An Old Pope Clarifying an Error in Poland

Benedict XIV, Magnae nobis. This is quite worth the read in full. Why? Topic is Catholics marrying. The Pose heard that people mis-understood him. He heard that people thought he had done things contrary to the good of the Church. So, he knew it was his duty to set forth the truth, and he did so:

It was a painful surprise to learn from trustworthy reports and letters that a certain false opinion had spread in Poland. It is said that some matrimonial dispensations had been granted and sent out, indeed, that they are customarily granted and sent out, by this Apostolic See, in which the canonical impediments for a legitimate and valid marriage are removed, even though one or both of the contracting parties openly profess a heretical sect. Since this could only be disseminated by injustice and intolerable calumny, We would be lacking in our Apostolic ministry if We did not clarify the constant rule of action in this matter. At the same time, We earnestly admonish and beseech all of you and your subordinates in Poland, a kingdom renowned for its faith and religion, to read and weigh the letters of matrimonial dispensation which are sent out by the Apostolic See for the people of that kingdom. We are certain that if there ever was any sin in this matter, it was not the fault of this Apostolic See or of its officials; truly it must be attributed entirely to the Ordinaries of places or to their ministers, who did not take care either to read or to weigh sufficiently the letters of dispensation which they received.


Lesson from Pius VII: Protect Children not Heretics, Property not Marxists

How utterly important is education of the youth, formation in truth and holiness.

Yet, the false apostles and false prophets – how they abound today! Everywhere. If they abounded at the dark times of the French Revolution, how much more now.

Yet, we sleep and slumber. Listen, then, to Pius VII urge Bishops to protect the little ones. Note that his concern is not first and foremost the protection of the rights of heretics. What absurdity to put that first, given the guilt of such persons and considering what few rights in the Church remain for Catholic heretics. His concern is also not first and foremost the conversion of heretics. His first and foremost concern, as is right, is the protection of the young from heretics.

How utterly backwards, then, are the standards of of many today. Often, it is heretics’ rights that seem to be of most concern, then their conversion, then the protection of the youth. Perhaps nothing can be done, legally, to make the proper order of concern clear. But it is imprudent to keep the heretic’s rights as foremost.

True charity should be ruled by prudence. And basic wisdom says that the true good of a child is the true faith. Basic wisdom acknowledges that children are being perverted by false doctrines and takes heed, if it loves, to remove such errors and teach truth. Let us first consider the common good and the innocent. That means the good of the whole Church and her members, before the good of particular heretics. That means the young, before those who ought to know better.

Pius VII:

13. Would that We had not learned by experience how many “false apostles” the present age has spawned! These are “deceitful workmen who transform themselves into apostles of Christ.” Unless we are on our guard “they will destroy the understanding of the faithful as the serpent seduced Eve by his cleverness, and they will fall away from their simplicity which is in Christ.”[11] While you must care for the whole flock over which the Holy Spirit has placed you as bishop, the watchfulness, eagerness, and effort of your fatherly love and benevolence is demanded in particular by boys and young men. Christ by example and statement has particularly entrusted these to us[12] and the enemies of private property and states who are striving to confound all laws, divine and human, hope to effect their wicked plans chiefly by corrupting their young minds. For they are aware that the young are like soft wax and can easily be drawn in any direction, bent and moulded and that they firmly retain a form once they have received it and it has been hardened by advancing years; then they will reject a different form. Hence the well-worn proverb from scripture: “A young man will not depart from his way even when he has grown old.”[13]

Bishops Must Banish Error: Lesson from Pius VI

Thus spoke Pius VI in his marvelous Inscrutabile:

Consequently, you who are the salt of the earth, guardians and shepherds of the Lord’s flock, whose business it is to fight the battles of the Lord, arise and gird on your sword, which is the word of God, and expel this foul contagion from your lands. How long are we to ignore the common insult to faith and Church? Let the words of Bernard arouse us like a lament of the spouse of Christ: “Of old was it foretold and the time of fulfillment is now at hand: Behold, in peace is my sorrow most sorrowful. It was sorrowful first when the martyrs died; afterwards it was more sorrowful in the fight with the heretics and now it is most sorrowful in the conduct of the members of the household…. The Church is struck within and so in peace is my sorrow most sorrowful. But what peace? There is peace and there is no peace. There is peace from the pagans and peace from the heretics, but no peace from the children. At that time the voice will lament: Sons did I rear and exalt, but they despised me. They despised me and defiled me by a bad life, base gain, evil traffic, and business conducted in the dark.”[12] Who can hear these tearful complaints of our most holy mother without feeling a strong urge to devote all his energy and effort to the Church, as he has promised? Therefore cast out the old leaven, remove the evil from your midst. Forcefully and carefully banish poisonous books from the eyes of your flock, and at once courageously set apart those who have been infected, to prevent them harming the rest.

