Sunday, August 26, 2012

Protest Sacreligious Mass in Honolulu

Wet N' Wild, Honolulu, where Bishop Larry Silva proposes saying Mass next Sunday

It has come to our attention that the Diocese of Honolulu under Bishop Larry Silva is unfortunately planning to have sacrilegious Mass at a local water park. This is in the context of a Diocesan Youth Day, which seems like an imitation of the horrendous National Catholic Youth Conference events, which I have blogged about (here and here).

I know I am preaching to the choir, but let's look at why it is wrong to have Mass at a water park.

First, it could be argued that  the location planned for Mass is a demeaning venue and contrary to the dignity due to the Blessed Sacrament. The focus of the surrounding environment of a water park screams personal fun and self-gratification rather than personal sacrifice and the selfless sacrifice of our Lord and Savior made present at the holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the real presence of His body and blood.

Second, we could note that canon law actually forbids Mass in places like this. Canon 932 of the 1983 Code states: "The eucharistic celebration is to be carried out in a sacred place, unless in a particular case neccesity requires otherwise; in which case, the celebration must be in a fitting place." In case anyone has any qualms about what constitutes a "sacred place," Canons 1205 and 1210 clearly define them as "those which are assigned to divine worship" and where "only those things are permitted which serve to exercise or promote worship, piety and religion." Clearly a water park does not qualify as a sacred space, and the 1983 Code seems to envision nothing other than a church, oratory or private chapel by the phrase "sacred space." Certainly a water park is excluded.

So, unless there is "particular necessity," a Mass must be said in a consecrated Church (a consecrated cemetery is also permitted, provided there is a suitable place for the Sacrifice). Now, we must ask ourselves, is there necessity in having the Mass outdoors against the order of Canon 932? The answer must be no, for three reasons: (1) There is no emergency; it appeared to be done just to be "fun" for the teens (2) There are ten Catholic parishes on the same island as the event,  the closest being only twenty minutes away. It is pointless to have a Mass in a water park when it could easily be done in the Church or (if room did not permit it for such a crowd) at least on parish grounds.

Finally, we could note that a water park will undoubtedly feature scantily clad individuals. As part of the event, teens will have access to all the slides, so boasts the video promo for the event. Are we to believe that they will go off and all change into Mass clothes prior to the Eucharistic celebration? To be sure some will, but a great many will not. The liturgy will be celebrated at the same time girls are standing around in bathing suits. Boys will be barefoot or shirtless, most likely. Even if this applies to only a small amount of teens, it will still be too much and could be avoided by having Mass in a parish church as usual.

This event is sacrilegious, but unfortunately too few of our bishops care these days about the sacredness of liturgy. Even high-ranking bishops and primates, even cardinals who have authored the Catechism of the Catholic Church, permit sacrilegious Masses at improper locations or allow grave liturgical abuse. They are more concerned with appearing relevant than being reverent.

Please contact the Diocese of Honolulu and protest this sacrilege. Contact information below:

Diocese of Honolulu
Most Reverend Clarence Silva
1184 Bishop Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: (808) 585-3300
Fax: (808) 521-8428

Lisa Gomes
Director Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry

It is particularly important for folks outside of Hawaii to contact Bishop Silva and Miss Gomes, for otherwise they will simply write off complains as coming from stuffy Catholics in their own diocese, nay-sayers who are always "complaining." It would be good if they were to realize that this is not about anyone being a nay-sayer, but that this is genuinely offensive to large numbers of the faithful who take the reverence due to the Sacrifice of the Mass seriously.

Here is anothers blogger's much more erudite take on this.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tolerance and the Two Kinds of Understanding

If we were to take a look at the movement for interreligious dialogue within the Catholic Church and question it as to the meaning of its existence, its adherents would probably say that the movement was there to promote understanding among members of different faiths. Many would stop there, accept this as an acceptable answer and move on. But ought we to let it go that easily? What does it mean when interfaith promoters talk about understanding? And, most importantly, is “understanding” another religion an intrinsic good?
The purpose of fostering understanding is to build tolerance between persons of divergent religious traditions. I do not have anything against the concept of tolerance, if we mean it in the sense that we ought not to be killing and persecuting one another based on our religious beliefs. From the Catholic side, it is Church dogma that baptism cannot be forced and that conversions must be based in genuine love of God and desire to obey and know Christ. Tolerance is good, in that sense. 

