Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Thursday, September 30, 2004

A New Donatism? 

The ongoing debacle that I like to call 'CommunionGate' has spurred another round of discussion on St. Blog's. In particular, a fine blog by the name of The Fifth Column has given us a recent commentary, which makes the future of our Church in the United States appear somewhat bleak. There are a few aspects of Steven's commentary, however, with which I would beg to differ, and, with his indulgence, offer some constructive commentary of my own.

First, as regards the canonical dimension of Eucharistic denial, I refer readers to Dr. Edward Peters' fine Canonical Case Study of the denial of communion to pro-abortion politicians. Steven, you see, begins with a relatively sane assumption - that pro-abortion politicians should be denied communion - then leaps the canonical gorge to the grave sanction of excommunication, and then on to nationwide interdict. The well-known canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, as Dr. Peters demonstrates, involves a fairly restrictive aspect of sacramental discipline, and is not a formal, ecclesiastical penal canon. Hence, no other ecclesiastical penalties (e.g., excommunication or interdict) could follow from the application of c. 915, nor would they be justified by this canon. They would involve extensive ecclesiastical and juridical formalities, namely, a formal canonical trial, which would certainly involve recourse to Rome in this case.

Secondly, some theological questions. Steven, in his discussion of sacrilege and communion, seems to confuse what moral theologians refer to as the distinction between formal and material sin. As the Catholic Encyclopedia defines it,

"An action which, as a matter of fact, is contrary to the Divine law but is not known to be such by the agent constitutes a material sin; whereas formal sin is committed when the agent freely transgresses the law as shown him by his conscience."
Thus, the act of cooperating in abortion or sacrilege might well be material sins, or even grave material sins; this does not, for that purpose, render them formal sins. A formal sin is constituted by an individual's being both subjectively aware of the sinfulness of that action, and wilfully intent on carrying out the sinful matter involved in the action.

Steven mistakenly predicates the denial of communion upon the recipient's being in a 'state of grace.' Canon 915, however, does not require this; it requires only that the recipient be in a state of manifest grave sin. Hence, a public official who publicly and deliberately cooperates in the crime of abortion can and ought to be denied the Eucharist, regardless of the state of his soul. One cannot, however, reason from a person's state of grave sin to that person's spiritual condition. Neither the Church's theological teaching nor her canonical judgments permit us to go that route.

When, therefore, we move towards a consideration of a minister's culpability in the crime of sacrilege, we are on dangerous ground. 'Sacrilege,' as defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2120 consists in "profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions, as well as persons, things, or places consecrated to God. Sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us." The footnotes for this paragraph take us to the Code of Canon Law, which reserves the penalty of excommunication only for the cleric who 'throws away' or steals the Eucharist for a sacreligious purpose (c. 1367). No specific canonical penalty is prescribed for other offenses, nor is an ecclesiastical trial mandated.

Certainly, when the Eucharist is received unworthily, a profanation occurs. But the culpability for this act, it seems, would fall squarely on the shoulders of the unworthy communicant (though not, mind you, the responsibility for its occurence, nor the culpability for scandal, which is quite another matter altogether). The minister of the sacrament would only share in this culpability to the extent that he (a) is fully aware, not only that the recipient is in a state of objective sin, but that he is not in a subjective state of grace, and that, as a result, the act which is being carried out is a sacrilege; and (b) fully intends that an act of sacrilege be committed. These are the normal conditions for any formal cooperation with evil to be committed. Otherwise, the cooperation is purely material, making the culpability of the ministerial party quite minimal. And, as can be deduced, the possibility of these conditions being present are virtually nil, in any case.

Hence, Steven's claim that 'every bishop who administers the Eucharist to [public sinners] is committing a grave sin by knowingly participating in the profanation of the Eucharist' falls short of reality (even, again, if it is true that he commits a sin by effecting scandal). The act of participating in sacrilege would not, seemingly, be committed knowingly, nor would the offense necessarily be grave (except in its objective manifestation). His conclusion, that 'that same bishop must also refuse the Eucharist to any consecrated man who administers the sacrament to [John] Kerry' also does not follow. To return to canon 915, the denial of communion requires that the crime on the part of the recipient be (a) manifest, (b) obstinate, and (c) grave, as Dr. Peters demonstrates in the article cited above. While it might certainly be true that a pro-abortion politician falls into this category (and therefore, that the denial of communion is justified), it is not at all clear that the minister who distributes communion in this case falls into this category. For this, it would be required that this bishop (a) publicly flout, not only his willingness to give communion to a public sinner, but the fact that he has in fact done so; (b) absolutely refuse to repent of this action, even when warned by an appropriate authority of the possible sanctions that will follow if he so refuses (in this case, most likely the Holy See); and (c) it would have to be demonstrated that Eucharistic profanation does indeed constitute grave matter (and this does seem to be the case, it seems to me).

But, finally, even if a bishop were, in accordance with c. 915, denied communion by another bishop, this would not per se constitute a cessation of either bishop's communion with the other, or of either bishop's communion with the Catholic Church as a whole. As I have said above, along with Dr. Peters, c. 915 deals with a mere matter of sacramental discipline, and does not involve the formal penal sanctions which would bring about a cessation of formal, ecclesiastical communion. Much less would a formal schism occur. A case in point. The New York times carried a rather shocking article yesterday involving a certain bishop's indictment on charges of child rape. Now, granted that none of us know the credibility of such an accusation (from what I've heard, this bishop would be the last to commit such a heinous action), if one of his fellow bishops were to find grounds for believing it, and to turn the former bishop away from the communion line, we would not for that purpose have a schism in the Church. We would have a simple case of one bishop not giving communion to another. Both would remain bishops, and both would remain in communion with one another and with the Holy See. To state otherwise would be to confuse subjective moral disposition with objective ecclesiastical affiliation.

Thirdly, a problem of methodology. Steven begins his article with the claim that, according to the judgment of the USCCB, 'heresy is diocese-specific.' He goes on, however, to discuss the crimes of abortion and sacrilege. I fail to see, in either case, where formal heresy is involved. Both of these are moral crimes, not heresy, which involves a public and obstinate denial of a tenet of the Church's faith. Now, this is more than a mere quibble with terminology. The problem of heresy is a very grave one. If a bishop were, Lord forbid, to involve himself in formal heresy, we would indeed be in grave straits. Not that a bishop's commission of grave sin (even if that were proven to my satisfaction, which it has not) is any less serious, but it certainly carries less weight in the canonical-juridical sphere. We would, in the former case, have solid grounds for the highest level of disciplinary action, if not penal sanction. Schism would be a sobering possibility. I have to say, I sweated when I began reading this article, fearful that formal heresy had been committed by one of our shepherds. When I realized that what we had on hand was a matter of sinful shepherds, I heaved a sigh of relief. Sinful shepherds, my friend, are nothing new; as Steven himself cited, in the English Rebellion, all of England's shepherds save one bowed to Henry and severed ties with Rome. Concluding that we are in the end times, that the apocalypse is upon us, as some in St. Blog's are wont to do, does not to me seem justified. Rather, it seems somewhat historically short-sighted.

What I fear, among the faithful in our modern Church, is a tendency towards what I call a 'New Donatism.' The Donatists, of course, were a fourth-century North African separatist movement defined by a rigorist morality and a narrow ecclesiology. When a bishop who had apostasized during the Diocletian persecution - and subsequently repented - involved himself in subsequent ordinations, a pocket of his fellow bishops protested, insisting that the act of apostasy represented a moral impediment to the juridical validity of sacramental action. Though few today would be guilty of Donatist sacramentology, more than a few, in my opinion, are in danger of falling into a Donatist ecclesiology, or rather, a Donatist manner of 'thinking about Church.' For the Donatists, in the end, the sinfulness of clergy constitute an obstacle to the realization of Church. The Donatist Church was a static reality, shuttered and unyielding, a martyr Church whose moral brilliance was only outshone by her refusal to brook sinners within her midst. Yet, paradoxically, the holiness of the Donatist Church was rendered unstable and feeble, since even the moral taints of a handful of clergy were enough to stain it.

It was, then, the Church of St. Augustine which became our inheritance. This Church bears a holiness which bears a cosmic and metaphysical stability, a holiness so sure that the willful rebellion of its members - even its highest members - can do nothing to shake. For the holiness of the Church itself is merely the 'shadow' of a higher holiness, that of Christ and the heavenly city; it is from this city that the supra-natural potency of the Church's rites springs. And it is not enough that these rites are administered by holy men; rather, it is they that make men holy. And it is by making men holy, not merely by containing holy men, that the Church gathers the inheritance of the nations to her bosom.

