Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Problem with Popular Sovereignty, Times a Continent

The problem is that any non-centralized system will always have some cases that don’t get covered, certainly not immediately and reliably, and doing something effective about those cases seems morally necessary. They are instances of marginalization, so it seems we ought to put them at the center of attention. And given current assumptions about agency and rational action, that means moving toward universal direct government responsibility for everything.

Rejecting that result means rejecting the democratic logic that government acts are our acts, and the technocratic logic that factory-style organization is the way to make sure things happen reliably. That seems possible as a rational matter. A society as big and complex as the United States can’t possibly be run democratically in any sense strong enough to justify identifying acts of the government with acts of the people. And even if it could, the acts wouldn’t be acts of anyone in particular, so they wouldn’t discharge the obligation of Catholics to act justly and charitably.

(source: Catholics and the Administered Society | Catholic World Report – Global Church news and views)

A worthy analysis of the difficulties of balancing Catholic concern for a just social order with the dysfunctions of late capitalism and mass-market democracy.

Varying Perspectives on “the Benedict Option”

For my Christian friends on FB, what do you think about the “Benedict Option”? Is this the best way for us to operate in America in the coming future? (BTW, I’m not at all interested in ranting about the recent SCOTUS decision. I’m not convinced that it’s terribly productive to do so on social media. I have a few trusted friends that I’ve argued and discussed with, and that’s been far harder work than I imagined, so let’s keep it productive.)

(source: (1) For my Christian friends on FB, what do you… – Philip Irving Mitchell)

Dr. Mitchell–Phil–is prompted to pose this question by these comments from Baylor colleague Thomas Kidd, a Baptist historian:

Still, I am convinced by Dreher’s analysis – and really, I don’t think there’s any other option for traditional Christians but the Benedict path. Christian homes, schools, and churches have always been counter-cultural outposts. De jure and de facto forms of Christian establishments have sometimes blurred that counter-cultural reality, usually to the detriment of Christian integrity. But we Christians are now placed in a deeply oppositional position vis a vis elite American political, business, and entertainment culture. Taking the Benedict Option, in most cases, just equates to Christian discipleship in our cultural moment.

(source: Should Evangelicals Embrace the “Benedict Option”?)

Now, Dr. Kidd and I are analyzing much of this history differently–I think there is a sound rationale for the building of durable cultural institutions with legal protection, including Church and family, where Dr. Kidd appears to think that these realities should exist among persuaded individuals only, with only individual persuasion being protected legally.

Nonetheless, both Dr. Kidd and I are converging on a response that many people are. My comment follows:

I am probably functionally on this path [something like the “Benedict Option”], and Kidd’s reduction of Dreher’s concept is pretty similar. I advocate that we tighten our “internal lines” of communication, sharing, neighborhood-building, so as to provide spiritual and material support to Church and family with or without the cooperation of the regime. In terms of family, that means holding up the intergenerational (extended, co-located) family and its embedding in such a community (co-locating in a parish) as well as its being intact (all children living with both mother and father).

In terms of Church, this means tightening up the teaching and discipline internally, while also working to connect families *as families* and intentionally attach individuals not organically connected to those families to family and household groups.

At the same time, both our families and our parishes need to become ever more adept at showing hospitality and generosity to all comers; the skill comes in doing so without imposing implicit conditions, on the one hand, or pretending our goals and methods are generic rather than specifically Christian, on the other.

Christians in business will have to become more devoted to specifically Christian goals and methods, also, or have their methods dictated to them by a totalitarian regime.

Where I probably do not wholly follow the “Benedict Option” (aside from its worrying lack of definition and its confusion over the nature and role of the monastic Rule) is in the idea of a pre-emptive and/or rhetorical retreat from the political. This just seems like repackaged Quietism which uses “politics is downstream from culture” as a rebuttal, to me.

Christians who make a living in the world, who rear families in the world, who try to build neighborhoods and buttress and institutionalize the True, Good, and Beautiful in civil society, need legal and police protection. They may have to do without it, and we should be preparing each other for that possibility. But they should not do without it in principle, certainly not on the basis of fallible predictions about the future.

There is an undercurrent of fatalism, or at least of historical determinism, about these predictions; it seems essential to me that we not take counsel of despair, but rather commit ourselves to resist while there is hope, as long as there is hope.

There is hope while there are those willing to be martyrs rather than comply, because there is ALWAYS hope beyond this life for those who surrender it to Christ.

On Love and Betrayal

Love, when betrayed, keeps on loving.

(source: (1) Love, when betrayed, keeps on loving. – Philip Irving Mitchell)

A friend and highly esteemed colleague has been posting a series of meditations on the character of Love, a way of re-calibrating thoughts in a time of trouble.

This one required a slightly longer reflection on my part, so it seemed worth reposting here:

Here we are going to have to parse meanings of “love.” Right?

