Monthly Archives: March 2014

Extremism: The Solution for our Times (Part III)

Is that the end of the story? Should all Christians just be extremists? What would that mean? Are there no boundaries?

There are boundaries. We must make a further distinction. It is the distinction between the interior act and the exterior act. Although we must be extreme in faith, that does not mean we must always publicly confess the faith. There are times when we should be quiet. For instance, when sleeping. A funeral is not the time to speak about what “consubstantial” means. (Not normally.) And as for love, we have only so much time and energy and resources to spend on worship of God. And if we spent all our time in liturgy, we would have no time for our families or for the poor or for a game of chess. We must be balanced in our physical enactment of these virtues. The virtues in themselves are extremes. It means we can always grow in our interior faith, hope, and love of God. We can always grow in our love of neighbor. And we should grow. Sanctity is always possibly deeper. We have not finished the race, not yet. Perhaps we are imprudent in how to love. Thus, prudence must dictate how to love. That means a certain “moderation”. For instance, if God entrusted someone with political office, but that someone decides to dedicate 15 hours per day to a group of poor people over here, then his talents and calling are wasted. (There are exceptions. The Holy Spirit has a prudence beyond our measure. However, usually our prudence indicates something of the mark to which he is drawing us.) Thus, we must be prudent and just and temperate in the charity for which we strive, the charity in which we cannot grow too much.

If we only focus on the exterior balance, we end up being tepid in our Christianity. But we must be on fire. If we balance faith and charity as though on a political program, we fail to see that there can be no charity without faith. Who is not formally orthodox cannot have charity. Orthodoxy is the condition for the possibility of being a Catholic. But, not all who are orthodox have charity. May we not whither on the vine, even if we confess the faith rightly. May we flourish like true lovers of God. For those who know the right way and do not walk it are the more severely condemned. But the right way is the way of externally decorous life, a life showing wisdom and prudence, justice and fortitude, temperance, the blazing gentleness of sweet charity, and the true confession of the only God, his only Son, their Holy Bond of Love, and the one true religion. Kindness and Truth Shall Meet. Amen.

Extremism: The Solution for our Times (Part II)

Precisely in this true extremism we have the solution to all the false divisions drawn these days in various spheres and in various ways. For instance, politically, we have the divisions “conservative” and “liberal”. These have a very limited utility. For we must treat each issue distinctly. First, we must determine what are those issues that are intrinsically evil. These can never be endorsed, for who endorses them endorses something evil. For instance, any platform that offers to secure rights for the commission of an evil act is thereby endorsing evil. For instance, abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, contracepted intercourse, unnatural sexual intercourse, no fault divorce, credit lines that amount to usury, preemptive wars, etc. Platforms that offer to secure rights for the commission of these acts are endorsing evil.

In the ecclesial sphere, there are the similar terms used, “conservative” and “liberal”. These are used with some limited utility but are really unhelpful. They are distracting. The reason they are unhelpful is they lead to a wrong diagnosis of problems in the Church. They make people think that if someone is concerned about right doctrine that he is not concerned about the poor and about justice. Conversely, they make someone think that if a person is concerned about the poor that he is not concerned about right doctrine. They make it sound as though truth and love must be “balanced”. That is nonsense. They must be extreme. We must be extreme lovers of God and extremely faithful. We must sacrifice not one iota of Jesus’ teachings, not one iota. For if we do, we become the authors of his truth or the judges of his truth. If we are the judges of his truth, then we control the whole thing. We determine what belongs and doesn’t belong. This is why a Cafeteria Catholic is not a Catholic. Insofar as a Cafeteria Catholic obstinately denies or doubts any truth of divine faith, he is a heretic. And thus, no longer a Catholic. The Cafeteria Catholic is a contradiction in terms. This is a crucial point, and it is fundamental. For faith comes – in the order of generation – before charity. Why? You cannot love what you do not know! So, the sine qua non condition for being a Catholic is faith. A “sine qua non” condition is a necessary condition. If the necessary condition is not met, the result is not met. Thus, one cannot be a Catholic without that virtue. And a heretic formally sins against that virtue, thereby destroying in himself the whole of that virtue. He may still “agree” with the Church about 90% of things. That is well and good as far as “agreement” goes. But he has lost the virtue of faith, and his agreement is a “co-incidence” that can help his return or that can be eroded over time if he does not.

