Monthly Archives: August 2016

Ratzinger: Who Sows Confusion is Antichrist

As did the great Garrigou-Lagrange, so did Joseph Ratzinger write a book on eschatology. Ratzinger’s book has many strengths, though it has considerable and repeated weaknesses as well.

But among the strengths is his identification of some of the characteristics of the Antichrist. He notes the clear teaching of Scripture that there are many antichrists. He obliquely acknowledges that there is perhaps a crescendo of this at the end of time. (Newman does a much better job drawing all this out in his essay on Antichrist in Discussions and Arguments.) At any rate, he cites from a medieval figure on the character of antichrist. The figure is Gerhoh of Reichersberg. It is a chilling quote:

Everyone who is Christo Filio Dei contrarius (against the Christ, the Son of God) deserves this name…. In other words, anyone who destroys ordo (order) and furthers confusio (confusion) is an antichrist (Ratzinger, Eschatology, 200).

Oh Lord, preserve your faithful in the Truth. Have mercy on us, for we are hungry, scattered, and wanting for direction. Without Truth, we cannot Love aright. In the Name of Love, then, Clarify for us Your Truth.

Garrigou-Lagrange 2

The book I referenced last post, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s Everlasting Life, continues to impress me. Simple, and written to be read widely and by anyone 15 or over, it is profound and accurate. I will be citing from it in the days to come.

Today: The Last Judgment. Each of us is judged at the moment he dies. Either heaven, hell, or purgatory. Why, then, a judgment at the end of time? Why shall Christ come “to judge the living and the dead,” as we confess in the creed?

Among the reasons is the setting to rights all the false impressions people have of other people. Say I grab a gun from the suicide-murderer’s hand and thus get my prints and the blood of the murder and his victims on my skin. Then the police find me. Then the courts charge me with guilt. But it was all false. Likewise, suppose all praise me for this or that pseudo-accomplishment. All speak well of me. Few contradict me. The world embraces me. But it was all false; I am a sham and no man.

Well, the last judgment shall set to rights all these false impressions. Let us read:

“Dead men live in the memory of men on earth and are often judged contrary to truth. Spirits, strong and false, like Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel, are judged as if they were great philosophers. False prophets and heresiarchs, such as Luther and Calvin, are considered by many to be masters of religious thought, whereas great saints and doctors are profoundly ignored” (p. 82).

Indeed, we are living in days when the good is called evil, and the evil is called good. When the truly profound and interesting is disregarded as boring, and the titillating and dangerous is breathed in like air and invited home to one’s bed. Evil days be ours. But let us not fear. For God is near, even at the very door.

Good Old Garrigou-Lagrange

For the past 60 years, people have loved to hate Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange.

Largely, this hatred is based on ignorance. The man’s writings are a marvelous exercising in the full ambit of systematic and spiritual theology. Great erudition, a keen mind, prudent judgment, utter orthodoxy. He is clearly one of the greatest of the twentieth century theologians.

I would like to cite from his book Everlasting Life, a passage that speaks his immense charity. The quotation is so appropriate today, when there is no hope at all of the state supporting religion in a good way. (No imminent hope, that is. There is always hope in God that men’s hearts be converted. And it is precisely to this that GL speaks, conversion of hearts.) Notice how great his love of man is. For each man is a universe, he says. A Universe longing for God:

What will reconvert the world today? Only a constellation of saints can lead the masses back to Christ and the Church. Mere democratic aspirations, as conceived by Lamennais and many others, are not sufficient. There is need of the love of a Vincent de Paul if we would reach the depths of the modern soul. Everlasting life must again become, not a mere word, but an experienced reality (Tan, p. 36).

Amen. Highly recommend this book, which is easily read but whose depths are supported by precise and accurate theological judgment, together with great piety.

Whether to Make a Sign of the Cross at the Penitential Rite in the Novus Ordo?

Some people make a sign of the Cross at the end of the Penitential Rite in the Novus Ordo, when the priest says, “May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to life everlasting.”

I used to do this but have recently stopped doing so. Why?

In the Extraordinary form, the rubrics include a sign of the cross, but at what is clearly and explicitly a prayer of absolution. The priest prays for all, including himself, this prayer of absolution. He makes the sign of cross over us actively; we make it over ourselves receptively.

But the Novus Ordo has no prayer that is clearly and explicitly one of absolution. The EF in fact has both a prayer similar to the Novus Ordo prayer of petition. But the EF adds what the Novus Ordo does not have, an explicit and clear prayer of absolution. The rubrics at this very point call for a sign of the cross.

