Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rorate Caeli Confesses Its Fascism...

Did anyone else see this on Rorate Caeli today? Ridiculous:
When a group of priests whine publicly that their superior is being "authoritarian", we must admit that our immediate reaction is to defend the superior; and when the "climate of fear" decried by these priests is a "climate" of "internal police" related to, shall we say, "homosexual matters" - well, then we are absolutely certain that the superior is correct and that whatever he is doing is certainly in the right direction.
So when someone is accused of being authoritarian, their gut sympathy is to side with the accused authoritarian? And when there is a climate of homophobia and "policing" they're absolutely certain what he's doing is correct?

I mean, I'm all for rooting out those who would make a mockery of the priesthood and Christian morals, but an atmosphere of authoritarian repression based around insinuations about sexuality is just McCarthyism, it sounds like.

I don't know if the situation in Rome is actually like that; the priests complaining may indeed be liberals whining that their party is over. But for Rorate Caeli to gleefully knee-jerk sympathize on the terms outlined everything that's wrong with non-renegade reactionary traditionalism and conservatism in the Church today.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lay Ministers? That Doesn't Even Compute

I've discussed before how the logic of the clergy as a sort of caste apart from the laity has led to the bizarre situation of a sort of "middle class" in the Church and/or the liturgy (with permanent deacons straddling an awkward territory in between).

And I do mean "and/or," as the two don't necessarily overlap entirely; the religiously literate "lay clergy" I've discussed (and of which I'd count myself and probably the readers of this blog), and the sort of lay "tribunes" who absurdly "represent the laity" in the sanctuary as readers and altar-women and EMHCs...are often two separate groups of people, two different mentalities (the "lay clergy" are, frankly, often balk at the idea of volunteering for such roles.)

I was reminded of these strands of thought at the church I've been attending near my temporary lodging recently, where besides the priest, there are like twelve chairs in the sanctuary, filled with women in albs and secular clothing. The latter are readers (not even vested in anything; secular lay clothing apparently being taken as befitting the Liturgy of the Word according to Protestantesque notions), but the former don't even have any particularly discernible role (children act as the actual altar servers) until it comes time for distribution of communion when most of them are EMHCs. The rest of the time they loom there like some Grand Council of Emasculation on their haughty thrones, as if present merely to assert the final symbolic castration of the poor already institutionally eunuchized priest.

But again, as I said in that post of mine on lay readers, the logic behind lay "participants" in the liturgy (or even just making arbitrary lay people, especially women, be visible in the sanctuary) seems to:
...come from some idea that if the priest just appropriated the role for himself, then he would be limiting the opportunities for "participation" on the part of the people. And at Sunday Masses especially (with readers, altar servers, EMHC's, having lay people bring up the gifts at the Offertory, etc) they seem to act like the liturgy is some sort of audience-participation game-show where getting as many people involved as possible is ideal. The priest just doing the readings himself would be "exclusivist" or something like that...

But, of course, 98% of the congregation is still not involved "actively" like that. They can't be. There's only going to be one reader, a few servers, a couple people carrying up the gifts, a handful of EMHC's. So in some ways it is just as "exclusive" as ever; it's just exclusive to a privileged group of [...] volunteers, a self-selected group, rather than to just clerics.

The justification given, then, is usually that the lay participants in the sanctuary "represent" the rest of us, and that we will feel like we are participating through them, that we will identify with them.

Of course, this is ironically indicative of an extremely entrenched clericalism. Because it implies that we in the pews couldn't possibly identify with the priest. Oh no, he couldn't possibly adequately represent the congregation in the sanctuary, so we need to have some plebeian tribune up there to represent "our" interests, to be the laity's proxy in the liturgy.

But of course, that's all "clergy" are in the end. That's what priests are: simply members of the church appointed to act as the representative of the congregation before God in the sanctuary, just as Christ was the mediator between God and Man. This idea that lay people need to see another lay person in the sanctuary to identify with in their participation, instead of identifying in participation with the priest himself, stems from an essentialization of the clergy as objectively different than the laity in caste, rather than as being defined precisely as simply the community's representative in the sanctuary.

And even when the priest is taking the role of the Other during liturgy (ie, in persona christi)...the Eastern churches, at least, then use the deacon as the symbolic mediator between him and the congregation (like the Church is between us and Christ), as the congregation's proxy or point of identification. Not some random unvested lay person (and certainly not a woman) waltzing up there and inserting the profane and secular into the sacred.
And that's just the point: all "clerics" ultimately are, traditionally, are those deputized (that's what an ordination is; a deputization) for public ministry in the church, being appointed as a public representative of the Church, a public "pray-er," able to act in the name of the whole church community in liturgy. It's exactly because they are clergy that they can represent the rest of us. If lay people feel they aren't adequately represented by a cleric, or women by a man...well, I really don't know Whom they think mediates between them and the Father.

And of course, this is why there were minor orders. These roles were devolved from the functions originally proper to the diaconate and made a class of minor clerics to fill various public functions in liturgy and the church. This idea after Vatican II of "lay ministries" (instituted lector and acolyte) is a paradox, as all "clerics" are...are members of the church instituted to be public ministers in liturgy! That's what "clergy" are. Only the essentialization of the clergy as a "class" earning their keep by full-time work for the Church and bound by celibacy and other obligations ruined this logic.

To me, the idea of an "instituted" acolyte who is specified as specifically a "lay ministry" as opposed to clergy is an insane idea, as all the minor ordination was, actually, was just such an "institution" or deputization to fulfill that role in liturgy. And limiting the "instituted ministry" to men makes this idea of essentially "lay" ministries in liturgy even more absurd (especially when you do allow female "substitutes," but not the actual institution; this creates, like, two bizarre extra layers between the "real" clergy and the just-plain-laity).

Of course, the Vatican II logic may be based on the Sacrament Orders being divinely established in only three grades, and thus on an attempt to make the hierarchal constitution of the Church more "theologically" based. But the minor orders and subdiaconate were creations of the Church, sacramentals, that devolved from the who cares? Can't there be legitimate development beyond the "essentials" like that? And besides, if they really wanted to stick to that logic then...they should have just ordained all acolytes and lectors as deacons!! (Rather than trying to establish them as essentially "lay" ministries).

