Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Homosexuality destabilizes society: Vatican paper"

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- The Vatican newspaper said on Tuesday that homosexuality risked "destabilizing people and society", had no social or moral value and could never match the importance of the relationship between a man and a woman.

The remarks were contained in a long commentary published to accompany the official release of a long-awaited document that restricted the access of homosexual men to the Roman Catholic priesthood. (Read more of the Reuters article.)
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Monday, November 28, 2005

Fr. O'Leary's unorthodox "hot tub" Christology (Part III: Conclusion)

[Note: This is the concluding installment of a three part series, the first two parts of which were posted earlier this year: Part I (August 8, 2005) and Part II (August 15, 2005). My commentary interjected amidst quotations from O'Leary will generally be set off in blue and placed in brackets.]

Part II of O'Leary's article, "Demystifying the Incarnation," is entitled: "Rerooting Chalcedon in the Encounter with Christ." A vast number of post-Vatican II Catholics have been conditioned over the past four decades of exposure to low grade Protestant Liberalism to respond like pavlovian Fundamentalists to experiential expressions such as "encounter with Christ." Most of them seem to find affective responses, such as a strangely warmed heart or tears welling up in the eyes, more authentic tokens of spiritual veracity than any doctrinal tests of truth such as the Apostle John imposes in his First Epistle, or the Church imposes in her creeds and dogmas. Of course, the mistake is to think the one should be unhinged from the other at all. When O'Leary speaks of rerooting Chalcedon in the "encounter with Christ," then, it is pertinent to ask what he means. Perhaps it is even pertinent to ask why he uses such an emotionally charged expression as "encounter with Christ," with all of its predictable nuances and pavlovian responses. The answer is not hard to guess. His readers will be principally of two types, those who are ignorant of his existentialist theological presuppositions and those who are not. He knows that the former may very well be unwittingly swayed by their conditioned responses to think that they are here being guided by a good shepherd out of the wasteland of frigid and barren dogma back to a warm and living relationship with J-e-s-u-s! Thus he may hope that they will be won over to the view that his revisionist Christology is simply a more biblically faithful Christology, one that will yield a racheted-up "for real" relationship with Christ such as Kierkegaard described under the rubric of existential "contemporaneity." As to those who know where O'Leary is coming from, either they will find themselves in agreement with his pretheoretical commitments, or they will not. In the former case, such expressions as "encounter" are simply code for a revisionist reinterpretation of Christianity at work here, which O'Leary knows will be readily embraced. In the latter case, as in our own, where the reader knows where O'Leary is coming from but is unsympathetic, O'Leary realizes he has no hope of making his case, and he has little recourse but to respond, if he so chooses, with ad hominem attacks on his opponent's character, or bias, or the like. But let us see for ourselves how O'Leary endeavors to execute his proposed task of "rerooting" Chalcedon in an existential "encounter with Christ."

Chalcedon has often been spoken of as the foundation of the christological edifice (Seeberg), and as a beginning rather than an end (Rahner), observes O'Leary, "but today we need to register the sense in which Chalcedon is an end," its "possibilities of speculation ... exhausted," the confines of its discourse a "rut." It is no longer a matter of trying to overcome bad metaphysics with good, of trying to correct the speculations of process theology or kenoticism or tritheistic accounts of the the intradivine social life with good metaphysical theology in either its classical or modernized form. Rather, O'Leary seems to think that the problem is metaphysical thought itself, as a spent paradigm that must be "overcome" [Note that existential-Heideggerian term again]. Metaphysics must be "overcome," he says [and get this] "as the thinking of faith finds its proper path." (p. 6) [Ever the master of subterfuge, O'Leary will find every possible opportunity to couch his denaturing revisionism in the pious language of an ever more authentic recovery of faith.] He distinguishes four trends of "hermeneutical awareness that converge to impose this overcoming" -- (1) phenomenality, (2) pluralism, (3) historicity, and (4) epistemological limits. Translated into what they actually mean, as I will show, these become: (a) subjectivism, (B) relativism, (c) historicism, and (d) skepticism.

1. Phenomenality (i.e., subjectivism): "Modern theology," says O'Leary, "insists that faith is grounded in an encounter with God in Christ and only secondarily in dogmatic formulae." Notice the subjectivism implied in this statement. The existential "encounter" (something by definition subjective) is what grounds faith. And what it then means to say that dogmatic formulae are "secondary," if anything at all, is thrown into radical question by the decided subjectivity of the existential encounter. Let this caveat put the reader on guard against the sleight of hand that follows.

"Dogmas mark certain logical constraints which must be respected in order to guard the integrity of the encounter [Careful here! It looks like the subjectivism of the encounter is being protected by the logical constraints of dogma here, but watch!], but they do not provide a foundation or synthesis superior to or equal to the biblical events themselves. [Caution! Dogma is said to guard the subjective encounter, but isn't more fundamental than the biblical events themselves. Well, of course. Vatican II states that the Magisterium is a servant rather than a master of the Word of God, but take care to note what is meant here by O'Leary, who is no friend of the Magisterium and considers his own interpretation of the Word of God a viable, if not preferable, alternative to Rome's.] Metaphysical theology is built on a reversal of this priority of revelation over dogma. [OK, so does O'Leary mean metaphysics sees itself as sitting in judgment on Revelation in contradiction to the declaration of the Fathers of Vatican II? Keep an eye on the expression "metaphysical theology" in his essay, because this is what O'Leary hates, and it's thoroughly Roman Catholic!] In the space of thought it projects, the truths of faith are no longer grounded in encounter but in stable definitions and substances. [N.B. -- What emerges here is that O'Leary is contrasting (1) logic and dogma to (2) Revelation and encounter. This means that the concept of "Revelation" operative here is a distinctively existential concept of non-propositional, and therefore non-logical and non-rational, just as Revelation is subjective, personal, non-rational, non-logical, occurring as an event in an existential encounter. He does not explicitly point this out, but he does not need to. The contrast is clear: dogma, in his view, is logical and rigid, ossified, cold, and frigid, just as Revelation is warm, personal, and emotional -- the kind of thing that evokes hot tub imagery.] In seeking to clarify the biblical events by asking first and foremost for reasons and grounds and by setting them within a doctrinal system, it overleaps both the pneumatic and the fleshly phenomenality of these events, which are no longer free to deploy their significance in the space opened up by scripture and its ongoing interpretation. (emphasis added) [And here we have it, folks -- the dream of dissident Catholic Bible scholars since Vatican II has been that the open horizon of endless possible new ways of interpreting and requisitioning Scripture could provide them with an authority alongside and independent -- if not superior -- to that of the official Magisterium, by virtue of the fact that the latter is bound to a single irreformable apostolic tradition. Regardless of how this apostolic tradition may be deepend by the growing understanding of the Church through time, by what Cardinal Newman called the organic "development" of doctrine, to be distinguished from heretical deformations of innovations by seven "notes" (or tests) that he specified, this tradition of understanding is not amenable to the radical revisibility of the kind O'Leary would like to see. As Peter Kreeft says, "The Catholic Church claims less authority than any other Christian church in the world; that is why she is so conservative. Protestant churches feel free to change 'the deposit of faith' (e.g., by denying Mary's assumption, which was believed from the beginning) or of morals (e.g., by allowing divorce, even though Christ forbade it), or worship (e.g., by denying the Real Presence and the centrality of the Eucharist, which was constant throughout the Church's first 1,500 years)." (Source.)]Questions framed within a Greek metaphysical horizon, oriented to substantial identity, would not need to, and could not, be formulated in a thinking of revelation oriented to events and processes. (emphasis added) [Note the contrast here between "substantial identity" -- the former negative, the latter positive, in O'Leary's world of paternalistic revisionism.] Speculative construction would be stymied at the question stage by the impossibility of casting off the narrative vesture of biblical revelation in order to define the event in abstraction from its inexhaustibly pluralistic historical texture. [In this florid declamation, whose postmodern fluidity is surpassed only by its textured impenetrability of Derridada, O'Leary suggests the non sequitor that the "event" revealed in Scripture, because of its "inexhaustibly pluralistic historical texture," is incapable of yielding a "speculative construction" that can do justice to the "narative vasture of biblical revelation." But this is nonsense. While it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words and that reality is always inexhaustably more complex than any propositional account of it, it is nonsense to suggest that a proposition or a "speculative construction" cannot render an intelligible account of it or that metaphysical or dogmatic theology cannot render an intelligible and faithful account of the event disclosed in biblical Revelation. That has been the task of dogmatic theology since St. Paul exemplified it in I Corinthians 15.]
In summary, notice here the dualizations between Revelation/dogma, Scripture/metaphysics, Event/logic, Process/ substantial identity. Each of these is enlisted in the service of garnering theological autonomy from Rome, yet each is couched in the language of seeming piety, such as that of restoring the priority of Revelation over dogma, and so forth. The packaging is impressive. The content is predictably dull and disappointing.

