Sunday, August 12, 2018

Query: A Catholic's Voting Obligation in Light of New CCC Changes?

On this blog's Facebook page, I recently linked to an article on The Josias by Dr. John Joy, STD, addressing the magisterial weight of Pope Francis' amendment to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty. It is an excellent piece you should all read.

As a follow up question to Dr. Joy's article, someone on Facebook posed this question:

"Does it follow [from Dr. Joy's conclusion] that Catholic politicians and voters are morally obligated to support efforts to abolish the death penalty in developed nations? I primarily have the United States in mind. If a voter fails to support efforts to suppress the death penalty would that be a grave sin? If a Catholic fails to believe that using the death penalty is sinful in the modern context would that be a grave sin? I am trying to understand how strong is the obligation to give religious submission of will to the Holy Father's teaching."

I reached out to Dr. Joy with the question and got the following response:

"It's not clear to me at this point how this text [of the Catechism] should be understood, so it is hard to know exactly how Catholics should respond. But here are the three most likely possibilities as far as I can see: 

(1) If the text is meant to be understood as a doctrinal assertion of the intrinsic immorality of the death penalty, then it must be rejected as formally heretical. 

(2) If it is meant to be understood as a doctrinal assertion of the intrinsic immorality of the death penalty when not absolutely necessary for public safety, then it must be rejected as erroneous and at least proximate to heresy if not formally heretical. 

(3) If it is meant to be understood as a prudential judgment about the applicability of the death penalty in the present circumstances, then I would assume that the words of Cardinal Ratzinger would still apply:

"If a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion [i.e. it would not be a grave sin]. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia" ("Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles", July, 2004).

So as far as I can see, regardless of how the text of the Catechism is interpreted, Catholics are not morally obliged to work for the legal abolition of the death penalty, nor are they morally obliged to think that the use of the death penalty in the present circumstances is necessarily sinful. 

Therefore, it is doubtful at best whether this new text imposes any obligations on the faithful, and a doubtful obligation is no obligation at all. If there is an obligation imposed by this text, I think it is probably this: that Catholics ought "to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty" (CDF, Letter to the Bishops, August 2, 2018); understood in this sense, that we ought to do what we can to create a society where the death penalty does not need to be used in practice because capital crimes are not committed. That's a goal that any Catholic should be able to get on board with."

                                                                         *  *  *  *  *

Dr. John Joy is the Co-Founder and President of the St. Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies. He earned his master's and licentiate in sacred theology at the International Theological Institute in Austria and recently defended his doctoral dissertation at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. His primary academic interests are in the theology and philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, dogmatic theology, and especially questions of infallibility and the magisterium of the Church. He is the author of On the Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium from Joseph Kleutgen to the Second Vatican Council, as well as earlier works Poena Satisfactoria and Cathedra Veritatis: On the Extension of Papal Infallibility. He writes for various online Catholic publications, including One Peter Five and The Josias.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Meta-Problem: From Magisterium to Policy Objectives

This past week Pope Francis announced that he was officially changing the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect his assertion that the death penalty is always immoral under all circumstances and thus never permissible. Of all the things going on in the Church and world that require action, to devote his energy to this topic, well, it was so incredibly brave and bold (*sarcasm*).

Much has been written on the subject in the past week, such that I do not feel I need to add anything. However, for some background on the context of the modern about-face on the death penalty in the Catholic Magisterium, I would like to recommend my articles "Death Penalty & Retributive Justice" (USC, Nov. 2015) and "A Reminder About Capital Punishment" (USC, Mar. 2015). Also worth reading are two essays by J. Budziszewski and Matthew J. Belisario respectively, "Capital Punishment: The Case for Justice" (First Things, 2004) and "The Corrupt Theology of the Seamless Garment" (Coalition for Thomism, 2010). Finally, the book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed by Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette, which gives the most thorough Catholic defense of capital punishment.

For a more contemporary reaction to the changes in the Catechism and its implications, 1 Peter 5 has two decent articles, here and here. For a more scholarly reaction from a trustworthy contemporary theologian, see John Joy's article "The Magisterial Weight of the New Text of the Catechism on the Death Penalty" (The Josias, Aug, 2018).

So, while I am not going to offer any defense of the traditional Catholic position here, I do want to comment on what I would call the meta-issue that overshadows Francis' amendment to the CCC: that is the concept of the papal Magisterium as a creative outlet for a current pontiff's pet theories.

Traditionally, the Church's teaching is encapsulated in something called the deposit of faith. The deposit of faith is the body of revealed truth in the Scriptures and tradition proposed by the Roman Catholic Church for the belief of the faithful. This "deposit" is protected and promulgated in three ways: Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Church's Magisterium. Scripture and Tradition are the written and unwritten revelations of God, while the Church's Magisterium forms a kind of living, interpretive arbiter of Divine Revelation. 

The job of the Magisterium is to look at a given subject of faith or morals and tell the Christian faithful what the Church's constant teaching has been. It is a living voice of Tradition in every subsequent generation. We are probably all familiar with the concept of the stool with three legs which represents how these three elements, Tradition, Scripture, and Magisterium interact.

The role of the Magisterium is to tell the faithful of each generation what the unchanging truths of the Catholic Faith are. If there is confusion about a teaching, the Magisterium is supposed to diligently seek the solution in the sources of faith and propound it faithfully.

Contemporary Catholicism, however, seems to have adopted a new view of the Magisterium. Rather than authoritatively explaining the Church's perennial tradition, the contemporary Magisterium has become the mechanism whereby a current pope's priorities are transmuted into policy.  A pontificate thus becomes more akin to an American presidential administration, where each successive president has certain policy objectives that are implemented through the machinery of the federal government. Instead of asking, "What does the Church teach?", the question is increasingly becoming, "What is the policy of the current pontificate?"

Obviously every pope has had and always will have things that are of special importance to him; but what I think alarming is seeing the way the contemporary popes—beginning with Paul VI but really culminating in Francis—essentially endeavor to recreate the Magisterium with each successive pontificate to reflect their own personal pet-projects.

For example, look at the subject of Catholic social teaching since Vatican II. Paul VI gave us Populorum Progessio, the first post-conciliar Catholic social teaching encyclical. St. John Paul II gave us three, Laborem Exercens (1981), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), and Centesimus Annus (1991). Then Benedict XVI wrote Caritas in Veritate (2009). Not even a decade has passed and the Franciscan pontificate has promulgated Evangelii Gaudium (2013) and Laudato Si (2015). One gets the idea that each new pope is expected to issue his own social teaching encyclical—not because the needs of the Church require such an encyclical, but because it is expected that a new pope will want to put his own "stamp" on the Church's body of social doctrine. It seems as if the way modern encyclicals are used is that they become occasions for each pope to re-evaluate a subject in light of his own particular interests. When a new social encyclical is issued, pundits' mouths water as they wonder "What is this pope's take on Catholic social teaching?", as if it is each pope's job to "shape" what comes down to them by offering a new "take" each pontificate. (Related: "The Curiosity of the Modern Papal Encyclical", USC, June, 2015).

Yes, the Magisterium is treated the way a president would treat the federal government: as an outlet for his "policy objectives." We even have gotten to the point where Pope Francis' new amendment to the Catechism cites as its source a letter of the very same Pope Francis. How humble! And the letter is supposed to have been elevated to Magisterial authority by its inclusion in the Catechism. This seems kind of backwards, as originally the CCC was promulgated as a compilation of teachings already considered authoritative. A teaching was considered authoritative, and therefore included in the CCC; now a teaching is included in CCC and therefore considered authoritative. It all feels so lop-sided.

