Sunday, September 25, 2016

So long, Father


[Nota: I edited the original post considerably as giving away too much information about Father's whereabouts and his activities could potentially endanger him]

Our pastor of 11 years left our parish this week.

When he hired me as Youth Director and DRE way back in 2007, I was only a year or so out of college; he hired me even though I had no real qualifications; he just wanted an orthodox Catholic young man who seemed like he'd be good with youth, and he took a chance.

It was as DRE that I started this blog. Fr. Gerald and I came into conflict about it more than once; he often times took me aside and reprimanded me for things I wrote here - but all the same, he never sought to stifle my opinion; he could have easily told me that as his DRE and a representative of the parish, he just didn't want me blogging at all. In fact I almost expected that monthly, every time he would call me into the church or his office to cross examine me on this or that matter. But he didn't. He would express his disagreement, we would argue a bit, and then he would go out of his way to make sure I knew it was okay to keep blogging. I was always grateful for this.

Not that Fr. Gerald was hostile to tradition; at the time Summorum Pontificum hit, he was training with the Canons of St. John Cantius in hopes of obtaining the celebret under the indult. As soon as the motu proprio came out, he started preparing to celebrate. It took him awhile, but our parish began offering its first Traditional Latin Masses in 2009. Since then Fr. Gerald faithfully said the TLM on the first Sunday of every month and very frequently offered other things as well; he would say the entire Pentecost Octave (which does not exist in the new rite), and always performed baptisms in the traditional rite upon request - my own son was baptized in the traditional rite.

As an employee, I often butted heads with him. But he was generally just and quick to apologize if he felt - rightly or wrongly - that he had offended me. And the man worked incessantly. He was the sort of priest who literally had to be forced to take a vacation because he was so immersed in his duties. It sometimes happened he would announce he was "taking a vacation", but us employees knew he was really in the rectory working all week. He was relentlessly devoted to his ministry. He always took the worst hours for Adoration - the 3:00 AM shifts. He prayed for his parishioners relentlessly.

After I quit working for the parish in 2010 I continued to see Fr. Gerald regularly; I continued to attend the parish and I worked there a few days a week at the local homeschool co-op. We continued to have cordial interactions over the years. My experience of Fr. Gerald was that he was a very decent diocesan priest - saying the Novus Ordo reverently, with Latin, chant, and ad orientam, but also saying the TLM, preaching traditional Catholic morality, encouraging frequent confession and Eucharistic adoration and devotion to Our Lady. He was not perfect or a saint by any means; he had his faults and quirks. He was painfully human. But he did a good job, and the fruits of sanctity were evident in the people he nourished through his ministry, imperfect though it was.

Earlier this summer, Fr. Gerald made an announcement that came very unexpectedly. He told us that he was leaving his ministry in the Diocese to go work with  Christian refugees in the Middle East. He had been personally invited by the Christian community there and agreed to a three year mission.

Throughout 2015, as ISIS continued taking territory in Iraq and Syria and horrifying the world with its brutality, Fr. Gerald had frequently preached against the indifference of the Christian west and the United States to the systematic de-Christianization of the middle east. He had a very strong burden in his heart for the forgotten Christians of the region. Earlier in the year - without telling the parish - he used one of his vacations to visit a war-torn region of the Middle East. He was told that no priests from the west had come to help. That the spiritual needs of the Christian refugees were going unmet. He was personally asked him to return.

And so he agreed, making the announcement to us earlier this summer. We were all tremendously proud of him; we have all been going on and on about what's going on in the Middle East and "Where is the west?" Even our own Pontiff has been somewhat disappointing in his support of mideast Christians. But when Fr. Gerald received the invitation, his priestly response was, "These people need me; how can I say no?"

Fr. Gerald will spend the next three years working with Christian refugees. He is not in ISIS controlled territory, but he is still in a region where there is unrest and could be trouble - hence the vagueness of the details in this post.

So long, Father. Please pray for Fr. Gerald and his work. And pray for our parish. Our new priest will not arrive until November; we are told he says the Traditional Latin Mass, so this is good. To our bishop's credit, he wanted to send a priest who would carry on the work Fr. Gerald had begun, so we are all relatively optimistic. But in the meantime we are getting visiting priests every week.

I didn't always get along with Fr. Gerald, and I have mixed feelings about him in various respects; but when it came down to it, he is doing what a priest is supposed to be doing - putting himself at the service of Christ's flock where it is most desperately needed. I am very proud of him. God bless him, and may God return him home safely.




Monday, September 05, 2016

Stewardship of the Mysteries of God


The epistle from Mass this past Friday was taken from the fourth chapter of 1 Corinthians. It reads:

"This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God." (1 Cor. 4:1-5, Douay)

St. Paul is referring to those in active ministry within the Church. What is the relationship between those who minister in the Church and the divine things entrusted to them by Christ?

It is Catholic teaching that Christ left the Church with all of the means necessary for carrying out her divine mission. She possesses, by the grace of God, all the gifts necessary for her to teach, govern, and sanctify the faithful. Because she possesses the fullness of St. Paul addresses the question of how those who wield these powers should view their position. He says that ministers of God's mysteries are to be regarded as stewards.

Stewardship is a common theme when the subject matter is finances - or more likely these days, care of the environment. In contemporary usage, it is often used to denote our management of some tangible or worldly good, such as mammon or natural resources. But it is interesting to note that in the New Testament, the concept is primarily used with relation to God's supernatural gifts. In the Gospels, the concept of stewardship appears in the various parables of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30, for example), the talent left with the steward represents the supernatural graces God gives people for the building up of His kingdom.

In the passage from St. Paul, the minister of the Church is described as a steward of God's mysteries, which of course refers to the sacraments. We know that stewardship, of course, means that one is given authority over something, but in a relative way - it is not absolute, but relative to the parameters set by the one who has entrusted it to the steward. In the parable of the talents, the servants have stewardship over the money their master entrusts them to the degree that they use it in a manner conformable to His will. This is why the servant who merely buries his talent his cast out; he has been unfaithful to his stewardship of his master's money by using it in a way inconsistent with the master's wishes.

It is amazing to me how this concept - which is at the core of stewardship - is so easily understood and so fervently preached when it comes to our use of mammon or natural resources, but so seldom understood or preached on when it comes to the sacraments, which is astonishing because that is actually the context in which St, Paul uses the term - stewards of the mysteries of God.

How common has it become to think of the sacraments as something pastors have absolute discretion over! This is facilitated in part by the modern view of the Church's rites as a laboratory for constant experimentation, in part by the plenitude of "options" that gives the impression of a ritual subject only to the whims of the celebrant. So much is discretionary, we can forget that the sacraments are something we are called to exercise stewardship over, not absolute dominion.

"Stewardship of the mysteries of God", says St. Paul. And what if we act out of the best intentions? If we believe our rites and traditions must be continually upgraded to fit the mentality of the modern times - if we act like what God has entrusted to us may be used anyway we choose and at any whim - we are not exercising legitimate stewardship but unjust self-aggrandizement over the gift of God.

St. Paul says, "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me." The servant in the parable of the steward thought he was justified in burying the talent out of fear, but the Master did not share his assessment. That servant was cast out, for he had been reckless with what the Master entrusted to him.

