Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why are we stuck in the 60's?

Fr. Ripperger: Hermeneutic of rupture dishonors the martyrs, saints

"If the Church is supposed to be so modern, then why are we still stuck in the 1960's? Why is the music from the 60's? Why are the vestments from the 60's? Why is the architecture still from the 60's?" So asks Fr. Chad Ripperger, F.S.S.P., in his talk on "Catholic Tradition and Liturgy". Fr. Ripperger makes three excellent points on the hermeneutic of rupture that I'd like to point out.

(1) An intentional break with Tradition is a form of impiety. It is impiety because it suggests that the spirituality of the great Saints, Martyrs and Doctors was somehow wrong, and by extension, that they were wrong. One cannot simultaneously venerate St. Dominic and at the same time denounce the Mass that fed Dominic's sanctity. All the saints perceived an attack on the Mass as an attack on them and on God directly. Thus, it is a form of impiety.

(2) An intentional break with Tradition is a sin against the fourth commandment. The fourth commandment enjoins us to honor our mothers and fathers, which Tradition and the Catechism apply to our superiors and spiritual fathers as well. This also applies to our forebearers, our "fathers" in the faith. By approving things that our forefathers would have never stood for, we dishonor the things they believed and died for. Athanasius has brought this up by pointing out that John Paul II's allowance of a Muslim ritual at the canonization of the Franciscan proto-martyrs dishonors them because they died for refusal to participate in the ritual. Thus, it is a sin against the fourth commandment.

(3) An intentional break with Tradition is a form of theft. Theft is taking what one has no right to take. The Tradition belongs to no one generation, but to the Church of all ages. When one breaks with Tradition, they rob the future generations of the heritage labored for and passed on by generations of the faithful, a robbery that nobody has the right to commit. Thus, a break with Tradition is a form of robbery.

I think Fr. Ripperger's points are very valid and help to demonstrate two things: that breaking with Catholic Tradition is no small thing, but is a matter of tremendous, even earth-shaking significance; and also that this generation (or rather, that of the 1960's) is amazingly arrogant to assume all of the powers to be able to simply cast off Tradition at a whim.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ite ad Thomam

Check out this blog, Ite ad Thomam. It appears to be of the highest level of scholarship and erudition. This guy is very hard core: about half of his posts are in Latin. I'll have it linked on the sidebar.

Obscure Anglo-Saxon Saints: St. Willehad of Bremen

St. Willehad was a native of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom Northumbria, born sometime around 745. It is his peculiar fate that he was friends with many influential people at the time, but has largely been forgotten while they have been remembered. He was a close friend of Alcuin, the scholar of Charlemagne, and was educated at York by the famous St. Egbert. Sometime around 765 he was sent by the Northumbrian King Alchred to continue the missionary work in Frisia begun by St. Boniface, who had been martyred there eleven years earlier.
In Frisia, Willehad preached in Dockum, the very place where Boniface had been slain, and made many conversions among the Frisians. In 780 Charlegmagne sent him to Wigmodia on the other side of the Weser to preach among the Saxons, in whose tongue he was fluent. Willehad had great success there until the Saxon insurrection of 782 forced him to flee, leaving behind many churches which were destroyed. Many of his companions were caught and killed, but Willehad managed to escape to Rome. Pope Adrian I allowed him to retire to the monastery of Echternach where he spent time as a copyist transcribing the Epistles of Paul. Soon, however, Charlemagne had surpressed the Saxon uprising, forced Christianity upon the Saxons, and Willehad was recalled to missionary activity. He was made Bishop of Worms in 787 and fixed his residence at Bremen, where he built a cathedral in honor of St. Peter in 789.
Only a few days after the consecration of the Bremen cathedral, Willehad departed for another missionary journey, but was suddenly stuck with a fever and died quickly. He was buried on the road where he died; his remains were transferred to a small chapel erected by his successor St. Willericus.
The first life of St. Willehad was written within a century after his death, and an account of his many miracles was composed by none other than the great St. Anskar, the Apostle to Scandanavia. Veneration of St. Willehad was popular in Germany throughout the Middle Ages, but during the Reformation his relics were lost and as the area around Bremen turned Protestant, virtually all memory of the great Anglo-Saxon missionary was lost. His feast was only reintroduced by Pope Leo XIII in the Dioceses of Munster, Osnabrück, and Paderborn to be observed on a vacant day after 8 November.
This friend of Alcuin, pupil of St. Egbert, successor of St. Boniface, intimate of Charlemagne and role model of St. Anskar still today remains largely neglected; that is, until Unam Sanctam Catholicam published this post on him.
St. Willehad, ora pro nobis!

Ember Friday

On the traditional calendar, we are in the midst of the September Ember Days. Fasting (only one meal, two smaller that don't amount to one) and complete abstinence from meat were required. One of the important aspects of the Ember Days was their connection to the priesthood inasmuch as they were the days favored for ordinations and the faithful were encouraged to pray for good priests.

I propose that all those who are concerned with the Church's traditions, liturgical and otherwise, dedicate these days to prayer and fasting especially for all those priests who are/will be attempting to put into practice the provisions of Summorum Pontificum, often in the face of latent or patent hostility.

Angelus Press's 1962 hand Missal on the Ember Days:

"At the beginning of the four seasons of the Ecclesiastical Year, the Ember Days have been instituted by the Church to thank God for blessings obtained during the past year and to implore further graces for the new season. Their importance in the Church was formerly very great. They are fixed on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: after the First Sunday of Lent for spring, after Pentecost Sunday for summer, after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14th September) for autumn, and after the Third Sunday of Advent for winter. They are intended, too, to consecrate to God the various seasons in nature, and to prepare by penance those who are about to be ordained. Ordinations generally take place on the Ember Days. The faithful ought to pray on these days for good priests."

See also the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Ember Days.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Mary is God Catholic Movement

The Cathedral of the Diocese of Cebu, Philippines, where the MIGCM is headquartered

I read about this on a comment over at Athanasius Contra Mundum and I cannot help but commenting on it. I never really thought there were any Catholics who worshipped Mary as Protestants assert (except for the obscure sect of the Collyridians in the early Church mentioned by St. Epiphanius), that is until I found out about this movement.

The "Mary is God Catholic Movement" (MIGCM) was founded in the Philippines in September 2005 by one Dominic Sanchez Falar who claims to have received a private revelations of the Blessed Mother from 1994 to 2000. In this vision, she supposedly revealed to him the three secrets. Two of the three "secrets" have not been revealed, but the third secret has to do with the Third Secret of Fatima. And what is this secret?

In the words of the MIGCM website, that "the Final Dogma of our Holy Catholic Church that states that Mary is God; Mary is the Soul of the Holy Spirit."

Now, I think we can dismiss this guy out of hand, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt and allow him to explain himself. Can he find any proof that Mary is the "Soul of the Holy Spirit" in Scripture or Tradition? Let's have it in Falar's own words:

"I do not intend to present an argument to my claim. That, I sincerely believe, will be best done by you who know the True Message of Fatima and are schooled in theology and philosophy. Our Blessed Mother revealed a Dogma of Faith to me, but it seems She didn’t give me the gift of being able to defend it. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that my job is to tell the truth and She will, in Her Divine Mercy, assign someone else to do what I cannot do."

Uh, okay. So then why should we even consider your claim?

Secondly, theologically, how could the Holy Spirit have a "soul"? A soul is the animating principle of a body. The Holy Spirit has no body. Therefore it could not have a soul. It is impossible to speak of a "Soul of the Holy Spirit." Furthermore, Mary is not a soul but a body and a soul: a composite human person. So, which part of her is the soul of the Holy Spirit? Is it her soul? So then the soul of Mary would be the soul of the Holy Spirit (this sounds like we are multiplying souls ad infintium). If it is not her soul that is the Holy Spirit's soul, then perhaps it is her body; so can a body be a soul? That sounds pretty foolish. Or maybe it is the composite of her body and soul that is the Soul of the Holy Spirit. So then we would be having a composite soul (but souls are simple) of a non-corporeal Being (but souls animate corporeal bodies). This theory is so racked with problems that it is not worth discussing.

And oh, by the way, if the above few points didn't convince you, how about the fact that it is heresy, a sin against the First Commandment, not found in Tradition or Scripture and against all common sense. Those are pretty good reasons not to believe it!

Does Falar have any arguments at all in favor of his position? He offers this explanation on his website: "Spirit is to God. Person is to Soul. Angel is to Church. Existence is to Being. Man is to Woman. Husband is to Wife. Adam is to Eve." Thanks. That clears up the issue greatly!

