Sunday, September 25, 2022

An Alternative Take on Fr. Capodanno

[Sept. 25, 2022] Not long ago, traditional Catholic outlets reported on the suspension of the cause of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, a United States Marine Corps chaplain and Maryknoll Father who died on the battlefield in Vietnam shielding a Marine from machine gun fire. The story was presented in such a way as to suggest that the reason the cause was suspended was because the advisory panel to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints that suspended the cause was "woke," based on an objection to Fr. Capodanno serving in the U.S. armed forces. 

After reading about this decision in depth, I found myself frustrated with the way traditional Catholic outlets chose to cover it, which I find to have been disingenuous on several points, which I will enumerate here.

1. Fr. Capodanno's Cause Has Not Been "Canceled"

The decision of the advisory panel relates to a document known as a positio; this is essentially a summary of the candidate's cause. The advisory panel's purpose is to examine the positio, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the cause. The positio for Fr. Capodanno's cause was examined by an advisory panel to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints in May of this year. This panel renders a consultative vote to the Dicastery; this means it is merely advisory, and the Dicastery can accept or reject the panel's recommendation. 

The advisory panel's vote recommended the suspension of the cause. However, since this vote is consultative and not binding, Fr. Capodanno's cause has not been "canceled"; it has merely hit a roadblock. The Dicastery has the option to reject the panel's judgment, and the postulator of the cause has the option to appeal, which, to my knowledge, has already been done. The Fr. Capodanno Guild itself does not believe the cause is dead. The Guild (a private association promoting Fr. Capodanno's cause), said, “Other causes have had to struggle through the process in Rome...Initial engagements with congregation leaders have emphasized the widespread interest in the cause,” the Guild said. “These leaders have responded that the possibility to move forward exists and should be pursued.” (source) Certainly, the negative vote is a setback, but it is hardly tantamount to the case of Fr. Capodanno being canceled. 

2. His Cause Was Not Suspended Because of the Ukraine War

A more important clarification relates to the reasons why the panel voted the way it did. Traditional Catholic coverage of this event focused in on the widely reported objection that "with ongoing military action in the world (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church." It was alleged that limp-wristed wokeness had torpedoed Fr. Capodanno's cause; that it was suspended for mere optics. One outlet even ran a headline that Fr. Capodanno had been "unsainted." 

In fact, the objection about the Ukraine war was only one of many. There were five reasons the panel gave for the vote of suspension. These five reasons were:
  • The positio focuses mainly on the final years of Fr. Capodanno's life. In doing so, it offers little documentation of spiritual growth over time.
  • Fr. Capodanno's own congregation, the Maryknoll Fathers, had not pursued Fr. Capodanno's cause.
  • Fr. Capodanno seemed fastidious about his appearance in such a way that may have suggested the sin of vanity.
  • Father's dissatisfaction with his assignment to Hong Kong indicates disobedience.
  • With ongoing military actions in the world today (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church.
That several Catholic media outlets chose to report only the objection about Ukraine was disingenuous, as it gave the mistaken impression that squeamishness about the military was the sole reason that Fr. Capodanno was "canceled." As there were five stated reasons for suspension, any one of those reasons could have been the cause, or (more likely) it was a judgment based on the cumulative weight of all the causes. As neither the advisory panel nor the Dicastery nor the Fr. Capodanno Guild nor the Archdiocese for Military Services has stated that concerns about Ukraine were the sole reason for the suspension, it is disingenuous and false to suggest otherwise—and suggesting these reasons are "woke" is downright slanderous. They all fall within the purview of reasoned objections, as we shall see.

To those who say that "optics" or "untimeliness" are not valid objections: I agree that this objection is weak, but it is not unfounded; in my readings of Church history, I have often come across Congregations and even the Roman Pontiffs taking juridical action or refraining from it based on timeliness, or what today we would call "optics." But even if it is a weak objection, it is still perfectly legitimate to proffer weak objections.

3. Francis's Novel "New Path to Sainthood" In Play

I realize that the Fr. Capodanno Guild has responses to all of the objections of the panel. However, having not read the positio myself, I am certainly not going to comment on their merit relative to the objections. I will say, however, that the first objection is not insignificant. Traditionally, the only time one's life is not completely relevant is in the case of martyrdom. Since Fr. Capodanno's cause was not a martyrdom, his manner of living is relevant; there needs to be a demonstration of growth in virtue leading up to the time of his death.

Now, it may be responded, "Fr. Capodanno is proposed for canonization under the criteria of 'giving freely of his own life,' which does pertain to the end of the candidate's life in particular." This, in fact, is the response offered by the Guild. To this I would ask, where in Christian history have we heard of candidates being canonized for "giving freely of his own life"? If you've never heard of that path to canonization before, it's because it is a complete novelty conjured by Pope Francis in 2017 with the motu proprio Maiorem hac dilectionem. The purpose of this "new path to sainthood" was for cases whether neither martyrdom nor heroic virtue seemed applicable.

This raises several points:

(1) To my knowledge, no one has yet been beatified or canonized under the guidelines laid down in Maiorem hac dilectionem. That being the case, extra caution is prudent before proceeding. It has not been settled exactly what level of documentation is sufficient for a candidate to move forward under this process, and—given the times being what they are—it is preferable to move with greater rather than less reluctance.

(2) Granting the validity of the "new path to sainthood," this method still requires the candidate to demonstrate Christian virtues to the degree that they had a "reputation for holiness" (Art. 2). If the advisory panel believed the documentation of the positio did not demonstrate this "reputation for holiness" due to its focus on the end of Fr. Capodanno's life, then this is a legitimate objection.

(3) The idea of traditional Catholics objecting that a candidate has not gotten beatified fast enough under a novel "new path to sainthood" created by Pope Francis in 2017 is rich. 

4. Do You Want a Devil's Advocate Or Don't You?

We must now consider the content of the objections themselves. The reader may feel that these objections are trite, insignificant, and seemingly slight. I agree. However, this is a proper part of the examination of candidates for sainthood.