Then we come to charity. Charity is not a sine qua non condition of being a Catholic. I don’t know if people pay enough attention to this fact. Faith comes first in the order of generation. That does not mean charity is less important. It means you cannot even have love, charity, unless you have faith. Therefore, unless a Catholic is formally orthodox, he can have no charity! Unless a Catholic is formally orthodox, he can have no charity. This is, clearly, no balancing act. It is a “Both And” act. And both acts must be extreme. Without charity, of course, a Catholic can still be a Catholic, but he is a dead one, not a living one, he is one on the way to perdition, unless he opens his wounds to the Savior’s tender gaze. He is a noisy gong. And, if he does not love the God in whom he believes, why should he for much longer believe in him anyway? The Catholic who continues in a state of mortal sin for long risks losing his faith. And thus, his being a Catholic. If he, for instance, “lives in sin” (think of the great scene in the BBC version of Brideshead Revisited), he risks losing faith. Then, if he still looks outwardly Catholic, but has formally committed heresy, he will work away at the Church to try to get her to conform to his own depravity. Thus, losing charity is a great danger. And having charity is the greatest boon.

What is the summary? Extreme orthodoxy is the foundation of sainthood and justice. It is not inimical to justice and social concern. It is the condition for the right minded approach to love of the poor. What else? Extreme charity is the crowning of sainthood and truth. For we were meant for this – love. Thus, “Kindness and truth shall meet, justice and peace shall kiss.”

Extremism: The Solution for our Times (Part I)

“I will spew you out of my mouth, for you are neither hot nor cold.” Chilling words, inflammatory words. Our Savior’s words!

There are many truths one can draw out of this statement. Today, I should like to draw out its endorsement of extremism. Our Lord wants extremists.

But that sounds harsh. That sounds contentious. That sounds incorrect, politically. Aren’t the terrorists extremists?

The fallacy in the objection is the equation of extremism with terrorism, with being harsh, with imbalance. But the truth is “Not all extremism is evil.” Some extremism is evil. Some is good. In fact, some is necessary and called for, especially at a time of blurry lines, confusion, lukewarm reception of the Gospel, comfort, tradition as monotony, status quo. And we are in these times, even as we are also in times of false extremism, of wicked extremism.

The extremism demanded by the Gospel is that of the theological virtues: Faith, Hope, Charity. All human virtues have a “mean” between two errant extremes, but no theological virtue has a mean. Every theological virtue is and must be extreme! Prudence, for instance, should be neither too deliberative (hesitating) nor too quick (reactive) in its work. Fortitude helps us be neither cowardly nor rash. The rash man a brave man is not. Temperance helps us strike the mean in sensitive delights, such as those of food. The temperate man is neither the man who gorges himself on sumptuous delicacies nor the man who hates good food.

The theological virtues are different. They must be extreme. The reason for the difference is the difference in object. The moral virtues moderate our relation with finite goods. No finite good should be loved beyond its measure. That would be “im-moderate”. Every finite good has a measure, for it is “finite”. Thus, we must approach it as a measured thing. Take pasta as an obvious example. Take tennis. Take good wine. Take a good book. Even my love of you must be measured. I must not will you to be “president” when you have not the aptitude. Even in the order of grace is this so. I will you the infinite good of salvation but in an orderly fashion, for I will you not to be the infinite good but to be united to the infinite good. And I will you to be united to the infinite good in the measure God wills (which, I guess, is more than your cooperation indicates, just as my cooperation does not indicate the measure to which God invites me through his sufficient graces). Thus, I will you a measured participation in the infinite good. I do not will you to be Mary, much less our Lord and Savior Jesus.

