Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Guest Post "The Latin Mass Saved My Life"

A friend of mine has written an elegant testimony on how the Traditional Latin Mass brought him to faith, delivered him from sexual sin, and taught him the meaning of manhood. It is a touching story from a man who has pondered these matters deeply. But I will let him speak for himself:

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Current circumstances in the Church have moved me to write something that is deeply personal, having defined the course of my life for the past three years. While I can choose to reel in anguish and despair regarding the restrictions imposed by Pope Francis in Traditionis Custodes, I will instead try to use this time as an opportunity to look back on how far I have gone in my relationship with Christ, the eternal defender of Tradition, and remind me to keep hoping in Him and His promises, however trite that might sound and how hopeless the situation for us traditional Catholics might be both at home and abroad. I won’t dwell on the full details of my conversion story. I will also leave the doctrinal and canonical dissection of the motu proprio to Catholics far more competent than me, although this essay will reflect my views regarding this issue.

I grew up in a single-parent, lapsed Catholic household—a rare combination of circumstances in the Philippines. However, it is hard not to breathe the air of a (still) strong Catholic culture and imbibe its influence in your worldview and personal morality. I went to Catholic school all my life, since my non-practicing Catholic mother made a lot of sacrifices to make this possible. Despite her issues with the Catholic faith, she believed that the Catholic Church did a good job at teaching moral values. In fact, she had me baptized on my grandmother’s birthday, who opposed it. Suffice to say, my grandmother had an even less favorable opinion of the Church than her. The Holy Spirit does work His graces however men might oppose or ignore His gentle inspirations. I credit my mother’s fateful decision to baptize me for being reconciled with the Church much later. More on that story shortly.

Growing up in the Philippines in the 2000s was coming to age in your typical JPII conservative Novus Ordo environment—the liturgy was celebrated poorly (I still cringe at the sight of chasuble-albs), cheesy homilies, wreckovated parishes (granted, this wasn’t as bad in the Philippines), and an insistence on seeing all of Church doctrine and history through the lens of the Second Vatican Council. We were taught, as I suspect like our American Catholic brethren back then, that the versus populum orientation was superior than ad orientem, since it welcomed the community to worship with the priest, and that no one understood the Traditional Latin Mass; hence, the matrons in front had prayed the rosary instead. Of course, we were also taught that ecumenism and religious freedom for all were good for the Church. Yet this being your JPII conservative milieu, we were also taught the Church teaching didn’t really change and that the Catholic Church was still the true Church. This was back before Google, and so I agreed with everything my diligent religion class teachers taught me. But even then, with the little knowledge I had of tradition in books (for one, I only learned about the heresy of modernism in Pope St. Pius X’s biographical entry in a book about the saints), I already saw the ruptures in what the Church has taught and done before, and even more so in how the Philippine hierarchy behaved toward non-Catholic sects. While the Philippines has never had a shortage of lay apologists, the hierarchy seemed to be locked in an overly conciliatory, even obsequious, attitude toward sects like the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and Members Church of God International (MCGI), two homegrown churches, given how they have always viciously attacked the Church and poached thousands of souls from Holy Mother Church. Somehow, I thought, we were the true Church, yet at the same time we had no official response for the rapacity of these false preachers.

When it came to my life at school beyond religion classes and First Friday Masses, I found it quite difficult to keep up with my peers socially. They talked about their fathers playing basketball with them or otherwise doing something that a father and son should do together. I guess this lack of a father figure made it difficult for me to make friends and open up to people, especially when talking about my unique situation of not having a father in the first place. It didn’t help that my mother told me to tell everyone that my father was dead (I still do not know where he is or if he is even alive). Moreover, my introverted and reserved nature didn’t help. I certainly did not have a healthy model of masculinity, despite being enrolled in an all-boys school.

It would be unfair to say that it was this Catholic environment that led me to losing my faith in my adolescent years, since many classmates didn’t, yet it is safe to say that my lack of exposure to a Catholicism that was consistent in what she said and what she did hardly contributed any defense to my teenage brain’s exposure to anti-Catholic and anti-religious arguments. I uncritically gobbled up the New Atheists’ arguments, even if I had not read any of their books (I still haven’t up to now). This was around 2005 when Filipino households started being hooked up to the internet; Google searches provided all the semi-educated arguments I needed. I have always been well-read, ironically, but this did not lead me to buttress the things I learned from my religion classes with arguments from Catholic sources. I reveled being an atheist in a deeply Catholic society and considered other classmates in the same boat as fellow enlightened souls (or rather, purely material beings). I was so arrogant that when I was 14, I declared to myself that I was officially an atheist on the very day of my Confirmation. I did go through it since it was expected of me and I rationalized that I was curious about ritual. My appreciation with ancient, arcane rituals in general and pre-modern aesthetics kept me appreciative of the Latin Mass and the surface beauty of Traditional Catholicism.

Long story short, I (expectedly) fell into existential despair and sexual sin. I had to follow my mother to the United States in 2014 at age 21 after she married my stepfather some years before that. This led me further into social withdrawal and a rapidly metastasizing anomie. I made few friends and struggled relating to American culture, which surprisingly I found to be very welcoming of outsiders. As I got into my mid-20s, I realized that I could not keep living like this. There must be a reason for living, for striving for something, for working toward some end, even if during that time I did not realize I was made to fulfill that end. I knew it didn’t mean going to graduate school, given that I had wanted to pursue an academic career originally, since I learned early on how adjunct professors were underpaid in this country. So at first I thought that I could find my purpose with being financially independent. Furthermore, I knew I had to move out if I was going to have any chance to start my own life, like Americans of my age. This gave me a direction in life beyond finding a job so I could fund my worldly interests, but that wasn’t enough. At this point I still didn’t know the answer. 

Not that I connected the dots immediately, but I also felt that I could not let my addiction to porn and masturbation to define me for the rest of my life. I hated myself for my inability to wean myself off it. Around this time, I also saw how broken American society was with regards to marriage and family. However, there were two things that kept me intrigued about Catholicism. One was the fact that I was surrounded by (nominal) Protestants, and I was trying to look for Catholics with whom I shared something at least. Another was that I never lost interest in the Latin Mass. I have known about it even before Summorum Pontificum, interestingly also thanks to Google. I still cannot explain in natural terms how this interest grew over time while in the States, but one explanation might be that I was looking for beauty (and good and truth) in all the ugliness I found myself mired in.

The opportunity to attend a Latin Mass finally came to me on a trip to New York City in November 2017, over at the Church of Holy Innocents. I didn’t understand anything, nor did I know that something called a missal existed. I did know it was different from all the other Masses I have attended in the past, both as a believer and a skeptic. It did conform to my aesthetic tastes, of course, but I came home with something more than shallow art appreciation. To be sure, I was already reading about Catholicism again, especially regarding the aftermath of Amoris Laetitia. I can’t remember exactly what came first and how everything came to be, but immediately before this I was already entertaining doubts regarding issues like same-sex marriage, the transgender movement, and no-fault divorce. As an atheist then, I found out at last that the only axiom in secular ideology was change, and this did not satisfy my intellectual convictions; after all, I had stopped believing in God because that was the “truth”. However, I did not navigate my way back to the Tiber right away, partly because of the issues with Amoris Laetitia, seeing that the liberals were winning, and also because the bad spirit was still trying to confirm me in my vices. 

Three months later, in January 2018, I got back to attending Mass willingly after 10 years, forcing myself to wake up on an early Sunday morning with nothing else but the desire to learn more about the Old Rite, and see what followed from there. The rest of it is the Holy Spirit’s story. Slowly, I realized that the TLM was the expression of Catholicism that didn’t present itself to the world with "ifs" and "buts." Rather, it seemed to shout and assert that the Church was the Bride of Christ, that what she was doing was True Sacrifice, and that she opened a portal to something beyond the altar, beyond this world. It was a whole worldview packed in a couple of gestures by the priest, who as alter Christus was the main actor, since he alone had the sweet yoke of re-presenting the Sacrifice of the Bridegroom, ipse Christus, giving back to the Father all the good that He has magnanimously imparted to the universe. Obviously, I did not immediately work out the various arguments from Tradition about the fittingness of all of this, but it was this self-consistent blueprint I saw embedded within the Old Mass that eventually bridged the gap I perceived between what the Church has always taught and what she was currently doing. 

