Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On Dyed Hair

In all the commentary about the Aurora, Colorado shooting this week, I wanted to reflect on what nobody else seems to be talking about - James Holmes' flaming orange hair.

Nobody really knows much about the motivation of James Holmes at this point; presumably this will become clear in the coming weeks. A few people have made comments about how "crazy" he looks with his wide eyes and orange hair. I don't know how and if his orange hair was any indication of underlying disorders or anything like that. In this case it seems clear that this individual was severely unbalanced and that the crazy way he wore his hair is indicative of his craziness in general.

Dyed hair is becoming more common in our culture, even among Christians. Is it always the case that dying one's hair a bizarre color is an indication that something is "wrong" with a person? While I admit this may be the case many times, I do not think dyed hair is always indicative of any sort of disordered life.

Many people I know take the opposite opinion. My own parish priest, whom I respect very much, takes the position that any well-balanced individual with properly ordered passions would never want to dye their hair orange or blue or green, etc. Therefore, according to this opinion, dyed hair is always a sign of something amiss with the person's interior life. There are several other folks I know who take this opinion, all good Catholics. However, I do have to disagree with this blanket assertion.

Certain behaviors can sometimes be indicative of underlying problems. A man who gets a vulgar word tattooed across his forehead has some issues; same with people that slice their own flesh with razor blades; ditto at girls who think it is attractive to take pictures of themselves making a duck face. But not all personal behaviors that go against social norms indicate a disordered life. Certainly a man may spend all his time alone in his room with the drapes pulled down because he is psychotic immersed in perverse fantasies; he may also do so because he is a saint with his mind on the kingdom to come. A man may wear a skirt because he a transvestite; he might also do so because he is a Scotsman (burn!). 

So it is with dyed hair, in my opinion. A boy or girl may choose to dye their hair because they want to shock and offend people, maybe because they are not properly integrated with their peers and do not really understand or know themselves and are disordered in many ways. I admit this can happen, and in the case of James Holmes, this probably is true. But a person may also dye their hair precisely because they do know themselves, and are very well-balanced. They may do so because they find it beautiful or because they want to be artistic. And why not? Blue hair may not be normal, but it is certainly not "ugly."

If we are to universally be against dying hair of blue, green or pink, I must ask why do we not react the same way against women whose hair is dyed blonde or brown? What about when someone going grey dyes their hair to its original color? If hair-dying is wrong then it is wrong and let's argue about why it is wrong, but let's not make a foolish stand on the colors themselves: brown is okay but green is not, blue is terrible but blond is stylish, dying gray hair black makes you look younger but dying black hair pink makes you look like a freak. If we start arguing about which colors are and are not acceptable, we have clearly moved into the realm of social norms, not absolute morality.

We should never mistake societal norms for absolute morality. Even in the best of cultures, societal norms can be reflections of absolute morality, but aren't synonymous with it. Even in a Christian culture, there are many behaviors that are social conventions that are in themselves of neutral or a least of debatable merit: hairstyles, types of commonly accepted dress, table etiquette, locations of piercings, taboos about what topic you can and can't talk about in polite conversation (in America this is politics, religion, and how much money you make). These are the norms of our society, the "average" of how people behave and talk, but they themselves are not morality, and we should never talk of manners, etiquette and social conventions as if practicing them constituted virtue. We can certainly explain their relevance in terms of politeness, but not morality. We do not want to be like the English teacher Thomas Merton talks about in Seven Storey Mountain who taught his students to recite 1 Corinthians 13 with the word "love" swapped out for the word "gentleman", replacing supernatural charity for mere natural gentility ("A gentleman is patient; a gentleman is kind. A gentleman does not envy...").

Besides, as Catholics we should be implicitly suspicious of prevailing societal norms. It does not matter if we live in a secular society or a Catholic one. The devout Catholic will always find himself going against the grain. It could be Benedict XVI condemning the immorality of the modern age, Fulton Sheen speaking out against the crass materialism of the 1950s, or St. Francis of Assisi protesting the lax Catholicism of his own century - we can never confuse the societal status quo with how it should be, nor conflate cultural protocol with morality absolutely, even if the two occasionally line up. Catholics of all people ought to know better.

In my own experience, a majority of these folks with dyed hair are just really creative people. They are not disordered, unbalanced or suffering from underlying emotional issues. They are just people who like the idea of blue hair and think it looks neat. And I agree with them. I would never dye my hair blue at this juncture in my life, but I do confess that I think hair dyed vibrant colors can be beautiful in its own way. Usually the people who do it are some of the most unique and thoughtful people I have ever met. In their case, the green or blue hair is not an expression of their disorder, but of their uniqueness. And though desire for uniqueness can be a form of pride, uniqueness itself is not. Remember, according to the Scholastics every angel in heaven is its own unique species.

