Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Why the Second Vatican Council Was a Good Thing & Is More Important Than Ever

John Lamont

In its June 2004 issue, the NOR [New Oxford Review] asked the following question apropos of an article in Crisis magazine by George Sim Johnston: "Johnston's subtitle is 'Why Vatican II Was Necessary.' We'd dearly like to know why it was. We can think of a few things that Vatican II did that were good and necessary -- but only a few -- and we doubt if an ecumenical council was necessary to accomplish them." This is an excellent question that needs an answer, and this article was written to take up the challenge posed by it. It will not attempt to show that the Second Vatican Council was necessary, because it wasn't -- the Church would have survived if it had never happened -- but rather that it was a good thing.

It is best to start by pointing out why the NOR's question is a natural one for faithful Catholics. The period following the Council has been a calamitous one for the Church in most of the world. The liturgy of the Church was vandalized in ways that undermined the faith and morals of Catholics -- and this is true not only of liturgical translations and unauthorized abuses, but to some extent of the official liturgical changes produced by Rome. Institutes of Catholic higher education, theologians, and religious orders became on the whole active enemies of the Catholic faith. The faithful ceased to be catechized, and only a minority of them now believe the basics of the faith -- not because the majority of them are heretics, but because they accept the faulty instruction they have been given. The majority of the faithful do not follow Catholic moral principles. This is not new, but what is new is that they do not think they ought to follow them -- a view that cuts them off from repentance and conversion. These calamities were promoted and even largely produced by the hierarchical leadership of the Church after the Council. Most Catholic bishops, and some curial officials, came to an accommodation with sin and unbelief, instead of opposing them. As a result, they became habitually dishonest, a trait that emerged in glaring relief when sex scandals in the Church became public. Lying comes as naturally as breathing to clerics of this sort, and they often become genuinely indignant when expected to be truthful about their actions and the state of the Church. On one topic, however, the "Vatican II" clerics are truthful. In promoting these calamities, they were not only doing what they wanted to do, they were doing what they believed they were supposed to do. Most of the damage in the Church today was inflicted by people who believed they were implementing the Second Vatican Council. Since many of these people were actually at that Council, why should we disbelieve them? How, therefore, can we escape the conclusion that the Second Vatican Council was a bad thing? A crude way of putting this conclusion is that the Council ended up with priests buggering altar boys, and it needs to be thoroughly repudiated.

The very evidence for this conclusion raises doubts. The Second Vatican Council was a valid ecumenical council, which makes it impossible that its teachings could have really given a justification for the extreme abuses that followed it. Attempts by so-called Traditionalists to demonstrate that the Council was not valid, or that its teachings should be rejected as contradicting other authoritative pronouncements of the Church, are all contrived; they involve insisting that texts which can be understood in perfectly orthodox senses must be read as making heterodox claims. They also ignore a central feature of the Council's history, described in Fr. Ralph Wiltgen's The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber. Several hundred of the Council Fathers became alarmed about possible heterodox tendencies in the conciliar texts. These Fathers were able to insist that the texts be framed in ways that harmonized with Catholic tradition, and that the texts explicitly state that they are meant to be interpreted in line with that tradition. This is not to say that the texts are not in some places vague, ambiguous, or simply banal; but this is not the same as heterodoxy.

This gets us some way toward showing that the disasters that followed the Council were not caused by its teachings. It does not answer the question of why the Council was a good thing. This question is made more pointed by the Council's being professedly pastoral, one that did not define any new doctrines. Councils notoriously tend to cause pastoral chaos, so the settling of theological disputes through the definition of doctrine would seem from history to be the only thing they are good for.

To answer this question, we have to start from the fact that the only way for the Council to be a good thing is for its teachings to have been urgently needed by the Church, and for an ecumenical council to have been an appropriate venue for its teaching. The point of the Church's teaching through an ecumenical council is to end debate. It is possible to appeal from magisterial documents such as papal encyclicals to conciliar teachings, but from the teachings of a council there is no appeal, because it is the highest form of magisterial teaching. This is the case even with conciliar teachings that are not infallibly defined. "Infallible" is an extremely strong term; our knowledge that 2 + 2 = 4 is infallibly based, and so our grounds for accepting infallible Church teachings are as strong as our grounds for believing that 2 + 2 = 4. Weaker grounds than this suffice for excluding all reasonable doubt, and thus demanding belief. Conciliar statements that are not dogmatic definitions exclude all reasonable doubt, which is why they end debate for faithful Catholics. The rationale for the Second Vatican Council would therefore have to be the existence of internal and external problems for the Church that could only be satisfactorily addressed by conciliar pronouncements that were not dogmatic definitions. The usefulness of pronouncements of this sort is that they have the advantage of permitting broader teachings than dogmatic definitions, which must confine themselves to the precise statement that is defined (usually in negative terms). They can also serve the function of repeating teaching that has already been infallibly taught but that has been lost sight of by the greater part of the Church. I will argue that there were (and are) external and internal problems of this kind, and the Council was on the whole a good thing because it addressed them in an appropriate way.

The external problems are more easily described and identified. One such problem was the fact that for the most part the Church had ceased to benefit from the protection of governments that recognized her claims and promoted her activities, and instead had to exist under governments that were indifferent or (more usually) hostile. This meant that recognition of Catholic claims to the right to religious freedom had become essential to the well-being of the Church. But it is hopeless to expect such recognition if Catholics take the line that we are entitled to suppress you, but you are not entitled to suppress us. The only way to get unbelievers to recognize a right to religious freedom is to argue for a natural right, one that belongs to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. This essential step was taken by the Council in Dignitatis Humanae. In view of the extensive support for the "we can suppress you but you can't suppress us" view among Catholic theologians, this step could only have been taken by an ecumenical council. This step has indeed been attacked as incompatible with Catholic tradition; the long answer to this attack requires an examination of Catholic teaching and the document's meaning that cannot be undertaken here, but the short and sufficient answer is that it was not incompatible with tradition because it was produced by an ecumenical council. (Those who object to letting political considerations affect Church teaching are recommended to consult Cardinal Newman's Introduction to the Via Media.)

Another external problem was relations with Protestants and other non-Catholic Christians. The deterioration within Protestantism that began in the 18th century greatly accelerated in the 20th, with important Protestant bodies abandoning their allegiance to the basics of the Christian faith. Along with this deterioration, however, went a loosening of anti-Catholic prejudice and paranoia. These developments presented (and present) great opportunities for persuading Protestants to return to the Church. The goal of ecumenism was undoubtedly stated by the Council to be persuading non-Catholic Christians to become Catholic, although in tactfully circumlocutory terms: "all Christians will at last, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, be gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed on His Church from the beginning. We believe that this unity subsists in the Catholic Church" (Unitatis Redintegratio, #4). The recommendations for pursuing ecumenism are often simple common sense: "It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded. At the same time, the Catholic faith must be explained more profoundly and precisely, in such a way and in such terms as our separated brethren can also really understand" (#11). However, this common sense was needed by Catholics who were affected by centuries of conflict, and inclined to cling to feelings of disdain for Protestants and Orthodox. The Council's positive statements about non-Catholic Christians, and its eschewing any condemnation of their persons (their errors were implicitly rejected by the Council's positive statements of Catholic doctrine), were also necessary diplomatic steps in promoting their reconciliation with the Church. The contrast with previous Catholic approaches to non-Catholics -- approaches that were not all wrong in their time -- was so great that in practice it could only have been brought about by an ecumenical council.

A final external problem was relations with the Jews. There is a disgraceful Catholic history of murdering, raping and pillaging Jews, on the pretext that they were all collectively responsible for the death of Christ. These crimes were not simply the fault of the unwashed masses; they were often encouraged by clerics (an example being Bernardino of Siena, who said of the Jews that "in respect of abstract and general love, we are permitted [!] to love them. However, there can be no concrete love towards them"). The moral health of the Church thus required that this pretext be rejected, as it was in Nostra Aetate (#3), and that anti-Semitism be condemned.

