Monthly Archives: February 2016

Well, that was interesting!

Another Facebook question.

A friend made a bunch of good comments on a thread responding to an especially ill-informed set of arguments on the subject of “eternal security” as taught by many we grew up among.  He then pointed out that I might find this discussion “of interest.”  It’s a difficult topic, because it poses as “either-or” many questions that properly have “both or neither” answers.

Anyway, here’s a scrubbed-up version of the original post:

If you think a Christian can lose their salvation, do you think Jesus lied here?

John 10:27-28
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

And He lied and failed to do God’s will here?

John 6:37-39
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.

So there are some serious theological issues here that must be addressed.

My friend’s replies were very helpful, though I have a couple critical notes. Since he asked, though, I took a stab at clearing up some of the “serious theological issues” raised in the original post.

Here, then, my response (originally in two parts, here and here):

You’re right that I find this “of interest”! I don’t often find myself interacting with such brutally underdeveloped soteriology, anymore.

(re your comments, Gary, I think you’re resting too heavily on “separate communities” readings of the Gospels, and as far as I can tell in half a generation nobody’s going to remember them. But you say a lot of good and true things in those comments, things friends should heed! Discourse analysis is definitely what’s missing in this kind of reading.)

OK, for starters, how can anyone read John 6 this badly? I mean, the original poster seems to have parachuted in from Mars, grabbed a few phrases, and mistaken them for a doctrine.

We have to do better than this. Here, read the whole thing (John 6).

…and be sure that, while you’re being woodenly literal, you don’t miss the most emphatically repeated thing in this discourse.

Done with that? All right. So, Jesus will not “cast out” or “lose one” of “all whom the Father has given,” and these are those who “come to me.” The number of those that Jesus is talking about who “the Father has given” and who “come to me” are the same; the number Jesus will “cast out” or “lose” from that group is zero.

No problem. Now, how does that tell me about whether I am securely “saved,” hope to be saved, have no hope of being saved, etc.? Oh. It doesn’t.

See, how would I know whether I am part of “all whom the Father has given” unless I “come”? And if I “come” and Jesus says, “abide in me,” and I decide I’d rather go betray him for 30 pieces of silver, then would I not be seized on by perfectly sensible doubt about whether I had “come” in the way that made me *really sure* I was one “whom the Father has given”? And if I deny Jesus three times, would I not also be seized with that sort of doubt? What then will Jesus say to me?

Our original post predicts that Jesus won’t say anything, that He will just wait for me to figure out that “Oh, wait, I ‘went forward at the invitation’ or ‘prayed’ or ‘had a final experience’ or ‘was converted’ that one time, and so now I should simply dismiss my doubts. Betraying or denying Jesus, or whatever else I did, can’t possibly signify that I am separated from God. I should just get on with life.”

Now, surely any Christian will want me to turn back to Christ, not simply assure myself that I’m fine, no matter what I’ve done.

Oh, that’s also what Jesus says. It’s what the prophets said, and the apostles. It’s what the Church has always said, too.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”
And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
He said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me.”

(source: Luke 22:31-34 RSVCE – Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial – Bible Gateway)

So what do we actually see, here?

Jesus is the living bread. He is the nourishment and salvation the Jewish people had awaited, and their “good and great” were missing that fact. They were murmuring against him and looking for reasons to attack him. He addresses their lack of faith, pointing out that if they really believed what the Father had taught them–Moses and the prophets–they would also believe him.  Jesus is the lodestone, the shibboleth, the rock of stumbling, the stone of offense: if they believe the Father and belong to Him, they are going to receive the Promise from Jesus; if they claim the heritage of the Promise but reject Jesus, they prove by doing so that they did not believe the Father or belong to Him.  Before the end of Jesus’ work–for those Palestinian Jews Jesus addressed in the First Advent, but also for all humans by the Eschaton–all those who actually believe in God, whatever their starting position, will believe in Jesus; those who do not believe in Jesus are ipso facto no followers of God, no children of the Father of Light. There is only one God, and one Mediator between God and man….

