Monday, October 31, 2005

Highlights from the 2005 Aquinas-Luther Conference

A couple of remarks might have made Luther turn over in his grave, and little of the conference made any reference to Aquinas, but all-in-all, it was a lively ecumenical discussion of the topic of the year: "The Holy Scripture, Hermeneutic, Magisterium."

Here are some brief and very partial highlights. Dr. Mark Powell led off with a well-crafted exegetical study of several Matthean texts relevant to the discussion, such as Mt. 16:18 ("Thou art Peter and on this rock I will build my Church") and Mt. 16:19 (about the power of the "keys of the kingdom" and the power of "binding and loosing"). Powell conceded that the nearly unanimous consensus of conservative biblical scholarship today is that the Greek term petra (rock) can refer only to Peter, and it takes jiggery pokery to make the text say anything about the "rock" refering to Peter's "faith" or his "confession." Powell even allowed that Peter was granted a unique charism of primacy among the apostles, but stopped short of the Roman Catholic position however, insisting that this was granted to the person of Peter alone, and that the text supports no extension of any succession of this charism to successors.

Dr. Jane Haemig defended a traditionally Lutheran ("Word alone") confessionalist position, lamenting the crisis of uncatechised youth in the ELCA Lutheran churches today and insisting that the prescription was for someone -- anyone, whether bishops, pastors, or laity -- to take up the slack and begin re-catechizing the youth. She side-stepped the hermeneutical issues as to whether an implicit magisterium isn't involved in the act of writing a confession or catechism, or interpreting it, however, insisting that catechisms and confessions are subject to the Word of God alone. When asked how she would respond to a Calvinist who insisted also that his confession, though different from the Lutheran, was subject to the Word alone, she replied (to much laughter) that she would simply declare: "We're right and they're wrong."

Dr. Frank C. Senn gave a talk focused on the problem of lack of a magisterial authority among ELCA Lutherans. Most memorable were his closing remarks in which he said that he was asked at a synodical meeting (by a bishop?) how he would respond when ELCA bishops contradict one another, and he said that he replied: "Appeal to Rome"! In fact, in the panel discussion that followed, it became quite clear that Senn's sentiments leaned strongly in this direction.

Father Jay Scott Newman spoke to the issue citing primarily the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Short of Senn's proposal of appealing to Rome or "swiming the Tiber," he suggested two alternative means of dealing with controversial issues that have arisen within the ELCA churches: (1) John Henry Cardinal Newman's seven "notes" or criteria for judging whether a development was in organic continuity with the apostolic tradition of the past or a heretical deformation, and (2) examining the ancient liturgical traditions of the Church to see if there are any that contenance such things as blessings of homosexual unions, ordination of women priests, and other such novelties.

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon offered a Greek Orthodox perspective in conclusion, and, neglecting his frequent habit of focusing on East-West differences and needling Rome, he focused primarily on what the ancient unified Church had in common by way of resources to offer their self-confessedly foundering brethren.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

13th Aquinas - Luther Conference

This Friday, Oct. 28, 2005, Lenoir-Rhyne College will host the 13th annual Aquinas-Luther Conference. In every one of the previous twelve years, the conference has been a three-day affair, typically lasting Thursday through Saturday. This year the LRC Center for Theology, sponsor of the Conference, is trying a one-day arrangement for greater convenience to clergy. Here is the program:
13th Annual Aquinas Luther Conference October 28, 2005

The Holy Scripture, Hermeneutic, Magisterium

Friday Morning (Belk Centrum)

9:00 Matins led by Dr. Andrew F. Weisner, Pastor of the College

9:20 Introductions and brief remarks

9:30 LECTURE I: Does the Gospel of Matthew Support the Notion of a Teaching Magisterium? by Dr. Mark Powell, Robert & Phyllis Leatherman Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio

10:15 Break

10:30 LECTURE II: Hermeneutics, Authority of Scripture, and Magisterium, by Dr. Mary Jane Haemig, Associate Professor of Church History at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota

11:15 Panel Discussion of Lectures 1 & 2

12:00 Prayers

Lunch Break: 12:00 - 12:55

Friday Afternoon (Belk Centrum)

1:00 LECTURE III: A Magisterium for Lutherans, by Dr. Frank C. Senn, Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Evanston, Illinois and Senior of the Society of the Holy Trinity.

1:45 Break

2:00 Lecture IV: The Church's Book and the Sacred Liturgy, by Father Jay Scott Newman, Pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church, Greenville, South Carolina

2:45 Break

3:00 Panel Discussion of Lectures 3 and 4

3:30 Lecture V: The Authority of Holy Scripture: An Eastern Orthodox Response, by Father Patrick Henry Reardon, Pastor of All Saints' Orthodox Church in Chicago, and Senior Editor of Touchstone Magazine: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

4:15 Summary Panel Discussion

5:00 Closing remarks, prayers
For more information, see the Center for Theology's website at

Monday, October 24, 2005

Welcoming a son home

This weekend I had the pleasure of driving to Norfolk, VA, to welcome home my son, Nathan, who has come back from Iraq aboard the USS Kearsarge. The ship came in some days ago, and my son's wife was there to give him an appropriate welcome when he arrived. Before leaving for sea duty, he had left his Honda Civic with me, and now I was happy to drive it back to him. The five-and-a-half hour drive to Norfolk gave me a chance to think about the gift of family and what a blessing each son and daughter is. Saturday afternoon Nathan took me over to the Navy base in Norfolk and, after the proper clearances, gave me a personal tour of the USS Kearsarge. First of all, I was hardly prepared for the massiveness of the ship, docked alongside many other ships -- some of them even larger, full-sized air craft carriers. He took me up to the bridge, down to the engine room, to the mess hall, the flight deck, and the medical quarters, where he worked. We met other servicemen and women whom Nathan worked with. Each was courteous to a fault. I was impressed. But most touching of all was to see the bunk where my son had spent his nights sleeping for the last six months -- a narrow "rack," as they call them, with barely enough room to roll over. It still had his name assigned to it. The sleeping quarters were still pervaded by the strong scent of human body order. A severe sacrifice, enduring that for half-a-year. Six months at sea -- across the Atlantic, through the Suez Canal, into the Persian Gulf, and various classified and unclassified port calls along the way. Some of you may remember that the Kearsarge was in the news when it was docked at Aqaba, Jordan, where several Al Queda missiles were fired in hopes of doing some damage -- one at the US ship -- but missed their target. Needless to say, it's good to have Nathan hope. We celebrated the occasion at a Greek restaurant in Norfolk. Now Nathan is awaiting his next orders, hoping to be assigned somewhere where he can start a family, if possible.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Rifkin's European dream

