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Whether Judgment and Condemnation Accord with the Gospel?

Objection: It seems that judgment according to works, especially condemnation of the evil-doers, conflicts with the Gospel. For the Gospel seems to preach only mercy and to condemn pharisaical self-righteousness.

On the contrary: St. Paul preaches, in Rom 2:

Who will render to every man according to his works. To them indeed, who according to patience in good work, seek glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life: But to them that are contentious, and who obey not the truth, but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek. But glory, and honour, and peace to every one that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

St. Paul preaches that this judgment is according to his Gospel. Furthermore, our Lord himself is the source behind the Gospel, and he preaches that he will judge the living and the dead. We confess this, furthermore, in the creed.

Judgment is the good act of the righteous ruler doing his duty. To fail in judgment is rebellion against the law. “But who cares about the pharisaical law”? Not all law is pharisaical. Rather, true law is the right ordinance of reason, directing those who must reach their end towards that end. Thus, it is an act of loving concern to lay down and point out the law, for those who are not already the end must achieve it by their actions. If they fail to achieve it by their actions, they will remain in the loneliness of their sin. Not to preach to them, to awaken them from darkness, to illumine their path towards true righteousness, not to apply the salve, not to dress the wounds, not to move them towards the good, is an act most hideous.

“But it is more hideous to yell at them about how guilty they are.” That too would be a cruelty. But listen: We do not achieve the proper virtue by a falsely balanced caricature. We achieve it by the correct via media. And that is this: The one unbreakable law is the way and condition for salvation. The medicine is informing the sinner how destructive are his wicked deeds, and how powerful is the remedy of grace, available in the saving Mysteries Christ left his Church.

Not to avail oneself and not to open to the poor sinner these saving remedies is a crime most vile, a cruelty than which a greater is difficult to fathom.

On Amoris Laetitia

One sound principle – practically a truism for Catholics – is that no Catholic whatsoever has any grounds whatsoever for holding X when X has already been proscribed infallibly. Further, no Catholic has any grounds whatsoever for not holding Q when Q has already been taught infallibly. All are under this obedience of faith, including members of the hierarchy. These principles cannot be brooked by anyone.

Now, some are concerned about whether or not doctrine has been overturned, directly or indirectly, by the recent papal document Amoris laetitia.

In addressing questions such as this, I call the above unquestionable principles to mind. No one will disagree with that principle, however they choose to address this question concretely But, in order to retain this non-negotiable principle, different people facing an apparent difficulty are drawing up different strategies.

One strategy is that of Cardinal Burke. Burke suggests the following in the National Catholic Register:

The only key to the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia is the constant teaching of the Church and her discipline that safeguards and fosters this teaching.

His counsel is wisely ordered to the clear retention of the actual teaching of Holy Mother Church. Thus, he is wisely shepherding souls. Confusion is harmful to souls. It takes the wind out of the spirit’s sails, and thus hinders our pursuit of God. It alienates and frustrates. It obscures the truth from those who might be good willed and are trying to seek it, but are tempted by near comforts and habits of sin. The weak – those weak sheep who most need our love – can be tempted to remain astray if the path of return is not clearly announced and laid out.

And so, we come back to Burke’s advice. We must read the Tradition to know what it states and what it forbids. What does Holy Mother Church teach?

The Church teaches that the Laws of God are not suggestions, not “ideals” that cannot be lived. Rather, they are true laws, universal commandments. Further, the Church teaches that grace is actually offered so that God does not command the impossible but indeed gives what he commands, as that Glorious St. Augustine said long ago.

“It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question”. But what are the “concrete possibilities of man” ? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: thereality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit”. Veritatis splendor, art. 103, by John Paul II

Indeed, as John Paul II reiterates, it is heresy to suggest that the laws of God cannot be obeyed. Obedience can be agonizing at times, truly trying, life-taking. But God gives what he commands:

Keeping God’s law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible. This is the constant teaching of the Church’s tradition, and was expressed by the Council of Trent: “But no one, however much justified, ought to consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments, nor should he employ that rash statement, forbidden by the Fathers under anathema, that the commandments of God are impossible of observance by one who is justified. For God does not command the impossible, but in commanding he admonishes you to do what you can and to pray for what you cannot, and he gives his aid to enable you. His commandments are not burdensome (cf. 1 Jn 5:3); his yoke is easy and his burden light (cf. Mt 11:30)”, art. 102

Cardinal Brandmüller reminds us of a particular law of God, the indissolubility of marriage:

It is the Catholic Church’s teaching (Dogma) that a validly contracted and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any power on earth – also not by the Church. Jesus says: ‘What God has bound, man may not separate.

