Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Stop Shooting the Messenger, Please

There is so much going on this week I don't know where to start.

Regarding the situation with the Franciscans of the Immaculate, I wanted to respond a fallacy I am seeing repeated on many Catholic blogs, so much now that I daresay it has become the party line on the situation. The fallacy goes something like, "Calm down! The Pope is not rolling back Summorum Pontificum. This action applies to a specific group and concerns internal issues particular to the Franciscans of the Immaculate. There is no general assault on Summorum Pontificum or the ancient rite."

Why do I call it a fallacy? Because it is a fallacious straw man argument. When I first reported on this story, I did not suggest there was any general attack or roll back of Summorum Pontificum, nor did Rorate or any of the other major blogs I know of. And why is it suddenly news that this concerns a particular group with its own specific, internal issues? We all already knew that. Sandro Magister reported that in his initial article.

But how is the fact that this has to do with the issues of one specific group supposed to be a consolation?

Look, I know Pope Francis has the authority, yes, yes. Plentitudo Potestatis. Yes, yes, I know. Please, popular Catholic commentators, let's get this right - The question is not whether the Pope has the power to do what he did. We all agree he does. The question is not whether this is a general attack or assault on the ancient rite. It's not; it is an action pertaining to a very specific situation in a particular order. We all understand that. The original Chiesa article by Sandro Magister said this clearly. These are not the issues, so let's stop restating the facts and pretending like this somehow solves or addresses the problem.

The issue is not even whether Pope Francis contradicted one of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum. Clearly he did. And he's within his right to do so. That's not in question.

As I see it, the real issue is that this establishes a legal corollary to the principle of free celebration of the EF laid down by Benedict XVI. While Benedict XVI stated, "Anyone can celebrate the Extraordinary Form without permission of the ordinary (or with the permission of their superior)", Pope Francis has added the proviso, "Unless there is a good reason to require permission." There may not have been a legal "contradiction" of Summorum, but there has been a drastic interpretive shift in how it is applied. In his decree regarding the Franciscans, Pope Francis has established that the provisions of Summorum can be set aside in particular cases if Rome judges there is good reason. We can debate the merits of this approach, but what is not debatable is that this is a new approach, one that Benedict did not seem to envision when he issued Summorum Pontificum.

If this is not a general attack on Summorum, then why is it troubling? Simply because it puts the existence of the EF Mass back under the aegis of authorities who can now suspend it if they feel there is just cause, and what sorts of "just causes" may potentially be brought forward in the future, no one can tell. In the case of the Franciscans, the mere allegations of disunity by one faction was enough. Now that the principle is established that the freedom granted in Summorum can be set aside for pastoral reasons, the question becomes how broad or narrow will these reasons be interpreted in future cases. It creates a precedent that strengthens the hands of every bishop who would like to extinguish celebration of the EF.

Regarding the divisions within the Franciscans of the Immaculate. Father Angelo Mary Geiger of the FIs in the United States, one of the leading voices of the anti-EF wing of the order, has further enunciated what the nature of these divisions are. As reported on Taylor Marshall's blog, he states that too many of the friars are gravitating towards "radical traditionalism." He defines radical traditionalism as:

a) the denial of the Jewish holocaust
b) the outright denial of Vatican 2 as a valid council
c) rhetorical style of the Rorate Caeli blog
d) the embrace of isolationist sub-culture of Catholicism or “Amish Catholicism”
e) the denial the charismatic gifts and the charistmatic movement
f) sympathy for the Bp Williamson’s style of traditionalism
g) disdain for Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis
h) the belief that Latin Mass Catholics are “A Team” and Novus Ordo Catholics are “B Team”
i) Gnostic ecclesiology – that “traditionalists” form the one true invisible Catholic Church

Okay. Let's look at these one at a time, because I think a lot of this is too vague or unfair:

a) the denial of the Jewish holocaust: While I agree that it is absurdly stupid to deny the reality and fact of the Holocaust, why does this keep coming up as if it is a liturgical issue? This is a historical question, not a doctrinal one. It just seems out of place, and I don't see the intrinsic connection between the Extraordinary Form and Holocaust denial.

b) the outright denial of Vatican 2 as a valid council: Not even the SSPX denies Vatican II is a valid council, let alone non-SSPX traditionalists. I fully affirm the validity of Vatican II. At worst, Traditionalists say that Vatican II can only be reconciled to Tradition with great difficulty; at best, they suggest that some of the documents are ambiguous or need clarification, as Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Schneider recently did, and nobody accused the of being rad trads. This is a straw man attack.

c) rhetorical style of the Rorate Caeli blog: I don't know how a "rhetorical style" can be sufficient to lump one in as a radical traditionalist. There are many sorts of people in this world with many sorts of styles of writing. This is a vague non sequitur.

d) the embrace of isolationist sub-culture of Catholicism or “Amish Catholicism”:
Traditionalists can be isolationist. I have to admit I have noticed this. But then again, perhaps if the EF was more widely available, this would not be the case. If the EF was offered in more than one parish within a seventy mile radius, maybe the conditions would not be so conducive to isolationism? We must also remember that it was not some traditionalist who said to not even eat with a brother who is a sinner, but St. Paul (1 Cor. 5:11); it was not the SSPX who said we should not let those who do not preach the same doctrine into our home "lest you share in his evil deeds", but St. John the Beloved Apostle (2 John 1:11); it was not Bishop Fellay or Rorate Caeli who admonished Catholics to "come out of" our sinful culture lest we share in its punishments, but the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 18:4). While we can never go out of the world, and while we must be lights to the world, all things must be done in moderation - we must not cast our pearls before swine. There has always been an isolationist element to Christianity. What is the life of the desert hermits or the early monks other than an isolationist sub-culture?