One final consideration: Those in the Church calling for the global abolition of the death penalty usually do so in the context of citing a ever-growing groundswell of public opposition to the death penalty in civil society at large. To put it bluntly, the Church is trying to take the position of being "on the right side of history" by suggesting there is a popular outcry against capital punishment.

For example, St. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae (1995), wrote "there is evidence of a growing public opposition to the death penalty (EV, 27). He goes on to say "there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely" (55). Benedict XVI, also, in a letter of November, 2015, cited his opposition as being in keeping with "political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty." And of course, Pope Francis' amended Catechism paragraph, which reads "Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes" (CCC, 2267).

See? Opposition to the death penalty is "growing." It's a groundswell. it? I get there are always people out there who are opposed to the death penalty, for every cause has its adherents and its opponents. But is there really this growing mass movement for the abolition of the death penalty? The death penalty is regularly used in Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa; I am not aware of any mass protests against its general applications in these countries. Many people in the Middle East strongly support death for certain crimes, I suspect; same with Africa. Belarus uses the death penalty; other than that, it is non-existent in Europe. There's no mass protests against it in Europe, since it's not utilized there. The only western country that regularly uses the death penalty is the United States, and there is certainly no mass movement against it here. One wonders, where exactly is this "growing public opposition" cited by the popes?

I am not suggesting there aren't many moderns who dislike the idea of the death penalty, but I simply don't see it as a strongly polarizing issue that is drawing a groundswell of popular opposition. I think when the popes cite growing opposition, they are mainly citing the opposition of some determined members of the hierarchy who latch on to this issue precisely because it is so safe and non-controversial.

I submit there is no strong growing opposition; there is a collective shrug and a "meh" from an ambivalent public. The pope is taking a subject that at most elicits moderate levels of disagreement from people and trying to elevate it to become This Year's Controversial Social Justice Issue.

Mutans tenebras ad lucem

Monday, July 30, 2018

Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead

This week I have a question from a reader on a passage from the Gospels:

I have always been puzzled by the passage in the Gospel where the man wants to follow Jesus but asks permission to go and bury his father first. Jesus tells him, "Let the dead bury the dead; you follow me." Why would Jesus object to the man burying his father, since honoring one's parents is part of the Ten Commandments and burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy?

Of course, our Lord would not be counseling a course of action that violated one of the Ten Commandments or made light of the corporal works of mercy. Therefore, that interpretation of the passage must be based on a misunderstanding. What is our Lord really getting at?

First let's examine the passage. The reference is to an episode related in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The passage from Matthew reads:

Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead" (Matt. 8:21-22)

In the version from Luke is very similar:

He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-60).

I have read a lot on this passage over the years, and it would be too exhaustive to delve into the lengthy amount of patristic and other commentary that has been written on it. However, I can say that there are three main theories concerning the meaning of this passage, most differences having to do with what the phrase "first let me go and bury my father" means. I will present each theory and then offer my opinion of them.

First theory: the man literally has a dead father sitting at home in need of burial. Jesus objects not because it is bad thing to bury the dead, but because He senses insincerity in the motives of the man; Jesus asks him to follow Him. The man does not want to repent and follow Christ and offers this as an excuse. Jesus, knowing the man's hearts and thoughts, urges him to leave behind his concern for worldly matters and devote his life to God. This interpretation is favored by many of the Church Fathers. 

Second, the phrase "let me go and bury my father" does not literally mean, "My dad's corpse is sitting at home waiting to be buried," but is rather an Aramaic figure of speech which means "My father is old and will die soon. Once my father is dead, I will be freed of my earthly obligations and then I will follow you." So in this interpretation, the father is not really dead, just old. The phrase "bury my father" is a euphemism, similar to the phrase "I will go lie with my fathers", which means "I'm gonna die." The man essentially tells Jesus, "I am taking care of my elderly father but he will be dead in the near future and I will follow you then." Jesus admonishes him that the Gospel is not something that takes a back seat until the most opportune time. Today is the day of salvation, as St. Paul says (2 Cor. 6:2). Incidentally, this was the interpretation favored by famous 20th century Syriac scholar George Lamsa.

Third possibility: the issue revolves around the Jewish practice of "second burial" common in Palestine in Jesus' time. In Jesus' time, after a Jewish person had died, he would be immediately interred in the family burial cave or plot. The immediate period of mourning was seven days (shi'va), followed by a less intense mourning period of 30 days, called shloshim. However, the mourning period was not totally concluded until all the flesh had rotted off the body. This process usually took a year. At that time, the bones would be gathered and re-internment, or "second burial" (likkut aẓamot) would take place. The bones would be gathered together, placed in an ossuary (small chest-like container) and re-interred.

If the phrase "let me first go and bury my father" refers to this custom, then the man is asking Jesus for time to wait for the year-long likkut azamot mourning period to end so he can re-inter his father. Jesus essentially tells him, "You have already buried your father in the family tomb and honored him. There are others who can see to technicality of the re-internment."

I think each of these theories has merits and problems. The first theory is favored by the Fathers and admirably explains Jesus' objection, but leaves us with the unsatisfying implication that Jesus does straight up just tell the guy to not bury his dead father. I would only take like, what, a few hours? Jesus can't give the guy a few hours to bury his dad? 

Also, in this interpretation, when Jesus says "Let the dead bury their own dead", He is distinguishing between two kinds of dead, essentially saying "Let the (spiritually) dead bury the (physically) dead." But this seems to not make sense in light of the text: "Let the dead bury their own dead." The clause "their own" means that the first and second dead are of the same group; if I were to say, "Let the Canadians bury their own dead", it means the Canadians are burying other Canadians. The grammar of the sentence really does not leave much room to imply there are two kinds of dead. I have never really been satisfied with this explanation, and though it is favored by the Fathers I have read about, it's not universal.

The second explanation, favored by Syrian scholar George Lamsa, is interesting. It makes sense once we see it in light of other similar euphemisms (such as "to lay with one's fathers"). It also makes Jesus' response a lot more understandable; He is not telling the man not to bury his dead father, but essentially to not let family obligations deter him from following Christ. Let others see to the care of your father. You want to wait until your father dies; how long could that be? Nobody knows. If you postpone following God until your earthly circumstances are all aligned, you will never make a start of it.

Against this theory is the fact that, if the father is not literally dead, it becomes incomprehensible what Jesus means when he says "let the dead bury their own dead" since nobody is actually dead. Also, while this theory is plausible linguistically, there are no other biblical examples of "to bury the dead" or "bury one's father" being used exactly in this manner, even if we can find parallel examples from Syriac, Aramaic, and other cultures. Finally, George Lamsa, though very famous, is not a reputable scholar from a Catholic perspective. Setting aside the fact that he is a Nestorian and favors Modernist interpretations of certain biblical passages, other Syriac scholars fault his translation work for fundamentally confusing Syriac and Aramaic. I personally favored this view for a long time, but I'm definitely not sure about it anymore.

The third view has the benefit of taking into account Jewish burial customs has practiced in Jesus' own day. It makes sense of Jesus' objection; I noted above Jesus' objection doesn't make a lot of sense if the man is only asking for a few hours. But if the passage is referring to second burial, he could be asking for as much as 12 months leave, in which case it makes a lot more sense why Christ would object. The father is already buried in the family tomb with the remains of all the other family members; when Jesus says, "Let the dead bury their own dead," he's essentially making a joke, saying, "Your dad's bones aren't going anywhere. They are safe in the family tomb with all your other ancestors. I'm sure they'll keep him company"; in other words, "Let the dead (your other ancestors in the family tomb) take care of your father's bones until someone else in the family shows up to bury them." I think I currently favor this view, but I've only adopted it recently and need to think on it some more.

