Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ten Years of Unam Sanctam Catholicam

After nine years of meticulously observing the annual anniversary of this blog's establishment on June 29th of every year, this year on our tenth anniversary I got too busy and allowed June 29th to slip by me without any mention of this hallowed date.

Yes, it was back on June 29th, 2007 that this blog was first launched. Since then, we've published 1,137 articles on this blog - not even counting the 597 articles on the sister site. It has been viewed about 1.8 million times and consistently gets around 25,000 views monthly. It has grown beyond what I ever imagined. I remember when I was thrilled that 30 people read it one week.

Traditionally, on my anniversary posts, I would make some comments about the previous year, do a call out to the many contributors who help with the blog and website, and post some links to a few of my favorite posts from the last year. This year, being an especially momentous occasion, I kind of wanted to buck the norm and just offer a few general insights.

This past year has been a very challenging one for me personally, and I have had less time than ever for blogging. Ironically, the dramatic increase in professional (i.e., paid) writing opportunities has left me very little time for blogging, even though it was largely through the medium of this blog that I have learned to write. One does not publish 1,137 essays without picking up a little bit about writing as you go. Whatever professional success I have had with writing, I think a lot of credit must go to this humble blog for helping me get there. It's a sad irony that "getting there" has meant less time for the sort of casual, whatever-pops-into-my-head sort of writing that blogs were created for.

In many respects, I consider myself a sub-par, crummy blogger. I look at other successful Catholic blogs - many of them much newer than mine - and see them excelling me in every respect. I wish I posted with greater frequency and regularity. While I'm not at all ungrateful for the contributors I have had over the years (Noah, Maximus, Anselm, Kevin, etc), all of whom have their own busy lives, I wish had been able to maintain a more constant, regular working collaboration with other writers.

I wish I had the funds and time to update the aesthetics and functionality of the sister site. I wish I did not impulsively publish so much stuff that later leaves me thinking, "Hmmm...I probably should not have said that." I wish I wouldn't have published so much dumb stuff. I wish I was more professional with everything. I wish I had more time to engage my commentors, many of whom have been reading and commenting for years and years - C matt, Nate, Konstantin, Amateur Brain Surgeon, to name a few off the top of my head. You guys feel like old friends at this point.

I wish I had been able to make better collaborative friendships with some of my fellow Catholic bloggers, especially the traditional ones. For some reason, we've never really clicked...in some cases there has been open hostility, in others just...maybe I'm too distant? Ryan Grant has always been a close friend, though, and deserves special mention; I only started to gain traction back in 2007 when Ryan linked me on the sidebar of his old Athanasius Contra Mundum blog.

But then, there are other things I am very content with. I am content that I don't feel the need to offer a continuous running commentary on every piece of drivel that comes out of the Vatican. I am glad that I don't take this so seriously that I feel like I can't just get on here and rant. I'm thankful that my readership seems very forgiving of my stupidity. I will say something dumb and everybody will be on my ass about it for a week, and then the next week I'll write something else and everybody has forgiven me and it's as if nothing happened. I love my commentors. Even Lionel, in his own pathetic, ridiculous way. Some of you have been here for a very long time.

So...here's a toast to ten years of Unam Sanctam. In many respects they have excelled anything I ever imagined for this blog. In others, I feel like a failure. Who knows what future years will bring? Gracious Lord, bring some benefit, however poor, to someone from my meager efforts.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

St. Maria Goretti: Truly a Martyr to Chastity

I am getting older, and as I age, I sometimes fall prey to the common problem of thinking I've already heard everything there is to hear. This week I was reminded this is certainly not true, as I became aware for the first time of a very silly argument people are making about St. Maria Goretti.

Apparently, certain Catholic bloggers - shall we say, those who lean to the left of the political spectrum and have embraced certain principles of feminism - have suggested that it is offensive to say a reason for St. Maria Goretti's canonization was because she resisted her attacker to defend her chastity. Apparently, this implies rape victims who don't resist out of fear aren't holy. Celebrating St. Maria for her spirited defense of her chastity might make rape victims who didn't make a vigorous defense feel bad about themselves.

If you were to ask these bloggers what alternative criteria we should propose for St. Maria's sanctity, they would say the fact that she forgave her killer. Hence, she should not be celebrated as a martyr for chastity, but as an exemplar of Christian forgiveness.

I did not even know this argument was a thing until a friend made me aware of it last week (Maria's feast day was July 6th). It struck me as the latest manifestation of the ever growing cult of sensitivity, whereby something exceptional can't be celebrated because people who don't possess whatever is being honored might feel bad. It's part of the "Don't ask mothers to stand up for a blessing at Mother's Day Mass or women who don't have children will feel excluded!" "Don't suggest Catholics should go to daily Mass if they can because working fathers who can't make it to daily Mass will feel like bad Catholics!" "Don't speak out too strongly against abortion or else women who have had abortions might feel guilty!" This is more of the same.

There are really two questions in play here: (1) What was the actual reason for St. Maria's canonization? (2) Is celebrating St. Maria as a martyr to chastity intrinsically offensive to rape victims who did not fight back?

The first question is easily answered by looking at the acta surrounding Maria Goretti's actual canonization. This would include the proclamations of beatifications and canonization, as well as the papal homily on the occasion of her canonization in 1950. We could also look to subsequent papal commentary on the saint for guidance.

In the first place, let us consult the 1947 Decree of Beatification from the Congregation of Rites. This document makes it plain that it was for St. Maria's spirited defense of her virginity that she was considered for beatification:


"Never has there been a time when the palm of martyrdom was missing from the shining robes of the Spouse of Christ [the Church]. Even today in our very degraded and unclean world there are brief examples of unearthly beauty. The greatest of all triumphs is surely the one which is gained by the sacrifice of one's life, a victory made holy by the blood-red garments of martyrdom. When, however, the martyr is a child of tender age with the natural timidity of the weaker sex such a martyrdom rises to the sublime heights of glory.

This is what happened in the case of Maria Goretti, a poor little girl and yet very wonderful. She was a Roman country maid who did not hesitate to struggle and to suffer, to shed her life's blood and to die with heroic courage in order to keep herself pure and to preserve the lily-white flowers of her virginity. We can justly say of her what St. Ambrose said about St. Agnes: 'Man must marvel, children take courage, wives must wonder and maids must imitate.' These words are true indeed: 'The father of a saintly child may well jump for joy. All honor to the father and the mother. Happy the mother that gave thee birth' (Proverbs 23)."

Thrice happy maid, you are now rejoicing with your father in Heaven while your mother rejoices with us on earth like the happy mother of the angelic youth, Aloysius. So also let Italy, your Motherland, rejoice, smiling once more through her tears as she reads the motto which you have written for her in childish letters of brilliant white and gold: 'Brave and Beautiful' (Proverbs 31).
Italian girls especially in the fair flower of their youth should raise their eyes to Heaven and gaze upon this shining example of maidenly virtue which rose from the midst of wickedness as a light shines in darkness. We call her a model and protector. God is wonderful in His Saints! He sets them before us as examples as well as patrons. How He has given to the young girls of our cruel and degraded world a model and protector, the little maid Maria who sanctified the opening of our century with her innocent blood."

This document makes it plain that St. Maria was considered a martyr, and that the reason she is a martyr is because she "did not hesitate to struggle and to suffer, to shed her life's blood and to die with heroic courage in order to keep herself pure." Her act of forgiving her killer is not mentioned.

In his Homily for the Beatification, Pius XII elaborated further on why the Church was declaring Maria Goretti a Blessed servant of God.The comparison to St. Agnes is very telling:

"Maria Goretti resembled St. Agnes in her characteristic virtue of Fortitude. This virtue of Fortitude is at the same time the safeguard as well as the fruit of virginity. Our new beata was strong and wise and fully aware of her dignity. That is why she professed death before sin. She was not twelve years of age when she shed her blood as a martyr, nevertheless what foresight, what energy she showed when aware of danger! She was on the watch day and night to defend her chastity, making use of all the means at her disposal, persevering in prayer and entrusting the lily of her purity to the special protection of Mary, the Virgin of virgins. Let us admire the fortitude of the pure of heart. It is a mysterious strength far above the limits of human nature and even above ordinary Christian virtue."

