Friday, October 31, 2008

Terrible As An Army Set In Array

As we come to the close of October, the Month of the Rosary, I must pay homage to the Blessed Mother.

When most people think of Our Lady, they generally conjure up images of a soft, quiet, and passive woman who speaks in lilting, breathy tones. Consider the subject of this post, though. This line comes from the Canticle of Canticles 6:3.

Thou art beautiful, O my love, sweet and comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army set in array.

And again in verse 9.

Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?

These verses are often used, as most verses in the Canticle are, to describe the Church. However, since Mary is a type of the Church and since she is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, they could be applied to her in some ways as well. The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin certainly seems to think so, as it features these lines prominently.

The point I'm trying to make goes all the way back to Genesis.

I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

Mary is not someone who just sits on the sidelines and occasionally pops in for an apparition every now and then. She is not just Queen of Heaven and Earth. She is a warrior. She is the adversary of The Adversary. God Himself set it up that way.

Whether it's the scourge of the Albigensians or the threat of Islamic conquest at Lepanto, the Blessed Mother, particularly through the devotion of the Rosary, has played a major role in the preservation of the Church and the destruction of Her enemies.

Universal and well-known are the evils we deplore: war made upon the sacred dogmas which the Church holds and transmits; derision cast upon the integrity of that Christian morality which she has in keeping; enmity declared, with the impudence of audacity and with criminal malice, against the very Christ, as though the Divine work of Redemption itself were to be destroyed from its foundation-that work which, indeed, no adverse power shall ever utterly abolish or destroy.

No new events are these in the career of the Church militant. Jesus foretold them to His disciples. That she may teach men the truth and may guide them to eternal salvation, she must enter upon a daily war; and throughout the course of ages she has fought, even to martyrdom, rejoicing and glorifying herself in nothing more than in the occasion of signing her cause with her Founder's blood, the sure and certain pledge of the victory whereof she holds the promise.

Thus under the favour of the powerful Virgin, the glorious vanquisher of all heresies, the forces of the wicked were destroyed and dispersed, and faith issued forth unharmed and more shining than before.

Pope Leo XIII, Octobri Mense

What I'm trying to say is that Our Mother doesn't get the respect she deserves for her role in the spiritual combat and the invisible conflict that constantly rages with the principalities and powers of darkness. Satan certainly recognizes it. I doubt that he appreciated the utter annihilation of his power being wrought by the fiat of a woman, especially considering his initial victory in the Garden over Mary's predecessor. Satan fears her; we should fly to her.

Our Lady of the Rosary, vanquisher of heresies, pray for us.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What's the Difference Between Abortion, Communism, and Racial Prejudice?

I would suggest that the difference is that abortion is worse than the other two. At the very least, I'd figure them to be equally bad.

Here's the weird part, though. Excommunicating communists is something the Church has a long habit of doing. Blessed John XXIII actually signed off on the automatic excoms of anyone who voted for communists or joined the communist party.

I'm from Louisiana. Most folks here know about the actions of Archbishop Rummel of New Orleans, who threatened the excommunication of segregationists. He wasn't the only guy who did this.

I haven't found anyone who thinks that the latter act was bad. I've found only a couple (literally) who have any reservations about the former. Yet many of these same people would widely denounce any such sanction against pro-abortion politicians. The reasons for this inconsistency are varied, but suffice to say, I find them rather dishonest. I'll go into detail if folks are interested enough in the topic.

If this is such a serious moral issue, which the Church teaches that it is, how can the penalties handed out for similar issues somehow prohibited?

Simon the Zealot

This is an easy post to make because we really don't know anything about this guy. He doesn't even have his own feast day, sharing this one with St. Jude. At least St. Jude has an epistle, a second name (Thaddeus), and a popular devotion (hopeless causes). What do we remember Simon for? Coming before Judas in the lists of the Apostles, being called "the Zealot," and not being Peter.

That's it.

Of all the other Apostles, he is probably the most mysterious and least known. It's almost unthinkable for me that a guy can be hand-picked by Christ Himself to spread His message and yet be almost invisible historically. Probably something to learn there. Similar to St. Therese's thinking, you don't have to light up the sky with miracles and/or profound thinking to be somebody. Grace is enough.

This is a pretty big deal in Simon's case. If he was a member of the Zealots, which is debated, he probably spent his spare time reading the Law and knifing random Romans in the back. In other words, he had probably murdered a few guys in his day. We must recall, though, that if Christ could call a tax collector, or an average shmoe fisherman, or a prostitute, why not a murderer as well? His coupling with Judas in the apostolic lists is also interesting given that many scholars do think that Judas was a Zealot or someone of a similar mindset. The allure of the temporally messianic Christ is what you'll see some folks point to as Judas's breaking point. If that's really the case, then the dichotomy between these two couldn't be be more obvious. Simon made his choice, and Judas took the opposite road.

I'll leave it at that, I think. I really just wanted St. Simon to get some well-deserved, yet little received, publicity on his (admittedly joint) feast day.

St. Simon the Zealot, pray for us that the zeal of our hearts for God's cause may ever increase.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Most Popular Saint of Modern Times (maybe)

The answer to this question should always be the Blessed Mother. Always. However, due to contacts with other ecclesial communities, many Catholics seem to have developed some embarassment over devotion to Our Lady. This is a shame, but it's true.

St. Francis, though, is a guy I see more and more of everywhere I go. Even Protestants are putting him in their yards these days. Environmentalist hippie-types think he's awesome. I often wonder how awesome people (Catholics included) would think he was if they really examined his life.

The story of his beginning is well-known. Dad was rich. Francis was a party guy. More and more, though, he started to see the emptiness of his life. While in a church of San Damiano, he heard Christ speak to him from the cross, telling him to "rebuild his house." Francis initially thought this meant the building where he was praying. As we know today, Francis's efforts would be a huge part of restoring and reforming the entire universal Church.

This whole experience eventually led to his giving all of his stuff away and taking care of lepers. When his dad found out, he beat Francis up and demanded that he go get all the stuff back. Francis took off his clothes and left them their as his father's "payment." This is when the ball really got rolling.

Francis lived in abject poverty and preached repentance to anyone who would listen. If we know anything about Church history, it's that people who do this sort of thing immediately attract a bevy of followers. This was the birth of the Franciscan Order. The rest is history. The Order would become the major ecclesiastical force of the next three centuries, a visible reflection of the Gospel and the yearning for spiritual perfection.

My favorite St. Francis stories are the ones that nobody tells anymore because they strip away the image of the jolly beggar and remind us that sainthood isn't all burgers, fries, and cherry pies. For example, most people don't like the idea of Francis being tempted by lust to the point where he would roll around in the snow or jump naked into a thorn bush. It's simple. He didn't want to offend God. Mortification kept him from doing that. He picked the latter over the former.

Or how about ecumenism? Francis went all the way to Egypt to try and convert the sultan there. He didn't go for dialogue. He went to preach the Gospel and win souls for Christ. Granted, it didn't work all that well, the sultan didn't convert, but Francis had the attitude that true ecumenism should foster.

Of course, we also have the story of the stigmata. See if this description from the Catholic Encyclopedia is an image normally associated with Francis:

The saint's right side is described as bearing on open wound which looked as if made by a lance, while through his hands and feet were black nails of flesh, the points of which were bent backward. After the reception of the stigmata, Francis suffered increasing pains throughout his frail body, already broken by continual mortification.

Probably not.

Still, this isn't to say that Francis was a gloomy guy borne down by the weight of suffering. His joy amidst all this is a testament to the extraordinary power of grace.

I'll close this out with a favorite of mine and the hippie crowd, though I've noticed they often omit the last couple of verses, what with their being about death and all. I give you the Canticle of the Creatures:

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing. To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no man is worthy to mention your name.

Praised be You, my lord, with all your creatures, especially Brother Sun, Who is the day and through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor; and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather through which you give sustance to your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs. Praised be you, my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no living man can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.

St. Francis, pray for us.

Alexei II Had Something Good to Say

This is big news. Recently, Alexei has been too busy tying himself to Putin to do much else. Zenit reports that he's trying to be nice, though.