Francis Schüssler Fiorenza

Francis Schüssler Fiorenza (husband of Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, author of In Memory of Her, ) describes the current state of theology in an essay about 25 years old. He has insights to offer, no doubt. That said, he is not a good place to start the business of theology; so, I would not recommend him to anyone. Data to follow.

Well, first, let’s follow up on his wife. Her work in In Memory of Her is indeed something that one who is equipped should study – a trained grad student, for instance. Certainly wouldn’t be the first trick I pulled out of my bag for untrained theologians. Let me relate one anecdote from this book. She is trying to “relate” feminist concerns with the traditional piety of Christians. Here’s her analogy: “It is usually assumed that spirituality has something to do with the life of the ‘soul’, prayer life and worship, meditation.” She goes on to describe ascesis, prayer, indwelling of Christ, etc. That’s all traditional. Now she’s going to try to “relate”: “In a similar fashion [buckle up] feminist spirituality can be occupied with meditation and incantations, spells and incense, womb chant and candle gazing….” (p. 344). Gosh darn. I didn’t know that Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament could be put on par with womb chant. Was “spells” a slip of the pen, or is something amiss? Can we baptize Wiccan if they use incense? What the…?

Alright, so much for the association. It is important to know history and its associations. This should not prejudge our reading of Francis F, but it might make us more attentive to the “signs of the times”.

On p. 2 of his essay, Francis S. Fiorenza writes, “In its relation to faith, theology shares the fragility of faith itself. It is much more a hope than a science. It is much more like a raft bobbing upon the waves of the sea than a pyramid based on solid ground,” Chap. 1 of Systematic Theology, ed. Galvin and Fiorenza.

An interesting image. What first comes to mind when I read this is James 1:3f, 6f:

“You know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.”

James rebukes the image of the doubter. Fiorenza seems to promote it. Of course, their subjects are not identical. Fiorenza is speaking of theology; James of faith and revelation. Does the contradiction then ease? Somewhat, but not absolutely. In fact, let’s ask what the basis of theology is. What is it? Revelation and faith. The deposit. Question: Is this a solid base, or a flimsy up-for-grabs interpretation? Dogma answers: Solid base, absolutely irrevocable, utterly certain, firm, and wide. So, theology’s base is firm. And on this basis, theologians through the centuries have judged that certain truths can be argued out, that certainty can be achieved. (Not always, of course. There are plenty of “hypotheses” in theology. Plenty of suggested analogies. But not all is uncertain.) Now, when argument intervenes to get you certainty, the certainty is on the order of reason, not on the order of faith. Nor is the conclusion philosophical. It is neither of “natural reason” nor of divine faith. That is, the conclusion is theological, and my certainty in it is not divine but rather human; however, it is grounded in the faith. Does Fiorenza’s image allow this? Unlikely.

Things get worse quickly. Fiorenza acknowledges the Scriptures as a constant in theology, yet he quickly allows interpretation to get the upper hand, effectively: “Yet, the meaning of the Scriptures depends upon their interpretation.” P. 7.

Worse is how he thinks of the Scriptures. He observes that the Scriptures are evidence of rational reflection on the mysteries at hand, e.g., on Jesus. This is true, of course. But he takes that as pretext to downplay the authoritative, inerrant, inspired, and God-authored truth of the Scriptures. How? He notes that “all the writings are theological.” He stresses that the Gospels are written “for their particular pastoral situations.” He notes that the Scriptures “embody specific and differing theological visions” (8-9).

What are we supposed to do with this? First, note the silence on the Scriptures as the revealed Word, inerrant. A deafening silence. Second, note the absence of any recognition that the Scriptures present truth claims to be acknowledged across ages: ontologically dense truth claims, as JPII put it (Fides et ratio). Third, note the absence of any affirmation that all these interpretations are harmonious, not at odds with one another. He didn’t come outright and said that they contradict, as the 2 Sam entry in International Bible Commentary asserts, an assertion so utterly contradictory to Vatican I and Vatican II. On the other hand, Fiorenza doesn’t correct such a reading. That’s too bad. How did the Fathers deal with this kind of difference in Scripture? They showed how the difference was not a contradiction; we might say that was foremost in their mind. Why? Because our religion is not myth. It is not mere subjectivity transcending itself into something higher. It is objective. It has basis. It is true. The Fathers also highlighted how each witness contributes something unique. Not contradictory but unique. In this way, the truth is built up. But if you take the Scriptures as contradictory, then what? Well, you the author of your own decision, make the decision on what is true and false. YOU DECIDE. Sounds like Scriptures are Fox News. How absurd.