Traditional Catholics are habitually complaining about the elimination of the office of Devil's Advocate in modern canonizations. While the office still technically exists, its role has merely been revamped to be less adversarial, and it is true that modern canonizations no longer resemble the trial that they did in earlier ages. This is what concerns traditional Catholics—that there appears to be a lack of scrutiny, of due diligence in vetting candidates. But if we did have a Devil's Advocate exercising his traditional function, what would it look like? I refer you to the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia's entry for the Advocatus Diaboli:

"To prevent any rash decisions concerning miracles or virtues of the candidates...all documents of beatification and canonization processes must be submitted to examination, and the difficulties and doubts [raised] over the virtues and miracles are laid before the congregation and must be satisfactorily answered before any further steps can be taken in the processes. It is his duty to suggest natural explanations for alleged miracles, and even to bring forward human and selfish motives for deeds that have been accounted heroic virtues...his duty requires him to prepare in writing all possible arguments, even at times seemingly slight, against the raising of anyone to the honors of the altar." (source)

The Devil's Advocate is supposed to intentionally bring up all possible objections to a candidate's sanctity, even ones we consider trivial, "even at times seemingly slight." That is literally his job. To put it crassly, the job of the Devil's Advocate is to crap all over whatever candidate is brought before him, using whatever grounds he can scrape up, even if they are petty. 

Although the Devil's Advocate no longer fulfills his role in this manner, we see that the advisory panel to the Dicastery does. In examining a candidate's positio, the panel is tasked with highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the cause. In Fr. Capodanno's case, we see the panel is carrying out the function traditionally assigned to the Devil's Advocate in suggesting selfish motives for Fr. Capodanno's actions and raising "all possible arguments, even at times seemingly slight" against elevating him to the altars. The Devil's Advocate (or, in this case, advisory panel) need not even believe the objections they are raising; it is their job to raise them nonetheless.

In other words, the advisory panel here was doing exactly what the Devils' Advocate used to; doing exactly what trads complain isn't being done enough. When you say you want the Devil's Advocate restored to its traditional role, this is what you are asking for. This is the sort of thing the Devil's Advocate would do, and probably more so. If you have ever said that the Devil's Advocate should be restored but take issue to these petty sorts of objections, then I respectfully suggest you need to learn more about this whole process. 

I personally think it's good that these sorts of objections are brought forward; "all possible arguments" are supposed to be made against the candidate. As mentioned above, the decision is not binding, and can be appealed. This gives the postulator, the Guild, and supporters of Fr. Capodanno to revise the positio to more specifically address the concerns of the panel. 

Do I think these specific objections merit the cause being suspended? I do not. I am frankly surprised that these objections resulted in the negative vote. But I am not surprised at the types of objections. Which brings me to my final point—

5. "We All Know How These People Are"

In my (long) experience debating these sorts of issues with traditional Catholics, when I point out that the specific facts in a case do not warrant the narrative trads are making of it, a standard response is, "Yeah, well even so, we all know how these people are."  Even if it can't be proven that Fr. Capodanno's cause was suspended because of a progressive attitude towards the military, "we all know" why they did this. It is a way to preserve the narrative despite lack of evidence; a way to say, "Even if my premises are all wrong, my conclusion still stands."

I sympathize with this. Indeed, we all do know exactly how "these people" operate. We've had ample opportunities to observe them over the past several years. Even so, the cause of a candidate for canonization is a juridical process, and as such must be subject to juridical norms. Imagine you were on trial for a crime. Imagine that you were able to empirically demonstrate conclusively that you were innocent of the charges. Now imagine, after proving your innocence, that the judge simply said, "Well, even so, we all know how you are," and found you guilty regardless. That would be a travesty of justice; it is no less a travesty to shrug off the facts here by saying, "C'mon, we all know how these people are." 


This post is neither pro-canonization nor anti-canonization for Fr. Capodanno. But it is pro-"support the process." And again, I want to stress, if you have ever lamented the reform of the Devil's Advocate but also dislike these sorts of trivial objections being put forward, then you are being inconsistent. Do you only want the Devil's Advocate to screen out candidates you disapprove of a priori but not apply that same rigorous screening to candidates you support? Either we apply rigorous procedural scrutiny to candidates or we don't. 

I think Fr. Capodanno deserves another round. I hope the appeal is granted and the postulator brings back a beefed up positio that definitively answers the objections raised by the panel. But the narrative that his canonization was "canceled" because the "woke" panel objected to the Ukraine War is simply untrue.

Friday, September 09, 2022

Response to Robert

Earlier this month, I was written an open letter by Robert at the lovely blog Pater Familias. This post is my response to his letter. Before you read this post, therefore, you should visit Robert's "Letter to Boniface" post and read it in order to understand my response in context.

My brother, I am touched by your correspondence. I commend you for your candor and openness. You brought up many points, to which I don't know if I will have adequate answer; but I will answer as I can, according to my poor ability. Please understand that my words here represent my own peculiar spiritual approach to the vicissitudes of life. I am no spiritual advisor and do not intend to lecture you on how you ought to be doing things; I am just one beggar telling another beggar where I have found some bread. 

You spoke of the fear that your children may one day apostasize. I understand the anxiety a father experiences over their children's faith; I have suffered with it myself occasionally, although—thanks be to God—it is something I no longer fret over. Certainly not because the world has gotten any better. Rather, it has served me well to remember what Christ has said: "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). If I wish to have peace, my focus must be on what is before me. The only moment I have any control over is the present, and this is where our Lord desires us to keep our focus. Now is the day of salvation; now is the moment of grace. What good can come of anxiety over a future that has not happened, and may never happen? The best way I can secure my children's faith in the future is to be Christlike now.

We imagine our theater of action is vastly broader than it is; in actuality, it is quite small, confined to the tiny, fleeting moment we retain control over, a moment so brief it is gone by the time we even conceive of it. But it is to our great benefit that the window is so small, for it puts our salvation into a context we can manage. The grand arc of my life, my eternal destiny, and that of my children and friends, and the will of God overarching it all—it's all too much for me to maintain in head and heart; "such knowledge is too wonderful for me; far too lofty for me to reach" (Ps. 139:6). Thank God He does not ask me to navigate such a tremendous vessel all at once! Rather, he commits to me a single oar and tells me "Row well, and live"; he entrusts me with a single coin and says, "Use this wisely." And that I can manage, especially with the aid of His grace which enlightens my mind. The burden of our salvation is actually quite small; "my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30). That's not to say salvation is not of tremendous import, obviously, but it is one of the paradoxes of the Kingdom of God that the import of such a grave matter can be a burden of light and an easy yoke. Just because something is important does not mean it must be draining; I am reminded of Chesterton's famous quip, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." To achieve great things, we must become small. That includes shrinking the locus of our attention in the way Christ suggests in the Beatitudes.

