Saturday, November 20, 2010

Verbum Domini

Earlier this month the holy father released postsynodal apostolic exhortationVerbum Domini, the Word of the Lord.
Rome Reports explains, this is "the most important [Church] document on Scripture since Vatican II."
Carl Olsen of Ignatius Press describes why this is so.

Get it here at ZENIT or in Postscript format here from the Vatican website.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Intrinsic evil

So, in a social justice discussion with a very smart, but theologically mistaken friend I brought up the fact that abortion is intrinsically evil. His response was: Isn't not caring for the poor also an intrinsic evil? The answer is in short NO!
The term intrinsic evil is a technical term. It has a precise meaning which is based on the theology of sin.
Now for a Catholic there are three conditions which must apply for a sin to be a mortal sin. They are:
  1. The sin must involve a grave matter.
  2. The sin must be committed with the full knowledge of the sinner.
  3. The sin is committed with the full consent of the sinner.
So while cheating at chess might be a sin, it is likely not a mortal sin because it does not involve a grave matter.
The person must understand that the act is a sin. (This goes to another concept called vincible ignorance which I will not discuss here.)
The person must consent to the sin. A coerced act will not be a mortal sin.
It becomes obvious that many types of mortal sin are conditional. That is the conditions which surround the act determine whether or not it is a sin. When there is a disagreement about whether or not something is a sin and the Church has not taken a stance then the subject is said to be relegated to the prudential judgment of the faithful. The best way to fight poverty is a matter for prudential judgment, although there are methods, socialism, liberation justice methods and others which the Church has spoken out against due to their negative impact on human dignity.
There are a number of sins which the Church has declared are not open to prudential judgment. These acts are always sinful, irregardless of the situation. They are called intrinsically evil sins. The modern Church recognized five such classes of sins. Three of them have always been opposed by the Church from time immemorial. The other two are the fruits of modern science.
These sins are:
  1. Abortion.
  2. Euthanasia
  3. Support for the normalization of intrinsically disordered sexual licentiousness.
  4. Allowing innocent babies to be conceived for the purpose of scientific study or harvesting their parts, as in stem cell research.
  5. Manipulating human DNA for the purpose of "improving" or duplicating another human being, as in cloning.
These are acts which are unsupportable in Catholic social justice. This means that they are not subjects upon which we can "dialog" or compromise.
A Catholic politician can not support any law which support any of these acts, nor can the any member Catholic faithful vote for any politician who has voted for such a law without themselves committing a mortal sin. That is not my opinion, but the opinion of the Holy Father.
There are no other acts by such a politician, no stand on another issue that makes it alright to vote for such a politician.
Politics is call the art of the possible. It expects compromise might sometimes be necessary in order to reach certain goal. Vote for a bad policy so that a greater good can be achieved.
Salvation does not work like that. It is never permissible to support an elected official who supports an intrinsic evil.
Note this does not mean that it is alright to vote for an opposing politician who would support torture or unjust war or racism. These are acts which are not intrinsically evil, but which are also sins because they impinge on the fundamental dignity of the human person.
The right of a nation to employ capital punishment has always been supported by the church. The Holy Father has said that in modern western society he believes that the use of capital punishment is unnecessary. This is a prudential judgment, and as the Holy Father himself has said it is neither morally equivalent to abortion, nor is support for a candidate who supports capital punishment a sin.
This is not a political fact it is a theological fact.
Could it be then that there may be no candidate in an election for which a Catholic can morally vote. Indeed that can be the case.
If there are two candidates in a race, one of whom is committed to expanding and ensuring the right of abortion under all circumstances, and one of who is committed to reducing the number of abortions while maintaining the "right" of women to kill their unborn babies it is permissible to vote for the second candidate, provided the vote is in spite of their stand on abortion, rather than in support of it.
In an election in which one candidate is a supporter of abortion and the other a foe of abortion, but would support the use of torture, then the prudential Catholic could not, in good conscious, that is without sin, vote for either of the candidates.
If we compromise on evil we sin.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Now that the Holy Father's trip to Britain is several weeks done it is, perhaps, appropriate to review the trip in its entirety so as to aticipate it fruits. That it will have fruits I have no doubt. As Raymond Arroyo wrote:
In other words, the Pope sees his Anglican “fast pass” into the Catholic Church as the fruit of ecumenism — a chance for Anglicans to return to the faith of their fathers before the Reformation and to protect themselves from an insidious secularism that is plaguing society at large and their communion in particular.

