Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Medjugorje Prognostications

I sincerely think we may be on the cusp of witnessing the end of the Medjugorje intoxication, ort at least its end as a quasi-legitimate place of devotion within the Church. Rumors have been circulating that the Vatican is about to take the matter into its own hands and issue some sort of condemnation of the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje within the coming months. Of course, the regional bishops already declared years ago that there was no evidence of supernatural activity at Medjugorje (and this, in the end, is what this is about: supernatural activity, not whether people go to confession or repent of their sins). Furthermore, as the seers grow older and continue to heap new messages upon the original locutions, the credibility of the apparitions lessens because, as Cardinal Ratzinger himself once said, there comes a point when the sheer amount of messages to the seers begins to border on the absurd.

As often happens with these type of mystical movements in their final days, some in the Medjugorje crowd have been unable to resist themselves and have taken to prognosticating dates and times for different judgements of God, including the Second Coming itself. Case in point: Ronald L. Conte, Jr., editor and owner of the website Catholic Planet. Besides his speculations on the dates for different judgments of God, Mr. Conte also speculates that the Virgin Mary was not simply Assumed into heaven, but actually died and then was Resurrected and was then taken into heaven alive, and he furthermore says that there is inequality within the Trinity (click here to see what he means by this) and goes on to say that we need another five mysteries to the Rosary in addition to the Luminous Mysteries, which he calls the "Hidden Mysteries." These opinions (which he acknowledges are speculative in nature) are contained in a book of his aptly titled "New Insights into the Deposit of Faith."

But I digress. What about Medgujorje? Conte bases his date setting upon the assumption that both Garabandal and Medjugorje are true, valid apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Starting from this premise, he takes certain statements of the seers (who themselves did not set dates, but gave hints that made it possible for others to do so) and attempts to come up with an end-times chronology. The good news? The first eschatological event, "The Warning" or the "Day of Repentance" is set to occur within one year from today: April 10th, 2009. Let's see what Conte predicts.

First, what is the Day of Repentance? Conte says that this day is mentioned both in Garabandal and Medjugorje and that the two events are one and the same. Here is what we can expect for April 10, 2009 (taken from Conte's website) my emphases:

It begins with an event in the sky. This event is not natural, but supernatural. This event is not the Warning itself. This event has no effect on nature or on the planet. This event is not a comet, nor an asteroid, nor any other natural event. The purpose of this event is to get everyone's attention, and to awaken anyone who is sleeping. It is very brief, even momentary...Everything will stop during the brief time needed for the Warning (minutes, not hours). Electronics and vehicles will not function, except in cases of necessity [?]. People who are asleep will be awakened for it. The Warning is entirely supernatural. Each person will find themselves alone in their mind and heart with God. God will touch each person's soul. God will speak to each person's soul in a way that is fitting to the uniqueness of each individual. God will speak to each person's conscience within the limits of their own knowledge and experiences. People will understand their sins and the negative consequences of their sins. Every single human person on earth without exception will experience the Warning. Every single human person on earth will be offered grace and mercy directly from God...

[This] is the Day of Repentance, when God touches each and every human soul on earth. Generally, this experience takes the form of an illumination of the conscience, revealing to each person their own sinfulness...Mirjana [one of the seers] said: “Ten days before the first secret and the second secret, I will notify Father Petar Ljubicic. He will pray and fast for seven days, and then he will announce these to the world”. Since the first secret occurs on April 10th, ten days before is March 31st; on that day, she will tell Fr. Peter the first and second secret. Then from April 1 to April 7, inclusive, he will fast and pray. Then on April 7th, three days before the first secret, he will reveal both the first and second secrets. (April 7th is the true historical date of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.) The first secret coincides with Good Friday, and the second secret coincides with Easter.

This Day of Warning sounds a bit subjective...the type of thing where even if nothing happened on that day, the Medjugorje enthusiasts could claim that it did (like the JW's saying that Jesus came "invisibly" in 1914). Conte includes a lot of disclaimers as to what not to expect:

It will not reveal all knowledge about religion or about morals. It will not make all non-Catholic Christians realize that Catholicism is the truest form of Christianity. It will not make all non Christians realize that Christianity is the truest form of religion. It will not give the very young the understanding of adults. It will not speak to each person beyond the limits of their own knowledge, understanding, and experiences. It will not provide people with a complete understanding of wrong and right. It will not provide people with a complete understanding of their entire life.It will not show each person their entire life.It will not show each person the good things that they have done in their life. It is restrained by the limits inherent to each person's mind and heart and life.

Sounds really subjective. So, how can we be sure that it really happened? Fortunately, Conte suggests that every person on earth will be aware that at least something has happened, even if they are not sure what. Even better, there are geo-political results from this warning. A great upheaval follows, which is the result of this sudden illumination of minds...

This upheaval is a political and social upheaval, where evil persons, enraged and terrified by this blessed act of God in the first secret, and realizing that they are in danger of quickly losing power to good persons, gather all their supporters, and then fight to overthrow the nations in one particular area of the world, an area where evil is particularly strong: the Arab/Muslim nations of the Middle East and northern Africa.

Now the Muslims come in, and notice how he talks about Islam in this first paragraph...

These evil persons, these extremists, are not true devout Muslims who sincerely worship the One God; they are not even the moderate Arab/Muslims who are rather worldly and who seek to bring western ways to the Middle East. Many of these extremists use religion as a pretext for their rise to power, but they are not even sincerely misguided. They are deliberately choosing evil, and deliberately feigning religious devotion. However some number of these extremists are very worldly, and do not even offer the pretense of being devout. The nations involved in this upheaval are Iran and Iraq and the other Arab/Muslim nations of the Middle East and northern Africa. In those nations, when the event of the first secret occurs, many persons will repent and seek God in true sorrow for their sins, including very many Muslims. However, a significant number of persons in that area of the world will instead reject this gift from God.

These evil persons, newly spurred on by the terror of knowing their own sinfulness and by the fear that good persons might prevail in their nations, and also deeply enraged by this act of God itself, make a sudden concerted effort to take power in these nations...The upheaval consists of coups, insurrections, and outright war. If they cannot take over a nation's political and military power by coups and insurrections, then from those areas over which they do gain control in this way, they launch sudden attacks of warfare against the nations that they cannot capture internally. There is war and battles, chaos and killing, the disorganized and desperate acts of a loosely-knit group of persons bound by their rejection of God. It is an all or nothing gamble that they are taking. And they win. They succeed in conquering all of the Arab/Muslim nations of the Middle East and northern Africa, from Iran and Iraq, throughout the Middle East (but not the holy land of Israel).