But the theological virtues, by contrast, have as their object the All Good and Almighty God. And of course God is the infinite Good itself. Therefore, he is not measured so as to be finite. He is beyond all measure. He is his own measure. If the theological virtues have him as their object, their object is absolutely without measure. They do not strike a mean. They strike infinity. Take faith, for example. It is the virtue whereby we believe that what God reveals is true because of his trustworthy authority. Now, he is infinitely trustworthy. No one ca be said to trust “too much” in God as he reveals. Such a thing is impossible. Take hope. It is the virtue whereby we hope that God will be merciful to me, a sinner and a frail man. Since God is subsistent mercy and love, I cannot hope in him too much. Pile my sins up to heaven if you wish. I cannot hope too much in him. A young girl, beautiful, was murdered by a man who wanted to seduce or rape her. She prayed for him. For years, he was impenitent. Finally, he cracked. He opened his festering wounds to the Savior’s healing eyes. “My sins spoke to me, and I could not hide them. I confessed, and you healed my bones” (paraphrase of a psalm). The Savior cannot resist such confessions. He is helpless before his own tenderness. Thus, this man not only received the healing balm of justifying grace, cleansing him from all mortal sin, but also the grace of a priestly vocation. He was ordained and served the Lord faithfully. Let us consider, finally, charity. This is the virtue whereby we love God with that tender love that springs from his own heart. And we cannot cleave to him too much.

Thus, God wants extremists for Christ. He does not want the lukewarm. Part II to follow.

Tale of Two Collects

From the Breviary of 1961, Annunciation: “It was your will, O God, that your divine Word should become flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary when the Angel made his announcment: grant that your faithful who believe in this divine motherhood may have their prayers heard through Mary’s intercession.”

From the current breviary: “God our Father, your Word became man and was born of the Virgin Mary. May we become more like Jesus Christ, whom we acknowledge as our redeemer, God and man.” (This is the current translation. The Latin is much better: Deus, qui Verbum tuum in útero Vírginis Maríæ veritátem carnis humánæ suscípere voluísti, concéde, quæsumus, ut, qui Redemptórem nostrum Deum et hóminem confitémur, ipsíus étiam divínæ natúræ mereámur esse consórtes.)

Justification Part VII: Is Luther’s Justified Man in a Good Way?

We could ask of the Lutheran conception, just in what way have I been “saved” if being justified and saved means simply, in itself, being “acquitted”? (Of course, Luther does state that there is a concomitant sanctification. We will treat that in another post. It turns out that what he affirms about sanctification is very little. God does not so transform us that we really can act as his sons in a stable manner, that we really can obey his commandments as we ought, and so come to that good vision. But right now, we are focusing on justification itself.)

Just what goods accrue to one who is “declared innocent”? Well, the “punishment” is no longer threatened. That is the sum total of the good. But if the justified sinner (Luther’s expression, which means justified but still mortal sinner) is indeed not interiorly transformed by the justifying decree, just how is “not being punished a boon”? Is the sinner still a person who is torn up inside, choosing to do evil while wanting to do good? Yes, says Luther. Is the sinner still violating the law of God and thus rebuked by his own conscience? Yes, says Luther. Is the sinner still someone who does not lovingly cleave to God in a stable way? Yes, says Luther, for that is the definition of sin. But supposedly the sinner is “not punished”. Now, no one who does not cleave lovingly to God in a stable way can indeed “delight in God”. And “delight in God” is the joy of heaven. Therefore, the justified sinner that Luther gives us is not fit for heaven. He is fit for anything but heaven. Now, I call that punishment. I call not being fit for heaven the same kind of suffering that the damned in hell suffer. (Those in Purgatory – another post to come – await with hope the joyful vision, but the languish in the agony of not seeing their beloved.) Thus, if the sinner is till not ordered within his own house, if his conscience thus rebukes him, if he is not ordered to God lovingly, if he thus cannot delight in the goodness of God for God’s sake, then in what way is he “better off”? I suppose that the “fires” of hell will not touch him. But he seems not to have gotten what all hearts long for – eternal beatitude with God! Thus, I call him still, as such, punished.

