Thursday, October 31, 2019

After the Synod: Dominus quasi vir pugnator?

Does the New Testament taint our view of God? No, not exactly. There is, however, a temptation, fully realized by the Manicheans, Gnostics, and Cathars, to bifurcate God in the Old Testament from the New in light of the New.

Jesus Christ, as God made Man—and remaining divine, healed the sick, illuminated the blind, fed thousands with a gesture, and proclaimed the Kingdom of God to be at hand, that is, immediately accessible and no longer distant as it was to the Hebrews.

Among the stark contrasts between the New and Old Testaments are the role of miracles. While on earth Our Lord performed miracles as rewards for faith, whether it was the faith of the cot-bearers who passed their friend through a roof or the "righteous"* Centurion whose faith was greater than Israel's. Miracles are common and are embedded in every page of the Gospels other than the longer discourses (Bread of Life, Sermon on the Mount) and the Passion narratives.

By contrast, the Old Testament has plenty of miracles, but they seem to be of a qualitatively different nature and far less common than in the Gospels. Miracles under the various covenants of the Old Testaments may seem as numerous as those in the Gospels, but the Old Testament comprises 90% of Sacred Scripture and several millennia of salvation history, whereas the New Testament only recounts a few decades and half the text is devoted to epistolary teaching.

Miracles could be salvific—as they were in the case of the Israelites following a pillar of flame out of Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, or peering up at a bronze serpent—but they could just as easily be damning, as they were in the case of the apostate Israelites who fell into the earth, the perverts of Sodom and Gomorrah who tasted fire from heaven on earth, and the false prophets who witnessed the presence of the One True God before Elijah slew them. Unlike in the Gospel, where the presence of God is straightforward, visible, and something demanding a response of faith that results in a miracle, the miracles of the old covenant only occasionally relate to the faith of those who receive them and often are not petitioned. Indeed, they are often unilateral acts of God, through the agency of a prophet, upon a people who know neither what they need nor what they deserve.

In Christian times miracles have become associated with the acts of the saints and reflect their relationship with God. Saint Francis and Padre Pio bore the signs of Christ's Passion; Gregory Thaumaturgus became so renown for God's work through him he became "the Wonderworker"; Peter healed the lame, as Christ did, and Mary was taken bodily into heaven. What we have forgotten is that God may not be as pleased with the Church as a whole as He is with His saints.

In reading the Lauds for today's vigil, I came across the Canticle of Moses. Dominus quasi vir pugnator, the bearer of the Law sings. God fought for the Israelites who were often too foolish and too weak to maintain fidelity to Him. In forty years through the desert they saw a pillar of fire lead them out of Egypt, they followed it across the parted Red Sea, saw their heretics fall into the depths of Hell, saw God give them refuge in an oasis, and found God's cure in the lifted bronze serpent, yet they still strayed. All told the miracles they encountered were meant to protect them and to inspire their faith rather than reward them as Christ's miracles were meant to do. There is more Sinai about Fatima than there is Assisi.

When the Church strays God uses miracles sparingly and to teach a point, and occasionally teaches a point by withholding a miracle. As those headed to Babylon prayed for deliverance, so did the people of Rome in the 5th century and Constantinople in the 15th century, but their prayers went unanswered. In all cases, a structure for society and religion that had outlived its use and become displeasing to God was then liquidated so that something purified by fire might take its place. One thinks of the great Catholic writers and mystics of the 19th and early 20th century (Chesterton, Belloc, Newman, John Bosco, Garrigou Lagrange, the Marian apparitions). One thinks of prior times as more religious, but were the de facto Deistic years of foppish, decadent pre-Revolutionary France really more pious than the same place a century later?