2. Pluralism (i.e., relativism): "The biblical events come to us in a plurality of experiences, languages, literary genres, conceptual frameworks, and cultural contexts," notes O'Leary. However, "Metaphysical theolgy proceeds from a falsifying unification of these data under a homogeneous framework. Taking a view from above on the variety of biblical languages … [its] ambition is to be the definitive, objective language which integrates all others. But it turns out to be but one more language, equally subject to historical and cultural plurality which cannot be ironed out." Therefore: "Even when the Church hs agreed on one dogmatic formula and maintained it through the centuries, the specific explanations of the formula … have never admitted of reduction to a single framework. Full recognition of this pluralism greatly limits the role that metaphysical speculation can play in the clarification of Christian truth." (emphasis added, pp. 6-7)

This reminds me of the sophomoric student who in his introductory philosophy class raised his hand eagerly in the midst of a class debate about moral relativism and declared with all the satisfaction of having offered a sublimely conclusive rebuttal, "But professor, that's just your opinion!" Whether we're talking about languages or doctrinal formulations, such a view takes no account of any differences between opinions that may be wise or stupid, or between views proclaimed by lawfully ordained successors of Peter or by mere ideologues.

The substance of this second point of hermeneutical awareness (pluralism), even if it is couched in the language of scholarship, amounts to an apologia for relativism of the most sophomoric type. The ad hominem implicit in it, after all, could be turned against O'Leary himself, whose own Heideggerian existential theology turns out to be but "one more language," which severely limits any instructive role it could possibly play alongside the opinions of any gutter snipe televangelist, in the clarification of Christian truth. This, at least would be the consequence of applying his own logic to his own theology.

3. Historicity (i.e., historicism): "All of the cultural frameworks within which Christian truth is articulated belong to limited historical epistemological contexts. They become to a large degree obsolescent and inaccessible when new contexts supervene. The metaphysics which attempts to isolate essential structures and foundations is itself a historically contextualized formation…. Full recognition of the historicity of theological thought makes us conscious that such notions as 'nature' and 'hypostasis' or any modern equivalent thereof are culture-bound constructs and provisional conventions. They may be aids to insight in certain contexts, but since they cannot be purged of historical relativity they refer us back to an ongoing activity of understanding that never halts in a definitive systematization." (emphasis added) (p. 7)

This is both true and false, depending on what one means. Everything O'Leary says here is true in the sense that anything said or written in any language is a historical-cultural artifact relative to a time and place in history. It is also true that our human efforts at understanding are always provisional and piecemeal and never exhaustive or comprehensive. But it is not true that nothing said or written in human language cannot be absolutely true and known to be so. The Chalcedonean formulation may never allow us with any certainty to specify the positive content of what is affirmed in the hypostatic union of divinity and humanity of Christ. Yet,, as with any dogmatic formula, it offers us absolute certainty as to what orthodoxy denies: without a shred of doubt, it allows us to know that a categorial denial of Christ's humanity or divinity is unconditionally false. Is there any part of this that is obsolescent or inaccessible, any part of this that we cannot clearly understand?

4. Epistemological limits (i.e., skepticism): O'Leary accepts the canard that metaphysics has become untenable since the critiques of Kant and Wittgenstein. He therefore believes that the truth of Christianity "has to be retrieved independently of the metaphysical frameworks which provided a stable background at the time the doctrines were formulated." In other words, the Christian Faith must no longer be saddled with the "inherently dubious" and now discredited tradition of western theological metaphysics. O'Leary writes:
In this postmetaphysical context ... the Nicene prohibition of denial of Christ's true divinity remains in force, but a positive definition of what this "true divinity" means becomes elusive; at best it becomes another rule of speech: "what is said of the Father as God must be said of the Son as God." Within a certain conceptual horizon, a certain language-game, such rules impose themselves, but the absolute necessity and validity of such a take on the divine may remain open to question.... This dogmatic minimalism undercuts the arrogance of a christological discourse that would directly speak of divine and human natures and hypostases, as matters of objective knowledge, obliging it to be rephrased in a tentative and hypothetical mode: "if we were to choose to speak in this archaic and rather problematic style, then this is what we would be obliged to say." [And this] apparent enfeeblement of dogma in fact renders it more functional and effective, calling it to its role as defender of revelation, and preventing it from becoming the foundation of an alternative system of Christian truth in rivalry with the order of events that unfolds from Scripture. (emphasis added, p. 7) [Note again the irony as well as the presumption: the "enfeeblement" of dogma (i.e., Rome) renders it more effective in defending Revelation (i.e., the existentially encountered "Christ event" experienced in subjective inwardness). Here's the ticket: dogmatic traditionalism is dismissed as benighted arrogance in view of radical skepticism concerning the limitations of metaphysical knowledge (on the authority of Kant's and Wittgenstein's critiques), therefore: Revelation becomes a wax nose divorced from dogma that can mean whatever O'Leary and his friends want it to mean.
Summarizing his discussion of these four trends of "hermeneutical awareness," O'Leary writes:
"Given that metaphysics is now so problematic [Oh, really? Is it?], and that classical doctrine has relied heavily on a metaphysical background, it is clear that the task of recalling Chalcedon to its roots in the encounter with God in Christ [I hear violins playing . . .] cannot be simply a matter of fleshing out skeletal categories with the richer languages of Scripture. It involves a fundamental overcoming of the Chalcedonian perspective ...." (emphasis added)
Heavens! So here we have it: that portion of the Sacred Tradition of the Church represented by the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon is to be "overcome" ... And how? O'Leary answers, "through subordinating it to the more originary horizon within which Paul and John sought to articulate an intangible and encompassing reality, the Risen Christ (emphasis added)." [Those violins again ...] Within this sphere of "encounter," suggests O'Leary, the language of Chalcedon falls away as something almost incidental -- as something having the status of a kind of legal codicil, to be invoked only when needed." O'Leary does not deny that it is ever needed, but he does say: "Dogma builds a barbed fence about the burning bush of revelation, and it has been a common idolatry to venerate the fence instead of the bush or what is encountered therein." (p. 8)

The question is, what is encountered therein? "Chalcedon," O'Leary says, "is at the service of encounter," its four negative adverbs warding off "falsifications of that encounter," urging us to respect the integrity of Jesus' humanity and divinity, neither fusing, altering, dividing nor separating them. But the Neoplatonic language need not be characterized in a "cold, neutral" way, in which the hypostasis and natures of Christ are "objectified and torn out of the context of lived encounter." Thus, O'Leary laments the "phobia about speaking naturally of Christ's humanity" that followed Chalcedon and undermined "incarnational realism." It was especially the condemnation of Nestorius, says O'Leary, that was most fateful for the history of Christology, because it made simple and natural language about Jesus impossible.

The true significance of O'Leary's criticism of post-Chalcedonian Christological language and theology becomes clear when we learn what he prescribes as a remedy: Rudolf Bultmann! A fundamental influence in Bultmann's thought, it will be remembered, was Heidegger's existentialism. Butlmann, says O'Leary, "remains an indispensable point of reference in the step back from an objectifying substance-based christology to one based on encounter" (emphasis added). So as to make no mistake about his meaning, he quotes Bultmann himself: "Jesus Christ is the Eschatological Event as the man Jesus of Nazareth and as the Word which resounds in the mouth of those who preach him.... Christ is everything that is asserted of him in so far as he is the Eschatological Event.... He is such -- indeed, to put it more exactly, he becomes such -- in the encounter -- when the Word which proclaims him meets with belief." (Rudolf Bultmann, Essays, Philosophical and Theological, London, p. 286). [In other words, belief constitutes Jesus!! Believing makes it so. Believing the earth is flat, flattens the earth -- at least, for you.]

O'Leary continues: "Through a nuanced hermeneutics, it may be possible to square this orientation with the claims of orthodoxy." How this squaring may be achieved through this nuancing is illustrated by O'Leary, first, with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity, and, second, with respect to the doctrine of the Incarnation: "Orthodoxy as regards the Trinity is satisfied with the recognition of some kind of objective distinction in God between God, Word and Spirit .... But the elaborate superstructures built on this in speculative trinitarian theology need to be dismantled if the original core of dogma and its necessity are to be brought into view. Ortodoxy as regards the Incarnation is satisfied with the assertion that the final meaning of Jesus is inseparable from the divine Word. The personality of the human Jesus and the personality of the divine Word cannot be one and the same, since an infinite abyss separates human personality from what we project as divine personality. The identity of Jesus and the Word has to be rethought in terms of event and process, as a coincidence of the human historical adventure of Jesus with the revelational activity of God. To encounter the risen Christ in faith is to encounter the divine Word .... But since the divine nature cannot be mingled with the human or subject to change ... Jesus is free to be integrally human, with all that this entails." (p. 9, emphasis added)