However, tolerance is not the same as acceptance, and the concept of tolerance in itself has a kind of resentful aspect to it. For example, if I say to you that I can “tolerate” your presence at my home, have I paid you a compliment or insulted you? What if I am at your house eating dinner, and your wife asks me how her cooking is. I say, “It’s tolerable.” What I am saying with these statements? Do you see the negative connotation?

I approve of tolerance if we keep this negative understanding of it in mind: when we say we “tolerate” another faith, it is because there is no means of positively getting rid of it (save by converting everyone), and therefore we have to learn to live with it. In a perfect world, we would go out and have converted all of the Muslims and Hindus and pagans and the rest of the motley nations of the earth. But, that has not yet happened, and since we are still this side of Heaven, we must learn to “tolerate” the existence of these other false religions. That’s all tolerance means to me.

But (say the proponents of interfaith dialogue), the more we dialogue, the more we need a tolerance that is based not in simple acceptance of the existence of other religions as an unchangeable fact, but a tolerance that is based on mutual acceptance of religious traditions as valuable in themselves. Again, this word “acceptance” can mean a variety of things. What do we mean by acceptance? I can accept that people believe Buddhism is true. I can accept that there exist people in the world called Buddhists who prefer to live and worship according to a certain standard of belief. But, what I cannot do is accept that Buddhism is correct, or that it is good, or that its adherents are better off sticking with Buddhism rather than Christianity. 

But unfortunately this is exactly what people means when they say that we must learn to accept each other. 

But why should we accept? How does dialogue and understanding lead to acceptance? Here lies the biggest logical error of the whole argument: proponents of interreligious dialogue wrongly assume that just because we learn more about something that we will therefore like it better.

The logical argument runs like this: we need to dialogue with people of other faiths so that we can learn about each other. Once we learn about each other and our beliefs, we will have an understanding of one another’s religions. Once we understand one another’s religions, we will see that they are not that different from us, and that we ought to admire the similarities and accept the differences. If we can learn to accept differences, then we can have true tolerance, and tolerance will lead to a more peaceful world and happy coexistence between religions. 

This line of thought is riddled with flaws. First of all, I would look at the end: a peaceful world and happy coexistence between faiths. Since when is world peace an absolute good? Since when is earthly, temporal peace something that we look to as the goal of our interactions with other religions? What about conversion? What about Jesus' warning that “I come not to bring peace, but a sword?” 

Second, I would disagree with the classic interfaith premise that all religions share so much in common that we ought to just focus on the similarities. G.K. Chesterton said people often say that all religions look different but in reality are the same, but the truth is that all religions actually look the same and are different in essence. All religions have altars, vestments, candles, prayers, holy days, etc. It is the philosophical and doctrinal elements of religions that are truly different, and it is these that can lead one astray. Why converge around similarities in the accidentals if it is the essential that can destroy the soul? 

And finally, why ought we to care about bringing about world peace or dialoguing with people of other faiths at all? World peace is not a good enough incentive for me, because I am not interested in a pax mundi but only a pax Christi. As Jesus said,"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). Christ specifically says that His peace is not the same kind as the peace of the world. But that is exactly the type of peace promulgated by the interreligious dialogue crowd.

I think the biggest error in this line of thinking is the idea that just because we understand something better means we will like it better. Since when does getting to know something better mean you like it more? Learning about something can also make you like something, sure, but it can also make you like something less

To use a classic example: prior to World War II, the Allies continued appeasing Hitler when he tried repeatedly to take more land and get more aggressive, as the famous “Peace in Our Time” speech by Neville Chamberlain in 1938 demonstrated. Post-war reflection has come to the conclusion that the Allies appeased Hitler because they did not understand what kind of a man he was and what Nazism was. In other words, tolerance and getting along was the product of ignorance, not understanding (and in this case, it had disastrous consequences). It was only when men came along who understood Nazism for what it was, that Europe found the courage to fight. In this scenario, we could say that a greater understanding of Hitler and the Nazis led to a greater loathing for them rather than tolerance.