I received a card in the mail today inviting me, as a college professor, to consider adopting a new Tarcher/Penguin edition of Jeremy Rifkin's The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream for use in my college classes. At the bottom of the card was written:
"Send an email to or write to the Foundation on Economic Trends, 4520 East West Highway, Suite 600, Bethesda, MD 20814. Please be sure to include the following: the course the book is being considered for, your name, department and university mailing address."
I've read some of Rifkin's other books before, like Entropy: A New World View, which I found interesting, if not convincing. But I hadn't even read a review about this book. Here's what the publisher's promotion said on the card:
While the American Dream is fading, says the best-selling author Jeremy Rifkin, a powerful new European Dream is beginning to emerge. With its 25 member states and 455 million citizens, the European Union is now the world's leading exporter and largest internet trading market, with a GDP comparable to the United States, making it a rival economic superpower on the world stage. Moreover, much of Europe enjoys a longer life span and greater literacy, and has less poverty and crime, less blight and sprawl, longer vacations, and shorter commutes to work than we do in the United States. Although Rifkin cautions that Europe is plagued with problems, he believes that the European Dream may ultimately prove to be a better vision for a globalizing world.
"European Dream ..." "Globalizing world ..." Hmmmm ... The publishers add the following two blerbs:
"Rifkin makes a compelling case for [the European] vision, which he says is usurping the American Dream as a global ideal...a fascinating study of the differences between the American and European psyches." -- Business Week

"Rifkin's book is deeply thought-provoking and optimistic about the future state of the world we live in...At a time when many Americans are feeling increasingly isolated, Rifkin carves out a provocative window for self-reflection and appraisal." --San Francisco Chronicle
The Internet website for The Foundation of Economic Trends, which promotes Rifkin's work, has a similarly dreamy and utopian description of Rifkin's European dream. A few excerpts:
The American Dream is becoming ever more elusive. Americans are increasingly overworked, underpaid, squeezed for time, and unsure about their prospects for a better life. One third of all Americans say they no longer even believe in the American Dream.

While the American Dream is languishing, says bestselling author Jeremy Rifkin, a new European Dream is capturing the attention and imagination of the world. Twenty-five nations, representing 455 million people, have joined together to create a United States of Europe.

The European Union's $10.5 trillion GDP now eclipses the United States', making it the largest economy in the world.... More important, Europe has become a giant laboratory for rethinking humanity's future. In many respects, the European Dream is the mirror opposite of the American Dream. While the American Dream emphasizes unrestrained economic growth, personal wealth, and the pursuit of individual self-interest, the European Dream focuses more on sustainable development, quality of life, and the nurturing of community.
Rifkin is certainly right in highlighting the fact the the EU is far more than a fancy European version of NAFTA that many Americans take it for. While I have some acquaintance with how precarious the venture has been from its inception, particularly from my personal acquaintance with one of the MPs at the EU headquarters in Brussells, it is still probably the boldest political experiment in the Western world since the American experiment of 1776. Rifkin is probably also right in pointing out that, contrary to prevailing American opinion, Europe is ahead of the U.S. in its implimentation of certain wireless technologies, and certainly in its quality and pace of urban life, attitude towards leisure, etc.

But as Radek Sikorski writes in his review, a "Socialist Dream,":
None of this, however, justifies Rifkin's tone of rapture, bordering on puppy infatuation, toward the E.U. Permit me to psychologize: This is a love letter from an American social-democrat who is so disappointed with his irredeemably reactionary homeland that he is willing to tout a risky political experiment on another continent just to bolster his ideological points back home.
Sikorski also points out that Rifkin makes factual errors, like claiming that Europeans "enjoy a common E.U. passport," which is not true: hold national passports that conform to an E.U. standard. Further, while the E.U. clearly boasts some impressive claims, what is truly odd is Rifkin's penchant for praising some of the nuttiest aspects of the E.U. For example, Rifkin writes: "There are still other rights that do not exist in our U.S. Constitution. For example, the E.U. Constitution grants everyone the right of access to a free placement service." Sikorski asks: "What's next in Europe, the Constitutional right to an Internet dating service?" Continuing, he sums up:
There is a lot of hocus-pocus here that sounds like a re-hash of Rifkin's earlier book The End of Work... The European Dream is more an ideological projection of the author's own prejudices than a serious analysis of how Europeans and Americans address similar challenges. By its own criteria, Europe is failing to modernize its economy, and more socialism a la Rifkin, however cleverly argued, will not lurch it forward.

As long as people continue to vote with their feet for the American Dream, his call to swap it for the Euro version is unlikely to persuade.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"The Guys" -- high drama by Anne Nelson

One of our former faculty members at Lenoir-Rhyne College, a former Hollywood actor, and recent Catholic convert, Donegan Smith, is currently directing a play about the firefighters involved in the terror incident of 9/11, which may be of interest to any readers in the immediate vicinity. The play, entitled "The Guys," by Anne Nelson, is opening this Friday (October 21, 2005) at Caldwell Community College, where it is being presented by Foothills Performing Arts.

The play isn't any ordinary play. It's culled from Nelson's own experience in writing eulogies for some of the fallen firefighters from 9/11. Central to the story are two characters. Suzanne Weiss summarizes in a review:
One is Nick, a NYFD captain who just happened to be off duty when his unit was called into the World Trade Center and disappeared from the face of the earth. Still unable to come to terms with that, he has been asked to speak at several of the memorial services. He is at a loss for words. The other is Joan (a nom de plume for playwright Nelson), an Oklahoma-born reporter who, like many of us, feels powerless despite an overwhelming desire to help. Somehow, in the peculiar serendipity of those days, they are thrown together and find a kind of catharsis, the beginning of healing. As do those who witness their encounter. [DVD right]
No matter how powerfully acted "The Guys" may be, the real stars are those you never see, as Weiss notes, the four men for whom Joan crafts eulogies, based on Nick's rambling recollections. Read more here.

Opening night will feature a full honor guard firefighters from Lenoir presenting the colors.

Reservations are required (Call 828-726-2318) and tickets are $10.00 (adults), $8.00 (Seniors), and $5.00 (Students/Children). All proceeds will go to the "Relay for Life" fund for all Emergency Services Personel.

  • October 21, 22, 27, 28 & 29 -- 8 pm.
  • October 23 & 30 -- 3 pm
Rated PG

Location: FPA Studio Theatre, B-Building, CCC&TI Caldwell Campus ((just 15 minutes up Hwy 321 from Hickory, in Hudson, NC)

I don't know who of you have seen the local press reviews, but this looks to be some of the best acting you will ever see in these parts.

[For the full script of the play, see Anne Nelson's published play in book form, right.]

