Monthly Archives: April 2014

Fourth Letter to Conturbata (Part V)

Dear Conty (Fourth Letter, Part V):

Then, has God left us orphans? No. He has revealed himself through his Son and left us with Holy Mother Church to teach us and feed us. Practically speaking, supernatural revelation and its authoritative interpreter are necessary for us to get straight on what the natural order is. And only then could we be in position to judge what the just requirements of public order are, such that we could rightly govern the exercise of religious freedom. Interesting implication? Yes. DH therefore implies that only if the state publicly recognizes the one true religion can it adequately protect religious freedom!

One last point. Name all the religions on the face of the earth that does not get anything wrong about natural law and that speaks of its substance in detail, not just generically. Of course, we know by faith that the Catholic Church gets it right. If the religion endorses polygamy, no. If it endorses unnatural sex, no. If it endorses the chopping off of hands on account of thievery, no. If it endorses abortion, no. If it endorses divorce and remarriage, no. If it endorses contraception, no. (In every case, “endorse” means “at least condones as not intrinsically evil.”)

I know that the Catholic Church is left standing. I do not know of another religion that is left standing. At any rate, gather the standing religions left, and you’ll have the religions whose practitioners can exercise lawfully their right to religious freedom without infringing on the requirements of public order.


Fourth Letter to Conturbata (Part IV)

Dear Conty (Fourth Letter, Part IV):

And, as long as I am at it, one last point. DH states that the right to religious freedom can be exercised only within due limits. See

These are startling implications of DH 13: “within due limits,” DH 2; “The exercise of this right is not to be impeded provided that just public order be observed,” DH 2; “Provided just public order is observed,” DH 3; “Provided the just demands of public order are observed,” DH 4.

Now, DH 7 spells out the elements of public order. Key among these is “objective moral order.” In  other words, natural law. Thus, both the recognition of the dictates of natural law and adherence to these dictates is integral to the proper exercise of the right to religious freedom.

Key question: Can man, born of the curse of Adam, adequately recognize in detail the dictates of natural law? Answer: Not really. Practically speaking, every attempt to get a clear picture on the natural law, in its details, will fall short of the goal. Every such portrait will be flawed in one way or another. Some will get right the sexual elements: fornication always gravely evil, masturbation is always gravely evil, unnatural sex actions are always gravely evil, etc. The same group may get the dictates concerning usury wrong: All usury is evil. The same with preemptive wars. Can preemptive war be justified by natural law? Not in my opinion, Conty. And I think John Paul and Benedict and Francis would agree with that opinion. I’ll leave that one to experts, but it seems a violation of the principle that you cannot be the first aggressor. (If you ask me about the possible harm we could suffer, I’ll respond that we cannot do evil so that good may come. Better death than sin! While we’re on the topic, our atomic bombing of Japan’s cities was a gross act of terror. It was nothing but murder.) It is very difficult to put all the pieces of natural law together. That is why so many natural law enthusiasts err. They think that a purely rational approach can adequately arrive at a detailed description of the natural law sufficient to direct men aright. In this, they forget that our sinful condition makes it practically impossible to get an accurate description of natural law in details. Is our reason totally corrupt? Of course not. Is it unaffected by the corruption of sin? Of course not.

An analogy is our rational capacity to demonstrate God’s existence. We have sufficient wherewithal, even presently, to demonstrate that God exists. However, few will do this, and even these few will likely err in the attributes of God. For instance, Aristotle presupposes a real relation of God to the world. It is that presupposition that makes him think that the first effect of the Pure Act must be uniform. But it is false that the first effect must be uniform. Aristotle reasons that since Pure Act is not in potency, it does not change its activity. Therefore, the first effect must be uniform. This is to presuppose that the activity of effecting has a real relation to the effect and therefore must be uniform if it is not to involve potency in the agent. But the Christian faith holds that the first effect is not constant. Why not? “In the beginning….” That is, there was a moment of its flux that was its first moment, and this is what we mean by saying “before which” there was no flux, using imaginary time as the “before”. So, even the great Aristotle erred with regard the ultimate maker.

By analogy, we have the rational capacity to work towards knowledge of the natural law. On two levels, on the reflective or theoretical level and on the common sense level. The theoretical level is for the few, and even this is inmixed with errors. The common sense level is for all, and is sufficiently available to render each of us “without excuse” for recognizing the existence of God and for giving him honor. For the man who recognizes God not is “the fool”. And the one who glorifies him not is “without excuse”. Thus, the Bible. We can see that our natural capacity sets us on the road towards the details of natural law. But cashing that out without error is practically impossible for us offspring of Adam. All the more is this difficult because such truths as the natural law’s precepts touch our dear loves in life. It may be we really like our mansions in Maryland or Virginia. It may be we really love our gold in Texas. It may be we really love the movies in Hollywood. And what we take from our loves might be, respectively: Usury helped me build this house, so it cannot be evil; hoarding is provision for my family, so it cannot be evil; sexual license is had by handsome people who seem pleasant enough, so it cannot be wicked, even if “unnatural”. Thus, our dear loves confuse our minds and blind us to these precepts or those, depending.

