Tuesday, January 27, 2015

St. Ignatius Loyola on Perfect Obedience

The question of obedience is a timely one in the contemporary Church. On the progressive end of the spectrum, disobedience to the teachings of the Church have been ubiquitous since the breakdown of Catholic discipline in the second half of the 20th century. Catholic Traditionalists, also, have had many lively debates on the precise nature of obedience and how far one is bound in obedience when those in authority in the Church are themselves dissenters, heretics or leading lives of immorality.

Fortunately, this is not a question that Tradition is silent on. From the Rule of St. Benedict to the teaching of St. Francis of Assisi to the Imitation of Christ and many more spiritual works, the characteristics of obedience have been thoroughly examined.

In this post, we bring you excerpts from one of the great writings on this subject, the letter "On Perfect Obedience" from St. Ignatius Loyola. This letter was addressed to the Jesuits in Portugal around 1553 when the Society there had been rent by divisions due to certain brothers who withheld their obedience from their superiors. St. Ignatius fiercely condemns this cafeteria obedience and lays down what went on to become the classic Jesuit definition of obedience, which is nothing other than the traditional Catholic teaching. This epistle is Letter 25 in the Ignatius corpus.

The foundational principle of St. Ignatius' teaching on obedience is that the superior is to be obeyed not by virtue of the excellence with which he wields the power of his office, but simply because he is the superior, and as such is the representative of God to the religious - this is regardless of whether he acts prudently or not:

"The superior is to be obeyed not because he is prudent, or good, or qualified by any other gift of God, but because he holds the place and the authority of God, as Eternal Truth has said: He who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me [Luke 10:16]. Nor on the contrary, should he lack prudence, is he to be the less obeyed in that in which he is superior, since he represents Him who is infallible wisdom, and who will supply what is wanting in His minister, nor, should he lack goodness or other desirable qualities, since Christ our Lord, having said, the scribes and the Pharisees sit on the chair of Moses, adds, therefore, whatever they shall tell you, observe and do: but do not act according to their works [Matt. 23:2-3]."

After laying this foundation, St. Ignatius explains there are three degrees of obedience. The first and lowest consists in simply doing what one is told; in other words, merely performing the command in a purely external manner. He says there is no true merit in this sort of 'obedience of execution':

"...[T]he first degree of obedience is very low, which consists in the execution of what is commanded, and that it does not deserve the name of obedience, since it does not attain to the worth of this virtue unless it rises to the second degree..."

The second degree of obedience is defined as an obedience of the will, in which one not only conforms externally to a command but actually wills to do so, whether or not they personally think it is a prudent command. St. Ignatius defines this level as an obedience

"...which is to make the superior's will one's own in such a way that there is not merely the effectual execution of the command, but an interior conformity, whether willing or not willing the same. Hence it is said in Scripture, obedience is better than sacrifice [1 Sam. 15:22], for, according to Saint Gregory: "In victims the flesh of another is slain, but in obedience our own will is sacrificed."

This obedience has merit because the Lord places such great value on the will of man, especially when it is freely subjected unto obedience in imitation of Christ. He also notes that this obedience is due even in spiritual matters; the discipline of the religious superior does extend to the interior spiritual life:

"Now because this disposition of will in man is of so great worth, so also is the offering of it, when by obedience it is offered to his Creator and Lord. How great a deception it is, and how dangerous for those who think it lawful to withdraw from the will of their superior, I do not say only in those things pertaining to flesh and blood, but even in those which of their nature are spiritual and holy, such as fasts, prayers, and other pious works!"

Yet this is not even the most perfect sort of obedience. The second degree of obedience is to interiorly will to carry out the command, whether we agree with it or not. The third and most perfect degree of obedience is called the "obedience of understanding" and, according to St. Ignatius, occurs when we not only interiorly will to obey but actually mold our understanding in such a manner that we actually submit our judgment to the superior - we presume the superior's judgment is best, that is understanding is more perfect than our own, and that even the command is imprudent, God in His graciousness will reward the religious for his perfect obedience:

"But he who aims at making an entire and perfect oblation of himself, in addition to his will, must offer his understanding, which is a further and the highest degree of obedience. He must not only will, but he must think the same as the superior, submitting his own judgment to that of the superior, so far as a devout will can bend the understanding.