In connection to the brokenness of my family, the ruin of my manhood, and my lack of purpose, the Mass of Pope St. Gregory the Great and St. Pius V taught me that the world runs on order and reason. For one, nothing is superfluous in the Mass, as all its parts contribute toward properly disposing its participants into truly participating fruitfully in the Sacrifice at Calvary. Not only is there beauty in the vestments, the chanting, and the sweet whiff of Latin, but also the prayers express a frank admission of man’s frailty and pleads deliverance from his sinfulness through the economy of salvation as revealed by Scripture and Tradition. It is the whole of salvation history summarized in a few sublime gestures and movements. It communicates through its succinct beauty that the only Beauty, the only Good and Truth to pursue for, is what the Mass points to, to where it derives its beauty from in the first place, and to whom the priest offers the perfect worship. For one, I remembered reading the Roman Canon in an older English translation, and I couldn’t help but tear up not only because of how emotionally moving it was or how powerful its poetry, but more importantly on how it systematically elevated the whole liturgical action to the presence of the Divine at the moment of Consecration.

Thus, it is futile to look for worldly honors, riches or other vain pursuits, since they are at best means to that end we were all created for. Moreover, there is no need to wallow in the brokenness of original sin and its consequences, from our immediate parents up to our first parents, since the death of Christ, the Logos, has already freed us from the chains of the Serpent. Before my conversion I had already accepted that all children needed a father and a mother, yet I eventually realized that only Catholicism had yet to cave in (doctrinally at least) on issues regarding marriage and family. More than being moved by a merely anthropological sense of tradition—and in my case the determination of a child to not repeat his parents’ mistakes—I made the connection between tradition and how it was principally handed over from the previous generation to the next through the family. And it is through the basic unit of the family that we are made members of a larger reality—civil society and the Church. The traditional family is not only the poster child of conservative talking points, but it is the smallest organ in a mystical body that extends to Heaven. 

Intimately connected to this, the Latin Mass has also showed me on how to be a man, which is something I never learned from my absentee father. The exclusive presence of men in the altar coupled with the meticulous rubrics in the Mass is enough to dispute the self-defeating claims of gender ideology, if only in deed and not in word. Both the fixed and proper prayers of the Old Mass are suffused with the spirit of virtus understood in the classical Roman sense. It moreover introduced me to saints who were manly, courageous, and resolute, yet at the same time humble enough to model their lives to the image of the archetypal Man. Real men, tempered by Christian moderation and virtue, are neither toxic nor reap destruction upon the weak, but rather use their strength to fight for what is right and just, for what is truly good, even at the expense of suffering for it. And who else would point them to this than Jesus Christ, whom they see suffer, die, and rise in glory through the priest every Sunday? With this the Latin Mass led me to that other great sacrament, Confession. Through the work of patient priests in the confessional I was able to be freed from sexual sin, and confirmed that a man could truly subject his carnal desires with the Spirit’s grace and His gift of reason. 

I can say this with confidence: the Latin Mass saved my life, and hopefully will save my soul. I would not have written this essay or have even known Boniface and other Catholic friends had I not made an effort to go to a Low Mass one Thursday evening in New York. I think it inappropriate to say that the Latin Mass was my “gateway drug” to Catholicism, but it is true that it all started from there. I am not suggesting that the Latin Mass will always inevitably lead to metanoia or even that it is the panacea to the current crisis; certainly, it is but one tool that the Spirit uses to penetrate hearts walled off and imprisoned by sin. Yet I do think that the restoration of the liturgy is the key to unraveling the current crisis. 

Like everyone else, I remain a sinner and still struggle with many faults. But I am thankful for the Lord for delivering me from sexual sin and the social isolation it brings with it. Now, I am making friends with lots of Catholics, more than I ever had, and also enjoyed dating for the first time free from the clutches of pelvic degeneracy. I am still introverted, but I found out it’s not reason enough to build walls around myself especially when others were reaching out to me. I was also able to start a career that enabled me to support myself, and will hopefully allow me to support a future family as well. Through the Latin Mass, I learned how to bear hardships for love of Him who suffered for me, and to embrace the painful process of change to be a better man. 

Yet despite my personal testimony and that of many others, Francis and the rest of the Spirit of Vatican II crowd keeps plotting to suppress it. Beyond possible envy at the sight of the growing number of (especially young) Catholics who take refuge in the Latin Mass to escape the modernist wasteland that has defined the Church today, they know on an intellectual level that the Mass of All Time is the cornerstone of everything Catholicism has stood for before the 1960s. Or rather, what it has always stood for and will stand for beyond their blighted clerical careers. Its enduring, continued presence stings them as a living rebuke of the failure of their project of bonhomie with the world, the saeculum, forgetting as they do their sworn duty to bring the world into the saecula saeculorum instead with the angels and saints—or else vainly thinking that they can achieve both. In a protean world ruled only by Baphomet’s diktat of solve et coagula, the Mass points to its archetype, the unchanging, eternal Word, and confidently proclaims him as its one true King, against the pretensions of the prince of this world garbed in various disguises. 

The illicit suppression of the Latin Mass is proving to be the greatest challenge to my faith as of yet. A part of me wants to scream and express my wrath acerbically in social media; another part of me even tries to whisper that all I did in 2018 with the help of God was all for naught, and I might as well give in to despair by going back to my old vices. Yet wouldn’t this prove Pope Francis right in claiming that the Latin Mass is only a source of discord among the Church Militant, with few good fruits to show of its work? Wouldn’t that be too easy for our critics, who say that our attachment to it is mere nostalgia and vapid aesthetics? I am trying to cling to hope, seeing this as an opportunity to prove to Him that He has truly changed me, and that I will follow wherever He leads. Bad popes come and go, trends die off eventually, and heresies will have their day of reckoning, but Christ’s promise endures. He has shown this through the refusal of the Latin Mass to die in the decades after the Council, when the de-christianization of society was not as apparent, and how it still produces countless gifts for the Church despite every threat of suppression. This might be, after all, a rebuke to us by Christ, for being at times prideful, clannish, and bitter, as our enemies claim us to be—but doesn’t He always subject those whom He loves to suffer? Nothing impure will enter His presence; Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8). 

I can barely muster words of comfort for my fellow Catholics, for I still do not know how we can effectively respond to this latest attack against Tradition. At least for me, I hope that all these trials in the Church (which have advanced in a worrying pace beginning with the Amazon Synod in 2019) means that the Devil is running out of time; hence, he has been hard at work round the clock to destroy the Church. Anyhow, anything I say will be repeated and better expressed by others. Yet we must resolve not to let this latest saga from the Vatican—from this papacy—be a cause of scandal for us. Let us pray more, let us accept suffering more, let us go to the Latin Mass more. The Spirit will lead us to more concrete ways of responding to the modernists, but let us respond to malice with charity, to detraction with humility, and to abuse with patience. And may faith, hope, and love remain in us the selfsame chalice that bears the blood of Christ, which he poured out for the salvation of souls, so that when this dark cloud finally dissipates, we can again say with confidence in our churches: Introibo ad altare Dei, qui laetificat juventutem meam (Ps. 42:4). 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Nine Reflections on Traditionis Custodes

Ha so did you hear there's this thing called Traditionis Custodes that Pope Francis issued? Papa Francesco sure stirred up some lio with this one. If Francis is concerned about the growth of traditionalism that rejects the post-Conciliar Church, giving the SSPX their single biggest marketing boost of all time is certainly a strange way to show it. 

Many people more astute than myself have already commented on Traditionis Custodes extensively, so I will try not to repeat their talking points. Here are my nine reflections on the new motu proprio.

