Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What's He Getting At?

Fr. Z had a very strange quote today, he said:
Here is a bit from Edward Short’s review of a biography of Elizabeth, the late Queen Mum.

Regular readers will know why I share this:

"Elizabeth never granted interviews to newspapers. She agreed with Walter Bagehot that 'above things our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it you cannot reverence it… Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic.' "
Now, he's probably just hinting at some reference to the need for mystery in liturgy, but I couldn't help but imagine Fr. Zuhlsdorf(-and-that-is-why-they-call-me-Rolf!) fantasizing about just replacing the word "royalty" with the word "clergy" in that sentence. I couldn't help but notice the parallel between the Queen Mum's attitude to that of a romanticized clericalism, which would have some aloof Pope ruling without question over a facade of clerical culture where everything is covered up and kept all in the family, refusing to acknowledge or respond to the outside world or popular media, and reverenced by a people who are trained to be obsequious and not poke about it...

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Living in Sin" and Double Standards

I have been mulling this for some time now, and worry it may become one my more misunderstood posts or accused of heresy. But there are some contradictions on a very practical spiritual level that seem to be at play here, and I think they need to be explored. I'm just hashing out my thoughts on all this, I'm not trying to make any claims of total consistency on my own part either or saying this is some sort of definitive position paper or anything like that.

Anyway, it's clear that a lot of the Church's current problems can be traced back to sex. Which may well be a problem with our own culture of death, of course. But, also, there is the fact (which can become highly politicized) that the Church currently has this sort of double-standard for sinners. A chronic masturbator or promiscuous person who engages in occasional hook-ups...can go to confession, receive the eucharist (at least until they do it again), and it's all tolerable because, heck, we're all sinners, and that is a discreet act they can repent of (or, perhaps, just compartmentalize it) and move on. God is merciful.

But, then, there is this perpetual class of pariahs who are apparently not only sinning but, also, "living in sin" because they are divorced and remarried, or cohabiting (not the same thing as merely sharing a domicile, by the way), or in a homosexual relationship, etc. And so they are seen as not only sinning in a discreet instance, but as being in some sort of perpetual state-of-being that is sinful, as if they are committed to sin because they have institutionalized it in the form of a committed relationship.

The concept is described in a passage from "Brideshead Revisited" by a character considering a divorced-and-remarried type situation:

" 'Living in sin'; not just doing wrong, as I did when I went to America [for a one-time-only adulterous fling]; doing wrong, knowing it is wrong, stopping it, [repenting,] forgetting. That's not what they mean [...They] mean just what it says in black and white[:] Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing curtains drawn on sin, bathing in it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it around, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial if it’s fretful."

This is, of course, the official party-line on the matter. And yet, it seems to me to create a weird contradiction on the practical spiritual level. Specifically, it seems to imply that a series of promiscuous hook-ups are better than an actual committed mutually respectful relationship. Because a person doing the former can repent, go to confession, receive communion for a time, until they fall again...but the latter is permanently expected to refrain from communion even if they recognize that what they've done is wrong and there is a stretch of time that they havent, actually, had sex with their partner.

Because (the logic goes) they cannot validly confess, because they are still intending to do it in the future, they are committed to that idea and have built a "lifestyle" around it, whereas the promiscuous person can "swear it off" for a time, at least.

Even if, in practice, the two are doing the actual sin itself just as often! Yet, for some reason, the chronic masturbator can go to confession and communion in between falls because those are just separate instances of sin, but the divorced-and-remarried or cohabiting or homosexual couple can't because they are "living in a state of sin" even during periods when they don't actually do it.

To me, this doesn't seem to be a terribly healthy notion. I actually met this Calvinist guy (so he had other problems too, lol) in a religion discussion forum once, who was homosexual and who would anonymously hook-up with men every few weeks, but also spoke of entering a committed stable relationship as anathema because that would require, I guess, committing to the idea...whereas anonymous hook-ups can be one-time things that he could repent of, compartmentalize, and move on with life until the next time, being "good" in between.

I think any mature person with any concrete experience of the workings of the human spirit, outside of mere theory...would admit (at least I would hope) that anonymous hook-ups are much worse morally than a committed relationship, which at least has some redeeming moral value (care, trust, respecting and loving the other person as a human being, etc) even if its sex itself is technically illicit. Any notion that would have a series of one-time flings held up as better than something at least somewhat stable, because of some idea that the former can be sworn off in between distinct falls...strikes me as just a recipe for sociopathy. Is it really better for a woman to repeatedly cheat on her husband, repent, go to confession, say she's never going to do it again, only to do it again with another man a few months later...than for her to just be honest about the situation and commit to another stable relationship?

Some people might disagree, but I think that's ridiculous. I agree with what Cardinal Schonborn recently said: "We should give more consideration to the quality of homosexual relationships. A stable relationship is certainly better than if someone chooses to be promiscuous." He likewise said that we need to approach the divorced and remarried more pastorally, as at least they make a stable commitment, whereas many people don't even marry at all anymore but merely live in a fornicatory manner. And yet, the promiscuous person can receive communion in between their distinct acts, while the person in a stable relationship is considered to be in some perpetual state and unable to repent even if they haven't, in fact, done it in a while.

Why can someone repeatedly hookup with someone with no commitment, repent, go to confession, receive communion...even if they keep falling, and know it's likely to happen again with the same person...but a stable relationship with that person is "living in sin"? Where can we drawn the line between repeated falls into sin with the same person and a committed relationship with them...except in the delusion and dishonesty within the mind of the repeat offender who keeps swinging back and forth mentally instead of just deciding once and for all? That really seems to be, a friend I showed this post to pointed out, just cognitive dissonance. Just deluding oneself by not being honest about the nature of the relationship. Is that really what the Church wants to encourage through this idea of "living in sin" as opposed to just "regular old sinning"? Especially given that, I'd like to think, the commitment (to the relationship, not to the sex) would actually be morally redeeming to a degree as opposed to the opposite. Surely a stable relationship is better than promiscuity?

Some might say, "Well, if they really were repenting or knew it was wrong, they'd stop, or get out of that relationship." Yet, another friend of mine said once, "a home is also built on charity, but it has a real sense of evil, sin and failure too." As this so eloquently points out, we're fallen and all our relationships are imperfect and probably have some element of sin in them, even the American Dream nuclear heterosexual family with 10 kids and NFP classes. Even "wholesome" family life and marriage is filled with sin and evil, and yet do we say "Well, because you fight with your wife all the time you should separate from her because she's obviously an occasion of the sin of wrath for you"? No, because we know the good outweighs the evil, and that the evil can be weeded out over time.

This is true even for contracepting married couples to some extent. Since their sin isn't public, I guess, they can probably confess their contraception and receive communion, even if they then, in the future, use contraception again. And yet, when it comes to "public scandal," isn't it rather presumptuous to assume that a divorced-and-remarried or homosexual couple are actually having sex? Realistic, sure, but then...it's also realistic to assume that married couples are contracepting (since so many do), and yet we don't go around judging all married couples or making such assumptions; we mind our own business. So, again, double-standard.

Even my own friendships...obviously contain at times elements of gossip, uncharitable words about others, bawdiness, etc. These elements cannot simply be excised like some tumor either, though, as they form a big part of the friendships. Even if I recognize they are wrong in themselves and confess them...I also know that (God bringing good out of evil) they've been a big part of building up the friendships, getting to know each others personalities (if only in all our sinfulness and imperfection), encouraging personal intimacy, etc. Some of my best memories, on the human level, are of sitting around joking and laughing in ways that, I recognize, had sinful elements to them when it came to speech. And yet, am I to put away all those friends or stop talking to them?