So, while James Holmes' act was horrific and in his case the orange hair is probably an indicator that he was an unbalanced individual, let's not presume that we can always read so much about the state of people's souls by the color of their hair. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Homeschool Connections Early Enrollment Discount

Sorry to spam my blog with some promotional material, but as you know I am an instructor for Homeschool Connections, an online Catholic educational company. From now until August 1st, there is an early enrollment discount being offered on all classes for the Fall 2012 semester.

With the early enrollment, you can save $10, $20, or $30 per online course by registering for the fall semester on or before August 1st. The discount is already figured into the price so there are no special codes to remember. The prices will automatically go up on August 2nd.

Check these links to see what Homeschool Connections is offering for Fall, 2012:

Middle School Fall 2012 Live Courses

High School Fall 2012 Live Courses
I am teaching a high school course on Early American History (1492-1763), which will be followed up with a course on U.S. History 1763-1865 in the Spring, along with a Middle School class on Ancient Rome.

If you want to do something a little less involved, you can also check out Unlimited Access! This gives you unlimited access to our 80-plus recorded courses. The entire family can benefit from this experience. It's only $1 for the first 7 days and then $30 per month thereafter. There is no long term commitment -- keep it for as long or as little as needed.Here are some other classes I have already taught that you can get on recording:
  • The Protestant Revolt: Roots of the the Revolt
  • The Protestant Revolt: Age of the Religious Wars
  • The Catholic Middle Ages
  • Modern U.S. History (1865-2000)
  • Understanding the Second Vatican Council
  • The Great Depression
  • Christian Historiography
  • Archaeological Survey of the Old and New Testaments
  • Economics as if People Matter
  • Twelve Inventions that Revolutionize the World

For more information, you can email Homeschool Connections at homeschoolconnections@gmail.com. Here is Homeschool Connections "official" commercial explaining their service. It is kind of wordy and very professional, but it gives a great explanation of what Homeschool Connections is:




Here is the commercial that I personally made for Homeschool Connections. It is a little more entertaining:





Anyhow, I highly recommend their service. It is solidly Catholic and great fun, as well. And it breaks you out of the Seton-Memoria Press-Mother of Divine Grace rut.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

JustFaith Catholic? Definitely not.

Here is the last article in a series I have been doing on JustFaith. As with the other posts, this one is reprinted from Los Pequenos Pepper, an independent online publication from the Diocese of Albequerque. This article looks at JustFaith contrasted to an ideal legitimate Catholic program and shows how JustFaith fails in six major areas as a Catholic program.

"As the JustFaith social justice education program comes to a close, some, if not most, of its participants are primed to move into activism. They have already given 30 weeks to formation in preparation for this next step.

What has happened to these “graduates?” Many say they have been “transformed” and insist that the JustFaith experience isn’t about having a particular political agenda but about recognizing one’s God-given gifts and “giving back.” It is easy to understand why it’s attractive to bishops and priests – the materials are well organized, consistent, and require no particular training to administer. In exchange for an investment of time and money, participants are energized, positive, and ready to “do good.” That seems like a “good buy,” and it would be, too, if the program were fostering deeper love of Church and a desire for broader study about the Faith.

Contrast the JustFaith program to an ideal Catholic program. It would differ from JustFaith in at least six critical points:

1. A Catholic social justice formation program educates Catholics in Catholic social teaching.

JustFaith used one solidly Catholic book, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which is organized topically, something like a catechism. Only a few sections are actually read and discussed, however, often in the context of other materials. There are additional references to Church teaching scattered throughout the materials but they are passing, minimal, and generally read through an ideological lens.

This is a tremendous shame. The Church has an amazingly rich, consistent body of thought, honed over centuries of experience, in this domain. Plumbing those depths could be a delightful and rewarding experience for interested groups. This defect has consequences. A Catholic social justice formation program provides its participants an authentic Catholic formation from which to engage in authentic Catholic action. Any other perspective ideologically distorts the perspective and, despite the best of intentions, spawns actions that cause more damage than good. JustFaith presents very little Catholic social teaching.

2. A Catholic social justice formation program uses Catholic examples of organizations engaged in ministerial work.

With its emphasis on praxis – on experiential formation rather than intellectual formation – an enormous amount of JustFaith’s “teaching” is accomplished within the circle of emotional relationship. That circle begins with individual JustFaith groups and expands over the weeks to include the other organizations participants study, including JustFaith partners and the other activist organizations that JustFaith studies.

Not all activism is equal – obviously. JustFaith has made particular choices in its emphasis on studying the work of Alinskyian organizing networks or the Call to Action-related Pax Christi and other liberationist-oriented groups. Many of these groups do some good; they are not good models for Catholic action, however.

