Monthly Archives: August 2015

Grace to the Humble

Pride believes it can change the world through sheer force of will, and is crippled with despair when the world proves too big to lift. Cleverness searches for angles and levers, and is crippled with despair when the ground shifts and the fulcrum breaks.

Humility knows it is a creature, and is not free to change the Creator’s will in the world. Humility knows it is a creature, and is free to cooperate in the Creation and Redemption of the whole humane cosmos, or to join those whose Pride and Cleverness bind them in self-destruction, at so great a cost.

Humility is therefore bold where Pride and Cleverness are tongue-tied.

(source: Pride believes–Peter Gordon Epps)

This Non Nobis from Henry V is, by the way, one of the finest moments in culture from the past half-century.

“Imagine” (a conversation poem)

Imagine a very field of wheat that cannot die;
where elephants do not lay down their heads,
or trumpet last, or feast the jackals;
life causing endlessly, effects of life, and on
and on
and on except the wheat has blighted, and you cannot eat;
the elephants are mad with parasites, their rheumy eyes
nagged at by growing swarms of deathless flies,
and we the jackals.
we die.

…in conversation with Philip Irving Mitchell (and a fig for Lennon)

(source: Imagine–Peter Gordon Epps)

My Thoughts Exactly, Sir!

Carl Trueman states as tidily as anyone could ask one of the intractable problems of American conservative evangelicalism which set me looking for a Church that could actually claim to be the heir to the promise that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it”–the problem of evangelicalism’s utter incoherence when it came to institutionalizing the faith:

This points to a wider problem which evangelicalism looks set to face in the very near future. It implicitly assumes too much and explicitly states too little. Roman Catholics have their Catechism, confessional Lutherans have their Book of Concord and Presbyterians have the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Evangelicals often have at best very minimal doctrinal statements and a range of other, often confessionally unstated, cultural concerns which guide policy.  These brief statements of faith and ‘shadow confessions’ are wholly inadequate to handle the coming cultural storm or indeed to guide day-to-day catechesis within the churches themselves.  They also mean that the ‘gospel’ can tend to operate as a useful means for justifying any distinctive stand which evangelicals care to take.

This problem is both theological and cultural. Theologically, it will not be solved by the simple addition of a clause on marriage to such statements. The Christian understanding of marriage rests upon a whole complex of other doctrines, from creation to Christology to anthropology to eschatology. For a confessional statement on marriage to be coherent, the confession must also address all of these other topics.

(source: The Problem of Evangelicalism’s Unstated Confessions–First Things)

Evangelicalism can remain true to its critique of the Church’s historical institutionalization and continue to form “associations” and schools which by their very nature resist correction from doctrinal or ecclesial authority; or it can try to re-invent the Catholic Church piecemeal.

I tired of trying to re-invent the Catholic Church within American conservative evangelicalism, and decided to join the one Jesus founded, instead.

Whatever my brothers and sisters in evangelicalism choose, I wish them well.

And I look forward to the day when the whole Church praises God as One, the way Jesus intended.

from the Honey-Sweet Doctor

3. His teaching was drawn, almost exclusively, from the pages of Sacred Scripture and from the Fathers, which he had at hand day and night in his profound meditations: and not from the subtle reasonings of dialecticians and philosophers, which, on more than one occasion, he clearly held in low esteem. It should be remarked that he does not reject that human philosophy which is genuine philosophy, namely, that which leads to God, to right living, and to Christian wisdom. Rather does he repudiate that philosophy which, by recourse to empty wordiness and clever quibbling, is overweening enough to climb to divine heights and to delve into all the secrets of God, with the result that, as often happened in those days, it did harm to the integrity of faith and, sad to say, fell into heresy.

