instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, July 05, 2002

Those who forget the past...

Outnumber the others ten to one.

In response to something Mark Shea wrote, Mark Byron took a "quick stab at going after the Trinity by using just the Bible proper." He follows up with the reassurance "that the doctrine of the Trinity is biblically sound."

I won't speak for Mark Shea (it doesn't pay well enough), but I think Mark Byron is still missing the point. The question is not whether the doctrine of the Trinity is biblically sound -- of course it is -- but why evangelicals are most all orthodox Trinitarians, with hardly any Arians or whatnot.

It seems obvious to me that the answer is that evangelicals accept the Christological and Pneumatological Tradition of the Church. They may not accept the Church Councils that defined this Tradition (certainly not as Catholics and Orthodox do), but they accept the teaching of people who accepted the teaching of people who [...] accepted the teaching of the Councils. In Mark B.'s case, he seems to not have given much thought at all to whether the Trinity is derivable from the Bible until Mark S. suggested it's not clear that it is. Even now he admits that his "case for the Holy Spirit's a bit loose," but I have no doubt his faith in the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit and the Father is as strong as it ever was.

I was once in a discussion about the impassibility of God in which an Evangelical offered the equivalent of this syllogism: "Jesus is God. Jesus suffered. Therefore God suffered." I countered that "Jesus is God" is not at all the trivial identity required to make her argument valid, that its meaning depended on one's Christology. She seemed to think she didn't have a Christology, that such a thing was just a big word used by intellectual types who weren't satisfied with the Bible alone. And yet was as solidly Trinitarian as I am.

There's a blindness to history that affects different Christian traditions in different ways. Some Catholics seem to believe that, the night before He died, Jesus celebrated the Mass of the Lord's Supper, complete with paten and purificator, then dictated detailed notes about auricular confession and Benediction. Some Episcopalians seem to believe that the Celtic Church was the life-affirming Church as Jesus intended her to be, cruelly smothered by Rome but now subsisting in the Anglican Communion. Some Evangelicals seem to believe that everything Catholics do was invented by St. Augustine, who thereby destroyed the perfect Bible-based unity of the Early Church through her first three centuries. (And some Catholics seem to agree with these Evangelicals; sometimes this leads to confused CCD programs, sometimes to lucrative book contracts.)

Catholics need to know that we have nothing to fear from history, that we won't discover the papacy was invented for political purposes in AD 506 any more than we'll discover that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. What the Church teaches about herself is not just wishful thinking, which means that what she teaches about God isn't wishful thinking, either. Knowing the facts of history -- sparse and sometimes unsettling as they may be -- and sharing them with our separated brethren is, I think, one of the best ways of breaking down the defenses they have constructed against the Catholic Church. And let the Holy Spirit do the rest.


Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Whose cross is it anyway?

Emily Stimpson muses:
The Lord, knowing us more intimately and more deeply than we know ourselves, knows exactly what each of us needs to be saved and sanctified. Does He never present us with crosses designed by Him for just those purposes?
Kairos responds, "I still think the answer is no."

The Fathers seem to have generally interpreted the cross in Jesus' statement, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me [Mt 16:24]," to mean the cross that necessarily arises in the life of anyone who truly attempts to follow Christ. From the Catena Aurea:
Hilary: We are to follow our Lord by taking up the cross of His passion; and if not in deed, yet in will, bear Him company.

Gregory, Hom. in Ev., xxxii, 3: There are two ways of taking our cross; when the body is afflicted by abstinence, or when the heart is pained by compassion for another.

Jerome: He takes up his cross who is crucified to the world; and he to whom the world is crucified, follows his crucified Lord.
This is not quite the same idea as a cross as a source of suffering through which our virtues may be strengthened and tested, an idea found, for example, in the Book of Judith:
"[W]e should be grateful to the Lord our God, for putting us to the test, as he did our forefathers. Recall how he dealt with Abraham, and how he tried Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother's brother. Not for vengeance did the Lord put them in the crucible to try their hearts, nor has he done so with us. It is by way of admonition that he chastises those who are close to him." Judith 8:25-27
This idea is echoed in St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue, in which the Father says, "I wish that you should know, that not all the pains that are given to men in this life are given as punishments, but as corrections, in order to chastise a son when he offends."

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales touches on the idea of something that is a source of suffering being both caused by God's will and an opportunity to grow in virtue:
"[I]t is not your own choice, but God's Will alone, which has made you poor. Now, whatever we accept simply because it is God's Will is acceptable in His Sight, so long as we accept it heartily and out of love:--the less of self the more of God,--and a singlehearted acceptance of God's Will purifies any suffering very greatly."
This, I think, is part of a larger stream of spirituality (including de Caussade's Abandonment to Divine Providence) that urges Christians to accept whatever they experience as a divinely-sanctioned means of growing in sanctity.

So there are different kinds of crosses that we experience in this world: those due to our doing good; those due to our doing evil; and those not evidently due to anything we've done. I think there is a strong tradition (in the West at least) holding that God grants us medicinal suffering to correct our faults, strengthen our virtues, and expiate our sins, all of which happens, as St. Catherine teaches, not through the suffering itself -- which as noted on Kairos is evil -- but through Christ's sacrificial love that accompanies it within us.


Thomas doubting

Sean Gallagher, normally a sound fellow, today falls into the age-old heresy of Antididymusism, which, like all heresies, so exaggerates something true that it becomes false:
St. Thomas the apostle could very well serve as the patron saint of those many skeptics who fill our age. He could identify with and be sympathetic to all those people who refuse to accept the various claims about Christ simply because they are part of an ancient tradition or because a church says they are true. He could be a companion for those who put on their cars bumperstickers that read "My karma overcame my dogma." ... St. Thomas the apostle also wanted to believe in something new, something that he could examine for himself.
First, we must balance the dramatic presentation of John with the more matter-of-fact reports of Luke and Matthew. (And, for that matter, even John writes that Jesus showed the disciples His hands and feet the time Thomas wasn't there.)

