Thursday, July 26, 2012

In July, Far Far I Fly... August, away...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

His Love

God's not angry anymore, I decided. 

We can't anthropomorphize God ultimately, but on the other hand any analogy always has some validity, I suppose. And I'm certainly not some sort of Marcionite rejecting the description of God in the Old Testament. 

But a reader posted on some of my recent posts some quotes by Julian of Norwich that I really liked:

“For I saw no wrath except on man's side, and He forgives that in us, for wrath is nothing else but a perversity and an opposition to peace and to love…we, because of sin and miserableness, have in us a wrath and a continuing opposition to peace and to love.”

“I saw truthfully that our Lord was never angry, nor ever shall be, for he is God: He is good, He is life, He is truth, He is love, He is peace; and His power, His wisdom, His love, and His unity do not allow Him to be angry (For I saw truly that it is against the character of His power to be angry, and against the character of His wisdom, and against the character of His goodness). God is the goodness that cannot be angry, for He is nothing but goodness.”

And this too: “…when I saw all this, it was necessary to agree that the mercy of God and the forgiveness is in order to abate and consume our wrath, not His.”

Peace to you all, my friends.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Carpe Diem!

Paul and Marriage: Beggars Can't Be Choosers

I've often heard it suggested that something along the lines of Paul's "better to marry than to burn" should justify homosexual sex acts within the context of a permanent committed exclusive partnership. The logic allegedly applied here is that not everyone is called to celibacy, in fact most aren't, and so (in spite of Christ speaking of people "born eunuchs or made so by men") this must be equally true for homosexuals. And, indeed, I have warned of the hazards of conflating anything but a vocation to celibacy with a vocation to celibacy; specifically, I've said that assuming someone with a vocation to the priesthood also has a vocation to celibacy has led to a lot of problems, as the two things are not equivalent. Therefore, it may well be true that homosexuality does not simply equal an automatic call to celibacy.

However, does that mean homosexual sex acts are ever justified? Not at all. Because beggars can't be choosers. Although I find the concept rather strange, mixed-orientation marriages are possible, valid, and some people apparently find them satisfying. As I wrote about in another post a while ago, there is a framing problematic among both liberals and conservatives that essentializes sexual orientation, to the point of saying things (on both sides) like "gays can't marry." As I pointed out, this is untrue; gays can marry members of the opposite sex like anyone else, and likewise (in places where gay marriage is legal) heterosexuals can enter into same-sex marriages civilly. There is no "orientation test" either legally or morally (talk about something impossibly subjective!) as if we are dealing with two separate species of creature with two separate standards for morality. 

That is not good Christian anthropology. Different temperaments or desires do not define different goods for different people or classes of people (as the progressive narrative of liberty might believe). Because the Good should define desire rather than desire defining the Good. We are to conform our desires and passions to the objective good. But this does not mean a leveling of all diversity, nor does it mean I am suggesting anything as odious as some sort of "ex-gay" orientation-change imperative. Indeed, the Church recognizes both celibacy and marriage as valid paths to the Good (but you do have to choose one or the other!) and I've argued recently (and, apparently, quite controversially) that, although it is wrong to express it genitally, the love (though not the lust) between same-sex couples (most of such arrangements presumably involving homosexuals or bisexuals) is still real and good, and the relationships and eros abstracted from whatever immorality they may or may not contain...are still valid, and should be recognized as such by the Church without any double standard.

Indeed, the Church's teaching about homosexual sex acts existed long before consciousness of orientation was ever raised or socially constructed, and applies to everyone. It says "these acts are sinful, and these are potentially virtuous" for everyone, regardless of the state of ones passions (about which, outside disordered desire for sinful acts specifically, the Church renders no moral judgment). Any other idea involves an essentialization of homosexuals and heterosexuals into two separate species, basically. And also raises weird questions like: under that logic, could a bisexual still be obligated to pursue only the heterosexual "half" of his attractions? Of course, the evil logic of the sexual revolution is that, once you allow something for one class of people based on a plea of necessity...that essentially means it cannot be bad absolutely, and thus is okay absolutely even for those for whom it is not "necessary." I've written about this sort of argumentative bait-and-switch involving the claim of "necessity for some" to "allowed for all" before.

Now, I have to assume that, if mixed-orientation marriage is to be pursued, there would have to be complete openness and honesty about things, however. It would be unfair to the straight party if there wasn't. Still, the point is that it is possible if a sort of bare minimum sexual release is what you need.