This is another example of private revelations run amok in the Church. I just hope the Protestants don't hear about this one; we'll never hear the end of it!

"Yes, Mary’s body was holy, but it was not God. Yes, the Virgin was surely a virgin and worthy of honor; however, she was not given us for us to adore her. She herself adored Him Who was born of her flesh, having descended from heaven and from the bosom of the Father. Honor Mary, but let the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost be worshiped, but let no one worship Mary....even though Mary is most beautiful and holy and venerable, yet she is not to be worshipped." St. Epiphanius, Panarion, c. 403

The Cloud of Unknowing

This week I have been reading an excellent classic work of Catholic spirituality, the Cloud of Unknowing, written around the 14th century by an anonymous English monk. The work was unknown for many years and is not mentioned in the 1917 "Catholic Encyclopedia", the first modern translation of it in English having only appeared in 1912. It was scorned for the first half of the 20th century as a piece of foolishness and only became an object of intense scholarly study in the late 1970's. Nevertheless, in its time it inspired St. John of the Cross and many of its ideas are found in Thomas a' Kempis, though it is uncertain whether the Imitation predated the Cloud, or vice versa.
The essence of the Cloud is that the attempt to seek union with God ought to be based in love instead of knowledge. The phrase "cloud of unknowing" refers to the infinite barrier that will always exist between Creator and creature that can never be fully penetrated but must nevertheless be attempted. Book XVII, iii says of this cloud, "This one thing I tell you, there has never yet been a pure creature in this life, nor shall there ever be one so completely transported by contemplation and the love of the Godhead that there will not still remain a large and wonderful cloud of unknowing between him and his God."

We have to be careful when approaching some of these medieval mystical works. Often times they can stray into pietism, quietism, fideism, or sometimes a quasi-pantheism. Meister Eckhart is a good example, who said "the eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me." That can obviously imply some kind of heresy, but the problem with a lot of mystical works is the words are so symbolic that it is hard to pin down what the author means, and there is oftentimes a scorn for the intellect.

Not so in the Cloud, for the meaning is clearly explained; there is no quietism here. Though the work (like all good mystical treatises) is absorbed with talk on interior contemplation, it still exhorts the reader to "labor and sweat, therefore, in every way that you can" (XIV, ii) in seeking God, something a true quietist would never say. But the labor is ultimately a labor of love. Speaking of Mary, the sister of Martha, the author of the Cloud says: "When our Lord spoke to Mary as representative of all sinners who are called to the contemplative life and said, "Thy sons be forgiven thee," it was notonly because of her great sorrow, nor because of her remembering her sins, nor even because of the meekness with which she regarded her sinfulness. Why then? It was surely because she loved much."

Unfortunately, the Cloud of Unknowing has obtained a somewhat bad reputation among orthodox Catholics in the past fifteen years because of its use by the heretic Trappist monk M. Basil Pennington in his eastern "Centering Prayer" practices. But these practices are not contained in the Cloud and we ought not to condemn the work of the 14th century pious English monk because of the abuses of the 20th century heretical American monk. I can heartily recommend this book; it is easy to read and very helpful in developing the virtue of meekness, with which almost over half of the book is concerned.

TLM Update

Regarding my post several days back about my priest announcing the TLM in our parish: the diocesan authorities have been notified and my priest is facing some resistance at various levels. That is all I can say now, but please keep my anonymous parish and my diocese in your prayers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Was John Paul II Euthanized?

Of all the things I have heard about John Paul II since his death, I think this is one of the stupidest. I can' t believe it is gaining any media attention, but people always tend to grab onto sensational headlines, even if (or I should say, especially if) there is very little substance to them. I am referring to the assertion by Dr. Lina Pavanelli that the late John Paul II was actually killed by means of euthanasia, a fact which she says has subsequently been covered up by the Vatican (here we go again with the tired old "the Vatican's covering it up" line). Let's look at her claims in detail.

In a TIME magazine article dated Sept. 21st 2007, Dr. Pavanelli asserts that she came to the conclusion that the Pope was actually euthanized. Okay, so where does she draw this conclusion from? Well, from two main places. According to the TIME article, "She bases this conclusion on her medical expertise and her own observations of the ailing pontiff on television." Her own medical expertise? I suppose that translates to, "Hey, see that Ph.D. after my name? I know what I'm talking about!" What about this second source on which she bases her conclusion: "her own observations of the ailing pontiff on television." Please. So you can tell from watching JPII sick on TV whether he is being euthanized or not? If you are going to make such claims, please stop wasting out time and produce some real evidence.

And just what is the nature of this euthanasia? Pay attention to this: for Dr. Pavanelli, she says that the fact that John Paul II did not receive a feeding tube until a few days before his death may have "accelerated" it and thus constituted euthanasia. Notice what she said; it was not, as in the Schiavo case, that an existing feeding tube was removed, but rather that a feeding tube was not inserted until (in her opinion) it was too late. So now failure to insert a feeding tube until its too late is euthanasia apparently.

What does the pope's personal physician say? Dr. Renato Buzzonetti vehemently denies that anything close to euthanasia took place. A nasal feeding tube was ingested only three days before the pontiff died because, according to Buzzonetti, until that time the pope was still able to ingest food. If he could still ingest food, of course they wouldn't put a feeding tube in him! It only makes sense that they would insert the tube only after he couldn't eat anymore, which in his case happened to be three days before death. Failure to insert a tube until a person can no longer eat hardly constitutes euthanasia.

Dr. Pavanelli's article with her bold assertions originally appeared in the Italian bi-monthly journal Micromega. Oh, by the way, Micromega is also quasi-scientific journal that is against the Vatican's stance on bioethical issues, so I would hardly call Dr. Pavanelli's assertions unbiased. This is clearly a highly publicized attempt on the part of the anti-Church pro-euthanasia crowd to make the Church look stupid and give in on euthanasia. After all, if the pope did it, why can't everybody else? The implication, of course, is that the Pope is either a hypocrite or a coward for denouncing something and then succumbing to it himself.

It is appalling that this claim is receiving any attention at all. Fortunately, it is a claim without substance and ranks alongside, for example, the claims of the Raelians a few years back that they had cloned a human baby but refused to offer any proof.

Click here for the TIME article with Dr. Pavanelli's stupid comments.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Obscure Anglo-Saxon Saints: St. Erconwald of London

St. Erconwald was a kinsman of King Offa of Mercia and came into a considerable amount of wealth from the patrimony left to him by virtue of his royal connections, which he used to found a monastery and a convent in Essex. Over the convent he placed his sister, Ethelburga, who later became a saint as well. Erconwald himself led the solitary life of a monk until in 675 he was called by King Sebbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury to fill the vacant See of London.

He was known for his extraordinary sanctity, and Bede attests that many were healed who came in contact with the litter on which he was carried in his old age. During his episcopate he obtained many privileges for his See from the king and enlarged the flock in London considerably.

Erconwald died in 690 and was buried in the cathedral of St. Paul's in London, where many miracles happened at his tomb. In 1087 the cathedral was ravaged by a fire, but the linen cloths on his tomb miraculously remained intact. So esteemed was Erconwald in the late Anglo-Saxon / early Norman periods that in 1148 his relics were translated to the High Altar. A decree of 1386 ordered the feast of Erconwald's death and the translation of his relics to be celebrated as a feast of the first class in England. At the time of the English Reformation, all the jewels of his tomb were plundered and the relics themselves lost, though it is rumored that they now rest under the east altar, though it is far from certain.

St. Erconwald, ora pro nobis!

More Bad Liturgical Music

My wife recently attended a Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation at a parish that we do not usually go to. The music selected for the Liturgy was guitar music heavily influenced by the charismatic movement and implementing drums and keyboards. One of the unfortunate things about all the new liturgical music coming out since the 1960's (besides the obvious fact that it is not Gregorian Chant!) is that the words are altered to fit the music. For example, if the music is for the "Sanctus" and the syllables do not fit the beat of the music, then the composer often rearranges the words to fit the music, thus altering the traditional prayer and making it difficult to sing along to if you do not know that particular arrangement.

Furthermore, contrary to what many hip music directors may think, most people who are not musicians have a hard time staying with anything beyond the most ordinary rhythms. Nobody has a difficult time singing along to "Lift High the Cross" or "O Sacrament Most Holy." These rhythms are (1) straightforward, (2) repetitive, (3) familiar through years of usage. Many new hymns utilize a "verse, chorus, verse" arrangement of secular songs in which the chorus has a different rhythm or beat than the rest of the song; some of the most aggregious offenders even have a "bridge" in the hymn, thus adding a third component.