Stewardship is not simply about money. It is about how we handle anything God has entrusted to us - especially the supernatural means Christ has given to the Church for the building up of the Mystical Body.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Amoris Laetitia Magisterial? A Guest Post by Ryan Grant

This morning, a Vatican newspaper printed an article declaring that Amoris Laetitia is part of the binding papal Magisterium and must be given religious submission of mind and will by the Catholic faithful.

We present here a guest commentary by Mr. Ryan Grant. Ryan is a long time friend and colleague of mine, whom most of you probably know from his work at Athanasius Contra Mundum and the excellent Mediatrix Press. Ryan, noting that the article coming out of the Vatican today is not from any official Church organ, offers reasons why Catholics concerned by Amoris Laetitia should just keep on doing what they've been doing.

* * * *

It is being said that Amoris Laetitia is now officially part of the Magisterium and Catholics must submit their intellect and will to it. This is entirely false. Here I completely prescind from discussing the merits of the document, footnote 351 or any other issue. I am only interested in its doctrinal status.

This morning I read: "Writing in the Vatican newspaper, a Spanish ecclesiology professor said that Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia is part of the non-definitive ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff to which the faithful owe religious submission of intellect and will." (source)

FULL STOP. In the first place, an ecclesiology professor does not have the authority to define the status of the document. That can only be done by either the CDF or the Pope himself, unless the document itself makes it clear that Catholics are bound to give an assent to the teaching, which, as far as I can recollect, does not. By its nature, as a post-synodal exhortation, it does not bind Catholics in any way.

Secondly, the distinction made by certain theologians between the ordinary universal Magisterium (Vatican I) and the non-universal, or non-definitive Magisterium, is that it is not binding but should be respected. Amoris Laetitia imposes no decision upon Catholics, and is merely opinative.

Thirdly, this article lead is false because a religious submission of the intellect and will only obliges if it is promulgated as a law or interpretation of a law, whether by a Sacred Congregation or the Pope himself. (St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Theologia Moralis, lib. 1, tr. 2, n. 107; cf. Cardinal Franzelin, De Divina Traditione, Thesis 12, 7th corollary). In the absence of a clear decision by the competent congregation(CDF), or by the Pope himself, this document binds no one to anything.
Don't freak out, return to the normal things you do.

* * * *

For a more thorough theological exploration of the authority of non-universal Magisterial statements - and for a differing opinion - we recommend Cathedra Veritatis: On the Extension of Papal Infallibility by John Joy, available in the Cruachan Hill Press store.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

NCR Firings: Martyrs or Loose Cannons?


There is a lot of hubbub this week over the recent shakeup at the NCR; I am speaking of course of the recent firings of John Paul Shimek, Mark Shea, and now Simcha Fisher.

When unexpected things happen, people generally try to create a narrative of why they happened. A narrative is a certain interpretation of what certain facts mean; narratives help people assimilate the events into our preexisting worldview in a way logically consistent with it. I discussed this some years ago when Benedict XVI resigned and Catholics were scrambling to come up with an explanation for it ("The Benedict Narrative Emerges", Feb. 2013).

Similarly, I am seeing mainstream Catholics kind of scrambling to come up with an explanation of why Shea, Fisher and Shimek were let go. The narrative emerging is very pathetic.

What I am seeing supporters of Shea and Simcha saying is that this has to do with his views on Catholic social teachings - essentially, Catholic conservatives uncomfortable with the fact that Shea opposes the conservative-Republican agenda and supports Catholic social teaching. In other words, making Shea into a martyr for the Catholic "middle way", as if his firing were about his political opinions. Similarly, Eye of the Tiber ran a piece satirically insinuating that Shea and Simcha were fired for "having opinions."

Of course, this makes these people into martyrs for their opinions, something they are encouraging (Shea's rant about Simcha's firing compares the sacking of an author to anti-Christian persecution); but it is very far from the truth.

These people were not terminated for having opinions, much less political opinions, but for being loose cannons.

John Paul Shimek - who said he wanted his mission in life to be making Traditional Catholicism an "unthinkable option" for the Church - had had his scathing articles censured for posting his dribble without authorization and bypassing any editorial review. And even those that weren't were horridly abusive to traditional Catholics in particular.

As for Shea, the official statement of the National Catholic Register states very clearly why he was sacked, and it had nothing to do with political opinions expressed in the Register. Rather, NCR cited Shea's behavior on forums outside the Register and questioned his charity in dealing with online debates:
"The Register is no longer publishing blogs or commentaries submitted by Mark Shea. Mark’s writings at the NCRegister.com or published in our print edition were within our editorial guidelines. However, his writings and engagement on other forums were irreconcilable with our editorial vision or standards of charitable discussion."

"Irreconcilable with our editorial visions or standards of charitable discussion." He was fired for being uncharitable in his online debates. I had one with him last year in which I upheld the shocking proposition that gay men should not be ordained. While he was not personally uncharitable to me in this debate, he was slippery, and his disdain for the Church's traditional teaching was unsettling. 

As for Simcha...I don't know. I imagine more of the same. Simcha's writing was terrible whiny and unprofessional; consider her lovely little NCR piece she wrote about Cardinal Burke's transfer back in 2014, which we critiqued back then. Look at how she talks about people who were concerned about Burke's demotion:

You, with the subscription to Whimpers in Blogvillia! You, with your Blackberry set to play "Dies Irae" every time Four Lattes Daily resets their Novus Ordo End Times Ticker. You, with the Lady Cardinal robes in your closet, still in the dry cleaner bags, waiting to be whipped out the moment it Finally Happens. You, with your all your personal clocks set to Central European Time, so you don't miss a moment before you weep or break out the Chateau de Schutte '79 every time the doorman at the Roman Curia unlocks the front door, sweeps off the doormat, and chases the homeless cats away in preparation for another day of things that never do and never could have any affect on your personal life.

That is so terribly unprofessional...is that the sort of rambling nonsense one wants to read in the NCR? Rorate Caeli is often held up as the epitome of mean rad-trad blogs, and Rorate never posts anything approximating this. I don't know why Simcha was fired, but if someone told me it was because she straight-up sucks as a professional writer, I would not be surprised.

So, forget the narrative of the top-notch, quality Catholic authors unjustly fired because they were valiantly supporting Church doctrine against greedy, Americanized conservatives uncomfortable with the Catholic social teaching. They were fired for being uncharitable loose cannons who never deserved to have the platform of the NCR from which to churn out their ridiculous nonsense. The message of NCR was clear: act like adults, or get fired.

One more thing: consider emailing Jeanette Demelo, Editor at the NCR, and thanking her for terminating these loose cannons. She can be reached at: jdemelo[at]ewtn.com

Monday, August 08, 2016

New USC eBook: Laudato Si: The 40 Concerns of an Exhausted Layman

I am not a fast person when it comes to churning out material. I write when I feel like it and take my time, if possible. Hence back in 2015, when there was a whole bunch of hubbub about Pope Francis' environment encyclical Laudato Si, I did not write anything on the matter. I wanted to spend some time digesting the encyclical and formulating my thoughts on it.

On my desk, I have had a copy of Laudato Si sitting out for the past year. I've been studying it whenever I have had time in order to really comprehend what the encyclical. Over that year, I have been working on a synopsis of my thoughts on the encyclical, which I am happy to offer now in the form of an eBook.