This relates to our Lord's command to be as children. We usually interpret the childlike faith to relate to trust, and this is certainly true, but I think it also relates to our focus. Children are concerned only with what is before them; they take no care for tomorrow and scarcely remember yesterday. Their attention is entirely fixated upon whatever they are doing at the moment. Imagine if your own spiritual attention was so fixated on the moment! Invest that kind of focus in the here and now and you will do better. "Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?" (Matt. 6:27)

I realize this is easier said than done, especially given the darkness that is overtaking the world. You mention your disgust with the world increasing with each passing year, and a fear that your faith is being corrupted by a kind of judgmental self-righteousness. I read this part of your letter many times, contemplating it from various angles, and I think you are correct to be concerned about this matter. Our Lord does not want us to be consumed with disgust, even if we are surrounded by things that truly merit it. Jesus promised that His commandments would bring us joy. He said, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love...These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:10-11). Our Lord intends our joy to be "full." If we are not people of joy, we therefore must stop and ask why?

The world is covered in darkness, the Church is in chaos, society is adrift, the economy is collapsing. How can we be joyful? I return, again, to my previous theme, reduction of scope; in other words, my brother, who told you any of this was your concern? Has God laid it upon you to save the world? Is the goings on of the Vatican your personal responsibility? Or are the economy and western civilization entrusted entirely to your hands? Assuredly not. Of course, there are some men whose responsibilities are much more vast; some men have been given ten talents, and their obligations are weighty. But such is not you, and such is not me. The Church? Not my concern. The country? Not my concernat least not in the sense of making it all my personal business and wasting my energy fretting about it all. Commending it all to prayer is the best we can do, fulfilling what Paul asks of Timothy, to make prayers and supplications for all all in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Then what is my concern? The Lord requires my faithfulness in the things He has entrusted to me. What talents has He put into your hand? Your work, your children, your wife, your parish. All relatively modest, when you think about it; at least vastly more so than worrying about the world, the church, and society. My brother, just be attentive to the little circle of this universe that is under your immediate gaze. Hug your wife and children. Be diligent in your daily tasks. Plant and grow your garden and rejoice in the dirt under your fingers, the greenness of grass, blueness of sky, and the wind on your face. Walk down your road and marvel at the movements of bone, sinew, and limb before the ravages of age deprive you of them. Thank God for the breath in your nostrils. 

The small things, the small things, ah, yes, that is where happiness lies, if it lies anywhere. Not in the fire, or earthquake, or roar of wind but in the still, small voice. Find Him there. I understand your restlessness to "do more" and "be more"; believe me! I feel it every day of my life. But if you want to do more, then be less. If you want Him to increase you, then decrease. In the Kingdom of our Lord, the way up is down. Instead of thinking about doing greater things, do average things with greater love. Imbue your routine with meaning, and you may find that a golden tide washes over all of it and the mundane becomes bathed in glory like a sunbeam falling through your window on a summer afternoon.

You noted that you are alarmed at your shortcomings despite doing the "right things." I see how this alarms you, but I think it alarms you more than necessary. The faith is not a matter of box-checking;  certainly these things you mentioned (Rosary, First Fridays, Adoration, etc.) are all of great importance. But we delude ourselves if we think things are going to go our way just because we have checked the boxes. There is a "not knowingness" that is inherent to faith; a kind of "not yet"—a haze that caused St. Paul say "we see in a mirror yet darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12); this mist must simply be accepted. Embrace your status as a viator; we are not yet what we will become (cf. 1 John 3:2). We are pilgrims, whose feet ache, whose brows are beaded with sweat, whose stomachs hunger; and for all our trials we do not see clearly our destinationbut it is sufficient to know we are on the road there. We wrestle with God like Jacob wrestled the angel. You must simply accept this; accept the not-knowingness. Of course, continue to do the "right things," but abandon any notion that the "right things" are going to yield some specific, concrete result in the here and now. Paradoxically, if you let go of that expectation, you might find things begin to change for you. Things change for us when we stop forcing them; the Spirit works in those realms beyond our mind and strength.

Of course it is only by grace that any of us can hang on. But what has comforted me greatly is a passage from 1 Corinthians, in which Paul says, "if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not" (1 Cor. 8:12). If we yield ourselves to God in sincerity, He accepts our offering based on what we have, not what we lack. If we invest our talents faithfully, His standard of judgement is proportional to what we had to work with. The man who is given one is only expected to yield one; the man with ten is expected to yield ten. I have returned to this passage again and again to help me see my own life in perspective. I hope it may be of benefit to you as well. That we hang on by grace is nothing to be ashamed of; in fact, it is a tremendous consolation, or ought to be. 

I understand loneliness all too well. I, too, am a father, but I have been divorced for several years and have no woman. I'm not sure if my loneliness is of the same as yours; I am fairly content where I am at and don't feel the urgent desire for companionship you express. Such was not always the case, though; I have spent many years learning the art of happiness. St. Paul says he had learned to be content in all situations (cf. Php. 4:11-13). I have realized over time that I, too, can be happy despite my circumstance. I can be happy even in my loneliness. Just like I can have faith even when I don't understand. I can have hope even when I feel broken. I can have love even when darkness is crashing around me. We all can.

Have you ever seen the HBO John Adams series? There is a fantastic scene at the end where John Adams, now elderly and looking back on his life, counsels his son to live in jubilation at the wonders of the mundane. I highly recommend you watch this scene if you haven't seen it before. 

Your expression of the loneliness at Adoration grieved me. I do not know what to tell you, other than such has not been my experience. But then again, when I come before our Lord, all I expect Him to do is just be. I suppose I do not contrast His "affirming" or "speaking" with His "being." When I come before Him, I come unto the ineffable light, that which simply is. And in merely beholding Him, He both affirms and speaks all that must be affirmed and all that needs be said. His gaze is transformative. Heaven is the vision of God. The only thing that ever needs to change in light of that vision is me.

I will say one more thing: when I was a new Christian, I glossed over the Beatitudes because they seemed so simple. Of course I affirmed them and believed them, but they seemed very "basic"; I was eager to get onto bigger things. I did not want milk; I was eager for meat. But now I see that what St. Paul said applied to me: "I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready" (1 Cor. 3:2). I have since gone back to the Beatitudes and found a treasure trove of riches therein, especially of value for maintaining the right balance and proper spiritual focus. I have derived more spiritual benefit from them than I ever though possible. So I encourage you to interiorize the Beatitudes until they are your very breath and the pulse in your wrist.

I apologize in advance that my answer is so poor. I fear I may not be of much help to you. But know that I have prayed for you in hopes that you, too, may find light, refreshment, and peace in His glory. 

Friday, September 02, 2022

Answering Objections about Hyperpapalism and Gregory VII

[Aug. 30, 2022] A few days ago, One Peter Five published an essay of mine entitled "Hyperpapalism Under Pope St. Gregory VII." While most feedback on the article was positive, I received some criticisms I'd like to address in a brief follow up. I don't usually respond to criticisms, but I am feeling saucy today.

