Thursday, May 28, 2015

St. Jude and the Hopeless Cause of Clerical Corruption

source: Echoes from the Vault
Largely forgotten outside of the popular “Hopeless Causes” devotion, St. Jude Thaddeus—one of the Twelve and brother of Our Lord and of St. James—wrote a short but effective epistle against the doctrinal and moral corruption of false teachers in the Church. While the exact identification of these heretics is uncertain (Fr. Haydock seems unreasonably certain that they are the Nicolaites and the disciples of Simon Magus), the moral attributes of these errant teachers are common even today.
For certain men are secretly entered in, (who were written of long ago unto this judgment,) ungodly men, turning the grace of our Lord God into riotousness [Latin: luxuriam], and denying the only sovereign Ruler, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (v. 4) 
As Sodom and Gomorrha, and the neighbouring cities, in like manner, having given themselves to fornication, and going after other flesh, were made an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire. In like manner these men also defile the flesh, and despise dominion, and blaspheme majesty. (v. 7-8) 
But these men blaspheme whatever things they know not: and what things soever they naturally know, like dumb beasts, in these they are corrupted. (v. 10) 
These are murmurers, full of complaints, walking according to their own desires, and their mouth speaketh proud things, admiring persons for gain’s sake. (v. 16) 
In the last time there should come mockers, walking according to their own desires in ungodlinesses. These are they, who separate themselves, sensual men, having not the Spirit. (v. 18-19)
They entered in secretly, encouraging lust, and denying the kingship of Christ. They participate in the sins of Sodom and Gomorrha, and despise the celestial hierarchy, which even the great St. Michael would not do against Satan. Whatever these teachers do not understand, they mock. What they know, they corrupt. They complain ceaselessly, speaking constantly about their own greatness, and flattering others for their own good. These are mockers, and unspiritual schismatics.

Now of course there are many other interesting things in the Epistle of St. Jude, including references to unbiblical (but not untraditional) stories of Sts. Enoch and Moses, as well as some very colorful language about the punishments awaiting the false teachers. What interests me are the unavoidable parallels between the descriptions of these teachers and the false teachers we are afflicted with today. I will not belabor these parallels, as they are obvious to anyone who has been reading Catholic news sources for the last few years or even months, but it is somehow comforting to know that Christians have always suffered under the weight of deceivers who twist doctrine to suit what the brobdingnagian apologist Mark Shea frequently calls “pelvic issues.”

We may take some further comfort in Jude’s exhortation of how we ought to bear living under the weight of these wicked men, and how to comport ourselves while waiting for their judgment:
But you, my beloved, building yourselves upon your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto life everlasting. And some [of these heretics] indeed reprove, being judged: but others save, pulling them out of the fire. And on others have mercy, in fear. (v. 20-23)
source: The Met

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Liturgical Theology of Pentecost as Told by the Vigil

Pentecost is too big, too vast, too intimidating for any singular explanation, but the Roman liturgy's rich vigil for this feast nurtures the faithful with some food for thought. Let us consider the liturgy of the Roman rite for this great feast, second only to the Sunday of the Resurrection in importance.

The vigil commences with the celebrant—vested in a violet chasuble—kissing the altar and following the lectors, who read six prophecies from the Old Testament, interspersed with collects sung by the celebrant. The first lesson is the familiar story of Abraham ascending a mountain with his son Isaac, prepared to sacrifice his only child in obedience to God. An angel intervenes and tells a relieved Abraham that God would never really do such a thing. All of this was proclaimed on Holy Saturday, prefiguring Christ's willingness to sacrifice everything to the Father on behalf of the world. Pentecost enters this passage late at the point when God rewards Abraham's fidelity by promising "I will bless thee and multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is by the seashore.... and in thy seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because thou hast obeyed My voice."

The second prophecy is an extraction from Exodus 14, wherein the Pharaoh's forces chase the Israelites through the desert and into the Red Sea, which St. Moses has just parted by the Lord's command. The Lord then tells Moses to close the Sea and drown the Egyptians, which he does. The tract continues the passage:
"Let us sing to the Lord, for He is gloriously magnified: the horse and the rider He hath thrown into the sea: He is become my helper and protector unto salvation...."
These two prophecies speak of the same thing, Baptism. Water is a symbol of creation and the essential ingredient of all that lives. Yet water is also uncertain, difficult to control. Genesis chapter 1 speaks of water roaming the earth before it had form. God used water to protect the Israelites from the Egyptians. Egypt itself is a type, a parallel, an example of sin and loss and here God saves His people—fulfilled and most perfectly expressed in the Church—through water. Through water He will "multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven," only He will no longer multiply Abraham's progeny through obedience, but Christ's Church through Sacrament. The second collect of the vigil demands this interpretation:
"O God, who by the light of the New Testament hast made clear to us the miracles wrought in earliest times, prefiguring unto us the Red Sea as an image of the sacred font, and Who in the deliverance of Thy people from the bondage of Egypt, hast foreshadowed the sacraments of the Christian dispensation; grant that all nations who have merited by faith the privilege of the children of Israel, may be born again by partaking of Thy holy Spirit."
The third prophecy, take from Deuteronomy 31, compares and contrasts closely with the Ascension of Christ. Moses, nearing death, has taken care to write down his encounters and history with God. He abjures and confronts his fellows Israelites for their infidelity to God, "For I know that, after my death, you will do wickedly, and will quickly turn aside from the way that I have commanded you." The scripture, excluded from this passage, goes on to tell us that his bones were never found. This is extraordinary. Moses joins Elijah, Enoch, and the Blessed Mother among those whose bones have not been found and the others were taken bodily by the Lord, Elijah in a chariot of fire and our Lady after her death in Jerusalem. Moses, a prefigurement of Christ who leads God's people out of bondage, many believe, Jews included, was also taken up by God. Should he have been assumed by God then an strong parallel with the Ascension presents itself. Christ of course was not assumed into heaven, but rather ascended through His own power as God. Moses brought people forth from human bondage and Christ from spiritual bondage. Both died and were raised, so to speak, and rebuked their followers for their lack of faith. Moses's followers would continue to fail God, even if they would eventually reach the promised land and create a kingdom of Israel. Christ, in a marked contrast, promises something perfect that will never be lost, a "Helper" (meaning of the word Paraclete) to preserve the faithful "in all truth." He ascends telling the Apostles to "baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.... For I am with you always, even until the end of the world." Moses's deliverance from slavery is made perfect in Christ's words.

