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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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mark Shea on Boniface

Well, we can now add Mark Shea to list of well-known individuals (okay, really only Scott Hahn, Dave Armstrong and Robert Sungenis) who have somehow come across my blog and chosen to respond to something on it. Mark must have been intrigued by my most recent post on the vocation of Catholic bloggers because he did a nice post on it over at his blog (here) with what I think are some laudatory comments. The one thing that is interesting about Shea's post is his comment that I take blogging "a lot more seriously" than he does, as evidenced by my thinking that bloggers needed a manifesto. Well, I realize the paradox of publishing a manifesto, which is usually a serious matter, on a blog, which is the least reputable of all mediums. Am I a "serious" blogger? Upon reflection, I can say that though I do not take my blogging activities or my blog too seriously, I do, as a historian, take blogging as a larger societal phenomenon very seriously and think that we have not yet really comprehended how blogging has altered the communications landscape or what role it will play in how we get information in the long run.

Anyhow, thanks for the link and the comments, Mark!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Vocation of the Catholic Blogger

On this Feast of Christ the King, which concerns the relation of Christ to the society of men and His lordship over it, I want to write about an issue of tremendous importance: the vocation of Catholic bloggers and the role  they play in manifesting Christ's teachings to the world through the media of the Internet. I consider this one of the most important posts I have ever done. It is long, but I think very relevant.


One of the most welcome innovations of the ongoing information revolution is the advent of blogging, which has exploded throughout the Catholic world in the past five years. Everybody who is anybody, from authors to apologists to priests and reporters, all communicate to their respective followers via blogs. But furthermore, the blog has enabled Catholics who aren't anybody special, just average lay persons, to publicly share their thoughts on topics as varied as homeschooling, liturgy, pro-life events, apologetics and everything in between. Free access to blogging websites and the ease with which even novices can master the art of blogging has led to a democratization of information, in which the great and the lowly alike can gain the ear of the public and where quality of content alone determines which blogs "succeed" and which "fail", which are relative terms, given that bloggers blog for different reasons and few are paid for what they do, at least in the Catholic sphere.

Among Catholics, this explosion of blogging has been most pronounced among faithful, orthodox Catholics and especially traditionalists. Indeed, one could even speak of "Traditionalist Bloggers" as a substantial niche within the Catholic blogosphere. Faithful Catholics, many of whom suffered for years through sub-standard liturgies, limp-wristed homilies and other such nonsense, and are used to being ignored or shrugged off for years by an apathetic episcopacy, have suddenly found in blogging a medium for their grievances, comparable in function to the old Committees of Correspondence of the Revolutionary War. In blogging about their struggles and aspirations, faithful Catholics and those who would call themselves Traditionalists have been empowered to network with other like-minded individuals and have found that, though they often felt alone, they are indeed not alone.

Many in the hierarchy have embraced this development. There are deacons who blog as well as priests, and while I am not aware of any bishops who have their own blogs, (though the pope has a Facebook app), I do know that the USCCB has formally endorsed blogging as a valuable way to communicate the truth to the world and has encouraged lay Catholics to be involved in blogging (see here). Bishop Ronald Herzog, Bishop of Alexandria, Louisiana, stated the easy accessibility of blogging, and the manner in which blogs bring everybody's opinions to the fore, as the reason why blogs can be so beneficial. He said:
"Anyone can create a blog. Everyone's opinion is valid. And if a question or contradiction is posted, the digital natives (bloggers) expect a response and something resembling a conversation. We can choose not to enter into that cultural mindset, but we do so at great peril to the church's credibility and approachability in the minds of the natives, those who are growing up in this new culture" (source).
This official recognition and endorsement of the vocation of Catholic bloggers to contribute to the public forum is one of the most welcome things to come out of the USCCB in a long time.

Yet not everyone has accepted blogging as a positive addition to the culture of the Church. Some have reacted against it with hostility, including pastors and members of the hierarchy. The critique offered against Catholic blogging is precisely the same element that Bishop Herzog sees as its strength: the fact that it is open to anyone and any person can publish their views with just as much ease as anyone else. The critique here is that most bloggers are not "professionals." To be sure, famous apologists like Patrick Madrid and well-known priests like Father Zuhlsdorf are counted among the ranks of Catholic bloggers, but most Catholic bloggers do not have doctorates in theology, are not trained members of the hierarchy, and have no background in what they are writing about other than their own experience and private study. And yet, this mass of inexperienced, unprofessional lay-persons can start up a blog and publish their opinions with just as much ease as somebody like Patrick Madrid or Father Z. Is there a danger that, because of this ease of accessibility in creating and reading blogs, these amateur bloggers could do more damage than good by blogging recklessly about stuff they really don't know anything about?

Sure. This is always a danger, but it is no more danger than it was with books before. Sometimes we act like the danger of misinformation only came with the advent of the Internet, as if there were no shoddy books, biased magazine articles or asinine newspaper columns written in the days of print! Misinformation (and disinformation) have always been dangers since the days when news traveled only by means of rumor and will always be with us. But the fact that bloggers, in general, are capable of being misinformed does not mean that any particular blogger is misleading or that blogging as a whole tends towards misinformation. If anything, the universality of the Internet and the great number of blogs and articles available online make it easier to sort out true information from false. In the old days, if the one newspaper in town reported a falsehood, who would be able to prove it or disprove it? Nowadays, if a blogger reports something suspicious, it is tremendously easy to go to other blogs, websites, etc. to crosscheck the information and sort out the truth from the lies. If anything, deception is less easier to get away with now in the days of the Net, and bloggers who are known to constantly speak irresponsibly or with false information will lose their audiences.

Bloggers do sail between a Scylla and Charybdis regarding credibility. On the one hand, if I were to throw up a lot of shoddy posts that were poorly written, unresearched, unedited and with lots of factual errors, one could say, "Look at how irresponsible you are! You don't even know what you are talking about. Do your research and edit your writing before you post it online." Fair enough. But suppose I were to spend a lot of time editing all of my writing, making sure it was factually accurate, citing sources and polishing it up to a very high standard. Then the argument would be, "Look at you trying to set yourself up as an authority, speaking in an authoritative manner as if you are some expert!" Or, if there is no other critiques left, the old, "You are too busy to be wasting your time blogging." Whether blog posts are done extremely well or very sloppy, there is always a critique that can be leveled against the blogger who is not a "professional."