The book goes through the encyclical, pretty much paragraph by paragraph, and just goes through little observations I made about various aspects of the pope's thought. Though most of the book is dedicated to concerns I have with the document, I do mention the things I like about it as well. My purpose in writing this was to do beyond the pop-media "synopsis" that we always get about new documents and really dig into the meat, as well as looking at some of the real theological issues in the document and getting away from just discussing climate change - because the real revolutionary passages in this encyclical are not about climate change.

Here is a bit from the introduction:

The encyclical Laudato Si of Pope Francis was released with much fanfare on May 24th, 2015. There has been an abundance of commentary on the encyclical, though pop-Catholic editorials on Laudato Si have, to a large extent, suffered from the deficiency of trying to consider the encyclical very broadly; "summing up" the content of the document in 1500 words or less.
The problem is this cumbersome document does not lend itself easily to summation. It is certainly about "the environment", but from a pedagogical standpoint it has very little structure. It reads more like a disjointed connection of reflections on various environmental themes rather than a single, coherent body of thought. Because of this, each theme needs to be examined independently. Laudato Si has rightly been called a "platypus document", having characteristics of various strains of thought all merged together in a 246 paragraph hodge-podge. 
Thus, these meager attempts at "summing up" Laudato Si generally fail to give us an adequate view of the document because they do not delve into the text itself. One commentator who had published an article on the fundamentals of Laudato Si admitted to me privately that she had barely begun reading the document before publishing her apologia of it. If people are objecting to traditionalist critiques of Laudato Si as proceeding from a predetermined and irrational dislike of Francis, is not an apologia published prior to a reading of the encyclical evidence of a predetermined and irrational
defensiveness?
We at at Unam Sanctam Catholicam have endeavored not to fall into this trap. I hitherto have offered no commentary on the encyclical because I hadn't finished reading it. I printed it the day of its publication and spent months patiently reading it, taking notes, and meditating on the implications of each segment. And there are parts of it I like very much. In fact, on my initial reading, I liked it more than I thought I would.
Still, I had some grave concerns. In fact, even though I liked it more than I thought I would, I have to say this was one of the most disappointing ecclesiastical documents I've ever read - on so many levels. With all going on in the Church and world, this is what the Pope thinks is pressing?
I do not want to keep my misgivings vague; I do not want to write short, broad apologias or condemnations, as so many others. And I did not want to write hastily. I did not sit down to write in the heat of the moment, but spent the better part of nine months reflecting on these passages and formulating my feelings into a somewhat cogent critique.

The eBook is 41 pages, $5.00 USD. It is available in ePub, Mobi, and PDF. If you are interested you can purchase from this page, or it is also listed on the Cruachan Hill Press website.

Special thanks to Ryan Grant from Mediatrix Press for the cover design and creating the eBook files.

Select File Type






Friday, August 05, 2016

Deaconess Commission: Building the Momentum

Well, Pope Francis wants a commission to study the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate from a historical perspective.

Of course, the idea of female deacons is ludicrous. Historically, they were simply non-existent, and everybody knows that references to "deaconesses" in the New Testament (Rom. 16:1) and the Fathers refer not to the hierarchical office of Deacon as instituted in Acts 7, but to women working in the role of servants carrying out various auxiliary functions in the early Church. This confusion arises from the literal meaning of the Greek word diakonos, which means "servant." It can refer to a Deacon as a grade of Holy Orders, or it can refer to anyone who serves in general. References to "deaconesses" in early Church literature certainly use the word in the latter sense. Deaconesses as a grade of Holy Orders are specifically repudiated at Nicaea and other early synods. I thought everybody knew this. 

Now, for some, this fact gives comfort. "Don't worry! The Church won't approve female deacons. It can't. There is no historical precedent." Well...okay. Not having historical precedent didn't stop Mass facing the people or a host of other novelties...but whatever.

The real thing that bugs me is its like some people can't fathom that there are more sides to the problem than whether or not the Church will allow female deacons. Like, for some people, it's either the Church allows female deacons (lose) or she doesn't (win). Since we know the Church can't ultimately ordain female deacons, we know she won't; ergo, tradition "wins." Ergo, there is absolutely nothing to worry about, no cause for alarm, nothing to see here folks, move along, 12 things to know and share, blah, blah blah...

Look, the fact that the Church cannot ultimately ordain women deacons does not mean we "win." Simply because there are many other ways we can "lose" without getting to the actual ordination of female deacons.

I remember when I was in public office, there were times when merely creating a committee or commission to "study" something was a way of destablizing it, even if you knew in the end you could not get what you wanted. Like, so-and-so wants a certain public project done. But you know there is no funding for it and there's no way it can happen. But so-and-so says, "Well, let's just form a commission to study the various aspects of the question. The commission won't be able to make any decisions, just try to get a better knowledge of the issue. And you don't have any objection to just getting information, right?"

And of course, you don't want to look like you are afraid of information or mere knowledge, so you think, "Sure, go ahead and form your study commission. After all, they have no authority to make any changes. And if I don't like what they say, I can just disregard it." But the thing to realize is the mere fact of opening a subject to discussion makes it appear that its open for discussion. Even if there's no money for the project and it literally cannot happen, the fact it is being discussed makes people think it can.

And the impossibility of the project coming to fruition does not stop its partisans. They use the commission as a means of propagating their ideas and refining their arguments - of networking with the right people and putting the right mechanisms in place to further their agenda. Of putting out whatever message to the public they wish. Of building public support and leveraging pressure on those in charge to bend to their wishes.

In other words, they might know they are not going to get what they want, but they create a momentum towards it.

Why create momentum when they know it literally can't happen? Well, in politics nothing is ever ultimately impossible. But in the Church, literally women can never be ordained to the diaconate. It simply cannot happen any more than a woman could be ordained to the priesthood. But that does not mean its proponents - who think it is possible - will not try to create the momentum. And the momentum is what is so dangerous,  because even if we never have women deacons, the momentum is like a huge net that will drag all sorts of souls into error on this point, create dissension, false expectations, schisms, scandal, confusion and chaos. And the chaos itself is detrimental, whether or not we ever get women deacons.

People who think this is "no biggie" just because it "won't happen" don't understand the way people hijack parliamentary procedure and the commission-committee system to foment chaos to create momentum towards their goals. It is all destabilizing, and ultimately destabilization of the traditional Church structure is what the progressives are after.

The pope ought to have said, "There is no point in a commission to study. This can never happen, and if so, there's no point in studying it. I don't want to give Catholics the impression something could change when it can't." But by allowing a commission to "study" the question, Pope Francis is opening the door for partisans of women deacons to start building that momentum towards a female diaconate; whether they get it or not it irrelevant. The fact is, the traditional exclusion of women from Holy Orders is now open for discussion, and that fact alone - regardless of what conclusion they come to - is dangerous. 

By the way, if you are not clear on why there can never be a female diaconate, I refer you to the article "The Unity of Holy Orders" by Fr. Chad Ripperger, available as a PDF here. But essentially, there is only one sacrament of Holy Orders, and its characteristics are one across its three major grades. John Paul II infallibly taught that women could never be ordained to the priesthood in the 1994 encyclical Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Because there is only one sacrament of Holy Orders (not three), this infers necessarily that women could never be ordained deaconesses either. But I recommend the article of Fr. Ripperger for a much more thorough treatment.