This is not to say we must lapse into a laxist morality, or even that we must lower our expectations of our Church's clergy. It is rather to say that, above all else, we must never lose sight of that queen of virtues, the fraternal bond of charity, which is exactly the bond of unity which binds us together as a Church. It is against this charity that the Donatists sinned, when they determined to violate the Church's unity to entering into schism, however worthy or unworthy their doctrinal or moral motivations:

"On the question of baptism, then, . . . and since this is a most manifest schism which is called by the name of the Donatists, it only remains that on the subject of baptism we should believe with pious faith what the universal Church maintains, apart from the sacrilege of schism. And yet, if within the Church different men still held different opinions on the point, without meanwhile violating peace, then till some one clear and simple decree should have been passed by an universal Council, it would have been right for the charity which seeks for unity to throw a veil over the error of human infirmity, as it is written 'For charity shall cover the multitude of sins.' For, seeing that its absence causes the presence of all other things to be of no avail, we may well suppose that in its presence there is found pardon for the absence of some missing things" (De Baptismo Contra Dontatistas, 1.18.27).

# posted by Jamie : 3:17 PM


Various pieces, as I attempt to catch up with six days of news:

The National Catholic Register caps off its series on the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae in American Catholic Universities with Tim Drake's 'Decades-Long Cover-Up?'

Catholic World News features 'Politics and Communion,' an article by Bishop Rene H. Gracida of Corpus Christi, which includes a 'case history' of the denial of communion to a dissident politician.

The Guardian Unlimited features a piece on the Catholicism of Tony Blair. As noted in the article, Blair regularly attends mass with his [Catholic] wife and children, and has received communion in a private mass with the Pope himself, leading the Guardian to conclude that he is a closet Catholic. Cardinal Hume, however, allegedly warned Blair not to receive communion; this could either contradict the Guardian's theory, or it could simply point to his ideological inconsistencies with Catholic teaching. Either way, a fascinating question.

# posted by Jamie : 10:57 AM


Thursday, September 23, 2004


Well, everyone. I'm off to Alaska for five days for various and sundry meetings. I'll be back on Wednesday, the 29th of September. Everyone stay cool 'til then.

Oh, and, uh...
Did I mention my wife's pregnant? Just found out last week number two's on the way. Please send prayers and oblations for wife and baby!

# posted by Jamie : 4:25 PM


On Prayer 

The question of prayer - more precisely, of the value of prayer - is one of the most mystifying (and sometimes irksome) questions raised by our religion. In most cases, when we turn to God in prayer, it is because we lack some perceived good, which might be gained from God by petition. This good may be petty or exalted; regardless, so long as it is a genuine good, we are not be accused of selfishness. We were made to desire goods, and no doubt God uses this desire as a means of bringing us more frequently to prayer. Even times of great suffering can thereby become times of great prayer, and hence prove useful for our sanctification.

But this raises a bigger question. Does the profit of prayer lie primarily in the good we may receive in answer to it, or does it lie rather in the act of prayer itself?

Origen of Alexandria, in his treatise On Prayer, opts for the latter. In fact, the entire treatise can be seen as an argument for looking at prayer primarily in terms of the act itself, rather than in the ends it seeks to accomplish. The act of prayer brings about a certain disposition on the part of man, and this disposition, for Origen, is at the very heart of religion.
Even though further benefit than this be supposed to accrue to him who has composed his thoughts for prayer, no ordinary gain is to be conceived as gotten by one who has devoutly disposed himself in the season of prayer. When this is regularly practiced, how many sins it keeps us from, and how many achievements it brings us to, is known only to those who have given themselves up with some degree of constancy to prayer.
The act of prayer unites man to God, or rather, re-unites Him to the God whence he has come, laying bare the image of God before the Archetype of that Image, the image which otherwise has become tarnished and soiled from misuse. Man participates in the Divine by his very nature and being, and yet he recoils from this participation inasmuch as he immerses himself in worldly cares and preoccupations. By recollecting himself in prayer, and lifting his mind upward in contemplation of God, this participation is rekindled, and the divine image in him blazes forth.
That benefit accrues to him who prays rightly or according to his ability strives to do so, follows, I consider, in many ways: It is, first of all, surely in every sense a spiritual advantage to him who is intent upon prayer, in the very composure of prayer to present himself to God and in His presence to speak to Him with a vivid sense that he looks on and is present. For just as certain mental images and particular recollections connected with the objects recollected may sully the thoughts suggested by certain other images, in the same way we may believe that it is advantageous to remember God as the object of our faith—the One who discerns the movements within the inner sanctuary of the soul as it disposes itself to please the Examiner of Hearts and Inquisitor of [Minds] as One who is present and beholds and penetrates into every mind.
This disposition in man's heart, which occurs the moment he inclines his mind to prayer, is profitable apart from any potential 'answer' he may receive for his petitions. In fact, the answering of his petitions may even prove detrimental, if, in the satisfaction of his desire, he ceases to pray and focuses his attention on the object of his desire.
For if the recollection and recontemplation of a man who has found fame and benefit in wisdom incites us to evaluate him and sometimes restrains our lower impulses, how much more does the recollection of God the Father of All, along with prayer to Him, become advantageous to those who are persuaded that they stand before and speak to a present and hearing God!
Certainly, Origen's is not the 'last word' on prayer. Much good can also be said of the answers received to worthy prayers, especially those prayers for spiritual and virtuous goods. Without prayer we could gain no spiritual goods at all, since these come from divine grace rather than from human industry. But Origen's words are an urgent reminder, that whenever we turn to God in prayer, we do not set our hearts exclusively upon our prayers being answered, and thereby neglect the value which comes to us from the act of prayer itself.

# posted by Jamie : 8:50 AM


My favorite Padre Pio story:

"In 1946, an American family went from Philadelphia to Saint Giovanni Rotondo in order to thank Padre Pio. In fact, their son, a bombardier plane pilot (during World War II), had been saved by Padre Pio in the sky over the Pacific Ocean. The son explained; 'the airplane was flying near the airport on the island where it was going to land after it had loaded its bombs. However, the airplane was struck by a Japanese attack plane. The aircraft exploded before the rest of the crew had the chance to parachute. Only I succeeded in going out of the airplane. I don't know how I did it. I tried to open the parachute, but I didn't succeed. I would have smashed to the ground if I had not received a friar's help who had appeared in midair. He had a white beard. He took me in his arms and put me sweetly at the entrance of the base. You can imagine the astonishment inspired by my story. Nobody could believe it, but given my presence there, they had no choice. I recognized the friar who saved my life some days later while on home leave, I saw the monk in one of my mother's pictures. She told me she had asked Padre Pio to look after me.'"

# posted by Jamie : 8:16 AM


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Since I'm going to be pretty inactive most of the day, I'll put a plug in for St. Blog's Parish Hall, a great place for discussion and donuts. Except you have to pretend about the donuts.

# posted by Jamie : 1:54 PM


Hudson Takes Another Hit 

Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis magazine and, until recently, a top Bush political adviser on outreach to Roman Catholics, will resign from the magazine at the end of the year after five of his most influential columnists pressured the board to get rid of him.

(Source, from AMDG.)

# posted by Jamie : 9:06 AM


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The University of Sacramento, run by the Legionaries of Christ, just put up its website. (From El Camino Real.)

# posted by Jamie : 11:17 AM


Why I love EWTN 

A reader asks:

"[I]n my Catholic Study Bible (New American Bible), which I was required to buy for a class, it says, in regard to Matthew 16:21-23, "Neither this nor the two later passion predictions can be taken as sayings that, as they stand, go back to Jesus himself. However, it is probable that he forsaw that his mission would entail suffering and perhaps death, but was confident that he would ultimately be vindicated by God." Father, is this really what the Catholic Church teaches? This Bible has an Imprimatur's approval and, on the back, a reccomendation by a Cardinal (Joseph Bernardin), . . ."

The good father answers:
That statement is heretical, at face value, and contrary to the explicit statement of even the most recent Council, Vatican II, which affirms the historicity of the Gospels.

I am so pleased that you have become Catholic and regret deeply that you and lifelong Catholics are subject to such lies.