For although this faculty has not the freedom of the will, and naturally gives its assent to what is presented to it as true, there are, however, many instances where the evidence of the known truth is not coercive and it can, with the help of the will, favor one side or the other. When this happens every truly obedient man should conform his thought to the thought of the superior.

And this is certain, since obedience is a holocaust in which the whole man without the slightest reserve is offered in the fire of charity to his Creator and Lord through the hands of His ministers. And since it is a complete surrender of himself by which a man dispossesses himself to be possessed and governed by Divine Providence through his superiors, it cannot be held that obedience consists merely in the execution, by carrying the command into effect and in the will's acquiescence, but also in the judgment, which must approve the superior's command, insofar, as has been said, as it can, through the energy of the will bring itself to this."

St. Ignatius does propose a manner for an inferior to make an objection known to a superior if he legitimately knows of a better way of doing something; for example, a superior orders him to construct a fence in a certain manner but the inferior, through his natural skills, knows of a more secure means of doing so. Even so, the inferior ought to be entirely submissive to the will of his superior. In such cases, Ignatius says:

"But [obedience] does not mean that you should not feel free to propose a difficulty, should something occur to you different from his opinion, provided you pray over it, and it seems to you in God's presence that you ought to make the representation to the superior. If you wish to proceed in this matter without suspicion of attachment to your own judgment, you must maintain indifference both before and after making this representation, not only as to undertaking or relinquishing the matter in question, but you must even go so far as to be better satisfied with, and to consider as better, whatever the superior shall ordain."

One last reflection: It is often repeated that the obedience required of Catholics is not meant to be "blind"; that is, it is not meant to be unthinking. It would be interesting to discuss what people mean exactly by the word "blind", but as far as St. Ignatius is concerned regarding his Jesuits, he does specify that he wishes obedience to be blind:

"The third means to subject the understanding which is even easier and surer, and in use among the holy Fathers, is to presuppose and believe, very much as we are accustomed to do in matters of faith, that what the superior enjoins is the command of God our Lord and His holy will. Then to proceed blindly, without injury of any kind, to the carrying out of the command, with the prompt impulse of the will to obey. So we are to think Abraham did when commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac [Gen. 22:2-3]. Likewise, under the new covenant, some of the holy Fathers to whom Cassian refers, as the Abbot John, who did not question whether what he was commanded was profitable or not, as when with such great labor he watered a dry stick throughout a year. Or whether it was possible or not, when he tried so earnestly at the command of his superior to move a rock which a large number of men would not have been able to move.

We see that God our Lord sometimes confirmed this kind of obedience with miracles, as when Maurus, Saint Benedict's disciple, going into a lake at the command of his superior, did not sink. Or in the instance of another, who being told to bring back a lioness, took hold of her and brought her to his superior. And you are acquainted with others. What I mean is that this manner of subjecting one's own judgment, without further inquiry, supposing that the command is holy and in conformity with God's will, is in use among the saints and ought to be imitated by anyone who wishes to obey perfectly in all things, where manifestly there appears no sin."

He says elsewhere in the same letter while discussing obedience of understanding that obedience ought to be blind, and that religious obedience itself is overthrown when it is less than blind:

"When one acts in opposition to one's judgment, one cannot obey lovingly and cheerfully as long as such repugnance remains. Promptitude fails, and readiness, which are impossible without agreement of judgment, such as when one doubts whether it is good or not to do what is commanded. That renowned simplicity of blind obedience fails, when we call into question the justice of the command, or even condemn the superior because he bids us to do something that is not pleasing. Humility fails, for although on the one hand we submit, on the other we prefer ourselves to the superior."

May all Catholic religious return to these classic principles of obedience.
St. Ignatius Loyola, ora pro nobis!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Facebook fun with His Sheaness

Usually I don't waste my time arguing with neo-Cath apologists on online forums, but I recently had the opportunity of engaging in a tit-for-tat with His Sheaness on Facebook. The occasion was Shea's commentary on Damon Linker's piece "The Foolish Cruelty of Catholics Who Wants Gays to Disappear", published in The Week in December, 2014. Linker's piece itself was occasioned by a previous piece by Austin Ruse entitled "The New Homophiles", featured in Crisis magazine.