In the meantime, get ready for more destabilization.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thanks for the Homily, Father



So several times in the history of this blog I have harped on the problems related to missionary orders and missionary priests (see "Interreligious Dialogue: A Case Study of the Columban Missions" and "What's Wrong With Missionary Priests?"). And boy, there are huge obstacles out there. As far as I can tell, it all bound up with the Church's identity crisis: If we Catholics are not sure what we are supposed to be doing, how can we convincing spread our Faith to others? And so missionary priests end up as glorified humanitarian aid workers.

Today at my parish we had a missionary priest from India. I am happy to say that after years of disappointment, it was refreshing to finally here a missionary actually talking about bring people to Jesus. To talk about salvation. It was wonderful. And he wasn't a traditional order priest or anything; he was just a Novus Ordo diocesan priest. But he preached about the Great Commission. About the necessity of bringing Christ to people. About baptism. About India's great Christian traditions, both those begun by St. Thomas as well that brought by St. Francis Xavier and the 16th century Jesuits. He offered actual spiritual insights that were relevant.

I remember recently on one of my travels I heard a priest saying how he was preaching on Purgatory at this parish. And afterward a woman came up to him and said, "I never really thought about it, but I think that was the first sermon I heard on Purgatory in thirty years!" I think the same is true with the necessity of bringing the Gospel to pagans. Maybe intellectually Catholics know the Great Commission is out there, but it is so seldom preached about these days.

This is no surprise. Muslims worship the same God. Jews are no longer in need of conversion. Protestants are brethren. Orthodox are not to be expected to return to unity with Rome. Aberrosexuals  are not to be made uncomfortable in any way. Pagans are able to find God in their own rituals and mythologies. Given all this, one wonders who is left that actually needs to hear the Gospel. Mafioso and arms dealers, according to Pope Francis; but they are a lost cause because the pope has already said they are going to Hell.

The point is, you can't mentally affirm one thing but act in a manner contrary to it for forty years. You can't affirm the Great Commission is still a mandate while acting as if there is no particular class of people who actually need Christ and His Church. You cannot say the Great Commission applies to persons individually but not to the Church collectively (related: "The Great Commission is Institutional"). To purport to be able to do so is the worst form of Doublespeak, which the human mind cannot long endure. This is why, given a disconnect between what is taught and what is actually happening "on the ground", the praxis becomes dominant and the teaching fades into the background - not forgotten, but kind of ignored, as the woman noted about Purgatory. 

And sometimes it takes an encounter with the truth to shock you out of it - to hear a real good sermon on Purgatory before you realize you haven't heard one in thirty years; or to meet a regular, diocesan missionary priest who cared about bringing souls to Christ before you realize you had kind of forgotten that those sorts of priests actually existed anymore.

Thanks for the homily, Father.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Memorizing the Readings

This weekend I was traveling out of state and went to Mass in a beautiful historic church from the late 19th century. It has preserved all of its original neo-Gothic decor; of course, a little table altar had been added in front of the high altar, but at least nothing had been positively destroyed.

The liturgy was novus ordo but was done very well as NO liturgies go. The priest in charge evidently cared a great deal about having things done "decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). But during the readings something happened I had never encountered before. The lector who was doing the first readings had apparently memorized the entire reading. This allowed him to not look at the lectionary the entire time; he maintained a steady eye-contact with the congregation and projected his voice in a commanding tone. It was like he was reciting lines, not reading from the lectionary.

For a moment I really did not know what to think about this. In terms of objective quality of the delivery, sure it was better - he had all the emphasis at the right points, was more engaging to listen to, and delivered the reading in an objectively better manner than I have heard most lectors who are just kind of stumbling along over the words in the book. Obviously, taking the care to memorize the reading gave him a much greater familiarity with the text than if he were merely reading it, and it showed in the way he delivered the lines with confidence and depth.

But, it also bothered me some. Regardless of the objective quality of the "delivery", it felt like he ought to be reading out of the book. I thought to myself, "How would I feel if the priest had memorized the Canon of the Mass and delivered it without any reference to the Missal?" And that idea ruffled me greatly; it seems that the book, lectionary or Missal, is not simply there as an aid to help the priest or lector remember what he is supposed to be saying. The book is not like an incidental accoutrement to the liturgy; it is not a kind of glorified cue card that is there to remind the priest or lector of the words but can be dispensed with if they have their "lines" memorized.

Rather, the lectionary and Missal are the tangible representations of the Tradition. When the lector reads from the lectionary and the priest prays from the Missal, he is demonstrating that he is receiving what has been handed on. It is a kind of reverence towards the Tradition. And if I recall, Klaus Gamber makes this same argument in The Reform of the Roman Liturgy.

However well a priest or lector might memorize the words, it ultimately becomes a performance. That's why I noticed that this lector's reading had a certain sort of theatrical affectation to it that I found distracting.Ultimately I felt it was not something I liked. I would prefer the person reading drably rather than someone delivering memorized "lines" with great gusto. It seems like a more proper way of acknowledging that what you are doing is not your own creation- it's something you have received and are handing on.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Nonum Anniversarium

Because I was so busy I actually managed to let yesterday pass without noting that two days ago, June 29th, was the ninth anniversary of the founding of this blog. Has it really been almost a decade? That is just...insane.

Thank you to everyone who has helped contribute to this blog and website, both past and present: Anselm, Maximus, Noah, John, Amanda, Wes, and all the rest. And especial thanks to you, the readers!

I apologize my posts have been scarce as of late. I am unimaginably busy. But you'll be happy to know that yesterday I recorded three more videos in the series on homosexual so-called marriage that I begun back in August of last year (see here). These videos should be available by the end of the month. The subjects of the three new videos are the role of religion in public life, cooperation in objectively sinful acts (vis-a-vis Christian businesses assisting at homosexual so-called weddings), and whether homosexual marriage is a civil right, which is just a video version of this essay I posted on the website.

Hopefully I will have more time in the future to get back into the swing of things. I also want to thank my friends who have promoted this blog over the years and allowed me other venues for writing, especially Ryan Grant of Athanasius Contra Mundum/Mediatrix Press, and Richard Aleman of Distributist Review, and anyone else I am forgetting.

I will remember you all in my Holy Hour tonight.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tradition "On the Ground"


For as long as I can remember following developments within the Catholic world, there is always a particular way the mainstream conservative Catholics have responded to various crises within the Church - and I mean things like liturgical abuse, abuse of canon law, profanation of the Blessed Sacrament, or whatever. And that is to simply cite papal or magisterial documents. Is the Eucharist being profaned? Cite Eucharistia de Ecclesia. A papal address on canonical norms. Trot out Sacrosanctum Concilium to address liturgical deviations. Reams and reams of documents. 

Of course, that never works. Has any liturgically deviant priest ever had a concerned congregant bring him a copy of Sacrosanctum Concilium and been like, "What!? Gregorian chant is supposed to have pride of place? I had no idea!" and then changed anything? Has a priest who calls the entire congregation up to the altar to stretch out their arms an "co-consecrate" with him ever ceased doing so because some parishioner showed him a document that told him it was not allowed?  Well, I suppose at least the parishioners tried; God will reward them.