And that's just the thing; people who try to apply the logic of Paul's statement to justify homosexual sex acts within an equivalent "marriage," are I think forgetting that what Paul says is already a concession to human weakness, and a concession based on the assumption that natural marriage is the bare minimum sort of morality, and that the open-to-life structure of the acts in such a marriage is not irrelevant morally. Applying this to homosexual sex acts in stable relationships seems to assume that the "burning" Paul primarily referred to was only fornication (or masturbation) and so this argument "begs the question" of itself by already implicitly containing the assumption that contraceptive acts (including same-sex) are not wrong (as long as they are institutionalized in something stable). But begging the question is a logical fallacy.

Paul did not say "You have a right to satisfy your lusts." This would be a huge misunderstanding of his statement. He said, to paraphrase and interpret, "It is better to be celibate, because this world is passing away. But it seems well nigh impossible for many, because sexual release is a need almost like going to the bathroom for them. Sure, it's not strictly necessary for the individual in the same way, but rather for the species as a whole, yet it's a reality that some people are just too weak to abstain entirely. Many people aren't called to total abstinence from all release, since humans are programmed with strong urges, and so if you're going to do it, you'd better at least do it within the bare-minimum moral context."

However, this is the point about "beggars can't be choosers." Paul did not say "you get to have a maximally sexually and emotionally satisfying partner in the same person, as long as you limit yourself to just one at a time." No, Paul's advice regards only a bare minimum sort of sexual release. And while this "outlet for concupiscence" notion of marriage may seem un-romantic to us today, let's remember that in the past (and indeed, in Church teaching outside the recent befuddlement of Theology of the Body) people were more down to earth, and sex was viewed in a much more functionalist way, the "expression of love" idea not having the (misguided) hegemony it does now.

So, Paul's advice to someone tempted to fornicate or sleep around would be, "Well, then you'd better take a spouse so that you can get off in a moral context, and that will at least temporarily clear such desires from your mind" (and at the end of the day, an orgasm is an orgasm, and does have the effect of silencing carnal desire for a time no matter how it is achieved.) But this would likewise be his advice to people tempted to have sex with another man's wife, with children, with prostitutes, with themselves masturbating, or with members of the same sex. Paul would have viewed all such desires as disordered lusts, and his advice was certainly not that they should be indulged but, rather, if such temptations can't be sublimated completely, then they should be dispelled through natural release with a spouse (but he never said that release would be anything other than perfunctory on the subjective level.)

That notion requires buying into an essentialism whereby not just release, but some sort of full subjective satisfaction, is a "necessity" to people, or at least to those not called to celibacy. Which (when that logic is then applied to homosexuals) requires buying into the notion that some people are called by the mere fact of their desires to neither celibacy nor heterosexual marriage, which is simply foreign to the Christian tradition (and which assumption, in this argument, constitutes begging the question.) Rather, Paul's advice was "if you really can't keep it in your pants, if you really need release, then at least do it in a marriage. It might be perfunctory, it may not satisfy all your fantasies, but at least it will provide the release to quiet the flesh for a time." He never promised that marriage would be maximally sexually or emotionally satisfying; beggars can't be choosers, he was already offering it only as a bare-minimum-morality concession to human weakness, at least natural if not the perfection found in the evangelical counsels and their full ascetic ideal. His advice was never equivalent to "You have a right to satisfy all your specific desires, as long as you domesticate them and they don't hurt anyone, if you cannot sacrifice them completely."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pet Peeve, Perfect Example

I've written before about how I detest the bizarre sort of populism that demands "participation" in the sanctuary by a cadre of lay people. Of course, this group is still very small, still only 1% of the congregation, but the idea is that somehow they "represent" the rest of us

Of course, the problem with this is: why can't the clergy represent us? In fact, that's exactly what they're supposed to do! People will say, "Oh, but the lay class or dimension of the Church needs to be seen actively up there too!" 

But that misses the whole point by actually conceding a strange sort of clericalism which essentializes the clergy as "other." In reality, all "clergy" meant originally (and should mean) is the class of people deputized to represent the Church publicly, especially in liturgical roles. By the very fact of taking on a public liturgical role, the person in question is by definition taking on a [pseudo-]clerical status and role!

