Monthly Archives: October 2015

More Domini Canes, Please!

As a rule, I don’t go to the lapsed for my understanding of things Catholic, but in this case Rod Dreher has done yeoman’s work on the matter of the anti-Christian sentiments rife in much upper academia, including theological academia, and prominently including the doctoral programs of certain prominent Jesuit schools.  A case in point was one signatory of the recent, risible, even cute in its precious pique, letter attempting to silence Ross Douthat (who I only agree with when he’s right, so to speak):

She offered in public, for the public’s consideration (which is why you upload something to, a paper about reading Thomas Aquinas through the lens of gender theorist Judith Butler, and concluding that the Magisterium (the teaching authority of the Catholic Church) has misunderstood the medieval theologian, who actually would have considered homosexual acts to be morally licit. She posted a paper in which she lauds gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur as a “theologian.” And she posted a paper in which she contends that the Eucharist and Baptism, the two central sacraments of the Catholic faith, are fatally compromised by white supremacy, and that the Catholic Church can only find redemption if it begins lobbying the government to force white people to leave their homes.

(source: Why Study Academic Theology? | The American Conservative)

Later, he quotes extensively from his further correspondences with some theologians one might call orthodox, who refer to Benedict XVI’s account of the pulpit in the Cathedral at Troia, with its image of the faithful hound trying to fight off the roaring lion who is seeking to devour the lamb–the lambs being the Church, which as Christ is always sacrificed (but never subject to the devil) and as His flock is always at risk from the devil (but protected by Christ and His under-shepherds).  The faithful minister, and the faithful theologian, ought to be those sheepdogs.

Like the Order of Preachers, the Domini Canes of old, who are not incidentally the major contributors to the development of the modern university (and those among whom the Angelic Doctor was given to the world)–like those faithful hounds, we too must rise at the scent of lion’s musk and interpose ourselves before the faithful.  And we pray and call out for the Lord to send stronger protectors, not only sheepdogs but shepherds and undershepherds, in obedience to whom we may pour ourselves out in proclamation and defense of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

Anything else is infidelity, and should be plainly called so.  At the highest level of authority possible, with as systematic an inquiry as possible, as transparently and as publicly as possible.  Let the light shine.

quoth Pope Pius XI

Each individual marriage, inasmuch as it is a conjugal union of a particular man and woman, arises only from the free consent of each of the spouses; and this free act of the will, by which each party hands over and accepts those rights proper to the state of marriage, is so necessary to constitute true marriage that it cannot be supplied by any human power. This freedom, however, regards only the question whether the contracting parties really wish to enter upon matrimony or to marry this particular person; but the nature of matrimony is entirely independent of the free will of man, so that if one has once contracted matrimony he is thereby subject to its divinely made laws and its essential properties. For the Angelic Doctor, writing on conjugal honor and on the offspring which is the fruit of marriage, says: “These things are so contained in matrimony by the marriage pact itself that, if anything to the contrary were expressed in the consent which makes the marriage, it would not be a true marriage.”

(source: Marriage made by God – The Catholic Thing)

The Body cannot exist for the skeleton–nor thrive without it

The “frame of reference” for the mission of the Catholic Church has never, ever been the Code of Canon Law, and no canon lawyer I know of has ever, ever claimed otherwise. The “frame of reference” for the Catholic Church has always been, and has only been, Christ the Lord. For the cardinal archbishop of a major Western capital to talk as if the Code of Canon Law, for so much as one second, ever fancied itself as the “frame of reference” for the Catholic Church—well, it confirms the stranglehold that antinomian attitudes have secured over ecclesiastical thought in the space of one lifetime, to the point that today, many in the highest circles of ecclesiastical leadership can scarcely even talk about canon law without caricaturing it. But if Wuerl avoids offering some of the more insulting depictions of canon law and canon lawyers being tossed around recently, he nevertheless sees canon law largely as an obstacle to the saving truths proclaimed by Jesus and he gives urbane cover to others who find certain Gospel truths, as enunciated in concise legal terminology, too inconvenient.

