Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best posts of 2010

Well, we've made if through another year - another year closer to the Second Coming. Until that happens, enjoy this selection of my personal favorite posts from 2010. I truly appreciate your patronage of this blog, especially those of you who have been here from the beginning. To date this blog has been visited 274,318 times and receives approximately 215 unique visits per day from Catholics all over the world. If you have at all benefited spiritually or intellectually from this blog, please let me know; I love to hear positive feedback! (I don't need to solicit for negative feedback - I get that anyway even without solicitation!) Also, if this blog has in any way blessed you, please consider forwarding an article or link to a friend. This blog has grown mainly through word of mouth, so any "good words" you can put in with your friends are greatly appreciated.

May you have a Blessed New Year and a Happy Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God!

Oprah and God's "jealousy": A breakdown of Oprah Winfrey's argument that she cannot believe in the God of the Bible because He is "jealous."

Sin in the Movies: At what point does the sin portrayed in film actually become sin for the actors simulating it?

What's the Mass all about?: On the modern tendency to see Mass as only valuable if you can receive communion and of no value if you can't.

John Zmirak on Converts: Catholic apologist John Zmirak on the dynamic between cradles, converts and trads.

"Saved through Childbearing"; An exegesis of the mysterious verse from Timothy.

Fantasy Magic and the Christian Author: A guide to when and how Christian authors can utilize magic in the fantasy genre with the least amount of difficulties from a perspective of faith.

Political Authority (Anselm): In which Anselm debunks a popular notion of political authority as having its source in the will of the people.
Pius XII, Teilhard and Ratzinger: A comparison between Teilhard's "Omega Point" theory and some of the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger and Pius XII on evolution.

Modern Contradictions: On the modern world's refusal to see a connection between homosexuality and sex abuse.
Christ's Ascent into Heaven: An apologetic for those who say that the Ascension was a myth believable only in a pre-Copernican world in which people didn't know that heaven wasn't really up in the air.

Communion Straw Men: Replies to some dumb arguments regarding communion in the hand.
How to Run a Successful RCIA Program: Putting together an RCIA program that is both faith-building and intellectually stimulating without any nonsense.

James and Paul on "Works of the Law": What does St. Paul really mean by "works of the Law"?

CCC on Armed Resistance: The Catechism's alleged guidelines for when armed resistance is allowable are really no guidelines at all.
Signum Crucis in the Mass: Reply to arguments that the sign of the cross in the Extraordinary Form are redundant.

Head Coverings "Because of the Angels": An exegesis of the mysterious verse from 1 Corinthians.
More Koran Burning Stupidity: On why the hubbub about the Koran burning was stupid.
Dogma "ex voce": On the ambiguity and confused manner in which the modern Magisterium communicates.
The Role of the Catholic Blogger; A defense of blogging against those who say that bloggers are unprofessional and unreliable.
The Condom Debacle: A candid evaluation of the condom debacle that ensued after L'Osservatore Romano imprudently published some of BXVI's comments on condom use.
Our Lady's Perpetual Virginity: A defense of Our Lady's perpetual virginity based on Mary's words in Luke 1.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Elderly and the Traditional Latin Mass

Yes, it's true - every now and then I like to report good news (here, for example). Mainly I like to do this in order ro reaffirm the truth that such a thing as "good news" does indeed exist in the world. The good news I am about to relate occured in my very own parish just this month.

Our parish has recently begun offering the Extraordinary Form of the Mass once per month. Normally our Mass times are 8:00 and 10:30, but on the one Sunday a month when the EF is said it is done as a third Mass offered at 12:30. Well, this past month I was attending the monthly TLM and was standing back in the vestibule with my crying, fussing child (where I spend most of my Masses). Sometime during the consecration, the old church doors creaked open and an elderly couple walked in. They apparently did not know there was a Mass going on (the church is normally empty at that time of day) and were quite surprised to see a Traditional Latin Mass being said.

They kind of stood there in dumb disbelief for a minute before the old woman approached me and asked, "Does this happen every week at this time?" I explained to her that it was a monthly thing, at this time at least. She and her husband told me they would definitely be back every month to attend it. and that, had they known it was going on, would have rather come to that Mass than the one they already went to that day. She then said to me, "I haven't seen the traditional Mass in years. It brings tears to my eyes." Visibly moved, her husband and her stayed on for a few moments longer in silent piety before departing. It brought tears to my eyes, too.

This incident reminded me of the elderly and the way they are thrown about as an argument by those for and against the Traditional Mass. For those who wish the Traditional Mass would just go away, the Extraordinary Form is generally seen as a bit of nostalgia for old people who cannot get over their "attachment" to an antique whose time is over. Thus, for progressives, it is only for the sake of some of these pre-Vatican II elderly who stubbornly refuse to die that the Traditional Mass remains in existence; presumably, once this generation dies off, there will be no more of these obnoxious old people to "remain attached" to it and it will therefore disappear.

If we go over to the other side, to the Traditionalist camp and those who are in favor of the Extraordinary Form in varying degrees, we will see not infrequently the charge made that today's elderly are those most against the old Mass. The elderly of today were the adult generation of the 1960's who, in many cases, welcomed the tragic dissolution of our tradition with open arms and are now fighting to make sure that they pass on the decadent  spirit of the sixties before they kick the bucket. Furthermore, it is often said that Extraordinary Form Masses are usually attended by a higher proportion of young persons, suggesting that it must be in some way true that the elderly do not appreciate the old Mass as much as the young.

Ultimately, these are both stereotypes: the elderly as crusty reactionaries nostalgically clinging to "their" old Mass and the elderly as aged, geriatric progressives still fighting on the cusp of death to modernize the Church. As stereotypes, both of these generalizations can be shown to be false in a thousand particulars, but  are paradoxically true as generalizations. It is definitely the case that there are elderly people whose taste for the old Mass is of a nostalgic, aesthetic nature. It is also the case that I have run across more than a few elderly people who are as radical as any progressive of the 1960's and who would rather go to a Protestant service than see a return of traditional implements like communion rails. Both extremes exist within the elderly community, just as they do in any other age demographic.