At this particular Mass my wife was at, though she knew the "Gloria" and the "Agnus Dei" like the back of her hand, she nevertheless could not sing along with the music being played because the rhythms were a bit too complicated, the words were therefore changed around to fit the music, and it was uncertain how the next verse was going to fit in because the composition had too many movements. This rendered it difficult to lift her mind and heart to God because she was aware of a profound discomfort and not being able to pray the age old prayers of the Church because of modern innovations in lyrics, rhythm and music. An old woman feebly attempting to make sense of it all turned to my wife and said, "What are they singing? I don't know what's going on anymore!"

This woman's statement was perhaps the saddest but most concise commentary on the whole affair. Now, if the Mass had been utilizing the Missa de Angelis that Catholics had been using for 400 years, if there never had been any interruption in the 1960's, then the "Kyrie" and "Gloria" of the Missa de Angelis would have been known from birth, interiorized, cherished, and recited with ease by the old woman who would have been doing something profoundly familiar instead of entering foreign territory whenever she went to Mass. I recently met a gentleman who told me that he was composing his own music for the Mass; I asked him if he was doing it just as a musical exercise or if he really intended to have it used. He mentioned that he was indeed trying to get it "performed" (this is the word he used). So another wrench is thrown in; people have just settled down to M. Haugen's crappy "Mass of Creation" and now some parish somewhere is going to have to endure another novelty.

By the way, in case you are wondering, I referred the man in question to the encyclical Tra le Sollecitudine of Pius X, though I did not tell him beforehand what it was about. I just said it dealt with sacred music and that he might find it helpful. Let's hope he read it and took it to heart!

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Babies in Limbo Debate

Since a lot of people have been commenting on Limbo in the past few, months I thought I would chime in with my two cents here.

Contrary to what many Trads have been saying, I do not think, in my opinion, that Limbo is a de fide doctrine. It seems to be an opinion of theologians. Now, let me clear up what I am saying: it is certainly de fide that those who die in a state of original sin with no other sin can nevertheless not see the Beatific Vision; original sin alone is enough to deprive one of the Beatific Vision. However, this doctrinal statement is not the equivalent of Limbo. Affirming the former does not necessarily imply the latter.

Nobody is doubting that those who die in the state of original sin are deprived of the Beatific Vision; to my knowledge, that has never been up for debate. Those who are saying that this is the teaching that the Holy Father changed are simply wrong. What is in question is this: does God intervene somehow on the behalf of infants who die in original sin in order to cleanse them and make them fit for heaven? This is the real question. So, while we can admit for certain that original sin would bar one from heaven, the question is whether or not God remits that sin somehow before they are judged. If He does, then there is no need to postulate the existence of Limbo, all the while maintaining the truth that original sin deprives one of the Beatific Vision.

I think there is Scriptural support for this position. In 2 Samuel 12, David is punished for his adultery with Bathsheba by the death of the child that he conceved by her. After he prays and fasts for the life of the child and it nevertheless dies, he gets up and cleans himself and calls off his fast. His servants ask him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!" In verses 22-23, David answers, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."

Notice that David says, "I will go to him, but he will not return to me." Now, it is part of Catholic Tradition that the patriarchs and righteous kings, like David, went to heaven. David, after all, was a man after God's own heart; Scripture says that besides the Bathsheba affair, he did what was right all the days of his life. David is mentioned in Hebrews 11:32 as one of the heroes of faith who Christian Tradition has always placed among the blessed. Now, if we know with theological certainty that David went to heaven, and that David says of his dead infant that "I will go to him," then this seems to imply that the infant went to heaven, becaus he says that he will be with the infant, and we know that David went to heaven.

This is a good argument, and it seems consistent with God's mercy that He would desire to save those who have died in original sin through no fault of their own, but it has three weak points:

1) Just because God may have done that for David's son does not prove He does it universally; although I can see no reason why He wouldn't.

2) As far as I know, no Father of Doctor has cited this passage or made this case, though I may be wrong.

3) This is the same reasoning used by those who deny hell; i.e., we know that those who die in mortal sin go to hell, but perhaps God intervenes at the last moment so that nobody actually dies in mortal sin. However, this argument applied to infants dying in original sin is a lot more consonant with God's mercy and justice than the position used by those who deny hell.

That being the case, we must remember that Tradition is not a closed canon regarding everything. Tradition is living and is still developing; it has not fully developed, not will it ever fully develop until the end of time. There are some things still up for debate, and I think the existence of Limbo is one of them.

Let me restate what I said in the beginning: it is de fide that those who die with original sin cannot see the Beatific Vision. This does not imply that therefore all infants in such a state go to Limbo, for God could (if He chose) intervene on behalf of these innocent souls and remit their original sin at the moment of death, allowing them entrance into heaven. Based on the truth that God is just and would not punish people for what they are not responsible for, and that this seems to be the case with David's son, I believe that this is in fact what God does. I do not claim this to be truth, but only my theological opinion, for which I am open to discussion on.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Well, the day has finally come! This Sunday morning at Mass, my pastor announced that our parish was going to be offering the Traditional Latin Mass. Hallelujah! It is going to be offered every Sunday so I will never need to go to a Novus Ordo Mass again (in terms on fulfilling my Sunday obligation, at least). Many of you go to the TLM every week, but the nearest TLM is 1.5 hours away from me and with little kids, it is near to impossible to get to it. The TLM at my parish is a tremendous blessing for myself, our parish, our diocese and the Church at large. The TLM is not going to be offered just yet because the preparations are not ready, but it will be soon. There were many other good things announced regarding Church design and liturgical architecture, but I will not go into it for the sake of preserving my anonymity (if I have any left!)

Friday, September 21, 2007

New CDF document on Bioethics

A new CDF document came out recently dealing with certain bioethical considerations of persons in a "vegetative state." It dealt with certain dubia proposed regarding the obligation to provide patients with food and hydration.

The document hands down two decisions: (1) Food and hydration constitute "an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life" and must always be administered to a patient in a vegetative state so long as the person's body is capable of assimilating it. Only when it is not capable of assimilating them are caregivers released from the obligation of providing patients with food and hydration. (2) Even if professionals believe a patient may never recover from the vegetative state, food and hydration cannot be discontinued because the person retains their human dignity and must continue to be given the means of preserving their life, even if by artificial means.

Check out the document here.

Modern Catholic Youth Apostolates

It recently dawned on me that not only in the liturgical life of the Catholic Church, but also in its apostolates and social life have many of its characteristics become Protestantized. Take Youth Groups, for example. They are entirely a Protestant notion, without foundation in any tradition of the Church. No Catholic Church had a "Youth Group" or a "Youth Director" (or worse yet, "Youth Minister") prior to the Second Vatican Council. If they did, it certainly wasn't along the lines they have now.Don't get me wrong, the Church certainly had organizations for the youth, but they were by no means the organic predecessors of the sorry Youth Groups we have today.

What is so Protestant about our Youth Groups? By the way, I am not denying that there are many good Catholic youth groups that exist out there. As a Youth Director myself, I am not offering a blanket condemnation of all Youth Groups; I am asserting that the predominant form or prototype for the modern Catholic Youth Group is Protestant in essence.

First of all, the fact that they have both sexes mingling together. This was absolutely never undertaken in the pre-Conciliar Church. There were separate groups for boys, and separate groups for girls. The pre-Conciliar authorities had the common sense to realize that boys and girls cannot focus on spiritual growth if they are thrown in a room together to gawk and flirt with each other at a biological time in their life when their hormones are out of control. This is not necessarily Protestant, but since this sort of thing started in Protestant youth organizations and only later seeped into the Church, I will call it so.

Also, like everything else about Protestantism, modern Catholic Youth Groups seemed to be bent on entertaining kids and making them feel good rather than in spiritually forming them. There is more emphasis on "team work", "life skills" and on "creating a welcoming environment" than on instilling Catholic virtue. Perhaps this is the point of the useless proliferation of trite games and ice-breakers that are done in Youth Groups around the world today. Some may argue that at least it keeps our kids off the streets and out of drugs. Perhaps. But let me point out two things:

(1) Just because a kid comes to Youth Group once a week does not mean he will not do drugs or make bad choices the other six days of the week, and

(2) Even if it does keep him off drugs and out of trouble, that is insufficient. Youth programs, imaging what Christ did for us, must not just save us from something but save us for or to something: the instilling of Catholic virtue and mature faith. But modern Youth programs do not care about raising up sound Catholics; they care about making it entertaining so more kids will come so their numbers will be up so they can brag about what a vibrant Youth Group they have. I'm sure many Catholic Youth Director's do not care about the numbers, but there is an overemphasis on entertainment and feeling. The nationwide NCYC (National Catholic Youth Conference) abomination is an example of this.

