Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Francis' Trinitarian Theology

This needs little comment from the peanut gallery, as the selection speaks for itself. This is from an article on Crux about an Argentinian theologian who thinks she understands and can explain the thought of P. Francis.
She [Dr. Emilce Cuda] says Francis urged them to do theological ethics with a “hermeneutic of unity in difference,” an idea that the network has already embraced before his election. It’s a theme that recurs in the pope’s intellectual passions: creating processes in which the Holy Spirit forges new synthesis out of disparities and disagreements.
In the meeting, the pope jokingly likened this to the way the Holy Trinity functions. “Inside the Holy Trinity they’re all arguing behind closed doors,” Cuda says Francis told them, “but on the outside they give the picture of unity.”
Cuda says his comparison made her think of something more earthy attributed to Argentina’s famous leader Juan Domingo PerĂ³n. “In Peronism, when they hear cats shrieking, people outside think they’re fighting; in fact, they’re reproducing.”
There are few words for this kind of casual blasphemy, only a rising desire to do a great deal of penance. God have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Book of the Church

While it goes by the name of Sirach in many Bibles, the ancient title in the Latin Church was Liber Ecclesiasticus, shortened today simply as Ecclesiasticus. It was so named because its content was used frequently for the teaching of doctrine and morals, especially for the education of catechumens. The book begins with the doctrine that there is one God, but also Wisdom and his Holy Spirit, and admonishes the soon-to-be-convert: "Never come to him with a heart that hesitates.... Submissive be thy heart, and ready to bear all.... Firm let thy feet be set on the path the Lord has chosen for thee." What better advice to give to a catechumen?

Much of the book's content is aphoristic, but much also is a series of long-form considerations on different topics: social duties, husbands and wives ("He best thrives that best wives": ch. 26), care for the poor, the choosing of friends, exhortations against sadness, and so on. All of it worthwhile advice that today's homilists would be wise to consider including in their sermons.

The mid-book monologue from Wisdom herself is famous for being the one with the most Marian imagery ("I am the mother of fair love..."). Indeed, one wishes to contrast one passage—"Eat of this fruit, and you will yet hunger for more; drink of this wine, and your thirst for it is still unquenched"—with the dominican passage in St. John's Gospel—"He who comes to me will never be hungry, he who has faith in me will never know thirst." The acquisition of wisdom leads to a desire for more wisdom, and devotion to the Theotokos leads to a desire for the God she bore.

Certain passages contradict Protestant doctrines of depravity, antinomianism, and predestination: "Do not complain that it was [God] led thee into false paths; what need has God, thinkest thou, of rebels?... Those commandments if thou wilt observe, they in their turn shall preserve thee, and give thee warrant of his favour.... A brood of disloyal sons and worthless, how should this be the Lord's desire?" (ch. 15). Luther and Calvin both would have a strong dislike for this type of wisdom.

The last five chapters or so recapitulate Hebrew history and praise holy men of years gone by: Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Phinees, Samuel, Nathan, Elias, and so on. He ends with a magnificent soliloquy about a more contemporary high priest—Simon, son of Onias. So rare is it to hear a priest praised for his holiness and good works, it is worth reproducing at some length:
A great priest was Simon, son of Onias; in his day the house of God was repaired, to make the temple strong was his life’s task. The high part of the temple, where the building was of double thickness, and the towering walls about it, he underpinned; in his day, too, the cisterns received their full flow of water, rose beyond all measuring, sea-deep. So well he cared for his fellow-citizens; no enemy should be able to compass our ruin; nor lacked he means to enlarge the city’s span. See in what state he comes out to meet the people; entrance of temple and of temple-court lifted high above him! Bright he shone as the day-star amid the clouds, as the full moon in her season; nor sun ever shed on our own temple such generous rays as he. What shall be compared with him? Rainbow that lights up the clouds with sudden glory, rose in spring-time, lilies by the water-side, scent of olibanum on the summer air? Fire that glows brightly, and glow of incense on the fire? Ornament of pure gold, set with whatever stones are rarest; olive-tree that burgeons, tall cypress pointing to the sky? Such was he when he put on his robe of office, clad himself with the full majesty of his array; sacred the garments in which he went up to the sacred altar, yet were they ennobled by the man that wore them. (ch. 50)
God send us priests worthy of such praise!

After reading this book cover-to-cover, I doubt it would be useful to simply dump it all on a catechumen and tell him to read and discuss later. Much of it is too repetitive and poorly organized for catechesis, and many of the asides are not terribly relevant (such as instructions for throwing dinner parties in ch. 32). Selections from Ecclesiasticus could be incorporated into teaching material, especially during the inevitably long discussions of moral theology. The exhortation to combat ignorance is a good one for catechumen and mentor alike: "Speak thou never against the known truth; and if thy ignorance has erred, own thy error" (ch. 4).