The Russian religious leader expressed his "joy at the growing perspective of the development of good relations and a positive cooperation between our two Churches."

"The solid base of this," he added, "is in our common roots and our converging positions regarding many of the questions that today afflict the world."

He'll also be visiting Austria to meet with Cardinal Schonborn in December. My colleague Karl, who has been nice enough to contribute some great work here, will be the first to tell you that as Russia goes, so goes Orthodoxy. That goes for returning to communion with Rome, as well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Synod is Over

And I have no idea what to think about it. The most interesting parts came from the non-Catholics. The interventions by the Catholics present came across as (mostly) fluff. I'd have posted about them otherwise. Sure, there were some good ideas (Scripture compendium, getting people to pray the rosary more, etc.), but for the most part, I'm left wondering why all the hullaballoo. The previous synod on the Eucharist seemed a lot more interesting, by comparision.

More to the point, I didn't see the inerrancy issue come up at all. This is not good for the reasons I mentioned previously and for the simple fact that it hits right at the defining characteristic of Scripture. God wrote it, so it has no errors. Nobody at the whole synod thought this was worth mentioning, especially when the gathering's working document contradicts this? I'm hoping very much that I just missed an intervention or two.

Here's what I really don't get. Folks are so committed to ecumenism that we see weird statements by Kaspar all the time and applause for synod speeches promoting broken ecclesiology. For some reason, though, we let people get away with flat-out heresy in denying the inerrancy of Scripture. The Orthodox are on-board with inerrancy. All evangelical Protestants are. Most Pentecostals would at least agree to it in principle as long as it doesn't contradict their "new revelation." Most classic Reformed churches would agree as well. The only people who seem to be pushing this particular heresy are the Protestant liberals (lots of Anglicans, eg). So basically, this whole heretical idea is an absolute millstone for any ecumenical efforts, save for those directed at avowed modernists who would shelve any dogma that doesn't fit their personal taste.

Perhaps we should re-evaluate our priorities in who we want to talk to. One of the few times ecumenism could actually help bolster the Faith, and we have leaders who are more worried about cozying up to modernists.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bishop Martino Goes Network

You remember Bishop Martino, right? Thank you Rocco Palma for keeping us up to speed on the Shepherd of Scranton, PA.

Here's the deal. A church in his jurisdiction decided to have an "election forum" mostly to discuss abortion. Apparently, the discussion there was centered entirely around the USCCB's "Faithful Citizenship" document with nary a mention of the bishop's letter I mentioned in my earlier post. More than that, folks were using the USCCB document to justify their political positions that contradicted Martino's crystal clear elaboration of Church teaching on issues of abortion, euthanasia, and stem-cell research.

Hearing about all this, His Excellency decided to crash the party. He showed up uninvited and then let loose with what pretty much every bishop in the country needs to understand.

“No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” said Martino. “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”“The only relevant document ... is my letter,” he said. “There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”

If only someone could have set off fireworks or something when he dropped this on the folks present. This bastardized notion of collegiality whereby national episcopal conferences can dictate what a bishop does in his own diocese has got to go. On a side note, here's another wacky result of the post-conciliar efforts. Vatican II was supposed to be all about the role of bishops and collegiality and helping each to assert himself more. The end result has been domination by the national conferences.

Anyways, back to Bishop Martino. He then followed up with:

“No social issue has caused the death of 50 million people,” he said, nothing that he no longer supports the Democratic Party. “This is madness people.”

Awesome. What made it even better were the comments in the Wayne Independent (which, by the way, clearly doesn't concern itself with learning what Catholics actually believe- note the description of Communion). Here's what the moderator said:

“I think this meeting was torpedoed,” said Gene Tagle, the forum’s moderator. “He’s (Martino) known for three months that this has been in the works.”

No crap, Gene. Torpedoed, nuked, and cremated with the ashes shot to the freaking moon.

Pope Benedict's Complete Works to be Published

Zenit has the full story.

The Pope affirmed this in the preface to the first of 16 German-language volumes, which was presented Wednesday. The "Complete Works" will contain previously unpublished texts, and range from Joseph Ratzinger's university years up to his election as Pontiff.

This should be pretty interesting stuff, if it ever gets going in English. Keep in mind that we still have Doctors of the Church that you can't find stuff for. Ever see a copy of Bellarmine's dogmatic works in English? Peter Canisius's Catechism? Me neither.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Into Great Silence: Tonight on EWTN, 9 PM Eastern

Awesome movie that tracks the day-to-day life of Carthusian monks.

Watch it. You will be a better person for doing so.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

More From Cardinal Kaspar at the Synod

According to Zenit, Cardinal Kaspar's latest shpiel is another exercise in ignoring reality.

Despite all the sad divisions in the history of the Church, the Word of God witnessed above all in holy Scripture has remained the common inheritance even today; nothing else unites the Christian churches and communities like the Bible does.

Really? Sometimes I have to wonder what Protestants Kaspar is talking to. I suppose we might be able to make this comment about the Orthodox, but I don't think that is who he's limiting this to since he says that the Scriptures are the "ecumenical bond par excellence."

This would seem to presume that we could even agree on what Scriptures are Scripture. Next time a Protestant asks me about purgatory, and I quote from 2 Maccabees, we'll see just how "common" our inheritance really is. Try pitching this line to a King James Only-ist and see how far it gets you.

Friday, October 24, 2008

We Knew This Was Coming

Group asks IRS to investigate Catholic bishop against Obama

Just a bit from USAToday on what happens to bishops that try to take their vocation responsibly. This time it's Bishop Seratelli from Patterson, NJ.

Serratelli wrote that Obama has pledged, if elected president, to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, abortion-rights legislation the Catholic Church vehemently opposes.

"If this politician fulfills his promise, not only will many of our freedoms as Americans be taken from us, but the innocent and vulnerable will spill their blood," Serratelli wrote.

And the secularists response?

In so many words, "So the hell what?"

The Rev. Barry Lynn, president of Americans United, said it is "impossible to interpret this passage as anything but a command to vote against 'the present Democratic candidate' because of his promise to sign a certain piece of legislation disfavored by the Catholic Church's hierarchy."

As mentioned in the article, this is an issue because "under federal tax law, nonprofit groups — including religious organizations — are prohibited from intervening in campaigns for public office by endorsing or opposing candidates."

Strange times, friends, when organizations are more concerned with reporting shenanigans to the IRS than the Gospel of Life.

Ground Like Wheat: St. Ignatius of Antioch

I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God's sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God's wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.

That was St. Ignatius in his letter to the Romans. Ignatius, also known as Theophorus, was actually a successor of Peter, just to the See of Antioch rather than Rome. Hs feast day was last Friday. Interesting thing about that nickname, Theophorus. It means "God-Bearer." I've seen some folks theorize that this is a corruption and that it should really be "God-Borne" because Ignatius was the kid that Christ took up and showed the Apostles when discussing having the faith of a child. I have no idea if that's true, but it makes for a good story.

On better authority, we have it that Ignatius was a disciple of St. John. Such a direct link to The Twelve makes his work invaluable. There are seven letters that we know are genuine. He wrote them after being captured by the Roman authorities and carted off for execution, as he mentions in the snippet I posted above.

Lots of Protestants are pretty amazed when they read his epistles. You see a lot of Catholic stuff in them. Yes, shocking I know.

For example, Ignatius is the first guy that we see calling the Church "catholic."

Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.

Letter to the Smyrnaeans

Notice also that Ignatius has a very firm idea of an ecclesiastical hierarchy here. Unity with the bishop was a big deal for him, especially what with his being a bishop and all. Granted, he doesn't speak of communion with Rome or anything, but he is very blunt that the Church in Rome "presides" and "teaches" all the other churches.

Ignatius also had a real problem with a bunch of gnostics we know as the Docetists. The Docetists didn't believe in the reality of the Eucharist. They didn't reject the Real Presence because of the sorts of modern Protestant arguments that we typically hear. Basically, they didn't think that Christ had a physical body. Naturally, if He didn't have an actual body, the Eucharist couldn't be His body either. Ignatius was very frank about such people.

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.