The gist of the One Peter Five article is two-fold: 

(1) That historically the papal office has grown its authority by means of the gradual expansion of precedent—i.e., those prerogatives claimed by the popes by custom.

(2) While papal precedent has traditionally expanded, there were times when the popes were not successful at growing their precedential powers. A notable example was the pontificate of Gregory VII, who made radical claims about the powers of the papacy during the Investiture Controversy. Though the emperors eventually agreed to give up episcopal investiture with ring and staff, the push-back to Gregory's claims by significant segments of the Church (and state) was substantial enough that succeeding popes withdrew from Gregory's radical agenda, instead opting for a much more moderate version of his program.

I concluded with the observation that if we did not want Francis's actions to become established precedent, then we, too, need to offer "push-back" to the Franciscan program.

Regarding Dictatus papae

Some critiques I received were extremely particular gripes about my interpretation of Gregory's document Dictatus papae, specifically Article 10 ("That his name alone shall be spoken in the churches") and Article 23 ("That the Roman pontiff, if he have been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter, St. Ennodius, bishop of Pavia, bearing witness, and many holy fathers agreeing with him. As is contained in the decrees of St. Symmachus the pope.").

In my essay, I reference Article 10 briefly in summary, saying, "Dictatus papae claimed...that his name alone should be said during the liturgy," which is essentially just a paraphrase of the text of Article 10. The critique is that I am interpreting Article 10 too literally; that it does not mean literally that the pope's name is the only name to be said in the liturgy, but the only name to be said universally

I respond: I offered no interpretation of Article 10. I merely paraphrased what it stated as an example of the claims of Pope Gregory VII. I my discussion of Dictatus papae, I linked to a longer essay I wrote on Dictatus papae in 2012. If the critics had read this, they would have found my analysis of Article 10:

Two interesting statements are found in Articles 10 and 11. Article 10 states “[The pope’s] name alone shall be spoken in the churches.” This clearly refers to the practice of including the name of the reigning pontiff during the Roman Canon. This decree perhaps means that the pope’s name alone shall be mentioned universally (versus bishops or secular rulers, who are only mentioned within their respective territories). Eleven is of more interest, for after establishing that only the pope’s name shall be used universally, it goes on to say of the pope “that this is the only name in the world.”

This phrase sounds a little awkward in English and makes no sense on the literal level. The Latin says Quod hoc unicum est nomen in mundo, which can also be rendered “there is only one such name [pope]” or “the title [pope] is only to be used of the Roman pontiff”, which would be a declaration against both the Holy Roman Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople, both of whom had tried to usurp the title “Universal” in one way or another. This was already stated in article two, but perhaps it builds on Article 10, which stated that the pope’s name alone shall be spoken in the churches, and that in article eleven this is to be understood as applying universally and exclusively.

I think it is clear that I allow for varying interpretations of Article 10, none of which I argue for in my One Peter Five essay. At any rate, Dictatus papae did not come with any interpretive key, and the original context of its articles has long been lost. This is why it remains such a fascinating document—we know what it literally says, but its meaning is debated.

The second critique concerns Article 23, the strange clause where Gregory argues that a canonically elected pope "is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter." Of this I said that Gregory believed "the pope was de facto a saint by the grace of the Petrine office." The critique here was that, again, I was taking this passage too literally. It was argued that this is just another way of suggesting that the pope's authority comes by virtue of being successor of St. Peter. 

I respond, in my 2012 essay I offer three possible interpretations of this bizarre phrase, which in Latin reads "meritis beati Petri indubitanter efficitur sanctus." In 2012 I was unsure whether Gregory meant efficitur sanctus ("he becomes a saint") in the sense of literal, personal holiness. After studying Gregory's other writings, however, I am convinced this is what he meant indeed. This is corroborated by Gregory's letter to Bishop Hermann of Metz. Penned in 1081, a lengthy treatise penned in defense of Pope Gregory's policies. In this letter, Gregory expands upon the concept of efficitur sanctus. Commenting on the superiority of popes over kings, he says:

If, then, men who fear God come under compulsion with fear and trembling to the Apostolic See where those who are properly ordained become stronger through the merits of the blessed Apostle Peter, with what awe and hesitation should men ascend to the throne of a king where even good and humble men like Saul and David become worse! What we have said above is thus stated in the decrees of the blessed pope Symmachus—though we have learned it through experience: "He, that is, St. Peter, transmitted to his successors an unfailing endowment of merit together with an inheritance of innocence;" and again: "For who can doubt that he is holy who is raised to the height of such an office, in which if he is lacking in virtue acquired by his own merits, that which is handed down from his predecessor is sufficient. For either he [Peter] raises men of distinction to bear this burden or he glorifies them after they are raised up. 

The quote above can be found in “Letter to Hermann of Metz, Registrum, Book VIII, Letter 21, as found in The Correspondence of Pope Gregory VII, translated with an introduction by Ephraim Emerton (W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 1969), pg. 174. 

We know Gregory is speaking of the same concept as Article 23 because both his letter to Hermann and Article 23 reference Pope Symmachus. This passage strongly suggests Gregory does indeed take efficitur sanctus to mean personal holiness. This is evident in several ways:

First, consider the contrast: Gregory contrasts kings who are "made worse" by their office with popes who "become stronger" through the merits of Peter. The references to Saul and David becoming "worse" is clearly a reference to their personal sins. Ergo, for the contrast to make sense, Gregory must be contrasting personal vices with personal virtues. Kingly office makes one "become worse" by temptation to personal vice; the occupant of the Apostolic See will "become stronger" by being supplied with personal virtue through the merits of Peter.

Second, notice that Gregory is speaking of the popes' personal merit. Each successor of Peter receives "an unfailing endowment of merit," but also "an inheritance of innocence." The phrase "inheritance of innocence" is awkward, but I think it is clear that he is referring to a pontiff's personal innocence, which he is provided by virtue of holding the Apostolic See. This is made explicit with his final clause, a striking passage that merits close attention:

For who can doubt that he is holy who is raised to the height of such an office, in which if he is lacking in virtue acquired by his own merits, that which is handed down from his predecessor is sufficient. For either he [Peter] raises men of distinction to bear this burden or he glorifies them after they are raised up.

Again, he says that "he is holy" by virtue of being raised to the Apostolic See. This is understood in such a sense that even if the pope lacks this virtue in a personal sense, it is provided for through the office, a Petrine "inheritance" that "glorifies" the pope after his canonical election.

