Friday, July 28, 2017

Friends Don't Let Friends NFP

The week of July 23-29, 2017—as my dear, humorous wife informed me out of the blue, earlier today—is National NFP Awareness Week. For the five or so Catholics in America who are blessed never to have heard of NFP, it stands for "No Fun or Posterity."

The USCCB has produced an extensive media kit and educational program on its website, complete with suggested homily talking points, bulletin inserts, and prayers of the faithful. This year's promotional poster, attached immediately below, is indicative of the narcissistic, child-fearing culture in which the Gospel of NFP finds such purchase: a 20-something couple drink terrible alcohol whilst announcing their engagement to friends and family with a so-called selfie by way of text and/or social media. The fearful look in his eyes complements her look of vacant inebriation.

But let's hope "the time" doesn't happen on the honeymoon!
The recommended bulletin inserts range from the banal to the obscene. Some of these risqué selections will have parents burning the bulletins and scattering the ashes before the little children (who may or may not exist) can get their wee hands on this lewd material:
NFP is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman’s cycle.
The couple... are acting as “ministers” of God’s plan and they “benefit from” their sexuality according to the original dynamism of “total” self-giving, without manipulation or alteration. [All quotation marks sic, by the way. No, really.]
Couples who adopt NFP to space the births of children find that it brings about many positive changes in their relationship and even becomes a way of life. It begins with acceptance, and even wonder, at the way the human body is made.
But enough sex ed. For all the "wonder" and "total" self-giving that NFP is supposed to engender, "God's Plan for Married Love" in fact baffles and frustrates newlyweds who are unhappy with the insertion of periodic celibacy into their marital bliss. The FAQs about the whens and whys of NFP practically forbid any tangible interaction with the grave (translated less gravely here as "serious") reasons that permit its practice. Instead, the assumption is that regular continence should be the norm and the old method of "just havin' them babbies" is for third-world weirdos who don't know any better:
In this view of "responsible parenthood" married couples carefully think about the just reasons they may have to postpone pregnancy. When making decisions about the number and spacing of children in their family, they weigh their responsibilities to God, each other, the children they already have, and the world in which they live.
Or, well, they don't.

Not so long ago, experienced adults would have recommended to young men and women who were itching for a scratch that they had better be prepared for parenthood before walking down the aisle. Indulging in God's gift of intercourse between the sexes came with the great joy of fatherhood and motherhood, which was its natural end. Those who presume to indulge had better be ready for the results, emotionally, morally, and financially. The perversion of this end used to be so despised that it was even illegal in the secular state. Now it is claimed as a right.

"Be Her Joseph!" one JP2-generation Catholic writes, but one can hardly imagine the chaste St. Joseph penning something like this about the Blessed Virgin: "Much to my surprise, I also learned how grateful my wife was that I was willing to learn how her body worked!" But one might suppose that the celibate marriage of Joseph and Mary is a somewhat fitting model for the quarter-celibate lifestyle promoted by NFP missionaries and mommy bloggers who cannot abstain from venting their periodic frustration on the rest of us innocent bystanders.

Evelyn Waugh mocked the rise of the birth control movement in his 1932 novel Black Mischief, when the Minister of Modernization in a small African nation attempted to spread propaganda to the uneducated masses by means of a colorful poster design:
It portrayed two contrasted scenes. On one side a native hut of hideous squalor, overrun with children of every age, suffering from every physical incapacity — crippled, deformed, blind, spotted and insane; the father prematurely aged with paternity squatted by an empty cook-pot; through the door could be seen his wife, withered and bowed with child bearing, desperately hoeing at their inadequate crop. On the other side a bright parlour furnished with chairs and table; the mother, young and beautiful, sat at her ease eating a huge slice of raw meat; her husband smoked a long Arab hubble-bubble (still a caste mark of leisure throughout the land), while a single, healthy child sat between them reading a newspaper. Inset between the two pictures was a detailed drawing of some up-to-date contraceptive apparatus and the words in Sakuyu: WHICH HOME DO YOU CHOOSE?
Interest in the pictures was unbounded; all over the island woolly heads were nodding, black hands pointing, tongues clicking against filed teeth in unsyntactical dialects. Nowhere was there any doubt about the meaning of the beautiful new pictures.
See: on right hand: there is rich man: smoke pipe like big chief: but his wife she no good: sit eating meat: and rich man no good: he only one son.
See: on left hand: poor man: not much to eat: but his wife she very good, work hard in field: man he good too: eleven children: one very mad, very holy. And in the middle: Emperor’s juju. Make you like that good man with eleven children.
And as a result, despite admonitions from squire and vicar, the peasantry began pouring into town for the gala, eagerly awaiting initiation to the fine new magic of virility and fecundity.
Our desires are today so divorced from nature and being that those few who welcome all of God's gifts are expected to explain themselves to the "normal" married couple with 1.5 children and a dog. Anyone can slap "God's Plan" on a poster. Few consider the consequences.

