Friday, December 30, 2016

A Very Ordinari[ate] Christmas

For the second year in a row I spent Christmas at Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, once a church and now the small cathedral of the Ordinariate for those of Anglican patrimony in the United States. Msgr. Steven Lopes, formerly a priest who worked to establish the Ordinariate structure and now its bishop, pontificated solemn Mass and preached the sermon.

Like last year a prelude of traditional Christmas carols preceded the Mass with such hymns as O Holy Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and Once in Royal David's City. Before the procession the deacon sang the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ, which is still retained in some churches after the disgraceful abolition of Prime in 1964. O Come All Ye Faithful was the processional hymn. Despite the prominence of hymns the propers were sung in English to their corresponding Latin Gregorian melodies. In a change from prior Masses at Walsingham, the lessons themselves were sung according to the old chanted melodies, with the prophecy tone for the Isaiah reading and the epistle tone for St. Paul to Titus. The psalm was sung straight through without the mundane responsorial melodies that plague the Pauline Mass. Angels We Have Heard on High was sung as a sequence after the Alleluia, not exactly the Sarum tradition, but a beautiful hymn none the less. The bishop pontificated from his throne, but despite the presence of Fr. Hough, the rector and MC, the Tridentine ritual normally imitated in Ordinariate communities was not followed.

Bishop Lopes began his edifying sermon with the Saint Andrew's prayer from an old holy card and noted how very Catholic, how gritty and real the language used in it was. For Christians the temptation is not losing Christmas in commercialism, he said, but in losing it in the many "real meaning of Christmas" bromides of the secular world: Christmas is hope (for what?), it is peace (which is what?), and so on. The birth of Christ was not a glamorous event; it transpired in a farm barn in the cold of night and the only witnesses were oxen and people who follow sheep around for a living (the Wisemen came at some point in the next two years). The fact is that there is one way to immortality, that is through the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ. It was a real event with real consequences. And it happened in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold, at midnight.

As usual, the standard of music is excellent for a parish choir, as exemplified by this rendition of Wilcox's setting of the Sussex Carol at the offertory.

At Communion Victoria's setting of O Magnum Mysterium and Silent Night were sung by candlelight. The bishop recited the Last Gospel aloud after the pontifical blessing and Mass concluded with Joy to the World.

As usual Mass at Our Lady of Walsingham is both beautiful and visionary, reflecting both a mind for what inspires and for what elements of the Latin tradition that elevate the mind to God can be revived.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Josephology Appendix 2: Why Divorce Mary?

The Christmas season has brought out a fresh set of reflections on the Gospel accounts of the Nativity, and with them comes a lot of the usual speculation about the motivations of the acting parties. The motivation of St. Joseph when he was “minded to put [Mary] away privately” (Mt. 1:19) is a special subject of concern. If Joseph was a just man and suspicious of her faithfulness, they ask, why did he not have her tried and stoned as the Mosaic Law demanded? Does this not constitute consent to her sin?

Thomas Aquinas posits three possible reasons for Joseph’s decision to quietly and privately divorce the Blessed Virgin in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. He does not here give an opinion on the truth of any of these options.

The first interpretation is based on the opinion of John Chrysostom, that justice is twofold. Justice can exist as the cardinal virtue (special justice), which is a rendering to each man what is right; or as a general virtue (legal or general justice), in the sense that “justice” can serve as a synecdoche of all virtues, because it is just to be directed towards the common good. St. Joseph would then be called a “just man” in the general sense, which would include the virtues of piety, clemency, and mercy, and not only in the sense that demands strict restitution for sin.

The second interpretation is from Augustine, who observes that sins are of two kinds: private and public. A private or hidden sin is not to be made public knowledge without a grave reason, and should be dealt with privately. Since only Joseph knew of Mary’s supposed sin, there was no reason yet to expose her to public condemnation. And if or when others discovered her pregnancy, they would assume that Joseph was the father, and would not ascribe to her any sin.

The third interpretation is from Rabanus (via Jerome), who believed that Joseph knew Mary to be pure and faithful, and, having already concluded that she was bearing the Christ, considered himself unworthy to take her in marriage. He had decided to put her away out of holy fear. (This opinion is approved by Thomas in his Summa Theologiae.)

Now, the first and second interpretations are harmonious and need not exclude the other. They also agree well with the earliest extra-scriptural accounts of the Nativity, especially the Proto-Gospel of James. This interpretation is of St. Joseph as confused and hurt, but unwilling to rashly throw his young betrothed to the brutality of the Law. The Proto-Gospel suggests that Joseph was uncertain that Mary’s pregnancy was the result of adultery, so the accusation of St. Jerome in his Matthean commentary that Joseph would be guilty of her sin if he did not accuse her publicly—“There is also a precept in the law that not only the accused but also the confidants of evil deeds are guilty of sin”—would not be entirely applicable.

St. Matthew does not do much to explain the inner workings of Joseph’s mind, and any deeper exegesis is going to lack the certainty of revelation, but I have long agreed with the early interpretation of Joseph as a conflicted man who was trying to do his best in a very confusing situation. He may have been mindful of the recent miraculous pregnancy of Mary’s kinswoman Elizabeth but, as yet lacking any angelic visitation, chose as best he could using his own judgment. He was just, not only in the sense of the letter of the law, but of its spirit. He was not given to rash judgments, but deliberate and considerate. When commanded to take Mary as wife by the angel, he was swiftly obedient.

In a sense, then, I think that all three interpretations are right. Joseph considered the possibility that Mary’s pregnancy was of supernatural origin, but also had reason to suspect fornication and adultery. He was wise and deliberate, and the interjection of the angel is an image of the divine assistance God gives to those who seek wisdom but lack the knowledge to choose with complete rightness.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

If you are looking for some spiritual edification beyond Mass, look no further. Here are the Mattins lessons for the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ as well as the Introit, my favorite in the Roman rite, for the third Mass of the day. As they say in the East, "Christ is born! Glorify Him!"