This all suggests that Gregory believed that one who ascends to the papacy is possessed of a kind of "supplied holiness" by the merits of St. Peter. This sanctity is described with the words "holy," "endowment of merit," "inheritance of innocence," "virtue," and "glorifies," all of which are used in a personal sense. This letter provides the context for Dictatus papae Article 23, and anyone suggesting Gregory does not mean this must offer a better interpretation of this passage. At any rate, I do not think I am amiss for taking the obvious interpretation, and I cited this passage as support in my One Peter Five essay.

I will grant that it is an admittedly obscure text and concept; but if it is so, it is precisely because it was not reaffirmed by successive popes, which was the point I was trying to establish by citing it to begin with.

Supporting Heretics

One critique I predicted when I wrote the essay is that the argument "supports heretics" by citing the enemies of Pope St. Gregory VII to establish a point. After all, these opponents of Gregory were arguing in favor of Emperor Henry IV, a repeat excommunicate. And they supported a practice (lay investiture) that was ultimately condemned by the Church. What sort of pathetic point must I be trying to make if I am enlisting these chaps in my corner?

The citation of men like Gerard of York, Hugh of Fleury, St. Ivo of Chartres, Wido of Osnabrück, et al is not meant to be taken as an endorsement of their ideas. I am not concerned with the content of their protest but the mere fact of their protest. As I stated in the One Peter Five essay:

These examples are not cited to argue that the positions of the pope’s opponents were correct. Many of them had their own problems...This is all irrelevant; the point is simply that there was significant, sustained opposition from the European episcopate.

Those who opposed Gregory VII did so for many reasons: some were political hacks just doing what Emperor Henry IV wanted them to do, some agreed in principle to Gregory's reforms but opposed the pace at which he sought to implement them; others affirmed Gregory's crusade against simony but opposed his ideas about lay investiture; some agreed that laymen should not dominate the Church but denied that kings and emperors were laymen; others believed that Gregory had valid points but that custom should take precedence; some denied the theoretical powers Gregory claimed; others affirmed Gregory's claims of spiritual authority but denied his aspirations to temporal supremacy; some, like St. Ivo of Chartres, were saintly men whose opposition was motivated by a sincere zeal for the good of the Church; others were just hoping to maintain their ill-gotten benefices obtained through bribery. The point is, we do ourselves much harm when we segregate historical characters into good guys and bad guys, especially within the Church. There is usually a diversity of motivations that need to be studied to truly understand the times. 

It is not "supporting heretics" to observe the phenomenon of broad opposition to Pope Gregory's ideas. I am not defending any specific rationale for their opposition, merely noting that Gregory's teaching provoked opposition and was considered radical. This is the common consensus of historians on this period. In the essay I cite medievalist Norman F. Cantor who, speaking of the ideals enshrined in Dictatus papae, said, “Dictatus papae was a sensational and extremely radical document, and it is inconceivable to think that Hildebrand [Gregory VII] was so naïve as to not realize that it would make that impression.” Gregory's document was radical and was perceived as such, most likely by the pope himself as well.

Ultimately, viewing Church history merely a series of villains and heroes isn't helpful if we want to truly understand the history. People are not dramatic foils, and even if one side was wrong on one point does not mean they were wrong on all points, nor that the "good guys" did not have their own problems. Not every historical observation is made to score a point for a side. 

"Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel"

Finally, my favorite: a critique of the overall thrust of the article, suggesting that I am pathetically scraping the bottom of the barrel by "going all the way back" to Gregory VII to find ammunition to attack contemporary Ultramontanism. This critique is annoying for two reasons:

My article is not a polemic against contemporary Ultramontanism. It is a historical observation about the ebb and flow of papal power in previous ages and how that may apply to current discussions about papal authority. It may have import in the current discussions about hyperpapalism, but that is secondary.

Furthermore, the charge of "going all the way back" to Gregory VII is confusing to me. As Catholics, "going all the way back" is what we do. The pontificate of Gregory VII was pivotal in the history of the Church, marking the turning point between two differing conceptions of ecclesiastical power that had characterized the first and second millennia of Christendom. This period was not inconsequential, and the implication that our history has less relevance the further back we go is not a Catholic approach. Ridiculing an argument because its source material is "old" is a tactic that has been used before, but not by serious Catholic scholars.

* * * * *  

I could say more but I think this is sufficient. Hopefully these concepts have provoked further discussion on these important matters we are all trying to understand.

[1] Norman Cantor, Medieval History, 2nd ed. (Toronto: MacMillan Co., 1971), 286


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Response to Bishop Barron on Elijah's "Firing"

(August 23, 2022) In his now viral commentary on the Prophet Elijah, Bishop Robert Barron opined that God "fired" Elijah after his encounter with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Barron said:

“The tiny whispering voice says its time for your successor. Elijah, you're fired. Why is he being fired? Could have something to do with that extraordinary violence he showed after the beautiful prophetic manifestation on Mt. Carmel?”

There are a few considerations here, first, relating to the difficulty Barron has with this story, and second, to his exegesis of 1 Kings.

1. Novus Ordo Lectionary Omits the Killing of the Prophets of Baal

What is the "extraordinary violence" Barron is referring to in the life of Elijah? We are all familiar with the miraculous manifestation of God's power in Elijah's showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. What many people are not aware of is that the defeat of Baal's prophets cost them their lives. Picking up the story with the fire from heaven, let us see what became of the false prophets after Elijah's triumph:

Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and killed them there. (1 Kings 18:38-40).
The prophets of Baal were personally killed by the Prophet Elijah. Incidentally, there is a fantastic illustration of this episode in the famous Dore Bible, illustrated by renowned French artists Gustave Dore.

Why might modern Catholics be unaware of this story? Those familiar with the imperfections of the new Lectionary can probably guess. The story of Elijah and the prophets is read over two daily Masses in Week 10 of Ordinary Time in Year B in the Lectionary, on a Wednesday and Thursday. The Wednesday reading omits this episode, choosing to end the story in verse 39 where the people say "The Lord, he is God!" The Thursday reading picks up with verse 41, "And Elijah said to Ahab, etc." You will notice that verse 40 is omitted. What is verse 40? Verse 40 says, "And Elijah said to them, 'Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.' And they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and killed them there." When the narrative picks up on Thursday, it begins on verse 41. The daily Mass goer in the Novus Ordo will never ever hear 1 Kings 18:40. You can view this deliberate omission for yourself in the Lectionary index here, but if you don't want to scroll all the way down, just take a look at the relevant entries (click to enlarge):

The text 1 Kings 18:40 is deliberately omitted from the Novus Ordo Lectionary, presumably for being too "difficult." Bishop Barron evidentaly shares the opinion of the committee that crafted the new Lectionary, for his exegesis reveals a man who is profoundly uncomfortable with the literal meaning of the text and who must therefore resort to twisted, novel exegesis to render the passage more palatable to modern tastes. Now, let us see why Barron's exegesis fails.

