Category Archives: Commentary

Grace Builds on Nature? But Don’t You Do So!

Some urge us to first work out a natural plan of action, a natural goodness, a natural way of life, before turning to grace and things that are higher. This is very bad advice.

The theological virtues rank above the cardinal virtues, since the theological virtues order one to the ultimate end. True, grace builds on nature. STILL, we should not think that because grace builds on nature we should first work on a purely natural foundation only subsequently to establish a supernatural foundation. Such would be a mistaken conception, misleading in its direction and founded on pride.

We must found our lives on Christ’s foundation. He chose us. We must first accept Him and build our whole foundation on him. Enough talk of natural virtues as the starting point! Christ and the theological gifts he gives us are the starting point. Faith and Baptism; Charity and the Eucharist.

A-Tribute to Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd)

I have long been convinced, from my narrow experience, of the excellence of Pink Floyd, one especially indebted to its lead songwriter and lyricist, Roger Waters. Great bands and solo acts there have been, such as the Stones and Beatles, Yardbirds, Mott the Hoople, Love, Kinks, Traffic, Dylan, the Band, early R.E.M., U2, … the list can go on. Of the great bands, one stands out head and shoulders above the rest, though awkwardly so.

Nothing in pop music compares to the greatest moments of Floyd, to songs such as Us and Them, Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Dogs, Hey You, Them Three Bricks, Mother, Comfortably Numb, and above all Brain Damage and Eclipse. The lyrics are transcendent and penetrating, timeless and relevant.

Again from my narrow inexperience, I find the music of Pink Floyd to be the most complex and subtle in pop music. Listen, listen again: Suddenly, a soft note from the piano is heard. Perfectly placed. Why hadn’t I heard it before? In writing this article, I only now heard what seems to be a bassoon quite early in the calm of Is There Anybody Out There, before the violins come in. Or is it just the cello sounding like a bassoon? It could have been a bassoon! (A cello does come, with violins.)

And then there are the chord sequences. The marvelous instrumentals. The soothing, enchanting voice of Gilmour, echoing back or answering the harsh yell or stark talk of Waters. (I’ll grant that Waters once sang well.) The light and the dark. The melodious and the tense, buildup and release. The real.

My first experience with Floyd was, surprise, at night. No drugs. You don’t need drugs to enjoy Floyd. (Comfortably numb is a critique, in its occasional cause, in its lyrics, and in its dramatic enactment.) At any rate, I was falling asleep. I had my Walkman and decided to play a tape my uncle gave me to use as a blank tape. I saw the title “Pink Floyd” and decided to give it a go. I was probably fifteen, but maybe fourteen. As I lay in bed, looking nowhere, I drifted through Breathe and On the Run, somewhat attentively but mostly dreamily. Then I heard the ticking of clocks. I quite enjoyed it but the sound was quite like background music. The alarms gave me a bit of a jolt. But what struck a chord was the bass, following the intriguing drums, the bass against the drums. Simple and profound. Developing. Or was it Unfolding? The keyboards laying an ethereal foundation and rising above it. The bass striking, again but lower, again now higher. Elegant simplicity or subtle complexity. The marvelous timing. The rests. Then the shift to a new key; it had to be. If what I say mocks the ears of the trained critic, I have claimed my ignorance, but with one solitary note I caught a glimpse of a new key, out of the corner of my eye. The keyboards have been lightly suspending the music, and now the piano joins in. Bass returns to original key, with just one note, piano continues. The drums ready, and then the vocals.

My first run through I was completely mesmerized in that introduction.

The vocals came in like a cruel wakeup. I wanted to go back, back to the bass, the drums, and keyboard – with that piano’s few brilliant notes, back home. Yes, I wanted to go back home to where it was warm; these old bones were dying under the cold sun of the lyrics. But I could go back home, unlike men in real life, so I did. I rewound the tape. A few times I think. But at some point I had to go through the whole song and face those vocals. As with many a song of Floyd, the harsh vocals were offset by soothing refrains. And the female vocalists, I think they had to be black – marvelous! Throughout this first visit to this strange land, the lyrics grabbed me. The song called me back for more. I gave it another dig and found the whole a marvel. This was the end of the old ways for me. The end of the old ways.

Back then, I hadn’t known what to go for in life. A strong urge to fly, but nowhere to fly to. The only thing that seemed to propose itself was to make money. I hadn’t done much reading. Didn’t like to. Math was my bag, and science. “Ticking away the moments that make up the dull day.” That was me. That was my friends, sitting on small front stoops of houses, in the stinging sun, tired of the video-games, wondering what to do. Go to someone else’s house. Kick around on another ground of stoop. The TV full of it. No rain to wait for.

Then this Floyd thing intruded itself into my life. I began to pick up books and read. I tried my hand at poetry.

Each of us, no matter how duped, each of us hears something of the real in our heart, no matter what courses we have taken or darkly laid plans followed. It does stick, it can stick, no matter how sad and desperate our teachers and parents are over us. “It” being a right word. “No one told you when to run; you missed the starting gun.” “Yes,” I said, “that’s me. I’m missing it right now. No point. No way. Where’s that home? What’s this dream placed within me?”