4. “Do you see . . .” he wrote, “how St. Paul the Apostle (I Cor. viii, 2), makes the fruit and the utility of knowledge consist in the way we know? What is meant by ‘the way we know’? Is it not simply this, that you should recognize in what order, with what application, for what purpose and what things you should know? In what order – that you may first learn what is more conducive to salvation; with what zeal – that you may learn with deeper conviction what moves you to more ardent love; for what purpose – that you may not learn for vain glory, curiosity, or anything of the kind, but only for your own edification and that of your neighbor. For there are some who want knowledge for the sole purpose of knowing, and this is unseemly curiosity. And there are some who seek knowledge in order to be known themselves; and this is unseemly vanity . . . and there are also those who seek knowledge in order to sell their knowledge, for example, for money or for honors; and this is unseemly quest for gain. But there are also those who seek knowledge in order to edify, and this is charity. And there are those who seek knowledge in order to be edified, and this is prudence.”

(source: Doctor Mellifluus (May 24, 1953) | PIUS XII)

St. Bernard de Clairvaux

I think it worth mentioning that St. Bernard de Clairvaux was renowned for aggressively preaching down the heresies of particular philosophical innovators against sound teaching, and lived well before the renewal of Christian philosophy by St. Dominic and St. Thomas Aquinas. Opposing Abelard alone would make St. Bernard a hero of the faith, but that he also embraced Peter Lombard, whose Sentences became the de facto standard theology work for generations, and opposed Arnold of Brescia, Peter de Bruys, and Henry de Lausanne–this makes him an almost epochal anticipation of everything that would be so badly damaged in the next five centuries, and an anticipation of what is most fundamental in the sacra doctrina of Aquinas among the Dominicans.

Do Not Be Afraid, and Do Not Be Deceived

A friend is thinking out loud about what exactly is right and wrong, in the complex racket Planned Parenthood and StemExpress and their ilk make their living at:

Consider this scenario: Bill and Susan Jones are driving their 8-year-old son, Tommy, to his soccer game. Susan is pregnant. Suddenly, a drunken driver plows into the side of the Jones car. Tommy is killed. Susan suffers a miscarriage. In the hospital, after many tears and prayers with their minister, the couple agrees to donate Tommy’s heart, lungs, kidneys and eyes to suffering children. Then, after many more tears and many more prayers, Bill and Susan agree to donate the fetal tissue from their unborn child—a child they very much wanted—to medical research.

(source: Don’t be so afraid of science–News OK)

What, he asks, is it that we object to, if both of these can save lives?

This is a good question, especially in light of CCC 2296.

My answer:

Well, there’s “science” and then there’s disrespect for humans and their bodies. As a culture, we have travelled a long way down a road that will not hear any serious discussion of the difference between those two things. Yes, it is possible for me to obligate myself to work for someone–but can I obligate myself to use my body *any* way that person wants? Can I sell my right arm to pay the bills?

The ideas that my body parts are property, and that property can be bought and sold by anybody whose claim to title over that property is not contested, are related and dangerous errors. When they are combined–when Planned Parenthood’s murder-for-hire operation crosses yet *another* line and so displays its obvious mercenary interest in keeping vulnerable women weak and panicky, and politicians and citizens too afraid to criticize the slaughter of innocents–then we have something we really *must* point out.

Offering my tissue and organs to save the life of a vulnerable person surely expresses some real virtues of courage and sacrifice. Taking the body parts of slaughtered babies and trafficking them for negotiated fees is not even similar to this, morally. It is abhorrent, and if we refuse to see it, we are no different from the Germans in 1930.

In our culture, we will not listen to serious *reasons* that the treating of bodies as property, and property as always subject to morally neutral exchange, is bad; so we are left stirring up honest and realistic feelings of revulsion that common people have. It’s not the way we should prefer to do things, but until reason has a public voice again, we have no choice but to publicize and accentuate the moments when people finally notice the stark contrasts between glorious, joyful, life-giving truth and the horrible, hidden, death-dealing lies our mass-market democracy insists we tell in order to keep everybody comfortable.

