Friday, December 29, 2006

Theology's Captivity to Continental Philosophy

R.R. Reno, associate professor of theology at Creighton University, has written a thoughful analysis of what he calls "Theology's Continental Captivity" (First Things, April, 2006, pp. 26-33). His thesis, essentially, is that contemporary theology has been taken captive by the continental tradition of philosophy, a tradition which in its contemporary postmodern recension is deeply inimical and corrosive of its own purposes, while ignoring the tradition of Anglo-American analytic philosophy, which could be most serviceable to its ends.

I've posted an article on Reno's article over at Philosophia Perennis under the title "Theology's Captivity to Continental Philosophy" (12/29/06).

Update 1/3/07 -- R.R. Reno responds:
Dear Phil,

Many thanks for contacting me and directing my attention to the discussion of Continental Captivity.

As I step back and think about the many discussions I have had since the article appeared, one thought (or perhaps cluster of thoughts) keeps coming back to me. The decisive figure in modern European intellectual life was Hegel. He saw that the “picture” of human existence provided by Christian teaching needed to be superseded by the “concept” of human existence provided by theology. To do so, theology takes a subordinate place within the overarching competence of modern intellectual life, as the final section of the Phenomenology clearly (and with remarkable contemporary relevance) shows. Or as my article says, with Hegel, born of an elite culture that could not longer affirm the ultimacy of Christian teaching, European philosophy reverts to the original, theological form of Hellenistic philosophy: theology and cure of the soul. Hegel was a conservative. He wanted to preserve the phenomenological core of the Christian worldview. Others were more radical. But what makes Continental philosophy distinctive is its collective “hermeneutical” agenda — it wishes to interpret us to ourselves. Again, this is a recovery of the ancient promise of philosophy — it will bring us to know ourselves, and in knowing ourselves, into participation with that which is lasting. Such a view of the vocation of philosophy cannot but collide with theology.

One of the folks commenting on your post wrongly portrays St. Augustine’s encounter of Cicero’s Hortensius as a step forward on the journey to God. In Book Eight, St. Augustine reports that it was Ponticianus’ story of the power of St. Antony’s biography that brought him to the painful fulfillment of the Socratic imperative: know thyself. “You took me up from behind my own back where I had placed myself because I did not wish to observe myself,” Augustine writes of the visit by Ponticianus, “and you see me before my face so that I could see how vile I was, how twisted and filthy, covered in sores and ulcers.” In this state of self-knowledge, St. Augustine reports that his enthusiasm for philosophy born in his youthful reading of Cicero bore no spiritual fruits — it only shifted his self-love from material indulgence to the labyrinths of an intellectualized self-conceit. Thus he observes in Book Six how astounded he was to discover that what he had imagined a momentous new beginning as a nineteen year old was, in fact, a long detour of delays and self-deceptions.

Compare the failure of philosophy to cure his soul with Book Nine. There, the ideals of classical philosophy are portrayed as realized and fulfilled through his recitations of the Psalm. The Psalms are the language of transformative self-knowledge. By reciting the Psalms, Augustine writes, “I was expressing the most intimate feelings of my mind with myself and to myself.”

One of the great achievements of medieval intellectual culture was its full use of the cognitive potential of classical philosophy within the spirit of the Augustinian critique of its failed promises of personal transformation. Medieval theology domesticated philosophy (handmaiden!), and in so doing, claimed to realize its true potential, both as a world-focused instrument for an ever more accurate picture of finite reality, and as a discipline of mind and spirit that prepared one for full reception of the gospel.

When I wrote the essay for First Things, I tried to provide an accurate assessment of how different modern philosophical traditions might relate to this medieval achievement. Perhaps I am mistaken. Surely a popular essay cannot do justice to the complexities of continental or analytic philosophies. But I would ask readers of my essay to read Hillary Putnam’s recent book, Ethics without Ontology. It is clearly a book in which an eminent analytic philosophy tries to take responsibility for the future of western culture, and it is highly critical of any possible role for theology in that future. Compare with Gianni Vattimo’s After Christianity. Putnam bases his analysis and recommendations on material, defeasible claims about the relationship between Christianity and scientific culture. Vattimo provides oracular, “hermeneutical” pronouncements about the career of Being. Putman argues against the role of theology in public life — Vattimo offers a post-Christian theology. As a teacher of theology and a person of scholastic leanings, I can use Putman’s objections to refine and develop an account of the relationship between theology and modern scientific culture. Vattimo offers an occasion to refine my knowledge of the logic of heresy. Both may be good exercises of the Christian intellect, but only the former holds out promise of renewing and deepening the tradition of Christian philosophy.

Thanks again,


On this Fifth Day of Christmas ...

Enya - "Silent Night" in Gaelic

"My heavens! If this doesn't touch you, you got a heart of stone! Absolutely gorgeous." -- Dave Armstrong [Hat tip]

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ignited by Truth: Conference on Evangelization in Raleigh, NC

A reader offers notice of an annual "Ignited by Truth" conference in Raleigh, Feb 16-17, 2007. At this conference, Peter Kreeft and Mark Shea are slated as keynote speakers, and Bishop Burbidge will be celebrating Mass at the close of the conference. The event will be hosted at Cardinal Gibbons Catholic High School, 1401 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh, NC. Details at: Ignited by Truth Catholic Conference 2007. One quote from the website says it all:
“If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!”
–Pope John Paul II
[Hat tip to C.M.]

Another reason to be thankful for Mary's "Yes" to God

"Mom Tells Advice Columnist: I May Force My Daughter to Have Abortion" reads the headline of the article a reader recently emailed me with the comment: "One more reason why, this Christmas, we should be thankful that a young girl named Mary was chosen to bear our Savior ..." The article begins thus:
A New York mother has written to national advice columnist Harriette Cole saying she wants her pregnant 14 year-old daughter to have an abortion. The letter points to the alarming trend of parents forcing their children to have abortions when they discover their teenage daughters are pregnant.
The truth is, this is an alarming trend and not far at all from home. Just recently my wife told me about a young mother she knows who told her that her mother forced her to have an abortion with her first pregnancy when she became pregnant out of wedlock in her college years. Reasons given are often economical or practical, but betray a profound shift in attitudes about the value of human life and breakdown of the maternal-infant bond and fabric of community.

The reader who sent me the above-cited article always has at the end of his emails the following facts, which seem sufficiently relevant to the issue at hand to reproduce here:
  • Facts of Life:
    From the moment of conception, an unborn child's DNA is as complete as an adult's. At 3 weeks, an unborn child has a heartbeat and her own blood supply. At 6 weeks she has measurable brainwaves. Yet, in this country, she can be killed by choice through all 9 months of pregnancy for any reason or no reason whatever. 1 out of 4 unborn children are killed before birth in this country. Since Roe v. Wade, over 45 million unborn children have died by a choice not their own.

  • Contraception Fact:
    "The Pill" works two ways: first, by preventing fertilization and if that fails, second, by preventing implantation AFTER a new human being has been created, causing an early chemical abortion that is usually unrecognized by the mother.

[Hat tip to Michael F.]

New from Zaccheus Press

John H. O'Leary (not to be confused with Fr. Joseph O'Leary) has sent me, once again, an examination copy of a new book by Zaccheus Press, of which he is the publisher. The book is Union with God: Letters of Spiritual Direction by Blessed Columba Marmion, Selected and Annotated by Dom Raymond Thibaut (Bethesda, MD: Zaccheus Press, 2006). This long-out-of-print little gem was originally published in Belgium and translated into English under the title of Union with God According to the Letters of Direction of Dom Marmion (London: Sands & Co., 1934). The text of the Zaccheus edition is from the 1957 printing by B. Herder Book Co., with minor stylistic revisions.

As O'Leary writes in his accompanying letter, "It is a shorter and more accessible work than Christ, the Life of the Soul [which we reviewed in our post, "New Book," January 2, 2006], but still deep (as Fr. Toups notes in the Foreward, it was Mother Teresa's favorite book)." It would likely be a good choice for those who may be intrigued by Marmion but put off by the length of his other books.

Cardinal Mercier says of Marmion: "Those who know Dom Columba from his other works will find him here putting into practice, for himself and for others, the lessons he has taught elsewhere. In these letters they will find answers to their own questions, practical guidance in the course they should follow, simple regulations for ordinary lives even while the highest ideals are never suffered to pass out of sight."

Visit Zaccheus Press online, where, for a limited time, both books, Union with God and Christ, the Life of the Soul, are being offered for the combined low price of $30. Or contact Zaccheus Press, 4605 Chase Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814 - Tel. (301) 654-7057, or Email: JOL[at]ZaccheusPress[dot]com.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Good to be back

Well it's good to be back home again after our family reunion with the tribe out in the midwest. It's gratifying to see multiple generations of a family together, if only briefly.

Now we are looking forward to meeting some old friends from Japan who are planning on visiting us over the New Year, as well as one of my sons who is bringing his Japanese girlfriend by for dinner a couple of days hence.

Like many of you, we also await the news from the Vatican about the motu proprio, which we expect any day. According to earlier reports, the timetable would put its probable release sometime after Christmas and presumably before the new year. According to CNA and CWN, the usual suspects ("sources close to the Vatican") reported that "the motu propio by which Pope Benedict XVI would allow for the universal use of the Missal of St. Pius V may be published after Christmas, while the post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist could come in mid-January 2007. The same report stated:
The apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist, according to the same sources, has already been finished by Pope Benedict XVI and is being translated into the different languages in which it will be presented. The document, which sources say will be issued after January 15, reaffirms the Church’s commitment to a celibate priesthood, encourages the use of Latin in liturgical celebrations, and even requests that seminarians learn the language as part of their formation. It will also promote the recovery of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphonic music as a replacement to modern music, which would result in a gradual elimination of musical instruments that are “inappropriate” for the solemnity and reverence of the Eucharistic celebration.
All of this, of course, is good news, and we wish the Holy Father a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year indeed.

Right now, however, I am looking forward to a much needed sabbatical in the spring semester of 2007. I plan to devote the free semester to a number of projects, about which I intend to keep you appraised as time allows.

While we're at it -- from comedy central:
  • I was at the airport, checking in at the gate, when the airport employee asked, "Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?" I said, "If it was without my knowledge, how would I know? "He smiled and nodded knowingly, "That's why we ask."

  • Calling the telecommunication company to inform them my phone didn't work and that when I picked up the receiver it's completely dead, the technician said from the other end "Are you calling from the number of the phone that does not work?"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Gone on vacation ...

I will be on vacation with my family for the next five days or so. We will be departing tomorrow for a family reunion with my father who lives outside of Iowa City, Iowa. Christopher (Against the Grain) and Benjamin (Ad Limina Apostolorum) will be there as well, with the rest of la famiglia di cosa nostra. Good wishes to you all for a Blessed and Holy Christmas!

Ora pro nobis, sancta Dei Genetrix, ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi!

Christmas Reflection

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another,

Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pas, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. (The Gospel According to Luke, Chapter Two, Verses 13-20)

Here we are again, nearly upon the Christmas season. It has become something of a Christmas tradition for me to engage the following text from C.S. Lewis in connection with the above quoted Scriptures. The reason will be obvious.

Every Christmas, it seems, NEWSWEEK or TIME magazine will come out with an article featuring the "latest scholarship" concerning the "authenticity" of the Christmas story. The scholarly authorities cited are consistently and incorrigibly one-sided, usually including scholars like John Dominic Crossan who dissent from Church teaching, or more ostensibly mainline scholars like Raymond E. Brown (now deceased) who have been quite thoroughly corrupted by the Humean philosophical presuppositions of the historical-criticism of the biblical narrative. The upshot is always the conclusion, or at least the suggestion, that the Gospel writers are unreliable and not to be trusted, and certainly not to be taken at face value. Just how ludicrous this all is can be seen by almost anyone with a bit of intelligence and familiarity with literature, mythology, and history. One of the best examples of a powerful antedote to this kind of foolishness is a little essay by C.S. Lewis entitled "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," which is available in a collection of essays by Lewis entitled Christian Reflections (1967; reprinted by Eerdmans, 1994). The following are some excerpts from Lewis' essay, which begins on p. 152 and contains four objections (or "bleats") about modern New Testament scholarship:

1. [If a scholar] tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour...

I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one [of the stories in the Gospel of John, for example] is like this... Either this is reportage - though it may no doubt contain errors - pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative...

2. All theology of the liberal type involves at some point - and often involves throughout - the claim that the real behaviour and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by his followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars... The idea that any... writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous. There is an a priori improbability in it which almost no argument and no evidence could counterbalance.

3. Thirdly, I find in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the miraculous does not occur... This is a purely philosophical question. Scholars, as scholars, speak on it with no more authority than anyone else. The canon 'if miraculous, unhistorical' is one they bring to their study of the texts, not one they have learned from it. If one is speaking of authority, the united authority of all the Biblical critics in the world counts here for nothing.

4. My fourth bleat is my loudest and longest. Reviewers [of my own books, and of books by friends whose real history I knew] both friendly and hostile... will tell you what public events had directed the author's mind to this or that, what other authors influenced him, what his over-all intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why - and when - he did everything... My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure.

The 'assured results of modern scholarship', as to the way in which an old book was written, are 'assured', we may conclude, only because those who knew the facts are dead and can't blow the gaff... The Biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St. Mark is dead. When they meet St. Peter there will be more pressing matters to discuss.

However... we are not fundamentalists... Of course we agree that passages almost verbally identical cannot be independent. It is as we glide away from this into reconstructions of a subtler and more ambitious kind that our faith in the method wavers... The sort of statement that arouses our deepest scepticism is the statement that something in a Gospel cannot be historical because it shows a theology or an ecclesiology too developed for so early a date...

Such are the reactions of one bleating layman... Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the Vicar; he now tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more...
For further reading:Merry Christmas everyone!

Retrospective: Lefebvre & John Paul II before the split

A reader notes the online account of the 1978 meeting between between Archbishop Lefebvre and Pope John Paul II in An Audience with John Paul II, from ch. 29 of Michael Davies' Apologia Pro Michael Lefebfre. As our reader notes, one must remember that it is Lefebvre who is narrating his recollection of the interview: obviously, therefore, it cannot be taken as an impartial account. Lefebvre clearly views himself as an aggrieved party. Yet there is little in the way of anger or bitterness evident in the account, although perhaps there is a wryness in certain of his comments. He also views the issues as of paramount importance, which, in his account at least, does not seem to be the case with the pope or the cardinal. Another question that arises concerns the question of evenhandedness in judging the matter. From Wojtyla's willingness to delegate the matter to a cardinal who clearly possesses an animus against Lefebvre, one might be excused for wondering whether he is not, however warm his embraces, clearly disengaged, clearly uninterested, clearly intent on disposing of this bit of business left by his predecessor. It is perhaps worth speculating, our reader suggests, that the pope is blinded to the urgency of Lefebvre's case by his experience in Poland. Communist oppression there perhaps led to a degree of religious fervor and solidarity that allowed questions of doctrinal purity and liturgical validity, however urgent, to be papered over. For what it may be worth, the link is there for your reference.

Of related interest

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Is Christmas really just a warmed-over pagan holiday?

by Mark Shea

Everybody knows that Christmas is really just a warmed-over Celebration of the Feast of the Sol Invictus.

Guess what? Everybody's wrong!

Another little excerpt from my book(s?) on Mary, Behold Your Mother (sans footnotes, but trust me, the citations are all in order):
Pseudo-Knowledge and "Pagan Christmas"

Time was when I, like most people, took it for granted the winter solstice and, in particular, the Roman Feast of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun were simply pagan celebrations that hung around into Christian times. In fact, when I set out to write this book I still thought this. But I discovered the reality is far more complicated and interesting. Indeed, it turns out this widely assumed "fact" that "everybody knows" is probably another sample of pseudo-knowledge. For according to William Tighe, a church history specialist at Pennsylvania's Muhlenberg College, "the pagan festival of the 'Birth of the Unconquered Sun' instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the 'pagan origins of Christmas' is a myth without historical substance."

For the fact is, our records of a tradition associating Jesus' birth with December 25 are decades older than any records concerning a pagan feast on that day.
[T]he definitive "Handbook of Biblical Chronology" by professor Jack Finegan (Hendrickson, 1998 revised edition) cites an important reference in the "Chronicle" written by Hippolytus of Rome three decades before Aurelian launched his festival. Hippolytus said Jesus' birth "took place eight days before the kalends of January," that is, Dec. 25.

Tighe said there's evidence that as early as the second and third centuries, Christians sought to fix the birth date to help determine the time of Jesus' death and resurrection for the liturgical calendar—long before Christmas also became a festival.
To make a long and complicated story short, there was agitation in the early Church concerning, not Jesus' birthday, but the day upon which the historical Good Friday and Easter fell. It finally ended up that, in the Eastern Church, the tradition focused on April 6 as the date for the original Good Friday, while in the Western Church it was widely held that the date was March 25. Why does this matter? Tighe continues:
At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the "integral age" of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.

This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ's birth. The early Christians applied this idea to Jesus, so that March 25th and April 6th were not only the supposed dates of Christ's death, but of his conception or birth as well. There is some fleeting evidence that at least some first- and second-century Christians thought of March 25th or April 6th as the date of Christ's birth, but rather quickly the assignment of March 25th as the date of Christ's conception prevailed.

It is to this day commemorated almost universally among Christians as the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel brought the good tidings of a savior to the Virgin Mary, upon whose acquiescence the Eternal Word of God ("Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten of the Father before all ages") forthwith became incarnate in her womb. What is the length of pregnancy? Nine months. Add nine months to March 25th and you get December 25th; add it to April 6th and you get January 6th. December 25th is Christmas, and January 6th is Epiphany.
And because these traditional, albeit competing, birth dates were already being revered in the rapidly growing Church, the emperor of a failing pagan empire instituted the Feast of the Unconquered Sun not only as an "effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly [as] an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians."

In addition to this there's another small, but telling, point. We also find St. John Chrysostom (a patriarch of Constantinople who died in 407 A.D.) noted that Christians had celebrated December 25 from the Church's early days. Chrysostom reinforced his point with an argument that used Scripture, not pagan mythology, for corroboration:
Luke 1 says Zechariah was performing priestly duty in the Temple when an angel told his wife Elizabeth she would bear John the Baptist. During the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, Mary learned about her conception of Jesus and visited Elizabeth "with haste."

The 24 classes of Jewish priests served one week in the Temple, and Zechariah was in the eighth class. Rabbinical tradition fixed the class on duty when the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and, calculating backward from that, Zechariah's class would have been serving Oct. 2-9 in 5 B.C. So Mary's conception visit six months later might have occurred the following March and Jesus' birth nine months afterward.
So how did it become "common knowledge" that Christmas is really just a warmed-over pagan festival? It happened through a series of ironies capped by yet another example of pseudo-knowledge.

The first irony is the reaction of the Christians of the late Roman Empire to Aurelian's attempt to co-opt Christmas and make it a pagan day of celebration. Instead of fighting with Sun-worshipers who were trying to rip off their feast, early Christians simply "re-appropriate[d] the pagan 'Birth of the Unconquered Sun' to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the 'Sun of Salvation' or the 'Sun of Justice.'" Mark that, because we shall return to it.

The next irony happens in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the myth of "pagan Christmas" really took hold.
Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ's birth on December 25th was one of the many "paganizations" of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many "degenerations" that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the Gospel.

In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar, the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious to Jablonski and Hardouin that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one.
Note that: Jablonski began, not with evidence, but with an assumption that the winter solstice must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. In other words, Jablonski simply noticed a correspondence between the Julian calendar's solstice and Christmas and assumed the pagan feast must have been the prior one even though he had no proof for his theory. Meanwhile, Hardouin, rather than challenge that assumption, simply went along with it. And it's upon these two authors that the entire myth about Christmas being a warmed-over pagan Sun-worshiping feast is based.
But in fact, the date [December 25] had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian's time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.

There were two temples of the sun in Rome, one of which (maintained by the clan into which Aurelian was born or adopted) celebrated its dedication festival on August 9th, the other of which celebrated its dedication festival on August 28th. But both of these cults fell into neglect in the second century, when eastern cults of the sun, such as Mithraism, began to win a following in Rome. And in any case, none of these cults, old or new, had festivals associated with solstices or equinoxes.
What Can We Learn From This?

It is vital we not get bogged down in minutiae and miss the blazingly obvious. So, for instance, we must not get distracted by the irrelevant question of whether Roman Christians were right to place Jesus' birthday on December 25. Nor should we waste time saying, "Ah ha! Some early Christians relied on the unbiblical Jewish tradition of 'integral age' or Chrysostom's 'rabbinic tradition'!" Again, granted: the date of Christmas isn't found in Scripture. But that isn't what matters.

The crucial thing is not, "Did the early Christians get the date of Christmas right?" It is, rather, "What mattered to them as they determined the date of Christmas?" And when you look at that, you again immediately realize that what dominates their minds is not Diana, Isis, sun worship, or anything else in the pagan religious world. What interests them is, from our modern multicultural perspective, stunningly insular. Their debates are consumed, not by longing for goddess worship, or pagan mythology, or a desire to import Isis and Diana into the Faith, but the exact details of the New Testament record of Jesus' death, alloyed with a Jewish—-not pagan—-theory about when Jewish—-not pagan—-prophets die. They don't care a bit how pagan priests ordered their worship in the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. They care intensely about how Levitical priests ordered their worship in the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem. These Christians are completely riveted on Scripture and details of Jewish and Christian history and tradition. They don't give a hoot what sun worshipers, Osiris devotees, or Isis fans might think.

A Common Objection

At this point some people object, "But you yourself acknowledge the early Christians 're-appropriated the pagan "Birth of the Unconquered Sun"' to refer to the birth of Christ". True. That is, I'm willing to grant that when Aurelian tried to co-opt a Christian holy day by designating it as the date for a pagan festival, Christians checkmated Aurelius by refusing to allow him to claim a sort of copyright on the Sun for paganism. Instead, they insisted on returning the Sun to the service of God its Creator—Whom Scripture calls the True Light of the World and a Sun and a Shield—and did not make the blunder of worshiping the creature. They behaved rather like modern Christians who offer punning riffs on current cultural phenomena ("Jesus: He's the Real Thing" "Christ: Don't Leave Earth Without Him," etc.). Exactly what they did not do is take passages of Scripture which referred to Jesus and apply them to Apollo or some other pagan deity. Nor did they look to Apollo or some other pagan deity to tell them about Jesus; they knew perfectly well Jesus could be represented as the Sun of Justice and Light of the World long before Aurelius invented his pagan festival. That's because early Christians were behaving in a way perfectly consistent with Scripture, becoming "all things to all men" (1 Corinthians 9:22), not "holding the form of religion while denying the power of it" (2 Timothy 3:5).

This matters immensely because it bears directly on the first moment when the early Catholic Church really did borrow something from pagans. And not just any pagans, mind you, but actual adherents of Babylonian Mystery Religion. And most amazingly, the early Catholics' decision to do so receives the complete approval of, and even hearty defense by... Evangelicals.
Why do these Evangelicals enthusiastically endorse the testimony of Babylonian Mystery religionists? I can't give away everything! When the book(s?) come out all will be revealed! Keep praying and I hope in Christ to see some action on this soon!

[Mark Schea's article was originally posted on his blog, Catholic and Enjoying It, ( "Everybody knows that Christmas is really just a warmed-over Celebration of the Feast of the Sol Invictus" (12/14/06), and is reproduced here by permission of the author. Look for his book(s) on Mary, Behold Your Mother, to appear soon.]

Monday, December 18, 2006

Development of Doctrine -- East and West

An interesting exchange was sparked when Michael Luccione took to task the Orthodox Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon for what he took to be his caricatured misunderstanding of the Catholic understanding of the development of doctrine. Luccione's original article was entitled "That homoousios again" (Sacramentum Vitae, 12/11/06). Reardon responded the next day in his "Pastoral Ponderings" Newsletter with a brief reply, stating he had not denied the notion of doctrinal development, but only the supposition that this notion was capable of being defined as a dogma. Just a couple of days later, Scott Carson jumped in with some added backup, with a piece entitled "Development of Doctrine East and West" (An Examined Life, 12/13/06). Two days later Luccione posted a more searching post entitled "What does 'development of doctrine' mean?" (Sacramentum Vitae, 12/15/06), in which he amends some of his earlier statements, accepting that Reardon does accept some notion of doctrinal development. But he goes on to offer a detailed analysis of the question, challenging Reardon, in effect, to state what his understanding of development is. All very interesting; and some excellent minds at work!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

European intellectuals sign "Tridentine Manifesto"

A lot brewing out there over the impending motu proprio:[Hat top to New Catholic]

Update 12/19/06

Apostasy (αποστασία)

Apostasy (from the Greek αποστασία, meaning a defection or revolt , from απο [apo], meaning "away" or "apart" + στασις [stasis], meaning "standing," "station," or "position") generally signifies the desertion of a post, the giving up of a voluntarily embraced state of life. In Christian tradition it has acquired the general signification of a formal renunciation of one's religion, in contrast to the rejection of a particular tenet of one's faith, which is properly called heresy. Catholic tradition since the 18th century, however, generally distinguishes with an earlier Pope Benedict -- Pope Benedict XIV (De Synodo Dioecesanâ, XIII, xi, 9, published in Rome, 1747-51) -- between three kinds of apostasy:
  1. apostasy a Fide or perfidiae, when a Christian gives up his faith;
  2. apostasy ab ordine, when a cleric abandons the ecclesiastical state;
  3. apostasy a religion, or monachatus, when a religious leaves the religious life.
The Catholic Encyclopedia article, "Apostasy," notes that a gloss on on title 9 of the fifth book of the Decretals of Gregory IX also mentions two other kinds of apostasy: (4) apostasy inobedientiae, or disobedience to a command given by lawful authority (that does not constitute a specific offense), and (5) apostasy iteratio baptismatis, the repetition of baptism, which more properly, it says, falls under the head of heresy and irregularity.

In standard Catholic reference works, the first type of apostasy -- apostasy a fide or perfidae -- is understood as a complete and voluntary (that is, categorical and willful) abandonment of the Christian religion, whether the apostate embraces another religion or merely makes a profession of atheism. Catholic tradition, as far back as the Shepherd of Hermas -- a work written in Rome in the middle of the second century -- holds that there is no forgiveness for those who have willfully denied their Lord (Similit. ix. 26, 5; Funk, Opera Patrum apostolicorum [Tübingen, 1887], I, 547; v. "Apostasy," Catholic Encyclopedia). Apostasy in this sense is the very definition of mortal sin.

There is, however, also another sense of apostasy found in the New Testament that involves spiritual deception. This is particularly evidenced in certain apocalyptic passages about the eschaton, or end times. For example, near the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: "Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another ... And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And ... then the end will come." (Mt 24:10-14) Several verses later, He adds: "For false Christs and false prophets will arise ... so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect." (Mt 24:24) In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus goes so far as to ask, forebodingly: "... when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Lk 18:8) In warning the Thessalonians concerning these troubled times preceding the return of Christ, St. Paul assigns them the term αποστασία, 'apostasy': "Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the apostasy (αποστασία) comes first ..." (I Thes 2:3) What is the nature of this great apostasy, this apostasy of deception?

Deception is a complicated business. Some kinds of deception (though not all) involve self-deception, and therefore subjective culpability. St. Paul writes to Timothy: "But understand this, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves ... proud, blasphemers ... unthankful, unholy ... lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it." (II Tim 3:1-5) He adds: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths." (II Tim 4:3-4) Subjective culpability has its fingerprints all over this. In fact, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews minces no words about such apostasy: "For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit ... if they then commit apostasy ..." (Heb 6:3,6) Although the word translated 'apostasy' here is not αποστασία, but rather παραπεσόντας ("to fall away," "commit apostasy"), the meaning is essentially the same. The only difference is that here the apostasy involves the voluntary consent of the will so that there is no hope of repentance.

Yet if some deceive themselves, others are themselves deceived by others. If there are those, as Paul says, who willingly "turn aside to myths" and "refuse to endure sound doctrine," and "accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires," there are also others who are led astray by these sorts of apostates. If one may speak of those who willingly deceive themselves, one may also speak of others who are less culpably, or perhaps even innocently, deceived by others -- deceived often by those very apostates who culpably assent to being deceived. Why else would Jesus have said that it is inevitable that temptations should come, "but woe to the one by whom temptations come"; and that it would be better for "whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble" that he should have a "heavy millstone hung around his neck and be cast into the sea"? (Mk 9:42; Mt 18:6-7) Those whom Jesus describes as "led astray" by "false prophets" would seem to fall within this slot. What of those entire generations of Catholics who have been deprived of their birthright as Catholics, deprived of proper catechesis and nurture in the Faith, who, if catechized at all, grew up in AmChurch parishes, with books and films like The Celestine Prophecy, Stigmata, and Da Vinci Code as their formative influences and icons like Sr. Joan Chittister, Mary Daly, Hans Küng, Andrew Sullivan, Richard McBrien, Dominic Crossan, Matthew Fox, and Charlie Curran as their intellectual mentors? What about that large cross-section of the population sometimes described as the second largest 'denomination' in the United States today, which, I'm told, consists of non-practicing, lapsed Catholics? Many of my nominally Catholic students don't think of themselves as having rejected their Catholic Faith. They simply have no understanding of it and therefore see no point in practicing it. When they're home with their parents, they may or may not go to church with them; and, if they do, they may receive Holy Communion, even if they have not darkened the door of a confessional in years. One way or the other, it doesn't make much difference to them. Short of a miracle, sadly, most of them will quite likely end up a statistic in the "ex-Catholic" column of a future edition of Kenneth C. Jones' bleak Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church since Vatican II.

Because this kind of apostasy does not clearly involve a conscious and voluntary rejection of the Faith, but a falling away or being led astray into deception and unbelief, two inferences follow. First, this apostasy falls under none of the foregoing classifications offered in the standard Catholic reference works; and, second, it is objectively no less serious an apostasy from the Faith, even granting the amelioration of subjective culpability due to deception.

Much of the talk one hears these days about "invincible ignorance" and subjective innocence of non-Catholics and non-Christians, moreover, strikes me as an unconsciounable pretext for evangelical indolence. The truth is that deception is deception whether one is innocently or culpably deceived. One cannot bank on "invincible ignorance." To attempt to do so would be the moral equivalent of playing Russian Roulette with people's souls. St. Thomas Aquinas, in the opening pages of his Summa Theologiae (I, I, art. 1), says that it was in order that the salvation of men might be brought about "more fitly and surely" that it was necessary that they should be taught the divine truths entrusted to the Church -- and not left to those truths about God such as reason could discover, which "would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors." (Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 4 for a fuller treatment of this point.) Moreover, St. Paul offers little comfort in addressing the responsiveness of individuals to God's revelation of Himself in nature, when he says that they "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." He says they "are without excuse" because God has never left Himself without a witness -- even if it is the witness to Himself "from the things that have been made" in nature. (Rm 1:18ff.) Any falling away from the fullness of Faith, for whatever reason, is gravely serious. "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ," said St. Jerome. Lack of concern over proper formation of faith among any of God's children betokens nothing less than a lack of compassion for those for whom Christ died.

Then there are those who consciously break communion with the Church and leave, not because they have made a complete and voluntary abandonment of the Christian religion, but perhaps because they have ceased to believe, or have never believed, the fullness of the Catholic Faith. While cases such as this might involve a sort of "falling away" if the individual in question had initially adhered voluntarily and without reservation to all that the Church teaches, it is clear that it cannot be classified as 'apostasy' in any of the standard textbook senses. If the individual was first a believing Catholic and then rejected those Catholic beliefs, he would be described canonically as a heretic, not an apostate. If he never actually believed what he professed as a Catholic, then I suppose one would have something like the ecclesiastical equivalent of a tribunal's judgment of nullity in the case of a presumed marriage. Only God could possibly judge the individual's heart. The Church, like anyone else, could do no more than construe according to the person's profession and actions.

Of this sort is the recently much-discussed case of Rod Dreher, the conservative Catholic columnist and editor at the Dallas Morning News, who recently left the Catholic Church for Eastern Orthodoxy. "Breaking Communion - Reactions to Rod Dreher's Eastward Turn" (Against the Grain, Oct. 30, 2006) offers a thorough synopsis of linked articles and debates surrounding the affair for anyone still interested in reading it. What were Dreher's reasons? From his own statements, the upshot of the matter seems to come down to two principal issues: (1) problems in the Catholic Church, and (2) problems of doctrinal belief. In the first category, he cites disillusionment and repulsion over the Catholic sex-abuse scandals and related corruption of the hierarchy (which he witnessed "up close and personal"), along with worry about raising Christian kids in the confused state of US Catholic parish life, as reasons for leaving. Al Kimel wrote responses to each of these concerns, first, upon hearing that Dreher was contemplating leaving the Catholic Church, in "Ten thousand scandals do not make one doubt" (Pontifications, 5/8/06); and, second, in "Dare we entrust our children to the Catholic Church?" (Pontifications, 5/11/06). Both are historically and theologically well-informed, thoughtful reflections, well-worth revisiting.

In the second category, Dreher says he "came to seriously doubt Rome's claims," although some have been less than sanguine about the seriousness of his statements, which, they claim, seem more like pretexts offered after the fact. For example, Scott Carson writes, in "Scandal and Bad Reasons" (The Examined Life, October 14, 2006): "Precisely because he is an intelligent person, he knew that Catholicism is right, and he needed an intellectual justification for doing what he was doing, and the only possible way to get that justification would be to call into question the teachings of the Church. In short, he made a conscious decision to become a functional protestant, while wishing nonetheless to continue enjoying the fruits of the genuine Sacraments [in the Eastern Orthodox tradition]." Probing the spiritual and psychological motives animating such examples of defection, the Venerable Cardinal Newman writes, in his "Discourse on Doubt and Faith":
And so . . . when a man has become a Catholic, were he to set about following a doubt which has occurred to him, he has already disbelieved. I have not to warn him against losing his faith, he is not merely in danger of losing it, he has lost it; from the nature of the case he has already lost it; he fell from grace at the moment when he deliberately entertained and pursued his doubt. No one can determine to doubt what he is already sure of; but if he is not sure that the Church is from God, he does not believe it. It is not I who forbid him to doubt; he has taken the matter into his own hands when he determined on asking for leave; he has begun, not ended, in unbelief; his very wish, his purpose, is his sin.
Newman's statement is stark indeed; but it demands notice. It cannot be brushed aside as a matter of inconsequence. While no one can judge the heart of another, such as Dreher, the unbelief referenced by Newman would in this instance entail, if it applied to Dreher, not the strict apostasy of voluntarily renounced Christian belief, but the heresy of withdrawing assent from all that the Catholic Church teaches, including her own authority to so teach, as well as the heresy of embracing doctrines judged by the Church to be untrue. A term less abrasive in its connotations than "heresy" today would be the term "error."

Yet again, others raise the speculative question whether Dreher was ever Catholic. For example, after Dreher publicly announced his decision and declared his reasons for leaving the Catholic Church, Al Kimel wrote a response in "When a Catholic leaves the Catholic Church" (Pontifications, 10/11/06), in which he rises this question:
In light of Dreher’s departure from the Catholic Church, I only have one question: Was he in fact a Catholic? I do not have access to Dreher’s heart and soul, and I certainly do not condemn him for his decision. I regret that he has left the Catholic Church, and I grieve the sins of the Church that led him to renounce the divine authority of the Vicar of Christ. I pray that I may never be so tested.

My interest at this point is purely theoretical. How are we to understand a person who enters into the communion of the Catholic Church and then departs from that communion?
Kimel then quotes from the Venerable Cardinal Newman's Grammar of Assent, which addresses precisely this question:
A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.
Newman's inexorable logic drives home a hard reality that many today are reluctant to face. As Kimel observes: "I wonder how many priests and RCIA instructors understand what Catholic assent is. I wonder how many converts to Catholicism have been instructed in the irrevocable, definitive, full assent to magisterial teaching that is being asked of them when they enter into the communion of the Catholic Church." The case is not altogether unlike the question of the assent required in Holy Matrimony, or the question of how well prepared individuals are before entering upon the matrimonial covenant involved in professing their wedding vows.

Some have spoken accusingly of Dreher's "apostasy." Others have been nearly vociferous in their outrage. Fr. Richard Neuhaus's response to Dreher's move, in my opinion, strikes an important balance. He writes: "Yes, his decision is in large part reactive. But he is reacting to very real corruptions in the Catholic Church. I hope every Catholic bishop and priest will read his essay, and especially those bishops and priests who are inclined to heave a sigh of relief that we have weathered the sex-abuse scandal." I have vented my own spleen recently in "Welcome aboard the shipwreck: what converts don't know" (12/13/06), where I wrote:
. . . when you invite someone to become a Catholic, you're inviting him not only to board the Ark of Salvation. You're inviting him to come aboard a shipwreck. You're inviting him to join an association at the parish level whose collective acquaintance with Scripture is piecemeal, whose knowledge of Tradition is negligible, whose hymns are embarrassing, whose religious art has become ugly, whose churches look more like U.N. meditation chapels than sanctuaries, whose ethics are slipshod and often dissident, and whose aesthetic and spiritual sensibilities are so far from being sublime that they often look ridiculous.
Some of my readers took offense at this rant; and I should make quite clear that nothing is more precious to me than the Catholic Faith. Yet until we face the reality of our own diocesan catastrophes, we have little business pointing the finger at those inclined to jump ship. Dreher may not believe in the Catholic Church. Yet, whatever his sins and theological errors may be, he has not ceased believing in the fundamental truths of the Christian Faith as would be affirmed by our Eastern Orthodox brethren. He is not an atheist. He has not simply ceased to believe. Can we say even that much of all of our clergy, theology professors? Dreher concludes his reflection with this: “Still, those of you more charitably inclined, please just pray for me and my family, that we always live in truth, and do the right thing, and be found pleasing to God, the Father of us all.” Should any Catholic hesitate to join in that prayer?

Falling away, apostasy (αποστασία) -- whether a voluntary abandonment of the Christian religion, or a falling away via self-deception or deception by others -- is always to be lamented and resisted wherever it is found. Likewise with the falling away of heresy, confusion and error. The statistics of Catholics falling away from the Faith over the last several decades are staggering. The question we must all face is this: whence is the greatest threat of such falling away? St. Francis de Sales is credited with the observation that those who give scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, while those who take scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of suicide. Both are real dangers. However, the capacity to resist taking scandal depends upon the spiritual resources of the Sacred Tradition of which the Church is guardian. When scandal given consists in the failure to effectively transmit these indispensable resources to a whole generation of Catholics, we face a crisis indeed.

Of related interest:

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Robe of Christ

by Joyce Kilmer

(for Cecil Chesterton)

At the foot of the Cross on Calvary
Three soldiers sat and diced,
And one of them was the Devil
And he won the Robe of Christ.

When the Devil comes in his proper form
To the chamber where I dwell,
I know him and make the Sign of the Cross
Which drives him back to Hell.

And when he comes like a friendly man
And puts his hand in mine,
The fervour in his voice is not
From love or joy or wine.

And when he comes like a woman,
With lovely, smiling eyes,
Black dreams float over his golden head
Like a swarm of carrion flies.

Now many a million tortured souls
In his red halls there be:
Why does he spend his subtle craft
In hunting after me?

Kings, queens and crested warriors
Whose memory rings through time,
These are his prey, and what to him
Is this poor man of rhyme,

That he, with such laborious skill,
Should change from role to role,
Should daily act so many a part
To get my little soul?

Oh, he can be the forest,
And he can be the sun,
Or a buttercup, or an hour of rest
When the weary day is done.

I saw him through a thousand veils,
And has not this sufficed?
Now, must I look on the Devil robed
In the radiant Robe of Christ?

He comes, and his face is sad and mild,
With thorns his head is crowned;
There are great bleeding wounds in his feet,
And in each hand a wound.

How can I tell, who am a fool,
If this be Christ or no?
Those bleeding hands outstretched to me!
Those eyes that love me so!

I see the Robe -- I look -- I hope --
I fear -- but there is one
Who will direct my troubled mind;
Christ's Mother knows her Son.

O Mother of Good Counsel, lend
Intelligence to me!
Encompass me with wisdom,
Thou Tower of Ivory!

"This is the Man of Lies," she says,
"Disguised with fearful art:
He has the wounded hands and feet,
But not the wounded heart."

Beside the Cross on Calvary
She watched them as they diced.
She saw the Devil join the game
And win the Robe of Christ.
[Hat tip to Ellen. Poetry of Joyce Kilmer: Main Street and Other Poems]

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pics of the day

~ O that good ol' jihadist sense of humor!

More on the imminent motu proprio

The following from the Italian news agency ANSA on December 12th (via Rorate Caeli, "An eminent confirmation," 12/12):
"The publication of the Motu Proprio from the Pope which will liberalize the celebration of the Latin Mass according to the Missal of Saint Pius V is close." Who affirmed this was Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, member of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, which met this morning to discuss the liberalization of the Mass in Latin. "We studied the document with tranquility," the Cardinal affirmed. "We discussed [it] together for over 4 hours and to make some corrections to the text of the Motu Proprio." The next step belongs to Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos (president of the commission), who will present the text to Benedict XVI. There shall perhaps be another meeting of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, Medina added. Another member of the [Commission], the Cardinal of Lyon [sic -> Bordeaux], Jean Pierre [sic] Ricard, did not wish to make any comment, underlining that "[he] is bound by the pontifical secret".
(Sources: in French [CathoBel, 12/12/06]--in which it is reported that Medina would have said that another plenary meeting is "probably not needed"; original ANSA dispatch in Italian, Una Voce Venetia, 12/12/06)

Then, yesterday, Rorate Caeli reported ("Some more information on yesterday's meeting," 12/12/06) that in Wednesday's edition of Il Giornale, Andrea Tornielli confirmed the words provided by Cardinal Medina on the content of the plenary meeting of the Ecclesia Dei commission:
In the order of the day for the meeting was also a discussion on the juridical framework in which to place the Lefebvrists after their readmission into full communion with the Holy See.

The debated questions were, thus, two. ...

Benedict XVI intends to extend the indult of his predecessor, in fact withdrawing from the bishops discretionary power on the matter: the Missal of Saint Pius V is no longer abolished, and even if the ordinary Roman Rite is that originated from the post-conciliar liturgical reform, the old one -- used by centuries in the Church -- can subsist as an "extraordinary rite".

The bishops, therefore, will not be able to deny the ancient mass anymore, but only regulate its eventual celebration, together with the parish priests, harmonising it with the need of the community. The corrections included would have reduced from 50 to 30 the minimal number of faithful who ask for the celebration according to the old rite. As for the readmission of the Lefebvrists, once the rite of Saint Pius V is liberalized, the deal should be easier.
[Hat tip to Rorate Coeli for prividing these English translations of the news releases.]

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Annulments and Church membership

Since when has getting an annulment from an earlier attempt at marriage become a condition for becoming a member of the Catholic Church?

I have a good friend, formerly a Methodist minister, who was received into the Church several years ago. I was his sponsor. He now lives in Atlanta with his (mostly grown) four children. His wife just passed away several months ago. His eldest child, a daughter, was married for one month in an abortive attempt at marriage when she was in her late teens. Now she has decided she wants to become a Catholic and has been involved in the RCIA program in a local parish in Atlanta since September. However, the priest of her parish has told her that in order to become a Catholic in his parish, she must first get an annulment. The way he has put it to her, as she relates it, is in flat out pedestrian terms: no annulment, no church membership.

Perhaps what's going on here is that the priest is, presumably 'wisely', trying to forestall some later problems with his converts if they happen to fall in love and want to marry after becoming Catholics and then learn they have to get an annulment, and, perhaps on the odd chance, can't get one for some canonical reason. I see that point. Yet this seems not only canonically awry, but something close to cruel and unusual punishment to require an annulment as a condition for reception into the Church. After all, what about the countless Catholics in good standing who have had to endure divorces by unfaithful spouses? The condition just strikes me as goofy. Add to that the fact that this particular young lady has, within the past few months, suffered the death of her mother and her grandmother, and it begins to look heartless.

My friend's daughter has decided to go ahead and undertake the annulment petition. She wants our family to be at her reception into the Church this Easter. I told her I was proud of her for undertaking this difficult submission, and that I trust that the Lord would grant her many graces through her willingness to take on this burden or any others she must bear for the sake of her journey into the Church.

Still, I wonder about such practices as these. Apparently the Archdiocese of Atlanta gives the local priest the authority to determine this type of question among his own parishioners. Can any of our readers shed light on the canonical and pastoral questions involved here?

Welcome aboard the shipwreck: what converts don't know

Malcolm Muggeridge's Canadian-born daughter-in-law, Anne Roche Muggeridge, distraught over the disastrous aftermath of Vatican II, wrote about converts she knew:
I now know a substantial number of recent converts . . . (in counter-revolutionary groups they usually outnumber "cradle Catholics") and am much edified by their purity and ardour. Seven of them are my godchildren, and I must confess that some of us, to our shame, earnestly tried to delay them, on the grounds of the growing disorder in the Catholic Church. They forced their way past us anyway, thank God; though the priest I brought them to for instruction and I could not resist saying, when they had their first shocking confrontation with revolutionary priests and nuns over their children's education: "Well, you can't say we didn't warn you!" The point is, these converts remind one of what one asks of the Church of God, as the old baptism question went; the answer being, "Faith!" They come, like St. Peter, because they have found that for them there is nowhere else to go to hear "the words of eternal life." They come because at the highest level of Catholic teaching, the doctrine of the faith, though much embattled, remains uncompromised and is as fearlessly proclaimed by John Paul II as by Peter, Paul, Ignatius, or Augustine. (The Desolate City: Revolution in the Catholic Church [1986; Rev. ed., San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990])
Notwithstanding the hearty 'Amen!' many of us would offer to that wonderful coda, Muggeridge's earlier reticence does have a point. Otherwise she wouldn't have mentioned it. We all know this. Inviting somebody to join the Church is a glorious thing, when you have the spiritual sight to behold the mystery of the mystical Body of Christ and the visible shape the unseen spiritual battle in the heavenlies assumes in the Church Militant on earth. But it's not exactly like being invited to join the Baptist or Presbyterian or Lutheran church down the street. There are human dimensions to every earthly organization, of course, and we expect that -- the foibles and failures and corruptions of human character that should never surprise us because they are the condition of our fallen nature. But there's a big difference.

When you're invited to join a Protestant church, it isn't the monumental thing that joining the Catholic Church is. It's more a matter of finding the most convenient lobby in which to hang your hat on Sunday morning. It's a warm and cozy thing. It's not a spiritual earthquake. Your eternal salvation may not hang in the balance. But when you invite someone to become a Catholic, you're inviting him not only to board the Ark of Salvation. You're inviting him to come aboard a shipwreck. You're inviting him to join an association at the parish level whose collective acquaintance with Scripture is piecemeal, whose knowledge of Tradition is negligible, whose hymns are embarrassing, whose religious art has become ugly, whose churches look more like U.N. meditation chapels than sanctuaries, whose ethics are slipshod and often dissident, and whose aesthetic and spiritual sensibilities are so far from being sublime that they often look ridiculous. Tell me this isn't true, and I'll tell you you've been living in a cocoon. You've probably read about the well-known journalist, Rod Dreher, who has recently left the Catholic Church for less troubling, more comfortable accommodations in Eastern Orthdoxy. Some blame him for apostasy, but there seems more than enough blame to go around here.

When you invite someone to become a Catholic, you're inviting him to come aboard a ship being fought over by major factions -- Commonweal Catholics, Garabandal Catholics, Neuhaus-Weigel Catholics, Mel Gibson Catholics, Joan Chittister Catholics, Mary Daly Catholics, Charlie Curran Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, Bruskowitz Catholics, Mahoney Catholics, etc. It's sometimes hard to see what, if anything, holds them together. Furthermore, you're inviting him into an RCIA program that isn't likely to prepare him or inform him for what he'll face. Certainly not theologically. Certainly not historically. Chances are he'll meet many welcoming people, be offered a lot of coffee and doughnuts, and, at the end of it all, be given a religious medallion or pin of some kind and be told: "Welcome to the Church!" Chances are, he'll be in some parish where the Introit, sooner or later, will be "Gather Us In" and people will reach out during the Our Father to hold hands with him; and next thing you know, he'll be asked to become an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. He'll be flattered and honored for the moment. But he won't be in a position, probably, to realize that in these ways he's being swept up unwittingly into patterns of institutionalized abuse and into factions of an historical battle of ecclesial politics of greater proportion than any parish or diocese or national church. He won't realize right away that he's in the middle of a shipwreck, and that many of the saboteurs are key players among the ship's own crew. Appearances can be deceiving, because he'll see that the ship is very much afloat; and above deck, anyway, things may often give the newcomer the appearance of some semblance of order and stability. But what he doesn't see is the wreck of the ship that lies beneath the deck or the factions among the crew members arguing over how to repair the damage, over whose ship it is, and who should be in charge. The Barque of St. Peter may not be going down anytime soon, but an awful lot of individuals have fallen through the wreckage into the churning seas below.

When you welcome a convert into the Church, you receive a newcomer into the heart and heat of spiritual battle. There is joy, yes; but it should never be a mere chummy sort of ebullience like that of one Rotary club member welcoming a new member into the club. It should be a profound joy accompanied by a solemn recognition of the deep and dangerous realities at stake in the undertaking. This is war. There are few heroes. There are many casualties. The Catholic Church is ineluctably at the center of this war. This is what we should expect. It's how Christ said it would be. This is reality. Welcome to the Church!

Michael Davies on liturgical reform: Part II

On December 6th, we posted a notice (Michael Davies on liturgical reform) that we had published Part I of a two-part article by Michael Davies on "True and False Liturgical Reform" over at the Scripture and Catholic Tradition blog. Part II is now available online as well -- about which I will have a few comments in a moment. First of all, here's where they can be found:Part I of Davies' article, as we noted in the earlier post, reviews the history of the Mass from antiquity up through the Protestant revolution and the reform of St. Pius V. Davies traces the development of the Mass through the first four centuries to the end of Roman persecution in the Constantinian period, with particular attention to the subsequent Gregorian reforms and the Gregorian Sacramentary. The balance of this this first installment is devoted primarily to a fairly detailed summary of the radical changes effected by Protestantism, as well as to the political strategies by which these were often introduced among the laity, and the parallels to the post-Vatican II changes introduced Bugnini and his succession of liturgical experts is notable.

Part II is devoted to reviewing the evidence establishing the continuity of the Roman liturgy preceding Vatican II with the Roman Mass of antiquity, the perfection of this Mass, and the minor nature of the reforms from the Gregorian Reform up until the Bugnini Mass of 1969. The balance of this second installment is spent on illustrating the revolutionary nature of the Bugnini 'reform', and examining the question of the canonical and moral right of the faithful to the traditional rite. Here he spends some time reviewing the arguments of St. Thomas Aquinas placing the onus against the sovereign who wishes to introduce changes in civil or ecclesiastical law that do not clearly conform to the demands of reason or appear to have an effect that is both good and to the benefit to those for whom it is intended. Quoting the Decretals, Thomas writes: "It is absurd, and a detestable shame, that we should suffer those traditions to be changed which we have received from the fathers of old"; and he adds that the very fact of changing a law, even for the better, "is of itself prejudicial to the common good: because custom avails much for the observance of laws, seeing that what is done contrary to general custom even in slight matters is looked upon as grave." (ST, II, I, Q. 97, art. 2) Davies notes that this principle was echoed in Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II, which commanded that "there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them" (Article 23). The conclusion he draws may be summed up thus: "law must never be changed unless it is certain that the common good will find in the modification at least adequate compensation for the harm done by way of derogating a custom." Points to ponder.
  • To comment on Davies' article, please go to the comment box following the full article on the Scripture and Catholic Tradition blog. The comment box below is reserved for those who have not read, or do not wish to read, Davies' article.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Frank Senn: "I'll Stay Here, Where I Stand"

A growing number of distinguished Protestants and theologians and pastors are entering into full communion with the Catholic Church -- particularly Anglicans and Lutherans. As recently noted, Dwight Longenecker, a former Anglican priest, was recently ordained to the Catholic deaconate, and Al Kimel, also a former Anglican priest, was recently ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

As to Lutherans, we have also noted the reception of Rev. Phillip Max Johnson, former Senior (head) of the Lutheran Society of the Holy Trinity, into the Catholic Church this past summer, and in March we posted an article on the reception into the Church of Leonard Klein (former editor of the Lutheran Forum) in 2003. Last July we posted an article on Lutheran theologian, Carl E. Braaten's open letter to ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson about Lutheran converts & the ELCA "brain drain".

Now Richard J. Neuhaus, himself a convert from Lutheranism, observes that the growing number of Lutheran theologians and pastors swimming the Tiber has provoked Frank Senn, himself a distinguished scholar, pastor in ELCA Lutheranism, and head of the Society of the Holy Trinity, to write a piece (he doesn't say where) entitled "I'll Stay Here, Where I Stand." Neuhaus writes:
He is particularly disappointed that Phillip Max Johnson, the head of the Society of the Holy Trinity, a group of "evangelical catholic" Lutheran pastors, has become Catholic. Senn succeeded Johnson as the leader of the society and wants it understood that he's not going to follow his bad example. He takes aim at the conventional wisdom among evangelical catholics that Lutheranism was originally not intended as a separate church but as a reforming movement within the one Church of Christ. I admit that that is the understanding of Lutheranism that I, as a Lutheran, did more than my share to advance. Senn writes: "Of course Lutheranism was a reform movement in the 1520s. But then it produced a confession of faith in 1530 that was adopted by the churches in some territories. At that point churches became Lutheran. Within the Holy Roman Empire these churches attained equal ecclesiastical status with the papal church in the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. One by one the churches of other lands adopted the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg and reorganized themselves accordingly. This reform of the church of the city, territory, or land was initiated by decisions of city councils, at the instigation of princes and kings, and sometimes by a decision of the church itself -- as when the Church of Sweden adopted the Augsburg Confession in 1593 against the Catholic confession of its king, Sigismund II Vasa. We contemporary Lutherans have not come out of a movement. We have come out of the churches that were the Catholic Church of their place." That is a nice touch, that Lutheranism was established "sometimes by a decision of the church itself." Senn concludes: "My concern to be faithful to my ordination vows does not depend on the faithfulness of my church to its confessions. I have the ministerium that is the Society of the Holy Trinity to support me in remaining faithful. And in my congregation, at least, I don't have to fight a cultural battle to raise the level of liturgical music, such as several former Lutheran pastors have experienced in Roman Catholic parishes. That's got to be some benefit of this decision!" The whack at Catholic music is fair enough.
But then comes the more substantive reflection and coda of Neuhaus himself:
As for the larger argument, it is true that Lutheranism was politically established as "the church" in various principalities. What importance that has in the theological reflection on ecclesiology, however, is far from evident. In Catholic Matters and elsewhere, I have written about the problems inherent in trying to maintain "catholic enclaves" of parish and associations within ecclesial communities that are set upon being permanently separated Protestant denominations. I have no doubt about the sincerity of Pastor Senn and others similarly situated. In many cases, family and other obligations quite rightly enter into their reflections about whether or not to become Catholic. But, as Dominus Iesus, the 2000 statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, makes clear, it really will not do to claim that what Lutherans -- or Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, et al. -- mean by church is theologically symmetrical with what Catholics mean by the Church. As Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) pointed out to Protestant critics of Dominus Iesus, they should not complain when the Catholic Church agrees with them that they do not and should not claim to be the Church in the same way that the Catholic Church claims to be the Church. (In these discussions, the Orthodox Church is quite another matter.) For Pastor Senn and others, declining to become Catholic should not be justified by implausibly elevating the ecclesiological status of a reforming movement that transmogrified in some places into established churches but by addressing -- and, if so convinced, attempting to refute -- the ecclesiological claims of the Catholic Church.
[Acknowledgements: Neuhaus quote from a single paragraph in First Things (December 2006), p.68f.)

Neuhaus on Gamber, Benedict & the Mass

First of all, thanks to whomever of you anonymously bought me the subscription to First Things. I'm not sure how you accurately surmised I didn't have a subscription. Perhaps it was my paucity of references to current issues (they go online only after two months have lapsed). Perhaps it was someone who thought my reading requires a little more "balance." Whatever the reason, thank you. It was a generous gift. I've already enjoyed reading the first (December) issue. One thing that strikes me is how like a blog Neuhaus's concluding section is, entitled "The Public Square: A Survey of Religion and Public Life." Some of the printed material I recognized as addressing material that surfaced rather earlier in the blogsphere. Still, Neuhaus usually has an interesting perspective to bring to the issues.

This was certainly the case with his comments on the reprinting of Klaus Gamber's The Reform of the Roman Liturgy. "Unfortunately," says Neuhaus, " it will probably not get much attention," because it was "put out by the relatively obscure Roman Catholic Books of Fort Collins, Florida, and I expect the reason is that no effort was made to edit it into a form attuned to an American audience." The language and references, he says, are "narrowly Germanic," although he concedes that the argument has a more "universal reach."

Neuhaus briefly reviews Gamber's thesis. The book might more accurately be titled The Displacement of the Roman Liturgy, he says, for "his argument is that the Novus Ordo, decreed -- with doubtful authority, according to Gamber -- by Paul VI, established a Modern Rite that has effectively displaced the Roman Rite followed since at least the fourth century." He states that Gamber "makes a strong case against the now almost universal practice of the priest facing the people from behind the altar," and he acknowledges growing criticism today of this practice. From an outsider's perspective, the Lutheran sociologist, Peter L. Berger, wrote many years ago: "If a thoroughly malicious sociologist, bent on injuring the Catholic community as much as possible had been an adviser to the Church, he could hardly have done a better job." Neuhaus, quoting Berger, says that this may be putting it too strongly, yet acknowledges that Gamber and an increasing number of Catholics (including liturgical scholars) would agree with Berger.

Neuhaus also remarks briefly on Father (later Archbishop) Annibale Bugnini, who died in 1982, the enigmatic architect of the new Mass of 1969. He notes that the Novus Ordo, consequently, is sometimes called "the Bugnini Mass." He also observes Bugnini's career fluctuations -- in and out of favor over the years, until he ended his remarkable career in exile, as nuncio to Iran [at the direction of Pope Paul VI, as Fr. Franklyn McAfee correctly notes in his comment, and not by Pope John Paul II as Neuhaus writes]. People also speak, Neuhaus notes, of "Bugnini time," referring to his drastic reordering of the Church's liturgical calendar -- "including all those Sundays 'in ordinary time.'"

Neuhaus then comments on the reports that Pope Benedict intends some major moves with respect to the liturgy, including, perhaps, a carte blanche permission for use of the old Roman Rite, alongside the rite of 1969. "So far he has not done that, although over the years Cardinal Ratzinger made no secret of his dissatisfaction with what was done under Paul VI," he writes. Neuhaus quotes the preface to the French edition of Gamber's work, where Ratzinger wrote:
"One cannot manufacture a liturgical movement but one can contribute to its development.... J.A. Jungman, one of the truly great liturgists of our century, defined the liturgy of his time, such as it could be understood in the light of historical research, as 'a liturgy which is the fruit of development.' ... What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it -- as in a manufacturing process -- with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product. [Gamber] showed us the multiple forms and paths of liturgical development; as a man who looked at history from the inside, he saw in this development and its fruit the intangible reflection of the eternal liturgy, that which is not the object of our action but which can continue marvelously to mature and blossom if we unite ourselves intimately with its mystery."
Neuhaus comments: "It seems more than likely that this pontificate will witness some major steps toward implementing the insights so strongly and repeatedly articulated by the former Cardinal Ratzinger.

Finally, Neuhaus concludes his comments on a speculative note. He says that he expects that the Pope will not flirt with Gamber's claim that the Roman Rite was displaced in 1969. If the rumors are right, he says, the permission will likely be framed in terms of two versions of the Roman Rite. Then, he adds, there is also the question of the new liturgical calendar established in 1969. It is hard to see how a universal Church could live by two different calendars. A major purpose of any such initiative, he says, is certainly to reconcile the Lefebvrists and other "traditionalists" who have long opposed the 1969 rite. While any priest can now say the Novus Ordo in Latin, few do. Neuhaus says that his hunch is that the new directive from Benedict will have little immediate effect on worship in most parishes, but could be a significant move in "slowly turning the Church toward a 'reform of the reform.'"

Well, now ... What have you all been saying!

[Acknowledgements: Neuhaus quotations from First Things (December 2006), 61-62.]

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pope's new book on Jesus

CNS is reporting that Pope Benedict XVI has completed the first volume of a major scholarly and spiritual book on Jesus of Nazareth, a book a began several years before being elected Pope: Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (Rizzoli/Herder Verlag). Reportedly, in the preface, signed "Joseph Ratzinger -- Benedict XVI," the Pope wrote that for decades he had noticed a growing scholarly distinction between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith," a distinction that many Christians -- due to the influence of the German, Enlightenment-influenced historical-critical tradition transmitted through the tradition of liberal Protestantism -- now accept as accurate. But, wrote the Pope, if the human Jesus was totally different from the Jesus depicted in the Gospels and proclaimed by the Church, what does it mean to have faith in him? "I trust the Gospels," Pope Benedict wrote. While not ignoring the legitimate results of modern scholarly biblical criticism and historical research, the Pope declared: "I wanted to attempt to present the Jesus of the Gospels as the true Jesus, as the 'historic Jesus' in the true sense of the expression."

Benedict explained that after his election to the see of Rome, he used all his free moments to work on the book. "Because I do not know how much time and how much strength I will still be given, I have decided to publish the first 10 chapters" as Volume One of Jesus of Nazareth, he said.

I thank God that Pope Benedict is addressing this issue, which for so long has languished for lack of attention in the Catholic world. (Pope's scholarly book on Jesus scheduled for March release, CNS)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Save the pagan babies

When posters like these were originally published in the 1920s and earlier, they weren't considered scandalous or even insensitive. They were considered an expression of sincere compassion. Catholics and all Christians used to take seriously the Great Commission of Christ, to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Mt 28:19-20)

Today, of course, a lot of this is water under the bridge. My own parents were missionaries in China, where I was born, as many of you know. I was raised in Japan, where they spent the balance of their careers in mission work after leaving Communist China in the early 1950s. However, since coming to the United States for part of my college education in the 1970s, I can remember a sea change in attitudes towards missions. First, I can remember a change among some of the missionaries themselves whom I met both "in the field," as they used to say, and "on furlough" back in the States. Many of them, from various Protestant denominations, had begun devoting themselves increasingly to such objectives as English teaching in Japan. At first, these objectives were sometimes couched in terms of rationales of "outreach" and of establishing "contacts" for purposes of evangelism. Very quickly, among many of the younger groups of missionaries, however, all pretense of evangelism was dropped as English teaching seemed, more-and-more problematically to become nearly an end-in-itself. One-by-one, some of the smaller denominations, seeing no justification for sustaining their expensive "mission" programs in Japan (where the Dollar-Yen exchange rate skyrocketed from 365 Yen/Dollar in the early 1960s to nearly 100 Yen/Dollar in the mid-1970s), folded their operations and went home. Apart from Fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals, any Protestant "mission" groups that remain are closer to being cultural good will ambassadors than anything remotely "missionary" in any traditional Christian sense.

Second, I can remember the attitude of many of my secularized peers during my college years (in the U.S., Europe, and Japan), when they learned that my parents were missionaries. Some of them, when they had gotten over their curiosity and fascination with the novelty of myself as an untimely born specimen of medieval quaintness, expressed distinct disdain for the religious "imperialism" represented by my family's religion -- that is, by Christianity generally. What were "we Westerners" doing over there (in those refined and sophisticated civilizations of China and Japan) telling those people how to live? That was the gist of the sentiment, even if it was rarely expressed quite so bluntly as that. The whole posture of "missions" -- with its labor of "evangelism" and (that more ideologically charged word) "proselytism" -- is seen as an European/white/male-dominant ethnocentric embarrassment.

But there was for me always another side to this story. I was not yet a Catholic then, but I knew about the stories of St. Francis Xavier coming to Japan in 1549, a good century before Protestant missions began and several centuries before the heyday of the great Protestant missionaries like Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) of the China Inland Mission (now renamed Overseas Missionary Fellowship). The stories of the Japanese novelist, Shusaku Endo, like Chinmoku 「沈黙」('Silence'), are full of spiritual struggles of faith and betrayal involving this earlier generation of Catholic missionaries and their Japanese converts and the persecutions following the edict of Toyotomi Hideyoshi expelling Christian missionaries from Japan in 1587. I had read about the Japanese martyrs -- the 26 Christians who were crucified in Nagasaki, including 6 Franciscan missionaries, and, among the 20 native Japanese Christians, a child of 13 and another of 12 years. The stories about these martyrs, usually listed as 'Paul Miki and his Companions', is as moving as any.

From my childhood and first twenty years on the "mission field" of Japan with my parents, two marks have left their impressions indelibly upon the firmament of my memories. These are, first, the love and sacrifice of missionaries, notwithstanding and surpassing all their many all-too-human character flaws; and, second, the profound gratitude of their converts, notwithstanding all the extraneous cultural baggage that may have accompanied the gift of the Gospel as its packaging. Both speak volumes about the gratitude of the human heart for the gift of salvation, freedom from guilt and despair, and promise of eternal joy and life offerd by the way of the cross and Jesus Christ. At the end of the day, when I think about how my mother (who is no longer with us) might have answered my cynical peers in college who asked what she was doing over in China and Japan telling them how to live, I think she might have called to mind the lines of an old Protestant hymn, "to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love." The third stanza ends with the words:
I love to tell the story,
for some have never heard
the message of salvation
from God's own holy Word.
This is hardly the vision of a Western imperialist intruding upon an Asian garden party to tell its participants how they ought to live. To put the matter rather more bluntly and in a more common idiom: it's a matter of one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.