But, beyond this issue, I would back up and ask this question: Are only professionals entitled to their opinion? Can only those with doctorates in theology discuss theology? Can only liturgists and pastors speak about liturgy or ministry? To be sure, the Church requires certain qualifications for those in her employ or who are teaching at her institutions, and these persons can be censured if they formally deviate from the Church's teaching (such as Charles Curran and Hans Kung), but when we are speaking of simple lay persons who blog for no other reason than as their hobby, who ever said that such persons need any sort of "qualifications" or "credentials" to speak their mind of whatever they please? Sometimes I fear that those who demean bloggers because they don't have the right "credentials" to speak on certain issues are implicitly in favor of some kind of gnostic aristocracy of information, where the Truth is too complicated for everyone to understand except for those who have been initiated through years of schooling and have been credentialed with the proper degrees. It reminds me of the recent comment of a member of the Virginia Federal Reserve branch who said that "Writers who have not taken a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department, and passed their PhD qualifying exams, cannot meaningfully advance the discussion on economic policy" (source). In other words, if you are not a doctor of economics you have no right to contribute meaningfully to discussions about economics. Should we adopt a similarly aristocratic approach to the problems and challenges in the Catholic Church today, such that only those with the right "qualifications" can speak on them publicly?

Fortunately, the Code of Canon Law takes a different view. Canon 212§2-3 says:
"Christ's faithful are at liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church. They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals."
Of course, it is always possible that in manifesting their views, the blogger may become uncharitable or downright nasty. To the degree this happens, it should be condemned. But we have to make sure we don't fall into the trap of letting people call us uncharitable simply when we disagree or call something into question. More on this in a moment.

But, back to the fundamental right of the Catholic lay-person to engage in blogging, I think I would say that the real beauty of blogging is that it democratizes knowledge; democratizes in the good old Chestertonian sense of the word, meaning that every man gets his say and everyone's opinion is considered. Is this a danger to knowledge to allow for this kind of democratization? I don't think so, because with the openness that comes with democratization comes also the possibility to correction by others. No sooner do I exercise the right to post something stupid than ten other bloggers exercise the right to correct me of my stupidity. Thus, in the end, are we not a little better off now than in the old days, when you had nothing in front of you but some book or journal, something that some peer-reviewed panel of editors decided was worthy of your attention, with no way to question it or protest it other than by writing a letter to the editor? No, knowledge is much better off now that it is no longer in the hands of a cabal of editors and authors.

One accusation brought against blogging is that, because of this democratization of the publication of knowledge, it enables bloggers to publish their work anonymously, which always leads to excess and irresponsibility. I would argue that publishing anonymously is nothing new and that it is seldom done because an author wishes to be irresponsible. Many print authors print under pseudonyms for reasons other than a desire to write irresponsibly; privacy reasons, for example. Of course, it may be objected, many good Catholic authors publish blogs and do not do so anonymously. But many of these authors are either paid for the contributions to blogs and websites or else already have a large "fan base" of people who follow their writings. But, I may ask, what do average people who are not Catholic Answers apologists, Ignatius Press authors or EWTN hosts gain by revealing their identity? Nothing whatsoever. If one receives no money, is under no obligation to any company or publishing house and has no book contracts or any other sort of contract with any Catholic institution, I ask what motivation is there for a blogger to write "out in the open?" Why should a blogger reveal his or her identity to the world in exchange for nothing? So, when someone asks me why so many bloggers post anonymously, I turn and ask, "Why shouldn't they? What do most receive in exchange for the revelation of their identities?"

Some might say, "If you blogged publicly, you would have more credibility." Perhaps, perhaps not. In this day and age, it is good to keep your actual name off of the Internet as much as possible. But beyond this, I would challenge this point about having more credibility, at least if we go with the old dictum of Thomas a Kempis, "Pay no attention to whom is speaking, only to what is said." I'm not out to try to be somebody, nor do I know any Catholic bloggers who are. The only reason to blog publicly is if you already are somebody with a reputation or a following and your comments are enhanced by your reputation. But, as we are pointed out, since most bloggers are not professionals, I don't see their identity as being at all relevant to what they say on their blogs.

Usually, in the history of print, publications are done anonymously not when people want to be reckless, but when they want to say something that needs to be said but they fear the repercussions of saying it publicly. It usually happens in a culture in which there is some kind of muzzle on what is or is not acceptable speech, either legal or just by means of public opinion. To those who object to the large degree of anonymous blogging, I would ask, what is it about the contemporary Catholic Church that makes bloggers feel like they must blog anonymously?

This same principle can be applied to the ever-frequent charge that blogging, especially if it is anonymous,  leads to an attitude of divisiveness and cynicism among bloggers, who feel at liberty to lay the whole world and Church bare before their skepticism and critiques. Of course, it can and has been argued that bloggers, especially traditionalist ones, can be too cynical about the world, too nit-picky and too divisive. I grant that this is true; it can happen. I also grant that sometimes it is due to plain meanness. Sometimes, however, I think there is a double-standard at work here. A Catholic who uses history and logic to challenge Protestantism is an apologetical hero; a Catholic who uses history and logic to challenge certain problems that have surfaced in the post-Conciliar Church is a quasi-schismatic and a "mean-spirited" Trad. I have posted about this double-standard before and won't belabor the point here save to say that it exists. More importantly is to ask this question - if a good number of Catholic bloggers do seem cynical or upset, why is this the case? If a substantial niche within the Catholic blogosphere does seem to have an axe to grind, I think we ought to ask why?

I think that Catholic bloggers, especially traditional ones, fill in an important gap. In blogs we see issues discussed which obviously the faithful find important but which, for some reason, are not getting discussed in the pulpit or in the mainstream Catholic media. The same concept is at play in the explosion of right wing political blogging - these political bloggers are filling up a gap that exists in mainstream media outlets due to media's well-known liberal bias. If Catholics felt that all of their needs and concerns were being addressed , there would not be such an explosion of Catholic blogging, especially Traditionalist blogs.  It is actually quite mathematical; I would venture to say that the degree to which bloggers are cynical and agitated is inversely proportional to the degree that pastors and members of the hierarchy are not standing up for the truth. To the colloquial accusation that bloggers "bitch too much," I would respond, "How about not giving us so much to bitch about?"