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First, on the antithesis between Francis and Benedict. Some are saying this isn't a repudiation of Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum. They are arguing that those who are saying so are being unnecessarily partisan and dramatic. Have these people even read these documents? We need to start by realizing that Summorum Pontificum did not "legalize" or "allow" or "liberalize" the Traditional Latin Mass. It did not make the Latin Mass available by positive decree; rather, it stated the principle that the Latin Mass could never truly have been abrogated and, therefore, by consequence was (and is) always allowed. Traditionis Custodes, on the other hand, completely repudiates that principle. It's not just that it suppresses something that Benedict XVI allowed; its that by presuming to suppress the traditional liturgy by papal dictate, it contradicts the principle elucidated in Summorum Pontificum while giving no explanation of why or how that is possible. But that's par for the course these days; the modern magisterium creates continuity by merely declaring it (see "The Phantasm of Fiat Continuity", USC, May, 2016). We are to accept continuity and harmony exist merely because we are told it does.

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Francis's motu proprio was issued out of concern that traditional communities foster a divisive spirit, believing that they alone are "the true church." What does this even mean? Does this refer to traditionalists who literally think the Church presided over by Francis is a false church? That Francis is a false pope? Or perhaps it merely means the belief that Traditional Latin Mass reflects the authentic heart of our faith? It's hard to say. Traditionis Custodes does not elaborate on what the false premises affirmed by these divisive traditionalists actually consist of. It is impossible to determine when and whether someone is guilty of thinking they are "the true church", as the document provides no explanation of this new and dangerous schism, which is nevertheless so grave as to justify suppressing an entire rite. It is meant to cast suspicion on an entire subsection of the Church.

The crux of the matter is this: there is a subtle transmutation being wrought upon word "schism", morphing it from a canonical status into an attitude. It is very difficult to pin the canonical state of schism upon somebody; it is extremely easy to accuse someone of having a "schismatic attitude." I think most uses of the word "schism" I see on social media these days are in the context of an attitude rather than an objectively existing canonical state. Basically, "schismatic attitude" has become the catchphrase to denote anyone who posts mean things online about the current regime. Its definition is so broad it means nothing; its used the way Wokies use the word "racism."

Also, the fact that the Holy Father is taking punitive action against an attitude is horrifying. And this isn't even speculation; Francis says plainly in his accompanying letter that his edict is prompted by "words and attitudes."

As for real schism, the number of traditionalist groups or parishes who have gone into schism during the pontificate of Francis is zero.

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But if there are traditional Catholics who literally believe that they and they alone are the "true Church," they must number only a few thousand worldwide. And apparently we are to believe that this tiny sliver of a demographic poses an existential threat to the unity of a communion of one billion believers?

But fear not! As a remedy, we shall herd every catholic who loves in a Latin Mass into one or two parishes in a diocese, place draconian restrictions on them, functionally ban them celebrating in new parishes or even with new priests, and then we're going to let them stew in an age of social media. Sounds like a winning plan for unity. 

The harshness of this diktat is only surpassed by its sheer imbecility.

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Even if there is a real threat of schism, it is exceptionally bizarre to suppress a legitimate rite because of such concerns. Canonically speaking, it is persons, not rites, who are the objects of legislation in such cases. Consider this nugget of history:

During the pontificate of Bl. Pius IX, Chaldean Patriarch Joseph Audo was frequently at odds with the Vatican. Most notable was his efforts to bring the Syro-Malabar Catholics of India under his jurisdiction, sending the Bishop of Aqra, Mar Elias Mellus, to India as his envoy in 1874 to accomplish this. Mar Elias was actually excommunicated for fomenting schism there. This did not stop Joseph Audo, who continued to consecrate various bishops without prior consultation with Rome in the following years, effectually setting up a rival hierarchy in India. In September 1876, Pope Pius IX finally threatened to excommunicate the Patriarch and the bishops he had consecrated if they remained disobedient. Patriarch Audo finally submitted to the pope, who then commended him for his compliance and recognized all his episcopal appointments outside of India. Bishop Mellus also reconciled with the Holy See and went on to become the Bishop of Mardin.

This story is noteworthy because the promotion of the Chaldean rite in India was directly linked to the establishment of a rival and schismatic hierarchy in a blatant usurpation of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nevertheless, Pius IX made no attempt to limit the use of the Chaldean rite, despite the serious threat of schism. Canonical penalties were imposed against the persons fomenting schism. A rite itself is not the proper subject of these types of canonical penalties. I hope more commentators and canonists start pointing out how truly bizarre the rationale of Traditionis Custodes is in this regard (Thanks to my friend Konstantin for making me aware of this story).

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Francis's accompanying letter says, "Most people understand the motives that prompted St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI to allow the use of the Roman Missal, promulgated by St. Pius V and edited by St. John XXIII in 1962, for the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The faculty—granted by the indult of the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1984 and confirmed by St. John Paul II in the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei in 1988 was above all motivated by the desire to foster the healing of the schism with the movement of Mons. Lefebvre."

This is demonstrably false. The indult was not set up to heal the schism with the SSPX. Rather, the indult was set up to create a home for the faithful who loved the Latin Mass but nevertheless did not want to follow the SSPX into formal schism. That is to say, the object of John Paul II's legislation was the faithful who did not want to join the SSPX; but Pope Francis says that the object of John Paul's legislation was the SSPX. This is a colossal blunder. Rorate Caeli has an excellent piece documenting the way John Paul's intent is mischaracterized by Francis.

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Despite the motu proprio's insistence that the abuses in the Novus Ordo be checked, we all know that will never happen. If Francis is really concerned about Catholics dissenting from Church teaching, then Traditionis Custodes is like pulling the speck from the traditionalists' eye without removing the plank in the eye of the Novus Ordo. Polls consistently show that 89% of Catholics reject papal authority to teach on the immorality of contraception; 51% reject papal teaching on abortion. And 69% of Catholics do not believe in transubstantiation (source). Is the Holy Father distressed about this? Is he going to take decisive action against these people?

Of course not. The double standard does not invalidate the weight of Traditionis Custodes (whatever that may be), but it does destroy any pretense of good will on the part of the Holy Father, and it destroys any likelihood that the faithful will receive this with docility. In the face of such brazen injustice, the prospect of traditional Catholics just rolling over and accepting this is ridiculous. This is just going to cause more trouble. And it was 100% avoidable. What a waste. Talk about fights that did not need to happen.

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As for you self-hating trads who are saying, "We asked for this and we're getting what we deserved," and "the Holy Father's assessment of traditionalism must be correct", I can't imagine what sort of mental torture you must put yourself through to square these circles. I understand that traditional Catholics can be toxic; I've whined about it just recently. But if you think the bad attitudes of a few online traddies merits the global suppression of an entire rite—and not just any rite, but the preeminent historical rite of Latin Christendom—then you are infinitely more unbalanced than the boogey-man trads you are wringing your hands about. This is akin to amputating a hand to fix a hangnail.

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One of the most laughable passages in the accompanying letter is where the pope says, "Whoever wishes to celebrate with devotion according to earlier forms of the liturgy can find in the reformed Roman Missal according to Vatican Council II all the elements of the Roman Rite, in particular the Roman Canon which constitutes one of its more distinctive elements."

This is a frighteningly reductionist view of the liturgy. There is a certain attitude amongst conservative Catholics that the only thing that matters in the liturgy is a valid Eucharist. "It's still Jesus!" they would predictably intone, as the balloons ascended and the sanctuary was filled with the strumming of guitars. This represents a radical minimalist view of the liturgy, reducing the Mass down to its most barebone  component and rejoicing that we at least still have the sine qua non of the liturgy. Pope Francis evidences a similar view with this quote: the entire liturgical tradition of the West is boiled down to just the Roman Canon. "What are you complaining about? You have the Roman Canon." If that's the pope's view of continuity, then literally nothing in the Church is safe from his novelty. I hope more people realize what a horrifically reductionist hermeneutic this is. It's as if after years of feeding my children healthy, balanced meals, I suddenly throw them outside and tell them to eat insects. And when they complain that they can't survive on insects, I dismissively say, "It's still protein."