Today's structures have seriously outlived their use to the Catholic Church and to God. The corporate structure of the Church hierarchy and Ultramontane papacy had their roots in protecting the faithful from the very things they are now propagating. Orthodox Catholics will be bothered but not disheartened by the Amazon Synod. More "conservative" Catholics may find it difficult to continue the intellectual calisthenics of recent years, the mantra to which is "Everything's different/Nothing's changed". We may well pray Pope Francis writes something in line with Christian orthodoxy now that the Pachamama festival has ended, but it is quite possible God will not intervene in such a way as He did with Paul VI. The papacy may be of Divine origin, but our interest in it belongs to the 20th century, and God may see fit to kill it. While He will not deny the means of salvation to any faithful servant, the Church itself may not need to be saved from the Pope as much as it needs to be purged of people like him. I recently turned 30 and will spend the rest of my life watching the influence of these sycophants wane as they accelerate the decline of their institutional foundation, much like how 18th century France and 15th century Byzantium slipped into free falls. God may well save us, but He will do with the Church what He wants rather than what we want.

The Masses of the recent Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage were celebrated by Mgr. Dominique Rey of Toulon in France. His modest diocese boasts two dozen religious orders, a hundred seminarians, a Charismatic movement, traditional-rite ordinations, and liberality toward the old Mass. The reason why is not that Mgr. Rey is following a formula, it is because he is following the Holy Spirit where others will not. Do any modernistist dioceses have such a future to anticipate?

The Church today survives off the fumes of pre-Conciliar Catholicism's power and prestige. In Mitre and Crook, Bryan Houghton observed, through his fictional Bishop Forester, that the pews were not full of people after the new religion, but people who kept coming fueled by the old. The centralized, organized, fully rational Church given to us by the Tridentine Fathers has fallen into disuse and has been vitiated by the Churchmen of the last two generations. A younger, better generation is poised to succeed them and inherit a very different Church. What the current generation aspires to do is to destroy the Christianity of their youth, and God may let them succeed in taking down the edifice so that he may rebuild upon the foundations.

* - "righteous" in Biblical times usually denoted a Gentile who had not converted to Judaism, but who kept the Law and precepts to the best of his ability and who venerated God alone

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Church with a Riparian Face: The First Commandment

Did your heart elate the other morning when video surfaced of a man in Rome who held to the first commandment of the Mosaic Decalogue and who took it seriously? Does it not astound you, reader, to wonder how many forms thirty pieces of silver can take?

Modern political respectability, approval by feminists, delusions of "integral ecology" and the like can all be obtained by ceasing to have "any strange gods before" the One True God. In a like vein, one need not commit genocide or sexual assault to merit damnation. One need only do anything other than love the Lord with one's whole heart, mind, and soul.

While the latest robber synod, with no authority to do anything, persists on the grounds where Saint Peter came to martyrdom, a man faithful to God entered Santa Maria in Transpontina, gathered up a few kitsche fertility statues, and sent them down to see poor Pope Formosus's fingers. Considering the relative modesty of this one action, it has resounded far more loudly around the world than the approach of some orthodox Cardinals, who seem to think writing a strongly worded letter and posting it by certified mail is a legitimate means of opposing heterodoxy.

No, the fellow who sent Pucker Mama for a dip had the right idea. Indeed, his actions reminded me of a night in my own life seven years ago which followed similar lines. One fine May night in Ithaca, New York, a few months prior to graduation and commencement weekend, a Cornell society to which I belonged invited a high ranking member of the Bush administration to speak to us and have dinner. This particular individual, who will not be named, had a great deal of involvement in the execution of the Iraq War.

Prior to the events a friend and I had drinks at the Statler Hotel bar on the ground floor. I drank a few martinis while he gunned down straight Hendricks, cucumbers and all. My friend, let us call him Pete, was a lapsed Greek Orthodox fellow who continued to curse his way through Divine Liturgy on Sundays for cultural reasons, but he was an over all atheist. Pete and I ran in the same circles and usually found ourselves in mutual competition for jobs, club posts, ladies' attention, and honors.

