Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Francis Refuses Pius XII Beatification Because "There's Still No Miracle"

The following story is being reported in the AP and the Times of Israel regarding comments made by Pope Francis on the possible beatification of Pope Pius XII.

Nicole Winfield 27 May, 2014

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis remained firm in his refusal to allow the beatification of Pope Pius XII, the World War II-era pope accused by some Jews of not speaking out enough against the Holocaust, because he doesn’t have enough miracles in his record

As he flew from Ben-Gurion International Airport Monday night at the conclusion of two day visit to Israel, Francis spoke of his position on the matter and made it clear that, for the time being, the beatification won’t go ahead.

"There’s still no miracle,” he said. “If there are no miracles, it can’t go forward. It’s blocked there.”

We are refraining from offering any editorial commentary at this point, except to note the point of fact that there has been a reported miracle, as detailed here.

Here is the original story from the Times of Israel.

Kudos to Amateur Brain Surgeon for the tip.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ecumenism is the Church's Bad Dream

With the pope's much publicized trip to the Holy Land coming to an end, I thought it appropriate to look at the Common Declaration of Pope Francis and the Patriarch Bartholomew. The meeting between the two prelates was, after all, the putative reason for the trip, as it was meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. Many pundits are really hyping the importance of this meeting and the Common Declaration as a great step forward in the search for Catholic-Orthodox unity. It is epic! It is historic! A giant leap towards full reunion! The full text of the Common Declaration can found here.

In my opinion, however, this declaration is much ado about nothing.

There are two things to be considered: First, issues raised by the text itself, and second, broader obstacles to Catholic-Orthodox unity that remain unresolved. Let us look first at the text of the Declaration, which begins with the Pope unfortunately lending credibility to a historical farce that the Orthodox have been trying to push for centuries - the lie that the See of Constantinople was founded by the Apostle Andrew:

"Our meeting, another encounter of the Bishops of the Churches of Rome and Constantinople founded respectively by the two Brothers the Apostles Peter and Andrew, is a source of profound spiritual joy for us" [Common Declaration, 1].

The assertion that St. Andrew founded the Church of Constantinople is a historical fabrication that the Orthodox began asserting in the fifth century to contest the claims of the papacy, the thinking being that since Andrew was called before Peter by our Lord, a Church founded by Andrew could have a claim to some sort of preeminence. At any rate the West has never accepted this claim. Nor do early Eastern Fathers know anything about it. Eusebius of Caesarea places Andrew's apostolic activity in Scythia and St. Gregory Nazianzus states it was Epirus. Surely if anyone had a motive for trying to bolster the authority of Constantinople it would be Eusebius, the court historian of Constantine, the builder of the New Rome. Yet Eusebius says nothing of St. Andrew founding the Church at Constantinople for the simple reason that this fable had not been invented yet. It was the translation of the relics of Andrew to Constantinople in 357 that probably occasioned the legend that he in fact founded that Church, something the West has never acknowledged. It is greatly to be regretted that Pope Francis gives credence to this historical fiction - this fiction which every serious historian knows to be a fabrication. It would be as silly as Patriarch Bartholomew affirming the Donation of Constantine - something that would be both historically false and damaging to traditional Orthodox claims.

That's just a pet peeve. Let's really dig in to this. The Declaration continues:

"Our fraternal encounter today is a new and necessary step on the journey towards the unity to which only the Holy Spirit can lead us, that of communion in legitimate diversity...While fully aware of not having reached the goal of full communion, today we confirm our commitment to continue walking together towards the unity for which Christ our Lord prayed to the Father so “that all may be one” [ibid., 2]

We all agree and applaud that talking to the Orthodox for the purpose of bringing about unity is a good thing. But what does this unity look like concretely? How do we get there? Are we closer now than we were fifty years ago when Paul VI met Athenagoras? The appeal of the concept of 'unity' is in its vagueness, but let us recall that unity is not a vague thing - it is a very particular ecclesiological concept that brings forth a concrete canonical reality. As in all these ecumenical meetings, the concept of unity is discussed a lot, but what it looks like or how to get there is never discussed. It is as if we are perpetually standing on the shore talking about sailing somewhere but never getting on the ship - or like one of those bad dreams you have where you know you need to get somewhere in a certain time but can't bring yourself to actually get moving. You know you're supposed to be leaving; you can feel it, you are struggling to get you act together, but somehow you never move - never leave.

Modern ecumenism is like the Catholic Church's bad dream. We will see later what underlies this concept.

"This is no mere theoretical exercise, but an exercise in truth and love that demands an ever deeper knowledge of each other’s traditions in order to understand them and to learn from them. Thus we affirm once again that the theological dialogue does not seek a theological lowest common denominator on which to reach a compromise, but is rather about deepening one’s grasp of the whole truth that Christ has given to his Church, a truth that we never cease to understand better as we follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Hence, we affirm together that our faithfulness to the Lord demands fraternal encounter and true dialogue. Such a common pursuit does not lead us away from the truth; rather, through an exchange of gifts, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it will lead us into all truth (cf. Jn 16:13)." [ibid., 4]

Indeed, this is "no mere theoretical exercise"; in fact, it is neither "theoretical", nor an "exercise." If it were theoretical, we would be seeing concrete proposals of what unity could look like; of course there's nothing that specific in the Declaration. If it were exercise, we would expect some sort of work or labor towards real reconciliation; but we see neither. These are just platitudes. Indeed, in the modern Church such ecumenical meetings can yield little else; having abandoned the concept of full, formal return to Rome whilst simultaneously denying that we are working towards a mere "lowest common denominator", the Catholic Church is in an awkward spot. All that is left is searching for "an ever deeper knowledge of each other's traditions in order to understand and learn from them." This is what unity means in the modern Church - sharing experiences. 