And that’s the proper reading of this passage. Those who do, in fact, come to Jesus are never lost or abandoned, no matter what it looks like for a time. And those who do not, in fact, come to Jesus were not true children of the Father, no matter what it looks like for a time.

The end is all.

But this analysis alone gives me NO WAY TO KNOW whether I am one or the other. It gives me an opening to despair, one way, or to antinomianism, the other, if I mistake my certainty for salvation; but it does not let me classify myself.

Or does it? Because there is that whole “I am the living bread,” and there is that whole “come to me” thing. And that is the thing that is repeated throughout every division of Biblical revelation: Come to me. Abide in me. Dwell in me, and I in you. Return to me. On and on and on the chorus goes.  God chooses to be with us, and calls us to be with Him.

So we have a long tradition in the Church of actually believing that. How do you assure yourself that you belong in Christ? Come to Jesus when you sin, confess, and return to Jesus in communion. You have come to Jesus in baptism, and He has sent His Spirit to live in you; now return to Him every time you wander away, and return continually to Him as you walk with Him, and at whatever moment you look up–from the prodigal to the Emmaus road to Peter leaping in the water to embrace the Resurrected Christ he had so flagrantly denied not long before–wherever you are, “come to me.”

And He will not cast you out.
And He will give you rest.

Facebook questions: the Immaculata

A friend on Facebook posed a good question about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin.  Another friend, who “is big into apologetics,” had tried to point to “some sort of fallacy” in the notion that “Mary was conceived without original sin, then so was her mother, then her mother and so on and so on.”  On a certain understanding of original sin and the purpose of the Virgin Birth, this is quite a common objection (one I’d expressed myself, “back in the day,” even).

To which I reply:

I expect he’s thinking of a “regress problem” rather than a fallacy, properly speaking. Of course, in matters divine, “regress” is not necessarily a very strong argument: after all, it is the inevitability of causal regress that suggests that only an infinitely great Creator could be the origin of all things.

But in this case, it simply misses the point through a (typical Protestant) misunderstanding of what original sin is and why the Virgin Birth was important. In fairness, this misunderstanding is suggested by some language in Augustine’s anti-Pelagian polemics (a fertile source of misreadings in the Lutheran/Reformed tradition).

The elements of the misunderstanding are roughly these:

  1. Original sin is a transmitted condition, like sickle-cell anemia.
  2. To be sinless, Jesus had to be born without “original sin.”
  3. For Jesus to be born without “original sin,” so must Mary, etc.

This sets up the regress problem. Incidentally, it is also a common explanation for the Virgin Birth, in another variant that takes the “genetic” model of original sin so seriously that it imagines “original sin” is transmitted only by the male, so that all women are affected by it but would not transmit it–if, that is, if men were not needed for procreation. Hence, goeth the flawed theory, Virgin Birth.

But this model misunderstands almost everything (again, bearing in mind that parts of it appear in various polemics and apologetics, so I don’t accuse people of just making up fantasies, here).

Start with original sin. Even on the traducian hypothesis, which Augustine tends toward, original sin is only *analogous* to genetic transmission. It is often quite confusing whether the “soul” or the “nature” is transmitted, and whether it is “transmitted” or shared/diffused, on this view. Suffice to say that the explanation that makes sense of this is *far* more metaphysically sophisticated than the notion of sin as a sort of genetic defect suggests. When we say that some sin is “original” rather than “personal” (or “actual”), we are making a statement about the way sin inheres in the subject and the way God chose to permit sin’s temporary triumph in order to both propagate and rescue the People He always intended to raise up for His Son on this earth. We don’t see sin only in this or that action we take, but as something in us–something we are subjectively incapable of not seeing *as* us. From our conception, we are habitual sinners, that is, we seek our subjective happiness in ways and to degrees that assume and perpetuate our separation from God and which can only keep us happy while we can maintain the illusion that we are uncreated, that we are in total control of what we are and become.

