Monday, November 30, 2009

Liberal? Progressive? Heretic?

My aunt, a Benedictine nun, drove me back to the airport yesterday, and one of the things she mentioned on the way back was that the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are problematic in the Catholic context, but perhaps unavoidable. Liberal and conservative are fine terms when the issue is one of a discipline or non-religious norm: someone thinking that more modern art or music is needed in church is most accurately termed a liberal; someone wanting to conserve the aesthetic treasures is properly a conservative. But on issues of Faith, this is euphemistic: those wanting to change the Faith aren't progressives or liberals, they're heretics. Those who cling to the Faith aren't (necessarily) conservatives, they're orthodox Catholics. Someone like Fr. Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal Household, can fully embrace what he believes to be the new movements of the Holy Spirit within the Church (the gift of tongues and the like), while clinging to Catholic orthodoxy in its entirety. He's orthodox and (on at least some issues) liberal. The late father Feeney, who denied that non-Catholics could be saved, was conservative (in some sense), but not orthodox, and was (for a time) excommunicated.

I don't currently choose my words very carefully on this issue. But after this conversation, I wonder if I shouldn't perhaps be a bit more cautious on the issue. The distinction is pretty vital. Someone can be a Catholic in good standing and hold to more liberal or more conservative views. Someone can be dead-set that priestly celibacy ought to go and still be thoroughly and completely Catholic. In contrast, someone holding to heresy is either mistaken, misguided, or evil, and should instructed, corrected, or opposed. So calling a pro-choice Catholic a "liberal Catholic" rather than a "Catholic who fights Catholicism" or "a heretic" suggests that pro-choice Catholicism is (a) a real thing, and (b) on par with pro-life Catholicism, a.k.a., Catholicism.

Nevertheless, I'm a bit concerned about switching to the more blunt terminology. My fear is pretty simple: the views held by a number of people are heretical, while the people themselves may or may not be heretics. Lots of people hold to heresies entirely out of confusion and ignorance, usually unwittingly. Someone hears "outside the Church there is no salvation," assumes that they know what it means to be "outside the Church" and goes their merry way trying to hold to what the Church believes. Someone else is raised in a liberal Catholic parish and hears that supporting the death penalty is always and everywhere sinful and takes that view as his own. I don't want to call those people heretics, because the charge is unfair. So what to do about those who agitate for views contrary to the Church's? Is there a term which captures both that what they're pushing for is fundamentally wrong, and not a matter of opinion, while still acknowledging that the people themselves may be well-intentioned and not knowingly espousing heresy?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Great New York Times Article on the Glories of the Old Mass

The New York Times has taken an interesting direction in the last year or so. Before you could count on the Times to offer what they felt was the whole spectrum: commentators who were anti-Catholic specifically, commentators who were anti-religion of all sorts, and commentators who didn't care about religion or find it relevant. If religion was worth anything at all, it was simply to remind people of how great other people were; any other kind of religion was best viewed with a suspicious eye, particularly those forms of religion in which the adherents seemed to actually believe what they were saying. That kind of religion was just asking for trouble, or so the Times viewed it. Now, though, there are a few cracks in the de facto ban against a Catholic voice. Ross Douthat is the most obvious. He was brought on to the Times team in April, and by July I was impressed enough to mention his body of work here. Douthat's coattails have been fascinating to watch, as well: most obviously, his blogroll on his official New York Times blog. It contains, amongst others, First Thoughts, Front Porch Republic,Get Religion, and Mark Shea: in other words, it contains a lot of intelligent commentators on religion specifically, and often Catholic particularly, presenting a side you'd never expect to see from a Times-related source.

Then we get to today's op-ed column, which I just found jaw dropping. I heard that they ran an op-ed on the Latin Mass called "Latin Mass Appeal," since today is the First Sunday of Advent, and it was on this Sunday, 40 years ago, that the first vernacular Mass was celebrated. I naturally braced myself. Douthat aside, the Times is still a pretty anti-Catholic rag, and writers like Maureen Dowd only reaffirm that (particularly given the Times' refusal to publish Abp. Dolan's excellent rejoinder).

So imagine my surprise when the piece turned out to be one praising Pope Benedict XVI for bringing back a lot of the treasures lost in the aftermath of Vatican II. If you can't get to it here, Google the words "Latin Mass Appeal," and you should be able to pull it up in full from NYT's website (for some reason, that approach lets you avoid registering).

Reading the article was sort of surreal for me, honestly, and I imagine that would be even more true if I'd encountered it in print form. For starters, this is almost certainly the most public forum for the oft-whispered accusation that Msgr. (later Abp.) Annibale Bugnini, architect and implementer of many of the Vatican II reforms, was secretly a Freemason. As the author, Kenneth J. Wolfe, notes:
Bugnini fell from grace in the 1970s. Rumors spread in the Italian press that he was a Freemason, which if true would have merited excommunication. The Vatican never denied the claims, and in 1976 Bugnini, by then an archbishop, was exiled to a ceremonial post in Iran. He died, largely forgotten, in 1982.
So far as I know, all of that is factually accurate. There were rumors, there was no official Vatican denial, Bugnini did get transferred to Iran (which wasn't exactly an epicenter of Catholicism, particularly given that this was only a few years before the Revolution overthrowing the Shah, and installing the Ayatollah as the Supreme Leader). The last claim is really the only contestible one, but even this, hardly so. After all, here's the Times' own obituary for Bugnini, who merely a decade earlier, seemed more powerful than the pope:

Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, the Papal Nuncio in Iran who tried to obtain the release of the American hostages in 1979, died today in a Rome hospital, the Vatican announced. He was 70 years old.

The Nuncio met with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Iranian leader, to deliver Pope John Paul II's appeal for the release of the hostages. But the Ayatollah rejected the appeal. The 52 Americans were eventually released on Jan. 21, 1981, after 444 days in captivity.

Archbishop Bugnini was born on June 14, 1912, at Civitella del Lago near Todi in central Italy. He was ordained in 1936 and was named archbishop in 1972. In 1960 he was named by Pope John XXIII as secretary of the Pontifical Liturgy Commission, which laid the groundwork for Vatican Council II.

Three paragraphs, with a single sentence mentioning his work for the Pontifical Liturgy Commission, and nothing about his role in the implementation of the Vatican II reforms (and his implementation of his own ideas of reform, as well). The entire obit suggests a man whose life was a tragic failure.

What I found even more shocking was the next part of the op-ed:

But his legacy lived on. Pope John Paul II continued the liberalizations of Mass, allowing females to serve in place of altar boys and to permit unordained men and women to distribute communion in the hands of standing recipients. Even conservative organizations like Opus Dei adopted the liberal liturgical reforms.

But Bugnini may have finally met his match in Benedict XVI, a noted liturgist himself who is no fan of the past 40 years of change. Chanting Latin, wearing antique vestments and distributing communion only on the tongues (rather than into the hands) of kneeling Catholics, Benedict has slowly reversed the innovations of his predecessors. And the Latin Mass is back, at least on a limited basis, in places like Arlington, Va., where one in five parishes offer the old liturgy.

Besides my surprise (and pleasure) at seeing my diocese mentioned by name, I was more surprise that Wolfe: (a) recognized that Pope John Paul II, for all of his numerous saintly qualities and achievements, did too little to reverse many of the liberalizations of the Mass, and in fact, allowed many more to occur; and (b) that Pope Benedict is a far different pontiff on this issue, precisely because Benedict is a liturgist himself. The other popes from Paul VI onwards ceded too much control to liturgical "experts" with questionable views; Benedict is not particularly at risk on that front.

This portrayal of John Paul II as something other than an arch-conservative secretly plotting to undermine Vatican II is something I hadn't been holding my breath for. And the portrayal of John Paul and Benedict as making different decisions under the same circumstances is one which I wish would be explored more. Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, opposed the creation of World Youth Day (from what I understand, because he doesn't like the Mass becoming a party or a concert), but continued JPII's lead when he became pope himself. As Ratzinger, his original report on Liberation Theology was harsh but accurate; John Paul II wisely (in my opinion) instructed him to make note of the many positive contributions which that political-theological movement provided, which keeping the overall thesis. Indeed, the transition from Ratzinger to Benedict, from "God's Rotweiller" (his nickname as head of the CDF) to God's German Shepherd, is one that is probably directly tied to the relationship between these two saintly men.

Finally, the op-ed correctly noted the way that the winds are blowing:

Benedict understands that his younger priests and seminarians — most born after Vatican II — are helping lead a counterrevolution. They value the beauty of the solemn high Mass and its accompanying chant, incense and ceremony. Priests in cassocks and sisters in habits are again common; traditionalist societies like the Institute of Christ the King are expanding.

