Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Pope Francis' Tragic Misunderstanding of Latin

On September 12, Pope Francis met with the Jesuits of Slovakia in Bratislava. The Holy Father staged an impromptu question and answer session. The text of the session was reported by Antonio Spadaro on La Civilta Cattolica on September 21 ("Freedom Scares Us": Pope Francis' Conversation with Slovak Jesuits). 

During the session, one of the Jesuits observed that Francis was perceived as heterodox by many Catholics within Slovakia, while others idolized him. He then asked the pope how he deals with people who look at him with suspicion. Even though the question did not such on the Traditional Latin Mass or traditionalism, Pope Francis took the opportunity to offer the following reflections about Traditionis Custodes:

Now I hope that with the decision to stop the automatism of the ancient rite we can return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II. My decision is the result of a consultation with all the bishops of the world made last year. From now on those who want to celebrate with the vetus ordo must ask permission from as is done with biritualism. But there are young people who after a month of ordination go to the bishop to ask for it. This is a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.

A cardinal told me that two newly ordained priests came to him asking him for permission to study Latin so as to celebrate well. With a sense of humor he replied: “But there are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach. Then, when you have studied Spanish, come back to me and I’ll tell you how many Vietnamese there are in the diocese, and I’ll ask you to study Vietnamese. Then, when you have learned Vietnamese, I will give you permission to study Latin.” So he made them “land,” he made them return to earth. I go ahead, not because I want to start a revolution. I do what I feel I must do. It takes a lot of patience, prayer and a lot of charity.

How we "return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI" by overturning his signature legislation is a piece of Jesuitical-Peronist sophistry that is beyond me, but I want to focus on the second paragraph, where Francis tells the story of the cardinal dissuading his priests from learning Latin, because these statements are indicative of the pope's thinking on the matter of Latin. I offer the following observations:

I. The anecdote about "There are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach, etc." reveals that Pope Francis does not even understand the concept of a liturgical language at all. He sees liturgical language in a utilitarian way, wholly functional and devoid of any value that is not homiletical. Without reference to tradition, without reference to history, without reference to liturgical integrity. Mere functionalism. 

II. The concept of a priest needing permission from his ordinary to study Latin is manifestly contrary to the Code of Canon Law. Code of Canon Law 249 says, "The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry." We can see that the Code insists on study of Latin in addition to whatever foreign language is necessary for ministry. The liturgical language of the Church is in a different category than those languages which may be needful for ministry. The Church's liturgical language is essential to her, while other languages are incidental and relate to time, place, and circumstance. Also, given the directive to study Latin is enshrined in the Church's universal legislation, no priest needs "permission" to study it. By relating this story in the manner he does, Pope Francis is essentially winking at bishops depriving priests of their canonical rights. 

III. His line of thought nurtures an inherent hypocrisy because we know that the pope would never say these things to Christians of other rites. Can you imagine the pontiff dissuading Eastern Catholics from learning Old Slavonic? Or telling Chaldeans to go learn Farsi and Kurdish before they are allowed to study Aramaic, or making fun of an Egyptian Christian for wanting to study Coptic? Of course not. And since such an attitude would never be promoted amongst other rites, we may conclude it is merely another expression of anti-Latin rite prejudice.

IV. Pope Francis's comments reveal an ignorance of all the reasons why the Church has, even unto recent times, stressed the importance of preserving Latin. We need look no further than Pope John XXIII's encyclical Veterum Sapientia (1962) on the promotion of Latin studies. Here, the father of the Second Vatican Council offered a comprehensive rationale for why Latin should be studied. Every traditional Catholic should review this encyclical, but I will offer a summary of Pope John's rationale for studying Latin with relevant quotes:

Latin is a testimony to the historic witness of the Church: "By their use in sacred liturgies and in versions of Holy Scripture, they have remained in force in certain regions even to the present day, bearing constant witness to the living voice of antiquity."

Latin unifies Christians: it provides "a bond of unity for the Christian peoples of Europe."

It is neutral, its universality favoring no one ethnicity of nation: "Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all"

Latin is uniquely suitable for precision and dignity required by theological expression: "the characteristic nobility of Latin formal structure. Its concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression."

It's "non-vernacularity" gives Latin a special strength to bind the past, present, and future of the Church together in "wonderful continuity", making the treasures of the past accessible: "the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular...the Latin language can be called truly catholic. It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed a treasure of incomparable worth. It is a general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the documents of the Church’s teaching. It is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity."

