Monday, April 30, 2007

Commentary on Archbishop Ranjith interview

Luc Perrin, "A broad liturgical program for the Hermeneutic of Continuity?" (Rorate Caeli, April 29, 2007) -- Luc Perrin, professor of Church History at the Faculté de Théologie Catholique of the University of Strasbourg 2-Marc Bloch, presents a selection, with comments, of the main aspects of the recent interview of the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), Archbishop A. M. Ranjith, published by the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN).

Rorate Caeli's concluding observations offer context for the Archbishop's (and Perrin's) very interesting observations:
The fact this interview is given in a somewhat discreet mode, the other fact that this broad and wise interpretation is, for the moment, expressed only by the secretary of CDW, and pretty much ignored by the episcopal college – both considerations show there is much work to do, either in Rome to provide proper workers to the Lord's vineyard or in our various communities to promote the need for a «correction of course».

The repeatedly postponed «motu proprio» freeing the Traditional Roman Rite, which is not mentioned in Sacramentum caritatis, is also a proof that not everyone has understood, as the Archbishop did, the dynamics of «new trends emerging universally, one of which is a fresh appreciation of the Church's bi-millennial Latin heritage ».

Sunday, April 29, 2007

An interview on Limbo

An exclusive interview with a member of the Pontifical Theological Commission on the controversial topic of original sin, baptism, salvation, and the doctrine of limbo -- Andrew Rabel, "Limbo: In or Out?" (Inside the Vatican).

[Hat tip to S.F.]

Related: "Vatican panel consults Bernard Realist, nixes Limbo" (Musings, April 23, 2007).

Friday, April 27, 2007

Shea: "There are no second-class liturgies ... Period"

Mark Shea continues his earlier diatribe (Motu Propu Mania, April 25, 2007) against obsessing over "nitnoid details of liturgy" with a new post, "Why Liturgical Obsessives Don't Have Any Friends" (April 27, 2007), raising the question whether he isn't beginning to obsess a bit over the liturgical question.

He ends his piece thus: "There are no second-class liturgies and there are no second-class Catholics. Period. End of story." His argument seems to boil down to something like this: The Mass is the Mass is the Mass. The Eucharist is the Eucharist is the Eucharist. Externals are externals are externals. There is a whole dissertation there waiting to be written and a whole hornets' nest of assumptions begging to be challenged. I would personally start at a gentle distance with a pleasant book like Tom Howard's Chance, or the Dance? My positivist friends won't read it because they think it's probably irrelevant poetic fluff. In fact, it blows the head of the fact-value dichotomy clean off its shoulders. And that's a good place to start if you want to talk about objective standards of beauty and liturgical fittingness.

Of related interest:
"Mark Shea yawns over the motu whazzit?" (Musings, April 27, 2007)

The controversial apostolate of Opus Dei

Many Catholics and Catholic converts -- myself included -- have considered ourselves immeasurably enriched by the spirituality, apostolate and prelature of St. Josemaria Escriva. As some of you may recall, Scott Hahn came out with an appreciative book on his experience of Opus Dei from his early years with the work in Milwaukee while he was finishing his graduate studies at Marquette University (Scott Hahn, Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei).

Yet the work, ethos, spirituality and even theology of Opus Dei continues to evoke controversy. Most of the controversy is from the proverbial 'left', which, like Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, paints Opus Dei as a clandestine haven for albino monk hit men for the murky Vatican underworld. But not all of the opposition is left-wing. Some can be found from the radical right of Catholic traditionalism as well.

For example, a traditionalist reader recently wrote me (and keep in mind this was email, which lends itself, at times, to unqualified statements):
I fear that many Protestant converts since Vatican II have failed to appreciate the spiritual formation of Catholics. There are few priests today even qualified to be either adequate confessors or spiritual fathers. An exception is the Eastern Catholics. Ukrainian writers like Adam A.J. deVille and Fr. Myroslaw Tataryn have a sure grasp of Catholic spirituality. DeVille's excursus on St. Maximus the Confessor (online) is the clearest exposition of this saint I have ever seen.

Many turn to Opus Dei ... seeking spiritual direction. Unfortunately Opus Dei diverges from authentic Catholic tradition in significant ways. Vide Pastoral Look at Opus Dei on Angelus online. [Nicolas Dehan, OPUS DEI: A STRANGE PASTORAL PHENOMENON, English translation by Suzanne Rini from Le Sel de la Terre (No. 11).]

Pere Francois Vallet and Padre Escriva de Balaguer appeared in Spain at the very same time. Vallet was exiled by the bishops who feared his influence, while Escriva was embraced because he flattered them.

Most Protestant converts have some acquaintance with Newman's writings. Indeed many call themselves Newmanists. But they fail to appreciate Newman's teaching on Holiness. It was living saints that drew Newman to Catholicism. No such persons existed in Anglicanism. That is why the work of Fr. Stanley Jaki is so essential. Especially his Apologetics as Meant by Newman. The speculative writing of Newman is intoxicating (neoKantian, subjectivist) but the real Newman was trying to be a saint by following the simplest examples close to him.

Mark Shea yawns over the motu whazzit?

Mark Shea writes (Motu Proprio Mania, April 25, 2007):
Got word yesterday from a well-spaced plource [sic.] that the long-awaited motu proprio will be out in May. I mention this, not because I care about this, but because so many at St. Blog's do--passionately.

Me: I haven't even bothered to find out what a motu proprio is, nor have I much been interested in the subject of this one.
Shea says his eyes start to cross when St. Blog's begins obsessing over the "nitnoid details of liturgy," and so he has habitually skipped over motu proprio discussions except for this one.

Shea says that he shares with Tom Kreitzberg a profound disinterest in liturgical policing. His own attitude, he says, is "Just give me my lines and my blocking"; and then he will endeavor to learn and forget about them in precisely the same way he endeavors to break in his shoes. "The point of shoes is not to notice them, but to walk in them. Shoes you constantly notice are Bad Shoes. Liturgy you obsess over is liturgy that's not doing it's job, which is to refer us to God, not to itself."

I'm not sure whether Shea is alluding here to the well-known analogy C.S. Lewis once made between liturgy and dance, suggesting that a dance succeeds only when one can forget about his steps and enjoy focusing all of his attention upon his Partner. Of course, that cannot happen if the steps of the dance are constantly being changed. It's a good point.

But this point tends to get lost in Shea's dismissiveness of traditional Catholic liturgical concerns -- concerns of the kind that (as anyone familiar with the former Cardinal Ratzinger's writings on the subject of liturgy may suspect) might even motivate the Holy Father's eventual publication of a motu proprio liberalizing the Traditional Latin Mass.

Shea writes:
There are two basic reasons you focus on liturgy instead of God, just as there are two reasons a man will focus on his shoes. It may be that the shoes or the liturgy hurt. But it may also be that the man is a hypochondriac who imagines pain where there is none or who grossly exaggerates small irritations into great ones. I've no doubt that there's lots of little and big liturgical abuse out there (which is the fault of the abuser, not the liturgy, and I doubt a motu proprio will stop such people). But I also know there are an awful lot of Liturgical Police in the pews who spend far more time obsessing over nitnoid details of liturgy and grumbling than actually praying. Far better to "look along" the liturgy at God than to spend all one's time looking at it.
First, while Shea makes an important point here about the importance of focusing on God, this is too facile. He is too dismissive of the first option. Not only can shoes pinch. Some shoes are incapable of ever being broken in. They deserve to be scrapped and replaced.

Second, when abuses have become an institutionalized part of our liturgy, it's too facile to absolve the 'liturgy' and blame the 'abusers' of the liturgy. The problem is that so many mainstream Catholics have grown so accustomed to the way things are that they've lost any sense of historical drift. Part of the reason for familiarizing oneself with the Traditional Latin Mass is to get his bearings and see where he stands today. In fact, the most frightening situation is where people have gotten so inured to the numbing pinch in their shoes that they don't feel the damage they may be doing to their feet.

Third, while I know that Shea understands that liturgy is intended as an means of focusing on God, there is just a hint of a possibility -- in his disjunction between focusing on liturgy vs. focusing on God -- of seeing one's relationship to God as separable from liturgy, ritual, priesthood, sacraments, and the Church -- as in Protestantism. But as he points out, good liturgy draws our attention to God and is thus precisely our means to focusing upon God, whereas bad liturgy draws attention to itself, hampering our efforts to find and focus upon God. In the sacramental outlook of Catholicism, worship is embodied in liturgy -- the two are inseparable; and I know Shea wouldn't disagree.

More helpful, I think, if more painful, is the suggestion of Zippy Catholic in "For Christ's Sake" (April 11, 2007):
Personally I think it would be wonderfully healthy for the Mystical body of Christ if the majority of Catholics who presently attend Novus Ordo masses were required to attend exclusively the Tridentine Rite for the next twenty years; and likewise, if the majority of those who presently attend the Tridentine Rite were required, for the next twenty years, to attend a Novus Ordo guitar mass exclusively. And kneel at the rail and keep your hands to yourself/sing along if you want Communion, respectively.

The reason this occurs to me isn't, by the way, because I think the particulars of the liturgy are unimportant. The reason this occurs to me is because I think the particulars of the liturgy are extraordinarily important.
Zippy, by the way, describes his own orientation (in Liturgical Codependence, April 10, 2007) thus:
My politics are almost medieval; my liturgical and cultural orientation is arch-traditional; I don't think much of modern democracy (in fact I think voting for anyone in many races is probably a sin); I think the Inquisition was mostly a good thing that got out of hand in some isolated cases because of political corruption; I believe in objective standards of beauty; I disagree profoundly with my friend Mike Liccione about embracing the label "neo-Catholic" as a positive thing (I think "traditionalist" needs to be restored to its rightful linguistic status as high praise), and my most common visceral disagreements with the things written by my other friend Mark Shea arise when what he says comes off to me as too modern and conciliatory. He is just too much of a punch-pulling lovable teddy bear and a coddler of modernist attitudes, the big wuss.
Mark Shea, my friend, just so you know: I would never, like Zippy, call you "a wuss." Nor even a "knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing liturgical troglodyte." That would just be so ... philistine. Love, peace, and happiness.

