Sunday, November 30, 2008

C. S. Lewis on Modern Biblical Criticism

I was delighted recently to be assigned an essay by C. S. Lewis for my class on Scripture and its interpretation. The essay was originally called "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," although now it seems that it inexplicably goes under the title "Fern-Seed and Elephants." It's an essay that I've read before, yet it certainly bears re-reading. It even merited a mention by Card. Ratzinger in his famous 1988 Erasmus lecture entitled "Biblical Interpretation in Conflict." the whole text is available on google books here.

In the essay, Lewis makes four points against the (still) prevailing methods of historical-criticism:

1. "They seem to me to lack literary judgment... If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavor; not how many years he has spent on that Gospel."

2. "The idea that any man or writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous. There is an a priori improbability in it which almost no argument and no evidence could counterbalance."

3. "I find in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the miraculous does not occur... Now I do not here want to discuss whether the miraculous is possible. I only want to point out that this is a purely philosophical question. Scholars, as scholars, speak on it with no more authority than anyone else."

4. "All this sort of criticism attempts to reconstruct the genesis of the texts it studies; what vanished documents each author used, when and where he wrote, with what purposes, under what influences - the whole Sitz im Leben of the text... My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses [made by reviewers in regard to Lewis's own writings] has on any one point been right; that the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure. You would expect that by mere chance they would hit as often as they miss. But it is my impression that they do no such thing. I can't remember a single hit. But as I have not kept a careful record my mere impression may be mistaken. What I think I can say with certainty is that they are usually wrong."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from the Unam Sanctam Catholicam family (i.e., me and Anselm). I'll be offline for the next four days, so there won't be anything new here. But in the meantime, please take the poll about Thanksgiving posted above. Also, please pray for Anselm and his wife who are expecting their second child soon. I recall when I was living in Austria, Thanksgiving was a particularly difficult time to be away from home, though I'm sure Anselm is not as bothered by it as I was! Anyhow, see you in December!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Jesuit Martyrs of Virginia

A Powhatan Indian Chief. The Powhatan Confederation inhabited Virginia during the first contact with Europeans in the late 16th century. They were a branch of the Algonquins.

When I think of the Jesuit martyrs, I instinctively think of men like St. Isaac Jogues and St. Jean de Brebeuf, martyred by the Iroquois in Canada in the mid-1600's, or perhaps to the martyrs for the faith in England, men like St. Edmund Campion and his illustrious co-religionists who perished under bloody Elizabeth. But have you ever heard of the Jesuit martyrs of Virginia?

On September 10th, 1570, thirty-seven years before Jamestown, a Spanish ship entered Chesapeake Bay, which was then called Bay of the Mother of God. Somewhere along the James River, not far from the later site of Jamestown, a small crew disembarked: two Jesuit priests, three Jesuit brothers, three novice Brothers, a Spanish boy and an Indian guide. The party was led by Jesuit Father Juan Baptista de Segura and was intent upon establishing a mission in the region of Virginia for the purpose of converting the Indians. This was the first true settlement in Virginia.

The hopes for the mission were placed on their young Indian guide, a man named Don Luis. Don Luis had been rescued at sea by the Spaniards some years earlier and was taken back to Spain, where he spent ten years learning Spanish customs and getting a rigorous instruction in the truths of the faith from the Spanish Jesuits. They small mission had placed much hope in this Don Luis -- he said that his uncle was a powerful chief in Virginia and that he would obtain material assistance for the Jesuits when they arrived. In consequence Fr. Segura -- perhaps naively -- had come with very little food or supplies, being told by Don Luis that they could get them all from his tribe.

At first Don Luis was helpful to the Jesuits, but being on his native soil made him restless, and gradually he began to lose the veneer of civilization that he had acquired in Spain. Finally, he abandoned the missionaries and went to live with the Indian's of his uncle's village, about a day and a half away. This betrayal was quite serious, for the Jesuits had depended on Don Luis as an intermediary to obtain food and supplies. The reality was, the Indian villagers near by had scarcely enough food to feed themselves, and there was also a drought devastating their crops that year. They were in no position to share food with the Jesuits.

Nevertheless, the Jesuits persisted in their mission amidst the difficulties. They set up a school for Indian boys and a chapel for daily Mass. The three novices made their professions into the Society of Jesus, the first recorded religious professions in the United States. The little community hung on.

However, word soon reached Fr. Segura that Don Luis had completely abandoned Christianity, had taken multiple wives and was living a dissolute lifestyle. Fr. Segura sent several messages to Don Luis begging him to reform, and finally settled upon sending three of his companions, Fr. Luis Quiros and Brothers Gabriel and Juan, to the village to persuade Don Luis to reform. The embassy was received with kindness in the village, and Don Luis listened to their words and promised to return with them to the mission the next day. The next morning, the party left for the mission, confident in Don Luis' good will. However, Don Luis appeared on the road with a band of warriors and slew all three of the Jesuits while they vainly attempted to figure out what was happening.