I recommend you read the two articles above for background. Ruse's article on the New Homophiles is fairly straight forward and represents traditional Catholic teaching on the question well - he basically makes the point that even if gay Catholics can serve God chastely and in good conscience, we should not view homosexual orientation as some kind of "good", and that the attempts to find special "gifts" and goods in homosexuality qua homosexuality constitutes a real rupture with Catholic teaching. The fact that the Church accepts orthodox homosexuals who are living celibate does not mean we ought to affirm a homosexual "identity".

Linker's piece trashes Ruse. He suggests homosexuals do have special "gifts" to offer the Church. He suggests that it is wrong to approach homosexuality as something that ought to be "cured". He has no problem with homosexuals being admitted to seminary and, while affirming that Catholic homosexuals have an obligation to live chastely, affirms the concept of homosexual identity.

Mark Shea posted a link to Linker's piece, in which he expressed complete approval with Linker's attack on Ruse and Linker's overall positive assessment of the "gifts" of homosexuals. "Gay identity" is a very broad topic, but I challenged Shea on the very narrow point of whether Linker was right that homosexuals should be admitted to seminaries, which has been very clearly answered in the negative by the Church.

Two things: First, I have not included the entirety of the Facebook thread, not because I want to hide anything but because it was one of those threads with hundreds of comments - and not all relevant - and posting them all would be tedious, so I've only posted the interactions between Shea and myself. Second, I have blacked out my own name. Although many of you know how I am, I have blotted out my own name simply because I choose to blog anonymously and try to keep my name off the Internet whenever possible. So the black boxes are me speaking.

In my entrance into the debate, I start with quoting Linker's article. Linker had criticized Ruse for stating that persons with homosexual desires were not suitable candidates to the priesthood, even if they were successfully practicing chastity. I then go on to quote several Vatican documents affirming the very position Linker slams Ruse for affirming:

Then Mark Shea jumps in and tosses out a typical neo-Cath canard: that of the mean traddie Pharisee:

Now, me it sounds like Shea is disagreeing with the document Religiosorum Institutio, as well as the 2005 Instruction. He seems to be saying that if a man is deeply attracted to men but simply manages not to act on it, then we shouldn't worry about admitting him to the priesthood. Not wanting to accuse Shea of saying something he is not, I ask him a simple yes or no question in order to clarify his position:

This should not be difficult. Linker had attacked Ruse for this position, but Ruse was quite correct in affirming the 1961 document of St. John XXIII, as well as the 2005 Instruction and Bertone's 2008 reaffirmation. Would Shea affirm these instructions?

*Sigh.* I guess I should have known better than to get a straight answer out of him. So, I recap my question and explain how it is related to the articles by Linker and Ruse:

Of course, Shea refuses to answer. To say "yes" puts him in clear opposition with the documents just cited, while to say "no" undermines his attack on Austin Ruse's article - or at least this aspect of it. So, as expected, he waffles on the question again, while also making some astonishing statements:

I respond to his comment about me "wetting myself" about gays sneaking into seminaries next, but notice the comment "discipline is discipline. It's malleable." Well, that is true, but my goodness, we are talking about disciplines reaffirmed as recently as 2008. We're not debating some medieval document. I grant the point that discipline is "malleable" (Shea and I would probably disagree on to what degree), but if discipline is so malleable as to be subject to complete revision and overturning in a space of a mere six years, then there is really no point anymore in talking about Catholic disciplines.

Also, note "since I'm not forming or becoming a priest, I don't much care what the Church does." That's pretty astonishing, but not really that surprising, given an increasing amount of neo-Caths seem to be taking this approach; remember Simcha's statement that nothing going on in Rome or in the Curia was important to her?

But he does reveal a bit of his hand here. He personally sees no problem with homosexual priests being ordained - and offers the argument that they would be the best qualified to minister to other men with same sex attraction! So...if we have a gay priest, we think it's a good idea to pair him up with other homosexual men?

At any rate, Shea dutifully says that he accepts the Church's "current policy" even though he personally doesn't see homosexual ordinations as a huge problem. Setting aside the laughable notion of the non-admission of homosexuals as simply "the Church's current policy" (as opposed to her perennial discipline), I wonder then, if he disagrees, should the discipline then be changed? Should the practice affirmed by the Church's newest sainted pope and reaffirmed twice in the past decade be chucked? And if so, what, exactly, has changed since 2008?