e) the denial the charismatic gifts and the charistmatic movement:
This is interesting; is Father Geiger suggesting that denial of the charismatic movement is tantamount to denying the faith? There are many, many Catholics who do not subscribe to the charismatic movement, and by far not all of them are traditionalists. I find it supremely ironic that Father Geiger wants to deny the traditionalist movement because the traditionalists deny the charismatic movement. Both are legitimate expressions of Faith, although one is manifestly inferior to the other. Why should the charismatic movement be given pride of place and elevated to such a degree that to question or deny its legitimacy is put forward as a tenet of "radical" traditionalism? Furthermore, who is denying the charismatic gifts? Traditionalists acknowledge healings, miracles, visions, locutions, even the gift of tongues; SSPXers even acknowledge these - what they deny is that the things being reported in the Catholic charismatic renewal are the same gifts St. Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 12. No traditionalists deny that these gifts exist.

f) sympathy for the Bp Williamson’s style of traditionalism
: "Sympathy" and "style" are too vague to make any response to. What does it mean to "sympathize" with a "style"?

g) disdain for Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis: I do not disdain Pope Francis, nor do I disdain John Paul II. I loved John Paul II and cried when he passed. I think many of his writings are very profound. But I question some of the things that he did. I think he made some serious mistakes. Does that equate to disdain? Do any of you have a brother or sibling who made some very bad choices? Do you "disdain" him or her because of them? Of course not. It is one thing to question the prudence of a person's actions, another to disdain the person. Let us hopefully be able to move past this very elementary distinction between a man and his deeds. Let us also note that, if disagreement with certain prudential actions of the popes constitutes "disdain", then St. Cyprian is guilty of disdaining Pope St. Stephen, St. Athanasius disdained Pope Liberius, and St. Paul disdained St. Peter. All foolish, of course. This sort of ridiculous reasoning only becomes possible when we have adopted the untenable position that every prudential action of a pope must not only be lauded as good, but as the best possible course of action.

h) the belief that Latin Mass Catholics are “A Team” and Novus Ordo Catholics are “B Team”: Again, too vague to be of help. If he means that "Latin Mass Catholics" believe they are superior to Novus Ordo Catholics, then this would certainly be problematic. We are to regard ourselves as the least of all, not a superior sort of Catholic. If we are blessed with greater knowledge or graces, it is only because we are so stupid and impoverished that we need more help; if we have greater graces, it is because we are so dense that we need them. But, on the other hand, there is a valid argument to be made that the Extraordinary Form may be more meritorious than the Novus Ordo, in the subjective sense. While both rites are equally valid, there are other things to consider besides validity, especially in the realm of graces received ex operate operantis; Fr. Ripperger, who I do not agree with all the time, has written extensively on this, and I think he has some valid points. But if we are going to discuss this, let's be precise with our terminology. Phrases like "A Team" and "B Team" do not help.

i) Gnostic ecclesiology – that “traditionalists” form the one true invisible Catholic Church
: Aside from Sedevacantists, I don't know any traditionalists who actually believe this. It is objectively true, however, that the Extraordinary Form preserves much more of the Catholic Tradition than the Novus Ordo. To say this is not to make a statement of ideology, but a statement of fact. To deny it is to deny a point of history. Instead of denying simple facts, let's just acknowledge them and get them out in the open, because only then can we deal with them. To pretend that the Novus Ordo and the developments since Vatican II are these extraordinarily rich embodiments of Catholic Tradition is simply false. They contain some embodiment of Catholic Tradition, but not the most authentic embodiment possible. The sooner we acknowledge that there is a profound discontinuity, the sooner we can get on to fixing it.

Moving on but related to this last point, I think it is time that we vehemently protest against the "shoot the messenger" mentality that so often surrounds these issues. When I offered my opinion a few weeks ago that John Paul II's canonization at this time was imprudent because there were very real objections to his actions that had never been adequately answered for, many people got upset with me. One gentleman on another blog said, "Keep your doubts to yourself, Boniface!" and others suggested such commentary was not helpful to the salvation of souls, etc. Nevermind that Fr. Zuhlsdorf also suggested that the modern canonization process has resulted in a "shift in the criteria" of what constitutes sanctity. But in his case it is a thoughtful reflection; in mine, it is expressing a "doubt."

Let's clear the air: I have no doubts about the legitimacy of John Paul's canonization and I have no problem calling him saint, so I don't know what "doubts" I am expressing. Here's the thing, though - it is not bloggers pointing out scandalous activity that is the problem; the problem is the scandalous activity. Michael Voris reports that Cardinal Timothy Dolan called God "him or her"; Rorate Caeli reports that the same Cardinal Dolan told Muslims to "keep their faith" - and it is Voris and Rorate who are the problem for being mean spirited and negative? In both cases, it was the reporters who were accused of scandalizing the faithful! Is this right? No. Voris and Rorate are not the problem - the problem is a Catholic cardinal, the head of the USCCB at that, calling God "him or her" and telling Muslims to keep their faith. That is the scandal. That is the problem. The problem is not that I report on Cardinal Schönborn participating in a irreverent balloon Mass; the problem is that Cardinal Schönborn participated in a scandalous balloon Mass. If others are too blind or mentally lethargic to make this connection, then it is hardly the fault of those who are awake and alert for perceiving it.