A personal example: I have to admit that until recently I knew nothing about Hinduism. Furthermore, I was content to not know anything about Hinduism. Why? Because I know enough: that it is a false religion and that India is a horrible place to live. But recently I read a very exhaustive, 500-page work on India by a secular author. It covered the religious aspects of India, the in’s and out’s of Hinduism, the tradition of Indian philosophy, the social system of India, the doctrines and practices of Buddhism and everything one could possible want to know about the Indian subcontinent. I now feel very educated about India since reading this book, but let me tell you something else: now that I know all about India, I have never been so disgusted with Hinduism as I am now that I have studied it. Understanding did not make me appreciate it. In fact, it was knowledge and understanding that facilitated this. Before, I disliked Hinduism and knew little about it. Now, I have studied it, and find it utterly repelling and loathsome.

So then, is understanding a good thing or a bad thing? Again, it depends on our definition. Too often “understand” is taken to mean sympathize, empathize or even agree with, so that to “understand” Islam is to sympathize with it and feel guilty about attempts to convert Muslims. This is a terrible way to use the word. I will tell you how I think we ought to use the word “understanding”: in a way that denotes complete and intricate knowledge of a thing, the way the Scholastics used the word. In this sense, I hope Catholic come to understand Hinduism. I hope we really “learn” about Islam and find ourselves “understanding” it very well. Perhaps when we have studied Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and all the rest of the demon-worshipping religions out there, we will truly “understand” how wretched they are and how bad the world needs Christ. I could stand for some more of that kind of understanding.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

The Baltic Crusades

When discussing the Crusades, those of the Levant that took place  between 1095 and 1272 are  undoubtedly the most famous. Yet, we must recall that the famous expeditions to the Holy Land were only one aspect of a larger crusading movement that was going on in Europe  from the late 11th to the late 14th centuries. The Spanish  Reconquista, which went on from the 11th century until 1492 is  typically lumped in with the crusades, as it involved the reconquest of formerly Christian lands from the Muslims.

This post concerns itself with the least known yet perhaps most  successful of all the crusading ventures, the so-called Northern or Baltic Crusades, which went on intermittently from 1147 to 1316 and  concerned the attempts of the Teutonic Order and the nobility of northeastern Germany to bring the pagan Baltic tribes under their control and convert them to Catholicism. 

The Northern Crusades are different from the Crusades to the Holy Land in several important aspects:

1) The Northern Crusades were primarily led by the military orders from beginning to end; the military orders did not play such a large role in the Holy Land crusades.

2) Unlike the Crusades the the Holy Land, the Northern Crusades were ultimately successful.

3) The Northern Crusades had as their end not only the conquest of land but the mass conversion of the populations. Mass conversions were not an aim in crusades to the Holy Land; in Spain, the Reconquista aimed only at expelling the Muslims, not ultimately converting them. It was one of the rare instances in the Church's history where the faith truly was spread by the sword.

4) The Northern Crusade was not designated as a Crusade properly speaking. In 1147, Pope Eugenius III issued the papal bull Divina dispensatione, which, while not declaring the Northern Crusades to be legitimate crusades in the strict sense, nevertheless made the same indulgences available to the Northern crusaders as had been made available to the others. Even though the Northern Crusade was not called a crusade until the 19th century, there was no distinction in spiritual benefits between the two crusades.

5) Unlike the crusades and the Reconquista, the Northern Crusade cannot really be claimed to be defensive except in a very tenuous manner.

6)  There was no question of reclaiming previously Christian lands - this was simple conquest of pagan populations.

While Catholic apologists focus a lot of energy defending the legitimacy of the more famous crusades to the Holy Land, the Northern Crusades present more of a difficulty for the Catholic apologists. The grounds for the crusades were questionable, we have war for the sake of pure subjugation, with forcible conversion (something the Church has always condemned) and done with papal approval - even St. Bernard of Clairvaux was a supporter of the Northern Crusades. On the surface, it seems like we have a situation of the Church compromising her principles (just war, necessity of free assent to the faith) for the sake of conquest and plunder. Is this in fact the case?

