Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: St. Anthony: The Miracle Worker of Padua

St. Anthony: The Miracle Worker of Padua is one of those films that you always see in the Catholic film catalog and wonder if it is any good. It is always a crap-shoot with some of these Catholic-produced movies. Some are very good productions but still end up being bad movies, like Leonardo de Filippis' Therese. Others are poor productions by American standards but wind up being phenomenal films; the Spanish language Teresa of the Andes and Teresa de Jesus fall into this category. Some, like Patrick, are bad productions and bad movies, while others, like Padre Pio, wind up being all around decent. Then there are those saint films that are secular productions and may be anywhere on the spectrum, from Man for All Seasons (awesome) to Brother Son, Sister Moon (extremely questionable). Some secular saint films, like Becket are actually wonderful. and In short, when you look at these saint films, there is absolutely no way to know what you are getting in to.

Against this backdrop, St. Anthony comes off pretty well. The most famous episodes of Anthony's life are depicted well, the cinematography is excellent and the score is wonderful. The casting is spot on, with one exception, which I shall get to momentarily. There were a couple of tear-jerking moments, especially towards the end, and the whole film did a decent job of being faith-building. The film dwells not so much on Anthony's external ministry as much as his own internal struggles with pride and his desire to find and fulfill God's will. Like Teresa de Jesus, the focus is very introspective, though it is not handled quite as well.

I should also mention that the film is in Italian with English subtitles. To me this is a plus because subtitled movies are usually better than English language films, but if subtitles aren't your thing, then this movie isn't for you.

The big weakness in St. Anthony; The Miracle Worker of Padua is the same weakness shared by many other feature length films on saints: it spends way too much time developing how Anthony became a saint, focusing on his struggles in his pre-conversion life and his spiritual wandering to the point that by the time Anthony becomes sure of his mission and really starts to look "saintly", the film is practically over. Thus, we end up sitting down to watch a movie about Anthony the Saint but end up getting one about Anthony the worldly knight, Anthony the misguided, would-be Augustinian monk, Anthony the doubtful Franciscan full of inner turmoil but never really get to know Anthony the Saint. By the time the Saint does show up, it is so brief and rushed as to feel somewhat artificial and unbelievable. We have witnessed him struggling with pride, confusion and self-doubt for 75% of the film so that the miracles crammed in to the remaining 25% feel somewhat unrealistic.

This is a problem in many of these saint films; another one that comes to mind is Leonardo de Filippis' Therese, which dwells so exclusively on Therese going into the convent and her early life that, by the time we get to the Little Way, it seems just a footnote in the life of a character who does not come off as saintly at all. Perhaps the directors are trying to make the saints seem more "human"  by depicting these sorts of things in depth. But the fact is, when we watch a saint movie, we do not want to see the saints acting like us and dealing with petty troubles like we do; we want to see them acting saintly; i.e., transformed and transfigured by Christ's grace to be signs of God's presence in an unbelieving world. Paradoxically, in order to make the film believable, the saints should be depicted in a somewhat other-worldly (unbelievable) manner.

I mentioned one huge misstep in casting: while the actor who plays Anthony is perfect, and his side-kick Giulietto is likewise a great pick, the actor cast for the pivotal role of St. Francis of Assisi was terrible. The character is not central to the plot - he only shows up three times, I believe. But the presence of Francis is so important to the development of Anthony, both in the film and in real life, that the poor choice in casting this character is a definite detriment.

What is so bad about him? Well, without getting into too much detail, let's just say he looks and acts like Russell Crowe, which is about the last actor I would ever cast as Francis. Granted, St. Anthony depicts Francis in his older years, but what we have here is not the emaciated, half-blind yet joyful character from Bonaventure's biography, but rather a well groomed, rotund, and gruff character who seems almost too serious to be taken seriously as the Poverello. For all its other problems, at least Brother Son, Sister Moon did a great job in its casting for this part. Too bad St. Anthony missed out on this  important role.

All in all, this movie is decent. It is faith building, fairly historically accurate, and has good acting and cinematography. Like I said, though, it dwells too much on Anthony's struggles and not enough on his saintliness.  I give it two tiaras.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of you, wherever you are! Here is an original composition a good friend of mine wrote. Some of you won't like it because it has drums; most of you will be able to get past that. In any case, Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What day was Jesus really born?

Since at least the 5th century, the birth of our Lord Jesus has been celebrated liturgically on the 25th of December. This date makes sense in the cycle of feasts, since it falls nine months after the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th). It is uncertain which feast came first; the Feast of the Annunciation originated sometime between 376 and 431 (Council of Ephesus), but it is not mentioned in the west until the time of Pope Gelasius (496). The Feast of the Nativity (Christmas) was celebrated from at least the third century and seems to have been fixed on December 25th sometime between 350 and 430.

The historical reasons for the dating of Christ's birth on December 25th are shrouded in mystery; many theories have been put forward. Some, denigrating the Catholic tradition, focus on the fact that the pagan feast of the birth of the sun god Sol Invictus also fell on December 25th. Other theories, relating to the winter solstice or to a Scandinavian pagan holy day, also have their supporters. In many cases, the implication of these theories is that Jesus was not really born on December 25th.

How can we tell when Jesus was born? Is there a way to tell when Jesus' real birthday is? Calculating the birthday of Jesus is not easy, and there really is no level of certainty that we can hope for here. Do we know when Jesus was really born? No. Can we use some data from the New Testament to narrow down the possibilities? I believe we can and, surprisingly enough, I think what we find vindicates a December birth for our Lord.

What we really need in examining this question is some fixed date, some event, to which we can "anchor" the events recalled in the Gospel of Luke. We already have a relative chronology: we know that Mary conceived our Lord six months after the conception of Elizabeth, for example. How can we anchor events such as the Annunciation and the Visitation to some concrete date or time?

The closest thing we have is the passage at the beginning of Luke's Gospel regarding the Temple service offered by Zachariah. Zachariah was a priest "of the division of Abijah" (Luke 1:5); this fact will be quite important. While in Jerusalem, "performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him." (Luke 1:8-11) The angel Gabriel told Zachariah that his barren wife, Elizabeth, was to bear him a son, and his name was to be John. "And it came about, that when the days of his priestly service were ended, that he went back home. And after these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant." (Luke 1:23-24)

If we go back to 1 Chronicles 24, we read that the houses of Aaron were divided up into twenty-four "divisions", each serving God in the Temple on a kind of rotation throughout the year (see here). Abijah, the house to which Zachariah belonged, was one of these divisions. If we could find out when the division of Abijah was chosen to serve each year, we would know roughly the date of the conception of John the Baptist, and by adding fifteen months (Six of Elizabeth's pregnancy plus the nine months Mary was pregnant) we could get an idea of when our Lord was born.

The problem is that the Scriptures give us no data on when any certain division was on duty. For this, we have to turn to Jewish history and rabbinical tradition.

Josephus tells us that each division served from Sabbath to Sabbath, eight days, passing their duties on to the next division midday on the Sabbath (Against Apion, 2:8). Each division ended up serving approximately five weeks throughout the year, though this got a little complicated during major feasts (during Passover, for example, all twenty-four divisions served at once). So, pinpointing when Abijah was on duty would give us five potential "windows" of eight days each throughout the year from which to extrapolate our Lord's birth.

But when was Abijah, or any order, on duty?

An interesting point of evidence is that, according to Talmudic tradition, the destruction of the first temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. happened while the family of Jehoiarib was on duty. This event was so deeply burned in the Jewish psyche that it is not surprising they would have remembered what family was on duty. Consider the following passages:

"Good things come to pass on an auspicious day, and bad things on an unlucky day. It is reported that the day on which the First Temple was destroyed was the eve of the ninth of Ab, a Sunday, and in the year following the Sabbatical year, and the Mishmar [division] of the family of Jehoiarib were on duty and the Levites were chanting the Psalms standing on their Duchan (platform). And what Psalm did they recite? - [The Psalm] containing the verse, `And He hath brought upon them their own iniquity, and will cut them off in their own evil.' And hardly had they time to say, `The Lord our God will cut them off,' when the heathens came and captured them. The same thing too happened in the Second Temple." (Ta'anith 29a)

"It is said, The day on which the first Temple was destroyed was the ninth of Ab, and it was at the going out of the Sabbath, and the end of the seventh [Sabbatical] year. The [priestly] guard was that of Jehoiarib, the priests and Levites were standing on their platform singing the song. What song was it? `And He hath brought upon them their iniquity, and will cut them off in their evil.' They had no time to complete `The Lord our God will cut them off,' before the enemies came and overwhelmed them. The same happened the second time." (Arakin 11b).