In case you think we are reading too much into these phrases or jumping to conclusions with our definition of ecumenism with "sharing experiences", consider these comments of the late Cardinal Dulles on the methodology of the modern ecumenical movement:

"[T]o surmount the remaining barriers we need a different method, one that invites a deeper conversion on the part of the churches themselves. I have therefore been urging an ecumenism of mutual enrichment by means of testimony. This proposal corresponds closely, I believe, with John Paul II’s idea of seeking the fullness of truth by means of an “exchange of gifts.”

With this mentality, Catholics would want to hear from the churches of the Reformation the reasons they have for speaking as they do of Christ alone, Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone, while Catholics tend to speak of Christ and the Church, Scripture and tradition, grace and cooperation, faith and works. We would want to learn from them how to make better use of the laity as sharers in the priesthood of the whole People of God. We would want to hear from evangelicals about their experience of conversion and from Pentecostals about perceiving the free action of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The Orthodox would have much to tell about liturgical piety, holy tradition, sacred images, and synodical styles of polity (Avery Cardinal Dulles, "Saving Ecumenism from Itself", First Things, Dec., 2007. See also our article, "At the Crossroads of Ecumenism").

In other words, in allowing other non-Catholic Christians to preach to us about their traditions, we approach unity in the context of a mutual enrichment by means of testimony, shifting 'unity' to the subjective plane and making about shared experiences, apparently based on the faulty assumption that understanding will bring us closer together. This is the manner in which Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew understand unity. Sharing experiences.

Of course, sharing experiences will never lead to formal unity, and Francis knows it, as well as Benedict and John Paul II knew it; it is thrown off into the future, as some eschatological reality beyond history. What is left for today then? To work for the good of humanity! Yes, we can find common ground in saving the planet!

"It is our profound conviction that the future of the human family depends also on how we safeguard – both prudently and compassionately, with justice and fairness – the gift of creation that our Creator has entrusted to us. Therefore, we acknowledge in repentance the wrongful mistreatment of our planet, which is tantamount to sin before the eyes of God. We reaffirm our responsibility and obligation to foster a sense of humility and moderation so that all may feel the need to respect creation and to safeguard it with care. Together, we pledge our commitment to raising awareness about the stewardship of creation; we appeal to all people of goodwill to consider ways of living less wastefully and more frugally, manifesting less greed and more generosity for the protection of God’s world and the benefit of His people" [Common Declaration, 6].

Since when did the mistreatment of the planet constitute one of the occasions of the Orthodox schism? This is just sappy, syrupy feel-goody stuff. Totally irrelevant to the divisions within Christianity and unworthy of this historic meeting.

After some pleas for peace in specific regions, the document closes with this comment:

"In an historical context marked by violence, indifference and egoism, many men and women today feel that they have lost their bearings. It is precisely through our common witness to the good news of the Gospel that we may be able to help the people of our time to rediscover the way that leads to truth, justice and peace" [ibid., 9].

"Common witness?" This is wrong on so many levels. There can be no "common witness" between Rome and the Orthodox precisely because we have different understandings of what the "good news of the Gospel" constitutes. The Orthodox reject a very important element of the Gospel - the real primacy entrusted to Peter and his successors by Christ. That is not some extrinsic custom or negotiable point; it is part of the Gospel; Vatican I stated the authority of the Pope to be de fide, which means it cannot be rejected without loss of the faith any more than can be the Trinity or the truths of our Lord's Incarnation. There can be no "common witness to the good news of the Gospel" if an essential element of the Gospel is rejected.

Or can there?

The only way we could have a common witness with the Orthodox if parts of the Gospel are rejected by them is if we only witness in common those points which we share in common - if, in other words, we seek a "common denominator." We may disagree on particulars, but we agree on basic things like the dignity of the human person, sanctity of the family, etc. and therefore we can focus on these broader common denominators - give a joint witness on the commonalities that we do agree upon.

Except Pope Francis specifically says "dialogue does not seek a theological lowest common denominator on which to reach a compromise."...Oh. 

So this Declaration, which some are touting as historic, groundbreaking, "huge", epic, etc. is really more fluff. This sort of thing can never help us towards reunion, and there are several reasons grounded in the broader position of the Catholic Church that make this so.

For one thing, reunion with the Orthodox is impossible and all ecumenical conversations on reunion are farcical until the Vatican formally renounces the 1993 Balamand Agreement. The Balamand Agreement was a declaration of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue which has formed the foundation for the Church's approach to the Orthodox over the past twenty years. Balamand specifically repudiates what it calls the "outdated ecclesiology" of presuming that the Orthodox need to "return" to Rome. The agreement states:

"Pastoral activity in the Catholic Church, Latin as well as Oriental, no longer aims at having the faithful of one Church pass over to the other; that is to say, it no longer aims at proselytizing among the Orthodox. It aims at answering the spiritual needs of its own faithful and it has no desire for expansion at the expense of the Orthodox Church...To pave the way for future relations between the two Churches, passing beyond the out-dated ecclesiology of return to the Catholic Church connected with the problem which is the object of this document, special attention will be given to the preparation of future priests and of all those who, in any way, are involved in an apostolic activity carried on in a place where the other Church traditionally has its roots. Their education should be objectively positive with respect of the other Church" (The Balamand Statement: Uniatism and the Present Search for Full Communion, 22,30).