Justification Part VI

To sum up last post: Luther strove for what all great saints strove for – the pure love of God for his own sake. A number of fine Luther scholars claim that this search is the bedrock of his entire program (esp. the so-called School of Finnish Luther Research). I agree with this claim. One finds evidence of this esp. in “Freedom of a Christian,” perhaps his most balanced and clearly constructed piece. Also, one finds this in his 1515 commentary on Romans. One also finds this in his Heidelberg Disputation and Leipzig debate, etc. The search for the pure love of God. This is a good foundation.

However, he understand that foundation to mean that every motivation in action other than love of God for his own sake is necessarily sinful. And all sin is mortal.

This addition, this construal of the pure love of God put Luther between a rock and a hard place. For it is obvious that we desire our own happiness. If that desire is incompatible with love of God for his own sake, then we inevitably sin in every work. And he held exactly this. Even the saints sin in every work, he said.

His solution was justification by faith alone. That way, if I am justified simply by God declaring me innocent and not holding me accountable for my sins, both past sins and ever occurring sins, then – Luther thought – I am free. Free to love God gratis. I can give him totally pure love. If, Luther argued, justification did not look like this, if it were still necessary to obey the commandments in order to be saved eternally, then we would only love God for the love of ourselves. We would only love him because we fear punishment. And we fear punishment only because we love ourselves. And love of self is incompatible – again, this is Luther – with love of God. Therefore, whose love for God is motivated by fear of punishment – even in part – is a wicked sinner. So far, Luther.

Let us observe his solution more deeply. He contends that unless we are declared innocent and unless the Law is no longer held against us (at all), we would only do service to God out of self-interest. And all self-interest for Luther is sinful. Therefore, we must first be declared free from the Law. Once so declared we are then able to be generous. Because we rest in the comfort of God’s ever-occurring-acquittal of the sins-we-are-still-committing. If at any moment God no longer declared us acquitted, we would immediately hate God and fear him (which for Luther is the same thing).

Thus, Luther shows that the first and foremost good that must be secured – in justification sola fide – is freedom from Law, freedom from judgment, freedom from punishment. This is the first thing that must happen. It is the foundation sine qua non. The foundation without which nothing else follows. It is the first good we must have secured. If that good is not secured, we cannot and would not pursue any other good.

Evaluation: This solution will not get Luther what he is looking for. Why not? Because it shows that all along what he most prizes is freedom from punishment. God secures that for him, and Luther will give God many good deeds. God doesn’t secure that for him, and Luther will give God nothing but fear and hatred, which are the same thing. Therefore, Luther praises God’s Favor precisely insofar as it secures freedom from punishment. Some citations are in order:


“We would perhaps have disregarded corruption [i.e., our own sin] and been pleased with our evil unless this other evil, which is wrath [i.e., the punishment threatened by divine anger], had refused to indulge our foolishness and had resisted it with terror and the danger of hell and death, so that we have but little peace in our wickedness. Plainly wrath is a greater evil for us than corruption, for we hate punishment more than guilt” (Martin Luther, Against Latomus (LW 32:224 [WA 8.104.17–21]). See the whole discussion (LW 32:223–27 [WA 8.103.35–106.28]).)

My comment: If we hate punishment more than our own actions offensive to God, why? Because punishment is injury to us, and sin is offense against God. And we love ourselves more than we love God. This is just the opposite of what Luther was aiming at, and yet there it is. Also, it is just the opposite of what all the saints proclaim.


“Hence, just as wrath is a greater evil than the corruption of sin, so grace is a greater good than that health of righteousness which we have said comes from faith. Everyone would prefer – if that were possible – to be without the health of righteousness rather than [without] the grace of God, for peace and the remission of sins are properly attributed to the grace of God, while healing from corruption is ascribed to faith” (Martin Luther, Against Latomus (LW 32:227 [WA 8.106.4–20]).)