Now, if Jehoiarib was on duty on the 9th of Ab (July 18th), and we consult the order of the priestly divisions of the sons of Aaron as recorded in 1 Chronicles 24, we see that Abijah was the eighth division and Jehoiarib the first. This means Abijah would have been serving eight weeks after Jehoiarib. Since we have a fixed date on which to place the service of Jehoiarib (July 18th), we can extrapolate the whole cycle and figure out when Abijah was on duty.

Unfortunately, there are many complications to this method, the biggest being that the priestly schedule was disrupted several times. For example, it was disrupted at the time of the Babylonian Exile. For seventy years Ezra 6:15-18 tells us that Ezra and Nehemiah had to reconstitute the divisions on a new schedule after the return from Babylon and even had to create four new orders because four of the old orders had been lost. This schedule was again disrupted at the time of the Maccabees.

Fortunately, we have another reference to the order from closer to Jesus' life: the time of the Second Temple. Like the first destruction, the second destruction also occurred in July (28th) and again, according to Josephus, Jehoiarib was on duty. Despite the disruptions and the creation of new divisions, if we presume that each division at least retained its similar place in the order throughout this time, we can use this method, to find at least eight weeks throughout the year when Abijah would have been serving. They are not even intervals of eight weeks, due to the fact that Abijah would have been serving at major feasts besides the regular intervals. These weeks are:

Jan 18-25
March 19-26
April 18-25
May 17-24
Aug 3-10

Sept 3-10
Oct 3-10
Nov 1-8

Zachariah would have been offering incense during one of these weeks. The fact that a "large multitude" was gathered outside the Temple further tells us that the specific day was probably one of the great feasts, either Passover, Pentecost or the Feast of Tabernacles.

Now, if we presume that Zachariah heard the message of the angel and John the Baptist was conceived during one of these intervals, specifically on one of the great Sabbaths or high feast days, then by extrapolating fifteen more months, we have the following dates as possible times when Christ was born:

Jan. 23
Apr. 10
June 11
July 10
Aug. 8
Oct. 25
Nov. 25
Dec. 25

Note that December 25th is one of the eight possible dates. If this were Christ's birthday, this would place the Annunciation on March 25th (in accordance with Tradition) and the conception of John the Baptist in the vicinity of October 10th. This would place Zachariah's temple service during the week of October 3rd-10th, which actually coincides with the Feast of Tabernacles, which fell during the week of September 29-October 5th in 6 BC.

This explanation is fraught with difficulties. Of course it could have been December 25th, but this explanation also allows for seven other possible dates. And, these dates themselves are all based on extrapolations from some very scanty evidence, mainly a few passages from Josephus. That being said, greater minds than I have certainly came up with this before; it was originated by St. John Chrysostom, though there is even dispute about that (some saying that the work this is found in is spurious). And there is much more reckoning that needs to be done that I omitted for the sake of brevity - calculations of Sabbaths, new moons, etc. spanning centuries, which is why even the Catholic Encyclopedia says such computations based on Zachariah's temple service are "unreliable"  "untrustworthy" and even "hopeless."

Is December 25th really Jesus' birthday? There is no way to tell for certain, but at least we know that the traditional date is not without grounds. We certainly can say that December 25th does have a solid biblical and historic support and allows us to comfortably explain the date of our Lord's Nativity without reference to the Sol Invictus or winter solstice theories.

Here is a good webpage with some more chronological information on Star of Bethlehem and further support for a winter nativity.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What did the Angel say to Mary?

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord later this month, and as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was this past week, we have will be hearing a lot of readings at Mass about the Nativity of Jesus Christ.

In the account of the infancy narrative of our Lord as recounted in the Gospel of Luke, the verse when Gabriel comes to visit is subject to an unusual amount of creativity in translation. We all know different versions of the Bible translate words differently, but this one verse has more variety than usual.  In Luke 1:28, we have the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce the conception of our Lord. Look at some translations of this passage:

  • "And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you." (NAB)
  • "And he came to her and said, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!"(RSV)"The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." (NIV)
  • "And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee." (KJV)
  • "And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women (NKJV)
  • "The angel came to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!" (ISV)
  • "And the angel being come in, said unto her: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." (Douay-Rheims)
  • "Gabriel appeared to her and said, "Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!"(NLT)
  • "The Angel entered her presence, and he said to her, “Peace to you, full of grace, our Lord is with you; you are blessed among women.” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English, 2010)

While we could dwell on many elements of this passage, such as whether the correct translation is "favored woman", "highly favored one", or "full of grace", I think the initial greeting of the angel is interesting to look at, too. Does Gabriel say "Hail," "Greetings", or "Peace to you?" I have found that Protestants, who typically use either the New King James or the New International Version, prefer the translation "Greetings" or "Rejoice," frowning on the "Hail" of the Douay, old King James and NAB as implying that Mary has some sort of authority or power. After all, "Hail!" is a salute given to a superior. If the angel said "Hail" to Mary, one could make the argument that she is, in some manner, superior to the angel Gabriel.
The literal word in Greek here is chairō. We immediately encounter a problem in that chairō does indeed mean a formal, military salute or hail, but it can also be translated as greeting. Let's look at some other contexts in the New Testament where chairō is used. I tried to use passages where the translation was pretty much agreed upon between the NAB, RSV, NKJV and NIV:

"And forthwith  he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him" (Matt 26:49). The passage where Judas betrays our Lord. Clearly, the greeting chairō here denotes authority - a disciple greeting his teacher, and in the case of Jesus, more than just a teacher. Thus, "Hail" makes sense as a translation.

And platting a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand. And bowing the knee before him, they mocked him, saying: "Hail, king of the Jews."  (Matt. 27:29; Mark 15:18; John 19:3) I do not believe I have ever seen this verse translated in any other way than with the word "Hail." Indeed, "Greetings, king of the Jews" would make very little sense. This suggests that, even if this word chairō can be interpreted as "greetings" at times, it is never a casual greeting, but always a kind of greeting that implies an authority. The inference if this authority is what makes the use of the word by the soldiers so mocking. Had they not been mocking the claims about Jesus' authority, their use of the word chairō would not make any sense.

"And behold Jesus met them, saying: "All hail." But they came up and took hold of his feet, and adored him"  (Matt. 28:9). This verse is often translated "All hail!" in older translations, even Protestant ones, but more often as "greetings" in modern editions, Catholic and Protestant alike. This seems to be due to an evolving understanding of apostolic authority - a gradual shift ecclesiology from viewing the apostles as successors of Christ to viewing them as Jesus' "friends", for whom the salute "greetings" would be more appropriate than "hail." I think this change in ecclesiology was reflected in translation.

"Claudius Lysias to the most excellent governor, Felix, greeting." (Acts 23:26) Here is a case where we definitely can see how chairō would imply authority. If the word chairō meant a simple "hello" or good day" or something neutral, it would not be used by a Roman to salute an imperial governor. We know that what Claudius Lysias actually said to Felix (presuming they are speaking Latin and Luke is translating into Greek), is the word ave, which has unanimously been translated as "Hail" from time immemorial.

What conclusions can we draw here? While I think that sometimes the rendering of chairō as "greetings" might be appropriate, it seems that the context of how the word is used always denotes a kind of superiority or authority in the one to whom it is said, as exemplified by the use of the Latin ave ("hail") in translation. The use of chairō by Claudius Lysias to Felix, a superior, as well as the mocking way in which the Roman soldiers use the phrase when they denigrate our Lord reveals that this word carried with it an implication of authority.

