Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Alleged Catholic "Obsession" with Homosexuality and Abortion

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has predictably found some serious defects in the LCWR's role of representating the women religious of the United States. The crux of the CDF's statement is that there are "serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life. On the doctrinal level, this crisis is characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration which leads, in turn, to a loss of a “constant and lively sense of the Church” among some Religious."  In other words, women religious no longer see themselves as Brides of Christ.

From this "diminution of the...Christological center" of religious life comes other inevitable diminutions and omissions, especially as regards the Church's teaching on life issues. The document says:

"[W]hile there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose."

So the positions of the LCWR with regards to the Church's life issues are deficient, and hence, they are rightfully chastised by the CDF for it, among other things. Yet, when the CDF exercises its rightful function of passing judgment on whether a Catholic organization is following Catholic dogma, we instead hear the accusations from the progressives and modernists that the Church is in error for condemning these trends among the LCWR and that the CDF's statement reveals how "obsessed" the Church has become with the issues of abortion and homosexuality.

This nonsense about the Church "obsessing" over life issues and sexual sins is quite a common refrain among the enemies of the Catholic faith. It is protested that Catholics are singling out abortion and homosexuality as worse sins than others. "If the Church would devote the time and resources it uses attacking homosexuality to combating alcoholism, poverty or child abuse, the world would be a much better place." The Church's single-minded, obsessive focus on the "life issues" distracts her from adequately loving the poor and attending to other important corporal works of mercy. Anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality have become the Church's core teachings, our opponents suggest.

The tactic of playing social justice issues against life issues is a stupid false dichotomy, as any devout Catholic or anyone who actually does love poor people and the unborn at the same knows. But this argument about the Church's "obsession" with life issues is interesting. It is true that the Church in the United States probably spends more time and money defending traditional marriage and the rights of the unborn than on any other issues. But does this fact mean that we Catholics are "obsessed" with these issues and see them as the most important Catholic teachings?

Here's the thing. YES, there are lots of other Catholic teachings, and YES, there are lots of other sins; alcoholism, poverty and child abuse are certainly very serious problems that need to be addressed. But (and this is a very serious but), no one is out there trying to redefine the evils of alcoholism, poverty and child abuse and trying to turn them into positive goods. There are no such groups as the "Society for the Promotion of Alcoholism" or the "Child Abuse Supporters Network." There are no mass protests of people chanting, "More poverty! More poverty!" No one is redefining theft as a virtue, or advocating for lying as just one of many acceptable forms of communication, or touting the benefits of drunkenness. In none of these cases is society moving to redefine sin into goodness or vice into virtue. The secular world, by and large, still understands alcoholism, child abuse, et al to be evils, or at least socially undesirable.

But, supposing for the sake of argument that there was a massive public outcry to promote child abuse; suppose that there did exist numerous large, national organizations, well staffed and well funded with important political connections, who were lobbying for tax-payer funded liquor for alcoholics or the abolition of laws against perjury and the promotion of lying as an acceptable form of communication. Suppose we lived in such a world where such things were common. If that were the case, then you can be sure, the Catholic Church would be in the forefront of the fight against such social evils. Bishops would be speaking out against drunkenness, there would be homilies on the virtue of honesty, a whole slew 501 (c) 3 lay organizations dedicated to promoting the welfare of children and combating the pro-child abuse crowd, and there would be a whole market created for pro-sobriety bumper stickers. If these sorts of vices were being redefined as virtues in the manner that abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia are today, then I am positive that Catholics individually and the Church collectively would counter this assault on truth with a campaign as equally vigorous as the one being waged against abortion in this country.

But of course, nobody is proposing to promote drunkenness or redefine lying as a virtue. But people are in fact doing this with abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia, three acts that the entire Western Tradition has seen as gravely evil and depraved until relatively recently. In these cases of the life issues, we do in fact have a society-wide attempt to redefine as positive goods things that were unanimously understood to be evil.