Having thereby discarded the notion that St. Thomas was unique among the Apostles for not believing his ears nor even his eyes, we may now reconsider his actions as the Gospel of John describes them.

St. Thomas certainly did, as Sean writes, want to believe in something new, but what was this new thing he wanted to believe? Simply this: the resurrection of the Lord. To believe in something as astounding as this, he would not accept the testimony of the other Apostles -- and in this, who can blame him? In his experience, his fellow apostles were not ... well, let's say noted for their reliability. Is the pre-Pentecostal Peter really someone you'd place much faith in? (Yes, in John's Gospel Peter has already received the Holy Spirit by this time, but it doesn't seem to have effected much change in him as yet.)

And what was it that the other Apostles were telling Thomas? Nothing less than that their master Jesus of Nazareth is God. This is the meaning that Thomas applies to the bodily resurrection of Jesus. If He is truly risen, then He is Lord and God.

The idea that a man -- even someone you knew, admired, and loved; even someone who demonstrated power over demons, sickness, and storms; even the Messiah -- could, somehow, be God is utterly outrageous for a faithful Jew to entertain. So outrageous, I think, that Thomas might be more fairly judged as prudent rather than blameworthy to refuse to accept anything less than the testimony of his own hands.

True, Jesus tells him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." But He doesn't scold Thomas or refuse him the sight of Himself that he might believe. The moment becomes one in which Jesus teaches us that, although we are denied the physical proof of His resurrection that the Apostles enjoyed, we may yet be blessed through our faith in a way not available to them.

Such, at least, is my interpretation of the "Doubting Thomas" passage.


Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy ... but what?

Kathy Shaidle doesn't find the adjective "prophetic" very flattering:
I'm always being lectured at that Dorothy Day and Hella-wuss et al are merely acting in the glorious, God-approved tradition of the Biblical prophets. But they are not, because God called the Biblical prophets by name.
I don't want to say anything against Dorothy Day; I know too little about her, and too many people I respect consider her a saint, and I think that pacifism is a useful corrective to militarism.

But I have noticed that, when I read words like "a prophetic voice" applied to a contemporary Catholic, what is usually meant is the voice is calling for the Church to move forward in this or that direction.

The idea that a prophet moves his people forward is, I'll grandstand, contrary to Catholicism. The prophets of the Old Testament seem to have been wholly dedicated to getting Israel to move, not forward, but back, back to God and His covenant with them. Public revelation ended, as the saying goes, with the death of the last apostle. A prophet who preaches any other Gospel is not a prophet of God.

The history of Christianity is full of prophets who moved their little bands away from the Church; such bands as still exist are still waiting for the Church to catch up to them.

This isn't to say that those who preach on, say, environmental justice have necessarily moved outside the Church or are preaching a false gospel. But if they are acting as Christians, it seems to me that they are not acting as Christian prophets. Christian kings, perhaps, or maybe just Christians, but I don't see anything prophetic in the Christian sense in calling for greater concern for biodiversity.


Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Placet, magister?

While forgetting that she isn't in the smoking room of her club, Emily Stimpson points out that, as a rule, our crosses do not please us.

And since beauty is that which, being seen, pleases (id quod visum placet), I may say (with some understatement) that I don't find the crosses in my life to be beautiful.

And yet...

When I pray the Rosary, I usually reserve several Aves per decade to meditate on the aspects of goodness, truth, and beauty each mystery manifests. Broadly speaking, beauty is easier for me to find in the joyful mysteries, truth in the sorrowful mysteries, and goodness in the glorious mysteries. I doubt I will shock many people by admitting it's hard for me to find anything beautiful in the scourging at the pillar.

But what does the Father think of the Son's sacrifice? There are those who, rejecting the Catholic dogma of the impassibility of God as non-Biblical, insist that the Father suffered in Himself through His Son's Crucifixion. This is not a happy conclusion, if only because it means that God is no more perfectly happy than we are.

Moreover, this doesn't seem to be what the Bible says about how God viewed Jesus' passion. According to Scripture, the Father is pleased by the Son, always but especially by His sacrifice which reconciles all things to God.

How can God be pleased by something as terrible as a crucifixion -- much less the crucifixion of His only Son? One way of responding to this mystery is this: Our sin-mauled world reacts to the presence of the perfect love of God with crucifixion. The blood and death we see is the raging of sin against the hidden love the Father sees and finds pleasing, the love that is beautiful.

Our sin-mauled world lashes out against many things far less beautiful than the perfect love of God; these are our own crosses. It's by accepting God's invitation to unite our lesser crosses to Jesus' perfect cross that we can be united to His perfect love, and so become beautiful ourselves in the sight of the Father.
Yes, I know that it sounds odd
To speak of the beauty of the Cross,
Of the dying Son of God.
Yes, I know that it sounds odd
To embrace the lash and rod.
To gain lasting life by this great loss,
Yes, I know that it sounds odd.
Go, speak of the beauty of the Cross.


No thanks to Singer

Mark Shea quotes a reader who is grateful for the bad example given by Peter Singer:
He has taken one of the Zeitgeist's main axioms, i.e., "No sexual pleasure is illicit" and has taken it to its rational, if repugnant, ends. In so doing, he has exposed a number of deep flaws in contemporary moral philosophy....
Unfortunately, most people who accept the Zeitgeist aren't rational philosophers. They are entirely capable of embracing a principle while rejecting the principle's consequences. They may even celebrate their irrationality with a disparaging reference to the hobgoblin of little minds, or perhaps to Walt Whitman's aptly-named "Song of Myself." (I suppose it's just Biblical illiteracy that would allow any sort of Christian to think it's a good thing to contain multitudes.)

I have a theory that, when a generation embraces a false principle but rejects its corollary, the following generation will accept the corollary. What our parents found monstrous we find discomforting and our children will find normal. People I've told this theory to assure me that there comes a time when the enormity becomes so great that the whole tower of falsehood collapses, but I'm not going to hold my breath until Singer's disciples are laughed out of Western civilization.