(source: Canon law has never been ‘the frame of reference’…)

I’ll just say this: canon law has always seen itself in service to the Church, huge tracts of canon law rest directly on biblical foundations and doctrinal assertions made by the Magisterium over the centuries, canon law is always in need of reform (just ask any canon lawyer), and finally, that some people railing against canon law need to ask themselves whether it is law they don’t like, or the truths such laws defend.

(source: Canon law has never been ‘the frame of reference’…, emphasis added)

St. Jude Thaddeus, ora pro nobis

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.

(source: Jude RSVCE – Salutation – Jude, a servant of Jesus – Bible Gateway)

Why You Must Understand Analogy (or, the misrule of bad metaphors)

In an impassioned (and there’s part of the problem) post, today, that raises some good questions about our sense of priority–do we rule grace, or does grace rule us?–and profoundly conflates basic realities, while ignoring some fairly basic principles of reading and reasoning, Elizabeth Scalia (“the Anchoress”) ends up flatly contradicting rock-bottom authority on the subject of receiving the Eucharist:

What I understand today is that we are all deeply in need of medicine, and none of us can defile the purity that is Christ, nor can the Holy Eucharist defile any one of us.

(source: Synod Fathers, Fellow Catholics: Do We Still Not Understand?)

Compare the straightforward language that is, in a real sense, the very clearest and purest expression of ecclesial authority as divine mercy:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if any one is hungry, let him eat at home—lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

(source: 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 RSVCE)

Notice the three specific things that Scalia gets flatly wrong, and which are of the essence of Paul’s point:

  1. God reveals, as essential to the character of the Eucharist, that to receive unworthily means to receive affliction, not grace.
  2. God, not humans, reveals and determines the fact and severity of this “judgment,” this “chastening,” this risk that we “come together to be condemned.”  We are warned that it is real, and to avoid it!
  3. “Weakness” as well as disease and moribundity are consequences of unworthy reception.  You cannot treat the disease with more disease, and sacrilegious reception is the disease.

Now, I do understand the desire to upbraid those who are excessively anxious–the sausage-making is ugly, and it is dispiriting, and people do get fatigued.

And I am painfully aware that, for those whose everyday state is not a known, public condition of choosing against divine command, natural law, and Church teaching, there is an invisible struggle often waged that is not one bit less serious, against a tendency to turn “culpability” into the avoid-uncomfortable-confessions card that lets us “write down” our sins from “mortal” to “grave but venial,” ignoring our responsibility to confess all grave sins (988), not all “fully culpable and definitely mortal” sins, before approaching for communion (916)–or to make an Act of Contrition, including an intention to confess at the first opportunity.

I am not saying this is easy–no, it is hard.  It is the hardness of it which shows us our weakness, our entanglement, our confusion.  It is made almost unbearably hard, though, when attempting this good thing is itself portrayed as wrongheaded–when those who seek to do it are treated as though they needed therapy, rather than as though they realized that, not being whole, they desperately need a Physician.  When people recognize a need, they help each other provide for that need–by providing the wide access to Confession that our Holy Father has so bountifully provided.  But dismissing the need, waving it away, does not make it go away.  Telling people they need not become stronger, because they can avoid doing the hard thing, does not make them stronger–it cripples them.  Helping people do hard things, things which make for strength and health even though we who are so weak and foolish and diseased and maimed find the painful and difficult, makes them stronger.

It is completely understandable that some of us are frustrated with those who say “wave away the sin and grace will abound,” and others are frustrated with those who say “become whole, and then we’ll see about an appointment with the Physician.”  But neither of these is the same as saying, “take the proper medicine at the proper time, as the Physician has ordered.”

In her understandable frustration, Scalia needs to watch out, lest in a “strike the rock twice” gesture, she fling up her hands in opposition not only to some excessively reactionary, excessively anxious people, but also to St. Paul and the whole of divine revelation that agrees with him!

And this is why it is so profoundly dangerous to speak constantly in transient, ungrounded metaphors, and to use sweeping subjective characterizations where one ought to preserve distinctions.

The Eucharist is “medicine” from the point of view of those who can receive it healingly, and the Church is led by the Great Physician to administer the correct medicine at the correct time.  The Catechumenate is the proper place for those not yet ready for Baptism; hasty baptism is not better than proper preparation, even though we know that God’s saving love is exhibited to those who die suddenly “in desire of baptism” yet without the benefit of the ceremony.

