Sunday, September 30, 2012

Canards of the Bayside Hoax

A few weeks ago I posted a brief summary of the main reasons why Catholics ought to stay away from the alleged apparitions of Bayside. My exposition was just a summary; only a few of the problematic elements of the apparitions were discussed. Hopefully I will have time to do more in the future.

After posting the article, I received this message from a disgruntled reader who disputes the fact that Bayside is hogwash:

Wow. Lets just pray that Our Lord and Our Lady have mercy on us. True seers have been discredited and disbelieved at every now-approved apparition. I am a good fruit of Bayside. I turned from an immoral life to one of struggling daily to be pious and holy. Our Lady, through her apparitions at Bayside, saved my life-my eternal life, the only one that truly matters- at a time when I least expected it and needed it most. I am not unstable at all. I am a young,attractive, educated, cradle Catholic who had lost my way until I rediscovered the love of God through Our Lady of the Roses. Yes, the prophecies are dramatic, but time will tell ALL. Paying attention to Syria right now?(check the messages). Condemning Bayside followers for quietly living lives of piety and devotion is not good. We should realize that it is better in God's sight to believe humbly and sincerely, even if you are wrong- than to lead others away from the truth, even if outrageous, because of your pride. The messages of Garabandal and Fatima seemed ridiculous at the time and were suppressed by local clergy. I know I can't convince you- that is God's work. I will just keep praying, as I'm sure you are too. As for me,whether anyone else believes it or not, by God's grace I will witness to these messages until my last breath. I am content to suffer ridicule and shame, even from "the elect", for my Queen. After all, she was gracious enough to stoop low and save me from myself.

Where to begin.

First of all, Deo gratias on your return to the practice of the Faith. I am always amazed at the paths that people go down when returning to the Faith. I've run across ex-Mormons, ex-Adventists, ex-Pentecostals, ex-everything who have all returned to the Church through various paths. I myself returned to Catholicism through the means of a schismatic, proto-Catholic body known as the Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC), which formed the bridge between the pentecostal Protestantism I was familiar with and the Roman Catholic Church I was tending towards.

This commentator had a similar experience. She stated:

I turned from an immoral life to one of struggling daily to be pious and holy. Our Lady, through her apparitions at Bayside, saved my life-my eternal life, the only one that truly matters- at a time when I least expected it and needed it most. I am not unstable at all. I am a young, attractive, educated, cradle Catholic who had lost my way until I rediscovered the love of God through Our Lady of the Roses.

So Bayside was a stepping stone to bringing her into the Church. Well and good. But (and this is the key here), we must not confuse the stepping stones or paths that God uses to bring us home for the destination itself. God used the CEC as a bridge to bring me back to Catholicism, but the fact that He uses such a means does not imply any sort of affirmation of the CEC itself. God often uses secondary causes as motivations for us, "rods" to prod us along or judge us, but the rod itself may be good, neutral, or bad. The fact that God uses the CEC, or Bayside, does not have any bearing on whether either is pleasing in His sight.

In the Bible, God used Assyria as His "rod" to punish Israel, but this did not mean that Assyria was any more righteous than Israel. On the contrary, God warns that he will punish Assyria for its haughtiness:

Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!...Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up, or a club brandish him who is not wood! (Isa. 10: 1,13)

Those who are familiar with my writings on Medjugorje will recognize the next statement. She says:

I am a good fruit of Bayside

First of all, whether one is a good "fruit" is dependent entirely upon whether or not the apparition in question is legitimate, man-made, or from the devil. If an apparition is from the devil, like those of the Army of Mary in Quebec, then it is pointless to talk about good fruits, since the adherence of one to such a sect is not a good fruit but a bad fruit. So whether or not a person is "good fruit" from Bayside is dependent upon whether Bayside is in itself good. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit, and vice versa.

But secondarily, we could point out that good fruits (return to the faith, increased prayer, use of sacraments, etc) does not establish the veracity of an apparition. Good fruits will necessarily accompany every true apparition, but they alone cannot establish it as true. I have already written on this extensively and recommend my article on the "Fruits Argument", which was written in the context of Medjugorje but can be applied to Bayside as well.

True seers have been discredited and disbelieved at every now-approved apparition...The messages of Garabandal and Fatima seemed ridiculous at the time and were suppressed by local clergy.

Well, I don't believe Garabandal either, which is not an approved apparition (it has the status of non constat, which means it has not been ruled a fake, but not been certified as supernatural, either). but that is beside the point. We could do a whole post about this concept - the "persecution complex" developed by those attached to false apparitions.

The thinking seems to be that, since all apparitions, even legitimate ones, are doubted initially (Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima), disbelief in an alleged apparition actually becomes a kind of evidence in favor of its authenticity. Bishop Zumarraga doubted St. Juan Diego until the miracle of the roses; Bernadette was doubted until the appearance of the miraculous fountain and the many healings; the three children were thought mad until the Miracle of the Sun. Similarly, we can expect that Bayside will be disbelieved at the outset.