Where sin abounded grace did more abound, and though we can repent of the sin by recognizing it was wrong and entrusting it to God's mercy...we can't actually wish it "never happened"...as without the sin, the grace the flowed through that wound (even the grace of the forgiveness itself) would never have happened. Think of the children born of these illicit unions. The parent can recognize the act was wrong on principle and ask for God's mercy, but they surely shouldn't wish the act "never happened" if they love the child born of it! We have to own our sin and live with it and, with God's grace, integrate it. We cannot change the past, nor are we required to wish the past was different.

When I confess gossip, for example, I know that I'm supposed to make a resolve never to do it again. But what does that mean? For me, basically, then, this all comes down to the question of what actually is required in terms of the resolve or intent never to do it again. Because, if we're being realistic, I think we all know that when we confess, even if we repent of the act, recognize it as bad, and entrust ourselves to God's mercy...we know that it is at least likely that we'll do it again, even if at the moment we have no specific intent or plans to do so (which I think is enough for the validity of contrition).

But obviously, many Catholics get into a scrupulous guilt cycle (which I've described before) wherein they swear something off radically, and every confession is their "last time" doing it...even though they've said that a hundred times before and, if they were being honest and self-knowing, would admit it probably isn't likely their last time this time either. This is a model for spiritual self-delusion.

Yet, why can I continue in friendships that have been built-up in their intimacy and mutual affection by gossip, and can repent validly even though I know it is likely to happen again (as long as I have no specific intention to do it at the moment)? I can have no intention of breaking off the friendship merely to avoid that "occasion of sin" because the good in the friendship outweighs the evil...and yet a divorced-and-remarried couple or homosexual couple is expected to cut off the relationship entirely or else need to make some big vowed commitment to celibately living "as brother and sister."

Such a burden doesnt seem to be placed on regular sinners where sin is a feature of their relationship; we merely need to have no specific intent to do it again at the moment of confession, we need to recognize it is wrong and thus resolve to stop, but we arent required to make any sort of unrealistic lifelong forecast about never doing it in the future, as long as at the moment we recognize we shouldn't theoretically. Because I think it is realized that this would be merely unrealistic (it is likely that we'll do some things again, and to say otherwise is delusional) yet it's recognized that it's better to have the graces of confession and communion for the battle than to expect people to be truly ready or likely never to do it again in an absolute sense (which just isnt realistic for most people in most instances). We're not required to make some sort of big prophecy or vow about our whole life, merely to address it in the moment (even if it is probable that it will happen again) and commit it to God's mercy.

In summary, I guess what I'm getting at is this: if a woman is divorced and remarried, why shouldn't she be able to just go to confession Saturday morning, mention that, and receive communion Sunday? Even while continuing the relationship. And, if sex happens again later in the week (as long as she wasn't specifically intending it at the time) well, then she's no worse than the chronic masturbator or porn addict who repents only to fall again. And should be no more expected to break off the relationship than the man who yells at his wife, repents, only to have it happen again because she naturally annoys him.

I mean, how are these people supposed to fulfill their Easter duty!? What if they decided each year to give up sex "at least for Lent," went to confession at the beginning, received communion at Easter, but otherwise took a "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it" outlook towards anything more distant in the future than that. Because I think, if any of us are being honest, our own commitments about reforming our lives rarely have an outlook any more distant in the future than that; in reality these things are decided and dealt with day-by-day.

The problem, of course, is that (probably because they've been alienated and singled-out) the divorced-and-remarried, cohabiting, and homosexual couples...often now aren't willing to just say, "Yes, there is sin in our relationship as in all relationships" but want even the sin itself (as opposed to just the good effects) now positively affirmed as good and celebrated. And I'm sure being deprived of the sacramental graces merely compounds that.

And, indeed, it can be understandably difficult to make that abstraction as good-effects can flow even from the illicit sex itself (children, for example, whom the parents love, or even just a building up of intimacy on the human level). And yet, might that not be our fault as an institution for treating them as a special class of sinners as opposed to just sinners like the rest of us? As I said...some of my relationships have been and are built up by interactions that have involved sin, and yet I can still recognize it as wrong (whatever the good effects) and ask God for mercy (even while not intending to leave the friendship, even while knowing it will probably happen again).

I think, here, the ideological commitment is a main problem, of course, that conservatives see with this. The "real problem" is the pride and heresy these people commit when trying to say there is "nothing wrong" with their sex, that they "aren't sinning." Sinning is one thing, and everyone does it and will continue to until the end of time. Refusing to admit that something was a sin is what is really spiritually destructive, though. "Amen I say to you, that all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and the blasphemies wherewith they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost, shall never have forgiveness, but shall be guilty of an everlasting sin."

The problem seems really more to be the sin of obstinancy (one of the sins against the Holy Spirit), which is prideful, and which compounds the sin (which might otherwise be no big deal) by refusing to let the Physician see it each week or however often, by denying that it's wrong rather than just humbly saying, "Yet, it's wrong, God be merciful. But I think there is more good in the relationship than evil, and so I'll stay even though I know it may well happen again." Because good comes from it (even if the act itself is wrong) and as long as they have no specific plans or intent at the time.

And yet, we don't let them do that! We deny them that grace and antagonize them and so encourage them in such an obstinancy. The hierarchy expects them to live like monks, basically, and put an undue burden of avoiding the occasion of sin on them that the rest of us to do not face in our day to day lives and temptations. I think, ironically, if we allowed it, if we were more pastorally understanding in that regard (rather than expecting them to break everything off and make radical renunciations before we accept their confessions)...they'd actually be more likely, in the end, to move more and more together towards the "ideal" in their relationship (which would still be celibacy) than if we merely leave them high and dry. Why make the perfect the enemy of good?

Isn't obstinancy the corner we box them into by painting their whole relationship as tainted and evil by the fact of one sin within it? That attitude in itself would seem to lead to the unhealthy idea of essentializing their relationship as a sexual one, rather than simply a human one where sex may or may not sometimes happen.

I don't essentialize my relationships with people as founded on sin and therefore irredeemably evil and sinful, even if sin has been a big part of them. Such a vision of these relationships (ie, as essentially just outgrowths or ornamentations of illicit sex) seems to trivialize them and be very reductionist, as such loving pairings may be perfectly humanizing in a million other ways even if, as in all relationships, there is also occasion of sin. And I can see how people would find that offensive, and lead them to (in a defensive reaction) embrace obstinancy and demand to call even the sinful element "good" (which is something infinitely worse and spiritually destructive than the actual sin in itself).

I'm sorry for rambling, I know this one was all over the board, but please discuss! I'm trying to sort out the sorts of double-standards and contradictions I see in the perhaps artificial division between "regular old sinning" (where you can go to confession and receive communion again) and "living in sin" (which makes you some sort of pariah incapable of valid repentance without radical renunciations or massive changes to your whole life).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pope on Hope

No, not that Pope. I mean Alexander. Not Pope Alexander, mind you, but Alexander Pope:
Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar;
Wait the great teacher Death, and God adore.
What future bliss He gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be, blest.
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

Friday, August 27, 2010

On Providence

From the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Divine Providence:

"The universe is a system of real beings created by God and directed by Him to this supreme end, the concurrence of God being necessary for all natural operations, whether of things animate or inanimate, and still more so for operations of the supernatural order. God preserves the universe in being; He acts in and with every creature in each and all its activities. In spite of sin (which is due to the willful perversion of human liberty) acting with the concurrence (but contrary to the purpose and intention) of God, and in spite of evil (which is the consequence of sin), He directs all, even evil and sin itself, to the final end for which the universe was created."