Anyway, I saw a particularly egregious and obvious example of this mindset quoted on Rorate Caeli. Some liberal Spanish reporter went to an SSPX chapel to do a story and described the traditional Mass by saying it had: "no participation of any faithful in the readings or distribution of communion." a priest, a deacon, a subdeacon, or someone in minor orders of lector or acolyte not one of the "faithful"!?! How can you say, then, that there was no participation by "any faithful" in these things?? Of course, I'm sure he means there was no participation of any of the laity. But that's the whole point! By traditional definitions, the moment you are deputized to represent the congregation in the sanctuary with a role like are a cleric, or at least doing something essentially clerical! That's all a cleric ultimately is: a member of the faithful deputized to represent the Church publicly, especially in worship.

But, in the modern world of paradoxical "lay ministries," definitions have gotten messed up, and so there is this weird "us/them" construction of the laity/clergy. I blame, as often I do, mandatory celibacy. It has made the "essence" of the clergy, in so many people's minds, lay and cleric alike, not the status of public pray-er and representative of the Church (under which definition the idea of a "lay" person in such a role is simply contradictory), but rather a specific unmarried lifestyle (analogized to religious life) and state of institutional employment. The problems resulting from this are endless.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Two Calendar Examples

I was looking at my TAN Catholic calendar today. I like the TAN calendar because it is very detailed, having the feasts for the current calendar and the 1962 calendar, as well as indicating the fasting/abstinence, the devotions for the months and days of the week, etc.

I noticed some interesting jumping around of feasts this weekend. In the 1962 calendar, St. Henry II is on June 15th, and St. Bonaventure is on June 14th. In the current calendar, Henry is on the 13th, and Bonaventure is on the 15th, which corresponds to their actual dies natales, their historical days of death.

Except, in the 1962 calendar, there is nothing on the 13th. So why wasn't Henry on his actual day of death? Well, a little research reveals that on the Tridentine calendar, St. Anacletus was on the 13th. (However, it was later concluded that St. Anacletus was the same as St. Cletus, the third pope, and so his feast was removed much later.) Henry was originally added as a commemoration on the 13th about a century after Trent, but when his feast was upgraded to the rank of a semidouble it was placed on the 15th (technically, I think these were supposed to be conceived of as a "perpetual transfer") because Anacletus was on the 13th, and Bonaventure was already on the 14th. I have no idea why Bonaventure was on the 14th instead of his real day on the 15th, because there was nothing on the 15th in the Tridentine calendar. Perhaps there was something there in the Middle Ages and so when Bonaventure was originally added it was impeded, and then it was already so established that they just kept him there after Trent even though there was no longer anything impeding the 15th.

This reminds me of a similar case, this time involving St. John Vianney and St. Dominic. At Trent, St. Dominic (who actually died on the 6th of August) was placed on August 4th because the Transfiguration, of course, falls on the 6th. Apparently, the presence of St. Donatus stopped them from picking the 7th (from a "purist" perspective, transference of an impeded feast would ideally only occur "forward" in time at the next free day, not backward), Sts. Cyriacus, Largus, and Smaragdus stopped them from picking the 8th, and then came the vigil of St. Lawrence and his feast and Octave. And, working backwards, the Dedication of St. Mary Major is on the 5th, so they picked the 4th.

Later, when John Vianney, who actually did die on the 4th, was added to the calendar, he was placed on the 9th, apparently because they no longer considered the Vigil of St. Lawrence (patron of Rome) that important universally. Later still, in the 1962 calendar, many of the old Roman Martyrs who fill the traditional calendar (but are really rather obscure and important only at Rome itself) were reduced to commemorations, and so John Vianney moved up to the 8th with Cyriacus, Largus, and Smaragdus merely commemorated. Then, when they did the Novus Ordo calendar, they put John Vianney on his actual dies natales on the 4th, and then Dominic on the 8th (even though the only things on the 7th are optional memorials of St. Sixtus II and St. Cajetan, the latter of which had actually overtaken Donatus on that day about a century after Trent; this suggests that Donatus wasn't so important at that point, and that if Dominic had been added later, he would have simply taken the 7th like Cajetan did).

Both of these examples highlight important issues in the calendar question. It is clear that as the calendar has evolved over the course of history, certain Saints (especially the obscure old Roman martyrs; let's remember that the general calendar promulgated by Trent was the local calendar of Rome itself, and that medieval calendars were much more local) have become less and less emphasized, while other Saints have risen in popularity. As this has occurred, Saints whose feasts once required transferring someone to a day other than their death...have been removed or reduced in rank, even reduced to just commemorations (or, at least, greatly surpassed in importance by the transferred Saint). This has allowed, sometimes, Saints to move back to their real dies natales (usually, the Martyrology notes the real day and the feast) or at least closer.