However, note that, in each of the three cases mentioned above, initial disbelief was turned to belief by:

(1) The working of a miracle of sufficient awe to silence criticism (not something banal like unidentified lights or shapes showing up in photographs, see picture at the top of this post).

(2) The doctrinal integrity of the messages and the personal holiness of the seers

(3) The eventual affirmation of the apparitions by the local bishop.

Bayside lacks all of these criteria. The promised miracle, which is supposed to be some kind of comet crashing into the earth (the "Ball of Redemption"), has not happened - and it will not happen, since Veronica prophesied it would happen before the year 2000, a patent falsehood that should be enough to discredit these apparitions on their face.

The messages of Bayside lack any sort of doctrinal integrity and are rife with errors both historical and theological. Bayside teaches that televisions are inherently sinful, that priests are consecrated by priests (not bishops), that the indelible mark of baptism can be lost, believes that Paul VI was replaced by an impostor look-alike pope, and it also affirms the doctrine of the Rapture as understood by Protestants. The apparitions also state that all religions have a place in heaven and tries to make a distinction between the Beatific Vision and the "Mansions" our Lord spoke of in the Gospel:

"For My Father's House, My Son has repeated over and over: remember always that My Father's House-there are many rooms in the Mansion, signifying faiths and creeds. However, the Eternal Father, the Beatific Vision, is reserved for the Roman Catholic following. This it has been deemed by the Eternal Father since the beginning of time." - (Our Lady of the Roses (Blue Book), the “messages” of Bayside, published by Apostles of Our Lady, Inc. Lansing, MI, 1993, p. 81.)

Finally, Bayside has never been approved or endorsed by the local ordinary. Unlike Lourdes, Guadalupe, Fatima, etc., the ordinary has condemned these apparitions unreservedly. In 1986, Bishop Francis Mugavero stated unambiguously:

"No credibility can be given to the so-called "apparitions" reported by Veronica Lueken and her followers...Because of my concern for their spiritual welfare, members of Christ's faithful are hereby directed to refrain from participating in the "vigils" and from disseminating any propaganda related to the "Bayside apparitions." They are also discouraged from reading any such literature. Anyone promoting this devotion in any way, be it by participating in the "vigils," organizing pilgrimages, publishing or disseminating the literature related to it, is contributing to the confusion which is being created in the faith of God's people, as well as encouraging them to act against the determinations made by the legitimate pastor of this particular Church (c.212, para. 1)."

Yes, true apparitions are frequently doubted at first, but this is because doubt is supposed to be the first reaction of a faithful Catholic to any claims of this sort. If the apparition is valid, initial doubts are dispersed by miracles, the doctrinal integrity of the visions, and the support of the local ordinary. Since none of this has happened in the case of Bayside, faithful Catholics are correct in maintaining a disposition of incredulity towards them. As I said above, doubt is supposed to be the default attitude of the faithful towards any alleged supernatural occurrence, even when it happens to us. The reason for this is the great difficulty humans have in discerning the origin of supernatural messages or experiences. If the devil were to appear to you, how would you, without the grace of God, know whether he were himself, your guardian angel, or God Himself? This why the Catholic Encyclopedia, when treating of Private Revelations, makes the following statements:

"Illusions in the matter of revelations often have a serious consequence, as they usually instigate to exterior acts, such as teaching a doctrine, propagating a new devotion, prophesying, launching into an enterprise that entails expense. There would be no evil to fear if these impulses came from God, but it is entirely otherwise when they do not come from God, which is much more frequently the case and is difficult of discernment...“To prove that a revelation is Divine (at least in its general outlines), the method of exclusion is sometimes employed. It consists in proving that neither the demon nor the ecstatic's own ideas have interfered (at least on important points) with God's action, and that no one has retouched the revelation after its occurrence.”

We see here how the Church proposes a very conservative approach to judging these apparitions. This is different from the approach out commentator would have us take. She said:

We should realize that it is better in God's sight to believe humbly and sincerely, even if you are wrong- than to lead others away from the truth, even if outrageous, because of your pride.

Because private revelations come from somewhere other than God "more frequently" than not, incredulity is the proper disposition. The burden is on the seer to disprove out incredulity, not on us to just believe every private apparition out there until we get burned or wounded. She also states:

Condemning Bayside followers for quietly living lives of piety and devotion is not good.

I have never condemned the followers of Bayside. I have simply stated that there are serious doctrinal and historical problems with the apparitions and that they do not deserve out credulity. That is not the same thing as condemning the followers of Bayside, although if one's spirituality is so wrapped up in Bayside that raising doubts about the legitimacy of the visions cannot be perceived as anything other than a personal condemnation, that is problematic and signifies an imbalanced spirituality.

Yes, the prophecies are dramatic, but time will tell ALL. Paying attention to Syria right now?(check the messages).

This is a reference to the fact that the Bayside apparitions point to Syria as the place from which World War III will start, or as the key to peace in the world. To quote the apparitions:

"Syria has the key to the solution of world peace or the Third World War. It will be the destruction of three-quarters of the world. A world aflame, with also the Ball of Redemption." - Our Lady, May 30, 1981

So, obviously, since there is civil unrest in Syria at the moment, we ought to connect this with Bayside and presume that the apparitions are true!