The internal problems for which the Council was an appropriate remedy were subtler, deeper, and more difficult to discern. Following such scholars as Louis Bouyer, Alasdair MacIntyre (pictured left), and Servais Pinckaers, I see these problems as ultimately stemming from the influence of nominalism on Catholic thought in the late Middle Ages, an influence that gave rise to Protestantism, and that in the emergency of contriving a Catholic response to Protestantism was not properly eradicated. This noxious influence, which affected the whole spectrum of Catholic life and spirituality, consisted in a particular understanding of happiness and the will, which can be sen by contrasting the thought of St. Thomas and William of Ockham on these subjects. For St. Thomas, the will is directed by its nature toward goodness itself, the enjoyment of which constitutes happiness. Freedom consists in the ability to achieve this end; so the virtues confer freedom, and vices are enslaving. For Ockham, on the other hand, there is nothing the will seeks of necessity, and freedom consists purely in the ability to choose between contrary alternatives. Natue and virtue drop out of the picture, and the sole basis for morality is the obligation imposed by divine commands. Because God's freedom must be absolute, it is the simple fact of His commanding something that makes it good; if He had commanded murder, sodomy, or idolatry, these things would have been good and their opposites evil. Although these extreme views did not become generally accepted, the basic idea of seeing religion and morality in terms of obedience to commands, rather than in terms of fulfillment of the end of man, persisted.

The tendency to identify religion with obedience to orders, and to separate it from happiness and truth, is the fundamental internal weakness that the Council needed to address, and also the cause of the disaster that followed it. One manifestation of this tendency was anti-intellectualism and hostility to reason. If faith is a matter of obeying orders, then asking questions about Catholic belief is insubordinate; questioning the reasons for orders is what barrack-room lawyers do. This meant that faithful Catholics who were not scholars tended to become ignorant and intellectually lazy, while Catholic scholars often adopted the psychology of rebellious adolescents. Both groups became indifferent to reasoned argument, not just because of lack of intelligence and proper education, but because at the deepest level they felt that such argument was a tool for affecting behavior rather than a guide to truth. Only such indifference could make possible the wide influence of an obviously mediocrity and charlatan such as Teilhard de Chardin (compare his effect on Catholics to that of a real intellect and scholar such as Etienne Gilson).

Another manifestation was spiritual weakness. A morality of obligation was built into the very structure of theology and devotion. Thus, moral theology was defined as dealing with the Commandments. One would learn in it what sort of violations of chastity, for example, counted as mortal sins, and one might even be told in it that an adequate prayer life was essential for preserving chastity. However, developing a prayer life was dealt with in a spiritual theology, which was seen as optional knowledge for the laity -- the preserve of religious, women, and weirdos. The pursuit of holiness was seen as the job of religious, while being open to a few laymen who were so called and inclined (the command "Be ye perfect as my Father is perfect" [Mt. 5:48] was glossed unconvincingly). This is seen even in so excellent a book as Tanquerey's The Spiritual Life, which treats the pursuit of perfection as an option -- however desirable -- rather than as essential for avoiding Hell. The idea that simply keeping the Commandments was the essential feature of the life of the average Christian, and the neglect of the pursuit of holiness that is actually needed to keep those Commandments, meant that natural means such as (non-filial) fear, repression (that is, pushing sinful desires out of one's conscious mind rather than consciously controlling them), and the cultivation of psychological immaturity had to be used to combat sin.

A defective attitude toward the world also resulted from this fundamental weakness. In the 20th century most Catholics came to believe that the Church needed to come to terms with the modern world, and to make sense to it. On the face of it, this is madness. A divinely established Church conveying a divinely revealed religion cannot be under an obligation to justify itself to those to whom it bears its revelation; and if Catholicism is not divinely revealed, it cannot justify itself, because it is a fraud. However, if religion is seen as a matter of obeying orders, this attitude becomes understandable. If people -- non-Catholics -- refused to accept orders for centuries, and this refusal is no longer seen as contumacious wickedness, then there must be something wrong with the orders themselves; they have to be changed, or at least rephrased, so that the become acceptable.

Some understanding of these weaknesses was developed before the Council through a better understanding of the thought of St. Thomas that resulted from the revival of Thomist promoted by Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris [Leo XIII, pictured right]. This permitted the Council to address this weakness in four important ways. It presented Christ and the Church along Thomist lines, with Christ as the ultimate fulfillment of human nature, and the Church offering the grace and truth that permits us to reach this fulfillment. It asserted that everyone, not just religious, is called by God to be perfect -- the difference between me and a Cathusian should not be that he is seeking an ultimate goal that I am not, but rather that I am allowing myself a lot more leeway in my pursuit of perfection than he is. It insisted on the necessity of Catholics being familiar with the Scriptures; and it promoted, in Sancrosanctum Concilium, the revival of the liturgy that had been developing since the 19th century, and had been endorsed by Pius XII's encyclical Mediator Dei.

These attempts to address this fundamental weakness, however, were received by a Church that was still enthralled by them. That is what explains the disasters that followed the Council. Its attempts at overcoming the nominalist mindset were interpreted as rejecting the previous requirement of obedience. This freed all the bitterness and resentment that had been produced by such obedience, a bitterness untrammeled by any intellectual discipline or loyalty to truth. The idea of coming to terms with the world, which was given support by some utterances of John XXIII and Paul VI, was embraced as the main theme of the Council, despite the lack of any basis for it in the conciliar documents. It also greatly influenced the liturgical changes promoted by Paul VI, in disobedience to the Council. This is an important point to stress. The liturgical movement that produced Sancrosanctum Concilium was a valuable attempt to restore Catholic tradition. The Novus Ordo Mass and other liturgical changes, on the other hand, directly rejected the tenets of that movement and of the conciliar document; this is testified by Alfons Cardinal Stickler (pictured left) and Louis Bouyer, who were involved in the production of Sancrosanctum Concilium, and is evident from an examination of the text and the conciliar discussion of it. (One might wonder how a pope's official act could be disobedient. The answer is that a conciliar document is an exercise of the papal magisterium; the pope signs it, as Paul signed Sancrosanctum Concilium. And the pope, in the exercise of his office, is not free to simply do what he wills, as if he were acting as a private person. He is bound by his own acts and those of his predecessors, and cannot just set aside their authority. In particular, he cannot legitimately disregard the decree of an ecumenical council, which is the highest exercise of his authority.) All indications are that Paul VI committed this abuse with the intention of conforming the liturgy to what he thought people, especiall non-Catholic people, wanted (or what the malign Archbishop Bugnini told him that they wanted).

The triumph of the weaknesses the Council tried to remedy was not surprising, since an understanding of these weaknesses was largely confined to some scholars and scholarly prelates, and was not clearly grasped even by them -- they were only thoroughly understood when they became disastrously evident after the Council. This triumph means that the Council's teaching is even more important now than at the time it was convoked. There is now, however, a further reason why the Council is important, which is that the basic Catholic teaching it sets forth, taken for granted at the time, is now widely rejected. There does not seem to be a better way of promoting these teachings than by getting the clergy and laity to realize that they are taught by the Council that progressives claim as their own.

[John Lamont, a Canadian, is a convert to Catholicism. He received his doctorate in Theology from Oxford. He is the author of Divine Faith (Ashgate), a defense of a Thomist understanding of the theological virtue of faith. He is currently a Gifford Fellow at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland doing research in natural theology. John Lamont's article, "Why the Second Vatican Council Was a Good Thing & Is More Important Than Ever," was published originally in the New Oxford Review (July August, 2005), pp. 32-36, and is reprinted here with permission from New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]

Of related interest:
  • Al Kimel, "Living Vatican II" (Pontifications) -- a lively discussion along related lines.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Pertinacious Papist coffee mug

Check this out! Christopher Blosser (of Against the Grain) has designed a "Pertinacious Papist" coffee mug for die-hard papists, featuring Vittore Carpaccio's "The Pilgrims Meet the Pope," appropriately depicting medieval Christian pilgrims kneeling in loyal fealty before their supreme Pastor, the Bishop of Rome. The mug is available through the "Store" link at the top of this blog. We would also like to know of any other images in the public domain that any of you may know about, particularly if you know of any large depository of Catholic art and paintings of popes on the Internet.

