Friday, September 30, 2005

The bizarre legacy of Robert Funk

It's been four weeks since the death of Robert W. Funk, the founder of the controversial Jesus Seminar, which called into question New Testament miracle stories and the authenticity of many of the statements attributed to Jesus. Funk, age 79, died Saturday, Sept. 3rd at his Santa Rosa, Calif., home of lung failure. He had undergone surgery in July to remove a malignant brain tumor.

In a Sept. 9, 2005 syndicated Los Angeles times article in the Boston Globe, entitled "Robert Funk, founder of Jesus Seminar," Larry B. Stammer writes:
After many years in academia, Dr. Funk rose to public recognition after he founded the nonprofit Westar Institute in Santa Rosa in 1985 to promote research and education on what he called biblical literacy. Its first project, the Jesus Seminar, renewed the quest for the historical Jesus.

In the course of those studies, the think tank stirred controversy among conservative Christians even as liberal Christians applauded its scholarship for making Christianity believable and relevant in the postmodern world.
Please note what, according to Stammer, "makes Christianity believable and relevant in the postmodern world":
Among the Jesus Seminar's assertions was that many of the miracles attributed to Jesus never occurred, at least in a literal sense. The Jesus Seminar concluded in 1995 that Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead. The scholars also agreed that there probably was no tomb and that Jesus' body probably was disposed of by his executioners, not his followers.
Okay, so what makes Christianity believable, according to Stammer and the Jesus Seminar, is that it's traditional claims can be admitted to be false. In other words, what makes it believable is admitting that it isn't. But if you think the matter ended with this garden variety atheism, think again. Here's what you find in the next paragraph:
But scholars -- who included Burton Mack, Marcus Borg, and John Dominic Crossan -- also concluded that the religious significance of Jesus' resurrection did not depend on historical fact.
Now where have you heard that before? Why of course, these are precisely the sentiments echoed by our own hot tub religionist, proto-gnostic existentialist, and heretic extraordinaire, Fr. Joseph O'Leary. The really bad part was O'Leary's remark that among his fellow seminarians it was a question whether or not it would have made any difference to the Christian Faith whether Christ's body had been found buried somewhere in Jerusalem. These sentiments are echoed by Daryl Schmidt, a professor of Greek and New Testament at Texas Christian University in Stammer's article. Arguing that this is precisely what is taught in most seminaries, he says:
The single most important thing for those of us who had anything to do with (Funk) was his insistence that we do what we do in public. We didn't make any of this up. Anyone who's been to seminary knows this, but this [was] the best-kept secret.
Thank God this isn't taught in all seminaries. But it's true this poison legacy of Protestant Liberalism and its anti-supernaturalist tradition of historical-criticism has found its way into nearly every nook and cranny of biblical scholarship, including much of mainstream liberal Catholic biblical scholarship.

Jesus, according to Funk, was "one of the great sages of history," but not the man portrayed in a "surface reading" of the New Testament -- the kind of reading he would ascribe to Christian tradition. He writes:
I do not want my faith to be in Jesus, but faith in the really real ... in some version of whatever it was that Jesus believed ....
And what would that be, pray tell? The faith of the pink beads or of the red beads? O what a sad and skeptical glass bead game! The faith of the Gospel of Thomas? The faith of Bar Kochba? How hollow and sad, the faith of Funk!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte

I had the privilege of attending the Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte this past weekend. I was pleasantly surprised by the concert of sacred music featured Friday evening -- O Sacrum Sonvivium (Remondi), Ave Verum Corpus (Mozart), Mass in G Minor (Schubert), Veni Creator Spiritus (Sturk), Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Bach), The Lord Is My Shepherd (Thomas Matthews), If Ye Love Me (Thomas Tallis), Cantique e Jean Racine (Faure), Glory And Worship Are Before Him (Handel), Ave Maria No. 17 (Villa-Lobos), O God Beyond All Praising (Holst).

Not bad.

Saturday, with a larger attendance, featured a more popular variety of charismatic-style "praise" music by performers with guitars and drums.

Not unexpected.

Jim Caviezel spoke Friday night. He offered some light-hearted humor and a memorable and endearing impersonation of Pope John Paul II, based a humerous exchange between them during a private audience during the filming of The Passion of the Christ. Some fascinating details about how he came to faith and some uncanny ways in which the Blessed Mother intervened at various points in his career. I suppose one of the most memorable moments for many was Caviezel's reenactment of William Wallace's speech rallying his troops before the last battle in Mel Gibson's film Braveheart. Caviezel's point, of course, is that we face a similar choice today -- to either escape to the comforts of our homes or stand in the field, face the enemy, and fight. But a far more memorable moment was a much more subdued one, a point made almost in passing, which sticks in my mind. It was a quiet but firm, and heart-felt warning to priests to resist three temptations -- (1) the temptation of comfort, (2) the temptation of timidity, and (3) the greatest temptation of all -- the temptation to want to be liked.

The Christian message will not be greeted as "good news" by everybody. Christ will not be hailed as the "Buddy Jesus" by all. It's not for nothing that He is called a Rock of Offense in Scripture, and that the Gospel is called a Scandal to unbelievers. Hence, the importance of being clear about the message with our children and with the world. Our purpose is not to be liked but to be faithful to Christ.

I could say much more about Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa's message. I could say more about Kerri Caviezel's fascinating talk. But I have to run. And the most imporant thing about the whole weekend for me personally was the deep impression of God's people gathered to take time out of their busy days to spend time apart, with Him, with their Eucharistic Lord, to praise Him, to sing to Him, to adore Him, to be with Him, to love Him, to atone for the hideous indifference that greets and surrounds Him so often in our parishes.

For highlights of the 2005 Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte, including slideshows of the Eucharistic procession (led by Bishop Peter Jugis, and including former bishops William Curlin and John Donoghue), the Holy Hour, Vigil Mass, etc., check out the Diocese of Charlotte website.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Reviving the 'subversive' work of Robert Hugh Benson

Michael D. Greaney, Director of Research for the Center for Economic and Social Justice, is collaborating with some friends on a project to revive the fiction of Robert Hugh Benson, the son of E. W. Benson (the 19th century Archbishop of Canterbury) and 1903 convert from Anglicanism whom he describes, tongue-in-cheek, as "a subversive convert who wrote books undermining true Catholic doctrine and promoting everything Dr. E. Michael Jones disagrees with, like truth, love and justice." See the project underway at In an email to me, he says: "Reading down your lists of posts, I discovered that you and your whole family (and, no doubt, the horse you rode in on), have been targeted by Culture Wars magazine for your crimes against humanity, the Church, and the Gospel According to Jones. . . . Welcome to the club."

Evidently Greaney and the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice ("CESJ"),, were the object of a bizarre attack by Dr. Jones' economic consultant, Dr. Rupert J. Ederer, Ph.D., professor emeritus of economics at Buffalo State University, New York, in the May 2005 issue. I don't have time to go into further detail here, except to say that Greaney's (and the CESJ's) quarrel with Dr. Ederer revolves around his interpretation of Catholic social teaching.

Friday, September 23, 2005

End to restrictions on traditional Latin Mass?

Catholic World News, in a story entitled "Church historian sees end to restrictions on Latin Mass," filed out of Dublin, Sept. 15, 2005 (, said:
Pope Benedict XVI ... will take action soon to allow all Catholic priests to celebrate the Latin Mass, a Cambridge historian has predicted.

Speaking to a conference of priests in Ireland earlier this week, Eamonn Duffy said that it was "extremely likely that Pope Benedict will lift the restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine liturgy," the Irish Independent reported.

The Tridentine ritual, which was the universal form of the Mass prior to Vatican II, is now celebrated only with the explicit permission, or "indult," of the diocesan bishop. Some Vatican-watchers speculate that Pope Benedict will announce a "universal indult," giving blanket permission for all Catholic priests to use the old ritual.

In remarks to the National Conference of Priests of Ireland, Eamonn Duffy said that he thought the Pope would make the policy change in October, during the meeting of the Synod of Bishops. The topic for Synod discussions is the Eucharist.
Karl Keating, commenting in his e-letter of Sept. 20th, writes:
In about 120 American dioceses (out of 176 total) the Tridentine Mass is available on an indult basis. What that means in practice varies.