"Some causes are not determined ad unum, but are free to choose between the effects which they are capable of producing. Thus things happen contingently as well as of necessity, for God has given to different things different ways of acting, and His concurrence is given accordingly. Yet all things, whether due to necessary causes or to the free choice of man, are foreseen by God and preordained in accordance with His all-embracing purpose. Hence Providence is at once universal, immediate, efficacious, and without violence: universal, because all things are subject to it; immediate, in that though God acts through secondary causes, yet all alike postulate Divine concurrence and receive their powers of operation from Him; efficacious, in that all things minister to God's final purpose, a purpose which cannot be frustrated; without violence, because it violates no natural law, but rather effects its purpose through these very laws."

And from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God's absolute sovereignty over the course of events."

"God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures' co-operation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God's greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan.

To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of 'subduing' the earth and having dominion over it. God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors. Though often unconscious collaborators with God's will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers, and their sufferings. They then fully become 'God's fellow workers' and co-workers for his kingdom."

"The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: 'For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.' Far from diminishing the creature's dignity, this truth enhances it. Drawn from nothingness by God's power, wisdom and goodness, it can do nothing if it is cut off from its origin, for 'without a Creator the creature vanishes.'"

"But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world 'in a state of journeying' towards its ultimate perfection. In God's plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.

Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it: 'For almighty God...because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.'

In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: "It was not you", said Joseph to his brothers, "who sent me here, but God. . . You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive." From the greatest moral evil ever committed - the rejection and murder of God's only Son, caused by the sins of all men - God, by his grace that "abounded all the more," brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good.

We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him.' The constant witness of the saints confirms this truth."

"We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God 'face to face,' will we fully know the ways by which - even through the dramas of evil and sin - God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth."

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Journey

Starting tonight, I'll be out of the country on another trip, until next Thursday. I can't guarantee any updates nor speedy response to emails. This may be the first month in a long time where I post fewer than one update per day on average...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Canticle for Leibowitz and the Dormition

Coincidentally enough, I just found the following passage in A Canticle for Leibowitz which is extremely relevant to my post a few days ago on the Dormition and the Assumption, if only as demonstrative of the nature of the question itself:
New Rome was busy with other matters, such as the petition for a formal definition on the question of the Preternatural Gifts of the Holy Virgin, the Dominicans holding that the Immaculate Conception implied not only indwelling grace, but also that the Blessed Mother had had the preternatural powers which were Eve's before the Fall; some theologians of other Orders, while admitting this to be pious conjecture, denied that it was necessarily the case, and contended that a "creature" might be "originally innocent" but not endowed with preternatural gifts. The Dominicans bowed to this, but contended that the belief had always been implicit in other dogma--such as the Assumption (preternatural immortality) and the preservation from Actual Sin (implying preternatural integrity) and still other examples. While attempting to settle this dispute, New Rome had seemingly left the case for the canonization of Leibowitz to gather dust on the shelf.
Walter M. Miller's hypothetical future Dominicans are flat-out wrong, though the example in the novel certainly shows where the popular Catholic mindset regarding all this was in 1959 (when the book was published)!

As I discussed on the Feast itself, Mary's Dormition before her Assumption is infallible by ordinary and universal magisterium, even if not covered by the solemn extraordinary definition. It does not imply preternatural immortality or impassibility. Yes, she received the gift of being conceived as if already baptized and free from the spiritual effects of original sin, already in a state of grace or divine life from the first moment of her existence. But I do not think her freedom from Actual Sin in life was due to anything like an Edenic gift of preternatural integrity being super-added to the original innocence of that conception.

Some seem to speak sloppily as if the Immaculate Conception made it so that Mary couldn't sin; yet even Eve, who did have the gift of preternatural integrity, was still ultimately able to sin, obviously. Rather, with the Virgin Mary, her sinlessness was from her own free choice to never sin, in cooperation with God's grace, even in the face of a life of sorrow, pain, unknowing, and mortality, even without the preternatural gifts. A singular grace, to be sure, but only because she cooperated with it in a singular way. Such a grace is, I suppose, offered to all of us as sufficient grace; she was singular because she never chose to reject any of that grace as the rest of us do, and thus it all was efficacious and so she was sinless. So, Our Lady cannot be compared to Eve in these ways.

The position held by A Canticle for Leibowitz's hypothetical future Dominicans is, however, indicative of how many Catholics misunderstand or misunderstood the issue. Many seem to be under the impression that Mary's Immaculate Conception was the cause of an infallible freedom from Actual Sin, or would have exempted her from death. Such clumsy theology makes it understandable why the Orthodox similarly often misunderstand our teaching and thus are, understandably, wary of it. In reality, the preternatural gifts are a separate question from the indwelling of divine life from the moment of her creation, and there is no evidence that Mary received the former as she did the latter (in fact, the idea seems to me repugnant to Catholic tradition and good theology).

Sensitivity and Mascots

Rudy Giuliani has now "said in an NBC 'Today' show interview that the question was not whether the development should go ahead but rather one of 'sensitivity and people's feelings.' "

He acknowledged the legal and constitutional rights of the Muslims to build the mosque, but argued that "This project is creating tremendous pain for people who've already made the ultimate sacrifice. All you're doing is creating more division, more anger, more hatred."

It's funny, this conservative double standard. I'm reminded by this issue of the Native American mascot controversy that has affected sports teams and schools including, recently, my own alma mater.

In that particular debate, it was the "liberals" (and me) arguing against such mascots on the grounds of sensitivity. The conservatives threw out arguments about "tradition" or "school spirit" or "honor," but ultimately, I concluded...that means this is entirely a question of emotions. Neither side in the mascot debate has any purely "rational" arguments; it is ultimately a question of competing feelings.

And so the relative costs of each had to be weighed. And it was obvious to me: the "pain" caused to the conservative side due to offending some silly notion of school honor (if you really want to defend that, stop cheating academically and binge drinking!) or threatening their attachment to a "tradition" that is largely a marketing device...simply pales in comparison to the pain and sorrow of digging up memories of genocide, cultural alienation, colonial subjugation, etc.

If the battle is one of identity politics (and in that case, it clearly was) then you have to ask: whose identity is more threatened by the proposed alternatives? The beer guzzling white kids who knee-jerk react against the idea of people telling them what to do regarding the silly symbols of their market-constructed "school spirit" (itself a weak athletic proxy for actual war as an outlet for masculine aggression)? Or the long-suffering peoples who have had to face centuries of oppression, land-stealing, forced cultural alienation, and a Trail of Tears (however well some of them may be doing today)? To me, it's a no brainer.

And yet, the conservatives rejected such an argument in that case. "Oh, it can't be about feelings. That's political correctness. We have a right to keep such a mascot! We'll keep propagating and celebrating the symbol anyway, unofficially. They can't stop us, it's our free speech!" Except, no one has any right to keep any mascot; that's for the institution's administrators to decide. They can't (and haven't) stopped people from continuing the mascot unofficially, but it's their call to get rid of it to be sensitive to the pain of a historically oppressed minority.

In the mascot question, there wasn't even any question of rights, only feelings. So the more valid and important feelings should triumph; suffering should be minimized. Arguments like, "Well, the Irish don't complain about Notre Dame's Fighting Irish, therefore, the same standard should apply here" and calling that "logic"...are just idiotic. The situations are totally different and non-analogous; there is no valid syllogism there.

Well, now, the tables are turned. This time the conservatives are the ones trying to make an argument based on "sensitivity" to people's feelings. Except, this time, the opponents have not merely opposing feelings to be weighed...but actual constitutional rights! This time it is actually a question involving foundational civil rights in our nation. And that trumps any argument from sensitivity, especially when it is so irrational and illogical to be offended in this case, bigoted even, painting Islam with such a broad and undiscriminating (and therefore, ironically, discriminatory) brush.

