Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Story of the Canaanite Woman


Today in the Gospel readings, we heard about the story of Jesus healing the daughter of the Canaanite woman from Matthew 15:21-28. The text of the Gospel reads:

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me." He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.

It is unfortunate that in the wake of the Charlottesville violence we have to endure more violence - violence to the text from pastors whom I'm sure are taking this story about Jesus encountering a person outside His own ethnic group and making it a story about racial harmony. I guess such an interpretation certainly fits with the zeitgeist, but I don't think that's what this story is really about. Just because Jesus talks to a foreigner doesn't mean this story is about racial harmony. 

Not that the fact that the woman is a Canaanite is inconsequential; it's actually central to the meaning of the story, but I am wryly amused that people can often find no other way to understand this apart from contemporary paradigms about ethnicity and inclusion. 

Let's dig in to what's going on here.

This story has a lot in common with another tale in the Gospel of Luke - the healing of the centurion's servant:

After he had ended all his sayings in the hearing of the people he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death. When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well (Luke 7:1-10).

The two stories have three things in common:

1) The one petitioning Jesus is a Gentile
2) Both the Canaanite woman and the centurion use an analogy to make their case
3) Jesus marvels at the faith of each before granting their requests

In the tale of the centurion's servant, the centurion is no less a Gentile than the Canaanite woman, yet nobody makes this story about racial harmony. That's because it is so clearly about faith. The centurion uses an analogy of military command and authority to demonstrate his faith in Christ's ability to affect a cure by merely pronouncing the words. This is very clearly about the nature of faith. 

This Gentile, who was not part of God's covenant with Israel, has a more authentic understanding of faith than the Jews. "Not even in Israel have I found such faith!" This is really the heart of the story. Contrasting the disposition for faith found in the Gentiles with the kind of hard-hearted unbelief of the Jewish community. This story both prefigures the inclusion of the Gentiles into the New Covenant, as well as incites the Jews to envy by casting the Gentiles as a foil.

I have two other places in Scripture I can cite in defense of this. First, Acts 13, where St. Paul and Barnabas are preaching in Pisidia. Notice how the faith of the Gentiles is contrasted with the unbelief of the Jews, and how this arouses the Jews to envy when St. Paul mentions it:

The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles, for so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. (13:44-51).

St. Paul publicly praises the faith of the Gentiles, which incites the Jews to envy. This is the same thing Jesus does when He praises the faith of the centurion and says "Not even in Israel have I found such faith!"

But more pertinent to the discussion of the Canaanite woman is my second text, which comes from St. Paul's epistle to the Romans, where he basically spells out the strategy I have explained above and says that provoking the Jews to jealousy is a means of saving at least some of them:

I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Rom. 11:13-15)

The "ministry" St. Paul is glorying in is his apostolate to the Gentiles. He says specifically that he magnifies the successes of his work among the Gentiles "in order to make my race jealous", with the end result of hopefully bringing some of them to faith.

If this verse sounds familiar, it is because it is paired with the story of the Canaanite woman in the liturgy; you heard this passage at Mass today alongside the story of the Canaanite woman. This tells us that the Church would like us to interpret the story of the Canaanite woman in light of St. Paul's teaching in Romans 11.

What are we left with then? What is actually going on in the story of the Canaanite woman?

Jesus' ministry was initially to the Jews; He left ministry to the Gentiles for the Apostles after the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is why He initially refuses the Canaanite woman's request for a healing. This is the meaning of His comment, "It is not right to take the little children's bread and throw it to the dogs."

However, like the centurion, the Canaanite woman grasps the true nature of faith. She responds "Even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the master's table." This is what causes Jesus to marvel at her faith and grant her request. The "bread" referenced by our Lord is like the grace of God. Sanctifying grace had hitherto only been made available to the Israelites through the Old Covenant. Jesus essentially tells the Canaanite woman, "The special graces of the Old Covenant are not yet available to the Gentiles, only the faithful of Israel." The woman responds that even foreigners eat the scraps of bread from the Master's table. The substance of her response is, "Even the common graces available to all mankind are sufficient for me, lowly as I am, to understand my utter dependence upon my Creator. The smallest of things depend on God just as much as the greatest." Jesus marvels at the woman's intuitive understanding of her dependence on God's goodness. Moved by her great faith, He grants her request.

Thus, the story is really about the nature of faith and how pleasing faith is to God. It's just that the Canaanite woman's metaphor takes a little more thought to unpack than the one used by the centurion, but they are both essentially the same message.

We could also cite an event from Luke 4. In Luke 4, Jesus is preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum; this is the famous episode where Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah and identifies Himself as the Messiah. When He sees that His detractors want Him to perform a miracle to back up His claims, He says:

“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city" (Luke 4:23-29).

Here our Lord refers to the days of the prophets Elijah and Elisha and contrasts the unbelief of Israel with the faith of the Gentiles, who were granted miracles. This is the exact same context as the healing of the centurion's servant and the daughter of the Canaanite. It should also be noted that Mark 7:24 said that the episode with the Canaanite woman occurred "in the region of Tyre and Sidon"; in other words, the Canaanite woman was most likely a Sidonian, just as the widow of Zarephath Jesus references in the Gospel of Luke. This further reinforces the interpretation I am proposing.

The Old Testament law was particular to the biological children of Israel. But the rule of faith is greater than the law. It is before Moses (St. Paul traces it to Abraham in Romans 4) and has the capacity to be universal. That's why the faith of the Church is catholic. Just as the prophecies of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Old Testament foreshadow this, so do Jesus' healings of the centurion's servant and the Canaanite woman's daughter. This foreshadowing is fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.

Thus, the healing of the Canaanite's daughter is about the nature of faith, the universality of God's covenant, and how pleased God is with the humble, childlike faith of His people.

One final note: People often comment on how "mean" Jesus is to the Canaanite woman. "He calls her a dog!" they say. How demeaning! Is it racist? Is it sexist? Is it both? How rude!

This is a reflection more of the mindset of modern people than of any rudeness in the behavior of our Lord. When our Lord uses a metaphor of a dog, people cannot but assume our Lord is calling the woman a dog. However, this is more about the way eastern cultures talk. In the Middle East, there is a very common manner of speech whereby the speaker uses a metaphor to make a point. We do this in the west too, obviously, but in the east it is much more common. Entire conversations may be carried out this way, and the prevalence of metaphor increases to the degree that the conversation becomes more delicate.

This is very common in Semitic, Bedouin, and Arabic cultures. I recall one time years ago reading the authorized biography of Lawrence of Arabia by Jeremy Wilson. The book describes in fascinating detail how T.E. Lawrence often worked out his tactics with his Arab allies. Sometimes, the entire discussion would take place in metaphor. Lawrence might propose striking an Ottoman railroad at a certain point, and the Arab sheikh would smile and say "Ah! The snake bites the horses heel!" or something similar. The book describes how frustrating it could get when complex arrangements had to be hammered out.

The thing is though, the sheikh was not actually insinuating that the Arab armies possessed the characteristics of snakes. Yes, there was a metaphor. But it wasn't exactly a simile, which is making a positive affirmation that one thing is like something else. Simile is a more refined type of metaphor. Jesus was not saying that the Canaanite woman has the negative characteristics of a dog - cringing, smelly, animalistic, etc. Rather, in typical Semitic fashion, he was using a colorful metaphor, the purpose of which was to explain a complex idea simply. And the Canaanite woman understands. She doesn't miss a beat. She's ready with the proper metaphorical response.