After enunciating these reasons, John XXIII concludes with the following:

For these reasons the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve Latin, deeming it worthy of being used in the exercise of her teaching authority “as the splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred laws.” She further requires her sacred ministers to use it...Thus the “knowledge and use of this language,” so intimately bound up with the Church’s life, “is important not so much on cultural or literary grounds, as for religious reasons.” These are the words of Our Predecessor Pius XI, who conducted a scientific inquiry into this whole subject, and indicated three qualities of the Latin language which harmonize to a remarkable degree with the Church’s nature. “For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure to the end of time … of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.

The reader will notice that none of the reasons listed by Pope John XXIII concerned themselves with homiletics. Whatever else one may say about "Good Pope John", the man understood the concept of a liturgical language, the Church's need for such a language, the "non-vernacularity" of this language, and the eminent suitability of Latin to be said language in the west. The fact that Pope Francis understands none of these concepts is disappointing, frightening, and evidence that the Holy Father is, once again, speaking about things he knows precious little about.

V. The idea that the Church's liturgical language is somehow in rivalry with learning other vernacular languages is insulting to all the great Catholic missionaries who did both. When I read these comments by Francis, I think of St. Jean de Brebeuf, S.J. (d. 1649), who labored for twelve years to compile a dictionary in the Huron tongue while simultaneously celebrating Mass in Latin. I am reminded of Spanish missionaries to the Philippines, like Fr. Francisco Ignacio Alcina, S.J. (d. 1674), who worked for 37 years among the Visayans patiently creating dictionaries of Visayan language and translating their literature into Spanish whilst also celebrating the Mass in Latin. Or the Carmelite priest, Fr. John Thaddeus (d. 1633) who said Mass in Latin while also learning Persian and Turkic for his mission in Ishfahan, Persia (Iran), a mission that was so successful he became a friend and confidant of the Shah. In other words, the use of liturgical Latin has never been an obstacle to Catholic pastors learning vernacular languages. For Pope Francis to suggest the two are in competition is disparaging to the witness of these heroic missionaries who demonstrated the marvelous complementarity of being well versed in Latin as well as learning local dialects for homiletical reasons.

VI. Finally, the dilemma the cardinal in the story brings up about not wanting his priests to study Latin because they need to devote their time to other vernacular languages could have been totally avoided had the priests been trained in Latin in seminary, as they were supposed to be. That way, by the time of their ordination they would be ready to begin studies of whatever other languages were necessary, already having a solid grounding in Latin. By not promoting the study of Latin in the seminary, this cardinal has created the very problem he complains about.

* * * * * 

It is a sad testimony to our current state that the head of the Latin Rite is so uneducated about the Latin language. And not uneducated by some innocent mistake, but by culpable ignorance and duplicitousness. The tragedy in this story is that a man with such opinions was ever raised to the Chair of Peter. But this all begs the question: If this is how Francis thinks about Latin, we are justified in asking: What does "Latin rite" mean to Francis? In what sense is the Latin rite Latin at all

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Crises of Faith: The Waves of Darkness

Three months ago I published a piece called "
Alcuin to Higbald on the Christian View of Temporal Disasters." This post was about an interesting letter I came across from the Carolingian era monk Alcuin writing to Abbot Higbald of Lindisfarne to console him after his monastery was sacked by Vikings. Alcuin essentially tells Higbald, "This, too, is an act of God's love. Use it as an occasion to better yourself, pray more, and move on." I highlighted this as an example of the traditional way Christians contextualized disasters in their lives. In the comments, an anonymous reader left the following comment (it is long, but I think it necessary to include it in its entirety):

I find explanations like this sufficient for car crashes and cancers...but we are dealing with something more which tempts me to doubt. We have all heard that God, when He is truly angry with his people will send them wolves rather than pastors. Here in the US, at least, the people have always voted down issues like abortion and gay marriage, when given the chance. These crimes are thrust upon us by the courts and duplicitous politicians. It is so bad today, that every single institution in the world, is run by evil people who hate God, and hate the people under their charge.So it is not enough that we have a fallen nature and tend towards sin. It is not enough that we are tempted constantly by evil angelic powers who are super-intelligent and have access to our imaginations and never sleep. It is not enough that we are surrounded by the general misbehaviours of our fellow humans and the weakness of the flesh, and all the things that make the World a dangerous place for our souls.

No, it is not enough.

In these times, we also have every single institution, world wide, run by human devils that actively seek to corrupt us, destroy our families, and enslave us. It is these human devils that control politics, media, war, economics, education, art, music, commerce, entertainment, leisure, science, healthcare, law, infrastructure, and so on. And these human devils have all the money, all the power, and all the voice, far above any simple sheep.

On top of all that, the Catholic Religion is almost completely shattered. The Hierarchy is cowardly at best, shameful most often, and heretical at worst. There are no two priests that preach the same thing. A close look at the Novus Ordo, the TLM, and the Byzantine rites appear to be almost completely different religions. (Although at the moment, the Sacraments seem to be relatively preserved.) Constant Scandal makes evangelization very difficult, if not impossible. And us sheep, to whom most of these questions are way above our paygrade, are forced to walk the line between deciding what is true, and becoming protestant/our own pope.