I suppose I began to live the reflective life at that point. Not that Socrates would be proud, nor Waters for that matter. At least, I began to search for the reflective life. That’s something. I dove more and more into this album, the Dark Side of the Moon. I still consider it the greatest album of pop music. Not that this excludes anything else from beauty. The album is perfectly balanced. The songwriting is well distributed across the members of the band. Songs that don’t have the immediate grab, songs that perhaps don’t have an independent excellence, go together integrally to form this statement, this experience. I wrote “statement,” but its message is not heavy handed. It sings still and doesn’t preach. It sounds the pith and marrow of man: “For want of the price of tea and a slice, the old man died.” How much more tasteful than Aqualung! (Good song, disgusting lyrics.)

From Dark Side I turned to the Wall. A challenge and a reward. It remained so for a long time, challenging and rewarding. A marvelous metaphor. Brilliant songs, especially on the first and third sides, and not just the remembered ones. But who can forget Goodbye Blue Sky and the reprise of In the Flesh? And the surprising harmonies of The Show Must Go On. Was that a nod to the barbershop at the end? Sure, the fourth side doesn’t get airplay but it is chock full of rock’s finest operatic moments. All one can ask afterwards is, “Tommy Who?”

Though seated prominently on the fourth side, operatic beauty runs throughout the whole album. Am I alone in hearing French horns in Comfortably numb, dimly behind the strings, taking the refrains up two notes? (They could have been French horns!) I went on from there to Wish You Were Here and Animals. Those took quite a bit of getting used to. I later came to find Shine On and Dogs to be among the best of the Floyd repertoire. I have never much liked Have a Cigar, and Welcome to the Machine has weak moments. The cigar was too heavy handed, though the joke is nice.

I do believe what would have worked better, a possible past of Floyd, would have been for Waters to have allowed Gilmour’s melodious voice to lead more frequently. The Waters takeover, evident in the Wall and blatant in The Final Cut, began to dampen the music in The Final Cut, which at the same time in other respects reaches new heights. Gilmour is quite right about the dampening. The few contributions he, Wright and Mason would have been able to make would have enhanced even the Wall and would have brought balance and melody to the Final Cut. Waters can no longer sing lead. Unless he disciplines himself to a harsh verse or unstrained verse, answering or echoing Gilmour or another fine singer. Their reciprocity in Waiting for the Worms, Mother, Comfortably Numb, and so many other musically fine tracks, there harmony in Goodbye Blue Sky — these were the ingredients for greatness. And not just these two. Us and Them is the most elegant of their songs, written by Waters and Wright but sung by Gilmour and Wright. Those were the days. 

It seemed to me that Waters’ fall from singing melodiously affects his work, at least since Radio K.A.O.S. Even the writing seems to constrict itself to the narrowing vocal range. The beautiful counterparts cannot offset the harsher moments as well. But the lyrics sung are the stuff of pop music! It’s ok for a singer to preach a little, perhaps to a clarinet for a minute or so. That may be enough! Waters’ later music I have left too untried. Saw him in 88 or 87 in Chicago. Could a Gilmour still sing for him, and play the magical guitar, like ballast on a great balloon keeping things on the ground, Waters could have soared without drifting off somewhat. Ballast and balloon. Maybe that’s it. A kite can’t fly without someone on the ground.

I miss the trademark Floyd harmony with Waters backing Gilmour. The trademark harmony is, well, … I think it’s nice.

Lately, Gilmour has fashioned himself a multi-instrumentalist. And so he is! As he rules the guitar without an air of superiority, even loving it as a woodworker does his chisels, making it sing like no one has or probably ever will, so he plays the Saxophone with significant grace. As for his guitar work, it may be cliché to say, but it is true: It is unparalleled in all of pop music. I take the hat off to Jimi, without question. Little Wing is elegant. Still, Hendrix’s guitar sang only a few times. Are You Experienced is among the high points. By contrast, Gilmour’s sang every time he played. The solo at the end of Comfortably Numb is simply unbelievable. But so are the quietly played arpeggios, if that’s what you call them, in Eclipse. And there are never mentioned moments, such as the solo in the middle of Hey You. Hey You is a remarkable song.

The great Floyd music all came together. That’s just it! It was a symphony, the many singing as one. Together they stood. Divided they fell.


But there is something more tragic than the end of an era. It is the lack of vision in a great man grown old.

For some time, Waters has been engaging in politics. In doing so, and in his various interviews, he has proved to me what I long suspected: he is a man of remarkable intelligence. Poetic. Quick-witted. Insightful. Tenacious. Keen. Eloquent. What has surprised me, being all heavy-hearted with the serious world of Floyd, is how he seems to be light-hearted, at least until a journalist digs where Waters thinks he shouldn’t.

The tragedy is with Waters’ hope, or lack thereof. In what does Waters hope? In whom does he hope? He mentions God at every one of his turns. Think of the following prominent poetic moments: “acolyte” and “breaking bread and mending nets” and “softly spoken magic spell” and “tell me true, tell me why, was Jesus crucified?” and “the cold and religious” and “grace and pride” and “heaven from hell” and “What God wants.” In the movie The Wall, a climactic moment is the wall’s expansion unto the destruction of a church. In an interview with Stern, he admits that he has been blessed and says that “you cannot dictate” things like talent and inspiration.