From Isaiah:

1 At the first time the land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephtali was lightly touched: and at the last the way of the sea beyond the Jordan of the Galilee of the Gentiles was heavily loaded.
2 The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.
3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and hast not increased the joy. They shall rejoice before thee, as they that rejoice in the harvest, as conquerors rejoice after taking a prey, when they divide the spoils.
4 For the yoke of their burden, and the rod of their shoulder, and the sceptre of their oppressor thou hast overcome, as in the day of Median.
5 For every violent taking of spoils, with tumult, and garment mingled with blood, shall be burnt, and be fuel for the fire.
6 For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.
1 Be comforted, be comforted, my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye to the heart of Jerusalem, and call to her: for her evil is come to an end, her iniquity is forgiven: she hath received of the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.
3 The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see, that the mouth of the Lord hath spoken.
6 The voice of one, saying: Cry. And I said: What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of the field.
7 The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen, because the spirit of the Lord hath blown upon it. Indeed the people is grass:
8 The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen: but the word of our Lord endureth for ever.
1 Arise, arise, put on thy strength, O Sion, put on the garments of thy glory, O Jerusalem, the city of the Holy One: for henceforth the uncircumcised, and unclean shall no more pass through thee.
2 Shake thyself from the dust, arise, sit up, O Jerusalem: loose the bonds from off thy neck, O captive daughter of Sion.
3 For thus saith the Lord: You were sold gratis, and you shall be redeemed without money.
4 For thus saith the Lord God: My people went down into Egypt at the beginning to sojourn there: and the Assyrian hath oppressed them without any cause at all.
5 And now what have I here, saith the Lord: for my people is taken away gratis. They that rule over them treat them unjustly, saith the Lord, and my name is continually blasphemed all the day long.
6 Therefore my people shall know my name in that day: for I myself that spoke, behold I am here.

From St. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome:

Dearly beloved brethren, Unto us is born this day a Saviour. Let us rejoice. It would be unlawful to be sad to-day, for today is Life's Birthday; the Birthday of that Life, Which, for us dying creatures, taketh away the sting of death, and bringeth the bright promise of the eternal gladness hereafter. It would be unlawful for any man to refuse to partake in our rejoicing. All men have an equal share in the great cause of our joy, for, since our Lord, Who is the destroyer of sin and of death, findeth that all are bound under the condemnation, He is come to make all free. Rejoice, O thou that art holy, thou drawest nearer to thy crown! Rejoice, O thou that art sinful, thy Saviour offereth thee pardon! Rejoice also, O thou Gentile, God calleth thee to life! For the Son of God, when the fulness of the time was come, which had been fixed by the unsearchable counsel of God, took upon Him the nature of man, that He might reconcile that nature to Him Who made it, and so the devil, the inventor of death, is met and beaten in that very flesh which hath been the field of his victory.

When our Lord entered the field of battle against the devil, He did so with a great and wonderful fairness. Being Himself the Almighty, He laid aside His uncreated Majesty to fight with our cruel enemy in our weak flesh. He brought against him the very shape, the very nature of our mortality, yet without sin. His birth however was not a birth like other births for no other is born pure, nay, not the little child whose life endureth but a day on the earth. To His birth alone the throes of human passion had not contributed, in His alone no consequence of sin had had -part. For His Mother was chosen a Virgin of the kingly lineage of David, and when she was to grow heavy with the sacred Child, her soul had already conceived Him before her body. She knew the counsel of God announced to her by the Angel, lest the unwonted events should alarm her. The future Mother of God knew what was to be wrought in her by the Holy Ghost, and that her modesty was absolutely safe.

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Ghost: Who, for His great love wherewith He loved us, hath had mercy on us and, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, that in Him we might be a new creature, and a new workmanship. Let us then put off the old man with his deeds (Col. iii. 9); and, having obtained a share in the Sonship of Christ, let us renounce the deeds of the flesh. Learn, O Christian, how great thou art, who hast been made partaker of the Divine nature, and fall not again by corrupt conversation into the beggarly elements above which thou art lifted. Remember Whose Body it is Whereof thou art made a member, and Who is its Head. Remember that it is He That hath delivered thee from the power of darkness and hath translated thee into God's light, and God's kingdom.

From St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome:

By God's mercy we are to say three Masses to-day, so that there is not much time left for preaching; but at the same time the occasion of the Lord's Birth-day itself obliges me to speak a few words. I will first ask why, when the Lord was to be born, the world was enrolled? Was it not to herald the appearing of Him by Whom the elect are enrolled in the book of life? Whereas the Prophet saith of the reprobate Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous. Then, the Lord is born in Bethlehem. Now the name Bethlehem signifieth the House of Bread, and thus it is the birth-place of Him Who hath said, I am the Living Bread, Which came down from heaven. We see then that this name of Bethlehem was prophetically given to the place where Christ was born,.because it was there that He was to appear in the flesh by Whom the souls of the faithful are fed unto life eternal. He was born, not in His Mother's house, but away from home. And this is a mystery, showing that this our mortality into which He was born was not the home of Him Who is begotten of the Father before the worlds.

From St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan:

Behold the beginning of the Church. Christ is born, and the shepherds watch; shepherds, to gather together the scattered sheep of the Gentiles, and to lead them into the fold of Christ, that they might no longer be a prey to the ravages of spiritual wolves in the night of this world's darkness. And that shepherd is wide awake, whom the Good Shepherd stirreth up. The flock then is the people, the night is the world, and the shepherds are the Priests. And perhaps he is a shepherd to whom it is said, Be watchful and strengthen, for God hath ordained as the shepherds of His flock not Bishops only, but also Angels.

From St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

Lest thou shouldest think all things mean, as thou art accustomed to think of things human, hear and digest this The Word was God. Now perhaps there will come forward some Arian unbeliever, and say that the Word of God was a creature. How can the Word of God be a creature, when it was by the Word that all creatures were made? If He be a creature, then there must have been some other Word, not a creature, by which He was made. And what Word is that? If thou sayest that it was by the word of the Word Himself that He was made, I tell thee that God had no other, but One Only-begotten Son. But if thou say not that it was by the word of the Word Himself that He was made, thou art forced to confess that. He by Whom all things were made was not Himself made at all. Believe the Gospel.

A Very Merry and Blessed Feast of the Nativity to All!