In a few places the old Mass is celebrated each Sunday at a normal time in a regular parish church. By "normal time" I mean that the Mass is not relegated to some weird hour, such as 4:00 p.m., but has a slot among the other Sunday morning Masses.

In most dioceses that operate under the indult, the Latin Mass is celebrated in a non-standard location (in my own diocese it is in the mausoleum chapel at the Catholic cemetery) or infrequently (some dioceses offer the old Mass just once or twice a month) or in rotating venues (one parish this week, a different next week).

Dioceses that do not permit the indult Mass commonly claim there has been no "demand" for it. Even in dioceses that do permit it, the Mass may be relegated to out-of-the-way places because there is said to be insufficient "demand" that it be featured in a parish context.

I always have found claims about the lack of "demand" to be disingenuous. They have a Catch-22 flavor to them.

Take my local situation. Who wants to attend Mass at an inconveniently-located cemetery chapel where the folding chairs are uncomfortable and the restrooms inadequate? In such a place there is no opportunity for regular parish life: no parish hall, no school, no rectory. The priests drive in from out of town and are not available during the week. There is little chance for "community."

Despite these drawbacks, I'm told that at the cemetery Mass there is standing room only.

In other parts of the country analogous conditions prevail. The sole Latin Mass may be at a parish--but in the most decrepit part of town, where drive-by shootings are more common than the pealing of church bells. Many of the little old ladies who are supposedly the only ones interested in the old Mass will stay away, and who can blame them? The result is a small congregation and thus no "demand."

Or, if the Mass is shifted each week to a different parish, no adequate public announcement is made. The regulars may know where to go week to week, but what about potential new attendees? How would they learn the schedule? When there is no evident growth in the size of the peripatetic congregation, there is said to be no "demand" for the old Mass.

Most important is the lack of experience on the part of most Catholics. They might well end up preferring the solemnity of the old rite--if they ever had a chance to try it. But all they know, if they are younger than about fifty, is that the Mass used to be in Latin--but they have no recollection of it.

That knowledge is too abstract to get them off their duffs for a drive across town to the one Latin Mass that is available to people in their area. They never have attended such a Mass and so cannot know whether they would like it and profit from it. Naturally, from them one can expect no "demand."
Keating continues in his letter by remarking that talk about lack of "demand" for the old Mass will remain fatuous until a fair test is given. His guess, he says, is that there could be much more demand than Church bureaucrats suspect. Just as competition is a good thing in economics, says Keating, so in liturgy, the Novus Ordo would likely be celebrated with considerably more reverence if congregants have the option of going to the old Mass. Still, he worries that even if Eamon Duffy's prediction comes true, that foot-dragging by local bishops could prevent much from changing on the diocesan level. That is, unless the Holy Father does something that surprises us all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

University Degrees without studying!

If this isn't a pathetic commentary on our times, I don't know what is: I received the following email amidst my daily spam in the "in" box yesterday. I was struck by the brazenness of it. Here's what it said:
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Our Degree's work worldwide. Here's an example.

"I had no exper1ence at all in Marketing. I applied as a marketing consultant for a company. My University Degree & reference letters(issued with degree) got me the job in 1 week! My income is now $90,000 a year vs. $25,000. They still have no idea about not going to University, but love me at work for my creativity. You guys rock!."

- Jared T. xxxxxx
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Call Today: 1-206-984-xxxx

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The last four digits of the telephone number have been deleted to prevent any bushy-tailed individual from getting any bright ideas. The last name of "Jared T." was already deleted in the original email, for obvious reasons. These folk are involved in immoral and criminal activity.

... Sigh ...

Father Bo Jangles of the wine & cheese party circuit

Spurred by the news of the prospective apostolic visitations to US Catholic seminaries, where the objective includes not only tests of orthodoxy but tests of sexual orientation, our favorite Catholic heretic, Fr. Joe O'Leary (affectionately dubbed "Fr. Bo Jangles" by Ralph Roiter-Doister), is back in the thick of things. As Jordon Potter observes in the comment box on "Pope Benedict and Church Bureaucracy" (Sept. 16, 2005): "Count 'em, folks -- that SEVENTEEN (17) new posts from Fr. O'Leary from 2:49 a.m. to 12:11 p.m. Fr. O'Leary is back with a vengeance." Of course it's well over 17 posts by now, and he's back with a vengeance pumping heresy and homosexuality again.

Perhaps some will find it ironic that we give any space at all his views or even allow him space in our comment boxes, considering the fact that dissenting liberals almost never return the favor but maintain a near totalitarian control of their media outlets. Consider it a tip of the hat to the free exchange of ideas. I know he has unfair advantages of leisure time, that he cheats and twists facts and regularly resorts to ad hominem attacks on persons (which carry no logical weight but are dirty and demeaning). And one might expect more from a priest. Even a heretical one. But one expects some of that.

Back to his usual crowd-pleaser tricks, O'Leary writes: "To find homosexual affectivity per se disturbing is like finding Judaism or being black disturbing." Never mind that this over-simplistically conflates matters of consciously chosen lifestyle with matters of unavoidable color and race, it plays well.

Always angling to get a rise out of the faithful, O'Leary discourses on links between "the cult of altar boys" and "pedophilia," and between "the cult of the male celibate priesthood," viewed as "a band of angels," and "homoeroticism." Again, he chides fellow discussant, Jordan Potter, for equipating homosexuality and alcoholicism: "The latter is a destructive disease that brings grief to many families. The former is no such thing." Uh-huh. Sure.

"The survivors of Christian 'cure yourselves of gayness' programs tell a grim tale." Oh, really? "Under Ratzinger the CDF ... sabotaged the work of hundreds of leading theologians and cast a pall over the entire Catholic theological world." Yeah, like by telling them they couldn't call what they were doing "Catholic" if they denied the resurrection of Christ?

A regular contributor, New Catholic, comments:
The first four comments [in the comment box for the post, "Pope Benedict and Church Bureaucracy" (Sept. 16, 2005)] were very reasonable ones regarding the Church's bureaucratizaton.

But then came [O'Leary] with his obsession with sexual perversions... It seems like a subject which interests him very much.

I guess that if Dr. Blosser makes some comment on chocolate or on the weather, [O'Leary] will be able to put sodomy in the comments once again.
Ralph Roister-Doister, who's every bit O'Leary's match in the guild of word-smithery, comments:
Nothing gets Fr Joe's digits atwitter like an occasion to outrage the bourgeosie with his droll "sophistication". This is an odd pose for a priest. He knows he's unlikely to convince anyone at this blog that the longing for anal sex among men is "normal", in the seminaries or out of them. But he shows up anyway, because his addiction to the thrill of being the daring Voltaire of the clerical wine and cheese set is insuperable. I doubt that his championing of those who long for the barren pleasure of anal penetration of their fellow men is anything more than proper liberal form: the real point is to launch a few jolly good monocle-poppers.

Bravo, Fr Joe! You launch a multi-note jihad on the subject of anal penetration, call it a "cry for justice", and then accuse everyone else of obsessiveness!

Every time the subject of homosexuality appears on this blog, it is your notes, full of thrashing and bawling, which dominate the board. If your spigot of wisdom on this subject were to suddenly run dry, there would be tons more room on the Blossers' server.
O'Leary, ever practiced at the art of question-begging ad hominems, responds:
More poisoned bigotry from Roister -- he can find only Voltairean sophistication in the cry for justice of gay people -- who are his own brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and whose lives have been devastated by precisely the bigotry he shamelessly glories in.
Wait! That crescendo from the strings and woodwinds ... That chorus! Do I hear strains of the Battle Hymn of the Republic playing in the background?

Again Ralph:
Use whatever adjective you wish to describe me, Fr Joe ... none of it really changes the fact that you are embracing behavior that your Church, and most other human beings in most other cultures, find disordered. One wonders why, but one does not wonder that the same mind has nothing but scorn and vitriol for the last two popes [and for how many others?]. It could hardly be otherwise.
Another discussant, Jon, joins in with a charitable anathema:
Would it be uncharitable of me to quote Ecclesiates 10:12-14 or Proverbs 10:19-21? There's nothing more dull than listening to someone who loves hearing himself talk.