Fr. Segura was much concerned about the party, which did not return. Four days later, on February 9, 1571, Don Luis appeared at the mission at the head of a band of Indians. He told Fr. Segura that he had come to help him, and the good Fr. Segura fully welcomed him back as a prodigal come home. Don Luis and his men offered to cut some firewood for Fr. Segura, and so Fr. Segura allowed them into the storeroom to get some axes (big mistake!) -- once all of the Indians were armed, they raised a hideous war-whoop and fell upon Fr. Segura and the Jesuits, killing all of them. Only the young boy, Alonso de Olmos, was spared to be adopted into the local Indian tribe.

Several months later a supply ship arrived in thre James River and was suspicious when he saw some Indians on the shore dressed in Jesuit cassocks. The Spaniards engaged the Indians and took some prisoners, from whom they found out about the killing of the Jesuits and the captivity of the boy Alonso. Engraged, the Spanish colonists in Florida made a northern expedition the following year, 1572, and arrested the chief and several other Indians. They demanded the release of Alonso and the handing over of Don Luis for punishment. Alonso escaped and fled to the Spanish ship, buty Don Luis escaped and was never heard from again. The Spanish governor held court and condemned the captive Indians. Some were released, by seven were hanged as complicit in the murder of Fr. Segura.

Thus ended the Spanish attempts to settle in Virginia, and the first Jesuit mission in the New World. Why is this story not well known? Probably because the English colonists did not want to remind themselves that papists had been to Virginia first, and this intentional ignorance has trickled down to our own day. It is only recently that the Diocese of Richmond had opened the cause for the canonization of the Jesuit martyrs, and even many of grew up in Virginia say they were unaware of the story of the killings. At any rate, you can read more about it here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ratzinger's 1985 "Prophecy"

Given the collapse of the markets over the past several months, it is no wonder that the press should have seized upon an article present by Cardinal Ratzinger in 1985 for the symposium in Rome, Church and Economy. However, the media is indulging in gross sensationalism by saying that Ratzinger had a "prophecy" that the capitalist markets would collapse (see here and here). If you read the article, Ratzinger quite rationally expounded the connection between the morality of a culture and their economic systems and said that as capitalism viewed itself as an amoral system, it had a fundamental error in its presuppositions, for morality cannot be divorced from economic activity. In fact, Ratzinger suggested that morality is essential for a healthy market: "the market rules function only when a moral consensus exists and sustains them." Towards the end of the paper, in the last paragraph as a matter of fact, he states quite plainly that failure to respect and take heed of this intimate connection between morality and economics can lead to abuses that will cause the system to "implode."

First off, this is not anything close to a "prophecy." A prophecy, in the way the Church understands it, is a revelation from God about something to come. This is nothing like a prophecy. It's just a case of an intelligent thinker laying out, in cause and effect terms, what will happen to a market that refuses to acknowledge the moral dimension of man. I would say a more accurate term would be that the pope made a prediction or an educated guess, but not a prophecy.

Why am I so caught up about the word "prophecy?" Well, a prophecy implies that the thing that has come to pass is something that no one could have predicted otherwise. If I say, I have a "prophecy" that the Detroit Lions will lose a football game, people will laugh at me and say, "That's no prophecy; that's just common sense!" But if I say something outlandish, like "I prophesy that on such-and-such a day, two centuries from now, a meteor will strike the earth in a specific place, and then in fact it does, then my prophecy seems more likely to belong to the supernatural realm for the very reason that the event came out of nowhere and was difficult, if not impossible, to predict without supernatural aid.

Then by calling the Pope's prediction of the collapse of capitalist markets a "prophecy" the media is essentially saying, "God must have showed this fact to the Pope, because there's no way any of us could have foreseen that our system would ever collapse!" Do you see the subtlety? There is such an implicit faith in the soundness of our economic system, that nobody could imagine the ensuing collapse. And when one man does mention a possible collapse in a very scholarly, rational argument, are any of his points or reasons taken seriously? Does anybody look at the system and wonder whether or not the then-Cardinal Ratzinger may have understood something about economics? No -- it is simply written off as "he had a prophecy."