St. Agnes is invoked because, like St. Maria, St. Agnes preferred to suffer death rather than have her virginity robbed from her. Pius XII also praises Maria's fortitude, which was exercised "with energy." This is undoubtedly referring to her fortitude in resisting the advances of Alessandro Serenelli. The energetic fortitude she exercised in the face of danger is certainly not referring to her act of forgiveness subsequent to the suffering she endured. Pius equates fortitude with purity of heart. This is clearly about her defense of her virginity.

At St. Maria's canonization in 1950, Pius XII again noted the connection between St. Agnes and St. Maria, declaring, "Maria Goretti is our new St. Agnes. She is in Heaven." Here are further excerpts from Pius XII's homily of canonization::

"You have been lured here, we might almost say, by the entrancing beauty and intoxicating fragrance of this lily mantled with crimson whom we, only a moment ago, had the intense pleasure of inscribing in the roll of the saints; the sweet little martyr of purity, Maria Goretti...

Dearly beloved youth, young men and women, who are the special object of the love of Jesus and of us, tell me, are you resolved to resist firmly, with the help of divine grace, against every attempt made to violate your chastity?

You fathers and mothers, tell me—in the presence of this vast multitude, and before the image of this young virgin who by her inviolate candor has stolen you hearts...in the presence of her mother who educated her to martyrdom and who, as much as she felt the bitterness of the outrage, is now moved with emotion as she invokes her tell me, are you ready to assume the solemn duty laid upon you to watch, as far as in you lies, over your sons and daughters, to preserve and defend them against so many dangers that surround them, and to keep them always far away from places where they might learn the practices of impiety and of moral perversion?

...We greet you, O beautiful and lovable saint! Martyr on earth and angel in heaven, look down from your glory on this people, which loves you, which venerates, glorifies and exalts you. On your forehead you bear the full brilliant and victorious name of Christ. In your virginal countenance may be read the strength of your love and the constancy of your fidelity to your Divine Spouse. As his bride espoused in blood, you have traced in yourself His own image."

I again want to draw attention to the fact St. Maria is presented as a martyr, and a martyr to chastity. She shed her blood to preserve her virginity. None of the official acts I could find made any reference to her act of forgiveness as the rationale for her beatification or canonization. She was elevated to the altars because she shed her blood for the sake of her virginity. This is beyond dispute.

Pope St. John Paul II also indicated St. Maria was a martyr to purity. In a 1991 article in L'Osservatore Romano commemorating the 100th birthday of St. Maria, he wrote:

"She did not flee from the voice of the Holy Spirit, from the voice of her conscience. She rather chose death. Through the gift of fortitude the Holy Spirit helped her to 'judge"- and to choose with her young spirit. She chose death when there was no other way to defend her virginal purity. Maria Goretti's blood, shed in a sacrifice of total fidelity to God, reminds us that we are also called to offer ourselves to the Father. We are called to fulfill the divine will in order to be found holy and pleasing in His sight. Our call to holiness, which is the vocation of every baptized person, is encouraged by the example of this young martyr. Look at her especially, adolescents and young people. Like her, be capable of defending your purity of heart and body; be committed to the struggle against evil and sin" (L'Osservatore Romano, Oct. 7, 1991).
Again, Maria's heroic death is praised, but her act of forgiveness is not mentioned.

This should be very, painfully clear that the reason for St. Maria's canonization was her heroic defense of her virginity. She is repeatedly called a "martyr." As St. Thomas Aquinas notes, one can become a martyrdom because of the heroic practice or defense of some virtue:

All virtuous deeds, inasmuch as they are referred to God, are professions of the faith whereby we come to know that God requires these works of us, and rewards us for them: and in this way they can be the cause of martyrdom. For this reason the Church celebrates the martyrdom of Blessed John the Baptist, who suffered death, not for refusing to deny the faith, but for reproving adultery (STh, II-II, Q. 124 art. 5).

I do not mean to minimize the importance of St. Maria's act of forgiveness. To wholeheartedly forgive someone who murdered you and tried to rape you is an exceptional act of Christlike charity. It is further evidence of her sanctity. But the plain fact is, this is not why St. Maria was canonized. She was canonized because of her heroic defense of her virginity. Full stop.

Her forgiveness was wonderful, but she could not be a martyr to forgiveness. The reason is simple. To be a martyr, one must be killed on the behalf of the thing you are being martyred for - either an article of faith or some virtue. St. Maria could not be killed because of her forgiveness since she did not exercise her act of forgiveness until after she had been knifed. The martyrdom was the cause of her act of forgiveness, not vice versa.

Our second consideration is whether praising St. Maria for her spirited defense of her virginity is offensive to rape victims who did not put up a fight. The answer is clearly negative. The mere fact that a deed of someone is praised does not mean to imply those who did not do similarly as bad or not holy. Those who did not fight back against a rape attack are not to be blamed by any means; it is well known that a woman's natural response to rape is to freeze - at least it is well known among those who have studied rape. Not everybody can be martyrs. We praise the martyrs not because their example is normative, but because it is exceptional. Because someone else has not taken the exact same course of action as a martyr does not intrinsically make them bad Catholics. St. Maria's actions are not put forward as the only acceptable course of action - but neither can we forget that they were praiseworthy and heroic in the highest.

St. Maria Goretti was canonized because she preferred to suffer death rather than allow her virginity to be ravished. And this is worth celebrating, as Pope Pius XII and John Paul II tell us. She is a true martyr to chastity. And to say so and celebrate this is not to condemn or diminish the suffering of anybody else who did not make such a heroic stand in similar circumstances.

I know this has already been written about elsewhere, and that much of what I am saying and even the citations from the popes have already been posted in other articles and discussions, but I wanted to write on this subject all the same to give it a wider audience - because I refuse to allow some kind of soppy political correctness and misguided sensitivity obscure the factual, historical reasons why this girl was canonized and what the Church wishes us to emulate in her life.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Müller and Ladaria



The bombshell news this week is that Pope Francis is not renewing the five-year appointment of Cardinal Gerhard Müller. Müller is being replaced by Spanish Jesuit Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, who was Secretary of the CDF.

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I confess I'm no expert on Archbishop Ladaria, but given the fact that many had assumed the prefecture would be filled by Cardinal Schönborn, Ladaria seems to be not a terrible choice. His work with Ecclesia Dei is commendable, as was his role in reaching out to the SSPX during the doomed talks of 2009. Still, he seems to be a middle-of-the-road sort of "mutual enrichment" theologian, who views the way forward as a kind of Hegelian synthesis between traditional elements and modern interpretations - Ladaria does not view reform in terms of a strict return ad fontes, but rather a kind of ressourcement approach typical of Danielou, de Lubac and the Nouvelle Theologie. But...whatever. Let's see how he does. Given the fact that we could have wound up with Cardinal Schönborn, I'll take Ladaria. 

* * * *

I also want to say that I am proud of the job Cardinal Müller did. When Müller was first appointed in 2012, many Traditionalists were skeptical. He had made some comments about Protestantism and other subjects that had ruffled some trad feathers. I don't know about his personal views, but honestly, Müller has done what a CDF Prefect is supposed to do—state the faith plainly and consistently in the face of challenges from within and without the Church. Forget being a theologically conservative prelate; just being a prelate with any sort of theological consistency whatsoever during the Francis papacy must be extraordinarily frustrating. Müller showed considerably fidelity and bravery in the face of what must have been enormous social and institutional pressure during the 2014-2015 synod and especially in its aftermath with Amoris Laetitia. Whatever rifts he may have had with traditionalists in the past, I for one will always remember him as speaking the truth in a dark moment. "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21).