A Catholic social justice formation program would use, instead, Catholic examples of organizations engaged in ministerial work – not tucked in among secular examples but as integral to its vision. This distinction between Catholic action and other “doing good” isn’t a matter of parochial chauvinism but of a very different way of understanding the human person and, therefore, of understanding human development. Because the two perspectives are so fundamentally distinct, it isn’t enough to take a secularly-oriented organization like the Campaign for Human Development (CHD) and tack the word “Catholic” in front of it. The CHD was never conceived as a Catholic entity, nor has it ever functioned as such, except in so far as it uses Catholic resources.

JustFaith uses very few Catholic examples of organizations engaged in ministerial work.

3. Catholic social justice teachings embrace the spectrum of the human condition. A Catholic social justice formation program reflects that spectrum.

In leafing through the Compendium, one is struck by how much broader the scope of Catholic social teaching is than the JustFaith program suggests. JustFaith never mentions, except as one of seven (flawed) themes, any of life issues that are so pressing in contemporary society nor does it address any of the problems of the family, which the Church calls “the first natural society” or of marriage, which is the foundation of the family.

Furthermore, a Catholic social justice formation program would explain, as the Compendium does, that authentic human development is intimately and necessarily tied to the mission of the Church – which isn’t to create perfect social, economic, and/or political structures but to bring the good news of God’s salvific action among men.

JustFaith addresses too narrow a portion of social concerns.

4. A Catholic social justice formation program is clear about the distinction between Catholic social justice principles and the prudential applications of those principles.

When the goal is to move people into a desired action, there is a temptation to confuse the desired action with the principles behind it. To take a concrete example, in principle there is a limited “right to work.” People need the means to earn a living and the dignity of being productive. However, all sorts of conditions circumscribe this “right.” A penniless parent can’t put his offspring into indentured servitude to pay the rent. The child’s “right to work” is trumped by his “right to be educated” …presuming, of course, that his “right to eat” has been met. It’s a complicated world, out there.

Public programs to foster the “right to work” may also be complicated, taking in account certain factors and not others. Well intentioned people, agreeing that in principle there is a “right to work” may nevertheless differ quite radically about how, in application, this is best accomplished. The Church’s teaching explains principles for ethical action; it rarely mandates applications, with the few exceptions where principle and application are the same.

JustFaith (and its partners) confuse pet projects with moral principles.

5. A Catholic social justice formation program flows from Catholic spirituality.

Presumably, one of the attractions of the JustFaith program is that it includes a spirituality component. The problem is that component isn’t Catholic.

If it were Catholic, participants might attend Mass together, say a Rosary or novena together, do communal holy hours before the Blessed Sacrament, go on pilgrimages, recite the Office, or engage in a dozen other traditional spiritual practices that have, as their object, the worship of God.

Instead, JustFaith participants are introduced to a different kind of spirituality: one that suits the purposes of the program by introducing rituals and “prayers’ that hammer home the themes of the moment, placing participants in a communally reflective “space.” The focus isn’t God but the selves participating in a formative journey. “God” is used to rubberstamp the trip. This is a big problem.

JustFaith’s spirituality isn’t Catholic (or even Judeo-Christian, for that matter).

6. A Catholic social justice formation program operates within the Church – not the “church” imagined or desired but the Church founded by Christ and embodied institutionally.


Fellowship is natural to any band of pilgrims, whether the journey is literal or metaphorical. Shared experiences bond people together. Such small groups, in an ideal formation, provide individual members with a supportive “home base” from which to participate more openly with and within the larger Church.

A formation that operates outside of the Church, fostering subtle tensions with the full body of Church teaching, does just the opposite. It creates an insulated group that shields its members from teachings that challenge its prejudices in any way. JustFaith encouragement of participants to form “intentional” small communities that are aligned with the Alinskyian organizing networks places them outside of the Church and into the roiling waters of liberationism and dissent. JustFaith fosters liberationism.


JustFaith is designed with the six above-mentioned elements because it is not a Catholic social justice formation program. Participants who graduate from the program and want to explore certain issues in greater depth can purchase study “modules.” The module on immigration includes liberationist theological reflections. Participants in this study module read a chapter from A Promised Land, A Perilous Journey: Theological Perspectives on Migration – a book of essays by some of the most prominent liberationist thinkers. Emotional stories of immigrants are discussed as “parallels between the early Christian communities being persecuted and scattered and today’s migrant communities that form in new “homelands” because of economic, political, or other types of oppression that force them to leave their country of origin.” There is no complimentary discussion of the rights and duties of sovereign nations to protect their borders – despite the fact that one finds such complex discussions in Catholic documents about immigration.

JustFaith graduates are given access to a number of other resources, as well. GradNet, a twice-monthly e- letter about events for the “JustFaith Ministries Graduate Community,” and JustFaith’s Voices Newsletter, with articles from the JustFaith partners and others, keep graduates networked with the world of progressive activism.

JustFaith is effective at accomplishing what its supporters intend…it just isn’t accomplishing anything very Catholic.