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Christmas Gift for Francis

(or, Why I Finally Cancelled My Subscription to The Remnant)

(It's not scowling, just a bad case of RBF.)
I’m sure our readers are just about exhausted by my constant writings about Roman Pontiffs who have reigned in my lifetime. Consider it a last-minute Advent penance on my part. Since there’s nowhere left to go but down, let’s finish this trilogy with Pope Grinch himself, Francis the First.

Most recently P. Francis has been in the news for his utter silence on the four Cardinals’ Dubia delivered three months ago, while talking nonstop at the meeting of the Roman Curia. A more recent comment by Cdl. Raymond Burke to Catholic World Report is very interesting in that regard:
Cardinal Burke: If a Pope would formally profess heresy he would cease, by that act, to be the Pope. It’s automatic. And so, that could happen.
CWR: That could happen. 
Cardinal Burke: Yes.
CWR: That’s a scary thought. 
Cardinal Burke: It is a scary thought, and I hope we won’t be witnessing that at any time soon.[…] 
CWR: Who is competent to declare him to be in heresy? 
Cardinal Burke: It would have to be members of the College of Cardinals.
The opinion that a Roman pope who has fallen into formal heresy would automatically lose the Seat of Peter is a popular one among trads, and has been revived from the opinion of Robert Bellarmine and other Counter Reformation-era speculative theologians. This opinion, interesting as it is, will butt heads with Canon 1404 of the current Code (“The First See is judged by no one”) if it is ever invoked, and it is also far from a proven opinion.

For myself, I am of the opinion that the gift of doctrinal preservation promised to the Successors of Simon Peter extends to preventing a reigning Roman Pontiff from declaring himself as a formal heretic, although he might very well be a material heretic (as many past popes have been). The most likely response of P. Francis to this Dubia is indefinite silence, and far less likely is an admission of wrongdoing and of having privately held to material heresy. If Papa Bergoglio does in fact formally insist on heresy by the end of this process, I do not know how Cdl. Burke intends to act as an expert on something that has never happened, but I guess God is a God of Surprises, still.


Last January I returned from Christmas vacation to find the latest issue of The Remnant waiting for me in my mailbox. I had subscribed a few months prior, because I frequently enjoyed reading their online articles, and felt their work worthy of compensation. I found, though, that their printed articles were often more sloppy than the online selection. Chris Ferrara Esq.’s articles, for instance, are always printed as formatted for web posting, complete with blue, underlined phrases that, shockingly enough, cannot be clicked when on newsprint. Many of their articles lacked basic fact-checking, and the editorial staff continuously ignored my emails requesting clarification and correction.

The final straw came in the December 25, 2015 issue, with Dr. John Rao’s article “A Very Different Francis on a Christmas Long Ago.” It contrasted St. Francis of Assisi with the reigning pontiff, particularly with the pope’s recent removal of the crèche during Advent’s environmentalist light show. (Dr. Rao’s article has since been posted on his website, although it incorrectly dates the issue of publication as Dec. 15.) While I may have agreed with his opinions on the hiding of Baby Jesus, the following passage threw me for a loop:
“Thud” is the only musical tone that accompanies the pastoral approach offered Catholics and the world at large in Christmastide, 2015 under the reign of a pope who took his name from Francis. That “thud” is the sound that emerges from men’s minds and hearts plunging downwards from St. Francis’s effort to understand and celebrate nature by looking at it through the Word made flesh.
Did you notice it, too? No, not the hyperbolic rhetoric that would never convince anyone not already convinced, but a little detail that certainly should not have escaped the eye of a professional historian:
The problem with the pope’s message in Christmastide, 2015 is that he is singing the modern song of “thud”. He is calling, in practice, for the need for a “correction” and “transformation” of Catholic doctrine to aid in the “restoration of all things” not in Christ but “in fallen nature”. He is not telling us to pay homage to the child in the crèche and accept His corrective and transforming Social Kingship. He is not speaking in a Christ-centered fashion.
A rant about P. Francis’s errors committed in Christmastide, 2015? Almost certainly written even before Christmas (the actual day this season begins)? Dr. Rao must be an historian of the future! The only possible event prior to publication which Rao could have been talking about was the 2015 Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, during which Francis clearly venerates the Christ Child and carries him to the crèche. He even says in his sermon that “We must set out to see our Savior lying in a manger,” for goodness’ sake!

Yes, of course Rao was referring to events in Advent 2015, not Christmastide, but a prosecutor’s case is built on a multitude of small details. When the legal team screws up details like these, all evidence is rendered inadmissible. The Remnant editorial crew habitually allows small but critical errors to find publication in their pages, and every time they do so, they lose more credibility.

Come on, fellow Trads. Seek the true, not the inflammatory. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. That’s what the Church really needs for Christmas.

That and Benedict's cool Santa hat. He took it with him when he left.

Away in a Manger: No Heart in Your Head

I never cared much for Away in a Manger, even before I discovered this particular hymn was apocryphally attributed to heresiarch Martin Luther. Although "Away" post-dates Luther by three or four centuries, it very much bears more resemblance to the grouchy German's influence than it would Renaissance Catholicism and it betrays the influence of Protestantism on Western hymnody, even in the Catholic world.

The Latin Church never originally sang hymns during Divine service. The psalms suffice for chant and have the added benefit of deriving from Holy Writ, meaning they form a continuity with the Temple sacrifice of the old covenant and they constitute a Theosophic narration, as if God and the saints are saying the words and we are listening. Hymns were a Gallican introduction which Rome finally admitted in the 13th century under the Franciscan pope Nicholas. While a stranger to the Roman rite, hymns were not foreign to the Gallican tradition nor were they used ad libitum. Rather, they, like the schedule of psalms itself, formed part of a coherent order for the sanctification of the day. Popular hymns had no place in the Office and could rarely be sung at Mass; the Offertory verses were normally supplemented with motets and only the priest communicated, making additional music superfluous.

Popular hymnody proliferated during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Indeed, many of our most beloved Christmas hymns came out of this era: Noel Nouvelete, Resonet in Laudibus, the Coventry Carol, and more. Carols were popular articulations of belief sung outside of the liturgy in communal, celebratory settings like village feasts, processions, festivals, and pageants (the Coventry Carol falls into this last category).