Of course, this really all started long before Vatican II by having unordained lay servers. Why not just ordain them to acolyte? If all a minor ordination is, basically, is delegating someone to take a certain function in liturgy as a publicly deputized representative of the Church in public prayer...isn't a boy delegated to serve at the altar already basically that? So why make the distinction regarding withholding the minor ordination?

Well, because the clerical state was essentialized as something else (and something more worldly, and attached to benefices and such). Because the minor orders became just a stepping stone in seminaries to "real" clergy-hood (ie, celibate, bound by the Office, etc). So we deputized a second class of lay men to "substitute" for real clergy, even though that's all clergy are! (Someone deputized to serve in liturgy). The history here is sad and frustrating and illogical.

I imagine a world where all sorts of men from the parish are ordained to the minor orders (or even the major!) rather than this idea of needing lay "substitutes" or (bizarrely) "lay ministers" according to a radically altered notion of the lay/clerical distinction. Of course, that would require a notion of the clergy not bound by celibacy (which minor clerics actually weren't!) or having it be a full-time job or caste requiring all sorts of markers of distinction. But I've discussed all this before; we need a small parish model fully stocked with volunteer clerics (of all orders) truly drawn from men in the community.

I'll follow up soon with another post on the question of women in all this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Two Articles

A friend sent along two articles. The first is about priests who "disappear." I'd take it with a grain of salt, as it seems to sympathize with the obviously guilty (and megalomaniacal) Fr. Corapi, but it's an interesting read nonetheless. The second is about how the seminary system is practically designed to foster sociopathy. Something I've discussed before.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mention on New Liturgical Movement

It looks like our profile has just been raised quite a bit! There was a post all about one of mine on New Liturgical Movement today!!!

Check it out. It basically revolves around the premise that the "reform of the reform" is more than about wearing maniples at the New Mass. That I'm wrong to say that the "reform of the reform" is about putting lipstick on a pig or "gussying up" the Novus Ordo, and that it does in fact involve a desire for substantial alterations to re-traditionalize the texts of the Missal itself.

However, at that point, the description given makes it hard for me to distinguish "reform of the reform" from a more "purist" traditionalism. If "reform of the reform" is basically going to involve creating an edition from the new that largely resembles the old, I have a hard time seeing in what sense this is a "reform of the reform" rather than just a sort of slow gradual reversal of the reform. I cannot identify in the description given any substantial way in which "the reform" is preserved as reform at all under such an approach (or, at least, under the ideal "final product" that is seemingly imagined).

I made the following response to the post in the comments, and will repeat it here:
You haven't answered my essential objection, though:

If you basically prefer all things traditional, and if the imagined "reform of the reform" liturgy winds up looking more like 1950 than 1970...why must the Novus Ordo be our "starting place" as opposed to starting from an edition closer to what we imagine the "final product" must be?

I mean, if you're supporting the Old Offertory, Old Lectionary, Old Collectary, Old Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, Old Last Gospel, Old what sense is "reform of the reform" rooted in the reformed edition rather than going back to a traditional edition??

Is it merely the vernacular? That wouldn't take decades, you could use the English Missal or Anglican Missal which already exist (and whose style would also be an "ecumenical" move vis a vis the Anglicans). Is it expanded scripture "somehow"? You could use the 1967 Ferial Lectionary, which again already exists.

In reality, what I've seen the term "reform of the reform" associated with is Latin Novus Ordos (and, at the same time, a perhaps exaggerated enthusiasm for the new English translation), the Watershed chant propers, minor architectural restorations, and the so-called Benedictine altar arrangement.

I fail to see how what you describe in this post is "reform of the reform" rather than traditionalism. Once again: if you support the Old Offertory, Old Lectionary, Old Collectary, Old Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, Old Last Gospel, Old what possible sense is this taking the New (ie, "the reform") as your reference point for reform rather than the Old??
Methinks there is a lot of doublespeak going on, and that this form of "reform of the reform" crowd, at least, are really basically traditionalist who want to pay lip-service to the Novus Ordo (even while imagining the elimination of everything that makes it New in the first place) for the sake of remaining "diplomatic" with the mainstream Church, or because they feel uncomfortable saying we need to scrap that failed project entirely. Even though the final product they imagine could probably be achieved much more efficiently by simply "starting over" with a pre-reform "saved copy" rather than trying to back-edit the Novus Ordo (the only purpose of which, it seems to me, is essentially political, is saving face for the institutional church).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Conscience Obliges, It Doesn't Permit

A brief post today to answer a claim that heretical Catholics sometimes make when one questions their status as Catholics-in-good-standing. Namely, the plea of "conscience."

If you try to tell Catholics who dissent (or at least disobey) on matters like women's ordination, sexual morality, even stuff like fasting days and holy days of obligation...that, then, they aren't really being Catholic, the usual canard you'll hear is that their "conscience" excuses them. "My conscience doesn't see anything wrong with this, so it's allowed and you shouldn't try to stop me!"

However, I would point out that the nature of conscience is to oblige, not permit.

An example should prove this is true. On the one hand, let's say you have a Muslim or Jew who is faced with a pagan persecutor trying to force them to eat pork. If they refuse to do so, even in the face of martyrdom or whatever then, in my mind, you have a true hero of conscience (even if I disagree that there is actually anything wrong with eating pork.) Their conscience obliged them not to do something, and they didn't even in the face of intense pressure.

On the other hand, let's say you have a Christian or atheist or whatever who goes to Saudi Arabia and gets caught eating pork chops. "Hey, it's my conscience!" they claim. "I'm not Muslim, I don't believe there's anything wrong with it. You're violating my conscience by punishing me for eating pork."

This person is no hero of conscience. He's a whiny little bitch. True, his conscience may not forbid him from eating pork. But "not forbidding" is a long stretch from obligating, and just because your conscience doesn't forbid something...doesn't mean you have to do it.

In this case, the idea that there is some positive right to engage in eating pork just because your conscience doesn't forbid it...reveals the absurdity of a notion of conscience that invokes it for permission rather than obligation. That invokes it to lessen a burden on yourself as opposed to binding you to it.