Hang in there, Matt, and stay with solid sources,

Father Echert
(From Old Oligarch).

# posted by Jamie : 10:22 AM


Rite of Blessing for Automobiles 

Well, I've got my POD fix for the week. Just participated in my first ever Rite of Blessing for Automobiles. More extensive and involved liturgy than you would think. POD-factor enhanced by participation of two priests and a deacon, fully vested and armed with aspergillum, with curious bystanders passing by looking very confused/concerned. Not quite the Rite of Full Immersion noted by Fr. Sibley, but quite impressive in its own right. Another one of those things which make me happy to be Catholic.

# posted by Jamie : 10:06 AM


The Ave Maria Implosion Continues... 

As the Dean sues his own college. I got a thrill out of seeing that the Dean is my former professor, Fr. Neil J. Roy, at the forefront of the 'Rebel Alliance' vs. Monaghan:

The Rev. Neil J. Roy, a member of the board himself, filed suit Sept. 8 in Washtenaw County Circuit Court, claiming that Monaghan and the board are unfairly transferring the school's assets to Ave Maria University, which operates from temporary quarters in Naples, Fla.

"As a Catholic educational institution, Ave Maria College fulfills a critical need for a spiritually based institution of higher education in Michigan," Roy said. "Our goal is to negotiate an agreement to keep Ave Maria in Michigan in its current form or a new form."

Roy is a good man. Those who know him can have no doubt as to his integrity. But it breaks my heart to see such a good institution go down in flames. (From Open Book.)

# posted by Jamie : 8:06 AM


Monday, September 20, 2004

The Vatican Replies 

Since I'm up to my ears in paperwork today, here's my post to CKW yesterday:

The postcript of the famous (or infamous) 'Ratzinger memo' sent this June by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of the CDF to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick has been the subject of endless media spin in the last two weeks, eventually plunging to the nadir of Fr. Andrew Greeley's "Catholics Can Vote for Kerry!" article in the New York Daily News. Catholic Kerry Watch has managed to keep up, more or less, with the train of events thus far.

A new wrinkle in the story occurred today, when the CDF itself - Ratzinger's office - made a statement on the letter and its media fallout. Fr. Augustine T. DiNoia, undersecretary to Cardinal Ratzinger, spoke to representatives of CNS news, in an article published this morning:

"The memo was certainly not intended to clear the way for Catholics to vote for candidates who are in favor of laws permitting abortion or euthanasia, but rather to clarify that the simple act of voting for such candidates might not per se justify one's exclusion from Holy Communion," said [DiNoia].

After a helpful discussion of the theological principles of cooperation with evil - material and formal - Fr. DiNoia spoke directly to the situation of 'proportionate reasons':

The recent doctrinal memo's mention of "proportionate reasons" has led some people to suggest a set of reasons that could justify voting for pro-abortion politicians -- or to argue that no "proportionate reason" can exist in such a case. Father DiNoia said one obvious proportionate reason would be when, as often occurs, Catholic voters must choose between two candidates who support legalized abortion but to widely differing degrees. In that situation, not to vote at all would seem to go against a Christian's responsibility to participate politically.

While this statement certainly does not allow an absolute prohibition against voting for 'pro-choice' politicians, neither does it grant unrestricted liberty to do so, with apologies to Father Greeley. DiNoia rightly points back to the contents of the memo itself, forbidding us to take its postscript in isolation. The memo clearly states that the issues of abortion and euthanasia carry greater 'weight' than other moral issues, and that there can be no 'legitimate diversity' regarding them. To unjustly 'flatten' the spectrum of moral issues involved, as Father Greely would have us do, does not do justice to the very question of proportionality which he would have us respect. It is telling, I think, that the only scenario Fr. DiNoia proposes is one in which a pro-choice politician is contrasted with another pro-choice politician. As Jimmy Akin proposes,

"[A] pro-abort president would be responsible for extending the abortion holocaust to include approximately nine million Americans. No other issue involves numbers that high. Nothing short of a full-scale nuclear or biological war between well-armed nation states would kill that many people, and we aren't in imminent danger of having one of those."

It is difficult to imagine another issue or scenario which could successfully stand up to the death of nine million Americans through legal abortion. Except, perhaps, the death of eight million Americans due to a slightly less pro-abort president. This is not to say, of course, that other scenarios, which might collectively carry this much 'weight' are de facto impossible. Even Fr. DiNoia admits defining these scenarios is 'extremely difficult.' is An active imagination could come up with plenty of scenarios, especially with some help from some hyper-paranoid documentaries in our theatres. But when it comes time to approach the polls, it's time to put a clamp on your imagination and deal with real life.

# posted by Jamie : 3:40 PM


Friday, September 17, 2004

Various Items 

Thus for a Catholic citizen to vote for a candidate who supports abortion and embryo-destructive research, one of the following circumstances would have to obtain: either (a) both candidates would have to be in favor of embryo killing on roughly an equal scale or (b) the candidate with the superior position on abortion and embryo-destructive research would have to be a supporter of objective evils of a gravity and magnitude beyond that of 1.3 million yearly abortions plus the killing that would take place if public funds were made available for embryo-destructive research.

Frankly, it is hard to imagine circumstance (b) in a society such as ours. No candidate advocating the removal of legal protection against killing for any vulnerable group of innocent people other than unborn children would have a chance of winning a major office in our country. Even those who support the death penalty for first-degree murderers are not advocating policies that result in more than a million killings annually.

What must Catholics do - in this upcoming General Election, and in all elections of law-makers and law-upholders? The Church holds her members to acceptance, complete acceptance of her teaching on matters of faith and morals. We can argue incessantly about degrees of authority, and types of authoritative statement. But the Church's teaching is to be held and practiced.

CARDINAL Joseph Ratzinger, the Catholic Church's doctrinal tsar, is generally spoken well of around the water coolers of the Vatican, and not just out of fear of the legendary Panzer-kardinal. It is also because Ratzinger is seen as personally gracious and modest, someone who does not go out of his way to build empires, or to involve himself in other people's business.

In later reflection on the war and Nazism, many German theologians of Ratzinger's generation, such as the famed moralist Bernard Haring, saw the dangers of blind obedience as its central lesson, fuelling a reform streak in German Catholicism. Ratzinger, however, drew a different conclusion. Only a Church with a strong central authority and rock-solid doctrinal verities, he concluded, can withstand a hostile state or culture. This conviction - one he shares with Pope John Paul II - has informed much of his later Vatican career.

All stories thanks to Open Book.

# posted by Jamie : 1:37 PM


Fr. Jim Tucker on the Arlington Diocese's new system of background checks for volunteers. He has some important concerns, especially involving the understandeable reluctance of hardworking Hispanic volunteers of questionable immigration status to submit to such a system.
Another practical problem, of course, is the general reluctance of any volunteer to submit to this kind of rigamarole in order to freely give up his time and energies to serve the Church and community. My wife has just been asked by our parish priest to teach CCD this coming year, that is, to teach CCD while simultaneously taking care of our one-year-old. No easy task, but it doesn't help that, in order to do so, she will also have to spend a whole day filling out forms, stamping her fingerprints, standing in line, having her entire background scrutinized, and answering, in multitudinous forms and variations, the question of whether or not she is a paedophile.

# posted by Jamie : 1:10 PM


El Camino Real dissects the platform of the 'True Christian (tm) Party,' otherwise known as the Constitutional Party. Some of his concerns mirror my own, that is, the disconcerting tendency of many right-leaning Christians to identify particular secular agendas (e.g., freezing Congressional salaries, national isolationism, etc.) far too easily with the Gospel of Christ. Perhaps this is why it's generally a bad idea to have 'Christian parties.' While it sounds good in theory, it always ends up collapsing the legitimate boundaries between secular and religious concerns in practice.

# posted by Jamie : 11:01 AM



I always wondered where Father Fessio's brainchild, Campion College, would end up. Turns out they were right under my nose in DC. Although it's sort of a patchwork job administratively, and only a two-year program, I'll bet it's a great project. Their website drops some of the biggest names in orthodox Catholic education. And the curriculum makes me want to go back to school.

# posted by Jamie : 9:53 AM


Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? 

The Pontificator is titillating the inner recesses of my brain again.

To me, this question appears to answer itself. There is only one God. Therefore, two people who worship Him, are for that reason worshipping the same God. The answer could be otherwise only if there were more than one God.

