Monthly Archives: September 2016

New Book of Essays by Joseph C. Fenton

Christian Washburn has just published a collection of essays by Joseph Clifford Fenton entitled The Church of Christ. I have reviewed this on Amazon and will paste the review here. I highly recommend this book, and anything else by Fenton you can get your hands on.

This collection of essays from one of the greatest American theologians, Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton, makes an urgent and marvelous contribution to the renewal of Catholic theology today. The hermeneutic of rupture has been utterly disastrous. The needed renewal urged by the Second Vatican Council must be pursued once again. The thoughtful, balanced, orthodox, and acute analysis of Msgr. Fenton serves as a prime example of the kind of renewal that was and remains desirable, one in organic continuity with the great tradition, committed to the unchanging dogmas of the Church but open to new insights and corrections in matters purely speculative or hypothetical. Fenton is also clearly a man of prayer, a theologian on his knees yet one who truly practices the rigorous scientific discipline of dogmatic theology. This collection of essays is absolutely essential reading for any serious student of ecclesiology. It will serve as a corrective to the misbegotten attempts at renewal which suffer from an unwillingness to embrace all the unchanging dogmas of faith. It will also invite a return to that thoughtfulness and nuance which in fact informed pre-conciliar theology, a thoughtfulness open to legitimate development.

Fenton also exhibits the knack of getting to the real heart of the matter. For instance, he laments that too often ecclesiologists present the chief difference between Catholic and non-Catholic Churches simply in the fact that the former has the “fullness of truth” whereas the latter have only a “portion,” even if a large one, of that truth. Such a difference does exist, but Fenton rightly stresses that that difference is derivative of a much more fundamental difference, that Christ dwells, as in his One Mystical Body, in the Catholic Church alone, not in any other church.

Anyone familiar with post-conciliar theology will recognize that such an insight is almost completely passed over in silence, inevitably distorting the true portrait of the landscape that the theologian has the duty to depict if a true ecumenism is ever to achieve genuine union. For four decades or more, misinterpretations of the enigmatic phrase “subsists in” (Lumen gentium, art. 8) have thrown us two removes from Fenton’s observation. First, the best theologians have simply contented themselves with the statement “The Catholic Church has the fullness of truth,” as though one can be the Church of Christ in degrees, Protestant communities approaching it to some extent and Orthodox all the more so. This was the first forgetfulness of dogma. Second, numerous theologians went further, claiming that the Catholic Church does not even have the fullness of truth. Or they pass this truth over in silence, as though it is embarrassing to claim too much for the Church. However, scholarship is now on the rise that defends the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church. Washburn is among the protagonists of this good effort, as are Stephen Hiipp, Guy Mansini, et alia. I have attempted to weigh in on this discussion as well. That the Catholic Church (the Universal Church consisting of Rome and all the churches united to Rome) is the only Church of Christ is, in fact, dogma, which no council could ever overturn, nor did any council (Vatican II) overturn it. In order to return back to solid foundation in ecclesiology, one does a great service by reading the likes of Fenton, Journet, et alia. It is not Catholic practice to raise the foundations laid of old and erect new ones out of one’s head or on the basis of one’s own slanted reading of the “origins,” as though organic development, pruned over the centuries, had been a complete abandonment of the Church by Divine Providence, as though one’s own Zeitgeist were the rule of faith.

Washburn’s presentation of Fenton makes one want to read not only the essays in this volume but Fenton’s other essays and books as well.

I would note also that Fenton’s weaving of Scriptural data in his dogmatic (aka, systematic) approach to ecclesiology provides a wonderful model that can be discipled. Due to the excesses of historical criticism, recently revived scholastic practices of theology can tend to shy away from an appropriation of Scriptural data. By contrast, Fenton reads the Scriptures responsibly, in a manner both reasonable and also indebted to the eyes of faith, and thus enables one to appreciate the mystery of the Church in an unexpected manner. For instance, he draws an analogy about the way our Lord is present to the Church today from the very incarnate way he was present to a band of men two millennia ago. This marvelous comparison can be contemplated with perusal of attention and yield considerable fruit. It is neither inimical to nor indebted to historical critical approaches; it transcends them. Indeed, it already anticipates the call of the Second Vatican Council to render Scripture the “soul” of theology (which does not mean that “historical criticism” ought to be its soul.)

Noble Statement Defends Church’s Unchangeable Teachings

I just learned of this noble statement in defense of the Church’s UN-changeable teachings. Cardinal Burke is among its signatories.