It might be objected that it is not the reporting that is the problem, but the glee with which Traditionalists report these things, because to report such scandals proves their point. I can't speak for anyone else, but I do not report with glee that our Cardinals are embarrassments to the Church, that our pontiffs have actually invoked St. John the Baptist to protect Islam, that there is a gay lobby in the Roman Curia. What real Catholic could report these things with glee? I report them with tears, with consternation, with indignation, with righteous zeal, with fervent prayers to heaven that our exile will be mercifully ended, but not with glee. Never with glee.

So no more of this "shoot the messenger" nonsense. It's not Jeremiah's fault that he predicts bad news, and throwing him in the well because you don't like his prophesying isn't going to solve anything. The fact is that this farce that we are in the middle of a great restoration (the "New Springtime") is coming apart and everybody knows it. The Emperor has no clothes and everyone is scrambling to make sense of it.

Let us close with the famous quote of St. John Eudes,

"The most evident mark of God's anger, and the most terrible castigation He can inflict upon the world, is manifest when He permits His people to fall into the hands of a clergy who are more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than the charity and affection of devoted shepherds. They abandon the things of God to devote themselves to the things of the world and, in their saintly calling of holiness, they spend their time in profane and worldly pursuits. When God permits such things, it is a very positive proof that He is thoroughly angry with His people and is visiting His most dreadful wrath upon them."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Jesus' words at the meeting with Caiaphas

A month ago, I did a post on the website on contradictions in the Bible (here) which scrutinized the so-called "inconsistencies" in the Bible that are constantly put forward by skeptics as proof that the Bible is not inspired. Thanks be to God, this post has been viewed more than any other article I have ever written and I have received several notes of thanks from individuals seeking to convert their atheist friends as well as from Christians wavering in their face under the withering assault of the new atheists who found my rebuttal to the claims of the skeptics vivifying to their faith.

I am currently putting together part 2 in this series, looking at another alleged 65 contradictions in the New Testament. The thing that strikes me as I go through these is that the vast majority of the "inconsistencies" simply are the result of ignorance and unwillingness to do a little digging. As an example of the sorts of things that are being thrown out there as 'contradictions', look at these two verses from the trial of Jesus, in which Christ's response to Caiaphaas in John is juztaposed with his response in the synoptics and an alleged contradiction is asserted:

       Jesus answers to the effect of “You said it, not me”. Mt.26:64; Lk.22:70.
       Jesus answers definitely, “I am”. Mk.14:62.

The difference in wording here no doubt has do with the fact that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Aramaic and preserved Aramaic idioms while Mark wrote in Greek for a Gentile audience and reported the exact meaning of Jesus' idiomatic phrase rather than the wording. Let's look at this for a moment.

What Jesus said in response to the question of the high priest was an Aramaic idiomatic expression that is commonly translated as "You have said it!" Modern translators have had a hard time with this phrase (almost every translation renders it differently), as idioms are steeped in the context of a particular culture and don't always translate well, especially over millennia. Idioms are the hardest thing to translate, because they introduce a dilemma or reproducing either the exact wording or the meaning, but usually not both.

For example, suppose you ask me how I like your cooking, respond with the common American idiom, "It's the cat's ass!", meaning, "I like it a lot." How would we meaningfully translate "It's the cat's ass" into another language while accurately conveying the meaning? If we translate it as "I like it a lot", then we lose the idiom. If we translate it word for word, the meaning will be lost in cultures who do not use that particular idiom.

Furthermore, what would people 2,000 years from now assume when they read that someone referred to a dinner as "the cat's ass"? If there was no knowledge of English idioms, one could actually get the opposite meaning from the phrase (i.e., that I thought the food was so horrid that I referred to it as feline anus).

We have the same problem here. Matthew, who did his Gospel in Aramaic, uses the actual Aramaic idiom, which translates as "You say so" or "You have said it," which is similar to the English response "You got it!" or "You said it!", and ultimately means, "Yes." St. Mark, as the secretary of St. Peter, was writing for a Gentile audience who would have no knowledge of the Hebrew idiom. He thus translates this difficult idiom as "I am", which preserves the actual meaning of Jesus' words in a way the Gentile audience could understand.

That's just a taste of the sort of things I'm working through. Please say a prayer for all those whose faith is troubled or shaken by these sorts of spurious, ignorant argument.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

USC Videos: On Indulgences

Last week the chatter was all about canonizations given the announcement of the impending canonization of Bl. John XXIII and Bl. John Paul II. This week the (false) news report that Pope Francis is offering an indulgence for following him on Twitter has everybody talking about indulgences. What is an indulgence? Few Catholic dogmas are more misunderstood. In this 13:45 video, which I made at the request of a friend who inquired about the Church's mind on this matter, I present an off-the-cuff theological and historical overview of this important Catholic doctrine.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Urgent prayers needed for blogger and friend

Please remember in your prayers today a fellow Catholic blogger and old friend of mine, Thomas Peters, who is best known for his blog American Papist (now a subsidiary blog of the Catholic Vote website). Last night Tom broke his neck and is now in critical condition, although he is in stable condition. Tom and I were both at Ave Maria together 2002-2005 and graduated together. I have not seen him in years, but I count him among my friends and he is still dear to me. He just got married to his college sweet-heart a month ago.