But this kind of naive trust in the efficacy of documents is related to the modern Magisterium's notion that it can create tradition by issuing documents. The post-Vatican II Church was not the product of an organic development of tradition, but in many respects was an ad hoc creation of committees of experts who simply conjured up the modern Church out of thin air.  It was assumed that new theology, morality, and even the Mass itself could simply be established by magisterial fiat.

And despite the disorders it created, the post-Conciliar Magisterium continued to try to reform the Church by mere judicial decree, regardless of how ineffective those decrees were.

Now, I am not at all suggesting the Church does not need to legislate. Humanae Vitae remains authoritative, even if it is ignored. The point is not that documents should not be issued, but that we should remember that an authoritative document exists not to create the truth, not to establish the tradition, but to attest to it - to bear witness to it.

And if the truth it is bearing witness to is not actually being observed by the Church "on the ground", then these documents become strange creatures that somehow retain their theoretical authority while losing any practical authority. What practical authority does a document have that 99% of Catholics ignore?

Like it or not, the tradition is what is going on on the ground. It might not be the "authentic" expression of tradition (like liturgical dancing is not an authentic expression of the Roman rite, or any expression of it for that matter), but to a large degree what establishes tradition is not some documents, but what is actually happening out in the Catholic world. If the 95% of the parishes are doing communion in the hand, that is the tradition that is being established. It is not a good tradition; it is not authoritative or authentic - but it is a tradition, and one that is supplanting the authentic Tradition. And it does no good to appeal to an ecclesial dictate that exists only on paper and is being observed by nobody.

Liturgical abuse does not stop by citing documents saying it should not happen when the reality is it happens all over. Tradition "on the ground" has diverged from tradition-in-writing, and whatever the theological truth of the matter, the practical authority of the Magisterial documents grows weaker and weaker as Catholic "tradition" becomes synonymous with "whatever is actually happening out there."

The new Catholic tradition is spreading all over and multiplying; it is what is happening "on the ground" in a million parishes across the globe. What ultimately matters is what is happening, not what is talked about. Ironically, Pope Francis is the first post-Conciliar pontiff who really seems to get this.

How will it all be combated? By citing documents? The way to combat this faux-tradition is not by citing documents, but by living the authentic Tradition.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Let's Suppose...


Let's suppose - just hypothetically - that most of all Catholic marriages today are invalid. And let's suppose that the reason they are invalid is because the partners, when entering into their marriage, were deficient in some aspect of the faith, or did not fully understand that marriage was indissoluble. They were not sufficiently educated. Let's just suppose that this was the case, that such a lack of knowledge rendered the sacrament invalid.

In that case, the sacrament of marriage would be reserved with those to who have an exceptional level of faith and certain degree of education. Not only the right intention, but also a sufficient level of education would be necessary for the sacrament to be valid.

And not only a certain degree, but an amazing degree, if the knowledge possessed by the majority of Catholics in the most information-rich, hyper-educated age in history was not enough to prevent the majority of their marriages from being invalid.

If that were all true, would it not mean that the sacraments were rewards for the educated, trophies for the righteous, rather than medicine for sinners? 

Because I thought heard somewhere that sacraments are not rewards for the righteous but medicine for the sinners? Or something like that... 

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Hey, Lionel...

Hey Lionel. Yeah, you know who I'm talking about. You go by "Catholic Mission." Do you want to know why in all the many years I have been blogging I never publish any of your comments? Because you never make your comment relevant to anything we are talking about. And you have constantly been blathering about the same three subjects for the past six years. 

On this article about Pope Francis and Kiril, you're spamming about "Cushingism" and extra ecclesiam nulla salus and Vatican II:



Then on this video about Catholic Tradition, again, we get more on Cushingism and Fennyism, with the standard barrage of spammy links I am used to getting from you:




Then on the same post, when I didn't publish your first spammy comment, you post another - same old talking points, extra ecclesiam nulla salus and Vatican II. Then some reference to the Synod even though the post had nothing to do with the Synod. And more spammy links.




And this...what on earth does this have to do with Ganswein's comments?


And this is only a fraction of the spam you try to post. Lionel, please, number one rule for of etiquette for commenting on blogs is please say something relevant to the post - don't just use the post as an occasion to post spammy links to your own garbled work. As long as you can't seem to get that, I will never, ever post any of your comments. Post your own thoughts, relevant to the article you are commenting on, and without spammy links to your own site.

I have been very fortunate on this blog to have a great group of people leaving comments. I'm sorry to call this out publicly, but you have been pestering me for the better part of six years with this nonsense weekly and I am sick of it. Observe some basic etiquette or just go away. 

UPDATE

In response to this post, Lionel tried to spam me again, suggesting that no matter what I post about, his ramblings are somehow always relevant - and repeating the same old three taking points he always has.




UPDATE II

After my first update, Lionel posted again, again reiterating the same points. Blah blah blah. Lionel, please learn blogging etiquette and stop posting your spammy, irrelevant comments. I know you don't believe it, but not every article on Catholic Tradition is immediately relevant to EENS, Cardinal Cushing, Feeny, and some letter from 1949. In fact, I don't even understand what you're argument is because this is so illegible. I don't know what "problem" you are saying I can't address because I've never bothered to address any of your nonsense. Stop spamming this blog, or learn to post comments relevant to the discussion and actually engage in discussion with other people. It's like you only have a single dialogue going in your mind and all you can do is repeat it ad nauseam across the blogosphere. Please go away.



Monday, May 30, 2016

Benedict XVI, Ganswein & a Dual Papacy


Rorate is featuring an article by their anonymous cleric Pio Pace. In this article, Pio Pace posits what is in my opinion a ridiculous claim about Mgsr. Ganswein's comments about the "dual papacy."

You no doubt know to what I am referring; Ganswein stated that with the abdication of Benedict XVI, the Petrine ministry had been "enlarged" to include two popes - an active pope and a contemplative pope. So we would have a single Petrine ministry with two dual heads. This is not entirely new; both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis had hinted at a similar idea in the past. 

This is of course, absurd. And Pio Pace admits it, stating that the idea "makes no sense whatsoever" from a theological viewpoint. How ever, in order to save face for Benedict, he posits that the bizarre comments have some sort of "political" motive - that Ganswein and Benedict are attempting to posit Benedict as a "statue" of condemnation against Jorge Bergoglio in order to somehow weaken the legitimacy of the "active pope."

This claim is frankly ridiculous. It is an attempt to try to save face for Benedict XVI by trying to find some legitimizing motive behind the words of Ganswein, and ergo Benedict XVI, who has said similar things in the past.

Pio Pace says the theological explanation for the dual papacy concept "makes no sense whatsoever." The implication seems to be that Benedict XVI would never utter such a theological novelty. Therefore he defaults to assuming some "political" motive that makes Benedict into a clandestine anti-Bergolglian activist. The truth is much simpler: Benedict does in fact believe a theological premise that "makes no sense whatsoever."

This is one issue Traditionalists need to get over: Benedict XVI is not the "traditional" pope as opposed to Bergoglio the progressive pope. Benedict had a certain nostalgia for the traditional liturgy (and in my opinion it was nothing more than nostalgia), but he was a theological progressive in many ways. And with his abdication the "traditional" Pope Benedict perpetrated the greatest novelty of the modern papacy.