* * * *
In case anyone has not read it, you really ought to check out the interview with Father Julian Carron, head of Communion and Liberation ("If you don't think Francis is the cure, you don't grasp the disease", John Allen, Crux, June 21, 2017). Carron is the successor of the renowned Father Luigi Giussani and talks frankly about the crisis in the Church, Francis, and what it means to have faith in the contemporary world.

The interview is very unsettling; Carron essentially says the reason conservatives struggle with understanding Pope Francis is because they blind themselves to the truly revolutionary import of the pope's sayings and gestures—that the revolution Francis wants is much bigger than most conservative Catholics are ready to accept. I would actually grant Carron this point, but that is where my agreement ends, as he goes on to suggest that conservatives need to embrace the Francis revolution—and that if we do not, it's because we don't "really understand" what Francis is trying to do and what the problems in the Church are. He also talks a lot about faith essentially being an "encounter" or "experience", which is really at the heart of what Fr. Giussani has been traditionally criticized for. 

I have often promoted the works of James Larson on this blog—not because I necessarily agree with everything Larson says, but because he absolutely gets to the heart of all the problems in the modern Church when he identifies them as a deficient view of faith. I highly recommend reading Mr. Larson's extensive essays at War Against Being.
* * * *

At Mr. Larson's site, you will see Mr. Larson proposing a theory that I believe is absolutely accurate but that traditionalists have been very slow to latch on to: Benedict XVI, far from being a theologically conservative counterweight to the progressive movement in the Church, is actually himself an extraordinarily progressive figure. Whether we are discussing Ratzinger's view of the Trinity, of faith, of creation-evolution, of the love, or liturgy or whatever, Ratzinger is a thoroughly progressive, liberal theologian from the school of Teilhard de Chardin. Many traditionalists want to deny this; they want to see Benedict as a kind of solidly traditional counterbalance to Francis. This is not born out by reading Benedict's actual writings. He is not a traditionalist; he is a progressive who has a sort of nostalgic appreciation for some of the forms and symbols of tradition. 

In the article from Fr. Carron linked above, Carron will make the same argument. Carron, speaking of comparisons between John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis, said:

After Benedict, it once again seemed there would never be anyone else like him. Instead, a pope arrived who, for me, is a radicalization of Benedict. He says the same thing, but in a way that it gets across to everyone in a simple way through gestures, without in any sense reducing the density of what Benedict said. 

Francis is nothing other than a "radicalization" of Pope Benedict XVI. This is true. Everything done by Francis can be found in seed form in Benedict and even John Paul II. Pope Francis' agenda is what happens when we follow the trajectories set by JPII and Benedict to their logical conclusions.

* * * *

So, Pope Francis has said he wants the change he is creating to be irreversible. It remains to be seen whether Archbishop Ladaria will stand up to Francis' novelties in the same manner as Cardinal Müller. I have to believe that Francis would not have chosen him were this the case. And it should also not be forgotten that Ladaria is a Jesuit like Francis. I don't know what import that has, but I have to believe it's not irrelevant.

Some are saying that with the departure of Müller, the last bastion of faithful opposition to the Franciscan agenda within the hierarchy has fallen. The Müller CDF was very isolated within the Curia. The opposition of the four cardinals—which is already drawing opposition from other parts of the hierarchy—now seems even more marginalized. I would not be surprised if the remaining years of the Franciscan pontificate witness an even more alarming increase in the scope and speed of novelties being introduced.

One more thing—Francis has suggested in the past that he does not want to have a very long pontificate and that he is open to resigning after he has made his mark on the Church. I predict that he does not resign. Francis is an autocrat. He is in love with power and adulation. He has completed the task begun long ago by John Paul II of turning the papacy into a cult of personality with himself as the Leader. Given his personality and mode of leadership, there's just no way he will ever step down. No way. He's going to cling to the power he has amassed until death rips it from his fingers.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Many Faces of Catholic Social Teaching

For a long time, I belonged to a Facebook group called "Catholic Social Thought, Politics, and the Public Square." It has a very large following; chances are some of the readers of this blog probably follow this page. Here is the page:



I've been a member of this group for a few years, but today I left it, after becoming exasperated with fruitless, circular arguments with liberal Catholic social justice warriors. When I initially joined the group, I'd hoped it would be a forum for exploring various aspects of Catholic social teaching, either in exploring teachings from the great encyclicals of Leo XIII, Pius XI and Pius XII, or discussing contemporary social problems in light of Catholic Tradition.

Unfortunately, this page was by and large a cesspool of progressive nonsense. I will explain briefly what I mean by this, but I want to preface by saying that it is amazing how Catholics can think "Catholic social teaching" can mean such radically different things. There seems to be multiple different strands of Catholic Social Teaching existing side by side, each claiming the same authority. It's very confusing.

At any rate, the stuff I encountered on this Facebook page was very much in the liberal-progressive bent. Here are some common traits of this strain of Catholic Social Teaching I gleaned from my few years interacting with these people.

Total Ignoring of Pre-Conciliar Popes

Papal documents were cited profusely, but mainly documents of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Francis. I don't think I ever saw anything from Leo XIII cited, even when the people on the page were discussing matters relating to wages, labor, etc. Certainly no mention of Pius XI and Quas Primas and Christ's social kingship.

"Consistent Ethic of Life" Exaggerated to Cover Every Liberal Talking Point

I am presuming my readers know what the "consistent ethic of life" position is, also known as the "seamless garment" argument. It essentially is a liberal talking point that says if you oppose abortion, you must also oppose the death penalty, war, and just about every situation where violence may be used. This "consistent ethic of life" idea was exaggerated to the point where every liberal talking point became a "pro-Life" issue, with the implication that one was not "really" pro-Life unless one supported the global climate change agenda, abolition of the death penalty, socialized health care, liberal spending programs, and everything else. Thus the "consistent ethic of life" became equivalent to the political program of liberalism by expanding to a ridiculous level.

Bashing Pro-Lifers

I don't think I saw any articles against abortion - or if I did they were few and far between. But I did see a constant barrage of articles attacking Pro-Lifers. Essentially these critiques followed in along the lines laid out by Pope Francis of telling Catholics not to "obsess" over the abortion issue, as well as suggesting that Pro-Life Catholics were not "really" Pro-Life because they didn't do enough to promote social programs to help mothers and children - which is a point I deny, but that;s beside the point. This really ties in to the next issue on the false equivalence between Catholic Social Teaching and liberalism. Conversely, pro-Choice politicians such as Hillary Clinton are given a pass because of their liberal credentials.

False Equivalence

This is actually something that is common to liberal thinking in general. Essentially, a social problem is identified. Liberals propose a solution solve to the problem. Then the equate their particular solution with the only solution, implying that only they really care about solving whatever problem they are discussing. Example: There are many unwed mothers struggling to raise their children in poverty. Nobody disagrees with this. The liberals put forward a characteristically liberal solution - taxpayer subsidized, government programs! Now, it must be admitted that this is only one proposed solution to the problem. There could be others. Reasonable people who all agree that poor single mothers need help can disagree on the most effective solution to the problem. Liberals, however, will go on to act as if their solution is the only solution, and those who do not support taxpayer funded government programs for low income mothers are attacked as not "really" caring about the issue. This is classic liberal false equivalence, and this manner of thinking is endemic among Catholic social justice warriors.

Inversion of Authority

Sources of authority are inverted. For example, on the question of capital punishment, very low level documents by John Paul II and homilies by Pope Francis are given absolute authority, while authoritative statements like the Catechism of Trent are poo-pooed. Sources of dogmatic authority are inverted, with non-authoritative ones being given absolute authority and authoritative ones treated as dispensable. Obviously this implies a very sharp split with the way pre and post-Conciliar sources are treated.