Does he follow out these clues, does he read the image on the faded mirror, the trace that tells of the original? Does he read the vision in the higher room? I have not found him do so. Waters plays with deeply religious images, yet he wants to mount a rebellion against God and “make [his] eyes water.”

Waters’ knowledge of Christianity, for all its familiarity with images and creedal moments, seems deeply flawed. I need a whole evening meal, drawn out over cigars and wine, to speak of this in a manner that is right. His compass wants healing because it has no North Star. He has the bits and pieces, various scribbled messages from his mixed heritage of Marxism and Christianity, but he has not the soul of religion, of True Religion. He has alighted on the need for relationship. This comes through in interviews of late. The Floyd era or aura had been rather solitary, seeing another’s motions and not hearing their meaning, seeing signs on the horizon but not reading them for the signified, being overwhelmed by deep sentiment. It touched me at an opportune time for me, but it did not lead me forward. It woke me from my slumber but shone no light by which to Live. How could I recommend it to another?

Waters says now, “It’s not Us and Them, it’s only Us.”

There is much truth in this. Our bombs are dropped almost solely without reason. Surely money is a large root of this evil, but they’re giving it away to the bombs not the people. I agree that our sundry wars of late are pointless interferences causing the ‘inevitability’ of more wars.

Still, if you’re not with Waters, you are to him the “Them”. 

The notion that there is no enemy is enemy to anyone who says there is an enemy. So does that make me the only one with enemies? No, for it is also vice versa: Those who say there is an enemy are Waters’ enemies. If Waters can rise from his chair, availing himself of the usual expletive, “What the f….” when a Stern or a this or a that interview him, he shows the rage he says is dead still lives.

A moment later, the same Waters can calm down and even break into tears as he relates how a veteran, about the age his father would have been had he not been taken, said his father would be proud of him.

Roger Waters is a deep man, a great man. But he remains deeply flawed. At the moment, tragically so. Not by nature or other man’s craft, much less by divine malice. I would be wrong to venture any why. I only indicate that.

How a man finds Ultimate Fault gives you the mark of the man. Waters killed God (read “Sheep” on Animals). God, however, sent his Son as Lamb and each day aims to wash the filth from us as we rage against Him. Waters thinks human heartfelt sentiment can bind up the wounds and carry us home, make us one, make man a living temple. Home. I too want to go home. But where is it? We may well have been guilty all this time. Not totally guilty, of course. That was Luther’s idea. Not totally guilty, but not lightly either.

There are I suppose four broad ways of marking the fault. First, one can fail to mark it. One has all one needs, one dreams easily of buying a football team. No guilt to speak of. Nietzsche’s great man. Second, one can mark the guilt without distinction, spreading it over all finite things before the Infinite Tyranny. Here, the healing is to be told to feel good, although one must remain really bad. This is Nietzsche’s sick man. He proposes him as Paul, but it is really Luther. Third, one can mark guilt well, in the heart’s deep abyss that took its quick turn from one deeper still. Here, guilt lies in what freely comes out wrong of the heart made right. Here, the healing is to be shown and to be made good, a goodness deeper than the sentiment.

There is a fourth way that often mimics the third. One finds guilt in the heart and in decisions. However, one marks its darkness and its what against the compass of one’s own clever wit, measured by the five senses. All that you touch, all that you see, all that you taste, all you feel.

What else can you love? What is the real anchor here? What the basis of unity? The fourth way may be the most dangerous. It is the way of Lennon’s “Imagine,” a way that abolishes truth by abolishing the negation of falsehood. In the abolition of truth, there is the abolition of religion, real religion. The end of the fourth way of marking fault is to trace back fault to the very act of Creation: “You! Yes, You! You put me here! You wronged me!” In the end, Freud leads one to accuse God. I have been abandoned. That is the reason for fault, not my own wicked heart. This fourth way is the rebellion of the Enlightenment and of the French Revolution. The fourth way is not lazy, as is the first way. The fourth way rightly rejects the second way. However, the fourth way either misses or blinds itself to the third way. Fearful of truth as though love of truth is a bully’s weapon, this is also a path of convoluted sickness.

It is no surprise to me now that Waters pokes at the eye of things Catholic in praise of one of the most hideous and hypocritical revolutions ever in his one Opera. (I remember thinking in 1988 that he should write one.) Poke around at that revolution a little more, and Waters might find that the fighting was all about property. Not about its distribution so as to create fraternity, but about its confiscation by the new aristocrats. Poke around at the prior tragic war, the 30 years’ war, and he might find that it was really not religious but political. Power was what the fighting was all about. The narratives that the 30 years’ war was all about religion are false deceptions meant precisely to stab the neck of all religion and bring it bleedingly down, so that man might rise up in the wake of its tide. And what a row of wars this great murder of religion has unleashed! Revolution after revolution. Stalin and Hitler. Mao. Hiroshima. Dresden.

In that 30 Years’ War, Catholics killed Catholics. Protestants killed Protestants. Catholics allied with Protestants. And Protestants with Catholics, and each set of allies fought another set. Were there murders in the name of religion? No question. What was the fighting all about? Power and land were what that war was about, while the mere dress of religion was used as tool when useful.

