Thursday, March 31, 2011

Institutionalism of the Mind

I think I've referenced sociologist Erving Goffman's description of "total institutions" before, in the context of clerical society and specifically seminary formation.

What he means is institutions that take over an individuals life 24-hours a day, usually highly regimented, with constant surveillance, and a variety of resocializing tactics of control. Think prisons, boot-camp, mental hospitals, etc:
Every institution captures something of the time and interest of its members and provides something of a world for them; in brief, every institution has encompassing tendencies. When we review the different institutions in our Western society we find a class of them which seems to be encompassing to a degree discontinuously greater than the ones next in line. Their encompassing or total character is symbolized by the barrier to social intercourse with the outside that is often built right into the physical plant: locked doors, high walls, barbed wire, cliffs and water, open terrain, and so forth. These I am calling total institutions.
Of course, there is one more class of institutions which he identifies as fitting into such a category:
Finally, there are those establishments designed as retreats from the world or as training stations for the religious: Abbeys, monasteries, convents, and other cloisters.
This time, my intent isn't to again critique the elements of institutionalism among the clergy and religious life. That is disturbing, but at least since Vatican II a lot of that sort of explicit authoritarianism has loosened up a bit. Fewer seminaries have room searches or high walls around them now. Though, of course, the real control is always psychological, not physical like that:
First, all aspects of life are conducted in the same place and under the same single authority. Second, each phase of the member's daily activity will be carried out in the immediate company of a large batch of others, all of whom are treated alike and required to do the same thing together. Third, all phases of the day's activities are tightly scheduled, with one activity leading at a prearranged time into the next, the whole circle of activities being imposed from above through a system of explicit formal rulings and a body of officials. Finally, the contents of the various enforced activities are brought together as parts of a single overall rational plan purportedly designed to fulfill the official aims of the institution.


The stripping processes through which mortification of the self occurs are fairly standard in our total institutions. Personal identity equipment is removed, as well as other possessions with which the inmate may have identified himself, there typically being a system of nonaccessible storage from which the inmate can only reobtain his effects should he leave the institution. As a substitute for what has been taken away, institutional issue is provided, but this will be the same for large categories of inmates and will be regularly repossessed by the institution. In brief, standardized defacement will occur. Family, occupational, and educational career lines are chopped off, and a stigmatized status is submitted. Sources of fantasy materials which had meant momentary releases from stress in the home world are denied. Areas of autonomous decision are eliminated through the process of collective scheduling of daily activity. Many channels of communication with the outside are restricted or closed off completely. Verbal discreditings occur in many forms as a matter of course. Expressive signs of respect for the staff are coercively and continuously demanded. And the effect of each of these conditions is multiplied by having to witness the mortification of one's fellow inmates.
This psychological element of total institutions got me thinking about the possibility (and danger) of ideology of the fundamentalist variety imposing a sort of mental institutionalism. Which is to say, one not imposed by external coercion, but rather internalized into the person himself, even living out in the secular world with external freedom.

Most especially, I was interested in this statement:
A basic social arrangement in modem society is that we tend to sleep, play and work in different places, in each case with a different set of coparticipants, under a different authority, and without an overall rational plan. The central feature of total institutions can be described as a breakdown of the kinds of barriers ordinarily separating these three spheres of life.
In other words, in the modern world at least, we are accustomed to the "breathing room" caused by our domestic life, "personal" life, and work life being separate. The second category here he is calling "play" is a bit more vague, but I assume corresponds to time with non-familial friends and also alone on personal hobbies and projects.

What struck me about this was its resonance with a certain triad that seems to be present in traditional Christian discourse under a variety of forms, sometimes under or with a fourth more encompassing header.

The triad I mean is one suggested (though not always with perfect correspondence) in a variety of places. For example, the evangelical counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience could be roughly seen as lining up with the "three spheres" of work, family, and personal/social. This same triad seems echoed in the "three enemies" of Christians; the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.

Traditionally, scholastic theologians matched these up with three signal victories or "aureoles" receiving special accidental rewards in heaven (in addition to the "essential" reward or "aurea" of the Beatific Vision): martyrs, virgins, and doctors. The "enemies" also could be taken to line up with the "concupiscence of the eye," "concupiscence of the flesh," and the "pride of life" warned against in First Epistle of St. John. In some sense, in the desert, even Christ's three temptations were one fleshly (albeit in the form of food, not seduction), one more directly demonic (on the pinnacle of the temple), and one of The World (and all its kingdoms). Besides the overarching header of "Life" sinned against in homicide, the remaining three sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance also seem to correspond to the greatest sins against, basically, sex, power, and money.

Why these three? Well, I'm not well-read enough to say completely, except that the Summa (and certain books on mystical theology I've paged through) suggests a marvelously elegant correspondence between not just these things, but also the virtues, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, the beatitudes, and the powers of the soul.

Specifically, it is suggested in the Summa that the crown of virginity corresponds to the concupiscible power of the soul (and thus also the virtue of temperance), the crown of martyrdom to the irascible power of the soul (and thus also fortitude), and the crown of the doctors to the rational power of the soul (and perhaps prudence). The fourth overarching category, of the free will and the virtue of justice, would correspond to the essential reward.

Now, if it is the faculties of the soul which are the subject of virtue, but also which sinfulness in fallen man tries to disorder and rip apart, it would make sense that Christian commitment or vocation (and the enemies thereof) would take the form of consecration, one way or another, of ones sexuality, economic life, and even one's very personal freedom, either in the form of marriage, where one shares ones very body, wealth, and mutual obedience with another, or under the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience in consecrated life.

In this way, all the faculties of the soul are integrated and then immolated before God. Even moving away from abstract powers of the soul, one gets the sense that psychologically, sexuality, labor, and personal power or control (over motion, free time, life decisions, etc) are the three areas which people are most reluctant to cede control over to another person or system, are most at risk of alienation from the person (and for labor, I mean that in the Marxist sense), and which it can be considered especially suffocating to surrender before one is ready to make a healthy immolation of the three together.

This is where I get back to my thought about mental institutionalism. I would suggest that many of the types of fundamentalist mindsets and attitudes we are worried about at this blog perhaps trace themselves to people who have internalized an institutionalization of these three spheres of their lives out of fear rather than love. Which really does seem to be the difference between being put in a prison or asylum, and a true vocation to marriage or monastic life.

If one's autonomy is threatened by a totalizing system which seeks to take these three aspects of the Self most important to self-giving by force, that's bound to feel like repression or violation rather than consecration or self-sacrifice. I suppose it's like: crucifixion in Christ or the martyr can be an act of self-immolation, yet imposed externally it is a torture and execution. One wonders how many scrupulous or repressed fundamentalist types have embraced this torture, mentally, in a sort of masochism rather than true act of sacrifice out of love.
I think this approach will always leave an unhealthy tension:
Now it appears that total institutions do not substitute their own unique culture for something already formed. We do not deal with acculturation or assimilation but with something more restricted than these. In a sense, total institutions do not look for cultural victory. They effectively create and sustain a particular kind of tension between the home world and the institutional world and use this persistent tension as strategic leverage in the management of men. The full meaning for the inmate of being "in" or "on the inside" does not exist apart from the special meaning to him of "getting out" or "getting on the outside."
Of course, this can seemingly lead to all sorts of "us-them" fortress or siege mentalities, and even a constant need to provoke the "enemy" or those who disagree in order to shore up the "walls" of ones own mental boot camp or prison.