Hence, just as we practically need revelation to get straight on the truths concerning God, all the more do we practically need revelation to get straight on the moral precepts of natural law. Thus, we cannot adequately establish a society on the basis of natural reasons’s approach to natural law. We need assistance from God’s illumination.

Fourth Letter to Conturbata (Part III)

Dear Conty (Fourth Letter, Part III):

Another of your suggestions was intriguing: “But isn’t this Libertas ecclesiae a thing of the past? Didn’t Vatican II do away with that?” With a sacred right, Conty? That sounds like the hermeneutic of rupture to me. But we should employ a hermeneutic of reform in continuity, as Pope Benedict XVI called for. Thus, what Popes have taught through the ages did not take flight at Vatican II. Even if Vatican II were silent on the matter, silence does not do away with established teaching. You know that, Conty. After all, did Vatican II repeat every dogmatic definition from the past? Of course not.

But as a matter of fact, Art. 13 of Dignitatis humanae spells out the Libertas ecclesiae in detail. It indicates that this freedom pertains, as a matter of supreme importance, to the welfare of a nation. Imagine that. The welfare of a nation depends on the Libertas ecclesiae. Thus, that nation is in an objectively better state which recognizes this liberty than that which does not.

Now things get interesting: What is this liberty? Is it a civic freedom? Not at all. It is sacred. It is not “granted” by Ceasar. It is bestowed by God. And Vatican II is teaching that Ceasar is called to recognize it.

Further, DH proclaims that this liberty is the Foundation of the Church – state relations. Now, if in the American scene we Catholics have not even presented Ceasar with this sacred freedom, we are not presenting Ceasar with that which Vatican II considers foundation for Church – State relations. This is an unfortunate omission. If we misrepresent ourselves to Ceasar, we take a grave risk indeed.

Further, how many churches have this sacred freedom? Well, did Christ establish more than one Church? No, but one. Therefore, this freedom exists in only one Church, the Catholic Church, which is the Church of Christ. He did not promiscuously give a set of divergent claimants this sacred freedom. He gave this freedom to one, organized, visible society.

And how can society recognize this Libertas ecclesiae unless it recognizes which Church is the one true Church?


Fourth Letter to Conturbata (Part II)

Dear Conty (Fourth Letter, Part II):

Conty, you did say in your letter, regarding your memory of this claim, “That is insane. No one will listen to that talk.” Your practical point is important. Will anyone who is not Catholic listen to this? Will even a pious Catholic hear it? I do not deny the difficulty. However, we have to get straight on our compass as Catholics. If we do not know what we believe, as Catholics, we are lost. And if we are lost, the world shall be lost. That is why we must do our homework. Our faith is to believe whatever God speaks in the Deposit of Revelation. This is our faith. If we do not have this, we are not Catholics. That is why we must drink from the Deposit. If there is a massive collective amnesia about this Deposit, we must work to uncover and proclaim the truth we have always believed.

We cannot let the rebel Catholic professors, in their clever distortions and silences, cover under a bushel the Good News. Not one part of the Good News. (Including hell, without the news of which, no news can be that Good News which is ours.) My reply is that this is our faith. Hence, we must accept it. Yes, it is difficult, presently, to communicate this message. That is because large swaths of Catholics don’t know that this is part of our faith. They don’t know this because of the rebellion among professors and religion teachers. But before we learn how to communicate (pastoral theology) we must know what to communicate (academic theology).

Fourth Letter to Conturbata (Part I)

Dear Conty (Fourth Letter, Part I):

You said in your last letter that you hoped Americans persecuted by the unjust stipulations of the HHS mandate would win their legal battle. They are suing for governmental recognition of their civil right to religious freedom. As a matter of practical importance, I share your hope. However, we should also broaden our perspective here. I am thinking, as are you, of the Catholic angle on this issue. Of course, the bravest Americans so far, I think, are the owners of Hobby Lobby. These owners are true Christians in their stance on this matter. But you and I are concerned immediately about the Catholic angle.

Recall that I said that this civil right of religious freedom is not the full freedom that the Church claims and has. The Church claims a much more significant and deeper freedom. It is, let me use the Latin, the Libertas ecclesiae. The Freedom of the Church.