No one on earth can dissolve a valid and consummated sacramental marriage. This is the law of God. This brings solace. This is a boon, not merely a burden. This indissolubility is a firm rock on which to rely. It anchors society. It is stability. It is life-giving. Thank God for his wisdom and goodness in shepherding us in so many ways with wise laws and abundant grace. Help us, Lord, in our weakness.

What is Scandal?

Cheeky people will sometimes say, “You could read this, but you might find it scandalous.” This is a condescending remark. It is as though to say, “I’m man enough to take it, but I think you have a weak stomach.”

Scandal is not a threat to an effeminate man or weak-kneed woman. Scandal is occasion of sin. For an alcoholic to surround himself with drinkers is likely scandal, an occasion of sin for him. A seductive book or picture or person is a scandal for men because it can occasion thoughts not appropriate for them.

Scandal leads another, or self, to sin. The sin of scandal is very serious. It is mimicry of demonic leadership.

Steve Long and the Moral Object

I have been reading Steven Long of late. His account of the moral object seems urgent to consider.

In a moral act, the first thing we must consider is the “what it is” you are doing. The object of the act. Are you murdering or are you feeding someone? Etc.

Those who know, know that this is one very difficult topic.

One of Long’s crucial points, though, is lost on many, including many good Catholics. It is this: That the natural order of cause and effect in the sub-rational world already indicates certain truths about certain possible actions for our choice. This inherent order in certain natural lines of causality cannot be ‘ignored’ when I choose to act. Indeed, to choose intelligently to act requires adverting to these ordered structures. And these ordered structures determine the character of the actions which a rational agent proposes to commit.

Case in point. Say a given doss of pain-killer is known medically certainly to be lethal. Well, then, to choose to administer this doss is to choose death. Period. Of course, the doctor or relative will say to himself, “I only want the pain-killing side of the act. I don’t want the death-dealing side of it.” Ah, but you know that it does deal death. And you are to act intelligently. This is the kind of action the natural course of which necessarily entails death. (Let necessary = medically known sufficiently to cause, except in rarest of cases or miracles.) Then, for any intelligent agent to choose to administer it just is to choose death. One cannot – in GNOSTIC fashion – then claim that one interiorly (spiritually) only desires a certain aspect of this natural (merely material, he claims) act. If  one were to justify the action by saying that one only chooses the act under its desirability, one would be acting in Gnostic fashion. It would be the “intentionalist” fallacy. That my intention can – in the face of a naturally known telelogical order of a certain action – bypass this order and find some other reason for the appetibility of the act. That my intention finds what is appetible and chooses it only thus. This is what Long calls “intentionalism.”

Its effects are absolutely dire, and contrary to Catholic moral tradition. Another example is craniotomy. This is the crushing of a baby’s skull to save the mother’s life when otherwise both will die.

Remember: We must never do evil that good may come. Even if I only kill one little babe to stop WWIII, nonetheless, I would sin evilly in doing so. All good Catholics grant this basic point.

But those who confuse the moral object can’t see straight on craniotomy. How do they tackle it? They do this: They say that the doctor chooses the “reshaping” of the skull. He doesn’t choose the death. Only the reshaping, so it can fit the birth canal so he can save the mother.

Long’s counter: But crushing the skull necessarily entails death. Hence, to choose this action intelligently just is to choose death. And if the object is rational and innocent, then to choose its death is murder. But if you opt for intentionalism, you can wipe away this very serious, long approved condemnation of craniotomy. You can wipe it away with your good intention. Which now comes to supposedly “specify” the act and – voila! – you turn murder into salvation. This really is a vile consequence of a gnosticizing theory.

The order impressed in nature does not enslave us. It gets us going and serves as the partial determination – in some cases crucial determination – of the kinds of actions that are morally good.

Long’s tome on the subject is The Teleological Grammar of the Moral Act. Long is a good friend, a compassionate soul, and a brilliant theologian / philosopher.

I highly recommend this text.

Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 2

I’m sorry these posts have taken so long to get going. Have been enjoying good time with family.