The fourth prophecy again anticipates the inception of the Church in the Baptism of its members, "the Lord shall wash away the filth of the daughters of Sion, and shall wash away the blood of Jerusalem out of the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning" (Isaiah chapter 4). At this point perhaps the faithful should consider what Baptism is. It is the movement of water over a person's skin with a Trinitarian formula, yes, but it is so much more, too. "Baptism" derives from a similar Greek word meaning "to immerse" or "to plunge." To be "plunged" into Christ and in the name of the Trinity is more than to enter a visible community or lose a sentence of punishments condine to one's sins. To be "plunged" into Christ is to be immersed and filled with the very life of Christ given by the Holy Spirit, Who, St. Gregory reminds the Church of Rome during Mattins of the feast, is the love of God Himself. The Holy Spirit, to be simplistic, is God's love working and doing something, creating or renewing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes this rebirth in Baptism through water, the physical essential in life and the material, again referencing Genesis chapter 1, which formlessly covered the earth before creation. Water is also like the Holy Spirit, or "Holy Wind" to take a very literal translation, in that water is not easily contained, limited, narrowed, or defined. It enters through crevices unseen and can also be lost by poor care through other unanticipated openings. It is this in water that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, renews His creation. It is for this reason so many commentators have adduced the psalm from the Vidi aquam "I saw water flowing from the right side of the Temple, alleluia; and all to whom this water came were saved...." Therefore the Church uses as her last prophecy in the vigil Ezekiel 37:1-14:
"Thus saith the Lord God, Come, spirit, from the four winds, and blow upon these slain, and let them live again. And I prophesied as He had commanded me; and the spirit came unto them; and they lived; and they stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army.... Thus saith the Lord, I will open your graves, and will bring you out of your sepulchres, O My people, and will bring you into the land of Israel.... and you shall have put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall make you rest upon your own land; saith the Lord almighty."
A procession then brings the sacred ministers to the baptistry where the font's waters are again blessed and infused with chrism, itself a priestly thing, as on Holy Saturday. The Paschal candle, extinguished on Ascension Thursday after the Gospel, reappears. Let not the importance of its reappearance be lost. As Dr. Laurence Hemming adumbrates in his Worship as Revelation, all the fires in a church are to be lit from the Paschal fire much as the Presence of Christ in the Sacraments comes from Christ's Incarnation and work on earth. The Paschal candle is extinguished at the end of forty days because, as with Christ and the Sacraments, its purpose, to diffuse holy fire, is accomplished. The fire remains without the candle's use just as Christ remains in the Church without a bodily physical presence. The candle returns because it symbolizes the Resurrection, the event which made this new life in the Holy Spirit possible. The celebrant plunges the candle into the font, almost baptizing the font with the candle rather the other way around. The celebrant sparges the faithful with the blessed water, infuses the chrism, and baptizes catechumens into Christ and His Resurrection. More adept parishes will also have the good sense to administer confirmation at this time, giving the neophytes the Holy Spirit and His "sevenfold gifts."

After the baptisms all who have been "baptized into Christ" on earth sing the Litanies of Saints, imploring the intercession of those in heaven who are the perfection of God's promise to Abraham, "multipl[ied] as stars of heaven." The saints, together with those on earth baptized into Christ, form the Church and carry that same Spirit and fire found on Holy Saturday. Pentecost makes the Resurrection permanent on earth, preserved in the Church unto ages of ages.

Mass follows immediately during the vigil. The lesson, taken from Acts of the Apostles, recounts Paul's preaching of the Baptism of Christ, or into Christ, to the Ephesians, hitherto only aware of St. John the Baptist's baptism of repentance. The alleluia is the same as on Holy Saturday. And in the Gospel St. John tells of Jesus saying "If you love me, keep my commandments." What is the Holy Spirit other than the strength to do this? This simple, demanding sentence of Christ calls to mind James 2:18, "I will show you my faith by my works." The Holy Spirit creates, re-creates, renews, strengthens, and preserves the Church in Christ, of Christ, and for Christ, as foretold to the prophets long ago. He makes all things anew, fashioning a new, holier creation out of the materials and persons of the existing, fallen creation. And He will remain with us until the very end.

In a rare moment the Byzantine tradition has a far simpler and more understated take than the Roman Church. The Greek theology of this feast can be found in the troparion of Penteost, which I heard today at Divine Liturgy and last evening at Vespers:
"Blessed are You, O Christ our God, You have filled the fishermen with wisdom by sending down the Holy Spirit upon them, and Who through them have caught in Your net the whole world. O Lover of mankind, glory to You!"