Not so fast. The messages regarding Syria are not for today, or if they are, Our Lady has a weird way of showing it. Check out the following apparition and note the date:

"Wars are a punishment for man's sins. Syria holds the key to peace at this time. However, I place in front of you, My children, a graphic picture for you to understand. It will be a parable for some, and some will turn away not willing to hear what Heaven has to say in these desperate times." -Our Lady, May 28th, 1983.

Syria is said to hold the key to peace, but "at this time" and "in these desperate times." These words were spoken in 1983. If Mary's statement in 1983 that Syria holds the key to peace or World War "at this time" was actually meant to refer to events twenty-nine years later, that would be quite a stretch.

Besides, Bayside certainly does not hold a monopoly on prophecies about Syria relating to the end. There are two famous prophecies found right in the Old Testament that seem to suggest that there will come a time when Syria, or at least Damascus, is destroyed in judgement:
  • "The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap...In the time of the evening, behold there shall be trouble: the morning shall come, and he shall not be: this is the portion of them that have wasted us, and the lot of them that spoiled us." (Isa. 17:1, 14).
  • "For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof..." (Amos 1:3).
Neither of these prophecies have been fulfilled. Even if Damascus were destroyed overnight, it could just as easily be said that this is the fulfillment of a biblical prophesy, not a corroboration of Bayside. What Bayside has done is simply tacked on to its own corpus of messages a prophecy that is legitimately found in the Scriptures and tried to tie the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecy with the legitimacy of its own questionable visions.

I know I can't convince you- that is God's work. I will just keep praying, as I'm sure you are too. As for me,whether anyone else believes it or not, by God's grace I will witness to these messages until my last breath. I am content to suffer ridicule and shame, even from "the elect", for my Queen. After all, she was gracious enough to stoop low and save me from myself.

Okay, again, more with the persecution complex. Nobody is ridiculing you, lady. Nobody is judging you. But you (and all Bayside adherents) need to realize that these messages are highly dubious, requiring an extraordinary stretch of reason to accept (for example, that Paul VI was taken away in 1972 and replaced by a look-alike). As usual in these sorts of arguments, the commentator ignores all of the unfulfilled prophecies relating to Bayside - a "martyrdom" of Paul VI, a comet striking New York City before the year 2000, the successor of John Paul II undoing all the late pontiffs work (Benedict XVI is actually trying to canonize him; odd way of undoing JP2's work!), and much similar nonsense.

Please, for the love of God, exercise some precision in your thinking and abandon your support for this dubious apparition.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Unam Sanctam Catholicam Website!

Today, the Feast of the Holy Angels, the new Unam Sanctam Catholicam website is up and running it can be viewed at the URL It has been a long time in the making - I first started working on the new site in August, 2011, so it has been a little over a year!

The long delay in getting the site ready was based on my simple conviction that most new websites fail because they launch before they have enough content. The new site does not yet have as much content as I would like, but with over 100 articles, a good many of them new, I think I feel comfortable launching it.

Currently, the site features a smattering of some of my better articles from this blog along with many great articles that have never been featured here. As time goes by, there will of course be more and more new articles and less reposts.

The new site will host articles that are of a more scholarly nature and that will have permanent value. The purpose of the new site is to promote a style of Catholic Traditionalism that is positive, rooted in the Church's history, and evangelical in its appeal while maintaining a level of scholarly professionalism that makes the case for tradition in a way that is intellectual and charitable without any malice. And I want it to be open to others as well. As I have said before, anyone who wants to contribute to the site may do so. It's kind of like a Wikipedia of traditional Catholicism.

There are pages dedicated to theology, history, historical apologetics, a whole slew of articles on obscure saints (another area I'd like another contributor for), liturgy, economics, and a section of apologetics contra Sedevacantism that will soon feature all of the now unavailable writings against the Sedevacantists done by Ryan Grant on the now defunct Athanasius Contra Mundum. Pages dedicated to apologetics contra Protestantism and atheism are in the process of developing.

One of the greatest features of the new site is the availability of free RCIA notes and outlines. I have talked about this before many times, and it is finally a reality - a full-scale RCIA course, based on the Church's teaching and the writings of the Fathers, available on line for free (although I am asking for donations). If you or someone you know could use these free outlines, they are available here. I have a page dedicated to parish resources that will eventually feature materials that can be used for Youth Groups, confirmation classes, etc.

The new site also features an ever expanding list of movie reviews. This is one area I'd especially like to draw some other writers in on. On this site I would do movie reviews occasionally, using a papal tiara system for rating (on the premise that since nobody else was using the papal tiara, I would use it to rate films). I never was able to do to many here, but with the help of a collaborator, the new site already has about 55. If you'd like to write some film reviews occasionally, please let me know! It needs to grow.

There's also a store on the site that is pretty small right now; it just has a couple of books that I've pitched on here before. But I intend to open it up to anybody who has a self-published book they'd like to promote.