The concept of reunion understood in terms of return to Rome - a concept that gave the Church such luminaries as Newman and Chesterton and Elizabeth Ann Seton- is repudiated by Balamand. The Balamand document also goes as far as to deny that the Catholic Church is the one true Church:

"[In the past] missionary activity tended to include among its priorities the effort to convert other Christians, individually or in groups, so as "to bring them back" to one's own Church. In order to legitimize this tendency, a source of proselytism, the Catholic Church developed the theological vision according to which she presented herself as the only one to whom salvation was entrusted" [ibid.,10].

Again, let me emphasize, this document forms the backbone of the Catholic Church's understanding of its relation with the Orthodox. And in this document, formal reunion via return to Rome is repudiated. Until the Vatican backs away from these sorts of statements, the sort of meetings that happened this week in the Holy Land can yield nothing substantial. 

Lest we be tempted to think that this is some incidental whim of a non-authoritative committee, let us turn to the weightier opinions of none other than Cardinal Ratzinger, who has written much on the problem of ecumenism and who believes the vision proposed at Balamand is essentially correct.

In the 2003 book God and the World, then Cardinal Ratzinger reveals that the "unity" the modern Church is seeking through the ecumenical movement is radically different from the concept of "returning to Rome" as traditionally understood. In the book, which is in the format of a lengthy interview with journalist Peter Seewald, Seewald poses the question: “The Church prays for Christians to be reunited. But who ought to join up with whom?” Cardinal Ratzinger's reply is revolutionary and flips on its head the traditional understanding of what it means to belong to the Church:

The formula that the great ecumenists have invented is that we go forward together. It’s not a matter of our wanting to achieve certain processes of integration, but we hope that the Lord will awaken people’s faith everywhere in such a way that it overflows from one to the other, and the one Church is there. As Catholics, we are persuaded that the basic shape of this one Church is given us in the Catholic Church, but that she is moving toward the future and will allow herself to be educated and led by the Lord. In that sense we do not picture for ourselves any particular modes of integration, but simply look to march on in faith under the leadership of the Lord – who knows the way.” (God and the World, Ignatius Press, 2003, pp. 452-53)

"We go forward together." Where do we go? Who knows, for "we do not picture for ourselves any particular modes of integration", nor do we even will a formal reunion, because "it's not a matter of our wanting to achieve a certain process of integration." Ratzinger, speaking ten years after Balamand, agrees that formal reintegration is neither fathomable in its mode nor even desirable in the modern Church.

Ratzinger's comment that "the Lord will awaken people’s faith everywhere in such a way that it overflows from one to the other, and the one Church is there" is particularly revolutionary, as it locates the Church not in an objective reality but in an exchange - a relationship. The concept of 'Church' for Ratzinger is more about becoming than being - it is located in the interplay between the various "churches". It is fundamentally a dynamic reality predicated on relationship. 

This novelty is not surprising, given the centrality of change, relation and evolution to Ratzinger's thought (see here). James Larson has also written convincingly on the centrality of the concept of "relationship" in the theology of Joseph Ratzinger.

If Church is found in relationship between various communities, then we have a fundamentally new concept of the Church, something never accounted for in Tradition and which allows for a radical redefinition of what it means to be "in the Church." This is nowhere so evident in Ratzinger's thought as in his comments on Protestantism, which while not referring to the Orthodox problem, help us locate the concept central to the ecumenical movement - a "different mode" of being a church.

We get a lucid summary of Ratzinger's opinion in his 1997 book Salt of the Earth when the Cardinal elaborates on what the Second Vatican Council meant by referring to Protestant groups as "ecclesial communities": 

"The word ‘ecclesial community’ is a term employed by the Second Vatican Council. The Council applied a very simple rule in these matters. A Church in the proper sense, as we understand it, exists where the episcopal office, as the sacramental expression of apostolic succession, is present –which also implies the existence of the Eucharist as a sacrament that is dispensed by the bishop and the priest. If this is not the case, then we are dealing with the emergence of another model, a new way of understanding what a church is, which at Vatican II we designated by the term ‘ecclesiastical community.’ The word was intended to indicate that such communities embody a different mode of being a church. As they themselves insist, it is precisely not the same mode in which the Churches of the great tradition of antiquity are Churches, but is based on a new understanding, according to which a church consists, not in the institution, but in the dynamism of the Word that gathers people into a congregation… (Salt of the Earth, 94-96).

A "different mode of being a church", something based on a "new understanding", located not in a physically identifiable body on this earth, but "in the dynamism of the Word" - the relationship of the people with God. This is the sense in which the concept of "Church" overflows between the various Christian groups, and in the interchange of these groups - what Cardinal Dulles called "an ecumenism of mutual enrichment" - "the one Church is there," to quote Ratzinger. This is the ecumenical thought of the 'Pope of Christian Unity.'

Ratzinger is no fool. He knows that this is a novel concept. Cardinal Dulles recognizes it as well. In the same article quoted above, Dulles paints a sharp contrast between ecumenism pre- and post-Vatican II:

"Vatican II, therefore, represents a sharp turn away from the purely negative evaluation of non-Catholic Christianity that was characteristic of the previous three centuries...Regarding the ecclesial status of non-Catholic Christians, Pius XII had taught as late as 1943 that they could not be true members of the Church because the Body of Christ was identical with the Catholic Church. Such Christians could not belong to the body except by virtue of some implicit desire, which would give them a relation that fell short of true incorporation. From a different point of view, Vatican II taught that every valid baptism incorporates the recipient into the crucified and glorified Christ, and that all baptized Christians were to some extent in communion with the Catholic Church...Relying on the new ecclesiology of communion, Catholic ecumenists now perceived their task as a movement from lesser to greater degrees of communion. All who believed in Christ and were baptized in his name already possessed a certain imperfect communion, which could be recognized, celebrated, and deepened" [Dulles, First Things, Dec. 2007].