Future English Crown: "Defender of Some Sort of Faith"

England's King Henry VIII was ironically granted the title "Defender of the Faith" in 1521 by Pope Leo X, who was grateful for Henry's critique of Martin Luther's theology -- ironically, because Henry was later excommunicated by Leo's successor, Clement VII, for declaring himself head of the Church in England, thus severing himself from the authority of Rome. Nevertheless, English monarchs have continued to proudly sport the title of "Defender of the Faith" down to our own day. And now we have this:
Queen Elizabeth is to be the last of the British monarchs crowned with this title, "Defender of the Faith." Charles, the current Prince of Wales, is likely to be England's first New Age king, complete with belief in reincarnation, a panentheistic worldview, and postmodern morals. In a recent interview, Charles declared himself unwilling to take on the title, "Defender of the Faith." Better, he said, to be known as "Defender of Faith" since "people have fought each other to the death over these things, which seems to me a peculiar waste of people's energies." He added that he would be the "defender of the Divine in existence, the pattern of the Divine which is, I think, in all of us, but which, because we are human beings, can be expressed in so many different ways." So the future King Charles will defend faith, but no particular faith, including Christianity and especially the Church of England, of which he will be head. Charles will be the perfect king for a church whose bishops routinely deny the most basic doctrines of the Christian faith. [From Albert Mohler, "'You Are Bringing Strange Things to Our Ears:' Christian Apologetics for a Postmodern Age"]
Well, I suppose it was bound to come to this ever since Henry put his desire to divorce Catherine and marry his mistress ahead of his obedience of faith ... from "the Faith" -- "the Faith of our Fathers" -- to "faith" ... in what? Faith in faith? In Spirituality? In the goodness of humanity? In rising earth mother? Moloch? Quo vadis?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cause for Newman's beatification gets its miracle, green light

The Times (London) reported on October 19, 2005, that the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman may soon be England's first canonized saint since the Reformation. The article's author, Richard Owen, reported from Rome:
The Vatican is preparing to give England its first post-Reformation saint by putting Cardinal Newman -- the 19th-century priest whose conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism shocked Victorian England -- on the road to canonisation, thanks to a long-awaited miracle.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, who is in Rome attending a Synod of Bishops, said that he had raised the issue of John Henry Newman's beatification -- the step before sainthood -- three years ago with the late John Paul II, who described Newman during his visit to Britain in 1982 as "that great man of God."
Candidates for beatification must, however, as Owen noted, be shown to have been responsible for at least one miracle, usually a medically inexplicable cure. The article continued:
Although a dossier on Cardinal Newman's beatification was first opened in 1958, no miracles had, until now, been attributed to his intercession. "I had to tell John Paul that the English are not very good at miracles," Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said. "It's not that we are not pious, but the English tend to think of God as a gentleman who should not be bullied."

Yesterday, however, the cleric responsible for arguing Newman's cause, Father Paul Chavasse, the Provost of Birmingham Oratory, which was founded by Newman in 1848, said that a deacon in the Diocese of Boston in the United States had testified that he had recovered from a spinal disease after praying to Cardinal Newman. "At last we have a miracle cure," he said.
Read more here. (A tip of the hat to "New Catholic")

Brief Newman bibliography:

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Michael Davies: liturgical renewal was needed

I love the fact that the following quotation is from Michael Davies:
Let there be no mistake, there was great need and great scope [prior to Vatican II] for liturgical renewal within the Roman rite ...
That is one impressive quote to have from Michael Davies, the late great champion of traditionalism. But of course the quote goes on and the other shoe falls:
... but a renewal within the correct sense of the term, using the existing liturgy to its fullest potential.
The quote, of course, is from Michael Davies' Liturgical Time Bombs, p. 2. Davies goes on to note that this was the aim of the liturgical movement initiated by Dom Prosper Gueranger and edorsed by St. Pius X. When the latter published his famous motu proprio "Tra le Sollecitudini" in 1903, restoring Gregorian chant, he wrote:
Our keen desire being that the true Christian spirit may once more flourish, cost what it may, and be maintained among all the faithful, We deem it necessary to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for ... [the purpose] of acquiring this spirit from its primary and indispensable source, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and the public and solemn prayer of the Church. (Emphasis added)
Pius X could not have ever imagined or dreamed -- even in his worst nightmare -- how his phrase, "active participation," would come to be interpreted in our own day. For Pius X as for Dom Gueranger, liturgy was essentially theocentric, for the worship of God more than anything else, even the teaching of the faithful or cultivating a sense of community. Certainly these other purposes have their due place, but they are secondary, at best. Davies goes on to argue that modernist theologians who could no longer propagate their theories in public saw in the burgeoning Liturgical Movement the prospect of a Trojan Horse for their revolutionary intentions -- an argument Dietrich von Hildebrand also makes elsewhere.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sandro Magister casts doubts on conclave leak

In a post entitled "The Vatican Codes: This is How I Rewrite My Conclave" (www.chiesa Oct. 7, 2005), Sandro Magister addresses supposed "new revelations" leaked by a cardinal on the conclave that elected Benedict XVI, all aimed against him, in strange legends built upon cardinals Martini and Bergoglio:
But there are errors in the diary that a jurist cardinal should not commit . . . . This major discrepancy is enough to cast doubt upon the reliability of the 'historical rigor' of the diary.

The rest of the text suggests, rather, that the 'intention' to publish it was a much more combative one: to demonstrate that Ratzinger's victory was not at all "plebiscitary," that it was in question up until the last moment, that it was unduly favored by the fact that Ratzinger was the dean of the college of cardinals, ...
yada, yada, yada ... We smell a rat. Read the rest of the story here.

Also, the First Things blog by Richard John Neuhaus, On the Square, is up and running.

(Tip of the hat to Benjamin at Ad Limina Apostolorum)

Abandon Eucharistic doctrine, dissidents urge Synod

Catholic World News service reported on October 4, 2005, that the international dissident movement "We Are Church" is issuing an appeal to the Catholic bishops, gathered in Rome for the current Eucharistic Synod, to confront what the dissidents call the "real" problems relating to the Eucharist. At an October 4 press conference in Rome, the dissident group called for reconsideration of the key Catholic doctrine on the transubstantiation, an end to the "hierarchical monopoly" on the sacraments, and approval of shared communion with other Christian denominations. The article, entitled "Abandon Eucharistic doctrine, dissidents urge Synod," reported:
Three leaders of the international movement-- Martha Heizer of Austria, Gigi De Paoli of Italy, and Norbert Scholl of Germany-- said that the Synod was likely to prove a "missed opportunity" because the bishops begin their deliberations on the basis of a working document that affirms Catholic dogmatic teachings on the Eucharist. We Are Church argued that all such teachings should be open to question.

Specifically, the dissident group called for abandoning the notion that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and instead saying that the mass is "in memory of the entire life of Jesus." The group called for "full freedom of philosophical and theological interpretation of that mystery." We Are Church argued that the dogma of the transubstantiation-- the teaching that the bread and wine at Mass are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ-- is unacceptable to Protestants, and thus impedes ecumenical unity. The group decried traditional forms of Catholic piety, such as Eucharistic adoration and processions, as tending to make an "idol" of the Blessed Sacrament. (Read more here.)
One thing, at least, can be said in favor of this dissident group: it is refreshingly transparent and candid about its agenda -- which is more than can be said of other dissidents who masquerade as bona fide Catholics, insisting upon their impeccable orthodoxy and fidelity to Catholic tradition, all the while revisioning and reinterpreting that orthodoxy by a de-naturing hermeneutic that would leave it unrecognizable by any canon of that tradition. The latter may be more insideous than the former on that account; and we've been warned of wolves in sheep's clothing. But either way, we're faced with self-professed "Catholics" who wish to dismantle the Faith and remake it over in their own image. Caveat emptor.