Friday, August 26, 2005

LRC curriculum battle in the blogsphere

Three choice quotations -- from G.K. Chesterton, Jacques Maritain, and Matthew D. Wright (from the 2001 Lord Acton Essay Competition of The Acton Institute) pertinent to the curriculum battles at LRC -- are posted at North Hall Society (August 26, 2005).

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

New blog devoted to debate on LRC curriculum & mission

At the suggestion of my webmaster, I am planning to move most of my discussion of the debate over curriculum & mission at Lenoir-Rhyne College to a blog called North Hall Society, named after the building that houses the erstwhile Department of Religion and Philosophy, subsequently absorbed into the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion under the present administration. Anyone interested in following the controversy may do so by clicking on the "North Hall Society" link provided in the column to the right, alongside the other links found under "Occasional Musings by Philip Blosser."

Do the liberal arts leave the academy when God does?

I received the following quotation from my son, Christopher, apropos the ongoing debate at Lenoir-Rhyne College over the administration's effort to reduce the size of the liberal arts in the core curriculum. The author, Michael Novak, suggests a link between the eclipse of God and the eclipse of Western humanism in education:

What, then, is the place of God in our colleges? The basic human experiences that remind man that he is not a machine, and not merely a temporary cog in a technological civilization, are not fostered within the university. God is as irrelevent in the universities as in business organizations; but so are love, death, personal destiny. Reliigion can thrive only in a personal universe; religious faith, hope, and love are personal responses to a personal God. But how can the immense question of a personal God even be posed and made relevant when the fundamental questions about the meaning and limits of personal experience are evaded?

"God is dead... What are these churches if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?" Nietzsche asked. But much of Western humanism is dead too. Men do not wander under the silent stars, listen to the wind, learn to know themselves, question, "Where am I going? Why am I here?" They leave aside the mysteries of contingency and transitoriness, for the certainties of research, production, consumption. So that it is nearly possible to say: "Man is dead... What are these buildings, these tunnels, these roads, if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of man?" God, if there is a God, is not dead.

He will come back to the colleges, when man comes back.

-- Michael Novak, "God in the Colleges," Harper's (1961)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Lenoir-Rhyne Business College & Technical Institute?

Well, it was nice to get a few days after concluding summer school classes. But it's back to school again -- this time with the additional onus of being called upon to defend a liberal arts core curriculum against an administration and professional division who seem bent on turning this traditionaly church-related liberal arts college into a secular business college and technical institute.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Watering down the college mission?

Last year the members of our school (History, Philosophy, and Religion) were asked to review our expected "student outcomes" in accordance with the demand imposed by our accrediting institution that we have a mechanism by which to measure our "performance." Are our graduating seniors exhibiting the "outcomes" we expect them to have attained in their liberal arts education at Lenoir-Rhyne College? It seems a reasonable idea.

The difficulty comes when we compare what our mission statement says with what we're doing. One of the major distinctives stressed in the Lenoir-Rhyne College Mission Statement is a religious one. It states that one of the institutional's goals is to "clarify personal faith," and that as "an institution of the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the College holds the conviction that wholeness of personality, true vocation, and the most useful service to God and the world are best discerned from the perspective of Christian faith."

Presumably, the framers of this mission statement believed that this mission could be achieved without succumbing to evangelistic proselytism and thereby compromising the academic integrity its programs. I, for one, believe that's an eminently attainable goal.

Recently, the chair of the committee charged with revamping the college curriculum wrote to me, thanking me for my input apropos our review of the "student outcomes" he had requested of us last year. I had pointed out a number of areas in which I thought there were significant disparities between the stated mission of the college and what we were in fact doing as an institution. He politely thanked me for my observations, and told me he both agreed and disagreed with me. He said he agreed with me on the importance of exploring the meaning of "vocation" (in connection with the mission statement's declaration about clarifying "personal faith"). On the other hand, he said, my concern seemed "a little over the top."

I responded by telling him that our Dean of Academic Programs had asked me about a month ago whether I'd be willing to mount a discussion series with the new faculty along the lines of the "Faith and Institutional Purpose" discussions I led with the Robert Benne book a couple years back. I declined. In my memo to the Dean, I stated that when I agreed to do so last year, only two faculty members turned up, and that if the administration and trustees of the college didn't show a serious commitment to the undertaking, then I didn't see why I, a Roman Catholic, should spend my time flogging a comatose horse that the Lutheran administration showed no interest in resuscitating.

I then said to the committee chair:

I have little illusion about the NC ELCA Synod offering any direction along
these lines, much less the Administration or College Trustees doing so in the
absence of Synodical interest or even understanding. My impression is of a
decided drift in ELCA towards a prophetic stance which consists of holding up
the denominational finger to see which way the wind is blowing. The imperatives
of faith seem to be regarded increasingly as (1) having only a private, personal
relevance, or, (2) insofar as they have any relevance to the world, as echoing
what the secular world is already telling itself.

Hence, it was with some surprise that I received your email offering feedback on my comments about Student Outcomes from a year ago. I am not naive enough to suppose that anything I proposed will ultimately be considered seriously. Nevertheless, since you have taken the trouble to offer some remarks, I offer the following observations.

On the one hand, you say that you've thought a lot about my comments on
value and agree with me. I imagine this has to do with the fact that most of us
tend to assume that an ELCA college like ours ought to have some raison d'etre
-- some noble or pious purpose -- to justify our sacrificial acceptance of its
pathetic salaries.

On the other hand, you say that you may disagree with me and that my
concern "seems a little over the top." And I imagine this has to do with the
aforementioned ELCA drift, from which vantage point taking any position at odds with secular academe would constitute an institutional embarrassment.

You agree about the importance of vocation, but then ask about the
students in our classes who may not even be theists, much less Christian. Well,
what about them? Would we have expected the Apostle Paul to soft-pedal the
Gospel because some of his listeners weren't believers? The issue is not avoided
by pointing out that our venue is academic as opposed to evangelistic.

Look: when I was studying Buddhism in Japan, I took courses in which the instructor made no bones about the fact that his intention was to teach us Buddhism and to convince us of the truth of its Four Noble Truths. Should I have been offended by that? On the contrary, I should have been offended if the instructor singled me and other non-Buddhists out as a reason for watering down his presentation of Buddhism, should I not? Part of being liberally educated means understanding what believing Buddhists actually believe.

In our own case, the question is whether LRC as an institution means anything when it says, in its official mission statement, that it "holds the conviction that wholeness of personality, true vocation, and the most useful service to God and the world are best discerned from the perspective of Christian faith." Would it not be a trifle odd if none of our proposed outcomes even touched on the central component of the college's stated mission and purpose?

Again, I'm not so naive as to suppose that such considerations will constitute more than a passing annoyance to be waived aside like a buzzing fly over dinner. But I leave you with these thoughts, old fashioned enough to suppose that an accounting will someday be expected of our short lives.

Philosophy or bowling -- the new college electives?

Several times since last fall, I have written about the eroding liberal arts curriculum in colleges and universities across the country, as well as in my own instition of Lenoir-Rhyne College. See, e.g., (1) "Designing educational 'outcomes'" (Sept. 18, 2004), (2) "Axing liberal arts courses in a market driven curriculum" (Oct. 4, 2004), (3) "Axing liberal arts courses (part 2)" (Oct. 4, 2004); (4) "Axing liberal arts courses (part 3)" (Oct. 4, 2004); (5) "Deconstructing the liberal arts curriculum" (Oct. 27, 2004); and (6) "On why liberal arts programs are being eroded" (May 11, 2005).