Let me add a final note:

It is important to remember that there are always justifications offered for evil, and they are always plausible within the culture.  That is why the evil can happen.

the lie the Germans believed

Neither Confusing Nor Separating Marriage and its Consequents, Civil and Ecclesial

tarnished ring

This is an important and helpful article, but perhaps the most important part here is a simple observation about the very serious error made by those who are attempting to innovate against the Church’s stable and secure teaching on marriage:

As we have seen, by insisting that a person having contracted a valid canonical marriage can civilly contract a second marriage, rightly so called, with someone else, Schockenhoff explicitly denies premise (2). While for him, one cannot be canonically married to two people, one can be simultaneously married to two people in two different ways: canonically in the one case and civilly in the other.

(source: Why the German Bishops are Wrong about Abstinence for “Remarried” Catholics | Catholic World Report – Global Church news and views)

This is incredibly important because it underlines how misguided it is for those who oppose the regime’s use of force to mandate lies about “marriages” between those fundamentally incapable of marriage (like those already married, whatever papers some bureaucrat may have in a file box, or same-sex couples, or those who have mutilated themselves to become sterile) to proceed by insisting that “marriage” be henceforward bifurcated.  As natural marriage is, in fact, marriage, however first attested, it will always be necessary for the Church to account for the public meaning of “marriage,” because there can be no coherent differentiation of the two.  Certainly, the Church must tell the regime that is has lied in its paperwork, and must tell all people not to become complicit in this lie–but it cannot do this by permitting a bifurcation of one reality into two putative “marriages” that must, always, in each case, be resolved into one thing, whether reality or delusion.

I tackled this in my responses to the 2015 Survey, especially at some length in response to question 23.

It Is Later Than You Think

In light of recent events, I keep reverting to something I said months ago, referencing a strong conviction that has been growing stronger since my days in Europe as the graduate assistant for Baylor’s Study Abroad program in Maastricht–a thought that took concrete form when that group of mostly pre-med students toured the medical history museum at the Charite in Berlin, where the likes of Virchow worked:  

More empirical facts are better than fewer, but they are not a good apart from and incommensurable with other goods, such as the respect for the integrity of human bodies that should have prevented a science from founding itself on stolen corpses and bodies in Bell jars.

(source: Et Seq. | Hang Together)

It is no accident that opposition to the authoritative revelation of the creaturely nature of humans and anti-human views of science are routinely found together:

As Matyssek makes clear, Virchow’s interest in promoting science among the lay public stemmed in large part from his well-known support for the Kulturkampf. Although the museum itself was founded after the Kulturkampf, Virchow himself adhered to his suspicion of “ultramontanism.” While Virchow and others regarded the Kulturkampf as a struggle for science and “Kultur” (what we would today call civilization) against the influence of Catholicism in public life, the struggle was neither religiously nor ethnically neutral. Indeed, the Kulturkampf was often explicitly anti-Polish and, as Michael Gross has shown, liberal Jews also worried about an easy slide from anti-Catholicism to anti-Semitism.[1] While Virchow himself described the Kulturkampf in the language of science versus religion, it was, in fact, as much about enforcing religious conformism as about secularization.

(source: H-Net Reviews)

It is vital that you understand that there are entire classes of people, at all strata from the wage-slave to the well-funded, from the beaten-down lab tech to the people who run the Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation and their cronies, who have for generations been trained to view humans like this:

…and when they awaken, they haltingly admit what has troubled their dreams, like this:

It is up to us to witness the evil, and to bear witness to the truth about Creator and creature; to listen, and to speak, and to act.

Let us find a way to act, decisively, now. (Here’s a start.)

Can we be Ignorant of the Natural Law?

I answer that, As stated above, there belong to the natural law, first, certain most general precepts, that are known to all; and secondly, certain secondary and more detailed precepts, which are, as it were, conclusions following closely from first principles. As to those general principles, the natural law, in the abstract, can nowise be blotted out from men’s hearts. But it is blotted out in the case of a particular action, in so far as reason is hindered from applying the general principle to a particular point of practice, on account of concupiscence or some other passion, as stated above. But as to the other, i.e. the secondary precepts, the natural law can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions, just as in speculative matters errors occur in respect of necessary conclusions; or by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among some men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states (Rom. i), were not esteemed sinful.