But even if we were to purely compare the feelings (given that everyone seems to still admit their theoretical "right" to build it, thank God)...are those irrational and frankly bigoted feelings by some knee-jerk reacting survivors and their xenophobic conservative allies really so obviously "worth more" than the feelings of Muslims all over the country, whom this debate in itself (let alone if the Right actually wins) makes to feel suspected, unwelcome, associated with terrorists, like their religious freedom is being threatened, stigmatized, etc? I don't think that's obvious at all.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Few Things on Islam

So, I've recently been covering some of the ridiculousness in the conservative blogosphere surrounding the so-called "Ground Zero mosque."

The following three things seem relevant. The first is a ridiculous Fr. Z post about how the Muslims building a giant clock-tower in Mecca and hoping that it will become the new Prime Meridian is part of the destruction of "Western Civilization." Riiiight. Because, after all, Catholicism ="Western Civilization" and a Greenwich meridian is surely part of the Deposit of Faith!

The second is a funny article showing how close other things are to Ground Zero (including two strip clubs) and the ridiculousness of if we were to label all of them "the Ground Zero..." as the mosque is being labeled even though it is two blocks away.

The third is a very good article that I'll share a quote from below, which I think is applicable about our society in matters far beyond just this mosque question:

Opponents of Cordoba House, from Sarah Palin to Abraham Foxman’s Anti-Defamation League, believe that what ought to prevail are the emotions of survivors and others: some survivors and some others. Sensitivity rules. Former Governor Palin declared, in a tweet that went around the world, that the determining force is pain that “stabs hearts” “throughout the heartland,” pain that is “too raw, too real.” Mr. Foxman’s words were more modulated: “[U]ltimately, this was not a question of rights, but a question of what is right." But he too went on to specify an emotion-based conception of “right” when he went on to say that the anguish of the families of those murdered on September 11, 2001, “entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted." For Mr. Foxman, emotion is also the anteroom to morality.

One way or the other, Mr. Foxman and former Governor Palin would seem to agree that the rights of survivors—family members—are self-evident. Anyone who cannot feel for them forfeits a human impulse. For their losses, there can be no recompense. But just what are their rights, and where are their limits? In a democratic society in which feelings do not automatically line up around a single magnetic pole, questions immediately arise: Which hearts? Which heartland? Which survivors get to decide? How many widows are worth how many cousins? Does the pain of those of us who lived near the Twin Towers and inhaled the stench of the burned flesh and the smoldering ruins for weeks, but (or therefore) conclude that a nearby monument to civilized discourse about religion makes a great deal of sense, avail nothing? Are the courts to judge the respective realness or authenticity of pains? Elected officials? Congress? In this brave new world order, feelings would be enforced by the might of the law. This way lies the sort of touchy-feely madness that, not too long ago, conservatives considered political correctness run wild.

But beyond the question of whose feelings count looms a principle that needs stating: Private feelings do not convey public rights. It’s in keeping with the spirit of an age hostile to public values that some survivors—and some who share their view of propriety—can be considered to have the last word. If some survivors of Timothy McVeigh’s victims wish to erect a sculpture next to the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City depicting McVeigh strapped on a gurney receiving a lethal injection—perhaps next to the two pints of mint chocolate-chip ice cream that made up his last meal on earth—would that be their right? (I have not been to law school, so perhaps I may be excused if I say that this is, indeed, a self-answering question.) Or should we suppose that a poll (or focus-group? focus-assembly?) of survivors is to prevail on the question? Questions of principle remain.

To permit the feelings of some survivors, however deep, however inconsolable, to trump all other considerations is to view the massacre of September 11 as their private affair. But it was not that. It was perpetrated against the body of America—indeed, the world, since the victims were citizens of many countries. (At that, scores of them were Muslims, a number greater than the number of hijackers—not that this matters in principle.) Al Qaeda considered them fair game not because of any wickedness that might adhere to their own persons but because they happened to occupy certain sites on the American earth, and because, in their view, the destruction of these sites would serve their purposes in the diabolical theater that terrorism amounts to.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lovely Ideas

I'm finally reading Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh because Catholics seem to mention it quite a bit. I must say, I hope the second half is better than the first, it really had better be building up to something, even if something subtle.

I mean, I guess it's well written and absorbing in its way, but...I just am really coming to hate these decadent European aristocrats with all their weird little social cues and detached ennui and bizarre arrogant ways of interacting. It's charming but also really depressing. Though, perhaps that's the point Waugh was trying to make?

As much as I may hate American politics and its exploitative global capitalist hegemony, I must say that reading this has made me so grateful for the American down-to-earth, straight-talking, no-nonsense pragmatism and relative openness and optimism among people. That other way was so affected.

I suppose living in the 21st century helps too. There may be a lot of phoniness and quiet desperation here now still, but it seems to me to pale in comparison to the empty, cynical, drifting, jaded lives of these upper class Europeans from the Victorian era to roughly World War II. Trads who romanticize that era (and America's brief attempt at a populist version in the 1950's) are nuts.

Nevertheless, this passage discussing Sebastian Flyte's Catholicism stuck out as rather relevant to me:
We never discussed the matter until on the second Sunday at Brideshead, when Father Phipps had left us and we sat in the colonnade with the papers, he surprised me by saying: "Oh dear, it's very difficult being a Catholic."

"Does it make much difference to you?"

"Of course. All the time."

"Well, I can't say I've noticed it. Are you struggling against temptation? You don't seem much more virtuous than me."

"I'm very, very much wickeder," said Sebastian indignantly.

"Well then?"

"Who was it that used to pray, 'Oh God, make me good, but not yet'?"

"I don't know. You, I should think."

"Why, yes, I do, every day. But it isn't that." He turned back to the pages of the News of the World and said, "Another naughty scout-master."

"I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?"

"Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me."

"But, my dear Sebastian, you can't seriously believe it all."

"Can't I?"

"I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass."

"Oh, yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea."

"But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea."

"But I do. That's how I believe."

"And in prayers? You think you can kneel down in front of a statue and say a few words, not even out loud, just in your mind, and change the weather; or that some saints are more influential than others, and you must get hold of the right one to help you on the right problem?"

"Oh yes. Don't you remember last term when I took Aloysius [his teddy bear] and left him behind I didn't know where? I prayed like mad to St. Anthony of Padua that morning, and immediately after lunch there was Mr. Nichols at Canterbury Gate with Aloysius in his arms, saying I'd left him in his cab."

"Well," I said, "if you can believe all that and you don't want to be good, where's the difficulty about your religion?"

"If you can't see, you can't."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Merry Marymas!

Today is the great feast commemorating the Dormition and Assumption of Our Lady.

Yes, Dormition. While the exact time-frame of all this is not really known except from legend, and while one might expect her own resurrection to occur on the third day, as with her Son, they are both commemorated today, showing their intimate connection.

Throughout history, however, people have had an almost natural impulse to wish to draw out this feast over a period or with a second feast sometime after. I'm not just talking about an octave with octave-day. Rather, there has been a very practical concern with a desire to commemorate both aspects of this feast that are abstractable one from the other: one, Mary's departure from this life and, two, her glorification in the next. And while these two sides of the same coin are both condensed into today, throughout history people have tried to find a liturgical way to emphasize one or the other on different days. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Assumption explains:

The Greek Church continues this feast to 23 August, inclusive, and in some monasteries of Mount Athos it is protracted to 29 August (Menaea Graeca, Venice, 1880), or was, at least, formerly. In the dioceses of Bavaria a thirtieth day (a species of month's mind) of the Assumption was celebrated during the Middle Ages, 13 Sept., with the Office of the Assumption (double); today, only the Diocese of Augsburg has retained this old custom.