So what did the angel say to Mary exactly? When Gabriel said chairō, he was acknowledging that she had an authority, that she was, in a way, his superior - not in the order of nature (where mankind ranks below the angels), but in the order of grace, where mankind is exalted above the angels and even made to sit in judgment over them. This superiority in the order of grace is why the next words of Gabriel after saluting this singular woman are Kecharitomene, literally "you who have been perfected in grace," but which the Vulgate translated as gratia plena, "full of grace" in the Douay-Rheims. But that is another discussion. It suffices to say that Mary is hailed as having authority over the angel because she is exalted above the angels in the order of grace and is truly Queen of the Angels, who form a kind of "honor guard" around her. Thus says a hymn for Morning Prayer in the Armenian Liturgy for the Feast of the Assumption: "O Mother of God, you are born aloft in the triumphal cars of the Cherubim, with Seraphim for your escort and the arrayed army of heaven’s hosts is prostrate before you." From the Ethiopian Missal comes: "O Mary, heart of the whole world, you are greater than the many eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim, and heaven and earth are utterly full of the glory of your holiness."

Hail, full of grace!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

St. Cyprian on Tradition

Great quote from the Bishop of Carthage on the value of Tradition in discerning the truth when a question is in dispute:

"But there is a brief way for religious and simple minds, both to put away error, and to find and to elicit truth. For if we return to the head and source of divine tradition, human error ceases; and having seen the reason of the heavenly sacraments, whatever lay hid in obscurity under the gloom and cloud of darkness, is opened into the light of the truth. If a channel supplying water, which formerly flowed plentifully and freely, suddenly fail, do we not go to the fountain, that there the reason of the failure may be ascertained, whether from the drying up of the springs the water has failed at the fountainhead, or whether, flowing thence free and full, it has failed in the midst of its course; that so, if it has been caused by the fault of an interrupted or leaky channel, that the constant stream does not flow uninterruptedly and continuously, then the channel being repaired and strengthened, the water collected may be supplied for the use and drink of the city, with the same fertility and plenty with which it issues from the spring? And this it behooves the priests of God to do now, if they would keep the divine precepts, that if in any respect the truth have wavered and vacillated, we should return to our original and Lord, and to the evangelical and tradition; and thence may arise the ground of our action, whence has taken rise both our order and our origin" (St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter 73:10).

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Books Won't Imperil The Soul

A while back, someone suggested to me that I expand on my "Books That Won't Imperil The Soul" category on the sidebar and give a list of great books that would serve as ideal Christmas gifts while being edifying to the soul and enlightening to the mind. I think this is a great idea! So, without further ado:

Boniface's Christmas List of 15 Books that Won't Imperil the Soul (and Make Good Gifts)

To make it easier, I have divided these books into four categories based on content: History, Philosophy, Theology-Spirituality, and Literature. I have also divided them by difficulty - Beginner, Intermediate and Challenging, based on how much of a chore they are to read through and how much prior knowledge in the subject matter they require to comprehend. Each title also contain a direct link to the book on Amazon; I will also link them on the sidebar.


(Beginner) The Birth of France: Warriors, Bishops, and Long-Haired Kings by Katharine Scherman, 1987 (323 pages). Excellent history of the Merovingian kings of France, with all their glory and debauchery. The book is detailed and engaging but appropriate to someone new to the subject matter. Very colorful portrayal of an important era of French (and Church) history.

(Intermediate) Henry VIII by J.J. Scarisbrick, 1968 (561 pages). An extremely thorough yet readable biography of Henry VIII that is pretty even handed in its approach. The author takes care to really delve into the theological and canonical background of the divorce case. Catholics will feel the author has handled the material well. Very long, but worth the read.

(Challenging) The Rise and Fall of the Hapsburg Monarchy by Victor Tapie, 1969 (430 pages). This is an extremely dense book that takes you through the political and economic minutiae of the Hapsburg monarchy from the 15th century until World War I. Prior knowledge of basic Austrio-Hungarian history is necessary.


(Beginner) Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage by Jacques Barzun, 1958 (400 pages). Great historical-philosophical critique of Darwin, Marx and Wagner, whom the author all associates together as being positivists in their respective realms of science, politics and music. The author is not necessarily Catholic friendly, but he offers well thought out critiques of Darwinism, Marxism and modern music.

(Intermediate) Philosophy and Civilization in the Middle Ages by Maurice de Wulf, 1958 (299 pages). This little book is a wonderful overview of the interrelationship between philosophy and civilization in the medieval period. After looking at the tension inherent in the relationship between philosophy and theology, the author affirms the harmony between the two engendered by medieval civilization and the patronage of the Catholic Church.

(Challenging) The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas by Etienne Gilson, 1994 (502 pages). Classic on Thomistic theology, centering on the difference in Thomas' doctrine of esse from other philosophers. You'd better be proficient in Thomism to master this one.


(Beginner) Platitudes Undone by G.K. Chesterton, 1997 (105 pages). Hilarious and unique book; a facsimile reproduction of a book by Holbrook Jackson that G.K.C marked up, mocking Jackson's trite, Victorian platitudes. Great reading, and not too much of a commitment.

(Intermediate) My Antonia by Willa Cather, 2006 (272 pages). I was surprised how much I liked this book; one of the best American novels ever written, set in the American prairie of the late 1800s. Catholicism is treated in an interesting way; wife thought it was anti-Catholic, I thought it was pro-Catholic. Very sentimental and worth the time.

(Challenging) The Possessed by Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1954 (704 pages). Dostoevsky's greatest work, in my opinion. A frightening profile of the madness that is the logical conclusion of nihilism. Nobody delves into the human psyche quite like Dostoevsky, especially when revealing the malice potential in that psyche.


(Beginner) The Sign of the Cross by Msgr. Gaume, 2007 (158 pages). This little book has an astounding amount of history and insight on the Sign of the Cross, much of it information I had never come across anywhere else. Lots of small chapters make it easy to break down and read with ease.

(Intermediate) Three Conversions of the Spiritual Life by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, 2002 (112 pages). Classic work of spiritual theology on the three conversions of soul a believer must go through on his path to Christian perfection, written by one of the 20th century's greatest theologians.

(Challenging) Poena Satisfactoria by John Joy, 2010 (106 pages). Have to recommend Anselm's book here, not because he is a better theologian than Lagrange, but because Largrange's book is more for popular consumption while Anselm's masterly inquiry into St. Thomas' theory of atonement is for a more scholarly audience. See here for my review of this excellent little treatise on Thomistic soteriology.

Finally, let me offer my "wildcard" book suggestion, which is just a kind of off the wall book that I picked up and happened to really enjoy but that kind of crosses categories:

The Arcanum: The Extraordinary True Story by Janet Gleeson, 1999 (336 pages). This is a fascinating book about the history of the discovery of porcelain by a German alchemist in the mid 18th century. This book tells a truly fascinating story of how crackpot alchemist Johann Frederick Bottger was locked up by the Duke of Saxony after boasting he could transmute lead into gold. The greedy Duke confined the hapless con-man in a tower, and in a Rumpelstiltskin like arrangement, giving him so much time in captivity to come up with gold before being put to death. In his panic to come up with gold, Bottger ended up discovering the secret of manufacturing porcelain on accident. This book is part investigative journalism, part science, and part history, but very interesting all the way around and skillfully written as well.

Hopefully all of this can give you some ideas for Christmas gifts for the discriminating reader!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Is Traditionalism Redundant?

Today, the First Sunday of Advent, 2011, was truly a turning point for the Roman Rite. After forty-one years of lame-duck ICEL translations, we have finally gotten an English translation that (I believe) does justice to the Latin text. One can still say that the Latin text of the NO is inferior to the Latin of the TLM, which I agree; but you must also agree that we are way better off with the 3rd edition than the 2nd.

As we cross this new threshold, perhaps we ought to step back and look at what it means to be a Trad now, in the second decade of the new millennium during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. With the legalization of the Extraordinary Form, with a pontiff who has encouraged liturgical excellence, removed (some) of the leading liberal offenders from positions of influence within the Vatican, and with Tradition everywhere on the march and the forces of dissent and disorder everywhere in retreat, does it still make sense to be a Trad? To what degree do our grievances now converge with those of mainstream conservative Catholics? In other words, is Traditionalism becoming redundant?