The upheaval will occur over just a few months, beginning and ending in the year 2009. By the end of that short period of time, extremists who have chosen evil over good, many of whom use the mask of religion to cover their sinfulness, will have taken power in all of the Arab/Muslim nations of the Middle East and northern Africa. Of these nations, all led by extremists, the leader of Iran and the leader of Iraq (whoever emerges as the leaders of those nations out of the upheaval) will have the most power and control and influence over the other nations of that group. One of these leaders will be a secular (military/political) leader; the other will claim to be a spiritual leader of some kind.

How does all this effect the Catholic Church? Besides growing in holiness, Conte predicts a vast number of persons returning to Confession:

In the days and weeks after the Warning [so, we should see this by May-June, 2009], very many persons will flock to the Catholic Church for guidance and for the forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of holy Confession. Priests will be overwhelmed with the number of repentant sinners who want to confess. (Prudent Catholics will go to confession frequently in the months and weeks prior to the Warning!) Even non-Catholics will want to go to Confession. The lines for confession will stretch even out the doors of many churches. Only Catholics will know about this event in advance, and be able to explain its meaning, and be able to properly advise people as to how to be reconciled to God. Even Catholics who are not holy and not knowledgeable will be sought out by non-Catholics for whatever little guidance or knowledge they might be able to offer.

Now Conte has Pope Benedict doing something that all true Catholics would shudder at...

Pope Benedict XVI, who will respond to the Warning by suggesting that three places of worship (tabernacles) be established in Jerusalem: one for Christianity, one for Judaism, and one for Islam, that is, a Church, a Temple, and a Mosque. And that all three religions worship God together in peace, with the city of Jerusalem as an example to the world of peace between religions...But the Pope's suggestion will not happen for many years. Instead there will be war. And not until after the first part of the tribulation will there be three places of worship in Jerusalem for the three religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam); and not until then will there be a yearly celebration, at the same time of year, for worshipers from all three religions to worship together in peace in the city of peace.

Does he suggest that Muslims will convert because of this?

The Muslims who are devout and sincere in seeking God will accept repentance and conversion, becoming holier worshipers of God. They will not generally change to Christianity as a result of the Warning. But their respect for Jesus and Mary will deepen. Muslims who are not devout, but who merely use Islam as an excuse for violence, if they do not repent with great sorrow and penance, will become very much more sinful and more prone to violence. As a result, there will be conflict between the devout moderate Muslims and the violent extremist Muslims.

It goes on an on after this. He goes on to predict that Hillary Clinton will be elected President in 2008, an prediction he still is affirming as true. You can view the entire corpus of his predictions here.

So (1) There will be a cosmic, supernatural sign in the sky that everybody will see, (2) all electronics everywhere will fail, (3) everybody's consciences will be enlightened in some way that is undeniable, (4) millions will come to the Catholic Church and pack the Confessionals, (5) a cadre of Islamic militants will conquer and unite the entire Muslim world, from Iraq to Morocco, led by the leaders of Iran and Iraq, (6) a devastating war will occur, (7) Pope Benedict will propose the building of a mosque, a Church and a temple in Jerusalem, (8) Hillary Clinton will win the 2008 election, (9) all these things will take only a matter of months; they will be "beginning and ending in the year 2009."

A few things to point out: first, those Medjugorje supporters who insist that Medjugorje does not teach indifferentism and syncretism, look at Conte's drivel about Muslims "sincerely worshipping the true God" and saying that these warnings will help them to become better Muslims. Conte is well-versed in the messages of Medjugorje and Garabandal, has a theology degree from Boston College and studied under Dr. Peter Kreeft. If he gets that interpretation out of them, then I think you ought to consider that Medjugorje really is teaching syncretism. We also must wonder what Conte's view of the Church and the papacy is if he sees Benedict suggesting the building of mosques as somehow praiseworthy.

Another thing: thank God that these people cannot help themselves when it comes to date setting! Perhaps this really will happen on April 10, 2009. That'd be great if it did (except for that stuff about Benedict building a mosque and all). But, if April 1o comes and nothing happens, then we have irrefutable proof that Conte, and his whole Medjugorje-Garabandal based chronology, are faulty. This doesn't disprove the apparitions, but it makes the followers of such apparitions look a lot more foolish.

But then what happens when (as is likely), the day comes and nothing happens? Perhaps many in the Medjugorje movement will come to their senses and realize that this is all baloney, demonically inspired as the former cheif Vatican exorcist recently said. But, given the modern spirit of disobedience and dissent (which is exemplified at Medjugorje by the disobedience of the excommunicated Franciscans who run the place), I predict that the Medjugorje enthusiasts will pull a Jehovah's Witness move on us and claim that the Day of Warning really did happen, but that it was in the spiritual realm and consequently only those who were looking for it (i.e., them) noticed its occurence. Then more odd prognostications will follow, and eventually outright heresy will crop up there (although it could be argued that it has already).

Although, perhaps Conte will admit that he was wrong. In 2005 he predicted the next pope after John Paul II would be black, and he readily admitted he was in error about that. Perhaps he will simply admit that he was wrong on his calculations, but like others in the date-setting business, insist that nevertheless the things he described will indeed come to pass, just a little later than we thought. Alright. We'll keep waiting.

In the meantime, is anyone willing to bet against me that anything at all will happen on April 10, 2009?

John Paul II and Benedict XVI

At the closing of World Youth Day in Sydney this week, Cardinal Pell told Pope Benedict:

"Your Holiness, the World Youth Days were the invention of Pope John Paul the Great. The World Youth Day in Cologne was already announced before your election. You decided to continue the World Youth Days and to hold this one in Sydney. We are profoundly grateful for this decision, indicating that the World Youth Days do not belong to one pope, or even one generation, but are now an ordinary part of the life of the Church. The John Paul II generation, young and old alike, is proud to be faithful sons and daughters of Pope Benedict."

The John Paul II generation are now "proud to be faithful sons and daughters of Pope Benedict." These are truly encouraging words, and left me reflecting on the dynamic of the John Paul II cult of personality and how (and if) that popular support has effectively translated to Pope Benecdict, as Cardinal Pell suggested. Has Benedict received the same whole-hearted approval by the Church that was enjoyed by John Paul II?

I think there to some extent it is difficult to measure, because for so many youth John Paul II was the only pope they had ever known until recently. In such a case, how does one distinguish between the love of the pope as the Successor of Peter and love of John Paul II the man? For many (including myself) it was difficult, and the lines were often blurred. It was not until Benedict was elected when I was 24 that I realized that much of what I thought was devotion to the papacy as such was really devotion towards the man John Paul II. Seeing a new pope in office helped me to focus my devotion more on the papal office itself and my faith in the promise of Christ than in personality of the pope.

In many ways, the devotion of the people that was attached to John Paul II the man has translated onto Benedict XVI because of his close proximity with John Paul II personally and chronologically. And of course, many will always love the Successor of Peter simply by virtue of his office, and that is an honorable thing as well (though emotional attachment or "liking" of the pontiff ought not to be a criteria in deciding who is a faithful Catholic or not).