To his earlier comment, it's not me but the popes who cared about gays getting ordained. If this was the case since time immemorial until 2008, then the only justification for altering it must be that something has profoundly changed since 2008. How has the situation changed since then, Mark? Why are the directives of Benedict XVI and John XXIII no longer good enough?

Oh. They have nothing to do with the discussion. I see. It is evident that nothing has changed since 2008 - except public opinion. And now we are seeing a neo-Cath shift to bend with the winds. 

I've basically decided to throw in the towel by this point.

Mark really can't understand why his answers are not satisfactory:

So I toss it out to him one more time: If you disagree with the disciplines, then are you advocating they should change? Are you advocating that "chaste" homosexuals are suitable candidates for the priesthood? Should the traditional discipline be abandoned?

After maintaining a charitable demeanor in the midst of such responses, even another commentator, one who actually took Shea's side on the debate, tries to pry a straight answer out of him:

Well, it was fruitless. I got no more responses from His Sheaness, and the thread eventually deteriorated into some argument about whether the North or South was right in the Civil War.

But I think this thread demonstrates some inherent problems in the neo-Cath position: To what degree will we see that alleged orthodoxy to the Church is really just a matter of supporting what is viewed as "current policy"? Is there not a problem with viewing a perennial discipline as merely "policy"? Is not the value of discipline and tradition severely downgraded. if so? And if these sorts of matters are simply the "current policy" that can change the way it changes with each American presidential administration, what tools does the Church really have to ensure discipline and continuity in the long run?

Ultimately, the neo-Cath strategy is to insist loudly that certain things can never be changed so long as the current Pontiff does not want to change them; then, when the "policy" changes with another pontiff, suggest just as loudly that such matters were never immune from change to begin with. I'm not suggesting the practical question of whether or not to admit persons with deep-seated homosexuality to the seminary is a doctrinal question or that infallibility is on the line here; I am suggesting that reasoning that the Church's very old discipline on this matter (it goes back to Trent and before) can be seen as merely "current policy" is destructively reductionist.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Exquisitely Beautiful

Have you ever really seen a beautiful act of repentance and conversion unfold before you? We all have our own stories, of course, but I mean getting to observe the wondrous working of grace in somebody else, either up close or from a distance?

Some time ago - many years - I noticed in my parish one day a young woman sitting in the back. She was a pretty young thing, perhaps in her early or mid twenties. She was all alone. She was pregnant, perhaps five or six months. I'd never seen her before, and we have a small church so I recognize most of the regulars. I assumed she was new and perhaps not a believer, because never went up to receive communion. She mainly kept to the very back and kind of tried to remain unnoticed, and she always left Mass immediately so there was really no chance to talk to her.

One day, maybe about a month after I first noticed her, I was returning from communion and noticed her kneeling down at the pew and weeping profusely - and I mean weeping! Her head was in her hands, face red, tears streaming down her cheeks and her body heaving with sobs. I knew those tears - the tears of penitence! Oh how beautiful are the tears elicited by God's grace! I was profoundly moved just seeing it, but of course I didn't want to intrude, so I left her alone and gave thanks to God. A lamb was being carried back on the shoulders of the shepherd. She had found the pearl of great price.

Well that girl, she returned week after week. She still sat in the back, and she still did not receive communion. But it was different; there was a contentment on her face now. She was at peace. I often saw her while I was returning from communion. She was always praying fervently, judging by the fire in her eyes and the longing in her face. I saw her now and then lingering after Mass at times as she said hello to the priest and chatted with him, so she must have made an introduction to him.

Shortly after this she began receiving Holy Communion. I never saw her name on a list of candidates or catechumens and never witnessed or heard about any profession of faith at any Mass, so I am assuming she was already a Catholic. Her trip home came not in the public profession of faith but in the quiet and solitude of the confessional.

Months went by. The time came for her to deliver her child. Now I saw her at Mass with a tiny infant. I remember praying after Mass one day and seeing her and what I assumed were her extended family in the Church for the baptism. Never seen any of them before, and frankly, some of them looked kind of uncomfortable to be there. With them was a scruffy looking guy who was apparently the father of the baby. He looked kind of...well, let's just say he clearly wasn't sure about this Catholicism thing. I don't want to go too far and infer too much from their demeanor alone, but it seemed clear that the father was there because the girl wanted it, not because he understood what baptism was. Maybe I was wrong, but I'm a pretty good judge of body language. That's about all I could tell, and I left the church so they could have their private baptism.