Monday, June 24, 2002

The word of the day is triolet, an eight-line poetic form that dates back at least to the Thirteenth Century. The rules for construction are given, artlessly, in this triolet:
Both lines seven and four are the same as one.
And line eight is the same as line two.
Rhyme line three with line four, and you’re halfway done,
Both lines seven and four are the same as one.
Now line five rhymes with four, adding to the fun.
Rhyme line six with line eight and you’re through:
Both lines seven and four are the same as one,
And line eight is the same as line two.
The meter doesn't seem to matter; it's the rhyme and repetition that make a triolet.

If indeed beauty and goodness are fundamentally the same, it would be good to lace this site with beauty. Instead, I'll offer this trioletic impression of my Monday morning blogcrawl:
The bloggers every fault bemoan,
Grave and slight, remote and local.
The bishops’ follies set the tone;
The bloggers every fault bemoan.
I don't have far to cast my stone,
All Church politics is vocal.
The bloggers every fault bemoan,
Grave and slight, remote and local.


Sunday, June 23, 2002

Common sensus

In commenting on the consequences of Humanae Vitae, Anthony Marquis writes:
I do not think that the fathers of the [Second Vatican] Council would ever have imagined a time when the faithful would display a full-throated rejection of Church teaching. The Church is at a chicken-egg impasse: Institutional authority versus sensus fidelium. Church teaching is a teaching only insofar as it has been received by the faithful. We are in a new phase in the history of Church when official pronouncements are soundly rejected by the Catholic faithful.
This is a paragraph in which the errors so reinforce each other that a casual reading might miss them all.

I think Anthony's fundamental mistake is suggested by the words, "Institutional authority versus sensus fidelium." This implies, in context, that the sensus fidelium is the opinion of the majority of lay Catholics. In fact, though, as the words of Lumen Gentium 12 that he quoted immediately before this paragraph teach, the sensus fidelium is to be understood as "the entire people’s supernatural sense of the faith,...'from the bishops to the last of the faithful.'" Thus is is impossible for institutional authority to oppose the sensus fidelium, since the one is a part of the other.

This mistake leads directly into the equivocation of his final sentence. The term "the Catholic faithful" has two meanings that I think Anthony is confusing. One is simply "lay Catholics," the other is more like "Catholics authentically exercising their faith." It seems to beg the question to insist that the Catholics who reject Humanae Vitae are the ones authentically exercising their faith, while the ones who accept it are not.

I think the strongest point that the facts support here is that the sensus fidelium is not manifested clearly enough today to be invoked in arguments on the morality of contraception.


Transcendentals meditation

In replying to Steve Mattson's "Marquis misses the mark" blog entry, a reader comments, "Contraception is not only intrinsically evil, it is aesthetically repulsive."

This is true, for the very simple reason that goodness and beauty are fundamentally the same: goodness is being considered as something desired; and beauty is being considered as something that pleases.

This identity plays out in interesting ways in our fallen world. If a thing is good, but the Church is somehow failing to convince the world that it is good, then the Church is overlooking some presentation of this thing that manifests its beauty. If a thing is bad, then we know it is ugly however well gilded it be by the world.

There are people who are better guided by their aesthetic judgment than by their conscience. This may be because they have trained their conscience in error, or perhaps they are rebelling against training attempts from their youth, but have never thought to apply a false philosophy to their sense of beauty.

Another wrinkle is that some people believe everything that pleases them is good and everything that displeases them is evil. This may be true of the angels, but our aesthetics have been marred by sin, just like our will to do good. Our judgment, of both beauty and goodness, needs to inform itself according to something external to us.

A related problem is that some people think other people mean nothing more than, "This displeases me," when they say, "This is evil." If morality is merely aesthetics, and if there's no arguing over aesthetic taste, then there's no point in arguing with someone who tells you something is evil. This is a tough position to argue against, since there is so much truth to it. In fact, it would be the truth, if we were unfallen. And, despite the fact that original sin "is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved," as Chesterton put it in Orthodoxy, there are plenty of people who don't believe in it.


Friday, June 21, 2002

Putting vice to good use

Recently the "What deadly sin are you?" quiz made the rounds, and at least one person said they were Sloth. This leads me to ask: If they were truly slothful, would they really have gone to the trouble to take the quiz?

Perhaps they would, if they did so to escape the weariness of fulfilling their religious duty; following St. Gregory, St. Thomas defines the capital sin of sloth (acedia), not as simple laziness, but as "sorrow for spiritual good." [ST II-II, 35, 1] What brings you sorrow you want to avoid, so a slothful person (in the "seven deadly sins" sense) avoids those acts that bring him closer to God, because he finds them burdensome and wearying.

The daughters of sloth are, according to St. Gregory, "malice, spite, faint-heartedness, despair, sluggishness in regard to the commandments, [and] wandering of the mind after unlawful things." [Moralia xxxi, 45, quoted in ST II-II, 35, 4] If you'll grant me a confessional moment, I will admit to faint-heartedness and sluggishness in regard to the commandments, which St. Thomas interprets as avoidance of spiritual goods that lead to salvation in matters of difficulty (faint-heartedness) and in matters of common righteousness (sluggishness).

Significantly, St. Thomas treats sloth in his treatise on charity. (Specifically, sloth is a vice directed against charity's joy in the Divine good. [ST II-II, 35, 2]) Meanwhile, one of the acts of charity he identifies is fraternal correction.

Now, fraternal correction has always been a very popular aspect of Christianity, even when it does not, strictly speaking, arise from charity. And fraternal correction of the American episcopacy is the break-out fad of 2002 among Catholic laity (and others).