In the end, I think however that "sons and daughters of John Paul II" may not realize the full impact of the pontificate of BXVI because they have been conditioned to judge pontificates by differing standards. In my humble opinion, Benedict has already done a lot more for the improvement of the Church than John Paul did in his entire pontificate. If anyone deserves the title of "Great," it would be Benedict (and at this time, I do not think Benedict or John Paul merits such a title). The John Paul II generation, while loving Benedict, will look at his pontificate and wonder why he spent so much time on seemingly unimportant things like liturgy, relations with the SSPX, reconciliation with the East, canonical issues, curial changes, etc. For them, the essence of a successful pontificate is the number of miles traveled, the amount of large, open-air Masses done, the extent to which the pope is viewed as a "bridge-builder," and many like criteria.

Because of John Paul II, they have been coniditoned to view the late pope's behavior as the signs of a great pontificate, and may be unable to perceive the equally (and even more) important matters that Benedict XVI has spent his three years thus far attending to. Benedict has gave attention to things that languished under JPII and has spent some time fixing things that John Paul himself screwed up. So I don't think he will be measured with the same stick that JPII is measured by. I think that only when all those who grew up under John Paul II are old or dead, and we have seen a succession of a few more popes, will we get a true estimation of JPII's pontificate in comparison with Benedict's, just like we will not get an honest evaluation of Vatican II until every person involved in it is dead.

In the meantime, I thank God that the Church pledges its loyalty to this pontiff. He is a good and holy man, and the popes themselves are all in God's hand.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Revisiting the Pontifical Biblical Commission (part 3)

How many times have you been reading something about the Gospel of John and started running across language suggesting that the fourth Gospel was a "compilation" of many "oral traditions" that were handed down in a "Johannine community" and finally committed to writing by unknown authors sometime around 150 AD? Or how often to you pick up a commentary on Sacred Scripture which suggests that the parables and miracles of ther Gospel of John are not historical accounts of the sayings and deeds of Jesus but are only tales invented long after the death of Christ to reflect the theological beliefs that a certain community of disciples had come to attribute to Him?

Blah! Away with such nonsense. If you've ever perused through anythign relating to the Fourth Gospel (or had the stomach to watch anything from the History Channel on the New Testament) then you almost certainly have ran across this kind of drivel before. For modernists, the Gospel of John is to the New Testament what the Book of Daniel is to the old.Fortunately, the Pontifical Biblical Commission of 1907 handed down three judgments concerning the authorship and historicity of the Gospel of John. Let us recall that the judgments of the PBC were backed by the highest authority in the Church, as Pope St. Pius X said in Praestantia Scripturae:

"We now declare and expressly enjoin that all without exception are bound by an obligation of conscience to submit to the decisions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission...exactly as to the decrees of the Sacred Congregations which are on matters of doctrine and approved by the Pope; nor can anyone who by word or writing attacks the said decrees avoid the note both of disobedience and of rashness or be therefore without grave fault [i.e., mortal sin]."

In the first place, concerning the authorship of this Gospel, the PBC takes into account the massive testimony of antiquity to an authentic Johannine authorship: the testimony of the holy Fathers, ecclesiastical historians, but also of heretics, the public liturgical use of the Church, and the universal tendency of antiquity for the name of John the Apostle to be everywhere and at all times attached to this Gospel, the PBC states that the authorship of John is "firmly established" and that the textual and hypothetical counter-evidenced introduced by critics is not of sufficient strength to even weaken the tradition. Take note modernists: the Church does teach that the Fourth Gospel was written by St. John the Apostle!

Interestingly enough, regarding the differences between John and the Synoptic Gospels, as well as the differences and similarities between John and the three Epistles bearing his name, the PBC says that the taking into account of differences in time, intended audience and aim of the author is sufficient to enable us to reach a reasonable solution that the events recorded in the Gospel of John are in fact historical and that we need not postulate a novel authoriship theory to account for them. It is not necessary to invent a 2nd century, highly theoretical "Johannine community" to square the theology of John with the Gospel of Mark.

In the third part of its judgment on John, the PBC specifically denies the proposition that "the facts narrated in the fourth Gospel were invented wholly or in part as allegories or doctrinal symbols and that the discourses of our Lord are not truly and properly the discourses of our Lord Himself but the theological compositions of the writer though placed in the mouth of our Lord." The historicity of John and the veracity of all the sayings attributed to Christ are affirmed.

Thus, we have three items laid down by the PBC which we must believe concerning John, on pain of disobedience and grave fault: (1) the Gospel was written by none other than the Apostle St. John, (2) Any differences, textual or otherwise, between the Synoptics and John can be resolved reasonably without denying the traditional authorship, (3) All of the sayings and deeds of our Blessed Lord in the Fourth Gospel are to be taken at their historical face value as true sayings and works of Christ Himself.

Monday, July 21, 2008

LOTR Revisited

Attention: If you are not an insane Tolkien fan, read no further.

Okay, now that we have gotten rid of the 'unbelievers' we can continue!

For the past two months, my wife and I have been rereading The Lord of the Rings (out loud, together, one or two chapters per night). I've read LOTR before, but I decided to do it a bit more thoroughly this time around, reading it in conjunction with the Silmarillion and the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkein, just to make sure I am getting everything in context. I have also been consulting the online source Encyclopedia of Arda, as well as the Book of Lost Tales 1 and the Tolkien Companion by J.E.A. Tyler. As if that isn't enough, I've also been in personal contact with Joseph Pearce, author of Tolkien: Man and Myth, as well as Jeff Murray, a fantasy artist best known for his portrayals of Middle Earth (who, by the way, speaks Elvish to me in his emails). It should be obvious that I am trying to get the most well-rounded view of LOTR I can get by making use of all available printed and human resources.

This, of course, brings us back to the question of the relation of the movies to the books. I originally saw the LOTR movies before having read the books, and thus thought them very good, as I had nothing to compare them to. I still think they are good movies, so I am not really questioning that. They are entertaining, cinematographically pleasing to watch and relatively faithful to the book. I saw a lot less to complain about in Peter Jackson's LOTR than I did in the Walden Media production of the Chronicles of Narnia and Prince Caspian. Even after I read the books, I was still relatively pleased with the movie. I never get my expectations high in things like this. I never expect the movie to square with the book, because it never can. For one thing, a book comes at your imagination from so many more avenues than a film is able to, so in some sense, every book will automatically be better than the movie just because of the nature of film (except Last of the Mohicans, the only book I know of that was crappier than the movie).