Nobody wants to give people offense just for the sake of offense. Nobody wants to cause scandal. But we must remember that Jesus Christ is called a Rock of Offense and a Stone of Stumbling (1 Pet. 2:8). There are always elements of the Gospel that are inherently going to be offensive to some. While we don't set out intentionally to upset people, I think all Catholics need to recall this to mind - the Gospel is offensive, and not just to non-Christians (remember how offended the nuns were who lived with St. Bernadette?). It is tremendously easy to cheer on an apologist or blogger who is critiquing an argument or position you already disagree with; it is just as easy to get offended if the same critiques were turned against something you support and to start charging people with being uncivil or uncharitable. But we cannot get offended just because somebody disagrees. As Bishop Herzog said, "If a question or contradiction is posted, the digital natives (bloggers) expect a response and something resembling a conversation."

I am certainly no authority. I am not a theologian. I have never pretended to be a theologian. And, let me say this plainly, anyone who gets their beliefs and opinions solely from my blog is missing it. I want to say that again: if your opinions on the Church and your approach to God is determined by what you read on this blog, you are wrong. People should not take their beliefs from blogs but from the Church, and one of the huge problems in our day is that Catholics get their ideas from everywhere but the Church's official teaching (see this post). The vocation of the Catholic blogger is not to be a source of teaching but to serve as a catalyst for conversation and dialogue, true dialogue, where propositions and ideas are put forward and debated on their merits or demerits. Bloggers keep the conversation going in a popular format that stimulates discussion and debate and are invaluable for the Church to present the Gospel in a modern way. After all, wasn't that what the whole vision behind Vatican II was about, proposing the timeless Gospel in a way accessible to modern man? Nothing fulfills John XXIII's vision better than blogging.

So, I am sure that those who are predisposed against blogging will not be convinced by this manifesto. But I write this not so much for their sake as much as for other Catholic bloggers who might have seen the value of what they do questioned. If you agree with anything I have written here, please link it to your own blogs, post it on Facebook, copy and paste it into your own blog, or do anything you can to get it around.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Importance of the Old Testament

In my experience, few things solidify a Catholic against the creeping errors of the modern age better than a solid grounding in the Old Testament. Even in the post-conciliar age, when the importance of biblical study is being emphasized by the Magisterium and at the episcopal level, there are few Catholics who feel comfortable in books such as Leviticus or Deuteronomy, pillars of the Old Testament.

This is understandable; the Beatitudes are much easier reading than the list of the sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7 with their gruesome instructions for removing livers, burning fat, etc. One tends to get more immediate spiritual edification from the Psalter than from the stories of the genocidal warfare of Joshua or the constant plagues visited upon the Israelites as part of God's judgment, as recounted in Exodus and Numbers. I think these "dark" passages of the Old Testament (as the pope called them in his new Post Synodal Exhortation, Verbum Domini) are what the 2008 Synod on the Word of God was getting at when it repeatedly mentioned the "difficulties" of the Old Testament in its Instrumentum Laboris (see here).

Yet, though the Old Testament can be a little tricky to navigate through, this should not put us off, as it was the nourishment of the Apostles and Fathers and beloved by the Saints, who found in its inspired pages an abundance of practical and theological insight. No serious Catholic doubts the general value of the Old Testament, of course, but I want to dwell for a moment on its specific value as an antidote against some of the most pernicious errors of the modern day. We need to dig into the Old Testament and get comfortable in it.

An amazing example is Korah's rebellion in Numbers 16, in which Korah, a Levite, leads a revolt of 250 men against the authority of Moses and Aaron, claiming in astonishingly modern parlance: "Enough from you! The whole community, all of them, are holy; the LORD is in their midst. Why then should you set yourselves over the LORD'S congregation?" (Num. 16:3). They proceed to charge Moses and Aaron with clericalism in reserving the priesthood to themselves and demand that Moses adopt a more community-centered view of the priesthood. Sound familiar? Well, we know how it ends: fire comes forth from the tabernacle and consumes Korah and his band; another group of rebels "went down alive into Sheol" (v.33) when the ground opened up beneath them and swallowed them whole.

How can anyone who is steeped in the Old Testament and is familiar with this story fail to see the very relevant modern principle here? There is a divinely appointed sacerdotal authority (Moses and the sons of Aaron) that is restricted to a certain group. Up comes the rebels, insisting that "the whole community, all of them, are holy; the LORD is in their midst" and demands a democratizing of the hierarchy! God responds by slaying them all. Anybody well-versed in this story now should be forever insulated against any such arguments put forward by modern democratizers of Church authority, since we know authoritatively from the story that God really looks down upon usurpation of sacerdotal authority by outsiders (to out it mildly).

Another example - can anyone who has read the very precise directions for the Temple worship have any doubt that God cares about liturgical details? Reading over the astonishing amount of detail that God commanded for His worship in the Old Testament should inoculate us against the modern idea that how the liturgy is carried out doesn't matter as long as we have a valid Eucharist. If you went into the Old Testament tabernacle and tried that approach, you'd likely have to be carried out!

Can anyone who knows the great care with which the Israelites had to approach the Ark of the Covenant, which was only made of perishable items, should therefor tremble in holy fear at the Eucharist and would probably be disposed about taking their Creator into their hand; after all. Uzzah was struck dead just for touching the box that held the presence of God.

Can anyone who has read of God's scathing warnings against idolatry in the last chapters of Deuteronomy or seen the way in which He punishes this sin (the slaying of the Israelites who worshipped Baal of Peor, for example - Num. 25) ever think for a moment that pagan religion was commendable, or that all religions are bascially good and praiseworthy? Indeed, it is these passages of the Old Testament dealing with idol worship and God's absolute condemnation of it in the most harsh, even violent, terms that come to my mind immediately when I hear stories about nuns in India frequenting Hindu temples, Hindu shrines being set up at Fatima, pagan practices accepted into the Mass in various places due to "inculturation," etc. 