Eucharistic adoration and processions would indeed make an "idol" of the Blessed Sacrament if the Sacrament were nothing but bread. That is why the 16th-century Protestants called such Catholic devotions "bread worship." And that is why the Latin words of consecration in the Mass -- "Hoc est ... corpus meum" --slipped over in the Protestant imagination into "Hocus Pocus" to become the equivalent of superstition. On the other hand, if Catholic teaching is true, this is no mere bread, but the Bread of Heaven, Christ Himself -- in which case nothing short of worship and adoration would be blasphemous. "Ecce ego mitto vos sicut oves in medio luporum estote ergo prudentes sicut serpentes et simplices sicut columbae." (Evangelium Secundum Matthaeum 10:16)

Mom Rock

From "The News You May Have Missed":
Suburban housewives across the country are picking up guitars and drumsticks as part of new musical movement dubbed "Mom rock." Bands such as Housewives on Prozac, Placenta in California, and Frump in Texas began rehearsing in basements and garages, thrashing out punk-style songs about breastfeeding, washing dirty clothes, and burning the dinner. "East Your Damn Spaghetti," "Dishwashing Blues," and "Pee Alone" are some of the tunes that have given these mom rockers recognition.
[Exerpt from the October 2005 installment of "The News You May Have Missed" by Michael S. Rose in New Oxford Review (Oct. 2005), p. 37.]

Friday, October 14, 2005

Called faculty meeting addresses curricular issues

At a specially called faculty meeting of Lenoir-Rhyne College, hosted by a number of the Liberal Arts Schools of the College, convened on Wednesday afternoon, October 12, 2005, to discuss the administratively appointed core committee's proposed revision of the College's liberal arts core. The School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, of which I am a member, presented a position paper, entitled "A Critical Look at the Proposed New Core Curriculum." Larry Yoder, Lowell Ashman, Karen Dill, Marsha Fanning, Charles Cooke, Eric Schramm, Andrew Weisner, Paul Custer, and many others spoke to the issue -- most of them offering unqualified endorsements of the indispensability of a strong liberal arts core in the Lenoir-Rhyne curriculum. Lowell Ashman was blunt: "Why are we messing around with the core?" he asked, repeatedly. "And who's idea was it to mess around with the core?" he pontedly inquired. Dr. John Sorenson, Academic Dean, took responsiblity for initiating the core committee on this score. Toward the end of the meeting, however, Dr. Wayne Powell, President of the College, took the floor and gave a brief speech in which he recounted the importance of the liberal arts tradition to education and a ringing endoresement of the centrality and importance of the liberal arts in our curriculum at Lenoir-Rhyne College. At one point, he rhetorically suggested that he couldn't imagine a single person in the assembly being opposed to the liberal arts and dramatically asked anybody present who favored doing away with liberal arts in the curriculum to stand. Of course nobody did. However -- and this may be a trifle naughty -- I couldn't help noticing that at that moment both he and Dr. Sorenson were the only members present, apart from Kathy Ivey who was moderating, who were standing. In any case, the discrepancy between the President's endoresement and the core committee's evisceration of the liberal arts in the core is hard to ignore. And so the core wars continue ...

Those interested in following the discussion can check in from time-to-time at "The Internet discussion."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The quotable Kreeft

Peter Kreeft's writings are full of quotable quotes. He probably intends this, deliberately crafting his writing after mentors like Chesterton. Here are a few from his book, How to Win the Culture War:
The theme of spiritual warfare is never absent in Scripture and never absent in the life and writings of a single canonized saint. But it is never present in the religious education of my "Catholic" college students. Whenever I speak of it, they are stunned and silent, as if they have suddenly entered another world.

* * *

Sexual pigginess and economic pigginess are natural twins. For lust and greed are almost interchangeable words. In fact, America does not know the difference between sex and money. It treats sex like money because it treats sex as a medium of exchange, and it treats money like sex because it expects its money to get pregnant and reproduce.

* * *

The most obvious difference between Christianity and "spirituality" is the fact that Christianity includes commandments, while "spirituality" includes only values.... "Spirituality" has seeped into many churches and private lives like gas from a leak in an underground pipe.

* * *

"Spiritual" people do not believe in Christianity (although most of them think they are Christians), nor do they believe in atheism or materialism; they believe in "spirituality." They think religion -- any religion -- is a good thing not because it is true but because it fosters morality. (But they tend to reduce morality to compassion or "tolerance" -- the virtue Chesterton said is all that remains after a man has lost all his principles.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A requiem for male friendship?

The love that dare not speak its name has rapidly become, as one of our own resident heretic commentators has made all too clear, the love that simply will not shut up. In many quarters of our society, this sort of obstreperousness -- "openness," "coming out," "we're here and we're queer: get over it!" -- is feted as a cause celebre, as a sign of sound social health. Others -- not all of them Bible-thumping fundamentalists from the backwaters of Mississippi -- are not as confident.

Touchstone magazine ("A Journal of Mere Christianity"), an Orthodox-sponsored ecumenical periodical, is proving to be an increasingly reliable source of solid cultural commentary, as demonstrated by the latest issue, which features an thought-provoking essay by Anthony Esolen entitled "A Requiem for Friendship: Why Boys Will Not Be Boys and Other Consequences of the Sexual Revolution" (the article is not available online as of this posting).

What is the Esolen's thesis? He writes:

On three great bonds of love do all cultures depend: the love between man and woman in marriage; the love between a mother and her child; and the camaraderie among men, a bond that used to be strong enough to move mountains. The first two have suffered greatly; the third has almost ceased to exist.
To what does he attribute the erosion?

We think of divorce, pornography, unwed motherhood, abortion, and suicidally falling birthrates. But the sexual revolution has also nearly killed male friendship as devoted to anything beyond drinking and watching sports; and the homosexual movement, a logically inevitable result of forty years of heterosexual promiscuity and feminist folly, bids fair to finish it off and nail the coffin shut.

What is more, those who will suffer most from this movement are precisely those whom our society, stupidly considering them little more than pests or dolts, has ignored. I mean boys.
Thus, Esolen is arguing that male friendships, as precarious and attenuated as they have become, suffer under a terrible pincers attack between (1) sexual libertinism and (2) defiant promotion of homosexuality:

The libertinisim of our day thrusts boys and girls together long before they are intellectually and emotionally ready for it, and at the same time the defiant promotion of homosexuality makes the natural and once powerful friendships among boys virtually impossible.
Interesting that hard on the heels of the issue of Touchstone featuring Esolen's article should come the October 10 issue of TIME magazine featuring "Gay Teens: They are coming out earlier, to a more accepting society." Page 44 features a picture of an 18-year-old boy with arms raised in a hurrah gesture, featuring the caption: "Proudly Gay: Aaron Arnold, 18, tells his coming-out story at a Michigan retreat for Point Foundation students and trustees ..."

