, since the people obviously do not behave as if this were true?

I heard a story once about a murderer in England who was about to be hanged. As he was approaching the gallows, a pastor was walking beside him, telling him, somewhat dryly, as if by rote, about God's forgiveness and mercy. The condemned man looked at the pastor and said, "Do you really believe that? If that were true, I would crawl across England on broken glass just to tell people." Similarly, when an observer witnesses the relaxed, casual, non-chalant way that many of our Masses are said, will he not likewise assume that we either do not really believe what we say or that it is not true?

3. What about the manner of life of the Catholics a Protestant is likely to encounter in these poorly executed Novus Ordo liturgies?

If the Faith, and the Mass in particular, really do make available all of the graces that we claim in our apologetics, then Catholics ought to demonstrate the effects of this grace in their lives. Granted, each person is an individual, and tares are always found in the midst of the wheat, but I personally have frequently been disheartened by the worldliness of people I have encountered the times I have had to go to a progressive parish: cussing and blasphemy in the parking lot, all out drunkenness at parish events, liberal and anti-Catholic social causes advocated from the pulpit and supported by the parishioners, and in general a demeanor among many parishioners that reveals a total lack of spiritual formation or even an interest in spiritual things. I want to avoid here making blanket judgments about entire parishes, but I think you know what I am getting at - parishes that are spiritually alive tend to bear good fruit in the lives of their parishioners, while parishes that are spiritually dead tend to replace authentic spirituality with a lot of social causes and parish activities that give the illusion of vibrancy but do not actually contribute to the holiness of anybody. Thus, you tend to find a spirit of worldliness that pervades progressive parishes, a worldliness that will stick out like a sore thumb to any devout Protestant and reinforce their belief that the Catholic faith is something shallow.

4. Another issue likely to raise a red flag with a Protestant inquirer is the fact that poor liturgies tend to go hand in hand with wimpy homiletics.

If anything turns a Protestant off to Catholicism, it is listening to a bad homily. And modern Catholicism has lots of bad homilies. Shallow theology, ignorance of Scripture and Tradition, lack of spiritual insight and sometimes heresy and worldliness, coupled with a dull delivery, certainly contribute to turn Protestants (and even many Catholics) off. But fortunately, the flip side is also true - few things are able to reach out and really draw a Protestant in like a good, solid homily from a holy priest. This was one of the things that people loved about Father Corapi (er, I mean, the Black Sheep Dog) before his fall was his stellar homilies.

This is true with each of these issues - if poor liturgies or music or preaching makes Protestants laugh at us, then reverent liturgies, excellent music and powerful preaching makes them stand up and take notice. Am I being overly sensitive about this issue of not feeling comfortable taking a Protestant to a bad Novus Ordo Mass? Maybe; we have to remember that it is the Holy Spirit's job to convert people, not our own, and that things that seem out of place to us might not to a Protestant. When I first came back to the Church, I was thrilled that there was a liturgy at all, and it took many years before I started questioning the nature of that liturgy. Then again, if we know that something like terrible music or a worldly pastor will be a stumbling block to one interested in the Faith, I don't think we should intentionally put that stumbling block before them.

The real issue is that this is an unjust dilemma - being in the position of defending the Church and the liturgy with our words and writing but then having to apologize for the actual state of it in practice when trying to evangelize others. It simply ought not to be; the liturgy should be the liturgy, and the fact that it is not so, and how this effects my evangelization of my non-Catholic friends, is a problem I have not yet successfully resolved.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Were David and Jonathan Homosexuals?