Which is why it is problematic to take the view that Jesus could not have been sinless except under some particular conditions. Jesus is, after all, eternally begotten of the Father before all ages, God from God, light from light, and so could not conceivably have required any additional steps to be free from sin of any kind. Sin had no purchase in Him, and only by His own intentional assumption of human limitations (something He added to Himself) could He even experience temptation and the suffering of struggling against sin in His own being. Jesus did experience separation from God, but the separation was subjective and as a consequence of a voluntary and blameless sharing of our condition that went all the way to a death with no sign of God’s love except His own faithful suffering. How would it make sense to say that this Jesus “needed” a special birth so that He could be sinless?

No, what He chose to do was to fully assume our humanity, to add it to His deity, and to do so in a way that sanctified that humanity–actually and demonstratively marking not only his own human being but human being as such as transformed by His redemptive work–and as such it was fitting that His assumption of humanity should not rupture the ordinary method of generation, but be an unmistakably divine and redemptive participation in that method. For the rest, see the Gospels.

So the Virgin Birth depends upon the work of each Person of the Trinity in accomplishing the Incarnation, but more substantially it is the seed of the New Creation, that is, the re-creation of all humanity and of the cosmos as the scene of divine/human friendship. Mary is not only the human tabernacle in which God Himself is enclosed, but hers is the most immediate cooperation with divine grace. Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, John Paul II, are all well “downstream” from Mary in how central their cooperation was. Mary is the nearest in intimacy to the Incarnate Son, as well–Moses was the last man God spoke to face to face, and Uriah was struck down for even touching the Ark of the Covenant, but Mary had God Himself within her for nine months. How would it be fitting for the God whose eyes cannot even look directly on sin, who is a consuming fire, to be enclosed in sinful flesh and placed under the maternal care of a sinner? It would have been necessary for Him to wholly sanctify her at some point, and that point would have to be prior to His conception, and even prior to her Fiat.

When we understand it correctly, it quickly becomes fitting that Mary, who was unique in her role, should be dealt with uniquely by the grace of God. She was preserved from all sin so that her Fiat would be a perfect cooperation with God’s will, so that she would be a fit New Eve, a perfect tabernacle, a good Mother of God, and a suitable first member of Redeemed humanity. All those who died expecting the Promise, receive it through her; all those who lived to see Jesus walk the earth, received Him through her; and we who believe without seeing have received Him through her.

There’s no “dodge the sin” game, here. And no regress; what God did in Anna’s womb was unique, and He did it to Mary (not Anna) as the first (in order of generation, not of causation) step in the Incarnation and the work of the Church. And Mary did in fact freely cooperate with this unique grace, and her Fiat was pure, and the rest follows.

Yes, as people have debated and theologized this, over the centuries, you’ll find all kinds of theories. Pious legends about Joachim and Anna abound, and let’s be honest that they must have been pretty amazing parents (else we might have heard about the sufferings of Mary at the hands of her family). Heavily traducian interpretations, sex-is-always-tainted interpretations, and others are pretty easy to find. Some of these make more sense than they sound like to our jaded ears; others are just flawed moments in our continuing effort to listen well to God.

I hope that helps.

Forgiving or Overlooking: an important distinction

For more on this see Couenhoven’s excellent article on forgiveness. This is from the introductory essay of a special issue on the subject:

attempts to strip forgiveness-talk of cultic particularity have obscured the ways in which the purportedly secular talk of forgiveness that plays a significant role in our culture remains indebted to Christian thought.

