Wednesday, December 24, 2003

A Christmas Thought

Last Sunday in the Byzantine Church we heard the "begat" readings from Matthew, the lengthy genealogy of Jesus. This may seem to be a boring and unnecessary reading, and indeed it was quite funny listening to our Deacon attempt to pronounce Zerubbabel. Why do we read this?

What we must remember is that Jesus is not just God, but Man. The genealogy emphasizes Christ's human nature. He is indeed a son of Abraham and a son of David. This means that he shares a nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and with us. Look at what St. Leo has to say: For if the New Man had not been made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and taken on Him our old nature, and being consubstantial with the Father, had deigned to be consubstantial with His mother also, and being alone free from sin, had united our nature to Him the whole human race would be held in bondage beneath the Devil's yoke, and we should not be able to make use of the Conqueror's victory, if it had been won outside our nature.

Note the turn of phrase. In the creed we profess that the Son is consubstantial with the Father (in the ICEL translation it is rendered "one in being", which is a lousy translation of consubstantialis or homoousios): Leo points out that the Son is consubstantial with Mary as well. Jesus shares a nature with God and with us.

Think of it this way when you hear the genealogy readings (". . . Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor. . . ."): if Jesus is related to all of these people, he's related to you. Jesus is not only your savior, he's your cousin!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

St. Linus Review

There's a new journal of Catholic poetry and short prose being started up. Go check it out. All for the small price of 12$ a year.

Let me see if I can write some orthodox Catholic poetry:

There once was a man named Wojtyla
Who was bishop of Krakow for real-ya
When John Paul I croaked
We saw the white smoke,
And Wojtyla said "Be not afraid!" of la Diabla

Yes, I know it's awful. I also know that Diablo is masculine, not feminine. But you try rhyming something with Wojtyla. And I apologize to John Paul I, but I couldn't resist the "croaked"--"white smoke" rhyme.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Rules for when numbskull priests can "dialogue" about the celibacy "rule"

These priests, lately in Minnesota, are concerned that there might not be any priests in the future, and therefore conclude that we should have married priests. I think they are missing a few steps. So, here are Athanasius' Rules for When It Is Appropriate for Clergy to Revisit Clerical Celibacy:

1) If the priest in question hears confessions more than once a week for half an hour.
2) If the priest follows all the liturgical rules.
3) If the priest never, ever allows his choir to sing a new church into being, or any song by Rory Cooney.
4) If the priest wears his collar outside of the church.
5) If the church has pictures and statues of the saints.
6) If the tabernacle in Father's parish isn't in a broom closet.
7) If the priest prays the Divine Office. Daily. Heck, hourly.
8) If the priest encourages the parish to pray the Divine Office, perhaps by having Vespers and Matins on a regular basis.
9) If the priest makes it a point to suggest to young boys that they might consider the priesthood.
10) If the priest preaches Catholic doctrine in his homilies, rather than telling vapid stories lifted from Chicken Soup for the Soul.
11) If the priest is, in a nutshell, holy.

Then, we can "dialogue" about it. (I use the scare quotes for "dialogue" because the word isn't a verb, darn it.)

P.S. Oh, there is a rule that trumps the other rules. If the priest in question is an Eastern Catholic priest whose ancient historical practice of married clergy was snuffed out in America due to bigotry, then he can talk about it.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

A nice six-foot bloody Spanish crucifix, covered with Christmas lights

That's the sort of decoration I want for my house. I'm really starting to hate Santa. There are houses around here that are brighter than the noonday sun, with elves, reindeer, fat jolly Santas, lights, lights, and more lights, and not a Jesus among them.

Bah humbug!

As somebody in Blogdom pointed out, the real reason for the season is sin. In other words, the only reason to celebrate Christmas is because of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Monday, December 15, 2003

What if the Church is right?

Yesterday the Epistle for the Divine Liturgy included Collosians 3:5: Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Think for a minute. Step back and pretend you haven't been hearing these readings your whole life, and look at how strong this is. Put to death! Kill! Destroy these (mostly) sexual sins! They incite God's wrath.

That's what we are called to do. We are bodily beings, and we must therefore not only serve God with our mind or with our pocketbook, but with our bodies. We are part of the body of Christ. Note that Paul doesn't say "the mind of Christ" or "the spirit of Christ." We are bodily, and Christ is bodily, and we are part of that body. We must therefore worship God with our bodies, in all matters.