Like most Christians, I was completely unaware that the pure and devoted friendship of David and Jonathan as recorded in the book of 1 Samuel is taken by many in the world to be a homosexual relationship. This concept had never crossed my mind until one day when I was perusing the shelves of a used book store in Ann Arbor. I was looking through their history section and noticed a small sub-section on the shelf labeled "Homosexual History." Wondering how homosexual history was different from normal history (and looking to make sure no one was watching me), I pulled a few titles out of this section. The one that caught my eye was titled Homosexual Heroes: David and Jonathan, or something similar. It was an entire booklet, at least fifty pages in length, in which the story of the two friends was told from a homosexual vantage point in which their homosexuality was simply taken for granted, based on a few passages from the Old Testament. As I later found, this assumption that David and Jonathan were gay is very prevalent in the non-Christian world

One of the passages alleged as support for this noxious assumption is 1 Samuel 18:1, which says:

"And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking to Saul, the son of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul."

The "knitting" of the souls is taken to mean that David and Jonathan had a romantic relationship.

A more frequently cited "proof-text" for the homosexuality of David and Jonathan is found in 2 Samuel 1:26, after David hears about the deaths of Saul and Jonathan at the hands of the Philistines on Mount Gilboa. David utters a profound dirge on behalf of the fallen, in which we see David say this about Jonathan:

"I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" (RSV).

The implication of this passage is that since David's love for Jonathan is "passing the love of women", David must like men more than women, if you know what I mean. Before moving on to address this interpretation, we ought two look at two other translations of the verse. The Septuagint version is pretty similar to the RSV, mentioning David's love for Jonathan being "beyond" what he feels for any woman:

"I am grieved for thee, my brother Jonathan; thou wast very lovely to me; thy love to me was wonderful beyond the love of women" (LXX).

Just for fun, here is the King James Version:

"I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" (KJV).

The Douay-Rheims is interesting. Of all the translations, only this one significantly adds to David's words regarding his feelings for Jonathan. Note how it attempts to clarify what David means when he says he loves Jonathan more than a woman:

"I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan: exceeding beautiful, and amiable to me above the love of women. As the mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee." (Douay)

This is noteworthy because of its inaccuracy. The last phrase, "As a mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee," does not appear in the Latin. The full Latin of verse 26 says:

"Doleo super te frater mi Ionathan decore nimis et amabilis super amorem mulierum" (Vulgate).

This literally says, "I am beyond sorry for you, brother Jonathan; exceedingly beautiful and pleasing to me beyond the love of women" (super amorem mulierum). There latter phrase about a mother loving her son does not appear in the Latin. It seems, therefore, that this may have been a gloss or footnote inserted to explain the nature of David and Jonathan's love, as if the translators of the Douay were sensitive to a possible misunderstanding of the text.

So, now that we have looked at what the Scriptures say, what can we respond to this? Does this evidence indicate that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship?

First, from a simple theological standpoint, we know David was not a homosexual, because Scripture states that David was "a man after God's own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22). Since David was a man after God's own heart, and since Scripture also plainly states that  "neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals" will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10), then we can easily infer that David was not a homosexual, especially since he is mentioned in the New Testament as one of the heroes of the faith (Heb. 11:32). How could God be a man after God's own heart if he routinely practiced a sin that is abominable in the eyes of God?

David did commit adultery, of course, so we are not saying that a man after God's own heart cannot sin. But to live in a constant, active homosexual relationship for years, and to express no penitence or sorrow for it, is quite a different matter, just as committing one sin and being sorry is different from abiding in a permanent state of mortal sin. So, while one can be a man after God's own heart and still fall into sin, I think it is not possible to be described by Scripture as "a man after God's own heart" and live in a constant state of sin.

Second, this pro-homosexual interpretation neglects to take into account the Middle Eastern conception of a man's relation to his wife. In the Middle East, a man's primary kinship is with other men, not with his wife. For example, during dinner time, the wife and daughters would set the table, but when it was time to eat, a man, the sons, and if any were invited, the man's friends, would dine together, while the women would depart and dine separately or after the men. This was still common practice into the 20th century. A man did not have intimate conversation with his wife. If a man wanted advice, or wished to have an intellectual discussion, talk about business, or just wanted to make casual, light conversation, he sought out the company of other males. That's not to say there were not tender moments with the wife, nor that there was no conversation between the two; but it is a well-known fact that, in Middle Eastern culture, a man, if he has anything remotely important to discuss, does it with another man, not with his wife. The friendship of other men is valued higher than that of a man with his wife.