The description of the anxiety in total institutions also seems to echo my thoughts on the internal authoritarianism of the self-righteous over the humble self-integration among the more mature:
On the outside, rules are sufficiently lax and the individual sufficiently agreeable to required self-discipline to insure that others will rarely have cause for pouncing on him. He need not constantly look over his shoulder to see if criticism and other sanctions are coming. On the inside, however, rulings are abundant, novel, and closely enforced so that, quite characteristically, inmates live with chronic anxiety about breaking the rules and chronic worry about the consequences of breaking them. The desire to "stay out of trouble" in a total institution is likely to require persistent conscious effort and may lead the inmate to abjure certain levels of sociability with his fellows in order to avoid the incidents that may occur in these circumstances.
Needless to say, I think we should be very careful to avoid mental institutionalism in all its forms, especially when it can mimic in so many ways the genuine commitment we do need to make. It is also not an "us-them" sort of thing with the mature vs. the repressed. Rather, we are all both to some degree. Christian vocation and commitment, whether in general or specifically, is something that we must constantly be vigilant about being out of love rather than fear. How often can a marriage start out of love but over time become a prison where people feel "trapped"? How often does a man enter the priesthood or religious life with the highest of ideals, only to give into a cynicism that lets it become an asylum repressing him?

This is perhaps why I feel most called to live a secular life, either as a single or perhaps as a consecrated member of a Secular Institute. It is not that one can ever hope to escape surrendering these most intimate aspects of the Self to God; this proper giving is not optional for a Christian, and our teachings on sexual morality, economic stewardship, and general submission to God and Church guarantee that even those who never institutionalize them in a specific vocation are still at least meeting the requirements of Charity. Still, most Christians seem called to express it in a more concrete way through a public dedication, either in marriage, the priesthood, consecrated life, etc. These
communities (whether domestic or monastic, etc) based on voluntary self-giving according to these aspects of the self can be beautiful things.

But too often one gets the sense that attempts are made to coercively impose this self-giving, to "enforce" Christian morality or charity, through either psychological or physical means, in Christian families, in seminaries and monasteries, and (at the most all-encompassing level) in Christendoms. Of course, we cannot condemn families for choosing to raise their children in a Catholic atmosphere, nor monasteries being founded as retreats for those with a true vocation, nor even the possibility of an organic unity of Church community and civil community in a Catholic state.

But one must always be wary that these do not become attempts to found His Kingdom on earth, and we must always be careful that they are commitments and communities based on love and not on fear. I think many moderns are rightfully extremely cautious about any such totalizing commitments especially being institutionalized in official communities exactly for this reason; I'm certainly in no rush to abandon secular pluralism for some Mt. Athos (and many young people are hesitant even to marry!) Very often, what starts as a voluntary quest by some for holiness or self-giving, excluding (as it should) all possibility of sin...becomes a tyrannical system that tries to wring self-giving out of people by force (a contradiction in terms!) and in well-meaning attempts to root out sin, leaves no room for sinners as people.

I know that, in my own life, I go through periods wherein (for all my rhetoric about maturity here), I let my religion and morals become an ideological master to which I am merely a slave. And usually an angry, insecure, dull, and bitter slave at that! If we want to avoid our immolation of Self becoming simply soul-crushing masochistic self-destruction, we need to embrace the Cross with love again and again each day as our sacrifice to the Father. Otherwise, it's simply an instrument of oppression, torture, and execution, on which we often end up disturbingly willing to sacrifice others rather than ourselves.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Summa on Eschatological Schadenfreude

Some of my favorite articles from near the end of the Summa Theologica (Supplement, Question 94). Somewhat comforting, I suppose. Aren't we a happy religion?!:

Article 1. Whether the blessed in heaven will see the sufferings of the damned?

Objection 1. It would seem that the blessed in heaven will not see the sufferings of the damned. For the damned are more cut off from the blessed than wayfarers. But the blessed do not see the deeds of wayfarers: wherefore a gloss on Isaiah 63:16, "Abraham hath not known us," says: "The dead, even the saints, know not what the living, even their own children, are doing" [St. Augustine, De cura pro mortuis xiii, xv]. Much less therefore do they see the sufferings of the damned.

Objection 2. Further, perfection of vision depends on the perfection of the visible object: wherefore the Philosopher says (Ethic. x, 4) that "the most perfect operation of the sense of sight is when the sense is most disposed with reference to the most beautiful of the objects which fall under the sight." Therefore, on the other hand, any deformity in the visible object redounds to the imperfection of the sight. But there will be no imperfection in the blessed. Therefore they will not see the sufferings of the damned wherein there is extreme deformity.

On the contrary, It is written (Isaiah 66:24): "They shall go out and see the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against Me"; and a gloss says: "The elect will go out by understanding or seeing manifestly, so that they may be urged the more to praise God."

I answer that, Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.

Reply to Objection 1. This gloss speaks of what the departed saints are able to do by nature: for it is not necessary that they should know by natural knowledge all that happens to the living. But the saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens both to wayfarers and to the damned. Hence Gregory says (Moral. xii) that Job's words (14:21), "'Whether his children come to honour or dishonour, he shall not understand,' do not apply to the souls of the saints, because since they possess the glory of God within them, we cannot believe that external things are unknown to them." [Concerning this Reply, Cf. I, 89, 8].

Reply to Objection 2. Although the beauty of the thing seen conduces to the perfection of vision, there may be deformity of the thing seen without imperfection of vision: because the images of things whereby the soul knows contraries are not themselves contrary. Wherefore also God Who has most perfect knowledge sees all things, beautiful and deformed.

Article 2. Whether the blessed pity the unhappiness of the damned?

Objection 1. It would seem that the blessed pity the unhappiness of the damned. For pity proceeds from charity [Cf. II-II, 30]; and charity will be most perfect in the blessed. Therefore they will most especially pity the sufferings of the damned.

Objection 2. Further, the blessed will never be so far from taking pity as God is. Yet in a sense God compassionates our afflictions, wherefore He is said to be merciful.

On the contrary, Whoever pities another shares somewhat in his unhappiness. But the blessed cannot share in any unhappiness. Therefore they do not pity the afflictions of the damned.