With Pete three sheets to the wind, we made our way to Mr. War Man's speech and then had a second round of drinks with him and some others atop the newly completed Physical Sciences building, a modern and ugly edifice which nonetheless offered a spectacular view of Lake Cayuga and the hills at dusk. People took their turns making irrelevant small talk with the figure: "Did I mentioned I speak three words of Arabic? I'd love to use that at your think tanks!" "I also have a great interest in the semiotics of democracy in the Middle East and I'd love to share my thoughts on that" "I'm a poli sci major and can't wait to make a difference the way you did!" I spoke to him about biking with a friend around the lake. He smiled and thanked me for not asking for a job. I thanked him for not re-instituting the draft, as I have little interest in physical exercise.

A similar view to where we were
At dinner the guest of honor somehow had surprisingly little to say. The subject immediately turned to religion when a Jewish frat boy seated across from my setting took notice to my making the Sign of the Cross prior to taking food.

"Do you guys really believe there are demons in your food?"
"It just seems like you guys are into demons and vampire movies and snuff stuff."
"It's a prayer for a blessing, an act of Thanksg—"
"Guys!" interjected Peter. "It's a bunch of nothing! [The Rad Trad] is fine."

The table politely laughed but still, the frat boy persisted.

"I just don't understand some of your stuff. The things you Catholics are into is just so different from what everyone else is into."
"I don't think so. In fact I believe Christ fills a lot of basic human wants and desires. Things to aspire to, truth, beauty, purpose—"
"No, not what I mean."
"What do you mean?"
"Like your Communion. I mean, what's the point in that?"
"It's the Body of Christ."
"Yeah, but I don't get why you'd want that."
"Well, the Mass is a Sacrifice, like in the Old Jewish Covenant. It's the Cross made present again."
"I get that part. It's the eating part, dude. Like why would you want to eat some guy's flesh?"
"It's Communion with God, though. It's not cannibalism, but a way of—"
"Sounds like something was lost in translation. Some kind of symbolism."
"Not really. In fact the Greek word Saint John uses for 'eat' is—"
"Guys!" Pete interjected again, "He just got finished making some bread and told his buds to have something! Nothing more to it!"

The water glass left my hand and found its way into Pete's face. The frat boy was a fool, but Pete was a friend and knew better. An awkwardly silent moment passed, water dripping down Pete's drenched, curly Greek hair and onto his dinner jacket. With all eyes on him he leapt from his, grabbed me by the collar, and started to drive me to the wall. I took hold of his lapels and twisted the both of us to the floor. Before the first proper blows could be struck the police separated us and gathered statements.

A bureaucratic investigation followed. Friends put in calls to administrators on both sides to ensure there would be no hiccups concerning graduation. We were separately investigated by the university police, the real police, and school administrators, who ultimately decided our punishment. In America's most liberal town—Nader beat Bush in Ithaca during the 2000 election—every authority figure I encountered was a Catholic who voiced some degree of empathy with my actions. I was told to write a one paragraph paper.

Pete was less fortunate and was given twenty hours of community service and a ten page paper, all to completed by graduation in two weeks time. All this in the throes of final exams.

The man who threw Pansymama into the Tiber was not a hateful person. On the contrary, a fiery regard for truth ignited his actions, a disdain for seeing good and scared things trampled upon for misguided human respect. His deeds may in fact inspire the downtrodden faith of others.

Seven years later, Pete has returned to the Greek Orthodox Church.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Clerical Inculturation

The Amazon Synod. Do we care? Perhaps a little, but there are more pressing matters for Catholics, like the impending feast of an Apostle in two days and the gradual winding down of the liturgical season. It is perhaps worth saying something about the Amazonia Extravaganza, but other more commentators more competent in worrying will do that for me.

We hear from bishops of the Amazon with German names who recount the horrors of Christendom in that region. We have civilized these people by getting them to desist from human sacrifice, so logically they may begin to demand the same things post-Modern German bishops demand. Right?

Only if the Amazon is the Latino foto of the German Church. Why is, that after many decades of targeted missionary work, the Amazon still does not have their own education system but even their own bishop? The region has gone from a high-volume Catholic missionary zone to the former-home of urbanized and Protestantized ex-Natives. Such obsolescence cannot be attributed merely to the insufficiency of clerical numbers. It must be attributed to the insufficiency of the clergy there in general.