Third, we could also point that the classical Greco-Roman view also parallels the Semitic concept of friendship as superior to marital love; indeed, marital love is only one category of friendship, and any truly happy romantic relationship (amor) must be based first on friendship (amicitia). Though many of the ancients, such as Plato, Seneca, et al, wrote on the nature of friendship, the two most important works are probably Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics and Laelius de Amicitia by Cicero. I think the classical view of amicitia is fittingly summed up between these two works.

If we begin with Nichomachean Ethics, we see Aristotle defining friendship as the most superior kind of love - a love that is a kind of "reflection" of self-love, but that teaches us to transcend our selfish tendencies and find good in another, just for the sake that he is:

"The excellent person is related to his friend in the same way as he is related to himself, since a friend is another self; and therefore, just as his own being is choiceworthy him, the friend's being is choice-worthy for him in the same or a similar way" (NE 1170b6-9).

Though Aristotle includes marital love under the concept of friendship, it is primarily a non-romantic friendship between two persons of the same gender (simple friendship) that Aristotle refers to here.

In Cicero's Laelius de Amicitia, Cicero (online here), Cicero takes us through a very long dialogue on the nature of friendship. The dialogue is between Gaius Laelius and his sons and friends as Laelius reflects upon Scipio Africanus, his dear friend who had just departed. The characters talk about the nature of friendship, what makes a good friend, and how friends grieve for one another when one is lost. Because this so closely parallels the story from 2 Samuel (David grieving for Jonathan), it is a valuable reference to our discussion. Note that all of the following citations refer to friendship (amicitia) between two men:

"If I were to assert that I am unmoved by grief at Scipio's death, it would be for "wise" men to judge how far I am right, yet, beyond a doubt, my assertion would be false. For I am indeed moved by the loss of a friend such, I believe, as I shall never have again, and — as I can assert on positive knowledge — a friend such as no other man ever was to me" (De Amicitia, 3).

Here Laelius asserts that Scipio's friendship to him surpassed that of all others, just as David asserted of Jonathan. Cicero goes so far as to have Laelius state that a man-to-man friendship is the greatest gift bestowed upon mankind by the gods:

"For friendship is nothing else than an accord in all things, human and divine, conjoined with mutual goodwill and affection, and I am inclined to think that, with the exception of wisdom, no better thing has been given to man by the immortal gods" (De Amicitia, 6).
Again, simple friendship is placed as the highest gift to man, higher than marital love. In case you think that I am stretching the meaning of Cicero's words here to apply exclusively to non-romantic friendship, consider the next passage, in which Cicero describes how amicitia springs not from necessity, but from human nature. He states that the love of a parent to a child is the primal form of all friendship, for a parent truly loves his child "as another self", in accord with Aristotle's definition. But he will go on from there to discuss the friendship of men, citing two eminent Roman heroes as exemplars. Marital love is not mentioned:

"Wherefore it seems to me that friendship springs rather from nature than from need, and from an inclination of the soul joined with a feeling of love rather than from calculation of how much profit the friendship is likely to afford. What this feeling is may be perceived even in the case of certain animals, which, up to a certain time, so love their offspring and are so loved by them, that their impulses are easily seen. But this is much more evident in man; first, from the affection existing between children and parents, which cannot be destroyed except by some execrable crime, and again from that kindred impulse of love, which arises when once we have met someone whose habits and character are congenial with our own; because in him we seem to behold, as it were, a sort of lamp of uprightness and virtue. For there is nothing more lovable than virtue, nothing that more allures us to affection, since on account of their virtue and uprightness we feel a sort of affection even for those whom we have never seen. Is there anyone who does not dwell with some kindly affection on the memory of Gaius Fabricius and Manius Curius, though he never saw them? (De Amicitia, 8).
It is not the marital love is not important, but it is that the ancients, both the Semitic peoples and the Greco-Romans, viewed the friendship of a man to a man to be superior to the love of a man to his wife. It is true that, in the later, decadent days of Greco-Roman civilization, this exaltation of same-sex love was sometimes perverted into a preference for pedophilic relationships - yet we must not read the moral degeneracy of some Greeks and Romans into the removed philosophical observations of Aristotle and Cicero, who both make these assertions without reference to erotic relationships. Again, Cicero will say that this friendship excels all other relationships and again incorporates Aristotle's definition, stating that friendship alone can sustain man:

"Seeing that friendship includes very many and very great advantages, it undoubtedly excels all other things in this respect, that it projects the bright ray of hope into the future, and does not suffer the spirit to grow faint or to fall. Again, he who looks upon a true friend, looks, as it were, upon a sort of image of himself. (De Amicitia, 7).
He then ends his discourse with a statement about the deceased Scipio very similar to that which David makes about Jonathan, again reaffirming that it is simple friendship (amicitia), not romantic love (amor), that Cicero has in mind here:
"For my part, of all the blessings that fortune or nature has bestowed on me, there is none which I can compare with Scipio's friendship" (De Amicitia, 27).
The purpose of this long digression is to establish the fact that, throughout the ancient world, the friendship between a man and a man was valued higher than the relationship between a man and a wife. We may not like it, but this is simply the way the ancients thought. It is completely natural that David should have found Jonathan's love surpassing that of women, because Jonathan was his best friend, and in the antique world, a man was expected to be closer to his friends than to his spouse.

We could note that David makes a similar lament for his son, Absalom, in 2 Samuel 18:

"The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Sam. 18:23).

Of course, we find nothing amiss in this impassioned lament, because we understand it to be completely natural that a parent would weep thus for their child. If this is the case, then why should we find it surprising that a man should similarly weep for his friend, seeing that friendship was valued as the highest of all human relations in the ancient world?

So desperate are the promoters of the homosexual agenda to find support in the Bible for their perverted worldview that they twist the pure and admirable friendship of David and Jonathan into the most vile thing imaginable. As with most other attempts of non-Catholic secularists to find support for their base actions in the Scriptures, this one is based on poor theology, ignorance of culture and a desire to conform the word of God to perversion rather than to reform perversion based on God's word.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Update: Summer Theology in Italy

A slight adjustment of the dates of the Scholastic Theology Summer Program which I mentioned recently has been made necessary. The new dates, fixed now and confirmed, are June 18 - June 30.

Here is a quick overview of the program calendar. See the official website for more details.

18 June, Monday: Arrival Day.
19 June, Tuesday: Academic Day.
20 June, Wednesday: Academic Day.
21 June, Thursday: Optional Trip to Assisi.
22 June, Friday: Academic Day.
23 June, Saturday: Academic Day.

24 June, Sunday: Morning in Norcia - Optional Trip to Cascia in the Afternoon.
25 June, Monday: Academic Day.
26 June, Tuesday: Academic Day.
27 June, Wednesday: Academic Day.
28 June, Thursday: Optional Trip to Rome.
29 June, Friday: Feast of Saint Peter and Paul in Rome.
30 June, Saturday: Departure Day (or you can extend your stay in Rome!)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cardinal Meisner on the Identity of the Priest

As we prepare to embark upon the journey of Lent, it is fitting to reflect on the importance of the sacrament of penance, especially in its relation to the role of the priest and the "ministry of reconciliation" that God has entrusted to His faithful priests. Below are some excerpts from a talk given by Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, Germany, from a talk entitled "Conversion and Mission" that was given at the conclusion of the 2010 "Year of the Priest." The Cardinal speaks about the necessity of frequenting and offering confession as intimately bound up with the identity of the priest and says that priests who do not offer confession (or go to it themselves) are not mature enough to be priests:

"One of the most tragic failings that the Church has suffered in the second half of the twentieth century is to have neglected the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of penance. In us priests, this has caused a tremendous loss of spiritual profile. When the Christian faithful ask me, "How can we help our priests?" I always reply, "Go to them to confess." When the priest is no longer a confessor, he becomes a social worker of a religious kind. In fact, he lacks experience of the greatest pastoral achievement, of working together so that a sinner, thanks also to his help, leaves the confessional newly sanctified. In the confessional, the priest can penetrate into the hearts of many people and, from that, encouragement and inspiration may result for his own following of Christ.

Therefore, it is not sufficient in our pastoral work just to want to make corrections to the structures of the Church, to make it appear more attractive. It is not enough! What is needed is a conversion of heart, of my heart. Only a converted Paul could change the world, not an expert in "ecclesial engineering." The priest, with his being assimilated to the form of the life of Jesus, is so inhabited by Him that Jesus becomes perceptible by others in the priest.

The biggest obstacle preventing Christ being seen through us is sin. It prevents the presence of the Lord in our lives and for that reason nothing is more necessary to us than conversion - also for the purposes of the mission. It is a matter, in short, of the sacrament of penance. A priest who does not frequently take his place on one and the other side of the grille of the confessional suffers permanent harm to his soul and his mission. Here certainly lies one of the major causes of the manifold crisis in which the priesthood has come to find itself in the last fifty years. The very special grace of the priesthood is precisely that the priest can feel "at home" on both sides of the grille of the confessional: as penitent and as minister of forgiveness. When the priest distances himself from the confessional, he enters into a grave identity crisis. The sacrament of penance is the privileged locus for the deepening of the identity of the priest, who is called upon to make himself and believers return to draw upon the fullness of Christ.

If there were nor sinners, who need forgiveness more than daily bread, we could not precisely know the depth of the Divine Heart. The Lord points it out explicitly, "I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance" (Luke 15:7). Why ever- we ask ourselves once again - does a sacrament that stirs such great joy in heaven evoke such antipathy on earth? The reason is our pride, the constant tendency of our heart to fence itself in, to be sufficient unto itself, to isolate itself, to close in on itself.

For this reason, the spiritual maturity to receive priestly ordination by a candidate for the priesthood, in my opinion, becomes evident from the fact that he regularly receives - at least as often as once a month - the sacrament of penance. Indeed, in the sacrament of penance, I meet the merciful Father with the most precious gifts He has to give, namely the "giving," the forgiving and the giving of grace to us. But when someone, precisely because of his rare attendance at confession, says in fact to the Father, "Keep Your precious gifts for Yourself! I don't need You or Your gifts!" then he stops being a child, because he excludes himself from the fatherhood of God, because he does not want to receive His precious gifts. And if one is no longer a child of the heavenly Father, then he cannot become a priest, because a priest is, first and foremost, the son of the Father through baptism, and then, through priestly ordination is, along with Christ, son with the Son."

From the Miles Christi newsletter, #136, Feb, 2012

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Heresies of Balthasar

For the past month, I have been slogging through Alyssa Lyra Pitstick's monumental tome Light in Darkness, subtitled, "Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ's Descent into Hell." It is a massive work, but tremendously thorough and takes on von Balthasar like few in the post-Conciliar Church have been willing to do. Balthasar is most known, of course, for his idea that we may reasonably hope that hell may be empty, but Pitstick takes the fight to the heart of Balthasar's theology: his doctrine that Christ was abandoned by the Father and suffered the pains of hell on Holy Saturday. As Pitstick demonstrates, this theology of the "Descent" is actually central to all of Balthasar's theology and actually serves as the premise upon which he will build his conclusion that we may hope for universal salvation.