“But our Diatribe [Luther is speaking of Erasmus’s book against him, Erasmus defending free will], again making no distinction between words of law and of promise, takes this verse of Ezekiel as an expression of the Law, and expounds it thus: ‘I desire not the death of a sinner,’ that is, ‘I do not want him to sin mortally or become a sinner liable to death, but rather that he may turn from his sin, if he has committed any, and so may live.’ For if she did not expound it so, it would not serve her purpose at all. But this means completely throwing overboard the loveliest thing in Ezekiel, ‘I desire not death.’ If that is how in our blindness we wish to read and understand the scriptures, what wonder is it if they are obscure and ambiguous? For he does not say, ‘I desire not the sin of a man,’ but, ‘I desire not the death of a sinner,’ plainly showing that he is speaking of the penalty of sin, which the sinner experiences for his sin, namely, the fear of death. And he lifts up and comforts the sinner from his affliction and despair, so as not to quench the smoking flax and break the bruised reed [Isa. 42:3], but to give hope of pardon and salvation, so that he may rather be converted (by turning to salvation from the penalty of death) and live, that is, be at peace and happy with an untroubled conscience” (Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will (LW 33:136–37 [WA 18.683.28–684.3]).)


Now, one loves freedom from punishment because one loves oneself. Therefore, Luther loves God’s Favor precisely because he loves himself. But that is – as Luther himself states – sin! Thus, the motive to have faith is precisely a sin. Luther really is right, we sin in every good deed, even in the act of faith. But we have not become true lovers of God. If the foundation is ever necessary, we never leave it. Therefore, we build our lives on self-love, not on love of Christ, insofar as we embody Luther’s theology of justification. This is akin to those hypocrites who lived luxuriantly and went to Temple. They imbibed the pleasures of earth, but paid sacrifice to God externally. Hypocrites! The Temple is meant for the restoration of the man, not for his ongoing declaration of forgiveness while he never yet repents and changes. Thus, Lutheran theory of justification is also akin to that which the prophets condemned long ago.

And none of this is what Luther or anyone who likes his theology wants in his best of hearts. Nor is it what we in our best heart should want. The Catholic solution is different.

The Catholic belief is that self-love can be good or bad. Good self-love is the desire for happiness, which God plants in your heart. This is the beginning of the moral life. However, maturity shows that true happiness is the commitment to God in love. Thus, what begins with a kind of self orientation blossoms into an ecstatic love of God for his own sake. That shall be the happiness I was seeking. That is true life.

Further, Catholic belief is that fear of punishment is not evil. It is not a sin. It can be a sin if you love yourself above all things. But just in itself, fearing punishment and pain is not evil. Rather, it motivates a wicked sinner who presently does not love God, to quit his sin, lest he be burned. So it is good for the pre-beginner. Once you convert to God, however, fear of punishment must increasingly take on a decreasing importance! Final maturity is total freedom from fear of punishment (1 Jn). So, the fear of hell is not evil; it is good but not meritorious; it leads to conversion; it provokes the immature along the way to grow quickly; and it disappears in the mature.

Further, Catholic belief is that God gives us the graces we need to fulfill our obligations to him. And these become a sweet yoke of sonship. I want to approach God as Father and love and honor him. Thus, I avoid all ways of evil. (That’s the desire we have as sons.) Sometimes, we do something not quite harmonious with that sonship but not destructive of it. Like an unruly child who gets out of line. That is venial sin. Sometimes, we do something destructive of the relationship. That is mortal sin. However, we can with God’s help avoid all mortal sins and achieve final beatitude. Let us rest on God, who gives us the strength to love him. And without love, even our faith is a noisy gong (1 Cor 13.)

Justification (Part V) – Also, its Relevance for the Synod on the Family

Now that we have laid out some of the basics, we need to dig a little deeper regarding justification. We need to ask the question “Why?” Why did Luther hold what he held? Of course there are many reasons. We can only offer some.

The usual narrative that he presents is that he had tried to do everything right as a Catholic monk. But nothing was good enough. The Law was too much to bear. He fasted, prayed, kept vigil, etc. But he still was sinning. He still did not feel God’s love. Trying to “earn” God’s love was futile. Suddenly, he discovered what he took to be the real meaning of “the righteousness of God”. This sudden experience is referred to as his “tower experience”. It has recently come under question just what and how influential this event was. At any rate, that is the usual narrative. And it rings with many Protestants. They consider that Catholics are guilt-ridden servants of the Law. Whereas God wants free sons who approach him in love.