2.  Barron's Faulty Exegesis

Now let us see how Barron interprets this passage. Barron says, "The tiny whispering voice says its time for your successor. Elijah, you're fired. Why is he being fired?" Barron is referring to the events subsequent to the episode on Carmel, narrated in 1 Kings 19. There, Queen Jezebel, furious at being humiliated by Elijah, swears to slay the prophet. Elijah therefore flees into the wilderness to avoid the wrath of Jezebel.

The Scriptures tell us that he sits down under a tree. There, feeling at his lowest, Elijah begs God to let him die (19:4). This is important: Elijah specifically asks to be relieved of his ministry by death. God, however, sends an angel, who feeds him, telling him, "Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you" (v. 7). Elijah found himself provided with a cake and jar of water; the text seems to imply this food was provided supernaturally, as it is simply there when he awakes from sleep. It also seems miraculous because verse 8 says "he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb." The strength of this one meal nourished him for forty days. Has God "fired" him yet? If so, providing him with food miraculously is a strange way to show it.

Elijah proceeds to Mount Horeb and climbs into a cave. There God asks him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (v. 9). Elijah recounts his zeal for the Lord in verse 10:

"I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

The Lord responds by manifesting various natural phenomenon to Elijah as expressions of His power:

And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (v. 11-13)

At last we come to the famous "still small voice." It is here specifically that Barron says Elijah is fired. Let us pay close attention to what this still small voice says to see if we can discern any hint of Elijah being "fired."

First, the voice asks him again, "What are you doing here Elijah?" We may presume the repetition of the question is an invitation for Elijah to reflect deeper upon his pilgrimage here. Again, Elijah responds, "I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." (v. 14)

God responds by assigning Elijah a special task:

“Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place." (v. 15-16)

Elijah is asked to anoint three men: Hazael, as King of Syria (to replace Benhadad, mentioned elsewhere in 1 Kings); Jehu, to replace Ahab; and Elisha, to replace himself as prophet. Does this passage constitute a "firing" of Elijah?

It could conceivably be construed as such, because Jehu was being anointed to replace Ahab, who was wicked and being "fired" by God from being Israel's king. The status of Benhadad, who was replaced by Hazael, is more ambiguous; he was an ally of King Asa of Judah, to whom Asa had paid tribute to out of the temple treasures in order to make an alliance against Ahab (cf. 1 Kings 15). Though the Bible does not say so, we may presume this aroused the anger of God against Benhadad, prompting his "firing" and replacement by Hazael. Given this, we can understand why Barron might assume Elijah, too, is being "fired" and "replaced."

There is likely a more natural explanation, however: We know that Hazael of Damascus took the throne in 842 B.C., and that Jehu took the throne in 841. Most biblical estimates place the life of Elijah from around 900-840 B.C. We do not know exactly when Hazael and Jehu were anointed relative to when they took the throne, but presuming it was near the end of his ministry, Elijah must have been nearly 60 years old at the time. Ancient lifespans being what they were, it is likely that Elijah was worn out and nearing the end of his natural life. God's words to him should probably be interpreted to mean, "You have expressed your exasperation and fatigue, Elijah, and I have heard you. Your work on this earth is almost complete. Before you go, however, I have one last task for you: go and anoint Hazael and Jehu as kings of Damascus and Israel. After you have accomplished this, you will anoint Elisha as your own successor. When this is done, you will have rest." 

Thus, while I can see why Barron might think Elijah was fired, the age of Elijah—and the prophet's prayer for God to bring his life to a close—seem more reasonable explanations for God's commanded to anoint Elisha than any speculation about religious violence.

But, if you are not convinced by this, I invite you to consider the following: Bishop Barron claims that God "fired" Elijah because Elijah had used "extraordinary violence" in killing the prophets of Baal. According to Barron, this act was displeasing to God, enough that God dismissed Elijah from the prophetic office, commanding him to anoint a replacement. But what was it that God expected these replacements to do? Let us see what He tells Elijah next:

"And him who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (19:17-18)

God literally says the reason he wants Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha to be anointed is so they can continue to slaughter the partisans of Baal. He even says He has reserved seven thousand men in Israel who, presumably, will aid Elisha and these kings in this.

It is therefore ridiculous to suggest that God is replacing Elijah because of the killing of Baal worshipers when the men God is replacing him with are being commanded by God to continue killing Baal worshipers. Bishop Barron's analysis thus completely ignores verses 17 and 18. Perhaps Bishop Barron does not know about verses 17 and 18? This would not be surprising guessed it...1 Kings 19:18-17 is also omitted from the Lectionary in the Novus Ordo:

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

The Vatican's Astroturfing Survey

The Vatican's Department of Communications released a survey ahead of the Synod of Bishops. They are ostensibly interested in gathering feedback about the Church from a wide variety of persons who may or may not be practicing Catholics. The survey questions revolve around people's perceptions about the Church. The survey was (apparently) not made broadly available to the public; instead, it was disseminated to certain influencers who were then asked to distribute it amongst their social media followers. I found the survey through Jimmy Akin's blog.

The questions on the survey could be textbook examples of astroturfing, the manipulation of public feedback in a predetermined direction to give the false appearance of broad public support. This can be seen in the way the questions are framed. 

Question 4 asks us to consider why we think people leave the Church. We must choose from up to three of the following answers:

One will notice that there is no option to select anything relating to disappointment in the leadership of the Church—the way the popes and bishops have governed the household of faith. We may only find fault with the hierarchy in so far as it pertains to scandals, but not because we disagree with the fundamental direction they are steering the Church. 

You can also see that whoever wrote this thinks the Church's problem is that it needs to get with times, socially, liturgically, and doctrinally. Some of these answers do in fact apply to me, but if I were to choose them, I know how they would be interpreted. I do find most Novus Ordo Masses to be boring. But if I were to select "boring masses and ceremonies," they would interpret this to mean the NO requires even more innovation to make it more "exciting." I do feel the Church is unresponsive to my concerns as a traditional Catholic; but if I select "unresponsive to people's concerns and priorities," they will take it to mean I want more of Francis's theology of accompaniment. I do believe the Church is out of touch with the current concerns of young Catholics, who by and large look for a more traditional experience. But if I choose "Church is out of touch with current concerns," it will be interpreted as a mandate for greater modernization. These questions are phrased in such a way that they can be made to serve whatever agenda the Vatican chooses.

