Monthly Archives: November 2015

Francis Schüssler Fiorenza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did Jesus as Man Know Each of Us?

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

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

From his marvelous encyclical Mystici corporis, art. 75:

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

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

Even the Early Ratzinger Causes One to Lament

Part I.

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

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

Case in point: His Mariology.

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

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

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

Lesson from Pius VI on Bishops’ Need for Courage

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

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


Pope Benedict XIV, Ex Omnibus

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


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

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

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

Lesson from Pius VI on the French Civil Oath

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

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

What is a Pharisee, Today?

What is a Pharisee?

Rorate has a splendid piece on this topic by Roberto de Mattei concerning the topic “What is a Pharisee, Today?”

One acquainted with Christian tradition knows well that Jesus’ condemnation of Pharisees and Scribes and Sadducees, and likewise Paul’s condemnation of Peter, is sometimes abused by those who wish to pervert truth.

Example. Luther understood himself as the contemporary fulfillment of Paul-denouncing and the pope as the contemporary fulfillment of Peter-denounced. If Luther is on the side of Paul and the Gospel, the reader is invited to think, I had best get behind him, lest I become Satan and the Anti-Christ, like Peter.

Now, if Luther had simply been affirming Catholic dogma and Tradition, and rebuking prelates for not practicing these dogmas and not adhering to and living the Gospel as it is communicated in Scripture and Tradition, then he would have been a Reformer in the true sense of the word. That he did draw attention to some evils, and that the popes at the time were a woeful lot by and large, cannot be denied. Thus, materially speaking, there were some “reforming” elements in Luther’s message.

However, no reformer worthy of the name embraces heresy or denounces Tradition or abandons his solemn vows or encourages others to “sin and sin boldly.” But Luther did all of these things. Ergo, he was no reformer. Rather, he was a renegade and a rebel and a usurper, as St. Thomas More rightly stated. (When we are at our best, as we all ought to be, we do not impute his guilt to those indoctrinated in Luther’s errors; here, in fact, we speak boldly since few Catholics speak the truth at all; thus, our words, set in relief by nearly worldwide silence, seem bold; in person, however, and with individuals who embrace these errors, we hope to speak with the kindness of individual touch; and at all times, we hope and pray, out of love, that they make the best of a bag mixed with truth and error and thus eventually make their way towards the fullness of truth; we put ourselves in service of this labor, recognizing our own sinfulness; we do not use our sinfulness as pretext for keeping silence; for, silence is hypocrisy if one is a Christian, an anointed of Christ called to share the Good News.)

Let us consider Jesus’ own denouncements. He proclaims, “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (Mt 23:4, RSV).

What does this mean for us today? Perhaps, the application today is someone who preaches the Law and never the Mercy of God. If there are any who fit this description, they should indeed change.

But change how? Should they add to their truth the disclosure of God’s love and mercy? Should they embrace poor sinners and lead them to Truth? Yes, that would be the path of truth in love. That would be Christ’s own path and the path of all the saints.

Or, rather, should the response be to “unburden” men of the Law itself? Should the response be to wage war on God’s on Law? To change it? Modify it? Defy it? Make an end-run around it? Would the response be to say, with the wicked rebels and Anti-Christs, “Let us burst their bonds asunder and cast their cords from us”? Such rebellion is the work of kings of the world and rulers “who set themselves … and take counsel together, against the Lord and his Christ” (Ps 2).

Insofar as this latter is the path taken by not a few today, it demands, by a law of nature, defense of the Law of God. For the unjust suppression of what is good by bullies demands to be countered. Whereas the one act is a false act, the defense of law is a true act. And this true act must be undertaken. Silence is consent.

That said, one can admit that legitimate defense can become in its execution as disproportionately monotoned as the attack is violent and false.

To rise above this quasi-Hegelian dialectic (note: of truth, though narrowly presented, and falsehood) is difficult. It demands the aforesaid sanctity.

But let us call this war against law for what it is: false and evil. Here, in fact, we find our modern day Pharisees.

The mockery and arrogance of Today’s Pharisees is manifold! First, around the globe, in society and in Church, at home and abroad, in the home and out of the home, they arrogate to themselves the power to annihilate the law, as though they were its creators as well.

Second, in claiming thereby to help poor sinners, they maliciously accuse God of Voluntaristic Tyranny in laying down laws so cruel. In this, they imitate – wittingly or no – Satan himself, who asked, “Did God command that you not eat of any tree at all in this succulent garden? And what with your stomachs, so cavernous and ravenous!”

Third, they justify their unfounded hatred of Law with a distracting, finger-waving, calumnious rebuke against those who uphold the very Law of God. But those who uphold the Law are showing their obedience to God. Since when is obedience to God a thing worthy of rebuke? And indeed, here the Pharisees of today show how false is his side of the dialectic.

For do we not remember our Jewish brothers? Our forefathers in the faith? The Law of God gives delight to the soul! The Law of God, come to fruition in Christ, is no heteronomous burden, no voluntaristic creation of an evil demiurge! (Thus, we see, the Pharisees are but newfangled Manichees. They are anti-semitic in fact. And also anti-man.) When I run from the Law, all my bones ache, my skin shrivels, my tongue cleaves to my mouth, I become as a hind panting in a dry and weary land.

To run from the law is to run from self. To alter the law is to deface man himself.

Therefore, take heed, if you be in God’s Way.