I have a lot more plans for the site. Here's what's in the works:
  • A comprehensive series on biblical archaeology.
  • A compendium of faithful, traditional religious orders with write-ups about each one.
  • A tradition-friendly Confirmation curriculum drawing on the writings of the saints.
  • Podcasts, videos and other multimedia content 
  • Sections of the online store set aside for homemade Catholic art, crafts, music, etc.
It is an admittedly grand vision, but not impossible by any means. Had someone gone back to 2007 and told me that this blog would have almost 1,000 articles over five years, I never would have believed it. It has been a great time, and this is the next step.

This blog will remain up. I will continue to post here, keeping longer, more scholarly posts for the new website. I may occasionally cross-post between the blog and here. I'm not sure what the relation between the two will be, but the important thing is that this site will stay up.

Thank you for all who helped get this site up and running especially Blake of Popin Ain't Easy who wrote most of the excellent movie reviews, Amanda of A.R. Danziger Art and Design who did the banner and some of the graphics, Lawrence and Kasey who contributed some excellent articles, and most of all, Noah, of Alleluia Audio Books who spent almost a year on the phone with me every week troubleshooting the site and working on the back end. Bless you all for your help in getting this off the ground! It's so awesome that you all offered so much help and that we have never even met in person. The Internet is awesome.

I do hope you enjoy the new site. Please check it out, refer others to it, and if you are interested in contributing to it, let me know. I would like the new site to be open to any Catholics who can write decently. This site is growing already, but it will grow faster if others jump on board, too! Even if you don't want to write new stuff but have already existing articles or reflections that you'd like to submit, please let me know!

Anyone interested in writing or posting anything on the new website should contact me in the combox with your email address and I will follow up with you.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Epitaphs of the Catacombs

The book is currently available for purchase through my Lulu page here, but in a week when the new site is up it will be offered for sale via PayPal in the store on the new website. The eBook version is also available for $7.00 also through Lulu. Also note that, despite the fact that the video says the book is $14.50, for some reason Lulu has the price set at $13.59 and for some reason I cannot alter it at the moment. Oh well. Call it a sale.

By the way, if you have any self-published material you are interested in promoting through the new website, please let me know. Message me in the combox with your email and I will follow up with you. Nothing Sedevacantist please.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My evening with some Protestants

I walked into the coffee shop at 6:30 sharp, Bible in hand, and greeted my two companions: one, a non-denominational Protestant I have known since middle school, the other a Calvinist student of divinity from a baptist college in Virginia I had never met before. I had been invited to this gathering because, in the words of my non-denominational friend, the Calvinist had "never met an educated Catholic before" and simply wanted to see what talking to one was like - he had heard of this mysterious species known as "educated Catholic" and wanted to see it in person.

I was not sure what to expect, and after some niceties the conversation shortly drifted to the question, put to me by the Calvinist of why, given all the other forms of Christianity out there, would I choose to be Catholic?

There are many ways this could have been answered, but I answered based on the argument that had first led me back to the Church a decade ago: If the Catholic Church was not the true Church, but a corruption of the true Faith that had perverted the teachings of Christ, then it bothered me intensely that God would abandon the Church to perversion and superstition for over 1,200 years between Constantine and Luther, especially after promising to be with it forever and lead it into all Truth. Thus, it was a problem of reconciling actual history with Christ's promises.

After that I was somewhat disappointed with the direction of the discussion - they wanted to talk about the typical Protestant issues. I was expecting something other than the typical Protestant canards. The Immaculate Conception came first, then a discussion on the Deuterocanonicals, then Justification, finally Purgatory (which I did rather well on and got one of them to basically admit was a reality and a necessity). But overall, when debating these things with Protestants the discussion is rather fruitless because all questions hinge on other, broader questions - understanding the Immaculate Conception necessitates a discussion about the concept of grace and how it interacts with nature; Purgatory presupposes a discussion on the concept of sin, its effects and consequences. In most cases, it is hard to have a real meaningful discussion with a Protestant about these "hot button" issues like the Immaculate Conception without backing up and settling broader questions first.

I think they sensed this as we went round and round on various issues. Eventually the kid working the coffee shop came up and told us we had to leave because they were closing. But we weren't ready, so we took our things out into the night and went and sat on the steps of our historic courthouse underneath the harsh white glow of the buzzing lights and continued our discussion. Here we came to the crux of the issue - what was it that really separated Catholics and Protestants?

I stated that the issue was one of authority. If the Church has the authority that it claims, then every other objections to Catholicism melts away. We talked a lot about the question of the Unity of the Church, and I asked them whether 22,000 denominations, all in disagreement on everything, was God's will. The response was interesting. They stated that there was a general agreement on essentials, and that with regards to the things that were disagreed upon, it was possible for there to be a "disunity in unity," to use a quote from the Calvinist.