Some of the Bavarian dioceses and those of Brandenburg, Mainz, Frankfort, etc., on 23 Sept. kept the feast of the "Second Assumption", or the "Fortieth Day of the Assumption" (double) believing, according to the revelations of St. Elizabeth of Schönau (d. 1165) and of St. Bertrand, O.C. (d. 1170), that the B.V. Mary was taken up to heaven on the fortieth day after her death (Grotefend, Calendaria 2, 136). The Brigittines kept the feast of the "Glorification of Mary" (double) 30 Aug., since St. Brigitta of Sweden says (Revel., VI, l) that Mary was taken into heaven fifteen days after her departure (Colvenerius, Cal. Mar., 30 Aug.). In Central America a special feast of the Coronation of Mary in heaven (double major) is celebrated 18 August. The city of Gerace in Calabria keeps three successive days with the rite of a double first class, commemorating: 15th of August, the death of Mary; 16th of August, her Coronation.

I think that the old Central American and Calabrian practice makes the most sense to me. I find it hard to believe that Mary was taken up 15 or 40 days after her Dormition. Perhaps the latter was trying to make analogy to the Ascension, but there is no evidence for a period of glorified life on earth for Our Lady after her resurrection as there was for Our Lord. And that only makes sense: the final Passion and Resurrection of the Church (which she typifies) will be followed immediately by Ecclesia's ultimate assumption to glory with Her Bridegroom, not by any intervening Age (such as exists between Our Lord's first coming and His final triumph at the End, as signified by the 40 days on earth between His resurrection and ascension). And surely she did not remain dead in a tomb that long (else she would have seen corruption). Furthermore, tradition now, for better or worse, associates this day with commemoration of both the Dormition and the Assumption, so having a separate commemoration of the Assumption in se so much longer after the first feast seems incongruous; it should be within the octave at least.

I also think that designating this "second feast" of the Assumption as the Coronation makes sense. This leaves one free to commemorate the Assumption today with the Dormition, in order to highlight their intrinsic connection, while still having a particular feast a few days later (ie, along a more "historical" time-line for the events in question) of her glorification in heaven separately. As, theologically speaking, the "Coronation" could not really be a separate event from her entrance into heavenly glory itself. I would be inclined, however, to put this feast of the Coronation on August 17th (in analogy to the relation between Good Friday and Easter).

One of my pet peeves surrounding the solemn extraordinary dogmatic definition of the Assumption in 1950 by Pius XII is that, since he phrased it so as to define only the Assumption and to leave out the question of Mary's death, you will now hear many Catholics state that whether or not she died is "up for debate" or an "open question," which implies and reinforces a notion of doctrine that is positivistic as regards the extraordinary magisterium, as if something isn't a doctrine or binding just because it has never been solemnly defined.

This notion is faulty. Just because the Dormition hasn't been solemnly defined by an act of extraordinary magisterium like the Assumption has, doesn't mean it is "up for discussion." It is actually infallible under the ordinary and universal magisterium. Father J. F. Bonnefoy, O.F.M., goes so far as to state that "the death of the Most Holy Virgin may be considered as historically proved and explicitly revealed: as such (explicitly revealed) it may be the subject of a dogmatic definition: there is no reason why it should not be."

This was not really questioned until the definition of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. In another example of this sort of magisterial positivism among Catholics leading to serious theological sickliness, theologians took the "new" dogma of the Immaculate Conception as justification for debating whether Mary did in fact first die (for much of history it was just assumed; no pun intended).

This is poor theology; there is no reason that the absence of original sin would cause immortality. The baptized still die, Christ submitted to death. Immortality was one of the "preternatural gifts" superadded to human nature before the Fall (see the last paragraph of
this article). Non-glorified human bodies, being composite, still naturally incline towards dissolution, with or without sin; immortality and impassibility were positive additions by God above and beyond human nature in original innocence. And though they were lost with the Fall, they do not intrinsically go along with the question of presence or lack of original sin in itself.

While Mary's soul was created already in a state of grace, already without original sin or its spiritual effects, there is nothing to indicate that she also received the Edenic physical preternatural gifts: Mary still suffered hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain, unknowing, and sorrow in her life. There is no reason death itself would be any different.

This is one of those cases where the Orthodox see our fetishization of authority as really problematic and untraditional: just because it wasn't part of an extraordinary dogmatic definition in 1950, that leaves all sorts of Catholics saying that this leaves the question open (and, in fact, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many theologians did start to debate it). It doesnt. The Orthodox would find this absurd and an extreme rejection of tradition. Mary's dormition is infallible by ordinary and universal magisterium.

In fact, Mary's dormition was for a long time considered more certain than the Assumption (which even Catholic Encyclopedia in 1917 seemed to put only at the level of sententia probilior). The Feast was called the Dormition for a long time before it was the Assumption, after all. This from the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Blessed Virgin Mary:
"St. Epiphanius doubts even the reality of Mary's death; but the universal belief of the Church does not agree with the private opinion of St. Epiphanius. Mary's death was not necessarily the effect of violence; it was undergone neither as an expiation or penalty, nor as the effect of disease from which, like her Divine Son, she was exempt. Since the Middle Ages the view prevails that she died of love, her great desire to be united to her Son either dissolving the ties of body and soul, or prevailing on God to dissolve them. Her passing away is a sacrifice of love completing the dolorous sacrifice of her life. It is the death in the kiss of the Lord (in osculo Domini), of which the just die."
I believe it has been pointed out before by many Saints that the sword of sorrow would have killed Mary right there on Calvary alongside her son, if God had not miraculously preserved her and held back the effects. In her death, the floodgates of that martyrdom of love were finally loosed, and she at last was allowed to die of the wound in her heart that she had received years before at the foot of the cross, crowning a lifetime of suffering for her son, and in conformity to Him. A true martyrdom indeed, as explained so wonderfully by St. Alphonsus. But if she died such a martyrdom in conformity to her son, so much more was she resurrected and glorified in conformity to the same and, with her, each of us and created nature itself, in the Church, are restored.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

400th Post!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Another Resignation

More on the question of resignations and accountability:

A lawmaker in New Hampshire has apologized and resigned from the state's House of Representatives, a day after posting a comment on the Internet that speculated about the death of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

In a public letter to the House speaker Thursday, Democratic Rep. Timothy Horrigan expressed regret for bringing "this House into disrepute," Politico reported.

On Wednesday, Horrigan posted a comment on Facebook
speculating that a dead Palin would achieve martyrdom.

"I don't wish Sarah Palin dead . . . but not merely for compassionate reasons," Horrigan wrote on Facebook. "I also want her to live because a living Sarah Palin is less dangerous than a dead one."
So this guy makes one stupid comment about Sarah Palin that isn't even really that controversial (he quite clearly said that he didn't want her dead, if only so that she wouldn't be a martyr)...and he resigns as a legislator a day later.

Meanwhile, Sodano and Bertone and Hoyos and Danneels still have Church-funded incomes, Cantalamessa is still papal preacher and, of course, Cardinal Brady is still in power...

So Fucked Up...

I've discussed my opinions on this before. This just makes me so mad. It's so...childish, so insane. I really am too sad and angry that this is what our religion has become to say any more right now. Just...ugh:


Not That Abnormal

[Update: this post has been altered to reflect the fact that I did start drinking in August thanks to the influence of a dear friend of mine!]