Catholic Social Teaching and Social Justice Warriors

Essentially, working for Catholic Social Teaching is equated with the progressive "social justice" warrior. One gets the impression that these people really think secular-liberal "social justice" is the same thing as Catholic Social Teaching. I do not want to believe it is only because both concepts have the word "social" in them, but I am starting to think that is really it.  Essentially, there is no modicum of independent Catholic social action that is formed within an authentic Catholic framework. When considering social action, it is like they  can't conceive of a social action that is fundamentally distinct from liberal activism. Of course, this can happen with "conservative" Catholics as well, who can tend to make Catholic social teaching equivalent with free market economics and a  neo-con political program. But of course, the answer is not a pivot to the Left, but rather to escape the spectrum entirely with an authentic, independently Catholic social vision that is prior to and bigger than the stupid Left-Right spectrum of American politics. What we have on the Catholic Social Thought Facebook page is essentially some of the worst statements at the lowest level of dogmatic authority interpreted through a lens of liberalism.


It is truly amazing that people can have such huge divergent opinions of what constitutes Catholic Social Teaching, but such is the Catholic world we live in.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

"God cannot be God without man"

On June 7th, the Holy Father Pope Francis delivered a catechesis on the Our Father during his General Audience. The center of his message was that far from being a God distant and unconcerned with man, God is intimately close to man and cares deeply about his affairs. He longs for man's salvation with divine paternity; this is why Christians call God "Father", and the pope called us to reflect on what a revolutionary concept it is to understand God as a Father.

In the course of these reflections, Francis made the following statement, which has raised many eyebrows:
The Gospel of Jesus Christ shows us that God cannot stay without us: He will never be a God “without man”; it is He Who cannot stay without us, and this is a great mystery! God cannot be God without man: the great mystery is this! (General Audience, June 7th, 2017)

Protestants and certain Catholics alike have come out with accusations of heresy or blasphemy against the pope on account of these statements. The accusation is that Pope Francis is teaching that God some how requires man - that the divine substance stands in need of humanity in order for it to be complete, for God to be God. If this were true, this would make God's omnipotence dependent upon man, the Creator dependent upon the creature, and entirely invert the relationship between God and man.

Such would be a very problematic position indeed!

I have been critical of Francis' speech in the past, both in his manner and content; I even wrote an ebook chronicling a series of theological concerns arising from his encyclical Laudato Si. I am certainly no papolater; I'm not one of those people who feels the necessity to offer a knee-jerk defense of every word that comes out of the pope's mouth, least of all in a very low-level, non-biding, non-authoritative pronouncement like a General Audience.

That being said, I do not think what Francis said here was blasphemous or heretical. Sloppy? Yes. Poorly worded? Definitely. Heresy? I don't think so.

First, we must remember that there are two ways to consider God. We may speak of the "theological Trinity" (sometimes called the "immanent Trinity") or the "economic Trinity." When we speak of the theological Trinity, we are speaking in terms of what God is in and of Himself without reference to His creation - to the mysterious inner life of God Himself. When we speak about the economic Trinity, we are speaking about God with reference to the economy of creation - God in relation to creation. The theological Trinity speaks of who God is, the economic Trinity what God does in relation to the world.

When we are speaking about the salvation of the human race, we are speaking of the economic Trinity. Understood in and of Himself, God does not "need" man or anything other than Himself. He is perfectly self-sufficient and blessed in His own nature.  He is all-powerful and all-knowing and needs nothing whatsoever. As Acts 17:25 says, God stands in need of nothing. Creation needs Him; He does not need creation. God is perfectly self-sufficient.

But God did not remain solitary. He freely created mankind, and in creating man out of love, He bound Himself to the fate of man, in the sense that He continues to seek man and provide for man's welfare, even when man rejects Him. From beginning to end, God is initiator of man's salvation. He is the one who calls man to communion, who sent His Son to die, and who constantly prepares man's heart to receive Him via grace. God is the initiator of man's salvation in every sense.

Thus, though God does not "need" man in an absolute sense, within the economy of salvation He cannot stop seeking man. God is faithful and has promised to provide for man's redemption. He cannot fail to seek man anymore than He could lie or betray His word.

The source of this is not any necessity that binds God's will, but the free choice of God Himself, who created man out of love and continually seeks after Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums this up well when it says:
Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (CCC 50).

Francis says the Gospel of Christ reveals that God cannot stay without us. Though God communicated to man in many ways throughout salvation history, His definitive revelation to man comes through Jesus Christ. "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). The people of the Old Testament knew that God was loving, but the depth of His great love are revealed by the mission of the Son and His atoning death on the cross.

This love is perfected in the Incarnation and Crucifixion. God does not need man, but at the Incarnation He forever united Himself to human nature in Mary's womb. The Incarnation is the permanent union of the divine nature with human nature. Thus, since the Incarnation,  Francis is right to say God will never be a God without man. Christ will never not be a God-Man. The Incarnation permanently bonds God to human nature and forever orients all God's saving acts in the world towards mankind. In the economy of salvation, the acts of God are always ordered towards man's beatitude. "God cannot stay without us", yes, in the sense that God can no more abandon mankind than He can undo the Incarnation. The Incarnation was a total and irrevocable commitment of God to mankind.

Again, the Catechism says, "
Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him" (CCC 30).

Is it then true that "God cannot be God without man"? Not if we take this to refer absolutely, to the theological Trinity; of course, the divine nature needs nothing to be complete. But the whole focus of the pope's homily was God inasmuch as He is a Father to His people; in other words, the economic Trinity, God within the economy of human salvation. And within the economy of salvation, God has permanently and irrevocably committed Himself to the calling, redemption, and glorification of mankind. As long as creation endures, God cannot un-orient Himself from mankind. For God to be what He claims to be, He cannot be without man. He cannot abandon man. He has promised He would not. "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20).

Thus, I think those who find Francis' words here heretical are not sufficiently grasping the concept of God's permanent orientation towards man within the economy of salvation. Some are citing verses like Daniel 4:35 and Acts 17:24-25 as evidence that Francis has taught heresy. The passage from Daniel merely notes that God is all-powerful and can exercise His will unhindered; the passage from Acts 17 states that God does not need anything. Neither of these undermine the pope's words; if God is all-powerful, as Daniel teaches, then He can voluntarily bind Himself to His creation through all His salvific acts, especially the Incarnation; and since God does not need anything according to His divine nature, as Acts 17 teaches, then the fact that God is so faithful in His relentless pursuit of man is even more marvelous.

God does "need" to do certain things that He has voluntarily bound Himself to. It's like asking does God " need" to forgive the original sin of a person coming to baptism under the right conditions? Considered absolutely, no, but considered in terms of God's salvific works, in terms of what He Himself promised to accomplish through baptism, then yes, God does "need" to remit original sin through baptism - otherwise we would have no confidence in the efficacy of the sacraments. But it must be stressed that this "necessity" is not any kind of compulsion that moves God from without, but rather it flows from God's faithfulness to His own promises. The only thing that binds God is His own word.

Could Francis have worded this better? Could he have perhaps been more sensitive to how his statements could be taken? Could he have perhaps offered more precise distinctions. Would such a clumsy theological statement probably have been censored a hundred years ago? Affirmative on all counts. But I don't think there is anything inherently heretical in these statements, understood rightly. His words are sloppy and confusing, per the norm, but in this case there is nothing to cry afoul of.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Chris Cornell - 1964-2017

Back in 2010 I profiled the life and death of gothic-metal singer Peter Steele. The article was of purely personal interest to me, as I used to listen to Steele's band Type-O-Negative back in my past life. I was surprised how much traction the article got; in fact, it became one of my highest read articles of all time and continues to attract a fair amount of traffic to this day.

Today I am again profiling the death of a musician that meant a lot to me when I was younger, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, who passed away in Detroit earlier this month in what is apparently being ruled a suicide, although his wife and others who knew him are contesting this.

Musicians come and go, of course, but Chris Cornell's death struck me in a very personal way. Perhaps it's essentially nostalgia; I can vividly remember two decades ago, rumbling down country roads in my buddy's old pickup truck in the summers with windows down, sun baking our arms, blaring Soundgarden while we enjoyed our youth. Some of the earliest songs I learned on guitar were Soundgarden riffs, although I must admit they were a bit too complex for me to master at the time.