And the Veni, Creator Spiritus (the greatest of Latin hymns?)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Josephology Part 9: The Iconographic Demotion of John the Baptist

“You have very often heard, holy brethren, and you know well, that John the Baptist, in proportion as he was greater than those born of women, and was more humble in his acknowledgment of the Lord, obtained the grace of being the friend of the Bridegroom; zealous for the Bridegroom, not for himself; not seeking his own honor, but that of his Judge, whom as a herald he preceded.” –St. Augustine 
“From Holy Scripture we also learn that some souls through the divine predilection, as those of Jeremias and of the Baptist, were sanctified before they saw the light of day. Now, what shall we say of Joseph? The Church has never made any utterance on the subject. Still, Joseph surpasses all the other saints in dignity and sanctity.” –Edward Healy Thompson

Devotion to St. John the Forerunner began very early in the Church. In the West his Nativity and Beheading are both celebrated with major feasts, and in the East he has six feasts throughout the year. There were no fewer than fifteen churches dedicated to him in Constantinople alone. His relics were and are matters of great contention, some of which were desecrated by Julian the Apostate (331-363) because he knew this would greatly offend Christian sensibilities. The Feast of the Baptist’s Nativity is believed to be one of the oldest feasts commemorating a saint ever introduced to the calendar.

What a great contrast to the devotion to St. Joseph, which was almost unknown for a thousand years of the Church’s liturgical life. Unlike the Josephite devotion, which was artificially imposed from above at various times and never organically expanded among the faithful, devotion to the Baptist started strong and only increased until modern times. How strange that the exalted place of Our Lord’s Forerunner should be so suddenly supplanted in the hearts of Latin Catholics.

(St. Francis de Sales Oratory; St. Louis, Missouri)
(St. Joseph’s Catholic Church; Wapakoneta, Ohio)
John the Baptist we know with a high level of certainty to have been sanctified by the Holy Ghost in the womb of St. Elizabeth, and thus freed from concupiscence for the rest of his life. In this glory he is a peer of St. Jeremias the Prophet, and the lesser of Our Lady who was freed from sin from the first moment of conception. As St. Gabriel prophesied to Zachary, “he will be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1). Because of this he is generally considered to be the third holiest of all men.

In art, John is most often depicted in his beheading or during his ministry as the Forerunner. Frequently he is baptizing Christ or pointing Him out to his own disciples.

(Annibale Carracci)
But there is another subgenre of sacred art in which the Baptist is notably present. The icons of Christ Pantocrator or Christ in Majesty would sometimes include a full or partial court of angels of saints. An early 4th century example is the “Christ the Lawgiver” mosaic in the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Milan, where He is surrounded by the Twelve Apostles.

Another frequent variation depicts Christ surrounded by the four Cherubim who symbolize the four Gospels. This imagery comes almost verbatim from St. John the Apostle’s Apocalypse: “In the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four living creatures, full of eyes before and behind. And the first living creature was like a lion: and the second living creature like a calf: and the third living creature, having the face, as it were, of a man: and the fourth living creature was like an eagle flying” (Apoc. 4).

(Psalter of Westminster Abbey; 13th cent.)
Most relevant to our subject is the Deësis (“supplication”) variation, which shows Christ flanked on either side by the Blessed Virgin and John the Forerunner, both with heads bowed in prayer to the enthroned King. In the East, the Deësis is sometimes presented in the context of the heavenly court, although often with just the three figures.

(St. Sophia of Kyiv; 11th cent.)
(Walters Art Museum; 16th cent.)
In the West, the Deësis more frequently lent itself to depictions of the Last Judgment, where Mary and John are beseeching the Judge for mercy. These two saints were believed to be the greatest intercessors for clemency; hence, John is always invoked in the traditional Confiteor. (In some French cathedrals, Mary was paired with St. John the Apostle, just as they were together at the foot of the Cross.)

(Marx Reichlich; 16th cent.)
(Stefan Lochner; 15th cent.)
(Santa Maria d’Arties; 16th cent.)
There the Forerunner remained for many centuries, head bowed and knee bent before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, beseeching Him for mercy on behalf of all the faithful. But one is unlikely to find John there anymore. Instead, one is rather likely to find this sort of artistic monstrosity:

(Lawrence Lovasik; 20th cent.)
What could prompt Catholic sensibilities to supplant the Forerunner with the Stepfather of Our Lord? Do we wish to see St. Joseph as a kind of forerunner of the Forerunner, a precursor to the Precursor? Why do we prefer Joseph to John? I harbor a suspicion that it is because John is too ascetic for our tastes.

Joseph was a man who led a fairly average life, after all the drama of fleeing to Egypt and back. He is relatable: a man who worked for a living, an ordinary “family man” to whom extraordinary things happened—a sort of ancient, Jewish Bilbo Baggins. John, on the other hand, is too strange and extremist for bourgeois Catholic sensibilities. At one time, the sensus fidelium placed the Baptist as the complement of the Virgin, but that rough fur coat does not translate well to modern, pink-cheeked plaster statuary.