"Dear St. Joseph, please make my husband like you: young, hunky, and never too grabby."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Three Calm Thoughts on Sarah's "Liturgical Reconciliation"


Cardinal Sarah's recent suggestion of a "liturgical reconciliation" between the Pauline Mass and the Pacellian-Johannine Missal has set the Tradosphere blogosphere on fire. There are the Ordinariate-like ideas of inserting elements from the 1962 Missal pertaining to the priest's piety (Introibo ad altare Dei, a real offertory, and the Last Gospel), but also the obligatory lip service to the new liturgy's more of a good thing is better: more disorganized Scripture, more green Sundays. Anyone who thinks more of a good thing must be a good thing should try drinking Chartreuse every night; he will first be drunk and broke, and then in withdrawal and homeless.

Here are three calm thoughts, after the storm, about Cardinal Sarah's idea.

I: A Useful Reminder

Cardinal Sarah's proposal is a useful reminder to proponent of pre-Conciliar liturgical forms that "conservatives" may be helpful allies, but they will never truly be their friends. Benedict XVI Ratzinger was a bona fide liberal to the core. He lamented the mediocre outcome of the liturgical reform while defending its purpose to the end, whilst some fight over whether or not he ever celebrated the 1962 Mass privately as Pope of Rome. After Summorum Pontificum we heard that the liberation of Pacellian-Johannine Missal was not primarily an overture to the Fraternity of St. Pius X; of course it was, while also running a part-time job in Benedict's desire to jump-start discussion of organic "reform of the reform" in the modern liturgy.

Just as Ratzinger is no conservative, the conservatives are neither traditionalists nor Traditionalists. Their interest in the 1962 Missal is not primarily an overture to the Fraternity, but as a template to make the Pauline Mass more acceptable. Ratzinger, aside from any lingering guilt over the botched negotiations with Archbishop Lefebvre, also had a pastoral interest in those who may have been left behind in the liturgical changes of the 1960s, then an older crowd. Modern prelatial celebrants of the old rite share this interest in pastoral welfare, doubtlessly, but also have other interests. They were not ordained in the old rite for the old rite and are too young to have been caught up in the post-Summorum traditionalist movement; instead, these good spirited men are dedicated to making the most out of what they were given and refuse to believe what they were given was so thoroughly bad that it was not in some way a substantial renewal of what preceded it. One must not forget that a conservative conserves what was given to him, while a traditionalists, colloquially speaking, lives within a tradition given to him.

II: An Academic Idea If Ever There Was One

Anyone who has spent more than a minute within a university seminar perceives that the seminar leader thinks other people should think his ideas are relevant to the world at large. More commonly, they are not. While doing something about the Mass nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand Roman Catholics attend is relevant, expending an equal quantity of effort on the Mass the other fellow attends is merely wasteful. Could this be a nod to the history books, which would show reform of one Mass and not the other as an acknowledgement of one's unique lacking? The term "reconciliation" offers some insight, since a reconciliation, in the spoken understanding of the word, means a coming together at a mid-point. Raymond Cardinal Burke pushed the hybrid Mass four years after Summorum and gained little for it. While one can fathom putting effort into making a "hybrid" Mass for general use with the Novus Ordo as a template, it would be far more difficult to make the old Mass (1962 or the real thing) into something consonant with the average parish liturgy and not make a shambles of it.