Letter to the Smyrnaeans

Lots of great goodies from Ignatius all over the place. Ultimately, I direct all readers back to the first bit, though, which illustrates the wonderful attitude of the martyr. Maybe some influential people in Rome could have saved him. He didn't want that. He wanted Christ. Accomplishing that meant giving to Christ the most valuable gift Ignatius had, namely, his own life. Not just for Christ, though, but also for all those others who may have feared martyrdom without such an example.

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, Itself remaineth alone. But if it die it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it and he that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal. If any man minister to me, let him follow me: and where I am, there also shall my minister be.

John 12:24-26

Where does following Christ lead? To suffering, and sometimes, even to death.

St. Ignatius, pray for us, that we be willing to follow where Christ led.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Everything the Bible says really happened never happened."

That's the way the students used to characterize the religion classes at the highschool where I used to teach. That's the message that they got from the current way of teaching the bible. Perhaps this is evidence of a flawed approach.

My comrade Throwback has been covering the synod in Rome on the scriptures, and I commend him for his work examining the inerrancy of the Word of God. I think that's important to emphasize. It is The Word of God.

We tend to look for the minimum, the barest little bit that we have to accept. This occurs in the response of Catholics to the teaching of the Church as well as in our reading of Scripture. Is this teaching infallible? Do I really have to believe it? We take a similar approach to scripture: do I have to love my enemies? Do I have to give up lust? Did Jesus really mean that it's near impossible for the rich to get to heaven? We tend to minimize the bible down to small, easily digestible parts that don't conflict with our world view.

It's very convenient, but it is not at all the way that a believer reads a revealed text. The bible is believed to be, in its entirety, the inspired word of God. There isn't any error in it. There may be stories that are more story than history, but there isn't the slightest bit of error, by which I mean that the whole thing, down to the most repugnant descriptions of leprous scabs in Leviticus, is in the book because the Holy Spirit wanted it there.

The believer, confident in the inspiration of the text, then can find meaning in any passage. In a post on my other blog, I wrote about St. John Chrysostom, who takes as the topic for an hour-long, brilliant sermon the text of St. Paul "Take a little wine for your stomach's sake." He does it on purpose, to show just how the believer can see meaning in even the supposedly silly or inconsequential parts.

"I'm a John XXIII guy, I'm not a Pope John Paul guy."

The above quote is the latest in a series of asinine musings from Joe Biden regarding his (ahem) Catholicism. Yet somehow Palin is the one denounced as some sort of intellectual lightweight.

Joe, as usual, is trying to come up with ways to rationalize his support for the murder of the unborn. Thanks to Rocco Palma for these recent glimpses into the vacant mind of the Senator.

Catholics have this notion, it's almost a gradation.We have mortal sins, venial sins, well, up until Pius IX, there were times when we said, 'Look, there are circumstances in which it's wrong but it is not damnation. Along came Pius IX in the 1860s and declared in fine doctrine, this was the first time that it occurred that it was absolute human life and being at the moment of conception.

Can someone get Joe a Baltimore Catechism? Preferably one with the neat pictures in it. And maybe a history book that lets him know that abortion has always been a mortal sin. Come on, Joe. You've read Aquinas, or so you would have us believe. You should know this stuff. Unless, of course, you are a liar like your colleague Nancy.

One other thing, Senator. You don't know anything about John XXIII or John Paul II, so do us and yourself a favor and stop pretending that you have anything resembling a clue. Please. Try honesty instead. Admit your departure from the Church. You've been shacking up with heresy and schism for decades now. What harm is there in making it official?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What Bible Translation Do You Use?

We have several Bibles in the Throwback house, but the one we mostly use is a Douay-Rheims with Haydock commentary.

What say you?


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Artist Known as St. Luke

No, I'm not losing my mind. I know this isn't a picture of St. Luke.
It was his feast day last weekend, though. Everybody knows Luke, right? Wrote the 3rd Gospel. Was a doctor in his day job. What lots of folks have never heard is that Luke is thought by many to have been the first iconographer.

What you see here is commonly known as the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. There is a long-running tradition that St. Luke painted this icon on the top of what amounted to the Holy Family's coffee table. Sure, that seems weird, but it reminds us of another oft-forgotten point.

We know that Luke didn't personally witness the events of Jesus's life. He says so in the introduction for his Gospel. Where did he get all his information then? Most folks are willing to say that the source for Luke's Gospel was the Blessed Mother herself. This explains why he has so much more info on Mary's role. Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, the Nativity (shepherds and all), the Presentation, the Finding in the Temple, etc., are all Luke stuff. Who else would be giving him these sorts of details? Seems reasonable that it would be Mary.

Just wanted to throw that out there. Luke doesn't get as much play as the other three Gospel writers. John and Matthew were apostles. Mark worked with Peter and founded the church in Alexandria. He even has his own liturgy. Luke was a doctor. By comparison, this is like Charlie Brown getting the rock at Halloween. Considering that he was apparently close enough with the Theotokos to provide us with her account of salvation history, he should get a bit more exposure, I think.
St. Luke, pray for us.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Teresa of Avila

I'm going to approach St. Teresa with some caution. She's a mystic, after all, and that's how you have to treat them. Reading stuff from mystics is something we probably shouldn't do without a spiritual director. It's real easy to either get very spiritually greedy and feel like you deserve ecstacies, visions, etc. This tends to lead someone into doing rather extreme things in search of such experiences. Such things can get out of hand. Or you can go the other way and get down on yourself because you lack such experiences and wind up depressed about it.

Just be wary is all I'm saying.

Teresa herself really didn't trust the veracity of her own visions for a while. Her early encounters with God left her with a very vivid picture of how awful sin was, which in turn led her rather delicate conscience to describe even her most minor faults as absolutely horrible. Since she was so convinced of how awful she was and how unworthy she would be of the outpouring of graces God was giving her, she became convinced (not without the help of folks around her) that she was under the influence of The Adversary. She took this so seriously that she started major, hardcore penances that didn't stop until her confessor was able to turn her around to the idea that these mystical encounters were from God.

Yeah, I know. Makes you wonder about how we should be viewing our own sins. These ordeals help you understand her mindset later in life when her sufferings (I think she'd been thrown from a horse at the time) led her to state:

Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!

She eventually undertook the reform of her order, the Carmelites, who had apparently grown pretty soft over the years. As someone who knew a thing or two about penance and asceticism, Teresa was the perfect woman to toughen them back up again, starting with the practice of going barefoot and working up to ceremonial use of the discipline (translation: penitential flagellation). This reform is why we have Discalced Carmelites today.

If you're looking for an idea of what Teresa's experiences were like, take a good, long look at the picture above. It's from a vision/encounter she had where a seraph drove a golden lance through her heart. This is wild stuff for us non-mystics to wrap our minds around.

Teresa was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church back in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. If she has anything to teach us about, it's definitely prayer and patience. I am reluctant to reproduce stuff from her writings. That's another funny thing about mystics. Snippets can't give you anything close to a picture and often do damage to their whole message. I will provide this one simple, yet profound remark:
Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough.

Amen. If you want to see if her work is right for you, I suggest Fr. Thomas Dubay's book Fire Within, which gives an overview of Teresa and her friend John of the Cross, another guy whose work is almost dangerous in its depth.

St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us and for the reform of Holy Mother Church.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Interesting Tidbit from Patriarch Bartholomew

Patriarch Bartholomew is the Patriarch of the See of Constantinople. As such, he is supposed to be hailed by the Orthodox as the "Ecumenical Patriarch," which means he occupies the place of primacy (such as it is) among the Easterners not in communion with Rome. He is also a guy who gets routinely blasted by the people who are supposed to be his friends. He's always getting ripped for something, whether it's random claims of his trying to be "Pope of the East" or Russian encroachment on his canonical rights.

Anyways, Creative Minority Report has some very interesting comments from the Patriarch, which I think bear repeating, followed by serious thought. These are just snippets from a larger excerpt available at the link. He begins by talking about the factors that unify Orthodoxy. However, he then starts to address some hard facts.

Despite this, we must admit in all honesty that sometimes we present an image of incomplete unity, as if we were not one Church, but rather a confederation or a federation of churches. . .