Regardless of which view you adopt, the moral is the same: If you have resolved to follow Jesus, then follow Jesus. Follow Him with pure motives. Follow Him today, while you still have fire in your eyes and air in your lungs. Don't say, "I'm too busy to attend to my salvation; I'll figure it out after my circumstances change." Don't pledge to follow Him with your lips while making up excuses. Follow Him, follow Him now, and follow Him sincerely. Your worldly affairs will get worked out. "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34).

If you enjoyed this article, I have a book called The Book of Non-Contradiction which deals with difficult biblical passages. It's an excellent work for people wanting to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture while understanding some of it seeming incongruities.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

"Clerical Abuse? Yes, but the Church is also Huuuuman"

Many Catholics have noticed the grimly providential appropriateness of the Old Testament readings in last week's Novus Ordo relevant to the current wave of abuse scandals plaguing the Church:

"Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD. Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD" (Jer. 23:1-4)

The problem is a problem with the shepherds, pure and simple.

And yet, I have noticed that some good-intentioned priests and apologists are trying to put a positive spin on this by appealing to the Catholic Church's human side. I've heard this in a few talks and homilies and the specifics may vary, but it goes something like this: 

"Yes this scandal is bad. Very bad. But hey, we can't get too disheartened. After all, the Catholic Church is a Church of sinners. We are not Puritans who idealize a church of the sinless. We're not Pharisees who demand perfection. The Church is divine, yes, but its also huuuuuuman. Just like Christ...He was divine and human. Our leaders are flawed, broken men. We are all broken people. We are all sinners. We are all flawed. Think of the saints! For all their holiness, the saints also had faults and weaknesses. Yes, the Church is flawed—but if it is, it's only because it's human. It's incarnational. Just like Christ."

Isn't that great? Doesn't that make you feel good? That's the sort of tripe I probably would have been writing twelve years ago. The sort of self-affirming nonsense that morally equivocates the sin of molesting a boy with eating too much chocolate, gossiping at the office, and the common variety of venial sins every Catholic struggles with.

Let's clear a few things up...

The Catholic Church is a church of sinners, meaning we understand that the vast majority of Catholics are not perfect and struggle with certain sins more or less. HOWEVER...that doesn't mean we expect our leaders to be no better than everyone else. We all understood that the Catholic tent regrettably includes the likes of Johnson the Embezzler and Gary the Whoremonger; that certainly doesn't imply we want our leaders to be of the same caliber. 

We are not Puritans who idealize a church of the sinless, but GOOD LORD, we have to make an effort! I know I can't run a marathon but that doesn't mean I give up the very ideal of exercise altogether. Do I have an idealized vision of a sinless Church? No. That would be very unrealistic and unCatholic. Do I have an expectation that the shepherds of said Church ought to refrain from touching boys' genitalia?'re damned right I do, and such an expectation is both reasonable and very much in keeping with Catholic morality.

We are not Pharisees who demand perfection. OKAY BUT...stop equating "perfection" with "not molesting boys." It's not a dichotomy between either perfection or fondling genitalia. That's literally insane. Imagine a prosecutor listing off all the horrific crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer in horrific detail—kidnapping, torture, murder, cannibalism—to which Dahmer's attorney glumly shrugs and says, "Nobody's perfect." Because that's literally what's happening when clerical abuse scandals cause us to say, "well, we aren't Pharisees who demand a perfect Church."

The Church is divine, but it is also human. Absolutely. WHICH IS WHY we need our pastors to help us aspire to live up to the divine calling and not debase ourselves by indulging in our merely human passions. I want a pastor who helps me realize the divine potential God has placed within me and begins by striving to fulfill that potential himself—not wallows in the basest mire of human depravity.

I understand our leaders are flawed, broken men. I understand that we are all flawed, HOWEVER usually when we say "everybody is flawed...everybody is broken" we mean everybody has imperfections they struggle to overcome, or everybody has crosses to bear. We categorically DO NOT mean everybody secretly molests young boys, let alone forms institutional networks to cover up such molestation. That's...never what I have meant when I say "everybody is flawed." That's not a "flaw"; that's horrific perversion to a diabolical degree.

And by the way, yes the saints had faults. I knowwwwwwww, but seriously, what are we referring to when we talk about the "faults" of the saints? Usually things like "St. Jerome was impatient!" or "St. Therese said she struggled with vanity!" or, such things as "St. Francis was prideful before his conversion" or "St. Augustine used to be a libertine." Sure the saints had faults. Faults they STRUGGLED to overcome. They had faults. But their faults were not mortal and they did not persevere in them, otherwise they would not have been saints. Nor did they nourish secret sins. They certainly did not conspire together to form clandestine networks for the mutual protection of grotesque, secret sins. So please stop answering the indignation about clerical scandals with the bungling excuse that "even saints had faults." 

The Church is incarnational, just like Christ. HOWEVER...the union of the Divine Word with human flesh in the Incarnation was meant to glorify and ennoble human nature, not give occasion for humanity's weakness. In other words, the Incarnation is meant to make holiness possible, not offer excuses for debauchery.

So then, please, well-intentioned priests and apologists everywhere, please just stop the "We're all sinners! That's what's so great about being Catholic!" shtick. Imagine walking up to a young woman whose father had just died tragically before his time, patting her on the shoulder and saying, "You know, dear, everybody dies." Derp. No shit.* To say such a thing would be incredibly insensitive, wouldn't it?

God bless you for wanting to affirm people's faith. I commend you, I really do. I heard a homily today on this very subject that was actually quite good. But please, please, let us simply be indignant and grieve this horrific scandal with the magnitude it deserves. If we can't be indignant, we can't muster the requisite energy to properly root it out.

Yes, woe indeed to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock.

*I predict some commentor says "I agree with everything you said except I object to the use of profanity towards the end. It undermines your credibility." To which I reply, "Hey, everybody has flaws. We're not a Church of the perfect. And even St. Thomas More said shit."

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Comment Problem

Good day. I want to apologize to my readers who have left comments for the past few months and not seen them published. I realized recently that Blogger has not been notifying me that people are leaving comments. I don't know why; I have double checked my settings and nothing has changed, but for some reason, beginning around March, when people leave comments pending my approval, I have not been getting notified and hence not approving anything. I had kind of noticed I was not getting any comments and I just assumed it was because people had finally realized I am a crummy blogger and given up on me. I'm happy to discover it was only a glitch.

At any rate, I have not figured out how to fix it. I am currently logging in to Blogger a few times a week to look for pending comments and approving them. I have also retroactively approved all your comments going back to March.

So, if your comments have not been getting through, please accept my apologies. Things will get better now. Pax.


Sunday, July 08, 2018

Bad Liturgies Cripple Evangelism

A major problem with widespread liturgical wimpiness is that it cripples the evangelical efforts of individual Catholics who are attempting to win their friends to the faith.

I know a person who is open to the Catholic religion. They are kind of curious, but they don't know a lot about Catholicism. But they are open. Nice starting place.

Now ideally, if they are curious, my first impulse should be to tell them to go check out a Catholic Mass to get acquainted with what the public celebration of our faith is all about. However, this individual lives in another country (another continent, actually) in a part of the world whose liturgies, shall we say, don't have the best reputation. I certainly don't know the local scene; I don't know how to recommend what parish they should go to. Even if I did, does that look good for my witness to be like, "Yeah, the Catholic faith is the truth and Catholic means "universal", but I wouldn't recommend going to 90% of the parishes around you. Go to this one, specific parish that I found for you after an exhaustive search." That sounds so lame and I feel lame having to do that. It is lame.