But the experience I have related above reminded of was the fact that the elderly are not a weapon to be used as a talking point against various sides, something to bash each other with by saying "The elderly want this" or "the elderly support that" (I often wonder if anybody actually consulted the elderly before making these statements). They are not homogeneous, and it is difficult to make accurate generalizations about what the whole demographic prefers - just like it is wrong to say "young people like contemporary music at Mass" when so many do not. The elderly are real individuals whose experience of the tumultuous 60's and 70's has left deep, emotional wounds - they are not monolithic, unthinkingly clinging to something just because it is old, or relentlessly destroying tradition as if it were perpetually 1968. They are complex and, like everyone else, trying to come to terms with what happened in the Church in their own way. This struggling and interior wrestling can especially be seen in the letters of persons who were elderly when the Council happened, like J.R.R. Tolkien, whose comments on the post-Conciliar Church are heart-rending (see here). In these letters we see neither a stodgy, reactionary traditionalist, and certainly not a utopian progressive (although Tolkien was known to loudly and obnoxiously say the Mass responses in Latin long after his parish had switched to English). What the letters do reveal is an old man torn between what he knows is the beauty and power of Catholic Tradition on the one hand and his loyalty to a Church on the other, a Church which he feels in his gut is making a series of misguided decisions. He said to his son Christopher:
"I know quite well that, to you as to me, the Church which once felt like a refuge, now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go! (I wonder if this desperate feeling, the last state of loyalty hanging on, was not, even more often than is actually recorded in the Gospels, felt by Our Lord's followers in His earthly life-time?) I think there is nothing to do but pray, for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it" (Letter 306).
What a tragic conundrum to be stuck in for any person to whom the Church has meant as much as it did for Tolkien! Yet this is the conundrum that I think many of the elderly have found themselves in for decades. Perhaps they still wrestle with it; perhaps they long stopped wrestling and have just accepted the status quo, accustoming themselves to mediocrity and modern trends until, like the woman in my story, one day they stumble upon the Traditional Mass somewhere, not in a book or an old black and white film, but being  gloriously celebrated before them, alive and vibrant, as if the past forty years had crashed like a wave upon the Rock of the Mass of Ages but receded, leaving the liturgy immaculately preserved, and only in that moment realizing what was truly lost. Perhaps this encounter is something like what the woman  in my story experienced when tears welled up in her eyes.

Well, the lesson is to not assume that the elderly, or any demographic for that matter, are completely monolithic in their approach to these matters. I see lots of elderly folks at TLMs and also lots of elderly folks who angrily cross their arms whenever my pastor starts praying in Latin. It is good to remember as well that one day we ourselves will be the elderly of another generation's future and in the meantime study the question of the elderly and the TLM a little more in depth.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Proclamation

Merry Christmas! Let us recall with humble awe and devotion what the Church celebrates this day - the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in the Person of Jesus Christ..
  • Today, the twenty-fifth day of December.
  • In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world
    from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;
  • the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;
  • the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
  • the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses
    and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;
  • the one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king;
  • in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;
  • in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
  • the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
  • the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
  • the whole world being at peace,
  • in the sixth age of the world,
  • Jesus Christ the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
    desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
    being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
    and nine months having passed since his conception,
  • was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary,
    being made flesh.
  • The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh

Note that this is the older translation, before "In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world" was replaced by "unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image" and before the Flood chronology was likewise changed to the more ambiguous "several thousand years."

Have a Blessed Feast of the Nativity of our Lord! If you are interested in reading more about the traditional vs. contemporary Christmas proclamation's, this website has a nice side by side comparison.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Glastonbury Tree Cut Down

This is one of the saddest stories I have read all year - the hallowed Glastonbury Tree, a timeless symbol of Christmas in England and a sign of the antiquity of Catholicism on the island, was cut down in the night by vandals last week. Here is the story from NPR:

"Legend has it that the rare thorn tree on a hill in southern England had ties to the earliest days of Christianity, and pilgrims often left offerings at its base. In more recent times, local children honored its current incarnation each year by cutting sprigs to place on Queen Elizabeth II's Christmas dining table.

Now British police want to know who sawed the limbs off the Glastonbury Holy Thorn Tree, reducing it to a stump. And they want to know why.

"I've just driven past the site, and people are coming out in tears," said Glastonbury Mayor John Coles. "I've never seen a sadder sight, or a more serious act of vandalism, in my 60 years in Glastonbury."

Glastonbury, 125 miles west of London, is best known for its annual rock music festival, which has drawn artists such as Bruce Springsteen since the 1960s. Its mysterious landscape — including the Glastonbury Tor hill, which is believed by some to have magical qualities — has drawn pagan worshippers for many years.

Katherine Gorbing, the director of Glastonbury Abbey, said the tree originally came from the Middle East and is a type of thorn tree common in Lebanon as well as in Europe. It typically lives about 100 years, but Gorbing said locals have kept Glastonbury Holy Thorn Tree going by taking grafts and clippings from it to plant new trees when the existing one neared the end of its natural life.

"It's a sacred tree," she said. "Not only for the Christian church, but for many other people."

The tree itself, located near the summit of Wearyall Hill, is visible from many parts of rural Somerset.

Coles said the nighttime attack came between Wednesday and Thursday shortly after he, the local vicar and schoolchildren participated in the annual sprig cutting for the queen's Christmas table.

The sprig is sometimes visible during her televised Christmas broadcast to the Commonwealth — and the queen always sends a letter of thanks, he said.

Coles believes that someone who saw the sprig ceremony on local television or who witnessed it in person — decided afterward to chop down the tree, which did not have any security cameras nearby.

"It could be an anti-monarchist, an anti-Christian, or someone who's an atheist," Coles said. "We don't know whether it's one person responsible or a group."

Avon and Somerset police would not comment on the motive. No arrests have been made.

The once-proud tree provides Glastonbury believers with what legend says is a significant link to the early days of Christianity in England.

Religious tradition holds that the original tree was planted by St. Joseph of Arimathea — the wealthy merchant who volunteered his prepared tomb to Jesus — after he first made landfall in England some 2,000 years ago. The chopped-down tree is thought to be descended from the original. It blooms twice a year — during the Christmas season and again around Easter.

"The story goes that Joseph of Arimathea pushed his staff into the ground and pronounced it to be weary — that's why it's known as Wearyall Hill," Coles said. "The tree is said to have grown from the staff. It's something you can't prove or disprove."

Some people believe the growth of the wooden staff into the tree was a full-fledged miracle, while others believe it was left standing in a boggy area for months and eventually sprouted, said Susan Strong, an education officer at Glastonbury Abbey.

"You can take the miraculous approach or the pragmatic approach," she said.

Local historians said the tree — or one of its ancestors — has been chopped down at least once before, by a soldier using an ax during the 1642-51 English Civil Wars.

Experts say the tree could recover in about 10 years if it was in good health at the time of the attack.

"It will obviously be deformed, but it will put grafts out next spring," said Tony Kirkham, head of the arboretum at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. "But it will take a long time to make a good tree."

Even with that hope, Gorbing called the loss of the tree devastating.

"The tree unites everybody in the town," she said. "It's a symbol worldwide. Local people do see this as an attack on Glastonbury."

Here is a picture of the tree as it now stands:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Holly and the Ivy

It has become my custom each year during Advent to do a posting on Christmas music; I am happy this year that I am finally able to share one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time, The Holly and the Ivy. I'm sure all of you are familiar with this tune, but I am not referring to the popular version of the song as heard here. There is another version of the song, one that is much more festive and upbeat, and much rarer. I have only heard this version in one place - on an English Christmas CD that I picked up nearly ten years ago. It was sung by the Norwich Cathedral Choir, though there was no mention on the CD of who had written the arrangement.

I searched for years to find a YouTube version of this song so I could share it with you. After almost four years, I finally decided to make a video on my own - so, I went through my old CD pile, dug up the disc, ripped the song and stayed up till midnight last night putting some pictures to it. So, enjoy this rare version of The Holly and the Ivy. If anybody knows the composer or who arranged this, please let me know:

Here are some of my previous posts on Christmas music:

"The Christmas Canon" (2009)
"Five Underrated Christmas Songs" (2008)
"Melancholy Christmas" (2007)

And two other Christmas posts:

"Santa Claus and Vicarious Faith" (2009)
"This time of year is so depressing" (2008)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Classical vs. Ecclesiastical Latin (part 2)

In my last post we looked at the differences between ecclesiastical and classical Latin. In this post we will look at why classical Latin slowly evolved (through many intermediate phases) into ecclesiastical Latin and why we should prefer the use of ecclesiastical Latin in the Church to classical.