Even Cornell's death had a personal element to it. He died in Detroit, right in my backyard, after a final performance at the Fox Theater. I know the Fox Theater well. My mother was an usher there when I was a boy. She used to be able to get us seats for free and I remember heading down there with my brother to see David Copperfield or other acts.

At any rate, I don't mean to go too much into my own background, except as a way to say that this musician was tied up with some very nostalgic memories for me.

As far as I know, Chris Cornell was the only major Grunge-era icon who had a Catholic upbringing. He attended a Catholic school in Seattle, although he finished out his education in a public high school. I've read stories that he was almost kicked out of his Catholic school for "asking too many questions", but this seems apocryphal. I mean, he went to Catholic school in the 1970's; you can't convince me that people were legit reprimanded for challenging Catholic doctrine in American Catholic schools in the 1970's. If anything, such doctrinal non-conformists were probably praised.

At any rate, Cornell seems to have rejected his Catholic upbringing while simultaneously being enamored of the powerful symbols of the faith. This was a similar phenomenon I noted in my article about Peter Steele and Gothic metal; while rejecting the substance of the faith, they retain evocative Catholic imagery in their songs. In the case of Peter Steele, as well as other fans of the Gothic genre, admiration for the symbols and images of Catholicism ended up becoming a back door back to the actual practice of the faith.

Cornell's songs were the same. While he clearly had a skeptical attitude towards the tenets of Christianity, he could not get away from Christian images in his music. As a man who always struggled with addiction and depression, it even seems that sometimes he returns to a kind of consoling Catholic piety when his lyrics are plunging the depths of depression. Even to this day, I am moved by Cornell's opening lines to his 1991 "Say Hello to Heaven":

Please, mother of mercy
Take me from this place
and the long winded curses
I keep here in my head

It's a very Catholic sentiment. When the darkness closes in and all seems hopeless, call out to the Blessed Mother.

I was always particularly partial to his 1999 solo track "Sunshower", which like many of his songs deals with the struggle to find happiness in the midst of pain - to discover redemptive value in suffering. The chorus balances suffering and redemption, promising that all the adversity that pours down like rain will cause grace to blossom and flower:


When you're caught in pain
And you feel the rain come down
It's all right
When you find you way
Then you see it disappear
It's all right
Though your garden's gray
I know all your graces
Someday will flower
In a sweet sunshower

After Soundgarden broke up, Cornell's lyrics became more explicitly religious with his second band, Audioslave. For example, this lyric from "Show Me How to Live":

Nail in my hand from my creator
You gave me life, now show me how to live.

Or this lyric from "Light My Way":

In my hour of need, on a sea of gray
On my knees I pray to you
Help me find the dawn of the dying day
Won't you light my way?

Cornell said the increasingly religious lyrics of Audioslave were evoked by the responsibilities of fatherhood, and the realization that one must live for something beyond oneself.

I'm not suggesting Cornell's music is "Christian" or that the few head nods to a Creator compensate for the religious skepticism evident in much of his music; rather, I am noting how Catholic imagery becomes a pivot around which his creative vision turns, even when he is more or less turning away from it.

In a 2008 interview Cornell identified himself as a "freethinker" who did not prefer to consider life in terms of right and wrong and said he preferred to stay away from specific denominations or religious schools of thought. Jesus's message perverted..."be really nice to each other."

However, around the same time he formally entered the Greek Orthodox communion as a result of his second wife, Vicky Karayiannis. How sincere his conversion was, I could not say. In an interview with The Inquirer, he was asked why he converted to Greek Orthodoxy. He responded:

I wanted to be married in the Greek Church. I was baptized Catholic and went to a Catholic school. There was something about the Greek Orthodox Church that resonated with my childhood—there was something fresh and exciting about it.


Again, it's as if there is a kind fascination with the nostalgia and symbolism of the historic Christian faith that continues exert its influence, even if the substance of faith itself is lacking or imperfect.

At least externally, Cornell appears to have been a practicing Orthodox in his latter days. There are lovely pictures of his child's baptism - with Chris and his wife singing the traditional Greek chants that accompany the rite:





One final thought: I think one thing that was so disturbing about Chris Cornell's death for me personally was that I thought he was "safe." He had outlived many of his musical peers and made it to age 52, not the age we typically associate with rock star suicide. Whether Cornell killed himself intentionally or not - the Ativans he took for anxiety had a side effect of making one suicidal - it is a reminder that one does not outgrow depression. It is something that one must be constantly vigilant against. I was a child of the early 90's, and the one great gift the 90's bequeathed to the world was depression - with all the attendant pharmaceutical treatments and their equally horrific side effects. For me personally, Cornell's death was a stark reminder of these realities.

I don't know to what degree Cornell eventually found faith or what his faith was in; he seems like a man who at one time vehemently rejected the Christian faith but also viewed his personal struggles in a fundamentally religious-existentialist terms, with a vocabulary bequeathed to him by his Catholic upbringing. It seems he started to meander back to faith in the years before his death.

Whatever Chris Cornell's mistakes or weaknesses, the man was a baptized Catholic and it's questionable whether he was in his right mind when he took his life or not. So I'm going to say a little prayer for his soul today. Won't you do the same?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Black Hand of the Madonna

This month we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the apparitions, as well as the canonizations of Francisco and Jacinta.

I highly recommend this article, "Fatima's Gradual Descent into Darkness" by E.A. Bucchianeri at the blog Books, Blabble, and Blarney (May 17, 2017). It is a fascinating read about the site of Fatima written from the perspective of a devout Catholic who has lived in Fatima for the past fourteen years. He chronicles the architectural and liturgical abominations that have become ubiquitous at the site. He also chronicles some of the interesting sorts of observations that its hard to categorize and assign precise meaning to - for example, that the hand of the Blessed Virgin Mary statue at Fatima has become blackened with mold, the hideous "toothpick crucifix" and other things of this sort. I highly recommend this article; even if one does not adopt all the author's interpretations of the signs he is witnessing, one should at least be aware and give them some thought.

 *   *   *   *   *

When I first saw the above mentioned article posted on social media, there were all sorts of skeptical comments to the tune of "You're reading too much into these occurrences" and "Don't be superstitious" and so on. I encountered similar comments when I posted an article noting that the ceremonial doves released by the Roman pontiffs as emblems of peace were frequently attacked and killed by crows ("Safe Place for a Dove", June 7, 2015). We could note a similar responses when people drew attention to the famous lightning strike at St. Peter's Basilica just hours after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.

It is difficult for people to interpret such things. Most Catholics tend to default to two opposite extremes when confronted with potential supernatural signs, prophecy, etc - on the one hand, some have a tendency to seek too much exactitude out of these sorts of things, interpreting them as very clear communications, establishing elaborate timelines, and generally acting as if they possess the entire schedule of the eschaton down to the minute. One the other hand, you will have people who react against that sort of presumptuous precision and flee to the other extreme of supposing that nothing at all can be gleaned from such occurrences. These people almost take a Kantian approach to supernatural signs: God sends us supernatural signs and prophecy, but there is an unbreachable chasm between God's actions and our understanding of them. Sure, maybe God sends signs, but who can possibly interpret them? Therefore, it's best to just ignore them altogether.

As an aside, it was this frustration that led me to create the video "Shortcomings of Catholic Eschatology" on the USC Youtube channel. And no, my complaints about Catholic eschatology are not to be construed as an invitation for you to spam me with you utter rubbish about Maria Divine Mercy.

 *   *   *   *   *

People inherently have a problem interpreting supernatural signs when prudence is required. They want to either throw prudence to the wind entirely, or apply it in excess. But Jesus calls us to moderation. He presents His signs in terms of natural phenomenon, like the coming of evening or the changing of seasons. Think of how we perceive these things, seasons, weather, etc. They are not matters of precision; jokes about the reliability of weather forecasts are ubiquitous. Predictions about the weather and the seasons are helpful for telling us the general direction in which we are moving, without too much precision. We would be foolish to put too much stock in a particular forecast; we would be equally foolish to ignore the general changing of the seasons altogether just because particular forecasts are not extremely precise.