Thus, it is certainly not that the Church is "obsessed" abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia; on the contrary, it is our corrupt culture that is obsessed with redefining the morality of acts that have always been viewed as evil. The Church is not attacking a particular point with any special vehemence; it is simply putting its finger in the dyke at the point of the leak, or deflecting a specific blow aimed at a specific spot on the Body.

If the society will stop redefining immoral acts as moral, I'm sure the Church would stop "obsessing" over the redefinitions. If the state would stop legislating on matters that are ultimately moral and not at all political, then the Church would happily "stay out of politics." But unfortunately, the redefinitions continue and legislation in favor of popular support of immoral actions continues, and so the Church must continue to fight and educate on the life issues and stand firm to maintain its right to pass judgment on the morality (or immortality) of actions of government. What people presume is a Church attack from one direction is really a Christian counter-offensive to a secular onslaught from the other; and society is too blind to see it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

New articles this week!

Here's what's been added to the USC website this week:

The Myth of the Religious Wars
Primer on Restoring Liturgical Music (from a contributor; the first in what will be a series on sacra musica)
Predestination: Problems and Solutions (also from a contributor)
The Human Experience (movie review)
Expendables 2 (movie review)
The Amazing Spider Man (movie review)

I am sorry that besides the article on the religious wars and the film reviews I was unable to write anything myself; I spent the entire week researching and working on the article of the religious wars, but it ended up being a very well done piece of research.

Two of the three movie reviews this week are from a contributor; Blake, from "Popin Ain't Easy", who does a majority of my reviews; the Predestination and Music articles are both from different contributors. If you'd like to write something for the site, please let me know. I am trying to build this site into a clearinghouse of well researched, well written articles on all things traditional and Catholic. If you want to be part of the effort, even in the smallest way, please contact me, and remember to follow this blog on Facebook.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

How did hermits keep the Sunday Obligation?

If you are anything like me, then you must have wondered occasionally, upon reading the tales of St. Benedict spending years alone in an inaccessible cave on Subiaco or St. Daniel Stylites sitting for thirty years atop a pillar, how on earth these hermit-saints fulfilled the Sunday obligation which stipulates participation in Mass every Sunday? When did these holy hermit saints ever receive Holy Communion?

At first glance, it might seem plausible to suggest that the canonical obligation to attend Mass every Sunday was not yet defined, and that in the age of the Desert Fathers and the early Benedictines, Christians basically went to Mass on Sundays as a matter of custom, but not as a strict obligation that needed to be fulfilled on pain of sin. This explanation would allow the hermits leeway to spend extended periods of time in solitude in the wilderness without attending Mass and yet not be guilty of sin.

The only problem with this explanation is that it is not historically accurate. Although canon law as such did not crystallize into a uniform legal code until the 12th century, "canons" certainly existed in the Early Church which prescribed attendance at Sunday Mass and imposed ecclesiastical censures for those who did not. For example, the Council of Elvira (300) decreed: "If anyone in the city neglects to come to church for three Sundays, let him be excommunicated for a short time so that he may be corrected" (Canon 21). In the Apostolic Constitutions, which belong to the end of the fourth century, both the hearing of the Mass and the rest from work are prescribed, and this is attributed to the Apostles. Thus, by the fourth century the general necessity of attending Mass on Sundays was well-known; note that these decrees are contemporary with the earliest Desert Fathers and predate St. Benedict at least a century and a half. Thus, it cannot really be said that a Sunday obligation was unknown in these early centuries. Besides, there was always Hebrews 10:25m which encouraged Christians to meet together regularly for worship, "Not forsaking our assembly, as some are accustomed..."

A further argument against this position is that it does not help us solve the dilemma for hermits who came much later in history, men like St. Cuthbert of Linidsfarne (d. 687) who lived in solitude for eight years on a small island in the North Sea; or Robert of Knaresborough (1160-1218), a hermit who spent his life in a cave in the vicinity of York and certainly lived after the period when the canonical Sunday obligation was clearly defined and universally known.