Classical Latin was never the main form of Latin of the Roman empire. It developed relatively late in the history of the Republic, coming only with the "Graecofication" of Rome that came in the wake of the Punic Wars and the conquest of Greece. This is first detected in the poet Ennius (239-169 BC); Cicero, one of the architects of what became known as "classical" Latin, was schooled in Athens and intentionally brought Greek constructions into the Latin usage, which he considered to stiff and rustic in its native form.  I would say the advent of classical Latin can be dated around 100 BC at the earliest, though 50 BC might be more reasonable; it maintained its supremacy only for a brief period, dying with the Republic as the advent of the Prinicpate and the Empire made rhetorical skill less important than imperial patronage in political advancement. It had already lost its supremacy by 100 AD and the advent of the Antonines, during which time Greek received a fresh patronage.

But even while classical was in vogue, it was not used by the majority of Latin speakers, for the simple fact that it was the language of poetry and rhetoric, that is, of a privileged few. As a written language, classical Latin did not keep up with the developments of Latin as actually spoken in the provinces and colonies. In all societies language is transmitted not by rhetoricians, but by common folk. Spoken language is fluid while written language tends resist change; another great example is the development of spoken Hebrew into Aramaic versus the rigidity of literary Hebrew in the time of Christ.

It is from the organic developments of spoken Latin that ecclesiastical Latin would eventually develop.  The secular historian Will Durant, no friend to Catholicism, nevertheless makes a good point about the distinction between written-classical Latin and the spoken dialects:
"As the written form of Latin  resisted change more than the spoken words,  the language of literature diverged more and more from the speech of the people, as in modern America or France. The melodious romance languages - Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Romanian, - evolved from the crude popular Latin brought to the provinces, not by poets and grammarians, but by soldiers, merchants, and adventurers. So the word for horse in the Romance languages - caballo, cavallo, cheval, cal - were taken from the spoken Latin caballus, not from the written equus" (Caesar and Christ, pg. 73).
As the spoken language continued to develop as the empire became more polygot, a corresponding decline in the importance of rhetoric for political advancement made the constructions of classical Latin obsolete. Once the last vestiges of the Republic faded away, once important positions were filled by imperial appointment and no longer by election, there was no longer a necessity for the would-be politician to be a skilled orator. Fidelity and syncophancy to the emperors became much more important, leading to a general decline in the importance of rhetorical Latin. Couple this with the fact that Trajan, Hadrian and Aurelius, all Spaniards, had a tendency to elevate Greeks to important positions in the imperial court, and we can see why classical Latin waned in importance all throughout the 2nd century.

What replaced it? Well, just as classical was never the one dominant form of Latin even in its heyday, so it was not replaced by a single dialect but evolved into various forms depending on the region; we would not expect the spoken Latin of Hippo Regius to be the same as the spoken Latin of Eburacum (York) or that of Asia Minor to be the same as that of the frontier of Moguntiacum (Mainz). Generally speaking, though, classical gave way to a form known as Latinitas Serior, or Late Latin, which came in at the end of the 3rd century AD. The first Latin fathers, exemplified by Tertullian and Cyrprian, utilized this form of Latin, though already by 250 important developments were taking place in patristic writing as the Fathers stretched the limits of Latin in order to articulate Christian theological prinicples; this led to the development of something called "patristic Latin", which is a kind of sub-category of Late Latin.

From here on out the development of Latin gets more confusing; Late Latin in its spoken form became, by the 5th century, "Vulgar Latin", which was the colloquial form of Latin used throughout the empire that served as the core of what would become the Romance languages and differed from Late Latin relatively as much as the English of colonial Boston differs from our own, and from classical approximately to the degree that King James English differs from modern American. The catalyst that broke these blanket of vulgar dialects up into the Romance languages was, of course, the barbarian invasions of later antiquity, which by the 7th century had transformed the vulgar dialects into proto-Spanish, French, Italian and (later) Romanian.

But this was only the case in spoken Latin. As the Church mainly communicated by writing, and as the barbarians were by and large illiterate in the first few generations, the propagation of knowledge and the governance of the Church continued on in the Latin tongue without nearly as much dilution from the Germanic languages as the spoken Latin had suffered. Thus we are left with the reality, by the 6th century, of Church whose official language is one no longer spoken by the people. This form of Latin, to a degree influenced by the balkanization of the empire in its death throes and the developments of the 5 centuries since the time of Augustus, became known as "medieval" or "ecclesiastical" Latin. Unlike the spoken forms of Latin, this eccelsiastical usage was able to endure precisely because it was an administrative language; its spoken usage was also regulated by the liturgical books and sacramentaries, which acted as conservative bulwarks against the same kind of dilution that had turned Gaulish Latin into French. In short, by being wedded to the liturgical and administrative needs of the Catholic Church, ecclesiastical Latin was rendered invulnerable to the same deteriorating influences that had swept away prior forms of Latin, and was thus enabled to endure as the language of the educated for many centuries.

But, given the amazing enduring power of ecclesiastical Latin, why the sudden switch at the end of the 19th century to a renewed emphasis on classical?

Though we speak of the "restoration" of classical as coming in around 1900, it actually goes back way further, to the Renaissance, in fact. We can see the preference for classical over ecclesiastical as part of the movement inaugurated by Petrarch and the humanists; that is, a fascination with ancient Greek and Roman culture coupled by a denigration of the culture and life of the Middle Ages. The fascination with classical Latin came out of this period of Renaissance humanism; however, the reason why ecclesiastical was not displaced at that time was that, though the men of the Renaissance showed a lively interest in things classical, they were also devoted Catholics who would not have thought of trying to actively supplant the Church's own living language. The men of the Renaissance, scholars like St. Cajetan, found in the classical tradition something that enriched the life of the Church and was put to use for the Church's ends. The moderns, by contrast, used the classical tradition to tear the Church's living tradition down. The men of the Renaissance may have admired the pagans of the past; it was the moderns who suggested that we actaully become pagans ourselves. In the same way, the men of the Renaissance admired the beauty and form of classical Latin, but it was the moderns who suggested that we displace a millenium and a half of tradition to replace our Catholic usage with a foreign one. Thus, the "revival" of the late 19th century can be seen as the linguistic equivalent of the heresy archaeologism - that Catholics must perpetually regard older usages as better and question developments.