Now, here is the question: Do you care what the Church says on sexual morality? Do you care what Paul says about it? What Christ says about it? What God says? Most of the discussion of contraception or homosexuality or non-marital sex revolves around the issue of whether or not God really cares about these things. What if He does? Would you change your life?

I think most people argue in bad faith on this issue. They reject God's dominion over their bodies, and then pretend that God doesn't care about their bodies to cover the rejection.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Narwen will be happy

I've been reading a little John Henry Newman (for some reason I had never gotten around to it before, although I do remember starting Apologia pro Vita Sua), and I've come to a conclusion. Newman was really smart. I just finished Church of the Fathers, which is available from Notre Dame Press, and is a good introduction to patristics, and now I'm reading Idea of a University.

The Return of In Formation!

Steve Mattson is back on the air. His blog was always a place of perceptive and calm analysis. Go check him out here.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

We have a new rule in our house

No television except on weekends. There's an exception for when one is working out on the treadmill or Nordic Track, but I have been reluctant to exercise it. Even so, we only have rabbit ears in the new house, so there isn't much to watch. The quiet is very nice. Prayerful, even.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Notes on infallibility

In a comment below, Chris remarks that he has a problem with the bull "Unam Sanctam" and papal infallibility. US says "we firmly believe and simply confess this Church outside which there is no salvation nor remission of sin" and "Furthermore, we declare, say, define, and proclaim to every human creature that they by necessity for salvation are entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Denz) This causes Chris some worries: In that 14th-century document, Pope Boniface VIII wrote, "we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." Now that seems hard to square with the modern Church's teaching that salvation can be found outside the confines of formal membership in the visible Church. I'm certainly open to solutions to this problem that preserve the doctrine of infallibility, but here's the thing: Say that I grant (as I'm willing to) that the line in "Unam Sanctam" could conceivably be interpreted in harmony with the modern teaching -- presumably on the theory that those outside the visible church are "subject" to the Roman Pontiff in a mysterious way, even if they don't know it. All right, having granted that, one thing is now clear: the charism of infallibility doesn't guarantee that CURRENT dogmatic pronoucements won't be similarly reinterpreted, and reunderstood, 500 years from now.

First, I don't think even Boniface himself would have ruled out the possibility that someone who had not been baptized could be saved. After all, as a priest and bishop, Boniface would have celebrated the feasts of martyrs who are venerated as saints who were never baptized. The grace of God can work outside of the sacraments. Thomas Aquinas says that if one has not had the gospel preached to oneself, we can be sure that God will provide some way for that person to be saved, as long as we follow the leadership of natural reason. God will not fail to give us what is necessary: De veritate, q. 14 a. 11 ad 2 Ad secundum dicendum, quod quamvis non sit in potestate nostra cognoscere ea quae sunt fidei, ex nobis ipsis; tamen, si nos fecerimus quod in nobis est, ut scilicet ductum rationis naturalis sequamur, Deus non deficiet nobis ab eo quod est nobis necessarium.

Second, the bull Unam Sanctam isn't primarily about who will be saved, but about the proper relationship of the Church and the state. The answer is then, as it is now: the state should be subject to the Church. In other words, if a law is in conflict with the law of God, it is no law.

Third, the teaching has been reaffirmed, as recently as Lumen Gentium : "They could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it."

Now, you can see, I hope, that Unam Sanctam has not been modified so as to change its meaning. In fact, what it says has been reaffirmed. As far as whether something similar will happen with Humanae Vitae, yes, I assure you, it will continue to be taught 500 years into the future.

Really, usury is a much more worrisome problem than "Outside the Church no salvation. . . ."

UPDATE: As I reread this, the coda sounds a bit snippy to me. I didn't mean it that way. My commentor Chris has a genuine problem with reconciling Unam Sanctam and papal infallibility. I think the problem can be solved, once we cut through and find out exactly what the Church teaches on the issue. And I really do have more trouble with usury than with "Nulla salus."

Friday, December 05, 2003

I'm in between houses

And it might be a while before I'm back to the internet on a regular basis. I have some responses to the questions raised in the vanity post and the mannnyyyum opus (Jane, I pronounce languages like the natives do, and for Latin, the natives are the Church), so look back in a couple of days.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

If I were a vain man,

I would be upset that no one seems to have read or commented on Monday's magnum opus. (By the way, it's not "magg-num," it's "mann-yum"--you wouldn't say "Agg-nus Dei, qui tollis . . . ." would you?) But I'm not a vain man. Nope, not me. I'm not blogging so that everyone will congratulate me about how smart I am.