I answer that, Mercy or compassion may be in a person in two ways: first by way of passion, secondly by way of choice. In the blessed there will be no passion in the lower powers except as a result of the reason's choice. Hence compassion or mercy will not be in them, except by the choice of reason. Now mercy or compassion comes of the reason's choice when a person wishes another's evil to be dispelled: wherefore in those things which, in accordance with reason, we do not wish to be dispelled, we have no such compassion. But so long as sinners are in this world they are in such a state that without prejudice to the Divine justice they can be taken away from a state of unhappiness and sin to a state of happiness. Consequently it is possible to have compassion on them both by the choice of the will--in which sense God, the angels and the blessed are said to pity them by desiring their salvation--and by passion, in which way they are pitied by the good men who are in the state of wayfarers. But in the future state it will be impossible for them to be taken away from their unhappiness: and consequently it will not be possible to pity their sufferings according to right reason. Therefore the blessed in glory will have no pity on the damned.

Reply to Objection 1. Charity is the principle of pity when it is possible for us out of charity to wish the cessation of a person's unhappiness. But the saints cannot desire this for the damned, since it would be contrary to Divine justice. Consequently the argument does not prove.

Reply to Objection 2. God is said to be merciful, in so far as He succors those whom it is befitting to be released from their afflictions in accordance with the order of wisdom and justice: not as though He pitied the damned except perhaps in punishing them less than they deserve.

Article 3. Whether the blessed rejoice in the punishment of the wicked?

Objection 1. It would seem that the blessed do not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. For rejoicing in another's evil pertains to hatred. But there will be no hatred in the blessed. Therefore they will not rejoice in the unhappiness of the damned.

Objection 2. Further, the blessed in heaven will be in the highest degree conformed to God. Now God does not rejoice in our afflictions. Therefore neither will the blessed rejoice in the afflictions of the damned.

Objection 3. Further, that which is blameworthy in a wayfarer has no place whatever in a comprehensor. Now it is most reprehensible in a wayfarer to take pleasure in the pains of others, and most praiseworthy to grieve for them. Therefore the blessed nowise rejoice in the punishment of the damned.

On the contrary, It is written (Psalm 57:11): "The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge." Further, it is written (Isaiah 56:24): "They shall satiate [Douay: 'They shall be a loathsome sight to all flesh.'] the sight of all flesh." Now satiety denotes refreshment of the mind. Therefore the blessed will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked.

I answer that, A thing may be a matter of rejoicing in two ways. First directly, when one rejoices in a thing as such: and thus the saints will not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. Secondly, indirectly, by reason namely of something annexed to it: and in this way the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy. And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joy of the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it indirectly.

Reply to Objection 1. To rejoice in another's evil as such belongs to hatred, but not to rejoice in another's evil by reason of something annexed to it. Thus a person sometimes rejoices in his own evil as when we rejoice in our own afflictions, as helping us to merit life: "My brethren, count it all joy when you shall fall into divers temptations" (James 1:2).

Reply to Objection 2. Although God rejoices not in punishments as such, He rejoices in them as being ordered by His justice.

Reply to Objection 3. It is not praiseworthy in a wayfarer to rejoice in another's afflictions as such: yet it is praiseworthy if he rejoice in them as having something annexed. However it is not the same with a wayfarer as with a comprehensor, because in a wayfarer the passions often forestall the judgment of reason, and yet sometimes such passions are praiseworthy, as indicating the good disposition of the mind, as in the case of shame pity and repentance for evil: whereas in a comprehensor there can be no passion but such as follows the judgment of reason.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Who Have Not Rebellious Been, Nor Faithful Were To God...

A favorite part of mine from the Comedy, I think I may have shared it before long ago in an altogether different context:
There sighs, complaints, and ululations loud
Resounded through the air without a star,
Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.
Languages diverse, horrible dialects,
Accents of anger, words of agony,
And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,
Made up a tumult that goes whirling on
For ever in that air for ever black,
Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.
And I, who had my head with horror bound,
Said: "Master, what is this which now I hear?
What folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?"
And he to me: "This miserable mode
Maintain the melancholy souls of those
Who lived withouten infamy or praise.
Commingled are they with that caitiff choir
Of Angels, who have not rebellious been,
Nor faithful were to God, but were for self.
The heavens expelled them, not to be less fair;
Nor them the nethermore abyss receives,
For glory none the damned would have from them."
And I: "O Master, what so grievous is
To these, that maketh them lament so sore?"
He answered: "I will tell thee very briefly.
These have no longer any hope of death;
And this blind life of theirs is so debased,
They envious are of every other fate.
No fame of them the world permits to be;
Misericord and Justice both disdain them.
Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass."
And I, who looked again, beheld a banner,
Which, whirling round, ran on so rapidly,
That of all pause it seemed to me indignant;
And after it there came so long a train
Of people, that I ne'er would have believed
That ever Death so many had undone.
When some among them I had recognised,
I looked, and I beheld the shade of him
Who made through cowardice the great refusal.
Forthwith I comprehended, and was certain,
That this the sect was of the caitiff wretches
Hateful to God and to his enemies.
These miscreants, who never were alive,
Were naked, and were stung exceedingly
By gadflies and by hornets that were there.
These did their faces irrigate with blood,
Which, with their tears commingled, at their feet
By the disgusting worms was gathered up.
He who made "the great refusal" is interpreted to be either Pontius Pilate or Pope Celestine V, who could have been a great reformer (he was holy enough) but resigned under the weight of the responsibility, something Dante greatly resented.

Neither figure appears elsewhere in the Comedy. These are rather glaring omissions, given that just about every other important Biblical and mythological figure, and contemporary political or ecclesiastical personages, got shout-outs. Pilate especially seems like a conspicuous absence to me. It is thought likely that Dante left this figure here deliberately ambiguous or multivalanced as to whether it was either Pilate or Celestine or neither.

This was wise. The fate of these two figures was greatly disputed (for Pilate, I suppose, it still is). Celestine was actually later canonized a Saint, for his personal holiness, so it is lucky that Dante did not stain his epic by putting him explicitly in the Inferno. And Pontius Pilate, of course, has numerous attitudes expressed towards him in the tradition, some of which would make him a horrible sinner for his role in Christ's passion (though never as bad as the Jews!), others of which are cautiously sympathetic, and even others which tell of his repentance and becoming a Saint.

For these reasons, not including these two men explicitly in either hell, purgatory, or heaven...was a very tactful move on Dante's part. And yet, in the figure of the one making the great refusal, Dante still hints at their existence and importance (they are in this way, really, present by their absence) and even implies his own private opinion about their fate (especially, apparently, about Celestine), yet without making it official in the canonical narrative. A very clever move when faced with walking this tight-rope, Dante! A delicate authorial operation performed with just the sort of subtlety of distinction needed.

Of course, the fate of Pontius Pilate does not so much effect us one way or the other. We'll find out at the End, and until then what we really need to worry about is that we do not become like these Neutrals, these Waverers, these Lukewarm, whom Dante imagines even Hell finds too contemptuous and cowardly to admit, who spend eternity chasing a meaningless banner for their lack of firm commitment one way or the other.