As an example of an interesting admixture of both trends at once, consider the briefly popular recent news story about Lucy Mangum, a six-year-old girl who, after undergoing surgery to repair a leg severely bitten by a blacktip shark, told reporters that she forgave the shark because she believed it had not meant to harm her (Fox News 2011). I do not mean to chide Lucy for applying the idea of forgiveness to a creature that lacks the agential credentials I consider necessary for forgiveness; she is a guide. The “folk” concept of forgiveness on which she drew involves the idea that forgiving is not being angry at, or visiting retribution on, something that has caused you trouble. This approach does not tie forgiveness to repentance; indeed, Lucy rightly perceived that forgiveness is now commonly justified on the basis that the perpetrator is not really to blame.

It seems to me that this way of thinking—popularized in best-selling books that tout the benefits of forgiving everything from God to the weather—drains the idea of forgiveness of its significance, undermines the sense of meaning and inspiration the term still widely stirs, and avoids the profound questions about grace in the midst of fault that it has traditionally evoked. If this is all that one means by forgiveness we might as well use less freighted terms, such as “overlooking” or “getting over it,” which would seem to serve just as well.

(source: The Possibilities of Forgiveness)

Let’s get clear on contracepting

One thing I have to constantly deal with among my students is the tendency to think only in predefined “issues,” that is, to take a whole subject matter and to be “for it” or “against it” in the manner of mass-market democracy’s constant abuse of rational discourse.

One can divide the people between “pro-immigrant” and “anti-immigrant,” to take just one such case, only in an illiterate, barbarian discourse that proceeds as though immigration and its consequences have never been encountered, legislated, and discussed before.  Take two seconds to ask simple questions, and this “issue” dissolves into (a) a number of separate issues, and (b) a set of willful distortions used to exclude solutions that serve no advertising-selling, constituency-building role.  (For example, someone might love to promote legal migration, and make it easier for more people, and also think that robust local language and culture assimilation is a necessity for citizenship, and that illegal immigration is a fundamental danger to legal migration and citizenship, and think that charity for illegal immigrants requires compassionate resettlement efforts rather than paths to citizenship for the majority–and thinking that will ensure that one is never heard on the shouting contest that is so meretriciously sold as “news” and public discourse.)

A similar problem comes when we encounter terms like “contraception” and the cluster of issues that hide behind this abstract noun often used to refer to a diverse group of items which, except for their best-known application, are quite unlike each other.  More to the point, though, all debate about the things is misleading if it does not deal with the essential matter.  As the clear-thinking Ed Peters says in a slightly related conversation:

For a morals clause to focus on actions is one thing; for a morals clause to focus on status is quite another.

(source: Distinguishing between actions and status is important | In the Light of the Law)

The law, and moral reasoning in particular, is concerned with acts more than with things.  Even laws proscribing the possession or use of things are addressed to humans capable of possessing or using them, that is, to human acts concerning the things.  So a discussion of the “issue” of contraception is essentially modern primarily in the confusion of language intrinsic to the word, not really in which of the diversity of instruments and techniques are adapted to facilitate the act.  The etymology of the word shows its modern, abstracting formation:

contraception (n.) “birth control,” coined 1886 from Latin contra (see contra) + ending from conception.

(source: Online Etymology Dictionary)

It is important to notice that Christian teaching has not condemned certain things or descriptions as “modern” or even as “not ‘natural’ in comparison with unreasoning creatures” (which is the ludicrous comparison people untutored in “natural law” commonly make), but has continued to state the difference between intentional acts that are consistent with the dignity of each human involved in the act and others that are not.

When we discuss “contraception,” then, we are actually discussing “having sex” while also taking actions which alter the nature of the conjugal act itself.  We are asking at what point the use of marriage ceases to be the good proper to a husband and wife, and is changed into something which, rather than having the power to convert concupiscence into chastity and charity through fidelity and fecundity, is instead feeding concupiscence and allowing the act to be perverted, leading us to consume each other and so to be consumed.