Finally, as in the Apocalypse, this book ends with a blessing on the reader: "Blessed is he who lingers in these pleasant haunts, and treasures the memory of them." A pleasant haunt, indeed.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Origins of "Church Militant"

Recently while reading the discourses of P. Gregory the Great with Peter the Deacon concerning the immortality of the soul, I came across this interesting passage recounting how the death of multiple monks in Gregory's old monastery was foretold by an angelic visitor:
That those also, which lie a dying, do oftentimes by divine revelation foretell what shall happen afterward, we may learn by such things as have fallen out amongst us in divers Abbeys. For ten years since, there was a monk in my Monastery, called Gerontius, who, lying sore sick, saw by vision in the night time, certain white men beautifully apparelled to descend from above into the Monastery, and standing by his bed-side, one of them said: "The cause of our coming hither is to choose out certain of Gregory's monks, to send them abroad unto the wars": and forthwith he commanded another to write in a bill the names of Marcellus, Valentinian, Agnellus, and divers others, whose names I have now forgotten: that being done, he said further: "Put down also the name of him that now beholdeth us." By which vision he being assured of that which would come to pass, the next morning he told the monks, who they were that should shortly die out of the Monastery, adding also that himself was to follow them. The next day the foresaid monks fell more dangerously sick, and so died all in that very order which they were named in the bill. Last of all, himself also departed this life, who had foretold the departure of the other monks before him. (IV.xxvi)
What interested me especially was the phrase used by the angel of death, that these monks were being recruited to be "sent abroad unto the wars." This imagery of the saints in Heaven engaged in warfare is not, to my knowledge, found elsewhere. It makes sense that the souls of holy men war against the Devil just as the holy angels do, but still the appellation Ecclesia Militans is applied to us here on earth, and Ecclesia Triumphans describes those safe in the harbor of Heaven.

The imagery in the Militant-Triumphant metaphor is clear: the soul of a man on Earth is in constant warfare against sin, the world, the flesh, and the Devil; while the soul of a man in Heaven has triumphed over all these enemies and is established forever in grace. St. Thomas Aquinas used the Militant-Triumphant dichotomy in his Summa (II-I.102.4), but I cannot otherwise trace the origins of this terminology.

I have to wonder why the Gregorian imagery of the holy dead being sent off to war did not gain purchase in popular piety. Was it because of a increasing consciousness of the middle state, the Ecclesia Dolens? Did Purgatory conquer so much of the imagination that theologians desired to emphasize the rest and triumph of the state of blessedness? The ecclesial phrases suggest a transition from activity to passivity, but if the holy angels truly rest in the Beatific Vision and yet are perpetually active on our behalf, why should not the great "cloud of witnesses" do the same? We might we not go from one sort of militancy to another?

Mind you, I am not being critical or especially skeptical of the popular terminology of Militant-Suffering-Triumphant. I am merely curious about its origins. If any of our good readers have knowledge of this aspect of Catholic piety, I would love to hear it.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Joseph's Dream of God

Today being the external solemnity of the Feast of St. Joseph, I suppose I am required to say a few words. Thankfully, P. Francis has saved me from my writer's block with a new radio address (link courtesy of the ever-irascible Frank "Barnhardt Was Right" Walker):
Today I want to ask, grant to all of us the ability to dream, that when we dream great things, beautiful things, we might draw near to the dream of God, the things God dreams about us. [I ask] that he might give to young people – because he was young – the capacity to dream, to risk, to undertake the difficult tasks they have seen in dreams. And [I ask] him to give to all of us the faithfulness that tends to grow when we have a just attitude – Joseph was just – [the faithfulness that] grows in silence, with few words; that grows in tenderness that guards our own weaknesses and those of others.
Actually, I do like to imagine Joseph dreaming prophetically, when he was young, of his future bride and her Divine Son. Perhaps he, too, dreamed of the sun and moon bowing down before him, a figure of his eventual role as the head of the Holy Family.

Or perhaps Francis should re-read the ancient words of Sirach before encouraging the young to follow their dreams: "For dreams have deceived many, and they have failed that put their trust in them." Food for thought.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Audi Filia, et Vide, et Inclina Aurem Tuam

Above is a Stanford recreation of the acoustics of the Hagia Sophia and how chant would have sounded there in the Christian age. The Cappella Romana performed several Greek pieces, like the Cherubic hymn, which were then processed using an auditory blueprint of the cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-museum.

After listening to Greek chant in this setting the droning makes more sense than it does in modern Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches. Far from dominating the tone or drowning out inflections as it does today, the drone acts as background music to give body to the sound in the same way strings do to woodwinds in an orchestra or a bass does to a rock band. When the chant resonates the particular traits of words can be lost, but the drone, in the same key as the words sung when the drone was made, keeps the note clear as long as the noise persists. The melismatic nature of Gregorian chant in Latin Christendom and the chanting of reading doubtlessly accomplished the same end by slowing down the singing.

To have heard the Trisagion and to hear Chrysostom rebuke Eudoxia....

Thursday, March 16, 2017

It's Lent, So Pray for the Dead

Lent is upon us, so please take the time to pray for the dead, either in the firmer structures of the Office of the Dead or in your own way (psalm 129 is great).

As usual we have prepared the page above where you can list your intentions and also download our formatted version of the un-reformed Officium Defunctorum for votive and Requiem uses. If you can, please join the writers of this blog in praying for our intentions.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

All Lined Up

I present you with a speculative question: when and how did the unitary movement of the three senior ministers at solemn Mass come about in the Latin Church? It is so fundamentally a part of the physical vocabulary of the Latin Church's liturgy that by the time of Trent it was done in seemingly every Western rite descended from the Church of Rome, hence excluding the Milanese and Toledoan rites.

My own guess is that it came in two stages: first with the principle of a singular celebrant for each Mass and second with the increase of reverences paid to the altar.