Other articles in the JustFaith series:

JustFaith's Marxist Tendencies
JustFaith and Fr. Richard Rohr
The JustFaith Program is not Catholic

A complete 18-part critique of JustFaith can be read at www.catholicmediacoalition.org.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Are the SSPX in schism?

This article is a follow up to my recent post on the question of schism. In that post, I looked at what constitutes a schism broadly as preparation for an examination of whether or not the Society of St. Pius X are in a state of schism. I defined schism as disobedience of legitimate episcopal authority while at the same time attempting to set up a rival episcopal authority outside of the jurisdiction of the hierarchy.

Before looking at the question of the status of the SSPX in particular, I wanted to address some questions and comments from the last post, specifically those centering on my definition of schism. In that post, I made the following comment:

"The SSPX argument that they are not in schism because they have not denied the existence of legitimate authority within the Church is a weak argument that creates a definition of schism so narrow that virtually no one other than Sedevacantists would fit it"

One commenter took objection to this statement and said,  "No, the eastern schismatic churches deny that the Pope has jurisdictional authority. That's millions of people."

I say this is not the same. The eastern churches deny the pope has jurisdictional authority over them. They do not deny that there is a pope, or that that pope does indeed possess jurisdictional authority. They simply deny that his jurisdictional authority extends to them. All orthodox acknowledge the existence of a valid pope who has valid powers and jurisdiction; some even see him as having a kind of moral primacy. This is quite different from denying that there is a pope (i.e., denying that legitimate authority exists). It is one thing to deny a legitimate authority exists; it is another thing to acknowledge the existence of that authority but say you are exempt from his jurisdiction. Both positions would be schismatic, but the SSPX (from what I have read) tend to focus on the more narrow definition of schism as denying the existence of legitimate authority, which would of course exempt them from being schismatic since they have not denied that the pope truly is the Vicar of Christ and holds legitimate authority.

Referring to my statement in the first post that the essence of schism was in creating a "rival hierarchy", another commenter made the following statement:

"The SSPX are not setting up an alternative hierarchy like the Anti-Popes et al. They are not creating a rival or new power entity that assumes papal power or something just like it...Fellay is not saying he is Pope nor are they giving up on the Catholic Church and becoming their own Church...they are not constructing an alternative or supplemental hierarchy, and they acknowledge universal jurisdiction."

I disagree. I never claimed that a rival hierarchy meant a rival papacy. The head of the hierarchy is the pope, of course, but bishops are the heart of the hierarchy; the pope himself is a bishop. I suppose a better phrase would have been "rival episcopacy" instead of "rival hierarchy." The Church's most well-known schisms usually involve a dispute about the Bishop of Rome, but numerically speaking, most schisms in the Church's history did not involve the See of Rome, but rather disputes about the authority or validity of a single bishop in a single diocese.

Also, regarding what the SSPX "acknowledges", it does not really matter what is acknowledged or confessed because schism is ultimately an act and a state of being, not something one believes or doesn't believe (like heresy). A schismatic can acknowledge whatever they wish and it may not change anything.

Ultimately it really is irrelevant whether the SSPX tried to "assume papal power." If we follow the definition of creating a rival or outside episcopacy/hierarchy, the simple consecration of four bishops against the explicit commands of the Holy Father does constitute setting up a rival episcopacy. Please note that at this time, I am only considering the act itself, not whether the intention of Archbishop Lefebvre justified the act. So, considered on the surface, it does appear that Lefebvre was setting up a rival episcopacy.

The Catholic Encylopedia makes the following statement: "Not every disobedience is a schism; in order to possess this character it must include besides the transgression of the commands of superiors, denial of their Divine right to command."

Notice that it does not say a denial of the existence of legitimate authority; it says only a denial of that authority's right to command in a given situation. So schism need not be somebody positively asserting "I deny that there is a Pope" or "I deny that Bishop X is a legitimate bishop." Schism can simply be the position of "I deny that Bishop X's authority extends to this issue and therefore I refuse obedience." This is usually coupled with the setting up of a new, outside authority. Now, as we have shown in the previous post, what the issue is upon which obedience is denied has a lot to do with whether the act is schismatic or just disobedient.

The problem here is that the word schism is a amorphous thing. Some take the approach of "if it looks walks like a schism and quacks like a schism, it is a schism," This is a good rule of thumb, but not helpful when the popes and other heads of Vatican commissions are saying different things, and when there is a distinction between the canonical state of schism, the formal sin of schism, and the use of the word schism in a very loose and sloppy way to denote general disagreement (e.g., the "schism" between Thomists and Personalists in Catholic philosophy.

Contradictory statements from the Magisterium muddle things. For example, John Paul II's 1988 document Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, in which the excommunications were pronounced, clearly says the SSPX are in schism:

"In itself, this act was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience - which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy - constitutes a schismatic act" (Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, 3).
Again, it is not disobedience simply that makes schism, but disobedience in an issue that touches on the ecclesiastical unity of the Church - in this case, "the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated." This is why the argument that the SSPX can't be in schism because otherwise all the dissenting priests and bishops would also have to be in schism doesn't hold water. Every schism is disobedience, but only certain types of disobedience constitute schism.