Anyone who has really studied the writings of Joseph Ratzinger knows that much of his theology is severely problematic. In fact, it is easier to find objectively heretical statements in the writings of Ratzinger than it is in John Paul II.

This is not to say Benedict is bad or was a failure as pope; but it is to say that we need not bend over backwards to read the bizarre statements coming from him or Ganswein as some sort of clandestine attack on Pope Francis. 

The reason Ganswein and Benedict have discussed an "enlarged" Petrine ministry is simply because Benedict really believes it. That's all there is to it; there's no subtle attempt to condemn Bergoglio. Benedict and Bergoglio are in fundamental agreement on this issue. Benedict has been a friend to Traditionalism, but only in an accidental sense. Essentially, he is a Teilhardian who thinks the Church needs to evolve - a stage in the "complexification" of spirit - and the enlargement of the Petrine ministry is probably just one aspect of this.

That's the simple truth.

Friday, May 06, 2016

The Phantasm of Fiat Continuity


Back at the Second Vatican Council, the Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae made a very interesting statement. The opening paragraph of the declaration states that the document "leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ" - and immediately after stating that traditional Catholic doctrine remains "untouched", goes on over fifteen chapters to propose things that had never before been expressed in any official organ of Catholic teaching. Theologians have been muddled ever since trying to figure out how such a novel document can be reconciled with tradition - how such a document can leave Catholic doctrine "untouched" while seemingly overturning it in every paragraph.

Not everybody is bothered by this. Many people will simply take the Declaration's statement that traditional doctrine is "untouched" as establishing the fact, as if there mere statement of continuity is all that matters. 

One recent example is Pope Francis' off the cuff statements on intercommunion between Lutherans and Catholics. After seemingly suggesting that Lutherans could receive Communion in the Catholic Church if their conscience was clear about it, Cardinal Gerhard Müller stepped in to do damage control. But rather than explain how the pope's comments could be reconciled with Catholic doctrine, he merely declared that they were in line with Catholic doctrine and said other inferences were "misunderstandings" - all the while never addressing the pope's actual comments. Please see our article here for a more thorough review of this problem

But who cares? Müller declared continuity so continuity is established.

A more recent example is the hubbub over Amoris Laetitia. Full disclosure: I did not read Amoris Laetitia. Maybe I will someday. I have better things to do with my time, honestly. But I have taken a look at some of the questionable passages, including the controversial footnote 351. And I have read a lot of commentary on it. From what I can see, my raw opinions on the document's controversial passages are fairly in line with what Ed Peters wrote on his blog a month ago. Peters is certainly no traditionalist, but he points out real, substantial problems with the document in terms of some of its assumptions and inherent confusions. Other critics have made further assumptions about the implications of the document (that it allows wiggle room for communion for adulterers, that it implicitly adopts a moral theology of gradualism, that downgrades the obligations of Christian marriage to the level of an ideal, etc).

I am not asserting any of these things, especially as I have not read the document. But others have, such as Athanasius Schneider, who said the document was vulnerable to misinterpretation and needed clarification. 

Now, not every statement of the Magisterium needs a full apologetic for every sentence. But I would also add that they do need them occasionally, especially in eras of great confusion. If there is considerable confusion of how a document is in continuity with tradition, the Magisterium ought to explain how it is in continuity.

But the party line so often is to simply state the document is in continuity without bothering to give us the details - without explaining how. Following the precedent set by Dignitatis Humanae, it's like they think that merely asserting continuity establishes the fact. Sometime over the years they stopped identifying the elements of continuity and restricted themselves to merely proclaiming it. Never mind how. Never mind that educated theologians, canonists and bishops still can't understand in what sense the documents have continuity. Continuity has been declared, ergo it exists by Magisterial fiat.

Thus with Amoris Laetitia. Cardinal Müller comes out and states that Amoris Laetitia is in perfect continuity with tradition. He states that Francis did not mean to call the teaching of his predecessors into question. Fine. But what about those passages that do seem to contradict Familiaris Consortio and Sacramentum Caritatis, like, you know, footnote 351? The cardinal says footnore 351 is only making some very general observations and that's about all we should take away from it, “Without going into detail." Without going into detail? Detail is what we need at this point, sir.

He then simply restates the traditional teaching and says that Amoris Laetitia "does not touch on the former discipline.” His only other comment on the footnote is that if the pope thought it was so important, he wouldn't have included it as merely a footnote.

None of this actually parses what the pope said or explains how it is in continuity; after all, Müller wanted to discuss it "without going into detail." But who cares? Continuity has been declared. The fact is established.

Cardinal Raymond Burke is another example. His essay on the Amoris Laetitia states that "the task of pastors and other teachers of the faith is to present it within the context of the Church’s teaching and discipline." I agree wholeheartedly. But when we don't understand how to reconcile certain statements with the Church's teaching and discipline, you need to tell us how, sir. 

While he admirably addressed the false assertion that Christian marriage is merely an ideal, Burke likewise fails to offer us any way to reconcile the Pope's meanings with tradition. He states: 

"The Church’s official doctrine, in fact, provides the irreplaceable interpretative key to the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, so that it may truly serve the good of all the faithful, uniting them ever more closely to Christ, who alone is our salvation. There can be no opposition or contradiction between the Church’s doctrine and her pastoral practice."

Yes! There can be no opposition between doctrine and practice. Now please explain how the document does not create such an opposition. Merely stating there isn't one does not establish anything.

You can't create continuity just by saying it exists. You can't tell us the traditional teaching is untouched when the context of the words seems to suggest otherwise - and if we are wrong, then please explain how. Please explain how things are not in discontinuity. You cannot create continuity by fiat decree. You cannot substitute a phantasm for substance.


Friday, April 22, 2016

I Give Up


No, I'm not giving up blogging. But I am giving up making any effort to comment or follow the developments of the current pontificate. Not that I had really been keeping up that much anyway; I reject - at least personally - the identity of a quasi-professional commentator who basically ties himself to current events and feeds his readership a never-ending digest of his "take" on what's going on. Honestly, reading about Iron Age ruins in Palestine or 6th century Irish saints is much more interesting and edifying to me than dwelling on what could possibly be going on in the mind of our current Roman Pontiff.

I had offered some commentary though - and I am still sludging through working an eBook on Laudato Si. But, man, I give up. Amoris Laetitia? Haven't read it. Not planning on it. Maybe someday when I'm like, extra bored or feel like punishing myself. Latest papal interviews? Haven't followed them. Probably won't. Speculating about papabile or the "next moves" of Francis or whatever...I don't care.

Well, I mean, I do care in the objective sense - but its too much, I'm too busy, and honestly, none of this stuff concerns my faith in any substantial manner. Some people are terribly scandalized by all of it; some I know have gone over to Sedevacantism or converted to Orthodoxy. I don't know...it doesn't really bother me in a sense that touches on my faith. Perhaps I am too much a student of Church history to be deceived into thinking any higher of the Church's human element than it merits. How would you feel if you were alive in the 10th century and witnessed Pope John XII offering a toast to the devil? Or witnessed the Cadaver Synod? Yeah, it sucks. I know. But my faith was never in the human perfection of the Roman Pontiff anyway.