However, there has been a tricky question of balance here. As the calendar evolved organically, it was not "revamped" from scratch at each stage, so you wind up with weird vestigial situations like in 1962 where Henry II remained on the 15th even though the 13th had been cleared up by the removal of the supposed Anacletus. Or the historically "circular" causation whereby John Vianney was able to be placed on the 8th because by that time Cyriacus, Largus, and Smaragdus were just a commemoration, even though they are the ones who had originally prevented Dominic from taking that spot in the first place (who himself, in turn, prevented Vianney from taking his own proper day on the 4th)!!

The Novus Ordo reforms did take more of a "from scratch" attitude. It seems like they went back and tried to create the calendar that "would have" existed if the universal calendar had always been more abstracted from the local Roman calendar, if the the local Roman martyrs had never effected where the more popular "universal" Saints were placed. In other words, they decided which Saints they wanted to have on the calendar today, and then placed them onto (or as close to) their real dies natales as possible, with no regard for the tangled historical effects of feasts which were no longer on the calendar. Only very occasionally was some other date chosen (for example, because Bl. John Paul II died on the feast of St. Francis de Paola and since it usually occurs during Lent or Eastertide, his feast was placed on the day of his installation on October 22).

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the "purist" in me actually does like the principle of keeping Saints on their real date of death as much as possible or, when you can't because it is impeded by a prior feast (and, I'd add, a higher ranking feast; if the new feast is higher ranking, then it is the old which should be transferred), then at least transferred to the next free day in the future. The Novus Ordo basically creates a calendar that sticks to this principle (although its selection of Saints is a bit arbitrary and sometimes feels more like an attempt at a "United Nations" calendar; I'd prefer many local calendars each with their own "complete set" of locally relevant Saints and Blesseds, like the great religious orders have, rather than an attempt at a one-size-fits all international "diverse sampling.")

On the other hand, there is something to be said for letting tradition stand. Dominic was on the 4th for hundreds of years. And he was no minor feast either (which have jumped around quite a bit), but a Greater Double. If you referred to "the feast of St. Dominic" in the past, you meant August 4th. The switch to the 8th frees up the 4th for John Vianney, but it doesn't give Dominic his own real day either, since that will always be the Transfiguration. So was that change worth it? Worth leveling the traditional dating? I don't know. 

Like I said, I have mixed feelings. Technically, the dates on the old calendar that didn't correspond to the real date of death were really just supposed to be "perpetual transference," the implication being that if the original day was ever freed up of whatever was impeding, the feast would just naturally move back. So in some ways the new calendar is merely implementing this "theory" in practice. But I'm not sure it was worth upsetting the traditional calendar in the first place. However, I would say, now that it has been upset...all bets are off. At this point, we might as well go with the more slavish adherence to the original dies natales and try to create as "ideal" a calendar in that regard as possible.

There is often talk nowadays about reconciling the calendars of the ordinary and extraordinary form. I think we should be very careful about messing with the traditional liturgy. I think it would probably best to just let it sit for another generation and re-establish itself in the life of the Church first. However, I am not against the idea on principle, as I've written before how I think there are some reforms the old liturgy (mainly in the direction of maximizing rather than minimizing) could undergo (and should if it is to become something more than a museum piece). 

I've never actually gotten around to doing it in practice, but I've often thought about trying to construct the ideal calendar I would have currently, by comparing the Tridentine, 1954, 1962, and Novus Ordo, and cross-referencing with the actual dates of death in the Martyrology or Catholic Encyclopedia. The temporal cycle would have to be taken from the old liturgy, no doubt (meaning restoration of Septuagesima, the Ember and Rogation Days, etc). However, the Sanctoral would be more of a mix. I think the Novus Ordo needs to reconsider the list of Saints it includes to be more traditional. 