The Physician’s healing love is well exhibited to those who, desiring to live in the faith, are given the grace and help to choose between the “use of marriage” in what is not a true marriage, and full Communion.  They may well not be ready to accept this; here the Eucharist summons them to become ready by the regular use of all the other means of grace.

Underlying the errors, here, is a strange belief that the Eucharist is magic, that it has one kind of properties that always tend in only one way–flatly contradicting the potent antithesis of salvation and reprobation that St. Paul (and the other Apostles) plainly learned from the Jesus Christ who deployed it so frequently, as abundantly recorded in the Gospels.  In fact, this “medicine” metaphor, used out of bounds, is exactly the kind of mastering, Church-as-dispenser metaphor that Scalia rightly rejects.

Steady, friends, steady.  When you solidly pin down the foundations, you can become creative, by God’s grace, about how to help people.  But when you untether yourself from those foundations, it takes surprisingly little to be “blown about by every wind of doctrine.”

Stay the course.  Hold fast to what is true.  Listen more to the careful and wise distinctions that have been tested by time than to the conflations that vent transient emotions and yield before wasteful passions.  Heed the Scriptures,

so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.

(source: Ephesians 4:14 RSVCE)

No Respecter of Persons

Not enough attention has been drawn to how the liberal proposals at the Synod conflate righteousness and respectability, communion and “community.” The starkest statement of this conflation came on Monday, from Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Australia. In a Vatican press conference,  Coleridge said: “A second marriage that is enduring and stable and loving and where there are children who are cared for is not the same as a couple skulking off to a hotel room for a wicked weekend.” For this reason, “just to say that every second marriage or second union whatever you want to call it is adulterous, is perhaps too sweeping.”

Coleridge has spoken with admirable candor throughout the synod, and his comments here bring the issue into sharp relief. Does the church oppose sin, or only sordidness? When a man abandons his wife, does it matter whether the other woman waits for him in a house or in a hotel room? Is adultery a sin committed only by the impulsive, the cash-strapped, the time-pressed? Or can it also be executed by men with ample capital and orderly habits?

(source: Country Club Catholicism | Matthew Schmitz)

The Crowd Said, Crucify Him

As to the effectiveness of the language of Church teaching (“the language we speak is not communicating”), some distinctions need to be made. Communication is ineffective when the words are not understood by the listener. Communication is effective when the words are understood, even if the listener rejects the truth of the message. As regards the moral doctrine of the Church, the problem for many today is not unintelligibility, i.e, they cannot figure out what the Church teaches. Rather, that doctrine is understood quite well – and rejected.

That is not a failure to communicate, but rather a successful imparting of unwelcome knowledge. The Church’s mission is to call sinners to repentance, which starts with proclaiming the truths of the Gospel, however contrary they are to the lifestyle choices of those who hear that proclamation. Our absolute certainty in the truth of the Church’s doctrine and our belief in the efficacy of Divine grace teach us that the anger or sadness produced in a person being challenged to live according to God’s plan is salutary – and in many ways necessary.

(source: The Catholic Thing)

A Dynamic Corpse

Henry VIII was a Catholic in everything except that he was not a Catholic. He observed everything down to the last bead and candle; he accepted everything down to the last deduction from a definition; he accepted everything except Rome. And in that instant of refusal, his religion became a different religion; a different sort of religion; a different sort of thing. In that instant it began to change; and it has not stopped changing yet. We are all somewhat wearily aware that some Modern Churchmen call such continuous change progress; as when we remark that a corpse crawling with worms has an increased vitality; or that a snow-man, slowly turning into a puddle, is purifying itself of its accretions. But I am not concerned with this argument here. The point is that a dead man may look like a sleeping man a moment after he is dead; but decomposition has actually begun. The point is that the snowman may in theory be made in the real image of man. Michelangelo made a statue in snow; and it might quite easily have been an exact replica of one of his statues in marble; but it was not in marble.

(source: “The Surrender upon Sex”: G.K Chesterton)

Archbishop Chaput, Ladies and Gentlemen!