Engaged persons should certainly be the sort who love each other in a fairly committed manner–else the wedding planning seems rather out of place. And yet, in a case that adds up to “betrayal,” it is hard for me to think that one would recommend continuing in the form of love, the relationship, the bond not yet rendered indissoluble, that is an engagement to be wed.

Here, we would encounter several paths. The betrayer may well be proving that real charity, the bond most fully realized in the bond between God and His People and most plainly manifest between husband and wife, is essentially a state including two people and not an act arising in one. (There is a Trinitarian matter, here, and also a Creator/creature one, to be sifted.) No amount of wanting-to-love from one creature to another (at least) makes up for a lack of mutual disposition to friendship.

Also, we may be encountering a conflict of levels of human loving–the betrayer may be functioning on a lower level, for example. Possibly both have not yet realized a level of love appropriate to their relationship, and the betrayal proves this. Also, it is possible that charity may require abandoning one bond of love in order to realize love more perfectly–the betrayal may demonstrate that this love is not proper to this pair, and one or both may respond by abandoning that love for a more perfect charity.

Finally, there is the question of whether “love” is a durable bond in all uses–even all common and intense uses. After all, many things we “love” are not really capable of the mutuality required for charity, for true friendship. In this category I would include one’s nation-state, which unlike a family or neighborhood is not really the sort of thing one can have a durable bond of love with.

We may have a strong sort of attachment and well-wishing, but when betrayal becomes routine, we should probably prefer charity to dysfunctional “love” in inappropriate pairings.

Answers to a Survey on the Family–part 10

In early 2015, our Archdiocese like many others was offered a 47-question open-ended survey in order to gather information about what people throughout the world understand about the Church’s teaching, her pastoral practice, current conditions, and the reality of marriage and family life.  The survey was probably a poor translation, and the questions were ill-structured, so I ended up writing about 15,500 words in the one week window for completing it.  I have chosen to share a few of these, here, as well, for your comments.  I will quote the question, and what follows is my answer.  I have edited the answers slightly for brevity, politeness, and clarity.

21. How can people be helped to understand that no one is beyond the mercy of God? How can this truth be expressed in the Church’s pastoral activity towards families, especially those which are wounded and fragile? (cf. n. 28)

“Do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” St. Paul’s opening discourse in the Epistle to the Romans, especially ch. 2 vv. 1-11, is uniquely appropriate to this conversation; it addresses both the unjustly judgmental and the selfishly “merciful” in one sin-crushing call to repentance and conversion. Gossip and sexual perversity, slander and slaughter, are alike included in the list of sins manifesting the wickedness pervasive in human hearts and human culture. All who recognize some acts as evil, as offenses against a culture-transcending and non-situationally-bounded norm, as personally repugnant to reasonable people and a just God, are bound to admit that they too have committed such acts. In the face of such universal condemnation, we cannot justify ourselves by our innocence of the crimes of others; we cannot shape civil laws so as to incriminate only those who do not share our preferred mix of virtues or vices.

Our only justification is found in our surrender to Christ, our submission to His Church as the conduit of His grace, our love for His Mother as the vessel of His Incarnation; we will never be justified by our own doing, unaided, nor will we be justified by our own delusion, vindicated by being “on the right side of history” or otherwise relatively triumphant or dominant in our transient day. The Church, to whom we have been entrusted by Christ, to whom Christ has entrusted Himself in the Eucharist and His Word in the Gospel, should be clear that we are all sinners, all in need of grace which follows from repentance and becomes evident in conversion; we should never tire of declaring, in the words of a song whose Protestant author likely believed they were contrary to Catholic doctrine, that

I’m only a sinner, saved by grace!
This be my story, to God be the glory,
I’m only a sinner, saved by grace!

But if we are being saved by grace, then we are being transformed by grace, not left to our misery and sin, our self-justifications and our rationalizations, our hostility against hard and healing truths, our rejection of goods harder and more worthwhile than our little pieces of the good. If we are being saved by grace, we will think of substantial beauty rather than of consumptive passions or consumer pleasures.

The more “wounded and fragile,” the more they must be included in our hospitable and generous attachment of those who do not enjoy the blessings of family. Some will be best attached to mentoring couples past parenting age, who often make excellent “surrogate families” for the unattached and damaged. I can personally attest to the healing power of more than one couple who took me “under the wing,” bought and cooked meals, helped me move, and found me avenues of participation in local Christian groups. I can personally attest to the value of spending time among young families and families with growing children, especially as a thirty-something single man in a strange place, an experience I repeated in several cities on two continents.

There is no substitute for honesty about our own struggles (Non Sum Dignus) and kind firmness about the call to repentance, but its necessary adjunct in the case of people seeking healing and re-introduction to the norms of “natural marriage” and family life as a preparation for life in the Church (and, if so called, the Sacrament of Matrimony) is a definite, promoted, supported involvement in the life of faithful families active in the Church.