If the Saudis want to ban pork because of cultural and religious reasons, they are free to do so, and this isn't "violating" anyone's "conscience" just because they have a taste for pork!! It would only be violating conscience if someone belonged to a religion where eating pork was somehow morally mandatory. A Christian would be simply a fool to flout this there, not a hero of conscience.

A Christian who refuses to worship an idol because their conscience obliges them not to, or who insists on attending Mass on Sunday because their conscience demands it even in the face of a hero of conscience. A Christian who says, "My conscience lets me do this, so I'm going to, and you're violating my conscience if you try to make me stop!" has made a mockery of conscience and those who truly follow it.

Conscience is violated when someone tries to make you do something you feel you are obliged not to, or to stop you from doing something you feel you are obliged to do. It's not violating conscience to try to stop people from doing something they feel is merely allowed or permitted by their conscience (but not morally obligatory). And actually I think a lot of these people know that, deep down, and so they trump up all sorts of convoluted rhetoric for the purpose of convincing themselves that they are, in fact, not merely allowed to do what they want, but even positively obligated! This is how a conscience is killed.

Seeing the revoking of recognition of true Catholic status from those who dissent or disobey as some sort of "persecution" against their "conscience" is just about the most pathetic thing I've ever heard. Unless someone is convinced they're morally obliged to fornicate or ordain a woman or not go to Mass on Sunday...the idea that their conscience merely doesn't forbid these things for them should earn them no sympathy. They know the rules, they have no right to be recognized as a Catholic-in-good-standing, and invoking "conscience" in this absurd and self-indulgent manner doesn't change that.

Once again: it is the nature of conscience to oblige rather than permit. Pleading "conscience" is about what you feel you are morally required to do or not do, not merely what you don't particularly feel is forbidden. So, don't make a mockery of conscience, please.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ratzinger on Relativity (Not Relativism)

From our old pal Joseph, in 1990:
In the last decade, creation’s resistance to allowing itself to be manipulated by humanity has emerged as a new element in the overall cultural situation. The question of the limits of science, and the criteria which it must observe, has become unavoidable.

Particularly emblematic of this change of intellectual climate, it seems to me, is the different way in which the Galileo case is seen.

This episode, which was little considered in the 18th century, was elevated to a myth of the Enlightenment in the century that followed. Galileo appeared as a victim of that medieval obscurantism that endures in the Church. Good and evil were sharply distinguished. On the one hand, we find the Inquisition: a power that incarnates superstition, the adversary of freedom and conscience. On the other, there’s natural science represented by Galileo: the force of progress and liberation of humanity from the chains of ignorance that kept it impotent in the face of nature. The star of modernity shines in the dark night of medieval obscurity.

Today, things have changed.

According to [Ernst] Bloch, the heliocentric system – just like the geocentric – is based upon presuppositions that can’t be empirically demonstrated. Among these, an important role is played by the affirmation of the existence of an absolute space; that’s an opinion that, in any event, has been cancelled by the Theory of Relativity. Bloch writes, in his own words: ‘From the moment that, with the abolition of the presupposition of an empty and immobile space, movement is no longer produced towards something, but there’s only a relative movement of bodies among themselves, and therefore the measurement of that [movement] depends to a great extent on the choice of a body to serve as a point of reference, in this case is it not merely the complexity of calculations that renders the [geocentric] hypothesis impractical? Then as now, one can suppose the earth to be fixed and the sun as mobile.

Curiously, it was precisely Bloch, with his Romantic Marxism, who was among the first to openly oppose the [Galileo] myth, offering a new interpretation of what happened: The advantage of the heliocentric system over the geocentric, he suggested, does not consist in a greater correspondence to objective truth, but solely in the fact that it offers us greater ease of calculation. To this point, Bloch follows solely a modern conception of natural science. What is surprising, however, is the conclusion he draws: “Once the relativity of movement is taken for granted, an ancient human and Christian system of reference has no right to interference in astronomic calculations and their heliocentric simplification; however, it has the right to remain faithful to its method of preserving the earth in relation to human dignity, and to order the world with regard to what will happen and what has happened in the world.”

If both the spheres of conscience are once again clearly distinguished among themselves under their respective methodological profiles, recognizing both their limits and their respective rights, then the synthetic judgment of the agnostic-skeptic philosopher P. Feyerabend appears much more drastic. He writes: “The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Gaileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism.”

From the point of view of the concrete consequences of the turning point Galileo represents, however, C.F. Von Weizsacker takes another step forward, when he identifies a “very direct path” that leads from Galileo to the atomic bomb.

To my great surprise, in a recent interview on the Galileo case, I was not asked a question like, ‘Why did the Church try to get in the way of the development of modern science?’, but rather exactly the opposite, that is: ‘Why didn’t the church take a more clear position against the disasters that would inevitably follow, once Galileo had opened Pandora’s box?’

It would be absurd, on the basis of these affirmations, to construct a hurried apologetics. The faith does not grow from resentment and the rejection of rationality, but from its fundamental affirmation and from being inscribed in a still greater form of reason …

Here, I wished to recall a symptomatic case that illustrates the extent to which modernity’s doubts about itself have grown today in science and technology.
I think Ratzinger makes some very good points here. Adopting a world-view based purely on the ease of calculations rather than due to a divine (or even just humanist) perspective is the beginning of pure naturalism and materialism. The whole "Galileo" narrative stirred up in the past couple centuries is essentially a political and ideological one.

Of course, neither he nor I are claiming that Aristotelian physics was "right" overall (it is wrong on many points!) nor that it is essential to the Faith (though, the reason Galileo was put on trial for the question of orbit and not, say, his proving heavier things don't fall faster than lighter ones...clearly had more to do with Scripture than with Aristotle). Still, this video may help those not naturally inclined to Physics understand why "the earth revolves around the sun" and "the sun revolves around the earth" are ultimately equally valid formulations (albeit the latter requires to much more complicated calculations regarding the other planets):

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saint of the Titanic

In the wake of the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I've seen a spike in articles on the Catholic-webs about Fr. Mychal Judge. There seems to be a certain popular veneration for him as, basically, "The Saint of 9/11." And I'd say rightly so.

This reminds me of my opinion that the modern canonization process is too bureaucratic and hard for anyone but religious orders to afford and navigate. I have expressed being disturbed by the fact that, in the first millennium, martyrologies contain possibly tens of thousands of saints (albeit, many martyrs) but that from when the process was centralized (until Pope Blessed John Paul II, at least) there were only a few hundred added for the second millennium.