The child was baptized. As months went by, I noticed the man occasionally attending Mass with the girl. He still looked skeptical about the whole thing, but maybe less so as time passed. He cleaned up a bit, too, and it seemed - from what I could tell - that the man and the girl were making an effort to raise the child together. A change had come over the girl, too. I don't know how to describe it. Just a look of contentment and lightness in her character. The workings of grace made manifest.

Some time passed. Maybe months. Maybe a year. I don't remember. Eventually they had wedding rings on their fingers. I don't know when. By now I'd been noting them for over a year and a half and still had never spoken to them. But somewhere along the line they got wed. The man was also now receiving Holy Communion in the good graces of Mother Church. And the girl was pregnant again.

Beautiful, right? It gets better.

After a time, another girl starts showing up with the first one. By her appearance, I assume she is her sister. Then that girl's husband stars attending. They get pregnant. Now there's two families. I watch their kids all get older. Other kids are born.

But that's not all. Eventually their parents start coming to Mass with them, at first intermittently, but then regularly. The whole huge brood becomes regular attendees at Mass. There's like ten or twelve of them now, a whole huge family of faith, born of the tears of one lonely, scared girl who cried out to God in a moment of desperation. And look what came of it! Faith of a mustard seed, indeed!

I don't know the whole backstory. I don't know the mysterious workings of Grace. I don't know what prayers, what arguments, what must have happened to get each one of those people there. But clearly the witness of the original girl and her fiery faith and love were the center upon which everything else revolved.

It's been years now. Did I ever talk to them? No. Never a word. I was perfectly content to watch this unfold from a distance. Maybe I shall someday. It is still unfolding. But when I think back on what I saw, the little bits I witnessed, of what happened, and remember years ago watching that lonely, pregnant girl weep in the back of the Church, my God! It is one of the most exquisitely beautiful things I have ever seen in this life!

That is what grace is about. That is worth fighting for.

"You tellest all my wanderings; put thou my tears into thy bottle. Are they not in thy book?" -Psalm 56:8

Friday, January 16, 2015


If we read the Diary of St. Faustina, we come across the following entry for December 17, 1936, which is paragraph number 823:

December 17 [1936]: I have offered this day for priests. I have suffered more today than ever before, both interiorly and exteriorly. I did not know it was possible to suffer so much in one day. I tried to make a Holy Hour, in the course of which my spirit had a taste of the bitterness of the Garden of Gethsemane.

Clearly something powerful was going on in the spiritual realm that day, and St. Faustina was keenly aware of it. What could have possibly been happening on that day to cause St. Faustina such agonizing pain? What was so special about December 17, 1936?



Well, I suppose we'll just file this under interesting factoids to keep in mind. It's probably nothing.

FYI. Before you comment, please notice the tag for this post is "humour"; it is not our intention to make any insinuation beyond noting the existence of this coincidence.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Old Testament Typology: Epiphany

What is the typological interpretation of Scripture? There are various ways it could be explained, but I think the best is to say that typology refers to the way the truths of the New Testament are foreshadowed or "hidden" in the Old Testament, to use St. Augustine's famous dictum.

It is the way in which Isaac carrying the wood up Mount Moriah to his own sacrifice signifies Christ carrying the cross; the way in which the waters of the great Flood signify baptism, or the valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem symbolizes Hell. The Old Testament is replete with examples in which persons, things and events signify New Testament realities in the same manner a shadow signifies the real thing by which the shadow is cast.

Please note that typology is not the same thing as prophecy; in prophecy, prophets reveal what God is doing or will do in a time to come - a telling or a foretelling. In typology, we have no foretelling but more of a signification, a symbolic affinity that helps us shed light on the mysteries of the New Testament in light of the Old and vice versa.

Two years ago we looked at the Feast of Epiphany as found in the prophetic texts of the Old Testament. This article explained Epiphany as the revelation of the Messiah to the Gentiles and examined many prophecies from the major and minor prophets which foretold this event. The following year we did an article examining the most famous of these prophecies in depth, that of Micah 5, which is the well-known Bethlehem Prophecy ("But thou, O' Bethlehem Ephratha...").