As a slothful man, though, I am sluggish to join in (a fact that has not gone unnoticed). I am, in fact, so sluggish that I prefer to think up imaginative alternatives to explain what others explain by the bishops' sinfulness. For example:

One matter on which numerous American Catholics have expressed the desire to fraternally correct the American bishops is the voice-vote defeat of Bishop Bruskewitz's amendment to investigate the roles homosexuality and dissent played in fomenting the molestation and cover-up crisis. That the amendment was defeated is taken as a sign of the bishops' pusillanimity; that it was done on a voice vote is taken as a sign that the bishops who voted against it didn't want it known that they voted against it.

Maybe the bishops are cowards; maybe they don't want people to know they are cowards. Or maybe (and here is where I channel my sluggishness into my imagination) a majority of the bishops saw the purpose of last week's meeting as crafting a charter and norms for dealing with accusations of abuse of minors by Church personnel. Maybe they thought that such a charter getting 95% of the bishops' votes was more important, that day, than fighting over the meaning and import of Bishop Bruskewitz's amendment and providing more material for reactive commentators of all stripes to root through in their rush to excoriate should the final charter fail to meet all of their demands. Maybe some of the bishops -- who's to say what fraction of the 252 with a vote -- were acting not out of cowardice but out of prudence.

It's an improbable idea, I realize, that a significant fraction of American bishops are able, at a specific moment in specific circumstances, to act virtuously rather than viciously, but it is by just such improbable ideas that I sustain my sluggishness.


Hand in hand

There's been some talk recently about the various reactions to the "Christ in Majesty" mosaic in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

There is a spot in the pews of the Great Upper Church where, looking up toward the mosaic (which is on the ceiling behind the main altar), the statue of Mary on top of the baldacchino is aligned such that the left hand of Mary appears to rest in the left hand of Christ. (Christ's hand is, of course, enormously bigger. If you've never been in the Basilica: the mosaic is the dominant feature of the Great Upper Church.)

This is an interesting perspective. We might imagine Mary leading the toddler Jesus around by the hand; or firmly gripping His wrist on a certain trip home from Jerusalem; or clasping the dead and bloodied hand after they took down His body; or looking in wonder at that same hand, now glorified, some days later.

And, too, it is Jesus' hand -- pierced forevermore by a nail, as the mosaic clearly shows -- that raised her body and soul from her tomb, and placed her on her throne in Heaven. And the same spirit that informs that hand formed her immaculate, blessed her with the singularly greatest joy of creation, sustained her in her sorrows, and guided her sinless to her eternal home.

As with all true aspects of Jesus, perhaps the awe-full expression He assumes in the "Christ in Majesty" mosaic is more richly understood when contemplated, at least in part, in the context of His relationship with His mother Mary, the Immaculate Conception, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.


Thursday, June 20, 2002

Rumor watch

I can't verify this, but I've heard that the reform group Voice of Catholics for Canon Law (VOCCaL) has disbanded, having discovered that its name is prohibited by canon law.


Buy Tim Drake's book

Saints of the Jubilee is now available as an electronic book from 1stBooks. Buy it now for $3.95, and buy it again later when it comes out as a paperback.

Saints of the Jubilee is a collection of biographical essays on people who were canonized or beatified during the Great Jubilee of 2000. Conceived, edited, and brought forth by Tim Drake, its subjects include:
  • the Martyrs of Nowogrodek (by Kathryn Lively)
  • Andrew the Catechist (by Kathryn Mulderink)
  • Blessed Cristobal Magallanes and Companions (by Ann Ball)
  • Blessed Pedro Calungsod (by Kathryn Lively)
  • Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marto (by Kathryn Mulderink)
  • St. Maria Josefa of the Heart of Jesus (by Patti Dansereau)
  • St. Katharine Drexel (by Tom Kreitzberg)
  • St. Augustine Tchao and the Chinese Martyrs (by Christine Haapala with Fr. Matthew Carr)
  • St. Faustina Kowalska (by Mark Kwasny)
Sts. Katharine Drexel and Faustina Kowalska are yet two more of my patron saints; canonizationwise, 2000 was a good year for me.


The paradoxes of Mr. Beste

Louder Fenn, Lane Core, and Minute Particulars have taken up USS Clueless's challenge that a variant of Russell's Paradox proves that God is not omnipotent. Roughly speaking, their answer is, "Well of course; you're using the wrong definition of 'omnipotent.'"

They're right, of course, but I don't think we need to appeal to St. Thomas to answer the charge. (Not that lack of need should ever stop us from appealing to St. Thomas.)

Den Beste's argument reads in part:
Define the universe set V to be all actions. Within that we define two subsets G representing all the actions God is capable of, and G' representing all actions God is not capable of....

Let us define act A to be identify a member of G'. A is an action and therefore a member of V....
We can stop right there. That A is an action is an assertion that needs to be proved. Notionally it is an action, when we think about it we think of it as an action, but that's an artifact of grammar. "Tie a rainbow to my thought" is another such notional action, but "Tie a rainbow to my thought" is not a member of the set V of all actions. For a thing to actually be an action, it needs to be actable.

What has been demonstrated (if not strictly proven) on USS Clueless is that the set of all actions can be mapped onto the set of all grammatical actions (i.e., constructs of the form "verb object"), but that such a mapping is not one-to-one. This is, in effect, the mathematical way of saying what other Catholic bloggers have said: "To make a rock too heavy for God to lift is not a real thing, it's a non-thing, and as Frank Sheed says, with God no-thing is impossible."


Wednesday, June 19, 2002

A new reform group

Steve Schultz is pulling together a list of newly created Church reform groups. Since I don't know of any, I thought I'd found one myself, called

Reform the Hell out of The Church

Mission Statement: The mission of Reform the Hell out of The Church (ReHTCh) is, literally, to reform the hell (i.e., all demonic influences) out of the Church. Signs of demonic influence include, but are not limited to: good-for-nothing bishops; priests who do not humbly accept criticism; poor congregational singing; noisy children and the parents who spoil them; parking lot traffic snarls between the 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Masses on Palm Sunday; anything to do with Massachusetts politics; and youth ministers.