With this understanding, the symbolic and stated message of Pope Benedict during his British sojourn comes into stark relief. His meeting with the Catholic and Anglican bishops at Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury for 800 years (the first 70 Archbishops of Canterbury were Catholics), his visit to Westminster Abbey (built by the Catholic king, Henry III and home to Benedictine monks until the Reformation), his moving speech at Westminster Hall (where Catholic martyrs Thomas More, Edmund Campion, Bishop John Fisher, and others were condemned to death for their refusal to disavow their faith), and finally his beatification of the 19th century Anglican convert to Catholicism, Blessed John Henry Newman suddenly all seems one piece. Benedict’s visit was a stand against relativism in the heart of Europe and a plea for Britain to return to herself — to return to her Catholic roots.
All of the Holy Father's speeches while in the UK, (and the speeches of others at each event) are available here. If you haven't heard or read them you should. He was at once orthodox and ecumenical. He gave away something for the cause of ecumenism, but gave away nothing which in any way was dogmatic or would compromise the Truth of which the Church is the guardian.
John Paul's visits to the United States produced many fruits, not he least of which were the strongly orthodox young priests often known as "John Paul priests." Benedict's visit to the U.S. has resulted in a wave of stronger public defenses of Catholic doctrine by American bishops, some who were not so anxious to speak out in the past.
One can only hope that a similar movement will be seen in Great Britain as a result of the Holy Father's visit.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Constantine and Modernism

In a discussion recently about liturgy I was faced with the opinion that during the times between the the time of the Church Fathers and the Middle Ages that the character of the Mass was perverted in the name of clericalism and elitism, primarily by the Roman Emperor Constantine with the collusion of the Pope, who was Sylvester I (and not actually in attendance.)

Constantine did this, the narrative goes because he was seeking to accumulate power, or at least consolidate his power over the Roman Empire. So the narrative goes the laity were excluded from the sanctuary and Latin was enshrined in the Mass in an effort to exercise control over the faithful.

This is not a new narrative. It has been used by Protestants for centuries. In the pre-Vatican II era it was picked up by dissident Catholic theologians and widely used to justify everything form the wreck-ovations of the churches to the army of laity who now minister at Mass.

I will start by stating that contemporary pagan and Christian authors laud Constantine. Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, and Church Father wrote a basically unfinished work on Constantine after his death, which was considered the standard on the Emperor's life until the Reformation, when later pagan sources were brought forward in an attempt to discredit him. They were written during the time of the Emperor Julian, called the apostate, who was a pagan and the last Emperor of Constantine's line. Modern secular interpretations of Constatine have ignored the contemporary sources and leaned heavily on the post reformation sources, in the interest of besmirching the Church, and traditional Catholic practices.
Certainly Constantine was interested in supporting orthodoxy, which was why he call for the First Council of Nicaea to deal with the Arian heresy. As far as I know, or have been able to find Nicaea had no role in liturgical practice at all, in either East or West (except for prohibiting kneeling during the consecration on Sundays and during the Pentecost season, and excepting the fact that the Creed was recited at Mass.)

As far as the use of Latin is concerned it was the vernacular for most of the western world until at least the 8th century. This is at least three hundred years after Constantine and Nicaea. Certainly Medieval Latin served the same purpose during the High Middle Ages as French did in the post Renaissance period and that English does today. For example English is used as the international language of pilots and air traffic control, as well as in the Mass in many countries where only a small number of people speak the local dialect, and for which no vernacular translation of the Mass exists. ( I should acknowledged that both Spanish and French perform the same funtion in regard to liturgy in differnet parts of the world.)
The Mass itself , as a sacrificial ritual, predates Constantine. We have records from as long ago as the second century, some written by Pope Clement I, who likely was alive during the time St. Peter and St. Paul were in Rome. Even the Didache describes liturgical worship. I would remind you that this document was unavailable to Renaissance writers and though found in 1873 was mostly ignored by modern historians unitl after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It's definitive origin in the late first century, contemporaneous with the Apostles and the early church was only widely accepted in the 1970s, after the changes in the liturgy which were implemented in the Post Vatican II era.
As for the use of Latin in the Mass this also pre-dated Constantine, probably dating from the middle of the third century. Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century, hundreds of years after Constantine made a major revision of the way the Mass was said, which was in Latin, at that time the vernacular. There were still many regional variations at this time. Charles the Great (Charlemagne), who conquered much of Western Europe during his life ordered that the Mass according to the Roman rite (that is the Mass as celebrated in Rome) be said throughout his realm. By this time the Romance Languages were developing and Latin was a distinct separate language. Spoken by most of the nobility for sure and in most places the only language which actually had a written form. It would be a hundred years or more later before the Romance languages were written and several hundred years later before languages outside of Southern Europe developed their own written language.
I think you can see how something which was ritualistic, like liturgy, that had a rhythm and cycle of readings required a language that not only could be written but was also commonly read in an international sense. Don't forget that for much of this period concepts of French or Italian or German as a national identity did not exists. At the same time there were areas of Europe that did not use the Roman rite. Ireland for example had its own rite, the Celtic rite, which lasted into the 12the century. It was also said in Latin, which was obviously not a vernacular language for that country, but considering that Ireland was Christianize by St Patrick, who was a British Roman I guess that use of Latin should not be surprising.