Sacramentaries and and psalters and the odd fragment of a lectionary come down to us from the pre-medieval days, but very few descriptions of the physical movements of the ministers. Even the increased output of book production from monasteries yielded very little in this regard; when the Oxford Oratorian Sean Finnegan put on Sarum Masses in 1996 and 1997 he derived the ceremonial from illustrations in old Missals and texts rather than concrete rubrics (although some of this may have to do with the modest number of Missals that survived the Reformation). The best hint as to the structure of the ministers in the early days of the Roman liturgy is the pre-Paul VI Papal Mass, the most direct link to the primitive Roman liturgy. In this order of Mass the Pope celebrated at the top step of the altar surrounded by an archpriest and the Cardinal-Bishops vested in copes. A step down from him were the deacons and at the bottom the subdeacon and the Greek deacon and subdeacon. Cardinal-Priests vested in the chasuble and Cardinal-Deacons in the dalmatic; they sat in choir according to the dignity of their Cardinal order, not their ordained order, as most Cardinals were forcibly ordained bishops by this time. As with the additional ministers in the ponitifical form of the Lyonese Mass these vestures and orders of stature are relics from an age when more ministers took an active part in the Mass. At some point the number of sacred ministers and their functions began to consolidate. For example, if the subdeacon is given the right to hold and purify vessels at ordination then why must he hold the paten under the hummeral veil? Simply because he is fulfilling the role previously occupied by the acolytes (cf. Ordo Romanus I) in the first millennium in Rome and in the northern rites under Trent (cf. Sarum); the acolyte in the Roman liturgy held the various patens on the ground level while the breads consecrated at the altar rested on the linens until the fracturing of the sacred species, as the subdeacon does today.

Why did the number of ministers and celebrants become reduced? Requiem Masses, private votive Masses, and additional Masses for the day had much to do with it. Outside of a few major feasts (Christmas, potentially Pascha, Nativity of St. John the Forerunner etc) it was very uncommon for a priest to celebrate more than once a day. The rise of unique Requiem Masses for deceased monks and votive Masses in honor of Saints gave monastic celebrants the option between a private Mass for a specific intentional and the communal Mass, which would be celebrated regardless. As the number of celebrants declined to one so the number of deacons, subdeacons, and acolytes declined to one each. As late as the age of Innocent III the Cardinal-Priests still concelebrated with the Pope on special feasts (then again the primitive Office was still used in St. Peter's and the Lateran, and the primitive Mass on the feast of St. Peter's Chair; the Pope may be referencing these usages and not the curial books popularized by the Minorites). While archaeological evidence remained at Papal Mass, Lyon, and Salisbury of additional ministers in the form of honorary attendees, the older number of active ministers clearly declined by the end of the High Middle Ages. There was one of each minister assigned, as they were in ancient times, to a step from the altar according to each minister's dignity.

This brings us to the second phase in the development of the concurrent movements of the ministers: the increased reverenced paid to the altar. With the single ministers aligned step by step they began to move in unison with the celebrant, who would reverence the altar before greeting the people with Dominus vobiscum. This happened with greater or lesser frequency depending on place. Sarum made a few reverences to the altar and the Dominus vobiscum before the orations happened from the corner where the Missal rested. In Rome the celebrant would move to the center of the altar, kiss it, and return to the Missal for the Collects and post-Communions, so the ministers moved with him.

If done without fuss the movements of the ministers rightly reflects the sacred order of the heavenly hosts, the choirs of angels and the saints in their place before the even high Lord of All. If overdone, these movements can appear comical, which was the impression a friend's mother (JP2 type) received after her first "old" Mass. "I like it when they nod their heads together."

I welcome any further insights on the development of these very Roman movements.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Foolishness of the Egyptians

"Israel they recognized for God's children only when the first-born died."
After the Canticle of Canticles, one moves into the books St. Jerome preferred be left out of the biblical canon. The Book of Wisdom is the first of these, and though it is written in the person of King Solomon, most commentators agree that it was written by another hand, and probably much later. Indeed, the sapiential style here more closely resembles that of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) than Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, being far more broad-ranging than Solomon's narrower considerations of court politics and personal responsibility.

Nonetheless, Wisdom is notable for its prophecy of Christ's Passion (ch. 2), its promotion of celibacy (ch. 3-4), and a universal condemnation of pagan idolatry through the example of the Egyptians (ch. 12ff.). This discourse on idolatry should be read carefully by everyone tempted to doubt the doctrine of Original Sin. The book ends abruptly after accusing Egypt of worse sins than Sodom, and of being more worthy of destruction (ch. 19), and I have to wonder if originally there was more to the manuscript.

(As an aside, the following passage seems to be one of the source texts for those who claim the sin of Sodom was not primarily one of, well, sodomy, but of inhospitality: "Did not their [the Egyptians'] own wickedness deserve the pains they suffered, a race even more inhospitable than the men of Sodom before them? These did but refuse a welcome when strangers came to their doors; the Egyptians condemned their own guests, their own benefactors, to slavery.")

