Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Important Changes to Unam Sanctam Catholicam

Pax et bonum friends. For the past year, I have been hinting about some changes to the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website (see here and here). As most of you know, the USC web presence is two fold, consisting of a blog (which you are now reading), and a website, which currently can be found here. The blog hosts rants, reflections on current events, and spiritual musings; the website is for scholarly articles, featuring content that is of more perennial interest and often too long to be posted on a blog.

The Unam Sanctam blog you have all come to love is staying same as it ever was—complete with its outdated 2007 blogger theme and iconic hard-to-read white font on black background that Boomers consistently complain about, so no worries there! The major changes are coming to the website. The format is a super clunky, unsightly Joomla template from 2012. It's ugly and it sucks. And, I've barely touched it; I think I've only posted ten essays to it since 2017? It's in desperate need of an overhaul! So, over the past year, I have been migrating this content to a new, slicker looking WordPress site that is going to be infinitely easier to read. Lord willing, this new site will be ready to launch by June 29, our fifteenth year anniversary.

That being said, you can expect some changes on the new site:

(1) More Exclusive Focus on History. When I first created the Unam Sanctam sister site ten years ago, I envisioned it as a kind of clearinghouse for articles on all manner of subjects Catholics might take interest in: history, economics, moral problems, theology, liturgy, and even pop-culture. However, the way my own interests and professional life have developed since then, it's become clear that history is my strongest field by far. And honestly, whereas ten or fifteen years ago I happily prattled on about theology or canon law, time has honed the edges of my self-assurance to the point that I have recognized I am not competent to speak on many of those matters. So, on the new site, I will mostly stick to history and leave the theology to the theologians, canon law to the canonists, etc. The old classic articles on these subjects—like "Balthasar and the Faith of Christ" or "Collegiality: The Church's Pandora's Box"—will remain, but I will likely not post new content of that sort. If I do create such articles, they will probably be guest-posted on other websites more suited to these sorts of essays.

(2) The Movie Reviews are going away. One consequence of this new focus is that the movie reviews will be eliminated. I don't think anybody reads these anyway, and to be honest I have not really updated them regularly since 2017, so they are woefully out of date. And I simply no longer have time to write about them anymore (although, if you've ever met me in person, you know I still love to blather on about cinema whenever I can). But, since I will not be updating them anymore, is there anyone out there who wants the current batch of reviews? I think there are about 165 individual write ups. Is there any Catholic out there who has a film review site or is hoping to get one started and would like to adopt these 165 reviews for their project? If so, please email me at uscatholicam@gmail.com.

(3) Higher Quality of Content. The essays on the sister site were always of a more scholarly nature than on this blog, but the new site is going to up this even further in terms of scholarship. It is my intention that the new site become an encyclopedic repository of highly researched, academic articles that are suitable to be cited as sources or used for research purposes. I'm really excited about some of the new stuff I've been writing and I can't wait to share with you all. I've got some fascinating stuff on St. Hildegard, the Annals of Fulda, Pope Gregory VII's reform of the sacrament of penance, the first regional synod in the Philippines, and much more.

One thing about the migration: Though all of the existing articles will be migrated over, they will have different URLs. If you have certain articles from the site bookmarked, I suggest you make sure you copy the titles of those articles down somewhere so you can find them on the new site, as your bookmarks will no longer work in a few months. 

I want to thank all of you for your support over the years, especially those who contributed financially to help with this project. I do not make any money of this site, save for the few times a year when I hock some books or when a few people offer me a donation. Consequently, this project has moved very slowly, depending in large part on charity. Everyone who has helped, you are remembered in my prayers! And, if you'd still like to make a contribution, please email me at uscatholicam@gmail.com. 

In a recent article ("The End of Pop-Apologetics", Apr. 10, 2022), a commentor stated that "Blogging is nearly obsolete as a content delivery system. People want to have a video or audio file running in the background while they're at the gym or working from home. Few have the patience to read even something as short as this post." I don't know whether that observation is correct or not. But I do believe there will always be a need for and interest in thoughtful, well-written articles. However the Internet continues to unfold (and I can only assume it will just get stupider) I pray that Unam Sanctam Catholicam will continue to be a beacon of knowledge.

One final word: If anyone would like to be a contributor on the new site, I am always willing to collaborate. If you are like to write scholarly essays on historical subjects, I'd like to hear from you. You can help me make USC the biggest and best repository of original Catholic historical essays in the English language! Email me at uscatholicam@gmail.com if you want to help.

Blessings and grace friends!