Analogy of Breath

A fascinating hurricane of commentary broke out when the following colloquial and conversational expression of truth was dropped into a context full of ardent Biblicists.  There were accusations of heresy, calls to “get behind me,” and everything!  All based on concern that somehow this thought–that Jesus Christ is more fundamental to Christian faith than the Scriptures–meant an abandonment of the Scriptures tantamount to “calling Jesus Christ a liar.”

All that from such a simple, flawed, honest, basically truthful expression:

Yesterday I heard an individual say “One of the problems with Christians is that their faith is based on the Bible, and not on Jesus Christ.” Was very humbling.

(source: Jacob Pierce – Yesterday I heard a individual say “One of the…, slightly prettified)

To which I reply as follows:

Analogy. That’s the concept you’re missing.

Why can the Son of God be called the Word? Is it because the Father’s language turns into a Son? Of course not. It is because among the Trinity there is a constant sharing based not only in their being one God but also in that one God’s being three perfectly loving Persons, all distinct and all wholly given to each other.

That sharing, or “communication,” is the basis for our being created–created so that we can become the friends of God (heirs, lovers, children, “so that he might be the firstborn of many brethren”).

It is not by accident that the words of Scripture describe that creation as being done by words and also by the Word, and that God-breathed Scripture describes humans as animated by God’s breath.

Notice that parallel. “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” By that self-same Spirit who makes the love of Father and Son perfectly real, the authors of Scripture (men breathing the “breath of life” from God) penned what God intended (the Scriptures into which “God breathed”). Those men, of course, had after Adam all fallen, as have we all, into sin (“their foolish minds were darkened”), and yet by God’s sanctifying grace there were “holy men,” chosen and prepared, for that writing.

So God’s breath speaks us into existence, breathes into us to make us a “living soul,” restores us to the proper use of that life/breath, and in some cases makes it possible for someone to speak using that breath so perfectly that the written record of that utterance may be called “God breathed.”

And in no case is that a matter of “private interpretation”; for there is one Holy Spirit who moves all of these, and that means that there is no substantive contradiction in that diversity of witnesses.

But if that is the case, then there must be some whole, some unity, some total frame of reference to which all the words of God-breathed Scripture refer. And those words, breathed from God, cannot be God Himself, or the objects of true worship, even though they may be lifted up above all other things made of human breath partly seized, held, expelled in an effort to make believe it comes from me, not from God. (I can only breathe God’s air, but I can drown trying to breathe water in a fit of pique.) Those words must be a part of what God, who breathed the words of Creation, whose breath is God Himself, a “life-giving spirit,” intends to communicate.

But what is the whole of this communication? Surely it must be Jesus Christ Himself, to whom the Spirit points us, through whom we know the Father? And if the Holy Spirit is a whole Person who makes the love and wisdom between Father and Son manifest, who makes us able to participate in them, how could it be odd that the Son Himself should be a whole Person who makes the Father known, who shares Himself with us so that we can share the Father with Him?

We come to know the Word Christ because He became one of us–because He became human, became the kind of “living soul” whose breath comes from God, while being the very God who gave that breath! His words were immediately the words of God, yet those very words were, He claimed, given to Him by the Father! He spoke, and the voice of the Creator stilled storms, healed the sick, commanded demons, raised the dead, and even forgave sins! He prayed with breath just as dependent on the laws of creation as yours or mine (being “born of a woman, made under the law”) and in language as embedded in history and subject to interpretation as yours or mine; yet He spoke “with authority” so that “even the wind and seas obeyed Him” and so that the “little girl” did indeed “get up” and Mary Magdalene did recognize Him and Thomas believed!

This is analogy, then: the words of Scripture are the Word of God in a manner analogous to the way that the Person of the Son is the Word of God, because the same reality is intelligible in both, and yet one can be comprehended as a part of what in the other case is an incomprehensible whole.

You will not exhaust the Scriptures, for they speak of Christ. But you can definitely read all of them, surround them with commentary, memorize them cover-to-cover (if you are very capable and dedicated; I am not so). None of these things are true of the Son of God (in fact, “if all of them were written down, I do not suppose the whole world could contain the books that would be written”).

When we read the Scriptures, we must do so with due attention to what they say about their own role in our spiritual life. ALL of the Scriptures are breathed by God, and they are ALL profitable. But the whole of the Scriptures do not contain the whole of the Son of God, “but these were written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through His Name.”

We elevate the Scriptures above all other books because they are the fullest and most perfect written records of God’s breath perfectly animating holy men (and women, not forgetting Miriam and Deborah and Hannah and Mary!) to speak the truth about God; but we do not elevate them above Christ Himself.

(Indeed, we cannot; we will pervert them if we try.)

Learn the wisdom of analogy: the Bible is the very Word of God, written, but the written Word is written *about* the very Word of God, Himself, who is the Son of God, and very God of very God.