This is why Jesus uses examples taken from the weather. “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times" (Matt. 16:2-3). Jesus wants us to pay close enough attention to the signs of the times that we can say "A storm is coming,"  but he also wants us to be humble enough to realize we cannot figure it all out. It is sufficient to know the storm is on its way and to prepare accordingly. That is ultimately why God sends such signs.

 *   *   *   *   *

The hand of the Madonna of Fatima has turned black.One calls to mind the message of Fatima about Our Lady using her hand to withhold the vengeance of our Lord. One prominent ecclesiastic has recently derided this idea as a "Mary of our own making", making fun of the idea of Mary as "one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God" and is "sweeter than Jesus the ruthless judge." This critique is much too simplistic; of course Mary is not "sweeter" than Jesus. Of course this is a false dichotomy; it is not as if Christ is ruthless judge and Mary is pure mercy. God's justice and mercy are perfectly in harmony, and insofar as Mary is the holiest saint, she too possesses perfect mercy and justice.

The point of the Fatima's teaching about Mary withholding the arm of Christ is not to establish some kind of distinction between a "sweet merciful Mary" and a ruthless Jesus. Rather, the purpose is to impress upon us that if Christ does come in judgment, it is because of our sins. And if grace is extended to us to forestall that judgement, that grace has come through the intercession of Our Lady.

These occurrences at Fatima may not "mean" anything; I file them away in my mind under "Interesting...note taken." But they are ominous. We live in ominous times.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Would Political Freedom Would Make Our Parishes Stupider?

Here in the United States, President Trump just announced a new executive action that is supposed to loosen the restrictions on religious organizations from engaging in political activity. How exactly this action will change things is uncertain at the moment, as Trump's action only gives directives to the IRS and Treasury to interpret existing legal norms with maximal leniency when dealing with possible violations. To actually change the law itself would require an act of Congress.

At any rate, this turn of events led me to consider whether it would be a good or bad thing for the Church in the United States if all restrictions on political activity by religious organizations were lifted. After reflecting on this for a few days, I think my answer is yes it would be good in theory, but in practice it would be harmful.

Why would such a thing be good?

The Church historically was extremely engaged in politics. Obviously the whole history of Christendom is replete with examples of the Church engaging political matters vigorously. One only need think of the struggles of the Investiture Controversy and similar Church-State conflicts to see that political activity has often been a necessary prerequisite for the Church to maintain her autonomy.

In fact, the traditional understanding of the Church's relationship to the state as exemplified by the famous teaching of Pope St. Gelasius (c. 494) presumes that the Church is able to make her opinion known on political matters, insomuch as political acts sometimes overlap matters of faith. The State concerns itself with the temporal ends of man, the Church with the supernatural, but sometimes the former touches on the latter, and in such cases the Church may engage in activity in order to advocate for political activity that does not contravene divine law; indeed, in some cases, the clergy actually have an obligation to speak truth to power, as Pope St. Gelasius says, "there is no slight danger in the case of the priests if they refrain from speaking when the service of the divinity requires."

The Church has often used political speech in the past with great benefit to the public good. For example, in 1948 Massachusetts put Referendum No. 4 to voters, which would have relaxed the state's ban on artificial contraception. Boston's Archbishop Richard Cushing led a vigorous opposition to the measure, plainly telling Catholics not to vote for it. The Referendum was defeated by a 57% margin. Such plain political engagement by the Church was subsequently banned with the 1954 Johnson Amendment - which may partially explain why Cushing later changed his tone on contraception.

At any rate, I don't think I need to belabor this point. Most readers of this blog, who tend to be more historically and theologically literate, understand why, in theory, returning more autonomy to the Church in this regard should be a good thing, and certainly more in keeping with Catholic tradition.

If I admit this in theory, why would I deny it in its application here in the USA?

In application, I feel that loosening restrictions on political activity would be harmful for the Church in practice for one simple reason - the two party stupidity of the American mainstream has infected the Church.

Greater freedom to engage in politics would be wonderful for the Catholic Church - if American Catholics had a well-grounded Catholic identity and some semblance of a Catholic political vision grounded in the Church's social tradition. But, since American Catholics are so pathetically lacking in any independent Catholic political ethos, in practice we would witness each parish devolve into a satellite of the Republican or Democratic Party. It would not engender an independent Catholic political spirit; rather, it would inject further secular partisanship into parish life and fasten the chains of Catholic thought more securely to the agendas of Hudge and Gudge.

It would also be horribly divisive for Catholic parishioners. Even now parishes tend to lean liberal or conservative politically, but the lack of overt political activity provides a kind of breathing space for Catholics who might not agree with their pastors on every issue. As it stands now, a Catholic might, for example, realize his pastor is softer on illegal immigration than he would like. But since there are limits on what sorts of political advocacy a pastor can engage in, he is somewhat prevented from shoving his opinions down his parishioner's throats. And this allows pastors and congregants to kind of co-exist socially in the same parish, because their obnoxious political opinions are buffered and they don't have to engage each other directly.

Now suppose, however, you walk into your parish one day and your pastor is vocally pushing a petition drive to turn your town into a Sanctuary City. He is lambasting political candidates by name and campaigning for others. He has ushers ready with the ballot petition at the back of the Church and is hovering around encouraging people to sign it. Even if the pastor and parishioner would have had the same differing opinions before, now the buffer is removed. The parish has become a locus of political confrontation. The man who disagrees with his pastor's political agenda will no longer feel "safe". This would be the case whether the pastor was pushing liberal-Democratic garbage, or whether he was stumping for the local GOP hack.

The result would be the politicization of parishes in the image of our stupid two party system. We would see a massive population realignment as parishioners who no longer felt welcome at their parishes would migrate to others more reflective of their views.

I understand this already happens to some degree, but if the Church in the United States were to have complete freedom of political action, watch parish life be entirely politicized immediately. GOP and Democratic operatives would swoop in and organize the parishioners politically. The two party stupidity we all hate would take over our parishes. It would be omnipresent and inescapable. There would be no breathing space.

In conclusion, it would be excellent if Catholics in this country had an independent political vision grounded in the perennial truths of the Gospel. If that were the case, political freedom for the Church would mean the creation of a robust "Third Way" that could challenge the prevailing political dichotomy and bring true reform to the nation. But, in the absence of such a coherent mindset, in practice we would see each parish become a tool of the Democratic or Republican parties, and the politicization of parish life in the basest manner. Catholic social life, already anemic, would become that much stupider.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Advice About Confession Problem?

So, I need your advice here. A friend came to me with this problem, and I really don't know what to do about it.

A young man I know told me he has been struggling with certain habitual sins. He has been going to confession regularly to help obtain the graces he needs to overcome these sins. The other day, he went to a parish he doesn't normally go to for confession just because it was close and kind of convenient.

He made a standard confession, saying how long it had been since his last confession, the sins of thought and deed he had committed, both in kind and number - then, he also added, "Because I have confessed this sin so many times, I believe I am also guilty of presuming on God's mercy - of assuming I can just go to confession." So, he was confessing what he had done, but also confessing the sin of presumption.

Then he told me the priest giggled and said, "You know a priest has the power to forgive or retain sins. You cannot presume on the mercy of God. Because you did, I am retaining your sins. I will not forgive you today. You will have to go to confession another time." The young man went out, confused and unabsolved.

I have heard stories of saints who have refused absolution to penitents because they were able to tell (by supernatural intuition) that the penitent was not actually contrite. But that was certainly not the case here. The young man was contrite; he knew he had sinned through presumption and was actually confessing that he was guilty of it.

I believe the priest was probably trying to teach the young man a lesson about not presuming you can always just go to confession. But even so, aren't priests supposed to always absolve penitents who profess contrition and don't give any indication that they aren't.

Was this an abuse of the sacrament? Was this young man denied his canonical rights? Or is this something priests have the discretion to do?