"Nuanced hermeneutics," "event and process," "encounter with the divine Word ...." Before pulling up a chair to play poker at this Bultmannian table, one would be well-advised to examine the deck of cards O'Leary is dealing you with some care. You will immediately note the markings of their Heideggerian existentialist genealogy. What would be the yield of a rich Heideggerian biblical hermeneutical poker game such as O'Leary envisions? Hold on to your wallets my friends, and watch his eyes as he speaks: "When we recall Chalcedon to its biblical basis," he begins . . . [Note carefully the pious-sounding hubris here: an Ecumenical Council whose deliberations the Church holds to have been guided, like those of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:28), by the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit, is declared by O'Leary to be "recalled to its biblical basis," as though that God-breathed (GK. theopneustos) product of divine guidance (Holy Scripture) could contradict the decrees of the Ecumenical Council. There is nothing shocking in the least here for O'Leary, of course, because he does not believe for a moment that either the inscripturated words of the biblical writers or of the authors of conciliar decrees are anything more than a wax nose to be bent (or "nuanced") as he (O'Leary) sees fit. The "authority" of any of these written words is a convenience that may be appealed where they can be used to support his own agenda and ignored where they do not.] O'Leary's quotation, in its entirety, reads thus:
When we recall Chalcedon to its biblical basis, we find that it is no more than a footnote to the incarnational vision expressed in John 1:14. But that text may allow of a subtler and wider exegesis than classical dogma countenanced. "The word became flesh" may mean: "The divinity manifest in the creative Wisdom through which the world was made and in the Torah through which the holy community of Israel was assembled is now manifest in a more fleshly, historical form, in and across the entire career of Jesus." It is not Jesus as an artificially isolated individual, but Jesus in the entire extent of his connections with Jewish tradition and his ongoing pneumatic presence within the community as the "firstborn of many brethren" (Rom. 8:29), who is the enfleshment of God's creative, revelatory Word. God made Godself known in Israel .... It is not through a radical break with this tradition or some monstrous metaphysical paradox that God once again dwells among us in the warm fleshliness of Jesus, that is, . . . in the anamnesis of the Christian community. (p. 10, emphasis added)
[So what is important about Jesus Christ is no longer the "artificially isolated individual," the historical Jesus who lived and died, and, according to tradition, is also the Christ of faith who rose again for us. No, what is important is that which is distinguishable from this "artificially isolated individual" and historical Jesus, which is incarnate in the whole historical community of Israel -- something much larger than just one man, even the man Jesus Christ. What is larger and more important than this "artifically isolated individual" is the "pneumatic presence" of the Christ of faith, as distinguished from that isolated and relatively unimportant Jesus of history (whoever he was), because this is what is alive and living in the collective spirit of the community in its encounter with the living Word of God (which -- lovely! -- means just about whatever we want it to mean). And by no means should it be supposed that this Christ of faith continues to dwell among us through some sort of "monstrous metaphysical paradox" as, for instance, would be required in supposing that He was really bodily there in the consecration, the Blessed Sacrament, or in the Tabernacle. All that's so much "hocus pocus," really (which, of course, is a protestant corruption of the Latin words of consecration: Hoc est …corpus meum -- "This is my body"), and it's good that we modern or postmodern Catholics are done with such medieval superstitious nonsense. Thus O'Leary suggests here.]

What is new about the new Covenant, says O'Leary, is not the presence of the Word, which was living and active from the beginning, but rather the role of the flesh in a more intimate presence with us. Note carefully where O'Leary goes with this incarnational thought. Take, for instance, the statement: "The word became flesh." If we take this, he says, not as a metaphysical statement, but as a "resume of Christian experience," we can get beyond trying to pin the event down to "objective ontological privileges enjoyed by Jesus." [Follow this now!]"Rather than a once-for-all ontological conjunction, somewhat magically and fetishistically located at the moment of Christ's conception, can we not think of incarnation as the transformation of this human life, in all its extensions, into manifestation of God, just as in the Eucharist ...?" he asks. [Why does O'Leary favor understanding the incarnation as transformation of "this human life" of Jesus, analogously to the Eucharist, rather than as understood traditonally in the moment of His conception, which he dismisses as somewhat magical and fetishistic? The answer is that existential theologians cannot wrap their minds around the motion that the Christ of Faith might also be the Jesus of History. In the neo-Kantian tradition, they split off values from facts, the noumenal from the phenomenal; and since the Jesus of History, on their reckoning, is just a fallible human being whose bones are mouldering somewhere in Palestine, he surely cannot be identified as the Christ of Faith. Hence, if there is an Incarnation at all, on their view, it must be a "transformation" -- like the Eucharist -- without residue: the Incarnate Christ is a docetic Christ, a gnostic Christ a divine Christ with no human residue. This answer would seem provide yet another means for O'Leary and Company to pry loose their own dreamy vision of what constitutes divine "Incarnation" within a human community from the orthodox magisterial understanding of what Christ's incarnation means.] O'Leary continues:
"This more open-textured interpretation of incarnation attenuates the clash between the Christian claims and non-Christian religions, for the incarnation of God in Christ continues to unfold along the paths of historical, fleshly contingency as his Gospel and his pneumatic presence are redeployed in different cultures, and enter into dialogue with other historical apprehensions of divine presence in the world" (p. 11, emphasis added). [Here is what O'Leary really wants, you see -- for "the incarnation of Christ" to be translatable into "other historical apprehensions of divine presence in the world." Let me simplify: for Christians, there is J-e-s-u-s; for Buddhists, there is B-u-d-d-h-a. Either one is simply another name for what Christians have called the "Incarnation" -- viz., a culturally relative apprehension of the divine (whatever that really means) by yet another fallible people among the family of multicultural human peoples. To this extent O'Leary is Hegelian: there is no vantage point outside the river of history from which an absolute judgment about any historical "truth" may be rendered. To this extent O'Leary is Feuerbachean: anything we say about God and His truth is only by way of subjective projection. In short, to put the matter crassly: we're screwed. We're just a bunch of individuals sitting around talking to ourselves. There is no Word of God that has broken through the scrim of heaven to divulge any infallible truth to us. There is only "encounter" with the ineffably "divine," which is usually a touchy-feely way of pretending to know what you're talking about when you're talking nonsense and trying to pull the wool over the eyes of your audience before fleecing them.]

"Christian faith and devotion gravitates to Christ in a spontaneous and instinctive way, conferring on him the high titles which dogma subsequently interprets in a critical clarification. Is this gravitation a brute given, or can we map it as a geodesic within a relativistic interreligious space? Is the Incarnation a massive and unique event, the central reality of history and indeed of being? Or is it a cipher for a more subtle, historically textured disclosure process which is intimately linked with the broader web of human evolution, not as dominating that web, but as drawing its sense from it?" (p. 11, emphasis added)
[O'Leary poses these sentences in the interrogative form, perhaps thinking them less likely to get him tagged for the heretical nonsense they imply. But it's far too late for such subtleties here. It's altogether clear where his sympathies lie and where his heart is. He embraces "interreligious dialogue," not by virtue of any interest in evangelization or invitation to convert to Christ and to His Church in anything resembling the ways these have been intended by Catholic Tradition, but because he believes what historical Christianity offers is only one relative instance of what can be also found among many other religions. The Judeo-Christian tradition, whatever its claims to special revelation, has no monopoly on truth. His alternate sentence expresses O'Leary's own view more accurately: the Incarnation is "a cipher for a more subtle, historically textured disclosure process which is intimately linked with the broader web of human evolution." Here his thinking is of a piece with that of process theologians, such as John Cobb, Charles Hartschorne, and their mentor, Alfred North Whitehead. The metaphysic of "substance" is eschewed for a paradigm of "process" and "event," in which no-thing is finally identifiable because it is in flux. Who knows what new reality, new conception of the divine, new revelation, may lie ahead in the evolving species? The trick is to eschew the arrogant posture of certitude and remain "vulnerable," "open" to infinite possibilities. In truth, it may not so much be that the Buddhist is an "anonymous Christian," as Karl Rahner once suggested, groping in ignorance towards what is made explicit only in Christ; but rather, that the Christian, bowing before the Incarnation, is an "anonymous Buddhist," groping in ignorance toward the truth of Buddhism that he who knows does not speak and he who speaks does not know, and that all is ultimately empty (Sunyata), since everything is Mind and Mind is no-thing, and the self is no-thing, and there is ultimately no nirvana because there is no self to attain it and because nirvana is, after all, no-thing and therefore nothing to be attained.]