And - as I have continued to study the obscure saints of the Church, like when I was working on the book about St. Columba - it amazed me the degree to which what went on in Rome was completely, absolutely irrelevant to the lives of these holy men and women. Indeed, many saints in the most distant regions of Christendom were not even aware of who the pontiff is. I have read many stories of travelers from Rome coming to far-off places and the bishops there saying, "You're from Rome? Tell me, who is pope now?" and then finding out that two or three popes have come and gone without their knowledge.

One final thing -it is ironic to me that it was easier being a Traditional blogger when we had a quasi-traditional pope (I say quasi-traditional because Benedict XVI was never a Traditionalist in any meaningful sense - he is a Teilhardian who has a sentimental, nostalgic affection for the Latin Mass). Why would it be easier to complain under a tradition-friendly pope? Not that the essence of Traditionalism is complaining, of course, but the fact is to the degree that we do "complain", it is easier to do when you perceive that the man in power is amenable to your critiques; you feel like there is a chance that someone may listen, and ultimately you have the consolation of knowing that he, to some degree, has got your back, at least in theory.

But when the guy in charge has absolutely zero interest in your concerns - and indeed, when it is questionable whether he even shares the most basic theological and philosophical assumptions as historic Catholicism - there is a strong sense of "Why bother?"

So, no I am not giving up blogging. But I'm giving up trying to keep up with this pontificate. I am a Catholic; I love the papacy. In fact, it was the study of the Petrine Primacy that led me back to the Church fourteen years ago. But never has a papacy been so irrelevant to my faith as this one. I have enough to worry about in my own spiritual life.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Punishment for Abortion

This week, my Facebook feed is on fire with Catholic friends and Pro-Life activists insisting that it has never been a Pro-Life position advocate punishing women who procure abortions. These folks are appalled that anyone would suggest such a thing. It is like, they are utterly disgusted that it could possibly be suggested that women be held legally responsible for the murder of their child.

I for one never gave this much thought until; probably because it seems like such a stretch to imagine a situation where abortion is illegal, let alone argue about who should be punished for it. I think I always assumed that in Christendom there would be some legal penalty for women who procured abortion. After giving this some more thought this week, I have to say I am not totally opposed to the concept of punishing women who have abortions.

It has been a staple of the Pro-Life movement that abortion is murder. If that is the case, then the abortionist is a murderer and the woman who procures and abortion is an accessory to murder. This is rather straight forward. This is the fundamental truth.

However, it seems that another staple of the Pro-Life movement has been to portray the woman as the "victim" in an abortion case: a victim of Pro-Choice propaganda, of Planned Parentood, of unsympathetic relatives who insist on abortion, of the abortionists who downplay the risks and reality of abortion - and, after the abortion has been carried out, a victim of her own guilt.

Anyone who has dealt with women who have had abortions knows that they are under tremendous suffering and often struggling with immense guilt over their deed. In order to help these women heal, the Pro-Life movement has usually chosen a "soft" approach with these women, which necessarily implies helping them get over the guilt of their deed. The "victim" approach makes this easy.

But while the victim approach may be helpful from a psychological point of view with regard to helping the woman heal, there are also legal ramifications. A person has been murdered. The mother who procures the abortion has ordered the murder of a human being. Yes, the abortionist did the killing, but at the mother's behest and with her consent. If abortion truly is murder, then the mother is truly an accessory.

From a legal standpoint, how can that irrelevant? While most Pro-Lifers would advocate strict punishments for abortionists, should the accessory to murder simply go away with no legal ramifications for ordering the death of a human being?

Yes, these women are hurting. Yes, they are probably very troubled. But everybody who murders somebody else is troubled. That is nothing new. And the fact that someone is hurting or confused or guilty or whatever has never been a legal argument that they should not be punished for being an accessory for murder. Yes, the mother is often repentant...but so are many people who kill other people. When has that been justification to omit any legal penalty?

If I hire a hit-man to kill my wife, the hit-man is the murderer and I am an accessory to murder. Both of us will be charged with crimes. Now, if we really believe abortion is actually murder, how can it not be inferred logically that the woman who wills murder, pays for murder, assents to murder, and procures murder is not also legally responsible, at least to some extent?

Will it help women heal from abortion by advocating a legal punishment? I don't know. I don't know if it helps the murderer heal to throw him in prison. I am not addressing a psychological question, but a legal one - is it just that the accessory of murder be punished, at least in some sense?

I am not here advocating any particular punishment. I am merely asking - is advocating some legal ramifications for women who have abortions really that far out there? Should Pro-Lifers who have loudly insisted for 40 years that abortion is murder really be so mortified that someone should suggest that the accessories to murder face some legal penalty for this? It does not seem really that far fetched.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

USC Videos: The Role of Catholic Tradition


So, if you read this blog you probably know who Dave Armstrong is. He has been doing popular Catholic apologetics for years. He runs a blog on Patheos and used to have another website, which I believe is now defunct or redirects to the Patheos site.

I have had several run-ins with Dave over the years and we have butted heads on the issue of Catholic Traditionalism. I have kind of argued with Dave in my comboxes, published articles rebutting things he said that I disagreed with, and bantered with him on Facebook over the years. Other traditionalists have had similar encounters with him - often leading to someone getting banned from Dave's Facebook page.

I have to be honest, I would get so riled up reading Dave's comments on "radical traditionalism" that I unfollowed him on Facebook - not because I dislike Dave personally, but because I was wasting so much time reading his long threads and arguing back and forth. This was last summer I believe.

Well, you might not know it, but Dave and I live only an hour away from each other. He and I have many mutual friends. Dave, to his credit, seems to have not been happy with the way some of his interactions with traditionalists had gone and reached out to me last Fall to kind of build some bridges. Dave has monthly gatherings at his home where he invites speakers to address a variety of topics relevant to the faith. He reached out to me and asked if I would come to his home to speak to his friends about "authentic traditionalism." I agreed. The result was this video.

There were about fifteen people there, including Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Professor of Theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, and Dr. Phil Blosser, Professor of Philosophy at Sacred Heart and blogmaster of the excellent blog Musings of a Pertinacious Papist, which has generously linked to this blog over the years.

A few notes - I know people will object to my comments early on that some people can be "too nit-picky" about liturgy and that this can be a fault. Some people think you can never be too particular about liturgy. I'm sorry, I disagree. When your priest, despite huge opposition, begins to offer the Latin Mass and you complain about his pronunciation; when you tap somebody on the shoulder before Mass and tell them that the genuflected on the wrong knee; when a volunteer amateur choir director puts in arduous hours preparing the chants for Sunday and you complain about the quality of the polyphony - I'm sorry, you are being too nit-picky.

One interesting thing was that both Dave and I wanted to make sure the presentation of the argument for tradition was positive - that is, it was not centered on the problems with Vatican II or exclusively on abuses or papal scandal or things like that. It was to be centered on the positive value of tradition considered in itself, not in relation to all the terrible things happening right now.

I also mention at the end that I am interested in promoting a traditionalism that is not bound up with the fate of the SSPX. For those who read this blog this should be nothing new. I pray for the SSPX to be reconciled fully with the Church. But I do not think traditionalism stands or falls with the SSPX.