Augustine, lusty bright man that he was, who lived with two women and had several more, heard a young voice “Take it up and read.” He took up St. Paul and found a way Home and happiness. I heard Waters’ lyrics. I took it up and read. I left lame hopes to make it big with money. Shallow hopes have not all left me, but I find no rest in them.

At some point, however, I had to ask: “To what home is this Floyd ushering me? What is their haven? Whither the siren’s song?” They piped me a dirge, and I wept. (“Great Dance Songs” was a joke.) But their dawn races its way to dusk, though you run like hell to catch it.

Waters does not see the dawn whose East Rises with Ah, Bright Wings. Nor does he spy the starry sky but for its black holes, nor has he really heard the tolling of the iron bell, so as to fall to his knees to worship the Lamb slaughtered by the world’s malice, slaughtered by hopes badly mapped. There are those for whom the quest for Truth is an annoyance, even if they mask it by overtly bleeding hearts unprincipled in prudence. Even for these, too much insistence on truth evokes not only “What is Truth?” but even, “Out of the way, it’s a busy day; I’ve got things on my mind.”

I found my way to pursuit of the question of truth. Or rather, Truth found its way to get me to question it, really to question it. A real question is an intimate thing, not a Trial by an accusatory Judge. A real question leads towards union. If Waters’ critique of US policy is often not off target, his vision has not reached high enough. The stakes are far higher, the fault runs much deeper, and the solution far costlier and easier.


There are waters that slake great thirst without price, living waters above the cloud bursts, ones that follow the signs and save from the damn. I hope Mr. Waters finds them before the old man dies. Don’t tell me there’s no hope at all.

The healing of these waters binds up possible pasts, no longer to be pined for. It is the real, where life dwells towards really possible futures. The impossible can never be, and possible pasts lay cast in this lot.

Perhaps it may be unlikable to turn to a woman as example at this point, but I must. (I am Catholic, after all.) I turn to Elizabeth A. Seton, who lost her father early in life. Yes, she was fatherless, too. She found in her want another, much greater. She could neither touch him nor see him in the usual way. But if for some, a word from a stranger is enough to draw forth tears, perhaps a Word from a Father whose hug is stronger than death, a Word in the flesh, which some have touched, some have seen, and some still make known to ears unplugged by the din of the second (diseased) path, ears open unlike the first dead path, a Word unbought, perhaps such a Word can bind up the possible pasts into the Real Present. Love’s hurt has its End.

We lamb cutlets are not. Let not poetry dominate a mere metaphor, to mislead you away from the Shepherd’s real intentions. To read Truth, you must wait for her. She is your Last Refuge. Love’s End is Real. Lift high your gates, and stretch the canvass of your heart, O Mad Bugger.

You give them Food in Due Season

Two things to note in this marvelous verse.

First, God feeds. He does not withhold food, except to the incorrigible (the damned) and, for a reason and a time, for the hard-hearted, for He draws them back through good discipline.

Second, God feeds in due season. It would not be “in season” for a person not in the state of grace to be fed. Hence, the Church’s constant and irrevocable Tradition of not granting those in the state of sin to receive the Holy Eucharist. When my child is sick, and vomiting up good food, I wait a while, offering just a very little drink (and one that goes down and stays down). This is to accompany the sick person. To feed the sick person the Eucharist would not be accompanying.

This little verse teaches us, gives us much to reflect on.

Send us Good Shepherds, O Lord

Shepherds we do not deserve, for our sins are many and our confidence wanes. We are like sheep, wandering without direction. Each of us would fail the Truth if we simply pointed to the one “whom You gave to be with me” as the reason for our confusion, sadness, and lack of faith.

Yet wandering we are, weary, wanting for solid food, wanting for firm direction, wanting a word of confidence in us: “You can do this, because with Christ, all things are possible,” wanting in ourselves the fulfillment of the Law by your gift (Rom 8).

Send us Shepherds who do not write mercy with the erasure of Law, who call not cancer development, who hack not apart the tree of life imagining a rotting “newness” with lowly thoughts so far from Yours.

Send us Shepherds who pander not to our basest wants, but call us to the measure of your pure riches.

Send us Shepherds who edify and unite around the Perennial Truth that is Ever Ancient, Ever New, and always Beautiful.

Before you consume us in your Anger, and we be destroyed.

Bruno Forte: God in Motion?

I’ve been reading Archbishop Bruno Forte’s The Trinity as History. The title itself is certainly provocative.

Archbishop Forte has had some interesting things to say lately about dogma and moral teaching. Some have understood him to imply that mortal teachings can evolve away from the prior doctrine. Evolution, in short, not organic development. Organic development is the refined articulation of organism. Evolution is the jettisoning of the old and the creation of the new.

As a matter of Catholic Dogma: Dogmas do not evolve. They are refined articulations of the already revealed. Thus, nothing about a dogma is false. Exactly what was once declared one must forever hold. Never to be watered down or diluted, much less altered or denied. (But these are the same errors in the end.)