Certainly, I think, even if "universal" canonization (called an infallible declaration of "dogmatic facts" even!) remains ultramontane and in the hands of the curia and Pope...we could have more local saints again by decentralizing beatification (which approves someone merely for local veneration anyway, so I don't exactly understand why the process has been made "federal").

I doubt Fr. Judge will be officially raised to the altars either way, if only because of the politics surrounding his sexuality, and potentially heterodox statements he may have made related to that (and, if he were a proven and public heretic, then, while I certainly won't deny personal holiness, I'd tend to agree with with-holding any sort of official recognition).

But, still, his case reminds me of another holy man in the life of the Church who is not officially canonized but whose story remains nevertheless inspiring (and who might be venerated as a saint or blessed if the process wasn't so bureaucratic!)

I'm speaking of Fr. Thomas Byles who died aboard the RMS Titanic the night of its legendary doom:
Of the very few passengers willing to brave the cold, Father Byles had been reciting the Breviarium Romanum, fully dressed in his priestly garb, while walking back and forth on the upper deck at the moment the Titanic struck the iceberg. He acted bravely in his capacity as a spiritual leader of men. Descending to the third class and calming the people, Father Byles gave them his priestly blessing and began to hear confessions; after which, he began the recitation of the Rosary. He then led the third class passengers up to the boat deck and helped load the lifeboats. He gave words of consolation and encouragement to the woman and children as they got into the boats. As the danger became even more apparent, he went about hearing more confessions and giving absolution. By all accounts, Father Byles was twice offered a seat in a lifeboat but refused. After the last lifeboat was gone, he went to the after end of the boat deck and led the recitation of the Rosary for a large group kneeling around him of those who were not able to find room in the boats. Father Byles also exhorted the people to prepare to meet God. As 2:20 a.m. approached, and the stern rose higher and higher out of the sea, Father Byles led the more than one hundred people kneeling before him in the Act of Contrition and gave them general absolution [...] Father Byles died in the sinking. His body was never recovered [...] On a trip later that year, Katherine and William traveled to Rome where they had a private audience with Pope Saint Pius X, who said that Father Byles was a martyr for the Church.
Though he cannot be publicly venerated either on the local or universal level, we are free to privately venerate anyone we have a certain moral certitude is in heaven, and I do not hesitate to privately venerate Fr. Byles as a heroic priest and cure of souls, nor would I hesitate to pray "Father Thomas Byles, ora pro nobis."

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Memory Has Just Been Sold

A classic poignant lesson, methinks, in how things once so wonderful or valuable (or threatening) in our eyes can, at last, be cheapened or revealed pathetic. And yet how this disenchantment can actually be life-affirming and liberating. Poetic and tragic, really, but optimistic too!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Feels Like A Good Day

For a lot of reasons!

First, this article. "A respected former Catholic bishop in Ireland is calling for an end to clerical celibacy in the wake of the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the church worldwide, and says he finds it 'heartbreaking' that some prospective priests turn away from the calling because of the celibacy rule." Yay! Good for him! I agree entirely.

Second, this: "the Holy See could, for the first time, admit that these aspects fought by the 'Integrists' are not considered as 'essential' to the Catholic faith to the point of keeping outside the Church those who do not admit them. And that what is foundational to the Catholic faith for twenty centuries is the sole [aspect] considered fundamental for communion with the Holy See, and not the interpretation from the last Council to this day."

Yes!!!! This is what I have been saying all along. That the SSPX and the Vatican could "agree to disagree" by clarifying that issues like religious liberty and ecumenism are prudential questions, not a matter of doctrine. That Vatican II's "teachings" on these matters were suggestions about pastoral approach, but not dogma or anything like that, and that people are free to advocate the opinion that the modern approach is a bad approach.

This would also greatly help resolve the cognitive dissonance so many Catholics seem to have over the apparent 180 that was made on these questions after Vatican II. If they are not doctrinal, but rather prudential "diplomatic" questions of administrative and pastoral approach...then a change neither needs to be explained (nor explained-away with neocon mental gymnastics), nor agreed with, as there can always be debate about such prudential questions.

Fr. Z puts it unusually well when he says, "People of good will can differ on theological points and still remain in unity. People of good will can attain unity even when they disagree on matters which are by no means clear. The history of the Church’s great Councils underscores this fact. How many times have I written that the so-called 'Feeneyites' were able to be in union with the Church but without having to abjure their position about extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. The theological problems the SSPX has with the Second Vatican Council or the Holy See or anything else, don’t necessarily need to be the absolute obstruction to unity. Questions of the role of the Church in the modern world or religious liberty are really hard. There is room for debate and disagreement. It is possible for people of good will to disagree about whether or not the fruits of Vatican II were all wonderful. There is a precedent for closer union even when we consider the theological concerns some SSPXers might be harboring."

I've used the Feeneyite example myself before (being myself, counter-intuitively, both a Feeneyite-sympathizer and a soft-universalist-sympathizer). The reconciled Feeneyites were not required to accept the salvation of the non-water-baptized as if those streams of speculation (desire, blood, invincible ignorance, etc) were dogma, and they were allowed to continue personally holding that God didn't save any outside the actual Sacrament. They merely had to agree that their rigorist interpretation, while indeed tolerable, was not the only one tolerable. That while Revelation didn't positively include the salvation of any but the water-baptized, it also didn't positively exclude it either.

I myself suggested that a similar detante could be reached between the SSPX and the Vatican. Reaffirm certain principles (like, on the one hand, that error has no rights and, on the other, that true belief cannot be coerced by force) but then otherwise both sides should admit that the practical questions about how the Church should deal with other religions and/or the a prudential question on which Catholics are free to differ in opinion.

Making it clear that the way things worked in the past was not "intrinsically wrong" or something like that, and that the SSPX support for that ancien regime is okay, would also help reconcile the Church with her own past (a hermeneutic of continuity!) even for those of us who are more inclined to believe that the current approach on these matters is probably better at least in the contemporary circumstances.