The 1988 ordinations are again called schismatic in section 4 of the same document:
"It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church" (Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, 4).
John Paul II seems to think the act of ordaining bishops without the approval of the Holy See constituted a schismatic act and had broken the ecclesial bond. In the following paragraph, he plainly calls the SSPX movement a schism and states that formal adherence to it carries the penalty of excommunication. John Paul II states:
"In the present circumstances I wish especially to make an appeal both solemn and heartfelt, paternal and fraternal, to all those who until now have been linked in various ways to the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre, that they may fulfill the grave duty of remaining united to the Vicar of Christ in the unity of the Catholic Church, and of ceasing their support in any way for that movement. Everyone should be aware that formal adherence to the schism is a grave offense against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the Church's law" (Ecclesia Dei Adflicta 5:C).
It should be noted that people cannot be guilty of "formal adherence" to a schism unless a schism formally exists.

Cardinal Ratzinger also referred to the SSPX as a schism in his 1988 comments to the Bishops of Chile. His statements are worth quoting at length:
"...the movement led by Lefebvre has separated itself by a clean break with the Church. A Christian never can, or should, take pleasure in a rupture. Even though it is absolutely certain the fault cannot be attributed to the Holy See. Thus we will be able to offer a place within the Church to those who are seeking and demanding it, and succeed in destroying all reason for schism. We can make such schism pointless by renewing the interior realities of the Church....If once again we succeed in pointing out and living the fullness of the Catholic religion with regard to these points, we may hope that the schism of Lefebvre will not be of long duration" (Speech to the Bishops of Chile, July 13, 1988).
It is a very interesting point that Ratzinger makes here - by renewing Tradition and being faithful to the Church's own "interior realities", the necessity for groups such as the SSPX becomes moot. But that is not the point - the point is that he considers the SSPX separated from the Church "by a clean break" and uses the word schism three times. I would be tempted to say that Ratzinger here just meant schism in a generic, not canonical, sense, if he did not say " the movement led by Lefebvre has separated itself by a clean break." Here he is speaking of a real, ecclesial "rupture", not just a simple disagreement.

Fast forward to 2007 and the pontificate of Benedict XVI, where we had this confusing statement from Cardinal Hoyos, who seemed to say that the SSPX were not in schism, although they had committed a schismatic act. Even so, he warns that the "danger of schism" is very great. Let's look at this statement:
"The Bishops, Priests, and Faithful of the Society of St Pius X are not schismatics. It is Archbishop Lefebvre who has undertaken an illicit Episcopal consecration and therefore performed a schismatic act. It is for this reason that the Bishops consecrated by him have been suspended and excommunicated. The priests and faithful of the Society have not been excommunicated. They are not heretics. I do, however, share St. Jerome’s fear that heresy leads to schism and vice versa. The danger of a schism is big, such as a systematic disobedience vis-à-vis the Holy Father or by a denial of his authority. It is after all a service of charity, so that the Priestly Society gains full communion with the Holy Father by acknowledging the sanctity of the new Mass" (From Rorate, Feb. 2007)

This is very confusing. He says they are not schismatics, but then says the consecrations were a schismatic act. Then he says that the SSPX are not heretics, but that heresy might lead to schism "and vice versa." If he just said the SSPX are not heretics, then why is he worried that "heresy might lead to schism"? Being that this was a live statement, not a pre-written one, did he perhaps mean to say  he is worried that "schism might lead to heresy"? That comment would make way more sense. But then he says that "the danger of a schism is big," so I guess they are not in schism? But if they are not in schism and are not heretics, then why the comment about "heresy leads to schism and vice versa"? It makes no sense at all.

In case you are not following why this makes no sense, suppose I replace the words schism and heresy with marijuana and cocaine and SSPX with Johnny, and excommunicated with arrested. In that case: "Johnny does not use marijuana. Johnny has not been arrested. He does not use cocaine. I do, however, share the fear that cocaine use may lead to marijuana, and vice versa." Hmmm...if Johnny uses neither marijuana nor cocaine, why the fear that one may lead to the other? If there is no schism and no heresy, how can you be worried that "heresy may lead to schism"?

Then again, Cardinal Hoyos doesn't always make the clearest statements.He later made the following quip: "We take care of those who did not wish to follow Archbishop Lefebvre -- which is not exactly a schism." Not exactly a schism? I say this is not exactly the clearest language.

We could attribute this to just the fact that these were off the cuff remarks. If I were to weigh these confused statements against the official pronouncement of John Paul II in Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, I would take John Paul II in a heartbeat. But, being that Hoyos was the head of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei at the time, would he have made these sorts of comments without Benedict's approval? Could it be that his comments, no matter how muddled, are a sign that the pope himself may be rethinking this matter?