The matter is not merely academic. I have just come out of a meeting today in which the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, of which I am a member, was asked by the chair of the faculty curriculum committee to consider a proposed new liberal arts curriculum in which philosophy is no longer required of all students, but grouped together with a number of electives alongside courses in "physical wellness." Let me translate: a student, under this proposal, would be allowed to choose between Introductory Philosophy and, say, Introductory Bowling. Students would doubtless leap for joy! But from the point of view of anyone schooled in the history and meaning of the liberal arts, this is (to use the words of one of my colleagues in history) simply obscene!

The issues go far deeper than bowling or philosophy. The proposal shows a great poverty of understanding on the part of those faculty members who designed the proposed curricular changes. It reveals an erosion in understanding about the very purpose of liberal arts education, not to mention the place of philosophy in such an education. The problem behind this myopic reasoning is simple: philosophy, like the other liberal arts, has no immediately identifiable utility, therefore it is assumed to lack substantial value. By contrast, courses in "professional" programs -- such as business, marketing, tax law, physical therapy, occupational therapy, exercise science, nursing, computer science, etc. -- are seen as being practically very useful, and therefore valuable. They offer know-how that can be harnessed for useful purposes -- often with great financial rewards -- in the world of business, industry, and the health-related professions. Hence, it's easy to assume that what has no immediate imaginable use must be basically worthless. This, at least is the assumption under which the liberal arts, including philosophy, are being eroded.

While I would be the last to question the value of all that is useful, I would be the first to insist that not all value is reducible to the utilitarian value. This is the great error of our times, especially in first-world countries like the United States. We value work. We value it because it is useful. It builds things, produces consumer articles, and gets things done.

But there are many things that have no utilitarian value that are of great importance. Who doesn't think happiness and pleasure are of great value? Yet we don't value them because they're useful. Useful for what? Nothing. We enjoy them as ends-in-themselves. Who would be such a boor as to question the value of a birthday party! Yet we don't celebrate birthdays because we consider them useful, but simply as ends-in-themselves -- to celebrate the life of an individual as an end-in-itself. Church attendance is not something generally considered useful either; which is likely why church attendance has fallen off so precipitously in our utilitarian work-a-day world. In fact, those who go out, not to go to church, but to go shopping or dining out on Sundays consider it very useful that stores and restaurants should be open on Sundays, and even those who have to work on Sundays consider it useful that they should have another day added to their schedule of gainful employment. Of course, if God does exist, then divine worship must have great value, but not because of any particular usefulness it may have to God or to us. Even leisure is something of great value, though our utilitarian culture pressures us to think even of leisure in terms of its "usefulness" in enabling us to work better. But that, of course, is to miss the point of leisure. Leisure is not something whose primary value is instrumental -- in helping us work harder -- but rather as an end-in-itself. Leisure is the point of work, not vice versa. We work in order to enjoy the leisure it makes possible, not the other way around; and anyone who confuses the means and ends here has lost all sense of what life is for.

If we bought a large wooded property of many hundreds of acres in the mountains, and came across a fence while exploring our newly-acquired lands, it would be foolish to act on an initial impulse to simply knock down the fence, because we couldn't see its point in being there. The fence was presumably built for a purpose, and we should seek to discover it. Likewise with the liberal arts. It would be equally foolish to act on an initial impulse and simply do away with liberal arts courses like philosophy, just because we can't see any use in them. And that is exactly what the designers of this curriculum have done in making philosophy an elective alongside bowling. Not only are they signalling that philosophy is as useless as bowling, however much certain curious individuals may enjoy them; they are signalling that philosophy is of no more value than bowling!

I am not so naive as to suppose that enlightened minds will prevail over the pressures of utilitarian value in the faculty assembly. But one may hope, and argue, and put up a good fight.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A lucky son indeed

Son Benjamin ("Jamie") of Ad Limina Apostolorum is a very lucky son indeed. He works for the Bishops Conference in Washington, DC, and is currently on assignment in Europe with an American team in connection with the World Youth Day in Cologne. Together with a priest with whom he works, he traveled first to Vienna and toured the major Catholic sites, before going on to Cologne. He begins with a post (August 13, 2005) blogged from Vienna Imperial Hotel, where put up because of a delayed flight, continues with a post (August 15, 2005) describing his impression of the Cathedral of St. Stephen and the Church of St. Peter. He continues (August 16, 2005) with a discussion of "Day 1" in Cologne, mostly about beer etiquette and tavern customs. Then, a hike with a number of US bishops, some from the same hotel -- Skylstad (Spokane), Sheridan (Colorado Springs), and Zurek (San Antonio auxiliary) -- down to a small church called St. Mary Major and into the dark crypt for midday Mass. For these and more observations about the unfolding events and bishops' views in Cologne, check out Jamie's posts HERE.

In an email today, Jamie writes that youth with the Juventutem contingent (see my post of August 11, 2005) are "everywhere," and are "very good." He says: "I mean, look at the Cardinals and bishops they have coming. They speak for themselves."

Jamie's brother, Chris (Against the Grain), offers a detailed round up of the opening days of the World Youth Day in Cologne, including the following:
For the traditionalist-minded of my readers, here is some liturgical eye-candy from the Juventutem website -- first photographs from World Youth Day 2005. As Brian from the new blog The New Liturgical Movement says: "Look at the traditionalist
pilgrims' Cologne schedule [.pdf format] . . . and then tell me you're not just a touch jealous." (Read more from Chris here.)
Jamie is also part of a team at the Catholic Conference organizing the Apostolic Visitations of all major seminaries and religious houses in the U.S. planned to begin this Fall. This could be interesting, and is certainly something to be kept in our prayers.

Evolutionist Ignorance Is No Crime

[Note: Oxford University Professor Richard Dawkins (pictured left) has an article in Free Inquiry magazine, Vol. 21, No. 3, entitled "Ignorance Is No Crime" (also published in an online edition in the foregoing link). The following is a parody and a critique -- pace, Professor Dawkins!]

"It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." I first wrote that in a book review in the Metaphysical Times in 1989, and it has been much quoted against me ever since, as evidence of my arrogance and intolerance. Of course it sounds arrogant, but undisguised clarity is easily mistaken for arrogance. Examine the statement carefully and it turns out to be moderate, almost self-evidently true.

By far the largest of the four categories is "ignorant," and ignorance is no crime (nor is it bliss -- I forget who it was said, "If ignorance is bliss, how come there's so much misery about?"). Anybody who thinks the earth is flat has to be ignorant, stupid, or insane (probably ignorant), and you wouldn't think me arrogant for saying so. It is not intolerant to remark that flat-earthers are ignorant, stupid, or (probably) insane. It's just true. It is no less true that anyone who thinks the medievals believed that the earth is flat has to be ignorant, stupid, or insane (probably ignorant), because that myth was invented by the antireligious Frenchman, Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848), and the American storyteller, Washington Irving (1783-1859) [See "The myth that the medievals believed in a flat earth"], and is easily debunked by reading the opening article of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae (ST, I, Q. I, ad 2, or "reply to objection 2"), where he says the earth is round. The difference is that not many well-educated people think that medievals believed the earth was flat, so it isn't worth calling attention to their ignorance. But, if polls are to be believed, thousands of those considered to be well-educated, and many of them professors in the halls of academe, believe that human beings evolved over -- echoing Carl Sagan here -- BILLIONS AND BILLIONS OF YEARS from the primordial ooze of the paleolithic coastlines. This is more serious. People like this have the ear of the press and have national influence, and we have Richard Dawkins (with a little help from his friends at Free Inquiry magazine) to prove it. Their spokesmen dominate school boards in every state. Their views represent a well-entrenched orthodoxy in the great corpus of the sciences, not just biology but physics, geology, astronomy, and many others -- despite the fact that they are based on philosophical (not to mention -- gasp! -- metaphysical) assumptions, which these sciences have no possible way of empirically substantiating. It is, of course, entirely natural to suppose that those ensconced in the ivy covered towers of academe must know what they're talking about. Certainly they often seem to. But our thousands upon thousands of supposedly well-educated Darwinian true believers are another matter. Their heavily influential pontifications, littered with scientific details, turn out to be founded upon metaphysical and epistemological assumptions that science cannot prove scientifically -- assumptions that have, indeed, all the characteristics of an ardent and dogmatically held faith. My "arrogant and intolerant" statement turns out to be nothing but simple truth.