If the above reading of Abp. Forte is correct, it is not surprising, given his Trinitarian theology. He writes, “Christian monotheism is not one among many but is Trinitarian monotheism!” Caution: That sounds great. But in fact, it often constitutes a jettisoning of reason and prior dogma. That seems true here. He continues: “It is this aspect that the development of thought, esp. in the West, has left in the shadows.”

What development? Do you mean by “west” the Catholic Dogma that God has one divine essence, numerically identical? If so, you think we need to get beyond, to evolve past, to jettison, that dogma?

Forte: “Divine unity in this approach [namely, Forte’s approach] is considered not as static essence but as dynamism, process, life, as the history of Trinitarian love.” (All the above, p. 148).

Would it be a surprise, then, to find a theologian — who thinks that God is moving, in process, developing a love relationship — also thinking that dogmas evolve and change? Would it be a surprise to find such a theologian laboring for change in moral doctrine?

Fr. Chad Ripperger: Special Prayer to Preserve Chastity

Fr. Ripperger has publicly stated that men and women who struggle with chastity have solid and effective results if they pray Lauds and Vespers faithfully, every day, in the Extraordinary Form. He attests these results. Of course, this is not magic. He is very clear that one must fulfill one’s duties in life and avoid the near occasions of sin.

The link is here.

Irenaeus Tries to Convert Others

The great and glorious St. Irenaeus, Doctor of the Church, makes every effort, bends his mind constantly, towards the goal of winning converts to the True Christ. Why? Out of love:

We do indeed pray that these men may not remain in the pit which they themselves have dug, but separate themselves from a Mother of this nature, and depart from Bythus, and stand away from the void, and relinquish the shadow; and that they, being converted to the Church of God, may be lawfully begotten, and that Christ may be formed in them, and that they may know the Framer and Maker of this universe, the only true God and Lord of all. We pray for these things on their behalf, loving them better than they seem to love themselves. For our love, inasmuch as it is true, is salutary to them, if they will but receive it. It may be compared to a severe remedy, extirpating the proud and sloughing flesh of a wound; for it puts an end to their pride and haughtiness. Wherefore it shall not weary us, to endeavour with all our might to stretch out the hand unto them. Over and above what has been already stated, I have deferred to the following book, to adduce the words of the Lord; if, by convincing some among them, through means of the very instruction of Christ, I may succeed in persuading them to abandon such error, and to cease from blaspheming their Creator, who is both God alone, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Against the Faith III.25, ANF, vol. 1, p. 460)

Irenaeus on True Meaning of Church as Hospital

For no persons of any kind would act properly, if they should advise blind men, just about to fall over a precipice, to continue their most dangerous path, as if it were the right one, and as if they might go on in safety. Or what medical man, anxious to heal a sick person, would prescribe in accordance with the patient’s whims, and not according to the requisite medicine?… How then shall the sick be strengthened, or how shall sinners come to repentance? Is it by persevering in the very same courses? Or, on the contrary, is it by undergoing a great change and reversal of their former mode of living, by which they have brought upon themselves no slight amount of sickness, and many sins? But ignorance, the mother of all these, is driven out by knowledge. Wherefore the Lord used to impart knowledge to His disciples, by which also it was His practice to heal those who were suffering, and to keep back sinners from sin. He therefore did not address them in accordance with their pristine notions, nor did He reply to them in harmony with the opinion of His questioners, but according to the doctrine leading to salvation, without hypocrisy or respect of person.(Against the Heresies III.5, ANF, vol. 1, p. 418).

When A Pope Sadly Strayed: A Morean Tale of Hope

Your question is indeed a difficult one, kind and anxious reader. So many and sundry evils emerge from confusion—diverse and contrary evils. Who can hold to the unchanging Truth in fervent Love? I thought it best, however, to recall wisdom from the past. Let true fathers teach us. Did you ever hear tale of what I shall shortly relate about what happened, once upon a time, in a matter not entirely dissimilar to that of which you speak?

A terrible theological disagreement ripped through Holy Mother Church. Those with a theological stake in the argument were punished. I mean those who held to the True Tradition of the Church. One can imagine the possibility, in our long history, of an errant bishop punishing a right-thinking priest. But imagine the Pope himself doing so! How devastating: A Pope preaching heresy and punishing those who humbly correct the error. The situation was tragic and heart-wrenching. Yet, the good critics knew that the Pope had no authority to reverse what God handed on through the constant and universal Tradition of Holy Mother Church. Thus, they knew his preaching was in vain and his punishments, unjust afflictions which God in his wisdom permitted and the grievances concerning which God, in his justice, would some day redress.

To know that God, although merciful and slow to anger, is nevertheless just, to know that God acts decisively when at last aroused to wrath by the long-standing abuse of the presumption of men, a presumption not rooted in genuine clemency but rather in sloth, in the negligence of higher things, … I say, to know this was indeed some solace for the men of that age. But only an abstract solace. And who can thrive on an abstract solace? On the formal structure of hope? They needed also a concrete reason to hope.