The Confessions of St. Augustine: Selections from Book VIII

1. O My God, let me with gratitude remember and confess unto You Your mercies bestowed upon me. Let my bones be steeped in Your love, and let them say, Who is like You, O Lord? You have loosed my bonds, I will offer unto You the sacrifice of thanksgiving. And how You have loosed them I will declare; and all who worship You when they hear these things shall say: Blessed be the Lord in heaven and earth, great and wonderful is His name. Your words had stuck fast into my breast, and I was hedged round about by You on every side. Of Your eternal life I was now certain, although I had seen it through a glass darkly. Yet I no longer doubted that there was an incorruptible substance, from which was derived all other substance; nor did I now desire to be more certain of You, but more steadfast in You. As for my temporal life, all things were uncertain, and my heart had to be purged from the old leaven. The Way, the Saviour Himself, was pleasant unto me, but as yet I disliked to pass through its straightness. And Thou put into my mind, and it seemed good in my eyes, to go unto Simplicianus, who appeared to me a faithful servant of Yours, and Your grace shone in him. I had also heard that from his very youth he had lived most devoted to You. Now he had grown into years, and by reason of so great age, passed in such zealous following of Your ways, he appeared to me likely to have gained much experience; and so in truth he had. Out of which experience I desired him to tell me (setting before him my griefs) which would be the most fitting way for one afflicted as I was to walk in Your way.

2. For the Church I saw to be full, and one went this way, and another that. But it was displeasing to me that I led a secular life; yea, now that my passions had ceased to excite me as of old with hopes of honour and wealth, a very grievous burden it was to undergo so great a servitude. For, compared with Your sweetness, and the beauty of Your house, which I loved, those things delighted me no longer. But still very tenaciously was I held by the love of women; nor did the apostle forbid me to marry, although he exhorted me to something better, especially wishing that all men were as he himself was. But I, being weak, made choice of the more agreeable place, and because of this alone was tossed up and down in all beside, faint and languishing with withering cares, because in other matters I was compelled, though unwilling, to agree to a married life, to which I was given up and enthralled. I had heard from the mouth of truth that there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake; but, says He, he that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Vain, assuredly, are all men in whom the knowledge of God is not, and who could not, out of the good things which are seen, find out Him who is good. But I was no longer in that vanity; I had surmounted it, and by the united testimony of Your whole creation had found You, our Creator, and Your Word, God with You, and together with You and the Holy Ghost one God, by whom You created all things. There is yet another kind of impious men, who when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful. Into this also had I fallen; but Your right hand held me up, and bore me away, and You placed me where I might recover. For You have said unto man, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; because, Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. But I had now found the goodly pearl, which, selling all that I had, I ought to have bought; and I hesitated.


6. Good God, what passed in man to make him rejoice more at the salvation of a soul despaired of, and delivered from greater danger, than if there had always been hope of him, or the danger had been less? For so Thou also, O merciful Father, dost joy over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance. And with much joyfulness do we hear, whenever we hear, how the lost sheep is brought home again on the Shepherd's shoulders, while the angels rejoice, and the drachma is restored to Your treasury, the neighhours rejoicing with the woman who found it; and the joy of the solemn service of Your house constrains to tears, when in Your house it is read of Your younger son that he was dead, and is alive again, and was lost, and is found. For You rejoice both in us and in Your angels, holy through holy charity. For You are ever the same; for all things which abide neither the same nor for ever, Thou ever know after the same manner.

10. But when that man of Yours, Simplicianus, related this to me about Victorinus, I burned to imitate him; and it was for this end he had related it. But when he had added this also, that in the time of the Emperor Julian, there was a law made by which Christians were forbidden to teach grammar and oratory, and he, in obedience to this law, chose rather to abandon the wordy school than Your word, by which You make eloquent the tongues of the dumb, — he appeared to me not more brave than happy, in having thus discovered an opportunity of waiting on You only, which thing I was sighing for, thus bound, not with the irons of another, but my own iron will. My will was the enemy master of, and thence had made a chain for me and bound me. Because of a perverse will was lust made; and lust indulged in became custom; and custom not resisted became necessity. By which links, as it were, joined together (whence I term it a chain), did a hard bondage hold me enthralled. But that new will which had begun to develop in me, freely to worship You, and to wish to enjoy You, O God, the only sure enjoyment, was not able as yet to overcome my former willfulness, made strong by long indulgence. Thus did my two wills, one old and the other new, one carnal, the other spiritual, contend within me; and by their discord they unstrung my soul.

11. Thus came I to understand, from my own experience, what I had read, how that the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. I verily lusted both ways; yet more in that which I approved in myself, than in that which I disapproved in myself. For in this last it was now rather not I, because in much I rather suffered against my will than did it willingly. And yet it was through me that custom became more combative against me, because I had come willingly whither I willed not. And who, then, can with any justice speak against it, when just punishment follows the sinner? Nor had I now any longer my wonted excuse, that as yet I hesitated to be above the world and serve You, because my perception of the truth was uncertain; for now it was certain. But I, still bound to the earth, refused to be Your soldier; and was as much afraid of being freed from all embarrassments, as we ought to fear to be embarrassed.


17. But now, the more ardently I loved those whose healthful affections I heard tell of, that they had given up themselves wholly to You to be cured, the more did I abhor myself when compared with them. For many of my years (perhaps twelve) had passed away since my nineteenth, when, on the reading of Cicero's Hortensius, I was roused to a desire for wisdom; and still I was delaying to reject mere worldly happiness, and to devote myself to search out that whereof not the finding alone, but the bare search, ought to have been preferred before the treasures and kingdoms of this world, though already found, and before the pleasures of the body, though encompassing me at my will. But I, miserable young man, supremely miserable even in the very outset of my youth, had entreated chastity of You, and said, Grant me chastity and continency, but not yet. For I was afraid lest You should hear me soon, and soon deliver me from the disease of concupiscence, which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished. And I had wandered through perverse ways in a sacrilegious superstition; not indeed assured thereof, but preferring that to the others, which I did not seek religiously, but opposed maliciously.

18. And I had thought that I delayed from day to day to reject worldly hopes and follow You only, because there did not appear anything certain whereunto to direct my course. And now had the day arrived in which I was to be laid bare to myself, and my conscience was to chide me. Where are you, O my tongue? You said, verily, that for an uncertain truth you were not willing to cast off the baggage of vanity. Behold, now it is certain, and yet does that burden still oppress you; whereas they who neither have so worn themselves out with searching after it, nor yet have spent ten years and more in thinking thereon, have had their shoulders unburdened, and gotten wings to fly away. Thus was I inwardly consumed and mightily confounded with an horrible shame, while Pontitianus was relating these things. And he, having finished his story, and the business he came for, went his way. And unto myself, what said I not within myself? With what scourges of rebuke lashed I not my soul to make it follow me, struggling to go after You! Yet it drew back; it refused, and exercised not itself. All its arguments were exhausted and confuted. There remained a silent trembling; and it feared, as it would death, to be restrained from the flow of that custom whereby it was wasting away even to death.