Then: members of St. Bonaventure's Young Ladies Sodality, Columbus , Nebraska, 1905

Third, modern Youth Groups are always run by lay people; in the old days, always a priest (if male) or a sister (if female) ran the Youth organization. Granted, this has to do with the alleged vocations crisis (which is more a crisis in catechesis and formation than in willing men) and until there are more priests around, there is not much that can be done about it. But it is just another point of difference.

What kind of youth programs were going on in the pre-Conciliar Church? Well, there were the countless sodalities, confraternities, altar societies and various Pious Associations formed in every diocese for the purpose of the inculcation of the faith among our youth. St. Therese of Liseux recalls that she was a member of such a group and that it meant very much to her. There were larger organizations, like the sodality of the Children of Mary of the Sacred Heart, whose purpose was, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

"Their devotion to the Heart of Jesus prompts the making of vestments and other altar requirements for poor churches and distant missions. Their zeal takes many other forms: - supporting orphans, visiting hospitals, helping the poor in their homes, opening work-rooms and guiding reading-circles for young girls, providing for the maintenance of youthful aspirants to the priesthood: in a word, all the interests of God and Holy Church are theirs."

How many Youth Groups have you heard of that make vestments or guide reading circles? Contrast that with what goes on in modern Youth Groups: recently my wife and I were driving through a city and saw a bunch of bikini clad teen-age girls flaunting their bodies outside of a Church. They were waving signs advertising a $3.00 car wash and were clearly using their bodies to attract male customers. Now, maybe they were raising funds for a good cause. But that's not the point. The point is that the place that was supposed to be a refuge for them became an occasion of sin for themselves (and for any man who turned into the car wash because he wanted his vehicle washed by half-naked teenage girls). Not every example is that extreme; most are just dumb. Teenagers going to Youth Group to do nothing but play stupid games and talk about banal secular issues like poverty, depression and peer pressure.

Now: a typical American Youth Group doing nothing productive at all.

Other youth organizations worth mentioning are St. John Bosco's Oratory for boys, where faith was instilled in countless Italian youth under the loving hand of the patron saint of youth. By the time of St. John Bosco's death, he had over 250 houses with 130,000 children worldwide. Of course, St. John Bosco is an extraordinary example, but there were countless other smaller organizations like his Oratory all around the world, all run by clergy and religious, all dedicated to the things of God and the instilling of virtue.

There is hope today. Of all the youth programs out there, Dead Theologians Society seems to hold the most promise at the moment. Youth gather in Church basements to pray by candlelight and to the smell of incense; then they delve into the writings and lives of the saints to be inspired by their heroic examples. You can check out the DTS website here. By and large, though, we still have a long way to go in getting our Youth Group's to where they need to be; I don't even like the name "Youth Group." But, like many other things in the post-Conciliar Church, we just have to entrust this matter to the Holy Spirit and to Christ, Whose Church it is, in hopes that He who was so solicitious for the little ones while He was on earth will not leave them orhpans now that He is in heaven.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Obscure Anglo-Saxon Saints: St. Oswin of Deira

Anyone who researches Church history will soon come to realize that there is an enormous amount of obscure Anglo-Saxon saints (the English Anglo-Saxon period lasted from about 500-1066) who hear vitually nothing about. I personally am enthralled by these saints and their era: the saintly kings of places like Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria, their odd, exotic names, and their ecclesiastical and dynastic troubles that now are faded almost beyond memory, much like the eroded Anglo-Saxon stone momuments of the period they represent.

I think there are two reasons why the Anglo-Saxon saints are so neglected: (1) the obvious attempt of the Normans to efface their memory in favor of French saints, and (2) the later attempt of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth to efface the veneration of all saints. Between these two attempts, the Anglo-Saxon saints have suffered greatly. I hope to resurrect some knowledge of them on this lowly blog.

My first choice is St. Oswin, King of Deira (a part of Northumbria) from 644-651, in the second generation after England's conversion to Christianity by St. Augustine of Canterbury. His father had been murdered by the warlord Cadwalla, and young Oswin had been spirited away to safety in Wessex shortly afterwards. Following the death of his kinsman, Oswald, at the hands of King Penda of Mercia in 642, he returned to Deira (south Northumbria) and became King around 644. His kinsman Oswy ruled Bernicia, the northern part of Northumbria.

Oswin had a great reputation for sanctity and justice, and for seven years the kingdom of Deira enjoyed great happiness and prosperity. But his kinsmen Oswy, jealous of his power, made war upon Oswin. Oswin found himself unable to best the armies of Oswy, and so he disbanded them and fled to the eorldorman Humwald of Gilling, whom had recently pledged allegiance to Oswin. But the unscupulous Humwald quickly betrayed the saintly King Oswin to some of Oswy's officers who murdered him at Gilling in 651. The slain king was immediately venerated as a saint; Bede says of him, "He was most generous to all men and above all things humble; tall of stature and of graceful bearing, with pleasant manner and engaging address".

He was buried at Gilling, but his remains were lost during the Danish troubles . Only one year before the Norman Conquest (1065), St. Oswin appeared in a vision to a monk named Edmund and revealed the location of his body. On August 20th, 1103 his body was transferred solemnly to its final resting place. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries during Henry VIII's reign, his body was found to be intact in the tomb, but it was sacriligiously destroyed. Only a fragment remained, which is now kept at Durham (above).

As a side note, Eanfleda, the wife of Oswin's murderer Oswy and daughter of St. Edwin, persuaded her husband to do penance for Oswin's murder by endowing a monastery at Gilling, which he promptly did. Some remains can still be seen today, though it was destroyed by the Danes in the 11th century.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Slavery & Abortion

Many pro-lifers have commented on the similarities between abortion and slavery and how the same legal issues are at stake (can the right to life be subordinated to the right to privacy or property). I am not posting about this similarity; it has already been well commented upon. If you want to refresh yourself, then check out this article on the similarities between abortion and slavery at

I was in my post-grad American Economic History class with my relatively liberal professor this morning. He was discussing slavery as an economic institution and mentioned the Dred Scott Case (1857) in which it was declared by Chief Justice Taney (a Catholic, by the way) that slaves were property of their masters, not citizens, and had no rights under the law. He commented on how horrible it was that so many were able to be kept in bondage, and then pointed out how beneficial it was that the 13th amedment freed the slaves, the 14th granted them citizenship, and the 15th voting rights. All the other liberals in the class were nodding in agreement (and it is a good thing to agree that slavery is bad).

Then, when it was time for questions, I said, "How is that issue any different than the current controversy over abortion, in which a woman's child is declared her property and deprived of life without sue process of law?" The room went silent and he got a dumb look on his face. But his response was interesting, especially since he is kind of a liberal (or so it seems from certain comments he makes).

He said that slavery was entrenched in the Constitution while abortion sprung from a mere decision of the Supreme Court. Therefore, he said, slavery had much more of a constitutional basis than abortion and was much more entrenched in society. Then he went on to another topic. Although he did not answer my question on the moral similarity between abortion and slavery, he did point out something: slavery was enmeshed in the Constitution, and was yet overturned and overthrown, and is now accepted by all peoples as being morally reprehensible. Abortion, as springing only from a decision of the Supreme Court, is on much shakier ground constitutionally than slavery.

Conclusion: If slavery, which was constitutional, could be overthrown, then abortion, which is not in the constitution and is on shakier ground, could (in theory) be much more easily overthrown legally if we just had the people to carry it through.

In closing, look at this excerpt from this article on lame-duck President James Buchanan, the predecessor of Lincoln. Look at how it phrases Buchanan's position on slavery and see if it rings any bells: "Buchanan personally opposed slavery, but as a public official he felt bound to sustain it where sanctioned by law. Political enemies called him a "trimmer," but he took middle ground consistently as a matter of policy. What some considered impotent vacillation was an expression of three fundamental convictions: (1) that only by compromise between the parts could a federal republic survive; (2) that citizens had to obey the law even when they thought it unjust; and (3) that questions of morality could not be settled by political action. Despite the secession movement, he succeeded in preventing hostilities between North and South, and he turned over to Lincoln a nation at peace with eight slave states still in the Union."

Hermeneutic of Exceptions

The major effect of the ambiguity of the Vatican II documents is the emergence of two divergent methodologies used in interpretations of Church statements, one favoring a innovative approach and the other an approach in keeping with Catholic tradition. These two methodologies have been dubbed the "hermeneutic of rupture" and the "hermeneutic of continuity", respectively.