Fr. O'Leary: please try to be succinct and to the point, and we'll all be grateful and more willing to interact with your thoughts. As Elvis said, a little less conversation, a little more action, please. Don't bother chastising us for agreeing with dogmatic Church teaching. Maybe you'd prefer for us to join you in dissent, but you'll have to do more than wag your finger at our so-called homophobia for that to happen.

I'm sorry that you think it's worth your time to spend hours on the Internet, causing scandal by your open and unapologetic dissent. I'm sorry that you're offended by the presence of young fogeys who vociferously reject your theological standards as relics of a dying age. I'm sorry that you see anal sex as something gay rather than as physical violence. I'm sorry that you can't accept the Church's ruling on women priests. I'm sorry you think that Church teaching on homosexuality is the equivalent of Nazi death camps.

And most of all I'm sorry that you're cutting yourself off from the Christ in this way. You are meant to be an alter Christus, but you appear more like an anti-Christ, whose "spirit" is present in every age. Perhaps it's inappropriate for a layman to chastise a priest, but I cannot think of you as a spiritual father in any way, except as an abusive father. Please stop, or just leave the Church altogether and end the spiritual confusion you're spreading. You're hurting your children.
Jordon Potter, overwhelmed by yet another avelanche of O'Leary logorrhea, writes:
I haven't had a chance to read [all of O'Leary's comments] yet, and don't know when I will get a chance (or if it will even be worth the trouble to do so), but I did see the filthy statement with which he began his reply to my last comment -- the claim that young men praying the rosary is in some way homoerotic. This just goes to show better than anything how orthodox Catholics and people like Fr. O'Leary live in two completely different worlds. How could anyone suggest there was something sexually perverted about a young man seeking the intercession of his spiritual mother Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus! What could be homosexual about a group of young men kneel together and praying the rosary?
Fr. O'Leary raises one point I found credibly worth considering, though I doubt he would agree with the conclusions I draw from it. Regarding the Vatican-appointed investigators being sent out to examine the Catholic seminaries this fall, he asks: "But quis custodet ipsos custodes?" That is, in this case, Who investigates the investigators? He adds:
The idea of Vatican bureaucrats, clutching their own secrets in their bosom and armored with the benighted curial documents of recent years, conducting an inquisition into the tender secrets of the ultra-conservative youths who currently inhabit their seminaries, strikes me as primarily a very amusing scenario, though undoubtedly it will be a source of pain for all those involved.
Perhaps O'Leary wants to suggest that the possibility of hypocrisy here -- that is, of bureaucrats, who themselves are enmeshed in compromising homosexual liaisons, presuming to investigate seminaries for evidence of homosexuals -- should induce us to condemn the whole prospect of such an inquiry. Hypocrisy, certainly, is despicable. Yet the counsel of Christ that he who is without sin be the first to cast stones seems misplaced here. This apostolic visitation is not about condemning homosexuals. It is about redeeming the Church after decades of unchecked sexual abuse that have only come to light in the sex scandals of recent years. Ralph Roiter-Doister seems to have the more clear-headed idea when he writes:
I will agree with Fr Joe to this extent: if this [Apostolic Visitation this fall] is ineffectual, if it consists of a nod-nod-wink-wink questionnaire and not much more, then it will do far more harm than good, in that it will leave the impression that something, other than covering-up, is being done. Cover-up, after all, is one of the characteristics of bureaucracy that Fr Joe omitted to mention, and I'm sure he would not have done so had he not been so tired.

To that end, I would suggest that discipline of priests found guilty of sexual transgressions of any sort -- even heterosexual fornication, my dear Father -- be swift, severe, and VERY public. Let the specter of public humiliation do the disciplinary work that blubbering such as Fr Joe's will never accomplish.
For another less-than-sanguine look at the prospects of a hopeful outcome to the apostolic visitations, see Michael Liccione's considered view in his post, "They're but will it matter?" at Sacramentum Vitae (Sept. 4, 2005). "Speaking as a former seminary adjunct professor as well as a former victim," writes Luccione, "I can state unequivocally that the intellectual and social tone of many seminaries during the 60s, 70s, and early 80s contributed to that problem as much as it reflected it." Addressing precisely the viewpoint found in the O'Leary's of "progressive" Cafeteria Catholicism, he says:
Progressives have no problem repeating that the inexcusable coverup and belittling of so many sex-abuse cases was self-serving on the part of the offending bishops, who were more interested in covering their own and the Church's posterior than in protecting the young. Yet it has become all too apparent that, in some cases, the problem is that bishops were either homosexuals themselves or otherwise more inclined to sympathize with homosexual priests than to rein them in.
One of the roots of the dispiriting problems confronting the Church in America today, says Luccione, "is the self-serving unwillingness of many to even admit what one of the roots is: homosexuals in the priesthood."

What, then, of O'Leary? Roiter-Doister sums up the matter thus:
All this tap dancing that you [Fr. O'Leary] do to maintain the pretence of the faith! It must make you weary -- it certainly does us! Fr Bo Jangles, celebrated dandy of the wine and cheese party circuit, pirouetting in and out of heresy with gay abandon.
Weary indeed.

Dotting the I's between whoring & cancer

My wife was indignant. Right in the middle of her Family Circle magazine was an ad for the HPV (human papillomavirus) test. Nothing wrong with that. What was the problem? Five attractive thirtyish women -- white, hispanic, African-American, pc -- peer out from the page. Below them in large print one reads: "If you're a gambling woman, then getting just a Pap test is fine." Below that, one reads the relevant details:
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by a virus -- the human papillomavirus (HPV). A Pap test looks for the abnormal cells caused by HPV but may not find them until it is too late. Only the HPV test can detect the virus and is nearly 100% accurate.

When used along with a Pap, the HPV test can help your doctor reduce your chance of developing cervical cancer and is approved for screening women 30 and over.

Learn more before your next doctor's appointment. 877-HPV-FACT

Ask your doctor -- tell your friends.
In fine print at the bottom of the page, one learns that the ad is placed by Digene Corp. An article by Michael S. Rosenwald in Washington Post (March 21, 2005) entitled "Digene's Ads Take Their Case To Women" states that Digene contracted with Gotham, Inc., a New York agency, to formulate the ad campaign, whose goal is to get women "to stop, read, then take action, either by talking to their doctor or visiting the firm's educational Web site."

This is serious stuff. But why shouldn't women be warned about the risks of cancer involved in human papillomavirus, especially if they can reduce the risks by taking a specific HPV test, as opposed to a conventional Pap test that could fail to detect the abnormal carcenogenic cells? Why should my wife be indignant about any of this, I wondered, until she told me the reason. The ads leave out one crucial bit of information. They aren't saying anything about what causes HPV, and the answer is simple: promiscuous sex.

Over at the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the article on "Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection" states the facts baldly:
Genital HPV infection is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Human papillomavirus is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different strains or types. More than 30 of these viruses are sexually transmitted, and they can infect the genital area of men and women including the skin of the penis, vulva (area outside the vagina), or anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix, or rectum. Most people who become infected with HPV will not have any symptoms and will clear the infection on their own.

Some of these viruses are called "high-risk" types, and may cause abnormal Pap tests. They may also lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis.
But go to the Digene Corp. website,, and you will find not a word about what causes HPV. Of course it's not hard to guess why. What woman wants to be told that her recreational sex may be causing cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or of some guy's carcinomic penis? It just ain't nice -- especially in public ads. So hush!

Still, this is only the latest example in a long history of public misinformation about medical facts -- misinformation fueled by political considerations. One of the biggest offenders are the pharmaceutical corporations invested in the contraceptive industry, who have no desire to dot the i's between contraception and cancer. No less egregious is Planned Parenthood's campaign to keep the lid on the connection between abortion and cancer. Read more here.

Anyone like to run a public service ad telling the truth? For one thing, the news is good news: women in faithfully committed marriages have nothing to worry about when it comes to cancers caused by HPV. Nor do they have to worry about sexually transmitted HIV. Furthermore, if they are faithful Catholics, they have nothing to worry about when it comes to cancers caused by birth control pills or abortion. Life is so much easier when you follow the instructions in the Owner's manual.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

What is Adoremus Society's mission?