Finally, this about Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. The Russian Orthodox have basically said that, if the church property dispute in Ukraine can be resolved, "as soon as we have this understanding, we will be ready to begin preparations for such a meeting" between the Pope and Patriarch of Moscow! Now, as Fr. Z describes (albeit rather sneeringly), the property situation is sticky, and there are some serious questions of justice there...but let's all pray that this roadblock to such a major step towards reunion can be lifted, and that it truly is the final one.

All around, a good day filled with good news!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Faith Good and Bad

I had a conversation with a friend last night who was going through some serious "doubts" about the Faith and was supposedly on the verge of apostasy.

I've seen cases like this before, and what it basically always comes down to is a combination of personal affection for sin (concupiscence) combined with a false epistemology of certitude trumped up in order to deny the possibility of ever knowing anything, effectively removing the intellect or rational argument from the equation by appealing to the fact that no such argument is ever air-tight or completely definitively satisfying (as if that precludes intellectual assent!)

The discomfort of the dissonance or dissatisfaction thus stirred up is then used to justify an underlying fundamental stance of skepticism or doubt which, in turn, is used justify living according to some other organizing value which (hypocritically) is itself not subjected to the same sort of scrutiny! (Because it's cast as the "default," usually meaning, disingenuously, just the path of least resistance...)

Well, the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Faith would fully admit that most knowledge is not of the immediately intuitive or even syllogistic variety, but this does not make intellectual assent any less possible:
Now intellectual knowledge may be defined in a general way as the union between the intellect and an intelligible object. But a truth is intelligible to us only in so far as it is evident to us, and evidence is of different kinds; hence, according to the varying character of the evidence, we shall have varying kinds of knowledge. Thus a truth may be self-evident — e.g. the whole is greater than its part — in which case we are said to have intuitive knowledge of it; or the truth may not be self-evident, but deducible from premises in which it is contained — such knowledge is termed reasoned knowledge; or again a truth may be neither self-evident nor deducible from premises in which it is contained, yet the intellect may be obliged to assent to it because It would else have to reject some other universally accepted truth; lastly, the intellect may be induced to assent to a truth for none of the foregoing reasons, but solely because, though not evident in itself, this truth rests on grave authority — for example, we accept the statement that the sun is 90,000,000 miles distant from the earth because competent, veracious authorities vouch for the fact. This last kind of knowledge is termed faith, and is clearly necessary in daily life. If the authority upon which we base our assent is human and therefore fallible, we have human and fallible faith; if the authority is Divine, we have Divine and infallible faith.
I think part of the problem is a false notion of what faith is. We rightly call [supernatural] Faith a virtue. And virtues are habits of the will. (Natural fallible faith, which we have for pretty much all our non-immediately-intuitive knowledge, is a type of habit too, though not necessarily a virtue).

I think a lot of people have a construction of "faith" as some sort of mere feeling, or they essentialize it as some sort of attribute of the intellect beyond our control whereby pious and orthodox thoughts or propositions are of immediate appeal to the will in some overwhelming way according to all aspects of the good, while correspondingly precluding any sort of appeal to contrary (impious or heterodox) thoughts. However, this is a grossly mistaken notion!

In truth, faith is nothing more than a habit, a pattern of behavior in thought, word, and deed. "Believing" something is true (either natural or supernatural) can, in the final analysis, be reduced to nothing other than thinking and living as if it were true. And because we are free creatures, we are always free to do this, even when it is not the path of least resistance in us.

For example, take even just a simple natural fact like the sun rising tomorrow. I have a natural (though, thus, "fallible") faith that this will occur. It is not a logical a priori tautology, yet I believe it will happen. Well, what does me "believing" it will happen concretely mean? It means nothing other than that my actions are organized by that idea, basically. I set my alarm clock. I don't go out and buy a bunch of heat-lamps and flashlights. I don't burn all my possessions. I speak of the sun rising tomorrow as a given, and when I imagine "tomorrow" it is also a given.

My "belief" is nothing other than a habit of assenting to thoughts which juxtapose "the sun rising" with "tomorrow" and which thoughts lead to words and deeds imagined to be compatible with such thoughts (and dismissing such thoughts, inasmuch as they even occur to me, where the sun doesn't rise tomorrow; at least in terms of letting them affect my actions or feelings in any substantial way.) It does not consist in the fact (though it is probably also true) that there is not much good available (along any axis or aspect of good) in the contrary set of thoughts to motivate me to embrace them instead. That choosing to think and then act on the thought of the sun rising tomorrow is the path of least resistance in that sense is not the essence of my belief; I could still be said to believe if I chose that pattern of thoughts and actions even if it became not the path of least resistance for some reason, if the motives for believing the opposite were suddenly bolstered (say, if scientists announced a huge asteroid coming tomorrow).

Take another example. There is a somewhat common trope in popular culture of a kid whose parents tell him that they're moving to a new town and school in a week...taking advantage of that fact by raising hell at the old school because, after all, there won't be any more consequences. Whether it's true or not (the parents could be lying), the child's "belief" is nothing more than the new habit of no longer imagining misbehavior leading to consequences (which negative images would thus discourage him from acting in that manner), but rather to positive.

The child obviously has no "absolute certainty" in any sense that he will be moving. Yet his parents' authority is enough of a good, a "motive of credibility," to outweigh the bad of potential consequences which were not, apparently, outweighed before, according to what this child chooses to value.

However, this is where I think we need to refer back to the existentialist concept of mauvaise foi, or "bad faith." The truth is, we control our own thoughts. Or, at least, we control which thoughts the will assents to or not. Yes, thoughts may come into our head involuntarily, but we ultimately decide whether to entertain them or not. What does it mean to assent to a proposition or entertain a thought? It means for the will to choose to be engaged by it.

All things that exist have some good, and outside the Beatific Vision itself...our will is free to choose between goods. A greater good does not "automatically" outweigh a lesser good in terms of our choices; our will is not merely some deterministic balance like that, but is free to choose any good, even a lesser good, because the good is under many aspects. A lesser pleasure may be automatically outweighed by a greater pleasure, but only inasmuch as we are choosing to make pleasure our last end or value in that choice. The good with lesser pleasure may, however, contain greater Reason (or some other form or aspect of the Good) and so we remain free to choose it under that aspect which it has greater.