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"What are we to do?" That's really what everyone wants to know. To this I shrug. I don't know. But I will say two things:

(1) Traditional Catholics have a tendency towards scrupulosity. We worry way too much about rules, about minutiae, about jots and tittles. And the current situation just exacerbates scrupulous anxieties. This development has put many of us in extremely challenging dilemmas that no Catholic should ever have to be in. No Catholic should have to pit pope against liturgy, obedience against worship, fidelity to tradition against the living magisterium. In these dilemmas, we cannot afford to be overly scrupulous. I'm speaking to laypeople, but also bishops and priests. We are way too litigious in the West. With all the shit going on in the world and the church, with civilization falling apart and the Church in total chaos, with all the confusion and misinformation and lies and double-standards being vomited forth from the hierarchy on a daily basis, do you really think God is laying the responsibility entirely on your shoulder for determining the precise canonical status of that independent chapel? Just do what you need to do and don't worry too much about the fine print. 

Also, I said "shit" just to irritate the scrupulous people who, in a post about this crisis, will think complaining about the word "shit" in the combox is the best use of their energy.

(2) As awful as this situation is, I always try to remember that the Mass is not my faith. It's an integral part of how I live my faith, but my faith is much bigger than the Mass. I make this point because people will message me and say "This is damaging my faith." I don't know if they really mean that, in the sense that this is making them believe in God less; sometimes I think they just mean "This is making it challenging for me to live my faith." The Latin Mass is an absolute treasure. But God doesn't owe you the Mass. He gives it, and He can remove it. If deprivation of access to the Latin Mass actually makes you lose your faith, what would you have done in Japan all those centuries when the Catholics there had no Mass? Or in Elizabethan England? Would you have simply lost faith? Many of the Desert Fathers didn't even go to Mass at all; nor immured nuns in the Middle Ages, nor many of the hermits.

God is still on the throne. Jesus is still risen from the dead. I am still redeemed by His blood and incorporated into His body through the sacred font of baptism. Has any of that changed? No. None of it has changed, and therefore my faith is unchanged. I don't mean to diminish the importance of the Mass in any way; but if your actual faith in God is predicated upon a certain level of access to the Traditional Mass, where will your faith be when it becomes even more difficult in ages to come? I am not insulting you if your faith is being challenged. Rather, I am challenging you to go back to the basics, the unchanging truths that no prelate can touch. Have faith in God. And I'm not talking about "Have faith that the Traditional Latin Mass will triumph!" or "Have faith that some future pope will reverse all this." I mean have faith that God is with us, that the blood of Christ had freed us from sin, and that in Him we can live a life of grace and holiness—even if these disorders are never remedied unto the very ending of the world.

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I'm praying for all of you, wherever you are and whomever you are! Just last month I posted about this blog's 14th anniversary. What a different world it was then! Summorum Pontificum had not even been issued. My blog has outlived the entire Summorum Pontificum era. Insane. But now more than ever it is important to patronize and support good traditional Catholic blogs. I'm not going anywhere; remember, even if the hierarchy has control over the exterior forms of our worship, it has no control over my spiritual life (see "Into the Woods", USC, May, 2018). Even though those forms of worship are meant to nourish my spiritual life, they can't ultimately be identified with it. The life I have in Christ is "an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven" (1 Pet. 1:3-4). And that will never be touched, even though a pope worse than Francis should destroy ten times as much. Christus regnat.

Click here for a Spanish language version of this article.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Fourteen Years and an Appeal

Every year on the Feast of St. Peter and Paul it has become custom for me to write an anniversary post commemorating the founding of this blog, which (in its current form) was launched on June 29, 2007. Today I am celebrating fourteen years of Unam Sanctam Catholicam.

But beyond celebrating this enduring blog, I also wanted to give you some news and make an appeal.

First, I want to let you all know I am going to be taking an extended break for awhile. Nothing is wrong in my life or anything, I am just fairly busy and I want to disconnect for a time. I have a lot of books and projects I am involved with, and I also just want to step away from online Traddie-dom for a bit. 

One project I am going to be working on this year is switching over the sister site to a new format. I have been operating www.unamsanctamcatholicam.com since 2012 on a Joomla template that has become woefully clunky and outdated.  I am migrating that site and all its content over to a much sleeker Wordpress-based template that will make it a lot more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate. I don't expect this will be done before the end of 2021, but I am going to be spending a lot of time on it.

As I break and revamp the sister site, I'd like to ask you to consider making a financial donation to support the work of Unam Sanctam Catholicam. 

What is this "work" you ask?

Unam Sanctam Catholicam is consistently one of the top-ranked Catholic blogs in the English speaking world. It has been in the top 100 for the past decade and has occasionally been in the top 10. It's content has been 4.3 million times; an average of 38,500 people read our articles every single month. That's 38,500 readers every month being exposed to our articles about the goodness, truth, and beauty of the Catholic faith—articles devoid of clickbait, not beholden to any organization or authority, written in a spirit of patient reflection without pretension. Granted, that means you sometimes have to deal with my own stupidity, but at least there's no commercial angle or institutional gags on my content. I am a fool, but you get to enjoy my foolery without any hook.

My free RCIA notes and outlines have been downloaded 80,000 times and show up first for the Google search "RCIA notes." That's 80,000 people who chose to go with my outlines—full of quotes from the Catechism, Aquinas, the Councils, and the Fathers—instead of any number of the garbage RCIA resources floating around out there.

Countless people have messaged me over the years saying the Bayside article I did back in 2013 had helped them come out of the Bayside hoax. Ditto for my articles over the years on Medjugorje.

I am not a social media influencer. I have never tried to monetize this site by turning into a subscription service, nor have I ever hocked "premium content." I don't make a living from this blog; if I feel like posting I do, and if I don't I don't. 

That being said, a little bit goes a long way. If you've ever been entertained, edified, or educated by Unam Sanctam Catholicam, please consider helping. There’s many ways your contributions can benefit Unam Sanctam Catholicam: 
  • I would like to get my RCIA notes and outlines translated into Spanish and then Arabic. I'd like to be able to pay people for this translating work.

  • As I mentioned above, I am revamping the USC sister site. I would like funds to help pay for the redevelopment and obtain improved design elements of the new site.

  • While I work as a professional writer, I also self-publish works on matters of interest to traditional Catholics. For example, the USC Ebook, Laudato Si: The 40 Concerns of an Exhausted Layman, The Book of Non-Contradiction on harmonizing apparently divergent biblical accounts, and most recently, Power from On High on the history of theocratic monarchy in the Christian west. Your donations allow me to (a) spend more time working on these passion projects instead of grinding away at the corporate stuff, and  (b) help me pay professional copywriters and artists to improve the quality of these self-published works. 

In the meantime, I have a lot on the docket for the rest of 2021. Here are just a few of the articles I have in the works for the next sixth months (hopefully):

  • The legend of St. Maternus
  • Use of ostrich eggs in the traditional liturgy 
  • Various book reviews
  • The Church and autopsies
  • St. Gregory of Narek
  • Cuss words in the Middle Ages
  • Medieval clerical opinions on beards
  • English bishops and the pallium journey to Rome
  • Gemstones in the writings of St. Hildegard
  • Part 3 in my series on the Nephilim (hopefully)

If there is something else you would like to see me write about, please do not hesitate to shoot me an email at uscatholicam[at]gmail.com. Thank you for your patronage over the years. Please use the Paypal button below to make a donation; if you'd like to send a check in the snail mail, message me at uscatholicam[at]gmail.com and I'll let you know how. And as always, follow us on Facebook. May the Lord richly bless you.


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

My Sacrilegious Communion

It was 2001. I was a non-denominational Protestant bouncing around various house churches and charismatic fellowships. Through various pathways I had discovered Catholicism, the faith into which I  had actually been baptized as a child but never received catechesis or sacraments. I was reading some Scott Hahn books and had attended a few daily Masses. And I was starting to read about the Eucharist, beginning to study the Real Presence of Jesus and the graces available through the Blessed Sacrament. Over the months, my heart gradually began to burn with desire for Christ in the Eucharist.

One day for work I was passing through the affluent Michigan suburb of Farmington Hills, Archdiocese of Detroit. The marquis outside said that daily Mass was about to be offered, so I decided to go in. It was what I recognize now as a very generic post-conciliar Novus Ordo parish: Built in the circular like an amphitheater, featuring absurdist nouvueau stained glass images, a table altar centered on a sanctuary that looked like a performing arts stage, and a gargantuan baptismal font with adult-sized immersion pool and running waterfall for ambient noise. Gray carpet. And lots of lush plants, the kind you see in the hallways of big office buildings.