On an academic level, the things the "Reformers of the Reform" would insert into the new Mass are the newest features of the old Mass (Introibo ad altare, the Tridentine offertory, the Last Gospel) while the very features Cardinal Sarah would like to impose on the old liturgy are the more ancient features of the Roman rite so unceremoniously tossed to the curb by what Louis Bouyer aptly called "three idiots" (the kalendar and the lectionary upon which it is based, as well as the matching Vespers and Lauds antiphons). Priests might benefit from the piety of the old Mass, but the laity would also benefit from its liturgical stability in the propers, which predate the separate sacerdotal elements.

On a practical level, the parts of the new liturgy worthy of imposition into the "extraordinary form" simply do not fit with the proper chants, orations, or kalendar. There is no Pentecost octave, Septuagesima, or series of Ember Days in the Pauline lectionary; there is no feast of "Saint John Paul the Great" in the old liturgy, or Ascension Thursday Sunday. To revise the Ordo of the Pauline liturgy could be done with a small committee (it's the Vatican, folks) of translators after a year of internal deliberations. To ensure that a similar, countervailing force hit the propers in the old liturgy would take a team of "scholars", researchers, translators, "liturgists", and bureaucrats unseen since the original Consilium and likely involve several years of work.

Would it be worth three years of work by eighty men to ensure 0.1% of the Latin Church is met with the same effect as ten men in one year could assert on the other 99.9%? 

III: A Minority Opinion

The last thing worthy of consideration, and perhaps most important, is that the "conservative" liturgist is among the rarest creatures in the Church. Many who we, in imitation of American political divisions, we call "conservatives" are pro-life, JP2 generation Catholics who frankly do not give a hoot about the Mass as long as it is valid. We know where liberals stand. We know where Traditionalists stand. As state in section I above, the conservative liturgist is often of an older generation that feels fidelity to the reformed liturgy and at the same time wishes for something more vivacious and reverent for the Church. This is a noble idea, but it was never popular and is fading with the priests ordained in the '70s ad '80s, In many Western dioceses now, outside of Latin America, one can find a few old rite Masses, the odd outrageous liberal Mass, and a ubiquitously mediocre parish Mass; what one almost never finds is the idealized "Reform of the Reform" new rite Mass, which few priests have the courage or interest to practice and even fewer bishop wish to permit. In America and England these are limited to a select few parishes in a select few metropolitan cities. On continental Europe they seem even rarer, aside from pilgrimage sights like St. Peter's in Rome.

A Closing Recommendation

Reread the previous article The Future of the Roman Liturgy & the Ordinariate Option. It touches on the phenomena behind Cardinal Sarah's remarks within the perspective of recent trends and an eye towards the future. I believe it is the most worthwhile thing I have written this year.

A blessed feast of Saint Pantaleon to all.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Old Claimants

"Some would argue that the Austro-Hungarian Empire still exists, since Blessed Karl never lawfully abdicated," said my host during the post-dinner cigars last evening. "That's quite something," I quietly thought, "since when my grandmother left Hungary in 1925 she was accustomed to calling it Hungary."

Our sympathies for noble causes can sometimes distract us when they are too removed from reality to see the tinge of human fault, which would be more apparent were there any substance to them. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is very gone. 

This conversation led me to remember a strange tomb I saw in the Vatican basilica six years ago. I could not understand why it was there, ignorant of pretender history at the time, and was convinced the Latin must have been some sort of mistake, since England never had a James III. The "Karlists" may never have their chance, but the Jacobites did and made the least of it. The Hanovers and their descendants continue to supply English monarchs. Walter Scott's Edward Waverly failed to advance the Stuart cause, apparently. 



Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mary, Quite Contrary [Repost]

[Unfortunately I have not had the leisure to study more deeply into the cult of the "Apostle to the Apostles" since writing this short overview last year. The uncertainty surrounding her identity—is St. Mary Magdalene the sister of Sts. Martha and Lazarus or another woman altogether?—does lead to devotional difficulties, not to mention minor ecumenical hardships. I tend to side with the Roman tradition on this matter, as on many others, but not nearly with the level of certainty I give to "Old" St. Joseph. The academic study of hagiography too quickly splits into schools of skepticism (the majority) and credulity (the clear but vocal minority), and Catholic intellectuals rarely approach these subjects with both thoughtfulness and reverence.]