Year after year of abuse from this Pope wore on their patience and conviction. “Perhaps,” they even doubted, “perhaps it is we ourselves who have strayed from the truth. Perhaps truth is not so steadfast. Perhaps it has settled itself into the views of the day, not to try our modern colleagues any more than they can handle. After all, how is it possible to think of this truth, long held, long past on, long believed in the Church? And after all, is it that central to the faith? Perhaps we must adjust this peripheral truth to the vague weakness of what the modern ear can hear. Why man the battle stations, if there is nothing to defend but a changing truth?”

This thought crept in. It grew in their minds, silently churning: “Perhaps all that we are called to is formal acceptance of whatever the reigning authority proclaims. Perhaps this is our distinctive duty. Our brothers, the Orthodox, reject this subjection to the Pontiff. They have so much of the right material, but they have lost this formal element. If we cling to the materials, are we become like them? Perhaps ours is the task of blindly accepting whatever he proclaims. And in his daily preaching, he is proclaiming this message of his, this opinion. Let us turn off our minds, relent, and accept whatever he preaches.”

But the doubt only grew, “Yet, previous Pontiffs have insisted, with express words on other matters, that their teachings must ever be held the same. It is as though they preached in advance against future Pontiffs who, if that were possible, might – but it is unimaginable! – preach against their explicit condemnations. Paul, too, preached similarly, in his Epistle to the Galatians. What does this all entail? If we embrace the formal authority, shuffling off the skin of substance, what on earth are we embracing at all? The formal authority is for the purpose of putting us in union with the Truth, with our Loving Lord, that we might repent of our sins, embrace his transforming mercy, cooperate with his Law of Love through works, and at last attain to that eternal embrace.”

They reasoned further: “Perhaps, then, this is All a lie. Every last bit. The truth of the Church, the truth of the Gospel. Our very Lord Himself! If, that is, past Pontiffs have explicitly forbidden X, Y, and Z, they clearly upheld material content and not just their formal authority. Yet, this idea that passes through our heads, this idea that we ought blindly accept whatever the current Pontiff proclaims, never even thinking that perhaps he has strayed from the right path, this coping strategy contradicts the way previous pontiffs have understood their actions, actions that yoked our ancestors — and, indeed, us too and our current pontiff — to embrace material content. But perhaps the whole thing is a sham. Perhaps the entire edifice we thought to have been founded by Our Lord, perhaps it is all a lying facade. Perhaps there is no True Church, no True Religion. Perhaps we each must make our own way. O Man, Thou God. Thou Hast Indeed Become Like Unto Him. As Thou Took The Apple, at my request, Now Take the Life of Your Youth and Become the Man of Tomorrow….”

These were dark thoughts, the darkest of thoughts. They did creep in. It is no use us pretending they did not. This is not to say that such thoughts dominated. But they passed through the mind, much as a “floater” passes through the eye of an old man, obscuring clear sight, and only later passes into oblivion, as the clear sun rises to dispel the darkness of the night. They attempted to rouse themselves to hope. But how?

One of them decided that they all ought to heed the power of the telling of history. After all, if God’s providence is the cause of history, then in history may lie an anchor of hope. In history rightly read. “Rightly read” is indeed judged, in its highest standard, according to the dictates of reason illuminated by faith. Two can see the same event, but only one digs down to its truest meaning. Two can witness the fall of a nation, but only one sees the hand of God in it. Indeed, two might diversely claim the hand of God for the fall of a nation, but only one assigns the real cause. At any rate, the details often flee before our eyes. The short-sighted scurry after the details, like boys chasing bits of paper blown about in a storm. But the long-sighted worry themselves not. For history is in a certain sense the art of reason seeing real meaning.

At any rate, perhaps this one prelate got the story wrong. I am not quite certain. But that he saw real meaning in real events—of that I am convinced. And it happened to make all the difference for these anxious priests and theologians, so burdened with the errors of the day. So, he took his seat in the midst of them and opened his mouth and related the following narrative:


there reigned a Pontiff

who caused a great stir.

Your waning time, dear fathers, I shall spare;

all-a-gory detail shall not be shared….

This pope of years long gone signed off on a document that shook the confidence of the devout and rattled the faith of believers. Equally, it won the applause of the ruling elite and of many straying bishops, in the midst of an age of confusion and rebellion, an age that loved the praise of men more than the glory of God.

The remnant faithful had, for some several decades, been defending the teaching of the faith, and doing so under duress and great adversity. These were battle weary, yet they marched forward. Families protected their children from the poisonous fumes of rebellion, fostered and dominant among political rulers and even bishops and priests.

The pope’s document shattered their confidence. (I speak not of the confidence of good clerics. Let me rouse you to hope by this story of a situation direr, and of the victory of fighters littler than you. A fortiori ought you to take hope.) The document seemed on its surface a capitulation of the One True Faith, a capitulation that won the applause precisely of those who rejected or watered down that faith. Upon hearing of the pope’s document, these devout parents were devastated, heartbroken. “What to do? This is our father in the faith; he has spoken. Yet, his document undercuts precisely what the faithful have defended for decades, and what goes back to the very foundations of the Church. It touches the very worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Sacraments. Sure, it has good elements, but its problematic elements undercut these good elements.”