Now, I know they aren't really asserting that this was a vision from God or something. Most of the media outlets simply have used the word in their headlines to grab people's attention, but still they have to understand that words have meanings and ideas associated with them, and that when we choose to say Pope Had a Prophecy of Market Collapse, when what we really mean is Pope Presented an Article on Weaknesses in the Capitalist System, then we are really being disingenuous. Even the voice is wrong: to say the Pope "had" a prophecy to say something in the passive voice about something that happened to the Pope, while the reality is that the Pope presented (active voice) a paper he wrote. It is simply a sneaky way to attempt to maintain the appearance of health to our financial system, so much so that anyone who foresaw its demise must have "had a prophecy," because no one else could have foretold it any other way!

That's all I have time for right now, but I want to revisit this article in a few days, because it says some very interesting things about the connection between morality and economy, and it talks about some shortfalls of central economies and market economies.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The traditional Latin Mass returns to the ITI!

Joyous news: this morning at 7:00 was offered for the first time this semester the traditional Latin Low Mass. One of the priests here at the ITI, never having said or even seen a traditional Latin Mass before, generously agreed to learn how to offer it at our request. This morning was his very first time, and he did a fine job. About a dozen of us were present - enough to completely fill up the small upper chapel, which still has an altar against the East wall. Everything looks promising that this will be a regular Thursday morning offering. Deo gratias! There may be reprehensible liturgical abuses (the word hardly seems strong enough) in some places in Austria, but here is one more weekly TLM also.

The feast today is that of St. Felix of Valois, Confessor (III Class)
St. Felix, of the royal family of France, with St. John of Matha founded the Order of Trinitarians for the ransom of captives. He died in 1212.

(Statue of Ss. Felix of Valois and John of Matha on the Charles Bridge, Prague)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy 43rd Anniversary to Dei Verbum!

It just so happens that on this very day, the 43rd Anniversary of the promulgation of Dei Verbum, the topic of discussion in my class on Scripture and Its Interpretation was the famously ambiguous section 11.

Boniface has already addressed the ambiguity present in this section, and the two possible interpretations of it (one in accord with Catholic tradition, the other in opposition). I hope Boniface will excuse me if I merely cut and paste his words:

Take the famous example of Dei Verbum 11, which states that the Bible "teaches, without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation." Now, it can be interpreted in one of two ways: (1) the Bible is immune from error in everything it says, and everything it says God wanted there for the sake of our salvation, and (2) The Bible is immune from error in so far as it teaches about salvation, but can err when it treats of other topics.

Why do I bring this up again? In class today, when this topic arose, the Prof. passed on to us some interesting words of Augustin Cardinal Bea that further confirm position #1 (as outlined by Boniface above).

In his commentary on Dei Verbum, Augustin Cardinal Bea, who made significant contributions in the drafting of this constitution, comments on the extent of inerrancy implied in this passage: "An earlier schema (the third in succession) said that the sacred books teach 'truth without error'. The following schema, the fourth, inspired by words of St. Augustine, added the adjective 'saving', so that the text asserted that the Scriptures taught 'firmly, faithfully, wholly and without error the saving truth.' In the voting which followed one hundred and eighty-four council fathers asked for the adjective 'saving' to be removed, because they feared it might lead to misunderstandings, as if the inerrancy of Scripture referred only to matters of faith and morality, whereas there might be error in the treatment of other matters. The Holy Father, to a certain extent sharing this anxiety, decided to ask the Commission to consider whether it would not be better to omit the adjective, as it might lead to some misunderstanding." (Augustin Cardinal Bea, The Word of God and Mankind (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1967), 188.

Bea then proceeds to raise the question: "Does the inerrancy asserted in this document cover also the account of these historical events?", which he answers: "For my own part I think that this question must be answered affirmatively, that is, that these 'background' events also are described without error. In fact, we declare in general that there is no limit set to this inerrancy, and that it applies to all that the inspired writer, and therefore all that the Holy Spirit by his means, affirms.... This thought, which re-occurs in various forms in the recent documents of the Magisterium of the Church (cf. E.B. 124, 279, 450 et seq., 539 et seq., 559) is here clearly understood in a sense which excludes the possibility of the Scriptures containing any statement contrary to the reality of the facts. In particular, these documents of the Magisterium require us to recognize that Scripture gives a true account of events, naturally not in the sense that it always offers a complete and scientifically studied account, but in the sense that what is asserted in Scripture - even if it does not offer a complete picture - never contradicts the reality of the fact. If therefore the Council had wished to introduce here a new conception, different from that presented in these recent documents of the supreme teaching authority, which reflects the beliefs of the early fathers, it would have had to state this clearly and explicitly. Let us now ask whether there may be any indications to suggest such a restricted interpretation of inerrancy. The answer is decidedly negative. There is not the slightest sign of any such indication. On the contrary everything points against a restrictive interpretation." (189-190).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Anselm's return: more thoughts on the doctrine of the atonement