However you look at it, the Church does not look at its best in the Northern Crusades. The war was savage, baptism was often forced upon conquered populations as a term of peace, and conquered populations forced into feudal servitude. Bishops were often at the head of the crusading armies.

Yet, I do think there are some things we could say to help us put this in better perspective.

It is important that Eugenius III did not specifically refer to the Baltic conquests as a crusade. He seemed hesitant to do so, and while he offered the Baltic Christian armies the same indulgences as the other crusaders, the fact that he refrained from labeling it a crusade is important. It suggests the pope himself did not believe this was really a crusade, or at the very least was uncertain. This would indicate that, while tentatively supported by the Pope, these expeditions did not as morally clear as the other Crusades. They were in a somewhat lower category. This means we have to be more careful about saying that they were "endorsed" by the Church in a formal sense.

Second, we must acknowledge, as a simple matter of history, that the principle of just war was applied much more loosely in the Middle Ages than today. Nowadays, with our extremely destructive forms of warfare and the spectre of two world wars still haunting us, the Church has been extremely hesitant in making any modern applications of Just War. Some have even suggested that a truly Just War is no longer possible in the modern world. I would not go this far, but these comments serve to point out that the application of the principle if much more restricted than it had been in the past. For example, the following were considered just some causes for Just War in the Middle Ages:

  • Lord breaking his oath to a vassal or vassal to a lord (this was seen as treachery and a form of aggression that required a defensive response; this was the justification William of Normandy gave when he conquered England).
  • Excommunication of one's lord (this made him an invalid ruler and thus a de facto usurper who needed to be removed, e.g., Emperor Henry IV during the Investiture Controversy)
  • An attack on the rights of the Church, even in secondary matters (when the Hohenstaufens of Sicily were attacking the political rights of the papacy, the Church called in Charles of Anjou to make war on them and drive them out of Sicily).
  • The presence of endemic heresy, as in the case of the Albigensian Crusade, although it should be mention that this was contested even in its day.
  • The spread of the Christian Faith (this was the justification behind most of Charlemagne's wars).
  • Consolidation of "rightfully owned" dynastic provinces - Edward I's wars in France were justified because Edward was attempting to take land that he had a dynastic claim to but that was lost during the reign of King John.

  • Self defense. This goes without saying, but it should be stressed that "self-defense" was understood differently then than now. The medievals believed in a preemptive pacification; that is, the mere presence of a hostile force on the frontier, even if they not actually invaded or made war, constituted a real threat that could be neutralized. Furthermore, almost any aggressive action on the part of one party could justify almost any response from the defender without regard to proportionality. The aggressor could do something as small as raid a few villages and the defender would respond with a full-scale invasion. This was seen as just under the principle of preemptive pacification.
None of these causi belli would pass muster by Catholic standards in the 21st century, yet we see them broadly applied in the Middle Ages. Just War is an accepted principle of the Church, but how Just War is applied has varied throughout the ages; ultimately it is up to the political authority to inform themselves on the Church's teaching and apply it appropriately. In the Middle Ages, these applications were very broad, and while we may not agree with them now, we must say that the Northern Crusades did fit the medieval requirements for a war to be just - it was undertaken to spread the Faith, defend the rights of the Church (the pagans of the Baltic had made incursions into Christian lands and attacked churches, though not very severely), and was, to some degree, in self-defense. Whether or not we agree with it, the wars at the time were considered just, though it was debated whether they were truly crusades.

Another problem was the Ottonian system in Germany. Most of the princes and ecclesiastics in charge of the Northern Crusades were Germanic; the Teutonic Order was the chief military order involved in the fighting. Ever since the time of Otto I (r. 936-973), the first Holy Roman Emperor, bishops had doubled as secular rulers in the Germanic dominions. Otto initially transformed ecclesiastical lords into temporal lords as a mean to strengthen his kingdom (see here for a previous post I did on the Ottonians), but it had the unintended effect of confounding the responsibilities of the bishops by involving them heavily in secular affairs. Thus, while the Holy Land Crusades and the Reconquista were in the hands of secular princes, the Northern Crusade was in the hands of men with mixed responsibilities. Military conquest and spiritual conquest were mingled together, and the establishment of an episcopal see also meant the establishment of a garrison. Lands conquered by the Teutonic Knights became hereditary holdings of the lords of that order.  Ecclesiastical and secular interests were muddled; this sullied the purity of the cause.