Postmodern dysfunctional humor at its best

Don't watch this movie if you can't stomach significant familial dysfunction and some foul language. But Little Miss Sunshine (2006) is not only the funniest film that I've seen in some years, but one of those rare contemporary comedies in which the director permits genuine human bonds of affection to surface in the most unexpected if quirky ways amidst the angst-ridden absurdity of their postmodern lives. The following is from the commercial plot synopsis:
Olive [Abigail Breslin] is a little girl with a dream: winning the Little Miss Sunshine contest. Her family wants her dream to come true, but they are so burdened with their own quirks, neuroses, and problems that they can barely make it through a day without some disaster befalling them. Olive's father Richard [Greg Kinnear] is a flop as a motivational speaker, and is barely on speaking terms with her mother [Toni Collette]. Olive's uncle Frank [Steve Carell], a renowned Proust scholar, has attempted suicide following an unsuccessful romance with a male graduate student. Her brother Dwayne [Paul Dano], a fanatical follower of Nietzsche, has taken a vow of silence, which allows him to escape somewhat from the family whose very presence torments him. And Olive's grandfather [Alan Arkin] is a ne'er-do-well with a drug habit, but at least he enthusiastically coaches Olive in her contest talent routine. Circumstances conspire to put the entire family on the road together with the goal of getting Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine contest in far off California.
The comic denouement of the story involves an ironic indictment of the beauty pageant industry's premature sexualization of little girls -- ironic because the contestant most innocent of such sexualization is Olive, who ends up scandalizing the audience in a most endearingly innocent way. The story as a whole, postmodern product that it is, lacks any kind of overarching meta-narrative to give it ultimate coherence or meaning. Yet unlike films such as Crash or House of Sand and Fog, which seem intent on telling us that there is something unsalvageably lost or corrupt in each of us, this film seems intent on showing us how even the most hopelessly unsalvageable lives may have humanly redeemable qualities. Bear in mind, though, when all is said and done and the laughter ends, it remains a thoroughly postmodern story. If this sounds like something you can stomach and you're tired of seeing Brideshead Revisited for the 30th time, this may be worth seeing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

New Liz vocals online

Some of you may remember my musical niece, Elizabeth, who though gifted in classical music, ventured off in the direction of electro pop with some productions and performances of her own last year. We posted a link about her, "Liz goes solo" (Musings, May 23, 2006). My favorite song from the earlier online selection of her downloads (no longer available online) was entitled "Lament," a wistfully beautiful piece.

Well, Liz has hauled off and done it again. My sister in Philly just sent me the link to three of her pieces available on Liz's Myspace Music site (she goes by the winsome name 'Ghhrfy'). This is not Palestrina, obviously, but there's little question Liz is a very talented young lady. If you're interested, check out her music. If you like it, she has an EP for sale.

Liz is presently completing her undergraduate education at Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois. She is engaged to be married in Portugal next summer. Yes, the young man is a Catholic. She is not, although I know her to be a committed evangelical Christian. Your prayers are solicited.

Homosexual socialization of school children

In Massachusetts, the homosexual socialization of children in schools proceeds apace, Part I and Part II.

[Hat tip to M.F.]

Vatican: gay marriage 'evil', abortion & euthanasia 'terrorism'

Philip Pullella, "Vatican official calls gay marriage 'evil'" (, April 24, 2007):
Vatican City - The Vatican's second-highest ranking doctrinal official on Monday forcefully branded homosexual marriage an evil and denounced abortion and euthanasia as forms of "terrorism with a human face".

The attack by Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was the latest in a string of speeches made by either Pope Benedict or other Vatican officials as Italy considers giving more rights to gays.
He denounced a number of "evils that remain almost invisible" because the media presented them as "expression of human progress." Among these he listed abortion clinics, which he called "slaughterhouses of human beings", euthanasia, and "parliaments of so-called civilised nations where laws contrary to the nature of the human being are being promulgated, such as the approval of marriage between people of the same sex..."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sex slave co-eds & high school playmates

[Advisory: While this post does not contain any explicitly offensive language, it does deal with a topic that some may find offensive.]

The word is that coital sexual intercourse is down among teens and college students (at least relatively) and that oral sex is up -- even among early teens and pre-teens.

This observation, indeed, is a 'relative' one: according to the Guttmacher Institute, at least three-quarters of teenagers in the developed world have sexual intercourse by age 20, and teenagers in the U.S. are more likely to have sexual intercourse before age 15 and shorter and more sporadic sexual relationships -- and therefore more partners -- than teenagers in Canada, France, Great Britain and Sweden.

The new twist: teenagers seem to be waiting longer to have intercourse. For example, the percentage of U.S Grade 12 students who reported having had intercourse declined from 66.7% in 1991 to 60.5% in 2001.

But before you start applauding the victory of wait-until-marriage chastity ring set, read this: teens are replacing intercourse with more alternatives they perceive as safer. For example more than 50% of U.S. teens ages 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex. This number increases to almost 70% for those who are 18 and 19. In a 2002 study of males and females aged 15-19, 11% of both reported having engaged in anal sex at least once. But the big spike is in oral sex. ("Teen Sex Statistics," About: Sexuality; see also Laura Sessions Stepp, "Study: Half of All Teens Have Had Oral Sex" (Washington Post, September 16, 2005).

One reason for the shift is likely the false assumption (perhaps even promoted by school guidance counselors) that oral sex lacks the health risks that come with coital sex ("Teens and Oral Sex...There are Risks," About: HIV/AIDS). Another reason may be that the disassociation of oral sex from coital sex allows the partners to indulge the fantasy of not being sexually active at all (Lisa Remez, "Oral Sex Among Adolescents: Is It Sex or Is It Abstinence?" Family Planning Perspectives, December, 2000).

Teens and college students today have evolved a new form of relationship -- the sex-only relationship, described in their philistine parlance as "friends with benefits" -- the multiple partners with whom they "hook up" for usually unprotected and mostly oral sex. I know these students. Some are enrolled in my classes. I have had students tell me about such encounters in journaling exercises. I have had students tell me more than I ever wanted to know about their experiences -- one of them about thirteen partners that semester, and so on.

Two things strike me about this phenomenon. On the one hand, the mind-molders who promote this sort of libertinism and promiscuity, and the students who buy into their mealy-mouthed justifications, parrot the confident language of self-mastery and liberation. On the other hand, the students who succumb to a life-style of uncommitted recreational sex invariably seem to end up in exploitive relationships with jaded outlooks on life -- victims either of their own eviscerating and dehumanizing predatory attitudes or of the predation of others.

I wonder especially what's in it for girls and young women.

Oral sex.

Now there's a rip-roaring, sexually free-thinking, good time for your little girl! A real enlightened future for women's liberation in that!

They say you reap the whirlwind. This whirlwind is the yield of the sexual revolution of the sixties, the self-indulgence of the seventies, the affluence of the eighties, the recreational sex culture of the nineties, the "hook up" culture of today . . . and the pervasive indulgence of predatory males.

This is pathetic. Women, wake up! You have nothing but your Monica Lewinsky stains to lose.

If you have children, teach them well. The barbarians are at the gates -- on the inside looking out.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pope's pastoral visit to Vigevano and Pavia

For Pope Benedict's pastoral visit to Vigevano and Pavia, visit American Papist for excellent coverage: "Sticky: AmP coverage of the Pope's pastoral visit to Vigevano and Pavia" (April 22, 2007).

Prayer request

I solicit your prayers for our family, as we deal with a number of serious concerns affecting our future. I will keep you posted over the weeks and months ahead as possible.

Vatican panel consults Bernard Realist, nixes Limbo

Vatican panel condemns limbo to eternal dustbin (LA Times, April 21, 2007). However, when advisory group concluded that unbaptized babies may go to heaven, Mr. Realist (Formerly known as Convergent) was reported to have been dismayed, protesting that 'heaven' itself was a ridiculous mythological notion as well.

Related: "An Interview on Limbo" (Musings, April 29, 2007).

Rehabilitation of Romano Amerio's writing backed by Rome

In “La Civiltà Cattolica” Breaks the Silence – On Romano Amerio (www.chiesa, April 23, 2007), Sandro Magister writes:
ROMA, April 23, 2007 – In “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the magazine of the Rome Jesuits printed with the prior scrutiny and authorization of the Vatican secretaiat of state, a review has been published that signals the end of a taboo.

The taboo is the one that has obliterated from public discussion, for decades, the thought of the most authoritative and erudite representative of criticism of the twentieth century Church in the name of the great Tradition: the Swiss philologist and philosopher Romano Amerio ..., who died in Lugano in 1997, at the age of 92.

Amerio, although he was always extremely faithful to the Church, condensed his criticisms of it in two volumes: “Iota unum: Studio delle variazioni della Chiesa cattolica nel XX secolo [Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the Twentieth Century],” begun in 1935 and finalized and published in 1985, and, and “Stat Veritas. Séguito a Iota unum [Stat Veritas: Sequel to Iota Unum],” released posthumously in 1997, both issued by the publisher Riccardo Ricciardi, of Naples.
Iota Unum, between 600 and 700 pages in length, was reprinted three times in Italy, according to Magister, for a total of seven thousand copies, and was translated into French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Dutch. It thus reached many tens of thousands of readers all over the world. But despite this, Amerio fell into eclipse as an effectively blacklisted writer within in the Church, both during and after his life. Magister writes, "The review in “La Civiltà Cattolica” thus signals a turning point. Both because of where and how it was published – with the authorization of the Holy See – and because of what it says."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Cardinal Paul Poupard on the Benedict pontificate

Wlodzimierz Redzioch, "The First Two Years: A conversation about Benedict and his pontificate with Cardinal Paul Poupard" (Inside the Vatican, April, 2007):
Pope Benedict XVI was elected two years ago on April 19, 2005, and installed as Pope two years ago on April 24, 2005, so we thought it appropriate to reflect now, in April 2007, on these first two years of Benedict's pontificate with one of his closest advisors, Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture.
[Hat tip to S.F.]