Today we shall again revisit this theme of Epiphany by examining the typological signs of the inclusion of the Gentiles throughout the Old Testament - that is, looking at persons and events of the Old Testament that signify the inclusion of the Gentiles into the household of God, which is at the core of this great Feast.

In the Book of Genesis, the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth are the fathers of the nations and hence representative of the diversity the human race. Shem of course will be the father of the Hebrews and all the Semitic races. Japtheth, because he settled in the western isles, is typically symbolic of the Gentiles. In Noah's prophecy after he discovers Ham has seen him naked, he says:

"May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan be his servant" (Gen. 9:27).

That God will "enlarge" Japheth by making him "dwell in the tents of Shem" is signified that at some point the Gentile descendants of Japheth will be grafted into the house of Shem, which is what is inferred by saying they will "dwell in the tents" of Shem's descendants; i.e., the Gentiles will be grafted in to Israel (cf. Rom. 11:11-24).

Later in the Book of Genesis, we see Abraham, after returning from the victory over the five kings, pays homage to Melchizedek of Salem and offers him tithes (Gen. 14:17-20). This Melchizedek is a Gentile king who nevertheless has knowledge of the true God - at least that is the Catholic Tradition.* In Hebrews 7, St. Paul uses this historical episode to demonstrate the superiority of the New Covenant priesthood over the old, since in Abraham's submission there is a figurative submission of the Levitical order to the priesthood of Melchizedek. Now the priesthood of Melchizedek is one composed of Jews and Gentiles - of all who acclaim the Messiah. Therefore the episode of Abraham paying homage to Melchizedek demonstrates that the future priesthood will include the Gentiles, signified by the Gentile King Melchizedek.

In the Old Testament, especially in Genesis, we frequently see strife between the older and younger sibling with the theme of the younger supplanting the older. The Ishmael-Isaac, Esau-Jacob, and Joseph-Brothers stories all contain this element. Jesus Himself draws on this theme in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). In this parable of our Lord the younger brother represents the Gentiles while the older brother represents the Jews; the older brother is indignant about the Father's forgiveness and restoration of the prodigal son just as the Jews were envious an indignant at the inclusion of the Gentiles into the early Church. That the Gentiles have been grafted in while the Jews have persisted in unbelief is signified by the supplanting of the older sons by the younger in the Genesis patriarchal stories.

In 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9, we see that the Queen of Sheba comes to visit King Solomon with a very great retinue laden with all sorts of gifts. She has traditionally represented the nations, and the medievals saw a connection between her gifts to Solomon and the Magi's gifts to Christ. The Queen of Sheba came from the "ends of the earth" (cf. Luke 11:31) to present gifts to the Son of David and hear his wisdom; the Magi came from the ends of the earth to present gifts to the Son of David and learn the wisdom of God. Thus, the homage the Queen of Sheba pays to Solomon is a figure of the Gentiles being drawn into the Church of God, which is what Isaiah prophesied when he said:

'Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.' (Isa. 2:3).

We also should note that the genealogy of Jesus contains several references to Gentile's being grafted in to the messianic line. The genealogy of Christ, which is read at the Easter Vigil, contains references to four women, all of whom are Gentiles. These women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Rahab.

Tamar (Gen. 38) was a Canaanite woman who was wed to two of Judah's sons and eventually, by ruse, became impregnated by Judah himself and gave birth to Perez, who was an ancestor of Jesus.

Rahab is best known as the Canaanite harlot who hid the twelve spies from Joshua in the episode of Jericho. But what is less well known is that after the fall of Jericho she was wed to Salmon of the house of Judah (Matt. 1:4-5) and would subsequently become the mother of Boaz.

Ruth was a Moabite woman who, through her attachment to her mother-in-law Naomi, came to dwell among the people of Israel and wed Boaz, and thus became the great-grandmother of David, and an ancestor of Christ.

Bathsheba, mentioned in the genealogy of Christ as "she who had been the wife of Uriah" (Matt. 1:14), was either a Hittite or a Jebusite. She is particularly important, as she is the Mother of the Son of David (Solomon) and hence a type of Mary (which we see in her intercessory role depicted in 1 Kings 2) as well as the Church. With the Gentile Bathsheba grafted into the royal House of David, we have the most perfect figure of the Gentiles being grafted in to the Church.