Pro Multis?

For example, in the past, the translation of "pro multis" as "for all" was cause for serious alarm among traditionalists. Some, such as Rama P. Coomaraswamy in his book Problems With the New Mass, speculated that the translation "for all" actually invalidated the sacrament and that faithful Catholics were bound to refrain from attending masses that used this translation. But has not that difficulty dissolved over night with the new translation? We now have an English prayer that corresponds with the Latin and more faithfully teaches Catholic doctrine. The USCCB commentary on this is actually (surprisingly) helpful. It states:

"However, the more noticeable revision in those same lines is the replacement of “for all” with “for many.”  At the most basic level, “for many” is a faithful translation of the original Latin phrase, “pro multis.”  Turning to Scripture, Isaiah 53:12 prophesied that the Messiah would take away “the sins of many,” and Christ Himself at the Last Supper also said His Blood would be shed for “many” (Mt 26:28, Mk 14:24).

This does not mean that Christ did not die for the sake of all humanity, for that, too, is indisputable from Scripture.  We need only recall 2 Corinthians 5:15 – “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”  Rather, “for many” upholds the reality that each individual must also accept and abide in the grace won by Christ in order to attain eternal life.  The recovery of this wording affirms that salvation is not completely automatic.

Nonetheless, it should not be interpreted as overly restrictive, either.  The fact that Jesus was addressing only the Apostles in the Upper Room while saying, “for you and for many,” implies far-reaching inclusion – that many more besides the Twelve would benefit from this new covenant."

For many years, this is what Trads were banging their heads against the wall about - that the rendering of "pro multis" as "for all" implied universalism. Now we not only have the offending translation gone for good, but the orthodox teaching on "pro multis" explained - and from the USCCB, nonetheless! These are strange times.

The Status of the Extraordinary Form

Another example, of course, is the Extraordinary Form. For decades this was the bedrock of what it meant to be a Traditionalist - that you were among a group of Catholics who, for whatever reason, were "attached" to the old rite and preferred to worship according to the 1962 Missal. Much Trad antagonism developed during the 80's and 90's as Trads fought tooth and nail for the right to have the Mass said in the old form. 

Since September, 2007, that Mass has been completely legalized and is available (in theory) to anybody who asks for it. No more can Trads accuse the pope or the Church or denying them this treasure; in fact, Benedict has gone out of his way to promote it. We can still list individual prelates who are trying to stop up the EF Mass in their dioceses, but with the power of the Supreme Pontiff behind it, things are moving in a very positive way for the Traditional Latin Mass. Does it still make sense to talk about the ecclesiastical "man" oppressing Trads when the pope has gone out of the way to accommodate us, even revoking the hated SSPX excommunications as a gesture of reconciliation?

Perhaps the movement known as "Traditionalism" will be simply absorbed into mainstream orthodox Catholicism? Perhaps "Trads", as we have come to know ourselves, will find less and less general problems to worry about and the label will be increasingly restricted to those who have a particular affiliation with the cause of the SSPX. Are we witnessing the end of Traditionalism?

Still a Long Way to Go

Even if some "legal" or rubrical matters have been set in place, there is still an enormous amount of work to be done that I think ensures that Traditionalist movement is not going anywhere. For one thing, the Extraordinary Form, though "legal", is not widely practiced. Only a few bishops have celebrated it publicly since Summorum Pontificum, and while the EF has gotten more attention since 2007, the vast majority of Catholics still either have not attended one or have no access to one. There has been some change, of course; my parish is a prime example. But basically, we have simply moved from a de jure restriction on the EF to a de facto restriction, which s unfortunately more difficult to overcome since it depends not on changing laws and norms but on changing hearts and minds. Changing rules is never enough on its own, though it is a good start. And, when the majority of conservative Catholics simply assert the goodness of the  remaining rules just because the rules exist (communion in the hand, altar girls, etc), we see there is still much to be done.

Furthermore, we still have the problem of faithless implementation - despite the pope's preference for communion on the tongue, communion in the hand is still the norm. Despite his preference and teaching on celebration of Mass ad dominum, versus populum is practiced in 99% of parishes in America. Despite all the directives of the previous two popes, EMHC are still in existence way beyond their necessity, Mass is still ad libbed in most parishes, and our Lord is abused in the Blessed Sacrament. This has always been a problem, and Trads as well as mainstream conservative Catholics have bemoaned it. As long as this state of affairs continues, Traditionalism will remain as a vibrant antidote.

Not to mention the problems at Vatican. Even though Benedict XVI has made some admirable, wonderful strides towards restoring tradition, he is still caught up in the reformist, post-conciliar mindset, as is most of the Vatican. The Magisterium still thinks it is a good idea to invite pagans to Assisi to pray to their false gods. Our prelates still shrink timidly before the rebukes of Jews and Muslims. Our Vatican committees still have faith in the secularist vision of a one world authority in matter political and fiscal. Darwinian evolution is still accepted as dogma in many otherwise orthodox circles, and even popular priests noted for their eloquent and orthodox exposition of the Faith are denying the historical existence of a literal Adam and Eve. This stuff is not going on among dissenters, but among those who classify themselves as faithful, orthodox Catholics, which is very troubling. And it is promoted and encouraged from the Vatican. There is a deep-seated mindset, a way of approaching the Faith, that needs to change at the highest levels before Traditionalism as a movement will fade.

Finally, I would mention that mainstream, conservative Catholicism still seems (in my opinion) to be too caught up in political conservatism; i.e., the Republican Right. While I think generally the Republican Right is a better fit for a Catholic than the Liberal Left, I heartily dispute that it is the best possible fit. We have always seen the greatest interest in Distributism and authentic Catholic teaching on social justice coming from Trad circles; this is beginning to broaden, but I think mainstream conservative Catholicism is still too enmeshed in the same mire as the Protestant Right in this country for Trads to merge with it.

So, while 2011 is a heck of a lot better than 2001 or 1991, we still have a really long way to go. The changes that have come down since Benedict took the papal throne have been extraordinary; more than I ever thought I'd see in my life. If anything, they have showed up that there is light at the end of the tunnel - that no matter how long we wander in the wilderness, there is a promised land to come into. But we are not there yet.

Benedict has done a lot of great stuff, but there is still a lot that he has left undone; in the words of the Scriptures, with reference to King Asa, "he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done...nevertheless, he did not remove the high places" (1 Kings 15:11, 14). I think we could make a similar statement with regards to the current state of the Church - that Benedict XVI has done what was right in the sight of the Lord, freeing up the Extraordinary Form, making some needed administrative changes, encouraging ad orientem and communion in the tongue and the rails, but nevertheless, he has not turned from the deeds of his episcopal forefathers, nor has he removed the "high places" (interreligious dialogue sham meetings?).

As long as this remains the case, I think Traditionalism is here to stay.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

JustFaith's Marxist Tendencies

One of the most highly viewed pages on this whole blog is my February, 2011 expose of the dissenting agenda of the parish renewal program known as JustFaith, which was ironically something I reposted from another publication, the lay run watchdog Los Pequenos Pepper from the Diocese of Albequerque. I had the satisfaction recently of hearing from one priest how this article was instrumental in keeping JustFaith out of a parish where it was about to be instituted: deo gratias.

The folks at the Pepper have done a follow up to the original article delving into the Marxist, dissenting and New Age elements of JustFaith and are promising more to come in the future. Reprinted from Los Pequenos Pepper:

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), an annual collection that has consistently drawn criticism for the more than 40 years of its existence, has two components. The first component is grant-giving, which supports progressive political activism. [1] The second component is education, that is, it concerns the development and dissemination of programs that form – or deform – the conscience. [2] The most recent and most widely used of these programs is JustFaith [3], a 30-week “intensive opportunity to explore the Biblical tradition, the historic witness of the Church, Catholic social teaching, and the relationship between spirituality and justice.” [4] There are two versions of the program: one is a specifically Catholic version of the basic program that supposedly “explores the rich Catholic Social Teaching tradition of the Catholic Church.”[5]. Another version is designed to be used in ecumenical contexts or with Protestant congregations.