I have no settled opinion on the issue raised in the title of this post. However, I lean towards no sign of the cross. I do not believe that the rubrics of the Novus Ordo call for a sign of the cross. And I take it that the absence of a clear and explicit prayer of absolution is the absence of absolution. Here, I may be wrong. It may be that the priest is supposed to intend, and thus convey, an absolution with the words he does state. I incline to think he is not supposed to intend and convey this but simply to petition for it.


Amorphis Morality is False

The threats to the Church’s infallible moral teaching — which abound today in erroneous notions of law and justice and judgment and mercy — have precursors in what can only be called classical dissent.

Genuine exercise of Magisterial teaching has its authority not in virtue of the arguments with which it is propounded but simply in virtue of itself. Of course, some teaching is infallible and thus its authority is greater than that which is not infallible. However, even non-infallible teaching calls for religious assent of mind and will. It may be that a sincere expert encounters reasons grounded in the faith or some other certain source not to assent to a non-infallible teaching. This must not be the norm but the exception. Further, one should not limit infallible teachings simply to the extraordinary Magisterium (ex cathedra statements and Ecumenical Councils). The Church teaches infallibly on matters of or pertaining to faith and morals when she teaches the matter “always and everywhere”. This “always and everywhere” is to be taken in the sense of moral unanimity of bishops united with the pope. That intending to have artificially contraceptive intercourse is a grave evil is an example of such a teaching. That the only sexual act that is not a grave evil is that between a married woman and man open to new life — this is another example. These teachings are not up for grabs.

Richard Gula seems to have a different conception of Magisterial authority. He writes:

The great disadvantage of having an institutionalized authority in the church is that, if it does not function well in a cooperative fashion, it can obscure the human character of the process of formulating a moral teaching…. To obscure this process can result in creating an ‘extrinsic’ authority for teachings. ‘Extrinsic’ authority fails to recognize that a teaching is as strong as the thoroughness of the homework which produced it and the cogency of the arguments which support it (Gula, Reason Informed by Faith, p. 154). [Remark: This is an error, not what I propound.]

Note that this is to reduce Magisterial authority to the arguments it propounds in support of its claims. Gula does admit that there is an advantage in having a Magisterium, since it can provide a structure for theological conversation. Further, he claims, the Magisterium can help guide one in the formation of conscience.

Nevertheless, Gula he goes on to describe the way one appropriates magisterial statements on moral issues as follows. So he contends: One should treat the Magisterium as a key conversation partner adding key information, but not as infallible oracle (on those matters presented infallibly in either ordinary or extraordinary ways). However, perhaps one sees that one is not morally capable of adhering to the moral teaching. One is financially strapped and morally weak. If this is the case, one may legitimately, he states, decide not to obey the teaching but to commit what the Magisterium teaches to be sin. He calls this merely prudential judgment (Reason Informed by Faith, pp. 159f). He essentially is grounding the judgment of conscience in the personal estimate of what someone can do. Traditionally, however, conscience was considered the faculty whereby one judges what one must do or not do, in light of God’s Law (natural or revealed) in the concrete.

In particular, Richard Gula reduces moral norms – which the Church teaches apply always and everywhere ­– simply to ideals of the best behavior. That is, he confuses the limitless upward call with the minimal moral demands. He argues that what the Church holds to be the minimal moral demands are in fact the limitless features of the call to perfection. Thus, he exonerates the moral agent who cannot live up to these minimal demands:

“Pastoral moral guidance is the art of the possible. That is to say, it focuses on the person and what that person can do based on his or her capacity of knowledge, freedom, and emotion to appreciate and choose moral values enshrined in moral standards” (Just Ministry [New York: Paulist Press, 2010], p. 231). [Remark: This is an error, not what I propound.]

Gula thus endorses a kind of “gradualism of the law”. Once again, I repeat, Gula does not throw out moral norms all together. However, he changes their character: Instead of being absolute norms that should confront a person’s conscience, if it is well formed, they are simply ideals for which one should strive. So, Gula does not want us to think that a person is guilty simply because he knowingly violates a moral norm. The person is only guilty, Gula contends, if he can obey the norm. It may be, Gula contends, that one cannot obey a moral norm. In such a case, a person who knowingly does the action is not guilty. Gula defends the claim thus:

“This tradition [of the Catholic moral reflection] realizes that ought implies can” (Just Ministry, p. 234). [Remark: This is an error, not what I propound.]