On July 21, 2005 I posted an article entitled "Three Liturgical Movements?" reprinting a letter I wrote to the editor published in the Adoremus Bulletin of July-August 2005, but adding the parts that were deleted in the print edition. In that letter, I distinguished three liturgical movements in Roman Catholicism today: (1) the Tridentine rite, which continues under an officially encouraged indult, (2) the reform of that rite called for by Vatican II, and (3) the Novus Ordo, which incorporates numerous innovations never envisioned by the Council, and which Pope Benedict has called a "rupture" with liturgical tradition. My question to the editor was essentially this: Of which liturgical movement is the Adoremus Society seeking a renewal -- the reform of the Tridentine rite called for by V-II, or the Novus Ordo? My suggestion was that Adoremus has not at all seemed clear about its mission in this regard.

Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from Rev. Thomas M. Kocik, the author of Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate: Reform or Return (San Diego: Ignatius Press, 2003) -- a volume I suggested for further reading at the end of my "Three Liturgical Movements?" article and have recommended from time to time (e.g., "Ratzinger on Liturgy," Nov. 22, 2004; and "I, Liturgist," March 1, 2005). With his permission, I excerpted the major portion of his letter in a poste entitled "Adoremus Society opposed to the 'reform of the reform'?" (August 11, 2005). As some readers may recall, his remarks appear to corroborate my suspicion.

Next, in the September 2005 issue of the Adoremus Bulletin (Vol. XI, No. 6), we read the following (on p. 10) in a letter to the editor from Bernard M. Collins, of Frederick, Maryland:
"AB Is Patronizing"

Dr. Philip Blosser's letter ("Three Liturgical Movements?"), published in Adoremus Bulletin July-August 2005, articulated something that has been troubling me for some time, and I think his analysis is quite accurate. Furthermore, I think your response seemed evasive. The whole thing puzzles me.

The current Missal and its use are clearly seriously deficient on many levels, regardless of its legitimacy and validity, and this according to some of the highest officials and theologians in the Church. The pope himself has spoken his mind on this. When the Mass is offered according to the rubrics there is a modicum of decorum and a measure of acceptance that is possible for persons who must tolerate its banality, ineptness, bad translations, etc. When it is offered in its usual style by what is often referred to as "the idiot clergy" and their multitudes of "ministers" it is a travesty and painful to attend.

Your treatment of those who prefer the older Missal was patronizing. "Adoremus does not oppose those who make us ..." seemed to imply they have an empty-headed attachment to the past. While some may suffer from that problem, there is a great body of much more profound thinking among faithful who want a truly appropriate celebration of the Mass, and feel that a return to something very close to the past is the only way to go. After 40 years of witnessing so much insanity and inanity on the altar, I have come to that opinion.

I have long been convinced that very appropriate modifications were possible under the old Missal without any significant authorization. As examples, the priest would not have been prohibited from reading the Epistle and Gospel in the vernacular; the recitation of the "Corpus Domini..." at Communion could have been shortened and said in the recipients' language; a conscious effort to limit the "Requiem" Masses that so dominated weakday celebrations, in favor of the calendar of the Saints, would have been welcome; with the participation of the national bishops, the Scriptural readings could easily have been expanded.

I cannot honestly figure out where Adoremus pleaces itself in the ongoing examination of the "reform." The things you bring up in the Adoremus Bulletin are usually a repetition of official documents and an unnecessarily drawn out and somewhat pedantic explanation of what is "permitted." The errant clergy, bishops and priests, are well aware of both.

Bernard M. Collins,
Frederick, Maryland.

In response to this letter, the Editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, Mrs. Helen H. Hitchcock (pictured below right), writes:
We find your letter puzzling. Especially your comment that the current Missal itself is "seriously deficient on many levels," implying that the pope agrees with this.

We are very sympathetic with Catholics -- clergy or lay -- who long for the beauty, holiness and power that they should find in every Mass, but so often do not -- and we hope our efforts are helpful to them and to the Church.

Adoremus has not changed its focus, nor altered its objectives. (See our "mission statement" in our 10th Anniversary issue -- June 2005.) Our commitment to a more reverent and beautiful and authentic celebration of the Sacred Liturgy -- for all Catholics -- has been our guiding principle from the beginning.

Our mission statement is clear about this objective: "the mission of Adoremus is to restore the beauty, the holiness, the power, of the Church's rich liturgical tradition, while remaining faithful to an organic, living process of renewal." The statement quotes then-Cardinal Ratzinger in a passage from
Feast of Faith, in part, "... What is exciting about Christian Liturgy is that it lifts us up out of our narrow sphere and lets us share in the Truthy. The aim of all liturgical renewal must be to bring to light this liberating greatness."

Our statement also affirmed: "With the Holy Father [John Paul II] ... Adoremus believes liturgical changes approved since the Council should be reviewed and measured against a deeper understanding of the Council's teaching. We believe the Church should reflect carefully on these changes, and evaluate them in the light of the original Council texts and of the experience of the faithful since the Council."

We do not "place ourselves" elsewhere than squarely with the Church and the Vicar of Christ. And our aim is not to educate "errant clergy," but to provide encouragement and useful information for faithful Catholics of good will in all states of life.
Mrs. Hitchcock's answer, as well as the Adoremus mission statement it cites, is in many ways excellent. In particular, it is significant that the statement asserts that the "changes approved since the Council should be reviewed and measured against a deeper understanding of the Council's teaching."

Less clear, however, is what the statement means when it asserts that "the Church should . . . evaluate [these changes] in light of the original council texts and of the experience of the faithful since the Council" (emphasis added). It is unclear what authority the "experience of the faithful since the council" has. Setting aside, for the moment, the implicit question of authority, it is clear, on the one hand, that millions of Catholics has been disaffected by the liturgical chaos following the council. Until the provision of the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei of July 1988, it was not clear that the experience of this vast, disaffected throng of Catholics counted for much in the scheme of post-Vatican II developments. It was only the threat of real schism that evoked the indult Latin Mass. Even then, it is far from clear (to put the most generous spin on things!) that the "wide and generous application" of Pope John Paul II's directives has been seen among the bishops of the Church.

On the other hand, it is no less clear that millions of Catholics have made shift to adjust and accommodate themselves to the "changes" that have been thrust upon them, in the process becoming desensitized by these changes, as well as through the increasing remoteness from (and decreasing familiarity with) the old Latin Mass through the passage of time. It's certainly not clear how such desensitized subjective experience could serve as an authoritative index of liturgical virtue in any credible way.

Again, when the Adoremus mission statement refers to its mission of restoring the beauty, holiness and power of the Church's rich liturgical tradition "while remaining faithful to an organic, living process of renewal," it's not clear exactly what this could mean. What is particularly ironic is the fact that the "organic, living process of renewal" proposed during Vatican II is precisely what has been betrayed by the "changes" imposed on the faithful during the decades-long aftermath of the council. In view of this, it's hard to see what "remaining faithful" to such an "organic, living process of renewal" might mean.

Nevertheless, there's no question that the Church's liturgical tradition is rich in beauty, holiness, and power, and that this is what the faithful need restored in their liturgies, regardless of whether they understand this and experience this "need." When will our bishops and priests (and Catholic periodical editors) recollect that Mother Church is a parent and cannot always expect her children to know what they need? What mother, if her daughter has acquired a taste for junk food, will be satisfied to allow her to consistently indulge her taste in the nutritional equivalent of sawdust laced with crack cocaine?

Finally, Mrs. Hitchcock's opening paragraph deserves comment. She says that she finds Mr. Collins' letter puzzling -- "Especially your comment that the current Missal itself is 'seriously deficient on many levels,' implying that the pope agrees with this." But of course it's no secret that he does.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Apostolic visitation of all U.S. seminaries to start next month

In honor of Fr. Joseph O'Leary, I'm happy to announce that Vatican-appointed teams will be conducting their apostolic visits and investigations of U.S. seminaries beginning in October. I've been petitioning the Vatican for an extension of jurisdiction to cover Jesuit schools in Tokyo, but I haven't heard back yet. And, no, I don't see a conflict between my opposition to bureaucracy (see my post, "Pope Benedict & Church Bureaucracy" of Sept. 16, 2005) and the Vatican's administration of this apostolic visitation. "Bureaucracy" is a pejorative term connoting inefficiency and waste, whereas "administration" has about it the possibility of something efficient and streamlined that comes right to the point -- which Benjamin assures me is quite likely with these apostolic visitations, which should be concluded by April. Cheers.