One priest remarked in a conversation that "Wherever missionaries are not making zealous converts, it is because they are morally compromised that the people know it." What a contrast to the former Archbishop of Dakar and Apostolic Delegate to French Africa, Msgr. Lefebvre. Say what you will of the FSSPX and their aliturgical ways, he was the most successful missionary bishop of our times. In a few decades he baptized tens of thousands of people personally, founded two seminaries, initiated numerous religious orders into his diocese, and built a full cathedral. By the time he transferred from Dakar to the bishopric of Tulles he left behind an independent diocese with a completely indigenous clergy. There is inculturation.

Sincerity and zeal can be misdirected, as they would occasionally be later in Msgr. Lefebvre's life, but one cannot dispute that those traits served him well as a missionary and brought many to Christ. Would that the kraut bishops of the Amazon learn from such a man.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

When Charles Dickens Went to Mass

Recently I was reading the gruesome story of an ex-Catholic-turned-Orthodox bishop named Joseph Semashko who assisted Tsar Nicholas in the persecution of Ruthenian Catholics. Charles Dickens wrote an account of Bishop Joseph's gradual killing of nearly an entire convent of Ruthenian nuns in his periodical. In the archives I came across an unrelated series of accounts of his visit to Rome, where he had the opportunity to attend Papal Mass during the pontificate of Gregory XVI.

Rome, at this point, was a city of less than 100,000 people. A purely plainsong Mass had not been sung in Saint Peter's Basilica for centuries and the remaining plainsong followed the Medici-Ratisbonne method. There was no Msgr. Marini to ensure seminarians from PNAC acting as sacred ministers stood upright with their hands folded; think more Cardinal Dante, who, still oblivious to television cameras, simply put ministers in their places and asked them to sing their assigned texts.

The great Petrine Basilica in Rome, completed two centuries earlier, belonged to an architectural fad just passed and recently deemed ostentatious. Dickens, perhaps ignorant of the rites of the Curia and the long traditional of basilica liturgy, likens the rites to theater, perhaps in derision of the baroque influence on the Mass.