This is the argument the classicists make. So then, what can we say? Why exactly should we prefer the ecclesiastical pronunciation? I can think of four reasons:


First and foremost is the simple historical fact that almost the entirety of our Catholic heritage in is ecclesiastical Latin. It is our Tradition. Regardless of how much we may admire the accomplishments of the ancient Roman civilization or the poetry and prose of the Augustan period, this is not the language of our Church or our tradition. It is the simple but profound Latin of Anselm, Aquinas and Bonaventure that has been the language of the Church. Classical Latin was the language of pagan Rome, the Rome of the persecutions and the bloody spectacles of the amphitheaters. This is not the Rome of the holy pontiffs, nor the Latin of the Church. Therefore, at least in the context of Latin, we might modify Tertullian's famous line to say, "What has the Aquinas to do with Virgil?" Or better yet, remember the words of our Lord to St. Jerome, "You are a Ciceronian, not a Christian." Though classical Latin is a valid form of Latin to be sure, it is not our Latin.


We might also point out that nobody has an ear for classical Latin. After century upon century of pronouncing Latin according to the usage of the Middle Ages, the classical pronunciation sounds awkward, artificial and forced.This was put quite well in the most recent issue of Memoria Press' The Classical Teacher in an article about macrons by Cheryl Lowe. In this article, she points out that many ecclesiastical pronunciations of words are so ingrained in our vocabulary that the even classicists do not say them according to the classical pronunciation. For example, according to Lowe, the classical pronunciation of a short a in classical Latin is uh. Thus, the conjugation of amo would be uh-moh, uh-mas, uh-muht. Yet nobody says that; even classicists say ah-mo. Another example is Italia, which in classical would be ee-tuh-lee-ah. Thus, we are left with some words which use the medieval pronunciation just by convention (Magisterium Magi, Italia, etc.) and others which would revert to classical pronunciation, leading to the type of hodge-podge we have in English where letters are pronounced differently depending on the word and usage, making the language much more difficult ot learn. The classical pronunciation actually hinders the comprehension of Latin by students because it is counter-intuitive. Lowe concludes the article by rightly saying, "There is a lot to learn in Latin, and I made the decision long ago that I didn't want an emphasis on the details of a "restored" classical pronunciation that no one has an ear for. It would be an impediment to learning Latin" (The Classical Teacher, Winter 2010, "To Macron or Not to Marcon?" p. 11).


If we can incriminate ideas by guilt-by-association, then the classical "restoration" of the late 19th century is condemned as the linguistic branch of the general modernist attack of the period. Just as the modernists wanted a new, critical approach to Scripture study and theology, so they advocated for a "new" approach to the teaching and speaking of Latin. And, just as in the other two cases mentioned above, the modernists pushed for classical pronunciation under the guise of a false archaeologism; the fable was fostered that because classical was closer to the usage of the early church, it was "better", implying that the legitimate developments of the subsequent eighteen centuries were deficient. Of course, this was a fallacy because the Latin of the early church was not classical Latin. The Latin of the earliest liturgies, those of African churches circa 200 AD, were not classical Latin; indeed, by that time classical Latin had been out of usage for almost a century (we'll reserve for a future post the question of what type of Latin the Fathers did in fact use).

We also must be aware that the classical restoration was not done exclusively by theological modernists. It was originally the work of linguists in the burgeoning field of philology who had little concern with Catholicism or liturgical matters. But, just as theological modernists utilized the positivist historical methods being propounded in secular historical research for their own ends, so they jumped on the work of the classical linguists to push their agenda within the Catholic Church. To the extent that we agree with them, to the extent that we opt for a classical usage over the Church's own ecclesiastical, to that degree are we giving ground to the modernist doctrine that the post-apostolic developments of worship and practice within the Catholic Church are crusty accretions that need to be purged.

I know this is a bit subjective, and I suppose the principle of de gustibus non est disputandum comes into play, but it seems to me that the ecclesiastical pronunciation is simply more beautiful and thus more fit for worship of God. Imagine, when saying "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" if the Vs were pronounced as Ws. Imagine if in the "Regina Caeli" the C and G were both hard. The ecclesiastical pronunciation is supremely more beautiful, in my opinion. It is a matter of taste and convention to a degree, but in matters of Catholic worship, we ought to take questions of beauty very seriously.

The ecclesiastical Latin of the Church is just as integral to her character as her architecture or Gregorian chant. Just as we deplore the abandonment of traditional architectural models for ugly modernist ones and chant for contemporary music (even when such changes are done under the pretense of returning to what Newman called an "illusive primitive simplicity"), so should we jealously guard the form of Latin that has been handed down to us. While we defend on the one hand those who would say with vehemence that Latin should be abandoned altogether in favor of the vernacular, let us also guard our flanks from a surprise assault from the other side which would grant us our language, but in such a form that it becomes the language of scholars and antiquarians and no longer our own.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Classical vs. Ecclesiastical Latin (part 1)


This is a post I have been wanting to do for a long time, as it was requested of me by more than one reader; I only apologize that it took so long to get to it! I do encourage readers to let me know of suggestions for posts, since I am always looking for new material.

This two-part posts is meant to serve as a basic introduction to the difference between classical and ecclesiastical Latin; in presenting the differences between these two forms of lingua latina we will look at the motives behind the sudden resurgence of the classical pronunciation at the turn of the last century and hopefully demonstrate why Catholics should prefer the ecclesiastical pronunciation to the classical.

Classical Latin refers to the Latin language as it was spoken during the time of the Roman Empire. However, right away we are stuck with a reference that is too vague; Rome endured as a regional power for around seven hundred years, give or take a century depending on how you determine when Rome rose and fell. This is a tremendous amount of time in linguistics; think of how different English as spoken in 1300 was different from modern English. To lump all English for the past seven centuries into a single category would be extraordinarily sloppy, and it is no less so when we try to equate "classical Latin" as that which was spoken 'in classical times."

It is for this reason that Latin scholars have arbitrarily chosen one single moment in Rome's long history at which to crystallize the development of the language and measure all prior or subsequent developments by it. This moment is the Augustan age, from 31 BC to 17 AD, where Latin literature was (allegedly) at its height. This is the Latin of Cicero and Virgil, the high rhetorical Latin of the Senate and Roman oratory. This Latin came into use following the cultural triumph of the Graecophiles following the Roman victory over Hannibal (centered around the circle of Scipio Aemilianus), was developed by Greek-influenced playwrights like Terence and Ennius and reached its zenith in the prose of Cicero and the poetry of Virgil in the following century. Therefore, classical Latin is most accurately understood to be the form of Latin used over about a hundred and fifty year period during the transition from the Republic to the Empire.

Ecclesiastical Latin (or medieval Latin as it is sometimes called) is the Latin language as it was developed in the early medieval period and utilized by the Catholic Church. It is difficult to say when ecclesiastical Latin became the norm in the Church, but I'd say anywhere between 500 and 700; it was definitely the standard form of the language by Carolingian times. This Latin grew out of the so-called "Late Latin" (Latinitas Serior)  which was in use from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD. This ecclesiastical Latin was the language of Anselm, Alcuin and Aquinas, the Latin that was taught int he medieval universities and used at Lateran IV and Trent and which subsequently remained the language of the Church up until the upheaval of the Conciliar period, the sacra lingua of the Roman rite.

What are the main differences between classical and ecclesiastical Latin? There are two real categories of difference, one having to do with pronunciation, another with style. Here are the basic differences in pronunciation:

1) The dipthong "ae" is pronounced like an English long "i" (I am...) in classical while in ecclesiastical it is a long "a" (aye).