Platonic philosophy may have influenced the writer, as in the following passages: "So well the Lord loved him, from a corrupt world he would grant him swift release" (ch. 4); "Ever the soul is weighed down by a mortal body, earth-bound cell that clogs the manifold activity of its thought" (ch. 9); "The power that created an ordered world out of dark chaos" (ch. 11); "What excellence must be his, the Author of all Beauty" (ch. 13). The four cardinal virtues, a categorization lifted from the Aristotelian school, are listed as well: "Temperance and prudence she teaches, justice and fortitude, and what in life avails man more?" (ch. 8). All this lends credence to a composition by a Greek-influenced author.

There is also a terrifying passage, applied to the Incarnation of the Son of God by the Church at Christmastide, but which in context refers to the descent of the avenging angel against the Egyptians at the first Passover:
Against those earlier plagues, sorcery had hardened their hearts; Israel they recognized for God's children only when the first-born died. There was a hush of silence all around, and night had but finished half her swift journey, when from thy heavenly throne, Lord, down leaped thy word omnipotent. Never lighted sterner warrior on a doomed land; never was sword so sharp, errand so unmistakable; thy word that could spread death everywhere, that trod earth, yet reached up to heaven. All at once came terror in their dreams; phantoms dismayed, and sudden alarms overtook them; and when they lay a-dying, each fallen where fall he must, they confessed what fault it was they expiated; all was foretold by the dreams that so disquieted them; they were not suffered to perish ignorant of their offence. (ch. 18)
One might read Wisdom also as a theodicy and a justification of God's punishments. No corner or cave does the inspired author give to sinners who seek to flee God's all-seeing eye. "It is the wicked that... court death, and melt away in its embrace" (ch. 1); "Since the devil's envy brought death into the world, they make him their model that take him for their master" (ch. 2); "Thou knewest well that theirs was a worthless breed... an accursed race" (ch. 12); "Sinner and sin, God hates both" (ch. 14); "Over [the Egyptians] this heavy curtain of night was spread, image of the darkness that should be their next abode" (ch. 17); "They were not suffered to perish ignorant of their offence" (ch. 18); and so forth. A worthy meditation for Lent, I suppose.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Gregory the Great

Today marks the traditional feast of P. Gregory I, surnamed Magnus, one of the brightest lights of the Catholic priesthood. A tireless reformer, writer, and lover of monasticism, Gregory is known for his revisions of the Roman Rite of the liturgy, for his Scripture commentaries, and perhaps most popularly for his Dialogues, which serve as an early collection of hagiography and monastic history. The voluminous Moralia in Job was not only a Scripture commentary of the highest order, but a source of allegorical imagery that would influence Western iconography for many centuries. He is said to have been so impressed by the natural virtues of the pagan Emperor Trajan that he beseeched God to raise the man from the dead so that he could receive baptism; the Almighty promptly granted the pope's request, and the pagan emperor soon found himself plucked from the fires of Hell and admitted into the joys of Heaven.

So exalted were his writings that Gregory is often depicted, as above, with the Divine Dove speaking in his ear, as though his writings were inspired like the Holy Writ itself. During his own life he was occasionally painted in art with a square nimbus, an iconographical oddity permitted for the depiction of living, holy men. His feast is celebrated on this day (of his death) even among the heretics and schismatics, with the 1969 neo-kalendar being the sole exception.

From Lauds:
Deus, qui animae famuli tui Gregorii aeternae beatitudinis praemia contulisti: concede propitius; ut qui peccatorum nostrorum pondere premimur, ejus apud te precibus sublevemur.

O God, who hast blessed the soul of thy servant Gregory with an everlasting blessing, mercifully grant that we, who groan under the burden of our sins, may by his prayers be relieved.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Do You Have A Smudge? Why Are Protestants Doing Lent?

"You have Good Friday?"
"Yes, we do! Isn't it great?"
"Maybe, but why?"
"I'm not sure, but it isn't really a big deal to us."
"It's the death of the Lord."
"Yes, but Easter is on a Sunday, so it's more important."

The community in question was a local Dallas megachurch. Fifteen thousand souls pass through its wide gate every Sunday, having signed an official statement of membership that they agree with each of the church's numerous detailed position papers. It is a jeans, t-shirt, and rock band establishment meant to bring evangelicalism as close to mainstream American culture as possible without explicitly becoming a part of it. 

They may not do Ash Wednesday and Lent, but like many protestant churches in the United States it has adopted "liturgical" things to draw people through the doors because it resembles what the masses expect Christianity to be. A poignant article by one R. Scott Clark, fitting entitled "Relevance" Leads Back to Rome, rightly recalls the Reformed theologian Cavlin's aphorism that the human heart is an "idol factory" and prone to make ceremonies into something they are not. Where Mr. Clark errs is in ignoring human nature and the history of those who lived just after Biblical times. Lent was not invented at Nicaea in 325, it was the fast of catechumens before reception into the Church on Pascha extended to all the faithful in preparation for the great feast; the period itself is doubtlessly a spiritual imitation of the forty years in the desert and the penance of the Ninevites. If we are to get rid of developments of spirituality based on Biblical origins in favor of how we, years later, read Biblical texts then a sola scriptura believer ought not go to services on Sunday, but after dinner on Saturday night as in the days of Saint Paul.

If those in "Bible churches" want to follow an instinct inherent in the Baptized person to live more concretely in the life and events in the Bible and the times of Christ, then they should follow it. They may be surprised to find themselves arriving at an entirely different understanding of "works". 

