Saturday, October 30, 2021

Book Review: Are Canonizations Infallible?

Arouca Press has published an excellent work for those interested in the debate about the infallibility of canonizations. Are Canonizations Infallible?, edited by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, sets out be a comprehensive tome of reference for the subject, and in this it succeeds admirably. The book is set up as a series of essays on various aspects of the question; (in full-disclosure, I, too, have an essay in the book on the history of the Advocatus Diaboli, the Devil's Advocate). The structure of the book as a collection of essays makes it easily digestible, as the reader can peruse ala carte those subjects of highest interest to him. 

My thoughts on this book are several:

I. First, I want to stress that this is a solid theological text, not a polemical work. I think some were expecting this book to be a collection of traditionalist maledictions on the canonizations of John Paul II and Paul VI; when I said I had an essay published in this book, Dave Armstrong immediately expressed dismay and embarrassment that I would participate in the project. I think he assumed it was just going to be a hackneyed trad critique of the modern papal saints. It's anything but. I was consistently struck by the scholarly tone of the book and how its authors are determined to get to the principles that underlay the question. This is a book for people serious about understanding the theological questions behind canonization. Some of the essays are dense and of a very technical nature.  Expect an enlightening read, but not necessarily an easy one. 

II. The book is not an anti-infallibilist apologetic. I would say the majority of the essays are anti-infallibilist, but certainly not all of them. Both sides are represented fairly, and the arguments are much weightier than "I don't like Paul VI therefore he's not a saint" (anti-infallibilist caricature), or "The Church has spoken, shut up" (infallibilist caricature). On the contrary, the format of this book as a running dialogue between proponents of various positions along the spectrum sheds light on a host of issues of which I'd never been aware. I can't say the anti-infallibilist arguments were wholly convincing, but whether you are pro or anti-infallibilist, this book should make it clear that the questions run a lot deeper than you'd probably assumed.  

III. It may be wondered if this book was written simply as a traddie protest in the wake of the canonizations of John Paul II and Paul VI. While its true that these canonizations have brought the question to the fore, you may be surprised to learn that the infallibility of canonizations has been debated for centuries. This book introduces the reader to the historical arguments, some dating back to the Reformation. Some of the essays in this book predate the canonizations of the modern popes; one of the pivotal essays, by Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, dates from 2003, long before the canonizations of John Paul II, Mother Teresa, or Paul VI were even issues. So, again, this book is not just a trad screed. It's a summary of a debate that has gone on for centuries. I wonder if the neo-Caths who immediately condemned this book before its publication are even aware that theologians have been discussing the matter since before Trent.

IV. Within that debate, however, it is freely admitted that non-infallibilism is the minority position; not just a minority position, but a small minority. Even anti-infallibilists like Msgr. Gherardini admit that they are a very small minority, that the weight of theological tradition is against them. While the question has not been definitively settled, the tradition of the Church is weightily in favor of infallibility. Gherardini says, "The overwhelming majority of theologians responded in the affirmative [i.e., favoring infallibility of canonizations as directly connected to Christian revelation]; those who lean towards a negative response or even a only a doubtful one are very few" (pg. 138). The same admits that the theologians marshalled in favor of infallibility are formidable: St. Thomas Aquinas, Melchior Cano, Suarez, and even "the acknowledged master in this matter", Prospero Lambertini himself (pg. 142). It is ironic, then, that the Traditionalist who seeks to demonstrate the non-infallibility of canonizations does so against the weight of the selfsame Tradition he seeks to defend. Of course, this issue has not been dogmatically defined, so there is room for discussion and development, but that does not change the fact that anti-infallibilism is not the traditional theological conclusion. What interesting times! 