The modern Latin Catholic appeals to the Holy Family to restore the dignity of family life and to solidify the home with strong bonds of love, but the angel prophesied rather that it would be John who would “turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children” (Lk. 1). Remember that John died for the sanctity of marriage, opposing divorce and adultery with his dying breath. He even won the respect of the wicked Herod: “For Herod feared John, knowing him to be a just and holy man: and kept him, and when he heard him, did many things: and he heard him willingly” (Mark 6). Sometimes the wicked respect those who stand against them on principle, and are open to being convinced of their errors. Herodias had John executed because she feared Herod would be convinced to divorce her. Those who have gained worldly power through licentiousness have the most to fear from moral truth.

Perhaps it is this rough, eremitic extremism that will paradoxically revive love in the family. Those who forcefully oppose the family’s disintegration are the ones who love it the most, whether they are married or not.

St. Joseph, not such a bad guy after all, pray for us!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Mass of 1965?

For years I have been searching for complete footage of a Mass celebrated between 1965 and 1968, merely out of historical interest as to how people were interpreting the Consilium's directives. Above is not a full Mass, but it is a clip of Pope Paul VI ordaining priests for the diocese of Rome. By the versus populum table in front of the altar and the absence of Enrico Dante, we can safely assume that this is after 1964. By the maniple we can also assume that it is prior to 1969, perhaps even before 1967. 

Despite celebration according to the revised rubrics, the Mass also follows the ceremonial of Papal low Mass, with the pope fully vested in pontificals (mitre, gloves etc) and no assisting priest or deacons. They were likely experimenting in the Curia with how much they wanted to retain and how much they wanted to jettison. The same debate took place at the diocesan level, as evidenced by such events as these and images like this.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Dallas Churches: The Truth

Over the past year this blog has posted a number of entries about the unique and distinctive architectural stylings which have besot the diocese of Dallas with some remarkably unattractive churches ranging from unfulfilled potential to outright horrid with most falling somewhere in the middle. We now know why. The answer is to be found at the University of Dallas.

At the heart of the University of Dallas—hidden mostly out of sight by the twenty trees in the city of Irving—rests the Church of the Incarnation. Designed to look like a womb, the students have taken to calling the church St. Fallopius.

The first view inside the edifice disorients the visitor, as he stares across the narthex atrium at the other entrance. Off to the right is a Eucharistic chapel which meshes Our Lady of Guadalupe with Soviet brutalism.

As when one enters the church proper, there is no center of view in the chapel.

On the left side of St. Fallopius' atrium is the statue of Mother and Blob, accented tastelessly by a faux-oriental, faux-copper lamp.

In front of the Mother and Blob stands, or, rather, rests a few steps down, the chlorinated font.

45 degrees left is the main worship area (cannot call it a nave and sanctuary), again disoriented.

The entrance invites one to drift to the right, where the aisle twists around this uteral space.
On the floor are some crosses and words meant to pass as Stations.

Artificial light directly above in the ceiling illuminates the "station."

The center view fools one into assuming the church proper is symmetrical when,
in truth, the concert grand piano and choir stage adjoin the altar space.

Again, the faux-copper lamps stolen from a sheikh's palace.

Not only do they use the Gather hymnal, but they spent money on
embossed copies made with high quality paper. Bad taste is expensive.

I gave myself a quick C-section and escaped the womb of St. Fallopius. Immediately outside I happened upon this ordinary, but quite well made marble statue of Our Lady in prayer. "J" told me that this statue of the Virgin was carved by a university art student for use in the chapel, but it was placed out in the elements because the style was discordant with that of St. Fallopius.

Why tell you all this information and show you these lurid images, dear readers? I have not neglected care for your senses. On the contrary, I wish to fulfill your minds. This building, directly, and the other ugly churches in the diocese of Dallas, indirectly, are the work and responsibility of one man: Lyle Novinski.

Lyle Novinski designed St. Fallopius and, quite inexplicably, established himself as an expert on liturgical art and architecture in the Catholic tradition, so much so that the previous bishop of Dallas gave him veto and reviewing rights over every new church erected within the diocese. Novinski must take efficiency and brutality as his inspirations, having eviscerated all concept of maximalism and tradition. In one lecture he regales the listeners with tales of the English bicycle wheel: take anything away and it fails, add anything and it becomes redundant. 

Unfortunately, God is not a bicycle wheel and the worship of God does not take inspiration from recreational vehicles. God is a maximalist Who demands fitting praise and worship. Arranging a metal and brick silo with a few Marian images and a stone block altar does not make St. Fallopius a church in any traditional sense, only in an efficient sense. Brutalism kills beauty, which is a great sin in itself. People are more readily captivated and oriented to God by beauty than by rhetoric or logic. Beauty is often the start of conversion, it has kept a great many weak souls within the bounds of the saving ark for centuries, and it tells the reverent among pagans that the Church offers something that they might understand. Removing beauty, as Mr. Novinski and the previous bishop of Dallas have done in many places, is a crime in itself, a great spiritual crime for which there is no immediate expiation. 

Below is a feature on the man behind St. Fallopius from a local news agency.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

On Nostalgia, Apologetics, and Apostasy

“I don’t think this was covered in Mass Confusion.”
“We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt freely: the cucumbers come into our mind, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic. Our soul is dry, our eyes behold nothing else but manna.” (Numbers 11)
In addition to his series on nostalgia, His Traddiness has brought up the strange case of Michael Coren’s recent apostasy. This is assuredly a sad event and one for which we ought to offer up our prayers and fasts. It is also part of the ongoing statistical trend of Catholics leaving the Faith, or at least the practice of it, that has been happening for decades. Cradle Catholics are leaving because they are too smart not to perceive the irrelevance of what they see and hear from their prelates every week. Converts leave for these and many other reasons, not the least of which is the budding suspicion that they have been seriously deceived by the apologists who argued them into the Church.