The hedonist may feel compelled (by the fact that he has chosen to make mere pleasure his last end, has chosen to value the good under that aspect) to choose the object of greater pleasure, but the eudemonist (for example) will (by the fact that he has chosen to make intelligible happiness his last end, has chosen to value the good under that aspect) choose the good of greatest reason, not greatest pleasure (and in fact, constitutes intelligible happiness as his last end by the very fact of this choice; the "valuing" is not something that precedes and determines the choice, but rather is constituted in the very fact of our choices themselves.)

Now, this means that all thoughts, essentially, will have some appeal to our will, there will be some srt of good or satisfaction available in "resting in" that thought rather than dismissing it (then again, most thoughts will also have negatives that could be motives for dismissals). In the weighing of pros and cons...we ultimately have a free choice, based on what we choose to value. Some thoughts indeed may (compared to others) be less appealing on all axes, under all aspects of the good. But in most cases, we have a choice between a good (in this case, a thought) that has the greater appeal under one aspect, and a thought that has greater appeal under some different aspect. Which we choose depends on (or, rather, determines) which aspect of the good we are choosing to value, to set our last end in.

However, many people deny this, and objectify themselves as something other than entirely free. I used the example in my old post on mauvaise foi of "a shy boy looking admiringly at a boisterous peer acting spontaneously and say[ing], "Oh, I could never do that, I'd be too embarrassed" or some such excuse. The truth is, there are no physical limitations on his ability to do the exact same thing. He is choosing to value the avoidance of embarrassment over his wistful longing for the spontaneity."

The same is true when it comes to any thought or action. A child doesn't have to be moving away from a school to misbehave (trust me)! The children who misbehave even when imagining consequences will follow, clearly are choosing the good results or satisfaction they find in the misbehavior over the good of avoidance of consequences. Part of this may be affected, indeed, by natural disposition. For some children, the pleasure associated with various types of misbehavior may be greater, or the pain associated with consequences. And if the pleasure/pain axis is the aspect of the good they choose to make their supreme value, they'll choose based on the respective balance there.

But, ultimately, we are free. We don't have to value the good under that aspect alone. There is nothing saying that the will has to choose a certain way when a certain threshold is passed in the balance of pleasure vs. pain, and even a child who had a very low tolerance for the consequences and who took little satisfaction from the misbehavior...could still choose, with absolute freedom, to misbehave based on some other value, some other aspect of the good besides just the hedonistic, which he finds in that choice. The good with the more minor satisfaction in terms of one axis could be chosen in favor of the greater good of avoiding all the pain if it were greater under some other aspect. We choose what to give value to, as "valuing" something is nothing other than making it an object of our choice. We decide what our Last End is by where we choose to place it.

This has a direct bearing on belief and faith. In the case of the child whose parents tell him he's leaving school in a week, there is no reason he could not have thought (and behaved) this way before. It's just that, prior to his parents' announcement, the "evidence," the motive of credibility, for imagining no consequences...would have been small. Notice: he still could have chosen it, possibly. We choose which thoughts to dismiss and which to embrace, and he could have chosen (with no announcement from his parents) to choose a pattern of thoughts (and thus actions) that would amount to a belief or "faith" that he wasn't going to be at that school in a week. However, obviously, most people don't make such a choice. Most people choose to value the thought of consequences (or, rather, avoiding them) over whatever straws could be grasped at to motivate one to choose to believe otherwise, because it is unclear if any aspect of the good could be found greater in the latter.

However, the authority of the parents' announcement provides a new motive of credibility to imagining that there will be no consequences, and the child who chooses to misbehave upon hearing this announcement is now choosing to value trusting his parents' authority on the matter over the risk of consequences (if it doesn't turn out true). But this too is a choice. No one is compelled by such authority unless they choose to value it.

Many people are hedonists and choose simply the greatest satisfaction or most minimal pain, but the great liberating truth of moral freedom is that we don't have to act this way. If the promise of immediate pleasure is of greater intensity than our vague anticipation of pain resulting in the long-run...we are still not forced to choose the pleasure, even though it is the path of least resistance. We can choose to avoid it in spite of that by valuing the good under some other aspect (even if concupiscence inclines us to consider pleasure/pain first).

Now, what does all this have to do with the question of religious assent, specifically, with supernatural faith? Well, it means that we can have it, choose to have it, even when it is not the "path of least resistance" in our mind.

When people speak of "doubt" or when they say something doesn't "seem" or "feel" true to them, that they "aren't convinced"...what they tend to mean is that the doubted proposition offers less intellectual satisfaction (in terms of the will assenting/resting in that thought) than some other proposition, or at least that they all seem to offer roughly equal satisfaction or good. However, to act as if this means we can't or shouldn't still choose to assent is to be in bad faith in the existentialist sense, because as I just said above...we are free to choose among goods!

At various points, God may withdraw consolations and we may be left with the thoughts of faith (which is nothing more than statements or imaginings compatible with it) being less appealing or less intellectually satisfying than other thoughts which contradict it when considered solely under this aspect. But who ever said that intellectual satisfaction is what we should value most when determining how to think and act!? In reality, we are free to choose a less intellectually satisfying pattern of thoughts if it maximizes the good under some other aspect, and if we then choose to value the good under that aspect rather than under the aspect of intellectual satisfaction.

Inasmuch as all thoughts offer some good that can motivate our will, we are by no means bound to choose the one that offers the "maximum" satisfaction according to merely that one sort of intensity because, ultimately, we determine which aspect of the good we value more or less. We choose whether we value the mere balance of pleasure and pain, or intellectual satisfaction, over some other notion or aspect of the Good.

Choosing to believe (which is to say, choosing a pattern of entertaining/enjoying pious and orthodox thoughts and statements while choosing to dismiss impious or heretical ones) may indeed be a choice that is not the path of least resistance for the will in terms of maximizing intellectual satisfaction, but we can nevertheless choose it under other aspects of the good, and by that very choice confer value on those aspects.

This is why Catholic Encyclopedia says:
We must insist upon this because in the minds of many faith is regarded as a more or less necessary consequence of a careful study of the motives of credibility, a view which the Vatican Council condemns expressly: "If anyone says that the assent of Christian faith is not free, but that it necessarily follows from the arguments which human reason can furnish in its favour; or if anyone says that God's grace is only necessary for that living faith which worketh through charity, let him be anathema" (Sess. IV).