This Unity point is worth discussing, because like the issue of authority, the whole edifice of Protestantism is bound up with it. First, the concept of agreeing on "essentials" is a fable. I have written about this before; it is not as if Protestants are united on some core fundamentals and disagree only on ephemeral issues; they disagree on everything. Every conceivable doctrine has served as an occasion for division: justification, baptism, communion, marriage and divorce, women in ministry, gay marriage, the nature of the Holy Spirit, the divinity of Christ, the reality of hell, the permissibility of drinking and dancing, speaking in tongues and miracles, ecshatological considerations, what day to worship on, predestination and much more. There is no core essentials that are agreed upon; the only "essential" that Protestants really agree on is that the Catholic Church is not the true Church of Christ.

When a dispute does come up that shakes the Protestant world, they have no real way to counter it, because everybody already is in disagreement about everything and all they can do is point at each other and say, "You are taking the Bible out of YOU are taking the Bible out of context."

Second, this quote about "disunity in unity" was very interesting. Certainly nobody will agree on everything, and even within the Catholic Church there is room for discussion on many issues. Many Catholics disagree on accidental or prudential matters and still remain in the unity of the Church, because as long as we can all agree on the dogmas of the faith and remain in communion with Rome, then it can be said that we have unity.

But it must be recalled - and I recalled it to these Protestants - that the Unity that the Church is supposed to have is not just some sort of incidental human unity, but a metaphysical, spiritual unity that is nothing other than a participation of the Unity the Father shares with the Son. Let us recall the sacred words our Our Lord:

"And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me. That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them: that, they may be one, as we also are one. I in them, and thou in me: that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me. Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me: that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world" (John 17:19-24).

This is a Unity that is much more substantial than a vague "disunity in unity." The oneness that Christ prays for His Church is nothing other than the oneness of the Trinity itself. It is the oneness of the Father with the Son in the Spirit, a oneness that the world cannot give and that cannot be found in any sort of vague consensus on non-existing "essentials." Our Lord also says that this oneness is the ground upon which the world will believe in Him. The Calvinist, when I brought this up, said, "Yes, but your argument against there being 22,000 denominations is the same argument atheists bring up to deny the truth of Christianity." I said that the atheist had a great point. It is in fact a scandal that, when our Lord prayed that the Church should be one, that there are over 22,000 denominations. And it proves Jesus' point - the credibility of the message is bound up with the oneness of the Church. Atheism only cropped up in the west after the Protestant revolt.

The night wore on and we grew tired. I think I left for home at 10:30 after four hours of discussion. All in all I represented the Church pretty some points I felt like I absolutely schooled them. They asked me once if God could create Mary Immaculate why He didn't just do that for everybody - I said why doesn't He appear in person and convert everybody like He did to Paul on the road to Damascus, or take everybody alive into heaven like He did to Elijah, or heal all the blind like our Lord did to the man outside Jericho, to which they had no answer. There were many other times when they had no answer as well. I think the climax of the evening, for me, was when my non-denominational friend was saying that he valued the testimony of the Fathers because he wanted to find that essential, primitive core of Early Church belief. Being a disciple of Newman, I was able to respond, "They are ever hunting for a fabulous primitive simplicity; we repose in Catholic fullness."

We hugged and parted ways. The dialogue was cordial, charitable an never got heated, but it was a true argument in the Scholastic manner, two sides disputing. It was very fruitful - and I might add, fruitful because we actually had a real argument and did not just focus on what we share in common. It was dialogue the way dialogue was meant to be: a search for the truth that does not seek to minimize difference but to draw them out and throw them into relief.

Special thanks to my bro St. Robert Bellarmine, whom I prayed to yesterday on his feast day before engaging in the discussion.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Authority of Regional Synods and Councils

Provincial councils and regional synods are things that, like imprimaturs and nihil obstats, tend to get mistaken and quoted for the "official teaching of the Church" when in fact they are of much less authority than one would suppose. This is especially true for new Catholics, who can have a heck of a time sorting out the various degrees of authority within the Church and understanding from whence different statements come and when a statement is official and authoritative.

Historically, regional councils and synods have been summoned for the purpose of enforcing discipline and, as such, do not have definitions regarding the Faith as their primary aim. Nevertheless, in the interest of enforcing the teachings of ecumenical councils, dealing with heresy within a region, or answering disciplinary questions, regional councils inevitably have ended up issuing statements on matters of faith throughout the centuries. Where do these regional canons fit in in the larger picture of Church teaching?

Because these regional decrees are not infallible and are subject to error, I do not think we can establish Church dogma based solely on them; in many cases, regional councils have actually taught against what later goes on to become the de fide teaching of the Universal Church, as we shall see below. Yet, they do have value from a historical standpoint of helping establish how the universal teaching was understood in any particular region at a given time. Also, though I would not try to establish a doctrine based on a regional council, the teaching of a regional council may serve to better clarify or bolster a doctrine that is already understood to be part of the depositum fidei - for example, the Councils of Toledo in Visigothic Spain attempted to clarify and expand upon the doctrine of the Trinity, which was important because the region had only recently converted from Arianism.