Now, if the documents of the Second Vatican Council were not so intentionally ambiguous in some of their most important doctrinal and disciplinary statements (what Michael Davies calls "time bombs"), we would not even have two opposing "hermeneutics" to worry about. Nobody who reads the Syllabus of Errors or Lamentabile Sane can possibly argue about how to interpret them. But not so with Vatican II documents, and with every Church document promulgated since then.

All of us, Traditionalists, conservatives and liberals, have grown accustomed to having to look beyond the plain language of a document in order to draw out the true meaning, often because the plain language is so elusive. One effect of this unfortunate trend is seen in what I have called "the hermeneutic of exceptions." This is the principle that whenever the Church lays down a norm that is universally binding but, through concession, permits some small exception or deviation from the norm, that minor deviation is latched onto, the regulations governing it are so extended and watered down, and soon the exception becomes the norm, the norm becomes a dead letter, and is soon relegated to the realm of discarded Traditions.

Take, for example, the famous case of Sacrosanctum Concilium 36, which states that "(1) Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. (2) But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended." So here we have a directive ordering continued use of Latin, but a secondary provision allowing use of vernacular when deemed appropriate by competent ecclesiastical authority.

But what has happened? Has Latin been preserved? Certainly not! The exception to the rule, that vernacular could sometimes be permitted in certain situations, has become the norm in the entire Latin rite, so much so that liberals now speak nervously about the possibility that the Church might someday "return to the use of Latin." This demonstrates that they have so changed the exceptional use of vernacular into the norm that they honestly think Latin has been abrogated or is not still the official language of the Church!

Another instance of this hermeneutic of exceptions is in the interpretation of the Church's doctrine on the possibility of persons in a state of invincible ignorance being able to attain salvation. Have you noticed how widely this was applied? Conservative Catholic apologist James Loukidis, for example, has applied the doctrine of invincible ignorance to the pagans gathered at the Assisi Prayer Gatherings in 1986 and 2002. How can pagans gathering in Italy at the invitation of the Pope himself be considered invincibly ignorant? Too often this teaching of the Church (which only says that the salvation of invincibly ignorant persons is possible) is extended in such a way to imply that all non-Catholics are saved. In actuality, there is almost nobody alive on the earth today who meets the criteria for being invincibly ignorant, at least the way the Church understands it. To be ignorant invincibly means to (1) have not heard of Christ and His Church, and (2) to have no way of finding out about it even if you wanted to. Who meets those criteria now except some undiscovered tribes in the Amazon somewhere?

I'm sure there are a million other examples of how a minor exception is extended into a universal norm: the permissibility of girl altar servers, the abuses of annullments, dozens of liturgical issues, abuse of Natural Family Planning for non-serious reasons, etc. All of these began as concessions that were exceptions to a norm, and all have become the norm. The fact is that modern Catholicism seems to have an unhealthy fixation on exceptions and deviations at the expense of norms. The sooner we return to Tradition, the sooner we will come back to a Church who knows of only one way to interpret her documents and, through them, herself: and that is the traditional interpretation used by the Fathers and hallowed by centuries of use by saints and doctors.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Report on the 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly

The 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly, which met in Subiu, Romania from 4-9 September 2007, adopted as their theme The Light of Christ Shines Upon All. Hope for Renewal and Unity in Europe. One of the participants in this gathering, a Catholic priest, offered a presentation last night, which I was able to attend. He spoke both of his experience at Subiu, and also of his vision of the ecumenical movement in general.

The presentation focused primarily, indeed almost exclusively, on the relationship of the Catholic Church with the schismatic Orthodox Churches of the East. I'll offer just two observations on the presentation. First, I was delighted that he urged the Eastern Catholic Churches united with Rome to cling tenaciously their own unique traditions, to resist the easy path of adopting Roman habits. Second, and more negatively, I am rather uncomfortable (that might be putting it too mildly) with the notion put forward that the Orthodox ought only to be bound to believe, in regards to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, those aspects of the doctrine that developed in the first millennium of the Church. N.B. the de Fide dogma of papal infallibility was solemnly defined only in 1870 by the First Vatican Council's decree Dei Filius.

When the students were offered the opportunity of putting questions to our guest, I asked the following: "What, if any, do you think the significance of Pope Benedict's initiative, which takes effect today, of de-restricting the traditional liturgy of the Latin Church, will be in regards to the Orthodox, who obviously value so highly their own traditional liturgies?"

I was rather disappointed with his answer, although I appreciated the honesty of his initial response. He admitted that it is not something he has much familiarity with, although he would suppose a favorable reaction amongst the Orthodox in general. However, he then went on with the usual characterizations of the Traditional Latin Mass: mumbled prayers in a dead language, old ladies praying the rosary, etc. Ah well, yesterday was still a day for rejoicing in the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and in the liberalization of our beloved rite of Mass.

But it behooves us to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ: in Whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection: by Whom we are saved, and delivered. May God have mercy on us and bless us: may he cause the light of His countenance to shine upon us, and may He have mercy on us.

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Exaltation of the Holy Cross - September 14th

Today (September 14th, 2007) is the implementation of the Holy Father's Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. This is a wonderful day for the Church and ought to be celebrated appropriately: smoking cigars, raising toasts to Benedict XVI, blessing Our Lady, immersing ourselves in Gregorian Chant, and burning Bugnini in effigy (well, maybe not the last one).

This would be the third time that a great historic event happened on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The feast was instituted to commemorate the finding of the True Cross in Jerusalem by St. Helena in the year 325. As the historian Socrates Scholasticus says in his Historia Ecclesiastica, Chapter XVII:

Helena, the emperor's mother (from whose name having made Drepanum, once a village, a city, the emperor called it Helenopolis), being divinely directed by dreams went to Jerusalem. Finding that which was once Jerusalem, desolate `as a Preserve for autumnal fruits,' according to the prophet, she sought carefully the sepulchre of Christ, from which he arose after his burial; and after much difficulty, by God's help she discovered it. What the cause of the difficulty was I will explain in a few words.

Those who embraced the Christian faith, after the period of his passion, greatly venerated this tomb; but those who hated Christianity, having covered the spot with a mound of earth, erected on it a temple to Venus, and set up her image there, not caring for the memory of the place. This succeeded for a long time; and it became known to the emperor's mother. Accordingly she having caused the statue to be thrown down, the earth to be removed, and the ground entirely cleared, found three crosses in the sepulchre: one of these was that blessed cross on which Christ had hung, the other two were those on which the two thieves that were crucified with him had died. With these was also found the tablet of Pilate, on which he had inscribed in various characters, that the Christ who was crucified was king of the Jews. Since, however, it was doubtful which was the cross they were in search of, the emperor's mother was not a little distressed; but from this trouble the bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius, shortly relieved her. And he solved the doubt by faith, for he sought a sign from God and obtained it.

The sign was this: a certain woman of the neighborhood, who had been long afflicted with disease, was now just at the point of death; the bishop therefore arranged it so that each of the crosses should be brought to the dying woman, believing that she would be healed on touching the precious cross. Nor was he disappointed in his expectation: for the two crosses having been applied which were not the Lord's, the woman still continued in a dying state; but when the third, which was the true cross, touched her, she was immediately healed, and recovered her former strength. In this manner then was the genuine cross discovered. The emperor's mother erected over the place of the sepulchre a magnificent church, and named it New Jerusalem, having built it facing that old and deserted city. There she left a portion of the cross, enclosed in a silver case, as a memorial to those who might wish to see it: the other part she sent to the emperor, who being persuaded that the city would be perfectly secure where that relic should be preserved, privately enclosed it in his own statue, which stands on a large column of porphyry in the forum called Constantine's at Constantinople.

Now, those who are sons of St. Franics (myself included, since he is my Confirmation saint), know also that this day commemorates the day St. Francis received the first stigmata on Mount LaVerna. Bonaventure records that this took place on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Celano, though he fails to mention the feast day, records that:

Two years before Francis gave his soul back to heaven, while he was staying in a hermitage called Alverna after the place where it was located, he saw in a vision from God a man with six wings like a seraph, standing above him with hands extended and feet together, affixed to a cross. Two wings were raised over his head, two were extended in flight, and two hid his entire body.

When the blessed servant of God saw these things he was filled with wonder, but he did not know what the vision meant. He rejoiced greatly in the benign and gracious expression with which he saw himself regarded by the seraph, whose beauty was indescribable; yet he was alarmed by the fact that the seraph was affixed to the cross and was suffering terribly. Thus Francis rose, one might say, sad and happy, joy and grief alternating in him. He wondered anxiously what this vision could mean, and his soul was uneasy as it searched for understanding. And as his understanding sought in vain for an explanation and his heart was filled with perplexity at the great novelty of this vision, the marks of nails began to appear in his hands and feet, just as he had seen them slightly earlier in the crucified man above him.