Please keep Thomas Peters and his family in your prayers and offer your rosaries for him.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Athanasius Schneider: Clarification of Vatican II Needed

The Most Reverend Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan has become the most recent bishop to speak up on ambiguities and problematic texts in the documents of Vatican II and speak up in favor of an authoritative interpretation or clarification of these documents in continuity with Catholic Tradition.

His comments came in the context of a lengthy interview with Michael Voris of Church Militant TV, who caught the Bishop in Rome and somehow got a 34 minute interview out of him. Click here to check out Michael Voris' interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider; it is long, but well worth it if you have the time.

This is not the first time Schneider has made such comments; in 2010 he called for a "Syllabus of Errors in Interpretations of Vatican II" (see here); but in his comments to Voris he goes further and explains what he specifically objects to in some of the Council documents and what sorts of clarifications are needed.

Bishop Schneider begins by stating that the biggest error relating to the Council is a basic approach to the Council itself that sees it as a rupture with Tradition. In this, he echoes the words of Benedict XVI, who popularized the phrase "hermeneutic of rupture" in his now famous 2005 homily. Schneider notes that this presumption of rupture can be "liberal or traditional", though as his subsequent comments explain, he sees the liberal rupture as much more grave than any potential traditionalist rupture. His proposition for remedying this is a formal declaration that the Council should be interpreted in continuity with Tradition and that the Council Fathers had not no intention to make a break with the past.

Like Cardinal Kasper, Schneider notes that it is not simply a problem with interpretation of the Council, what Benedict XVI called the "council of the media", but with the some of the documents themselves. He states that "majority of the texts of the Council are very rich and traditional", but some are "controversial or ambiguous" and suffer from a "lack of precision." Some of these documents are "open to different interpretations" (what Kasper called "compromise formulas"). Thus, following Kasper, he admits an ambiguity in the documents.

During the interview he is asked about Kasper's comments, and far from denying or contradicting them, he states that Kasper's comments are correct and need to be officially stated by the Magisterium. He calls for an official clarification of the documents of Vatican II, a sort of authoritative interpretative key to ensure that the documents are understood in continuity with Tradition. He states that the Church needs to offer "some clarifications or some indications of the misinterpretations...because we have to be very, very concrete" and suggests perhaps an explanatory note, as Paul VI offered for Lumen Gentium.

By the way, I had proposed a similar concept a few weeks back - that an authoritative interpretation of Vatican II was needed.

Whereas Schneider does not follow Kasper in discussing the intentionality of these ambiguities, he does discuss some very concrete examples of specific passages he finds problematic and asks for the Magisterium to "give us clear, very clear, interpretations of some very specific subjects." He suggests that this clarification should come from the Pope himself.

So, what ambiguities does the Most Reverend Athanasius Schneider find problematic?

His first example is the doctrine of collegiality found in Lumen Gentium. Without citing any passages in particular, he opines that the document teaches the headship of the Pope in an "insufficient" way and that the document can be read to mean that the Pope is a first among equals who has only a of primacy of honor, ignoring or downplaying his actual jurisdiction and role as episcopus episcoporum. Schneider does not cite a text directly so I will not comment any further except to say that the view of collegiality that Schneider finds "insufficient" is very common manner.

Staying in Lumen Gentium, he spends quite a bit of time with Lumen Gentium 16, which he forcefully says  "needs and explanation." The problematic passage he cites is the sentence which states that "the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God." His specific problem is which the last sentence, which states that Muslims and Catholics together adore the one God. Schneider says that this statement is extremely clumsy and admits of  "two substantial different levels" of interpretation. He goes on to make a phenomenally important distinction between belief in one God according to natural reason and the supernatural virtue of faith, which alone is pleasing to God:

"We adore God always as a Trinity...our adoration is an adoration of supernatural faith. To worship God as Creator only or one God only, there is no need of faith. The use of your reason is sufficient. This is a dogma of the First Vatican Council, that every human person is able only by his reason, natural light of reason, without the light of faith, to recognize the existence of one God as Creator. Consequently, to worship Him according to his knowledge of natural reason. These are the Muslims - they have no supernatural faith and therefore they have no supernatural act of worship. Even the Jews who rejected Jesus as God, as Trinity, they rejected Him they have no faith. Therefore their worship is also natural, not supernatural."

The Muslim worship of Allah is not the same as the supernatural worship of the Trinity, which alone is pleasing to God. Thus, even if they claim to worship the same God based on a certain historic pedigree, their worship is fundamentally different from Catholic worship and cannot be pleasing to God because they lack the supernatural virtue of faith. When Voris mentions that Cardinal Timothy Dolan recently encouraged Muslims to keep their faith and said that we worship the same God, Schneider dryly says, "The Cardinal was referring to this expression of the council. Now you observe why it is necessary to strengthen this essential distinction."