This is a really important point worth drawing attention. Part of the problem with calling heretical Catholics "progressives" is that it implies that they're just supporting the direction in which the Church is moving. In fact, that tide's long since turned. I recently heard a young Catholic RCIA director who was concerned when he noticed that the celebrating priest was gray-haired. His concern was that the priest was probably predictably liberal, feeling free to deviate from what the Church taught (he was, incidentally, correct in his suspicions). In as much as there is a generational gap, it's the opposite of what the term "progressive" suggests. Rather, the generation of priests who were trained in the years immediately following Vatican II are the ones who came out funny. Those men who accepted their call to become priests even after the culture began to scoff at celibacy, and long after the culture turned against Catholicism (if you don't believe me, watch old Catholic movies, and then watch new ones) view the enemy not as the Vatican but as the Devil.

Consider the way that publications like Commonweal or National Catholic Reporter view the present Pope. Then consider that 76% of Catholics view the pope favorably, and 73% think he's good for the Church (compared to only 17% who disagreed). This suggests pretty strongly that the loudest voices in American Catholicism aren't genuinely representative of what the average layperson is thinking anymore -- or more accurately, they never were. Ironically, those who clamor for tearing down the priesthood to favor lay involvement would be wise to consider how that very laity feel about Public Enemy Number One, Pope Benedict. Handing them the keys may just mean a detour towards Rome. (Of course, it may not, also, but that's for another day).

In closing, I just want to mention again how pleased I am that the Times is allowing voices like Wolfe's to be heard, because I think it provides something pretty vital to the national and Church-wide discussion.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, now Secretary of Health and Human Services, has rightly come under a lot of fire for her views on abortion and her seeming friendship with the now-murdered abortionist George Tiller, and it's particularly depressing that a self-proclaimed "personally opposed" Catholic heads the HHS, the government agency most naturally connected to the abortion industry. Tuesday night, on my flight into Kansas City, I sat catercorner to her. My girlfriend, who was flying in with me, pointed out that she was reading Dan Brown's latest book, Lost Symbol. Garbage in, garbage out, I suppose.

Nevertheless, Secretary Sebelius is rather personally charming, and after I filled her in on how my dad just broke his hip, and might not be able to do Thanksgiving or walk his youngest daughter down the aisle at her wedding (on Saturday), she wrote him a get well soon card. I'd heard she was charming in person, and I found that to be the case, as well. For me, it just served as a reminder that what we surround ourselves with -- our choice of friends, books, movies, associates, and so forth -- directly influences who we are as a person and how we see the world. I feel like had Sebelius surrounded herself with positive Catholic influences instead of anti-Catholic and pro-abortion influences, she might have been a very different person. I don't say this to pass judgement upon Secretary Sebelius,but simply as a reminder that these seemingly insignificant actions can help determine our destinies.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing everyone a great Thanksgiving. It's a wonderful time for friends, family, fun, and food, and to remember all of the gifts which God has given, a reflection particularly important in this time of economic hardship.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rep. Kennedy, Bishop Tobin, and the Media

Rep. Patrick Kennedy is a pro-choice Catholic. He's got a good bishop, Bp. Tobin, up there in Rhode Island, who's been quietly trying to get Kennedy to either shape up or not show up for Communion. Bp. Tobin finally became much more vocal about his troubles with Kennedy after the latter attacked the importance of the Church's position on abortion publicly, arguing that it wasn't important enough to oppose the health-care bill over.

Kennedy is adept at playing the victim, appearing to be persecuted by the big bad Catholic hierarchy. To that end, he complained that the feud between himself and Bishop Tobin was private. He then proceeded to reveal details of a confidential 2007 meeting with Tobin, coupled with a lot of misinformation. Bp. Tobin claims that he requested Kennedy not present himself for Communion [and in fact, finally presented the letter which clearly states it as a request]; Kennedy claims he demanded it, and (here's the real sticker), ordered all 300 of his priests not to permit him to receive. The good Bishop pointed out, pretty reasonably, "If I had told 300 priests of the diocese in any format not to give Communion to Kennedy or anybody else, you think that would have remained confidential?" It borders on unbelievable to think that for two years, not one priest, anywhere in Rhode Island, mentioned anything to anyone. Put more bluntly, Kennedy was grossly misinformed or lying, and it's a lie that even some rudimentary news reporting should have been able to see through.

But instead, the press reported the Kennedy version as if it were factual. And what's weirder, they repeatedly suggested or stated that this was because of Kennedy's 2009 comments on abortion and the health-care bill. Here's Fox's take, which is pretty typical:

The dispute between Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, and Tobin began in October when Kennedy criticized Catholic bishops for threatening to oppose health care reform without restrictions on federally funded abortion. Tobin demanded an apology and requested a meeting with Kennedy, but that meeting fell through. Tobin then wrote a public letter calling Kennedy's position "scandalous" and "unacceptable."

The latest chapter in the dispute came over the weekend, when Kennedy told The Providence Journal that Tobin instructed him not to take Communion and instructed other priests not to give it to Kennedy either. Though Tobin denied banning Kennedy from receiving Communion elsewhere, he said he did ask Kennedy to stop receiving Communion in 2007.

I realize that most secular news sources don't know enough about Catholicism to get it right. But how do you explain this one? In what possible world does any action in 2007 get taken in response to comments made in 2009? This failure in accurate reporting is more spectacular than simply getting some religious details wrong, or only presenting the Kennedy View of Reality. It's as simple as understanding "before" and "after."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Euthyphro Dilemma, Part 2

Kerath25's comment on my post The Euthyphro Dilemma, Part 1, was too good to pass up. Without further ado:

This question (nice to finally have a name to associate it with) is a particular one that seems to come up a lot in my discussions with those who do not want to believe. They first make the basic question, then point out that God has commanded "all sorts of terrible things" and questions what would happen if He were to command them again.

In one such conversation, my friend wanted to know what I would do if God commanded me to kill someone else. I assured my friend that He would not so command me, and if I were to receive such a declaration, I would be assured that it was not from God. He altered his statement; now I had absolute assurance that it was God speaking to me. To him, this set a kind of philosophical trap: either obey God and do something that He previously instructed was evil, or obey our own sense of right and wrong, thus nullifying any claim of obedience to God.

The chief problem from the argument is two-fold:
First, we do not see the fullness of creation as God sees it, and therefore cannot judge it as He does. However, as C.S. Lewis points out, we must be able to distinguish good acts if we are to mean anything by calling God good. This is an act that we must take on faith, by observing what we know of God's actions to this point and His history with being trustworthy.
Second, people assume that God is capable of commanding a wide range of things because they have the experience of being able to change their minds. God does not change and therefore is not within our range of understanding. People assume that God could command an atrocious evil because He has changed, and they base that assumption on the observation that they change all the time. However, God cannot command the contradictory.

This ultimately leads to the only logical conclusion of the argument: It is good because God commanded it. It must be so, because God cannot command a contradiction, and we know that God is good. To claim that God does it because it is good is to place a power above God in determining what is good and evil. What is more, we are presuming to know more about good and evil than God does Himself. In that sense, we simultaneously proclaim that there is a power above God, and that we know more about that power than what we presently call God. What arrogant fools we can be.

Amen!

The Restoration Will Not Be Televised

Father David M. O’Connell has stepped down as president of D.C.'s own Catholic University of America. Under his twelve year watch, the school went from being a hotbed of dissent and heresy to one of all-too-few outstandingly Catholic universities, making the Cardinal Newman Society's list of authentic Catholic colleges (sadly, only 21 US Catholic colleges and universities made the list). His model is one which should be followed, and if the case of Belmont Abbey College is telling, one which is being followed by those who recognize the problem of Catholic Universities teaching things directly counter to the Catholic Faith their students are assumed to have learned growing up (but all too often, didn't).

Where does my own Georgetown University stand? Well, not only did we not make the Newman list, one of our own professors heads the EEOC, the government agency trying to punish Belmont Abbey College for removing birth control coverage (more shockingly, the EEOC claims that Belmont Abbey College has to provide oral contraceptives, which often have an abortificant effect).

It's more bad news for Georgetown, of course, but as long as there are good and decent Catholics like Fr. O’Connell and Belmont Abbey's Dr. William K. Thierfelder, there's still hope. The Restoration will not be televised.