Opnion: Why embryos are cooler than kids

Julia Gorin, "Family Matters: Fetal Attraction" (Opinion Journal, from The Wall Street Journal editorial page, April 19, 2007):
. . . I'll be honest. I don't particularly like kids. But I do have a thing for fetuses--and embryos. Friends are puzzled as to why, considering my indifference to children, I get all stirred up about abortion. After all, they say, fetuses and embryos aren't "children" or even "babies."

Bingo. The thing is, whatever these creatures are, they've got kids beat by a mile. Bear with me for a minute--especially if you're a self-absorbed broad like me. See, many a selfish chick has told me that, if knocked up, she'd go the abortion route over adoption. . . .

Feminists heralded the proliferation of abortion as a tool by which to "empower" women and give them control over their lives and destinies. But power is being pregnant. . . .
Read on . . .

[Hat tip to E.E.]

Friday, April 20, 2007

Davies on 1962, 1965 and 1969 Missals

Latin Mass magazine recently announced an initiative whereby it will be creating an online archive of every back issue of its journal on a new and expanded website. In the meantime, however, I have received permission from the journal to reproduce online from Latin Mass (Spring 2001), 4-13, the following article by Michael Davies, "The Missal of 1962 -- a Rock of Stability," on my blog, Scripture and Catholic Tradition (April 20, 2007).

The lengthy and detailed article is worth reading (or re-reading) in its entirety. It contains details not found this easily elsewhere about the transitional post-Vatican II 1965 Missal. Among other things, Davies says this:
"The one prefect of a Roman congregation who has faced up to the reality of the liturgical debacle is Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."
Here are some other excerpts:
"The very idea of composing a new order of Mass was and is totally alien to the whole Catholic ethos, both in the East and in the West. The Catholic tradition has been to hold fast to what has been handed down and to look upon any novelty with the utmost suspicion." (p. 6)
* * * * * * *
"Likewise, the 1965 Missal was intended to condition the faithful into accepting without protest the radically reformed Missal of 1969." (p. 8)
* * * * * * *
"It would not be an exaggeration to describe [the Tridentine] Missal as the most sublime product of Western civilization, more perfect in its balance, rich in its imagery, inspiring, consoling, and instructive than even the most beautiful cathedral in Europe." (p. 9)
* * * * * * *
"It will be noted that any priest requesting a celebret can be granted one without the agreement of his bishop. It is necessary only to inform the diocesan bishop that it has been done." (p. 12)

Fascism, Christ's Kingship, liturgy, monarchism, ethics & the economy

It's fair to point out that connections between these sorts of ideas can sometimes morph into hideous distortions, as does Christopher Blosser in "IHS Press, Potential Fascist & Antisemitic Connections, Etc.: A Chronicle of Disturbing Patterns" (Against the Grain, February, 27, 2007). Prompted by Matthew Anger (Fringe Watch), he offers a detailed examination of IHS Press associates, John Sharpe and Derek Holland (presently going by the name of Deric Liam O'Huallachain), whose stated mission is the altogether lofty and unobjectionable one of bringing "back into print the classics of last century on the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church." In December 2005, IHS Press, under the imprint "Light and Darkness," published the two-part anthology Neo-Conned and Neo-Conned Again, advertised in the pages of New Oxford Review, among other places. Here's how they describe themselves:
J. Forrest Sharpe is the publisher and managing director of IHS Press. He is a student of Catholic Social Doctrine and the English Distributist movement. D. Liam O'Huallachain is the editorial director of IHS Press and is a student of Catholic Social Doctrine, the English Distributist Movement, and contemporary alternative political movements. Both have edited and annotated editions of works by 20th-century social thinkers such as G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Fr. Vincent McNabb, Fr. Heinrich Pesch, and Dr. George O'Brien.
Altogether unobjectionable. The problem comes, as Christopher discovered, when one digs into the personal background, connections and other writings of Sharpe and Holland (O'Huallachain), which turns up all sorts of disturbing white supremacist, neo-fascist, anti-semitic material.

However, having said that, the authors referenced by these guys must not be tarred with the sins of their abusers. The English Distributist Movement, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Fr. Vincent McNabb, Fr. Heinrich Pesch, and Dr. George O'Brien, to mention just a few, are eminently worth reading.

I recently received from a reader a link to a most interesting review of an English translation of Fr. Heinrich Pesch's book, Ethics and the National Economy, by Peter Chojnowski ("Book Review: Ethics and the National Economy," Articles by Dr. Peter Chojnowski, December 20, 2006). The volume is published by IHS Press. Yet the content, at least according to Chojnowski's review, seems eminently worth considering as a piece of traditional Catholic socio-economic theory to examine alongside the liberalism of Ludwig von Mises which it challenges. As Chojnowski observes, Pesch had a formative influence on Catholic social teaching as well as on the preparation of Quadragesimo Anno: The importance of his work "to Catholic social teaching is that it served as a bridge between Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum and Pius XI's Quadragesima Anno, the first draft of which was written by Oswald von Nell-Bruening and Gustav Gundlach, both disciples of Heinrich Pesch."

Also of interest, perhaps especially to the monarchists among you, is Alastair Guinan's essay, "The Christian Concept of Kingship as Manifested in the Liturgy of the Western Church," Harvard Theological Review (1956) available online through JSTOR. Particularly interesting, as my reader points out, is Guinan's argument -- which, sad to say, does require argument these days -- that liturgy cannot be fully appreciated absent one's devotion to the King. Near the end of Guinan's essay, he quotes from a work of fiction by one of the Oxford Inklings, Charles Williams' Shadows of Ecstasy, in which an exchange between Caithness and Sir Bernard encapsulates the opposing points of view of the royalist and republican:
'. . . Why is royalty so impressive?'
'It's the concentration of political energy in a person,' Caithness said thoughfully, 'the making visible of hierarchic freedom, a presented moment of obedience and rule.' 'I think I prefer the Republic,' Sir Bernard said, 'it's the more abstract dream. But I'm too tired to discuss it. . . .'
Abstraction vs. 'concention' and 'making visible' in a person, that is, incarnation -- an interesting contrast indeed.

Finally, for the true blue blood royalists among you, the following is the link to the Beatification and Canonization Site for Blessed Karl of Austria, Emperor and King (pictured right), beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 3, 2004. It contains many interesting testimonies and articles on the holiness of Blessed Charles, including one by Christoph Cardinal von Schönborn, as well as one on a miraculous Healing of Sister Maria Zita Gradowska.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Biggest pro-life victory in years

Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Abortion Procedure (New York Times, April 18, 2007)

The 5-4 ruling said the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act that Congress passed and President Bush signed into law in 2003 does not violate a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.

As one of my sons, Nathan, points out, it's amazing that this should even be an issue. But it is. So we should thank God for this victory for common sense.

Why the Real War Is Inside Islam

"Shiites against Sunnis, and Sunnis in conflict with each other: totalitarians against mystics. The enemies are not only the Christians. The analysis of a great Muslim expert: Khaled Fouad Allam." Thus Sandro Magister's fascinating new post on something many of us long suspected, "Why the Real War Is Inside Islam" (www.chiesa, April 19, 2007).

May Jewish & gentile Catholics celebrate Seder Meals?

Robert Sungenis thinks not. If you visit his Catholic Apologetics International website, you will find not only his critique of the Jewish Catholic convert, Roy Schoeman, but at least five links to articles and discussions on whether Jewish traditions and customs under the Old Covenant (like the Seder Meal) have any abiding validity and worth for Catholics, and still more links on the question of the relationship between the two covenants.

The latest response to these statements is by Ben Douglass, a former associate of Sungenis, who takes issue with him in "A Last Response from Douglasstein" (Pugio Fidei, april 17, 2007). Among other things, he cites the following words of Pope Benedict XIV (fourteenth, not sixteenth) from his Ex Quo Prium (On the Euchologion):
If a man should perform acts for a different end and purpose (even with the intention of worship and as religious ceremonies), not in the spirit of that Law nor on the basis of it, but either from personal decision, from human custom, or on the instruction of the Church, he would not sin, nor could he be said to judaize. So when a man does something in the Church which resembles the ceremonies of the old Law, he must not always be said to judaize. [Ex Quo, 67]
He also takes issue with Sungenis' attempt (Q & A April 2007) to deflect the import of the following (related) words from Ex Quo Prium:
But others remarked wisely that some, surely, of the ceremonial rites of the old Law could be observed under the new Law if only they were not done as obligations of the old Law, which was abrogated, but as a custom, or lawful tradition, or as a new precept issued by one enjoying the recognized and competent authority to make laws and to enforce them, as Vasquez observes (vol. 3, in the 3rd part of the Summa, disp. 210, quest. 80, art. 7). [Ex Quo, 74]

Fr. McLucas reluctantly resigns editorship of Latin Mass

From the Editor

"All things have their season . . ."

Dearest Friends,

Last year when I addressed The Latin Mass conference in Monterey, near the end of my talk I spoke these words: "The situation [for Catholics of tradition] is grim: our only answer is the creation of a canonical structure by the Holy See which will deliver us from those who hate us in our own Church -- but who exercise authority over us. I am hopeful, but far from confident, that we will receive relief from the present Holy Father. If we do not, many priests and laity will be forced to make decisions which will be painful. I can only guarantee that, like all major catastrophes in the history of the Church, the solution will be very messy, and far from neat."

As of February 11 of this year, I entered into my fifth year of the battle to restore my canonical faculties. During this time I have been unable to exercise publicly the functions of an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church. The final disposition of this situation remains unresolved. Ultimately, this condition, more than any other, has led me to the reluctant decision to resign as editor-in-chief of The Latin Mass. My present and continuing ecclesial circumstance is incompatible with holding the sensitive position of editor-in-chief of a serious Catholic international journal.

My labors at The Latin Mass have been among the most fulfilling of my life. Six and a half years ago I committed this journal to the counter reform required to address the disruption of Catholic life brought about by the liturgical and theological revolution that has been ongoing since the end of the Second Vatican Council. My fellow editors and I were determined to craft an instrument which would accomplish this task through the calm and intelligent discussion of vital ideas, as well as presenting the beauty of Catholic culture -- a mission which permits humanity's graced cooperation in the creative and imaginative exposition of the splendorous landscape of the One True Faith upon the canvas of a fallen world. To the extent that we have been successful, the bulk of the credit belongs to you, our loyal readers, and to the artful erudition of our writers.