Okay, I know that answer is simplistic. It depends, essentially, on what is meant by God. I would define the term primarily in terms of aseity, as our tradition has always done: 'that which nothing greater can be conceived' (Anselm) or 'that whose existence constitutes its essence' (Aquinas). Of course, one does not need to understand, or even to be explicitly aware of, such high-blown technical concepts in order to worship God. But one must at least grasp them in a very implicit, interior manner - e.g., one must know that the Being one is worshipping is not of this world, or at least, is not identifiable with anything in it.

One cannot, then, define God in terms of any of His dealings with creation. Msgr. Sokolowski has the best presentation of this in his The God of Faith and Reason. Aquinas, however, formulated it most definitively. God has no inherent 'relation' to creation at all, since He is utterly independent of it, and it has no existence apart from Him. Any 'relation' He may have (and this He certainly does!) is completely gratuitious, arising purely from an act of His will which might not have been. This means that God is defined neither by creation nor by 'recreation,' i.e. by the Incarnation of His Son to redeem the world. To make either creation or redemption constitutive of the divine essence is to make that act obligatory upon God, and hence to deny its gratuity.

"Jesus Christ is constitutive of God."

Hmm. I think, again, it depends what you mean by 'constitutive.' If it simply means that Jesus Christ is God, that God is fully manifested in Jesus in a definitive and unsurpassable manner, then, of course, it is true. But this is not normally what we mean by 'constitutive.' In the normal meaning of that word, this statement would imply that the divine essence somehow requires the manifestation of Jesus Christ, in order to be true to itself. And that is simply not true. The statement seems to confuse relation with mission, in technical language. The divine Son, certainly, is constitutive of God (though not uniquely so), but the Incarnation of this Son in human flesh is not constitutive in this way. Temporal missions of the eternal persons, by definition, are not constitutive of the divine essence.

Now, to get back to the question. Given that there is only one God, that He is defined essentially by His aseity, or His fundamental and ontological distinction from what He has created, and that the temporal missions of the persons are not constitutive of the divine essence, I think that the 'bar is dropped' somewhat, to be crude, as to the requirements for addressing oneself to this God. Certainly, the questions of whose prayer will be heard and answered, and in particular, to whom divine salvation will be granted, are entirely different questions. But it seems to me that the only persons whose 'prayer' (loosely speaking) would not be addressed to God at all would be those whose conception of the divine being compromised His simplicity by introducing some admixture with creation. In layman's terms, idolaters. This might include, in the broad sweep of world religions, animists, nature-worshippers, pantheists, or any cult which identified the deity with a statue or inanimate object. Certainly not Muslims.

Then again, my last Trinitarian theology class was a couple years back. Any help in advancing the discussion would be appreciated.

# posted by Jamie : 8:43 AM


Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Pontificator is back 

And he's got some good stuff. This one on the Immaculate Conception in the Eastern Tradition.

Naughty Augustine. All your fault.

# posted by Jamie : 1:09 PM


"Listening to Gregorian Chant."

--another unnamed seminarian, on what was most influential in helping him to discern a vocation to the priesthood.

I love the idea of a young man receiving a call to the priesthood through Gregorian Chant. It's the aesthete in me. I'm newly converted to Chant myself. I've put some links to Chant websites in my 'Liturgy' sidebar, and my own computer is perpetually tuned into 'Gregorian Chant Radio' (not really 'radio' per se, but they do have good selections).
It bears reminding, to the uninitiated, that Gregorian Chant is what Vatican II had in mind when it spoke of a renewal of sacred music in the liturgy. Not, i.e., Marty Haugen:
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services (SC 116).
So next time your parish liturgist starts talking about implementing Vatican II in the liturgy, just ask her (a) where the choir should go, (b) which chants she'd like sung, and (c) whether she'd like the Gather Hymnals ceremonially burned or simply thrown out the window.

# posted by Jamie : 10:55 AM


St. Cyprian and the Sad Legacy of Sanctity 

Today the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Cyprian of Carthage. This saint probably has very different connotations for me than anyone else, being as I spend most of my life between the pages of an Augustinian Vitae. To me, the name of Cyprian brings to mind two things - schism and heresy. Not, of course, that St. Cyprian could ever be considered guilty of either charge; no one plead more urgently than he for the unity of the Church, or defended her faith more valiantly. These charges belong, however, to those who unlawfully seized upon St. Cyprian's legacy after his untimely death. I'm speaking, of course, of the Donatists, those abrasive African secessionists, who touted the works of Cyprian and fought in his name. In the late fourth-century Africa into which Augustine was born, the name of Cyprian practically verberated with ideological and national potency. Think of Our Lady of Guadalupe for nineteenth-century Mexicans. This famed martyr-bishop left in his wake not only a reputation for sanctity, but a rallying cry for the unstained purity of the Catholic Church to shine forth against the filthy backdrop of the aging world. For the Donatists, this meant a brutal intolerance for relapsed sinners, an utter disdain for any cooperation with secular governance, and a skewed and moralistic outlook on sacramental grace.

Appointed bishop in a milieu where the legacy of Africa's greatest saint had been coopted for the cause of schism and heresy, St. Augustine could hardly sit idly by. The former half of his career as bishop was devoted to rescuing St. Cyprian's legacy, restoring it to its place in the fold of Catholic unity. Book II of his De baptismo, for example, is dedicated wholly to this subject. St. Cyprian, as St. Augustine proves, if could live to see this day, could never sanction the schismatic dissension of the Donatist party; on the contrary, he devoted his life to the unity of the Church, and was never ashamed to 'brush shoulders with sinners,' so long as all could repose in this same unity.

This got me thinking. The legacies of many of our great saints have fallen prey to misuse, being taken up as battle standards for causes the saints would have shunned with all their might. Origen of Alexandria spawned the Isochristoi, St. Cyril the Monophysites. St. Augustine had his Gottschalk and St. Pius X has, well, his Society. Even St. Augustine was not immune to the tendency. In fact, he had the privilege (or rather, the misfortune) of facing it in his own lifetime. The archenemy of his later years, Pelagius the Briton, had scurried across the European continent touting Augustine's early anti-Manichaean works (namely, On Free Will) as defense for his brand of theological humanism, before their author set himself to devoting the latter half of his career as bishop to refute the error his own works had helped to nourish.

# posted by Jamie : 9:47 AM


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Inspired by Mark Shea's takeoff of Rathergate, I've added a CBS endorsement to the right. Our experts swear by its authenticity.

# posted by Jamie : 3:42 PM


New Blog Links (some new, some old) 

Ancient and Future Catholic Musings: Young Catholic and recent convert. Great blog with lots of random musings on faith, family, and politics.
Ever New: Spiritual reflections on Scripture, prayers, liturgy, etc.
Extreme Catholic: Very extreme, very Catholic; politics and religion by Patrick Sweeney.
Open Book: Needs no introduction; Amy Welborn's mega-blog.
Scribblins: Young, southern, Catholic, convert. Like me!
Dappled Things: Fr. Jim Tucker, priest of Arlington Diocese. Quality priest with quality stuff.

# posted by Jamie : 1:51 PM


Pope "Not Anti-Rugby" 

The Holy Father gave a recent delegation of New Zealanders a 'talking to' about the over-saturation of sports in their culture, often at the expense of religious duties. According to the Holy Father, Kiwis are caving in to an 'unrestrained secularism' and becoming 'besotted with fun.' 'Besotted with fun' has instantly become one of my favorite phrases of all time, and I intend to use it as frequently as possible. (See this article as well.)
Interesting, because I always associate sports with recreation, and therefore assume it is justifiable on the Sabbath. It's very true, though, that sports can often cease to be recreation, and become either a secularized, commercialized industry, on the one hand, or a pointless, carnal diversion, on the other. What is needed, I suppose, is a way to integrate athletics into the larger picture of faith and family, which must be the cornerstone of the Sunday celebration. Maybe a family rugby game in the parish hall. Ever wary, mind you, of becoming 'besotted with fun.'