Recognizing that it wasn't the Second Vatican Council that let the Church go to hell, but rather attempts to implement the directives of the Council, ReHTCh is determined to reform the hell out of the Church by
  • setting up an Internet discussion group for people who believe exactly as we do to exchange the same anecdotes; and
  • writing blistering letters and articles condemning demonic influences in the Church for publication in the ReHTCh newsletter, Ad Remum Dareris.
Addendum: I've been informed that I ought to point out that ReHTCh should not be confused with the non-profit organization Reform Hell Out Of The Church (RHOOTCh), whose mission is to get the Vatican to open a discussion with the laity on whether damnation is a man-made tradition that should be set aside.


Tuesday, June 18, 2002

What Christians do

Once a bunch of Lay Dominican inquirers were talking about when to say the various offices of the Liturgy of the Hours. You know, like if you sleep in till 10 a.m., do you go with Morning Prayer or Mid-Morning Prayer, or if you're out till 9 p.m. do you do Evening Prayer or Night Prayer.

The friar who for his sins had agreed to be the spiritual advisor of this newly-founded chapter, when asked for his opinion on these matters, shifted in his seat and answered, "Christians pray."

This may be the best two-word sermon I've ever heard.


Poles apart

Greg Popcak of Heart, Mind & Strength has an interesting diagnosis of two irrational behaviors exhibited by American Catholics. One is interventionism, according to which fixing the problems with the Church is entirely up to personal action of the interventionist. The other is inspirationism, a passive acceptance that the Holy Spirit will make everything better. People who find themselves bouncing between these two poles exhibit "Catholic Bipolar Disorder."

I, too, have noticed some irrational behaviors among American Catholics lately. The most common of these might be called inlocoparentism. An inlocoparentist professes absolute moral certainty of precisely what the Holy Father must do, today, to whom, and with what implement, if the Church in the U.S. is not to be wiped out tomorrow.

Another is indolentism, whose exhibitors insist that responding to the crisis is entirely up to some person or persons other than themselves, who after all have never molested a child nor covered up for a molester.

Some American Catholics also show signs of inextremisism, the belief that every bishop in the United States needs to be banished to a monastery to do penance for the rest of his life.

The most dire irrational behavior, however -- the one with the least hope of recovery -- may be influentialism, the sense that what the individual says should or does affect what happens in the Church.


Monday, June 17, 2002

Our duty too

Rod Dreher quotes Bishop Bruskewitz of Lincoln at last Friday's Catholics United for the Faith bishop's conference "postmortem report":
The avuncular bishop, who is considered a right-wing fringe figure by most of his colleagues, cited the 14th-century St. Catherine of Siena, "an illiterate nun who is now a doctor of the Church," as a model.

"She was brave enough to tell the pope off when he needed telling off," said Bruskewitz. "She did her duty. We must too."
I wonder what the CUF crowd would have thought had they been told that St. Catherine (who was neither illiterate nor a nun) explicitly taught that neither the laity nor secular authorities are to attack any priest or bishop, however evil he may be (which, in the 14th Century, may have been very evil indeed). Instead, they are to resort to prayer in perfect charity.


A holy fool's folly?

Emily Stimpson is disquieted by the spectacle of modern American bishops:
I’m tired of the bishops being politic, and I’m tired of ecclesiastics who remind me of all the congressman, senators, and bureaucrats I left behind in Washington....
I don’t want politic bishops. I want holy bishops. I want bishops who stand up for Christ and His Church, who loudly proclaim the truth of God’s teachings, and who do the right thing, publicity be damned.
I know that’s unrealistic and probably not even wise. The demands of a modern day diocese, current divisions within the Church, and the omnipresent press all seem to call for a bishop skilled in the art of prudential diplomacy.
I think it's probably a good thing, for the sake of the faith of many Catholics now living (myself included), that we don't have any videotapes of the vast majority of Church councils and synods. What might we think of the sight of St. Peter declaring that mistakes were made, or St. Paul upbraiding him while looking out of the corner of his eye for the cameras?

Emily writes, "There are few things I would love to see more right now than a holy fool in a mitre, a Saint Francis in episcopal garb."

I think that would be entertaining, and it would certainly give me something to talk about other than my own actions, but I suspect that St. Francis would have been a disaster from start to finish as a bishop, his successes as a teacher and sanctifier overshadowed by his failures as a governor.

Maybe not; God's strength is made perfect in human weakness.

Still, while we don't seem to have a Saint Francis in episcopal garb, we do have an Emily Stimpson in lay garb. I'm in lay garb, too, as are most American Catholics waiting for God to raise up a saint to lead the Church out of the current mess.

So why isn't God doing what we're telling Him to do?


He ain't heavy, he's my brother priest

Amy Welborn didn't like some of the things she heard last week:
The hesitancy to enact "zero tolerance" we saw in Dallas on the part of some bishops was explicitly stated as a reluctance to "rat on" priests (the Rockford guy) and a sense that it would be difficult to go back to the diocese and "face my brother priests" with this kind of policy.

Why is the existence of this self-protective ethos, that sees loyalty to the brotherhood as the highest value, so difficult for lay people to admit?
I think another important question is this: Why is the sense that it will be difficult for bishops to face their brother priests with this kind of policy interpreted as a self-protective ethos that sees loyalty to the brotherhood as the highest value?

Priests are not bishops' employees, nor are they merely their assistants. According to the Vatican II decree Christus Dominus, the bishop together with diocesan clergy
form one presbytery and one family whose father is the bishop... The relationships between the bishop and the diocesan priests should rest most especially upon the bonds of supernatural charity so that the harmony of the will of the priests with that of their bishop will render their pastoral activity more fruitful. [CD 28]
It isn't hard for me to imagine that a bishop telling his spiritual sons he may disown them if they hug the wrong child could injure the harmony of wills necessary for their pastoral activity to be more fruitful. It isn't hard for me to imagine a father expressing concern about exposing his sons to a risk of grave injustice.