Jesus does a similar thing when He says "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Luke 9:58). He's not suggesting any character similarities between Himself and stereotypical foxes or birds. He's just using a colorful analogy to draw attention to His itinerancy without meaning the parallel to be taken in any moral sense. Not every metaphor Jesus uses is like this, but I think this example of the Canaanite woman certainly is. He's not making any sort of moral judgment about her. He's merely engaging in some colorful Middle Eastern metaphor.

Yes, Jesus is willing to do a miracle for the Canaanite woman even though she is not an Israelite. But it was because of the nature of her faith, not because Jesus wanted to teach us a lesson about ethic harmony and racial inclusiveness.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Hope for Eternal Life

There is always a part of the human heart which desires to have paradise now on earth. To those who read the Holy Scriptures thousands of years after they were written, it seems obvious that the Kingdom of Heaven spoken of in the Gospel was not a more glorious reign of a King David with great command over all temporal affairs and the respect of the nations given to Israel. However, this was not necessarily obvious to the Apostles. We know this because even after the Resurrection of Christ in the Acts we see them say to our Resurrected Lord: 

"They therefore who were come together, asked him, saying: Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" Acts 1:6

Our Lord redirects the Apostles hopes not unto such things, but unto the hope of receiving gifts of the Spirit. I wanted to do a follow up article on this subject after reading some comments left on my brothers Boniface's article Five Unlikely Scenarios. 

We must at some point come to the realization that at no point either now or in the near future will this life cease to be a valley of tears. That all of us must first pass through death and judgement before dwelling in continual peace in the City of God which is Heaven to come. In the Rule of St. Benedict and the Rule of the Poor Knights it is put quite well when it says that we are to "Long for eternal life with all of your soul".

It is good to long for reform in the Church, so that institutionally the Church might be a faithful bride of Christ. It is good to hope for the reunification of the Church from schism, or that temporal leaders might be defenders of the Church.

But these hopes must be put in the proper place. It is an error to believe that before the last day God will systemically end all abuses, confusion, political persecution and so forth. Every day children are born into this world, made in the image of God, but nevertheless under the dominion of the devil. Even those that are baptized still suffer under the yoke of Original Sin, and will fall and sin throughout their life. God will always allow his Saints to be chastised and tried because He loves them, and   "And all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution." 2 Timothy 3:2

Even the people who lived during the 13th century - the supposed "golden age" of the Church - believed their own times were so bad and corrupt that they were living in the end times.  

If God allows abuses now in the Wisdom of His Providence, how dare any of us say that at some future point He will end all of those things before the Final Day!. We should rather believe that the reason why we have these crosses are to our benefit and that they may even be necessary for our salvation right now. There is another sin against hope seldom spoken of, but you will find in moral theology manuals, and that is the sin of aversion. Aversion is not the hatred of God but the preference of this life to the next. Yes, this world is a cross. Enduring poor liturgy is a cross. Enduring persecution for believing right belief in the Church is a cross. Enduring a hostile secular political order is a cross. Enduring tortured theology heavily influenced by humanism is a cross.

It is a real danger if we desire relief from these problems simply on account of the personal anguish they cause us because we seek peace and comfort in this life and despise the suffering that these things cause us to endure. It is through the bearing of these modern crosses that we merit Grace, that sinners are sanctified in patience, and which can help us yearn for Eternal life with all of our souls. We don't want to fall into the snare in our spiritual life of praying and hoping mainly for a good temporal order, or for that matter even allowing our peace to be destroyed because these things must be endured.

True Christian Hope is not that God will deliver us from these afflictions, but that God will give us to the grace to bear them well and persevere in His Grace until the very end of our lives, forgive us our sins and grant us eternal life. 

I would encourage you my brothers to view all of these temporal burdens as crosses and to let them help you long for death and eternal life. 

That you pray with sincerity for our leaders, especially the Church.

That you strive with all of your strength to Worship God with the proper reverence due to Him, and that the pious reception of the sacraments bears fruit in the life of the Church.

That you come to great wisdom through the humble studying of the Holy Faith, and you pass on the faith of the Fathers to those who are entrusted to you. 

That you are more so busy about laboring for your salvation and praying for those Gifts of Grace that can help you obtain it, than about pleading with God for a period of temporal peace brought on by the consecration of Russia.  

That you, with vigilant watchfulness, are eager for the salvation of the friends and enemies near to you and execute your civic duties with the love and piety fitting of a Catholic, not eagerly looking for a Monarch whom in the end could only institute a temporal order, not give people the gift of repentance that only comes from above.

May God bless us all.




Saturday, July 29, 2017

Five Unlikely Scenarios

One thing that has really interested me over the years is that Catholics have very differing views on how things will play out in the future.

The future is a very illusory thing. It is often invoked as a solution to all our problems, even as the past is castigated as their source. When faced with the break down of the liturgy, or the nonsense coming out of Rome, it is comforting to think, "It won't be this way forever. Someday a future pope or council will fix all this. God won't abandon us."

And no doubt, He won't. There will be periods of reform. The Church always reforms herself. And we know from divine revelation that the Church wins in the end. This is why I am not a total skeptic about the problems in the Catholic world - why I do not give in to ultimate despair. Essentially, why I continue to be Catholic. I know how this story ends. We all do. Christ and His Church will triumph.

But over the years I have listened to a lot of Catholics talk about what this triumph looks like, and I have realized that it is drastically different for people. For example, I personally believe the Church will triumph in the end, but I have never assumed that this triumph will take the form of some kind of general social restoration. Other Catholics see it differently; they see the vindication of the Church as essentially bound up with a kind of restoration, not only of the Church's social influence but of her ancient rites and customs as well.

I have always been a kind of pessimist in this regard. I have never assumed any future pope or council will totally undo everything. At best, I have held out hope that they would mitigate some of the more serious problems. I do believe in the future there will be a shift back towards tradition within the Church; what that shift looks like, I could not say.

Don't mistake me - I would like a total restoration, but I just don't see it as feasible in light of history and where we are going. But my essential view of the future is it gets worse and worse and worse until the world burns. God's grace may spare us certain calamities, but not all. The wheat has to be sorted from the chaff before the end, and this process is unstoppable. This is just my opinion, so I grant I could be totally wrong about it.

In this post, I am examining five scenarios I have heard bandied about by Catholics who hope the future is going to be better. In each case, I think the proposed scenario is much too overly optimistic and vain to pin ones hopes on. I then will present two alternative scenarios which I find more realistic.

1. A Future Pope Will Condemn Pope Francis


What some vainly imagine will happen
: Many Catholics are extremely confident that some future traditional pope will call out and condemn the most egregious acts and statement of Pope Francis; extreme variants have this future pope condemning the acts of pretty much the entire post-Conciliar papal Magisterium. Some envision an ecumenical Council formally condemning the acts of the modern popes.

What could possibly happen: If there is a shift back towards tradition, it is conceivable that a future pope will issue decrees that call out some of the problematic statements in previous papal teaching and issue documents with the specific aim of correcting these previous problems. Benedict XVI once said Nostra Aetate was a weak document, and also complained that Gaudium et Spes was too uncritical in its acceptance of modern progressivism. Of course, Benedict was referring to conciliar documents, not papal teaching; and Benedict, despite these criticisms, never did anything to correct the imbalances he noted. It is conceivable, however, that a future pope might call out the errors in the documents of Francis or other post-Conciliar popes and actually issue documents meant to balance them out or correct them.