I have not finished the book yet, though I am drawing close. Even so, I can say that Miss Pitstick has done us all a tremendous service in putting this work together. I for one an appalled that so many otherwise orthodox individuals in the Church, from theology professors right on up to John Paul II and Benedict XVI, find Balthasar's theology credible. I dismissed his "hope for universal salvation" theory as completely contrary to our tradition about two seconds after somebody explained it to me, and it mystifies me that so many other learned persons continue to dally with it. But Pitstick's book does more than expose the flawed thinking behind Balthasar's empty hell theory - it exposes him as heretical (or at least extremely counter to tradition) in his Christology, soteriology, Trinitarian theology, sacramental theology, ecclesiology and almost every other area across the theological spectrum, leading the reader to the conclusion that, not only is Balthasar mistaken on his empty hell hypothesis, but his entire corpus of theology is extremely questionable and that this man is far from the trustworthy theologian that Ignatius Press and many in the Magisterium would have us believe.

Case in point (and there are many cases to which we could point); Balthasar's concept of sin. The traditional Catholic concept of sin is that sin is understood as a privation, especially with reference to original sin, which is a privation of grace. St. Thomas says that every sin is a kind of privation, either of "form or order or due measure" (De malo, 2:2). St. Thomas affirms Augustine's teaching on sin as a privation of the good:

"Sin is nothing else than a bad human act. Now that an act is a human act is due to its being voluntary, as stated above, whether it be voluntary, as being elicited by the will, e.g. to will or to choose, or as being commanded by the will, e.g. the exterior actions of speech or operation. Again, a human act is evil through lacking conformity with its due measure: and conformity of measure in a thing depends on a rule, from which if that thing depart, it is incommensurate" (STh, I-II, Q. 71, art. 6).

Here we see Thomas stating that sin is an act that falls short of a standard ("due measure"); in other words, it is a lack of the good, a privation of something that ought to be, although Thomas is careful to explain that sin is not a "pure privation" (I-II, Q. 72, art. 1); in other words, to say it is a privation is not to say that sin is "nothing." Sin is "a word, deed, or desire, contrary to the eternal law" (I-II, Q. 71, art. 6),   "an act deprived of its due order"; since all creatures desire the good, truly or mistakenly, sin occurs when a lesser, perceived good is substituted in place of the eternal good. This act falls short, is defective of perfection, but is nevertheless a real act, though an act whose nature is to be sinful by defect. Thus, sin as an act willed by the sinner is certainly a reality, but it has no ontological existence, nor could it, being understood as a privation.

The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

"The act [of sin] is something positive. The sinner intends here and now to act in some determined matter, inordinately electing that particular good in defiance of God's law and the dictates of right reason. The deformity is not directly intended, nor is it involved in the act so far as this is physical, but in the act as coming from the will which has power over its acts and is capable of choosing this or that particular good contained within the scope of its adequate object, i.e. universal good" (source).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church will also use terms that present sin as a privation; it is a "failure", a "wound" (CCC 1849), the latter of which was a popular term in antiquity and the Middle Ages to explain the concept - just as a wound or sickness is the privation of health, so sin is the privation of the good.

Most readers of this blog are familiar enough with the traditional doctrine of sin as a privation that I don't think I need to cite any more sources to establish it. This is an important point, however, because Balthasar will go on to misinterpret the traditional approach taken by St. Augustine and St. Thomas to mean that sin is "nothing." He will state that the idea of sin as a privation does not adequately grasp the reality of sin's horror.

It stands to reason that, since a privation does not have ontological existence, it cannot be objectively separated from the subject in which that privation is found. One cannot have sickness in and of itself apart from a subject who is sick (we may have a cancer cell isolated in a test tube, but that is not sickness. Sickness does not arise until that cancer attacks a human host, who, as a person, becomes sick due to the absence of health brought about by the cancer). Similarly, we cannot isolate sins from the sinner. The way sin must be handled is to be "washed away", "blotted out" or "expiated" in the context of the restoration of the sinner himself. A piece of wood with a hole in it cannot be repaired by trying to remove the hole from the wood; the hole must be filled in the context of the wood, because a hole can only exist in something.