Of course, you don't need to be an Old Testament scholar to be opposed to the things I have mentioned above. But the point is that a healthy foundation in the Old Testament will inculcate in one an inherent skepticism towards those modern innovations, since they are so roundly condemned in the writings of the Law and the prophets. The Old Testament gives one a fundamental disposition against these things, such that you cannot even imagine arguing about them because they seem so clearly and unambiguously reprobated in the Old Testament. One cannot thoroughly love the Old Testament on its own terms and be a modernist.

I know that the New Law has superceded the ritual of the Old. But I don't think this is an issue, because I am not suggesting that we treat idolaters the same way they were treated in the Old Law. The command to slay idolaters among the people might not still be valid, but it does give us an insight into how God looks at idolatry, and this insight is valid and timeless. For this reason, every serious Catholic should have a firm grounding in the Old Testament, for it is a most effective remedy against modernist error of every sort.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mosebach on the Church

It has been awhile since we heard from German traditionalist and author Martin Mosebach. Last time we heard from him was around 2007 when his excellent book Heresy of Formlessness was gaining notoriety in America for its aesthetic arguments in favor of the traditional Mass (around that time he also gave a lecture at Yale on Gregorian Chant; see here); I also did a few posts on Mosebach's ideas about veiling and the concept of liturgical innocence. He is a really interesting traditionalist to follow because his approach is more philosophical and artistic rather than dogmatic or canonical. 

In the Spring of this year Mosebach gave an interview to a European magazine (which is aptly named The European) in which he discussed the pontificate of Benedict XVI, the liturgical crisis in the Church and the Christian foundation of Europe. I have painstakingly transcribed Mosebach's interview with The European from the monthly newsletter put out by the Miles Christi religious order, where it was first printed in English this month. Miles Christi's monthly newsletters, by the way, are excellent because they often contain articles and news from Europe that we would not otherwise hear about in America (such as Mosebach's).

Anyhow, on to the interview, with my comments following afterward; the translation is a little awkward at places but overall the article flows well:

TE: Personally, how do you assess the five years in which Benedict XVI has been in office?

Mosebach: Benedict XVI has set for himself a most difficult mission. He wants to heal the evil consequences of the Church's Revolution of '68 in a non-revolutionary manner. This pope is precisely not a papal dictator. He relies on the strength of the better argument and hopes that the nature of the Church will overcome that which is inappropriate to her if certain minimal assistance is provided. This plan is so subtle that it can be neither presented in official explanations nor understood by an almost unimaginably coarsened press. It is a plan that will show its effects only in the future - probably only with clarity after the death of the Pope. But already now we can recognize the courage with which the Pope establishes reconciliation beyond the narrow limits of canon law (through the integration of the Patriotic Church in China; in relation to Russian and Greek Orthodoxy) or by his novel fusion of traditional and enlightened biblical theology that leads us out of the dead end of rationalistic biblical criticism.

TE: And how do you relate this to the serious problems that lately have been affecting the Church?

Mosebach: There is no way of avoiding the bitter realization: the experiment of "aggiornamento" [i.e., the assimilation of the Church to the secular world] has failed in a terrible way. After the Second Vatican Council, most priests dropped their clerical garb, ceased celebrating Mass daily and did not pray the breviary daily anymore. The post-conciliar theology did everything in its power to make people forget the traditional image of the priest. All the institutions which had given the priest aid in his difficult and solitary life were called into question...The clerical discipline that had been largely formulated by the Council of Trent was deliberately eliminated. At that time the urgency was likewise to resist the corruption of the clergy and to reawaken the consciousness of the sanctity of the priesthood.

TE: How will the Catholic Church look after Benedict?

Mosebach: One would wish that this Pope might perceive himself the first manifestations of a healing of the Church. But this Pope is so modest and lacking in vanity that he hardly would view any such glimmerings as the results of his own actions. I believe that he wants to spare his successor not pleasing yet necessary labors by assuming them himself. Hopefully this successor will utilize the great opportunity that Benedict has created for him.

TE: The "Reform of the Liturgy" has fundamentally changed the Catholic Church - in what way?

Mosebach: The interventions of Paul VI in a liturgy over 1500 years old are called "reform of the liturgy"; in reality is was a revolution that was not authorized by the instruction of the Second Vatican Council; to "delicately" review the liturgical books. The "liturgical reform" centered upon man, a celebration that had been oriented for the last 2000 years to the adoration of God. It underminded the priesthood and largely obscured the doctrine of the Church on the sacraments.

TE: In the late 1960s there were many upheavals: the Cultural Revolution in China, the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, the student riots in Germany, the Vietnam War - and the Second Vatican Council. Can we name all these upheavals in the same breath?

Mosebach: 1968 is, in my opinion, a phenomenon that is still not sufficiently understood. Here, in Germany, we like to occupy ourselves in this context with happy memories of communes and battles over the right interpretation of Marx. In reality, 1968 is an "axial year" in history with anti-traditionalist movements over the entire world that are only in appearance fully separate from each other. I am convinced that, when sufficient distance exists, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Roman liturgical reform will be understood to be closely connected.

TE: Pope Benedict XVI participated in this upheaval as a theologian of the Council. What do you make of his commitment today to revive individual liturgical elements of the pre-conciliar Church?

Mosebach: Benedict XVI believes making the essence of the Church more clearly visible - for Catholics and non-Catholics - as one of his main tasks. The Pope knows that the Church is indissolubly bound to her Tradition. The Church and the Revolution are irreconcilable contradictions. The Pope attempts to intervene where the image of the Church has been distorted through a radical break with the past. But the Church, like its Founder, has exactly two natures: historical and timeless. She cannot forget from where she came and cannot forget where she is going.

TE: The controversy surrounding the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X has yielded no visible success for the Vatican up until now. In your view, what does this group bring to the Catholic Church other than its love for the old liturgy?

Mosebach: Other than the old liturgy? What is there more important for the Church than the liturgy? The liturgy is the body of the Church. It is faith made visible. If the liturgy falls ill, so does the entire Church. This is not merely a hypothesis but a description of the current situation. One can't present it drastically enough: the crisis of the Church has made it possible that her greatest treasure, her Arcanum, was swept out of the center to the periphery. The SSPX is due the historical glory for having preserved for decades and kept alive this most important gift.

TE: Christianity is one of the foundations of Europe. In the future will it still be relevant for the continent?