The narrative of the pre-Vatican II Mass as a exclusionary ritual where by the priest mumbled in Latin while the faithful, ignorant of what was happening, prayed rosaries is mis-guided simplification. The Latin responses were learned by eight year olds. I can attest to you that I certainly knew what Et cum spiritu tuo meant when I intoned it. In Europe and America Latin was taught in every Catholic high school and even many secular ones. I can attest to the fact my father who never never finished high school, could recite the standard prayers in both Latin and English, knew the Tridentine Mass probably better than most modern faithful know the Novus Ordo, and as an adult the Liturgy responses he no doubt learned as a boy. I don't doubt there were people who could not do this and did not understand what was happening at Mass. I would also maintain that many of the modern faithful have mastery of English ( or Spanish or French...) have no idea of what is happening at Mass. Indeed at a certain level no one truly knows, it is a mystery of faith, something we cannot know this side of death. The fact that they understand the words without grasping their meaning, or in many cases misunderstanding their meaning is not an improvement of the situation.
My last point is that the demonizing of Constantine by sources inside the Church as opposed to Protestants outside the Church is a something which has its roots in the mid twentieth century modernist movement. This is the same movement which used Vatican II's valid and specific documents as an excuse to do many things never called for by the council, one of which was the elimination of Latin as a liturgical language. The Vatican II document Sancrosanctum Concilium actually called for Latin to be retained in the Liturgy and required that the faithful (that's us) know all of the Propers of the Mass in Latin. It says:

1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.

As can be seen Vatican II called for the retention of Latin in the Mass. Whether its elimination is good or not is another discussion. But whether good or not its elimination was not called for by the council. Books written by people in the group who implemented that change admit that it was an action taken to make the Mass more appealing to Protestants, not an action to either improve the quality of Liturgical Worship nor to edify the sacrifice which is taking place therein.
At many places the sacrificial character of the Mass has been completely subsumed in a paradigm of communal meal, so much so that a good portion of the faithful in those places no longer believe in the Real Presence.

I have been very fortunate at my parish to always have a priest who is faithful to spirit of the liturgical celebration, and one who follows the rubrics and forms of the liturgical worship. Not every parish has been so fortunate, resulting in large numbers of faithful who are more ignorant what is happening at the Liturgy than ever existed when the Mass was said in Latin.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The narrow way

In 1534 John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester was arrested for refusing to swear to the Act of Supremacy. The Act was a law passed by parliament which required everyone to swear to its three clauses, which were: that any heir of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was a legitimate heir to the the throne of England, that the marriage between Henry and Catherine was null and void, irregardless of what the Church said, and that the Bishop of Rome (as the Pope was designated in the act had no more authority or power in England than any other bishop. This John Fisher could not do.
Thomas More, lawyer, former Speaker of the House of Commons, and Chancellor of Henry, also refused to sign the oath, and in 1534 he was also arrested.
It is said that both men arrived at the Tower of London, the place they would spend the rest of their lives, both being executed the next year, at the same time.
Looking at the tower's door Thomas said," My Lord I believe the door is wide enough for both of us."
John Fisher replied, "Thomas, it is narrow enough."
Of St. Thomas More in 1929 G.K. Chesterton said, "Blessed Thomas More is important today, but he is not as important now as he will be in one hundred years from today."
Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy sought to make the state supreme over the teachings of God. Of all of the bishops of England only St. John Fisher chose the narrow way of adherence to the Church over the state.
When he was to die St. Thomas More declared that he died, "the king's good servant and God's first," one among many who would be a martyr for following the path laid down by Christ against the power of the English state.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Marian Gifts: The Assumption