Also on Schneider's naughty list is Gaudium et Spes 12, which begins with the statement "all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown" (finis et culmin). In his analysis of this passage, :

"I think this expression is very ambiguous. It is not correct because all the things which exist on earth have their finality in God and have to glorify God as their summit...all things that exist are created for the glory of God and for Christ, through Him and for Him. Christ is the end of all created things. The aim of this expression was that God created all non-rational things for the service of man, and that man is the ruler or king of this creation because God gave man such a dignity. But I think we cannot say this in this manner. We have to stress, even so, the created things on earth are created for man, but not ultimately for we have to explain this also, otherwise it is an anthropocentrism, and this is all part of the crisis of this past fifty years, this anthropocentric vision. And not only vision, but practice, also, Christian life, liturgy and theology. Very anthropocentric. And this is the biggest danger of humanity, for the Church to be anthropocentric, because this was the first sin of Adam and Eve. This is very dangerous, and such expression of our Council texts can be used for such things and therefore need more explanation."

When it comes to ecumenism, Schneider has a strong criticism of the tone of the document Unitatis Redintegratio. The document on ecumenism teaches that God can use even the non-Catholic communities as means of salvation. Schneider opines:

"This could also be interpreted in a wrong manner, in a way of the Anglican Branch theory that there are several branches of Christianity who are all means of salvation. Therefore we also have to clarify this expression. We have to say perhaps, nevertheless, God can use other Christians, but individually because they are baptized...Remember what St. Augustine said, what the non-Catholics have, they took from the Church. He even said they have stolen it from our house. What they have, this is Catholic, not theirs. Therefore, we have to explain this. Otherwise, it could be understood wrongly."

In other words, individual non-Catholic Christians, by virtue of the valid baptism they share, can certainly be means of grace; it was a Protestant who first shared the Gospel with me when I was a pagan teenager, and this became a means of grace that was the first step in my whole conversion. But Schneider points out that we cannot attribute this to sects or denominations collectively, as if God wishes to utilize groups in material heresy as some kind of "sub-churches" alongside the Catholic Church. Whatever good individuals do or bring to the table, they bring it by virtue of what they retain from Catholicism. These denominations, on the other hand, owe their very existence to the fact that they reject Catholicism. So the fact that an individual Protestant may be a blessing or be instrumental as a grace-bearer does not legitimize Protestantism as such.

There is much more and I encourage you all to watch the full interview if you have time. But it is important to note that Schneider is the latest voice added to a growing trend: clerics who are admitting that the documents of Vatican II themselves have ambiguities and problems that ought to be rectified. Benedict XVI himself was perhaps the first to raise these objections when he noted some Council documents were "dense" and "weak" (see here) and rectified the subsistit in problem of Lumen Gentium by issuing an interpretive document; more recently we had Kasper's candid admission on intentional ambiguities in the conciliar texts. Now we have these refreshingly honest comments by Schneider about some legitimate problems with several key Conciliar documents.

As we move further from 1965, it is becoming increasingly acceptable to note the existence of ambiguities and problems in the Council documents, and that this can be done without calling into question the legitimacy of the Council. This is a significant shift, as in previous years there were only two possible positions on the Council: the documents were perfect, the Springtime of the Church had to be affirmed unhesitatingly, and any problems were due not to ambiguities in the documents but to liberals who were twisting the documents, hijacking them, as it were. Or, if you denied any of these assertions, the only alternative was that you were a schismatic who was questioning the legitimacy of the Council and dissenting from the Magisterium. The comments of Benedict, Kasper and Schneider demonstrate clearly that it is possible to have an intelligent conversation about the documents that admits of their weaknesses without in any way being unfaithful to the Church. Indeed, the most recent comments of Schneider show us that this sort of discussion is not only possible, but necessary.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Advocatus Diaboli ("Devil's Advocate")

In light of the announcement of the impending canonizations of Bl. John XXIII and Bl. John Paul II, I have been doing a lot of research on canonizations in Catholic history, particularly the role of the Promotor Fidei, also known as the Devil's Advocate, whose office was basically eliminated in 1982. Please take some time to read this extensive article on the historical reasons for the institution of the office, the role of the Promotor Fidei, and the consequences attendant upon the elimination of the office. Here is an extract from the introduction:

"Chances are we have all heard the phrase "devil's advocate" to describe the role of a person who argues against a point he is in favor of for the purpose of testing the argument for flaws or weaknesses. The devil's advocate was actually the official name of the Promoter Fidei, an office first attested during the pontificate of Leo X (1513-1521) and formally established by Sixtus V in 1587 during the Counter-Reformation. The duty of the Promotor Fidei was to oversee every aspect of the beatification and canonization process, ensuring that no person received the honors of sainthood rashly, that proper juridical form was observed, and that every potential weakness or objection to the saints canonization was raised and evaluated in order that only those who were truly worthy would be raised to the dignity of the altars. Because the Promotor Fidei took a juridical position against the canonization of any given saint, it was joked that he was taking the devil's part in the proceedings, hence the common appellation "Devils' Advocate" (advocatus diaboli). In this article, we will examine the historical origin, office, and rationale behind the advocatus diaboli as well as the consequences attendant upon the abolition of office by Bl. John Paul II in 1982."