Furthermore, there are many things about LOTR specifically that cannot be reasonably duplicated in film: for example, the seventeen years that elapse between Biblo's going away party and the time that Gandalf returns with confirmation that the ring is indeed the Ring of Power. Interestingly enough, from reading Tolkien's letters, I see that Tolkien himself was distressed by a BBC production of LOTR that had time going by too fast. While he understood that movie's cannot simply make seventeen years elapse, he suggested that there be some means of displaying the passing of time (like the changing of seasons, for example). The Jackson version lacked even that.

For me, the question is not how well the movie follows the book, but how faithfully the movie communicates the realities and images presented to us by Tolkien's works. How well do the films enable us to enter into the history and myth of Middle Earth? In this respect, there are a few problems, of which I will only enumerate the most serious.

First, the spirit of loyalty between Sam and Frodo. Though this comes out wonderfully in the first two movies, in the third there is too much license taken when Gollum tricks Frodo into telling Sam to go home. While the power of the Ring is strong, in the book it is never so strong as to cause the friendship of Frodo and Sam to split (though it is strained). In the book, Frodo and Sam go into Shelob's lair together, holding hands in the dark. In the film, Frodo enters alone after having ordered Sam to go home. This undermines what Tolkien was attempting to show about friendship and love: their power to triumph even in the midst of great evil. For those who have read the book, while it is not inconceivable that one hobbit should betray another because of the ring (isn't that the story of Smeagol and Deagol?), we find it hard to believe that this particular hobbit would be so taken in by the ring as to break his fellowship with the Sam.

I also was troubled by the failure of the movie to weave in the legendarium of Numenor and Valinor into the plot. In the book, Valinor is always behind everything, like a great constant upon which every elf reflects and every non-elf still is aware of. The glory of Valinor and the Valar permeates everything good in Middle-earth, from the gardens of Lothlorien to the phial of Galadriel to the very songs sung by Bilbo and Samwise about the western lands over the seas. The idea of a paradise "over the seas" is so prominent in the book that a great deal is lost by removing this imagery. Vague allusions are made to it by Gandalf in the third movie, but nothing like we get in the book. I think Arwen mentions the word "Valar" in the first movie as well. However, for the elves in the book, it is the splendors of the Undying Lands that give substance to their hopes, meaning to their lore, and power to their kind over the forces of evil. The power of the Light of Earendil over Shelob is meaningless to the uninitiated without a knowledge of who Earendil is, what his journey wasthe fact that the light is that of a Silmaril, what a Silmaril is, who Shelob descends from and its connection with the Two Trees of Valinor.

Can we reasonably expect this to all be worked into a film? Of course not. I am not blaming Jackson for getting this one wrong. It brings out a point that Tolkien himself made when getting LOTR published: the trilogy is shallow and vague without the background of the Silmarillion. Tolkien initially lobbied to get the Silmarillion and the LOTR published together as a single work, but the publishers were concerned about the length (and the wrongly doubted the ability of Tolkien's readership to get interested in what they perceived as the obscurities of elven myth).

The same can be said of the Numenorean background to the mannish elements of the story: how much we lose about Aragorn not knowing about the downfall of Numenor and the subsequent fate of the Dunedain in Middle-earth! By the way, Aragorn's figure is much different in the movie: a lot quiter and not as confident in himself. The Aragorn of the book never has to be encouraged by Elrond to "put off the ranger and become the king." The Aragorn of the book is the king from his first appearance. Though he comes dressed as a ranger at Bree, the book makes clear his royal status by several, almost supernatural references to Aragorn's imposing figure and commanding voice.

Well, so much more could be said (like why was Tom Bombadil left out?). In the end, I think any movie would fail in communicating Tolkien's vision to us. Jackson makes a noble attempt, but fails in some of the areas that would have helped us the most in transporting us into Middle-earth. Ultimately unsatisfying for me is the fact that the take over of the Shire by "Sharkey" and Saruman's final end are left out entirely, although I have not watched the extended versions, so maybe it's in there. But, that's my thoughts as of now. All that remains is to rent and watch the extended versions to see if they add anything important.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Those nasty Middle Ages!

People often give books to me and I enjoy weeding through them for heresy, and either giving them a place on my shelf or else committing them to destruction. Listen to a few excerpts from this book of Church history I have been perusing recently. You try and guess to what denomination or theological school of thought the author subscribes to. First, a passage on piety in the Middle Ages (my emphases):

"If religious values were neglected by the high and mighty of the age, things were no better at the opposite end of the social spectrum. There was an appalling lack of depth in the piety of the common people. Superstition was widespread, and the sacraments were often treated as a particularly effective form of magic. Saints had multiplied, and the popular canonization of local wonder-workers was common. It looked as though much of the old pagan polytheism had lived on since the time of the mass conversions, simply donning a new guise so that it might outwardly conform to Christian theory. There was at least one saint specialized for every function or crisis in life, and this army of intercessors had replaced the one mediator, Jesus Christ. People treated these saints much as their ancestors had treated the gods...Furthermore, the piety of the age was much given to crediting pictures and statues of the saints with miraculous power, and this kind of superstitious magic infected many of the pilgrimages which were still a popular manifestation of piety."

Yawn. Okay, now let's look at this author's commentary on the Catholic Church of Pope St. Pius X, whom he says was "trained in text-book neo-scholasticism":

"Pius X's efforts to renew the interior life of the church were quite successful, but his defense of what he regarded as theological orthodoxy was nothing less than a scandal, and it delayed for more than fifty years the rapprochement of Catholic thought with that of the modern world. The "Modernist" crisis was the result of Pius' meddling in areas in which he was totally incompetent."

Okay, so with the author's labeling of the sacramental life of the Middle Ages as superstitious magic, his harping on saints being replacements for the one Mediator, his scorn for scholasticism and his derision for medieval piety, it is quite obvious that this author is a Protestant of some sort, right?

Nope. These lines were written by a Catholic. These excerpts come from Church History: Twenty Centuries of Catholic Christianity by John C. Dweyer. Dweyer holds graduate degrees from Fordham and Georgetown, and has a doctorate in theology from Tubingen. He was a long-time professor of theology as St. Mary's College in California (Moraga, I think) and professor of theology and scripture at St. Bernard's Institute in New York.

This book is going in the trash, right next to Fr. Hesburgh's autobiography.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lamentabili Sane on Evolution

I have been doing a lot of research on the Catholic Church and evolution lately (see this post) and have found quite a bit of interesting material that I had previously been unaware of. We are all aware that Humani Generis (1950) gives some leeway for Catholics to entertain the possibility that the human body alone may have evolved from preexisting matter. I personally don't see how this is consonant with what Vatican I taught, that "If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing, let him be anathema" (Canons on God the Creator of All Things, canon 5). Vatican I seems to be sayins that all creatures, even in their materiality, were created in their "whole substance" from God immediately. This seems to rule out any idea of God creating the material aspect of man and then, at some later point, infusing the spiritual element directly.