The Angels, both holy and fallen have preternatural gifts. They have abilities beyond those of mortals, gifts of God at their creation.
Adam and Eve were also graced with preternatural gifts at their creation, infused knowledge, immortality of the body and integrity.
Infused knowledge is the ability to recognize the providence of God. Immortality of the body means that the body is immune to disease, incorruptible of body. Integrity is the perfect obedience of emotions to the intellect, to the will. It is the absence of concupiscence, the inclination to sin, though not necessarily to external temptation, as is evident in Adam and Eve's fall to the temptation of the serpent.
These preternatural gifts were lost by our first parents when they committed original sin. No human through the long history of humanity have regain these gifts. Not even Christs death on the cross restored them the humanity. Except for one. Except for the one created without the stain of original sin. Except for Mary.
The knowledge of Mary's sinless nature was not something created by the medieval Church, it was a belief common among the faithful from the second century. It only logically follows that Mary would posses those gifts which were integral to our humanity prior to their loss due to sin.
Infused knowledge is the ability to recognize the providence of God. Mary realized the supernatural significance of things others did not, so as Scripture says she “pondered them in her heart,” and eventually revealed them to St. Luke, where he recorded them in his Gospel.
Integrity is the perfect obedience of emotions to the intellect, to the will. Mary was not troubled by concupiscence, she had not inclination to sin, though she was tempted by external temptation as are all members of the human race, as were Adam and Eve. But though she was tempted she did not sin, not even venial sins.
Finally, immortality of the body means she was not subject to disease. In a very real way her Ascension into Heaven was a result of her preternatural gift of bodily incorruptibility.
The supernatural gift lost by Adam and Eve was to be in Gods family, that is to be Full of Grace. This is a gift that God returned to us through Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism. It is the gift that Mary possessed without baptism, because of her Immaculate Conception.
None of these gifts were Mary's by virtue of any act that she committed. She did not earn them, no more than we can earn God's gift of salvation. They were Gift's of God to His Mother.
In a very real way Mary was part of God' plan from the beginning. She is prefigured in the Old Testament, her place in salvation history reflected in the Book of Kings and in Psalms, in the relationship of the King of Israel to the Queen Mother. She is the Queen in Ophir , the King's daughter, who will be the mother of the King, and whose sons will be the princes of the Earth, who the nations will praise forever.
Through God's gifts she, who was to remain a virgin, saved from the pain of labor, which was a punishment visited on Eve as a result of Original Sin, would have her heart pierced at the foot of the cross, she would never know the death of corruption of the body. She was the first to receive the gift of Her only Son's victory over death. the gift that we will receive at the Last Judgement.
In the Eastern Churches, including the Eastern Catholic Churches the Feast of the Assumption is celebrated as the Dormition of the Theotokos, that is the falling asleep of the Mother of God.

Monday, August 9, 2010

St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross

On this day in 1942, Edith Stein, along with her sister, Rosa were gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Stein was a member of the Discalced Camerlite monastery at Cologne. Her religious name was Teresia Benedicta of the Cross.
Born a Jew, she flirted with atheism as a teen but converted to Christianity. She was baptized a Roman Catholic in 1922. She was doctor of philosophy and a professor at Freinburg. She attributed her conversion to Catholicism to her reading of the autobiography of St Teresa of Avila.
In 1933 she wrote a letter to Pope Pius XI denouncing Germany's Nazi regime and asked to Pope to opening denounce them. that same year she entered the convent.
Because of her Jewish background her order transfered her to a monastery in the Netherlands.
In 1942, in the face of great acts of horror on the part of the Nazi regime the bishops of the Netherlands spoke out against them. The response was the arrest of all Jewish converts in the Netherlands and their shipment to Auschwitz. It is very indicative that these prisoners received no numbers. It was the obvious intent that they be executed immediately.
The situation of Edith Stein is a clear indication of what we can sometimes expect when the Church speaks out against evil in the world. It's lesson is not that the Church should not speak out against evil, but that we should be prepared to pay the price Our Lord paid for speaking out against the prince of the world and his minions. It is perhaps even a sign of what we can one day expect in our own lifetimes. It should be remembered that Henry VIII was declared "Defender of the Faith" by the Pope only years before he declared himself head of the Church of England and dissolved the monasteries, in the one of the greatest grabs of Church property in European history.
We may see it's like again.