Click here to read the whole article at the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

"Saints aren't perfect"

This week's news about the impending canonization of Bl. John Paul II in conjunction with Bl. John XXIII has been met with rejoicing and concern. Many Catholics have been understandably elated with the imminent raising of two new papal saints to the altars, while others have voiced concern about the "fast tracking" process that has made this possible as well as the fact that the many scandalous events of John Paul II's pontificate have never been satisfactorily answered to or explained.

I do not intend to spend a lot of time going over the reasons why I personally believe the canonization of John Paul II is imprudent at this time, but it is necessary to mention them in passing to put some context to what I will say here. The Assisi interfaith meetings were scandalous and confusing to the faithful; I don't care how you try to explain it away, they simply were. The kissing of the Koran and referring to it as the word of God, praying with animists in Togo, allowing pagan Aztec priestsesses to bless him, and all such activities were equally scandalous and unprecedented in papal history. What about asking St. John the Baptist to protect Islam? The list could go on. I am willing to grant that maybe John Paul II was not personally responsible for all of these things; I am not suggesting the degree of personal culpability attributable to the late pontiff. But, they happened on his watch and so they are laid at his doorstep. For these reasons and others, I do not believe it is a good idea to canonize this man.

Here's where people chime in and say, "C'mon! Saints aren't perfect! Sure, the man had flaws. Every saint has flaws. You are being too critical."

Saints aren't perfect. I agree. Saints are not perfect. But we are falling prey to a subtle bait and switch if we accept the rationale that "saints aren't perfect" therefore it is appropriate to canonize someone with so much questionable baggage. Let's dissect this.

No person is perfect. No saint is perfect. And we don't want to be hyper-critical. All saints have very human flaws due to human weakness. St. Jerome was notoriously cranky. St. Augustine, during his latter years, was perhaps unduly pessimistic and dour in his prospects about the human race in general. St. Francis of Assisi gave away his father's fabrics to the poor without permission, which would have technically been a form of theft. St. Dominic, though a mendicant, apparently could be nit-picky about wanting his habit kept clean (at least according to the testimony of colleagues at his canonization hearings); St. Teresa of Avila could be slightly strong-armed when asking potential donors to part with their wealth; if we are to believe the stories, St. Nicholas himself once lost his temper and slapper Arius in the face. Sure, saints have flaws. They are humans and they are subject to human weakness.

But here is the distinction: It is one thing to say a saint has flaws; it is another thing to say he did something fundamentally harmful to the faith or contradictory to the nature of his office. We see St. Francis, with the zeal of a new convert, going beyond the boundaries of prudence and giving away his father's silks without permission. We can understand this. We sympathize. We, too, know the experience of being too overzealous about something and inadvertently hurting someone else because of it. This is not a real strike against Francis' sanctity. It just demonstrates his human side.

But suppose Francis, wanting to give to the poor, had gone out and robbed and beaten up someone in order to steal money that he would in turn give to poor, Would we be so likely to sympathize with him then? Would we understand that? And what if he did this, not in the zeal of a new convert, but very deliberately in his eighth year of religious life and then again sixteen years later? And what if these were not isolated incidents, but were exemplary of Francis' general approach towards giving to the poor?

In that case, it would be very hard to sympathize with him, because we would be dealing not with an understandable weakness of character due to zeal that could happen to any son of Adam, but a series of very deliberate actions that are calculated, reasoned out, and executed with precise intentionality. In the former examples, we have instances of saints demonstrating imperfections despite their will to "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect"; in the latter hypothetical example, we have a person utilizing their will to engage in activity that is objectively hurtful to others. We can understand and sympathize with the former; we are confused and scandalized by the latter and feel no sympathy for it. Perhaps if we still had a Promotor Fidei, it would be easier to sort out or categorize these sorts of things. 

To what category, then, do the actions of the late John Paul II fall? What human weakness caused him to "accidentally" invite the leaders from all the pagan religions to Rome to encourage them to pray to their false gods and not preach the Gospel to them the entire time they were present? That's not the sort of thing one just "falls" into. One does not simply go to the trouble of scheduling a papal visit to Togo where one engages in prayer in common with animists just due to common "human weakness." These are not things that just happen to anybody. These are deliberate actions that John Paul II intentionally chose to do or intentionally allowed to happen- and those of us who choose to be intellectually honest understand that they were confusing and scandalous to the faithful, in addition to sending the wrong message to the pagans, who were encouraged in the worship of their false gods. And, even if John Paul II did somehow "fall" into the Assisi meetings in 1986, even if these were a "slip-up", it is hard to see why he went ahead and did them again in 2002. Clearly they were intentionally set up to go down exactly as they did. So this is not really a matter of saying, "Eh, he's not perfect." This is matter of deliberate actions done that were confusing or potentially harmful to the faithful, to say nothing about their harm on the participants, who were falsely led into believing it is acceptable to worship their false gods.

We must remember, when we canonize a person who holds an office, we are also approving the manner in which he administered that office. One of the biggest misunderstandings modern Catholics have about canonization is that it is simply a declaration that someone is in heaven. I'm so sick of hearing that! "What's the big deal? All it means is that he's in heaven." If that were all it was, then we could canonize a death-row murderer who maintained his impenitence until a moment before death when he suddenly decides to accept baptism one minute prior to execution. After all, he's in heaven! Clearly this is too simplistic.