But I was too much of a noob to notice or care about any of those things; in fact, at the time, I remember I liked the décor and found aesthetic of the water to be soothing and peaceful. But anyhow, the Mass began, offered by the parish priest—a tall, slender man in his late forties. There was little enthusiasm in his homily, which I recall was rather lackluster in performance and milquetoast in content. That didn't seem to matter either though, for when he got to the Eucharistic liturgy I was on the edge of my seat. I wanted Jesus so bad. It did not matter that it was Eucharistic Prayer 2 of the Pauline Mass. My understanding of what was unfolding before cut through all that garbage like a katana and tore the fabric separating me from the divine. My soul was ablaze.

When the priest distributed communion, I made the well-intentioned but poor decision to go up and receive the Eucharist anyways. I was not ignorant of the rules of the Church—I already knew one was supposed to be a Catholic in a state of grace in order to receive. I don't remember how I rationalized it, but I do recall that it was motivated by the sincerest desire to possess what every Catholic had but many seemed to take for granted. 

So I got in line and received Holy Communion sacrilegiously from the priest. I felt deeply touched by the reality of what I had received, but I also immediately knew that what I had done was wrong. I was panged by guilt, and skulked out immediately after the final blessing. 

Some time later, I entered RCIA and was preparing to be brought into full communion with the Church. I had made my first confession, at which I confessed the sacrilegious communion. Because it was a general confession, this sin was buried in about two million other things I was confessing and didn't get any particular attention. I knew it was forgiven, but I felt like that was not enough. I wanted to go back to that parish, meet the priest, explain to him what happened, and then apologize personally. So, one day I drove the hour from my house back out to Farmington Hills to the affluent yuppie parish so I could sit down with the priest and tell him from my heart that I was sorry. I wanted to make some kind of special atonement. I wanted him to see my contrition, accept my apology, and give me some words of consolation. Maybe, in my newly converted pride, I wanted him to see what a spiritually sensitive soul I was and commend me for my actions. 

I walked into the "Administrative Office." It was very much like walking in to the waiting area of a dentist office. A frumpy, middle aged woman sat behind her desk, separated from me by a barrier of plexiglass that was two decades ahead of Covid. I immediately felt awkward and out of place. She saw me approach and slid open the plexiglass window, asked if I needed any assistance—not needed assistance in the sense of "can I help you", but needed assistance in the sense of "Do I need to put you in contact with our local Vincent de Paul chapter?" I guess I gave out that vibe at the time, which I can sorta understand.

I asked if I could speak with the pastor. I had looked up his name on the parish website and knew who I needed to talk to. She asked what it was about. I had not anticipated this question; I didn't know what to say, and I certainly wasn't going to fess up about my sacrilegious communion to this gate-keeper. So I awkwardly said, "I just need to tell him something." She looked at me with extreme skepticism, as if I had come only to steal and kill and destroy. She seemed extremely irritated by my presence. She told me curtly, "Father doesn't see anyone without an appointment. You'll have to make an appointment." Dejected and feeling extremely awkward, I said "Alright" and walked away without making an appointment. 

I was thinking about this episode today because I was reading the life of St. Padre Pio, and I came across the following story about Padre Pio and some young boys he was giving spiritual direction to:

Another time, taking the boys on a walk, he appeared very serious and sorrowful. The boys gathered around him and insisted that he tell them what was the matter. Padre Pio broke into tears as he said, "One of you has stabbed me in the heart." The boys were deeply shaken and ventured to ask for an explanation. Very sorrowfully, Padre Pio said, "Just this morning one of you made a sacrilegious Communion! And to think! I was the very one that gave him Holy Communion during Mass." Immediately one of the boys fell on his knees in tears and said, "I was the one." Padre Pio had him get up on his feet and made the others go some distance away while he heard the boy's confession" (Padre Pio the Wonderworker, Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, New Bedford, MA., 1999, pg. 24-25).

I wish I wouldn't have made a sacrilegious communion, but I also wish I could have had something like that when confessing it. Something that at least acknowledged the supernatural reality of the matter. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Alcuin to Higbald and the Christian View of Temporal Disasters

To what degree is it appropriate to view temporal calamities as a chastisement from God? A mass shooting, an abuse scandal, a tragic death from disease, a national tragedy. We have all grappled with these sorts of events. We know that all things that happen are permitted by God for some purpose in His grand providence. Saying such seems to be coolly received these days, as people have a difficult time attributing any non-positive act in the world to God's agency—even though we know from revelation that God destroys cities, sends plagues, marks people for destruction, and once flooded the entirety of human civilization. What is an appropriate way to view these sorts of tragedies?

I will begin by going back to a letter from the Anglo-Saxon scholar Alcuin to the monk Higbald, penned around 793. At the time Alcuin was heading up Charlemagne's educational reforms from Aachen, and his old friend Higbald was abbot of the renowned monastery of Lindisfarne in Northumbria. Lindisfarne had just suffered a devastating attack from the Vikings. Many monks had been killed or enslaved, and the monastery church was pillaged and desecrated. News of the raid shocked the Christian world. When Alcuin heard about it, he wrote his old friend a letter to console him in his sorrow. 

The letter is interesting because Alcuin's method of consolation is to remind Higbald that calamities are a reminder of God's love. I will cite the letter at length, because I find it to be a very interesting window into the minds of these 8th century monks and how they processed the reality of evil:

You who survive, stand like men, fight bravely and defend the camp of God. Remember how Judas Maccabaeus cleansed the Temple and freed the people from a foreign yoke. If anything needs correction in your way of gentleness, correct it quickly...Do not glory in the vanity of dress; that is cause for shame, not boasting, in priests and servants of God. Do not blur the words of your prayers by drunkenness. Do not go out after the indulgences of the flesh and the greed of the world, but stand firm in the service of God and the discipline of the monastic life, that the holy fathers whose sons you are may not cease to protect you. May you remain safe through their prayers, as you walk in their footsteps. Do not be degenerate sons, having such fathers. They will not cease protecting you, if they see you following their example.

Do not be dismayed by this disaster. God chastises every son whom he accepts, so perhaps he has chastised you more because he loves you more. Jerusalem, a city loved by God was destroyed, with the Temple of God, in Babylonian flames. Rome, surrounded by its company of holy apostles and countless martyrs, was devastated by the heathen, but quickly recovered through the goodness of God. Almost the whole of Europe had been denuded with fire and sword by Goths and Huns, but now by God's mercy is as bright with churches as the sky with stars and in them the offices of the Christian religion grow and flourish. Encourage each other, saying, "Let us return to the Lord our God, for he is very forgiving and never deserts those who hope in him."

And you, holy father, leader of God's people, shepherd of a holy flock, physician of souls, light set on a candlestick, be a model of all goodness to all who can see you, a herald of salvation to all who hear you. May your community be of exemplary character, to bring others to life, not to damnation. Let your dinners be sober, not drunken. Let your clothes befit your station. Do not copy the men of the world in vanity, for vain dress and useless adornment are a reproach to you before men and a sin before God. It is better to dress your immortal soul in good ways than to deck with fine clothes the body that soon rots in dust. Clothe and feed Christ in the poor, that so doing you may reign with Christ. Redemption is a man's true riches. If we loved gold we should send it to heaven to be kept there for us. We have what we love: let us love the eternal which will not perish. 

When our lord King Charles returns from defeating his enemies, by God's mercy, I plan to go to him, and if I can then do anything for you about the boys who have been carried off by the pagans as prisoners or about any other of your needs, I shall make every effort to see that it is done. Fare well, beloved in Christ, and be ever strengthened in well-doing

I find it fascinating that Alcuin thought the appropriate response to the tragedy was to remind Higbald of things that offend God, as well as point out that the horrific murder of the Lindisfarne monks should be construed as an act of love, as "God chastises every son whom he accepts, so perhaps he has chastised you more because he loves you more."