The meeting between Francis and Bartholomew is an expression of this "new ecclesiology of communion", which proposes no "particular modes of integration" but simply speaks of moving towards an ill-defined unity grounded in mutual understanding which will somehow result in the Church becoming present in the dynamism of the faith-filled exchange between us. 

It is beyond the scope of this article to offer a traditional critique to this thought; hopefully, most readers of this blog will already see the many problems it poses. But the ultimate purpose of this article is to show that, as long as this concept of a "new ecclesiology of communion" spoken of by Dulles and Ratzinger and epitomized by Balamand is not rejected, there will never be a formal reunion - simply because our Church does not want it. Just like the bad dream where you know you have to leave to go somewhere but keep finding yourself bogged down by various details, so the Church speaks of reunion but never actually moves towards it. It has repudiated the only path towards real reunion - return to Rome, which is now only an "outdated ecclesiology." It is also a little unfair that the faithful continue to vainly hope for a formal reintegration when, as we have seen, the leaders of the Church have no plans for any such integration and do not even will it. This is very troubling.

In Redemptor Hominis, St. John Paul II reminds us that the path forward towards unity is uncertain, and that we have a right to express our uncertainties:

"There are people who in the face of the difficulties or because they consider that the first ecumenical endeavours have brought negative results would have liked to turn back. Some even express the opinion that these efforts are harmful to the cause of the Gospel, are leading to a further rupture in the Church, are causing confusion of ideas in questions of faith and morals and are ending up with a specific indifferentism. It is perhaps a good thing that the spokesmen for these opinions should express their fears" (St. John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 6).

Consider my fears expressed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On Perrielo's Fishwrap Piece

Last week, Pat Perrielo published a real piece of tripe at the NCR ("Fishwrap") on communion for the divorced and remarried. Laughably entitled "The Traditionalists are Trying to Regain Control" (as if the "traditionalists" have ever had anything close to "control"), he offers one of the most ignorant and juvenile arguments in favor of relaxing the Church's discipline that I have ever read. I offer his piece in its entirety below, with my glosses in italics.

'The Traditionalists are Trying to Regain Control'
by Pat Perrielo, NCR 15 May 2014

As the time for the Synod on the family draws near, there seems to be an effort by traditionalists to control the process and shift the focus to doctrine rather than serving the pastoral needs of people.

Repeating a progressive canard that 'doctrine' and 'the pastoral needs of the people' are in opposition; that must must choose one or the other, 'law' or 'mercy.' In fact, it is love of God's law that most perfectly fulfills pastoral needs. Remember Psalm 1: 

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Ps. 1:1-3)

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of the diocese of Denver has reiterated church teaching on marriage and sees the pastoral element as simply doing a better job of explaining traditional Catholic doctrine.

This is true. Archbishop Aquila understands that doctrine and pastoral practice compliment each other and should not be set in a relation of antagonism.

It seems pretty clear that Pope Francis is talking about something else. Francis said, “The question is not that of changing doctrine, but of digging deep and making sure that pastoral care takes into account situations and what it is possible for persons to do.”

Francis is asking the question as to whether it is really possible for many in certain life situations to change their circumstances. Must one wait around for a spouse to die in order to receive Communion? Too many traditionalists seem unable to comprehend what a pastor must take into account to serve the needs of his people. They have a copy of the rule book, but what they may not have is a sensitivity to the people they serve.

I don't think traditional Catholic ethics insists that these people do always have the power to "change their circumstances"; it does insist that they are obliged to do the right thing within the circumstances they find themselves in. "Must one wait for a spouse to die in order to receive Communion?" No. One can always leave one's adulterous 'second marriage', and telling a person otherwise does not "serve the needs of his people" but leads them further into error, making it even less likely that they will "have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10), which is what Jesus desires for everyone. 

What is being examined is not the indissolubility of marriage, but rather the distribution of the Eucharist. In the Scriptures it even appears that Jesus may have shared the Eucharist with Judas at the Last Supper. The Eucharist is meant to nourish the faithful. It is not a reward for the holy. It is not insignificant that most Protestant churches, including Episcopalians, always make clear that all are welcome at the Lord’s Table.

The Eucharist has never been seen as a reward for the holy. Hence, "Domine, non sum dignus..." The Eucharist is the "medicine of immortality", in the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch. And if it is medicine, it is because we are sick. But not all sicknesses are alike; some are sick because, despite our best intentions, we are still weak humans prone to failure. Others are sick because they refuse to amend their lives and obey God's commandments. There is a huge difference between someone who bombs a test because they did not do well and one who bombs because they intentionally left all the answers blank. Just because we are all sinners does not mean there are no standards. All are welcome at the Lord's table, but not on any terms they choose. If you don't like it, take it up with St. Paul and the New Testament, which says, "Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Cor. 11:27).

By the way, if the Episcopalians are doing it right, why are Episcopalians in a "death spiral"?