Not only is ignorance no crime, it is also, fortunately, remediable. In the same Metaphysical Times review, I went on to recount my experiences of going on radio phone -- in talk shows around the United States. Opinion polls had led me to expect rigorous, hostile cross-examination from Evolutionist zealots. I encountered little of that kind. I got Evolutionist opinions in plenty, but these were founded on honest metaphysical and epistemological ignorance, as was freely confessed. When I politely and patiently explained to them what Darwinism actually is, they listened not only with equal politeness, but with interest and even amazement. "Gee, that's incredible, I never heard that before! Wow!" These people were not stupid (or insane, or wicked). They believed in Darwinism, but this was because nobody had ever told them what Darwinism is. And because plenty of people had told them (wrongly, according to well-informed theologians) that Darwinism is not ideologically opposed to their cherished religion.

I think it may have been my colleague Dale Burnside (though I could be wrong), who is a professor of biology, who told me the following story. I may have got the details wrong, but it was approximately as follows. He was on an internal flight within the United States, and his neighbor casually asked him what he did for a living. Burnside replied that he was a professor of biology, returning from a summer of paleontological research in sub-Saharan Africa. The man became increasingly interested, so, without ever mentioning Darwin, natural selection, or evolution, Burnside proceeded to eviscerate the dogma. Despite the widespread assumption of trans-species genetic mutations over time, presumably reflected in the fossil record in the sedimentation of the "geological column," Burnside noted that no fossil record of any short-necked giraffes had ever been discovered, and that sometimes the fossil remains of giraffes and large fish could be found extending vertically down through multiple strata representing multiple massive "geological periods" -- mesozoic, paleozoic, precambrian, etc. -- in complete defiance of the prevailing dogma. The man was greatly taken with the brilliant simplicity of his observations, and he asked Burnside the name of the prevailing theory based on these flawed assumptions and where it came from. Only then did Dr. Burnside reveal his hand. "It's called Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection!" The man's whole demeanor instantly changed. He became defensive, asserted abruptly that he was a "well-educated" man who believed the theory of Evolution was well-established, that there was no way in hell he would be caught dead believing anything like "creationism" -- and promptly terminated the conversation.

Ignorant certainly, stupid perhaps, but not wicked. I originally listed "wicked" as one of my possibilities, only for completeness. I have never been sure whether there truly are intelligent, knowledgeable, and sane people who feign belief in Evolution for ulterior motives. Perhaps an academic candidate needs some such dissimulation in order to get hired at most universities. If so, it is sad but possibly not much more reprehensible than the proverbial kissing of babies. Not deeply wicked. There are certainly many Evolutionists who tell lies for propaganda purposes, wantonly and knowingly misconstruing the scientific facts -- from Charles Darwin (1809-1882), and Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) (pictured left), who doctored his embryo drawings to conform to his evolutionist theory of "embryonic recapitulation" in the 19th century, on down to the Piltdown Hoax (1953) in the 20th century. Such dishonesty is documented on several Web sites, and also by Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute with Ph.D.s from both Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley, in his book, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution is Wrong, which recounts his "apostasy" from his earlier indoctrination as an Evolutionist. Coincidentally, the worst occasion when I have been misrepresented in this way involved a liberal theologian, who fraudulently altered my words in an article I had written on the subject, so as to make me appear embecilic. The story is quite amusing in retrospect, though it irritated me at the time. But such minor examples of wickedness can be excused on the grounds that ignorance and stupidity trump wickedness. Are there, then, any examples of Evolutionist poseurs who are not ignorant, stupid, or insane, and who might be genuine candidates for the wicked category? Ernst Haeckel, who certainly cannot be called ignorant, stupid, or insane, nevertheless altered his embryo drawings to conform to his evolutionist theory of "embryonic recapitulation." This is certainly dishonest. Perhaps it is also wicked.

I don't withdraw a word of my initial statement. But I do now think it may have been incomplete. There is perhaps a fifth category, which may belong under "insane" but which can be more sympathetically characterized by a word like tormented, bullied, or brainwashed. Sincere people who are not ignorant, not stupid, and not wicked can be cruelly torn, almost in two, between the massive institutionalized orthodoxy of "science" on the one hand, and their understanding of what the actual facts of science (or their holy book) tells them on the other. I think this is one of the truly bad things that ideological liberal education can do to a human mind. There is wickedness here, but it is the wickedness of the institution and what it does to a believing victim, not wickedness on the part of the victim himself. The clearest example I know is poignant, even sad, and I shall perhaps attempt to do it justice in a later article.

For further reading:
[With a tip of the hat to Edgar Foster]

Monday, August 15, 2005

Fr. O'Leary's unorthodox ("hot tub") Christology (Part II)

What follows is Part II in a series analyzing an essay in Christology by Fr. Joseph O'Leary (pictured left), currently professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan (For the first installment, see Part I: Link)

Chalcedon famously defined Christ's human and divine natures as united in the singular person of Christ. Its technical term was "hypostatic union," or the union of the two natures in an underlying hypostatis, meaning "substrate" or "substance." Remarking on this Chalcedonian clarification of the Church's understanding of who Christ is, Fr. O'Leary says: "Today this clarification is likely to be seen as an estrangement. Our search to articulate the relation of the human and divine dimensions of the Christ-event has to overcome the Chalcedonian perspective through a lucid critique of its limitations." (p. 2) O'Leary hastens to reassure his readers that he's not simply opposing the Council's Christological dogma, but, rather, preparing for "a hermeneutical retrieval of the truth of Chalcedon." (p. 2, emphasis added)

Throughout these statements, one hears the echoes of Martin Heidegger's existentialism, as one does in the demythologizing theology of Rudolf Bultmann. Expressions such as "Christ-event," "overcoming" (usually "overcoming of metaphysics"), and "retrieval" (usually retrieval of something long hidden, like Heidegger's "Being," or Paul Tillich's "Ground of Being") are nuts-and-bolts trade jargon in the industry of theological existentialism.

In order to get at how the divine and human are really related in the "Christ-event," then, O'Leary wants to "overcome" the limitations of Chalcedon in order to hermeneutically "retrieve" what he sees as the underlying "truth of Chalcedon." But before this "truth" (presumably heretofore hidden and overlooked) can be "retrieved," it would be helpful to know why this presumably hidden truth of Chalcedon has been overlooked for so many centuries. Why weren't earlier attempts at uncovering this truth more effective? One reason, O'Leary says, is that "[earlier] critics have been unable to bring into view the nature of the Greek metaphysical horizon within which the classical doctrine developed; here Heidegger offers resources for a critical genealogy which theology has yet to exploit." (p. 2)

Indeed! Just as fish don't know what it means to be wet, earlier theologians didn't know what it was to be immersed in a "Greek metaphysical horizon," because they lacked sufficient critical distance. And it is none other than Heidegger, according to O'Leary, who provides this critical distance through his genealogical deconstruction (or "destruction," as Heidegger sometimes calls it) of the western metaphysical and "onto-theological" tradition. In order to appreciate something of the significance of Heidegger's existential philosophy for such theological undertakings as O'Leary's, it may be helpful to know something about both Heidegger's and existentialism's relationship to Christianity.