25. Thus was I sick and tormented, accusing myself far more severely than was my wont, tossing and turning me in my chain till that was utterly broken, whereby I now was but slightly, but still was held. And You, O Lord, pressed upon me in my inward parts by a severe mercy, redoubling the lashes of fear and shame, lest I should again give way, and that same slender remaining tie not being broken off, it should recover strength, and enchain me the faster. For I said mentally, Lo, let it be done now, let it be done now. And as I spoke, I all but came to a resolve. I all but did it, yet I did it not. Yet fell I not back to my old condition, but took up my position hard by, and drew breath. And I tried again, and wanted but very little of reaching it, and somewhat less, and then all but touched and grasped it; and yet came not at it, nor touched, nor grasped it, hesitating to die unto death, and to live unto life; and the worse, whereto I had been habituated, prevailed more with me than the better, which I had not tried. And the very moment in which I was to become another man, the nearer it approached me, the greater horror did it strike into me; but it did not strike me back, nor turn me aside, but kept me in suspense.

26. The very toys of toys, and vanities of vanities, my old mistresses, still enthralled me; they shook my fleshly garment, and whispered softly, Do you part with us? And from that moment shall we no more be with you for ever? And from that moment shall not this or that be lawful for you for ever? And what did they suggest to me in the words this or that? What is it that they suggested, O my God? Let Your mercy avert it from the soul of Your servant. What impurities did they suggest! What shame! And now I far less than half heard them, not openly showing themselves and contradicting me, but muttering, as it were, behind my back, and furtively plucking me as I was departing, to make me look back upon them. Yet they did delay me, so that I hesitated to burst and shake myself free from them, and to leap over whither I was called—an unruly habit saying to me, Do you think you can live without them?

27. But now it said this very faintly; for on that side towards which I had set my face, and whither I trembled to go, did the chaste dignity of Continence appear unto me, cheerful, but not dissolutely gay, honestly alluring me to come and doubt nothing, and extending her holy hands, full of a multiplicity of good examples, to receive and embrace me. There were there so many young men and maidens, a multitude of youth and every age, grave widows and ancient virgins, and Continence herself in all, not barren, but a fruitful mother of children of joys, by You, O Lord, her Husband. And she smiled on me with an encouraging mockery, as if to say, Can you not do what these youths and maidens can? Or can one or other do it of themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me unto them. Why do you stand in your own strength, and so standest not? Cast yourself upon Him; fear not, He will not withdraw that you should fall; cast yourself upon Him without fear, He will receive you, and heal you. And I blushed beyond measure, for I still heard the muttering of those toys, and hung in suspense. And she again seemed to say, Shut up your ears against those unclean members of yours upon the earth, that they may be mortified. They tell you of delights, but not as does the law of the Lord your God. This controversy in my heart was naught but self against self. But Alypius, sitting close by my side, awaited in silence the result of my unwonted emotion.

28. But when a profound reflection had, from the secret depths of my soul, drawn together and heaped up all my misery before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, accompanied by as mighty a shower of tears. Which, that I might pour forth fully, with its natural expressions, I stole away from Alypius; for it suggested itself to me that solitude was fitter for the business of weeping. So I retired to such a distance that even his presence could not be oppressive to me. Thus was it with me at that time, and he perceived it; for something, I believe, I had spoken, wherein the sound of my voice appeared choked with weeping, and in that state had I risen up. He then remained where we had been sitting, most completely astonished. I flung myself down, how, I know not, under a certain fig-tree, giving free course to my tears, and the streams of my eyes gushed out, an acceptable sacrifice unto You. And, not indeed in these words, yet to this effect, spoke I much unto You—But You, O Lord, how long? How long, Lord? Will You be angry for ever? Oh, remember not against us former iniquities; for I felt that I was enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries—How long, how long? Tomorrow, and tomorrow? Why not now? Why is there not this hour an end to my uncleanness?

29. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, Take up and read; take up and read. Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in while the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him, Go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. And by such oracle was he immediately converted unto You. So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell—Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended—by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart—all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Can't We Sit Down?

At Mass today (the Novus Ordo) I was struck again by how silly it seems to stand for the so-called "Prayers of the Faithful."

Sure, standing used to be the normative posture for all of Mass (still is at the Eucharistic liturgies in the East) and then kneeling was introduced in the West for (first) penitential things and then (later) as a sign of special humility or reverence at the most important parts. And then only finally was sitting allowed for what came to be seen as the "least important" parts (like the non-Gospel readings, the Offertory, etc).

At the Novus Ordo we stand for the Prayers of the Faithful, even though I am inclined to consider them one of these "least important parts." Frankly, they often seem to me more like part of the announcements rather than a part of Mass warranting standing!

Admittedly, in the traditional High Mass, the general practice is for the congregation to stand for the "Dominus Vobiscum" and "Oremus"-followed-by-no-prayer even if they have been sitting while the choir finished the Credo, and even though they are going to sit right back down again for the Offertory. This suggests that, like at traditional Good Friday, the posture for these prayers (were they to be restored) would traditionally have been standing ("Levate," after all).

However, I just have a really hard time making the comparison between the Novus Ordo "Prayers of the Faithful" and those at traditional Good Friday (and which hypothetically would have happened on more days even). I'd be all for restoring those to the Old Rite, even, as long as they were done in the manner of Good Friday: with standardized set petitions (some of which would be daily, others of which could be votive based on local need, like the Collects), a "flectamus genua" and "levate" (at least once for the group, if not for each petition), and a closing collect at the end. If it were logical and structured like that.

But these things at the Novus Ordo ad libbed or drawn up by some parish committee ("For the sake of the Women's Auxiliary's Knitting Club's bake-sale; that we may grow in our stewardship as we grow in our feminine fellowship: Lord hear our prayer!" ugh)...just aren't the same.

I really don't think they deserve for us to stand during them. In their current Novus Ordo form, at least, they just aren't as important as the Gospel or even the collects. So I think the least they could do is just let us sit down already during these obnoxious, grating, and untraditional petitions.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Temptation and Retribution

I don't think I've posted this before. I found this on a sign at the zoo once, and I thought it was a good spiritual message, lol:

Remember that: leopards that take advantage often pay with their lives!

My Silence Is My Self-Defense

He didn't get banned from Notre Dame for this one, at least.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

On Heresy

I apologize in advance to anyone to whom this may apply; it's nothing personal. It's just that a recent conversation got me researching the issue in a more systematic manner than I ever had before, and I am compulsively driven to use this blog to organize and clarify my own thoughts.

A theological realization I've had is learning that heresy (assuming no invincible ignorance about what the Church teaches, which I'd think it's pretty hard for a knowledgeable Catholic to have)...destroys the virtue of supernatural Faith.