Not all converts come in through the agency of apologetics. Some marry into the Faith, others are entranced by the beauty of our art and music, and a few just want to be a part of the same philosophical school as Thomas Aquinas. For all these, apologetics plays a secondary role, and the arguments for and against the minutiae of the Faith are not terribly worth considering. One thinks of Rex Mottram’s impatience with Fr. Mowbray’s attempts to catechize this poor, simple fellow in Brideshead Revisited.

I have indeed imparted my opinion to His Traddiness that the Catholic Answers crowd and their countless imitators on EWTN and other publishing imprints do a poor job keeping discontented Catholics in the Church. Back when I was yet unconfirmed, I must credit Catholic Answers particularly for clearing out a lot of the heretical rubble that had been keeping me from understanding what the Church actually taught. I appreciate what their staff writers and speakers did for me all those years ago, so I criticize them with no small measure of sadness.

Karl Keating, founder and occasional president of Catholic Answers, shrugged off Coren’s apostasy in a recent article, saying, “I’m not surprised to see people bouncing from one religious position to another. I’m not surprised about it, and I don’t get worked up about it.” Well, why get worked up about the loss of one of the ninety-nine sheep? All that really matters is the truth, not people: “I do get worked up about truth in advertising,” he says.

Keating is a cradle Catholic, and as such does not have a feeling for the pull that Egypt has on those who have left that pagan nation for the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. The version of the Catholic Church promised by today’s apologists is basically the Arcadian land of 1950s triumphalism, with plenty of Vatican II quotations added in for good measure. The ur-text for Catholic Answers and other apologists is Frank Sheed’s Catholic Evidence Training Outlines, a 1925 manual with extensive instructions about how to speak publicly and deal with hecklers (easily modified for radio shows and blogging), followed by even more detailed outlines of the kinds of subjects a Catholic soapboxer in Hyde Park would have had to opine upon. The Outlines take some inspiration from St. Francis de Sales’ tracts written against the Calvinists back when that heresy was young. When Mr. Sheed was arguing petulant Anglicans into the Catholic fold, they were being received into something solid and stubbornly unprotean, with a community of fellow believers who knew what they knew and knew what they were doing. When Keating and his staff use the same arguments to push the indecisive into the twenty-first century Church, these converts are left unprepared for the pandemonium and disorientation that is about to confront them.

What happens when these CA-converted rabble call in to the radio show to point out the very obvious ecclesiastical problems, well-nigh begging for clarity and encouragement? All too often the caller is told that the priests or bishops in question are “trying their best” to deal with modern problems, that said caller should take comfort in this fact, and thank you for your call. This passive-aggressive, “Everything is Fine” approach to the confused borders on the wicked. These apologists make vocations out of the spiritual works of instructing the ignorant and counseling the doubtful (outside the Church), but fail to comfort the afflicted and counsel the doubtful within the Church.

Is it any wonder that Catholic converts apostatize, that close to one-half of them leave the Church within a year of their confirmation? The Keating answer is simply, “Oh, well. They knew the truth, and couldn’t handle it.” But in reality, these converts are undermined at every step by their parish priest, by their bishop, by their fellow Catholic, most of whom don’t believe even half of what Catholic Answers has triumphantly claimed to be the teaching and practice of the Church.

When our apologists are little more than truth-bots doling out programmed responses to every possible query, then Catholic apologetics have truly reached their final disintegration. All head and no heart, the apologist shrugs as the apostate limps back through the desert to Egypt, bruised and bloodied from the beating his supposed friends have given him. The convert nostalgically remembers his old life—being asked over to dinner to someone’s house every week after church, charitably arguing about the interpretation of some obscure Bible passage with friends at the coffee shop, not being scowled at by all of his relatives—and wonders why he is settling for scraping manna off the ground while Aaron comes by every five minutes to kick him in the ribs.

The Israelites in the desert were scourged for their own infidelity and idolatry. The Catholic convert is scourged to cover up the infidelity and idolatry of others.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hearing the Word of God or Agreeing with It?

I heard the sad news of Michael Coren's leaving the Church in two parts, first that he left the Church and then some time later than he opted to joined Anglicanism. Hearing the first bit of news, I assumed it was another case of secular culture eroding one's belief in God, in the transcendence of grace, of the higher things in a whirlwind of Darwinian nihilism. Then I read he became an Anglican. My initial and enduring reaction was: What. The. Hell.

"No one becomes an Anglican," I thought. "Even England didn't want to join the Church of England! They had to be compelled!" Clearly, the motivations were not owing to the conspiracy of Kasper to rally the divorced to the altar rails or a pursuit of some abstract and "pure" Christianity. The Byzantine Orthodox communion would have met those needs, as would any other number of dissident groups. Something else was happening here. He changed his position on homosexual unions. Yes, he left the continuity of saints, liturgy, writings, teachers, and belief because of the modern Canadian social cause for homosexual homes.