Friday, November 20, 2009

An Open Letter to Democrats for Life

A friend of mine sent this letter to Democrats for Life. He wrote and sent it while his blood was up, but I think he's asking a pretty important question: are pro-life Democratic groups good or bad? Do they moderate the Democratic party, or defuse the pro-life movement? This is an increasingly urgent question due to the proposed healthcare bill. On the one hand, pro-life Democrats like Stupak are helping to prevent the government from getting into the abortion business, and probably saving lives in the process (if they're successful). On the other hand, these pro-life Democrats provide coverage for radically pro-abortion Democrats to claim to be "big tent," even while nominally pro-life Democrats like Harry Reid seek to remove the Stupak-Pitts language and get us directly into covering abortions. The presence of pro-life Dems seems to both help the very pro-choice Democratic Party and seems to moderate their often-radical agenda. Perhaps an important question is this: if pro-life Democrats weren't in Congress, would those seats be filled with pro-life Republicans or pro-choice Democrats? Anyways, here's his take:

Dear Democrats for Life,

On behalf of all those who see abortion as a great evil that should not in any way be condoned or promoted by a civil society, I applaud your group's efforts in providing advocates of a woman's right to abort her children with the political cover they need to seem broad-minded and conciliatory to citizens who would otherwise worry that support for a political party that has actively sought to promote abortion for the last forty years might compromise some of their most closely-held principles. Suffice to say that all your hard work is coming to fruition; members of the party that you support seem to be bringing enough political pressure and incentives to convince whatever pro-life Democrats there are in the Senate to acquiesce to statutory language in the "compromise" health care bill floated by Sen. Reid ensuring that every taxpaying citizen will do their part to ensure that expanded medical insurance coverage will subsidize abortions. Moreover, your support of a resolutely pro-abortion president has ensured that a presidential veto of federal subsidies for abortion will not be forthcoming. Tremendous work, really--poor children and families will now have much better access to life-saving health care, if they make the cut....

So, really, what I want to know is: what next? Now that you have played such an important role in ensuring that the federal government will adopt a policy that abortion is not only a private choice between a woman and her doctor but a financial obligation for every taxpayer, for what other morally repugnant causes will you provide much-needed window dressing? I'm at a loss for ideas myself as to what the future could hold, but perhaps the movers and shakers in the Democratic party will chart the next course. In the meantime, don't change: make sure that your political inertia ensure that you remain wedded to a party whose most closely-held and fiercely-advocated platforms are inconsistent with your purported values, or (alternatively) make sure that your values measure lightly in whatever balancing test you employ in determining your favored political candidates--either approach works just as well!

Once again, thanks so much! I'll think of you every time I fill out my 1040 and wonder whether I could just save time by sending my loved ones a gift certificate to Planned Parenthood!

Gratefully,

A federal taxpayer who will no longer have clean hands

Why "Abortion Neutrality" is a Healthcare Myth

In the current healthcare debate, both sides of the abortion debate claim to be preserving the status quo while the other side is hijacking it to advance their abortion-related agenda. In reality, both sides are correct that there's no truly neutral abortion option: government funding for healthcare either includes abortion as federally-funded healthcare (against the Hyde Amendment) or it doesn't (meaning that lots of people with covered abortion now won't with the public option). Either abortion coverage goes substantially up or down, and the one middle-ground approach has been rejected by pro-abortion advocates. Here's what's going on right now:
  1. Under the Hyde Amendment, no federal money is to be used to fund abortions (some states, along with the District of Columbia, fund it out of their own coffers). This means, for example, that those on Medicaid can't charge the nation's taxpayers for abortions. The Supreme Court has already upheld this as being completely constitutional.
  2. Most people now have privately funded insurance coverage and this often covers abortion - there are plans which specifically do not, but the recent brouhaha over the RNC's healthcare plan covering abortion (it's worth noting that this provision was never employed) demonstrates how widespread private coverage for abortion is.
  3. The proposed healthcare bill, in whatever form it finally takes, will move people from privately funded to publicly funded healthcare insurance.

So people are about to make a jump from the abortion-covering privately-dictated plans to the Hyde-governed plans. So will the government begin to foot the bill for abortion? Or will a number of people who once had abortion covered have it covered no longer?

The debate, at its heart, is really that simple. Once the government starts paying for plans, they either break the ban on paying for abortions with federal funding, or a number of these plans stop covering abortion. There's no neutrality: either the government gets massively more involved in covering abortion, or insurance gets substantially less involved in covering abortion.

II. The Closest Thing to Neutrality: Abortion Riders
The closest thing to neutrality is this: the Stupak-Pitts amendment allows for an abortion rider. What this means is that the government will pay for everything but abortion, and if you want abortion coverage, you negotiate that yourself, and pay for it yourself. It's as close as one can get to neutrality because it preserves (1) the Hyde Amendment's ban on government funding for abortion, as well as (2) the ability of individuals to get abortion coverage in the market. None fo the other options I've heard do this successfully. Still, pro-abortion forces are livid with this proposal, and are using four basic arguments.

  • First, they're arguing that it'll be too complex to negotiate (NARAL's policy director claimed there would be "chutes and ladders" to obtain coverage). This argument is flatly false. Right now, individuals who obtain private insurance have to navigate a whole lot more chutes and ladders than would be required under an abortion rider. The reason's pretty simple: with comprehensive health insurance, there are all sorts of moving parts: do you want coverage for x, y, and z ? How high a deductible on procedure A? Should name-brand or generic drugs be covered? And so forth. The abortion rider covers one thing and one thing only: abortion. It is by definition simpler than negotiating coverage now. Put even more simply, private plans now which include insurance coverage for abortion require the exact same chutes and ladders as would be required under the rider, plus all of the other rules and regulations for everything from cancer coverage to mental health coverage to premiums and such. This will be far less paperwork for individuals than it is in the status quo.
  • Second, they're arguing there's no such thing as an abortion rider in the status quo. Laurie Rubiner, a Planned Parenthood Vice President, sent out a press release arguing that "As one alternative, the Stupak amendment purports to allow women to purchase a separate, single-service 'abortion rider,' but abortion riders don’t exist." This argument is just stupid. Obviously, they don't right now: they get abortion coverage as part of a privately funded plan. Douglas Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee's legislative director, answers this argument pretty simply: "If there's a market (for add-on abortion riders), if there are people who think it's that important, it will be offered." Right now, the primary people covered by abortion-less healthcare are seniors and poor people in Red States, and neither of those groups were a particularly lucrative market.
  • Third, that women won't get the riders because of lack of foresight. Of course, right now, there are a lot of people who don't have any healthcare coverage because of lack of foresight - so the ball's not really advanced one way or the other with that argument. But the argument's usually put in a much more offensive way. The Baltimore Sun argued in an editorial that "Most people do not have the foresight to know if they'll ever need an abortion any more that they might need to have a gallbladder removed or a kidney stone pulverized." But, of course, these two things are totally distinct. I have no real idea what causes a kidney stone, or if I'm at risk for it: but I've got a pretty good idea where babies come from. Here's an easy test: (1) Are you currently having sex, or considering doing so? (2) If you got pregnant from this sex, would you want the option of having an abortion? There's no need to even look up family history to see how many of your ancestors 'caught pregnant' (hint: half of them). In fact, even if you can answer "no," to (1), a "yes" to (2) will probably get you to at least consider getting the rider. Overall, this pro-abortion argument treats women like they're idiots.
  • Finally, they argue that women won't get the riders because of embassment at getting an abortion-specific rider. Of the four arguments, this one's the strongest. Nevertheless, there are still two problems with it. First, women can almost certainly obtain this coverage discreetly, "just in case." Second, it's worth noting that 87% of abortions are paid by the individual directly now: usually in cash. Many women right now, even those women with insurance coverage for abortions, prefer to pay a few hundred dollars out of pocket to avoid having insurance, credit cards, or prying eyes discover what they've done. Chances are, any woman who is too timid about her desire for abortion coverage (which is a pretty widely acceptable idea amongst pro-choicers) is never going to bill insurance for the abortion itself. So it's unclear how many of the women currently paying out of pocket for abortion coverage will have had them paid for by abortion riders (or even government-funded abortion coverage).

Mostly, however, they're trying to raise concerns that poor women in urban areas will be left without a chance to kill their baby on the cheap. But here, it's they who are trying to relitigate already-finished abortion wars. A 1980 case called Harris v. McRae approved of the Hyde Amendment. So poor women on government-provided healthcare already either pay out of pocket for abortions or use state funds, and the jarring rate of abortions in low-income areas suggests that the women in question find a way to pay for these abortions.

Obviously, as a pro-lifer, it would be great to see fewer women having abortions, and there seems to at least a chance for that here - although, again, simply refusing to pay for the abortion isn't a very strong deterrent against having abortions (it just keeps our hands clean of the bloody affair). The Stupak-Pitts amendment isn't intended as some sort of end-run around Roe: it's just an attempt to prevent the government from getting into the abortion business.

18 U.S.C. 666: The Judas Statute

This is one of those moments where law and religion meet in an amusing way: One of the key federal laws forbidding bribery is section 666 of Title 18... which is pretty fitting if you think of how the betrayal of Jesus went down.