The Faith Connection promotes universalism

In a post entitled "The Faith Connection promotes God as 'Mother'" (May 23, 2005), I addressed (to the attention of Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte) a critique of a bulletin insert produced by and regularly used by our church in the Diocese of Charlotte, NC, carried the title: "Why Is it Okay to Call God 'Mother'?" The Faith Connection is written by Bob Duggan and published by Resources for Christian Living, 200 E. Bethany Dr., Allen, Texas 75002 (877-275-4725).

Earlier this year, the January 2, 2005 issue for Epiphany Sunday (Year A) was devoted to the question, "Who Can Be Saved?" What I find depressingly tendentious about the issue, like many, is that although the writing generally falls within the broad limits of what may conform to Church teaching, it often skirts the edges of these limits precariously, suggesting ecclesiastical support for prevailing social opinions distinctly at odds with Catholic orthodoxy.

Take the title article, "Who Can Be Saved?" It reads as follows:
In the year 2000 the Vatican issued a document with the Latin title Dominus Jesus [sic.] (The Lord Jesus) that caused a good bit of consternation, both within Catholic circles and among members of other religions. According to reports in the popular press, it seemed that this highly technical theological essay was suggesting that only those who believed in Jesus Christ and were members of the Catholic Church could be saved.

This portrayal was over-simplified to the point of being in error, but even on a more careful reading some commentators wondered if the Catholic Church was backing away from its decades-old commitment to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

Leaders of non-Christian religions in particular asked if Catholic dialogue partners were now trying to "convert" them rather than enter into sincere conversation. Some fundamentalist Christian groups, on the other hand, applauded what they saw as a position more in line with their own interpretation of sacred Scripture, that is, that only those who make an explicit confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can be saved.

Subsequent clarifications from Vatican officials and other Catholic theologians have helped to calm fears that the document was trying to reverse the church's understanding of the place of separated Christians and non-Christians in God's universal plan of salvation as it was taught at the Second Vatican Council. Far from an attempt to change official teaching, the teaching in this document sought only to nuance and refine the Catholic Church's understanding that Jesus is the Savior of all people everywhere.
You see the drift. Not many Americans believe in hell anymore. At least not many think that anyone need actually fear hellfire, since they all know that the notion of "the fires of hell" must be merely a symbol for something fairly benign, like "alienation from other people"; and, in any case, John Lennon assured them (in his song Imagine) that there's "no hell below us" to worry about. So it's inevitable that being "saved" won't mean anything so drastic as being spared from the hell of eternal separation from God. For that matter, who's to say what "God" means anyway, or even whether he (or she, or whatever) actually exists as a distinct being. So being "saved" must also mean something quite benign, like having a sense of "community" in which we get along with and are accepted by others, if it means anything at all. Something like that would be the prevailing opinion.

So what does Bob Duggan suggest to his readers? Not to worry, folks: whatever being "saved" means, we're all people of good will here, and everyone can be "saved." One hears echoes of the Rainbow Coalition's nice, neighborly sentiments here. We are the world. We are family. Now of course there's nothing formally incorrect about anything he's explicitly said, as opposed to what he's suggesting here. He hasn't exactly denied the existence of hell or heaven or divine judgment. He's not even asserted that anybody outside the Church or that anybody who doesn't explicitly believe in Jesus Christ necessarily is saved, so he hasn't given explicit grounds for offending even the most reactionary traditionalist or fundamentalist. He even plays it safe by crediting the popular press with the misunderstanding that Dominus Jesus was teaching some sort of exclusivity, thereby deflecting attention from his own opposition to the exclusivist dimension of that document's message.

Note that Duggan suggests here that even on a "more careful reading" of Dominus Iesus (that is, an accurate reading), people worried whether the Church was backing away from it's commitment to "dialogue" with members of non-Catholic Christian communities of faith and members of non-Christian religions. Notice that this commitment is described as "decades-old," which on first reading sounds like it's saying "ancient," but actually means thirty or forty years, since this commitment emerged only after Vatican II in the 1970s (it would be more accurate to speak of the "novelty" of the Church's commitment to interreligious "dialogue"). Notice also how he emphasizes that this is a "commitment" of the Church, which might suggest to the careless reader the comfortable conclusion that the pleasant, inclusive sentiments enshrined by liberal post-modernity are happily supported by Church -- perhaps yielding even a new understanding of "evangelization."

Then comes the crux of the matter: if anyone was worried that Catholic Christians might actually still believe that God has revealed His unique Gospel of salvation to them and actually rejoice in the prospect of others "converting" to the Christian Faith through repentance and change of life, he need no longer fear. All Catholics really intend to do is engage in "sincere conversation" -- as though carrying the light of salvation to non-believers, like St. Patrick did to the Irish, was incompatible with "sincere conversation."

But it gets worse. In the a box at the bottom of the page, a heading reads: "Why is this important?" Duggan writes:
Catholics were once taught, without careful qualification, that outside of the church there is no salvation. Theological developments stretching back hundreds of years have helped to refine this assertion and allow us today to realize that all people of good will who in good faith follow their conscience--regardless of their religious affiliation--are within the circle of those called to salvation by God's love. This is important because it is a very different viewpoint than that of millions of fundamentalist Christians who still believe that only with a specific acceptance of Jesus Christ can one be saved.
Well, now -- let's sort this out. On the one hand, it is true that one finds in recent Catholic theology such notions as "invincible ignorance" (the idea that God presumably would not condemn a person for being ignorant of the Gospel through no fault of his own) and "baptism of desire" (the idea that God presumably would not condemn a person for dying without being baptized, provided that he would have intended to receive baptism). It is also true that the Church accepts that God extends to some individuals -- such as the Old Testament saints, infants, and retarded individuals -- the grace of salvation through Christ even though it would have been impossible for them to receive any information about the historical Jesus.

On the other hand, whatever some people may think today, the Church has never taught universalism -- the theory that everyone is saved. Quite apart from the fact that it is overtly contradicted by various points of Scripture and tradition, such a notion would have completely contravened the Church's great historical mission of world evangelism -- beginning with the missionary journeys of St. Paul and the other apostles following Christ's ascension, and continuing throughout the Church's entire history of evangelizing northern and western Europe, the British Isles, eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and the New World.

Duggan's language is anything but clear or helpful here. What does it mean to say that today we "realize that all people of good will who in good faith follow their conscience -- regardless of their religious affiliation -- are within the circle of those called to salvation by God's love." It sounds awfully nice, whatever it means. But what does it mean? Are there any qualifications on salvation here? Is there anything that would prevent anyone from being saved? Evidently religious affiliation doesn't exclude anybody. What does "people of good will" mean? How much "good will" qualifies? And who are those who "in good faith follow their conscience"? Does that exclude anybody? Furthermore, what does it mean to be "within the circle of those called to salvation by God's love"? Does that circle exclude anyone? Isn't everybody "called to" salvation, and, if so, what's the point of such a statement? Does anyone seriously believe Duggan is calling everyone to repentance?

The problem here is that the reader receives the distinct impression that religious affiliation, after all, is really unimportant, that the Catholic Faith doesn't really offer anything that calls for the gravity of "conversion," and that in the final analysis all that really matters is being a person of "good will" who "in good faith" follows his "conscience" (that is, whatever he thinks is probably right), being willing to enter into "sincere conversation" with non-believers and, above all, avoiding any thought of trying to convert or persuade them that they might have anything to gain from accepting what the Catholic Church teaches.

In the same issue of The Faith Connection are several short articles that reinforce these confusions. One is a quotation from the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church). Without any further context, the following statement is baldly asserted: "Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the demands of their conscience -- those too may achieve eternal salvation." Now what on earth is this supposed to suggest in the context of Duggan's publication? I know how the Church wants to allow for the possibility that salvation through Christ may not mean salvation by knowing and accepting a certain body of information about Jesus Christ or having benefit of formal membership in the Catholic Church -- neither of which, for example, could conceivably be possibilities for, say, Old Testament saints.

But what are we to conclude from this bald quotation? What does "through no fault of their own" mean? What constitutes culpable "fault" here? What counts adequately as seeking God "with a sincere heart"? How are we to discern when a non-Christian is "moved by grace"? Is the Muslim who is moved to reject the divinity of Christ "moved by grace"? Is the practitioner of Voodoo "moved by grace"? Is the person who in sincere conscience is moved to convert from Catholicism to Buddhism "moved by grace"? Is it even meaningful for human beings, whose knowledge falls short of divine omniscience, to entertain such considerations? What does it means to suggest that "those too may achieve eternal salvation"? Does this mean that, given God's mercy, there's the off chance that someone of exceptional circumstances may thus be saved outside the Church and apart from accepting Church teaching about Christ? Or does it mean to suggest that most non-Christians are probably saved?

It's significant that whenever the New Testament writers allude to general (natural) revelation -- what can be known about God apart from special (supernatural) revelation in Scripture and Church teaching -- they qualify the availability of such knowledge with a caveat about the appropriation of such knowledge. That is, they note the sinful heart's disinclination to accept God's Word. For example, when St. Paul says that "what can be known about God is plain to [those outside the household of faith], because God has shown it to them," the immediate context is about how God's wrath is upon those who "by their wickedness suppress the truth." (Rom. 1:18-19) Thus, he promptly goes on to state that those who have this knowledge of God from nature are "without excuse, for althouugh they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened." (Rom. 1:20-21) Again, the Prologue of the Gospel of John, with its reference to the pre-incarnate Logos (Word) as the "true light that enlightens every man," is often taken as implying a generally accessible revelation of Christ independent of the incarnate Christ and His Church and Scripture. But it is significant that John goes on to state unequivocally that although this light (the pre-incarnate Logos, or Christ) had made the world and then came into the world, "yet the world knew him not." (Jn. 1:10) In light of these caveats of Paul and John, it seems foolish and naive to embrace an ebuliently romantic optimism about a universal human desire to lovingly seek God.

In fairness to Duggan, he does say, in another short piece, that the Church "has always taught -- and still does -- that the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the source of salvation for the entire human race." But even this remains couched in ambiguity. The salvation of the "entire" human race? What does this mean? That everyone is saved through Jesus, or merely that the possibility of everyone's salvation is secured by Jesus' death and resurrection? He goes on to write:
Catholics believe that the following truths can exist simultaneously, without being in contradiction to one another: (1) Jesus Christ both accomplished and offers salvation to all people. (2) People of good will who do not know the Gospel of Christ or his church can nonetheless be saved. (3) The salvation of those who do not name Jesus as their Lord and Savior is nonetheless possible because of the redemptive value of his death and Resurrection.
Again, the keynote is ambiguity. Duggan does state that Catholics will "continue to proclaim the Gospel to those wihtout faith," but counterbalances this by stressing that this does not mean trying to convert others. It's not hard to imagine what Duggan would say about the Catholic tradition of apologetics -- offering reasons for Christian faith. Wouldn't that be trying to "convert" non-believers?

Confusion is rampant. Indeed, the confusion runs so deep that one sometimes wonders whether the shepherds of the flock have not lost their bearings and become a flock of shepherds. If they have not, it's high time the shepherds of the Church took a more active role in bringing clarity to such questions.

Recommended for further study:

Friday, September 16, 2005

Pope Benedict & Church Bureaucracy

In the second of his two-part series on "The Man Who Was Ratzinger" in New Oxford Review (September 2005), Michael S. Rose addresses a number of issues of interest. One of these is the Pope's view of Church bureaucracy. He writes:
As Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope gave some indication that he is not only interested in remodeling the face of the Church, but also the inner workings of her bureaucracy. Despite his reputation as a so-called authoritarian, he is averse to the excessive bureaucracy that has characterized the Church in recent decades. While parishes and other Catholic institutions in many dioceses are closing or merging, the bureaucracies are growing as new committees and chancery offices are formed to address perceived challenges in the local or universal Church. "In the past two decades an excessive amount of institutionalization has come about in the Church, which is alarming," wrote Ratzinger in his 1998 book, A New Song For the Lord. "Future reforms should therefore aim not at the creation of yet more institutions, but at their reduction." According to Sandro Magister, the religion editor for the Italian newspaper L'Espresso, Pope Benedict XVI would love to see a Church that is simpler in terms of bureaucracy: "He doesn't want its central and peripheral institutions -- the Vatican curia, the diocesan chanceries, the episcopal conferences - to become 'like the armor of Sual, which prevented the young David from walking.'"
A fine point. Some chancery offices and episcopal conferences may even be starting to resemble Goliath more than David.
Ratzinger believes that, like big government, these bureaucracies have become self-perpetuating and self-interested, incapable of serving the best interests of those to whom they owe their responsibility and their existence. It would not be surprising then if the new Pope initiates a reform of Church bureaucracies, including diocesan chanceries, national bishops' conferences, and even the Roman Curia itself, all in the interest of shedding paperwork and returning to core pastoral concerns.
What's this? In Rose's treatment, the former Cardinal Ratzinger almost comes out looking like a Republican opponent of the big government policies of the tax-and-spend Democrats. I wonder, does this qualify His Holiness as a NeoCon too? One thing I have appreciated about the Republican platform, even though it hasn't been implemented all that consistently in post-Reagan administrations, is its opposition to top-heavy bureaucracies in government. There's even enough of that in academic administrations to get my ire up these days -- new vice presidents of this and that at every turn! Anyway, Rose continues:
One important aspect of this "reform" is the relationship between the Vatican (including the authority of the papacy) and the national bishops' conferences. For some time now, the Church has been suffering under the weight of these ecclesiastical bodies. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) provides a perfect example. In recent decades it has produced a mass of commissions, committees, and documents on every coneivable subject. Too often, however, the USCCB (formerly NCCB) has served to undermine the Church's official positions as enunciated by the Vatican. It took the U.S. bishops' committee on Catholic higher education a whole decade to study the implications of Ex Corde Ecclesiae before releasing its own guidelines for its implementation in the U.S. Even then, these guidelines were criticized by the Vatican as inadequate. Cardinal Ratzinger's 1986 document on "The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," and his 1992 follow-up on legistlatin concerning homosexual persons, was undermined by the USCCB when it released Always Our Children, another committee document that was found by the future Pope to be deficient enought as to require substantial revision before being reissued. The U.S. bishops did make the requested revisions and produced a new version of Always Our Children, but not before the initial version had already been distributed across the country and had become the primary text in homosexual discussion groups that were cropping up in dioceses across the country.
Rose actually has an extensive treatment of the problem of homosexual priests in this same article that is relevant to this discussion, but which I cannot address in this context (see pp. 25-26 of the September 2005 issue of NOR). Rose concludes:
Ratzinger sought to reign in some of the abuses by bishops' conferences with the release of his 1998 document Apostolos Suos. He sought not only to redefine the nature and understanding of bishops' conferences, he also argued they had no teaching authority on their own. Signed by Pope John paul II, Apostolos Suos declared that national episcopal conferences were not an expression of collegiality, but derived their authority solely from their unity with the Pope. Therefore, these national conferences could not issue statements on moral or doctrinal matters unless they were approved unanimously or had prior approval from the Vatican. Many regarded this as a classic exercise of raw political power when in fact it was a reasonable clarification of a confusing matter in the Church, one that Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II thought could threaten to reduce the Catholic Church to a loose federation of local or national churches, similar to the Anglican Communion.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

This is academic jihad!

"Stand, therefore, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, with which ye shall be sable to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

No, that was not Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction. That was St. Paul in Ephesians 6:14-17. And what you see pictured here are two snapshots of a great warrior preparing to do battle against the forces of darkness, which threaten the cultural literacy of future graduates of Lenoir-Rhyne by undermining the liberal arts curriculum.

Who is this great warrior? Is he one of the many students you can now see on campus sporting one of these shirts? Is he a faculty member, likewise clad in the armor of this shirt? From his flaring nostrils, the gritted teeth, and the clenched fists, one can see his determination.

Beware, O Enemy, O Dark Lords of Moria. For even as your amass your armies of committee Orcs to the beating of drums, there arises without your walls a mighty sea of warriors -- Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves, Rangers, Ents, all under the fearless leadership of Gandalf the White -- posed to bring down your walls and liberate these hallowed halls of learning from the tyranny of foreign domination. Freedom for the academy! Freedom for the liberal arts!

Resist the machine!
Feed your mind!
Save the Liberal Arts
at Lenoir-Rhyne!

[Tip of the hat to Kirk G. Kanzelberger of Sapor Sapientiae. For shirts and other gear like this, visit The Academy Store]

Papa Ratzi on the "ecumenism of return"

Karl Keating, in his e-letter of 9/13/05 comments on a discussion by Fr. Brian Harrison (whose byline appears in Keating's apologetics journal, This Rock) about Pope Benedict's remarks in Cologne on August 19th to representatives of non-Catholic churches. To Fr. Brian Harrison's mind, as Keating notes, what the Pope said in one particular paragraph was especially interesting--for what he left out.

The Pope's talk, in Harrison's words, "included a paragraph which I personally find encouraging because, while paying lip service to the fashionable postconciliar repudiation of the traditional 'ecumenism of return,' the Pontiff gave his own subtle spin to this repudiation, which has caused so much anguish in recent years to traditional, orthodox Catholics."

Here's what Pope Benedict said:
This unity does not mean what could be called ecumenism of the return: that is, to deny and to reject one's own faith history. Absolutely not! It does not mean uniformity in all expressions of theology and spirituality, in liturgical forms and in disciplines.
Harrison comments:
The first impression here is that Pope Benedict is right in line with Cardinal Kasper and other ecumaniac luminaries. ... But what, precisely, is Benedict ruling out when he rules out so categorically this dreaded, abhorrent, unthinkable "return" of the separated brethren? He answers this question by proceeding to rule out any future requirement of "uniformity" in four distinct and specific areas of the Church's life: theology, spirituality, liturgical forms, and discipline. Note well that the Pope conspicuously fails to include doctrine among these areas in which uniformity will not be required.

Now I would suggest that this omission, to the extent that it comes to be taken seriously and implemented at high levels, really amounts to a pulling the rug out from under the feet of heretical ecumenists. It's the old Catholic orthodoxy creeping in again by the postconciliar back door. For what preconciliar pope ever insisted on uniformity in any of the four areas specified now by Benedict XVI?
Harrison looks at each of the four areas.

First, in theology the Church always has allowed for "legitimate theological differences among approved Fathers and Doctors." Saints such as Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Augustine, and John Chrysostom "have had their differing approaches in explaining the mysteries of faith and their relationship to human reason and philosophy."

Second, in matters of spirituality, the "non-requirement of uniformity has traditionally been even more evident." Harrison says, "Differing schools of asceticism, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, have always constituted part of the richness and true catholicity of the Church."

Third, in matters of liturgical form, one can point to "the wide variety of liturgical rites, Eastern and Western, approved from ancient times by all the successors of Peter."

Fourth, in matters of discipline, "the approved lack of uniformity over the centuries has perhaps been more evident" than anywhere else. "Canon law has always allowed for innumerable variations between particular and universal law, and at present the differences in disciplines between the Latin-rite Church and the Oriental Churches are so significant as to require two separate codes of canon law."

"So there you have it," says Harrison. "In regard to ecumenism, the Holy Father comes across in this address as nothing more or less than a sheep (or, rather, shepherd) in wolf's clothing."

Keating comments:
For my part, let me note that "ecumenism of return" always was an unfortunate phrase. You can't return to something unless you first have left it. Almost all non-Catholic Christians were brought up as non-Catholics. They never have been Catholics. If they were to become Catholics now, they would not be "returning" to the Church. They would be entering for the first time.
When such people come "home to Rome," they bring with them ways of theologizing, prayer, worship, and discipline that are not necessarily incompatible with the Catholic faith. The Church does not object to their keeping these distinctives.
I would add that this was made amply clear during Richard John Neuhaus' reception into the Catholic Church, when he was told, in effect, that he was being welcomed along with (as Louis Bouyer would say, all that is good and positive in) his Lutheranism.

Keating concludes:
What is insisted upon, though, is uniformity of belief. That's why creeds talk about matters of faith but never matters of spirituality or discipline. Under a regime of real ecumenism, everyone would believe the same (and thus be Catholic), but there would be many ways to pray or to worship or to work through theological questions. You'd be free to subscribe to Franciscan spirituality or Benedictine, to the Mass is Latin or to the Divine Liturgy in Greek, to Thomistic or Augustinian approaches to theological propositions.

Pope Benedict knows all this and, if Brian Harrison's reading is right, is trying to convey it not just to non-Catholics but to Catholics too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"The trouble with the Blossers ..."

Bill Cork (in his blog Tischreden, Sept. 12, 2005) calls attention to a recent article by Thomas J. Herron in the latest issue of Culture Wars, titled "The Trouble with Converts," which offers an "all out assault" taking aim at Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus, Linda Chavez, Rev. Robert Sirico (The Acton Institute), Catholic journalist Rod Dreher, and -- good heavens! -- the Blosser family.

Commenting on Herron's article, Mark Shea writes: "Courtesy of Christopher Blosser of the Ratzinger Fan Club (who's doing some other interesting stuff too). Some of you all may have heard of the Blosser clan. Pappy Phil and his rootin' tootin' boys Jamie and Chris have been makin' a heap o'trouble with their uppity convert ways, according to Thomas Herron of Culture Wars."

What, according to Herron, seems to be the problem? He writes:

All the converted members of this family appear to be rabid supporters of the current American occupation of Iraq and, to varying extents, have adopted the neocon habit of name calling people with whom they disagree like "Pat 'isolation above all else' Buchanan." ... The members of the Blosser family, as relatively new members of the Church, may be excused for not seeing the battle at National Review as just one campaign in the on-going Catholic-Jewish tribal war in America. ... It is obvious to anyone that, at present, the Jewish "tribe" has beaten the Catholic "tribe" and taken over the Bush administration, the Republican Party and the "conservative" media with the result being America's headlong plunge into never-ending wars in the Middle East ... while the moral decay at home continues.

The distortions here are of such sublime pretension that they almost made me forget who I am. What was it that Hitler used to say -- the bigger the falsehood the more people will believe you -- something like that. Son Christopher offers a point-by-point rebuttal of Herron in his post, "A Response to Thomas J. Herron" (Against the Grain, Sept. 13, 2005), showing how Herron consistently lifts things out of context and misinterprets them. The only thing I would add to Christopher's remarks is the following. Christopher suggests that Herron might have come to the assumption that the Blosser family has uniformly supported the war in Iraq from my article, "War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning" (presented at the Tenth Annual Aquinas/Luther Conference held October 24-26, 2002 at Lenoir-Rhyne College), as well as from Christopher's own occasional blogging on the topic. However, my article, as anyone who takes the time to read it will see, is a general treatment of the topic of Just War Theory, not an attempt to apply the theory to our war in Iraq. In fact, I don't even mention Iraq. While it's true that most of us (I'm proud to say) vociferously opposed the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry in the last presidential election, it is hardly the case that any of us can be described as uncritical bedfellows with the Republican Party (see, for example, my post of Sept. 17, 2005, "Pro-lifers: sold out by Bush?" as well as my post of July 27, 2004, "The disappointment with Jimmy Carter," in which I explain why, after being a die-hard Democrat for decades, I could no longer in good conscience support the party of Clinton and Kerry). And as for Herron's remarks about Jewish "tribalism," well, just see what Christopher has to say about that. Would that our worthy opponents would get a better grip on their facts before launching into untoward defamations of la famiglia e la cosa nostra.

Monday, September 12, 2005

How can the creed call the Church "Holy"?

Here's a frequently raised question -- if not explicitly, at least implicitly -- to which I think Peter Kreeft offers a number of suggestive and thought-provoking answers. In what follows, I shall be referring to and quoting from ch. 22 of his book, Fundamentals of the Faith. Kreeft writes:
The Church's second mark is holiness. The creed calls her "the communion of saints." Saints does not mean the opposite of sinners; saints means saved sinners. The Church is the communion (common union) of sinners who have repented and received God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All men are sinners. Some know it, repent, and are saved. They are the Church.
Then comes one of my favorite sentences in Kreeftiana:
There are only two kinds of people, after all: saints, who know they are sinners, and sinners who thing they are saints.
How perfectly well-put, and how true!

But what does it mean to say that the Church is holy? To be holy is to be set apart, consecrated -- something that makes little intuitive sense in an egalitarian Protestant setting where everyone seems recognized as an equal-time sinner. How can the Church be called "holy" when she is so notorious for scandalous sinners? Kreeft's answer involves a metaphysical assertion:
The ultimate reason why we are holy is because, by faith and baptism, we have been really, ontologically united with Christ, the holy one. We are his body: that is no metaphor. These bodies of ours are the metaphors. We are not only his, we are him: cells in his body. That is why Saint Paul sees a sin like sexual infidelity as blasphemous: "Do you know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?"
But then comes my favorite illustration in Kreeft's account: a story from Boccaccio, freighted with irony, which Kreeft introduces as follows:
The Church's obvious human imperfections have been an occasion for scandal and apostasy for millions down through the centuries. But paradoxically this very fact is also a powerful argument for her divine nature. This is cleverly brought out in Boccaccio's story of Abraham, the medieval Jewish merchant in The Decameron. Abraham is contemplating becoming a Catholic. He tells his friend, the bishop of Paris, who has been trying unsuccessfully to convert him, that he has to go to Rome on business. The bishop is horrified: "Don't go! When you see the stupidity and corruption there, you'll never join the Church." (This was the time of the Medici popes, who were notoriously worldly and corrupt.) But Abraham is a practical man. Business calls. Upon his return to France, he tells the bishop he is now ready to be baptized. The bishop is astounded, but Abraham explains: "I'm a practical businessman. No earthly business that stupid and corrupt could last fourteen weeks. Your Church has lasted fourteen centuries. It must have God behind it."
Elsewhere, not in this book, Kreeft says that he takes this story, by which Boccaccio meant to poke fun at the Church, as a serious argument in behalf of her authenticity. O felix culpa!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

What do the letters on St. Benedict medals mean?

We've had opportunity to comment previously on the significance of the name former Cardinal Ratzinger took for himself when he was elected Pope (see "Benedict XVI, Benedict XV, and St. Benedict"). But we haven't yet made a point of noting the significance of the popular Jubilee Medal of Saint Benedict struck in 1880 on the 1400th anniversary of St. Benedict's birth. The medal is covered with letters, symbols, and Latin phrases whose meanings are freighted with significance.

Let's start with the reverse side of the medal, since that's the side that faces the front on St. Benedict crucifix, as pictured on the left. A crucifix symbolizes God's love for us. The St. Benedict Crucifix features a St. Benedict Medal in the center of the cross. When properly blessed by a priest, it is the most highly indulgenced medal of the Catholic Church, carrying the power of exorcism. As such, it is considered a powerful weapon against the devil and forces of darkness. As a sacramental of the Church, this crucifix is believed to offer protection from the devil, temptation, disease and storms. At the time of death, there can be no greater consolation than to gaze on our crucified Lord, who gave His life to give us eternal life.

The letters on the reverse side of the medal (on the front of the crucifix) refer to Latin words, whose meaning is as follows:
  • C.S.P.B. = Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (The Cross of Holy Father Benedict)
  • C.S.S.M.L. = Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux (May the Holy Cross be my light!)
  • N.D.S.M.D. = Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux (May the dragon never be my guide!)
  • V.R.S. = Vade Retro Satana (Get behind me, Satan!)
  • N.S.M.V. = Non Suade Mihi Vana (Do not suggest vain things to me!)
  • S.M.Q.L. = Sunt Mala Quae Libas (What you are showing me is evil.)
  • I.V.B. = Ipse Venena Bibas (Drink your poison yourself!)
  • PAX = Peace.
On the front of the medal (on the back of the crucifix) is an image of St. Benedict, holding the cross in his right hand and his Rule for Monasteries in his left hand. On a pedestal to the right of St. Benedict is the poisoned cup, shattered when he made the sign of the cross over it. On a pedestal to his left is a raven about to carry away a loaf of poisoned breat that a jealous enemy had sent to St. Benedict. Above the cup and raven are the Latin words, Crux s[ancti] patris Benedicti (The Cross of our holy father Benedict). On the margin of the medal, encirciling the figure of Benedict, are the Latin words: Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur (May his presence strenthen us in the hour of our death). Below Benedict is written: ex SM Casino MDCCCLXXX (from holy Monte Casino, 1880).

The medal was struck in 1880 under supervision of the monks of Montecassino, Italy, to mark the 1400th anniversary of the birth of St. Benedict. The design of the medal desplayed here was produced at St. Martin's Archabbey, Beuron, Germany, at the request of the prior of Montecassino, Very Rev. Boniface Krug, OSB (1838-1909). Prior Boniface was a native of Baltimore and originally a monk of St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, until he was chosen to become prior and later archabbot of Montecassino.

The St. Benedict Medal and St. Benedict Crucifix are visible reminders of Christ's love for us. As we trust in the crucified Christ and St. Benedict's intercession at the beginning of these new dark ages we have entered, may we come to know fully God's protection, provision and peace.


Monday, September 05, 2005

"Pope Meets Successor of Lefebvre in Search of Communion"

"CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 29, 2005 ( -- Benedict XVI received Bishop Bernard Fellay, who succeeded Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre as head of the Society of St. Pius X, with the 'desire to arrive at perfect communion.'"

This from a recent communique from the Zenit news agency. The Monday (Aug. 29th) meeting took place in the apostolic palace of Castel Gandolfo, in response to a request from Bishop Fellay, according to Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls.

"The Pope was accompanied by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, president of the Pontifical Commission 'Ecclesia Dei,'" the spokesman said.

"Ecclesia Dei," according to the Holy See's own Web page, was "instituted by John Paul II with the 'Motu proprio' promulgated on July 2, 1988, following the schismatic gesture of illegitimate episcopal ordinations carried out by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in Econe."

According to Vatican spokesman, Navarro Valls (pictured left), "The meeting unfolded in a climate of love for the Church and the desire to arrive at perfect communion." His communique added: "Being aware of the difficulties, willingness was expressed to advance by degrees according to reasonable times."

After the meeting, Bishop Fellay said that "the meeting lasted some 35 minutes in a serene atmosphere." The audience, he stated, "was the occasion for the Society to manifest that it has always and always will be attached to the Holy See, Eternal Rome." He went on to say that they recalled the series of difficulties already known to the Pope "in a spirit of great love for the Church."

"The Society of St. Pius X prays that the Holy Father will find the strength to put an end to the crisis of the Church, 'restoring all things in Christ,'" concluded the bishop's communique.

Of particular interest is the fact that Bishop Fellay previously told his group's DICI press agency that, if he were to meet with Benedict XVI, he would request two things: First, the possibility for all priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass without special permission from the local bishop, as is now required. Second, the "recanting [of] the decree of excommunication related to the consecrations" of four bishops in the Society.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes out of this meeting.

Kurt Schmidt: Why are classes being cut at LR?

Last Friday I received an email from Kurt Schmidt, a campus leader in the Lenoir-Rhyne Student Government Association, saying he's been charged with writing an article for the school paper, The Lenoir-Rhynean, on the administration's decision to cut classes based on enrollment numbers. I replied that it's difficult not to see this issue in the context of the much larger picture of the administration's designs on cutting classes from the liberal arts core of the Lenoir-Rhyne College curriculum. Here's what I wrote Kurt, following a few preliminaries ... Read more on the North Hall Society blog.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Let the revolt begin!


LR students and faculty, state your position and take your stand. Buy your shirts, buttons, or totes that make your statement at the online Store. The image is of Raphael's "School of Athens," representing the tradition of liberal arts learning. Get out the word.