Part III of O'Leary's article is entitled "The Demystifying Role of the Historical Jesus." Here O'Leary argues that closing the gap between the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History requires demythologizing the Incarnation. In view of the liberal protestant biblical scholarship on the historical Jesus over the past two centuries, of which O'Leary speaks with unqualified and uncritical approval, "The 'God incarnate' schema seems to impose an alien mythological framework on the eschatological prophet [he means Jesus] who announced the imminence of God's Kingdom ...." In other words, the historical Jesus yielded by historical-critical Bible scholarship (whatever its multitudinous recensions) seems so vividly and familiarly human that the "God incarnate" thing seems like a foreign interpolation -- perhaps by the later believing community, the Church, and its dogmatic fulminations. So how does O'Leary propose to "close the gap" between the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith (and dogma)? "In order to close the gap a degree of demythologization of the incarnational tradition seems to be required," he says. Now think about the move O'Leary is proposing here: he says he wants to close the gap between the Christ of Faith and Jesus of History -- by doing what? By means of a degree of demythologization. What needs to be demythologized? The Christ of Faith, with its Incarnational dogma. How does this close the gap? There are at least two options at play here. First, it would seem that he might be proposing to close the gap by eliminating the Christ of Faith altogether, by collapsing the Christ of Faith into the Jesus of History. Such an option would close the gap by effectively eliminating it, by leaving nothing but the Jesus of History with nothing beyond it opening a distance to be spanned. But that would be the alternative of simply naturalistic atheism, and that is too simplistic for O'Leary, even though atheism's naturalistic assumptions utterly dominate the hermeneutic he embraces when confronted by the data for the Jesus of History. He does not consider himself an atheist, any more than other existentialist theologians such as Bultmann, Barth or Tillich would. Second, it would seem that O'Leary's only other option would be to re-open the gap again by some sleight-of-hand after having claimed to have "closed" it by demythologizing. How is this to be achieved? By his process of regression, or "stepping back," from Chalcedon to the primal "Christ event" "encountered" in "Revelation" itself (the quotation marks signal the technical existential significations of these term). Hear it from O'Leary himself: "The step back from Chalcedon to Paul and John has to be followed by a further step back to earlier understandings of Jesus, including his own self-understanding." What does this mean? It means that we shouldn't take the Church's word for who Jesus Christ is. We need to step back from the dogmatic Christ of creed and tradition and examine the living faith of Paul and John in their New Testament writings -- a step away from dogmatic definition and towards the living fluidity of subjectively experienced "event" and "process," in O'Leary's paradigm. But even this New Testament framework is too constrictive. O'Leary would have us "step back" to even earlier understandings of Jesus, "including his own self-understanding." And how is that to be retrieved? Through the expertise of the "scientific" historical-critical research of Bible scholars over the last 200 years as adjudicated by the paternal expertise of wise and knowledgeable ministers of theological truth such as O'Leary himself, it almost goes without saying.

But this is interesting: how does O'Leary propose to retrieve Jesus' own self-understanding, really? He criticizes Hans von Balthasar's opposition to critical exegesis in the latter's work, Kennt uns Jesus -- Kennen wir ihn? (Does Jesus Know Us? Do We Know Him?, Ignatius Press), in which von Balthasar presents what O'Leary calls an "idealized" account of Christ's life "from which historical contingency is banished" and the whole Gospel is presented as a cosmic drama and divine work of art. "But it is precisely to the extent that the Gospels are literary works of art that we must suspect them of being false to the murkiness and accidentality of real life," objects O'Leary (p. 13, emphasis added). "But a theologia gloriae which misses the broken, all-too-human texture wherein we are given intimations -- 'hints and guesses' (Eliot) -- of the divine glory, or which stylizes this fleshly texture into a sacralized icon, undermines the reality of the divine assumption of humanity in Christ" (p. 13, emphasis added).

O'Leary quickly comes to the point: "Reference to the historical reality of Jesus before the post-Easter interpretations provides an invaluable critical resource over against the entire christological tradition, preventing it from balooning off into vacuous idealism." Setting aside the implication that the whole Catholic christological tradition has presumably "balooned off into vacuous idealism" in theologies of glory and incarnation, it may be wondered how "the historical reality of Jesus before the post-Easter interpretations" arose are to be accessed. Conceding the difficulty, O'Leary valiantly endeavors to make a virtue of necessity: "The very difficulty of such a reference, the uncertainty and obscurity of the enterprise, can [note the irony] free our faith from a narrow positivism of facts as much as from a blithe confidence in theological portraits of Jesus" (p. 14, emphasis added). So ignorance and uncertainty has the virtue of freeing faith from the cumbersome world of facts, as well as from blithe confidence in the post-Easter theological portraits given us by St. Paul and Catholic Tradition. One can't help but be impressed at O'Leary's ebullience over such sublime nonesense. Freedom from fact! Freedom from certainty! Freedom apparently to believe in anything!

He continues: "We can no longer rest uncritically in our imaginings of Jesus; we realize that they are a 'skillful means' (Buddhist upaya) suited to a given epoch and in need of constant readjustment." And what does O'Leary think "our imaginings of Jesus" are in which we must no longer rest uncritically? These, of course, are the portraits of Jesus handed down to us in Catholic Tradition -- in art, iconography, hymns, chant, children's stories, Sunday sermons, and writings, spanning everything from the portraits given in the New Testament itself to the ecumenical creeds, and defined dogmas of the Church. These, he says, are merely "skillful means," borrowing an expression from Buddhism for the half-truths and myths concerning Nirvana, Bodhisattva, Karma, and reincarnation, which are entertained only because expedient in furthering the Buddhist goal of achieving a psychological outlook that most effectively effects an overcoming of suffering. Likewise, O'Leary is suggesting that what he takes to be our traditional Catholic "half truths" and "myths" about Jesus are mere expediencies "suited to a given epoch" for the purpose of furthering the Christian goal, which he presumably takes, by some contorted reasoning, to be some sort of analogous psychological or emotional state of well-being.

But if he wants us to give up our mythical "imaginings of Jesus," O'Leary also understands that we cannot simply cease these imaginings by a return to the "bare facts about Jesus," for as he notes, "these come clothed in religious interpretation from the start ...." Thus, he writes: "Even the earliest interpretations of Jesus, by himself and his disciples, are subject to historical contextualization and critical reassessment. There was an abundance of mythic schemata to draw on, and their application to Jesus was a human interpretive activity, however much it may have been led by the Spirit .... Since Christology is so much a product of the mythic frameworks then available, the retrieval of its truth for today demands a radical reinterpretation" (pp. 14-16, emphasis added). So we can't separate myth from fact or fact from myth, and therefore we must radically reinterpret the "truth" of the Christ myth (whatever that may be) for today. By what canons of veracity and interpretation, he does not say, though it's clear that it can't be the "bare facts about Jesus," because he knows that positivistic ideal is humanly unattainable. So it must lie in some contemporary existentialist criteria O'Leary thinks is available to him and others, though he doesn't spell out what they might be.

O'Leary is quite certain, however, that a hermeneutical regression is in order: we can't take the Christology of official Church teaching (Chalcedon) at face value, so we must go back to Revelation, understood as encounter with the divine Word (whatever that means). We can't take the portraits of Christ in Paul and John at face value, so we must go back to the "Christ event" they herald and presuppose. We can't take the portraits of Jesus in the Gospels at face value, because Jesus' own self-understanding and his disciples' understanding of Jesus are so assimilated in "the abundance of mythic frameworks then available" that they require critical deconstruction before they can be rendered serviceable for our postmodern contemporaries. So "Jesus' own messianological notions, thus, must in turn be interpreted against the background of Jewish religion and culture in yet another step back.... But under pain of naïve biblicism we must recognize that these Jewish categories also need to be demythologized. This applies even to the ruling idea of Israel's election, which cannot really mean that God binds himself to the physical descendants of Abraham; rather, Israel is the people of the Torah, and the Covenant is centered on that. Israel's identity is not secured by literal obedience to the Mosaic Law or to its Rabbinic reinterpretation, but more largely by its spirit of Torah fidelity ...." (p. 15, emphasis added) So we can't expect to garner true insight into the "Christ event" even by examining the Old Testament Jewish categories of Israel as God's "Chosen People," or even in terms of their Torah or "literal obedience" to the Law of Moses, but more properly through insight into Israel's "spirit of Torah fidelity"! Hence, it's not the literal demands of the Law (Torah) that Jesus says he came to fulfill that are important here for understanding who Jesus is, but rather Israel's (and, by implication, Jesus') "spirit of Torah fidelity"! But how is a "spirit of Torah fidelity" to be identified apart from and understanding of what would constitute "literal obedience"? Doesn't Jesus himself repeatedly stress the importance of being a doer of the law, and not a hearer only, of demonstrating true discipleship by keeping (rather than merely hearing) his commandments?

But O'Leary is adamant: all reduces to myth, which must be demythologized. It will not do to substitute Hebrew myth for Hellenistic myth: "The obsolescence of Hellenistic myth does not entail any rejuvenation of Hebrew myth. The task of rearticulation in contemporary categories what the ancients envisaged in mythic terms is even more daunting in this case, for however refreshing we may findthe older biblical representations by contrast with stale Hellenistic notions, it is the latter that harmonize with the tracks of thought most familiar in Western culture.... A reappropriation of the Jewish mythical categories in an existential translation ... may challenge theology to break out of its Hellenistic rut, but it will also cut a swath through the over-abundance of mythological motifs in the Gospels" (p. 16). Myth, myth, everywhere, and not a drop to drink! Where is the thirsting soul to turn?