If the obligation was already known in the days of the Desert Fathers and earliest western hermits, then perhaps we may postulate that they in fact did receive communion regularly? For example, when we read that St. Daniel Stylites lived on top of a pillar for thirty years and never came down even once, we assume of course that though he was not coming down, someone else was coming up; otherwise, how did he obtain food? And if we assume that some disciple was regularly bringing food to fulfill the demands of bodily health, may we not also assume that some disciple likewise regularly brought him Holy Communion to fulfill the demands of spiritual health? When we read of St. Anthony and his community of monks, we must presume there was some priest among them who said Mass and distributed communion to the community. This presumption is based upon the acknowledgement that these individuals were eminently holy and would not out themselves in living arrangements that would preclude them from attending Mass or receiving Holy Communion. Thus, whenever we read about a holy hermit, we must always assume that some provision was made to fulfill this obligation.

This is the view I myself took of this matter for many years, until I realized three very strong weaknesses in the argument:

First, it depends upon a very powerful assumption - that whenever we read of a holy hermit or saintly recluse, we must always assume that they were receiving communion weekly even when their biographies make no mention of it. Surely, had they been receiving communion weekly, their devout hagiographers would have taken care to point this out? But regardless, it is poor history to simply assume that something was regularly going on when there is no real evidence to support such an assumption.

Second, many of the saints' lives positively rule out such explanations. St. Athanasius' biography if St. Anthony is very specific in stating that, after the saint moved into a fortress in the Egyptian desert, he went without any human contact for almost twenty years. How silly would it be for St. Athanasius to say this if what he really meant was, "Except that he left to go to Mass at the local church every week." No; Athanasius is clear that Anthony had not human contact for many years. The life of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne also states plainly that Cuthbert lived in a small cell on the Farne Islands inaccessible to the outside world except by a small window and that Cuthbert never left it. The life of St. Benedict written by Pope St. Gregory the Great says that the holy Father, when living on Mount Subiaco, dwelt in an inaccessible cave on a sheer cliff face and that he had no human contact for several years, save from the monk Romanus who would lower food down via rope once in awhile. When these biographers go out of their way to stress that these holy hermits had no human contact, how can we justify presuming that they either left for Mass once a week or else received someone who gave them Holy Communion? Of course, perhaps in communities like the one that sprouted up around Anthony later in his life there would be priests present, but it doesn't do away with the passages that specifically deny any human interaction for very long periods.

Finally, even if Anthony or Benedict or Cuthbert had someone bringing them Holy Communion, attending Mass is not the same thing as receiving Holy Communion, and simply having someone bring you Holy Communion while you live in a cave does not constitute fulfilling the Sunday obligation, which stipulates not the reception of communion, but the hearing of Mass, regardless of whether or not communion is received. This is an important distinction we should all know (see here); thus, even if it were true that someone brought these holy men communion once a week, the fundamental problem of how they fulfilled their Sunday obligation would not be resolved.

This is still true for those hermits who reserved the Blessed Sacrament in their cells so that they could receive Communion occasionally, which was common. It does not solve the problem of the Sunday obligation.

If they knew of the Sunday obligation, and we can reasonably assume they did not have some secret way of fulfilling it, are we left with nothing else than to accuse them of sin for intentionally missing Mass? God forbid; the men are saints because they are holy, and they would not be holy if they were guilty of habitually sinning. What are we to do then? Fortunately, there is one other solution, one that I think is very satisfactory.

Let us begin with two assumptions which I do not think any serious Catholic would dispute: first, that the life of the Desert Fathers and hermits was pleasing to God; and second, that God does not command what is impossible. If we can grant these two simple assumptions, then the problem can be happily resolved.

The eremetical life has always been seen as the most radical way of fulfilling the Evangelical Counsels. This is why this style of life was so praised in the early Church and why the early hermits like Anthony were so universally venerated. Thus, whatever a hermit had to do to create the solitude necessary for successfully living the eremetic life was seen as a good, whether living in a cave on a cliff face, dwelling alone in an abandoned Egyptian fortress, or sitting on top of a pillar for three decades. The whole purpose of eremetical life is to cut oneself off from society, including the society of the Church on earth; not because it is bad, but because the solitude afforded by the eremetical life becomes the occasion of perfecting the soul's union with God. This has always been understood and has always been seen as a good in Christina spirituality.