Balthasar's dissatisfaction with the privation theory of sin leads him to posit a real, ontological existence for sin, contrary to Augustine, Thomas, the implications of the Catechism and almost all of ancient and medieval Catholic tradition. Sin becomes an ontological reality by a sort of negative creation, in which man, by the passion and willfulness that he puts into sinning, turns sin into a positive reality. Balthasar says:

"It is possible to distinguish between the sin and the sinner...Because of the energy that man has invested in it, sin is a reality, it is not 'nothing.'" (Theo-Drama, vol. V, pp. 266, 314).

Because sin has this ontological reality, it can be abstracted from the sinner and, consequently, removed to another locus. Here Balthasar's theology of sin crosses into his soteriology. Because sin is a reality that can be separated from the sinner, it is possible to "load" it on to Christ, who literally assumes the sins of every person in His death, but especially in His Descent:

"[Sin] has been isolated from the sinner...separated from the sinner by the work of the Cross" (ibid., 285, 314).

Thus, because sin is able to be loaded onto Christ, Christ literally takes the sins, and the guilt, of every sinner on to Himself, and in His death and Descent, literally becomes sin, in such a real, metaphysical sense that Balthasar makes the shocking statement that the Incarnation is "suspended" while Jesus is in the tomb:

"Holy Saturday is thus a kind of suspension, as it were, of the Incarnation, whose result is given back to the hands of the Father and which the Father will renew and definitively confirm by the Easter Resurrection" ("The Descent into Hell", Spirit and Institution, Explorations in Theology, vol. IV, pp 411-412).

If all sin and all guilt and all punishment for sin has been loaded upon Christ by the Father, who wills to actively "crush" and punish the Son as if He had sinned, then there is no more wrath or punishment left that any sinner could endure eternally. All his sins have been abstracted from him and loaded on to Christ. Conversely, if there is no wrath left for the sinner, there is no real merit left for the saint, at least in the way traditional Catholic theology has understood it. Here, Balthasar sounds downright Lutheran in his understanding of salvation:

"[The sinner's] hope can only cling blindly to the miracle that has already taken place in the Cross of Christ; it takes the entire courage Christian hope for a man to apply this to himself, to trust that, by the power of this miracle, what is damnable in him has been separated from him and thrown out with the unusable residue that is incinerated outside of the gates of the Holy City" (Theo-Drama, vol. V, 321).

The language of the sinner clinging "blindly" to an act that has already taken place reminds one of the Protestant jargon of "resting in God's finished work"; as with Luther, the sin of man is separated from him and placed on Christ, who in turn bestows upon us righteousness. The difference between Balthasar and Luther here is that Balthasar appears to make the operative principle the virtue of hope rather than faith. Balthasar vehemently denied that his soteriological doctrine was Lutheran, because he emphasized charity and hope along with faith and thus technically did not teach "faith alone" (and Balthasar emphasized the redemptive nature of the Descent, something Luther ignored), but in practice, it seems that Luther and Balthasar are very close together here inasmuch as they both agree in sins being abstracted from the sinner, "loaded" upon Christ who is then punished with God's wrath, and the sinner appropriating the righteousness of Christ by faith-hope in a finished work that has already been completed.

There is so much more we could point to with Balthasar, but here I merely wanted to show how he breaks from Catholic Tradition not only in his teaching of an empty hell, but on many other things as well; in this case, the idea of sin having a positive existence that can be abstracted and separated from the man, as opposed to the traditional Catholic idea of sin as a privation.

I highly recommend Pitstick's book. I will also probably do some more stuff on Balthasar in the future on here because his teachings are so pernicious. I knew he was questionable, but until I read Pitstick's book, I did not understand how truly horrific and contrary to Tradition some of his concepts really are.