Pilate's Epilogue

The Gospel for this upcoming Sunday is John 18:33b-37, part of the fascinating dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. During Wednesday's Men's Prayer Group, Fr. De Celles noted that there are two contradictory legends about what happened to Pilate: one story is that he converted and became a great saint; the other is that he threw himself off of a cliff in despair. It is, I suppose, the only two sane ways to reacting to the realization of the full implication of what sin means. And it is this reaction, repentance v. despair, which seems to really separate the saved from the damned (once, of course, there's a recognition of sin). The first story of Pilate is the story of St. Peter; the second is the story of Judas. Whether either of these stories about Pilate is authentic or not, nobody can say for sure, but there's a certain theological truth underlying both accounts.

It also exposes, I suspect, the two outcomes readers secretly desire. Even more than many of the Saints in the New Testament, Pilate seems to suspect that there's more to Jesus than meets the eye, and he's pretty obviously uncomfortable with sentencing Him to death. His wife gets it even more than he does, having "suffered greatly" in a dream because of the impending condemnation (Matthew 27:19). But he still does it, out of moral cowardice and fear of a revolt which would undermine his political power. In a dramatic show, Pilate washes his hands of Jesus' Blood (that expression is itself a reference to Matthew 27:24).

Both Matthew and John provide unique information about Pilate's encounters with Christ, and it's quite probably that Jesus Christ Himself informed these two Apostles after His Resurrection. Sunday's Gospel begins with Pilate asking Jesus, "Are You the King of the Jews?" (John 18:33). Jesus responds, "Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?" rather than simply saying "yes." St. Paul refers to this dialogue as Jesus' "Good Confession" (1 Timothy 6:13), but it seems in many ways that Jesus is trying to extract a confession of faith from Pilate. When Pilate presses Him a bit later, "Then you are a king?" Jesus answers, "You say I am a king." And indeed, in the end, Pilate does: John 19:19-22. Even this act is so terribly full of the contradictions wrapped up in Pilate himself: here he is, making a sign rightly proclaiming Jesus' Kingship (and unlike his soldiers in John 19:2, Pilate seems to treat Jesus' Kingship as authentic, rather than simply mocking it).

Pilate is in many ways the classic politician. He's personally opposed to the Crucifixion, but is too much of a coward to stand up to popular opinion. Or, as Mario Cuomo put it in his notorious Religious Belief and Public Morality speech, "Our public morality, then — the moral standards we maintain for everyone, not just the ones we insist on in our private lives — depends on a consensus view of right and wrong." In other words, Pilate may have felt a religious tinge about this strange King Jesus, but that's a private issue; the public demands he act in direct contradiction to the truths he believes. He's also the first postmodernist: after Jesus answers him fully: "You are right in saying I am a King. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me" (John 18:37), Pilate stupidly responds, "What is truth?" (v. 38). It's not even the right question; he should have been asking "Who is Truth?" (cf. John 14:6).

The early Christian response to this thoroughly human account of Pilate was, as I suggested above, split into two camps. One camp hoped for his redemption, one camp for his damnation. I suspect that these dueling forces remain within us to this day: when Senator Ted Kennedy died, I know that there were some who hoped and prayed that he had a conversion of the heart and made his peace with God, but I fear that there were some who were pleased at the thought of him suffering in a place where the last name Kennedy doesn't hold any privileges. This second desire needs badly to be exorcised. Although it's an overused phrase, "judge not, lest ye be judged" is a thoroughly Biblical axiom (Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37), and it's intended for precisely these sorts of contexts. Delight in Pilate or Kennedy suffering in hell if you wish, but beware that "the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:2). How many of us can honestly say we haven't acted like Pilate? That we haven't gone along with the crowd, knowing it was wrong, or buckled due to cowardice or fear?

The desire for Pilate's redemption is rooted in our common humanity. Any of us, if we're honest, can identify with his sinful actions. We'll never know, this side of eternity, which of those later accounts of Pilate's life was correct: whether he profoundly converted or cast himself off a cliff, but I know which one I pray is true.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Our Common Goal.

“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
- Charles Spurgeon.

Purgatory Thought Experiments, pt. 2: A Response

TurretinFan has published a "Response to Heschmeyer's Purgatory Thought Experiments." The original "Heschmeyer's Purgatory Thought Experiments" can be found here. I'll post his comments in red, and my responses in black; when I quote from the original post, I'll put that in blue.

First of all, let me just say that he provides some really good contributions to the discussion in at least two areas. He talks at great length in the post about 2 Samuel 12:13-14, and how David's son foreshadows Christ. God punishes David's son for David's sin: later, Christ, who is repeatedly called the Son of David in the New Testament, fully absolves David. This wasn't really in the scope of my original post, or why I brought 2 Samuel 12:13-14 up, but I think it actually reinforces my point quite well. David's son and Son bear the punishment for David's sin, but David is still chastised. Second, TurretinFan attacks the areas which he thinks are weak in the argument. Even though I think he's wrong, it provides lots of clarity for areas I need to work on explaining things more clearly, areas I need to be more careful with my word choice and so forth. In all honesty, I could say that about most of the commenters here: you all are really good at providing thought-provoking comments, and even though I'm bad at responding sometimes, they bring me immense joy. Now, without further ado, his responses and mine:
1) Fairness vs. Forgiveness
Heschmeyer relies throughout on what is "fair" but is simultaneously posing questions in which there is an assumption that forgiveness is taking place. Forgiveness is mercy - it runs in the opposite direction of "fair."
I'm not sure what it means to say that forgiveness is opposed to fairness, but I know that God is both just and forgiving, so even if there exists an inherent tension at points, they're not running in opposite directions. I said originally, after Thought Experiment One, "Just because you forgive someone, it doesn't stop you from demanding redress for the thing done wrong. If someone steals your car, repents, and apologizes, they don't get to keep the car just because you forgive them. It's possible for you to (a) take the car back and not forgive them; forgive them and let them keep the car; or (c) take the car back and forgive them. The repentant criminal is no less forgiven in (c) than (b)." If he's going to criticize that conclusion, let's see an actual criticism of that conclusion. He just asserts without support that these two things run opposite one another. But if you can both (b) forgive someone and let them keep your car, or (c) forgive them and still get your car back, it seems that forgiveness and redress are not contradictory. Finally, I'm not just "assuming" that forgiveness is taking place, like it's some oversight. I'm explicitly stating it as part of the Thought Experiments.

So this, his first point, was disappointing. He didn't really interact with what I'd said: he just asserted that I was overlooking things which I've explicitly accounted for throughout the post he was criticized.
Even if the breaker is really sorry for having broken the item, fairness still demands that the breaker make the breakee whole, restoring what belonged to the breakee and cleaning up the mess resulting from the breakage.
I'm not sure where he's going with this part: it's exactly my point - that forgiveness and being made whole are two separate things. In Thought Experiment Two, I explicitly provided that "Nevertheless, it isn't fair to the owner's coworkers to simply write off the cost of this vase, and so he requires some sort of redress. The child, by his own merits, can never pay off this vase - he's a child. So you, out of love for your child, pay the cost of the vase, even though you are, yourself, innocent." So I already acknowledged (1) that contrition and forgiveness don't preclude being made whole, and that (2) there are circumstances wherein the contrite are incapable making the harmed party whole by their own merits. As I explained later in the same Thought Experiment, this shows the absolute necessity of Christ. Without Christ, no matter how genuinely sorry we were for our sins, we could never appease that debt. In real life, the universe's Owner paid for the damage caused by sin out of His own pocket by hanging on a Cross for us, but having a third party pay for the debt clarified that He wasn't simply ignoring the debt's existence, but actually satisfying it.
2) Conflation of Dignity and Physical Categories

In fact, whether or not the breaker is really sorry is relevant only to the dignity offense against the breakee. If you spit on someone's shoe, you are doing more than ruining the leather, you are insulting the person. The same occurs (to a lesser extent) when one is negligent with the goods of another. One is showing that one lacks the proper regard for that person and also for God who set your duty to be careful of the goods of others.

When someone apologizes sincerely for harming another, he is attempting to terminate the offense against the dignity of the person whom he has offended. After all, if you break someone's car and then don't apologize, the dignity of the person continues to be harmed by your continued disdain for them as evidence by your lack of contrition.
His point here is that satisfaction for the debt (in this case, the physical damage caused) is distinct from forgiveness for the offense itself, what he calls the dignity offense. In other words, if I steal your new car and crash it, and give you an identical new car, I still owe you an apology, because my actions were wrong, even if (after compensation) they haven't put you out at all objectively. They were a violation of your rights and dignity.