2) In classical Latin, the consonant C is always hard, as in "cat." Thus Cicero is pronounced "keekero." Ecclesiastical Latin makes much broader use of the soft C, as in Regina Caeli, for example.

3) The consonant V in classical Latin has a W sound, so that the imperative Venite (come) would be pronounced "wenite." Caesar's famous "Veni, vidi, vici" would have been pronounced "weni, weedi, weeki." Ecclesiastical Latin has the V pronounced the same as in English (as in the Latin words vita and vox).

4) All vowels in ecclesiastical Latin are long; in classical there are rules for long vowels and short vowels (each vowel has two sounds), traditionally distinguished by a macron symbol (˘).

5) The consonant G in Classical is usually hard (got); in ecclesiastical Latin it is more often pronounced like a "j" (just).

6) Finally, accent marks and macrons determine vowel pronunciation in classical Latin; ecclesiastical Latin does not rely on them nearly as much (in fact, not at all usually).

These are the differences in pronunciation. If you were to ask me how scholars are able to know so precisely how men pronounced words over two thousand years ago, I haven't the foggiest. I do not claim that these assertions about classical pronunciation are totally certain, but I am certain that this is what the classicists say about classical Latin pronunciation.

Then we have the stylistic differences between the two forms. Classical Latin was the Latin of the elite. It was developed for use in political oratory, rhetoric and the recitation of epic poetry. It was used for official state functions, pagan liturgies and panegyrics. There is a great emphasis on stylistic and metrical perfection, for it was the Latin of an age when a speaker was judged not so much by the soundness of his arguments as for the rhetorical power of his delivery. It is the Latin of master orators, and as such, its construction is quite complex. Because so much value was placed on these rhetorical qualities, modern day Latin students find the sentence construction artificial and cumbersome. Many classics majors who had to read the Aenied loathed the experience.

Ecclesiastical Latin, on the other hand, is the Latin of a time when the written word was of much greater importance than oratorical skill, and when the focus had shifted dramatically from the rhetorical allure of speech to the ability of language to concisely explain and defend a line of argumentation. This is the language of Aquinas, the language of scholasticism. The sentence construction is frugal, almost terse at times, and very to the point. Yet it maintains a certain rustic charm and is capable of drawing great distinctions when the need arises. A great example of the Salve Regina, a prayer that is very simple to read and translate in Latin even if you have only been studying for a brief time. Ecclesiastical Latin is a Latin that is meant to be either read studiously or intertwined with the melodies of Gregorian Chant and sung. Modern students generally find it easy to understand, with natural and predictable grammar and very few needless rhetorical flourishes. Ecclesiastical Latin is the language of a people who actually used the language to communicate important ideas and placed high value on intelligibility and utility over stylistic considerations. Yet, as I said above, those who delve into ecclesiastical Latin find that it has a very distinct stylistic charm of its own.

But now we must ask ourselves this - if classical Latin developed into ecclesiastical Latin sometime at the dawn of the medieval period, and ecclesiastical Latin in turn became the form of Latin used by the Catholic Church from the dusk of antiquity until the modern day, how is it that most classical languages programs at the university level are teaching classical Latin when it is ecclesiastical Latin that has enjoyed a much longer lifespan and is in many ways still a vibrant and living force? Why have institutions of higher learning reverted to teaching a Latin that has not been spoken for almost two millenia and which was not even spoken by most Romans even in its heyday? We will look at these issues next time.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Our Lady's Perpetual Virginity

Today in Mass my eight year old daughter asked me a very insightful question that, if it were asked by many Protestants, would lead them by its own inner logic to confess that our Blessed Lady did indeed remain a virgin perpetually throughout her life, as the Church has always confessed. The Gospel reading for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is, of course, the Annunciation  narrative from Luke 1. My daughter noticed something when the priest read verses 34 and 35, where the Gabriel has just finished explaining to Mary that she will conceive the Savior in her womb. Mary responds to Gabriel in the following manner:

And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Luke 1:34-35). 

My daughter, reflecting on this passage, said, "If Mary knew she was going to get married, why did she wonder how she was going to have a baby?" Interesting. Mary was betrothed to Joseph; therefore, the announcement that she would have a child should have come as a shock to her. So why Mary's astonishment? My daughter's instincts about this question were spot on; this question does not make any sense, if in fact Mary was not a Perpetual Virgin. While non-Catholic commentators tend to brush past this passage in assuming it is a reflection of Mary's incredulity at the possibility of getting pregnant without a husband, we shall see that, upon closer inspection, no such interpretation is possible.

Suppose, for example, that you are a young woman. Suppose you are engaged, like Mary was. Suppose somebody comes up to you and says, "You will bear a child." Now, (assuming you are not contracepting), what would be so revelatory about this? Even though you would not yet be married, there is nothing particularly amazing about the fact that a woman who is going to be married will bear a child. Note that the angel in verse 1:31 mentions only that Mary will conceive and bear a son, saying, "Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus." At this point, he has said nothing about the miraculous conception by the Holy Ghost. As far as Mary knows (at this point), this will be a normal conception, done according to the natural mode of procreation, since the angel as not yet mentioned the Virginal Conception.

It is this presumed natural conception that Mary expresses astonishment at. "How can this be?" she exclaims, not expressing shock at the idea of a virginal conception (for Gabriel has not announced this part of it yet), but merely at the idea of conceiving a child period. Her initial astonishment is at the suggestion that she will have a child, not that the child will be supernaturally conceived. Since the virginal conception has not yet been announced (and is in fact announced only in response to Mary's astonished questioning), we can't posit any other reason for Mary to be astonished at the suggestion that she would have a child other than that she had assumed she would never bear children; i.e., that she was a perpetual virgin.

This question, "How can this be?" makes no sense at all if Mary is not a perpetual virgin. If she were planning on having children by St. Joseph, when Gabriel said, "You shall bear a son," a more natural response from Mary would have been "Yes, I was assuming I would, since I am getting married in a few months." In other words, Gabriel's message would have been seen solely as a prophetic announcement of an otherwise natural occurrence that had yet to come to pass, rather than as the inauguration of the great miracle of the Incarnation, which according to Tradition, took place at the time of Mary's Fiat.

One issue to clear up here is the sloppy translation of Mary's question as "How can this be, since I have no husband?" The Greek verb that is usually translated as "can" is actually "shall," a form of the verb "to be." Mary is not questioning whether it can be done in the sense of expressing doubt, but is inquiring into the practical "how" of the angel's words; she acknowledges in faith that it shall be done, but wonders how. This must lead us to ask: if Mary was planning on having normal marital relations with St. Joseph in the future, why would she ask how she was to conceive? This, again, suggests that she had no intention of having marital relations with Joseph, which explains her faithful questioning of how this conception was to occur.

There is also a problem in the second clause of Mary's response, the phrase "I have no husband." Here the NAB is being patently unfaithful to the Vulgate, which does not say "I have no husband," but rather virum non cognosco, literally, "I know not man." The Vulgate is faithful to the Greek, as well, which says ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω, the word ἄνδρα meaning man with reference to sex (to distinguish from woman) and γινώσκω, which means simply "to know" (ginōskō) in the general form, but as we all know is also the Jewish idiom for having sexual intercourse. The Greek and Latin both clearly indicate that what Mary really said was "How shall this be, since I know not man?" If we understand "know" in the Jewish sense of "to have intercourse with," then Mary's statement might be more accurately rendered "How shall this come to pass, since I have no relations with man?" Notice that Mary does not say "I have not yet had relations with a man," but categorically says "I know not man"; i.e., I have not now, nor do I ever plan on "knowing" a man. Hence her astonishment at being told she will conceive.