O'Leary concludes: "We begin to see that the historical, Jewish fleshly existence of Jesus is the locus of his unique revelatory and salvific status, and that it is a bridge rather than an obstacle as our tradition opens out to other major loci of divine disclosure, especially the Jewish and Buddhist traditions." The thirsting soul must probe beyond the facades of historical mythologies and mine the sources of Revelation itself in the warm hot tub of existential encounter. From that comfortable vantage point, the mythological infrastructure of Christian tradition -- from the "Jesus myth" of the New Testament to the Christological myths of Chalcedon -- need not be viewed as "obstacle," but, rather as a "bridge" (in Zarathustran fashion, echoing Nietzsche), since hot tub religion of existential encounter allows its hallucinating adherents to perceive "the divine" as wearing many masks. Let the carnival revelers of this Dance Macabre be reminded that the sun also rises at Dawn.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Pope Benedict's view of bishops

In September of this year, we reviewed a portion of Part II of Michael S. Rose's two part series on "The Man Who Was Ratzinger" in the New Oxford Review (September 2005) -- the part concerned with Pope Benedict's view of Church bureaucracy (see "Pope Benedict and Church Bureaucracy," Musings of a Pertinacious Papist, September, 2005). Rose is always provocative, even if he's not always completely an even-keeled writer. But I found myself re-reading the afore-mentioned article recently, and found it better than I had remembered -- not only provocative, but quite solid -- and thought it worth exerpting that portion of it on Pope Benedict's view of bishops for the reading pleasure and analysis of my readers:
Although Ratzinger believes in shedding the layers of bureaucracy, he is keenly aware that the Supreme Pontiff has the tri-fold mandate to teach, to sanctify, and to rule in the name of Christ. His predecessor took the first two mandates to heart: John Paul taught and he sanctified; but by his own admission he failed, at least in some respects, in his obligation to rule. His passion for travel and dialogue sometimes meant a certain neglect of internal administration of the Church.

Pope Benedict has different ideas and different strengths. He is much less likely to be away from the Vatican and the central afrairst of the Church than his predecessor. Consequently, he will likely take closer control of the internal workings of the Vatican.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this papal obligation is the nomination of bishops and the appointment of cardinals who fucntion as the Pope's closest advosors. John paul's appointments were not nearly as bad as those of Pope Paul VI. The Montini papacy revolutionized the hierarchy through the elevation of out-and-out renegades to the episcopacy -- e.g., Seattle's Raymond Hunthausen, Milwaukee's Rembert Weakland, Detroit's Thomas Gumbleton, Rochester's Matthew Clark, and Albany's Howard Hubbard. But contrary to the oft-repeated belief that Karol Wojtyla appointed men who were near-facsimilies of himself, he gave the world Cardinals Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, Keith O'Brien of Scotland, Godfried Danneels of Belgium, and Karl Lehmnann of Meinz -- all of whom have (or had) reputations as extreme liberals and have had significant influence over the choice of other bishops in their respective countries.

Another notable problem is the large number of troublesome homosexual bishops appointed under John Paul's watch. In the U.S., for example, he appointed Patyrick Ziemann, Daniel Ryan, Kendrick Williams, Keith Symons, and Anthony O'Connell -- all of whom were disgraced by homosexual scandals.

John Paul, of course, did not and could not personally know every one of the bishops he appointed during his 26-year pontificate. He relied heavily on his cardinals and their national bishops' conferences to recommend the "best men" for each position. Bishops put forward names of priests whom they believed would make good bishops. According to Vatican norms, bishops must enjoy a good reputation, be of irreproachable morality, be endowed with right judgment and prudence, have an even-temper, and be of stable character. They are expected to exercise their pastoral ministry with zeal and piety, and in a spirit of sacrifice. Above all, they must hold firmly to the orthodox Faith and be devoted to the Holy See. These, however, are not common traits of the typical bishop, at least not in the U.S. In recent times, we have seen that all too many bishops are incompetent and at times gravely immoral.

This is the situation that Pope Benedict XVI has inherited. As Cardinal Ratzinger he was generally regarded as a good judge of character and has already become familiar with many of the potential candidates for the episcopacy through his work at the Congregation for Bishops. Furthermore, given his suspicion of the national bishops' conferences, some hope that the new Pope may even reform the selection process of bishops. The current process has proved a failure. It is an especially difficult situation becuase once a bishop is appointed it is very difficult to remove him from office.

The case of Archbishop Raymond "Dutch" Hunthausen in Seattle provides an illustrative example. After receiving years of complaints about the Archdiocese of Seattle, Cardinal Ratzinger initiated an investigation to evaluate criticisms about his ministry as Archbishop, appointing James Cardinal Hickey of Washington, D.C., the "apostolic visitor." Two years later, in 1985, Ratzinger relesed the findings of the investigation. He wrote that "there has been a rather widespread practice of admitting divorced persons to a subsequent Church marriage without prior review by your Tribunal, or even after they have received a negative sentence." Other problems discovered were doctrinal: incorrect notions of the Church's mission and even problems with the teaching on Christ's divinity and humanity, and His salvific mission. Hunthausen was also criticized for failing to impart "a correct appreciation of the sacramental nature of the Church, especially as it provides for sacred ministry in the Sacrament of Holy Orders."

The list of criticisms went on and on, a veritable syllabus of errors that might have been uncovered to some degree in many U.S. dioceses: Contraceptive sterilization was routinely taking place in local Catholic hospitals, first Communion was offered before first Confession, the practice of general absolution ws abused, intercommunion was common practice at Seattle parishes, laicized priests were serving in unauthorized priestly roles, priests who had unlawfully left the priesthood were employed by the Archdiocese, the possibility of women's ordination was being promoted, and homosexual activist groups were given diocesan support, including use of Seattle's cathedral.

Ratzinger directed that Hunthausen delegate all his final decision-making authority over five areas of church life to a Rome-appointed auxiliary, Bishop Donald Wuerl (later Bishop of Pittsburgh): annulments, clergy formation, resigned priests, liturgy, and moral issues dealing with homosexuals and hospitals.

As a result, Ratzinger became a well-known name among U.S. Catholics -- with both those who revered him and those who reviled him. The rest is history.
This has been and will surely continue to be one of the most interesting pontificates in modern times to follow. Times such as these call for us to redouble our resolution to keep the Holy Father in our daily prayers.

Friday, November 18, 2005

An obsession which has no future

The October issue of the AFA Journal carries an article, featuring a photo of ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, entitled, "Homosexual issue plagues denominations." The caption under the photo of Hanson describes the bishop as "entertaining questions at a news conference after the Assembly's decision regarding recommendations on homosexuality." The article recounts what has been happening among several mailing Protestant denominations in recent months, illustrating how the issue of homosexuality has been continuing to exert pressure in those communities. Excerpts:

  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
    Delegates to ELCA's 2005 national convention in August angered homosexual activists in the 4.9-million-member denomination when they rejected a proposal to allow the church, under certain circumstances, to ordain gays or lesbians in long-term, committed relationships.

    The convention upset conservatives, however, by refusing to vote for a resolution that would remove the ambiguity from the denomination's regulations regarding whether or not a minister could bless same-sex unions.

  • Episcopal Church in USA (ECUSA)
    The fallout from ECUSA's 2003 consecration of openly-gay Rev. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire continues to roil the denomination, home to 2.5 million of the worldwide Anglican Communion's 77 million members.

    Six Episcopal congregations in Florida have asked Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and figurehead leader for worldwide Anglicans, to allow them to report to a new bishop.

    The row was caused, the congregations said, because their current bishop, John Howard, approved of Robinson's consecration....

  • United Methodist Church (UMC)
    Rev. Edward Johnson, pastor of South Hill United Methodist Church in Virginia, was placed on a year-long leave of absence by his UMC district superintendent. His ecclesiastical crime? He refused to allow a nonrepentant homosexual into church membership.

    Johnson's district superintendent, the Rev. William Layman, had twice ordered Johnson to accept the homosexual man into membership....

    When the pastor refused, he was removed from his position without salary. Johnson, who has been in the pastorate for 24 years, had pastored at South Hill for six years.

    Meanwhile, the Rev. Irene Stroud, who had lost her credentials last December following an ecclesiastical trial over her admission that she was in a committed lesbian relationship, will have a new day in court. In April, a UMC appellate court reinstated her ministry credentials after overturning her conviction on an 8-1 vote....

  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
    A special PCUSA panel recommended that next year's General Assembly not change a 1997 church law that limits clergy and lay officeholders to sex within marriage.

    The battle over the issue has grown heated in the PCUSA. Homosexual activists continue to submit bills to repeal the rules. Meanwhile, conservatives have been frustrated that congregations continue to defy current church law and that the denomination allows ceremonies to bless same-sex couples.

    An example of such open defiance occurred in the Pittsburgh Presbytery, where a female minister, Dr. Janet Edwards, performed a "marriage" ceremony for two lesbians. The ceremony integrated the couple's Buddhist and Christian traditions.
Why is this an obsession which has no future? Because whatever its duration or intensity, as both history and logic demonstrate, it is barren, unproductive, and cannot sustain itself or a civilization. There is no future in it. For a quirky dystopian amen to that, read Anthony Burgess's The Wanting Seed.

Catholicism, Liberalism and the American Experiment

Christopher Blosser offers a review of, along with his own contributions to, a fascinating inter-Catholic discussion, involving the folks from First Things, Communio, along with Stanley Hauerwaus and the 'Radical Orthodoxy' crowd in his post, "Discussions on Catholicism, Liberalism and the American Experiment -- A Roundup" on his blog, Against the Grain (Nov. 16, 2005).

An excerpt:
This past week, Chris Burgwald (Veritas) picks up on the conversation begun at David Jones' La Nouvelle Theologie with the first in a series of posts elaborating on the reasons for disagreement with Michael Novak (together with Fr. Neuhaus, George Weigel, and Fr. Sirico).