I just performed an interesting thought exercise. Part of Year IV theological studies here involves taking a thesis writing tutorial class. The Prof. has been pushing us pretty hard to develop some ideas of what we will write about next year. Tomorrow's assignment: turn in a two page proposal in which you lay out the main lines of your thesis. So, (almost) completely off the cuff, here is what I'm thinking to write about (no surprise to Unam Sanctam readers who remember me from days gone by):


The doctrine of the atonement merits close attention for two reasons, one speculative, the other practical. Firstly, the sacrifice of Christ upon the altar of the Cross is at the very center of Revelation and therefore also of theology, and yet the inner working, so to speak, of the atonement remains open to speculation. Secondly, it has great practical consequences: the doctrine of the atonement stands at the heart of the sacred Liturgy, which shapes to a great degree the faith and therefore also the lives of those who participate in it.

The traditional Catholic theory of the atonement was first formulated by St. Anselm (d. 1109). Its basic lines are these: Christ offers to the Father, in the place of sinful mankind, an infinite satisfaction. The value of his sacrifice more than counter-balances the offense of sin. With the order of justice thus restored, and the Father’s wrath appeased, God is pleased to forgive man his sins. Classical Protestantism retained much of the Catholic understanding of the atonement, but with the mistaken tendency to treat Christ’s sacrifice as a case of penal substitution, i.e., as if Christ’s death were a case of our just punishment being reassigned to him – God’s just anger redirected at him. In the modern era this notion of penal substitution has increasingly crept into Catholic theology, especially in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Ratzinger’s theology of the atonement is especially interesting along the same two lines outlined above. In regards to speculation upon the atonement, Ratzinger makes an excellent contribution to the discussion through the example of his hierarchical method, wherein he allows his soteriology to be shaped and guided by Christology, as also through his development of a line of thought taken from Romano Guardini that seeks to understand Christ’s “suffering through” evil as a process of healing mankind’s guilt from within. Secondly, in regards to the practical importance of the doctrine of the atonement, Ratzinger expresses both the importance of the liturgy in shaping the faith and therefore also the lives of the faithful, and the importance of the doctrine of the atonement in shaping one’s approach to the liturgy.

The main lines along which my thesis will develop are these: first, a consideration of the practical importance of the doctrine of the atonement according to the axiom lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. Second, a discussion of the method employed (rightly) by Ratzinger in interpreting Christ’s sacrifice. His method, in brief, is to respect the hierarchy of truths: he allows his soteriology to be illumined by Christology, which is illumined in turn by the mystery of the Trinity. Third, then, it will be necessary to turn to the basic datum of Christology that Ratzinger applies to his soteriological speculation, i.e., that Christ is the Son of the Father: an obvious statement with great implications for the doctrine of the atonement.

My fourth task will then be to turn to Ratzinger’s theology of the atonement itself: and in this regard he offers a negative critique of “mechanistic” theories of the atonement (here it will be necessary to counter objections put forward by proponents of the penal substitution theory in regards to Christ’s “cup” of suffering, his cry from the Cross, and especially his descent into hell), positing instead that Christ’s death is a great transformation of death into love. It is here that Ratzinger develops his favorite theme of “suffering through” evil and sin, for if Christ’s suffering is not part of some mechanized legal process in which he is punished for our sins, then why the intensity of his suffering? Ratzinger’s answer is that suffering is simply the form that love takes in a broken world; it is a necessary part of the process of healing guilt from within.

Fifthly, I will be to take stock of Ratzinger’s theology of the atonement within the wider field of Catholic tradition: his interpretation of Christ’s death as essentially an act of love (rather than punishment) fits easily into St. Thomas’ doctrine of the fourfold salvific causality of Christ’s Passion (by way of sacrifice, satisfaction, redemption, and merit). His emphasis on love, however, over and against St. Anselm’s emphasis on justice, must in turn be counter-balanced by the latter. In conclusion, I propose to return to the practical importance of the question of the atonement to see what connections can be drawn between Ratzinger’s soteriology and liturgical theology.

Question: Behind the screen always??

A question from a Unam Sanctam Catholicam fan:

Thank you for your thoughts on behind the screen confessions! I have been recently contemplating changing to doing face-to-face confessions, but I fully agree with your reasons. I'd like to know your thoughts on this one- if the priest you are confessing to is your spiritual director, would you do face-to-face? Or, avoid going into his line altogether? Your thoughts would be much appreciated. Thanks!

This is an interesting question. The confessional screen preserves anonymity, but need the pretense of anonymity be observed when the priest is your spiritual director and he obviously knows who you are?