We also know that God does not command what is impossible. Given this, in canon law, as in civil law, there have always been exceptions and relaxations of certain laws based on impossibility of fulfillment. A Catholic astronaut doing a six-month tour of duty on the International Space Station is not held to the Sunday Obligation, for obvious reasons of impossibility of fulfillment; the same applies for Catholics living or traveling in heathen lands where there is no Catholic parish, or even for those Catholics who, though in their homeland, are incapable of attending Mass (camping in Yellowstone twenty miles from the nearest road, laid up in bed with pneumonia, or a single-mother just staying home to attend a sick child). There are a number of reasons why an individual would be practically hindered from getting to Mass, and in these situations - assuming they are legitimate and serious - the canonical obligation is relaxed due to an impossibility of reasonable fulfillment.

Touching on the Sunday Obligation, the 1983 Code of Canon Law states:

"If because of lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the liturgy of the word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place according to the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, or engage in prayer for an appropriate amount of time personally or in a family or, as occasion offers, in groups of families" (Can. 1248§2).

So Canon Law allows for an exception when "celebration of the Eucharist is impossible": and recommends participation in reading and praying of the Scriptures personally or in groups as an acceptable substitute in such circumstances. I know that obviously this canon is part of the 1983 Code, but it recapitulates an earlier canonical tradition that no doubt dates from the earliest days of the Church, as Canon Law is nothing but a summation of what the Church has always done, and the laws concerning the Sunday Obligation were not altered at Vatican II. If we presume that the early fathers and hermits understood the obligation this was, even if they hadn't formulated it systematically, I think the problem disappears.

It does leave us with one question, though: Although we know the obligation is relaxed if its fulfillment is impossible, is it still relaxed if we put ourselves in a situation of impossibility of fulfillment intentionally? Should we not go camping or travel to places where we know ahead of time that we will not be able to attend Mass? And if not, how would this be any different than Benedict choosing to live in a cave for three years with full-knowledge that he would not be able to attend Mass?

It would be tempting to say that such behavior would be wrong for us but alright for Benedict because he is a saint, but I do not think we can allow one standard of behavior for the saints and a different one for everybody else; saints are saints because they are worthy of being imitated, not because we judge them differently and allow bizarre behavior for them but condemn it elsewhere (I have written on this here). No; we have to actually account for the saints' behavior, not just shrug it off as some weird thing that they do because they are saints.

It is my understanding that it is not wrong to intentionally put oneself in a position where fulfillment of the Sunday Obligation is impossible provided this is not our direct intention in doing so. A man who goes camping in the wilderness of Alaska for recreation and misses Mass does not sin by doing so; a man who goes camping in the wilderness of Alaska because he knows his pastor will be preaching against adultery that week and he himself has committed adultery and does not want to suffer through hearing his sin condemned from the pulpit does commit a sin, for his purpose in going camping is simply to avoid having to go to Mass. So I think intention is key here.

To go back to the intention of the hermits, for what end did they withdraw from the world and intentionally put themselves in circumstances where the hearing of Mass was not possible?

Certainly their intention was not to get away from God or avoid obligations; if anything, it was to draw closer to God and more perfectly fulfill their Christian obligations by living the Evangelical Counsels. Such an argument against the eremtical life of the saints that depends on intention for justification would certainly end up justifying their choice of life. This is why no ecclesiastical writer or hagiographer ever seems to think it is an issue than the saints and hermits are not able to attend Mass; they understand that their choice of life makes it impossible to fulfill the Sunday obligation and that in these circumstances, that decision is justified in the eyes of God and the Church.