After the Reformation hymns began to take on a very different aspect than they enjoyed before. As the Reformers assigned the Latin rite to the dustbin they replaced the proper parts of the liturgy with popular hymns. While some hymns retained a didactic quality—namely in the Anglican world—the new genre also filled a spiritual, personal wound the Reformers created. In the medieval Catholic scheme, one encountered God directly in the Sacraments, celebrated with feasts and processions, and could foster personal devotion to God's friends, the Saints. The strong resemblance between Anglican choral dress and academic garb betrays the fact that the Reformation was led almost entirely by the over-educated, under-talented class who could not agree about Augustine. Their's was a religion of the head with no room for the heart. Hymns gave a voice to the Protestant plebeians, an opportunity for tenderness and mercy lost in the new religion.

The impersonalization of Catholic worship, the four hymn sandwich low Mass, and the operatic high Masses eventually broke the dam holding out Protestant liturgical influence from the Church. Still, Catholic hymns resisted the sappy spiritual element, holding God above and keeping we the sinners below, until the 19th century. Interestingly, Catholic countries retained this outlook more strongly in their popular songs than in their liturgical hymns.

Compare the sweet Away in a Manger with a literal translation of the familiar French carol, O Holy Night:

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.I love thee, Lord Jesus! look down from the sky,And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stayClose by me forever, and love me I pray.Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,And take us to heaven to live with thee there.
O Holy Night:

Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour,
When God as man descended unto us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Saviour.
People, kneel down, await your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

May the ardent light of our Faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Guided the Oriental kings there.
The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,
It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has broken every bond:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
People, stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

Now, which one is really more like Faith of Our Fathers?

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et Legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et salvator earum; veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expectation and Saviour of the nations! come and save us, O Lord our God! 
O Emmanuel! King of Peace! thou enterest to-day the city of thy predilection, the city in which thou hast placed thy Temple, - Jerusalem. A few years hence, and the same city will give thee thy Cross and thy Sepulchre: nay, the day will come, on which thou wilt set up thy Judgment-seat within sight of her walls. But, to-day, thou enterest the city of David and Solomon unnoticed and unknown. It lies on thy road to Bethlehem. Thy Blessed Mother and Joseph, her Spouse, would not lose the opportunity of visiting the Temple, there to offer to the Lord their prayers and adoration. They enter; and then, for the first time, is accomplished the prophecy of Aggeus, that great shall be the glory of this last House more than of the first [Agg. ii. 10.] ; for this second Temple has now standing within it an Ark of the Covenant more precious than was that which Moses built; and within this Ark, which is Mary, there is contained the God, whose presence makes her the holiest of sanctuaries. The Lawgiver himself is in this blessed Ark, and not merely, as in that of old, the tablet of stone on which the Law was graven. The visit paid, our living Ark descends the steps of the Temple, and sets out once more for Bethlehem, where other prophecies are to be fulfilled. We adore thee, O Emmanuel! in this thy journey, and we reverence the fidelity wherewith thou fulfillest all that the prophets have written of thee, for thou wouldst give to thy people the certainty of thy being the Messias, by showing them, that all the marks, whereby he was to be known, are to be found in thee. And now, the hour is near; all is ready for thy Birth; come, then, and save us; come, that thou mayest not only be called our Emmanuel, but our Jesus, that is, He that saves us. 
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Benedict at Rest

Earlier this year I offered my opinion that P. Benedict XVI’s resignation was valid in spite of his blatherings-on about “active” and “contemplative” aspects of the “Petrine ministry.” But there is also the occasional argument, mostly from the outer reaches of Tradistan, that his resignation was invalid because of some external pressure that would have removed the exercise of his free agency. P. Francis, then, would be interpreted as an anti-pope reigning while the true pope still lived.

Any doubts about the freedom of Benedict’s will should be washed away by the recent publication of Last Testament: In His Own Words, a book-length interview conducted by his long time interviewer Peter Seewald. The interview begins with questions about the Pope Emeritus’s current retirement and recent resignation, and his subject is crystal clear on the internal peace surrounding his decision.

For instance, in the chapter “Quiet Days at Mater Ecclesiae,” the once-Cardinal Ratzinger declares he does not miss the papacy:
Not at all, no! On the contrary, I am grateful to God for lifting this responsibility which I could no longer bear from my shoulders. I am grateful that I am now free humbly to walk with Him, to live among, and be visited by, friends.
He admits that the fear of a lingering death—something experienced in concrete reality with his predecessor—was a minor factor in his decision:
For one thing there is the fear that one is imposing on people through a long period of disability. I would find that very distressing. My father always had a fear of death too; it has endured with me, but lessened.
The next chapter “The Resignation” takes on the subject squarely. He asserts that his decision was made after a long period of internal consideration and with minimal advice from anyone else.
An awareness of its [the decision to resign] responsibility and seriousness called for the most thorough examination, time and again having to examine yourself before God and before yourself; that took place, yes, but not in the sense that it tore me to pieces.
He notes that he wrote his resignation announcement in Latin because his Italian is not perfect, and he wanted to ensure that it would contain no ambiguity or mistakes.

Mr. Seewald asks him point-blank:
Are you at peace with God? 
Indeed, I really am.
And he goes on to ask if that peace extended to the turmoil of the Vatileaks and financial scandals rocking the Vatican before the resignation, and the Pope Emeritus’s response is telling:
I said… that one is not permitted to step back when things are going wrong, but only when things are at peace. I could resign because calm had returned to this situation. It was not a case of retreating under pressure or feeling that things couldn’t be coped with. [emphasis added]
He responds to a more blunt question about blackmail:
That’s all complete nonsense…. But no one has tried to blackmail me. If that had been attempted I would not have gone, since you are not permitted to leave because you’re under pressure…. On the contrary, the moment had—thanks to be God [sic]—a sense of having overcome the difficulties and a mood of peace.
When asked about regret, he denies having any: “No! No, no. Every day I see that it was right.”