Now, at this point the conservative Catholic jumps in ready to help and says, "It's not up to you to convert them. Just send them to Mass and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. If they aren't impressed, it's because they don't UNDERSTAND what's going on. You see, friend, they need to be EDUCATED about what the Mass really is, about the Eucharist, and about the liturgy. Once they KNOW what's happening, they will fall in love with the Mass. Here's some books by Jeff Cavins and Mark Shea."

Okay, I appreciate the sentiment. One certainly has to understand what one is doing in order to dive in to it; you can't love what you don't know.

But here's the problem...

Before one can even will to learn about something, that thing must first grab one's interest by some inherently attractive element. Knowledge can make things more interesting, but before you desire to acquire knowledge you must have some initial interest. But why would I want to learn about something was unable to generate any initial interest to begin with? Something that interests me makes me want to learn more; but does anybody feel a desire to learn more about something that is boring and uninspiring? Has anyone ever sat through a boring professional presentation and thought, "This presentation is boring. Hmm...I think if I learned more about the subject this would be less boring"? Of course not. Being bored and uninspired is the surest way to discourage people from ever wanting to learn more.

To bring this back to the liturgy, if I tell my friend to go visit their local parish and they see an ugly, minimalistic building decorated with the most horrific examples of post-modern decor, coupled with a ridiculous, limp-wristed liturgy, sappy music—presided over by a bunch of elderly women—with a pathetic homily by a socially awkward priest where the fundamentals of the Christian Gospel are not only diminished but are absolutely indistinguishable...then, what on earth would possibly possess that person to want to "learn more" about the ludicrous carnival they've just sat through? Why would they ever want to go back, let alone devote the time to reading books and studying it?

So, no, the conservative Catholic mantra of "Just learn about what the Mass is" doesn't help; who wants to invest another two hours learning about something that bored them for one hour? Who wants to watch a dull Power Point presentation at work that is ten slides long and then be told that it would be more interesting if you watched another Power Point with 20 more slides?

What some people need to get through their heads is that many Catholic liturgies today lack any sense of transcendent mystery and that this sense of the transcendent is what piques a person's interest and makes them say, "Huh. Now that was interesting. I wonder what the meaning behind that was?"—and then they want to learn more. You can't plant a barren garden bereft of seeds and then expect anything to grow upon watering it.

I fully expect if I sent this friend to a Catholic Mass at an average parish where they live that they would walk away shaking their head saying, "That was a huge waste of my time" and wouldn't find anything remotely interesting about it.

"Oh Boniface, you're just being.........NEGATIVE!!! You're projecting your own dislike of modern liturgies onto other people and stopping them from coming into the Church!" I have actually been told this by non-Catholics. I was talking to a Methodist girl I know in Texas about my faith, trying to kind of garner some interest, and she dismissively said, "Psshh...look, I've been to Mass many times. It just doesn't interest me at all." A long-time Protestant non-denominational friend of mine went to a contemporary Catholic Mass and derisively said it "seemed like a celebration of man" and that there was no way he could be nourished by something like that. And you know what my friends? I had nothing I could say back to either one of them. I mean, I could explain that "The liturgy is celebrated differently at different parishes" and "Well you see a lot has changed since the 60's" and offer all sorts of explanations for what they experienced,  but at the end of the day I can't argue with their synopsis of what they experienced.

So, yeah, the poor state of the Novus Ordo at the majority of Catholic parishes is an active, objective hindrance to bringing non-Catholics into the Church. It cripples evangelization because there is nothing in most contemporary Catholic liturgies to even pique the interest of a visitor and make them want to do the preliminary study that would lead to entering the Church. And it's absolutely useless to tell a non-Catholic who has just disgustedly walked out of a banal balloon and ballet Mass that it would make more sense if they just "studied it more."

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Eleven Year Anniversary

Today, June 29th, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, is the 11th year anniversary of the launch of this blog. Since June 29, 2007, this blog and the sister site have been viewed 3,063,832 times with an average of 24,683 views per month for the previous year.

Not too shabby!

I cannot believe it has been so long; when I registered this domain name, St. John Paul II was still pope and even had a year left in his pontificate. When I started posting regularly, Benedict XVI had not yet even issued his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Since those early days, the two USC sites have featured over 1,700 essays. Just looking at that number kind of astonishes me—that I've ever had the time to write so much. Of course others contributed to that as well, for whom I am truly thankful.

It's surreal how much things have changed since then. Back in the old days, I felt like, even though the American Church collectively might have a profound case of rectal-cranial inversion, at the very least the Big Man in Rome had our backs. I could make a bold and determined stand against the problems that beset me because I stood with the Universal Church and the Pope Over the Water who was reigning justly and speaking the truth to a rebellious, stubborn people. Now, in 2018, the feeling is quite different.  The landscape is a littler grimmer. I feel less like a soldier making a brave stand before the walls of his city and more like a rogue wanderer, a kind of Catholic Johnny Appleseed roaming about an unsettled land scattering seeds and hoping they will take root wherever they may fall. And I am more uncertain of my own standing. That's how I feel. And note I am careful to say feeling, because obviously there is a lot of room for subjectivity here.

As always, I am sorry I could not write more. I remember one reason I had the time and initiative to begin this blog was because it was an outlet to write for fun about subjects important to me; nobody cared what I wrote and everything was just a hobby. Now I write professionally and I have so many projects bogging me down that I can't see the end of it. Don't get me wrong, I am very happy to be writing professionally now, but there is a tinge of sadness that I can't just be a hobby blogger anymore. 

That being said, I am finding myself with a bit more free time than last year and hoping to do some more writing. I'm also really wondering what to do about the other site; it's a very old Joomla platform and it is starting to get kind of glitchy. A lot of times the images aren't showing up anymore and the formatting gets off at times. I don't really have the money to invest in a new website, nor the time to transfer it all over to something new, but I also don't like the idea of the old site just continuing to get glitchier as its plug-ins go out of date and stop being supported. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

One thing I am planning on doing in the near future is making an appeal to help me get my RCIA notes and outlines translated into Spanish. I have a native Spanish speaker ready and willing to do the translating work but I just need to raise the funds to pay for it. I will be doing a post or video about this in the near future; if you are interested in contributing, email me at uscatholicam[at] If this is successful, I will then go on to getting them translated into Arabic and then who knows.

Thank you again for a wonderful year; the comments and feedback I get from my readers is what makes this endeavor so rewarding. An active and well-regulated combox is a gift to readers and the blog owner alike. Even Lionel with his ridiculous spam has a soft spot in my heart.

One final thing: keep in mind, we do have a Youtube Channel with a modest amount of videos, and a Facebook page if you'd like to stay in contact other ways.

God bless you all.


Friday, June 22, 2018

"Courageous" Ideas from the God of Surprises

Earlier this month it was announced that the Vatican's preparatory document seeking input from South American prelates for the run up to the 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon calls for "courageous, daring, and fearless" to combat the priest shortage in the region. Of course this language is in reference to the ordination of married men, so-called viri probati, to the priesthood. The document also calls for further inclusion of women, not just in a participatory way but in new "official ministries."