This freedom is in fact sacred, because it is bestowed on the Church directly by Almighty God: Jesus Christ gives his spouse, the Catholic Church, this freedom. Thus, this is a peerless freedom. No other social entity on earth has such freedom. The Libertas ecclesiae is the Church’s freedom to exercise her mission without hindrance from any human authority whatsoever. Thus, no state, no society, no group, no agency, none whatsoever has authority over Holy Mother Church. Rather, Christ preserves his Church so that she might act freely.

Balthasar’s Hope

I posted on Balthasar’s “Hope” that all may be saved a while back. Since then, I ran into this prayer of the Church apropos of this topic whether there is a founded hope that all may be saved.

Collect for Good Friday Office: “O God, from whom Judas received the punishment of his guilt, and the thief the reward of his confession: grant unto us the full fruit of Thy clemency; that even as in His Passion our Lord Jesus Christ gave to each retribution according to his merits, so having cleared away our former guilt, He may bestow on us the grace of his Resurrection, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.”

Third Letter to Conturbata (Part IV)

Dear Conty (Third Letter, Part IV)

Of course, in making that statement – that no existential description is per se incompatible with the state of grace – Rahner took refuge in an utterly wild and Cartesian theory of absolute certainty. For he said that we cannot be absolutely certain of any such describable state. Well, this is right and wrong. If we precise the description, as for instance I did above, the statement is false. For if all the conditions for mortal sin are present, then so is mortal sin! But Rahner is capitalizing on our inability to make such precisions this side of the Beatific Vision. On this score, his statement is technically correct. Only God can be absolutely certain. Only God knows the heart of the individual. Therefore, we the outsiders can be only “morally certain”. That’s true.

Of course, Rahner, it seems to me, doesn’t want us to be morally certain either. For moral certainty leads to pastoral action. For instance, it led John the Baptist to denounce Herod and Herodias. It led Paul to rebuke Peter. It leads the good pastor to denounce the “penitent” whom he is quite sure does not have a “firm purpose of amendment”. It leads the good bishop to refuse to give communion to a public sinner, such as a pro-abort politician. It leads the good priest to refuse to give the Sacred Body of Christ to a divorced and remarried person. Etc. Etc. Etc. All of these are legitimate acts. Indeed, they are just acts, loving acts. Indeed, failure to act in this way is unjust and therefore sinful, unloving. So, if Rahner, as it seems he does, wants to gut all moral certainty in these cases, he is essentially a Catholic anarchist. Trouble, for sure.

So, let’s consider the possibilities with the atheist. If we describe someone insofar as man can see, let’s say we have an intelligent man, who is poised and in control of his passions, kind and respectful in social interactions, and also an atheist. It seems to me that we have someone whom the Bible would call “fool” and whom the Church’s prayer presumes is an idolater. An idolater of what? Of knowledge, perhaps. (A benign atheist who loves learning.) Of pleasure (A polite atheist who really enjoys sex or food.) Of honor, of riches, etc. But there would be some “ultimate good” he is after, and it clearly is not God. But then Rahner comes into the room and says, “You cannot be absolutely certain of this.” Well, yes, if you compare our moral certainty with God’s vision, that is correct. In fact, it may be in fact that the person is mentally deranged with some amazingly rare mental disease, although he is ostensibly very functional in society. Chances are pretty low, however. In other words, it would be a very rare phenomenon. And we don’t “rule” by the exceptions to the rule. That is foolish pastorally.

But “ruling” by the limits set out by this wild exception is just what Rahner seems to want. It is, at any rate, what seems to have happened. By that Trojan horse of a pseudo humility and a pseudo love, Rahner snuck in all sorts of intelligent and functioning actually guilty atheists and presented them to the world as innocent theists, nay, as “Anonymous Christians,” much to everyone’s surprise—especially the atheists. All this is rather convoluted. Too much to describe in one letter. More anon.

But it suffices to say that most publicly decent, intelligent, functional atheists are free people who have made a free intellectual decision and premise their lives on it. And such a decision is necessarily sinful and such lives must be idolatrous. Therefore, the sane (but foolish) atheist, with which the world abounds presently, cannot be saved—unless he be converted. For, at present, his rational act contradicts faith.

Third Letter to Conturbata (Part III)

Dear Conty (Third Letter Part III):

Consider also the Prayer of Holy Mother Church. On Good Friday, she prays for the whole world. One grouping of her intercessions is divided into the varying ways in which people are situated with respect to the one true religion, which is the Catholic Eucharist.