Mosebach: Christianity is the foundation of Europe - I don't see any other foundation. All intellectual movements of modern times, even whent hey opposed Christianity, owe their origins to it. We have also received ancient philosophy and art from the arms of Christianity. If European society should turn away totally from Christianity, it would mean nothing less than the denial of its very self. What one doesn't know or doesn't want to knw nevertheless exists. Repression cannot be the basis for a hopeful future.

TE: You were in Turkey for awhile. Would Turkey enrich the European Union as a full member or is it difficult to integrate a land dominated by Islam into the Western community of values?

Mosebach: I can only see that Turkey - especially the anti-Islamic, modernizing Turkey - has had enormous difficulties with its Christian European minorities. Until the 1950's there was still a Greek-dominated Constantinople. But living together with Christians was intolerable for the modern Turk so they put an end to it. Now they seem to find it desirable to draw near to Europe because of economic interests without, however, rethinking in their internal politics the battle against Christians. I believe that we are very far from what you call "integration into the Western community of values."

What I think merits more discussion here is Mosebach's philosophy of history. He sees the advent of the Novus Ordo as part of the same wave of anti-traditionalist sentiment that was sweeping over the whole world in 1968, which he says is an "axial year" in human history. It is hard to define what an axial year is, but good examples would be 1917 and 1848, years in our history when momentous social and political change have swept across whole nations and civilizations to alter, not only the political landscape, but the very paradigms through which we view our political and cultural values. Therefore, the liturgical revolution of the Novus Ordo should not be viewed in isolation, but in the context of a global "anti-traditionalist" wave.

I discussed this in an earlier post, in which I posited the theory that it was naive to hold the Second Vatican Council in the midst of the 1960's and think it would not be caught up in the zeitgeist of modernism and progress that was raging around the world. Even though some pointed out that the early sixties was relatively conservative compared to the chaos of 1968-1970, the progressive ideals that erupted in '68 did not just come out of nowhere; they were already latent and simmering beneath the surface, going as far back as the late 1940's. That the Second Vatican Council itself came in on the crest of this wave of progressivism is affirmed by none other than Joseph Ratzinger himself, who in his memoirs states that Vatican II represents the crescendo of a movement of "renewal" that had been swelling in the Church since the death of Pius X:

"John XXIII had announced the  Second Vatican Council  and thereby reanimated, and for many, intensified even to the point of euphoria the atmosphere of renewal and hope that had reigned in the Church and in theology since the end of the First World War" (Milestones, 120).

Granted, the hopes of renewal and hope that Ratzinger mentions as "reigning" before the Council were quite different than what came out of the Council; but the point is that, even before the Council was convened, there was already an incredibly intense desire for drastic change in the Church, which Ratzinger describes as "euphoria." This sounds similar to the kind of "euphoria" experienced by the people of France on the eve of the Estates-General of 1789 - everybody knew that change was coming, and most had good intentions; but the euphoric drive for change and reform pushed the democratic movement in France beyond what anybody had expected; it took on a life of its own, and what people got afterward qas quite different than what they expected going in. Perhaps the lesson of 1789 is that it is dangerous to summon a general meeting of individuals to reform an institution when they are all animated with a feeling of euphoria!

While I think it might be a stretch to try to connect the Novus Ordo directly with the Cultural Revolution in China, as Mosebach suggests, I do think he is correct in his assertion that in time the tumultuous history of Vatican II, and the reform of the Roman rite, will tend to be seen in the context of the radicalism of the late 1960's. Will this not prove an obstacle to those who try to emphasize the continuity between the pre- and post-1969 Church? Most certainly, which is why (in my opinion) it will not be enough to just suggest that the laity need a few more decades to let the teachings of Vatican II "soak in" and then things will right themselves. What needs to happen is some more concrete actions/movements on the part of the Magisterium unambiguously in the direction of Tradition - Summorum Pontificum is the best example, and many other lesser acts of Benedict also point in the same direction. What is needed is not implementation, but reorientation - to the degree that we go on and on with the idea that the problem with the post-conciliar Church is that Vatican II was not fully implemented, we ought so subsume this opinion under the more general one of the necessity of a fundamental reorientation of the Church's course back in line with Tradition.

This is what Mosebach praises Benedict for taking upon his own shoulders - and I, too. May our Lord grant Benedict XVI long life and wisdom from on high to govern His Bride, the Church!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Ratzinger critiques Paul VI

This past week I got out my copy of Benedict XVI's memoirs Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 and read through it in about two days. This is really an excellent little book and gives some very helpful insight into the approach the Holy Father takes to a variety of issues (Divine Revelation, Vatican II, the liturgy, etc). This is the second time I have read this book in the past three years and will probably return to it again in the future. If you have not yet read this book and are looking for a general introduction to our current pontiff's life and personal philosophy, I highly recommend it.

In his chapter on the liturgy, Ratzinger reflects his dismay at how, at the time of the promulgation of the Novus Ordo, the Missal of 1962 was forbidden. He goes at lengths to develop the argument that such a supression of a valid liturgy has no precedent in the Church's history. This is important because apologists for the Novus Ordo and the post-Vatican II regime often assert that was happened in 1969-1970 was really nothing new in the Church's history. The argument is made that, just as Pius V gave the Church the Missal of 1570 in the wake of Trent, so it was natural that the pontiff after Vatican II should likewise give the Church a "new" missal in keeping with the times - therefore we ought not be dismayed at everything that has happened since Vatican II, nor should we think it is unnatural for Paul VI to have banned the use of the 1962 missal, since this has all "happened before" and is quite the natural way of doing things in the Church's liturgical history.

In this important mini-essay, Ratzinger demolishes this argument, pointing out how the missal of 1969 was "new" in an entirely different way than the missal of 1570. He says:

"The second great event at the beginning of my years in Regensburg was the publication of the Missal of Paul VI, which was accompanied by the almost total prohibition, after a transitional phase of only half a year, of using the missal we had until then. I welcomed the fact that now we had a binding liturgical text after a period of experimentation that had often deformed the liturgy. But I was dismayed by the prohibition of the old missal, since nothing of the sort had ever happened in the entire history of the liturgy. The impression was given that what was happening was quite normal. The previous missal had been created by Pius V in 1570 in connection with the Council of Trent; and so it was quite normal that, after four hundred years and a new council, a new pope would present us with a new missal.