What is most likely to happen: People who bank on either of the two above scenarios happening don't understand how bureaucracies work. When a new chief comes in to assume control of a bureaucracy, he has to be able to manage and work with the bureaucracy, otherwise he can't get anything done. To accomplish that, there is a strong sense that his own legitimacy depends upon showing a continuity with what has come before him. A new leader wants to appropriate the strength and momentum of the bureaucracy, and to do that he has to be able to show, in some ways, that nothing has changed - that differences are just a matter of style or emphasis. A leader of a bureaucracy is very hesitant to openly contradict or overturn what a predecessor has done because he does not want to undermine the strength of the very office he holds. And he does not want to create a precedent that may lead to his actions being overturned in the future. This is why the most likely scenario is that the problematic statements of Pope Francis will simply never be addressed. They may not be quoted or cited in future sources of doctrine, but they will not be repudiated or corrected. The Magisterium of the future will simply put their hands in their pockets and hum and skip along like the Franciscan pontificate never happened. Future theologians will be left to puzzle out how (or if) Francis' teaching has a permanent place in the deposit of faith while the Church's highest theological authorities will be deafeningly silent on the matter. But no pope is going to want to openly overturn anything done by a previous pope; he will feel like he is undermining his own authority.

2. The Novus Ordo will be Abolished


What some vainly imagine will happen: The abolition of the Novus Ordo is the perennial wet dream of traditionalists. And rightfully so! So much of the destruction of the Catholic faith in the past fifty years has been bound up with the new liturgy. In most trad fantasies, the Church suddenly comes to its senses. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, the zealously traditional future pontiff and episcopate will scrap the Novus Ordo entirely and implement a return to the Traditional Latin Mass throughout the Latin rite. Possible variants include the Novus Ordo being declared heretical or invalid.

What could possibly happen: The vision of Pope Benedict XVI was that the two "forms" of the Roman rite should "mutually enrich" each other, a view Cardinal Sarah has recently endorsed in a plan he called "liturgical reconciliation." If the traditional movement continues to gain steam, it is possible that the traditional rite begins to "enrich" the Novus Ordo. We may see future tinkering with the Novus Ordo to bring it back more to something like what the Council Fathers intended. It is possible that a restoration of Gregorian chant sees the Church's historical music actually taking pride of place, as Sacrosanctum Concilium envisioned. We could see some of the options of the Novus Ordo removed, for example, some of the Eucharistic canons, or the celebration ad orientam made mandatory, or communion kneeling on the tongue become more or less universal again. Of course, this also means the Traditional Latin Mass may also have to suffer "enrichment" from the Novus Ordo, which is a major (and valid) complaint against Cardinal Sarah's opinion. Although, if we were in a situation where the traditional Mass was popular enough to start to really influence the Novus Ordo, it is unlikely that the worst elements of the Novus Ordo would be injected into the Extraordinary Form. It is possible that over time - and I am talking a century - the Novus Ordo could blend into something that looked and felt quite similar to the Extraordinary Form in its externals but of course retained the essential structure and lectionary of the New Mass.

What is most likely to happen: Neither the abolition of the Novus Ordo nor the transformation of the Novus Ordo into a quasi-Extraordinary Form entity are extremely likely. What is more likely is that the Novus Ordo will simply continue on as it always has. It will bend a little here and there based on the whims of the current pontiff. Under Benedict it grew more traditional in some places; under Francis anything goes again. But it will essentially remain unchanged. However, the Traditional Latin Mass will continue to gain traction. Unless Summorum Pontificum is positively abrogated, it is likely to continue to attract the youth. We will see a kind of cross fading between the two forms - as conventional Novus Ordo parishes continue to decline (in some cases precipitously), offerings of the Traditional Latin Mass will increase. Eventually we may have a situation globally akin to what we now see in France, where there is a thriving traditional movement existing side-by-side with a moribund, dying Novus Ordo establishment. But I don't see the Novus Ordo ever formally being abolished. The Novus Ordo is here to stay.

3. Vatican II Will Be Overturned


What some vainly imagine will happen: At some future date, another solemn Ecumenical Council will be held in which the documents of Vatican II will be completely nullified or abrogated. This is theoretically possible (it is argued) since none of these documents make binding theological definitions. In some scenarios, it is actually imagined that Vatican II will be declared no true Ecumenical Council at all. The documents of Vatican II will be publicly and entirely repudiated and possibly condemned as formally heretical.

What could possibly happen: If there is a future shift back towards tradition, clarifying documents could be issued that interpret the documents of Vatican II in the most traditional light possible. This sort of thing happened in 2007 when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an brief interpretive document on the phrase subsistit in in Lumen Gentium, directing that this teaching should be interpreted in continuity with the traditional understanding that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ. Athanasius Schneider has called for a similar authoritative interpretation of various aspects of the Council. If the Church hierarchy globally should ever begin to shift in a more traditional orientation, we could possibly see more clarifications of this sort that attempt to bring harmony between tradition and Vatican II (Related: What is the Hermeneutic of Continuity?).

What is most likely to happen: Like it or not, most Catholic prelates, even conservative ones, do not think there is any fundamental problem with the documents of Vatican II. Most hold the theory of the "hijacked council", or a version of "good council-bad implementation." What will most likely happen with the documents of Vatican II is...nothing at all. We could potentially see a few key phrases of teachings from the Council find their way into the perennial sources of faith. Perhaps Gaudium et Spes comment that without the Creator, the creature becomes incomprehensible; perhaps some of the ecclesiological statements of Lumen Gentium. Possibly a statement from Dei Verbum. But really, besides the two Constitutions, much of the conciliar corpus is unmemorable. As has occurred in the past with other ecumenical councils, a few kernels will be repeated and remembered and the rest of the Council documents - with all their wordy verbosity - will fall into obscurity. That is not to say they will be abrogated; rather, they will be superseded by new documents. These documents will probably be of a slightly more traditional bent (in the same way Benedict XVI was slightly more traditional than John Paul II), but they will not evidence any truly radical departure from the essential teaching of Vatican II.

4. The Bishops in Union with the Pope Will Consecrate Russia


What some vainly imagine will happen: A future pope, moved by the message of Fatima and convinced by the calamitous state of the world, will recognize the need for a consecration of Russia specifically according to the directives of Our Lady of Fatima. The pope in union with the bishops of the world will consecrate Russia - Russia alone and specifically - and an era of peace will be ushered in, the orthodox will be reconciled, and all manner of marvelous things will happen because of obedience to Our Lady.

What could possibly happen: The above scenario is very unlikely, as it would require future popes to admit that the actions of previous popes were errant or insufficient, which is highly improbable. Also, it requires a pope who takes Fatima seriously enough to break the Vatican's ostpolitik and risk harming "diplomatic" relations with the Patriarch of Moscow, which is also a big no-no. More likely is a scenario where the previous consecrations of "the world" to Our Lady are periodically renewed. For example, I can see a 50th anniversary commemoration of John Paul II's 1984 consecration in 2034, in which "the world" is again consecrated to Mary, similar to the consecration of the world made by Pope Francis in 2013. Just as the original Jubilee Year of 1300 became something that was repeated and became institutionalized, so we may see periodic renewals of the consecration of "the world" to Mary, none of which will mention Russia but which will all somehow be done "in the spirit" of Fatima.

What is most likely to happen
: Nothing at all. As time goes on, the message of Fatima will be seen more as a general, feel-good sort of vague thing; devotion to Fatima will be reduced to just "loving Mary" and will get away from anything specific. Lots of flowers. Lots of feeling good. Lots of "On This Day O' Beautiful Mother," but nothing else really. It's eschatological content will wither and be forgotten, even by conservative popes/prelates.

5. A Restoration of Global Catholic Monarchy


What some vainly imagine will happen
: After some future calamity - or alternately, perhaps during an "Era of Peace" ushered in by the Fatima consecrations - there will be a massive conversion of the world to the Catholic faith and global penitence. Reinvigorated by a new found devotion to the Kingship of Christ, Catholic monarchy's will be restored throughout much of the Christian world, perhaps with a sort of restored Holy Roman Empire ruled by some crusty scion of the House of Hapsburg. The social Kingship of Christ will be totally restored.