In dogmatic fact, the way that this conditional (if you ought to do X, you can do X) is authoritatively interpreted — and NO ONE MAY BROOK THAT INTERPRETATION, Given that it is infallible and eternal, and thunders anathema against the contradictory — is that because of grace every justified person can obey the moral law. (And every non-justified person is offered grace sufficient for conversion.) Thus, according to Catholic faith, the ought is a given, and the can therefore follows because of grace. Gula reverses this. He claims that the ought will follow only if the can can follow. But he claims that it can happen that the can cannot follow. Further, he suggests that if we are in the situation of being moral guides, we ought to hide the full force of the moral norm from such a person:

“This means that we are not to require a particular obligation in practice, however justifiable it may be theoretically, if the person, for good reason, cannot perform it. While everyone is required to do what he or she can, no one is ever required to do what is beyond his or her reach” (Just Ministry, p. 234). [Remark: This is an error, not what I propound.]

Gula bends conscience around the person’s capacity so that the person will not judge himself guilty when he cannot obey.

Contrast Gula’s stress on “limited possibilities” and “gradualism” and on a conscience adapted to one’s capacities to Paul’s incriminating words in Romans:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God…. Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:19f). [Remark: This is Revealed Truth, which no one may brook.]

On Gula’s analysis, sin is probably not possible. Or very difficult. A Notre Dame prof taught me, “None of us is smart enough to commit mortal sin.” I remember thinking to myself, “What a condescending piece of nonsense!” (At the same time, it’s kind of like getting a back massage after committing mortal sin. You say to yourself, “Not bad. I’ll go sin again.” And this is once again proof that it is the spirit of Antichrist. For the Christ says, “Do not sin again.”)

JPII underscores the severity of the Law. He does not seek to minimize the law, out of a bleeding heart desire to get everyone into heaven through HUMAN efforts. Rather, he points to God’s grace, which enables obedience to the Law of God. JPII in his marevelous Veritatis splendor, art. 102 (citing Trent):

“Even in the most difficult situations man must respect the norm of morality so that he can be obedient to God’s holy commandment and consistent with his own dignity as a person. Certainly, maintaining a harmony between freedom and truth occasionally demands uncommon sacrifices, and must be one at a high price: it can even involve martyrdom…. But temptations can be overcome, sins can be avoided, because together with the commandments the Lord gives us the possibility of keeping them…. Keeping God’s law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible. This is the constant teaching of the Church’s tradition, and was expressed by the Council of Trent: “But no one, however much justified, ought to consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments, nor should he employ that rash statement, forbidden by the Fathers under anathema, that the commandments of God are impossible of observance by one who is justified. For God does not command the impossible, but in commanding he admonishes you to do what you can and to pray for what you cannot and he gives his aid to enable you.”

So, we CAN obey all the Law. Under anathema (pronounced on every last human person on the face of the earth, until the end of all time) must we hold this, no matter who we are.

SO, the Law is NOT A MERE “IDEAL” as some are dangerously saying, unto the real perdition of real people. The bleeding heart of humanism will not save anyone. Only the bleeding heart of Christ, who offered perfect obedience and calls us to be perfectly obedient. From VS, art. 103:

“It would be a very serious error to conclude that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an ‘ideal’ which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a ‘balancing of the goods in question.’ But what are the ‘concrete possibilities of man? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection in Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows form that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit” (citing an address of his own on responsible parenthood, delivered March 1, 1984).

Limitations in Liberation Theology

It goes without saying that poverty and anguish call for mercy and labor. Yet, let it be said. Nonetheless, not all mercy and labor are well ordered. To be effective, mercy must order its labor well. The virtues go together. To fail to love prudently is to fail to love. To fail to be prudent lovingly is to fail to be prudent, since we cannot achieve the end without love. (No one will follow us.)

In preparing for a course this year, I have been reading some Liberation Theology. I’ve read some of the work of a major voice in the movement, Gustavo Gutiérrez (A Theology of Liberation.) I had heard much about him. I had heard that, while his work strays in very crucial ways from the narrow path, nonetheless, there is at least the attempt to hold Christianity in full while developing goals about true progress for the exploited, already on earth, etc. So, I expected to be surprised in a positive way.