Though I do now drink occasionally myself, I have always been disturbed by the implication that not drinking is weird, that "everybody" drinks. I think people should mind their own business and not pressure their friends who make such a choice or look down on them; this is especially an issue among the young, in college and even high school (and earlier!)

But I recently found the
following statistics that I find rather reassuring:

According to the CDC, in 2006 (most recent year with data available), 75% of adults age 18 and over in the United States had used alcohol at some point in their lives. 61% were current drinkers, meaning that 14% were former drinkers who had made the decision to stop using alcohol. The remaining 25% of the population were lifelong abstainers.

25 percent!! A whole quarter that have never drank! For those of you who make such a choice, I highly respect you, and 25% is hardly all that rare or weird or abnormal. And nearly 40% don't drink currently, counting those who have given it up at some point (maybe that will be me again some day). And the number of women who are lifelong abstainers is almost a third, and those who don't currently is almost half!

Similar numbers are given by recent Gallup polls about drinking which suggest that, though drinking may be slightly on the rise (due to the economic problems?), it still is only in the 60's percent range among all adults.

The media portrayal about its "universal" prevalence is thus highly over-exaggerated; I've also always liked this song:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Digging the Hole Deeper

How could someone so smart be so stupid?!!?:
If Pope Benedict XVI is trying to dig the Catholic Church out of the sex abuse scandal, he only seems to be making the hole deeper.

That's the apparent consensus after it was reported that the pope has rejected the resignations of two bishops in Ireland who asked to quit last December after they were named in an independent report for their lack of diligence and action in the country's awful history of the sexual and physical abuse of children by priests.
Sure, they say they weren't implicated "directly"...but who cares? This looks so bad. No one has any right to be a bishop; you step down for the sake of the Church! Poor Diarmuid Martin, a good guy, tries to fix things, and the central bureaucrats in Rome frustrate his efforts to clean things up:
"The Vatican [was] not impressed with the way Diarmuid Martin went on PrimeTime [an Irish television news program] and called on other bishops to be accountable," Garry O'Sullivan, editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper in Dublin, told The Associated Press. "It's not the way business is done in Rome."

The Irish Catholic first obtained a copy of a letter Martin sent to priests, in which he said the Vatican decided that the bishops would remain in office but would be "assigned revised responsibilities within the diocese." Neither Archbishop Martin nor the auxiliaries would comment or detail what those new responsibilities would entail.

Other analysts suggested that behind the Vatican's rejection was the fear of a "domino effect" in which any bishop or cardinal implicated in the abuse crisis could be pushed to resign, which is a nightmare scenario to a tradition-minded pope like Benedict XVI.

"In other words, there may still be many Irish bishops with 'mishandling/bureaucratic,' sex abuse skeletons still in the cupboard who would also have to resign," Paddy Agnew wrote in The Irish Times.

That would be fine with sex abuse victims, who were outraged at the decision to reject the resignations.

"So much was expected of the pontiff, and so little was delivered," said John Kelly, leader of Survivors of Child Abuse, an Irish advocacy group. "The pope said that priests and bishops needed to surrender themselves to the demands of justice. Here were two of many who did surrender themselves -- and they've been refused," Kelly said. "That sends out a signal that there is to be no change, no closure for victims and no accountability."

Abuse survivor Marie Collins also said she was "at a loss" and "past being angry." The church was not "going to be accountable or take responsibility." She felt "people, survivors in particular, are also entitled to an explanation as to why Bishop Moriarty's resignation was accepted but Bishop Walsh's and Bishop Field's were not."

In the United States, SNAP, or The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, chastised Benedict for "rubbing more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of thousands of child sex abuse victims and millions of betrayed Catholics."

Media reaction was blistering as well.

Writing in The Herald of Ireland, Terry Prone accused the Vatican of "arrogance." He said the way the news was communicated was typical of the Vatican, and said that "somewhere along the line, the officer class in the Catholic Church decided they no longer needed to explain and persuade and motivate. They could just tell the faithful. Or not tell them, as in this case."

"Latest Papal diktat spells doom for people's church" ran the headline in John Cooney's column in the Irish Independent, while Kevin Clarke, writing on the blog of America magazine, a leading Catholic weekly in the United States, searched for an explanation.

"Could the Curia [the pope's advisors] truly be so oblivious to the anger and frustration of average Catholics worldwide trying to make sense of the church's response to years of sexual abuse by clergy on Catholic children?" Clarke asked. "It doesn't seem possible."

For many, it now seems more than possible, but highly probable.

There should be a domino effect! We need most or all of the bishops of the Western church to resign and be replaced by fresh blood to heal things. But, no, they cling to their positions. And, of course, Cardinal Brady is still in power...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Confessional Idea

There was a post on Fr. Z lately about parishes not offering enough times for confession, the sad trend of confessions available "by appointment only" (talk about awkward!), etc.

It's got me thinking. On the one hand, I don't necessarily agree with the notion held by some conservative Catholics that constantly available confessions are necessary or even ideal. I think I've said before that a few strategically placed churches in a diocese could have confession all day (perhaps ones associated with a monastery, or the Cathedral, or other place where many priests will be available to rotate), but that it is hardly necessary in the parish. A weekly weekend slot is reasonable and, in fact, I worry from personal experience that being spoiled with daily available confessions can just make one presumptuous in sinning and lazy spiritually that way. There is something mortifying about having to wait to get back on the wagon rather than having instant absolution available as if it's just some toggle-switch for grace. Perpetual confessions are really no more necessary than perpetual adoration, and can become just as distorted an emphasis if we're not careful.

However, all that being said, not all Catholics' schedules are alike. And there may be a way to have confessions be more widely available than scheduling big chunks of time during the week, which many priests don't have (or, rather, they do, but refuse to waste it sitting in a box for an hour when only one person shows up).

Though I don't necessarily like the attitude of "drive-through" confessions in a parish-as-sacrament-factory, I have been chewing over an idea that I'd like to at least see experimented with somewhere.

The idea is this: rectories could have a confessional built along some side wall that penitents could enter from the outside. It would be like a tool-shed; it wouldn't have a door into the rectory, but there would be a connecting screen with a room on the other side, in the rectory. When priests were in the rectory just working on paper-work in the office, or watching TV, or just lounging around or whatever...they could turn on the "green light" hanging outside the confessional (and visible from the street). People would know that there was someone available then, and could go into the confessional. There would be a "doorbell" inside that would ring and alert a priest to come to the confessional on his side, switch the light to red, and hear the confession. If the priest went out, or was showering, or in a meeting, or in bed, or for whatever reason just didn't want to be bothered at the moment...he just would press the button (perhaps it would be remote controlled) turning off the light and the buzzer.

That way, priests could be doing other things around the rectory during the day without having to necessarily set aside a whole hour just for confessions if very few people come. Sure, there would be no guarantees about confession availability during the week, and there would still have to be a specifically scheduled slot on the weekend. But outside that, people would start to pick up on what times the priest was usually home, and could drive by and see if the light was on during the times of day he tended to be available if they were seeking a confession. At the very least, I'd think it would be an interesting experiment to try...


Reditus has drawn my attention to this new blog The Catholic Fascist which is a satire of the Right Wing Republican Catholic blogosphere.

I don't know, in turn, how far to the Left they are personally (the article satirizing the critique of altar girls suggests they are fine with them; I'm really not)...but at least people are starting to stand up against the crazy "conservative" American Catholic world with all its xenophobia, capitalism, nationalism, authoritarianism, and militarism; not to mention the obvious deep-seated insecurity about masculinity resulting in sometimes blatant compensatory chauvinism, homophobia, misogyny, etc., masquerading as the Gospel.