I cannot depart without reiterating a constant theme of this journal: inherent to beauty is truth -- and to my dismay the truth is that there is a converging consensus among Catholics whose insights and judgments I have always valued. They are in ever-increasing agreement that the crisis in the Church is deepening, not abating.

The attempt to eliminate the ancient Mass from the liturgical life of the Church is at the heart of the present calamity -- and the ancient Mass will be at the heart of the eventual authentic "counter reform." Permit me, therefore, to end my final letter in The Latin Mass by quoting from a portion of the first letter that I penned as the new editor:
Frank Sheed, the great street corner Catholic apologist of the twentieth century, once said that the devil despised most the souls in hell who 'lowered the intellectual level of the place.'

The ancient Mass protected the intellectual health of the Church for at least fifteen centuries because language and ritual escorted the mind and heart toward the transcendent majesty of God. The unambiguous scent of sacrifice enveloped the ancient Mass and properly oriented Catholics toward their need for redemption.

The ancient Mass safeguards culture because it prohibits the order of the two great commandments from becoming inverted, thus uncompromisingly promulgating and protecting the truth about God and man. It effortlessly unveils beauty because it incarnates the Catholic view that reality is a matter of discovery, not of invention.

All who are associated with The Latin Mass are determined to immerse you in a Catholic world of faith and culture where Our Lord continues to be made visible, protected from the lengthening shadows of a secularism intent on hiding Him.
Please remember me in your prayers. I will miss you.

In domino et Domina,
Father James McLucas

[The present editorial, "All things have their season ...," was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Spring 2007), p. 2, and is reproduced here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hey, we've been nominated!

A thoughtful reader provided the courtesy of pointing out that we've been nominated for the award at left. The voting has commenced, and, of course, we're still ranked very low.

But last time I checked website hits, we were ranking with some of the top Catholic blogs. Want to help me see how far we can take this pertinacious dark horse in this vanity race? Winners will be announced June 2nd. I invite you to go to and vote for Pertinacious Papist by entering the blog URL.

Knowing my nose-to-page cluelessness about such matters, I'll likely need reminding again when the winners are announced. Thanks in advance!

[Hat tip to Paula Luckhurst, Homepage]

'Impartiality' -- a pompous name for indifference, ignorance

Michael Barber, Professor of Theology, Scripture and Catholic Thought at John Paul the Great Catholic University, in San Diego, CA, writes (in "Chesterton on Impartiality," Singing In The Reign, April 17, 2007) that he was thinking about the hesitance of scholars to take a stand on the question of the genre of the Gospels, which has crucial implications for historical Jesus work. He writes:
I was thinking about this today when I came across this quote from G. K. Chesterton: "Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance." - The Speaker
[Hat tip to Tom]

Cur Deus homo?

How would you answer this question:
"If man had not sinned, would God have become Incarnate?"
The Thomistic thesis says 'No', while the Franciscan (or Scotist) thesis says 'yes'.

Fr. Maximilian Mary Dean, F.I. offers an interesting synopsis of the two views in a series on the "Absolute Primacy of Christ" on Cornerstone (

The reader who sent me the link described it as an occasion of self-discovery: "This link made me understand more about what I believe. It appears to me you know yourself quite well but this might be an interesting link for others to ask themselves some interesting questions."

What is clear to me from the alternatives presented here, is how Augustinian (and therefore non-Franciscan, in terms of these categories) the Reformed or Calvinistic branch of Protestantism is. Somewhere in his writings, the Great Calvinist theologian and prime minister of the Netherlands Abraham Kuyper says that Christianity is in a profound sense an 'accidental' religion, in the sense that the whole history of redemption (including the Incarnation) would have been utterly unnecessary were it not for the Fall of Adam -- viz., Original Sin. I don't imagine this is too different from the understanding of many mainstream Catholic thinkers. Yet there are important differences.

Notice how these attitudes spill over into even our understanding of divine grace. Grace, as understood within Protestantism, is purely remedial. If there were no sin, there would be no need for grace. Yet in St. Thomas Aquinas's "Treatise on Grace" (Summa Theologiae, I-II, Q. 109, Art. 2), we read:
Thus in the state of pure nature man needs a power added to his natural power by grace, for one reason, namely, in order to do and to will supernatural good."
Hence, grace is not purely remedial (because of the consequences of sin) in the theology of St. Thomas.

Curious then that the 'Thomistic' answer to "Cur Deus homo?" should be strictly remedial -- i.e., only because of sin. One might wonder whether the two answers cannot be understood as more closely related. The Franciscan tradition (following Blessed Duns Scotus) sees the remedial purposes of the Incarnation as secondary, and the primary purposes lying more in the direction of God communicating His inter-Trinitarian love to His creatures.

There is a thesis waiting to be articulated, which ties together the themes of remedial and nonremedial grace with the remedial and nonremedial purposes of the Incarnation and the Petrine doctrine of theosis (Θεωσις, meaning divinization or deification, or "to make divine"; cf. II Peter 1:3-4, where St. Peter speaks of our becoming "partakers of the divine nature").

[Hat tip to Sun and Wine]

Bracing and inspiring oath

A reader, referring me to the following transcript of the oath taken by the Vatican Swiss Guards (from "B-16 gang hand sign," Me Monk, Me Meander, April 16, 2007), writes: "Isn't this bracing and inspiring? While the old West, America and Perfidious Albion, send women into combat - and supinely quake when young mothers are taken as hostages - we Christians of the eternal west can be justly proud of these young men."

The linked account reads as follows:
At the oath-taking ceremony of new Swiss Guards, the Chaplain of the Guard gives a solemn reading of the oath.

I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honorably serve the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the See is vacant. Furthermore, I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors, respect, fidelity and obedience. This I swear. May God and our Holy Patrons assist me!

Then a recruit’s name is called, and that recruit steps forward alone. With his left hand he grasps the Swiss Guard flag, holding up his right hand with the thumb and next two fingers open, as a symbol of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and he confirms the oath:

I, [Name], swear I will observe faithfully, loyally and honorably all that has now been read out to me. May God and his saints assist me>
[Hat tip to Sun and Wine]

Monday, April 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Pope Benedict!

Pope Benedict XVI Celebrates 80th Birthday (News VOA, April 16, 2007). My 90-year-old father would probably refer to him as "that boy over in the Vatican."

What are the top 5 Catholic seminaries?

At the beginning of this month, a comment from one of our readers asking about the best colleges "for Catholics who wish to think with the mind of the Church" led us to post the question, "What are the top 5 Catholic schools?" (April 4, 2007), which is still bringing in votes for various colleges and universities, with Christendom, University of Dallas, St. Thomas Aquinas College, and Franciscan University taking the lead (22 Catholic institutions have been named so far).

The enthusiastic response and commentary prompted the present post. I am curious what the response may be, since the majority of our readers are not seminarians or priests. Nevertheless, there is a lot of good information out there about seminaries, not all of it from the same sources, and I am curious what we may find. Again, you do not need to limit yourself to seminaries in the United States. There are excellent seminaries in Rome and other parts of Europe, as well as the rest of the world.

Update: The score of our little survery as of April 18 is ...
  • Sacred Heart Major Seminar, Detroit (3 votes)
  • Angelicum, Dominican Pontifical University, Rome (2 votes)
  • Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC (2 votes)
  • Holy Apostles Seminary, Cromwell, CT (2 votes)
  • Mount St. Mary's Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD (2 votes)
  • Mundelein Seminary, Chicago (2 votes)
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary - FSSP, Denton, NE (2 votes)
  • St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, PA (2 votes)
  • St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia, PA (1 vote)
  • Conception Seminary College, Conception, MO (1 vote)
  • The International Seminary of Saint Pius X - SSPX, Econe, Switzerland (1 vote)
  • St. John's Seminary, Brighton (Boston), MD (1 vote)
  • St. John Vianney Seminary, St. Paul, MN (1 vote)
  • St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver, CO (1 vote)
  • St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York City (1 vote)
  • Oratory of St. Philip Neri, Toronto (1 vote)
Note: Not all of the seminaries listed above are major seminaries. Some are minor or college-level preparatory seminaries. All seminaries with the same number of votes are arranged alphabetically with no prejudice to institution, unless some reason is indicated. Bear in mind that numerous criteria enter into selecting institutions beyond "thinking with the mind of the Church" (academic quality, location, price, size, etc.), and that the yield of such an exercise as this is exceedingly limited. For fuller evaluations (including criticisms), please refer to the remarks of the voters in the combox. Don't hesitate to add your vote if you haven't weighed in yet.

The listing above reflects the tally as of April 18, 2007.

Benedict XVI has 'major reforms' on the way

Damian Thompson, Commentary: After a quiet and cautious start, major reforms are on their way (, April 14, 2007).
After two cautious and successful years, in which he has surprised critics by writing about God's love rather than raging against contraception and homosexuality, the Pope is preparing a series of reforms of the Catholic Church.

Just how far he will go remains to be seen. But there are many nervous bishops at the moment - especially in this country....

Last month, the Pope issued a magnificently well-written document, Sacramentum Carititatis, ignored by the English bishops, which contained explicit instructions about the greater use of Latin and plain chant. Soon, liberal bishops in Europe and America could find their loyalty really put to the test.