So we have reached the perception that Orthodoxy comprises a federation of national Churches, frequently attributing priority to national interests in their relationship with one another. In light of this image, which somewhat recalls the situation in Corinth when the first letter to the Corinthians was written, the Apostle Paul would ask: has Orthodoxy been divided? This question is also posed by many observers of Orthodox affairs in our times.

Of course, the response commonly proffered to this question is that, despite administrational division, Orthodoxy remains united in faith, the Sacraments, etc. But is this sufficient? When before non-Orthodox we sometimes appear divided in theological dialogues and elsewhere; when we are unable to proceed to the realization of the long-heralded Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church; when we lack a unified voice on contemporary issues and, instead, convoke bilateral dialogues with non-Orthodox on these issues; when we fail to constitute a single Orthodox Church in the so-called Diaspora in accordance with the ecclesiological and canonical principles of our Church; how can we avoid the image of division in Orthodoxy, especially on the basis of non-theological, secular criteria?

These are some pretty amazing admissions coming from the guy who is supposed to be viewed as the guy who would fill at least some of the roles that he mentions. Granted, when he's tried to do that, he's been roundly criticized for doing so, which makes one wonder if there's anything to the polemical concept of Orthodox primacy other than just lip service.

We need, then, greater unity in order to appear to those outside not as a federation of Churches but as one unified Church. Through the centuries, and especially after the Schism, when the Church of Rome ceased to be in communion with the Orthodox, this Throne was called -- according to canonical order -- to serve the unity of the Orthodox Church as its first Throne.

Wow. This strikes me as pretty huge. I'd also like to point out the ecclesiology envisioned by Patriarch Bartholomew in contrast to what was brough up by Rev. Welsh at the Synod.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hilarity Ensues at Vatican II

I thought this was an interesting story. Cardinal Stickler is one of the greatest liturgical scholars of the last half-century. John Paul II acknowledged this by appointing him to the original committee in charge of investigating the status of the Traditional Latin Mass. He was also present as a peritus (theological expert) at the Second Vatican Council. This article (thanks to the Latin Mass Magazine) is a great take on the changes wrought by the post-conciliar liturgical reform.

While the whole thing is awesome, the best part is this snippet when he talks about the Council's discussion of the vernacular being used for the whole Mass.

As an expert on the commission for the seminaries, I was entrusted with the question of the Latin language. It proved to be brief and concise and after lengthy discussion was brought to a form which complied with the wishes of all members and was ready for presentation in the Council hall. Then, in an unexpected solemnity, Pope John XXIII signed the Apostolic Letter Veterum Sapientia on the altar of St. Peter. According to the opinion of the commission, that made superfluous the Council's declaration on Latin in the Church. (In the document not only the relationship of the Latin language to the liturgy, but also all its other functions in the life of the Church, were pronounced upon.)

As the subject of the language of worship was discussed in the Council hall over the course of several days, I followed the process with great attention, as well as later the various wordings of the Liturgy Constitution until the final vote. I still remember very well how after several radical proposals a Sicilian bishop rose and implored the fathers to allow caution and reason to reign on this point, because otherwise there would be the danger that the entire Mass might be held in the language of the people-whereupon the entire hall burst into uproarious laughter.

I could therefore never understand how Archbishop Bugnini could write, regarding the radical and complete transition from the prescribed Latin to the exclusively vulgar language of worship, that the Council had practically said that the vernacular in the entire Mass was a pastoral necessity (op. cit., pp. 108-121; I am quoting from the original Italian edition).

Wild, huh? The Council Fathers thought the very idea of vernacular for the Latin Rite to be a big joke. Somehow, though, we wound up with just that. Keep that in mind the next time someone mentions how Vatican II's discussion of "full and active participation" equates to an abolition of Latin in the liturgy.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Guardian Angels

We mentioned St. Michael. Now, we should recall those nameless angels who are always watching over us and giving us assistance, usually without so much as a thank you. These are the Guardian Angels. Scripture provides a couple of references mentioning these Divine Messengers. In Matthew 18:10, perhaps the most popular example, Jesus says of children:

See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

Theologically speaking, I'm not familiar with a lot of items that address the Guardian Angel with much detail. If anybody does know of some, feel free to mention them in the comments. Regardless, we do have a bit from St. Thomas:

Man while in this state of life, is, as it were, on a road by which he should journey towards heaven. On this road man is threatened by many dangers both from within and from without, according to Psalm 141:4: "In this way wherein I walked, they have hidden a snare for me." And therefore as guardians are appointed for men who have to pass by an unsafe road, so an angel guardian is assigned to each man as long as he is a wayfarer. When, however, he arrives at the end of life he no longer has a guardian angel; but in the kingdom he will have an angel to reign with him, in hell a demon to punish him.

It's pretty bad that we take these friends so lightly. God loved us enough to give us a celestial protector. One would think we could show some gratitude every now and then both to the God who gave us a personal angelic guide, as well as to the guide himself for the assistance given.

Some Catholics might even remember the prayer taught in Catechism classes from way back. How long has it been since you've heard this?

Angel of God,
my guardian dear
to whom God's love commits me here.
Ever this day be at my side
to light, to guard, to rule and guide.

Far too long would be my guess.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Greatest Pope You Never Hear About?

It might be St. Callistus I. He was pope back in the third century and, quite frankly, had to put up with a lot of crap.

From the get-go, most folks probably would have thought him something of a long shot for any sort of greatness. He started out a slave. His master put him in charge of his money, which Callistus promptly lost by some means. He would go on to be arrested for causing commotion among some Jewish people. This got him sentenced to hard labor in the mines of Sardinia. Once paroled, his life started to turn the corner a bit. He became a caretaker of the Christian cemetery in Rome and was ordained a deacon.

Eventually, he was elected to the Chair of Peter. This didn't go well with another saint we've talked about previously, St. Hippolytus. Hippolytus, who had already feuded with Callistus's predecessor, Zephrynius, accused the new pope of Monarchianism. This is basically the idea that Son (and one would assume the Holy Spirit as well) are somehow inferior to the Father. Callistus, on the other hand, regarded Hippolytus of being a ditheist, a believer in two gods (the Father and the Son). Hippolytus piled on with some other accusations, including a primitive version of Donatism by saying that mortal sin was a good enough reason to depose a bishop. Callistus, doing a major favor to our current bishops, disagreed with this.

Attempts at reconciliation were fruitless, and Hippolytus eventually went so far as to have himself consecrated Bishop of Rome. Despite his status as the first antipope, he would later be reconciled with the Church. Callistus himself would be martyred in the year 223 (or so). If you read the Catholic Encyclopedia article about him, the closing paragraph hypothesizes that he might have been one of the greatest popes ever. This is truly remarkable when one considers that the bulk of what we know about Callistus comes from nasty polemics written by Hippolytus that don't do much more than call him a heretic and a lout. Strange how these things work out.

St. Callistus, pray for us.

More Synod Weirdness

The Synod continues. It turns out that Rabbi Cohen was not the only non-Catholic invited to speak. Rev. Robert Welsh, a Protestant minister was also there and, according to Zenit, is the guy who has gotten the best reception, applause even. Let's take a gander at some of his comments.

According to this fraternal delegate: "Christian unity stands at the heart of the Gospel message; division within the body of Christ is a scandal before God and before the world.

"Our division at the table of the Eucharist stands as a continuing denial of the power of the cross to heal, to reconcile, and to unite all things on earth and all things in heaven."

Welsh acknowledged his hope that "this synod will deepen its reflection on the relation between the Word of God, the Eucharist, and the unity of all Christians within the one body of Christ."

I certainly hope that this is not what everybody was clapping about. These statements reflect a very odd view of ecclesiology, and this guy is not the only one who promotes this kind of stuff. Catholics do it, too. What I can't cipher is how it's supposed to jive with Catholicism.

Think of it this way. The Church has certain marks by which we know Her to be the True Church. She is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Emphasis for our purposes here on the "One" part. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. This is clear no matter what source of Church teaching you look at. We know from St. Paul that Christ cannot be divided. So how can we speak of "divisions" in the Mystical Body? I have no idea. Using the example of our speaker above, Protestants are not part of the Church, ergo, they are not part of the Body of Christ. They are outside the Church. Hence, there is no "division" in the Body. There is the Body, then there are those outside of It. Not only is there one Body, there is but one Spouse of Christ. Scripture itsefl testifies to this:

One is my dove, my perfect one is but one, she is the only one of her mother, the chosen of her that bore her.