The Church has twice condemned the view that faith ultimately rests on an accumulation of probabilities. Thus the proposition, "The assent of supernatural faith . . is consistent with merely probable knowledge of revelation" was condemned by Innocent XI in 1679 (cf. Denzinger, Enchiridion, 10th ed., no. 1171); and the Syllabus Lamentabili sane (July, 1907) condemns the proposition (XXV) that "the assent of faith rests ultimately on an accumulation of probabilities."
The truth is, it is the free will which ultimately determines intellectual assent (nothing more than a pattern of thoughts and actions) by choosing a pattern of thought and behavior based on which aspect of the good it chooses to value:
The place of the will in an act of faith. — So far we have seen that faith is an act of the intellect assenting to a truth which is beyond its grasp, e.g. the mystery of the Holy Trinity. But to many it will seem almost as futile to ask the intellect to assent to a proposition which is not intrinsically evident as it would be to ask the eye to see a sound. It is clear, however, that the intellect can be moved by the will either to study or not to study a certain truth, though if the truth be a self-evident one — e.g., that the whole is greater than its part — the will cannot affect the intellect's adhesion to it, it can, however, move it to think of something else, and thus distract it from the contemplation of that particular truth. If, now, the will moves the intellect to consider some debatable point—e.g. the Copernican and Ptolemaic theories of the relationship between the sun and the earth — it is clear that the intellect can only assent to one of these views in proportion as it is convinced that the particular view is true. But neither view has, as far as we can know, more than probable truth, hence of itself the intellect can only give in its partial adherence to one of these views, it must always be precluded from absolute assent by the possibility that the other view may be right. The fact that men hold much more tenaciously to one of these than the arguments warrant can only be due to some extrinsic consideration, e.g. that it is absurd not to hold what the vast majority of men hold. And here it should be noted that, as St. Thomas says repeatedly, the intellect only assents to a statement for one of two reasons: either because that statement is immediately or mediately evident in itself — e.g. a first principle or a conclusion from premises — or because the will moves it to do so. Extrinsic evidence of course comes into play when intrinsic evidence is wanting, but though it would be absurd, without weighty evidence in its support, to assent to a truth which we do not grasp, yet no amount of such evidence can make us assent, it could only show that the statement in question was credible, our ultimate actual assent could only be due to the intrinsic evidence which the statement itself offered, or, failing that, due to the will. Hence it is that St. Thomas repeatedly defines the act of faith as the assent of the intellect determined by the will (De Veritate, xiv, 1; II-II, Q. ii, a. 1, ad 3; 2, c.; ibid., iv, 1, c., and ad 2). The reason, then, why men cling to certain beliefs more tenaciously than the arguments in their favour would warrant, is to be sought in the will rather than in the intellect. Authorities are to be found on both sides, the intrinsic evidence is not convincing, but something is to be gained by assenting to one view rather than the other, and this appeals to the will, which therefore determines the intellect to assent to the view which promises the most. Similarly, in Divine faith the credentials of the authority which tells us that God has made certain revelations are strong, but they are always extrinsic to the proposition, "God has revealed this or that", and consequently they cannot compel our assent; they merely show us that this statement is credible. When, then, we ask whether we are to give in our free assent to any particular statement or not, we feel that in the first place we cannot do so unless there be strong extrinsic evidence in its favour, for to believe a thing merely because we wished to do so would be absurd. Secondly, the proposition itself does not compel our assent, since it is not intrinsically evident, but there remains the fact that only on condition of our assent to it shall we have what the human soul naturally yearns for, viz., the possession of God, Who is, as both reason and authority declare, our ultimate end; "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved", and "Without faith it is impossible to please God." St. Thomas expresses this by saying: "The disposition of a believer is that of one who accepts another's word for some statement, because it seems fitting or useful to do so. In the same way we believe Divine revelation because the reward of eternal life is promised us for so doing. It is the will which is moved by the prospect of this reward to assent to what is said, even though the intellect is not moved by something which it understands. Hence St. Augustine says (Tract. xxvi in Joannem, 2): Cetera potest homo nolens, credere nonnisi volens' [i.e. other things a man can do against his will but to believe he must will]" (De Ver., xiv, 1).
So, for me, it boils down to this: if you're thinking of apostasizing or assenting to some heresy, or withholding assent from some Church order to get any sort of respect from me, you must admit that you are absolutely free, and that your "loss" of faith is a pure choice, with complete responsibility and culpability. That you are freely choosing to set your last end in, to value, some aspect of the good which is maximized in heresy (it will usually be either subjective intellectual satisfaction or else the fact that the heresy justifies living in a sinful-yet-pleasurable manner) and not choosing to value those aspects of the good maximized in faith.

If you admit that...I can't argue with you. I believe (based on what I choose to value) that your choice is wrong, and that man's natural last end is intelligible happiness in Reason rather than pleasure in the lower appetite...but if you admit honestly that you are choosing to value the latter instead, with full freedom and responsibility, well, there is no arguing with free choice. One can't use Reason to appeal to someone who is choosing to value something other than Reason! If you admit "I am freely choosing to value the good under the aspect of intellectual satisfaction over the other types of good available in faith, and since I no longer am maximally intellectually satisfied by orthodox thoughts, I am abandoning them in favor of thoughts which do maximize the intellectual satisfaction I have chosen to value and place my last end in" be it. There is no way I can argue against free and honest pure choice.

But what does annoy me is the inauthentic mauvais foi by which so many of these people try to act like their loss of faith was "forced" on them by some external agent or meta-value. "Oh, I just can't believe that...I am just convinced by other arguments, or believing it causes me emotional pain or denies me some pleasure, or goes against these other 'self-evident' values of mine."

Bullshit. If saying other arguments convince you, or that the motives of credibility for Catholic faith don't, you mean merely that these other arguments are currently the path of least resistance in your mind when it comes to maximizing good under the aspect of intellectual satisfaction...I can only answer "Yes, but you are the one making the free choice to value 'intellectual satisfaction' over other aspects of the good. Nothing and no one is forcing your hand in that regard."