In each case we have a Gentile woman who is not only taken into the house of Israel in the Messianic line but who also serves to advance salvation history. None of these women are passive; they are active in the affairs of their day in one way or another and as such serve as instruments of God's Providence by which the Messiah is given to the world. This signifies the centrality of the inclusion of the Gentiles into the New Covenant, which is signified by the centrality Gentile women have played in the affairs if Israel throughout salvation history.

Our Lord also makes mention of some Gentiles in the Old Testament that were recipients of special favors from God:

Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way" (Luke 4:24-30).

Why the anger of the Jews? The widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian were both Gentiles. Elijah's miracle of the widow and the cleansing of Naaman both signify the inclusion of the Gentiles in God's covenant, especially the latter, which is a type of baptism. The Jews react with the same envious anger of the older brother in the Prodigal Son or the workers in the vineyard who were indignant that those hired later will receive the same pay as those who have worked all day. Our Lord suggests that because of unbelief, His message will be of greater news to the Gentiles than to unbelieving Jews, just as the miracles of Elijah and Elisha were done for pagans.

The inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant is not an accidental aspect of the New Testament, but is central to it, something that St. Paul says is a mystery whose revelation had to wait the coming of Christ:

"In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3:4-6).

This incorporation of the Gentiles into God's family is part of the birthright of the Messiah. God, speaking of the Messiah, says in the prophet Isaiah: "You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified," but then goes on to say, "It is too light a thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth" (Isa. 49:3,6).

It is this light, this revelation of God to the Gentiles and their subsequent incorporation into the Kingdom of Christ that we celebrate today on the Feast of Epiphany.

Epiphany in the Prophets
The Bethlehem Prophecy of Micah

*Jewish tradition, unable to affirm that Father Abraham would pay tithes to a Gentile, has Melchizedek being none other than Shem himself under another name.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Book Review: Magisterial Authority

There is a gap today in many peoples understanding of the Holy Catholic Faith. What is the Magisterium? What authority does magisterial teaching have, and what degrees of intellectual assent are we required to yield to magisterial teaching? In this short and understandable work, Magisterial Authority by Father Chad Ripperger, the author does a solid job explaining the above in a way that most people who have reached the age of maturity will understand.

This book has already been reviewed here at Rorate Caeli by our friend Ryan Grant of Mediatrix Press. While I enjoyed the book and think Ryan did a great job with his review, I had some different thoughts on the work.

There has been some discussion in the press that the Pope will be publishing an encyclical in the near future throwing his support behind the theory that man is causing global climate fluctuations. Fr. Ripperger's helpful book examines the Pope's authority on matters of science or on other topics outside of faith and morals. If the Pope declares that the science behind man made climate change to be true, does that bind on the conscience of the faithful to accept it as well, or else risk becoming a dissident if one does not?

For being so short, the work is fairly comprehensive; I cannot think of an aspect of magisterial teaching that Father Chad did not at least briefly cover, and there was one particularly time I wished he had covered it more in depth in this short work. In the second essay ‘Various Organs of Infallibility’. The author cites Tuas Libenter, of Pope Pius IX, to say that the universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians are to be considered infallible, but he limits those to the scholastic schools from between 1100 to 1750:
“When the term Theologians is used, it should not be confused with the generic theologians. The term “Theologians” refers to a specific group of men, viz. those theologians of the various scholastic schools from the twelfth century until the middle of the eighteenth century (roughly during the years of 1100 and 1750). Pius IX in Tuas Libenter says that we are to hold those teachings as pertaining to the Faith not only found in the decrees of the councils but also in the universal and constant consensus of the Catholic Theologians.” pg 30

He cites Scanelli, who observes the following:

“Although the assistance of the Holy Ghost is not directly promised to theologians, nevertheless the assistance promised to the Church requires that He should prevent them as a body from falling into error; otherwise the faithful who follow them would all be led astray.” pg 30-31

In my mind this raised some further questions which perhaps someone can explain for me.
  1. Why is the cut off date 1750 if the Church stills needs their assistance, according to Scannelli?
  2. Why is it limited to the Scholastics?
  3. Is this idea advanced by Pope Pius IX based on previous teaching on the same topic, or is this just one thought in his magisterial teaching?
  4. Is this statement asserting the infallibility of a consensus of theologians itself infallible? From what I understand from Fr. Chads book,  not every statement in an encyclical is infallible.
  5. Who determines if there is a consensus? Reading all the works of the scholastic presents a practical problem to everyone (even Bishops) except other theologians.