Canticle of Canticles 6:8

This is usually when someone brings up "imperfect communion." This phrase usually has a lot of attention focused on "communion," rather than the "imperfect," which is the more important item. Bearing the indelible character of baptism, the source of said communion, is not salvific, nor does it make one a member of Christ's Body if one is a heretic or schismatic. While it might be true that someone might not be culpable for their heresy or schism, that is something that only comes into play on an individual basis. When folks talk about these "divisions," they are usually talking about sects that have heresy or schism as their defining characteristics. It seems a bit off to talk about the "imperfect communion" of a whole group, especially when that group's existence is defined by its separation from the Church's teachings on given subjects.

Back to the Church Herself. What we have in the Church is a "city that is a unity unto itself." If we take the opposing view of our speaker, we seem to start contesting this. Moreover, we know the Church has certain attributes: infallibility, authority, and indefectibility. A division, by definition, would be a defect. Going farther, it would compromise the notion of the Church's infallibility to suggest division since, as Paul says, there is only One Faith. Since any "divisions" are necessarily the result of errors of some sort, to consider the Church to be "divided" would mean that these other ecclesial communities (or whatever you want to call them) with all their errors would still be in the Church, which in turn would mean that the Church was home to error.

Does that make sense? This whole shpiel about a "divided" Church is just flat-out weird.

A good number of them, for example, deny that the Church of Christ must be visible and apparent, at least to such a degree that it appears as one body of faithful, agreeing in one and the same doctrine under one teaching authority and government; but, on the contrary, they understand a visible Church as nothing else than a Federation, composed of various communities of Christians, even though they adhere to different doctrines, which may even be incompatible one with another. Instead, Christ our Lord instituted His Church as a perfect society, external of its nature and perceptible to the senses, which should carry on in the future the work of the salvation of the human race, under the leadership of one head, with an authority teaching by word of mouth, and by the ministry of the sacraments, the founts of heavenly grace; for which reason He attested by comparison the similarity of the Church to a kingdom, to a house, to a sheepfold, and to a flock.

Pius XI, Mortalium Animos

Whoever heard of a divided flock? By definition, such a thing can't exist. It would then be two flocks. Except that in the case of the Church, we know there is only One, hence the apt metaphor would be that there is a flock, and then there are lost sheep.

Pius XI is even more explicit down the line:

For since the mystical body of Christ, in the same manner as His physical body, is one, compacted and fitly joined together, it were foolish and out of place to say that the mystical body is made up of members which are disunited and scattered abroad: whosoever therefore is not united with the body is no member of it, neither is he in communion with Christ its head.

I just don't get how the opposite view is tenable.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Putting Teeth Into Summorum Pontificum

Breaking rumors on the "clarifying" document for the Traditional Mass motu proprio.

From Rorate Caeli:

According to the document, the traditionalist faithful present in a parish will have the full protection of the law to ask for the old Mass, and if the bishop refuses (here is the news), saying that there are no priests capable of celebrating according to the ancient rite in that place, the Commission Ecclesia Dei will authoritatively ("di imperio") send a priest able to do so to that diocese. In short, the bishops will no longer be able to refuse a priori to have the old Mass celebrated, because in such cases, the Commission Ecclesia Dei will send a delegated priest of its own.

Holy smokes. Please God, let this be true.

I'm a Bad Person

Why? Because I ramble on and on here and neglect those closest to me. St. Michael is my patron saint, and I let his feast day slide by without mentioning nary a word. No offense to Gabriel and Raphael, with whom Michael now shares a feast day, but what with his being my patron, I'm going to focus on him.

"Who is like unto God?" is the translation of Michael's name. This bears more significance than one might think at first glance. The tradition of the Church is that the first sin was Satan's sin of pride. In other words, Satan actually wanted to supplant God. Now, there are many theories on how this went down, but the main point is that the goal of the rebellion was the overthrow of the Almighty. Also of interest is the fact that you can go to many Protestant churches and hear all sorts of sermons about this first sin, how it happened, etc., even though Scripture is almost completely silent on the issue.

Anyways, Michael's name is a complete repudiation of Satan's pride. Satan says, "I will be like unto God," or later, as he says to Eve, "You will be like unto God." The response of St. Michael is one reflecting the proper posture of humility and awe before the Divine Majesty.

"Who is like unto God?"

Nobody, of course.

Not only do we see St. Michael, by his very name, making response to the first sin, we see him as the party who has the annihilation of the rebels as his mission. We see him as God's general in Revelation and as Israel's protector in Daniel. On the former point:

And there was a great battle in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought, and his angels. And they prevailed not: neither was their place found any more in heaven.

I have often attempted to imagine what combat between celestial and demonic powers must be like. Once it occurs to me that something so terrible and fierce is way beyond my ability to comprehend, I quickly move on to another subject. I also wonder sometimes how much Satan must hate Michael so much more than anyone or anything else, outside God and the Blessed Mother. Hate him and fear him, hating him even more because of how afraid of him he must be.

Ultimately, we know that Michael casts Satan down and drives him out of heaven. There are some older traditions that also portray St. Michael slaying the AntiChrist when he attempts to ascend to heaven after killing Enoch and Elijah.

All this is neat stuff, but perhaps the most important thing about St. Michael is how ignored he is these days, even by those who claim him as their patron (like me). In the latter part of the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII required the faithful to recite certain prayers after Low Mass, including the prayer of St. Michael. The explanation for this is that Leo had a vision in which he saw Satan's power exponentially expanded in the 20th century. The prayer was meant to seek the protection of the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts against The Adversary. These prayers, known as the Leonine Prayers, fell into disuse after Vatican II. I have seen no sign that they were formally suppressed. In fact, John Paul II encouraged their use. Given the current state of local and world affairs, I heartily second our popes' recommendations on this point.

Saint Michael the Archangel,defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -by the Divine Power of God -cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the evil spirits of this world.

Pope John Paul II, Regina Coeli Address, April 1994

Invitation to a Paradigm Shift

I am a liturgical curmudgeon. Anyone who knows me will tell you so. They will describe me in those terms: "Karl? Yeah, great guy. Surprisingly good athlete. Master of many arcane arts. Loved by women, admired by men, feared by bad guys everywhere. He's also a liturgical curmudgeon." Those who describe me thus are perceptive, for I am all those things. I complain about bad liturgy.

But, when I complain, I am sometimes greeted with the response, "Well, at least we have Jesus." In other words, at least Catholic Churches have the Real Presence. Despite bad music, silly liturgy, poor prayer, ugly buildings, or indifferent preaching, all is well because at least we "get Jesus."

Stop and think for a minute about the vacuity of this. At least we have Jesus? This somehow makes everything else acceptable? Let me be parabolic:

In the gospel reading in the Roman lectionary this past Sunday, it was the story of the king who was throwing a wedding banquet, but couldn't find guests to come to the feast. Those invited to come refuse, and others are called. But of these others, one is thrown out, because he doesn't have the proper wedding attire. There are two key points: that the Eucharist is a wedding, and that one can be thrown out for unworthy behavior.

Imagine, then, that you are invited to a wedding: you put on your best bib overalls, shine up your work boots, scrawl out a card with crayons and attach it to a crisp new one dollar bill. Then you go to the wedding. As they throw you out, you complain, "But at least they got married! What does it matter?"

It does matter. The fact that "we have Jesus" should not be an excuse, but a vocation, a call to do great things. Our music should be as good as we can make it, because we have Jesus. Our liturgy should be as holy and reverent as we can make it, because we have Jesus. Our prayers should be well-written, our buildings should be so beautiful that one can't help but praise God, and our preaching should be on fire for the Lord, because we have Jesus.

See the paradigm shift? We take an excuse and make it an occasion.

*Disclaimer: in no way do I wish to minimize the many graces that God sees fit to grant even through bad liturgy. I know because I received them myself. God is good and works through many channels, but let's not use that as an excuse.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Shout Out: St. Thomas of Villanova

Yeah, I'm late with this. I was asked to work this out for the 10th. I missed it. So what else is new?