Well, I would argue that though anonymity is a good effect of going behind the screen, it is not the exclusive reason. A few personal stories: as many of you know, I am empoyed by a parish. I got to confession to my parish priest sometimes. Often, I am the first person in line, so that he clearly sees me as he is walking up to go into the Confessional. I still go behind the screen anyways. Or often times I will go into the Confessional, kneel down behind the screen, then say, "Hey Father, this is Boniface," so that he knows who I am. But I still go behind the screen and wouldn't dream of doing it any other way. I met with my new Spiritual Director (a priest of Miles Christi) two weeks ago for the first time. We talked face to face for forty minutes, but when it was time for Confession, he gestured me to go behind the screen that he had set up.

Is this all just an elaborate farce, since the priest obviosuly knows who you are? I would argue that behind the screen confession has great value, even if the priest knows who you are already. Basically, the same reasons apply for this as when the priest does not know you, which I have elaborated here in this August, 2007 post. But let's look at a few of them that pertaint to this case:

1) Sign value: even if the priest knows you, there is a sign value in going behind the screen. It reminds us that sin puts us outside of God's grace, and that the priest (who acts in persona Christi) is separated from us by a division just as sin separates us from God. Only in the next life will we see "face to face."

2) Better preserves role of the priest: even if the priest knows who you are, when we go behind the screen there is still a theological anonymity. This is the same anonymity as, say, a priest offering the TLM. His personality means nothing. The fact that he is Father Bob and not Father John means nothing. His own quirks and foibles mean nothing, and we are better able to get down to the essense of the Sacrament itself. Sure, you will still know it is Father so-and-so, and he will still know it is you, but going behind the screen helps us to better get into the understanding that in Confession we meet Christ Himself and that it is from God that our forgiveness comes, not through a little chat with Father across a little table sitting in two office chairs.

3) Allows better confession: as I pointed out in my other article, even when you know somebody, it is hartder to fess up to something if you have to look them in the eye while saying it. When we injure somebody else and have to apologize to them, don't we have a tendency to look at our feet instead of the eyes of the other? I think people do not want to look into another person's face while confessing, and so behind the screen will make it easier to bring your sins to mind and say them. Also, it absolves the priest of having to figure out what kind of facial expressions to make in response to the horrid things you are confessing! Are there any priests out there who havehad a hard time with how to react in a face to face situation when a person is confessing? I'd love to hear from you!

At any rate, I think all of the benefits that I listed with behind the screen still apply, even anonymity, though it is a theological anonymity, not a literal one. Hope this helps.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Synod's view of post-Vatican II Church (part 4)

WARNING: What you are about to read can be categorized as "ranting" and/or "raving."

The more I study the Synod's working document, the more red flags pop up in my mind - no sooner do I finish researching for one post than an idea for another crops up. Perhaps this will be the last in this series, perhaps not. There is much more that can be said. In particular, I am noticing the Synod's tendency to exalt the "dialogue" and active aspect of the Scriptures almost at the expense of the intellectual and exegetical meaning. When exegesis is mentioned, it is usually in the context of unresolved exegetical "difficulties," reminding us that we are not a people of the Book, or by way of reminding us that we can have to not just read it put the Word into action, like in this awkward quote from section 23: "Revelation in the Bible can therefore be said to be an encounter between God and people who, in experiencing the one and only Word, actually together "do" the Word." Together we "do" the Word? I guess I get what it is trying to say, but can you imagine any statement being more imprecise or open to multiform interpretations? "Do" the Word?

An overriding problem I have with this document is that it is very obviously rooted in the worldly-humanist optimistic view of the Church's role in the world that was so prominent after the Council and is exemplified in Gaudium et Spes. According to this view, the Church since Vatican II has been a phenomenal success, the aspirations of the Council Fathers have all been vindicated and everybody is much better off now than before 1963. This also tends to go hand in hand with a very worldly-oriented view of the Church's mission. Take a look at section 58: "The Word of God [is] the source of grace, freedom, justice and peace and the safeguard of creation." Only one of those terms, grace, has an unambiguously theological meaning. All the rest are worldly terms. When it says freedom it means political freedom, justice means social justice, peace means international brotherhood, and safeguarding creation means ecology (if you don't believe that it is referencing ecology, check section 10, where the Synod very seriously raised the "pastoral implications" of the "relevant questions concerning natural law, the origin of the world and ecology").