Another aspect to consider is this issue of forced conversions; several times during the Northern Crusades, conquered tribes were offered peace only if conversion followed. It could be argued that this violated the Church's teaching that conversion cannot be compulsory. If this is in fact true, it is a serious indictment of the Church's judgment in this matter, since many bishops took part in the campaign and it was supported by the pope.

There are two reasons, however, why what occurred in the Baltic Crusades was not compulsory acceptance of the faith. For one thing, as with Just War, the medieval Church interpreted "compulsion" differently than we do today. Today, if there was a situation where one group said "convert to Christianity or we will make war on you", the Church and the public at large would probably say this constituted compulsion.

Not so in the Middle Ages. During the period in question, compulsion had to be immediate and very direct (i.e., standing at the baptismal font with a sword saying, "Get baptized or I will kill you"). In other words, the compulsion must be immediate and the threat must be personal; "Become Christians or we will make war on your country" simply was not considered compulsive conversion.

That is simply from a canonical standpoint; many debated the merit of the concept from a policy standpoint. Many during the time of the Northern Crusades suggested that force of arms was not the best way to convince others of the truth of the Gospel. St. Boniface had found this out centuries earlier when working among Germans who were forcibly converted by the Frankish monarchy, and it again proved true in the Baltic. Adalbert, first Bishop of Pomerania, gained lands and his episcopal see through the crusade but later critiqued the use of arms in spreading the Faith.

We must point out that even though there has always been an understanding that people cannot be compelled to accept the Faith, there has been a precedent in Catholic history, at least theoretically, for the legitimacy of conquering non-Christian peoples for the purpose of introducing the Christian faith to them. We must be careful with distinctions, here; forcing individuals to accept the Faith was never a tenable concept in the Catholic Church; forcibly subjecting whole kingdoms to Catholic rulers for the purpose of later inducing them to accept the Faith voluntarily was an acceptable idea. We could cite, for example, Dum diversas of Nicholas V (1452), where the pope told the King of Portugal:

"We grant to you full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ..."

We could also cite Romanus Pontifex, also of Nicholas V, that enunciates the same principle and it worth quoting at length:

"The Roman pontiff, successor of the key-bearer of the heavenly kingdom and vicar of Jesus Christ, contemplating with a father's mind all the several climes of the world and the characteristics of all the nations dwelling in them and seeking and desiring the salvation of all, wholesomely ordains and disposes upon careful deliberation those things which he sees will be agreeable to the Divine Majesty and by which he may bring the sheep entrusted to him by God into the single divine fold, and may acquire for them the reward of eternal felicity, and obtain pardon for their souls. This we believe will more certainly come to pass, through the aid of the Lord, if we bestow suitable favors and special graces on those Catholic kings and princes, who, like athletes and intrepid champions of the Christian faith, as we know by the evidence of facts, not only restrain the savage excesses of the Saracens and of other infidels, enemies of the Christian name, but also for the defense and increase of the faith vanquish them and their kingdoms and habitations, though situated in the remotest parts unknown to us, and subject them to their own temporal dominion, sparing no labor and expense, in order that those kings and princes, relieved of all obstacles, may be the more animated to the prosecution of so salutary and laudable a work.

We have lately heard, not without great joy and gratification, how our beloved son, the noble personage Henry, infante of Portugal...king of the kingdoms of Portugal and Algarve...has aspired from his early youth with his utmost might to cause the most glorious name of the said Creator to be published, extolled, and revered throughout the whole world, even in the most remote and undiscovered places, and also to bring into the bosom of his faith the perfidious enemies of him and of the life-giving Cross by which we have been redeemed, namely the Saracens and all other infidels whatsoever...Also by the laudable endeavor and industry of the said prince, very many inhabitants or dwellers in divers islands situated in the said sea, coming to the knowledge of the true God, have received holy baptism, to the praise and glory of God, the salvation of the souls of many, the propagation also of the orthodox faith, and the increase of divine worship."