If you mention Villanova to anybody, they will problem immediately think of Georgetown. This is unfortunate. The school has a lot more going for it than Big East affiliation and its much-heralded and remembered triumph over the heathens of John Thompson. For example, it was founded with St. Thomas of Villanova as its patron.

Thomas was an Augustinian friar during the late 15th/mid-16th centuries. He was unique for a guy with his superb intellectual talents in that you don't hear much, if anything, about his being involved with the Counter-Reformation, although I've been told that his famous sermon on the Love of God was to repudiate Calvinism. Regardless, Thomas was way too busy working miracles and helping the poor. You try serving food to 500 people a day and see how much time you have for anything else. That's what he did, though, often being known to multiply meager portions in the manner of Christ in order to feed whole crowds.

While I mention that he wasn't a big player in the battle against Protestantism, he was known for being a true ecumenist from his efforts to set up a school for Muslims who had converted to the True Faith. God willing that we see the need for similar work in the near future.

St. Thomas of Villanova, pray for us and for the conversion of Muslims all over the world.

Regarding Inerrancy

Given the question below and some emails I've gotten, it seemed like I should follow up all this inerrancy talk with a few bits on what inerrancy means. In a nutshell, it means that the Biblical text is free from errors. And you say, "Thanks, Throwback. Now if you're done being an a-hole, maybe you could really answer the question."

The problem is that it's tough to go at from there. There are no errors. The Church has admitted that theoretically you could have some problems due to, say, copyist/translator problems over the centuries. After all, we don't have the original hagiographs in hand. This is one good benefit in not being sola scriptura-ists. Many of us have heard the saying (whether in seriousness or in jest), "If the King James Bible was good enough for Jesus, then it's good enough for me." The differing translations these days illustrate that we have to be careful where we go for our Scripture.

On a side note, while we don't have the original hagiographs, the Church has declared that, for example, St. Jerome's Vulgate translation, is free from any erroroneous teaching.

Anyways, with regards to Scripture, davfaltond brings up the point that how do we explain away all the alleged contradictions in the Bible if we say there are no errors. This is actually something that the Church has been dealing with for its entire history. One of the first major heretics, a jerk named Marcion, basically built his whole theology around what he felt were the inconsistencies between the Old and New Testaments. Keep in mind that, through all this, the same Fathers and Doctors of the Church were reading the same Scriptures as us and having no problem declaring them to be without error.

So how to reconcile these alleged contradictions/errors? If you google the subject, you'll come up with several lists by folks who do exactly that. I'm going to link this one from Phil Porvaznik's site since I know that he's Catholic. It's clear then that it's possible to explain these items. Much of this is by not thinking, for example, that the Scriptures are written for chronology, rather than to prove a point (ie- Christ driving the money-changers from the Temple towards the end of the Synoptics but at the beginning of John). Another point is to recall that there are different senses in which Scripture can be read.

Consider the words of the Catechism:

According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses.

The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."

The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism.

The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction".

The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.

What gets lost in all this is that last bit in the portion on the literal sense. All other senses are based on the literal sense. The quote there, by the way, is from Aquinas. You can read his main treatment of the topic here. What people are starting to tend towards is a reading of Scripture that is almost completely allegorical or whatever to the utter exclusion of the literal sense and the idea that (gasp!) this stuff may have actually happened. This is usually from folks entirely devoted to the historical-critical method and is tackled in a major way by Pope Benedict in his Jesus of Nazareth book.

For example, if you asked enough Catholics about the homily they heard about the feeding of the 5000, you will inevitably come across someone who was unfortunate enough to be told that there wasn't anything supernatural going on. What "really" happened was that a bunch of people had brought food with them and Christ's "miracle" was in convincing them to share that food with others. Why must this be the meaning? Because nobody is silly enough to think that Jesus really could perform supernatural miracles. This same bankrupt reasoning is also used to deny everything from the Virgin Birth to the Resurrection.

On the flip side, take a look at the Canticle of Canticles. Are we bound by faith to think that Solomon was sitting around taking dictation from a real man and woman in writing this? Of course not. Are we bound to believe in a literal seven days Creation? No. Frankly, we should thank God that He was willing to describe the event of Creation in terms that we can understand, given that it would be impossible for us to comprehend the formation of reality ex nihilo.

Start with the literal sense, then work your way up. Recall what St. Pius X described as the attitude of the Modernist heretics:

To hear them (the Modernists) descant of their works on the Sacred Books, in which they have been able to discover so much that is defective, one would imagine that before them nobody ever even turned over the pages of Scripture. The truth is that a whole multitude of Doctors, far superior to them in genius, in erudition, in sanctity, have sifted the Sacred Books in every way, and so far from finding in them anything blameworthy have thanked God more and more heartily the more deeply they have gone into them, for His divine bounty in having vouchsafed to speak thus to men. Unfortunately, these great Doctors did not enjoy the same aids to study that are possessed by the Modernists for they did not have for their rule and guide a philosophy borrowed from the negation of God, and a criterion which consists of themselves.

Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Domenici Gregis

Comments here are wide open, folks, so feel free to fire away.

Jesus Is My Friend!

Insert joke here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

On Being A Poor Guest and the Defense of Pius XII

Everybody knows what it's like to have a rude guest come to their house and raise some sort of scandal. Sometimes it's a relative. Sometimes it's someone who is a friend of a friend. The latter case is basically what happened at the ongoing Synod a few days ago.

Chief Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen of Haifa was invited to speak to the bishops there in order to explain the role of Scripture in the Jewish faith. Seizing on this bit of spotlight, Rabbi Cohen then decided that it would be a good idea to (sticking with our metaphor) break some of the Church's expensive china. Per Catholic Culture:

Denouncing the ‘terrible and vicious words’ spoken in last month’s UN address by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Chief Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen of Haifa urged the Synod of Bishops on Monday to ‘protect, defend and save Israel, the one and only sovereign state of the ‘people of the book,’ from the hands of our enemies.’ The rabbi also told reporters that Pope Pius XII ‘should not be sanctified or looked up to because of his failure to save us, to raise his voice, even if he secretly tried to help … Maybe he was afraid, or for other reasons known to him he did not raise his voice. And that we cannot forget.’ He added, ‘I am not empowered by the families of the millions of deceased to say we forget, we forgive.’

What a loud-mouthed shnook. I'm reminded of the scene in Schindler's List where Schindler is lamenting that he didn't sell his car or more stuff in order to put more people on the list. Judging from Rabbi Cohen's comments, he would agree with this and probably thinks that Schindler should have his name erased from the list of Righteous Gentiles for not doing more. How would this have gone over if Pope Benedict had gone to a synagogue and wondered why Israel hasn't done more to help oppressed Christians in the Holy Land? Foxman & Co. would have had an aneurysm.

Kudos to Pope Benedict for not letting this slander stand unchallenged. Two days after Cohen's comments, the Holy Father came out in defense of his predecessor.

"Pius XII often acted secretly and silently," added the Pontiff, "because, in the light of the concrete realities of that complex historical moment, he saw that this was the only way to avoid the worst and save the largest possible number of Jews.

"Benedict XVI noted the "expressions of gratitude from the highest authorities of the Jewish world" that Pius XII received. The current Pontiff highlighted the words of Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir, who wrote upon Pius XII's death: "During the 10 years of Nazi terror, when our people went through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and commiserate with their victims."She added, "We mourn a great servant of peace."

Benedict would go on to praise Pius XII's great encyclicals, such as Mystici Corporis, Divino Afflante Spiritu, and Mediator Dei. Zenit has both stories here and here.

Not only did the pope defend Pius XII, he did so on Yom Kippur, which had the curious coincidence of being on the 50th anniversary of Pius's death (Oct. 9, 1958). It would have been real easy for the Holy Father to have put off any remembrance comments until next week or some other time. He came right out with it, though, which took no small amount of guts.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Current Synod of Bishops is Underway

My hope is that this would have a bit more pub than its getting. Let's face it. Most of us probably had to look up what a "synod" was in the first place.