The first of Chris' posts is on the proposition: "The death of God for our times, for our culture, for us, is Liberalism", which I followed with:

Monday, November 14, 2005

Republican betrayal of pro-lifers? Is there any question?

When Judge John Roberts came before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his appointment to the Court of Appeals on April 30, 2003, he was quoted as saying: "Roe vs. Wade is the settled law of the land.... There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent...." On September 13, 2005, Sen. Arlen Specter asked Roberts at the Judiciary Committee hearings for his appointment for Chief Justice: "Do you mean settled for you, settled only foryour capacity as circuit judge, or settled beyond that?" Roberts was quoted as answering: "Well, beyond that." What does this mean? Can this mean anything else than that Roberts thinks that Roe is settled law, not just for Roberts himself, not just for Roberts as a circuit jduge, but for Roberts as Supreme Court justice?

Specter then turned turned the discussion with Roberts back to an earlier statement by John F. Kennedy when the latter was running for President. Specter said: "Your final statement as to this quotation: 'There is nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully aplying that precedent [Roe], as well as Casey [which reaffirmed Roe].' There have been questions raised about your personal views.... When you talk about your personal views and as they may relate to your own faith, would you say that your views are the same as those expressed by John Kennedy when he was a candidate, when he spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September of 1960, 'I do not speak for my church on public matters and the church does not speak for me'?" Roberts is said to have responded: "I agree with that, Senator, Yes."

When Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Roberts about the separation of Church and State, Roberts replied: "My faith and my religious beliefs do not play a role in judging. When It comes to judging, I look to the law books and always have. I don't look to the Bible or any other religious source."

Should Roberts be denied Communion too?

Commenting on Roberts' remarks, Dale Vree, Editor of New Oxford Review writes in an editorial, "When Will Prolifers Wise Up?" (New Oxford Review, November 2005, p. 9):
So what's the difference between John Kerry and John Roberts? Kerry won't "impose" his religious beliefs on the nation, nor will Roberts. And Roberts regards Roe as "settled law," as does Kerry. If Kerry should be denied Holy Communion -- and we think he should -- then so should Roberts.
The most interesting thing that Vree points out, however, is an egregious inconsistency in the thinking of Catholic Neoconservative, Austin Ruse (pictured right), which, I'm afraid I must admit, is probably more common than not among our Neoconservative friends and fellow supporters of George Bush in the last U.S. presidential election. Vree writes:
Neoconservative Catholic honcho, Austin Ruse, said: "We condemn Senator Feinstein's attempt to place Judge Roberts' Catholicism at the center of his confirmation hearing.... Her questioning comes perilously close to a religious test for public office." Well, yes, it does. But Roberts -- who chose not to answer certain senatorial questions -- could have chosen not to answer this question, on the grounds of being a religious test. But he chose to answer it -- and cravenly. So, what does Ruse do? He condemns Feinstein rather than Roberts, who freely chose to dump his Catholicism. Ruse, a Bush loyalist, has his priorities out of whack.
This is a significant develpment -- more significant than I'd like to admit -- in light of the all-out support for Roberts from Republican loyalists from the ranks of the Christian Right (such as James Dobson, of Focus on the Family) and Neocon Catholics such as George Weigel and Republican Senator, Rick Santorum (pictured left). In his regular column in Crisis magazine in September, Santorum wrote: "President Bush could not have selected a better person [than Roberts] for the job.... Judge Roberts is the kind of judge America needs.... He strictly interprets the law, regardless of his personal political views."

Vree points out that to "strictly interpret the law," given the laws we've got, is to uphold Roe. To strike down Roe, we need justices with "personal political views" who know that abortion is evil, he says, just as racial segregation was evil (though less so), even when it was legal. Further -- and this is sobering -- Vree notes that Chief Justice William Rehnquist, whom Roberts replaces, was anti-Roe. When Rehnquist was a justice, the Supreme Court had six pro-Roe votes and three anti-Roe votes. Now with Roberts, abortion rights supports have another vote, and there are only two anti-Roe votes.

As of this writing, Alito has been nominated to fill the seat of Sandra Day O'Connor, who was pro-Roe. The verdict is still out on Alito. It's true that he has in the past rejected abortion as a right in certain decisions. Yet I have also heard it said (and haven't yet confirmed this) that he has voted in favor of one of the partial birth abortion rights decisions. If Alito turns out to be an anti-Roe justice, this will have the effect of merely returning the Supreme Court to the status quo ante -- six pro-Roe and three anti-Roe votes. If Alito turns out to be pro-Roe, there will be seven pro-Roe votes and two anti-Roe votes.

Prolifers who refused to vote for John Kerry acted prudentially, for Kerry was brazenly and openly pro-abortion and flagrantly disregarded the sacramental precepts of his own Catholic Church. Yet those prolifers who voted for Bush in hopes that he was their man will have achieved nothing and may very likely have suffered a grave setback. Bush had every opportunity during his second term to make legislative decisions and Supreme Court appointments that would have achieved major gains for the pro-life cause in the United States. He had a majority in the two houses of Congress behind him. He is in his second term and has nothing to lose. Instead, he has squandered his opportunities. Vree concludes his remarks on the following depressing note: "It's amazing that so many prolifers place their trust in Republican politicians. It's such a waste of time, talent, and treasure."

I would close on a more hopeful, but more personally demanding, note: Whatever your party affiliation, however you voted, hold your elected officials responsible. If you voted Republican, as I did, let your elected officals know you feel utterly betrayed and will not let the GOP exploit your prolife vote only to sweep your concerns under the rug once elected. My wife is actually in a position where what she says might have some clout along these lines, since she knows some of our state officials and has worked with them. If you are a Democrat, work for retrieval of prolife family values within the Democratic party officials. Insist on making your voice heard. A democracy is classified among the poorer forms of government, according to Aristotle's analysis, but among those pooer forms, it's one of the better, and individuals can make some difference, for what it's worth.

Robert Sungenis replies to John Lamont

Grand Detours From the Second Vatican Council
Robert Sungenis

My congratulations to John Lamont for a fine article on the Second Vatican Council (NOR, Jul.-Aug. 2005, ["Why the Second Vatican Council Was a Good Thing & Is More Important Than Ever," reprinted by permission of the publisher in Musings of a Pertinacious Papist, August 31, 2005]. I concur with what Lamont understands as the necessary reason for Vatican II's teachings. I was impressed with how well he dealt with the "external" and "internal" issues in such a short article. Nevertheless, I would like to add some counterbalancing ideas to Lamont's thesis.

Normally, I associate with the traditionalist side of the post-conciliar debates, yet, at the same time, I often part company with my colleagues on Vatican II, for as Lamont says, traditionalists either dismiss it altogether or they find egregious fault with its teachings, unwilling to reconcile its seeming innovations with tradition. Barring its minefield of deliberately placed ambiguous statements (a "deliberateness" freely admitted by attendee Eduard Schillebeeckx [pictured left]), we must accept Vatican II as a legitimate ecumenical council, without dogmatic error, and designed for the good of the Church. In reality, 95 percent of its words are unproblematic. If the other five percent is interpreted in the light of tradition rather than liberalism and neo-Modernism, we shouldn't have too much problem ironing out any difficulties. The sooner traditionalists accept that challenge, the faster our divergent camps can move onward in cleaning up the mess of the post-conciliar church -- and it is, indeed, a mess.

There are a few points, however, that Lamont needs to consider. First, although he enlightened us to the problem of nominalism stemming from Occam (a philosophy which eventually leads people into the trap of Phariseeism, wherein one obeys law for law's sake rather than from true love for God and man), we must never forget that man has a grave sin problem; and this sin problem became especially acute in the 20th century. Law is an absolute necessity in such times, for it binds men to obedience and maintains an orderly and civil society. Although we may all strive to reach the ideal of altruistic love, it cannot be denied that we desperately need law to keep the lid on society's potential debauchery. One day we hope that obedience will mature us to the point of obeying strictly for love's sake (Jas. 2:8-13), but until that day comes, we must face the reality of our own wretchedness.

In this light, one of Vatican II's major problems was that its message of altruistic love and spiritual freedom was being given to a society on the verge of cutting loose most of its social mores. Just when we needed a strong hand to remind us of our moral obligations in the midst of a world gone crazy with the lust for power (e.g., World Wars I and II), and a world either contemplating or actually indulging in some of its worst sins (e.g., contraception, abortion, divorce, promiscuity, homosexuality), the prelates of Vatican II more or less forgot why the traditional Church, through her regimen of strong laws and purifying disciplines, insisted on keeping tight reins on her people. They knew the time-honored truth of what was deep in the heart of man. As Jeremiah says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately curupt; who can understand it?" (17:9).

Instead, Vatican II's engineers were working on the novel principle that 20th-century man was so much more socially mature and scientifically advanced than his medieval predecessor that he need not hamper himself with restrictive laws and humbling disciplines any longer. He had "come of age," as they say, enlightened by the arts and sciences to such a degree that it was thought that he would never again succumb to the barbarism of the past. The sad fact is, as soon as Vatican II's message of altruism and freedom sailed past its doors, bishops, priests, nuns, and layfolk, still embattled by their own concupiscence, sorely abused that freedom and multiplied their sins a hundredfold. One of its salient effects (among many others), was the worst sex scandal ever to rock the Church in her 2,000-year history, complete with pre-meditation and cover-up.