Alcuin is here offering a classical explanation for evil that comes from St. Augustine: temporal misfortunes fall equally on the good and evil; the difference is not in what befalls, but in how people respond to it. The purposes for suffering amongst persons are distinct, despite the external similarity in the nature of the ills. In City of God, St. Augustine says:

There is, too, a very great difference in the purpose served both by those events which we call adverse and those called prosperous. For the good man is neither uplifted with the good things of time, nor broken by its ills; but the wicked man, because he is corrupted by this world's happiness, feels himself punished by its unhappiness.
Yet often, even in the present distribution of temporal things, does God plainly evince His own interference. For if every sin were now visited with manifest punishment, nothing would seem to be reserved for the final judgment; on the other hand, if no sin received now a plainly divine punishment, it would be concluded that there is no divine providence at all. And so of the good things of this life: if God did not by a very visible liberality confer these on some of those persons who ask for them, we should say that these good things were not at His disposal; and if He gave them to all who sought them, we should suppose that such were the only rewards of His service; and such a service would make us not godly, but greedy rather, and covetous.

Wherefore, though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer. For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers; and though exposed to the same anguish, virtue and vice are not the same thing. For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked. And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise. So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them. For, stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odor (St. Augustine,
City of God, Book I, Chap. 8)

Of course, pointing this out is generally not welcome advice when a friend is suffering. A person who just lost a child to leukemia does not want to be told they should use the occasion as an opportunity to grow in holiness. They want empathy more than anything else. And to be fair, Higbald and Alcuin were monks whose charism is to learn to see God in every aspect of life. But so, too, must we lay people, in our own way. While we must always extend empathy and compassion to those who are suffering ("weep with those who weep", Rom. 12:15), in our own hearts we should bear in mind that God's love for us does not preclude us from suffering terrible calamities, personally or corporately. 

The real take away is this: when something bad happens, the question we should be asking is not "Was this a punishment from God?" The answer to that will differ for every single person. But if we are in Christ, we must affirm that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. 8:28). Is that something we really believe? Have we really internalized that maxim? Or is it just something we repeat because we don't know what else to say in the face of calamity? I am by no means where I need to be in my spiritual life, but I do know my peace is much greater to the degree I can really cry Romans 8:28 from the depths of my heart.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Obliged To Come To Mass—Unless You Don't Feel Like It

One year ago this week I published an essay entitled "New Normal: Subjectifying the Sunday Obligation" (May 19, 2020). I recommend reading that article in its entirety as a preface to this one, but the basic point is that the Covid-19 restrictions have pushed the Sunday obligation into the realm of the subjective, something to be fulfilled entirely based on conscience.

In my diocese, the Sunday obligation has been suspended until Pentecost Sunday. This week our bishop send out an email talking about the return of the obligation. It contained this confusing nugget:

"Upon the great Solemnity of Pentecost, May 23...the dispensation from attending Sunday Mass will expire. The dispensation remains in place, of course, for those who have good reason not to attend. If in doubt, speak to your pastor." 

I found this statement extremely puzzling. It sounds as if he is saying "The Sunday Obligation is returning, but if you feel like you have a good reason not to attend, it's ultimately up to you." In other words, while the canonical obligation is returning, how and whether it is fulfilled is being tossed into the realm of conscience, something to be sorted out in pastoral dialogue between a Catholic and his parish priest. 

Some may say I am making too much of this. "Oh Boniface, the bishop is just reminding people of traditional teaching that those who are ill or physically incapable of attending Mass are not obligated." But I do not think he is merely stating the return to pre-Covid norms. For one thing, he does not say that. He says the specific Covid dispensation "remains in place" for those who have "a good reason" not to attend. What constitutes a good reason is left to the discernment of the individual, who can seek pastoral guidance if they are conflicted. A return to pre-Covid norms would be more along the lines of "The duty to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days remains obligatory for all Catholics of canonical age who are physically able and not prevented by illness."

Perhaps the bishop was just trying to be diplomatic; perhaps he meant to imply a return to pre-Covid norms that with his statement. But perhaps he didn't. It's too vague to tell, and the delegation to conscience is still  troubling. In my article a year ago, I made the following prediction:

Eventually, the bishops will decide that it is safe enough to reinstate the Sunday obligation. Maybe this summer. Maybe later. But eventually the Sunday obligation will be restored. But after months of non-stop Covid-19 hysteria and media fear-mongering, many Catholics will still "not feel safe" returning to Mass...The bishops will waffle on clarifying the matter and issue contradictory statements, essentially saying that while the Sunday obligation remains in place, one must always follow the dictates of ones conscience. The statements will leave enough ambiguity for persons on both sides of the dispute to argue from. Meanwhile goofy parish priests will take to Twitter to confuse the faithful by affirming the right of any Catholic to abstain from physical attendance at Sunday Mass if they don't "feel safe." Essentially, the Sunday obligation will transform entirely into a subjective matter of conscience.

This is exactly where we are now in 2021. And its frustrating that few see the the inherent illogic in the approach: If it is safe to resume public Masses, then there is no reason to dispense from the Sunday obligation. But if it is not safe to resume public Masses, the obligation should be dispensed. What makes no sense is to say "The Sunday Obligation is returning, but whether you attend is still up to you."

Having spent the last year telling the faithful that watching Mass from at home was spiritually equivalent to attending in person, the bishops now lack the moral authority and intestinal fortitude to compel all Catholics to return. My bishop has spent the last few weeks sending emails trying to explain to Catholics why they ought to come back to Mass. Always a very good thing! Every Catholic should know why they should want to attend Mass. But it's very clear that this emphasis on encouragement is meant to replace the canonical obligation—the bishop is encouraging people to return to Mass because he will no longer tell them they must.

I can foresee some readers saying I am being too harsh in my assessment of the bishop's statement. But again I want to return to what I said in my 2020 article: "The statements will leave enough ambiguity for persons on both sides of the dispute to argue from."

My friends, the Sunday Obligation is not coming back. 

Sunday, May 09, 2021

When Trads Choose Barabbas

Sometimes the worst thing about blogging and writing as a traditional Catholic is having to deal with other traditional Catholics. The past few months I have had some of the absolute worst online interactions in my life, and they have regrettably been with other traditional Catholics. I am talking about matters of mere disagreement where trads tend to hold various viewpoints. I'm talking about rudeness, insults, detraction, crudity, malice, gossip, ad hominems, bullying, rash judgment, slander, and every vile character trait the Scriptures associate with the godless. It has been so discouraging. 

I am sure I am sounding like an old codger, but the one common thread with many of these interactions has been the youth of the interlocutors. Usually in their early twenties, sporting the shaved on the sides/long on the top hairstyle common amongst young men today, imbued with flaming machismo that is so ridiculous as to make them into little more than a Trad caricature. Many of them unemployed, living at home, or otherwise at the very bottom rung of the social ladder. Threads with young trad women are seldom any better.

I do not want to make this about youth; but at the same time, I cannot deny the pattern I have seen of late, and it's extremely depressing. Besides the evident lack of charity, it seems like a raw ignorance of what being a Traditional Catholic is even about. For many of these people Tradition seems to be primarily a social movement to "smash Western liberalism"; sometimes they say as much plainly. Obviously the entire ethos of Traditional Catholicism is opposed to the prevailing social mentality, but it would be profoundly wrong to view the Faith as essentially a contrarian social movement, even if it does oppose the modern zeitgeist. Why is this so wrong?

Traditionalism's conflict with modernity is ultimately incidental—Traditional Catholicism is not defined by it's opposition to anything else; if modernity and all its attendant evils disappeared tomorrow, Traditional Catholicism would still be as rich, vibrant, and life-giving as it ever was before liberalism ever existed. Traditional Catholicism opposes liberalism primarily because liberalism opposes it, but Traditional Catholicism itself needs no enemy, no antagonist to give it meaning. Evil is a perversion of the good, but the good subsists in itself.

Liberalism has always been different. As an ideology that is inherently "progressive", its existence depends upon its opposition to tradition. One can only walk up the staircase of liberalism by stomping ones foot on the steps of tradition. This is why things like racism, sexism, poverty, etc. will never go away under liberalism: not merely because liberalism is incapable of solving them, but because liberalism needs then to exist in order to have purpose. Regardless of how un-racists society becomes, liberalism needs there to be racism, just like a Marvel movie needs an uninteresting villain for the heroes to pound. Without an enemy, liberalism can't exist.