The same goes for a claim that some other value "forces" you to not have faith, or to not live morally. You are freely choosing to value that aspect, whatever it is, and yet could just as freely choose to think and speak and act as I do (or, even better, as the Saints have) by choosing to value the good under some other aspect. These other aspects may be more difficult, but there is no reason you are "forced" to choose "least difficult" as the deciding aspect of the good! You are free to choose your values in that regard (and, in fact, your choices are your values.)

Anyone who conceives of faith as merely a state whereby adopting a given pattern of thoughts, words, and actions is necessarily the most intellectually satisfying or least difficult, and acts as if they can't assent intellectually (according to other aspects of the good available in faith) unless this is in bad faith, existentially, is shirking their responsibility, and denying their own freedom as a subject, essentializing themselves (and all humanity, mind you!) as hedonists who can only ever follow the path of least resistance (even though, in reality, we are free to choose other values!)

Faith does not consist in orthodox thoughts being the most intellectually or emotionally satisfying. It consists in freely choosing such thoughts for the value of the aspects of the good they do contain, whether they maximally intellectually satisfy us or not (because we don't have to place our last end or highest value in that! There are many aspects of the good we can choose among to value!)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


When discussing the "Dark Night of the Spirit," St. John of the Cross says:

Poor, abandoned, and unsupported by any of the apprehensions of my soul (in the darkness of my intellect, in the distress of my will, and the affliction and anguish of my memory), left to darkness in pure faith, which is a dark night for all these natural faculties, and with my will touched only by sorrows, afflictions, and longings of love of God, I went out from myself.
Sometimes I fear that the spiritual perfection I claim to long for is forever out of my grasp, and that I've wasted many chances. Not because I doubt that God can convert and give grace to a great sinner, but perhaps because I feel like the fervor of conversion is a chance given once, or at least only at special moments.

I had my "real" conversion as a 12-year-old, and yet it did not translate into great sanctity as we are perhaps "supposed to" expect. It translated into first a hot-headed (but identity-crafting) zeal for the Church and the Faith, and wound up as something that often feels like a sort of hobby rather than a radical transformation of my self.

I have no doubt it has profoundly affected my outlook on life (or maybe it simply has sustained an outlook I already was naturally inclined towards as a child), but what good is an outlook without results? Often I have the realization: I'm going to put energy and suffering and stress and even near-depression into something either way, so I might as well be having spiritual dark nights as opposed to my mere trivial temporal ones.

And yet, I would be hesistant to claim I've ever seen any spiritual advancement at all, and certainly wouldn't claim my sorrows are the sort of divinely infused purgation the mystics discuss. Mortification they may be, a cross that can be embraced to uproot self-love, yes. But they are still clearly of the "ascetic" order, not the mystical in any sense of the word.

And yet, if I'm going to suffer either way...why not choose the path towards that sort of mystical dryness and withdrawal of consolation rather than the perfectly natural and logical sufferings of this world of sin? Wouldn't suffering as a consequence of holiness be better than suffering as a consequence of sin and self-love? And yet, I think it is the path of least resistance (not of least suffering) that gets us in the end. It's not that we don't see that virtue = happiness, or desire to be there more than where we are now. It's that we're weak. So very weak. It's not that we find our current state happier, it's that we find it easier.

Sometimes maybe I fall into the trap of thinking that God can, of course, turn around the life of some dissolute prodigal villain and in an instant, like Scrooge or St. Francis, will do a miraculous 180...and yet despair of the ability to make progress in my own merely "okay" spiritual life, having fallen into a pattern of the bare-minimum. Of Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation, of attempting to avoid mortal sin but having an almost presumptuous notion that confession is always there in the back of my head, of holding to all the right dogmas and intellectual notions of virtue but then not actually being involved much in volunteering or in parish community life.

I'd like to think I somewhat "minister" to friends and readers by inspiring, or advising, or supporting...and yet advice given by a hypocrite is tainted, and I am a novice myself, have no particular spiritual director yet, and too often let pride and my own motives get involved. Of course, recognizing all this and airing it gives some temporary relief. "Oh, well, if I admit it, then I'm humble. At least I know I'm wretched." But really, isn't knowing and still remaining lazy and avoidant even worse?

Perhaps the early Church had it right with Penance being a chance offered only once. Someone who goes to confession once and turns their life around is a more inspiring case than those of us (and I do think it is many of us) who go back week after week or month after month with the same sins...

Part of my problem may be perfectionism; I build up grand plans in my head of a whole cycle of daily prayer and fasting schemes and volunteering and founding ministries and spiritual reading...and then it's so daunting I procrastinate for years on beginning, or do it just for Lent and then slack off again.

And yet, I think we must also remember that we are not Pelagians or Semi-Pelagians. Really, our conversion, our sanctity, our holiness...are in God's hands. Yes, we must "cooperate" in the sense of non-resisting grace...but the Thomist interpretation, at least, would suggest that even this non-resistance is a grace God must actualize too.

Well, I'm sitting here waiting, then. I really really want a huge infusion of grace to get me out of my ruts and spur me on to real action; another conversion 10-years on. Maybe I'd be more ready now that I'm not a child, now that the process of learning the basics, and integrating it firmly into my identity, and fleshing out my positions and attitudes and arguments has reached a certain plateau. With the theoretical groundwork laid, with myself thoroughly inculturated in the thought-world of the Church...maybe the real project can begin? Now that I'm out living independently and have tied up many loose ends and don't plan to take on (and procrastinate on) many more distracting projects of a mundane or secular nature besides the day to day business of life.

And yet, it only ever can start now. And that scares me, because it hasn't started yet, if I'm honest it won't start this week or probably even this month. And yet I have now idea how many tomorrows I'll get. Maybe this whole ramble indicates that I still impute way too much self-agency in the question of my own holiness, when really God can only ever be the active force and will accomplish just what He wants and how much He wants in His own good time. Maybe we aren't all meant to be mystics, and the real notion of grace is something much more subtle like in Brideshead Revisited, where God does get everyone in the end, not all as great heroically holy Saints, but at least finally saved (even on a deathbed or with a lot of Purgatory!)

And yet I do feel a desire for more than just that sort of minimum, and I'm not quite sure what that contrast between idealism and reality is supposed to be telling me.