But the historical truth of the matter is different. Pius V had simply ordered the reworking of the Missale Romanum then being used, which is the normal thing as history develops over the course of centuries. Many of his successors had likewise reworked this missal again, but without ever setting one missal against another. It was a continual process of growth and purification in which the continuity was never destroyed. There is no such thing as a "Missal of Pius V", created by Pius V himself. There is only the reworking done by Pius V as one phase in a long history of growth. The new feature that came to the fore after the Council of Trent was of a different nature. The irruption of the Reformation had above all taken the concrete form of liturgical "reforms." It was not just a matter of there being a Catholic Church and a Protestant Church alongside one another. The split in the Church occurred almost imperceptibly and found its most visible and historically most incisive manifestation in the changes in the liturgy. These changes, in turn, took very different forms at the local level, so that here, too, one frequently could not ascertain the boundary between what was Catholic and what was no longer Catholic.

In this confusing situation, which had become possible by the failure to produce unified liturgical legislation and by the existing liturgical pluralism inherited from the Middle Ages, the pope decided that now the Missale Romanum - the missal of the city of Rome - was to be introduced as reliably Catholic in every place that could not demonstrate its liturgy to be at least two hundred years old. Wherever the existing liturgy was that old, it could be preserved because its Catholic character would then be assured. In this case we cannot speak of the prohibition of a previous missal that had formerly been approved as valid. The prohibition of the missal that was now decreed, a missal that had known continuous growth over the centuries, starting with the sacramentaries of the ancient Church, introduced a breach into the history of the liturgy whose consequences could only be tragic. It was reasonable and right of the Council to order a revision of the missal such as had often taken place before and which this time had to be more thorough than before, above all because of the introduction of the vernacular.

But more than this now happened: the old building was demolished, and another was built, to be sure largely using materials from the previous one and even using the old building plans. There is no doubt that this new missal in many respects brought with it a real improvement and enrichment; but setting it as a new construction over and against what had grown historically, forbidding the results of this historical growth, thereby makes the liturgy to appear to be no longer a living development but the product of erudite work and juridical authority; this has caused us enormous harm. For then the impression had to emerge that liturgy is something "made", not something given in advance but something lying within our own power of decision. From this it also follows that we are not to recognize the scholars and central authority alone as decision makers, but that in the end each and every "community" must provide itself with its own liturgy. When liturgy is self-made, however, then it can no longer give us what its proper gift should be: the encounter with the mystery that is not our own product but rather our origin and the source of our life. A renewal of liturgical awareness, a liturgical reconciliation that again recognizes the unity of the history of the liturgy and that understands Vatican II, not as a breach, but as a stage of development: these things are urgently needed for the life of the Church.

I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived as etsi Deus non daretur: in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us. But when the community of faith, the worldwide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence? Then the community is celebrating only itself, and activity that is utterly fruitless. And, because the ecclesial community cannot have its origin from itself but emerges as a unity only from the Lord, through faith, such circumstances will inexorably result in a disintegration into sectarian parties of all kinds - partisan opposition within a Church tearing herself apart. This is why we need a new Liturgical Movement, which will call to life the real heritage of the Second Vatican Council" (Milestones, pp. 146-149)

Basically, what happened with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo and the suppression of the traditional mass was in no way normal, despite any parallels that some might try to draw with what happened after Trent. Another lame excuse for the confusion and error that came in the wake of Vatican II is demolished, and by none other than our current pontiff.

Another interesting point here: note how vehemently Ratzinger disagrees with the suppression of the old missal. He is "dismayed" by the prohibition, says it hs a complete novelty in the history of the Church and, upon reflection, thinks it has caused "enormous harm." In other words, Ratzinger thinks the suppression of the old missal was a bad judgment - a prudential error.

This should cause us to ask - whose error was it? It was none other than Pope Paul VI who ordered the suppression of the old missal in favor of the new in 1969. One can say that there were other advisers and committees involved in the decision making process, but in the end only the pontiff can order the suppression of a whole missal and the promulgation of a new one over and against it. The buck stops with Paul VI. Therefore, when Ratzinger expresses his dismay and disagreement over the decision, which he thinks has caused "enormous harm," he is doing nothing less than charging Pope Paul VI with making an enormous error in his prudential judgment.

I of course bring this up because one of the criticisms I have frequently been given is that it is arrogant and even sinful to accuse the pope of making a prudential error in his judgment, as I did when I suggested that maybe calling Vatican II was a bad idea (here). When I made this statement that some of the actions of Vatican II could be considered a prudential errors, I got in trouble at my work at the parish. 

Yet, here we have none other than our current pontiff criticizing the prudence of a decision made by another pontiff, and in a book published by Ignatius, no less! If Ratzinger sees nothing wrong with questioning the prudence of papal decisions, why ought anybody else? Some may bring up the tired old argument that, "Well that's different; you're not Cardinal Ratzinger!" This is a really lame argument, which I have already dealt with elsewhere (see here); in essence, though, the fact that someone of Ratzinger's caliber should question the prudence of a papal judgment should not be construed as an argument against why we ought to do likewise; rather, if someone like Ratzinger has made these arguments, this gives us all the more reason to imitate him, not less.

What's the point? Again, to point out that there is nothing disloyal, arrogant or schismatic about questioning the historical, prudential decisions that the Church or certain pontiffs may have made in the past. Saints have done it, and in this case, even other popes have done it. Why is it that only traditionalists can't?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

My Catholic Vision of Health Care

[Mar. 26 2010] My apologies for not posting lately, but my attention has been wrapped up with matters of health in more ways than oneof course I am referring to the passage of the "Obamacare" health care bill Sunday night, but also to some personal health matters that I have been struggling with this week.

These things have led me to reflect upon the current status of health care in our country, my problems with the new bill and my ideas on how health care could conceivably be much better. I call this post "MY Catholic vision of health care" because although I know that the USCCB and the Vatican have made statements on health care over the years, I confess that I have read almost none of them. Therefore, my solutions and ideas proposed here will be only that: my own ideas, formed by my Catholic faith. If anybody can buttress them with Magisterial statements (or perhaps show me if I am in error) I would appreciate it.