Martin Heidegger (pictured right) was at one time a seminarian in formation to become a Catholic priest, but dropped out after losing his faith and went on to become a leading existentialist philosopher -- an existential phenomenologist, to be specific. From the research of John D. Caputo and others, we know that Heidegger translated the categories of his erstwhile Christian faith into secular, existential equivalents, so that his philosophy is in many ways a secularized substitute for his erstwhile faith. "Care," "anxiety," "averageness," "thrownness," "inauthenticity," "authenticity," etc., are all examples of Heideggerian shorthand for denatured Christian notions. Similar patterns in secularized existential theology can be found, for example, in John Macquarrie's Principles of Christian Theology and Paul Tillich's three-volume Systematic Theology. Further, in order to see how loosely tethered the concepts of such existential theology are to the historical claims of the Christian tradition, one may note that for the Nazi theologians -- Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emanuel Hirsch -- "Christ" was reinterpreted to mean the "spirit of National Socialism." In fact, dring the Nazi regime in Germany, Hedegger himself affiliated his vision, which John D. Caputo, following Emmanuel Levinas, describes as a "totalizing ontology," with the totalitarian vision of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. (See Martin Heidegger's German Existentialism, trans. by Dagobert D. Runes [NY: Philosophical Library, 1965] for Heidegger's speeches as the Nazi Rektor of the University of Freiburg) This in no way should be seen as a backhanded attempt at tarring O'Leary with an opprobrious association with Naziism. Rather, it is simply an illustration of how disconnected any such secularized existential theology can become from the historical realities of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

So what is existentialism, exactly? What animates it? Can this question be answered without distinguishing atheistic from Christian existentialism? Perhaps so. Albert Camus (pictured below left), an example of the atheistic variety, once wrote: "A literature of despair is a contradiction in terms .... In the darkest depths of our nihilism I have sought only for the means to transcend nihilism" (quoted in John Cruickshank, Albert Camus and the Literature of Revolt [NY: Oxford UP, 1960], p. 3). Atheistic existentialism accepts the nihilistic account of the objective world that emerged historically from the worldview of naturalism, which, hard on the heels of deism, rejected the supernatural. With a mechanistically understood, deterministic closed-box universe, objective reality yields no hope of meaning. In the face of this hopelessness, the essence of existentialism may be described as the attempt to transcend nihilism. But how? The answer: through subjectivity. What can that mean? Camus declared that he was utterly certain of two propositions: (1) that he could not live without meaning, and (2) that life has no objective meaning. But rather than commit suicide, which would seem to have a prima facie logical compulsion, Camus embraced what he called an "absurd logic," by which he affirmed life (as in the myth of Sisyphus) despite its absurdity. Even if there is no objective meaning to be discovered, meaning can be subjectively generated, even if it is only through metaphysical rebellion.

What about Christian existentialism? There are always hazards in generalizing, but I think we can safely say this: Existential theologians tend to view the world in terms of two levels -- the objective and the subjective. On the objective level, like their atheistic counterparts, they tend to accept the account offered by a naturalistic world view, which excludes the supernatural, shutting the lid on the universe, as it were. Hence, the meaningful dimensions of the Christian Faith are nowhere to be found on that level. On that level, the Bible is viewed as an entirely human book, full of errors and subject to ineluctable skepticism. If the essence of existentialism lies in the attempt to transcend nihilism, then how do Christian existentialists propose this be done? The answer, again, is through subjectivity. In other words, the only meaning available is going to be that encountered on the level of subjective experience. Hence, while denying that the miracles mentioned in the Bible ever objectively happened, existential theologians affirm that miracles may happen as part of the "phenomena" of our personal experience. The "Jesus of History" may be a rotted corpse somewhere in Palestine. But the "Christ of Faith" is alive in our hearts and in the life-changing experiences within the believing "kairos" community. Existentialist theologians such as Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Barth (if we read him carefully) are replete with such suggestions. Even Soren Kierkegaard (pictured right), the Lutheran father of the existentialist movement, though he may not have succumbed to the worst of these tendentious errors, defined truth as "subjectivity," and faith as "the objective uncertainty along with the repulsion of the absurd held fast in the passion of inwardness" (Training in Christianity, trans. by Walter Lowrie [Princeton UP, 1944], quoted in Robert C. Solomon, ed., Existentialism [NY: Random House, 1974], p. 27). The pattern is clear, and it will be helpful to bear in mind as we return to O'Leary's essay.

So what does O'Leary envision when he suggests that "Chalcedon can be applied still more radically than its defenders have done"? (p. 3) What does he mean when he says "still more radically"? As will eventually become clear, I think, what he wants is a Christ of Faith who is freed from the constraints of the Jesus of History -- a Christ who lives in our subjective personal experience in a rich and meaningfully-felt way in the collective experience of the community of believers -- not a Christ who is dogmatically linked to the Jesus of history by "fundamentalist literalism" about such things as the Incarnation ("Jesus is God") or the Resurrection ("Jesus was bodily raised in space and time") or His claims about everlasting punishment and about nobody being able to come to the Father "but by me" (Jn 14:6).

His immediate strategy is to exploit the Chalcedonian opposition to docetic and monophysite heresies (which denied the full humanity of Jesus) in order to assert that our obligation to embrace the full humanity of Jesus requires us to think of Him as something less than fully God, or, more precisely, of His human nature as not fully informed by His divine nature. First of all, he sets the stage by criticizing the limitations of the Chalcedonian perspective in the work of one of its foremost exponents, St. Thomas Aquinas. O'Leary writes:

Within scholastic perspectives, reinforced by Aristotelean conceptuality, it is hard to do justice to the link with biblical vision which Chalcedon had retained. Thus Aquinas takes the Gospel accounts of Jesus' preternatural insight and miraculous powers to warrant ascription to him of the greatest knowledge and power possible in a creature, including the capacity to see in the Word all that the Word sees. Only historical scholarship has allowed us to recover Jesus as a human being sharing the cognitive limitations of his culture. (pp. 3-4)
Several things are being asserted here. First, "scholastic perspectives" are clearly considered inadequate. Second, they are considered inadequate because they don't do justice to the full humanity of Jesus. O'Leary cites Aquinas as an example of a scholastic who, he thinks, fails to do justice to the full humanity of Jesus. This can be seen, according to O'Leary, in Aquinas ascribing to Jesus the "the capacity to see in the Word all that the Word sees." It's intersting that O'Leary refers to "Jesus" (= Historical Jesus) here, and not "Christ" (= "Christ of Faith"), although I suspect that, if pressed, he would accommodate some flexibility in language here, if not of conceptualization. It's also interesting that he describes Aquinas as ascribing to Jesus "the greatest knowledge and power possible in a creature" (emphasis added). I suppose this is only carelessness, as I would hope O'Leary would not go so far as to suggest that the Jesus of History was a "creature," in Arian fashion; but the slip, if it is a slip, is an interesting one. Third, O'Leary says that "historical scholarship," by which he means the secularized protestant historical-critical tradition of biblical studies, "has allowed us to recover Jesus as a human being sharing the cognitive limitations of his culture." Just what sort of a "recovery" does he have in mind?

O'Leary quickly assures his readers that his "recovery" is "not in conflict with the Chalcedonian tradition," that, in fact, Chalcedon "kept the stage clear for it" and allowed the Church "to take aboard the findings of scholarship as a welcome confirmation" of the humanity of Christ. Then he tells us what his "recovery" entails:

It helps us take in our stride the possibility that the human Jesus may have erred, due to the limitations of the framework of his eschatological thinking; such errors could include not only the Naherwartung [the expectation of an imminent return of Christ] (Mk 9:1; Mt 10:23), but the elements in his teaching that gave rise to anti-Jewish supersessionist doctrine (Mk 12:9) and notions of eternal punishment. (p. 4)
So whatever may be said of the pre-incarnate Word, the Jesus of History is a fallible human being, whose possible errors may have included not only errors in judgment about the timing of His second coming, but theological errors in his teachings concerning the relation of His Gospel to Judaism and the doctrine of hell. I have dealt with this notion of a fallible Jesus in some detail in an earlier discussion entitled "To Err is Divine???" so I will not belabor the question here. Suffice it to sum up by noting that O'Leary sees this fallible Jesus as a logical consequence of Chalcedon's affirmation of the full humanity of Christ and it's opposition to docetic and monophysitic heresies. Yet Catholic tradition, in addition to affirming the full humanity of Christ, affirms the hypostatic union of Christ's human and divine natures in the single person of Jesus Christ, with full communicatio idiomata, meaning that the properties of the Divine Word can be ascribed to the human Christ, and vice versa. Catholic tradition therefore affirms that Christ's human knowledge was free from positive ignorance and from error, a view with which O'Leary's proposals cannot be squared.