After praying for the Church, her leaders, her faithful, public authorities, catechumens, she prays for those who are not Catholic nor explicitly intending to be Catholic. In her prayer for unbelievers , she beseeches:

“Let us pray also for pagans: that almighty God would remove iniquity from their hearts: that, putting aside their idols, they may be converted to the true and living God and His only Son, Jesus Christ our God and Lord. Almighty and everlasting God, who ever seekest not the death but the life of sinners: mercifully hear our prayer, and deliver them from the worship of idols: and join them to Thy holy Church for the praise and glory of Thy name. Through our Lord Jesus Chris. Amen.”

The prayer bespeaks the mind of the Church. What does this prayer bespeak? It bespeaks that all unbelievers are necessarily idolaters who need conversion.

Thus, Conty, you see that Rahner was precipitous in thinking that Vatican II endorsed his statement that anyone in any describable situation could simultaneously have grace. (What if we were to describe it thus: The man knows adultery is evil, the man is free, the man is awake, the man fully consents to the act? The result is clear: Mortal sin! Thus, such a describable situation is incompatible with the state of grace. Is such a person loved by God? Does God pursue him? Yes, most certainly. But this man has yet to correspond with this pursuit. Mortally so.) If I am not mistaken, you got that statement of Rahner’s from Vol. 16 of his “Theological Invesigations,” in an essay titled “The One Christ”. More about that essay another time, Conty. Well, why not now? For in that same essay, he denies that the Cross of Jesus was the cause of our salvation. (Remarkable denial, don’t you think? From one so esteemed by so m any. How far we have come from sanity.)

Third Letter to Conturbata (Part II)

Dear Conty (Third Letter Part II):

But Conty, you told me that this thesis is contrary to Vatican II. You mentioned Fr. Karl Rahner. You said that he said that there is no existential situation describable such that that situation is incompatible with the state of grace. That was his theory, but he said that Vatican II endorsed it. You asked me whether that was correct.

I think it is false. This is why. In Chap. 2 of Lumen gentium, different relations of persons to the People of God are laid out. Catholics are “incorporated” into this People. Catechumens are, by explicit desire, conjoined to the People. Christians are, by their Baptism, conjoined. Finally, non-Christians who are not catechumens are “ordered” or “related” to the People. This last group the council divides into sub groups. Above all, the Jews are related to the People. Next, the Muslims are related to the People. Next, theists are related. These actually consent to the existence of God. Thus, a theist has an intellectual act that is compatible with supernatural faith. This compatibility is not sufficient for the theist to have faith. However, to have an intellectual act contradictory of the act of faith makes it unintelligible to say that the person simultaneously believes. Thus, some have speculated that a mere theist might in fact be more than a mere theist but actually a supernatural believer. Such like persons “seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation” (LG, 16).

Only at this point does the council turn to atheists and agnostics: “Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is considered by the Church to be a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life,” (LG 16). If we examine this text carefully, we do not see any teaching that the atheist is in the state of grace. Rather, the atheist is the object of God’s assistance. And in the atheist’s search for truth and good, God’s grace is operative. All of this is traditional teaching. All of these helps are offered “that they may at length have life.” So, there is no statement of the atheist being in grace; rather, he is touched by grace. By what kind of grace? There are two kinds: actual and habitual. Habitual grace is a stable gift of grace that resides in the soul over time. Actual grace is a momentary “thought” or “desire” for the true or good. The atheist can have no habitual grace. Why? Because the first habitual grace, foundation for all the rest, is faith. And since he is in contradiction to faith by his natural actions, his habitual natural act of denying God’s existence, he can have no virtue of faith. Thus, he can have no other habitual graces as well. Hence, he is touched by actual graces which are moving him towards his conversion. If he converts, he shall “at length have life.”

Third Letter to Conturbata (Part I)

Dear Conty (Third Letter Part I):

You ask me if an atheist can be saved. Yes, of course. Why? Because he can be converted to faith. He cannot be saved without faith. And not any kind of faith, but supernatural divine faith. And not simply supernatural divine faith, but faith living by charity. Unless a man dies ennobled by sanctifying grace and the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity (1 Cor 13), he is forever cast off from God’s sight. This is our faith, Conty, and no one may withstand it.

As St. Paul says, “Eve if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8f). St. Paul is pointing to the Sacred Tradition. If we reject the Sacred Tradition, let us be anathema.

Therefore, Conty, we should expect no contradiction of the Sacred Tradition. In that Tradition, we find the Scriptures, for these are that portion of the Sacred Tradition that is written in sacred letters through the inspiration of God. And in the Scriptures, we see a description of the act of faith. What does the act of faith involve? “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). Now, is this act compatible with being an atheist? No, it is not. An atheist assents to this proposition: There is no God. Thus, an atheist cannot please God.

Can he be saved? Yes, if he is converted.