So, it looks like the 2019 Synod will dish up a whole smorgasbord of novelties from the God of Surprises. The real ironic thing about the call for "courageous" ideas to combat the priest shortage is that the contemporary Church has failed to try the most courageous idea of all—an aggressive, confident appeal to the traditional ideals and discipline of the priesthood. There are many reasons why the Church does not make this appeal; part of it is simply that the progressive wing of the Church wants Catholics to simply accept the need for married priests as a fait accompli (see "Priestless Parishes as a Fait Accompli", USC, Aug, 2008); they have no interest in stopping the vocations shortage because they want the Church to be forced to adopt married priests. In that sense, the priest shortage is artificial, like a planned famine.

But beyond the "political" policy aspect of this problem, there is an identity problem; the Church by and large has lost the sense of priestly identity. When our perception of the priest has been largely reduced to that of a pious social worker, it's difficult for young men to grasp what transcendent value there is to be found in the priesthood. Why sacrifice marriage and career for something whose identity is so obscured?

It has been proven that when Catholic identity, specifically that of the priest, is made clear, the vocations crisis evaporates immediately. For example, take these two little towns in Michigan, which together have a combined population of only 2,162 but which have produced 80 nuns and 44 priests.

The vocations crisis is contrived. It could be overcome. But the contemporary hierarchy has made no effort to; to quote Ned Flanders' parents, "We've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas."

One thing I have learned in the past few years is that what seems at first to be courageous isn't always courageous; sometimes the truly courageous choice is not what is self-evident. We must choose our cross, yes, but sometimes the cross doesn't look like the cross. Part of learning to carry the cross is learning how to identify it, and it's not always straightforward. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Cor Orans: Into the Woods

Earlier this month the instruction Cor Orans was released by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The document makes sweeping changes to the way women's religious communities are governed.

I am not going to attempt a summary of this document, but I want to recommend to you a piece by the Remnant. It is written by Hilary White, but the crux of the article is some commentary by an anonymous Carmelite sister explaining how the new instruction essentially demolishes the contemplative nature of her order. I have heard similar observations from other individuals who know much more about religious constitutions than myself. I recommend you read the article, but more so, if you happen to know any women in contemplative religious orders, get their insights on the document.

There is one thing I want to contribute to this conversation, however: The time is approaching when those who want to live out an authentic religious charism are going to have to do so outside the framework of the institutional Church. No, I am not promoting schism or disunity in any way. I am merely pointing out that, while the Church can exercise some control over religious institutes, it does not have authority over religious life in its entirety. And an authentic religious life might need to be found outside her existing structures.

Some examples of what I mean: The Church can tell you you cannot start a religious order or cannot govern an order in a certain way; however, the Church cannot tell a man he can't retreat to the woods and live alone in prayer and penance. An ecclesiastical stamp of approval is needed for a group to start taking novices or receiving solemn vows; an ecclesiastical stamp of approval is not needed for a group of single women to move in together and live an ordered life of religious discipline. A religious rule must be approved by a pope or bishop; a religious lifestyle needs no such official approval and can be lived anytime in any place on the simple initiative of the individual.

In other words, there is no prohibition on doing the things religious do, so long as it is not formalized. And in the current ecclesiastical climate, such measures might be the best way to live out a religious vocation and renew the Church. Obviously such people cannot  make solemn vows that are recognized ecclesiastically; such groups cannot call themselves "religious orders" or lead the public to think they are. But they can live religious lifestyles in accord with what they feel called to, and that's what is most essential here.

I honestly do not think this is novel. St. Anthony neither had nor needed ecclesiastical approval to move out into the Egyptian desert. St. Benedict did not ask anybody's permission when he retreated to the caves of Subiaco. St. Francis was certainly allowed by his bishop to live in San Damiano and make repairs there, but his initial renunciation of wealth and life of begging was spontaneous. St. Ignatius took to the cave of Manresa to study and pray of his own initiative, not because some bishop told him he could.

Obviously it did not always happen this way; in many cases a new order or a reform was established through official channels. But I want to recall to our minds that this was not universal. Often times what occurred was a man or woman followed a spontaneous prompting of God to live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience and was subsequently so influential that the Church found an official outlet for their charism.

Yes, the days are coming when a group of women who feel called to serve God in the religious life, rather than join some existing order, will look at ways to fulfill that call outside the official framework - obviously still in full unity with the Church, but in a manner that is more about living a certain lifestyle than in receiving any official status. It looks like such "official" status is becoming less meaningful these days anyway.

Can such self-initiated efforts eventually be brought under the Church's official aegis? Given their good fruits and (hopefully) a change in mentality in the Magisterium or course. But distressing news should not stop men and women from living a vocation now if they feel called to it in whatever way they are able. If you are a single woman and feel called to religious life but you can't realistically find a convent that will be faithful to traditional spirituality, then find three other woman who feel the same, rent a house, study the discipline of the religious life, and start doing it yourselves. Just act. Be the holiness the Church needs. Trust God to attend to the details.

I've always been an advocate of this kind of "into the woods" sort of approach to these things. Our civilization was built in such ways. Christendom only ever existed because men and women walked into the woods in hopes of finding a quiet spot to pray. It will only be rebuilt in a similar fashion.

Walk into the woods. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Renovations of St. Mary Parish, Williamston

It is a happy thing that not all news concerning the Church is doom and gloom. Though there are dark clouds to be sure, there are always small little pockets where grace is operative—little sanctuaries and oases of light. 

Something that always lifts my spirits is seeing news of renovations by faithful pastors to make their parishes more beautiful. We all know that during the 70's and 80's a great many Catholic parishes had their artistic and architectural heritage destroyed in a process of willful rupture with tradition that has come to be known as the "Wreckovation"; this horrendous destruction of our physical heritage continues in many places to this day. For those who want to learn more about the Wreckovation, the go-to book is Michael S. Rose's The Renovation Manipulation

But this post is not about destruction but about creation; not about dissolution, but restoration. About renewal in the wake of the Wreckovation.

Fr. Mark Rutherford—a most excellent priest of the Diocese of Lansing, MI. and pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Williamston—has made some amazing before-and-after pictures of his own restoration efforts available.

Here is the sanctuary of St. Mary's before Fr. Rutherford's renovation:

As you can see, fairly generic contemporary style reflecting the Catholic zeitgeist of the modern American Catholic Church. Minimalist wooden furniture against a drab, artless brick background. Scatter some plants about to create a natural ambiance, along with the sounds of flowing water from the overly large baptismal tub. Nothing here to suggest any kind of homage to the historic Catholic faith or the sensus fidelium.

However, in the hands of a faithful pastor, the sanctuary has been transformed. Now, the sanctuary is restored in a style that truly evokes the beauty of the Catholic faith. Look at Fr. Rutherford's pictures of the completed sanctuary restoration:

The difference is stunning! Amazing what some wood, marble, sacred art, and a genuine Catholic sensibility can accomplish.

I can already hear some trads whining that Fr. Rutherford left the table altar in the center. Whatever. Our bishop says every parish has to have one, so meh. It is certainly much more solemn than the minimalist wooden one that existed before and a definite step up. However, the restoration does also include a smaller altar against the wall atop which the tabernacle is situated (see below). Featuring the traditional typological Eucharistic symbol of the pelican, Traditional Latin Masses can easily be offered here. And Fr. Rutherford is definitely a friend of the Extraordinary Form.

One final note: Fr. Rutherford had not been at this parish very long when the plans for this restoration were put into effect. In most cases, any priest has sufficient authority within his parish to effect a similar restoration just by virtue of being the pastor, even if it's Day 1 on the job. All he needs is the will to carry it out. Funding is an issue, as such projects do not come cheaply, but in my many years in various parishes I have always been surprised how much money parishioners will step forward and contribute when the pastor wants to build something truly beautiful.  Beauty enriches everybody's lives and a beautiful parish is an investment in the faith of the community and a gift a pastor and congregation can bequeath to future generations of the faithful.