And again he denies any illegitimate pressure on him to resign:
I therefore emphasized in my speech that I was acting freely. One is not allowed to go away if one is running away. One cannot submit to coercion. One can only turn away when no one has demanded it. And no one demanded it of me during my time as Pope. No one. It came as a complete surprise to everybody.
That is all more than enough to prove my point. If Benedict is indeed being held under some kind of house arrest by Francis and forced to say all these things, one would expect his answers to be terse or stock, or even to refuse to acknowledge them. His later words about Francis in the book are respectful, but one gets the impression that he is rolling his eyes a bit as he gives them; hardly the tone one would expect from a prisoner. One under compulsion could not show the range of emotion he does in this interview, unless we are going to consider Mr. Seewald to be a talented novelist in addition to a journalist.

The current Roman Pontiff may be unwilling to let his yes be yes and his no be no, but the P. Emeritus has no such difficulty. His tone in the book is one of a man at rest, who is enjoying his final days in peace, who can laugh and tear up when remembering his finals days as pope, and who tires of being pulled into what he now considers other people’s business.

Back when Ratzinger was first announced as the newly elected pope, an academic mentor of mine opined that he will need many prayers, because this man is also an academic and not well suited for the kind of public life that John Paul has made of the papacy. I think he was right, and that the resignation was merely a result of a man better suited for reading, writing, and contemplation having finally exhausted himself. John Paul made the papacy an extravert’s playground, leaving any future introvert popes in the lurch.

When asked about the feeling of God’s nearness, Benedict’s answer goes in an interesting direction:
Of course new insights are opened up again and again. I find this touching and comforting. But one also notices that the depths of the Word are never fully plumbed. And some words of wrath, of rejection, of the threat of judgement, certainly become more mysterious and grave and awesome than before.
Let us pray for our retired pope in his final days, especially that he would be prepared to meet the Judge, and that he will find mercy when his time comes, and rest in peace.

O Rex Gentium

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum; veni, et salva hominem quem de limo formasti.O King of nations, and their desired One, and the corner-stone that makest both one; come and save man whom thou formedst out of slime. 
O King of Nations! thou art approaching still nigher to Bethlehem, where thou art to be born. The journey is almost over, and thy august Mother, consoled and strengthened by the dear weight she bears, holds an unceasing converse with thee on the way. She adores thy divine Majesty; she gives thanks to thy mercy; she rejoices that she has been chosen for the sublime ministry of being Mother to God. She longs for that happy moment when her eyes shall look upon thee, and yet she fears it. For, how will she be able to render thee those services which are due to thy infinite greatness, she that thinks herself the last of creatures? How will she dare to raise thee up in her arms, and press thee to her heart, and feed thee at her breasts? When she reflects that the hour is now near at hand, in which, being born of her, thou wilt require all her care and tenderness, her heart sinks within her; for, what human heart could bear the intense vehemence of these two affections, - the love of such a Mother for her Babe, and the love of such a Creature for her God? But thou supportest her, O thou the Desired of Nations! for thou, too, longest for that happy Birth, which is to give the earth its Saviour, and to men that Corner-Stone, which will unite them all into one family. Dearest King! be thou blessed for all these wonders of thy power and goodness! Come speedily, we beseech thee, come and save us, for we are dear to thee, as creatures that have been formed by thy divine hands. Yea, come, for thy creation has grown degenerate; it is lost; death has taken possession of it: take it thou again into thy almighty hands, and give it a new creation; save it; for thou hast not ceased to take pleasure in and love thine own work.
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

O Oriens

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeterne, et sol justitiae; veni et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.O Orient! splendour of eternal light, and Sun of Justice! come and enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
O Jesus, divine Sun! thou art coming to snatch us from eternal night: blessed for ever be thy infinite goodness! But thou puttest our faith to the test, before showing thyself in all thy brightness. Thou hidest thy rays, until the time decreed by thy heavenly Father comes, in which all thy beauty will break upon the world. Thou art traversing Judea; thou art near Jerusalem; the journey of Mary and Joseph is nigh its term. Crowds of men pass or meet thee on the road, each one hurrying to his native town, there to be enrolled, as the Edict commands. Not one of all these suspects that thou, O divine Orient! art so near him. They see thy Mother Mary, and they see nothing in her above the rest of women; or if they are impressed by the majesty and incomparable modesty of this august Queen, it is but a vague feeling of surprise at there being such dignity in one so poor as she is; and they soon forget her again. If the Mother is thus an object of indifference to them, it is not to be expected that they will give even so much as a thought to her Child, that is not yet born. And yet this Child is thyself, O Sun of Justice! Oh! increase our Faith, but increase, too, our Love. If these men loved thee, O Redeemer of mankind, thou wouldst give them the grace to feel thy presence; their eyes, indeed, would not yet see thee, but their hearts, at least, would burn within them, they would long for thy coming, and would hasten it by their prayers and sighs. Dearest Jesus! who thus traversest the world thou hast created, and who forcest not the homage of thy creatures, we wish to keep near thee during the rest of this thy journey: we kiss the footsteps of Her that carries thee in her womb; we will not leave thee, until we arrive together with thee at Bethlehem, that House of Bread, where, at last, our eyes will see thee, O splendour of eternal light, our Lord and our God!
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Crossing the Threshold of Popery

There is a little passage in the introduction to P. John Paul II’s 1994 interview Crossing the Threshold of Hope that started a long, internal process of reconsidering my approach to papal statements. The editor-interviewer Vittorio Messori drops this challenge to ultramontanist theologians while explaining the nature of the text to follow:
It is my duty to guarantee to the reader that the voice that resonates—in its humanity but also in its authority—is entirely that of the successor to Peter. It will now be the job of theologians and analysts of the papal teaching to face the problem of classifying a text that has no precedent and therefore poses new possibilities for the Church. (viii)
I listened to the entirely of Crossing the Threshold of Hope on an audiobook while driving from the American Midwest to New Mexico. My conversion was recent and still in its first vigor. While my reading pre-Confirmation had raised some confusion in regard to the thoughts and actions of the then-current Roman Pontiff, this book raised serious doubts. When I left the Missouri border I was a papist, but by the time I reached the deserted American Southwest I wondered if the pope was even Catholic, and if I should remain thus.

From John Paul’s limp passive voice to his failure to make clear distinctions, I grew increasingly frustrated with the pope’s muddled rhetoric. In the very first chapel he undermines the unique office of the papacy by extending the title of Vicarius Christi to the “entire college of bishops,” and also to all priests and to “each of the baptized” (13), without any clear distinction.