After all, what did make the Church of Jerusalem—not "Rome"—begin those ceremonies at the Holy Places anyway? Was it not to venerate Christ at the foot of the Cross? To stand at the empty tomb on the morning of the Resurrection? To proclaim Him king in song on Palm Sunday and in tears five days later? Yet Mr. Clark is right, all of this is extraneous to the evangelical mindset. Perhaps Tradition is more than a set of un-Biblical customs; perhaps it is a set of customs that makes the life and events in the Good Book both present and comprehensible for all generations, and unto ages of ages.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Maybe When You're Older: or, The Canticle of Canticles

(source: Wikimedia)
The ancient Hebrews, it is said, did not allow even pious men to read Solomon's Canticle of Canticles until the age of thirty. The Catholic tradition has almost universally interpreted the literal intention of the Canticle as an allegory of Christ and the Church, a reading even the early Protestant heretics were loathe to reject. The modern lust for novelty insists on a hermeneutic of crassness, and interprets this book as a "better sex" manual for married couples—or perhaps for those who prefer other arrangements.

Like the speculated dialogue form of Ecclesiastes, the Canticle possesses multiple speakers, and the Vulgate suggests a division along the lines of Sponsa, Sponsus, Chorus Adolescentularum, and Chorus Fratrum. Knox decides not to include any speaker labels due to his agnosticism about finding a clear identification, so it was oftentimes amusing when deciding whether my wife or I would be reading a certain paragraph aloud.

There is no clear narrative to follow, and the book seems rather to include a selection of incidents presented non-chronologically, especially since the marriage of Solomon and the Sulamite woman takes place before their nighttime yearnings for one another. This disjointed narrative lends credence to the spiritual-allegorical reading, as do the many odd dreamlike incidents (such as the beating of the Sulamite by the night watchmen after the through-the-lattice encounter in ch. 5). Solomon's own professed unhappiness with all his dealings with women elsewhere also makes the allegorical reading more certain.

I will not offer any particular reading of the text, due to its obscurity and the already rich tradition of holy commentators. If the Canticle offers any solace to those in the state of marriage rather than those pursuing a life of spiritual contemplation, it is perhaps that the joys of the marital state are considered to be a worthy image of the intimate love God has for his own Bride; that it is indeed not a contradiction to call it Holy Matrimony, and that the "marriage bed undefiled" (Heb. 13) is still a blessing from on high.
As there are two evils which, solely or especially, wage war against the soul, we are given the two Books [Proverbs and Ecclesiastes] to oppose them. Of these the former, using the hoe of discipline, grubs out whatever is corrupt in our morals, and whatever is superfluous in the indulgence of the flesh; whilst the latter, by the light of reason, prudently discovers the smoke of vanity in all worldly glory, and distinguishes it faithfully from the solidity of truth, putting the fear of God and the observance of His commandments before all human interests and earthly desires.... 
Now, then, ridding ourselves of these two evils by the study of these two books, we may confidently take in hand this third discourse on holy contemplation, which, being the fruit of the preceding, should only be entrusted to sober minds and chastened ears. For it would be criminal presumption on the part of imperfect souls to occupy themselves with such a sacred subject before the flesh has been tamed by discipline and subdued to the spirit, and the vanity and cares of the world despised and abjured. 
—St. Bernard's first sermon on the Canticle of Canticles

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why Every Rad Trad Should Aspire to Become a Thomist, Part 2

St. Thomas triumphs over that quintessential innovator Averroes: no wonder the Modernists fear him.
(Bennozzo Gozzoli, Il Triunfo di San Tommaso, detail)

How does one use St. Thomas's writings fruitfully, even if he is unable to devote years to an effort at preparation? This is the question we ended Part 1 with, after having listed a few pitfalls in reading the Summa or any of the Saint's works. This time, we want to take a brief look at some aspects of his writings that even a minor article in the Summa can provide. And so, like good Catholics, let's begin at the beginning: Tradition.

Divus Thomas: Defender of Sacred Tradition

Every Rad Trad (affectionately so called) holds Holy Church's traditions very dear. The clue is in the (nick-) name. It follows--logically enough--that all such would seek to emulate the school of a Doctor who preeminently defends the writings of the Saints and Catholic tradition in general. We have no farther to look than the Angel of the Schools, St. Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, this is the first thing for us to consider and appreciate when we read St. Thomas: his veneration and defense of the Fathers, the Doctors, and all the traditions of the Church. If there is some error or ambiguity, he corrects or clarifies without ever explicitly accusing them of error, let alone of fault.

Indicative of this truth is the testimony of Albertanus of Brescia, a thirteenth-century witness. He relates that one day while praying before the altar of the Virgin, he beheld with wonder two men in glory, one in pontificals, the other in the Dominican habit. The one vested as a bishop spoke to him:
"Why are you amazed, O Albert? I am Augustine, Doctor of the Church, who have been sent to declare the glory of St. Thomas. With me now, he has followed in all things the doctrine of the Apostles and mine own, and he has wonderfully enlightened the entire Church of God with the thunderbolts [fulgoribus] of his teaching."

(Incidentally, this vision is the source of the iconographic detail of a shining gem or disc on St. Thomas's bosom.)