# posted by Jamie : 1:16 PM


Stabat mater dolorosa 

Mother bowed with grief appalling must thou watch, with tears slow falling, on the cross Thy dying son!
Through my heart, thus sorrow riven, must that cruel sword be driven, as foretold - O Holy One!
Oh, how mournful and oppressed was that Mother ever-blessed, Mother of the Spotless One:
She, whose grieving was perceiving, contemplating, unabating, all the anguish of her Son!
Is there any, tears withholding, Christ's dear Mother thus beholding, in woe - like no other woe!
Who that would not grief be feeling for that Holy Mother kneeling - what suffering was ever so?
For the sins of every nation she beheld his tribulation, given to scourgers for a prey:
Saw her Jesus foully taken, languishing, by all forsaken, when his spirit passed away.
Love's sweet fountain, Mother tender, haste this hard heart, soft to render, make me sharer in Thy pain.
Fire me now with zeal so glowing, love so rich to Jesus, flowing, that I favor may obtain.
Holy Mother, I implore Thee, crucify this heart before Thee, guilty it is verily!
Hate, misprision, scorn, derision, thirst assailing, failing vision, railing, ailing, deal to me.
In Thy keeping, watching, weeping, by the cross may I unsleeping live and sorrow for his sake.
Close to Jesus, with Thee kneeling, all Thy dolours with Thee feeling, oh grant this - the prayer I make.
Maid immaculate, excelling, peerless one, in heav'n high dwelling, make me truly mourn with Thee.
Make me sighing hear Him dying, ever newly vivifying the anguish He bore for me.
With the same scar lacerated, by the cross enfired, elated, wrought by love to ecstasy!
Thus inspired and affected let me, Virgin, be protected when sounds forth the call for me!
May his sacred cross defend me, he who died there so befriend me, that His pardon shall suffice.
When this earthly frame is riven, grant that to my soul is given all the joys of Paradise!

The Stabat mater, easily one of the most beautiful hymns ever written.
This English translation found here; audio files for pronunciation of Latin here.

# posted by Jamie : 8:29 AM


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

"Our culture is dangerously preoccupied with orgasms."

-- an unnamed seminarian, on the reasons behind the vocations shortage in this country.

# posted by Jamie : 2:19 PM


Well, things are moving a little slower today. I've got a headache that could level Juggernaut. Here's Christine's take on NOR's latest attempt to smear the reputation of faithful and devout Catholics nationwide. This week's victim: St. Blog's own David Morrison.

# posted by Jamie : 1:20 PM


Monday, September 13, 2004

Conscientious objection? Maybe on one of my better days 

But today's not one of my better days.

Christopher Culver writes:

Happily the Roman Catholic Church allows total conscientious objection and permits refusing to take part even in something that falls under its just war criteria.

This response is all well and good. Unless, that is, you were a part of a society which includes persons other than yourself.

CCC 1915. As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life.

CCC 2240. Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good ake it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country.

CCC 2310. Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.

Yes, CCC 2311 does encourage governing authorities to permit conscientious objectors to avoid such wars (though, mind you, making no moral judgment on the act itself), so long as they "serve the human community in some other way." But this looks back to the conciliar authority of Gaudium et Spes 78, which states, regarding the avoidance of war:

Motivated by this same spirit, we cannot fail to praise those who renounce the use of violence in the vindication of their rights and who resort to methods of defense which are otherwise available to weaker parties too, provided this can be done without injury to the rights and duties of others or of the community itself [emphasis added].

Translation: If your ducking out of a war won't do any harm to your fellow men, more power to you. If it puts others, whether individuals or your country as a whole, in danger, then you have a moral obligation to serve your fellow man through charitable service, by laying your life down to defend him.

Jesus said he would take care of anyone who harms children himself.

A reference to Matthew 18:6. The implication, I suppose, is that because Jesus told child abusers they were going to be punished, we don't need to do anything about them. And, I suppose, because Jesus says the same thing about those who oppress the poor, we don't need to do anything about them either. In fact, all evildoers will be punished appropriately on Judgment Day, so why should we cause additional trouble for them here on earth? Let's just let rapists and murderers run free, while we privately rejoice in their eschatological doom.

Why then do we have to concern ourselves with vengence? Why do we feel that these people are a threat when all they could do is take our lives while we receive the Kingdom if we follow His will?
This kind of saccharine piety, to steal a phrase from Shea, is for those who don't have children. Me? I suppose I wouldn't mind too much being a martyr, so long as they killed me quick. But if they try to martyr my son, they've gotta go through me first. And if they give me enough notice, I'll make a very long stop at a gun shop before they get here.

# posted by Jamie : 1:49 PM


Arlington and Richmond Dioceses Announce Virginia Catholic Conference 

Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde today announced the establishment - together with Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo - of the Virginia Catholic Conference to address public policy issues within the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Although, from the looks of things, this office may be dominated by the Richmond Diocese, that may not be so bad, given the reputation DiLorenzo has recently earned there.

# posted by Jamie : 1:01 PM


Conflicting Reflections on Beslan 

Bishop Gumbleton's Peace Pulpit column, featured by NCR, gropes for a pacifist response to the Beslan massacre:

Violence is so much a part of our culture. We are living in a world that has become more and more violent. Look what happened last week in Russia. Chechnya has been a colony of Russia for hundreds of years, and the people there are struggling for their freedom. These people -- we call them "terrorists," they call themselves "freedom fighters" -- use grotesque means, like invading the school in Beslan. It ended up with more than 330 people killed, over half of them children. What is the response of President Putin? Well, just like the response of President Bush: "We'll crush them! We'll kill them! We'll do anything to root out this terrorism."

More violence. What sense does it make? Can't we see that what Jesus calls us to do is to give up violence? To respond to hate with love? To love even our enemies?

I fail to understand how, in the case of terrorist maniacs who would willingly slaughter hundreds of innocent schoolchildren while showing an utter unwillingness to negotiate, love can take any other form than the utilization of swift and deliberate force.

This week's Word from Rome, by John Allen, also on NCR's payroll, includes this report from Feofan Ashurkov, the Orthodox bishop of the diocese in which Beslan resides:
Commenting on the brutality of those who commandeered the school, Feofan said that when a pediatrician arrived and asked permission to check on the children, the response came back that he could enter but he would not come out alive.

"They put a wire in the gym, and attached children and grenades to the wire, as if it were a kind of wreath," he said. "They also mined the entire perimeter."

Feofan described some of the horrors the children in the school experienced.

"They killed the men first, and forced the older children to throw the corpses of their parents out the window," he said.
An interview with Cardinal Renato Martino follows. For one, it seems, I find myself agreeing with Martino: "If a madman attacks me, obviously I have the right to defend myself. Society has the right to defend itself, in the way it has always done when dealing with madmen," Martino said.

# posted by Jamie : 11:09 AM



"While we all must constantly re-evaluate our liturgical practice and not allow it to become routine or careless, I have determined that there is no need to make any significant changes in our liturgical practice at this time."

-- Roger Cardinal Mahoney, Archbishop of Los Angeles, in a September 4 Statement on the Implementation of Redemptionis Sacramentum. (Via AMDG.)

# posted by Jamie : 9:27 AM


POD award of the week 

Goes to St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Paincourtville, Louisiana, featured by Fr. Bruce Sibley. Besides the beautiful interior, the nave includes artistic depictions of various heresies (including this one of Jansenism). This is something we should definitely see more of, IMHO.

# posted by Jamie : 9:20 AM


My favorite, I think, is number five:

Fifth, while it's useful to compare and contrast the traditional Roman Mass with Paul VI's version and with the various Eastern Liturgies, it is obnoxious to make disparaging comments about any of them. The excellence of one or another of these Liturgies doesn't require anyone to criticize the rest.

Too many discussions of the mass today revolve around a 'my mass is better than your mass' sort of attitude, which do nothing but promote division and inferiority complexes all 'round. While we needn't relapse into a liturgical latitudinarianism and pronounce all elements of all liturgies inherently equal, it also bears keeping in mind that a certain rite which drives you crazy might be the rite which gives the lady sitting next to you ecstatic transports of celestial glory.

# posted by Jamie : 8:32 AM


Big Dawg, Requiem in Pacem 

# posted by Jamie : 8:16 AM


Friday, September 10, 2004

David Morrison reports on a Brittany Spears Relic 

Proves a long-running theory of mine that, when the Church fails to teach a truth, the world can always be trusted to pick up the slack.

# posted by Jamie : 4:26 PM


Gerard Depardieu: A St. Augustine Look-alike? 

I just discovered this news item in a collection of online articles on St. Augustine:

Pope John Paul II's remark to French actor Gerard Depardieu two years ago two years ago that he looked like St. Augustine has inspired him to work on plans for a film on St. Augustine. He told a press conference in Rome on Thursday that he has already discussed the project with Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Depardieu said he is also soon to begin, at the Pope's request, a world tour reciting passages from St Augustine in squares and churches.