The formlessness of this personalist-philospher-pope’s thought became apparent in the occasional nonsense phrase that I desperately tried to make sensible, such as his description of the created world as “the foundation of a creative existence in the world” (21) or “the geography of the Pope’s prayer” (23). In response to the question of whether or not God exists, he refuses to answer clearly with a “Yes,” but rather recapitulates the history of the relevant philosophical speculation—“This question has reverberated throughout a highly developed Western civilization” (29), he says with all the squishiness of the indecisive.

Less than halfway through the book, John Paul “The Great” has begun rambling on about the greatness of the Church’s openness to the world. “Aggiornamento (updating) does not refer to the renewal of the Church; nor only to the unification of all Christians, ‘that the world may believe.’ It is also, and above all, God’s saving activity on behalf of the world” (76). Is the acceptance of the “updating” of the Church for the contemporary times necessary for salvation? It is God’s saving activity, after all. Can those who reject updatedness be saved?

Then he begins praising all the non-Christian religions of the world, claiming that, thanks to the Holy Spirit, there is “a kind of common soteriological root present in all religions” (81). What kind? Who knows. He does offer some caution regarding Buddhism, but again in the passive voice that precludes an actual warning or condemnation: “It is not inappropriate to caution those Christians who enthusiastically welcome certain ideas originating in the religious traditions of the Far East” (90). He says that Moslems “invoke the true God” (93), a common theme in the Age of Aggiornamento. His words on the validity of the Old Hebraic Covenant (in the chapter “Judaism?”) are vague, although Cdl. Ratzinger would be far more optimistic about its validity in his writings.

But it was the chapter “Is Only Rome Right?” that threw me for a loop as I sped down the Oklahoma turnpike:
Besides formal membership in the Church, the sphere of salvation can also include other forms of relation to the Church. Paul VI… spoke of the various circles of the dialogue of salvation…. It would be difficult to deny that this doctrine is extremely open. It cannot be accused of an ecclesiological exclusivism. (140-141)
The discussion of ecumenical overtures with Protestants that follows is concerned not with the salvation of those who are outside the Catholic communion, but with practical movements towards unity. “What unites us is much greater than what separates us,” he writes, just before going on about “genuine divisions” where the faith remains uncompromised (147).

The “Pope of Surprises” was not only confused but naive: “We find ourselves faced with a new reality. The world, tired of ideology, is opening itself to the truth” (164). Somehow in the midst of all this wishy-washy optimism, he finds himself surprised that preachers “no longer have the courage to preach the threat of hell. And perhaps even those who listen to them have stopped being afraid of hell” (183). Yet he ends the chapter with praise for Origen and von Balthasar’s rejection of eternal damnation, but without clear agreement or disagreement on his part. Is he the “Pope of Surprises” or the “Pope of Being Surprised”?

“Be not afraid,” is what he often repeated. Yet he gave me much reason to fear. I feared most of all that I had been scammed into conversion, that I had been lied to by the apologists who insisted that membership in the Church Catholic was necessary for salvation. I feared that they had either lied about what the Church was, or that this pope was speaking of some other religion entirely. I wondered if I ought to return to my Protestant roots, since they at least believed in the principle of non-contradiction.

But it was that brief passage in the book’s introduction, Mr. Messori’s observation that here would arise a “problem of classifying a text that has no precedent,” that helped me to cross my own threshold of hope. It is the ultramontanist who interprets every utterance of a Roman pope as infallible or potentially so; who when a pope calls a sunny day rainy, says that it must be “raining spiritually.” The legitimate exercise of Roman doctrinal clarity began to spill over into a thoughtless piety towards every casual utterance, to the extent that we still have well-meaning Catholics justifying the words of P. Francis in every interview.

The way over that threshold, I realized, was the simple rejection of Crossing the Threshold of Hope as a work of the Magisterium (that ever-elusive concept), and relegating it to the personal ramblings of a man who happened to be pope. It was a principle I eventually extended even to those officially papal writings that lacked doctrinal solemnity. John Paul’s papal documents are not quite as fast and loose with doctrine as this book-length interview, but they are frequently confusing and sometimes quite wrong. The first Vatican Council’s definition of papal infallibility was restrictive, leaving it to theologians and individual Catholics to sort out the importance of all other papal statements. Even P. Benedict XVI once said that the pope “is not an oracle; he is infallible in very rare situations.”

Words to live by. Be not afraid of discarding ultramontanism, all ye sedevacantists and neo-conservatives. When the pope of Rome speaks with all the solemnity and authority of the Holy Ghost, you will know it. Until then, unfollow @pontifex and give a mighty shrug whenever your non-Catholic acquaintances ask you to explain his most recent madness. Pray for him, but allow him to rant to an empty room.

O Clavis David

O Clavis David et Sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit; veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel!  who openest, and no man shutteth: who shuttest, and  no man openeth; come and  lead the captive from prison,  sitting in darkness and in the  shadow of death. 
O Jesus, Son of David! heir to his throne and his power! thou art now passing over, in thy way to Bethlehem, the land that once was the kingdom of thy ancestor, but now is tributary to the Gentiles. Scarce an inch of this ground which has not witnessed the miracles of the justice and the mercy of Jehovah, thy Father, to the people of that old Covenant, which is so soon to end. Before long, when thou hast come from beneath the virginal cloud which now hides thee, thou wilt pass along this same road doing good [Acts, x. 36.], healing all manner of sickness and every infirmity [St Matth. iv. 23.], and yet having not where to lay thy head? [St. Luke, ix. 58.] Now, at least, thy Mother's womb affords thee the sweetest rest, and thou receivest from her the profoundest adoration and the tenderest love. But, dear Jesus, it is thine own blessed will that thou leave this loved abode. Thou hast, O Eternal Light, to shine in the midst of this world's darkness, this prison where the captive, whom thou art come to deliver, sits in the shadow of death. Open his prison-gates by thy all-powerful key. And who is this captive, but the human race, the slave of error and vice? Who is this Captive, but the heart of man, which is thrall to the very passions it blushes to obey? Oh! come and set at liberty the world thou hast enriched by thy grace, and the creatures whom thou hast made to be thine own Brethren.
From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger 

Monday, December 19, 2016

O Radix Iesse

O radix Jesse * qui stas in signum populórum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabúntur: veni ad liberándum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, * which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom the kings shall shut their   mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek; come to deliver us, make no tarrying! 