How, then, does O'Leary understand the Incarnation? "Chalcedon," he writes, "has often been taken to teach a massive ontological amalgamation of divine and human substances," which can be best expressed in such forthright statements as "Jesus is God," "the God-man," "God became man," and so forth. But an "authentic" Chalcedonian understanding of the communicatio idiomata, he says, can help to "smooth away some of the unease" of statements such as these. Statements like "Jesus is a man" and "The Logos is God" are direct predications, he says, but "Jesus is God" is misleading shorthand that needs to be spelled out carefully. He writes:

Because the man Jesus is hypostatically one with the eternal Logos, we can attribute to this one person all the attributes of the humanity and of the divinity; thus we can say 'Jesus is God', 'Jesus created the world' or 'The Logos was born of Mary', 'The Logos suffered and died', as long as we ward off any suggestion that the human nature as such acquires divine qualities or that the divine nature as such is subject to human limitations. (p. 4)
This statement is perfectly orthodox as far as it goes. What remains in question is how the properties of these divine and human natures are understood to be united in a common hypostasis, or substrate. O'Leary says: "The ultimate hypostasis of Jesus Christ is God's eternal Word," but then adds that God the Son, as a trinitarian mode of being, cannot be called a "person" in the ordinary human sense, suggesting that the innate limitations of the Chalcedonian formulation cannot be easily overcome:

Yet however subtly one expounds Chalcedon -- at the risk, indeed, of making it a wax nose --, people will object: Is it not enough to say that in Jesus we encounter the living God? The pursuit of the ontological grounds of this encounter seems epistemologically dubious and has divisive and alienating effects. Moreover, others may experience God's self-disclosure just as definitively elsewhere. 'Jesus was and is divine for those who experience in him the manifestation of God ...' writes J.D. Crossan, in Who Killed Jesus (San Francisco, 1996), p. 216.
Note what is being asserted here -- (1) the limitations of Chalcedon; (2) the supplanting of those limitations via the objection raised in preference for a personal "encounter" with the living God (here the existential primacy of subjective experience surfaces); (3) the negative judgment on the Chalcedonian-inspired pursuit of the (objective metaphysical) "ontological grounds" of this (subjective) "encounter" as "epistemologically dubious" and having "divisive and alienating effects." What O'Leary has in mind here is the "divisive and alienating effects" of asserting that the living God is encountered in His fullness solely in the unique person of Jesus of Nazareth. (4) this is confirmed by his assertion that God's self-disclosure is "experienced" by others (non-Christians) "just as definitevely elsewhere," and by the quotation from Crossan, which asserts the subjectivistic sophomorism that "Jesus was and is divine for those who experience in him the manifestation of God." Thus, the classic existential patter of disconnection between subjectivity and objectivity becomes apparent -- the disconnection between (a) the experienced subjective Christ encountered in non-rational, personal faith and (b) the objective Christ defined by dogmatic tradition so as to link Him ineluctably to the empirical Jesus of history, who is open to rational investigation. No wonder O'Leary could state, in another context, that it was "an open question" among the students in his seminary days whether the archiological discovery of Jesus' body in Palestine would refute the reality of the Resurrection! (See "Fr. O'Leary on the Resurrection") The "Christ" encountered in the warm, fuzzy "hot tub" categories of existentialist theologians has little more to do with the Jesus Christ of historic Christianity and the Gospel accounts than the "Buddy Christ" (pictured right) of Bishop George Carlin in the Kevin Smith film, Dogma.

(To be continued ...)

  • All pagination is from the printed internet essay (which may be vary with printer specifications), not from the published article in Archivio di Filosofia, vol. 67, 1999.
  • Anyone wishing to access an online copy of O'Leary's essay my do so from O'Leary.Org.

Visiting friends in Atlanta

This past Friday, we drove to Atlanta and visited some good friends of the family. In fact, John Bell, pictured left with his new grand-daughter, Zoe, is my best friend from our childhood together in Japan, where both his parents and mine were missionaries. We've known each other from as far back as the second grade, if my memory serves me. Only, unlike me, he did not attend Japanese public school. Still, we were both fluent in Japanese, and to this day when we're dining in a restaurant together, we may switch to Japanese if we don't want anyone to know what we're saying to each other.

John is a sort of Renaissance Man, having served as a Methodist minister for some 15 years, before becoming a Catholic. He's also practically omniscient when it comes to history, and could probably make a bundle of money if he was ever willing to go on a show like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." A couple of times he's come in first in the nation in National Trivia Network competitions, but he has many other fish to fry besides trivia games.

Pictured right is his brilliant son, Joshua, who graduated at the top of his class from high school this summer and is beginning his tenure as a college student at the University of Georgia in Athens. Pictured with him is his beautiful sister, Emily, who is works as a manager of an apartment complex in Stockbridge. John also has another beautiful and artistic daughter, Megan, who is just starting high school and is planning to begin RCIA classes this September. Please keep her and all of John's family in your prayers.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Dom Alcuin Reid on Benedict XVI and Liturgical Reform

Dom Alcuin Reid, a monk of Farnborough in the UK, is a brilliant liturgical scholar and author of The Organic Development of the Liturgy: The Principles of Liturgical Reform and Their Relation to the 20th Century Liturgical Movement Prior to the Second Vatican Council, and editor of Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy With Cardinal Ratzinger: Proceedings of the July 2001 Fontgombault Liturgical Conference. If anyone's opinion about the future prospects of the Mass of the Roman Rite should mean something, it's his.

In June of this year an article by Reid entitled "Benedict XVI and liturgical reform" appeared in the pages of AD 2000, Vol. 18, No. 15 (June 2005), p. 9. (The title above is linked to an online edition). In this article, he gives his frank assessment of the prospects for liturgical reform under the pontificate of Pope Benedict. Among other things, Reid says:

[Pope Benedict] has stated categorically in [God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald] and elsewhere that proscriptions against the traditional Mass should be lifted. So there is little doubt that we shall see freedom granted to the traditional Latin Mass. But we shall not see its forcible re- imposition, nor the reversal of the reforms of Paul VI.
Yet again, Reid observes:

Those who have spoken with the Cardinal about Redemptionis Sacramentum have no doubt that, as Pope, he would require not only its observance by all who prepare and celebrate the Liturgy, but also its enforcement by bishops, for he knows and appreciates the deep suffering caused by those who depart from the norms of the liturgical books.
And finally:

Pope Benedict XVI will not act beyond his competence in respect of the Sacred Liturgy, but he will act, for he is convinced that, as he wrote in 1997, "the true celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is the centre of any renewal of the Church whatever."
The article goes into some detail about Pope Benedict's theological development and offers considerable data apropos the question of future liturgical prospects. Read the whole article here.

(A tip of the hat to David L. Alexander for his referral.)