This clears up the issue considerably, although it does not remove every difficulty (no merely verbal response ever does).  When anyone attempts the use of marriage–“has sex”–outside the bond of marriage, for example, or in a pretense of marriage between people not capable of marrying each other (priest and woman, for example, or two men, or with a civilly divorced person lacking any decree of nullity), that person is not making use of marriage.  Objectively, that behavior is damaging to all involved, to the life of the Body of Christ in the world, and to society as a whole.  It is especially damaging to any children of such unions.  Personal guilt (culpability) for such damage may be mitigated, but the damage is done; it is done by an intentional act; and that act is wrong for good reasons, and knowable reasons.  It is not possible to really set right that damage–including the damage done to one’s own conscience, and that of others, by the scandal of such actions–without admitting that such an action was wrong, and that forgivenness (not dismissiveness) and healing (not mere hand-waving) are required.

Thus it is really important to understand what is really taught, here:

excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

(source: Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968) | Paul VI, emphasis added)

Notice that what is prohibited–as it has been throughout Church history–is an action which, juxtaposed with “sexual intercourse” in any order, cuts off the act “having sex” from one of its basic purposes (“procreation”).

Understanding that, here are three brief rebuttals to misconceptions about Catholics, and many others, who oppose having sex while preventing reproduction:

  • We are not afraid of science.  Like any debate in the present state of our culture, the debate over having sex while preventing procreation is easy to miscast as a contest to claim the latest technological breakthroughs or experimental results for one’s cause.  Examples of this misconception abound, but of course the greatest examples come from the long run-up to the 1930 Lambeth Conference resolution of the Anglican Communion, and the extensive exploration of the issue in Catholic circles before Humanae Vitae was issued in 1968, much of which turned on the idea that modern technology and modern problems had asked an essentially different question than had been considered before.  Lambeth decided to separate “Christian principles” from the facts of the case, making a “felt moral obligation” more important than the nature of the action and its consequences for the people involved.  It made human feelings more important than human dignity.  Nothing in the science of male and female reproductive organs, of embryology, of human development, has changed in a way that presents an essentially new situation; and nothing in the logic of technological change engages directly with the actual reasoning of Christian opposition to having sex while preventing procreation.  One speaks to what we might be able to do about certain natural processes; the other speaks to what the consequences for real human creatures will be when we act on that understanding in various ways.  It is not possible to decide whether to use a tool by asserting that the tool works; Catholics do not believe that knowing how to make a nuclear bomb makes it only a question of “when and where,” rather than whether, we should use one; and we do not believe that knowing how to “prevent babies” makes it inevitable, or even reasonable, to do so.  We think that “baby prevention” reflects a profound misunderstanding of men, women, and children that is hostile to human dignity, and that you cannot put “felt moral obligation” in the place of real information about what humans are–real science.
  • We are not superstitious about this or that substance.  Catholics do not think that some sort of object or chemical is going to magically harm them in ways not suggested by the science of natural processes and of human nature; we do not think some part of the body, or some pill, or some device, is going to suddenly “curse” us.  Now, modern culture is rife with superstitions about genetic modifications, chemicals, and medical treatments, and half-baked accusations fly fast and thick about them.  Indeed, twentieth-century feminists and Progressive eugenicists like Margaret Sanger have spent considerable capital to mythologize “The Pill” and create a superstitious presumption in its favor.  But Catholics realize perfectly well that a chemical or device that can be used in one wrong way may also be used in some other way, and that use may be right.  We do not reason based on some fear of taint, but on the way that a certain instrument, used a certain way, ends up being harmful.  Hormones and chemicals that are used in “The Pill” have other, actually therapeutic effects that may be worth the risks in some cases.  What we object to is the use of the research and resources devoted to “baby prevention” for that specific purpose–the purpose of disconnecting sex acts from baby-making and from marriage, where they are intelligible acts that are reasonable for humans.  We object to the way that this superstitious and anti-human project diverts that research and those resources away from efforts to achieve the same therapeutic results without harm to human reproduction and human relationships.  If researchers and pharmaceutical salesman want our support for honest work, they should get involved with finding ways to diminish harms caused by actual problems in our bodies, not by asking us to ignore the big picture and focus on what we all know are the incidental therapeutic side-effects of dangerous instruments that truncate our bodies.
  • We are not driven by “moral panic.”  Even allowing for slight windage at some times and places, the Christian tradition on this subject has been remarkably uniform and on-point for the entire history of the religion; and it participates in a broader religious consensus on “baby prevention” that is quite a bit older.  Yes, most Protestants have fallen off from the faith, and even are unfamiliar with the Church’s actual teaching on the subject, since the Anglican defection from the faith on this point at Lambeth in 1930.  (Lambeth’s defection even sounds very traditional to an ear jangled by the confusing noises of 2016!)  Even in terms of the twentieth-century argument on this subject, it should be clear that the Christian position circa 1930 was not the result of an idealization of the 1950s.  Pius XI’s response to the Lambeth defection was swift and abundantly clear, in Casti Connubii, issued the same year.  Paul VI’s 1968 Humanae Vitae was the result of several years of discussion (one which revealed how widespread the misunderstanding of this teaching had become), and does not have in view any “back to the 1950s” nostalgia.  It is a reassertion, drawing on the history of the Church’s faithful reception of the natural law and divine revelation concerning the purposes of marriage and its proper use, of teachings that are not novel or reactionary.  Our culture has a way of intentionally misrepresenting any assertion of the “traditional” as an aggression against the “inevitable,” but it is neither true that tradition is nostalgia, nor that the “inevitable” views of contemporary progressives are more accurate than the Church’s capacity to predict results based on experience with humanity.