"At length, O Son of Jesse! thou art approaching the city of thy ancestors. The Ark of the Lord has risen, and journeys, with the God that is in her, to the place of her rest. "How beautiful are thy steps, O thou daughter of the Prince," [Cant. vii. 1.] now that thou art bringing to the cities of Juda their salvation! The Angels escort thee, thy faithful Joseph lavishes his love upon thee, heaven delights in thee, and our earth thrills with joy to bear thus upon itself its Creator and its Queen. Go forward, O Mother of God and Mother of Men! Speed thee, thou propitiatory that holdest within thee the divine Manna which gives us life! Our hearts are with thee, and count thy steps. Like thy royal ancestor David, "we will enter not into the dwelling of our house, nor go up into the bed whereon we lie, nor give sleep to our eyes, nor rest to our temples, until we have found a place in our hearts for the Lord whom thou bearest, a tabernacle for this God of Jacob." [Ps. cxxxi. 3-5.] Come, then, O Root of Jesse! thus hid in this Ark of purity; thou wilt soon appear before thy people as the standard round which all that would conquer must rally. Then, their enemies, the Kings of the world, will be silenced, and the nations will offer thee their prayers. Hasten thy coming, dear Jesus! come and conquer all our enemies, and deliver us."
From Dom Prosper Gueranger's The Liturgical Year 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Extreme [Comp]unction

A cancer-stricken friend of mine recently asked a priest of an unnamed sacerdotal brotherhood attached to the 1962 rites for the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick before undergoing an operation to remove his tumor. The priest told him that the Sacrament, properly called Extreme Unction, is meant to be delivered only in extremis, and since, like Lord Marchmain, he was not in extremis, he did not need to be anointed, merely blessed. Instead he asked a Ukrainian priest who readily supplied the Sacrament.

The "Mystery of Anointing", as the Greek Churches call it, is a Sacrament that, like Holy Communion, has waxed and waned in the frequency of the faithful availing themselves to its graces. Anointing had a place quite apart from Holy Communion until the Middle Ages, when in the Latin Church it was administered with Confession and the Eucharist to comprise the "Last Rites." Anointing figures prominently in the Old Testament, where the prophets of God imparted Divine authority unto those chosen as kings and priests; even in the Middle Ages, many considered the anointing of kings at their coronation to be like a Sacrament. Similarly, the use of anointing consecrated those ordained to Divine service under the new covenant: the priesthood of all believers (Confirmation/Chrismation), the lower order of priesthood (priestly ordination), and the higher degree of priesthood (episcopal consecration). Uniquely, in the New Testament the Church uses anointing for the expressed purposes of healing, following Christ's co-mingling of earthly substances with grace as He did in scrubbing a blind man's eyes with mud and paste.

There is an allusion to the healing Sacrament of Unction in the writings of Saint, and one time anti-Pope, Hippolytus:
"If anyone offers oil, let him [the bishop] give thanks in the same way as for the offering of bread and wine [not using the same words but expressing the same idea] and say, ‘Lord, just as by sanctifying this oil, with which you anointed kings, priests and prophets, you give holiness to those who are anointed with it and receive it, so let it bring comfort to those who taste of it and health to those who use it’." Apostolic Tradition V
Ss. Ambrose and Augustine are recorded as having visited their flock to administer the Sacrament of Unction personally and to pray for the physical healing of the infirm. The old Roman ritual for Unction explicitly invoked the forgiveness of sins ("may the Lord pardon you of whatever sin you have committed by [sight, smell, etc....]") and the restoration of the anointed one's health ("by the grace of the Holy Spirit the ailments of this sick person and heal his (her) wounds, forgive his (her) sins, drive from him (her) all pains of mind and body and in Thy mercy restore him (her) to full health within and without, that being cured by the help of Thy mercy he (she) may return to his (her) former duties"). At this same time when Unction was delivered regularly to the faithful, Communion was approach irregularly in much of the Church. Communion of all eligible recipients seems to have been normal in Rome; the deacon ritually expelled the un-baptized, those in penance, and heretics before the Gospel. In the Greek Church, if St. Ambrose is to be trusted in de Sacramentis (V.4.25), the faithful only communicated once a year; towards the end of the first millennium, general Communion died in Rome and frequent Unction with it. By contrast, the Greek Church expanded the use of Unction to Wednesday of Holy Week, so that those unable to attain Confession with a monk (Greeks were never fond of confessing to married clergy) could have their sins remitted and communicate on Pascha. Sacrosanctum Concilium (73-75) asked that the Sacrament be received more frequently and, like all other rites, that the ritual be revised for no obviously useful reason.

Despite their lack of obvious congruity in reception (like Baptism and Communion, or Confession and Communion), the Sacraments of Anointing and Communion have shared a remarkable pulse in Latin Christendom. Nowadays both Sacraments are abused by overuse. I can recall several "healing Masses" as a child and college student when the priest gave the Sacrament of Unction to whoever wanted it, regardless of the state of their souls or health. I will not reiterate the obvious abuse of Communion and the infrequency of Confession in detail. As is usual, mainstream traditionalists are the odd ones out here: at the local FSSP church 95% of people communicate at a given Mass (no doubt after going to the generously available Confessors), but Unction non extremis is frowned upon. Papa Sarto encouraged "frequent" Communion in an age when, for fear of unworthy reception, Catholics generally followed the decree of Lateran IV which required the faithful to approach at least during Paschaltide and one other time every year (they had communicated even less often before that).

Sacraments require preparation, and being "in the state of grace" may not always be enough to make a worthy reception of the Eucharist, although it is enough to avoid a blasphemous one. Just as a man goes through months of preparation for marriage, years of study for ordination, and parses his heart prior to Confession, so he should make wise and generous use of Communion and Anointing after sufficient readiness through appropriate means of penance, fasting, prayer, and other means the Church has sanctioned through the centuries. Perhaps then both Sacraments will then be "approach[ed] with the fear the God, with faith and with love".