The first example is the word inclusive. We’ve heard many times that the Church should be inclusive. And if by “inclusive” we mean a Church that is patient and humble, merciful and welcoming – then all of us here will agree. But it’s very hard to include those who do not wish to be included, or insist on being included on their own terms. To put it another way: I can invite someone into my home, and I can make my home as warm and hospitable as possible. But the person outside my door must still choose to enter. If I rebuild my house to the blueprint of the visitor or stranger, my family will bear the cost, and my home will no longer be their home. The lesson is simple. We need to be a welcoming Church that offers refuge to anyone honestly seeking God. But we need to remain a Church committed to the Word of God, faithful to the wisdom of the Christian tradition, and preaching the truth of Jesus Christ.

The second example is the expression unity in diversity. The Church is “catholic” or universal. We need to honor the many differences in personality and culture that exist among the faithful. But we live in a time of intense global change, confusion and unrest. Our most urgent need is unity, and our greatest danger is fragmentation. Brothers, we need to be very cautious in devolving important disciplinary and doctrinal issues to national and regional episcopal conferences – especially when pressure in that direction is accompanied by an implicit spirit of self-assertion and resistance.

(source: Creative Minority Report)

Dry Mouths

When an entire continent that is—to repeat—healthier, wealthier, and more secure than ever before ceases to produce the human future in the most elemental sense of “human future”—by refusing to have children—something is seriously awry. Something has gone dry in the soul. Whatever the economic , ideological, and cultural pressures involved, a lack of generosity toward the future is manifesting itself in willful barrenness. And that is, in the broad sense of the term “human spirit,” a spiritual problem. Indeed it is a spiritual crisis.

(source: Letter Number Ten | Xavier Rynne II, ed. | First Things)

On Resistance

So, a long time ago, after years of being bullied, I consciously adopted a policy: when tripped or shoved, I trained myself to immediately punch them without further reflection. Action-reaction.


This ended the bullying. It also got me in a lot of trouble, trouble which was such a relief compared to the torment of going to school every day, that I welcomed the chance to argue with my teachers rather than try not to crumple from the humiliation of being around my peers.

I eventually–after my second year of college–learned the lesson that I was too immature to grasp, and that for some reason nobody could teach me. It is the lesson you need in order to be an effective resistance, too. It is the distinction that enables all effective resistance, and it has taken me decades to get it fixed in my mind.

The simple terms are these: “He may have had it coming, but that doesn’t mean I had a right to give it to him.”

Recognizing that there is a distinction between recognizing lawless evil and assessing its just deserts and having the authority to use affirmative force to punish wrongdoing is something our culture struggles with.

If I point out that “an unjust law is no law at all,” I am not asserting that you have the right to revolt, to engage in the use of force until you consider justice has been established. I am only asserting that such a lawless imposition cannot in any way bind your conscience, so that you are morally free to disregard the putative authority of such a lawless “law.” You have separate obligations to the common good, to a divine command to live peaceably with others as long as you’re permitted to, and to a divine command not to scandalize others (i.e., lead them into sin, in this case by appearing to countenance disobedience or rebellion by disobeying what appears to be real authority).

When I say that you must resist, I mean that you should maximize your discretionary authority, and use it maximally in the right direction, even when doing so is contrary to typical customs and norms in your field, even when it is “bad customer service” or might result in subpar performance reviews, etc. If your company sells tickets to Satanist rites, you should probably miss some phone calls, misfile some papers, fail to present options, refuse to offer some services and courtesies, deny all optional grants, maximize scrutiny and fees, etc. You should definitely burden evil, beyond-the-bounds-of-society behaviors, and oppose them and investigate them and give them no peace.

That is qualitatively different, discernibly so, from revolt or rebellion or violence. It may be met with violence (certainly has been). But it is not violence, and ought not to be turned into that–or treated as though it were.

You will be free from a false obey/revolt dichotomy that is endemic to our culture and ruinous to our potential for future civilization, when you realize that this is a real distinction: that another may be engaging in lawless evil, even under color of “law,” and that they may not only be unable to bind you in conscience but may in fact be able to “command” your resistance (as in the case of fake marriage laws, which you have a moral obligation to oppose vigorously); and yet you may not be authorized to use force to punish that evil, to subdue it with your own personal power.


That resistance is not revolt, but it is active refusal to cooperate combined with maximal use of discretionary authority to disrupt beyond-the-bound evils.