It comes to this, then:  when we speak of “contraception” clearly, we are not talking about being scared of sex, or about running from chemicals in favor of a primitive state, or about resistance to real understanding of human bodies and relationships, but precisely about how to embrace human sexuality as it is and focus our efforts on how to heal sickness and damage of all kinds, rather than truncating human sexuality or insisting that it must be other than it is while treating bodily functions as pathological, babies as preventable harms, and insisting that the pretence that every wish can come true is a more serious matter than real damage to bodies and relationships.

We are talking about actions.  We are calling on people not to damage their bodies and souls and marriages, not to avoid the real joys and struggles of marriage and child-rearing, not to turn each other and even children into consumer goods.  We are calling on researchers to quit touting therapeutic side-effects, inadequately tested and peripheral to the original design, irrelevant to the funding and marketing of the product, as though they were unanswerable justifications for providing harmful drugs and devices which are marketed based on lies about human bodies and relationships.

We are calling each person to act in a truly “pro-life” way by refusing to treat babies as preventable harms, refusing to treat the life-giving potential of human sexual biology as a flaw, rather than an important feature, of every human creature.

With that in mind, then, contemplate the important difference between these two positions, the defection and the faith, and choose life:

Who do you look to for help?

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
When his breath departs he returns to his earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners,
he upholds the widow and the fatherless;
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

(source: Psalm 146 RSVCE – Praise for God’s Help – Praise the – Bible Gateway)

Would you like to be truly charitable?

We are sometimes far too easily confused about what it means to practice charity.  A refresher:

It is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ

(source: Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968) | Paul VI)

In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage “to share God’s life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men.”

(source: Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968) | Paul VI)

And don’t miss the specific portions most applicable to our contemporary situation:

Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it–in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.

(source: Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968) | Paul VI, emphasis added)

Well said again, Cardinal Wuerl!

The new and alarming element in today’s clash of cultures is first the blurring of the distinction between our identity and our actions, and then the demand that Catholic teaching fall in line with the new politically correct standard. But the church does not change her received and revealed teaching just because it is culturally unpopular. It is important to affirm that other groups no matter how much popular support and media attention they receive, have no right to force their values, morality or lifestyle on others simply by leveling the charge of “discrimination.”