But there is evidence in the Saint's writings as well. Consider, for example, Aquinas' defense of a "legend" concerning St. Gregory, who was said (according to St. John Damascene and others) to have raised the Emperor Trajan from the dead, so that he might then be baptized and so obtain salvation.
The Emperor Trajan: shall we, please God, all meet together with him one day in heaven?
This is a difficulty (or "problematic" as we say nowadays) for the doctrine of the eternity of hell; and a mere ideologue would dismiss it as "not in Scripture" or "merely a legend" or some other Herbert Thurston-approved approach to the extraordinary. The Angelic Doctor, however, would not dream of dismissing something handed down by the Fathers out of hand: and so in the so-called Supplement to the Summa (actually, the relevant material from his commentary on the Sentences), St. Thomas (Supp., Q. 71, art. 5, ad 5um) explains how this story could be in line with the Church's teaching concerning the finality of death and the eternity of hell. (And please note, at the end of the reply to the 5th objection St. Thomas's reverent use of St. Augustine's beautiful words in all such matters that seem to exceed what we deem possible.)

St. Dionysius, pray for us in these dark times!

St. Thomas also wrote a commentary on a work of that mysterious writer nowadays known (almost universally) as Pseudo-Dionysius. In the Angelic Doctor's days, though, he was better known as Blessed Dionysius, the self-same as the Areopagite converted by St. Paul's preaching, friend of the Apostles, and witness of the Dormition of the Most Holy God-Bearer, the Virgin Mother. In early modern times, though, he was dismissed as a pious fraud, but one with a rather interesting Neo-Platonic take on Christian "mysticism." The 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia (beloved of Trad-Catholics everywhere) takes this line. But not the great St. Thomas! It would be hard to exaggerate the veneration accorded to the writings of St. Dionysius during the Middle Ages. And rightly so, if the Scholastics held that they were the writings of one who conversed with St. Paul, who sat at the feet of the Apostles, and who expounded on things lofty and great. Textual criticism was no less available to St. Thomas than to the "moderns"; ditto, a familiarity with Neo-Platonism and Platonic thought in general. The distinction between the Saint and the Critics, of course, lies in the love and reverential awe that the former held for tradition. (The latter--I'm all but convinced--used St. Dionysius as a kind of dry run for the assault on the authenticity of Sacred Scripture. But I digress.)

And so, the first thing to appreciate in reading through a typical article of the Summa is St. Thomas's veneration and defense of the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the dogma of the Church. How can X be asserted--the initial objections often read in effect--if St. Augustine said non-X. Likewise, the Sed contra will provide a counterweight (usually decisive) to all the objections with the authority of Scripture (or of a Father) in a way that goes to the very heart of the question under discussion. The corpus (or main argument) further explicates the question, and then the answers to the objections will always preserve the true, or at least more accurate, understanding of the citation from St. Augustine (or whichever authority).

St. Thomas Always Speaks Most Formally

I realize this dictum sounds both fussy and obscure at the same time. It should not be read that way, nevertheless. It simply means that St. Thomas addresses a question according to the precise, or "formal" (as in "form," i.e. essence or nature), sense of the terms involved. For instance, when he discusses the unity of the world (mundus), he means--something clearer in the Latin word, and in the Greek cosmos, for that matter--the entire creation, as described in the Six Days of Genesis. We, on the other hand, can and do speak of the "world" as referring to the earth as such; sometimes as referring to humanity in general; and sometimes in reference to the sinful members of the human race ("the world, the flesh, and the devil"). If there were that kind of ambiguity interlaced with the discussions in, say, the Summa--or if we ourselves import that kind of ambiguity--there would be abundant occasions of confusion and arguing at cross-purposes. Fortunately, we can set all that aside and realize that St. Thomas always speaks (and so we, dear readers, must try to read him) most formally.
Articulate and articulating: Divus Thomas insisted on precision.
If, for example, one were to delve into the Summa and turned (at random, of course) to the Tertia Pars, Question 1, article 1, he would read the following:
It would seem that it was not fitting for God to become incarnate: since God from all eternity is the essence of goodness itself, it was best for Him to be as He had been from all eternity [i.e. without flesh or human nature].
After St. Thomas's explanation in the body of the article (or the corpus), he addresses this opening objection:
To each thing that which belongs to it by virtue of its nature is fitting; and so, reason is fitting to man, since this belongs to him because he is of a rational nature. But the nature of God is goodness, as is clear from [Saint] Dionysius [in the De divinis nominibus, i]. Hence, what belongs to the essence of goodness befits God, but it belongs to the essence of goodness to communicate itself to others, as is obvious from Dionysius [De divinis nominibus, iv].

I have taken the liberty of highlighting in red terms that (in English, at least) could be construed other than according to their formal meanings. Some examples of what I mean:
1. St. Thomas is not arguing here that God's goodness is equivocal with other goods in creation;
2. he does not argue that essential properties, derived from a thing's nature, are merely "fitting" to that thing (rationality to man);
3. and he does not make the case that God was bound to become incarnate because that follows from His divine goodness.

In fact, the arguments in these three examples are all addressed elsewhere in the Summa. But even if we have not undertaken a methodical page-by-page approach to reading the Summa [although ... an article a day keeps heresy away--so they say], if we endeavor to read this article (III, Q. 1, a. 1) according to the most formal sense of the terms, we won't go too far astray. So--to take just one example--"reason" is not the same as "rational nature": reason is the act of a rational nature, or the actuation of the potency for the same in a rational nature. Nevertheless--if we keep "reason" in this most formal sense--we can agree that it is most fitting for man to possess reason. (This saves us from concluding that infants or the insane are not human because their reason is absent or never developed.)