One would have to rely a great deal on the integrity of the theologians to point out when there is a lack of a consensus, (which many of them did, like St. Alphonsus, who would routinely cite people who disagreed with his opinion and then state why the thought they were wrong). This could lead to assuming a false consensus when none exists, a sort of “hyper-infallibility” every time someone reads a few theologians in agreement with each other from that era.

In the fourth essay ‘The Proper Response to an Erring Magisterial Member’ Father Ripperger provides some very sound and practical advice that can be very helpful to maintaining peace in ones soul in these tumultuous times. I thought the advice to pray and do penance when one encounters such a thing to be most excellent. It reminded me of a similar exhortation in the Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus, that before reproofing one’s brother one should pray and do penance in secret for him.

I would like to add a few thoughts to the last point in the essay: to examine ones conscience, asking “what have I done to deserve better leaders?”.

My desire to elaborate comes in part from the use of the quote from St. John Eudes in the text used in Fathers exhortation, the quote that is ubiquitous in traditional catholic circles from Catholic sites, blogs, forum signatures, memes, and has become a traditional Catholic cliche. The reliance on this singular quotation is curious, since there are many other works on calamity and why bad things happen written by greater authorities that appear to be neglected such as: St. John Cassian’s conference on the Slaughter of Holy Men, and even more modern works like Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Father Raoul Plus (A slightly abridged version on Audiobook here).

I wish to draw from that well of knowledge of St. John Cassian, not in opposition to examination of ourselves, or that bad leaders are not sometimes a divine chastisement . Rather that bad leaders in and of themselves are an indifferent kind of thing.

St. John Cassian, in conference 6 talks about the three kinds of things in this world: the good, the bad, and the indifferent. The only thing bad is sin, the only thing good is Godliness and the practice of virtue and the indifferent are

“But those things are indifferent which can be appropriated to either side according to the fancy or wish of their owner, as for instance riches, power, honor, bodily strength, good health, beauty, life itself, and death, poverty, bodily infirmities, injuries, and other things of the same sort, which can contribute either to good or to evil as the character and fancy of their owner directs.” ~On the Slaughter of Some Holy Men, St. John Cassian.

Evil, that is sin we are responsible for can never be forced on us, even if our bodies were possessed by a devil, we are only guilty in so far as we cooperate with evil at the level of our will.

Is our anger at bad leaders because we wish to avoid suffering? If our examination of conscience returns us to compunction and a willingness to suffer then it is good, but we should be cautious as to think that even if we and the majority of Christians should show perfect fidelity to grace for the rest of our lives that we would avoid suffering the scourge of bad leaders.

Bad leaders, whether they are chastisements for the wicked, and/or trials for the just, are to bring out a greater good. Father Chad says “We must make sure that our conscience is clear by making sure that we do prayer and penance to make sure that we have priests and bishops who love and teach the Orthodox Catholic Faith”.pg 58

Can man ever make sure, even by prayer and penance? When our ability to say pleasing prayer and make righteous penance comes from the movement of Grace? When our Lord was in agony, He asked that the cup pass from him, was not His Prayer most perfect? Yet, He said “Thy Will be Done”, and we must pray similarly - when we ask God to send us good and holy priests, it must be within the greater context of His Adorable Will, understanding that He may send us good or bad for His own reasons. God allowed the betrayal of Judas to bring a greater good out of it.  God can allow bad leaders for the same reason, and that He will give the grace to resist the temptations to sin that arise both from their bad example and leadership, and  I cannot conclude otherwise. We cannot make sure why we have bad leaders at any given time, and so we should rather seek to unite ourselves with the will of the Father whether He gives us good leaders, or he allows bad ones for our sanctification. 

Even though I found certain parts I disagreed with, I still found this work is still most necessary, and I feel that it will become even more important in the coming year. I would encourage you to read, buy and distribute this to your friends and family. In my opinion, its presentation is solid and should appeal to more than just traditional Catholics. I certainly plan on passing around my copy.