(source: Summa Theologica)

More Than This

If Nietzsche is the most eloquent and obvious evangelist of self-deification and immoralism and aestheticism, he was only one of the many nineteenth- and twentieth-century atheistic “masters of suspicion,” grandchildren of the philosophes, who saw the “death of God” as the means of human “liberation,” however differently conceived or defined. “Honor, power, wealth, fame, and the love of women—the aims of life,” wrote Freud; and the aristocratic Nietzschean contempt that he meant by “honor” might be detected in his remark to the Rev. Oskar Pfister: “I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or none at all.”

But an even more powerful psychologist, and a great perennial adversary of atheism and immoralism, is Dostoevsky. He understood, and profoundly and unforgettably depicts, the atheistic self “beyond good and evil,” who oscillates, like Nietzsche, between joy and despair at his liberation from ethics. With insight so profound as to be foresight, the prophet Dostoevsky foresaw with uncanny accuracy the modern consequences of the “drama of atheist humanism.” Thus Mussolini and Hitler drank at Nietzsche’s well, and the brilliantly feckless Marxist/Existentialist J. P. Sartre wrote that “man is the being whose project is to be God” and that “human effort is the pure effort to become God.” A century after the death of Marx and the passing of Nietzsche’s sanity, their atheistic liberation programs have left a world littered with corpses, slaves, and simple or sophisticated immoralists.

(source: Solzhenitsyn and Modern Literature by M. D. Aeschliman)

See also this infographic, for scale.

Answers to a Survey on the Family–part 14

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.

The last two answers to be reproduced here!

41. How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies? What are the responses that, in light of cultural sensitivities, are considered to be most appropriate? While avoiding any unjust discrimination, how can such persons receive pastoral care in these situations in light of the Gospel? How can God’s will be proposed to them in their situation?

Experiencing same-sex attraction is a special case of the problem of chastity in a hypersexualized culture; it is not an essentially different problem, as a male and a female are still just that. What makes it a special case is the unlikelihood of successfully forming a family or freely choosing a celibate vocation—and for this reason, it is unusually likely that the person who experiences same-sex attraction will be severely tempted to despair. Inclusion among faithful families, particularly inclusion along with other singles and with celibates, will alleviate that despair. When the temptation to despair is daily resisted, the grace to practice chastity will be strengthened—and with the growth of the virtue of chastity, the overmastering nature of sexual desire and especially the influence of a hypersexualized culture should become less evident. In time, the freedom from a mistaken reduction of humanity to sexual experience should be discovered—and in some, this will be a more definite and glorious liberation to serve than even many married people will ever achieve; for some, it will mean a discovery that they were not born to be defined and limited by sexual desire, but to depend more fully on God’s grace and grow to serve Him in freedom. Those who have achieved that freedom—who are free from “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” according to those who know them well and those with expertise in spiritual formation under difficult circumstances—may well make first-rate clergy or members of religious institutes.

42. What are the most significant steps that have been taken to announce and effectively promote the beauty and dignity of becoming a mother or father, in light, for example, of Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI? How can dialogue be promoted with the sciences and biomedical technologies in a way that respects the human ecology of reproduction?

I don’t know, but I know that honest appraisal of the real empirical evidence in the hard sciences—not the routine statistical conflation of various nominal essences in the “soft sciences,” and not the popularizing ideological nonsense routinely touted as “science” in public discourse—yields many confirmations of what reason has long declared, and revelation more fully explained, about human growth and development. We have never been so well positioned to declare that a human being, “from conception to natural death,” is at all times a rational soul endowed with a unique creaturely dignity characterized by moral freedom that demands a just social order open to authentic spiritual formation and not closed against the prerogatives of revealed religion.