Notice that the pope praises the conquests of Henry as leading to the conversion of the Saracens and pagans. He states that this is "agreeable to Divine Majesty" and says that the conversion (voluntary) of pagans and Saracens can be most effectively carried out if the Church aids Catholic princes in bringing these infidels (involuntarily) under the political rule of Catholic prince. An involuntary subjugation can lead to opportunities for voluntary conversions.

Was this the Church's teaching? Most these statements come in papal bulls that are confirming certain temporal rulers in their rights to land or trade. I would day these sorts of statements do not reflect Church teaching but are more of a kind of policy statement of the papacy at any given time in history. That is why I do not think the modern Church would use such statements, especially in an age where the Catholic kingdom has given way to the secular nation-state. So, while they are not Church teaching, these statements about the good of subjecting non-Christians to Catholic rule do reflect papal policy at the time.

To sum up, what can we say about the Northern Crusades?

First, that in the Northern Crusades we see the crusading movement at work with a bit more avarice and savagery than usual. The temporal and ecclesiastical goals of the war were intermingled, a policy of conversion backed by military force was adopted - though not without reservation - and thus the campaigns in the Baltic fell far short of the crusading ideal. Thought this is regrettable, Catholics need not be too alarmed by this, because the papal support given for these campaigns does not represent the unchanging teaching of the Church but the political policy of the papacy of the latter Middle Ages.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Suicide of Samson

One of the challenges in reading the Old Testament is reconciling the behavior of some Old Testament characters with the moral imperatives of the natural law as revealed in the New Testament. Classic examples of this problem are the polygamy of the Old Testament patriarchs, the genocide of the Canaanites depicted in the Book of Joshua, or the slavery Solomon imposes upon the conquered peoples of his kingdom.

There are various explanations to these problems. Usually these types of quandaries can be resolved by appealing to the imperfect moral development of the Israelite people and the incomplete nature of God's revelation to them; we could also call to mind the fact that the Bible does not approve everything that it reports; sometimes, as in the case of Joshua's genocide, we just have to work through several underlying theological issues to get to the root of the question (e.g., Does God have sovereignty over human life or does He not?).

Another one of these problems is the suicide of Samson, which is undoubtedly portrayed in a glorious light in the Old Testament Book of Judges. How can this be the case when, according to natural law and the Church's perennial teaching, suicide is always wrong? Recall that, since suicide is condemned absolutely as against the natural law, this means that it is now and always was wrong, whether in the Old Testament or the New. How then can we square this teaching with the obvious fact that Samson's suicide is portrayed as a noble action in the Old Testament?

As far as I can tell, there are only seven suicides in the Bible:

  • Abimelech, son of Gideon, orders his servant to thrust him through with a sword when he realizes he is mortally wounded (Judges 9:50-57). This is indirect, but we will count it as a suicide because Abimelech deliberately chooses to terminate his own life.
  • The suicide of King Saul, narrated in 1 Samuel 31 and 2 Samuel 1. 
  • The suicide of Saul's armor-bearer in 1 Samuel 31.
  • The suicide of Ahithopel in 2 Samuel 17:23. Ahitophel, an adviser of Absalom, kills himself after he sees that Absalom has not followed his advice.
  • King Zimri, in 1 Kings 16:18, kills himself by setting his house on fire and letting it burn with himself inside.
  • The suicide of Samson in Judges 16:4-31.
  • The suicide of Judas, depicted in Matthew 27:3-10.

Samson is the only one of these who is righteous; he appears in Hebrews 11 as an example of faithfulness. Therefore, among the suicides of the Bible Samson's is the only we really have to develop an apologetic for because he is the only one who is depicted as a hero. The other six suicides were of wicked men whose suicide was part of their very wickedness (Saul, Judas) or acts of despair or pride (armor-bearer, Abimelech, Ahithopel, Zimri). Not so with Samson. In Samson's case we have a man whose life was marred but many faults but who redeems himself and appears most heroic in the very act of terminating his own life, and taking his foes with him.