Founder and Webmaster of all things USC

Sunday, April 17, 2022

"I Know That My Redeemer Lives"

On this day we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Resurrection is the greatest miracle and the principal testimony to the truth of our Lord's teaching, for, as St. Paul says, "if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17). This is a potent reminded that it is not merely the crucifixion of Christ that saves us; our salvation is incomplete without His resurrection to glory. Jesus was "put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). His rising also serves as a pledge that we, too, shall be raised to life again, adoring God forever in our glorified flesh. Christ is "the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1 Cor. 15:20-24).

"The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise. But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it" (Mark 9:31-32). Christ spoke plainly of the Resurrection to His disciples ahead of time, but the meaning of His words was veiled from them. The reason for this is uncertain; perhaps God deliberately obscured this truth from their minds, or perhaps they misunderstood through a defect in their own natural faculties. Whatever its cause, the Resurrection remained indiscernible to them before the fact. Thus, the death of Christ shattered their imaginings; the finality of the crucifixion must have made their squabbles about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven seem childish and na├»ve. We can imagine what disappointment they must have had. A hint of this disillusionment can be heard in the voice of the nameless disciples Christ encountered on the road to Emmaus after the Resurrection: telling Him about the events surrounding the Crucifixion, they say, "we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21) the pluperfect "had hoped" signifying that they had once hoped, but now hoped no longer.

The Resurrection, then, was not a foregone conclusion to the disciples. We may presume the Blessed Virgin Mary to have nurtured this hope in her Immaculate Heart, but for the rest of His followers, we can assume they were as dejected as those Christ met on the Emmaus road. The Gospel of John tells us that after the Crucifixion, Peter and the other disciples returned to Galilee and went back to their lives as fishermen (John 21:1-3); this is not the sort of behavior we'd expect from men who were anticipating an imminent Resurrection of their Lord.

How glorious and life-changing, then, must have been the realization that the Lord had risen indeed! How excited Peter must have been when, hearing Christ's voice from the shore, he leaped from his boat into the sea to swim to His Master. How stupefied the disciples must have been as they sat around the fire on the beach in stunned silence watching the Resurrected Messiah munching on roasted fish. But if these moments were astonishing, it was only the apparent finality of His death that rendered them so. For had He not truly died, His sudden reappearance would not have been as stupendous. Suppose Christ had not died, but merely been wounded and escaped; His reappearance would have been welcome, to be sure, but not astounding and certainly not life-altering.

The Lord's ultimate demonstration of His power did not prevent suffering; it came rather after the evil had been done. This is the locus of the Resurrection for us as well. There is no rising to life if there first be no death. For every Christian, this entails a "dying to sin" so we can rise to "newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). This is the spiritual Resurrection that every Christian undergoes. But all of us work through many smaller "resurrections" throughout our lives. I am speaking of the "death" we all undergo whenever we suffer in any sense. The sufferings we undergo are manifold: abuse by others, destructive behavior from ourselves, or agonies of nature. God's power to "deliver us from evil" does not often free us from the experience these things; it turns them to good. The only way out is through; this is the lesson of the Resurrection. In a sense, every little victory of grace is a resurrection: when I finally divest myself the burden of resentment towards someone who has wronged me, that is a resurrection. When I overcome a bad habit, that is a resurrection. When I speak a word of comfort to a wounded spirit, or deny myself some pleasure for the good of my soul, or find God in the deepest midst of my suffering and ignorance, these are little resurrections. But, like the Resurrection of Christ, we find they do not come save in the aftermath of some chaos, some evil, some catastrophe. 

Whether we like it or not, we are all handed burdens in this life, and the challenge of our existence is to rise above them, that in doing so we may know ourselves better and conform ever more closely to the image of God. Nature establishes the parameters of our existence, but we are to transcend what nature has given us. This is the function of grace—to elevate our nature, ennoble us, transfigure us into something greater than we could have ever become on our own. This is the hope of the Resurrection, both the "little" resurrections of daily life, and the grand Resurrection, when we shall see God. But it is a "hope against hope" (Rom. 4:18), born from death, like a seed falling to the earth sprouts into new life. And when that fresh life blossoms into glory, we shall see, on that day when all that is hidden shall be manifest (cf. Matt. 10:26, Luke 8:17), how every tear and heartache and loss was but another stone into the spiritual temple we are all called to become (1 Pet. 2:5); scars gilt in gold, trials become gems, wounds turned to radiant light.  

Thus, with Job, I say, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another" (Job 19:25-27).

"Restore our fortunes O' Lord, 
like the watercourse in the Negev
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy!
He that goes forth weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy
carrying their sheaves" (Psalm 126:4-6).