A devout priest, seeking neither title nor recognition, not hoping for ecclesiastical advancement, longing only for the courts of Our God and for the salvation of souls, the only ultimate pastoral end worthy of a cleric, reassured them. He reminded them of our Lord’s saying,

“The gates of hell cannot prevail against the One True Church, though the gates of hell march to the very door of the Church herself, whispering evils into the hearts of compromised clerics. Now, you seek my counsel, my advice. Of course, do not show your young and impressionable children this document, lest they read it and be led astray. Then, their eternal salvation would be put in peril. Teach them the true faith. As they grow older, you may expose them to the shame of this document in the context of the security of knowledge of the never-changing faith. For that matter, if you have relatives insufficiently formed in the True Faith, do not expose them to this text, lest they take occasion to blaspheme Our Lord. Some of those who are adults in the faith and those who are theologians have the grace and duty to read it and, while doing so, not to let go of our Sacred Tradition. I might add: This document was written under great duress.”

And so these parents did what that wise and loving priest advised. Their domestic church rendered this document another item proscribed on their wisely-constructed “Index of Forbidden Books,” along with false philosophies, degenerate literature, subtle heretical subversions of the faith by Marcion and Valentinus and Mani, confusions and mistakes of earlier theologians whom otherwise they revered greatly. Some of this literature they deemed appropriate for no one; some of it they deemed appropriate only for mature and formed readers.

To be sure, some gainsaid the educational principles of these parents. Some insisted, with pseudo open-mindedness, that even the young and the not yet virtuous could and should read all such literature without harm. Dear fathers, you may agree with me in retorting, “Not so!” To drag unformed minds through difficulties without adequate preparation and guidance is like a big brother beating his younger sister.

Further, the teacher is not the end, so as to delight in the squirming of hungry souls like sheep without a shepherd under the power of a mighty mind; rather, the Truth is the end. And Truth Exists. Truth Reigns. We are all for Truth. Hence, to stir up a young mind to an active frenzy and not to lead it to Truth, when Truth calls and beckons and is ready to feed with Ample Power… – This is no good service. Dear fathers, the purpose of the “Disputed Question” is not to stir up minds to dizzy cluelessness about the faith. Rather, it is to arouse a real pursuit of Truth.

At any rate, fathers, there were others who, discovering the prudent move these parents took, reprimanded them for closing off opportunities for their little ones. “It is not that we condemn your opinions, but you condemn the new document. Can’t we each by right, in a way? The document, moreover, brings us such freedom; it opens so many possibilities. Maybe you are right; maybe we are right. Who can judge? Let us live in the freedom of the children of God, and enjoy the ambiguity of this document. The past teachings were so confining!”

Fathers, I know you will agree with me that Truth sets one free. Freedom of opinion does not lead to truth, but truth to freedom of the heart. I cannot imagine my way to happiness, though my imagination is ever so unshackled. If the Son is Who he said He is, these protective parents did right by their children.

Still deeply troubled, these parents asked each other, “How could the Pope have done this?” Among the faithful, there was massive confusion. The Pope had caused grave scandal. Arguments this way and that. The pope’s name was not John XXII. No, it was Liberius. He reigned in the 4th century, perhaps some of you remember, after the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea and before that of Constantinople.

Eventually, four ‘iterations’ of his creed made their way around. No one knew which was the creed Liberius actually signed. The best of these iterations was a creed so ambiguous that an Arian could say, “Amen” to it, for it was so watered down that one could safely ignore the saving truth infallibly clarified at Nicaea. The worst iteration was a pro-Arian formulation explicitly contradicting Nicaea.

These good parents saved their children from probable ruin by ignoring each of these Liberian creeds in the domestic abode and nurturing their children in the Ancient Faith and Practice of Holy Mother Church, so crisply and authoritatively taught at Nicaea. To this day, many wise parents ignore that sad and unfortunate creed(s) of Liberius. Fathers, if parents not given to a life of prayer and virginity could maintain such fidelity, ought not we do the same? Can we not ignore the errant preaching of our day?

Granted, perhaps such parents could have culled a few good elements from this otherwise lamentable creed, such as belief in God the Father, etc. But the parents about whom I speak saw these good elements as already taught in Nicaea. So, they remained content with their library until, in their old age, Constantinople I added authoritative, important additions, organically reaffirming the entire authoritative past and building thereon, not lopping off life-giving limbs here and there, but remaining true to the same judgment and the same sense as that pronounced in Nicaea: That of the One True Faith.

Other parents were less pessimistic (less realistic?) and did their best to interpret the objectively sad creed in accordance with the Ancient Faith, rejecting any proposed interpretation that contradicted that Faith. These optimists tried to stress the good points, and squeezed, out of the ambiguous statements, the stark dogma of Nicaea. Eyes perplexed, straining and twirling…. They were moved by the “formal authority” of the Pope; so moved, they bent over backwards to read the true faith into the document. Whether they did right or not, I shall leave to your judgment. Concerning the pro-Arian creed, even the optimists simply passed it over in silence, recognizing it as anathema, though they didn’t like to think of this.