Likewise, to say it "belongs" to the essence of the good to communicate itself to others does not, in the most formal sense, imply whether such a self-communication has taken place. (This avoids the error of the Franciscan School when they held that the Incarnation was absolutely necessary because of God's goodness and His creation, thus rendering the connection to salvation purely casual.)

There is a third means by which we can read St. Thomas profitably without a long period of preparation and study and that is to rely on his friends: I mean, the great Thomistic Commentators, from Capreolus (whose name I unworthily have appropriated) down to Garrigou-Lagrange. More about them next time!

Finally, since this is being published on his feast day and on a day in Lent, allow me to recount what to me is one of the most endearing stories told about the Angelic Doctor, one that allows us maybe to form a more complete picture of this great soul. It was said (by his long-term companion in the religious life) that the Saint could never hear the words of the "Media vita" sung without being moved to tears. And since this antiphon is not necessarily easy to find, I give it here, so that you can picture this colossus of intellectual depth and accomplishment openly weeping in the choir stalls as he listens:
In the midst of life, we are in death: whom shall we seek as a Helper except thee, O Lord? Thou who art justly angered by our sins, O Holy God, O Holy and Mighty One, O Holy and merciful Saviour: deliver us not up to the bitterness of Death!
In Thee did our Fathers hope; they hoped, and Thou didst deliver them. Our Fathers cried out to Thee, they cried out and were not put to shame. O Holy God, glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. 

A Shadow's Shadow, and the Wisdom of Solomon

(source: Wikimedia)
The reading of Solomon's Proverbs went surprisingly quickly, but my reading of Ecclesiastes was done in one day. Much of Proverbs is aphoristic, aside from the opening and closing chapters, and most of it is believed to have derived from King Solomon himself. (Some parts are directly attributed to a certain Agur son of Jace, which may be a pseudonym. The two names mean Gatherer and Vomiter.) When discussing this book with the Little Lady, she imagined a small group of scribes following Solomon around with pen and vellum, zealously inscribing his every spoken thought, even those which warned fools against angering the king.

All in all, Proverbs feels like an Hebraic commonplace book, a compendium of disjointed thoughts from varying circumstances. Modern readers unused to aphoristic wisdom writings will be more frustrated than they ought to be. Solomon's frequent juxtaposition of the wise man and the foolish man should be taken to heart, and the warnings against an unrestrained tongue are very appropriate in the age of @pontifex.

In Ecclesiastes, one feels that Solomon is reflecting on his earlier pontifications on wisdom and foolishness, and answering those who deride the search for wisdom as mere vanity. Somewhere I have read the suggestion—and I am sorry I cannot remember where—that this book was meant to be a dialogue or a contrast between the Pious Man of Wisdom and the Impious Man of Learning, and that we have lost the clear division between the two in the text. It would be a worthwhile exercise to parse out the two as a sort of stage play between two characters, Hope and Despair.

This reading seems more sustainable than the more common reading, which has Solomon merely venting his despondency at the end of his life. Too much of the text is hopeful and perfectly consonant with the earlier Proverbs, and one would have to read Solomon here as either bipolar or intentionally mischievous to read all of Ecclesiastes as a text with a unified voice. In Fr. Knox's footnotes, he suggests a number of lacunae in the text, especially where it jarringly jumps from one voice to another.

I am not stopping much yet to read commentaries on these books, but I will note that there is a fragment of a commentary on the beginning of Ecclesiastes from Dionysius to be found online. Apparently St. Jerome wrote a full commentary while intentionally avoiding any earlier glosses, but I have not yet acquired a readable copy. In any case, I find it more invigorating to begin with a direct encounter with the text, and to make use of commentaries only after it has had some time to sink in.

On to the Canticle of Canticles soon!

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Challenge for the Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Something has bothered the Rad Trad for years, readers. It is the issue of valid ordinations to the diaconate and the priesthood, both the lower and higher degrees. Every Sacrament has an abbreviated version that can be used to emergencies (Baptism on a crashing plane, Absolution or Confirmation in articulo mortis) except for the Eucharist and Holy Order.

When we speak of the intent behind a Sacrament we do not, as many believe, speak of the inner faith of the person confecting the Sacrament; we speak of the intention symbolized in the external forum where a Sacrament is celebrated. Communion cannot come to be in any context other than in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice at the hands of one given the power to do so by a successor of the Apostles. A priest in good standing cannot walk into Trader Joe's, turn to the bakery aisle and say the essential form "This is my body", then face the booze and speak "This is my blood" and expect something to have happened.

Ordination is more complicated, if only because it is less discussed. It is the only Sacrament that is always celebrated in full, without reduced ceremony, within the context of the Eucharistic sacrifice. No short form exists; no extra Missam form exists, at least to my knowledge. While historically one might say that all Sacraments were once celebrated within the context of the Eucharist—save Marriage—Ordination is the only one that does not seem to have budged for a moment. Beyond historical circumstance and the rite's rarity in contrast to Baptism, Marriage, and the rest that most receive, why?

Give your best Thomistic response and do the Angelic Doctor well. If anyone answers in the structure of an article that commentator will receive a free crayon!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Why Does HBO Understand Things the Pope Doesn't?