I think it is clear that Pope Benedict himself may have rethought his position on this matter since the 1988 address to the Chilean bishops. In that address, he said, "[I]t is absolutely certain the fault cannot be attributed to the Holy See." But by 2007, he had presumably had nineteen years to reflect upon the situation with the SSPX and made the following comment in the introductory letter to Summorum Pontificum. I have bolded the portion I think is relevant to Ratzinger's 1988 comments that the SSPX schism was not in any way the fault of the Holy See:

"I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden."

This is pivotal. In 1988 Ratzinger says "it is absolutely certain the fault cannot be attributed to the Holy See", but in 2007 he says, "One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame." Benedict has clearly changed his position since 1988 and now thinks that the Church itself shares part of the blame for the schism.

This seems to get to the heart of the problem: the SSPX do seem to be in schism, but it seems now that many in the hierarchy think that the events leading up to the schism were based on misunderstandings and errors on both sides that mitigate the culpability of Lefebvre and the four bishops.  Are the SSPX formally and canonically in schism? I believe so. From history, what Lefebvre did in 1988 in consecrating four bishops illicitly does fit the profile for schism exactly. Canonically I think it is an open and shut case, and the argument that Lefebvre was acting because he perceived a state of emergency does not change things. It is the Magisterium, ultimately the Pope, who decide whether such fears are justified, and even if they were, this would have relevance only in determining whether or not Lefebvre and the four bishops are personally guilty of the sin of schism, not whether or not the organization is canonically in the state of schism. At the end of the day, this is the Pope's call. But on the other hand, Benedict and many in the current Magisterium seem to want to back away from the hard language of 1988 in recognition that "not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity...omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden."

This is similar to the case with the Eastern Orthodox in a way - formally, they may be in schism, but historically, we can cite many factors and misunderstandings on both sides that brought the schism about. That does not change the canonical reality of the schism, but it does mean that both sides have to look at what they can do to rectify the situation, and acknowledge that there was culpability on both sides.

I do want to respond to two points that are commonly brought up by the SSPX in this discussion. The first is that the SSPX cannot formally be in schism because Benedict XVI in 2007 stated that that Mass of John XXIII was never officially abrogated. Since the SSPX were persecuted for their desire to use what was always a valid Mass, there is no way they could be in schism. How can the SSPX be in trouble for adhering to a liturgy that was, in Benedict's words, "in principle, always permitted"?

The answer is, of course, that whatever the SSPX might have had to put up with for their defense of the old Mass, the excommunications and the charge of schism have nothing to do with their use of the old liturgy but rather with the 1988 consecrations. If the charges of schism stemmed from the use of the old Mass, they would be weak indeed; but they do not stem from the use of the old Mass by the SSPX but rather from the illicit 1988 episcopal ordinations, which were setting up an illicit episcopacy and as such were schismatic.

Speaking of schismatic acts, some SSPX will say that, yes, the ordinations were a schismatic act, but the act is distinguished from the status. You can have a schismatic act, but that does not necessarily confer the schismatic status.

Can act be separated from status? I don't think so; in fact, act is precisely what confers status. If you commit the act or murder, you obtain the status of murderer by the act. An act of theft gives you the status of a thief; it is professing heresy that gives you the status of a heretic, and a schismatic act is what confers the status of schismatic, especially since schism is not ultimately about what you believe but what you do.

The Catholic Encyclopedia also notes that schism is both an act and a state, indicating that the two go together because the separation is the result of the act: "either the act by which one of the faithful severs as far as in him lies the ties which bind him to the social organization of the Church and make him a member of the mystical body of Christ, or the state of dissociation or separation which is the result of that act."

I personally have no skin in this game. I was a Traditionalist before I knew what the SSPX was, and for me, the SSPX has never had a role to play in my love of the Church's Traditional liturgy or piety. I don't think Traditionalism necessarily has to do with the SSPX and I reject any attempts to identify Traditionalism with the SSPX categorically. Of course I would like to see a reconciliation (and by the way, if they are not schismatic, what are we negotiating about?), but I have no vested interest in defending the SSPX or in condemning them. I simply and calling this like I see it. In light of the history of other schisms, in light of statements from the popes and just common sense, I do not see how the SSPX can not be considered a schism. I think the confused language we are seeing out of the Magisterium recently has more to do with the pope's willingness to state that the Church itself has some blame in this matter rather than in denying the canonical reality of the schism.

One last thought. Heresy and schism usually go together, as everyone from St. Irenaeus, St. Jerome, St. Augustine and St. Thomas have always taught. Though Jerome distinguished between "mixed schism" and "pure schism", he stated that the distinction was mainly mental and in reality schism almost always accompanies heresy. If this is true, what about SSPX? Is there a corresponding heresy in the SSPX? If there is (and I say if), it is their persistent insistence that they, not the Holy Father, are the final arbiters of how canon law is to be understood and interpreted.