Please note, my friend is not wanting to "do" anything about it or make trouble necessarily. He and I both just really want to know if this is something anyone has heard of or if it is legitimate.



Sunday, April 30, 2017

Priests' Sober Reflections on the Traditional Mass Crowd

I had a chance some time ago to speak to two different priests on the question of Summorum Pontificum and the traditional Latin Mass as it is celebrated by diocesan priests and regular parish churches. Both had eagerly embraced Summorum Pontificum upon its issue in 2007. Both were eager for the traditional liturgy and Catholic tradition. I wanted to know how things had gone for them over the past ten years. The discouraging nature of their answers was sobering. 

The first priest was a seminarian when Summorum Pontificum was promulgated. He always had a deep respect for Catholic tradition and the traditional liturgy. Like many other traditional-minded seminarians, he had to kind of keep his head down throughout seminary. He maintained a respectful silence in the face of progressive indoctrination, did his required reading by day but studied Aquinas and the Fathers by night, and practiced penance privately while his fellow seminarians were spending their free time watching movies. He is a good and gentle soul. When Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio, he was excited to make himself available to the faithful to celebrate the traditional Mass.

After ordination and his first parish assignment, this priest was generous in promoting the traditional Latin Mass and offered it to a "stable group" on a semi-regular basis.

Those days are long gone.

This priest no longer offers the traditional Latin Mass, nor has he for years. He explained that the people who attended the traditional Latin Mass were so mean-spirited, so hyper-critical, just so obnoxious, that he eventually stopped offering the traditional Mass altogether. Perhaps the saddest thing about the story is this priest's personal interest in traditional Catholicism had began to wane. He wants nothing to do with the Latin Mass community.

The second priest had been ordained for some time when Summorum Pontificum came out. He had long desired to offer the traditional Mass and was in the process of training for a celebret under the indult when Summorum Pontificum was promulgated. He had always loved the traditional Mass because of its reverence and the centrality of God. He was excited to be able to offer the Latin Mass without any permission. He has now been offering the traditional Latin Mass regularly for almost a decade. His traditional Latin Mass liturgy has grown to around 75+ congregants.

"If I would have known back then what these people are actually like, I would have never begun offering the Latin Mass," he told me dryly.

His story resembled the first priest's. Soon after beginning to offer the traditional Latin Mass, he began to have negative interactions with those who attended it. An unending barrage of criticisms about the way the Mass was being offered. A general spirit of criticism that was quicker to lash out in indignation at perceived faults than be grateful for what they had; heresy-hunting and badgering the priest about theological statements they did not think were sufficiently precise rather than encouraging him for speaking the truth. In short, they were a royal pain.

This priest also noted that his traditional Latin Mass crowd were very loath to volunteer for any parish events or attend any other parish functions. He made an interesting observation, and I'm paraphrasing, but he said, "It's like the Latin Mass is a 'fix', something they travel around chasing. Looking for anywhere they can get 'their' Mass and then move on." He felt like they refused to put down roots in his parish; they were takers, not givers. They have given him nothing but headaches.

As of now, this priest is continuing to offer the traditional Mass, but he was very clear that he was unsure if he would continue and that he certainly would not have offered it if he knew what he was in for. He now prefers to say Low Masses privately.

Both of these priests are good, solid diocesan priests who loved the traditional liturgy because of its reverence and Christ-centeredness. The thing is, neither of these priests viewed the traditional Latin Mass as part of a "movement", and nor wanted to be part of one. They simply were drawn to the beauty of the old Mass and wanted to share it; they didn't have any chip on their shoulders.

Now, two things - first, I have known a lot of traditional Catholics and been to many traditional communities, and I know for a fact that not all of them are this way. We are blessed at our parish to have a well-established traditional Latin Mass community that is fairly engaged, overlaps with the Novus Ordo parishioners, and is very supportive of our parish priest. There's a lot of wonderful people out there promoting the Latin Mass. In my neck of the woods, Juventutem Michigan does an amazing job of promoting the traditional Latin Mass with absolutely no politics. So, I know this isn't something negative that all traditional Catholics can be painted with.

But...

I have also been around enough traditional Catholics to totally believe these priests' stories without question. Traddies can be seriously, ridiculously obnoxious. Anyone who has been around traditionalist enclaves knows, as the Lord lives, that I speak the truth.

Second - some may huff and say, "If they would quit saying the Mass of ages just because some parishioners got cranky with them, they don't really understand the importance of the Mass. They're not truly devoted to it."

Well, maybe they weren't. Maybe some are just priests who are curious about it. Maybe some priests prefer it simply because its more beautiful. Most priests who offer the traditional Mass aren't part of any traditionalist movement and don't consider themselves "traddies." The reasons priests offer the traditional Mass are as varied as the priests themselves.

But like it or not, no priest has to offer the traditional Latin Mass. It's totally voluntary. And if you want somebody to do something for you voluntarily, then dang, act grateful. If someone is voluntarily doing you a favor, why on earth would you antagonize them?

Don't be obnoxious. Give them a little leeway. No diocesan priest who risks going against the tide to offer the traditional Latin Mass needs your grief; he probably gets enough from the diocesan bureaucracy. The traditional Latin Mass is a gift - God gave it, and He can take it away, just like He took it away from the Japanese Catholics who lived centuries without a Mass, or the English Catholics of the Elizabethan era. He can take it away from you.

Go ahead, bitch at your priest one more time. Whine about his Latin pronunciation. Complain about the fact that he did a Low Mass because not enough people volunteered for the choir. Keep that behavior up and see how long your priest wants to offer the Latin Mass; tempt God with obnoxious complaining and see what happens. God will take the Mass right away from you just like He took the Promised Land away from the grumbling Israelites.

Show yourself worthy of the Mass of ages. Be a blessing to your priest, not a burden. Volunteer. Be cheerful. Give liberally. Be supportive.

Even if the priest ought to offer the traditional Mass, why make yourself into his cross? Is that what God wants? Do you want your priest to think of traditional Catholics as a lot of bitchy mumblecrusts?

Brethren, do we have the joy of the Lord? We ought to be the most joyous of all people.

By the way, since I know sometimes fellow parishioners read this blog, I should mention that the two priests mentioned are neither our current nor former pastor.

+AMDG+

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Review: The Book of Non-Contradiction

Back in February, our modest publishing outfit Cruahcan Hill Press released a book entitled The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures by Phillip Campbell (erm, me).

This book was written to confute the ubiquitous assumption of modernity that the Bible is a book full of contradictions. We would expect such a faith-destroying proposition from seculars, but since the 19th century, this thesis has found its way into Christian pulpits as well thanks to the school of "Higher Criticism."

It is no secret that the Bible contains difficult passages. Any Christian who has ever seriously read the Scriptures knows there are parts that are hard to understand, or that it is hard to see how they fit in context with the rest of the Bible. Biblical exegesis from antiquity to the 19th century, motivated by a spirit of faith, generally sought to reconcile these discordant passages, focusing on how the verses illustrate different theological truths. The golden thread that wound the Scriptures together was the totality of God's revelation, which was able to harmonize the entirety of the Bible. Different books, stories, and passages - even those which looked radically different - were no more fundamentally contradictory than different colored pieces of glass making up a single stained glass image. This beautiful harmonization was made possible because of the spirit of faith.

It should be mentioned, this thinking was common to both Protestant and Catholic scholars. Though obviously Protestant thinkers took certain biblical passages in a different light than Catholic tradition, they still assumed the harmony of the Scriptures. That is, even if Protestants posited a radical rupture with Catholic tradition, they at least assumed the Scriptures were consistent with themselves.

But beginning in the late 19th century, the school of "Higher Criticism" began to take a different approach. Anti-supernaturalist in its assumptions, the Higher Critics implicitly denied the very idea of a unifying body of divine revelation. The golden thread was cut. Instead of working to show how various passages were unified, the new critics focused on the differences among them, even positing that they were in plain contradiction. This view has found its way into seminaries and pulpits around the world. It is an errant and faith destroying proposition that leads to a loss of faith in the veracity of the Scriptures and a relativizing of Divine Revelation itself.