As confusion abounds, what is so lamentable is that those who are hoping to see everlasting laws bend are having their wishes granted, so it seems. In fact, these laws cannot bend. They are for the good of persons. The laws are the roadmap towards true and lasting happiness. So, those who are focused only on earthly happiness are rejoicing at the apparent bending of non-bendable laws. They are rejoicing in deception, thinking it is not deception. This is what is most lamentable.

Indeed, we should be angered. Our love for our brothers, who are being confused and abused, should lead us to be angry about this situation. And constructive anger leads to action.

Here, we find a noble effort of defense of the good of marriage and morality. All for the sake of the little ones. Let us abandon the 99 righteous, who already know and love and live their unconfused faith, and seek the 1 unrighteous wanderer, who perhaps will convert if the truth is presented clearly to him and the power to live it is offered.

In fact, it is the opposite. There are many more who are confused and wandering, and few who are unconfused and loving the truth. Thus, we fulfill this parable in a different way in these days of confusion and so-sad wandering, like sheep wandering, according to its true essence.

Here is the link:

Romano Amerio – Part 4

Following our post “Part 3”, we observe Amerio’s astute judgment on the wake of the renunciation of authority:

Renunciation of authority brings with it uncertainty and flux regarding the law. By receding from its own positions, authority denies and contradicts itself, giving rise to a sic et non (yes and no) in which doctrinal certainty and practical stability are lost. The old adage lex dubia non obligat (a doubtful law does not oblige) applied to the situation we have described leads to a failing authority seconding the successive impositions of those who rebel against it, and the rebels thus become the source of law” (Iota Unum, p. 155).


Romano Amerio – Part 3

Romano Amerio’s reflection on the failure of Paul VI to use the papal power is utterly instructive:

The external fact is the disunity of the Church, visible in the disunity of the bishops among themselves, and with the Pope. The internal fact producing it is the renunciation that is, the non-functioning, of papal authority itself, from which the renunciation of all other authority derives (Iota Unum, p. 143).

How did Paul VI renounce his authority? By limiting it to merely directive acts. He taught the truth (Humanae vitae), he warned about errors, he lamented abuses. But he did not reprimand, punish, depose, expel, command. In short, he did not govern.

Failure to govern is failure to wield half of the political power one has been given as pope. Under Paul VI the Church shifted, Amerio claims, from a governing mode to a merely directive mode. Such a shift was highly imprudent. One cannot adequately remove error if one merely repudiates the error itself and not the person causing and expounding the error (p. 145). An analogy from family life will work. If a father merely “instructs” his children but does not put forth the effort to govern, it will very easily happen that his instructions will be disobeyed. Soon after that, his very authority will be disrespected:

“The general effect of a renunciation of authority is to bring authority into disrepute and to lead it to be ignored by those who are subject to it, since a subject cannot hold a higher view of authority than authority holds of itself” (p. 147).

This is a most lucid analysis of the defects of Paul VI’s pontificate. Very serious defects indeed.

It could have been worse.

What if Paul VI not only did not govern but also did not clearly teach, clearly warn, clearly lament? What if with words said in passing, he undermined the very Deposit of Faith? What if with words said in passing, he trespassed against the very revealed discipline of the Church in matters of the reception of Sacraments? (Revealed discipline is not an oxymoron.) What if he not only tolerated but encouraged dissenters by appointing them to the highest ranks, on various synods, to various dicasteries? What if he publicly lauded heretics and renegades and rebels? What if he welcomed to the Vatican those who publicly and scandalously derided the teachings of Holy Mother Church, without any clear rebuke of their error? What if his actions led the average Catholic to question whether or not major teachings and doctrines were within the reach of the papal power to change things?

Granted, Paul VI did not renounce, but reaffirmed, dogma (p. 149). Further, John Paul II began to issue some reprimands (p. 146). However, these reprimands were “feeble” (p. 151). Ratzinger, for example, even withdrew his criticism of the errant acts of the French episcopate, effectively capitulating to their lawlessness.

Worse, “The renunciation of authority is [i.e., as become] not merely a prudent bending of a principle in the light of contemporary circumstances: it has instead itself become a principle” (p. 152).

The result:

“Charity is held to be synonymous with tolerance, indulgence takes precedence over severity, the common good of the ecclesial community is overlooked in the interests of a misused individual liberty, the sensus logicus and the virtue of fortitude proper to the Church are lost. The reality is that the Church ought to preserve and defend the truth with all the means available to a perfect society.” (p. 153).


Outrageous Catholic Sex Ed Requirement in Nashville

If this story from lifesite news is accurate, this is an absolute outrage. A salacious sex-ed program being rammed down the throats of students, stipulated as a requirement for graduation. When will the outrages cease? Discipline gone, confusion abounding, sex abuse cases coming out still, and yet a diocese thinks it can contradict the very clear teachings of John Paul II, which teachings are an iteration of Natural Law and thus ineradicable and non-changing!