Those having difficulties of any kind have the greatest need for the Eucharist. Yet we pompously walk around picking and choosing who can receive the graces and mercies of a loving Lord. If we want to deny Communion to all who are unworthy we should simply stop giving communion to anyone. None of us are worthy, but all of us are in need. That is why Jesus gave us this wonderful gift.

"Those having difficulties of any kind have the greatest need for the Eucharist." This statement would be true if the clause "of any kind" were removed. Difficulties are not of the same stripe. By long-standing custom, those whose "difficulties" are sins of their own deliberate choosing are not fit to present themselves for Holy Communion precisely because they are not in Holy Communion because deliberate grave sin puts one out of Communion. This is standard sacramental-moral theology, and shows that this is not just a disciplinary problem of who we will give the Eucharist to, but a theological problem. All are in need. Yes. And if we really believe we need Jesus, we must begin by confessing our need to be free of our sins. "Go and sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you" (John 5:14).

Those opposed to sharing the Eucharist with divorced and remarried Catholics continue to focus on the doctrine of marriage. Yet no one is questioning the doctrine of marriage. Francis and other pastors of the church are simply looking at those who love the Lord and are saying, come, taste and see how good the Lord is.

I beg to differ, Mr. Perrielo. The doctrine of marriage is being questioned. If the divorced and "remarried" are allowed to Communion, it means either (a) second putative marriages are no longer regarded as adultery, or, if they are (b) one can still be in God's grace whilst simultaneously being in a state of adultery, or if not, then (c) Communion can be received in a state of mortal sin with no danger to one's soul, in which case (d) the theological importance of being in or out of a state of grace has been obliterated. As you can see, there are HUGE doctrinal implications from this discussion.

If the Synod fathers buy in to these sorts of lame, ignorant arguments, is there any hope?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Motherhood, More than a Hobby

Recently, My family attended a company day of recreation where workers were allowed to bring their family and friends. We had our four children under 4 and had our hands full (literally) but we were not short on help being surrounded by friendly people willing to help us out.

In fact a couple of my coworkers also brought their children with them, including their babies. So it made a certain statement made by a guest particularly flummoxing when they referred to having children as an expensive hobby to another person who was kindly pushing a baby stroller for us.

I shot back that a hobby was something unnecessary that we do for pleasure, the person acted as though they did not hear my remark and remained silent after that. Later, when I looked up the definition of a hobby I was pretty close to the mark: “an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure.”

There are some people who hate mankind, or perhaps wish to see a significant portion of mankind die or not reproduce in the name of population control, but she did not refer to my children as parasites, but hobbies. In the misanthropic view, they are at least something that is powerful, powerful enough to destroy the world, but in this view they are something that is not even necessary.

Even Marxism, which hated the family, still valued the importance of having children, if only to further the revolution. This hit home with more force recently when I was finishing recording a new audio book on the Divine Maternity of Mary, by Abbot Vonier, when I read this:

“True civilization is easily tested by its attitude towards motherhood. There can be no real refinement of human feeling where mans heart is not full of delicacies for the dignity of motherhood; therefore there can be no true civilization where motherhood is either shunned or degraded. If there is anything that belongs to the health of the nations that dwell upon the earth, it is a loving reverence for the burdens of human motherhood. ” An Invocation, The Divine Motherhood of Mary

People forget that the 4th commandment is put above the 5th for a reason. Without parents a person would not exist. It is a tremendous evil to take another persons life, but God put the 4th above the 5th because it is a terrible sin to not show reverence for the parents that bore you, no matter how good or bad parents themselves are. Those who live lives of nihilistic despair, and hate living every day I can imagine hate their parents, the damned in hell hate their parents. Both are full of this hatred because they wish for the suffering that they are enduring to go away, and because it will not they wish they had never been born.

“Christianity’s moral power, Christianity's social contribution to the life of mankind is the sanctity and obligatoriness of the laws that govern the birth of man.” The Divine Motherhood of Mary

To date, Christianity as a whole has failed to make that social contribution since the sexual revolution. When women started bringing home little packages of pills, motherhood itself become compartmentalized, something that people were told could be turned on or off. Motherhood was no longer viewed as a duty of the married women to her God, to her family, to her country but a personal choice that at most might include her husband. To many in the west sex was no longer for procreation but pleasure, and so the begetting of children is now not viewed as a duty but as an optional, expensive, pleasure. In a word a hobby,

Yet, the reality is different even while we live in this age of sexual revolution. Once a mother holds her child and that child and her love one another, that is to say that the women suffers for the well being of the child, any idea that a child is a hobby would be quickly displaced by that reality of sacrificial love. That love of the father to the mother, of the mother to the father leading to a child that loves them both and that came from both of them is one of the most beautiful things our eyes probably will ever be privileged to see in this life, as it is a reflection of the love that exists between the persons of the Most Holy Trinity.

Motherhood is worth fighting for, it is worth suffering for, it is worth dying for, it may not be life itself but without it you and I would not exist.

Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Marvel's Avengers "Assemble" for Catholic Writer

A renowned English Catholic writer, Stratford Caldecott, is in the last stages of his battle with prostate cancer, which he was diagnosed with in late 2011.

Caldecott, the GK Chesterton Research Fellow at St. Benet's Hall, Oxford, has served prolifically in the Catholic publication industry for decades, both as a writer and editor, serving on the editorial board of the International Theological Journal, Communio, as well as T&T Clark publications, the Catholic Truth Society, as co-editor for Magnificat UK, and also his own literary journal, Second Spring. He received an honorary doctorate in Theology from the JPii Institute in Washington, DC.