His hands and feet seemed to be pierced by nails, with the heads of the nails appearing in the palms of his hands and on the upper sides of his feet, the points appearing on the other side. The marks were round on the palm of each hand but elongated on the other side, and small pieces of flesh jutting out from the rest took on the appearance of the nail-ends, bent and driven back. In the same way the marks of nails were impressed on his feet and projected beyond the rest of the flesh. Moreover, his right side had a large wound as if it had been pierced with a spear, and it often bled so that his tunic and trousers were soaked with his sacred blood.

May the prayers of St. Helena, St. Francis, and merits of Christ be with the Church on this holy day! Let the Cross be exalted till its glory fills the whole earth.
Adoramus te, christe, et benedicimus tibi, quia per crucem tuam redemisti mundum. O Crux, ave spes unica!

Historicity of the Flood

As a lover of history and of the Faith, I have always loved studying biblical archaeology (as my series on the Ark of the Covenant should have made clear!). The stories about Noah's Flood always hold a particular lure for the student of sacred history. From a doctrinal point of view, I think that the question of the Flood is a pertinent one to discuss. Is the historicity of the Flood a de fide doctrine of the Church? Do Catholics have to accept a universal Flood?

If we look to Catholic Tradition, we will see the evidence solidly behind a historical Flood. As the Catholic Encyclopedia says, "The Deluge is referred to in several passages of Scripture as a historical fact; the writings of the Fathers consider the event in the same light, and this view of the subject is confirmed by the numerous variants under which the Flood tradition lives in the most distant nations of the earth...the Bible story concerning the Flood has never been explained or understood in any but a truly historical sense by any Catholic write. It would be useless labour and would exceed the scope of the present article to enumerate the long list of Fathers and Scholastic theologians who have touched upon the question. The few stray discordant voices belonging to the last fifteen or twenty years are simply drowned in this unanimous chorus of Christian tradition." Isn't it interesting that in the view of the Catholic Encyclopedia, the patristic and Scholastic support for the historicity of the Flood is so universal as to make it a "useless labour" to enumerate them all! I guess that settles the question of whether or not it is part of Catholic Tradition! Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma is silent on the issue as it is on many historical topics (except for the question of Genesis 1).

As to whether or not the Flood was universal, we do not necessarily have to believe that it was geographically universal (that it covered the entire earth topically), but as far as I can tell we must adhere to the belief that it was anthropologically universal (that it destroyed all men). Some of the Fathers defend a geographically universal Flood, but they do not defend it vigorously and often express reservations about its topical universality. However, all of the Fathers admit that the Flood wiped out all of mankind, and Sacred Scripture confirms this; the reality seems to be that at such an early time in history, mankind was confined to only a small portion of the earth. This was the portion destroyed by the Flood.

Interesting is the Catholic Encyclopedia's assertion that the existence of other Flood myths in the world proves the reality of the event: "The historicity of the Biblical Flood account is confirmed by the tradition existing in all places and at all times as to the occurrence of a similar catastrophe. F. von Schwarz enumerates sixty-three such Flood stories which are in his opinion independent of the Biblical account."

These alternate Flood myths have always fascinated me; they occur in such divergent places in the globe that they seem to leave no other explanation than that Flood legends are part of the universal patrimony of mankind, and hence harken back to an anthropologically universal event that objectively happened.

Here are some of my favorite alternate Flood myths:

Algonquin Indian: Long ago, when men had become evil, the powerful serpent Maskanako came and fought with them. The serpent brought the snake-water rushing, spreading everywhere, destroying everything. Then the waters ran off, and the great evil went away through a cave.
In this illustration of a story from India, a fish tells the first man, Manu, to prepare for a great flood. Manu follows the fish's instructions and survives the flood.
Arekuna of Guyana: Shortly after people arrived on earth, all crops grew on a single tree. Makunaima and his four brothers cut down the tree, and water immediately poured from the stump, and with it came fish. One of the brothers made a basket to stop the water, but Makunaima wanted a few more fish for the rivers. When he lifted the basket just a little, water came out full force, flooding the earth.

Assyria: The gods agreed to cleanse the earth of humanity, but Utnapishtim was warned by the god Ea in a dream. He and some craftsmen built a large boat (one acre in area, seven decks) in a week. He then loaded it with his family, the craftsmen, and "the seed of all living creatures." The waters of the abyss rose up, and it stormed for six days. The waters covered everything but the top of the mountain Nisur, where the boat landed. Seven days later, the waters had receded enough for the people to emerge. Utnapishtim and his wife were given immortality and lived at the end of the earth.

Babylonians: Three times (every 1200 years), the gods were distressed by the disturbance from human overpopulation. The gods dealt with the problem first by plague, then by famine. Both times, the god Enki advised men to bribe the god causing the problem. The third time, Enlil adivsed the gods to destroy all humans with a flood, but Enki had Atrahasis build an ark and so escape. Also on the boat were cattle, wild animals and birds, and Atrahasis' family. After the flood, the gods regretted their action, and Enki established barren women and stillbirth to avoid the problem in the future.

Caddo Indians (Arkansas): Four monsters grew large and powerful until they were high enough to touch the sky. One man heard a voice telling him to plant a hollow reed. He did so, and it quickly grew very big. He, his wife, and pairs of all good animals entered the reed. Waters rose to cover everything but the top of the reed and the heads of the monsters. Turtle destroyed the monsters by digging under them and uprooting them. The waters subsided, and winds dried the earth.

Chinese Flood Myth: A 22-year-long flood, caused by the water god Gong Gong, drove people to mountains and treetops. The supernatural hero Gun dammed up the waters with Growing Soil stolen from heaven.

Kammu (northern Thailand) Flood Myth: A brother and sister, warned of the upcoming flood by a mouse, sealed themselves inside a drum, and emerged again after the flood receded. They looked far and wide for mates, but they were the only survivors. A malcoha cuckoo sang to them, "brother and sister should embrace one another." They slept together. After seven years, the child was born as a gourd. A little later, hearing noises from the gourd, they burnt a hole in its shell, and people of the different races came out, first Rumeet, then Kammu, Thai, Westerner, and Chinese.

Flood Myth of the Maya: The gods used a flood to destroy the wooden people, an early imperfect version of humanity.

Flood Myth of New Hebrides (South Pacific): Tilik and Tarai, who lived near a sacred spring where they were making the land, discovered that their mother had been urinating in their food. They exchanged the food and ate hers. In anger, she rolled away the stone which had confined the sea, and the sea poured out in a great flood.

Roman: Jupiter, angered at the evil ways of humanity, resolved to destory it. He was about to set the earth to burning, but considered that that might set heaven itself afire, so he decided to flood the earth instead. With Neptune's help, he caused storm and earthquake to flood everything but the summit of Parnassus, where Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha found refuge. Recognizing their piety, Jupiter let them live and withdrew the flood. Deucalion and Pyrrha, at the adivce of an oracle, repopulated the world by throwing stones behind them; each stone became a person.
Scandinavia: Oden, Vili, and Ve fought and slew the great ice giant Ymir, and icy water from his wounds drowned most of the Rime Giants. The giant Bergelmir escaped, with his wife and children, on a boat. Ymir's body became the world we live on.

Toltecs: One of the Tezcatlipocas (sons of the original dual god) transformed himself into the Sun and created the first humans to show up his brothers. The other gods, angry at his audacity, had Quetzalcoatl destroy the people, which he did with a flood. The people became fish.

Zoroastrian: After Ahura Mazda has warned Yima that destruction in the form of winter, frost, and floods, subsequent to the melting of the snow, are threatening the sinful world, he proceeds to instruct him to build a vara, 'fortress or estate,' in which specimens of small and large cattle, human beings, dogs, birds, red flaming fires, plants and foodstuffs will have to be deposited in pairs.""Beneath this earth there is water everywhere."

There was once a time when the Hebrew Flood story was explained away as a cultural borrowing from the older and more advanced Babylonian civilization to the East. But in modern times, with so many Flood stories from every corner of the earth, is it still feasible to believe that they all "borrowed" them from each other? Wouldn't the more reasonable explanation be that humanity is collectively recalling an event that actually took place in the distant years of its infancy? This seems obvious to me.