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The End of Pop-Apologetics

The 1990s and early 2000s was the golden age of professional Catholic apologetics. If you wanted to get schooled about apologetics, you tuned into the Catholic Answers Live every afternoon. You read the tracts of Mark Shea, Karl Keating, and Jimmy Akin. You listened to the Al Kresta Show syndicated through Ave Maria Radio. You watched Fr. Mitch Pacwa on EWTN and owned sets of Fr. John Corapi's lectures on cassette. You probably owned several books and VHS tapes by Dr. Scott Hahn. These professional defenders of Catholic truth were the resources to turn to when you wanted to learn how to respond to objections to the faith, especially those leveled by evangelical Protestants.

If I had to bookend the period, I would say it began around 1988 with the publication of Karl Keating's perennial classic Catholicism and Fundamentalism, and went into decline around 2004-2006, the years the internet moved into "Web 2.0", the iteration of the Internet that generated masses of users participating in content creation on social networks, blogs, wikis, and media sharing sites. At the beginning of the era, Keating's book demonstrated the need for quality Catholic apologetics done professionally; on the other end, the rise of independent content creators in the wake of Web 2.0 empowered regular folks to publish their own apologetical materials and post it directly to the internet, bypassing the professional apologetics institutions like Catholic Answers. So we are talking about roughly an 18 year reign of the professional apologist.

This period and these people served us well for the time. When I was first returning to the faith after a youth of irreligion and a few years dabbling in Protestant Pentecostalism, it was the resources of Catholic Answers and its affiliated apologists that provided me with the foundations I needed to build my faith upon. And, as I have mentioned many time on this blog, I owe my return to the Church in a very immediate way to the lectures of Dr. Hahn, whom I will always consider to be one of my fathers in Christ. The role of these institutions and cadre of writers and speakers was important, especially during the 1990s when internet access was radically less than today and so many Catholics relied on print material and physical media to educate themselves. Had Catholic Answers not been there⁠—had this group of apologists not been active—the English speaking Church would have been much the poorer.

However, it is undeniable that the heyday of this kind of institutional apologetics has come and gone. Certainly there will always be a place for skilled, professional apologists—I just emceed an event this summer with Tim Staples and he was sharp as ever. These sorts of folks will always find open ears. I am talking rather about institutional, professional apologetics as a model for the delivery of apologetical content. That model has been shattered by the rise of independent content creators, just like Spotify disrupted the studio model of delivering music and Netflix destroyed the cinema model for distributing film. Today Catholics are much more likely today to seek apologetical content from independent content creators like myself or other bloggers than by turning to institutional channels. The professional apologist and their institutions are no longer the gatekeepers of apologetical content.

In order to survive in this new environment, the professional apologists began expanding their output to include other forms of content creation: blogging, podcasts, and social media. Some managed to handle this transition very well; Dr. Scott Hahn, for example, has maintained the same level of professionalism, humor, and humility he has always demonstrated. Others, well, it got...interesting. Once unleashed on social media, a fair number of these apologists—loosed from the oversight of professional editors or accountability to larger institutions—went down some rather unsavory paths. Some could not resist the temptation to wed politics to faith, devolving into obnoxious Catholic political pundits, while others became proponents of bizarre conspiracy theories; still others outed themselves as committed leftists, alienating themselves from the largely conservative fanbase that consumes apologetical content. And then there are those who revealed themselves to be completely unhinged: ranting, insulting, belittling, and attacking others on social media with a vitriol on par with the blue checkmarks on Twitter. 

Those who have gone down this path—and admittedly, it is not all, but still a fair amount—have fallen in the same pit that many have today, which is to assume one's positions are so secure, so unassailable, so self-evident, that those who disagree with you are not simply mistaken, but are morally bad. As someone who formerly admired and learned from these people, it has been extraordinarily disappointing to see them behaving like the worst of the blue checkmarks. I'm not calling anybody out by name, but we have all seen them lurking around in comboxes and Twitter feeds and Facebook threads, spitefully belittling people whose only offense has been to disagree.

Is this behavior a pathetic attempt to "stay relevant" by imitating their endlessly irritating secular counterparts, the "talking head" media class? Is it fueled by bitterness at having lost the exclusive "gatekeeper" role they once enjoyed? Is it resentment that their own ecclesial visions, which they once argued eloquently before rapt audiences and in the pages of Catholic periodicals, seems less and less persuasive? Is it simply that they were always mean people whose lack of charity was kept in check by editorial teams and publishers? It's hard to say, but it's been illuminating to watch.

Whatever it's cause, it is clear that the age of pop-apologetics is over.