The problem with Samson's suicide can be easily resolved if we note that Samson's suicide is different from all the others depicted in the Bible. In the cases of Abimelech, Saul, Judas and the others, the primary intention of each agent in their suicide is the ending of their own life. In Samson's case, we can easily see that his primary motivation in pulling down the Temple of Dagon was not to end his own life but to destroy his Philistine opponents. Ths is evident in his prayer:

But he called upon the Lord, saying: O Lord God, remember me, and restore to me now my former strength, O my God, that I may revenge myself on my enemies, and for the loss of my two eyes I may take one revenge.” And laying hold on both the pillars on which the house rested, and holding the one with his right hand, and the other with his left, he said: “Let me die with the Philistines.” And when he had strongly shook the pillars, the house fell upon all the princes, and the rest of the multitude that was there: and he killed many more at his death, than he had killed before in his life. (Jud. 16:28-30).

Though Samson knows that his action will bring about his own death, he is not acting primarily to end his own life. His motivation is the destruction of the Philistine leadership and he sees his death as a secondary effect of this destruction. Therefore, the principle of double-effect comes into play here; namely, that it is permissible to cause harm as a side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such harm as a primary means to bringing about the same good end.

For example, it is always wrong to kill innocent people. Yet, in war (presumably a just one), a naval ship may fire on the enemy's ship knowing that there may be innocent people on board (reporters, etc). Yet, his primary intention in attacking the enemy ship is not to kill innocent reporters, but to disable or sink the enemy's warship. If he could do so without killing any reporters who might be on board, he would do so. The firing on the ship is justified because the potential death of non-combat personnel on the ship is not willed as the primary end of the attack but only tolerated as an unavoidable and undesirable secondary effect.

Were the captain of the ship attacking specifically to kill non-combatants, or if he willed the death of non-combatants as a positive good, the situation would be different. The crux of the matter is whether the evil act (killing of non-combatants) is the primary end of the attack or a tolerated secondary-effect.

St. Thomas formulates the principle in his discussion on self-defense in the Secunda Secundae Partis of the Summa:

Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention. Now moral acts take their species according to what is intended, and not according to what is beside the intention, since this is accidental as explained above (43, 3; I-II, 12, 1). Accordingly the act of self-defense may have two effects, one is the saving of one's life, the other is the slaying of the aggressor” (II-II, Q. 64, art. 7).

This principle would come into effect in Samson's case. His primary intention is the destruction of the Philistine leadership, which would cripple his enemies and ensure the safety of the Israelites. He only tolerates his own death as proceeding from the act of destroying the Philistines. Thus, the killing of himself is willed indirectly and is not suicide in the proper sense.

In the Douay-Rheims footnote to this episode, written by Bishop Richard_Challoner (1749-1752), we read the following gloss, which also emphasizes the indirect nature of Samson's death and reminds us that this was an act inspired by God and a typification of Christ's own death:

Samson did not sin on this occasion, though he was indirectly the cause of his own death. Because he was moved to what he did, by a particular inspiration of God, who also concurred with him by a miracle, in restoring his strength upon the spot, in consequence of his prayer. Samson, by dying in this manner, was a figure of Christ, who by his death overcame all his enemies.

We could think of other moral actions in comparison to this: A soldier who jumps on a grenade to save a comrade – this would not be suicide because his primary end is to save his comrade, not kill himself, though he recognizes the act will undoubtedly result in his own death. The same could be said of a military pilot who flies a dangerous “suicide mission” into enemy territory from which he knows there will probably be no return. Or a fireman who rushes into the Twin Towers on 9-11 knowing he may die but that his death will allow others to live.

It ought to be noted that this principle would not apply to so-called suicide bombers or kamikazee style military attacks. A fundamental principle of double-effect is that the evil act is tolerated as an unavoidable consequent of the primary action; the agent would avoid the evil act if he could. In a suicide bombing or a kamikazee attack, the evil of self-destruction is not merely tolerated as an unavoidable evil that the agent would avoid if he could, but is in fact the primary means by which end of the act is attained. It is intimately bound up with the act itself. It thus is no longer an effect but a means, and a primary means at that. In our above example about a naval ship, it is the difference between a captain tolerating the unfortunate potential death of a reporter as a secondary effect of attacking the ship and a captain intentionally killing reporters as a means of destroying the ship. Don't know how that would look exactly (turning reporters into human torpedoes?) but you get the idea.