Yet, these councils are certainly not always free from error. At their very worst, regional councils may be a means of a local episcopate protesting an act of the pope or the teaching of the Magisterium. The Seventh Council of Carthage, convened under the presidency of no one less than St. Cyprian, taught the necessity of rebaptism for persons baptized outside the Church and also insinuated that priests and bishops who committed grave and manifest sins (apostasy, in this context) lost their office - concepts that would later be central to Donatism. Both of these positions were vehemently argued against by Pope St. Stephen I, who elucidated the true Catholic teaching that any baptism done with the correct form, matter and intention is valid, and that one who receives Holy Orders receives an indelible mark that cannot be effaced by any sin. In this case, the Council of Carthage was used as an organ of dissent from the Holy See. By the 4th century, its teachings would be understood as heresy.

Regional councils may also be expressions of local sentiment and piety and as such may reflect regional beliefs, even if they are at odds with the teaching of the universal Church. There were several regional synods and councils in Ireland in the early Middle Ages aimed at preserving Celtic practice against Latin influence; eventually, it was another regional synod, the Synod of Whitby in 663, that firmly secured England in the Latin disciplines.

Another great example of this idea of the regional synod as an expression of local belief and custom is the Council of Frankfurt, convened under Charlemagne in 794. This Council, in direct opposition to the Second Council of Nicaea (787), taught that images ought not to be venerated., reflecting a Frankish mistrust of icons and images. These canons that repudiated Second Nicaea were later abandoned. In 1164, the English regional Council of Clarendon actually legislated against the authority of the pope and bishops in placing clergy under secular courts due to the fact that many of the English bishops were puppets of Henry; St. Thomas Becket would go into exile in protest of this Council and the Holy See negotiated with Henry II for the next four years to get the so-called "Constitutions of Clarendon" revoked or amended.

The famous Council of Pistoia (1786) tried to introduce the concepts of Gallicanism into Italy along with some Jansenist sentiments and was subsequently condemned by Pius VI in the bull Auctorem Fidei. The local sentiments of the clergy of Pistoia, many of whom favored Jansenism, were expressed through the Council; it was up to the Holy See to bring them back into line with universal practice and belief.

It sometimes happens that rather than contradicting or opposing the teaching of the Universal Church, a provincial Council will actually get ahead of the Church in defining something with much more precision and specificity than the Universal Church. Sometimes these definitions of regional councils will later be adopted by the Popes in creeds or larger doctrinal statements (such as the many Councils of Toledo, which dealt with Trinitarian controversies and are cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church); other times the popes will not go as far as the regional council or will pull back and take a more moderate stance than that of a regional council. A good example of the latter is the Council of Colonge.

The Council of Cologne, summoned in 1860 specifically taught an immediate, direct creation of Adam and Eve by God and condemned any possibility of material evolution, ruling out any other sort of creation other than spontaneous, direct and immediate creation. The Council stated: "Our first parents were formed immediately by God. Therefore we declare that...those from spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith." This goes way beyond what Pope Pius XII taught in Humani Generis, where the very possibility of material evolution of the body was permitted as a possibility. We may disagree with the prudence of this allowance, but we cannot disagree with the fact that Pius does make the allowance. It is a perfect example of a regional Council going further into more specifics than the Universal Church. In this case, Cologne clearly went beyond what the subsequent Magisterium was comfortable defining.

In conclusion, these synods and councils are helpful for demonstrating how the Faith was understood and applied at any given time throughout history in a specific place, but they are not in and of themselves authoritative with any divine authority. They do have a kind of historical authority to establish what was taught and believed, but as we have seen above, they do sometimes stray from the teaching of the Universal Church at times.

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

Traditionalists and the SSPX

In the context of the posts I have been doing lately on the SSPX and the nature of schism, an interesting question was raised: to what degree must a Traditionalist deny the SSPX is in schism in order to be a "sincere" Traditionalist? The question was posed in light of my article that affirmed (albeit tentatively) that the Society of St. Pius X is in a state of formal schism. A reader who disagreed somewhat with my assessment made the comment that one could not be a "sincere" Traditionalist and at the same time believe that the SSPX is in schism. This is the question I want to deal with here - is this assertion in fact true? To what degree is one's identity as a Traditionalist bound up with taking a specific position on the SSPX question?

Let us recall, in the first place, that the status of the SSPX is ultimately a canonical question. It depends upon whether or not, in the events leading up to the 1988 excommunciations and afterward, the SSPX did or did not meet the canonical requirements that place one in schism. It is a question that is legal and juridical in nature. 

Now if we examine what it means to be a "Traditionalist", we see that being a Traditionalist is an issue that is primarily devotional and affective. Whether we define it narrowly as those who are "attached to the Latin liturgical tradition" as John Paul II did in Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, or more broadly as those who enthusiastically receive the entirety of Catholic tradition, cultural, liturgical, historical and theological, the fact remains that to be "Traditionalist" is ultimately a preference or affection for a certain manner of being Catholic that we hold as being superior to all other ways because it is most consistent with our history and the practice of the saints.