We cannot read Michael Coren's mind or peer into his soul, but we could generalize, dear readers, that Mr. Coren's departure emanates from a rather modern problem. I do not know if Mr. Coren was a cradle Catholic or convert, but a point a friend made last week resounds with the Canadian's case. We were lost in ecstasy and a cloud of Nicaraguan smoke while discussing the apologetics industry when "J" said, "The Catholic Answers crowd is good at arguing people into the Church. They're less good at keeping them in." The "Catholic Answers crowd"—Michael Voris' "Church of nice"—follows the modern paradigm of religion as a set of private, personal intellectual propositions once can accept or decline depending on one's reception of them. The question many converts, cradle Catholics, and disbelievers alike ask is, "Does the Catholic Church agree with me?" or "Can I get along with the Catholic Church," not "Can I accept the perennial faith of the Church with humility?" In short, God believes what the individual says is true rather than that the individual believes what God says is true. Unfortunately, Michael Coren either read the story of Sodom or 2357 of the JP2 catechism and decided that he would not accept that God.

The concept of a revealed religion has become foreign to the western world and Christians do no service to themselves in adumbrating the virtues post-modern intellectual freedom, which is really slavery to the black bonds of nihilism. The older rites of the Church reflect the "dialectic of Revelation," as Aidan Kavanagh put it. God appears to man. Man does not get to decide Who or What God is. One meets and conforms the self to God and prays for union with the will of God. Concepts of happiness and acceptance are quite foreign to the faith. Joy and sense of place are the domestic traits of the Apostolic faith.

Let us pray for Michael Coren and those like him during the Litany of the Saints these Rogation days. Let us pray that they "hear the Word of God and keep it", rather than "listen to the Word of God, and think about it." Christ asked those He healed "Do you believe?" not "Do you agree?"

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Nostalgia Part II: American Pie?

In Nostalgia or Tradition? I portrayed nostalgia as a yearning for a golden age that never was, exemplifying the vagrant communities of Old Believer Russian Orthodox who focus not primarily on the unreformed Byzantine liturgy, but on safeguarding against electricity, the sowing machine, and the gas oven. There is another kind of nostalgia, though: yearning for a golden that can really be remembered, or at least imagined.

My father is not a Baby Boomer (thank God). He was born two months before the Japanese bombed the United States into the Second World War. His life's perspective within the United States can be summarized in Don McLean's enduring folk tune, American Pie (for international readers: American Pie, about the death of three singers in a plane crash in 1959, is one of the most popular songs in American history). Although he dislikes the length of the song, he finds the content sympathetic. Life in 1950s America retrospectively seems idyllic, happy, optimistic, and yet, somehow, settled. We had won the War with our social structure seemingly preserved. We could be confident going forward that we were the good guys and the Red Ruskies were the bad guys. Our forebearers watched those dashing chaps from Harvard and Yale get all the good jobs, but now the GI Bill will allow us to go to college, get those jobs, and start families. The technology boom during the War and the industrial culture which resulted meant less hard work and more money for leisure going forward. The Church had enormous prestige and the Pope was the chaplain to the United Nations. And of course that new style of music, Rock 'n' Roll, added some spunk to the well-behaved high school danced attended by our exemplary children. Then it all faded.

The "music died" was when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and JP Richards went down in a plane piloted by an unqualified man and America was never the same. Without its own music and culture, we greeted with open arms the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the rest. They brought with them Europe's rebellious youthful attitude, their socialism, their tendency towards mocking old forms of order, their detestation of War—even though they were all born after the War—and their nihilism. McLean's religious imagery in his song is the culture version of an icon, a glimpse into another world or reality. One gets the impression that McLean and those like him no longer believe in the ideas of the 1950s generation because they watched them fail, but wish they still could because they did not like what came afterward:
Did you write the Book of Love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?
Do you believe in rock and roll
Can music save your mortal soul
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?
Or was it really an ideal era lost? Is it a false nostalgia? The America that survived the War retreated into a uniform, bakelite form of existence in Sears-built factory houses, shiny cars, newfangled televisions, and other forms of living that curtailed original thought and encouraged a sedentary existence predicated on entertainment. The old social norms and behavioral expectations remained externally, but long ago cleaned itself inside with Brillo. Much like the 1990s to my generation, the peaceful and well-mannered decade after World War II was a break from history because people were growing tired of the old way and were not quite ready for the new. Was it a better era than what succeeded it? Of course. However, much like the Church during the same period, the firm shell eventually betrayed that the egg inside was going bad. It is with great nostalgia that people said "Bye, bye Miss American Pie", but they did.

Perhaps cognizant that the 1950s were not a golden era, after America got over its hipster phase it did not seek to return to the bye-gone lifestyle still within living memory. They voted for Nixon, Carter, and Reagan in subsequent elections. Like McLean and my father, they missed what they had, but realized they could not return to it. The damage of the music's "death" on them had changed them, too. They no longer had their religion, social norms, and sense of responsibility. They enjoyed material culture and were not political radicals. Little else. These were the children of the '50s, America's bygone golden age.

As Catholics, we can take a lesson from this. The kingdom of heaven is upon. It is not a past age that ended in 1789 or 1962—although certain years are certainly watersheds for the de-Christianization of society. The kingdom of heaven is perpetual and not of this world. Although we cannot built it, we can make room for it in this world. Perhaps then we will not be nostalgic, but appreciative of what God has given us now.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Josephology Part 8: The Angelic Doctor

“I would like to commission an awesome carving of St. Gabriel.”
While the Angelic Doctor has only a little to say about the Virgin’s spouse, he does follow his teacher St. Albert Magnus in following the Hieronymic belief in St. Joseph’s constant virginity. This, mixed with some truly bizarre applications of other Thomistic principles, has fired the small but persistent group of Josephite devotees since the Middle Ages.