At the very least, the Tridentine Calendar should be taken as a reference point or starting point in that regard (if not all the "clutter" that had been added by the 1950's). So I think my first step in such a project would be to start with the Tridentine calendar to provide the basic outline of which Saints must be included. Then, however, I would do what was done by 1962 and reduce the obscure local Roman martyrs to commemorations, even perhaps optional, and encourage the idea of each locality creating its own cycle of more obscure local Saints (in Europe especially this would be easy, and there are medieval calendars to reference in this regard) to replace them in each locality (except, perhaps, those mentioned in the Canon; although, I'm not opposed to letting local churches switch-out the local martyrs for their own in the Canon either, like Milan does in the Ambrosian rite). Then I would see how this freed up any actual dies natales for the remaining Saints and move them back accordingly. Finally, I would then add back in newer Saints added since Trent from the 1954 calendar and the Novus Ordo, sticking to the principle of placing Saints on their actual day of death, or transferring the lower-ranking to the next free day if there is a conflict.

So, to summarize: 1) start with the Tridentine calendar, 2) reduce the Roman martyrs to commemorations as in 1962, 3) move remaining Saints to their actual day of death when possible if they are not already, 4) add Saints since Trent (as on the 1954 and current calendars), especially Doctors, Founders, and those of special popularity or "national" importance like the large groups of national martyrs, 5) stick to the principle of keeping Saints on their dies natales, or perpetually transferring the lowest ranking the next free day when there is a conflict (with the understanding that it would "automatically" go back if the day was ever freed, or if the ranks of feasts changed relative to each other.) 

I might also, between steps 2 and 3, take into account the thought of trying to reconcile the feasts of the Apostles with the Eastern churches as I wrote about before, though that would require more research on my part regarding what was actually being commemorated on those days in each church originally (usually it was a transfer of relics rather than purporting to be the actual death-date of the Apostle). However, this would likely require a mutual ecumenical effort, and I would not let it effect any current reform of the Roman Rite calendar; if it happened later, any transference that required (or "un-transference" it allowed) would just work according to the rules/principles I've laid out.

I think this is something that, with a little effort, could be be sorted out in a rather satisfactory manner.

Monday, July 9, 2012

An Elegy for Lonesome George

I’ve heard it said often that no man’s an island,
but how could a tortoise then be?
Had you grown a shell around your heart,
in that long lonely century
when you were yourself the universal:
sheer particularity?

And so did the philosophers think you to death;
made an Idea, a Form, an Explanation?
Did you know you were a great existentialist?
A Darwinian case-demonstration?
The postmodernist’s hard deconstruction?
Or tragic Hegelian negation?

“Here at last is a creature who defines his own essence!”
Was all that freedom too great of a load?
“Here’s a proof of adaptive genetic selection!”
But what good, at the end of the road,
is all that evolution-struggled-for “progress”
if extinction is all you’re bestowed?

You, the vessel for all of those vain stillborn dreams,
like some sterile tortoise eggs given late birth,
We can only inquire of your Galapagan sorrows:
without friends, just what is pain worth?
And will there be, finally, any kind of salvation
for the very last man left on earth?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Anglican Use

I went to the Anglican Use liturgy in Toronto today, associated with the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

I have some shots from the booklet they use that I think are interesting:

The opening is different. Note the Collect for Purity and Summary of the Law:

Certain Gregorian melodies are apparently not all that hard to translate over to English. The music here was basically Gloria VIII. Notice "in earth," "goodwill towards men," and (of course) "thee," "thy," "thou," etc:


The Nicene Creed, likewise, was musically basically just Creed III in English. Notice "before all worlds," "Very God of Very God," and "of one substance":

Notice: "sitteth," "the quick and the dead," "Holy Ghost," and "proceedeth." I didn't get a picture of the next page, but it spake of the "One, Holy, Catholick, and Apostolick Church":

The Prayer of Intercession, followed by The Comfortable Words. I noticed especially the prayer for the Ordinary of the Ordinariate, for "Elizabeth our Queen, and the Prime Minister of Canada," the invocation of Blessed John Henry Newman, as well as the phrases "we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness," and  "thy wrath and indignation":

Hymn at the Offertory. It was interesting: they used, basically, Propers at the Introit, Gradual and Alleluia, and even for the "Offertory Sentence" and "Communion Sentence." Hymns in the Anglican choral tradition then came after the proper Offertory Sentence and Communion Sentence (almost like motets at a traditional Roman Mass). There was a recessional hymn at the end, of course. Not really enough people to sing four parts though, lol (not that I'd know how anyway...):

A lot of good stuff here; "And with thy spirit," "it is meet and right so to do," "bounden duty," "laud and magnify." It's like...they actually know how to speak English at more than a 3rd-grade reading level!!:

The anaphora was just the Roman Canon, but hieratic, with "thee" and "thy" and "spake" and "saith."