What could possibly happen: After some future turn of events upon which we can't speculate, some areas with a high population density of Catholics could see the rise of some Catholic strong-men dictator types, rulers who are autocratic but whose power is mitigated by their Catholic piety. I am talking about people like Portugal's Salazar or Englebert Dollfuss. These will not be monarchs, however, but authoritarians whose rule would be a far cry from a true restoration of Christ's kingship. At best, they will restore the social position of the Church, at least externally, and will enact laws reflective of some aspects of Catholic social teaching. But it will be difficult for them not to slip into the characteristic pitfalls of dictatorship.

What is most likely to happen: The slide of society towards liberalism will progress unabated until the Second Coming of Christ. As time goes on, there will be no more devout Catholics in positions of authority nationally, at least not such that they can wield any real influence. There will be no general social Catholic restoration of any sort. What restoration there occurs will be in little social niches, small communities, personal networks, etc. (No, please do not spam a bunch of quotes from obscure 17th century blesseds about the Great Monarch, nor do I want to hear about Fr. Ianuzzi's books).

Anyhow, that's my take on things. I may be totally wrong. I hope I am. What do you think?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ten Years of Unam Sanctam Catholicam

After nine years of meticulously observing the annual anniversary of this blog's establishment on June 29th of every year, this year on our tenth anniversary I got too busy and allowed June 29th to slip by me without any mention of this hallowed date.

Yes, it was back on June 29th, 2007 that this blog was first launched. Since then, we've published 1,137 articles on this blog - not even counting the 597 articles on the sister site. It has been viewed about 1.8 million times and consistently gets around 25,000 views monthly. It has grown beyond what I ever imagined. I remember when I was thrilled that 30 people read it one week.

Traditionally, on my anniversary posts, I would make some comments about the previous year, do a call out to the many contributors who help with the blog and website, and post some links to a few of my favorite posts from the last year. This year, being an especially momentous occasion, I kind of wanted to buck the norm and just offer a few general insights.

This past year has been a very challenging one for me personally, and I have had less time than ever for blogging. Ironically, the dramatic increase in professional (i.e., paid) writing opportunities has left me very little time for blogging, even though it was largely through the medium of this blog that I have learned to write. One does not publish 1,137 essays without picking up a little bit about writing as you go. Whatever professional success I have had with writing, I think a lot of credit must go to this humble blog for helping me get there. It's a sad irony that "getting there" has meant less time for the sort of casual, whatever-pops-into-my-head sort of writing that blogs were created for.

In many respects, I consider myself a sub-par, crummy blogger. I look at other successful Catholic blogs - many of them much newer than mine - and see them excelling me in every respect. I wish I posted with greater frequency and regularity. While I'm not at all ungrateful for the contributors I have had over the years (Noah, Maximus, Anselm, Kevin, etc), all of whom have their own busy lives, I wish had been able to maintain a more constant, regular working collaboration with other writers.

I wish I had the funds and time to update the aesthetics and functionality of the sister site. I wish I did not impulsively publish so much stuff that later leaves me thinking, "Hmmm...I probably should not have said that." I wish I wouldn't have published so much dumb stuff. I wish I was more professional with everything. I wish I had more time to engage my commentors, many of whom have been reading and commenting for years and years - C matt, Nate, Konstantin, Amateur Brain Surgeon, to name a few off the top of my head. You guys feel like old friends at this point.

I wish I had been able to make better collaborative friendships with some of my fellow Catholic bloggers, especially the traditional ones. For some reason, we've never really clicked...in some cases there has been open hostility, in others just...maybe I'm too distant? Ryan Grant has always been a close friend, though, and deserves special mention; I only started to gain traction back in 2007 when Ryan linked me on the sidebar of his old Athanasius Contra Mundum blog.

But then, there are other things I am very content with. I am content that I don't feel the need to offer a continuous running commentary on every piece of drivel that comes out of the Vatican. I am glad that I don't take this so seriously that I feel like I can't just get on here and rant. I'm thankful that my readership seems very forgiving of my stupidity. I will say something dumb and everybody will be on my ass about it for a week, and then the next week I'll write something else and everybody has forgiven me and it's as if nothing happened. I love my commentors. Even Lionel, in his own pathetic, ridiculous way. Some of you have been here for a very long time.

So...here's a toast to ten years of Unam Sanctam. In many respects they have excelled anything I ever imagined for this blog. In others, I feel like a failure. Who knows what future years will bring? Gracious Lord, bring some benefit, however poor, to someone from my meager efforts.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

St. Maria Goretti: Truly a Martyr to Chastity

I am getting older, and as I age, I sometimes fall prey to the common problem of thinking I've already heard everything there is to hear. This week I was reminded this is certainly not true, as I became aware for the first time of a very silly argument people are making about St. Maria Goretti.

Apparently, certain Catholic bloggers - shall we say, those who lean to the left of the political spectrum and have embraced certain principles of feminism - have suggested that it is offensive to say a reason for St. Maria Goretti's canonization was because she resisted her attacker to defend her chastity. Apparently, this implies rape victims who don't resist out of fear aren't holy. Celebrating St. Maria for her spirited defense of her chastity might make rape victims who didn't make a vigorous defense feel bad about themselves.

If you were to ask these bloggers what alternative criteria we should propose for St. Maria's sanctity, they would say the fact that she forgave her killer. Hence, she should not be celebrated as a martyr for chastity, but as an exemplar of Christian forgiveness.

I did not even know this argument was a thing until a friend made me aware of it last week (Maria's feast day was July 6th). It struck me as the latest manifestation of the ever growing cult of sensitivity, whereby something exceptional can't be celebrated because people who don't possess whatever is being honored might feel bad. It's part of the "Don't ask mothers to stand up for a blessing at Mother's Day Mass or women who don't have children will feel excluded!" "Don't suggest Catholics should go to daily Mass if they can because working fathers who can't make it to daily Mass will feel like bad Catholics!" "Don't speak out too strongly against abortion or else women who have had abortions might feel guilty!" This is more of the same.

There are really two questions in play here: (1) What was the actual reason for St. Maria's canonization? (2) Is celebrating St. Maria as a martyr to chastity intrinsically offensive to rape victims who did not fight back?

The first question is easily answered by looking at the acta surrounding Maria Goretti's actual canonization. This would include the proclamations of beatifications and canonization, as well as the papal homily on the occasion of her canonization in 1950. We could also look to subsequent papal commentary on the saint for guidance.

In the first place, let us consult the 1947 Decree of Beatification from the Congregation of Rites. This document makes it plain that it was for St. Maria's spirited defense of her virginity that she was considered for beatification:


"Never has there been a time when the palm of martyrdom was missing from the shining robes of the Spouse of Christ [the Church]. Even today in our very degraded and unclean world there are brief examples of unearthly beauty. The greatest of all triumphs is surely the one which is gained by the sacrifice of one's life, a victory made holy by the blood-red garments of martyrdom. When, however, the martyr is a child of tender age with the natural timidity of the weaker sex such a martyrdom rises to the sublime heights of glory.

This is what happened in the case of Maria Goretti, a poor little girl and yet very wonderful. She was a Roman country maid who did not hesitate to struggle and to suffer, to shed her life's blood and to die with heroic courage in order to keep herself pure and to preserve the lily-white flowers of her virginity. We can justly say of her what St. Ambrose said about St. Agnes: 'Man must marvel, children take courage, wives must wonder and maids must imitate.' These words are true indeed: 'The father of a saintly child may well jump for joy. All honor to the father and the mother. Happy the mother that gave thee birth' (Proverbs 23)."