But what does Thomas actually write about Joseph? First, he agrees with St. Augustine that the union of Joseph and Mary was a true marriage, not a perpetual betrothal or a kind of legal fiction:
The marriage of the Virgin Mother of God and Joseph was absolutely true: because both consented to the nuptial bond, but not expressly to the bond of the flesh, save on the condition that it was pleasing to God. For this reason the angel calls Mary the wife of Joseph, saying to him: “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife”: on which words Augustine says (De Nup. et Concup. i): “She is called his wife from the first promise of her espousals, whom he had not known nor ever was to know by carnal intercourse.” (ST III.29.2)
Secondly, he agrees with St. Jerome that there is no evidence to believe that Joseph was previously married and fathered children:
Some, as Jerome says on Matthew 12:49-50, “suppose that the brethren of the Lord were Joseph’s sons by another wife. But we understand the brethren of the Lord to be not sons of Joseph, but cousins of the Savior, the sons of Mary, His Mother's sister.” For “Scripture speaks of brethren in four senses; namely, those who are united by being of the same parents, of the same nation, of the same family, by common affection.” Wherefore the brethren of the Lord are so called, not by birth, as being born of the same mother; but by relationship, as being blood-relations of His. But Joseph, as Jerome says (Contra Helvid. ix), is rather to be believed to have remained a virgin, “since he is not said to have had another wife,” and “a holy man does not live otherwise than chastely.” (ST III.28.3)
Thirdly, when speaking of Mary’s vow of virginity, he touches on Joseph’s part in this action:
It was therefore fitting that her virginity should be consecrated to God by vow. Nevertheless because, while the Law was in force both men and women were bound to attend to the duty of begetting, since the worship of God was spread according to carnal origin, until Christ was born of that people; the Mother of God is not believed to have taken an absolute vow of virginity, before being espoused to Joseph, although she desired to do so, yet yielding her own will to God’s judgment. Afterwards, however, having taken a husband, according as the custom of the time required, together with him she took a vow of virginity. (ST III.28.4)
This is actually quite a modest claim when compared to later and even to some earlier sources. A few of the legendary works covered in earlier entries of this series claimed that Mary made a total vow of virginity long before her betrothal, but here Thomas suggests that she would have been willing to bear children through carnal means if God had so willed it, despite her wishes to the contrary! Thomas also says that the vow to abstain from carnal relations was made at the time of their marriage, not before.

Lastly, it is worth noting Thomas’ interpretation of Joseph’s decision to “put away” Mary when he had found her with child: “Joseph was minded to put away the Blessed Virgin not as suspected of fornication, but because in reverence for her sanctity, he feared to cohabit with her” (ST sup.62.3). This reading is a rejection of that in the Proto-Gospel of James, wherein Joseph decides to put her away as a compromise, because he is uncertain if she is lying about the divine paternity of her Son. Thomas simply says that Joseph was certain about her claims, apparently saying this in opposition to those who said that Joseph firmly believed she had committed fornication. The Proto-Gospel’s solution is a more nuanced one, but Thomas does not seem to even consider it.

I had thought to write more on the development and distortion of Thomistic Josephology over the ages, but that will require more research before I can do it properly. Instead, next time I will take a step back from the specifically theological works to look at the change of Joseph in iconography and the supplanting of St. John the Baptist by St. Joseph in the popular Catholic mind.

St. Joseph, out for your morning constitutional, pray for us!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

In Stark Contrast....

I remember this fellow riled up not a few people when he stated that the FSSPX Mass in reparation for a Satanic Black Mass was a greater abomination that the initial sacrilege. He is back with more, this time with comments on Quo primum tempore, St. Pius V's bull promulgating a streamlined set of liturgical books open for use throughout the Latin Church. The specifics of the bull interest us less here than the attitude of interpretation. In stark contrast to Fr. Hunwicke's comments, which read Quo primum tempore as a codification of the passed on tradition, this Fr. Nicholson reads it as the codification of the passed on authority. One thinks of the chapter "Obedience Before Tradition" in Dr. Hull's Banished Heart

Please do not complain in the comment box, which is a great temptation when these casual matters present themselves. Instead, say something insightful!


I had a four hour meeting today that involved two hours of waiting for the other party to arrive from the airport. Sorry, readers, but I am swamped this week. Perhaps Friday or Saturday there will be posts 1) following up on the idea of nostalgia and 2) on the octave of the Ascension of Our Lord, discarded by some Italian chap in 1955/6.

Until then, happy feast of St. John at the Latin Gate!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Josephology Part 7: Scattered Josephites in the Pre-Thomistic Era

It sure is a quiet day for Josephite devotions. Nope, definitely nothing to see here...

Review your notes from the vocational retreat!

St. Jerome’s (c. 347-420) influence on the Roman Church was felt most prominently through his Latin “Vulgate” translation of the Scriptures, but his biblical commentaries would often be used as a standard for many later theologians. Instead of following the ancient Tradition of St. Joseph’s earlier marriage, some commentators would begin to reference Jerome as an authority who swept that belief away.

(Much of what follows makes use of Fr. Bilodeau’s study The Virginity of Saint Joseph in the Latin Fathers and Medieval Ecclesiastical Writers.)