Consider Signing:

Faithful Catholic Scholars Resist Dissent

The Cardinal Newman Society has done a marvelous job, spearheaded by Dr. Janet Smith, in defending the infallible teaching of the Magisterium that contraceptive sex is intrinsically evil.

The link to the petition is here:

The list of signatories is here:

Limitations of Liberation Theology – Part II

Observe Gustavo Gutiérrez’s words:

“The prophets announce a kingdom of peace. But peace presupposes the establishment of justice…. It presupposes the defense of the rights of the poor, punishment of the oppressors, a life free from the fear of being enslaved by others, the liberation of the oppressed. Peace, justice, love, and freedom are not private realities; they are not only internal attitudes. They are social realities, implying a historical liberation. A poorly understood spiritualization has often made us forget the human consequences of the eschatological promises and the power to transform unjust social structures which they imply. The elimination of misery and exploitation is a sign of the coming of the Kingdom” (Theology of Liberation, p. 97).

Some comments. First, it is true that if we love God, we must love our neighbor. That we cannot love God if we do not love our neighbor. However, love of God is absolutely primary. The reason we love our neighbor is the love of God, or else we are not loving our neighbor properly. Gutiérrez does not retain this balanced hierarchy. His strategy in fact inverts the hierarchy and eliminates balance. (a) He insists, against the hierarchy, that there must be a “both and”, as though implying that the hierarchy is an “either or”. That is the first false move. (b) He isolates the love of neighbor as though that is primary. His very focus on it makes it primary.

Second, to love is to will the good to someone. The chief good we ought to will to our neighbor is the greatest good, that good for which he was born: Union with God. Now, God is spirit, and the union with him is spiritual. Therefore, the chief good we will for our neighbor, if we truly love him, must be spiritual. To be sure, since we are also animal, our good must also be physical. We are rational animals, so our goods must be not merely “animal goods” but rational: music (the rational movement of sound), humor, just relations, natural sex, etc. Gutiérrez, however, employs his bait and switch tactic again. (a) He insists on a “both and,” both spiritual and physical goods. Here, his insistence is that a focus on the spiritual is false; thus, he flattens the hierarchy. (b) Then, he focuses on the physical goods and social “structures,” thereby effectively casting aside the spiritual or subjugating it to the priority of the physical.

Gutiérrez’s moves are highly dangerous for the soul and for the good of man. For human dignity suggests that the rational goods of contemplation and friendship transcend the entire order of physical goods on the level of animal survival and basic comfort. When we have a distorted view of the whole, we will take any strategy to secure the narrow good we have defined. Such strategies, among the liberationists, include those of Marxist revolution, violence, rebellion, subversion, sedition, etc. Thus, they would throw the world into chaos in order to achieve their illusory notions of true peace.

But our Lord speaks of a peace “not that the world gives, but which I give.” Only when we live from that peace which comes down as a gift from the Father of lights, rightly ordering our passions so that each of us is an icon of peace and right order, can we turn to our neighbor without a distorting vision and a violent or unnatural or aggressive of mistaken hand, and give him what he needs, when he needs it, as he needs it. Only when we live by that gift coming down can our internal justice pour forth into social relations that build up a kingdom of God based not on sociological ideologies but on the truth of Christ’s anointing, bringing brothers into one. James indeed rebukes us for claiming we love God while neglecting our brothers. He also tells us that the origin of wars and injustice is sin, that is, personal sin and injustice. The origin is not “structures” except insofar as these are in turn rooted in personal sin.

If we come trumpeting our “social structures” as the cause of all evil, we will also patronize the victims, mislead them into an erroneous vision of the whole, and bring destruction and ruin on civilization. The real “revolution” is in fact a return to the wellsprings of nature and grace, a return to God the giver of all good things. The Marxist revolution against these wellsprings of course gives the nod to all the western decadence of the sexual perversions in which our society is currently awash. For, having abandoned the truth of God and his worship, we are left to our own dim lights. Our creativity, wrested from the moorings of nature and grace, is un-fruitful vs. fruitful, it is unnatural vs. natural, it is not tender, vs. tender, it leads to brokenness vs. union, death vs. life. Let us return to the God who made us, and who made us, male and female, “very good.”