What follows in Fiorenza’s essay is a smorgasbord tour of theological “approaches.” This is a typical way of approaching theology, a kind of meta-theology. It is method gone wrong. How so? Once again, it lays out supposed “options” as to how one ought to go about “doing theology.” Reader take your pick and “go to it.”

Well, one of those options – or that of a few of them – is to start with dogma, with the Deposit, and base everything on that and/or work towards that.

Now, that this option is just “one” of the  many from which to choose allows the reader to start wherever he wishes and  “just go at it.” In short, dogma becomes optional. Oh, it hangs in there very remotely, watered down (and shriveled up), cowering in some corner somewhere. But this sicklied over dogma, ill and wheezing in the corner, wiping its nose of mucous, cannot compete with the legions of weapons brought to bear against it. What weapons? Well, you could start with “liberation” and make your own vision of liberation the determinant. Again, you could start with “modern science” and make its latest consensus your starting point. Again, you could start with a gut feeling as to what must be right and make it your starting point. Then, put the dialogue between your starting point and the dying dogma. Perhaps you learn something from dogma, but not without beating it some more.

The brief hotchpotch tour of theology ends with this summary statement: “The challenge [of theology] is to reconstruct the integrity of the church’s tradition in light of relevant background theories and warrants from contemporary experience” (p. 84). Wow. I didn’t realize the Deposit needed help. Apparently the deposit isn’t enough: “An adequate theological method embraces diverse sources and a plurality of criteria.” Hm. Well, so long as reason does not judge the Dogma of Tradition, this could be right. I mean, we are enlightened also by recta ratio (right reason). Is this what he means? No: “Theological method does not consist simply in correlating contemporary questions with traditional answers or symbols.” Wow. I didn’t think of genuine theology as a collation only. But oh well.

After that straw man is dismissed, we get the real beef: “Instead theological method consists of making judgments about what constitutes the integrity of the tradition and what is paradigmatic about the tradition.” (all ibid). Well, then, I suppose that the old dogma, with the “same sense and the same judgment” (Vatican I; Vatican II; Pope St. John XXIII) is that sick dog in the corner, which I can beat with a broom if I wish. Time to “sweep house”.  We are the teachers. The authority is we.

A. MacIntyre points out how awful it is when the Discipline of Tradition is lost. What we get is various attempts to wrest control of the discipline. These “meta-theories” have been the fashion for some time, probably since the 70’s. They don’t really allow one to gaze at the Truth, who sets us free.

Did Jesus as Man Know Each of Us?

Lesson from Pius XII: Answer is “yes”.  As man, with a human mind, Jesus knew each of us, and very intimately. As he hung on the Cross, he had us in mind. Hence, truly, he gave himself ‘for me’ as Paul proclaims. Let us honor the King of Kings.

For, as the Spaniards say, “He is fully man, yes, but no vulgar man.” Let us not measure his humanity against the narrow confines of our imagination.

From his marvelous encyclical Mystici corporis, art. 75:

75. Now the only-begotten Son of God embraced us in His infinite knowledge and undying love even before the world began. And that He might give a visible and exceedingly beautiful expression to this love, He assumed our nature in hypostatic union: hence – as Maximus of Turin with a certain unaffected simplicity remarks – “in Christ our own flesh loves us.”[156] But the knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all that the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. O marvelous condescension of divine love for us! O inestimable dispensation of boundless charity! In the crib, on the Cross, in the unending glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church present before Him and united to Him in a much clearer and more loving manner than that of a mother who clasps her child to her breast, or than that with which a man knows and loves himself.

Pius is in fact simply reiterating, though authoritatively, the Tradition.

Even the Early Ratzinger Causes One to Lament

Part I.

These days, one is bound to find people nostalgic for the good old days of 30 years ago, or 10 years ago. Indeed, one can sympathize with this.

However, one should take note that difficult times have been with us for some while. Josef Ratzinger was “peritus” at the Second Vatican Council. His input was crucial on certain matters. He even teamed up with Fr. Karl Rahner, who afterwards went even more wrong than before. Ratzinger, thankfully, got better. However, it is important to know, when assessing today, that his early theology had notable problems.

Case in point: His Mariology.

He wrote, at the time of the Council, “The idea of Mary as ‘co-redemptrix’ is gone now, as is the idea of Mary as ‘mediatrix of all graces’” (Theological Highlights of Vatican II [New York: Paulist Press, 1966], p. 93). He even held such a negative view as late as the end of John Paul II’s pontificate. See Ratzinger, God and the World (Ignatius, 2002), p. 306.