(source: Cardinal Wuerl reflects)

Catholic social teaching (Part 1)

I’m going to start doing more blogging of Church documents, prominently including the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. I thought I’d start out with what this document on social teaching calls the “condition for the exercise of all other rights” and, therefore, the pre-eminent concern of our times:

The first right presented in this list is the right to life, from conception to its natural end,[318] which is the condition for the exercise of all other rights and, in particular, implies the illicitness of every form of procured abortion and of euthanasia.[319] Emphasis is given to the paramount value of the right to religious freedom: “all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits”.[320] The respect of this right is an indicative sign of “man’s authentic progress in any regime, in any society, system or milieu”[321].

(source: Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church)

If it’s not important, why do they care so much?

In the Martyrdom, we read how the Roman authorities repeatedly urged Polycarp to save his life by acting against the Christian faith in some seemingly small measure. All he needed to do was swear by the fortune of Caesar and he would be set free, they said, asking “What harm is there in saying, Lord Caesar, and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, and so make sure of safety?”

Polycarp, however, remained firm. “Since you are vainly urgent that, as you say, I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretend not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian,” he replied. Upon this confession of faith, Polycarp was put to death.

Today, we are called to make that same profession of faith in a particular way.

One prime example of the threats to our religious liberty is the HHS Mandate, by which the government insists, like the Roman authorities, that we take what it says are just trifling acts, but which we know violate our Catholic faith in substantial ways. Other examples include efforts to force Catholic schools and ministries to employ people who are antagonistic to our Catholic beliefs.

(source: Saintly Heroes)

On the other hand….

Some, perhaps many, will be elated by the Pope’s words. But those of us who support and defend the magisterium, in particular the successor of Peter, in their proper roles as guardians and interpreters of the deposit of faith, find Pope Francis and Father Lombardi’s words baffling and troubling. It appears that the Pope has asserted something that is false and contrary to salvation. I very much hope that I have misread the situation.

Whether or not I have, I would like to say two things. First, the extemporaneous remarks of a pope in an interview, and the commentary of his spokesman, do not constitute Church teaching. So these assertions are not guarded by the Holy Spirit and are not invested with ecclesial authority. Catholics have no obligation whatever to render to the pope’s words a “religious submission of mind and will” (Lumen Gentium, 25).

Second, Pope Francis is our beloved father. We esteem him in virtue of his office and will stand by him whenever he is falsely attacked. We wish for his good and for the good of the whole Church. And we certainly will never follow the pathway of Martin Luther into a rejection of papal primacy and apostolic succession. But the Church is Jesus’, not the pope’s or the bishops’ (and certainly not mine).

(source: Pope Francis and Contraception: A Troubling Scenario)

I wonder if we can find some middle

I am not willing at all to add my name to the list of “sure I know better than the man God gave the job to” at any level, though I do my level best to learn the best I can and to be prepared to teach.

Learning to trust God to make the details sort is a long ways better than being sucked into a doctrinal and rhetorical bellum omnium contra omnes.  To be frank, that is the maelstrom I left when I left Protestantism to seek full Communion with the Church.  I left behind “denominations” and embraced Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, including the possibility that the Church would learn from the deposit of faith and carefully define truths that the faithful should firmly hold.

I professed in haec fide vivere et mori statuo, and I do not regret it.

O MY GOD, I firmly believe that Thou art one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; I believe that Thy divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived. Amen.

(source: Virtutes Theologicae)

As an RCIA Coordinator, I have worked hard not to bemoan the Church’s clear teaching, but to explain it; not to soft-sell or merely assert, but to provide the groundwork.  My goal is for the Catechumens and Candidates that have been entrusted to me not to merely check boxes of awareness, nor to blindly assent to what anyone may say, but to be fully open to the grace of God to be conferred in the Sacraments of Initiation, well-disposed to receive those Sacraments.