Special thanks to Dave for extending the invitation to me. I had a chance to have dinner with Dave and his family before the talk and - as is the case with most humans - he is much more likable in person than as a name in a combox. We still have our disagreements, of course, but that doesn't mean we have to personally dislike each other.

Anyhow, if you're interested, take a look. And subscribe to our Youtube channel.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Woman Caught in Adultery

In today's Gospel, we heard the story from the Gospel of John of the woman caught in adultery. Of course it is the source of the famous anecdote, "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone" (cf. John 8:7).

This is one of the best known sayings of Jesus, but I also believe that this story as a whole is one of the least understood. What was Jesus really saying when He said, "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone"?

The story if often made into a moral about not judging. The assumption is that the Pharisees were being harshly judgmental in publicly accusing the woman of adultery. In their insistence that she suffer the penalty of death they are calling for a strict application of justice without any mercy. When Jesus says, "Let he among who is without sin cast the first stone", our Lord is reminding the Pharisees that everybody is a sinner and we are all in need of God's mercy. The people holding the stones, reflecting on their own sinfulness, suddenly realize they are in no position to pass judgment on the sins of another and go away. Then Jesus mercifully forgives the woman and sends her on her way.

The central assumption of this common interpretation is that, when confronted with Jesus' comment, the Pharisees realized that they were all sinners and that they had no moral standing to insist on the punishment of another sinner. How can they insist on the punishments prescribed by the law when they themselves are also guilty of breaking the law?

This is probably the most common manner of reading this story, and while it has a certain beauty to it, I am convinced that this is not most textually accurate way of reading this story. Here's why:

First, the Pharisees were not being out of line by accusing the woman of adultery. It was not as if this was some unfounded rumor and the Pharisees were jumping to a hasty conclusion. The text says she was caught in the very act (v. 3-4); the Pharisees were neither being judgmental nor hasty in their conclusion.

Second, recall that the Pharisees were not actually insisting that the woman suffer the death penalty. The Pharisees merely noted (rightly) that the Law of Moses called for the death penalty and asked Jesus "what do you say?" (v. 5) They were not insisting that Jesus stone the woman; they were asking for His opinion.

Why were they asking? The Scriptures tell us it was so that they might find some matter in which they could accuse Him (v. 6). Accuse Him of what? To whom? When the Pharisees set traps for our Lord, they did so in such a manner that no matter what answer He gave He would stand condemned, as in the famous example of the Temple tax ("Don't you pay taxes to Caesar?"). Their questions are set up for Him to be inescapable dilemmas.

If that was the case, it does not make sense that they would be trying to urge our Lord to stone the woman. It has to be the case that whatever course our Lord takes - death or clemency - He somehow stands condemned. We understand that if Jesus opted for clemency, the Pharisees could accuse Him of being a lawbreaker, since the Law of Moses specifically commanded death for adulterers (Lev. 20). But how could Jesus stand condemned if He agreed with the application of the death penalty?

To answer this, we need to ask about whom the Pharisees were hoping to accuse Jesus to. If He refused to execute the woman, they could accuse Him to the people as a lawbreaker. But if He carried out the sentence?

It is evident that the only answer would be the Roman authorities. If Jesus insisted on executing the woman, the Pharisees would have grounds to make an accusation against Jesus to the Romans, for the Jews under Roman occupation were not allowed to put anyone to death (John 18:31). The right to execute a capital sentence resides with the sovereign alone. Forbidding the Jews from carrying out the death sentence was an expression of Roman sovereignty. Conversely, if Jesus were to command an execution, it would be tantamount to His denial of Roman sovereignty - a claim to exercise a power independent of Rome. Our Lord would stand condemned as a rebel against Roman power in Judea.

Thus, if Jesus refuses to execute the sentence prescribed by the Law, He is a lawbreaker and could lose credibility with the people. If He agrees to execute the sentence, He makes Himself a rebel against Rome. Either way, however He chooses, He stands condemned. It is an impossible dilemma.

Thus - and this is pivotal - when Jesus stands up and says, "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone", He is not so much making an appeal to the Pharisee's conscience to consider their own sinfulness; rather, He is throwing the dilemma back upon them. Here's how.

What is often forgotten in this story is that the Pharisees really did believe they were without sin. When Jesus says "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone", this phrase was not likely to phase the Pharisees the way we assume, because the Pharisees actually assumed they were sinless. They assumed their adherence to the Law of Moses and the traditions of the elders rendered them righteous in the eyes of God. Jesus' statement cannot be construed as an appeal to their conscience. In their conscience, they believed they were sinless.

As further evidence of this, we must remember that the Law of Moses never stipulated that those who carry out the penalties of the law must themselves be sinless. Not once does the Old Testament ever infer such a principle; therefore, there is no justification for thinking the Pharisees were pricked at their own sinfulness. We have already noted that the Pharisees did not believe themselves to be sinners -  but even if they did acknowledge they had sinned, there is no reason to suppose this would have stopped them from carrying out the sentence, since the Law of Moses never said those who carried out the precepts of the Law needed to be sinless themselves.

This and the prior consideration lead us to see that it is not possible that Jesus' words were intended to prick the Pharisees' conscience about their own sinfulness. What did He intend, then?

By saying, "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone", Jesus is quite cleverly throwing the dilemma back upon the Pharisees. Those who are without sin are the best judges of what is the prudent course of action in a given situation; since the Pharisees claim to be such, let them render a judgment. This puts the Pharisees in the dilemma they intended to trap Jesus in. Now it is the Pharisees who must choose between being lawbreakers and rebels.

This is why Scripture specifically says that it was the old men among the crowd who dropped their stones and walked away first (v. 9). This is another indication that our Lord was not intending to prick their conscience about their own sinfulness. The elder, who were wiser, understood the bind our Lord had put the Pharisees in before the younger. They immediately knew they were beaten and went away. It took the younger ones awhile to figure out what had happened.

Thus, rather than seeing this story as our Lord appealing to the conscience of the Pharisees to recognize that we are all sinners, our Lord's actions actually presume that the Pharisees consider themselves sinless - this is why He is able to take the trap they laid for Him and turn it on them. It is not an appeal against judgmentalism and self-righteousness; rather, it is a clever game in Jesus uses the Pharisees' own assumed sinlessness to make them run afoul of Rome's law if they insist on carrying out the death penalty.

There remains only one question - the Scriptures clearly say that when the Pharisees approached Jesus, He was bent over and writing in the dust with His finger; this is mentioned twice (v. 6,8). But, tantalizingly enough, the Gospel does not say what He was writing. What was Jesus writing in the ground?

There is no way to know, but I would look to the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, chapter 17. There, the prophet says:
O Lord, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake thee shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from thee shall be written in the earth,
for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water (Jer. 17:13)

The names of those enemies of the Lord who forsake Him shall be written in the earth. Was our Lord writing the names of His adversaries? In that same passage, a little further down, Jeremiah says:
Let those be put to shame who persecute me,
but let me not be put to shame;
let them be dismayed,
but let me not be dismayed;
bring upon them the day of evil;
destroy them with double destruction! (Jer. 17:18)

This is perfectly applicable to what the Pharisees were doing to Jesus in John 8. They intended to make our Lord dismayed, but the dismay they intended to bring upon Him was turned upon their own heads.

+AMDG+