Example of Source Criticism at work. Look at Genesis 1-2:4, on the one hand, and Genesis 2:5 through chap 3 on the other hand.

  1. In the first chapter, God is called God (Elohim in Hebrew). In the second chapter, God is called Yahweh God (Yahweh Elohim).
  2. In the first chapter, God is transcendent and almighty, not exactly distant but at the same time not intimate. In the second chapter, God is earthy, works with clay and walks, breaths, etc.
  3. The first chapter shares poetic affinities. The second is clearly narrative.
  4. The first mentions sabbath rest. The second doesn’t.
  5. God simply states in the first chapter. God and man interact in the second chapter.

We could go on and on. We can also observe these kinds of character differences in other parts of Genesis and in Exodus, esp. It is most useful to observe these differences in texts that treat the same topic, such as the flood scene, the creation scene, and the exodus scene.

We owe it to source critics for highlighting all these interesting features of the text, the “final product” as it is called. This insight is no small thing for which we can be grateful. Indeed, it is a thing of beauty.

Now, the motives of the source critics may not have been so lofty as our “spoiling” of the fruit of their labors may suggest. Indeed, we must study the roots of this method and of the eggs who constructed the method. I recommend Scott Hahn’s and Benjamin Wiker’s study, Politicizing the Bible for a detailed and responsible treatment. Numerous other scholars have written on this topic.

Back to the method. Suffice it to say that you have two sets of characteristics that show up again and again, and which are diverse. But what kind of diversity have they?

Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part I

Source Criticism is one of the three major “higher-critical” methods of reading scripture. The so-called “historical-critical” method is often used to refer to this or the other two major “higher-critical” methods, namely, redaction criticism and form criticism.

Here, we consider source criticism. The treatment is brief, while the tomes about the subject are immense and legion. But the treatment is also meant to go the heart of the matter in a suggestive, provocative way. It is the beginning of a question, an incisive interrogation.

Source criticism inquires whether the final product – say, the Gospel of Luke, or the Book of Genesis – was indeed always a single literary unit or rather a plurality of literary units put together. Source critics usually think in terms of written sources, although it is not alien to the method to think in terms of oral sources. If the final product is a construct of several, then these “sources” are primordial, anterior to the final product that we see.

There are numerous examinations one can undertake to ascertain answers to these questions. One of the most noteworthy examinations involves the question: Are there contradictions in the final account? In fact, this question analogically runs through every examination. Stated so baldly, it stands on its own. However, other interrogations presuppose this primary question. Such other interrogations include: Are there diverse names for God? Diverse conceptions of God? Diverse conceptions of man’s relation to God? Of the monarchy? Etc. Diversity presupposes the contradiction “this is not that.” Hence, the note of contradiction is primary.

Example. In reading Genesis, one can ask whether there are contradictory accounts of the flood. At first studied glance, it seems so. One set of texts reads “a pair” of animals while another set reads “seven pairs”. Since one is not seven, there seems to be a contradiction. But the same man cannot reasonably affirm a contradiction. We take it the man who wrote was reasonable. Ergo, there must have been more than one author.

more to come.

Lesson from Gregory XVI

The great pope laments the ravages suffered by the Church of God at the enmity of the ravening wolves dressed as sheep. He sets himself on the watchtower and calls the bishops to join him, ever vigilant, for the sake of the little ones whom the Devil, through his minions on earth, seeks to deceive, kill, and destroy.

Let us read the opening paragraphs of Probe nostis:

You are well aware, venerable brothers, of the many misfortunes which now afflict the Catholic Church. You know, too, that holy religion is being attacked by the pollution of errors of every kind and by the unbridled rashness of renegades. At the same time heretics and unbelievers attempt by cleverness and deceit to pervert the hearts and minds of the faithful You are aware, in shore, that practically no effort has been left untried in the attempt to overthrow the unshakeable building of the holy city. In particular, We are obliged, alas! to see the wicked enemies of truth spread everywhere unpunished. They harass religion with ridicule, the Church with insults, and Catholics with arrogance and calumny. They even enter cities and towns, establish schools of error and impiety, and publish their poisonous teachings which are adapted to secret deceit by misusing the natural sciences and recent discoveries. Furthermore they enter the hovels of the poor, traverse the countryside, and seek the acquaintance of the farmers and the lowest classes. They try every method of attracting the uneducated, especially the youth, to their sects, and of making them desert the Catholic faith, whether by means of Bibles inaccurately translated into the vernacular, pestilential newspapers and pamphlets of little weight, or by seductive speeches, pretended charity, and gifts of money.