I have met him and his family on occasion, and they are quite simply good, faithful Catholics. For this reason, while I was aware of his illness, I was rather amazed to hear of the latest turn of events as they unfolded.

It began, naturally, with a blog post written by his daughter, Sophie:
My father, Stratford Caldecott, was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in October 2011... Life since then has been very strange. He has bravely, patiently tried every treatment available to slow down the progress of the cancer, and we have been blessed with some good – almost normal – times together, amongst the bad. 
The doctors now say that dad is into the final stages of the disease, the part where your bones fracture under the slightest impact, and swelling around vital organs starts to happen for no apparent reason. They say that we only have around 12 weeks left. We have to make these 12 weeks count, and I have an idea about how we can do that.
Sophie goes on to speak of her father's love for Marvel comics since boyhood, and more recently, the Marvel films. Apparently, they went to see the last Marvel film in the cinema, but he was too sick to be able to make it to see the latest Captain America film.

This is where Sophie goes to the social media:
We’re going to try and get in touch with Marvel to ask if they can fulfil dad’s dying wish by sending us a copy of the film for him to watch at home. But I think we can go further than that. We’re also going to tweet the Avengers actors and see if they will take a picture of themselves holding a sign saying ‘Captain America/Thor/Iron Man [insert name of character here] for Strat!’ so that we can surprise him with their messages of support and encouragement.
The response has been pretty amazing, both on the side of Marvel, as well as on the side of the actors and other people of good will, as you can see:

Since the doctors estimate Stratford has only 12 weeks to live, the Marvel Studio has confirmed that they will offer an advanced private screening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the Caldecott home next week.

As Catholics, we are called to visit the sick and to comfort the afflicted, and, when the time comes, to bury and pray for the dead. I think it really heartening that Hollywood has responded in spades on this one, and, in your charity, I ask that you offer some prayers for Stratford that his suffering might be eased, and, when his time comes, that he has the grace of a good death, fortified by the Sacraments.


Sophie has compiled a page of pictures of all of your favorite Marvel Characters who have responded all in one place - it is really quite amazing how many have come out in support of one man's battle against cancer.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Evolutionary Theology and More

Have you heard the refrain from conservative Catholic apologists that the Church has "never had a problem" with evolution? Or perhaps that theological objections to evolutionary theory are based solely in rigidly literalistic interpretations of Genesis 1 or are primarily Protestant concerns? This new exhaustive article on evolutionary theology on Unam Sanctam Catholicam's website will demonstrate that the opposite is in fact true; the Catholic Church was one of the first Christian bodies to object to evolution, doing so in 1860, only one year after Origin of Species. And the fundamental objection was not centered on literalism in Genesis 1 - although that was a concern - but on the question of substance and how creatures could be said to have substances expressed in 'natures' if everything was in a constant state of change. How could we speak of "being" when evolution teaches that there is only "becoming"? 

Click here to read "Solemn Enthronement of Evolution" on Unam Sanctam Catholicam.

While you're at it, here are some other recent articles:

Power of St. Patrick's Breastplate - Why we should not omit petitions against witches and warlocks in this famous prayer.

Great Storm of August, 1792 - Record of the violent tempest during the French Revolution which threw down the crosses of Paris' churches and signified the entry of Satan into the kingdom, according to contemporaries. 

Our Greatest Lie - We always tell people, "I'll pray for you", but do we really?

Di Rossi finds the Catacombs of Callixtus - Fascinating story of the discovery of one of the most important Roman catacombs, with touching anecdotes about Pius IX and his interest in the work.

Resisting Temptation - Why we are tempted and what is the best way to resist it, based on Scripture and the Imitation of Christ.

Multiple Voices in the Passion Readings - History of one of Holy Week's most distinctive liturgical practices.

Canonization and the Early Church - A tremendously long and bulky article on how saints were declared in the first four centuries of Christendom; I am still revising my thesis here, but the majority of it is sound.

Homosexual "Marriage" is not a Civil Right - Legal, social and philosophical reasons why it is inaccurate to speak of homosexual so-called marriage as a civil right.

RCIA Church History part 2 - Continuation of our RCIA Church History series, spanning from 1054-2013

Movie Reviews

Monuments Men (2014)
Heaven is for Real (2014)
Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)
Noah (2014)
God's Not Dead (2013)
Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Sancti Obscuri

St. Plegemund of Canterbury (d. 923)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Men and brethren, what shall we do?

I am presuming that nobody who reads this blog regularly is excited about the possibility of married priests in the Roman rite. I'm not either. 

That being said, let us suppose for a moment that in the near future the Supreme Pontiff were to dispense with the traditional discipline of priestly celibacy and allow the ordination of married men into the priesthood. I do not know of any discussion about this at the moment; it's a mere hypothetical. But let's suppose it happened - maybe in the aftermath of the Synod of the Family or something. The barriers are down and progressives get their dream of ordaining married men.

Speaking specifically to you married men out there, I ask you, what would we do? How would we respond to this monumental change?

My initial reaction would be to continue to protest against it, the way which we traditional minded Catholics continue to protest EMHCs, altar girls, communion in the hand, and every other departure from tradition we have witnessed in the past several decades. We protest the jettisoning of the discipline of mandatory celibacy and refuse to present ourselves for priesthood. After all, if we really believe this would be against the best interests of the priesthood, we cannot participate in it.