Thrice happy maid, you are now rejoicing with your father in Heaven while your mother rejoices with us on earth like the happy mother of the angelic youth, Aloysius. So also let Italy, your Motherland, rejoice, smiling once more through her tears as she reads the motto which you have written for her in childish letters of brilliant white and gold: 'Brave and Beautiful' (Proverbs 31).
Italian girls especially in the fair flower of their youth should raise their eyes to Heaven and gaze upon this shining example of maidenly virtue which rose from the midst of wickedness as a light shines in darkness. We call her a model and protector. God is wonderful in His Saints! He sets them before us as examples as well as patrons. How He has given to the young girls of our cruel and degraded world a model and protector, the little maid Maria who sanctified the opening of our century with her innocent blood."

This document makes it plain that St. Maria was considered a martyr, and that the reason she is a martyr is because she "did not hesitate to struggle and to suffer, to shed her life's blood and to die with heroic courage in order to keep herself pure." Her act of forgiving her killer is not mentioned.

In his Homily for the Beatification, Pius XII elaborated further on why the Church was declaring Maria Goretti a Blessed servant of God.The comparison to St. Agnes is very telling:

"Maria Goretti resembled St. Agnes in her characteristic virtue of Fortitude. This virtue of Fortitude is at the same time the safeguard as well as the fruit of virginity. Our new beata was strong and wise and fully aware of her dignity. That is why she professed death before sin. She was not twelve years of age when she shed her blood as a martyr, nevertheless what foresight, what energy she showed when aware of danger! She was on the watch day and night to defend her chastity, making use of all the means at her disposal, persevering in prayer and entrusting the lily of her purity to the special protection of Mary, the Virgin of virgins. Let us admire the fortitude of the pure of heart. It is a mysterious strength far above the limits of human nature and even above ordinary Christian virtue."

St. Agnes is invoked because, like St. Maria, St. Agnes preferred to suffer death rather than have her virginity robbed from her. Pius XII also praises Maria's fortitude, which was exercised "with energy." This is undoubtedly referring to her fortitude in resisting the advances of Alessandro Serenelli. The energetic fortitude she exercised in the face of danger is certainly not referring to her act of forgiveness subsequent to the suffering she endured. Pius equates fortitude with purity of heart. This is clearly about her defense of her virginity.

At St. Maria's canonization in 1950, Pius XII again noted the connection between St. Agnes and St. Maria, declaring, "Maria Goretti is our new St. Agnes. She is in Heaven." Here are further excerpts from Pius XII's homily of canonization::

"You have been lured here, we might almost say, by the entrancing beauty and intoxicating fragrance of this lily mantled with crimson whom we, only a moment ago, had the intense pleasure of inscribing in the roll of the saints; the sweet little martyr of purity, Maria Goretti...

Dearly beloved youth, young men and women, who are the special object of the love of Jesus and of us, tell me, are you resolved to resist firmly, with the help of divine grace, against every attempt made to violate your chastity?

You fathers and mothers, tell me—in the presence of this vast multitude, and before the image of this young virgin who by her inviolate candor has stolen you hearts...in the presence of her mother who educated her to martyrdom and who, as much as she felt the bitterness of the outrage, is now moved with emotion as she invokes her tell me, are you ready to assume the solemn duty laid upon you to watch, as far as in you lies, over your sons and daughters, to preserve and defend them against so many dangers that surround them, and to keep them always far away from places where they might learn the practices of impiety and of moral perversion?

...We greet you, O beautiful and lovable saint! Martyr on earth and angel in heaven, look down from your glory on this people, which loves you, which venerates, glorifies and exalts you. On your forehead you bear the full brilliant and victorious name of Christ. In your virginal countenance may be read the strength of your love and the constancy of your fidelity to your Divine Spouse. As his bride espoused in blood, you have traced in yourself His own image."

I again want to draw attention to the fact St. Maria is presented as a martyr, and a martyr to chastity. She shed her blood to preserve her virginity. None of the official acts I could find made any reference to her act of forgiveness as the rationale for her beatification or canonization. She was elevated to the altars because she shed her blood for the sake of her virginity. This is beyond dispute.

Pope St. John Paul II also indicated St. Maria was a martyr to purity. In a 1991 article in L'Osservatore Romano commemorating the 100th birthday of St. Maria, he wrote:

"She did not flee from the voice of the Holy Spirit, from the voice of her conscience. She rather chose death. Through the gift of fortitude the Holy Spirit helped her to 'judge"- and to choose with her young spirit. She chose death when there was no other way to defend her virginal purity. Maria Goretti's blood, shed in a sacrifice of total fidelity to God, reminds us that we are also called to offer ourselves to the Father. We are called to fulfill the divine will in order to be found holy and pleasing in His sight. Our call to holiness, which is the vocation of every baptized person, is encouraged by the example of this young martyr. Look at her especially, adolescents and young people. Like her, be capable of defending your purity of heart and body; be committed to the struggle against evil and sin" (L'Osservatore Romano, Oct. 7, 1991).
Again, Maria's heroic death is praised, but her act of forgiveness is not mentioned.

This should be very, painfully clear that the reason for St. Maria's canonization was her heroic defense of her virginity. She is repeatedly called a "martyr." As St. Thomas Aquinas notes, one can become a martyrdom because of the heroic practice or defense of some virtue:

All virtuous deeds, inasmuch as they are referred to God, are professions of the faith whereby we come to know that God requires these works of us, and rewards us for them: and in this way they can be the cause of martyrdom. For this reason the Church celebrates the martyrdom of Blessed John the Baptist, who suffered death, not for refusing to deny the faith, but for reproving adultery (STh, II-II, Q. 124 art. 5).

I do not mean to minimize the importance of St. Maria's act of forgiveness. To wholeheartedly forgive someone who murdered you and tried to rape you is an exceptional act of Christlike charity. It is further evidence of her sanctity. But the plain fact is, this is not why St. Maria was canonized. She was canonized because of her heroic defense of her virginity. Full stop.

Her forgiveness was wonderful, but she could not be a martyr to forgiveness. The reason is simple. To be a martyr, one must be killed on the behalf of the thing you are being martyred for - either an article of faith or some virtue. St. Maria could not be killed because of her forgiveness since she did not exercise her act of forgiveness until after she had been knifed. The martyrdom was the cause of her act of forgiveness, not vice versa.

Our second consideration is whether praising St. Maria for her spirited defense of her virginity is offensive to rape victims who did not put up a fight. The answer is clearly negative. The mere fact that a deed of someone is praised does not mean to imply those who did not do similarly as bad or not holy. Those who did not fight back against a rape attack are not to be blamed by any means; it is well known that a woman's natural response to rape is to freeze - at least it is well known among those who have studied rape. Not everybody can be martyrs. We praise the martyrs not because their example is normative, but because it is exceptional. Because someone else has not taken the exact same course of action as a martyr does not intrinsically make them bad Catholics. St. Maria's actions are not put forward as the only acceptable course of action - but neither can we forget that they were praiseworthy and heroic in the highest.

St. Maria Goretti was canonized because she preferred to suffer death rather than allow her virginity to be ravished. And this is worth celebrating, as Pope Pius XII and John Paul II tell us. She is a true martyr to chastity. And to say so and celebrate this is not to condemn or diminish the suffering of anybody else who did not make such a heroic stand in similar circumstances.

I know this has already been written about elsewhere, and that much of what I am saying and even the citations from the popes have already been posted in other articles and discussions, but I wanted to write on this subject all the same to give it a wider audience - because I refuse to allow some kind of soppy political correctness and misguided sensitivity obscure the factual, historical reasons why this girl was canonized and what the Church wishes us to emulate in her life.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Müller and Ladaria



The bombshell news this week is that Pope Francis is not renewing the five-year appointment of Cardinal Gerhard Müller. Müller is being replaced by Spanish Jesuit Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, who was Secretary of the CDF.