From the Catholic perspective, there are numerous red flags swirling about the program. One is that its founder and executive director, Jack Jezreel, has spoken in various progressive venues, such as the dissident-Catholic organization, Call to Action (CTA) and one of its affiliate members, Pax Christi [6]. Another is that JustFaith is not only a “partner” organization with CCHD (and Catholic Relief Services) but with both the CTA-related Pax Christi and Bread for the World, whose founding president was CTA’s ultra-liberal Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. Bread for the World does not feed hungry people. It lobbies American legislators and awards monetary grants to organizations such as CIDHAL, [7] a Mexican liberation theology women’s rights group that advocates for “reproductive rights.”

The JustFaith Board of Directors is another red flag. Catholic dissenters Gary Becker, a deacon and homilist in a “Catholic” feminist break-away congregation, and his wife Mary left the JustFaith Board last year after their presence on it became a public embarrassment to the organization but they have been replaced by new board members who are equally questionable. There’s Mary Kay Kantz who signed the pro-abortion Emily’s List petition to “Stop the War on Women,” [8] which includes any effort to reduce a woman’s access to abortion. [9] Or, there’s Jean McCarthy, the Episcopalian "priestess" who supports same-sex marriage. Or, Marie Dennis, who has been Co-President of Pax Christi International since 2007. There are others one might mention but the list becomes tedious. The point is that, from a Catholic perspective, these form a peculiar fellowship – namely one with an outlook that is distinctly not Catholic.

Another red flag is that the JustFaith newsletter has contained links to pro-abortion resources.

Yet another red flag is the JustFaith reading list. While the titles may change somewhat from year to year, in response to complaints, the listing has included dissenting writers who distort Scripture and Catholic teaching to “reveal” class antagonisms and a “need” to restructure society along Marxist lines.

These are disturbing signs. However, as has been pointed out by several people of good will, none of them prove that the program itself is corrupt – that is, that JustFaith is indoctrinating Catholic participants in anti-Catholic theology.

Fair enough. To do justice to JustFaith one must examine the materials it uses to form Catholics in social justice understanding. The syllabus overview of the basic program for 2011-12 is available at the JustFaith website, as well as co-facilitator notes and participant handouts. [10] Examining the materials being used this year in the JustFaith basic program isn’t quite the same thing as attending its 30 weekly sessions, which are undoubtedly colored by the inclinations of individual facilitators, but they do present a fairly good idea of what JustFaith intends a Catholic to carry away from the experience.

Opening the Program

The preliminary materials are largely organizational. They guide interested parties through the planning stages of advertising the program, setting its schedule, and obtaining the necessary commitment JustFaith requires. A “Recruiting and Planning Toolkit” includes sample fliers, bulletin inserts, a commitment statement, testimonies from satisfied JustFaith “graduates,” and discernment materials. One can understand why an overworked pastor would find the program attractive: “this program is designed to be facilitated and coordinated by program participants and does not require the time of the pastor or staff.” [11]

It is also stressed that the program does not require people with theological training or vast social ministry experience. “Co-facilitators are not asked to be the teachers; the books, videos, group discussions and occasional guest speakers are the educational tools.” [12]

This is an important point because it means that whatever perspective the JustFaith materials provide, coupled with whatever perspective participants bring to the table, is largely what participants will understand to be“Catholic Social Teaching.”

"Immersion Experiences"

In addition to weekly sessions during which syllabus materials are studied, there are four, mandatory “immersion experiences” – held about every two months –incorporated into the schedule. These events are designed to bring participants into a “personal encounter with people who have suffered the effects of poverty.” [13]

Participants are given some latitude concerning the kinds of immersion experiences they choose, so this component of the program could be extremely meaningful. However, given the inexperienced nature of co-facilitators and the many suggestions for assistance in arranging these experiences that the program offers, it’s likely they will be filtered through the JustFaith lens.

Furthermore, the third immersion experience is a “Journey to Justice Day” [14] a “specific” kind of immersion experience prepared by the CCHD. Journey to Justice is generally organized as a weekend parish retreat but is condensed to one day for incorporation into the JustFaith program. A forthcoming article will examine Journey to Justice materials separately but it is appropriate at this juncture to consider something of the program’s background.

Author Jeffry Korgen, [15] with long ties to the Alinskyian organizing network Interfaith Worker Justice, [16] refers to JustFaith and Journey to Justice as “Jesus conversion tools” and describes how the Journey to Justice experience brings new leaders into social justice ministry. [17] After warning that “we too often see [other people] as stereotypes, symbols, or statistics,” Korgen indulges in his own stereotype: “When middle – and upper-income Catholics encounter the poor and vulnerable in the context of learning about scripture and church [sic] teaching, the result can be transformative.” [18]

Irony aside, if the “transformative result” were to help disassociated Catholics see the poor as real people and, for the first time, inspire them to be responsive to their needs, Journey to Justice would have accomplished a holy end. However, this is not the “transformative result” sought. The “transformative result” Journey to Justice seeks is acceptance that the poor should be “organized for change, altering existing power relationships to give low-income people a place at the table of public life. They come to the door not to ask for a handout, but to work in partnership with middle and upper-income Catholics from the middle pew to build the kingdom of God…These are the empowered poor! If you can envision this scene, you already have a good idea of how the Journey to Justice retreat works.”[19]

And, as Jack Jezreel has written the foreword to Korgen’s book, we have a good idea of the transformative results JustFaith seeks, too. Developing this idea, then, JustFaith suggests that the fourth and final immersion “consist of a legislation advocacy experience.”[20]

Opening Retreat

There are also two, mandatory weekend-long retreats, held at the beginning and close of the 30-week program. The first “lays the foundation for community building and trust that is required in this formation process” and the second “ties together the conversion experience,” ascertaining that participants set concrete goals for future action. [21]

To that end, the opening retreat isn’t focused on social issues but “on the work of becoming church for each other.” [22] Much of what transpires is familiar, using language, for example, that contains invocations to the Holy Spirit or Jesus, which would make a Catholic comfortable. There are also ice-breakers, self-focused exercises, and readings – some from the scriptures and some from contemporary writers, such as four-page handout on the “Stages of Human Growth and Spiritual Development” adapted from the work of Ken Wilber, Chris Cowan, Don Beck, and Clare Graves, proponents of spiral dynamics, a theory of evolving core values, including spiritual values.

The JustFaith adaptation presents this material as eight “faith journey” stages. As the stages begin with the first typified by infancy (and late-stage Alzheimer’s victims) and the last is typified by Gandhi’s ideas of pluralistic harmony, it’s obvious that the authors have arranged the stages in a hierarchy, with the first stage being the most immature.

Participants aren’t told that this is not a Christian theory of human development but are simply instructed to find which stage “most closely reflects where you are on your spiritual journey.” Someone who believes he must be obedient to a rightful authority, which is exemplified, we are told, by religious fundamentalism, is at Stage D (the fourth stage), quite low down in the hierarchy of development. Stage F (the sixth stage) includes people who read “the Bible in solidarity with the poor” or are active in human rights campaigns. They are people who are comfortable with "complexity and chaos", and the implication is that they are more spiritually developed. [23]

These subtle toxins are massaged into the soul via exercises such as the “The Sacred Art of Listening,” taken from the title of a book by Kay Lindahl. [24] “Sacred listening,” participants are instructed, makes “no judgments,” has “no assumptions,” but “is in communion with the speaker,” and so forth. 

The stage is now set for the formation of a fellowship that seeks a “spiritual development” that has nothing to do with Catholic understanding of the human person. That’s a big problem for a Catholic program.

More on this in the future...

For my previous article on JustFaith, see here.