Or should we? Perhaps if the Church allows married priests, ought married traditionalist men begin discerning ordination and presenting themselves as candidates? The liberal establishment, drooling at the thought of ordaining the married, will rush to open the floodgates and get as many married men in as they could. Sure, we'd have to go in "under the radar", as many candidates for priesthood do today, keeping their opinions to themselves as they undergo the regimen. But they'd get through eventually, and when they do, what would the Church look like if a whole crop of married traditionalist men were ordained to the priesthood? Men who, because they are married, are better insulated against the homo-heresy present in many seminaries and much less likely to fall to the Lavender Mafia? Would it not be ironic if the progressive push for a married presbyterate led to an influx of traditional priests who preached tradition - including clerical celibacy - with a zeal hitherto lacking in the celibate clergy? Would it not be deliciously amusing if the liberal wet dream made possible a liberal nightmare?

This does not dispense with any of the arguments against a married clergy, of course. But suppose it happens. I ask you, men and brethren, suppose your diocese one days accepts married men to the priesthood. What do we do? How do we respond? 

Sunday, May 04, 2014

On Right Reading of the Old Testament (conclusion)

Continuing our posts on right reading of the Old Testament, we come today to the third installment and conclusion in our series dealing with authority of Old Testament passages and reconciling aspects of the Old Testament that, at a glance, may seem at odds with Church teaching. Parts one and two of this series are recommended before looking at this article. In the first article we established the first principles that the Old Testament is truly the Word of God, that there is no one interpretive scheme that fits the whole Old Testament, and that assigning a high value to the Old Testament texts was a characteristic of patristic exegesis. In the second article, we looked at distinguishing the ceremonial, levitcal law from the moral law as well as some general guidelines for understanding the place of Old Testament texts in the New Testament age. Today we answer three more questions as we continue to explore this issue:

  • How much authority do Old Testament verses retain in contemporary arguments?
  • How to understand questions of historicity relating to the authority of any Old Testament book or passage?
  • What do we derive from passages where the Old Testament morality seems to be at odds with current Church teaching?
How much authority do Old Testament verses retain in contemporary arguments?

In contemporary Catholicism there are a whole host of debates to which Old Testament passages are particularly relevant but are unfortunately seldom appealed to. This is sad, because many Old Testament passages provide fundamental contexts in which to understand these issues. Let us look at some examples.

The issue of war is a one such subject. There are those in the Church today, mainly on the progressive wing, who argue that there really is no such thing as a just war; that war per se is always evil, and, in a misguided appeal to the Church Fathers, advocate a strict pacifism. However, this is easily rebutted by the Book of Ecclesiastes, which tells us:

"All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven.
A time of love, and a time of hatred. A time of war, and a time of peace" (Ecc. 1:3,8).

Another common point of debate is the issue of usury-interest understood in its modern context. Traditional Catholics obviously tend to uphold the traditional condemnation of usury and understand it broadly as the taking out of interest on a loan; other Catholics see interest as a good and necessary part of the free market (an quantification of risk) and take a narrower definition of usury as excessive interest or interest on a non-productive loan. We can similarly appeal to Scripture here:

"O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbours;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honour those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent" (Ps. 15:1-5).

Or this passage from Ezekiel:

"If he has a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things (though his father does none of them), who eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, takes advance or accrued interest; shall he then live? He shall not. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself." (Ezk. 18:10-13).

Or these from Proverbs and Nehemiah:

"He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor" (Prov. 28:8).

"So I said, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God, to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us stop this taking of interest. Restore to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the interest on money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.’" (Neh. 9:5-11).

These are only a few examples; there are many, many more. Clearly the Old Testament condemns the practice of usury and sees it as the taking of interest simple. The context of these passages make its sinfulness obvious; it is lumped together with robber, adultery, shedding innocent blood, bribery and slander. In the passage from Ecclesiastes, we see that war is presented as a real possibility that humans, even God's people, must be prepared for at times.

Despite this, the passage from Ecclesiastes that "there is a time for war" is seldom presented as evidence for the legitimacy of a just war. Similarly, proponents of modern credit-based capitalism write off or ignore the plethora of Old Testament condemnations of interest as irrelevant or restricted to the Levitical law alone.

In our first article, we established that the Old Testament is the word of God, different from the New Testament but on par with it as regards its divine inspiration and the inerrant nature of all its parts. If it is in fact the word of God, then these passages cannot be irrelevant; they may not be the whole argument, but they cannot be irrelevant to the argument. The passage from Ecclesiastes is very relevant in reminding us that, so long as we are in this world, the possibility of war is a real one. There are certainly times for peace, times for planting, times for gathering, but we must also realize there will be times for war, times for pulling up, and times for scattering. So not only is the passage from Ecclesiastes relevant, but it provides with the most fundamental point of the argument - namely, that we must understand that life on this earth may necessitate war. Once we accept this starting point, we move forward to explore under what conditions war may be waged.

In the questions about interest, since taking interest is lumped together with things like murder, adultery, and slander, it should be evident that the Old Testament presents it as a teaching of the moral law and not the ceremonial law and hence always binding. Again, these passages should be the starting point for any conversations on this matter, as they reveal the most fundamental truth about interest-taking: God is not pleased with it.

We could cite several other contemporary arguments that would benefit from appeals to Old Testament passages. As we have seen, rather than writing such passages off as irrelevant, Old Testament teachings often give us the truth at the most fundamental or basic level; they provide a starting point from which discussion should proceed from. When I discuss pacifism with other Christians, I always start and begin the argument with Ecclesiastes 3, and similarly arguments about usury begin with Psalm 15. They help provide the parameters or the argument and encapsulate the traditional teaching with a beautifully simple sine qua non that provide us with the seed of the doctrine. 