The Quasi-Assumption of Mary (Giotto)
Last month Pope Francis promoted the commemoration of St. Mary Magdalen in the new kalendar to a feast, prompting a small flurry of discussion about the true identity of the Apostolorum Apostola. The western conflation of Magdalen with the sister of St. Martha has a long and noble tradition dating back at least to Pope Gregory the Dialogist, but in the east the Orthodox have long considered them to be distinct persons.

After finishing my Josephology series, I had considered writing a short series on the history of Mary Magdalen in liturgical history, but most of the books on the subject were written either from a neo-Gnostic or an egregiously feminist philosophical base. The few Orthodox sources I could find were polemically anti-occidental, so finding a sober consideration of this great saint was next to impossible. (Honestly, is it really so difficult to think that a woman from whom was cast seven devils might have been a great sinner?)

Personally, I find the scriptural argument for conflating the two Marys and the female “sinner” reasonable if not absolutely compelling. It would be strange if the women Luke and John describe as having anointed the feet of Christ with their hair were two separate people, and John’s Gospel suggests that Mary of Bethany indeed anointed his feet twice. “Mary who is called Magdalen” is named just after Luke’s narrative of the penitent prostitute, suggesting but not necessitating a connection. But it is reasonable that the Mary who had anointed Christ’s feet in preparation for his burial would also be the one to go out to the Holy Sepulchre to anoint his dead body.

Hugh Pope constructs this possible sequence of events for the “conflated” penitent and Marys:
In the view we have advocated the series of events forms a consistent whole; the “sinner” comes early in the ministry to seek for pardon; she is described immediately afterwards as Mary Magdalen “out of whom seven devils were gone forth”; shortly after, we find her “sitting at the Lord’s feet and hearing His words.” To the Catholic mind it all seems fitting and natural. At a later period Mary and Martha turn to “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, and He restores to them their brother Lazarus; a short time afterwards they make Him a supper and Mary once more repeats the act she had performed when a penitent. At the Passion she stands near by; she sees Him laid in the tomb; and she is the first witness of His Resurrection—excepting always His Mother, to whom He must needs have appeared first, though the New Testament is silent on this point. In our view, then, there were two anointings of Christ’s feet—it should surely be no difficulty that St. Matthew and St. Mark speak of His head—the first (Luke 7) took place at a comparatively early date; the second, two days before the last Passover. But it was one and the same woman who performed this pious act on each occasion.
The Protestant separation of the Marys was not ubiquitous even among the heretics. Although John Calvin explicitly separated Mary of Bethany from Mary Magdalen in his Gospel commentaries, the Lutheran and Anglican sects retained the Gregorian hagiographical tradition.

I cannot agree with Fr. Erlenbush that the Latin tradition and the common post-Gregorian papal opinion of Marian conflation easily proves the Roman martyrology correct, as if the eastern tradition was not worthy of account. Perhaps someday a future Council will consider this topic worthy of dogmatic clarification, but for now we must live with some measure of uncertainty.

The Greeks say that the Myrrh-Bearer Magdalen lived with St. John and the Blessed Virgin in Ephesus for many years until her death. The Latin tradition has her being cast into the sea on a small boat with Martha and Lazarus until their ship found the coasts of France. From there, Mary made her retirement as a hermit until her death. The medieval Golden Legend describes her desert life:
In this meanwhile the blessed Mary Magdalene, desirous of sovereign contemplation, sought a right sharp desert, and took a place which was ordained by the angel of God, and abode there by the space of thirty years without knowledge of anybody. In which place she had no comfort of running water, nor solace of trees, nor of herbs. And that was because our Redeemer did do show it openly, that he had ordained for her refection celestial, and no bodily meats. And every day at every hour canonical she was lifted up in the air of angels, and heard the glorious song of the heavenly companies with her bodily ears. Of which she was fed and filled with right sweet meats, and then was brought again by the angels unto her proper place, in such wise as she had no need of corporal nourishing.
The head of Mary Magdalen is believed to be held in La Sainte-Baume, in the south of France.

Mary Magdalen, feminist icon, pray for us!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Can I Depose a Pope?