Peace is a good thing. Ecology is a good thing. Justice is good. But they are not the essential concerns of the Church (whose mission is the sanctification of souls), and we are not helping anybody if we reduce the place of the Scriptures or the Church to be just a tool for the improvement of worldly, earth-bound institutions and relations. Scriptures is given to tell us about Christ. It is not some kind of universalizing book of platitudes that tells us all about how to attain world peace and reduce our carbon footprint. Now the Pope is coming out with an encyclical on social justice. Unless he is prepared to reshift the whole man-centered emphasis in social justice theology that has prevailed in the past thirty years (and I doubt he is), then why do we need another statement on social justice? Don't we have enough stuff on social justice? I think this goes back to my other theory about the modern Magisterium thinking it just has to churn out documents periodically the way a Congress keeps turning out new laws. This is contrary to the traditional stance that the Magisterium and Papacy were there to make pronouncements and definitive declarations when things needed clarification, not to be cranking out encyclicals every few months just for the sake of publishing something.

The Synod's document has some interesting things to say about the post-Vatican II Church. The most amusing of these is the Synod's labeling of the post-VII years as "a season of plentiful fruits" (5). That's a good one! What are these fruits exactly? This is another one of those buzz words like "richness" that are often used to refer to the outcome of the Council but which lack substance. When I think of "fruits" of the Council, I think of 80% of Catholics disbelieving in the Real Presence, Obama-voting Catholics, empty convents, nuns in suit-pants, New Age monks, lax bishops (though they're getting better recently), heretic priests, homosexual seminarians, Protestant Church music, table altars, and everything that goes along with them. But I am just a private amateur theologian and historian, and what I say doesn't matter or have any authority. But let's see what the Synod's "fruits" are:

"A renewed appreciation of the Bible in liturgy, catechesis, and more importantly in exegetical and theological studies" (5) Two thoughts: one, they obviously mistake putting more readings in the liturgy for "renewed appreciation." The two are not necessarily the same (see here). Second, the idea that there is a greater appreciation for the Scriptures in exegetical and theological studies today is laughable--these are the two regions where heresies concerning the meaning of Scripture abound the most.

"An ever increasing number of new readers and ministers of the Word of God" (5). i.e., because we have a severe priest shortage and the offices of Acolyte and Lector are all but extinct.

"A greater availability of ways and means of modern communication" (5). Granted, that is a good thing, but this is supposed to be about positive experiences that are "a result of the dynamic activity of the Word of God" in the 40 years since the Council. What does the fact that we have modern communication have to do with the implementation of the Council and how can it be listed as a positive fruit of the post-Conciliar Church? There is not even a remote connection. They just wanted another "fruit" to put on their list so it wasn't too short.

"An interest in the Bible in the field of culture" (5), i.e., to compensate for the fact that it is increasingly not taken seriously in the field of theology.

Here's an amusing view of the post-Conciliar Church: "The People of God have a growing consciousness of the importance of liturgies of the Word of God, prompted in part by the reference and revision of them in the new Lectionary" (33). If they do have a growing appreciation of the importance of liturgy, then why are liturgies in so many parishes such a debacle? However, in the same paragraph the documents admits that homilies "could clearly stand improvement" and that Bishops often "lack interest" in the "riches" of the liturgical books.

Here's a good one from section 40: "Undoubtedly, the Lord is owed praise for the fruits produced after the Second Vatican Council, one of which is the commitment of a great number of exegetes and theologians who study and explain the Scriptures according to the sense of the Church and interpret and present the Word, written in the Bible, within the context of living Tradition." Did it really just praise theologians for their faithful exegesis and interpretation of the Bible in the context of Tradition? That would be like congratulating the Jesuits for their orthodoxy or commending the English hierarchy for their support of Summorum Pontificum! It is simply not true! There are many good Scripture scholars out there to be sure, but I think the vast majority of Scripture scholars in the Church today are working under the heretical misunderstanding of Dei verbum 11 and have a very restricted view of inspiration. A pastor not far from here recently lost many congregation members by preaching that the Scripture pretty much meant whatever you wanted it to mean. There is an immense poverty in the Church with regards to faithful interpretation of Scripture, and I think this is one reason for the modern Church's weakness. But, this has been the trend since Vatican II: close seminaries and religious houses and allow heretical preaching all over and then pat ourselves on the back and talk about what a rich harvest we are reaping!

The following quote is a little disturbing: "Because the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us the Spirit is prompting us to meditate on the new itinerary which He intends to pursue among the people of our time" (40). The document does not go on to state exactly what this "new itinerary" is, but I have to wonder, why are the "people of our time" so special that we need a new itinerary? Was the old itinerary not good enough? Are we different than all our ancestors who came before? The Synod apparently thinks so, and this is in keeping with the Future Church vision of many of the Council periti, that modern man is too sophisticated for the old ways.

Well, that's enough for now. Suffice it to say that the Synod is still playing the same, tired old Emperor's New Clothes game, declaring the Church more glorious and fruitful because of the Council when in reality we are impoverished and weak.

"I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead." Apoc. 3:1

Monday, November 10, 2008

Defective form in SSPX ordinations? I don't think so.