Whenever we canonize someone, we are not just affirming they are in heaven, but we are affirming that they have done deeds that are worthy of emulation. Furthermore, tf this person holds an office, like a bishop, priest, pope, or king, then we are also affirming that what they did in that office is worthy of emulation - that they were not just a holy man or woman, but an ideal abbot, abbess, king, queen or whatever. Has it ever been otherwise? Do you know of any saint-kings who were personally holy but terrible kings? How about sainted bishops who were personally holy but made awful bishops? How about sainted popes who were personally holy but the Church went down the toilet under their administration? When a saint really does look like they will not be able to deal with their office, they resign it, like St. Celestine, or St. Cuthbert, who resigned his bishopric for a life of seclusion. What they do not do is stick around for two decades, mismanage the affairs of their communities, confuse and scandalize everybody and then get proclaimed a saint anyway while everyone shrugs off their very obvious flaws.

To canonize an office holder is to canonize the manner in which they held the office. St. Gregory the Great is a saint not just because he was personally holy but because he was a model pope, St. Charles Borromeo because he was a model bishop, St. Francis because he was a model mendicant, St. Thomas because he was a model teacher and theologian. Nothing is more contrary to the tradition of the Church and the meaning implicit in canonizations than to draw a distinction between someone's personal holiness and the manner in which they fulfilled their vocation. The two are united. In fact, one's personal holiness is directly contingent upon how one fulfills one's vocation. One cannot become a sainted bishop while simultaneously having failed in the most fundamental aspects of an episcopal vocation. It's so simple, we could make a meme out of it:

I have been giving extreme examples, and I am certainly not saying John Paul II was a failure as a pope. There are many things I did that I think were wonderful. I have no qualms, however, about saying that John Paul II was not an ideal pope, much less is he worthy he being called "the Great." The reasons for me saying this are those common to most traditionalists, and I will not argue each point here. But the important thing is to realize that to canonize John Paul II is to canonize his scandals. The faithful will have no way to distinguish between the praiseworthy and the scandalous in his pontificate, especially since those pushing the cause of John Paul II have never offered an official explanation for these scandals (I even tried to write them and ask for one; see here). The faithful will see St. John Paul the Great praying with pagans at Assisi and think this is Catholic missiology; they will see him kissing the Koran and think this is how we ought to interact with Islam. And who will tell them any differently, eh? If nobody bothered to explain it while John Paul II was on the throne, they sure won't bother to now that he's being raised to the altars.

There is much more we could say. I will probably do another post in the near future about this issue of "fast-tracking" the two late pontiffs to get them canonized.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Marriage, Dark Nights and more on USC!

A lot has been going on in my life this past month, but somehow I have still managed to pull together some pretty solid articles on topics as diverse as chant, political authority, marriage, scientific history and more! Please take a moment to peruse these new articles on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website and forward them on to your friends. I especially recommend the one on the ends of marriage for your liberal Catholic acquaintances who can't seem to understand why homosexual so-called "marriage" can never be tolerated as a true matrimonial union.

Remember, for updates on new posts from USC, please follow this blog or consider following us on Facebook. Here are the new articles from the past couple of weeks:

New Church History RCIA Lesson Plan: Lesson plan on Church History 33-1054 AD now available, along with news on how it is now easier to print or download USC lesson plans from the site.

Catholic Cleric-Scientists: Overview of some of the great Catholic men of science and the contributions that the Church has made to scientific progress; it is amazing how many entire scientific disciplines were founded by priests!

Unofficial Chant Books: Very brief summary of the content and uses of some of the unofficial chant books used by the Roman choir.

Divine Origin of Political Authority: Despite the fact that our political authorities are often immoral and usually inept, political authority itself comes from God and is necessarily inferred from the social nature of man.

Roman Rota on the Ends of Marriage: Given the constant barrage of attacks against traditional marriage these days, let us refresh ourselves on the Church's teaching of the primary and secondary ends of marriage and their relation to one another.

Dark Nights True, False and Fashionable: Just because you are experiencing some momentary dryness does not mean you are going through a dark night. Let's revisit what a dark night it exactly, shall we?

St. Clotisindis and Kin (sancti obscuri)
St. Herve the Bard (sancti obscuri)

Movie Reviews

Man of Steel (2013)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Monday, July 01, 2013

Excuses for Liturgical Dancing

Liturgical dance. Though just one of many abuses, it serves as a fitting representation of everything wacky in modern Catholicism. Despite years of teaching that this is utterly foreign and unacceptable in Catholic worship, liturgical dancing continues. It had reared its head almost immediately following the Council, prompting the CDW to issue a statement in 1975 that bluntly stated, "The dance has never been made an integral part of the official worhship of the Latin Church" and forbid it outright. Yet it continues, and is even promoted by certain bishops and diocesan liturgical experts. It is like Catholicism's dirty little secret, something everyone knows we should not be doing but yet occurs all over the place.

Defenders of liturgical dancing have come up with several lame excuses of why this practice is not really as horrendous as we think it is. Let's look at these lame excuses and examine why they are so lame.

First, the lame excuse that liturgical dancing is fitting because David once danced in front of the Ark of the Covenant 3,000 years ago. Never mind the fact that liturgical worship in the Jerusalem Temple never featured dance; David did it once and therefore Christians ought to do it for all time. This excuse has been thoroughly debunked here.