2. We mention events which you yourselves witness. For despite your sorrow and your pastoral denunciations, you are obliged to tolerate in your dioceses these men spreading heresy and unbelief, these assertive preachers who ceaselessly waylay and ravage your flock by going around in sheep’s clothing while inwardly they are ravening wolves. What more can We add? There is hardly any uncivilized district left in the entire world to which headquarters of the main societies of heretics and unbelievers have not sent scouts and emissaries without counting the cost. These men, by waging secret or open war on the Catholic religion and its pastors and ministers, tear the faithful from the bosom of the Church and prevent unbelievers from entering it.

3. You can easily imagine the straits in which We live, since We are laden with the care of Christ’s flock and the churches, and must therefore render a detailed account to the divine Prince of Shepherds. For this reason We decided to recall in this letter the causes of the troubles which beset both Us and you. You can then reflect how important it is for all the bishops to redouble their efforts so as to break the assault of the enemies, to beat back their attacks, and to forewarn and protect the faithful from their clever appeals. We have been doing this, and We shall not stop. We know that you have likewise done so, and We are confident that you will continue.

Lesson from Pius VI

From this holy and strong pope, both truth and love, perfectly balanced. He instructs bishops – and indeed himself, for he is also a member of the Church and not only its head – not to fear preaching the full truth and doing so clearly so as to root out all error. Otherwise, confusion.

As we sit today, in utter confusion in the House of God, we can take solace that no one may silence the words already taught. NO ONE. And we can learn from these words. Study them. Thus will good shepherds of the past still guide the sheep that, for want of leadership, are floundering today, especially today:

“Now therefore, Brothers, since you are overseers among God’s people and their soul depends on you, raise their hearts to your utterance,”[14] that they may stand fast in faith and achieve the rest which is prepared for believers only. Beseech, accuse, correct, rebuke and fear not: for ill-judged silence leaves in their error those who could be taught, and this is most harmful both to them and to you who should have dispelled the error. The holy Church is powerfully refreshed in the truth as it struggles zealously for the truth. In this divine work you should not fear either the force or favor of your enemies. The bishop should not fear since the anointing of the Holy Spirit has strengthened him: the shepherd should not be afraid since the prince of pastors has taught him by his own example to despise life itself for the safety of his flock: the cowardice and depression of the hireling should not dwell in a bishop’s heart. Our great predecessor Gregory, in instructing the heads of the churches, said with his usual excellence: “Often imprudent guides in their fear of losing human favor are afraid to speak the right freely. As the word of truth has it, they guard their flock not with a shepherd’s zeal but as hirelings do, since they flee when the wolf approaches by hiding themselves in silence…. A shepherd fearing to speak the right is simply a man retreating by keeping silent.”[15] But if the wicked enemy of the human race, the better to frustrate your efforts, ever brings it about that a plague of epidemic proportions is hidden from the religious powers of the world, please do not be terrified but walk in God’s house in harmony, with prayer, and in truth, the three arms of our service. Remember that when the people of Juda were defiled, the best means of purification was the public reading to all, from the least to the greatest, of the book of the law lately found by the priest Helcias in the Lord’s temple; at once the whole people agreed to destroy the abominations and seal a covenant in the Lord’s presence to follow after the Lord and observe His precepts, testimonies and ceremonies with their whole heart and soul.”[16] For the same reason Josaphat sent priests and Levites to bring the book of the law throughout the cities of Juda and to teach the people.[17] The proclamation of the divine word has been entrusted to your faith by divine, not human, authority. So assemble your people and preach to them the gospel of Jesus Christ. From that divine source and heavenly teaching draw draughts of true philosophy for your flock. Persuade them that subjects ought to keep faith and show obedience to those who by God’s ordering lead and rule them. To those who are devoted to the ministry of the Church, give proofs of faith, continence, sobriety, knowledge, and liberality, that they may please Him to whom they have proved themselves and boast only of what is serious, moderate, and religious. But above all kindle in the minds of everyone that love for one another which Christ the Lord so often and so specifically praised. For this is the one sign of Christians and the bond of perfection.”