O Adonai

O Adonaï, et dux domus Israël, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extenso.O Adonaï, and leader of the house of Israel! who appearedst to Moses in the fire  of the flaming bush, and gavest him the law on Sinai;  come and redeem us by thy  outstretched arm. 

O Sovereign Lord! O Adonaï! come and redeem us, not by thy power, but by thy humility. Heretofore, thou didst show thyself to Moses thy servant in the midst of a mysterious flame; thou didst give thy law to thy people amidst thunder and lightning; now, on the contrary, thou comest not to terrify, but to save us. Thy chaste Mother having heard the Emperor's edict, which obliges her and Joseph her Spouse to repair to Bethlehem, she prepares everything needed for thy divine Birth. She prepares for thee, O Sun of Justice! the humble swathing-bands, wherewith to cover thy nakedness, and protect thee, the Creator of the world, from the cold of that mid-night hour of thy Nativity! Thus it is that thou willest to deliver us from the slavery of our pride, and show man that thy divine arm is never stronger than when he thinks it powerless and still. Everything is prepared, then, dear Jesus! thy swathing-bands are ready for thy infant limbs! Come to Bethlehem, and redeem us from the hands of our enemies. 

From The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger

Saturday, December 17, 2016

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia; veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end mightily, and disposing all things with strength and sweetness! come and teach us the way of prudence.
O Uncreated Wisdom! that art so soon to make thyself visible to thy creatures, truly thoudisposest all things. It is by thy permission, that the Emperor Augustus issues a decree ordering the enrolment of the whole world. Each citizen of the vast Empire is to have his name enrolled in the city of his birth. This prince has no other object in this order, which sets the world in motion, but his own ambition. Men go to and fro by millions, and an unbroken procession traverses the immense Roman world; men think they are doing the bidding of man, and it is God whom they are obeying. This world-wide agitation has really but one object; it is, to bring to Bethlehem a man and woman who live at Nazareth in Galilee, in order that this woman, who is unknown to the world but dear to heaven, and is at the close of the ninth month since she conceived her child, may give birth to this Child in Bethlehem, for the Prophet has said of him: "His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. And thou, O Bethlehem I art not the least among the thousand cities of Juda, for out of thee He shall come." [Mich. v. 2; St Matth. ii. 6.]. O divine Wisdom! how strong art thou, in thus reaching Thine ends by means which are infallible, though hidden! and yet, how sweet, offering no constraint to man's free-will! and withal, how fatherly, in providing for our necessities! Thou choosest Bethlehem for thy birth-place, because Bethlehem signifies the House of Bread. In this, thou teachest us that thou art our Bread, the nourishment and support of our life. With God as our food, we cannot die. O Wisdom of the Father, Living Bread that hast descended from heaven, come speedily into us, that thus we may approach to thee and be enlightened [Ps. xxxiii. 6.] by thy light, and by that prudence which leads to salvation.
From Dom Prosper Gueranger's The Liturgical Year 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

On the Misuse of C.S. Lewis

Lewis, pictured with concubine.
The popularity of C.S. (Clive Staples) Lewis among Protestants and modern Catholics rarely extends beyond his writings of apologetics and children’s stories. Sometimes his science fiction—or “scientifiction,” as he called it—gets some attention, but his body of work was quite varied and vast, branching into multiple intellectual fields.

I was recently re-reading the beginning of Lewis’s allegorical memoirs The Pilgrim’s Regress, and observing how oddly opaque so much of its content would be to most readers. Much of it was confounding to me, as well, and I had to rely on the occasional notations of online glosses. Professor Lewis was a well-read and well-rounded man, and not just in the Chestertonian sense. In his youth he wrote narrative poetry that was dense with allegory, and his fascination with medieval poetic tropes would find interesting expression in later fiction. He was learned in multiple languages, though perhaps not with as much enthusiasm as his friend John Tolkien. He wrote treatises on medieval and renaissance poetry that still stand up to academic standards. His apologetics work was, all things considered, more of a hobby or unfortunate necessity than a heartfelt vocation.

Of all his works of Protestant apologetics, Mere Christianity probably remains the most accessible and effective. Some of his other religious books like Miracles and The Problem of Pain are too philosophically abstract for modern readers, and his essays in God in the Dock and The Weight of Glory are not structured enough, even though these remain heavily quoted when people find a passage that catches their attention. Some of his religious books are outright ignored by Evangelicals, such as his Reflections on the Psalms, where he called the imprecatory psalms a “festering, gloating, undisguised” collection of wicked hatred. Try aligning that bit of anti-Hebraic rhetoric with Sola Scriptura!

It is a real pity that Catholic writers so often have to rely on Lewis to explain their observations on the Christian religion in a more literary manner. We see this frequently in the engagement of Catholic apologists with the larger culture. The orthodox apologists of old were not literary types, and reading their work today is often quite painful. Even the seminal apologetical work of St. Francis de Sales is bombastic in a way that is tied to the problems of the day, and it does not translate well into modern times. Lewis attempted, at his best, a rhetoric that would outlast his own time, although it must be admitted that many of his essays are too enmeshed with mid-20th century concerns to be universal. World War II, for instance, no longer exists in the popular mind as the imminent threat of London bombings and wartime efforts, but rather as a perpetual stream of aesthetically grimy big-budget films.

Lewis was not a Christian apologist, but a Protestant apologist with pseudo-Catholic and quasi-Patristic leanings. At times he sounds almost Catholic, but then shocks the reader into remembering his Anglican loyalties. His learned rhetoric fools many Catholics into considering him a mostly orthodox commentator. “He was so close to the true Faith,” they say, “surely he was saved in the end.” Impossible to say for sure, but the evidence is not far from damning.

If apologists want to sound as good as Lewis in the public square, they will need to imitate his education, not the surface of his rhetoric. They must read widely, study languages, understand classical logic, and immerse themselves in western history. They must stop watching so many television shows, reading so much Protestant literature, and being so tied to modern thought (religious or secular) by chronological snobbery. And you can thank Prof. Lewis for that last, colorful term. Stop writing poor imitations of The Screwtape Letters, and see how your own education leads you.

"It all began with a picture..."