Because, apparently (and I'm just learning this theologically)...the object of Faith is the entire deposit of faith, taken as a whole, proposed by the Church as revealed by God. One cannot reject, then, even one article and still have the supernatural virtue of Faith, because the object of the virtue is not individual articles, but the unity of the revealed deposit as a whole.

Of course, merely material heretics, with invincible ignorance, might indeed submit to the deposit of revelation implicitly, and just be mistaken about what it contains. Such is usually assumed about ignorant people raised Protestant. But for Catholics, for whom I'd think invincible ignorance about what Christ's Church teachers is rather unlikely...a single heresy destroys the supernatural virtue of Faith. In this case...there isn't any spectrum. Faith is by nature, as a supernatural virtue, "all or nothing."

Now, a person might nevertheless "believe" many or even all Catholic truths besides their particular heresy. But mere natural belief in the sense of an intellectual conviction (even to things known initially only from Revelation) is not the supernatural virtue of Faith, which requires the choice of assent to the entire deposit of faith. Such an assent does not require understanding or being rationally convinced or "feeling" that the teaching is true or makes sense. It is a free choice to submit intellectually, even if our imperfect human reason is not satisfied.

I know some of you probably hate Catholic Encyclopedia given how much I use it, but:
St. Thomas (II-II:11:1) defines heresy: "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas". "The right Christian faith consists in giving one's voluntary assent to Christ in all that truly belongs to His teaching. There are, therefore, two ways of deviating from Christianity: the one by refusing to believe in Christ Himself, which is the way of infidelity, common to Pagans and Jews; the other by restricting belief to certain points of Christ's doctrine selected and fashioned at pleasure, which is the way of heretics. The subject-matter of both faith and heresy is, therefore, the deposit of the faith, that is, the sum total of truths revealed in Scripture and Tradition as proposed to our belief by the Church. The believer accepts the whole deposit as proposed by the Church; the heretic accepts only such parts of it as commend themselves to his own approval [...] The impelling motives are many: intellectual pride or exaggerated reliance on one's own insight; the illusions of religious zeal; the allurements of political or ecclesiastical power; the ties of material interests and personal status; and perhaps others more dishonourable.


Heresy is a sin because of its nature it is destructive of the virtue of Christian faith. Its malice is to be measured therefore by the excellence of the good gift of which it deprives the soul. Now faith is the most precious possession of man, the root of his supernatural life, the pledge of his eternal salvation. Privation of faith is therefore the greatest evil, and deliberate rejection of faith is the greatest sin. St. Thomas (II-II, Q. x, a. 3) arrives at the same conclusion thus: "All sin is an aversion from God. A sin, therefore, is the greater the more it separates man from God. But infidelity does this more than any other sin, for the infidel (unbeliever) is without the true knowledge of God: his false knowledge does not bring him help, for what he opines is not God: manifestly, then, the sin of unbelief (infidelitas) is the greatest sin in the whole range of perversity." And he adds: "Although the Gentiles err in more things than the Jews, and although the Jews are farther removed from true faith than heretics, yet the unbelief of the Jews is a more grievous sin than that of the Gentiles, because they corrupt the Gospel itself after having adopted and professed the same....It is a more serious sin not to perform what one has promised than not to perform what one has not promised." It cannot be pleaded in attenuation of the guilt of heresy that heretics do not deny the faith which to them appears necessary to salvation, but only such articles as they consider not to belong to the original deposit. In answer it suffices to remark that two of the most evident truths of the depositum fidei are the unity of the Church and the institution of a teaching authority to maintain that unity. That unity exists in the Catholic Church, and is preserved by the function of her teaching body: these are two facts which anyone can verify for himself. In the constitution of the Church there is no room for private judgment sorting essentials from non-essentials: any such selection disturbs the unity, and challenges the Divine authority, of the Church; it strikes at the very source of faith.
A heretic who, knowing what the Church teaches (in other words, is not invincibly ignorant), willfully rejects even one article in the deposit...kills the virtue of supernatural Faith in his soul (which normally remains in spite of every other sin, even when mortal sins extinguish supernatural Hope and Charity) and thus commits the most grievous sin imaginable.

Faith, once lost, can absolutely only be restored by an extraordinary intervention of God. Charity and Hope may be restored through repentance that, in some sense, flows from the virtue of Faith that remains even in a mortal sinner. But one who has lost Faith is utterly without even that font for further graces to flow from.

God's forgiveness of countless heretics throughout history and extending to them the grace of restoring the supernatural faith they have lost (which cannot be regained by any human means) is thus, perhaps, the ultimate expression of His mercy in history towards those who have so flippantly dispensed with the most precious gift imaginable, all while trying to hold onto natural belief in some elements of the true religion for comfort or any of the motives listed above, "
intellectual pride or exaggerated reliance on one's own insight; the illusions of religious zeal; the allurements of political or ecclesiastical power; the ties of material interests and personal status; and perhaps others more dishonourable," and corrupting others in the process; even the least vocal of heretics by nature strikes out against the supernatural unity of the Church.

The notion that such a person is still Catholic in any supernatural sense of the word (except inasmuch as souls in Hell with the indelible baptismal character can be called "Catholic")...has not place in our tradition given these teachings. And yet how many souls does the hierarchy love to call "Catholic" when it suits inflating their statistics when it is clear that many such people are formal heretics.

In days gone by, the "peasants" of the Church may have had "good faith" submission to the entire deposit, even while misunderstanding or being ignorant about what it contained. And sometimes perhaps it was better, in the plan of Providence, for them to be left in this benign neglect. Given how poor catechesis is, perhaps we may hope that some such people of good will constitute a significant segment of Catholics today, for whom their [material] heresy is merely a misunderstanding.

But romanticizing this quaint state among those of us who are not invincibly ignorant of what the Church teaches is to reduce Catholicism to a mere anthropological interest, to "aesthetic" flirtation with a Beauty devoid of Truth, to an affected contrarianism in the form of some sort of hipster obscurantism, the kind that says, "I'm so progressive, I'm actually traditional. Kind of."

This is mere mental masturbation and, yes,
intellectual promiscuity, a glass-bead-game of philosophical or academic one-upmanship where one apparently wins by keeping a straight face while attempting to justify the most outrageous ideas (by the World's standards) using the World's own logic, or to justify an absurd "Catholic" identity while stretching the very notion to the breaking-point. An "ironic" religious identity, is no identity at all.

Now I'm not saying have an Inquisition, though nothing undermines the faith more than such sleeper agents (*cough* "Hans Küng"
*cough*) who apparently get off on claiming to be Catholic while rejecting things essential to what that means. Nor to rub this in people's faces (though sometimes perhaps we should). But we certainly can't deny the truth just to spare peoples feelings. Heretics cannot, in the strict sense, be accounted as Catholics, and someone who knows what the Church teaches, but denies assent to infinitely worse off than the person who assents to the teaching even while continuing to sin grievously.

So I will just remind my readers: it is very hot in Hell.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's a Trap!!

They're on to us again!