In all this we can clearly deduce that Samson's death is not suicide in the strict sense. Yes, he knows that his action will bring about his own death, but he does not will this as the primary end of his act. Thus his death should be seen more as an act of self-sacrifice rather than of suicide.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Catholic Churches of the Keweenaw

On Sunday we went to Mass at St. Joseph's in Lake Linden. I am not sure about the history of this parish, as we arrived kind of late and had other engagements to go to after Mass and consequently had little time to explore. It was a beautiful parish; one of the locals told me it has a reputation of being the most beautiful Catholic parish in the Upper Peninsula. Here's a pic of the parish from across the street so you can get a view of how massive it is:

It is amazing that a town with a population of only 1,081 people should boast a parish this large and beautiful (and Lake Linden is one of the larger towns in the area). It is most likely a testimony to the large number of Catholic immigrants who came to the Keweenaw in the late 19th century to work in the copper mines and who have by and large vanished. The parish had a gorgeous two story high altar:

There is a tabernacle at the second level between the statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph. I believe there was another tabernacle at the main level. Is it usual for one altar set-up to have two tabernacles? Anyhow, this picture gives you an idea of how grandiose the place was (that is my son genuflecting, by the way). Here is another pic of the altar:     

The ceiling was beautifully decorated - French motifs were everywhere, calling to mind the French background of this region and its exploration by the Jesuit missionaries:

As you can see, the whole building has beautiful stained glass that is quite ornate. This was really nice because so many Catholic churches today, even when they make an attempt at stained glass, tend to skimp on it. It is nice to see stained glass that has some real depth to it:


As you might guess, there was also an abundance of beautiful statuary, always a sign of a healthy spirituality.
I didn't get any pics of the choir loft, but there was a mammoth organ up there, the kind that probably costs more money than my house. The access to the choir loft was by a very simple but elegant winding wooden staircase:

This parish is a definite must-see if you ever go to Keweenaw. The priest preached a good, solid homily and music was decent. There was no chant and communion time saw an inordinate amount of EMHCs, but other than that it was fine. Everything here is very old and has been very well maintained. Speaking of things that are very old, even the restrooms at the parish had some real old-school accoutrements; check out this urinal - I don't think they are installing these kind of urinals new anymore!

At any rate, moving on from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lake Linden, MI. we moved up north, further into the Keweenaw towards a long stretch of US-41 that is known for its many ghost towns. During the copper boom this area was thriving but after World War I the industry died and thousands left the area, leaving scores of abandoned factories and several ghost towns. The decline was drastic; Calumet, for example, once had a population of 60,000. Today it has only 2,000.

One of the real ghost towns is a place called Phoenix. All that is left of Phoenix now is one or two empty houses, a general store, some ruined foundations and an empty Catholic Church. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church was the local parish when Phoenix was a copper boom town. The church was situated along a row of churches (a Methodist church used to be next door). The parish was abandoned when the rest of the town was, but care of the parish was taken over by the Keweenaw Historical Society and the parish has been lovingly restored:

The parish is restored, but as it is in the middle of a ghost town, it is no longer an active parish. It is a very strange sight...a kind of "ghost town parish" that has been transformed into a museum. Here is what you see when you walk inside:


That is my wife with the hat on. You see when you walk into the door that the main entrance way through the Narthex has been blocked off by plexiglass so you cannot enter the church proper. The priest and altar server you see in the distance are mannequins. There was a place for donations. We put a $10 bill on with a note that said, "Please have processions and reopen this parish."

It was kind of eerie, this restored parish alone out in the middle of nowhere. But it was beautiful in a lonely sort of way. 

The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Phoenix was the only building other than some residential houses that was still standing. In the grounds near the church, you could see the foundations from the public school that used to be there:

Everywhere you went around the Keweenaw there was signs of the Catholic contributions to settlement here, whether it was the parishes that used to serve the Hungarian, Croatian and Austrian immigrants that came here to work in the mines, or just in the French names of many of the places that hearkened back to the age of the Jesuit explorers, like the town of Allouez, named after the Jesuit Fr. Claude Allouez, who was the first person to positively identify the presence of copper in the Upper Peninsula, among other things. There's much more I could say, but I think I can sum it up by saying it was a wonderful trip in a beautiful location. What more can one want? Deo gratias.