I saw Depardieu in a very unfortunate 2001 French film entitled 'The Closet' a few months back, in which the famous Frenchman plays a gruff and bumbling rugby player who, by the end of the film, is reduced to a squeamish, effeminate homosexual. Depardieu has also, throughout his career, been well-known for his escapades into the immoral, which is why this story is so fascinating. This article is over two years old. I do recall scanning it in the news some time ago, but I never did find out how it played out. I did some scanning of more recent news articles, and found this one from last February:
This afternoon [Depardieu] will stand before the congregation at Notre Dame Cathedral and confess how the 'sublime' writings of St Augustine have shown him the road to his personal salvation . . . Speaking after the funeral, Depardieu said he met Pope John Paul II in 2000. 'He looked at me and told the cardinals around him: "You must talk to him about St Augustine",' Depardieu said. 'I had to admit that I knew nothing about him' . . . 'I have a mystical, religious temperament, coloured by a persistent temptation to ask: Why? In Augustine, I have rediscovered these questions, the quest for truth - the why of what we are.'
It was also indicated in the previous article that the film, although initiated by Depardieu, never made it off the ground. The most recent article I found, however, from last December, still found Depardieu preaching the Gospel of St. Augustine:
Last Sunday, the swashbuckling French actor ascended the pulpit of Notre Dame to launch his campaign to remind his countrymen about the greatest African bishop. While Mr Depardieu has no plans to follow the Pope's advice to make a film about his patron saint, he is convinced that others, too, have much to learn from St Augustine.
I love the image of the Pope pointing at a famous actor, one of the most famous in all of France, and informing him that he's the mirror image of St. Augustine (especially given that we have no idea what St. Augustine looked like, except that he probably looked very little like a Frenchman). But God works in mysterious ways.

# posted by Jamie : 2:42 PM


St. Joseph is my Real-Estate Agent 

Christine's innocent mentioning of a statue of St. Joseph in her yard brought to mind what is, in my view, one of the funniest Catholic customs in existence. This is the kind of thing that convinces fundamentalists that their worst rumours they've heard about Catholics are true.

I'm referring to the centuries-old tradition of burying a statue of St. Joseph outside your house in order to expedite its sale. But don't forget the specifics: upside down, so the head is facing downward, in the rear of the house, approximately three feet from the exterior wall, and twelve inches underground. And don't forget, once the house is sold, to dig it up and place it in the new home for appropriate veneration. Perhaps placing him upside-down is meant to give him a headache, which will give him a little encouragement to get things moving.

No one seems to know where the practice originated; I'm not even going to dignify some of the absurd claims out there by stating them. Though some put its origins back in the Middle Ages, it seems to have only gained popularity in the contemporary United States, where it has become so popular that realtors - Catholic, Protestant, or athiest - are marketing St. Joseph House Selling Kits, which sell like hotcakes.
Needless to say, this a prime example of what the Catechism refers to as 'superstition':

CCC 2111: "Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition."

But, idolatry or no, it's also one of those things that make me happy to be Catholic. I mean, what other religion gives birth to such hilarious eccentricities as these?

# posted by Jamie : 8:17 AM


As a follow-up to Christopher's roundup, here's an absolute must-read: Jimmy Akin on Ratzinger and moral proportionality. Akin breaks down the issues in a highly intelligible manner. The question of moral proportionality and cooperation with evil is at the forefront of both political and bioethical concerns today, and none of us can afford to be uninformed.

# posted by Jamie : 8:07 AM


Thursday, September 09, 2004

On Scripture and Signs 

Steven Riddle at Flos Carmeli asks,

"If I am such an inveterate reader, why do I not read scripture with the avidity with which I approach Walker Percy, Flannery O'Connor, and others? The Gospels are far shorter than the novels we read. They are, in fact, easily read in one sitting, were we so inclined. So why is it that we seem to be so little inclined?"

Tom at Disputations responds,

"Based on my own failed attempts to put the Bible on my to-be-read list, I think an important part of the answer is that reading the Bible is not like reading any other book. The Bible is not 'like any great work of literature,' at least not from the perspective of a Christian who wants to read it to become a better disciple of Christ. In fact, reading the Bible to become a better disciple of Christ is significantly unlike anything else we might do. It's a unique combination of prayer and study, of reading and contemplation, of asking and listening."

My own two cents:

Tom is right to highlight the 'environmental' factor of exegesis. That is, reading Scripture never takes place in a vacuum, but always in a context of prayer, liturgy, catechesis, moral life, etc. This doesn't mean that we can only crack our Bibles open in church; it only means that wherever we do crack open our Bibles, we always do so within the contextual reading environment generated by these factors. Not only the intellect but the will, memory and imagination are engaged in the exegetical act; it is never, then, an isolated event. And generating an environment appropriate to the task is no easy task.

One will rightly respond, of course, that this is true not only of Scripture but also of Percy or Dostoevsky (whom I'm working on right now). All good literature puts intense demands upon the intellect, will, and memory, and that's what makes it good literature. Reading is meant to be enjoyable, even pleasurable. It is not meant to be 'fun.' If reading is fun, you're reading the wrong books. It is work, and it is precisely the work involved in good literature that makes it pleasurable. Our minds and wills enjoy the exercise, the stretching and expanding that necessarily accompany a good reading experience.

But why must reading involve so much work, so much intellectual and moral labor? Why can't reading be an effortless activity, by means of which we could absorb written material with a simple gesture of the will, a momentary assent of the intellect? Because reading grants the soul a privileged access to Truth, and, in the well-known words of Jack Nicholson, 'You can't handle the truth!' We find ourselves crippled through the fall of our first parents, stumbling through life with darkened intellects and weakened wills. Whereas in Paradise the well-orchestrated unity of our intellectual faculty was constantly flooded with the direct light of eternal Wisdom, now our intellects are estranged and fragmented, and can only attain to Wisdom through veiled and indirect 'shadows,' suggestive images and pointers by means of which we piece together our impartial mosaics of dimly-grasped truths.

This is where the category of 'signs' (signa) come in; divinely-given 'pointers' by means of which we can awkwardly and slowly struggle our way forward towards the light of Wisdom. Sometimes these are bestowed across created nature (e.g., smoke indicates fire), others arise through cultural convention (e.g., a word indicates an object), others are given directly through divine Revelation (e.g., the texts of Scripture). All are divinely-bestowed gifts, accommodations to our weakened intellects, which would never otherwise be capable of recognizing the all-encompassing unity standing behind creation, but would only see disconnected fragments of reality, never able to piece them together into a coherent vision of the whole.

And this is what makes Scripture different from any other book (although it is, I suppose, more or less like various books, depending on the quality of the book): It is chock full of the most profound signs available to mortal man, signa whose depth is so limitless and unfathomable that they can be exhausted by no created intellect. Scripture does not reveal divine Truth directly, for then man's fragmented intellect would be unable to read it. Accommodated to man's fallen position, Scripture is (to the untrained eye) an intricate maze of codes and symbols, allegories and types. But to the mind which is both raised up by grace and willing to submit to the tireless regimen of exegetical study and training, these signa can be decoded, little by little, and the first rays of Wisdom can be made to shine through. But for the proud, the slothful, and those who refuse to submit themselves to grace, this will be an impossibility.
Says St. Augustine,

"But hasty and careless readers are led astray by many and manifold obscurities and ambiguities, substituting one meaning for another; and in some places they cannot hit upon even a fair interpretation. Some of the expressions are so obscure as to shroud the meaning in the thickest darkness. And I do not doubt that all this was divinely arranged for the purpose of subduing pride by toil, and of preventing a feeling of satiety [i.e., sloth] in the intellect, which generally holds in small esteem what is discovered without difficulty."

"Accordingly the Holy Spirit has, with admirable wisdom and care for our welfare, so arranged the Holy Scriptures as by the plainer passages to satisfy our hunger, and by the more obscure to stimulate our appetite" (De Doctrina Christiana II.6.7-8).

This is, I think, why we find reading Scripture so difficult. Our minds and wills are simply not trained to carry out the work involved, the intellectual and moral labor of interpreting these divinely-given signa in a way that will reveal to us eternal Wisdom.

# posted by Jamie : 3:06 PM


Christopher of CKW has an excellent roundup of recent media splashes on Ratzinger, Burke, and the Catholic vote.