V. One thing I appreciated about this book is its continued explication over various essays on what infallibility does and does not mean. Since its definition in 1870, papal infallibility has resulted in a kind of "mission creep", investing supreme authority behind judgments of the Holy See that Christians should not have been required to assent to. There are precedents prior to Vatican II, but in modern times the most blatant example is how every casual utterance of a pope is taken as authoritative teaching. The result of all this is that the average Catholic has no clue what infallibility actually pertains to and what it means. For example, conservative Novus Ordo Catholics tend to extend infallibility to everything the pope says, such that they suffer from a kind of cognitive dissonance when forced to grapple with papal nonsense. On the other hand, Traditionalists tend to think if something is not infallible—or if its infallibility is merely doubtful—that it can be dismissed entirely, basically acting as though any official action of the pope can be entirely discarded if it does not proceed from the highest authority. This is the unconvincing "That's invalid so I don't have to listen to it" approach that rank and file Trads have been lazily trotting out for decades to avoid doing the heavy intellectual work of sorting through these difficulties. Are Canonizations Infallible? definitely does that heavy lifting for you. You will be educated about infallibility almost as much as about canonization. What does infallibility entail? What does it not entail? What is the ordinary vs. extraordinary Magisterium? What are the primary and secondary ends of an infallible declaration? What are dogmatic facts? What obligations does infallibility impose upon the faithful, and how do these obligations change if something is not infallible? This book will give you an excellent schooling in these questions.

VI. "Canonizations aren't infallible, therefore I can simply ignore canonizations I disapprove of." That is not the message of this book. Even those authors that argue against canonization are careful to point out that solemn but non-infallible teachings of the Church still oblige the respectful submission of the faithful, reservations not-withstanding. This book does not open the flood gates to every Catholic creating one's own hodge-podge pantheon of saints based one's own scruples. If it wasn't for contemporary concerns about a few specific canonizations, this book would hardly be controversial at all. Are Canonizations Infallible? is an excellent read for traditional Catholics, but it is especially appropriate for conservative Novus Ordo Catholics who want a scholarly, non-polemical introduction to the question.  

In conclusion, I highly recommend Are Canonizations Infallible? and I commend the folks at Arouca Press for doing such good work on this and their other publications. I also want to thank Arouca and Dr. Kwasniewski for including me in such a scholarly and important work, something my credentials and scholarship hardly merit. But still, don't let my inclusion in the book be an argument against it; get yourself a copy and educate yourself about this important issue.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Athanasius Schneider Pontifical High Mass in Detroit

There's no real theme to today's post, just some random smattering of thoughts I put together after returning from Detroit:

Today the great Bishop Athanasius Schneider said Mass in Detroit as part of the Call to Holiness event put on by Assumption Grotto. If the name Assumption Grotto sounds familiar, this is the parish of traditional priest Fr. Eduard Perrone of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Some years ago Fr. Perrone was accused of sex abuse and suspended from ministry. Fr. Perrone fought back, however, and was successfully able to demonstrate that the allegation was fabricated by a detective. Perrone sued the detective for defamation and won a $125,000 judgment against her. Meanwhile, the CDF declined to pursue any discipline against Fr. Perrone, effectively dropping the case—though to my knowledge, the Archdiocese of Detroit has still not reinstated Fr. Perrone to public ministry, but I may be mistaken.

Anyhow, that's the parish this was at. It's a beautiful old urban church in the best style of the golden age of Midwest Catholicism. The church was absolutely packed for Bishop Schneider's Mass. If people are losing interest in Catholic Tradition, there was no sign of it at this event. I had to wait in line in my car out on the main street before I even got onto parish property; once I got onto parish grounds they had ushers outside directing the overflow traffic to park on the grass. And I was there a half hour early!

I was fortunate enough to get a seat very close to the front, maybe third row. Assumption Grotto had produced an extremely fine worship aid that not only gave you both the prayers/readings and fixed Mass parts in one place, but also had an extremely interesting page explaining how a Pontifical High Mass is different from a Solemn High Mass. It had a lot of minutiae on it that even I'd never heard before. I meant to save it and I did bring it home but...of course now I cannot find it :/

I have been to Pontifical High Masses before, but what really impressed me about Bishop Schneider's Mass was the universality represented in who was present. It was truly reflective of the Catholicity of the Church. The diversity was spectacular. There were whites, blacks, Filipinos, Indians, Hispanics, and Japanese. I saw plenty of young families with children, lots of old folks, and many people in between. Millennial hipster Catholics with their beards and slicked back hair sitting side-by-side with boomer homeschool marms. Academic looking tweed jacket types and blue collar schlubs. The Knights of Columbus were there, resplendent in full regalia. I saw some religious, both men and women. The choir was made up of a mixture of ages from teenagers up to elderly. All presided over by a central Asian bishop whose native language is German saying an ancient liturgy in Latin. It truly was a "multitude of every tribe and tongue and nation" (Rev. 7:9), diversity in the best sense—not the ridiculous Babel of woke individualism, but people of every social, ethnic, and demographic background finding unity in the worship of Christ through the traditional rite of the Church. 