I hope this edifies you as it did me. God bless you.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Oprah has ALL the answers!

Back when I first started this blog, I spent a lot of time ripping on Oprah Winfrey. I later moved on to blogging about more weighty matters, but I have been meaning to get back to Oprah for awhile. In fact, I still have an active Oprah tag. For a quick synopsis of some of my previous work on Oprah, see the links below. A lot of these are old articles from my early days of blogging when I was more incendiary, but I still affirm the basic principles of enunciated in these older posts:

In fact, one of my old articles on Oprah's silly comments about God's jealousy even became the core of a chapter on the subject in my work on reconciling difficult Scripture passages, The Book of Non-Contradiction.

Back when I used to suggest that Oprah was prime material for the Antichrist, I only meant this in the sense that the false "feel good" religion she preaches would be of the same sort we would see peddled at the End of Times—as well as the fact that the kind of cultic influence she has on her followers would be of the same nature as the influence the Antichrist would wield. It was a comparison by simile.

However, following Oprah's speech at the 2018 Golden Globes - for which she was lauded with nothing short of idolatrous adulation - and the subsequent speculation that she would run for president in 2020 - I am starting to think that the comparisons I have drawn may be more than just simile.

I am not positively suggesting that Oprah Winfrey is the Antichrist, and there is always a bit of "tongue in cheek" present whenever I discuss this. But I do see the trajectory Oprah's career has followed, with the virtual mind-control she exerts over her followers and the uncritical praise she elicits from pop-culture, as something very much in the mold of the spirit of Antichrist—especially as her immense social capital begins to morph into political capital.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Please Help Injured TLM Choir Director

My brethren, I am coming to you today with a request for prayers and material support for a dear friend of mine, Mr. Bill Price, who has been critically injured.

Bill has been a personal friend of mine for ten years. He is a good man with a love of God and the Traditional Latin Mass. He is a talented musician; for many years he has been the Choir Director of the Gregorian Schola at St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Jackson Michigan, cantoring at the weekly TLM. He is also a talented graphic designer; he designed the covers to several of my publishing projects, including War Against the Papacy and Hermits and Anchorites of England. Bill is engaged and planning to be married next month to his fiance, Sipkje. I've played guitar with Bill many times; just last week we were eating dinner together laughing and catching up over a few beers.

Last week, Bill fell over 20 feet from a scaffolding. He broke his right leg in three places, both tibia and fibula. The breaks are severe; the injuries are requiring multiple surgeries to correct. In the meantime, Bill is out of work for at least three months, possibly more. He has no health insurance to cover his medical bills. Obviously, with Bill about to marry and start a family, these are pressing concerns.

In your charity, please consider making a contribution to help pay for Bill's mounting medical expenses. You can click here to make a donation to help Bill and Sipkje .

God bless you my friends. Even if you can't donate, please pray for Bill. He is a dear friend and a worthy Catholic man.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Book Review: The Week of Salvation by James Monti

It’s been many years since I first came across James Monti’s voluminous Week of Salvation: History and Traditions of Holy Week. I was still a student at Ave Maria College back when it was still in Michigan—the real Ave as us small band of brothers sometimes call it—when someone gifted me this book for Lent. I remember spending hours poring through it in the college library and common room, learning for the first time, as a relatively new practicing Catholic, about the rich history of Holy Week.

Monti’s book goes through Holy Week day by day examining the history and customs surrounding each. The breadth of his study is very exhaustive; chapters typically begin with an exegesis on the relevant biblical passages and then go on to examine the patristic writings, drawing on such rich and diverse sources as St. Cyrl’s Catechetical Lectures, fragments of ancient liturgies, and the diary of the pilgrim Egeria. They frequently discuss early medieval liturgical sources, including those outside the Latin rite, such as the liturgies of the Mozarbic rite and the Chaldeans. It also covers monastic usages during and after the Cistercian reform and draws on early modern travelers’ journals for its narratives of various celebrations in the 17th-18th centuries. It typically concludes each chapter with a section on how various Holy Week celebrations are conducted in the post-Conciliar era.

One thing I particularly appreciated about Mr. Monti’s book is the attention it gives to the now lost royal liturgies associated with Holy Week in former monarchical countries. In the kingdoms of old Christendom, the monarch and his family used to play a central role in the traditions surrounding Holy Week. For example, there is a beautiful passage explaining how the Kings of Spain used to wash the feet of the poor on Holy Thursday. The following account appears in the book; it is taken from the court of King Alfonso XII of Spain in the year 1885:

Following Mass at the Chapel Royal, the king and queen would proceed to the Hall of Columns. Arriving there at two o'clock in the afternoon, the king (Alfonso XII) entered in full ceremonial uniform, decked with all his medals of state, together with his queen (Maria Christina), who was dressed in a fine down and flowing train, with a white mantilla and a diamond diadem on her head.
In the center of the hall stood two platforms; on one twelve poor elderly men were seated, clothed in new suits provided by the king; on the other platform were twelve elderly women, likewise dressed in new clothing provided by the queen. Nearby stood an altar on which was placed a crucifix and two lighted candles. The bishop, who was Patriarch of the Indies, then went before this altar and read St. John's gospel account of Christ washing the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper.

Following the reading, a small gold-fringed embroidered band was tied around the king's waist, symbolizing the towel that Christ tied around His waist on this occasion. The king now mounted the first platform, accompanied by his steward, who brought a golden basin and ewer [jug]. He then knelt down before each of the men seated there and poured water over their feet, wiped them, and kissed them.
Reading about how the monarch’s family used to be integrated into the celebrations of Holy Week really helped flesh out in my mind what the civic culture used to be like in Catholic confessional states—and what was lost when such kingdoms passed away.

I don’t know whatever happened to James Monti. Week of Salvation was published back in 1993 and I am not aware of any other titles by this author, which is unfortunate since this was such a helpful and exhaustive study. The writing style is not always the most engaging; it sometimes feels like reading a dry historical chronicle. If you’re very interested in reading cultural histories, you might enjoy this. But it’s not very engaging for casual reading. You really need to set out with the intention of making it an occasion for serious scholarly study to enjoy the book.

Still, if that’s not a problem, I definitely recommend this book. I plan on revisiting some key chapters next week as part of my preparations for the Holy Triduum. Incidentally, though this book was originally published by Our Sunday Visitor, it no longer appears in their catalog. The only copies available are used editions.

May you all be blessed in your preparation for Easter.

Click here to purchase James Monti's Week of Salvation: History and Traditions of Holy Week.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

St. Patrick was not named "Maewyn Succat"

Today is the Feast of St. Patrick, the day set aside for commemoration of the life and deeds of the grat Apostle to the Irish. Unfortunately, its also the day a lot of rubbish about Patrick get spreadall over the interwebs. For example, have you ever heard people asserting that St. Patrick's real name was not Patrick, but Maewyn Succat?

The theory is that St. Patrick was born Maewyn Succat and only took the name Patrick upon his ordination to the priesthood. I first came across this bizarre assertion a few years ago when I overheard it on the Veggie Tales St. Patrick video. Since then, I have heard it with increasing frequency, especially from writers who have this smarmy "I know better than you" attitude about St. Patrick's Day; you know, the kind of articles that are like "Ten Things YOU Didn't Know About St. Patrick!" Number ONE...he was not Irish! (mind blown!), Number TWOOOO, his name was not actually Patrick. Number THREEEE...there were never any snakes in Ireland!!!! Whoaaaaa!