Sunday, June 16, 2002

I was thinking more along the lines of, "Happy 25th Anniversary!"

Mark Shea mentions his friend Greg Krehbiel's letter, and instructs us, "Go thou and do likewise."

You can read Greg Krehbiel's letter and make your own decision. As for me, my next letter to my bishop -- Cardinal McCarrick, the same as Mr. Krehbiel -- will look substantially different.

In particular, I will not be listing conditions that the Pope must meet -- such as laicizing bishops who do not live up to my standards -- in order for me to support my local church at more than a token amount. This, to me, would be too much like me telling my father I won't help take care of my sister until my grandfather makes my uncle stop drinking.

In fact, if someone sent me this letter anonymously, I would probably think that it betrayed a very confused ecclesiology, one according to which a parish in one diocese can reasonably be penalized for the behavior of the bishop of another diocese and the same extra-diocesan authority that allocates administrative duties within a diocese also allocates preaching and teaching duties to the bishop of that diocese.


Friday, June 14, 2002

He's gone mad

The heavy weather across the region in recent days has caused Steve Schultz to lose his mind.

He has announced a contest for the worst original free verse poem.

Speaking as a former high school literary magazine editor, I can say that there is no such thing as "the worst free-verse poetry." If you can't find your copy of the 1982 edition of The Gryphon, then you can verify this by reading the poems published by the International Library of Poetry. (N.B.: The ILP is not, in my judgment, a company that makes a fetish of corporate integrity.)

In short, there is no lower bound to the bad poetry humans are capable of. Any poem can be made worse; most poems are.

(The same absence of a lower bound holds for human fatuity as well. I used to think, each time I learned of a new low, "That's it. That's as big of an ass any human being can make of himself." Then I found out that there are English-speaking people who, in all sincerity, refer to the Supreme Being as "Godde." This in itself is merely silly, but the reason they do this is to split the difference between "God" and "Goddess." Any species capable of that is capable of anything, and worse.)


Fun with numbers

Emily Stimpson says this story "says the loopy, lefty, blatantly hereretical group, Call to Action, is the largest lay movement in the country." A reader counterclaims that the Knights of Columbus holds this distinction.

What the story says, though, is that Call to Action is "the nation's largest Catholic Church reform organization." I don't think the KoC will challenge CtA on that.

This brings to mind various claims about how the only vocations crisis the more traditional religious congregations and the more "conservative" dioceses have is where to put all the novices and seminarians. (Why do such claims always include the expression "bursting at the seams"? Do they all share a common source, perhaps a Wanderer article from 1993?) The conclusion, of course, is that tradition leads to vocations, while non-tradition doesn't.

I am sympathetic to the conclusion, but I think we need to be careful about arguing from statistics.

Say there are ten religious congregations; one is "traditional" (habits, silence, however you want to define it), the other nine are not. Now suppose there are ten postulants; three are "traditionally"-inclined, the other seven are not. Evenly distribute the postulants among the congregations, according to inclination. Then the "traditional" congregation gets three postulants, seven "non-traditional" get one each, and two "non-traditional" get none.

One way to interpret this is that the "traditional" approach (again, defined however you like) draws on average more than three times the number of postulants that the "non-traditional" approach does, and therefore there are more people interested in "traditional" vocations. I'd argue, though, that the correct way to interpret this is that the supply of "traditional" congregations does not meet the demand. If four of the "non-traditional" congregations fold, and four new "traditional" congregations spring up (encouraged, perhaps, by the phenomenal growth of the existing "traditional" one), but the ratio of "traditional"-to-non among postulants stays the same, then we'd see "non-traditional" congregations geting more than twice as many vocations, on average.

These are made-up ratios, of course, although in the claims I've heard there usually are fewer than six "orthodox" dioceses; if there really were only six "orthodox" dioceses, then they'd have about three times the number of vocations as the others even if only 10% of the seminarians were "orthodox." But my point is that the Holy Spirit isn't necessarily speaking to us through quoted statistics.

Another obvious consideration is that quality, not quantity, is what is needed. St. Thomas More once complained that there were too many priests in England, meaning too many men who entered the priesthood as a comfortable profession rather than a holy vocation. He was correct.


Thursday, June 13, 2002

What the scandal is really about

Fr. Jim Tucker provides another reason for keeping the Roman Catholic priesthood [mostly] celibate: It leaves priests free to receive big shipments of books from without having to sneak them onto the bookshelves and hope no one notices. Celibate priests have the time to make sick calls that might otherwise be spent trying to explain how, since Jungmann's Mass of the Roman Rite is really more of a reference book, when you think about it, it shouldn't count against the "one book in, one book out" rule.

Let's call this what it is: bibliophilia. Attraction to books, books, books, books, and books.


Whisky and cigars? Talk about a throwback.

Fr. Robert Johansen likes Laphroiag and dislikes sauerkraut.

I am with him on the whisky (as my wife asks, "Is that the one that tastes like dirt?"), but can it be that the reverend father disdains that noblest of human sandwiches, the Reuben? (The cheesesteak is, of course, a gift of the angels.)

As for his dislike of suffering fools, while I myself don't often react to foolishness with the gladness demanded by charity, I am extremely grateful toward those who do.


Wednesday, June 12, 2002


Greg Popcak calls me a "coy, but groundless, commentator" for calling his posts about bishops committing mortal sin an invitation to play Spot the Mortal Sin!.

He is mistaken.

I am not coy. I have not been coy since I don't know when. Coyness irritates me almost as much as spunkiness. If you think I am being coy, I am probably merely failing to be subtle.

Am I groundless? That depends on where I am standing.

I have no reason to believe that I am capable of judging whether another person's particular act was a mortal sin, specifically whether performing that act cut off that person from God's sanctifying grace. I do have reason to doubt that news reports contain sufficient information to judge whether Cardinal Law committed mortal sin in 1993. Therefore, for me to speculate in public on the matter would be nothing more than play, and perhaps calumnous play at that.