[1] Detailed accounts of recent grants can be read at and at
[2] For former (C)CHD educational programs and an in depth discussion of their liberationist perspective, see Catholic Media Coalition, USCCB, Dossier on Liberationism in the USCCB: or Stephanie Block, “Mopping Up the CCHD,” Spero
News, 4-14-10:
[3] CCHD has been a “key partner” of JustFaith since 2000. “The collaboration has allowed CCHD to contribute to the development of JustFaith programs and has improved CCHD’s communication with the Catholic community.”
[4] Press Release:
[5] JustFaith, “Getting Started: Overview,” 2010-2011, p. 2.
[6]These include: the 1996 Call to Action national conference; the 1997 Call to Action national conference,
“Spirituality of Commitment Making Promises, Friends and Justice”; the August 11-13, 2000 fourth West Coast Call to Action Conference, at San Jose State University, “Transformed People, Transformed Parish, Transformed World;” and the 2007 keynote at CTA-affiliated Pax Christi National Conference.
[7] See for example, Suzie Siegel, “Mexican women work for progress,” The Tampa Tribune, 3-8-96.
[8] See
[9] “Stop the War on Women – What’s at Stake:”
[10] JustFaith website:
John T. Williams, Faith
[11] “Getting Started: Overview…” p. 3.
[12] “Getting Started: Overview…” p. 14.
[13] “Getting Started: Overview…” p. 16.
[14] JustFaith, “Immersion Experiences – Catholic Version,” 2011-12, p12
[15] Korgen in currently Executive Director for the Diocese of Metuchen’s Department of Diocesan Planning.
[16] Korgen has, among other things, served on the IWJ Board.
[17] Jeffry Odell Korgen (foreword by Jack Jezreel), "My Lord and My God: Engaging Catholics in Social Justice Ministry", Paulist Press, 2007, p. 55.
[18] My Lord and My God…p. 56.
[19] My Lord and My God…p. 57.
[20] “Immersion Experiences …,” p13.
[21] “Getting Started: Overview…” p. 16.
[22] JustFaith, Catholic version, “Opening Retreat 2011-12,” p. 7.
[23] JustFaith, Catholic version, “Opening Retreat 2011-12,” Friday Night session, pp 11-14.
[24] Kay Lindahl is a Global Council Trustee for the United Religions Initiative, chair-elect for the North American Interfaith Network and president of the Alliance for Spiritual Community. She is also an ordained interfaith minister, founder of The Listening Center, and the author of several books.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Obscure Anglo-Saxon Saints: Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

St. Cuthbert's Chapel on the Inner Farne

It seems somewhat unjust to group St. Cuthbert amongst the sancti obscuri of the Anglo-Saxon period since he was renowned all over the kingdom during his life; Cuthbert has actually been called one of the most popular of all English medieval saints. Unfortunately, like many other Anglo-Saxon saints, Cuthbert's notoriety slowly faded after the Norman invasion and his cultus died out after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, though it could be argued that his renown never truly faded in the immediate vicinity of Northumbria, where he was that region's official patron.

St. Cuthbert life (634-687) is recorded in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book II, Chapters 27-32. Bede tells us that Cuthbert began his monastic vocation under the direction of St. Eata of Hexham, who instructed him in the Scriptures, and also of St. Boisil, Abbot of Melrose, where he began his monastic training.

During his time at Melrose Cuthbert led a very active life, traveling into the wild Northumbrian countryside to preach in the remote villages, St. Bede telling us that he preferred those that were especially inaccessible and squalid. Wherever he went crowds gathered to hear his preaching, and Bede, though he doesn't strictly say so, infers that Cuthbert may have been graced with the gift of reading hearts, as he states that none of who came to him for confession could hide even the smallest sin but willingly came forward and poured out everything. Bede tells us that he would be gone for weeks at a time, sometimes more than a month, on these journeys. We could thus draw a parallel between these expeditions and those of the "traveling priests" in the frontier days of our own country.

Cuthbert eventually removed himself to the remote Farne Islands (676), which lie nine miles of the coast of Northumbria. There he built for himself a small hut, chapel and subsistence farm where (after one year of a failed harvest) he grew barley in the second year. He surrounded his hermitage with a massive wall of earth so that he could see nothing but the sky above and there lived in blissful solitude for many years.

In 684 there was a regional Synod at Twyford which was called for the purpose of seeing to the administration of the Church in Northumbria, which had grown to such a degree that the diocese had been split in 678. The bishopric of Hexham had fallen vacant (as St. Eata was at that time Bishop of Lindisfarne). The king and the local church unanimously chose Cuthbert, though when they traveled out to the Farne to inform him of his election, he refused to leave is hermitage. It was only King Egfrith and a very large group of clerics came to the Farne and all knelt before him, imploring him in God's name to take up the bishopric, that he consented. However, Cuthbert was not familiar with the diocese of Hexham and instead arranged to take over Lindisfarne, which he had known since youth, and Eata transferred to Hexham.

Cuthbert served as a model bishop for only two years. In 686 he took ill and returned to his hermitage on the Farne, where he died the same day as his beloved friend Abbot Herefred (20 March, 687). He implored his followers to bury him on his island retreat, but shortly before death consented to burial in Lindisfarne Abbey. His tomb was the site of many miracles, some of which were recorded by St. Bede and are especially noteworthy since, unlike the tales of many of medieval miracles, Bede conducted thorough research into them by personally interviewing those who were the objects of Cuthbert's wonder-working, many of whom were still alive at the time Bede wrote his history.

When his body was disinterred in 698 and moved to an above-ground tomb, his body was found to be perfectly incorrupt. St. Cuthbert was perhaps the most beloved saint of northern England prior to St. Thomas a' Becket.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"No one who denies the Son has the Father"

It seems that much of the inter religious dialogue in the Catholic Church these days is built upon a very fundamental but faulty premise: that human beings can be in meaningful communion with God the Father outside of the unique mediation of Jesus Christ. This is the premise behind a lot of the interactions between the Church and other religions - when we ask a non-Christian to pray, we are in fact assuming that they have some sort of communion or access to God the Father apart from the covenant of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, why ask them to pray?

If we say to a Hindu, "Pray for world peace," to whom are we asking them to pray? There are only three options: First, we are asking them to pray to a god who does not exist, in which case such a prayer is fruitless. Second, perhaps it is the devil they are addressing? The Fathers did in fact believe this was the case. St. Cyprian teaches that the gods of the pagans are actually demons:

"They are impure and wandering spirits, who, after having been steeped in earthly vices, have departed from their celestial vigor by the contagion of earth, and do not cease, when ruined themselves, to seek the ruin of others; and when degraded themselves, to infuse into others the error of their own degradation" (On the Vanity of Idols, 6).

Whether or not be the case, let us presume that the Church would not knowingly ask pagans to pray to demons; at least this is certainly not the intention when some Church dignitary is asking pagans to pray; if this were the case, it would certainly be sinful. This leaves us with only the third option: They are presuming that the pagan already has a real, meaningful relationship with the true God, such that this pagan can petition God for worldly favors and expect to be heard and answered. And all this without the necessity of Jesus Christ. This must be the presumption behind asking pagans to pray - otherwise, we are either asking them to pray to the devil or to nothing, which wouldn't make any sense. The Church us behaving as if these non-Christians have the same access to God that we do.

If we look at Benedict's closing words at Assisi III, we see this statement: "Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness and life, love!" He here abjures all the false religions, in the name of the one true God, to bring about those fruits of the spirit that only the true religion is capable of. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Gal 5:22-23) Are pagans now able to bring about these fruits on the earth without the necessity of the Spirit of Christ?

This came rushing home to me this evening during Holy Hour as I was reflecting on the first letter of John. He says: 

"Who is a liar but he who denies Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Father has the Son also" (1 John 2:22-23).

"Anyone who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God" (2 John 8)

And let us not forget our Lord's words in the Gospel of Luke: "He who rejects me rejects Him who sent me" (Luke 10:16). St. Paul tells us in Romans 5:1-2, "Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God."

Bottom line: Rejection of Christ as Lord and Messiahs means ipso facto rejection of God the Father.  You cannot refuse to accept Christ and still claim to have access to the Father. The only reason we can "obtain access to this grace in which we stand" is because of the peace we have with God the Father through Christ our Lord. Without Christ, there is no peace with God and certainly no communion with Him in such a way that we can stand shoulder to shoulder with non-Christians and ask the non-Christian to pray to their god for worldly favors.