Reasons for Skepticism

The general tenor and scholarship of such articles obviously gives me pause, as well as some other facts. For one thing, I am very familiar with the writings of St. Patrick. He left only two authentic documents behind, the Confessio and the Letter to Coroticus. In neither of these does Patrick give any indication that his name is other than Patrick. He begins his Confessio with the beautiful and humble phrase, "Ego Patricius, peccator rusticissimus et minimus omnium fidelium", "I am Patrick, a sinner and a simple rustic, the least of all believers." Nowhere in the Confessio or his other letter does he give his name as anything else. So at least from primary sources, there is no justification for thinking Patrick's name was anything other than Patrick.

I also knew that it would not make sense for Patrick to have some sort of Gaelic name when he was clearly Romano-British. Patrick tells us as much in the opening of the Confessio. He gives his father's name as Calpurnius and his grandfather as Potitus, both ordained men and Latin speakers. The family came from the town of Bannavem Tiburniae - a Roman settlement. Remember, Patrick was born around 387 AD, about 23 years before the Roman legions left Britain. It was still a Roman province. He was educated in Latin and came from a Romano-British family. He was thoroughly Romanized. Some even say they came from Gaul originally, which would have made a Gaelic name even less plausible.

Given this, it is extremely unlikely that his birth name would have been the Gaelic Maewyn Succat while his father was Calpurnius and his grandfather Potitus. It would be like suggesting that  a German family where the grandfather is Hans and the father is Gunter would name the next in line Gomez. Is it possible? Certainly. Is it likely? Probably not. If I had to look at that genealogy and someone told me, 'The son is known as Heinrich, but some say his name was Gomez,' I'd bet my money on Heinrich. Similarly, it does make perfect sense that a father named Calpurnius would name his son Patricius since they were Romano-British, but it makes much less sense to think they would name him Maewyn.

Shoddy Research

The Maewyn Succat theory is characterized by shoddy research and the repetition of unfounded assertions. As I searched, I found that every article or essay which held to the Maewyn Succat theory did not cite any source for their assertion; or, if they did, they cited a source which itself was a secondary source and offered no primary reference or did not assert what the authors assumed. For example, the Wikipedia page or St. Patrick says Patrick was originally named Maewyn Succat and offers a citation. The citation leads to the website Sacred Space, run by the Irish Jesuits. The Sacred Space page cited on Wikipedia gives several details about St. Patrick's life, but does not include any claim that his name was Maewyn Succat. And even if it did, the Sacred Space article is not a primary source; it's simply a contemporary article written by some Irish Jesuit. So the Wikipedia claim that Patrick was named Maewyn Succat is a dead end. Most of my other attempts to track this down were as well. People are just repeating things without knowing where they came from.

But it did come from somewhere. People did not just start repeating the Maewyn Succat theory in a vacuum. Where was this coming from?

The Hymn of Fiacc

St. Fiacc, Bishop of Leinster (d. 520) was born from a Christian family who had been converted by St. Patrick. He had met the saint personally and is known for composing a metrical hymn in honor of St. Patrick. The hymn begins with the lines:
Patrick was born at Emptur:
This it is that history relates to us.
A child of sixteen years (was he)
When he was taken into bondage.

Succat was his name, it is said;
Who was his father is thus told:
He was son of Calpurn, son of Otidus,
Grandson of Deochain Odissus.

The relation between "Emptur" and Bannavem Tiburniae is uncertain; notice also that grandfather Potitus has become Otidus, and an additional relative Odissus is added. This is an example of what I would call the extreme elasticity surrounding Patrick's genealogy that anyone who has seriously studied the saint will acknowledge.

If there is an argument that Patrick's birth name was other than Patrick, I think Fiacc's poem would provide the strongest evidence. Yet even so, I do not think this is conclusive.

The interesting thing is that even though Fiacc had known Patrick, his knowledge seems to be from hearsay. Patrick was born at Emptur which is what "history relates to us"; Succat was his name, "it is said." By the time of Fiacc's old age, Patrick had been dead for almost sixty years and a substantial body of oral tradition had sprung up around him. One would think if Fiacc had first-hand knowledge of Patrick, Patrick's birth name would have been known to him from sources other than hearsay.

Fiacc's tentative naming of Patrick as Succat based on hearsay I think reflects not so much what Patrick was actually named by his Romano-British parents as much as what he was called by the Irish or by others. This is not an uncommon occurrence when a missionary or visitor comes to anew culture; for example, St. Isaac Jogues was called Ondessonk by the Hurons. Cortez, despite all his fame, was not called Cortez by the Aztecs; they called him Malinzin.

I believe this is what we have in the case of Patrick as well, at least in the first generation. The reasons for this will be explained below, but  think Fiacc is giving an authentically contemporary account of how Patrick was referred to by Irish converts in the early 6th century, not the name Patrick was baptized with.

Notice also that even if we grant the birth name Succat, we do not see any use of the name Maewyn in Fiacc's meter. Where did we get Maewyn Succat?

Tírechán Collectanea

Through a twisting academic goose chase the details of which I will not bore you with, I eventually found myself with the Latinized version of Maewyen Succat, Magonus Sucatus. This in turn led me to the writings of Tírechán (c. 684), Bishop of Connacht in County Mayo. Tírechán produced a work known as the Collectanea, which was a loose collection of stories about St. Patrick based on oral traditions. These oral traditions were gathered from the work of Tírechán's mentor, Ultan of Ardbraccan (d. 656) who had himself written a book on St. Patrick.

The Collectanea is interesting because it is written in first person, as if Patrick himself were speaking.

In the introduction to the Collectanea, we find the following passage:
"I have found four names for Patrick in a book written by Ultan, bishop of maccu Conchubair: the saint was called Magonus, that is, famous; Succetus [Succat], that is, the god of war; Patricius, that is, father of the citizens; Cothirthiacus, because he served four houses of druids" (Tírechán, Collectanea, 1).

Thus, we have four names given for St. Patrick. Notice right away that Maewyn Succat ("Magonus Succetus") is not one of them. Magonus and Succetus are two different names, as well as Cothirthiacus, which, presumably it is so cumbersome, is usually omitted by those who want to insist Patrick's name was not Patrick. Maewyn Succat is just an arbitrary mishmash of two separate names. We might as well call him Magonus Patricius, or Patricius Cothirthiacus, or Succeus Corthirthiacus or any other combination. Ludwig Bieler, the German Hiberno-Latin scholar who first translated Tírechán in 1951, noted that there was a "dubious selectiveness too often practiced in Patrician studies" when it came to Patrick's nomenclature (source).

So the name Maewyn Succat is just an arbitrary combination of two different names. But are Magonus or Succetus even proper names at all? This is hard to discern; clearly they are given in the same list as Patrick's given name, Patricius, which seems to imply they are. If Patrick is a proper name, then the others in this list may be as well. Then again, perhaps not. These other names may be titles or nicknames. For example, Succetus, god of war, according to Tírechán. Why would Patrick's Christian family - several of whom were members of the clergy - name him after a druidic war god? More likely than not, this was a title the Druids themselves may have given to Patrick. Similarly, Magonus, a corruption of Magnus (great), means famous and could have distinguished St. Patrick ("the famous Patrick") from others of similar name.

Thus, Tírechán's list is most likely not referring to Patrick's actual proper name (as if he were really named Magonus Succetus Patricius Corthirthiacus); rather, it is a amalgamated list of all names Patrick went by, both his proper name, as well as nicknames or titles given to him by others. Not to mention these might not have been nicknames used for Patrick while he was alive; Tírechán wrote in the late 7th century and these could have easily been titles that Patrick accrued posthumously.