I decided to reread the Syllabus of Errors and Lamentabili Sane of St. Pius X and see if anything in these syllabi contained any references to evolution, and I was surprised to find two statements in the latter document that could be brought to bear on the debate. But first, let me preface this with some references to modern popular Catholic takes on evolution and creation.

For many Catholics, the question appears pointless because the objection is given that evolution is a problem of science, and the Church cannot properly make judgments in the realm of science, only on things that pertain to faith and morals. Then it is usually pointed out that there can be no real divergence between faith and true science (which is true), and hence we need to have no fear of "updating" our understanding of the traditional dogmas in light of the advances of modern science. This is the message of the Catechism (CCC 159) and of Catholic apologist Mark Brumley, who in a article stated that the evolution of the body was not properly the realm of faith but of science, and hence we have nothing to fear by postulating an evolutionary origin for the body (source).

I find it hard to explain how this is congruent with the perennial Catholic doctrine that man is a composite being, a body and soul united intimately. Man has but a single substance (human nature), and that very nature is to be an enfleshed spirit. If this composite being, which is man, has but a single substance, how can we postulate that the different parts of this being could have completely different origins? Furthermore, how could we hold that it is a matter of faith that man is a composite body-soul being, that the soul was created directly by God, that man as to his "whole substance" was created ex nihilo, but then go ahead and say that the body could have evolved, adding to this that it is not a matter pertaining to faith? If man is indeed a composite being with a single substance, then the origin of the body is very much a matter pertaining to faith.

Let's look at the pertinent quotes from Lamentabili Sane of 1907. First, in article 5, the following preposition is condemned:

Since the deposit of Faith contains only revealed truths, the Church has no right to pass judgment on the assertions of the human sciences.

Isn't that interesting! Pius X is telling us that the fact that the Church's de fide teaching extends only to matters of faith and morals does not therefore mean that it cannot weigh in on matters of science. Therefore, whether or not evolution pertains to faith directly is not essential to the argument. The Church can indeed pass judgments on scientific theories in totu, whether or not they pertain directly to faith and morals.

More interesting is article 64, which condemns the following:

Scientific progress demands that the concepts of Christian doctrine concerning God, creation, revelation, the Person of the Incarnate Word, and Redemption be re-adjusted.

Pius X here tells us that our doctrine about creation (among other things) need not be re-adjusted based on scientific progess. But is that not exactly what contemporary Catholicism has been trying to tell us, though? That we need to reevaluate our doctrines in light of modern scientific advances? After all, truth can't contradict truth. That may be the case, but "truth can't contradict truth" has too often become a mantra of those seeking to overthrow the traditional cosmology with one completely friendly to Darwinist evolution, and Pius X tells us that we ought to feel in now way compelled to do this.

Too often people take a concession of the Church and run with it as the norm. If a father tells his son he can take the car out only one night of the week and only under certain conditions, this is the language of concession, which implies that the norm (i.e., what goes on the other 6 days out of the week and under normal conditions) is that the son does not take the car out. If Pius XII tells us in Humani Generis that it is permissible to entertain the idea of the evolution of the body, and even then under only certain parameters, then we ought to realize that this, too, is the language of concession, and that it implies that the regular course of things demands that we adhere to the traditional understanding of instantaneous creation.

More on this later...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Oprah is "foolish twitter and twaddle"

Many other Christians are growing alarmed at Oprah's 46 million strong "church," and the evangelicals are starting to condemn her en masse. Take this little blurb from Religion News Service:

In recent months, Southern Baptist newspaper editors also have written editorials declaring "It's time for Christians to `just say no' to the big `O'" and calling her a source of "foolish twitter and twaddle." And Charisma, a prominent charismatic and Pentecostal magazine, ran a story in its July issue with the headline "Oprah's Strange New Gospel.'"

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Yes, but what do they think it says

When looking at the documents of Vatican II, it is my assertion that though they represent a radical break from the way the Faith has always been understood in the past, they nevertheless can be interpreted in an orthodox manner (despite their ambiguities) and therefore do not constitute any formal heresy or anything like that, as some Sedevecantists would argue. For many conservative pop-Catholics, the buck stops there. Vatican II can be interpreted legitimately, so that's all there is to it, and any attempt to dig deeper into the shortcomings of certain documents, point out the ambiguities in the texts, or behave in any way that suggests that you do not believe Gaudium et Spes to be the most profound statement ever made by Magisterium gets labeled as fault-finding or potentially schismatic behavior.

However, I have always taken the position that it is not good enough to say, "Well, the document can be interpreted in an orthodox manner." I recall many years back after Walter Kasper's Covenant and Mission came out, Dr. Scott Hahn was on EWTN explaining away the statements of the Cardinal in terms of, "Don't worry - there's statements in here that if we interpret in such-and-such a way will make this document conform with orthodoxy." What a pitiful commentIn the past, positions of theologians were condemned because there was the possibility that they could be interpreted in a heretical manner. Now we have theologians telling us that documents can be interpretd soundly. How pathetic! My position has always been this: It doesn't only matter what the document says, but how will others interpret it? Based on the language and tone of the document, what do other people take it to mean?

This question only arises with the issue of ambiguity. An unambiguous document needs no such explication. Nobody draws multiple meanings out of the Syllabus of Errors. There are no theologians standing around arguing about the right interpretation of it. For crying out loud, a Magisterial document is itself supposed to be an explication of the Faith. Why should they be so complex that we need explications of the explications? It often happens that within the Catholic Church, we can look at these documents in light of tradition and say, "Okay, I guess I see how one could square that away with Tradition" (no matter how tenuous). But then you get somebody outside the Church who looks at the document and is taken in the totally wrong direction due to the document's ambiguities (whether intentional or unintentional).

I had a great example of this on my blog the other day. I was doing a post on Islam, and had made the point there and in previous posts that Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians. This drew a comment from a Muslim named Khany, who left the following (pay attention to what this Muslim cites in support):

Boniface, I am disturbed by the readiness with which you devour islamophobic messages..this is specially puzzling in light of the official position of the Catholic Church with respect to Islam and Muslims. In a document entitled "Nostra Aetate" dealing with the church's relationship with non-christian religions. The section on Islam begins thus: "The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men." Moreover, the Catholic Catechism states: "The Church’s relationship with Muslims. The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 841, quoting Lumen Gentium 16, November 21, 1964).

Isn't this interesting? I say something critical of Islam, and a Muslim comes back and throws Nostra Aetate and the CCC in my face! Now, I know that if you are a theologian, you will understand that neither of these documents explicitly affirm that Allah is the same God as the Blessed Trinity - but it does tell me that a cursory reading of them by any other person, even a Muslim, gives them the opposite impression! So, if we have an obligation to preach the truth, we must ask ourselves as a Church - perhaps our documents do technically speak the truth, but even so, what do others think they say when they are reading them?