This is not a new argument in favor of the Perpetual Virginity of our Lady; most of you have heard it before, other apologists more astute than I have written more eloquently about it, and I think it was even mentioned by St. Augustine (though I didn't find this argument in St. Jerome's famous Letter to Helvidius). But I never realized before how plain and simple it is to understand, that even an eight year old girl can recognize that Mary's question to the angel makes no sense unless she is a Perpetual Virgin. 

"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise" (Matt. 21:16)

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Buffalo Dance in Santa Fe

A little tidbit from our friends at the Los Pequenos Pepper, a lay-run monthly periodical out of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, where, due to the large population of Pueblo Indians, there has been an inordinate amount of "inculturation" going on liturgically for quite a long time. Here's a look at the latest nonsense going on in New Mexico.

Has the Buffalo Dance been Baptized?
By Stephanie Block

This past January, an interfaith gathering was hosted by Monsignor Jerome Martinez y Alire, in downtown Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi where he is rector. The event celebrated the City of Santa Fe and the Basilica’s Quad Centennial Anniversary Year of founding (1610).

The evening program began with a sacred blessing dance by the Native American Santa Clara Pueblo Buffalo Dancers [pictured above] and included music from a 3-faith choir, a Sikh Community Jatha (music group), and readings from Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim, Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic sacred texts.

Did the native dancers at this interfaith event represent an ethnic Catholic variant, or were they one of the“other” religious traditions? Every August, in conjunction with the annual Santa Fe Indian Market, Archbishop Sheehan presided over the Annual Native American Mass, celebrated again at the Cathedral Basilica, featuring the Black Eagle Drummers from Jemez Pueblo. Last year, the Mass also “featured” Buffalo dancers.

Two questions rise from such cultural and liturgical mixtures. One is: do such mixtures draw people closer to the Christ and His Truth or are they merely an entertainment that does injustice to both native and Catholic spiritual practice? The other is: what can be “baptized” from another culture’s liturgical practices and what can’t?

Entertainment or Edification?

Obviously, people differ as to what edifies or entertains them but Leon Podles, author of Sacrilege, “an in- depth look at sexual abuse in the Catholic Church,” and The Church Impotent: The Feminization of the Catholic Church, gave an entertaining and edifying description of his experience at the “Indian Mass” when he was in Santa Fe attending Indian Market in 2003:

The Indians explained that they would be doing the beginning of the Buffalo Dance of Thanksgiving to the Great Spirit after communion, that this was a prayer, not entertainment, and that the congregation should not applaud. At the end of the mass … Archbishop Sheehan got up and asked everyone to give the dancers a big round of applause. The Indians were miffed, but Sheehan, like many Catholics, sees the new liturgy as being at least in part entertainment, to which the proper response in our culture is applause []

Native Spirituality or Christian Spirituality?

Podles’ comments help to give us some insight into the second question, as well. The Buffalo Dancers in 2003 described their own actions – and we must take them at their word – as a prayer of thanksgiving “to the Great Spirit.” Whatever is to be said further, it must be assumed that the dancers themselves were sincere Catholics who understood deeper truths hidden within native “gestures’… thereby elevating those gestures much as St. Paul, preaching to the Athenians (Acts 17:22-32), recognized the natural piety behind an altar dedicated to “the unknown god.” Though it had been intended for pagan worship, that altar provided a means for introducing true worship.

However, since the dancers were, and will probably be again, in the sacred space of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, both native and non-native Catholic worshipers must know for certain that it is in fact the Great Spirit who is invoked – the One Creator God – and no other, such as the spirit of the buffalo. One native website clearly believes the Buffalo Dance signifies the latter:

Like all Animal Dances, the Buffalo Dance is a celebration of thanksgiving. The hunter takes on the spirit of the buffalo he has hunted during the year. He thanks the spirit of that animal, and he asks for good luck for next year's hunting. To be asked to dance in the Buffalo Dance is a great honor. Keep in mind that it is also an honor to be able to attend a Pueblo Dance. The Dances are spiritual celebrations, so please treat these celebrations as though they were taking place in your own house of worship. [emphasis added.]

Between these two positions – that the Buffalo Dance has been “baptized” for Christian use or that Buffalo Dance is a pagan ritual – there is a more complicated and extremely interesting possibility that the dance represents an attempt to culturally bridge the native and European worlds. An anonymous Fox tribal story goes:

Once there was an Indian who became a Christian. He became a very good Christian; he went to church, and he didn’t smoke or drink, and he was good to everyone. He was a very good man. Then he died. First he went to the Indian hereafter and they wouldn’t take him because he was a Christian. Then he went to Heaven, but they wouldn’t let him in – because he was an Indian. Then he went to Hell but they wouldn’t admit him there either because he was so good. So he came alive again, and he went to the Buffalo Dance and the other dances and taught his children to do the same thing. [David Hurst Thomas, Jay Miller, Richard White, Peter Nabokov, Philip Deloria, The Native Americans, Turner Publishing, 1993.]

Theological confusion aside, this story points to the sad history of native and European relations. Pueblo peoples, to mollify the Spaniards, at first made token motions of participating in Catholic ceremonies, giving the appearance that they were adopting the newly presented values and forms of worship.” The Church’s suppression of native ritual observances only drove them underground, to be performed at night, in great secrecy, beyond the criticism of outsiders. “Today, many key events in the Pueblo are celebrated in both religions, though the two remain very separate and distinct in overall philosophy and forms of expression. Where possible, the two are drawn together in one expression, albeit never completely similar.” [Joseph H. Suina and Laura B. Smolkin, “The Multicultural Worlds of Pueblo Indian Children’s Celebrations,” Journal of
American Indian Education, Spring 1995]

In the light of this, another scholar offers a Pueblo legend about the founding of the Buffalo Dance, which according to his sources was a gift of Poseyemu (Mist-rising-from-the-water) – a legendary hero/demigod who, after miraculously killing more buffalo than the more experienced hunter, institutes the Spanish-derived Matachina Dance (or, in other stories, the Buffalo Dance), which must be performed as well as traditional native dance. While there are many tribal variants to these stories:

All Poseyemu’s roles can be reduced to a fundamental level: he provides for the general well-being of the Pueblos….The well-being of the Pueblos during the Spanish contact period depended largely on the preservation of native religious rituals. Accordingly, Poseyemu plays the role of ritual leader and teacher in many Tewa variants. …warning that both the native and the Spanish dances must be performed in order to secure eternal happiness. Poseyemu is here the mediator between the Spanish and native customs. …Poseyemu is placed at the intersection of two religious traditions…he functions as an “early warning system” for the preservation of native religious ceremonies. [Richard J. Parentier, “The Mythology Triangle: Poseyemu, Montezuma, and Jesus in the Pueblos,” from Handbook of North American Indians, vol 9: Northwest, Smithsonian, 1979, p. 609-614.]