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I confess I'm no expert on Archbishop Ladaria, but given the fact that many had assumed the prefecture would be filled by Cardinal Schönborn, Ladaria seems to be not a terrible choice. His work with Ecclesia Dei is commendable, as was his role in reaching out to the SSPX during the doomed talks of 2009. Still, he seems to be a middle-of-the-road sort of "mutual enrichment" theologian, who views the way forward as a kind of Hegelian synthesis between traditional elements and modern interpretations - Ladaria does not view reform in terms of a strict return ad fontes, but rather a kind of ressourcement approach typical of Danielou, de Lubac and the Nouvelle Theologie. But...whatever. Let's see how he does. Given the fact that we could have wound up with Cardinal Schönborn, I'll take Ladaria. 

* * * *

I also want to say that I am proud of the job Cardinal Müller did. When Müller was first appointed in 2012, many Traditionalists were skeptical. He had made some comments about Protestantism and other subjects that had ruffled some trad feathers. I don't know about his personal views, but honestly, Müller has done what a CDF Prefect is supposed to do—state the faith plainly and consistently in the face of challenges from within and without the Church. Forget being a theologically conservative prelate; just being a prelate with any sort of theological consistency whatsoever during the Francis papacy must be extraordinarily frustrating. Müller showed considerably fidelity and bravery in the face of what must have been enormous social and institutional pressure during the 2014-2015 synod and especially in its aftermath with Amoris Laetitia. Whatever rifts he may have had with traditionalists in the past, I for one will always remember him as speaking the truth in a dark moment. "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21).

* * * *
In case anyone has not read it, you really ought to check out the interview with Father Julian Carron, head of Communion and Liberation ("If you don't think Francis is the cure, you don't grasp the disease", John Allen, Crux, June 21, 2017). Carron is the successor of the renowned Father Luigi Giussani and talks frankly about the crisis in the Church, Francis, and what it means to have faith in the contemporary world.

The interview is very unsettling; Carron essentially says the reason conservatives struggle with understanding Pope Francis is because they blind themselves to the truly revolutionary import of the pope's sayings and gestures—that the revolution Francis wants is much bigger than most conservative Catholics are ready to accept. I would actually grant Carron this point, but that is where my agreement ends, as he goes on to suggest that conservatives need to embrace the Francis revolution—and that if we do not, it's because we don't "really understand" what Francis is trying to do and what the problems in the Church are. He also talks a lot about faith essentially being an "encounter" or "experience", which is really at the heart of what Fr. Giussani has been traditionally criticized for. 

I have often promoted the works of James Larson on this blog—not because I necessarily agree with everything Larson says, but because he absolutely gets to the heart of all the problems in the modern Church when he identifies them as a deficient view of faith. I highly recommend reading Mr. Larson's extensive essays at War Against Being.
* * * *

At Mr. Larson's site, you will see Mr. Larson proposing a theory that I believe is absolutely accurate but that traditionalists have been very slow to latch on to: Benedict XVI, far from being a theologically conservative counterweight to the progressive movement in the Church, is actually himself an extraordinarily progressive figure. Whether we are discussing Ratzinger's view of the Trinity, of faith, of creation-evolution, of the love, or liturgy or whatever, Ratzinger is a thoroughly progressive, liberal theologian from the school of Teilhard de Chardin. Many traditionalists want to deny this; they want to see Benedict as a kind of solidly traditional counterbalance to Francis. This is not born out by reading Benedict's actual writings. He is not a traditionalist; he is a progressive who has a sort of nostalgic appreciation for some of the forms and symbols of tradition. 

In the article from Fr. Carron linked above, Carron will make the same argument. Carron, speaking of comparisons between John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis, said:

After Benedict, it once again seemed there would never be anyone else like him. Instead, a pope arrived who, for me, is a radicalization of Benedict. He says the same thing, but in a way that it gets across to everyone in a simple way through gestures, without in any sense reducing the density of what Benedict said. 

Francis is nothing other than a "radicalization" of Pope Benedict XVI. This is true. Everything done by Francis can be found in seed form in Benedict and even John Paul II. Pope Francis' agenda is what happens when we follow the trajectories set by JPII and Benedict to their logical conclusions.

* * * *

So, Pope Francis has said he wants the change he is creating to be irreversible. It remains to be seen whether Archbishop Ladaria will stand up to Francis' novelties in the same manner as Cardinal Müller. I have to believe that Francis would not have chosen him were this the case. And it should also not be forgotten that Ladaria is a Jesuit like Francis. I don't know what import that has, but I have to believe it's not irrelevant.

Some are saying that with the departure of Müller, the last bastion of faithful opposition to the Franciscan agenda within the hierarchy has fallen. The Müller CDF was very isolated within the Curia. The opposition of the four cardinals—which is already drawing opposition from other parts of the hierarchy—now seems even more marginalized. I would not be surprised if the remaining years of the Franciscan pontificate witness an even more alarming increase in the scope and speed of novelties being introduced.

One more thing—Francis has suggested in the past that he does not want to have a very long pontificate and that he is open to resigning after he has made his mark on the Church. I predict that he does not resign. Francis is an autocrat. He is in love with power and adulation. He has completed the task begun long ago by John Paul II of turning the papacy into a cult of personality with himself as the Leader. Given his personality and mode of leadership, there's just no way he will ever step down. No way. He's going to cling to the power he has amassed until death rips it from his fingers.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Many Faces of Catholic Social Teaching

For a long time, I belonged to a Facebook group called "Catholic Social Thought, Politics, and the Public Square." It has a very large following; chances are some of the readers of this blog probably follow this page. Here is the page:



I've been a member of this group for a few years, but today I left it, after becoming exasperated with fruitless, circular arguments with liberal Catholic social justice warriors. When I initially joined the group, I'd hoped it would be a forum for exploring various aspects of Catholic social teaching, either in exploring teachings from the great encyclicals of Leo XIII, Pius XI and Pius XII, or discussing contemporary social problems in light of Catholic Tradition.

Unfortunately, this page was by and large a cesspool of progressive nonsense. I will explain briefly what I mean by this, but I want to preface by saying that it is amazing how Catholics can think "Catholic social teaching" can mean such radically different things. There seems to be multiple different strands of Catholic Social Teaching existing side by side, each claiming the same authority. It's very confusing.

At any rate, the stuff I encountered on this Facebook page was very much in the liberal-progressive bent. Here are some common traits of this strain of Catholic Social Teaching I gleaned from my few years interacting with these people.

Total Ignoring of Pre-Conciliar Popes

Papal documents were cited profusely, but mainly documents of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Francis. I don't think I ever saw anything from Leo XIII cited, even when the people on the page were discussing matters relating to wages, labor, etc. Certainly no mention of Pius XI and Quas Primas and Christ's social kingship.

"Consistent Ethic of Life" Exaggerated to Cover Every Liberal Talking Point

I am presuming my readers know what the "consistent ethic of life" position is, also known as the "seamless garment" argument. It essentially is a liberal talking point that says if you oppose abortion, you must also oppose the death penalty, war, and just about every situation where violence may be used. This "consistent ethic of life" idea was exaggerated to the point where every liberal talking point became a "pro-Life" issue, with the implication that one was not "really" pro-Life unless one supported the global climate change agenda, abolition of the death penalty, socialized health care, liberal spending programs, and everything else. Thus the "consistent ethic of life" became equivalent to the political program of liberalism by expanding to a ridiculous level.