The Young Pope is not a good show. Not in the least. It is everything bad about foreign films: long scenes with no dialogue and no action, few camera shot changes, a cursory understanding of religion, and an excessive interest in sex (although American television has caught up with that in recent years). The show could be halved by eliminating redundant, do-nothing cinematography and still have the same content. Yet The Young Pope, first brought to my attention by Fr. Zzzzz's blog, has a better grip on the current state of things in the Church than the Vatican itself does.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Young Pope is that unlike other films, which show Latin chant and other things from the past in order to create a more serious view of the Church, this show is very aware of the current ways and conscientiously rejects them. The liturgical depictions are thoroughly pre-Conciliar, with the Missal on the Epistle side, altar cards, the chalice veil, the burse, and priests wearing the maniple. The namesake "young pope," Pius XIII, even goes as far as to order the papal tiara to be shipped back to Rome from Washington DC (Paul VI sold it off to some Jewish fellow through the UN before Cardinal Spellman bought it back to avoid embarrassment). The Machiavellian Pontiff tells his cardinals that the Church has been too open to the world, that henceforth people will come to the Church and not the other way around. If this is not a repudiation of every papacy from Pius XII to Bergoglio I do not know what is.

The other fascinating aspect of this program, betwixt long shots of inaction, is that it believably depicts how a genuine reform movement might be received in the Vatican. Between breaking the seal of Confession and sexual temptation, Pius XIII manages to send a pederastic prelate into exile in Alaska, only to shock the liberal establishment into attempting to blackmail the Pontiff. There is a scene when the Camerlengo attempts to bring the pope to submission to which the pope replies (words to the effect) "Past pontiffs gave in because they were concerned with losing consensus. I don't care about consensus." In between long, gratuitous prayers and stiff production there is a truth here that resonates with the Gregorian and Tridentine reforms to the papacy: that affairs will only change when the fellow in Rome wearing a white cassock cares more about the Church than about the conniving red suited mediocrities around him.

As Fr. Capreolus noted in a side discussion, there really is not any holy character in this show, no depiction of fundamentally good people. Still, Pope Jude Law is interesting in that he is a very "rigid" person who adheres to discipline because "something is wrong with him": he is an orphan, whose ecclesiastical discipline gave him direction in life. Contrary to the usual depictions of the Vatican establishment as old fashioned, narrow people, the Cardinals are loose in morals, absent in discipline, thoroughly liberal, and completely corrupt. The "conservatives" in the show are not the "good guys" necessarily, but HBO does seem to have a grasp on how the Vatican has been run for several decades.

On the whole I do not recommend the show, but these points are notable. Why does a blood and sex network like HBO understand the Church better than contemporary churchmen?

Meanwhile, Bergoglio is advocating population controlAgain.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Lovers of Wisdom

One of my intentions for Lent was to re-familiarize myself with the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures, starting with the original book of Proverbs all the way through (hopefully) the book of Sirach. I knew that Wisdom (or Sophia/Sapientia) appears personified as a feminine figure, but I had forgotten that she also describes herself as preexistent of creation in this earliest of wisdom books. As King Solomon writes in the eighth chapter:
The Lord made me his when first he went about his work, at the birth of time, before his creation began. Long, long ago, before earth was fashioned, I held my course. Already I lay in the womb, when the depths were not yet in being, when no springs of water had yet broken; when I was born, the mountains had not yet sunk on their firm foundations, and there were no hills; not yet had he made the earth, or the rivers, or the solid framework of the world. I was there when he built the heavens, when he fenced in the waters with a vault inviolable, when he fixed the sky overhead, and levelled the fountain-springs of the deep. I was there when he enclosed the sea within its confines, forbidding the waters to transgress their assigned limits, when he poised the foundations of the world. I was at his side, a master-workman, my delight increasing with each day, as I made play before him all the while; made play in this world of dust, with the sons of Adam for my play-fellows. (Knox trans.)
The prehistorical Wisdom of God appears elsewhere in the Old Testament, especially in Wisdom and Sirach. Because of the description of Wisdom as a woman, many commentators have applied this figure symbolically to the Virgin Mary, or as it were to the Platonic Idea of the Mother of God which existed in the mind of God before all creation. But in other ways it more perfectly symbolizes the preincarnate Christ, who St. Paul describes as "the Wisdom of God" (I Cor. 1). St. Hildegard also had visions of Divine Wisdom personified as a woman, the sort of thing that modern feminist esotericists use as an excuse to worship the quasi-pagan Goddess.

Applied to the Second Person of the Trinity, these pre-Christian glimpses into the personality of God are comforting and unusual. Wisdom feels "delight increasing with each day" of creation, and "made play" before God and made the sons of Adam her "play-fellows." It is an expression of the infinite and overflowing joy of creation, the supreme happiness of God as Creator, and the delight which he wished to impart to all his creatures. Those who suppose that God is depicted in the Old Testament as a judgmental grump and in the New as a hippy universalist, have read neither at any length or depth.

Perhaps when I have finished the Hebrew literature, I should move on to a re-read of St. Severinus Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, which attempts a merging of Hebrew and pagan figures of Wisdom. The philosopher was literally the "Lover of Wisdom," in pretense if not in reality. Solomon as much as Socrates invites everyone to love Wisdom, and to let its dictates guide our reason and action.

Holy Wisdom, play with us!