If the dancers were engaged in pagan worship or a complex ritualistic appeasement of both traditions is a matter of no small moment – and neither belongs in a Catholic church sanctuary. If they were giving true worship, however, it seems those in attendance required a good deal more explanation.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"One will be taken, the other left"

The Gospel reading today on this first Sunday of Advent was taken from Luke 17:26-35

And as it came to pass in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat and drink, they married wives and were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it came to pass in the days of Lot. They did eat and drink, they bought and sold, they planted and built. And in the day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man shall be revealed. In that hour, he that shall be on the housetop, and his goods  Two women shall be grinding together. The one shall be taken and the other shall be left. Two men shall be in the field. The one shall be taken and the other shall be left in the house, let him not go down to take them away: and he that shall be in the field, in like manner, let him not return back. Remember Lot's wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose it shall preserve it. I say to you: In that night there shall be two men in one bed. The one shall be taken and the other shall be left (Douay).

Anyone who has dealt with pre-millennialist evangelicals before knows that these verses are cited in support of the Rapture doctrine, which is adhered to by a large number of American evangelical Protestants. Specifically, verses about one being taken and another left. The implication as that this "taking" refers to the Rapture. Those who are "taken" are the faithful who are raptured away, while those who are "left" are the unfortunate reprobate who are "left behind" at the time of the Tribulation.

There was a time in my life, as a teenager, when I subscribed to this interpretation of Luke 17, of course never realizing that I was reading Scripture through a particular evangelical lens, one that was foreign to the Fathers and the Saints. A quick survey of some of the Fathers on this verse will cast some light on how it was interpreted.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem suggests that the verse speaks of the Lord's rewarding of even the smallest good deed at the time of the Judgment, following our Lord's teaching in Matthew 10:42 ("And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward"), that He will not overlook the good deeds of the righteous on the Day of Judgment be they ever so lowly. St. Cyril says:
But some one present will say, “I am a poor man,” or again, “I shall perhaps be found at that time sick in bed;” or, “I am but a woman, and I shall be taken at the mill: shall we then be despised?” Be of good courage, O man; the Judge is no respecter of persons; He will not judge according to a man’s appearance, nor reprove according to his speech. He honours not the learned before the simple, nor the rich before the needy. Though thou be in the field, the Angels shall take thee; think not that He will take the landowners, and leave thee the husbandman. Though thou be a slave, though thou be poor, be not any whir distressed; He who took the form of a servant despises not servants. Though thou be lying sick in bed, yet it is written, Then shall two be in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Though thou be of compulsion put to grind, whether thou be man or woman; though thou be in fetters , and sit beside the mill, yet He who by His might bringeth out them that are bound, will not overlook thee (Catechetical Lectures, XV:23).
Thus, those who are "taken" are taken in the sense that the Angels confess their good deeds before the Father, those whose "works follow them" (Rev. 14:13) while those who are "left" are those who are passed over because, despite their great titles or impressive speech, "had not charity" and thus have no reward from God. St. John Chrysostom seems to be in agreement with St. Cyril here. He says:
When these things then are done, then also will be the voice of the Archangel shouting and commanding the Angels, and the trumpets, or rather the sound of the trumpet. What trembling then, what fear will possess those that remain upon the earth. For one woman is caught up and another is left behind, and one man is taken, and another is passed over. What will be the state of their souls, when they see some indeed taken up, but themselves left behind? Will not these things be able to shake their souls more terribly than any hell? (Homily VIII).
Notice, however, that Chrysostom and Cyril both apply this verse to the very end of time, the Second Coming of Christ and the General Resurrection, not at some time prior to the Second Coming, as the advocates of the Rapture doctrine would have us believe. Chrysostom, just prior to the verse cited, places this "taking" at the same moment as the Resurrection. He says of this "taking":
For when they see the earth agitated, the dust mingling, the bodies rising perchance on every side, no one ministering to this, but the “shout” being sufficient, the whole earth filled (for consider how great a thing it is that all the men from Adam unto His coming shall then stand with wives and children),—when they see so great a tumult upon the earth,—then they shall know. As therefore in the Dispensation that was in the Flesh, they had foreseen nothing of it, so also will it then be (ibid).
The important distinction to understand is that, for Chrysostom, Cyril, and the majority of the Fathers who interpret these verses from Luke in an eschatological sense, the "taking" of the elect is a metahistorical event that occurs at the very close of history, concurrent with the Second Coming of Christ and the Resurrection. This is opposed to the modern Rapture doctrine which sees this "taking" as an event that occurs within history and prior to the Second Coming.

St. Augustine takes a different approach to the verse. He applies the concept of "one taken the other left" to the current age, that is, after the Lord's Ascension when the Gospel is preached and the elect from the nations. The "one taken one left" verses are to be understood in the sense of the calling of the elect out of the nations, as our Lord meant when He said in Luke 12:52-53: "
From now on there will be five members in a family, each one against the other. There will be three against two and two against three. They will be separated. Father will turn against son and son against father. Mother will turn against daughter and daughter against mother. Mother-in-law will turn against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." Hence, those who are "taken" are those who repent of their sins and leave the world, even as Abraham left Ur or Lot left Sodom. He says in De Doctrina Christiana:
[O]ur Lord says in the gospel: “The same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the house-top, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away; and he back. Remember Lot’s wife.” Is it when our Lord shall have been revealed that men are to give heed to these sayings, and not to look behind them, that is, not to long after the past life which they have renounced? (De Doctrina Christiana, Chap. XXXVI).
So we see that while St. Cyril adopts an eschatological reading of the verse, Augustine takes a more ecclesiological approach. I think, however, that these verses ought to be interpreted in a more eschatological light - a good argument in favor of this, regardless of what the Fathers say, is their placement  in the  liturgical cycle during Advent, during the time of year when eschatological readings are typically done.

Chrysostom, in the same homily quoted earlier, offers another take on the verse when he seems to connect those who are "taken" not with the elect, but with those under judgment; just as those in Noah's day were "taken" by the Flood, so the wicked will be "taken" by the "deluge of hell" that comes upon the wicked:
You have heard of the deluge. And were those things also said by way of threat? Did they not actually happen? Those men too said many such things, and for a hundred years while the ark was building, and the wood was being wrought, and the righteous man was calling aloud, there was no one who believed. But because they did not believe the threat in words, they suffered the punishment in very deed. And this will be our fate too, if we shall not have believed. On this account it is that He compares His coming with the days of Noah, because as some disbelieved in that deluge, so will they in the deluge of hell. Were these things a threat? were they not a fact? Then will not He, who then brought punishment upon them so suddenly, much more inflict it now also? For the things that are committed now are not less than the offenses of that time (Homily VIII).
This makes sense, too. After all, in the Flood it was the wicked, not the righteous, who were "taken." Also in the Exodus - the Egyptian army was "taken away" in the Red Sea while the Hebrews were left. At the time of the Babylonian captivity, the Jews were punished by being "taken"; only the humble and the poor were left in the land. Therefore, it seems not unreasonable to see those who are "taken" as being those who are under judgment.