What I don't understand is how he claims that I conflate these, as I make the distinction between them pretty explicitly:
  1. The child apologizes, and the store owner, in his mercy, forgives him.
  2. Nevertheless, it isn't fair to the owner's coworkers to simply write off the cost of this vase, and so he requires some sort of redress. The child, by his own merits, can never pay off this vase - he's a child. So you, out of love for your child, pay the cost of the vase, even though you are, yourself, innocent.
  3. There is still, however, the mess that the broken vase made. May the store owner demand the child clean up this mess?
That's from my original post. # 1 deals with the dignity offense, # 2 deals with the debt, and # 3 deals with the natural consequences of the initial sin. (That is, even if I replace your car and apologize and am forgiven, I still may be responsible for cleaning up the crashed old car, or serving a prison term for the theft, etc.). In the explanation of Thought Experiment Two, I notice that sin is both a trespass and a debt. The former relates to dignity offenses, the latter to physical debts/damages.

So again, TurretinFan seems to be criticizing me for omitting things which I pretty blatantly included.
Another reason to apologize is attempt to bring about reconciliation. In other words, we may apologize in order to attempt to restore friendship between us and the person whom we have offended. If they accept our apology, we can be friends again, otherwise they may continue to be aggrieved at us for the offense we caused.
Let me be clear. This is absolutely irrelevant to what I originally wrote. Sure, apologies between friends can help restore the friendship. In the first Thought Experiment, I used a parent and child to establish a loving parental bond with all of the responsibilities that accompany that. But in the Second, the harmed party is a stranger: the store-owner. At no point do I deal with the issue of friendship, and it's nothing but a straw man here.

3) Imposition of Divine Command for Forgiveness on Fairness Structure

We have a divine command that requires us to forgive others. That is our duty toward God, however, not our duty toward the person who has offended us. A person who offends us has no right to demand that we accept their apology. When we apologize to another person, we should do so not insisting that they accept our apology as a matter of our right.

Instead, we are commanded to forgive others as a duty toward God in gratitude of the forgiveness he has given to us. God does not have a similar reciprocal duty. God is not required by any higher power to forgive and man has no right to demand forgiveness from God for sin.

This actually gets us back to the fairness versus forgiveness issue that we started the article with. Heschmeyer's discussion seems to assume that fairness requires that we forgive those who apologize but that fairness also requires that the person who broke the item pay for it, clean up the mess, etc.
Yet again, he accuses me of arguing the opposite of what I actually argued. He argues that God doesn't have a responsibility to forgive us. Absolutely, I agree. That's why I said in my original post:
  1. The child apologizes, and the store owner, in his mercy, forgives him.
If it's in his mercy, it's not an obligation. Also, go back to where I said:
If someone steals your car, repents, and apologizes, they don't get to keep the car just because you forgive them. It's possible for you to (a) take the car back and not forgive them; forgive them and let them keep the car; or (c) take the car back and forgive them. The repentant criminal is no less forgiven in (c) than (b).
(a) explicitly addresses your freedom to not forgive, even when redress has been made.

4) Human Friendship conflated with Divine Justice (or Full versus Partial Forgiveness)

Related to the above conflations, Heschmeyer appears to conflate the issues of human friendship with divine justice.
Already, you should be able to tell that this is wrong, because it's related to the above "conflations," which weren't, in fact conflations, and because it's built upon the idea that I dealt with human friendship, when one of the two examples involved a shopkeeper and the other a parent, and neither a friend. Like I said, this is just a bizarre red herring which is entirely unrelated to my original post. The only person who gets lost in the haze of friends' obligations to other friends is TurretinFan himself, and that's because he introduces the irrelevant concept.
When Hechmeyer speaks of a person accepting an apology he is speaking primarily in terms of the person no longer being angry at the breaker. The anger of the breakee has been set aside and, to some degree at least, human friendship has been restored.
Other than the part about anger, this part is fine. Forgiveness is the setting aside of a righteous anger or displeasure. And since 2 Samuel 12:13-14 was brought up in both my original post and TurretinFan's response, it's worth noting that in the KJV translation of 2 Sam 12:13, Nathan says, "The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." So it seems that Nathan the prophet is quite fine applying this definition of forgiveness to God Himself.
Nevertheless, a person can stop being angry with the breakee and still expect payment for the item and a clean-up of the mess. Or can forgive payment but still expect clean-up of the mess.

Divine justice, however, is not satisfied when forgiveness is only partial. Being forgiven of part of your wrong-doing may lessen your guilt under divine justice, but it does not remove your guilt.
But this assumes that I'm arguing for partial forgiveness or partial restitution, which I'm not. In Thought Experiment Two, you pay the debt in full, but the damage done by the offense still exists. This is exactly like the real world of sin. Christ pays our Divine debt in full, but the consequences of sin don't just vaporize. So I said in the original:
If my sin is stealing cars, and I got to Christ and get forgiven, shouldn't I still return your car? Does my returning your car diminish in any way the forgiveness I've received from Christ? Likewise, if I've stolen something from Christ Himself, shouldn't I be at least as inclined to restore it to the best of my ability? And if restoring to you doesn't diminish Christ's sacrifice, why would restoring to Him?
So Christ pays our eternal debt in full, but we're still required to do the necessary steps to make things whole as much as possible, precisely because it's not the debt that He's paying. This is undeniable when it's a third party we've robbed, and it makes no sense to conclude anything differently if it is Christ Himself we've robbed in some way? What's bothersome here is that that language was in my original post, and TurretinFan had every opportunity to agree or disagree with it, but instead, he just acts as if it doesn't exist. In fact, in the original, I even say: "Christ's payment is fully efficacious, but it's not intended to remove our obligation [to make redress], just as you wouldn't, as a responsible parent, pay the storekeeper to clean up your kid's mess."
In terms of human friendship, we may view this sort of partial friendship as acceptable, but in terms of divine justice the same partial forgiveness is not enough. It is enough to have partial forgiveness from a friend because we can pay for the broken item and clean up the mess. It is not enough to have partial forgiveness from God because we cannot atone for our sins, even in part.
Again, this was addressed and ignored throughout the original post. I'm not saying that we do part of the atoning sacrifice for sin, and Christ completes it. The kid in Thought Experiment Two doesn't pay a nickle for the broken vase, just as he doesn't pay a nickle for the dropped glass of milk in Thought Experiment One. When it comes to paying the debt, Christ pays everything and we pay nothing. This is repeatedly and explicitly my point throughout the original post.

After this, he moves from my Thought Experiments to the Biblical support, and argues another category I'm alleged to have made a mistake:
5) Chastisement versus Penalty

Heschmeyer considers the account of David's sin against Uriah, his plotting the death of Uriah to cover the sin of David's adultery with Uriah's wife Bathsheba. Nathan the prophet comes to David and rebukes David for this sin, and David repents. God spares David's life but takes the life of David's son. Heschmeyer puts it this way:
David is forgiven. No matter how you read it. But his son still dies. Anti-Purgatory logic falls apart here: if he's forgiven, how can he still be penalized? If he's penalized, how can he be forgiven?
But Heschmeyer has made a two very fundamental mistakes. The first mistake is the mistake of confusing chastisement with penalty. David is being disciplined in the eyes of the nations for his sin against God. It is a chastisement, not a punishment. It is discipline to help David learn, not punishment that expiates sin.
First of all, chastisement and punishment aren't different things. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition defines it as:
1. To punish, as by beating. See Synonyms at punish.
2. To criticize severely; rebuke.
3. Archaic To purify.
So I'm not conflating the two: they're the same thing. But he really means that "It is discipline to help David learn, not punishment that expiates sin." And once again, I've already addressed this (although there are various ways in which one might say that a sin is expiated, I'm assuming he means it in the sense that the Atonement expiated sin). In the very next passage I addressed, Wisdom 3:1-9, I addressed the language, "chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself." I said in response to this:
This makes it clearer what sort of suffering Purgatory entails. It's not the torments of God's wrath. It's the loving care of a Father. And sure, it hurts, but lots of loving things do, like removing splinters, or getting immunizations. This is the same God who required circumcision, who had both religious and sanitary benefits, but which came at a fierce price of temporary pain. This same analogy to gold tested in fire is later found in 1 Peter 1:7. So even though we're saved by Christ, we can still expect to have our faith refined by fire. This comports with the conclusions from the thought experiments above.
That's the exact distinction he claims that I'm not making. My entire point was that the punishment TurretinFan calls chastisement is exactly the point of Purgatory. It doesn't diminish or replace Christ's unique Sacrifice, just as it is not replaced by Christ's unique Sacrifice. That's the point I make in the very section he criticized, as well.
The second mistake is to overlook the typological significance of this event. David's son dies instead of David. For David's sin, David's son dies. Who bears the wrath of God for David's sin? Not principally David, though he feels great sorrow at the death of his son, but the son instead. This is an illustration for us of the Son of David who died for all of David's sins.
Like I said up top, TurretinFan is absolutely correct about the typological significance. But let's plug it back in. David's Son, Jesus Christ, bears the weight of David's sin. But David is still punished; or, if you prefer, chastised. David's chastisement doesn't remove his sin or repay the debt, and isn't intended to. Likewise, David's son's/Son's bearing the wrath doesn't mean that David won't have to himself suffer. So David's son bears the sin, and David still suffers due to chastisement. David's Son later bears David's sins, and all of ours. My point is that this doesn't remove the potential that we will have to suffer chastisement and purification before we're free from sin and able to enter Heaven, where nothing unclean can ever enter (Revelation 21:27).

TurretinFan concludes "God forgave David but punished David's son instead. David received chastisement only, and not punishment."
That's exactly my point. Because of Christ, the elect risk only purgation, not damnation. And purgation, although it is suffering, is not done out of anger, but love. Kerath25, at the end of the original post, wrote:
In short, if you are a peasant, working in a pigsty, and are suddenly summoned to the court of the King, you cannot go as you are, nor (if you are honest with yourself) would you want to. It would be a great offense to the King to appear covered in mud and other filth. You might wash really well in preparation for the visit, but once you arrive at the court, the servants at the gate politely inform you that you still have some washing to do.

They guide you to a great bath, where you are scrubbed vigorously, until all of the dirt is gone (note, they may have to scrub very hard, and it may hurt, but you endure it, knowing the pain is only temporary). After all traces of grime and even the smell of it are only a memory, you are given a new robe and escorted to the King.
Is there a difference between the logic Kerath25 offers in favor of Purgatory, and the logic TurretinFan offers in trying to disprove it? I think TurretinFan has just proven, at great length, my original point, all while hammering home how important the original distinctions which I made were.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Two Views of Church

I. The Two Ways of Viewing the Church
There are two ways of looking at the Church. I don't mean here "visible v. invisible," but rather the fundamental way that orthodox and heterodox Christians differ in their conception of the Church. They are, broadly:
  1. As a divinely-ordained body created by Christ, entrusted with a sacred and inviolable Deposit of Faith. This is the way that Catholics view the Church. It's why even when the conclusion you or I might arrive at by independent reason disagrees with something She has said, you and I would be smart to defer to Her authority. This is the difference between what's known as "real assent" and "religious assent": in the former, you "get it" mentally and spiritually; in the latter, you believe, even though you don't understand the reasons why). Evangelicals and other traditional Christians wouldn't ever use the terminology I used above, but they certainly view the Deposit of Faith (in their case, usually the Bible, but sometimes the Creeds) as an absolute bound on the Church's power.
  2. As a political body. This is the way that non-Catholics and Catholic heretics look at the Church. Here, She's no different than the UN, or Wal-Mart, or Congress.
Interestingly, the second view of the Church is more powerful than the first. In the first, She's bound by the Truth. There are certain things which She cannot do. So, for example, Pope John Paul II explicitly said in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that no pope has the power to ordain women. None. Not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow. It's not a power Jesus Christ, God Eternal, gave to the Church, so the story ends there.

But in this second view of the Church, Pope Joan XXIII can come along and repeal all of these earlier papal declarations, and allow priestesses, contraception, gay marriage, and the like. Because modern heretics generally like these things, they support these sweeping powers. But of course, a Church structured like this could find under the next papacy (Pope Joan XXIV, perhaps?), all of these things were back off of the table. Timeless morals become subject to the whims of the people.

It doesn't take a genius to see that when ecclesial power is so sweeping that it can literally veto facts (after all, at the end of the day, either Pope John Paul II is right that no pope can ordain women, or the imaginary Pope Joan XXIII is right that a pope can: one of the two has to be factually wrong) that people stop believing in the whole institution. Throughout Christianity, there's a growing rift between Traditionalists of various sorts and Modernist heretics. And yet everywhere we've seen, the modernist sects are hemorrhaging people, as they either leave for churches which will stand up for Absolute and Timeless Truth, or give up the search for Truth all together. Despite being called "Mainline" Churches, the modernist denominations have been in a freefall, and now have fewer members than either their Evangelical or Catholic brethren. And this is the recipe for repair that these heretics have for the Bride of Christ? To become Episcopalians with more rules?


II. The Foolishness of the Modern Heretics
Imagine, for a moment, that the second view is correct. Imagine that the Catholic Church, and indeed, all Christian churches, are simply democracies, aristocracies, or dictatorship where whatever the people (be they the laity, the clergy, or the pope) decide goes. In this scenario, there's nothing authoritative and binding, like the Bible or Sacred Tradition preventing even the most liberally inclined authority from validly implementing the modernist reforms. Now consider, even if this is true, how likely is the Church to reverse Herself?

Because even if it were true that Church teaching was nothing more than the enforcement of the peculiar notions of some sex-deprived, empowered males, these men obviously believe themselves that it's more than that. Or, if you're so much the skeptic that you think that the pope is a pretender, putting on a grand old show of Tradition, while knowing it's a Big Lie, it's obvious that those in power are (and have always been) hellbent on perpetuating that image. The why doesn't matter: it will suffice to say that this is a Church which doesn't repeal earlier dogmas. Even when faced with seemingly contradictory Magisterial statements, She always goes to great lengths to explain how the two sets of facts and circumstances were different, in the same way that traditional Christians of all denominations are able to harmonize seemingly incompatible parts of the Bible.

Imagine a Supreme Court with no power to repeal earlier decisions, always bound by its prior rulings. How likely is that Court, secular and man-made body that it may be, to repeal its earlier decisions? Even appearing to do so would undermine the Court's very authority, rendering its new ruling suspect or illegitimate.

One need look only to Church history. Certainly, there were abuses permitted, and certainly, the winds of theological thought have shifted - popular Catholic views have sometimes been wrong, even heretical; but the Catholic Church stands solidly behind every infallible (and virtually every fallible) Magisterial teaching She's ever made. We still believe that "Outside of the Church, There is No Salvation," although we reject a Feeneyist interpretation that says that anyone who calls themselves something other than Catholic is outside of the Church. Given this history, how probable would you say it is that the Catholic Church will one day simply say, "Scratch all that. Abortion, Euthanasia, Gay Marriage, Contraception, Women's Ordination, Embryonic Stem Cell Research, etc., is ok"? Is there any historic precedence for these sort of radical reversals?

One might point to the Second Vatican Council, but I think that's the best example for my point. Even though the false "Spirit of Vatican II" was one of repealing Church teachings, the actual Council documents are chock full of citation to earlier Church documents, papal statements, and so forth. Besides this, since the Council was pastoral and not dogmatic, it must be viewed through the lens of dogmatic Magisterial statements - a prudent move to ensure that the Council wasn't viewed as changing any dogmas. In other words, even in Vatican II, the Church painstakingly showed how all of the changes She was making were consistent with what She's always believed. She changed a lot of disciplines, a lot of the ways in which we worship, but She left wholly intact (and in fact, helped further clarify) what we believe and Who we worship.

An intelligent and sensible person can think that women's ordination is a good idea or any of the other modernist "reforms" I mentioned above. But I'm at a loss for how intelligent people can think that the Church will ever implement their pet views.


III. The Tired Prophets of Heresy

Commonweal, like National Catholic Reporter, is sort of a hotbed of dissent from Church teachings. Their very existence is strange: two publications which seem to exist entirely to criticize the Catholic Church, while still feeding off of it for support. Read the editorials in either, and you'll see what I mean. You choose the issue and the columnist. Commonweal at least has interesting points from time to time, but it's mostly just new and interesting ways to re-present the same old tired and rejected heresies.

It might make sense if this were, say, the 19th century, and the paper was run by some virulent anti-Catholic, so consumed with a misguided zeal for souls (or just hate or paranoia) that he felt he had to give his life to "save" Catholics. But here, the folks in question seemingly think that orthodox Catholics are saved (or anyways, that there's no hell anymore, so everyone's saved, except racists and Hitler, and maybe Republicans); what's more, they claim to be part of the Roman Catholic Church.

If they're just advocating for what they think is a good (but not absolutely necessary) idea, their devotion to it signals a lack of prudence and wisdom... regardless of the merits of the reform itself. The primary focus of every Christian should be upon the core of Christianity. If there are interesting innovations you think might be helpful, fair enough: but keep it proportional. And note, I'm speaking here of any innovation. There are some proposed within the Church which haven't been formally suppressed or rejected: the move to formally name Mary "Mediatrix of All Graces" or even "Co-Redemptrix"; the approval of certain apparitions; the canonization of various possible saints. These are things which the Church may approve, may formally suppress in the future, or may take no action on whatsoever. But anyone who devoted almost all of their time and religious energies talking just about these issues would be doing a disservice to their own spiritual formation and the health and well-being of their own soul. Even those figures whose very lives were controversial, like St. Padre Pio, spent their time not focusing on themselves (in his case, not obsessing over his stigmata), but on their Lord.

Here, it's worse: the proposed reforms aren't new or exciting. They're tired. They're tried, tested, and failed in our mainline brethren's churches, they've lead people away from the Cross of Christ and towards the pit of their own egos, and they've been flatly rejected by the Magisterium. There's no suspense left. The verdict has arrived, and it's not in their favor.

Women's ordination once seemed edgy, I'm sure. It doesn't anymore. Many of us, even cradle Catholics, know women "priests" from other denominations, and almost all of us know people who think that women's ordination is a good idea. Anyone even sort of paying attention to the Anglican Communion can see what sort of effects this idea has had, as the Anglican garment is rent in two. For one brief moment in history, maybe those liberal Catholics intoxicated on the spirits of Vatican II could convince themselves that women's ordination was just around the corner. Today, any neutral observer can plainly see that it is not. Rome has spoken. The quest has become obviously quixotic, and those who have achieved these dissidents' goal (in other denominations) have found the paradise lacking.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fr. De Celles on the Rapture

As promised, here's Fr. De Celles' homily from last Sunday on the topic of the Rapture and the End Times - it's nice to see a Catholic perspective on these things, although I acknowledge that a limited diversity of belief is permitted on a number of the subjects he addresses here.

The first reading was Daniel 12:1-3:
In those days, I Daniel, heard this word of the Lord: "At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people; it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time. At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book.
“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. “But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever."

As an aside, this is one of the only clear references to Hell - or even a Heaven with souls in it - found in the Old Testament. The Gospel reading was Mark 13:24-32:
Jesus said to his disciples:"In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.
Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
This passage, taken from the Olivet Discourse, has been the source of much confusion for Dispensationalists. Here's Father's take on it.


33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 14-15, 2009
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Mary Catholic Church, Alexandria, Va.

It seems almost inevitable that in any crisis, or even when anything unusual happens in the world, we hear some people wondering if the end is near. 10 years ago, some people were in a panic about the year 2000. 8 years ago, when terrorists struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, some people spoke of a cataclysmic world war, that would precede the end. 5 years ago it was the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and 4 years ago it was Hurricane Katrina. Today we’re worried about a world-wide economic and political crisis. It seems every other day for the last few years the daily events in the world seem to trigger the question among many people: Are we in the end times? Is the end near?

I always have mixed feelings about all this. First of all, in one way it’s good to have this question in mind: As we read in today’s Gospel: "Learn a lesson ….when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates.” Christ wants us to be prepared and read the signs of the times. To convert from sin, and to be ready for his coming.

On the other hand, Jesus also tells us: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." For 2 millennia, people have been thinking the end is near, during times of dramatic societal upheaval, and in the great emotion and fear of the moment changed their ways and undergone remarkable conversions. But there are problems with this.

First of all, when conversion is based on the emotion of fear, when the cataclysmic event passes, often so does conversion. Second, some people wind up getting so preoccupied with looking for the prophetic signs, that they waste a lot of time and energy on false notions of the end. We’ve seen this recently with many Christians who have come to believe in what they call “The Rapture” --a notion invented in the 1800’s and described in the popular “Left Behind” series of books. Some get so, if you pardon the expression, “caught up” in this false understanding of the end times that many become either petrified by fear, or preoccupied with looking for signs of evil lurking behind every bush, or even worse, taking their salvation for granted because they “know” when the end is coming. Now, I don’t mean to ridicule these folks —many are some of the finest, most sincere and devout people you’d ever want to meet. But this is just a modern example of what’s happened for 2000 years, where a preoccupation with the details of the end times distracts us from living the Christian life today.

It is true that we live in difficult times. But not necessary the end times. Some say, “but look at the signs, they’re all around us.” The great wars, the fear, the natural disasters, the reconstitution of the state of Israel, the global war on terrorism, the crumbling of great economic institutions, and world wide recession. But on the other hand, Jesus says: “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky,” Look around—I don’t see any of those things happening.

The thing is, God calls us, in every age, to repent and convert, not just at the end of time, but at all times. Because the end has been coming for people since the time of Adam and Eve. Not the end of the world, but the end of individuals living in the world—death. And when the end comes through death, the dead will face Christ just as surely as those who are living on earth at the Second Coming. And as our first reading says, “some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” For the dead, this has already happened: they are either in heaven--or in purgatory preparing to enter heaven— or they are in hell. And it can happened to us, at any moment, any day. The sun doesn’t have to darken, and the stars don’t have to fall from the sky. And so, Christ wants us to repent and convert, every day and at every moment.

Most of us are afraid of death. And some who wonder if we’re living in the end times, are afraid of that. But what are we afraid of? Listen to what happens in the end: "And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect …from the end of the earth.” If we have faith in Christ and what he taught, what do we have to be afraid of? Are we afraid of his promises, like the one we read in today’s first reading: “the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever."

If we have hope that we will share in those promises if we live as he taught us, and if we have love and actually live that life he taught, what could we be afraid of?

It is true that when the end comes there will be a time of great suffering, what Scripture calls the time of “tribulation.” It’s also true that from time to time we experience a foretaste of this hardship. Right from the beginning of the Church we’ve seen this —the very day the Church was born we saw this: God the Son was murdered on the Cross! Then a few years later, in year 63 AD, the Romans began to persecute the Christians by torturing and murdering them, beginning with St. Peter himself. And then in the year 70 AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem —David’s city, God’s city— all of its buildings, even the Temple itself— and all of its people, 1 million Jews and Christians.

And then it seems every few decades until 321 there was a new persecution. And then came the invasions of the Huns and Barbarians, and then the Turks and Islam, and then wars and persecutions between Protestants and Catholics, Not to mention the terrible natural disasters:
the plagues of the middle ages that wiped out a 1/3 of the population of Europe. And then what about the economic disasters and wars of the first part of the last century. And what about the current rise of decadence …and the increase of persecution of those who cling to Gospel values?

There is real turmoil in the world today—perhaps unprecedented, perhaps not. But in the midst of all this, we must remain always in faith, hope and love. There’s really no need to fear evil things that happen —whether it’s persecutions, plagues, or wars. Because as Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Plan, be prudent: but have faith and hope in his word, his promises and his commandments.

And while it’s necessary and right to fear committing sin, and to fear giving in to devil’s temptations, lest we loose the joy of heaven, and gain the “everlasting horror and disgrace” of hell, it’s wrong to fear sin as if it were inevitable, or the devil as if he were all-powerful. Sin is not inevitable, and the evil one is not invincible. Not when we love Jesus by keeping His commandments, and allow Him to love us by giving us his grace.

We must remember: there is no need to be overwhelmed by fear, because we’re never alone. Because, first of all, we remember that Christ promised his apostles as he ascended into heaven: “I am with you always, even until the end of this age.” He is here with us: in his Word, in his Sacraments, in his grace, and in his Church.

And also, because, as we read in today’s first reading: “At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people.” St. Michael has been around and fighting for us
since before man was even created. And he and all his angels will be here when the final great tribulation comes. And he has been here and will be here every minute in between. Whenever you’re afraid of death, of evil things or of sin, remember to turn to this great soldier that God sends to protect us, and to remind us that, by God’s grace, we are never alone.

We are living in difficult times. It is a time to repent, and to remember that Jesus will come for us swiftly, either in death or at his 2nd coming. But be not afraid of the powers of this world, or of the turmoil of the times —they will most likely pass away into history. Fear only losing your salvation. And even then, do so with faith, hope and love in Christ. Know that he is here always
--in his word and in his sacraments
--in his grace and in his angels, especially St. Michael.
Repent and convert, and set your heart, minds and bodies on the joy and glory of living and loving with Christ, today, and forever!

"And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect …from the end of the earth.”

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Would an All-Knowing God Test Us?

Hmyer asks, at the end of my last post,

The story of Abraham and Issac is difficult, but not so much ( for me) because God has the right to "kill" Isaac and take him to heaven. The difficulty for me is that God would accomplish this by asking Abraham to do the killing. It's too hard to grasp. Also, since God knows all things; the outcome was already known (so why command Abraham to do it in the first place?)
This is a really good question which I've wondered about myself. I've come up with a few reasons. But first, let's just be clear on a few things. God need not test us to know the outcome of events - He's fully aware of what we consider the future, of every decision we'll ever make or not make. He's even aware of how we would react in situations we never encounter in this life. God can answer the question as to who would win in a kickboxing fight between Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee, and His answer isn't just an educated guess. For every Saint in Heaven, God knows countless situations and conditions in which their lives might have gone off-course, and they might have ended up in Hell. I think we're used to thinking of God as just a collection of knowledge which exists in this world, like a glorified Wikipedia. But His knowledge is much deeper and broader than that.

So to say that God Himself knew the manner in which Abraham would behave is certain, and even an understatement. But God Himself also knew/knows the way that every individual would succeed or fail when challenged to live out their Faith. So if there's no reason to test Abraham, there's no need for any of life's challenges for any of us. But here are a few reasons why I suspect God chooses to do things this way:


  1. Even though He knows the outcome, we don't. And our knowing the outcome can be vitally important. Failing one of these tests may be the wake-up call we need that our Faith isn't where it should be. It can also be God's way of humbling us and saving us from Hell.

  2. The test itself strengthens us. 1 Peter 1: 7 refers to our faith as "gold tested by fire." That "test" doesn't consist of ticking a box which says that the gold is or is not pure. The test itself purifies the gold.

  3. Applied to Abraham and Isaac, this convinced Abraham that God could be relied upon, and it introduced him to the idea of the Resurrection - see Hebrews 11:17-19. So God didn't learn anything, but Abraham learned plenty.

  4. These tests can weed out Saints from phonies, the shepherds from the wolves. I've largely avoided discussing the Legionaries of Christ here, but revelations about Fr. Marcial Maciel's seedy personal life have helped correct the path of a lot of well-intended members of the Legionaries and Regnum Christi.

  5. These tests are a seemingly necessary component of God's Justice, as I'll explain below.

In the movie Minority Report, a group of "precogs" are cognizant of crimes before they occur, enabling the police to prevent the crime, and arrest the would-be wrongdoer. The problem with this system is that people are tried for hypothetical crimes which they've not actually committed. The upside is that there's a world without crime, but the downside is that no one in the penal system has actually done anything wrong.

Remember former Secretary of Education William Bennett, who argued that "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down"? Does anyone think that's a just system of law enforcement? Death penalty before any crime is committed just based upon (a) statistical data [in Bennett's case], or (b) pre-cognition [in the case of God and Minority Report]? Even Bennett himself, after realizing what he said, seemed to back away from it immediately.

Since we're saved by the grace of God, every soul who makes it to Heaven could have ended up in Hell had things gone differently. Likewise, every soul in Hell, had they accepted the gift of God's grace, could have rested in the gentle arms of their Savior instead of sufferring eternally. This is the only way to view it which upholds the notion of God's justice. Otherwise, people are eternally saved or damned without their involvement at all.

This understanding of God's justice is very synergistic, of course. A monergist would presumably say that the masses are rightfully (and justly) drowning in the sins, and God, in His mercy, saves His elect. But if that is the case, then you're right to ask, Hmyer, what's the point of it all? If God knows who He wants to keep, and who He wants to kill, and He's the only One operating at all, why play around with trials and tests and earthly existence? Judgment Day's come and gone for everyone before they've done anything they could be judged for. If you're eternally reprobate, you're damned from before you were born, instead of being damned on account of your sins.

So for #5, I guess I'd just say that a just cop waits to arrest you until you've committed a crime,* and a just Judge waits to condemn you until you've actually done something damnable. And assumed in that sentence is the idea that there's a way to avoid the crime (or sin). If you're incapable of doing otherwise (for example: killing while sleepwalking), your activity isn't considered a crime at all. Both crimes and sins require an act of the will, or a refusal to act when you're obliged to.

6. Mary Catelli adds, "There is also the aspect that this was a normal sort of divine request. So not by asking but by withdrawing the order, God was showing that He's different from Moloch."

Very true. It sends a signal that the reason we don't sacrifice our children isn't that we love our God any less than the followers of Moloch loved theirs, but because our God loves us more.



*Significantly, attempt is a crime and a sin. So by attempting to, say, commit murder, you've committed the crime of attempt, and have sinned by murdering the other person "in your heart."

The Euthyphro Dilemma, Part 1

Is Good "Good" Because God Commands it? Or Does God Command it Because it is Good?

That's the crux of the Euthyphro dilemma, so-named because it derives from Socrates' question in Plato's Euthyphro, "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" It's a great question. And it raises an interesting question about whether the "essences" of God are created by Him or are inherent and unchangable, even by God. For example, we know that God is Love. Could He decide not to be Love and still be God? Could He decide not to be Love at all?

The Biblical Evidence: Titus 1:2
Titus 1:2 is a lone verse which holds a lot of importance, because there is a chance it provides an answer. In it, Paul either says that "God cannot lie" or that "God does not lie." Obviously, there's a world of translation between those two concepts. The first establishes that there is a limit on God's omnipotence: that His Power and Sovereignty is bound by His Goodness and Love. The second doesn't suggest anything of the sort: perhaps He does not lie because He cannot, or perhaps because He chooses not to.

The English translations are split between these two, as this list of translations shows:
  1. The NASB, ISV, KJV (interestingly), AKJV, ASV, Darby, ERV, Webster's, World English Bible, are solidly in the first camp: they all translate the verse as saying that God cannot lie.

  2. The NIV takes the latter position: that God "does not" lie. So does Young's Literal Translation: God "doth not" lie. The Weymouth New Testament says God "is never false to His word," which isn't very helpful either way, but leaves the possibility open that God could lie.
So a 9-3 skew amongst Protestant Bibles. Of the Catholic translations, the NAB says that God "does not" lie, as does the NJB. The Douay-Rheims says that God "lieth not." The RSV:CE says that God "never lies." So they're 0-3, strangely enough, bringing it to a 9-6 total. Obviously, this isn't the most accurate way of determining what the verse says, so the next step should be taking a look at a good Concordance/Lexicon. Strong's is great, and it's free online. Turns out, the term being translated as either "does not lie" or "can not lie," apseudēs, is defined by Strong's as "without lie, truthful," or alternately, "veracious - that cannot lie." Which means that even amongst the Lexicon definitions, it looks like it can mean either "does not" or "cannot" lie. What about context? Well, apseudēs appears all of one time in the Bible: in Titus 1:2, of course.

So Titus 1:2 is a hint at the answer, but that's it. Comparing translations, looking at lexicons, and examining parallel uses of the Greek word all come up short.

The Philosophical Question: Can God Command the Immoral?
Søren Kierkegaard, in his book Fear and Trembling, uses the story of Abraham and Isaac as a starting point to ask this basic question. He wants to know if there is a "teleological suspension of the ethical?" That is, can God command (for purposes known only to Him) you to do unethical things? Is your duty to God higher than your duty to behave ethically, so that no Christian can have an absolute code of ethics or even morals? The story Kierkegaard chose is perhaps the most compelling within the scope of the Bible. Normally, human sacrifice is both immoral and unethical. But what if God commands it?

I think that the case Kierkegaard offers still has an exception, though. Yes, Isaac is innocent. But here, it's an issue of life and death, and God gave life freely, and can take life freely. We can't hold God to the same standards of not killing the innocent because: (1) He's the Author of Life, and can take it at His pleasure; and (2) if God killed only the guilty, Heaven would be empty. Think about it: the only way innocent people ever get to go to Heaven is if God kills them, has someone kill them, or permits them to be killed. So just as God can commission "natural causes" to take the lives of the innocent and bring them to Heaven, He can also commission their depature from this Earth in other ways - indeed, any way He chooses.

So here, it's not simply that one's obligation to God overrides the ethical or moral concerns against taking human life. It's that taking human life is only wrong if we're doing it outside of our authority. So, taking the life of the justly condemned isn't intrinsically immoral, and neither is killing in the scope of duty (killing enemy combatants within the course of combat). Certainly, moral and ethical decisions remain in those cases, but they're not intrinsicall evil in the way taking a life outside of your authority is (terrorism, murdering the innocent, assassinations, and so forth). If God commissions you to do something, it's now within your authority, so it's not that God's will trumps the moral calculation, but that His approval actually changes the moral calculation. Similarly, an executioner killing someone he suspects to be a murderer is wrong; but if a valid tribunal finds that suspect guilty and condemns him, the moral calculation is changed.

A better question might be this: could God command the intrinsically evil, like torture, abortion, or rape? Things which are instrincially immoral? My strong inclination is that God cannot command these things, since they're outside the bounds of His authority as a Loving God. As Author of Life, He can lovingly kill (either to send souls to Heaven or remove their threat to other souls), and it's well within His authority. Even the power to damn is an appropriate punishment for sin, and is fitting within His Loving Justice. But to torture or rape is outside of His authority. Yes, He might (and only might) have the power to do so, He doesn't have the authority to do so, by virtue of His own nature.


These thoughts are just sort of a first take on the subject. I made a Euthyphro tag so that I can return to this later. As always, I'm interested in your thoughts on this!