Benedict is rumoured to be on the verge of removing restrictions on the celebration of the ancient Tridentine Rite, which liberals see as elitist. For two years, Catholics have wondered what sort of papacy this will turn out to be. Now they are about to find out.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Motu Proprio, Alice von Hildebrand, and the Indult

First of all, there's this snippet from Joseph Bottom, "Notes from Underground" (First Things, April 5, 2007), which takes the cake:
A word in your ear—A well-known physicist told me that a popular blogger told him that an unnamed source told her that a distinguished elderly lady told the unnamed source that the pope told the distinguished elderly lady that the long-rumored motu proprio on the Latin Mass will appear on the feast day of St. Pius V, which is May 5. So that’s settled.
Then there is this, from Michael J. Matt, Editor of The Remnant, in his post of April 11, 2007:
By the way, word recently reached this office that Pope Benedict informed Alice Von Hildebrand in a private audience in March that his motu proprio on the universal indult for the return of the traditional Mass will be released on the Feast of St. Pius V, May 5, 2007. We’ll see . . . (emphasis added)
I don't know whether there is anything to this. But I do know, for what it's worth, that there is some precedent here: In "An Audience With Peter," in Crisis magazine (May 2005), GUEST COLUMN II, Alice von Hildebrand describes the extraordinary privilege she was granted in 1980 of a private audience with His Holiness Pope John Paul II. She says she dared to request the audience only because she knew John Paul had a great admiration for her late husband. They were, of course, both philosophers and fellow phenomenologists. While Mrs. von Hildebrand's account of the audience is well worth reading in full, the relevant portion to this post follows:
My main concern, however, was the fact that the Tridentine Mass had been prohibited. Indeed, some bishops declared that if a person attended the so-called old Mass on Sunday, he would not thereby fulfill his Sunday obligations. I introduced the question as follows:

“Your Holiness, the last years of his life, my husband was much concerned about an ethical question: namely, whether it is ever legitimate to prohibit a holy tradition. Should not formal prohibitions be limited to what is evil or harmful? The Tridentine Mass has been a precious heritage for centuries, said by all priests until a few years ago. One thing was to introduce a new, valid liturgy; quite another was to prohibit one that all the fathers of Vatican II had prayed during the council.”

The pope was silent for a brief moment, and then said: “Your husband is no doubt one of the very great ethical thinkers of the 20th century.” I knew that the pope would consider this seriously. Soon afterward, he gave the indult.
Who knows? God knows.

The wisest words I have read about the matter come from Rorate Caeli's "Notes" (April 10, 2007): "Do not be unreasonably concerned with the actual date of the document on the 'liberalization' of the Traditional rites of the Latin Church. It will come out."

Publication announcement

Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy

Michael L. Coulter, Stephen M. Krason, Richard S. Myers, and Joseph A. Varacalli


The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Discounted Price: $127.50 (15% off)
List Price: $150.00
Cloth 2 Volumes 0-8108-5906-8 / 978-0-8108-5906-7 Jul 28, 2007 1040pp

The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, whose Scarecrow Press is publisher of these volumes, describes them as "a comprehensive introduction to the Catholic vision of society, social relations, and the human being," with "more than 800 topics from over 300 contributors," of which yours truly is one (I contributed five entries).

The work combines theoretical research on important topics and scholarly disciplines (e.g., economics, moral theology, natural law, philosophy, psychology); social science perspectives on a variety of topics (e.g., alcoholism and drug abuse, forgiveness and mercy, globalization); and treatment of practical policy implications that flow from applying the Catholic religious, moral, and intellectual tradition to contemporary issues (e.g., abortion, assisted suicide, immigration policy, school choice, torture).

These volumes also reflect a broad range of Catholic thought that is international in scope, but with particular emphasis on the American situation. Its interdisciplinary approach offers insights from a variety of perspectives: theological, philosophical, historical, economical, sociological, political, psychological, and legal. The work will appeal to individuals who want a clear and accurate introduction to Catholic social thought and a Catholic-informed social science and social policy. One certainly need not be a devotee and advocate for Catholic social thinking to find this encyclopedia of good use as a handy reference tool.

My contributions to the work consist in the entries on 'Buddhism', 'Ethics', 'Max Scheler (1874-1928)', 'Theocracy', and 'Values'.

The price is a bit steep for individuals. I certainly can't afford to buy my own copies. I imagine sales will go mostly to libraries and specialists who can afford them. For what it's worth, a 15% discount is available through the Scarecrow Press, Inc. online. (European customers click here.)

Communion under both species: An addendum

Please note the addendum I have added today to my earlier post, "Question about Communion in two kinds" (April 12, 2007). In short, if the USCCB's "Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America" is all that can be mounted against such Vatican Instructions as Redemptionis Sacramentum, I do not see how the latter can be easily countermanded. In other words, unless there is something more substantially binding upon the universal Church, I do not see how Communion under both species -- or even the promotion of Communion under both kinds -- can be seen as in any way a binding mandate of the Church, as compared to the a priori requirement to preserve the integrity of the function and office of the ordinary minister in the Sacrifice of the Mass -- i.e., the priest. (But do read the addendum to get the full picture.)

Update 4/16/07
See the Congregation on Divine Worship's statement and commentary by Ralph here and here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Boston's Indult: An Expensive Move

I received the following from Rob Quagen, an architect and parishioner of the Latin Mass congregation of Holy Trinity (German) Church in Boston, Massachusetts:
I thought I would pass along this piece I put together recently concerning the ongoing Archdiocesan plans to close historic Holy Trinity (German) Church in Boston and to transfer the Latin Mass Indult. Holy Trinity, designed by noted 19th century architect Patrick Keeley, is distinguished as the last and only German personal parish remaining in New England. It is commonly known as the "Christmas Parish" since it was here that many of today's Christmas customs were introduced to both this country and 19th century (post Puritan) New England. This includes both the Christmas tree and the exchange of greeting cards. The Parish's rich musical heritage which continues to this day, includes founding members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, German congregation hymnody, Sacred Polyphony and Gregorian Chant. Sadly, this parish is falling victim to a massive diocesan reconfiguration precipitated by the fin ancial hemorrhage that followed the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Archdiocese of Boston. Already this has claimed 65 parishes by either suppression or merger. Ironically, we are on the verge of losing an important part of our physical patrimony on the eve of the much anticipated Motu Proprio.
The article by Mr. Quagan follows:
Boston's Indult: An Expensive Move
by Robert R. Quagan, Architect

BOSTON – April 11 – The Archdiocese of Boston announced on Sunday, March 25th that beginning Sunday, April 22, that the traditional Latin Mass will move from the historic Holy Trinity Parish in Boston's South End. Parishioners plan to appeal the move.

At this time, the plan approved by His Eminence, Sean Cardinal O'Malley appears to be proceeding. The March 25th announcement calls for removal of the Latin Mass parishioners of Holy Trinity (German) Church in Boston's South End, which represents three quarters of active parishioners to be transferred to Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Church in Newton Upper Falls, a suburb west of Boston. This will be the first phase of a plan to merge Holy Trinity’s assets and remaining German congregation with the nearby Cathedral of the Holy Cross facilitating eventual liquidation of the property.

Recently it was revealed that Holy Trinity's Sacristy Safe, contains numerous priceless patrimonial artifacts. Nearly one hundred relics were discovered having never been made available for veneration by recent Administrators. In recent decades Holy Mass has been only a weekly occurrence and it is suspected their existence were a hold over from the days of Jesuit control. Also discovered was a chalice that apparently was used for generations on special feasts such as Christmas, Easter and Trinity Sunday. The following description is a reprint from the November 1945 issue of The Monatsbote (Parish Newsletter, published continuously since 1899) which provides interesting details about this remarkable sacred vessel:
"When the Golden Jubilee of the new church was approaching (1927) it was felt that for this occasion the parish should have a new chalice. From the start, the parishioners were told that it was not to be a gift of a single individual or a church society, but of the whole parish. Consequently all were invited to contribute gold, silver and precious stones, or cash. In the course of time, hundreds of gold rings, gold watches, chains and other gold ornaments were sent to the rectory, and, above all, gold pieces. All these things were melted and sent to a first-class firm in Germany, Messrs. Koesters & Seegers, Kevelaer, who at the request of Rev. Bernard Wildenhues, SJ had submitted an original sketch of a chalice, which was accepted by the pastor (Rev. Charles P. Gisler, SJ).

At first it had been the intention to buy a chalice of solid silver only, but of exquisite workmanship, to cost about $600. But as gold, precious stones and money began to pour in from all sides , it was decided to have a chalice of solid gold, with a large number of jewels. It is of Roman design, of exquisite workmanship – no factory work; everything made by hand requiring months of labor.

The cup is ornamented with six pictures, representing Christ the King, the Annunciation, the Blessed Trinity in Heaven, the Baptism in the Jordan, the Blessed Trinity with Jesus Christ Crucified, and the Transfiguration. The base contains six pictures of saints, in delicate enamel: St. Ignatius, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Peter Canisius, St. Francis Xavier, Blessed Nicholas von der Flue (the Swiss national saint) and the Little Flower. The artist had been expressly told not to put the picture of the Little Flower on the chalice, but he seems to have misunderstood the order.

The chalice contains about one hundred fifty precious stones – pearls, rubies, amethysts and diamonds. Stem and base, and also the lower part of the cup, are made of the most delicate filigree work. The whole chalice is a masterpiece of workmanship, a worthy gift of the parishioners to the Blessed Trinity, to whom the church is consecrated. May the blessing of the Blessed Trinity rest upon all who have contributed toward the chalice."
The Jesuit order ran the Parish from shortly after its establishment in 1844 (1848). The present church was dedicated in 1877 and Jesuit administration continued until 1961, when it reverted to diocesan control. It was at that time that the parishes other facilities (Convent, Hall, School) were taken by eminent domain during the height of the urban renewal campaign by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) when the rest of the 19th neighborhood of brick row houses was reduced to rubble. Subsequently, low income housing (projects) replaced the old neighborhood. The then Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing successfully worked a deal with the BRA to save the church building; hence it has remained since that time.

The significance of this church to our Sacred Patrimony cannot be understated to not only German Catholics but Boston Catholics at large. The utilitarianism and lack of understanding of the role of the Domus Dei in Catholic theology among diocesan administrators in recent times has been all too apparent during the current diocesan reconfigurations. It has resulted in the loss of nearly 65 churches in just the last three years that have dated mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Church (MIL) the expected new home of Boston's Latin Mass was dedicated by Cardinal O’Connell on 24 November 1910. It remains an imposing edifice situated on a hillside in Newton Upper Falls. It was rendered in an Italian Romanesque brick style featuring a 135 foot campanile. Originally the roof was in a red terracotta tile and has unfortunately succumbed (long ago) to the utility of asphalt. The front elevation can be best described as a portico reminiscent of a Roman Temple with a vertical proportion expressed by columns of the Corinthian order supporting a pediment that has sculptural relief of figures that represent the apparitions of Our Lady to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, France in 1854. The focal point of the interior remains the High Altar constructed of white Italian marble. Originally it was set behind an altar rail of red Italian marble with bronze “corkscrew” uprights and gates. The apse was lavishly painted with gilded stenciling serving as a backdrop to the reredos, above which a half dome contained three paintings of the Blessed Virgin: The Annunciation on the left, The Assumption in the center, and The Coronation on the right.