I obviously don't think my Muslim commentator to be correct in their overall point, but I do have to agree with them on something: if you were to pick up Nostra Aetate or read the CCC passage quoted, I think one would get the impression that this is the message of the Church. No wonder the Muslims keep making overtures to Benedict - they think the Church teaches that we all worship the same God! This Muslim made a very forgivable and simple mistake - they picked up the Church documents, read them, and took them at face value! That's the way documents should be read in a perfect world - without blogs like this one having to expose ambguities, without theologians on EWTN explaining the right "ecclesiological standpoint" for interpreting a document, without Muslims and non-Christians reading the same documents and coming up with interpretations completely 180 degrees from the correct standpoint. And you know what? It is not this Muslim's fault for getting this interpretation. Not at all. It is our fault - the Magisterium's fault for wanting to please everybody and offend nobody except faithful Catholics.

This is another example of what I have always said about ambiguity: it serves nobody. It neither reinforces the faithful in their belief, nor does it clearly explain it to unbelievers. It gives non-Christians the wrong ideas and just confuses Catholics. So, when the Magisterium is getting together these documents, I think they have a real responsibility to say, "What unwritten message are we conveying with this? Even if our words say one thing, what impression will this document leave on others?" Obviously the Church does not write its documents with the sensitivities of non-Christians in mind (or perhaps it does, and that is the problem), but they should at least make sure the message is clear. There is a big difference between people not liking the truth when it is preached and simply not understanding the message, and what we have here is a case when neither the truth nor the message is clear.

Lay control of Catholic Universities

I was again perusing the autobiography of former Notre Dame president Theodore Hesburgh (liberal) before I chuck it, and I came across this interesting section on Fr. Hesburgh's interpretation of Vatican II's instruction that lay people be included, insofar as is possible, in the governing of various groups under the aegis of the Church. Listen to the following narrative of how control of Notre Dame went from the hierarchy to the laity:

"To my mind, the time had come for the priests of the Holy Cross to relinquish ownership and control of the university to a lay board of trustees who would be better equipped to oversee its future well-being...many protested at the time and many questioned that decision after it was made, more in bewilderment than in protest.

'Why, after more than a century of operation by the priests of the Holy Cross, did you turn control of the university over to a board of trustees?' That was the question.

The answer is very simple: Vatican II had said that laypeople should be given responsibility in Catholic affairs commensurate with their dedication, their competence, and their intelligence. Many people may not have taken that seriously, but we did. For me, it was the most natural thing in the world.

...Our request to transfer our property to a lay board sailed right through, which is highly unusualy for the Vatican, a bureaucracy like any other, or maybe I should say, unlike any other. The Vatican obviously did not spend much time studying my request [!], because it was approved in about two days. When Fr. Lalande [Father General of the Holy Cross priests] went to Rome to pick up the rescript, one of the functionaries in the Congregation for Secular and Religious Institutes told him that because of the value of the property, we would have to pay the congregation a fee of ten thousand dollars. Lalande was not having any of that. 'The reason we're doing this,' he said, 'is because of the Vatican Council, the highest authority in the Church. You cannot penalize us because we're doing something in the spirit of the Council...if you give me any trouble, I will go to the Holy Father.'"

Thus, Notre Dame went over to lay control.

Notice a few things about this. First, another use of the offensive phrase "spirit of the Council" to justify something that the Council never called for. Second, the implicit evidence of conciliarism in Fr. Lalande's exchange with the functionary from the Congregation for Secular and Religious Institutes. He exclaims that the Council is the "highest authority in the Church," - and not just Councils in general, but the Second Vatican Council in particular. Seems an example of Pope Benedict's statement that many turned Vatican II into a "supercouncil" and the absolute highest authority, a neo-conciliarist vision of the Church, one which many still have.

What does Vatican II say about lay control? I assume Fr. Hesburgh's statement about the Council seeking to get lay people involved is a reference to Lumen Gentium, chapter IV on the role of the laity. I recently reread this whole section, and can find nowhere where it mandates or even suggests anything close to universities or institutions run by priests and religious being relinquished to the laity.

In section 32:2, we read that the lay people are to assist their pastors if they need it:
"Pastors of the Church, following the example of the Lord, should minister to one another and to the other faithful. These in their turn should enthusiastically lend their joint assistance to their pastors and teachers" (LG 32:2).
Lending joint assistance is a far cry from totally taking over control, however. A better case could be made from 33:4, which states:
"Upon all the laity, therefore, rests the noble duty of working to extend the divine plan of salvation to all men of each epoch and in every land. Consequently, may every opportunity be given them so that, according to their abilities and the needs of the times, they may zealously participate in the saving work of the Church" (LG 34:4).
This is undoubtedly what Hesburgh refers to when he mentioned lay people taking over according to their abilities. But in what sphere does the Church envision these lay persons "extending the divine plan?" Is this really a blue-print for a taking over of institutions governed by priests?

Paragraph 35 gives us the answer:
"Let them not, then, hide this hope in the depths of their hearts, but even in the program of their secular life let them express it by a continual conversion and by wrestling "against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness" (LG 35:1).
So again, we have a similar confusion as we do with the liturgical issue of "active participation." The Council does call for the laity to "zealously participate" in the life of the Church, but that participation is to be carried out "in the program of their secular life" by means of "continuing conversion," not by assuming literal control of institutions run by clergy. The laity are to sanctify their own lives in their own spheres by prayer and penance and greater devotion to God, not by changing roles with the clergy. That actually goes against what LG specifically calls for.

Let's look at one final paragraph from Lumen Gentium:
"Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage lay people so that they may undertake tasks on their own initiative. Attentively in Christ, let them consider with fatherly love the projects, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity.However, let the shepherds respectfully acknowledge that just freedom which belongs to everyone in this earthly city"(LG, 37).
Pastors are to respect the ambitions of the laity, support their plans, and "assign them duties," but nowhere does it suggest that the managerial roles of the laity and the clergy be switched, especially in Catholic institutions of higher learning.

We see here but one more example of a terrible blunder being carried out in the spirit of the Council but in utter ignorance of what the Council actually mandates. Thank God priests and bishops like Hesburgh are retiring by the boatload, going away to write their insipid memoirs in the shadow of their empty seminaries and decadent schools with the astounding arrogance to go on asserting that their decisions were "good" for the Church. So long Hesburgh. Good bye book. It is now in the can.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Papa Ben's

I'll post something for real later...I just thought this was funny!

Monday, July 07, 2008

"Contemporary" music isolates elderly

This past weekend I went on vacation to Grand Haven, Michigan with my family. Grand Haven is a lovely little jewel on the coast of Lake Michigan that is well known within the state but that I'd imagine many persons outside Michigan don't really know about (click here for a pic of the lighthouse in the Grand Haven park). It was a very nice time, despite the fact that the tiny lakeside town was stuffed to the brim with teething masses of humanity there for fourth of July.