As an aside, the reasons people leave the Church are not mysterious. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) of Georgetown University has done plenty of research on this. I do not have the data in front of me, but I have been doing research for an upcoming book on the relationship between the Church and science utilizing CARA's research, and CARA's research suggests that the fundamental reason young people leave the Church is because they perceive the Church's worldview to be incompatible with modern science. This isn't an option either. 

The survey goes on to ask us if we think the Church is in dialogue enough with other groups. I think the survey creators were expecting people respond that the Church does not dialogue enough; I responded that the Church seems to be in dialogue "a lot." Of course, if offers no option for me to state whether I think this is a good or bad thing.

Question 6 on what attributes one associates with the Church is a joke. Here's our options:

There really is no way to answer this one. We are given 8 possible answers, 4 negative and 4 positive. Positive answers such as "innovative" and "supportive" will be construed as evidence of success of the Bergoglian innovations; negative answers will be construed as argument for the necessity of more such innovations to be foisted upon us from the God of Surprises.

Question 8 asks us what we think the Church needs to prioritize going forward. The choices are disappointing:

The first three options are at least objective goods, but the rest demonstrate the Church's profoundly anthropocentric view of its role in the world. Appallingly absent from this list is any reference to the missions, or to evangelization in general. And of course, nothing about liturgical formation, reverence, etc. 

Question 9 gives us our only chance in the entire survey to give original feedback:

No comment here, except this is your place to let em have it.

Question 11 is a very awkward question that has to do with the Church's commitment to "listening." It asks us how the Church can best become a listening entity:

This question struck me as more pathetic than anything else; it reminded of a teenage poser desperately trying to fit in by wearing the right band shirt—it doesn't matter what band shirt, so long as it is the right one. The Vatican has decided that "listening" is the way forward, but it has no idea to whom or to what it ought to be listening, and so it is desperately flailing about, looking for whatever method of listening will provide it with the best optics. If they were serious about listening, they should meditate on Mark 9:7.

The survey is a joke. They already have an agenda they intend to ram through, and when they do, they intend to frame it as the will of the people. The responses to the survey don't actually matter; they have structured it in such a way that the data can be manipulated to create momentum towards whatever agenda they wish.

If you want take the survey, visit the survey link here.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

How Goodwill Was Squandered

This week our eyes were graced with the scandalous spectacle of Father Mattia Bernasconi, vicar of the pastoral care for young people of the parish of San Luigi Gonzaga in Milan, celebrating Mass on an air mattress in the water at the beach at Alfieri in Italy's Crotone region—for no reason save that "it was hot." The source for the story can be found here.

I do not draw attention to this for the purposes of making another tired old "Look how bad the Novus Ordo is" post. We all know how bad the Novus Ordo can be. And besides, if the source is to believed, this Mass was in the Ambrosian Rite, not the Novus Ordo. 

The purpose, rather, is to call this episode as witness to why traditional Catholics do not trust the modern hierarchy when it comes to safeguarding the integrity of the liturgy—of any liturgy. This Mass is the reason why nobody believes Pope Francis when he asked bishops "to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses." This is why Pope Benedict's statements that the liturgy "cannot be created or amended by the individual community or by experts, but must be faithful to the forms of the universal Church" elicited only yawns, or why his post-synodal exhortation that priest demonstrate "attentiveness and fidelity to the specific structure of the rite" was a dead letter; why nothing changed after John Paul II called liturgical abuse "a source of suffering for many" and argued forcefully that "liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated...No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality." It is why, despite the CDW's prohibition of liturgical dance back in 1975, it continues to this day.

The reason is, no matter what is said about the dignity of the liturgy, nothing ever changes. Nobody in the Church is actually going to do anything about the abuses endemic throughout the Novus Ordo. Nobody reprimanded Cardinal Schönborn—editor of the Catechism—for having an irreverent balloon Mass in Vienna. Nobody disciplined the Detroit priest who had a Detroit Red Wings logo stitched onto his vestments and intoned the scores of a hockey game during Mass. The priests who handed out Holy Communion in sandwich bags for people to take home during Covid will not be disciplined. Nobody from any Vatican dicastery or diocesan office will ever lift a finger to stop the guitars, the balloons, the banners, and all the other clown-world abominations found throughout the Latin rite. All the talk about liturgical decorum and fidelity is about as vacuous as an American politician talking about balancing the budget. 

As a thought experiment, suppose this history had all unfolded differently. Suppose that the Novus Ordo was still implemented in 1970, but imagine the Church authorities were as rigorous in enforcing its rubrics as they are in suppressing the Latin Mass. Imagine they punished liturgical abusers, quashed innovations like communion in the hand, altar girls, etc.; imagine episcopal conferences reaffirming ad orientem worship and mandating the study and use of Latin, as Vatican II specifically ordered. Imagine diocesan training offered in Gregorian Chant and a broad prohibition of secular styles and instruments as envisioned by Pius X in Tra le sollecitudine. Imagine communion kneeling on the tongue was the norm throughout the west. In short, imagine that the elusive "reverent Novus Ordo" was, in fact, the status quo instead of the unicorn it now is. 

In such circumstances, the loss of the Traditional Latin Mass would still be tragic. There would still be a traditional movement advocating for the TLM and arguing for its restoration. But—and I think this is the essential difference—there would be a lot more goodwill between traditional Catholics and the hierarchy, simply because we would all know the authorities were serious when they spoke of correcting liturgical abuses and trying to maintain a sense of reverence. The dynamic between the TLM and NO could have been very different if Benedict XVI and John Paul II had taken substantial action to correct abuses. 

Of course, that is a pipe dream. The fact is, the leadership in the Church does not care about reverent liturgy or suppressing abuse; they only care about suppressing the Traditional Latin Mass. So whenever an attack on the traditional Mass is accompanied by panegyrics about the importance of preserving decorum in Novus Ordo as well, nobody believes it. The hypocrisy is palpable. Fr. Mattia Bernasconi is not going to be disciplined; or, if he is, it will be a slap on the wrist (although, I have heard this priest actually got in trouble with the civil authorities for offending religious sensibilities; what a strange world!) 

Once again, if traditionalists are skeptical about the goodwill of the hierarchy, it is not because we are simply mean or nasty; it is because the ecclesiastical authorities have systematically dismantled that goodwill over the last fifty years and continue to do so to this day.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Exciting News: New USC Site is Live!

I'm so happy to tell you that the new Unam Sanctam Catholicam website is up and running. After working on it for over a year—with some donations from some of you—this labor of love is finally complete...or at least, complete enough. 