Not that there are no positive things in this work. However, I would remark on one particular misfortune of his work. He mentions Sir Thomas More’s Utopia favorably. I sat up in my chair. “Interesting. Let’s keep reading, and stave off this sleepiness.” So I read,

“The guidelines for utopian thought were essentially established by Thomas More’s famous Utopia. Later, the term degenerated until it became common language synonymous with illusion, lack of realism, irrationality. But because today there is emerging a profound aspiration for liberation—or at least there is a clearer consciousness of it—the original meaning of the expression is again gaining currency” (Orbis, 1988)

I’m no scholar of More’s political thought. I’ve got no Straussian decoder ring. But I’ve gathered from people wittier than I that there’s more to More than a superficial reading can harvest. I’ve gathered that there is No Place for a superficial reading of this masterpiece of his youth. In short, U-Topos is no simple goal. Its iron wit draws out the “ick” that ought to factor into our assessments of ideological efforts such as Marxism.

All this is bombast for this: Guttiérez didn’t read More right. His reading totally misses More’s ridicule of eutopian thinking.

That’s why he changed the “good” in “eutopia” to the “non” in “uptopia,” the no place. This is perhaps a nit picky criticism to make. On the other hand, if the goals of the liberation theology movement are by and large distorted by an exaggerated focus on this-worldly-ends then G’s obliviousness to More’s irony here is most lamentable. Indeed, liberation theology is perhaps going to bring the world to the sad state of lunacy one might have gathered by using some common sense, first, by looking at Russia, second, and at the 70’s third.

But perhaps I should not be so harsh on G’s reading. Well, at least I should not put myself above him. I remember a good friend describing to me More’s portrait of the family meal: All the adults eating first, while the children quietly stood at arm’s length, serving the adults obediently and cheerfully, ready to eat only after the adults had achieved a good comfort. I remember biting on the bait, “That sounds great!” My friend went on to comment on what idiocy this was. (Not More, but the portrait of nonsense he depicted, so utterly bereft of common sense and rootedness, so utterly clueless to nature and original sin.)

Thankfully, I saved face by echoing my approbation of that grand vision to myself alone, not to my friend. To him, I only nodded. At the time of this encounter, I had already had a number of kids. To be honest, the vision still sounds great. But it ain’t reality.

“I wish money grew on trees; I wish beer rained from the skies… but it doesn’t” (Paraphrased of course).

Love that is not prudent is not love. Let the world give up its Marxist dreams. Clueless seminarians: Read with sobriety.

Kneeling while Receiving

Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship, has called on Catholics in the Roman Rite to kneel while receiving the Eucharist. His words,

“Where kneeling and genuflection have disappeared from the liturgy, they need to be restored, in particular for our reception of our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion.”

Now, this is not a common practice in Novus Ordo masses. In fact, it is almost non-existent. How to make the transition to kneeling? Is it not odd, strange, disruptive, for someone to kneel when no one else does? Perhaps. It certainly is different. Is there never a sense of self-righteousness by this ‘renovation of return’? Perhaps. But all this is beside the point. It may be odd for us to see at this moment, on account of ingrain habits which we put on but which a revolutionary change imposed in a non-organic way. And the transition may be odd.

Still, there are good reasons to kneel at the consecration. Above all, this is the Most Holy Lord, the Flesh of the Second Person of the Trinity, which we are about to receive. Kneeling is a gesture of worship, discipleship, total commitment, receptivity. It is a marvelous gesture, especially when the Lord of All is about to enter our hearts.

Yes, it is odd, difficult, to go from one common practice to a new one. But to do so in the matter of revolutionary rupture is violent. To do so in the manner of reconciliation and return is not violent. It will be odd to make the transition. First one person, then a few, then more. Eventually, perhaps, many. Finally, the practice of receiving while kneeling may  just return; it may just become common.

Who would have thought? I recall the treachery of certain fellow college students who tweaked the creed constantly, so that it might grown in their own image and likeness. They mocked it as it was. But then, suddenly, the new translation of the liturgy was given us English speakers, and behold: Few mock it. I have never seen it not embraced. Remarkable. In parishes in which no one kneeled at all (all but 10 years ago), now everyone kneels, twice. Remarkable.

Back to receiving while kneeling. In order for this transition to take place, we need heroes of change, good change. Who will be a fool for Christ? Allow himself to be considered rather clownish? Rather self-righteous? Out of place? Clueless? Odd? Perhaps even these judgments will not be entirely 100% mistaken. Nonetheless, and notwithstanding, if it is worth doing, it is worth doing badly. (Or not perfectly, which is really what we are saying.)

THAT person is the one who catalyzes change, who moves history, and in this case… for the better. If he or she does it with great love, firm conviction, and knowledge of the rightness of the practice and the opportuneness of the reconciliation with Tradition, the opportuneness of overthrowing the revolutionary spirit, then that person will be the catalyst for good change. A true agent of reform.

Cardinal Sarah’s text is available here.