Some of this stuff
is just brilliant. Here is their blog description:

Chris Hedges has it right: Christian fascists are growing stronger. But, sadly, not strong enough among our Roman Catholic brethren. Despite some valiant attempts, like our friends at The American Catholic, the Roman Catholic blogosphere remains insufficiently committed to the task of whiteness witness called for during the Second Vatican Council and the duty of spreading American ideals of freedom, capitalism, and unmatched power. Vatican II got so, so many things wrong. But its statement of the Catholic layman’s duty to fight for Catholic truth in the secular sphere could not be more correct.

And today’s United States of America — overrun as it is with radical feminists, whiny liberals, demasculinized “men,” Middle Eastern terrorists, queer homosexualists, greedy pornographers, burnt out drug addicts, lazy deadbeats, and more — needs Christ’s One True Church more than ever. The Catholic Fascist sees its mission as speaking the One Truth into an ambivalent Roman Catholic blogosphere. Our Holy Father is on a mission to purge the Church of its “filth,” and we aim to proclaim and contribute to this cleansing in a way fitting to Internet-connected lay Catholic men.

A note about the blog’s title. Certain minority factions of the Catholic blogosphere have taken to calling conservative Catholics — that is to say TRUE Catholics — “fascists,” a move that is not merely hateful but ignorant of history. Everyone knows that fascists have historically been liberals. Our blog title is not meant to concede that we are “fascists” in the historical sense but to proudly reclaim the word ironically as we boast of the conservative Gospel of Jesus Christ. If promoting the truth is considered “fascist” by the Catholic Left, so be it. Catholic fascists we are.

And the descriptions of the contributors are priceless:

Richard Hedges is a veteran, a retired lawyer, and the most faithful, orthodox Catholic you will ever meet. He attends the 6:05 AM Traditional Latin Mass each Sunday at St. Barbara Catholic Shrine at Fort Archer Air Force Base. He is also the founder of The Catholic Fascist and a future contributor to Inside Catholic.

Dave Lister is author of the book The Wave of the Future. Get your copy today.

Joe Pantsonfire is a young orthodox Catholic from the western United States. He is burning with the Holy Spirit and with righeous anger against those enemies of the Church, especially inside the Church, who want sociopathic Mexicans to over-run our beautitful God-given birthright, and want to take away our guns – our only defense against these and other threatening sociopaths. He is on a mission to purge the Church from error – liberalism, socialism, Europeanism, and pacifism, and other assorted dangers to our precious American way of life.

Dan McLockinload lives in a small town. He was born in 1896, and has seen it all (even though he has never left his small town). He has seen his precious country destroyed by liberals, socialists, and progressives. He believes that the founding fathers were all anonymous Catholics, and that the American revolution was guided by Catholic beliefs – faith, family, weapons, low taxes, small government, freedom, states rights, a strong military. There is nowhere on earth like the United States, and there never ever will be. The pope knows that. Glory and praise to the American martyrs!

Lady Macbeth was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, attended Hillsdale College in Michigan, and received her Ph.D in Strategic Leadership from Regent University in Virginia. Possessing the Truth taught by her beloved Catholic Church and the Founding Fathers of her great country, Lady Macbeth wars against liars and falsifiers wherever they may be found, but especially in the blogosphere. She believes ardently in the combined power of Absolute Moral Truth and American Military Might to bring Salvation to deserving peoples around the world. She loaths relativists of all sorts and wimps who decry doing whatever is necessary to bring freedom, safety, and security to the globe. When it comes to defending the Truth, her thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

Parker Euton is a 25 year old Catholic convert, community college student, and self-taught theologian. He agrees with most of his blog collaborators, but disagrees that the root cause of decay in America and the Catholic Church is liberalism and socialism. No, it is sodomy. Parker is anxiously awaiting God’s choice for his wife to come along, so if anyone can help God out by offering rosaries for this intention, he would be most grateful. His future wife should know that he is already in possession of a thermometer.

ROFLMAO!!! I think more and more people are getting fed up with that ilk and their claims to monopoly on what it means to be Catholic, especially the bizarre alliance with the Republican Party...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Good News?

I need some good news. Anyone got any??

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Orthodox Primacy and Ecclesiology

I want to refer everyone to this post on Fr. Z, where an extremely fascinating discussion has developed in the comments thread, that addresses many substantive points related to ecclesiology when it comes to ecumenism with the Orthodox.

The consensus seems to be that the Pope's move to drop the title "Patriarch of the West" is baffling, and is not terribly helpful ecumenically, because that title is actually very
useful in terms of working to establish a mode of administration acceptable to the East. The Orthodox certainly never objected to that title, in fact it is one of the most acceptable to them. But the discussion gets into the broader issue of primacy and ecclesiology in the East.

I would specifically like to point out and recommend that everyone read very carefully the comment by PaterAugustinus, an Eastern Orthodox poster, whose comments on the Orthodox notion of Primacy are level-headed and amazing enlightening (and potentially show a path acceptable to both sides, or at least with a lot of common ground):

I think there are probably a few issues here.

When it comes to the Orthodox, I think the hostile reaction to the titular change has been mostly irrational. I myself am Orthodox, so I hope nobody will think I am polemicizing against “the enemy.” Modern-day Orthodox Christians think of the Pope primarily as “Patriarch of the West,” and so the rejection of the title is interpreted by some as a rejection of the Orthodox position vis-a-vis the Papacy. This view of the Papacy, I think, comes from a modern Orthodox tendency to over-emphasize conciliarity, largely as an over-reaction to Primacy, even where Primacy is legitimate.

But when push comes to shove, pure Orthodox theology does not only think of the Pope as “one Patriarch amongst Patriarchs.” We see in Rome the highest and most complete manifestation of Petrine Primacy. What is “Petrine Primacy” in Orthodox Ecclesiology?

Following St. Cyprian of Carthage, and what we believe to be the consensus of Tradition, we do not hold that each bishop is a successor primarily to the bishop who founded his see, but rather, that each bishop is a successor to the unity of the Apostolic Choir, and to the one Throne of Peter. If bishops are sometimes spoken of as successors to their see’s founder, we do not take this to be a description of the ontological nature or genesis of their Apostolic succession.

From there, we acknowledge how the Fathers repeatedly state that all the Apostles were what Peter himself was… but, that Peter was singled out so as to show forth the unity of the manifold Apostolic Choir. We therefore conceive of Petrine Primacy as the re-presentation of this Petrine function of leadership and coordination (“re-present” in the sense of recapitulation, manifestation, incarnation – just as the Mass “re-presents” the Sacrifice on Calvary), wherever it occurs, in a spectrum of Primatial offices. We do not think of Petrine Primacy as a direct succession from Peter, for the reasons I stated above.

Yet, many Orthodox have resorted to emphasizing the unity of the Apostolic Choir (and the bishops’ succession thereto) with such force, that even legitimate primacy is surpressed. They affirm that all bishops are equals. They are right, but only to a point. Orthodoxy recognizes the equality of all bishops in terms of the ontological nature of the episcopacy. Yet, primacy is not therefore a purely “accidental” (as in “the opposite of ontological”) matter of Church discipline and canons, as some Orthodox are inclined to see it. Many elements of the exercise of primacy may be accidental and variable matters of practice – i.e., must every archbishop receive the Pallium/Patriarchal approval to exercise his office? Does the archbishop’s vote break a tie when the synod is split? etc. – but the presence of these accidental elements of Primacy, does not discard the ontological place of Primacy in the Church. Orthodoxy sees Primacy as an admixture of ontological and accidental elements. What is ontological, is that the Church is a communion of Churches, and that each Church is headed by a bishop whose episcopacy is, ontologically, the same episcopacy as every other bishop’s (hence, the Church is not a juridical hierarchy of episcopal administration, but a communion of equal sister-Churches). Yet, also ontological, is the fact that this communion of Churches should be manifestly united, and that this unity is manifested in the primacy of one bishop/Church amongst others. This happens on every level, from the local, to the regional, to the universal. Just as Peter was not “more Apostolic” than other Apostles, these hierarchs are not “more episcopal” than their brother bishops, and their Churches are not “more Catholic” than other Churches, let alone are they the predicators of Catholicity for other Churches (just as Peter was not the predicate of the other Apostles’ apostolicity). Catholicity subsists in the proper relation of Churches to the Primacy, and the Primacy’s possession of Catholicity in harmony with the sister-Churches.