For those who falsify God’s law detract God’s loving will towards men! It is Pelagian to feign to justify men by one’s own legal machinations. It is hypocritical to hide behind lamb’s wool. It is false salvation if it is offered by man and his machinations. It is a false messianism. It is murder of souls!

Repent, whoever is guilty of these things, before you are cast into the eternal fires with all those who, with their tickled ears, ape your barbarous conduct.

What must we do? Unburden the sinner of his heavy sadness by yoking him, not to our lies and misconduct, but to Christ the Truth who sets enslaved men free to offer willing sacrifice to the God of Love, to say with him, “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.” For, although no man will be justified in God’s sight by his own works, nevertheless, “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: Sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Sprit.”

Let us not succumb not to the Satanic hatred of law as though God were evil, nor to the despair that ends in misery, nor to the presumption of those who say that mercy cancels the law, nor, most terrible, to the Satanic war against the very law itself, work of God and light of men. Let us apply the balm of the Law of God’s Holy Spirit, who is Truth and Power.

Gender and Bathrooms: On Losing our Heads

My question: If a woman – or how about your little girl – is ever raped, or even harassed, in a women’s restroom, who would be the proper target for the lawsuit? For example, the Dallas City Council? Or the store or restaurant owner?

Another question: Are straight men allowed to enter the restroom to make sure no other men are there and to stand guard at the door while their wives and little girls use the restroom?

What utter insanity. We need artists to produce hilarious ironic satire in order to keep our heads these days.

Exegesis: On Not Imputing Error to Scripture

If Scripture is the Word of God, and every affirmation of the human author, the secondary and instrumental author, is affirmed by the primary author, God, who neither is deceived nor deceives and who knows all things, then there is not one error in Scripture. In short, as the First Vatican Council teaches, scripture is inspired in all its parts.

This teaching must be taken into account by every Catholic exegete, none of whom therefore may impute to Scripture error. But this does not mean there are no difficulties. Difficulties there are.

Case in point. In Mt 23:35 Jesus mentions the first and last recorded murders in the Hebrew Bible: Abel’s and Zechariah’s. Most Gk texts read “Zechariah, the son of Barachias.”

Now, if we inspect the OT, we see two contenders for the reference. At 2 Chron 24:21f, there is a murdered Zechariah, in fact, the last recorded murder of a righteous man. But the Zechariah called “son of Barachias” is the minor prophet, who is not described as murdered. Did Jesus make a mistake? Did Matthew make a mistake?

What are we to do with this text? Impute error to Jesus and/or Matthew? Not if we follow Catholic exegetical principles. Rather, we are to search for some reasonable explanation. If we find it, we suggest it. If we don’t, we at least withhold ourselves from impiously imputing error to Scripture. Such an impiety is an offense against Almighty God and a crime against the Church and a scandal to poor believers. We are to feed them with bread, not to stone them with impudent and errant academic arrogance.

Now, Aquinas has this wise injunction: Never bring up a difficulty to another’s mind without having ready to hand the tools whereby its resolution may be pursued. Thus, I would not have thrown down this peculiar difficulty without offering some possible resolutions.

I run to two major sources to resolve difficulties. First, I run to Cornelius a Lapide, the greatest Scriptural commentator – without question – in the past 400 years. He commented on nearly every book of the bible, at the Pope’s wise orders. He is a wealth of knowledge. He knows the manuscripts and the fathers and medieval doctors. He knows the languages. He has a systematic mind and not only a historical-textual mind. He cannot be outdone.

What does he say? He reports two opinions, judging one the more probable. The more probable opinion is that indeed the reference is to the murdered Zechariah in 2 Chron 24. Why is he called “son of Barachias”? Well, the term “Barachias” means “blessed of the Lord,” and that Zechariah’s father, Jehoiada, was a holy and kind man, indeed worthy to be called “blessed of the Lord.” So, Jerome suggests that perhaps this is the connection. Why do I slide into the opinion of Jerome? Because a Lapide learns from him! Jerome also notes that the Gospel of Matthew used by the Nazarenes does not have the phrase “son of Barachias” in it. Perhaps, then, some early scribe added this, and mistakenly. For although Scripture itself is inerrant, no manuscript is guaranteed to bear this property. Luke does not have the phrase either.

Thus it is that we offer a few ways of resolving the difficulty, none of which imputes error to Scripture, which towers above us and judges us, not we it.

Another place I run is to “A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture,” ed. Dom. Bernard Orchard et alia, of the year 1953 (Thomas Nelson & Sons). There was a later edition (called A New Catholic Commentary) that am not recommending, as I have not read it and as I have also heard mixed things about it. I recommend precisely the one noted here with all these bibliographical marks. I linked a used copy at Amazon above.

Why do I recommend this? Well, it is more recent than a Lapide and engages discussion of more recent issues. Yet, it remains firmly grounded – for the most part – in authentic Catholic outlook that does not impute error to Scripture. Further, the authors are well trained in systematic theology, though they are full-time biblical theologians. I do not recommend the NJBC because it departs in many ways from these important anchors. Thus, learning from texts such as this (NJBC) requires theological skill and erudition, by which one avoids drinking poison with learning. I say the same about the International Biblical Commentary, some of whose entries are excellent and some downright poisonous. The Ignatius Bible Commentary – perhaps still in progress – is also worthwhile.