Yet God wills all men to be saved. And the saints assure us that most souls will perish into an eternal hell. I don't know why we all don't collapse in despair. We have no Saints, no Signs, and no Signal Graces. Just a book the purports to be God's Word, though we are often told by the "experts" it is no such thing. We have an institution that purports to be Divine, but its leaders and teachers display tendencies that are more diabolic. And we have a world that has, for the most part, forced God out of their daily lives, more through ignorance than choice.

How are we supposed to save our own souls, let alone help save those of our children, our loved ones, our neighbors, and others? Or do we just wait for God to smite us, write off all the sinners of whatever category, and hope to rebuild if we live through whatever is coming? Thoughts like these terrify me.

It's a doozy of a comment. He brings up a lot of things. Constant scandals. Liturgical chaos. "Human devils" that control all aspects of life. He mentions politics, media, war, economics, education, art, music, commerce, entertainment, leisure, science, healthcare, law, infrastructure, and so on. Money and power in the hands of the enemy. Every institution under the sway of darkness. Unrelenting war against the family. Cowardly hierarchy. A veritable litany of chaos.

When I read this comment, my response is, "Friend, who told you to worry about such things?"

When were these problems entrusted to your care? "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:34). I am convinced that this passage from the Beatitudes is instrumental in staving off despair. The commenter is right; power, influence, money, media, institutions—all of it is under the power of the evil one. Little has changed since the beginning: "And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it." (Luke 4:5-7). But none of that is my business. My response to this evil is the same as Christ's: "Worship the Lord thy God, and Him alone shall you serve." None of those issues are my problem. 

Our Lord told us to focus on today, on what is before us, on our small little sphere of influence God has entrusted to us. "Aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs" (1 Thess. 4:11), "that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives" (1 Tim. 2:2). I don't have the resources to fix all or even any of the world's problems. Christ asks us to only be faithful with the little we have been entrusted with. To those who have been given much, much will be required. Those with ten talents will have to account for how they invested those ten talents. But, my friends, the vast majority of us can have no influence on these matters. And since we cannot, what good does it do to worry about them? What does the Psalmist say?

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me (Ps. 131:1)

I can't speak for anyone else, but my faith has been great right now and for the past year at least. I feel like I have finally made real strides in my spiritual life, overcoming things I struggled with for years. God's providence has never seemed so real, and it becomes ever easier to see the working of grace in my day to day life. I have a deeper peace and more profound sense of God's mercy than I have in years past. That's just my experience. I understand that for someone who is in crisis, that will certainly not be their experience. But don't tell me my religion is "broken" because you are in crisis. My faith is not in crisis, and nothing is broken for me

One may say that such a solipsistic approach is merely sticking my head in the sand, ignoring the very real problems in the world that are destroying souls and making a shipwreck of faith. I disagree. I know these problems are real, and I do what I can to combat them within the sphere of my influence. But that little sphere is all I have responsibility over, and beyond that I commend it all to God. Maybe I am excessively focused on my own affairs. But the reality is, that's all I am responsible for. Why load yourself up with the responsibilities to save the world, Church, and civilization? Are the crosses Jesus has given you not heavy enough? Are your sins so miniscule that you need to worry about the sins of everyone else? 

Here's the great paradox: Focusing on the little things God entrusts to us is not turning our back on the world and the Church. It is, in fact, the only way to save them. Christendom was not created because a lot of angry men got together to bitch about the government and the hierarchy and create a "movement" to address it. It was created because a man went out in the desert to be alone with God; because a man walked on the beach with his friend and had a heart to heart conversation about Christ, because a woman decided she wanted to dedicate her virginity to God; because a Roman rhetorician went out into a garden to weep for his sins; because a man decided to live in a cave on the slopes of Mount Subiaco; because slave boy prayed a hundred times a night alone before a rough hewn wooden cross jabbed into the rocky slopes of Mount Slemish while he watched sheep; because a solitary Jesuit father, isolated and suffering immensely from his captors' torments, carved crosses in the trunks of trees in the wilderness of Canada; because a priest decided to work and die with some lepers on the other side of the world. Because the Son of God—when faced with all the hatred and sin and darkness the world had to offer—chose to be silent and do nothing. In such acts was Christendom formed, and in such acts shall our Faith be preserved.

Be faithful to whatever little was entrusted to you in your own sphere of influence. You own little life is all you have to focus on. Stay grounded there and you will have a much better chance of weathering the waves of darkness rushing over the world.

For Part 1 in this series, see: Crises of Faith: Escaping Our Subjectivity