The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures attempts to fill this void by looking at several of the "problematic" passages of the Old and New Testaments and explaining their theological unity in light of the fullness of God's revelation, and demonstrating that there really are no contradictions in the Bible.

Long time readers of this blog will know I have written on this topic substantially. You may be thinking, "This is just some of Boniface's old essays dressed up like a book." Well, there are some previously published essays in here. Long time readers will recognize the sections on Samson's suicide, the genocide of Joshua, and the resurrection appearances of Jesus. But is also a fair degree of new, never before published work in the book, including essays on:

  • The historical practice of reconciling/harmonizing discordant biblical texts
  • Understanding different Creation accounts in Genesis
  • Reconciling God's providence and free will in the episode of the hardening of pharaoh's heart from Exodus
  • The differing accounts of the census of David in Chronicles and 1 Samuel
  • The genealogy of Jesus Christ

Even previously published essays have been reworked and added to, and everything has been orchestrated in chronological order. The result is an easily readable, faith-building book that really digs into the Scriptural texts and applies classic principles from our Catholic theological tradition to demonstrate the beautiful unity of the Scriptures.

For what it's worth, I got a nice little review from Mike Aquilina. I shipped him a copy of the book, and he wrote:
"This is a book that needs to be written anew for every generation. Eusebius wrote one in the third century, and he was already drawing from more ancient sources. The enemies of Christianity always grasp at the same rhetorical straws, and it’s our duty to be ready with the best response. Phillip Campbell makes that easy for Catholics today."
I also want to point out that, while this book is obviously written from a Catholic perspective and draws heavily on Catholic theological sources (such as the Catechism, Aquinas, and Leo XIII), it would also be very edifying to any Protestant or Orthodox who takes the Bible seriously.

The Book of Non-Contradiction is 202 pages, $17.99 + shipping. Available at Cruachan Hill Press but also on Amazon; however, for readers of this blog, I have set up a special Paypal link below for you to get the book at the discounted price of $16.50.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE BOOK OF NON-CONTRADICTION AT THE SPECIAL DISCOUNT PRICE FOR USC READERS (UNITED STATES ORDERS ONLY)

Sunday, April 02, 2017

St. Louis de Montfort and the Drunkards of Roussay



The following incidents from the life of St. Louis de Montfort is an apt illustration of the biblical precept, "there is a time for war and a time for peace" (Ecc. 3:8). It also exemplifies the great balance that a saint has in his disposition - excelling in prudence, St. Louis knew exactly when to use gentleness, and when to come with a rod (cf. 1 Cor. 4:21). The story begins when St. Louis arrived in the French village of Roussay, in the vicinity of Tours, on a preaching tour.


The sick old priest arrived at Roussay to preach a mission. He mounted the pulpit in the parish church, and after a brief prayer, began to speak. This tiny town in the west of France consisted of several dilapidated buildings, most prominent of which was this church with a rowdy bar right next door. As the preacher raised his voice, the drunkards could hear the sermon, and the parishioners could hear the raucous noise coming from the bar.

Knowing this, the denizens of the bar tried to disturb his sermon by screaming insults at the congregation and mocking them for their cleaner habits.

The priest very calmly finished the sermon, gave the people his blessing and exited the church. As he left, though empty handed and alone, he walked directly into the bar. An eyewitness describes what happened next:

"Father said nothing, except with his fists. For the first time since he came to Roussay, men had a chance to see how big, and to feel how hard, those fists were. He struck them down and let them lie. He overturned tables and chairs. He smashed glasses. He walked over the bodies of stunned and sobered hoodlums, and went slowly back up the street."

The men of Roussay were stunned. They now knew better than to so crudely interfere with the mission of the saint.

On the second day of his mission in Roussay, a drunk man burst into the church and stood in the aisle screaming insults at St. Louis. St. Louis calmly left the pulpit and approached the man. Everyone was expecting him to react as he had the day before, giving the man a beating he would not soon forget. To their great amazement, Father de Montfort knelt before the man and begged pardon for anything he had done to offend him.

The man was stunned and nearly collapsed before running out of the church in sadness. Saint Louis calmly returned to the pulpit and finished his sermon as though nothing had happened.

This story, and more about the  life and spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort, can be found here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pope Francis and Populism



Earlier this month, the Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis gave an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, in which he sounded off against the rising tide of populism in western democracies. He said, among other things, that "populism is evil and ends badly, as the past century showed."

I assume that what Francis has in mind when he condemns populism is the populism of the political right, a kind of nationalist populism. One can have varying opinions on this. But what strikes me is that he speaks of populism as if he is totally unaware that he is the world's most eminent populist.

Populism is a very broad idea that can encompass many political movements. But, just going by the Wikipedia definition of the term, populism "proposes that the common people are exploited by a privileged elite, and which seeks to resolve this...Its goal is uniting the uncorrupt and the unsophisticated "little man" against the corrupt dominant elites (usually the established politicians) and their camp of followers (usually the rich and the intellectuals). It is guided by the belief that political and social goals are best achieved by the direct actions of the masses."

Jorge Bergoglio's entire worldview has been forged in the furnace of the populist politics of Latin America. His fundamental approach to problems political and ecclesiastical is populist in its appeal. In July of 2015, he addressed the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia, where his statements were more saturated with populist rhetoric than anything Donald Trump of Marie Le Pen has ever said. He joined his voice to  "cry of the people", calling for land, lodging and labor for all our brothers and sisters", the "excluded" of Latin America. He separates the world into two classes, the greedy elitist oppressors and the marginalized common man:

Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change. This system is by now intolerable: farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable … The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable. We want change in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our everyday reality. We want a change which can affect the entire world, since global interdependence calls for global answers to local problems.


All the poor commoners oppressed by "the system"! The global masses locked in a Marxian struggle against the Man in his various incarnations.

The Pope senses a rising surge of popular fury against the world order: "I have sensed an expectation, a longing, a yearning for change, in people throughout the world...people are hoping for a change capable of releasing them from the bondage of individualism and the despondency it spawns." He appeals to the downtrodden to rise up and actualize the change they long for:

You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three “L’s” (labor, lodging, land) and through your proactive participation in the great processes of change on the national, regional and global levels. Don’t lose heart! You are sowers of change.
And lest we conceive of this surge towards change in purely ideological or rational terms, the Pope reminds us that this movement is more akin to a passion or a raw emotion than anything else:

...we are deeply moved…. We are moved because “we have seen and heard” not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh. This is something quite different than abstract theorizing or eloquent indignation. It moves us; it makes us attentive to others in an effort to move forward together. That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone: it has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.

The poor of the world oppressed by corrupt elites. The downtrodden encouraged to rise up and take their destiny into their own hands. The great leader, the pope, urging them on and joining his voices with those of the oppressed. A call to translate the popular emotional anxiety and social angst of the poor into community action. Is this language not dripping with populist rhetoric? And this speech is just one example; these types of statements from Pope Francis are legion. 

The point is not whether Pope Francis is correct or not. In much of this, he certainly is. The poor of Latin America are oppressed. There is an elitist global cabal that would like nothing more than the economic enslavement of the downtrodden. That's not the issue. The issue is that Pope Francis' appeal is absolutely, definitively, without a doubt populist in nature.

Pope Francis is fundamentally a populist. It's so intrinsic to his worldview he doesn't even realize it. He recognizes demagoguery and populist appeals in leaders whose agenda is in conflict with his own, but fails to identify populist rhetoric in his own appeals. Steeped in the neo-Marxian populism of Latin America, his brand of Argentine populism does not seem like populism to him - to him it's just, well, it's just the way leaders speak.

Again, this is not a critique of the pope's ideas or his initiatives. But it does demonstrate that his assertion that "populism" is essentially evil is untenable, for he himself is a populist, and populism cannot be "evil" when used by one's opponents but Christlike when done by the pope - and Pope Francis is the world's most prominent populist.