So what did you think of the previous post, if you don't mind me asking?

Monday, December 01, 2003

Faith: More than a Feeling!

I've been reading up on the Fathers of the Church recently (especially in this book by Newman) and, although there are many ways in which the ancient Church is unlike the modern Church, there is one in particular that stands out: the lengths to which they would go to clarify seemingly trivial points of doctrine. Is Jesus homoousious or homoiousious with the Father? Does Christ have both a human will and a divine will? A human intellect and a divine intellect? Was Christ merely God taking on an appearance of humanity? Who cares? Yet all of these issues were so important that popular uprisings would occur, should a bishop pronounce himself on the wrong side of this issue. Ambrose, for example, was ready to die rather than to sacrifice church property to an Arian congregation. The integrity of the Faith was so important that there could be no compromise.

(Can you imagine such behavior in a bishop now? Imagine a bishop shutting down hospitals or charities rather than complying with state orders to provide contraceptives! Christians in the early ages of the Church would die rather than sacrifice to idols. We would cheerfully make the sacrifice just to keep a tax exemption.)

Why were early Christians so, well, obnoxious about doctrinal purity? Were they all crazy? Have we become more sensible over the years? Or is it that we don't really understand what faith is? I think it is the latter. See, since the Protestant Reformation, there has been an emphasis on sola fide, or salvation by faith alone. But what do they mean by faith? It seems that what is meant is a strong feeling, an inner conviction that places trust in Christ. If only one clings to Christ, then one will be saved, no matter what else one does. Luther is reported to have said that one could commit a million murders a day as long as one had faith.

Now, to be fair, there is an element of inner conviction in the meaning of faith. We mean by the word both the content of what is believed and the virtue that allows us to believe it. But I think that in the last five hundred years Protestantism has denuded faith of any contentual meaning. It doesn't so much matter what you believe, as long as you believe it really strongly. One gets this answer quite often to moral hypotheticals in a philosophy class: "Well, as long as Hitler (or Bin Laden, or Stalin) really believed he was right. . . ." The fissiparous nature of Protestantism itself shows that faith has come to mean mere belief, only a feeling. As long as you accept Jesus as your personal savior, what difference does it make if he is consubstantial with the Father or not?

But this is very far from what the Church Fathers believed. Why? What made them so wrong? Was it an evil plot by evil Constantine to repress free believers? I don't think so. Take a look at just a few passages from Scripture on the nature of faith. Start with Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

This seems to give support to the notion that faith is just a feeling, since it talks about assurance and conviction. But note that it is an assurance and conviction in certain things. Does it matter what things? Read on:

[4]By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteous, God bearing witness by accepting his gifts; he died, but through his faith he is still speaking.
[5] By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God.
[6] And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

See, it isn't that Enoch and Abel had merely an inner conviction, they had a correct inner conviction, namely that God exists and rewards those who seek him. Their faith saved them, but it couldn't have saved them if they had faith in the impersonal First Mover of Aristotle.


[7] By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.

Noah was saved because he had faith in a specific truth, that there would be a flood. Note that Noah would not have been saved if he had a strong inner conviction but believed that God's words about the flood were mere metaphors.


[17]By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son,
[18] of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your descendants be named."
[19] He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Abraham's faith manifests itself in an action (sacrifice of his son), because he believed in a specific fact: God can raise people from the dead. If Abraham had strong inner conviction in a god who couldn't raise from the dead, he would have flunked the test, and wouldn't be our Father in faith.

I could multiply examples here. All of these people certainly had a strong conviction that what they believed was true. But as important as the conviction is what they believed.

One more example: Ephesians 4:5 speaks of "One Lord, one Faith, one baptism." How could there be one faith if faith mean only a feeling? Wouldn't there be a multitude of faiths? Rather what is needed is unity. The early Fathers took this call to unity in the content of faith very seriously, and we play with fire if we ignore their example.

New Link

Nathan over at The Tower has been commenting in a lot of my posts. He claims to be a 19-year-old Catholic. I don't believe him: His grammar is much too good! Go look at his blog.