Bashing Pro-Lifers

I don't think I saw any articles against abortion - or if I did they were few and far between. But I did see a constant barrage of articles attacking Pro-Lifers. Essentially these critiques followed in along the lines laid out by Pope Francis of telling Catholics not to "obsess" over the abortion issue, as well as suggesting that Pro-Life Catholics were not "really" Pro-Life because they didn't do enough to promote social programs to help mothers and children - which is a point I deny, but that;s beside the point. This really ties in to the next issue on the false equivalence between Catholic Social Teaching and liberalism. Conversely, pro-Choice politicians such as Hillary Clinton are given a pass because of their liberal credentials.

False Equivalence

This is actually something that is common to liberal thinking in general. Essentially, a social problem is identified. Liberals propose a solution solve to the problem. Then the equate their particular solution with the only solution, implying that only they really care about solving whatever problem they are discussing. Example: There are many unwed mothers struggling to raise their children in poverty. Nobody disagrees with this. The liberals put forward a characteristically liberal solution - taxpayer subsidized, government programs! Now, it must be admitted that this is only one proposed solution to the problem. There could be others. Reasonable people who all agree that poor single mothers need help can disagree on the most effective solution to the problem. Liberals, however, will go on to act as if their solution is the only solution, and those who do not support taxpayer funded government programs for low income mothers are attacked as not "really" caring about the issue. This is classic liberal false equivalence, and this manner of thinking is endemic among Catholic social justice warriors.

Inversion of Authority

Sources of authority are inverted. For example, on the question of capital punishment, very low level documents by John Paul II and homilies by Pope Francis are given absolute authority, while authoritative statements like the Catechism of Trent are poo-pooed. Sources of dogmatic authority are inverted, with non-authoritative ones being given absolute authority and authoritative ones treated as dispensable. Obviously this implies a very sharp split with the way pre and post-Conciliar sources are treated.

Catholic Social Teaching and Social Justice Warriors

Essentially, working for Catholic Social Teaching is equated with the progressive "social justice" warrior. One gets the impression that these people really think secular-liberal "social justice" is the same thing as Catholic Social Teaching. I do not want to believe it is only because both concepts have the word "social" in them, but I am starting to think that is really it.  Essentially, there is no modicum of independent Catholic social action that is formed within an authentic Catholic framework. When considering social action, it is like they  can't conceive of a social action that is fundamentally distinct from liberal activism. Of course, this can happen with "conservative" Catholics as well, who can tend to make Catholic social teaching equivalent with free market economics and a  neo-con political program. But of course, the answer is not a pivot to the Left, but rather to escape the spectrum entirely with an authentic, independently Catholic social vision that is prior to and bigger than the stupid Left-Right spectrum of American politics. What we have on the Catholic Social Thought Facebook page is essentially some of the worst statements at the lowest level of dogmatic authority interpreted through a lens of liberalism.


It is truly amazing that people can have such huge divergent opinions of what constitutes Catholic Social Teaching, but such is the Catholic world we live in.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

"God cannot be God without man"

On June 7th, the Holy Father Pope Francis delivered a catechesis on the Our Father during his General Audience. The center of his message was that far from being a God distant and unconcerned with man, God is intimately close to man and cares deeply about his affairs. He longs for man's salvation with divine paternity; this is why Christians call God "Father", and the pope called us to reflect on what a revolutionary concept it is to understand God as a Father.

In the course of these reflections, Francis made the following statement, which has raised many eyebrows:
The Gospel of Jesus Christ shows us that God cannot stay without us: He will never be a God “without man”; it is He Who cannot stay without us, and this is a great mystery! God cannot be God without man: the great mystery is this! (General Audience, June 7th, 2017)

Protestants and certain Catholics alike have come out with accusations of heresy or blasphemy against the pope on account of these statements. The accusation is that Pope Francis is teaching that God some how requires man - that the divine substance stands in need of humanity in order for it to be complete, for God to be God. If this were true, this would make God's omnipotence dependent upon man, the Creator dependent upon the creature, and entirely invert the relationship between God and man.

Such would be a very problematic position indeed!

I have been critical of Francis' speech in the past, both in his manner and content; I even wrote an ebook chronicling a series of theological concerns arising from his encyclical Laudato Si. I am certainly no papolater; I'm not one of those people who feels the necessity to offer a knee-jerk defense of every word that comes out of the pope's mouth, least of all in a very low-level, non-biding, non-authoritative pronouncement like a General Audience.

That being said, I do not think what Francis said here was blasphemous or heretical. Sloppy? Yes. Poorly worded? Definitely. Heresy? I don't think so.

First, we must remember that there are two ways to consider God. We may speak of the "theological Trinity" (sometimes called the "immanent Trinity") or the "economic Trinity." When we speak of the theological Trinity, we are speaking in terms of what God is in and of Himself without reference to His creation - to the mysterious inner life of God Himself. When we speak about the economic Trinity, we are speaking about God with reference to the economy of creation - God in relation to creation. The theological Trinity speaks of who God is, the economic Trinity what God does in relation to the world.

When we are speaking about the salvation of the human race, we are speaking of the economic Trinity. Understood in and of Himself, God does not "need" man or anything other than Himself. He is perfectly self-sufficient and blessed in His own nature.  He is all-powerful and all-knowing and needs nothing whatsoever. As Acts 17:25 says, God stands in need of nothing. Creation needs Him; He does not need creation. God is perfectly self-sufficient.

But God did not remain solitary. He freely created mankind, and in creating man out of love, He bound Himself to the fate of man, in the sense that He continues to seek man and provide for man's welfare, even when man rejects Him. From beginning to end, God is initiator of man's salvation. He is the one who calls man to communion, who sent His Son to die, and who constantly prepares man's heart to receive Him via grace. God is the initiator of man's salvation in every sense.

Thus, though God does not "need" man in an absolute sense, within the economy of salvation He cannot stop seeking man. God is faithful and has promised to provide for man's redemption. He cannot fail to seek man anymore than He could lie or betray His word.

The source of this is not any necessity that binds God's will, but the free choice of God Himself, who created man out of love and continually seeks after Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums this up well when it says:
Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (CCC 50).

Francis says the Gospel of Christ reveals that God cannot stay without us. Though God communicated to man in many ways throughout salvation history, His definitive revelation to man comes through Jesus Christ. "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). The people of the Old Testament knew that God was loving, but the depth of His great love are revealed by the mission of the Son and His atoning death on the cross.

This love is perfected in the Incarnation and Crucifixion. God does not need man, but at the Incarnation He forever united Himself to human nature in Mary's womb. The Incarnation is the permanent union of the divine nature with human nature. Thus, since the Incarnation,  Francis is right to say God will never be a God without man. Christ will never not be a God-Man. The Incarnation permanently bonds God to human nature and forever orients all God's saving acts in the world towards mankind. In the economy of salvation, the acts of God are always ordered towards man's beatitude. "God cannot stay without us", yes, in the sense that God can no more abandon mankind than He can undo the Incarnation. The Incarnation was a total and irrevocable commitment of God to mankind.

Again, the Catechism says, "
Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him" (CCC 30).

Is it then true that "God cannot be God without man"? Not if we take this to refer absolutely, to the theological Trinity; of course, the divine nature needs nothing to be complete. But the whole focus of the pope's homily was God inasmuch as He is a Father to His people; in other words, the economic Trinity, God within the economy of human salvation. And within the economy of salvation, God has permanently and irrevocably committed Himself to the calling, redemption, and glorification of mankind. As long as creation endures, God cannot un-orient Himself from mankind. For God to be what He claims to be, He cannot be without man. He cannot abandon man. He has promised He would not. "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20).