So, that's my two cents. I say it is a schism, but I admit I may be wrong. If anyone can explain to me why they are not, I would be interested in hearing it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My father's lesson in humility

This week I learned that my father still has a lot he can teach me, even if I am a grown man.

The other night my dad and I were at a function put on by an organization that I have done a lot of work with. There was a lot of prominent community members there and I was doing quite a bit of hobnobbing. My father seemed to be impressed at how well respected I was among this crowd. I admit, it felt good to see my dad so impressed by my connections. Perhaps it was the natural feeling of being fulfilled when your father thinks well of you; perhaps it was a bit of pride at human achievement, or probably a little of both.

At any rate, at one point the Chairwoman of this organization came up to my dad and sat down next to him. I could not hear what was said exactly, but I heard her praising me very highly for some time to my father, saying how intelligent I was, well-spoken, joy to work with, etc. After she left, my head was getting swollen and I asked my dad what she had said to him (I wanted to hear my dad repeat her praise of me from his own mouth).

My dad didn't miss a beat. He responded causally, "She says you're an asshole." That was it. Then he went back to his food and left me to ponder his words of wisdom. As I reflected upon it, I saw that it was a splendid (though outlandish) lesson in humility.

My dad is not a very religious person, but he does have the common sense to know that, despite all the politically correct mantras about self-esteem and affirmation, what most people need in this world is not to be told how great they are but to retain a humble attitude about themselves. The world is too full of people puffing themselves up, and human nature too easily allows itself to be puffed up. 

Not every saint in heaven is a martyr, not every saint a virgin, not every saint wore a hair shirt, nor was every saint a great theologian - but without doubt, every single saint in heaven possesses humility. Even if my father was not thinking in these terms, it is neat to see him instinctively know this and, in his own way try to pass that lesson on to me.

Thanks for the lesson dad. If I ever get tempted to think too highly of myself, I will always remember that I am an asshole. God bless my dad (that is him pictured above).

What about you out there? Any outlandish or amusing stories of lessons your parents taught you?

Monday, July 02, 2012

What is Schism?

I was initially going to do this post on the question of whether the SSPX were truly in a state of schism or not. However, upon reading a lot of the commentary on this question from individuals on both sides of the question, I realized that there is a fundamental disagreement on what constitutes a schism. Those defending the SSPX and those who say the SSPX are in schism both have different definitions of what constitutes a schism. Therefore, this post will serve as preliminary to a future post about the SSPX schism question; today we will simply look at formulating an adequate definition of schism.

One point of contention is that too often schism is defined as simple disobedience. Defining schism as simple disobedience is simply not sufficient, as we will see. This definition is what brings up the oft-repeated SSPX objection that if disobedience constitutes schism then 90% of the Church is in schism because of the disobedience of liberal priests, bishops, etc. The SSPX defenders are correct here; simple disobedience cannot equate to schism.

For example, let's say a priest is instructing his congregation in the Church's precept on attending Mass every Sunday, which is a discipline of the universal Church. Now suppose Joe Smith in the pews hears the legitimate instruction of the Church but chooses to disobey it. He scoffs at the precept and misses Mass regularly, knowing that the Church teaches otherwise.

No one would deny that Joe Smith is being disobedient to the Church's authority - but does this simple disobedience put him in a state of schism? I do not know of anyone who would use the phrase "schism" when applied to this simple disobedience. We could think of many other scenarios: a couple contracepting, people refusing ever to give money to the Church, neglecting the religious formation of children, eating meat on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday. All of these things constitute disobedience, but none of them are considered schism. Even in the rather severe case of the women religious in the United States, with all their disobedience, nobody has (yet) started throwing around the word schism. Therefore, I think we can say with certainty that simple disobedience does not constitute schism. Every schismatic is out of union with the Church, but not everyone who is out of union with the Church is schismatic; and not every act of disobedience breaks ecclesial unity.

But these example are all involving lay persons. Does the scenario change if the offender is a clergyman and not a lay person? Perhaps schism is brought about by disobedience on the part of the clergy.

This definition falls short also. Some examples: Suppose the bishop orders a pastor to form a parish council, but the pastor does not obey the bishop and refuses to form a parish council. Clearly, the bishop has been disobeyed, but I don't know if anybody would suggest the pastor is in schism.

Further examples: priests introducing liturgical innovations that are explicitly prohibited by their bishop and by the Holy See, pastors hosting events for dissenting organizations like Call to Action against the bishop's express command, Franciscan priests organizing pilgrimages to Medjugorje despite the prohibitions of the local ordinary. In each of these situations we have a cleric engaging in disobedience, although again none of these situations is considered a schism in the formal, canonical sense.