But what happens when Traditional Catholicism takes on this character as well? When one defines ones traditionalism solely in terms of opposition to liberalism? What happens when being a Traditional Catholic is reduced to a series of flexes designed to showcase your Traddy cred? When we stupidly define Traditionalism as some Hegelian antithesis to liberalism (Liberals oppose racism, therefore I will be racist. Liberals oppose sexism, therefore I will be misogyinist. Liberals care too much about feelings, therefore I will be unfeeling)? We when think of our Faith as just a "movement" in sectarian terms? When we think being a Catholic man means unfiltered testosterone-driven machismo? We we insult others on their faith journey instead of helping them? When our definition of what it means to be a good Catholic is measured on the barometer of how much we tear down the secular order? 

I'll tell you what happens—we choose Barabbas, not Christ.

I could go on about why this seems to be the case among the younger traditionalists, but I don't want to speculate. Rather, I will just say I have been disgusted by the behavior of many of them. And no, they are not just trolls pretending to be Catholics. Were these incidents isolated, maybe that would be a plausible explanation, but unfortunately these experiences are too endemic to be attributed to trolls. There is a real problem in the Traditional Catholic youth subculture, and I can't have been the only one to have noticed it.

See "Balancing Truth and Humility", USC, Dec. 2020)

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Propriae auctoritates apostolicae sedis

While studying use of the pallium during the reform papacy of the 11th century, I came across a fascinating document that has great relevance to the question of whether a pope can be condemned or lose his office for denying the Catholic faith. I have never seen this document referenced in any discussion on the subject, so I want to introduce it here. Others more educated than I on theological matters can debate its merits.

In 1075 the papacy of Pope St. Gregory VII promulgated a syllabus on papal power known as Dictatus Papae. Dictatus Papae was meant to be a synopsis of the pope's prerogatives drawn from previous papal letters and canonical legislation, not unlike the Syllabus of Errors of Pope Pius IX. The nineteenth thesis of Dictatus Papae says of the Roman pontiff:

19. That he himself may be judged by no one

This refers to the canonical principle prime sedes a nemine iudicatur ("the first see is judged by no one"), a maxim that dates to the pontificate of Pope Symmachus (498-514), who was put on trial for various crimes alleged by King Theodoric the Ostrogoth. The episcopal synod summoned to try Symmachus refused to even pass judgment, on the premise that "the first see is judged by no one." Pope Gregory VII wished to call this episode to mind in Dictatus Papae, as he himself was in a similar predicament with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over the matter of lay investiture. He wanted to stress that no one could pass judgment on the pope, whether ruler or episcopal synod. [1]

Dictatus Papae is a well known document, but what is not so familiar is that shortly after the promulgation of Dictatus Papae another syllabus was published. Called Propriae auctoritates apostolicae sedis ("The Powers Proper to the Holy See"),  this document was meant to elaborate on the theses of Dictatus Papae [2]. Issued sometime between 1075 and 1085, these theses should be read in conjunction with Dicatus Papae, which it is meant to support and expand upon.

Thus, we see that thesis 19 of Dictatus Papae is expanded in Propriae auctoritates apostolicae sedis, the seventh thesis of which says:

7. The pope may be judged by no one, even if he should deny the faith, as is seen from [Pope] Marcellinus

Apparently, the curia of Gregory VII did not think the 19th thesis of Dictatus Papae was explicit enough, so they desired to restate the maxim with the addition "even if he should deny the faith, as is seen by Marcellinus." The details of how this thesis came to be are unknown, but the implication is that the imperial propagandists of Henry IV had responded to Dictatus Papae by arguing that a pope could not be judged unless he had denied the faith. Gregory VII responded by appealing to the case of Pope Marcellinus, who had in fact publicly apostasized (or was at least believed to have) and yet did not lose his office. While Dictatus Papae 19 references a criminal trial (of Pope Symmachus), Propriae auctoritates apostolicae sedis 7 references a case of public loss of faith. The implication is that the Magisterium of Pope Gregory VII meant to teach that a pope could not be judged or deposed even if he had specifically denied the faith.

I am not competent to comment on the authority or theological import of the document, but future discussions about theoretically deposing a pope should most certainly factor in this document, as it was promulgated under the Pope Gregory VII specifically in part to address this very question.


[1] Thus Gregory categorically rejected the authority of the Synod of Brixen (1080) which condemned Gregory of various crimes and that the pope "should be canonically deposed and expelled and condemned in perpetuity, if, having heard this [decree], he does not step down."

[2] The text of Propriae auctoritates apostolicae sedis was found in a German language work by Hubert Mordek, 'Proprie auctoritates apostolice sedis. Ein zweiter Dictatus papae Gregors VII.?', Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 28 (1972), pp. 105-32 Translated by T. Reuter.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

With The Joy of Christ's First Breath

A most happy, blessed Easter to all of you who may be reading this, whether you are Catholic or not. I pray for the mercy and grace of our Lord to be with you abundantly during this holy season.

This Easter marks the 19th Easter I have celebrated as a Catholic. I remember receiving the sacred unction of Confirmation all those years ago, taking the name Francis in honor of the great saint of Assisi whose witness led me to the Church. Last night, I watched a man and a woman enter the Catholic Church at my parish's Easter Vigil. Despite everything going on in the world, despite all the darkness in the Church itself, despite the chaos in the Vatican, there were still people who heard the voice of the Bridegroom and followed Him into His chambers, seeking the ark of salvation. One of the men being confirmed even took the name Francis, just as I had all those years ago.

At the time, I was  a tad envious of those people. They were likely blissfully unaware of a whole lot of things. To use a tired cliché, they had not yet been "red pilled" to the disaster in which Catholicism currently finds itself. There are times when I wish I could take the proverbial "blue pill" and forget about it all. Go back to believing John Paul II was the greatest pope ever. To believing in the New Springtime. To thinking the documents of Vatican II were profound. To blindly attending an okay Novus Ordo and thinking it represented 2,000 years of tradition. To believing most of the bishops were good men, that scandal was due just "a few bad apples." To blaming the Church's public relations problems on media bias. To being moved to tears reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. As yes, as I watched that man be confirmed as Francis, a part of me wished I could take a blue pill and forget it all. Does not the Proverb say "He who increases in knowledge increases in sorrow" (Prov. 3:13)?

Nevertheless, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation", O' Lord (Ps. 52:12); and "rejoice in the Lord always" (Php. 4:4). Even though such thoughts tempt me from time to time, I have also reflected that my spiritual life is much better now than it was then. Back then I was restless, striving, tossed about by the wind. Now I feel much more solid, more at rest, more at peace, more grounded. And it's ironic because it doesn't seem to matter what goes on in the world and the Church; in a paradoxical sense, I found more peace the worse things got. Isn't that how trials work? They compel you to let go of your worldly understanding and cleave to the Lord. To have faith in Him. They purify your attachments, teaching you to trust in God alone. That's the way it works. Who ever said these trials would not come from or through the Church itself? 

Going back to St. Francis, what originally drew me to him all those years who was his radical sense of abandonment. Not just renunciation of worldly goods, but of worldly concerns. I'm sure Francis was well aware of papal corruption. Of clerical worldliness. Of priestly ineptitude. Of Christian hypocrisy. Of the darkness of the world and the power of evil. But he simply didn't focus on that. He focused on the cross of Christ, and therein he found perfect joy. Joy that enabled him to hug the leper on the road, or build San Damiano stone after stone, or talk to a wolf or a bird.

Where is faith lived out? I mean, really? There's only one possible space it can be lived out—right where you are. With the people who are right in front of you. In the circumstances you actually find yourself in. The chance to be a saint is right now. Will there be some sort of future restoration, some glorious triumph of Tradition? Who knows. But what I do know is that "now is the acceptable time of God's favor; today is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). "Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Heb. 3:15). Yes, being a Catholic is hard, especially these days; some people I know have thrown in the towel. Their walk is their own. But for me, the older I get, the further I go, the more the Lord has helped me to focus on the here and now. And this has been a tremendous gift to my inner peace. I would rather be here where I am now than anywhere else.