Thus, I think those who find Francis' words here heretical are not sufficiently grasping the concept of God's permanent orientation towards man within the economy of salvation. Some are citing verses like Daniel 4:35 and Acts 17:24-25 as evidence that Francis has taught heresy. The passage from Daniel merely notes that God is all-powerful and can exercise His will unhindered; the passage from Acts 17 states that God does not need anything. Neither of these undermine the pope's words; if God is all-powerful, as Daniel teaches, then He can voluntarily bind Himself to His creation through all His salvific acts, especially the Incarnation; and since God does not need anything according to His divine nature, as Acts 17 teaches, then the fact that God is so faithful in His relentless pursuit of man is even more marvelous.

God does "need" to do certain things that He has voluntarily bound Himself to. It's like asking does God " need" to forgive the original sin of a person coming to baptism under the right conditions? Considered absolutely, no, but considered in terms of God's salvific works, in terms of what He Himself promised to accomplish through baptism, then yes, God does "need" to remit original sin through baptism - otherwise we would have no confidence in the efficacy of the sacraments. But it must be stressed that this "necessity" is not any kind of compulsion that moves God from without, but rather it flows from God's faithfulness to His own promises. The only thing that binds God is His own word.

Could Francis have worded this better? Could he have perhaps been more sensitive to how his statements could be taken? Could he have perhaps offered more precise distinctions. Would such a clumsy theological statement probably have been censored a hundred years ago? Affirmative on all counts. But I don't think there is anything inherently heretical in these statements, understood rightly. His words are sloppy and confusing, per the norm, but in this case there is nothing to cry afoul of.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Chris Cornell - 1964-2017

Back in 2010 I profiled the life and death of gothic-metal singer Peter Steele. The article was of purely personal interest to me, as I used to listen to Steele's band Type-O-Negative back in my past life. I was surprised how much traction the article got; in fact, it became one of my highest read articles of all time and continues to attract a fair amount of traffic to this day.

Today I am again profiling the death of a musician that meant a lot to me when I was younger, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, who passed away in Detroit earlier this month in what is apparently being ruled a suicide, although his wife and others who knew him are contesting this.

Musicians come and go, of course, but Chris Cornell's death struck me in a very personal way. Perhaps it's essentially nostalgia; I can vividly remember two decades ago, rumbling down country roads in my buddy's old pickup truck in the summers with windows down, sun baking our arms, blaring Soundgarden while we enjoyed our youth. Some of the earliest songs I learned on guitar were Soundgarden riffs, although I must admit they were a bit too complex for me to master at the time.

Even Cornell's death had a personal element to it. He died in Detroit, right in my backyard, after a final performance at the Fox Theater. I know the Fox Theater well. My mother was an usher there when I was a boy. She used to be able to get us seats for free and I remember heading down there with my brother to see David Copperfield or other acts.

At any rate, I don't mean to go too much into my own background, except as a way to say that this musician was tied up with some very nostalgic memories for me.

As far as I know, Chris Cornell was the only major Grunge-era icon who had a Catholic upbringing. He attended a Catholic school in Seattle, although he finished out his education in a public high school. I've read stories that he was almost kicked out of his Catholic school for "asking too many questions", but this seems apocryphal. I mean, he went to Catholic school in the 1970's; you can't convince me that people were legit reprimanded for challenging Catholic doctrine in American Catholic schools in the 1970's. If anything, such doctrinal non-conformists were probably praised.

At any rate, Cornell seems to have rejected his Catholic upbringing while simultaneously being enamored of the powerful symbols of the faith. This was a similar phenomenon I noted in my article about Peter Steele and Gothic metal; while rejecting the substance of the faith, they retain evocative Catholic imagery in their songs. In the case of Peter Steele, as well as other fans of the Gothic genre, admiration for the symbols and images of Catholicism ended up becoming a back door back to the actual practice of the faith.

Cornell's songs were the same. While he clearly had a skeptical attitude towards the tenets of Christianity, he could not get away from Christian images in his music. As a man who always struggled with addiction and depression, it even seems that sometimes he returns to a kind of consoling Catholic piety when his lyrics are plunging the depths of depression. Even to this day, I am moved by Cornell's opening lines to his 1991 "Say Hello to Heaven":

Please, mother of mercy
Take me from this place
and the long winded curses
I keep here in my head

It's a very Catholic sentiment. When the darkness closes in and all seems hopeless, call out to the Blessed Mother.

I was always particularly partial to his 1999 solo track "Sunshower", which like many of his songs deals with the struggle to find happiness in the midst of pain - to discover redemptive value in suffering. The chorus balances suffering and redemption, promising that all the adversity that pours down like rain will cause grace to blossom and flower:


When you're caught in pain
And you feel the rain come down
It's all right
When you find you way
Then you see it disappear
It's all right
Though your garden's gray
I know all your graces
Someday will flower
In a sweet sunshower

After Soundgarden broke up, Cornell's lyrics became more explicitly religious with his second band, Audioslave. For example, this lyric from "Show Me How to Live":

Nail in my hand from my creator
You gave me life, now show me how to live.

Or this lyric from "Light My Way":

In my hour of need, on a sea of gray
On my knees I pray to you
Help me find the dawn of the dying day
Won't you light my way?

Cornell said the increasingly religious lyrics of Audioslave were evoked by the responsibilities of fatherhood, and the realization that one must live for something beyond oneself.

I'm not suggesting Cornell's music is "Christian" or that the few head nods to a Creator compensate for the religious skepticism evident in much of his music; rather, I am noting how Catholic imagery becomes a pivot around which his creative vision turns, even when he is more or less turning away from it.

In a 2008 interview Cornell identified himself as a "freethinker" who did not prefer to consider life in terms of right and wrong and said he preferred to stay away from specific denominations or religious schools of thought. Jesus's message perverted..."be really nice to each other."

However, around the same time he formally entered the Greek Orthodox communion as a result of his second wife, Vicky Karayiannis. How sincere his conversion was, I could not say. In an interview with The Inquirer, he was asked why he converted to Greek Orthodoxy. He responded:

I wanted to be married in the Greek Church. I was baptized Catholic and went to a Catholic school. There was something about the Greek Orthodox Church that resonated with my childhood—there was something fresh and exciting about it.


Again, it's as if there is a kind fascination with the nostalgia and symbolism of the historic Christian faith that continues exert its influence, even if the substance of faith itself is lacking or imperfect.

At least externally, Cornell appears to have been a practicing Orthodox in his latter days. There are lovely pictures of his child's baptism - with Chris and his wife singing the traditional Greek chants that accompany the rite:





One final thought: I think one thing that was so disturbing about Chris Cornell's death for me personally was that I thought he was "safe." He had outlived many of his musical peers and made it to age 52, not the age we typically associate with rock star suicide. Whether Cornell killed himself intentionally or not - the Ativans he took for anxiety had a side effect of making one suicidal - it is a reminder that one does not outgrow depression. It is something that one must be constantly vigilant against. I was a child of the early 90's, and the one great gift the 90's bequeathed to the world was depression - with all the attendant pharmaceutical treatments and their equally horrific side effects. For me personally, Cornell's death was a stark reminder of these realities.

I don't know to what degree Cornell eventually found faith or what his faith was in; he seems like a man who at one time vehemently rejected the Christian faith but also viewed his personal struggles in a fundamentally religious-existentialist terms, with a vocabulary bequeathed to him by his Catholic upbringing. It seems he started to meander back to faith in the years before his death.

Whatever Chris Cornell's mistakes or weaknesses, the man was a baptized Catholic and it's questionable whether he was in his right mind when he took his life or not. So I'm going to say a little prayer for his soul today. Won't you do the same?