To sum it up: Though it is true that the Sunday Obligation was known of and was in force in the age of the Desert Fathers and hermits, it seems implicitly understood that the law is relaxed in their case due to an impossibility of fulfillment based upon the nature of the eremetical life itself. Because the eremtical life facilitates the fulfillment of the Evangelical Counsels and is pleasing to God, it is a just and holy thing for men and women to devote themselves to God in this way, and consequently, their intention to leave the world, even if it means an inability to attend Mass regularly, is justified entirely.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Problem of Catholic Unity (part 2)

Last week, we introduced the "problem" of Catholic unity; namely, how can the Catholic Church claim a oneness and supernatural unity substantially superior and different from the vague unity claimed by Protestant sects when a large number of contemporary Catholics are either ignorant of the Church's teachings or else actively dissent from them? How can this be considered unity? After introducing the dilemma, we answered and I think put to rest the objection against the Church's unity based on the existence of ignorant and uncatechized Catholics. Now we have to address the objection against unity based on the existence of rampant dissent within the Church's ranks.

First it is necessary to divest ourselves of the defense that the external dissent does not harm to the unity of the Church because, after all, it is only the internal unity that matters. While tempting, this answer is too similar to the Protestant "unity in disunity" concept - thousands of denominations all in disagreement about every major doctrine but somehow possessing a vague "spiritual" unity based on the fact that they worship the same God. No, we cannot posit such an concept in the Catholic Church.

It is true that the essence of the Church's unity is an internal reality based on the union of the Father with the Son that Christ bestowed upon His Church. However, unity as a mark of the Church is not primarily this internal unity; it is the external, visible unity that flows from that inner unity. St. Cyprian of Carthage, in his famous work On the Unity of the Church, explains that the very unity of the Trinity is the bond which assures the Church of its unity:

"The Lord says, "I and the Father are one"; and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, "And these three are one." And does any one believe that this unity which thus comes from the divine strength and coheres in celestial sacraments, can be divided in the Church, and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills?" (On the Unity of the Church, 6).

That is why unity is one of the Four Marks; the marks are supposed to be visible realities that identify the true Church and distinguish it from false sects. A unity that is ultimately invisible is of no use and cannot be the Oneness that Christ gave to the Church.

That being said, it is helpful to look at this question of Unity in the larger context of the Four Marks. Let's look at the mark of Holiness. We know that when we profess that the Church is Holy that we do not mean that every individual member of the Church is holy, or that her holiness comes from the sum total of everybody's individual holiness - as if we could quantify and add up holiness and proclaim the Church holy if 51% or more of its members qualified as holy.

The Church is not said to be holy because of the individual holiness of its members, but because it possesses the very principle of of holiness within it: the treasury of the grace merited by Christ made available through the sacraments, specifically the sacrament of the Eucharist. This holiness does in fact manifest itself in that a very many members of the Catholic Church end up displaying exemplary personal holiness, so much so that the world takes notice.

Similarly, the Church's oneness is not derived from the sum total of everybody's "unity" - by quantifying how many Catholics are in perfect standing with the Church and then trying to add that up. On the contrary, the Church is One because she has the principle of oneness within her - her Union with Christ. This union is manifested physically in the unity of the Bishops with the Pope, and secondarily with the faithful to the Bishops.

Note that the external manifestation of the Church's unity is not primarily measured by how many of the laity agree with the Magisterium. Although it is an ideal situation for the laity to be in docile obedience to the Holy See, that is not primarily what constitutes the Mark of Unity. The Mark of Unity is found primarily in the relation of the episcopate to the papacy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists three elements to the visible unity in paragraph 815:

What are these bonds of unity? Above all, charity "binds everything together in perfect harmony." But the unity of the pilgrim Church is also assured by visible bonds of communion:

- profession of one faith received from the Apostles;
-common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments;
- apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God's family.

 "Profession of the one faith" refers to the formal profession of the Catholic Faith by the Bishop being in union with Rome. "Common celebration" again refers to public, liturgical celebrations, under the jurisdiction of the Bishop; finally, "apostolic succession" again refers to the legitimacy of a Bishop's episcopal consecration. Ultimately, all the visible elements of the Church's oneness have to do with the Bishops being in union with the Successor of Peter.