Another reason for Luther’s position can be found in his own writings. We see, especially in the early Luther (1515-1521) a deep desire to love God for his own sake. He held as ideal a love of God which excluded every motive for his own gain. We see something resembling this (I do not say identical) with the great saints. Thus, this core desire had something deeply correct about it.

And something deeply flawed. Quite flawed. And that is the root of the trouble.

Luther thought that true love of God required the absolute absence of self-interest. Therefore, any motive other than perfect love of God for his own sake spoiled true love of God and was imperfect. And here is the second flaw: Any imperfection in the moral order is sin. And the third flaw: Every sin is a mortal sin. Thus, Luther conceived the law of love as exacting a love practically impossible for mortal man. It echoes of a certain voice long ago, which asked us in Eve, “Did God say that you cannot eat of any of these tasty trees? Is he that kind of a Master? They do look good to eat.”

Confusion concerning the content of the law. This was the root of Luther’s problem. Add to that a pessimistic theory of what man can accomplish, and you get a nearly impossible situation. Thus, it is as though he thought, “The Law is impossible of obedience. There must be some way to God that totally excludes any condition of Law. There must be some way by which God will not issue the Law, or count the Law, or count transgressions. That must be the way. That must be what “righteousness of God” means. It must mean that God will justify us by faith alone and save us by faith alone, regardless of what we do or do not do. Faith is the only criterion. Faith merely as trust in God’s promise. That is all that he requires. And he gives what he requires. Well, then, once God has given us all good, we do not need to labor to get it. What should we do then? Give gratitude to God. We should love him. Love neighbor. And none of this counts for heaven. It is all totally free. It is our pure gift to God. That is how God creates true lovers. If he ignores all their faults, then everything they actually do, they do out of free love. Therefore, God has found his true lovers.” So, Luther.

This was Luther’s solution to the problem he say. It was his “tower” experience. From despair to presumption. I will unpack what this means in the post to come. After that, I will show that how it fails to work on its own terms.

But before closing, we should contrast Luther’s understanding with the Catholic understanding, implicit in the Prayer for the Memorial of St. Patrick today: “O God, Who didst send forth thy Blessed Confessor and Bishop Patrick to preach thy glory among the Gentiles, mercifully grant unto us, for his sake and at his petition, whatsoever Thou commandest us to do, to have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same.” For the conviction of the Church is that God does not command what is impossible to do, since He providentially bestows the sufficient grace for salvation.

Sufficient grace. Sufficient grace. Sufficient grace. For holy, holy, holy is the Lord who works to make man holy. Sufficient grace! This is the ingredient to which the Synod on the Family must pay heed, what it must praise, what it must proclaim to the nations. God gives us his grace! He commands not the impossible. No burden to heavy for him to lift in your heart. For when he lifts this burden, not by denying the burden, denying the Cross but by enabling you to bear it, when he lifts it, the Law of God is fulfilled in us (Rom 8) so that we can now walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh. For life according to the flesh is sin, and the end of sin is eternal death; whereas life according to the Spirit is sanctification, and its end is eternal life (Rom 6). Mortal man has not the power to proclaim that sin is not sin. And mortal man ought not indirectly imply that sin is no longer sin.

What then, about the Synod? Let us not despair of God’s grace! Two roads of despair: a “faith alone” doctrine of justification, and a re-writing of the Law a-la liberalism. Both roads are false. Neither road leads to life. For the roads that lead to perdition are broad, and many choose them. But the road that leads to life is hard, and few find it. But there is one who can enable us to bear his burden sweetly, who addresses us with forgiveness, if we let him enter our hearts. Let us then hope on God. This was John Paul II’s tireless message in Veritatis splendor, par. 112:

“In fact, while the behavioural sciences, like all experimental sciences, develop an empirical and statistical concept of “normality”, faith teaches that this normality itself bears the traces of a fall from man’s original situation — in other words, it is affected by sin. Only Christian faith points out to man the way to return to “the beginning” (cf. Mt 19:8), a way which is often quite different from that of empirical normality. Hence the behavioural sciences, despite the great value of the information which they provide, cannot be considered decisive indications of moral norms. It is the Gospel which reveals the full truth about man and his moral journey, and thus enlightens and admonishes sinners; it proclaims to them God’s mercy, which is constantly at work to preserve them both from despair at their inability fully to know and keep God’s law and from the presumption that they can be saved without merit. God also reminds sinners of the joy of forgiveness, which alone grants the strength to see in the moral law a liberating truth, a grace-filled source of hope, a path of life.”