# posted by Jamie : 1:42 PM


Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Rethinking Vaccines 

Okay, I've given some more thought and study to the question of the ethical use of vaccines obtained from aborted fetal tissue, which I raised early this week. My initial discussion was more along the lines of exploration than of pronunciation; while trying to avoid a John Kerry on this one, I admit my thought has progressed a bit. My initial approach to the question, I think, unduly minimized and simplified the moral problematics involved in this issue. I think the question on which the debate turns, even if it is one I have yet to see explicitly brought up, is that of the desecration of the human corpse.

In my initial discussion, I wrote the following:

"To draw a very rough analogy, I think we can compare this scenario to one of organ donation. If an adult, a voluntary organ donor, gets gunned down in a robbery, his organs can be utilized to save the lives of others without involving any sort of complicity in the crime by which he was killed. Children, especially unborn children, cannot be 'volunteer organ donors' in this way, but one might venture to say that their parents might be able to do so by proxy. So long as the parents of a slain child were amenable, I don't see why the unfortunate child's body might not be put to good use. Of course, in this case, the parents were responsible for the child's killing, and this may introduce some complexities to the problem. It does seem unsettling that a child's murderer should have any governance over his body, even if that person be his parent. This would be a longer discussion."

Well, looking back, that 'analogy' was dead in the water the moment I wrote it. And what was first only 'unsettling' for me, in that final sentence, in the end became a clear moral absurdity. The fact is, the corpse of an aborted fetus is nothing at all like the corpse of a man gunned down in the street. Unless, that is, the criminal who gunned him down was after his organs (like the guy in Blood Work). CCC 2296 teaches that "[o]rgan donation after death . . . is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent." The definition of 'proxy' remains unstated; in the case of a child it would undoubtedly be a parent. But not any parent, I think; only a parent who genuinely seeks the good of his child. A parent who seeks the death of his child thereby forfeits his right to act or speak on that child's behalf. (As a rough parallel, in legal theory we hold that an unjust dictate by a government is null and void, whereas otherwise a government would be authorized to act on behalf of its citizens, presuming it is seeking their good.)

A parent who has authorized the death of his child no longer has the right to act as its proxy. Therefore, any seizure of tissue or organs from this child constitute not only stolen property, but the desecration of a human corpse (c. CCC 2300). Stolen goods cannot be legitimately put to good use, even if these goods cannot be returned. Imagine if the Polish Mafia donated a hefty sum of cash to a parish church, which was admittedly obtained by illicit means, and there was no way to return it to its rightful owners; the church would be, I think, obliged to turn it down, due to the morally problematic means by which it was obtained. The situations, I think, are parallel.
Unfortunately, I can find no authoritative statement on this issue by the Magisterium. The only document which addresses the issue at all, to my knowledge, is the 1987 CDF Instruction Donum Vitae. Here the question is treated in general terms, obliging us to 'respect' the corpses of aborted fetuses, to avoid scandal, commercial trafficking, and any complicity in the crime of abortion. Surprisingly, the document seems to weigh against my own conclusion, at least implicity, inasmuch as it warns against undertaking mutilization or autopsies on the corpses of fetuses 'without the consent of the parents or of the mother,' which may be taken to presume that such consent would legitimize such activities (see I, 4). Either way, I'm still working towards a solution on this. It seems to be a scientific development whose ethical implications are still being worked out in theology and catechesis.

# posted by Jamie : 3:49 PM


Donuts, anyone? 

I just got back from a weekend getaway in St. Paul, Minnesota, where we attended the baptism of a good friend's newborn daughter, of whom we are privileged to be godparents. It's a beautiful city in a beautiful part of America.

When we walked into the sanctuary of the parish in which the baptism was to take place, and took our seats for mass beforehand, I was a bit befuddled by the curious fact that a couple seated next to us were cradling steaming cups of hot coffee in their hands. My curiosity melded into outright confusion when I realized that every family around us was sipping from styrofoam cups of coffee. And more than a few were enjoying, along with their coffee, large Krispy-Kreme donuts, with the fresh glaze still dripping off. And then, I saw the source of the morning refreshments. At the front of the sanctuary, about six feet due left of the raised altar, the entire wall consisted of a collapsible screen, which had been pulled back to reveal the broad counter, easily twenty foot in length, of a fully-stocked kitchenette, with coffee, tea, donuts, and a host of other breakfast items being offered to a burgeoning line of hungry parishioners, chatting as they sipped their morning fare. As the priest finally wandered into the sanctuary, the screen was rolled back, and the kitchenette temporarily closed, awaiting the end of the service to open up again.

The mass itself was all in due course, and the music, I must say, was quite beautiful, even if not traditional. The baptism also was very pleasant, although - here I must confess - when an hour had passed and we hadn't yet reached the second anointing, I made the experience a bit more enjoyable by helping myself to a late-morning cup of java.

# posted by Jamie : 11:44 AM


Feast of the Virgin 

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Blessed Virgin. This should strike us as slightly odd, given that, in nearly every other case, the Church celebrates a saint on the day of their exaltation to heavenly glory, not on the day of their birth. Other than Our Lord, there is only one other saint honored in this way - St. John the Baptist, the Lord's precursor. These two are singled out not only because of their virtues, but because of their unique and irreplaceable role in salvation history.

I recall, nearly four years ago, wandering through the streets of Jerusalem. My sister-in-law, who accompanied me to Israel, had taken the day off, exhausted from my dragging her all around the city the previous day, so I was alone. Somewhere just off the Via Dolorosa, probably a stone's throw from the Dome of the Rock, I passed a stone archway which led down a dark stairwell. A squat, bearded Arab, gesturing erratically, summoned me to the archway, and I descended with him down an unlit and uneven stairwell. When we reached the bottom, I found myself in a damp basement, a rocky, dirt floor surrounded by four roughly-hewn stone walls, lit by a lone candle in the far corner. The man pointed around the room, and somehow managed to communicate (with only minimal English) that the place I was standing was the very spot in which the Blessed Virgin had entered the world, two millenia ago. I nodded in genuine appreciation, handed him the smallest coin in my possession, and ascended the stairs again. When I passed under the arch again, I noticed for the first time a set of words, barely visible, engraved above it, 'Birthplace of the Blessed Virgin Mary.'

I didn't think much of it at the time, as there's plenty to see in Jerusalem, most more significant than this, and I wasn't exactly glowing with Marian piety at the time. But whenever this feast comes around every year, my mind is instantly drawn back to those very concrete memories. I think this is one of the functions of pilgrimages, along the same lines as the relics of the saints. They 'concretize' the decisive events and persons of our faith in a way that doctrines and liturgy - of themselves - can never do. They connect us in a very physical and bodily way with these trans-historical 'happenings,' which otherwise might remain abstract and noetic truths, given dutiful assent of the mind but little thought besides. A bodily or spatial connection impinges upon the memory and intellect in a way that a mere mental affirmation simply cannot. Even if the truths of our faith are, ultimately, capable of being grasped only by an informed intellect raised up by grace, we remain nonetheless embodied creatures; and as such even our intellects long for our bodies to share in the fruits they taste.

# posted by Jamie : 8:27 AM


Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Disputations on Hatred 

Tom at Disputations has been reflecting here and here on the words of this Sunday's Gospel, regarding our call to 'hate' others and ourselves. See my own reflections below.

# posted by Jamie : 8:43 AM


Friday, September 03, 2004

Glossalalia: Your Word for the Day 

Sanctificarnos posts the following:

In particular, I remember "camp-style" meetings where people were expected to speak in tongues to "prove" that they were "filled with the spirit." There was an incredible amount of pressure in these meetings, which were often announced ahead of time as being meeting where one would become filled by the spirit. Often, the result was that people, myself included as a very young child, did speak in tongues. But what caused this to happen? Was it a form of mass hypnosis, where the atmosphere was conducive to creating a desired effect? Are children more vulverable to this (I must have been in 5th grade?)? Is it harmful?

This post isn´t related to the theology of "speaking in tongues," rather it - and the other - was related to how do we discern the "spirit" behind such manifestions? And perhaps as a side note, can "mass hypnosis" also be a positive thing? Or can it be explained away by claiming that "one has to be in the know," to understand such things.

I remember reading an interview with a priest who, asked by a skeptic about glossalia (i.e., the gift of tongues of Acts 2:4), replied 'Oh, I think speaking in tongues is great!' The interviewer reacted with some surprise, and asked him why he thought so. The priest replied with something along the lines of the following: 'Oh, you know, when you're just so enraptured with the joy of being in love with God, and that natural enthusiasm just sort of 'bubbles over' into unintelligible jibberish, I just think it's wonderful!'