Anselm, our sometime contributor to this blog who is currently residing in Gaming, Austria at the International Theological Institute, reported to me last week that a fellow student there challenged the validity of the 1988 SSPX episcopal ordinations. The supposed reason for the invalidity was the argument that all episcopal ordinations need be done by three bishops, and that since Archbishop Lefevre ordained the four bishops alone, the ordinations were therefore invalid.

Anselm was beside himself with amusement with this assertion, which he and I both laughed off as pretty stupid. But, as the week went on, he and I decided to do a little research and clarify this issue once and for all. After all, if somebody at the ITI is spouting this idea, I'm sure there must be more out there. After a few hours of research this past week, I put together the following brief synopsis.

Question: Whether or not an episcopal ordination is invalid due to lack of three consecrating bishops?

Answer: Negative. An episcopal consecration done by one bishop alone is certainly not invalid, though it is irregular/illicit.

Sacramental & Canonical Reasons

1. The sacrament of Holy Orders resides in fullness in the office of Bishop (CCC 1558; LG 21§2), which is called the summa of the sacred ministry. This fullness resides not in a collegiality of Bishops, but in each Bishop in particular. There are no sacraments that require the presence of more than one minister for valid confirmation. Each Bishop alone possesses (by virtue of his episcopal ordination) the power to confer Holy Orders on others, even by creating other Bishops. As canon 1012 says, “The minister of sacred ordination is a consecrated Bishop.” Notice it specifies only one, “a consecrated Bishop.” Therefore, it is false to assert that three bishops are needed for valid episcopal consecration. This is what can be called the sacramental-theological reason: i.e., that fullness of orders resides in the office of Bishop individually.

2. The CIC 1014 and the CCC 1559 make reference to the practice, since Nicaea, of having a Bishop consecrated by three bishops. However, the Catechism says that this practice was only to evidence the “collegial nature” of the episcopate (CCC 1559) – it is a symbolic recalling of the unity of the College of Apostles. The commentary in the official CIC says that this was instituted “for organizational reasons” (p 635). While canon 1014 mandates three bishops present, the Catechism and the CIC commentary make clear that this does not affect validity. Thus, we have (in addition to the sacramental reason why the above assertion is false) a canonical reason as well.

3. As evidence that lack of three bishops does not affect validity, we can read the words of canon 1014, which begin, “Unless a dispensation has been granted by the Apostolic See, the principal consecrating Bishop at an Episcopal consecration is to have at least two other consecrating bishops with him.” If the two other bishops were absolutely necessary for validity, the Apostolic See could not dispense them under any circumstances, just like it cannot dispense with the form and matter of any sacrament.

4. Furthermore, we know in fact that bishops are regularly consecrated by a single bishop in the nation of China, where the Church exists in a state of persecution. No one asserts that Chinese bishops are invalidly ordained because of this point. The CIC commentary also points out the dispensations from this practice were regular going back even to Nicea and before (p. 635). The only difference between Chinese ordinations and SSPX ordinations is pontifical mandate.

5. Furthermore, though multiple bishops are present and participating, the CIC (can. 1014) recognizes only one bishop as the consecrator, for it makes a distinction between the “principal consecrating bishop” and “other consecrating bishops,” which are also referred to as “assistants” in the commentary, as opposed to the “primary minister.” By this language, we see that the Church recognizes a difference between the primary bishop who is conferring Holy Orders and the other bishops who, though assisting, are not actually conferring the sacrament.

6. Furthermore, if three bishops were required for validity, how could any bishop trace his episcopal lineage and apostolic succession? But we do know that in fact bishops trace their apostolic succession through one predecessor only: as in the Diocese of Lansing, MI., Bishop Earl Boyea is listed as being ordained by Adam Cardinal Maida, not by three bishops, though there probably were three in attendance (see

7. Furthermore, we understand this principle in celebration of the Eucharist very simply. If more than one priest is present, they concelebrate, although only the priest who is the principal celebrant is really confecting the sacrament. The same is true for episcopal ordinations.

8. Furthermore (and finally), the commentary on the CIC on the same page as canon 1014 (page 635) says at the bottom of the page: “it is highly appropriate that all bishops present participate in the ordination together with the principal consecrating bishop; however, a single bishop is sufficient for validity.” This should lay the matter to rest.


9. No one has ever claimed seriously that the SSPX ordinations are invalid due to lack of three bishops. Canonically they are irregular (i.e., illicit) due to proceeding with solitary ordination without a dispensation from the Holy See, as stipulated in canon 1014. The SSPX ordinations were illicit by reason of lack of co-consecrating bishops (can. 1014), but more importantly because they had no papal mandate at all (can. 1013), and therefore Archbishop Lefevre and the four bishops incurred latae sententiae excommunication, as stipulated in canon 1382. However, their ordinations are perfectly valid, as even the CIC commentary on 1014 points out plainly.