My goal with the Unam Sanctam sister site is to (eventually) grow it into the biggest repository of quality articles on Catholic history on the Internet. I have consistently been uploading scholarly articles to USC since 2012 and plan on continuing for as long as I have my wits about me. To celebrate the inauguration of the new site, I'm also happy to present fifteen brand new essays for your edification. These fifteen essays represent the fifteen years of Unam Sanctam Catholicam I celebrated last month. Here are links to the fifteen new articles—

Old Articles

All of the old articles you love are available on the new site as well. To date, about 75% of the articles from the old website have been migrated over. It will still be a month or two until everything is transferred, but almost all of the most popular articles have been moved and can be found on the new site. Please note, the URLs on the new site are not the same as the old site, so the old links will no longer work. You will have to search for the article on the new site. Here are links to some of peoples' favorite essays from the old site, according to the number of hits they receive:

If you are having trouble finding an old article, I recommend using the search function. If the search function turns up nothing, it's probably I haven't migrated that specific article yet, in which case try back later; I hope to have everything migrated by September. 

Free RCIA Resources

One of the most popular things about the old site was the free RCIA outlines and power points. These are still available on the new site at the following link:

Finding Content on the New Site

One of the major changes about the updated site is that it is not structured like a blog or news site where priority is given to the most recent content. The reason I have a sister site at all is because the sister site is meant to be a repository of articles that are of a more scholarly nature, have a permanent relevance, and are much longer than what would be suitable for a blog; for example, some of the essays on the Unam Sanctam site are between 20-30 pages printed out, whereas the average blog article is only 1-5 pages printed. Furthermore, unlike this blog, most website articles are not about current events, and thus there is no need to prioritize new content.

Instead, I have chosen to structure the new site more like a Wiki or encyclopedia. You will notice, if you go to the homepage, each time you refresh the homepage, it will display a selection of articles chosen at random. Don't worry, though; there are several ways to find content, including tags, "recent posts," and the search function. I put together a video explaining how to navigate the new site and have embedded it below. If you've been a frequent visitor to the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website in the past, you might want to watch the video below (6+ minutes), since you might find the new layout very different from the previous. 

One final word

As you probably know, Unam Sanctam Catholicam is 100% independent. We don't have advertisers; we have no sponsors. Except for free will donations (which we solicit very rarely), we take in no revenue. We have no advertising budget. The extent of the advertising I do is restricted to whatever I post on the USC Facebook page.

Despite this, for many years Unam Sanctam Catholicam has consistently been ranked among the top 50 most popular Catholic blogs/websites in the English speaking world; we were even in the top ten one year back before the coming of 1 Peter 5. This was certainly not due to the support of any institution or big marketing budget; it was due to the patronage of regular readers who found what I had to say worth reading, who commented, who shared the articles, and became true peers. I am tremendously grateful for all of you.

And now I ask again for one simple favor to help the new site get on its feet: because the URLs are all different, Google has not quite picked up on the new site yet. I've got the crawlers going over it, but still, the traffic to the new site is only a fraction of old site because it is so new. And the old site is still showing up all the time on Google searches despite being offline for a month. In your charity, please send some time clicking around on the new site. Explore it, read some articles, share something on social media. This will help get the word out and build those new pathways to give the site a boost in the algorithm.

Also, I'm still working on a few glitches, so please forgive if you see something a little off. I assure you I am working on it.

Thanks for sticking with me on this long journey. In your mercy, pray for my poor soul. As always, if you want to contact me, I can be reached at


Sunday, July 10, 2022

Eat Dung, Get Sick

"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things."
~Php. 4:8

The Christian life calls us to vigilance against the works of darkness and the wiles of the evil one. Too much filth has been unleashed in the Church to afford anymore negligence, naivete, or head-in-the-sand Pollyanna-ism. 

This, however, must be balanced by an equal, if not greater, focus on wholesome things; as St. Paul says, our thoughts should be turned towards the true, the modest, the just, the holy, the lovely, the virtuous. We are to be children of light (Eph. 5:8) and out minds should be turned towards the light. The things St. Paul proposes for our meditation are subjects that ennoble us—they elevate our intellect, shaping it according to the designs of God. Elsewhere Paul tells us that part of faith is having a "resurrected" mindset; if we have been resurrected with Christ, our minds, also, ought to be raised: "Therefore, f you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth" (Col. 3:1-2).

To do otherwise is to damage our faith. We can only focus on the works of darkness so much before the shadow falls over us, as well. Saruman was corrupted by looking through the Palantir. He did so at first only to gain intelligence about Sauron, to be educated about the enemy's activities; but eventually it bent his mind towards darkness, causing his fall. 

Consider now what media you consume, whether secular or Catholic. Is it always focused on exposing some evil somewhere? Is it ever dwelling on the deeds of malicious agents? Is it scandal-mongering, ever purporting to be doing the dirty-work of chronicling the train of abuses and perverse deviations of the modern Church? There is certainly a place for this sort of reporting, but does the media outlet exist only to peddle scandal? And is this all you consume? Is this the entirety of your spiritual diet? 

While it is important to be "wise as serpents" about the goings-on in the Church and world, existing primarily on this sort of diet is harmful in the long run. Like Saruman gazing into the Palantir, it warps your ability to see things properly—to see things as God would have us to see. It can make us skeptical, jaded, and cynical, ultimately causing our love to grow cold. The epistle from the Traditional Latin Mass today tells us, "Be ye of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood" (1 Pet. 3:8). The brotherhood, of course, is the Church. Do you love the brotherhood? Do you love the Church? That is, when you think of the Catholic Church—not as you wish it to be in some golden past, but as it actually exists today—is it an object of desire? Is it something attractive that moves the will? Despite the problems, despite the warts and sores, do you possess a deep and abiding affection for your first love?

I am not naïve about the Church; I know that the Church does a lot to push people away. It is undergoing some kind of catastrophe, and seeing it is like watching helplessly while one's own mother goes through a slutty, drunken, embarrassing midlife crisis. I do not suggest the Church isn't culpable for a great many things. But, that being the case, why on earth would you want the scope of your vision darkened further by drinking even more deeply of the sludge? Yes, the air is poisoned, but the poisoned air means that we must build up our immunities that much more. To do anything else is to gamble with our faith.

Remember, people who lose faith don't just stop believing. They stop loving. Then, their love having grown cold, the hope that keeps them anchored unravels, and hope being dissolved, faith dies. This is why St. Paul urges us to meditate on that which is good and pure and wholesome. It is the spiritual equivalent to eating a balanced, healthy diet. But if you eat dung day in and day out, don't be surprised if you get sick.