Am I saying that we should shun the message of love and freedom? No, not at all; but love and freedom cannot be dumped on sinful human beings without a good measure of law to keep them in order, until, if, and when they reach an acceptable plateau of virtue. A balance must be struck between law and love, and this, Vatican II, or at least its post-conciliar teachers, did not facilitate. The irony is, we had just experienced the most savage and destructive periods the world had ever known (e.g., World Wars I and II), yet just a dozon or so years later, high-placed prelates were advocating the position that 20th-century man was much more civilized than his medieval counterpart and deserved a breath of fresh air. How wrong they were.

Case in point: Pope John XXIII (who, as Cardinal Roncalli, was on Pius XII's list of "Modernist" prelates with whom he had grave concerns), initiated the movement toward convening Vatican II in 1958, yet at the same time, after reading the ominous portents of the Third Secret of Fatima, Pope John declined to reveal them to the world in 1960, the date requested by our Lady. In his obstinance, the Pope went so far as to declare Fatima advocates "prophets of doom," who carried a message "not meant for this pontificate." Consequently, while our Lady was trying to warn us that the Church was being bombarded, both within and without, by unparalleled wickedness, John XXIII made it seem as though we were on the verge of a utopian Christianity. The messages couldn't have been more polar. This is why liberalism will never work on this earth. Its utopian ideals ignore the fact that deep within man there is a sin problem that simply won't go away by wishful thinking.

Now, my criticism of John XXIII should not receive too many objections from Lamont, not only because the information is factual, but because in his carticle Lamont saw no problem putting the next pope, Paul VI, at direct odds with his own Church. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Lamont's target was Paul VI's Novus Ordo Missae, an innovation, he believes, that was not even on Vatican II's radar screen, and thus he chastises Pope Paul for distorting or ignoring the document Sacrosanctum Concilium.

So it is certainly no stretch of the imagination to posit that John XXIII was also a problem in the mix, albeit an instigating one. Essentially, the only thing Lamont accomplishes in his article is a shifting of the burden of guilt from the Council to the Pope, but in either case the responsibility remains with an entity at the very pinnacle of the hierarchical pyramid for the post-conciliar mishpas we experience today.

If in Lamont's mind Paul VI could move against his own Council and, in fact, interpreted it so abusively that he produces the Novus Ordo monster, then he must add to his thesis that other popes may have done the same with Vatican II. In that light, we might present John Paul II as another candidate. Where in the documents of Vatican II, for example, does it teach that the Church is to call all the religions of the world together and encourage them to pray to their own gods for mundane favors; and where does it teach that we are to then send thse pagans home to their various countries without ever preaching the Gospel of salvation to them, as happened under John Paul II's watch at Assisi 1986 and again 16 years later at Assisi 2002?

Vatican II's documents have no such stipulations. The Council mentions "prayer" over 200 times, but not once does it suggest we are to encourage pagans to pray to their own gods, and the tradition prior to Vatican II certainly makes no such suggestion. In fact, the only time Vatican II allows Catholics to pray with non-Catholics is when Unitatis Redintegratio (#8) says that Catholics can pray with "separated brethren," but even in this case it is limited to the "goal of unity," that is, as Vatican II teaches elsewhere, with the purpose of bringing the Protestant back to the Catholic Church. In addition, Lumen Gentium (#16) requires that the Gospel of salvation (and damnation) be preached to pagans whenever the opportunity arises, citing St. Paul's dealings with the Athenians of Acts 17 as our abiding paradigm. Assisi I and II ignored all this. Its pagan participants are now living in their respective countries thinking that praying to their false gods is now sanctioned by the Catholic Church and that they can be saved in their own religions.

Let me add another example. Although Lamont is correct in saying that Nostra Aetate garnered more respect for the Jewish people and did its best to condemn attitudes of anti-Semitism (and rightly so), where did Nostra Aetate state that "The Old Covenant ... has never been revoked" (John Paul II, 1980); or where does Nostra Aetate apologize for "anti-Semitic passages in the New testament" or say that "the Jewish wait for the Messiah is not in vain" (Pontifical Biblical Commission under Cardinal Ratzinger, 2001); or where does it say "the Church believes that Judaism, i.e., the faithful response of the Jewish people to God's irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them" (Cardinal Kasper, 2001); or that "To proselytize [Jews] is not an attitude of love, nor is it one of knowledge!" (Cardinal Willebrands, 1992); or where does it say that "campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church" (Cardinal Keeler, 2002)? Nostra Aetate never said anything close to these outlandish claims concerning the Jewish people. Obviously, then, these are just more evidence to prove Lamont's thesis -- that popes and prelates themselves can exaggerate or misreprsent conciliar documents.

In the end, Lamont has, shall we say, opened up a can of worms by pitting Paul VI against his own Council, and they are worms which any traditionalist worth his salt will not hesitate to use as bait for his conservative rival. Vatican II may serve as a point of conciliation for conservatives and traditionalists like myself, but we cannot hide from the fact that at least three popes and their underlings, who both argued for Vatican II's necessity and interpreted its teachings, obviously made grand detours from its original meanings and intent. That seems to be the pressing problem, not so much Vatican II.

What we need is a pope who will bring us back to the original meaning of Vatican II, something that has not been successfully performed for the past forty years. My hope and prayer is the Benedict XVI will lead the way in this much-needed reform.

[Robert Sungenis is President of Catholic Apologetics International. Among his books are Not by Faith Alone: A Biblical Study of the Catholic Doctrine of Justification, Not by Bread Alone: The Biblical and Historical Evidence of the Eucharistic Sacrifice , Not by Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura, and How Can I Get to Heaven?: The Bible's Teaching on Salvation-Made Easy to Understand. His article, "Grand Detours From the Second Vatican Council," was first published in the New Oxford Review (October 2005), pp. 18-21, and is reprinted here with permission from New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Da Rulz

I've been thinking that I need to clarify my own policies about the rules for this blog. Readers know that I have been lax in enforcing much of any kind of discipline in my comment boxes. So far I have banned a reader only once, for flagrant disrespectful behavior toward another reader. But I have received several emails from readers with helpful suggestions about rules that might help to steamline the comment boxes and make them a happier place for everyone. Having shopped around some of the blogs I frequent, I have decided to borrow Jimmy Akin's rules (Da Rulz) and, with his permission, adapt them to my purposes on this blog. So, with appropriate emendations, here they are:
1. No rudeness. People are welcome to disagree with me and one another in the comments boxes as long as they are polite. I don't mind disagreement. I do mind rudeness. (Be sure and see Rule 20 for how disagreement should be expressed in certain cases!) Rudeness towards others on the blog is also out of bounds.

2. Stick to the subject. Comments are expected to comment on the subject of the post, not extraneous material. I do not mind an occasional off-topic reference, if the exigencies of a situation warrant it -- e.g., if someone is trying to figure out how to contact me and asks, or someone links to a newsworthy article, etc. But commentators should not consistently divert the thread of a discussion off-topic.

3. Let it be. Because of the format restrictions blogging involves, I can't engage in sustained back-and-forth discussions with folks, either in the comments boxes or in the main section of the blog. Therefore, I ask that folks say their piece and then let the subject go (for now, knowing that it will likely surface again in the future). This rule also may be invoked on discussions that, in the opinion of the blogmaster, are getting overly repetitious or unproductively long.

4. Be concise. Also because of the format restrictions, everyone must be concise. Don't go on at length about things. Pasting large amounts of text into the combox (dumping) also counts as going on at length. Going on at length constitutes rudeness.

5. Comments violating the first four rules will be deleted.

6. Readers who repeatedly violate the first four rules will be banned. (So far this has occurred only once.)

7. When I link to other sites or books, unless I say otherwise, I am only recommending that you look at the material (or book) on the page that I link. The way this blog works, I often have need to document (or book) what I am saying by linking to a very specific piece of information, and I cannot endorse other material on sites containing this information.

8. Related to rule 7, I hereby warn you that some material (or books) on sites I link may possibly be inconsistent with the Catholic faith or offensive. I try to minimize this, but engaging in apologetics -- and living in the real world -- means encountering material that is contrary to the faith or offensive. If you don't want to take a "Test everything and hold fast to what is good" approach (1 Thes. 5:21) then you should avoid apologetics blogs (and the real world).

9. Except where stated otherwise, when I recommend a book, video, or other product, I am recommending it for individuals who are mature and secure in their Catholic faith. Such recommendations are not to be taken to mean that the material is perfect and free from every possible objection that could be made against them. Nor are they to be taken as recommendations for children or for people who are insecure in their Catholic faith. People falling in the latter classes are not the subjects of my recommendations unless the contrary is stated.

10. I reserve the right to delete comments that I don't think are helpful for one reason or another (e.g., if someone who is inquiring concerning the Faith asks for a book recommendation and someone in the comments box recommends a book that I haven't read, I may delete the recommendation since I don't know if it suits the person's needs or not).