I have done my level best to ensure that they receive the Tradition in its own proper intelligibility, neither with unreasoning emotion nor with rationalistic aridity:

And, like any teacher, I am jealous of them, easily inflamed against any influence that will snatch the truth they’ve only just grasped away from them.  I have taken extra time and care to discuss the Natural Law with them, and to strengthen their understanding of the Sacrament of Matrimony, to the best of my ability:

So I grow weary of ill-measured garrulity, of loose talk and neglectful stances that leave the Church’s abundantly clear teaching, so necessary for the salvation of the world, so healing to those who hear it with understanding, in a state of confusion.  That intimidates those who are trying to make things plain, making them choose between seeming to oppose the current expression of Magisterial authority and actually opposing the Magisterium itself.  It is necessary to pretend that it is easy to choose between ephemeral words and the durable Truth; but the simple reality is that, faced with people we are trying to embrace with both arms while speaking healing truth, it is a constant struggle not to speak easy lies that make them easy to hold–affable lies, nice-sounding lies, guaranteed to make their wounds rot and suppurate, rather than healing them!

I grow weary, very weary indeed, sometimes.

Joy comes in the morning, but weeping does endure for the night.  They do come in rejoicing with their sheaves, but they went forth with weeping.  However much the misguided press strategies common in my own tradition may seem to mandate a habit of grinning like a jackanapes, the simple truth is that Jesus Christ and his Apostles and the prophets before them knew joy as a present hope of a future reality that granted them a strong reason and desire to continue in their suffering service, not as a complacent cheer or constant projection of smiling unctuosity!

(source: Perverse Vindication is Vindication Still)

So I admit that I have moved from “avoid the hype” to actively minimizing the use of the ubiquitous press photography and quotations of Pope Francis, and that I have reluctantly moved from the “he’s crazy like a fox” through “I admit I sometimes wish he’d be more careful” and to the “a really humble leader would actually listen to good advice” camp.  I wrestle with whatever pride, whatever unwillingness to humbly listen, whatever lack of willingness to heed the Spirit’s guidance into blind spots in our faith and practice, even whatever resentment that I must constantly be faced with unprovoked occasions to struggle with these things may be cutting me off from understanding.  And it is a struggle I am only confident I am “winning” as I continue to struggle at each fresh occasion.

I say all that because, in the interests of continuing to struggle against any too-quick judgment, any rash frustration, I have tried to carefully watch the interpretation of the latest round of “loose lips sink ships.”

And so I’m going to try to keep myself and those who care about truth alert to possibilities we may have overlooked, starting with a bit of the analysis of recent posts by two people whose abilities I keenly respect.  One of these does not directly involve any of the most recent round of high-profile sloppy language; the other does. Continue reading »

He’s worse than the devil you know, you know…

R. R. Reno’s latest is quite right, as far as his point goes.  One likes to think that these things can be negotiated on a more relative scale, though; Trump is the brazen quintessence of these evils, and should be obvious enough to be repudiated. What he signifies is that our people, our culture, is even more given to evil than our political class, at least as far as a strong plurality is concerned.

And that is uniquely disturbing, I find.

Trump is a creature of today’s political and cultural establishment. How could a master of comic mockery like Stephen Colbert object to Trump’s political style? Or Jon Stewart, who concludes his regular political rants with crude obscenity? I can’t think of any public figure on the Left who wouldn’t be flattered to share the stage with either man. Why should Donald Trump embarrass—other than the fact that his political positions aren’t liberal. Our side isn’t any different. Rush Limbaugh makes a living denouncing people on talk radio. He’s even derided Pope Francis as economically ignorant and called his ideas “pure Marxism.”

(source: Trumpageddon! | R. R. Reno | First Things)

Notes and Drafts

I’m always trying to get my students to grasp the way educated people spend their time.  Herewith, a visual demonstration of what happens when you give me time to wait without a computer while a friend finishes up his teaching day: