Spiritual Senses, Part II
Yesterday I wrote in Part I about Origen's doctrine of the 'spiritual senses,' as applied specifically to the mystical life of the believer. Left to itself, however, Origen's language about these senses might appear to frame a vision of the mystical life which is profoundly individualistic and subjectivist, sort of an unhinged pietism. But Origen never intended it to be so. For him, man's powers - even the divinely-bestowed spiritual senses - could not unite man to God unless God had first united Himself to man. The Incarnation thus establishes the framework for the 'senses' - and for Origen God has 'taken on flesh' not only in Jesus Christ, but also in the pages of Scripture.
The divine Word represents, for Origen, the ultimate expression of the divine nature, its very 'exegesis.' In Him God expresses himself 'in human words,' in a wonderful act of divine condescension. This act takes place directly through the Incarnation, and indirectly through the Scriptures, by which one and the same Word is mediated to us.
Two conclusions result from this. First, Scripture is not a static object to be examined or scrutinized by man. In Scripture man finds himself addressed directly, in the present, as one living subject addressed by another. For this reason, Scripture can never be approached as a mere historical record of past events. For the past is important only inasmuch as it addresses man in the present; otherwise it remains, in Origen's words, 'mere Jewish fables.'
Secondly, as in the Incarnation itself, although the 'flesh' of the written text represents the full expression of the Word, it never does so exhaustively. The meaning of Scripture - constituted by the living Word - surpasses anything the objective text can supply. Now, on the one hand, few Fathers were more fastidious than Origen about establishing the exactness of the literal text. Origen personally traveled to the Holy Land to examine archeological sites, scrupulously compared variant versions of original manuscripts, consulted grammatical and scientific textbooks, and even sat at the feet of a Jewish rabbi for years in order to master the Hebrew culture and language. When an opponent denies the historicity of a biblical text, Origen is the first to spring to its defense.
Yet, on the other hand, this historical meaning, for Origen, exists for the explicit purpose of being transcended. For the fluctuating cause-and-effect relationships which make up human history have, from a cosmic perspective, no intrinsic significance whatsoever, apart from their spiritual significance. Commenting on Genesis 18:8, Origen famously comments, "What does it help me - who have come to hear what the Holy Spirit teaches the human race - if I hear that 'Abraham was standing under a tree'?" Even the biblical authors recognized that many Old Testament events are important primarily for their spiritual value. For St. Paul, the crossing of the Red Sea was essentially baptism (1 Cor. 10), and Hagar and Sarah were the Old and New Covenants (Gal. 4).
But the spiritual sense is more than just an exercise in human flights of imagination. It is 'spiritual' in the fullest sense of the Word - i.e., its exercise depends upon the interpreter's possessing within himself the same Spirit who inspired the authors of Scripture. The possession of this Spirit is made possible by the image of God inscribed within man's being, but is also contingent upon the extent to which this man has united himself to God through ascetic practice, prayer and contemplation. The 'spiritual senses' can only be exercised by the 'spiritual man.'
The actual content of these 'senses,' for me, is less important than the mere affirmation of their possibility. For Origen, they are generally referred to as the 'literal,' 'moral' and 'mystical' (corresponding to man's body, soul and spirit). But Cassian's 'four senses' - historical, typological, tropological and anagogical - correspond more to Origen's actual practice.
More striking than Origen's observations themselves, is the extent to which they diverge so sharply from the way we read Scripture. The rise of so-called 'scientific' exegesis, that is, the historical-critical method, has completely obscured and even eradicated the spiritual. What is degraded in our own day as a 'fundamentalist' reading of Scripture is often nothing but what Origen called its 'spiritual' reading. To read Scripture as if it were actually speaking to man's present, rather than as a record of past events (or even, past legends), to allow one's own moral and spiritual dispositions to guide one through the letter to the spirit hidden within, rather than to enslave oneself to the bare letter and to go no further, cannot not now permitted.
# posted by Jamie : 2:16 PM
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Spiritual Senses, Part I
Well, I'm back from academic purgatorio
for a week or so, then I'm off for a week and a half for various meetings across the country. Today and tomorrow I'm going to be writing about one of the subjects which have fascinated me the most these last few months - the 'spiritual senses.'
Although the doctrine of the 'senses' has developed profoundly throughout our Christian theological tradition, it has its beginnings in the theological genius of Origen of Alexandria. My first post will explore these 'senses' in the mystical life, my second, in biblical exegesis.
All knowledge, we are often told, passes through the 'doors of the senses.' And by this is meant, most likely, the five bodily senses - sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. But what if, hypothetically, we as human beings possessed an entirely different set of senses
, alongside this set - a set of incorporeal senses rooted in the heart of our being and yet, of which we have remained unaware and incapable of using? This intuition is the heart of Origen's doctrine of the 'spiritual senses.'
That there must be incorporeal senses, for Origen, was simply required by the incorporeal nature of God (a doctrine, surprisingly, which could not yet be taken for granted in Origen's day). If we could gain knowledge only by our corporeal senses, we could never know God.
The foundation for these senses, however, was not some natural capacity of man, but rather a divine gift, arising from man's creation in the very image (Gk. eikon
, or 'icon') of God. The fact that man is the 'icon' of an incorporeal God underlined, for Origen, the primacy of the incorporeal, or 'spiritual,' element in man - the soul (psyche
), which fluctuates between the spiritual poles of spirit (pneuma
) and flesh (sarx
Origen is no enemy of materiality, but he is realistic about the effects on the soul of its complete immersion in the things of the flesh. Hedged amount by sensible realities on every side, alienated from its true homeland in the communion of heaven, the soul is forced to adapt to its sensible environment. For Origen, a spiritual nature connaturally adapts whatever faculties are suited to the environment in which it finds itself: this is Origen's explanation of why fish have gills, polar bears have hair, etc. - sort of a primitive, theologized account of Darwinian theory. Thus, the human person develops and refines those bodily senses which are equipped to handle the mass input of sensory experience (the 'five senses' we ordinarily speak of), while at the same time, its more inward, spiritual powers of sense lapse into disuse and neglect.
The answer, for Origen, is to recover the use of the 'spiritual senses' which the soul possesses by virtue of its creation in the divine image. This is no easy task. Through want of use, these senses have become stunted and deadened; they no longer take delight in the natural object of their functioning, but remain cold and hardened instead. Our bodily senses, on the other hand, quiver and yearn for the sensible objects of their own desire, infuriated if they are unsatisfied. Thus, these bodily senses must therefore be 'mortified,' deprived of their objects of sense, shut off and chastened through prayer and asceticism until their cries soften to mild whimpers. The spiritual senses, at the same time, must be developed and attuned through a strict regimen of practical and prayerful exercise of these senses. (The analogy I always found helpful here was the extent to which a man stricken with blindness finds his other senses gradually heightened and intensifid over time.) A certain 'taste' for the spiritual life will thereby develop, so that the soul will gradually learn to delight in what it had previously found boring and unsatisfying.
The spiritual senses, according to Origen, are patterned exactly after the bodily senses. In his De Principiis
(1.1.9), basing himself on Solomon's words in Proverbs 2:5 ("You will find a divine sense"
), he adds, "For he knew that there were within us two kinds of senses: the one mortal, corruptible, human; the other immortal and intellectual, which he now termed divine":
- Spiritual sight, which reveals divine realities, and by which the pure of heart are said to see' God
- Spiritual hearing, by which one hears interiorly the voice of God and 'perceives the deeper meaning' of the Scriptures
- Spiritual touch, which allows one to touch and commune with the Word
- Spiritual smell, by which one is overcome by the sweet aroma of the Word
- Spiritual taste, which allows one to 'partake of the flesh' of the Word with delight
These spiritual senses create a new 'mystical vocabulary' for the spiritual life, and are utilized most expressively in Origen's masterpiece, the Homilies on the Song of Songs. In this love poem, which Origen - along with every other patristic commentator - took as an allegory of the soul's union with God, this spiritual master traces the undulations and vicissitudes which characterize the courtship of Bride and heavenly Bridegroom. Rational formulations cannot express this reality; they must be replaced with 'sensual,' affective expressions, as the soul undertakes the journey of desire for her consummate union with God.
Origen's doctrine of the 'spiritual senses,' seemingly his own innovation, had a profound and lasting effect on the theological tradition, as much in the West as in the East. St. Basil of Caesarea, St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Bernard of Clairveaux, William of St. Thierry, and even St. Ignatius of Loyola bear the marks of his influence. St. Ignatius, however, profoundly alters the doctrine, as his applicatio sensuum presumes that the spiritual and bodily are two aspects of the same sense, rather than two separate senses. Thus, he speaks of transforming one's senses, rather than of putting to death one set of senses in order to bring to life another.
The reason I find Origen's analysis so fascinating is because it changes the whole way we look at the spiritual life. I usually find myself imagining that I can measure the progress of my own spiritual life by how 'spiritual' I feel, that my relationship with God is somehow reflected in my conscious awareness of it, and that - if only I add this or that devotional practice into my daily routine - I will finally feel the satisfaction that belongs to the just. Origen shows us that what we need, on the contrary, is nothing short of a complete makeover of the way we think and act. The spiritual life requires certain anthropological 'equipment' that, at least in most of us, is either inept or entirely dormant. Any attempt to actually utilize this equipment will necessarily be harsh and unrewarding at first, perhaps necessitating lengthy 'dry spells' in which we find ourselves carrying on regimens or practices which we find dry and empty. But only gradually, through patient exercise and perseverance, will we develop a 'taste' for this life, and only then will we gain a sense of the 'delight' that rightfully belongs to those who have tasted of the divine Word.
# posted by Jamie : 1:10 PM
Birthplace of Reformation Found
German archaeologists have discovered the lavatory on which Martin Luther wrote the 95 Theses that launched the Protestant Reformation.
Experts say they have been certain for years that the 16th century religious leader wrote the groundbreaking Ninety-Five Theses while on das klo, as the Germans call it.
"This is where the birth of the Reformation took place."
"Luther said himself that he made his reformatory discovery in cloaca [Latin for "in the sewer"]. We just had no idea where this sewer was. Now it's clear what the Reformer meant."
First off, no, this is not the Onion. This is dead serious. Second of all, I am, in a spirit of ecumenism, refraining from giving expression to the myriads of witticisms which spring spontaneously to the mind in these scenarios. (Source
, via Akin
# posted by Jamie : 7:20 AM
Here's the much-discussed "An Open Letter From Fellow Catholics To John Kerry On Faith & Reason," which was published in newspapers in several swing states on Wednesday. It's signed by some impressive names, including Scott Hahn and some other notables.
And the good Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington has tossed in his contribution to the 'Catholicism' of John Kerry [sic]:
Both items from Catholic(?) Kerry Watch.
"The error is simply this: the wrongness of direct abortion is decidedly not just "an article of faith." Rather, it is rooted in the natural law. Citing legislators who say "I am personally opposed to abortion, but I cannot impose my religious beliefs on others," my predecessor, Bishop John Keating, spoke clearly in words which I echo today:
'The fallacy in this reasoning is simply that the morality of abortion is not a religious belief, any more than the morality of slavery, apartheid, rape, larceny, murder or arson is a religious belief. These are norms of the natural law of mankind and can be legislated even in a completely religionless society' (A Pastoral Letter on Morality and Conscience, 1994).
To be a faithful Catholic necessarily means that one is pro-life and not pro-choice. To be pro-choice essentially means supporting the right of a woman to terminate the life of her baby, either preborn or partially born. No Catholic can claim to be a faithful member of the Church while advocating for, or actively supporting, direct attacks on innocent human life. In reality, protecting human life from conception to natural death is far more than a Catholic issue. It is an issue that cuts across denominational lines. It is an issue of fundamental morality, rooted in both the natural moral law and the divine law. Because of this, no other issue is objectively more important. Therefore, both as citizens and as Catholics, we can never give up our efforts to eliminate the killing of innocent, defenseless human beings" [emphases and hyperlink added].
# posted by Jamie : 8:32 AM
Thursday, October 21, 2004
A beautiful litany to St. Thomas More just landed on my desk. It was produced (in brochure form) by the Diocese of Wilmington
, at the personal initiative of Bishop Saltarelli
. Formal devotions to St. Thomas More are quite rare - years ago, in the midst of frustrations over the lack of a novena to St. Thomas, I wrote one myself - and I was glad to come across this one. I just called the bishop's office to thank him and to order some more for myself (they're giving them out at no cost), and I also discovered that it's available in pdf format
on their website, although it's not quite as nice as the original.
# posted by Jamie : 1:41 PM
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Thinking with Assent
To me, this definitively distinguishes faith from at least two alternatives:
First, faith is not 'assenting without thinking' (adsentire sine cogitatio), which is not only the act of a fool, but also a logical and noetical non sequitur, since, for Augustine, "thinking is prior to believing." "For no one believes anything," he says, "unless he has first thought that it is to be believed. For however suddenly, however rapidly, . . . it is yet necessary that everything which is believed should be believed after thought has preceded." This does not require, as it might seem, an exhaustive empirical examination of a datum, to determine whether or not it is worth believing, before belief is placed in it. For we must always return to the pivotal role which authority plays in Augustine's view of faith; faith cannot arise from knowledge. On the contary, it emerges when a duly-constituted authority, to one is predisposed to trust, proposes a datum to be held by the intellect. Yet never is the intellect bypassed, for it is precisely the intellect which - by the assent of the will - submits itself to this datum and assimilates it into its cognitive makeup. "Because if faith is not a matter of thought, it is of no account."
Secondly, faith is not 'thinking without assent' (cogitare sine assensione). "For it is not every one who thinks that believes," says Augustine. "Since many think in order that they may not believe." Examples abound of 'thinking without assent'. They might include the reasoning involved in formulating an untested hypothesis, in which assent is withheld until definitive proof is determined, or the sinful intellect which uses twisted logic to justify its sinfulness or its refusal to believe. Too often, however, the method of cogitare sine assensione is adopted as a reasonable methodology for theological studies, in which, it is believed, assent even to dogmatic definitions must be withheld - or at least, deferred - due to the contingent and incomplete nature of human knowledge in this life. Wolfhart Pannenberg, in his worst moments, approached this position.
Of course, we also have a third viable option, 'not thinking, not assenting' (non cogitari, non adsentire), which, I believe, must be emblazoned on the doors of more than a few theology classrooms around this country.
# posted by Jamie : 1:26 PM
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
E.g., Sign of Peace Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (SOPOCD):
We have all heard of those with OCD that obsessively keep washing their hands over and over. There is a liturgical variant of this syndrome where the priest at Mass can not keep himself from leaving the sanctuary and then shaking the hands of everybody at Mass. Some priests have a milder variant where they can control themselves and only shake the hands of everybody in the front couple of rows.
# posted by Jamie : 8:23 AM
This story is so horrifically un-funny it defies comment
SAN FRANCISCO Sexual disease alert via the Net New Health Dept. program for gays
These e-cards appear funny, sexy and hip, but if you're lucky, you won't be seeing one in your inbox anytime soon. They're the newest way for gay men diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease to tell their sex partners about their condition.
The program is called InSPOT -- an acronym for Internet Notification Service for Partners or Tricks -- and it premieres today, paid for by the San Francisco Department of Public Health STD Services and run by a local group called Internet Sexuality Information Services (ISIS).
Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, who directs the city's STD Prevention Section, says the service is the first of its kind. Though it's not new for health officials to e-mail people exposed to a sexual disease using a list provided by the patient, InSPOT allows the person carrying the infection to make the notification.
STDs are an unfortunate consequence of sexual behavior the same way other infections may be a result of hiking, kayaking or contact sports," Klausner said. "If someone gets an STD, he should not be stigmatized."
Tom Kennedy, a gay man himself, was on the community advisory board that helped design the cards. "It took a lot of time to come up with language that didn't seem accusatory," said Kennedy, who now is program director of ISIS.
The group devised six pithy slogans, including: "It's not what you brought to the party, it's what you left with," "You're too hot to be out of action" and "I got screwed while screwing; you might have, too."
Deb Levine, executive director of ISIS, said: "The bottom line was they wanted fun. They wanted something that also speaks to the gay culture and gay lifestyle -- something you would find in a store in the Castro, not in a Hallmark store in the mall.
"We wanted to lighten up the issue a bit," she said. "It doesn't have to be all serious, fear-based and shameful."
Kennedy agrees. "How awkward are those phone calls, 'Hey remember me?' I hope this service will be less threatening." The cards can be sent to as many as six e-mail addresses at a time and may be signed or anonymous.
# posted by Jamie : 8:11 AM
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Disputations puts the smackdown
on the facile notion that Kerry is genuinely 'personally opposed' to abortion. Nice.
# posted by Jamie : 4:30 PM
In the news this week....
"Nearly nine-tenths of nonordained people who administer U.S. Catholic parishes are women, said a report published by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate" (CNS
A parish I attended recently introduced its parish administrator to the pulpit as the 'pastorette.' Shhhhhhh! This isn't a problem.
"A coroner in Colorado has ruled that hospital removed vital organs from a donor before he died, and therefore his death was a homicide" (CWN
Shhhh! This never happens. Never. This was the only time. This isn't a problem.
Thomas Madden dispels all your myths about the Crusades and tells what they were really like: Part 1
, Part 2
Catechism on Church Social Teachings due out next week (CNS
# posted by Jamie : 8:41 AM
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
All right, I've finished my summary of Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine
, which can be found below, in thirteen installments. I apologize if breaking it up to such a great degree hindered readability, but any other way would have proven difficult. I apologize to those of you who care little for Newman, or think he's a Sienfeld character (more information about Newman - the theologian, not the mailman - can be found here
My presence to this blog over the next month will, I'm afraid, be quite minimal. My presence to my expectant wife, my upcoming comprehensive exams, a temporary teaching assignment, and a rapid succession of work-related meetings will be taking priority. Prayers for all of the above will be greatly appreciated.
# posted by Jamie : 1:41 PM
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Introduction
Since I'm swamped with reading between now and the end of the month, I thought I would use these to post the results of some of my research. Over the next couple of days, I will post a concise summary, in my own words, of the definitive historical work of the Venerable John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. I will do this in several posts, which I will post in such a way that they can be read 'downward' from the top. While perhaps a bit lacking in creativity on my part, I hope those who have neither the time nor the background to tackle Newman's work directly might benefit by a concise summation of his arguments, which, IMHO, provide an acute and unsurpassed grasp of the history of Christian doctrine.
Christianity cannot be treated as a matter of mere private opinion, but rather as an objective fact of history and a matter of public importance. When assessing the history of the Christian religion, we must also take as our starting point an assumption of its historical continuity, i.e., that the Christianity which exists today is, more or less, the same Christianity which existed in the day of the apostles; and we must lay the burden of proof on those who would insist otherwise. If an examination of this history shows us anything, it shows us that "the Christianity of history is not Protestantism." In fact, one can even say that "to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant."
While some theologians claim that we must accept as orthodoxy only what has been believed 'by all men at all times and in all places,' we respond that this naive theory fails, because it cannot admit one to accept desirable teachings of the Fathers (such as the Trinity) without equally admitting undesirable Roman teachings (such as the primacy of the Roman See). In fact, this theory 'cannot hold firm the doctrines of Canterbury without admitting those of Rome.'
The theory of this essay is that the magnificent doctrines of our faith have developed only over the course of time, in which they have only gradually been comprehended and explicitly defined by the Church, just as all ideas only reach their full elucidation in the human mind when they are given appropriate time for germination.
# posted by Jamie : 2:53 PM
Newman's Essay, Part I: On the Development of Ideas
In the everyday event in which an idea comes into our minds, it never remains static or isolated; it is immediately judged, analyzed, classified, and connected, over the course of time creating numerous aspects of that idea; some of these aspects are temporary, some permanent; some inconsistent and invalid, some quite consistent. Oftentimes, what begins as a raw idea and eventually becoming refined and codified in human institutions. Yet, in any case, such a development is only valid if it is true to its original idea and not a departure from it.
But such a process is not 'optional,' but rather necessary for an idea to reach its perfection. It cannot isolate itself into a state of decay, but must rather disengage itself from its origin and germinate over the course of time in order to be able to stand on its own and achieve its potential.
As far as Christianity is concerned, the Incarnation must be seen as the central doctrine from which all developments proceed: political developments (the Episcopate), logical (Theotokos), historical (the determination of Christ's birth), moral (the Eucharist), and metaphysical (the Athanasian creed.
# posted by Jamie : 2:50 PM
Newman's Essay, Part II: On the Antecedent Argument on Behalf of Developments of Doctrine
Therefore, if Christianity enters our minds as an idea, it cannot be received alone, but only with the vast company of ideas which are interconnected with it, and yet with it subsist as a unified whole.
And the necessity that Christianity develop is historically undeniable. For even the most essential matters of our religion -- such as the canon of Scripture and matters of religious authority -- are left unresolved by Scripture; this would make God irresponsible, unless He had intended them to be resolved by developing in the mind of the Church. And we see this process of development occurring in Scripture itself, as all that is spoken by the Prophets is implicit in the Pentateuch, and the Epistles represent a doctrinal commentary on the Gospels. In truth, the very nature of Scriptural revelation is that it is inexhaustible, such that we can never claim to have fully comprehended or grasped its contents, for the deep truths of its mystery will never be probed in a thousand generations, and we can be certain that the process of time will unveil more of its divine contents.
We must conclude, therefore, that Christian doctrine admits of formal, legitimate, and true developments. But, once we have learned that the Christian religion must develop, we must also learn to expect an infallible authority to govern and oversee these developments, to discern true developments from mere human speculations or distortions. Especially because of the gravity involved in accepting a later development along with the original idea of Christianity; we would require not a mere testimony of its truth, but an absolute guarantee of it. And it should be obvious that no solitary indidivual is in a state to discern true developments from corruptions. Only an infallible Church could separate the true from the false. Otherwise, mere subjectivism and disagreement would result.
The Protestant notion of Scripture as the supreme rule consistently fails because it does not recognize Scripture's need for an infallible interpreter. When we look for such an interpreter, we ironically notice that only one institution in the world is audacious enough to claim for itself this prerogative, as if all others were afraid to because they knew their incapacity for it. "There can be no combination on the basis of truth without an organ of truth." This 'hypothesis' of the development of doctrine is strengthened by the fact that it has been held by the largest portion of Christendom since its inception.
Now that we have learned to expect developments of Christian doctrine, and to expect these developments to be overseen by an authoritative Church, we must simply look around and ask whether we find such a body of developments existing today, along with a governing body which claims infallible authority over them. We need not look far. For there is no there is no other such body of doctrines, nor such a Church claiming infallible authority over them, besides those commonly called Catholic.
# posted by Jamie : 2:40 PM
Newman's Essay, Part III: On the Historical Argument in Behalf of the Existing Developments
The doctrines which come to us (i.e., in the Catholic Church) have such a high antiquity that we have trouble finding the earliest date of their existence, and we have yet to deal with the fact that, whenever they were believed, they were likewise claimed to be continuous with earlier beliefs. This body of doctrine, then, must be assumed to be apostolic, or at least the burden of proof is on those who would claim otherwise.
Given this degree of antecedent probability, we must - in all honesty - treat this body of doctrine with an attitude of confidence and not skepticism, faith and not criticism. In a similar vein, it is likewise reasonable to interpret the previous history of a doctrine by its later development. We must also keep in mind that each of these doctrines is merely one part in a cohesive body, and solid evidence for even one of them must make us look more positively toward the others, and our acceptance of one must lead us to ask why the rest should not be accepted as well, for a series of probable proofs amounts to a greater certainty as a whole.
Thus, when a doctrine comes to us recommended by strong presumptions of truth, we are bound to receive it unsuspiciously. The objections of a particular denomination against these ancient Catholic doctrines, then, amounts to a stain upon this denomination rather than a charge against the one and only representative of the Apostolic Church.
The exacting standards of the modern 'scientific method' cannot be so easily applied to the study of history, since in matters of history we do not have the facts before us at all, but must use tradition, analogy, logic, and authority to recover them. Antecedent probability, then, may have a power in history that it could never have in the pure sciences. We see this also in criminal trials, where a man can be convicted based upon a high degree of probability, even if his guilt has not been proven in the strict sense.
If we do find some degree of silence on certain doctrines in the early Church, this can often be explained by external constraints. And often the silence of history is later accounted for and put to rest, as documents are discovered or verified. But putting all this to the side, taken as a whole, this proof is much more abundant than one can imagine.
# posted by Jamie : 2:20 PM
Newman's Essay, Part IV: Instances Cursorily Noticed
Now, let us look at a few doctrines, and see whether dogmas which were defined only in later centuries were preceded or suggested by the teaching of the early Church. This is certainly the case with the canon of the New Testament, the doctrine of original sin, the practices of infant baptism and of communion in one kind, and the dogma of the homoousion. None of these were taught or practiced explicitly or literally by the early Church. But emerging suppositions, however imperfect, gradually increasing in weight of proof, eventually presented such a weighty testimony that the later Church had no choice but to define them explicitly and formally.
The cult of Mary and the saints, for example, are an example of an organic development, emerging naturally, as they do, from the doctrine of our Lords consubstantiality with the Father. When Augustine taught that the Old Testament theophanies were made by angels, and not the Son (which would imply subordinationism), this teaching legitimized the veneration of created beings (since the patriarchs had clearly venerated these beings). And in defining the homoousion against the Arians, the Council of Nicea recognized the incredible chasm between God and creation, insisting that to be a glorified created being was not the same as to be God. This left room for others to be considered glorified human beings, which would not for that reason make them God. Also, the Nestorian controversy showed it necessary to define Mary as the Mother of God, to protect the divinity of Christ.
Also, the emergence of the dogma of papal supremacy in the fourth century was hindered - in the early Church - by external constraints, such as the turbulence and persecution which this Church underwent. Also, such a formal, institutional authority was not necessary then, since governance was a local matter and voluntary charity was sufficient to maintain unity. But the substantial growth of the Church necessitated a concentration of her authority, especially as local and universal disturbances due to doctrinal debats created the need for a centralized authority to resolve them. And, as with other matters, it holds true that 'no doctrine is defined till it is violated.' Also, the clear teachings on this doctrine in the fourth century can serve to illuminate and reinforce the dim outlines traced in the earlier centuries.
# posted by Jamie : 2:10 PM
Newman's Essay, Part V: Genuine Developments Contrasted with Corruptions
Now, some may object that what seems to be a natural development might be a corruption (like a disease or a cancer), which does violence to an organism's nature by reversing (rather than advancing) its natural course. Thus, we must put forth Seven Notes by which to differentiate true, healthy developments from corruptions.
1. Preservation of Type: As in physical or biological growth, the parts and proportions of the developed form, however altered, must correspond to those which belong to its original form (e.g., an adult's limbs correspond to a child's in shape and number, if not in size). This growth may, however, be accompanied by significant external change (such as that of a tree from a seed).
2. Continuity of Principles: Doctrines emerge according to, and are governed and organized by, the innate principles which they embody, in the same way as a geometric shape emerges according to the mathematical formulae which govern that shape. The corruption of a body thus springs from the distortion or abandonment of its principles, when it acts in a manner inconsistent with its character or natural interest, much as Judaism did when it rejected its Messiah.
3. Power of Assimilation: To live is to grow, and to grow is to assimilate and absorb external materials into one's unity, as in the case of plants and animals. An idea exists only in the context of other ideas, which it must absorb to develop. Incorporation of external materials is the only method of growth and success. Rather than be corrupted by external elements, ideas are only attracted to elements to which they already have an antecedent affinity. The more powerful an idea is, the more aggressive and bold it can be in assimilating ideas without having to fear its own corruption.
4. Logical Sequence: All true developments must follow the rules of logic, evolving as naturally as foliage from a tree in the mind of the Church. Thus the apostles, although not fully comprehending the complicated dogmas of later eras, nevertheless knew these truths in the depths of their minds, since they were the logical conclusions of what they knew.
5. Anticipation of Its Future: A true development will be preceded by hints and forewarnings long before it reaches fruition, and only in the fullness of time will it reach perfection, and thus only in the long run will a true development be vindicated. Similarly, whenever a great heresy arises, its seed can be traced back to the errors of its founder, or to the earliest years of development.
6. Conservative Action upon Its Past: While a corruption will reverse, negate, or contradict its own past, a genuine development will merely articulate or illustrate its own past, and will thus resemble a gradual and imperceptible course of change. A doctrine which opposes the doctrines earlier in its development is therefore a corruption, as true developments will only subserve and protect earlier doctrines. Thus, in government, politics, or religion, a true development will be respectful of what has gone before it.
7. Chronic Vigour: As long as an idea remains undisturbed, it naturally flourishes unhindered. Corruption, on the other hand, like revolution, is rapid, violent, and transient. Heresy is always transitory, and this is what distinguishes it from a true development.
# posted by Jamie : 1:50 PM
Newman's Essay, Part VI: Application of First Note of a True Development: Preservation of Type
First, for an example of the first note, that of preservation of type. It can be demonstrated that certain descriptions of the Catholic Church hold true from its earliest days to its most recent, admitted even by its worst enemies - namely, that it is a well-organized and well-disciplined religious body, exclusive and secretive, universally continuous, intolerant of its surrounding bodies, be they secular or heretical, antagonistic toward society, often accused of superstition, foolishness, and crimes against humanity, and is the only communion which can lay claim to this description.
In the first centuries of the Church, she found herself often accused of superstition and secrecy, mainly because of confusion with the mystery cults and Gnostic sects. Other charges came and went, but this one charge was uniquitious and universal - that of superstition. This charge certainly became less frequent after Christianity was legalized, but even afterwards, to this very day, whenever there were opponents of Christianity, they were consistent in using the same accusations against the Church: witchcraft, magic, infantile and superstitious chanting, relic-worship, secrecy, despondency, hostility toward society, and an unhealthy despondency. Therefore, if there is any religion now existing in the world which is accused of such crimes - of gross superstition and borrowing occult practices, scrupulous and legalistic in its ethical demands, obsessed with the final judgment of our earthly behavior, interfering with the pleasantries of life, brainwashing its converts, shameless proselytism, anti-social behavior, dividing families and friends, guilty of conspiracy, intrigue, and inhumanity, even the instrument of the devil himself, derided by all parts of society, the converts of which are looked upon with suspicion, pity, and disgust - such a religion is not unlike Christianity as it first came forth in the world.
The Church of the fourth century was wracked by the competing claims of heretical sects. Often, as in the case of the Donatists or Arians, the Catholic Church itself was outnumbered, and her enemies seemed to be in a better position to claim to be the 'true' Church. Yet, amidst all this confusion one mark of the Church stood clear -- her catholicity. The sects, however vast and powerful, remained nonetheless divided, localized, and independent; the Church alone was universal. These sects, discordant and hostile to one another, were united only in their hatred of the true Church. Even the heretics themselves were forced to admit the one unique feature of this Church, the title of 'catholic.' Other sects went by the names of their founders (e.g., Apollinarians), yet none pretended to call themselves 'catholic.' Since the time of Christ, only one church dared call itself by this title. The Church Fathers were not slow to pick up on this title; they taught consistently that only that Church which was the same in every nation and place could be considered Christian. This Church has never gone by any other name but 'Catholic.' Although the sects might be everywhere, they were never the same in even two places, but always tended toward independence, factions, and contradiction. Thus, if there is a community today which is distinguished by its complex organization, its universality and presence in every nation, and yet also for its unity in each of these nations, called 'catholic' by the world, whose enemies continually divide and subdivide amongst themselves and join only in accusing it of apostasy, and it remains the same in all ages, such a community is not unlike the Catholic Church of the fourth century.
The Church of the fourth and fifth centuries again faced great and numerous heresies, which often rose to such prominence that they outnumbered, overpowered, and expelled the Catholic Church in many areas of the world. Since its inception, however, this Catholic Church had always been distinguishable by its unique connection to the See of Rome, to which the Church Fathers as well as pagan observers attest. At the council of Ephesus under Dioscorus of Alexandria, the doctrine of Monophysitism was publicly embraced, as that which had always been held by the saints and the consensus of the Fathers, as that which was true to the council of Nicea and to the canon of Scripture, and as that which, even now, had the authority of an ecclesiastical council of the Church's bishops. Yet only one man stood alone against the tide of history - Leo, the Bishop of Rome. Only Leo, seated in the chair of Peter, had the power and audacity to withstand this heresy. For all respected his authority, and, once he had spoken and acted with the supremest audacity, the Eastern bishops began, one by one, to cross over to the side of Leo, claiming 'Peter has spoken through Leo!' Thus, we see that a doctrine which was repudiated by six hundred bishops and all of Christendom, which went against the alleged testimony of the Church Fathers and Scripture itself, and which the Creed itself did not contain, was forced upon the Church by the Pope of the day and this doctrine we accept today as Apostolic. Thus, if there is a community today which is spread over all the world, and yet with varying measures of prominence, standing firm on doctrinal issues which others have long since rejected, whose own leaders are often corrupt and outmatched in virtue by the heretics they condemn, struggling with heresy and negligence within its own body, and yet answering to only one Name, one Voice, one See - that of Peter and that of Rome - it is not unlike the Christianity of the fifth and sixth centuries.
# posted by Jamie : 1:30 PM
Newman's Essay, Part VII: Application of the Second Note of a True Development: Continuity of Its Principles
The second note indicates that true developments are governed by fixed, interior principles innate to the organism itself. We shall see, then, that Christian doctrine has not developed randomly or haphazardly, but according to certain fixed principles. The Incarnation, the central truth of the Gospel, is the source from which all principles spring. Of these numerous principles, we will here examine four of them in particular - faith, theology, Scripture, and dogma.
First, faith, or belief, is a primary and necessary act in Christianity, and is superior to any pure act of reason; a Christian may thus begin with belief, given only a partial or a probably proof, and nonetheless embrace a conclusion with certainty of mind. It is equally true that faith is more certain than reason since it is founded upon God, who cannot lie. The Church has always stood by this principle, no matter how much it is derided for it.
Secondly, another principle of doctrinal development is the scientific and logical analysis of revealed truth, which is used to examine, explain, catalogue, and defend this truth, this process being known as theology. This, too, has always been utilized by Christians, and has never been discarded.
Thirdly, another principle of the Church's consistent teaching over the centuries is its firm foundation in Scripture, and especially in its mystical sense, which the Church has alwas preferred to its its literal. Scripture is the medium by which the mind of the Church has developed, and has always been appealed to in order to defend doctrine. Scripture has been consistently the rule of faith in all human matters, and has been found relevant in every age. And the Church has always, however, resorted to the mystical sense of Scripture in preference to the literal. History proves that orthodoxy in matters of the Christian faith has always been linked to the mystical interpretation of Scripture, and heresy, more often than not, to its literal interpretation.
Lastly, yet another principle of doctrinal development, dogma, holds that opinions in religion are not matters of indifference, but of utmost importance to the Gospel. This was the opinion of Christians in every land and age, to be opposed to any teaching not found in the apostolic tradition handed down by their predecessors through apostolic succession. And this has always led to continual charges of bigotry and intolerance against the Church, from its first days to its most recent.
The continuation of these principles is a guarantee of genuine development rather than corruption. Yet if these principles are the found to be operative in both ages, then they must be said to be the same Church, however different they may appear to be externally or in outward manifestation.
# posted by Jamie : 12:01 PM
Newman's Essay, Part VIII: Application of the Third Note of a True Development: Assimilative Power
A study of the early Church will show that its most unique and compelling element was that it referred all revelation and all truth to One Supreme God, and this idea was powerful enough to withstand and envelop all other ideas.
As far as dogmatic truth, it has always been the standpoint of orthodoxy that the absolute purity of doctrinal truth must never be compromised. And when opposite ideas collide, the one which will always overpower the other is the one that is held with the most sincerity and the most gravity. This principle is revealed by the steadfastness of the martyrs. Historical research will show that the principle of dogmatism was present from the beginning of the Church. In fact, in the earliest years of doctrinal conflict, this principle took shape amidst the rise and fall of heresies. For, surprisingly, nearly every Catholic doctrine was defined by heretics before it was professed by Catholics, and even the Church Fathers wrote some of their greatest material by borrowing from that of heretics. Yet the grace of the Supreme God allows doctrine to thus develop and to absorb without risk of corruption.
As far as sacramental grace, what we shall call the 'sacramental principal' is that which assimilates that which is evil from its surroundings, and by grace transforms it into something holy. This principle is asserted repeatedly in Scripture. Hence, for example, St. Paul denounces abstinence from meat, the observance of holy days, and the practice of celibacy, and yet when these have been incorporated he exhorts us to fast, celebrate the Sabbath, and remain unmarried. In the same way the earliest Fathers objected to priests, sacrifices, altars, and images, and yet the later Fathers embrace all of these trappings. the same elements are adopted for the worship of the true God. The Church has been thus entrusted with the dispensation of sacramental grace, and trusted to use discretionary power in its application. For the Church, like Christ, aims to make holy what is unclean. Nearly all of what is generally received as Christian truth is originally to be found among pagan philosophies and religions. The Trinity, the Incarnation, the Divine Word, the rite of baptism, the idea of a new birth, angels and demons, and many more. While some may say 'Because these are in paganism, they are not Christian,' it is rather true that 'Because these are in Christianity, they are not heathen.' This merely proves that our Wise Creator has scattered the seeds of truth across the earth, which have been occasionally corrupted but never lost. The Church has the privilege of gathering these truths and sanctifying them; and while others "are ever hunting for a fabulous primitive simplicity, we repose in Catholic fulness."
# posted by Jamie : 11:59 AM
Newman's Essay, Part IX: Application of the Fourth Note of a True Development: Logical Sequence
The fourth note, logical sequence, is exemplified when one doctrine, if it is accepted sincerely, necessarily leads to the acceptance of another doctrine, as if it were its necessary conclusion. One illustration of this note occurs in the instance of baptismal regeneration, and the instance of sins which occur subsequent to it. We shall see, then, how this principle works in practice, with many subsequent doctrines emerging logically and sequentially from one original dogma.
Since the early Church understood baptism to be for the forgiveness of sins antecedent to it, the question then arose as to the forgiveness of sins subsequent. Though the possibility of post-baptismal pardon was at first debated, soon a system of such post-baptismal pardons arose throughout the Christian churches. The Church thus found it necessary to assign appropriate penances to the pardoned, as a disciplinary measure; the Church had the authority to shorter or alter these penances, at the discretion of the bishop. When the question arose whether the penances were merely signs of contrition or actually necessary to satisfy the demands of a just God, it was settled quickly in favor of the latter, i.e. satisfaction. But now a new question arose, as to what would happen to the penances which were demanded by God for sins, yet shortened or mitigated by the Church. Or, as to the fate of men who have genuine faith and good hearts, and yet have committed great crimes, or in a state of recent sins; or of those who have lived lukewarm lives. A consensus was then found among the Fathers that such purging would be accomplished in the next life, in the place of purgation, or purgatory. The sobering spectre of such eschatological punishment, then, was sufficient to excite any Christian to a holy and sinless life, and an army of Christian men arose who seek to perform meritorious works. And thus the greatest form of voluntary penance arose - the monastic rules. For when the standards of pardons were relaxed and sinners were indulged, this led to the decisions of many men and women to undertake extreme lives of discipline, prayer, and uncompromising holiness, rejecting the ways of the world. And all these, again, develop logically and sequentially from the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins in baptism.
# posted by Jamie : 11:58 AM
Newman's Essay, Part X: Application of the Fifth Note of a True Development: Anticipation of its Future
The fifth note is exemplified when a development is anticipated in the earliest stages of its existence. We shall find out of the current doctrines called Catholic can be found in the scanty records of the early Church.
A greatly contested doctrine of the Church is the honour that is paid to the bodies of deceased Saints. This practice arises from the principle that matter can be endowed with divine grace, that matter is good, being created by God, and even more so because matter was ultimately sanctified by the Incarnation of the Son of God. From this doctrine arises the doctrines of the resurrection, the sanctity of relics, the merit of virginity, and the dignity of the Mother of God. Though this doctrine was denied by both Greek philosophers and Eastern heresies, and though both Jews and pagans displayed an abhorrence for the bodies of the dead and their burial places, while Christians always showed great care for the dead, not to mention a deep reverence for the bodies of the Saints. The remains of the martyrs, from blood to limbs, were from the beginning collected by the Christians, and revered with great care and veneration.
Similarly, the virgin life, or celibacy, was greatly honored by the early Church, and the glory of this life was held next to martyrdom. There is no time in the Church when virginity was not held in the highest esteem. Similarly, the cult of the cult of saints is found in ante-Nicene Spain, and the principle which grants honor and esteem to the saints and angels can be found to be implicit in all of the earliest writers of our Church. Lastly, the dignity of the Mother of God has been testified by countless Fathers, and is especially connected with the doctrine of the Incarnation. Elaborate visions of the Virgin Mary, as well as glowing testimonies to her sanctity and preeminence, can be found among the earliest Fathers in the East.
# posted by Jamie : 11:55 AM
Newman's Essay, Part XI: Application of the Sixth Note of a True Development: Conservative Action on its Past
Even heretics agree to the sixth note, that a true development will build upon but not destroy what lies before it. It need not maintain a strict correspondence, as an old man is more than a magnified boy, but it cannot discard what has gone before it, but must be respectful of it.
Of the devotion paid to Mother of God, it is often objected that it detracts from the worship paid to God, and thus represents a wholesale rejection of our Church's ancient creed. But it must be noted, as a matter of empirical truth, the different nature of the devotion which is given to Mary than that given to her Son. This is true not only in theory, but also in appearance. For prayers addressed to Christ are generally in a reverent and fearful tone, as one addresses a just judge. Those addressed to Mary, on the other hand, are affectionate and confident, as one creature addresses another. Devotion to Mary, also, is generally confined to marginal, festive, and public occasions, rather than to that which is solemn, private, and primary in religion. Thus a great number of the central devotional and liturgical literature of the Catholic Church contains little mention of Mary and basically confines itself to the worship of her Son and Father, and nevertheless this literature is considered to be essential for all Christian devotion. Thus all the devotion to Mary is of a totally different kind than that given to her Son, and this is only given to her due to her proximity to the glory of her Son. The veneration of Mary is not given due to any virtue or characteristic that she possesses in and of herself, but because of her office as the Mother of God. Hence, the rise of the cult of Mary in the Church represents not a sharp violation, but rather a respectful preservation, of what has gone before it.
# posted by Jamie : 11:00 AM
Newman's Essay, Part XII: Application of the Seventh Note of a True Development: Chronic Vigour
The seventh and last note proves this: a corruption, if swift, runs its course briefly and then quickly dies; if it lasts, then it quickly expends its energy and falls into decay. We will thus examine some Catholic doctrines to find out if they are corruptions or true developments.
Catholicism has now continued for nearly two thousand years, persevering through so many hundreds of persecutions, heresies, and societal fluxes that it cannot possibly be called a corruption; and since it has never become stagnant but is ever alive and striving, it cannot be considered to be in a state of decay.
The conversion of the Roman Empire led the Church to adapt its customs to the expectations of the heathen masses, which resulted in much that Protestants consider to be corruptions toward paganism. But if this is so, why have these doctrines lasted so long, and fasten to a system which was so intolerant of paganism? The Church has also fashioned its dogmas in the midst of pernicious heresies on both sides. It was forced to condemn Arianism on the one hand, and Apollinarianism on the other; Nestorianism on the one, Monophysitism on the other. Only Christ's Church could have persevered through so much.
Philosophies and heresies have their day, flourish for a year or for a century, and then die out and are supplanted by others. The Catholic Church has never been supplanted, but has supplanted all its enemies. The Fathers attested that every attempt against the Church's creed lasted but for a brief moment. The Church has endured such assaults - from pagan persecution, barbarian invasion, heretical corruption, the challenges of monarchs, the rise of philosophies, and the factions of Protestantism - without wavering in its path. Could this resiliency and perseverance be expected of any heretical sect?
And the states which the Church's enemies call 'decay' are always followed by the greatest revivals the world has seen. The Church can be compared to a man who, after violent exertion, is exhausted and falls asleep, only to revive feeling refreshed and vigorous. Despite these pauses, the Church never falters in upholding the doctrines and practices which it has always held. Even the Church's enemies accuse her of being 'incorrigible,' incapable of change. And indeed, this is her boast - thus she has always been and thus she will always be.
# posted by Jamie : 10:35 AM
Since I'm going to be a bit slow today, I recommend this incisive post
by Steven Greydanus at Defensor Fidei on Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. He has a good summary to the so-called 'Goldilocks Approach' of many Orthodox; he focuses on the historical insight (often made by Newman) that heresy always represents a negation from the truth, Catholicism the fullness of it:
". . . [T]he long history of heresy, schism, and religious error offers an embarrassment of riches of evidence of a frighteningly consistent dynamic in one specific direction. The "too little" error is overwhelmingly the error of choice of the heretic and schismatic, if indeed the "too much" error has EVER been committed.
Indeed, the history of heresy could persuasively be characterized as a history of all the different "too-little" options one can possibly take -- all the ways that divine truth can be split up, with one truth set in false opposition to another truth, and one affirmed and the other denied. Divine truth is so large and mysterious, and our finite minds can understand so little of how it all fits together, that the temptation to fixate on one element of it to the exclusion of others is almost irresistible."
# posted by Jamie : 11:56 AM
Back from the Frontier
So here are some photos from Anchorage, Alaska. I spent four days there. Since Alaska is already well into the winter season, the weather was, well, miserable. 98% rain and sludge, 2% snow and ice. In between meetings, we took a day trip down to Seward on the southern coast, and hiked up 'Exit Glacier' (top left). The bottom left pic is the view from the bottom of the glacier. I did see a moose, but didn't get it on film (those things run a heck of a lot faster than you'd think).
My biggest impression of Alaska was due to the vast size
of the 49th state. You just have no idea how big it is, since on a map it's usually in a little box somewhere in the Pacific. If you look at a map
of the state superimposed over the 48 continental states, you get an idea - it's almost as long, breadthwise, as the entire US. My hunt for Moose-burgers went unsatisfied, although there were Reindeer-burgers everywhere. And fish. Lots of fish. I highly recommend a visit. But in the summer.
# posted by Jamie : 3:43 PM
Word from Rome: No Interdict Just Yet
We got a report back this week from Bishop McCormack's ad limina visit to Rome, in which he reports that the Holy See feels that the USCCB policy on the denial of communion is consistent with their own position:
Referring to the congregation by its former name, Bishop McCormack said, "The Holy Office thinks the statement the U.S. bishops made (in June) does agree with and complement the statement of Cardinal (Joseph) Ratzinger, even though some people want to believe it doesn't."
Cardinal Ratzinger, congregation prefect, sent the bishops a letter before their June meeting outlining the circumstances under which a bishop or priest could deny Communion to Catholic politicians who consistently support abortion. While making it clear that those who cooperate with evil should not present themselves for Communion, the [USCCB Statement] said that the decision to publicly impose sanctions on a person, such as announcing the person would be denied Communion, rests with each bishop in his own diocese.
Cardinal Ratzinger's statement 'has been misrepresented' by people on both sides -- those who think such politicians always should be publicly condemned and those who think bishops have no right to point out the sinfulness of supporting abortion, Bishop Losten said. The congregation meeting, he said, underlined that 'each bishop has to discern and follow the dictates of his pastoral judgment' on whether to deny Communion to a specific individual.
Now, this isn't really news. Ratzinger gave his explicit blessing
to the USCCB Statement
in July as well. We've had nay-saying from the beginning, of course, with the USCCB statement roundly condemned as heresy by all sides. Back in June I gave my own assessment
, which concluded that the USCCB statement was, comparatively speaking, a theologically and pastorally sound judgment, hardly the cop-out that everyone claimed it was.
So, contrary to the prophets of doom, it looks like we shouldn't hold our breath for the Holy See to excommunicate or put under the interdict any bishops for their compliance the USCCB policy. To the contrary, all the evidence points to the Holy See's eager embrace of this policy.
# posted by Jamie : 1:27 PM
More on the Generation Gap
"'Isn't he sooo cute!' coos Amy. She is not talking about some fraternity boy she's in love with. She's melting over John Paul II chanting a Latin hymn on a CD she has brought with her on retreat. Only the pope is that kind of cute . . ."
Mark Mossa, a Jesuit at Loyola University, writes in this month's America
of his experience working with 'Both Gen-Y and Catholic'
college kids. Mossa echoes the frustrations of baby-boomer Catholics at the militant orthodoxy of young Catholics, their fierce loyalty to the Magisterium and unapologetic POD antics. At the same time, he voices an ironic, 'but ya gotta love 'em anyway!' attitude which flops painfully only because of the magazine he's writing for.
He ends with this:
"The prejudices against them are born of old fights, old animosities and anxieties that too much love for the institutional church will somehow force us through a time-warp back to the 1930's. That may be the desire of the Baby Boomers [sic], but that's not what these young people want. Rather, they want to be connected to their Catholic tradition in an age when it sometimes seems we are meant to apologize for it . . . . They are their own breed, thoroughly modern and unapologetically Catholic - which you will find out for yourself, when you get to know them."
# posted by Jamie : 1:05 PM
Celibacy and the Demographics of Dissent
It seems that attitudes of clergy towards mandatory clerical celibacy are becoming somewhat of a marker for orthodoxy and fidelity to Church teaching.
The Australian Bishops' Conference is distributing a report to its bishops which indicates that 55% of Australia's priests believe celibacy should be optional (Source
). Other numbers put a general dissatisfaction with mandatory celibacy up in the 70% among Australian clergy (Source
). However, the report notes the none-too-subtle demographic divides:
"Priests over 66 were more orthodox in their attitude to celibacy and the readmittance of resigned priests - the subtext of that is accepting married priests," she said. "The youngest priests also show a tendency to be more orthodox. The ones going into seminary now are a lot more conservative, which is not surprising given the culture of the organisation at the moment."
The National Catholic Reporter
has jumped on the optional celibacy bandwagon, but even NCR admits that there is 'some truth' to the claim that, even with mandatory celibacy still in effect, "'orthodox' dioceses and religious orders do relatively well in their seminary recruitment." NCR also complains about the importing of foreign-born priests, who tend to be more conservative in perspective, and "don't appreciate the relatively open culture of the post-Vatican II American church."
Of course, a year ago, 160 priests of the Milwaukee Archdiocese sent a letter to Bishop Gregory urging optional celibacy (Source
). Though many expected this to be the first of a 'tidal wave of change,' it turned out to have little lasting effect (article
). 'Call To Action' has adopted this letter into its mandate and made it a springboard
for further efforts.
But other trends indicate that these efforts are associated more with demographic shifts than anything else. Last month a petition was sent by 556 seminarians around the country to Bishop Gregory, urging that the discipline of mandatory celibacy be retained in the Church (Source
). That's right, seminarians
- young men who represent the future of our priesthood and our Church, those who have made the decision to accept the discipline of celibacy in good faith, and intend that it remain mandatory. The article indicates that a much higher number of seminarians sympathized with the letter, and would have signed it if given the opportunity; no seminarian, they claimed, indicated disagreement with its contents.
"This is indicative of the type of men that are responding to the priesthood today," Father Burns told CNS. "They're committed, dedicated, faith-filled, prayerful. And really they stand inspired by the teachings of our Holy Father."
Numerous articles (e.g., here
) in the past year have remarked on the increasing trends towards 'conservatism' (by which they mean, of course, fidelity and loyalty) among younger clergy today, who are generally inspired by the vision of Pope John Paul II. The ranks of the 'old guard' of liberalism and dissent seem to swell in the 'baby boomer' generation, as is also indicated by the aging membership of such organizations as 'Call to Action' and other dissident groups. The future of Catholicism in America is being claimed by the faithful.
# posted by Jamie : 9:43 AM