11. If you want to ask me a question not related to what's currently on the blog, don't use the comments box. Use my e-mail address listed on this blog site.

12. All mail sent to the e-mail address listed on the blog is bloggable unless you say "Don't blog this" (or an equivalent) in the e-mail.

13. The same goes for e-mail sent to other addresses.

14. I can't promise reponses to comments or to e-mail that is sent to me. My schedule doesn't permit me to make this commitment.

15. If I can respond, it may be a few days before the response appears.

16. When I respond to comments or e-mails in the main blog section, I do not use people's names (except under the conditions of Rule 15b). Instead, I say things like " A reader writes . . ." This is not to be impersonal. It has a specific reason. Individuals sometimes stumble across the blog and want to ask questions without having their identities exposed, particularly if they have a sensitive question (e.g., one involving family members or sexuality). To assure them that their privacy will be honored, I don't use names when responding to queries in the main blog section.

17. Rule 16 will be suspended for guestbloggers and regular commentators others at their request/with their consent.

18. I do use names when responding in the comments boxes since visitors have already seen (or can scroll up to see) that the person identified himself publicly.

19. When responding to e-mails, particularly e-mails sent to me at accounts not listed on the blog site, I take extra pains not to quote material that could give away the correspondent's identity. The purpose, again, is so that people won't be deterred from asking questions or feel that I have violated their privacy by exposing them in public.

20. Currently I am generally trying to do at least two or three blog entries per week. Individual weeks may vary, usually by having more blog entries than this. Since I have a job and a life and a vocation that includes more than blogging, I can't commit to more than this at present. I try to do at least this as my way of honoring those who support this blog by visiting and reading it, though it may not always be possible.

21. I very much appreciate your efforts to promote this blog by linking it on your own blog/web page or by recommending it in other forums. That is one of the key ways you can honor my efforts in producing the material that I research and write for the blog. Another way is by commenting. I love reading your comments.

22. When Blosser is addressing a 'pastoral' question (i.e., for a person asking about an actual case that he or someone he knows is involved in, as opposed to a hypothetical situation) that can be phrased in the form "Is it morally licit to do X?", do not contradict Blosser in the comments box. People asking pastoral questions on moral subjects often feel very disoriented and confused if they get a debate rather than an answer on a sensitive question about a situation they, a friend, or a family member is involved in.

For the peace of mind of the person who asked the question, challenges to such answers need to be handled differently. Instead of using the comments box to pose your challenge, e-mail Blosser. If you win him over, he'll make a correction and notify the person who asked the question. Comments violating this policy will be deleted. Widespread violation of this policy will result in the comments box being turned off for such questions.

Posts subject to Rule 22 will have a "20" at the bottom of the post.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

"... all without the help of any gods ..."

Dear Sir/Madam,

About half an hour ago, at 3:57 pm to be exact, your host concluded his remarks
on the Frenchman who rowed alone across the Pacific: "... and all without the
help of any gods, so far as we know."

I'm afraid "so far as we know" is not enough to get him off the hook.

How would he know?

As a former denizen of the Big Apple and listener to WQXR (the classical music
station of the New York Times, as you surely knew), I have to say that such
classlessness is not to be found on that station, despite the determined
secularism of the Times.

Of course, a lack of class is not the principal issue here, that being the essential
human arrogance and vanity that would presume the irrelevance of Providence for a
feat as dependent upon the "elements" as rowing alone across the Pacific.

It may be that your host was ironically attributing such arrogance to the French,
but then, that is no real compliment to the French, no matter how much some
of the French (the more old-fashioned among them) might appreciate it.

Or it may be that your host was ironically attributing such arrogance only to this
particular Frenchman, though one would hope that 130-odd days alone at sea
in a rowboat would be enough to stamp the remaining frivolity out of a man.

In any case, perhaps your host should be made aware that his hapless attempt
at irony or amusement or blasphemy, or whatever it was, fails to impress.


Kirk G. Kanzelberger

[Used with permission of Kirk G. Kanzelberger of Sapor Sapientiae]

Monday, November 07, 2005

Alice Thomas Ellis, R.I.P.

The October issue of Crisis magazine contains an excellent article by Marian E. Crowe, "Unexplained Laughter: The Life and Work of Alice Thomas Ellis" (unavailable online). Ellis, who died in March of this year, was an English Catholic writer well-deserving of discovery. She was born and raised in Liverpool by secular humanist parents, exposed to the Church through the influence of some Catholic relatives (her father's sister, says Crowe, had married a Catholic) and Liverpool's large Catholic population. Despite all things, her early impressions of the faith were positive: "It is presently de rigueur to claim that Cathlicism thirty-odd years ago was repressive, hidebound an frightening," Ellis writes in Serpent on the Rock, "but I have found in it great richness and abundance of people who made me laugh."

Following her secondary schooling, Ellis studied at the College of Art -- a "hotbed of anarchy" -- where she received a large dose of liberalism and communism. Crowe quotes her (from a personal interview before her death) as saying:
Then after due time and instruction I became a Catholic because I no longer found it possible to disbelieve in God.... I felt entirely at home with the conviction, aims and rituals of the Church and secure in the certainty that it was immune from frivolous change and the pressures of fashion; primarily concerned with numinous rather than with the social and political concerns of its members.
Shortly after her conversion, says Crowe, Ellis entered a religious order, though she had to abandon that way of life because of a serious back problem. She later married publisher Colin Haycraft and joined him as an editor at the Duckworth Publishing Company. She had seven children, but a daughter died in infancy and a son was killed in an accident at age 19. Crowe notes that the New York Times stated in its obituary that Ellis "rebelled" against her secular humanist parents by converting to Catholicism, but counters that this version of the story, far from the truth, hardly scratches the surface. Again, she quotes Ellis from a personal interview:
I realized this makes a lot of sense. This is an ancient, ancient structure. What I think is interesting is that no one has any faith in age and experience anymore. I think authority is vital for any sort of freedom. Anarchy is not freedom. One of the nuns told me, "Once you're inside the Church, you can shake a pretty loose leg." It gave you much more freedom once you knew the rules than just floundering around in this complete permissiveness and liberalism. You've got the structure, and within that you cna be very free, and you can actually be very happy.
Then comes the kicker: Vatican II. Crowe notes, sadly, that Ellis's contentment in the Church came to an end with the Second Vatican Council. "Nowhere have I found any evidence of Vatican II having had a beneficial influence," Ellis says in Serpent. "In place of the old rigours we have sentimentality, confusion, untruth, meaningless talk of 'renewal' and 'improvement,' and 'sharing' and 'caring' where once these wre taken for granted and practiced in a specifically and recognisably Catholic fashion."

Ellis sublimated her anger and turned it to fiction: "I felt bereft and consequently resentful. I was so annoyed that in 1977 I stirred out of my habitual indolence and wrote a book called The Sin Eater .... I had to do something rather than sink into despair." The main character in the novel, as Crowe notes, says of the local parish priest:
To do him justice ... he does still dress in the proper fashion. He hasn't taken to going round in jeans and a T-shirt and a little cross on a chain round his neck imploring people to call him Roger, and he hasn't left the church to marry and devote his life to rewriting theology to conform with his own lusts and itches, and drivel on about the self-transcending nature of sex, like all those treacherous lecherous jesuits [sic] mad with radiant freedom of contemporary thought. But it isn't enough. Now the Church has lost its head, priests feel free to say what they think themselves, and they don't have nay thoughts at all except for some rubbish about the brotherhood of man. They seem to regard Our Lord as a sort of beaten egg to bind us all together ....
And then comes the most startling of her descriptions:
It is as though ... one's revered, dignified and darling old mother had slapped on a mini-skirt and fishnet tights and started ogling strangers. A kind of menopausal madness, a sudden yearning to be attractive to all. It is tragic and hilarious and awfully embarrassing. And of course, those who knew her before feel a great sense of betrayal and can't bring themselves to go and see her any more.
Crowe says that Ellis's character speaks for the author here. She told Crowe in an interview that she didn't go to church for ages, opting, when she did for the Latin Mass. Crowe says when she asked Ellis if she had given up on the church altogether, Ellis replied: "I'm sort of hanging on to the life belt. I wouldn't say I was aboard. you've got to believe -- even if you don't think so -- that the Church will pull itself together and regain its lost ground. I think I actually do believe that."

Ellis frequently aired her provocative views in the English Catholic press, raising the ire of many of her fellow-Catholics, until she was fired from the Universe in 1994 at the insistence of a bishop, and in 1996 the Catholic Herald published a front-page apology for an earlier article by her criticizing the liberal policies of the archbishop of Liverpool. Dispite the ruffled feathers of the hierarchy and publishers, Ellis is best remembered as a writer, not a political agitator. The rest of Crowe's excellent article reviews several of her most beloved books. These include: The Sin Eater (1977); The Birds of the Air (1980); The 27th Kingdom (1982); and Unexplained Laughter (1985). If you like a sardonic wit, if you like oblique but incisive cultural critique, if you love Evelyn Waugh and Walker Percy, and might enjoy something somewhere between the two, try Alice Thomas Ellis. She's well-worth discovering.

Alice Thomas Ellis died on March 8, 2005, of lung cancer at the age of 72.