Since we were gone, we of course had to go to a parish other than the one we usually attend. I looked a few local ones up on the web, but nothing seemed appealing. One was advertising classes for guided Buddhist-influenced meditation. Finally, we settled on a pretty normal looking NO church near where we were staying.

The music was "contemporary." This parish had a big beautiful choir loft, but it was being used for storage. The "choir" sat down to the left of the altar and consisted of a keyboardist, two guitarists, a drummer and three female singers. They processional song was a cover of a song by the Protestant band Newsboys (click here to see the music video of the song they played and then try to imagine it in Mass). All the rest of the Mass music was contemporary rock as well, with drums, keyboards and everything.

Now, my intention here is not to write another horror story of abuses; we have enough of those! I want to emphasize something about the nature of "contemporary" Christian rock used in liturgical settings. The whole reason this music was introduced in the first place was to facilitate greater participation by the congregation. The idea was that this type of music was more "in touch" with what people were listening to out in the world, and so it would be more "relevant" and thus make the liturgy more meaningful. The modern Church is very sensitive about not isolating people or giving the impression that they are not inclusive enough, and this is part of the reasoning behind the use of contemporary music.

Yet in doing so, the Church is actually isolating a huge demographic of people, many of whom are some of the most faithful Mass attenders. I am speaking of course of the elderly. The elderly are horribly isolated, marginalized and ignored when parishes choose to adopt a contemporary format. I watched with discomfort as many old people stood there downcast while the rock music jammed on, not even attempting to read the lyrics from the provided "worship aids." Even had they tried, contemporary Christian rock music is usually orchestrated to that the words are forced into the music, often resulting in added verses or phrases to familiar Mass prayers, in addition to rhythms that are too complex for the uninitiated to pick up on their first hearing.

Why would the Church, who is so understanding about not being elitist or unwelcoming, persist in isolating one of its largest demographics? I argue that it is because in this manner the Church is buying in to the modernist-Americanist "cult of youth" that dominates so much of how our nation views age.

Traditionally, children were brought up to be nourished on the wisdom of their elders, to sit at their feet and imitate them. In most cultures, it was believed that the highest thing a person could do was to live up to the great deeds perfomed by ones ancestors. Youth learned at the stool of age. Now, it is turned on its head. It is the elderly and the old who are expected to conform their standards and lives to the fads of the young. The technology, music and pop-culture of the youth are put forward as role models, and everybody is supposed to adapt themselves to them.

This is, I think the fundamental error of adapting contemporary music to liturgical settings (besides all of the theological and canonical difficulties). Instead of bringing the youth to learn from those before, and thus exalting and honoring the old, the old are shoved aside with arrogance. Perhaps some think (in classic, utilitarian mindset) that the future belongs to the youth and that the elderly do not contribute anything anymore. I tell you, they pray more rosaries than the young, I guarantee! Also, we should keep in mind the words of St. Paul:

"The parts of the body which seem to be weakerare indispensable" (1 Cor. 12:22).

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How should a Catholic approach the Founding Fathers?

Fourth of July and the yearly celebration of the indepenedence of the United States from Great Britain bring to mind the problem of Catholic patriotism in a historically anti-Catholic nation. How are Catholics to approach the Founding Fathers and the origins of this country? Sometimes, we experience a little bit of schizophrenia, identifying ourselves very strongly as patriotic Americans when the situation calls for it, but often times having to step back and recall that the America we are celebrating has not always been friendly to our Faith, either in past or the present. Our primary fidelity is to Christ and His Church.

I notice two prominent schools of thought in the relationship of Catholics to the nation of America. First comes what I might call the conservative patriotic position, which is held by many conservative, popular Catholic writers and thinkers. This position tends to identify itself with the conservative Republican mold and therefore professes many of the things that Republicans also profess: the great goodness of capitalism, the inherent goodness of democracy, the justification of the Iraq War.

On the other hand, there is the extreme traditionalist viewpoint (which I only call extreme in relation to other views, not because I believe it to be unstable or illogical). This is the view that the United States is thoroughly corrupt and has always been an enemy to the Catholic Church. These persons would advocate a return to some sort of institutional Catholic government, possibly even a monarchy, if that were possible. The Founding Fathers are little better than Cranmer and Luther as far as they are concerned.

I take neither of these two positions. I acknowledge that many of the founders of this country, especially the Massachussetts pilgrims, were among some of the most bigoted and ignorant anti-Catholics to ever walk the earth. This, I do not deny. However, on a natural level, I admire any person who is willing to travel thousands of miles over the sea to an unknown land to hack a living for themselves out of wild and hostile woods, facing starvation and Indian attack just to live as they please. Religious conviction aside, I think we could use more men of this caliber in our world today, at least as far as concerns their willingness to suffer hardship and labor for the ability to live as they choose. I think it is a regrettable accident of history that these men were Puritans, for I do admire them despite their anti-Catholicism.

But this is no different that the dilemma that the Church Fathers often faced when looking back at their national heritage. Rome had a great tradition of patriotic and civil heroes, before and after the Christian era. How were the Fathers to view these men? With most of them, especially those who came earliest, the Fathers have nothing but praise. Consider St. Augustine's praise of the heroic virtue of the pagan Marcus Regulus in the first book of the City of God. Though Augustine knows that Marcus Regulus worshipped false gods, he is able to recognize natural human virtue and thus praises Regulus for his heroism during the Punic Wars, though he points out that sacrifice for fatherland was the highest type of sacrifice known to the Romans and thus fell short of Christian sacrifice for love of God.

Nevertheless, we must draw a distinction: there is a difference bewteen a pre-Christian pagan and a post-Reformation Protestant. Regulus did not have nearly as much responsibility before the throne of God as did the anti-Catholic Puritans who left England. Remember, they left the Church of England because they perceived it as being too "papist" for their liking.

I am more concerned with modern issues affecting our relationship with the State. I would much rather withold my partiotism based on current issues touching on abortion and homosexual so-called marriage than I would because some guys 400 years ago didn't like Catholics. But ultimately patriotism does not call us to love the country unreservedly, but to praise what is good while deploring what it wrong. It is precisely because Lincoln hated one fact about his country (slavery) so much that he is remembered as a great president. Therefore, I say let us love our Motherland and rejoice in all the good we have gotten from it, both then and now, but never cease to deplore the evils of the past and present and pray for her prosperity.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Flashback: Pope sacks Fr. Coyne

In preparing for an upcoming class I'm doing on Creation and Evolution, I came across this story from 2006.