If we reject these passages as irrelevant, we risk eroding the foundation from the doctrine. If, for example, we toss out the relevance of all biblical injunctions against usury, then it becomes that much more difficult to maintain that usury is condemned in divine revelation. Unfortunately, passages found in such books as Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and Nehemiah are often tossed simply because people don't know how to handle these books or in what sense they ought to be interpreted. Which brings us to our next question.

How to understand questions of historicity relating to the authority of any Old Testament book or passage?

What I mean by this is how does a book's historicity - or lack thereof - effect the authority or force of the statements found in it?

The obvious answer should be, "It doesn't. The Bible is the Bible." A condemnation of slander or praise of charity found in the Psalms or Proverbs is just as legitimate as one found in the Gospel of Matthew or 1 Corinthians.

It was actually an argument with a friend on this question of historicity that prompted this series of posts. The friend was arguing that we should not say that material goods are a blessing from God because of the fact that there are many people in God's favor who are not blessed with material goods; he said it is insulting to them to suggest that people who have homes, children, cars, etc. are blessed because it insinuates that if you are poor you do not have God's favor.

While of course rejecting the absolute identification of prosperity with blessing as the Prosperity Gospel people do, I nevertheless argued that material goods are a form of blessing, as every temporal gift comes from God, and temporal prosperity is often said to be a form of blessing in the Old Testament. To this I invoked the Book of Job, which specifically calls Job's prosperity a blessing: 

"And the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning. And he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses" (Job 42:12).

We have it right there. Job's possessions were a blessing from God. But guess what? My interlocutor dismissed the argument because "Job is not considered a historical book."

Setting aside the particular question of the historicity of Job, it should be evident that the genre of the book is only of secondary importance. Yes, we have different styles in the Old Testament. History. Wisdom. Poetry. That's obvious. Genre is something we take into account when interpreting, but genre itself does not become the interpretive principle, as if the literary style of a passage has any relevance to its authority as Divine Revelation. Furthermore, just because some books of the Old Testament, like the Song of Solomon, are open to a wide variety of interpretation does not mean every book or passage is. Some, like the passage from Job, are strikingly clear. The Book of Job clearly states that his large flocks were a blessing of God. Why do we need to argue this point? The literary genre of a book does not call the truth-value of its statements into question. Unless we are looking at a question that is purely historical - such as whether Job really happened, the identity of the Shunammite in Song of Solomon, the chronology of the Book of Judith - the historicity of the book is irrelevant. Or to put it another way, historicity is only relevant when the question at hand is historical.

What do we derive from passages where the Old Testament morality seems to be at odds with current Church teaching?

Finally, what do we do when we come across passages in the Old Testament that seem to contradict the moral teachings of the Church and the New Testament? The ubiquitous practice of polygamy. God's command to Abraham to perform a human sacrifice. Jepthah sacrificing his daughter. The genocide of the Canaanites in the Book of Joshua. Nehemiah's command that the Jewish exiles divorce their wives and abandon their children by them. Psalm 137:9, which says of the heathen Babylonians, "Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!" The fact that Rahab lies and for her lie is recorded among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 7. All throughout the Old Testament, we are confronted with examples of moral behavior at odds with what the Catholic Church teaches is morally acceptable in God's sight - these are what the 2008 Synod on the Word of God persistently referred to as the "difficulties" with the Old Testament.

Of course, the 2008 Synod sought to solve these "difficulties" by questioning the literalism of the text rather than the more traditional method of reconciling the problematic texts. There is no uniform answer for how to reconcile these passages; they need to be approached on a case by case basis, as we have done on this blog regarding Joshua's genocide. But in general, when we encounter such passages, there are a few things we can do:

First, accept that there can be no real contradiction. The moral law is eternal, and nothing can be good in the New that was evil in the Old.

Second, that being said, understand that the Old Testament was only a partial revelation. The Israelites were at an imperfect stage of moral development and did not possess either the fullness of divine revelation nor the dispensation of grace merited by Christ. This is why certain behaviors -such as divorce and polygamy - are "permitted" though they are never encouraged or praised. So, while nothing can be good in the New that was evil in the Old, somethings that were tolerated in the Old are no longer tolerated in the New.

Third, we have to take into account the different nature of a moral imperative when it comes from God Himself. For example some things, like murder, are wrong because they usurp the unique prerogative of God to give life and take life (cf. Deut. 32:39, 1 Sam 2:6). However, when God Himself commands a human being's death, then no usurpation is taking place; in such cases, the human being becomes the instrumental cause of God's will in putting to death another whom God has condemned to death. This principle is essential to understanding passages where God commands the Israelites to put individuals or groups to death.

Finally, while genre is not the fundamental principle of interpretation, we do need to be attentive to stylistic forms. In the case of Psalm 137:9 ("Blessed is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!"), we are seeing a case of Semitic hyperbole - literary exaggeration - similar to when Jesus says, "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out." When the Psalmist pronounces blessing upon he who smashes the heads of Babylonian infants, he is using exaggeration to say, "May God bring judgment upon Babylon." So literary techniques are important in understanding particular passages.

And, as St. Augustine teaches in De Doctrina Christiana, all things are to be interpreted in light of charity and the teaching of the Church.

There is much more that could be said on this topic; in fact we have received several inquiries as a result of these posts asking for more specific guidance on understanding particular passages. God willing we will get to these as well. But in the meantime, I hope this series has been beneficial.