Yes, of course I can! And you can, too! It just takes an army.

What was the difference between the deposition of Saint Liberius for archdeacon Felix and the deposition of Gregory XII (and Benedict XIII and John XXIII) at Constance? Why, that the latter stuck and the former did not.

Of course the election of Papa Bergoglio was quite uncanonical if we are to pay attention to the politicking of Messrs. Mahoney, Danneels, Kasper and the rest before the conclave, but there is the simple fact that Francis is a validly consecrated bishop who wears a white cassock and is recognized by the people of Rome as their bishop, whether they like him or not—all all signs point toward not.

The most common way to depose a pope, historically, has been murder. During the saeculum obscurum the strumpets Theodora and Marozia routinely gave birth to popes and, while nursing the future pontiffs, put old daffers on the Petrine chair until the pontifices reached age twenty. The reigning bishop would then suddenly die of old age and the new brat would be elected. It was during this time that the praegustatio entered the offertory (and canon, and Communion) of Papal Mass. This is not a method of deposition to be recommended.

The other two, more ethical manners are these:

  1. Throw him out
  2. Paralyze him
The first manner has only been done a handful of times, last during the lamentable third pontificate of Benedict IX. It is to raise a group of armed men and tell the pope to take a hike. The election of his successor would then follow. The fate of Benedict nearly befell John XI (who "turned the Lateran into a brothel"), but Alberic II merely decided to imprison his older brother in the palace rather than outright sack him. 

The other manner is papal paralysis, which is to say, to render a pope impotent despite the trappings of his holy office. The two papal claimants who visited the Council of Constance were theoretically voted out of office before they met the Council, but realizing that the Council could only be a true ecumenical council with the approval of a valid pope, both claimants had to convene the Council and then resign the Apostolic See. Both could have held on to their claims, but the Church at large had grown so tired of the Great Schism that they risked being ignored. Seeing the tepidity of their positions, Benedict XIII and Gregory XII resigned to make way for Martin V. This is the sort of forced resignation which is more violent than the former two, which merely used violence. Murdering a pope and firing him merely hurt the man in the Office (something that would not be possible were not the age spiritually sick already), but throwing aside the Office is a greater problem altogether, as it diminishes the prestige of the Office. Would there be a Borgia Papacy if not for the Great Schism? Or a Reformation if not for a Borgia Papacy?

The "solution" to the current papacy is not the wishfully wanted forced resignation with Cardinal Burke throwing the gavel at Bergoglio. Was not something to the effect done with Papa Ratzinger, who some now lament losing? 

Our age, spiritually, more approximates to the pornacracy and saeculum obscurum of Benedict IX and John XI than to the Christian Age in confusion that was the Great Schism. Monasteries planted the seeds for a restored Western Christendom without strife from the papacy precisely because they ignored it. It may not be plausible to turn off the computer and the iPhone when the archbishop calls, but the Church can be changed in certain places until one day Rome recognizes that the corrupt Church which allowed it to devolve to its current state no longer exists. Then will end the days of Capozzi and begin the days of Hildebrand.

Or you can just depose the pope. You just need an army....

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Vietato Lamentarsi!


Few symbols can summarize the banality of the current papacy better than this "Complaining is Forbidden" sign on Pope Francis's apartment door. The sign was a gift from Italian self-help writer Salvo Noé, a man with the least sincere smile that side of the Atlantic. News outlets around the world are praising the sign as a sign (ahem) that conservatives are getting too whiny about the disregard The Francis extends to their half-baked heroes like Müller and Burke. It is certainly a sign that Papa Piagnone doesn't mind continuing his run of hypocrisy.

To be sure, there are plenty of whiners in the Catholic Alt-Right. Christopher Ferrara, Esq. never ceases to hiss at the Dubia cardinals, no doubt excoriating poor Cdl. Meisner even beyond the grave. Steve Skojec screams about beta masculinity at anyone who contradicts him on American politics. Frank Walker's barrel of sarcasm never runs dry. Louie Verrecchio and Ann "Crazy Eyes" Barnhardt boldly proclaim Long-Faced Francis an antipope. Anonymous traddy priests upload sermons about the dangers of gossip and Harry Potter while the world burns.