The social pressure to fall in line with this sort of open-armed acceptance, of course, is formidably powerful. It plays well to the public and appeals to the moral high ground of "compassion." Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, Tenn, is setting up a ministry for "gay and lesbian" Catholics, according to the October issue of New Oxford Review. He refers to all "gay and lesbian" Catholics as "wonderful, good Catholic people" (to which editor, Dale Vree, remarks: "How would he know that? Gosh, not even all 'straight' Catholics are 'wonderful, good Catholic people'"). Steib, who held meetings with homosexuals and parents of homosexuals, says of the latter: "These parents of gay and lesbian Catholics are extremely proud of their children." The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that those with homosexual inclinations are "objectively disordered" and those who are actively homosexual commit "acts of grave depravity." Vree asks: "What's to be extremely proud of?"

But as I say, the social pressure to embrace open-armed acceptance and approval usually trumps Church teaching. Esolen devotes a significant portion of his article to linguistic theory, which I will not delve into here, except to comment on his inferences about how this is relevant to social interaction. He recounts the "language" we have for meeting strangers -- the clipped "How do you do" with a nod and a handshake, for American men; the smile, head tilt, "It's nice to meet you," and presentation of hand, for American women. Then there's the "language" of hand holding between a grown man and woman that tells us they are not brother and sister; and the "language" of the teenage boy's modest crew cut, surrounded by others who are dyeing their spiked hair grape. Esolen comments on the postmodernist, deconstructivist logic that is applied to such language:

Thus the Left proceed syllogistically. Language is utterly arbitrary. Social customs form a kind of language, and sexual customs form a very powerful language. Therefore social customs are arbitrary, and therefore sexual customs are equally arbitrary.
The impetus of this logic animates the often sincere (and often knee-jerk) rush to accept and affirm and empower and celebrate those who are "different," even when these differences include those the Catechism calls "objectively disordered" and "acts of grave depravity."

The problem with the syllogism, as Esolen explains in some detail, is that it is faulty. Without going into detail, he argues that it is faulty with respect to language on the levels of phonology, syntax, and semantics. "But even if it were true that our spoken language were utterly arbitrary," he writes, "it does not follow that the language of our custom is, or that our sense of good and evil is, or that the idea of human nature is." The big mistake was that of the scoffers who dismissed the post-structuralist deconstructionist debate over language as "only a silly argument over words." In fact, the professed study of language has been used by the Left as a tool for dismantling the idea of natural order and for establishing their own order and imposing in totalitarian fashion it on everyone else.

What does this have to do with sex and friendship? Everything. Esolen writes:

The pansexualists -- they who believe in the libertarian dogma that what two consenting adults do with their privates in private is nobody's business -- understand that the language had to be changed to assist the realization of their dream, and also that the realization of their dream would change the world, because it would change the language for everyone else.

Language is not language if it is not communal .... If clothing is optional on a beach, then that is a nude beach. It cannot be a nude beach for some and an ordinary beach for others; to wear clothes at that beach at the very lest means something that it had no meant before....

If all of Kate's friends leap into bed with whatever male gives them a hearty dinner at Burger King and a round of miniature golf, and Kate chooses instead to kiss her date once on the cheek and leave him on the porch, she will suggest to everybody that she is a prude. ... her actions have connotations they did not used to have.

Imagine a world wherein the taboo has been broken and incest is loudly and defiantly celebrated. Your wife's unmarried brother puts his hand on your daughter's shoulder. That gesture, once innocent, must now mean something, or at least suggest something. ... You see a father hugging his teenage daughter as she leaves the car to go to school. The possibility flits before your mind. The language has changed, and the individual can do nothing about it.
By this time Esolen's point clearly emerges. Of all human actions, nothing is more powerfully public, in a sense, than what two consenting adults do with their bodies behind (hopefully) closed doors. "Open homosexuality, loudly and defiantly celebrated, changes the language for everyone."

Esolen illustrates this point dramatically at the beginning of his article by citing several examples of male friendship. The first is Sam Gamgee's friendship with Frodo as dramatized in the cinematic version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. To rescure Frodo from the orcs who have taken him captive, Sam has fought the monstrous spider Shelob, dispatched the orcs holding Frodo, and found his friend lying naked and half-conscious in the filthy upper room of a tower. "Frodo! Mr. Frodo, my dear!" he cries. "It's Sam, I've come!" he says, tenderly clasping him to his breast, then cradling Frodo's head, as one would comfort a troubled child. At that, notes Esolen, a snigger rises from the audience in the theater: "What, are they gay?"

Esolen's second example: "Shakespeare, or his narrative persona, expressed in his sonnets a passionate love for an unnamed and not too loyal young man, so Shakespeare must have been a homosexual -- despite the absence of evidence, and despite his persona's explicit statement in sonnet 20 that the young man's sexual accoutrements are of no interest (or use) to him whatever."

Third: the bachelor Abe Lincoln long shared a bed with his closest friend, Joshua Speed, and later wrote letters expressing his fear that he would be lonely once Speed had taken a wife. Lincoln, too, "must" therefore be homosexual.

Fourth: Edmund Spenser used to share a bed with his friend and fellow Cambridge scholar, Gabriel Harvey. Obviously, he too "must" have been a homosexual.

Fifth: David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. "Your love to me was finer than the love of women," laments David in a public song when he learns of the death of his friend Jonathan. Another gay couple, "obviously."

Sixth: Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu walk hand in hand into the dark forest of Humbaba. We all obviously know what must have gone on between them and why Gilgamesh wept inconsolably at Enkindu's death. "Obvously." We "know."

Just as O'Leary thinks he, too, "knows" that Evelyn Waugh, Cardinal Newman, and Pope Paul VI were gay and that Pope Benedict XVI shares such homosexual inclinations.

But how, for example, could Abraham Lincoln have shared a bed with another man if he were not gay? His age was hardly more tolerant of homosexuality than our own, to put it mildly. How then, if deviancy in widespread reproach, could Lincoln risk sharing a bed with a man and having the fact be publicly known? The alternatives, says Esolen, are clear:

I am sorry to have to use strong language, but only when sodomy is treated as a matter of course for everyone (as in the institutionalized buggery of boys and young men in ancient Sparta) or when it is met with such opprobrium that nobody would assume that a good man would engage in it, could Lincoln and his friend share that bed without sufficient ridicule. The stigma against sodomy cleared away ample space for an emotionally powerful friendship that did not involve sexual intercourse, exactly as the stigma against incest allows for the physical and emotional freedom of a family. ...

The converse is also true, If your society depends upon such emotionally powerful friendships -- if the fellow feeling of comrades in arms is necessary for your survival -- then you can protect the opportunity for such friendships in only two ways. You may go the route of Sparta, or you may demand on pain of expulsion from the group that such friendships will not be sexualized.