"Army of Mary" members excommunicated

Yesterday in Quebec some members of the heretical "Community of the Lady of All Nations", also known as the "Army of Mary," incurred latae sententiae excommunication (i.e, automatic) for attempting to perform (invalid) ordinations against the will of the Church. Chief among the excommunicated was Fr. Jean-Pierre Mastropietro, a long time supporter of the Army, which was founded by supposed visionary Marie-Paule Giguère (b. 1921) of Lac-Etchemin, Quebec, in 1971. The group claims over 25,000 members around the world.

The Army of Mary was delcared a Pious Association by Cardinal Roy of Quebec, but this status was revoked in 1987 after Cardinal Ratzinger expressed grave concern about two of the group's books, which he said expressed "gravely erroneous doctrines." The group appealled this decision in 1989, but was again denied Pious Association status. In the mid-90's the groups started founding illicit religious houses and distanced itself from the diocesan authorities: this culminated in the illicit ordinations of several priests in 1998, which angered the Canadian hierarchy and prompted Cardinal Ratzinger to declare in 2000, "it is time for them [Canadian bishops] to warn parishioners that the movement can no longer be called 'Catholic' and should be banned from Church property." As well, the propagation of devotion and prayers to the "Lady of all Peoples" was also banned.

This was followed up by a declaration of the Canadian Bishops on the Feast of the Assumption, 2001, which declared the group heretical: "The Army of Mary's ongoing activities and teachings pose dangers for the Catholic Church in Canada and to the faith of its members. In view of this, and of the continuing threat to the integrity and unity of the Catholic faith, the Bishops of Canada declare, and hereby inform all the Catholic faithful, that the Army of Mary, regardless of its claims to the contrary, is not a Catholic association."

The Shrine of Etchenim, Quebec, and center of the "Army of Mary" activities.

The groups' doctrines were considered heretical on three main points: the Redmption, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and most importantly, their apparent adherence to a modified doctrine of Reincarnation. In 1978, only a few years after being deemed a Pious Association, Marie-Paule Giguère (called "Mother Mary" by members of the group) began to introduce herself as the mystical incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Instead of fleeing from this group as fast as they could, its adherents began to defend Giguere's assertions. Army of Mary priest Pierre Mastropietro (recently excommunicated) explained that Marie-Paule Giguère "is fully enveloped by God. She prays every day, but her life is so attached to that of Mary's that she isn't Mary but she is Mary at the same time. If we try to explain it we'll change its meaning."

The Canadian Bishops in their 2001 statement condemned several doctrines promulgated by the group. The group, for example, "would have its followers believe, for example, that their "Immaculate" is co-eternal with the Triune God, and that although she was once the historical mother of Jesus, she is now "reincarnated" and "dwells" in the very person of the recipient of these presumed private revelations."Furthermore, "the Army of Mary has publicly defied episcopal authority, and its defiance has not been confined to the local Church."

Did the Vatican uphold the Canadian Bishops' decree? The Army's website would have us believe not and states that the findings of a regional group of bishops are not infallible. True enough, but (a) this is a matter of discipline as well as dogma, and the fact that disciplinary matters do not pertain to infallibility does not mean they do not need to be obeyed, and (b)the Doctrinal Note of the Catholic Bishops of Canada concerning the Army of Mary received the recognitio of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 10 August 2001 (Prot. N. 216/74-13501), and was subsequently published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, 15 August 2001. Therefore, it is certain that their opinion is upheld by the Vatican.

In June 2006, the group performed four invalid ordinations. Unlike the SSPX, who ordained several bishops without authorization, the Army of Mary attempted to ordain six men as priests and had other priests performing the ordinations instead of a bishop, thus invalidating them. Nevertheless, this was the last straw in a 20 year battle with the group and Pope Benedict declared yesterday that several members of the group had incurred excommunication latae sententiae. One particularly bizarre teaching of Mary Giguere, pictured at left, is that she calls the Church of Rome the 'Church of Peter'. And the Church of Peter, which is the Church of Authority I guess, is being 'transmutated' - that's the term they use - into the Church of John, the Church of Love. Fr. Mastropietro, leader of the Army of Mary priests (which number 39) is now wearing a Byzantine crown and "acting like a pope" himself. The final line has been crossed. Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa made a poignant observation when he sadly remarked that "I like them [the Army of Mary priests]. I would like them to be Catholic priests. We need Catholic priests, but we have to have Catholic priests who obey what the bishops say ... [But] once you decide Heaven can tell you what to do, it can tell you all kinds of things that go beyond the boundaries."

Let's predict what will happen next, shall we? This story seems like some kind of bizarre cross between Medjugorje and the SSPX (although at least the SSPX are Traditionalists! This group seems to be some wacky-Novus Ordo loving order, as can be seen by their chapel pictured above). First, I predict that the leaders of the group claim that the excommunication was done illicitly. They will try to argue that the Pope and the Bishops did not follow proper protocol and henceforth, for some technical reason, the latae sententiae excommunication does not apply.

Second, I predict that they insist that they are loyal sons of the Church; in fact, more loyal to the Pope than mainstream Catholics. They will assert that they represent the true mind of the Church. Third, their charismatic leader will begin to utter more and more absurd statements, more bizarre than she has already uttered, and her followers will believe her.

Fourth, those supporting her will claim that devotion to Our Lady of All People's is still licit and will quote Vatican sources in an attempt to prove it. They will insist that pilgrimages to Etchenim have not been forbidden and that the command for Catholics to disassociate themselves from the group does not apply.They will even try to (and have already) bring forth documents to try to show that the Vatican has even approved their apparitions.

Finally, followers of the group will encourage us to not look at the doctrinal or canonical situation of the group, but at all the "good fruits" the Army is producing: how they encourage prayer, peace, the Rosary and how there are so many conversions, etc.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Click here for an article on the entire history of the group.
Click here for the Zenit report on the excommunication.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Day of Decision

Friday is the Day of Decision, the day when Summorum Pontificum takes effect. What will happen? I wish I could say that the Traditional Mass will be offered "from the rising of the sun till its setting" and that millions would flock to it; that the poverty of the Novus Ordo would be clearly seen and that the liberal bishops would go nuts. I wish it was all followed up by another Motu Proprio by His Holiness mandating the use of the Traditional Latin Mass in every diocese and a mandatory return to Gregorian Chant.

Unfortunately, I do not think anything even close to this will happen. I think that for the most part things will continue as they are. Perhaps maybe one or two parishes here and there in each diocese will offer a TLM, but it will be outside of the regular schedule and will probably not cover their Sunday obligation. I think the bishops will interpret the MP away and will drag their feet on any implementation of it.

I also foresee several battles in dioceses where the priest is compelled to appeal to Ecclesia Dei. I am very interested to see how these will turn out. If Ecclesia Dei backs up the rights of the priests solidly, then other dissenting bishops will back down.

Tradition is making a comeback. Youth are interested in the TLM. Chant is resurfacing. All is coming into play, because Jesus will not let His Church lose its power and majesty. Let's all pray for the Holy Father and for the wide and generous application of the Motu Proprio.

Beyond the issue of the Traditional Latin Mass is the issue of papal authority itself; will or will not the Pope use his God given authority to restore order and discipline in the Church? Will or will not the bishops and dissenters of the world submit? Will or will not Catholics become reacquainted with the Mass of the Ages, or will they throw up their hands in disgust and go to the Bible Community Church down the street. These are the issues that the next few months will deal with.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Is the Ark in Axum, Ethiopia?

The Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum, Ethiopia, claimed for centuries to be the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

We now come to our final theory in our search for the Ark of the Covenant: could it be resting in the Church of St. Mary of Zion in the sacred Ethiopian city of Axum? In some ways, this is the most striking of the four hypotheses that we are looking at (the other three, if you remember, being that the Ark was either (a) taken by the Babylonians, (b) hidden under the Temple Mount, or (c) hidden by Jeremiah on Mt. Nebo). Because this explanation is the most bizarre, it requires the most time to elaborate and evaluate.

First, what is claimed? The original St. Mary of Zion Church was built during the reign of the Emperor Ezana, the first Christian ruler of Ethiopia, in the 4th century AD (the modern Church was built by the late Emperor Haile Selassie in the 1950's). Since the early Middle Ages, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has claimed to possess the Ark of the Covenant. It is claimed that the Ark came to Ethiopia with Menelik I, prince of Ethiopia and son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. This is detailed in the Kebra Nagast, the sacred book of Ethiopian folklore which dates back to the 6th century AD but took its present form around the 12th century.

Just the facts. Now, before we attempt to construct some sort of theory based on this claim, let's look at the bare facts regarding Ethiopia and its relation to Christianity and the Ark. The following are all facts that bear on our discussion.

(1) The Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum is equipped with a spiked protective fence with its barbs facing outward to keep away intruders (see above picture).