Remember a few years back when the secular press all over the world reported with glee that the "Vatican" was now supporting Darwinian evolution and had condemned Intelligen Design as being without merit? The statement from the "Vatican" in fact had come from Fr. George Coyne, Director of the Vatican Observatory. Fr. Coyne's statements were made in a response to Cardinal Schonborn's assertion in the New York times that the concepts of random variation and natural selection were "incompatible" with Catholic dogma. Even though Schonborn is a much more prominent member of the hierarchy than Fr. Coyne, when Fr. Coyne made his rebuttal, the press was quick to trumpet that the Vatican had "endorsed" Darwinism and condemned Intelligent Design.

That was until the Pope sacked Fr. Coyne. Following several remarks Fr. Coyne made in the Tablet, in which he said that Intelligent Design was not science even though it might "pretend" to be. Coyne was replaced by an Argentinian Jesuit. Among some of the assinine statements made by Coyne was the following:

"God is not constantly intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves. Religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator or designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly. Perhaps God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words" (source)

He also accused the pope of "not having the slightest idea" of what Intelligent Design means, especially in the United States. Pope Benedict, however, not only understands Intelligent Design but has been supportive of it. He has frequently referred to the universe as the product of "intelligence" and has made strong statements against evolution, at least in its atheistic materialist streak.

But isn't it funny how the press never reports on this? One Jesuit at the Vatican Observatory endorses Darwinism and all of the sudden the "Vatican" has endorsed evolution. Nevermind that Cardinal Schonborn, a student of Benedict and editor of the Catechism says otherwise. Nevermind that Benedict himself favors reserach into Intelligent Design and has fired Fr. Coyne. None of that seems to have mattered. All that matters is that one person with some official capacity at the Vatican said something favorable to the scientific philosophy of the modern world and the press was ready to accomodate it, just like they did when John Paul II made his remark in his Letter to Artists about evolution being more than a theory.

Apparently, people in the media (and many Catholics) can't tell the difference between de fide dogma and what some dude at the Vatican writes in a letter or article.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Strange news from Canada

This past week was momentous in the life of the Church! The net has been buzzing with speculations about the five conditions given to the SSPX by Pope Benedict and coverage of the Pope's recent meeting with Bartholomew. However, I was interested by a story from the Washington Post someone sent me over the weekend. It talks about how Quebecois use sacred and liturgical terms for cuss words and how the Montreal Archdiocese is trying to put a stop to it. I really don't know what to make of it, so I'll just post it here.

In French-Speaking Canada, the Sacred Is Also Profane
Quebecers Turn to Church Terms, Rather Than the Sexual or Scatological, to Vent Their Anger

By Doug StruckWashington Post Foreign ServiceTuesday, December 5, 2006; Page A21

MONTREAL -- "Oh, tabernacle!" The man swore in French as a car splashed through a puddle, sending water onto his pants. He could never be quoted in the papers here. It is too profane.

So are other angry oaths that sound innocuous in English: chalice, host, baptism. In French-speaking Quebec, swearing sounds like an inventory being taken at a church.

English-speaking Canadians use profanities that would be well understood in the United States, many of them scatological or sexual terms. But the Quebecois prefer to turn to religion when they are mad. They adopt commonplace Catholic terms -- and often creative permutations of them -- for swearing.

In doing so, their oaths speak volumes about the history of this French province.

"When you get mad, you look for words that attack what represses you," said Louise Lamarre, a Montreal cinematographer who must tread lightly around the language, depending on whether her films are in French or English. "In America, you are so Puritan that the swearing is mostly about sex. Here, since we were repressed so long by the church, people use religious terms."

And the words that are shocking in English -- including the slang for intercourse -- are so mild in Quebecois French they appear routinely in the media. But not church terms.

"You swear about things that are taboo," said Andre Lapierre, a professor of linguistics at the University of Ottawa. In the United States, "it is not appropriate to talk about sex or scatological subjects, so that is what you use in your curse words. The f-word is a perfect example.

"In Canadian French, you have none of the sexual aspects. So what do you replace it with? You replace it with religion. If you are going to use a taboo word, it would be anything related to the cult, to Christ, the Communion wafer, Jesus Christ, vestments, and elements of the altar like tabernacle. There's quite a few of them."

Visitors from France are dumbfounded at that use of French, said Lamarre. "But that's because they got away from domination of the church a long time ago. They cut off the head of the king really early. We didn't do that."

The Catholic Church was overwhelmingly dominant in Quebec from early in the province's history -- England's King George III gave the French Catholic clergy enormous power in 1774, in part to counter the growing American insurgency to the south. In the "Quiet Revolution" of the 1960s, Quebecers rebelled. They "just stopped going to church one Sunday," as Lamarre put it.

The swearwords have persisted even though church attendance has plummeted in the past 40 years. Because of that drop, "when the young kids on the street are swearing, they don't even know what they are swearing about," mused Monsignor Francis Coyle, pastor of St. Patrick's Basilica in Montreal. "They're baptized in church, and that's about it."

Last spring, the Montreal Archdiocese commissioned an advertising campaign that erected large billboards in the city intended to shock and educate. Each billboard featured a word like "tabernacle" or "chalice" -- startling swearwords on the street -- and offered the correct dictionary definition for the religious term. Such as: "Tabernacle -- small cupboard locked by key in the middle of the altar" containing the sacred goblet.

"The point was to try to get people not to use the terms too glibly," Coyle said.< /div>
The campaign ended, but Lapierre said Quebecers continue to use the words in highly inventive ways -- as expletives, interjections, verbs, adverbs and nouns. One could say, for example, "You Christ that guy," to mean throwing a person violently. "I don't know any other language that does that so well," he said.

The French here also modify the oaths into non-words, depending on the level of politeness desired. The word "bapteme" -- baptism -- is used as a strong oath, but a modification, "bateche," is milder. The sacramental wafer, a "host" in English and "hostie" in French, can be watered down to just the sound "sst" in polite company. "Tabernacle" can become just "tabar" to avoid too much offense.

The oaths are so ingrained that one cannot converse fluently without them, said Lapierre. "I teach them in my class."

Strange indeed! I'm curious to know more about how the Catholic Church repressed the Quebecois, since the article says nothing about it other than referencing the clergy's "enormous power," which may just mean any power at all!

Here are a list of sacred terms that are all cuss words in Quebec:

baptême - "baptism"
câlice (calice) - "chalice"
calvaire - "Calvary"
ciarge (cierge) - "votive or Paschal candle"
ciboire - "ciborium" or "pyx", the receptacle in which the host is stored
crisse (Christ) - "Christ"
maudit - "damn" (not used in strings of sacre)
mozusse (Moïse)- "Moses"
ostie (hostie) - "host"
sacrament (sacrement) - "Sacrament"
tabarnac (tabernacle) - "tabernacle"
viarge (vierge) - "the Virgin Mary"