Deliberately did John Paul II refer to Mt 19. The very text on the abolition of divorce. Divorce is a pure chimera, a phantom of man’s imagination. As is bigamy. Therefore, there can be no recognition of “remarriage” in the face of a first marriage.

Let us follow John Paul’s courageous hope. Be not afraid, ye Christians. O sacred pastors, from whose hands we feed, please, be not afraid. Be not afraid. We all know: Man must not water down the Law, directly or indirectly, so as to save man. Such would be rebellion. (Directly, i.e., presuming to change the Law. Indirectly, i.e., changing crucial practices that announce the Law, crucial practices that indicate an objective compass for the lost, crucial practices that are part and parcel of an embodied existence, crucial practices part and parcel of an incarnational ecomony of salvation, crucial practices the denial of which would be Gnosticism! For by changes of such crucial practices, the Law would cease to be announced; even its opposite would become the impression in the heart of man. By such changes the objective compass would be obscured, and one would readily pronounce innocent those engaging objectively evil acts. Thus would be endorsed a Gnostic Morality: Appearances deceive, the body lies, it is the mind alone that matters, the interior alone that matters.) An indirect change of doctrine would be its own form of presumptuous Pelagianism. For it would be man trying to make it so that man is saved. It would be salvation by the work of merely human hands. But man cannot save man. Only God can save man. Thus, to tinker with the Law, directly or indirectly, bespeaks the presumption that man can save. This is totally false. This would be deception. We must trust not in horses, much less in a Change in the Law.

Is it not a worse thing for man not even to know of the sin he commits than to weep endlessly for mercy from God? Of course, at all times, he can know that sin is sin, for it is of this that his own heart speaks (Rom 1-2; Wis 11-13; Gaudium et spes). Yet, when voices seemingly pious cloud over this delicate speech of conscience, they steer a man astray. They crowd out the solid rule by which conscience acts. For the supreme rule of conscience is not the product of human engineering. It is not the product of some kind of “core energetics” by which I can “retool” the universal law of moral action. (That would be New Age Gnosticism.) The supreme rule springs forth from the Unchanging Being of God and directs man’s mind along the path he should trod.

Yes, sufficient grace is the answer which the Catholic Church herself proclaims through the ages. God has not left us orphans. Let us not think that he would. So, let no one falsely tickle ears with an attempt at an indirect, much less direct, change in Law. For if someone close to us is living by standards of Ba’al, even unknowingly, our answer is not to deny that these standards are Ba’al’s. Our answer is spending the time in ministerial love, the way the good Samaritan did, so that the sick and beaten can make it to the hospital (= Church), receive the anointing balm (= Reconciliation), and thus begin to eat (= Eucharist), and thus begin to recover that vigor ravaged by sin. Let us be servants taking people to the hospital of life. Triage does not mean bypassing objective moral discernment. It means precisely issuing this in the proper order. But in this proper order, we must remember that health is not produced by a declaration of health. For mere declarations, “You are ok; it is not a sin” accomplish nothing but confusion and pain. For if I am lying wounded in the field and told, “You are not wounded,” I wait with my wound and wail. The declaration was false and did not lead to life.

The hospital is the Church and her sacraments. And these are dispensed to “adults”. Even six year old “adults”. Yes. To free human beings. Who make consciously determinate choices. And know of them. Who take responsibility for them, regrettably or no. For our audience is not infants. Our audience is adults. Let us respect them. Let us honor their freedom, their dignity. All the while, let us speak sweetly of the Savior. And not omit his Law. For: No Law, No Savior. “I came not to call the righteous” that is, “not to call those who call themselves or are called by others, falsely, already righteous”. For he came for what Luther called – so rightly! – “real sinners” not “sham sinners”. (I like that line.)  An attempt to change the Law, directly or indirectly, — should we think this through earnestly — would also be deeply offensive to Lutheran – Catholic ecumenical dialogue. For it would represent a strategy of salvation opposite the Incarnation.