On Sunday, the Pope assisted in the performance of High Mass at St. Peter's. The effect of the Cathedral on my mind, on that second visit, was exactly what it was at first, and what it remains after many visits. It is not religiously impressive or affecting. It is an immense edifice, with no one point for the mind to rest upon; and it tires itself with wandering round and round. The very purpose of the place, is not expressed in anything you see there, unless you examine its details--and all examination of details is incompatible with the place itself. It might be a Pantheon, or a Senate House, or a great architectural trophy, having no other object than an architectural triumph. There is a black statue of St. Peter, to be sure, under a red canopy; which is larger than life and which is constantly having its great toe kissed by good Catholics. You cannot help seeing that: it is so very prominent and popular. But it does not heighten the effect of the temple, as a work of art; and it is not expressive--to me at least--of its high purpose.
A large space behind the altar, was fitted up with boxes, shaped like those at the Italian Opera in England, but in their decoration much more gaudy. In the centre of the kind of theatre thus railed off, was a canopied dais with the Pope's chair upon it. The pavement was covered with a carpet of the brightest green; and what with this green, and the intolerable reds and crimsons, and gold borders of the hangings, the whole concern looked like a stupendous Bonbon. On either side of the altar, was a large box for lady strangers. These were filled with ladies in black dresses and black veils. The gentlemen of the Pope's guard, in red coats, leather breeches, and jack-boots, guarded all this reserved space, with drawn swords that were very flashy in every sense; and from the altar all down the nave, a broad lane was kept clear by the Pope's Swiss guard, who wear a quaint striped surcoat, and striped tight legs, and carry halberds like those which are usually shouldered by those theatrical supernumeraries, who never can get off the stage fast enough, and who may be generally observed to linger in the enemy's camp after the open country, held by the opposite forces, has been split up the middle by a convulsion of Nature.
I got upon the border of the green carpet, in company with a great many other gentlemen, attired in black (no other passport is necessary), and stood there at my ease, during the performance of Mass. The singers were in a crib of wirework (like a large meat-safe or bird-cage) in one corner; and sang most atrociously. All about the green carpet, there was a slowly moving crowd of people: talking to each other: staring at the Pope through eye-glasses; defrauding one another, in moments of partial curiosity, out of precarious seats on the bases of pillars: and grinning hideously at the ladies. Dotted here and there, were little knots of friars (Frances-cani, or Cappuccini, in their coarse brown dresses and peaked hoods) making a strange contrast to the gaudy ecclesiastics of higher degree, and having their humility gratified to the utmost, by being shouldered about, and elbowed right and left, on all sides. Some of these had muddy sandals and umbrellas, and stained garments: having trudged in from the country. The faces of the greater part were as coarse and heavy as their dress; their dogged, stupid, monotonous stare at all the glory and splendour, having something in it, half miserable, and half ridiculous.
Upon the green carpet itself, and gathered round the altar, was a perfect army of cardinals and priests, in red, gold, purple, violet, white, and fine linen. Stragglers from these, went to and fro among the crowd, conversing two and two, or giving and receiving introductions, and exchanging salutations; other functionaries in black gowns, and other functionaries in court- dresses, were similarly engaged. In the midst of all these, and stealthy Jesuits creeping in and out, and the extreme restlessness of the Youth of England, who were perpetually wandering about, some few steady persons in black cassocks, who had knelt down with their faces to the wall, and were poring over their missals, became, unintentionally, a sort of humane man-traps, and with their own devout legs, tripped up other people's by the dozen.
There was a great pile of candles lying down on the floor near me, which a very old man in a rusty black gown with an open-work tippet, like a summer ornament for a fireplace in tissue-paper, made himself very busy in dispensing to all the ecclesiastics: one a-piece. They loitered about with these for some time, under their arms like walking-sticks, or in their hands like truncheons. At a certain period of the ceremony, however, each carried his candle up to the Pope, laid it across his two knees to be blessed, took it back again, and filed off. This was done in a very attenuated procession, as you may suppose, and occupied a long time. Not because it takes long to bless a candle through and through, but because there were so many candles to be blessed. At last they were all blessed: and then they were all lighted; and then the Pope was taken up, chair and all, and carried round the church.
I must say, that I never saw anything, out of November, so like the popular English commemoration of the fifth of that month. A bundle of matches and a lantern, would have made it perfect. Nor did the Pope, himself, at all mar the resemblance, though he has a pleasant and venerable face; for, as this part of the ceremony makes him giddy and sick, he shuts his eyes when it is performed: and having his eyes shut and a great mitre on his head, and his head itself wagging to and fro as they shook him in carrying, he looked as if his mask were going to tumble off. The two immense fans which are always borne, one on either side of him, accompanied him, of course, on this occasion. As they carried him along, he blessed the people with the mystic sign; and as he passed them, they kneeled down. When he had made the round of the church, he was brought back again, and if I am not mistaken, this performance was repeated, in the whole, three times. There was, certainly nothing solemn or effective in it; and certainly very much that was droll and tawdry. But this remark applies to the whole ceremony, except the raising of the Host, when every man in the guard dropped on one knee instantly, and dashed his naked sword on the ground; which had a fine effect.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Locum Refrigerii

This second week of October has finally brought a touch of autumnal weather to Texas. I am reminded of the passage in the Roman Canon for the commemoration of the dead:
Ipsis, Domine, et omnibus in Christo quiescentibus, locum refrigerii, lucis et pacis, ut indulgeas, deprecamur. 
To these, O Lord, and to all who rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, of light, and of peace.
While Dallas never quite sees a proper fall season by any reasonable standard—temperature, colorful foliage, or that feeling of impending change that makes one stand straighter and look for what is to come—this brief respite from the heat is still a proper reminder of the coming season of Advent and of its precursor November, in which we especially succor the holy souls still trapped in the heat of Purgatory.
For every one shall bear his own burden.... And in doing good, let us not fail. For in due time we shall reap, not failing. Therefore, whilst we have time, let us work good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Gal. 6)

(Hyacinthe Collin de Vermont)