Now, I don't know too much about speaking in tongues, but I know that's not it. If there is a gift of tongues, it is not a natural 'bubbling over' of religious enthusiasm. It is a supernatural gift. I know, I know, 'grace builds on nature' and all that - my Church history teacher told me that St. Theresa of Avila's flights of ecstasy were actually epileptic fits, and this was no big deal, because 'grace builds on nature' - but I find it hard to imagine either spontaneous jibberish or epileptic fits being described as 'gifts of the Spirit.' Similarly, putting psychological pressure on someone to respond in a certain way, then creating a hyper-suggestive, emotionalistic environment, is not the way to get a gift of the Spirit. Whatever might be produced by this sort of environment may be a 'good' or a 'bad' thing - and who knows, there's nothing to stop the Spirit from choosing such an environment in which to bestow Himself, no matter how incondusive it may be - chances that a genuine supernatural gift is being received seem dim. Probably not harmful, though, except for the possibility that the emotional 'let-down' which inevitably follows such a psychological peak experience is bound to create disillusionment, which may, in turn, be destructive to the spiritual life.

# posted by Jamie : 1:36 PM


On the Ethical Use of Vaccines 

On our last trip to the pediatrician, the doctor informed us that our son was due to get a Chicken Pox vaccine in the not-too-distant future. He sat my wife down, however, and gave her a brief lesson on the grave ethical issues involved in this vaccine, given that it is derived from the tissue of aborted fetuses. In the end, he advised her that obtaining the vaccine was, in his opinion, morally justified, but that she should consider the matter very seriously before progressing. He gave her this brochure before leaving, and encouraged her to study the background. Apparently this doctor has been very involved in the discussions of the morality of this vaccine, along with heavy lobbying of the medical establishment to produce morally viable alternatives. We are blessed to have a doctor was so highly attuned to the moral implications of medicine (in fact, we patronize him for this reason), which is unfortunately rare.

I did some studying of my own. Many vaccines are derived from the tissue of aborted fetuses. For most, however, there are alternatives which are derived from animal cells. For three there are no such alternatives: Chicken Pox, Hepatitis A, and Rubella. The story is this: Apparently back in the 60s the medical industry managed to get a hold of two aborted fetuses - terminated by their parents, if I remember correctly, for health defects and/or psychological reasons. From this fetal tissue these vaccines were successfully developed, and the resulting cell lines have been used to immunize children from these diseases ever since. Many (including my doctor, apparently) argue that the use of such vaccinations involves some complicity in the crime of abortion, along with the moral violation of the dignity of the aborted fetuses. He concludes, however, that at least for these three vaccines, since no other alternatives are available, the moral urgency of protecting children from the diseases outweighs, proportionately, the moral problems involved; but he adds that we also have an obligation to lobby for the production of ethical alternatives.

Now I was a bit perplexed. That abortion of these two infants was a crime is beyond doubt, and a horrific one at that. But I don't think it necessarily follows that the vaccines developed from their bodies are thereby rendered illicit, or even morally problematic. Note that the abortions in this case are not 'ongoing' (as I first thought) - they got all the cells they need from these two fetuses in the 60s, and no new fetuses are necessary for these vaccines (whether or not they are utilized for the development of other vaccines I do not know, but certainly not for these). The choice to kill the unborn infants was their parents'; the medical community only secured the bodies for their own uses, apparently with the permission of the parents. Now, to me, the act of utilizing the vaccines obtained from these fetuses seems quite removed, morally speaking, from the crime by which they were killed. Assuming that one does not share in the intention that these two fetuses be executed (hardly imaginable), it also does not seem evident that the use of this vaccine in any way encourages further abortions. As I said, they got the cells they need. Besides, if the medical community needs more aborted fetuses, I'm sure there is no shortage of them at the abortion mills. I can't imagine the demand for aborted fetuses outstripping the supply (perhaps I'm naive), to a sufficient degree that the medical industry might find it necessary to lobby the abortion industry to abort more babies, or even further, lobbying women to have more abortions. It's also hard to imagine women aborting their children in order to facilitate the development of more vaccines; besides, as I said, there is a surplus of slain infant corpses out there which would make it utterly supefluous for the medical community to push for more, at least for this reason. Therefore, I see no direct link whatsoever between the person using the vaccine and the two acts of abortion by which the vaccines were obtained.

To draw a very rough analogy, I think we can compare this scenario to one of organ donation. If an adult, a voluntary organ donor, gets gunned down in a robbery, his organs can be utilized to save the lives of others without involving any sort of complicity in the crime by which he was killed. Children, especially unborn children, cannot be 'volunteer organ donors' in this way, but one might venture to say that their parents might be able to do so by proxy. So long as the parents of a slain child were amenable, I don't see why the unfortunate child's body might not be put to good use. Of course, in this case, the parents were responsible for the child's killing, and this may introduce some complexities to the problem. It does seem unsettling that a child's murderer should have any governance over his body, even if that person be his parent. This would be a longer discussion.

But, to return to the primary issue, if there is any moral connection between the use of the vaccine and the aborting of the fetuses from whence they were derived, I would think it so distant as to make any moral 'complicity' almost a non-issue. Unless, that is, it could be proven that the use of the vaccine in some way increases the number of abortions currently performed(which I think highly improbable).

If I were Shea I would say 'Class, discuss.' But I'm not. So I can't.

# posted by Jamie : 1:18 PM


Mani redivivus 

Whoever said Gnosticism was dead? (From Saintly Salmagundi.)

# posted by Jamie : 11:18 AM


Memorial of Pope St. Gregory the Great 

Ad Limina: Meeting all your St. Gregory the Great needs.

St. Gregory is one of the coolest and underrated saints in the Church. His promotion of relics and the cult of the saints (since we're on the subject today) was definitive; he was also the primary initiative behind the evangelization of the British isles. He was a central figure in Medieval devotion and theology, and still figures prominently in the readings from the Liturgy of the Hours.

# posted by Jamie : 10:24 AM


On the Sale of Relics 

The fact that my blog has recently become an ebay clearing house for Cabbage Patch Kids has prompted one reader to request a post on the on-line sale of relics (this is not to imply any direct parallel, of course). At this moment on Ebay you can buy a piece of Padre Pio's habit, part of St. Pius X's clothes, a bone fragment of St. Rose of Lima, a 'holy nail' relic, this bulk collection of nineteen relics, and, of course, the ever-present fragments of the true cross.

There are a couple of angles to this, all bad. From the side of the seller, you have no idea of the person to whom this relic is being sold. Possibly it is a pious overly-devotional (aka, 'POD') Catholic who will show it the care and veneration it deserves. Or it could be a collector who'll shove it in a box or let it sit in a flea market for six years, or possibly some sicko with much darker intentions. In either case, you've got a pretty good shot at being party to sacrilege. From the side of the buyer, there are more practical problems. You know neither the seller, the origin of the relic, nor even full knowledge of what it is. Some of them come with 'documentation,' but this is easily forged or interchanged (as long as it's written in unintelligible Latin, of course, no one will question it). And this assumes, naturally, that it was even a genuine relic in the first place. The chances, ultimately, aren't that great that you're really getting the Virgin Mary's nursing cloth for that $600.00 you're shelling out.

But even assuming that a relic of certifiable authenticity could be sold to a buyer of certifiable POD, you're still looking at ecclesiastical sanction. The Code of Canon Law, c. 1190, sums up the Church's position on this activity quite forthrightly:

Can. 1190 §1 It is absolutely wrong to sell sacred relics.

The Latin, "Sacras reliquias vendere nefas est," is the strongest possible language; the word 'nefas' (nefarious) is used in the Code only to describe sins against the Blessed Sacrament, forced ordination and priests breaking the seal of confession.

Of course, most sellers weasel their way out of this imposition by claiming something like this: 'The $600.00 auction is for the reliquary alone. The 11 relics inside are just a bonus gift to the person who buys the reliquary.' Yeah, right. Take the relics out and see how much you get for an empty reliquary.

The organization Saints Alive: International Crusade for Holy Relics exists, in part, to put an end to commerce in relics. Good luck. The Ebay listings for Christian Relics is currently at 544 items.

# posted by Jamie : 8:43 AM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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