Bishop Schneider spoke on several themes: the action of the Holy Spirit within the Church, the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Christian, and the Mass as the highest act of worship the Church can offer. It was such a solid homily. There was no ripping on anyone or trashing different segments of the Church, such as you hear whenever Pope Francis opens his mouth. There was no alarmism about vaccines, nor any of the sort of quasi-political nonsense you get when you read Viganò. It was just good, wholesome, spiritual preaching. 

Year ago, I read Athanasius Schneider's Dominus Est. It remains one of the greatest apologetical works on why we should receive communion on the tongue. During his Mass, watching him seated on the faldstool, eyes cast down in humility, while the subdeacon read the Epistle, more than once I thought, "In what world do we live in where this man is on the margins of the hierarchy? Why can't we have this guy for pope?"

Whatever Pope Francis or others want to say, Tradition is alive and well. It was not created by papal fiat and it won't be destroyed by papal fiat. I am fortunate I got to assist at a Mass said by this good prelate, and I pray for more like him.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

A Sorority Girl Tells Me About Ritual

Not long ago I was talking to an acquaintance of mine, a young woman who is a college junior. I saw her in town and we were standing by her car catching up. She came from a respectable Methodist family, but of very secular attitude. She told me a little bit about how college was going, and from what she said I gathered that she had regrettably fallen into the lifestyle that is so common in many American colleges: frequent partying, drinking, promiscuousness. She mentioned a boyfriend she was "staying with", and also told me she was struggling in some of her classes because she was always staying out too late with friends drinking and having a hard time getting motivated in the mornings. Typical college girl stuff.

But that's not what this story is about. This story is about something else she told me. She mentioned she was heavily involved with one of the college sororities. She was one of the committee officers. I asked her what her role was and she said Master of Ceremonies. This piqued my interest. "Ah, you're a ritualist?" I asked. She said yes; her job was to coordinate the ceremonies of the sorority for all its various occasions, like the initiation of new members, promotion of members, commemorative events, etc. I asked if she liked it and she said very much so. In fact, she told me she was just then at the store picking up some ritual items. She showed me the back of her car and it was full of candles, satins, what looked to be robes or gowns, and various other ritual objects one could imagine a sorority making use of. I wanted to ask if she had giant paddles but I thought that would be cliché.

Anyhow, I was curious about their ceremonial. Obviously, being a sorority, this was "secret" and she couldn't tell an uninitiated outsider the details. But she told me the rituals went back to the founding of the sorority, which was in 1896. So, by American standards, the organization was quite old. I asked, "How closely do your rituals today reflect the rites as created by the founders of the sorority?" 

"Oh they're exactly the same," she answered. I was very surprised. I said, "They never thought to change or amend them? They never felt they needed to update them for modernity?" She made a disgusted face, as if the very suggestion that the rituals be changed was offensive. "Oh heck no," she said. "It's very serious for us to carry on the rituals as the founders intended." Then she explained that performing the rites as handed down from the past provided a vital link with the history of the sorority, its previous members, and kept it grounded in its mission. It created historical continuity. She was very zealous explaining this to me; whatever else was going on in her life, I could tell that she attached great importance to her office as Master of Ceremonies.

Then she told me that the sorority's by-laws actually punished members who were found to be guilty of deviating from the received rituals of the organization, including expulsion from the sorority for repeated infractions. "So, yeah, we take it pretty seriously!" she said. 

I thanked her for her time, wished her well, and was on my way. But as I left the encounter, I had a startling thought: This young woman—a junior in college living a secular lifestyle shacking up with her boyfriend and getting plastered every night—understands and values liturgy more than the current Successor of St. Peter.

"Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes" (Matt. 11:25)