For an act to truly be schismatic, it need not only be a denial of obedience, but a denial of obedience to an authority coupled with a denial that the authority has the right to command obedience in a certain issue. This denial is almost always found alongside the act of the creation of a rival hierarchy, usually validly but illicitly consecrated. Let's look at the circumstances around some of the Church's principle schisms throughout history:
  • The first large schism was that of Novatian, who was elected antipope in the time of Pope Cornelius (251). The sect believed Cornelius' treatment of those Christians who had lapsed in the Decian persecution was too lenient.

  • The schism of Antioch (330-415) erupted when two lines of bishops, one Arian and one orthodox, disputed about who were the legitimate pastors of the Antiochan Church. The orthodox bishop, Eustathius, was deposed by the Arian party who consecrated their own bishop illicitly.

  • The schism during the time of Pope Liberius was caused when the Arian party consecrated as antipope one Felix who claimed the See of Rome while Liberius was in exile. The Romans eventually got Liberius recalled and Felix was deposed.

  • The Donatist schism, one of the largest of the ancient Church, began when many African Christians objected to the legitimacy of Caecilian of Carthage, since he was consecrated by a traditor. These declared his election invalid and elected their own bishop, Majorinus. The dispute spread, and soon most large cities had two hierarchies, one loyal to Caecilian, one to Majorinus. Those loyal to Majorinus were the rigorists that eventually were called Donatists (the Donatus take their name from a Bishop Donatus who succeeded Majorinus).

  • The Acacian schism, the first real major east-west schism, occurred when Acacius of Constantinople continued to exercise his episcopal office despite being excommunicated by Pope Felix II over the Henoticon of Emperor Zeno.

  • The Aquilean schism during the time of Pope Vigilius broke out when the bishops of Milan and Aquilea refused obedience to Pope Vigilius over the latter's condemnation of the Three Chapters. For a time they functioned as their own hierarchy independent of the pope.

  • The schism of 1054, when the Greeks effectively denied that the Pope had any jurisdiction in the east.

  • The schism of Anacletus (1150), which had to do with the election of an antipope.

  • The Great Western Schism, of course, which was brought upon by the dispute between a pope and antipope following the return of the Church from Avignon in 1378.

  • The Anglican schism, when, for a time, the Catholic Church existed side-by-side with a schismatic Church in England. This is no longer a schism, however, since the Holy Orders of the Anglican bishops went extinct after the first generation.

  • The schism of the "Constitutional Church" in France following the promulgation of the Civil Constitution on the Clergy in 1790. This in effect set up two hierarchies, one loyal to the Pope and one on the state dole and under obedience to state appointed bishops who were invalidly consecrated.

  • The schism of the Old Catholics, which began in 1871 after Vatican I, when the protesters against papal infallibility voted at the Council of Munich to constitute themselves a separate Church.

Note that in each and every case, the schism involves either a establishment of a valid but illicit rival hierarchy or else the formal withdrawal of an existing hierarchy from obedience to the Holy See. Schism, then, consists in an act of disobedience that results in either the withdrawal of an existing bishop or member of the hierarchy from obedience or else the establishment of a illicit rival hierarchy; this is true at least of the Church's historical schisms.

This is why the pope stated that the consecration of four bishops illicitly is a schismatic act - following the trends we saw in the historic schisms, it was an act of disobedience that took the form of establishing a hierarchy outside the pale of the pope's authority. Setting up rival, illicit hierarchy is always a schismatic act. Whether or not the SSPX did this, and to what degree a schismatic act confers ipso facto the status of schismatic, remains to be seen.

One thing that is plainly clear from looking at the history is that schism does not necessarily entail denial that an authority exists. The SSPX argument that they are not in schism because they have not denied the existence of legitimate authority within the Church is a weak argument that creates a definition of schism so narrow that virtually no one other than Sedevacantists would fit it. It is not necessary that the SSPX (or any group) deny the existence of a legitimate authority to be in schism - it is enough to disobey that authority whilst setting up a rival outside authority, even if one continues to admit the existence of the legitimate authority.

Interestingly enough, the Catholic Encyclopedia states that one does not need to formally join schismatic group or form a distinct sect to be guilty of the sin of schism: "On the other hand, schism does not necessarily imply adhesion, either public or private, to a dissenting group or a distinct sect, much less the creation of such a group." This means that schism seems to be on a continuum. There are certainly some schismatics at the far end, like the Old Catholics - but it also implies that one can be guilty of schism even without adhering to a formally schismatic group or founding one. I think the Encyclopedia is trying to distinguish between the sin of schism (incurred whenever there is a partisan spirit of haughty disobedience) and the canonical status of schism (established by the setting up of a rival hierarchy). Though they usually go together, they are two different concepts.

Next time we will take these principles and apply them to the situation with the SSPX, taking into account current and previous Magisterial statements on the question.