And I think it's rather hilarious just which post they were visiting.

Click for bigger image:

Further inquiry revealed the initial visit was specifically from the server:

Anyone know what that means??

Monday, March 21, 2011

Obligation for the Liturgy, Not Liturgy for the Obligation

By a series of coincidences, I'm actually going to be attending public Vespers several times this week. Twice in the Old Rite, once in the New. I figure I should go to the latter just because public Office is so rare these days, it needs to be supported.

This got me thinking about the butchering of the Breviary during the 20th-century culminating with its Novus Ordo incarnation. Much of the motive behind this seems to have been a notion of lessening the burden on clerics bound to say it, and making the Office more accessible to the laity (in itself a worthy motive, though I see little evidence of widespread success).

However, I am struck by the reversal of priorities here. So there is an Office that developed over millennia of tradition, and clerics are obligated to say it. Modern clerics (and laity, certainly) are thought too busy, or to have too short attention spans to pray it. So, instead of altering the obligation, we alter the Office to suit the obligation! Even though the obligation only exists for the sake of the liturgy in the first place.

I have ways that parts of the Mass and Office could be "bracketed," made optional, for pastoral necessity, in response to claims that the full things are practically unfeasible nowadays in some situations.

There was already some impetus towards this in the years leading up to Vatican II, shown by things such as the permission to anticipate Matins (irrespective of its order with the rest of the hours) as early as 2pm the previous day. One might see in this a precursor to the current "floating" Office of Readings.

In this vein, I will again lay out some proposals for how the obligation to say the Office could be made less burdensome in cases of pastoral necessity, according to the model of the new Liturgy of the Hours, without having had to change the text of the Office itself. Giving less burdensome options without abolishing things completely.

Some of the ideas repeat, but this is an even more extensive concession to human weakness than I gave in the previous post suggesting something like a "Shorter Office" might be helpful for some people. The more detailed suggestions I gave in that post remain valid, but in terms of a generic suggestion that could be easily implemented by anyone:

-Instead of praying all nine psalms at Matins, people could perhaps pray three instead, alternating through the three nocturns week by week so that all the psalms are eventually used. This might require some minor regrouping of the psalm divisi, though, in the case of Matins psalms (namely 9 and 77 in the Pius X psalter) split up over two nocturns (so that the second half is at least prayed the next day rather than the next week!) Matins could also be anticipated, and the "shorter" scheme of Lessons approved by John XXIII could be used (omitting the homilies on all but Sundays and Solemnities, and perhaps using the shortened "Lesson IX" hagiography).

-Lauds, Vespers, and Compline should not be touched, except perhaps for limiting the number of days on which the Preces were said, or the use of the Suffrages at the end (only when there is no other commemoration, I'd think).

-People could choose to pray just one of the three Little Hours, and alternate which they pray (Terce, Sext, None) over the course of three weeks.

-And then there's Prime. That odd little Hour that Vatican II wanted to do away with. Besides just allowing for omission of the Chapter Office as I suggested before, perhaps Prime could in fact be omitted entirely in a "Shorter Office." There would be several ways to deal with this (while still maintaining a full psalter). Either consider Prime one of the Little Hours and alternate Prime-Terce-Sext-None on a four week schedule (though Prime is not of the same format as the other three, I still feel like its prayers should make an at least occasional appearance so that people are familiar with them). Or else take its three psalms and use them at Matins after the three nocturns have been cycled through, as the fourth week of a four week schedule for Matins.

Suggesting all this, I have to add that (if only because of the way psalm 118 is divided up), it might perhaps be best to still expect the entire Office on Sundays, and to have what is said above apply only to the other six days.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nazareth and Loreto: Twin Shrines

The Holy House of Loreto (coloured yellow) imaginarily "retranslated" in front of the Grotto of Nazareth, with which it confirms remarkably well, fitting in at the same time with all the adjacent spaces and building erected in later eras:
This is taken from an article about the Holy House that I found a few years ago and was inspired to look up again by a conversation I had today. Its explanation of the Holy House traditions at both Nazareth and Loreto (and their connection) is fascinating.

I encourage everyone to give it a skim if you want to bone up on your history of Catholic tradition and piety (and to be able to defend it as at least potentially credible; albeit it doesn't have to be "factual" in order to be devotionally valuable...)

Auxiliary Bishops and Confirmation

Sitting there at my sister's confirmation yesterday, I was forced to consider just what the point of waiting for an auxiliary bishop to confirm really is except to, basically, get to see a mitre and crosier.

No, seriously, it's a little more purposeful than that. But my thoughts were this: originally, the bishop baptized and confirmed the person at the Easter Vigil at the same time, back when the Christian community was small enough to initiate all the catechumens of a city in one service.

Later, as the Church grew and as baptism was done mainly immediately for infants due to people born into Christian families coming to outnumber growth by way of conversion, things were adapted to accommodate this differently in East and West.

In the East, baptism and confirmation were kept together, and so both are given to infants. However, since the bishop can't come around to every infant baptism, the priests are all delegated to preform the chrismations. The presbyters are extraordinary ministers of confirmation, so this is possible; I would even argue that, confirmation not seeming to be a Sacrament requiring jurisdiction like marriage or confession, the confirmations of simple presbyters (as long as they use chrism blessed by a bishop) are probably valid (though illicit) even without proper delegation in the purely juridical sense, like the non-emergency baptisms of lay people would be. But even with delegation, it does require "sacrificing" the fullness of the symbolism of connecting confirmation to the bishop.

In the West it was solved the other way. Since bishops can't come around for every infant baptism, confirmation is separated from infant baptism (with a "place-holder" anointing with chrism done at the baptism), and children are confirmed when they reach a certain age as a group once a year when the bishop is available. Splitting them up like this is possible, of course, but it also sacrifices the fullness of the symbolism of the connection between baptism and confirmation.

Traditionally, in the West, ones first communion would be taken at the same Mass as ones confirmation, but with the lowering of the age for the reception of first communion by Pius X (without a corresponding lowering of the age for confirmation), the traditional order of the three sacraments was disrupted. Some bishops are now splitting the difference and having slightly older children confirmed at their first communion mass again to restore the traditional order. I think that's just fine.

However, to me, the West's "sacrifice" of keeping baptism and confirmation for the sake of having a bishop confirm...seems justified mainly if the confirming bishop is the Ordinary. Because it's really not just any bishop who is the ordinary minister of confirmation, but specifically ones own Ordinary.

Auxiliary bishops, however, are not the Ordinary. Titularly, they are the bishop of some extinct diocese in partibus infidelium who happen to be resident, like refugees, in the diocese of some other metropolitan. In itself, I'm all for this; I think its good to keep the memories of these "lost" dioceses alive in this way. But, practically speaking, auxiliary bishops are just glorified extensions or assistants to the archbishop, made bishops mainly for the sake of confirmations, it seems! Very rarely do auxiliary bishops seem to ordain, and they don't have ordinary jurisdiction.