In fact, we almost have to reject Orthodox Bishop John Zizioulas’ staunch affirmation that every local Church is Catholic in and of herself, by the sole virtue of a valid episcopate in her one bishop. This could only be true if it were impossible for that bishop to be in communion with sister Churches (either because he was the last bishop left, or he was unable to coordinate with them in times of persecution, etc.). A Church without some manifestation of Primacy would utterly fail to be truly Catholic, because the Catholic Church is Apostolic and the Apostolic Choir had a Primacy in Peter, the Apostolic Prince. The Apostles are the Churches fundament (with Christ as the Headstone of the Corner).

So, since we see Petrine Primacy in the Church as the exercising of that kind of Primacy, which Peter had (and NOT as the personal primacy of Peter himself received by some kind of direct succession), we see the Petrine Primacy as existing in an archbishop, a metropolitan archbishop, a patriarch… and, indeed, as culminating in the Pope – whom we would reckon, in normal circumstances, as veritably the highest and most complete “icon” of the Petrine Primacy (remember what an icon is for the Orthodox). In the Pope of Rome, historically, all primacy is crowned and consummated (in terms of the Church’s episcopacy). He is not just one bishop amongst equal bishops (though he is that, too).

The reason the Orthodox do not feel bound by the Papal Primacy at the present time, is because we do not, as I said, view the Primacy as one of juridical authority first and foremost (though we do admit that the Church may accord many juridical prerogatives to Primacy as a matter of changeable praxis). Any juridical prerogatives, however, are understood in the context of the ontological, and not the accidental, elements of Primacy. I.e., they are to be honored with all deference, except when grave circumstances call for opposition or protest – currently, Orthodox Christianity feels that such circumstances exist, and while we are sad to see that communion with Rome is broken, we do not see ourselves as bereft of Primacy, since we see the Primacy as subsisting on so many levels.

For the time being, the Patriarch of Constantinople holds the supreme Primacy in the Orthodox Church… though, it should be pointed out that this does not mean that all the canonical and practical prerogatives of the erstwhile Roman Primacy have simply devolved upon the Constantinopolitan See for Orthodox Christianity. The current Constantinopolitan Primacy is subject to the already extant, customary prerogatives of Constantinople, and any others the Orthodox Church should care to accord it. Which, so far, have been non-existent. Constantinople’s primacy is expressed almost entirely in an honorific way, without juridical prerogatives amongst the other Patriarchates (beyond having the seat of honour in Council). He has not been accorded even the most basic privilege of the Roman Primacy – that of “last court of appeal” in super-Patriarchal-level disputes.

Obviously, Catholicism and Orthodoxy disagree with each other on the nature of these matters at the present time – both the nature of Primacy and the nature of the schism dividing us. I don’t want to discuss all that here, obviously; I’m simply trying to give the Orthodox perspective, so that the Orthodox reaction to the Pope’s titular change can be understood.

To bring things to the point, then: I think the Orthodox reaction to the title-change comes from two fountainheads. 1) The fact that many Orthodox Christians are perhaps not as clear on our theology of Primacy as they should be, and so they think that the only title (beyond “Bishop of Rome”) which we are happy to grant the Pope, is precisely “Patriarch of the West” (by which they mean “the Pope is the boss of his own Patriarchate, but otherwise equal in every respect to the other Patriarchs”). For these Orthodox Christians, the rejection of the title seems to be a break from the only role the Papacy could play in a reunified East and West. 2) Even amongst Orthodox who do know that the Pope is more than the Western Patriarch, who confess that he does have pre-eminence amongst the Patriarchs and should hold some sway over them, the title is still seen as an accurate description of one element of his office (he is Bishop of Rome, Primate of Italy, Patriarch of the West, and Pope of the Universal Church) – and so, the rejection of the title seems to be a rejection of what the Orthodox consider a legitimate element of the Papacy… which makes them hesitant about reunion with a Papacy, that seems not to understand itself.

Believe it or not, the Orthodox hesitancy about reunion with the West is just as much about the aggregate perception of “lesser issues,” as it is about the big doctrines of the Papal Infallability, the Filioque, Immaculate Conception, etc. Especially since Vatican II, but going all the way back to Scholasticism and the Counter-Reformation, Orthodoxy observes what seems to us like a radical and widespread alteration of Christian piety and identity within Catholicism. We are reticent to reunite with a Catholicism experiencing widespread breakdowns in liturgical sensibilities, radical feminist nuns and even disbelief in fundamental doctrines (like the Real Presence). And, we know that many Catholics are trying to combat those things, and we are rooting for you all! But, even beyond these very modern problems, we are also concerned about things like the spirituality of the Spiritual Excercises (of Ignatius Loyola), the genesis and nature of the “Sacred Heart” devotion, even kneeling on Sundays and the celebration of “Low” masses, etc. – things, which even traditional Catholics would support, but which seem to us to indicate necessarily fundamental shifts in historic, Christian piety… not individually, of course, but in aggregate. Reunion for us wouldn’t involve merely clearing up the issue of the Pope’s authority, but the much more difficult matter of trying to figure out what makes the Catholicism “tick,” that could develop these devotions and attitudes. Do we simply misunderstand the spirit of Catholicism? Or, has there been a genuine breakdown in matters of historic, Apostolic piety? Can we unite with the spirituality of modern Catholicism, over and above mere agreement in dogmatic formulae? In this context, the Pope’s omission of what we consider to be a very legitimate and historically important title, simply enhances our feeling that Catholicism is struggling with a major identity crisis, in the long process of forgetting herself. If that’s the case, this is not a good time for reunion – though, it is always a good time for honest, sober and well-intentioned dialogue.

I hope y’all can understand this as the expression of (one) Orthodox opinion, and know that it is not meant in an hostile or polemical spirit. In point of fact, modern-day Orthodoxy is also forgetting herself, fairly frequently. So, there is ground for concern, all-around. And our God is good, so there is also ample ground for hope!

For my part, I don’t think the Pope was trying to push a message of subjugation to the other Patriarchs. I know that conciliarity and reconciliation is dear to this Pope’s heart, above all with the Orthodox Churches. It seems to me that this was more a fraternal gesture to the bishops of Catholicism – an attempt to affirm the confidence in the local churches’ episcopal conferences, by downplaying the Pope’s role as “Patriarch of the West.” Perhaps he even wanted to distance the Papacy from a term, which in modernist circles is especially vilified (who hasn’t hear radicals rant against “the Patriarchy?”). Probably much of the Orthodox reaction was not anticipated, and I don’t think he even had us in mind when he made the decision.

Of course, I could be wrong; I haven’t followed the politics well, nor the Pope’s own expressions of the rationale for the change. Mostly, I just hope I illustrated the context, of how his decision has been perceived by the Orthodox… most of whom are similarly unaware of any personal statement of the Pope, regarding the rationale for the change in title.

PaterAugustinus -- 8 August 2010 @ 2:21 AM