World Youth Day to feature a pre-Vatican II Latin Mass

Our dicesan Catholic paper, The Catholic News and Herald (August 5, 2005), carried an article (p. 3), in a column headed "From the Vatican," entitled "Pre-Vatican II Latin Mass to be celebrated during World Youth Day." Googling key words from the headline turned up this report from Catholic News Service, dated July 22, 2005, the same article that was republished in our diocesan paper. The German group mounting the Latin Mass pilgrimage, called "Juventutem," has it's own website, which states the following (in its own English translation):

Who are we? In response to the invitation of the Pope John-Paul II, a delegation of young attached to the tridentine liturgy (Mass of Saint Pius V) officially organizes a festival within the World Youth Days. The delegation will be made up of young people coming from more than 20 countries. Before the week in Cologne, roads and a gathering will be organized in Bavaria, in the splendid area of the lake of Constance. (Source)
A Juventutem press release says that Cardinals E. Francis George of Chicago and Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, will address the group in Cologne and will lead the pilgrimage members in prayer. Australian Cardinal George Pell of Sydney will celebrate vespers and Benediction with them, it said. Others bishops and cardinals in the litany of those meeting with the group include the following:
  • Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux, president of the French episcopal conference;
  • Bishop Fernando Areas Rifan, Personal Apostolic Administrator of the St. John Mary Vianney Administration of Campos, Brazil, which uses the Traditional Missal exclusively;
  • Bishop George Alencherry of Thuckalay, India (Kerala);
  • Archbishop Wolfgang Haas of Vaduz, Liechtenstein;
  • Archbishop Georg Eder Emeritus from Salzburg (Austria);
  • Bishop Andre-Mutien Leonard of Namur (Belgium);
  • Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, USA; and
  • Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of Copenhague, Denmark. (Source)
Googling "Juventutem" turns up page after page of websites across the United States and around the world promoting the movement. Interesting ...

Adoremus Society opposed to "reform of the reform"?

Some of you may remember the letter to the editor of Adoremus Bulletin (July-August, 2005), which I published online in an uncut version under the heading of "Three Liturgical Movements?" (July 21, 2005). Some of you may also remember a book by the Rev. Thomas M. Kocik, entitled Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate: Reform or Return (San Diego: Ignatius Press, 2003), which I suggested for further reading at the end of my "Three Liturgical Movements?" article and have recommended from time to time (e.g., "Ratzinger on Liturgy," Nov. 22, 2004; and "I, Liturgist," March 1, 2005).

Well -- Lo, and behold! -- in yesterday's mail I received a letter (dated August 5, 2005) from the Rev. Thomas M. Kocik himself, responding to my letter in the Adoremus Bulletin. He writes:
I read your letter in the July-August isue of Adoremus Bulletin, in which you state that the Adoremus Society (or at least the AB staff) seems more interested in correcting abuses to the so-called Novus Ordo than in what Pope Benedict calls a "reform of the reform" (movement #2, in your letter).
Rev. Kocik then goes on to observe that the Editor's reply to my letter, which insisted that the two agendas are not mutually opposed," seemed to avoid engaging the point I was raising in my letter. Kocik continues:
Allow me to share something that seems to corroborate your suspicion. In 2003, Ignatius Press published my book, Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate: Reform or Return. Much of the book takes the form of a debate between two imaginary traditionally minded Catholics: the one advocates a wholesale return to the "Tridentine" rite; the other argues for reforming the reform in keeping with what Vatican II actually mandated (and no more). Soon after the book was published, I wrote to [the Editor of the Adoremus Bulletin] to ask her if there were plans to publicize the book in AB (by way of an ad or an article). To my disappointment, she did not reply. Later, I submitted an article concerning the reform of the reform to AB, which she turned down because she deemed it "unsuitable" to the needs of Adoremus. How very curious, given that one of the founders of the Adoremus Society, Father Fessio, heads Ignatius Press and is a prominent proponent of reforming the reform. And how ironic that The Latin Mass magazine would feature [a] favorable review of my book, but not the allegedly "reformist" AB!

Methinks you're on to something, Professor.
Fr. Thomas M. Kocik is a hospital chaplain in Falls River, Massachusetts, and an assistant pastor at St. Thomas More Parish in Sommerset, Massachusetts.

How a scientific mind rediscovered the reality of God

Some of you may remember a piece I posted some time ago called "Why Mary Wept at Arlington" (June 11, 2005), about the supernatural events that were reported to have occurred at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Arlington, Virginia. The events reported from that parish were published in a book entitled The Seton Miracles, as well as in an online account at The Marian Foundation. I concluded my post with the observation: "People are often skeptical and dismissive of such phenomena as traditional Catholic superstition. See for yourself."

Many of you may be interested to know that, despite such prevailing skepticism, such events, by what can only be described as the working of the Holy Spirit, often compel belief in honestly inquiring minds and bring about remarkable changes in their lives. One such individual is Jacob Yoder, the brother of a former student of mine, Matthew, who became a Catholic some years ago. Jacob, it should be noted, is of a scientific bent, both by temper and profession, which makes his story particularly interesting. He majored in physics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, from which he graduated in 2002. He is currently working on his doctorate in experimental nuclear physics at the University of Urbana-Champaigne, in Illinois. With his permission, I share with you the following letter, which I received from him yesterday (August 8, 2008) by email:

August 8, 2005

Greetings Phil,

Before you read any further, I thought I should make clear that I'm Jacob, Matthew's brother, not your LRC colleague. I thought you might appreciate my reflections on The Seton Miracles, which you recommended on your blog a month or two ago.

I'll try to avoid being long winded, but some background on my faith is in order. I was raised Lutheran, and drifted to agnosticism around the age of 17. That agnosticism slowly hardened into atheism, although I would have claimed to be an agnostic on the principle that atheism was another kind of faith and therefore unreasonable. But in fact, I was deeply pessimistic about the concept of an eternal soul. I thought man's fear of death was so great that desperate men came up with the notion of God to comfort themselves. It was a reasonable explanation, or so I thought. I now realize that this sort of explanation (or others like it) was convincing primarily because I had already made the atheistic assumption.

Three months ago, I found myself more and more depressed about the whole affair. Any attempt I made to find meaning in the Universe was thwarted. Even though I would die, my children (and other humans) would live on. Live on, until our sun went red giant that is. The universe has a number of nearly insuperable hurdles for us, according to astrophysicists. First our sun will expand and make earth uninhabitable. Then it will burn out and provide almost no light at all. Eventually, the entire universe will shut down, and all heat transfer will stop (known as the "heat death", a principle arising from thermodynamics). I ran out of ways to convince myself that anything I did had any meaning at all. Oddly enough, I've always thought relativism was stupid, even though I had intellectually convinced myself that there could be no meaning to the universe. Hedonism had no appeal for me. So I was adrift. I was overwhelmed by this sort of thinking for about a week, though it felt like it lasted years.

It was in this spirit of desperation that I said, "Christ help me!" I read the Gospels in a couple of days, and started my road back to Christianity. I read some Lewis and some Chesterton. I've been going to church. My faith has been slowly getting less wobbly. So it is in this context that I read The Seton Miracles. And what timing!

The Seton Miracles is an account that overwhelms (in a good way) the reader with evidence of the weeping statues seen in the vicinity of Father Bruse, as well as the "miracles of the sun" that several people witnessed. I was left with three logical choices concerning the truthfulness of this account:

1) James Carney is a shameless liar.
2) Everyone at St. Elizabeth Anne Seton is either a liar or mentally incompetent.
3) God is present and active in the world.

Option 1 seems fairly unlikely since parishioners at SEAS (many of whom he named) would call him out, and it is also unlikely that the Marian Foundation would have published such a gross lie. Option 2 seems fairly absurd. It would be a conspiracy greater that any ever conceived by mankind (that is real conspiracies, not the Area 51/Jews control the world kind). So I am left with option 3. The truly amazing thing to me was to realize that before I regained my faith, I would have been forced simply to ignore the evidence in The Seton Miracles and assume there was some sort of "reasonable explanation". The joy I felt in reading this account was nearly overpowering.

I must confess that before I picked up The Seton Miracles, my nascent theology had God pegged as more or less a clock maker type. How in my mind I squared this away with a risen Christ I don't really know. That notion has been thoroughly dispelled. This book was the shove I needed to pursue a more personal relationship with Christ, as well as to think more carefully about epistemology (a word I picked up from my brother -- I never took philosophy).

In short, this was the right book at the right time for me. I would recommend it to any new Christian, or anyone questioning whether God really cares.

In Christ,

Jacob Yoder

P.S. I apologize for the length of this message. I wrote this email as much to document my faith journey as to convey to you the impact of The Seton Miracles.