 I'm just going to pass over the abortion related aspects of the current bill since we are all familiar with them already. Besides, my opposition to this bill has little to do with abortion; I would be very much opposed to it even if it was certain that not one cent of tax money would ever go to fund abortions, which is far from certain as it stands. No, my opposition to the bill comes from my strong belief that it is unlawful and unconstitutional for the government to force its citizens to buy a good in the public market. You might say, "Yes, but auto insurance!" But nobody is forced to buy auto insurance because nobody is forced to purchase a car. With this health care law, we all universally have to have health coverage with no exceptions. There is no escape. Whether or not we ought to have coverage is beside the point to me; perhaps we should all have insurance, but as soon as the government mandates that I have to it makes me not want to. It's just like how we all know we ought to drink 6 glasses of water a day. But suppose the government passed a law mandating that we all drink 6 glasses of water a day or be fined. That would probably make me want to fast from water every other day just to be defiant against an overly intrusive law.

But apart from this issue, I think a huge problem is that this law could in fact lead to a single payer, "public option" system. Here's how: the current law mandates that everybody after 2014 purchase insurance or be fined. However, the fines for not purchasing insurance are smaller than the free-market cost to just buy insurance (on average). For me, the fine turns out to be $800 per year if I don't get coverage. But even now, through my employer, I contribute at least $1200 per year to insurance; who knows how much more it would be I had to but it completely on my own. The average cost of insurance for someone my age is about $4000 per year if I buy it on my own. Compare that to an $800 fine. If I was uninsured, it would be cheaper for me to pay the fine than to buy the insurance. Now, what is the effect of having the fine by cheaper than the insurance? It's obvious: most people in this dilemma will opt to pay the fine rather than buy the insurance, that is, as long as they are healthy. But once they get ill or need treatment, then they will buy the insurance instead of paying the fine. I even heard a report on the liberal NPR yesterday admitting just this, that the new law will create a situation in which people are incentivized to not purchase insurance until they get ill.

What does this mean? Since insurance companies can no longer deny people based on preexisting conditions, it means they will be forced to cover a glut of people who only come paying for insurance once they are sick. Since they cannot be denied coverage—and since there are no caps allowed on the dollar amount of coverage—insurance companies will have no choice but to cover these people. The insurance business only works on the presupposition that the amount of premiums coming in is less than the company has to pay out in benefits. It can only function if, for example, it takes in $10 million in premiums but only pays out $3 million in benefits, just like any business can only function is revenue meets or exceeds expenditures. Yet here we have a system that encourages the opposite: mandating insurance companies to cover people who will most likely not buy the insurance until they are already sick, since the insurance usually costs more than the fine. And these people will all have to be covered, likely leading to a situation where premiums are equal or less than expenditures. 

No insurance company can stay in business this way, just like automotive companies can't stay in business when it costs more in wages, union benefits, health insurance and pensions to build a car than they make selling it. The practical effect of this health care bill will be to drive private insurance companies out of business, or at least get rid of the smaller ones and concentrate the power in the larger firms. What will citizens do when private insurance companies are going under left and right? That's when the government will be there to step in with the single-payer public option. Since most insurance companies will be out of business, we will have no other option if we want coverage. And by the way, if most insurance companies are out of business, leaving the industry centralized in the hands of a few giants, what do you think will happen to costs then? What about once the government gets involved in cost and quality control?

 But without harping too much more on why I think the health care bill is not only immoral but also bad business, it behooves us to ask ourselves what a truly Catholic vision of health care reform would look like. For me, this has not been a question about how to extend insurance to the most people, which is the way the liberals tend to frame the argument. For me, it is rather about asking the question, "Why is health care so blasted expensive that one needs insurance to pay for it?" The only reason we need insurance is because the health care is so costly that there would be no way an average person could pay for anything without it. This is a form of slavery; ideally, everybody should be able to pay for health care out of pocket. Granted, some procedures will always be more expensive than others, but why does a hospital need to charge $4,000 per night for a bed? Not for any service, just for a bed? Why does it cost $9,000 for my wife to come into the hospital, get her vitals checked, go into labor and have a normal delivery after 12 minutes of pushing with a one day convalescence? Why does it cost $1,200 for my daughter to get two staples in her scalp to close a minor gash—staples the ER doctor admitted to me are essentially "no different" from the industrial staples I put in my staple gun at home and pay $3 per fifty for?

It is an interesting historical question to ponder how things got this way. Think back to the doctors of a century ago, men who made house calls and were frequently paid in chickens, bushels of wheat, or whatever a farmer could scrap together. They were not wealthy men, and medical care was not expensive. Now doctors are wealthy (albeit debt-ridden) men and health care expenses are out of control. Some of this probably has to do with new technologies, but not all of it. Granted, the CT machine is probably expensive to build, but is it really so expensive that a CT scan of my chest, like I had last week, must cost upwards of $6,000? Is there any market reason why turning the machine on for 45 seconds must cost $6,000? I have a hard time believing that this exorbitant price is due solely to technological innovation.

The price of becoming a doctor has skyrocketed. In the old days, doctors learned their trade the same way carpenters or masons didby spending a lot of time as an apprentice. There were some instructor fees, but nothing like what modern medical school costs, where newly graduated doctors start their practice burdened by a student loan debt of $125 to $200K before they even start their internships/residencies. Couple this with outrageous insurance that doctors themselves need to pay and you start to see why the costs are so inflated.

The essential problem is that health care is a business. Doctors, hospitals, drug companies and everyone along the chain is there to make a profit. In premodern times, medical care was a charity. If you got ill in 1450 and had to go get medical care, who would likely take care of you? The homes for the sick were staffed by nuns, all of whom had vows of poverty. Doctors and medicine women always charged fees, but they were vastly more proportionate to what the average person could afford. Treating illness was seen as a charity but also as a chance to advance the medical discipline. Profit was not a real motivating factor; in fact, unless you were fortunate enough to become physician to a king or member of the nobility, most doctors were not well off persons. People used to warn their sons not to become doctors if they wanted to make a decent living, just like most parents would react today if their kids told them they wanted a degree in philosophy. We can see a similar trend in Catholic schooling: what happened to the price of Catholic education once the nuns left and lay "professionals" took their place?