Unfortunately under the pastorate of Fr. Michael F. Doocey (1970-1993), following the Second Vatican Council and the often iconoclastic tendencies that followed, the interior of MIL was generally obscured. The once beautiful sanctuary and nave has been generally white washed. This includes a set of polychromed Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) rendered white. The altar rail was destroyed save about eight feet at the locations of the former Side Altars of St.Joseph and Our Lady. Even these segments were relocated about six feet into the Nave. The marble flooring of the Sanctuary has been obscured by ubiquitous red wall to wall carpet. A new and immovable freestanding Altar was formed about six feet forward of the bottom step of the old High Altar salvaged from the two existing rectangular Side Altars oriented back to back to roughly form a square proportion. The Holy Tabernacle of the old High Altar was systematically plugged and removed to the location of the old St. Joseph Side Altar where a “new” shelf was constructed and enhanced with a marble relief of “The Last Supper” also removed from the lower section (antependium) of the old High Altar. The remaining void from the old High Altar was covered by blank slab of roughly matching marble. Also obvious are t he dozen rows of missing pews in the church's nave, assumed destroyed during renovations of the 1970's.

The Latin Mass congregation may face the daunting task of reversing and absorbing the cost of the destruction wrought over the last 35 years to even approximate the liturgical order of the sanctuary and nave that remain extant at Holy Trinity. At a very minimum, a temporary altar rail will need to be restored to the devastated Sanctuary of MIL. There is current concern regarding existing sight lines and blind spots encumbered by the permanent placement of an existing freestanding altar and its juxtaposition to the original High Altar. This relationship may especially be problematic with a large liturgical entourage typical during the celebration of a traditional High Mass. At this point, true restoration of the church sanctuary for dignified celebration of the Classical Roman Rite could cost several hundred thousand dollars. This does not even begin to address the balance of deferred maintenance throughout the balance of MIL’s physical plant that also includes a significant deterioration of roofing, masonry, exterior wood work and ornamental ironwork. The existing pipe organ, inoperative for years languishes with water damage and cracked bellows. Its restoration could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars to restore.

His Eminence fully expects Boston’s Indult Latin Mass community to invest Time, Talent and Tithe with absolutely no juridical guarantee that the Latin Mass Indult will remain permanently attached to the church of Mary Immaculate. There remains a concern of significant risk associated with the burden of any capital investment at MIL. This is particularly true given recent announcement regarding the Indult and the perception of an "at will" relationship to any given location. Without juridic protection, the ability to fully develop a rooted parish life, may hamper its full potential. Should MIL ever lose its Indult (or its sympathetic Pastor) in the manner of Holy Trinity, trust among many of the Faithful, whose spirituality is formed around the Classical Liturgy and Sacramental life could be seriously undermined.

Few older parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston have escaped the iconoclasm of the last 35 years and remain a suitable venue for the Classical Roman Rite. Those that have survived until recent times now face the threat of reconfiguration. The historic Holy Trinity Church remains intact and arguably offers the best extant Sacred Space in the the Archdiocese of Boston for this purpose. Unfortunately, arguments regarding an intact physical patrimony, central location to both major highways and rapid transit and its urban mission continue to have not swayed His Eminence, Sean Cardinal O’Malley. If the Cardinal's plan is implemented as announced, the last Traditional Latin Mass will be celebrated at Holy Trinity on Low Sunday, April 15th, ending 16 years at one of Boston's most venerable Catholic landmarks.
[Our thanks to Mr. Robert R. Quagan for this story, reproduced here by permission of the author.]

Mr. Quagan tells me that Holy Trinity has one Mass that is offered on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, typically running around 250 on Sunday, but closer to 400 during the High Mass offered one Sunday per month. Special Feasts such as Christmas Midnight Mass have run as many as 500 – 600. In this connection, he reminds us that the parish historically has been restricted from advertising -- an oddity, to say the least, when John Paul II was exhorting the Faithful to a New Evangelization. Nonetheless, the parish has been able to work through other avenues, he says, revitalizing its Holy Name Society in 2000 to a very positive result.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jesus tomb film scholars backtrack

Jesus tomb film scholars backtrack (April 11, 2007):
Several prominent scholars who were interviewed in a bitterly contested documentary that suggests that Jesus and his family members were buried in a nondescript ancient Jerusalem burial cave have now revised their conclusions, including the statistician who claimed that the odds were 600:1 in favor of the tomb being the family burial cave of Jesus of Nazareth, a new study on the fallout from the popular documentary shows.

The dramatic clarifications, compiled by epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem in a paper titled "Cracks in the Foundation: How the Lost Tomb of Jesus story is losing its scholarly support," come two months after the screening of The Lost Tomb of Christ that attracted widespread public interest, despite the concomitant scholarly ridicule.
Yawn . . . Why did anyone pay any attention to these money-grubbing idiots in the first place? Like James Cameron, like Dan Brown. (See our post, "Da Vinci Code 'archeology' gone to seed," February 27, 2007.)

Lutheran college to observe 'gay' Day of Silence

Swimming boldly upstream against a pervasive tide of bigotry ... No, scratch that. Floating downstream with the politically correct flotsam and jetsam of the day, the following announcement came today from the office of the Associate Director of Admissions of Lenoir-Rhyne College, an institution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
Get ready for the campus to be a little quieter. On April 18, 2007, students at Lenoir-Rhyne College will join students across the nation in a Day of Silence to protest the bullying, harassment, and name-calling faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth every day.

Participants will be silent on April 18, wearing stickers and passing out ‘speaking cards’ that read:

"Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, prejudice, and discrimination. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?"

Participants expect to gather for a “silent lunch” as well as a “Breaking the Silence” event at 5:00pm in the Cromer Cafeteria.

Students of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions are participating,

The Day of Silence, according to local organizer Kalah Wilson is especially relevant to our school because, “It’s time that all students have an opportunity to feel safe on campus, and I hope that my silence will bring to light the harsh realities that LGBT students face everyday.” Local organizer Deondra Newell hopes that the event will work towards ending some of the silence and hatred students face.

The Day of Silence Project is one of the largest student-led events in the country, wherein thousands of high schools and college students participate.... For information about the Day of Silence organized nationally, visit the Day of Silence website at
Just watch the knee-jerk bigotries and prejudices pop out against anyone, like me, who dares even to question the magisterial doctrines of self-congratulatory liberal enlightenment underlying such an event.

Pope says science too narrow to explain creation

Pope says science too narrow to explain creation, (April 11, 2007). While neither endorsing explicit creationist theories nor the intelligent design ideas apparently promoted by his former student and close advisor, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Benedict denied that Darwinian evolution is provable because mutations over hundreds of thousands of years cannot be reproduced in a laboratory.

[Hat tip to M.F.]

Küng: prohibition of abortion merciless & unchristian

Hans Küng Joins Abortion Debate In Mexico (California Catholic Daily, April 6, 2007):
“The Church’s absolute prohibition of abortion is a merciless extremism that could be anything but Christian,” said the controversial Catholic theologian and priest, Hans Küng at a conference held on March 28 in Mexico City by the Global Ethic Foundation.
In an unprecedented stretch, the dissident 'theologian' (one uses the term loosely) endeavors to enlist the aid of St. Thomas Aquinas in his defense of abortion. And some protest Rome's removal of Küng's faculties for teaching Catholic doctrine in 1979 as unreasonable? Who is being unreasonable here?

[Hat tip to Tom]

Question about Communion in two kinds

I would research this if I had the time, but at the moment I am in the midst of death and taxes, as it were. So here is my question, if any of you can answer it for me: What is the official Vatican instruction on Communion in two kinds? The reason I ask this is that the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion generally required for this practice would seem to stand in some tension with -- if not effectively trump -- the demands of the Instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum:
[157.] If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers [priests and deacons] for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it....

[158.] Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason....
Addendum 4/14/2007:
The "Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America" (approved by the USCCB on June 14, 2001) are posted on the USCCB website. What I find particularly noteworthy under "PART II -- Norms for the Distribution of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds," is the restrictive nature of these norms. That is, Communion under both species appears to be granted by way of indult, as an exception to the universal rule. To those who have studied the last four decades of liturgical changes, of course, this is will not come as a surprise. This is the way most of the post-conciliar changes have been introduced, from Communion in the hand to female altar servers.

Note the way in which this section is introduced under the heading: "When Communion Under Both Kinds May Be Given." Although the proceeding paragraph goes on to state that opportunities for offering Communion under both species have been significantly expanded in the revised Missal Romanum, the significant point is restrictive provisio under which the permission is extended. No carte blanche is offered here. The Norms go on to state the conditions under which the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) permit Communion under both kinds:
a. for priests who are not able to celebrate or concelebrate
b. for the deacon and others who perform some role at Mass
c. for community members at their conventual Mass or what in some places is known as the "community" Mass, for seminarians, [and] for all who are on retreat or are participating in a spiritual or pastoral gathering
Of course, there are the standard equivocations that may be played for loopholes as well:
The General Instruction [GIRM] then indicates that the diocesan Bishop may lay down norms for the distribution of Communion under both kinds for his own diocese, which must be observed. . . . The diocesan Bishop also has the faculty to allow Communion under both kinds, whenever it seems appropriate to the priest to whom charge of a given community has been entrusted as [its] own pastor, provided that the faithful have been well instructed and there is no danger of the profanation of the Sacrament or that the rite would be difficult to carry out on account of the number of participants or for some other reason.
Yet whether even such equivocations can be abused to the tune of bevies of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion that are regularly found in most AmChurch parish variety shows today (in violation of Redemptionis Sacramentum 157-159, cited above) is doubtful in view of such explicit statements as the following:
In practice, the need to avoid obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion by an excessive use of extraordinary minister might in some circumstances constitute a reason either for limiting the distribution of Holy Communion under both species or for using intinction instead of distributing the Precious Blood from the chalice.
Update 4/16/07
See the Congregation on Divine Worship's statement and commentary by Ralph here and here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

SSPX & schism: a detailed assessment

Brian Mershon offers a detailed and interesting analysis of recent developments in his post, "Cardinal Castrillón: SSPX not in schism" (Renew America, April 10, 2007). Very detailed and informative. The subtitle: "Catholics who attend SSPX masses not schismatic."