Once we note the difference between the two issues, one juridical and one devotional, we can easily see that they do not have a direct correlation. Our devotion, affection or passion for a particular manner of practicing our Faith does not have any direct bearing on the legal question of any group's canonical status. We easily understand this distinction in other areas of life: the fact that a referee might be devoted to one team does not mean that he is bound to take that team's side in a dispute about the rules of the game; a college professor may disagree with the position we take on a research paper, but we expect them to grade it based on objective criteria (whether or not we have followed the guidelines), not on his personal dictates.

A more famous example from our own history: in 1770, several British soldiers were on trial in Boston for their part in the Boston Massacre. Many colonists, fed up with British bullying, were clamoring for the death penalty. Yet John Adams, defense attorney for the accused, got the men acquitted by making a clear distinction between the colonists' hatred of the British and the legal question of whether the soldiers were guilty of murder. He famously stated, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence" ('Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,' December 1770).

As in the case of the British soldiers, here again I would say that "facts are stubborn things." However we feel about the SSPX, the position we take on their canonical status cannot and should not be influenced by our own passions on matters liturgical, theological, or whatever. When looking at whether or not the SSPX is in schism, I do not concern myself with how bad the Church was when they went into schism, nor whether or not they were right to seek to preserve the 1962 Missal, nor the particular virtues of Lefebvre or the vices of Bugnini, nor any of these sorts of considerations - I only consider whether the act of consecrating four bishops illicitly was a schismatic act, from a legal standpoint, in isolation from these other questions. Some have criticized me for taking this narrowly "formal" approach, but I think it is the only reasonable approach if we are trying to get some sort of legal-canonical precision.

Therefore, I do not think it is fair for one to say that you must believe the SSPX is not in schism to be considered a sincere Traditionalist. Imagine being told, "If you do not accept the validity of the Medjugorje apparitions, you cannot consider yourself devoted to Our Lady." The statement would be preposterous! However we feel about Medjugorje, we understand that whatever the status of that apparition is, it is distinct from Marian devotion itself, which is a much larger genus.

Or, to use another example, recall Fr. Corapi before his fall from grace was one of the most well-respected and forceful voices of orthodoxy in the American Church. Yet (and I have seen this happening already), how silly would it be to say, "No one who really cares about bringing the American Church back to orthodoxy could possibly believe Father Corapi is guilty." Regardless of how devoted we are to doctrinal orthodoxy, we know that our personal commitment is logically distinct from the question of whether Fr. Corapi was banging some hooker and doing a lot of blow. The two issues are logically different and how devoted we are to one ought not have any relevance to our position on the other.

This question is actually ground zero of where Traditionalism stands today - and I emphasize today, because though things may have been different before 1984 (Quattuor abhinc annos), or 1988, today the SSPX cannot in any way claim to be the sole custodians of the 1962 Missal. There are numerous societies and fraternities in existence who use the 1962 Missal and are in good standing with Rome; the FSSP are the most well-known, but we could also site the Christi Pauperum Militum Ordo (Order of the Poor Knights of Christ), the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, and other such groups. Beside these, since Summorum Pontificum, use of the Traditional Latin Mass has been exploding all over the western world. Only a few weeks ago I chronicled its extensive spread in southeast Michigan in parishes that have absolutely no affiliation with the SSPX. Many more parishes are beginning to offer the Extraordinary Form.

In short, the faithful no longer have to turn to the SSPX for the Extraordinary Form. The SSPX do not have a monopoly on it, and frankly, I think this truth makes them uneasy because it pushes them a little bit further into irrelevance. All over the Church the Traditional Latin Mass is being rediscovered, there is an explosion of vocations from traditional parishes, a vibrant interest in Thomism among the young, and in many places none of it has anything to do with the SSPX. The Church is being renewed (albeit slowly) and the SSPX is getting left behind.

Just as Marian devotion is a much broader genus than devotion to Medjugorje, so Traditionalism is much, much broader than the SSPX, or even than the Extraordinary Form. The EF Mass may have been the flash-point for Traditionalism to take hold, and the SSPX may have been the first standard-bearers, but this is no longer the case.

The Traditionalist movement need not be bound up with the fate of the SSPX; indeed, it ought not be. The goal of Traditionalists at this point in time should be to nurture a Traditionalism that is a truly positive force for renewal within the Church in a manner that has nothing to do with the Society in its current state. In fact, this has ever been one of my overarching aims in writing this blog - to let the world know that there are Catholics out there who love our Tradition and are not SSPX or Sedevacantists. Too long have we let these groups, these little parts, speak for the whole. I pray for a speedy reconciliation for the SSPX, but my identity as a Traditionalist Catholic is not bound up with their Society or their fate.

Which brings us to the final question - what is it to be a Traditionalist? This is a question that many are still working out the answer to. Beyond noting that it is important to make the distinction between Traditional and non-Traditional Catholicism (see here), what does it mean to be a Traditionalist? I can only answer this question based on my own convictions.

Traditionalism to me means that the liturgical riches of the old rite are positive goods, capable of most perfectly sanctifying souls and creating saints, and should not only be preserved but promoted actively as a means of renewing the life of the Church.

Traditionalism to me means that the lives, writings and deeds of the saints and fathers of old are more inspiring and helpful in the spiritual life than anything that has been churned out since 1962.