How does this most recent twist of the sexual revolution hurt boys in particular? Some may suppose that it leaves them more vulnerable to be preyed upon by older men, and Esolen says he has no doubt that this is true, given the psychological springs of male homosexuality and the historical examples of ancient Greece and Japan, and the awful fact that many homosexual men were themselves abused as boys. But he says that he doesn't want to overemphasize this point. Certainly most homosexual men abide by the law. What he means is something quite different:

The prominence of male homosexuality changes the language for teenage boys. It is absurd and cruel to say that the boy can ignore it. Even if he would, his classmates will not let him. All boys need to prove that they are not failures. They need to prove that they are on the way to becoming men -- that they are not going to relapse into the need to be protected by, and therefore identified with, their mothers.
Societies used to have rites of passage for young men. But in our carelessness, says Esolen, we have taken away such signs from boys and left them to fend for themselves. Two choices remain to them:

The boys must live without recognition of their manhood and without their own certainty of it, or they must invent their own riturals and signs.

And here the sexual revolution comes to peddle itspoison. The single incontrovertible sign that the boy can now seize on is that he has "done it" with a girl, and the earlier and more regularly and publicly he does it, the safer and surer he will feel. If sex is easy to find, and if )as mothers of good-looking teenage boys will testify) the girls themselves seek it out, then you must have a pressing and publicly recognized excuse for not having sex. To avoid scandal -- think of it! -- you must be protected by your being a linebacker on the football team, or by being too homely for any girl to be interested in you.

A boy who does not agree wo a girl's demand for sex will be tagged with homosexuality. She will slander him herself. Ask teenagers; they will tell you. But even a linebacker known as a rake will not dare to venture into the dangerous territory of too-close asociation with the wrong sort. He, too, will avoid the close male friendship.
Thus Esolen comes to lament the attenuation of male friendships, as I have said, which suffer under the terrible pincers attack of libertinism, on the one hand, and defiant promotion of homosexuality, on the other. All of this, given current realities, is inevitable. It must happen, says Esolen. In large part, it has already happened. "But we must try to remember when it was not so, if we are going to guage what we have lost."

What agonies of loneliness and insecurity Abraham Lincoln may have suffered may never be known. He did indeed have a cold father, as Esolen notes. "But I assert that his lifeline for not becoming homosexual was the very same friendship that our pansexualists say was proof that he was." In the name of compassion, in the name of protecting homosexuals, we ignore the feelings of boys, says Esolen, and snatch from them their dwindling opportunities to forge just such friendships of which homosexual relations are a "delusive mimicry."
Think about that friendship, the next time you see the perpetual adolescents in feather boas as they march down Main Street, making their sexual proclivities known to everybody whether everybody cares or not. With every chanted slogan and every blaring sign, they crowd out the words of friendship, they appropriate the healthy gestures of love between man and man. Confess -- has it not left you uneasy even to read the words of that last sentence?

What do the paraders achieve, with their public promotion of homosexuality? They come out of the closet, and hustle a lot of good and nautral feelings back in. They indulge in garrulity, and consequently tie the tongues and chill the hearts of men, who can no longer feel what they ought, or speak what they feel.

Reader, the next time you feel moved to pity the delicate man in the workstation near you, give a thought also to an adolescent somewhere, one among uncounted millions, a kid with acne maybe, a kid with an idea or a love, who needs a friend. Know then that your tolerance for the flambeau, which is little more than a self-congratulating cowardice, or your easy and poorly considered approval of the shy workmate's request that he be allowed to "marry" his partner, means that the unseen boy will not find that friend, and that the idea and the love will die.

No doubt about this: If you are a modern man, a half-man, many such ideas and loves have already died in you. For as much as you can admire them wistfully, from a half-understanding distance, you can be neither Frodo nor Sam, nor the man who created them. You dare not follow Agassiz, alone, to the Arctic. You will not weep for Jonathan. You once were acquainted with Enkidu, but that was all. Do not even mention John the Apostle.

Friendship, rest in peace.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Sacrosanctum Concilium revisited

As the Synod on the Eucharist presided over by Pope Benedict XVI is under way, it seems appropriate to revisit the role of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council's document on the sacred liturgy, in the liturgical changes that have produced the liturgical crisis that this Synod (one hopes) will address.

In Fall 2005 issue of Latin Mass magazine, Christopher A. Ferrara brings his legally trained mind to bear in an analysis of this key Vatican II document in an article entitled "Sacrosanctum Concilium: A Lawyer Examines the Loopholes." He writes:
For more than 30 years, he notes, traditionalists have listened to "conservatives" argue that what Monsignor Klaus Gamber has called "the real destruction of the traditional Mass, of the traditional Roman Rite with a history of more than one thousand years" had nothing whatever to do with the language of Sacrosanctum Concilium. ... Rather, they insist, the Council has been wrongly interpreted, and the problem is merely one of discovering "the true Council" -- whose strange elusiveness is never explained.
But the reality, Ferrara claims, is otherwise. As Monsignor George A. Kelly has observed, "The documents of the Council contain enough basic ambiguities to make the postconciliar difficulties understandable." Yet conservatives -- or many of those both liberals like Fr. Joseph O'Leary and radical traditionalists like to call "NeoCons" --persist in the argument that if only Sacrosanctum Concilium were implemented "as the Council intended," then we would have an "authentic reform of the liturgy" in the "true spirit of Vatican II" (not the ersatz thing most of us have been exposed to). But as Ferrara points out, "conservatives" have little to say about Pope John Paul II's declaration on the 25th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium that the new Mass, just as we see it today, is precisely what the Council intended:
The vast majority of the pastors and the Christian people have accepted the liturgical reform in a spirit of obedient and joyful fervor. For this we should give thanks to God for the movement of the Holy Ghost in the Church which the liturgical renewal represents.... for the radiant vitality of so many Christian communities, a vitality drawn from the wellspring of the Liturgy. These are all reasons for holding fast to the teaching of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and to the reforms which it has made possible: the liturgical reform is the most visible fruit of the whole work of the Council [emphasis added].
Paul VI even declared in his address of November 19, 1969, that his new Mass was an act of obedience to the Council: "The reform which is about to be brought into being is therefore a response to an authoritative mandate from the Church. It is an act of obedience.... [emphasis added]"

What is the reason for this discrepancy between the account of the "conservatives" and the position taken by these two popes? Ferrara writes: "The answer is that while Sacrosanctum Concilium did not actually mandade creation of the new Mass, it certainly authorized everything that has been done to the liturgy, with papal approval, in the Council's name." He then draws the following observation:
A few years ago, having grown tired of hearing the "conservative" line on Sacrosanctum Concilium, I sat down and read the document, line by line, word by word. It was a classic jaw-dropping experience. Anyone with a modicum of perspicuity can see (at least in retrospect) that Sacrosanctum Concilium was designed by its principal draftsman, Annibale Bugnini, to authorize a liturgical revolution while giving the appearance of liturgical continuity. It is a nest of deadly ambiguities the Council Fathers can only have approved in the confidence that the liturgical tradition of the Roman Rite could not possibly suffer a dramatic rupture, because such a thing had never happened before. Indeed, when Cardinal Browne expressed to his fellow Council Fathers the fear that the Latin Mass would disappear withing ten years if the Council allowed the vernacular into the liturgy (as Sacrosanctum Conscilium provides), he was greeted with incredulous laughter....