Greg says he is "exercising the proper lay office to be a prophet." As I told him by email, I have no reply to that; that is his discernment to make. I have no more received prophetic insight to condemn him than I have Cardinal Law.

In an email message, though, Greg seems to go further and insist that my refusal to come to judgment about Cardinal Law's 1993 act is a cop out. I do not agree, since for the reasons I've just given it might well be sinful for me to do this. Furthermore, as I am neither a resident of the Boston Archdiocese nor in a position of authority or influence in the Church, I do not believe that I have any positive duty to study the matter and come to even a tentative judgment on this.

Finally, I find Greg's entire argument about whether Cardinal Law committed mortal sin, and his reasons why it matters, unconvincing:

1. He writes, "In other words, these priests would probably not have continued to abuse others, and certainly would not have been able to abuse others as priests without at least the "implicit formal cooperation" of their bishops." But according to the definition he quotes, formal cooperation is participation in an act "either for its own sake or as a means to some other goal." Since it cannot be credibly said that Cardinal Law's decisions enabling pederasty were made for the sake of pederasty, or to use acts of pederasty as a means to some other goal, his decisions cannot credibly be called formal cooperation of any kind.

2. Of course, this leaves the possibility of material cooperation of one kind or another, but since I am not a moral theologian my doubts concerning further aspects of Greg's analysis are more tentative. The website Greg references defines immediate material cooperation, which is morally illicit, this way:
Immediate material cooperation occurs when the cooperator participates in circumstances that are essential to the commission of an act, such that the act could not occur without this participation.
I don't think this applies to assigning a pederast to parish ministry; my guess is the word "circumstances" has a more restricted technical meaning here (i.e., "who, what, where, by what aids, why, how, and when;" see ST I-II, 7, 3). Otherwise, we could say that, in giving birth, a woman immediately materially cooperates in every act her child performs during their lifetime. If, then, we are driven all the way back to mediate material cooperation, we are in very murky waters indeed if we try to judge an act in which all circumstances aren't known.

3. He writes, "I am not so sure that it is as obvious to the bishops, and it is certainly not obvious to them that this sin could be mortal." If it is not obvious to someone that their act could be a mortal sin, then their act is not a mortal sin. Thus we can set aside Greg's concerns about the effect of mortal sin upon the bishops' souls in this case.

4. He writes that any mortal sins committed by a bishop in this matter should be forgiven, but "certainly not before being required to do real and public penance for their very real and public sin." But mortal sin is forgiven when the penitent is absovled. We could demand more than God does, probably we often do, but I don't think we should be setting policy based on our own hard-heartedness.

5. He writes, of the man who fails "to heal the damage to the Body of Christ which his actions have caused":
...the Church tells us that upon his death, he will wait in Purgatory for the wound he has inflicted on the Body of Christ to heal itself, desperately and painfully longing for the fullness of the Beatific Vision, which could take generations upon generations upon generations if his children and/or his children's children repeat his mistakes or continue to suffer the consequences of them.
I don't say that the Church doesn't tell us that this is what happens; I only say that the Church has never told me this, and that it is quite different from the things the Church has told me about purgatory, and even from some of the more mystical teachings that have been approved without being confirmed.


What kind of ex-seminarian are you?

A. Well-adjusted husband and father; only lingering effect is occasional cuss in Latin.
B. Embittered Feeneyite crank; booted out for cussing at the modernist rector in Latin.
C. Mild neurotic; sometimes wonders why no one ever hit on him.
D. Loyal son of the Revolution; those 2 1/2 years confer full authority to proclaim that the Church is Wrong about Everything!
E. Nostalgic; leaving was the right decision, but misses the showers.

More questions: Is it possible that, even counting the women, more Catholic bloggers are or were seminarians than not? Do men who attended U.S. Catholic seminaries blog at a rate higher than the general population? Should we be concerned?



Rod Dreher has a piece on National Review Online today that I expect will be widely lauded -- although, considered as journalism, it's not much more than a rehash of what has been written about this for months, right down to the opinion that "the pope is too enfeebled to give the matter the close attention it deserves." (Imagine him wasting his time kissing up to some foreigner named Bartholomew when something important is happening in the United States!)

But one sentence in the article stands out for me:
The uncomprehending stares Deal Hudson received from Vatican insiders when he tried to explain to them what's happening to the Church here are more unsettling, at least to me, because it shows how cut off the leaders at Catholicism's central command are from the reality on the ground in America.
Is this true? Is Catholicism's central command really Vatican City? I always understood it to be in heaven, with by the love of God an equally real presence in tabernacles throughout the world.

If Catholicism's central command is truly the Vatican, then the bishops should cancel their meeting and go fishing.


Tuesday, June 11, 2002

I have to be careful

John Betts vamps further on St. Thomas More, concluding with a paragraph on his friend St. John Cardinal Fisher. (It is on the anniversary of St. John's dies natali that their joint feast is observed.)

I've read St. John's Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms (the mind boggles at the thought of an American bishop nowadays giving a series of sermons like this) but haven't had a chance to read an extended biography on him. I'm not even sure I should, because I already have eighteen patron saints, and I have the impression that he could easily become another.

This does remind me that I need to come up with a recipe for St. John Fish to serve for dinner next Saturday. For some reason, what's coming to mind is baking a whole monkfish in aluminum foil, with herbs and butter, topped with halved Roma tomatoes (with one tomato half placed firmly on the head).

Dessert will, of course, be St. Thoma S'more Pie (graham cracker crust, chocolate pudding, marshmallow fluff, chilled).


Memento mori

I've been on a St. Thomas More kick lately, as a lead up to his feast day next Saturday. I just finished Peter Ackroyd's biography, saw A Man for All Seasons over the weekend, and am now reading The Last Letters of Thomas More, edited by Alvaro de Silva. (I'm pleased to learn, courtesy of a Zenit link from John Betts, that the Prince of Wales is getting into the More is Better spirit, too.)