And yet, simple presbyters amount to basically the same thing, at that point, I'd think. I mean, what is a presbyter except a "hand" of the bishop, an extension of the Ordinary for the sake of multiplying the sacramental ministry locally?

In practice then, it seems like delaying confirmation only to have it preformed by an auxiliary bishop rather than the Ordinary...really deviates from the ideal almost as much as having a simple presbyter preform it (like at the Easter Vigil, or at all infant baptisms in the East). An auxiliary bishop amounting, in practice relative to the Ordinary, to something like a presbyter with pontificals.

Of course, I'll admit, there is still some purpose, I suppose, inasmuch as any bishop, even auxiliary, is an equal member of the episcopal college and a successor to the Apostles by the very fact of his episcopal consecration in the way a presbyter is not. As such, confirmation by any bishop might have a slightly fuller symbolism than one just by a presbyter.

But I do have to wonder how important waiting for a mere auxiliary bishop to confirm really is, how coherent the symbolism of that act is, if it really justifies delaying the grace like that...when both auxiliary bishops and presbyters are ultimately just delegated ministers vis a vis the Ordinary when it comes to the sacrament of confirmation, when both amount to no more than stand-ins for the ideal of the Ordinary himself, whose connection to the faithful (a spiritual fatherhood, mind you!) is really one of the main points of confirmation. I don't like the implication that "a bishop is a bishop is a bishop," as if all bishops are basically interchangeable.

A while back a reader sent me two great articles arguing/explaining that the primary purpose or grace of confirmation was this connection with the hierarchy and magisterium of the Church. That while baptism initiates us into the community of the universal Church (visible and invisible; militant, suffering, and triumphant) in an "undifferentiated" manner, confirmation unites us specifically to its visible hierarchal organ in the college of bishops. (And ordination makes one a very member of that organ). I think this argument makes a lot of sense and sheds a lot of light on the nature of confirmation.

But, let's never forget that as Catholics we do not really have a relationship to "the college of bishops" in the abstract, as if they collectively represent the whole Church (like parliament members "at large"), as if they all together preside over the Church as a whole, as the conciliarist heresy would have (and as the recent practice of national bishops' conferences can give the impression). But rather that, in the true notion of collegiality or synodality, our connection to that college is through our specific Ordinary, who has specific jurisdiction over a specific local church with his specific subjects therein.

So many Catholics seem to have a "direct relationship with the Pope" these days, and indeed he has immediate universal jurisdiction over each of us, is the vicar of Christ on earth, the visible head of the Church on earth. But let's not also forget our own bishop Ordinaries, who are not merely like vicars of the Pope (and therefore interchangeable), but rather are sovereign in their own dioceses (without prejudice to the universal aspect of the Church), and have immediate local jurisdiction which is properly all their own, not merely delegated. Who are, directly, the vicar of Christ in their own dioceses, the visible head of the Church in that diocese (and not merely as representatives of the Pope).

While the universal Church is definitely "more than the sum of its parts," and cannot be reduced to merely a confederation of local churches (as Orthodoxy seems to sometimes tend dangerously towards), let's be careful as Catholics also not to let our local churches (which are, in a certain sense, internally "complete" organic microcosms by themselves) be dissolved totally into the aegis of the universal either, as if we are all just citizens of the universal Church "at large" with the local dimension being merely an after-thought derivative of that. That sort of hyper-centralization or subordinationism on the part of the universal authority must also be tactfully resisted.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Council

I've written in this vein often before. But a reader sent me a post that I think is spot-on when it comes to the place of the Council in the life of the Church today. I especially loved this:
Aging prelates still litter their discourses with the obligatory reverential references to Vatican II, delusionally convinced that the mere mention of "The Council" has a magical quality. It's all so wearisome. One sometimes has the impression that there is little else in their libraries, that there was nothing before "The Council," and that they have read nothing since.
That post goes on to mainly just quote from this one, and I will do the same:
Vatican II was a validly convoked Ecumenical Council, a Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Whole Church. If it had chosen to do so, it could have defined dogmas de fide to which any and every Catholic would have been obliged to give the complete assent of Divine Faith. Laws, canons, which it enacted ... if it did ... bind the faithful for a long as they remain unrepealed by lawful authority or, through desuetude, cease to bind. [I will add, however, that "lawful authority" includes the Pope himself; his hands aren't bound by the Council, as much as he sometimes speaks like they are, he could repeal whatever he wanted]. Its pronouncements command respect, religiosum obsequium, just as those enacted by the Council of Vienne in 1311 did in 1361 and, for that matter ... I presume ... still do.

All this is compatible with certain other propositions. For example: that it would have been better unconvoked; that it did no good; that it encouraged, unwittingly, heterodox tendencies which have had a baleful effect upon the Church ever since. I do not wish, in this piece, to advance, attack, or defend, any of those propositions. The proposition which I now have in mind is a little different: that Vatican II is History; that its relevance is Not For Our Time, fifty years later, any more than its relevance was for fifty years previously. Vatican II itself claimed to speak to the World of its own time: fair enough; that time was not our time, is not our time.

Vatican II, like so many of its predecessor councils, is obsolete or, at the very least, obsolescent. It did not foresee the major problems of our age and, therefore, did not give us guidance for getting through them. Its silly optimisms are no more relevant to our very different, much harsher, age than is the preoccupation of medieval councils with just-one-more-crusade. The notion that it was some sort of super-council which displaced and replaced the councils which preceded it is, in my view, a heresy: because it disregards councils which did, dogmatically, bind, in favour of a council which did not even claim to bind. Worse even than heresy, it is historical twaddle.

Emphasis on Vatican II has a number of unfortunate side-effects. It means that other, worthier, councils are ignored [...] And the fetichising of Vatican II distracts attention from the real and significant and valuable actions of the Roman Magisterium, which deserve so very much better than the sneers directed at them by illiterate fools. Humanae vitae and Ordinatio sacerdotalis, slender volumes, are worth more than all the paper wasted at Vatican II. Documents of the CDF, keeping up with the errors proposed in areas of ethics by the World's agenda, represent the locus to which perplexed modern Catholics should turn for teaching and guidance.

Byzantine Christians have an elegant custom of keeping, a few days after a major festival, a Leave Taking of that feast. I rather think that 2012 would be a good year for an official Leave Taking of Vatican II.
Now, I'm not quite so down on the Council as Fr Hunwicke seems to be. I actually tend to agree with some of its "liberalizing" stances in terms of the hierarchy not being so closed and inquisitorial and authoritarian anymore (though I often suspect that they still want to be, and have merely realized that they can't in our modern world anymore). But I agree that it is has slipped into obsolescence and that it's peachy-keen optimism, though perhaps necessary to balance the rigidity of the siege mentality of Trent and Vatican I, ultimately showed itself naive. The problems of its time, 50 years ago, are not really the problems of our time, and the way they all fawn over the Council as if it is the Last Word on everything or overturned the past...really annoys me.