(2) The Ark was supposedly once kept in the main church, but has now been moved to a separate building built in the 1950's called the "Chapel of the Tablet." The reason for this move? Reportedly, the Ark was moved to the Chapel of the Tablet adjacent to the old church because a divine 'heat' from the Tablets had cracked the stones of its previous sanctum

(3) The Church, which claims to possess the Ark, is staffed by a large group of deacons whose job is to guard the Holy of Holies, the sanctuary, where the Ark is said to rest. By longstanding tradition, if anybody tries to intrude, he is killed on site. This is well documented in Graham Hancock's book Sign and Seal, where the author merely attempts to peek behind a curtain outside of the sanctuary and is tackled by the deacons, beaten and physically flung out of the Church.

(4) The emperors of Ethiopia, even the late Haile Selassie, claimed to be descended from Solomon.

(5) Ethiopia is home to the mysterious Qemant tribe, who practice a mixture of paganism and Judaism. It is unknown where they got their Jewish practices, all of which predate the arrival of Christianity (c. 4th century).

(6) Ethiopia is also the home of the more populous Falashas, also known as the "Black Jews of Ethiopia." They are a tribe of black Jews who have dwelt in and around Lake Tana from time immemorial and practice the Jewish faith. Their Judaism lacks any Talmudic or Rabbinic influence and has been judged to date from before the exilic period (pre-500 BC). Their existence so far from Israel and their ancient, pre-Christian adherence to Judaism have never been satisfactorily explained.

(7) The Church of St. Mary of Zion is staffed by several monks whose job it is to protect the Ark. Only one monk, a guardian, is allowed access to the Ark. The guardian monk is appointed for life by his predecessor before the predecessor dies. If the incumbent guardian dies without naming a successor, then the monks of the monastery hold an election to select the new guardian. The guardian then is confined to the chapel of the Ark of the Covenant for the rest of his life (sometimes with a chain), praying before it and offering incense.

Whatever else can be said about these facts, one thing is certain: the Ethiopians firmly believe they possess the Ark. Therefore, it stands to reason that something is in the Church of St. Mary. Otherwise, why the protective bars? Why the deacons trained to kill intruders? Why the guardian monk confined for life in the sanctuary? If he is confined for life in the room, he must be confined with something that they at least believe to be the Ark. This is a lot further than we have gotten in any of our other inquiries; we could never ever verify that there was anything under the Temple Mount, or on Mount Nebo, let alone the Ark. Here we have at least evidence that something is present in the Church. That is a big step.

Now that we can safely assume that something is indeed in the Church, is there any feasibility to the claim that it could be the Ark, and how does this stand up to historical scrutiny?

First, the tradition of Menelik, son of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon, does not stand up to historical scrutiny. It may be entirely possible that such a person existed, but it is not possible that he took the Ark to Ethiopia, at least at the time the Kebra Nagast suggests (c. 950 BC). We have established in our first article that the Ark must have been in Israel until at least the time of the wicked Kings Manasseh and Amon (697-642). It was definitely gone by the middle of the reign of Josiah (c. 625), almost 50 years before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. However, we know the Ark did leave Jerusalem in the late 7th or early 6th century BC. Is it possible that it was then taken to Ethiopia? Is there any reason the Ark could have gone to Ethiopia?

Now we come to the interesting archaeological discoveries at Elephantine, in Egypt. Elephantine is an island in the Nile in the southernmost reaches of Egypt, close to the border with Nubia. Many temples have been built on the island over the millenia, including, it seems, an out of place Jewish Temple dating from the 7th century BC. The Wikipedia article on Elephantine reports:

"The Elephantine papyri are caches of legal documents and letters written in Aramaic, which document the community of Jewish soldiers stationed here during the Persian occupation of Egypt. They maintained their own temple to their God [a "Temple", aside from the Jerusalem Temple? Why would a separate Temple be maintained so far from Israel?], functioning alongside that of Chnum [Egyptian god of the Nile cataracts]. The Jewish community at Elephantine was probably founded as a military installation in about 650 BCE during Manasseh's reign [Manasseh's reign? This fits our timeline perfectly], to assist Pharaoh Psammetichus I in his Nubian campaign. The documents cover the period 495 to 399 BC."

What ought to strike us about this is (1) that there should be another Jewish "Temple" anywhere else but Jerusalem; we know how the Jews felt about rival Temples; consider their animosity towards the Samaritans for their schismatic Temple on Mt. Gerizzim! (2) That this Temple should have been built during the reign of Manasseh, the very king during whose reign the Ark appears to have vanished.

Therefore, if the Ark was taken from Jerusalem during the reign of Manasseh, it is feasible that it would have been taken somewhere far away from the reaches of this evil king; the Jewish installation on Elephantine would have been ideal. Also, why would the Jews have bothered to build a Temple here at all? I mean, the whole purpose of the Temple of Solomon was to establish "a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God" (1 Chr. 28:2). The Temple exists for the Ark; it is the reason why it was erected in the first place. Therefore, if the Ark (or what was believed to be the Ark) was not on Elephantine, why would the Jews have erected a temple there when the primary liturgical function of a temple was to be "a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord" ? So, we have a motive for the Ark to be removed during the time of Manasseh (to keep it from the abominations being carried out in the Temple of Jerusalem), a place where it could have gone to (Elephantine on the Nile, where there was an established Jewish settlement), and evidence that a "Temple" had once stood there, the only object of which was always to house the Ark.

But how and why would it have come to Ethiopia? First, we know that Egypt suffered great calamaties in the second half of the first millenium BC as it was amalgamated into the Persian (and later, Greek) Empire. It stands to reason that for the same reasons the Ark was originally taken from Israel, it might have again been taken from Elephantine. As the Temple of Solomon was destroyed and not rebuilt until the reign of Cyrus the Great (550-529 BC), taking it back to Israel would have been unthinkable. Could it have been taken south?

On Lake Tana in Ethiopia, there is an island called Tana Kirkos. On this island, there exists a small monastic community of Ethiopian Orthodox monks that have lived there from time immemorial. They make the interesting claim that the Ark was on their island for several centuries. Furthermore, the island is home to some fascinating sacrificial stones dating to the first millenium BC that the monks say were used by their ancestors, whom they say were Jews come from Canaan. If we look at the geography of Tana Kirkos, we see that it is directly south of Elephantine (as the Nile turns into Lake Tana the further south we go).

Ethiopian Monks from a monastery on Tana Kirkos in Lake Tana where, according to their tradition, the Ark of the Covenant rested for 800 years before being taken to Axum sometime in the first millenium AD.

From Tana Kirkos, it is only a short trip to the north to Axum. If we look at the places around Ethiopia that lay claim to having at one time possessed the Ark, we can almost see a logical progression. First, the Ark dissappears from Israel in the half-century before the Babylonian capitvity and is taken to the Jewish settlement of Elephantine, where the remains of a mysterious Jewish "Temple" have been found. Next, we see that a small island called Tana Kirkos in the middle of Lake Tana at the source of the Blue Nile claims it possessed the Ark for centuries and is the site of several mysterious sacrifical stones (by the way, Tana Kirkos is directly down the Nile from Elephantine). Finally, we come to Axum and St. Mary of Zion Church, where the Ark is supposed to rest today, guarded by a "Guardian Monk" who is physically confined to the sanctuary and guarded by deacons who kill intruders.

Well, this is the argument for Axum. What do you think of it? It has one fundamental weakness: the failure of anybody to produce the Ark. However, this argument has many strong points: there is a strong tradition behind it, archaeological evidence to support it, good reasoning behind it, and, despite what you may think, not as unverifiable as the other three theories.

The Axumite theory is unverifiable, but only relatively unverifiable, not absolutely. It is only relatively unverifiable because nobody is granted access to the sanctuary at St. Mary of Zion. In theory, there is no reason somebody could not force their way into the sanctuary and confirm or debunk the theory once and for all. But out other three theories are unverifiable in the absolute sense. No matter how much we search Mt. Nebo or the Temple Mount, it can always be claimed that we were looking in the wrong place or that we just need to dig a little deeper; and, there is no way to verify if the Ark was taken away by the Babylonians. Therefore, our other three theories are actually less verifiable than the Ethiopian theory.

I have to say that I personally believe that if the Ark is anywhere on this earth, it is in the sanctuary of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of St. Mary in Axum. It is the only theory that makes real sense. For an excellent treatment of this topic, check out Graham Hancock's Sign and Seal. He presents this argument in a much more detailed manner. He is an anti-supernaturalist and disbelieves in the miraculous stories attributed to the Ark, but his historical and archaeological scholarship is unimpeachable.