Can anybody think of any other arguments to add to this? Have you ever come across this position yourself? I find this idea even more strange since Anselm told me that the same person who asserted this also claimed that the Greeks were not in schism.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Synod: Opening door to Lay Homilies? (part 3)

Last time I signed off with a cryptic reference to lay homilies and the Synod on the Word of God. I was exaggerating a little: the Synod does not call for lay homilies as such. As my dear friend Japhy (who often corrects me when I become overzealous) pointed out, the Synod document specifically mentions in paragraph 50 that the homily is to be preached only by an ordained minister. Fair enough.

However, I am interested not so much in what the document says and does not say, as much as what progressives will stretch the document to mean. Therefore, the question for me is not "Does the working document call for lay homilies?" as much as "Can progressives twist this in any way that seems to imply or lead to lay homilies?" To this second question, the answer is a resounding affirmative.

For the troubling passage in the working document with regards to lay homilies, we need not look to sections 50 and 51 which specifically address the homily as such, but back to paragraph 37 which deals pastoral implications in the context of the ministry of the Word. Paragraph 37 begins by talking about a harmonic unity between the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. With regards to the liturgy of the Word, it goes on to talk about the vital importance of making the readings meaningful and understandable to the people, so that the hearing of the Readings consitutes a true "encounter" with the Word of God. To this end, the Synod recommends in the middle of section 37:

"In the liturgy of the Word, maximum attention should be given to clear, understandable proclamation of the texts and a homily based on the Word. This requires competent, well-prepared readers who, for this purpose, need to be formed in schools, even ones which might be established by the Diocese [watch this last sentence]. At the same time, the Word of God might be better understood if the lector made a brief introduction on the meaning of the reading to be proclaimed."

Now step back and think about what that says. It was not referring to the pastor giving the homily, otherwise that would be redundant: of course the homily will expound the meaning of the reading. It specifically says lectors, and if it says lectors, we can assume it means the Old Testament and Epistle readings commonly done by lay people in most parishes. Now, we know that lector is an actual office, along with acolytes, who are referred to with lectors in the CIC as "lay men" who have a "stable ministry" (CIC 230:1). Realistically though, how many Novus Ordo parishes have properly instituted lectors or acolytes? Almost none. I certainly don't know of any around here. Instead, we have just a bunch of lay people volunteers doing the readings who are commonly called lectors. Is this not the case? These persons are spoken of in canon 230:2-3:

"Lay people can receive a temporary assignment to the role of lector in liturgical actions...where the needs of the Church require and ministers are not available, lay people, even though they are not lectors or acolytes, can supply certain of their functions, that is, exercise the ministry of the word, preside over liturgical prayers..."

So, we see that though the Church retains the official office of lector, they confer upon any old lay person the exact same duties and responsibilities as a true lector, thus eliminating the distinction. So, let's come back to the Synod document. Knowing that in practice, most lay readers are not lectors (but are errantly called so), and knowing also that the Synod in paragraph 37 has called for "lectors" to give "brief introductions to the meaning of the readings," do you see the potential for a huge abuse to be opened up here?

Imagine, you are at Sunday Mass. A middle-aged woman wearing suit pants comes up in front of the congregation and steps up to the ambo. The reading is from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. She starts off: "Before I begin this reading, I'd just like to give a few insights into the meaning of this passage..." Then follows a five to ten minute "introduction" to the readings prior to the Gospel and the homily. And if you come up to the pastor afterwards and voice your concern, he points to paragraph 37 which encourages lectors to give introductions to the meaning of the readings.

Of course, we know that the woman is not technically a lector. But (and let's be real), do 99% of parishes know or care about the distinction? When they see lector, they translate it as "reader" (which I guess is the literal translation, but that's beside the point). This clause in the working document, if adopted, will encourage lay people doing the Readings to start spouting off their own half-cocked introductions to what they think the readings are about. Even if what they say is good, it is still an inversion of liturgical roles.

What is the meaning of the Synod's statement here? Either it is calling for lay readers to give explications of the Scriptures, or else it is making a statement about the instituted office of lector, in which case it would be next to meaningless since the office of lector is practically extinct in most mainstream NO parishes. I'm telling you, if this gets adopted, we will get the equivalent of lay homilies, only done before the first readings, so they technically will not be called homilies.

Am I drawing correct inferences here?

Just as a little experiment, do a Google images search on the phrase "Catholic Mass lectors" and check out all the pictures that come up.

Next time, the final installation: Synod's fanciful statements on post-Vatican II Church