But let me be clear: Neither of these sets of parents were renegades. Both sets sought to defend the One True Faith, and both were deeply concerned about the massive confusion among the faithful and the tragic, self-serving ways of pro-Arian bishops who took this creed as license for the very rebellion against the Faith that they had covertly supported for decades. And then there was the sack of good old Athanasius. Liberius had the gall to boast of his ousting. And there was much rejoicing of the world. Dear fathers, remember the poor suffering of good old Athanasius. Remember him, if anything should happen to you.

At length, after many trials, God in his Wisdom vindicated his true children. Those brave parents, in their old age, took great solace that the Nicene Creed was at last reaffirmed and even augmented at Constantinople. Liberius’s raving creeds and his plundering decisions were all relegated to the dustbin of history. These parents needed solace. After all, they had had some apprehension that perhaps they should have turned off all reason, and blindly accepted the creed of Liberius. (Does this speak to your hearts, fathers?) These apprehensions caused them trouble, even anguish. The pain of these apprehensions they offered up for this Vicar of Christ. (How Urgently, dear fathers, does Evil Want you to Abandon this Delicate Stance.) Still, their apprehensions were not so significant as to disturb the deep peace, higher than the imagination can soar, that they retained. After all, God had given them the faculty of reason. Right? Further, God called for its use, right?

Finally, consider this dilemma that crossed their minds: If indeed they thought they should turn off all reason and listen to the latest confusing creed on Day X of year XYZ, ignoring the once authoritative statements of the past contradicted by the latest speech, consider what logically would follow. Why not simply reject altogether the papal authority, given that on Day W of year ZZZ, some future pope could simply reverse the awful confusion of year XYZ? Consider the possible doubt: Is Christ even with his Church any longer? Was He ever? Are all the miracles lies? All the conversions lies? All the peace of heart lies? All the final repentance lies? All the years lies? All the promises lies? All the fidelity, the zeal of our fathers, vain and empty foolishness?

“But no!” those noble parents commandingly spoke, discerning evil spirits. “These thoughts are yet more confusions. The seed of the Devil! Let us simply accept the already defined faith, and offer up our pain for Holy Mother Church and its Chief Shepherd. And, of course, we praise Liberius for his original courage. We obey where obedience is due, even when it amounts to the great imprudence of the deposition of that holy Alexandrian bishop.” When Constantinople reaffirmed what had already been definitively laid out, they drank deeply of the great peace of Christ that comes, not from the declaration of a mere man, not from the world, but only from the Power of God.

Dear fathers, let us drink from the wisdom and courage of these parents. We are, after all, commissioned by Christ to preach the truth, in season and out of season. And of course, do not be so foolish as to neglect to give obedience where obedience is due. One fault does not cancel the rest of the authoritative decisions. Remember, the Holy Father has canonized our great teacher, Thomas.>>

The priest’s words consoled those anxious fathers. They drank deeply from his wisdom and courage. They held fast to the Ancient Faith, which proclaims One God that Changes not because He already is All Life. His Life is not a passing life, that it should change, just as the Gospel itself is not a quaking read, that it should bend this way and that. And indeed, they were vindicated. The pope who preached heresy during his reign recanted on his deathbed. Although it was sufficient, in itself, that the Church already held the true faith day in day out, in the ordinary universal magisterium, it was helpful for all, and of deep consolation for those brave priests, that the succeeding pope, Benedict XII, defined ex cathedra the dogma of the faith in which we now believe: That the souls of those who die in grace, without any purification or punishment weighing on their souls, immediately are brought to that face-to-face vision of God. God vindicated his true children. He always does, though his justice is often patient of man’s abuse.

And so, dear reader, let us pray.

O Heavenly Father of us all, thank you for the courage and far-sightedness of those who trusted that, with your grace, all things are possible, including obedience to the Law that you re-iterated for us in your Divine Son, the Law that gives life to and fattens the bones and which is a way and condition of final salvation. Not only did they obey your Law, but, under great adversity from within the very bosom of the Church, they held fast to your saving Truth. Charity is born of Truth and lives only in Truth. The Truth takes flesh in real life, making right living possible, able to convert those who are sinfully alienated from God into his true lovers and friends. Let us not doubt or deny that Truth can come into the flesh of our circumstances and heal them.

Dear reader: Doubt not that Truth has come in the flesh and still comes into the flesh of our morass, with grace sufficient to generate children of Abraham from stones of death!

Shorten not God’s legislating and judging hand! Quench not the flame of his healing love! Deny not the dignity of the freedom of the children of God!

Can True Life be found by a false imagination? False is the imagination of that leaps from the lying sin of pessimism (“Did God say you can eat of no tree at all?”) to the defiant sin of presumption (“You shall not be judged according to any works but accepted entirely by mere faith though you sin and sin boldly”) to the apostate, anomian denial of Law and Truth (“What is sin? Quid est Veritas?”)?

Cover not, under a bushel, the Light that streams not from a mere man’s face but from Christ’s Divine Face, the Light that is to enlighten the darkness of the human mind! Wear not a false humility, to the deprivation of your fellow man (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”)!

Doubt not that Truth has come in the flesh! Doubt not that Truth still comes into the flesh of our morass, with grace sufficient in power to generate children of Abraham from stones of death! Shorten not the arm of God, lest his patience — meant for our conversion and not for our presumptive indulgence (Rom 2) — be likewise shortened.

Let the Reader understand