It is especially disheartening to read this sort of stuff in the works of Mother Teresa, who has recently been beatified. In her book Life in the Spirit: Reflections, Meditations and Prayers, she says:

We never try to convert those who receive [aid from Missionaries of Charity] to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men — simply better — we will be satisfied. It matters to the individual what church he belongs to. If that individual thinks and believes that this is the only way to God for her or him, this is the way God comes into their life — his life. If he does not know any other way and if he has no doubt so that he does not need to search then this is his way to salvation.” (pp 81-82)

I have been unable to authenticate the following quote, so take it with a grain of salt, but in an interview with the publication Christian News, one of Mother Teresa's nuns was asked how the Missionaries of Charity how they prepare dying Hindus for death. The nun replied, "We tell them to pray to their Bhagwans - to their gods." Based on everything I have ever read about Mother Teresa, and what I know about missionaries in general, it would not surprise me if this were totally factual. I do know that Michael Zima in his book Mother Teresa: The Case for the Cause has documented some similar statements from  Mother Teresa herself.  There she explains how she treats dying persons with the appropriate rites from their respective faiths:“for Hindus, water from the Ganges on their lips; for Muslims reading from the Koran; for the rare Christian, the last rites” (p. 142).

Our inter religious dialogue, and certainly our missions, will not bear any fruit until we get rid of this unfounded assumption that access to God can be granted through all religions. Our missions and dialogue with the world's religions need to be founded on this one basic principle: "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me" (John 14:6).

Let's return to St. Cyprian for our closing thought:

"For whereas in the Gospels, and in the epistles of the apostles, the name of Christ is alleged for the remission of sins; it is not in such a way as that the Son alone, without the Father, or against the Father, can be of advantage to anybody; but that it might be shown to the Jews, who boasted as to their having the Father, that the Father would profit them nothing, unless they believed on the Son whom He had sent. For they who know God the Father the Creator, ought also to know Christ the Son, lest they should flatter and applaud themselves about the Father alone, without the acknowledgment of His Son, who also said, "No man comes to the Father but by me." But He, the same, sets forth, that it is the knowledge of the two which saves, when He says, "And this is life eternal, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." Since, therefore, from the preaching and testimony of Christ Himself, the Father who sent must be first known, then afterwards Christ, who was sent, and there cannot be a hope of salvation except by knowing the two together" (Letter 72:17).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Assisi III: Desolating Sacrilege

I am mad. More than mad, fuming. So, we were supposed to not get upset about Assisi III? We were supposed to trust that the indiscretions of Assisi I and Assisi II under John Paul "the Great" would not be repeated at Assisi III because Pope Benedict was more circumspect and would not go in for anything questionable? Well, we went ahead cautiously and extended Benedict the benefit of the doubt...and......then.......we get this ABOMINATION: prayer to the pagan deity Olokun inside the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi!

This is WRONG. I shouldn't even have to explain why this is wrong. But sadly, some pop apologists will probably come trotting out explaining why this "really isn't problematic" if you just "understand" it the right way. I don't know what's more sad - the pagan worship, or some Catholics defense of it. This is just wrong, and if you can't see why this is wrong, then I don't know what to say to you. It makes me sick to even think of arguing about this. It is just plain wrong.

I just this week got done with a long study of the Old Testament prophets (just today I was going through Hosea and Joel); I've said this before and I'll say it a million times - nobody who has really read and dug into the Old Testament should in anyway be in the dark about how God feels about pagan worship - especially in His consecrated temples! Jerusalem was destroyed for this sort of thing. That's what the whole Book of Ezekiel is about, for crying out loud! It's just as I finished weeks of reading passages about how pagan worship is corruptive, how hateful it is to God, how when His people flirt around with other religions it is tantamount to spiritual adultery - how whole kingdoms and populations were striken by God and carried off into captivity in punishment for these sorts of sins. And then I come online and see THIS DESOLATING SACRILEGE!

It reminds me of this passage from Hosea:

"With you is my contention, O priest. You shall stumble by day, the prophet also shall stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children...I will change their glory into shame...And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways, and requite them for their deeds. They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the harlot, but not multiply; because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish harlotry....My people inquire of a thing of wood, and their staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of harlotry has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the harlot. They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains, and make offerings upon the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good" (Hos. 4:4-13).

How hateful is it to God when His priests lead people astray by providing for such scandalous behavior, such abomination as pagan worship in a Christian Church that is canonically for the celebration of the Mass! How hateful it is to God when our pastors lead us into a spirit of idolatry. It is certain that, if we forget the law of God, He will enter into judgment with us, and especially with His priests. I accuse no pastor or priest specifically; I don't know what Benedict knew or didn't, but somebody set this up, and whoever did should be canned permanently.

But here is what I really want to know: You Catholics who apologize for and defend the pope no matter what he does, who make excuse after excuse for these Vatican gaffes, will you make apology for this? Will you step forward and defend this abomination? What excuse will you offer? What twisted conciliar document or statement of Aquinas taken out of context will you bring forward in a feeble attempt to make pagan worship in a Christian Church look acceptable? What say you? Will anyone dare to defend this? Any Catholic who defends this has, in my opinion, simply lost touch with who God is, what God demands of us, and how offensive pagan worship truly is to Him, especially when it is done in His sacred precincts, defiling our altars and insulting the memory of St. Francis who was willing to undergo a trial by fire in order to prove the TRUTH of our religion and the FALSITY of others.

Pray. Do penance. Preach the truth. This nonsense has to stop. Every time I think I can reconcile myself with the post-conciliar state of the Church - every time I think "You know, I don't have to be a Traditionalist Catholic; just plain Catholic is good enough for me!" - every time I think that, something like this goes and happens and reminds me why I consider myself a Traditionalist.

This is not the Faith of our Fathers. I didn't go through a life of agnosticism and make the burdensome detour into and out of Pentecostal Protestantism and into the Catholic Church to be greeted with THIS. St. Francis, pray for us!

And Elijah said to them: "Take the prophets of Baal, and let not one of them escape." And when they had taken them, Elijah brought them down to the Brook Kidron and killed them there (1 Kings 18:40).

But wait, Elijah - they were sincere!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Jimmy Fallon Prefers Traditional Catholicism

Did anybody happen to catch the NPR interview with Jimmy Fallon on "Fresh Air" the other day? It was quite interesting. After a lot of banter about his television program and Saturday Night Live, he talked about his upbringing as a Catholic in the 1980s. Unlike a lot of popular comedians who were raised Catholic, Fallon had nothing negative to say about Catholicism whatsoever. He said that he was very grateful for his Catholic upbringing and loved everything about the Church - he loved Catholic school (St. Mary of the Snow in Saugerties, NY), loved the nuns, loved going to Mass, loved receiving at the rail, and loved the way attending Mass made him feel. He even shared that he had been an altar server, revered and looked up to his parish priest and had once believed he had a vocation to the priesthood. This sort of warm praise of Catholicism was a very welcome thing to hear from a pop comedian.

But even more interesting was when the host, Terry Gross, asked him if he was still a practicing Catholic. Fallon explained that, as often happens, the practice of his faith waned during his teen years. He ended up getting into show business and moved out to Los Angeles. There, around the mid-ninties, he tried to attend Mass again but complained that the Mass had "changed" from the Irish-Catholic Masses he knew as a boy in Saugerties. Among his complaints: the atmosphere was way too casual, there was a rock band playing, people were holding hands constantly, and (tongue in cheek of course, or hopefully) he complained about frisbees being thrown around. This, he said, was not Mass. He went on to say how he cherished the old Mass - the bells, the incense, the kneelers and the aesthetic it all created. Then, in the one quote I can recall with certainty from the interview, he said that he totally disapproved of Mass with all the "bells and whistles," following that up by saying, "Just give me the Mass."

It was inspiring, but also sad, because this experience of an apparently ultra-banal Novus Ordo in the L.A. diocese turned him away from the practice of his faith and, though he still considers himself Catholic, he no longer attends Mass at all. Sure, Fallon is ultimately responsible for whether or not he fulfills his Sunday obligation, but I'd have to think, when stuff like this happens, the persons responsible for these abominable liturgies also share the blame.

Also interesting is what more "traditional" Mass it is that Fallon is remembering so fondly. As someone born in 1974, he never knew the pre-1969 liturgy. It sounds like what he experienced as a boy was simply the Novus Ordo done more or less according to the rubrics in one of New York's more historic churches. He recalls nuns, communion rails, and incense, and this all in the late eighties!