And the Lord's Prayer, the one place where the Novus Ordo maintains "thy" and "art" actually, in a few ways, more hieratic for the Anglican Use ("which art," "in earth") because it's taken from the Prayer-Book:

"O Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us." Then the Prayer of Humble Access:

My only complaint would be that there was a lay reader. Not that I mind that he (at least it was a male!) was lay; obviously, the server was too. But I do wish that readers would vest in cassock and surplice and sit in the sanctuary like the servers; why this need to have a secular-dressed person come up out of the congregation for the readings? It's a strange sort of populism, as I've discussed before, I think.

Other than that, though there weren't many in attendance, I was pleased. Communion was received kneeling and on the tongue. Some people then also received kneeling from the chalice, something I had never seen in a Catholic service before. In general there was a lot more kneeling at the Anglican Use liturgy than the Roman Mass (at the collects, for example, and during the intercessions). The Angelus was prayed after Mass at the Lady Altar. 

Then I was invited to the coffee and, for all my spieling here sometimes about Catholics needing more parish community and commending the Anglicans and the Orthodox for it...when faced with the actual prospect personally in a Catholic context, I could only think to myself, "What? Are you kidding me? We're Catholic!" and then told a white lie to high-tail it out of there without having to attend... :P

All in all, it's something I'm glad has a place in the Church, and it was worth seeing.

Christian Marriage: All or Nothing?

In my last post, I discussed the Orthodox approach to marriage and remarriage, and once again referred to my proposal for a possible way the two might be reconciled. My "solution" hinges on the possibility that the West's "all or nothing" idea regarding a marriage between two Christians being either the Sacrament or "nothing at all" (a mere "putative" marriage, not even a natural marriage) being non-dogmatic, merely a canonical situation.

I can't say for sure whether such a concession is possible. Maybe that is a dogma. However, I think the problems with a situation like that can be demonstrated by a hypothetical (that in history has probably often not been merely hypothetical.)

Let's say there is a Catholic couple. Let's call then Newt and Mrs. Newt (this isn't based on anyone in particular; any resemblance is coincidental). They married in the Catholic Church, and have been married for 15 years. Then Newt has an affair with another woman. Let's call her Callista. Then, Newt manages to obtain an annulment from Mrs. Newt, and then marries Callista in the Catholic Church also!

Now, from the "all or nothing" perspective, what happened was this: Newt and Mrs. Newt were never really married in any objective sense, so they were basically just fornicating all along (albeit unintentionally). And so, regardless of what he might be subjectively guilty of, Newt never really committed any objective adultery, as there was no real marriage to commit adultery against in the first place. And hence him marrying his (non-)mistress has to be considered, objectively, a better situation than the objective fornication with his first (non-)wife ever was.

Yeah. That's a realistic assessment of the relational and spiritual dynamics of the situation. Suuuuuure. (Rolls eyes.)

The "Orthodox" approach, on the other hand, would say this: the first marriage was a real marriage (whether it was actually the Sacrament or just a natural marriage or sacramental is something the West is likely more concerned about than the East). Newt and Mrs. Newt weren't just fornicating, and Newt really did commit adultery. However, on this account, the marriage is dissolved (more for the sake of Mrs. Newt than for Newt). If Newt remarries, it is penitential in tone, an attempt to bring good out of a bad situation. And some churches would certainly not let Newt marry the very woman he committed adultery with. In fact, some (like the Copts) would only allow remarriage for the "victimized" party, with participation in adultery being an impediment to any future marriages for the party at fault.

Now, which of these claims would you rather make if you were a priest who had to lay it all out to Mrs. Newt?? The "there never was a marriage, so there never was adultery" one where she was actually just fornicating and Newt gets to marry his mistress afterward no-questions-asked? Or the "Newt is guilty of breaking up a real marriage, and either does penance, or is under an impediment to future marriages on account of the adultery" one? To me, it's pretty obvious which of these interpretations is more just to the victimized party, not to mention less delusional about the reality of what happened, and less delusional about the prospects of a marriage to a former mistress...