Romano Amerio

This fine historian laments that fact that for many decades Catholics abandoned the task of apologetics (arguing for the faith) and instead issued apologies (sorry for the faith). That was cheeky. They didn’t apologize for the faith but they did apologize for Church history, again and again, accusing their forefathers, ad nauseam. They blame the recent Church “intransigence” on this history. The reason, it is alleged, that people fail to have faith today is that the Church was intransigent, impersonal, etc., in the past. The Church is not good at convincing others. That is why they are atheists or skeptics.

Amerio does not deny that no atheist has any excuse because of any believer. He simply wants to put a break on a self-demolition of the Church, which bends over backwards to account for all evils in the world because of her own faithfulness to her message. In fact, being a stickler for the message is the sine qua non (that without which) the Church cannot SAVE the world.

“This line of accusation is first and foremost superficial, because it assumes that the efficient and determining cause of one man’s error is to be found in the errors of others. The thesis contains a veiled denial of personal freedom and responsibility. It is also erroneous, because it implies that those who are to blame for others’ errors are themselves the only real agents, the others being simply secondary characters or even mere matter acted upon by the first group or by history. The thesis is also irreligious and generates an idea which is at odds with theological and teleological truths. Consistently applying this accusatory line of thought would lead to belaboring Christ Himself with responsibility for the opposition He met with from men, blaming Him for not having revealed Himself appropriately or sufficiently, for not having entirely dissipated doubts about His divinity, in short, for not having done His duty as savior of the world.” (Iota Unum, 121f).

In decades to come, will not the Church have to apologize for dereliction of duty, for failing to preach the Gospel in season and out? (Of course, not the Church qua Church, but in her members, lay or hierarchical.)

John XXIII’s Pontificate on Sexual Maturity and Candidacy for Ordination

Under John XXIII, the instruction Religiosorum institutio was issued. It regards the selection of candidates for the priesthood. It has some very crucial paragraphs. There are statements issued after this also worthy of note.

  1. A much stricter policy must be followed in admission to perpetual profession and advancement to Sacred Orders. No one should be admitted to perpetual vows or promoted to Sacred Orders unless he has acquired a firm habit of continency and has given in every case consistent proof of habitual chastity over a period of at least one year. If within this year prior to perpetual profession or ordination to Sacred Orders doubt should arise because of new falls, the candidate is to be barred from perpetual profession or Sacred Orders (cf. above, no. 16) unless, as far as profession is concerned, time is available either by common law or by special indult to extend the period for testing chastity and there be question of a candidate who, as was stated above (no. 30, 2) affords good prospects of amendment.
  2. If a student in a minor seminary has sinned gravely against the sixth commandment with a person of the same or the other sex, or has been the occasion of grave scandal in the matter of chastity, he is to be dismissed immediately as stipulated in canon 1371, except if prudent consideration of the act and of the situation of the student by the superiors or confessors should counsel a different policy in an individual case, sc., in the case of a boy who has been seduced and who is gifted with excellent qualities and is truly penitent, or when the sin was an objectively imperfect act.

If a novice or a professed religious who has not yet made perpetual vows should be guilty of the same offense, he is to be sent away from the community or, should the circumstances so demand, he is to be dismissed with due observance of canon 647, § 2, 1°. If a perpetually professed religious is found guilty of any such sin, he is to be perpetually excluded from tonsure and the reception of any further Order. If the case belongs to the external forum, he is to receive a canonical warning unless, as provided for in canons 653 and 668, there be grounds for sending him back to the world (cf. Stat. Gen., art. 34, § 2, 4°).

Lastly, should he be a subdeacon or deacon, then, without prejudice to the above-mentioned directives and if the case should so demand, the superiors should take up with the Holy See the question of his reduction to the lay state.

For these reasons, clerics who in their diocese or religious who in another community have sinned gravely against chastity with another person are not to be admitted with a view to the priesthood, even on a trial basis, unless there be clear evidence of excusing causes or of circumstances which can at least notably diminish responsibility in conscience (Circular Letter of S. C. of the Sacraments, n. 16; Canon Law Digest, 4, p. 314).

Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.

  1. Very special investigation is needed for those students who, although they have hitherto been free of formal sins against chastity, nevertheless suffer from morbid or abnormal sexuality, especially sexual hyperesthesia or an erotic bent of nature, to whom religious celibacy would be a continual act of heroism and a trying martyrdom. For chastity, in so far as it implies abstinence from sexual pleasure, not only becomes very difficult for many people but the very state of celibacy and the consequent loneliness and separation from one’s family becomes so difficult for certain individuals gifted with excessive sensitivity and tenderness, that they are not fit subjects for the religious life. This question should perhaps receive more careful attention from novice masters and superiors of scholasticates than from confessors since such natural tendencies do not come out so clearly in confession as in the common life and daily contact.