I just found this whole exchange very interesting - usually when we hear a celebrity talking about their faith life, it is a bunch of nonsense about Kabbalah or Scientology; if their background is Catholic, usually they just rip on the Church. Fallon's love for the more traditional elements of Catholicism, and his distaste for the modern expressions of the liturgy, is something neat to hear. Let's all say a prayer for him today that he will rediscover his beloved faith and find the right parish to worship in.

If you want to hear the interview, you can listen to it here. He doesn't start talking about Catholicism until the end.

By the way, if you are wondering why I was listening to NPR, it is because it is the only radio station that I can get in my car ever since I accidentally knocked my antenna off with a snow shovel two years ago. I felt I had to defend myself there.

Other articles on celebrities and Catholicism:

Peter Steele 1962-2010
Chris Cornell 1964-2017
Joy Behar: Saints are "mentally ill"

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sacral Kingship: The Ottonians (Part 8)

It's been awhile since I posted on this series, so now is about as good a time as any to do some catch-up! This week we will look at how the institution of Christian monarchy was changed by the German Ottonian dynasty. To read the previous post in this series, click here.

The Ottonians

By the late 9th century, the Carolingian Empire that Charlemagne had forged was in desperate straits. Despite the suicidal implications for his empire, his successors followed the old Frankish custom of dividing their lands up among their heirs; the Treaty of Verdun in 843 delineated what realms would be ruled by whom. The so-called “Middle Kingdom” of Lothair was picked apart by its larger rivals to the east and west, and soon there appeared an “East Frankish” and a “West Frankish” ruler. The last Carolingians to hold these offices died in 987 and 911, respectively.
In the east Frankish holdings of Saxony and the German dukedoms, authority fell to the local dukes. After much civil discord, Otto I of Saxony was crowned king in 936 and Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope John XII in 962 [26]. The major problem facing him at the time was that the prevailing understanding of the political role of the office of the king was that he was only the highest lord in a series of lords and vassals. Beyond that, he held little power that was not honorary or ceremonial. Real power was vested in the body of dukes who had exercised authority ever since the late Roman times. The ducal office was hereditary, and thus ensured that any king would always have powerful opponents who presented a check to his power.
Otto, however, was not content with a merely honorary kingship. He took Charlemagne as his model and exploited to the fullest the prevailing attitudes towards sacral kingship in order to strengthen his position, the first of which was being crowned king at Aachen instead of his native Saxony, thus evoking all the connections with Charlemagne [27]. The major act he took against the power of the dukes, and the one for which he is most remembered, is his use of ecclesiastical persons to fill vacant secular positions.
This had three advantages: first, since the clergy was celibate, they had no offspring that they could pass on their titles to, and thus the offices could not take on a hereditary nature. Second, because they were put there by appointment and not birth, they owed their position to Otto personally and thus were usually very loyal. Third, because they were high level churchmen they were generally very well educated, or at least literate, which is more than can be said of most of the German dukes of the tenth century. This ensured a faithful, educated administration that could be switched around or altered if the king so chose and provided him with a bulwark against the recalcitrant dukes.
Otto did not “appoint” bishops in the direct sense, but manipulated their elections by requiring his assent to their appointment. He was doing nothing novel by this; as we have seen, kings going back to late Roman times were viewed as having some sort of authority over the Church. An extant letter of St. Ambrose of Milan complains bitterly to Theodosius about interference of the latter in Church affairs, saying that “bishops usually judge Christian emperors; not emperors, bishops.” [28] Nevertheless, Christian rulers continued their involvement in Church matters; the Patriarch of Constantinople, for example, was always an appointee of the Byzantine emperor. The 5th Council of Orleans in 549 in the west stipulated that bishops were to be appointed cum voluntate regis, that is, “with the will of the king" [29]. This led to immediate abuse by the Merovingians, and the 3rd Council of Paris in 557 tried to crush the abuse, but the practice of royal approval went on unopposed. As mentioned above, Charles Martel was one of the worst abusers of the privilege, and Charlemagne continued it, albeit in a manner more acceptable to the Church. Therefore, by the period of Otto, royal intervention in episcopal elections was a well established royal prerogative grounded in the king’s role as guardian of the Church in his realm. “For 200 years, then, there had never been a time when the western kings and emperors did not, more or less, exercise an arbitrary control over the candidates for the episcopal dignity." [30]
Though the early Church, and men like St. Ambrose, rejected this lay interference in their affairs, the clergy of Carolingian and Ottonian times were quite content with it. After all, it provided an excellent opportunity for the exercise of ecclesiastical influence at court. A bishop who received an appointment from Otto could wield a considerable amount of clout with the king on behalf of his diocese. As long as able and faithful bishops were appointed (and under Charlemagne and Otto, most appointments were wise ones), there was little cause for complaint [31]. Under Otto, the Church felt itself to be regaining its dignity and authority
Otto’s innovation was not in that he meddled in episcopal appointments, which as has been demonstrated, was nothing new. Rather, it was in his application of the method that was new. Never before had so extensive a program of episcopal election been undertaken, and never so methodically. But Otto had in mind the complete subordination of the German princes to himself, and the widespread use of the royal prerogative in episcopal elections was the surest way to accomplish this.

Once Otto was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 962, he further extended his power by claiming, on his authority as emperor and temporal lord of the Christian realm, the right to approve papal elections as well. The papacy was understandably unhappy with this situation, but it had little choice. Otto had come into Italy at the behest of Pope John XII with the purpose of freeing Rome from the military control of the usurper Berengarius. Before Otto agreed to this, however, he extracted the “Ottonian privilege” from the papacy, which was essentially an oath stating that a new pope could never be elected without he or his son’s permission [32]. This was a natural consequence of Otto’s interference in German episcopal elections. If the Church was to serve the crown, which was what Otto desired, then the Church must be under royal authority, which meant that the papacy had to be bent to serve the will of the Holy Roman Emperor. Had not the prevailing ideology since the Carolingian times been that the emperor was the earthly parallel to God, the “Emperor” of heaven? 

Essentially, the original plan of the papacy was backfiring. Pope Leo III had certainly crowned Charlemagne with the understanding that the imperial dignity of the Carolingians came not from themselves but from the papacy, who had the authority to “translate” it from the Greeks to them. However, Otto used this same authority to claim that the Holy Roman Emperor, by his divine appointment, had a special and authoritative role over the Church that no other prince did, by virtue of the very same privilege that Leo III had thought would keep the emperors beholden to will of the papacy. Otto had turned the tables on the papacy, and the Roman pontiffs were getting a dose of what the Patriarchs of Constantinople had been enduring for six hundred years under their meddlesome emperors.

What is the influence of Otto I on the understanding of temporal authority in the Middle Ages? His greatest contribution is in his understanding that the office of Holy Roman Emperor gave him a kind of lordship over the Church of Rome. Previous kings had applied this ideology to their own local churches and diocese, but Otto was the first to apply it to the Church of Rome itself, at least explicitly. Though Otto was solicitous to choose capable bishops to fill vacancies, the attention a bishop had to pay to temporal matters necessarily detracted from the time he could spend attending to spiritual ones. This had in it the seeds of abuse. Otto enmeshed temporal and spiritual lordship so tightly that it would take another three hundred years of vigorous debate to figure out where the boundaries of each lay. The Investiture Controversy was largely an attempt to undo Otto’s creation. It could be said that the Protestant Revolt was another.

Next time we'll look at the English house of Wessex, particularly the person of Alfred the Great.


26] Both his coronation as king and emperor were in imitation of Charlemagne; he was crowned king at Aachen, where Charlemagne had his court and, like Charlemagne, came to Italy at the behest of the pope, where he was crowned emperor on Feb. 2, 962.

27] John J.Gallagher, Church and State in Germany Under Otto the Great (University Press: Brookland, D.C., 1938), 22

28] Ambrose, Letter 21

29] Fichtenau, 56

30] Ibid., 58

31] “They [the clergy] never contested this infringement upon their canonical rights, for it was most desirable that their bishop have influence at court.” Ibid., 59

32] Ibid., 87