[Hat tip to Brian Mershon]

Death and taxes

Merold Westphal has a book entitled God, Guilt, and Death (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987), which my thoughts turn to this time of year. The only thing missing from the title is, of course, taxes. The full title of Westphal's ominous-titled and otherwise excellent book is God, Guilt, and Death: An Existential Phenomenology of Religion. It really is a good book. I've assigned it repeatedly as a supplementary text in philosophy of religion classes, along with more traditional historically and/or analytically-oriented texts. But perhaps -- just perhaps -- he should reconsider making it 'God, Guilt, Death and Taxes' in a future edition.

The Venerable Cardinal Newman's cause

A reader recently wrote the following to me, which I reproduce here with his permission:
I've been recently lamenting the fact that Cardinal Newman has not yet been canonized. Surely, it seems, he might someday even be declared Doctor of the Church. But alas his typical English modesty prevents it from being known those miracles for which he has interceded. In a small effort to change this, I have begun praying for a very specific miracle. And what type of miracle should an English saint be known for? The fixing of crooked teeth... of course.

My daughter (nearly 12) is scheduled to be fitted with braces in a few weeks. She has already had a mould made of her mouth in which the deformities of her teeth, crookedness, unevenness, as well as multiple baby teeth that have yet to be pushed out, are clearly shown and objectively recorded.

So my prayer is that her teeth would, by the miraculous intercession of Cardinal Newman, be completely straightened so that the need and expense of braces might be avoided. All of the objective facts are in order for an ecclesial investigation, including this email, which documents our intercession before any discovery of the straightened teeth. And since it is a relatively small miracle, it is perhaps one
for which the venerable (and typically English) Cardinal wouldn't mind taking credit. Moreover, it would declare to the world that God indeed has a sense of humor.

Should this miracle occur, I've promised to donate my expected cost for the braces (~$2000) to some worthy Catholic cause, in addition to my regular planned giving. So there's nothing "in it" for me.
Anyone care to join in this worthy endeavor? Your prayer intentions would be much appreciated.

[Gratia tibi S.N.]

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Online Appendix to Scott Hahn's The Family Spirit

A reader notes that Scott Hahn addresses many of the concerns raised concerning controverted points in his writing concerning the perfection of spiritual maternity and its relation to the Church, to Mary, and to the Holy Spirit in the online Appendix [PDF file] to his book, The Family Spirit.

[Hat tip to Sun and Wine]

Gnosticism and the Resurrection of Christ

Here's an article a propos an ongoing discussion we've had on this blog for several years concerning the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I've been meaning to post it during Paschaltide for a couple of years now. It first appeared two years ago in the New Oxford Review with the subtitle, "The old mythologies are back," and is reproduced here by permission of the publisher.

The Gnostic Temptation in the Catholic Church

By Bernard D. Green

Gnosticism is rife in American Christianity to­day. Philip Lee, in his Against the Protestant Gnostics, argues that it is endemic in the Protestant churches, and Donna Steichen, in her Ungodly Rage[: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism], has shown how pervasive it is becom­ing in Catholic life. We are once again faced with the same dividing line that emerged between the Gnostics and orthodox Christianity in the second and third centuries. The question is the same now as then: Does the Church offer salvific truth and grace, or can we do away with that, and instead just rely on knowledge gleaned from myth, psychology, and per­sonal experience? This in turn is related to the signifi­cance of the Resurrection for our salvation: Is it sim­ply illustrative of human possibilities, as the Gnostics of old thought, or is it a unique event that reveals on what our salvation rests?

Harold Bloom, in his recent book The American Religion, suggests that there is a form of Gnostic reli­gion that is intrinsic to American culture. It empha­sizes the priority of information for salvation, the in­nate divinity of the individual self, and emotional ex­periences of transcendence. He sees this "religion" as pervading every Christian denomination in the coun­try, including Catholicism. If he is right, then we are witnessing a battle in the Catholic Church between authentic Catholicism and this pervasive religious attitude, which, if not uniquely American, is something that American culture most clearly exemplifies.

The essence of Gnosticism is the emphasis on knowledge as the key to salvation. Salvation comes through information about who we are, what our potential is, what prevents us from realizing it. As Bloom observed, Americans are "obsessed with infor­mation," Gnosticism "was (and is) a kind of informa­tion theory," and the biblical account of creation and the Fall, which Gnostics reject, "concerned matter and energy," whereas Gnosticism "is all information."

Gnosticism is also bound up with a "technol­ogy" of salvation. It is concerned with the "effective mechanics" for releasing humans from constraints. We as a culture are obsessed with gaining such effec­tive knowledge. We believe that through correct in­formation and effective techniques we can escape any evil. Witness the enormous faith we place in educa­tion to defeat all our current social evils, from drug addiction to teen pregnancy. Witness the faith we place in psychology to give the necessary information about ourselves and others that will enable us to re­late "effectively" to them.

The ancient Gnostics saw the core of the human person, its essential self, as intrinsically divine. It had been imprisoned by some cosmic injustice in the world of matter. Bloom sees this belief in the self's divinity as central to American religion. He maintains that the first tenet of American religion is that "what is oldest and best in us goes back well before creation, and so is no part of creation." Gnostics resent limita­tions, and to resent limitations is to reject ourselves as embodied creatures. Gnostics see the self as un­justly bound by gender, time, place, circumstances, and relationships. The "Fall" is a fall into matter, physicality, history, and community. So Gnostics want "freedom," freedom from all natural, earthly limitations. Hence, Bloom can say that the essence of salvation in American religion is "a knowing by and of an uncreated self, or a self-within-the-self, and the knowledge leads to freedom…from nature, time, his­tory, community, other selves."

Is not the protest of radical feminists today pre­cisely against the limitations imposed by the female's embodied condition as female? Abortion is so impor­tant to feminists because it promises freedom from the constrictions of femaleness and from the role of mother, of which females alone are capable. Freedom from the responsibilities of femaleness can also mean freedom from men, marriages, and community. But this is but an example of a general trend among us: Free the individual from the distorting influences of embodied existence and all will be well.

Gnosticism rules out any need for religion based on the physical Resurrection of Christ. Not only is the Resurrection unverifiable by personal experience, not only must we accept it on the witness of the original community of Jesus' disciples, which for Gnostics is simply irrational, not only does it sanctify the body and give significance to our embodied, historical real­ity, but it also reveals our essential dependence on God and His grace for our salvation. And this is humiliat­ing. It points to a discontinuity between our own ef­forts at salvation and salvation itself.

The Resurrection does not support the Gnostic notion of our own intrinsic potential for godhead. Hence there is pressure to alter its meaning from be­ing a unique event in the life of Jesus to being a myth about human potentiality, a position which has found much support among neo-Modernist theologians.

This ambiguous term, "myth," speaks not about a reality which is "external" to the self but more about the experience of the self. As one introduction to the New Testament puts it, "Myths are narratives that ex­press in symbolically rich language, human experi­ences that resist expression in any objective, descrip­tive language…. A myth cannot be true or false; it can only be effective or ineffective."

Without roots in historical reality, the Resurrec­tion becomes a "story" that takes its place alongside other beautiful religious stories. We no longer need concern ourselves with its historical basis or its impli­cations for community tradition and authority. It can now be judged on its ability to bring personal fulfill­ment.

This reinterpretation of the Resurrection fits in very well with Gnostic American religion. Central to American Gnostic religion, according to Bloom [left], is the experience of emotional union with God. Ritual is one way in which this transcendent emotional con­dition can be created and sustained. And ritual is only "good" to the extent that it is effective in doing so. Through "sacramental" experiences one should be able to enter into an emotional experience of the "res­urrected life." One is transported out of this world.

Catholicism is a sacramental religion. Liturgy and ritual are central to its life. It proclaims that in the Sacraments the Risen Christ is actually present and operative for our salvation and sanctification. But under pressure from American Gnostic religion, liturgies are being turned into vehicles of emotional expe­rience. So we judge a "good" liturgy by its emotional effects. We orchestrate liturgies as theater in order to produce maximum emotional impact.

This is an essentially pagan understanding of ritual. It is the human attempt to establish oneness with an alien God. The blockage to unity is found in the ineffective way the Church celebrates the Sacrament. Finding the correct way to celebrate becomes essential to experiencing "grace," which is under our control.

This is really the reduction of the sacramental system to magic. Understandably, witchcraft is undergoing a revival among us. Steichen has docu­mented the extent to which witchcraft has permeated certain Catholic feminist organizations that are predominantly patronized by religious sisters. It is indicative of this trend to look to liturgy and ritual as a source of life-power that can be experienced, provid­ing one does the ritual "correctly." Through the ritu­als, things can be effected. They become ways of find­ing a harmony with divine power and hence the ca­pacity to use the divine power that is mediated through the human person. When you are one with this power, "resurrection" becomes a foregone conclusion. You already experience it. Jesus' Resurrec­tion, as a unique event, then becomes unnecessary and, as for its connection with the forgiveness of sins, forget it. Such is obsolete thinking!

In line with this, the Sacraments are ceasing to be acts of the Church. It seems ridiculous that only cer­tain people, "priests," are allowed to perform them. Since subjective emotional experience is primary, any­one can perform them. It is the effects the symbols and ritual acts have that are important, not who performs them. As with any shaman, the effectiveness of the ritual is bound up with the ability to perform it prop­erly, not with any authority. As with the Gnostics of old, it is said that for priests to limit these occasions to themselves smacks of a jealousy for special status and prerogative. The Sacraments need to be freed from priestly control and given back to the people. Anyone should be able to administer them whenever the occa­sion arises, and the people should be allowed to go to those who perform them most effectively.