... If a lawyer entrusted with the task of protecting the Roman liturgy from harmful innovation had drafted this document, he would be guilty of gross malpractice.
Ferrara claims that Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC for short) opened the way for liturgical deconstruction by an open-ended authorization for liturgical change on what is potentially a vast scale, without expressly requiring any particular innovation be adopted, and a process of "democratization" of the liturgy by ceding effective liturgical control to "ecclesiastical territorial authority," or the local bishops of each country the their liturgical commissions.

Ferrara's analysis is well worth reading in full, but let us take a look at a few of the articles of the Council document (SC) he examines.
Art. 23 -- ...[T]here must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing....
Ferrara comments:
To say that there will be no innovations "unless" means, of course, that there will be innovations. This seemingly conservative norm introduces two unprecedented concepts into the liturgical discipline of the Church: "innovations" in the liturgy and the adoption of entirely "new forms" of liturgy, as opposed to the gradual, almost imperceptible liturgical refinements of the preceding centuries.
Here is another interesting one for those of you interested in the musical treasury of the Church:
Arts. 114-116 -- [114]... The treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated with great care. [Art. 116]--... other things being equal [Gregorian chant] should be given pride of place in liturgical services....
Ferrara comments:
The phrase "other things being equal" partially undermines the phrase "pride of place," and the remaining provisions of Sacrosanctum Concilium (discussed below) complete the undermining by vesting "territorial ecclesiastical authority" with total control over the adaptation of church music to "local needs," along with the rest of the liturgy.
And here's another:
Arts. 38-40 -- [38] Provided that the substantial [!] unity of the Roman rite is preserved, provision shall be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples.... This should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites and determining rubrics. [89] Within the limits set by the typical editions of the liturgical books, it shall be for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority to specify adaptations.... [40] In some places and circumstances, however an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed....
Ferrara comments:
These norms flung open the door to the winds of change in the Roman Rite. They authorized a complete transformation of the face of Catholic worship by "adaptation" of the liturgy -- even radical adaptation -- to suit local customs and preferences, as the bishops saw fit. Has not the Holy See approved this radical transformation of the liturgy at every step of the way?
Thus, claims Ferrara, nobody who reads SC carefully in the light of our experience since the Council can deny that it was a blank check for liturgical innovation and experimentation. As Monsignor Gamber noted: "The Council Fathers, when publishing the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, simply did not expect to see the avalanche they had started, crushing under it all traditional forms of liturgical worship ..." Small wonder, as Ferrara notes, that the modernist Schillebeeckx pronounced the Bugnini schema, which ultimately became SC, "an admirable piece of work." Which brings Ferrara to the rather gloomy conclusion that "conservative" calls for a "reform of the reform" only demonstrate that unless Sacrosanctum Concilium is reconsidered, the liturgical crisis that confronts the current Synod will never end.
Demands for constant "liturgical renewal" by liberals on the one hand, and a "reform of the reform" by conservatives on the other, will continue to revolve around this utterly problematical document so long as it continues to serve as a warrant for perpetual liturgical tinkering. The question before the Synod, therefore, ought to be the one posed by Monsignor Gamber: "What can be done about the loss of faith and the destruction of our liturgy?" In this writer's view, the only answer is to abandon the novel ambiguities of Sacrosanctum Concilium and restore, in all its integrity, the perennial Latin liturgical tradition that was overthrown only 35 years ago.
Only 35 years ago! ... Hard to believe! And I just read an essay by Fr. Peter Stravinskas last night, who celebrates the only Novus Ordo Mass in a Traditional Latin Mass parish somewhere (I believe) in Pennsylvania, in which, along with many other wise suggestions he offered for various accommodations, the most notable thing he said, at least as far as I'm concerned, is that he could not imagine the Latin Church returning to the Traditional Latin Mass in a thousand years! I don't mean this final thought as any personal reflection on Fr. Stravinskas, whom I respect a great deal, but: How fickle and quick to change, the thoughts of men!

Again, Ferrara's article is worth reading in full, since it gives a much more thoroughgoing analysis of key articles from SC than I can begin to convey in this limited space. His article, "Sacrosanctum Concilium: A Lawyer Examines the Loopholes," is published in Latin Mass , Vol. 14, No. 4 (Fall 2005), pp. 8-13. If you don't take this intelligent and wide-ranging journal of Catholic culture and tradition, I encourage you to subscribe online at

Christopher A. Ferrara is president and chief counsel of the American Catholic Lawyers Association. He is co-author of The Great Facade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church.

See also Michael Davies, Liturgical Time Bombs in Vatican II: Destruction of the Faith Through Changes in Catholic Worship, for a decent popular treatment.

You can find the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy online at: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Vatican website)

Cardinal Heenan's prediction about the New Mass

The following is offered as a footnote to Tom Bethell's article, "Refugees from the Vernacular Mass" (posted Monday, October 3, 2005), whose major premise is taken from David Murrow's book, Why Men Hate Going to Church.

Cardinal Heenan was present in the Sistine Chapel at the time of Fr. Annibale Bugnini's demonstration his experimental rite of the new Mass in 1967, and, like most of the other witnesses present, he was dismayed by what he witnessed. His prediction, an exact quote from his intervention, was prescient:
At home it is not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday in the Sistine Chapel we would soon be left with a congregation mostly of women and children.

"Narnia: Deep Magic"

Barbara Nicolosi recently had the privilege of previewing the highly anticipated The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe from Disney/Walden recently, and offers a review on her blog entitled "Narnia, Deep Magic." Just a couple of excerpts:
The movie is lovely. The print we saw had some special effects still in stages, but it didn't detract from the stunning vision the movie radiates off the screen. England is musty and dreary. Narnia is a wonderland. Tke kids are going to love it. They are going to want to walk through that wardrobe with Lucy time after time.

... All the lines the Christians are worrying about are in there. All the scenes you want to see are here and lovingly rendered....
Read more here.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Banning Porky Pig, Pooh, & Piglet to mollify Muslim sensibilities

It seems the United Kingdom is on its way to banning Porky Pig, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet in order to mollify offended Muslim sensibilities. In an article entitled, "Making a pig's ear of defending democracy," Mark Steyn reports in the Telegraph:
Alas, the United Kingdom's descent into dhimmitude is beyond parody. Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (Tory-controlled) has now announced that, following a complaint by a Muslim employee, all work pictures and knick-knacks of novelty pigs and "pig-related items" will be banned. Among the verboten items is one employee's box of tissues, because it features a representation of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. And, as we know, Muslims regard pigs as "unclean", even an anthropomorphised cartoon pig wearing a scarf and a bright, colourful singlet.

Cllr Mahbubur Rahman is in favour of the blanket pig crackdown. "It is a good thing, it is a tolerance and acceptance of their beliefs and understanding," he said. That's all, folks, as Porky Pig used to stammer at the end of Looney Tunes. Just a little helpful proscription in the interests of tolerance and acceptance.