And yet...

Last week I had the pleasure of witnessing the marriage of two very close long-time friends. The wedding was beautifully (if novusorderly) done, the reception was full of decent food and fun dancing, and the send-off was cheerfully memorable. The world may be crumbling, but that is no excuse to forgo feasting and family, to ignore the good things God still gives us. Our pope is at least correct that joy is a necessary part of the Christian life, even in the midst of turmoil. The City of Man can never overcome the City of God.

While it is necessary to point out the nudity of the Emperor, it is unseemly to stare at it for any great length of time. Noe's prudent sons covered his nakedness in his drunken stupor, but if he had belligerently refused to be clothed, what could they have done but walk away? Francis doesn't want complainers near his door because he does not want any harsh truths being spoken in his hearing. No true prophets are desired in his presence.

"For the Lord hath mingled for you the spirit of a deep sleep. He will shut up your eyes, he will cover your prophets and princes that see visions. Wisdom shall perish from their wise men, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid."

Papa Bergoglio no longer wishes to hear what his critics have to say. He wishes to have his ears tickled and his feet massaged. The only reason to criticize his words and actions is to remove the stumbling block that is Francis from the path of one's fellow Catholics and inquirers of good will. Let not the Bishop of Rome be a scandal against the practice of the Faith.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

After the Reformation IV: Pauline Theology

(source)
One thing you learn when growing up Protestant is that you cannot understand the words of Jesus except as explained by St. Paul. The dominican words of the Gospels are too vague and symbolic, too emotional and hyperbolic, to ever be understood in their plain sense. Christ's admonition to perform good works and the threat of damnation leveled at the justified are simply too complex to be taken at face value. What the average Christian needs is an interpreter who is also speaking divine words: enter Paul the Apostle. Jesus, with whom the Christian supposedly has a personal relationship, takes a back seat to Paul, with whom he is not allowed to have active relations.

Supposedly one need only look at some of the crazy things Christ said—plucking out eyes and spinning yarns—to see that he was speaking simply and to simple people. For robust theology, one apparently must look elsewhere, and St. Paul's epistles are easy pickins for the would-be reformer. Not, of course, that any contradiction can actually be found between the words of Christ and the inspired writings of St. Paul, but in many ways his words are easier to to twist than Our Lord's. In his writings "are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction" (II Pet. 3).

These terrible warnings remained unheeded by Fr. Martin Luther, who was so bold as to flagrantly correct St. Paul's epistle to the Roman Church. The Apostle's theology of grace, justification, predestination, and law are highly complex. Because of the density of his writings, the average layman is relieved to rely on a commentary rather than slogging through the epistolatory swamp on his own. If the commentator appears erudite but still writes at a low level, he is almost certain to succeed in convincing many.

When Protestantism began to disintegrate into liberal movements, its overemphasis on St. Paul remained. These new perfidious theologians accused the Apostle to the Gentiles of inventing Christianity and of twisting the true teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. This was nothing more than the flip side of the longstanding reliance on Paul—an inevitable exploitation of an interior imbalance. There has been some pushback among conservative Protestant scholars with a so-called New Perspective on Paul, but most consider this an unwanted compromise.

Throw a rock into a crowd of Protestant theologians, and you are unlikely to find one that specializes in anything but Pauline theology. Sometimes they possess a passing familiarity with the other books of Holy Writ, but much in the way one might remember the required reading of his youth (Homer and Virgil in a better age, Steinbeck and Salinger in ours), not in the way of an expert or a careful reader. They cannot abstract their heresies from the Gospels, and must of necessity find easier targets.

Like many of the theologian-saints who have graced the Church of God throughout the centuries, St. Paul has not been free from the indignity of misuse and exaggerated importance. He had a much more humble opinion of his own person and abilities, and a higher opinion of his office, than most of his commentators have bestowed upon him.

It is unseemly to cast aspersions upon any part of Holy Scriptures, but one does wonder if Protestants will ever be cured of their Pauline madness if they do not put down the Collected Letters of St. Paul and read just about anything else in its place. Their theological tunnel vision has been corrupting Catholic schools for far too long, and if only for our sake it needs to come to an end.