Ackroyd's book was excellent, as all the reviewers said, but I couldn't help but think that he joins most of the other commentators in using too simple a key to unlock St. Thomas. Specifically, I think his explanations of More's actions as being driven simply from devotion to tradition are in places overly superficial. Ackroyd certainly gives us a three-dimensional picture of St. Thomas, in contrast to the more common one- or two-dimensional caricatures, but I have a feeling that it takes more than three dimensions to fully capture him. (I think I prefer the R. W. Chambers biography; I haven't yet read Richard Marius. John Farrow's pious biography is available online, as is the life by William Roper, More's son-in-law.)

Although I'd read and enjoyed the script of the original play, I was a little disappointed by the multi-Oscar winning movie of A Man for All Seasons. Robert Bolt, the playwright and screenwriter, somehow manages to show More's wit without his humor, and there's a certain, er, disjointed linearity to the way the story is told -- the king is nuts, Cromwell grinds More in the mills of the king's justice, Rich sells his soul ("But for Wales!" A great line.), More loses his head -- that robs the story of much of its intelligibility. Bolt (a non-Catholic, like Ackroyd and Chambers) intended his story to be about the triumph of the self, and at this I admit he succeeded, but the Thomas More he popularized is too flat to have ever conceived Utopia.

You can't think about St. Thomas for long without thinking about conscience. Of the acts available to fallen man, acts of conscience are among the most peculiar. It's sometimes thought of as the little voice in your head that tells you what you should do, but often people seem to be more interested with what the little voices in others' heads are saying.

To say that your conscience does not permit you to do something is to invite the inference that everyone's conscience ought not permit them to do it, too. But this inference misses an important distinction. Conscience tells me, "It is wrong for me to do this," not "It is wrong to do this (and hence, it is wrong for you)."

It can be difficult to recognize the difference. You might say, "I'm not claiming it's wrong for you. That's for you to decide," but to some that sounds a lot like, "Since it's wrong for me, it's wrong for you. If your moral compass is too screwey to see that, don't blame me." If we had a good theory of how conscience works, we might be able to avoid such misunderstandings.

On the other hand, Tudor England had a perfectly good theory of conscience and it didn't save St. Thomas More. At least, it didn't save his life.


Putting granny out of my misery

Louder Fenn is doing yeoman's work challenging USS Clueless on euthanasia, but I think he makes a small mistake when he writes of USS Clueless captain Den Beste, "He is relying on an emotion, namely love."

I'd say the emotion is not love (but then I would, wouldn't I, since I don't think of love as primarily an emotion), but compassion.

Com-passion. Shared suffering. This, I think, is the emotion we feel when someone we love (that's supposed to be everybody, right?) is in pain. And while it is a noble emotion, before we let it rule our will we should recognize that, if we are feeling compassion, then ending the other's suffering ends our own suffering as well.

For someone who sees suffering as the greatest evil, this might seem like a benefit. For someone who sees suffering as potentially redeeming, or as a potential source of meaning in one's life, this might make the good of euthanasia more doubtful.


Monday, June 10, 2002

Turning the cheek

Greg Popcak of HMS Blog, having read that I'm not joining the Spot the Mortal Sin! game he's proposed, asks by email, "What exactly is wrong with calling sin a sin?"

To which I can only answer, simply and precisely, I think there is nothing wrong with calling a sin a sin.


You there! Admire me!

I've received an unsolicited testimonial from Bene Diction, Martin Roth's Canuck sidekick, to the effect that something I wrote in answer to the question "Do Catholics worship Mary?" was "a clear and intelligent response" that "gets high praise for answering in a way young evangelical Protestants can identify with."

I mention this not just to impress upon you my wit, prudence, tact, and broad marketability against the day I show up on your doorstep with a book proposal, but also for whatever benefit what I wrote might offer should you ever be asked questions by a young evangelical Protestant.

Even if (as seems likely, judging by the caliber of people who read Disputations) you're already familiar with Chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium, young Diction's reaction suggests that an artless response quoting the words of the Church can be all that's needed to answer honest questions from non-Catholics of good will.


Sunday, June 09, 2002

Play along at home!

Over on Heart, Mind, and Strength, Gregory Popcak invites us to play Spot the Mortal Sin! Episcopal Edition.

I'd love to join in, but in our house we have a rule that you can't play Spot the Mortal Sin! unless your homework is done, your bed is made, you are free of all attachment to even venial sin, and you receive a prophetic revelation from the Holy Spirit. And I haven't made my bed today.



The Washington Post has a front-page article today, reporting the results of its survey of the number of priests involved in sexual abuse of minors. (Praying the Post has more on this article.)

Just to set the scale, 573 priests have been removed from their ministry for these acts. Of these, 218 (38%) were removed since January 2002, which shows a certain responsiveness to the signs of the times by the bishops. The Post reports that 34 priests guilty of sexual abuse of minors remain in ministry, which is 5.6% of the total (i.e., 573 removed + 34 not removed). A total of 866 priests have been accused since the 1960s (about 1.5% of the 60,000 priests).

I have no strong opinions about what to do with the priests who are guilty, but I think it's worth noting that, judging by the Post's figures, the number of priests currently active in ministry who are believed to be guilty of these isn't huge, considered absolutely (34), as a percentage of those believed guilty (5.6%), or as a percentage of active priests (<0.1%).

No, this isn't a "What's the big deal?" argument. I think the effectiveness of the scandal in pulling 38% of the offenders from active ministry in the past six months speaks for itself.

What this is is an argument that, while issues of what to do about sexual abuse of minors is important for the U.S. bishops to resolve beginning Thursday in Dallas, they do not (pace Michael Kelly) constitute the Church's "greatest existential crisis since the Reformation."

The risk I see is that the bishops will be satisfied by settling these issues, one way or another, without embracing the opportunity for purification and reformation that this crisis offers. That the opportunity, which seems to be widely recognized by bloggers, will not be lost -- by bishops, priests, or laity -- will be the focus of my own prayers this week.