All pastoral directives must take their cue from this truth of faith. If we cloud it over by attempting to change law or practice, we tell the sinner, “You are not capable of action. You are infantile. We must protect you from your infancy. Nor does it seem — if we measure you as an instance of a statistical frequency gathered by the sociologists of the day — that God will help you bear that burden. Yes, if you are another instance of a statistic (!), then you will probably never be helped so as to bear your responsibility well. Well, then, … God did not say, “Do not eat of the tree of knowledge.” That was a mis-impression. I am clearing that up for you. Rest. Rest. Rest. You are immaculate.” Manifestly opposite the salutary Angelic Cry: Penance! Penance! Penance! Is this whitewashing of the tombs not the other extreme in the perils opposite the Catholic truth? Yes, justification sola fide is one extreme error. The liberal annihilation of law is the other, and a worse perversion. For this latter is the antithesis of the very foundation of all religion.

On that — Read Newman, Grammar, chap. 10, on Natural Religion. What would Newman call such an attempt? An unholy alliance with religion of civilization, which so-called religion he decried as a banal falsity that utterly perverts man’s most native instincts regarding his well being and future.

Tale of Two Collects

2nd Sunday in Lent. Collect from the 1961 Breviary: “God, you see how weak we are. Guard us within, guard us without; protect our bodies against the dangers of this life and cleanse all dissolute thoughts from our minds.”

From the current breviary, 1st option: “God our Father, help us to hear your Son. Enlighten us with your word, that we may find the way to your glory.” (This is the official translation. The Latin is much better: Deus, qui nobis diléctum Fílium tuum audíre præcepísti, verbo tuo intérius nos páscere dignéris, ut, spiritáli purificáto intúitu, glóriæ tuæ lætémur aspéctu.)

The second option of the current English is also better: “Father of light, in you is found no shadow of change but only the fullness of life and limitless truth. Open our hearts to the voice of your Word and free us from that original darkness that shadows our vision. Restore our sight that we may look upon your Son who calls us to repentance and a change of heart, for he lives and reigns with you for ever and ever.”

Tale of Two Invitatories and Two Collects

From the 1961 Breviary, Invitatory of Seven Sorrows of Mary: “Let us stand by the Cross with Mary the Mother of Jesus; A sword of sorrow pierced her soul.”

From the current Breviary, Our Lady of Sorrows: “Let us adore Christ the Savior of the world, who called his mother to share in his passion.” (This is the official translation of the Latin. Perhaps it could read “Come, let us adore the savior of the world, who united his mother to his passion.” Thus, the current translation misses the invitation “come,” yet places all action on the side of Christ. The Latin: Salvatórem mundi, qui passióni suæ Matrem sociávit, veníte, adorémus.)

From the 1961 Breviary, Collect of Seven Sorrows of Mary: “O God, at Whose suffering the prophecy of Simeon was fulfilled, and a sword of sorrow pierced through the gentle soul of the glorious Virgin and Mother Mary, mercifully grant that we who speak worshipfully of her woes, may obtain the saving purchase of thy suffering” (cited not from the Baronius edition but from Divinum Officium, a most recommendable site.)

From the current Breviary, Our Lady of Sorrows: “Father, as your Son was raised on the cross, his mother Mary stood by him, sharing his sufferings. May your Church be united with Christ and in his suffering and death and so come to share in his rising to new life.” (This is the official translation. It could read, “God, who, when your Son was lifted up on the cross, willed his Mother to stand by and suffer with him, grant that your Church be made to share in the passion of Christ so as to merit to partake in his resurrection.” The Latin:  Deus, qui Fílio tuo in cruce exaltáto compatiéntem Matrem astáre voluísti, da Ecclésiæ tuæ, ut, Christi passiónis cum ipsa consors effécta, eiúsdem resurrectiónis párticeps esse mereátur.)