However, history, witness, community, and au­thority are crucial to the Catholic. They derive from the fact that the Resurrection was an event. The per­son of Jesus of Nazareth was raised from death. This is not a "useful idea," but an event that challenges all our ideas about the nature of reality. As the Apostolic Church describes it, it was a revelatory event, gratuitous in its originality and one which challenged people to faith in the God of Jesus of Nazareth as the sole source of our salvation. Thus, we are saved, not through knowledge, but through faith in the love and mercy of God, revealed to us in this event as it is witnessed to by the Apostolic community.

There is a vast difference between an idea that merely satisfies and a revelatory event that demands faith in a person. The religion that flows from an event ceases to be useful, governed in its value by my per­sonal experience, and becomes that which dictates the meaning and significance of my experience, whether I find it comfortable or not. It compels ac­tion, in the first place the action of repentance and the commitment to new values in the world of social in­teraction.

This is not easy. Not only does it require placing one's faith and trust in the witness of that faraway Apostolic community, but it also demands that we recognize our own sinfulness and need for redemption. Both these demands are bound up with the af­firmation that God raised Jesus from the dead. It has been suggested by some, Matthew Fox being the most prominent, that it is time to separate the Resurrec­tion from its link with sin. Such would suit the Gnostics among us very well! The Resurrection could then stand for a promise of eventual transcendence of nature, as the guarantee of the eventual realization of our own godhead.

To abandon the link between the forgiveness of sins and the Resurrection is in fact to abandon the latter entirely. You cannot separate the event from the interpretation. This is crucial. Event and interpreta­tion can be distinguished, but not separated. What we have inherited from the Apostolic community is not the report of an event that can be reinterpreted, but an event that is inseparable from the interpretation that community gave it. In the first place, the event has to be understood from within the meaning-struc­tures of the time, and that includes the linkage be­tween new life and the forgiveness of sin. For the He­brews, sin brought death into the world. To conquer sin, death had to be defeated. The Resurrection was not an accidental but a purposefully revelatory event, and it spoke to this mindset. It therefore came clothed in a meaning that touched the Apostles' own understanding of salvation as the release from both death and sin. That was the meaning that was con­veyed to them by the event, and hence it is the mean­ing we have to accept if we are to be in communion with them. Secondly, it revealed that humanity was radically in need of that forgiveness. This too is very uncomfortable. It reveals us as sinners and demands that we come to see ourselves as sinners. Conscious­ness of our sinfulness, not of our divinity, is the road to salvation in Christian faith. Some in the Johannine community found this too much to take, as do so many today in our culture. In the face of their sepa­ratism, the writer says quite bluntly:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive our­selves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will for­give us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 Jn. 1:8-10)
To believe in the Resurrection, then, is to accept our sinfulness and our need for merciful forgiveness. But in our Gnostic age, this is likely to fall on deaf ears. It looks for freedom from constraints, not forgiveness of sin. We are not sinners, but victims; we are "bro­ken" people who need healing, not culpable people who need forgiveness. Our moral inadequacies and failures are the result of impersonal factors that dis­tort and pervert our inner nature, which in itself is good. Hence, nobody is to blame! Remove constraints through self-knowledge and self-empowerment, and all will be well because the self is essentially divine.

Because of its belief in the Resurrection as an actual event, Catholicism, however, affirms that the fundamental problem in human life is not ignorance but sin. It is not information that we lack -- we have more than enough of that -- but repentance. For the Catholic Christian, salvation is not, as the Gnostic thinks, a matter of escaping evil through self-knowl­edge, but the transcendence of sin and death through accepting forgiveness for our sins and changing our lives. The Resurrection could not teach us that if it were merely a myth and not an event. It is its event-character that is salvific, not the idea. If we can receive this gift of forgiveness and live out its consequences, we enter into the Kingdom even now. If we cannot, we are excluded.

To be an orthodox Christian is to join in fellow­ship with that Apostolic community by accepting its witness to the event of the Resurrection and seeking to live its meaning. It is to join the community that continues to unfold the meaning of the Resurrection and has the Apostolic authority to accept some meanings and exclude others, to mediate forgiveness and new life. To be a Catholic is to affirm that God, in His spirit, operates in and through the Church for the salvation of the world.

From the Gnostic point of view, however, the Church as an organized body is not so much the source of saving truth as a hindrance to it. The source of religious truth lies within the individual, not out­side it in tradition and community. The Church may be useful in that it provides opportunities for emo­tionally uplifting ritual, but it is not necessary. What community emerges is ad hoc communities of like-minded individuals who offer one another compan­ionship and mutual affirmation as individuals, ex­pressed in "meaningful" liturgical experiences.

How different this is from the Pauline notion of the Church as a body in which sharing on the basis of a common faith and life is essential! In fact the Pauline notion of the body is almost beyond understanding for many people today. Our passion is for equality and individual autonomy. In a living body, however, the individual cells are always subordinate to the good of the whole. Where they are not, they are cancerous and will kill that on which they feed unless they themselves are destroyed. The nature of the whole is a given, and in a healthy body cells are subor­dinate to that and serve it through their own special­ization. The body image, then, argues for differentia­tion of roles and ministries in the Church, not the at­tempt to gain some mythical equality and individual autonomy in which all are considered the same. The Gnostic mind, however, seeks to annihilate differ­ences and distinctions in the name of equality.

In the contemporary Church, this loss of appre­ciation of the differentiation of roles in the name of equality is evident in attempts to minimize and even eliminate the priesthood. Are we not all equal as per­sons? To differentiate roles within the community is said automatically to render some persons unequal and inferior. Somehow position and authority are seen as a claim to superiority, and that we cannot stand. So the very notion of the priesthood as having a specific role within the community for the sake of the commu­nity as a whole is being steadily eroded. Because we associate authority primarily with individual status and power, there is a definite project among many in the Church to remove priestly authority and, under the cloak of diffusing it throughout the community, to concentrate it in the hands of "activists."

Those who espouse this movement very often see themselves as returning to and even recreating the mythical golden age in the Church. In a recent argument I was informed that the Church had gotten way off track with her notions of authority. In the early Church things were all decided together; everyone was equal. That the early Church was nothing of the sort is clear to anyone who pays a modicum of atten­tion to the scriptural record. For instance, in the Acts of the Apostles (2:41-42) we read: "Those who wel­comed his message were baptized…. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."

The members devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching, not to "sharing" their own per­sonal revelations. "Pure" Christianity was never a "faith-sharing" group in the way that is understood today. It was a group that shared a common faith. Paul himself is the great model for this and he was very concerned that he shared the same faith as the original Jerusalem group, "to make sure the course I was pur­suing, or had pursued, was not useless" (Gal. 2:2).

Bloom considers the adulation of the primitive Church as an egalitarian entity to be another charac­teristic of the Gnostic American religion: "One of the grand myths of the American Religion is the restora­tion of the Primitive Church, which probably never existed."

How widespread this is among us in the Church today, especially among many of those actively work­ing in parishes! They have a sense of being on a cru­sade to restore, in their own locale at least, the glory of the primitive Church before the autocratic hierar­chy appeared and the light of Christ which pervaded the early Church was dimmed. This has all the char­acteristics of Gnostic nostalgia.

But, as even Bloom realizes, it is a myth with no basis in Christian history. From the beginning the Church was based on authority. Hierarchical struc­ture was not an aberration, but a natural outcome of its "primitive" identity. First the office of the bishop developed to safeguard the unity of the local church, then that of the papacy to safeguard the unity of the whole Church.

Take away the uniqueness of the Resurrection, and Christianity loses any claim upon our attention. It can only be the source of a living understanding of cosmic reality if the Apostolic community actually experienced the redemption of humanity in its en­counter with Jesus of Nazareth raised from the dead. And it is this which the Church from the beginning affirmed as her faith. Human reality, body and spirit, is raised to a new level of existence through the love and power of God because of the Resurrection. Redemp­tion happened in Jesus and is an event of universal significance in a way that no other event is. The teach­ing authority of the Church is at the service of carry­ing this message into the future and enabling people to continue its life-giving effects through the Sacra­ments and in the fellowship of the Church.

This does not rule out the personal discovery of how deeply the Christian "story" is able to make sense of our experience and enable us to deal more effec­tively with it. Surely one important way that we dis­cover the exhilaration and wonder of being a Catholic is that it does enable us to make sense of life and guide us to life-giving values and behavior. Being of the Body does yield to us religious insights that enable us to experience a deeper life of peace and joy.

Through faith in the Risen Christ, the individual Christian is able to affirm God's continued salvific presence in the events of human history, individual and communal. He is able to join in dialogue with others in the Church and, on the basis of a com­mon faith, come to a deeper knowledge of God's will for our world and our own lives. The vision of human life and its significance which emerges out of the Resurrection makes this possible.

The battle, then, is to prevent Christianity from being reduced to an idea, to locate it firmly in history. It is to prevent the heart of salvation as the action of God in the particularity of human history from being lost and becoming simply a human creation, an idea we have developed. The battle is to keep the tension between the individual understanding of Christianity in its personal relevance and the community's need to safeguard its core tradition for future generations, so that both interact for the good of the whole. If Bloom is right, it is in fact a battle for the soul of America. In his opinion, however, it is a battle the Church is bound to lose.

Such a conclusion cannot be that of one who believes that amid all the humanness of the Church -- with her weaknesses, blind spots, and outright scandalous behavior on occasions -- the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and brought the Church forth is still operating.

God is still present in the Church in all her his­torical unfolding to sustain her in her continuing witness to His salvific act in raising Jesus from the dead and forgiving us our sins that crucified Him in the first place. History has shown the power of the Spirit within the Church to work to transform any culture within which she lives. American culture is no excep­tion, and our tasks are no more difficult than in former ages. But to be up to the task, the Church has to quarantine the Gnostic tendencies within her and reaffirm her essential Catholicity. She has to be will­ing to identify the dividing line once again and to refuse to step across it.

[The Rev. Bernard D. Green is Associate Pastor of St. Odilia's Catholic Church in Tucson, Arizona. He also teaches New Testament at Pima Community Col­lege. His review article, "The Gnostic Temptation in the Catholic Church" was originally published in the New Oxford Review (September 2004), and is reprinted here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]
New Oxford Review: subscriptions.