The topic is "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church." More specifically, we're dealing with the Bible here. You can find the working document here. I haven't read the whole thing, but I did notice that the footnotes lacked any references to Leo XIII, Pius XII, or Benedict XV. Weird, since they've written the main encyclicals on Scripture over the last century or so.

I also noticed an extremely problematic point.

In summary, the following can be said with certainty . . . with regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to "that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation" (Dei Verbum 11). . .

This is a classic error regarding Dei Verbum. Here's what it says:

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.

The footnote to this section cites to the Second Council of Orange and Vatican I. If you read about the history of this section of Dei Verbum, you'll find that it reads the way it does because Paul VI directly intervened because he wanted to defend the inerrancy of all of Scripture. You can find this tale at my previous post here. The interpretation given by the Synod document, as its written, is clearly contrary to Vatican I.

Let's see what the above popes have said.

This supernatural revelation, according to the belief of the universal Church, is contained both in unwritten Tradition, and in written Books, which are therefore called sacred and canonical because, "being written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author and as such have been delivered to the Church." This belief has been perpetually held and professed by the Church in regard to the Books of both Testaments; and there are well-known documents of the gravest kind, coming down to us from the earliest times, which proclaim that God, Who spoke first by the Prophets, then by His own mouth, and lastly by the Apostles, composed also the Canonical Scriptures, and that these are His own oracles and words -- a Letter, written by our heavenly Father, and transmitted by the sacred writers to the human race in its pilgrimage so far from its heavenly country.

Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus

Moreover, our predecessor, sweeping aside all such distinctions between what these critics are pleased to call primary and secondary elements, says in no ambiguous fashion that "those who fancy that when it is a question of the truth of certain expressions we have not got to consider so much what God said as why He said it," are very far indeed from the truth. He also teaches that Divine inspiration extends to every part of the Bible without the slightest exception, and that no error can occur in the inspired text: "It would be wholly impious to limit inspiration to certain portions only of Scripture or to concede that the sacred authors themselves could have erred."

Benedict XV, Spiritus Paraclitus

And finally, the coup de grace from Pius XII.

For some go so far as to pervert the sense of the Vatican Council's definition that God is the author of Holy Scripture, and they put forward again the opinion, already often condemned, which asserts that immunity from error extends only to those parts of the Bible that treat of God or of moral and religious matters.

Pius XII, Humani Generis

Of course, this doesn't even get into Pius X, Pius IX, Trent, the unanimous consent of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the non-ecumenical councils, such as Orange, all of which affirm that Scripture is inerrant in its entirety, rather than only in part. Needless to say, this is all very disconcerting. Oh, and if you are looking to cite "development of doctrine" in all this, keep in mind that a doctrine cannot "develop" into its opposite, nor can a dogma take on a meaning other than the one already defined by the Church. This is explicitly taught in Vatican I.

Hence, too,that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by holy mother church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.

For those who want more resources on why the Synod document is flawed, I have yet another post on this same error here.

If you are wanting to keep up with the Synod and the various interventions being offered, Zenit is doing a good job of keeping up with them. Hopefully, somebody will get up and drop some mad Leo XIII science on his episcopal brethren so that this can be cleared up.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I'm not Throwback

Hi, readers,

The originator of this blog has asked me to come contribute to "Popin' Ain't Easy." So, here I am.

Wow. This place looks very retro, in a TRS-80 sort of way.

I suppose I should introduce myself: I am a Catholic, but not a Roman Catholic. That is, I am a member of one of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome. I read Orthodox theology books most of the time, and, though I find their general view of the historical exercise of the Petrine ministry to be deficient, I usually think their way of thinking about God is better. In fact, I think the Church would really benefit from a return to its practice of the first thousand years, namely letting the Greeks do the heavy theological lifting, and appealing to Rome when need be to solve a dispute.

That's enough about me for now. If you want more, and can't wait until I add something to the PAE blog, check out my seldom-updated blog Summa Contra Mundum.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Few Things I've Learned From Martin Luther

Taking Cardinal Kaspar's advice, I've decided to try and learn a few things from Martin Luther. Let's take a look at some of his greatest hits.

On Prayer:

Now however because they are obdurate and have determined to do nothing good but only evil so that there is no longer any hope I will hereafter heap curses and maledictions upon the villains until I go to my grave and no good word shall they hear from me again I will toll them to their tombs with my thunder and lightning. For I cannot pray without at the same time cursing. If I say "Hallowed be Thy name" I have to add "Cursed damned reviled be the name of the papists and of all who blaspheme Thy name." If I say "Thy kingdom come" I have to add "Cursed damned destroyed be the papacy together with all the kingdoms of the earth which oppose Thy kingdom." If I say "Thy will be done" I have to add "Cursed damned reviled and destroyed be all the thoughts and plans of the papists and of every one who strives against Thy will and counsel." Thus I pray aloud every day and inwardly without ceasing and with me all that believe in Christ And I feel sure that my prayer will be heard. Nevertheless I have a kind friendly peaceable and Christian heart toward every one as even my worst enemies know. (Clearly)

On accurately translating Romans 3:28 (in which Luther included the word "alone" following "faith"):

If your Papist grumbles about the word "alone" answer him at once 'Dr Martin Luther will have it so and says that a Papist and an ass are one and the same thing.' For we shall not be the disciples and pupils of the Papists but their masters and judges; we too for once will glory and protest against those asses heads. As St. Paul glories against his mad saints so will I glory against these my asses. Are they doctors? So am I! Are they learned? So am I! Are they preachers? So am I! Are they theologians? So am I! And I will glory further. I can explain Psalms and Prophets, they cannot. I can interpret, they cannot. I can read the Bible, they cannot. I am only sorry that I have not put in also the word "any" so as to make it read "without any works of any law;" this would have expressed it better still. Therefore, it shall remain in my New Testament, and if all Papistical asses should go mad and frantic, they will not get it out again.

On Ecumenism:

Unless they will abolish their laws and traditions, and restore to Christ's churches their liberty and have it taught among them, they are guilty of all the souls that perish under this miserable captivity, and the papacy is truly the kingdom of Babylon, yes, the kingdom of the real Antichrist! For who is " the man of sin" and "the son of perdition" but he that with his doctrines and his laws increases sins and the perdition of souls in the Church, while he sits in the Church as if he were God? All this the papal tyranny has fulfilled, and more than fulfilled, these many centuries. It has extinguished faith, obscured the sacraments and oppressed the Gospel. But its own laws, which are not only impious and sacrilegious, but even barbarous and foolish, it has enjoined and multiplied world without end.

On the Truth:

What harm would there be, if a man to accomplish better things and for the sake of the Christian Church, does tell a good thumping lie.

This last quote is especially awesome given that the lie in question was to cover up a bigamous marriage Luther sanctioned for a notorious profligate known as Phillip the Magnanimous. The guy wanted another wife, so Luther granted him a "dispensation" (for lack of a better word) from his first marriage. Luther cautioned him, though, to keep the whole thing a secret for the good of the church. So we can learn a lot about the sanctity of marriage here as well.

"Full of the power of faith" indeed. I'm very sorry, Your Eminence, but given that Luther's work is almost entirely polemical and bankrupt of any real attempts to respond to his critics, this is what we have to work with. Not that his theology (when he actually tries to give some) is anything to write home about. I just can't fathom why anyone would recommend reading stuff like this unless it was to demolish it in the realm of debate.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

"The Greatest Saint of Modern Times"

Who do you think that might be? Tough call. Other than someone like, say, Mother Teresa, there's not too many folks that probably come to mind.

Back in the early part of this century, Pope St. Pius X used the above quote to describe a young Carmelite nun who died at the very young age of 24. He was speaking of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower.

Talking about St. Therese is difficult. Her life was short. From the age of 15 on, she lived in a cloister. She was not some sort of intellectual giant like Aquinas or Augustine. She herself believed that there was nothing extraordinary about her life:

Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.

All this considered, her simple holiness, known as The Little Way, is a marvelous teaching for anyone looking to live out their faith. So profound was her instruction on The Little Way that she was granted the title Doctor of the Church in 1997.