Thus, the unity of the Church is not ultimately threatened when theology professors dissent or when whole parishes adopt liberal positions. For the unity to be broken, there would have to be a massive invalidation of Apostolic Succession universally, such as the Sedevecantists posit, combined with a massive disruption or schism across most dioceses in the world and a breaking up of the Church's common profession of Faith. There are some (Sedes, some radical SSPX) who claim that these things have all happened, but I think most thinking people will acknowledge that, however bad things are, this has not happened yet. Most Bishops have no positive intention of breaking from Rome, apostolic succession is not in danger, the sacraments are still celebrated all over the globe and the profession of the Faith (at least publicly) is still generally intact, although it is watered down in some places. Therefore, the dissent of some, even many, does not destroy the Church's oneness - and because Protestants lack apostolic succession, valid sacraments or one common profession, this argument cannot be used to support their claims to a vague spiritual unity. Thus we have a good reason why Catholic unity is not imperiled even while Protestant unity is not affirmed. For Protestants, any real unity really must depend upon the sum of each person's agreement with this or that doctrinal statement.

But, in case this line of argumentation is not strong enough, there are a few other points to take into consideration.

The position in favor of the endurance of the Church's unity becomes stronger when we draw in an important point from traditional Catholic ecclesiology. According to classical Catholic theology, the Mystical Body exists in three states: the Church Militant, comprised of Catholics now upon the earth; the Church Suffering, those Catholics who are undergoing the purifications of Purgatory, and the Church Triumphant, those of the faithful who have gone on to their heavenly reward. Thus, the Church encompasses all the Faithful who have ever lived, both those who have gone on before and those upon the earth at this moment. The Church always has one foot on earth and one in heaven. As such, it can never be bound to the fortunes of just one era upon earth because at any given time the majority of the Church is not on earth but in Purgatory and Heaven, where their union to God is much more perfected that it is for us. In light of the all of the Faithful who are alright perfectly united to God in the Beatific Vision, "a multitude which no man could number" (Rev. 7:9), the failings of even a mass of Catholics on earth pale in comparison; they union of the Blessed with God is so strong and profound as to outshine and overwhelm the sins of a few. Not only do they outshine the wicked, but they actually communicate their blessedness to us through their intercession. This is the essence of the doctrine of the Communion of the Saints.

This is especially the case when we realize that the Church also encompasses all the angels as well, which is a truly innumerable multitude (at the very minimum, one for every soul born on this earth, but obviously more than that). These angels who never fell are in constant union with God and mediate His grace to us through their angelic ministry. St. Augustine comments upon this:

"Therefore due order in the profession of faith required that the Church should be named after the Trinity, like a house after the one who lives in it, a temple after its god, and a city after its founder. Here the whole Church should be understood to be meant, not only the part that is in pilgrimage on earth, praising the name of the Lord from the rising of the sun to its setting and singing a new song after its old captivity, but also that part which has remained with God in heaven ever since its foundation and has never suffered any fall into evil. This part is found among the holy angels and continues in blessedness, giving generous help as it should to its comrades who are on pilgrimage, since they will together form one company in eternity, which is one already by the bond of charity, established to worship the one God" (Enchridion, 56).

Looking at the Church from the light of eternity, these problems about a vocal group dissenting, even a very large group, do not seem so formidable. Please notice that no Protestant sect can make this claim about the unity of their own church, denomination or loose association of churches. For them, who deny any communication in spiritual goods between those in heaven and those on earth, the church really is only that which on earth; the church is bound to the fate of this present generation, and as this generation goes, so goes the Protestant church. Thus they can make no argument for unity based on a church existing in multiple states outside of time.