Some, however, have suggested that the complaints about liturgical dance are overblown. Yes, liturgical dancing exists, and yes, it is not traditional to the Roman rite, but it is primarily happening in mission territories - areas that have only been Christianized for a very short time or are only partially Christianized. In these places, liturgical dance is a form of "inculturation", whereby the native customs and practices that are not incompatible with the Faith are incorporated into Catholic life and worship.

However, our friends at Rorate Caeli have recently compiled a Hall of Shame of liturgical dancing from all over the Catholic world, all of the videos taken from thoroughly Christianized countries. In one case, the example comes right from the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Clearly, nobody can claim that these are "mission countries" or that there is any element of inculturation going on here. What we have is liberal nonsense introduced into the Mass with deliberateness and in direct contradiction to the dictates of the Church. The Church says while it may be appropriate there, it is never appropriate here; yet experience shows that it is most rampant here and not there. This is not inculturation. This is insubordination.

Some have said that while liturgical dancing is not fitting in the Latin Rite, it is common in other rites of the Church. Thus, we cannot be too quick to condemn the practice since it is a valid liturgical act in other churches in union with Rome. A prime example is the Ethiopian Catholics, where liturgical dance is said to be a time-honored custom. Even CDW document cites Ethiopian Catholic's "ritualized dancing" as an example of some cultural contexts where dancing might be appropriate given the particular customs of an area.

Well, in the first place, all of the examples linked above are in the Roman Rite, so this excuse about other rites is irrelevant.

But more importantly, it is not true that liturgical dancing is common in other rites, much less the Ethiopian. The Chaldeans use instruments such as cymbals and tambourines in their liturgy, but they are very specialized liturgical instruments, used only by the ordained, and in the same restrained manner that bells are used in the Roman Rite. There is certainly no dancing of any sort.

The alleged "dancing" of the Ethiopian Christians is not dancing either. It is actually a very elaborate processional. To see what I am talking about, take a look at a Timkat (Epiphany) procession in Addis Ababa. The best view of the procession begins around 2:00:

This is the much touted "liturgical dancing." This is clearly not the same thing as the phenomenon we are witnessing around the world in the Roman Rite, such as here, for example. Notice also, that this Timkat procession takes place outside the Church, in the open streets. Though this is a devotional act, it is not a liturgical one, properly speaking, since it does not take place in the context of the Ethiopian liturgy. It is extra-liturgical. Thus, by definition, it cannot be liturgical dancing. This is also why any dancing that occurred in the context of medieval passion plays, which were sometimes held inside churches, is not liturgical dancing, properly speaking.

Dancing in church has always been condemned. Secular historian of the Roman Empire Ramsay MacMullen, who certainly has no axe to grind in the liturgical dance issue, notes that the Fathers of the 4th century frowned upon the practice of dancing in Church because they viewed it as a hold over from paganism:

"Ambrose up in Milan witnessed his congregation dancing during times of worship. He was shocked. Such conduct was pagan. In southern France, the bishop Caesarius [of Arles] castigated "the wretches who dance and caper about before the churches of the saints themselves...and if they appear at church as Christians, yet they leave the church as pagans - for that custom of dancing is still with us from pagan ritual." In the eastern provinces, Bishop Basil reproved the dancers in the very chapels of Caesarea...everywhere we look we find the problem" [Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire: 100-400 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 19840, pg. 74-75].

St. Augustine mentions liturgical dancing in his day, but he says it is an abuse that crept in from paganism; the Synod of Laodicea (365) discouraged Christians from dancing at wedding liturgies, but to act "as is becoming Christians." Dancing inside Church was also prohibited by the Quinisext Council of 692 as an activity not befitting Christians and having too much in common with pagan extravagance. So, while we see that dancing was sometimes allowed in extra-liturgical circumstances, it was never encouraged within the context of the liturgy itself. The CDW document quoted above echoes this fact: "If local churches have accepted the dance, sometimes even in the church building, that was on the occasion of feasts in order to manifest sentiments of joy and devotion. But that always took place outside of liturgical services." What we have today where men and women dance in the sanctuary during the Mass is utterly foreign to Christian Tradition, in every rite, and has always been opposed whenever someone tried to introduce the custom.

But such a festive culture as we see among the Ethiopians, surely their liturgies must be equally celebratory and contain some sort of rhythmic movements? Not so. While they may dance and cheer outside the church, here is what the liturgy looks like once they get inside:

No dancing. They might dance around before Mass begins or in extra-liturgical celebrations, but the never introduce it into the liturgy itself.

If this is true of Ethiopia, how much more in the west? The CDW states that there is never an excuse to incorporate dance in the Latin Rite:

"[T]he same criterion and judgment cannot be applied in the western culture [as in Ethiopia]. Here dancing is tied with love, with diversion, with profaneness, with unbridling of the senses: such dancing, in general, is not pure. For that reason it cannot be introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever: that would be to inject into the liturgy one of the most desacralized and desacralizing elements; and so it would be equivalent to creating an atmosphere of profaneness which would easily recall to those present and to the participants in the celebration worldly places and situations."

There is simply no excuse to ever introduce liturgical dancing into the Mass in the Latin Rite. Ever. Period.