You, too, friend. Today is your day. Have you hardened your heart? It's not that what's going on in the Church or in Rome don't matter; that stuff does matter—souls are being lost because of it, and I believe a lot of people are going to have a very heavy judgment on the Day of the Lord on account of it. It definitely is a problem, and as a Catholic it is my problem, in a sense. But in another sense, it's not, just as the corruption in Rome was not St. Francis's concern. But the leper in front of him was his concern. The avarice of some cardinal did not perturb him; the sin he discerned in his own heart did. His spiritual focus was ever trained on his own life and actions.

The great paradox, of course, is that by focusing so intensively on his own spiritual life, he did, in fact, end up reforming the Church. That was never his aim. But God did it through Him, because that's how God is. 

Even though it's tempting to want the blue pill, I have realized the Gospel always gives me a way out. I don't have to choose between being naively ignorant or red pilled and cynical. Just like St. Francis, I can choose joy. I can choose the joy that is in front of me every single day, always evident to those who have eyes to see, who, by the grace of God, have made their hearts like children. I can live in the joy of the Resurrection, with the clarity and freshness and radiance of the first breath in Christ's lungs when He first stepped out of the tomb. Ah, what a joyful breath that must have been! 

May that be my joy—the joy of Christ's first breath. The joy that is complete, that no man can taketh. And may it be yours as well.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Attraction of Traditional Christian Architecture

In my professional life I have been spending the last week lecturing on design elements of traditional Christian architecture, specifically looking at churches from around 400-1300. I've guided my students through the identification of the design elements of the late Roman, pre-Romanesque, Romanesque/late Romanesque and Gothic styles. It's always refreshing to devote time to studying the great monuments of the Christian faith and see how the beauty our religion has inspired the hearts of people over the ages.

I approach these lectures very analytically, simply highlighting the different design elements and explaining their liturgical or architectural function. I talk about the benefits of ribbed vaulting and how it was superior to earlier transverse arches. I explain the structure of a Romanesque arcade, or a Gothic fleche, or a late patristic era fenestella, and help the students identify these elements in pictures. In other words, I don't teach the architecture from a propagandistic angle, as if the purpose of the lesson is to demonstrate the aesthetic superiority of traditional Christian architecture over other forms. I just show the architectural elements and discuss them in their own right without reference to anything else.

And yet, it amazes me how merely showing traditional Christian architecture never fails to elicit impassioned responses from students who implicitly draw comparisons between modern architecture and react with indignation. I always get comments like "Why don't they build churches like this anymore?" "Ugh, modern churches are so ugly!" "Who ever thought it was a good idea to get rid of this?" "I hate the way churches look nowadays." I don't need to make any effort to inculcate such sentiments; merely seeing their religious architectural heritage evokes feelings of frustration with modernity. The students have been robbed and they know it.

In a way, the beauty of Christian architecture is a microcosm of Catholic tradition as a whole. How many people embrace tradition upon merely seeing it, immersing themselves in it, and realizing it's innate superiority to the bland, rice-cake religion proffered by contemporary Catholicism? There are many traditional Catholics—myself among them—who only needed to read the prayers of the traditional liturgy and that was enough. As I said long ago, there is an evangelical power to Catholic Tradition (see "The Evangelical Power of the Faith", Dec., 2007).

Beauty is attractive, and that's really all there is to it.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Nimrod: A Mighty Hunter "Before the Lord"

Last week I received an inquiry from a young man of Protestant background who is contemplating the claims of the Catholic Church. He had been listening to the Fr. Mike Schmitz through the Bible, in the course of which he encountered a difficulty understanding the figures of speech used in the Scriptures. This gentleman posed a question about consistent interpretation, using an example from Genesis 10:9-10. He wrote:
Way back in the beginning there was Nimrod, who was "a mighty hunter before God". It is explained [in the podcast] that "before God" is thought to mean "in opposition to God", which is kinda counterintuitive. Maybe five podcasts later, after blessing Abraham, God says to him "go before me". I doubt He is telling Abraham to oppose Him; he's actually telling him to be faithful to God. Why is "before God" in Genesis 10 taken to mean "in opposition to God" while the same concept in Genesis 17 taken to mean "be faithful to God"? One of the problems I have with modern religion is accuracy after multiple translations. Do you see now why I have reservations?

Here we have a classic problem of two similar biblical phrases being taken to mean different things. Such situations can raise questions about the integrity of a translation in particular, or the very plausibility of written divine revelation in general. Let's dig in to this question.

The phrase "before the Lord" in Hebrew is  ḡibbōr-ṣayiḏ lip̄nê Yahweh. This literally means something like "in the face of the Lord", according to my Hebrew concordance. The phrase can mean multiple things, just like in English. For example, a man who wants to say something important to someone he cares about might wait to "say it to their face" as a sign of respect. But the same phrase can denote insult or antagonism, like when a man says "I dare you to say that to my face!" The meaning has to be determined by the context and other cues other than the exact vocabulary. 

Elsewhere in Bible we see the same variation of usage. In Galatians 2:11, St. Paul says "When Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face because he stood condemned", where the idea of acting "in the face of" denotes bold opposition. But elsewhere it can signify familiarity, as when St. Paul says "show to them the proof of your love and of our boasting about you in the face of the churches" (2 Cor. 8:24). Here, "in the face of" means "in the midst of" or "in the sight of" and is used as to communicate intimacy.

This really isn't problem with the accuracy of biblical translation; it's just how language is. Words have lots of meanings that require context to sort out. Heck, the English word "set" has 432 different meanings. The Bible, being written by men and utilizing regular human speech, requires the same sort of contextual approach to understand. The fact that various phrases mean different things in different contexts is what we would expect any time human language is being used normally.

In the verses cited, Nimrod's life "before the Lord" or "in the face of the Lord" is taken to mean he was brazenly bold in his opposition to God. The context is derived not from the text directly, but from a longstanding Jewish interpretive tradition, going back to the Midrash, Philo, Pseudo-Philo, the Book of Jubilees, Josephus, etc. who all assert Nimrod was a villain. It's not necessarily discernible from the text, but it is a reasonable interpretation of the it. The pre-Christian tradition is unanimous that Nimrod is a villain, and thus we read the phrase ḡibbōr-ṣayiḏ lip̄nê Yahweh to mean "in affront to the Lord" or "in opposition to the Lord." The Vulgate, too, followed this tradition, calling Nimrod robustus, that is, stout, bold, or haughty. The fact this young man finds such an interpretation "counterintuitive" in its English rendering is neither here nor there. Rather, it's an example of why you need tradition to help you interpret Scripture.

Context is also key in Genesis 17, the passage the interlocutor referenced about Abraham walking before the Lord. Abraham is unanimously portrayed as a faithful man and hero of faith in both Testaments and in Jewish and Christian tradition. Therefore the the phrase "before the Lord" with reference to Abraham gets a more benign reading, which makes perfect sense. The context, either textually or in terms of extra-textual of tradition, helps  establish the meaning.

Incidentally, the Vulgate preserves this contextual approach perfectly. It translates "before the Lord" as in coram Domino, which means "in the presence of the Lord." In coram is a neat little phrase that means "in the presence of", "in the midst of", or "before", as in the sense of "to stand before." As with the English phrase "in the face of" and the Hebrew ḡibbōr-ṣayiḏ lip̄nê, in coram can denote intimacy as well as opposition. In ancient Rome, a man marrying a woman in the presence of the family is said to be marrying her cum manu in coram gente, whereas a man found guilty of a crime before an assembly was said to be condemned in coram populo. In the former case in coram denoted intimacy and fidelity, whereas in the latter it signified opposition and antagonism.

Ultimately, there's really no reason to have reservations about the meaning of these texts anymore than there would be to have reservations about the way any regular human being uses language. I have previously recommended The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures as a handy guide to sorting out a lot of these textual questions. Anyone interesting in learning more about reconciling biblical passages with each other should check it out.