Radical trad and conservative Catholics are frustrating sometimes. For example, this was recently featured at Rorate Caeli with the implied insinuation that this was somehow a "Vatican II moment" involving yet another prominent hierarch, a cardinal even, advocating heresy or something not in keeping with the Faith:

The Church must rethink its approach to remarried divorcees and gay relationships, the world's youngest cardinal has said.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, 55, made his comments in an interview with the German weekly Die Zeit and said that while the Orthodox Church considers only the first marriage sacramentally valid, divorce and a second marriage is tolerated.

Asked whether this could be a model for the Catholic Church, he replied that the Church should talk about it. Commenting on gay men in relationships he said he tried not to see them as just violating natural law but as people trying to take responsibility for each other in lasting partnerships.

"We must find a way of allowing people to live without going against church teaching," he said.
The trads in the combox went crazy, of course.

When I tried to comment, my comments were never approved.

Specifically, I made two points. The first was sharing the idea I have written about here before about how Catholic and Orthodox approaches to marriage can be reconciled

Some Catholics think, "Well, it's easy enough, we just need to recognize Orthodox 'divorces' as equivalent to an annulment granted by the bishop. There's no need to require the legalistic bureaucratic Western canonical process." But, as I explained, it's a little more complicated by that. The Orthodox are disturbed by the notion inherent in the annulment mentality that "nothing actually happened" if the first marriage is annulled. As if it was all just unintentional fornication. No, they say, the first marriage needs to be recognized as a real human relationship that tragically broke down due to sin.

The problem seems to lie in the Western "all or nothing" notion that, between two baptized parties, a marriage is either the Sacrament or it's Nothing At All, merely "putative." I've suggested that this may not, in fact, be dogma (though Ott suggests it is) but rather a Western canonical situation that is unessential. Perhaps two Christians can, in fact, contract a natural but non-Sacrament marriage. There are some other caveats that would have to go along with this (such as the sinfulness of two baptized parties contracting a "merely" natural marriage on purpose and a corresponding obligation to convalidate as soon as possible), but if annulled marriages could be recognized as having been valid natural marriages, even "sacramentals," then the Orthodox "penitential" approach to subsequent marriages might be more intelligible and they, on their part, might be more willing to admit the "annulment" idea at least relative to the Western definition of what constitutes a Sacrament strictly-speaking.

The second point I tried to make, however, more importantly, was that the Cardinal doesn't seem to be approving of sin here. He doesn't seem to be talking about altering Church teaching on adultery or sodomy, and in fact makes that very clear in the last line. I think, instead, he is getting at the same thing Cardinal Schonborn has tried to get at (though Schonborn did so a little more sloppily, I think). Namely: we have to figure out a (non-scandalous) way to recognize the validity of human relationships, even if we can't, of course, validate the sin any such relationship may contain (and what relationship doesn't?)

That's all I said. I don't know why Rorate found that so controversial.

However, I'll say a bit more here. I've written about this before rather recently. The "living in sin" notion really doesn't make much sense. People sin or they don't; there aren't two tiers of sinners. Acts are sinful, human relationships are not (though they may be marred or deformed to different degrees by sin.) For most divorced and remarried couples, or cohabiting couples, or gay couples, sex acts (if they take place) are not the basis of their relationship. As someone on a comment I read once said, you don't need to get married or move in together to have sex! Frankly, you don't need any sort of committed or long-term relationship, period; you need twenty minutes...

No, when people make that commitment, it's not about sex. Sex may or may not be taking place (in our culture, it's probably likely) but if it is, it's a separate question that should be dealt with as individual acts just like all other sins. I mean, we don't generally construct a man who lives by himself and happens to masturbate sometimes as "living in sin with himself" as if that's the basis of his "lifestyle" after all. No, it's something abstractable. He shouldn't receive communion until he's been to confession, of course, and made a contrite resolve to stop (even if he knows, given his own patterns, that it is likely he'll fall again if he is being honest). But generally we don't require "humanly impossible absolute guarantees of an irreproachable future conduct."

But then for divorced and remarried couples, cohabiting unmarried couples, and gay couples...we have this double standard, as if it is the relationship itself that is the problem, and not merely the acts which may (or may not) be going on in private. The relationship itself is, even, treated as public "proof" or equivalent to the private acts and so conservatives will often advocate for denying these people communion (even though plenty of married couples use contraception privately and then still take communion; they shouldn't either, of course, but the point is the double standard).

This attitude needs to change. I think this is what Cardinals Woelki and Schonborn are talking about. Human committed relationships need to be affirmed and validated in a manner that constructs them as separate from whatever sin they may contain, abstracted from it and redeemable in spite of it.