If I (and others) want to describe The Little Way in a single quote of St. Therese, I suppose it is usually this one:

I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.

Note how this dovetails with the prior quote. One does not have to be a giant or larger than life to get to heaven. One must love. This means doing all things out of love and making every act, even the smallest and most insignificant, a sacrifice for love. Therese herself wrote much about her own "smallness" and how she would never be an Augustine. Instead, she embraced her "smallness" and made it the "obscure sacrifice" her mission in life.

Towards the end of her life, we encounter a scene that almost makes one fearful of being so holy. As is often the case in those so precious to God, The Adversary expends every effort to destroy them as death approaches. She endured a spiritual dryness and a fearsome attack of scrupulosity during the last 18 months or so of her life. Her body was wracked by tuberculosis. Enormous physical and spiritual suffering were constant during this period. She spoke of being surrounded by darkness. At the end, though, as Paul says, he who perseveres shall be saved. Her suffering was not greater than her faith.

Like I said, it's difficult to talk about her and do her justice. My advice is that you read her autobiography, The Story of a Soul. She does a much better job of explaining herself than I ever could.

St. Therese, pray for us.

Saints Who Could Be Real Jerks Sometimes

Over the last week, we've had the feast days of St. Jerome and St. Vincent de Paul. I'm a big fan of these guys because both had very, very bad tempers (like myself) and yet they still made it to heaven, something I'm much more hopeful about thanks to their examples.

Vincent de Paul is one of the more visually recognizable saints ever. It's the nose, I think. Pretty much all his plans for his priesthood were derailed early on when he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. He was freed 2 years later thanks to the Holy Spirit's conversion of his owner. Eventually, he became the spiritual director for a well-to-do family in France and started doing peasant missions on their estate. This work eventually grew and spread rapidly from the peasant poor to galley slaves, who would be St.Vincent's primary occupation until the end of his life. He was also an implacable foe of Jansenism.

Anyways, it's maybe difficult for us to imagine that this apparently gentle figure who is always depicted holding small children or providing food to the poor could have been of such poor temperament. The homilist I heard actually quoted St. Vincent as calling himself "callous" and "repulsive." This is a good lesson in humility. Despite our base personalities, those harsher urges should be suppressed in favor of God's will for us.

Our next saint actually fled to the desert to get away from his sinful tendencies. This is St. Jerome, who is one of the four Great Doctors of the West and the greatest Scripture scholar in history, despite what you hear from modern folks who are just too proud to admit that some guy 1700 years ago might have done it better. In his youth. Jerome was prone to somewhat wild living, though we aren't really sure how wild. Saints are pretty rough on themselves. After bouts of partying, though, he would be filled with contrition and go explore catacombs to bring to mind the four last things (death, judgment, heaven, hell). You'll see Jerome often pictured at work, his desk decorated with a skull. Same principle.

After fleeing to the desert to get away from all this, Jerome realized that acesticism alone wasn't getting the job done. He would later write:

In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the scorching sun so that it frightens even the monks that inhabit it, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome. In this exile and prison to which for the fear of hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, I many times imagined myself witnessing the dancing of the Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them: In my cold body and in my parched-up flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was able to live. Alone with this enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and I tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, but I grieve that I am not now what I then was.

Like I've said before, Satan really doesn't like it when he gets one-upped by mortification and flights from the world. Where mortification didn't work, Jerome used study:

When my soul was on fire with wicked thoughts as a last resort, I became a pupil to a monk who had been a Jew, in order to learn the Hebrew alphabet. . . I turned to this language of hissing and broken-winded words. What labor it cost me, what difficulties I went through, how often I despaired and abandoned it and began again to learn, both I, who felt the burden, and they who lived with me, can bear witness. I thank our Lord that I now gather such sweet fruit from the bitter sowing of those studies . . .

Imagine if every porn addict out there threw themselves into study when they were seized with temptation. We would have a population of PhDs. All this study, of course, set the stage for Jerome's translation of the Scriptures into Latin. This edition, known as the Vulgate, is one of the greatest accomplishments in history. In the midst of all this, Jerome still had time to combat a shmoe named Helvidius, who denied the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Mother, Origenists, Pelagians, and heretics who impugned celibacy and the veneration of saints and their relics.

I barely have time to balance my checkbook.

His writings are pointed, blunt, and just plain mad. He probably spends 1/4 of his Dialogue with the Luciferians coming up with lofty ways of calling his opponents idiots. Consider this comment about the above-mentioned Helvidius:

I was requested by certain of the brethren not long ago to reply to a pamphlet written by one Helvidius. I have deferred doing so, not because it is a difficult matter to maintain the truth and refute an ignorant boor who has scarce known the first glimmer of learning, but because I was afraid my reply might make him appear worth defeating.

Yeah. Jerome could be pretty cranky. The good news is that he stands as living proof that heaven is available even to those of us who occasionally have a shortfall of charity in discussions like those in which he was involved.

I love this picture, by the way. And it gives us some Carravagio for tomas.

Sts. Jerome and Vincent de Paul, pray for us that we be moderate in our temperament.

Friday, October 3, 2008

More Emergent Church What-Not

It's been a very interesting thing to watch the more traditional Protestant sects line up against the Pentecostals and then see the Pentecostal/charismatic veins weaving in and out of the Emergent Church movement. Protestantism is getting more and more amorphous and, dare I say, gnostic, the more these "looser" strains dominate. If it means anything, my wife, an ex-Protestant, came to that conclusion independent of anything that I said.

This article in Christianity Today gives a great list of reasons why folks are gravitating more and more towards these areas. Sure, it limits it to the Emergents, but some of the wilder Pentecostal movements who no longer hold to Biblical inerrancy and such have similar motivating factors, I think.

A few of the reasons I've personally encountered:

First, emergents believe the epistemic foundation of conservative evangelicalism, the doctrine of Scripture's inerrancy, does not sufficiently express the truth about the Bible. Inerrancy is for them the wrong word at the wrong time, though it may have been the right word for a previous generation.

This is true even if those involved don't consciously understand that this is what they are thinking.

Second, emergents believe that the gospel they heard as children or were exposed to as teenagers is a caricature of Paul's teaching—what McLaren sometimes calls "Paulianity." The discovery of Jesus, the Gospels, and his kingdom vision creates an irony: "If we are followers of Jesus, why don't we preach his message?" Emergents I know are sometimes wearied or put off by Paul, yet enthusiastic about Jesus and the Gospels. When McLaren describes the message of Jesus as a "secret message," he speaks of the emergent discovery of the radical kingdom vision as really new. The political vision and the global concerns of emergents flower from the discovery of Jesus.

Especially when Paul talks about sin. Then he just becomes a big jerk!

Third, exposure to science in public education, universities, and personal study has led emergents to disown the traditional conclusion that when science and the Bible conflict, science must move aside. Although they refuse to give the Bible the trump card in this game, they remain committed to it, but now with a different view of what the Bible actually is. The Bible, so many emergents will openly admit, employs various literary genres and shows an ancient perception of how the cosmos works. So they are both left-wing and right-wing, committed to the Bible and open to new ideas.

I've had many friends fall into this trap.

Sixth, emergents sometimes exercise a deconstructive critique of the Bible's view of God. Sometimes I hear it in ways that are no more interesting that Marcion's old (and heretical) critique of the violent God of the Old Testament. Yet upon close inspection, the rumblings are subtler and more sophisticated, and the struggle is palpable and genuine. For some emergents, the Bible includes portrayals of God that cannot be squared with their understanding of a God of love. For a group less concerned about traditional understandings of inerrancy, such portrayals are interpreted as the way ancients talked about God, with later biblical revelation seen as clearly presenting a God who is altogether gracious and loving.

A-fripping-men. This is the group that basically says, "If I was God, I'd be different from what the Church teaches about God, so God must be more like me and less like what the Church teaches about Him." Sure, they don't come out and say it, but that's what the logical extension of their thinking is. It comes out more like "God wouldn't care if anyone did/said/tried that." What's their standard for saying such a thing? Their absolute certainty in their own subjective views of the Almighty, without any objective foundation at all. It accords with their feelings, which is what's really important.

Do these reasons sound familiar to anybody else here? I see them just about every day.