Suffice it to say there is no real patristic consensus on the precise meaning of these verses, as far as I can tell. However, St. Thomas in his Catena Aurea on Luke 17 quotes extensively from Bede, Ambrose, Eusebius, Theophylact and Augustine, who all are in general agreement that those who are taken are the righteous, while those who are left are the unrighteous. However, intepretations on this verse differed wildly, some tending towards a more allegorical approach (Augustine, Ambrose, Cyril) and others a more literal, eschatological intepretation (Theophylact, Eusebius, Bede). You can read the Catena Aurea for Luke 17 here

Despite the variation of opinion on these verses, those Fathers who do ascribe an eschatological meaning to them do not do so in the spirit of the pre-millennialists, who place this "taking away" in history as the beginning of a seven year Tribulation. Rather, this "taking" occurs at the eschatological culmination of history - it is at the end of time, when the mountains fly away and the sky has been rolled up like a scroll (Isa. 34:4, Rev. 6:14); it is a metahistorical event that takes place concurrently with the Second Coming of Christ and the General Resurrection. The Fathers knew nothing of any idea of a Rapture in the manner that the pre-millennialists of today hold.

As we begin this season of Advent, it behooves us to meditate on the Church's eschatological tradition, that in reflecting upon and expressing gratitude for Christ's first coming, we might find our souls in a greater state of preparation for His Second.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Condom Debacle

This condom debacle is really stupid on several fronts. Primarily, it was imprudent for L'Osservatore Romano to choose to print this particular excerpt from Peter Seewald's new book; could they find nothing more uplifting or relevant to run as an excerpt other than this obscure comment about condoms on male prostitutes? One would think that L'O is actually trying to ruin the pope's reputation, which I am fairly certain may in fact be the case. This is another reason why L'O should be shut down. It has just had too many gaffes in the recent past to retain any credibility, the last of which was lost, in my opinion, with its embarassingly lame attempts at being mainstream by referring to Homer Simpson as a "true Catholic" (see here). L'Osservatore Romano is like an old uncle who, while once possessing the aura of venerable authority, has gradually slipped into dementia with age and says increasingly absurd things as the years go by. At first, the relatives try to make excuses for his embarrassing gaffes, but soon it is obvious to everyone that the uncle has lost his mind. Like this uncle, L'O has demonstrated that it is no longer competent to manage its own affairs and should be taken over or shut down entirely.

Second, I question the editors of the book in their decision to include this passage. The book Light of the World is being published in America by Ignatius, but I don't know who approved the original German manuscript. Given the PR blunders with the Regensburg address, the Bishop Williamson debacle, the misrepresentation of the Holy Father's statements on AIDS in Africa (which even Seewald, author of Light of the World agrees were debacles - see here), I am astonished that somebody working on the pope's book didn't stop and say, "You know what, this comment might lend itself to misinterpretation. Should we possibly consider leaving it out?" Perhaps this was talked about behind the scenes, perhaps not; all I know is that I am astonished that some astute Catholic editor did not see this passage and strike it out.

Which brings me to my third point, the passage itself. My friend and co-blogger Athanasius has done an excellent piece on his blog about why the pope's statements are in themselves a little questionable - you can view Athanasius' post here - and it should be pointed out that this is alright to say, because the pope was speaking not in an encyclical, speech or papal address but as a private individual in an interview with a reporter, where he has virtually no authority above and beyond what he possesses as a theologian. At any rate, I am not going to dwell on the theology behind the pope's statements but on the lack of clarity they evidenced. Let's look at the quote in context:

BXVI: When a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

BXVI: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step.

Okay, pause. Look at Benedict's response to Seewald's question. I can grant that the media is twisting the pope's words way out of context, but I must also say that if they are, the pope has only himself to blame for giving such an unclear answer to Seewald's question. In the first place, if Seewald, who is a friend of the pope and a Catholic, immediately jumps to the conclusion that his comments imply that "the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms", why would the pope not think that the world at large would jump to the same conclusion? To Seewald's follow-up question, why did the pope not say plainly, "No. Absolutely not. That is not in any way what I am saying." That would have been a lot better and would not lend itself to as much distortion.This was one critique that some Protestant commentators made of the debacle, and rightly, I think: since prostitution is an immoral act and a sinful lifestyle, wouldn't it have been more beneficial for the pope to try to lead people completely out of that lifestyle rather than dwell on potential mitigating factors within that lifestyle? This may be an example of the modern tendency in theology to focus excessively on exceptions rather on norms (see here).

Many have suggested that the problem is just that nobody has read the pope's words "in context." I don't think the difficulty goes away by reading the statement "in context." Even in context, it is still a vague answer, and perhaps a question that never should have come up. It's as if one were to ask me whether it were more cruel to drown a puppy or drown a kitten. Even if it were possible to come up with an objective answer, it can be argued that the question should perhaps not have even been discussed because the very fact of discussing it makes you look bad and lends itself to misinterpretation. Janet Smith, in her apologia for the pope, says that it is like asking whether, when robbing a bank, it is better to use an empty gun rather than one that is loaded. I am not a moral theologian, nor even a theologian for that matter, but this sort of argumentation does tend to come off as hair-splitting. Granted, I may be too dumb to grasp the argument,  which I readily admit, but it seems to me that prostitution is always intrinsically evil, and that whatever sub-actions one may do within or as part of that act do not lessen its gravity. Robbing a bank with an empty gun does not lessen the gravity of robbing the bank. I grant it may evidence a piece of emerging conscience on the part of the perpetrator, but since this is unable to render an intrinsically evil act good, why even make these distinctions, especially in print, especially when you are the pope and responsible for a billion souls, especially when you should know that the world at large is going to totally miss the point?

Finally, I cite the public's response to this gaffe as another reason why this whole issue is stupid, especially those, whether in the media or the masses at large, who are taking this comment as some kind of papal "teaching" or reversal of the Church's position. Last month I did a post on what I called the Church's "ex voce" teaching, which I defined as occurring when persons, either within or without the Church, mistake off the cuff comments of the pope, statements in letters, speeches or other very low-level pronouncements as the official teaching of the Church. This is a prime example of the ex voce phenomenon unfolding before our eyes:  the pope's comments with an interviewer in the context of a book are so far low down on the scale of magisterial authority that they really shouldn't even be considered papal teaching; rather, they represent the personal opinions of Joseph Ratzinger the theologian. I am not detracting from the pope's authority, but making a point that his comments in a book do not constitute magisterial teaching. And yet, despite this, we have probably millions of people taking Benedict's comments as "the Church's teaching" and granting these comments the same authority due to an encyclical or infallible pronouncement; this is even more disturbing since the vast majority are misinterpreting the comments. But the point is that people are taking private comments of the pope to be "the Church's teaching" and acting accordingly.

The sad thing is that I am really looking forward to reading this book; from what I have read about it, it promises to be a very enlightening elucidation of Benedict's thought on some very important issues, and many who have read it have stated that the public will be taken aback by the pope's candor on some of the issues he addresses. Hopefully the pope will learn his lesson about saying things like this and will do something about the clowns over at L'Osservatore Romano who have proven time and again that they are untrustworthy.

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