The Church already has some precedent for this regarding the divorced and remarried, as I've said before: these couples are allowed (especially if it is a question of young children involved) to live "as brother and sister." This is considered a morally permissible option if occasion of sin can be mitigated, and they are then invited to confess and resume taking communion (though, I'd point out: who is ever going to know what's really going on behind closed doors? But also, on the other hand: who are we to ever make any assumptions??) However, there is still an unease about this situation, as if it's something to be tolerated but not celebrated. But especially if we are imagining sin has ceased, what's wrong? Surely the first divorce is tragic, but is this human relationship bad? The same question can be asked for homosexual couples, etc.

I don't see this happening for some time (though, the sooner the Church gets around to it, the less credibility we'll lose!) but I would even suggest, then, implementing some sort of Church recognition of these relationships (even while making the moral expectations regarding chastity very clear). If a married couple can "live as brother and sister," then perhaps the Church should implement a sacramental to bless this, a sort of "adopted siblinghood" (or, perhaps, more like "step-siblinghood," to avoid the notion of the taboo of incest if the two do fall into sin together.) The same could be done for gay couples; recognize "adopted brotherhood" or "spiritual sisterhood" or whatever. In fact, rituals of fraternatio or adelphopoiesis existed in the Church in the past, and still find some practice in the Eastern churches.

This sort of brother-making (or sister-making, or sibling-making) was not and is not marriage, at least not in the traditional Christian sense of the word (Boswell is wildly incorrect there). But, as I've said before, "marriage" is just a word, and which aspect of relationships are being primarily emphasized or described by it is subject to linguistic usage. (Indeed, nowadays, when a man asks a woman to marry him, is the emotional essence of that statement "be the mother of my children?" even if that is also implied, or is it "spend your life and find your home with me?" There's a good case to be made that, nowadays, people emphasize the life-partner aspect of marriage as essential, and as such it makes sense that other non-mating couples would want the same recognition). 

As such, though it would not be Holy Matrimony in the Catholic understanding, I would not think contracting civil marriage for legal purposes would be intrinsically immoral or unethical for such couples, as a way to establish their kinship legally, though (with the Scottish Christian Party) I'd rather prefer Civil Partnerships legislation that takes "the criteria [...] out of the bedroom and into the living room - sexuality should play no role because it discriminates against these other partnerships."

The point is, the Church could recognize (and not just in toleration, but in celebration) human committed relationships and partnerships without implying any sort of recognition for the sin they may (or may not!) contain. A re-sourcing of rituals of brother-making could be established as sacramentals to explicitly recognize the "brother-sister" relationships (already a model offered to them by the Church sometimes) of the divorced and civilly remarried, or of homosexual partners, and (like actual siblings) the benefit of the doubt could be given publicly regarding their chastity (which would in reality remain a matter between the couple and their confessors or spiritual directors and God). 

In fact, if the Church offered this sort of model (even if some would be inclined to call it a fig-leaf), perhaps people would find chastity more appealing or not feel as if unchastity was required for them to not be alone in life, and provide an understanding or model of life-partnership that was not constructed as necessarily sexualized or "matrimonial" (ie, taking heterosexual mating as its primary analogy, as most such relationships do currently, merely since that is the only model we currently have for companionate relationships or domestic partnerships).

However, given what I see on Rorate Caeli and other conservative and traditional Catholic forums online...I sadly think it will be a long time before anything like this is officially recognize or implemented, if ever, and we're going to wind up driving a lot of people away because of it. 

However, even if there is no formal Church recognition, I'd encourage individual Catholics to treat couples they know in such situations with this sort of compassion and benefit-of-the-doubt giving, recognizing and affirming and validating their relationships in spite of whatever sin might happen to take place sometimes (since the relationship cannot be reduced to that as if it is the essence). 

And I'd extend my support to any such couples who decide to forge ahead (hopefully striving for chastity; though even if not, as I've said, that still doesn't invalidate the relationship), encouraging them to express their commitment before God in whatever way they can find (we should remember that canon law already recognizes private vows undertaken for any just cause, and that there are already all sorts of generic blessings), protecting themselves legally in whatever way they need to (not worrying about semantics), and to remain witnesses in the Church (with whatever level of discretion they feel is appropriate) to the goodness, regardless of any marring by sin, which is to be found in all human love and relationship.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Free At Last!

Here's to blotting toxic, immature, and abusive people out of the book of life!