Is this a problem? Yes, a big problem. Why? Because Mary as Mediatrix is part of the ordinary and universal teaching of the Church for many centuries. Also, the notion of Mary as CoRedemptrix is also doctrine, for at least a century of Magisterial teaching. But to deny doctrine, established doctrine, is not a good act. Further, to see Vatican II’s silence as a repudiation of the doctrine is perhaps worse.

Now, it is one thing to get Mary wrong before the Church teaches, again and again, on a matter. E.g. Aquinas. It is quite another to ignore that teaching. Sadly, that is what Ratzinger did for quite a while. Fortunately, he died to his own opinion when he became pope. He allowed the grace of state to increase and his own theological mind to decrease. Hence, he actually proclaimed Mary’s mediating role in every grace. Thank God.

Lesson from Pius VI on Bishops’ Need for Courage

To be Pastor of a church, in any day but especially in a season of trouble, requires much courage. Listen to Pope Pius VI rouse up the bishops in his day to courage, recalling the inspiring words of Pope Leo the Great, Hammer of Heretics:

28. We now address you, who with few exceptions know your duty to your flocks, and publicly professed it, disregarding human calculations. You judged that the greatest care and labor should be given to counter the greatest dangers. We apply to you the lavish praise given by Leo the Great to the Egyptian Catholic bishops in Constantinople: “Although I heartily share your loving labors for the observance of the Catholic faith, and I regard the attacks of the heretics on you as attacks on my person, I realize that your invincible constancy by the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ in the evangelical and apostolic teaching is reason for joy rather than for sorrow. And when the enemies of the Christian faith removed you from the sees of the churches, you preferred to endure the evil of travel than to be defiled by any contact with their impiety.” Indeed as We consider you, We are consoled and strongly urge you to stand fast in your purpose. To this end, We remind you of the bond of spiritual marriage which unites you to your churches and which only death or Our Apostolic authority can dissolve, according to the provision of the canons. Stay with your churches, then, and never leave them at the bidding of ravening wolves whose plots you have condemned in holy zeal as you unhesitatingly performed the tasks of lawful authority. (From his Letter on the Civil Oath in France, 1791).

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Pope Benedict XIV, Ex Omnibus

3. The authority of the apostolic constitution which begins with the word Unigenitus is certainly so great and lays claim everywhere to such sincere veneration and obedience that no one can withdraw the submission due it or oppose it without risking the loss of eternal salvation. Now, a controversy has risen concerning whether viaticum must be denied to those who oppose the constitution. The answer must be given without any hesitation that as long as they are opposed publicly and notoriously, viaticum must be denied them; this follows the universal law which prohibits a known public sinner to be admitted to Eucharistic communion, whether he asks for it in public or in private.


Pius VII: The Church’s Laws are of the Deposit

The neat and fast distinction between laws and deposit is too readily, and imprudently drawn. Thus writes Pius VII, in face of pressure on the Church to change her laws, pressure from within and pressure from the State:

18. Still another deposit which We must firmly protect is that of the Church’s holy laws by which it establishes its own practice, and over which it alone has power. Under these laws, virtue and piety thrive; the spouse of Christ terrifies her enemies as an army set in battle array. Many of these laws are like foundations laid down to bear the weight of the faith, as Our predecessor St. Zosimus says.[16] There is no greater benefit or boast for kings and political leaders, as another wise and brave predecessor, St. Felix, wrote to Emperor Zeno, than “to allow the Catholic Church to enjoy its own laws and not to let anyone interfere with its liberty….For it is certain that it is beneficial for their own affairs, as God has laid down, for kings to submit their will to the priests of Christ when God’s business is in question, rather than imposing it.”

Lesson from Pius VI on the French Civil Oath

Pope Pius VI, gloriously reigning at the end of the 18th century, defends the presence of order and justice in true charity. Note how prudently he insists that genuine love is mild when mildness works but must be firm when mildness would destroy souls. In his letter Charitas, he proclaims:

Love, which is patient and kindly, as the Apostle Paul says, supports and endures all things as long as a hope remains that mildness will prevent the growth of incipient errors. But if errors increase daily and reach the point of creating schism, the laws of love itself, together with Our duty, demand that We reveal to the erring their horrible sin and the heavy canonical penalties which they have incurred. For this sternness will lead those who are wandering from the way of truth to recover their senses, reject their errors, and come back to the Church, which opens its arms like a kind mother and embraces them on their return. The rest of the faithful in this way will be quickly delivered from the deceits of false pastors who enter the fold by ways other than the door, and whose only aim is theft, slaughter, and destruction. (AD 1791)