But even if we discount the argument from the Church's three states and take a purely historical view of the Church, from its founding by Christ to the Second Coming, we can still see a powerful argument for the persistence of the Church's unity in the face of the dissent and defection of some of its members: Because the Church professes to also be Apostolic and a historical Church with roots firmly planted in Tradition, the Catholic Church's unity therefore does not stand or fall with any one generation. There may be much dissent at the moment, but given the hundreds of generations of Catholics who lived and died vehemently attached to the unity of the Faith, it becomes a drop in the bucket. The fact that the generation of St. Athanasius was largely Arian and that the mid-4th century was marked by schism and crisis did not undermine the overall historical unity of the Church; the 4th century dissenters did not destroy it, nor will those of the 21st century. The Church is founded on a certain deposit of Faith, it has guarded and preserved this deposit, and no matter what is going on now, we know from Divine Revelation how this story ends - we know that we totally and unambiguously win in the end.

Therefore, knowing that the Faith began in a unified integrity, by and large has been transmitted in integrity, and that this Faith will eventually win and triumph in the end - that from beginning to end we have the knowledge and promise of unity and integrity - how can we worry that the failings of a single generation will jeopardize that unity? If we look at this generation against the backdrop of hundreds of better generations, we realize, again, that this present crisis is not as big as it seems to us. The sun is setting on this earth, and a setting sun casts long shadows, shadows that seem colder and deeper than the realities they reflect. These sorts of things will vanish away in a moment when Christ descends from heaven with a shout.

We could close with some words from Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis in which that venerable pontiff reminds us that the Church exists as both a supernatural and a natural reality, and that to the extent that there are wounds to her holiness or unity by bad bishops or sinful men, it is not due to the nature of the Church itself, but to sinful tendencies of human nature. Just as a desire for sanctity and a pull towards sin exist in us, so do forces rending unity coexist with the forces compelling unity within the Church. Just as these trials becomes tests of our virtue, so the trials of the Church are tests for her. Furthermore, just as our own souls shall be purified of our own weaknesses when we are glorified, so also shall the Church herself be divested of these human failings on that day when she is presented as a spotless Bride to Christ:

"And if at times there appears in the Church something that indicates the weakness of our human nature, it should not be attributed to her juridical constitution, but rather to that regrettable inclination to evil found in each individual, which its Divine Founder permits even at times in the most exalted members of His Mystical Body, for the purpose of testing the virtue of the Shepherds no less than of the flocks, and that all may increase the merit of their Christian faith. For, as We said above, Christ did not wish to exclude sinners from His Church; hence if some of her members are suffering from spiritual maladies, that is no reason why we should lessen our love for the Church, but rather a reason why we should increase our devotion to her members. Certainly the loving Mother is spotless in the Sacraments by which she gives birth to and nourishes her children; in the faith which she has always preserved inviolate; in her sacred laws imposed on all; in the evangelical counsels which she recommends; in those heavenly gifts and extraordinary grace through which with inexhaustible fecundity, she generates hosts of martyrs, virgins and confessors. But it cannot be laid to her charge if some members fall, weak or wounded. In their name she prays to God daily: "Forgive us our trespasses;" and with the brave heart of a mother she applies herself at once to the work of nursing them back to spiritual health. When, therefore, we call the Body of Jesus Christ "mystical," the very meaning of the word conveys a solemn warning. It is a warning that echoes in these words of St. Leo: "Recognize, O Christian, your dignity, and being made a sharer of the divine nature go not back to your former worthlessness along the way of unseemly conduct. Keep in mind of what Head and of what Body you are a member" (Mystici Corporis, 66).

Even when lay theologians and bishops dissent, even when whole dioceses fall into darkness, though it may wound unity, it can never destroy it so long as apostolic succession is maintained, the episcopate of the world remains in canonical union with Rome, and valid sacraments are being administered - furthermore, taking into account the how the disorders of the present age are outweighed by the faithful witness of hundreds of other generations, and how at the end of things, the vast majority of the Church already exists in perfect unity with Christ in the Beatific Vision, we can see that the presence of dissenters and scoffers within the Church is ultimately no threat to her unity. They were be burned up like stubble on the Day of Fire.