Scattered Chain Links

The earliest known follower of Jerome on the point that Joseph remained always a virgin and that the “brethren of the Lord” were cousins at the closest—aside from St. Augustine’s acceptance of this theory as a possibility—was the Venerable Bede (673-735). Writing his commentary on the Gospel of John (Expositio in sancti Joannis evangelium) three hundred years later, he claims,
There were indeed heretics who thought Joseph, the husband of the ever Virgin Mary, had generated from another wife those whom Scripture calls the “brethren of the Lord.”[...]  But, my dearest brethren, without any fear on this question, we must know and confess that not only the Blessed Mother of God, but also the most holy witness and guardian of her chastity, remained free from absolutely all marital acts; in scriptural usage, the “brothers and sisters of the Lord” are called, not their children, but their relatives. (2)
The next writer Bilodeau can find is the next century’s Rabanus Maurus (c. 780-856), a Frankish monk given the popular title of Praeceptor Germaniae (Teacher of Germany) and probably best known today for writing the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus. He writes in his Commentarius in Mattaeum that “Catholic devotion teaches and it must be admitted that the parents of Our Lord were always endowed with an unspoiled virginity” (1.1). From this sentence, Bilodeau jumps to the conclusion “that this belief was widespread, and perhaps universal, in the ninth century,” which is more than mildly ridiculous.

Two centuries later, St. Peter Damian (c. 1007-1072) wrote in De coelibatu sacerdotum, his general defense of celibacy, “And if it does not suffice for you that not only the mother is a virgin, there remains the belief of the Church that he who served as the father is also a virgin” (3).

The next century, Peter Abelard (1079-1142) says in his sermon on the Annunciation (Sermo in annuntiationem Beatae Virginis Mariae) that “Joseph, as St. Jerome recalled, remained a virgin, just as his spouse did.”

Around the same time, Hugh of Saint Victor (c. 1096-1141) wrote in Quaestiones et decisions in epistolam ad Galatas concerning “James the brother of the Lord”:
Not a few affirm that he was thus called the brother of the Lord, because he was the son of Joseph, the putative father of the Lord, by another wife: but this is not a proven fact, since Joseph is believed to have been a virgin; therefore another solution must be sought. (q. 5)
Albert Ups the Ante

Nearly a millennium after Jerome, St. Albertus Magnus (c. 1206-1280) came up with another innovation by claiming that Joseph and Mary both made vows of virginity:
Reflect also on the vow of virginity of both these spouses, for it is stated that the angel was sent by God to a virgin espoused to a man named Joseph.  And this is said because she was found to be with child before they were united.  Since therefore she had been espoused before this was revealed to her, that is since she had been entrusted to his care, as the Fathers repeat, up to the time when, because of her physical condition, she was found to be with child, this union would not have continued unless, by mutual consent, they had already made a vow of virginity. (In evangelium secundum Matthaeum, Opera 9, 12)
Now, it is not unreasonable to conjecture that Joseph and Mary had a mutual agreement to be completely chaste during their marriage, and that he did not simply avoid her bed out of quiet fear. Unfortunately, since then this has frequently been taken to mean that both spouses had made vows of celibacy at a young age, long before their betrothal. As reviewed in earlier posts in this series, some patristic-era sources do say that Mary had made a vow of virginity as a young girl, but none had ever said the same of Joseph.

“Now watch me build a robot.”

Unless there are significantly more defenders of Joseph’s perpetual virginity than what Fr. Bilodeau has dug up, the followers of Jerome are few and far between until the second millennium. However, Albert’s expansion on Jerome’s ideas would soon be especially consequential through the intellectual activity of his greatest student, Thomas of Aquino.

Next time, we will see what St. Thomas wrote about Joseph, and the influence of the Angelic Doctor on later theologians in this regard.

St. Joseph, who really wants to take a nap, pray for us!

As today in the Roman rite is the feast of Ss. Phillip & James (the Babysitter) and of Joe the Communist in the new rites, one might find the lessons from the second nocturne of Mattins instructive:

JAMES, surnamed the Just, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, was a Nazarite from the womb. During his whole life he never drank wine or strong drink, never ate meat, never shaved, and never took a bath. He was the only man who was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies. His raiment was always linen. So continually did he kneel in prayer, that the skin of his knees became horny, like a camel's knees. After Christ was ascended, the Apostles made James Bishop of Jerusalem and even the Prince of the Apostles gave special intelligence to him after that he was delivered from prison by an angel. When in the Council of Jerusalem certain questions were mooted touching the law and circumcision, James, following the opinion of Peter, addressed a discourse to the brethren, wherein he proved the call of the Gentiles, and commanded letters to be sent to such brethren as were absent, that they might take heed not to lay upon the Gentiles the yoke of the Law of Moses. It is of him that the Apostle Paul saith, writing to the Galatians " Other of the Apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother."
So great was James' holiness of life that men strove one with another to touch the hem of his garment. When he was ninety-six years old, and had most holily governed the Church of Jerusalem for thirty years, ever most constantly preaching Christ the Son of God, he laid down his life for the faith. He was first stoned, and afterward taken up on to a pinnacle of the Temple and cast down from thence. His legs were broken by the fall, and he was wellnigh dead, but he lifted up his hands towards heaven, and prayed to God for the salvation of his murderers, saying " Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do " As he said this, one that stood by smote him grievously upon the head with a fuller's club, and he resigned his spirit to God. He testified in the seventh year of Nero, and was buried hard by the Temple, in the place where he had fallen. He wrote one of the Seven Epistles which are called Catholic. 
Aside from clearly coming from the same town as our Lord was raised, he was also much older than Christ, living to ninety-six and dying before the destruction of Herod's Temple, which puts his birth three decades or so before the year zero.

As always, go to the St. Lawrence Press and read of Msgr. Gilbey's May 1st exploits!

Ss. Philip and James, pray for us!