Does it need to be this way? What would happen if our medical system were to be infused with cadres of sisters and brothers, all with vows of poverty, who had received medical training along with their religious training? What if the motivating ideal behind health care was that it was a charitable endeavor done for the good of souls? Granted, I am not insinuating that all doctors now are simply out to make a buck; I've had wonderful experiences with caring doctors most of my life. But since many factors involved are often beyond their control, doctors are faced with so much overhead from insurance, loan repayment, etc. that they have little choice but to pass the cost on to the consumer. Of course there would always be costs, but what would those costs be if all our doctors and nurses had vows of poverty? What if they learned by apprenticeship under the hands of other doctors and did not come to the profession burdened with debt (instead of the current system, in which a residency comes only after the completion of years and years of costly schooling)? What if, because of this, more persons could pay for their care out of pocket and doctors did not have to keep massive staffs for the sole purpose of billing and working with insurance? How would all these factors affect cost?

I admit my plan is a bit utopian, fantasizing about replacing our entire population of doctors with monks and nuns, or at least by lay persons working from charitable motives without such vast overhead. But following the principle of subsidiarity, maybe it would be best to make a trial run of such a system on a more limited basis before proposing any sweeping, industry-wide changes. Already independent clinics staffed by Catholic doctors who see their work as a vocation are popping up all over the country; in my own area there are two Catholic clinics that a person can go to that charge rates easily affordable to most persons, even without insurance. As of now, these clinics are only able to provide primary care; perhaps the next step is the foundation of a larger facility capable of handling emergency care and surgical procedures based on the same principles. For American Catholics, an example to look to would be Padre Pio's Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering) in San Giovanni Rotundo. I'm not sure how this hospital is managed now, but I know that when it was founded it was part of St. Pio's vision that it be a place where the poor could receive medical attention at reasonable costs by Catholic doctors working within a Christian worldview.

And maybe I am tremendously naïve. I admit that I know very little about health care, but I do know it is outrageously expensive. Like housing and higher education, it is way more expensive than it ought to be. So what do you all think? What Catholic principles of morality, and economics can we put to work here to bring these costs down and lessen people's dependence on insurance, thus ensuring that everybody can enjoy more health and freedom?

Monday, November 01, 2010

YHWH in Ancient Rome?

Okay, I might be going a little out in left field with this one, but I thought I would bring it before you and see what you all think of it. Anyone who has studied biblical or ancient history has invariably come across a whole genre of quak-historical studies having to do with theories of where the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel vanished to. You know what I'm talking about...the "British Israel" theory, that the Irish and original British were displaced Israelites (and that the prophecies and promises made to Old Testament Israel apply to the British Empire, and by extension, to the United States, which had its origin in the British Empire). Some say the Israelites sailed across the Atlantic and became the Mayan peoples...there are ethnic groups in India, southeastern Asia and Ethiopia that all claim descent from Israel's Ten Lost Tribes; of course, the Mormons have their own absurd take on this theme. There is even a theory that the Lost Tribes had something to do with Atlantis.

Therefore, please take what I am going to say with a HUGE grain of salt, because I am in no way wedded to this theory that I am about to propose. I merely noticed something and am interested in some feedback.

First, we know that the ancient Israelites, whether the ten northern tribes or the southern tribes of Judah, did not pronounce the name of God. They considered it too holy, choosing instead in speech to replace His name with phrase like "heaven" (as found in Maccabees) or more simply LORD, as found in most of the Old Testament. In writing, the holy Name was usually written in the form of the Tetragrammton, which consists of the four consonants of God's Name with the vowels removed so as to render in unpronounceable - the Tetragammaton in Hebrew is, יְהֹוָה,which is translated into English as the consonants YHWH. Though nobody knows how the Holy Name was pronounced, most Hebrew scholars believe it was close to "Yahweh."

This much really isn't in question - but now let's look at the ancient Roman connection. The three supreme deities of the Roman pantheon were Jupiter, Minerva and Mars. Of course, as St. Augsutine points out in City of God, the deities of the Romans were legion, including gods for door hinges and gods for the stems of plants. But in the Etruscan and early Republican periods, Jupiter, Minerva and Mars were supreme, followed by Vesta, Vertumnus, Janus, Terminus, etc. It is unknown when worship of Jupiter first came to Rome, but it is generally agreed that the cult of Jupiter predates the establishment of the Republic.

Now, next point: Jupiter is itself a compound of two words: Iou and Pater, or "Father Jove," as Jove is the more antiquated name for Jupiter. Jupiter is really Jove.

If we remember our Latin (and Indiana Jones 3: The Last Crusade), we know, of course that the "J" in Latin was not pronounced as the English J, but rather as a kind of Y sound, as in the Latin Iesus ("yay-zoos").

Furthermore, as the classicists remind us, the "V" in classical Latin was not pronounced with a V sound, but had more of a W sound to it. I remember my Latin professor at college pointing out that Caesar's "veni, vidi, vici" would have been pronounced weni, widi, wici. I know that ecclesiastical Latin does not use the classical pronounciation, for which I am extremely grateful; but, as far as I know, there is no debate that the Romans of the Republic used this pronounciation; my understanding is that the debate is about how we ought to pronounce Latin today, not whether or not it was ever pronounced this way in the past. 

Okay, so to put this all together - the Tetragrammaton was pronounced close to the English "Yahweh." If we take the ancient Roman JOVE, which is the real name of Jupiter, and pronounce it how the ancient Romans would have pronounced it (with the J as an I and the V as a W), then we get something that sounds astonishingly similar: IOVE ("Yo-way")...Yahweh ("Yah-way"). Compound this with the fact that Jove was a sky god, which was seen as the dwelling place of the God of Israel (see, for example, 1 Kings 20:23, but also many other places in the Old Testament referring to God's dwelling place as being in the heavens or at the highest places).

So, without getting into a whole complicated theory positing the migration of the Ten Lost Tribes to iron age Italy in the pre-Republican period, could it possible that there was some sort of cultural exchange and that brought the knowledge of the true God into ancient Latium or Etruria? I don't think this is too implausible; and though I am not an expert in the field of etymology, it seems odd that two contemporary peoples could have gods with such similar names without some cultural connection.

Does any of this sound credible or am I drawing lines between points that aren't there?