Muirchú's Vita sancti Patricii

A generation after Tírechán wrote, a monk of Leinster named Muirchú wrote his own Life of St. Patrick. Muirchú's Vita sancti Patricii is based on Patrick's own Confessio as well as several oral traditions. Muirchú's work exists only in fragments and his not given too much historical credence as an actual biography of Patrick.

In the introduction to Muirchú's Vita, we see the following:
"Patrick, also named Sochet, a Briton by race, was born in Britain. His father was Cualfarnius, a deacon, the son (as Patrick himself says) of a priest, Potitus, who hailed from Bannauem Thaburniae" (Muirchú, Vita sancti Patricii, I.1).

We note right away that "Calpurnius" has been butchered to become "Cualfarnius." "Sochet", however, is spelled the same in Muirchú's Latin text; presumably this is the same title as Succat-Succetus in Tírechán's work. Muirchú is repeating an oral tradition here, as he says elsewhere he is unaware of any other biography of St. Patrick, other than that of Cogitosus (which does not mention the name Sochet or Succat). So clearly Muirchú is not simply copying Tírechán.

At any rate, this obscure passage "also named Sochet" from a hagiography c. 700, almost two and a half centuries after St. Patrick died, is of very little value in determining what Patrick was actually named by his family. He may have been drawing on the meter of Fiacc; but if so, are we to believe that Patrick's Christian parents - one of them ordained - baptized him in the name of a druidic deity?


Why do I seriously doubt Patrick was named Maewyn Succat? Just to be clear, I have no stake in Patrick not having a Gaelic name or something. It's really neither here nor there; I don't care if Patrick's real name was Maewyn any more than I care that St. Peter's real name was Simon. The reason I oppose this theory is because it is based on shoddy research and arbitrary nomenclature promoted by ignorant people looking for click bait. Just to review my reasons for opposing this theory:

(1) There is no primary source evidence that Patrick was named anything other than Patrick. Zero.
(2) Fiacc's meter, written 50-60 years after Patrick's death, mentions the name Succat but tentatively, suggesting "it is said" but gives no first hand knowledge of the fact. And he omits any mention of Maewyn.
(3) It makes no sense culturally or linguistically that Patrick's Roman family would give him a Gaelic name. But it makes perfect sense that he'd be named Patricius.
(4) It makes no sense that his Christian family would name him after a druidic war god.
(5) There's no documentary reference to Patrick's ordination, let alone that he changed his name on the occasion. Stories of Patrick's ordination (sometimes said to be by St. Germanus, sometimes by Pope St. Celestine) come from later hagiographies.
(6) The only other names given for Patrick do not appear in history until over two centuries after Patrick's death.
(7) These names may not be proper names at all but titles or nicknames given by the Irish or the Druids.
(8) These names may have been given posthumously.
(9) "Maewyn Succat" is not one of the names mentioned in either source; it is an amalgamation of two other separate names (Magonus and Succetus).
(10) This amalgamation is totally arbitrary because it omits the third name, Corthirthiacus.
(11) Bieler, the translator of Tírechán, also thinks insisting on this nomenclature is selective and arbitrary.
(12) Even if Tírechán and Muirchú were actually insisting that Patrick's given name was Maewyn Succat, this comes from two 7th century hagiographies which are generally not regarded as historically reliable sources of information about the historical St. Patrick.
(13) Nobody - or at least very few people - who assert the Maewyn Succat theory bother to track down its source. They just copy and paste and move on.

No, St. Patrick was not named Maewyn Succat, and I am fairly certain it s safe to insist on this.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

On Christians Offending People

I know is one week late, but I wanted to offer a reflection on the epistle readings from last week's liturgy, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Novus Ordo. The epistle reading was taken from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 10. St. Paul writes:

...whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1)

The Douay-Rheims has it this way:

...whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God. Be without offence to the Jews, and to the Gentiles, and to the church of God: As I also in all things please all men, not seeking that which is profitable to myself, but to many, that may be saved. Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ. 

What does St. Paul mean when he says "avoid giving offense", and that he tries "to please everyone in every way"? He wants to "be without offence" and hence strive "in all things to please all men."

A cursory reading of this passage might suggest that he means we should avoid doing anything a person might find offensive. That, if a person is subjectively offended by something we are doing or saying, we have an obligation to cease that offensive behavior. Now, since there are all manner of things people could be offended by, this would include a very broad spectrum of human behavior and would necessitate a very intimate knowledge of the attitudes and preferences of the people one comes in contact with. It's mind-boggling to think of the degree of egg-shell-walking we would have to perform to keep St. Paul's command understood this way.

In the minds of our progressive friends, this passage would mean we ought not to speak about the truths of the faith to somebody who might be offended by some aspect of them. These days, speaking about Catholicism to someone who is in disagreement with it is often considered inherently offensive.  For example, speaking to a Muslim about Jesus Christ. Understood this way, the passage "avoid giving offense" is utilized in the same sense as "judge not" and "do not do your works before men" - that is, as objections to any vocalization of the faith which may be even remotely confrontational.

However, St. Paul does not mean "avoid giving offence" in this sense. Let us look at three relevant Scripture passages. I think there are probably more, but three should be sufficient to make our case.

First, if St. Paul meant that Christians are forbidden from ever subjectively offending anybody, it would be ridiculous for St. Paul to  write in Romans 9:33 (citing Isaiah) that Christ is "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence." If it is always wrong to give offence, then in what sense can Christ Himself be a "rock of offence"?

Second, if the sense of Paul's words is that we ought to always make sure we are pleasing to men, how can he say in the Epistle to the Galatians, "do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10). Clearly St. Paul does not believe we are to always make certain we never offend anyone if he identifies a disposition of man-pleasing contrary to the servanthood Christ requires.

Furthermore, when delivering the Sermon on the Mount, Christ says, "Blessed is he who takes no offense at me" (Matt. 11:6). Now, how can Christ admonish His listeners not to be offended by Him if, according to our progressive friends, it would be the responsibility of the speaker to make sure his hearers are not offended? This passage would make no sense; Christ acknowledges no responsibility on His own part to make sure His hearers are not offended by Him. Rather, He simply speaks the truth and tells His hearers it is their responsibility to not be offended by it.

Given all this, how can St. Paul say "avoid giving offense"? Of course, the answer is that when St. Paul admonishes us to "avoid giving offence", he means we should avoid doing actions which are objectively worthy of offence. He does not mean that it is always our problem if somebody is subjectively offended by our words or deeds.

Moderns forget that offense is not a totally subjective thing, even if they want to treat it as such. There are some things one is right to be offended about, other things one is wrong to be offended about. The objective cause of offense matters. One who is offended because of evil is rightly offended and has a kind of just anger; one who is offended because of the truth is in error, of which their offense constitutes a sort of evidence of their blindness. When St. Paul says we must avoid giving offense, he is essentially saying, "Do not commit evil deeds that people are rightly offended by."  He is not saying, "It is your job to make sure no person you interact with is ever offended by you in any respect." That would be unworkable practically and contrary to the meaning of other scriptural passages that mention offense.

This is related to St. Thomas' distinction between various types of scandal. We have an obligation to avoid scandalizing individuals through our sinful behavior, but it is not our concern if people are scandalized by righteous behavior, as the Pharisees were scandalized by the healings of Christ. In that case, such persons are actually guilty of their own scandal due to hardness of heart.

Incidentally - and time for a little crass self-promotion - I have two chapters in my work Book of Non-Contradiction on similar arguments where progressives take passages and try to interpret them in ways to suggest Christians should keep their faith quiet or keep their opinions to themselves.