Traditionalism to me means acknowledging that a disturbing spirit of compromise and ambiguity has pervaded the Magisterium since the Second Vatican Council, which has had the effect of watering down the Church's teaching, confusing the faithful, and at least giving the impression that the Church's position on many important issues has changed since the Council.

Traditionalism to me means also acknowledging that, in some part, the popes and Magisterium themselves have contributed to this confusion by means of ambiguous statements, failing to offer decisive leadership when it was needed, and further confusing the faithful by actions and gestures that send a signal different from that taught officially.

Traditionalism to me means acknowledging that traditional expressions of Catholic spirituality are the most suited to producing balanced, well-formed individuals on the path to sanctity.

Finally, Traditionalism to me means positively affirming and valuing all parts of our history and tradition, not sweeping some under the rug, apologizing for others, and trying to pretend like the Church of the old days was fundamentally different from the Church as it should be today. Not to say that everything in Church history is praiseworthy, but over all, Traditionalism means agreeing that the way it was done then is better than the way it is being done now.

Note that none of this has anything to do with whether or not a certain Society is or is not in the canonical state of schism.

Friday, September 07, 2012

The Shortcomings of Catholic Eschatology

Do you, like me, find modern Catholic approaches to eschatology very unsatisfactory? I have been reading eschatology for many years and I am just sick of so many crappy Catholic eschatology books out there. I am sure there are some decent ones, but if so, I have not came across them. Anyhow, please enjoy this 11 minute video on the subject I made. I really felt like doing video this week.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

LCWR and the Reapers

The following article is by Hilary White and is taken from LifeSite news:

"If they are not prepared to assert a more distinctly Catholic identity, the Vatican is prepared to oust the largest umbrella group of American nuns and sisters as the official representative and liaison with Rome, one of the Pope’s closest advisers said in a rare interview.

If the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) refuses absolutely to cooperate with the Vatican’s attempt at reform, said William Levada, the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, they will force Rome to reconsider their position in the Church.

“If you look at the Church as a hierarchical structure—whether you see that as benign, or something else—ultimately, the Pope is the superior,” Levada said. “I suppose if the sisters said, ‘OK, we’re not cooperating with this,’ we can’t force them to cooperate. What we can do, and what we’d have to do, is say to them, ‘We will substitute a functioning group for yours,’ if it comes to that.”

Levada told US journalist John Allen that it is “premature” to imagine that the current LCWR leadership is to address the “substantive issues” brought up by a doctrinal assessment issued in April. Allen stressed the point, asking, “So if the response is not satisfactory, the result could be decertification of LCWR?” “It could be,” Levada responded.

LCWR is the organization, founded in the 1950s, that officially represents about 80 percent of the 57,000 religious sisters in the U.S. Their membership is not growing, however, and the average age of most of the sisters in the US is about 74 with many of the LCWR represented groups amalgamating or shutting down altogether.

Levada, an American prelate with decades of experience in US Catholic politics, knew that in addressing the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), the leading journalistic organ of the American Catholic left, he was directly addressing LCWR and their lay supporters.

Despite their claim to be “stunned” by it, the CDF’s doctrinal assessment, he said, was not sprung on them unawares. The CDF’s process started four years ago and LCWR’s leadership has been in close contact with Rome throughout."

This is good news, my friends. We can decry a lot of what is going on in the Church and world, but I am happy that Benedict has turned his eye towards the state of the women religious in this country. It is a very ancient strategy, dating back to Gregory the Great and Augustine of Canterbury and even earlier to the Irish monk-saints: get the religious life of a nation in order first and then the Church and people will fall into line afterward. Properly ordered religious communities have done more throughout history for the spread of the Gospel than anything else. This is a wise strategy on the pope's part - and, if I may say, this is the sort of thing that desperately needed to happen under John Paul II, who basically let this stuff go on and fester for decades. It is a good sign that the pope is pursuing this action.

This also followed up with the message Benedict delivered to the Church this week when he used the story of Judas to illustrate the point that it is better for Catholics who do not really believe the Church's teaching to just be "honest" and leave the Church altogether. Levada is not insinuating that he hopes the nuns of LCWR will leave the Church, of course, but he does state that if the LCWR will not do the job, they will substitute them with a group that will. That's awesome.

There is a great sorting out going on here. It is getting tougher and tougher to be a wishy-washy Catholic. The faithful are being sifted from the unfaithful. Liberal Catholicism is wilting with the passing of the baby boomers and turning into something that cannot even remotely be considered Christian. It reminds me of the parable of the sower, and the angels who come to reap the harvest, gathering the wicked and the elect. Here, through this process of sorting, the LCWR and their kid are being reaped out of the kingdom.

And it is bigger than just what is going on with LCWR or even liberal Catholicism in general. I'd venture to say it is a movement of the Spirit that is eschatological in nature, although we are witnessing only the first stirrings.

"So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, "Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?"

He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, "Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?"

But he said, "Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn."

...The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.

As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt. 13:27-30, 38-43).