And where's the harm in that? As Pastor Niemoeller said, first they came for Piglet and I did not speak out because I was not a Disney character and, if I was, I'm more of an Eeyore.
The whole thing is -- as our campus Pastor, Andrew Weisner, put it -- "hilarious, sad, and angering." Read more here.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Refugees From the Vernacular Mass

By Tom Bethell
I see there's a new book out, Why Men Hate Going to Church (Nelson Books). David Murrow, a television writer and producer, decided to write it after years of attending Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, and evangelical churches. He found that "no matter the name on the outside, there are always more women on the inside." I haven't read the book, but according to Peter Steinfels, who wrote a column about it for The New York Times, Murrow cites surveys showing that in most forms of church-related activity women constitute a great majority of participants, generally from 60 to 80 percent, and that most churches are "dominated by women and their values."

I read somewhere that Catholic Mass attendance in America tends to be about 60 or 65 percent female, and that corresponded to my own impression -- until my wife and I started going to the Tridentine Mass in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.

It is celebrated at 9 AM every Sunday at St. Mary Mother of God Church, on 5th Street NW. That's in downtown Washington, close to Chinatown and the new MCI Center (a sports arena). Ever since the indult was granted in 1990 by the Archbishop, the congregation has been growing. The pews are mostly full, and I would guess that there is an actual preponderance of men. There are plenty of young families with small children, and young women wearing chapel veils. They are not there for nostalgic reasons, obviously. They are too young to have grown up with the old Mass. Some come from the adjacent Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, where permission for the Tridentine rite has never been granted.

A friend of mine who lives in San Francisco and recently attended the Tridentine Mass across the Bay in Oakland tells me that she found very much the same thing in the congregation there -- lots of young families with many children, plenty of men, women wearing chapel veils, and the pews mostly full. The Oakland Tridentine Latin Mass is held at St. Margaret Mary Church every Sunday at 12:30 PM (a Novus Ordo Latin Mass is held every Sunday at 10:30 AM).

In the San Francisco Archdiocese, Archbishop William Levada, now Rome-bound to take over Cardinal Ratzinger's job at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, never granted an indult for the Tridentine Mass. Why not? In 1999 Catholic writer George Neumayr tried to find the answer. "There is no groundswell of support," the archdiocesan spokesman told him. Archbishop Levada "is not going to move forward on a timetable set by you." Translation: Levada knew that conservatives in the liberal stronghold of San Francisco could safely be ignored, while his own circle of senior priests would disapprove of any retreat from the progressive path that a restoration of the Latin Mass would imply.

I won't elaborate on the San Francisco situation because I plan to discuss Archbishop Levada's tenure in greater detail in a forthcoming article for the NOR.

The Tridentine Mass was reinstituted in Washington, D.C., by Archbishop William Hickey and it has flourished. I hope that Pope Benedict XVI will make it more widely available. He said in his book, Salt of the Earth (1997) that "the old rite should be granted much more generously to all those who desire it. It's impossible to see what could be dangerous or unacceptable about that. A community is calling its very being into question when it suddenly declares that what until now was its holiest and highest possession is strictly forbidden and when it makes the longing for it seem downright indecent."

A year or so later he told an Italian publication that the Church needs a new generation of bishops open to the Latin Mass and that prelates should see the yearning for it as a desire for "divinity."

Well, now he is in a position to do something about it. He could do so in a non-coercive way, a friend pointed out, by ruling that pastors who wish to say the old Mass do not need to get their bishop's permission. Isn't that what the liberals keep telling us -- that we need more choice at the local level? I wonder how many liberals would support such an idea. Not many, I imagine. Maybe at some point they will appreciate the extent to which the bishops, far from being the lackeys of Rome, have in their broad resistance to the Latin Mass been the compliant tools of the progressives, Levada-style.

I was raised with the Tridentine Mass in England, and, as far as I am concerned, rediscovering it has been a blessing. My first impression, after many years in the wilderness, was that I had forgotten how much quieter the old Mass is. The faithful are more on their own -- more reliant on their missals or their private prayers. They have more scope to contemplate the sacrifice of the Mass rather than the performance of the pastor. I certainly prefer it that way. Progressive Catholics are forever talking about "community," but my guess is that a greater sense of community prevails in a Tridentine congregation than in its vernacular equivalent.

The hum-drum leveling of the new Mass, its touchie-feelie "sharing," its "reaching out," its condescension, its attempts at something called inclusiveness, its sing-song ditties that supplant the great music of the past, its brightly smiling altar girls -- some seem on the verge of saying "hi" when they serve the priest -- I find disconcerting and grating. All this contributes more to a sense of alienation than belonging. Lots of men may well feel the same way.

The Latin language is and always was wonderful, and should be broadly revived. Pope John Paul II frequently advocated "unity," and there could hardly be anything more unifying than a shared language in a universal Church whose members speak a hundred different languages. The vernacular, in contrast, is divisive. Church Latin is not hard to learn, either, and the effort is rewarding.

But there is a much stronger argument for the restoration of Latin. It is well suited to ecclesiastical purposes precisely because it is a dead language. A language that is no longer in use is inherently an obstacle to all innovations and feverish updating. The Church is concerned with the permanent things, and a language without even a vocabulary for modern things is a natural barrier to every fad. You can see why Latin, and the Tridentine rite in particular, do not appeal to those who are working for a politicized Church that keeps abreast of the latest cultural trends.

The pastor at St. Mary's in D.C. is Fr. David Conway, who is by no means young, and is possessed of a curmudgeonly demeanor. He would surely have met with Evelyn Waugh's approval. I gather he was once a Benedictine monk. His sermons are brief and to the point, and based on the Gospel of the day, not the latest movie or topical sensation. I am growing tired of pastors who think that only topicality can make their sermons "relevant." What could be more relevant than the Four Last Things that face us all? (Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven, for those who were wondering.) Perhaps bishops should remind their priests from time to time that churchgoers are more likely to be looking for an escape from the culture that surrounds them rather than reminders of it.

St. Mary's itself is traditional and quite beautiful. For decades, that part of D.C. was in a state of increasing decay, and only in recent years has it recovered. I am told that the church was never "wreckovated" because the parish was so poor. The vandalism and destruction -- tearing out the main altar and so on -- that have been so widespread in the post-Vatican II American Church were simply too expensive to contemplate here. Now the church has been tastefully restored, and the good news is that any archdiocesan official who might be tempted to sell it to capture the value of the land will be unable to do so. The Van Ness family that donated the property stipulated that if it ceases to be a church, the land reverts to the heirs. Good for them.

After Mass there's an enjoyable coffee in the basement, provided by Frank Kelly and his wife. The pastor is too busy for such diversions, but some of us counter-revolutionaries get together in the corner and plot the overthrow of existing regimes and a glorious restoration. I won't reveal names, but a few well-known public figures show up from time to time. But their wives never seem to be there. I tell you, this is a church that men don't hate going to.

[Tom Bethell is a writer who lives in Washington, D.C. His article, "Refugees From the Vernacular Mass," was first published in the Last Things column in the New Oxford Review (September 2005), pp. 40-42, and is reprinted here with permission from New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]